Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ouch

Steve and I were given gifts of unconditional generosity this week. Two of our dearest friends gave us gifts that were needed and much appreciated. Gifts given with unconditional generosity require no repayment or compensation.

Our friends gave in this spirit. They simply wanted to bless us.

Given my wiring, I began to think about how to give something back to them. How could I repay them for their generosity? I was feeling guilty. I was feeling as if I owed them something.

Awkward.

They certainly hadn’t alluded, hinted or suggested this feeling to me. Quite the contrary, I was called to the mat because our friend caught me in this train of thought. He looked me in the eye and said, “Stop it!”

How do you repay generosity? Especially the unconditional kind?

That’s the point—you don’t.

But isn’t that what we do? We try to repay so that we aren’t in debt.

How hard is it to simply say thank you? How hard is it to simply acknowledge that they met a need? How hard is it to simply show how much their kindness was appreciated?

Our friends don't want to be repaid; they just want us to continue to live life with them, continue to walk with them and continue to love them (and we do).

We behave in the same manner with God’s grace—his unconditional generosity. We try to be “good” and repay him. We don’t want to be in God’s debt. We don’t want owe him.

He doesn’t want us to repay him; he wants us to live life with him, to walk with him and to love him.

The second significant lesson this week pinched me too. Our minister paraphrased a quote, “you know how you feel about being a servant when you get treated like one.” That phrase caught my attention and I mulled and gnawed on it.

Then this week I was treated like a servant. Inwardly I didn’t respond very well. I bristled. I balked. I could feel my ire shoot up the back of my neck. I kept doing the task and then, poised in mid-action, I remembered our minister’s quote.

I did not have a servant’s attitude in that moment.

I did not have the mind of Christ.

Confound it. Dagnabit.

Both lessons had to do with pride.

Mine.

Ouch.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Man in His Element



What an incredible Labor Day weekend! We spent three days at my father and step-mother’s farm along with a great many cousins, aunts and friends.

It is a beautiful place—rolling hills, green pastures and vast sky. The farm is quiet and easy.

The front porch greets you. The cushions on the rocking chairs are well-worn, and there are extra lawn chairs in the garage. In the early mornings, steam rises from the many unmatched coffee cups. The odor of manure, hay, must and dirt tingle in your nostrils; you inhale other scents too—the sweat of horses, saddle leather, clean air and hot sunshine. The pastures bustle with machinery: tractors, hay mowers and ATVs. The barn is filled with the workings of horses: saddles, bridles, reins, but mostly the farm is alive with people.

I am drawn to this little farm. I love it most because of my family; the people who gather there create a wild and friendly clamor.

We arrived on Friday to hard, loving hugs. The rest of the evening was filled with eating, learning, riding and laughing. We stayed up late—my daughters slept in the loft of the barn with the horses, in all their smelly glory, below them. My cousin decided it would be fun to scare these girls in their lofty habitat and donned a hideous rubber mask. He tried to move stealthily through the yard to the barn, but was ambushed by all the younger kids.

Later we went to bed and my father and step-mother were talking with all the family still congregated on the front porch. Suddenly there was silence. All you could hear was the whir of the ceiling fan and the faint chirp of the crickets and insects. Steve laughed and said, “The king and queen must have gone to bed.”

We witnessed this truth all weekend. My father and step-mother’s presence permeated every place on the farm. Steve and I discussed and contemplated this truth. What do you do to become so respected and so loved and so honored?

Several situations occurred during the weekend that fleshed out the characteristics that make my dad and his wife the king and queen.

Hard work

Dependable consistency

Blunt honesty

Unpretentious realness

Strong love.

On Saturday morning Johnny shoed the horses. He wore smooth leather leggings with pockets for the tools of his trade; his voice was low, but firm. The clang of the hammer on the anvil and the shoes pierced the din. Bo, my father’s oldest horse, stood placidly allowing the farrier to clip and file his worn hooves. Dad held his lead rope and rubbed his forehead while Johnny worked. Johnny and my dad worked easily together; there was an element of trust and respect between them.

Near the barn, on its side, was the enormous tin can—the roaster that held the spit. You could hear the grating noise of the shovel against the charcoal in the roaster (this year goat was on the spit). Fathers’ voices shouted out giving instruction or correction to all the rambunctious little boys. You could hear the pop of the tabs when someone opened a can to quench their thirst. And above it all was laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

Everyone was working on a task—doing something to be ready for the crowd due to arrive later in the day; the pace was easy and slow, not lazy. No, there was way too much work for there to be laziness. Everyone (especially my dad and step-mother) worked hard right up until it was time to eat.

I was in the kitchen and Dad came in shaking his head, “Those boys are lost; I have to go help.” I was confused at first. The little boys were lost? My heart jerked; seventy acres was a lot of ground to cover. Then I realized Dad was referring to my cousins—boys in their forties. The goats were not rotating on the spit correctly. Thirty minutes later, Dad had the spit turning.

The little boys were riding horses in the round pen. Being little boys they were showing off and attempting to do far more than they were capable of (sounds like the big boys too). They were giving many jumbled signals to their mounts, Mandy and Bo. The poor horses were getting quite confused. At one point the horses stood in the pen and would not move. Dad grabbed the horses’ halters so he could talk to the boys—explaining riding rules once again. Then Dad spoke to the horses and swatted them on their flanks to move them along. The boys, however, were too antsy and excited to do what they had just been told.

Dad tolerated this for only a little while. Then he spoke, “You’re done. Time to get off. Bring them in.” The boys looked at him and for a split second they considered arguing. They quickly changed their minds; my father’s tone brooked no argument.

I was near the round pen watching my daughters learn to ride when another problem happened.

