Saturday, January 31, 2015

In the Dark With No Instructions

It is a balmy day and the wind blows bringing with it the dark clouds. I wonder if they will relinquish and give up the weight of their gift to our back yard or move on to a better location. This year I am giving myself up to learn to listen, truly listen. I wait to hear words, a nudge, a knowing. Without a doubt some of what I hear will blow in dark clouds, but I know His eternal plan means for all this to be for good. While counseling a client, I share how God does not give us a detailed blueprint for our lives with no surprises. But His plans will be better than anything we can imagine, even when we are looking at the dark side of a cloud. I do not mean to minimize anyone's painful journey, but from my own experience I have found He gives gifts in the darkness; He is there.

I came across this quote rereading Bob Benson's book, He Speaks Softly, “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. And he replied: Go out into the darkness and put thine hand into the hand of God. That shall be to thee better than light and safer than a known way.” M. L. Haskins

I like to see where I am going – to know I am going to get there and to know the potential hazards along the way. There is something in me holding fist-tight to the idea that I can bypass the hard stuff if I plan well and carry a light for the darkness. I have come to realize something and truly believe it the more of life I experience: We don't get to see the complete blueprint. We are better off taking the hand of God in the dark.

I had a fun challenge stamp this on my heart: trust in the process, God is in it and good will come out of it. My daughter, Laura, requested I make a quilt as a gift for her college graduation. She found a picture of one she liked with no pattern to be found. The fabric layout was random and I had no clue how much yardage I would need. I have sewn a lot over the years but not without directions and measurements. I agreed to make it.


Laura and I shopped together for the main pieces of fabric, but the other random pieces and the layout was up to me. I have to admit I was a bit anxious without instructions. I worried I would invest time and money into something that would turn out to be a disappointment. And I wanted to please my daughter as well. I wanted her to have a sense, when she wrapped it around her, that love had been stitched into this randomly pieced, one of a kind quilt. I wanted to delight her.

So I took the risk and started sewing. It was a long process; I would get the courage to add a piece or two of fabric and then I would have to lay out other pieces and mull it over, deciding what piece belonged next to the other. The pieces weren't put together as a patchwork, sewn together then attached to batting and backing by quilting; they were attached directly to the batting and backing. It was scary. Bit by bit, more fabric chosen and purchased without her input, and finally after six months of waiting I was able to give her the quilt yesterday.

Waiting. A few days passed and the text I received said, “Love you and love love love my quilt!!! Ah, what a relief! Though I am overjoyed I have pleased her with a love gift created without instructions, the seriousness of this accomplishment was not as great as trusting the hand of God in the dark. But I do love these ordinary, earthly reminders when we step out in faith with only a Hand and not a plan we will eventually arrive at a delightful place. There are many areas of our lives in which we won't see the pattern all pieced together with purpose until the other side of this life, but He continues to graciously remind us the blueprint is in His hand and we need not be anxious, even in the dark.

P.S. Thanks to Laura for the photos! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blurry Seasons

The soul that projects itself entirely into activity, and seeks itself outside itself in the work of its own will is like a madman who sleeps on the sidewalk in front of his house instead of living inside where it is quiet and warm.”

I am fascinated by this powerful word picture and all it conjures up in my mind. These words written by Thomas Merton in No Man Is An Island flash a warning light for me to stop and consider if my activities are of my own will and need for identity, or are they the things the Father sets before me to do. To know where the heart's intent lies amidst the busyness requires quiet for listening to His voice. There are so many voices confusing the issue.

While I was out and about one day this month (January) I took photos of autumn trees. In southern California the seasons get blurred this time of year. You see, winter looks like autumn with spring splashed about running together. Around town the tulip trees bloom while autumn leaves cling to the few deciduous trees chosen to fool us into thinking we almost have four seasons. It baffles me. The succulents dress in spring's bright blossoms in our yard while the wisteria drapes itself in the golden glow of autumn.

The two seasons side by side reminds of how the difficulties of life's challenges veil our clarity about whether or not we are like Merton's madman sleeping outside his own warm house. There are those spots in life where we are smashed between two seasons and the busyness cannot be helped except to let go of things we absolutely do not have to do presently. Some of the letting go includes things we've enjoyed for a number of years. I am thinking of a generation of working folks whose aging parents require a lot of help, a generation with children in college and grandchildren to pour into the wisdom years of experience. These busy seasons blur our clarity about how our energy should be spent.

