Thursday, January 31, 2013

She Stood in the Doorway

Earlier this week, Emily Weirenga posted a link-up around the question, "Would you be friends with your younger self?"  While not a direct answer, you can read my thoughts below and visit this link to read how others responded.  Enjoy!  And, what do you think, would you be friends with your younger self?

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We had two children at the time, ages two and four, and were making the difficult and exciting transition to me working part-time.  Within a week I would begin as Associate Pastor at our church and we were scrambling to get things lined up and adjusting to the title "pastor" that matched the calling I'd felt for so long. 

It was one of those mornings when I was running late and harried, scrambling in mad circles around the house, watching the day fall apart before it even got started.  I was working frantically to get my oldest ready for preschool, while also searching for the car keys when the phone rang.  

Seeing it was the babysitter, I quickly grabbed the phone.  I had called her the day before, explaining that I would be preaching the following Sunday and wondering whether she could free me up for a few hours of study and preparation.  She said she’d have to get back to me and I was eager to hear her response. 
To my surprise, she asked if she could stop by to talk for a few minutes.  I explained that we’d be leaving soon, but that it was fine if she could get there quickly.  It was a strange request and even in the midst of the hectic morning rush, as I continued to plow through drawers and coat-pockets, searching, I felt a shadowy anxiety that had to do with more than missing keys. 
She appeared at the screen door right around the same time I resigned myself to having to walk, or rather run, my daughter to preschool.  She walked in to the middle of our chaotic morning and stood there at the threshold of our home, tall and willowy, with her long hair that hung down below her waist. 
I don’t remember word for word what she said, but as we stood face to face in my living-room, the sunlight streaming in and the children swirling at my feet, she said she hadn’t wanted to tell me what she had to say over the phone.  The fact was that while she really enjoyed my kids, indeed, loved caring for them, she wouldn’t be able to babysit for me while I was preparing to preach because she didn’t believe in women preaching.  She would be happy to babysit other times, but didn’t want to support this activity that she disapproved. 
I stood facing her directly and tears poured down unbidden as she spoke.  I felt, of course, the rise of anger, the “how dare she come into my own house and speak to me this way,” but beyond that, empty and exasperated as I already was, I felt clear and simple pain.  It was as though her words were a lance that pierced an old and heavy wound. 
I don’t know what she expected, maybe that I would scream and shout or throw her out and, if I’d had my wits about me, a mighty slap across the face would’ve been a wonderfully dramatic if not also regretful choice. But I stood there and took it because even in the midst of the pain, I saw myself in her. 
I saw the young woman who memorized entire books of the bible word for word throughout high school, the one who spent her weekends traveling with a bible quizzing team, the one who explained to a feminist friend how the seemingly biblical subordination of women was ok. 
I saw the courage and conviction that comes so easily with black-and-white thinking, with the clarity and purity of youth and I felt compassion for her, even as I stood reeling from her words.  It was as though my own self stood there in the doorway, speaking from across the years and, in a strange way, I couldn’t help but love her for it.
*   *   *   *   *
There’s more to the story, of course, like how that confrontation resulted in an important conversation with my Dad around me being a woman who would soon be a pastor.  Or how the piercing of that wound was a blessing in disguise that awakened me to the reality that I would be working in a very conservative community; this pushed me to have a clarifying conversation with my soon to be employer while also awakening me to my own need for healing. 
I continued to hire her as a babysitter when I was not involved in "illicit activities," trying, I guess, to be the bigger person.  And she continued to be available (maybe also trying to be the bigger person?).  Having been caught off guard by her judgment, though, I worried when she came to the house.  I couldn’t help but wonder what other transgressions I might be making in her eyes – what would she think of the books I read or the beer in the fridge?  I refused to give in to the temptation, though, to hide these things.    
I was tempted, too, to leave things lying around that might, somehow, “enlighten her” to my way of thinking and I wondered if she might not harbor hopes of doing the same.  As time went on I joked with my husband that we were two determined women intent on arm-wrestling each other into our own little definition of the Kingdom of God. 
*   *   *   *   *
There will always be the need for young women like her, women who stand tall and straight with such clarity and conviction, if only for the way they lance the boil of old hurts, bringing to the surface yet again the fear and pain of coming into being. 
Time has a way of changing and deepening conviction, time and pain and the relentless and fierce call of God.  For this change in me, I am grateful, and for the seed of compassion that allowed me to see my younger self, again, with love.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

When Winter is Gray and the Fog Rolls In

"Anger is the cloak sadness wears." - anonymous

It was one of those gray, soggy January days.  Ice and fog wrapped the world in a cold mist and I had been trapped at home nursing sick children for over two weeks.  So I piled the kids into the van - as though crowding together into an even smaller space might somehow help – and pulled away from the curb with no clear destination.

