A Lesson on Listening: when groans are louder

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I love that the human heart can experience a wide array of emotion.

Lately, I’ve felt the inner groanings that go beyond just sadness, but go deep, and are constant, with moments of exceptional strength.

They are guttural and piercing, archaic and mighty within me.

It seems that war wages all around me: our theological arguments, our struggle to remain whole, our fight for belief at all cost, our propensity to bicker and bite at every opportunity, and especially, hiding behind the shield of a computer screen or Facebook timeline.

When I am at home with the boys throughout the week, I feel like a vacuum, sucking up the tiny, sharp shards of these encounters around me in order to digest them for myself.

And I can hardly bear it anymore.

And that’s when the sighings of the deep are heard and felt within me. It’s like that churning in the very back of the belly button, and it just can’t be ignored.

So this morning as I drove into Atlanta, I saw the people– countless, at eight in the morning on a Saturday. And I sang from my car and tried to pour the Spirit over myself, over all of us; I tried to beg Him to be near and louder than I tend to let Him be.

I don’t know what to do with the groanings, except surrender. I know the fruit that comes from the same Spirit, and perhaps He’s asking me to participate in that, so that the groaning may turn to laughter, so that I may remember His holiness and peacefulness.

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Some quotes that struck me this morning:

It is more important to remember God than it is to breathe. –Gregory of Nazianzus

 

Blessed are you, Lord, who dwell in the heights and yet have chosen to live within a human heart, giving it joy and lifting it up to the heights alongside you, to live with you there, to praise you in the heights and in the depths. Glory to you, who have given such wonders to a  heart that your own hands made from the very dust of the earth.    –Sahdona the Syrian

 

Cleanse the mirror of your soul and the single light will merge with you, manifesting itself to you as trinity. Then take the light down into your heart, and there you will see the Living God. –John of Dalyatha

 

Man is a little soul carrying around a corpse. -Marchus Aurelius

My birthday is just around the corner, and as I took time this week to write a large number of thank-you cards, I remembered what it means to be loved and celebrated. I remembered what it means to be cared for, what it means to be blessed in the midst of a messy kitchen and crazy little boys and full schedules.

So while I really don’t know what to do with this deep voice, I must let the groanings groan, and remember that God gave me breath to breathe. I remember that He gives me the capability to praise Him in the heights and in the depths, that His light has buried itself deep in me, and that this light breathes life into the corpse of a body that I carry.

Hallelujah and Kingdom Come.

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Birthday Waiting, Birthday Thanks

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I will kindle my fire this morning

In the presence of the holy angels of heaven…

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within

A flame of love to my neighbour,

To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,

To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all,

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all.

–Carmina Gadelica, Blessing of the Kindling

Kindling a fire means bringing warmth to your home, relief to your cold feet, rest to your tired hands.

My birthday is next week, and I’m remembering the ways I’ve been warmed by the fire– the ways I’ve been poured into, family and friends who have loved me and celebrated life with me.

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Instead of sitting, lonely and frustrated that I can’t have a farmhouse party with dearest friends, I’ll turn my attention to the past 26 years I’ve been cared for.

Instead of thinking about how badly I desire the quickness of settling, I must accept the daily gift of slow-growing and persistent community.

Travis reminded me this morning that what’s natural about this process is that it does take time, and in my eagerness to serve and love and know deeply, I forget the beauty of the wait.

Today whispers of fall, and gray clouds give me a glimpse of the rain that’s soon to drop, with little, individual pebbles and puddles in its wake.

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And I’m thinking back through my life, through the long seasons, the cold airs, the blistering heat, every moment of almost there.

I’ve never really liked to be alone, but in our aloneness, we find out what we want, who we want to be, how we want to give ourselves to our partners, our children, our neighbors, to ourselves, and to who God asks us to be.

In our aloneness, waiting becomes some sort of odd treasure hunt that promises, somewhere down the line, some return for our constant seeking.

I look back on my short 26 years, and I see all that gain. I see all that pouring and sheltering, and I forge ahead into this next season.

In the Carmina Gadelica, one prayer asks,

Who is at the back of my head?

The Son of Life without beginning,

without time.

26 years shrinking into a few days of celebration, and I remember that He who is at my back has seen all time, forever and unending.

Happy Birthday to me, with a thankful heart.

 

 

 

 

A Prayer For Freshness: what my vegetables teach me

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For the past four or five months, we’ve been what I’d call pseudo-vegetarians.

You know, we love meat, but for a lot of reasons, life is more about fresh greens and sweet fruit right now.

The best thing about it is the color.

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Isn’t a kitchen supposed to feel fresh?

Shouldn’t what happens in the garden– the beauty of growth, the work and care– be carried over to the preparation and finally, enjoyment, as we gather at the table?

