Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Organic Work of Transformation

We do what we can to invite nature into our yard, and often we’re given surprises. I spent the greater part of my childhood living on an acre occupied by 100 trees, mostly walnut and oak. To my delight upon marrying Jim, I found we are in agreement, our southern California yard is a nature preserve of sorts. We invite birds, butterflies and a wide variety of plants onto our property, a slightly larger piece of land than the average postage stamp lot in our city. Visiting friends enjoy watching the birds splash about in our birdbaths and dine from the various feeders, but these same friends usually don’t want the mess in their backyard.

I have to say birds are very messy, but oh so entertaining. The regular entertainers are hummingbirds, sparrows and hawks, though they are not all compatible. Apart from bird doings, a thriving plant also brings great satisfaction. A recent post on Instagram expressed the writer’s concern for the survival of her plants when leaving town for an extended period of time. It seems no one else in her family is aware of the of plants the way she is, offering them the care needed to keep them alive. This is a BIG concern when we take a vacation!

A few weeks before embarking on a trip I asked my husband who is going to take care of our plants? Now we don’t have just a few house plants and a little bit of landscaping to water; we have PLANTS. We have heavy drinkers and drought tolerant plants all needing different kinds of care. So it is a relatively big task to take on and I don’t envy the person doing it. Jim knows our plants and even under his fastidious care we occasionally lose one. The mourning that goes on around here when we lose a favorite plant might make some wonder if we have a life outside of our yard.

When tuned into the details of nature, God’s creation, the surprises never end. Jim and I delight in walking around the yard together and taking inventory of the latest changes. We dote on our plants like grandparents with grandchildren. For instance, I planted various flower seeds saved over time a couple of months ago. We misted the seeded areas waiting and watching for something to happen. I don’t normally do well with seeds, so I looked online to find out how to plant seeds for each of the following: Hollyhocks, Cosmos, Zinnias and Sunflowers. The Hollyhocks emerged and disappeared. No Cosmos. The Zinnia’s came up and seem to be doing well. I dug deep and loosened the soil for the Sunflower seeds and added compost as suggested.

I was so excited when I saw tiny plants emerging where I made the extra effort planting Sunflower seeds. As they grew larger Jim noticed something unusual. He asked me, “Are you sure you planted Sunflower seeds?” Sunflower seeds are rather distinctive. I was sure! “They look more like tomato plants,” he said. They sure did and they sure are! The Sunflowers didn’t emerge at all, but the rotting tomatoes in the compost sprouted. We have 5 thriving tomato plants and they would not be doing so well if I had intended for them to grow there. Tomato plants have always started in random places in the yard as a result of using compost to enrich our soil. But I now have a nice line up of tomato plants looking exactly as if I planned it.

Jim introduced me to composting seven years ago when we got married. It is a marvel! Compost is a great way to make use of organic waste like eggshells, vegetable scraps, dried leaves, etc. Mixed together, occasionally watered and stirred, then left to marinate; this results in a rich humus attracting worms making it perfect for adding to the poor soil in our yard. Nature has much to teach us about living richer lives.

It seems what we grow depends on two things: whether we bury our hurt in dark places or whether we give them up to God for compost. When life hits us with pain and hardship we need to invite God into our pain and give Him these experiences to be composted – “accumulating experiences and letting them ripen into the rich soil” (Janice Elsheimer) – as opposed to being buried deeply into our spirits.

All of us have gone through difficulties, been hurt and even suffered at one time or another. When I think about composting I often consider how the hurtful mess of life can be composted and then worked into our lives to transform us like scraps can be transformed into rich soil. There have been times when I allowed the pain of life to dictate negativity and hopelessness. But when I choose to come crawling up into the lap of the Heavenly Father and let it all out on His shoulders something different happens. When I see Him as for me and not against me in the difficulties, over time I am transformed. Rich growth unimaginable takes place and I am released to become more the person He designed me to be. It is the beautiful side of pain.

I love Deborah DeFord’s picture of this in her book, The Simpler Life. “Personally, I prefer to consider old, outdated thoughts and actions along an organic model. They’ve had their day, for better or worse and now they’re like a garden’s stubble. We can plow them under and allow them to decompose without rancor. In that way they come to enrich the living material of our present and future.”

We can plant one thing and harvest another with compost. It was Sunflowers I planted, but I was given produce to enjoy throughout the summer. My desire was for a bloom that would not last long and I was given nourishment instead. How has God enriched your life when difficulties were given over to Him to decompose and transform into something beautiful and meaningful?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Closed Door of Opportunity

Last weekend we were wrapping up vacation; back home putting things in order and attending a family birthday event. Upon returning home, as soon as we inserted the key in the front door, endless activity began. Yet the scent of home filled the air welcoming our return, and we felt great appreciation for this place in which we find sanctuary. I feel much the same coming back to this blog; I have been a bit absent. Today I take a deep breath, roll out the welcome mat and invite you to join me again at Out of the Woods.

