Red-Eye Reflections

I honestly don’t know if I have ever flown all the way across the country on a red-eye.

Seattle to Philadelphia. It is almost 10:30pm and the lights of Seattle are just fading behind us. Almost five hours ahead. This is a slow process…I know, much quicker than the road trip we just completely…still, a slow process without  the interruption of changing flights and rushing through the airport. 

I like it, I like the hours to process the week that just completed. I am thankful for some uninterrupted time to read a little and to reflect.

I have a tendency to rush. I have a tendency want to move on to the next responsibility or appointment or adventure before the last has had time to settle. Seasons of quiet are always a challenge for me.

I learned something at the end of the week at Regent College that surprised me, something I wasn’t  expecting:

 I learned that poetry makes us slow down. 



The last evening in Vancouver I was able to attend a poetry reading by Luci Shaw and Malcom Guite. I already shared the other day insights I gleaned from Malcolm’s lecture, but this was different.

This was two friends sharing their stories and their hearts through these words they are able to weave with lyrical ingenuity, capturing our attention and our imaginations. Both Luci and Malcolm took us into the woods, took us into doctor’s examination  rooms, took us into their love of poetry itself, and took us into the presence of God.

  

Luci mentioned that poets are God’s gift to the world, and although she said it with a smirk and twinkle in her eye, she spoke the truth.

The poet and the artist are God’s gift to us. They force us to look differently at the mundane and ordinary around us. They force us to listen, through changing the rhythm of our words and drawing out the lyrical rhyme, they catch our ear and slow us down. They open our eyes to look in a new way, using light and color and shadows. They catch our attention, and they make us pause.

I know that I need this. I know that I get caught up in finding the solution, in analyzing and critiquing. The week was spent thinking seriously about Colossians, and that was good. My brain was enlivened and my thinking sparked….but I needed to finish on this note of pause. 

Friday night Luci and Malcolm, and a group of listeners in Vancouver, slowed and listened. The poets interrupted the normal rhythm of a busy week with words gathered to inspire, to enlarge and in the same moment to connect us with one another. 

Suddenly we saw pebbles on the beach and weeds beside the road as holy things. We were witness to their friendship as they laughed and even more as their countenance shone as they spoke of how and why they write, and of those poets they love. 

  

If you have never read Luci Shaw, well, you need to. This is not poetry that inspires fear as we try to understand. This is poetry that connects and gives words to the feelings we recognize. This is poetry made for enlarging our vision, for opening our eyes. This is poetry that reminds us matter matters; that the ordinary things of the world are holy.
Oh, but you think you don’t like poetry or aren’t able to understand? How about this?

Peeling The Onion



There’s not much I don’t know about you – 

yellow, red, sweet—grubbed up roots and all.

Essential for a vigorous cuisine, alerting

the sense—the crackle of your paper brown outer

skin, your translucent inner sheaths like

vegetable undergarments, your pungent heat

rising from sharp steel and cutting board

to my blurred eyes, your precise circles against

the wood, before the sizzle in the buttered pan.




Reluctant to relinquish our intimacy

your sharp essence clings to my fingers, like

a reputation. Hours later, in the dark, you season

the air around my hands, I’ll stud you with

stars of cloves to bury in the belly of the bird

before roasting. Or nestle your pearls

with a stalk of mint among the green peas.

If I leave you too long in the pantry, your

patience exhausted, attenuated, soft at the center,

you send up green spears through the mesh bag

that call out chop me, make a salad, I am delicious.


How do I interpret my own

layered membranes, like growth rings?

I try to peel away the layers of my

onion heart, never getting all the way in.



Pause.  Listen well and pay attention. Listen for the rhyme and the lyrical reminders to pause. Don’t rush….find some poetry and listen. Even about the most mundane activities of life….peeling an onion. 
Another? How about this from Malcolm:

Holding and Letting Go


We have a call to live, and oh

A common call to die.

I watched you and my father go

To bid a friend goodbye.

I watched you hold my father’s hand,

How could it not be so?

The gentleness of holding on

Helps in letting go.


For when we feel our frailty

How can we not respond?

And each to hold another’s hand

And feel the common bond?

For then we touch the heights above

And every depth below,

We touch the very quick of love;

Holding and letting go.


I’ve made it across the country. Thankful for a quiet, long flight. Thankful for the forced pause. Back to rushing a bit now, catching the final flight home, but doing so with a brighter eye and a heart full of inspiration. 




