Synchronicities

Just when it seems like everything’s hitting the fan, grace shows up and grants the gift of perspective. For me that means taking a breath. Taking a step back. Looking around with compassionate eyes and a gentler heart . . . especially toward myself.

“Take it one day, one step at a time,” I hear myself say to people nearly every day. If we take everything in all at once, we are easily overwhelmed and succumb to the “craziness” instead of naming what it is that we actually don’t want to deal with. (Reality: I call myself out for using “busy” and “crazy” too much; there are better, truer words to use. Why am I using them to begin with? What do I need to hold myself accountable for?)

Once I remember to slow my breath, love myself and family more, and try not to be so perfect, I think grace has even more room to work her magic, which translates into my seeing more readily how God is at work in the world about me. Synchronicities appear. Things seem to fall into place. And when I get off track again, something like a migraine might reappear to slow me down and help me regain perspective.

While I’m slowed down, I might realize that lovely stories keep popping into my head; brilliant writers are sharing their words; beautiful people keep coming into my life; love just fills the air I breathe, even when things are hard.

So I remind myself to slow down, to write even when it doesn’t make sense, and to keep giving room for Grace to do Her work.

Give yourself a treat. Tend the flowers or the pretty weeds. Go to the music festival nearby. Enjoy a meal with friends at home or out and about–the company is the important thing. Just love, and allow space for life to happen. As my next best friend Kaitlin says (we haven’t met…yet…, but I love her words),

“If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places.”

I’ll meet you in those sacred spaces, following the breadcrumbs of all the synchronicities along the way.

Peace and love to you.

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A Pause

A typo almost dictated the title to be “A Oa..”, which made me think of “an oasis.” What is a true pause but an oasis in our day? At least, this pause is for me. This pause is at the end of a comfortably full day, when I got home before dinner was already late, while the sun is still out, and the house still quiet since the fam isn’t yet back from after-school activities. Moms and dads of all sorts know this kind of pause, a sort of calm before the storm.

And in this pause I choose to write because it’s been a while since I’ve journaled or blogged or written anything other than sermons. While sermons are a treasured part of my ministry, there’s so much unsaid in a sermon, even as I hope to have said enough, trusting Spirit to fill in the gaps.

Pausing for a moment to write grants me the opportunity to see, to open my eyes and gaze with wonder what’s going on around me, let alone what’s going on within me. Pausing for a moment to write helps me realize where my prayers manifest, especially the prayers left unsaid.

This Lent has been a time of prayer: long and intentional, short and rushed, whispered, sung, listened to, promised, and hoped for. My breath prayer this Lent has been

Let me abide in you, O God.

One night driving home it took on the tune to the Taize hymn “Bless the Lord my soul,” and it has stayed with me since then–not that I’m ready to let it go.

If Lent is about realizing our dependency upon God and increasing our awareness of God’s presence, I believe this Lent I learned more about the opposite. I find myself returning to my breath prayer as an escape from all the constraints I put on myself, mostly, and all the anxieties I hold onto when I know full well it’s out of my control. I have seen how much more I depend upon my timing and my management (even though I know how horribly that works out most times!) and see just how messed up things are in the world through our microcosm of a community, rather than trusting in God’s perfect timing and dream for us all.

Preparing for Holy Week, this insight is rather perfect, for once we know something, it’s hard to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist. (I’ll try to be sincere in my gratitude for this knowledge as I keep thinking, “Those to whom much is given, much is required.”) What has God revealed to me in the desert that I can take into the Easter season? What have I learn that, gilded with Resurrection, illuminates not only my ministry but even more importantly, God’s presence in the world?

I think I need more pauses to decipher the answers to those questions, but I know that Easter has much to say about God’s timing and God’s dream for us. In this pause, I can almost feel it in the anticipatory silence surrounding me.

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Content Machine?

“Become a content machine.”

(That’s what I remember the ad saying.)

What do they mean? Would a machine ever be content? Can one really manifest contentment on demand?

My train of thought these days often meanders toward thoughts about how to be more efficient and productive while also creating space for deep thought and compassion, allowing time for relationships and creativity. I don’t think that’s what the ad was about, though.

Apparently there are books about content . . . website content. Content. Material. Words that make up the stuff we read on sites–not content as in a state of being. Ah, sweet homographs.

