Sunday, November 29, 2015

Rushed and Resisting

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday has come and gone already. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my girls and Isaac, Emile's boyfriend. Everyone contributed a dish or two. My how things have changed! There were games and Christmas movies stacked on the coffee table in case there was any interest, but like grown-ups often do, we sat around the table and talked all evening – serious, challenging conversations seasoned with laughter. And now there is nothing to keep us from sliding right smack into Christmas.

I love Christmas, but I dislike how in so many ways it encroaches upon the other holidays. Our way of ushering in Christmas is to crowd out autumn, this brief and glorious season. Before children have donned their Halloween costumes, autumn decorations are on clearance and sharing the isle with Christmas. Thanksgiving is insignificant in the world of commerce, but it is my favorite holiday for that very reason. There is no gift buying expectations; Thanksgiving is a tribute to food and good old fashioned fellowship. It is meant to be a thankful holiday – full of thanks for blessings, grace, overcoming and surviving the odds.

I have such great memories of celebrating Thanksgiving in Ohio when I was a child. We all got together at some relative's house and ate and visited all day. The men watched football and talked of farming and weather (another favorite topic of mine). I loved sampling foods brought by my aunts, cousins and grandma. There isn't a sale worthy enough to leave behind such a glorious feast with family. I don't appreciate being rushed into the next holiday.

Being present and not pressing forward is a challenge even for me. The first Christmas card arrived in the mail on November 17 from a good planner. And now I am thinking about when we should get the tree. We've started Christmas shopping. I am so conflicted. Our whole world is conflicted. As a counselor I often bump into articles about being present, living in the moment with awareness and gratitude. But all around me there is pushing and shoving to some “significant” place we never reach.

Today I want to enjoy this day. I want to be attentive to the people I am with in the moment. I am not too sure how well I will do holding my own against the powerful undertow of commerce, but it is my goal. I am no Ebeneezer Scrooge, but I dislike being rushed!

I am hoping you and I can find a way to enjoy the moments presented today. As we plan and shop, may we be present to the people around us, even the cashier. May we find ourselves longing to give well wishes and blessings more so. People are in greater need of hope than anything else. I for one want to take time to sprinkle about more hope and less money. I want to give those around me a reason to smile and not so much another perishable item. I am no Ebeneezer Scrooge, but I want to give more than the same store-bought gift given to hundreds, thousands or millions of others.

Here's to making meaningful moments all year long and not letting them get lost during Christmas. How are you keeping your head and heart above the powerful current to “buy” Christmas? How do you experience meaningful moments in the midst of the holidays?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tiny and Safe or Uncontainable?

We don't have cable; we don't watch a lot of television. But when we stay in a hotel or condo, like we were blessed to do so recently, we watch HGTV and cooking channels. Our most recent mini vacation found us captured by a show about tiny houses. I am both drawn to and repelled by the idea of living in a tiny house. After watching a few episodes of people deciding between tiny, tinier or tiniest, I turned to my husband and asked if he could live in a tiny house.

He said yes. Now if we ever truly considered a tinier house than the small house we live in, my books would be right up near the top of the list of the hardest possessions to let go. Tiny houses don't have room for books. My husband says I would have to go to the library, which I do. He doesn't understand; a writer needs her books. I have lived in my books, studied them and marked them just for me. I return to them for encouragement, comfort and to know I am not alone. It would be a great test for me to leave behind my books. Just writing that sentence makes me want to cry, imagining the grief I would experience saying goodbye to these dear friends.

Granted, my attachment to books may be a bit over the top, but we all have something we would find terribly difficult to leave behind. If your house went up in flames, I am sure most of you have considered what you would want to save most of all, after saving your family of course. Besides people and pets, what would you feel lost without? It may seem silly to ponder, but it does challenge one to consider the things we have become attached to in this life.

Considering what would be hard to give up in a downsize or what I would be desperate to save from a fire, makes me wonder what I hold too tightly limiting what God wants to do in and through me. You see when people are getting rid of things and living in tiny houses they want to minimize the time given to maintenance and to be debt free. This is a commendable motive for sacrifice. Whereas leaving behind everything to follow Jesus costs everything; we are forever in debt to Him. And in this case it is a glorious thing. Letting go of the value we place on ourselves and valuing Him above all increases our lives in ways we cannot imagine. What a contrast to how we live in this world!

I appreciate Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Romans 5:1-5:

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (TM)

This new trend of downsizing and squeezing into a tiny, affordable, mobile house is quite the opposite of giving it all up and moving into the grandest space of all: the heart of the Creator of the universe and His perfect will. Do you ever find yourself downsizing God's expectations and desires for you? Do you ever customize your faith to fit in with the life you want to live? I have. I have to ask myself: Am I downsizing and living little as a follower of Jesus because I want to customize what this faith journey should look like? Am I making sure it fits my needs and squeezing myself into a faith too small to amount to anything? I guess I have to challenge myself here because I often want the cozy, comfortable, take it where I want to go, designed by Julie way. Don't you? Sometimes I want God to make this serving Him thing painless and customized to my liking.