Fan the Flame

Did you see the finale of Survivor this year? The moment where the two contestants have to perform the fire making challenge. The moment where everything rests on that little spark of flame being nurtured and protected and fanned into a fire burning through a rope.

 

That little spark is everything. Keeping that flame alive. Their place in the game depended on their ability to burn through that rope.

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Life, in this moment, feels a little like that fire making challenge.  The constant demand of the news and culture to pay attention to who is arguing with whom and who is throwing rocks, literally. The demand of simply life with a family full of schedules and laundry and meals and the need to be heard. The demand of my emotions and my body.

 

There needs to be a moment where all the attention is on that little flame that brings life. The spark that can become a flame bringing life and warmth and renewal. It needs attention.

 

I can feel my irritation build through the days, my impatience and my uncertainty. It comes out in snaps to the children….when they have really done nothing wrong. It comes out in that desire to simply stay in bed in the morning. It comes out in the awareness that I need something, Someone, beyond myself in the midst of all of this life. The irritation and the impatience are the fruit of all the chaos around me. I feel out of control and that feeling has to manifest somehow.

 

In those moments, when I realize why I am snapping and being impatient, I have to turn the attention away from what is feeding the chaos.

 

I have to hear whispers of the faith that come in the moments of the day. Reminders of God’s faithfulness. Reminders of His grace. Reminders of His wisdom and His plan. They catch my attention and I find the irritation and the impatience and the uncertainty retreat in the midst of Truth.

 

 

“I got there as the saints were marching in

I sat down on the back row

and heard the story once again.

And the servants of the secret fire

were gathered there

the embers of the ages

like a living prayer

And all at once I saw the shadows flee

Shine Your light on Me

Be a light unto my path

and a lamp unto my feet.”

Andrew Peterson’s “Shine Your Light on Me”. I was driving down the road, windows down and sun shining, when this came up on my playlist. Words that remind me there is a struggle, but there is also One who brings help. And, reminds me that I am not alone. Servants of the secret fire.

I need those reminders, and I need to act on the truths they bring to mind. I approached a few friends about starting a book club, a chance to meet and talk about our faith in a more intentional and intimate way than I have in other situations. We are reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. The information is not new, but the chance to discuss is so refreshing. The awareness that we are not alone, that we can encourage and learn from each other.

I know I am not saying anything new. Yes, we need to think about our faith. Yes, we need to talk to friends about our faith. Yes, songs inspire us, especially well written songs. Yep, got that, thanks for the reminder!

I’m saying a little more, though: I’m saying in the midst of these storms of dialog about gender identity and this crazy election season, and the stresses of so many being overworked, or unemployed…we need even more intention to think about our faith. We need those friends to talk with who remind us of the reality of a Creator God, a God who moves history in a certain direction. A God who brings healing and refreshing, who breathes life into our reality.

We need to intentionally lash ourselves to these friends and to this truth. Have you heard that phrase…”Lash yourselves to (fill in the blank).”? Ulysses used it, when he was sailing his ship past the Sirens and he wanted to hear them, but he knew if the crew of his ship heard the Sirens they would be destroyed. So he put wax in the ears of his crew and had them lash him to the mast of the ship. He could hear the Sirens, but the crew focused on the task. He knew, in the moment before the confusion came, that he needed to protect himself and he needed to make choices that would carry him through the confusion.

Sitting around a table, sipping coffee, laughing and talking about God…I am lashing myself to the mast. I am making a choice in the midst of a moment of calm to do something that will carry me through moments of confusion.

We so need this in our lives. Find someone, find something that speaks life into your reality…and lash yourself to them, to it. In the moments of calm, intentionally turn your direction to learning how to fan that spark into a flame. Then, when the test comes, when everything is on the line, you will be prepared.

When the news unsettles you, when the FaceBook feed infuriates you…go back to the ancient Truths. Again, a little help from Andrew Peterson. Have you heard his music? If you haven’t, click on the video below and be encouraged. Then go listen to a few more of his songs. I quote Frederick Buechner and G.K. Chesterton here quite a lot, now is a chance to introduce you to another favorite. Feeling overwhelmed this morning? Go listen for a bit…

“Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home”

 

There is a Light that Heals

Sitting down with my good cup of coffee this morning, held in a mug which holds memories along with caffeine, I began to read. The world opened before me in the form of Facebook posts and Twitter comments. Instagram photos and news headlines.

