The Impossibility of Withering Away

When community works the way it’s supposed to, we are always cared for, always filled up before we can claim that we’re empty.

Travis leaves for ten days to teach, and I am brought meals. My sister drives eleven hours with her daughter to help me for five days. Melissa feeds us BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries. People smile and laugh with my boys, and they don’t realize how much we need it.

These are the tiny things that let in the light.

There’s an element of “please, I need help, and I’m asking it outright,” and that should call those people who love us to lean  in a little closer.

We can’t be afraid of our realities if we want to let more light in, if we want to keep alive and well.

And so we tell each other. We ask in the middle of the night, on the way to work, in Sunday School.

We ask and we wait.

And that is the scary place, the waiting, the proof that God’s compassion can be transferred from one human to another.

But how are we held when there’s no one there, no one calling to us, checking in, coming to our side?

In those moments of our loneliness, we draw from a deeper well, and it’s always fresh water for the taking.

We grab our children and we go outside, into the light.

We see what Jan Karon wrote about, see nature with our own eyes:

“The morning mist rose from the warm ground and trailed across the garden like a vapor from the moors. Under the transparent wash of gray lay the vibrant emerald of new-mown grass, and the unfurled leaves of the hosta. Over there, in the bed of exuberant astilbe, crept new tendrils of the strawberry plants whose blossoms glowed in the mist like pink fires.”

We let our feet glide in mushy mud.

2015-07-14 18.15.35

We watch birds flit.

We hear the breathing of our husky on the floor as he sleeps.

We watch fish commute across an aquarium wall.

2015-07-17 18.23.04

We light a candle and read a book.

We cook an omelet with cheddar cheese and fresh rosemary.

We see the face of God, the imprint of “HOLY” stamped across our circumstances.

And we do not fear anymore.

We reach, we ask.

And on the other side, we seek, we cherish, we listen, we respond.

And there, the full circle of God-to-man is made, in the dailyness of our lives,

and we know that there is, indeed, no withering away.

FullSizeRender(3)

 

“So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” -Hebrews 10:25

The Threshold of Trust 

Once a week, I drive 45 minutes to another part of my city to play guitar and sing with my dear friend, Avery.

A few months ago, God opened an oddly unexpected and beautiful door. I imagine that it is huge and bright teal, with a brassy, golden doorknob and no window, because what’s on the other side is too beautiful to be previewed ahead of time.

Like this one, via Apartment Therapy:

door

I like to think it is a door that has brought me deeper into the heart of God.

After the Listen To Your Mother production was over, I looked around that backstage area and wondered, What will be next for us, for each other, with each other? What will come of this?

Oh, friends, He chases after us, and He finds us, doesn’t He?

My friend Rachel described it as holes that each of us has inside of us, and the miracle is that we find each other and we fill those holes when we turn those brassy doorknobs and step across the threshold.

A number of us stood around her kitchen island, and she and I wiped tears from our eyes, because we knew that God had done something good.

I’ve been asked for years to give guitar lessons and for years, I’ve said no.

But this time, the invitation was different.

And this time, it was a beautiful, full cycle of blessing, like watching the seed planted in good soil grow up to full bloom.

I asked God for a little provision.

I asked God to keep using these gifts that He’s given me to hold on to.

I asked God to move and be.

Avery and I have had a handful of lessons, and while I can tell you that she progresses beautifully,

something so good and holy happens in me, too.

On that 45 minute drive,

I have time to remember.

I have time to process,

to pray,

to sing,

then to be silent.

I have time to watch the exit signs of my city pass by me,

to know that I’ve been placed and grounded here, just like my friends have.

Don’t be afraid to try the most beautiful doors.

Don’t be afraid to ask, to wonder, and to dream.

What do you imagine is waiting on the other side?

All I can see is life, a sacred journey that is covered in kindnesses, in open spaces and the full reality of God’s hand holding me.

And for the last year in this new place, that’s all I’ve needed, and knowing the reality of His kindness, that’s all I’ll ever need.

