Friday, September 30, 2011

This is it...

A quote I found this morning in the book, The Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp.

For all of a sudden when I saw those lights, I said to myself,
Ivy, this is your life, this is your real life, and you are living it.
Your life is not going to start later. 
This is it, it is now.
It's funny how a person can be so busy that they forget this is it.
This is my life. ( Lee Smith, Fair and Tender Ladies)

Yup, this is it. This is my life. I'm gonna turn 46 in December. It's not likely that I've got another 46 years in me after these. But even if I do, this is the one life I get to live here on earth. These are the only days I get to pay close attention to, cherish, and give thanks for.

Each bowl of cereal, bottle of ice water, bagel with cream cheese, and cup of tea.
Each turning leaf, fading flower, and creeping vine.
Each person I look at, listen to, smile at, and dream about.
Each person I laugh with, cry with, and make plans with.
Each trip to the beach, to Spain, to New York City, and all the adventure that accompanies me on each journey.
Each morning that I sit at my desk, writing my morning pages, watching my neighbors leave for work, and greeting the sun when it rises.
Each evening that I prepare and clean up after dinner, fold the last loads of laundry, and kiss my children good-night.
Each afternoon when I get down on my knees to scrub something, to pick something up, or to pray.
Each time I leave this house to drive my daughter to the bus or my son to tennis or myself to Trader Joe's.
Each time I return home, pull safely into the garage, and say, "Thank you, Lord, for keeping us safe on yet another journey, through yet another day."

This is it. This is my life, my real life. These are the days of my one wild and precious life.
Sure, I could complain about what is lacking, what I wish would change, who I wish would change.
Sometimes I do complain. Okay, I admit it: I complain a lot
- even if it's only in my journal and with my closest friends.
No matter how much I moan and groan about it, this is it.
This is my life. These are the ways and the days that make up my real life.
I plan to live these last days, no matter how many or how few that remain with grace, with honesty, with dignity, with faith, with hope, in peace, and with joy.
I'm gonna throw some fun in there too, lots of laughter, and immeasurable gratitude.

In answer to the question, "Why are you so happy?" Heller Keller said, "My child, it is because I live each day as if it were my last, and life, with all its moments, is so full of glory."

Monday, September 26, 2011

What if Jesus was serious?

What if Jesus really meant what he said when he answered that young man's question about what he needed to do to be saved?

Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments." 

Rachel Held Evans followed that passage with: "Love. It's that simple and that profound. It's that easy and that hard. Taking on the yoke of Jesus is not about signing a doctrinal statement or making an intellectual commitment to a set of propositions. It isn't about being right or getting our facts straight. It is about loving God and loving other people. The yoke is hard because the teachings of Jesus are radical: enemy love, unconditional forgiveness, extreme generosity.

"How ironic that the most important fundamental element of the Christian faith is something that is relative, something that cannot be measured with science, systematized with theology, or managed with rules. How fitting and how strange that God should hide his biggest secret in that present yet elusive thing that poets and artists and musicians and theologians and philosophers have spent centuries trying to capture in some form but that we all know the minute we experience it. How lovely and how terrible that absolute truth exists in something that cannot really be named." (209-210, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions)

What if that's what Jesus really expected us to do - love God and love other people? What would that look like in my life?

To love the Lord with my thoughts, my desires, my words, my actions.
To love my husband and children the same way.
To love my neighbors, friends, extended family members the way I love myself.

If Jesus was serious about that, then I've got a whole lot of work to do to put that into practice. I think what I'm gonna do first is go back to the stories written about Jesus and look for the many ways in which he did that when he was here on earth. Then I will try to follow his example.

Loving God comes easier than loving people. God is invisible, untouchable, and perfect. I don't have to smell God's morning breath, clean up the dishes God leaves around the house, or wash God's sweaty workout clothes. I don't have to listen to God ramble on Sunday mornings about issues that have nothing to do with me or forgive God for cutting me off in traffic or teach God how to write essays. I can just shut my eyes, think about the good stuff, and be grateful. I can read the poems, the accounts of miracles, and plunge myself into the stories of the ways Jesus spoke to, listened to, and healed the women who followed him while he was on earth. Loving God, loving Jesus, even loving the Holy Spirit is easy.

It's easy to love my neighbors as myself when my neighbors look like me, think like I do, live like I live, and believe the same things that I believe. But when their political, religious, moral, relational, sexual, ethical values, standards, and lifestyles differ vastly from mine, do I love them like I love myself even then? Or do I come up with excuses for letting myself off the hook on that particular command?