Fear. Anger. Outrage. Concern.

A few with encouraging words, with hope of things deeper.

I have not written here in months. There are things I would like to write about, yet they do not seem to come together clearly yet. So I wait. More thoughts about Mom and the toll of Dementia. More thoughts about homeschool and the joys and challenges of that life. More thoughts about kids and faith and creativity and wonder….but they all seem overshadowed now.

In the past I have daily posted poems as we have moved through the Lenten Season. I have fasted from Facebook and other things, sharing the reasons and the results.

This year, Lent has seem swept aside by all the noise and debate and discussion of politics. There is so much there to parse and think about. I have no desire to add my voice to that debate, unless you want to sit with me over a cup of coffee and talk at length. There is not much I could say in 140 characters or a Facebook post that would clarify a candidate or a policy. Plus there are so many already saying so much, I just don’t want to add to the mix.

Instead…can I encourage you?

I needed it this morning. I turned to Malcolm Guite  who faithfully leads us through the seasons of the Church with poetry and insights. I needed this this morning. I needed to be reminded of the rhythm and the truth of a reality beyond politics. Don’t get me wrong…I understand the importance and participate in the responsibility of our elections.

Today though, I needed to be reminded “There is a light that heals, and, where it falls, transfigures and redeems the darkest stain into translucent colour.”

Possibly you needed a reminder as well.  If you click the link you can hear Malcolm read the poem as well.

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

Holding The Beautiful in the Midst of the Terrible

She had done this just the other day; falling out of bed only to roll under the bed and sleep the rest of the night there. I heard her moaning a bit, dreaming, so I gently pulled her out from under the bed and brought her in to my bed.

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It was time to get up. Time to begin another day, focused on homeschool and laundry and cooking. Time to wake and see what conversations were taking place on FB, time to listen and hear more of the state of our world.

 

I didn’t.

 

I actually didn’t have much of a choice: as I went to lay her in the bed she wrapped her arms around my neck, clasping her hands. She did not let go. I lay there, firmly grasped by the hands of a four year old.

 

The innocent, trusting and loving arms of a child.

 

And I thought about our news. I thought about the terrors all around. I thought about Syrian mothers and wondered if they lay by their child, firmly in their grasp, and smelled their hair. If they just waited and listened to the breathing, feeling that little one beside them.

 

I am sure their hair does not smell like strawberries, and their embrace is more determined because there is so much to fear.

 

I wondered about the mother near us who had her daughter, just a little older than mine, killed at a football game. One moment she was there and cheering on her brothers, and within moments she was gone.

 

I didn’t move. I inhaled the fragrance of this innocent little one, and swallowed down the fear which is so near. I thought of our sermons lately on the book of Ruth, especially this:

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.   – Ruth 2:21b

I wondered about the refugees and I wondered about so many who face immeasurable fear. Do they find the God of Israel to give them refuge? Through servants like Boaz? Like us?

quote-here-is-the-world-beautiful-and-terrible-things-will-happen-don-t-be-afraid-frederick-buechner-34-91-86

I found it interesting when I was looking at images with the above quote that none of them showed the terrible things. The quote was written across beaches and sunsets, pictures of stars and Northern Lights, in a variety of pleasing fonts.

 

Maybe it needs to be written across images of terror, because the encouragement to not be afraid rarely comes when things are beautiful.

 

Or, maybe….

 

Maybe in those moments when things truly are beautiful – like being held in the embrace of a child while the rain falls outside and all is quiet – reminds us of the starkness of terror. The sun still rose in a sunrise in Paris Saturday morning. There was still beauty, but it was all the more fragile because of the horrors.

 

I know, I am rambling. I have read several posts this morning from others sorting through these things as well. I am one of many. All of us. Trying to sort through our lives in seeming disparity from evil that is rampant. Still attempting to get the laundry done and cook dinner, teach the children and sing songs while things seem to be falling apart.

 

There is a fine line between discernment and fear. I do not want to let evil near my children. I do not want to turn away those who are without hope and who we can help. I do not want to tell my children about the terrors that exist across the ocean, across the country. Right next to their summer camp…where the little girl was killed just a few days ago.

 

The thing I am beginning to settle more and more with is this: we simply fall apart when we give ourselves completely over to fear. There are still beautiful things. There is still good. And we have been called to not be afraid.