Writing is like coming home to myself; I love words. When I thread words together, like beads on a string, I find it challenging work as well a form of play. And it is also an opportunity to create a safe place to recognize our humanity bearing the thumbprint of the Creator. How unbelievably wonderful!

Currently my life looks like an unfinished finger painting. In recent months I drifted away from writing publicly; a lot of personal writing has been going on behind the scenes. Sometimes life gets messy and I am one who needs a lot of solitary time to process the big stuff. Change in the early stages almost always seems undefined and difficult to pin down. My emotions can also get wonky. Eventually it
comes together and I begin to see a clearer picture of the next step and then I inch my way toward embracing and getting comfortable with my new norm. But only for awhile. Change is a constant in life, big or small.

We all experience change, some more than others. For my husband, change is a relatively calm lake fed by an underground spring. There is movement but it is quiet and undramatic. But change clings to me, this ordinary, country girl who couldn’t dream past being a homemaker and a mom; and I have loved being both. God has a way of expanding me, stretching me to fit His grand design. And that always involves change. I guess I am one of those people who need lots of stretching; I’ve a natural bent toward finding a comfortable little nesting space and settling in. A number of changes in my life have looked more like white water rafting.

Several years back on a family camping trip in Colorado, my brother-in-law signed us up for a Class 4 white water rafting adventure. None of us had ever gone white water rafting. During the training I thought, “This shouldn’t be too bad as long as I follow the rules.” When we started out, we drifted along easily through Poudre Canyon (short for Cache la Poudre River Canyon). The Poudre River begins high up in the mountains along the Continental Divide. Just as we were learning how to remain in the raft, using our feet to hold on while bouncing about on the river, our guide warned we were entering a tricky spot. The turn was full of rushing water and we would pass between two boulders. If we tipped up just right way, we would come out of the rapids right side up. In my wildest dreams I did not imagine it happening any other way.

We tipped. Completely over. It was like being in an angry washing machine. Water was swirling around me and I panicked a little, or maybe a lot. I grabbed for anything and got nothing. Struggling for air and to free myself from the river’s grasp, twice I bumped against the bottom of the raft; all potential air gaps were filled with water. I knew I shouldn’t panic but my panic increased. I could easily drown right in front of my family. And then suddenly I bobbed out of the water into the sunlight gasping for air and choking on water. It was a frightening experience and I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the ride. The guide assured me I did not have to finish, the bus had been traveling parallel to us.

While attempting to compose myself, I considered what was best for me to do. Everything in me wanted to give it up and play it safe. No one could blame me; after all I was the last to surface from the rushing water. My mind went back to when I was in early elementary school and my dad had gave me a Shetland pony; it was stubborn and uncooperative. Many times that pony bucked me off and my dad would say, “If you want to get over your fear you have to get back on.”

If I didn’t complete this river trip I might never get over my fear of the water. I agreed to stay in the raft. Thankfully, the remainder of the ride was rewarding and without mishap. Sometimes change is exciting, sometimes challenging, and at times painful. Change can require a lot of mental and emotional energy. There are some people who can publicly write their way through the pain. At this point in time I lack the skill. The shared pain of watching my mother-in-law die was hard enough but one day after her burial I experienced a different sort of loss.

The envelope I had been waiting on was dropped in our mailbox. Like my rafting experience, I expected nothing less than a favorable response, instead a proverbial door slammed in my face. It rocked me. I worked very hard a number of years to bring this work to completion and ended up searching for a place to curl up, grieve and pray. Some difficult decisions had to be made. Was I going to get back in and slug it out or take this as an opportunity to move in another direction? I had to get to a place of calm in order to hear the Spirit’s leading and not my own reaction. Out of it all comes this glorious upheaval of personal change. Maybe closed door open to something new like what Lucy (from The Chronicles of Narnia) discovered as she climbed inside the wardrobe.

“‘This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!’ thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her.”

The wardrobe seems never to end. Lucy comes to the end of the fur coats and finds herself scratched by tree branches and being covered by snow.

“Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her should and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe.”

It was just an ordinary wardrobe door but once opened and stepped through it led to Narnia. An opening may not lead where it seems but in His hands it will take you where you need to be. It is the beginning of something new; too soon for all the details. Like Lucy, I am curious, excited and a bit nervous. It is a beautiful thing when change draws support from old and new friends. It buoys me to have learned this truth: God wastes nothing on our earthly journey. When we seek to live in His will, one experience flows into another, feeding into eternal life and His plans for each of us. Do you experience change like an unpredictable, raging river or like a slow flow from a spring? What helps you embrace change? Would love to hear from you.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paying Attention

The first Monday after daylight savings time, having lost an hour, I decided to wake to an alarm and begin my day in the morning darkness – to pay attention and listen.

