Monday, June 17

A Future Not Our Own

I was over at Heart Of the Matter last week with this piece.  If you haven't checked out Heart of the Matter we're a community of homeschooling parents and writers who offer ideas and encouragement.  Take a few minutes to see what we're all about and leave comments. 
In my first days, with backbone and grit, I looked far above the heads of my three-year-old train-fan and my drooling, nursing newborn, far beyond the aged cedars that fortressed our Sierra Nevada home, down the corridor of time to an occasion where we’d all, erudite and enlightened, together learn Steinbeck, economics, Cold War politics, and German. I couldn’t wait for the harder math, the college courses at 15, and the polite, self-assured young men I would raise. I was way ahead of them, imagining a future that was essentially a fiction because it was my picture and not theirs.

I’m truly sorry if that sentence was harsh because, of course, it’s good to have a long-term outlook, to envision the end of an endeavor, to speculate and invest and drive the ship out to sea. But in those days of finding my feet as a home educator I felt I had to defend everything, to be everything, to design and regulate everything in a way that honored and validated all that I would invest. And in the process I drew a picture that was all about me.

What I’ve learned in the ensuing years is that I am a guide toward a future that only they can drive. I help move the talents of these children toward the success that suits them (a la Howard Gardner). I light their fires of learning (thank you, Mr. Yeats). I give them opportunities to learn outside of a classroom (complements to Mr. Holt), to pull from them what they have to offer as their “midwife of abundance” (blessings, Mr. Palmer) and to encourage them to self-educate to the point of compassion (nodding to you, Ms. Mason). Who they become, in the end, is not up to me.

We bury ourselves in grand visions and then live with the pressure of living up to them.

We check-mark our way through the scopes and sequences and weigh ourselves down with comparisons between our child and the child in that school building.

We sometimes forget that we’re not teaching a curriculum, we’re teaching a child.

We lose sight of the day-to-day in deference for the some-day.

But what our children really need to know is just the next thing. What they need to know is that being a student is far more important than being a teacher. What they need to know is that someone believes in who they are becoming. And what we really need to know are all the same things.

So, that future which is more and more becoming my present, looks very different from the one I imagined. It’s no less grand and fulfilling, but it uses different colors and textures and even images with three sons now featured instead of two. It required different techniques, both pouring it on and scraping it off. It took a direction I couldn’t see until I pulled it out of the canvas like Michelangelo on a commission. The master builder determines the completed piece; I am just the worker.

Do the next thing, remain a student and live like God believes in who you are becoming. Paint that picture and see how it turns out.


In memory of Oscar Romero (1917–1980)
A Future Not Our Own
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Friday, June 14

The Challenge of Invitation, Part 3

He was so immersed in the life of the Church...that he occasionally forgot that the life of faith was not always the same thing.  -- Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

The October breeze blowing chill against my coat, I nearly run to the edge of the moonlit lake.  Before me, lamplight reflections writhing on the water.  Behind me, inside the warm church, a conference of people finding private corners and comfy chairs to sit and ask the same question:  "What do you want from God?"  I charge outside; can't even answer his question unless he's present with me. I touch the things he's touched, look him square in the face as if he lived on the moon.

I say the first thing that comes:  "I want to be heard."

Right away, I want to take it back.  Do I really?  Couldn't I choose something that sounds like less of a tantrum?  How long have I walked this path now, eyes on the moon all these years?  Hasn't he heard?

It's the cry that comes from the invisible:  When the growing-up church devalued and gave women only fifteen minutes of pulpit time and never a deacon role.  When the older brother constantly beat down his sister's ardor.  When the seminary said, "It's good that you're here to support your husband in his ministry."  And now when I've begun to find my voice there's no invitation to use it.

The conference had just walked us through our lives, year by year, stepping in all the seasons good and empty.  We mapped them out:  names, roles, events, experiences.  I noted the people who'd invited me in college, family, seminary and even in church after church.  I paused, pen poised for the next, but there weren't any more. The names stopped.  The mentors were gone.  In the past ten years, no one had significantly spoken into my life.  I hadn't been heard for days and weeks and years.