It's fairly easy to show love, respect, honor with my actions. I can speak kind words and think hateful thoughts. I can say, "Sure, I'll pray for you. I'll help. I'll clean up the mess" - but know that I won't pray, I don't want to help, and I have no intention of cleaning up after anybody but myself.

It is not easy to love others in my thoughts. My thoughts can get mean, insulting, judgmental, lusty, angry and greedy. In a hurry. Bringing them back in line, that's a whole lot harder.

My countenance may never change. My mouth may continue to overflow with Scripture, words of encouragement, and politically correct statements, depending on whose company I am in. But my heart and mind are often far removed from what my mouth and my body are doing.

If Jesus was serious about all that, then all I can say is,
"Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

I continue to be enormously grateful for this book. As the subtitle suggests, I am learning to release my earlier tendency towards knowing or pretending I knew all the answers. I am enjoying the process of asking more questions than I used to, and I am glad to say that I am also learning to live with the questions, to not rush to answer them myself, and to not even rush to find the answers. Sitting with the questions, marinating in them, writing down dozens and dozens more of them, and allowing them to change me and challenge me to think, to wonder, and not be ashamed to admit that I do not know it all - this is some of the most painful and rewarding stuff I've done since I began my faith journey. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Joining the Pharisees and the "I hate Jesus" Club

I have been abundantly blessed with great books lately. The latest is, Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans. She is my hero. She grew up in a "Christian home" like I did. She was good attitude and behavior awards. She memorized Scripture. She learned how to confront her non-Christian friends and help them understand that they were on their way to hell if they didn't believe what she believed. She spend hours reading and studying and singing and praying and loving her life of faith.

And then, during her college years - at a Christian college, no less, she began to ask questions. Questions that caused people to worry about her heart and soul. Questions that caused her pastors and roommate and professors and fellow believers to wonder if she believed at all, to warn her to be careful about what she said out loud, and, above all, to remind her that God's ways were higher than her ways.

One friend said, "God's ways are highter than our ways, Rachel. At some point, you have to accept the fact that you cannot understand everything he does. He is the potter. You are the clay. The clay can't tell the potter what to do."

Rachel responded, "You know what, Sarah? I'm starting to wonder if maybe we made this potter up." (page 115)

I love this book. I think I love this woman.

Anyway, below is the quote that has me reeling at the moment.

"It is natural for most Christians to assume that had we lived in Galilee two thousand years ago, we would have dropped everything we owned and followed Jesus. But I'm not so sure that those of us with expensive Christian educations and deeply religious backgrounds would have fallen in line. I'm beginning to suspect that most of us would have joined the Pharisees and enrolled in the I HATE JESUS club.

"Jesus drank wine with sexual deviants. He committed major social taboos. He spent a lot of time among contagious people, crazy people, uneducated people, and smelly people. His famous cousin wore camel hair and ate locusts and honey. Those most familiar with Scripture called his views heretical, and his own family questioned his sanity. Jesus introduced new teachings not found in the Scriptures and claimed his authority came directly from God. He asked his disciples to sell all their "blessings" and follow him, when doing so could get them excommunicated from the faith or even killed. He was too liberal, too radical, and too demanding. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure that I would have followed the guy, and that really scares me sometimes. 

"Fortunately for us Pharisee types, Jesus offers hope in the form of his conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was himself a Pharisee and a member of the prestigious Sanhedrin. He had a lot of questions for Jesus and seemed a bit skeptical, but Jesus assured Nicodemus that if he was willing to start all over again, willing to let some things go and think a little differently, he could experience the new kingdom himself. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

"In India, I learned that among Hindus, the goal of reincarnation is to be reborn into nobler circumstances. And in India, I learned that in the kingdom of God, the goal is to be reborn in humbler ones." (pages 155-156)

I'm not finished with this book yet. I'm not sure it will be finished with me anytime soon. But I am loving how open she is about her doubts, her questions, her prayers, her fears, her yearning for more understanding, more peace, and more opportunities to discuss all that was swirling in her with folks who wouldn't immediately question "her salvation," whatever that meant to the one asking the questions at any given time.