To pay attention this is our endless and proper work.”
Mary Oliver

It is just a small challenge, really; I am only getting up at 5:30 am. A need has sprouted in my soul for some sort of practice connecting me to my creative center. The Spirit tugs at my heart with whispers to write more, which means I must listen more. I scratch words onto a page in my journal attempting to know what my life is speaking to me, or rather what I need to hear from my thoughts and feelings I tucked away in the busy moments of living. I am learning to love commiserating with the morning darkness. Nothing great comes of it, yet something good opens inside of me when I make more time for solitude and listening.

Some solitude is uncomfortable, hard work; but more naturally suited to my personality. I feel quite at home in solitude. But still I must tend to it; I must make space for the necessary solitude. In the quiet I am able to listen, write and pray while something awakens in my spirit. I don’t always know what awakens, but experience a sense of my own blossoming in the silence. I am learning to listen in the chilly darkness while snuggled in a fluffy blanket. At first I write whatever comes to the surface and then I use writing prompts.

I like how Leeana Tankersley describes her own early morning ritual in her book Begin Again,
My subconscious mind has not yet been interrupted. Nothing has intruded my senses. Out the windows is only stillness. I sit and drink black coffee and listen and write. Undistracted. I write on the top of my paper: God, what do you want to say to me this morning? And I just listen . . .”

By 8:30 am, the neighbor’s tiny dog, wound up and hyper-vigilant, consistently emits a high pitched bark directed at everyone passing by (or so it seems). The nearby middle school makes their morning announcements so loudly I’ve heard each syllable of The Pledge of Allegiance (grateful they still say it) and I know whose birthday is celebrated on any given day. It takes a lot more energy to infuse my time with quiet while neighborhood sounds bust through all barriers: doors, closed windows, walls and sometimes ear plugs (truly). And yet I embrace solitude whenever I can grab hold of it.

The beauty of growing older is the freedom to drink deep from the quiet when I so choose. So later in the morning, after having breakfast and coffee with my husband, before I take a stab at my to-do list or prepare for clients, I spend time reading and meditating on God’s Word and praying. This discipline opens a tender space in me, tuning my heart and soul toward the work of paying attention and being directed. There are times when I feel like a field left fallow; nicely plowed with nothing planted. But I have learned over the years this time is not wasted. The daily practice of showing up and paying attention scatters seeds I do not recognize, but not before the dark places in me have been laid open and exposed. Unaware in the ordinary dailiness of being and doing, life germinates.

The cultivation of attentiveness to God’s presence should be the soil out of which all prayer arises.”
Opening to God, David G. Benner

I have carried more guilt than I care to admit over the amount of time I have invested in “being” over “doing.” But surprisingly I still get a lot done – a lot of the things that truly matter to me. Last fall, my brother walked Jim and me through the process of developing a life plan, leaving us with one significant phrase summing up our purpose and focus. And we both knew without a doubt this one thing matters greatly to both of us. But we left with a stack of papers graffitied with our thought processes which were condensed into a one sentence directive. We had no idea how to sharpen our lives to that point. Out of the quiet places of my day ideas, thoughts and possibilities have been breaking ground. And just the other day, after I shared with Jim, things coming to life in me he said, “Maybe this is meant to be a part of our life plan.” In my spirit I sensed he was right.

The ways God can communicate with us are infinitely more creative and diversifies than we could imagine.”
Opening to God, David G. Benner

In the evening light as birds chatter loudly in the tangerine tree, the “what ifs” press in on my spirit planting doubts. Have I exposed too much hopefulness in these written words? Quickly I am reminded this hope is not in me, but in the One Who made me, the One Who “began a good work in [me].” Sigh. I relax. This is His doing, not mine. All I had to do was pay attention.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Transforming A Meltdown

How can an application for a licensure exam be cause for a meltdown? But it was. There I was laying on the rug in the living room, tears in my eyes and asking God where this all went wrong. I had started the day in the Word and in prayer; how could I be in such a dark place now? My husband laid down on the rug with me. He said, “It seems like you need help holding down the rug.” This was his way of showing empathy; it was best for him not to risk saying too much. In that moment everything in my life seemed to have gone wrong (tell me you’ve been there), when really I was just being challenged by paperwork and experiencing some anxiety about not getting it right.

It isn’t like this was the first time I attempted the process of filling out this paperwork; no it was actually the third. It seems drilling a website on my own through several links and form options is not one of my strengths. But there it is – paperwork took me down. I was feeling alone in the process, but there was my sweet husband holding down the rug with me as I ranted about everything while feeling incompetent and like a failure, when in actuality I was afraid and anxious.

For all the healing God has done in my life, there are still things that trigger feelings of inadequacy and in the struggle I may be found wrung out limp on the rug. Prior to wrestling myself down before God in my helpless state, I wasn’t able to give myself grace until I beat up on myself a bit. Or maybe a lot. Then the Father takes my hand and guides me away from the ugly abyss of self-loathing; He pries my fingers from the edge and doesn’t let me fall and drown. He reminds me it is OK not knowing how to do all things well and He does not want me to give up. More than anything He wants me to learn to lean on Him and listen to His whispers of reassurance.

