It Can All Rage And Yet…

It can all rage ugly and hurt and rending,

And yet,

Here and there, pockets of deep peace,

And glory,

And joy.

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Dipping candles yesterday.  What a peaceful, contemplative craft.  Talk about slowing down.  The barely susceptible progress made with each deliberate dip made me think of spiritual progress; that I should not despair when it looks as though I am not growing spiritually.  If God has promised to complete His work within me, He will do it, He is doing it, though I see the changes only through the lens of years.ImageImage

A morning spent drawing with my son.  Gregorian chants and the fifteenth century choral music wrapping us in beauty as we deliberately sketched and colored, slowly.  A thousand thoughts pinged through my mind, on heresies currently rending the patchwork quilt of our church family, leaving my eyes reddened and my stomach hurting, on Ukraine, the tumult and the suffering and my prayers seeming so small against all that.  But for all that inner noise and clang, I had to apply pencil to paper, and eye the lay of the feathers, and the attention brought a borrowed peace.Image

Playmobile ships, stuffed animals dressed as soccer players, presidents, and babies, riding “the train” (a.k.a. the couch).  All his little conversations and sound effects and stories.  I feel the joy of childhood filling up the room and my grown-up worries have to retreat for a while.Image

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It can all rage and yet the seeds still germinate and the nasturtiums still reach for the sun.  And my God is sovereign and good.  And I’ll praise Him in the pockets of peace and in the turbulent places too.  For Christ is our peace, and Christ is portable.

 

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This Pilgrim’s Progress

I laid my forehead on the time-worn wood of my desk.  Sunlight was creeping over the leaves of the orchid there; an orchid that is slow-in-blooming.  It has had a flower bud, tightly closed, upon it’s spike for months now.  It confounds me, this swelling promise that remains so very much in a posture of waiting.  Get on with it, grouses my heart, and show me your beauty!

I laid my forehead there and I prayed, in a way I learned from some wise one once, that:  “God, I worship You, not the You that I can conceive of, but You as You know Yourself to truly be.”

Because I know quite well that I see Him through “..a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12)  That is a great hope, is it not?  That we will not always grope about in the dark as concerns Him?  That all the present mystery will have an answering “Aha!” in eternity?

I laid my forehead there and tears stung my eyes.  You see, can’t you, what a mess I am?  I do not suffer from low self-esteem (in fact, I think the error lies in the other extreme, obnoxiously high self-regard), so do not think to cheer me and lift me.  What I need most, oh yes, is the one who says, “Oh my, yes, you are a mess, and haven’t given to God all that you could.  You are inconsistent in prayer, quick to angry impatience with your children, prideful, and willfully ignorant of your own sins.”  That I could feel as firm medicine.  That I could hold in my hands as a map showing where I’d wandered from the path and how to repent (to turn around) and walk in the right way again.

It does matter how medicine is administered, doesn’t it?

Once, while living in Chile, I had an ear infection which spread to the skin tissue on my face, a very serious thing which demanded an aggressive regime of two shots per day for five days of a powerful antibiotic.  I would go into the clinic and ignominiously expose my derriere for the medicine.  Some nurses were quite adept and gentle, and I’d feel barely a pinch.  Some would jab mercilessly.  The difference was stark.

In the spiritual life as well, there are administrators of medicine and varying methodologies.  There are jabbers, ones who seem to take a hidden delight in inflicting pain.  Even though they are giving a needful cure, they do it in such a way that swallows up all the love in the intent.  There are the silent ones who, hoping not to cause you pain, withhold from you the medicine you desperately need.  There is little real love within them, they preserve their own peace at the cost of your life.  There are the gentle ones who, though they injure you, try to do so as little as possible while still delivering the medicine.  They bring love and empathy and grace in their eyes.  They say to you the life-giving words.

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “

(Isaiah 30:20-21)

They give you a map of return from your current wandering, they remind you that Jesus himself walks with you and will ensure your safe return to the good way, if you but keep company with Him.

These brothers and sisters are of inestimable worth.  I want to become like them; a loving helper to any and all who need that help.  That is just another way of saying that I want to be like Jesus, that is my pilgrimage, my journey, my aim.

