Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Plastic Jesus

I blew through a book this weekend.
Couldn't put it down.
Wanted to put it down in order to digest it.
Had to put it down.
Finished it.
Gonna read it again.

It's called: Plastic Jesus: Exposing the Hollowness of Comfortable Christianity. (Click on the title of this post to see the book.)

Here's what it says on the back cover:

A Perfect Lawn. A Perfect Spiritual Life.
Plasticity and suburbia go hand in hand. After all, without plastic
there are no garage door openers, no TiVo hard drives, remote controls, BlackBerries, plastic surgery, or any other idol we hold
so dearly. Sadly, if Jesus came in plastic, we just might find
him more to our liking.

This needs to change.

Suburbia might be a fine place to raise a family, but it's a
terrifying and dangerous environment for our spiritual well-being.
Many of us have exchanged the challenge and vitality of
Christ's plan for our lives for the ease of a plastic, soul-numbing,
comfort-first mentality.

And here are a few blurbs and questions that have stopped me in my tracks:

* According to sociological statistics, the average American watches over four hours of television per day. Since I'm a pretty average guy, that means by the time I turn 65, I will have spent nine years of my life marinating in the glow of the tube. Of course, many of us watch tv for the educational programming, right? Wrong. Much of the time, we're watching to distract our souls.

When we live in spiritual suburbia, we spend a lot of time distracting ourselves in order to keep from thinking about the things we don't want to think about, such as the annoying little gremlin called Doubt and the fast-growing beast known as Discouragement. Maybe our distraction is simply a form of denial. Maybe our pretending happens because we don't know or don't like who we really are. Regardless, we keep ourselves so busy, so preoccupied with things that don't really matter, that real growth and real life get stymied. Ironically, ignoring doubt and discouragement only feeds them, while facing them head-on crushes them and turns them into fertilizer for our faith.

* Suburbia gives us shame in our brokenness; Jesus gives us hope. The church often says, "How could you?" The Holy Spirit says, "I still love you." Our culture finds no value in broken things; God finds redemptive value in them.

* Suburbia says "You are what you do; you are what you have; you are what others say about you." Which of these do you find your identity bending toward the most?

* What is the next step you need to take toward wholeness? Surrender, honesty, or pursuit? What things are keeping you from moving towards God's best for you?

* A friend of the author's made this observation: That's one thing I don't understand. Christians talk so much about the abundant life, but it seems all your decisions are based on fear. It seems you Christians come to Christ because you are afraid of going to hell... You live a 'good' life so that God won't punish you or the church won't get mad at you... You don't share your faults because you are afraid of looking bad... fear, fear, fear. Fear of hell, fear of punishment, fear of displeasing God or others... honestly, that doesn't sound like abundance to me."

She is absolutely right. As a whole, as a group, (I have yet to understand why there seems to be a such a strong perceived need to band together and present One Voice with regard to our Christian faith - as though telling our individual stories, asking our own questions, and standing alone in our faith journey is some kind of Christian crime!), we do tend to speak about our faith as a series of avoidance techniques.

We stand against so many things and speak badly about so many people. For example, Oprah and Barack Obama are the two main choices of late for "the Evangelical Church" to criticize and spread fear about. There are some Christians who think we should boycott Starbucks because the new emblem shows the outline of the mermaid's breasts.

Why is it safer to declare ourselves to be alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, food addicts, and paralyzed by fear in church basement 12-step meetings than in our sanctuaries with others who claim to believe what we believe?

Why are those of us who admit doubt and discouragement, those of us whose families are devastated by divorce and child-rearing challenges, and those of us whose financial obligations far exceed our income - why are those among our number who are willing to admit our humanness and brokenness often so afraid to tell the truth at church for fear of ostracism and rejection?

Why are we labeled "touchy-feely" and "new-agey" simply because we want to talk about the nitty-gritty stuff of life and share how we are finding strength outside of the prescribed responses instead of bottling it all up and pretending that, in fact, we are "fine"?

How different would our world be, how different would the world's perception of Christianity be if we chose to promote mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness as much as we promote criticism and ostracism and boycotting the stuff and the people we don't like or agree with?

