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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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?

prayer: a poem

all day long the mumbled missives are sent:
postcard length portraits of this human experience.

our cherished hopes,
concerns for our loved ones,
whispered pleas for green lights,
passing thoughts for strangers,

prayers fill in our still moments, forming
the punctuation of our days.

the world as we wish it to be,

all placed carefully in the palm of our creator.

who do you love?
What is it you hope for?
Who are you
truly?

the contents of our prayers tell the true story, revealed only to
a God who sees us.

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Opportunity (has) Cost

Two roads in a yellow wood
But only one pair of legs.
Each decision a yes
But in the same breath, no.

A wishbone snaps.
One side victory, the other, splintered.
Each side broken, in different ways.

When we choose
do we hold the duality in our minds?
In each destiny there dwells a shadow side,
A legacy not engaged.

This is the balance of life, the yin and the yang.
And that is how it should be,
For we are made of flesh and not of feathers.

How do we lay ourselves before the throne of God,
Our lives, our collection of yesses and nos.

What story do these declinations tell?
Is it one of faith?
Or of fear?

How do I listen Lord, standing in a yellow wood?
Which path is mine to take?

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You are Enough

I feel it so deeply. The need to achieve. The pull to perform, to receive the inevitable accolades, compliments, comments “I don’t know how you do it all…”

But here is the truth.

I can’t do it all.

My life is a permanent tug of war. One length of rope, being mercilessly yanked in different directions. And, just like in the playground game, one side is always winning. Which means, at the same time, one side is always losing. If I feel like I am doing well at work, it is at the expense of my family. When I am spending the time I desire to spend with my children, there is no time to spend in the Word. And almost daily, I feel as if every side is losing. Emails go unanswered. Prayers truncated. Frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. These are the realities of my life. These are the rhythms of my days.

I hate it. It’s not how I imagine things should be. And oh how I hate that word. Should. In 6 letters, the summation of all our unrealistic expectations, the thoughts that keep us up at night. The voice that whispers to us that we have failed. That we are insufficient. That we aren’t doing it right.

I could write a long, whiny, self indulgent essay all about the things I think I should be doing better and how I am habitually horrified when a call from work goes unreturned or I lose patience with my toddler. I will spare you. Trust me it happens. And it is humiliating, humbling. So utterly not me.

Not me to the point that I am questioning my life. Am I doing the right thing? Am I built to be a working mother? Should I be attempting to engage in vocational ministry at this stage in my life, or is this hubris, my selfish insistence I can do it all? In the process of this questioning, I have gone to so many others for council. My supervisor. My senior pastor. Spiritual directors. Other spiritual directors… And from them all, the message has been the same.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

This is a chapter of your life where things will not get done in the way that you want them to get done, and that is okay. God has called you to this place, to this ministry, to this station in life. You. Are. Enough.

From all these people I respect, I have received the same answer. When you are raising young ones, that is your primary calling. It is ok to feel that this task takes all your free time. BECAUSE IT DOES. This is the time when you need help, not when you are free to help others. This is the time in life where you get through the day and fall into bed exhausted. The time for reading trade paperbacks, not national book award winners. The time when your quiet time looks much more like a whisper of Lord help me than an in depth study of the scriptures. And I say this not as an excuse, but as a benediction. Be where you are, be who you are, and know that that is sufficient. Do what gives you life, and allows you to nourish the lives of the others in your care. Realize that God’s presence and love is a constant, not dependent on what you do or achieve. Lean into that. Rest in it.

Friend, receive this message today. If you are like me, it is a hard one to hear. It involves an element of sacrifice, and humility. But it is true.

You are enough.

Take a deep breath and sit with those words, let them settle into your bones. Allow the truth of that to seep into your soul. You are enough. God has called YOU into the situation in life you find yourself in, and, if you rest in that truth, you realize that your gifts, your availability, your constraints, are all part of God’s good plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-13
I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

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the Garden

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Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
John 18:2

A lot of times I get the feeling that I am an expert on Jesus.  After all, I have been a lifelong Christian.  I have read the Gospels.  I can spout couplets from the Sermon on the Mount, and I have heard the teachings of Jesus discussed in countless sermons, books, Sunday school lessons, small group conversations.

But all I know of Jesus is what is printed in the Bible.  The disciples knew the real man.  Spent countless hours with him.  Judas knew to find Jesus in the garden, because Jesus was there so often.  It was their ‘place.’

photo (8)Where is your place with God?  

Do you have a ‘holy chair’, a regular meeting place where you go to be in God’s presence?  While that piece of furniture or corner of your house may not be holy in itself, the moments created there are.  I think that there is a great value to ritual.  Research has shown that our recall ability is improved when we are in a similar context as we were when the memory was made.  But  I would make the argument that we can condition our minds to focus as well.  Returning to the same spot, brewing the same mug of hot tea, murmuring the same prayer, all these can serve as markers for our minds, prompts to put us in a mental space to encounter the Holy.

Who do you meet with on a regular basis?

If you know me, this is a drum that I beat often.  Perhaps it is because I work at a church, and so Sunday mornings are often work days for me, but I really feel that my small groups are where I grow in my faith the most.  Sitting with a group of trusted people and wrestling with the Word together.  Talking through the real life struggles of being a wife and a mother and a worker and a Christian.  Admitting when we don’t know things, and working together to find God’s truth.  I think Jesus met regularly with his disciples because this is how we grow.  So who do you meet with?

Confession

So.

I haven’t posted on here lately.  I’ve been busy.  I have had sick kids, a work retreat, the list goes on.  But that isn’t the real reason.

