Friday, November 07, 2014

"The Kid"

Last weekend while Tim was away on a business trip, I picked up some movies from the library to watch with the boys.  One of them was Disney's "The Kid," starring Bruce Willis.  I had seen it quite a few years before, and I remembered thinking it was a good movie.  When I saw it in the stacks I couldn't resist.  So with the picnic blanket spread on the floor, popcorn and drinks close by, the boys and I settled in to watch.

"The Kid"  depicts one of those "what if" scenarios that comes to life for a very successful image consultant.  It tells the story of a man who seemingly has it all who is visited by his eight year old self, someone whom he has worked very hard to forget.  As the story unfolds, this man discovers that "having it all" isn't the same as being the person he dreamed of as a kid, and that the things we have or the status we occupy does not equate with true success.  Furthermore he discovers that the eight year old boy he was (and the one that is still hiding inside) needs some wisdom that he alone can give. 

The movie leaves the onlooker with a poignant question to consider:  If you had the chance to talk to your eight year old self, what would you most want to say?  What does that eight year old most need to know about his or her world that you alone can share?  It's given me opportunity to consider what I would say to my own eight year old self, the one that still shows up from time to time as I navigate through life.

I turned eight in 1980.  Ronald Reagan had just been elected president.  I often went around singing the song floating around my school about Jimmy Carter to the tune of the Oscar Mayer song, not because I knew anything of politics, but because its what all the kids were singing:
"My president has a first name; it's J-I-M-M-Y.  My president has a second name; it's C-A-R-T-E-R.  I love to hate him every day and if you ask me why I'll say, cause Jimmy Carter has a way of messing up the U.S.A." 
Probably the first thing I would say to that eight year old is that you can't believe the playground songs.  I still know next to nothing of politics, but I do know that Jimmy Carter is a man who tries to live out his faith in practical ways.  He has dedicated himself to making a difference for others, especially those who do not have access to the resources many of us enjoy.  His work with Habitat for Humanity exemplifies his selfless dedication.

Just like Jimmy Carter was the president nobody wanted, I was the kid in class that teachers dreaded.  I cried a lot as a kid.  Partly that's because I'm wired that way.  A lot of it was because my Dad was gone from my life after my folks divorced.  And even though my mother remarried to a wonderful man, the rift in my spirit was deep.  I walked around dazed and heartbroken most of the time.  When I was seven I was diagnosed as a border-line dyslexic.  I didn't really understand what all it meant, except that learning happened so slowly.  What other children could do in minutes seemed to take me hours.  I was the awkward, shy girl who cried all the time, was painfully slow, and could not grasp basic concepts like reading and arithmetic.  In third grade, students who did not finish their work did not get to play outside at recess.  And if they still didn't finish their work, teachers paddled.  I was often embarrassed by the tears I could not stop and humiliated when each day, each class, there was work I could not finish.

This week as I led chapel for my preschoolers, I told the story of Samuel anointing David as the new king of Israel (I Samuel 16:1-13).  Samuel was drawn to the oldest of Jesse's sons saying to himself, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord."  God's response to Samuel's assumption is pointed:  "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."  Good words to live by when we are tempted to sing common playground songs and tempted to believe conventional wisdom.  I've learned that it takes a whole lot of faith to see things God's way.  This is so true as we respond to the world.  It is harder still as we learn to see ourselves through God's eyes.

I can feel the awkward struggle in my spirit as I imagine what it would be to stand in the presence of that girl.  Just like Bruce Willis struggled between wanting to dismiss his former self and wanting to improve his former self, I feel the tension within as I think back to the girl that I was.  The neediness, the helplessness, the sadness are all things I've tried to separate myself from over the years.  But I sense that she needs to hear words of hope and life that I alone can share, because I alone know the story that makes her who she is.  Speaking words of faith and hope, this is what I want to say:

God has a plan for all those things you don't like about yourself.  What you would have discarded in an instant, so that you could be like everyone else, God kept around for a reason.  Your tears are gift.  Because you are so inescapably familiar with your own pain, the pain of others does not scare you.  You can feel what they feel, you can share the burden of their heartache.  And because grief and heartache will not destroy you, you can be a testament to others of how God's strength can be make perfect in weakness.  So see, your weakness isn't a bad thing after all.

You are beautiful just the way you are.  You hate your slowness.  You hate how everyone disregards you because of it.  You feel overlooked and discounted.  But you are slow by design.  You are not dumb; you are not stupid.  You have an intuitive kind of intelligence that perceives what others miss.  You see what others are blind to.  What you sense brings clarity and light to difficult situations.  You take your time to know things, but this extra time sifts through what is false and what is true.  So when you know, you know for sure.  And because you need, and take, the extra time to look, you see God's hand where others may not.  God works through this in you.

Your differentness will make a difference others can't make.  You feel deeply, and even though it takes a while, you learn well; the lessons life teaches penetrate into the core of who you are.  God has crafted you especially as a vessel of His compassion and wisdom.  To be an "old soul" walking around in an eight-year-old body is not a bad thing.  As the years pass you will see how God works through all the things you think are wrong about you.  You will be gentle because you know what it feels like to be treated with severity.  You will be encouraging because you know how empowering it is to know someone else values you.  You will be kind because you know the damage harsh words can cause.  And you will see easily the brokenness of others that hides in plain sight.  When others are not equipped to speak a word of hope to a broken soul, God will send you.