We can mechanize a lot of things, but contentment isn’t one of them. We can be trained and follow procedures and schedules for creating optimized content, but our path toward manifesting contentment involves an ongoing process. Even if we make it our goal to become one heckuva content person, I don’t think it computes to just wake up and churn out contentment.

But if we could . . . perhaps it would look like

  • waking up in the morning, scanning the world and our surroundings and realizing there is enough for us all;

  • living into my vocation, meeting the world’s need with my joy;

  • surviving the journey through pain and sorrow without losing hope;

  • remembering to give thanks, to be grateful, and to pay it forward on occasion;

  • knowing that it’s not always about me but that I always have a choice.

We could be content machines, and maybe we are; only our programming has gotten corrupt. It stretches my imagination and reminds me of conversations with my husband about artificial intelligence, which leads to an endless round of questioning and theorizing (and topics for another day). Thankfully, each day is a kind of reboot to our system, each morning a fresh start, and that is good for us all.

Content, indeed.

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Comfortable, Not Numb

At the end of the day–most days, actually–what I really want to do is put on my jammies (if I’m not in them already) and curl up on the sofa to watch a movie, preferably a good one with a happy ending. If I’m really tired, maybe just my p.j.’s and a mindless game on the iPad. (I’ve always been a Tetris kind of gal.) There are also nights when I make myself avoid the screen and pretend like I’ll read something (because the truth is I’ll read about a paragraph before falling asleep).

What does this say about the quality of my bedtime ritual? What does this say about my self-care? My life?

This Lent, I’ve been loosely following along with SSJE’s “Growing a Rule of Life.” I already have unwritten rules, but before Easter morning, I plan to have them written because like everyone else I need structure and guidelines specific to me and my life. These guides will help and encourage me to grow in the way I believe God would have me grow. Like the garden velcro I’ve used to stake small trees or unruly tomatoes, these rules will be strong but flexible, good for now and amendable for when I’ve grown into a new stage.

I will likely have more than one rule dedicated to my care of self. I need and deserve such attention and focus.

What struck me last night as I turned to my iPad for a game was that I was seeking a quick fix for my tired body, a distraction for my weary mind. The Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb” popped into my head. How would such distractions actually help me? What I really needed was rest, true rest, not some kind of numbing agent to take away my awareness of what is real. What is real is my need to be mindful of myself, to acknowledge that caring for others takes a toll on oneself emotionally if not physically.

I didn’t do it last night but on the night before, I gave myself a glimpse of what might work. Compline. No screen. Not too much reading or thought required. Gentle, soothing, rhythmic words to grant me rest and comfort. Afterward, I turned out the light and settled into my pillow beneath the cool sheet and blankets. A deep, content sigh is all I remember. I wasn’t numb or distracted. I ended my day in true comfort.

My Rule won’t be about making sure my day is all comfort and zero distraction; that’s not the way life works. My Rule will be the garden velcro to help keep me closer to God when I would rather fall away into numbness. Being numb is easy in the moment, but it does nothing but stunt our growth.

 

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Navigating the Wilderness

A return to journaling reminds me how much time it takes to sort through the mundane and the chatter to hear what really needs to be heard. I suppose it’s not unlike sitting to talk with someone for an hour or more and the most important topic of conversation coming up as you’re headed for the door. We have to take time with ourselves. We have to take time with one another.

Journaling during Lent inevitably includes reflections on “wilderness,” what it means, where it is, what it’s teaching me or has already taught me. As I talk with and relate to more and more people, I realize that whatever our differences or seemingly polar opposite existence, our humanity is our common ground. Our choices–and the choices made by others–determine our place in the world and create for us our personal wilderness(es). We may go through one over and over again, but chances are there are many iterations. Details change, but we’re not so different after all.

Regardless of what kind of wilderness we’re going through, as humans, we can relate to one another. It’s not a competition to see who has survived the worst circumstances, though it’s easy to get drawn into the drama energy of comparing tragic, seemingly unimaginable horrors. Relating to others means listening to other people share their story, hearing what they are giving witness to, and understanding even more deeply what they are not saying that is truest of all.

