Weeds in a Vacant Lot

 

So the other day I posted this picture on Facebook: chickweed

Asking whether it was a weed or a real-on-purpose plant.

And the comments took were not as cut and dry as I was expecting.  There was some debate.  Was this Creeping Jenny, or Chickweed?  Is this plant something desirable, or an invasive pest?

(Spoiler alert: chickweed- although the discussion has now convinced me to pull up the free plant that appeared in my yard and replace it with it’s near twin that I will purchase at the store.  Sometimes gardening- and America- makes no sense…)

But over the past 24 hours, something that was just a passing query has now taken root (pardon the pun) in my mind.

How do we determine the value of something?

Is it beauty?  Usefulness?  Rarity?  Convention?

What makes chickweed a weed and Creeping Jenny a desirable plant for your garden?  (I know that there is probably an extensive, fact based answer to this particular question, but please, for the sake of discourse, let’s let the metaphor stand…)

When is something mundane, and when is it an invitation to marvel?  What is the thing that separates the ordinary from the remarkable, the humdrum from the holy?  Is it something inherent to the object, or is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder?

If you look in the Bible, God uses ordinary objects over and over again to break into our reality.  A bush.  A donkey.  A star.  A stable.  Bread.  Wine.  Things that have ordinary uses, and yet, when viewed with kingdom eyes, shimmer with transcendence.

Children are so good at recognizing this duality.  Daily I am handed a wilting dandelion or a particularly remarkable stick?  Why?  Because, in my little people’s eyes, these are treasures.  Little boy’s pockets are always filled with rubber bands and acorns and fragments of paper, because they need an arsenal of miracles within their reach at anytime.  Poking a dead bee with a stick becomes an hour long activity.  A pile of dog poop next to the sidewalk becomes the inspiration for a 15 minute fantasy tale of the doggy that left it (don’t scoff- this happened to me this past Sunday afternoon).  To a child’s eye, the world is chock full of magic and imagination.  An adventure just waiting to happen.  To an adult, these same things simply hold face value.  Where did the whimsy go?

A few months ago, I read a poem, and then immediately took a paint pen and wrote the poem on the wall in the bathroom.  Why?  Because I only have about 7 minutes a day of uninterrupted time to shower think.  And I wanted these words to surround me during that time…

Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

Just pay attention.  For me, this concept is summed up in the word Selah.  As I have noted earlier on this page, Selah is a word used in the Old Testament.  Although  the definition isn’t precisely known, scholars tend to agree it means something along the lines of “Stop, and think on this.”  When used in the Psalms, it is thought that this word could signal a musical interlude in the song.

Either way, it is an invitation, even a command, to stop.  It is a doorway into silence.  A moment that grabs your attention, that reminds you that there is more to this life than the next thing on your calendar.

When is the last time you paused?  Even just for a few breaths?  When is the last time you gave yourself permission to stop, and think on something?  To simply be grateful? Do you live an interruptible life?

I seldom do.  And yet, I am constantly seeking small rituals that can serve as reminders to pause.  To breathe.  To be aware that I am not what matters in this life.  To marvel and to give thanks to a good God who is with me all the time.  In the blue iris and in the handful of small pebbles my preschooler just handed me.

Selah.  

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Don’t should on yourself. 

I should take my Christmas lights down. I mean, for crying out loud, Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. Yet there they are – twinkling proudly in front of the whole neighborhood. And, if I am going to be brutally honest in this confession, I should probably also admit to the multiple strands of colored lights that are strung along my back deck. From Christmas twentyfifteen. That haven’t been plugged in since. Strung merrily on the deck that should also be pressure washed and repainted. I should feel guilty about this. I should put this near the top of a honey do list. But…. meh. 

I have a feeling that most of us have a long list of shoulds that confront us from the moment we pull our heads off of the pillow each morning. I should have gotten up an hour earlier to exercise. I should make the bed. I should drink less caffeine. I should take a shower. I should buy stock in dry shampoo. I should have a wholesome family moment including scripture reading and some sort of commissioning prayer each morning with my kids over a hot cooked breakfast. I should not be putting on mascara while driving my children to daycare. I should listen to that voicemail blinking on the work phone. 

All those shoulds and it’s not even 9 AM.

