An Introvert's One Word Post (363 days late)

Last year was my first year blogging through the New Year and the first time I was exposed to OneWord365. Alece Ronzino came up with the concept of praying for One Word that encapsulates what God might be inviting you into in the year ahead and a whole community has blossomed around it (Claire DeBoer has written a great introduction into the concept over at SheLoves Magazine). 

It seemed like everyone I followed online had a Word and not just any word, mind you, but a Good and Meaningful word.  Not only did they have a word, they were writing about it, blogging about it and what it might mean for the year ahead.

So I started looking for my word in a rather anxious way, as in, "I'd better hurry up and get a #$@^ing word, so I can write about it and get in on the trend."

(ok, so maybe there wasn't any swearing involved, but I did feel a lot of pressure.)

I'd just recently read, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, by Cynthia Bourgeault and was fascinated by her ideas around the embodiment of spirituality, how our outward postures can both reflect and shape our inward experience and expressions of spirituality.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt my word might be "embodied." 

Pretty quickly I had a word or at least the idea of a word, but I was hesitant, it seemed like a big deal - One Word, for the whole year.  What if I messed up?  Was this THE word? How was I to know?  So I tucked it away, in true introvert fashion, and kept on waiting and listening to see if anything else would turn up.

I told a friend about the Word situation over breakfast a few weeks later.  My voice rose with anxiety as I spoke about the stress of not having a Word.  It was all so random and I was only venting, really, but as I spoke, her face lit up and she said, "I know what your word is!"

She had recently watched one of the Nanny McPhee movies where Nanny pins a word on each of the members of a family.  Coming to the mother, Nanny McPhee pins the words, "Leap of Faith" onto her lapel. Watching the movie, my friend thought "That's Kelly!"

Well, I think you have to take a word when it comes at you like that, right?

So there I was, a little way into 2013 with FOUR words: "Embodied" and "Leap of Faith."

In the beginning I thought of them as separate ideas, parallel, but unconnected roads leading into the New Year.

It wasn't until after we sold our house, failed to find a new home to buy and moved into a month-to-month rental that I thought of reading those words all together as one sentence, "Embodied leap of faith."

So that's what we did, looking back, though I wouldn't have called it that at the time - we took an embodied leap of faith.  It's funny, we ended up renting about two blocks from our old  home which may not seem like much of a leap to some, but a leap of faith may not always be accurately measured by visible bounds.  Maybe a better measure might be the stretch and lurch induced in that strange muscle known as the human heart.  

Those four little words, that one act, has shaped so much of my writing over the past year.  I wrote about Hope, and Trust, Waiting and Surrender as we worked our way toward and eventually over the edge of our little nest out into the wide unknown (you can read a number of these posts by clicking HERE).  

Here we are, though, twelve months later, still winding our way through the air, waiting to land, waiting, again, for another Word (or Four).  

Will you participate in OneWord365?  What will your word be?

One of the Cherubim


                                                  Walking with my family,
                                                  I am like one of the
                                                  four living creatures
                                                  "full of eyes
                                                  in front and behind;"
                                                  two pairs at my head,
                                                  two at my waist,
                                                  and two at my knees.

                                                  Together we spot
                                                  the monarch caterpillar
                                                  green and yellow
                                                  stretched-out along
                                                  a blade of grass,
                                                  the cicada half out
                                                  of its shell, suspended
                                                  on the side of a tree

                                                  and, like the angels,
                                                  I am filled with praise.

This is Our Story (Bearing the Light)

This is a reading I wrote for the Christmas Eve service at our church a few years back.  Merry Christmas to you and yours and may you be blessed by the Light that shines!

In the beginning was the Word
     and the word was with God,
          and the word was God.  

Genesis tells us that the first thing God made was light. 
The first thing Jesus – the Word who was with God – made, was light. 

“Let there be light” said the Word. 
     And there was light. 

God saw that the light was good;
     and God separated the light from the darkness. 

“Let us make humans in our image,” said the Word.
And life was brought into being. 
Humans were made in the image of God,
     in the image of light,
     in the image of the life that was the light of all people.

The first thing God made was light,
     but the first thing we chose was darkness.

We chose darkness and it welcomed us,
     with promises to hide our need and nakedness,
          with promises to bring us life.

Our eyes became dim and we learned to flee the light. 

The darkness wrapped us with itself,
     we became prisoners and captives
          and the light that smoldered within us went dark. 

