Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Christmas Present

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.

I enjoy Christmas.

At night I sit in the dimly lit living room and watch the lights flicker and dance on the tree. I look at my favorite ornaments and think about the story that goes with each. Christmas has been very quiet for me this year.

Many people are rushed, frustrated and angry during this season. Lists are too long, and calendars too full. Minds are too crowded with the many obligations and duties that loom.

Lines out of shopping plazas and malls are like cattle shoots. We hear phrases like “skipping Christmas” and there are many who are truly trying to avoid the entrapment of the season.

Because of a couple of fluke accidents, Christmas has been very different for me this year. But I received one of the best Christmas presents of my life last night.

It couldn’t be wrapped.

My Dad came to my house for Christmas. He sat in my living room on the couch beside me, and I felt like a little girl.

My father and I haven’t talked in the past four years. Who knows why exactly? Miscommunication. No communication. Stubbornness. Pride.

One Sunday morning back in early November I chucked pride and stubbornness into the trash and called him. That was the best phone call I have ever made in my life.

Suddenly Christmas has become something more. More than just a time for gifts and festivities. More than obligation. More than the traditions that I hold close. This Christmas has become a time of reconciliation.

I have a cast on my right leg. And every one who comes to visit me signs it. My daughters handed the marker to their Papa. He began to write on my bright red cast. I held my breath. My father’s name is Tony. That’s what I expected to see when he moved his hand away. Instead in big, fat, clear letters he had written: Dad.

The thrill that pierced my heart was immediate and so tangible that I swallowed a gasp.

When he reluctantly left, I rubbed my finger over the black letters and cried.

My daughters asked if they were good tears and all I could do was nod.

Reconciliation.

This is the real message and meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just Breathe

Heavenly Father,

You have me very still—you almost have me immobilized, yet still I struggle like an infant who fights sleep. I wrestle with the tangled workings of my mind. I long to be a baby pressed securely to her mother’s bosom. I need to be swaddled.

I asked that you would get me still enough to hear your breathing. I asked that you synchronize my inhalations and exhalations with yours. I asked and You answered.

And yet inwardly I know there is still a tension of resistance. There is still this attitude of striving. I still battle this ever-present grasp of self-induced perfection.

Oh God! Enable me to listen. You are trying to talk to me, to instruct me, to console me. You are whispering and rubbing my cheek to induce much needed sleep, but I have this endless, inward prattle that both interrupts and interferes. My inner dialogue is furied and incessant. I am having trouble hearing you above it.

I have been asking you for years to help me to just breathe. I don’t know how. Every time I take a breath I fill it with so many other things. Things that I think others want or expect. Things that I want or expect—and they become this monotonous litany of disappointments and half failures.

I want to breathe. Just breathe.

I have been asking this silent prayer for years. Years.

Even today please help me to slow the prattle.

Oh God, help me to exhale so that I might inhale. I have been holding my breath too long. This air is stale.

Amen

.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent--3rd week

(Light the Green candle—symbol of Examination and Giving More)

Random acts of kindness have become vogue. During this season we will hear a lot of conversation about: buying groceries, making baskets, giving coats, donating money, supporting a needy child or family, and visiting the elderly. These are all wonderful opportunities to give to others. These acts are needed and good, but rarely do they require us to truly invest ourselves.

How can we give more? Gifts bought or given out of duty and unrealistic expectations create stress. Often it is easier to give the material gift. Relational gifts are given out of who we are not just what we have. These gifts require more than time and money. They require an investment we may not be willing to give. But intentional, relational gifts encourage connection and community.

God’s greatest gift to us was not a random act of kindness. Jesus’ entry into our history was an act of kindness, but it was not random. God was intentional in his giving, and he invested in us. God went beyond a one time effort and gave a gift which would encourage a relationship with him. Through his son, Jesus, God opened doors for dialogue, connection, and community with us.

Heavenly Father, it is easy to simply give more—instead show us how to give with intention. Compel us to invest in others. Empower us to take a random act of kindness and touch someone’s soul. In the process our own soul will be moved. Help us give in ways that will encourage your people to be a family—your family. Oh, that we might give as you do! Amen

* Sunday: Lamentations 3:40; Psalm 26:2
* Monday: Luke 6:38; II Corinthians 9:6-8
* Tuesday: Proverbs 18:16
* Wednesday: Proverbs 11:24-25; Matthew 10:42
* Thursday: I Timothy 6:17-19
* Friday: II Corinthians 8: 1-12
* Saturday: II Corinthians 9: 11-15

Thursday, December 13, 2007

ReThinking Christmas Trees

I have been reading a great deal about reminiscing this Christmas—especially about grandparents. Holidays contain many elements, and flashbacks are more prevalent during this season than almost any other.

Several events have happened this year that have caused me to ReThink Christmas. Not only because my church is asking me to do so, but because I need to do this. As usual one of my daughters has helped me in this endeavor.

My mother never wanted to be called any of the grandmother names. She simply wanted all of her granddaughters to call her by her given name. At first I wouldn’t allow it, but I wish I had listened.

Christmas at my childhood home was a strange time. My step-father owns a home town restaurant (in business for 37 years), and our Christmas holiday was always scheduled around the work there. My mother would decorate the Frosty Freeze. The front two windows would be small-town works of art. There would be a tree—a ceramic one with colored lights built in—sitting on top of one of the counters with fake snow underneath. Garland would hang around the facings of the doors. Every table would have a different holiday arrangement in the center. My best memories come from the festivities that happened there.

Home was a different story. We would have a tree sporadically. A themed one, of course, with all the same colored balls and white lights and icicles. One year everything on the tree was UK blue and white. This was in tribute to my family’s adoration of UK basketball. My mother had fun that year.

I remember the last tree being right in the middle of the formal living room. Yes, it was a room that you couldn’t sit in. Everything in the room was placed strategically—in many ways it was an artistic endeavor. That was the last tree I remember.

Over the years the decorations at the restaurant and at home became mangled and shoddy, so they were tossed and never replaced. And the sporadic tree trimming also fell away.

The Vaughan Christmas tree is a huge deal. There is a method, and it is the running joke with my daughters concerning me (another story). My two younger daughters and I put up the tree this year. We had fun and our evening had all the elements of tradition. We played Ray Charles and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. We held our breaths to see if the lights were right. My older daughters were not happy with us; they wanted to be a part of this event.

During the decorating I told my younger daughters about my mother’s Christmas trees and the fact that she no longer puts one up. This was so foreign to my daughters, but very little was said.

Later, we were making plans for the Christmas season—which part of the family we were going to see and when. We were planning on going to this set of grandparents’ on the 23rd. Some events occurred that changed these plans. My third daughter became visibly upset because we weren’t going on the day we had planned. I couldn’t discern why.

My home is a difficult and demanding place to visit. I thought she was dreading the trip. I thought she wanted to go on a day that we wouldn’t have to stay very long. I was wrong.

I was so wrong.

She had taken some of her own money and secretly (with the help of friends) bought my mother a small Christmas tree, ornaments, lights, and garland. She had even bought a huge Christmas Teddy bear to put under the tree because she didn’t want that space to be empty. She wanted to go on the 23rd and decorate the tree for my mother as a part of her gift. And that is why my daughter wanted to go before Christmas.

My daughter had rethought Christmas. She wanted to give my family a bright spot to look at this year. She wanted to take some of what she experiences and pass it along. She wanted them to have new memories. When she brought the tree and all the extras in and showed me, I really didn’t know what to say or do. She had gone so far beyond what I had contemplated.

She didn’t spend a lot of money (a lot for her small budget), but her heart was intertwined in everything she bought.

We will go to my hometown this year. And I will watch as she and her sisters give this gift to my mother. I know that my girls will engage their grandmother to participate. They will put a hanger on a brightly colored ball and ask her to hang it. My mother will protest and she will balk, but with her funny little smile she will tentatively place it on a limb. That will be all my mother will do, but it will be enough.

I have always loved Christmas trees, but my daughter just gave me a reason to love them more.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Week 2--Advent Devotional

(Light a Gold Candle—Symbol of Preparation and Spending Less)

Often Christmas is a season of “push and pull”. The religious community pulls us. It admonishes us to guard against the material society and its standards and to keep our priorities in order. The saturation of our consumer-oriented American culture causes the push. Every year the retail Christmas begins earlier and earlier. As a result we purchase gifts for our first cousins twice-removed. And we wonder why.

Our culture is stealthily pushing the Incarnation (Jesus’ coming to dwell in the flesh) to the outer fringes of the season. There is an effort to eradicate his presence and influence entirely. This attempt to remove Jesus is nothing new. Herod attempted to do the same, but his plan was thwarted.

As we prepare for this season let us evaluate whether we are being pushed or pulled to buy or do. We need to resist being conformed to the expectations created by the “traditions of men” and thwart any attempt to remove Jesus’ presence and influence.

Heavenly Father, during this holy season teach us to give weight to what is of eternal value. Prepare us to spend our time, energy, emotions, effort and money on what will expand your kingdom. Enable us to discern with deep clarity what we can change and what will change us. May your standard transform our desires. Please help us to understand how to spend less, so that we might truly spend more. Amen.

