Answers to Prayer

The realtor's car flew along green fields and over rolling hills.  Seated in the back seat, a small and simple prayer formed in my mind.

Looking up and out the wide, flat glass of the windshield, I glimpsed a cherry-red Cardinal lifting off from a large puddle in the middle of the road.  The timing was impeccable, as if he'd been waiting there, staged to arise in answer to my prayer.   

"Hmm . . . ," I thought to myself. 

Turning toward my husband who sat beside me, I caught sight of a single deer running through a golden field.

"Look," I said and "hmmm . . . ," I thought to myself.

Pulling into the driveway of the house we'd come to see, I kid you not, the sun that had been playing a day-long game of hide-and-seek shone down bright and clear right on us. 

"The sun came out," I said to my husband with a smile as we unfolded ourselves, up and out of the car.

*   *   *

My husband's text to a friend the night before read, "Kelly and I are sideways about a house.  Do you have time to talk?" 

When I saw it, I said, half-joking, "Sideways?  Head-to head is more like it." 

There was one house that was a maybe. It fit our short list of needs and I was ready to settle because the alternative - the dark, dingy, over-priced rentals we'd toured, the leases that bound us financially for a year - were more than I could face.

Our good friend texted back, "Sure, how 'bout tonight?" and showed up at our door shortly after the kids were in bed.

He listened, this great hulk of a man sprawled on our living room floor, and we talked and by the time we were done some of the dense fog of fear and pain had lifted and my husband and I shifted from foes to allies again, sitting side-by-side even in the painful unknown.   

*   *   *

Our earliest dates took place in diners where we sat in sticky booths considering one another over endless cups of coffee.  Returning back to campus one night, we stood under the street-lights, eyes searching eyes and it bubbled out of him, "I just want to make you happy."

That same boy turned man sat across from me at a diner the following day and I was able to see again the bond of love that spanned the table between us holding us in the booth; that cable that runs from heart to heart and forms a home for us and all the little loves we've spawned.   

"You're right," he said, as we ate, "I've been thinking about it all day long, I made a list of pros and cons and there are really only two things about that house that I don't like. And two isn't that many."

Slowly, carefully, we each relinquished the claims we'd been holding in exchange for holding each other.  Finishing our meals, we slid into the low, red, Volkswagen and chugged our way over to the realtor's office.

*   *   *

We walked through the house slowly, by ourselves.  Turning, talking, touching walls and switches, we tried that house on and turned slowly, each for the other, to see how it fit. 

Stepping onto the deck we heard loud and clear what we hadn't heard the first time through, the unmistakable roar of route 81 that passed nearby just out of sight.  It was loud, undulating, unceasing noise.  Continuing through the house, the walls reverberated with the sound of passing trucks. 

As the clouds rolled in, low and heavy and the wind picked up, it seemed that all of heaven and earth rearranged itself to carry the highway's sound to us.  It was the one thing we could both agree on, the noise of a nearby highway wasn't something we were willing to embrace. 

*   *   *
I prayed that we would know and we did.  We knew, together, that it wasn't the house for us.  But beyond that, we knew in all the little ways we could, that God was with us and that gave us the courage to walk away from what might have been an easy answer. 

That night our realtor offered us the key to a vacant rental he owned and suddenly, just like that, we had a place to live while we continued looking and waiting.  It wasn't the answer we wanted, but it was an answer to prayer.  Sometimes, when we're able to let go of whatever it is we want so badly, those unwanted answers can be enough, not because of what they "get" for us, but because of the way they remind us so clearly that God is with us. 

This post is linked with Playdates With God and #tellhisstory.

Broken (Five Minute Friday)

By the time we were scheduled to get phone and Internet service, two days after the MOVE, we had already spent one night curled backwards on the love seat watching "Frasier" and "Better Off Ted" on the laptop that sat percariously perched in the window.  The Deli across the street, aside from offering a host of fried foods and free delivery, also boasts a "guest" wireless line, so we logged on and vegged out for a few precious minutes before climbing the stairs to face the child who would. not. sleep.

Monday night came and we plugged in the phone, but there was no dial tone, so we crumpled, exhausted, onto the couch again, swapping snippets of conversation in the seconds that became minutes while the shows buffered and buffered some more. 

Tuesday night was spent on a cell phone, getting shuffled from voice to voice in search of a solution.  There was mention of an $80 dollar service fee if the problem lay within the house and they suggested we test the connection outside using a corded phone. 

But who knew WHERE the corded phone was?  As usual, I could remember seeing it on top of a basket at some point, somewhere, but the basket I pictured had already been unpacked minus the phone, so . . .

We curled again, backwards, and the sign from across the street illuminated our faces while we watched sitcom characters solve their problems in twenty minutes flat every. single. time.

This post is linked with Lisa-Jo's Five Minute Friday, although her blog is currently broken, so I can't actually insert the link.  Classic.