A plan started to emerge as I drove and we headed out of town and onto back roads toward a large greenhouse that also boasts a store and kid-friendly restaurant.  There would be a large, warm room full of plants, a fish pond, bunnies and a train and the promise of hot dogs for lunch.  I figured what we all needed was a glimpse of green and flowers and a taste of spring, a glimmer of hope to get us through yet another winter day. 
We drove on wet roads over rolling hills beside the wide and resting fields of winter.  I told the kids we were going on a surprise, a secret trip and things started to feel a little more hopeful.
I came down a hill to a large, familiar intersection with a traffic light that turned red just as we approached.  I braked, stopping and looking in both directions, before putting on my blinker and swiftly turning to the right.  We were almost there, close enough that I could already feel the hope of spring and warmth and relief that I hoped the green-house held.   
I noticed the “no turn on red” sign just as I was turning and heard the honk of the car behind me.  No one was coming, though, and the kids were shouting and pointing to farm equipment in the fields, so I thought, “ooops,” and kept driving. 
Looking in my rear-view mirror I noticed that the car that honked had turned right too and was following close behind me, aggressively close and as I slowed to round another corner I worried I would be rear-ended.  The car stopped just short of my bumper, then turned, following me, and I started to grow concerned. 
Fifty feet or so more and I turned again into the greenhouse’s parking lot and my suspicions were confirmed as the car followed and parked too, somewhere behind me.  I sat waiting for a minute, fearing a confrontation.  I had all four kids in the van and the last thing I wanted was to expose them to a shouting match, or worse. 
Just when I thought I was safe, a woman appeared in my window and I automatically opened it.  She stood there, leaning forward, aggressively – an older woman with short, messy gray hair.  Her face was in mine as I looked up from the automatic window button and she threw her words at me like one might throw a drink at a party, “Don’t you follow traffic signs?” 
The question was all accusation and meant to catch me up short, but I was already caught up short, which is why we’d left the house in such a hurry and I simply didn’t have anything to hurl back at her. 
My face was filled with sadness and exhaustion as I replied, “It was a mistake.” 
“That’s why I honked my horn,” she spat back at me.  
I looked at her and said again in a pleading tone, “It was a mistake.”
“We lost two children in that intersection,” she said.  Then, quickly, she spun around and sped back to her car, her long black sweater sweeping behind her. 
Winter filled my heart and fog rolled in. 
I recognized immediately that her raging anger was a stiff mask that hid great pain, something I doubt I would’ve noticed if I hadn’t also been in pain. I also guessed that she was probably lonely and afraid, as I was, and frightened too, perhaps, by the depth of her rage. 
The kids asked what was going on and I brushed the interaction aside, but something had been stolen in the moment.  I thought, as I unloaded the double stroller and snapped it into place, that I would’ve liked to invite her to have lunch with us, but she was long gone and not, I suspected, in the mood for company.
Later, I wondered what she saw as that window rolled down, I wondered how she felt as she walked away, and I wondered whether my words, repeated twice in my own exhaustion and humility, were what she needed to hear, “It was a mistake.” 
This post will be shared with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Remembering (we are held)


I sat in the living room last week rocking my poor, sick, sleeping boy and watched while his twin brother explored a small wooden chair.  He walked diligently to the book basket, chose a board book, then toddled quickly over to the chair.  Placing the book on the chair, he lifted one little knee and, after maneuvering the book to make room, pulled himself up and turned, settling into a seated position with a look of great satisfaction. 

There he sat, fuzzy-headed and plump, like a ripe peach, his short legs sticking straight out.  Glancing at me with a look of triumph, he opened his book and “read” briefly and with great volume.  Then, with a swift movement, he slipped himself off of the chair, and went running on his little bare feet to get a new book. 

He repeated the whole process again and again with a different book in hand each time, as though neither “Trucks” nor “Things That Go” were proving to be quite the literary adventure he'd hoped they would.  Stand, climb, turn and sit, then, repeat.  Sitting and standing are a pleasure for him and he repeats the movements over and over as though swirling the feeling of it all around inside of his little body until at last the feeling fades to ordinary, like so many other firsts tasted and mastered in his short eighteen months.
*   *   *
And while I'm thinking of it, a strange thing has happened several times now during my monthly retreat – at some point I've found myself acutely aware of the reality that the chair I am sitting in is holding me. 
Every time we sit, we are being held. 