We walked in darkness
     and lived in the land of the shadow of death. 

God looked down and saw our darkness. 
The Word said, “I am the Light of the world.  Let me go to them.”
     And he came. 

The people who lived in the land of deep darkness saw a great light.
     Like the coming of the dawn.
          Like the sun in all its glory. 

And the angels sang, “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”

But we didn’t know him for who he was. 
     We knew darkness.  We knew captivity. 
     The light was painful and we clung to the darkness. 

But some remembered how it felt to live in light and love.
     They squinted and stared, even though it caused great pain, 
     even though his light exposed their darkness.

They welcomed the light 
     and the light within them flickered and grew. 

Then they too became light
     and the light spread, 
     like a fire that burns and never goes out. 

The light shines in the darkness 
     and the darkness has not overcome it. 

And now Christ comes 
     in every person who will welcome him, 
     in every one who will bear the light.   

We Are Held in the Dark

". . . and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by . . ."  Exodus 33:22

My twin boys travel the steep wooden stairs, short legs stretching with a two-year-old's unique combination of purpose-filled distraction.  They run through the house on winged feet, blinded with joy and speed.  They climb - oh how they climb - improvising foot-holds as little arms reach and stubby fingers grab for that which is too hot, too fragile, too dangerous for them to have.        

To be two is to live life perpetually on the edge - the fall is nearly inevitable.

Sometimes it's an accident of their own making - the lean that goes too far, the stumble - but other times the world gives way beneath them, that which they trusted is not what it seems and at this their eyes widen, betrayed by unforeseen pain. 

The worst falls are followed by a long, slow intake of air.  Alerted by the sound of their impact, it's my turn to fly, up or down the stairs, across the long pine floor boards in search of the injured one.

The first wail erupts, twisting his little face, causing his eyes to half-shut as all of that breath drawn-in now comes rushing out.  Screaming, he rises and staggers toward me, reaching, half-blind, for comfort.

Looking for wounds - for blood, for bruises or the tell-tale red, puffy skin of a cheek or forehead - I gather him in like a hen with her chicks.  My long arms twine tight knowing by instinct that the press of flesh on flesh will bring consolation.

Then I rise because there's comfort for them still in being lifted, in being held.  Perched on my left arm, short legs wrap around my waist and I reach up instinctively with my right hand, cupping the back of a silken-haired head. 

The wailing continues in my ear now as he leans back time and again to fill his lungs and all of the pain comes pouring out dressed in a vivid cloak of sound.  Finally, when the sound has been let, I gently press his face into the intersection of my neck and shoulder, that dark corner of mother-scented skin.  Holding him there, his face buried, he gentles, calming as the tension eases and he melts into me.

Standing there, swaying, with my head crooked to the side to close him in, my hand still covering the back of his head, I hear the words of an old familiar hymn in a new light,  

                  He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
                  That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
                  He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
                  And covers me there with His hand,
                  And covers me there with His hand.

                                                  (Fanny Crosby)

Then it dawns on me, maybe the darkness I so often feel is not a sign of God's absence, but rather a sign of God's intimate presence.

Maybe when the eye of my spirit grows dim and darkness descends all around, it is simply because I am being held, steadied, in the cleft of the Rock, covered by a soft and sturdy hand.  Breathing in with my eyes shut I can almost feel the press of God-scented skin, the presence of the One who holds, who hides, who covers us all.

This post is linked with #TellHisStory and Imperfect Prose.

If you liked this post, you may also like Remembering (We Are Held) "God waits like a hammock swinging in the breeze, like a mother’s lap that sways full of life and breath and song."         

Breathing (in Advent)

"I told you about this, right?" he asks, "About how I don't breathe?"

He said it casually as we stood together washing and cooking in the kitchen.

"No," I said, with a rueful smile, "you didn't tell me you stopped breathing."

But then I added, with seriousness, "I know."

*   *   *

"I can't feel my face," I'd gasped on the way to the hospital, "it's all numb and tingly."

Our van flew North along the highway and my husband, driving as fast and carefully as he could, kept glancing over to where I sat in the passenger seat, encouraging me to breathe through wave after wave of contractions.

We hadn't practiced breathing this time around, hadn't practiced anything really.  My previous labor lasted a few brief hours and aside from panting to keep from pushing as my friend sped us across town, there hadn't been time for breathing.

