Monday, August 31, 2015

As A Child (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


In the early morning darkness, I lay my head back on the couch, face lifted, chest wide, shoulders back.  Open.  Prayers rise, unbidden, as coffee cools in my cup. 

Decisions, relationships, lift like smoke, ascending from that tense place in my chest where I hold things too tightly.  For the hardest things, my words are lacking, stumbling stutters. 

“Please.  Help.”

I feel inarticulate, frustration rises.

//

When my four-year-old gets in a tight place in the yard – stuck upside-down in the hammock, balanced precariously on the edge of a fall – he cries out.

“Somebody help I!  Somebody help I!”

Yesterday, having nicked his heal, he ran into the house at full speed, full volume, calling, “Guys, I bleeding! Guys, I bleeding!”

I love the unspecificity of his cries, the simplicity. 

He is a boy raised in a loving crowd – someone will answer

He doesn’t need to find the right words to wrap around the problem in the midst of his panic and fear – help will come, regardless.

//

This is what comes to me in the midst of the frustration and inadequacy.

Ah, I think, I am praying like a child. 

I live in the midst of a great sea of Love – Someone will answer.

I don’t need to find the right words – Help will come, regardless.

My cries are precious to the ear that hears them. 

Friends, the lovely Laura Boggess and I are leading a retreat day on September 26 based on Jesus' invitation to become "as a little child."  You can find out more about this event here.

*   *   *

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.  


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Manna, Flying Ovens and Grace



Our stove was broken.  The oven burned everything and the biggest burner, the one I used every meal, either ran on high or not at all.  It was one more thing we didn’t have time for, didn’t have money. 

Not long ago, when our finances led me to consider applying for a full time job, God told me clearly, “Just wait.”  I was relieved to hear from God with such clarity.  But after a pause, I reminded God that this meant “he” would be “supplying all our needs.” 

After burning yet another meal in the broken oven this week, I scrolled Craig’s List obsessively searching for a replacement.  Then I remembered that conversation with God.  

Maybe God has a whole warehouse of stoves somewhere and all I need to do is ask, I thought. 

I don’t claim to know how these things work, but I stood on the porch and pictured a white stove floating down out of the bright autumn sky.  (Ought I mention that the stove had big black wings?  It was really quite a delightful image.)

That afternoon I found a decent stove on Craig’s list, but it was still $100 that we didn’t have.  My husband suggested we just fix the burner on the old stove and continue using the broken oven.  But I didn't have the heart to burn one more loaf of bread.

Later that night a friend stopped by and standing in the darkening driveway, my husband mentioned that he was stressed about money.  

“Really?” the friend replied, “We've got an extra $100 dollars floating around this week.  I want to give it to you guys.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out cash.

My husband said no three times before giving in.  We're so tired of needing help.  But when he came upstairs to tell me, as I was putting the twins to bed, my eyes lit up.  

“That’s our stove!” I said, telling him about my prayer.  

I wish the story ended there.  It would be a good one, wouldn't it?

The truth is the guy with the $100 stove didn't get back to me and we ended up buying one for $125.  Then the cord on the new stove wouldn't work with our outlet, so my husband pulled the cord off of the old stove to attach to the new one.

But that old cord?  It was broken.  So we ended up spending another $25 for a new cord.  That brings the new stove tally to $150.  

(Maybe God isn't the best at math?)

We'll fix the old stove and sell it, it's got to be worth something to someone.  And maybe then the math will work out.  

All of this has got me thinking about faith and trust and how the way things appear on the surface can often be deceiving.  I'm thankful for all of the graces, big and little that come our way.  But I want to remember also that each and every grace is only a fragment of a greater truth - the Love and Grace that dwells in and around our lives.  

Sometimes the little graces add up and sometimes they don't.  Sometimes that which is manna one day has soured by the next. 

I keep reminding myself of all the things we have, the things we take for granted that come floating down out of the clouds for free.  Things like the field of soy beans across the street that turns a brighter shade of gold with each passing day.  Or the view of the mountains along with the blue sky and sun.  Who am I in the midst of all of this abundance to say what is and is not enough? 