This book has caused me to seriously reconsider my personal understanding of who I think Jesus is, what I think He stands for, and what I think He wants me to stand for.

This book pointed out just how much I need to uproot myself from my spiritual suburbia: this extremely comfortable place that wants me to measure myself by what I do, what I have, and who others say that I am. By how many hours I spend in the church building and not by how many hours I spend investing in the lives of people outside those four walls. By how often I can give pat answers to complicated questions - not by how often I am willing to say "I don't know, but I'm willing to talk it through with you. I'm willing to sit in the not-knowing until the answer comes, whenever that may be."

The author was asked by a man he met on a ferry: So how do you connect with God? Here's what he wrote later by way of response: I want to actually have a conversation with God. I want to explore how wide and deep and profound this Creator of the universe is. I want to experience how safe, how merciful, how tender this Almighty God can be. I want to find Him outside of the clean and tidy roads of systematic theology and inside the mysterious places beyond my understanding.

I think I've had enough of the plastic bobble-head Jesus that nods his head to all of my requests, that aligns himself with all of my beliefs, and that never requires me to be uncomfortable. I declare that I am ready to go deeper, to continue to ask the tough questions and wait in inner peace and silence for the answers. I am ready to stop making excuses for fear-based decisions and begin to live in and from abundance. But not the abundance of physical stuff, measurable spiritual activity, or from behind the facade of perfection.

I want to "explore the smoke, the mist, and the mystery of the presence of God" myself. Even though it feels really wierd to put those words into writing. Even though it scares me a little to throw away so many of my preconceived notions of faith, at least faith as it has been predefined by others.

And that's exactly the point of the book: Suburbia is safe and predictable and the rules are straight forward. Take care of the lawn. Drive good cars - none of which can be parked on the front lawn. Wear nice clothes. Be quiet. Keep the house painted and the bricks pointed. No deviation. No modification without pre-approved permission from the neighborhood board.

Enough is enough. It's time to break out of the mold, Gail. Explore new definitions of beauty and comfort and safety. Drop by and see the neighbors that don't spend much time outside. Dance in the rain. Sing out loud. Forego the latest fashions and fancy new car models and give more money to people who have no clothes at all. Forget keeping up with the Joneses; take them homemade cookies instead. Stay home from church every now and then and hang out with Steve and the kids. Tell your story. Tell the truth. Ask questions. Mess up again and again. Forget. Remember. Forgive others and yourself. And encourage everyone you know to do the same.

Things have got to change!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Do you see what I see?

Today was Daniel's last day of school. The entire sixth grade went to see "Prince Caspian." Fun was had by all. After I picked him up at school, we went back to our friends' restaurant for one last lunch. Yummy wraps were had by all.

We were ushered into another beautiful moment of synchronicity: Most of Daniel's teachers converged on the same restaurant for lunch. More hugs, compliments on a year well lived, and fond farewells for my super son. Like any normal sixth grade boy, he was mortified at being hugged by his teachers in public. We all laughed at/with him.

This morning, while Daniel munched on popcorn in the theater, Kristiana and I spent nearly two hours seated in the open grassy space in front of the Mint Museum of Art. I journaled and worked on my computer. She observed flora and fauna for a biology experiment. What a glorious morning it was! Truly magnificent.

While sitting there in the park, I typed this meditation/devotional into my computer. It was copied from Wellsprings: A Book of Spiritual Exercises, written by Anthony DeMello. How perfect that I would "stumble upon it" while sitting outside on this, of all days.


The Discovery
By Anthony DeMello

I imagine that I am told that six months hence
I will be blind.
I observe how I react to this.

I make a list of persons… places… things… that I want to see again,
to stamp them on my memory before I lose my sight.
What feelings do I have when I attempt to see them in fantasy now?

I now go through an average day
– rising, traveling, eating, reading –
as a blind person,
observing all my thoughts and feelings.

What does blindness do to my profession, to my relationship with others?

I determine that my life is going to be
as fruitful and as happy as it was
before I lost my sight
and see what this decision does for me.

Blind people often come to see things that they missed when they had sight.
I search for those.

To end this exercise I ponder on the wealth that sight has brought me.

