When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.
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It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.

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Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

Here’s the Church…Now Where’s the Steeple

Church on a hillThere was a rhyme my friends and I used to say in elementary school. I’m not sure where it came from or if children still clasp their hands together with interlaced fingers, making up the people. It went like this…

“Here’s the church (Hands with fingers intertwined, pointing down)
Here’s the steeple (Pointer fingers together and up)
Open the door (Thumbs come apart)
See all the people.” (Turn hands up and wiggle fingers still intertwined)

When we were a little bit older, we changed the verses to say,
“Here’s the church
Here’s the steeple
Open the door
Where are the people?
Across the street
in the bar
Open the door
There they are!”

We would all laugh, not realizing that one day we would be the very people, across the street, referring to the bar as our sanctuary.

Any time someone new visits my current church, they always say the same thing. “This doesn’t look like a church! Where’s the steeple?!”

“It doesn’t have one.” I reply. “I like it that way.”

The church I grew up in was what one imagines a southern church to look like. Beautiful. Big. Stained glass windows. Wooden pews. A tall pulpit where the preacher stands, adorned in a long black robe and satin collar. The organ plays while the choir prepares to sing hymn number 400 and something. The brass pipes stretch way into the ceiling releasing sounds both beautiful and intrusive. Not long into the service, my creative mind was far into a daydream of… singing on stage or writing my next bestseller from the back porch of my California home, looking out over the pacific ocean.

Things have changed a bit. I wear jeans and red lippy and when the band starts to play, sometimes I even close my eyes, embracing the goosebumps rising on my skin. The God I’ve been chasing my entire life is right here, so tangible I feel as if I could touch him. Praise pours from my lips more like a prayer than a monotonous canticle of which I had grown so accustomed.

When I least expect it, tears well up in my eyes, spilling over and down my cheeks. I cling to the promises spoken in the lyrics written by those who love Jesus and aren’t afraid to admit they struggle. People like me. Now when I’m in the service, I’m engrossed in the message. Sure, I tweet a quote or two, but for the most part I’m all in. I’m hearing stories that I’ve heard all my life, only now I get it. I’m there. I’m in Jerusalem when Jesus walked the road. I’m at the well when the woman unknowingly serves water to the Savior. I’m in line, waiting to be baptized by “John the Baptizer.” I’m in the crowd crying out in confusion as they nail the hope of the world to a cross.

I don’t think a church has to have a steeple to make it legit. Jesus didn’t wear a name tag that read, “Hello, my name is The Messiah.” And yet, people found him. They believed him. They followed him.

If anything, I’ve learned that sometimes the things with the most beautiful shell are rotten on the inside. Sometimes the things one might pass by at first glance are filled with life giving promise. Promise that we are all longing for.

So, I have a new rhyme. It goes like this…

buckhead-church“Here is my church
There is no steeple
You’re welcome inside
We’re all imperfect people.”

I Believe…Now to Receive

IMG_5468I finally realized that even though I “believed” something, didn’t mean I “received” it. It took me releasing clenched fists and raising open palms to Heaven in admittance of my utter dependence on the one who created me and calls me by name. Savior of the world…MessiahJesus. Only then was I able to exchange my rags of ruin for his cloak of grace.

The Shame Game

“Y’all, the holidays are rapidly approaching. Are you ready for this…there are 9 more Saturdays until Christmas. We are being plunged into that time of year when patience is low, demands are high and sleep doesn’t fit on our to-do list.

There’s a reason why multiple case studies show that addiction is the highest during the holiday season. It’s the most difficult time to stay sober. I think in part because we’re surrounded by people who trigger all kinds of emotions. It’s also a time when everything around us says we should be feeling a certain way. For those of us who have always bucked up against conformity, we don’t like for people or things to tell us how to feel.

Yesterday, October 19th, by the grace of God, I reached my 12th year of sobriety. I am now a productive member of society (most days). The road was long and filled with twists, turns and dead ends. There were a lot of tears and pleading with my Higher Power. There was uncertainty among the rubble of my indiscretion. There were times when I felt hopeless.

And then something changed. Have you noticed how everything starts with a decision?”

Join me to read the rest of this post at leadingandlovingit.com/blog
Love filled Hands

3 Ways I’m Learning to Manage My Mania

manic |ˈmanik|
adjective
• showing wild and apparently deranged excitement and energy
• frenetically busy; frantic
• Psychiatry relating to or affected by mania
colorBeing manic is one color of my crazy. The onset is sudden and usually follows a series of events (bad or good) that require emotional processing. As I’ve mentioned before, food followed by purging has been my way of coping with seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I’m grateful to say that, though the struggle is persistent, I am learning other ways to deal. If bulimia and restricting calories is your vice of choice, I’m here to tell you, there are strategies that work better and longer than the momentary euphoria accompanying an eating disorder (or any self destructive behavior, for that matter).