Last night I made pizza from scratch in the "new" oven.  It had a perfectly browned crust.  Examining her slice, my daughter exclaimed, "It's not burnt!" and the look on her face was priceless. 





Monday, August 24, 2015

Waking With the Chickens (#SmallWonder Link-up)

  (The morning view from the porch at God's Whisper Farm)

Remember a few weeks back when I wrote about Cutting Loose at a friend's farm while enjoying a weekend long writing retreat?  This week I'm honored to host the farm's owner, author and editor, Andi Cumbo-Floyd.  Andi writes and lives from her heart and I hope you'll listen close to her words to get a sense of the love and presence they emanate.  Then, scroll down and visit the link to check out her new e-book, Writing Day-In and Day-Out: Living a Practice of Words.   

*   *   *

It’s not light. But it is lighter than it was a few minutes ago when it was actually dark. Now, the sky is indigo and graying at the edges, waking into aging, perhaps.

I am still in my pajamas, the interior seams almost gone but still adequate enough to cover me for my walk to the chicken coop. The road is an 1/8 of a mile away, and the glimpse of the farmstead is slim, even if an early-rolling trucker comes by. My feet slide easily into my morning-cooled rubber shoes, and I walk the trail across the grass, knowing that when I return it will look like two wheels rolled the path.

I begin at the front of the wagon shed and slide back the bolt that does nothing but hold the door shut. Inside, I can just make out Lemon’s fluff beside the window screen. I stretch my arm long and slip the hook out of her eye. “Good morning, babies.”  I pour feed into the lime-green trench of holes and step out.

Behind the babies, I can hear him. He’s already crowed once in that sound that used to startle and delight me. The true cock-a-doodle-do of children’s books.  Now, I hear him rustling, his horny feet grasping the post on which he sleeps, sort of, still.

With him, his girls are sleeping, too, and I can hear the quite cuckle of their dreams. A coo. A tiny cluck. A mewl even.  I’m fairly certain I have never heard a sound so peaceful.

Then Xander lets fly his crow again, and I move a bit more quickly, eager to get the big birds food out before he wakes fully.  I toss Oyster shell into the scoop and then layer feed. I slide open another bolt, this one to the run and step in, swing the feed into the red trays below. 

Gently, I slide open the third bolt of my morning and swing the door to the back coop open before moving backwards as fast as I can, the feed scoop arcing in front of me as a ward against flying rooster spurs.

But then, I hear him crow again, from far back in the coop. He sings, and then, soft as a whisper, I hear the rasp of a sigh come from him. “Sleepy rooster,” I say. 

I slide that one bolt back into place on the run and stand outside, waiting. First, comes Fern, her head full of feathers like an awkward crown. Then, Xander steps forth, breast high, shoulders back. He fluffs up and struts, and he lets loose. Bold, brazen, moving toward me without fear.

Then, I hear that sigh of sleepiness ease from his mouth. “Good boy, Xander. Good boy.”

Maybe we are all at our best when we step into the day new, a little sleepy in the graying dawn.


Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing coach who farms at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, and 26 chickens. Her latest book is Writing Day In and Day Out: Living a Practice of Words and is available on Kobo and Amazon.  You can find out more about her work at her website, andilit.com


*   *   *

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, August 20, 2015

Like Nunchucks and a Pot of Nuts and Bolts (Back to School)


All four kids took turns rummaging, elbow deep, in the large metal pot that holds rusted nuts, bolts, washers and nails.  First they made robots, tiny friends composed of wing bolts and screws.  They each made three or four and named them based on appearance and abilities. 

Then Solomon made a “weapon,” something like nunchucks, by tying nuts on either end of a piece of string.  He practiced throwing it until he could get it to wrap around a tree.  Then the other kids caught on and started in with their own string and nut creations. 

This morning he tied a washer in the middle of the string and, pulling the two ends taunt, observed the washer spinning first in one direction, then another.