* Sunday: Romans 12:2; I John 2:15-17
* Monday: Daniel 1:1-21
* Wednesday: Daniel 3
* Thursday: Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:22-24
* Friday: Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:32-34
* Saturday: Proverbs 23: 4-5; Isaiah 55:1-2

Friday, December 7, 2007

Evening Prayer

Heavenly Father,

The day has been long, and the morning seems so far away. I can remember every detail, but the time and events seem far removed from where I am now.

I am tired. Not weary. Just tired. And I long to go to a still quiet place and let all thoughts, plans, stress, and concerns drain away. Enable me to close my eyes and keep the screen of my eyelids blank for a while.

Thank you for the day and all that it has held. Thank you for creativity and laughter and for friends and spontaneity.
Forgive me for the things I said and did that I should not have, and please forgive me for the things I should have said and done, but did not.

I know you are near. I feel you hovering just above the edge of my consciousness--whispering to me. I am asking that you help me get still enough to hear my own breathing. Then, please move me to a place where I can hear your breathing, no matter how faint. Synchronize my inhalations and exhalations with yours.

Mary wrapped your Son in swaddling clothes. She carefully pulled his tiny arms and legs near his little body to keep him warm and from erratic flailings. As Mary did this for Jesus will you please wrap me? Pull all of me in with the swaddling of your Spirit. Wrap and pull me tight to secure and calm my own infant flailings. Pull me towards your center.

And allow me to fall into a deep, contented sleep because you are the last thing on my mind.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent--1st week

Week 1—Devotional
(Light the Blue Candle—Symbol of royalty)

Mary expected and prepared for the arrival of her child. She did not know the day or the hour, but she knew he was coming. She trusted and believed what she had been told and assured by Gabriel.

Mary anticipated the arrival—the coming. But heaven witnessed the departure—the going. Sentinel angels guarded Jesus’ descent. Holding holy breaths, the citizens of heaven watched the Word part the veil. They fixed their eyes on the royal Son as he entered seamlessly through the curtain and became flesh —he slid into common and banal history. His presence manifested quietly. Unobtrusively. The angels who followed him carried the worship of heaven with them—spilling it over to the shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem.

All eyes in the gospel nativity accounts were on Jesus. Shepherds, Magi, Angels, Simeon, and Anna all fixed their eyes on this baby we call Jesus. These witnesses saw him for what he truly was and is—God’s remedy for the chaos, profanity, and ugliness of the world.

Heavenly Father, increase our expectation for your presence and cause it to swell within us. Let us be the new witnesses of Jesus’ perpetual arrival. Show us how to embrace and extend your remedy to our world. Let our worship be more than high hymns and spiritual songs and rote rituals—enable our worship to be a pedestal to lift Jesus up so others might see him. Amen.

* Sunday: Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 3:1
* Monday: John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9
* Tuesday: Luke 1:39-56; Psalm 34:1-5
* Wednesday: Luke 2:8-20; Matthew 2:1-12
* Thursday: Luke 2:14; Hebrews 1:6
* Friday: Luke 2:21-38
* Saturday: Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:5-11

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Advent

Crossroads Christian Church is ReThinking Christmas.

I had the honor of being involved in the writing of the Advent devotional to supplement and accompany this message series. I decided that I would post the readings here also. I will post each week's late on Saturday night. If you would like to hear the messages that prompted these writings, please go to www.xroadschurch.org. You can download the pod cast. The first message is this weekend.


Adventus. Latin for arrival, coming. Advent is traditionally a time when the church has celebrated the birth of Jesus. This season begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas day and ends on Christmas Eve.

In the beginning during medieval times, Advent was similar to Lent. It was a time of fasting and penance, but through the years the season became associated with joy and anticipation.


As with all traditions and religious seasons, Advent has endured some secularization. Crossroads longs to give you tools to ReThink Advent and Christmas. ReThinking Christmas is not a feeling, but a choice and an attitude. We want to be reminded of Advent’s intention and purpose: to point with joy to Jesus and his arrival.


Many traditions have been tied to Advent and Christmas. They are intricately woven together, and the weaving is as complicated in origin and purpose as a Celtic knot. Colored candles, numbered ornaments, daily calendars have been used to count the days until Christmas with eagerness and anticipation. Often what was meant to point us toward Jesus, toward the arrival of God’s Son, is now merely a way to count the days of shopping and the accumulation and receiving of gifts.


Advent is a season to celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ first arrival. And it also points our eyes toward and prepares us for his return—his second coming. Christ-followers anticipate and expect his second coming. We have been assured He will arrive again.


Heavenly Father, in this hectic season let us be still enough to hear the holy hush. Let our vision be cleared in order that we can see past the ornamentation of the holiday. Enable us to contemplate your purpose and your plan for your people. Let us absorb the reality that you became flesh and lived among us. You did this so that we might know who and what you are. You wanted us to know. You still want us to know. May this devotional be an aid and a tool that will lead us to worship more, spend less, give more, and love all. And may you use it to encourage us to expect, prepare, examine, and hope in your son, Jesus.


Amen and amen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Morning Prayer

Heavenly Father,

I sit here in the morning dawn and I realize how hungry I am to be in your presence.
No words. No requests. No petitions.
I just want to abide in you for a time until the day starts in full force.

You are worthy.

YOU are worthy. And you fill my hunger with a sustenance that I can find in no other. My heart-soul aches to be near you, to hear your instructions, to hear your admonitions—even your discipline would be welcomed.

To articulate the swelling in my heart at this moment is not possible. My throat is closing and my eyes have misted. Were I to speak, my voice would tremble. Oh, that I might lift my hands to you. Might I lift them in adoration and abandon. Oh, that my inhibitions and restraints would be removed.

You are so much more than I ever dreamed you would be. When I was young and came to a faith in you I had no understanding—no ability to comprehend that as I grew and matured I would experience even more of you. I have attempted to fathom your depths and I cannot find the floor of this vast ocean that I have named You.

In my failings, in my shortcomings, in my inability to be faithful you never change. Never. You wait for me. You wait for my hunger to grow. You wait for my thirst to increase. And you are my bread and water.

Oh, that I might crawl up in your lap and huddle against the expanse of your great bosom. I would hide my face in the crease of your arm and relish your strength. And your warmth would seep into my cold body—I have been there before. I long to be there now.

Oh! God! My words are gone. Hear my wordless praise.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dark Door


At this juncture of my life, doors seem to be visual teaching aids. For years my email address has been myancientdoor. Recently the message at our church was about choices, and the catch phrase was “Big doors swing on small hinges”. Then I had a conversation with a friend, and we were talking about being real, about the gift of being ourselves. This friend commented that becoming yourself is like going through a “dark door”. (When God wants my attention he puts post-its everywhere.)

Dark Door

The dark door of who we are
seems forbidding, cryptic, and enigmatic.
Across the top of the door sill, words are
etched in the ancient woodwork:

Enter here, see
Enter here, know
Enter here, be revealed

We have been told if we enter through this dark door
We will face who we truly are—
without the masks,
without the false selves,
without the walls of self-preservation.

We are indignant.
We are insulted by the implication that we might be
wearing a mask and presenting false selves.
But beneath this thin veneer we are afraid.
Very, very afraid.
Our own reality does not allow or enable us
to comprehend the ramifications of entry.
In all our worldly, short-sighted wisdom,
we believe we know what or who we will see.

Often we avoid the door.
Frightened of what we will see,
scared of what we will know,
and terrified of what will be revealed.

If we choose to enter—
through the dark door of who we think we are,
Who others think we are—we take a risk.
We gamble because others’ perceptions of us might change.
Even greater is that our own perception and understanding
of who we are will be changed.
And this is what really torments us.
It is daunting to look in the mirror and not know who we are seeing.
It is humbling to recognize that our wisdom is foolishness.

But the choice is always ours.
We are not herded down long corridors
and pushed through the door.
We are not put in a room with this door as the only exit.
Transparency is not demanded.

We are presented with the choice of opening or leaving the door closed.
But the circuitous path of our lives always brings us back.
Repeatedly.
Regularly.

This is the rub and reality of this faith we agreed to enter and now profess.
This relational faith that we have been covenanted into is about transformation.
It is about being changed.
And faith is believing that the change is beneficial and of value before we see and experience it.

God beckons us to our dark door.
He invites us to turn the knob and push it open.
We must be warned that
the heat of the portal can be intense—searing.
the light from the door can be brilliant—blinding.
the knob--cold
the stairs—steep.
the threshold—high.

What we can’t see and what we sometimes do not understand
Is that He is on the other side.
He is waiting for us to make the choice:
To be revealed not as we see ourselves,
And to be unveiled not as others perceive us,
But to be known as He knows us.
Darkness is as light to him.

On the other side of the dark door
He is waiting with a cloak of grace
To envelop us…to clothe us.

And all that we are and all that we are not
will be swallowed up in love and grace.

Please enter here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Law and Grace

Romans 8:1-4

I love to read. I can’t be without a book. If I am without reading material, I will read the side panels of cereal boxes, the back of toilet paper packages, and the fine print on an antibiotic tube. There is a bookcase in every room of my house—even the hallway. Obsessive? Most likely.

