The Simple Blessing of Servanthood

servant: a person who is devoted to or guided by something

Sometimes servanthood is concentrated. It pours down like a fresh rain, it covers everything with the promise of life.

In the course of a few days, a few different friends have stretched across and extended themselves to us in a kind of servanthood, calling us into each other, into community, into the holy places of God.

One friend offered to watch the boys so we can go on a date later this week.

Another friend passed on a journal to me, one that I can fill with words like this, with stories and prayers, with the evidence of miracle-life.

As I drove out of our driveway to go to a meeting, I checked our apartment mailbox and found a bulky package full of whole bean coffee from our dear friends in Arkansas.

Servanthood.

When we choose to serve one another, it’s a way of saying, I see you. I see your life, your need, your circumstances. I see your gifts and  your heart. Let me be a part of that.

A servant is simply someone who’s devoted to something, who is guided by something. It’s someone who gives their energy, gifts, hearts, minds, very souls to something.

These friends of ours, they are devoted to community. They are devoted to seeing others, to capturing grace and refusing to let go.

They are servants who remember us across 705 miles of American soil, who send us coffee because they know what those little beans mean for our good.

Community is a giving and a taking, a back-and-forth exchange, where we care for one another in doses.

Servanthood is an invitation.

Servanthood is an art that pulls everyone involved into the holy part of humanity, those places that some people would say are dead.

But I look around my apartment, and I’m covered in blessings.

I’m covered in gifts, in kindnesses, in graces, in reached-out hands, in prayers and years and years of friends who have served us.

Last night, Julie prayed, “God, let us lean with You and not away from You..”

The way we lean into God is to lean into each other.

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So, who are we devoted to? Who do we stretch ourselves to, who do we see, whose needs do we meet when we know they’re pulled thin?

It may be as simple as a hand written note.

It may be as quiet as a whisper,

as informal as a text message,

as tiny as a coffee bean.

But, it’s blessing, nonetheless, a release of one holy thing for another holy thing, an invitation for Kingdom Come.

A Seasonal Lesson: The Absence of Words

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If it weren’t for the changing of seasons, we wouldn’t know when to start and when to stop.

And if it weren’t for the presence of words, we wouldn’t know how to appreciate the absence of them.

It’s hard to accept it, when you’ve had a steady stream and then suddenly, all’s quiet.

My first instinct is fear, fear that nothing will pick up, that I’ll never have anything to say, ever again.

But instead, I gather myself back together, and remember the promise of never alone.

And I curl up by my dear celosias, and I open An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.

For a few weeks, almost every day, I let her speak for me, let her say to my heart all the thoughts that are jumbled about, all the stagnant possibilities pooling within.

Trusting God is a strange thing, but learning to read and know myself is even harder sometimes.

So for the summer, when every creature gravitates to rivers and chlorinated water, I’ll be there, listening, taking in, paddling a kayak, quieting, and hoping for a few words here and there to keep me connected to the people around me, my brothers and my sisters.

They are the ones who are also taking in and listening, also reading themselves and giving thanks for the season’s change, and all the good it brings.

I need to get deeper into the heart of God, so that He can pour more into my emptiness. Maybe there will be words in that space, maybe not.

In the meantime, we keep entering, keep searching and asking, seeking and knocking. We keep hoping and knowing, keep uttering Hallelujah for all holy things.

A Prayer For The Tired Parents

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I remember now that at the deepest part of Your goodness, You are a parent.

I remember that Your love beckons us beyond our tantrums and selfishness, beyond our mistrust and fear.

Right now, today, we’re the exhausted ones, who come to the end of ourselves over and over again.

We’re sharing sideways glances of What are we supposed to do here?

And we’re also screaming Jesus, help us! in our deepest spaces.

And so I also remember that I’m so limited.

I’m so short-living, so infinitesimal.

Yet at the same time, I’m charged with the great honor of molding, loving, comforting, teaching, and cultivating the hearts of two small boys who are jumping out of their sun-tanned skin with life.

And so we light our candles and drink our coffee, we go on walks and look at the big sky and towering trees, the rushing rivers and playground swings.

We take turns sharing the quiet, when we’re so desperate for it.