The real reason why I haven’t posted is because I have spent no time with God.

Zero.

It wasn’t intentional.  It wasn’t as if I looked at my Bible and then cast my eyes aside and said ‘No, not today.’ Instead, it was much worse.  Days skated by without even remembering to look at my Bible.  Prayers, when said, were mentally noted in shorthand as I turned on my turn signal or drifted off to sleep.  I just missed spending time with God.

So why didn’t I miss God?

I did, on an elemental level.  A vague ache in somewhere in my chest, akin to an oncoming headache or the tingling of a limb that is starting to fall asleep.  But why wasn’t I more aware, more broken, by my disconnection?

I don’t have an answer.  Or at least, I don’t have much of an answer.

This much I know is true…

I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
Malachi 3:6-7

When I am faithless, He is faithful. Though I forget, he never forgets me.   When I am busy, when I am shallow, when I am impatient, and unforgiving, and angry, God remains true.

One time in college I was driving to the airport.  It was a foggy, overcast, drizzly day.  Everything in my view seemed flat, gloomy and tired.  But as I sat next to the window in the plane, we broke through the clouds.  In an instant, we went from a dark, gloomy midday to glorious, golden sunshine.  It had never occurred to me that the sun is always shining. Above the clouds, each day dawns drenched with light.  It is our perspective that makes the changes, the clouds that block our view.  God is much the same.  He is ever faithful, ever true.  It is our attitudes, our faithfulness (or lack thereof) that affect our point of view.

So I will try to be more committed.  I will attempt to read my Bible, spend time with the Lord, mark gratitude and blessings.  All these are good things.  But I also must remember the most powerful lesson… God is faithful.  Always.  His attention towards me never wavers.  His call on my life remains true.

yours to carry

Something has bothered me deeply about the national discourse on Robin William’s death.  So much so that I didn’t want to write this post, because I didn’t want to use his name in vain.  I didn’t don’t want to use his death for my purposes.  I am not going to reference it any more in this post… but here is what I have to say.  His death isn’t about you.  It’s not yours.  It belongs to him.  And his family.

When something terrible happens to someone famous, we all have reactions.  We have opinions.  We have memories of the person, ways their life touched us or affected ours.  But the truth is, we didn’t know them.  They aren’t real to us.  We see glimpses, roles played, the public persona, not the person inside.  And so the loss of that person, while sad, isn’t world ending.  When something like this happens, and the world is captivated by the loss, the lingering public discourse always hurts me.  I can’t bring myself to click on the articles.  I don’t want to know the gory details, hear what the talking heads think, see the Top 10 Lists of best movie roles, their 14 best Golden Globe outfits, etc etc etc.  The truth is, this was a person.  They have friends.  A family.  Children.  And I can’t imagine losing someone I love desperately, and having to hear the rest of the world discuss them over the water cooler.

The same thing happens at our nation’s major tragedies.  I hate to see the reporters swarming a school shooting.  I refuse to read the profiles of the shooters.  I just don’t want to know.  Why?  Because in my mind, this person’s motivation was to become known.  They want the world to know their name.  To be captivated by their actions, their monstrosities.  When I refuse to click on the link, I refuse to reward the acts of terror.  We have to face it.  We have a celebrity culture.  We are watching the glitterati 24 hours a day.  In our country, to be important is to be famous.  To know about the comings and goings of the famous gives us something in common, something to talk about.  A seat at the table.

But here is the problem with that… we don’t actually have that in common.  We are just outsiders, looking in on someone else’s life, someone else’s tragedy.  The heartbreak of the people on the news is not ours to carry.  We can’t bring them a meal, show up at the wake, sit with them while they cry… we aren’t a part of their life.  We are just gawking at them from the other side of the screen.

In a way, I believe that the best ministry we can have to those people is privacy.  Give them the space and the room to mourn.  Show support and empathy, but hold the spectacle.  Stop the discourse.  This tragedy isn’t an issue, it’s a life.  A person.  A person in pain- not that uncommon.  We spend our lives surrounded by hurting people.  People whose lives we can impact.  Stories we can carry with us.  These are the people that need our presence, our ministry, our attention.  Have an opinion on depression?  Suicide?  How much time have you spent walking alongside someone who has been depressed?  Sat with people who have been robbed of loved ones by suicide?  These people are yours to carry.  Engage with them, engage with your world.  Instead of blogging, commenting, or tweeting about these issues, it’s time for us to get our hands dirty.  To invite our neighbors, friends, and coworkers into our lives and communities, and to do life with those in pain.  We can talk about suicide until we are blue in the face, but no amount of awareness, no pithy statement is going to stop this epidemic.  That hope lies within the context of relationship; it lies in face to face conversations; meals spent together; loving faces to witness the darkness of the pit.

That’s how Jesus did his ministry- not in public announcements, press releases, or blog posts (parchment posts?) but in living life with a group of people.  The disciples lives were transformed during nights around the campfire, fish roasting on a spit.  Jesus was deeply involved his people, and those people in turn, transformed the world.  It’s easier to stand at a distance and voice our opinions… but the reality is that nothing changes this way.  Dive in… engage… be present. Be with the people you are with, not the people you watch from afar.

Raindrops

our prayers are like raindrops
falling upward into the sky.

the sharp stinging needles of anger and guilt,
the cold wet snowflakes of grief,
our thankfulness the warm spring rain; awakening things to life.

yet what is watered is not heaven,
but our own souls.

drenching the seeds we choose to sow.

slowly filling the empty landscape that is our life,
our legacy.

drought, flood, hailstorms, bounty,
our words are what create the landscape of our souls.