Friday, November 22

In Which I Become New and Present

When the snow came, I could feel the revolution.  Walking through the neighborhood, camera in hand, I was looking for my final moment.  And what I entered was an experience.

Everything was new.

Beneath the white sky, the contrast faded, the comparison dimmed and I could see myself outside the shadows. Sleek, impartial snow covered everything.  All sound -- nonsense and truth -- was muffled.  Every neighbor had to push it aside without exception.  We all began again from the same place.  And I discovered that even my heart at last had equal footing.

The wonderful thing about change is that it happens to us before we're aware of it.  It arrives before we can name it, like a baby born a month early, new and wonderful and so surprising.

The first new sounds came from my heart, "I'm entering this season with joy." There in the snow and frigid cold it was so obvious that this was just how it was going to be.  And I was glad to have that declarative statement signed and done.  Glad that there would be no more in-between.  The success of this season is not tied to the last. This season is new.  "Move into it."

It was like God put his great thumb down on the swirling and questioning and said, "Be still."
And I was.


Spiritual disciplines are those rhythms we create in order to conform more closely to image of Christ.  When we sense that we're a bit far from what God has designed us to be, we submit to a practice that forms our character and informs our spirit.  We combine the domains of life so that they aren't all segregated like some elementary school, but integrated so that the physical act can affect the spiritual becoming and the relationship can shape the faith.

When I began this practice three weeks ago Autumn's brightness woke me from my sadness.  I needed to cease from bringing the past into my present.  I didn't need to answer every question, just pry my fingers from the crank that churned the questions out.

This discipline of the present has brought me to that place of feeling whole and hopeful.  Breathing in more of God's design.  Living with open hands.  Ready to receive good gifts.  I want to see and smell and taste the days and know that whatever form they take, they are for me when I am present and pure.


We sat in the living room, mugs of coffee and tea, listening to the story of my friend who amazes me with her ability to see the ends of God.  It hasn't been without work.  It hasn't been without pushing hard into the promises of God and testing them to see if they will hold fast and true.  He thinks she's beautiful and covered and so desirable. She knows that now.  Her bones can live.

And all the friends who've said, "We'll go with you into this new wholeness," drank from their mugs and nodded and said, "This is the kind of church we're going to be."  My friend, my season, my church, my wholeness: I was sitting in the middle of all things new.  It was fully formed and breathing before I could call it by name.

He is making all things new.  He's begun, already, with me.


If you want to follow my journey through the Discipline of the Present here are the links to each post:
October 30  The Life I've Been Missing
October 31  Following a Nudge
November 1 Courage to Risk
November 2  Marginality
November 3 The Discipline of Presence
November 4  The Table of Loss and Profit
November 5  When Cookies Come Running
November 7  What's Saving Your Life
November 8  A Closing Ode
November 9  IKEA and the Kingdom of God
November 10  He Gives Himself
November 12  Trying
November 13  When Sinking
November 14  Take Risks
November 15  The Success of Love
November 17  Inquiry
November 18  Keeping Score
November 19  The Practice of the Eyes
November 20  Being the Gift

Wednesday, November 20

Being the Gift

I nearly forgot the day.  The chance phone call pulled me out of the fog prodding my memory. I would have missed the moment, missed the nerves, the helplessness. What would have been worse?  Enduring the first interview in fourteen years, burning the arm pressing the blouse, quizzing the systematic theology in the bed at night?  Or forgetting it and disqualifying myself, inept and neglectful.

I endured.

That day I tried to marshal from deep within, dormant now waking, the suppressed theologian:  Is salvation ours to keep?   Are the good works even necessary?  How do we treat the homosexual image of God? What is assured about heaven?  This was no easy moment.  

I braved it with more blessing than brilliance.

When the distinguished professor left the room, satisfied to grant the faculty place, I let out my breath, received my instructions and then let my new boss, my old friend heavy with trust and hope, pray over me, my gifts, my students.  

I said, when heads were lifted, "This is the gift. Thank you.  
"No," he named me, "You're the gift to me."


The semester has been a series of firsts and fortitude.  With everything else swirling these months, it was all I could do to read the books distracted and write the lessons distressed.  Each week invited me to strip the dare and with its imposing cloak wipe away the dolor.  Each was a savior breathing confidence and purpose into my hollowed out bones.  

But when I sat down with them, I came alive. This group, these students fit just for me, pressed my study of hospitality, compassion, intercession. Let me lead them around negative perceptions, extend their good news and introduce new cultures and conversations.  Missional warriors, they pressed forward, sent, and came out faithful, remade and brave.  I'm amazed at their truth and grace.

