Tag Archives: bravery

thin

In the morning, I lift her out of the crib. She rests her head on my shoulder, tucking her little body into the side of me. We whisper our morning greetings to each other. It’s Easter Sunday, and I stayed up last night to press her little denim dress with the ruffled skirt–one, two, three layers. I slip it over her head, and button the little white lace sweater over it. I carry her to the bathroom and comb her hair, telling her all the while how beautiful she is. (And she is! My goodness.) We’re almost done, and she slips a little toward the round sink. I catch her, but she’s felt the scare and starts to cry. It takes time for her little self to calm after things like this–five minutes of shhhhhh and pat and sway. My sensitive-souled girl.

Before, something like this would have stolen the morning from us.

Later, we eat breakfast at the church and wait while the big kids hide eggs outside. When they’re done, we march our three out the door. The boys are off in a flash with their buckets, having done this before. Aimee walks with her basket like she’s been practicing, stoops down to collect the eggs she spots. After four, she dumps them all out triumphantly and collects them again. We laugh, and take pictures, and shiver a little in the cold Spring wind. What is it about Easter, always chilling us in the thin outfits we insist on wearing?

I’m not trying to make anything more spiritual than it already is, and that feels good. This egg hunt, this celebration of Spring, is also a celebration of resurrection and all the rest of it. Whatever I may feel or not feel, it doesn’t matter right now. I am rediscovering simple, good things. Among them: I have a daughter who laughs and runs (runs!) with her Easter basket, I have two brown-eyed boys–one who still belly-laughs and one who goes deep into his thoughts and says, when the pastor asks, that Easter is about celebrating hope. I have a man by my side with warm hands and an imagination about life. We’ve dreamed together, and we’ve learned to let ourselves be tired.

I could never make these things more beautiful than they already are.

I’ve been holding two things side by side: great beauty and great sadness. I make inquiries about therapy, for myself this time, because I want to be happy. That is all, and it is enough: I want to be happy. I am worthy of happiness, I tried recently to say to myself in the mirror, and couldn’t quite look my reflected self in the eye.

I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to ask for this kind of help.

I talk through the hour-and-a-half session like it’s ten minutes, and learn to breathe into the spot in my chest where the pain throbs. It helps. Let me be your container for awhile, she says, and I agree. I feel like there is an ocean to organize into glass vials–to label and sort and store. I can’t fathom it, really, but it’s comforting to think that someone else can. You don’t just walk away from a fear-saturated belief system and have no cost to pay. But it’s time.

Time for new things to be born.

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all the good

There are things that drift away
Like our endless numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe
In the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

-Iron & Wine, Passing Afternoon

I was allowed wild. I spent days in the sunshine, gathering dirt into a big metal bucket, spraying water from the hose, mixing it into a consistency just right for my purposes. A rusty-but-solid metal table served as a perfect oven for the discs of earth I formed. I sat in the grass while they baked in the sun, caught garter snakes, picked at scabs, had big romantic thoughts about being a pioneer. Over and over.

Repetition and big open spaces of time. Sun-soaked skin. Dirt-perfumed hair. My soul was well-tended.

Messing around with dirt is a hopeful act–investing in beauty and nourishment together, trusting in the eventual delight of the senses. It implies not living day-to-day. It implies rootedness. It implies faith and looking forward to the future. When my precious cakes were ready, I’d gleefully break them apart, scrub off the metal table, stack my kitchen supplies and look forward to doing it all again the next day.

I learned something nameless in those hours, but left it outside the doors of church because it wouldn’t fit through. Two messages came to me in those days; two ideas planted way down deep.

One: this life matters in and of itself.
Two: this life only matters in the context of the next.

I hope what is true will root down and remain, and what is false will simply float away, like I used to think I would do someday.

//

Standing to have the ash smeared on my forehead felt like a reunion with what I used to know: it’s no waste of time to live here. I’m growing less afraid to salute the sun after knowing a dense cloud of gray days. My children instinctively flow out the door like a thawed creek, digging for worms and gathering sticks, oblivious to time. I spend time pulling off winter-soaked foliage to reveal richly dark soil underneath. My fingers bleed and my nails are black; they look honest to me.

I was given, in part, a religion of earth. I was given time. Baptized in a deep river, sun-grown during all those solitary days, with a seed planted that fearful, contained systems have kept dormant far too long. I choose to risk it now.

I’ll take the possibility of being wrong in exchange for not needing to make the up-springing of green things my enemy.

I will love it here. I will make a home here, dig down and let the cool soil soothe my burning hands, after so many years of snatching them out of hellfire. 

Oh, to see again what the little girl knew. All the good is God.

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April 3, 2014 · 11:12 am

dearest ones,

May you know what it is to rise each morning with work to be done.

May you know the stillness of an afternoon with a space laid bare for thoughts to gather and be stirred into vision.

