Life-changing Water

 

Exodus 17:1-7 | Psalm 95 | Romans 5:1-11 | John 4:5-42

We know this Jesus showing up at the well, exhausted and parched, completely willing to take a shortcut. This human Jesus has dusty feet, sand and sweat in his eyes, hair, and beard, and the weight of the world heavy on his heart. It had to be a relief for the disciples to offer to run into town to find some food. “No, you go ahead. I’ll just wait here for you.” Haven’t we all said that, hoping for a bit of rest?

The woman at the well- acrylic, mix media- David Bondt, 2016

We know this woman at the well. She’s outcast but proud. Eloquent and intelligent. She knows her place in the margins of society and has crafted her armor well to handle the torment . . . the persistent sexism, discrimination, and oppression.

And we know the expected social script. Then as now, the script would have them ignore one another, pass each other by without interaction or engagement and look the other way. Jesus would rest. She would get her water–transactions complete without complication.

But Jesus has a way of complicating things.

He’s always writing a new script. Before we even know why, Jesus knows that this woman’s heart has been broken and a fortress built around it to protect her vulnerability. Before we even know that there’s a harvest ripe and ready, Jesus knows that this woman has the potential to sound the call that now is the time for the world to be turned upside down, for the world as we know it to give way, for all we’ve ever hoped for to be manifest. He knows the potential in each of us, and the necessity for each and every one of us to experience His transformational love so that we, too, can turn the world upside down.

In his commentary on The Gospel of John, William Barclay says,

“There are two revelations in Christianity: the revelation of God and the revelation of ourselves. We never really see ourselves until we see ourselves in the presence of Christ; and then we are appalled at the sight.”

Maybe this is one reason we get this reading of the woman at the well in the midst of Lent. How long can we carry on with our defenses up? It’s not that hard to do if we play along with society’s script, maintaining propriety and expectations. The majority of our society isn’t observing a holy Lent. The majority isn’t turning away from self-sufficiency, giving intentional thought toward dependency upon God. But we’ve already taken that precarious step out of the rut. When we got our crosses on Ash Wednesday, we reoriented ourselves, opening our awareness to seek with our heart, mind, and soul where God is in our lives. It’s a heart- and gut-wrenching revelation when we see that God isn’t manifest fully in our lives because of who we are. We are “appalled” because the truth is that we inhibit God from being revealed by the choices we make, but it’s our next step after our self-revelation that makes all the difference.

Our woman at the well carries herself in the heat of day to draw water. She responds to Jesus when he speaks to her; she even banters with him, gets a little sarcastic. As soon as Jesus indicates he knows the pain beneath her facade, the exchange becomes serious. Whereas the woman acted as if she had nothing more to lose, Jesus seemingly peels back her armor and holds a mirror to show her the wounds left by five husbands. Maybe they had died; maybe they had beaten her; maybe they had used her and left her. Maybe the man she was with now was nothing more to her than shelter and protection. His eyes see her as the wounded woman she is, as only the two of them fully know. By seeing her as a wounded child of God, Jesus reminds her of her humanity, her value and worth, the shreds of which she had to box up and stow away because to hold it close to the surface served as a reminder of her constant pain and put on display her vulnerability, her need for care and love and healing. Under that blazing noonday sun and in the clear gaze of Jesus, the woman discovers herself as God sees her. She stays with Jesus long enough to let her heart and mind open to the Truth before her, the Truth that is as available as the water from the well but even more abundant, more pure, and available to all–no well or bucket required for the living water Christ offers.

Barclay also says that “Christianity begins with a sense of sin. It begins with the sudden realization that life as we are living it will not do. We awake to ourselves and we awake to our need of God.”