I work at a library, and I often get asked what I am reading. I am a serious and eclectic reader. I enjoy reading scripture commentaries and history books. I love to study the origins of words. Not so good for reading recommendations to our patrons. And there have been times I have been embarrassed about this. So, I have been reading a lot of fodder lately. Mindless reading to wind down before bed, or in the small spaces of time before the next event or appointment. I do this in explosive spurts and sporadic bouts.

The result is always the same. I regret wasting the time. Then I feel guilty. I have that terrible, heavy feeling of being a poor steward of my time and energy. When this pattern occurs I always feel depleted rather than replete. This kind of reading extends the belly of my mind, and I am full for the moment. Later I am far hungrier than I was before.

Being aware of this pattern, I made stipulations on my reading habits. I told myself that I would need to get two or three chores done before I could read a chapter or two. I told myself that there were certain kinds of books I shouldn’t read—books that increased my discontent or fed a restless spirit. I made a law concerning my reading habits, and I even talked to a dear friend about it.

I just went through one of my sporadic fits of reading and the law didn’t hold.

Why not?

I started thinking about this. The books and the reading are not the real issues.

I had a rule, a law, in place to remind me. But I didn’t adhere to my own law—one that I knew was beneficial. I stepped right over the boundary.

My law was powerless.

Law never produces the desire or the eagerness to do right. Law is simply a measure of whether you are meeting a standard or not. The law points out whether we hit or miss the mark—its bedfellow is condemnation. The law only measures outward behavior, not inward motivation and intention. It does not grow or produce longing and yearning, because it is not life-giving. Some people live “by the law”, but they are not imparted life through it.

Then what is the purpose of law? To set a standard that produces consequences for disobedience? Is that the only reason we have law? To curb our wayward behaviors? To put parameters around our conduct? Law cannot reconstruct our mental DNA. Demands and expectations of the law can only temporarily curb our actions. Law cannot change our minds.

Then is there anything, anything, which can?

Yes!

Grace.

What in the world do law and grace have in common? Some people live as if grace is the polar opposite of the law. Grace and law are not opposites. They are not diametrically positioned, and they do not negate one another. Grace and law work together.

My law did not change my behavior. It temporarily curbed my actions.
Temporarily. I set a standard…and I missed the mark.
This is the purpose of the law.

Law must be in place to understand and experience grace.

Law is the backdrop for grace. Law is the austere, black velvet that showcases the resplendent diamond of grace.

Many people see the law as being the hard taskmaster—unrelenting, unforgiving and unbending. There is a kernel of truth in this perception. We also tend to see grace as soft and gentle. Meek and mild. Always forgiving. Always excusing. Always flexible. This is a distorted view of grace.

Grace does not accommodate or encourage sin. Grace is not weak. Grace has a tensile strength that will hold much longer than the hard grip of the law. And it will hold. It fills the gap that the law reveals.

Grace transforms.

I read this morning. And I don’t regret one minute of the time spent turning the pages. It wasn’t fodder. (This is a book I will recommend) It was a book about the journey of a very visible woman just a few years older than me. She missed the mark of the law. She felt (and was by the religious community) condemned. But she has experienced and been transformed by God’s tensile grace.

Grace creates desire and eagerness to want to do what is good, pure, lovely, noble, and praiseworthy.

Grace changes our spiritual DNA.

I have something in common with the author of the book I am reading—we both have a huge diamond ring, and neither one of us deserved it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pierced Numbness

There are times in the hectic routine of our daily lives that we stop feeling deeply. We are very concerned and consumed with survival and staying intact and keeping up and ahead with our to-do lists.

As we move from one task to another, as we move from one event to the next, as we move from one conversation to another we often move as if by rote. And as we are doing one thing we are mentally doing another task in our heads. Recognize the pattern?

There are mornings when I wake up and I immediately begin to plan my day to see what I can keep and what I can remove. I wake to face my yesterday’s procrastinations and today’s unexpected dilemmas. And my mind moves through the course of the next twelve hours--looking at the clock and mentally tabulating how long before my first appointment and my last. I am trying to see just how all the puzzle pieces will possibly fit between. Often they don’t.

Sometimes, just sometimes, something happens and there is an intervention in all of this juggling. A brief moment of something so good and so unexpected…and I am reminded that I can feel deeply. I am quickened. The numbness is pierced. The moment is brief and fleeting. But it is very real.

This moment happened this morning. I listened to an incredible someone play the piano. Just two songs intertwined, but for those few minutes I was transported. Gone was the rote reaction to the day.

I cried this morning. Which of course is nothing new. Anyone who knows me knows that I cry often. This is my nature. I am an emotionally driven person. But, I know my cryings. And this one came from someplace deep in my soul.

Because of these brief moments my day will be different. I will do more than survive.

I thank God for the piano player.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Verb of God

O Body of Christ!
Expanded and diverse.
Vast and manifold.
Let us all be together in one place again.
One Mind.
One Body.
Gathered in anticipation of a new Pentecost.

Come, O Holy Spirit!
Suddenly.
Be violent in your appearance,
so that we will not miss you—
for we are an inattentive people.
Arrive and sound like the rushing wind.
Whorl through our midst—
Wend through our collective consciences.

Reawake us.

Come, Counselor.
We have been sitting in your house waiting.
We are a fractured and quarreling people.
Afraid, confused,
apathetic, perplexed,
misguided, numb.
We are unsure of who we are,
and where we are going.

Remind us.

Come, Advocate.
Speak on our behalf,
then infuse us with the fire of Him.
Lick us with the flames of your Presence.
Let your tongues of heat separate
And rest on each of us.
Let us be like Moses’ bush.

Fill us.

Come, Spirit of Truth.
Whisper to us His words.
Take from what is His
And make it known to us.
Do this so that we might speak
the native languages of our brothers and sisters—
Languages lost and garbled in the chaos.
Languages silenced in the din of pain and suffering.

Teach us.

O Precious Gift!
Let those who encounter us say
we have had too much wine.
Let us be drunk
even in the morning.
Enable us to declare the wonders of God.
So that many might ask,
“What does this mean?”

Immerse us.

O Body of Christ,
Gather in anticipation.
And ask Him to be present.
Please invite Him to come.

O Verb of God!
Come.

Amen and amen.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Depths and Heights

Last week I taught an adult writing workshop at our public library. I brought eight objects and arranged them on the table. The ladies' assignment was to choose which object represented them at this point in their life and then explain why. Their work was incredible and insightful. I chose the ship.

I am sailing in “waters of unknown depth”**. I cannot see land; there is no shore in the distance—only the great expanse of sea. My sails are high and billowed because the wind is catching them and filling their hidden pockets and propelling me forward.

The wind blows where it will.

I am not yet adept with my navigational devices. My skills are limited. The constellations and their positions often confuse me. I often get the quadrant and the sextant and their purposes mixed up. I just keep my compass in my hand and simply attempt to keep sailing true north.

The size of my crew has diminished. They stayed in ports or got on other ships of their own choosing. I remained on my ship determined to continue to sail through the dark, deep water.

The deck is wet from the cold, briny sea. Slick and dangerous. And I don’t have sea legs yet. I stagger from one end of the ship to the other like a drunken woman. I grab the ropes and holdings as my feet slide beneath me. But I make it to the bow, and stand for awhile—resting. I look longingly up at the crow’s nest.

I want to climb there. I want to stand in that wooden basket and look far out into the horizon.

I want my sea legs to grow strong, and I want the liquid in my cochlea to balance. Then I want to grab those thick ropes and climb even as the ship sways and tilts. I want to have a monkey grip on the holding lines. I want to feel the wind whip my hair and billow out my clothes as if I were the sails.

I don’t care if these are waters of unknown depth. I don’t care if I can’t see the shore.

I am sailing.

And the needle on my compass is pointing north.




**”A Life that Enfaiths
New & Selected Essays
By Denise Levetov

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Inadequate (Part 3)

I started backwards with these posts. Part 2 should have been Part 1, and Part 1 should have been Part 3.

The older I get the more simple I want life to be. But life situations often undermine this dream. My own wiring often botches this desire.

If you noticed in Inadequate Part 2, I explained the reasons we often experience inadequacy. The first thought said that “I am inadequate”. The next three stated that “I felt inadequate.” This was not a random choice of words.

There are facts of inadequacy that we might try to refute, but they remain facts. And then there are those “feelings” of inadequacy. And a wise person, I know, has counseled that if we change our beliefs we can change our behavior. The following statements are observations and patterns of thought and beliefs I want to change. Changing how you think is hard, but changing how you believe is a difficult task.

I have struggled with inadequacy because of my own limitations
My faith and watching the person of Jesus in the gospels has enabled me to come to terms with my hard-wired inadequacies. There are just some things I cannot do. I can rest in the fact that the things I cannot do helps define me, but they are not who I am. I have been able to (for the most part) let go of this one.

