Sunday, March 31

Making All Things New

Resurrection Day.  New life is upon us.  It's a great day for a beginning.

I was seven years old on an Easter Sunday when I leaned up to my mother who was standing beside me in the worship service, singing better than I ever could the hymn of invitation, Just as I Am, or something like that.  She bent her perfumed head down, my hand touched her flowing skirt as I said into her ear, "I would like to make that decision. I think that Easter Sunday would be a good day to do it."   Of course, that decision was to begin to formally follow Jesus.

So in that way my greatest journey began on this day.

And more insignificantly, for certain, it begins my new adventure here.  I'm seven years into blogging and it feels like I finally have truer words.  A new place to put them seemed fitting.

Because where I've been has shaped me, rough edges still clinging fast though, all of the old posts from my first blog, Emergent Homeschool, are still here too.   If you followed Emergent Homeschool feel free to follow This Common Life.  Or not.  It will be different, more crafted and intentional, truer to what I value now in this second half of life.

It begins anew in 2013.  You might want to go back to February and read forward.  There you'll encounter with me the progression of our Lenten fast.  This year we determined to engage more deeply in humility, detachment and generosity.  The application of this was to live on seventy-five percent of our income and give away twenty-five percent.  We chose to give our twenty-five percent to alleviate someone's poverty in India, because our feet remember it so well.

As a way of practicing humility we chose not to speak of our fast in process. Not to compare sufferings with other fasters.  Not to quip lightly on social networking.  Not to illustrate sermon points with the work God invited us into for these 40+ days.  This Common Life, made public today, begins with my reflections as we've tumbled around the fast.  In retrospect it feels fine to share, but know that the work is continuing on in me.

The next things will be about commonality.  The shared alike.  Quotidian.  Prevalent.  I'm looking forward to it all and invite you in.  Come in.

Friday, March 29

Seeing What's Left

Rewind the tape back forty days.  Though no one rewinds tapes anymore.
Here I sat, head in hands, praying for provision, filled with fright.  This Lenten fast loomed before me, a covenant commitment.  Calendars aren't dictators but Lent wouldn't let go.  

At first we saw provision to the penny.  Marvelous no matter how cliche.  That standard, textbook God-response made my shackles of unbelief fall.  

Now I just get what I can, when I can.  If I can't I can't.  I don't pray for the miracle, just live with the tension and trust.  The unexpected happened.  The starter did need to be replaced.  The karate tournament fee was essential for my son to demonstrate great courage.  The traffic ticket surprised us both.  I took it all out of the seventy five percent rather than ask for help from others out of my own fear.  If God saw fit to fill in the gaps, then he did.  I have a ten dollar refund from the dentist waiting to be cashed.  I don't know why it came.

With relaxed hands it was easier to move into the river that was already flowing, something Richard Rohr mentions somewhere.  So often we fight the current instead of just moving into what's already happening.  Letting go of the rocks was the first hard step.  From there it was easy to float.

Lent wasn't about making seventy five percent turn into eighty or ninety, yet I started to pray for God to do it, to give more, to "show up" according to my perfect vision.  Lent was about abstaining from plenty, sometimes from enough.  But it wasn't about multiplying.   

That phrase, "Beggars can't be choosers"  is unfortunate and devastatingly true.  But beggars can see and re-envision.  I've needed help seeing but I've known that's been my choice.  My quarter offering could give someone a new way of seeing and introduce choice which is of course the garden that God places us in.  

Fast forward forty days.  When there's nothing left in the house to eat today I do not sit down with my head in my hands, go to the store and overextend -- not even for butter or oil.  I look deeper and somehow make French Onion soup and a loaf of wheat bread.  When have I ever made that?  A cup of granola for the just found unopened yogurt.  Why was it left unseen?  Leftovers will be redesigned for tacos.  That Christmas gift mix in the darkness of the pantry will be scones at breakfast.  Iced Tea is always forgotten, and yet always ready to be made.  When will we learn to see what is here instead of what isn't?

What was in the tomb when Jesus called Lazarus forth, mourning friends all around?  An impossibility or a body preserved and ready to respond...

What was left to say the deepest thank you when Mary's livelihood was returned?  A wasteful, pointless expression or the hope-enshrouded alabaster jar from an interrupted death...

What was in that dipping of the bread seen by John and Judas?  A devil's identification or a friendship offering at the very last moment...

At the end of Lent, what is really left?  Abiding.

"The point of simplicity is not efficiency, increased productivity or even a healthier, more relaxed life.  The point is making space for God's own self."   Jan Johnson.  Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace
I am not leaving Lent panting for the dinners out, the put-off products, the coffees or other wants.  Our celebration on Sunday will be a celebration of life sustained and prolonged.  And we'll go and buy a few things that we need and even a couple wants, like candy for some boys' Easter baskets.  But we won't be undoing it all.  We'll still be saying, "You are enough."

{Giving Out of Poverty. Lent 2013}

Friday, March 22


Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Girl,

Fourty-two years ago today you bravely gave away your newborn baby boy to a hope and a future.  You had no idea what would become of your decision.  I imagine it was made out of a mix of what was best for him as well as what was best for you, or perhaps what was best for your parents as they continued to raise you.

I don't know your story, your situation.  Only your decision.  I'm told that you left your baby boy in the hospital to be cared for until his new parents arrived three days later. I'm told that you delivered him early while they were away visiting family grieving a passing. Into their grief, your baby boy was born. Giving him into a new family surely created some grief of your own.  Though perhaps your relief was greater. I can't surmise which.