The invitations had stopped.


As I made my way into this now community, as if saved in an attic covered in dusty white sheets, my greatest strengths emerged.  And when I scouted and scratched and inched into them I found that these greater strengths were already filled by others. Or undervalued. Or misunderstood.  To use these gifts for the church, I needed the church to identify and affirm them.  But there were obstructions and other choices and different directions.

When I identify my gifts that easily fit into how the church is already working it's easy to slip into place and support the greater vision, maybe just take over something someone else has to drop, or join a team that's already in motion.  That works well.  But when I discover that I have something new that can build her up, something there isn't already a place and person for, I get an ecclesiastical blank stare.

Let go of the defenses and the shields and the tightfisted formulas for some life that doesn't exist and give away beautiful pieces of yourself and feel the hurt, because the only way to own a life worth having is to give away your own life.  -- Ann Voskamp
A few weeks ago, I determined to stop waiting for an invitation. I started to ask questions outside my church to see if I could use the gifts, if I could be heard.  I thought it would just be a toe interrupting a quiet pond, but I came away astonished at the splash my first inquiries made.  The eager invitation to mentor.  The excited invitation to preach.  The new friend who invites me to tell my story.  Why was it easier to be affirmed outside?  Why was I being invited and challenged by the not-my-church?

Over 20 years of passion and eagerness, heart aflame and vision charging, I have admittedly lived for the Church.  I want to plant her deep and water and prune her, to grow her into "on earth as it is in heaven" people. I grieve over her and I'd be lost without her.

I remain in hope that she'll reciprocate the art of invitation, slip it into her bloodstream, let go of some vision that doesn't, won't exist.  But even if she won't I'll continue to press because eternity runs through our veins together. I'm not leaving her. But this life of faith is something broader and deeper than the life of church and I'm, right now, cracking away at what that means.

The question shouldn't be what do we do when we don't get invitations, but what happens when we don't give them?  We lose the people who needed to be invited.  We miss the practice of abiding in relationships.  We chase off the evangelists.  We grow stagnant and impotent.  We don't pass on the faith.

At the end of all this here's the intersection I'm standing at: the point of this long walk talking to the moon isn't to live for the church but for Christ.  He has a bigger body, a broader expression.  He doesn't squelch the ardor.  He is intimacy, essence and abundance.  He invites and challenges and prepares our outcomes and He is always present with us in his most adept ways.

Thursday, June 13

The Challenge of Invitation, Part 2

In the past two weeks we've hosted four meals.  Preparing for intimacy and essence and abundance, we move through the arrangements with our guests in mind:  eat inside or out, bread or no, vegetarian or meat, adult's tastes or children's too.  While I prepare, I cook and think and pray over the time to share what we have with others.  To nourish and fill and be filled.  Invitation is hospitality: that reverence and awe we give to the guest who has arrived at our request.

Come, we say.  We have something for you.  It's us.  
We're free to give it.

After years of invitations I have to come to terms with my humanity.  I have to balance the invitations I give to others with the invitations I give to my children, my husband, my closer friends.  I have invitations to send out to silence and play and creativity and God.  I can't do everything, only something.  I can't invite everyone, only some.  It's the same for all of us.  But somehow that title I took on seems to say it should be everything, everyone.  Even the tribe says it, thinks it.

Coffee with two friends brought up something hard: when I invite it polarizes.   This is so far from my heart.    In these years, when I saw that others were connected I rejoiced, but now I spin a bit when I consider that maybe they didn't find closeness and open up their hearts safe and changed in relationship.  Has the power of invitation been left undiscovered for them?  When we don't give invitation we don't move anyone closer.

Another hit:  when I finally invite they feel like they've arrived.  Arrived at what?  A place to see my struggles and failures?  All the swings and misses?  I don't do anything to save or raise them. I'm walking in faith too and they don't even know that I rely on them to keep my feet on the ground with words of affirmation and correction and to show me the activity of God because I fail to see it so many days on end.  Would anyone really be wishing to enter that place?