I have felt inadequate because I allowed others to make me feel that way.
I have the market on allowing myself and others to make me feel inadequate. I forget that the scriptures I trust tell me not to make the comparisons. These thoughts need to be taken captive as soon as they tip toe across my mind. These thought and belief patterns are wily and sly. They sneak in the door

Recently I had to have our computer completely cleaned. Wiped clean. Spyware and viruses had infected the system so thoroughly that a complete cleansing of the registry was in order. This is how I see our feelings of inadequacy. Even now that the system is clean our computer whiz encouraged us to do scans at least twice a month to keep the system clean. How could I not see the similarities? I am attempting to capture my negative thoughts and feelings and hem and quarantine them as soon as possible. Regularly I will have to take them out and examine them in light of who I know Jesus has asked and called me to be. I will need to take them out and look at them in light of who Jesus is. Then they need to be eradicated.

I have felt inadequate when I realized I was living in someone’s shadow.
I have lived in a great many shadows. Some were and are admirable. I have enjoyed their cool shade and protection. Walking in these shadows has allowed me to go places and into arenas I would have never attempted on my own. But there are other shadows that have smothered me. Most were not intentionally doing this. Most were unaware I was even walking there. But some have so overshadowed me that I have forgotten what I looked like. I was no longer able to discern my shadow from the other. I do believe it is fine to walk a while in another’s shadow. The problem comes when we remain there. We cannot remain there. The only shadow I need to abide in is Jesus’. Sounds sappy. (I do not care. Sap is the life blood of a tree. Let the sap run! Another post.) Let me abide in his shadow. Stay there. Only his.

I have felt inadequate because I have accepted and adhered to someone else’s standard or definition.
So often I will toss out my own definitions and standards in exchange for others'. Surely they know more than I? Surely they have found a better way, a better plan, a better method. What did I allow to happen that caused me to think this way? I am not sure. But I have decided that my definitions and standards should be rooted and established in my relationship with God…not the arbitrary ones of others. Easier said than done, but I am trying. Only God’s definitions and standards remain the same. Others change according to moo, circumstance, preference, and interpretation.

How will I deal with my feelings of inadequacy now that I have assessed and analyzed my thought patterns?

I will pray.

“Jesus, my wine is gone. I will do whatever you ask.

Help me in the places of inadequacy that I cannot control. Help me to see my limitations. Remind me of the futility of making comparisons and strengthen me to resist the temptation to indulge in them. Show me how to walk and abide in your shadow. Enable me to discern, accept and respond to only your definitions and standards.

Thank you that you care when the wine is gone. Thank you that you are concerned for us when we are in the middle of our spiritual faux pas. Thank you that you do not leave us to deal with our inadequacy alone.

Amen and amen.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Inadequate (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about inadequacy. I believe everyone struggles with this issue at some or many points in their lives. Why? I can only answer for me.

I have struggled with inadequacy because of my own limitations. I just simply cannot do the task, just cannot seem to get everything in line at the same time. Or perhaps I am truly not wired to work in or to be adept in a particular area. (No matter what program or curriculum I will never be adept or friendly with Trigonometry and Calculus. I cannot run. My knees will not allow this type of exercise.) I cannot change these limitations. This inadequacy is more acceptable to me, and it is far beyond my weak and limited control. I lose very little sleep with this type of inadequacy.

I have felt inadequate because I allowed others to make me feel that way. Yes, I did say allow. I am a people-pleaser. And this status has caused me both grief and elation. But this wiring has caused me to make unnecessary and unflattering comparisons. When you compare you will always be either taller or shorter. You will rarely ever find someone that you are the same height and the comparisons disappear.

I have felt inadequate when I remained in someone’s shadow. Some people just cast long, broad shadows. Eventually we will have to have the courage and the fortitude to walk through or around them. Sadly there are times when I have remained too long in the shadowy regions. This is the part I can control. I make the decision to remain there or move away in some manner. I like being in some shadows. There are a few shadows that protect and strengthen…but there are others that overshadow and diminish. I lose sleep over this one.

I have felt inadequate because I have accepted and adhered to someone else’s standard or definition. I have tried to meet others' expectations only to fail because I missed a detail. But it was the detail that was important to them. I will never get all the details right. And at some point I exchanged their definition for mine in an attempt to please. I allowed (there is that word again) their standard to negate mine. The negation is the problem. I lose a lot of sleep over this one.

I will end this post here for today. Inadequate (Part 3) is almost done.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Inadequate

In the midst of the celebration and enthusiasm of a wedding there is a frantic panic. The wine skins have been squeezed and the last drop dribbled—the wine is gone. We do not remotely comprehend the social faux pas this created. This hospitality blunder would forever mar the memories of the wedding day for the couple.

Their preparations were inadequate. Maybe they did not have enough wine from the beginning, or the servants were filling the cups a little too full, or people were just a little too greedy. Or all of the above. Regardless the volume of wine was inadequate.

Blame would have been assigned. When reminiscing, their friends and family would always recall and remind everyone of the fact that during the wedding week they ran out of wine.

Did anyone tell the bride and groom? Is that why Mary approached her son? Is that the reason she came to him and whispered the details of the situation? Mary came to save the celebration and the future memories of this couple. The wine was not Mary’s responsibility—but how did she know? Why did she have this information? Regardless of the answer she came to Jesus. She does not even pose it as a question; she simply told him about the inadequate supply of wine: “The wine is gone.” She approached her son—knowing he would have the solution to the dilemma.

Obviously Mary carried some weight and authority at this wedding. She looked at the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Then she walked away and left the problem with Jesus. She did not instruct him about how to fix the inadequacy. She did not tell Jesus how much wine was needed. In utter trust she just walked away.

And as usual Jesus looked around to see what was available for his use. He always used what was common and readily recognized.

What was available? Six stone jars. Not small table top jars. No, these were containers that sat on the floor and held twenty to thirty gallons of water. Ceremonial jars. The Jews were meticulous concerning ceremonial clean-ness. And they washed their hands often, not for health issues, but to be “clean”. And this ceremony required a great deal of water.

Jesus intervened. There was no pomp. No fanfare. No “look at me” mentality. Jesus simply gave the servants instructions.

He used those empty jars to help the young couple avoid the embarrassment and pain of inadequacy.

So the servants filled the jars to the brim. Water splashed over the sides. The spilling water caused the earthen jars to have dark splotches where it ran down their curved sides. The water puddled on the ground. Did even the spillage turn to wine?

Jesus created 120-180 gallons of wine. An adequate amount. And not just any kind of wine. The best. Wine to gladden the hearts of those present at the wedding banquet. Wine was a symbol of the abundance of God’s provision.

Every one of the servants knew what those jars were for—the traditions of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Burdens. Expectations. These jars represented one more “rule” to remember. One more boundary to avoid. Soon they would have been full of demands that could never be fully met.

Jesus always lifted the leaden weight of the traditions of men. The confines and burdens of religion are too heavy. God’s law is simple and direct, but the oral traditions are a cumbersome load to bear. And they were/are an inadequate way to approach God. An inadequate means to be clean before God. Instead of producing hope and joy they (the traditions) only seemed to create a sense of failure and despair.

When the servants dipped into that first ceremonial jar, at Jesus’ command, I wonder how much doubt and cynicism was present. Yet when the ladle emerged their amazement must have reverberated with astonishment. Can you hear the gasps? The whispers? And like a ripple in the water the news spread. Current by current.

Did Mary watch as they carried it forward? Did she smile that secret, pleased “mother smile” as they took the sample to the Master of the Banquet? Did the servants’ nostrils flare as they inhaled the rich aroma of the wine water? Did their mouths water? Knowing grins must have exploded as the Master declared the wine incredible. Vintage.

Beyond adequate.

How much better to have full jars of wine—the miracle—than the empty jars of ceremony? Ceremonial, religious rituals can not create joy. The outward ritual could never and will never produce an inward transformation. (Be careful, I know we do not ceremonially wash our hands, but we have other rituals and ceremonies that can be just as empty and religious).

Inadequate preparations. Feeling or being inadequate leads to desperation. It leads to overcompensation. I am well acquainted with both. Often I have assessed the situation and found my preparations to be sorely inadequate. There have been times and situations when I simply did not calculate correctly, times when I gave too much away, and times when I allowed the greediness of others to contribute to my depletion.

Often I have tried to remedy the dilemma myself. I have tried to fix the problem. I have attempted to reverse my blunders and spiritual faux pas (In French this phrase means ‘false step’). But my abilities were inadequate. I was washing my hands when I should have been asking God to wash my heart. I must learn to take my inadequacies to Jesus. I must go to Jesus and confess that the wine is gone. And leave the transformation to him.

Feeling inadequate? Have you run out of wine? Found yourself in the middle of a spiritual faux pas? Are you realizing that all your jars are empty? Remember, Jesus uses what is readily available. Do whatever he says.

Water to wine.

Ceremonial ritual into joy.

Inadequacy to abundance.

Jesus is forever taking our inadequate attempts and filling the lack.

Jesus is forever taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Can you imagine how some people would have (would still) reacted knowing Jesus had used the ceremonial jars to provide wine for the wedding?

I wish I knew what happened to those jars. Did they ever hold water again? And if they did was there a faint scent of dark, rich wine as the water was poured over raised hands?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kaleidoscope

A couple of weekends ago at an afternoon retreat someone asked a question.

What is your view of God?”

The question struck me oddly. The word “view” caused me to be a little off-kilter. The question was fine. Nothing wrong with the retreat leader's choice of words...just happened to be the way I was hearing and interpreting them.