Today, I wished them well.  Gifts all.  Thanked them for their fervor and fire.  Asked their final thoughts, more gracious words of affirmation could not have been voiced: 
 "A clear gifting... meaningful...challenged...favorite." 
All the convening grit, all the pushing through had changed, bolstered and surfaced my aptitude, my passion, my grasp and transferred ownership to them.  

What aching homeschool mother deserves such favor?  What jilted pastor's wife receives such grace?  What neophyte writer reaps such pools of expression?  What shepherd teacher merits such impact and weight?

I. No longer afraid to be the gift I was named to be.

Tuesday, November 19

A Practice of the Eyes

The morning came when my husband bent down to kiss my waking head.  Fresh from the shower he reminds me of all things new.

Yesterday echoed of illness and stillness -- not by my prediction.  But shouldn't interruptions be seen as invitations? What God had for me was presence and I was grateful.

Today, thinking the young son would return to class, I was midway into my own plan when, surprised, I turned the corner and bent low to rub his back while he let his stomach go. Again. Today would be yesterday in disguise.

Placing my gym clothes back fresh in the drawer, my words to the Father were, "Follow me around today.  You'll need to provide a moment."

More of the same; stories and tissues and bites of banana. What will emerge significant?

James says, when we pray we need to do it with boldness, never doubting the character of God, purely motivated to see him model what it means to be a doer.  So, I asked him, "Do." And he nudged his people.


The first knock, my neighbor (my friend) with scones fresh from the oven. Saying, "Thank you" and "I don't know" and "Let's be intentional."  Of course we will.  We've journeyed together these past four years far beyond the titles and positions into that realm of friendship where I am heard and altered and filled up every single time.

When you close a chapter that involves friends, where you've invested and devoted, you don't know what it looks like to be together in a different way.  When do we meet?  When do I know you'll just be there? When will we talk about the dynamic life?  I don't know.  But let's be intentional.


The second knock (can this be happening?):  My friend with gifts for a new baby girl that we're showering through the mail.  And then a gift for me. Something perfect, of course.  "Thank you" and "It's not clear" and "I wish."  And then couch conversations about the wrestling over where to find joy and family.  When I closed this chapter it changed things for her. I know. I know. I keep forgetting how connected we all really are.

If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each another. -- Mother Teresa

This friend, she's not so far that I can't call her a neighbor too, is a positive force.  She can push me and question me with all the love and grace I need to see things another way.  She defines things. Thinks the best.  Does the word.  Develops. I won't let go of that kind of good.  I'd be lost without it.  Oh, that we could continue kingdom work together.  It's not clear.  I wish.


They brought gifts so they could say more than just words.  Because what do you say when someone has freely handed you love and loyalty?  When she's demonstrated that what she says and what she does are both equal and congruent.  When you know she's excelled in prayer for you?  How do you express that because of her your vision and direction are forever reshaped? That you've found a deeper part of yourself because she was willing to bring the shovel and help you dig?

The same thing you say to Jesus who does all of those things for us; who gives us this honor of letting us reflect him to other people: Thank you.

The practice of giving thanks...eucharisteo...this is the way we practice the presence of God, stay present to his presence, and it is always a practice of the eyes. We don't have to change what we see. Only the way we see.  -- Ann Voskamp

Monday, November 18

Keeping Score

Sometimes the weekend is both joy and sorrow.
Good friends and inspiration and dreaming and defining and then, too, teenage traumas and meltdowns.

A throwing up of the hands and a bending low of the knees. My calisthenics.

Tired from the exercise, my distracted mind can't even do the musts waiting unchecked on the list.  The calendar is unforgiving and the sun is going down.

When the moon rises on Sunday I think, "Tomorrow, I'll reset and do it all."  And then deep in the night, when that moon is mid-stride another son falls ill and I spend hours wishing him well and calling out to sleep that doesn't come.

Reset the plans and make room: for the boy in pajamas, snakes and ladders, applesauce and stories.

Thankful for his sleep when my study can happen.
Thankful for his shows that let me do my work.
Thankful that the fever never came, the storm passed quickly, the blue eyes are brighter at day's end.
Today he knew I was here.
Joy 1.  Sorrow 0

Sunday, November 17


First, there was the Disruptive Librarian: "the purpose of the library is the pursuit of happiness first and education second."  Those big idea places inspire and hire people who are part wizard part explorer.  Yes.

There followed the Creative Maven:  "Creativity is a type of deviance."  When the social norms aren't connection and generosity and aren't moved along by midwives in the marketplace then yes again.

The Insurance Maverick laid out three things for a co-op structure: compelling need, ownership structure and intrinsic values.  My church-planter brain went fast to work to fuse it all.