But most of us, most of the time, have stopped feeling it.

*   *   *
Earlier I sat in the pediatrician’s office with the same sick child whose limbs hung limp as he fought a raging fever.  Between the bustle of nurse and doctor, in the midst of the bright light and noise, he lay slumped against me, belly to belly, his heavy head pressed, unmoving on my chest.  His fine, blond hair was sweaty and his cheeks fiery red with heat.  His eyes ran and he breathed in short, panting breaths; his small mouth hung open, pressed against me. 

He smelled like sweaty, sick, drooly baby or I smelled, for I’d lost the ability to distinguish between us.  Finally he raised his flushed head, squinting his eyes in discomfort and I noticed that the whole front of me, two t-shirts thick, was soaked through with spit. 

I pulled him back toward me and curved my body like a hammock and we rocked and I sang and he hung on for dear life between the Dr.'s probing exam and tests for the flu and strep throat. 
As I sat there, turning my body into a living, breathing home for him, I wondered if God doesn’t also do this for us.  God curving, bending into a mighty ocean of a lap, a wide, swinging hammock of rest; God, like a chair that holds us.

*   *   *
God holds us, my friends, even when we’ve lost the ability to feel it, even when we’ve outgrown the desire to be held.  God waits like a hammock swinging in the breeze, like a mother’s lap that sways full of life and breath and song.                  
 
This post is shared with Imperfect Prose, click over to read more posts on the topic of Mother.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Little Gumption (the mustachioed man)

 
Every day, while driving my daughter to kindergarten in a van stuffed with four children that were wrestled, wrapped and carted out one-by-one, I saw him.  Sometimes on the way to school, sometimes on the way back home, he appeared on the edge of the horizon like the sunrise. 

He was consistently fascinating.

He ran with a loose gait, drooping athletic pants swaying as he pressed on, one step at a time, his arms bent, hands in front of him.  He wore a hat, or more often a white visor and also white gloves. 

But the thing that struck me most was his moustache. 
It takes a certain kind of moustache to attract the attention of a driver passing by with a van full of noise and need at twenty miles an hour, so maybe you can picture it without me having to draw it out in fine detail.  I will tell you it was brown and heavy, but well-trimmed. 

He was a regular Tom Sellek, my mustachioed man. 
Something about his regularity, the predictability of this sighting, this crossing of paths pleased me. 

That, and his moustache.   
It takes a little gumption to sport a moustache like that, don’t you think?  And I guess there are times when we could all use a little gumption.    

This post is shared with Just Write, which is about, well, just writing.  But somehow I confused it with a 5 minute time-limit challenge I saw on another website, so what you see here is a very quickly written little piece.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 21, 2013

He Runs Through the Night For Her (Lessons in Bravery)


Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” Isaiah 6:8


My two oldest children, four and six, share a room far enough away from my own upstairs bedroom that my husband and I keep a monitor on so we can hear if they need us in the middle of the night.  My son has bad dreams or wakes for one reason or another several nights a week.  He calls and we stagger downstairs to reassure and then everyone drifts gratefully back to sleep.
There are times, though, that we forget to turn on the monitor or we accidentally leave the volume down too low and we miss my son’s slow, repetitive cry.

 “Mama, Dada, Mama, Dada.” 
. . . click HERE to read the rest of this post with the community over at SheLoves Magazine . . .

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I wonder, where have you see bravery lived out in little ways?  I'd love to hear your stories here or on A Field of Wild Flowers' facebook page.

This post is also shared with Playdates with God andHear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

For my Husband on our Anniversary (or Thereabouts)

(Tuesday was my thirteenth wedding anniversary and in the wintry slump of sick kids, it was tempting to feel a little discouraged.  And yet, there remains, between my husband and I, much to be encouraged about.  This post is for my husband, whom I love.)

*   *   *   *   *

The Wild Rose, by Wendell Berry

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart.

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,


and once again I am blessed,
choosing again what I chose before.

*   *   *   *   *

When two people stand, face-to-face, holding hands with their arms extended, as we did on our wedding day, they create a space that's more than the sum of each of them.  With their arms and bodies they frame-out a small and simple dwelling place; a room composed of both their separateness and togetherness, for Love encompasses both. 