In her book, Begin Again, Leeana Tanksley writes “We do not punish ourselves into transformation. We do not begin again by refusing to forgive ourselves. I’ve come to believe that we make lasting changes because we know, somewhere inside us, that we deserve something better, that we are hardwired for wholeness. . . . We don’t make lasting, constructive changes in our lives because of shame or self-loathing. We finally decide we were made for something more. This might come to us in a very small sense of knowing, but it’s a change in perspective, and it is the soil for new life.”

In her introduction Leeana explains how the phrase, ‘Always we begin again’, from the Rule of Saint Benedict became her lifeline. “It was permission to be unaccomplished, to be a beginner, to be brand new. More than permission, too, a sense that I was right where I should be and that the beginning space was actually a holy space, not just a layover on my way to something better.”

To be in uncomfortable spaces like: beginner, new, unaccomplished, puts me in a place of vulnerability. In this place the Father isn’t looking down on me in disgust; He wants me to look to Him for help. He wants to take hold of my hand and walk alongside me with support, love, encouragement and strength. This isn’t me just being weak, it is me leaning, surrendering and trusting. It is the grace space; I don’t have to know it all or be able to do it all. I must look up and fix my eyes on Him.

I am reminded of words from the Jesus Calling calendar by Sarah Young. “Link your hope not to problem solving in this life but to the promise of an eternity of problem-free life in heaven. Instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world, pour your energy into seeking Me: the Perfect One.”

Had I stopped filling out forms when I started getting anxious and sought Him I may not have ended up collapsed in despair on the rug in our living room. But I did. And from a real person who was willing to turn herself inside out to help others in the journey toward wholeness, I am reminded it is absolutely OK and incredibly life-giving to Begin Again. I am grateful when I read a book that reminds me I am not alone on this rugged human journey, and I cannot and need not figure it out perfectly. I am and we are “perfectly imperfect.” How do you navigate the situations in life where you find yourself feeling defeated by helplessness, inadequacy or incompetency? What do you do to support yourself in those moments? How have others come alongside you? I would love to hear your story.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Life I've Been Given

Somewhere I read, “Things are not as they should be.” This statement fits so well as I look out the window of the ICU ward and view the expansive beauty of the Pacific Ocean. On this clear, sunny day I can see downtown San Diego and Point Loma. In room 10 on the 5th floor my mother-in-law stares, unable to speak with a tube down her throat. She has pneumonia, along with an unknown bacteria. We wait. We watch for signs of improvement.

And while our family rotates in and out of room 10 throughout the day, waiting for our loved one to heal, a car pulls up in front of the hospital and a young man steps out and returns carrying a newborn baby. While one struggles to breathe and hang onto life, another has wrestled free from the womb and breathes oxygen deep into newly formed lungs letting out a scream that brings a whole family to attention. Things don’t seem to be as they should be, but they are what they will be. While an aged couple faces the struggle to rein bodies giving out, an engagement is announced by a younger couple with most of their life seemingly still ahead of them.

Autumn leaves, past their season, let go and scatter about in the street as I drive by on my way home from the store with a bouquet of daffodils in my shopping bag. Life is full of incongruity and things are not often the way we hoped they would be. Life is far from ideal; the sad packages we are given can be wrapped in joyous moments and vice versus. All the signs we are human: babies, weddings, aging bodies and death are the ordinary stuff of being human. The joys and struggles of our everyday lives are the things God uses to draw our attention to Him. Like colorful leaves letting go out of season I sometimes wonder if the events of the day are all out of place, and I sigh hoping this isn’t real. But it is.

This has been a year for learning how to pray. It’s not like I had no idea how to pray, but how to be present to His presence and to listen for His voice. And in the midst of learning about prayer I see this part of me that spent a lot of energy wanting to get on with the life I am really meant to live – wanting to get past the hard things and onto what is joyful and rewarding. But I am learning a few things as I sit in His Word and open my mouth to pray and shut my mouth to listen.

This is the life I am meant to live, here in the midst of sickness, unfinished projects, babies, weddings, meals and laundry; it is here where He leads and speaks and loves in and through me. He is using everything – even things seeming not as they should be – to transform me. Though life experiences don’t come tied up in nice, tidy little packages with bows; there is beauty in letting go and leaving room for the unexpected. There is freedom in accepting things will not always be as they seem or as I wish them to be.