These are the things I want to say.  Gosh, after all these years, it is still hard to really receive them, to let their truth seep into my soul and do its healing work.  But I think of other eight year olds who may need to hear just these things.  God has opened up a door for me to volunteer in an under-resourced part of town through The Foundry Christian Community Center.  On Monday afternoons I show up to help with their afterschool program.  I can't help but wonder what if.  What if someone could have been there in this way for me?  What I do know is it is my way of giving giving back to the eight year old kid inside.  So she can see none of her tears were wasted.

Friday, September 05, 2014


An opening,
a new morning,
beginning so quietly
that its dawn is
barely perceptible.
But the new morning
God calls forth
comes as certainly
as the darkness of the night.
no matter how black,
cannot stave off Day
when God has ordained it.

Hope rises,
slowly unfolding
in the long night
of despair.
God will not be mocked;
The faint glimmer
of light
cannot be
It grows
with painstaking
barely a whisper,
a breath,
yet steadily
all of the treasures
our God
of goodness
has provided
in the dark.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How does your garden grow?

I sat in the living room of my grandmother's home, in the worn chair, with the soft yellow light of a lamp shining on us.  It was my time alone with my grandma.  In those minutes ticking by so quickly, while boys and husband and all other relatives were occupied, I sat with her and poured myself out.  I told her of the gnawing sadness.  I tried to put words around it, the gaping hole in my spirit where emptiness stared up at me every day, mocking me, asking me to prove my worth, laughing at me because I stared back with no answer, just a haunting longing for more settled in my gut.  I told her these things.  And I wept in her living room with the soft glow of yellow lamp light surrounding us.  My grandmother says to me--in the way that only wise people who have had many years to consider such responses can--"Your most important job is to be a mother right now.  There will come a time when you will do more."  She told me not to despair, to trust that the fulfillment of longings placed by God always makes its way around to us, to know that the work of my hands in this moment is so important.  It is work that I alone can do.

Since then I have pondered her words.  And I have held them in my heart with the picture a friend shared on social media of me and my son.  I was volunteering at a summer camp that our church was hosting for children on the West side of town.  I brought my own children with me.  They participated as campers while I helped out.  We began each morning working in the community garden, a hands-on learning opportunity that teaches what makes for good growth and harvest.  And on this particular morning my son and I were digging so that a new garden bed could be cultivated.

I'll be honest and say I hate the picture.  My hair is ugly, my legs are pale, my skin looks jiggly.  But I also know this picture is more than just the image of the moment when I look unkempt.  It is a holy moment--a time shared with my son doing something good together, something that makes a contribution to a community larger than ourselves.  I have carried the image in my heart all summer.  As I meditate on the metaphor I realize, "Where else will my son learn what it means to give himself to goodness so that his contribution can bring forth goodness for others?"

This same boy was there sitting at my kitchen table as my husband and I discussed where God could be leading me.  He looks at me with big eyes and says, "Mom, you already have a job!  Taking care of us three crazy boys!"  His eyes get watery after he says it.  I take him in my arms and tell him that being his mother is my most important job in the whole world.  I tell him that this will always be first for me as long as he and his brothers need it.  And they are still going to need it for a while.  I'm not going anywhere.  But here.  Home.  With my garden full of sons.

Friday, June 06, 2014


The things I least want to write about are the things I most need to write about.

Ok, I said it.

A few weeks ago we had our annual women's retreat for our church where I got to be the speaker.  Because of unforeseen scheduling conflicts I didn't think it was going to make.  But through an extraordinary door of Grace our group was able to attend with the number we had registered.  Our time together was wonderful; it was everything it needed to be.  God's Mercy was evident.

Our retreats typically begin on Friday night and end on Sunday morning.  We have three sessions scattered throughout with a huge chunk of free time on Saturday.  One of the offerings available during this time is to receive a massage from a licensed massage therapist.  For the first time since we began having retreats, I got one.

The room was quiet, soft music playing in the background.  The woman offering the massages greeted me warmly.  I got situated in the chair, and she got started.  Within the first minute she found the place in my shoulders where I carry everything--grief, strain, disappointment, heartache, failure.  As her hands got to work she said, "Baby, you've got to give it to the Lord."  The irony was not lost on me.  I tell God stories to help others do just that.  I have a theological degree and years of professional experience in guiding hearts to the place of surrender.  And for all my knowledge and ability I can't be free of my own burden.

Her hands moved along the muscles, moving and manipulating them, working out the knots.  Still she kept returning to that one spot.  "I think I can fix it," she said.  I just surrendered to the process, knowing the opportunity was rare, willing to let her try.

"Can I go deeper?" she would ask.  "Yes," I answered, and she would penetrate deeper into the knotted tension in my shoulders.  I could hear the popping noises as she worked.  Again she would ask, "Can I go deeper?"  Again I would give my consent, each time consciously relaxing my arms and shoulders and body to her grip, imagining myself as putty beneath the strength of her hands as she kneaded the knots away. 

The time was over much too soon.  I left with the admonition to drink lots of water and that I might be sore later on.  When all was said and done I went back to my bed and slept for two hours.

The soreness never really came.  For a couple of days I felt so good, free of pain I hadn't known I was carrying.  It's like I had gotten so used to the knotted tension held within my body that I just accepted it as normal.  I didn't know I could experience life any other way. 

Her words to me keep echoing inside my heart and mind:  "Can I go deeper?"  The thing my body experienced beneath her hands is the same thing my soul has experienced in the presence of God's Spirit for the last six months.  Since December the LORD has awakened longings lying dormant within me.  Awakened them, then left me awake in the disparity of my dreams and crushing reality.  I have had no framework for understanding God's work, just a screaming sadness I could not shake.  Each experience taking me deeper into pain I did not know was there. 