Would I have been the person that I am today
if I had never seen the sunrise or the moon
or the flowers in bloom
or people’s faces?
I let my heart return to scenes of beauty
it has feasted on thanks to my eyes.

If wonder is the heart of contemplation,
how many mystic moments my eyes have given me!
I seek them out.

I return to scenes of
love and tenderness
I would not have got
– or given –
if it were not for my eyes.

I picture what my life would be
without the knowledge and the entertainment
reading gave me.

To end, I ask myself
how I shall use my eyes today.

How shall I use my eyes, indeed?
What will I read and write and watch on television?

What about you, what are you gonna look at tonight?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Moments of Sheer Brilliance

In no particular order...

* Waking my son up this morning, on his second to last day of "real school," scratching his back, lying next to him, cuddling with him, praying that these last two days would go well, that he will be able to see and bid farewell to all his school-mates, and giving thanks for all that we have learned this year.

* Going for a 3 mile walk/jog with my daughter on Monday morning. In order to encourage the wild animals to come near, we walked in silence. Rabbits, squirrels, birds, and a few people gazed at us in wonder.

* Going for another three mile walk this morning with my daughter, talking the whole way. (We are walking a lot these days. It has been great.)

* Sitting with my daughter for the better part of an hour, this morning, journaling, reading, talking, laughing, telling stories, eating, and drinking hot, sweet drinks at Caribou Coffee.

* Moving to the restaurant next door to Caribou for a breakfast wrap. Sadly that restaurant, owned by a beautiful and generous Brazilian couple we know from church, is closing its doors tomorrow. Before they decide what their next business venture will be, Helio and Regina are taking their two sons back to Brazil for two months to relax on the beach. Traveling mercies to them!

* While we were sitting in their restaurant,I finished a book entitled, Light Through The Crack: Life after Loss. It is a book replete with stories of addictions, betrayal, fear, illness and death - but in each story there is a moment of seeing light through the crack. Of forgiveness and reconciliation after a husband's breach of trust at his job. A man who lived the first 50 years of his life hiding his true racial identity in South Africa is finally able to make some measure of peace with his siblings, his wife, and his daughters. A drug and alcohol-addicted young man makes amends with his adopted family, the justice system he evaded, and others he had hurt along the way. No easy answers are offered in this book. No formulae for peace and perfection. Nope, all these people continue to fight their way back to wholeness every day. They must daily choose life over death, joy over despair, trust over suspicion, and starting over after failing again. Yet, light for the journey shines through the cracks in their lives.

* A few minutes after I finished the book, as I sat journaling my responses to it, a woman I recognized from several social events came in. We began to talk about school and homeschooling. This is a woman I hope to get to know better. She has two children (11 and 6 years of age) that she recently took to Costa Rica for a month to a language immersion school. In a small town in the mountains. No car. No one in the town spoke English. There she was with her children. She said she is considering whether or not to homeschool them full time in the fall. Did I mention that she has long, beautiful dreadlocs, a gorgeous bright smile, a deep and hearty belly laugh, doesn't believe that television should be our children's primary caretaker, and cannot wait until the school year is over so that she can spend all day everyday with her two little people?

* Yesterday, the man who coordinates the adult classes at our church told me that the women in my journaling class had written nothing but glowing remarks in their class evaluations. They didn't want anything to change. They have learned and grown and are looking forward to continuing.

* Last night, my husband and I went to a local high school baseball game. No, we didn't know anybody on either team. No, we didn't take either of our children with us to the game. But there we were. First of all, it was great to be alone with Steve, even if only for an hour and a half. Second, I saw a guy at the game that I recognized from our graduating class at Williams! There with his young son, just watching the game. Nope, they didn't know anybody on either team.

* On Tuesday, Kristiana and I went up to the lake house I mentioned last year around this time. Spacious, gracious, inviting. Our hosts welcomed us and granted us full access to everything and every room in the house. We spent most of the day on the screened-in porch - except for the brief dip Kristiana took in their pool. The son of the family that owns the home, Brian, was packing to leave for Florence, Italy for the next seven weeks. To study the Italian language and Italian politics. He left yesterday. Traveling mercies, Brian.

