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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Fake Busy

You know what I am tired of hearing myself talk about?  How busy I am.  Yes.  I do a bunch of stuff.  But yes- I have the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else has.  And, just like everyone else, I get to choose how I spend it!  So why do I get stuck in this cycle of complaining about how little time I have like my own schedule is something that is happening TO me?

I chose this!

Half the things I find myself racing around to do are things that my husband calls ‘fake busy’… burning items on my to do list that I just made up out of my head that I need to get done.  Since when is buying a new pack of athletic socks an emergency?  It sure seemed couponthat way to me last Thursday!  Just because I have $10 loyalty rewards and a 40% coupon at AC Moore does not mean that I am required to go to that store today.  Whether or not I have painted my fireplace is actually not a life and death situation.  And yet, that’s how I live my life!  80% of the things I feel stressed about are things that I made up for myself to do.

How about you?

How often are your days filled with ‘fake busy’ items on your to do list?

How much time to you spend in front of the TV?  On social media? Disengaged with your life?

How many hidden pockets of time are being lost in your day?

I have a lot.  And as I am reflecting this Lenten season, I wonder what would happen if I invested that time more wisely?  If I lived my life intentionally, prioritizing people over things?  If I spent the hours entrusted to me engaging with my kids, calling an out of town friend, or just savoring the sweetness of my life, instead of rushing headlong into the next project I created for myself?

    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
-Psalm 39:4-6

We have a choice.  Even on the things we have to do.  Yes.  Humans need to eat, with shocking regularity.  But what if cooking a meal was an invitation into presence?  If we enjoy the scents, the smells, the colors of cooking our food, instead of rushing it onto plates?  What if time spent in the car was seen as an opportunity to pray blessings on the strangers we pass along the road?  Or to marvel at the beauty of a sunset, a tree branch, a backseat child’s laughter?

There is a difference between surviving and truly living.  We all have 24 hours.  How we spend them is an attitude of the mind.

 

Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

vhovolsyr

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

Snowstorm Sabbath

2015-02-26 09.01.32

One of my favorite things about living in the South is our kooky reaction to winter weather.  As the first flakes of frozen precipitation begin to fall from above, we feel compelled to act as if the sky itself is falling.  School is cancelled.  There is a run on the grocery store.  Motorists on all major thoroughfares immediately smash into fellow  vehicles.  We stack up our firewood, pile on the blankets, and drink mug after mug of hot chocolate.  It’s amazing.

We have just weathered one of those storms, and, as we emerge from the blizzard of 2016, I find myself realizing what it is that I love so much about our winter panic- in the midst of the storm, everything stops.  We stay at home.  Engage with our families.  Cook luxurious meals and excuse ourselves from going to work, to the gym, to board meetings and the other obligations that fill our days.  We shelter in place.

In essence, we take a sabbath.

I cannot tell you how much the last few days have meant to me.  I have had real conversations with my family.  I have gotten down on the floor and played with my children. I took moments to pet my dog.  Wash my dishes by hand.  Talk to my neighbors.  I have marveled at the beauty of nature, and listened to good music.  In essence, I have taken time to stop and truly enjoy this beautiful life I am living.

In typical Southern fashion, the weather today is heading towards 50 degrees.  On the street outside of my office I see people in winter parkas walking next to others in t-shirts.  And I find myself a bit sad about the thaw.  Because although I appreciate the return to normal patterns and schedules, I know I will miss the freedom and space created by the snow.

For the record, no, I am am not wishing for an eternal winter. But I do find myself asking what it is about these snow days that are so meaningful.  What practices can I carry forward into the sunshine?

Here are some questions I have been asking myself in the discovery process… maybe they will resonate with you as well:

What do I cherish the most about snow days?

What elements of this time can I begin to incorporate into my own sabbath practices?

How can I hold myself accountable to engage deeply in relationships with those I love in the midst of my busy-ness?

Are there any new traditions I can put in place in my life to capture some of this whimsy and peace I love so dearly?

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.

This Day.

One Day
24 Hours
1,440 Minutes.
We are all blessed with the same.

Each morning is a blank page, waiting to be filled with

words.

memories.

encounters.

tasks.

How do you choose to fill your day?
With scheduled minutes,
or unplanned moments?

We have a choice.  To rush and hurry
chasing the second hand in dizzying circles around the clock

Or to do the same things in a progression of moments.
Choosing to value the who over the what.

How will you choose to fill this day?

the gift of ordinary time

Each day is replete with blessings.  Our lives hold impossible glories.
Right now, the sun is shining through my window, dust motes dance upon the air.
Tiny ballerinas.  An intended audience of one.
Unimaginable beauty, contained within the mundane.

What will you do with this day you have been gifted?
Hurry through, with eyes turned to deadlines, screens, traffic lights?
Or allow your imagination to capture your attention?
See the glistening water flowing through the tap, and behold the bubbles of soap in their iridescent splendor?

