Sunday, May 31, 2015

Self-Care: The Simple Math of "Too"


(Laura Lynn Brown, over at Makesyoumom.com is leading a discussion this summer around self-care - you can find upcoming discussion topics here.  Then add your voice to the conversation in the comments.  This conversation is near and dear to my heart and I'm looking forward to following along and contributing as I am able.  This post is linked with the topic: Self-Care Assess Your Situation. )

Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’ . . . Billy Preston

If I were to sum my self-care situation up in two phrases they would be, “too little” and “too much.”

Too little quiet, solitude, stillness.

Too much laundry, loudness and scattered demands.

Too little money, time, support.

Too much chaos.

“Too little” and “too much.”

Looking closer, however, I notice these two phrases can be further reduced to one word – “too.”

“Too” is, like “also” and “and,” a word of addition; it is yes and inclusion and multiplication.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges and rewards of welcoming two (by which I mean twins) is learning to live in and welcome “too.”  For much of my life I’ve longed for singularity of purpose and identity and now I find myself learning how to embrace the gifts of many and much. 

Yet “too” presupposes the existence of something prior - some thing, some one, to which “too” is added.  I can see now, in learning to live with “too” that it is not my job to prevent “too” or even try to control it, but to tend to the one to which “too” is always being added. 

Self-care is attention to the center, the root, the self onto which all of life is added in varied measures. 

Self-care is not in opposition to “too” but rather presupposes “too.”

Lately, one little line from Billy Preston’s 1974 hit, “Nothing’ from Nothing” has been following me around in my head as I tend to all of the little “too’s” that add up my life these days,

“Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’,
you gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me.”

Sometimes it feels like all of the “too’s” in my life leave me with nothin’.  When I am at zero, which I often am, I have nothing to give and all of those too’s just pile up, neither good nor bad, just “too.”  I’m beginning to heed the signs that tell me I’m headed toward nothin', to notice the moments when zero is rapidly approaching.  

At thirty-eight I'm relearning basic addition and subtraction, recalculating the cost of “too” and working to maintain “somethin’” lest we all be left with “nothin’”.  More than ever before I understand that it all begins with one.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Spacious Place: Memorial Day and Freedom (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! - hymn by Samuel Trevor Francis

We had a gathering of new faces here at the old farmhouse Saturday.  Vans packed with kids started pulling in at six o'clock and little people unloaded and scattered across the yard faster than the chickens they chased.  

The porch of a house always feels like a warm space to me and the way this one wraps around makes me think of a wide smile.  We set two picnic tables out in the space of that smile and ate meals in the up-and-down shifts of young parents - standing and sitting, stopping and starting as kids ran out of, refused, or spilled food.  Later, when the sun was waning and a chill settled into the air, parents gathered kids from all corners of the house and yard.  One girl was found a good thirty feet up in a pine tree, just sitting on a branch refusing to come down. 

Kids take to this spacious place like it's their native home, running wide and far while the grown-ups tend to hover close to the house.  Often, leaving my work for a while, I find the twins off in some far corner of the yard, running knee-deep in cut grass or playing a secret game on one of the many wood piles.  

Somewhere along the path we call "growing up" many of us forget how to live in - by which I mean not just to own, but to enjoy to its fullest - a good and spacious place.  We build walls - or life builds them for us - hemming ourselves in to little plots of work and responsibility.  A small plot of life offers the advantage of perceived control and yet something within the very heart of us is lost - a soul that was meant to soar in freedom lives out its days with wings clipped.  

This is not what God intends for us.  God's love is "deep and wide" as the children's song reminds us, "vast, unmeasured, boundless, free" as the hymn declares.  This love is the spacious place in which we live and move and have our being (Acts 17).

This Memorial Day I'm remembering my Grandfathers who fought in WWII to maintain some measure of freedom - to ensure that their children and grandchildren would live in both physical and intellectual freedom, un-penned-in by tyranny and oppression.  As I remember, I wonder how many of us have forgotten how to live in the freedom that was and is won and maintained at such great cost?  How many of us have exchanged our freedom for the yoke of some new ideology or economic stability?

Our earthly freedom, of course, is a dim shadow of the freedom we have in Christ - freedom also bought and maintained at a great cost and yet bestowed on us as a free gift.  The biblical story, though, is one of a people continually giving up their freedom, handing over the keys to prisons built of law and perceived safety.  

"For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery," Paul tells the Galatians (5:1).

A good many people will spend this day gathered around picnic tables discussing the state of the world and arguing on behalf of their own dimly perceived solutions - more law, more war, more walls.  We are right to be concerned and yet, I want to suggest we look elsewhere for solutions today.