What I realize is that, when taken separately, when not thought about intentionally, none of those incidents are brilliant in and of themselves. But when I think about them just a tad longer, I recognize the beauty, the magnificence, the co-incidence of these moments this week.

The co-mingling of the decision to stay in the area of Daniel's school (today and tomorrow are half-days for him) instead of going home put us in the vicinity of our friends' restaurant so that we could see him and hear the story of their decision to let the business go.

The co-mingling of sitting in that restaurant with meeting and making a new friend.

The co-mingling of silence and joviality as my daughter and I walk, not only on the spectacular greenways of Charlotte, but also the pathway of my life as it winds alongside the path of my daughter's life.

Snuggling with my son in the morning, co-mingling with our discussion of the last minute details of his final days of school.

Showing up at a local baseball game, choosing to sit at a certain place in the bleachers, looking up and seeing a face I recognized immediately. Watching his face light up when I introduced myself as another "Eph."

Meeting up with yet another person embarking on what can be a life-altering journey overseas. Having the opportunity to wish him well and to include him in my prayers for traveling mercies for so many that I know that are on the road.

Being welcomed openly into someone's much-loved and carefully adorned home at the same time that I am learning to open myself up and allowing others access to some of my deeply loved, newly appreciated inner chambers.

Recognizing that between the cracks in my schedule,
the cracks in my motherhood, my marriage,
my friendships, my faith -
between all those ever-widening cracks,
light is shining.
I see the cracks.
I see the light,
and I hereby boldly declare:
The Light Is Good.

I could go on and on. And I will - in my journal.

Again and again, day after day,
I see the beauty,
the synchronicity,
the wonder of this amazing life
I have been given to live.

Sheer brilliance.
All of it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Confession and My Manifesto

There are two amazing Jens shedding light into my life today.

First of all, Jen Lemen - who leaves today for her nine day journey to Rwanda. Those of us who are praying people (and aren't we all?), need to pray not only for her safety, courage, and strength, but also for her husband and two children who will stay behind in Maryland until she returns. Traveling mercies to her.

And then there is Jen Gray. Please read her post before you read any further here. Simply click on the title link for this blog, read her words thoughtfully, and then come back here.

This is my confession and my life manifesto this Sunday afternoon.

I am no better
no more spiritual
no more talented
no more powerful
than anyone else.

I struggle
I am critical
I am laden with prejudices
I cry at inopportune times
I get angry at the ones I love
I get impatient with the ones who love me

I want a whole lot of what I cannot have
I want to get rid of a whole lot of what is mine to bear

I worry
I get jealous
I get depressed
I feel inadequate
I wonder and worry about what I think others think of me

I have an enormous supply of emotional baggage
that I try unsuccessfully to cram into
the miniscule storage compartment
in and above my head
and a bathroom scale I want to hit with a hammer on a weekly basis
- I am neither brave nor curious enough to check it daily.

I have made 250,000 poor choices in the last few years
for which I have made 350,000 excuses.

I have an incurable addiction to falling in love
and subsequently breaking my own heart.

Just because I dress the part of the mature mom
in my modest skirts, simple tee shirts,
and flats with little bows on the front
that is no indication that I am either mature or modest.
In fact, I am frightfully childlike in many ways,
endlessly hoping that everyone will like me,
and really the furthest thing from modest.

But I know what makes me feel alive
and what makes my spirit feel free.

(Case in point: I long to follow Jen Lemen's example and fly all over the world
with untameable love, unspeakable joy, and countless parcels of peace.)

I long to exchange the dark, damp messiness inside me
for more grace, for deeper peace, and brighter light.
I want to assist in healing and loving
everyone I meet however -
in whatever tiny or gigantic ways -
I can.

I have not only fallen, but also leapt
into deep pits of shame, fear, and sorrow
many more times than I have leaped gracefully over them.

But when I love, it's really big
and when I laugh, it's really loud
and when I choose you as a friend, it's for life

I know how to seek light and courage
even in the midst of the worst, darkest, most violent storms.
And, Lord knows, there are lots of storms these days.
So very many.

