Monday, January 27, 2014

This Great Tenderness



We didn’t get around to Christmas cards this year, but come January, when the real depth and breadth of winter set it, I started making paper Cardinals.  They made me happy in the same tangible, heart-happy way playing the Ukulele does.  The crimson card stock, the white on black on red, the candy-cane striped twine tied just so – all of these fed my soul, fed my hope as I cut and pasted.  

I built the birds in batches and sent them out in flocks, tucked into brown envelopes the color of sandpaper. I imagined them winging their way through town, across state lines and landing, breathless and bright on the doorsteps of those my heart carries.  

I took one, by hand, to a friend who suffered a traumatic loss this past week.  Walking through her door I remembered that I am a Pastor to her.  I was her Pastor, for a brief year or so, but then I left the ministry to be home with my young sons and she and her husband left the church.  

Walking in to her house, though, I felt it, that she is still one of my flock.  

I spread my arms like wings and gathered her in, I sat and drank, listened and prayed, and did my best to provide a shelter for the darkness she is bearing.

//

I have been through a few months of darkness now, months of the deep pain of unknowing, the frightening disorientation of walking in the dark.  During prayer awhile back the word “brooding” arose within me.  Later I looked the word up in an online dictionary and found, among others, the following definitions: 
                  brooding v.
                        1. to protect (young) by or as if by covering with wings 
                        2. to hover envelopingly; loom.

I began to wonder whether the darkness I felt had something to do with the spirit of God brooding within me.  Maybe the darkness I was experiencing was not the distance of God, but rather the nearness – the overshadowing – of God. 

//

This week I came across the phrase “brooding tenderness” in a collection of writings by Howard Thurman.  Writing about his sense of being surrounded by the love of God, Thurman describes the brooding tenderness out of which all things arise. 

The more I make my home in this spacious place beneath God’s wide, warm wings, the more I feel my own wings stretched open wide.  The more I rest in this brooding tenderness, the more I feel a depth of tenderness being born in me.   Resting here in the darkness of waiting, I also become a place of rest for those who wait.

This post is linked with Playdates with God and Concrete Words.

Friday, January 24, 2014

When Love Visits

He stood on one side of the wide doorway, between the cafeteria and cafe, and I sat on the other with my twin boys.  An old man, he was drawn in by my little boys' antics, "Sweet," he called them.

Right there he opened the story of his life, his love, to me. 

"I can remember it like it was yesterday," he said. 

And it was. 

It was yesterday and it was 1948 when they first met and then also 1950 when she held his hand and said, "I love you so."  It was all of those moments at once because that's the way it is with love.

Love opens itself to us and, entering in, we embrace the moment and in it all of the moments of our lives.  

I listened, wide-eyed and smiling, because that's what you do when love shows up.

My boys must have felt it too, because after he left, they leaned into me pleading with great earnestness, "Me hug, me hug?" 

I gave my approval and one ran to the man, grasping his legs from behind in a bear-hug that I feared would topple them both.  The other clung to my hand, flirting, before diving in too. 

Because that's what you do when love arrives, you run, arms open wide to embrace it, you flirt before diving in too, embracing that moment that holds all moments as one. 

This post is linked with Five Minute Friday.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Obedience? (Wow Stars, Paint and Billy Joel)



“Only the good die young . . .” – Billy Joel

That song by Billy Joel always irked me, catchy though it is, because I was one of the good girls, always.  

//

“I’m tired of following the rules all the time,” I told my husband, standing in the kitchen on a Saturday morning.

We were procrastinating taking down the Christmas decorations, the sparkling green tree, the glitter garland, nativity and cheery red and green nativity pockets.  I was dreading a return to plain white walls, stretching out in every direction, dreading the long stretch of winter inside, cold and bare.  

That’s when it struck me, “Why not paint a wall, just one?” I asked.  

The lease says no painting, no hanging things on the wall and for six months now we’ve endured with a few pictures leaning back on shelves, with pictures and sayings I’ve drawn and cut out, permanent markers on clear contact paper.  

More than that, though, we’ve waited, it seems, with our bags packed for that glory train to arrive, the one that lifts out of here to the happy ever after, but despite the sound in the distance, despite the lone whistle in the night, the sighting of puffs of steam on the horizon, our deliverance has yet to arrive.  

So I wanted to paint a wall, to break a rule in a symbolic way, because I know the way color can give me life and at this point we’re clutching at life in all its forms, wherever we can find it. 