Maybe we could follow the lead of our children and live in freedom for a few minutes or hours.  Join them splashing in the water, building moats and dams out of sand, catch a worm, build an imaginary kingdom, run yelling across a wide field or simply lay down in the grass and watch the clouds for a while as though nothing is riding on us.  

We have to practice living in freedom to best know how to maintain it.  

I will do my best to leave the house today, to set aside the work and venture into the far corners of our yard.  Maybe I'll climb the pine tree, maybe I'll ride the rope swing and feel my stomach drop or catch a chicken and sit with it for a while soaking in the sun.  

May you also find yourself captured by and living in the wonder of the freedom that is yours today.  Happy Memorial Day, friends.  

*   *   *

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 gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post 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.      



Thursday, May 21, 2015

God is a Lover (A Winter Miracle)


(I wrote this post back when winter was still slowly fading, not long after we decided to rehome the first dog we adopted, but I'm just getting around to posting it now.  Hopefully next week I'll finish up a piece about our new dog, Coco, who's proven to be a much better fit.)

The old snow in the yard shrank back from the crisp coat of ice on top and the kids and I walked along tapping down lacy caves with our feet as we waited for the bus. 

We all seemed lighter, having decided to re-home our new dog Jaxon. 

After they left on the bus, Jaxon and I headed out to the back field and I was sad.  Although I framed it as a gift for my husband and kids, I now know that I was the one who needed a dog this winter.  Having him here gave me something to focus on, some deep joy and a reason to get outside.  Without that dog, I wouldn’t have known the birds were singing, that winter, though posing still as fierce, was waning.
 
But Jaxon was scared of our older kids, scared of older kids in general and growled and snapped at them on occasion.  He needed a quieter home where he could feel more secure, less threatened.  And we needed a dog our kids could love freely without fear.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but three weeks in we decided Jaxon should be re-homed.    

While posting Jaxon on Craigslist, it occurred to me to contact his original owners to fill them in on the situation – I didn’t want them to see him up for adoption and wonder what had happened.  We got him from a family with two young children – a two-year-old and a newborn who was ill and in need of surgery.  They were overwhelmed and needed one less thing to manage. 

That’s what struck me as I stood in the crunchy field and Jaxon sniffed all along the fence line.  I was tempted to feel regret, to tell and believe a story of impulsive decision-making on our part, a story of failure.  That’s one possible story, but standing in that spacious place, I sensed another story too, a story running just beneath the surface, one filled with grace and mysterious mercy. 

When I texted the original owners they replied immediately, “Bring him back, we can make it work.”  It seemed they had turned a corner.  “Our daughter will get better, spring will come and we can take him out more,” they said. 

//

There was a family who needed help with a dog they loved. 

There also was a family (or more clearly, a woman) who needed something new, some loving bit of softness and joy to nurture for a while.  By the mercy of God (and Craigslist) the two became connected and the needs and abilities matched up for a few brief weeks. 

I don’t believe God is a matchmaker – a meddling force stitching together lives with neat precision – but I am beginning to understand God is a lover.  This is the lens through which God sees the world – sees you.  God stitches lives together, hearts together, to multiply love (which God IS) and thereby God multiplies God’s own presence among us.

God’s creative love knows no bounds.

This is the great God of scripture, leaning down into the world, seeing, hearing, knowing the cries of his people.  God sending.  God arriving.  Leading, loving. 

This and this alone is the story that runs beneath the surface of all our lives - God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love.

//

God sees two weary women, two towns apart.  

One has a dog she cannot bear, another needs a dog to love.  

God’s fingers twitch, eyes twinkle and love is born and multiplied in our midst.

Every miracle, at its heart, comes down to this - God is love. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

Echolocation (#SmallWonder Link-up)


ech-o-lo-ca-tion (noun)
    the location of objects by reflected sound, in particular that used 
    by animals such as dolphins and bats.  

To be a person
of faith, is to consent
to life lived blind as a bat,
to be a people of light
walking in darkness.

Faith will teach you
what you need to know
about soaring at night,
listening for the echo
of your own prayers
reverberating back to you. 

The way forward is revealed,
always, in relation to the 
place where you are.

//

I recently read an article in Presence, an international journal of Spiritual Direction, in which author Susan Phillips describes learning to listen to God and self as being similar to echolocation - the navigational technique used by bats, whales and dolphins ("Navigating the Depths: Spiritual Direction in a Shallow Culture").  I found this to be a fascinating concept to explore.  This short poem is the first fruits of my exploration.  