 

Called by One Who is able. Able to be our refuge, or use us to be another’s refuge. We…I…so need the beautiful to give me strength to face the fearful and terrible.

 

Like little children sleeping under their beds and holding on in embraces with locked hands and innocent hearts. Like the sound of the rain, or the taste of chocolate.

 

Like the realization that God came here to this mess. And it matters. I wish His justice and His refuge was more immediate and clear…but I trust that one day it will be. There is strength in that, strength to face the evil and say no, strength to comfort the refugee and the wounded. Strength to embrace the beautiful even when there are terrible things around.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned from Sending the Boy to Camp. Stop the Chatter.

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”

Frederick Buechner

Last week the middle boy went to camp. The first time he has been away from us that long…five nights.

We immediately felt his absence when we drove away from the camp, leaving him in a cabin of rowdy boys and wondering what the week would hold.

I remember going to camp, I remember that uncertain feeling and also the excitement. The meals, the laughter, the games. The deep emotional talks.  What would his experience be?

The difference between when I went to camp and now is this: constant updates.

We watched the camp’s FaceBook page and Instagram religiously. They posted hundreds of pictures. Daily. 998 pictures by the end.

We saw our boy in 18 pictures. He is actually in 28 by the end…but that includes the cabin group photos and things from the last day.

18 pictures. 

He is smiling in exactly 4. 

Mostly he is standing with his arms folded and that look of concern. Instantly identifiable, and instantly bringing back all those moments I felt insecure in group situations. You know, like last month or last year or thirty years ago. We all know that feeling.

The husband and I were praying fervently. Speculating. Wondering if we should text and ask the youth leader if he was okay. Hoping for a picture of him with his arm around a buddy. Finally, the last night I had a headache and came downstairs at 1am. New pictures were loaded and there was one with him arms around his cabin mates at the worship time.

Thank you, Lord. He is not alone, he is not completely miserable.

I did text the youth leader who told me the boy had been quiet, but didn’t seem upset. Quiet is unusual for this one.

So, we continued to speculate. The brothers were pretty convinced along with us that the week had been a let down. We all wondered what we would hear when we went to pick him up.

Can you guess?

Yep, he had a great time. Not phenomenal, and there were moments of homesickness…but he wants to go back next year. I showed him the pictures and he laughed. He kept pointing out pictures of laughter and group activities where he was just out of the frame. We just couldn’t quite see the whole picture. Our vision was narrowed and limited and we ran with only what we could see.

We fervently wanted to protect and manage his life. We prayed, but we prayed with advice to God. We chattered continually about the situation, and our chatter went along the lines of all the things that could be wrong.

Did you read the quotation from Buechner above? Here, I’ll post it again:

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”

We have to remember that God sees the whole picture. He knows the whole story, and we can trust that. Our vision is limited, and it is not good to make continual judgments based on limited understanding.

Even of our own lives.

So, stop the chatter for awhile today. Stop running and questioning and determining the hundred outcomes you think will happen.

Be still and know that He is God.

It takes some time, it takes practice…discipline. Still ourselves and quiet our chatter. Realize the astonishing thought that our lives are God’s business. There is rest in that thought.

A Little Hard Work is Required.

Maddie 3

 

 

This is the face of a little girl in a little pain, and a little frustration. This is the face of a little girl after her first swim lesson.

 

The lesson ended in tears and the exclamation that she never wanted to swim again.

 

“They made me put my face in the water. I had water in my nose and I couldn’t keep it out.”

Despair.

 

And the toes. Do you remember when you were little and swam and scraped your toes on the bottom of the pool? Do you remember those little sores, the little raw circles on the bottom of your toes?

 

Yep. All ten toes now have waterproof bandaids.

 

As we walked away from the lesson, tears still dripping down her cheeks, I told her,

 

“Sometimes we have to do a little hard work and something not too fun so we can have lots of fun in the end.”

 

She’s almost four. She has no idea what I mean…not really.

 

I meant it, though, even in the simplicity of swimming lessons. This life of ours requires discipline, it requires sacrifice and it requires some not too fun things all done with the hope of success and growth.

 

Sometimes we have to set aside the fun activity to complete the necessary activity. In the end the things that are not as fun can give us room for other things: taking care of the household chores leaves us a space where we can relax and rest, taking the time for study enriches our brains and sets the stage for creativity and imagination and curiosity.