And even more insidious than those are all the shiny happy social media shoulds. I should take my kids to the children’s museum. I should read more. I should make my own soap. I should have friends to be drinking wine with on a Tuesday night. I should go on vacation to Mexico and take pictures of my polished toenails in a hammock. I should learn to knit. I should join the PTA or PETA or the PLC. I should be doing the 21 day fix or eating paleo or crossfitting. (Confession- I am not entirely sure what any of the last three things are). 

We spend so much of our lives shoulding all over ourselves. And, my friends, should is a dirty word. Should is a sibling to shame. Kin to guilt and insecurity and depression. When has a should in your life ever brought you a feeling of freedom? Ever come with a sense of joy? Shoulds never do. They are heavy and muddy brown. A burden, not a gift. 

And this too – most shoulds are not actual shoulds. They are not necessary to sustain life – I would posit that one could live a full happy life without bowing to many shoulds at all. 

In fact, here is a thought experiment: what if you turned all of your shoulds into coulds? Instead of I should read that book: I could read that book. All of a sudden an obligation has turned into an invitation. One that you were free to either except or decline. You could learn how to can vegetables, or you could not. By changing one tiny letter, you sweep the desk clean from stacks of imaginary burdens, and create room for possibility. 

If should is connected to shame, could is akin to whimsy. To opportunity and, dare I say it, joy. Could invites the imagination to engage. It automatically puts you in a mindset where you can decide if this is something you actually want to do… something you actually have time for. Should forces its way in, while could simply knocks and waits. 

So. Next time you discover that you are shoulding all over yourself, stop. Ask your self if this is truly something you want to do. And even if you want to do it, ask yourself if it is something that you ever actually will accomplish. I will give you a hint – if you are anything like me, starting your own garden and/or learning to quilt automatically goes in the “I’m never going to do that” category. 

Let your should turn into what it actually was all along… A could. And see if that invitation sparks joy, or anxiety.

So yes, I should take down my Christmas lights. But darn it, I like them. So shine on you gorgeous twinkly stars. Life’s too short to should your pants. 

Practice

Ever notice how yoga teachers are always thanking you for joining their practice that day? I used to think it was a humble brag, like look I can pretzel my legs behind my neck while reading a magazine but I’m calling it practice so you can tell me how awesome I am. But now I realize that it’s something different altogether. Practice as a way of life, as a way of centering yourself, honing your skills, training  your muscles and ingraining your craft into your very bones. 

I am reading two amazing books right now… You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Wilson. Both books focus on the premise that souls are calibrated by more than just facts. That right thinking isn’t the end goal of discipleship. Rather, our daily practices, our actions and reactions, the way we live our lives, reflect the true desires of our heart. And the only way to become more fully aligned with Christ, to issue in the Kingdom of Heaven, is to intentionally shape and reshape our daily practices to point us more closely to God.

For years, I had an ingrained daily habit of ‘quiet time’. However, when my son was born, all of a sudden I had a LOT more going on. Free time was at a minimum. Free hands were inconceivable. And add to that some Big Feelings that I was reluctant to face head on. The thought of journaling filled me with anxiety. And so, I put the journal away. And have only picked it up sporadically since. 

Interestingly enough, it was about the same time that I felt like I was becoming unmoored in my spiritual life. I felt like it was harder to hear from God, harder to feel centered and secure in my relationship with him. I told myself it was because my journaling had become an idol – a way to ‘check off’ my good behavior for the day. That I felt like I wasn’t feeling God’s presence because I wasn’t stuck in my old habit. But, what if I was feeling this way because I had simply walked away from over a decade of daily spiritual practice? What if it was neglecting a way that my soul connects with God, a way I had learned to process my thoughts and feelings and lay them before the Throne? 

If what we do shapes who we are, then our daily practice, the times when we intentionally engage with God, become all the more vital. Not in a legalistic way – having a quiet time or not does not change God’s love for you. But does it change our consciousness of him? Or does it change us? Is fasting for God, or is it meant to remind us the true source of our daily bread?  Does God keep record of how much we read his Word? Or does reading the Bible make us more fully aware of who God is?

In the past few weeks, I have resolved to start journaling again. Not because I ‘should’, but because I want to. Because I want to more fully attune my soul to my savior. To remind myself of what matters and how the pattern of my days point to God’s work in my life. To remember my prayers, and watch as God answers. To have tangible written proof of the story God is writing in my life.

Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a must for being a good Christian. But it is a tool. A practice, if you will. A way to take the head knowledge of our redemption and pull it in to the center of who we are.

And as I proceed, I will continue to ask myself… how do the things I do point towards the things I love?

When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

Are you a real person? Am I? What about them? 

True fact. I have birthed two babies in the last five years. Which means, in the last five years I have gained and lost 50 pounds. Twice. I have been all the sizes. All of them. I may never have been skinny, but I have certainly been fat.

My friend, who has been in the same situation, remarked yesterday that she was shocked at how differently people treat her now that she has lost the baby weight as opposed to before. She recently took a flight for a work related trip. She couldn’t believe how different way she was treated this time than she was a few months – and several pounds – ago. 

I have had the same experience. When I weighed more, I received less eye contact. People didn’t hold the door open for me or smile for me nearly as much. It could be argued that this was just my perception, since I felt more insecure about myself, but the difference is so marked that I am convinced it goes beyond that. 

And what’s more, I am convinced that this is not just an experience of people that struggle with weight. Watching and listening to the national discourse over the last few months, I truly believe that different people have different experience in this world. And let me say right now that this is not a political blog. I’m not pushing a feminist or leftist worldview here. However, I do want to make an appeal to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not right.

I don’t care how you feel about federal funding, immigration, abortion, politics. (Or perhaps I do, but not in this blog). What I do care about is how we as Christ’s image bearers treat our fellow man. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 

John 13:35

The story of the New Testament is one of a struggle for identity in the new church. There was a constant debate going on about who is on the inside and who was on the outside. Jews versus Gentiles. Circumcised versus uncircumcised. The rights of women. Who is allowed at the Lord’s supper. Which widows and orphans are allowed support by the church. And again and again the same answer prevailed. All are welcome. We are all sinners, all redeemed by grace. Through the blood of Christ, we all are equal.

It is the habit of our fallen nature to discriminate. To decide who is like us, who is acceptable, who is worthy of notice, of compassion, of kindness. But Jesus made a business of reaching out to those not universally accepted. The Gentile, the adulterous, the woman, the child, the tax collector, the day laborers, the uneducated. People whose stature in society was low. People who did not get doors held open for them, or eye contact, or friendly words from strangers.

And we as Christians are called to follow that example. Which has convicted me lately – what are my unconscious biases?

Last week I was walking downtown on my way back from lunch when I saw an elderly African-American gentleman stumbling in front of me. His appearance was disheveled. Instinctively I tightened my grip on my purse and looked around me. But then, I checked myself. This man was not drunk. He was not interacting with anybody on the street. He was elderly, poor, and disabled. And my first inclination was not to offer aid, assistance, or compassion. It was to guard against him. I stood convicted by the Holy Spirit.  

And it has forced me to ask myself: what do I think when I approach someone on the street who looks or seems different than me? How do I treat people who live different lives than the one I am used to? I am not saying in a larger sense, but in the common everyday mercies I extend to others. Am I more annoyed by someone who cuts me off in traffic if they look different than me? Am I more likely to greet somebody at the grocery store if they are young and able bodied versus old and slow when pushing the cart? In what small ways can I extend love and grace to people who may not speak my language, who may not live in my neighborhood or who may not know my Jesus?

Before we can change the world, I think we have to take a long hard look at ourselves, to confront the unconscious biases we hold, and to actively seek to love our fellow (wo)man, all of them. 

And for me (perhaps getting a little bit political here) I have felt an overwhelming conviction that I need to listen. To stop protesting that I am not a racist or sexist or a nationalist or a whatever -ist, and listen to see what the every day realities of people who are not me may be. I have been shocked. I have been humbled. I have been convicted. I have been encouraged. But mostly, I have seen that what I thought was reality is not the every day experience of people all around me. Which has led me to think and pray about how Christ would feel about this. How Christ would react to these stories. And how I as a Christ follower should also be.

No answers yet. Just more listening. And praying.

not my story.

It’s that time of year.

The time of year when my Instagram fills up with sweaty, post workout posts.  When Facebook is filled with testimonials of the newest 137 hour fix and beetroot wonderfood shake.  I am always proud of my friends who are working to transform their bodies and their lives, but I must admit, often times these posts take me to a dark place.