Henri Nouwen suggests that marriage is a vocation to

              build together a house for God in this world. It is to be like the two cherubs
              whose outstretched wings sheltered the Ark of the Covenant and created
              a space where Yahweh could be present.  . . . the intimacy of marriage itself
              is an intimacy that is based on the common participation in a love greater
              than the love that two people can offer each other. (from "Clowning in Rome")

I’d be lying if I said I could’ve foreseen where we were headed all that long time ago.  Here we are thirteen years later doling out syringes of medicine while one of us runs a child to the doctor and the other juggles dinner and bedtime for three more. 

We are no longer who we were for good reason, but there’s an ease that comes with knowing each other for so long.  Enough so that you can bring me a twelve-pack of diet coke and a bag of Fritos, both wrapped in newspaper, for our anniversary and it means something more between us. 

There’s so much more love these days, more than we started with, for sure.  Love of a different depth and quality, as though in the beginning we loved in black and white and now love lives between and around us in a rainbow of different colors.  This love sparks and flies so, drifting off in so many different directions so that, sometimes, love like this, stretched so far, can seem diminished somehow against the wide expanse of life. 

Hold on tight, my love, don’t let go, though life pushes and pulls. This space, this dwelling place made by two becoming one, remains. 

I chose you, I choose you, again and again. 

(This post is linked with Imperfect Prose, for the prompt, "Engourage." To read other posts on this topic, click on Emily's buttong in the side-bar.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Worn, Weary and Threadbare (for when you need permission to Rest)



"Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." - God

I came into the retreat like our old cat Samson used to come into our house after a string of nights out on the town.  Samson would just disappear and refuse to show up for nights on end as we leaned out the screen door, peering and calling his name into the darkness.  Then, a few days later, he would come dragging in, thin and dirty, walking slowly with a limp. 
That’s how I felt that morning - I arrived completely exhausted.  Life with four young children is like drinking from a fire hose, all struggle and gasping and refreshment to the point of drowning.  The discipline of a monthly retreat has revealed the intensity of life lived between those moments of rest and I often arrive haggard, gasping for breath. 

The day opened with an opportunity for each participant to write on a scrap of paper three words that described how they arrived.  Then a large ceramic bowl was passed from hand to hand around the gathered circle as we named our words and laid our papers into the bowl. 
It felt to me that others had much nicer words, like “rested,” “eager,” and “waiting.”  But as I lifted the heavy bowl and dropped in my small scraps of paper three words escaped my lips like a cry,

worn,
weary,

and threadbare.

I passed the bowl quickly and sat quietly.  I listened and prayed throughout the morning as the tears rolled down. 
Later I found a sunlit window and sat curled in a chair soaking it in.  I ate a quiet lunch that settled in me like a bowl of warm milk, full of soothing comfort.  Then I returned to the retreat house and stretched out on a long cushioned bench.  I wrote a little, read a little too, but eventually I gave in and, leaning to the side, I curled up there in the lap of God and drifted my way off to sleep.

(This post is linked with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday. )
(This image was found here.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Little Bit of Death (of blessings and curses and sinus infections)

Yesterday I took my youngest on a tortuous trip to the Doctor and brought my oldest home early from school sick so, it seemed like a good time to post this little bit about sickness and death that I wrote a little while back.  Enjoy.

. . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life . . .” Deut. 30:15

I headed out to see the Doctor one Wednesday this past fall to be treated for a sinus infection.  I was pretty sure I had it by Wednesday of the week before, but my husband was having his wisdom teeth out on Thursday and I was in denial and hoping to avoid a Doctor visit.  It started as it often does with a head cold that moved quickly into my chest and a week later I was still swallowing and blowing out mucus in a wide variety of greens that rivaled the arrival of spring.  A few days into it all the low-grade fever started, just low enough to think I was imagining it, but high enough to make my aching body fall into a miserable stupor every evening. 

Sinus infections are such a slow, low, underlying illness to me, not loud and boisterous like bronchitis, not pity-inducing like laryngitis, not violent enough to strike fear into your friends and co-workers like a good stomach bug.  I can live, get by, with a sinus infection long enough until it becomes clear that even a little bit of sickness, a little bit of death, is too much. 
*   *   *   *   *

I love the verse above that comes near the end of Deuteronomy; love that God doesn’t stop with laying out the choices - life or death - but feels the need to add a qualifier, a hint for those of us prone to making poor choices.  Like an anxious game show host rooting for the contestant, God poses the million dollar question and then, giving a not so subtly disguised cough, offers the answer too, “choose life.” 

