Tuesday, April 30

Journey Forth

I've always loved doing a new thing.  When I was a child my parents called a family meeting.  Odd and unheard of, this set my brother and I on edge, hesitant and perhaps defensive.  During this awkward time, slumping on our seventies red-tweed sofa and orange velour chairs we learned we'd be making a big family move.  The destination was completely lost on me all of twelve-years-old, freckled nose and geographically sheltered.

I grew up in one place in Northern California; went to the same elementary school from Kindergarten through sixth grade.  I, lump-in-my-throat, saw classmates move away to far off places...like San Jose.  Not many, but a few. And in third and fourth grade when I watched them go I thought to myself,
"I'm glad we'll never leave.  I'll grow up at that mall, visiting that pool, eating at that restaurant after church."   
How we love to use the facade of permanence as a comforter.

But the announcement from my father (Where was Milwaukee?  Tennessee?  No, Wisconsin.  Oh.) stirred something in me, and at the end of all of our childish questions I was excited to do something new.  I have found, since, that I always gravitate toward the jobs and churches and organizations where I can get my hands in right from the start.  This means that change and I are pretty tight and I know she's nothing to fear.

She's actually a gift.

“Even as the underpinnings of my world had shifted radically, they were resettling in a more secure place. Even as things seemed to be falling apart, the truth of God's love was holding me together."  -- Christine Cain, Undaunted.
In this season I'm moving into a new vocation.  I'm watching and listening for clues, connections, fits. Today I'll venture into something here.  Tomorrow I'll dip my toes there.  The past thirteen years has given me time and experience to make room for something new.  And I'm excited to journey forth into what's next.

While I wait and prepare, I continue to press into what's most life-giving -- community -- knowing that new turns and directions could actually tear me from it.  However, knowing that the future will look different from the present isn't enough to steer my heart cold toward what and where I am right now.

Right now there's silly, strong floppy-haired boys, giggling most hours of the day.  There's the quotidian tasks of cleanliness and structure and need.  There's the good conversations and the heart-molding that happens within them.  There's ministry and formation.  There's love and marriage.  Study and teaching.

Wherever we go, we take what we've learned from community with us.  I am that rugged, persevering life from Northern California and that learned, passionately merciful life from Milwaukee.  But I am also the coastal, restful responsibility of Orange County and the failing industriousness from Gold Country.  I am the wandering hope of the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest and I'm the certainty of love that is my life in the Rockies.  Where I've been makes me who I need to be for where I'm going.  We don't break community when we leave it, we renovate it, pushing the walls out, taking what we've amassed and putting it into something new.

Change is the field leveler and the tiller and the sower; she doesn't leave us fallow.  I'm breathless to see her again.

Monday, April 22

Two Steps Forward

Winter is arm-wrestling with Spring.  Inching first toward one and then back hard toward the other.  Spring is going to have to stand tough for its place this year.  We know, we all know, it will win but still we ride the hedging emotions between hope and despair.  Another day of 65.  Another day of snow. And back again.

Around here we press forward with confidence; thinning the branches of Silver Maple, unwrapping the faucets, fertilizing the lawn.  No matter how the hard freeze keeps walloping it back, we have to believe that the bursting forth will come.

I have a friend who is doing this kind of believing for her baby boy to crawl at last.  Another friend rides the back-and-forth in her marriage.  I, too, patiently parent the teen-becoming-a-man.  Grieving Bostonians wait to turn a corner.  And the white stuff is now trying to cover the green.

At this moment hope and perseverance is the stuff that binds us.  There is a collective push into the future, warm and bright. A common impelling.  None can stay behind.  Pockets of frozen-over death and dormancy cannot remain here or there.  In terms of nature's seasons, we all move into what's next together.

Yet, in seasons of the spirit our different paces drag the marathon.  How much do we encourage one another to move toward hope in the everyday?  In the spiritual lagging, do we come alongside and cast a vision that says, "You're becoming!  You're becoming!"  Or do we run on ahead, leaving the stragglers to themselves, afraid we'll soon feel the nipping at our own fingers and toes?  Can we cheer one another on so that we all can round the bend into the emerging?  Lifting up the lesser brave, the fearful, the dubious?  Pouring cool water out for the striving?

