Friday, January 31, 2014

False Evidence Appearing Real

My friend, Robyn, is so incredible.
She can embrace you, letting you cry on her shoulder, while simultaneously giving you a swift kick in the pants to help you get over your (sometimes self-inflicted) challenges.

The other day I was at her house and mentioned I was trying to tamp down the fear of the unknown that unfortunately accompanied some really great news I had received.
"FEAR?!?" (pronounced "FEE-AH" by my Aussie friend). "Fear is just false evidence appearing real."
"What?" I asked.
"That's what FEAR stands for," she said.  "Fear is simply 'false evidence appearing real.'  Anytime you feel fear, just say that out loud."
"Well, sure, I know it's the devil making me feel afraid," I told her, wanting to already seem enlightened.  To which she stamped her feet and drove her point home.
"It's not enough to just know where it's coming from," she insisted.  "You have to follow up the feeling with the words.  False evidence appearing real!"
"False..." I stammered.
"False evidence appearing real!" she crowed.
"False...evidence...appearing...real," I faltered as I scrounged around in my purse for a pen and paper and jotted the acronym on a used envelope.

Getting it down on paper, I read aloud, stronger this time:


At that, Robyn literally leaped off of the couch and did a little jig in front of me, laughing and saying, "You've got it!  And you know your dear Daddy is doing a jig up in Heaven now that you're on the way!"
Love her.

She was referring to my news, of course.  The news that I had received the artwork & designs for my God-sized dream, the prayer app, Branching Out in Faith.  
That God-sized dream you have supported and read about here on my blog.  
That God-sized dream born in my heart after months in the pit, unable to sing or work anymore in my chosen field.  
That God-sized dream that has been a game-changer for me.  
A game-changer in perspective and how to look at challenges and opportunities.  
A game-changer in how I have learned to ask for help
A game-changer, I truly believe, in my family's future.


(As a gift to all of you, here are a few of the screens which have been lovingly and expertly created by the team at Mastri Designs.  There are 13 screens total which are as beautiful as they are functional.  "Branching Out in Faith" will forever change our prayers lives and the way we look with gratitude on our many blessings.)

Entering into the app...choose a function!

An opportunity to list the things for which you are grateful
morning after morning.  A perspective changer when it
becomes an ingrained habit.  Best of all, you can share it!
(Though my hope is that your first gratitude
is different than the one listed here.
Poor Great Aunt Jeanie!
Those guys at Mastri Design are hilarious...)

There will be more seeds to choose from &
a few prayer quality changes based on the Gifts of The Holy Spirit.
But I love that you can be reminded anytime
of your need to pray a specific intention.
This was the original impetus for the app!

Isn't it gorgeous?  I feel so much excitement and profound expectation of what's to come.
The fear from the unknown, however, was that I have no way to finish funding this project.  A cool $12,000 left to go before it is fully developed.  Where that money is flying in, I do not know.  But, come to think of it, I didn't know from where the initial $8,000 was arriving either.  And to date, it is paid in full, thanks to many of you and your generosity, either financially or in prayer for this project.  (Biggest thank you again, by the way!)

So my current "false evidence appearing real?"  
I don't have a clue from where I will fund the rest of the project.

Faith and honest thoughts with no fear however?  
I have options to explore.
It will take humility to be sure.  
It will take work and ingenuity.  
It will take faith and patience, plus some savvy business skill.  
These elements I have within me....the hard work and faith I have to spare.  

No time for FEAR.  
All the evidence I need is in my heart and soul.
He is the evidence of a bright future in my life.
He and His plans for me, alone, are real. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Waiting in Joyful Hope

Have you ever noticed that we spend our entire lives waiting?
Or is that just me?
It seems that ever since I was a child, waiting has been my prime pastime.

I remember once impatiently asking my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Pritchard, "When are we going to have a spelling bee?!?!"  She had promised, after all, and I felt as though my eight year old self had been waiting for such a loooong time (to show off my spelling prowess, if I'm being completely honest).
Her response?
"I'm sick and tired of you trying to teach the class, Cynthia McGonagle.  Go stand out in the hall."
The hall?!?!?!?!
Banished to the area right outside of our classroom, two doors down and across from the smelly, cold girls restroom at that brick-faced Daphne Elementary School, I cried, horrified by my fate, wondering exactly where I had gone wrong.
The delay on that spelling bee had just seemed so interminable.
Yet there I was in the hallway...humiliated...and not spelling.