//

This fall my four kids will be spread among three different schools.  Two will climb on separate buses within minutes of each other, heading in opposite directions.  Then the other two will ride with me in yet a third direction for drop-off. 

I have three separate Back to School nights listed on the calendar, all requiring babysitting, and two more Meet the Teacher events that include some, but not all, of the kids.  A large sheaf of papers pinned to the bulletin board announces teachers’ names, room numbers and other pieces of essential information.  

I feel something like that nut tied in the middle of the string, spinning in one direction and another as my kids fly out into the world.  How lucky we've been, piled together for the summer, like those nuts and bolts in the pot.  We've clattered around the house and yard together, merging and separating at will.  With fall, we will be flung a bit wider, but I'm grateful, always, for the cords of love that bind us together.  

BTW: That IS how nunchucks is spelled.  Weird.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Thank You (#SmallWonder Link-Up)

(This past week marked the one year anniversary of my admission to a local Psychiatric Hospital due to the sudden onset of severe panic attacks.  I took this picture of the outside when I went back this week for a routine appointment.  You can read more about my journey by clicking on the anxiety tab under Topics.)

Sometimes we must talk about darkness in order to better talk about light. - Kelly Chripczuk

Palpable fear, fog descending on the brain, blood pressure slipping and sliding while the extremities go weak.  Dizziness, anxiety and an unbearable desire to flee.

This is what I felt this past Friday morning walking into the lobby of the Behavioral Health Unit where I was hospitalized last summer.  I was there for a routine Psychiatrist appointment.  

I wasn’t feeling well.  Tired and stressed from a long week of classes, I had a brief dizzy spell in the morning.  I wondered if something was off with my blood pressure – it can tend to run low. 

As I drove, I thought about asking the psychiatrist to check my blood pressure.  She’s a medical doctor after all and, at the least, she could call in a nurse.  I pictured myself in her office, with that black cuff around my arm.    

What if they sent me to the ER?  The same ER where I waited for almost twenty hours last year before admission. 

What if going to the ER caused me to panic? What if I couldn’t stop panicking?

I spent the whole thirty minute ride to the hospital psyching myself out.  By the time I got there, I was jacked up on anxiety.
 
After parking, I pulled out my phone and took a few quick pictures of the "courtyard" - a small fenced in area where supervised low-risk patients could take a breath of fresh air in the afternoon and evening.  

Entering the building through double glass doors, I crossed the dim, brown interior.  Facing the receptionists’ large cubicle, I worked hard to force words out of my mouth in a stream that seemed natural.  I wanted to run back out into the sunny blue day.  Instead I sat and waited a good twenty minutes.  I picked up a magazine and read fluff articles about combating clutter while talking myself down.    

On the drive home I was physically sick.  I kept an eye on the shoulder looking for places to pull over and vomit.  A headache formed behind my right eye and stretched its way down into my neck and shoulders.  Thirty minutes later I ran into our empty house and knelt on the floor dry-heaving into the downstairs toilet.  My kids were still out picking berries with a friend.  The dog looked curiously at me. 

When the nausea passed I took some Ibuprophen and sorted laundry, placing the kids’ new school clothes on clean white hangers.  Exhaustion hung around me like a shroud, sleep was all I could think of, but I was scared to sit down, scared to lay down, afraid anxiety would pull me under.    

Finally I walked out the back door and into the yard.  The grass here is brown in patches, scratchy like straw, starving for rain.  I sat down on a little slope facing toward the garden and flowerbed.  The dog flopped down beside me, panting and squinting in the sun.

I leaned back onto the ground, my arms outstretched on either side, palms down into the grass.  The grass pricking my hands reminded me of the summer before, when I stretched out in the grass in the fenced in hospital yard.

“Thank you,” I said, aloud.  The words sprang unbidden from my lips, pure, like water from a deep, cold spring. 

I was home and the earth was solid and the sunshine warm.  No one  was there to hear me.  But I’d like to think the dog and the browning grass and sunflowers nearby nodded their heads ever so slightly in agreement.  

(Friday was the worst day I've had in a long time, but I'm happy to say it's passed and after some good rest, I'm feeling much better.)


