The Power of “Me, too”

A few months ago a friend mentioned that I might not glean from Rachel’s writing as much as a hard, type-A personality might. I tend to find myself somewhere in-between, hanging in the balance of high-strung and not strung enough.

So, when I received Rachel’s new book, Hands Free Life, in the mail, I was a little nervous.

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What I did know is that I’ve spent time in Rachel’s home over the past few months. I’ve witnessed her kindness toward myself, toward my friends and my boys, and those things go beyond a personality type.

The reality is, anyone with a cell phone should read this book.

Anyone trying to love someone else better (especially their children or partner) should read this book.

It’s full of practical mantras, words about surrendering control and letting go, about believing in the power of connection.

But it’s also full of stories. And they’re the kind of stories that leave me crying out ME, TOO! as I scribble and underline on the pages.

I’ve looked at my phone when I should’ve been listening.

I’ve rushed when I could have calmed.

I’ve missed experiences, simply because I was selfish, forgetful that I was in a moment of sacred connection.

This isn’t about a personality type.

Rachel has filled a book with words that remind me of my humanity.

The power of “me, too” is that we remember we’re not alone.

And if we’re not alone, this whole journey is so much more possible than we thought it was.

Hallelujah that we are never alone in our learning and reaching and connecting.

Hallelujah for the power of “me, too.”

A Word for the Laborer

“If you are tired and worn out by your labors for Your Lord, place your head upon his knee and rest awhile.

Recline upon his breast, breathe in the fragrant Spirit of life, and allow life to permeate your being.

Rest upon him, for he is a table of refreshment that will serve you the food of the divine Father.” –John of Dalyutha

When I first saw the word “labor,” I dismissed this prayer from myself immediately, and from many of the people around me.

I dismissed it because I was thinking of Paul in his prison cell, of John of Dalyutha, the monk who rebuilt a monastery with his hands. I was thinking of people who are trying to reach up out of their poverty to find the call of God, the people who actually find Him right there in the midst.

All day long, I stared at those words, written on the front of our refrigerator door. All day long they ate at me, because who am I to call myself a true laborer?

Laborers are construction workers.

Laborers are slaves who still to this day have their backs broken over unpaid work.

Laborers are immigrants trying to find a home.

Laborers are my brothers and sisters, fighting to stay alive all over the world.

But then I was reminded:

childbirth is labor;

those long hours of in and out, slow breath;

those hours longing for the fruit of a baby, for the future family.

Laborers are often the “unskilled” historically, people who are just thrown into work and make do as they go along.

Well, I’m both of those, a mother who is just trying to figure it out as I go.

And if I am a laborer, so are you.

So is the girl who just gets through the next breath- a laborer.

So is the single father trying to provide for his kids- a laborer.

And so is my son Isaiah, learning to love people and speak in full sentences- a laborer.

Because God sweeps His hand over us. God gives us work to do, and sometimes that work is simply to seek Him.

Sometimes it’s to find Him.

Sometimes, it’s just to breathe.

And when we are weary, He calls us to His side, to His chest, where His heartbeat is all our reason, all our everything.

And we are fed again, fueled for the next day of our humanity, for the next birth of fruit, the next sign of life.

He sends us off, ready, and we are never alone.

I met with my writing group at a coffee shop on Monday night, and saw words reflecting in the light off of Ashley’s key chain.

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I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world.

Her labor.

And if our labor meshes with our dreams, if we meet to write and process and give each other words of truth and life, that, too, is our labor.

And because it adds to our humanity, to our saintly parts and our sinning parts, it still all belongs to Him, still all gets restored to His grace and His holiness.

So, dear friends, labor on. And don’t forget to stop and rest every now and then.

Amen.

Passing Down Fear

  

Eliot inherited many traits from me, including a love and need for people, and for gift-giving.

And somewhere in the bloodstream fear passed through, right into the umbilical chord to his tiny baby-being.

When I was little, fear was my friend and my foe.