I am reeling, folks. Spinning. Twisting. Wondering. Pondering.
Rethinking a whole lot of stuff.
It's so good. So very good.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"A Sky Full of Lighters"

It's a song my son likes to listen to on the radio when we are in the car on our way to tennis... which seems like it's happening more and more frequently every week - but that's a-whole-nother blog. A few lines in that song by Eminem, Bruno Mars, and Royce Da 5'9 (don't ask; I have no idea who that is or what those words means) jarred me out of my "Oh, Lord, what is he listening to now?" stupor the first time I heard them. Here they are:

This one's for you and me, living out our dreams 
We're all right where we should be 
Lift my arms out wide I open my eyes 
And now all I wanna see 
Is a sky full of lighters 
A sky full of lighters 

I've often wondered what it felt like to stand on a stage in front of a swaying audience, looking out on a crowd of smiling faces, seeing people with one arm wrapped around the next person and the other arm raised up with that hand clutching a lighter. Every one of those twinkling flickers swaying to the left and to the right along to the beat of the song. Every one of those twinkling flickers representing a fan, a follower, someone who loves your music or your performance, your talent, your gift. I suppose the temptation is to believe that every one of those twinkling flickers represents someone who loves you. But that's unlikely, because most of the people holding those lighters don't know you.

They spent money on the ticket to come hear you sing, but they've never spent time to come hear you cry. They bought your cd online or a few songs in itunes, but they haven't bought the right to hold you close when you don't feel like singing. They wear your tee shirts, ball caps, and post links to your videos on youtube, but they have no idea how lonely you feel when the cameras are off and the fine clothes you wore on that stage are back in the tour bus armoire.

I won't lie; I've had my moments of wishing I could look out onto an appreciative, swooning crowd and watch them sway dreamily while I teach a soul-stirring session of journaling as a spiritual discipline, but so far, none of my classes has stood to its feet, lighters in hand. I've had my moments of wishing I could stand offstage at a James Taylor concert or an Oprah Winfrey event and watch the crowd sway to his bluegrass tunes and her belly laughter after a particularly lively exchange with her other friend, Gayle. I've even had dreams of being a personal friend of Roger Federer (who, in my dreams, was both easy to talk to and a joy to watch interacting with his wife and children) and Tiger Woods (who definitely did not take the sage advice I offered him in my dreams). To step into a limo with those two world-class athletes, to walk with them through crowds of screaming fans and know that they had chosen to confide in me - those fleeting, nocturnal mirages are about as close to looking out into "a sky full of lighters" as I am likely to get.

Earlier today as I listened to that song in the minivan for the umpteenth time, this time on the way to the chiropractor for mother and son spinal and cervical adjustments, I had another thought - what if a sky full of lighters is not necessary after all? What if a room full of lighters or, better yet, a Starbucks table full of lighters is all that is called for? Just two friends, two confidantes, each holding up the light of love, a listening ear, a non-judgmental spirit, even a few moments of silence, bathed in the light of mercy and forgiveness and soul prayer - that's about all the light anyone needs these days. Perhaps I should speak for myself.

During the past few weeks, I have had the high honor of walking through the valley of the shadow of many dark and ominous things with a handful of dearly beloved friends.  Illusions lost. Relationships ending. Hope drained. Magical thinking abandoned. Loved ones sick or dying. Jobs lost. Futures uncertain. Fear. Doubt. Regret. Sorrow. Loneliness. Pain. Concern. Anguish. Questions, so many questions.

I have made time to sit with them, to write to them, to call them on the phone, to drink tea or coffee with them, to go for walks with them. I don't travel with a lighter, but at some point during each exchange with my dear ones, I have felt my heart light up, the warmth of soul heat rising up through my chest, into my mouth erupting in the form of a smile, into my eyes erupting in the form of a tear, or into my hands erupting as an email written through vision distorted by the aforementioned tears.

I know how lonely you feel because I have felt lonely myself. I know how fearful you feel because I too have been desperately afraid. I too have watched a loved one contorted with pain and suffering in the hospital. I too have been paralyzed with fear over the loss of an income. I too have despaired over the loss of love and companionship in a long-term relationship. My lips move involuntarily with yours as you cry aloud, "Why does this have to be so hard?" "Why does it have to end this way?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" "Why has she forsaken me?" "Why has he forsaken me?" My soul sways to the words of your lament.

And I salute your strength, your determination, your longing for another chance at peace, at wholeness, and at healing. I applaud you as you search for the job you need, a new place to live in quietness and rest, for taking the first, unsteady step towards a new horizon, for dreaming a bigger and broader dream, for not giving up on finding the refuge and fortress you desperately need to shield you from the harm and danger you have endured for too long.

To each of you, I raise a banana daiquiri and offer these rewritten lyrics as a toast, as a prayer:

This one's for you, my friend, 
Living out your dreams 
You're right where you need to be 
I lift my arms out wide
So open your eyes 
Now all I want you to see 
Is me waving my lighter 
Yes, I'm waving my lighter

Peace be with you. Deep peace.

All shall be well, my dear.
All shall be well. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We must never forget September 10, 2001

The truth is that I don't remember much about September 10, 2001.