There is something about grief.  It is possible to experience deep loss, not just the death of someone we love, but forms of dying that surprise and confound us because there is no body of a loved one to watch over.  And because there is no outward evidence of loss, it is too easy to pretend we didn't lose.  But grief remains.  And either we deal with it or we are held captive by it. 

Our retreat was all about how Jesus sets the captives free.  I am learning that release from my own captivity can sometimes be a painful thing.  Sometimes its easier to pretend the cage holding me isn't there--I can make my home in the space around me and learn to be content within its boundaries.  But the nagging feeling that I was made for more--meant for more--won't go away.  It hurts because I have no idea what more looks like, what its shape is.  I just know that while it includes and encompasses the life I already have, it is greater than what I am living.  And then I wonder, "Am I just deluding myself?  Is there really more?"  Why would God wake me up to want something that is never going to happen?

The trust part of me believes that freedom lies on the other side of submission.  I cannot name or even describe clearly the process He is bringing me through.  But I believe by faith that it is accomplishing within me something I cannot accomplish on my own, that this ache is honing something important in my character that He needs me to have.  And maybe it's something I need me to have, a virtue or grace that will spell freedom over my life which cannot be gained any other way.

The only thing of value that I believe I bring to the process is a willingness to let God have His way, to surrender to the process, even in the pain, as I yielded my body to the hands of a woman who knows where the knots are and knows how to unravel them.  I guess in the end this is what the LORD is always seeking to do--unravel us from the knots we tie ourselves in.  

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Holy Plantings

Last year during spring break we spread mulch.  We began at our house and then went to the home of Tim's sister and brother-in-law.  Bill noticed that we needed something in the bare corner by our garage where we pulled out a dead bush.  He pulled out a couple of plants from his flower bed and urged us to plant them in the bare space.  He said it would grow without much attention.  So we took the long blades home and stuck them in the ground.

I didn't think about them much.  The green seemed to even out the landscaping in front of the house,  yet it wasn't necessarily a plant I would have bought to put there.  But what do I know?  I've never been able to grow anything.  Every plant I've ever received as a gift died.  Some folks have green thumbs; mine is the thumb of doom. 

Those plantings took root, grew, spread out a bit.  And then a couple of weeks ago they began putting forth blooms.  Irises!  Here I thought they were just some boring old space fillers, and come to find out these blooming things are my favorite childhood flower.

I'm not sure what it is about the Iris that captivated me as a young girl.  Perhaps it seemed elegant and stately.  Perhaps it was the only real flower that grew in abundance around my childhood neighborhood.  Maybe I loved them simply because looking at their languid petals helped my heart find beauty in a world where I felt sad so much of the time.

I've thought much about this spring-time surprise.  A couple of months ago I didn't really care one way or the other about them.  They just seemed to keep growing and multiplying while I wasn't looking.  It never occurred to me that inside the long stemmed blades there was hidden beauty waiting to be revealed in the warmth of a new season. 

The Holy Spirit pricks my understanding as I mull over my mistaken apathy. 

There are ordinary parts of my spiritual life that I don't pay much attention to.  I plant them in my unfolding days as a way to keep me from losing my way, especially in these last few months (years) that have felt particularly barren.  Inside I have felt like a wasteland, vast and expansive, yearning to be watered by a fresh filling of God's Spirit.  Thirsty and parched I plant the Word in my life--scripture taped to the bathroom mirror, telling the stories of Jesus to little ones, praying in the car as I take the big boys to school, the diversion of playing the "I praise God game" with the smallest boy as we travel on to the next place, praying the familiar words of blessing over my sons as I tuck them in bed at night.  I wonder at what this season is supposed to be forming in me, what good thing God can be doing through emptiness that feels so pervasive.  In my wondering I watch over the Word planted.  I can get pretty apathetic about it too.

The Holy Spirit asks me to look at my life and the Holy Plantings as if they were blades of Iris waiting for spring.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Courageous Enough to Stand in the Place Where You Are

It feels like I have been living in the in-between for a long time.  On the outside life moves forward, and I am situated in the needs of those around me.  I spend my days attending to these needs, ordering my life by them, their collective journeys rendering mine as I nurture, feed, clothe, supervise, assist, counsel, help, hear, and love those in my household.  It all has a jaunty quality of movement, of hustle and bustle, of bursting forth.  And this is all on the outside.

But on the inside, I live in the liminal.  I feel suspended in air, as if someone lobbed my life into the sky and I am still waiting to come down.  This is not natural to the person I know I am.  I have always lived my life with an interior pulsing, a pushing toward something greater, a restless journey of becoming.  The quieting of purpose is unnerving.  Inwardly I groan.  I long for.  I await.   And I cannot even name the thing I am straining for. 

I participate in the unfolding life around me with deep joy.  I treasure each face and hold as sacred this chance to be mother, wife, helper, friend.  It is a gift to serve.  It makes the groaning bearable.  But it is not the end for which I was made.  I know life is incomplete.  Something is missing.

In the unfolding I offer this to God--my heart with all its beating, groaning, and longing.  I offer it and wait for God to answer.  My only answer is the quiet enfolding of Love that reminds me I am not my own.  I don't even belong to my family.  I belong only to Him.

The temptation is to give up and give in--to live in grim resignation, to come to the conclusion that this is all there is, nothing more is out there for me.  And in that resignation to stop living within the life I have.  To extinguish all vibrancy and joy and hope and expectation and giving of true self.  Simply because I know the wait is not over and I cannot say when "over" will be. 

Sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is to just stand up in ourselves, to honor the life that is in us and to honor the life we feel called to, even when it is only a not-realized hope.  And so I offer this as my own affirmation of faith--that it is possible to stand in a good place when it feels like all you are doing is losing ground:

STAND--in truth, particularly the truth that God's love is real and deliberately personal.  No matter what I might be tempted to believe, I will stand up in the affirmation that unresolved circumstances do not trump God's love for me.  God loves me in and through this thing I can't just get around or get over.  God is not mad at me.  God is not punishing me.  God's love for me is life-giving.  I will receive all the love for me God wants to give.

STAND--in rightness, to not do the wrong thing simply because doing all the right things doesn't seem to be working.  Oh how tempting it is to just say "screw it all" and just be a gluttonous, pleasure seeker; to try and forget the pain of life, yet destroy life in the dulling.  So I resolve to keep doing the next right thing.  Not because this ever gets any easier.  But because there is inherent value in doing what is right because it is right.  And besides, I don't want to make things any harder than they already are!

STAND--in peace, living as a peace maker within myself and among those God placed me with.  I don't always have to get my own way.  I can be generous with my time and my love and my compassion.  I can try to see things from someone else's point of view, and I can try to say things with genuine love.  Instead of beating people up with my disappointment I can pray for blessings in their lives and try to be a source of blessing for them.  I can look at them as the gift that they are, the gift God created them to be.

STAND--in faith, believing that scripture really is true for me and in my life.  When Psalm 27:13 says "I believe I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living," to act as if this is true.  Even if it doesn't feel true, I can act like it is.  To tell myself that I can trust God, and to commit to that trust in increments--"I don't know about tomorrow, but I can trust You with the next four minutes."  Once I do that often enough, four minutes can grow pretty fast, and I discover I have all the faith I need to get through each day.

STAND--in the Grace that saves, knowing that God forgives me and redeems me, not because of something I do, but because of His mercy and goodness.  It is something in Him that keeps Him reaching for and restoring this human life.  I can rest in that.  And I can rest in the affirmation that God is crazy about me, though I cannot fathom it.  This boundless Love is wrapping itself all around my life, tying up the loose ends, making sense of the senseless, and bringing forth beauty from my ashes, not because of what I bring to the table, but because the Table is His and He issues the invitation.

STAND--in the Word with real power to change things, weaving it in and around my living until its language is more familiar than my own thoughts, until its language transforms my thoughts.  I have learned to feed it to my brain the way I feed my body when it is hungry.  I speak it over my children at night in blessing, feeling its wisdom seep into my own weary bones.  I record the passages into my phone and play them over and over in the car when I am alone, especially when I am afraid or lonely or sad.  They comfort me.  Those Holy scriptures make all the other things I'm trying to stand in that much more real, bringing truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and saving Grace close to me, as close as the breath that escapes when I speak the Holy Word. 

Thus I close with Holy Words in my heart, on my mind:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand . . . . and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-11, 13).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hope in a Window Sill

I have a magnet sitting on my dresser mirror.  It is a picture of a mama bird hovering over her baby birds.  Their necks are extended toward her as they wait for her to drop food in.  The caption says, "My God will meet all your needs (Philippians 4:19)."  I remember the day this handmade magnet came into my possession.  Our church was having a baby blessing ceremony for all the babies born over the past year.  We were scheduled to bring our Isaiah to the special service.  He was still so tiny.  But that particular Sunday morning, baby Isaiah was sick.  Tim sent me on to church with toddler Noah while he stayed home to tend to our little one.  I was so angry at him.  It was so hard to sit through that service and watch all those moms stand in front of the church with their children. 

God sometimes works through means I would never choose, sometimes in ways that tick me off at first.  This was one of those times.  The sermon that day was one I needed to hear; it melted through my defensive anger to speak a word of hope.  What really caught my attention though was the little magnet Noah brought home from Sunday School, a very clear message to my heart that God was aware, engaged, and already at work to bring the support I so desperately needed.  It also tickled me when God sent an actual bird to nest in Tim's grill just at the moment when we most needed to know God was with us.

The past couple of weeks a bird has been building a nest in the corner of our bathroom window.  Every morning as I go through the motions of getting dressed for the day I see her silhouette comfortably situated on our window sill.  This is not Tim's grill.  I can't not notice this little bird and her home.  It's placement feels very pointed. 

Yesterday morning Tim casually brought it to my attention.  He says lightly, "Maybe it is a message."  He knows I've been struggling.  I simply reply, "Maybe."

I had thought the same thing.  I had spoken those words to myself earlier.

I have no sense of consolation, no feeling to back it up.  There are no answers written in the sky.  I know that I have to keep reminding myself of the truth of God's Goodness, to purposefully situate myself there so that I don't accidently fall into a sadness I can't get out of.  I have to plant myself in truth that is stable when my faith legs feel wobbly--situated just like the little birds situated nearby.  In this time of searching for answers, I see only a nest.  So close to me.  The story of a mama bird bringing forth little ones unfolding right before my eyes in one room.  And the words of a child's Sunday School magnet slapped against the bedroom mirror in the adjoining one:  "My God will meet all of your needs."

Do I take it seriously? 

Do I take it as if God wanted to plant that very message in my weary, doubting heart?

What if those words have not been lifted up by God at all, but are simply the graspings of a desperate woman?  What if I chose to believe God sent them anyway, sent birds to nest in my window anyway, even if He didn't?  Would God honor my believing still?