Spelling wasn't all I waited for, of course.
It seems I waited daily for get me out of my current circumstance.
I waited to grow. (Never happened!)
I waited to be out on my own.
I waited for the love of my life.
I waited for children.
I waited for our first house.
I waited for success, recognition and a career on Broadway.  (Um, yeah, still waiting for that one.)

This morning I awoke, struggling with anger and frustration.  It probably had something to do with the fact that I couldn't fall asleep...again.  Drifting off at 1:30AM and arising at 6:30AM is NOT the optimal sleep cycle my body requires.
Still I had a bitter heart and wasn't at all concerned about changing my attitude, though it threatened the entire day with darkness.  I thought I'd just wait it out.

Then a word came to me...

"Hope," I thought.
"Hope," I repeated.
"Hope," I whispered aloud.

Hope is my word for 2014.

And though thinking it didn't immediately shift me out of my dimness, when I concentrated on that word, I couldn't help but start seeing my circumstances differently.  Moments after my whispered remedy, my husband stopped me and pointed out a blue jay alight on our outdoor furniture.  (He knows I love birds but he never does that.  Hope-filled happening #1.)

Blue Jay photo bluejay.jpg

Moments later, I walked outside only to see the blue jay, still with me, looking down at me from a neighboring telephone wire.  It sat and stared.  And I stared back.  It let me admire it's beauty, from the cresting crown headdress to its tiger striped blue tail.  I knew in that moment, as I inhaled the morning and tearfully watched the labors of His magnificent hands, that my dear Daddy was sending me this rare and wonderful creature to assure of me His hope.  (Blue jays are native to the East Coast and the Southern United States, so a sighting is not common here in Southern California.)  The blue jay stayed for an unusual amount of time before giving me a final glance and flying off.  Hope-filled happening #2 was shoring me up.

Then the second word came to me...
Wait in joyful HOPE.
Where had I heard that before?
"Wait in joyful hope," I thought, turning the phrase over in my mind.
"Wait in joyful hope," I uttered aloud once again, before it came to me.

In the Catholic mass, between the Lord's Prayer and the doxology, the celebrant prays this prayer:

"Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

Keep us free from sin.
Protect us from all anxiety.
As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ah yes, Lord, You've made it clear here.
Not just at our church services, but in our instructions for each day living on this earth.
We are not just to hope.
We are not just to wait.
We are to wait joyfully...wait in joyful hope...for You.
For Your grace and Your goodness.
For Your Word and Your salvation.
For Your coming, Your presence in our lives, each and every day as long as we live.

Hope for the future?
Hope for 2014?
Nah, not just hope.
Joyful hope.
That's the new prescription for the daily waits I pause to joyfully endure.


Image credit:  kolkanutt on Photobucket

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Addicted to Just One

{I found this post unfinished and avoided, a draft of a feeling that was just too painful to publish a few months ago.  But with my Word of the Year - HOPE - burning a fire in my heart, I knew it was the right time to finish it and SHARE IT.  My prayer is that it ignites a spirit of hope in YOU today.  Thanks for reading.}

Just one more piece of chocolate.
Just one more program on TV.
Just one more Facebook post to read.
Just one more snooze button to push.
Just one more handful of chips.
Just one more swallow before I quit the over-consumption train chug-a-chug-chugging a worn, dirty roadway through my life.
A boxcar of goods.
All leaving tracks of waste throughout my living room.

You see, I am - and have always been - addicted to "just one more."

This magnet was a gift from a friend and clings to my refrigerator.
Clings to my refrigerator.
What irony.

And even though I get the joke and laughed when I first saw it, the more I read it, the more a different meaning rings true. 
And the more I ponder that meaning, the more saddened I become at the loss. 
The loss of days. 
The loss of self-worth. 
The loss of goals and dreams in an attempt to define myself,
or lack of self,
in terms of what a pudgy, out-of-shape holy vessel can and is qualified to do.

