Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thorns, Joy & Holy Braids



It's so natural, intuitive even, to settle one's vision on the rough parts of anything. It's the way we protect ourselves.

Whenever we know exactly what we are dealing with, we feel we are better prepared to fight against it or rise above it or bring it under our control. When there is an enemy, it is always better to have the upper hand. And the way to gain that advantage is to know every side of the evil.

So, we study it. We caress it's edges. We keep it close at hand so, in the moments between other moments, we can pull it out and remember how it wants us.

And oh, how it wants us.

Its pursuant tendrils silently wrap and curl into our shadowed folds and feed on the darkness. And the rough and the dark? They become silent, parasitic partners.

We believe we are armed for battle when, really, we are wasting away in our deepest places.


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In nature, thorns are fortifications that protect a plant from being eaten by predators. A great many fruits and edible flowers are kept alive by the trails and rings of thorns surrounding them.

My life this past year? It has been rife with trails and rings of thorns. Walking alongside my mom through her illness and chemotherapy and eventual death was the most difficult thing I have ever done. And my default? More often than I care to admit, it has been to succumb to the vacuum of scarcity that Life's defense manufactures. Because when all I see and feel and experience is prickly and nettlesome, I can't help but feel shut out from the beauty.

But that's exactly the arc of the great ache--that our experiences that are often strewn with thorns are but stations on a path ringed with beauty and joy. If a thorn's design is to protect, then it follows that their presence is purposeful and necessary. They remind us that all the things that are true and noble and reputable and authentic and compelling and gracious are prized and sought after. They remind us that joy and pain are profoundly intertwined. 

For me, this is where my faith in a God of grace and mercy becomes manifest. For when I am willing to take the joy and the pain in both hands, God's immense love and care for me provide yet a third cord. Taken together, they become a holy braid that is not easily broken. 

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Where are you, today, friend? Are you knee-deep in the pain and struggle? Do you feel wrapped in thorns, as if Life wanted to "protect" you from the good you see and that others seem to have in spades? Perhaps, your go-to response is bitterness, anger or, worse, indifference. What if there was another way?

I wrote today's post as a way of partnering with Margaret Feinberg and to help spread the word about her latest book Fight Back With Joy



This book began as an intense study of the over 400 references to joy in Scripture. Margaret was in the final stages of writing her book when she received a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly, all the sources of joy that she had discovered were turned on their head in the shadow of her illness. In an instant, her understanding of true joy was called into question. In writing Fight Back With Joy  Margaret "discovered facets of joy that no one ever taught me—more than whimsy, joy is a weapon we can use to fight life’s battles."




You can purchase the book at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Margaret has also created a 6-session DVD Bible Study kit that is available for purchase. 







Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Of Things That Have Been



I finger them mindlessly most days,
These tokens of thanksgiving.
In some familiar corner of my brain I am
aware of their weight and
the anorexic string that
keeps them connected to a well
untended.
But something has shifted
inside of me and
I can’t remember
how to see.... 

To keep reading this poem, please follow this link


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I am writing today over at my beautiful friend Elizabeth Marshall's home, 
She extended a gracious invitation to several of her friends that write poetry and I am honored to be included in that circle.

Elizabeth and I have a history of mingling words and images and stirrings of the heart.
Together, we created Adagio, a writing "pas de deux" of sorts where we wove our words together to pen poems. 
Quite a bit of life has happened between that last project and now, as well it should have. But we are both very excited to join together again in the new year. It is our hope that you will journey with us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How To Make a Life


Her absence rings most empty at the breakfast table.
Every morning, my dad starts the coffee maker, drops his raisin bread in the toaster and slowly opens the blinds covering the window over the sink. Squinting through the glass, he takes note of the temperature outside, the amount of bird seed left in each feeder, the slant of sun on the deck.
At various points along his morning choreography, when an observation worth sharing arises, he feels it—the slight hesitation of breath, the parting of lips, the turn of his head to catch her eye. And then, in a suspended moment of remembrance, his heart and mind swirl confusedly, and then settle.
She’s not there.
It’s difficult to abandon sixty years of morning rhythms that are redolent with unforced grace.
When one half of a whole goes missing, every day becomes a step towards restoration. And when wrestling through such holy work, it’s difficult to emerge without a limp.
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I'm writing over at SheLoves Magazine today and would love for you to follow this link so that you can read the rest of this story.