Our sense of sin, however we express it, is us living our lives turned away from God, in a sense, leaving a stone covering the well of living water. The longer we leave it covered, the longer it accumulates layers of debris and excuses and rationalizations. The longer we let ourselves go without tasting the fresh, living water, the more we normalize our thirst and allow ourselves to be falsely satisfied with stagnant substitutes. The longer we go without sharing the truths behind our hurts and fears, the longer we isolate ourselves from everyone else lest they, too, inflict more wounds. In our pain and fear, we pile more dirt over the mound that we’re fairly certain is a deep dark hole we should be afraid of . . . because we’ve forgotten what living water is, what life it gives, and from whence it comes. We must remember the importance of sharing our stories so we don’t forget what is True.

Our greatest revelation and discovery is that

Jesus is who He is for us all.

It is Jesus’ immeasurably powerful love that strips away the layers of guilt and shame until He sees the naked truth of the sinners we have been because we projected our selfish judgment onto God. We feel awful for what we’ve done, and rather than turn with penitent hearts to God, we run away, ashamed and afraid. Who but Jesus can seen us in our brokenness and say, “I know. Come to me. See for yourself that you are forgiven.” It’s that transformative experience of grace, of mercy, of forgiveness, of unconditional love that blasts away a lifetime of wrongdoing so that the living water can spring forth and rejuvenate our parched souls.

Jesus had to go through Samaria, and he sat by the well because he was tired. And everything he did was according to God’s will. Touching one life at a time was the way in which to reach thousands. Only when we’ve experienced God’s grace can we bear witness to God’s power. We don’t evangelize by shoving our experience of Christ’s salvation into another person’s heart or by pounding Bible verses into another person’s head. We reveal to them our personal transformation. The Samaritan woman who had gone out of her way not to encroach upon others in the town now goes running into their midst, proclaiming to all to “come and see!” the one who knew her heart, the one who very well could be the Messiah. What a vivid image of evangelism.

How are we like the woman at the well? Where were we when Jesus broke down our defenses, and we realized that we couldn’t do this thing called life on our own any more? Maybe it was a definitive moment in our life, and like a born-again Christian in prison, we can testify to giving everything to God in complete surrender. But maybe our life fully lived in Christ is a slowly dawning revelation. Maybe our life of faith has given way more and more to the realization of the grandeur of God in all of Creation, and each day takes us deeper into our existing relationships, where it’s more about God’s will than our will.

Because it is more about God’s will than our will.

As Christians, we sign up to proclaim the transformative love of Christ for all the world. We sign up to stay woke, and when we fall asleep or fall into ignorance or complacency, we get back up again however many times it takes. It’s uncomfortable when our world gets turned upside down, when revelations give us new or renewed responsibilities, and when we are to be the Body of Christ in the world. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or tired. Sit. Have a rest. Drink up that living water, and then go tell the story about how it changed your life.

 

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(Not) Another Gumption Trap

If ever I thought that gumption traps were only for those things that I loathed to do . . . I may have been on to something.

For a moment I thought my current state of discombobulation resulted from a procrastination of that which I am thoroughly excited about and looking forward to.  Alas, getting to the end involves some steps in between, little steps that must be made like outlines and timelines and trips to the store.  Then there’s also the messy phases (where the lack of knowledge is discovered or the dust is revealed) before everything is neatly packed and ready for the next phase.

I am holding on and find myself in another trap.

Not all traps are unpleasant, mind you, just as not all ruts are mucky.  There’s something to be said for comfortable routines, predictable leisure, familiar surroundings.  Then Change comes along, perhaps accompanied by Opportunity, and suddenly nothing is as it “should” be.  Heaven forbid we try to straighten everything while the very foundation continues to shake.  Again, there’s that rumble in my gut.

Even my subconscious knows growth is happening.  At my core, I know it to be good.  There just seems to be another layer to be cracked, even if it’s just a little membrane to split open, before the genuine excitement and sheer enthusiasm can kick in, before the roots grow deep and the branches flower.

Of course, it may not happen soon.  There may be much to hold the layer firm.  Eventually, though, it will.  I’m not one to hold back for long.  Nature will have its way.