At an October therapy session, Dr. Gray said, "Well, when do you want to schedule our next meeting?  You seem like you're doing really well."  And though I know it appeared that way externally, I had avoided bringing up "just one more" as I had no motivation to fix it.  Or more accurately for fear that it was unfixable.

So I replied, "Well, actually I wanted to talk to you about my compulsive eating.  I'm feeling out of control.  I was hoping you could give me some tips of what to do when the cravings and consumption are beyond my the heat of stress or sadness or whatever.  What methods should I use?"  Then I added with a laugh, "Or should I just give up eating anything that I love altogether?"

To which she replied, "Well, you may have to do that."

Okay, I'm gonna be raw, real Cynthia for a minute. 
When my therapist said this to me, I thought, "What kind of racket is this chick running?  What do you mean I may need to give up eating chocolate....or chips...or watching sitcom re-runs...or any number of things for which I have a weakness?  What kind of game is this?"

But when she expanded on my issue with a sobering Q&A of my habits, I began to realize that my problem with "just one more" is not just an issue of self-destructive behavior, but an issue of stealing my life and focus from where it should be.  So the question presented itself, "Is another handful of bite-size Snickers really worth stealing me from Him?"

That bleak Thursday morning, on the way home from my session, after a bit of sadness, guilt and much gut-wrenching prayer, I heard a song.  One I've heard countless times, but never in the same way as that day, that moment.  I knew it was an answer to my plea.  The title itself answered my prayer.

The God of angel armies is always by my side.
"I know Who goes before me.
I know Who goes behind.
The God of angel armies is always by my side.
The One Who reigns forever,
He is a friend of mine.
The God of angel armies is always by my side."

Looking back on this scene from three months ago, the advice from that ill-fated psychotherapy session still haunting me while the lyrics from the song continue to shore me up, I know what it is I have to do.  And I know what it is that I truly want.

I don't want "just one more" ANYTHING.
Not one more cookie.
Not one more episode.
Not one more hour of sleep or waste or doubt or fear.

I want a different kind of addiction, a different kind of dependence.
And I know where to find it, in Whom to turn.
I want just Him.
Just Love.
Just Spirit.
Just Holiness and Joy and Grace and Generosity.
I want just the life He wants for me, planned for me, expects of me.

No, no...
I don't want to be addicted to "just one more" ever again.

I want to be addicted to just One. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Christmas Miracle

It's never too late to share a miracle, is it? A faith-affirming moment of glory when He reveals Himself to us and those around us?  I hope not.  Because this story was my own personal Christmas miracle. 

I got a call from one of the Young American associate producers on Friday, December 13 at noon, "Jessica has laryngitis. She's trying steam treatments right now but if she can't sing, can you go on for her tonight?"  

For those of you who have followed this blog since its inception, you may recall that the loss of my singing voice - thereby, my career - propelled me first into the pit then into the act of writing as a way to express that pain.  Either way, though, the important thing to realize from the above request is that I have not sung in public in three years.

Now that the stage is set, so to speak, I'll continue with the marvel that transpired.

The Young Americans were doing their annual "Magic of Christmas" show a full weekend in December to sold out houses. My first instinct when Tara called was to RUN!!!!! (Let me rephrase first instinct was to run SCREAMING!!!) But I've learned over the past years that when I want to run from whatever is scaring me, my response should be to lean into the fear and embrace it, as it's usually needed to make me grow. 

So instead I said, "I'm available but can you send me the audio file to see if I can even handle it?" The first number was "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," and I knew I could kind of fake that one with a bit of belting and lots of character...fine in a pinch. But the second was the "Ave Maria." No faking my way through that one.  They sent me the file and after I warmed up, I ran it a few times. It was decent...not incredible but better than no singer or a singer with laryngitis. My breath support was a joke...lots of catch breaths needed...would have to work on that part. But I said I could do it if necessary, at the same time praying for Jess's total healing before the show. At 2pm I got a text..."You're on."
I drove down at 5:30pm (throwing up in my mouth a little) with my daughter, Colleen, for the show...she was scheduled to see it with my husband's family on Friday night.  I got a brief walk-through and sound check then went on at 8pm. I had nothing to wear for "Ave Maria," - not in need of many full-length formals these days as I generally stay at home in sweatpants and write - but Jessica graciously brought four gowns for me to try on. One fit perfectly (thank you, Jesus...a miracle in itself because I've put on so much weight) so I was set.  Lots of prayer later, and it was time.  It went beautifully and was such an honor to sing with 150 choral voices behind me conducted but an old friend of almost 30 yrs.  Whew..."that was nerve-wracking but fun," I thought. "Now I can't wait to hear Jess in the show the following night." 
God had other plans.
Jess called me the next morning...she couldn't I went on again...
and again....
and again....
and again....
Five shows total. 
But here's a bit of back story you may or may not know.