Some use the verse, about the plank in the eye, to say that we shouldn’t judge others.  I think it is rather clear that we are to judge others in the way that a good physician judges the symptoms of a disease; he assesses what is causing harm and ruin and attempts to stop the destruction and encourage healing.  Clearly, the physician needs to be healed as well to do his work properly.  There is no arrogance in offering medicine and help when we are able.  Judging is essential, in medical diagnosis and spiritual diagnosis as well.  Of course it must be done in Christ, that is, with all His love and hope and mercy in our eyes and actions and words.

I will end this Pilgrim’s ledger with this early Puritan prayer:

Searcher of hearts, it is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself; sin is my greatest evil, but though art my greatest good; I have cause to loathe myself, and not to seek self-honour, for no one desires to commend his own dunghill.

My country, family, church fare worse because of my sins, for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small, or that God is not angry with them.  Let me not take other good men as my example, and think that I am good because I am like them, for all good men are not so good as thou desirest, are not always consistent, do not always follow holiness, do not feel eternal good in sore affliction.

Show me how to know when a thing is evil which I think is right and good, how to know when what is lawful comes from an evil principle, such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.

Give me grace to recall my needs, my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture, of wisdom to guide others, of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay, of the spirit of prayer, having words without love, of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends, of joy in thee and thy will, of love to others.

And let me not lay my pipe too short of the fountain, never touching the eternal spring, never drawing down water from above.

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Nouwen, Candles, and Presence, Oh MY!

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“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, ‘This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!'”      

-Henri Nouwen

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The really busy mama had told me with a mix of shame and defeat that she only got one meal out of a week of days with her children anymore, sitting down together around a table.  They all had these activities, these schedules, these demands upon their presence.

What I’m not going to do is get up on my soap box about busyness, not right now.  I’d rather submit a few thoughts about the times when we can be around a table together, scooping up and doling out life one to another, in the big holy ordinary of eating a meal in common.

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1) Light some candles.  I can’t think of a better way to get people drawn-in to the table, to the people seated ’round it, than candlelight.  The surrounding darkness makes the table the middle of our story, a place of importance, the rest of the house no longer competes with it’s piles of mail to be sorted and discarded backpacks and lost shoes.  It’s calming (unless you have a budding pyro in the bunch….I hear tell that they make electric tea lights now).

2)  Music?  Yes, please.  There’s some out there that just lifts your day right off your shoulders and whisks it away, beyond the candle’s light.

3)  Flowers, branches, a tablecloth, some bit of beauty there that says that this space was made mindfully.  Flowers usually mean something important is happening, right?  A prom, a wedding, a funeral, a new relationship, the celebration of an old one.

4)  Ditch the paper plates or plasticware (unless you have a budding destructo little person, of course).  The tactile and aural qualities of eating on ceramic or porcelain is worth that extra effort.  I almost think it makes the food taste better :).

5)  Ditch the electronics; no tv babbling in the background nor texting.  If your phone keeps dinging in the next room, go turn it off during dinner so that you’re present at the table, fully there.

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Happy feasting…

 

Everybody Gets A Trophy And Other Absurdities

It was time for my friend Ginny to open her birthday presents.  I always loved this part of birthday parties; there was something deliciously voyeuristic in seeing someone tear open packages and find delightful surprises therein.  Even if it had a dark side, invoking a green jealousy and inner-pity-party, it was mostly joyous.  Her mom passed her the first gift and then quickly passed a gift to…her brother?  What the world?

I may have asked or maybe the mom volunteered the information, seeing my shock making itself known on my face, but she told us that it’s just so much nicer if siblings also get a gift on each birthday so they don’t feel left-out or jealous.  In my 10 year-old heart I was all incredulity.  It was a mix of “That’s stupid, it’s not his birthday.” and a brief hope that maybe I could convince my parents to give me gifts on my siblings’ birthdays.  They would have laughed out loud at the idea of it.  I’m glad they would.

So, Valentine’s Day rolls around and isn’t it a day for lovers?  How then has it become a buy-cheapo-cards-and-candy-for-our-kids-elementary-school-friends day?  How has it turned into a mom-bligation?  Aren’t the moms supposed to be sprucing up, eating chocolates, and going out with their love on a date?  Can we dare to make a holiday exclusive?  Non kid-centric?