Somewhere, somehow you have to learn the skills—and the suffering—of doing life together. I am afraid it is a necessary suffering or you do not do much together—or even well—or for very long.  -- Christopher Heuertz, Unexpected Gifts

We're bringing branches indoors, watering them in a vase, willing them to sprout.  Bold, brave and sure.  I have named them for each of you who I know are trying to wrestle through the wood into the open air and sunlight.  Take courage; you're becoming!  The bursting forth is happening.  The wrestling is a part of the process.

Tuesday, April 16

The Best. The Best.

When he does weddings he wears the four-button suit, shines shoes, chooses a humble tie for the forever photos.

When he does weddings he checks on the bride, soothes the groom's nerves, assures that all will be well.

When he does weddings he says this:
Love is an act of the will accompanied by emotion that seeks the best in its object.

It's not as sterile as it seems, defining love like this: a choice + a feeling.  They're commutative: one can be before the other.  And the next day the other comes first to get the same answer.  We know it's love because it seeks the best.  Thinks the best.  Hopes, we say.

Love isn't just a marital association. It isn't reserved for the couple, passionate and young.  It doesn't belong only to the partners now forty or fifty years into covenant.

It is a gift to the world. It is the way we should see.

In all the relationships and connections and concentric circles rippling from closest to strangest we use love in different measure, giving it more weight here and less there.

We speak it, "I'd love to be there."  "I love this group."  "Love you, Friend."

We preach it, "love...brother," "love...neighbor," "love...enemy. "

Oh, perhaps not that one.  And maybe not the other one much.  Thinking the best of brother, neighbor, enemy = too hard.  Uncalled for.

Maybe not on the highway. We're certain that young woman never knew how to drive.  Maybe not in the wee sunlight hours when the neighbor starts the Saturday mower.  Of course, he's intending to be rude. Maybe not when the child answers you gruffly.  He most definitely meant to offend your heart.  Maybe not in relation to officials.  We have a right to conjecture their motives. And probably not when the pastor says the thing that stings, or confuses or takes the heart where it wasn't planning to go.  He is trying to betray, mislead or ruin.  You know it.

How is it love, these assumptions we make about one another?  This accusation we toss out.  This bite. That cut.  Yesterday's head shake and huff.  We hide behind being the devil's advocate, the victim, the one who gets it.  But we don't, nearly enough, lay down the defenses, give the benefit of the doubt, become a student, listen.  I do it wrong sometimes [more than I think] too.  And every time I do I fail at the core of love and move from the viewpoint of God.  Movements away from God only take us into dark, not right.

God seeks out the beauty, the future, the potential in all his imago dei.  How can we get his eyes?  How can we see the best?  How can we begin to say that we love anything again?

Peter excitedly swam to the beach to be with Jesus, the very one he'd betrayed.  Who runs to the one he's wronged?  He'd already died, already risen, and now Jesus had breakfast ready on the beach.  Peter didn't assume his friend would accuse him, smite him, send him away.  He assumed the very best; that acceptance and understanding and forgiveness would be on the menu.  Isn't that proof of the love he declares three times?  "I trust you enough to forgive me, to show me another way, to inspire me and walk with me.  Yes, I love you.  You have seen it."

We easily identify that Jesus sees the best in Peter, looking far past the failure to the future of his strength and courage and leadership.  And so the gift reveals itself:  offering forgiveness is an act of love but seeking forgiveness is the other.  In this loving step, we each seek the best in our object.

Offer grace.  Seek the best.  Chase down and hand out forgiveness.  Then, we'll see.

Sunday, April 14

The Discipline of Margin

Three years ago, my husband, overflowing with fifteen years of love, gave me a gift to Great Britain.  There we visited the Cathedral at York.  Expansive architecture.  Detail upon detail.  Unknown carvers and masons and painters.  The lowest tombs beneath the highest ceilings.