I am learning to let go of having things the way I want and to live the life I have been given. And trust me, it is not easy. I am a work in progress and return to this place more often than I care to admit. Always, when I show up again on His doorstep with a pout on my face that lets Him know I hadn’t expected life to look this way, I find grace. There I can fall into His arms, let it all go and be loved. Then He turns me around, as He did with Elijah, and tells me to go back the way I came. For even though “Things are not as they should be” life is exactly as it is meant to be in His kingdom and He gives me everything I need to live the life I have been given.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

It's All In the Fight Pattern

The Sharp-shinned Hawk sits in the bird bath; all the smaller birds have taken cover in the trees, all except the Black Phoebe. The Black Phoebe is a Flycatcher – a pretty black bird with a white belly – looking as if dressed for a formal event. The Phoebe sits bravely on top of a stump or a bare branch. I am in awe of its courage. After discussing why this little bird is so brave when all the other birds flew to cover, my husband and I concluded the Phoebe’s boldness is due to his flight pattern. A more knowledgeable birdwatcher may know the scientific reason, we were satisfied with our conclusion.

The are several species of North American Flycatchers and according to Wikipedia, Peterson’s Field Guide states, “The flycatchers are the largest family of birds on earth, with over 400 known species." The Black Phoebe is medium-sized and usually perches in low exposed areas (the log in our back yard) near fresh water (the bird bath) with tail bobbing up and down. A Flycatcher is known for its acrobatics in flight – useful for snatching flying insects (main diet) right out of the air. I have watched from our back door as a Black Phoebe winged this way and that to catch its supper. Flycatchers also have the ability to hover and snag an insect directly from a leaf.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, smallest of the hawk species, are quick and agile. We do not see them year round in southern California, but they arrive in winter. I am back to wondering why the Phoebe sat so bravely on a bare branch when this hawk sat nearby. Doesn’t the Phoebe identify its enemy or recognize this to be a quick, agile Sharp-shinned Hawk? Now I am all about getting a mini-lesson on birds, but my purpose in exploring this curious situation elicits questions about my own skills and confidence in facing down the enemy of my soul.

Those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus often buckle under when the enemy shows up and threatens to take our peace, our families, our homes, etc. I am not claiming we can take away anyone’s free will, but we can certainly do battle in the Spirit against evil. I recently sat across from a young woman I care about and listened as she shared the intense battle going on in her home. I asked if she was familiar with spiritual warfare (fighting in the spirit with God’s power and not in the flesh – our own limited strength) and she said, “Yes”. I strongly suggested she start praying protection over her home everyday.

For some of you reading my blog this may be unfamiliar. If you are interested in learning more about spiritual warfare there are many verses in the Bible teaching how to fight the enemy of God, as well as good books on spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare involves praying the Word of God and claiming His promises. The movie, War Room, is a good example of spiritual warfare, along with Priscilla Shire’s book Fervent. I also like John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead. All believers have access to the power of the Spirit, the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, but we often forget. I know I do.

Priscilla Shire writes, “Praying with precision is key. When we pray about the places where we seriously suspect the enemy is at work – that’s how we keep our prayers focused, not only on particular situations but on biblical truths that are consistent with maintaining victory in the midst of them. It’s how our praying stays integrated with reality, rather than aimlessly wandering . . . Prayer is the portal that brings the power of heaven down to earth. It is the kryptonite to the enemy and to all his ploys against you.”

So how can I be bold in the presence of the enemy like the Black Phoebe in the presence of the Sharp-shinned Hawk? I have to read the Bible daily and know the Word of God. I need an intimate relationship with God and to be aware of His power and presence in my life at all times. This is essential. To some degree I need to know how the enemy works, but he isn’t my main course of study. I don’t know about you, but I want to know how to access the power and tools God made available for me to use in the face of the enemy. I suppose in some way you might call it my acrobatic flight pattern, except I am not just wanting to escape the enemy but to overcome him. And that is exactly what I am able to do through the power of the Spirit.

I am reminded how often I sit hiding in fear like the small birds hidden in the trees while the hawk sits in the birdbath. I am not meant to live in fear or be a victim of the enemy; God’s Word – the Bible – tells me so. I shake myself and say, “Girl, what are you thinking? You have the power of the Creator of the universe behind you and His Spirit lives within you. You are not alone and you are not dependent on your puny self to fight this battle.” I am so grateful for His patience with me and His willingness to continue teaching me about prayer.

The Black Phoebe knows by instinct he can out maneuver the Sharp-shinned Hawk. My instincts are to hide and forget the power I have access to every day. This year I am investing time in the spiritual disciplines – reading the Bible, praying, studying, listening and being accountable – so I will be less likely to forget what I have been given to face down the enemy.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Starting Off on the Left Foot, Not the Wrong Foot

Some people might say I started the year on the wrong foot. I am looking at it through a different lens; I started the new year on my left foot, which isn’t necessarily the wrong foot. The new year didn’t start as I imagined or planned – the way I would normally begin the first day of the year. January 1 is for me what December 31 is for many – a cause to celebrate. But you won’t find me celebrating in a crowd with a drink in my hand; I am usually up too early for that sort of thing. You will find me still in pj’s enjoying a cup of coffee in the quiet morning hours. A journal and pen will be nearby as I pray about and process God’s direction for my life as I embrace a fresh start. I list out things I would like to do differently; these thoughts have been sprouting weeks ahead in anticipation of the new year.