*   *   *

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.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Not that Grumpy (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


“What do you think heaven’s like?”

Seated around the sticky kitchen island in the early morning humidity, my children and I wake up slowly.  I am on a second or third cup of reheated coffee.  They spill milk and cereal and crunch chocolate toast.  In a moment of quiet, my oldest son poses his question.

Still focused on my coffee, wrapped in a fog of sleepiness I’m reluctant to leave, I reply, “I’m not sure.  What do you think it’s like?”

Perched on a high wooden stool, he pontificates, and his picture of heaven includes the absence of bickering.

There’s been a lot of bickering this morning and every morning, especially now as summer begins its waning.  In fact, first thing that morning I scolded the boys for their non-stop verbal warfare. 

My sleepy brain picks up on the no-fighting thing and in my best grumpy old man voice, I growl out a version of God, “Hey, cut that out.  No fighting allowed in here.”

Wrapped in the joy of his own ideas, my son pauses and turns to give me a quizzical look.  Eyebrows arched, head cocked to the side, quick as a whip, he replies, “He’s not that grumpy.”

His correction causes a pause, then we both laugh, surprised by his nimble reply.  In four short words, my son defended his own understanding of the heart of God, God’s own disposition. 

I am grumpy.  

Especially in the early morning, when humidity is at 90% and little sweaty, sleepy people are squabbling all around me.  

But God is not.  

And the fact that my son not only sees, but defends the difference, is a great source of joy.


*   *   *

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.  




Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Me and Van Gogh (You Are Not Alone)

The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh

While the kids watch TV my husband and I steal a quiet moment at the edge of the yard.  Sitting side-by-side at the end of the driveway, the garage shades us as we talk about the morning’s sermon.

“I really liked the painting,” my husband says. “It makes me want to have more paintings of gospel stories.  To hang them in the house.”

That morning I spoke on the parable of the Good Samaritan and rather than making a formal power point presentation, I used Van Gogh’s rendition of the story as a visual backdrop to the discussion.

“Yeah,” I reply, “It really helped me when I was preparing.”

It’s one thing to read about acts of love, another to see them laid out stroke, by stroke in rich yellows and blues.

“I found a post where someone wrote about it,” I add.  “It’s by Van Gogh.  He painted it when he was in an asylum.”  Tipping my head to the side and shrugging my shoulders with my hands spread wide I add with a grin, “So . . . you know . . .  me and, Van Gogh.”

We exchange looks and laugh.   

“Yeah,” he says, “You and your pal, Van Gogh.”

//

Parker Palmer struggled with debilitating depression.  As did Henri Nouwen. 

When I was in the psychiatric hospital last summer, I gathered these names and held them to myself as evidence that mental illness and hospitalization didn’t have to be a stigma.  Their stories gave me hope that despite struggles, my life could proceed with productivity and meaning. 

This past Sunday, after reading about his painting online, I added Vincent Van Gogh to my list.

// 

This week I’m approaching what my counselor eloquently referred to as a “tender anniversary.” 

A year ago this Thursday I had my first panic attack.  My heart beat furiously, waves of heat and chills ran through my back.  My stomach flopped.  I lay on the living room floor, unable to get up.  I called my husband at work and asked him to pick up our kids and come right home.  I canceled my plans for the weekend, which included preaching, and made an appointment with my primary care Dr. 

Still, the panic continued, pulling me under, like a rip tide.  Six days later we woke a friend in the middle of the night, asking her to come and stay with our kids while John drove me to the ER.  The next evening, after a long wait, I was admitted to the Behavioral Health unit. 

I’m telling you this because it happened.  It's part of the truth of my life.  I’m also telling you this because it happens – every life is filled with shadow and light.

And lastly, I’m telling you this because I want you to know that you can add my name to your list

When fear rages and panic sets in. 

When you’re unable to eat, unable to sleep. 

When you make a difficult Dr. appointment and fill a prescription you’d rather not need. 

When you or your child needs to make that scary trip to the ER, to be sheltered for a while until the meds kick in. 