I nodded with the Work/Life Integrater who said, "Forget balance.  If you integrate you don't balance.  You just live."  Words I've been living by for years already. Why try to be two opposing things?

The Impact Entrepeneur from Bethlehem. The Obesity Physician. The Student Scientist all filled in a night of passion and purpose. Thinking the best of one another opened the door for unity in our city through inquiry.

When the women took the stage with galoshes and strings, introduced themselves by their FEMA numbers and played their rustic songs about the September flood waters, I felt that growing sense of the present moment. That lump in my throat, nearly healed up now, reminded me that I still think in victim's language. These women, too, experienced those ferocious moments of "I'll never be the same," of deep breaths and shock.  They were acted upon. Displaced.  Pushed into a new path.  And to heal they wrote music. 

It was a melodic example of that quote that's been guiding me through it all: "feel the hurt and continue to give beautiful pieces of yourself away..."

There I sat, the Medicaid card in my own wallet, the fresh exercise in marginality, drawing inspiration from overcomers to move along. What music was I performing?  What new creation is coming of the destruction?  What beauty?  How much of this resurrection life do I actually subscribe to?  My personal inquiries set me back to finding the answers.  To pursuing unity.

I dipped my fingers into the unknown. I was asking questions my textbooks didn't know the answer to.  Inquiry is what being human is all about.  - Sara Volz, Student Scientist

Friday, November 15

The Success of Love

I am the mother of three boys.

I'm the mother of wrestling matches and dart gun wars, of broken ear buds and chipped front teeth, of ripped out knees, pocket knives, and half-assembled structures strewn about to pierce my calloused feet. I'm the mother of noise, of energy, of body odor and tears.  Of towels never hung, competition never ending and milk never enough.  I'm the mother of all the toilet seats left up and all the laundry thrown down.  And this is how I succeed -- by loving the people I've been given.

They're alive and they make me also. Their hearts beat for different passions, but they're beating, strong and daring.  Sometimes they argue and fight.  Sometimes they break and bend.  Sometimes they're more wonderful than I can bear.

And sometimes they're crazy loud.

I never knew it; the noise was the water I swam in when they were all home with me, all talking at once while we assembled science kits and multiplied fractions and (on my bravest days) painted paper mache. Three of them calling, "Mom! Mom!" daily was my normal and my base.  It wasn't until life shifted in this great drama, when those voices moved from our home to the schools that I realized the level of chaos I had thrived in.

People would ask, "How do you do it?"  I'd just gaze back a blank stare. Do what?  Live?  Teach? Breathe?  Isn't it just like you?  One thing at a time.  Intention and Care.   Did it look like I was merely surviving?

The chaos was the proof of the life.  It was the blood in my veins, the wind in our sails that pushed us wildly into the day.  It was unfinished and rough, fluid and full, drive and pluck and verve and vim. And the day I saw them off it stopped.

Today: The hours in my day without them are longer than the hours with. And in those hours I fill space meant for noise and fire and kick with thought and muse and words. I teach to different ears.  I give to different hearts.  And when the afternoon air grows thick and still I can only wait for them to return.

As much as I, abstract sequential, love the quiet, the study, the calm and order -- I love the moment they come back, bags tossed, cupboards thrown open, hunting for bite and bread and way and wont. Throwing off that other day, that other place, and breathing deep the air I saved just for them.

Today I am grateful for quiet moments, meaningful work, for the distraction of purpose.  But greater still are those three voices who can call my name and I know I get to succeed again.

Thursday, November 14

Take Risks

A different board.  A different way ahead.

Today there was a room full of expectant friends.
New and old.  Push and pull.  Invitation and challenge.
Dreaming of the what, thinking through the why, dialoguing the how.

Risk saw a strong foothold today.

"We will have to take risks, to chance failure, to be willing to walk away from the familiar paths that have brought us to this point." - Alan Hirsch

Wednesday, November 13

When Sinking

This was a big clue for me.

After our Lenten fast was over and we had a few dollars to spend, we made this board so I could get some of the things in my head out where the family could benefit from it.

During the spring and summer, I filled it.  Religiously. With all the lists and quotes and gratitudes I could think of. The boys added to it a little. They knew what was coming up.  They looked and stopped asking, "What's for dinner?"  It worked well.

It's been empty for a month.

Q:  How do you know you're falling?  Sinking into the past?  Operating out of a former reality instead of moving into the next one?  Stalling out in the mire of grief, unanswerable questions, and pain?

A:  When you drop the things that are most like you.  I didn't weed the beds, didn't check the grades, didn't journal, didn't read. I didn't organize the family's calendar, finances, meals, activities.  I could only do what was in front of me, with strong sighs and weak resolve.