A place filled with shoulds.  A place where my inner voice starts shouting about all the diets I should be on, and all the new workouts I should be trying.  Of the way my body should look, and the ways I should be spending my precious down time.  I often tell others to stop shoulding all over yourself.  It was time I took my own advice.

My history with self image is… fraught. There is a strong family history of unhealthy body expectations and practices that is ingrained into the way I view the world. Whenever I go one a diet, I am immediately transformed into a different person. One who is hyper-focused on the number on the scale.  My entire week’s success or failure hangs on the results of my weigh in.  Meal planning and denying the voices shouting in my head takes up all my mental energy.

So, a few years ago, I decided to hop off of that train.  No more diets for me.  No group exercise because frankly, I spend the entire time comparing myself unfavorably to others.  I decided to love myself, and realize that who I am is WAY more than what my body looks like or a number on a scale.

But most of all, by giving up dieting, I gave myself permission for that to NOT BE MY STORY.  I do not want my kids to grow up remembering me as a person who jumped from one diet to the next.  Someone who shied away from photographs and bathing suits.  I didn’t want my daughter to see me constantly evaluating myself on outward appearances. I wanted them to remember a mom who was joyfully present.  Who baked with them.  Who showed them how much FUN playing outside could be.  A mom who took care of herself, soul, mind, AND body- and did her best to keep the three in balance.

Does that mean I gave up taking care of myself?  No.  In fact, I have actually lost weight since stepping out of that ugly cycle.  Instead of focusing on denying myself the foods I can’t have, I focus on feeding myself well.  Of celebrating with others with cake and champagne, but also falling in love with the crisp simplicity of a salad.  I realized that exercise could be a reward for me.  That I like using my body.  But that I like to exercise alone.  To give myself a chance to clear my head and process my life.  Or to take a walk with a good friend.  For me, that’s about as sweet as life gets.  And it turns out it’s good for me too.

Should everyone quit on diets?  Of course not!  For me. they became an idol, and they chipped away at my sense of self worth.  But more than that, for me, I decided that I wanted my life to be about more than just that.  That this was a priority I was consciously putting aside.  And I feel stronger by engaging in that process. By giving myself a divine permission to walk away from that unattainable standard.  By embracing the everyday grace available to me, and recognizing my infinite worth in Christ, which is separate from the worth given to me from the outside.

fork

 

Santa Claus: when my kids ask…

**SPOILER ALERT** if you 1) can read and 2) are on facebook or WordPress and 3) are reading this instead of watching cat videos, I assume you are mature enough to handle the real deal… 

I love Christmas. The whole shebang. For as long as I can remember I’ve started my Christmas shopping in June. Started sneaking listens to Christmas music in September. Stockpiled glittery red dresses and Christmas shirts for my kids from thrift stores year round. 

I love the traditions the cookies and the stories that surround Christmastime. 

But last week, when my 5 year old asked me if Santa was real… I couldn’t not tell him the truth. 

Because Jesus. 

There are so many stories that circulate this time of year. Elf on the shelf. Rudolph. Frosty the Snowman. Santa. Buddy the Elf. That eggnog tastes good. The stories make this time of year sparkle. They fill us with whimsy and wonder and excitement for what is to come. But they don’t hold a candle to the other Story we tell this time of year.

Sometimes I wonder what happens in our children’s minds when the truth gets mixed in with all that fiction. 

So. 

When my sweet little boy asked me if Santa was real, I just couldn’t say yes. I just couldn’t perpetuate the confusion, the dilution, that is Christmas these days. 

So here is what I said: 

“Well Colton, answer me this… Are superheroes real? (this is a conversation we’ve already had multiple times) 

“We know it’s really fun to pretend that there are superheroes.   But the truth is, there’s no one magic (wo)man that can beat up all the bad guys. Instead, there are lots and lots of good people who go to work every day as policemen and firefighters that help protect us all and keep us safe. And there are even more people, just regular people like you and me, who do kind things all the time. They help people that need help and work to make our world a happier place. And all of us working together can do more than one superhero could ever do.

“and Santa Claus is the person we say brings gifts and joy on Christmas Eve. But really, what brings us happiness is each other. The things we do together. The family we get to see, the special things we do as friends and family. And of course the gifts we choose for each other. But  the thing that truly brings us joy is the reason we celebrate Christmas – that baby Jesus came to the world and through Him God sent his son to save us from our sins. That’s what we are really celebrating at Christmas time. 