But really, truly, honestly,
I am no different than anyone walking on this planet,
all of us trying to do the best we can
with what we've got.
Seeking answers to our many questions.
Seeking faith to counter our many doubts.
Seeking forgiveness for our many wrongs
and the ability to forgive those who have wronged us.

I make mistakes daily but
I really do try.

And I know you really try too.

Thanks again, Jen Gray, for your beautiful, gentle
always inspiring words.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Let Peace Begin With Me

Lisa left me a book, The Peace Book (by Louise Diamond), when she and her beloved Doug bid us farewell last month. I began to read it this morning. Strong. Beautiful. Challenging. Simple. Life-changing.

Many questions surface in my mind as I read each page, each paragraph, each statement.

How often to I pay attention to my breath? Are my breaths deep and satisfying or shallow and fast, unable to strengthen me for the task at hand?

How often do I consciously and intentionally relax, taking inventory of my body and mind and spirit, with the goal of releasing tension, fear, anger, and selfishness?

Do I model inner peace and serenity in my home with my husband and children? When they are frustrated with themselves, with me, or with something else, how do I respond? Do I enter into their anger with them or step away from the fray and quietly, prayerfully let them take responsibility for their own emotions?

When fear and anger surge in me, how do I respond? Do I allow fear to take control of my thoughts? Do I allow angry thoughts to come and go? Do I introduce those thoughts to the power of Peace, Forgiveness, and Trust?

Do I seek peace and pursue it? Do I do all within my power to live at peace with all people?

When this computer run by the impossibly complex, glitchy, moody Microsoft Vista program begins its daily (yes, DAILY!) habit of burping and hiccupping and otherwise acting like we are presumptive and aggressive in our requests that it connect us to the internet - when it denies that there is a modem, an internet connection, or an operating system of any kind, how do I respond? Am I peaceful even then?

No screaming, kicking, or cursing.
But a lot of wishing that we'd bought a Mac instead.
Actually, we did buy a Mac afterwards.
I wish we'd bought the Mac first.
And I promise myself and my loved ones
that we will never buy another PC.

What I have come to recognize is that this computer has been a teacher for me in many ways. When my husband and children are frustrated with it, when nothing they do seems to make a difference in its fincky behavior, when they bellow to me for help, I get up slowly from wherever I find myself at the moment.

I take a deep breath and say a quick prayer.

I ask for wisdom about what to do to restore peace to our homeschooling room - where this computer resides.

I sit down in front of this rather expensive piece of hardware asking myself how I can be the necessary software at a time when rage flares, hearts harden, and frustration soars with regard to the computer which sits idle and frozen.

And then I plead for insight as to what I can do to restore this computer to activity and connectivity.

In that order.

And, regardless of the outcome of the situation at hand,
I always breathe a prayer of thanks
that I have been given yet another opportunity
to be a beacon of hope,
of grace,
of calm,
and of peace in my home.

Let there be peace on earth.
Let there be peace in our home.
Let it begin with me.
Let it begin in me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"There is so much beauty"

A bird bath at Wing Haven. Why wouldn't a bird - or any living creature - want to plunge into this warm and wet and inviting bowl?

One of my favorite books (and movies) of all time is The Bridges of Madison County. Yes, it's about adultery. It's also about love and passion and family and commitment.
And beauty.

When Francesca, the protagonist, dies, she lives behind a series of journals and letters for her two adult children. At the end of her writings and her life, she pleads with her children to go out into the world and see it, live it, enjoy it.
Why? Because "there is so much beauty."


I have spent quite a bit of time this morning on the telephone with my dear Lisa and her husband Doug.
I have surfed the net, read email, admired iCards recently received, checked in on a few of my favorite blogs.
And found a new one that I really, really like.

And in each place, at each stop, with each query, I have seen it: Beauty.

What beauty have you seen this morning?

I tried to take a photo of a baby bird on a branch. No, your eyes do not deceive you; it's not there. The bird was so small that I assumed that, even though I couldn't see it in the view finder, it was there. Indeed, it was there --> on the branch just above the one seen in the photo.

Here's the thing; even though I didn't capture the bird, I did manage to capture a beautiful branch and part of a wonder-filled tree.

