Saturday, July 20

Return and Remember

"The more we return and remember, the more we become the selves we have longed to be." Judith Kunst

My aunt wrote a poem for me at my birth, committing herself to watch and build and encourage my frame and my soul.  And wouldn't you know she actually did.  Does.  She watched me move into different seasons, figure out foolishness and passion and she understood who I was so deeply that many times my own mother said, "You could have been your Aunt Cyn's daughter, you know."  

I don't know which happened more truly:  she looked and me and saw herself, or I looked at her and saw who I was becoming.

She retired from ministry last month; forty years of serving, teaching, and opening the kingdom.  When she was done she drove those first foggy miles of transition to where we were and we all rejoiced together on the beach, near the ocean that seems to nourish us all.  She tossed out the black nylons and moved into congruency with an orange purse and her Chuck Taylors.  It painted a picture for me, not of some romanticized valiant soldier for the Lord, but of one beautifully weary from the good work.  A good kind of weary.  A grateful weary moving now into rest.
I am twenty three years behind her in this vocation.  I still have good and hard ahead: people who don't like me and don't get close, but also people who melt my heart and remind me what love is.  There will be heartbreak and assumptions, but there will also be breakthrough and challenge and trust.  There will be cracks and healing, burn and salve, foolishness and passion.

I am letting go of some life that doesn't exist and working with what God has given me, no longer imagining that I can do any more than that. I am reminded that this whole life is one to be done with God, not for, and when all else falls away, friends or titles or forty year ministries, that though he continue to slay me yet I will trust in him.  Though we want to believe that our clinging to him won't cause us wounds and weariness, the wrestling and the struggle will touch our sides and make us limp.  But I will not let go until he blesses me.  

Out of our woundedness comes our sense of identity and even humor and from our wandering grows wisdom and compassion.  When I return I remember that longevity goes hand in hand with both grasping and letting go.  When I return and remember I become the self that I long to be. 

Sunday, July 14

Charged Silence

During a sabbatical summer rest is our activity.  Actively resting says, "No, no, no."  Choosing just the most delightful people, places, experiences.  It means oceans and decks; pen, paper, books and rising early to connect with the air outside, exhale the staleness within.  It means journeys, terrestrial and principal. It means that sometimes I invite and sometimes I don't and sometimes I remember loneliness and pay her some attention for a while.

Silence is a cousin of rest; sabbatical offers a host of it.  We abide in it because we know it will have an end.  Sometimes we actively hold our hands back, left grabbing onto right, from the text, the status, the habitual chatter.  Holding my tongue so my ears can advance.  Silence and trust go hand in hand.  

But silence startles at first.  The quiet gasp at the end of an opus, dominant chord echoing in the concert hall before that first eager listener dares to clap.  The uneasy end of a spoken prayer, each of us looking sheepishly down, averting the eyes.  The last breath of a life dearly loved. Who speaks first and dares to enter that space with anything but a sob for what has passed by and touched us?

This is charged silence; when the scent of a thing still lingers and we can almost touch the tails of it. This is where I sit before the boys rise: This moment after I give the airport kiss and drive home alone to the bed with his imprint on the pillow, razor wet on the sink, breakfast dish on the counter. The place we've built with our hands.  The boys we've made and shaped.  Twenty years of history charges this silence with sadness and gratitude.  Now the first one awakes and I leave the silence and begin the stirring.

When we're not afraid to hear the silence, to ease ourselves into her pool though the water rises so quickly as if to choke us, we float back into life with fullness.  Pause at the end of a passage before paddling out.  Note a completion.  Give nod to a close. Let all that came before do its reverberating work in the quiet channels of our souls and remember and trust it to finish.

Tuesday, July 9

Thrown Under the Bus With Joy

When I began the new thing, I closed my eyes and picked a book and my finger landed on Philippians. And this was what I invited five women to begin with me.

We are twelve women now.  We've been through Philippians, Mark, Ruth, Esther, Romans, Ephesians and John.  Somewhere in Ruth is where it began for me -- the need to not just study and discuss, but to teach.  And somewhere in Ephesians I remember exploding in frustration that I didn't have the opportunity to do so.  Because by teach I really meant preach and those spaces are usually filled by experienced and commissioned people.


This summer, as we breathe in sabbatical rest, we are joining another community in weekly worship.  I'm treating it like Lent:  if I give up something (time with my community) then I take up something (time in another community).   And it refreshes me to see other people walking in the way of Jesus.

Our first Sunday with them, being recognized by the pastor there, my husband was asked to teach in their series called Teach Us To Pray.  He politely said, "Well, I'm on sabbatical."  And to this I said, "Oh, but you love to teach.  You should do it."  Because I know that he does.  Because I know that when he doesn't teach he gets restless.  Because he gets to do work that is life-giving and I feared a little about what would give him life while he was away from preaching?

