The Difference Between Leaving and Saying Goodbye

On my third appointment with my therapist I hit her with two big questions. The first I wrote about here. The second was this: how do you say goodbye?

Our denomination moves it’s clergy from place to place. They teach us how to leave but not how to say goodbye.

This discussion with my therapist was more complex. She asked: What were my expectations? Did I see saying goodbye as more emotional?

We talked about the directions we’re given when we leave an appointment. There is a detailed list about cleaning the house and packing. It goes so far as to say “label the boxes” (as if anyone would pack a box and not label its contents).

There’s another list with specifics to include for the people who will be following us. There is no shortage of information on how to leave.

But where’s the list telling you how to say goodbye? When do they tell you you’re likely to have feelings of loss and grief and that these feelings can come before you leave?

No one tells you that months after you’ve left you’ll remember a funny moment when you were there and laugh out loud. Or that you may have feelings of sadness or depression; that leaving is hard.

It’s easy to outline the tangibles; to make a to-do list for packing and cleaning and preparing the way for the next people.

It’s even easy to smile at your farewell reception. You’re going through the motions because you’re living on adrenaline and it’s reminding you of all you have to do next.

It was years before I realized that isn’t saying goodbye. I recognized I had learned some tricks along the way. If you didn’t get too close to people, if you treated them as congregants or volunteers and kept them at arms length then saying goodbye seemed easy. Only that’s not real. It’s superficial and you’ve cheated them and yourself from genuine fellowship.

Now, as we prepare for our last farewell as we enter retirement I want to know how I can do more than leave.

I’ve been journaling my feelings and trying to figure out this goodbye thing. As I worked on a draft for a blog post Emily Freeman’s name came up in my inbox with the subject line reading: 3 Simple Ways to Say Goodbye

There was no mistaking God was hearing my concerns and answering my heart cries.

I’m including the link to her article because you really should read it. We’re all going through goodbye’s of one kind or another so consider her words.

Here’s a couple of things that spoke deeply to me:

Maybe one reason you’ve not been able to move forward into your next right thing is because there’s an ending lingering in your life that never ended with a period.

It was Christmas break of my 8th grade year. I was enjoying school, where we lived and life in general. A day or two after Christmas my parents packed us up and we moved to another town. We would soon learn they left their life as ministers and would divorce. There were no goodbyes, no farewells. We just left. Almost 50 years later this is still a tender spot in my heart.

 As Emily writes, “the first thing is to put a period on the experience.

Don’t let the stuff outweigh the sacred.

Photographs and memories help us mark special times in our life. They are the stuff. The sacred is the impact those moments and people had in your life. How did it change you or help shape you some way?

The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us, but because of the person we have become.” 

I have viewed our retirement as an ending. When someone told me it’s the next chapter I corrected her and said it’s the last chapter.

As trite as it may sound it’s true that every ending is also a beginning. I’ve chosen to look at the ending without considering how it’s been preparing me for a new beginning. This is the space I need to give more thought. This is what will help me say goodbye without that unfinished feeling that lingers. It’s a hollow feeling when you fail to mark the sacred things from the time that was.

I know I’ve been changed from those surrounding me. I am full of gratitude for how they’ve impacted my life and given me more understanding of grace.

This is how to say goodbye: with a heart full and running over with gratitude for God’s gift of unending grace and His reckless love.

In the Changing Room

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

I see the soft capes draped over the models. They look perfect for our mild winter temps in South Florida. But I know what they’ll look like on me. Or, rather, what I’ll look like with them draped over my 5’4” frame. 

The same can be said for some cuts of jeans or the trendy untucked shirts. I’m not the 111 pounds I was at 18 and 20 extra pounds make a huge difference on the hips of a borderline petite person. I will look squatty and feel dumpy. 

Sometimes I will buy the shirt anyway. I will convince myself it’s only my eyes that see this, and that may be so. But one day, I’ll put it on and what looked good in the dressing room looks bulky and frumpy now. 

Up and down I go, trying to hold on to things no longer there: youth.

When I fit into the demographic called young, I knew my purpose and felt sure of it. I was confident in mothering. I was sure of my place in the church as a respected and valued leader. I considered it a privilege to be counted on to shuttle our kids classes on field trips and to sports games. 

I knew what was ahead. Most of the time. There was a certainty to life.

And then I blinked.

I wonder if this is how Rip Van Winkle felt when he woke from his years of sleeping. I’ve wakened to a time of unknowing and uncertainty. Mothering has changed and become more difficult as I’m not always certain when, or how, I’m needed. (The double edge of raising good, able, smart adults.)