There's the weight loss, the bad dreams, the emptiness; all signs of depression.  And when it lingers into the second and third months you stop talking about it, hiding it because the friends have moved on and you probably should have too.  When you asked me how I was and I said, "Hanging in there," it was as honest as I could be, a lid to prevent the deep well from bubbling up.  Again.

I read this week that mourning is a maturing process. We push through it to recovery, acceptance. But depression doesn't move toward maturity.  It leaves us stuck. And you can only tread water for so long before you sink.

The fourth chapter of James addresses it all.  And, thanks be to God, he says, "It's expected.  It's necessary."

The chapter begins with a fight for control, one that ballooned up into murderous proportions, where spirits were stunted, selfishness reigned.  James knows that the only thing fit to follow the coarse is the curative.  That the way to mend a heart is to exhume it.  Let it out.  Feel it.  Be angry.

Sit in the "second storm" and let God realign the spirit he's looking for. James, like a loving older brother, holds our hand and says, "Here's how to do it."
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  JAMES 4:7-10 
Submit yourselves to God.  Work with him. Hand in your victim badge. You're not entitled to feel belittled, betrayed, or beaten forever. He's not wasting this. Not for a minute.

Resist the devil.  Use the wisdom from above that James already lined out..look it up.  Put some distance between you and the thing that bubbled into destruction.  Practice virtue.  Make some breaks no matter how hard they might be.

Draw near to God.  This is what the spiritual disciplines are for. I'm engaging the Discipline of the Present.  But there's also solitude, fasting, study, gratitude.  James would suggest controlling your tongue, caring for the poor, practicing peace.

Cleanse and purify.  Because nothing wise will come unless we're first of all pure.  He's said it before and he's saying it again, "Get rid of the double-mindedness."  Are we believing the truth about ourselves or about others?  Get the motives right.  Let go of that vice you've got a death grip on.  That selfish ambition is so yesterday.

Mourn.  It's part of the cleansing. It's the only way to move from being that old kind of human to being new.  Humility is the answer to strife.

This is how we get to humble, how we see ourselves through God's eyes, loved and lifted.

Yesterday:  Grieve, mourn, wail.

Today: Cook. Plan. Think. Love.

Tuesday, November 12


He didn't know I was there. This fuzzy picture is my proof.

Proof that I'm trying.

I'm trying to become the kind of parent who can drop everything to be there for the program that means more to them than it does to me. He wanted to wear his Cub Scout uniform because it seemed the right thing to do.  He learned the National Anthem and America the Beautiful.  I'm so proud of him for doing it, for singing it, for being a part of a community that's bigger than himself.

I'm trying to learn this new language of homework and fundraisers and signing in to get a sticker to sneak down the hall just to watch him for a second.   Homework is the easy one.  Because he snuggles up next to me with his pencil sometimes.  Because I get to teach him sometimes.  Because he wants to do it to be a part of all the brothers doing their homework together.  It brings us together in that sense.

I'm trying to become that mother that can with grace and trust let someone else have my son for the bulk of the day.  His teacher is, indeed, a lovely and loving woman.  I can't help but appreciate and support her. And  the reading specialist, the music teacher, the art teacher, the gym teacher, and the principal who smiles at me each morning and tells me to have a great day as I descend the sidewalk sonless.

I'm trying on a new culture that lets go. A culture that says even though we're separate a lot, we can still do parades and picnics and thankful meals together.  A culture that says you, Mom, are the support we need  but if you can't do it then we can still feed him lunch.  A culture that says we're doing some serious work, but, really, come by anytime and get a sticker and sneak down the hall just to watch him for a second.

I'm trying to do this well, to lean in, to be a student and to breathe this second half of life.  This is what's in front of me today.

Sunday, November 10

He Gives Himself

"May the God who reimagined a broken humanity take our gifts and intentions to work with him to restore health, wholeness and beauty to the world."   
Pentecost 26 :: November 10
Today with sons in pajamas long into the day, wishes for the next season being put down into happy lists, I purged the cupboards in our home, made room for the worship, removed the wax, shined the glass.

Tucked in the drawer with the place mats and the birthday candles, empty match books and stray Christmas ornaments I found that first pamphlet; the one from the first day of our introduction. The interview with my husband before our new community: Introductions and Epilogues.  And the deep welled up within me.

Why do we tuck significant things in strange places?  Did my mother do that?  Slip the momentos into the china hutch?  Tuck the memories among the vases and the candles we only pull out at Christmas?  Did I think I would stumble on it at some later date and sigh?  Perhaps I thought there'd be a time when we'd have friends around our table and I'd casually pull it out and gratefully say, "Look, this is what brought us here. This is why we're together like this."  Surely, I never could have imagined.