My younger brother pulled up on an ATV and informed Dad that there was a situation in the lower field.

The boys (the forty year old ones) were in the bottom field raking and bailing hay, and something had happened to the tracker and the bailer. Dad assessed the situation in the round pen and said, “I have to go see what is going on.” He hopped on an ATV and rode to the lower field. Later he returned; the situation was under control.

On our last night on the farm we watched the most incredible fireworks display. Then a corn-hole tournament commenced with lots of raucous laughter, gibing and bragging. My dad was sitting on a picnic table bench watching everyone. My step-mother came to him and sat in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his chin in her shoulder. This man with his rough,calloused hands and often silent demeanor was so gentle and affectionate towards her. Romantic in the truest sense of the word. There was a visible intimacy born of shared experiences and life done together—side by side for over thirty years.

Obviously I watched my Dad a great deal this past weekend—he is attuned to a rhythm and cadence of a life that is almost disappearing. He isn’t quite a cowboy even though he wears a hat to keep the sun off his tender ears, he isn’t quite a farmer because he doesn’t have a yearly crop to sell at market, he isn’t quite a lawman (like Wyatt Earp—his favorite), but his word is law.

My dad would be the very first to tell you he is not perfect.

He is, however, a man in his element.

Comfortable in his skin.

At home in himself.

At peace with who he is.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Spoil It You Will

Steve, my husband, has been reading The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. (I think he feels a bit coerced into doing so because of Abby and me.) And knowing that he is reading words I have read many, many times causes me to remember a scene from Taran Wanderer.

Taran has been traveling—journeying to find himself. To see who he is. He knows not his parentage, his lineage or his heritage.

During his journey, he was trained by the artisans and craftsmen of the Free Commots. He learned to forge steel with a blacksmith, learned to weave cloth with a weaver and he learned to throw pottery with a clay shaper. He mastered all of the skills except the potter’s wheel. And this is the one skill he longed to master more than all the others, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Taran was disheartened.

Broken.

There are times I feel like Taran. I see something I want to do or be more than anything. I work and strive and lament because it just doesn’t seem to flesh out as I think it should.

What a quandary: wanting to be able to do something so well (teaching, writing, studying, loving, mothering, friending, creating), wanting to be able to use a tool so efficiently and precisely and artistically; yet, what I have longed to do doesn’t seem to have the effect I desire. Sadly I become hesitant and unsure of myself—filled with doubt and anxiety concerning my skill and gifts. I find myself so concerned and afraid that I will spoil the endeavor that sometimes I don’t do anything at all.

Annlaw Clayshaper addresses this very issue with Taran. He encouraged Taran to finish shaping the half-formed clay vessel on the wheel. Annlaw tells him to sit down and shape the clay for himself, but Taran protests and says he will spoil Annlaw’s creation.

The potter laughs and says, “Spoil it you will, surely. I’ll toss it back into the kneading trough, mix it with the other clay, and sooner or later it will serve again. It will not be lost. Indeed, nothing ever is, but comes back in one shape or another.”

This is the whispering I am hearing from the Spirit these days; I keep getting the Holy Spirit nudge (as our pastor describes it). And I find myself hesitating—protesting that I am going to spoil it.

And my Potter, mine, chuckles at me too.

“Ah, Tamera, spoil it you will. Surely. But I will toss it back into the kneading trough, mix it with the other clay, and sooner or later it will serve again. It will not be lost. Indeed, nothing ever is…because I work all things to the good of those who love me and are called according to my purpose. I can and will redeem what you spoil and what the locusts have eaten.”

Spoil it I will.

But just because I might spoil it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

I experience spiritual amnesia often. I forget that every time I listen and heed the Spirit’s nudge, every time I attempt something that requires faith, my “skill and craftsmanship” are increased—even if it is a poorly shaped clay vessel that must be tossed back into the clay trough; nothing has been wasted. I will have learned what not to do. I will have felt the clay in my hands. I will have invested time and effort.

The hesitation comes because the Spirit asks me to do something and I am very afraid I will spoil it; but it also comes because I am afraid my efforts will be compared to someone else’s and will be found lacking.
Ha, spoil it I will.

Lacking? Most likely.

Once I understand this, once I accept this—then, ah then, I can get over myself.

Spoiling doesn't negate the usability. Even if my efforts have to be thrown back into the kneading trough they can still be used. They will come back in one form or another—they will not be lost.

My efforts will be redeemed and used because I hand them over and say, “This is all I have. This is all my skill, this is all my ability, and this is all I have.”

Then my Potter will smile and chuckle and throw the clay back on the wheel.

No Particular Order II

A couple of years ago I followed the leading of my oldest daughter and published a list of things I wanted to do or accomplish. I have reread my list several times lately. Pondering, wondering and wandering. I am re-listing.

Here is the new list in No Particular Order.

Continue to hold hands
Sleep on a beach
Be a tool of healing
Continue to laugh—deeper and deeper
Run on the Cliffs of Mohr
Continue to speak my second language fluently
Walk three miles a day again
Ride a horse with confidence
Pray at the Wailing Wall
Hold and kiss my grandchildren (someday)
Tell the truth
Pray unceasingly
Spend the night in a castle
Publish a book—a good book
Be real
Create more art
Be transparent
Love my husband—more
Pick strawberries
Touch someone
Go on a pilgrimage with a few
Walk a prayer labyrinth
Practice righteousness
Stay in a lighthouse
See the Pacific Ocean
Take risks
Spend a whole day in utter silence
Cry at my daughters’ weddings
Study more
Make a difference
Avoid staleness and stagnancy
Love my neighbor
Sleep in a tent
Teach, teach, teach
Live life with my dearest friends
Be more consistent
Walk on the edge
Guard the shepherd’s back