There are no easy answers. Each season asks us to release some things in order to find some semblance of balance as we daily move back and forth between “autumn” and “spring,” whatever that holds for each of us at the moment. When I don't know what to wear in this place of dual seasons, my husband says, “layers.” I am finding when the seasons overlap I need to get quiet and listen; I need direction about what layers to allow on my calendar. Only by listening to the Father can I learn to live in the moment; and living in the moment is essential to my sense of peace, keeping me focused on the love-task at hand whether it be mothering, elder care, grandparenting or helping the broken He brings my way. We cannot do this perfectly but we can keep our ears open to the One who knows for sure if we are sleeping outside the house wrapped in our own creation of self or inside where His warm breath whispers the truth of who we are in Him and how we are to live no matter what season we've been plopped into.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Benson Influence

As I set up to begin crafting another post, the ice cream truck in front of our house has been playing Turkey in the Straw for nearly 20 minutes, and I am about to crawl out of my skin. Even shutting the front door could not drown out the unwelcome tune. The lovely weather in southern California promotes daily rounds in my neighborhood from this “year-round-music-box-on-wheels-full-of-cold treats” playing its repertoire of songs including a Christmas song and Happy Birthday. Where I grew up the ice cream truck was seasonal and not out and about in the icy, cold winter.

I know I am getting older because I say, “when I was growing up” more often. Just this past week I had a wonderful “when I was growing up” come full circle. When I was in junior high (called middle school now) my mom discovered a little church she was determined our broken family would attend. While attending this little church I first heard a soft-spoken man by the name of Bob Benson; he captured my attention with his beautiful word pictures, sensitive heart and holistic faith. He shared a faith walk without compartments; a spirituality wrapped up in everyday living. I read his books and I learned to sit on the front pew and listen hard to his whispered messages whenever I had an opportunity to hear him speak.

Bob Benson died of cancer in his 50s so it has been at least a quarter of a century since he wrote a book or spoke at a retreat. But not too long ago I came across a book by Robert Benson entitled, Dancing on the Head of a Pen. The subtitle is The Practice of a Writing Life. An inspiring and practical book by the way, including well crafted word pictures to draw one in, to tease out a few laughs; it is written like a straight forward chat over coffee about what it is like for one writer to bear up under the insecurities and delicacies of being a writer. Only a few pages into the book and I suspected this Robert Benson just might be related to Bob Benson. I text my brother to share with him, and of course he wants to read Robert Benson's book; I imagine he wants to borrow mine.

After doing a little research I discovered Robert Benson is Bob Benson's son. This morning I decided to take a photo of Robert's book with one of his dad's books. I pulled out He Speaks Softly: Learning toHear God's Voice. If you read my post about my one word for the year, you may recall it is listen. I felt a tug on my heart to reread this book. I opened the book for old times sake and hit a speed bump at the dedication page. “To my two eldest sons, Robert . . . and Michael . . .” the words of Bob Benson confirmed Robert to be his son. Now this all sounds kind of weird as if I am looking for some lost relative, but I am a bit sentimental about those who helped mold me spiritually when I was young in the faith. My home life was chaotic so creative Christians like Bob Benson poured crystal clear water, re-hydrating a parched place in me craving hope and encouragement.

I wish I had the words to describe how moved I am to be mentored by another Benson. At this crossroad on my journey I am delighted Robert Benson came along side to challenge me as a creative person and to speak to my soul. I plan to read as many of his books as I can get my hands on. I would love to hear about the people who stirred you to be a better and truer you – the one or two people who left a significant mark on your spiritual formation. There have been several in my life and a larger number of them I only met through print on a page. Thank you wherever you may be!

My husband, my editor, challenged me to bring something more to the ice cream truck opening. I had to laugh at my response because I told him I grew up in the country so my only ice cream truck experiences as a child happened when visiting my cousins in Cincinnati. It is as Bob Benson writes, "A person's montage of memories and impressions are peculiarly and particularly his own." I imagine it is more the memories of raising my children in the mid west influencing my thinking about ice cream trucks. No matter, the Pied Piper-like draw of its music for the neighborhood children overwhelms me still.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

 A Full Moon Adventure
Oscar Wilde penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon who could not be happy?” Add a little chocolate and coffee and I would totally agree. Although I am a morning person I have always been mesmerized by the moon. The consistent cycle of the moon, waxing and waning every 29.53 days takes my breath away as it reappears in its full, impressive bulk hanging low upon the horizon and glowing golden. This glorious, glowing orb works together with the sun and the earth, all contributing gravitational pull, creating the tides of the mighty ocean waters upon the earth.

When the full moon shines into my bedroom window I often feel as if I am being nudged to go outside and see what mysterious beautiful shadows take shape and prowl about in the backyard, though I rarely go. The moon beckons; I sleep. But responding to the temptation to being in moon light shadows is exactly what my husband and I did last Tuesday evening. Though it was planned, not spontaneous, we joined a small group of people for a full moon hike on Cowles Mountain. It isn't so grand as far as mountains go, but the 4 mile round trip hike was exciting and fun. A wonderful bonus was the REI instructor, Sarah, brought trekking poles and we had an opportunity to try them out. I am sold on trekking poles. What a difference it makes! My middle-aged joints were spared on the steep climbs and descents, and my upper body had more of a workout.