I know that it was a Monday. My children were 7 and 4 years of age. We were homeschooling, probably reading together, doing math problems on the white board in our lower level homeschool room in Norwalk, Connecticut, in a cute little corner of that city known as Silvermine - hence the address of my blog and the name of our homeschool.

We probably ate lunch together at the dining room table, painted, went for a walk, played catch in the yard. We probably went to the supermarket - I don't tend to go shopping on Sundays, so Mondays were often a day of food shopping for the new week.

We probably visited with our neighbors - those poor kids had to go to public school. We felt sad for them so we probably walked to their house and asked how their first days of school were going.

We had no idea how much our lives would change the following morning. We had no idea how much our nation would change the following morning. We had no idea how much our world would change the following morning.

Actually, my children's lives didn't change much at all. Thanks to the blessed ability to protect them from the big, bad world, we didn't tell them much about the specifics and the horrors of that fateful Tuesday morning for a very long time. I didn't tell Kristiana - who was 7 at the time - that the towers that had been hit were in New York City until six months later when she and I were driving along the FDR Drive in Manhattan. I pointed out the gap in the sky and informed her that the Twin Towers had once filled that space. Daniel, at 4, was far too young to understand, so we didn't tell him for years.

As unpopular a sentiment as this might be, it behooves us to recognize that many people's lives didn't change on or as a result of September 11, 2001. For the average person alive on that day, who didn't have electricity or access to a television, who didn't live in a large city, who didn't have access to airports or any reason to fly anywhere, who didn't know or care much about the United States of America - which includes most of the people on the planet - that day was just like any other day in their lives. They don't remember any remarkable details about that day any more than I can remember anything remarkable about September 10, 2001. Not everyone looks back on that day and sees it as the day that changed their lives and their nation forever.

Another unpopular sentiment that it behooves us to recognize is that every day is "September 11th" for somebody. Maybe it doesn't involve terrorists or plane crashes or collapsed skyscrapers - but every single day somebody's world come crashing down around them. They hear of a devastating medical diagnosis. A job is lost. A loved one dies unexpectedly. A house burns down. A hurricane knocks out the bridge between their quaint village and the mainland. An earthquake shakes them to their foundation. A forest fire consumes a home. A flood or a mudslide or a broken levee washes away lives and livelihoods. Starvation claims the life of another child or adult, a parent or grandparent - as do AIDS, drug addiction, and gunfire. Dogs attack a toddler and kill her. An abusive spouse rapes and kills a helpless woman while the children look on in terror. A depressed dad takes his own life. And nothing in the lives of the survivors will ever be the same. That date will be etched into their minds forever. I've certainly got my share of unforgettable dates. March 22, 2001. December 24, 2001. November 15, 2008 - to name just a few.

Nope, it's not always 3,000 people at a time. Although sometimes it is - let us not forget the tragedies in Darfur, Somalia, Rwanda, and Eastern Europe as wars raged in so many nations there twenty years ago.

It's not always plane crashes. Although sometimes it is. Someone who meant the world to me when I was in college was killed in a plane crash in Nicaragua - a crash that didn't make the news here in the United States. And when the bombings happened in the train stations in Madrid on March 11, 2004, there wasn't nearly as much attention given to it in the news here in the United States although it was just as devastating to that sovereign nation as our tragedy was to us.

Ten years later, on September 11th, 2011, the tenth anniversary of one of the worst days in the history of this nation, there will be commemorations, ceremonies, moments of silence, flags raised, flags lowered to half staff, and memorials of all kinds offered. Videos will be shown again. Phone calls will be heard again. Stories of heroes, stories of loss, stories of sorrow will be told again. Tears will flow again. Hearts will break again.  As well they should. Many will promise to do whatever it takes to prevent such catastrophes to befall us ever again. We must never forget.

My prayer is that ten years later, on September 11, 2011, we will welcome and be grateful for a new day, a chance to start again, to find new ways to pick up the pieces not only of a terror-stricken nation and a war-ravaged world, but also the pieces of the shattered lives, devastated relationships, and broken hearts that are much closer to home and that are experienced over and over again every single day.

We must never forget September 10, 2001.

Or September 11, 2001.

Or September 10, 2011.

Or any day for that matter.

We must never forget.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The big things

This past weekend, we went to the beach. A quick visit. Less than 48 hours.

We ate too much, talked too loud, cut each other off, wouldn't sit still long enough to take decent photographs, and didn't put on enough sunscreen. 

For the first 24 hours, I was definitely not "living in the moment." 
I was worried about a friend in pain, sending wishes for peace and wisdom.