But I also know that in order to rest all things must stop.  And so I apologized later and inquired, "Did I commit you to something you don't want to do?"  He said, "We'll see."

The next week we returned to our interim community and he began the conversation again, but he said, "If you still want someone to teach, Debra can do it."  And I laughed.  It's not the first time he's thrown me under the bus.  He did it last summer, when we were in India, suggesting I take some turns at teaching church planters because he knew that I could.

How joyfully I took that responsibility off of him! That thing I'd placed on his shoulders in the first place was now firmly on my plate.  That thing that I'd been wanting to do, and he knows -- oh, he knows, was now opened to me.

I had the luxury of six weeks to read and think and pray and practice.  The first version left my lips while walking along the Pacific at sunrise on a drizzly Oregon morning.  When my voice was overpowered by the waves, nearby dog walkers oblivious to my vocalizing, I could move from thought to thought, circle back, start again, scratch it all.   I could practice my own application.  I could pray the way I was going to teach others to.

The last time I rehearsed it I was in my backyard in a quiet corner preaching to the fence, easily flowing thought to thought, grateful passion, submitting to God's grace.

And I discovered some beautiful things about teaching -- that it's actually not about who is hearing me in the way my ego would have me believe.  Teaching is a progressive internal exercise:  it's a turmoil of Midrash, a wrestling and refining. And as such, teaching does more in me than it does in anyone else. (How many sermons have ever changed your life?).

I know how I feel when my children repeat my teachings; when they've internalized something I've longed for them to grasp.  How pleasing it must be to the Father to hear his children say the things he's been saying all along. Teaching is a sacred time when I get to say in God's presence all that he's taught me.  And he can give me that knowing nod, that we're quite possibly actually getting somewhere.

Teaching is my confession.  I do it with joy.

Here it is.

Thursday, July 4

Reading Geography

Gritting my teeth preparing five people for a two-week road trip.  But the end of the matter, the carrot I pace toward, is that for 3,300 miles I can open a book and give it all my attention.

I picked up Me Talk Pretty One Day as soon as we were out of Denver and placed my bookmark halfway in by Arches National Park.  On the road to Pocatello, after a stop at Bridal Veil Falls, I finished it.  Mostly.  I got the picture and passed over some of the end chapters. There wasn't anything new there.

After exploring caves and spatter cones at Craters of the Moon I finished writing a sermon and pushed through to the end of A Praying Life, something I'd started long ago and never finished, but it was applicable to my talk.  The next day I took notes in my journal as we moved into Oregon.  It's the kind of book you can put down for a while and come back to and find your place, because it can meet you where ever you are. It's the kind of book you underline.

When the rain began in Pendleton, I picked up The Writing Life and it was perfect for taking in a bit and looking away at the greening landscape, the breathtaking River Gorge, diving back in again, feeling my heart beat harder as the Columbia moved us closer to home.  Or where home once was -- those feelings are still there and writing is part of home.

When I finished it, we were driving through the dimness on Sunset Highway, evergreens holding us in on both sides.  And I knew I couldn't keep it.  I knew this one had to be passed on.  And when we arrived at Seaside, I wrapped it in a napkin topped with wildflowers and released it to it's rightful place in my aunt's library on the Sound.  Here's to a new life.

In Seaside I picked up The Spirit of the Disciplines and knew it would require all of me, so during the days of playing cards, and taking naps and walking back and forth to the beach more than once or twice, it stayed on the coffee table asking me when its time would come.  After the ocean, my friend, because the ocean is what the journey was all about.

When we drove away, bonfire and sunset behind us, new day dawning, we wandered back through the trees, into our old Vancouver hometown, drove by the house where my youngest was born, got my mother-in-law settled at home and visited with friends in Portland for the night.

But the next morning it was time.  Once we'd stopped at Multnomah Falls -- five years since we'd breathed her misty, mossy air -- the book and I spent some eight hours together on the way to Twin Falls.  And I dare say it changed my life.  Pencil notations where it spoke my heart, and shifting in my seat when it squeezed me.  We give up so easily to true and lasting change... the body matters... the kingdom is now.

Twin Falls to Grand Junction and I closed the last page.  This one needed to process.  And after a day of the longest family hike to date in the dust of Colorado National Monument we headed out on our last leg toward home. I made more notes and it was so rich I couldn't even bare to rewrite them all.  This one won't be sent away, this one will stay close.  Like blood.

July's List
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Traveling Mercies:  Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
When God is Silent by Barbara Brown Taylor
The Journals of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot
The Open Secret by Lesslie Newbigin
Kingdom Journeys: Rediscovering the Lost Spiritual Discipline by Seth Barnes