My experience of God's leading is most often one of darkness - being led in ways I cannot see and learning to be led without sight.  I wrote two poems about this last year.  The first, Seeing in the Dark, came out of our experience of finding and losing (and then finding again) the house of our dreams and was inspired by the images of Billy training Little Ann and Old Dan to hunt in Where the Red Fern Grows.  A second poem, Bloodhound, was born last summer after learning about Bloodhounds at the kids' summer library program.  Did you know that the folds of skin on a Bloodhound's face serve to cover its eyes so it won't be visually distracted while following a scent?  

In our anxious culture and in my own anxious heart there's a heightened focus on the need for certainty in order to move forward.  For us, the sense of sight is a dominate image for certainty, as in "I saw it with my own two eyes."  Yet scripture describes the life of faith quite differently, as confidence and hope based in things that exist beyond out own limited sight:

So we do not lose heart . . . because we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.  So we are always confident . . . for we walk by faith, not by sight.  (2 Cor 4:16, 18; 5:7)

May you be blessed, friends, with occasional bouts of blindness so that walking by faith, you will learn to be led with confidence in the dark.  

//

I have a few brief announcements to share today.  I want to first thank each of you for your contributions to this community and to invite you to continue spreading the word about #SmallWonder and commenting on and sharing the work of other writers.  My hope is that we will be a group that is deep in its connection and support.  

Second, I want to let you know that Jody Ohlsen Collins has decided to step back in helping to coordinate #SmallWonder as she focuses on some new ventures of her own - including an exciting writer's retreat offering coming this fall on the West Coast.  

Thirdly, I noticed last week that Makes You Mom, a new website full of thoughtful reflections about mothering is hosting a weekly link-up this summer around habits of self-care.  Follow the link to see a list of topics - the first link-up begins this Friday.  I'm excited to join the conversation because of my own poor track-record and conflicted feelings about self care.  Won't you join me?


*   *   *

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 gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post 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.  


Friday, May 15, 2015

The School of Love


She has something to tell me and we head upstairs after dinner, leaving the boys in our wake.  Flopping onto my soft, floral bedspread, surrounded by windows and light, she flops too, glowing with bright beauty.

“I like ****,” she says, the words escaping like a happy bubble, a delicious secret. 

I thought we were heading upstairs to talk about chores, to escape for a few brief minutes the din of boys.  With those words, though, the scene changes - I'm transported from the daily to a china shop of delicate wonder, precious, and I’m cautious lest I be a bull.  She is like a beautiful flower unfurling in front of me in one swift movement. 

We lay on the bed facing the ceiling and I ask gentle questions about the boy in question, the one she “likes.”  I’m careful to keep things light – to show interest, but not too much – to honor and reflect her interest and joy.  This is the first of what I hope will be many conversations and I navigate it cautiously, like a young surgeon performing a delicate maneuver.    

She has handed me a gift – her heart in outstretched hands and I’m awed by her trust and my own sacred responsibility to handle with care. 

Sitting together on the porch swing a few nights later my oldest boy, who’s been more snuggly of late, leans into my side.

“This isn’t anywhere near as romantic as I am at school,” he boasts.  Surprised, I ask him to tell me more.  This boy, this lover, has always had his eye on someone and this year is no different. 

“We pinky-swore to be Valentines,” he tells me, of the girl he likes who’s “little and blond.”  A few nights later he's at a loss to remember her name, but still swears he's in love.

They're young, I know and so we are practicing, as we have always been, the sacred art of holding each other’s hearts – the intimate steps of revelation and receiving, the holding together of dreams, hope and longing.  I am practicing, practicing opening room for their growing, changing love; practicing the art of a gentle, steering word, shared smiles and silence. 

Of all the gifts that children bestow this one - this long, slow lesson in learning to love well - is the one that strikes me most.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

God Mothers Us (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


Getting found almost always means being lost for a while. – Anne Lamott in Small Victories

Too high.  Too great.  Too marvelous.
 
These are the kind of things my heart was snagged on this morning.  My eyes were lifted up toward the future, toward a time of change which I sense is coming and cannot yet see. 

We need extra income.  I need meaningful work aside from mothering.  And yet I cannot seem to get the two things to align. 

//

We left in the middle of the sermon this morning after I turned to my husband crying, worrying over past decisions and anxious for the future.  Outside the sun blazed as we sat in its heat, unenlightened, circling again the same questions without answers.  Then we went back inside the still-new-to-us building to get our kids. 

No one stands around talking at this new church, the parking lot and Sunday school classrooms empty in seconds flat.  Alarmed at having been the last kids left for several weeks now, Isaiah made me promise this morning to come to get him “fik” (quick) when the service was over. 