I reminded myself of something I often tell clients while encouraging them in the process of moving forward into change: You don’t have to do this perfectly. Starting the new year imperfectly according to my standards doesn’t make it wrong. Actually being sick helped me to postpone some weighty “should’s” and to recognize the world doesn’t crumble without me.

When the calendar boasted a new year on January 1, 2018 I found myself sick and unprepared for the new beginning. I felt stalled out. The first full week of the new year my husband and I were both sick and still feeling a bit sluggish. Laying around reading, resting and watching shows seemed to be the best we could do most days. We craved vegetables, chicken noodle soup and juice. I mustered up the energy to keep us well fed and my husband bought the green juice to make us well. Bit by bit I found a renewed interest in the wide open space the new year held and how I might map it out.

Emily P. Freeman writes, “I don’t see Jesus calling me to excellence, I do see him calling me to himself. And sometimes, on the kingdom of earth, moving close to Jesus looks like failure and embarrassment.” I felt a little ashamed at first of my inability to push through the viral fog and think clearly about the new year – at least until I decided to embrace the extra rest and quiet. I finally allowed myself to enjoy the freedom from the constant care of others, and hone in on caring for Jim and I – us caring only for one another – only then did I begin to embrace being forced to slow down and rest. During this hiatus I remembered the Life Plan my brother helped Jim and I develop in October; the plan has grown out of the seeds of our life experiences, passions, spiritual gifts, strengths and callings. Words emerged directing me, not only in the year ahead, but the next and the next and so forth: intentional, focused, creative, nature, present, welcoming. Sickness limited the way I began the year, but the forced rest reminded me that the limits of the Life Plan make it so much easier to know what belongs in my life.

I love the way Kristen Strong processes limits in her book, Girl Meets Change. She writes, “Limitations are borders, boundaries that hem us in and keep us on the path God has prepared for us. . . . In one form limitations are boundaries. But in another, limitations are wide-open fields where I acknowledge my own weakness and accept I need Jesus to go the distance where I cannot. A limitation is grace space for me to lie down in and soak up God’s presence. It is a garden spot for me to reflect on God’s believability. When we spend all our energy wishing things were different, we have no strength to revel in the glory of the blessings right in front of us. Our limitations work for us, not against us. They also test to see just how genuine our faith is.”

I discovered the start of a new year can be just as good even when it defies tradition. It isn’t so much how I began the year as how I will live it. I was tempted to take the negative view of the delayed or different way I was forced to begin 2018. But then I began to realize that starting slow and restful was a good thing; it involved an extra week home from work. Jim and I enjoyed the time catching up with one another after an unusually hectic autumn. I was given more time to process how God wants to sift the direction of my life through the Life Plan He gave us. I can begin to consider what needs discarded. Slower has been a good way to start; I was given the opportunity to pace myself instead of rushing pell-mell into a new year as if my life and everyone elses’ depended on it. So whether it is the right foot or left foot that takes the lead it is still a step in the right direction. How has 2018 been for you so far?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Simple Moments

Simply put, it’s the simple things of life I find steeped with meaning. Otherwise why do we go around capturing photos of trees full of colorful leaves, flowers blooming, steamy mugs of coffee and selfies with friends wherever we go? Isn’t it because there is something beautiful in the simple moments and pleasures? In a few still moments on a gray cloudy day I sit here wedged between two holidays writing about the simple things even though the world has attempted to siphon off all the simple joys from the season.

Just a little over a week ago I was checking the turkey, shaping the rolls and mashing potatoes on a hot southern California day with no air conditioning. Midst conversation, cooking and eating chocolate chip cookies as appetizers those special, simple moments happened. And the best memories aren’t the food. It was the moment I realized the candles had burned down and dripped all over the table runner. Sheepishly, my daughters informed me the damage was done when I turned on the ceiling fan. We had a good laugh! And another good laugh a few days later in the remembering of the incident.

It was the moment in the living room, coffee and dessert in hand, while discussions flew about settling into a healthy space of “agreeing to disagree.” Then it was by the fire pit where stories were told and laughter launched over the neighbors’ fences. And last but not least it was dividing up leftovers and doling out hugs, saying how glad we were to spend the time together.

I may not remember the new recipe I used to cook the turkey (nerve wracking) or what recipe I used for the rolls; because I am always trying something new, but I will remember all the simple moments for a long time. I will treasure them in my heart. You see, when changes happen in the family one often notes more closely the simple things – the things you want to live over and over again. My oldest daughter is moving to London, England to get her master’s degree at Central St. Martins and who knows where the winds of fulfillment will direct her. And so it may be a long time before we all sit around the fire pit and laugh together or quite possibly the same mix of people may not be around. I know there will be other beautiful, simple moments to treasure but I cannot help but savor these a little longer knowing things are changing.