The cathedral pressed us into its mold:  Now you will worship.  Now you will look up.  Now you will speak softly, walk quietly, enter into silence.  Linger.  Listen.  Look for the sacred and the sage.

The outer inspired the inner and I was wont to bow to the stillness.  It wasn't the details I wanted so intensely, but the expanse.  I sought for this outer spaciousness to move inward. The train would not wait for us but I had a cathedral to drink.


It used to be that I'd slide and scramble for a few months and then take off in one sudden leap to a day of silence and solitude.  Like ascending a runaway truck ramp, the breathlessness of the busy suddenly crashing. I'd hold off on conversations with the almighty, on study on worship, until the setting was right; keeping everything on my heart's list until forced to speak it into the quiet.  True, there was rhythm in this practice; like a waltz, heavy beat on the one, less on two and three.

I've found, this year, a more flowing practice.  A more subtle silence.  A practice of margin.  It doesn't press on me by an ordered setting, a date on the calendar.  It isn't stuffed in, but rushes out in the everyday whenever it wants.  The silence and stillness comes out of that now-found inner spaciousness.  And I give it blank breadth like a canvas to flow onto and give me a picture of that I'm to become and do and hear.

Weekdays surprise me with their gifts of margin.  On Tuesday when the learning objectives were met, while boys were involved in other activities, my words could tumble forth.  Likewise, somehow, in that art class on Thursday sitting next to the smallest boy trying to create the face of a dog I was with him in stillness.  Friday, the morning had for me a quiet house, a conference talk and time to chew.  It's not always silent.  I'm not always alone.  But I'm listening and reflecting and abiding with more and more margin.  Even in engagement I can still find abstention.

Weekends are not crammed full.  Or maybe they are and I've just redefined what full means.  Yesterday each event bumped into the next.  But I didn't feel breathless or used or crushed.  My heart and mind were open to change, I thought through gratitude, I was present in the moment.  The inner stillness comes more easily than ever.

This week the disciplines were in typical play.  There was prayer and study, worship, fellowship, meditation, submission, service.  That's well and good -- necessary breathing exercises   Yet, there's one that acts as guide and gate for all, that both marshals and accompanies -- the discipline of margin: the place of listening, the place of rest.  All others grow from its soil.

The opportunity for a day of silence and solitude comes up every month at which time I hold it in my hand and ask if I should take it.  The answer has returned, "No.  You already have it."

Tuesday, April 9

I Am Not

Today's spring covered the Vinca and the sandbox in three inches of snow.  A frozen laboratory for learning about plants; seedlings planted in windowsill cups just yesterday. A boy and I working a winter themed crossword puzzle.  Scrawling hot chocolate on the shopping list.  This is not what spring was two days ago.  Not what it ever should be according to shivering Alium and Daylily and Columbine. 

Cupping Jasmine Green Tea in a blanket while finishing the book of John with that final contrasting scene on the beach: Peter's dip in the water, crackling bonfire breakfast, sunshine, a brother made new.  Not like our here-and-now when everything that was coming to life is buried again.  

Peter gets a do-over.  Three chances to counter with love the denial three times asserted.  Young John admires this whole conversation.  It was important.  

He's told his story of Jesus using His proper name over and over, I AM.  "The name conveys the concept of absolute being, the One who is and whose dynamic presence works on our behalf.  It conveys the meanings of 'I am who and what I am, and I do not change.  I am here with you and for you.'"1 

The bread of life.  The light of the world. The door. The good shepherd. The resurrection and the life.  The way, the truth and the life.  The true vine.

Peter took all the names to heart, again and again, contrasting himself with the One he followed, hoping to connect the dots at some point.  But at the climactic arrest he still misinterprets Jesus, wanting to defend and take by force the kingdom that could only be given by love.  Oh, Peter.  We all make Jesus in our own image sometimes.

He was bread and light and resurrection and truth?  A door, a shepherd, a vine? How is this a king?  How was a king's self-appointed governor to fit himself into those images?  He cannot.  When it all came down, Peter's loudest confession grievously contrasted with his first.  "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." (Or as John records it, "You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One Of God.") becomes, "I Am not."   I am not like him.  I am not a representative. I am not here with him. I am not for him.

