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.  

The Bible in 2 Sentences

lydiaLast August on our family beach trip, I had a moment.  My daughter was playing with me on the bed, and she started paging through the Bible.  She was absorbed in her project, and, as most two year olds do, she was providing a running narrative of every thought that ran through her head.  As she was playing, she began ‘reading’ the Bible.

Page after page, she was reading the same two sentences over and over…

But I’m scared!
You must trust the Lord.

Over and over, page after page, the same two sentences.  She probably said it twenty times. But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… scared… trust… scared… trust.  But.. trust.  

And that’s when it hit me.  This is the Bible, in it’s most simplistic form.  Yes- there are many theological truths missing from these two statements.  True- there is no Jesus there.  But implicit in these two statements is the crux of my daily walk with God.  The essential struggle between my doubts and God’s goodness.  My stubborn need to see the future, to know the way out, and God’s good plan for my life.

Now.  Before you pop a halo on my child and begin to think about how ‘the kingdom ofno-no-noah heaven belongs to such as these,’ know that she was basically quoting the monkey from her favorite book No, No Noah.  God works in mysterious ways.  And I have read her that book approximately 3,942 times.

However.  As I continue to read scripture, I am realizing the full extent to which these two sentences capture the essence of mankind’s story arc with God.  The Garden.  Abraham and Sarah.  The 40 Years in the Desert.  The Judges. Ruth.  The Prophets.  Esther. And that’s just the Old Testament.

In Joshua chapter 1, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous four times in a row.  The future is unclear.  Real, bodily harm is a distinct possibility.  There is much room for fear and anxiety, and yet God’s message is clear.  You must trust the Lord.

Fear versus trust is hands down one of the most dominant themes of my life.  It feels as if I slam into this choice countless times per day.  Just this morning, I sent my husband out at 7 AM to stand in line to register our 3 year old for preschool.  My fear of not getting my daughter into the program our family felt like was best for us was undermining my trust in God’s good plan for us.

She got in.

I have the best husband on the planet.

God is good.

But even if she hadn’t gotten a spot at the school, is God not still good?  I think a lot of times we struggle with seeing God as a bearded fairy godmother- one primarily consumed with making sure life is easy and light.  Yet, do we not grow more as humans when faced with adversity?  When challenged to confront our ideas for what we want and then intentionally step outside the box?

Each day, over and over, I live out the liturgy of my daughter’s scripture reading…

But I’m scared!
You must trust the Lord.

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?

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.

Not Scary- FUN!

My two year old daughter is terrified of all things that make noise.   Anything can send her into hysterics- the garbage disposal, the bathroom fan, the ice machine on the fridge, half of the toys she owns…

In order to contain the terror, my husband and I have a phrase we keep repeating whenever she is screaming in terror… not scary- FUN!  She dutifully repeats this back to us- not scary… fun… This pattern has repeated itself over and over often enough that now, whenever she hears a loud noise, she comes sprinting towards us, hysterically half-laughing, half-crying, screaming NOT SCARY- FUN at the top of her lungs.  Other times, she buries her head in my shoulder, weeping, repeating not scary- fun.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of psychological damage we are inflicting upon her young mind.

Then I shrug, and turn back on the hair dryer.

not scary- fun

I may not be afraid of household appliances (with the exception to the vacuum cleaner) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that send me into hysterical fits.  Things like walking into a room of people I only know marginally well, and being expected to socialize.  Buying airplane tickets.  Making decisions that will affect other people. Leaning in and engaging in conflict.  Adulting in general.

There is so much about living life as a human that feels terrifying and unpredictable.  The stakes can feel so high.  Decisions, even tiny ones, can have huge consequences.  If you allow yourself to feel truly alone in the midst of this, the weight can be crushing.

I cannot count the times in my life that I wanted to run and bury my head in someone’s shoulder, to be held and reassured.  But we are all trying too hard to seem confident and put together to allow ourselves to do this.

Today, I was reflecting on some of my life mottoes- quotes and phrases that stick with me. and I noticed a common theme:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every situation where you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Fake it ’til you make it.