Invitation doesn't ignite from coercion, but freedom.  When you demand it of me, I'm no longer free to give it.  

Still, I know that others invite one another.  I asked, "How is what I do different from her small book group, or his accountability circle?"  The answer came back fixed, "You're the pastor's wife. You can't separate yourself from the whole of the church."   And my heart, shattered in pieces, scrambled to assemble into a new shape for the sake of these friends.

From the beginning, a few took exception to my penchant for invitation: labeled as being "exclusive," or not a ministry of the church.  I wanted to differ, but I didn't push back -- eyes on the Father nudging me and not on the critics. If I didn't see others inviting I pressed on to bring in the friend on the fringes, emerging mentor, maturing disciple, broken soul.

And when I heard of invitations happening in new and different circles, I encouraged them, not forcing myself into the center or even to the edges.  I became that friend nodding and winking from afar waving them forward into their own abundance.  So acutely aware that abundance isn't found in me.

The Side B of Invitation is titled Challenge. When we invite, we design an outcome: "I want you to experience this with me."  "I see you in a fuller way."  This requires that we ask others to lean in and trust.  Invitation never says, "Check it out for a while," or "Come, be ambivalent." or "I'll only share a little bit of what I have."  Invitation takes, and to it you bring, the whole of you, the life and the dust equally left fragile in its wake.

Invitation has limits only because I do.  And surely it gets offered to me as infrequently as it does to others.  For this reason, it's odd that I even wondered why the invitations that would draw out my most adept gifts, stopped.

(Continued in Part III)

Tuesday, June 11

The Challenge of Invitation, Part 1

His six-year-old love language is quality time.  Fittingly, as the third child, he was born into a life of companionship following, keeping up, learning fast.  And when his brother was at a sleepover two doors down he was feeling a little lost.  Blue eyes turning now to me, sparkling like it was his very first perfect idea, he invited me outside to read to him in the cool of the grass.

He didn't say, "Mom, come wrestle," or  "Mom, let's carve sticks."  Those are brother enterprises.  He knows what I can and can't do; will and won't.  My son knows what to ask and who to ask it of.

He invited me to use my strengths and to be present with him in my most adept way-- there lounging among the words. 

And out of that he received intimacy and essence and abundance.  Out of that I received all the same things. It's simply what felicitous invitation will do.

Entering my faith community with skills and gifts, admittedly languid and rusty, I found my title before my tribe: pastor's wife.  Before I could introduce myself to anyone over coffee, chat about passions or families, articulate my faith, my faults, my loves or essentially be known, a task was commissioned to me to do.  It was based on assumptions about the kind of person I might be.

It was a complete miss.

I respectfully declined.  Defining myself and leaving room for my shape to merge with the community's was going to take some work.

My very first night in community I asked how I could help.
"We've got it covered," I was told.

The first invitation was unsuitable.  Then, I was rebuffed.  It was evident that no one else could guide me to a proper fit in that new place, among those new people already fit just right.  I had to look for the holes, the hollows that I could fill.  And, to me, it felt like relevant invitation was a chasm.

I took a first stab.  I began a new thing and people came in the way that people come to your open house to see the stuff you live with.  Of the fifteen that answered, three never showed and only four even remain in our community today.  So much for the effectiveness of the open invitation.

I believe in the power of personal invitation; of relationships being the ground for growth, of connection that commences becoming.

I invite because I believe that God's kingdom should be bigger than the twenty percent.  I invite to break open the possibility of faith, start the inner innovation, and commit to companionship.  I invite because I know what it feels like to be invited.  I invite in order to reap challenge and change.

Merging who I was with what was life-giving to others, I began issuing invitations that could fill deeper holes in smaller bites:  book discussions, coffees, Bible studies, mentoring, days of silence.  Looking around for the separated and still, I asked these new friends to join me in things they hadn't done before.

And these smaller movements have initiated a larger action.  Those I invested in are now investing in others, building bridges across broken chasms, being courageous to act, finding the strength to be present in their most adept ways.