With everything put to rights I stored the paper with the other items I will cherish sometime out from now. Then, looking out into the yard at the naked grape vines, the breath slowing in the dogwoods, the hostas long asleep, I spoke words from a deeper place: "{our lost brother} did not bring us here. The Father did."  Then I took another breath and filled the deep with hope.


These are the last weeks of Ordinary Time.  And in as much as we both have and haven't started a new community we make visits to other places for worship, finding the beautiful people and expressions of this city we call home.  Tonight we went back to that very church we entered right after we first arrived.

That Easter morning, before our introduction to the new friends in the afternoon, we dressed our three small sons (oh, how they've grown) into suitable clothes and found this liturgical community that was a little bit jazz and a little bit Jesus.  They offered sweet busy bags for the boys, a feeling of family, and theology deep and thick.

Tonight, their losses are evident.  They've experienced the hard too.  I wondered, do they go through their own cabinets and find momentos from times of great invitation that turned to great challenge?  Do they ask God for answers or do they just tuck the past away and take the new journey?  In that room I could find many mentors.  We'd tell this same story I think:

God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.       - Frederick Buechner

Advent is coming.  Advent means coming.  And all of us seem to be in a state of preparation for that something new that's really about something very old.  A story that doesn't change; a God who walks with us no matter what.  "I promised that I would always be with you.  I am still with you, so do not be afraid. "  Haggai 2:5

Saturday, November 9

IKEA and the Kingdom of God

Every church has a beginning.  And in the beginning are the visions: The philosophies, structures, and dreams.  There are the first humble conversations, the blank slate possibilities, the all important question of "who."  There are legalities and accounts.  There is information and communication.  There is prayer and struggle, hope and fear.

But today there needed to be something tangible, something to hold and ordain for service. Today there needed to be a communion plate and candles; cushions and carpet for the friends filling our home in order to become a church in our living room. 

Today we walked the aisles and gave our silent thanks.

Friday, November 8

A Closing Ode

The Journey                                               
One day you finally knew                        Five women began it – this sojourn to renew the mind.
what you had to do, and began,              Then we were six,
though the voices around you                  then eight.
kept shouting 
their advice—                                          Three and a half years
though the whole house                           Eight books of the Bible
began to tremble                                     Twenty more friends
and you felt the old tug                            Two retreats
at your ankles.                                          Brunches
"Mend my life!"                                        Two more groups.
each voice cried. 
But you didn't stop.                                  They told me the effects; I saw with my own eyes.
You knew what you had to do,                  This shaped them, connected them, moved them into mission.
though the wind pried                               We began in a place where we just showed up
with its stiff fingers                                    and we ended in a bond that made us new.
at the very foundations,                            Today.
though their melancholy 
was terrible.                                             Together we filled the canvas with colors
It was already late                                    from the stories of Jesus,
enough, and a wild night,                                        words from Paul,
and the road full of fallen                                         bravery of Esther.
branches and stones. 
But little by little,                                      And then James came and told us all the truth of the moment.
as you left their voices behind,                   “If you know what is right to do and don't do it...”
the stars began to burn 
through the sheets of clouds,                    I scratched out a vision for it, expanding it wider and deeper,
and there was a new voice                        gathered a few of them and said, “Let's do this.
which you slowly                                      Can we do this?” But my soul said, “No.”
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company                             It was never my intent
as you strode deeper and deeper              to create something that broke down walls.
into the world                                           It was my intent to build.
determined to do                                      But the foundation where we all began is gone.
the only thing you could do—
determined to save                                   I thought I could keep my fingers around it.
the only life you could save.                     When everything else was torn away I said, “This is mine.
                                                                 No one can take it.” And no one did.
- Mary Oliver                                             But in the end I chose to give it.

                                                 Because a good shepherd lays down her life for her sheep.

                                                 Because when you delay a death, what is the value of a life?

                                                 It was here that I found them, love inside their warm embrace.
                                                 It was here that I found that teaching voice, the heart beating fast
                                                 over truth. It was here that I struggled through the hard season
                                                 daring the words to find my faults and finally discovered what
                                                  wisdom would say: Above all else, be pure.

                                                 "Oh, the wildness of this night,
                                                  It's already late enough."

                                                  I can only do the next                                                                 right thing.


Thursday, November 7

What's Saving Your Life

Entering into the season that came unpredicted, I kept counting the changes.  Gathering them up like crabapples from the grass, amazed at how many I had to collect just to keep things clear.  Behind me another would plop onto the wooden deck.  Deep sigh.  There too?

When all the changes happen at once, seemingly too many to fill our arms or our buckets, we have to take a step back and notice what's still there.