Leaving the Nest

In the spring of the year, nest-building is upper-most in a bird's mind: it is the most important thing there is. If she picks a good place, she stands a good chance of hatching her eggs and rearing her young. If she picks a poor place, she may fail to raise a family. The female swan knew this; she knew the decision she was making was extremely important. - in The Trumpet of the Swan

Morning sun climbs the valley cut between two houses and pours through filmy finger-printed windows leaving whole hands outlined with gold.  Common sense would shut the blinds, savoring the cool darkness but, like the plants lined up along the window-shelf, I am drinking in this light, soaking up this morning, our second to last in this house. 

We have drunk this light for nearly ten years now, every morning and I wonder aloud how my plants will survive the move, but really I'm thinking of myself.  The windows in the apartment we will rent are skinny, facing only North and South, so we'll miss the cheerful toast of sunlight greeting the sky each morning and the fond kisses farewell as she sinks off to sleep each night. 

The boards of this house, the scarred sub-floor we refinished, wail and moan as we cross them; every step a conversation.  Rocking our babies to sleep at night meant tip-toeing a well-worn path once they drifted off.  Place one foot here, lean, step carefully, and a second there, all to avoid the sounds that might lead to the need for more rocking.

This house, these windows and floors, what can I say, but that they've held us, like a nest and we have flourished in their confines. 

Friends, we are MOVING this Saturday, and we would love your prayers and encouragement as we continue to wait for a new "forever" home.  Thanks!

That Which Remains

. . . I return again to a remarkable story by Isak Dinesen form her years spent in Africa.  One day, out in the bush, she came upon a beautiful snake, its skin glistening with subtle, variegated colors.  She raved so much about that snakeskin that one of her servants killed the snake, skinned it, and made it into a belt for her.  To her great dismay, that once glistening skin was now just dull and gray.  For all along the beauty had lain not in the physical skin but in the quality of its aliveness. - Cynthia Bourgeault in The Wisdom Way of Knowing

A thick and wrinkled stack of papers sits just the way I remembered it, tucked into a nearly opaque plastic shopping bag.  I'd looked through three thumb drives and a backup hard drive before plowing through the filing cabinets tucked into an upstairs crawl space.  I was looking for a certain sermon from my days as a Chaplain at Hershey Medical Center and finally found it in a box full of files in a second crawl space.  The dull green folders slumped lifelessly together, with the last few still wrapped in that old grocery bag I used to carry them home. 

The contents of our crawl spaces document every vocational chapter of my life.  The seminary years are tucked neatly into still-bright primary-colored folders - so many accolades and so much potential filed for now.  Then there are the teaching files, twenty-four at least, folders filled with lectures and outlines, presentations I knit together to survive semester after semester of not really knowing what I was supposed to be doing.  There are church files too, from my year as a pastor, sermons in every shape and style as I did the difficult work of figuring out how to be with people from the pulpit. 

It was unsettling, all of that searching through former lives and in the end probably not worth it for the few lines of text I was seeking which didn't glimmer nearly so well on the paper in my hand as they had in my memory. It was as though the life had gone out of them the moment they left my lips.

I have a hard time shaking the feeling that something of me is left in all of those files, all of those letters lined up so neatly on a page, something intangible that may well be lost if I don't somehow keep them along with me through thick and thin. 

So the files continue to sit there like the skins of my former selves, surrounded by bin after bin of clothing for my children who continue to shed their skins too, shape-shifting from soft sweetness to gawky bundles of energy. 

I wonder, what is it that remains once all of this is shed - the roles and titles, that so easily come and go?  And how do I even now attend to that thing which lies behind and beneath every other thing, that which Jesus once described as the only necessary thing?


I slide carefully crafted prayers
under heaven's door -
reasonable requests plainly scrawled  
on flat, white sheets of paper.

These, God takes and turns, 
fold by fold,
into something new,
sending them back in the strangest of guises -
a flitting bird, a bouncing frog -
fullness of life
where I only thought
to ask for provision. 

This post is linked with Five Minute Friday on the prompt, "Present."
and with Dverse poets pub. Click over to read more poems.

Morning Prayers (Another Way to Pray)

Anxiety hit at the same time consciousness did, dense and heavy, suffocating.  Raising my head a few inches from my crumpled pillow, I reached with blind hands toward the snooze button in an effort to beat back the day. Almost simultaneously, reflexively, as my fingers found the alarm, I threw out an old and familiar prayer, "God, please be with me.  Jesus, be with me." I waved the words like an amulet, to ward off the lost and sinking feelings. 

I've spent years telling God what to do.  At first I was quite specific, ticking off requests like an eternal "to-do" list that I might helpfully hang on God's refrigerator door.  Later, I settled for the more general command in which I simply asked God to "be with" me or she or whomever the situation demanded.  It was as though I was acquiescing in some way, trying not to be such a nag and all - "Ok, God, so I know you're not necessarily going to do what I want, but could you at least not abandon me?"

Today though, as soon as that prayer was flung, it was followed by the awareness that God is always with me and I felt the invitation to pray again a new and challenging prayer, "God, open me to your presence."

It wasn't what I wanted - I wanted escape, resolution to the questions at hand - but that prayer shifted me.  In that moment of surrender, something inside me split open just a crack and some of the darkness lifted; almost as though I had been the one holding onto it all along. 