There are also times when I live a tiny house walk by trying to squeeze into “Christian” trends or emulating others' heroics. God's grand design for another life becomes a tiny version of the life He has for me. Oh, but He has customized His call and He has given you and me everything we need to follow Him without deviating. And when you and I live the life He has for each of us, the immensely important little we leave behind will be like dust in the wind (even the books) compared to “the more than we can contain” gift He promises in His Word: His Spirit poured into us and overflowing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Busy Presence

It is a gray November day, and it rained last night. I wonder what happened to October; it seems a blur. I try to remember October. Women's Bible study ended, but made its mark on how I pray. October held meaningful visits with daughters and coffee with friends. All in one day we moved a friend in the morning and sat with Jim's mom and dad in the emergency room that evening. We have checked, via calls and text, on folks who fill our hearts with concern. We've been doing home projects; putting in new flooring opened up an array of other projects. At night we crash into bed and wonder what happened to all the hours in our day, a day scarfed up and swallowed whole with little awareness of all the delicious moments. Does this describe a time in your life, or most of your days? In the midst of the blur I was spinning a cozy web about our home, creating inviting corners for rest and renewal. Scattering bits of autumn into nooks and crannies was therapy for me. Have I told you, I love autumn?

One day in October I wrote these words:

An Adirondack chair is snuggled up next to the pedestal flower pot crowned with a bumpy, bright orange pumpkin on our little porch. The sky is gray and a cool breeze blows through the trees while the sparrows cheep noisily. Then all at once they go silent for a few seconds leaving me to wonder if there is something they know that I do not. I sit, listening. I am tired, dirty and unmotivated. The morning was spent creating an invitation to rest on the porch and planting succulents. My mind is nearly as gray as the sky. The accomplishments should please me, but the tired, foggy thinking wins out.

The cool air helps me to press on with the writing. All I have to do is propel thoughts through my sluggish brain and type when in actuality it is a perfect day for napping or reading. My mind seems to be stuck these days thinking a lot about ways to escape the disciplines of daily life while all the while pushing myself to do them. Ever go through such a time? It is as if I am burning rubbing, moving and resisting all at the same time. Deciding what to make for dinner or wear to church seem like big chores. Retreat time!

Some time ago I decided one Friday a month I would declare a personal retreat day. It would include doing any creative activity I wanted, reading, resting and no cooking. It would be a day for disappearing into a place of renewal where no one would find me. Not totally true. My husband would be nearby. But I would sort of wrap my time in a bubble and take a break from all I do and restore my enthusiasm for serving. I haven't scheduled one yet, but it seems the time has come.

I did make time for a retreat day during the October blur. It wasn't, perfect, but it was a start. I worked on a folded collage repesenting areas of my life in which I want to grow. It was rewarding, restful and satisfying. There was time for reading as well as a nap. If I had prepared a little bit I would not have had to cook, but still the day restored a calm within me and renewed joy.

No matter how full the days and how fast they fly, I do not want to miss the treasures big and small we are to delight in through God-given senses. I want to be more present and grateful for the ways He ministers to me. One day when I took a few minutes to pay attention I noticed:

  • how the sunlight shined on the plants by the window and skipped over to brush across the corner of our bed
  • the worn, brushed softness of the flannel robe wrapped warm about me on a glorious chilly morning
  • over the top of all the morning sounds of our neighborhood I still heard the birds chirping wildly about their business
  • the almost minty scent of an eraser I use to refine my attempts at drawing
  • the light scent of coffee diluted by creamer
  • the sweet, nutty flavor of nutmeg I added to the coffee grounds

What are some ways you slow down and really notice the people around you; the room you in which you sit; the way nature responds to the seasons and weather; to all you can taste, touch, smell, see and hear? I am highly sensitive to my environment. At times the negative things wear on me without my noticing. When I pay attention to those things, I can make adjustments.

We Christians get so busy doing things we feel we should do and we have no time for beauty: creating or appreciating beauty. I believe it is part of being present to His presence. Years ago I read a book by Edith Schaeffer called The Hidden Art of Homemaking. She was a mentor and teacher I never met, but loved and appreciated. She inspired me to think about the environment I create.

In her own words:
It is true that all men are created in the image of God, but Christians are supposed to be conscious of that fact, and being conscious of it should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively, as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for us” (p. 32).”
Edith Schaeffer
, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

When life gets crazy I feel I have no time for dipping into something creative or drinking in some refreshing beauty, but this would be the time I most need to create and admire His creation. The fog lifts, the blur clears, my body relaxes and joy returns when I have spent time responding to the image stamped upon my soul, the image of the Creator, Imago Dei. I understand the challenges; I face them daily, but I know without some time soaked in beauty we find ourselves living mechanical lives and feeling disconnected from ourselves and our Savior. Those you serve will be grateful for when you've been softened by time spent being present. You are more apt to see them through the eyes of their Creator.

It rained off and on all night, and now the sky glows bright blue with puffy, gray clouds float about casting shadows making it seem as if the light is playing hide and seek. I've a to-do list to write, but first I want to pay attention.