Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In the Wiggling and Shaking (Forget Yourself on Purpose)


. . . we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. - Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation

The twins perched on the back of the couch banging on the window with a screw driver and wooden stick while I waited for the bus with the older kids.  They were making “music.”  Speaking through the double-paned glass I urged them to reign it in, lest they should soon be "breaking a window."  

Later, after the bus had come and gone and I was walking the dog out to the back field, I heard a great metallic clatter coming from inside and assumed they’d moved on to banging on the radiators.

When I came inside, fresh and cold, they sat in the dining room surrounded by every pot and pan we own – their “instruments.” 

Whacking and smacking against metal lids and up-turned pots, they produced a jarring percussion and the dog and I were both overwhelmed by the sheer volume.  The thing they wanted most, though, was for me to dance while they played. 

“Come dance,” they called, “come dance with us.” 

What I wanted was quiet.  I wanted the pots and pans put away and the "tent" that filled the living room picked up so I could vacuum without obstruction.  I wanted to pay the bills, balance the checkbook and get a head start on the dishes.  

But every artist needs an appreciative audience and every drum needs a foot to follow its beat, so I cast my "awful solemnity to the winds" and joined in.  

In the wiggling and shaking, as the shy dog raised his front paws and became my cautious partner, I remembered this poem by Hafiz,

Every child has known God,
not the God of names,
not the God of don’t
not the God who ever does anything weird,
but the God who knows only four words
and keeps repeating them, saying,
“Come dance with me, 
come dance.”

May you also hear the invitation friends to cast winter aside for a few moments this day - sing with the birds, bang your drum and dance with whatever willing participants creation sends your way.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Moment Was Sweet (#SmallWonder link-up)


The boy called 
for his brother
in the dark 
hallway as I 
sat reading 
in bed by a 
quiet, yellow 
light.  Following 
my voice, 
he arrived
and fell 
into bed 
and sleep
simultaneously, 
like some ripe 
fruit falling 
from the tree. 

The light 
was golden, 
as was the boy’s 
flaxen head 
and the moment 
was sweet 
and so full,
as though he 
was the first
child ever 
and we 
the first parents 
marveling 
in delight.  

*   *   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we might gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. 

You're invited to link-up a brief post of about five hundred words or less about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Laundry, Lent and Suffering



It’s not the cold, snow, and wind that get to me. 

Not our house’s perpetually crunchy, dirty floors. 

Not even the smell of the litter box and the cat food scattered near and far. 

No, in winter, it’s the laundry that gets to me most, causing my spirit to despair. 

It’s the pile in the twins’ room and the way the bathroom's carpeted with cast-off clothes and towels. 

It’s the three baskets of unfolded clean laundry and two more of dirty all waiting for my attention while the washer and dryer sit, still full. 

It’s piles folded for six people spread across the dining room table - stacks of p.j.s, pants, and shirts that refuse to stay on their hangers.  

And, of course, it’s the endless pile of left-over, never-matching socks, the odds and ends, that even if I tackle the whole mountain, squirreling it all away in open drawers and closets, still remain.

Looking at the laundry piles first thing in the morning can cause my heart to sink.  Drowning in the unwashed, I feel lost, like a swimmer caught an the under-tow watching the rapidly shrinking shore-line disappear. 

The laundry seems to whisper to me – you have no help, you will never catch up, you are alone.

And, in this way, I suffer.  I feel alone, overwhelmed, sinking.

In this way, my life is hard.

//

Listening to the radio while driving, I heard an interview with a woman in Yemen where the government has recently collapsed.  She and her neighbors carry their wash, daily, to a water-source in the center of the country’s capital city.  There they stand washing, while others fill buckets with drinking water to haul to their houses.  There is no electricity. 

Explaining her situation, the woman concludes, “Life is very hard now.”

She and her neighbors suffer in a way that makes her description “very hard” entirely accurate.  Hearing her words I wonder whether her laundry, her desperate situation, whispers to her in the early morning hours.  

Continuing my drive, I think of my own laundry piles waiting at home, the bright white washer and dryer, the sun-filled room in which they sit, and the electricity which keeps them humming at the touch of a button.

//

In the past, such an interview would bring with it the temptation to write off my own small sufferings as insignificant at best and signs of my own selfish entitlement at worst.  On facebook we acknowledge the difference between suffering and Suffering with the hashtag #firstworldproblems. 

Sometimes this comparison, this acknowledgement of privilege, provides a much needed perspective – yes, I'm drowning in laundry, but isn’t that in part because I’ve been gifted with four lovely children?  And isn’t the fact that I have more than one set of clothes for each of these children, a fact which precipitates a great increase in laundry, something also to be thankful for?

Yes, sometimes this comparison is helpful for the way it reminds me that while I do suffer, there is still much cause for thanksgiving. 