There was always a degree of hope and anxiety on Valentine’s day in elementary school.  Would my construction paper heart-covered paper bag be full of love notes?  Would he give me a “Be Mine” card or a standard “You’re Cool!” card?  Oh, the suspense!  I remembered carefully, very lightly drawing a faint heart on his card.  Maybe he’d see it?  Maybe it was too light?  It was a bold move!  I was declaring my love in barely-there-colored-pencil!

He laughed out loud.  He turned and showed it to all the kids around him and then yelled my way, “What is thiiiiis, Sarah?”.  Cold.  Sweat.    Blushes and protestations of innocence.

I didn’t dare telling anyone else that I loved them until nearly out of high school.  Love was too risky.  But, isn’t that better than too tame? Too predictable?  Everyone gets a valentine (a standard rule in classrooms now), everyone gets a ego-soothing trophy, everyone gets a gift, and everyone is super duper special?

I think I’m developing an appreciation for frustration, disappointment, and failure.  They are unpleasant crucibles of character, surely, but some metals just won’t yield without intense heat.  Won’t become something more and beautiful and new.

They’re having problems in the universities these days; too many non-riskers too afraid of failure.  Safe answers.  An abysmal lack of creativity and problem-solving skills, and I wonder if it goes back to the buoying-effect of over-praise, ego-protecting, and feel-good-ness of this era.  If you’re always floating on a nice, plush air mattress in a calm pool, why would you bother trying out a tippy kayak down a class three rapids?  Even if the rewards and the end are much greater?

If everyone gets a trophy (like in some kids’ leagues), you can end up with a whole lot of sad entitlement and false satisfaction.  If everyone gets a valentine, then is anyone really pursued, sought-out?  If we never experience the sharp edge of disappointment, how will we ever marvel at the flush of joy when we’ve actually earned a trophy, a valentine, a commendation?

So…yeah…I’m taking back Valentine’s Day for lovers, for me and my man.  The kids can see this as something unique and set-apart, and not-there-yet-for-them.  They can be frustrated and jealous and impatient for a moment, so they can someday truly have all the inner alarm-bells a-ringing when they receive an honest-to-goodness love note of their own.  Not written by Mommy.

On Smallness

Let’s get this out of the way, before I’m tempted to hide.

I’m a writer, but not a paid one, nor a lauded one, nor a known one.

I’m a learner, but not a titled one; I had no college education, no special letters trail my name.

I am small.

I have many jobs, but no paychecks.  I shop at Goodwill not because I’m a trendy hipster, but because I can’t afford new clothing.  And, okay, I’m a big recycler.

I am an almost and a not quite.

I have some beauty, but not the wow kind.

I am small.

I walk among the beautiful, the intelligent, the skilled, the known, the wealthy, the fashionable, the educated, the cool.  They are my friends.  I love them.

Walking among giants and my neck hurts from looking up.

It’s amazing what a monstrous ego and swollen pride can reside in a small person.

Like a big black crow in a tiny cage.  Beating against the bars and wanting more room to soar.  Cawing for attention.

I wish smallness would live with humility in tight friendship.

i wish that I was as humble as my circumstances.

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Horror and Hope on a Sunday Night

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/abortion-counselor-caught-on-video-if-baby-is-born-alive-they-do-not-resusc

I held little Henrik and tickled his pajama-ed belly.  His deep dimple appeared in his wide-smiling cheek and I put my fingertip in it.  The hollow that shows up only when he’s full of joy.

And as I rocked him in my arms and walked ’round the rooms of our home, my shoulders shook with deepest sorrow and my eyes poured it right out.  I had just watched the above footage, see, and my soul was pierced, again.

How?  How can I help to end this tide of infanticide?

How can I tell that scared mama whom I don’t know that she carries a gift within her; that arms are aching to bring up her baby, loved, cherished, wanted.  That the inconvenience of carrying to term and giving birth would be eclipsed by the JOY, THE SHOUTING BIG JOY, of life coming crying into the room, whole, new!  If she could see the radiance of the infertile woman’s face as that baby is placed in her ever-longing arms, oh!

Or, mercy, what if when she finally lets herself love that baby moving around inside; what if she knew that at nearly any church there’s a whole bunch of us crazy-affectionate ladies who would help her keep her baby?  Would throw a big old happy baby shower and celebrate life in all its messy glory?  What if?

