Sunday, November 29, 2015

To See the Naked Trees (Advent Week 1)

Photo Credit

(Each week in December I hope to write at least one post reflecting on the lectionary texts from the Sunday before.  This week's readings include Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36.)

We flew along back roads surrounded by fields and forests on a gray day in late fall. 

“The trees are naked!” cried a little voice from the back of the van. 

“Yes,” I said, “they are.”

Naked is a big and delight-filled word for a four-year-old boy. 

To notice and accurately apply that word, I imagine, gave him nearly as much pleasure as running around naked does.

//

This week’s advent texts, in both Jeremiah and Luke, carry images of trees - a righteous branch, a fig tree in spring.  Scholars note how the bible itself begins and ends in a garden with trees.  In this week's readings Jeremiah and later Jesus use trees to tell their own separate but similar stories of waiting and noticing, of promises and their fulfillment.

Advent – the four weeks leading up to Christmas – marks the beginning of the church calendar and I can’t help but notice again that we begin, not with action, but with waiting.  Active waiting accompanied by a good many urgent appeals for us to Pay Attention! and Stay Awake! 

So frequent are the biblical reminders for us to “pay attention,” you would think the human condition is just one big post-Thanksgiving-meal fog.  It’s as though the bible recognizes our tendency to hit the snooze button, to slumber while driving along familiar roads. 

It may seem simple, but it takes a certain kind of attention to notice the state of the world around us, something like the ability of a four-year-old to see and name the nakedness of the trees. 

//

This week I hope to decorate an evergreen in our yard – a perfectly plump fir we affectionately refer to as “the Christmas tree.”  Last year we could neither afford nor did we have the energy to hang lights outside, but this year we’ve taken the plunge and crumpled icicle lights hang already around the front porch roof and the roof of the well house. 

Soon the kids will climb the Christmas tree with lights in tow and we’ll call out directions from the ground.  It will probably involve some yelling and end in a big tangled mess, but the tree, dressed in its winter greens, will have lights.  I don’t know whether the other trees in the yard – the naked ones – will look on with envy or relief. 

Later this month we’ll cut an overpriced evergreen and drag it into the house where it will become a hiding place for the kids and jungle-gym for the cats.  We’ll string it too with lights and tempers will probably flare between my husband and I and the kids who swarm in excited anticipation as the memory-making debacle unfolds.  

It’s tempting to think of all of those trees and lights as just another distraction.  Sometimes they are.  But I look forward to plugging them in at the end of the day, to watching the kids run off the bus in the early evening dusk toward a house wrapped round with light. 

We may not all have the attentiveness required to notice the “naked trees,” but surely we can learn to notice light.  

May the many lights of Christmas and the trees that bear them remind us of our tendency to snooze.  May they help us Stay Awake as we wait for the coming of the Light.   

  
*   *   *

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, November 28, 2015

Quiet Lights (Advent Wonder for Your In-box 2015)

 

(This post is a re-post, but the invitation to Quiet Lights continues this Advent - don't miss out.  Simply subscribe via the link below!)

Dinner time at our house is often, well, make that always, insane

But every once in awhile, when I've had it up-to-here with the volume and intensity, I set a few small candles in the center of the table and turn off the overhead lights.  The darkness brings a momentary quiet, which is no small feat with four young children gathered around.  

We all hear the striking of the match and watch as light bursts into being.  Lighting candles at dinner instills, for a few moments at least, a sense of awe and wonder in the middle of what's otherwise a hectic, frantic, free-for-all.
 

Walking through a store a few weeks ago, I found myself surrounded by the stuff of Christmas.  As I thought of the season ahead, I realized my deepest desire is to be present to this precious season - to slow down and be re-awakened to awe and wonder.
 

Maybe this is your desire too?
 

This Advent season I'd like to offer you a series of Quiet Lights in your inbox.  Think of these emails as me lighting a candle for you.  

Each email will contain a simple poem or quote as well as a few links to good reads from around the web aimed at deepening your capacity for presence, stillness and wonder during advent.  

This isn't one more thing to do, no one needs that this time of year, it's simply an opportunity to be - to be present, to be aware, to be awakened. 

These free emails will begin December 1st and continue through the Christmas season.  Interested?  Click on the link below to enter your email address and subscribe or visit the Field of Wild Flowers facebook page and send me a private message and I'll add you myself.  

I'd be grateful if you'd share this post (via facebook or email) with both your friends at large and two or three close friends who you believe would be blessed by receiving Quiet Lights in their inbox.  The more, the merrier!


Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day
is the rest we take between two deep breaths,
or the turning inwards in prayer
for five short minutes.
—Etty Hillesum

Monday, November 23, 2015

Enough (Coats and Quiet Lights - #SmallWonder Link-up)


The More We Own The Less We Have to Name

If we had only one coat, we would call it Warm,
but if we got another, it would not be Warmer,
      just our other coat,
and if we bought, borrowed, stole
      or rescued from the trash
a third, fourth, or fifth coat,
if our closets held so many coats
jackets, parkas, capes, stoles, mantles and mackinaws
that if we changed them daily from October through April,
rotating cashmere, leather, fleece and down,
scarlets and peacocks, blacks and browns,
if we had coats to cover the entire tundra
      and with it all our ancestors
who ever felt the chill of His absence,
none of these would be Warmer,
none of these would be Enough.

- L.N. Allen

We have a whole room in our house lined with hooks and devoted to the storage of coats - a startling array of outerwear designed to ease six people through four seasons of weather and everything in-between.  That small back room, a former porch now closed in, boasts more coats than Baskin Robbins has flavors - a coat, you might say, for every palate. 

I also have a whole room in my mind devoted to the coats of my past, a musty closet so full that the door will hardly stay shut.  Digging my way into memory's closet, I find, way in the back, the mustard-gold wool coat with large toggle buttons that I thought was oh-so-trendy in high school.  Hanging near it, or cast forgotten onto the floor, lies the bright orange and navy blue windbreaker that matched so well with my eyes, but made me feel like a construction worker every time I wore it. 

The dark wool pea-coat I bought at the Salvation Army during college still hangs stiffly on memory's hanger.  It was ungodly heavy, decked out with two rows of silver buttons and appeared to be a real cast-off from the Navy.  Nearby would be the thin yellow rain coat I bought for a camping trip with my then boyfriend who later became my husband, as though the purchase of a coat between us somehow sealed the deal. 

Hanging toward the front, still usable, would be the burgundy knee-length coat that makes me feel a little like a rock star every time I wear it.  This is the coat that caused my husband to suggest in a gentle tone when I returned home from buying it, that maybe we should consult each other before making big purchases. 

I have too many coats (maybe I always have) and my husband and children do too.  Lately I'm hunting for a back-up winter coat for my daughter.  I've made multiple trips to a variety of stores, ordered two online and returned, all because I don't like the way her bright pink parka from last year is starting to show some wear. 

Walking into Old Navy on yet another scouting trip I noticed a box for donating old coats as you buy a new one and I thought, "Why not keep your old coat and buy a new one to donate?" 

I didn't do either, though, not that day nor since. 

The coats we wear, like much of our clothing, are often a symbol for identity, announcing to the world our interest in outdoor sports or our need to hide behind something long and warm that covers us.  Our coats hold us, warm us, and I have to restrain myself every year to keep from buying an over-abundance of fleeces and hoodies at yard and consignment sales, so great is my desire and my pleasure at covering, clothing, my children.

I have too many coats as our back room will tell you and many days I'm convinced that this is more of a burden than a blessing.  I wonder what these coats might tell me if I were to listen to them one by one?  

Certainly they would speak of my vanity, my desire to fit in or stick out in equally competing measures.  They might mention also, perhaps shyly, my fear of the cold and how holding myself too tightly rigid only makes the shivering that much worse.  They would probably also want to know why I don't go out more often, to enjoy the cold or the rain or the wind, especially now that I have them to keep me.   

Gracious God, we in our frail humanity fear the cold, the wind, the rain.  To put it more plainly, ever since that incident in the garden, we fear exposure.  Forgive us, please, if we go a little overboard in covering ourselves and the ones we love.  Help us to bear, oh Lord, your stripping.  Teach us to welcome the first breath of frost and its burning sting.  Help us to learn to let Warm be Enough. 

*   *   *
Friends, are you longing for a moment of Quiet in the coming Holiday Season?  I want to invite you to subscribe to my Advent Email Series called, "Quiet Lights."  Signing up will allow you to receive an email of a simple poem and a few good links to add wonder to your Advent journey.  Watch my blog later this week for more info or subscribe NOW by visiting the link.  

Click here to subscribe to Quiet Lights.

*   *   *

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, November 19, 2015

Slow Down


“Slow down.”

These words rise from heart to head each morning as I wake. 

I hear them walking away from a networking meeting at the small, brick cafĂ© down the street. 

I hear them when the kids whirl around the kitchen like snowflakes in a blizzard and it’s all I can do to keep from blasting them into submission with a giant stomping shout. 