A good friend took me to coffee and let me cry back when the changes were hurting like apples thrust at me by bullies. Her question helped me find my compass.  "What in your life will stay the same?"

I knew a few things: my group, my loves, my role as mother.  Though everything would have a new tint, most of my life would actually keep its color.  Still, it took me until fall to see it.


Another good friend looked at me through tears yesterday and said, "I have to tell you, 'no.'"  She couldn't join me in the new thing, the calling that's gone out before us.  It took me until evening to let that one fall to the ground.  Another change.  I thought all the apples were gone by now, raked up by the children weeks ago.


We look so intently at what's killing us that sometimes we miss what's saving us.  This is my discipline of the present. What IS the good?  What is the divine surprise of each day?  What is the hope disguised in the common moment? What do I need to breathe in?

Laying in a warm bed helping my tender boy solve his equations, focused on the shape of his nose.

Hugging my giant boy reaching around under his arms like I would a cozy boyfriend.

Walking my small boy to school, a half-mile confab on his seven-year old ideas.

Punching the bag pre-dawn and feeling strength advance from my biceps to my heart.

Silence in a room where there's sunlight and meaningful work.

Meaningful work.

When the changes keep coming (didn't you know they'd keep coming?) I keep digging in to what's real, what's still here, what isn't changing. This is my duty of today.  This is what needs my attention.

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."                             - Socrates. 

Tuesday, November 5

When Cookies Come Running

It's amazing what goes through your head when you get the text at 8:30 p.m.
"I'm stopping by in about thirty minutes.  I have a delivery."

You start to think, "Christmas!"
Then you start to think, "Uh oh. Something bad."

And when it turns out to be cookies, carried in bubble wrap so they don't break, delivered on an evening run by my friend whose wife makes THE BEST chocolate cookies ever

you start to think, "Love."

Greater love has no man's wife than this: that she delivers cookies in the middle of grading season.


Monday, November 4

The Table of Loss and Profit

So many days and nights I moved in-between slumber and wakefulness thinking about the people I lost. In those days of their absence more prayers happened for them, more tears shed for their health than all combined in the days when we used to share mission and meals and Christmas and Tuesdays.  Even when a new path was laid out for us, even when new friends said, "We're with you,"  I lagged behind wishing newness could, just this once, be retroactive.

But with this practice the days are presenting themselves to me now with import and profit.  Insight is resulting in a mindful closing, and the things of the past lay behind a thick curtain of protective memory.  It's no longer mine to captain or create, to fix or to form.

What is mine is faith and even that is a good gift from God; faith that is less a surrendering to God's will than it is an acceptance of my active role in God's future.*  And God's future now looks a lot like a table spread with pasta and sauce and bread and brownies.  One that is encircled by trust and openness and warm laughter.  It is the friends who lean over it and say, "We believe the same thing."  It is the fact that we sit around it dreaming and suggesting and envisioning what our role in that future could be.  When we sweep the plates away to move from stories to schedules excitement mounts. We can see it, we can taste it; this new future that faith has invited us to.

But just as the past doesn't own today the future doesn't trump it either.  In James 4:13-17, the merchants who announce that they'll travel about and trade and make a profit don't even consider that their pronouncement of "the way we're going to move forward" is so full of mist and obstruction that they won't just be wrong about the way forward, they'll actually vanish as a result.  It's not the planning that James is denouncing; it's the presumptive pride. The what-will-be cannot push aside the what-is.

What is now, what is today for us, is new and fragile.  It is reliant upon God's favor and direction.  It is risk and hope.  It is holding loosely what's in front of us, because at any point God could say, "Give it."

This table we eat and talk and work at represents today well.  It's a folding table.  Two weeks ago, here sat a proper table. Until one day it seemed appropriate for my friend to determine that he ought to trade it to a man for a motorcycle. To him it's of no real consequence. God will provide another proper table if he wills. He leaves room for the possibility that it might not turn out as he planned.  But today, all goodness is still given regardless of what we're leaning over to receive it.

Today I play an active role in God's future.  And if I only get to do it for today I did it with friends around a table set in hope and trust and love.

*I wish I could take credit for this idea about faith. It's from a message Barbara Brown Taylor gave to Duke University.

