cleaning up the yard

My cat is a killer. About once a month she manages to fell a bird, for the guts or glory, I’m still unclear. But she clearly thrives on her instincts. Then I usually hear from one of my children that there’s a dead bird in the yard and I go to dispose of it.

This time I was really slow. There were two birds awaiting their funeral. When I reached them they were skeletons with a few scattered feathers. There were leg bones, but what got me were the beaks. These dainty beaks bare pecked at my soul. The bones were so narrow, so light. The intricate design was jaw dropping. And suddenly what I was doing was no longer clearing out debris from the front yard, but giving them a proper burial. The mundane made holy.

when you ache discouraged

The impersonal internet struck again. The dreams started about a job, only to be dashed by black and white print: Not Selected. As much as I knew that end was likely (they wanted someone with more availability and I was surprised they brought me in to interview), I was hurt. As much as I knew that it was a rational decision on their end, even if I was great, it felt like personal rejection. Tears formed; tears shed. But worst of all the heaviness settled on me. The heaviness: self-doubt coupled with feeling unworthy topped with a healthy dose of failure. I moved slower and the world felt dark. I avoided people and texted my husband, requesting a virtual hug. The serpent wrapped himself around me and whispered lie upon lie.

Just as I was about to crawl into my self-made hole, I remembered words of hope. Words uttered before true darkness and fear gripped men of old, words promising light in the midst of an unknown future:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

I repeated these words over and over. I wrote them on my mirror. Slowly, and not without a fight, the serpent and heaviness slithered away. It was still a hard day, and there’s still unfulfilled longing. But there’s hope. Better yet, there’s Hope, and that Hope will not disappoint. Amen.

friends and heaven

I’ve seen a glimpse of heaven, although I didn’t realize it at the time. It came via five women, all flesh and blood and broken like me. There were shared memories of vegan food and failed cooking experiments (my twenty-five year old self didn’t realize you couldn’t substitute balsamic vinegar for apple cider vinegar in a recipe), there was laughter and late nights, there were tears, and fears, crosswords, and online dating. There were gospel choirs and ethnically diverse churches, there were bikes on trails (and getting locked out from the house). There were even arguments over the air conditioner and if we should give each other set chores. But most of all, there was love and sharing of heart longings and passions and what-God-was-up-to in our lives. We made space and time to be with one another, and we shared guts and glory. God used each of us to shape us more into His likeness. I got to be part of a slice of heaven for three years.

I moved away to pursue professional dreams, we started getting married and moving out, and the intense shared time faded. The ties that bound us stretched as we entered new stages of life in new geographic locations. It shocks me to say that it’s been almost thirteen years since I left Baltimore. I’ve made good friends since then, but it looks different, especially in Washington. And I’ve found myself unsettled, longing for something deeper, with an intensity that I once knew. More rational people have informed me that “it’s a stage of life thing” and that with young children I can’t hope to equal that again. More patient people have informed that it just.takes.time–and that my free-wheeling days offered me freedom and time that allowed for deep relationships quickly. In my more self-aware moments, I know they are right. But I also can’t quite capitulate. I believe that God can do it, and that He is not limited by my stage of life or my relative lack of free time. It will look different, but I’m convinced it can be rich. So I’m jumping into this pool of people here, because I’ve seen heaven. And it’s glorious.

(On Valentine’s day, it seems especially appropriate for this post, and to send a shout-out to Holly, Laura, Jenna, Kim, and Rachel. Thank you, thank you, girls! Where are we meeting this year?)

contentment and gratefulness

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credit

2014! 2014! January 9th, at that! Like all good folk out there, I’m laying the way for a clean slate. It can be done at any time, but the turning of the calendar pages makes it an easy one now. I’m just settling back into a routine after a wonderful time away for Christmas and New Year’s (whoever said white Christmases were the best needed some southern California sunshine!). So now, in the wake of all those resolutions which may or may not be kept, here are themes I want to explore this year:

contentment and gratefulness

What you might not know about me is that I can be critical. Normally directed at myself, I’ve found it directed in all directions over the last few years. Of course, it was couched with terms like analytical, realistic, discerning, and the like. I wasn’t attempting to tear anything down for no reason. But somewhere along the line it ceased allowing me to move forward and just became negative spewing. I can rationalize much of it away (I was hurt, it was true, I wanted to make it better), but it still wasn’t helpful. Church became a target, so even when something happened that was good, I spoke from a hurt place and negated it. When I caught myself doing that I realized that things had to change; this didn’t feel like me, or the person I wanted to become. As a result I want this year to be filled with contentment. Yes, I can hear you now, “Um, so you’re just going to be content?” Well, kind of. I’m going to choose my perspective, and I’m going to choose gratefulness.