Something sacred happens when we face each other, wood beneath our plates and at our legs, our eyes seeing each other’s for the first time in perhaps hours.

This is the treasure, and lately I’ve needed that to include something that is bright: green, brown, red, yellow…colors abound.

So, a pear here, a carnation there.

Even the dried flowers from our wedding six years ago are fresher than nothing.

A pile of potatoes sit atop our wine rack.

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These are sort of our unedited lives–

leave your produce lying around, piled up, and let it speak for itself.

Just as my aloe plant brings fresh air, so does the sweet orange.

If I’m letting these things grace the corners of my kitchen, maybe they’ll help me allow Jesus to grace the corners of my heart and soul.

Maybe If I chop a carrot and nibble it to the nub, I’ll remember how God works with me, how He peels away the brown and rust to get to the skin and bones beneath, where He sees all of me, the fruit of me.

In bringing the fresh garden to my table, I invite Jesus to bring Himself, fresh in Spirit.

I pray, Jesus, make me new.

Speak something I’ve yet to hear, something rich in color, inviting. 

Something sweet and filling, something to meet my needs of sustenance.

Amen.

 

 

The Pursuit of Seeing

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There is seeing, and there is seeing.

Ann Voskamp mentions it in her book, One Thousand Gifts, and last summer when I read it, I felt like she put words to what I’d been trying to do for the past year or so.

There is a way to knowingly step outside ourselves and look around us– to see our family, our friends, our community– there’s a way to take all of that in as a gift.

I’ve written about it here before, when I’ve needed to stop and step back to see my boys and my husband. Even to see my God.

Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit gives that is so valuable– a new way of seeing and beholding, a new way of being.

This morning I chopped onions and minced garlic and poured olive oil. I sprinkled cumin and dashed salt, I cracked pepper and rinsed beans and spooned rice.

And for a second I thought, All this work for a 20 minute lunch? What’s the point?

And then the Solomon inside of me gave way to something stronger, and I thought about how God must delight in the way we delight– that He must take joy in our cooking and in our eating, in our experiencing and in our seeing.

And if God can see that as precious, me standing in my sweatpants, making a mess of my kitchen so our family can eat– if He can cherish that, I should, too.

This next season is going to be hard, and I admit, I’m scared. I’m scared of not communicating enough, of not listening enough or not sharing enough. I’m scared of losing my own space, afraid that selfishness will strangle my joy.

So for the next 5 years (and then some), I need to stop and see.

 

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Photo by Travis Curtice

How does the blind man see? I would argue he sees with his whole being. He sees with his hands, his ears, his footsteps; he sees with his breath and his heart.

He sees with all that he is, all that is around him.

I’d like to see that way.

The Pursuit of Seeing is the pursuit of life, slowed-down.

If you’re part of the online mommy world, or even the minimalist realm, you’ll hear about it plenty: the push to slow down, the importance of simplifying and stopping and treasuring.

But can we stop reading about how to, and actually do it?

Dive in, be blind, experience your life with your whole being. Let it sink in.

This is a place of STORIES, and today my story was about smelling simmering veggies and cumin. It was about eating with my house full of men and recognizing– seeing –that it’s beautiful to share my table with them.

What do you see?

If you blog, join me in the journey– write your story, your pursuit, and post it in the comments section.

If you don’t blog…join us anyway. Let us know what you see.

We’ll be focusing on seeing monthly.

If you need a little nudge, choose your definition of seeing. Choose how you want to look:

–to come to know

–to perceive the importance of

–to care for

–to notice someone

–to become aware

–to imagine as possibility

Annie Dillard says it like this:

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.

We must somehow take in a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here.

Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”

Annie saw something in the creek bed, and she chose not to close her eyes.

Friends, let us open our eyes and see, that we may journey together in the adventurous pursuit of life sweetly lived.

 

A Lesson on Trust: Prayers That Pass The Sky

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Tomorrow I’m leading worship at our new church.

40 days, to answer your question.

We’ve been here 40 days.

If I could write down all the ways God’s led us in this move, my hand would ache endlessly.

Still, I’ll do it someday.

For now, let me focus in on one story.

When we moved, my prayer, as well as my husband’s, was that we’d find a community of believers.

In that prayer, my heart faintly whispered to the Father’s close ear, Maybe one where I can lead worship?

Still, in my childlike wanting, I was prepared.

I was prepared to sit among the congregation of singers for a year or so, lifting my voice in unison alongside friends and family.

I wouldn’t push it.

I wouldn’t jump ahead.

I wouldn’t force anything.

After a week and a half of being here, we visited the church.