Acknowledge It ~ It sounds simple, but it isn’t…always. In order to rectify anything we must first confront it. It’s best we do this before the one closest to us points it out. When I feel this wild energy bubbling up, I look at myself in the mirror and call it out. It usually sounds something like this, “Hey, crazy. Slow down. Take a step back. Wait to make any decisions until this chaos has calmed.” If Chris is the one pointing it out to me, for some reason, it is not well received.

Seek Wise Counsel ~ I have 3 advisers in my life. This week, I sought the direction of my spiritual adviser and counselor. I literally walked into her office blurting out the craziness swarming around in my brain. She listened and responded in a constructive and applicable way. The willingness to reach out and express my thoughts and compulsive behavior with someone who knows me and loves me anyway, is crucial to my wellness. Without it, keeping a clear and healthy approach to life is impossible.

Find a Quiet Space ~ I’ve said this before…when I need to “retreat” I sit on the floor of my closet with the door closed. It seems to be the only place I find stillness. There are times when I am in desperate need of divine direction and I can’t hear that direction if I don’t physically remove myself from all of the noise bombarding me every moment of every day. I close my eyes and breathe in a deep cleansing breath. As I slowly let it out, I envision myself physically exhaling the frantic and again, inhaling calm. This is surprisingly helpful. Just the mental image of the action, puts me at ease.
RetreatFor those of you reading and nodding your head, “Yep. That’s me. Uh huh. Me too! How’d she know that?!” I hope this is a source of encouragement and hope for you. We all have our experience. What good is it if we’re not sharing it to help others face challenges and overcome adversity? There is so much power in being able to relate to another human being. In doing so we’re saying, “You’re not alone. I get it.”

Does this resonate somewhere with you? Maybe you thought of someone you know? Talk to me. Tell me what you’re thinking.

How to Know She’s Your Person

It’s the person you’ve known as long as you can remember having memories.
The one who holds your hair while you barf and tells you when those jeans make your butt look big.
She’s the same one who will say (in a non-embarrassing way) “You gotta little somethin’…” as she slides her forefinger across her face pretending to wipe her nose.
She’s the one waiting when you come out of a public restroom to ensure that you didn’t tuck your skirt into your spanx.
She’s the one who stays by you when you’re not worth staying by.
She’s the first one you call when something tragic or fantastic happens.
She encourages you to pray when you’d rather rant and take a deep breath when you wanna scream.
She believes in you when no one else does and tells you all the reasons why, even when you won’t listen.
She laughs when you act ridiculous and patiently answers every neurotic question you have about germs.
No matter how old you get and how much time passes, you always pick up right where you left off.
She’s your person.

Vi, thanks for being my person all these years. I’m so grateful.
photo 3Who’s your person?

5 Reasons to Spend Time With a Mother and Her Young Children

JCP-8081I had the opportunity to spend part of my morning with my friend Melissa and her two children, Alex (2 years) and Eliana (10 months). I’m so glad I had my camera, because what I captured tells the story better than my words can.

1) Be curious. Wonder. Participate in life from the ground up. Don’t be afraid to mess up. You can always start again.

2) Ask lot’s of questions. (Even if you think they’re silly) Life is about learning and growing, no matter your age.

3) When having a serious conversation, eat chocolate… and laugh… throw your head back and let loose. (Chocolate and laughing make everything better.)

4) Play and Explore (Be resourceful)
Build a drum set from the buckets you just took off your head when you were being a robot. Play hide and seek with the nearest blanket. Sit in the rocking chair backwards.

“Mommy, wanna go look for giants with me?”
This question from Alex diverted me from all other conversation.
“Melissa, did he just ask you to go look for giants?!” I asked.
“Yes. We look for giants at least once a day.” she replied.

 

5) Take naps. Even if you don’t think you’re tired…
Feeling grumpy? Chances are, ya just need a nap.

Children are the best teachers. And most of them don’t even use words. They use action. It’s not always the right action, but it’s action nonetheless. They don’t sit around, talking about it and wait to see what happens.

When did we (adults) stop learning by doing?
When did we choose to walk away from a challenge and instead immerse ourselves in a Google search or social media for the answer?
When did we stop playing?
Why don’t we laugh with abandon?
When was the last time you sat on the floor, observing your surroundings?
Some of us need to revisit childhood. If you don’t like the one you had, ask someone to take you back with them to theirs.
Come back and tell us about your adventures in the comment section.

Other things I learned on my morning excursion…

A single shoestring can transform a toddler into a giant-slayer.
JCP-8049Egg cartons double as very hungry caterpillars.

Robots get hungry too.

What are you learning from your kids…or friends kids…or nieces and nephews, grandchildren or students in your class? Have any great pictures that tell a story? Email them to me at joycannisphotography(at)gmail(dot)com