Every night at dinner we go around the table and say our “highs”, our “lows” and any “mistakes” we want to share. We started doing this to force ourselves to reflect on the day a bit, to recognize what we can be grateful for, to know how to pray for each other, to note that all of us make mistakes. Some days it’s super insightful, other days it’s a complete bomb. But we’re in training, disciplining our minds, putting things in perspective. When it is a cruddy day, I will still look for the small thing that was my “high”. Contentment will not be a matter of circumstance for me; it will be an attitude of the mind. Will my eyes be covered with rose-colored glasses? I hope not. Somehow contentment got misconstrued as Pollyanna smiles and sunshine.¬†Choosing contentment shouldn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge challenges, that our hearts won’t break in any number of situations. I’ve noticed one shift already: I find myself extending grace, both to myself and to others. I feel like there’s more freedom in my life now, and I like it.

The hymn “It is well with my soul” comes to mind. I’d forgotten the story behind it until now: Horatio and Anna Spafford had five children. In 1871 their son died and the great Chicago fire destroyed his fortune in real estate investments. In 1873, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship was struck and sunk, killing all four of their girls. Given these tragic circumstances one might expect the Spaffords to be bitter. I have no doubt that they mourned many times over. Yet it was when sailing near where the girls died that Horatio penned “It is well with my soul”. I am humbled; I can choose contentment.

shame and freedom

Garan_Sunrise

Tuesday morning started with tears. They were big, they were ugly, they were accompanied by snot running down my face. It was not a hallmark moment. Here’s the scene: my friend was telling me (via email) how grateful she was to have her world opened wider, to claim the racism of our country’s past (and present), to recognize her own place in that, to be able to offer her kids a different worldview than the one she had while growing up. She spoke of watching gut-wrenching movies, reading gut-wrenching stories, learning gut-wrenching facts, and facing them head-on. My stomach sank, for my experience has not yielded the same hope for the future. We’ve read some of the same things and my response is one of paralysis, not hope. I am horrified by racism and want it to end. I want to be part of change. But when I read about all the pain that continues, pain that I don’t experience because of my own white privilege, I’m so scared of perpetuating it unintentionally that I don’t move forward. I get so worried that I might do, say, think, not understand someone’s perspective that I am caught in my own hamster wheel, running at frantic speeds, staying in one place. And then, if that weren’t enough, I felt ashamed that I had the privilege of “not doing”, that I could go about life and not be forced to deal with racism and my class privilege. The tears began, flowed, and ended up with me sobbing uncontrollably in front of my computer. Even in that moment, I knew that God didn’t work this way, shaming me and holding me hostage from doing what I believe is right. God doesn’t ask for perfection; He asks me to follow Him and do what He calls me to. Sometimes I’ll fail. Sometimes it won’t feel like enough. It may never solve the underlying issues.

That was three days ago. The lump comes back to my throat, but I can swallow now.¬† A few things have pushed me out of those doldrums. There was a marvelous blog entry here which reminded me both that 1. God works differently in different people (and that seeing Him move in one person’s life is not a reason to demean myself) 2. We choose to see the “burning bushes” around us. My friend reminded me (yet again) that “Comparison is from the pit of hell”. Such true words. The funny thing was that I didn’t feel like I made comparisons (although I did). I was more in grief about how screwed up this world is and how I feel so infinitesimally small, that what I can offer is too little, too flawed. It is. But I’m also studying Galatians with my bible study now, and if there’s anything that’s coming out loud and clear it’s that it’s about Jesus. My efforts won’t achieve salvation, my efforts won’t undue the scars and open wounds of racism. My strength is not sufficient. But God can turn dark to light, God brings hope out of despair, and God is more than enough. And He works through me.