Lesson: There is so much beauty - even in "the mistakes" of our lives.

This is my big beautiful boy sitting on a miniature chair at Wing Haven.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nothing doing...

Nothing to worry about.
Nothing to plan for.
Nothing to fret over.

No critters to fear.
No unending list of chores to complete.
No complicated meals to prepare.
No medications to take or doctors to visit.
No bills to pay.

No walls to paint or wallpaper.
No floors to mop or rugs to clean.
No dog to feed or walk or groom.
Nothing to scrub off the tiles in the shower or the tub.
Nothing to sweep off the walkway or the driveway.

There are no papers or cans or bottles to recycle.
There are no homeschooling lessons to teach.
There is no pile of unfinished books to read.
There is no journaling class to prepare for.

There is nothing to do right now.

Nothing at all to do - except sit.
Quietly, at peace. Gently, at rest.
Breathing. Smiling. Giving thanks.

I've gotta go and do nothing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the birth mothers out there.
To all the step mothers out there.
To all the adoptive mothers out there.
To all those who are awaiting the arrival of a child.
To those who long to have and love a child, a spouse, a special one.
To all those who mother loved ones that are older than themselves.
To all those who love their mothers.
To those who are learning to love their mothers.
To all those who are learning to mother/care for themselves.

Happy Mother's Day.
Happy Love Day.
Happy Day.

Peace to you all.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Just When I Thought It Was Safe...

They came back. What came back, you ask? The ants. Fortunately, they are not inside my house - yet. But I saw a bajillion of them outside the house, crawling up the wall adjacent to our garage door. The good news is that I didn't panic or throw up. I stood still and watched them, curiously, inquisitively. Where have they come from? Where are they going? What are they after? Why haven't I seen them inside yet?

Calmly, I came inside, went to my stash of Terro Ant Baits, grabbed a box, and went back outside - where I opened and emptied six of the baits into the crack where our garage meets the driveway. There is an all out ant-fest going on out there now. Apparently all the ants I saw earlier have informed their aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews - and they have all arrived for the feast. Eat up, my dear little home invaders, eat up. Tell all your friends to come and eat with you.

(In deference to my peace-living, "do no harm" friends, I apologize. I love peace and prefer to do no harm also, but I have battled with ants in my house for years, and Terro is the only thing that seems to keep them at bay. I have no problem with them making hills and valleys, condos and developments anywhere they want - as long as they stay outside and off of our home.)

Now comes the tough part: waiting for the baits to take effect. For the stream of ants to slow down and then stop. But I have faith; I have seen the effect of these baits inside my house for over 9 months now. Other than three ants that were brought inside in the mail (yup, they like our mailbox too) and one that wandered in our bathroom window two weeks ago, I haven't seen any in the house since last fall. Thanks be to God - and the makers of Terro.

As I stood outside a few minutes ago watching those diligent little critters stream up and down the side of my much-loved abode, I began to think about other little critters that are streaming up and down the inside of my head of late. Fear of job loss and the rising cost of living. Fear of illness and accidents. Fear of the drought worsening and fear of floods too. Fear that people I know and love will fall ill and even die without me having a chance to tell them how I feel about them. Fear in general. At times I am an equal opportunity worrier: no worry too small or too large for me.

Then there is the invasion of negative thinking: of comparisons based on age, body size and type, race, political persuasion, religious convictions or lack thereof, intellectual capacity, and social position. The comparisons that plant me on top of the heap as well as the ones that leave me stranded on the bottom of them pile.

Lately, I find myself getting angry about many of the things being bantered about with regard to politics and the presidential campaign. Comments overheard at church, at the voting place, and in the market. Commentary broadcast on the news. Criticism and belittling of and between candidates. Fear and mistrust. Ignorance and racism. Sexism and ageism. All the "isms" are at play this year, aren't they? And as a nation, we are taking this bait, hook, line, and sinker, aren't we?

Just when I think I am safe from mental and spiritual attack (why ever would I think that?!?), these and many other little things invade my thoughts. They keep me from sitting still in the morning to pray and meditate on The Word. Keep me from being fully present to conversations and activities with my husband, my children, and others I care deeply for. Keep me from knowing peace and contentment in my daily activities, moment by moment.