So, be still, my beating heart.  Sigh deeply.  Smile.  Let the work begin.  There never was a trap, just a choice to be made.

 

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Time to Be Grateful

Truly I believe that there is a season for everything, but I also believe that every day calls for time for gratitude.  After an intense season of waiting (oh, and we’re not done yet!), there are more and more signs that I need to pause and give thanks at least daily.

Often, I have to admit, my thanks don’t come until I finally lay in bed, offering my genuine prayers from a tired body.  The gratitude, the thanks with which I begin my prayers, surrounds me.  I am comforted and renewed, and in this calm and peaceful state, I drift to sleep before I know it.

More often than I probably realize, I am aware enough in my waking hours to realize just how many gifts surround me.  For my senior year in high school, I gave my closest friends a poster with 365 of my favorite things written around a picture of me with the recipient.  I made one for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, too.  The blessings of this life are not lost on me, but I could certainly be more aware.

A friend recently recommended a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Ann has a blog, A Holy Experience, that got her started, I believe.  Her story is rich with her faith and ties into scripture.  Her poetic writing and sense of awareness speaks to a side of me that sometimes feels and gets neglected.  She’s unabashedly intense and devoted.  A kindred I haven’t even met.

Whatever our faith tradition, gratitude speaks deeply and as sweetly as the five-year-old speaking “I love you, Mom” into my ear.

Oh, let me count the ways.

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Day . . .

I don’t know what Day it is in my effort to create a habit of prayer.  I have about three handwritten ones I’ve written before now and will add those to my count soon, purely for my own benefit, of course.

While ironing tonight I realized that I feel extraordinarily tired.  A full weekend to be sure, but it didn’t seem to include much time to rest in mindful, prayerful, and attentive silence.  As ever, most of my prayers occur on the go, in between activities, or mid-thought.

I cannot imagine You much appreciate the prevalence of the sayings these days, but “Really?!?” and “Seriously?!?” come to mind quite often and are said just as much.  We seem to be walking around in a state of surprise at the reality that surrounds us.  Could things really be this way?  Do others truly believe what they say?  Is this life just getting ridiculous?

I realize that it’s probably our attachment to a certain view or way of being that limits a greater understanding and results in our being “shocked.”  It usually reflects moments of condescension and/or judgment, neither of which are flattering characteristics.

I am a weak creature; I realize this.  Surely when I think I’m getting stronger, something happens to change my view.  I am not self-sufficient in any manner of speaking, and this is a harsh reality.  There are hurdles in my life, puzzles to figure out (and a box with the bigger picture would be tremendously helpful), and kids to raise in the meantime.  There are friends to love and support, family to maintain connection with, and bills that have to be paid.  Whose idea was it to add more to the mix?

God, I trust that you wouldn’t have rang unless there was a message to be left.  You call; we answer, as I understand it.  We do our best.

I pray for guidance and understanding.  I give thanks to all who enrich my life so much, creating such a sense of abundance, and to all who are so patient with me.

You’re churning the soil, it feels like, and right now I need to keep both feet on solid ground.  May the roots run deep.

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21 Days of Prayer

Does it still take 21 days to create a habit?  If so, I need to make one.  It almost worked from Lent a few years ago, but the only thing that remained from making prayer my Lenten practice was my prayer list.  It’s time to get serious now.  Let’s see what I can do in 21 days.  I trust you to help hold me accountable.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you; for the community I live in, for the children who love me unconditionally, for the husband who upholds me, and for the home we share.  Thank you for your Grace.

Thank you for giving me the faith to ride through all that which I don’t understand.  I don’t know why some people get sick, get diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 cancer, their life turned upside down and those they love thrown into the ensuing chaos.  I don’t understand mental illness and why it’s so hard for our society to allow these people a place.  I don’t understand why some have so much and others nearly nothing at all.