We juggled the boys until Trav forced me inside to listen by myself for a few moments, to see the bread break and wine pour, to take in the holy kindness of communion.

I was prepared to leave without making a new friend, without meeting anyone or saying anything.

There happens to be TWO boys in this church named Isaiah, and they happened to be sitting one row apart that day.

Isaiah’s mother introduced herself to me, commented on my singing voice, and moments later introduced me to the worship leader.

I was swept across the room in a slow motion movement, a rush of seconds all ushering me into the Holy Will of the Kingdom.

We exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, and I walked through the door with my heart so happy it ached.

And I wrote in my journal these words:

God, I cannot say that You are not good.

I’m learning something.

It’s something I’ve been learning all my life, but today I know it to be true.

I can trust Him.

God is trustworthy.

And when I faintly whisper to Him, my voice sounding hollow as it rings inside the mustard seed–

Oh, He hears.

There’s a Will Reagan song that says,

I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open; I know that I can trust You. There’s nothing I hold on to.

When we voice something to God, it isn’t thrust into an abyss. It’s not leaked onto a greasy floor to be trampled, or blown as steam into polluted air to disappear before our eyes.

When we voice, it’s taken in. It’s taken in.

There’s a holy place that holds it and dwells with it and shapes it.

Then it’s poured out in some way, it’s poured back on us and we receive and believe and trust.

There’s more I could say about the importance of gifts, the importance of using what He’s shaped in us for the good of ourselves and for the good of the church.

I’m going to leave that for now, and I’m going to say this again.

God, I cannot say that You are not good.

 

You Fill, Joyful.

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Spirit, I need you in all things.

All things need you.

You, the streaked sunset;

You, the child’s play;

You, the silent lily;

You, the widow and saint.

 

Glory Son, I beg of You,

Step into empty and fill.

Fill void and nothing;

Fill aching head;

Fill sleepless stumbling;

Fill threatening dread.

 

Beaming Father, You smile, absolute.

Look, still, and be joyful.

Joyful in our going;

Joyful in our speech;

Joyful in the coming steps;

Joyful in her, him,

Joyful in me.

 

Amen.

 

 

Histories & Hopes: the journey through

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I think there are a few things that follow us through life: our histories (both individual and collective) and our hopes.

I suppose our histories can drag us in either direction– we can remain glued, unmoving toward any certain beginning, because there’s something that must be held on to.

Or those histories can push us toward new adventures, new seasons, new everything unexpected.

And there, hopes take charge, and we are ushered into the newness unashamed, unbroken, unafraid, and untethered to anything but the expectation of all that’s coming.

Hopes remind us of the good things that have been and promise the good that’s ahead.

I have plenty of judgmental bones in my body, but today I look at the people around me and I see a trail following behind them– behind all of us. It’s marked with victories, hardships, givings and takings. Each trail of life is marked with the scars and birth marks of all our humanity.

And if my history can be met with yours for a brief moment, maybe we’ll find that our stories are not so distant from each other’s, after all.

Maybe we’ll find that in finding each other, in listening and bearing weight and burden, we move forward with hope– together.

I have a sweet friend who’s facing her own histories– who’s bravely taking on the long hard pursuit of peace and reconciliation for her own heart and future.

She’s beautiful, and she’s doing something that I’ve need to do for a while, too, and in her doing so, she gives me hope.

Whatever direction our histories take us in, they shouldn’t be left stagnant, unused. Because they can linger there, the stench tainting everything that could bring us good.

A life unused becomes a life unmoved.

The painful histories, those that leave us in puddles with overturned stomachs and aching bones–

they are to be learned from, taken in and digested for some good outside of the pain. They aren’t to choke us forever.

And those joyous, life-giving histories– they’re to be shared, too, rejoiced in again and again to that joy reproduces itself into our daily hearts.

There’s a little lake here, untouched by demolition or construction, unmanned and unhandled. It’s got ducks and weeds and soft ripples. It reflects the sun and gathers leaves to its shores, where fishes swim and hide beneath their shadows.

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There are tall, towering trees here, that pinecones fall stories from to hit the ground and land on a bed of needles and grass.

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The canopy creates a magical shelter that the sun pokes his finger through to touch the freckles on our fair-skinned faces.

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All are reminders of our ongoing living: the water that’s seen many lives overlap at its shores; the trees that have sheltered many broken hearts; the sun that’s applied his touch to all who pass by.

If we can see each other–ourselves–as they do, the trails behind us gathered and bunched in our arms to be used today as a compass so that hopes can lead us on, then we move forward in a season of newness together.

What histories have you held on to? Uncover them with me, digest and release them, use them. And may our use of them bring us closer in to each other, ourselves, and our hopes.

Let’s be brave, all of us.