Remembering Our Single Mothers

When Travis has to go out of town, I quickly jump into single-mother-mode. He’s gone for ten days this time, and we’ve got two days down, but who’s counting?

Maybe it’s that instant flashback to my mother as a single mom. We were 9, 17, and 19, the three kids, watching her do this crazy dance to supply our needs and keep her soul intact.

So when he’s gone and it’s just me and the boys, I think a lot about women like her, but with little tiny toddlers running around, painting on the walls and eating snack after snack, wrestling on the living room rug.

Do you know anyone like her?

Who is the church in this space?

Barbara Brown Taylor says,

“God has no hands but ours, no bread but the bread we bake, no prayers but the ones we make, whether we know what we are doing or not.”

In my few days alone, hands have reached out. I’ve felt a little sick, a little energy-depleted, and friends have reached forward with offers of macaroni and cheese and baby-sitting.

Do you know what it means to someone when you reach out of yourself and take care of them?

2015-07-22 20.43.48 2015-07-22 10.10.13The boys brought a little red bucket to the Emory gardens, and Hannah filled it with okra and rosemary, with cucumbers and tomatoes.

We spent a full day with David and Jeanie, napped on two little white beds. I sat and looked out at the water, watched the birds that flit from branch to branch and talk to each other about how God provides.

2015-07-21 15.24.41

And tonight, Eliot will spend time with his best friend.

And we are so taken care of.

Hands reach out, and we are gathered in, and we remember all that is good.

I am a single mother for eight more days, and then my partner and best friend comes home.

But I remember that struggle when I was nine, when my mama’s whole being carried too heavy a load.

So, can you remember the single moms in your circle?

In your neighborhood?

In your church?

In line at the grocery store?

In your city?

And use the hands you’ve been given to make bread. Use them to buy a cup of coffee or tea.

Use them to make macaroni and cheese, use them to hold a child so she can breathe a few breaths in quiet, so she can re-energize and re-start.

Then maybe we can all see it, the way Love moves and transforms and brings all fresh life, even if it’s only for a few hours at a time, before the heavy lifting begins again.

2015-05-25 10.37.00-2

“…if only we let love do its slow, meandering work.” -Rachel Held Evans

A Lesson on Choosing: fear, tyranny & the plowshare

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” –Frederick Beuchner

IMG_0752

tyrant: an oppressor, absolute ruler

tyranny: a cruel or harsh act

Today, we choose.

Within the decorated but white-washed walls of our two-bedroom apartment, we ask two small boys to trust us, to listen, to let us rule.

And outside, on the streets, we look each other in the eyes– if we’re brave.

IMG_0616

We look and listen, if we acknowledge that who we are is a result of who they are- all connected.

And inside the church, at the grocery store, at the corner of Gay & Straight, Muslim & Christian, Happy & Unhappy, Humane or Inhumane– we choose.

Tyrant or Peacemaker.

My Muslim sister chooses peace or hate, just like I do.

And we look into ourselves and realize the bigness we are capable of,

the power given to our tiny human hands.

I stood in my kitchen, and my friend removed her hijab, because she was safe.

And we cooked together there, and I saw the soft wrinkles of her face, her dark black hair pressed against her olive skin.

There, we chose peace.

We are broken people, and my three year old asks what broken means.

“I will tell Jesus that I will help Him save the earth,” He says.

“Yes, baby. Tell him that everyday,” I reply.

2015-05-05 13.11.21

Then, we are no longer the tyrants.

Then, we only forge hope,

the plowshare,

the Spirit of peace.

There is goodness in His eyes, and all is called holy.

All is called blessed, all is called chosen,

created,

covered,

believed in,

achieved.

And we choose to look each other in the eyes and we see–

it is you and it is me,

in the fullness of our humanity.

All our saintness and heathen ways, all there, all held, and we are no longer afraid.

Going Home (part three)

2015-06-26 11.44.26-2

As someone who has moved a few times in her life and actually really loves change, the first year being in a new place has been pretty great for me.