 

Sometimes we have to put to death our flesh in order to see the Spirit come alive.

 

Sometimes we have to do the hard work before we see the growth.

 

But, to be honest, there are days (weeks? months? years?) where it feels as though everything is the hard work and nothing is enjoyment or growth. That is when we have to listen well; we have to pay attention.

 

 

“Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks . . . It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”

Frederick Buechner

Even today. Even in the difficult times and the joyful times…God is speaking.

Even when we give advice to four year olds when we really are talking to ourselves.

The next day? She jumped in the water and came up laughing. She was the first one in line for the slide, even though it meant going deep under the water for her. She came up with joy and had already forgotten the tears. After the second day the exclamation was, “When can we do this again!”

Fireflies and Struggles.

Someone asked the other day why I have not been writing. There have been many mornings when I wanted to write over the last several months, yet the words simply didn’t flow.

Sometimes words just dry up.

Sometimes life is mundane and busy and distracted and I find it difficult to pull thoughts into focus. Thoughts more than what to make for lunch, what the kids need to be studying and did I finish all the things I needed to today.

Then, sometimes, I read an article like Ann Voskamp’s about her journey in Iraq and I wonder what on earth I could say. I sat utterly silent after reading about the journey of the women in Iraq, about the true horrors and suffering. Talking about my inability to complete my laundry sounded just a little petty.

Still, that is mostly the stuff of which my days consist: Laundry. Dishes. Lunches. Dinners.

Or is it?

There is a discipline to our thoughts. When I am lazy the words do not come, mostly because the thinking is vague and random. I tend to mope.

No one wants to read moping.

I have to go back to Ann Voskamp, who has been bringing me a bit out of this funk of undisciplined thought. Her book and challenge to count our blessings. To write them down and remember them…all the way up to 1000 and beyond. One Thousand Gifts. Discipline our thoughts and our vision to see the wonder and blessings around us.

Write them down. Look at them and be amazed by all the wonders around us. All the blessings, even in suffering.

Just after beginning to count these blessings that fill my life, I drove on a quiet Tennessee country road to pick up the eldest from a party. Just at twilight. In the early summer. If you have lived in the South, you know what that can mean: Fireflies. Lightning bugs.

There was an aroma of honeysuckle, everything was green, the air was cool and the windows down. The light caught my eye and I thought it was ribbons farmers use to keep birds from eating their crops. Then another field, filled with this twinkling light. Thousands of fireflies.

This exercise in counting blessings brings an awareness  that this reality of ours is not so simple. It is touched by eternity, touched by a Creator who delights in fireflies and fuzzy chicks, sunsets and landscapes. A Creator who gives gifts, even some gifts that challenge us.

I wonder if the women in Iraq can number their blessings to 1000. Maybe I am greedy in seeing the blessings I have, and sometimes try to hoard.

That is not what they are for. They strengthen us and move us beyond our funk, beyond our mundane days, beyond our limitations. These wonders and blessings remind us that God is, and that He is near. They remind us that we can walk in a faith which expands our feeble actions.

Go and read the update Ann wrote after people responded to her first article. Really…go and read the Update. Now.

Sometimes I come to this blog and think all I have to write about with depth is the journey of my Mother’s Dementia. Heavy things. Hard things.

Or I write about birthdays. Light things. Joyous things.

The reality is, most of life is spent somewhere in between. We cannot constantly focus on the struggle or we exhaust ourselves. We cannot constantly analyze and postulate about the deeper meaning. Sometimes we have to do the laundry, or color a picture with a three year old.

 

And those things don’t sound terribly interesting to write about…yet maybe they are just the things I should think about.

 

I’ll end with this…reading Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book  Letters from the Land of Cancer:

“But the promises of the Lord endure forever. He and his promises – Jesus, between the making and the keeping them – these embrace Time. They give Time its edges and its shape. And it is not wrong, on days like this one, to take one’s stand as well as one’s rest within such Time, the anteroom of eternity. Not in order to blind ourselves to the iniquities and the woundings around us, nor to withdraw from our service on behalf of the wounded, but simply to rejoice.

It is a good day. Gladness is available. Christ is at hand.”

 

Whatever this moment holds: suffering, joy, mundane duties, boredom, excitement. Whatever the moment holds…Christ is present. That really does change everything.