There's a reason I haven't sung in public in three years. 
When I sing in the congregation at church on Sundays, my voice cracks frequently and my throat is always sore when I leave.  I can't speak without the hoarseness I've experienced for the past years for some portion of the rest of the day and beyond.  Often the next day, I don't have much of a voice at all....much less, enough to last through five shows of singing.

But this is simply the physical damage.  More profoundly, there has been the emotional heartbreak.
Last November, I had a conversation with Drew about how heartbroken I've been, though I try not to think of it often, not being on stage, not able to sing in front of an audience. I told him, "Being onstage was a precious place for me.  I felt beloved there. And I don't feel beloved anymore."
It was that glorious Sunday morning, driving to the theater, that I realized I had been experiencing a miracle.  I had been focused on picking apart my vocal performance and praying that Jessica get better so hadn't been focused on the gift I was receiving...and giving to others...through this experience.  Countless people in the audience knew of my vocal journey, and I began to realize, as people came up hugging me and crying after the show, that they may have needed proof of a miracle as much as I needed to sing.  There had been an impromptu brunch for all of the organization's board members, international booking directors and associate directors/producers the previous day, and there were overwhelming hugs, comments and tears as people told me they needed the prayer of the "Ave Maria" the way I sang it.  
I was blown away. 
I realized that God even put this particular song in my path.  
I reflected, as I drove, that I've been praying the "Hail Mary" my whole life...
first on my knees with my sisters every night when we were little...
then many, many times in the rosary with my family and alone when I was at my lowest.  
I couldn't be more intimately acquainted with it.  
I realized that my beautiful Daddy taught Latin in school and here I was getting to speak it in song...
that it was my final goodbye to my grandmother at her funeral....
oh, so many connections and oh, so many gifts.  
Most of all I realized I was being given the gift of love from so many...

I felt beloved again. 
Most of all, I felt beloved by my Beloved. He was letting me know he heard my prayers, heard my needs, heard my sorrows.  He gave me a gift that will last me forever.
Monday my throat was sore again (hilarious) and I had not gotten one thing "done" in preparation for Christmas. Not one gift bought or wrapped.  Not one Christmas card addressed or mailed. Not one food item planned or bought for our Christmas party the following weekend. But none of that mattered. 
I was given the gift of time with my dearest friends.  I was given the gift of connecting with my former voice students (many of whom were there with me when I had to stop teaching) and the students with whom I traveled to Ireland just a few short months previously. I was given the gift of singing this tender prayer for my children, my husband, and so many who lifted me up the past three years. 
Most importantly, I was given the gift of leaning on Him in my time of anxiety and need....I prayed so hard before every moment on stage, and the Holy Spirit gave me the breath I needed to deliver the message. He was my breath. 
I had forgotten this is what Christmas should be about...and what I don't focus on in the hustle, bustle and hullabaloo of shopping- that this is what it's truly always been about. 
So today as your read about this glorious miracle, 
whether you're at work, at school or at home...
Stressed or calm...
"Prepared" for what lies ahead of you or not...
I want you to know you're beloved to me...
You're beloved to Him....
And there are miracles all around us every moment of the Christmas season and beyond into this beautiful new year.
All we have to do is look for them.