Perhaps this was the confession that changed Peter's life.  I am helpless, impulsive and self-preserving.  I am not able. I am not knowledgeable. I am not a duplicate.  This is where Jesus could make a start.  On the beach, the Little Rock washes to shore shaped by years, and more recently days, of rapids and depths.  He's ripe for forgiveness and filling.  He knows what he is not and now Jesus tells him what his love makes him:
A shepherd, like his master
                           A feeder, like the bread.
                                               A keeper, like the door.

"If you're going to do any single solitary thing as a follower and servant of Jesus, this is what it's built on.  Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus, and though (goodness knows) you've let him down enough times, he wants to find that love, to give you a chance to express it, to heal the hurts and failures of the past, and give you new work to do."2

"I am not" is what comes out when we are squeezed by the never-ending, incomparable love of the "I Am."  It's perhaps the turning point for us all if we can constrain ourselves to say it. 

1  Wiersbe, Warren W.  Jesus in the Present Tense.  David C. Cook, Colorado Springs.  2011. ebook p. 20.
2  Wright, Nicholas Tomas. John for Everyone, Part 2.  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: London.  2002.  p. 165.

Tuesday, April 2

Lessons from the Lawn

At this in-between time of year, winter yawning and dozing a bit, I feel like each morning we get a little less black-and-white and a little more color and contrast, light and shadow.  And on this day, a little bit of rain.

The other morning I woke up, pulled the down comforter close to my heart and said, "I want it to rain."  It doesn't rain here often.  Today it came, soft and lingering.

The lawns in our fifty-year-old neighborhood are greening up again.  Fifty years of dying and resuscitating.  I've lived in places where lawns never die, but here facing scarcity and chill the ugliest part of the year makes it all expire until out from under a spring snow dormant life surprises us.  This grass knows that the best life comes after death.  It knows because it has experienced it before.

I continue to contemplate simplicity, finishing my Lenten book this morning along with my journaled notes and responses.  A quote from Richard Foster ended all the thoughts and practices within:  Simplicity is just another anxiety-laden burden until people have experienced God's gracious power to provide them with daily bread.

Until those words I'd considered teaching this discipline to some friends, showing them the fullness of less.  But simplicity isn't the first step. Maybe not even the fifth.  There is a precedent of love and trust that must be firmly established lest we go into it afraid that the much-more God "is forcing us to live a 'much less' life" (p. 155). Love and trust comes with toil and struggle.  With the letting go of the expectations and the well-marked path sight can come rushing in.  It might just be a glimpse of his back.  But it is enough.

And when we can finally see through to enough, we can let go of more and receive more.  Experiencing the truest, most essential, belly-centered core of enough is the key to beginning in simplicity.  I wish I could show it to everyone, but first things first.

I nodded my head in understanding.  I've had the daily bread seasons -- days of, "Just give me breath."  And there was food and paid bills and community while I breathed.   There was soil to grow in and sun to push me on.  He was making us new in that dormant time. And when the soil warmed enough it was time to really grow and newly reproduce some fruit.  Gracious power, indeed.

Now that I know, now that I seek his heart more than his hands, I can step into the simple.  Could this be true for all the disciplines?  Once I know that the word is life-giving and true where it purports to be true I can invest myself to study it for transformation?  Once I've become convinced that the Father hears and answers then I can engage in prayer that matches his heart and his name?  Once I'm convinced that those who worship in spirit and in truth honor the Creator and it's the very least I can do in response, then my heart is open to the worship experience?

What about the disciplines of abstinence?  Will I consider fasting a burden until I've tasted his enough?  Will I grind my teeth through solitude unless I've walked with him at length?  Will I ever practice submission unless I've held the hand of the Good Shepherd over a landscape of time?

I have to agree.  The hard brings the light. The wait brings the joy.  The cry brings the hope.  And then we can press further up and further in with discipline and love.  It's counter intuitive.  But all of nature knows it to be true and she's gracious enough to show us again, and again, and again.