And I’m still asking myself what more there is to do and be and grow into here, what’s waiting for us around every corner.

For the third leg of our trip back home to the Midwest, we drove into the fullness of the Ozark mountains– oceans of trees surrounding us on either side of the highway. We took in a deep breath– this place is our family’s first home.

When you birth your babies in a place, and everyone gathers there and waits, and celebrates that life has come to the earth once again, that space becomes home.

We drove straight to Suzan, straight to Eliot’s “best neighbor and friend,” as he endearingly calls her.

2015-06-26 12.48.29

They whispered secrets about Popsicles and pretzels, bubble machines and gardening.

The boys spent the weekend with her when we weren’t resting at the farmhouse, when we weren’t chasing lightning bugs in the dark or watching families of deer gaze at us from the edge of the woods.

2015-06-29 08.21.36farm3

In only a year, people can shift and mold into a completely different shape, and going home can be…odd, while it is so very good. We saw our dearest friends, who asked how we’re really doing.

We drank Onyx coffee every single day.

2015-06-26 15.36.24

We watched chickens dance, and we dreamed of future homes for future days, big gardens and room to run.

2015-06-28 15.16.48

We wrote and read and rested. We remembered.

Rachel Held Evans writes,

“Healing may come through medicine, through prayer, through presence and scent and calming touch, or through the consecrating of the journey as holy, dignified, and not without purpose or grace.”

She says that the church’s job, and our job as people, is not to cure others, but to join them on the journey of healing.

In Arkansas, everything came together. The whole trip, every experience, every dinner date, every encounter and moment spent showed us a bigger picture of what home meant years ago, what home means today and tomorrow.

We inched our way closer to going back to our now-home, back to our little apartment with our stuff, with our scent, with our memories.

And we discovered that all of this has been a constant healing, a constant consecration of the journey toward God, the journey toward wholeness, the journey toward home.

So we move onward in it, and our daily life is taken up with the practice of becoming more whole, more healed, more forgiven, more grateful, more loved and loving.

Maybe going home simply reminds us that we are human, and that we should celebrate that it is so.

We Will Not Let Her Die: the church & kingdom for our children

2015-06-29 08.25.08

Every time we take Travis to campus, we drive by an abandoned church, and Eliot asks about it.

We left for two weeks, and when we came home, demolition of that church building had begun.

And when we drove by last weekend, the bell tower had finally fallen, and all was dirt and twisted metal, the bell nowhere to be seen.

“Mommy, will our church be ripped down one day like that one?” Eliot asked.

We remember that our children ask the really difficult questions, the ones we’re afraid to whisper to the outside air.

Our children are brave because they ask.

And I replied, “Oh sweetie, I hope not, but we don’t really know.”

Our children aren’t afraid to ask, and today they’re asking what the church is, how she is strong and good, and what she will look like in the years ahead.

We’ve been here a year, and Eliot already sees denominational divides.

He knows the Methodists’ bell tower from the Baptists’ columns, the Presbyterians’ steeple from the Episcopalians’ color-tinted windows.

Already, Eliot sees church as building– stone, brick, paint, rooms–

and we must remind him that church is Kingdom, too, people, nature, life abounding.

Church is Thursday afternoons with Leanna.

Church is sheep-watching with Joss and Debra.

Church is eating the veggies Hannah gifted to us.

Church is a barbeque with Steven’s family, where Eliot sings and twirls in circles, where Isaiah shoots an air basketball over and over again.

Church is Taproom coffee, where we read Richard Rohr and drink our lattes.

Church is the holy and good encouragement of a weekly gathering with people we dearly love and fight for.

But church is also us, you, me, our aunts and uncles and children and neighbors, and sometimes our enemies, too.

The Kingdom is not bound by brick walls, not hemmed in by our denomination’s guidelines.

So when our children see churches fall, we remind them of the good gifts given,

of the body and the blood, of the faces and names and stories that make up the heart of God here on earth.