Because, ladies, we aren’t just pro-life, we’re pro-mamas.  We’re for life-lived-joyfully, women made new, families being supported, and barren arms filled.

On Flailing

It can feel like he bursts awake; that going from sleep to wakefulness involves crossing a painful threshold of sorts.  This is exacerbated by awakening strapped-in in his carseat.  Total silence, then piercing wail.  His bald head turns tomato-hued and his nose breaks out in a sweat.  Then the hands, the flailing.

I go to him all murmurs and soothes.  I go about unfastening his five-point harness, threading his flailing arms through the straps, worming him out of his winter coat, all while he protests the event of waking, the nature of straps, the empty feeling of his belly, and all griefs in general.  It would be a very quick maneuver if he wouldn’t flail about.  Sometimes he flails his arms right back into the straps and sleeves like some magical reverse Houdini trick.

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“Be still and know that I am God.”  -Psalm 46:10

It’s an easy verse to remember, but easy to forget too.  I flail.

Have you ever seen an adult flail?  Maybe they were trying to ward-off a piece of wedding cake to the face or a dive-bombing bee.  When we are surprised or frightened our arms jerk about wildly, like they learned an awkward form of kung-fu while we were sleeping.  I find it more amusing than I probably should.  Also, people tripping, that too is funny.  I digress.

How about an emotional or spiritual flail?  Have you seen that?  Have you experienced that?  I know I have, and I know in my bones that it isn’t the slightest bit funny.

“Flail” has two meanings, one a verb and one a noun.  To flail is to, as we would expect, wave about like mad.  As a noun, a flail is a stick with a swinging part on the end; used agriculturally and, notably, as a weapon when used with a spiky iron ball on the end.  Both cause punishing impact; one for separating wheat and chaff, the other for brutal violence.

How do you respond when you’re falsely accused?

How do you feel when you discover a friend has betrayed your trust?

How do you react when that diagnosis comes in and it is the very worst of news?

How do you feel when “I do” turns into “I don’t anymore”?

Do you flail?

Do you sort of wish you had a flail of the weapon-variety for exacting some revenge?

“Be still and know that I am God”.

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My prayer bench.

Some people just really need to have the fire extinguisher right on the kitchen counter.  Or the pepper spray in the purse.  That’s what having a place for prayer right in my home feels like.  It’s where I can go and be safe, be covered, be held.  Be still.

We hauled that old bench home from Chile in a cargo crate.  It isn’t pretty.  It’s all sorts of mismatched-whatever-from-wherever boards.  It was clearly a utilitarian piece; in fact the man I bought it from was using it as a workbench (atop it sat a respectable dresser with its varnish drying and also pooling onto the bench).  When I told the man I wanted to buy the bench you could see him try to smother the confusion that someone would want the old bench and not the shiny dresser atop it.  “Gringas…”

I need that place, I need it to be in my visual orbit.  Because even if I’m not leading a busy life, I am perfectly capable of living an ignorant one; not tapped-in to God, His whispers, His shouts, His love and leading.  I can go about my own way in an alarmingly easy fashion.

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A dear friend once said words so very wounding.  And they weren’t true words, they were sort of flailing words themselves, weapons and wild swinging, meant to hurt.  I flailed right back; dark anger poured up my throat from a boiling heart, and words that sliced flew out my lips and struck back.  If I could have been still after she had wounded me, if I could just have sat with my injury and let God hold me…if.  But I flailed and we both bled and the wounds never healed right and the friendship was a broken thing, no matter how we tried to avert our eyes from the scars.

If Henrik knew on waking that I would come for him, that his belly would be filled, and that there was no reason to panic, would he still flail, would he still turn red and cry out?

If I know at those moments of horror/offense/anger/fear that He will hold me, that He will guide me, that He will fill me and heal me, why do I yet find my arms flailing and my stomach dropping, and my faith so very fragile?  How much easier for him to draw me close if I weren’t thrashing about?

“Be still and know that I am God”.

When I get Henrik out of his carseat, and I scoop him up into my arms, and his cheek lays plush against my shoulder, and his last shuddering cry fades to peaceful breathing, right then he remembers, he remembers that I came before and I came this time, and someday he’ll learn that I’ll always be there and will no longer fear.

And when all the worsts rear their ugly heads and my forehead comes to rest on my prayer bench, I remember the same and dare not to fear.