The mere fact things are always changing forces to the surface the simple, precious moments we have with one another. It seems so many of us are working hard not to miss these moments with our photos and our posts. Photography is a wonderful way to focus on the simple pleasures of life, but I want to be present in them as well. My heart longs to squeeze out every drop of significance from time spent enjoying loved ones and the beauty around me. But there seems to be something even in the squeezing that leaves me deflated. Could it be that just being present and grateful is enough for receiving the blessings of these moments?

Simple pleasures weren’t designed to be held onto tightly until they fall flat. Gratitude is the one sure way to hold lightly to the meaningful moments, offering simple pleasure to the One who gives these good gifts in the first place. Gratitude serves up rest. When I am grateful, I realize I did not create the simple moments overflowing with meaning. I am unable to design and create such moments. All I can do is be present to receive and give thanks. Maybe this is why the simple, everyday moments seem to be the best; I am the receiver, not the creator of these moments. They happen by His design, therefore I can trust that even though things are changing there will always be simple moments to experience and treasure.

Richard Foster puts is well: “The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find him at all. Ours is to be a symphonic piety in which all the activities of work and play and family and worship and sex and sleep are the holy habitats of the eternal.”

So while another holiday presses me to move forward, leaving behind the last, it is my desire to be aware of the greater things this season offers. It won’t be the big moments but the simple pleasures I can easily overlook if I get too caught up in the making big memories. What are the simple pleasures you and your family enjoy this time of year?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Desert: A Place for Letting Go

I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought.”
Hosea 13:5

October seven years ago, I sat like a squatter in the home of a family I had never met. These generous folks, friends of my mom, were traveling but willingly opened their door to me. It was hard to believe this was me – the girl who spent most of her childhood in one home and frightened to be home alone until I was well into my 20's. I was camping out in a stranger's home in the desert with a few essentials, 1300 miles from the community in which I had been immersed for the past 14 years. Everything else I owned was in a storage unit in another part of Tucson. It felt both incongruous with who I had been but freeing. I found myself in a place of unique tension: resting and waiting. This move, my first ever without parents, spouse or children, was the culmination of a decade full of difficult and significant changes.

On the heel of completing a master's degree, the last day of September, 2010, my brother flew to Kansas City to drive the moving truck. That ride was the longest time we'd spent alone together since our teen years. We drove all night, stopping in the early hours of the morning at my sister's home for a rest. On the following day we arrived in Tucson where several of my brother's friends met us at a storage unit and unloaded the truck. That night I stayed with my family.

Desert living never appealed to me but to the desert I had gone. For what? I didn't have a job or a permanent residence. First, coming was about being near family. Both of my girls lived in San Diego, just a six-hour drive from Tucson; this was both closer and more affordable than San Diego. And being near San Diego gave Jim and I an opportunity to see each other and determine if our long distance friendship was meant for deeper commitment. I spent so many years considering this move that my arrival seemed surreal, more like a vacation.

All those years of longing to move closer to family and coming to the desert soon became so much more than I anticipated. For one month I camped out in a stranger's house, looking for a job and exploring my new community. I lived on a dirt road populated with coyotes, quail, and bobcats, though not all on friendly terms. The haunting sound of coyotes howling in the night was strangely comforting. The murmuring of quail in the early morning hours invited me to sit on the porch and sip coffee. It seemed years since my body had been able to sink into such a calm, restful space.

But the calm ebbed and flowed. I found myself wrestling against this luxurious time of restoration. I had gotten used to being hyper-responsible as a single parent, caring for my girls and planning for a future alone. Like a person being pulled from side to side, two trains of thought yanked me between rest and responsibility: find a job or let myself be cradled in renewal.

I began looking for a place to rent. Having the blessing of living in this empty house temporarily, I had no desire to impose on the home owners upon their return. It was my niece who found my next residence, a nice granny flat just down the road from where I was staying. Crystal and her husband owned the granny flat and lived next door; we became close friends. They allowed me to move in without a job, paying rent from savings. It was more than I could imagine: built-in book shelves, a walk-in closet, a big bathroom with a large jacuzzi tub, a dreamy kitchen with an island, tile floors; all this without leaving behind the coyotes, quail and bobcats.

All my goods were gathered from storage and moved to this new haven. It was November so I set up the Christmas tree early. In a window by the door its twinkly lights welcomed visitors while in some small way mimicked the vast amount of stars seen from my patio in this dark, desert community. I felt safe. Days were doled out in increments of job hunting, networking, reading, walking, colorful desert sunsets, and long phone conversations with Jim.

Jim and I became engaged four months after my move. The biggest, riskiest move I ever made alone left me sitting on the edge of another. He was deeply rooted in his community and I was simply finding my way around, so it made more sense for me to move to San Diego. Happy to say yes to life with him; and the idea of living in the same city as my girls seemed more than a “happily ever after” ending. I was torn about leaving the cocoon in which I had wrapped myself – the environment, my darling home, the people and the change of pace. Friendships had slipped on easily here, like a worn, comfortable pair of jeans.