Whatever our wilderness, the place/circumstance is not conducive to a sustainable life. A wilderness is a place where wild animals roam, where there is no social order, where one has no sense of direction and becomes easily lost. If we have someone alongside us who affirms us in goodness and gives witness to the love of God, it’s easier to find our way out of the wilderness.

For some of us, our faith is that constant companion. For some, it’s that soul friend or relative who helps maintain our way in truth and light. Some need whole communities to keep them bolstered. Some are wandering, caught in the bramble and choked by fear that wilderness can fuel and ignite, hoping with fading hope that someone will find them.

But how do we know who’s in a wilderness time/place? Your wilderness could be my everyday existence, my normal, even if to you it seems like a nightmare. The truth is, we don’t know if we never connect, and we won’t know if we make judgments and decisions before our paths have even met.

If we relate with one another, if we listen deeply and truly to one another, imagine what kind of experience it would be to navigate the wilderness together, not comparing our experiences but walking alongside one another.

An image of school children comes to mind: one fallen in the dirt, hurt physically and in pride, and another catching sight of her peer. She could leave her down and alone and considers for a moment pretending she didn’t see. But their eyes meet for just a split second. The injured one looks quickly away, preferring to look at the dust and the blood. Surely there is no hope. But the girl walks toward her and offers her hand. Not a word, not a tissue, but herself. Together they go forward and find something they didn’t even know that they needed or wanted.

Thank God we don’t have to navigate the wilderness alone. We can, but we don’t have to. There is joy to be had, but we have to be willing to look for it, to see it, to hope for it. Sometimes we have to be willing to offer our hand. Sometimes we have to take the hand that is offered. Love works like that, even in the wilderness.

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Splinter

It finally came out.

The splinter has been at the base of my palm on my right hand for at least a week. Strangely, I never felt it. I could see it. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a fleck of dirt on the skin, and when I realized that wasn’t the case, I tried to get it out from one side of the splinter then the other. I couldn’t find the entry point, though, which makes it difficult to remove a splinter without using a sharp object.

Experience has taught me that splinters do work themselves out, or, rather, that our bodies efficiently work to remove foreign objects, using white blood cells, I imagine (for I haven’t looked into the science of it).  This splinter, however, has been content to remain in place. Subtle. Non-imposing. There’s no inflammation, no need to be concerned. Just wait.

But it doesn’t belong on me or in me, so it bothers me to see it.

Just now I pushed it a little to one side, and it started to come out. My hands are dry and cool. My mind is clear. I have no expectation one way or another about this splinter, but I am happy to see it gone. Simply removed, I flick it away.

I smile and happen to check my FitBit, which tells me that my heart rate is particularly calm, lower even than normal. I feel peaceful and aware. Stillness and sunshine surround me in the comfort of my home.

This is the mindfulness I want to take with me, the ease of being I want to embody; it cannot be forced, only practiced.

Some thoughts are like splinters for me, some terribly distracting, others not quite so bothersome.

The simplicity of this imperfection and the objectiveness in my view toward the splinter strike me as almost surreal. Shouldn’t I have been more concerned, worked harder at making things perfect?

No.

And in that “no” is a beautiful, life-affirming “yes.”

Thank you, splinter, for being my teacher today.

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In a few moments

Outside my window this morning, I noticed a little bird pecking on the ground where I had raked some leaves, revealing some green grass and–more importantly–soft soil. A small effort on my part made it a bit easier for another creature to find sustenance in a season where most animals have to work harder to find food, especially if they haven’t been able to put away any stores. A few moments later, a squirrel found a prized acorn and used a bench as a table, leaving its crumbs before scurrying away. Closer to the golf course, two squirrels raced up and around tree trunks and through the leaves in a game of chase, it seemed to me. To them I suppose it could have been a fight for territory, if squirrels even do such a thing. The crows caw near and far, louder than the softer, higher chirps of smaller birds. I hear something scurry on the roof. Suddenly I get a sense of how still I am in comparison to the busy-ness and activity of the world around me. In my quiet observation, I can hear the other creatures going about their business as they should. Distraction pulls me away to my own activity, and I lose sight of the creatures and no longer hear their calls.

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Nowhere in Particular

Stairs to nowhereCamp Mitchell Stairs to Nowhere

they seem to be

in the early afternoon sun

where everything looks like a silhouette.