And maybe then, we ourselves will learn to become brave in the shadow of our little ones’ glorious light.

They teach us to stand taller with one another, to kneel lower to be with God, and to boldly ask for more Kingdom, even in our darkest, towering hours.

If we teach our children that church is Kingdom and Kingdom is church in our every day breathing, in every day glory, then she will never die, horizons forever open on every side.

2015-06-29 08.25.04

Going Home (part two)

2015-06-23 12.28.25

My in-laws say that after you live in a place and then move on, you look back to find that time sort of just collapses in on itself.

I came home with all my boys, back to Joplin, where I grew up from third grade on to my early twenties when we moved away. There, it’s so true. Time has collapsed into milliseconds, and I barely remember anything. I’d forgotten that I actually lived there, that I loved there as much as I longed to move away.

I stood in my bathroom, and remembered that I got ready for school there every morning. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and remembered afternoon snacks and dinners, remembered what I want to take with me from those countertops, and what I have already recreated for myself in my own kitchen.

We came back to post tornado streets, still treeless. We came home to new shops and the same restaurants, to places moved up and down and all around, but somehow, it’s all still home.

I stood and looked at the I Am Joplin mural, my almost-two-years-old Isaiah sprawled across my left hip. I remembered that I Am Joplin, too, still, after the tornado, 7 years after being married, 4 years after becoming a mother. I scanned those faces and I remembered, a flood of life and friends and spaces and homes that molded me.

I wrote in Part One of this series that going home is about taking what home has made for us and given us, and re-creating that for ourselves, for our own futures.

This is my truth.

2015-06-22 20.00.17

We celebrated Anna’s birthday, this beautiful teenager of a girl who loves her siblings and her parents, who knows that family is something holy and something that you hang on to for your whole life. I watched her blow out the candles and said thanks for these people who have always loved me, too, who have always held onto me in my best and worst places.

10374516_10152874316685009_7078954596747767958_n

You find family inside of yourself, for better or for worse. The question is what you do with it.

I drove home from a dinner date with my best friend, and as I looked at the town I grew up in, I wanted to take pictures of everything. The ditch lilies, the Pentecostal church parking lot, the rusted fence beside that field, the stop sign that leads to the street where my parents still live.

All of this is a deep home, in the places that formed me, and now I am a woman, and I take those pieces with me.

2015-06-21 19.01.482015-06-25 22.54.022015-06-24 21.18.17

I spent an evening with my sister, and we talked about the church, about having children, about everything that is good and hard in our lives. We’ve been separated by a few states, but being with her gave some life back to me.

We drove away from Joplin, an hour and a half south to our next stop, and we were tired and happy. We were thankful for every interaction, what it reminded us of, what it brought out of us, what it gave us for our future.

Going home is memory, tangible truth, the reality that blood runs deep and pretty wide.

Going Home (part one)

window

When you go back home, you get to walk back into spaces and worlds that helped shape who you are, for better and for worse.

And then you leave, remembering who you want to be, what you want to create for your own home, your own family, in your own gifting and calling.

We drove back to the midwest, back to memories and cultures that we’ve been out of for a year now.

The things that we grew up with are forever a part of us, but they teach us to step into our own light,

to take on our own dreams and imagine what holy things might be there for us, in the kind grace that God pours over each of us on our adventures.

So, we ask for the courage to learn ourselves, to dig deep enough to discover who we are and who we want to be, and to not be afraid to know that we’re not quite there yet–

but we move forward, still.

And going home reminds us that there’s something to move foward in–

His kingdom inches forward towards us always, blowing life into and around us, creating our haven, making space for growth, for freedom, for peace, for the sake of our own families, for our children, for our own adventures.

I stood in the corner of the small kitchen at my in-laws’, listening to Il Postino on the Pride & Prejudice Pandora station, watching the sausage links turn brown, reading Keeping The Feast, a book my mother-in-law found at the library book sale the day before.