This time, though, we were driving to the big city hospital with the level one NICU to deliver twins, one of whom was breech, and we were hoping to get there in time.  Recalling a breathing pattern from a lamaze class years ago, my husband coached me over the miles, though he told me later he was making himself dizzy in the process.   

I was nearing panic as we pulled off the exit ramp into the downtown streets that were mercifully empty.  We parked in the emergency entrance and an angel with a walkie-talkie found a wheel-chair and whisked us away in the freight elevator, directly into the maternity unit.  
As soon as we were assigned a nurse, we explained my tingling face and hands.

"That's because you're not breathing right," she replied.

Before signing off of her shift for the evening, she educated us both in a pattern of "ha"s and "hoos" that would carry us through the rest of labor and delivery.  She spent a total of fifteen minutes with us, but she turned the tide of delivery by helping me figure out how to breathe.  

*   *   *

We're trying to learn to breathe again, my husband and I, here in this season of Advent; here in the waiting and in-between, when each breath matters more than we can tell.  Caught in the middle between two houses for five months now, we've both been holding our breath out of habit as we wait through wave after wave of hope and discouragement.  

Lying in bed at night, side by side, we take deep breaths and the blankets rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. 

Watching the children gathered on the carpet, still and expectant for one brief pause as they wait for an Advent treat, we draw the moment in, through eyes and ears and nostrils, before exhaling into the chaos of wrappers and chocolate that ensues. 

We are learning to breathe as though each breath is a doorway, an invitation and each breath deeply drawn, holds within it the foretaste of that for which we wait.

This post is linked with Playdates With God.

Biding the Shadows of Advent

I am still running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.  So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.
                                                              - Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Speak

My emotions rise as we settle into church and I excuse myself to get a cup of tea.  He catches me as the water pours, hot, into a thin paper cup.  The tea bag leeches black and one innocuous question is enough to break my thin veil of composure. 

I mumble something, voice breaking and the oceans that spring from my eyes speak their own words without words and this man doesn't turn away or try to cover over the awkwardness of the moment, but instead leans in. 

We stand talking in the middle of the refreshments, my friend and I, and it's not the words that matter, but the fact that he doesn't turn from my tears, doesn't deny the reality of the pain I feel over what should be such a simple thing.  When the service breaks, my husband joins us and the pain pours out yet again, welling up around us as we three tread water in its depths.

The prophet Isaiah describes the coming Christ as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" and the tiny babe born on a starry night grew into a man who drew the weak, weary and heavy-laden to himself, attracting those whose lives contained enough tears to wash his very feet.

It should be no wonder then, when in the midst of our waiting, we feel the dark corners of our own hidden grief beginning to come undone.  As we approach the light to come, our sense of the shadows both within and without, deepens.   

The only way I know to move through this pain is to look it in the eye, to drink the cup of sorrow and swallow it down whole or, as my friend would say, "to get down and roll around in the mud with it."  In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says "the only way out is in and through," and here I am taking the dark and long road down and through these oceans depths of grief that are at once both old and new.

But it is here in the darkness, also, that voice of the angel comes, always - "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Here in deep shadows, spread wide like the velvety night sky, this is where the angel greets us who dare to tarry awhile, this is where the Christ child is born.

(For another reflection on the presence of grief during Advent, visit Laura Boggess' post at The High Calling  The Bread of Tears, "The season is bittersweet for some. Hearts are cognizant of empty places: loved ones departed, emotional estrangement, abandoned dreams, disappointments, and fears. Absence creates a presence that we carry with us as we rush to and fro during Advent. And we ask ourselves, how can a season of such joy also spark this kindred sorrow?")

Scattered Gifts (Exchanging Memos With God)

A few weeks ago a dear friend gave us a computer - out of the blue.

We really needed a second computer, but couldn't begin to figure out how we could buy one. Then, BAM, just like that, before we'd hardly wrapped our minds around it, the problem was solved.

A few days later, another couple we barely know stopped by with a brand new vacuum.

Ours was broken and we'd put the word out that we were in the market for a used or hand-me-down machine.  But here it was, NEW, in the box, with a bow on top.  I sat the box in the living room and watched the children dance around it in excitement when they got home from school.

Then, when I was off writing at Panera on a Saturday afternoon, my husband found a drafting table set out for free on the curb, just down the road from our house.  Exactly the kind of table I've always loved, exactly the kind of desk I've always wanted.  