More often, though, I’ve used such comparisons as a way to push off my own needs, to in fact, separate myself from suffering.  Even, at times, to punish myself for suffering.

“You think this is hard?  What’s wrong with you?  People all over the world have it much worse.  You don’t hear that poor woman in Yemen complaining,” goes the inner dialogue.

The problem with this, I now see, is that it hardens my heart and introduces the idea that one’s situation has to be “bad enough” to truly warrant compassion.  When I deny my own suffering, I take dangerous steps toward a heart that is primed to deny the suffering of others.  And, worse yet, this denial is fed by a necessary distancing – to deny my own suffering is indeed to find myself alone and separated from those with whom I may have more than I think in common.

//

What does this have to do with Lent?

Lent and laundry.  Lent and suffering and Suffering.

Lent offers us the opportunity to embrace our humanity, to walk with Jesus for awhile in the wilderness as we draw closer to the cross.  In Lent, we embrace some small measure of suffering for the way that it awakens us to need, to desire, to the questions our own suffering raises. 

We give up or take on some small thing in order that our lives would be opened further – to the suffering of Christ and others, to compassion and reconciliation, to a deeper acceptance of Christ’s suffering on our behalf.

//

My friend came and did nine loads of laundry for me three days ago.  Today I’ve done three or four more and so the story goes, on and on, socks and shirts and pants for a family of six. 

Standing in the laundry room, pulling cold, wet clothes from the washer and cleaning out the lint trap, I think of her – the woman in Yemen.  I think of us together, as sisters in the battle against laundry, in the battle to keep something clean and in order.  I think of our despair at the disorder of our lives, the way it can be both “hard” and “very hard.”  

In remembering her, I remember myself and remembering myself, I remember her and I am no longer alone. 

Maybe this also is true of Lent. 

In our small sufferings and surrenders, may we find ourselves reminded of Christ.  

In the “hard” that is our daily lot, may we be reminded of the “very hard.”  

In remembering Christ, may we remember ourselves and remembering ourselves, may we remember Christ and find that we are never truly alone.    
        

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015.  To read more articles in this series, go to http://mennonerds.com/tag/mennonerds-lent-2015/.  To find out more about MennoNerds in general, go to http://mennonerds.com/about.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Winter Morning (#SmallWonder Link-up)

And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love . . . - William Blake

I crept from the covers early and pulled on socks before slipping down to where the dog waited, barking, in the cold kitchen.  He danced and wiggled, whining with excitement as I reached to flip the coffee pot on.  

Then I searched for boots and slipped on my husband’s old down coat, wool mittens and a hat.  I took the quarter cup of coffee that was brewed and carried it with me as the dog charged out the door. 

It was four degrees and windy.  The sky was pearly gray and a golden sliver of moon hung, a bright pendant suspended on the sky’s ivory neck. 

The dog was so happy, running full-out, then turning back to me, squatting and jumping at my feet as I played at stealing his toy.  “Good boy! Good boy!” I called, coffee sloshing in my cup.  I danced and called in my polka-dot pajama pants as the wind cut through the thin flannel without reserve and cars sped by.   

Winter transforms the field across the street into the illusion of an ice-covered lake.  The wind rushes across, smoothing the surface, like water wearing away at stone.  Once back inside, I curled on the couch with a fuller cup of coffee, looking out over the “lake” as the sun continued to rise. 

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and here, in my wide south-facing window, I’m party to them both - the light that begins the day and that which ends it; the sun continuing its faithful rounds regardless of my attention.

The birds were singing this morning. 

Singing. 

Even at four degrees with incredible whipping bursts of wind, the birds are singing spring as though they also spied the small green shoots of crocus peeking out beneath a barren shrub.

The moon hangs shining.

The dog runs, exuberant.

The sun rises.

The birds sing.

The spring shoots peek.

The wind wears away at the world like water on stone.  

I stand among it all and the wonder, the shinning and rising, the singing, is almost too much to bear.          

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we might gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. 

You're invited to link-up a brief post of about five hundred words or less about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  

(The linky was a little delayed this morning - please don't miss the couple of people who linked in the comments section!)


Friday, February 13, 2015

Love at First Sight (a poem)

(Here I am around age 5 with two of my first kittens.  It was always love at first sight.)

Instinct led her
to lift the small
mewing creature with
pin-prick paws
to her chest, pressing
it close to where her own heart
beat.  And instinct bade
the poor kitten to cling
there, slowly calmed
by a hand curved
protectively around
the boney ridge
of its back.  The two
clung together 
as one - the girl
with her soft, slow
ways, and the kitten,
made to flourish like a
flower in the clasp
of such tenderness. 

Happy Valentine's Day, friends!  May your life be filled with as many kinds of love as possible!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Wood Is Slow (a poem)


The wood is slow
to burn this morning,
reluctant and stubborn.
Leaning into the stove’s
metal mouth, I draw
deep breaths and
exhale with force
in a steady rhythm.