SheLoves Magazine: a global community of women who love

Photo credit: Nicole on flickr

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Murmuration of the Body


I remember the first time I witnessed the beautiful choreography of a flock of starlings in flight.
It was a sharply cool autumn afternoon and I had just finished spinning in circles, arms spread, hair flying. As I came out of my twirl I crumpled onto a clump of thick grass and felt the earth sway wildly beneath my splayed body. When I opened my eyes I gazed dreamily at the polished sky.
They entered my field of vision from the left. Like a swarm of gnats hanging angrily in the summer heat, they presented thick and dark. I saw them before I heard them. But as they drew closer, their cackling caught up to their riotous numbers and they soon overtook the entire sky.
Their form was, at once, epic and ephemeral. They ballooned into one grandiose bell shape and then, like chimney smoke caught up in a gust, they turned direction and bellowed wide and constringed.
Again and again, they swelled and contracted, bulged and narrowed. I was awe struck.
I behold this phenomenon twice a year now, when the birds arrive out of nowhere and alight on the branches and fields surrounding my house. Still, but tittering, they pulse with an energy and then, at the striking of some ethereal cue, arise as one. Most times, I drop whatever I am doing and race outside to catch their appearance.
I am often struck silent as I stare, even when accompanied by my children. Some experiences need no words. Sometimes, lessons are garnered in the quiet spaces broken open by the miracle.
I'm writing over at SheLoves Magazine today and I would love for you to join me in the comments. Just click here.
SheLoves Magazine: a global community of women who love

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Photo credit: Richard Smith 

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Curriculum of Compassion



As you may or may not know, we are a family that has chosen to "do" school here at home (and in the car and on the road and in the grass and under trees...). As you also may or may not know, this endeavor has been the source of both great joy and personal angst. 

Throughout this journey (officially seven years but, in reality, twelve) I have struggled with maintaining autonomy in our learning practices, all the while not succumbing to the demon of comparison, approval from others, or a general yet, ginormous, fear of failure.

It is true--homeschooling is not for the faint-hearted. But neither is parenting so I'm not so different from any other person who has chosen to walk with young people.

Oh, how I need these hands to hold.

Additionally, I bring to this educational endeavor all of my mixed up, conflicted selves -- The good girl who likes to please those who are watching as well as the rebel who will do what she wants anyway. I want structured chaos. I want to disciple and detox. I want to set a course and then take the fork when it presents itself. I want to showcase and shelter. I want good behavior and wild abandon.

But most of all?

I pray that my scattered deposits into the lives of these gorgeous people will be my gift to the world. I hope that our journey in loving and learning will be a polestar for my children and that its light will always fall across their paths.

Generally, we are very relaxed and eclectic in the way that we do school. I've always shied away from curriculum in a box and, if pushed, have just let go and handed over the reins to my boys. My oldest son prefers that approach anyway. He has declared, on more than one occasion, that he would rather "just be in charge of [his] own learning", thank you very much. But then time will pass and I will look around me and I will wring my hands over the fact that we haven't mastered times tables or spelling and suddenly I become all business.

It is this hemming and hawing that feeds the angst. This has been the cycle.

And then last October I had a baby and in April my mom died and suddenly I find myself staring down an entire year that has spun wildly off its axis. Navigating the last eleven months has been like stumbling around in the dark and all I want is someone to turn on the light and point the way. But here we are, almost to September, and I need to hunker down and lay down some semblance of a map for us to follow.

Even if all I have are some crumbs.

And then #Ferguson happened and, once again, there is that wild spinning...

And I am forced to lay it all before the One that knows it all. Because, if I know anything at all, it is this:

I cannot, and will not, 
separate our slow steps forward 
from the truth that is #Ferguson.

This "learning" that we do?

If it is to be all that I desire it to be, if it is to leave marks that cannot be rubbed away from the hearts of my little men, if it is to offer anything to the globe upon which we dance--then it must open space for the suffering and lament of others. Because, in the end, all we have is each other, friends and so we must enter into the hard places. Together.

It came to me in the quiet of the morning, in that corner of space that gives birth to light and dew drops and revelation.

From now on, from this day forward, in this spot of a place that houses boys and weeds and love, we will study a curriculum of compassion. It will be the sound of our feet stepping into the suffering of others that will tune our hearts to what changes the world. It will be our willingness to hang everything of value onto the framework of brokenness that will cut open our shuttered hearts and make us open vessels for renewal.

This must be. I know this with a certainty that belies my usual conflicted self. This must be because this is the way to glory.

The truth of my heart doesn't want to walk that way. Not really. But the desire of my heart is to walk in this way and I want my boys to walk this path. I want to grab those hands of theirs, squeeze tight and confess that I have no idea what I am doing--what we are doing--but here we go anyway.

Because to continue on as if #Ferguson was just an anomaly and not indicative of a greater experience for an entire group of people is to purposely choose the garb of privilege. I'm ready to risk my position and call out the Emperor. I will no longer pretend that the clothes fit.

Instead, I want us to choose threads colored by sacrifice and suffering, humility and hospitality, love and loss and weave them into new wineskins.

I want my boys to learn that nothing in the Kingdom is earned. Not a single thing. Life together is about grace upon grace and mercy untold. The value of a person is not based on how forcefully they pull up their boot straps or under whose roof they are born. No, this Kingdom living? It is directed by how well we share our weaknesses, how willing we are to reveal that which we do not know, how empty we are willing to get. This is where we must begin. This is where love is born.