For me, “to view” simply means to observe, to look at. This can be done passively. You do not have to react or participate.

I do not want to passively view God. I do not want to simply look at him. I want to participate with and in him. I want to join John and the other disciples and behold him. To behold involves an inner reaction. Beholding engages your inner posture and interior attitude.

Another leader's answer to this question caught my attention. She explained that her view of God was like a prism. Her perspective was affected by the angle of the facet that was reflecting the light. Turn the prism, and you see another facet—a different color. Same prism. As she described this I thought of a kaleidoscope.

Remember when we were children, and we would buy the cheap kaleidoscopes in the dime stores? They were little cardboard tubes not much bigger than a toilet paper roll, but vividly decorated. I would squint my eye and look through the tiny eye aperture and rotate the cylinder. I loved all the pieces of glass spilling and turning and shifting. They created different images with even the slightest turn.

Perfectly symmetrical, precisely balanced.

The last time I looked through a kaleidoscope was in an eclectic art boutique
several years ago. For a few moments I was a child again; I was fascinated and intrigued.

These kaleidoscopes were not cardboard. They were exquisite. But I pressed my eye close to the small opening anyway, and I rotated the cylinder. Even now I can see the geometrically perfect designs appear. I can see the explosion of color. And I can hear the percussion of sound.

The kaleidoscope allows you to do more than view. You get to participate. You are engaged because you can turn the cylinder as much or as little as you want. Your eyes dilate as the different pieces catch the light and shift the reflections and change the patterns. If you rotate and shift even a millimeter then a new pattern forms.

Ever the same. Ever changing.


What is my view of God?

My view of God is seen through the small aperture of my reality.

My kaleidoscope view of God is seen through a cardboard tube that can only
contain so much. It is limited. Finite. And there are times when my mirrors are
dusty and askew. But...

Just when I think I have moved the tube in every possible way--

Just when I think I have seen every pattern--

I rotate my kaleidoscope closer to the light and the pattern changes yet again.

And for a brief moment I behold just a fraction of Him.

Just a fraction, but it is enough.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Anemia

Mark 5: 24-34; 6:56

For a dozen years she had bled. She had witnessed her life blood pass out of her body; her attempts to stop or slow its flow had been futile. She had been helpless to replace or replenish.

Well intentioned friends and neighbors had offered every remedy and every suggestion regardless of how absurd. And she had tried them all. Every single one. She had followed every single prescription and recommendation of the physicians. She had lost track of how many doctors she had approached and visited. Each one had promised to fix the problem. Each one, for a hefty fee, assured her that his answer would relieve her of this bleeding of herself.

But they had been over-confident and misguided about their abilities and capabilities. She believed some had just simply lied. Lied because they thought she wouldn't live to tell anyone that their so-called cures had not worked. Now, no doctor would see her—her money was gone.

Monetarily she had spent all that she had—money and time wasted on remedies and treatments that failed. The fact that they did not work was disheartening, but more horrible was that her condition had worsened. Her body was depleted. As her health had declined, her spirit had dehydrated.

Sound familiar?

How many of us have been where this woman was? Bleeding for twelve years. Twelve years of dealing with the same daily pain and tedious routine. Her physical ailment was destroying every aspect of her life. She thought her suffering was just too insignificant for someone to take notice. And she felt weak and powerless.

Our bleeding may not be physical. We may not be depleted of iron and the actual life blood of our bodies...but still we bleed. And often we cannot arrest the flow. We can not plug the leak.

Therefore, many of our relationships are anemic. Pale and leaden. Pallid and infirm.

Our weak prayers seem barren and brittle. They do not move past our raised arms or they evaporate like steam—fevered and passionate-- and then simply gone.

Our daily reading is like inhaling dust. The words are arid and tasteless. And the worship doesn't penetrate; it is just rote noise.

Our tolerance levels are depleted. Our pain thresholds are reduced.

Well meaning and good intentioned people offer solicited and unsolicited advice and suggestions. We pay professionals to medicate our anemia. And like The Bleeding Woman of Mark, we often find that we are in a desperate, dangerous state.

And desperate people resort to extreme measures.

They become bold. In a boldness birthed from being at rock bottom, the woman decided she could wait no longer. Garnering her last bit of her strength and gathering her last shred of hope, she went to find Jesus. Something compelled her. She was pulled by an invisible tether.

She took a risk. She gambled.

One last chance. One final possibility.

She was determined just to touch his clothes. If she could just touch the hem of his garments, if her fingertips could just brush the edge of his cloak—something would change.

When I have been bleeding too long—there is something in the deepest part of me that knows that if I will just attempt to touch the hem of Jesus' garment then something will shift.

I do not have to have an epiphany; I do not have to have an experience.

I do not believe touching the hem of his garment is degrading, because there are times and seasons when all we can do is crawl. And hems brush the floor. Sometimes all we can do is reach into the empty spaces between all the other flailing arms and touch his garment.

This is a simple profoundness. Just attempt to touch him in whatever way you can manage. He will make himself accessible. Our suffering will not be too insignificant for him to notice. He knows how long we have been bleeding. He knows what has caused our anemia. Jesus is not misguided about his abilities and capabilities. He will not lie. Only he can provide what we need. He is what we need.

But be forewarned.

Jesus will ask, “Who touched my clothes?”

He will ask this question of us. And we must answer. We will fall at his feet and pour out the whole truth. And he will listen. Then he will look us squarely in the eye and declare that the mustard seed risk of our faith, transformed by his unlimited compassion and power, has freed us from our suffering.

Are you bleeding? Are you anemic?

No money required. No epiphanies.

I see the hem of his garment. It has left a trail in the tasteless dust.

Be bold. Take the risk.

Crawl if you have to.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oven Timers & Ladders

I come from a long line of first born daughters. Beginning with my great grandmother who was a daughter born among many sons, then she had one child: my grandmother. My grandmother had three daughters, her oldest is my mother, and I was her first-born, only daughter. Now I have four daughters of my own.

Consequently when I was growing up I was the only child in the midst of a great group of women. My mother was divorced, my grandmother widowed. One of my aunts was divorced and the other single. Men were scarce. They were a particular oddity to me.

I have always loved words and have always loved to talk. I talked quite early in life. My aunt used to set the oven timer and offer me a quarter to remain silent until the five minute timer went off. I never got a quarter. Never.

Books were my best friends. My mother taught me to read before I went to school. And later she introduced me to Harlequin Romances and Grace Livingston Hill. She would tell people that if I could not find a book, then I would read the Funk & Wagnells encyclopedias that we had in the house. I would come home from school and eat my dinner while reading. I can remember in 5th grade I read over a hundred books. But I talked and asked questions as much or more than I read.

And this incessant talking and questioning often got me or someone else in or out of trouble.

My grandmother was widowed rather early in her marriage. She kept the farm and worked it or had it worked until she died. Once, when I was about five years old, she hired a painter to paint the exterior of her house. He set up his ladder and was working on the side of the house. I sat in the yard under some of my favorite trees and watched this male oddity. Remember, there were few men in my life. Bless his heart—little did he know what was coming. For a while I was quiet. Then I began to ask questions. Just curious questions.

“Why are you doing that? Why this color? Are you going to use that brush? Will this take you a long time?”

My next question almost caused him to fall off his ladder. Poor man. I wish I could apologize.

I asked him if he would please marry my grandmother.

My grandmother was all alone and lonely ( I thought), and I wanted her to have someone to take care of her. Would he consider marrying her? Now, honestly I do not know if this man was married or not. I do remember that the ladder wobbled, and he chuckled in a way I did not understand. I found out later he told my grandmother what I had asked.

I got in trouble. I was scolded and told in no uncertain terms that I could not just go around asking someone to marry my grandmother or anyone else. These type of questions were inappropriate. I am not sure if I did not understood, or if I simply did not agree.

The next proposal I made was not quite as innocent. My youngest aunt was/is beautiful and quite intelligent. (The same aunt who set the oven timer and offered me a quarter). I met several of her beaus, because she would bring them home to meet my grandmother. And when she did I spied on them.

My grandmother had a beautiful yard—one of my most treasured places in the world. And everyone loved to sit on the front porch or out on the slope that led down to the road. It was on this slope that my aunt and her boyfriend were sitting. I was spying—watching from the trees. I came from behind and goosed them; apparently I was stealthy in my approach because I startled them.

I do believe, since I am now on this side of forty, that they were about to kiss when I interrupted. I thought this beau was quite handsome, and I was intrigued and immediately infatuated. So I asked what I thought was a very logical, reasonable question.

“Are you going to marry my aunt?”.

The same chuckle that the ladder man had came from both of them. For some reason my aunt would not look at the young man sitting beside her. She only glared at me. She told me to go away, but I insisted on staying. They got in his car and left. I never saw him again. After that incident my aunt was very careful when she brought her dates home, and she tried to find out where I was before she sat on the porch or in the yard again.

My mom and the women of my family just could not impress on me their rules and parameters for appropriate questions.

I was still asking questions in college. At the end of class, the professor would ask if any one had any questions, I know my classmates were all mentally begging me to be quiet. They wanted me to understand that this was just a rhetorical question. A mere formality. But I did not or would not understand this. And their heads dropped when I raised my hand.