This was shortly after we put in the verbal offer on the farm house of our dreams - the "long-shot" offer that fell short of the negotiating table and we were discouraged.

"Do you realize," I said to my husband one evening, "that in just a little over a week we've been given a computer, a vacuum, and a table?  It's crazy, isn't it?"

"You're right," he said, "I hadn't really thought about it that way."

"I can't feel it, though," I added, "It's like, I should feel something, but I can't."

It was right around the week of Thanksgiving and I was writing and speaking about gratitude, but I couldn't feel it, because all I wanted to do was send God a little memo that said something like:

                              Dear God:
                              Thanks for the computer, and vacuum and table,
                              but what we really need is a house.
                              Maybe you could just try to focus on that??

My guess is that God gets quite a few letters like that.  Maybe you've sent one too?

I didn't mean to be ungrateful, but my eyes were stuck somewhere in the distance, scanning the horizon, so much so that I almost missed the gifts of Presence scattered at my feet.

Because what I want, truly, is to know that God is with us.  I can wait for a house, if I can be certain that God is in the waiting too.

Shifting my focus, I saw those gifts - the computer, the vacuum, the table - as so many memos, straight from the hand of God and they read something like this:

                               Dear Kelly:
                               I see you.
                               I know your needs.
                               I love you.
                               And, yo, chill about this house deal,
                               I'm workin' on it.

Waiting Together (Cut Flowers For Advent)

I finally made it up to the attic this morning to dig out my advent books, among them, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a book of essays and sermons by a wide variety of authors.  My on-going favorite is one by Henri Nouwen entitled, "Waiting for God."

Nouwen skillfully explores the fear and anxiety of waiting while highlighting the fact that all of the characters in Luke's gospel are waiting for something that has already been promised to them.  The spiritual life, according to Nouwen, is "one in which we wait," but our waiting is done best when we wait together. 

Observing the interaction between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, Nouwen writes,

          These two women created space for each other to wait.  They affirmed
          for each other that something  was happening that was worth waiting for.

Then he adds,
          . . . The whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space
          in which we wait for that which we have already seen.  Christian community
          is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously,
          so that it can grow and become stronger among us.  In this way we can live
          in courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in
          this world without ebbing seduced constantly by despair, lostness and darkness.
          That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see
          hatred all around us.  That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even
          when we see death and destruction and agony all around us.  

          We say it together. 
          Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment -
          that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community and the Christian life. 

What can I say but that I'm so grateful to be able to share some links with you, to help you gather together with those who are making spaces all across the web where we can wait together.  Take a few minutes to check them out.  Maybe you will find a new friend, a companion for the journey, or maybe even just a word to carry you like a light through the season ahead.  

Diana Trautwein, a retired pastor and active Spiritual Director is writing daily reflections on scripture over at her blog, Just Wondering. Diana's bold voice and captivating use of images will draw you in. 

John D. Blase is a poet, editor and former pastor who writes at The Beautiful Due.  His poem, Walk Straight, has been my theme this advent season and he just posted a new reflection on the song, Silent Night, that will simply knock your socks off. 

John Blase is joining with Winn Collier to write weekly reflections on a lectionary reading for advent every Monday.  Winn's is one of my never-miss blogs, one I'm sure to click on, and I can't think of anyone better gifted to explore the mingling of human and divine made evident in the stories of the nativity.

I've also been following Christie Purifoy's blog There Is A River, where she's offering brief daily poems, prayers and reflections.  

Are you or someone you know writing your way through the season?  I'd love to hear about it, feel free to add your own favorite links in the comments section below.  Enjoy!

We Are In the Ninth Month and Groaning

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait . . .  Romans 8:22-25

Anyone who's been there knows how it is, trying to sleep in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Laying half upright, supported with an odd assortment of pillows, you drift off for a few moments or hours, only to be awakened by a pressing bladder.  Returning to bed, you prop on one side, struggling to breathe and arranging the pillows once again.

But your hip is sore by now and, groaning, you launch yourself upright, faced with the question of how to roll over.

Through all of this, your soundly sleeping husband snores.

When I was pregnant with twins, we joked about installing one of those cranes they use for transporting large marine mammals in the bedroom ceiling to use for turning me in the night.  Instead, I learned to use my husband's back for leverage.  Wrapping my arm around him, I shifted my bottom to the side and laid that giant belly gently down, emitting a weary groan with every movement.