I began collecting boxes and packing again; my stay here had been reduced to six months. The last eight weeks I was freer to drop into a more relaxed space; job hunting had been postponed. It was like living on an island of time saved just for me. In conjunction with nurturing new friendships, an appreciation for the desert blossomed. Even now as I think back to my time in the desert a calm envelopes me.

My move to the desert evolved into an unexpected, leisurely pause and there I was given a surprisingly new experience with myself and the natural world. In the desert I learned about letting go and embracing. Coming to the dessert required paring down – giving away or selling much of the bulk that comes with marriage and raising kids. Alone in the desert my life was simplified. The anticipation of another move and a new relationship offered an opportunity to reconsider the things I was holding onto still – things supporting a single life. I sorted, releasing items and packing others.

I was making room for a new life. At the same time I was taking more control of my own self-care: walking, eating healthier and spending time alone refueling, and in new relationships I found expansion. Not only had my collection of stuff pared down, so had I. For the first time in years I felt good in my clothes and had a tan I didn’t work on. In the desert I was free to be outside all winter in spite of one surprising snowfall. I was free to move toward others and away as needed.

In the desert, far from my deep mid-western roots, I found myself anew. I was a long way from where I had come and a long way from who I had been. It was as if I left one world, passed through a tunnel, and came out into another. I hadn’t forgotten who I was or all those who had been there for me; I just simply was more myself and starting a new adventure. One brave step released me of a life outgrown to move into a life I hadn’t fully imagined.

God often moves us out of our comfort zones and into a space requiring us to expand and become more than we imagined. Though the desert days were short, they were meaningful and necessary. In the desert I was buoyed for the next step of faith. Most often our desert experiences take place inside our souls. Have you ever had a desert experience? What did God teach you while you were waiting for Him to release you from this challenging space?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Stitched in Rituals

Autumn has always awakened in me the need to take in hand favorite rituals I’ve let go by the wayside, give them a good fluffing and then wrap them around my days for comfort. September is my January, a time to re-calibrate. And as a child, September represented going back to school, purchasing school supplies and new shoes. I loved going back to school. Older now, I still find myself considering a box of new crayons or a pretty binder each year when Labor Day pushes back summer. Seasonal rituals vary from household to household, but most families have them whether they are aware of it or not and these rituals are incorporated in going back to school, holidays, planting gardens or summer vacations. There are thousands of ways people mark the passing of time from one season to the next with rituals.

Rituals are of great value when it comes to relationships. Ellie Lisitsa, staff writer of the Gottman Institute writes:

  • Rituals symbolize cultural identity and values we share with our families”
  • Rituals ensure that people take time for emotional connection”
  • Rituals can help us to process our feelings as we move through life’s transitions, and to stay connected despite our conflicts”

Annie Dillard’s words from The Writing Life speak to my heart on this topic, “What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, or course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is the net for catching days. It is scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

For me rituals are like doing the outside of a puzzle first; it’s the framework of my day. A day without rituals makes me feel harried. The rituals I do consciously or unconsciously hold me together when a day comes apart. Rituals create rhythms that seam together the patterns of my days. Some rituals have become so habitual I hardly recognize them to be rituals until I am faced with a big change. Some changes are known to tear a hole in the flow of my schedule and then I become discombobulated.

Recently I was thinking about what it must be like for all the people who have been misplaced at the mercy of hurricanes and earthquakes. Some of them have lost everything but their lives. I wonder if survivors of these disasters feel most lost without their stuff or their routines and rituals. I know we all have personal items with significant sentimental value and losing them would be quite sad. It isn’t my intent to minimize what folks in these places are experiencing, but when I imagine what it would be like I find myself thinking I would long for the everyday rituals. I would desperately desire to have my ordinary life back.

  • Morning rituals: washing face, brushing teeth, breakfast, coffee and devotions with husband, my quiet time in the guest room studying the Word and spending time with Jesus
  • Homemaking rituals: cleaning, laundry, planning and prepping meals
  • Evening rituals: Exercise, shower, go to work, home to read and sleep

How does one go about creating rituals to stitch a life back together when one is living in a shelter or on the street? I have no experience, no answers. I have this tiny memory of moving – nothing like a disaster, but uprooted. We had moved from California to Missouri in the month of January. Our furniture wouldn’t arrive for a week, so we stayed in a hotel. We had a new home totally empty without towels, dishes, or anything personal. Our daughters’ first day of school started in a hotel room. It was weird and challenging. I don’t remember how we fed them breakfast, but we had the usual morning rituals of washing up, brushing teeth and praying. The evenings included homework and reading a story at bedtime. We parents were confined to the girls’ schedule – to bed early with lights out.

It was a temporary inconvenience. Still it felt a little strange without our things and a normal routine. After awhile, a new place begins to feel ordinary and everyday, but with daily rituals the ordinary soon becomes extraordinary and appealing. I would love to hear about your rituals – the ones holding your days, weeks, and seasons together. And maybe even your sanity.