O God, Father and Mother God, fully parent, fully caretaker and provider God, You are our rest.

In midnight tossing, you’re hope.

And in the midst of what sometimes feels like hell, we quiet ourselves, again.

Breathe.

Cherish the moment, not the task.

Look them in the eyes.

Remember patience and love.

And as I whisper this mantra to myself, to my husband, over this household’s two bedrooms, over the balcony garden and sunroom, over the kitchen sink, over the bathroom where my boys brush their teeth, over my closet where they play dress-up with my clothes–

over every surface they touch–

we pray that You’d make it all holy.

We pray that You, our good parent, might teach us again, every moment of every day, how to do this,

when our limbs can barely carry us and our hearts are weary from trying to love right in honor of Your love.

Lead on, we pray.

Amen.

The Currency of Community: at the table

We’ve been nearly a year in Atlanta, and the kind of community we’re used to has been slow coming.

We thrive on the act of meal-sharing, the close-knit, share-your-story kind of space over a big plate of pasta.

So, after a hard two semesters of work (with more to come), we get to schedule in this time, this gift. And we couldn’t need it more.

So I stand again in my kitchen, where epiphanies always seem to find me.

And I remember as I stir the bruschetta toppings, as I grate the squash, exactly what community is, how big its destiny spreads over humankind, over our present and our eternity.

I watch the layers of tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, all textured and peppered in, seasoned for this chance, for this life of community that God calls absolutely holy.

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We gather here tonight, into our two bedroom apartment, around our tiny table, squished knee-to-knee.

And friends we left in Arkansas gather, too, their knees bent under the tabletop, hands clasped in thanksgiving, food blessings at their hands and mouths.

The currency at the table of community is story-for-story, grace-for-grace, intimacy-for-intimacy, and more of God in every moment spent before each other.

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This is the daily bread and the wine Jesus spoke of, through the holiness of His presence in us and with each other.

This is our miracle, redemption and promise catching us and holding us there, where time stops and God’s heart for you and for me finds us, fully aware and fully alive.

Amen.

The Path Toward Beauty (an aesthetic adventure)

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When the boys begin to smell like the stale heat, like the salty playground air and the trampled dirt path, then we are on the brink of summer.

When we see snowing pollen fall across the air in sheets, and we close our eyes to save ourselves from sneezes, then we are welcomed to the Georgia summer.

Debra took us across the path, little bridges over quietly running creek water, and around to the Decatur Cemetery pond.

She and Eliot ran ahead, hearts beating with fullness, with love for adventure and creation and community.

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We discover yet more of the place that we love, that we’re investing our daily lives into.

I told Travis a few weeks ago that fall is my favorite season,

but that late spring and early summer are my favorite time to be with all of my boys, because they crave the outdoors.

Through the tall, towering rock walls and the whispering wind, God speaks life to my husband. In the stillness of a lake, by the riverside, he is fully known.

And Eliot sweeps the landscapes for flowers- blooms of all kinds, for birds and nests and trickling water– for sounds and music that only nature can play for him.

There, he finds God, too.

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And Isaiah sits down in the middle of our hike to gather rocks, to pick them up and throw them like a basketball, to exercise his beautiful bent toward athletics and movement.

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I told Debra that Eliot was the one who loves aesthetic beauty, but I think it’s really there, in all of us.

And she looked at me as we watched the cemetery’s landscape show itself to us, and she said, “You could write something about this, couldn’t you?”

“So easily,” I said.

The world is full, and beauty is only a hiked path away.

We’re each scanning the horizon for some sign of God, for the chance to hear the wind whisper, This is who you are.

Find your aesthetic adventure.

Pick the flowers.

Throw the rocks.

Hide under the canopy.

Climb the mountain.

Breathe the salty air.

And remember who you’re called to be, in the very deepest part.

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A Lesson in Reverence: balcony perspective

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Barbara Brown Taylor says that we practice reverence to remember that we are not gods, to remember that we are small, and that we belong to each other.

The guys bought me flowers and herbs for Mother’s Day. But really, they gave me the gift of a space that’s mine, a balcony garden that pulls me into hidden comfort, a safe place.