There’s such freedom to enter those dark places, because He already did, and He conquered.

 

restoration

As the rain pounds on the skylight and I sip tea from the mug next to me, I’m thinking about restoration. Restoring what, you ask? Well, all of the following:
*Restoration of health for my friend who went through six hours of surgery two weeks ago and is recuperating here. Watching her get better and being able to be part of the process is such a gift to me.
*Hope of restoration of this same friend with her family that she hasn’t been with physically for almost a month. What excitement will ensue!
*Restoration of water in the ground. (Yes, the water cycle is still pretty exciting to me.)
*Restoration of kids from orphanages with their families. I’m involved with Reeds of Hope and that’s one of our goals in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
*Restoration of smiles after tears. (Cuddles help.)
*Restoration of hope when there’s none.
*Restoration of shalom–that peace where injustice and sin are removed–because of Jesus.

I know that’s short and sweet after a long absence, but those are the thoughts percolating tonight, and I’m trying to be better about getting them out on virtual paper.

scattered

photo by oakleyoriginals

photo by oakleyoriginals

Summer is winding down here and I find it bittersweet. R is starting full-day school in a little over a week and it feels like a huge milestone, perhaps even more than starting kindergarten did to me. My girl will be somewhere else for seven hours a day (if you include the bus ride) and I’m…gulp…a bit sad. It makes me re-think homeschooling. (In case I’m ruffling anyone’s feathers with that statement, I’m not super serious about it. I’ve toyed with it in the past, and probably will for the next fourteen years, questioning whether public school as it’s presented today is the best fit for any child, including my own. I don’t think any teacher should have to teach 25+ kids in a classroom. If someone must do that, s/he should certainly have an aide. Ahem and ahem. I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

But I find myself craving the routine the school year provides, too. This summer has felt far busier than I anticipated. I told someone recently that it has been “wonderfully chaotic”, filled with visitors almost constantly since we returned home from vacation in July. But maybe I really am an introvert. I kind of want more space alone now, and I don’t know how to make that happen. The to-do list to prepare for school is lengthening by the minute, and yet I find myself distracted. Distracted by what, you ask? Well, here are a few things taking up space in my brain:

  • My dear friend is having major surgery in three weeks, and is under a mountain of stress.
  • Another dear friend is separated from her husband (yes, the one from the earlier blog post)
  • My sister’s FIL is gravely ill.
  • I applied for a part-time job that both excites and terrifies me. I sorely miss practicing physical therapy, but the idea that I would need to find care for my kids is daunting.
  • Tom is working hard. That is an understatement.
  • More guests arrive this week, we go camping soon, and R starts school the day after we get back.
  • My big decade turner is coming up and I move from completely nonplussed to craving big celebration and adventure.
  • Didn’t I say we wanted to enter the foster care system to be respite providers? That paperwork is somewhere.
  • I do want to mentor a high school student from the alternative high school at church and just need to fill.out.the.paperwork!
  • Speaking of churches, we’re probably going to divide and conquer to check out churches this fall, and that feels overwhelming, too.

I want to be fully in the present, sucking the marrow out of life. (Ah, I do love “Dead Poets’ Society”.) I want my kids to see me wanting to interact, to play, to love, to laugh, to read, to pray, to be with them. But if I’m perfectly honest I kind of want to retreat and read a magazine or watch the next episode of “The Newsroom”. And I was convicted about truly being in relationship with Jesus and spending ample time in prayer. It’s not a thing to do, and I never want it to be, but I’m having a challenging time focusing when I even try.

Bother. I know I’m not alone in this being-pulled-in-many-directions. It’s true that if I slow down and listen to God I’ll have a better sense of what my priorities are. But checking email and researching anything (new foyer light, anyone?) takes way less energy. So here I pray: God, speak to me even if I feel like I have little to give. Be with me and with those around me who desperately need your touch. Guide us in the big and small decisions. Give us boldness and humility in spades. May we love as you love, may we seek you, may we leak Jesus intentionally and unintentionally all the time.