I stood there, all was quiet for a moment, and homemade syrup boiled on the stove.

syrup

The sausage links continued to brown, and I noticed the small presence of the maple and vanilla extract bottles, held at attention beside me. I noticed the blue and white salt and pepper shakers on the windowsill.

vanilla

It was in that sacred space right before brunch, right before we devoured swedish pancakes filled with plums and berries, that I remembered what home is, where it leads us.

It leads us back into life.

It leads us to the sewing table, to make pillow cases for our favorite neighbor and best friend.

sew

It leads us to the table, where we devour until our plates are empty.

It leads us  to the back deck to blow bubbles.

bubble

It leads us to the canopy of a new umbrella.

It leads us back to the road, where we drive on, remembering and promising that we too will make life in our own holy spaces.

Dinner at the River

“Where we are, not where we’d want to be, is where we must begin.” –Brother David Steindl-Rast

FullSizeRender (94) FullSizeRender (95)

FullSizeRender (99)

“The best preparation for a life of prayer is to become more intensely human.” –Kenneth Leech

FullSizeRender (93)

Taken by Eliot

FullSizeRender (97)

“It takes so little to make a child happy, that it is a pity in a world full of sunshine and pleasant things that there should be any wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts.” –Louisa May Alcott, Little Men

FullSizeRender (90)

Taken by Eliot

FullSizeRender (88)

“If all life is holy, then anything that sustains life has holy dimensions, too.” -Barbara Brown Taylor

FullSizeRender (86)FullSizeRender (100)FullSizeRender (98)

If you take the canopied footpath of rocks a little ways, you’ll turn to see a little lookout point, where the Chattahoochee River opens wide, and the rippling current carries you, all at once, away and right back to yourself.

A few weeks ago, we gathered our things for a picnic, but this time, it was to celebrate summer and river water and how easy it is to take home outside of our front door.

I stashed away tea light candles and pretty plates. I brought a book on home decor and a novel, napkins and my favorite table cloth. This time, I wanted to remember this place, to create a holy moment for our family.

While the boys threw rocks into the water, they gnawed on apples and cucumbers. We watched squirrels climb trees and birds trace the water’s face with their talons.

We ate and walked back on the same path that brought us to our dinner spot. We walked back thankful for this space, for this season, for our family, for the ever-faithful presence of God, even here and even now.

It was simple, and it was everything we needed, all-deserving of a whispered Hallelujah.

Taking The Plowshare: prayers during pain

We’ve got the movie Selma sitting in its case downstairs. But I’ve been afraid to watch it.

Because I’m afraid to face a pain that I do not understand.

Because the closest I come to minority status is through my Native American relatives, my great-great-grandma Myrtle on my mother’s side and Hannah Brant on my father’s side, who both had a piece of land in Oklahoma.

And even their pain, I can’t quite grasp or put words to.

What spaces in our hearts can hold so much?

A small cross hangs in my dear friend Leanna’s living room, right by the sliding door that leads to her back slab of porch, right by the kitchen where we all gather for community, for food, for laughing and tears and toddler yells.

That little cross is a proclamation of peace in their midst, a reminder of what is holy and good. 

IMG_3857

And it is a reminder to keep going and to keep fighting for all those holy things.

And I ask Jesus, Can you really forgive? Does your blood really cover our multitudes of sins, of murders, of crises in our human flesh?

And He stretches His hands forward again, so the nail marks remind me. I hear the bells of the Catholic church across the street toll again, and I close my eyes and remember, and try to feel and understand something.

And I pray again:

Most of the time, we do not know what to do, and especially now.

So, we ask for breath for tomorrow. We ask that you place the plowshare into our hands today, and teach us how to wield it.

Our eyes are bloodshot, and our hearts scream murderous  things.

Still, teach us to plant in Kingdom soil.

In so many ways, we fold backwards on ourselves, step back into evils that we once vowed, “No more.”

We neglect how far we’d come.

But, we remember that Your Kingdom is a forward-moving, never-look-back sort of Kingdom. 

Give us the plowshare, and help us do something holy again.

Amen.