Sunday, November 3

The Discipline of Presence

When we move into a fog color fades, mist obstructs, deep within the loss a crash feels immanent.  To punch through it we need to turn on some lights, slow down, pay attention.  Spiritual disciplines are the lights we follow to a new place of heart and character, color and truth.   When I walked through the sunlit neighborhood last week, leaves like confetti meeting the ground, my own private parade, creation celebrating my awakening, this discipline of presence was conceived.  
"A spiritual discipline is an intentionally directed action which places us in a position to receive from God the power to do what we cannot accomplish on our own." - Richard Foster
If I hadn't said yes to this daily practice, I would have let this moment go by.  I wouldn't have seen it on my own.  Under my previous fog in an attempt to keep them focused --  to move it along so I could say in my distracted way that 'we'd had quality time,' -- I would have asked to see the card so I could read it with speed and precision.  But as I learn to let the fog fall away I'm learning to see what's in front of me again.

And this one was big.  This was the moment he turned a corner. 


In September, the phone call came from his teacher -- a wonderfully, encouraging woman who loves on 17 of our young heartbeats every day and goes home to stare cancer in the face.  She said, "Normally, we like to see the students begin the year at a level 16.  He's at a 4."

I knew his reading wasn't where it could be, but I treated reading like potty training: they 'get it' when they're ready. I'd planned to work more on it this year when I knew I'd have him all to myself to teach.  That was before our plans for him changed in a moment.  Before he was going to have a teacher with a quota and a standard.

So, every morning we say, "Love you!" and "Have a good day!" to his brothers when their father drives them to school.  And then my smallest son and I snuggle down for thirty minutes before it's his turn to go and he gets the quality time that moves and motivates him.

Together we take a deep breath, sound it out, think 'e at the end makes the vowel long', repeat it again and essentially wrestle those words off the page. Wiggling legs moving him slowly off the couch every few minutes, finger to the wrong words, long pauses -- it would be painful if it weren't so sweet.  Every morning I get to look down at his blond eyelashes, windows to his diligent brain, and I get to hear his still young voice -- my mommy heart tries to record it -- and sometimes I sniff his hair, just like when he was tiny.

Nearly two weeks ago, I noticed a change.  Something was quicker, his stabs were more correct, his cadence smoother.  It was starting to click.

And then this morning he was reading the papers on the side of the fridge. And the books his dad and I left laying about. And the screen I was typing on.

When we started the game after dinner he told his brother -- the one who has nurtured him all seven years, who has tied his shoes, worried about his safety, wrestled countless hours, and who has read to him on the mornings when younger brother climbed up the ladder to squeeze quality time from anyone who'd awaken -- "No, I want to read the card."  And he did.  And the next and the next as best as he could.  He didn't give up. He nailed Kodiak, but couldn't do bear.  Work in progress.

This is the day I wait for in the lives of my boys.  Every parent has their moments; my husband couldn't wait to play catch. But I love leading them to the belief that they can read. When they think in their head, "I'm a reader" their world transforms, their eyes open to everything that was previously foreign and they own and guard words like the life-giving secrets they are.  Today he is no longer "other;" he is with us.  

What if I had still been in the fog?  What if I still walked through autumn streets seeing only gray, thinking only about summer, wishing it wasn't dead, that it could be brought back to the life I'd envisioned for it.  That was something I couldn't do on my own.  It was something only God could do.  And the way he chose to do it was to open my eyes.
"Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is, You're dead.  Who are you going to be tomorrow?" - Reynolds Price

Saturday, November 2


Experience marginality and
replenish the reservoir of compassion. 
-- Henri Nouwen

I arrived at the east entrance bewildered to see the metal detectors, armed guards.
     "I think I'm at the wrong entrance."
     "Where you headed?"
     "Employment First?"
     "This is the place.  Bag in the tray.  Empty your pockets."
I passed through the detector and sighed at the beep.
     "What you got in there?" he said with a sly smile, grabbing the wand, remembering all the others.
     "Buckles on my boots."
     "Oh, yes."

In these first moments of the exercise, one I tasked myself, deemed as spiritual - that of moving myself into the margins, I wanted to turn around, forget it.  But my name was on a list somewhere and I had to trade my presence for help.  Just like everyone.

In the room: name signed, cold plastic chair, forms read, expectations announced.  The girl to my left, bracelets rattling, blond hair attractive, moved here for a job that didn't last long enough -- rug pulled out from under her.  The women on my right, red plaid shirt, dark sad eyes, badly mumbled what little she said.  I wanted to find out more stories to connect the paths that brought us together. All of us image of God and human flesh.  But this room persisted in silence and sighs.


Last month I signed our family up for food stamps.  It was an afterthought, a "let's give it a try" moment. While I filled out the application for a different state aid program I simply checked that box too.   

Just a few days later, a warm and unexpected efficiency, the phone call came for an intake interview.  It seemed like an afterthought when she said, "Because you are underemployed you qualify for Employment First.  It's attached to your food assistance.  Can you come to the orientation?"
     "We'll go over job interview skills, resumes, workplace training."
     "Uh, ok."
     "Great.  See you then."