I think about what it means to believe something is true of God, even when it feels like a fairytale, even when it feels unreal and unreliable.   This I believe is faith.  And the message I am hoping in comes from scripture, which is a trustworthy source.  So I am going to choose to make my home there.

My God will meet every need. 

Not just the obvious ones, but the ones that haunt my dreams.  He will fill my hunger when my belly rumbles, and quench the thirst that leaves my mouth parched.  But He will also satisfy the crazy longing in my soul that just won't go away.  He will show us how to make ends meet, but He will also show me how He made me to meet an end which no one else can.  And in all of this consideration of which of my needs are biggest right now, I realize my biggest need is to simply trust Him.

I trust You.

With all that I am.  All that I want to be, Father.  I trust You.

I trust that You are aware . . . engaged . . .  already at work in my life in ways I cannot imagine but will someday get to see.

And I trust You with all that is entrusted to me.  Because life is no longer all about me.  Because every choice I make leaves its mark on my own little ones, and they need me.  In just the same way that I need You.

So I am situating myself in faith.

And I am choosing to believe that this is truth--
You will meet all my needs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sacred Dust

It's been on my mind a lot lately--our last Ash Wednesday service.  Not the one we just celebrated where my husband and I wrapped up our three sons like Ralphie's brother in "A Christmas Story," trudging out through our snow and ice-laden neighborhood to make it to church.  I'm thinking of the last Ash Wednesday service I celebrated as campus minister three years ago.  I hadn't realized at the time how powerful a moment it was.  But now the holiness of that time hits me so hard it takes my breath away.  It has a sacred quality that lifts it out of memory, making it real and alive for me now.  Even now.  When that moment past is so far away, so far out of my today experience, so far out of my grasp.
Ash Wednesday fell during our Spring Break.  None of the students could afford to go on a trip that year so we stayed in town, finding ways to be missional in our own community.  And on Wednesday we gathered on the front porch of our campus ministry house for our service.
We began outside  because we first had to make ashes.  Most congregations make theirs from the previous year's palm branches.  But ours were made from little scraps of post-it notes folded tightly into tiny packages, love notes offered to God during our worship throughout the year.  College students don't often have much money to put in the plate, but they have all kinds of things on their hearts.  Each week I would encourage them to write down whatever they needed to bring to God that week:  "Thank You", "I'm sorry", "Please help me!"  Each week I would gather the pastel scraps along with the loose dollars and change.  The money would go to support the ministry.  The scraps of paper would be kept for ashes.
So we stood on the front porch with lighter, post-its, and an old cake pan, surrendering those needs to the flames, entrusting them to God.  Once all was said and done, those were the ashes we spread on one another's foreheads, reminding each other that we are made from dust, and to dust we would return.
Wow.  How powerful is that?  To have the ashes of someone else's need smeared upon your forehead?  To recognize our own dustiness, our limited humanity,  by the need we cannot escape?  To bear one another's burdens by wearing them upon our own skin as prayer to God?  To touch at the same time our own deep need and God's deep mercy by standing in the gap for each other?  All I can say is--wow.
But our worship did not stop there.
We left the porch, piled into my van, and went to the heart of town to serve.  First serving lunch at the Salvation Army.  Next painting an old building to prepare it for new ministry.
We became the living sacrifices Paul talks about in Romans, carrying our crosses--literally the ones smeared upon our foreheads--into the places that need God's redemption the most.
In wearing the sign of our redemption we became signs of God's redemption in the world around us.
I remember at the time feeling less than, not enough, because we hadn't made it out of the city for a "Spring Break Mission Trip."  The irony is that now I stand before that memory, so tempted to feel like I am less than, not enough, because the needs and demands of my own life keep me from serving lunch at the Salvation Army or painting old buildings to prepare them for ministry.
But Grace asks me for a different response, a deeper one.  God isn't asking me to feel guilty for circumstances beyond my control; God is asking me to receive the gift that memory brings.
I am after all, only dust.  But this dust that I am, that all of us are, is sacred.  It is held as infinitely precious in God's eyes.  Oh so fallible, fragile even.  But of inestimable value to the Divine.  It is why God sent Jesus to us, to show us our value, to save us from our fallible, fragile selves.
And how we choose to live within the circumstances we have, shows exactly what our attitude toward dust is.
Do we live as servants?  Or ego-maniacs?  Do we labor diligently to save our own pride?  Or do we give ourselves to guard the dignity and well-being of others? 
I think about my station in life, mostly at home with three sons.  Each one is growing so fast.  And I realize how vast is my influence on the men they will become.  This mission field is so dear to my heart.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to nurture a spiritual harvest in the place I love most.
And then I think about my work at the preschool, where I lead chapel.  And where I serve as one who can step in wherever and whenever there is need.  One day when I was helping out in the office it became clear that a little one needed some extra attention.  For this little guy there are legitimate reasons why some days he just needs his own person.   I spent much of that day holding him close, softly singing in his little ears, praying as a shepherd who carries the smallest, most vulnerable lamb.  I'm writing with wet eyes.  I get it now.  This kind of moment is just as sacred and alive and holy as those others long past.
What are we to do with our dusty selves?
Sometimes we have the means to rearrange our circumstances, to altar the outlines of the life we are living.  And sometimes we can't.  We feel, for all intents and purposes, stuck.  But we can always choose how we will live within the life we have.  We can always choose how we will regard the dust that we are, and the dust that everyone else is.  We can choose to live as if the ground we walk upon is already Holy, just waiting for us to live as dust that recognizes the Hand of the Divine already at work where we are. 
We can choose to offer up who we are to the Divine Breath that works within us and through us to redeem the whole world.
Right in the very circumstances that we can't seem to change.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Snow Day

We finally got snow--the wonderful kind where you forget your 40-something life with its demands and obligations and responsibilities.  The kind that invites the most reluctant hearted grown-up to release propriety, to get out there and romp around a bit.  The kind that reminds us what it is to play.