Retirement is coming is now weeks away and what started as a fun thought is fraught with fear and uncertainty.

My youth is gone but not my life. There is more, much more to come.  But I’m not the same size and I’m not sure what fits?

I’m back in the dressing room realizing the low rise jeans aren’t working anymore nor is the size 6. Do I really HAVE to shop in the women’s department? Am I relegated to Ann Taylor or Chico’s? No offense but they aren’t my style.

That’s how life feels these days. I appreciate today’s technology and not having to worry about long distance charges to talk to friends and family on the phone. I try to stay current with culture and trends. I’m just not sure I fit into any of it.

Perhaps the best thing this part of life offers is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all pattern. It’s going to be custom made, one of a kind, for me.

“You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.” Psalm 139:13-16 Message

Mother’s Day 2019 The baby is grown up with her own “baby”

The Balance Between Saving and Numbing

Many Years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him. 

“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves. – Barbara Brown Taylor, author

With our life in major transition mode for the past few months I needed something to save my life. I needed something that would take my mind off the to-do list and the longer list of unknowns. I needed something to give me breath.

I found myself letting art absorb me. I grabbed my basket of fabric scraps and set up the sewing machine that’s been in it’s case for months.

I scoured Pinterest for ideas, bought more bits of fabric and sewed piece after piece.

Then I grabbed my paints and again went to Pinterest for inspiration. I painted watercolors, determined to learn more about the method I so admired. I used my acrylics, some mixed media and even did a collage or 3.

In the process I had an idea that I’d start a new blog that could encompass all these art mediums: photography, making and writing.

Several months later I’m asking myself has that been saving me or numbing me? And is there a connection between the two?

When I was having extensive dental work done I welcomed the numbing ability of the Novocain. It would be poor medical practice not to give a patient something to numb the extreme pain cause by some procedures.

Working in recovery we talk about numbing our feelings and how that isn’t a good thing. As Brene Brown has told us, when you numb the pain you numb the joy.

So what gives here? I feel a little like all this busy-ness of making is numbing my emotional distress as it saves me. It’s a healthy distraction from seemingly endless lists.

When I’m in the creative process my mind is free to wonder. I’m not thinking about work or politics or what I should have done. It’s focused on what’s in front of me. Did I sew that line straight or does it matter? What color will look best on this painting? Should I ink in details or leave soft?

There are no right or wrong answers to those questions. Even the mistakes I think I’ve made aren’t mistakes. I have no one to answer to so I can think freely if I allow myself. Is this numbing or saving?

detail of bird mini quilt
watercolor of Sarge

Maybe the saving isn’t numbing but taking the edge off of my mind that struggles to shut down. Maybe it’s putting things into better perspective as most of the overthinking I engage in won’t change things and doesn’t really matter.

I posed this question to my therapist. Is art saving me or numbing me? She tilted her head and thought a moment and said, “Does it give you joy?”

We talked about the beneficial and harmful powers of numbing. She asked a few more questions. Is art causing me to neglect or ignore other things? Is it taking me away from life?

My floors might go a little longer between sweeping but the laundry is done, groceries bought and meals prepared. I still feel the pangs of loss and celebrate the joys of life. I am engaged in life.

As time gets shorter before our move I’ve had to put the sewing machine back in its case. Fabric and notions have been boxed up and most days my camera sits idle. Soon my paints will be packed except for my watercolors, 2 small watercolor tablets, and a few brushes. 

God saves us in many ways. Art is my gift from him. His way of giving me breath.

What is saving your life today?

When Grief Feels a Little Like Being Lost

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

The first time I felt literally lost was on a red dirt road in the middle of Arizona with my husband and two young children. If I could choose two people to be with in an emergency, my husband would be one of them. That combined with knowing the need not to alarm our children are the only things that kept me from panic. I immediately thought about the cooler of ice we had that would provide us water should we be stranded in the desert over night. Mom thinking. 

A few years ago my husband and I went hiking with some extended family. To this day the men won’t acknowledge we were lost but when you ask other hikers for directions you’re lost. It was frustrating. The map was useless as were our “smart” phones that were out of signal range in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail, such as it was, wasn’t marked or at the least, not marked clearly. The moderate 2-hour planned hike turned into a frustrating 3 hour search of the trail we had apparently lost.

Lost is not a good feeling. I get impatient with others. I shut down except to utter a few sharp words. 