Your baby boy was placed in good hands.  And he grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and humanity. In his twenty-second year I gladly committed myself to be his wife 'till death do us part.

You gave me a gift when you gave him.  While I don't believe that there is only one person for each of us to love and marry, I do believe he is a match for me that doesn't just suit me, but teaches me and gives me opportunities to give, to serve, to grow.  You gave me a loyal, so loyal, husband; a man who always assumes the best of me, values my words, encourages me, shows me a side that no one else sees.  And he kisses me every time we part.

He bonded with his family and doesn't question his origins.  But he thinks about you every year, on this day.  What do you do on this day, etched in your biological memory?  Every birth is traumatic to the body, but yours, too, was traumatic to the heart.  We women don't just walk away and move on.  But he could.

And he became a sweet, intense presence in my life.  A father of my three sons -- the last looks just like he did as a boy.  A seeker of God.  A pastor to many.  A mentor to some.  A leader.  He's invested in marriages, in families, in communities, in everything, really, that he didn't come into the world having.

I don't know how you did it.  At sixteen I was thinking about hairspray and individuality and black and angst and poetry and fear.  I was not thrust into thinking about bigger words like courage and perpetuity and mission.  You were a woman of strength and I pray that you have only continued to be so.  Statistics don't support it, but I do.

I want to say thank you for protecting him while he was yours so that I could love him while he was mine and see the hand of God in his life.  So that the church could be blessed: youth could be taught and fed and cared for, communities given a hope and a vision, the Kingdom played out in a thousand ways. That three more boys could come from him and be brought up to move into grace-filled vocations and dreams.  That a widowed woman could be cared for in her old age, that woman into whose arms you placed him 42 years ago and changed her life.  And that a man would grow to intimately know the words of courage and perpetuity and mission.  Just like his first mother so many years ago.

Monday, March 11

Greater Things

I read through the gospel of John.  I see the seven signs:

turning water into wine    healing the official's son at a distance   making the paralytic walk   feeding 5,000 with loaves and fishes  walking on the water   healing a man born blind    raising Lazarus

Are things missing in his first steps toward making all things new?  There wasn't a creation salvation: he didn't protect the coral reef, the melting ice caps, or the species' we've lost since then.  He didn't harbor a child, a battered woman, or an oppressed slave.  And, of course, he didn't create any political freedoms. But there's also this:   Jesus didn't lift anyone out of poverty.  

In John's story, healing takes priority and changes four stories.  That Roman official spreading the news.  The paralytic at the center of a Sabbath controversy that would cost his healer dearly.  The man born blind walking away from darkness to light.  Lazarus making the most of his second chance sharing a table with Jesus again and again.  Certainly new legs and new eyes could now give a man a living.  Mary and Martha spared destitution with the return of their brother's strength.   A field of people were given a meal, but just once.

He was here to point to himself, the rescuer.  He was here to usher in a new creation trickling it out to our grasping hands. First things first: draw hearts, shift thinking, give choices.  

He didn't come to make us rich, but to make us reach.  For him.  For one another.  Perhaps the poor won't always be with us and we can move to eradicate poverty in my lifetime,

Today we would ask for all the other things -- communal salvation, global relief.  We'd beg, "Help all the sheep. All the folds."  That was his intent all along.  We just weren't ready to join him.  He wanted us to be a part of the process.  He's left some miracles for us to do.  Rescue and redeem all of creation through the work he's already done.  And even greater things than these.

{Giving out of Poverty.  Lent 2013}

Monday, March 4

Monday's Oxymoron: Writing About Humility

February came and blasted us.
as February is prone to do.
Winds of opposition.
A weeklong blizzard of misunderstanding.
It's the last hard push into Spring to make us alive again.
Death loves to whip its tail around while we crush its head.

The tapes in my head say: don't make major decisions in February.  Don't disengage, disavow, distort, disable, disband.  It's only the weathering of February.  It will pass.

When winter storms hit around here, snow pack below average, it's only a moment before the first person says, "We need it so bad."  We speak this need while it's all falling beautiful and white or days after when getting out is easier and we can make our own choices again.  But when shoveling happens two or three times in one day just to keep up, when slickness keeps us home, when we cancel conversations -- that's not the thought I choose.  Did I need this?

Perhaps yes:  my muscles thankful for the workout.  My children thankful for the yard's fresh canvas.  My calendar thankful for the rest.  When everything is falling all around I have to let all slide out of my hands and ask, "What has this storm brought?"

What do they all bring?

Perhaps the reminder that I don't have the market on assumptions.
Perhaps a different kind of desperation.
Perhaps a practice session of having less.
Perhaps something that I could not have done.
...Humility is not a thing that will come of itself, but that it must be made the object of special desire and prayer and faith and practice. (Humility, Andrew Murray)
I walked into Lent with three ideas: humility, detachment and generosity.  Generosity was going to be, hands-down, my favorite.  Detachment was necessary for generosity -- so I could hold my breath for 40 days while I gave.  But humility just sounded good.  I'm not sure I really wanted it to go beyond just living poor.

But that's what I have in front of me.  Pushed in by a storm.  Unsettled air.  Laying it out and holding out everything precious to me: my skills, my identity, my calling.  Offering them to be reshaped by the storm.  Left trusting, more detached.  More generous with my listening, and hoping, and unity.  Shoveling out wasn't fun.  There's still some frozen places to remove, but I can make it in and out again.  Grateful.  Dependant. and Free.

{Giving out of Poverty. Lent 2013}