It was that kind of snow day. 

We got out the sleds and spun ourselves around in the deserted street outside our home.  Proper parents that we are, we laughed like kids, joining in the delight of our children.  And I found much to my surprise that with enough layers even bitter cold doesn't have to be bitter.  Especially when it is filled with joy.  Warmth spreads all around, never melting the fun.

For me it was a true day of rest.  Sabbath.  I relaxed into its easy rhythm, a bit uncomfortable because I quietly fretted that there was perhaps work needing to be done after all.  But really there never was.  At the end of the day I settled my self into the arms of my husband, sharing a smile, relaxing into that hug as if it was okay to just enjoy the gift we'd been given.

This soul season has been a bit like our little break from the ordinary grind, well, minus the romping.  The way a serious snow blankets our southern town with immobility, this season has settled on me as well.  In our house we have battled incessant coughing and viral infections like everyone else.  And my own sinuses have kept my senses fogged.  In the weariness of getting everyone well and just keeping up with meals and basketball games and school assignments, it has become too much to try to keep up my own creative endeavors.   I've gone quiet on the inside, rolling through each day, attending to needs around and within me.  The whole time relinquishing the striving, driving spirit that must get something useful and purposeful and important done.  Relinquishing the need to prove my life has significance beyond itself.  Relinquishing so I can just be quiet, for a change.

 As my heart has quieted my writing has as well.

I've been listening.  Leaning my inner ear close to the ground of my own being.  Getting familiar with my own dustiness.  Seeing how my own feet are made of clay after all. 

I have wrestled for the past three years with identity issues.  God moved me from full time ministry and planted me squarely at home, without title, position, or matching salary.  I've struggled to know my place and my purpose.  I've struggled to know that I'm still the same person when there is nothing on the outside of me that points to who I thought I was on the inside. 

I've wondered at this long stretch of time, of emptiness and quiet.  And then the last few months of an even deeper stillness, where the emptiness around me seemed to seep into me.  I've wondered.  And watched.  And waited.  And listened.

And while situated in this very personal empty space, the snow began to fall, blanketing my outside world as deeply as my inside one. 

Snow and ice are great levelers.  No matter what human you are, you are at its mercy.  For a day or two, all of us in the whole region were rendered still by impassable streets and biting temperatures and hard-packed layers of cold. 

This stillness has the power to reveal, to show us to ourselves in a way nothing else can.

In my stillness this is what I heard--

I'm still the same me I always ever was.  I've been shaped and formed and named and claimed by all my experiences, and even when circumstances change, those markings still remain on my soul.  I look at the world the same way; I interpret life the same way; I move in concert with the Holy Spirit the same way; and God is as present in my life as ever I knew God to be.  And through this time when all the outward trappings of success and identity and accomplishment have been stripped away, I find that I am more.  

In the silence, in the stillness--I have discovered that I never really lost anything at all.

In fact, the outward trappings became my captivity.  I believed in myself simply because I had outward evidence to prove I was worth believing in.  My belief in my own worth never had any real foundation in reality as long as I believed it came from circumstances outside of me. 

So God set this captive free.

By taking away the very things I had built my sense of self upon.

And in the piercing silence, the quiet stillness, I have seen my true self.  The self I always have been.  Alive, vibrant, radiant with the splendor of a child of the Living God.  And in the quiet stillness I have heard God's simple question:  "Who are you going to believe, them or Me?"






Friday, February 07, 2014



This is the word.  TRUST.  The one that will order my unfolding self in this year--heart, soul, mind, strength.  I chose it--or rather it chose me--at our church's Covenant Renewal Service, the first Sunday of January.  I told God this word was my commitment, an offering of self as gift to Giver, releasing everything so that God's Magnificent Being would have room to do a work.  And I joined my voice with about a thousand others making a solemn promise--tears leaking, voice breaking:

I am no longer my own, but yours.  Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you, praised for you or criticized for you.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and fully surrender all things to your hope and service.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, you are mine, and I am yours.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be made also in heaven.  Amen.
I felt so strongly this word in my inner being.  Especially when Habakkuk 2:1 kept coming across my attention--"Then the LORD answered me and said:  Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it."  The vision that accompanied the word was simple, a field of grain, sown by faith, springing forth as a harvest of joy.  The image a message in itself, asking me to trust that what has been sown will come forth, not as barren but as fullness, harvest being merely a matter of time. . . .  God's time. 

January passed and I did not write the vision. 

The mid-year break ended, and school opened into an ever deepening winter that does not seem to have an end.  Skies are gray, bleak.  My heart often feels the same way.  In seasons past I wondered at the barrenness surrounding me, taking in the beauty of stripped landscapes, lost in wonder because I see nature's inner bounty revealed:  surprising sturdiness hidden behind foliage is suddenly visible and vivid in the pale cold light.  In past seasons I have been enchanted by the bare-boned beauty.  This winter I simply feel bare.  I look at empty branches, and just feel empty. 

The emptiness around me matches an empty gnawing I feel within.

A month in I survey the bleakness of inward soul and outside landscape and remember that I never did write the vision.  I never gave it life so that as my days got busy and ran together and I forgot about God I would have something to look to that could remind me of God's presence when I am blinded by my own poverty.

This Monday was my worst day.  The poverty and emptiness felt overwhelming. 