Invitation isn't just a way to be welcoming, it's a first step into a divine rabbit hole of intention and companionship.  If I invite, I invest.  And that has come with its own set of challenges.

(Continued in Part II)

Tuesday, June 4

The Caw and the Why

The fledgling crow suddenly found himself on the lawn under the pine.  

When we approached he blinked his blue eyes watching us.  His soft head moved side-to-side in the feather-ruffling breeze.   We listened and his scratchy gutteral caw took the attention of the adults looking with sideways interest from the fence.

The fear I felt for him was eased by the information I found regarding what to do:

Well-meaning humans often try to rescue fledglings who will not take food from our hands.  Crows, being deeply familial, will answer the call of any young bird, show it care and adopt it in.  It only needs to caw.

The fledgling lay on the ground through the night, unprotected, undernourished.  Sun rising, as I sat again with word and pen on the deck, I heard his call going out like a question.  It was a call for closeness and care.

It reminded me so much of us.


There has been a considerable amount of "why?" floating about lately, both coming at me and going out from my heart.  It is, the question we ask when we feel alone, when the tragedy strikes, when the world moves faster or seems smarter than we do. Just like the birds, we throw it out in strings, "Why? Why? Why?"  perhaps because we value the question more than the explanation.  The question is important. The question opens up intimacy.

Asking why is our own call for closeness.

Babies don't cry out to hear us explain their feelings of isolation, but to receive the warmth of embrace. Fledglings don't call out for descriptions of their fall, but for nurture and care.  When the house is burned or broken by storms we don't ask why to understand the science, but to get a sense of the new boundaries of our dwellings and who will live there with us. We send our own cry out to the universe not so much for commentary or evidence, but for a response that we are not alone.

We ask the why to find the intimacy.

What we really want to know is that we will not walk alone through our own fall, or grief, or shift.  What we really want to know is that we can be companions for one another.  What we really want to know is that God is attendant to all.

We say it nearly as much to others as we do to God.  It is a cry of curiosity as much as it is a cry of betrayal.   The wisdom of the world, incomplete and selfish, is betrayer enough.  The wisdom of God is to be present.

The fledgling cries out, "I find myself broken away from certainty.  I am relying on nourishment in a new way.  Please, find me.  Please, hear me."  We cry out all the same things.  The grieving, questioning one asks, "Why did I fall?" or just "Why me?"  And friends come with hugs and attention and go through our pain with us.  Affection rather than answers.  Support instead of statements.

Every why is an opportunity for increased intimacy.  "Why?" should be a disarming flag, causing us to listen for where the intimacy is missing.  Is it with me?  Is it with God?  Is it with community or other?  The challenge is not to fight back when we're questioned, but to chip away and find the gap that only closeness and vulnerability can fill.

{Summer of Midrash}

Sunday, June 2

Summer Reading Contentment

Each year there is a theme. The theme is simply a challenge to myself:  stay present with present desire. Because it is so easy to become distracted by newer and ever changing tides -- I can easily ride those tides and never master anything -- and because I spend the year teaching others everything, each summer I become a student of something.

This year I'm practicing contentment. Drawing only from the books I already own, I made a summer list straight from our bookshelves.  These works I've collected from used book sales and friends, from Christmas gifts long ago and the books that simply found me at a time when I couldn't make space. This is the reading theme of summer: to give attention to what I have been given.

Interestingly, there is a fiction, a theology, a personal narrative in each month's grouping.  Patchett, Salinger, Chevalier.  Lewis, Willard, Newbigin, Wright.  Sedaris, Lamott, Eliott.   Manning and others on my Kindle.  Some of these good minds have passed this year and I regret not having read them.

There are others on my plate too, one for my own morning deck time, one for park group, two or three for a new little assignment coming up.   Summer's thoughts are full in the richest sense of the word; where I happily fill, fill, fill until it runs over and out of my life into the soil around me.

So, as much as I want to pick up new works like this, or this, or this.  I'll be here, content with the wisdom and craft of what has been with me all along.

June's List:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001)
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (1989)
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard (1988)
Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson  (2009)