May you look for the dim light in the distance when you’re caught in a fog–may you chase it with stubbornness and wild hope.

May you sniff the air and know that snow is coming, hike alone to meet with God, and put all your senses into noticing a crackling fire before you.

May you know silence–may you enter into it gladly, eager for its lessons.

May you travel and fill your minds with strange and delightful newness, may you see things that bother you, ask questions, listen well and long.

May you be overcome with curiosity from an early age and feel freedom to find out where the rabbit-hole leads. And, may you know that in this life you have a True North, watching and cheering, waiting to hear all about it.

Live, babies. Live your questions and answers. I can only see God smiling over you.

 

Inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.

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mystic

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes–
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Lately I see this gorgeous bit of verse everywhere.

I listened to a sermon about beauty yesterday; about how the Wise Men didn’t know they were looking for Jesus specifically, but they followed beauty and so they found him, eventually. The point was this: if you follow beauty all the way back to its original source, you will find Jesus, because anything and everything beautiful is from Him.

I love this. God seems more beautiful than ever when I think of Him this way.

I suppose it was the exact thing I needed to hear, because I just stopped what I was doing and built a pile of stones right there. I prayed, curled up on the couch while Silas tinkered, about beauty and seeing, really seeing, and melancholy and anger and making decisions that are fear-based, about my heart-dreams and my sins against my own heart. About love and regret and persistent pain.

I leaned against my dearest Friend, and wondered why at times I cannot trace all this beauty back to its Source. Why I am satisfied to tiptoe around these burning bushes. In the ordinary of our lives, there is such loveliness. There are whispers of what could be, of the true potential of all of us made in the image of the One who transcends it all. I need to remember this, in all of my interactions. I need to ask more people what they are dreaming of and where they see beauty.

Fear is strange because we fear our deepest desires sometimes. I fear becoming real, like the Skin Horse, because it means being worn down, but I’m worn down to exhaustion from retreat and withdrawal. Could there be anything more wonderful than being real? When you meet such a person, you remember. I sometimes think heaviness is my own personal thorn; I can’t comprehend all this energy and lightness around me except for the brief moments when it flickers over my head. I don’t seem to have many answers, but I recognize beauty, and I can give thanks for it.

Looking around is a good starting point.

I may never understand my own holding back. I may never deem myself worthy of such wild, limitless love. Oh, but may I continue to know it anyway. May I somehow point the way to the Source, gasping alongside the rest of creation at the glory all around us. May I be brave enough to believe it all matters.

I invite it. I want to be a mystic, taking my shoes off in ordinary places.

*originally posted December 5, 2012 on Noting Now.

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Resolutions

I am a fan of resolutions, not because I keep them all, but because they encourage intentional living. I think that, when peppered with a whole lot of grace, resolutions are wondeful.

This was my list for 2013. In bold, I’ve examined how each one turned out, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

  • have a monthly date night with Ricky.  Find a regular babysitter again, enlist grandparents, etc. This happened more often than not, but I’m not sure it was every single month. We were definitely more intentional about it, and living in the area we do now really helps, because there’s always something interesting to do.
  • have one day a week that is social-media free. I’m thinking Sunday; a true Sabbath. This didn’t always happen, but when it did I really felt the difference. It’s very much needed, for me.
  • invite people over for dinner more. We were good about this, but then we moved across the country. I hope for the kinds of dinners we used to have. Oh, how I miss our friends.
  • finish paying off my student loans (carryover from 2012) Done! Phew, that felt good.
  • ski! (another carryover, and should happen very soon) I was a bit freaked out (see this post) but I did it! 
  • keep reading at least a book every month (having a day off from social media should really help) Done! And when I wasn’t working a full time night job, I read even more. Imagine that 😉
  • find ways to write more Done! I started this blog (albeit late in the year) and have been pursuing a different depth of writing that’s challenging but rewarding.
  • finish Silas’ baby book, and start Little Miss’ Silas’ book is done, but I haven’t started Aimee’s. I did buy the supplies many, many months ago.
  • move toward a more specific nursing practice–by the end of the year I’d like to be working in just one unit. I got brave and interviewed for a Labor and Delivery position, and worked there from March until August. I learned so much and worked with wonderful people! The experience cemented my desire to work in this area and eventually pursue a graduate degree in nurse midwifery. I’m on the hunt for a job here, after the New Year, and I have wild hopes for a DAY position.
  • keep up the practice of letting go–letting go of my to-do list so I can play with my kids, letting go of my preference for a clean house so I can write/read/spend quality time people/pray/go for a walk/etc. I’m good at making lists and living by them. I’d like to be better at spontaneous enjoyment. This one’s a lifelong goal, I’d say, because it’s hard. It’s one of those everyday opportunities. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but I don’t think I ever regretted it when I did. 
  • ….and on that note, I choose enjoy as my one word for 2013. I want to enjoy my life: my family, my work outside and inside the home, my place of worship, my relationships. I want to be brave enough to let go of burdensome things; to let go of any impulse to impress or prove a point. I simply want to do things because I enjoy them, thereby being who I was meant to be. Another lifelong goal; another thing I both struggled and succeeded to do. I found the courage to let go of some pretty major things that were painful and increasingly unhealthy for me, and as a result I feel lighter and oddly, a little lost. I suppose that happens when you make space for something new. I hope to find some things to fill that space in a healthy way in 2014. I’m hoping to write more about this as I process it all.