Instead of listening lovingly and attentively to the people I love, I allow my mind, my thoughts to wander to things that are not true. To things that do not honor God or the people around me. I allow those negative thoughts to turn into attitudes and resentments and statements and actions that, in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, "no longer resemble me."

So I set out baits: I remind myself to take every thought captive. I apologize when I am mean-spirited and impatient. I try to stop that train of negative thought from plowing into the broadside of my marriage and my mothering. Rather I remind myself to allow those thoughts to simply pass through the station of my mind, but they cannot stop here and hang out. Quietly, I invite those fearful, inadequate, shame-based thoughts to feast on gratitude and contentment, on peace and joy, on the wonder of family and friendships - and I encourage them to take those newfound treats back to the nest from which they came.

Fears will come - and I can let them go.
Anger will surface - and I can let it pass.
Feelings of superiority and inferiority will increase
- and they will decrease as well.

I remind myself to sit still with patience and wonder. To watch the process of healing and restoration take place in my mind and in my heart. I pray and sit and wait. And the fears subside. The resentment recedes. The insecurity diminishes. The laughter, strength, confidence, and trust return.

The box in which the ant baits are sold says that they need to be replaced every three months in order to keep the ants away. I used to be the kind of person who questioned that kind of advice; I saw it as nothing more than a ploy to keep the consumer going back to the store. Truthfully, I still feel that way about a lot of products that advise frequent replacement. But because of the rapid and complete success of the first round of ant traps in eliminating ants from my kitchen last summer, I have been dutifully rotating them ever since. If it works, keep doing it.

The same is true for my spiritual and emotional life. I cannot rely on last week's prayer and quietness to suffice for today. I cannot expect that one round of journaling accompanied by solitude and silence is enough to keep me strong forever. All of those remedies work for me; it simply have to apply them regularly. Daily.

After rereading it a little while later, I realized that my post from this past Wednesday has a mistake in it. While I cannot create the food that my soul needs to thrive on, I am the one who has to feed myself. Others have written books - and The Book - that feed my soul. Others have written prayers that I can read, say, and meditate on. Others lead and facilitate meetings, services, and retreats where I can find spiritual sustenance. But in every case, I must make the move to take and eat. I must carve out time to sit and be still. I must open my heart, my mind, and my eyes to receive all that is needed for life and godliness. Everything has already been provided, but I have to intentionally and consciously extend my hand and my heart to receive it.

Just when I thought I was safe, they came back again.
Therefore it is time for me to fight back again.
And then wait while the remedy takes effect again.

Now I wait.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A weepy Wednesday

I went to bed last night and awoke this morning
with sorrow on my heart and in my mind.

Stories of sad friends.
Broken families. Broken finances.
Broken relationships. Broken hearts.
Broken hearts.

Another deadly cyclone.
Food riots. Subdivisions looking a lot like ghost towns.
Car accidents. A private plane crash.
Drought persists. As does the downturn in our economy.

In church, Katie nearly wept as she reminded us of
the spiritual hunger that plagues us individually
and the physical hunger that plagues us universally.
I did weep.

And then the Feast was served. We were beckoned to the table.
The bread symbolizes the broken body of our Lord on the cross.
The juice symbolizes the shed blood.

It is a preposterous story, a horrible story, an unbelieveable story.
Love that gave up His life for my lostness and brokenness.
This is not a religion that demands that I work for redemption.
It is not a religion that demands that I die for redemption.
It is a story, an amazing love story that stars Someone other than me.
Someone who came to earth thinking about me and died
so that I wouldn't have to do anything to be redeemed except believe.

That is a story that gets me weeping sometimes.
A story that reminds me of my inability to solve everything.
My inability to fix my friends' broken hearts.
My inability to feed all those that are hungry.
I cannot even fix my own broken heart, shattered relationships,
and deep disappointments. I cannot feed my own hungry soul.

That is what makes the Feast of Remembrance so very beautiful and poignant.
And weepy.
It is done. It is finished.
All I have to do is admit my weakness and receive His strength.
Admit my selfishness, my self-centeredness, my obsession with my own way.
And rest in His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His grace, and His peace.