//

My daughter danced her way out of kindergarten most days to report a double or triple Wow Star day, clutching a cheap, but carefully chosen prize in her little hand.  She was renowned among the kindergarten crowd – nobody got as many Wow Stars as Sophia.  No One.  

I congratulated her, proud, but I wondered about the weight of all those stars.  

I joked about her getting Stop Signs and one day the conversation turned serious.

“Mommy, what would you do if I got a stop sign?” she asked.

“Well,” I replied, “I’d probably be a little relieved.  No one can be good all of the time and getting a stop sign isn’t the end of the world.”

Later, it came out that she did get a stop sign one day for some minor infraction, but she wasn’t eager to share the information, especially not in front of her young brother.  “It’s ok,” I said, “It’s not a big deal.”

//

Brennan Manning writes in his memoir, “All is Grace,” about his decision to become a good boy.  The task, he writes, required embracing an imposter, shutting off his own wants and needs to maintain a facade.  Summarizing his childhood, Manning says,

I wish I could share more specific memories like this from my early childhood, but I can’t.  . . . As I said, the decision to become a good boy effectively cut me off at the roots . . . (74)  

//

All of my life I’ve wanted to be “good enough,” but it occurred to me one year during Advent that few of the individuals involved in the story of the nativity shared my concerns.  The things they did, the choices Mary, Joseph and the Wise Men made were maybe on the surface good, but deeper than that, they were courageous, bold, flying in the face of conformity. 

And maybe that’s the problem. 

Goodness, obedience, when looked at through the lens of conformity is a dangerous thing. 

There’s a whiff of conformity in all of those Wow Stars, a hint of crowd control.  When I really read scripture, casting off the gold-leafing added through hours of Sunday school lessons that also bear the scent of conformity, I see a community of individuals who were not always so good on the surface; Jesus wasn’t crucified because he went around collecting Wow Stars, no, he was crucified because he refused to conform to the established norm. 

//

I can’t write about obedience though, apart from the context of parenting – I am after all mother to four young children and instilling obedience at this stage of life is high priority.  Richard Rohr has an excellent discussion of this in his book, “Falling Upward,” where he addresses the need for two-halves of life – one in which we learn obedience within safe, sound and predictable structures (first half) and a second within which we learn to “hear and obey” the “deeper voice of God.” This voice, Rohr suggests will sound an “awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender . . . (48)”  

Rohr believes that we’re failing to do either half of life well in modern American culture and, more specifically says, “very few Christians have been taught how to live both law and freedom at the same time (36).”

//

Freedom, for most of us, is a scary concept and the invitation to move beyond conformity to cultural norms of the “good” boy or girl, the “good” mother, the “good” father may seem to our wary ears to run the risk of too much subjectivity, too much individualism – too much, “what’s good for me is good.” 

I want to suggest, though, that this need not be the case. 

What Rohr is talking about, what I’m talking about, is an obedience that stems from a deeper place – a place of deep knowing, submission and unity with God, so that our outward actions conform to the will and movement of the spirit within us. 

One might think, for example, of Rosa Parks whose civil disobedience came from a deeper place within – her decision was neither subjective nor individualistic.  By listening to the leading within, she acted in alignment with the deeper movement of God already at work in the world around her – by listening to the movement of the Kingdom of God within herself and acting in obedience to ITS dictates, Parks sparked a deeper awareness in those around her of the movement of God’s Kingdom.  

//

There’s a time, I guess for Wow Stars, a time for sheer obedience, for obedience’s sake.  

But there’s a time also for honing one’s ear to the sounds of a deeper voice.

I suspect the lyrics to Billy Joel’s song bothered me because they hinted at what I feared, that by being the “good girl” I was missing out on life, that maybe my own obedience was motivated more by fear than by love. 

Either way, I’m grown now, a girl no more, and my husband went to the hardware store last night to pick up a gallon of paint in the shade of “moss.”  He said he thought for sure our landlord was going to come walking into Lowes while he stood there, red handed, with a gallon of paint in hand.  

This afternoon while the kids were out, we painted two arched walls the shade of new leaves and spring.  We’ll paint it back to white, a clean slate, when we move.  But for now, we’ve planted one more stake in the ground, one more reminder of our belief that this winter, too, shall pass.  