This must be
how God hovered
over the still body
formed from the earth,
the slow, stubborn
dust pressed together.

God leaning,
breathing,
and the human
bursting into life,
like a flame. 
God coaxing
the fire
of humanity.

This post is linked with Give Me GracePlaydates With God, and #TellHisStory.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Gift of Community (#SmallWonder)


Make new friends, but keep the old,
one is silver and the other's gold.  

I visited my daughter's Brownie troop this past December to teach the girls how to make fresh-cut evergreen swags.  The craft went quickly; before long it was time to wrap up and I was invited to join the "closing circle."  

We stood with our hands held together, right-over left, and it came back to me in a flash - the way we closed Brownies and then Girls Scouts when I was a child with the same circle, the same gentle hand squeeze that passed from person to person.  

With your hands crossed that way you can turn and spin your way out of the circle, everyone slowly unwrapping like a pretzel while still staying connected.  

//

If anyone told me three years ago that I would find significant community online, I would likely have given them the same doubtful looks, the same disbelieving questions that I get from others these days.  

You can't really get to know people online, can you?    

And yet, here I am, with a significant amount of my most meaningful support, encouragement and comradery coming from online relationships.  

There's the former Pastor, now writer and Spiritual Director in California who pops in from time to time, always with a word of encouragement.  And the new friend in Washington State who sent me a book in the mail because she "really thought it would speak to where I'm at."  

There are the men who graciously allowed me to walk through Advent with them, and the other author who trucked his whole family out to our house to do a small book reading.  Online, I have the privilege of finding others whose voices and way of being in the world echo my own and that, for me, is a rare and real gift. 

It's hard sometimes for people to understand how isolating having twins can be - how difficult it is to get to and enjoy even the simplest social gatherings.  While we still need (and are grateful for) the real flesh-and-blood neighbors who fill-in with a warm meal or a walk in the park at the end of a long, frustrating day, I find myself immensely grateful for the wide world of connection that waits here at my finger-tips.  

//

This week I'm grateful for the wonder of supportive community and, in honor of that, I want to introduce you to the circle of women who help host #SmallWonder.  We stay connected through a private facebook group and one of us aims to visit and comment on your links each week.  It takes a community to lead a community and this is the smaller circle that supports you all:

Beth Hess, in her own words, is a "Beauty Hunter, God Spotter, Grace Giver, Story Teller, Key Dropper."  She blogs regularly at her newly redesigned blog space Trading Good for Grace

Amber Cadenas writes "with the hope that others might be inspired to see their own lives through different eyes."  Her blogging home is called, Beautiful Rubbish: everyday art of learning to see

Jody Collins is a substitute teacher by day and writer by heart who describes herself as "looking for Jesus in the everyday light, singing and writing along the way."  She blogs at Three Way Light.   

I would love it if you could make a habit of visiting and encouraging these wise and gifted women.  

Here we are - Jody, Amber, Beth and I, linking hands, left over right in a circle together. Won't you join us as we stand and sing, twist and turn, unfolding together in friendship?  

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we might gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. 

You're invited to link-up a brief post of about five hundred words or less about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  





Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Beyond Logic (Why We're Considering Getting a Dog)

(Can you even believe how wildly happy this dog looks?!)

Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense.  But the real universe is always one step beyond logic. – Frank Herbert

My best friend from seminary had two dogs – two basset hounds to be exact.  One brown and one black, they followed us on long walks along the canal path that ran behind student housing. 

Two dogs in a small seminary housing apartment is a lot. 

Later, when she finished her doctorate and began teaching, we visited her and her husband at their new home.  By then they had three dogs, having adopted a little blind dog (whose breed I can’t recall).

Three dogs, even in a spacious home, is a lot. 

Maybe that’s why my friend felt the need to explain their newest addition.  “We just felt like maybe something was missing, like maybe we could have more joy in our home,” she said and I knew exactly what she meant.  

I was working part time as our church’s Associate Pastor and our kids were two and four.  Lying in bed late at night my husband and I let questions rise and float into the air above our bed.  We were wondering about a third child, wondering what we wanted and why.  Mostly we were convinced that we were unsure and we resolved that waiting awhile might make the most sense. 

But that question of more joy, that sense that we were on the edge of a tipping point toward something more, it circled us like a tempting fragrance, subtle, suggestive, inviting.  Looking back I think what we were sensing was the possibility of a larger life than we’d imagined for ourselves, a desire to fall head-over-heels into a good and spacious place. 

The unexpected arrival of twins tipped us, for sure. 

It was, to put it mildly, terrifying, perhaps even apocalyptic.  It was the end of many things and the beginning of many more; it was as Merriam Webster defines ‘apocalyptic’ – wildly unrestrained. 