We laughed about it during the day, but at night, I meant those groans with every ounce of breath I could muster and they helped me move, lifted me, and carried me through until the next time I woke to waddle to the toilet or ease another aching hip.

We had a pre-term labor scare at thirty-four weeks with the twins and from then on I was sure those babies were going to come early.  This only made the waiting longer as we passed thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven weeks.  By the end, I could hardly walk more than a few steps at a time and I took to riding the motorized shopping carts on rare outings, my legs spread wide to leave room for that belly full of babies between my lap and the steering wheel.  

I was desperate.  I was done with waiting.  I was groaning.

I don't know about you, but this seems to be about the way I come into Advent each year - tired, weary and filled with longing as the long, dark days press in.

Maybe this is part of the reason I love the melancholy songs of Christmas best - the ones in minor key that beg for the coming of Emmanuel.  Something in these songs, it seems, recognizes that underneath the shining lights and tinsel, the world itself, all of creation, is indeed groaning as it turns in the night, waiting for the gift that is to come.

This post is linked with Playdates With God.

What is Being Born (Nothing is Wasted)

Kneeling on the dirty living room rug, the twins swarm and climb on my back, my legs, my shoulders.

With focused determination I slowly piece together a ridiculously complicated floor puzzle.  Over time a large smiling farmer perches happily atop a John Deere tractor.  The man and the words, "John Deere" are easy, but the rest of the pieces - black and yellow tires and the plain green body cut in strange shapes and sizes - have me turning piece after piece in circles.  I try and try for a fit as little hands and feet dislodge whole sections mere seconds after their completion.

It's sheer chaos and the stress of focusing in the midst of it all rivals the near panic attack I have every time I try to put together our ridiculously complicated tree-house tent.

As a mother of young children, I've learned to focus like a ninja, because it's the only way I can get anything done.  There are always two or three people talking at me, no matter what I'm doing.  Raising four children isn't like walking and chewing gum at the same time, it's more like walking and talking and building a miniature model of the International Space Station while humming a lullaby and taming wild shrews.

I am this mama on the floor doing the impossible day after day after day.  

Kneeling there I feel the intensity of my focus, the intensity of this skill that's being tested and forged every day and I wonder, what's this capacity that's being born in me, even here, even now?

*   *   *

Later in the week I sit typing at the computer, writing a sermon for the first time since the twins were born.  I've preached in the years since their birth, but without manuscript, speaking from notes scribbled in colored crayon and marker on (I kid you not) pieces of paper towel scrounged from the bathroom at Panera.

My preaching style has relaxed, you could say, since my life exploded, but for some reason I'm sitting, typing, word for word, what I already know I want to say.

It's a familiar passage, one I explored with my students every semester of every year I taught and I already know what God is asking me to do, but I'm scared.

What I believe is that I simply need to offer the passage and the people in it as a space where the congregation can enter in and encounter Christ, everyone receiving something different as we all gather together around the table of God's word.

The passage tells the story of Jesus' dinner at Simon the Pharisee's house and, for years, I've had the idea of telling that story while setting a table.  But setting a table as I speak, laying a table cloth, plates, napkins and cups, means no notes, no manuscript, just sheer presence as we all enter, together, into the meal.

I know that I know the story, but I'm worried about my ability to focus, to tend to so many things - the sermon, the spirit, the table - while speaking.

Then God stirs within me and I see myself kneeling on the floor with that ridiculously complicated puzzle in the middle of all of that Crazy and I hear my question anew even as I know the answer.

*   *   *

"What capacity is being born in me, even here, even now?"

Advent is a season that calls us to ponder, to wait and wonder, to listen for the stirrings of what new thing God might be doing in and through us.

God is always at work, preparing in us that which will be needed. All of the moments of time that seem wasted - the detours, distractions, the many, many pieces of the puzzle that simply seem not to fit - none of these are without purpose, none without reason, none wasted.  

My question was one born of frustration and curiosity, but to even ask the question, to wonder and wait for the answer to be revealed, is an act of faith.  Because our inability to see or understand what God is doing, doesn't mean that God isn't actively bringing into being what's most needed in us and in the world.  

So let me ask you, as we enter the season of Advent together . . .

What capacity, what new thing, is being born in YOU, even here, even now?