“Slow down,” the voice says.

//

In seminary we ran intellectual marathons – punishing races in pursuit of excellence.

In the hours when the kids are at school and I am my own boss, I feel myself pushing again in that old, familiar pattern. 

Run hard, run fast.  Do more.  Do it better.  Move, move, move.

//

And still, the small voice whispers, “Slow down.”

//

Last week we had the twins’ four-year-old well-visit at the pediatrician’s office.  John and I met at the office and the boys stripped down to their underwear and clambered around the room while we waited for the Dr.    

We asked about their speech, which the preschool seems to think needs fixing. We got caught up on necessary shots.      

With their birthdays falling in August, the appointment was well overdue. Between the well-visits, the eye dr. and the dentist we, it seems, are falling behind. 

“I can’t keep up,” I say to my husband, to myself, to anyone who is still long enough to listen. 

The thought of the dentist appointments needing to be scheduled and adding speech therapy for two into the mix?  It causes a panic in me, like water rising around someone who cannot swim. 

“Hurry, hurry,” life screams. 

//

Last year, coming off of a weekend of panic attacks, I took the twins to their well-visit by myself.  In the exam room panic rose around me.  My heart pounded, skin flashed hot and cold.  Two half-naked boys perched, one on each knee, was all that kept me from rising, running from the room. 

Maybe this is why the voice tells me, “Slow down.”  Because we can only spin so fast before we lose our balance and start to fall. 

Sometimes slow is the only way to be.  

Sometimes slow is the one necessary thing.  

//

Sitting with those words, "Slow down," and my markers, I found a few more words - maybe you need them too in this too often frenetic holiday season.

Slow down.  Just be.
Be still.  
Be present.
Listen to and dwell in what is
here, now, this moment.
What love? What fear?
And what possible doorway between the two? 
(Grace, always, is the door.)

  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Twins, Terrorists and Vulnerability (#SmallWonder Link-Up)

        When the twins were first born they both fit in one single stroller and routinely fell asleep tangled together.  


They sit side-by-side on the paper covered exam table, ready for their annual pediatric well-visit.  Clothed only in their Super Hero tightie-whities, they're “skin-skin-skin” everywhere.  Impossibly long legs dangle, long arms stretch, and bright little-boys faces gone round and full again in a growth spurt, shine.  They're barrel chested, broad shouldered men-in-the-making at four-years-old. 

Levi asks about the narrow extension at the head of the table.  “Is it for your head when you lay down?  Will it hold me up?” 

“It’s the plank,” I say, invoking the image of a pirate ship.  “If you’re bad the Doctor makes you walk it.” 

His face shines with delighted disbelief. 

“Is that true?” he demands.

When the doctor comes in she begins by asking them questions and they jostle and jockey between themselves to be the first to reply, the one to give the most detailed answer.  Part way through the questions Levi pipes up out of turn.

“Wait!  If she’s just talking to us, why do we have our pants off!”   

My husband and I laugh, he’s right.  The doctor assures them an exam will follow.  

While they talk the boys, first seated at separate ends of the table so the nurse would be sure not to confuse them, shift closer together.  Levi skootches the length of the paper sheet until he’s snuggled in at Isaiah’s side, nearly knocking his brother off the table.  Half-naked they huddle there, skin to skin intuitively finding comfort in each other in the midst of their vulnerability.   

Watching, I am reminded it has always been this way.

First home from the hospital (and for months to come) we laid the twins to sleep together in a bassinet or crib.  Unable to roll, to move really at all, like every newborn, we were careful to place them swaddled a foot or so apart, worried they would somehow suffocate each other.  

Returning to check on them in the night, though, we almost always found them tucked close together, their heads turned into the familiar scent and warmth of the other.  Unable to move hardly at all, unable really even to see, they each somehow shifted until their faces touched, their warm, milk-scented baby breath mingled together. 

This morning I am sitting with the wonder of these boys, the way they allow vulnerability to draw them closer together rather than push them apart.  In the wake of this weekend's terrorist attacks, in the light of so much fear and struggling world round and in our very own hearts, I am left with some simple questions . . . 

What will I do with my vulnerability?  

What will we do with our vulnerability?  

Will we allow it to draw us closer together or push us further apart?    

*   *   *

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, November 13, 2015

Who Needs Your Mess?


This is not my laundry pile.  But it could be . . . if you multiplied what's here times three.

Her house wasn’t just small, it was tiny. 

The shower was quirky and a litter box sat behind a curtain in the bathroom. 