This post is linked with Diana's Q and A on the topic, "Obedience." Stop over to read her take and others on the topic of obedience.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Our Anniversary (Let's Dance)

I've seen better days, dripping down your face.  We don't have to talk, let's dance. 
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

We're fourteen years in - seven years without kids and seven years with - so it feels like we're tipping the scale now toward the rest of our lives.  This was a year of cracking-open; a long, gray winter followed by the blooming hope of spring.

In April we sat, eyes sparkling, over an Italian meal, unpacking our dreams like a sigh, so much air held in after too many years playing the steady to other people's lives.  It was like standing beside an open window in spring, the fresh air wafting over us like Life itself.  Looking ahead, we clasped our hands together and jumped.

Only, it wasn't quite like that, not really.

It was more like a lot of work to get a house ready to sell while four small kids ran in circles around us.  Then, after the sale, it was waiting and wondering, a rollercoaster of hope and despair as we were chauffeured from house to house in the back seat of our realtor's car.  

And now it's still this: Waiting.

But there's another word that stands out from this past year, which is this one: Together.

Waiting. Together.

See how the one softens, even just a little, when placed beside the other?

Yes, that's how it's been.

We've been like that couple in the Christmas tale - the one where she sells her hair to buy him a chain for his watch and he sells his watch to buy her a comb for her hair.  You were willing to give up the land that made you smile so that I could feel at home and, when that fell through, I was willing to give up the writing and retreat space I so desperately need, just for the joy of seeing you astride one of those tractors you're always looking at on Craigslist.

But God kept us from foolish sacrifices and here we are still, Waiting Together.

Here we stand, facing forward, hand in hand, looking for that open window, ready to jump again.

In the meantime, though, we don't have to talk, let's dance.

Love that Carries (a Sketch)

He looks tall, to me, and burly, like someone who played football in high school.  Gray-haired, with some extra weight around the middle, he carries his daughter to school every day through the long winter months, wrapped in a blanket.

I saw him this morning, as I do most mornings, walking back toward home as I waited in line with my van-full of kids.  He walked down the sidewalk toward me with the now empty blanket draped casually over his shoulders.  It looked to be a quilt made of the sort of colors that bring to mind a Winnie the Pooh motif, a baby blanket, maybe.

Most days I've noticed him and most days I've thought, "Really, you carry her?"  There's part of me that still thinks it's a bit much - his daughter's in first grade at least - but today I saw it differently. 

Today I recognized the value - the depth - of a love that carries.

Grown men don't often walk around with baby quilts draped over their shoulders, but this one does, and as I write I'm reminded of those pictures of Christ the good shepherd walking with a lamb draped over his shoulders.  In those pictures that lamb is you, is me, is us - we who're being carried, wrapped in those incarnate arms of love.  

I often wonder whether she'll even remember the way she was carried each frosty, breath-catching morning.  Maybe she won't and certainly a day will come when she says, "No more."  But slow-dancing in the kitchen with one of my bitty-boys on my hip, his head tucked into my shoulder, I know the truth, that being held, being carried, shapes us deep within in ways that can never, ever, be forgotten.

This post is linked with #Tellhisstory.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Simplicity of Speech

" . . . out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."  Luke 6:45

Standing near the kitchen counter in the morning, Levi grabs a sippy-cup of warm milk and hands it to Isaiah.

"Air, Yay-yah," he says, holding out the cup.  He does this to make sure he gets the cup HE prefers, but still, the sounds are sweet.

Taking the cup, Isaiah offers a sincere, "Tank-ooo," before waddling off for his morning diaper change.

//

They talk to each other now - these two boys who shared a womb in near-silence for close to nine months.  They call each other by poorly pronounced names and share a common code of words - a language only I and a few closest to them can decipher.

I adore their speech, the accuracy with which they mimic the tone and shape of the things we say, the way they shush, chide and encourage each other.  Most of all, though, I love the way their hearts shine through each syllable.  They haven't yet learned to guard their tongues, from good or bad, so a purity of emotion simmers under every word, unhindered.

I wonder if this isn't somehow close to what the Quakers are trying to get at with the idea of simplicity of speech - speech that rises from and flows out of the deepest truths of our lives.  It's a language I'm learning to embrace again now as an adult as I clear away the clutter and make room for those simple, shining words that rise and bless.  

//

The other day, Isaiah with his lovely, round, shining eyes and big-toothed grin, his double-dimpled smile flashing, made a proclamation,

"Berry happy, me!"

It bubbled up out of him, like steam from a boiling kettle, a pure and shining declaration of joy that lay over me like a blessing pronounced.