More joy, I’m learning, never seems reasonable. 

It seldom seems responsible. 

It quite often may give the appearance of disrespectability. 

More joy may well be apocalyptic, i.e. wildly unrestrained.

I was talking to a friend the other night and she mentioned plans to pick out a puppy the next day.  They already have three dogs, several goats, cats and chickens.  She said her husband looked at her as they stood in the kitchen earlier that day and asked reflectively, “What are we doing?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. 

She had always wanted a Basset Hound and I told her over the phone, “Sometimes you just have to lean into the joy.” 

It sounded like a wise thing to say.   

Lately, sigh, we’ve been talking about getting a dog.  We have two cats now that were delivered by a dear friend the day after I was released from a week-long hospital stay this past summer.  Getting two cats directly after a nervous break-down of sorts was not a logical decision, but they’ve brought us a lot of joy. 

We have four hens and four kids and endless lists of home repairs as well as a steady stream of laundry and dishes.  This all, for two adults, is a lot. 

And yet . . .

Getting ready for bed the other night we were again discussing the idea. 

“Why would we get a dog?” I asked, sincerely and my husband, sitting on the side of the tub, began ticking off a long and rambling list of reasons.

Interrupting, I asked, “Are you trying to give flimsy answers or are our reasons really that flimsy?”

“No,” he said, smiling, “those were real reasons.”

One thing I keep hearing as we continue weighing the decision, is the possibility that we would all really enjoy a dog – the possibility of more joy. 

Joy. 

Sometimes you just have to lean into it – at least that’s what I hear. 

Sometimes there are things worth grasping that lie beyond the confines of reason and logic, things that require a tipping of sorts, at least one heart-in-your-throat moment of wild un-restraint. 

When have you been moved to do something that didn’t “make sense” for the sake of joy?  What’s the last time you found yourself “wildly unrestrained”?

Linking with #TellHisStory and Give Me Grace.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Steadfast Love (#SmallWonder)


The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. - Lamentations 3:22

The field, the road, the driveway were covered when I crept down the stairs in early morning dark.  Dry white flakes drifted all morning long, through devotions and breakfast battles and the big out-the-door rush.  Slowly my own plans for the morning fell apart – the roads looked bad and bundling the twins to pick up the sitter felt like more than I could handle.  

I don’t do well with that – the letting go and shifting of agendas, the surrender of a planned escape.  Fortunately it’s a move I’m privileged to practice over and over again. 

The snow finally stopped by late afternoon and the sun broke out like a warm smile, so the twins and I headed out to investigate the altered landscape.  It was all there – the natural beauty of white laid out, like powdered sugar coating everything.  The sky was blue, like it hasn’t been for days this side of the New Year.  Then also, there was the joy of work, the fun of scraping the shovel along the side-walk and driveway, the satisfaction of exertion that didn’t involve the sink or laundry or sweeping the floors. 

The twins – two three-year-olds with their hoods up and mittens on, clomping and stomping along in their winter boots – were a joy to behold.  All morning long they ate snow by the fire indoors, scooping it into their mouths from a cup I filled again and again as they waited to go out and play.  Outside they shoveled railroad tracks across the driveway and turned a little plastic mower into a snow blower. 

Then they remembered snowballs and scooped up handfuls of dried fluff to aim at my knees and shins.  Levi spun around in a full circle with every throw, not noticing the snow had fallen before he even began.  Dry snow clung to my corduroys making bright white stripes against navy blue. 

I shoveled a path to the road for the older two coming home later on the bus then, infiltrated by the cold, we walked back up the driveway to head inside. 

Blessing was there, the entire day, as it is every day and the harder I clung to disappointment, the harder it was to find it.  The deeper surrender set-in, the more I let go of what might-have-been and sank into what was, the more I could sense blessing hovering on the periphery like a small white dove. 

I wanted it bad – wanted to feel the joy of God’s presence, that falling-open and dropping into place that comes when I stand flat-footed on the ground that’s solid, always, right where I am.  Walking toward the garage, under the blue sky and sun, I thought, “It’s almost there, but not quite” and for the briefest of moments I was disappointed. 

Then it seemed clear to me, clear like the light blue sky, that it didn’t really matter. 

The blessing of love and acceptance, of guidance and care are there, always, whether I can feel it quite completely or not.  The steadiness, consistency and presence of God’s love is neither dependent on my awareness nor diminished by my unawareness. And that, is no small wonder.  


*   *   *   *


Welcome, friends, to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  


That's my proposal - that we would gather together here each week (or as often as we're able) to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. 


You're invited to link-up a brief post of about five hundred words or less about a Small moment of Wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short or not just right, you're welcome to come as you are.

Looking for Unforced Rhythms?  We're a community in transition.  We invite you to consider whether this new link-up meets your needs and to participate as you're able.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.