Taking out the Trash (an invitation to Love)

"If what you see from the eye doesn't please you, then close your eyes and see from the heart." - Anonymous

I watch as the tall white plastic container slowly fills throughout the day.  By evening it’s reached maximum capacity and I do a high-step, stomping it down with my foot before scraping in the leftovers from six dinner plates.

The following morning, as I throw in the twins’ diapers from the night before, the situation is nearing a crisis – the trash can is full, overflowing, and my husband has already left for work. 
I feel a flash of anger as my fingers delicately search for the red plastic drawstrings and pull up on the hefty bag.  I tie the strings in a tight double-knot, drag the bag to the back door, and toss it outside where it sits smoldering in the sun all day long, blocking the entrance to our house.  I leave it there, stinking, like a quickly scrawled note of reproach that greets my husband the minute he returns from work.
My husband and I take a tag-team approach to nearly everything it takes to run a household of six, but last I checked taking out the trash is still his job.  He mostly neglects this responsibility, though, except for Sundays, when the weekly trash collection is imminent. 
I try everything from arguments and accusations to passive-aggressive humor in my attempts to wrestle him into compliance.  I explain how it hinders my day, how the whole house gets backed-up when we don’t keep up with the trash.  But I don’t explain how it feels like a personal affront to me, which is where, I suspect, the anger really comes from.  I also neglect to mention how I’ve allowed this little failure to come to symbolize a lack in his love for me. 

I can see I’m being irrational, but I can’t seem to let it go.
Then, one day, as I bend again to lift that heavy, reeking load, I feel the invitation to view that neglected bag as a symbol of all that my husband does do for me and for our family. 
The truth is that he neglects the trash, in part, because he’s busy showing his love in a hundred other ways, both big and small.  Arriving home from work, he looks past the trash and toddlers, his wide smile seeking me out as he pulls me into his arms to ask about my day.  He helps with baths and bedtime and encourages me to take the evening off and head out with friends when the going gets tough and I need a break.      
The truth is I am loved.  So for now on, as I bend and stomp and lift and tote, I’ll use it all, every motion, as a reminder of his love for me.  Because love is patient and love is kind, but nowhere does it say, “Love is taking out the trash.”

(photo credit here)

This post is linked with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

The 'Mind Vice' (Recovering the Faculties of Faith)

I believe that when you have a problem, you talk it over with your priest, or your tailor, or the mute elevator porter at your men's club, and you take that problem and crush it with your mind vice. But for lesser beings like curly-haired men and people who need glasses, therapy can help. – Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock

Eight, nine, ten times a day I'm checking the listings in our area.  Adjusting the search settings one-by-one, tweaking location, price and size.  Despite the responsibility of four kids seven and under and the ever present demands of laundry and dinner, blogging and LIFE, I've spent endless hours trolling the web.  It's not healthy, I know, and when I step away from the screen, back into the reality of actual physical life, my eyes are glazed and dim, my mind in a perpetual state of distraction. 

Later in the day as I stand at the sink with the dishes, running water and soap wiping away the grime of another meal, I recognize in an instant an old, familiar pattern.  The phrase "mind-vice" sums it up as I remember an episode from 30 Rock where Jack advises Liz to crush her relational problems in her "mind-vice" thereby circumventing icky things like feelings.  

Somehow I keep thinking if I sit and search long enough I can crush this house-hunting problem in my "mind vice." 

Standing at the sink, though, I reminded of how we started this whole process, how my husband and I both felt an invitation into a dream born somewhere deeper inside the body that had little to do with the mind and its linear logic. 

The mind is good for some things, but not all things.  Cynthia Bourgeault puts it this way,

The intellectual center carries the "denying force;" it's natural aptitude is for reasoning, doubting and making fine discriminations.  In their own right, these discriminatory skills are legitimate and profoundly necessary, built into the structure of the human mind itself.  But in terms of the spiritual journey, trying to find faith with the intellectual center is like trying to play a violin with a saw: it's simply the wrong tool for the job.  This is one reason why all religious traditions have universally insisted that religious life cannot be done with the mind alone; that is the biggest single impediment to spiritual becoming. "The Wisdom Way of Knowing," 31

There are so many things the mind is good for and, then again, so many things it isn't - like Love and Hope, Joy and Surrender. 

I can keep hunting, keep searching obsessively, but something tells me my mind is on a false trail, barking up the wrong tree, if you will, and though the hunt gives me the illusion of productivity and control, it also keeps me from the fullness of life in the present - it's terrifying uncertainty, it's open-ended possibilities. 

Receiving a dream isn't like solving a math problem and, as Bourgeault says, "the spiritual life cannot be done with the mind alone."

Like the sunflower turning it's face toward the sun, I feel the invitiation to return to faith that's guided by someting deeper than mere sight.

Laying on the floor, I feel the ground, solid benath me and I'm reminded again of that Love that holds my family and I.

I listen for bird song everywhere and smile as it floats in through the open transom lighter than the sunshine filtering through closed blinds. 

I watch the robin, plump and happy who's so taken with our back yard. 

I listen and look and watch and wait and as I exercise these other faculties, I feel it growing, this seed of hope, though my mind sees no reason for it. 

This post is linked with Playdates with God.