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I hide behind my flowers’ faces, glancing out to see my neighbors walking their dogs.

Every time they pass, I hope they stop and look. I hope they stop and see that life flourishes everywhere, even on a 2nd floor concrete box of a balcony.

If I lean down by my celosias and look through them instead of towering above, I become lost in a forest of feathery yellow and pink, of leafy green.

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I’m no photographer, but I recognize the difference of perspective, the shift in lens and focus.

It is the same in life, the same in our every day instances.

I become thankful for my boys when I stop and look hard into their blue and brown eyes, when I remember the numbered hairs on their heads and the way they love to belly-laugh and wrestle.

And in my thankfulness, I remember that we are so well cared-for.

God, in all glory, in all wisdom, all massive love and breath-taking grace, He pulls me close and asks me to look at the celosia again.

He asks me to remember how we found our husky on a rock in Arkansas.

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He asks me to redefine what it means to be a mother to two boys, and what it means to sit by the flowers in the quiet and read and write and be fully alive.

In all of it, He says, It’s for you. Here, all my love for you.

And there, I cannot imagine taking anything for granted, even the pain, because it is all life and all gift, all breath in holy abundance.

Amen.

When We Tell Them That We Are Brave (Happy Mother’s Day)

Once it came out of Eliot’s mouth, I knew why it stung so badly.

What I’ve been trying to teach my boys is to acknowledge their own bravery, to not be afraid.

But instead, I’ve been teaching him that women are not brave, and that fear is our nature.

I’ve been teaching him that all the important stuff (beyond killing spiders) should be left for the men and the boys, so moms can do mommy things.

We were telling stories, and when the woodsman came with his ax, Eliot said it then.

“But mommies don’t cut down trees. Mommies are not brave.”

Travis turned Eliot toward him and said,

“No, son. Mommies are very brave. They are so brave.”

It’s Mother’s Day Weekend, and what we need to remember this year is that we are brave.

And we also remember that motherhood isn’t just about being a mother.

It’s also about daughters, sisters, mentors and friends.

It’s about accepting the brave and courageous charge of womanhood.

It’s about remembering that we belong to each other, and therefore,

our courage belongs to each other, too.

I’ve shown my boys the wrong side, and in all my love for storytelling, I’ve allowed Eliot to miss it.

So, this weekend, tell them why you’re brave.

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Tell them how you sat up all night giving birth to them, how you courageously had a c-section so that they could be safely in your arms.

Tell them about your friendships, about what it takes to be wise and good when the world often wants darkness and shame.

Tell them how you choose, every day, to believe in them, to believe in yourself, in family, in living a life of hope.

Tell them how you’re brave, so they’ll understand, so they’ll know.

And let them look back into your eyes and say,

“Oh, mama. I knew it the whole time. I see it every day.”

Dear Travis: What Is Yours (a marriage letter)

Trav,

God must have laughed, His fingers pressed to His smiling lips as He looked on at the trials and joys we’d face together.

Because you’re so you, and I’m so me.

He saw the way we’d lay in bed at night, cheeks to pillows, eyes darkened by the lately-fallen dusk, overlooking our day.

And He knew it then, what the tired eyes and whispering hearts would one day want, more than anything: the peace and the quiet.

He knew us, and He knew you.

And He sees it now, all the things you have.

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What is yours is the enduring patience for me, with me, through the battling moments of parenthood and the risky seasons of faith.

What is yours is the adventure-spirit that gives me permission to smell every flower and dream every dream.

What is yours is the critic’s eye, that stops me when my rosy lenses are fogging the truth, but that steps back when I need to keep my own vision.

What is yours is the very essence of a fathering heart, the graceful and loving and unafraid parts.

What is yours is a constant view, that asks me to see all of it with you- to look back at who and where we were, to find ourselves now, and to embrace future days with confidence, all of us, all of our life, all of our hope.

What is yours is this whole-hearted ability to see me, to ask how I’m doing and mean it and make me answer in the honesty that I don’t always want to give you.

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What was yours then–

the days of the black jeep and the 2-year dreads;

the days of constant patchouli and finding that the God of the Ugandan bush was also the God of the small-town church–

What you had then brings you to what you have now, and what you have brought to me: the extreme contentment and joy of being your wife, friend, lover and fellow-dreamer.