Some things never change.

I still love words. At times I still read while eating dinner.

And there are times when I still ask probing, seemingly inappropriate questions. But rest assured, I do try to be careful and make sure the person is not on a ladder or about to kiss. And sometimes I look at the clock. Sometimes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Labyrinth Prayer

I was walking into McDonald's not too long ago, and my daughter came from behind and grabbed my hand and held it. She grinned at me and explained that she knew that “holding hands” was on my list (see No Particular Order in the archives). And my beautiful, eighteen year old daughter walked beside me swinging my hand as if we were six year olds on the playground.

Oh! The sheer, sweet joy of her...

This hand holding with my daughter reminded me that the deep longings of our souls come true, but often their form does not fit our preconceived notions, ideals, or expectations.

And we miss them.

With an utter sense of awe, I realize many of my longings are being satisfied, but I am not immediately aware; often I am not recognizing them. My daughter's thoughtful actions triggered a greater awareness in me. She expanded my box of perceptions and awareness of how these fulfilments can manifest.

I mentioned in No Particular Order that I wanted to walk a prayer labyrinth—this is my particular longing for the mystical and artistic form of prayer. I searched the Internet for places within driving distance for a labyrinth. All the while not realizing what was happening—right here, right now.

I have returned to walking on a regular basis. My knee has healed and is no longer tender. This morning I walked in the early dawn. The sky was still dark and clear, only a darker gray smattering of cirrus clouds could be seen. Brilliant stars perforated the inverted, blue bowl. I found the Little Dipper. I could hear the host of insects in their myriad of song. There was a slight breeze, and there was little humidity.

I breathed deep.

With the breath came a startling realization:

My circuitous walking path has become my prayer labyrinth.

The reality of this labyrinth did not fit my preconceived idea, however, it did fit and fulfill my longing.

I have been trying to find an inner stillness—a quiet place where my self dialogue is not continuous and chaotic. My walks have aided in this attempt. As I take each step I acknowledge I have to release even the trying—the striving often creates turmoil. An anxiousness. My mind sounds like the Little Engine that could, “I have to be still, I have to be still, I have to be still.”

But during my journeys in the early hours of the morning, there is a moment when my mind finally winds down to a small inner cell. The cell is slight and narrow, and the time I actually remain there is brief, but in that glorious, lucid moment I am still.

I am at the center of my labyrinth.

In this stillness I know that He is God.

And the moment becomes prayer.

My Labyrinth Prayer

Lord God,

Walk with me around the spiraling corridor of my asphalt path.
Let the sound of my shoes become the cadence of my inner worship.
Let the street lamps be reminders—pillars of remembrance to your faithfulness.

As I kick the rocks and pebbles in my path,
and when I lose my footing on the crumbling edge of the road—
remind me that you will catch me when I stumble.
You will steady me.
You will set me aright.

As the light calls to the morning,
Call to me, O God.
As the darkness gives way to light,
Help me to give way and be enlightened.

As the darkness recedes,
let me be filled with your light gradually—
slowly so that my fragile self will not be completely undone.
I cannot encompass you.

As I tread along my course inward,
help me shed and discard everything
that will not lead or aid me in my journey toward you.

As my awareness of your Presence increases,
take me to a place until it is just you and me.
Please tighten and narrow the spiraled cell
so that my my awareness of self
dissipates in your Presence.

As I push aside all my preconceived notions,
manifest yourself to me and in me.
Be the reality of my longings.
Let me see only you.

As I dwell in this still, lucid moment with you—no matter how brief—may I know you.
Lord God, I ask that you increase the length
each time I join you there.

Then when I have seen you—
when my moment of awareness is done—
help me to walk outward again.
Retrace my steps with me and
help me to retrieve
only those things which will enable me
to bless and bring lucidity to others.

Amen and amen.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pedestals

A couple of years ago my good friend and I took our daughters to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Needless to say, our daughters were ready to leave long before we were. I am quite sure that my meanderings seemed aimless to many, but I was seeing and absorbing. I kept returning to an area where the pieces of art were displayed on pedestals. I was drawn to these extraordinary, 3-D works of art, because they were alone, lifted up, and set apart.

After visiting the museum I came home to a renewed vision for my own art. I started perusing ebay and our local indoor peddler's mall for old candle holders—anything that reminded me of a pedestal. I wanted to use them for displaying my sculpted figures.

Pedestals.

They haven't just been used for art.

Often we lift people (leaders, ministers, celebrities, parents, friends, teachers, authors, spouses, saints) and put them on these elevated places. You have heard this phrase: “Oh, she has him on a pedestal.” We have raised someone high above others. Glorified and idealized.

In doing this we want and demand more from them. They can do little or no wrong. We expect perfection. We place them in this hazardous place. We contribute to the set-up of a fall.

And you have heard: “He was knocked off his pedestal.” There seems to be a sense of diluted glee when you hear this comment. Maybe the person thought too highly of him/herself and fell. Maybe they climbed there through their own efforts with just a boost from us. Regardless, their footing was lost and they skittered or plunged to the bottom.

We forget that often there are rocks and boulders below.

We should not place people on pedestals to be displayed and examined. Our loved and respected ones (and we) cannot absorb the attention and be left unaffected.

People cannot sit on such precarious and precipitous edges. People cannot bear the weight of being alone, lifted up, and set apart. Eventually the lack of oxygen at such heights will cause dizziness and hallucinations.

Pedestal positioning and sitting contributes to:

Dangerous expectations. Delusions of grandeur. Deceptive security.

Be very careful and intentional in how you use a pedestal. This place may seem like an honor. It may seem like a place of respect and admiration. There is a chance that it might be interpreted as a high compliment. But in reality it is a temporary, holding place until the next piece of art grabs our attention.

There is only One who can sit comfortably in this place and have no fear of falling. Only One who is undaunted and unmoved by the height, by the exaltation, by the weight. Only he can absorb the attention and not be affected. Only he can be alone, lifted up, and set apart and remain the same.

Use the pedestals for him.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What if and If Only

Words are hard today. I feel like I am trying to squeeze them out of an almost dry kitchen towel. The towel is twisted and wrenched tightly. And the little water that comes from my efforts is just a sheen of moisture on my hands.

The words are there. Maybe they are not. Maybe I just want them to be.

I do know that four words have been haunting me.

What if and if only.

Past tense. Two, two word sentences, yet they have caused my soul to feel like my towel.

These sentences are filled with angst, regret, longing, torment, and pain.

What if and if only makes us revisit places we do not want to go. They cause us to examine old wounds and scars. They cause us to attempt to return to a place that for us does not exist anymore. A place where events and circumstances cannot be changed or altered.

Someone quite wisely told me that if you ask these questions you will be asking them forever. They become an endless litany of possibilities with no means to carry them through. They offer no hope.

If only...I had made a different choice earlier...or later.
If only...I had not said those words.
If only...I had been more attentive.

What if...I had chosen something different.
What if...I had waited.
What if...I had been honest.

What if and if only have no answers. They have thousands. And we could play each answer out, but we still would not know if that particular scenario was right. Any answer we might find will have the same question mark at the end.

Instead we should live with what is and now.

I can no longer ask the question what if. I must put my hand to the plow and not look back. What if will not help me to move forward; it will not help me press on. No, it causes me to stumble. To falter. I cannot change the what if.

I can look at the what is and the now and live. Not just exist. Not just survive.

In the midst of a crisis or devastating situation well-intentioned friends and acquaintances will offer Romans 8:28 as a catch-all safety net. When used in this way the verse seems trite and cliché.

But when we do look at what is and accept it, when we say okay, this is how it is--then God can and will take “all things and work them together”. But these if questions must be handed to him. They must be laid in his lap. Given to him as an offering. And he will accept them. He does not want us to live in the what if and if only. He does not abide there. He is the great I Am. The Now. The ever Present.

Remember: He was, He is, and He will be. All at the same time. In the same instant. And because this is who he is, because this is where HE abides he can work all things to the good of those who love him.

He will work our dead, burdensome what ifs and if onlys to our benefit. His forgiveness and grace allows us to leave these questions unanswered. My dear friend says that His mercy is wide. And wide covers a great deal of ifs.

I believe God's mercy is elastic.

Encompassing.

God's mercy is expansive, and no matter how far we stretch it, it will return to its original form.

Yes, I do believe this. We do not have the ability to change the radical mercy of God. Nothing we do or don't do can alter what and who he is.

And because this is true, I have hope. Hope that the mistakes (sins) and missteps (iniquities) of my what ifs and if onlys are belted and covered by his mercy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lloyd and Madeleine

"Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart."
--Lloyd Alexander
01/24/1924--05/17/2007


It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.
-- Madeleine L'Engle
11/29/1918--09/06/2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sabbatical

At the beginning of August I started a walking program. At first I think I did so just to see if I could do it. I am not athletic. I do not enjoy sports, and my thoughts about exercise are better left unsaid. I knew, however, I needed a physical activity. Walking seemed to be the answer. I clocked a route and bought a pedometer.