“I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I will never lie to you about things that are really important. When I tell you something is true, I want you to believe me. We can tell lots of stories and have lots of fun, but at the end of the day I want to always be someone you know will tell you the truth.”

And after all of that, my sweet son looked me in the eye and said in all seriousness: “Mommy you are wrong. I KNOW Santa is real. I sat on his lap.”

Oh well. 

You win some you lose some. 

And to all a good night. 

Advent-ures Part II


I have to brag for a moment – I have the best neighbors in the world. I live in this magical cul-de-sac full of smiling people who do kind things for one another. One of those kind things included coming home to two plastic wrapped chocolate Advent calendars one afternoon early in December. 

I’m not sure if you have children in this stage, or remember what it was like to be in this stage, but things don’t get much better than chocolate filled Advent calendars. Each day you get to poke your fingernail into a fresh perforated square, open a never before opened door, and pull out one single perfect piece of molded chocolate candy. What will be today? A trumpet? A teddy bear? An Angel? 

This delicious anticipation also happens to be equally matched with a dizzying sense of loss after the box is opened and the chocolate is consumed. Immediately, you want to open the next day’s door. To eat the next day’s candy. To hoard all of tomorrow’s blessings today.

Luckily for me, my advanced age and lifetime of wisdom keeps me from coveting my future self. I am perfectly content to take each day at a time and not spend my life wishing for the future… 

*oh wait*

No, that’s actually what I spend the majority of my time doing. Wishing for the next piece of chocolate in my metaphorical Advent calendar. Wishing for non-metaphorical chocolate at all times as well.

I think that it is very significant that two of the most celebrated times in the liturgical year, Advent and Lent, are both centered around waiting. We spend our entire lives waiting. Waiting for the next life stage. Waiting to achieve a goal. Waiting for this to trial to pass, or for that far away blessing to come. Thinking that life will truly be happening whenever {fill in the blank} finally happens and you are no longer {fill in the blank}. 

But isn’t it true that we are perpetually waiting? And isn’t it true that its in the waiting that we grow? It is my experience that when things are going smoothly, I seldom feel driven to fully rely on God. When I can see my way out of the situation, I don’t often pause to lift it up in prayer. When I feel in control of my life, I tend to feel like I deserve credit. 

It is in the waiting that I realize this story is not about me. 

It is in the waiting that I remember to turn, again and again, to my Provider. 

It is in the waiting that I am shown my insufficiencies. The areas I need to grow. The ways I deal with others that are hurtful, sinful, unloving.

The waiting forces me to grow. It forces me to turn to God. It forces me to become a better disciple, mother, wife, friend.

Waiting is not a trial, but a gift. And an extremely useful gift – dare I say even more useful than the Instant Pot you’ve been eyeing on Amazon? In this season of Advent, we are waiting for the celebration. For the Messiah that was promised – long waited for. The covenant that was fulfilled in ways unforeseen. 

Even when this gift was given, it was in the form of a baby. The fulfillment of the covenant was happening, and yet still creation waited. For the baby to grow. To learn to eat, to walk, to crawl. To speak, to pray, to change the world. Even when the promise was being incarnated, there was still waiting. And even now, as people of the New Covenant, we wait.

What a gift we have been given. To wait expectantly, fully confident in a God that will not fail us. To realize that we don’t know how the story will play out, but we do know the One who is writing that story. 

As you wait for Christmas day this year, allow the waiting to be formative. Ask God to show you how this period of waiting will bear fruit. And don’t forget to be grateful for the gift that waiting is to you, to me, to all of us.

Isaiah 40:30-31 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

What art teaches me about God, part two

So here’s the thing, there are different types of artists, just like there are different types of people. There are many successful artists who sit down and plan things out before they ever put the brush to the canvas. There are authors who write outlines before they type a single word of their story. Epic masterpieces are crafted painstakingly, one precious detail at a time.

That’s amazing. I am not that kind of artist. Usually, when I sit down with a new project, I have no earthly idea where the process is going to take me. Typically (hopefully) I have some sort of color scheme, medium, or format in mind. But that is about it. 

My approach to art, just like my approach to life, usually involves launching myself off the cliff and hoping to swan dive instead of bellyflop. Which one is free to do when your goal is the process and not the end result. Often times, I’m satisfied if I just end up with a decent looking cannonball. 