I loved watching Are You Afraid of The Dark? at 4:00 every day after school, and once it was bedtime, I kept a light on.

When I was in high school, I experienced a grueling few nights of deep anxiety, a heavy, spiritual something lurking there in the dark.

So, since becoming a mother, I’m trying my best not to show my fearful parts.

I’ve tried to remind myself that spiders are God’s creatures, too, and that dark is dark because it was created to be.

Still, Eliot fears.

He covers his ears and closes his eyes if a movie character is too intense; if noises are too loud, he screams and runs into his bedroom for safety.

I don’t quite understand it yet, but there’s an urgency in me to walk with him through it.

I don’t want him to be afraid of being afraid, but I also don’t want fear to control and debilitate.

I want him to rejoice when all is well, to grieve when he finds brokenness– to know God in all seasons of his life.

So, my role becomes more exposed, my every move seen by these little boys in my midst.

I’m reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, and every night when I go to bed, things are different now. The dark is more of a friend, more of an experience, more of a peace.

She says:

“To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up.”

So what does it look like to have a healthy fear, to let little ones hide from the mean characters they see, but to understand that in the world, there are broken things bumped right up against beautiful ones?

We stand in the balance, we are the in-betweeners, the ones who see glory and agony all in one space.

May we reach past our own fears and grasp Spirit-in-humanity wherever we can find it, most especially with our children by our side.

The Way We Remember: a lesson in tangible living

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“A disciple should always carry the memory of God within. For it is written:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.’

You should not only love the Lord when entering into the place of prayer but should also remember Him with deep desire when you walk or speak to others or take your meals…

If a disciple’s heart always longs for God, then God will surely be the Lord of their heart.” — Makarios the Great

I’m #meditatingwithmystics for 100 days, and two weeks in, today’s reflection asks that we remember God.

What is our memory of God?

If you’re at all human, you’ve been wired with this incredible capacity to store experiences in the deepest part of your brain, with this live wire that also reaches down into your heart.

Pinion wood incense takes me straight back to New Mexico, where I lived for a few years as a child.

Gerbera daisies bring me seven years back to my wedding day, yellow and red accents against my cream-colored dress.

And when I hear Ben Howard’s first album, I’m in a kind of Narnia, adventure and humanity and the scent of bonfires against autumn skies.

I recently signed up for an App called Timeshel, that sends a number of photos from your own Instagram account or personal albums at the end of every month.

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This is your story.

Today, ten photos came to my door. I held memories in my hand:

mud sliding at the Chattahoochee River;

watching the leafy sea dragons at the aquarium;

the day we skipped Eliot’s nap to buy his violin, and the moment he fell asleep, still cradling it tight;

my last date with Travis before he left to teach for ten days at Duke.

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I wanted tangible reminders of our memories, ones I can hang on the wall with washi tape or fix into a big album.

I want the boys to look there instead of my phone for the those moments.

I want them to hold each one and savor the memory of that moment, to live it again and again.

I want more flesh and blood.

So it is with our memories of each other, of God in humanity.

We carry memories of God when we wash the dishes, when we see that we’re coming clean every second, too.

We remember God in the latte art in our cup, the way creativity seeps into all things.

And we remember God when our boys’ eyes shine at the sight of a basketball bounce, at the sound of a violin swaying through an orchestra.

We remember God in the paper writing, in the work, in the grueling along with the dreaming.

We remember God in the breaking of bread, in the pink lemonade, in the wait for everything.

We remember Him because He has laced Himself throughout our human experience, and He is more tangible than we think.

Like my Timeshel photos, He holds life, too, ways for me to understand that He is present in all my comings and goings.

May we remember, deeply desiring a piece of Kingdom come, right here and now.

Amen.

The Daily Ritual to Lasting Tradition

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The family rhythm is quite a feat to keep up with.

They say it takes about two weeks to establish a steady pattern, so when it’s a pretty constant re-establishing, things get a little rocky for everyone. 

Welcome to summer vacation.