The first week my legs burned. Actually they were screaming at me at the midway point. Sweat became my new fashion statement. I learned to find places on the way to be mile markers of my daily journey. I would mumble a quiet hello to the people putting out trash. I would wave at the elderly couple and their Jack Russell sitting on their porch reading the morning newspaper. They saw me at the beginning and end of my walk. They were my cheerleaders.

Change was slow, but real. I could feel my strength and stamina grow. But there were mornings when the round trip was endless, and the markers seemed to move.

I walked in silence and solitude six days a week for five weeks.

Early. Routine. Habitual. Disciplined.

Rarely ever was my silence broken.

Not only was something happening to my body, but something was happening in my spirit. This change was more subtle, harder to detect and pinpoint. I prayed on these walks—a different kind of prayer. My prayers were disjointed, fragmented, unconnected snatches and phrases that seemed random. Yet, intimate and conversational. Often my ideas for this blog would begin on these walks. Not only did I find that my legs burned, but so did my spirit.

The daily walk became a very special part of my morning office. What started out as an attempt to add some much needed physical activity became a sacred time for me. I was enjoying what this discipline was doing for my body and my soul.

On the evening of August 26, I decided to take my girls to get something fun for breakfast for our first day back to school the next morning. The girls were putting our dogs in their crates and turning off lights in the house.

I went to the car first. I rounded the front fender of my car, and before I actually realized what was happening I was falling. My left knee twisted, and I fell on the unforgiving asphalt. My purse and keys flew into the grass behind me. The immediate pain caused me to curl into a tight ball.

The porch light seemed far away and dim in the darkness. Time stretched. I tried to get up, but could not. My daughters were coming out of the house, and I did not want them to find me on the ground. I did not want to scare them. They were on the porch and almost to the car before I said something to them.

I dropped my purse and keys. You will have to help me find them.”
Notice what I did not say. They still lovingly tease me about the calmness of my voice that night.

They had to help me up. We still went to Wal-mart, and they wanted me to drive one of the motor carts. I did not.

I did not walk the next morning.

I consulted my wise yoda, and explained what happened. He asked a lot of questions. And then he told me what to do and what not to do. He knows. He has been injured before.

His recommendation? Ice and then heat. Do not walk for a week.

The first day I was glad not to walk. My whole body hurt. I kept finding scrapes and bruises. I even had a knot on my head.

The second day I did not walk. The wise yoda had warned me I would be even more sore on this day. He was right.

The third day I did not walk. And I wore the wrong kind of shoes to work.

The fourth day I was getting restless. My knee felt better and was not as tender as earlier in the week. No more falls or spills.

The fifth day I was beginning to really miss my morning walk. Frustration started to mount. I was aggravated and every twinge in my knee irritated me more. I was told I had been injured and my body needed to heal. Injury implies trauma. I fell. This did not seem like trauma to me. My left leg told me otherwise.

The sixth day a good friend came early in the morning, and we walked. No, I didn't wait the full week, and stubbornly I walked the full route. I walked the next two days. The second day I could only walk about a third of what I had been doing. I had to wait three more days before I could walk again.

Because I did not listen I was forced into a longer sabbatical. And I have been restless and in denial. My sacred time has been interrupted. I have been so afraid of getting out of the habit of my new found discipline that I have ignored wise counsel and my body's signals.

During this forced sabbatical, I have learned that we often have two approaches when dealing with our injuries:

We do not allow enough time for healing. We rush the process. We deny that there is pain. We try to deny the severity of the injury. We want to seem strong and have a high pain tolerance. We carry out the advice of the yodas for a short time—forgetting that they are prescribing the best course of action for us to be able to regain full mobility and range again. We deny ourselves rest. We are impatient and restless. Surely idleness can not be aiding the recovery here. We have to work this thing out. And we risk more damage and injury to an already weakened joint.

We nurse the injury long after it is healed. We do follow the well meant advice and instructions. We even add to them. We allow the recommended time for healing and then add some. We are overly cautious. We become afraid. We are frightened to test the injury. We avoid anything that would force us to do so. We need just a little more time and a little more space. We continue to limp. We keep the heating pad and ibuprofen nearby. Just in case. And atrophy begins.

I am guilty of both approaches. I have rushed, and I have nursed. I have benefited from neither.

I have had to learn the wisdom and balance of a sabbatical.

Bones, muscles, and tendons must be allowed sufficient time to heal, but they must eventually bear weight again.

I have been injured, and I simply needed time to heal.

I did not walk yesterday or today. I will start again tomorrow.

Early in the morning I will tie my new walking shoes (a gift from Yoda), slip my cell phone in my pocket, and write my girls a note.

Then I will walk. Both my legs and my spirit will burn.

And I will listen closely because my body and soul will tell me if the sabbatical has been long enough.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Stark Naked

When I was a young girl I had a recurring dream. This dream was a nightmare, but not in the typical and most used definition. But it was my nightmare; I hated this dream more than any other. Frantically I would wake up—desperate to be assured that “it was only a dream”. The disturbing dream subsided as I grew older and ceased altogether for many years, until I became pregnant with my first daughter.

You know this dream. There is a chance you have had it also, because I have learned that it is a fairly common occurrence.

I was at school (whichever one I was attending at the time) at the bottom or the top of a staircase in the presence of a large crowd. Now, crowds don't bother me except when something is amiss. And in this dream something was truly amiss. I would always be missing a very necessary piece of clothing. Always. And everyone else seemed to notice long before I did.

Naked before a crowd. No where to go—if I went up the stairs or down or if I took off running—there was just no where to go. No where to hide. And at the height of the embarrassment I would wake up.

Earlier this week I had an email conversation with Mac, my surrogate pastor and a true southern gentlemen. He said something that reminded me of this dream.

I shared with him that I had been removing some “garments” that I had thought I would never have to remove. I was taking off some clothing that in my mind had been a permanent part of my wardrobe. He said, “ I am very thankful that you have taken off some clothing; in fact, I am trusting that you will take it all off and stand stark naked before Him.”

That phrase “stark naked” caught my attention. I tried to avoid and ignore it for a few days. Then I remembered the dream. Why was this dream my nightmare? why did it cause such trauma? cause me to wake in a panic?

Because I was exposed.

I was bare and vulnerable. I was naked. The fact that I had a few clothes on did not matter, the most vulnerable parts of me were visible to the cruel scrutiny of the crowd. I could find no route of escape. I had no plan to avoid the stifled laughter, the outright taunts, and the pointing fingers.

Laid open. Exposed. Bare. Vulnerable.

Only my waking saved me. Or so I thought.

Over the years I started dressing in layers. Insulation to cover and hide my awkwardness, my discomfort, my insecurity, my embarrassment, and my shame. Maybe if I wore layers there would be more protection, and I would be less likely to lose an essential piece of clothing. Safety clothes. My clothing was also designed and chosen to camouflage my unsightly scars and excess flesh.

Mac's phrase uncovered a deep longing in me to stand stark naked before God and not be ashamed. I want to be free from the confines and fetters of my inadequate wardrobe.

But this is not easy. I am stripping away many garments that feel like a second skin. Adhered to my body by the years, the heat, the sweat, and the grime. And by habit. And even by love.

I do not know how close I really am to my own nakedness.

It is unclear to me how many layers I have left to shed—to pull away. But I need to be stripped: exposed, bare, vulnerable, and unashamed.

Long ago, when I was a girl having my dreams, I did not want to be naked. I am no longer a girl. I am a woman—grown, and I must put away my childish ways.

Someday I will stand naked before God. I will need no route of escape. I will need no plan of cover. There will be no stifled laughter, no taunting jeers, no judgmental head shaking, no wagging tongues, and no raised eyebrows. There will be no pointing out of my embarrassment and shame.

I will no longer need to hide. I will not need the layers anymore.

God will cover me. He will come behind and before me and envelop me in his garment.

And then he will reveal to me the stark, poignant beauty of my nakedness.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Serendipity

All week I have tried to write a new post. I have had several ideas. And they have been written in my journal in their premature, embryonic form. At some point they will be ready, but not now. They must wait.

Today I understood why.

When I first started this blogspot, a friend encouraged me to explain why I named it The Chambered Nautilus. (If you want to read the explanation go to the July archives.)

I wanted a symbol. A legend for my road map. Something that reminded me of who I am, but far more importantly who God is. And the chambered nautilus shell kept appearing in the oddest of places and the strangest of times.

This past summer I went to spend a few days at my dear friend's house. One of the things we planned to do was exchange Christmas gifts in June instead of back in December. Neither one of us had wanted to mail our gifts.

One day toward the end of our visit my friend explained the story of her gift for me:

Several months after I wrote "The Chambered Nautilus", she was shopping and found a gift for me. She bought it—August 2006. Now it was eleven months later, and she was giving me the gift with the hopes it would still have a special meaning to me.

At the time she did not know her gift would serve a double-fold purpose. You see, I had been searching for a lamp for my bedroom, and I had to have just the right one. I had searched five or six different stores in different towns. I couldn't find one; they just weren't right.

Yes, my precious friend gave me a lamp. A tall, elegant, black, antiqued lamp. But remember I said that it was a double-fold gift. The lamp's base is a nautilus shell.

I read and study by the light of this lamp every morning and night.