It is always an option to paint over canvas. To crumple up a sketch and pitch it in the trashcan.  To highlight an entire blog post and simply hit delete. It seems like a waste of time and effort. 

But what if your goal is the act of doing and not the end result? 

Then was it wasted effort?

When I am making something, I often feel discouraged. In the times when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I force myself to ask some questions:  

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

Sometimes I force myself to press through and finish the piece I want to abandon. Usually, at the end, I still hate it. But sometimes I don’t. 

I wish, I WISH, that this attitude came as naturally to me when it came to living my life. Why is it that we’re all programmed to believe that life is supposed to be about achieving goals, instead of working towards them? Why do we always believe that our problems will magically disappear once (fill in the blank) happens?

 I always find it disconcerting when I achieve something I’ve really been working towards and then I realize that the next day is Thursday. Just another day. The world keeps spinning, life doesn’t stop. I did something – I achieved something great. But time still marches on. 

I’ll never forget the day I left the hospital with my newborn daughter. I felt like there should be a parade in front of us as we took her home. Sitting at a stoplight, I looked at the cars next to me and expected to see them giving me goofy grins and thumbs up. But, I quickly realized that for those drivers, this was just a Friday morning. They were talking on their phones, putting on mascara, eating egg McMuffin’s. 

Didn’t they realize that this was a banner day? Didn’t they understand that things would never be the same?
Of course they didn’t. Because it was truly, just a Friday. And our life is a succession of Fridays. We live life focused so intensely looking forward to our goals that we forget that the majority of our time is spent in the in between. That waiting is how we spend most of our lives. And that that waiting, the process of getting there, has value. God did not create us to have a handful of magical moments surrounded by acres of empty time. 

In fact most of our growth, spiritual and otherwise, happens in the in between. It is then that we learn to work. That we are forced to try new things and to look at the world in different ways. It is in the waiting that we have no choice but to rely on God. To see that the trajectory of our lives isn’t as much in our control as we would like to believe. This is when we grow. This is when we are formed into Christ’s likeness. 

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.”

2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1

And if we swing and miss in life, if we fail, that can be just as valuable. What if I asked myself the same questions and times of discouragement as I do when I feel stuck and the artistic process?

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

I Like Big Buts…

 

Psalm 13
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?

    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The words of this Psalm seem so tender to me.  I can think of months… years… when my prayers sounded just like this.  Hard times find us all.  And when we are in the midst of them, it seems as if God is so very far away, that he has forgotten us.  Psalms of Lament (like Psalm 13) make up almost 1/3 of the Psalms in the Bible.  Clearly, God wants us to know that it is ok to come to Him with our pain.  To cry out in the midst of the situation, to bemoan the hard place you have found yourself in.

I love that we serve a God that gives us permission to be in pain. I love that we serve a God big enough to handle our heartbreak, our fears, even our selfish concerns.  I love that in the Psalms, He models for us what it looks like to lay yourself out before God, exactly how you are.  No artifice, no pretending.

However, in the times I have spent in this place, I have noticed that I can become myopic.  We get so stuck on our story and our situation that we lose the greater picture.  Our prayers become smaller, and, eventually, lose focus on God and become completely focused on ourselves.

It is in this, too, that the Psalms of Lament can be our example.  Because, in their formula, there is always a common thread…

a big BUT.

But I will trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.  

Remember.  The Psalmist is still in the midst of the pain.  There is no rescue in sight.  And still, the ‘but’ remains.  In the midst of the darkness, he is affirming what he knows to be true.  That we serve a powerful God.  One who loves us with unfailing love.  He celebrates a rescue that seems far away and still incomplete.  He chooses to sing of the Lord’s goodness in the midst of the darkness.

That’s one pretty big but.

What is the difference between a lament and a complaint?

That is a question that was posed in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago.  And, truly, I think that the primary difference is the presence of a but.  We can lament, while still affirming God’s sovereignty.  We can mourn, while still acknowledging a Plan that is at work.

When we complain, we forget to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness, and we get lost in our own pain.  We are limited by our own perspective. Our story ceases to be The Story, but becomes our own story, smaller, diminished.  We don’t choose to believe in the redemption that is coming, both for us as individuals, but also us as a People of God.

Buts are important.  Crucial even.

 

 I like big buts.  And I cannot lie.