The kind of lost I feel today is worse. I know where I am. I am not in danger of the elements. My phone has a signal. I know the landscape, the streets, the faces. I just don’t know where I’m going. I am adrift, caught in the in-between. This is the place where emotions can take you under. And they are rising up in my eyes day after day.

It would be understandable if there is no faith to tether your fears to. But what is said of one who claims a faith in a God who cares? Yes, I play that through my mind. Do I think God to be a liar? His word says he cares for me – all of me. I know the counsel that friends and scripture give. I know the songs but this lingering feeling of being without purpose and aim haunts me like looming shadows. 

I wrote those words in my journal last summer. That’s when the emotions of grief began to hit hard again.

I was in my 40’s before I realized grief could be brought on by more than death. Our life had taken an unexpected turn that had us moving from the state I’d lived in for 30 years and plopped us into a ministry that left me wondering how I would fit.

Since then, grief has often been my unwelcome companion.

There was leaving our son a long two day drive away with our next move. My father-in-law’s death. Family concerns and heart break. Then mama’s obvious memory lapses that eventually confirmed dementia. The following succession of deaths of a dear uncle, my mother-in-law and eventually mama.

It’s been a long 12 years and one that has found grief waiting at every turn.

This time it comes with the anticipation of retirement. Another surprise. Not retirement but the grief I didn’t know it would bring.

For months I was trapped with the thoughts of everything I would lose. I began to mourn the loss of place (this is home), position, the known for unknown but mostly I sensed the loss of purpose.

The tears came and I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss. The kind of loss you feel when you don’t know where you are. Like being on a dirt road with no signs in the middle of Arizona.

I journaled. I made a list of things I will miss about this place. I daydream about furnishing our retirement home and being 20 minutes away from our daughter and granddaughter. But I still feel an ache in my heart. I still wake in the middle of the night feeling a little lost.

Mostly I’m holding on to these words written by another familiar with grief:

“God was faithful before; God will be faithful now. 

We weep for that which we have that is so good. We don’t diminish how desperately we will miss it. We let ourselves feel the ache because grief is good and necessary. And mixed in with the grief is gratitude for the undeserved goodness to have the gift of this life, this place.” Gina Butz, SheLoves

Let me feel my grief and cry my tears. It’s okay, I’m okay. God was faithful before and He will be faithful now.

It’s Yours Not Mine

After nights of waking at 3 AM, of going out to the couch so i won’t wake him, of laying there sleepless with the usual trick of reading to lull me back to sleep, with even that failing me, you’d think I’d learn. 

You’d think I’d learn that the thoughts that wake me and occupy my mind, you’d think I’d learn those concerns are yours not mine.

The employee issues at work, the fatal overdose that was so unexpected of one with much promise, the grief that has become a silent companion, these are your cares, your concerns your problems, not mine.

But I will take them from you. Again. And again. I will hold them tight-fisted and I will lose sleep and depression will attempt to return because I’ve got this God. Life needs another flesh and blood life to take charge and step up and do the hard things. I mean, where are you but in the shadows of our prayers? 

I know the words about giving our cares to you. But tell me, how, exactly, does that work again? Because I still see a world that is filled with hate and greed and threatening to implode. I see addiction and disease taking our young and weak. And I’m one of the weak. I am so weak.

I see death and lies and rude people who don’t even know how to say excuse me. I just don’t see you. And I need to see you, right here. Because I believe you are. 

I wonder if giving all of this stuff to you is seeing you? I meant it when I said I’m not sure how that works because I’ve been holding your stuff for a really long time. We’re in this together right? I want to help and it’s hard to realize you don’t need my help. The lines get blurry between that whole faith and works thing because I’ve got the works down pretty good.

I like the notion of your will not mine. but honestly, when do I really let it be your will?

Step One: admit that you are powerless to do the right thing and that your life is unmanageable. 

I’m not an alcoholic. Not an addict. But I’m drunk on caring for things that are out of my control. I’m enticed by control, my drug of choice. All the things in neat little rows working as they should. Life, as I would have it. 

Instead of the familiar verses about casting my cares on the Lord because he cares for me, I find my comfort in the first steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, principles built on the bible, for wayward souls like me.

The Perfect Side of Boring

Yesterday was the reason people live in South Florida. The skies were a cloudless blue. Humidity was low and the temperature never got above a pleasant 80*. It was perfect. It’s January and this is our winter. 