Oh, the beautiful, delightful serendipity of my God!
He loves to delight us. To surprise us. To take us off-guard.

And today he did it again.

There is a special lady who comes to our library. You know the kind of person I am talking about—there's just something about them. She is one of these.

We chat. We talk. But one day our exchange was a little different. Deeper. More than just the chatter. More than just the pleasantries. A letter was sent. Hesitantly I told her about this blogspot and gave her the address.

I didn't see her for a couple of weeks. I went on vacation. She went on vacation.

Today she came in. She was carrying a brown box with a card. She looked at me and said, “I brought you something from my trip.”

I took the box in my hands. It wasn't very heavy. I wasn't sure quite what to do. The moment became quite surreal. You know when you can feel something coming? When you can sense that what you are about to do or open will change something—possibly even the inner geography of your person? I knew that was about to happen.

I flipped up the lid. Tissue paper rustled. I knew. I understood. I knew. Delicately I pulled the tissue paper away...and there it lay.

A chambered nautilus shell. Sliced through the middle so that I might actually see the chambers (just like the one on the header of this blogspot).

She looked at me and explained that the other half was in the bottom of the box. This friend gave me two halves so that I might have a whole.

I didn't want to cry. I always cry. But my inner geography was shifting. My friend waved for me to quit...but I couldn't. I went to the back in order to absorb what had just happened and to allow the tears to fall if only briefly.

This evening I held the shells in my hand. Instead of imagining the small chambers and siphoning aperatures, I could see them. I could feel the smooth, cool exterior. The incredible, pearlescent shimmer of this shell was breathtaking.

Because of both my friends' generousity and love I am reminded of who I am.

More importantly I am reminded of who he is.

Oh, the extraordinary, delightful serendipity of my God!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Particular Order

Not too long ago my daughter posted a list on her blog—a list of what she wanted to do. This list would be added to and refilled as she fulfilled these dreams. Her post inspired me to create my own.

I want to do some of these things, long to do others, and need to do many. They are in no particular order.

Touch a whale
Line dance in Texas
Hold hands
Eat grapes in a vineyard in Tuscany
Sleep on a beach
Laugh
Own a black German Shepherd
Be a midwife for a short season
Drink a Guinness in a pub in Ireland
Learn a second language—fluently
Ride a horse well
Pray at the Wailing Wall
Hold and kiss my future grandchildren
Tell the truth
Swim with dolphins
Spend a night in a castle
Publish a book—a good book
Be real
Walk through the Egyptian Pyramids
Pick strawberries
Feed a giraffe
Touch someone
Go on a pilgrimage with close friends
Walk a prayer labyrinth
Be a character at a Renaissance Fair
Spend the night in a lighthouse
See the Pacific Ocean
Ride a camel
Take a risk
Get to have a conversation with anyone I want
Do a Stomp routine
Sit with someone as they pass from this life to the next.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Trajectory

The following post has its roots from a chapter in a book titled
A Deeper Journey by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.


The trajectory of an object is the path it takes in an orbit.
If you shoot an arrow or a bullet,
or throw a ball it takes a particular trajectory through the air.
What you aim at often determines what you hit.


Eye fixed on the target.
Elbow down.
Fingers aligned with the mouth.
Relax the shoulder—
pull with the muscle deep in my back.

I let go.
My bow drops.
I watch as my arrow is propelled through the air.
I observe the trajectory—at first it seems true.

But as the arrow starts to fall,
I realize my arc was not high or long enough.
Wobbling crazily.
Tipping and tilting.
My arrow misses the mark.
It lands ten feet from the target.
Not even enough momentum left
to penetrate the earth.

I pull out another arrow.
I try again.
Same procedure.
This time I try to pull harder.

I hold my breath.
I watch as the feathered shaft
moves through the air.
The wind blows.
Shifting the arrow.
It enters the copse of trees,
tangled in the undergrowth.

Over and over
I repeat this process.

What do I do?
What do I change?

I want to hit the target.
I want my arrow to fly true.
I don't have the strength,
nor the perfect aim.
I cannot predict the wind.

Come, Master Bowman!
I want you to change the inner trajectory
of my life journey.
You determine the path
it is to follow.
You calculate the arc, and
you direct the wind.
Align me with the exact
destination you desire.

You are my target.
I am the arrow.
Nocked.
Ready.
Pull.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dragon Slayers

This post is dedicated to my dragon slayers.
Women who are forever guarding my back.
Bandaging my wounds.
Reinforcing my shield.
Sharpening my sword.
Reminding me not to be the dragon.


We live in a land of dragons.
Their lairs are hidden and camouflaged.
Hunting, pursuing, devouring beasts.
We can be the dragon; we can be the prey.

From time to time I am hunted because the beast is hungry.
Other times I am trailed—the leviathan is simply bored and not otherwise preoccupied.
Frequently I use poor judgment,
and I just get too close.
Naively I become too brave and forget my shield back on the practice field.

In fear I count the scales of the beast that torments me.
Metallic, glittering, razor sharp.
I am caught in a corner.
Driven there by hot breath and fiery tongues—
I can see the red eyes.
My skin crawls under the smothering nostril heat.

Like paper my heavy armor flutters, paltry and flimsy,
beneath the inhalations and exhalations
of the sweet, rotted breath of the monster.
Suddenly my sword arm is too weak to bear the weight,
and I can't lift it up for defense.

I turn to flee, to run away, to escape
and I stumble over my own boots.
I am splayed on the ground.
A target that would be hard to miss.

I take a deep breath.
I want to fight this battle alone—
Oh, I want to be the heroine.
I don't want others to be aware there is a battle being waged.
I don't want anyone to know there is a dragon in my back yard.
In defiance I want to walk away
with the dragon's claw hanging around my neck.
A trophy.
I want my prowess to be that which defeats it.
But my flesh will fail.

I am cowering.
Covering my head and my heart with hands far too small.
I cry out loud, but I wonder if anyone can hear me
through the deafening downfall of the beast's wings above me.

The beast is so close I can see my image mirrored
in the convex glass of the vertically slitted eye.
This reptilian creature looks familiar.
I recognize the tactics.
I have a keen sense I have been here before.

And I remember. I remember.
I can't do this unaided.
Taking down dragons is not a task for a woman alone.

Instantly I am utterly aware of how very weak I really am.
There is no room in this particular moment to think too highly of myself.
Flinging and casting my pride aside,
I scream for help and reinforcements.

Just as the heavy talon is about to pierce my heart,
warriors arrive.
They are armed.
Prepared.
They have heard my plea.
Willingly they have entered the fray because of their love for me.
They have come to help me fight
the monster within
and the beast without.

Dragon Slayers.

I know who they are.
They know who I am.

We are familiar with each others' dragons.

Many times they have brought me my forgotten shield,
and they have lashed my sword to my arm.

I have been called to their sides,
just as they are now at mine.

And we wage war together.

Who cares about the dragon's claw?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alchemy

Change is inevitable.

Change is not optional.

I once thought I handled change well. I was deceived. Flexibility and adaptability were present only when the change was agreeable to me. Or when I thought I could determine the route and intensity of the change.

I laugh out loud as I read these words. Control change? No, I can only control my own reactions and responses to change (or so a very wise yoda has told me).

If the first two statements are true (and I believe they are), here are some thoughts concerning this inevitability.

Cataclysmic Change. Unexpected. Uncontrolled.
Shifts the interior.
Rearranges the lay of the land.
It alters the horizon.
And what was once readily recognizable is no longer.

Metamorphic Change. Gradual. Invisible.
Time, heat, and pressure will create the gem.
And what was once readily recognizable is no longer.

Erosive Change. Abrasive. Corrosive.
Water will move through a mountain because it needs an outlet.
Grass will grow through the confines of a sidewalk.
This change often occurs because of neglect and little maintenance,
and because life is trying to find space to move and grow.
Eventually what was once recognizable is no longer.

Alchemic Change. Unexplanable. Mysterious.
In medieval times a few people practiced and believed in alchemy.
Men and women hoped to discover the formula
to change base elements into gold.
As this word and its definitions have evolved,
there is a sense that alchemy is the taking of something quite common and transforming it into something extraordinary.
So what was once recognizable is no longer.

I am being changed.

There was a wearing away in my life. My scaffolding became unstable as a result of a slow erosion. This brought about a cataclysmic change. My undergirding began to fold like the earth shifts in an earthquake. As a result my landscape has been rearranged.

I am experiencing God's alchemy. He is taking my base elements and transforming them into something more than what they are and more than what I am. I can resist. I can try to stop the process. I can balk and plant my feet.


But as the wise yoda has instructed, I am trying to react and respond in a good way. There are indicators that I am truly adapting: a moved chair, a new ring, a new habit, a new pace, a new perspective, and a new friend.


No matter what kind of change comes it is like a river and will flow over, around, and under you if need be. You can resist.

Like the mighty mountain you can raise sheer walls of granite, but the river will wind and meander its way through you. Slowly wearing its path because of persistance and consistency.

And it will cut deep. It will make its mark. And even from vaulted elevations you will be able to see its path through your valley. Automatically your eyes will be drawn to the ravine change has cleaved.

And for a moment you won't recognize yourself.

I didn't.