{Thank you for reading.
Praying for a new year 
full of miracles
for you and yours...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Plight of a Self-Pressured Mother

Well, it's finally here.  I'm sitting at my desk watching my husband and son drive off for Braden's first day back at school; Colleen has been gone for an hour already; my two nieces are asleep in the back bedroom, a spur of the moment trip to watch their beloved Auburn Tigers go to battle at the BCS Championship in Pasadena (War Eagle!) a surprise from their parents for Christmas; and me, chomping at the bit to write a word, a phrase, a thought that might capture something of value for the start of 2014.  To quote my husband as he was leaving, "You got something cooking for your blog today?," his observation of me finally sitting at my desk not at all lost on me. 

"Yep," I ruefully replied, my thoughts from a mere moment ago assailing me once again.

While steaming my son's school clothes, I thought about the fact that I had not arisen early to do my Morning Pages.   No progress made on my book.  Not a sentence written...again.  In fact, I wrote only one blog post in December and six in November.  Twelve December drafts unfinished.  70 posts total in 2013 compared to 157 in 2012...less than half.  The numbers don't lie. 
"What exactly did I do in 2013?" I asked myself. 
"What a waste of a year." 
Immediately, the shame of that judgment washed me over like a molten bath.

Happy New Year.

There are weeks...
that I do this to myself. 
Do you?
I question how or what I have been doing with my life while friends, acquaintances, and contemporaries seemingly sail by with their big houses and successful careers; high-achieving children and rooms with a view; travels abroad and well-oiled physiques.
In the meantime, I'm steaming clothes and making lunches.

Thankfully, as quickly as I thought "wasted year," God gave me His word.
His light.
His hope and His reassurance.
And in so doing, His salvation.

2013 may not have been the writing-est year.  (Hmmm, I wonder why with words like "writing-est" springing forth?!?)
It may not have been the most adventurous or career productive...
The most financially rewarding.
But, oh, so far from a waste it was.
Truly, in familial growing, in caring; in helping and in teaching, and with His guidance and help, it was a great success.

I thought back on personal challenges and achievements...
Launching and navigating a crowdfund campaign...
Hiring and working with the Mastri Design team on my God-sized dream, the Branching Out in Faith app (release date TBA!)....
Travelling to Europe to direct a Young American tour...
Being hired by Disney Performing Arts to master teach a new project for incoming schools...
Together with various freelance writing projects, I've stayed pretty busy.

But truth be told, these are just work.
Blessings to be sure, but still work, in progress or completed.
The true success lies within family.  
If I hadn't done even one of the items listed above, I could still count my year as one bearing the fruit of life.
In listening to His beckoning, I accomplished much, much more - more than "work" - than had I struck out on my own, conquering the business world, the financial world, the world of accolades and acclaim.
Honestly, that I had faith in His plan rather than my own was, I feel, my greatest personal achievement.  Because it's hard to see with eyes of faith rather than eyes of the world.  To trust and walk, not certain of where the path is leading.

He had more in store for me than the business world.
He needed me elsewhere.

He guided me down a rough road with my daughter this year, helping her navigate the treacherous waters of fear and uncertainty, hopefully developing the necessary skills to embark upon her life's journey in the fall.
He brought joy to my heart as I watched my son gain his first, true friends - with God's help, Braden finally found "his people."
He gave me the eye to create beauty in my home, bringing warmth and welcome for those who entered.
He blessed me by leading us to a fatherless family in need, a mama and three children with whom we've been able to share our blessings...visiting, feeding and praying His word.
Perhaps most importantly, He's given me the means to help care for dear friends, some on the brink of breakdown and others facing unimaginable loss. How could it possibly matter if I wrote a page on those days when He needed my love and care elsewhere?

Of course, there are days that I haven't listened.  (There's the true waste!)
There have been days when I would rather watch the season premiere of Downton Abbey than write a word or do as He beckons.
(As now, dear readers, so please recognize true sacrifice when you see it...)
And yes, there may be days, months, even years, when I look around at my ostensibly mundane life and wonder, "Where am I going? What have I accomplished?"

But I'm learning.  
It is during those times of doubt that we all must look further, into our very depths, into our ever changing souls and see.
He is doing a work in us.  In our families.  In our worlds.
He is changing us.
He is growing us.
And with every step, every breath, every "thank you" uttered in His precious name, our years - both past and future - hold the greatest value, the greatest reward....never wasted in doing His bidding.