Here is the World.
Beautiful and Terrible Things will Happen.
Don’t be Afraid.
-Fredrich Buechner

Yoga Pants.
Messy Bun.
Coffee’s Brewing.
Get it Done.

When I stop to think about it, all of these quotes lead towards the central truth in one of my favorite passages of scripture…

You have not been given a spirit of timidity and fear, but one of power, love, and self control.
2 Timothy 1:7

The spirit in you, it is created in the image of God.  We live our lives in full view of the loving eyes of our Savior.  Every day is written in his book.  Every tear is collected in his bottle.  There is nothing that can hide us, remove us, or exclude us from His love.

We feel timid, we feel fearful, but this is not who we are.  We are immortal souls, who have one shot at this life we have been given.  It’s a divine opportunity to do our best, to give our all.  To love big, fail big, and learn and to stretch our wings.  The Spirit that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world.

Who would you be, if you were freed from the spirit of fear that is holding you captive?  What would you do, if you were unleashed to be the person you truly are on the inside?  How would the world change if we gave ourselves permission to really try?  Perhaps then, the words would ring true…

Not scary- FUN!

Selah

So.  I haven’t written for a while.

There are legitimate reasons why.  Work has been crazy.  Sleep has been short. I’ve been reading through 1 and 2 Chronicles (not exactly a get up a cheer part of the Bible). Emotionally, I have been in a funk.  When I drag myself (and my toddlers) through the door at night, often there is not much energy, passion, soul, left.

All those reasons sound valid.  But here is the real reason I haven’t been writing:  I have been neglecting the thing that this whole blog is supposed to be about.

Selah.

I have forgotten to Stop.  And I have forgotten to Listen.

How many days have I just plowed through without pausing even once to listen to what the Lord is trying to whisper?  How many gentle lessons have I raced through like yellow lights with my eyes fixed on the next thing?  How many joyless days have I lived recently without margin?

restI believe that the rhythms of God are like those of music.  The rests are an essential part of the melody.  The song feels incomplete without those beats of silence.  It seems fitting that the word Selah can also refer to a musical interlude… a moment to stop and reflect, an intentional break in the text.

The writers of the Psalms clearly understood that life has a pattern and a tempo.  That our days, much like our music, were meant to have stops and starts, periods of activity and periods of reflection.  This is not a concept that is given much value in today’s culture.  And yet, I get the feeling that something essential may be getting lost in the frenetic rush to the next thing.

When you are working on a project for your job- do you ever take a moment to intentionally disengage?  To step back and look at the big picture?  Or do you stare at the blue screen until the words stop making sense?  When you are with your family, do you take a moment to stop and breathe deeply and marvel- to truly see these human beings God has blessed you with?  Or do you find yourself instead trying to sneak moments to check your updates on your phone?  When you eat- do you even notice your food?  Savor the flavor, the texture of this wild and magical world?  Who else on the planet has their daily choice of global cuisine at their fingertips?  Yet I find myself spooning pad thai and queso fresco the same way I might eat oatmeal- mindlessly.

When was the last time I gave myself permission to take a beat during my day?  When is the last time I paused- to think, to pray, to marvel?  What would these stolen moments have cost me, truly?  And would it be worth the price to gain the feeling of mindfulness, to know that I am actually living my life?

Thinking of a concept like this, my proclivity is to rush to guilt.  To feel bad about the fact that I haven’t been nourishing my soul, and to resolve to add this to my ever-lengthening to do list for the next day.   But I have the feeling that the practice of selah may be one that refuses to allow me to remain in control.  That to learn how and when I need to pause and to reflect, I need to learn to listen to my life, listen to my soul.  That feels to me more like a building of awareness than a task to schedule.

It feels… intimidating.  inconvenient.  Yet also necessary.

The glorious thing is, we serve a God of new beginnings. One who wants us to succeed, and is constantly whispering encouragement and blessings over us.  I have a feeling if we take a step in faith, he will meet us more than halfway…

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23