By late afternoon on Saturday, I felt my heart finally arrive at the sea. 
I accepted the invitation to sit. To listen. To laugh. To read. To wonder.
To give thanks for the sun, the sand, the clouds, the strength to stand and walk in the sand, 
for eyes to see it, ears to hear it, and a heart in which to treasure it.

Sunrise. Sunset. 

Solitude. Silence.

 Color. Texture. Scent. Sunshine. Rented umbrella and chairs. 

Mai tais. Creme brulee. Bagel sandwiches. Milk chocolate turtles. Ice water.

Wordless awe before indescribable beauty.

Tiny birds with the impossibly fast and spindly legs. 

Watching a bird make its way across the beach from surf to stairs, from shell to stick, 
oblivious to all the people was a reminder that sometimes the small things, 
the tiniest details are the ones that create the biggest and best memories.

With fires, floods, earthquakes, bombings, corruption, greed, war,
sorrow, isolation, loneliness, meanness, fear, and anger 
flowing ceaselessly around, through, and in the world,
last weekend I was reminded to stop taking blessings for granted,
to stop ignoring the need to make changes in situations and relationships that are failing,
and to pay close, clear attention to what is happening in my life.

I took several long, hard looks at what is real in my life these days.
What was real on Saturday included the splendor of the sea,
the gentle rhythm of an early September day on the South Carolina coast 
and the precious moments of solitude when I was able to ponder it all -
I found myself saying, "thank you, thank you, thank you" over and over again.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the skies proclaim the work of God's hands.
Day after day, they pour forth speech; night after night, they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19)

Enjoy the little things. One day you may look back and realize they were the big things. 
(Robert Brault)

Friday, September 02, 2011

On Silence

Finishing up Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren. Two of the final chapers are about silence, a topic, a practice that is dear to my soul, to my survival, to my existence.

This is the quote at the beginning of chapter 26, which is entitled, [ . . . ]: Naked, Clothed in Silence.

Silence is the language of God, and the only language deep enough
to absorb all the contradictions and failures that we are holding
against ourselves. God loves us silently because God has no case
to make against us. The silent communion absorbs our self-hatred,
as every lover knows. 

Richard Rohr.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Thankful Thursday - back to basics

In light of all that is going on in the world at the moment:
the flooding and power outages up in the Northeast,
the heat, drought, and fires in the southern plains and desert southwest,
the famine, drought, starvation, and tortures over in Eastern Africa,
with so many people who are unemployed, homeless, and living in unrelenting poverty,
with so many people fighting not only against illness but also against the medical system,
in nations of political and military unrest, where the innocent are slaughtered as "collateral damage,"
in nations of political, religious, and intellectual persecution,
today my gratitude is centered on the most basic and often the most overlooked gifts in my life.

Today, I am grateful for -

1. food - the farmers that grow it, the workers that pick and process it, the drivers that deliver it, the employees that shelve it and sell it at the supermarket and the local markets as well

2. electricity, running water, natural gas, the sewer system, phone service, Directv, police officers, fire fighters, public transportation, along with all the other private and government-provided amenities that make my life immeasurably more comfortable

3. a strong, solid home that is still standing, but not standing underwater

4. old friendships that deepen over time and new ones that surprise me in their honesty and depth

5. the internet with its access to people, places, and information that would otherwise be out of my grasp

6. the freedom to attend the church of my choice

7. the freedom not to attend church at all

8. ongoing full-time employment for my husband

9. the freedom I have to not work so that I can homeschool my son

10. clothing in the closet and the dresser

11. appliances like the stove, refrigerator, microwave, vacuum cleaner, washer and dryer

12. a car that runs well and is fully paid for

13. the public library

14. music

15. the beautiful natural world: squirrels, birds, frogs, turtles, dogs, cats, trees, flowers, lakes, ponds, rain, to name precious few of the miracles that surround me on a daily basis. And don't even get me started on the remarkable people that I come across every day: beauty at every turn, in every curve, under every heavy eyelid, every solid collarbone, every curl, every elbow, every kneecap. Don't be fooled: every single person alive is a wonder, a miracle in the making.

16. love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness

17. grace, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance

18. the realization that this list could go on for pages and often does go on for hours and hours in my thinking each day - I am blessed indeed.

19. the many opportunities I have been given to be surprised, to be stand in awe, in wonder, and in gratitude for such a wide array of bountiful blessings.

20. life itself - the ultimate gift of life. It's not always sweet, easy, or exciting. It doesn't always feel abundant or free. But life is a gift. Every single day. Every moment is a gift. For which I give thanks. Thanks be to God.