And years from now, you’ll have more– an abundance of seasons passed and blessings poured out and lessons learned and dreams come and gone.

What is yours now will lead to what you will have in two, three, fifty years.

An enduring heart.

A way with words.

A teaching spirit.

A sight of God that is unlike any other.

What is yours is every amount of life and gift, every good thing given in grace.

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And I have you.

I love you.

Kait

To read more Marriage Letters and learn about its beginnings, visit my friend Seth and Amber’s blogs.

A Prayer of Reaching (when kingdom is already here)

There is so much we haven’t reached.

And I suppose our whole lives will be spent reaching, striving, seeking.

And we may never get there, never see full glory before our last days, our last moments of sight and breath.

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Still, today, I strive.

Today I hope for a better heart- I beg for it.

“Make me better! Make me new!”

And today, I long for more presence–

more presence with myself,

more presence with the people I love,

more presence with the quiet,

where I find You,

all open-armed and waiting.

And You tell me to stop striving so hard,

to stop bullying myself into darkness,

to let go and accept grace in its fullest form of gift.

It’s rained a lot the past few weeks,

but when I see the sun, I’m letting her in-every ounce of shine I can take.

Today, I’m still purging, still cleaning and renewing and restoring whatever I can.

But I want it all fully–

fully purged,

fully restored,

fully renewed,

fully cleansed.

But the universe’s walls remind me that I’m bound for now.

I am here, and there’s no moving forward until eternity beckons.

Except.

Except it beckons now, it streams in like sunlight, pierces to the marrow and the bone and the heart of hearts.

So, I walk to the edge of myself, and ask You to take me from there.

I walk to the edge of myself, and ask You to lead me into eternal things–

“Let me grasp them,” I plead.

“Let me see them, know and understand.”

And there, You whisper mystery,

just enough to calm all of me, in all of my waiting.

“Until eternity,” You say.

“Until eternity, and even now.”

Finding Place (and a mariachi band)

Sometimes a Friday night mariachi band makes you cry, because you know you’ve found your place (and you’ve wanted good cheese dip for quite a while).

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And every Sunday after church, the burger place around the corner helps remind you of the gift of investment.

We’ve lived in Atlanta about 10 months now, and we’re finding our places.

We have a coffee shop, the place of reprieve and writing, the place for quiet hours of study.

And we go to parks, we walk the little lake, we stroll the historic cemetery that really feels like a botanical gardens.

We attend story time and accumulate overdue fines for the library books we just love too much.

And we worship all week long with a community of people who share heart and Spirit with us.

A few weeks ago, I saw this word on my notecard, the ones we used to help us sort through our time of contemplation in our Wednesday night small group.

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I sat there asking myself what it means to invest, to dig my heart and energy into something or someone in my life.

I didn’t quite get it then, though I was really, really searching. But on Friday night, at the mexican restaurant up the road from our apartment, it finally clicked.

To invest in something, I’m claiming it, I’m calling it mine and receiving the good and bad things it may give back to me.

It was God, asking me to see it differently, to remember that some things take time, that some transitions start bringing fruit 10 months after the move.

So, I’m seeing it.

I’m sitting back and resting in the sight of my city, my town, the character she has and the people who make her unique.

I’m choosing to invest in this little community we’ve found, the Decaturites that share our streets and sidewalks with us, that fill our buildings and hearts.

Even though we’re thread-bare tired and we’re begging for summer to whisk us away for a time, we have a place here.

Even though we tell ourselves we’re alone, and we get stuck looking inward– we have a place here.

It may take 10 months, it may take 2 weeks, but the act of investment is a thought-out action, a plan to commit, to serve, to joyfully live.

Right before we first moved here, I wrote about finding a mulberry tree, about the words God spoke to me about this mystery of a place we were about to spend over 5 years living in.

There is so much fruit here.

There is so much cultivation happening, so much sunshine and life-giving rain.

I’m digging in, especially on Friday nights at Coyote’s Mexican Restaurant, where three men sing La Cucaracha to my wide-eyed and music-adoring boys, and I cry because I’m safe and I’m home.