The invitation my husband gave to go on this hike was met with, “Let me think about it.” I don't dive right into anything requiring me to stay out late and be awake or squat behind a bush to tinkle. After a day or so of giving it some thought I agreed to go; I knew it had the potential to be a good memory. But as I often do in advance of a new adventure, I angst over every aspect of it. “What if I hurt as badly as I did on the last hike we took (which was quite strenuous)? What if I need to go to the bathroom? What if I am too tired to see clients the next evening?”

On and on went the questions and the need to process. I do not fully understand why I seem to have to go through this to get to a good place about a fun opportunity that may have a temporary effect on the way I feel physically. But I do. My poor husband. I reminded him I will get to a good place, I just need to talk about my concerns and get them out of my system. I almost talked myself into feeling too badly to go.

I am oh so glad we went. Besides Jim and I, there were 2 guides and a woman 10 years my senior. We all made it and did quite well. The older woman told us her first hike ever was to the top of Mt Whitney, the highest peak in CA. Now I am not so impressed with my own willingness to make this moon light hike. The whole adventure reminded me of another full moon hike I took 5 or 6 years ago with friends from work. It was an idea inspired by me. I told you the moon lures me out, and occasionally I respond to its bidding. We were to meet near a remote wooded area after dark; I arrived first. There I sat in my car exposed by the full moon and wondering how safe it was to be out here alone. I locked the car doors and called my friends to make sure they were coming.

As we all gathered and began the hike, we chatted. Somehow I thought this was going to be a quiet hike. I guess I had imagined admiring the moon in silent awe and listening to the night sounds. A summer night in the Missouri woods can be quite noisy with cicadas and crickets. For the most part I heard only the voices of my friends on this particular hike, at least until the moment when someone said, “What was that noise?” We paused to listen. We all heard a sound none of us recognized. After a bit of nervous deliberation we agreed to turn around and walk back over the portion of the trail where we had entered the woods. In spite of not walking the entire length of the trail we still felt adventurous outside in the dark woods late at night soaking up a bit of moon light.

Oh the moon, the glorious moon. The moon inspires poems and stories. Remember when George offers to lasso the moon for Mary in the movie It's a Wonderful Life? Harold and the Purple Crayon is a story about a boy who decides to take a walk in the moon light and he draws the moon, though not full, and himself outside until he grew tired and longed to return home. And then there is the sweet book by Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon, a bedtime story I used to read to my girls while snuggled up with the sweetness of their fresh bathed, pj clad little bodies. People are drawn to vacations in the sun, but the moon has the lure of romance and the mystic lure of nighttime adventures, at least for those with good intentions.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Need to Listen Exposed

Oh how quickly I was put to the test after I committed to make a change. Have you ever been humbled and embarrassed just on the other side of a conversation shining a good light on you? Well, I have; the most recent happened just yesterday. Let me start at the beginning.

I have given up making New Year's resolutions. I do like to look over the previous year and pray about areas in my life needing fine-tuning and to make lists. But last year I latched onto the one word idea. For those of you new to the one word concept, you choose one word, the word that depicts an area of your life you need or want to grow. I wasn't sure about choosing a word this year, but while reading through Job I realized God wanted to improve my listening skills. As a counselor I do a lot of listening, but when it comes to God, I need some work. I find it easy to talk to Him about stuff, but then I rush into the day and forget to stop and listen to what He has to say. Yes, this is leading to the humbling part of my story.

Yesterday I was reading the writing of another blogger and she had posted about her one word. She requested others to respond with their one word. The inspiration for responding was the opportunity to receive a free gift. So while I was in the midst of an eloquent response, stew bubbling on the stove, my husband comes into the kitchen and asks if I wanted him to turn the heat down under the stew. If you know anything about me, when I am processing in any way, it is as if I dropped down deep into a rabbit hole. When I hear a voice from above, it takes awhile before I really pay attention to what is being said, and even longer to surface from my personal space of contemplation to respond. Or, as I did in this case, I snapped, “I am trying to write.”

I eventually surfaced and turned down the heat, all the while my husband stood by watching and commenting, “That is too high.” I snapped again, “I know how to cook.” He was just trying to help and if I had listened in the first place, I could have answered, “Yes,” and returned to my writing. Writing completed and fully aware of my surroundings I was suddenly hit with this thought: while writing about my one word and the passage in Job I believe God had given to me, elaborating how I even hoped to learn to listen better to my husband – right in the middle of all my spiritual babble I am tested. And I failed. Ouch! How quickly it was confirmed: I desperately need to learn to listen better to God and to my husband.

I chuckled at the irony, but was grieved about hurting my husband's feelings. I made a confession and an apology was given to my husband. And I had to give him time to get over the sting of my disrespectful words. What a way to start out the new year. The one word commitment is more like a mirror reflecting my great need to submit my listening skills into the Father's hands for adjustment.

I would love to hear how you seam together the past year with the new year. Do you set goals, make resolutions or make lists of new things to be accomplished? What are you looking forward to in 2015?
Happy new year, friends!

P.S. Watch for my next post to hear more about the photo.