So this weaving we will do? It will begin small.

The weft and the warp threads will be set through the silent and often unseen actions. We will fill the bird feeders and water the zinnias. We will continue as a family to read aloud books like Wonder and A Long Walk to Water and then sit with the difficult questions that stir up from their truths.

But my prayer is that we will keep walking forward, into the foggy valleys. I want us to hone our vision so that our eyes become keen to the needs of our community. I hope to move closer to an "us" mentality rather than one that hisses "them." May it come to be that we seek to grow smaller so that others can grow taller. We will study History by listening to all of the voices--Bauer, Zinn, Douglass, Steinem, AND Schweickart--no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel.

But most importantly--I need your help. I need your voice. Every last beautiful one of you. Because this course of study is a river and it is fed by many sources. You and your life? Please speak into ours. Let us ripple into each other.


"It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 
-- Robert F. Kennedy


For such is the way of peace.


Photo credit: Andrew Hyde

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dinner With The Magician



She called just a day before she would be rolling through town, hope dripping round the corners of her question. Was there a chance I might be available for a visit when she passed through? It would be a quick stay, just overnight, but wouldn’t it be lovely? Gratefully, our days are wide open as of late and I had just washed the sheets and whose heart doesn’t smile all Cheshire-like when old friends come calling?
I hope she heard the joy in my response because, although I was excited about our reunion, it had been quite a number of years since last our eyes had met or our arms had encircled. Childhood friendships can run deep as the ocean but years apart can also seem to magnify the wide expanse of those sacred waters and such a gulf has the potential to swallow you right whole.
She arrived with a bottle of wine under one arm, a loaf of crusty bread under the other and a laugh so strong as to unshackle fear in any heart. Oh, how I remembered that laugh! How it was both winsome and inviting, how its genuineness removed all self-effacement. Smiling, I took her offerings of bread and wine and placed them on the table and I felt something let loose within me.
We set to the task of preparing dinner, each of us stationed across from one another. She sliced cantaloupe, I cut vegetables and, together, we began the slow dance of catching up on lives lived apart from each other for years. At first, we revisited what was familiar. We recalled favorite memories, we reenacted infamous moments. All that we held in common became burnished to glowing by our careful curating of memory.
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I'm writing over at SheLoves Magazine today and you can find the rest of this story by following this link here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Litany of Next Things



I am forcibly willing myself to sit in this hard wooden library chair.

Right now, as I finger this keyboard, the sky above my roof has been cooled to a deep cerulean and is being occasionally scrubbed to gleaming by wave after wave of cloud stuff. Every tree is heavy with leaves and shadow but, hidden deep within each, is the glory of birdsong, trilling like so much music.

This day is one I will not soon forget. It is just too beautiful to let slip into the ether, as if it was nothing remarkable that the sun broke free of the horizon and unleashed this beauty on all whose eyes fluttered open this morning.

This day is the sort from which dreams are spun.

So to purposely sit here, in this chair, on this day means I am trying, with all of my might, to finger the threads of thought that have been fraying frantically in my head for months. These last weeks and days have often felt unmanageable, heavy with grief and bewilderment and seeming idleness. I have done my best to muddle through, pulling on joy when I couldn't handle the dark anymore and praying that sleep walking was better than standing still.

But the honest truth is that I have often felt as if I was screaming, mouth wide open, throat scraping raw, screaming. Silent and piercing, all at once. The core of me, the one that must write to figure out what she is thinking, has felt imprisoned by grief.

If, a year ago, you had tossed out the question of how I might one day deal with the pain of losing my mother I would have, most assuredly, said: writing.

So, when confronting the reality and heartbreak of my mother's actual death, I've hardly penned a word in response? Well, it has been disconcerting, at best.

And the longer the break, the more days that pass and words fail to appear?
The more I
have felt
as if I
am
disappearing.

I have felt like a glass jar full of silt shaken and left alone, shaken and left alone, shaken and left alone
again
and
again
and
again.

That is why today's clarion beauty has felt like such a gift. The morning's lighter air and gentle rippling set a precedent and the waters upon which chaos floated have started to settle. A separation has begun and I am beginning to distinguish sand and rock and crystal. What used to be only a muddied swirling now contains flecks of gold dust.

This might just be where the words have been hiding.

All of today has been like one slow remembering. I realize that grief has kept me from noticing like I used to notice. When you are trying to simply put one foot in front of the other, you don't often bother to spend time studying vapor trails or listen to the way grass stretches as each drop of dew slowly evaporates. You just seem to focus on the next thing.

But today gifted me with a litany of next things and I have discovered that the gnarl of frayed and woolly thoughts languishing in my head have begun to spin. Along their edges there seems to be a thread forming. The beautiful and terrible things of this world are working together to draw out the fibers in my mess and the twisting and whirling of the last few months don't feel quite so in vain.

I think that, tomorrow, I will follow the beauty.

Again.