What I know of Life and Love, though, are that nothing is so sure except these.  The world around me teems with life.  In this comfortable morning hour, when the sun promises us a scorching day; the birds are busy, the butterflies about, and the children, cat, and dog waking.  Even the trees and plants seem more at ease, and we are all alive, save for the scorched plants that couldn’t survive the summer heat.  Death is as sure as life — part of the cycle.

So Love, then, is the foundation of my being, the rock of my faith.  Why does it take so long to get there?  Love sees us through the impossible, takes us through the darkness.  Even when it seems like we don’t succeed, if we have walked in the way of Love, at least no one else was harmed and Christ’s example upheld.  Thank you for giving us such an example, showing us our full potential.

Help us, O God, to walk in the way of Love.  Help me to continue to trust, even when Life doesn’t make sense.  And thank you, again, for the beautiful people you have surrounded me with to share in my journey and I in theirs.

Give me strength to delight in your will and walk in your way, to the glory of your name.

Amen

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Stories Not Yet Written

Having just finished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, I find myself re-introduced into contemporary fiction and, consequently, how little I know about the swelling tide of book-dom.  This was a chance encounter at the library; I didn’t know there were at least four others in the “Thursday Next” novels, though after reading one, I can see the cause of popularity.  It was intelligent, crafty, and, as it says on the cover praise, “filled with clever wordplay, literary allusion and bibliowit.”  I didn’t even know there was such a word as “bibliowit,” but it makes perfect sense.

. . . Maybe I’ll pretend I didn’t spend half an hour reading the community.penguin blog . . . or signing up for GoodReads.  Before I continue down that rabbit hole . . .

One of the premises in Fforde’s novel is that the stories in the novel are relatively real.  The written stories play out repeatedly, always, and concurrently in their parallel universe.  (You have to read it first hand to understand.  That’s his genius, not mine.)  While the characters are human, they are sentenced to the role they’ve been given by the writer.  Their fate and destiny is very much determined.  It takes no small miracle to change the course of the stories, but it’s not impossible (in this fiction story, mind you).

It reminded me that sometimes I live my life as if my story has already been written.  I submit to my stereotype, conform to society, and maintain the appearance that is most convenient to others and often to myself.  When I have the potential to take an alternate route, I defer to what is known and comfortable, even laziness.  “What ifs” are unsettling at best when one strives to maintain a sense of stability and security, regardless of whether the potential is success or failure.

My story is not yet written, though.  I’m still alive.  I still have choices to make.  While that within me wants to stick to what has been done all these many generations, it feels as though I also have within me ties to that which is deviant.  If I can step off the well-trodden path, if I can greet each day as a page upon which I determine the destiny of the heroine, then perhaps a new cycle can begin.  It doesn’t have to garner the popular vote.

Most of the heroes in our world are unsung, virtually unknown.  Each of us, however, are the authors of our lives, the heroes/heroines of our own stories.  Each day is an adventure, each moment filled with choice and possibility.  The protagonist, of course, is anyone or anything that draws us away from creation, away from compassion.  What can I say?  I’m an optimist and a romantic.

“How strange is the lot of us mortals!  Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” ~Albert Einstein

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Growing Older

Perhaps it should be “getting older.”  To say something or someone is “growing” suggests to me an upward movement or a progression in a positive direction.  In my experience with grandparents and acquaintances, when they speak of aging, they say “Getting old,” and they usually conclude with, “isn’t fun” or “isn’t what they thought it would be.”

This winter, I’ve felt older.  I love drinking my coffee or tea and watching the snow fall outside, blanketing everything in stillness and cold.  I put on another layer to keep myself warm.  Before the kids ask if they can go outside, I’ve heard them plotting their course of action, developing their snowy agenda.  Their enthusiasm builds into a palpable energy, and with it my anger begins to rise.  No, I don’t want them to go outside.  They’ll be out there for 5, maybe 10, minutes and will come in, disrobe, and leave me with two extra loads of laundry to do after I’ve made them a hot cup of cocoa.