What does it feel like outside today?
Did you take the time to notice?
What blessings will today hold for you?
Will you take the time to receive them?

when it all gets stripped away…

Have you ever done the icebreaker activity where you tell someone a quirky fact about yourself?  Hi, my name is Marissa, and I can touch my nose with my tongue…  I have.  Hundreds of times.  It turns out, when you are in ministry, icebreaker activities kind of become a way of life.  I always viewed these as throwaway activities, ways to make others connect a name with a face, but not much more.  I never really noticed the power such statements have to create your identity.  Hi, my name is Marissa and…
… I read 100 books a year…
… I read the Bible cover to cover every year…
…I like to cook…
…I run a 1/2 marathon every year…
…I’m a volunteer at the library…
…I am the friend who shows up…
…I’m good at my job…
…I get things done…
…I’ve got it all together…

All of these statements were things that defined me.  I may not have said them all at a group icebreaker activity, but they were the things in my head that I thought of as ‘me.’ This was who I was.  And I had no idea how much I let these statements begin to define me until they began to be stripped away.  This stripping away process began (and pretty much was completed) the day my son was born.  A little blonde boy, with wide, innocent blue eyes.  Hungry for milk, and hungry for my time and attention.  And all of a sudden, I didn’t read 100 books anymore.  My rock solid quiet time routine flew out the window.  Cooking got a lot harder with a little one in my arms.  A 5K all of a sudden became a miraculous feat- a half marathon seemed like an impossibility.  I cut back my hours with the library, I could only be there for my friends at night and at naptime, I started feeling helplessly behind at work.  None of it seemed like a big deal at the time, but then, slowly, I began to run out of easy answers for my introduction games.

Hi, my name is Marissa and…
I am a mom of two.
My shoulder always smells like milk.
I actually can’t remember the last time I blow dried my hair.
I borrow books from the library, and then return them, overdue and unread.
I ran a mile the other day and I am pretty darn proud of that. 

In terms of the wow factor, underwhelming.

And yet, this forms another identity.  One that I am terrified of losing.  One that I know is inherently temporary.  In just a handful of years, I will no longer be a mother of toddlers.  I will no longer have such demands on my time.  Will I feel lost again?

Here is my TRUE identity, and one I would be wise to invest myself in…

Hi, my name is Marissa and I am…
a child of the most high God.
redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Impossibly thankful for this sweet time in life.
Gifted and equipped to serve God’s kingdom, in whatever way He calls me.
Blessed beyond measure.
Set in my life for such a time as this.
Still able to touch my nose with my tongue…

just show up

You know what matters?  Words.  Words matter.  You know what else matters?  Presence.  If you have a person in your life who is hurting, just show up.  Use your mouth to make words.  Pretty much any words will do- and they will be a blessing.

I remember who visited me in the hospital and at home when I had my babies.  I remember who came to my father’s funeral.  I remember every time someone has dropped off a gift when I feel discouraged, sent a text at a time when I felt alone… these things matter.  We crave to feel known, to feel seen.

There is a huge battle fought every time we have an impulse to show up in someone’s life.  When we feel a tug on our hearts to be there for a friend in a time of need, the items on our to-do list seem to start screaming louder.  You suddenly notice the kitchen counter is covered in dirty dishes.  The washing machine is overflowing.  The work deadline looms larger, and you remember a dozen errands you have been putting off.  We worry that we are intruding, that the person isn’t up for a visit, that it will feel awkward.  But still… isn’t it worth a try?

We hear time and again that time is the most valuable commodity in today’s society.  The way we invest that time is significant.  It tells us about our values.  It gives us clues to our idols.  It is a resource we can invest, either in God’s kingdom, or in our own agendas.  Investing in relationships is a difficult thing to do, because that time is… squishy.  It doesn’t feel like you are doing something with your time when you are spending it with a friend.  It gets you no closer to your goals, to feeling in control of your life.  Or does it?  

Guard against the tyranny of the urgent. The most important things will seldom scream for your attention, they will simply wait for you to discover them. Things like prayer, Scripture study, cultivating friendships, thinking, enjoying art. The loud and demanding are rarely as important as these.”
~Charles Swindoll

Investing in people pays dividends over time.  We are not built to be alone.  We need people in our lives, people to show up when WE need them.  Not only that, we need to cultivate the discipline of investing in others.  In being hospitable with our time.  I am guilty of neglecting this.  I frequently let the fear of awkwardness or the pressure of busyness override my urge to reach out.  But I am trying to fight it.

Here are my resolutions (for now):
When I am asked to pray for someone really pray for them.  And follow up later.
Send that text.  Write that letter.
Show up.  In hospitals.  At sickbeds.  When it matters.
When I am with someone… listen.  not just talk.  Ask questions about them.

Any other suggestions?