God knows the Israelites too well, those golden calf builders and murmurers in the wilderness.  It’s such an obvious decision, “life” or “death,” “blessing” or “curse,” but God knows our endless excuses, our propensity for choosing death in all of its wide variety of guises.  So God makes it clear – clear that we will struggle even with this the simplest and most basic of choices and clear that he, God, is rooting for us to choose well. 
Humans are notoriously inept at distinguishing between that which is life-giving and that which isn't and I imagine God has ceased to be suprised by our propensity for making poor choices.  The problem lies not so much in our choosing death - the gospel sees this, in fact as inevitable - the problem is in our refusal to let it go.  Even the tiniest bit of death clings and spreads itself within us; just as a little leaven leavens the whole loaf, so too a little death deadens the whole.  

*   *   *   *   *

I wonder in the end if this isn't part of the reason God came to us in human form; God embodying Life so fully that we might somehow finally be able to see the difference, make an informed decision as it were.  Then God, Life in flesh, takes it one step further, embodying death itself, not by choice, but by surrender.  In that one act of surrender death itself is transformed and with Christ's resurrection the hope is born that all of our wrong choices, little and big, might be also transformed - redeemed.  Because of this we gain the opportunity to be freed at last of every little bit of death that lingers and we find the courage to choose again and again, even though we fumble all the way.

Monday, January 7, 2013

At the End of This Swaying, Fraying Rope

There’s a level of desperation around our house these days.  Winter has set in and we’re cramped and snotty, sneezing and feverish.  We’re making daily trips to the store for things we forgot and debating who should go to the Dr. next as we shuffle endless loads of laundry from basket to washer to dryer and back to the basket again. 

It feels like an endless game of “whack-a-mole” as I field phone calls and drop offs and trips to the library then turn to see one twin chewing on the now-empty bottle of infant Ibuprophen.  As I run to call poison control, hurdling the baby gates like an Olympic athlete, I realize I can’t even be sure who drank the medicine, so I run back to check both boys over, frantically searching for tell-tale sticky hands and berry-flavored breath.  Thankfully, it was "not a toxic dose."
I called the Dr. yesterday morning about our son who’s running a high fever after two days of antibiotics and left the wrong birth date on the message.  I thought it was wrong as I said it and tried to correct myself, so in the end the message went something like this, “His birthday is 8.11.2011.  Or wait, that’s not right, it might be 8.10.2011.  I’m sorry, I really can’t remember right now.”
I'm at the end of my rope, you see, hanging here white-knuckled with fingers grasped tight. As I dangle, gasping for breath, waiting for things to stop spinning, I'm reminded of Eugene Peterson's translation of Jesus' first Beatitude,
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule."
This, of course, catches me up short.  Blessed, right here, right now, dangling, struggling, sagging with nowhere to go.  Blessed because the end of me is not the end of everything, only the beginning of something more, Someone more. 
I'm reminded too of something I read a few months ago in Scott Cairns' book, Short Trip to the Edge (which I also wrote about HERE).  Cairns is an Orthodox Christian and writes briefly about the role of a prayer rope, a string of 33 square knots that are used to focus the fingers and mind during prayer.  As Cairns puts it, the prayer rope "does its bit to re-pair the inherent schism within the human person, [it] helps to  . . . bring the mind into the heart (36)."   
As I reflected on this image the idea came to me that prayer itself is like the weaving of a rope that leads us deep into the heart of God where we are anchored and at rest.  The rope woven through prayer is so different than the one I work my way along most days.  I struggle daily along the rope of my own striving like a scrawny adolescent in gym class trying to perfect the hand-over-hand technique necessary for upward momentum.  This rope, the end of which dangles before me daily, is one of my own making, my striving, my success or failure. 

But the rope of prayer begins where that one ends and leads downward out of myself or perhaps deeper in to the place where Christ now dwells in my heart as I asked him to all those long years ago.  This rope of prayer, when I tend it and mend it, leads me to the places of deep blessedness and true security.
Once again I lower my expectations and ease myself down off of so many cliffs of my own making. I sit down, sink down into grace and love and with every prayer I find the courage to let go one more time, to lean-in to the blessedness. 

Here I am, again, at the end of me; here I am, again, blessed.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Prayer for Winter (when the world is sleeping)


                            

                        Oh God, send us a Cardinal;
                          a bright visitor flitting
                          across the landscape of this
                          wide and dimly lit world
                          that lies sleeping.

                       Send us a moment of beauty
                          to reawaken us,
                          just one bright messenger of Hope.

                       Amen.