Sunday, July 24, 2016

We Didn't Keep Score (#SmallWonder Link-up)



The thought never would have occurred to me.  

The teen behind the cash register at the local Sport’s Emporium asked, “Are you going to keep score or not?” and I said, “Yes.”  This was after we picked our ball colors, before we chose our clubs. 

“Western theme or Castle?” she asked.

“Castle,” I said, which is what we’d agreed on, although I knew my eight-year-old son was awful curious about the Western course.  She reached into a bin and handed me a piece of card stock folded with a sharpened golf pencil tucked inside.  Between the folds were tidy squares for keeping score and the par expectations for each hole. 

Leaving behind the video games, laser tag and AC, we set out across a concrete wasteland toward the putt-putt courses.  Alone with our older two kids for the night, we were happy to be doing something that would’ve been impossible with two four year olds in tow.  Sophia and Solomon loped along, their spindly legs flashing new sneakers, hers a neon sherbet and his navy blue. 

We were sweating already and yawning in the early evening light, but strategically placed waterfalls and a breeze pulled us up the hill toward hole #1.  The cashier had planted a seed in my mind and so I asked my husband, “Do we want to keep score?”  

“Do you guys want to keep score?” John asked the kids. 

“No,” they called back over their shoulders.  So we didn’t.  The tidy little pencil and its accompanying card stayed buried in my bag.  It was a good thing, because right off the bat at hole #1, Sophia’s sent her ball flying directly into the water.  We laughed and, noting how hot it was and how far away replacement balls were located, fished the ball out of the water.

“Can I try again?” she asked.  Of course. 

And so it went.  Two gawky kids in new sneakers and two almost forty parents spinning along through 18 holes of minor mishaps and triumphs.  We took turns, mostly, and refrained from “walking the ball” when a shot proved too tough, mostly.  Solomon consistently sent other people’s balls flying with inadvertent taps from his big, new shoes.  He tripped over his own club at least twice and, around hole #10, sent his own ball arcing though the air into the water.  We all gave-up at one point or another and then, at the next hole, got back into the game again.

We had fun, which was the point.


Around hole #15 it dawned on me that perhaps, because we weren’t keeping score, we weren’t really trying.  Then I got a little tense and tried to focus on the shot at hand.  It didn’t seem to make a difference.  

I realized then that I was trying, only my effort was turned in a different direction – away from perfection and accomplishment, toward fun and enjoyment.  As far as I know, there isn’t a score card for that.  

*   *   *   *


Only 10 spaces left!  I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!


Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for 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.   

Monday, July 18, 2016

We Were Robbed and It Was Good (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


If I were to characterize Jesus' ministry, it would be to refocus people away from a sin focus and onto a life focus.  Where you give your focus, you give your energy.  - Vern Hyndman

Wednesday my husband came home early to take our daughter to the dentist and work on installing a long-awaited dishwasher in our home.  Working to frame a cabinet around the hand-me-down appliance, he trotted out to the garage to cut a piece of wood. 

The counter in the wood shop was empty, no saw.  He looked around in confusion, walked around hunting.  We’re not always very organized with our tools and, after a while, he asked the kids and me whether we’d seen or moved his equipment.  The more he looked around, the more things he found missing.  Reality dawned slowly, someone broke into our garage and stole several of my husband’s large wood working tools – a chop saw, a drill press, an electric drill, among other smaller things. 

Two police officers came to our house that afternoon and spent a good bit of time looking around.  It was all terribly exciting for the kids who hunted the yard and garage for footprints and other clues.  John and I continued to wrap our minds around the forethought and planning it would take – two people at least and a vehicle – to empty his shop of equipment.  We believe they came in the night, Monday night to be precise, while we slept with our bedroom windows closed against the heat and an ancient window unit AC throbbing out all outside noises.