My freshman English teacher assigned us to write how we envisioned the world. I don’t remember the words I wrote only her comments written in red on the top of my paper. I wrote my vision of a perfect world and she wrote “how boring” that would be.

She didn’t know my parents had divorced earlier that year and that my dad took my younger brother and moved to another state. She didn’t know mom and I also moved and were living far from family. She didn’t know my perfect world had been turned upside down.

How could there be a problem with perfect? If it were boring it wouldn’t be perfect. How did my teacher not get that?

In the years since I’ve learned a lot about perfection and perspective. I know that most of our days are average and ordinary. They are doing the mundane things that must be done. We’re buying groceries and preparing meals. We’re doing laundry and washing dishes, sitting in meetings and standing in lines. We’re fighting traffic in our daily commute while trying to remember everything on our to-do list for the day.

If we’re honest, on the days nothing breaks down they are perfect. And perhaps, some would say, boring. 

So what is perfect? Is it blue skies and 80* in winter? 

If I could, I’d live somewhere else July – September. The humidity is stifling and temperatures rarely get below 77. Heat + humidity = feels like in the 90’s. Every day, month after muggy month.

But we stay because we love palm trees and the close proximity to the ocean. We know the promise of winter. The same reasons some stay through snowy winters. They know the promise of summer.

Perfect is personal. That’s what my teacher didn’t understand.

When my parents divorced I still went to school, mom and I still went to church. We did all the same things but it wasn’t the same. What was ordinary before now looked perfect. Obviously it wasn’t for my parents but it was for my 13 year old self.

It would seem the route to perfection is through hard times. Through times that aren’t comfortable. The prettiest roses I’ve seen grow in climates with cold, snowy winters. 

The weather is simply an analogy for how it is in life. It helps me see that a day of doing all the things can be perfect, if not spectacular. 

Living in the Now

Our daughter got a new car recently. It’s a Nissan Rogue. I’ve never noticed that particular car but now I see them all over. That’s how it happens. They’ve been there all along but once it’s pointed out we notice.

That’s how it is with being present. Have you noticed the talk about living in the moment, being present? I hear it on the morning news shows, see the articles online and come face to face with the advise from a friend who works as a counselor. 

The problem is, I’m a literal person and over thinker. That can be a tough combination. It provokes questions like, how long do we live in the now? Now asks what do I want to make for dinner which leads to thinking about later and that isn’t the now. See what I mean?

Now has me telling you I’m watching college football and forgetting about the recent holidays. Yes, I exhaust myself with this over thinking!

I understand the value of this moment. I get the importance of not living in the past or the future. But one will always lead into the other. That’s what time does. 

Time has found us living in the narrow spaces of in between then and tomorrow. We are packing up our life, or so it seems. For the first time in over 20 years we know we’ll be moving and we know where and when. When I’m packing things in boxes I’m definitely living in the now. But my thoughts quickly turn to where we might put this in the new house.

Now finds me unsettled and anxious at times. Now doesn’t offer the answers I want. But now is where I name the 5 good things. It’s where I say the prayers and remind myself to pick up the dry cleaning.

Now is when I make supper for the two of us and when I lose myself in a book.

Now isn’t scary. It’s obvious and simple. It’s routine and predictable. Now is comfortable which makes me wonder why I squirm so much in trying to figure out the future. 

The present slips quickly into the next moment and that’s the temptation that lures me. It promises control that creates expectations and both come tumbling down like a house of cards. 

So I’m working on training my focus to what’s in front of me. It’s not easy. I have years of second guessing myself and believing I can control life. I’m not sure how this living in the now is suppose to work but I’m willing to try. It starts with breathing in, ‘Yah’, and out ‘weh’….breathing in and out the name of God.

Are You Ready? (& my one word)

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” ― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I feel I should give you fair warning. We’re going through a lot of lasts these days as we ready ourselves for retirement. It finds me with rich memories that dampen my eyes and new questions that can’t be answered – yet. At times, it feels like I’m trying to keep my balance while on a rocking boat. I love the water but those waves remind you to steady your balance and that sometimes you need to let the waves carry you.

I’m giving you warning because I feel as if I’m repeating myself and talking too much about this part of our life. I don’t want to be that person but it’s taking up a lot of mental space these days. I’m trying to get a jump on the packing well in advance so we can be ready. So far, that’s the easy part. I’m also trying to focus more on being emotionally ready and that’s where it gets tricky.

We had a wonderful time over the holidays with family being in and out and allowing us to pivot our attention on being together. There is always a lot of laughter, too much food and satisfied exhaustion from staying on the go. 