I feel older because I had to convince myself to let them play outside.  I might have told them “no” at first, but I did let them go out; I even helped them pile on the layers that I knew would be left for me to clean up later.  This is their youth, after all.  I did the same when I was younger.  Now I’ll just have to be perfectly content with the cup of coffee and the pending laundry.  At least I have the young children still around to remind me of what it’s like to be young.  They share their vibrant energy with me.  They wouldn’t mind if I came out to play with them.  I could let go of my anger and frustration and let myself enjoy the moment.

It’s okay.  I’ll get older with acceptance.  Each day I’ll understand a little better what my foremothers experienced.  Maybe I’ll be able to equip my children for what’s to come.  As far as I can tell, though, the only way I can do that is to help them be aware and to choose to experience this moment without judgement.  It’s neither good nor bad; it just is.

Our responsibilities change with time.  Our frame of reference changes.  Our whole life circumstances can turn in a moment.  Whether we’re 3, 33, or 93, we still are who we are.

Time is such a funny thing.

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Where I Put My Energy

If I were to divide my day into percentages of where I put my energy, I might sound like a maid or a cook on the weekends, and I’d be a receptionist/admin during the week.  That’s what is real for me right now.  I have a family of six to tend to and a full-time job come weekdays.

It’s the other moments, though, that I have a choice over how to spend my energy.  Some things have to be done, but I also have an inner child to indulge, a gift to cultivate, a calling to follow.  Some things can’t be ignored.

So on snow days like this, I give thanks that I have the opportunity to catch up on laundry and housework, making sure the children are bathing.  During last week’s snow days, I got caught up on some (not all) of my volunteer tasks.

I’ve also been doing some of the other things, the things I do for me.  Like reading.  Blogging.  Cleaning up and clearing out some things that have been cluttered.  Spending time with husband.  Did I mention reading?  Reading is a stimulus to me to write.  I even chose not to finish a book because it wasn’t doing anything for me.  I even got rid of half of my fabric stash because I don’t have time to create several pieced quilts.  My time is precious.  Every moment counts.  Do the things I surround myself with contribute to a positive energy?  Do I spend my time and energy wisely?

If I looked at my “free” time, did I spend it writing or cultivating my writing craft?  If not, then can I honestly call myself a writer?  This is no small pondering; this is serious.

Leave it to almost two feet of snow to cave me in with my thoughts and the freedom to choose how I will spend the day and night.  Who will I choose to be in any given moment?

Where do you put your energy, and what does it say about you?

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Grandma’s House

All I have to do is saute some onions and celery in butter, and my husband salivates.  Get a good meal cooking and baking, and I’m likely to hear, “Smells like my grandma’s house in here.”  More often than not, I hear such a comment when I’m frying potatoes, okra, pancakes, or especially bacon.

While my husband’s sensory recall is triggered by smell, it’s the very act of preparing a meal itself that takes me to my grandmothers’ kitchens and mealtimes.  On weekends when our whole schedule is determined by when and what our meals are, I realize why I associate mealtimes with my grandparents and why my husband also associates mealtime smells with his grandma’s house.

We both come from subtly matriarchies.  Sure, our forefathers were the bread-winners, but it was and is the mothers who keep the home, prepare the meals, provide most of the childcare and tending, and encourage the religious traditions.  Our foremothers have held the family together.  As they’ve passed, so has the golden thread that tied our families together almost imperceptibly.  Even gold over time wears thin.  Time changes things.  People change.

My husband and I are most fortunate to have the memories we do.  Our grandmothers loved and love us unconditionally.  They dedicated their days to make sure that when we were around, they  nurtured us the best way they knew how — through our stomachs.  What could best assure our survival than a full belly?  These queens of the kitchen knew how to make the groceries last for their respectively large families, and I certainly never wanted for food.