In the middle of helping our kids not be scared and figuring out what we need equipment-wise to move forward, John and I have worked through the anger and discouragement that follows crime.  We’ve talked about the buttons it pushes, how disbelief is followed by anger and then a pervasive sense of futility (or what my husband calls being glum).  We’ve wondered aloud and privately whether this event might change the way we live and, more importantly, the way we think about life itself (which is always behind the way we choose to live).  In the middle of it all, despite the very real loss of tools we cannot really afford to replace, there’s a part of me that wants to call this event ‘good.’ 

When evil arrives, in any form, two of its ugliest fruits are the lies, “you are alone” and “there is not enough.”  With these two lies, evil sets itself up to multiply, because evil flourishes in isolation and scarcity.  

But when we shared about the robbery on facebook, friends near and far expressed concern, outrage and sorrow.   We were reminded, as a friend said, “You are not alone in this!”  Also, within minutes of posting, a friend sent a private message, “We have a drill press you can have,” she wrote.  This generous offer reminded us there’s enough to go around.    

These reminders were indeed good and we count ourselves as lucky because too many people do experience crime in the midst of real and crushing isolation and scarcity.  But, beyond these reminders, there was, I believe, a goodness in the robbery itself, in it happening to us (or, maybe I should speak for myself here – to me). 

It was good, not because theft is good or because I can imagine scenario in which someone really did really need our resources more than us, but because it is true and real.  Crime is a reality, or maybe I should put it another way – sin is a reality. 

Too often I’m prone to pretend it isn’t.

Before we go nodding our heads, though, and clucking our tongues over the state of the world we live in, it might be helpful to remember the words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.  “There is nothing new under the sun,” he says.  Just nine verses in to a ten chapter book, and he lays out his sobering conclusion.  It’s almost as though he concludes before beginning, “It is, what it is.”   

It is what it is – robbery, racism, fear, hatred, isolation – all of these things always have been and always will be.  Sit with that for a while, if you will.  Or, if you don’t want to take the Teacher’s word for it, read elsewhere in the bible.  Take the book of Amos, for example, wherein an unlikely prophet calls Israel to task for conflating politics with religion, for allowing robbery and violence to flourish in their midst, for trampling the poor underfoot in a continual rush toward material greed and personal pleasure (7:10-17, 3:10, 5:11, 6:4-6, 2:6-8) all while continuing to perform empty religious rituals (5:21-24).  All of this, among the people of God, mind you. 

Or, read history.  Chose a time, a place, any one, and you will find sin working in obvious and not-so-obvious ways.  It is, what it is. 

Christians must accept the reality of sin.  Small wrong-doings, like a local robbery or the way you treat your kids when you’re tired or hungry or simply done at the end of a long, hot, humid, summer day, can be good reminders.  Local news, national news, international news, these all serve as reminders too, but not when viewed as extraordinary.  The times we live in are like no other and yet, they are like every other time before this.  “There is nothing new under the sun,” the Teacher says, not even evil itself is new or different than it has even been. 

It all seems rather grim, doesn’t it?   

But this is where I see something glimmer, a small nugget of good news tucked right in the middle of the darkness, which is, by the way where we ought to most often expect to find the gospel. 

The good news is this:  there is nothing new.  Not when it comes to evil.  It is and it is the same, without end.  So if we’re going to get up in arms about anything, let it be this – there is nothing new under the sun save for the gospel which is continually and again inviting us and everyone who does and doesn’t look like us and speak like us and pray or sing like us to pitch in and be part of that which has already overcome.
 
We can spend our energy bemoaning evil, which never changes, or we can turn our hearts and minds to the work of God, the way of God, in the world.  We can open our very lives to the power of God in Christ Jesus that's forever redeeming. 

Sin is not new and (good news!) neither is its cure.  And even sin itself, our own or others', can be an invitation, a reminder that we can choose where we place our focus and how we use our energy.  

*   *   *   *


Only 10 spaces left!  I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!


Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for 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, July 14, 2016

Privilege: They Didn't Ask and I Didn't Tell

*Photo Source: Unknown

Sunday morning our pastor read the names of last week’s shooting victims, law enforcement and civilian, aloud during morning prayers.  The brick-walled room was quiet, sunlight streamed in through wide windows and I wondered what my oldest kids, seated at a table with us, would think about those names.  

Our older kids, just eight and ten, home for the entirety of summer vacation, are ensconced in a semi-rural white bubble.  John and I get most of our news online and, without the evening news hour on TV, our kids are sheltered from much of the world’s news save for occasions where we decide to intentionally break the bubble. 

We did so with the church shooting in South Carolina last summer, explaining about the shooting and its racist motivations over dinner.  Then we made a quilt square to send to a group in the south who were piecing a quilt for those impacted by the crime.  Still, we haven’t talked with our kids about the events of last week.  And they remained oblivious to our pastor's prayer, wrapped up in seeing their Sunday morning friends, doodling and folding paper airplanes.  

They didn't ask and I didn't tell.   

Monday morning I thought about it again as I worked to add yet another layer of paint to the dark wood paneling in our laundry room.  Would we tell the kids and when and how would we navigate the complexity of the discussions?  A new thought flickered in my mind like a light bulb - this is white privilege.  I get to choose when and where and if I talk with my kids about the complexities of racism because I believe it doesn't impact them and, more importantly, not telling them doesn't put them at risk.    

There are mothers across America who don’t have that choice.  To not talk about these deaths with their sons and daughters is to expose them to risk.  Information that feels optional for my kids is essential for theirs.  The idea that I don't have to address these issues and they do is a privilege born of the color of my skin, a burden born of the color of theirs. 

Later in the morning I read these posts by Lisha Epperson at Give Me Grace and Regina Stoltzfus at The Mennonite, both mothers to teenage boys wrestling with similar questions of when and where and how to talk about racism, but entering into the discussions with wisdom, bravery and fear because they cannot afford not to.  

I am a white woman raising three white sons along a stretch of road where pickup trucks of all shapes and sizes drive by with confederate flags proudly flying from the bed of the truck.  These aren’t unobtrusive confederate flag stickers pasted to a windshield, but a large 3x5 foot banners flying on a pole, statement sized flags.  I am a white woman who believes placing a #Blacklivesmatter sign in our yard would have real repercussions, so I don't.  
   
I want to preserve that bubble, to keep my kids safe.  But I understand now that doing so only keeps us all at risk.  No bubble that includes some and excludes others by reason of the color of their skin can ever be truly safe for anyone.  What appeared optional – talking with my kids about the realities of racism in our country – is, I now see, essential.  I cannot afford to say nothing.  

//

I wrote this post on Monday and have sat with it since largely because I am afraid to say something wrong.  I now realize this hesitancy and the desire to "get it right" and not expose myself to possible ridicule or argument is another layer of privilege.  

//

I turned on the evening news while driving home with the kids Tuesday night.  They were wiped out from a day of swimming and sat quietly listening.  We listened for five minutes before the questions began.  I turned off the news and we cleared up confusion and I turned it back on again.  Eventually, as we pulled in the driveway, my oldest son caught wind of the shootings in Dallas.  

"What are they talking about?" he asked.  "Was that another shooting?"

I asked him to wait while the twins went inside.  Standing in the driveway, I told him quietly about the events of the past week and he filed it away like kids his age do.  

//

The conversation begins, it continues and we have no choice but to enter in for the sake of all our children.  

Please do take a moment to read the posts I've linked to above, both women share important perspectives.  Thank you. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Small Enough to Lead and Be Led (#SmallWonder Link-up)


Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time.  Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus and they need to find there the source for their words, advice and guidance.  Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them.  

Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because before we know it our sense of self is caught up in opinion on a given subject.  But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. 
- Henri Nouwen

Tiny, less than three weeks old, she nestled in the crook of my arm.  A satiny pink bow circled her downy head and dark blue eyes gazed up at me as I touched a bottle to her eager lips.  She gulped hungrily and I feared she would drown in her own desire.  Her tongue fluttered on the bottle's nipple, sending a vibration up into my hand.  She drank and paused, eyes rolling back into sleep, then woke and drank again.  I burped her on my shoulder and in my lap, holding her chin with one hand and patting her soft, round back with the other.  Finally, she drifted off the sleep.  

All the time I held her, I was in love. 

This is what happens when your own babies are ready to start kindergarten and your arms have been empty long enough for you to see the newest baby at church and be filled with desire.  I snatched that baby up and held her all during service, staring into those steely blue eyes that focused on me with such intensity.  

//

This week I read the story of Namaan from the book of 2 Kings.  Namaan, the commander of the King of Aram's army, is a "valiant soldier," visibly broken by the scourge of leprosy.  Namaan is a "great man" and "highly regarded" and when he gets wind of a possible healing in Israel, he snaps his fingers and the next thing we know he's headed to Israel with a cartload of silver and gold and a letter addressed to the King.  Namaan plays every power card he can, heading directly to the King of Israel, only to discover he has the wrong person - Namaan is in need of a prophet, not a king.

Elisha gets wind of the situation and tells the King to send Namaan on over to his house.  When Namaan arrives, his wagon-train of loot and personal entourage in tow, Elisha doesn't even bother to open in the door.  Instead, he sends a servant out with a simple message, "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River."

Namaan - the valiant soldier who's a great man and highly regarded - is both disappointed and deeply offended.  "I thought he would come out and wave his hands in the air and call upon his God," Namaan whines, "I could get a bath at home!"  Unable to accept a simple cure, Namaan leaves in a rage, followed by his servants, his horses and chariots, and his great haul of silver and gold.  

Namaan is a big man with a big problem and he wants a big cure.  It takes a smaller person, a servant, to point out the obvious.  "Uh, Namaan," he asks, "if he'd asked you to do something great, wouldn't you have done it?  So why would you not do this small, simple thing?" 

The unspoken answer, of course, is that Namaan is a great man and used to doing great things.  For Namaan, to do a small thing is to be made small.  

But he does it anyway.  Namaan stoops into the river seven times and the story ends with his healing - his "flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy."

//

I've been thinking this week, like so many others, about the enormity of the problems facing our country and the desire to find big people who have big answers.  I've been thinking about my unwillingness, at times, to suffer the indignity of doing small things. 

In times like this I often return to the above quote from Henri Nouwen's book on Christian leadership, In Jesus' Name.  That quote gets to the heart of what ails us time and time again - a lack of intimacy with God, a refusal to simply let ourselves be loved which is the heart of contemplative prayer.  We want to do something big, but without a rooted intimacy with God, we become like giant trees without anchor, liable to topple and cause grave damage in even the smallest of storms.  

We, like Namaan, are often disappointed, even offended, at the idea that this small thing - resting in the love of God - might be the one thing needed to heal what ails us, to make us small and vulnerable enough to be led and to lead.  

//

That's what I was thinking about this morning when that Mama let me borrow her dear, sweet baby.  That baby stared at me with such focus, such intensity, and I loved her.  I think that's how it's meant to be between God and us - us being small enough to just be before God, to be fed and loved, and God just getting the biggest kick out of being with us.  That's what Nouwen means by "contemplative prayer," that's what he means by "rooted in personal intimacy."

The fruit of intimacy with the source of life is long-lasting and world changing.  Read that last sentence again, listen as Nouwen paints a picture of the kind of people Christian leaders could be,

When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.

If you do anything this week, maybe begin with this:  Let your God love you.  

*   *   *   *


Only 10 spaces left!  I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!


Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for 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, July 3, 2016

Spontaneity - The Discipline of Un-Discipline (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


“I’m working on being more spontaneous,” she said with a straight face and all the seriousness of someone for whom spontaneity is struggle.  She was one of my first mentors and the comment was made in passing, but it's stuck with me for sixteen years. 

It’s a pleasingly ironic intention, to try hard at not trying, to make it a goal to deviate from set goals.  I smiled at the idea from the moment I heard it.  These days I'm thinking again of spontaneity as a spiritual discipline and recognizing the trust involved in embracing the gift of each moment.    

//

By the time all of the kids are in bed, around 8:45 pm on these long light-filled summer days, I’m done, so very done.  When at last I lay down my mothering hat after fourteen hours on duty, I have two options left – read a book or watch TV.  Occasionally, a third option presents itself – go to bed.   

If, however, I sneak away by 6:45 or 7:00 when John herds the twins upstairs, I sometimes have enough life left in me to write.  This is what I was thinking the other night when I sat on the couch at 6:45 with the laptop open.  But then Solomon called for me.  I sat the laptop, still open, on the couch, intending to return, and followed his voice into the kitchen.

While I tended to his need Sophia wandered in, shoulders slumped.  “I’m bored,” she lamented.

“Why don’t you do something with your art supplies?” I suggested knowing how rarely maternal suggestions are heeded.  But lo and behold, five minutes later she waltzed into the kitchen with her easel and paints, waving a paint board in the air. 

“Who wants to paint?” she called.

I knew her invitation was directed at me.  We had fun painting together the other week and now she wanted to do it again.  But I didn’t want to paint, I wanted to write.  In that moment, though, with the laptop waiting open on the couch, I heard behind her invitation to paint an invitation to togetherness.   I didn’t want to paint, but I appreciated her desire to be with me and, with a little searching, I found my own desire to be with her. 

She set her easel on the kitchen island and I tried to refrain from chiding her over wasted paint as she squeezed what I viewed as needlessly large dollops onto her white plastic palette.  I didn’t want to paint, but I did have some new stamps and ink pads I wanted to try out.  I went out to the Little House to fetch my supplies and sat down diagonal from my daughter at the kitchen counter. 

I put too little ink on the stamp and the medallion image was incomplete.  I put too much on and it globbed together on the page. Slowly, hit and miss, I covered the page with cobalt blue doilies of ink.  Next I opened a new set of alphabet stamps and broke them apart one-by-one. 

“Let me guess,” Sophia said, watching, “you’ve had those for a long time but haven't ever used them.” 

Oh that girl knows her mother well - the hoarding and saving, the waiting for just the right time to enjoy something new - that girl with her great gobs of excess paint.  “No,” I said, pleased with myself, “they’re new, but I just got them.” 

I tried covering the letter stamps with paint with varying results, then I went back to the ink pads and started building words letter by letter.  Unsure where to begin, Sophia started with a bold red line stretched diagonally across the middle of her canvas.  Slowly it grew to a rainbow that filled the whole page.  

“It’s funny,” said Sophia observing her own work, “you don’t know what you’re going to paint, but you just start with a color and build on from there.”

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s like there was something waiting to be painted but you didn’t know it before you started.”

On my paper I had stamped the word “love” with varying degrees of legibility, then I added “very sweet” enjoying the way the words built one letter at a time.  On the lower right hand side of the page, in Harbor blue ink, I stamped the word “writer.” 

Looking at my page as I finished, I realized I was writing after all - words were seeping onto the page despite the absence of my laptop and its keys. 

//

Maybe this is the secret to spontaneity - the trust that what is needed will come regardless, the belief that all the great gifts of our lives are truly gifts, not gotten but given.  I'll continue to work at setting good boundaries and safe spaces around my writing life – goodness knows I need them.  But like my old mentor, I'll also work at being spontaneous.  The discipline of un-discipline reminds me that even when I’m not looking grace will find its way and what has been given will not be taken away.   


*   *   *   *


Only 10 spaces left!  I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!


Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for 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.