When the form arrived in the mail it said something about "attending all meetings."  Something else about a case manager.  I felt trapped.  I have a calling; I don't need a job.  I struggled with pride.  With guilt.  With shame. I tried to breathe in the greater good.

In the room: together we filled in our blanks, signed the yellow page, made a choice from the list.

"Eight hours of volunteer work before next week."
"Another meeting on Wednesday."
"Bring twelve employer contacts with you."
"Volunteering starts now.  Color a bag for Project Angelheart.  No 'God Bless You' statements."

Our table was tasked with collating forms before we drew autumn scenes on the brown bags that would carry meals to the threatened lives.  I stuffed hard the pride that wanted to roll the eyes. The sad-eyed woman seemed grateful to do what she needed to.  At least she wasn't needing the meal her bag would carry to the dying.  I followed her response and picked up my crayon.
"In a state of reverence we stand in the full presence of another, while being fully present ourselves. There is deep acceptance and love in this state, as we encounter the image of God in each other." L.L. Barkat
I wanted to do this as a spiritual exercise.  I wanted to grow in hospitality as a fundamental expression of the gospel. I wanted be a more hospitable host, one that anticipated the kingdom, one that welcomed the margins.  Hospitality isn't just a momentary kindness, or as the social services model, a well-managed give and take that labeled me according to my need and maintained my isolation. I didn't need another job. I didn't need to volunteer at a thrift store to learn skills.  I needed to eat and I needed to be seen.

But I also needed to be a stranger; to be pressed to the margins again.  I can already say I've been homeless.  I can say I've endured a long season of unemployment. But if I'm going to open myself up to a ministry for anyone, then I needed to know what these brothers and sisters have to do to be helped.  I needed to know in a first-hand way and to move into their suffering and build a house there.
"The most transformative hosts are 'bridge people'."  Christine Pohl
At the three-hours end, I felt too many barriers to move forward with this experiment. My new friends were going to have to work hard and show up and get signed off and keep returning just to eat.  I had tasted the same smokey air, waited in the same line, chose from the same lists of workplaces, sat in the same abashed silence.  I took my name off the list.  I would eat another way.

I'm not a stranger. I'm loved and known by friends who see me.  Whose children pick corn right from the stalk and pile it into bags and offer it to me to take home.  Today my community fed me.  And I would do the same for them or for anybody.  Because caring for others is caring for Jesus.  And when my new brothers and sisters come around I can say to their story, "I know what those first steps are like.  Come in."

Friday, November 1

Courage to Risk

Three summers ago, friends in the annual book group gathered and talked about our final chapters.  Kids running back and forth between our laps and the sandbox, we tried to dive into words like fear and failure, risk and love, words that needed more than a few interrupted sentences to truly rewire us.  Somewhere in those pages, and I can't find them now, there was a phrase that I remember as,

"When you've experienced the deep love of God, you're not afraid to risk."  

Whatever it was, however it was worded precisely is lost to me now.  But I remember the feeling I had of being known as I read it.  Here was a finger to put on my experience; a trail marker giving me a name for my location. That place in life where I was simply not afraid, not worried was something I pressed into because prior to I had experienced the deep, renewing hope-filled love of God.  While it had been a hard, dark time I clung to love and he brought us into light...eventually.

Hard experiences are our greatest teacher.  We can choose to turn bitter and blame God for making us go through the hard.  Or we can trust that whatever comes to us is for us in some way.  A friend sent me a quote recently that sums up these seasons:
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” -- C.S. Lewis
Fast forward to today...

We're deep in the middle of risk, holding fast to the mast during the wind.  We are risking building a new body of believers that will hopefully reflect God's desires to his creation and reflect the praise of creation back to God.  Risking being underemployed for the sake of being faithful to who we're supposed to be.  Risking alienating friends who don't get an invitation just yet. Risking the unknown future as we watch our boys react, respond, and even retreat regarding all that has happened and is happening now.  But it's not too much; it doesn't overwhelm and parch like the Santa Anas or bring the heat like the Chinook.  Because the love of God is higher, deeper, wider, stronger.  We have seen it and it is powerful.

If we hadn't been here before we might not trust it now. Might miss how he's working it out.
Today my good friend said, "I'll buy lunch."  The conversation and connection was priceless. 
Today my son won $50 at a holiday party.  His encouragement from the surprise was a divine kiss. 
Today was payday for my little part time job.  The reward of the well-fit work can't be price-tagged.  
Today my eyes have seen all of this provision and more.  There's more to come.  The love gives us courage for the risk and gratitude for the provision.  I'm paying attention.  I'm not afraid.