The kitchen wasn’t much more than a hallway and we met outside seated in a variety of plastic and canvas camp chairs. 

What I mean to say is it wasn’t fancy. 

I’d never been to a writer’s retreat before, so I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but these were things I noticed.    

I want to say it didn't matter, but it did.   

The little bits of mess and imperfection were some of the main things I carried away from the weekend.  Her mess was a gift to me and rather than being overwhelmed, I drove home thinking, maybe I could do that too.  Welcomed into the REAL of her life, litter box and all, I found the gift of freedom from perfection. 

//

Six months later I invited my new writer friend to lead a retreat at my house. 

My house isn’t tiny, but it does have litter boxes in conspicuous places and the shower isn’t just quirky, it’s dirty.  Participants sat in secondhand Ikea furniture and lined up on an old leather couch I’d dragged off the side of the road a week before.  I can’t tell you how many times I thought of my friend and her gracious example in the days and weeks leading up to the retreat, how much I clung to the gift of freedom she gave.

// 

Tonight I’m welcoming a group of seven people to our house for a brief workshop.  Some are complete strangers, others good friends, but only one has ever been inside our house before. 

Some will sit around our dining room table, the one we bought on Craig’s List and I’ll do my best to make sure the hardened remains of a month’s worth of meals are duly scraped away.  Others will line up in plastic folding chairs (thank you Target clearance) along a plastic table which will be oddly placed in the winter room.  I will write with broken bits of chalk on our handmade black board.  I’ll do my best beforehand to de-clutter surfaces, sweep the kitchen floor and clear a pathway through the mudroom. 

But the laundry will still be piled high on the washer and dryer, the litter box will sit ramshackle in the corner.  The kitchen ceiling will still be peeling and the ceiling fan’s blades lined with greasy dust.  Paint will be chipped in various places and the record player my husband had to buy will sit in a heap of records in the corner. 

There’s only so much I can do.  Only so much I can ask my family to do. 

But when I look at the mess, the glaring imperfections staring me in the eye, I think of my friend and the gift her mess was to me.  Maybe it’s enough to do something well in the midst of your mess.  And maybe someone will leave here tonight thinking, “I could do that too.”    

Next time you have someone over, try to worry a little less about your mess, maybe it will be a gift to someone who needs freedom from perfectionism.  Maybe, even, it will be a gift to you. 

My friend, Andi is a writer, editor and writing teacher and hosts a number of amazing events on her property, "God's Whisper Farm."  She also runs an online writing group on facebook.  I only dare write about her "mess" because I know she knows I love her!  Maybe I'll see you at her retreat next year?


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Love Leads (#SmallWonder Link-Up)



In the rush between dinner and dessert, in the harried press to Get-These-Kids-to-Bed, four-year-old Isaiah remembers.

Running through the house, he shouts, "Guys! We need to do our yeaves!"

//


Last Tuesday I cut contact paper into the shape of a large, barren tree and stuck it to the wood paneled wall in the living room.  Then we cut a bowl-full of leaves.  Every evening we each write what we’re thankful for on a leaf and stick it to the tree.  By Thanksgiving the tree will be full and green, vibrant. 

//

Isaiah doesn’t remind us to do our leaves because he’s so very grateful.  Most of his leaves proclaim anticipatory gratitude for the handcuffs he hopes to receive for Christmas (heaven help us).  He reminds us because after the note’s written, he gets to color his leaf and Isaiah is a big fan of coloring.  He’s been known to spend a whole afternoon coloring at the kitchen counter.  He loves it.

And his love leads us, even if it has nothing at all to do with gratitude. 

That’s the way love is. 

Love opens doors, makes way and helps us remember what we set out to do, who we wanted to be, when we ourselves have forgotten.  And if we don’t have enough love of our own, all we need to do is follow someone else’s, to sit for a while in the glow of their passion and delight. 

I don’t love coloring like Isaiah does, but his love for it cuts through the evening rush, spurs memory and reminded, we follow in its wake. 

Do you have special family practices for the season of Thanksgiving?  I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

*   *   *

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, November 6, 2015

Broken Beloved (for everyone ashamed of the pills they take)



Often, it’s a restless night and bad dreams that tell me I forgot.

Other times it’s the way I snap and growl at my children in the morning.  It's not that they’re worse than normal, but I’m less tolerant, carrying my own internal agitation which they scrape against like matches, igniting a latent fury.

//

Before bed and after TV, my husband takes the dog out into the darkness to pee.  In the dim kitchen I grind coffee beans for the morning’s brew, adding water and a clean filter to the pot.  Then I open the hutch's glass cabinet and grab the red bottle.  Opened, little oval pills scatter across the palm of my hand like seeds. 