Today I was the first one there and his face beamed.  “That’s my Mom,” he said, buoyant with his own unique brand of happy love. 

We stopped at Home Depot on the way home and I ran into the garden area while the rest waited in the van.  I was looking for perennials to fill the two permanent pots out front, but most of what they had were flashy annuals.  The perennials sat in the back, discounted and dry, so I left without buying anything.  I didn’t want a bargain just because it was cheap and I wanted something that would last. 

//

By the time we got back home, my heart had found its footing again.  I can't tell you exactly how it happened, but it had something to do with my OneWord for the year – small – and something also to do with this Psalm, the one I shared last week in stillness.

Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

I studied this Psalm in seminary with well known Old Testament scholar, Patrick Miller.  As a Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 131 is associated with the pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  From what I remember, it’s believed that these psalms were written and sung or prayed on the journey.  Miller suggested this psalm, because of its intimate reference to “the weaned child that is with me” is one of the few we can reliably conclude was written by a woman. 

A woman walking.  A woman on a journey, praying.  A woman looking at her child and seeing in the child’s face a mirror for her own soul - the calmness, contentment of a child trusting the one with whom it walks. 

//

Earlier this week Isaiah lost his sister’s helium balloon.  His little hand opened for a second and the balloon shot up into the air with its ribbon tail trailing behind.  

“How will we get it?” he asked.

“We can’t.” I said, with finality.  Then I knelt and hugged him as he raised his hands to cover his eyes.  I would’ve given a lot to be able to reach up and grab that balloon. 

The balloon was unfettered, lost. 

//

That’s how my soul felt this morning.  I was looking too far ahead, worrying about decisions already made and before I knew it I was somewhere far away like that balloon, lost.  I forgot the One I am walking with, the One who bears me on the journey, the One I trust to get me “fik” when I am waiting.

God does not leave us lost for long, though.  Like a woman sweeping, like a shepherd with its sheep, like a father with a son – God seeks we who are forever getting lost.  God plucks us out of a wide sky of fear and worry, out of the lofty heights of ambition and anxiety.  God mothers us on the journey as we walk together, side-by-side.     



*   *   *   


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 gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post 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, May 6, 2015

I Was Afraid . . . and I Hid (Genesis 3 and Matthew 25)


I was afraid . . . and I hid (Genesis 3; Matt. 25)

The old habit dies hard,
the fear that drives one
like a hare, hunted, pursued
by God-only-knows what terror,
darkened shadow, lurking nightmare.

I was afraid, Adam said, because I was naked.
Vulnerable, exposed, like the soft clay he once was
before the great hand scooped mud from mud,
molding in intricate detail the figure of humanity.
Oh Adam, God sighed.  God’s hands hung low and lifeless,
weary, at the great heaving sides, heart-broken,
heavy.  Adam’s flesh tingled at the sight of those hands,
at the thought of their touch, but he mistook his own body’s
longing for fear and later, his descendants would do the same
when God came, clothed in flesh and mud and walked among them,
the great hands hidden in human form.

I was afraid, the servant said, his one talent held in an outstretched,
shaking hand.  I knew you were a harsh man . . . so I hid. 
Memory played the scene as he spoke, the anxious weight
of the coin in his hand, the feeling that it watched - the master
watched - through the coin’s cold, unblinking eye.  The waiting
and absence, the dread - too much to bear.  In the dark
of night, he fled carrying the coin’s shining light into darkness where
still the moon caught and glimmered on gold.  Half-crazed, he dug
with bare hands, a hole.  It was not the coin he wanted to hide,
but himself.  Bits of clay and dirt clung to his hands, lodged under
his fingernails, the damp earth clung, claiming him as its own.
Rising and walking after the deed, dirt stuck to his clothes, his knees.
Still the coin’s light shone in his mind’s eye, the pursuing light
pressing after him even in the darkness.     

We are a people forever misinterpreting the light, the presence,
for we are afraid and so we hide.  Still, God pursues.  The words,
Where are you? echo, reverberating, as God, the great, love-sick lover,
with hands as gentle as they are wide, seeks we who are his own. 


Monday, May 4, 2015

Still (#SmallWonder Link-up)

Friends, I waited and watched and listened yesterday but by the time I slipped between the sheets last night, I had no words to offer you.  Instead, this morning, as I am recovering from a long, intense week, I want to offer you the stillness of Psalm 131.  May you find yourself be blessed with some small moment of wonder this week.


"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; 
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.  


O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forever more." 



*   *   *   


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 gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post 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.