There in the front row of First Presbyterian Church in uptown Charlotte,
I saw them come. I saw us come.
The hungry, the thirsty, the fearful, the broken, and the weepy.
Take the bread, dip it into the juice. Eat.
Then we filed out of the church, back to offices, schools, and back home.

For a few moments at least, we felt the fullness of faith,
the connection of our community,
the hope of glory.

When the weepies return - and they certainly will -
we will return to the table.
Hand in hand. Arm in arm.
Together we will partake again.
We will pray. We will hold on to one another.
We will hold one another up.
We will weep together.
We will remember His goodness, His mercy, and His love.

And then we head back out into the world.
Strengthened for the next leg of the journey.

Traveling mercies to you.
To each of us.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Communities of Faith and Love

In this world of war and anger and hatred and prejudice and fear and doubt and anger and guns and greed and loss and cancer and depression and violence and sorrow and unspeakable acts of horror, there is hope. There is grace. There is love. There is mercy. There is forgiveness. There are people reaching out to other people and supporting each other and caring for one another.

Here is an example that is touching me deeply today. Start there and read the more recent posts. Go back and read a few of her earlier posts as well. It's an amazing, loving, generous, heart-melting story of inexplicable love. A woman in Maryland, whose name is Odette, left her children behind in Rwanda to make a life for herself and for them here in the US. One of her children is seriously ill with tuberculosis. Another woman, whose name is Jen Lemen, who also lives in Maryland, is going to Rwanda later this month to visit Odette's children and spread a message of love and hope. Folks from the internet, many of whom have never met either of these women or their children, have sponsored Jen's trip completely! With extra money for more blessings for her to share with the children at the school that Odette's children attend.

Jen Lemen has also asked for loving support for Jenni Ballantyne in Australia. (Jen Lemen is an inspiration to many people in this area of compassion for those whose lives intersect her own.)

Then there is Itiel, who has asked for support for the family of Muthudi.

And Patty, whose neighbor asked for prayer for her ailing father. The neighbor came to Patty because she knows that Patty is a praying woman. So why not ask the woman who has faith?

Ruth's granddaughter has holes (yes, multiple!) in her heart that are slowly being healed. May the prayers and the healing continue.

And I ask for all of you who read this blog and pray to lift up my son, Daniel, who has infections in both ears. Poor thing! He pleaded with us to take him to the doctor this morning, Sunday morning, instead of going to his team's baseball games. So for the first time in all our years as a family, we made an urgent care visit. My dearly beloved boy is on antibiotics again. (Why did I agree to allow this boy to go to school? Five years of cozy, simple, life-affirming homeschooling life in Charlotte; not one sick visit in those five years. That impressively healthy statistic changed this year, the year he decided to go to school! What was I thinking???!!!)

Daniel, just after the haircut that removed most of his blonde highlights.
Not a bad haircut, right? It was performed by yours truly!

There is so much love to give. There is so much love to receive.
There are communities of faith and love and hope springing up all around us.
What are we doing to extend those communities - and to welcome that love and faith into our own hearts and lives and communities and churches? What are we waiting for? What am I waiting for?

A better question is: when will it be my turn to share the love?

Actually, Kristiana and I are going on a love and faith-sharing adventure of our own. From Saturday, August 2nd until Saturday, the 9th, she and I will be in Nicaragua working at an orphanage, playing soccer, feeding hungry people, and otherwise living out the love and faith we profess. We will be making dozens of love notes and filling our suitcases with clothing and other little goodies we can share with the folks we meet there.

Are we scared? A little. I'm not outdoors adventurer! I don't like bugs. I'm addicted to my super firm foam pillow.
Are we excited? Very. I'm definitely a traveler and a seeker and a hugger and a lover of souls by nature.
We covet your prayers for safety, peace, patience, kindness, humility, and an inexhaustible supply of smiles.

Kristiana, my dedicated photography student, taking "an ant's eye view" photo for her class. Not my idea, of course.
No, she will not be taking her father's fancy camera to Nicaragua.

Where are you going to spread the love?
If not you, who?
If not now, when?