You can add my name to your list.

Me and Palmer, Nouwen and, of course, Van Gogh.       

Linking with #TellHisStory.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Exploring Faith (SmallWonder Link-Up)

This week I'm grateful to share a guest post by Dolly Lee.  Her writing always brings a gentle, clear perspective and an invitation to rest in God's love.  Dolly just finished her first e-book, A Soul Care Manifesto, which you can receive for free by subscribing to her blog.  Visit her website, Soul Stops, to find out more.


*   *   *   *

Welcome to the first post of my series exploring Faith.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I walked and talked after dinner. Tension accompanied us with each step as we fumbled with words; it was as if we each spoke in a foreign language.

Faith here looked like inviting God into our conflict and seeking in love to listen to each other share his/her heart.

We didn't know how our disagreement would resolve.

Faith meant we obeyed God by not stewing in anger. Instead we shared our feelings with grace (for the most part...keeping it real). (Trying to practice those "I feel..." statements vs. "You are...")
We listened to each other (imperfectly but we persevered) so bitterness couldn't take root in our hearts.

Afterwards, we agreed we'd fought a battle for our marriage of almost 24 years and won...for now.

If you've figured out your "faith walk" perfectly, read no further.

But if you take two steps forward and one step back, on a good day, please join me.

Faith in God seeks to follow God's way even when the outcome is unknown.

In an earlier post, I invited you to explore a question with me: How can I remember God's bigger story of redemption and restoration in the midst of my smaller story?

Some of our smaller stories include marriage with or without children, some are single or divorced, others are retired, and others battle chronic health issues.

Some of us work outside the home, some within, and some do both.
Whatever our story, we can learn about faith from Abraham's life.

We're introduced to Abraham's smaller story when God invites him to join God's larger story of redemption (Gen. 12:1-4).
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called out...And he went out, not knowing where he was going."- Heb. 11:8 ESV
HFF - Open Field Edition
Photo used with permission of Flickr User: Nana B Agyei

Sometimes faith asks us to leave the known and travel to an unknown place.


Faith and obedience to God's call intertwine like a braid. God can speak through feelings but sometimes I let them boss me instead of letting faith in God lead.

Faith obeys God's call into the unknown because faith trusts God knows.

I wonder if Abraham felt scared as he left, at age 75 (!), his home, country, and everything he knew to go to an unknown land God promised to give him (Gen. 12:1-4). I wonder if he ever missed his home or a favorite vista.

By faith, Abraham wove his smaller story into God's bigger story.

Sometimes the unknown that God calls us to is a new way of thinking, believing, and/or living and relating to someone, including ourselves.

Some of us may have grown up in families where we learned unhealthy ways of relating (e.g., screaming; hitting; unfaithfulness; stuffing feelings/issues). For some of us the unknown is to learn new emotionally and spiritually healthy ways to relate to our friends and family.

Some of us need to leave the land of self-condemnation and hatred and learn to walk in God's unconditional love for us.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pastor Peter Scazzero learned a painful but valuable lesson: he couldn't grow spiritually without also growing emotionally. Peter had to change how he treated his wife and his family.

He didn't learn it easily or quickly and I appreciate his wisdom.
Faith always moves at God's invitation to move. But faith stays when Gods says, "stay."

I take comfort knowing Abraham's faith wasn't perfect; he doubted God's promise after waiting for 12 long years and decided to "help" God. It didn't end well. And I can relate.

Our faith is imperfect but God is always perfectly faithful to keep His promises.

Faith trusts God enough to obey and move into mystery.

What does faith in God look like for you today?

Where is God inviting you to move, whether literally, or in how you view someone or something?

How have you seen God's faithfulness in your life?

Thanks for being here.

In my next post, we'll continue to explore more of Abraham's story and what we can learn about faith.

Read more of Abraham and Sarah's story at Hebrews 11:8-16.

Try reading the passage aloud several times to see how different words or ideas stand out for you.

If you like to journal or create art, see what comes up for you as you read Hebrews 11:8-16.


*   *   *

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.