This post is linked with  Playdates with God.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Seeing in the Dark

"When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it."  Isaiah 30:20

I'm thinking of the wee,
tiny cubs, born
blind and helpless
in the dark
den of winter.
How is it that
they travel,
unseeing,
toward the
life-giving teet
in that small,
dark space? 

What I mean
is that there
must be other
ways of seeing,
of being led
in the darkness -
maybe scent or
some deeper intuition.

But there must
be something
that tells
the lone cicada
to dig upward,
not down,
something that
whispers to the child
in the womb
when the time
has come.

Maybe it is
the voice
that comes
from behind,
as the Prophet says,
whispering
in one's ear,
"This,
is the way
walk in it."  

Whatever it is,
I'm looking now
for that leading.
Now that the lights
are out,
I'm developing
every one
of my senses.

This post is linked with Five Minute Friday.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Maybe

 

Does the Cardinal
know his own colors -
the spark
he creates by
simply being?

Maybe you
also are a bird
of brilliant hue,
long sought
by weary eyes
in a landscape,
barren.

Photo source HERE.
Linking with dVerse Poet's Pub. Click over to read more poems.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cheek to Cheek (Bruises, Curses and Kisses)

The cheeks of a two-year-old are delightfully irresistible, which is why I kiss them as often as I can. This morning, in fact, I leaned over and planted one on Levi’s tender cheek for a reason I cannot remember, but he quickly pulled back in pain.

Yesterday he fell while standing on a sideways can of chicken broth that lay on the dining room floor. He whacked his soft cheek hard on a sturdy wooden chair and came up screaming, red faced. Today he sports a deep blue bruise that runs like war paint across the most sensitive part of his face.

“No,” he said, pointing to his cheek after my ill-placed kiss, “boo-boo.”

Then he turned his head and offered me the other.

I kissed it too.

//

It was so gray this morning. This Monday, this second try at getting the kids back to school after a snow day kept them home last week and a two-hour delay threw schedules into havoc again today. Yesterday was filled with freezing rain and ice and I had hoped, just maybe, we might get one of those clear crystalline mornings out of it all, when the world is dressed in icy diamonds with sun glittering down. But, no, wet slush and gray cloud-filled skies cast shadows over us all and I found myself standing crying over the dishes in the sink while my children bickered and fussed, swirling in layers of need and want, heavy like those clouds.

I went to the attic, flash light in hand, and dug out Brennan Manning’s book, Ruthless Trust, and yet another floor lamp, hoping both would shed some light. But our outlets are all full and the lamp stood dim in a dimmer corner.

Finally I went to the window, the one that looks out on all of the ugly, pulled back the curtain and cursed the sky.

“This is such an ugly day,” I said while my children watched, gathered at the dining room table. My words struck the sky, heaven’s tender cheek. 


Those words hurled in front of my kids felt like blasphemy to me.  Then my daughter followed and peering out confirmed, “Yes, it is ugly.”

//

Later, standing in the laundry room which is really a walled-in porch I felt the sun lay warm across my cheek and paused under its caress. That room’s usually half-frozen and I rush about in it wrestling icy cold clothes from washer to dryer.

But on sunny days, it’s one of the only rooms in this whole cave, where the light pours in, abundant. On those days the sun warms it like a spa and the windows fog with moisture.

Icy winds blew in this morning, breaking clouds, shaking branches, causing the twins and I to bustle as we trotted through frozen parking lots. “Run, run, run,” we sang, “Don’t slip! Don’t fall!”

Then Isaiah fell and I almost did too, but the sun kept up its peaking.

By the time I went to check on the laundry the back room was lit like a flash bulb, bright and I was blinded like someone emerging from a cave. I suppose that was why I felt it and paused there by the window soaking in the warm kiss of the sun on the most sensitive part of my face.


//

The boys woke up crying from their naps and things were touch and go for awhile.  So I sat on the old wooden floor in the kitchen while they clustered nearby with snacks and juice.  

Levi turned to me red faced and sleepy eyed and I said, grinning, "I'm gonna eat your cheeks."

Then both boys turned, as if on cue, and started stalking their way toward me, hands raised and growling.  Two sock-footed, fleecey-pants-wearing, sweaty-headed bears with round mouths open wide.

"Eat Mama!" they taunted, leaning in with gaping jaws.  They planted wide, wet circles on my cheeks, each standing on either side and we laughed and giggled and I covered them both, cheek to cheek, with kisses.    

This post is linked with Playdates With God.