Tag Archives: soul nourishment

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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differing graciously

Last night, Ricky and I had the opportunity to hear Brian McLaren speak with Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist in DC, as part of their Compelling Conversations series. Brian’s books have had a meaningful presence in our lives for quite a few years now, ever since our friend Heath lent us his copy of A New Kind of Christian. I didn’t know at the time just how much I would come to appreciate progressive Christian voices, or how much of a lifeline they would be for me.

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The conversation centered largely around the tension between evangelical American Christianity as it’s more commonly practiced and the folks who have grown increasingly uncomfortable with it…emergents, progressives, post-evangelicals, or whatever else you want to call them/us. I had to laugh when Brian mentioned that when people accuse him of heresy or falling down the slippery slope, he can only respond, “it’s much worse than you think.”

It’s been painful but liberating to realize I’ve spent most of my life entrenched in two types of Christianity that tend to fancy themselves the only type of Christianity: fundamentalism as a child and evangelicalism as a young adult. Those systems are not all bad or all good, of course, but there are good things outside of them. There are other ways to be faithful, to seek, to serve. I think that’s good news for all of us.

I’ve realized something big lately–I desperately want to be understood, especially by my friends who are still “in” systems from which I’ve stepped out. This desire grew so much over the years that I wanted to scream out my thoughts sometimes. Brian spoke some words last night that helped me to see how I might handle this better.

He offered this suggestion: when a friend, family member, etc. says something that you disagree with, maybe even find wildly offensive, say this: Wow, I see that differently. Then, leave it alone. If they ask you to explain, do so at another time, but not right away. In this way, you show that you’re willing to speak up but you don’t have to try to convince them of anything. It’s refreshing, and it opens up some space for dialogue. I think my favorite line was this: it’s really a gift when you can be different and not uptight about it. I have some work to do in that area.

In the same vein, he spoke of what an African theologian once told him: “Have the courage to differ graciously.” Brian noted that because this man approached theology from an African perspective, it might be called African theology, as when a woman approaches theology it might be called feminist theology, or when a gay person approaches theology it might be called queer theology, but a white European-based male approach is simply called theology (probably with a capital T). People approach theology differently, but some think their way is the way. We differ, meaning we are able to voice our disagreements, but we do it graciously, not defensively, not to prove a point, but as an effort to build something over time.

Not everyone can or will acknowledge their own bias and influencing factors. We should try to, and we should have grace for those who can’t see it yet. We should have grace for all the things we haven’t realized yet, too, as well as all the obtuse things we may have said in the past (yeah, that would be me).

I think I need to work on contentment with this: I am understood well by a few people. That is a gift, and it is enough.

Listen is my word for 2014. I’m learning that there’s nothing passive about listening–it’s a daily choice to acknowledge that whoever I come into contact with has a point of view that their life has given them, and to treat that gently. It doesn’t mean hiding my disagreement, but it does mean seeking to understand, and discerning well when to speak and when to refrain.

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feasting, fasting, and dreaming of bread

Ricky and I are almost finished with our Whole30–an elimination diet that cuts out all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol, and anything processed for thirty days. The idea is to reduce inflammation and discover if any of those foods are making you sick, and for us, it’s also a way to shed some holiday pounds and detox from sugar. In case you’d like to know, our Valentine’s Day dessert was a roasted sweet potato with ghee, strawberries, blueberries, and a sprinkle of nutmeg–which is actually quite delicious–but it was hard for me to focus on that after smelling the warm, cotton-candy aroma of fresh-out-of-the-oven red velvet cupcakes I’d baked with the kids. But–lest you think we’re noble or anything like that, know that we’ve both cheated. Ricky ate a fish sandwich when a friend came to town and I took a big bite of Silas’ peanut butter and honey sandwich one day when no one was around (it was an awesome moment). We discovered that our trail mix has sugar in it and ate it anyway, I’ve drizzled  honey into my coffee a time or two, and last night we seriously considered making it a Whole25 so we could be done before the weekend.

Also, every Sunday we gladly accept a broken piece of bread and a sip of wine. Our pastor sometimes gives out very large pieces of bread, noting that it’s a habit he formed during his prison ministry days, from wanting to offer the inmates as much nourishment as possible. We don’t complain.

Since I’ve confessed, I feel justified in bragging that we sat and watched our kids eat McDonald’s at the Air and Space Museum (it was the only food choice available, it was dinnertime, and they were about to stage a mutiny) and did not eat a single fry. I was totally having a battle in my mind. We then drove an hour back home and picked up some Chipotle bowls–green salad, steak, grilled peppers and onions, pico de gallo, and a gigantic scoop of guacamole. It tasted like heaven, and victory. That was a high point.

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A few other high points: whipping olive oil, and egg, and some lemon juice into mayonnaise that’s better than anything you can buy, better skin from our increased avocado consumption, and making Paleo spaghetti with our friend Adam, who came to visit us right in the middle of our Whole30 and jumped right in with us. Roasted brussels sprouts and bacon. Coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon and plain almond milk. Sparkling water (Silas calls it spicy water) with a squeeze of fresh lime. Berries with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, no sugar necessary. A new appreciation for the beauty and versatility of whole foods.