As the professional theologian I could just say that often when God wants to acquaint us with the Magnitude of Divine Majesty, it is preceded by episodes of witnessing our own smallness.  God will allow us to feel the separation of Presence so that we can truly understand where we end and the Divine begins.  Otherwise we confuse the two, we don't know how to recognize God's Bigness because we are still too big in our own eyes.  In preparing our hearts to receive a Gift we cannot contain, God will clear out space, cutting us off from sensory consolations so that we can recognize God as the source of consolation.  Our addiction to comfort must die so that we can truly know and see the Comforter.

And this is the spiritual season that accompanies the unusual deep freeze of our usually mild southern climate.  My spiritual terrain matches what is happening outside my door. 

Can TRUST sustain me when God really takes seriously the words I prayed on January 5th?  Even though I was just a single face in large crowd of people, it wasn't a public moment for me; it was deeply personal.  It was as penetrating a moment as if I had been kneeling at an empty altar without another soul around.  My offering of myself was total, sending up a big "whatever" to the Heavens. "Whatever You want Lord, I'll be fine with.  In fact, I'll want it too."  I meant those words with everything.  I just never anticipated what it would feel like if God took me at my word.

What if God chooses for me to be laid aside?  empty?  having nothing?  I thought I knew what it was to have everything you believe to give you value loosed.  Those comfortable outward signs of significance had been loosed long ago.  But then God began loosing those internal verifications of my value as well.  It had been a slow process, beginning even before Christmas.  Growing ever so slightly as each day melted into another one.  Gaining momentum.  I woke up Monday with an ache lodged in my chest that was almost unbearable.  Monday was a really bad day. 

On Tuesday I got out the colored pencils, bringing the vision to life. 

I look to my notes, jotted quickly beside the original sketch of my TRUST word:

     What do I most need to trust?
     I can trust God to work this out for my good.
     God will reveal His plans for me at a good time.
     I can trust God's timing in my life.
     God is at work in my circumstances.
     I am moving closer to understanding my destiny.
     God has taken into account my unique gifts abilities and temperament.
     God hears the yearning of my heart.
     God is answering my heart with His plans.
     God is preparing me for my place, just as He is preparing my place for me.
     I am not lost.
     My times are in His hands.

When I look at that colored pencil drawing with TRUST looking back at me, these are the words I hear whispered as the wind blows through the wheat.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Times Are In Your Hands

I have this collection of watches.  I'm not sure why I keep them.  It's not like I will use them.  It's not like I can even wear them.  Any watch I've ever worn that has hands eventually stops working way before it should.  Never happens with digital watches, only the other kind.  It is a mystery.

I can tell you the precise time when each one stopped, even if I cannot say what day or year it was.  The moments stack up:  2:05, 10:30, 3:10, 1:11, 2:32.  I wonder what was occurring as each time signature came to rest.  What season was I in?  Was I happy?  Sad?  Hopeful?  Depressed?  The time signatures remain, but those forgotten moments are long gone.  I can hold those frozen watches in my hands, but the moments they represent have long since slipped through my fingers.

I am comforted by the thought that they have slipped into God's hands instead.  Those memories are held by the Almighty, the Alpha and Omega, the One who is and was and will come again.  Really, they never were out of His hands to begin with.  I might have lived each one of those moments, but He was holding them all along.

It's a truth hard to grasp at times.  My memories swim in and out of consciousness, some of them forever out of range, some too close for comfort.  But I see how it all turned out.  I am comforted by the imprint of Divine Love touching each one.  It doesn't matter that I couldn't see Grace unfolding in the awfulness of disappointment.  Grace was there anyway, mending and minding the tenuous threads of well-being that I thought were permanently broken.  When I couldn't hold on, God was already holding me.

Okay, here's the truth:  I found the verse before I found the watches.  Okay, even truer:  the verse found me.  I lay in bed the other night, my head swimming with uncertainties, the open-endedness of my life laughing at me.  I just wanted to let my insecurities pass into the night, to be covered by darkness, unseen and invisible to my heart and mind weary from trying to figure life out.  And then the words came.  From somewhere inside, a reminder that I was not alone in the confusion:

My times are in your hands  (Psalm 31:15). 

Why is it that I can so easily accept God holding all my past moments, even the excruciating ones, yet have so much difficulty grasping that God holds this present one too?

This moment, unfolding itself in my confusion and struggle. 

I love how the Holy Spirit works.  As I laid in the darkness my husband offered a nightly prayer for our family, our growing boys, and our work, our loved ones, and then mentioning me by name:  "Help Sami to know You are with her in the struggle." 

I begin to change my thinking.  Because back then, in all those moments of past tense, it was hard for me to see God's hand at work, holding me in the middle of  holding time.  It was hard for me to imagine that there was greater Purpose aligning what I couldn't understand with all kinds of wonderful that would eventually come clear.  But I see it now--I celebrate now Providence's plan lovingly arranged and arrayed in a past that is beautiful to me on this side of it.  If I can see my yesterday's with that kind of clarity, is it possible to look upon my now moments with that same kind of clarity as well, exercising the faith that knows in a future moment all this confusion will be okay too?

With the discovery came the determination to find all those watches--to put hands upon them, to gather them into one place in full view of my spiritual eye.  Those times and these times are sacred.  And they are Held.  Not even my incomprehension changes that.  They are Held. 

So am I.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Sunday morning was a perfect morning for a run--about 35°, no wind, sun shine gentle on my face.  To run in weather like that is bliss: not too hot, not too cold, but just the perfect balance of everything.  Even if my body is not cooperating, I enjoy myself.  And I find my heart and mind open in footfall rhythm; more of me is available to notice what most needs noticing.