And now, 2014! Wow, that was weird to type. I think that I’d mostly like to keep doing what I found to work this past year, along with a few new focus points. So:

  • Monthly date night!
  • Find another Labor and Delivery focused job.
  • Social Media-Free Sunday!
  • Start and finish Aimee’s baby book.
  • Eat mostly whole foods, 90% of the time. Cheat on occasion and enjoy it immensely. (Lifelong food philosophy.)
  • Learn to ice skate. There’s a rink right next to our house that offers 30 minute lessons.
  • Be silly with my kids, every day if possible.
  • Keep reading. Keep writing. But write only what’s real.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with my word for 2014 and a fun announcement. I hope you’re enjoying these days of winding down, reflecting, hoping and pausing. I’m not rushing ahead just yet; not putting the lights and glowy things away (it’s only the sixth day of Christmas, after all) but these are the days I start thinking about how Christmas makes way for Springand all sorts of new beginnings. Here’s to dreaming and scheming.

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Imagining a Different Kingdom

This past week, I devoted a few hours to reading a Year-in-Review special magazine edition. I tend to love end of the year things, but this time the evidence of oppression in 2013 seemed to shout at me from the page: chemical warfare in Syria, the Boston Marathon bombing, three women imprisoned in a suburban house for a decade, a boy in a hoodie shot and killed as if it were his destiny, the high rate of sexual assault in the military, a song dripping with unapologetic misogyny being the big hit of the summer. The bad news in one day is fairly easy to dismiss, most of the time, especially because we’re so used to it. The bad news of a year, though? That makes everything go quiet in my head; makes hope seem utterly ridiculous.

Nelson Mandela died, and it seemed fitting for someone who chased after wild dreams, moving far beyond expectation, to pass on during a season of hope. The first anniversary of the shootings at Newtown fell during this season; it too seemed fitting. I drove around town with my two younger children buckled into their seats, listening to the remembrances on the radio, weeping for little AvielleAna Grace, and Dylan, for the unknown stories, for their brave parents. The world is still waiting, still groaning under a heavy weight.

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Yesterday we sang a hymn called Canticle of the Turning; one of many that I’ve never heard before. I’m most familiar with the hymns that speak of longing for heaven, and they are beautiful. But there’s a whole other kind of hymn: the kind that longs for justice in the here and now. This kind you sing with a shaky voice, if you can stand to sing the words at all:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,

not a stone will be left on stone.

Let the king beware for your justice tears

every tyrant from his throne.

The hungry poor shall weep no more,

for the food they can never earn;

There are tables spread, every mouth be fed,

for the world is about to turn.

Though the nations rage from age to age,

we remember who holds us fast:

God’s mercy must deliver us

from the conqueror’s crushing grasp

This saving word that our forbears heard

is the promise which holds us bound,

‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,

who is turning the world around.

When you press your ear to the ground, you hear all sorts of things.

Shane Claiborne speaks of the prophets who “invited people to dream of the world as it could be and not just accept the world as it is.” He turns guns into farm tools, even though there’s nothing much more valuable to self-protection than a gun; even though there is nothing much less valuable to immediacy than planting seeds. He imagines a different kingdom.

Greg Boyd does, too. He contrasts the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the ChurchIt’s an uncomfortable book, to say the least, even though I agree with most of what he says, because to believe these things and to act like I do are two different things. He writes:

The kingdom of the world is intrinsically tribal in nature, and is heavily invested in defending, if not advancing, one’s own people-group, one’s nation, one’s ethnicity, one’s state, one’s religion, one’s ideologies, or one’s political agendas. That is why it is a kingdom characterized by perpetual conflict. The kingdom of God, however, is intrinsically universal, for it is centered on simply loving as God loves. It is centered on people living for the sole purpose of replicating the love of Jesus Christ to all people at all times in all places without condition. (p. 47, Kindle edition.)

Some days this feels like nothing but imagination. Some days I have to face that it might just be. Then I hear Ana Grace’s mother Nelba speak of how she lit 28 candles to remember the dead (not 26, not even 27) and how she refuses to use words like monster to describe Adam Lanza, instead extending humanity to him. I think of how Nadia Bolz-Weber’s husband said to her that “every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”

There is unfathomable light, in the here and now. Maybe it’s true; maybe God is turning the world around. I don’t always see it, but I hope it’s true.