A low point: discovering I’m allergic to plaintains. What the what.

It may seem like unnecessary self-torture, but I’ve also been reading Shauna Niequist’s luscious book Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table during our Whole30. It was just too beautiful of a book to put down until February 25th (oh yes, I’m counting down at this point.) The book is full of mouth-watering recipes like blueberry crisp, breakfast cookies, and risotto, but there’s also a chapter called Feasting and Fasting that strengthened my resolve. She writes:

I love the feasting part of life. I don’t want Thanksgiving without stuffing or Christmas without cookies and champagne. I don’t want to give up our family tradition of deep-frying everything we can think of on New Year’s Eve. But I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully–physically, spiritually, and emotionally–in a life that also includes fasting.

And:

Fasting gives me a chance to practice the discipline of not having what I want at every moment, of limiting my consumption, making space in my body and in my spirit for a new year, one that’s not driven by my mouth, by wanting, by consuming. (both quotes from Kindle edition, p. 133)

On days when I’m home with my children, my life seems to revolve around food. Ricky and I alternate making breakfast, then there’s a morning snack, then lunch, then dinner planning mid-afternoon if I’m on top of things, then making said dinner while handing hungry children slices of clementine oranges to tide them over, then a steaming cup of reward-tea after all littles are tucked into bed. I don’t go more than two hours without thinking about food, and sometimes it feels like a burden. It makes me think of some nursing shifts, when I would run like mad from 7 AM until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and suddenly realize I hadn’t eaten anything, find some food to inhale, and get back to running. There was something freeing about it, in a way–being too busy to think about food very much.

Fasting is different, though. Fasting is when you’re thinking of food but intentionally moving those thoughts elsewhere. That’s more like what this Whole30 has felt like–spanning lots of cooped-up, snowy days and the holiday of chocolate and sugar. I feel a new sturdiness inside. I have more energy. I really, really want to eat the things I can’t have, simply because I’ve told myself I can’t have them.

There’s a space in my life that isn’t being immediately filled. That, I think, is the point of all this.

I’m fascinated by the parallels between my relationship to food and my spiritual well-being. Our church foremothers and fathers were onto something big as they observed the church calendar, which is essentially a series of feasts and fasts.  I’m in Church Calendar Kindergarten right now, but I’m loving the guidelines I find there.  They help as we try to settle into a rhythm of enjoying the bounty of the earth and caring for our bodies,  holding ourselves back from having all things at all times, making the days of fasting worth it, and the days of feasting a true reward.

Those are kind of lofty words for a cheater-pants, I know. Fasting is about humility, too. Let’s just hope we can make it five more days.

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Epiphany

There’s a fair amount of second-guessing going on in my head as we settle into our wooden chairs on Epiphany Sunday. I’m preoccupied with thoughts about human stubbornness and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit ; how we force things and also how we can be too passive. Our family takes up a whole row, save one seat. We break the ice: we who braved frozen driveways and cold rain now jokingly congratulate ourselves, and when the pastor asks what church season we’re in, Nicky pipes up, “Winter!”  I laugh easily, and leave off the pondering for now.

Managing to remember a few phrases without consulting the printed service, I notice for the first time the closed eyes around me, the words being recited by heart.

I feel like a kid peeking out from under the covers. It’s hard to tell how much I’m super-imposing my own issues, but I sense that I may be in the company of seasoned question-lovers, which helps a great deal with my breathing. Actually, I’m not reminding myself to breathe at all. Huh.

Funny how it works: while I’m busy noticing the space left for the unknown, Belief herself slips in and sits in that extra seat on the end of the row, kind eyes and hair all a mess, and I hear her voice harmonizing with mine as we sing about thorns infesting the ground and wonders of His love.

She stands by my side as I hold my hands in front of me, I daresay eagerly, for bread. Earlier this morning I chose a shower over breakfast; now the generous portion placed in my palm satisfies in more ways than one. Fed by this, warmed by wine, I return to my seat and find my place in the hymnal.

It occurs to me that all of my hunger has met at this one point. I’m not sure I’ve ever allowed it all to exist in the same sphere before. Reverent, ravenous, here I am. Sitting next to Belief in this row of wooden chairs.

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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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Welcome!

I’m so glad you’re here. I hope for many things for this space: that I will grow as a writer, that readers will be blessed by what they find here, and that we’ll pick up meaningful bread crumbs here and there.

The question that tugs at me, more than any other, is this: what does it mean to have a well-nourished soul? I’ve walked through seasons that felt thin and seasons that felt full, and haven’t always known how to find God in them. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.

Can we be well-nourished spiritual beings even in those thin times? If so, what does it look like? Most of us are not who we want to be; what does that mean for how we approach God and spiritual things? Is any season truly scarce in hindsight?

I hope to engage those questions here, and I’d be so honored if you’d join the conversation.

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