On Sunday morning it was the song of birds.  I noticed birds singing, their chirpy refrain a reveille to my early morning grogginess.  It seems they had something to say.  Something important.  "Hey, we are here, silly woman running.  We are awake and welcoming this new day!  Be awake with us and welcome it too!"

I heard it.  And then I understood it.  They were still singing, even after the crazy weather of the previous week, they were still singing.  I see them perched up high, resting blithely on tender branches.  And even though they are so small I wonder that they can be held by something so tenuous looking.  But they greet me still.

The weather last week had become frighteningly cold.  Bitter.  Frigid.  We stayed inside the warmth, shielded from the frozen air and ground and wind.  I wondered about survival in such extreme conditions.  The news even spoke of caring for large land animals.  Without proper care, exposure could mean certain death.

This is the wonder of it all--little beings so fragile, without human hand to shield them from the biting cold, live to sing about it.  They sing, as tiny reminders of life's strength.  My assumptions of life's frailty were wrong; I hear the error in their song.

We too go through the extremes, don't we?  We are so involved in trying to just. get. through. that we sometimes fail to see how those seconds and minutes and hours add up.  We lose perspective because there is no time to not strive; each moment we give ourselves wholly to the surviving of the thing, slipping silently into a better place, an easier place.  And we hardly even notice it because we are still straining against our adversities just tying to make it another day.

I wonder when we will look back at the journey that has been, and pinch ourselves when we realize what we've come through?  When will we realize we are tougher than we gave ourselves credit for?  Which day will we wake up singing and know that the thing we had to come through did not have the power to take our song?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Welcome New Year

I didn't realize until I was well into my adult years that hospitality is one of my core values.  Mostly because I never envisioned myself as the domestic type, and I always assumed that to be any good at offering hospitality a girl had to do it like Martha Stewart.  I mean how can someone as unkempt as me offer anything that could ever put another at ease?

And then I began to understand that unkemptness is gift too, offering something valuable to the weary soul tired of pretending life is perfect.  I am glad to welcome friends into my unkempt life, to provide a safe place to let down their hair, to listen to stories still in the middle, to laugh together at the way God weaves His humor in and out of our imperfect lives.  Having it all together is completely over-rated.  It leaves no room for anything more.  And I have found that God is always ready to surprise us with His More-ness.

More has a way of walking in and setting up shop in the realm of unkempt.

This is my hope for the year ahead.  I would love to say that I have a carefully thought out plan of what I want to do with my life, who I want to be when I grow up.  Yesterday I read a web-page that offered advice on how to systemize one's blog.  You mean there are people out there who have a system for this "I've got to write it so my soul will know it's alive" kind of thing?  Totally blows me away.  My system is pretty simple:  "Write at least once a week whether you want to or not; writing is good for you."  And it is.  I know where my soul is because it peaks out at me in the words.  Without the words it tends to get lost in my unkemptness.  The writing helps me give some order to this mess that I am.  And it opens my eyes to the More of God.

On Sunday I sat in church listening to the preacher talk about making covenants with God for the new year.  I sit in the tension of opposing desires within.  On the one hand I want to make big promises to God, to dream big, to honor God with dreams so big only He can fulfill them.  But I get overwhelmed with the pressure to decide exactly which dream I should dream.  Instead I think of Mary, mom of Jesus.  She never had big dreams.  But God had big dreams for her.  Her response was simple, profound--"Let it be with me, just as You have said."

Honestly, I'm not big enough, or smart enough, or clever enough to figure out what More should look like in my life.  But oh sweet Jesus I yearn for it--I'm hungry for only the More that He can bring.  I love Mary's words, her invitation to God as response to God's invitation to her--"Let it be with me . . . ."

I believe that this kind of response has a radical nature all its own.  Without demanding it welcomes Holy Initiative.  What if we spent our whole lives welcoming the very thing God wanted to do most?  What would our world look like?  And isn't that hospitality?  Doesn't God need a bit of hospitality too?

Our preacher continues to talk about covenant.  He compares it to marriage.  I think of marriage and covenants and how we bind ourselves to one another in a way that reshapes who we are.  God binds Himself to us in love, through the cross.  Jesus even in resurrection shows the marks of binding Himself to us--we are written on His hands.  Our preacher says that in the binding, God takes the greater portion of promise.  His promise holds our own when our promises perish.  God's takes on the burden of promise when He binds Himself to the broken, those who break promises because of their own brokenness.

I am turning this metaphor over and over in my mind.  I think of my own husband and our marriage and how the years bind us together. We are learning still how to love each other, yet there is a rich depth that marks our lives because of our loving.  I am comforted to know that perfect Love already holds us both.

The scripture comes to mind--Ephesians 5:25-27:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind--yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.
This word washes over me and I realize--I am part of the Bride that Christ loves so much; I too am one whom He is making splendid with His love; I too am one who will be holy and without blemish.  And my radical hospitality, those few and simple words of "Let this be", participate in making this possible.

I go throughout the ordinary parts of my day and another wave of realization washes over me:  He desires to do the More.  He wants to and longs to and watches with anticipation as my life is unfolding, waiting with giddy excitement to do the More.  It is not just an obligation of covenant for this precious Bridegroom; it is His deepest joy.  It's not that He has to.  He wants to.

And when I try to protest because my messy unkemptness will get in the way, He just laughs and asks me who do I think made me this way?

Welcome new year.

Welcome friends.

Welcome Bridegroom.

Welcome love.