The decorations have been packed away and our house looks bare in comparison to its recent festive glow. The linens have been washed from our full house. The fridge still holds some leftovers daring me to do some creative cooking. 

Getting ready for the next thing always starts with some cleaning up, some putting away, and some letting go.

I need toclean up my habits which perennially include drink more water, move more, and (this year) eat less. 

I need to put away my attitude…the one that is full of sass and let go of my expectations of others. 

I also want to remember to embrace what is before me. So far, I have a clear view of what is behind and only vague uncertainties about what is ahead. I can let it come or I can choose to welcome new possibilities. Embrace is the word that called out to me as a gentle guide for this season. It’s the posture I want to guide me to a new readiness. Arms wide open.

Christmas at My Age

In recent years many of my doctors have started conversations with these words: “At your age….” At your age I want you to take a baby aspirin (even though I have no family history of heart issues)At your age your teeth start to shift. At your age your eyes, your skin, your sleep…..

There is one childhood Christmas that sticks in my mind. It’s the year I asked Santa for an Easy-bake Oven.  I was 8 or 9 and the anticipation filled me with such excitement that I woke up in the middle of the night to peek into our living room to see if Santa had come. 

There is another year where I remember hearing the reports of where Santa and his sleigh were at that moment. I was a year or two younger and don’t remember the desired present but it was the excitement and anticipation of the event.

At my age, I’ve seen a lot of Christmases. Not all were happy or filled with excitement. We shift from the fables and presents and getting and think more about preparing and giving. We try to figure out ways to balance all the things without losing the reason we celebrate.

At my age I want the kind of Christmases where I still experience the wonder of the season. I want to be filled with the glory the angels sang about and know the joy of giving. 

At my age I want to hold dearly in my heart the memories of those we’ve lost while I hold the joy of their eternal peace and wholeness. 

I want to deck the halls and smile at the twinkling lights, to line our shelves with the Santa’s collected over the years, to celebrate the remnants of our past and the hope of our future.

At my age, I want to remember that Christ is being born every day, over and over in our life when we cling to his hope and peace and share his joy and love. 

Merry Christmas

When the Bough Breaks
A friend of mind has often said, “don’t let them see you cry”. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard to hold back the tears, to keep the voice from cracking but my face tells all.
For years I did my best at blinking them back and blaming allergies and contact lenses for my tear-filled eyes. But then mama got Alzheimer’s and that seemed a very legitimate reason to let the tears fall.


I am a contradiction of tears and strength.

If you asked most people who know me they would describe me as strong. I’m not sure why but I’ve been told that and have tried to own that description. Maybe it’s because I’m not afraid to use my voice. I am passionate and that seems to speak strength. The thing is, when you care deeply you hurt deeply. I would never want to be described as an emotional person but the truth is, I am. I can look the part of strength but it only comes with the other side which isn’t weakness but caring.
The strength I thought I had broke wide open not long ago. The nursery rhyme of Rockabye Baby came to mind. I was in my cradle of security when the winds on uncertainty began to rock it. The winds were blowing from unexpected directions. What should have been gentle breezes sometimes had powerful gusts threatening to knock me over. For the most part, there was balance. Until a tornado swept in and the bough broke tumbling me and my cradle to the ground. 
The feelings of fear, doubt, and shame overwhelmed me. I was bent over sobbing as I told myself how I was letting other people down. How could I be so weak?
What I realized was that my security has been rocking a lot the past few months. We are looking forward to our retirement next year but it has brought a surprising display of emotions.  Grief brought on by change and fears of an unknown had become more than I realized and turned into a tumultuous windstorm that knocked me to the ground. 
I wasn’t strong after all. I wasn’t the warrior people thought I was. Tears show up unexpectedly and often. When I’m watching a television show, reading a blog post or seeing a homeless man on the bridge. I sniff them back and thank God my heart is full.
Something happened in the midst of my puddle of emotions. Strength began to stir when I recognized my limitations. I can’t do it all. I have limits that my despair has made me keenly aware. 
And that’s okay. The tears are okay. I’m okay.
Yes, my safe cradle has been rocked and at times I feel like I’m tumbling down. But it only serves to remind me that God’s grace is sufficient for me. His grace comes in the familiar. He comforts me a counselor’s wise words, and friends listening through my tears even though it makes them uncomfortable. 
Weakness is silence. But there is strength in our voice, even a voice trembling with tears.