I learned so much about cooking itself in the kitchen with my grandmothers, trying not to be in the way.  How to pinch a pie crust.  Learning how to make eight hamburgers at once in two cast-iron skillets on the stovetop.  Shortcuts to make quick desserts for unexpected visitors.  That there was enough time to bake a meatloaf while you were at church.  Some lessons weren’t just about cooking.  One grandmother still had dreams of things she wanted to do.  One grandmother wanted so much for me to make choices that would help me lead a different, and somehow better, life.  Such lessons are hard to understand without the experience behind them, but I honor these lessons still, even if I didn’t heed their wisdom and advice.

The next time I return home later in the day after a morning breakfast that included pancakes and bacon, I’ll try not to turn my nose in distate.  It means we provided for our family.  We are giving our children associations to their childhood that, when they reflect upon it later, will hopefully tell them we cared for them by nourishing them, not intentionally giving them heart disease.  May I have the patience to welcome them into my kitchen and try to teach them as subtly as my grandmothers tried with me.  May I pass on a cookbook to them of their favorites so that they won’t have to labor like my husband in trying to recreate family favorites.  Is there more to taste than simple ingredients?

Our family dynamics have changed.  We don’t always go to “Mother’s” or “Grandma’s” for Sunday dinner anymore.  Our sense of family includes a wide range of friends.  Still, though, our primary focus is our shared meals, the time we spend preparing, gathering and sharing in the kitchen and at the table.

Our grandmas were and are beautiful teachers.

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Shortcuts and Canopy Roads

Darting between errands in a relatively small city, one learns the cut-throughs; there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B.  At five o’clock I’m certainly prone to taking such a route, especially when on my way to a mega-store.

The light was fading, my tummy wasn’t feeling good, and a long weekend was coming to a close.  I didn’t really want to do the shopping that HAD to be done.  I wasn’t particularly happy about being one of the motorists out at rush hour.  I should have been home making dinner, not buying the goods so I could do so.

Just as I was about to reach the straight stretch on the back road, just pass the interstate intersection, I spied a police car sitting in a drive, facing outward, waiting to catch someone like me — someone who thought they might get somewhere a little faster by out-smarting the rest of the drivers and possibly by disobeying some speed limit laws.  I see you, Mr. Officer.  Thanks for reminding me to take it easy; it is the law, after all.  I’ll get to where I’m going safely if I pay attention and slow down no matter which road I take.

So I make sure I’m going 35mph or less and enjoy this little road.  Thinking back to it, I can’t even recall if it has a center line, though I’m sure it does.  There are old farmhouses and pastures.  Barbed-wire fences with trees and bushes.  The trees grow up and over the road, forming what the kids and I call a “canopy road,” our favorite kind.

And there were deer.  Two of them.  Stopped and staring at me.  One was on the road to the right, in my lane, and the other was beside it, just off the road.  I’m sure it’s looking at the van and not me, this mama-looking deer who was out with a fellow doe.  Going slowly as I was, I slowed almost to a stop and mosied by even slower, making sure they didn’t bolt across the way I was going.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, humbly.  After all, this is their woods.  Without our intrusion and given time, our pavement and concrete and feeble structures would crumble aside.  The fauna would continue to grow and the animals to roam.  I am but a guest here.  Please pardon my arrogant intrusion.  Please bless my path.

I realize that in this small stretch of road on which for a few moments I was the only traveller, I went from seeing it as my right to take a shortcut on my all-important mission of saving time and frustration to seeing it as an opportunity and gift to slow down, enjoying what nature offers.

Then, of course, I returned to a busier road, six cars passing before I could turn into the stream.  I made it to the fluorescent-lit mega warehouse for the grocery shopping necessary for a family of six.  I went home to make dinner and then stay up much of the night with four of us working our way through a stomach virus.  The next day, we slept and rested.  One of us didn’t get sick (the older son).  You just never know.

I am pretty certain about a couple of things, though.  There’s a time for everything.  There are blessings everywhere.

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