For months, maybe even a year, I cut them precisely with a pill cutter.  Then one day, in a pinch, I realized they could be broken by hand. 

One and a half pills daily seems to be enough to do the trick.

//

Toward the end of summer, for various reasons, I decided I wanted to cut down to one pill, decreasing the dose by a third. 

It would be simpler, I told myself. 

Maybe I’ll lose weight, I thought (as though the daily consumption of potato chips couldn’t possibly be to blame for a recent weight gain). 

I’ve been so sleepy lately, maybe I’m over-medicated, I considered.    

The psychiatrist, hearing my plan, looked at me with surprise. 

“Usually the dose that works is the dose you should stay on,” she said.

“Well,” I said, “I want to try.” 

What I didn’t say was that I didn’t want to be on medicine, I didn’t want to need it.

//

I’d done enough googling to know coming off of antidepressants can be complicated.  I decided to drop the dose by a third every other day for a while and see what happened.  One pill one day, one and a half the next, and so on.

The problem was, I was nearing the one year anniversary of my psychiatric hospitalization

And I was preaching again for the first time in a year. 

And we were in the run-up for the annual back-to-school transition which, with four kids in three different schools, lasts well-over a month. 

And transition makes me anxious.

I tried, though.  I did.

What I found is I was more anxious, more irritable, more snappy.

I was a worse mother without that little half pill.  Unreasonably irritable, yelling and stomping rather than “using my words.”  It reminded me of the months after the twins were born, when I struggled so with my oldest son.  He would have been better off if I’d had those pills then. 

//

“It’s only been a year,” my counselor says, “give it some time.”

Ah, but me?  I want to not need.

Only now, what I want more, is to be a mother who doesn’t scream and shout in rage.  I want to be a little more able to go with the flow (which is the only way to go anywhere in a family of six).  Maybe if I had more control, more money, less kids I’d be able to structure my time, my life in a way that kept me from needing those pills. 

Yoga morning, noon and night. 

Health food. 

Meditation. 

For now though, when I look at the real choices before me, I pick up that red bottle and break the pills, like pieces of communion bread - grace I need, grace I cannot afford to do without.    

//

I have a friend who was wounded deeply by someone she loves.  After years of struggle and heart ache she considered breaking the relationship and felt God giving her the freedom to do so.  

Then, also, my friend felt God’s invitation, “Why don’t you try just loving the one who hurt you as God’s broken but beloved daughter?” 

I was thinking about that today.  

Thinking it's true, really, of all of us.  

We are God’s broken, beloved children.  

Maybe it would all go a little better if we thought of ourselves that way, as people who need.  I am God's broken, beloved daughter and I will take grace as it comes, however it comes, even if it arrives in a little, red bottle.     

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Choosing Your Groove (#SmallWonder Link-up)


Reaching across the purple loveseat where we sat, I grabbed a hunk of my husband’s wildly overgrown hair and held it between my fingers.  “I have an idea,” I said, “Let’s hold Daddy down and cut his hair.”

The kids, sprawled around the room in various stages of candy consumption, cheered at the idea. 

My husband laughed and shrugged it off.

A second later Isaiah, returning at a run from the kitchen where the scissors are kept, ran up behind my husband and started snipping.

John lunged forward and spun around to face his attacker, panicked at the idea of a four-year-old hacking at his hair. 

It sounded like Isaiah had scissors, but he didn’t.  We all got a good laugh out of it and no one was happier than Isaiah.  His double dimples winked with delight at the trick he played. 

Standing behind John, the twins reenacted the prank over and over again and John followed along responding to every attack with a leap and shout.  It was like they were rehearsing parts in a play. 

Snip. Leap. Shout. Laugh.

They repeated the scene until their laughs were forced, a thin duplication of their initial joy.

Looking on, I was reminded how often little children repeat the things that give them joy.  Tasting a moment of delight, they demand “do it again”, savoring its sweetness, sucking joy down to its marrow. 

I’m far more likely to reenact the difficult moments in life, to stand over the kitchen sink come evening obsessively repeating a difficult conversation or the bumpiest parts of my day.  With the remembering comes the feelings and, in the middle of a perfectly fine day, I can find myself sunk in the shame or guilt of an incident that happened some fifteen or twenty years ago.

This is what I thought as I watched my boys running themselves round and around in that groove of delight.  Humans, young and old, learn through repetition and there they stood, giggling, earning a degree in 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.