I almost missed them,

so loudly distracted

walking through

the crunching

crashing

multitude of leaves,

mere skeletons now,

void of the autumnal vibrance

of weeks ago.

Had there been a cabin here?

Was this would-be/had-been stoop

discarded?

Could I stand perched above

and take the next step in faith?

Maybe,

if I could see where I was going,

what came next.

(I’d probably fall.)

Even the leaves are still

and quiet

Except for the ones

whispering,

still attached

at greater heights,

closer, maybe,

rooted to something

deeper than I can comprehend.

(Eventually, they’ll fall, too.)

I continue on my way,

clamouring among the bones

once more,

not knowing where

the path may

lead.

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#makingmemories

It’s not a #momfail, I told myself.

Checking Facebook to see what’s trending, to make sure I’m not missing some major world event, I realize that my feed is full of pictures of my friends’ kids . . . kids on their first day of school. Hey, it’s the first day of school for my kids, too, I thought.

But I forgot to take a picture.

We can’t re-wind our way to the morning to re-capture the moment. It was great to see our kids come into the kitchen to eat the potato cakes their dad had made the night before just so the morning would not be so chaotic. We actually sat down for a few moments at the table, the four of us.

We are still in the midst of transition, and routine will surely find us, however hectic it might be. New town, new church, new school, new family structure (with big kids in a different town at a familiar school). We are finding our way, but there will be some moments that come and go without finding their way onto social media or into our camera roll.

I tell my kids we’re “making memories” when we are doing something that they’re not particularly fond of, like hiking through a rainstorm or taking a bumpy ride in a crowded van. We are, indeed, making many memories these days, but to make a memory, you have to fully notice the moment–touch, taste, smell, and see it as much as possible. For me, that’s going to mean more often than not that I don’t have a camera or phone in hand. It means that I’m going to be laughing, crying, moving, being in the moment. It also means that I’m going to look back on it an hour, days or years later and smile because I was so full of life and love, even if it was painful.

We said we would take a 2nd day of school picture but forgot that, too. The morning and afternoon drop-offs are stressful right now, to say the least. So for all the parents and friends who managed to remember the photos, you are awesome. Please keep sharing. For those of us who didn’t, we didn’t fail, even if we feel like we missed an opportunity. We’re making memories, after all, and those memories usually come with any number of stories to share later.

Keep making memories.

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Thoughts While Weeding in a Collar

Even in one-hundred-degree heat, the weeds grow. I’m pretty sure there is a hybrid of Bermuda and crabgrass growing in the bed by the front drive. Rather, it was growing until I donned my new gloves and pulled the weed. It might be considered a grass, but in the wrong place, it’s a weed to me.

Photo by Carl Lewis under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

I was anxious to plant the two lamb’s ear sprigs I obtained from a clump at the church garden (that looked like it could use thinning). Some might consider lamb’s ear a weed, too, but at least it has some curb appeal. It also has some drought tolerance and is low-maintenance: my kind of plant!

I was so anxious that I took the time to bring the dog outdoors with me, but I did not change my clothes nor remove my collar, the newest addition to my wardrobe and sign of my office. I had the band around my neck, the dog near my feet, and my hands at the spade, digging in the rocks, when I recalled the morning’s readings–the parable of the sower.

This was rocky ground. I wasn’t planting seeds. I was pulling weeds and planting new plants, but it was rocky ground. And life is hard. The busy door to the church, opening to the many in need, could testify to that. Despite the rocky soil, some things grew. The boxwood grows. My so-called hybrid, pointy nuisance of grass was growing. As a would-be gardener, I was transfiguring the landscape a bit to introduce a softer plant, one with antiseptic qualities, I was told, should I need it. Maybe it will take, maybe not. I’ll have to keep tending and watering, and I’ll have to wait. The conditions are not ideal, but maybe something better will come of my efforts; maybe there is fertile soil there after all.

There will be more weeds, more unwanted foliage, and attempts to change things for the better. There will be neighbors driving by wondering what the lady in a collar with the big yellow dog is doing in the rocks when it’s a hundred degrees outside. There will also be the realization that what matters more than anything is the time and care given to another, to any aspect of Creation. Wearing a collar or not, this is work I am bound to do . . . work I love to do . . . and will continue to do with determination, perseverance, and hope.

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