So when this happens, we need a constant.

We need lasting traditions to hold us steady, like the before-bed-storytime.

We need the gathering at the table for every meal, to process our day and remember that we belong to each other.

These things are sacred.

I bought a little piano-shaped music box at an antique store the other day. I held it in my left hand while it quietly whispered  the tune to “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.”

I imagined Eliot twisting the knob to listen again and again.

When I arrived home, Travis was busy making lunch, and I showed it to the boys.

“This is for reading time!” I said.

“We’ll listen to it while we each look at our favorite books.”

Eliot smiled, his eyes teary, a beautiful little trait passed to him by his dad.

When he’s really happy, they glisten. Then he leans in for a hug of pure gratitude, all thanks.

We sit in the sunroom and twist it all the way to the right.

Eliot looks at his Berenstain Bears books while I read Jan Karon.

For 15 or 20 minutes, it’s pretty quiet.

For 15 or 20 minutes, it stills our chaos, creates a new ritual to receive fresh life into our tired hearts.

It’s almost fall (sort of), and Eliot can feel it in his bones.

Something will be different this year. We’ll watch football games and soccer matches because, somehow, Isaiah breathes sports, and if you know us, you know it comes from a beautiful place far outside of our bloodline.

But we’ll watch with him, and it will be tradition, and we’ll call it good, while we eat chili and cornbread, while we sip our cocoa, while Eliot dances in crunching leaves and picks special ones to make garlands out of.

Tradition is the long-lasting experience born from the daily practice of ritual, as sacred as they need to be for us to call our home holy and good, even when things are topsy-turvy.

New Paths to God: a rosary & 100 days of meditation

Aaron and Leanna came to our apartment bearing gifts of Whole Food pizza, because Travis had been gone for eight days and I was home with our boys, and hungry.

Leanna handed me another gift, a teal coffee mug with a rooster imprinted on the front. Inside was a little tin box with a picture of St. Francis on the front.

“Remember, you said you wished you had a rosary to pray with?”

The wooden, clay colored beads were accented by silver links.

I pored over them, hugged my friends, and thought, This is how we find closer paths to God. This is how we grow.

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I’m not Catholic, but I hold that rosary and pray, something tangible resting between my thumb and index finger to remind me of the Lord’s Prayer, of the mysteries of Jesus.

I am opened up in a new way.

After learning how to pray the rosary, writing out every detailed step, I reached for a book of meditations called The Book of Mystical Chapters, written years ago by the Desert Fathers and a few Desert Mothers as well.

I know so little of these real-life, once-breathing characters, and yet their words come to life in my home, in my hollow, waiting spaces.

The first section of the book is called “Praktikos,” and it’s 100 meditations for people like me who are new to this particular path of the journey.

How good it is to know that there are always more paths to God, waiting to be discovered. Isn’t He always deeper and wider than we imagined?

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I ran to my refrigerator and cleared off the top freezer door, creating a space to write these daily reflections.

The monks would memorize these words, would reflect on them in the quiet moments of their day.

Could I find space to do the same?

“One of the monks asked teacher Abba Nistero: ‘What should I do for the best in life?’

The Abba answered: ‘All works are not equal. Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him; it says that Elias loved quiet, and God was with him; it says that David was humble, and God was with him. So, whatever path you find your soul longs after in the quest for God, do that, and always watch over your heart’s integrity.'”

–Sayings of the Elders

Today is day 3 of 100. Today is words to remember that I belong to God, that my life can stretch past the exhaustion of my day. Aren’t our bodies slowly dying?

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But, friends, our souls can thrive.

Clear a space off your refrigerator door and join me.

This is how we’re learning. This is how we’re leaning in and listening, how we’re creating space where we thought we’d run out.

We fight the battle for our hearts.

We watch over our heart’s integrity.

If our path longs for more of God, we must answer, and find that we’ve been given all good things, indeed.

Hallelujah.

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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:

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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.

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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.

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“…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

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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.

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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.

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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.