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moving mountains

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. -Mark Twain

There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought I’d lost my faith.

At some point, I got the idea that faith was something that you either had enough of or didn’t. That it was something you had to grasp firmly or it might float away. That it could make God do things, that it made unwanted things disappear.

Poof. Problem solved.

Every time I talk about the big shift in my spiritual life, I must offer this: I don’t know exactly why I had all of the ideas that I did. It had something to do with culture and something to do with specific interpretations of Scripture, and something to do with me. All I can do is try to bathe it all in grace as I seek to tell my story of hope, my wilderness treasure. I do believe that I was astounded by the goodness of God at a young age, and that one thing has informed more of my life than anything else.

Part of my story is this: in the wake of a personal tragedy, I seethed and mourned and went to church, because going to church was what I knew how to do. But pain makes you slow down and take notice, and some things that had once been beautiful and life-giving changed for me. I saw ugly things where I once saw beauty. I shriveled in a system where I once thrived. The dissonance of worship lyrics distracted me, drowning out the melodies that used to soothe. I betrayed myself by trying to choke out the words, until I couldn’t anymore.

His love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree

Not bending. Breaking and breaking and breaking again, under this weight that feels nothing like mercy.

you walk with me through fire, and heal all my disease

Such words caused a searing pain in my chest. I thought maybe I could keep up, and the pain would eventually quiet down and I’d feel all of the good feelings again. But years passed, and it didn’t, and I didn’t. That’s when I thought I’d lost my faith. The goodness of God that I glimpsed as a child seemed gone.

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I’d like to pause for a moment and address the complexity of this issue; I hope you can hear my heart. See, we get a lot of mixed messages about God’s character. That He does cruel things but is a loving being, that His grace covers all except when it doesn’t, that he heals people except when He doesn’t.

Once I went to a dear friend’s church that had declared itself a cancer-free zone, and I wondered what they did with people who already had cancer. Or had lost someone to it. Or who were trying to find God again afterward. I imagine they would embrace such a person with love, but that’s not what was communicated. Our messy stories didn’t seem to fit into their vision statement.

When I was in the thick of trying to sort out all of those messages, I mostly tried to make myself invisible, but there were people who saw me. They noticed my absence and silence, and weren’t fooled by my pasted on Sunday smile. (Confession: I’m still trying to figure out how to stop going into pasted-smile mode on Sunday morning. It’s a weird thing with deep roots. If you relate to that, maybe let’s talk?) I’m horrible at asking for help, and I built myself a fortress of I’m fine, but I’m forever grateful for a few who helped anyway, who gave me permission to not be fine. If I can take anything away from that time, let it be that I see people better.

I’ve heard it said that if you’re looking for a Bible verse to prove a point, you will find it. Similarly, I’ve found that if you start to look for love in God, or peace in God, or a posture of service instead of judgment or violence or terrifying displays of power, you will find those things. But it’s a process, learning to accept that God might be better than you thought.

Can I tell you what I’ve learned? It’s been the best of news for me.

Christianity doesn’t offer answers for a lot of things. But it is beautiful, because it offers a God who weeps.

God is not vindictive, but redemptive. God is Jesus is God is Jesus is God. Whatever Jesus is like, God is like. 

Faith is not certainty, and certainty is not faith.

It’s really hard to live in the tension of what you know and what you don’t know, but if you can stay there, good will come of it.

Jesus told his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move a mountain, and nothing would be impossible for them. In my low moments, I’ve felt these words come down like a bludgeon. I have less faith than that tiny amount, I’ve thought. Maybe it’s because I have approached those words from a place of lack. But the point isn’t how much faith you don’t have, it’s how much you do have.

Faith is what made me ask hard questions. It’s what made me shake my head and whisper I don’t think that’s what God is like. That was my starting point.

Faith is what made me stare at my own personal mountain for several years, overwhelmed by its magnitude. Faith kept me there. Faith helped me to walk around it, note its structures, crawl into its caves. Eventually, faith became a pickax, quite useful for hacking away at the damn thing. Maybe there are faster ways to move mountains, but that’s not my story right now.

Thankfully, losing sight of God isn’t the same thing as losing faith. It’s faith that propels us to keep looking when we can’t seem to find His goodness in our current place. When we need to go somewhere we can see better, and hear better, and find our first love again.

Faith frees us to keep working on our own mountain, clearing away the boulders and brush, and looking to see what’s beyond that, and beyond that, and beyond that. It’s a good life’s work.

*Many thanks to Rachel Held Evans for the Mark Twain quote. I saw it on her Twitter feed and it stuck with me.

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