Saturday Morning Reflections

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Have you ever read any of Brennan Manning’s books?

Right now, I dig into the furious longing of God on Saturday mornings.

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Go buy one of his books.

So moved am I by his writing, that I almost enrolled in The Living School for Action and Contemplation. And someday, I still might.

For all that I seem to sorely lack right now, I sit in this loud place with my earbuds in and I listen to Alison Kraus & Robert Plant. For all that I sorely lack, I open the book and read, and I wait on each paragraph, because it’s like fresh, sticky manna to my puckered lips and hungry belly.

So here’s some of what I’ve read this morning, some of the words copied down into these pages that have brought holiness to me:

Until the love of God that knows no boundary, limit, or breaking point is internalized through personal decision; until the furious longing of God siezes the imagination; until the heart is conjoined to the mind through sheer grace, NOTHING HAPPENS.

The revolutionary thinking that God loves me as I am and not as I should be requires radical rethinking and profound emotional readjustment.

Remember that tally that you and I keep in our heads, that checklist that we tell ourselves depends upon our very breath, whether it’s pointed toward heaven or hell? Well, I come to this coffee bar and to my big cup of latte; I come to this journal and these books, and I ask God to help me be disciplined. I ask him to help me do this better and I try to keep the guilt at bay. Still, it weasels its way in.

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And then this.

These words that bear down on me so hard, they give birth to quiet. Quiet rest, quiet voice, quiet heart, with Alison & Robert still singing.

And it doesn’t end there.

I say to you, Blessed is he who exposes himself to an existence never brought under mastery, who does not transcend, but rather abandons himself to my ever-transcending grace. Blessed are not the enlightened whose every question has been answered and who are delighted with their own sublime insight, the mature and ripe ones whose one remaining action is to fall from the tree. Blessed, rather, are the chased, the harassed who must daily stand before my enigmas and cannot solve them. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who lack a spirit of cleverness. Woe to the rich, and woe to the doubly rich in spirit! Although nothing is impossible with God, it is difficult for the Spirit to move their fat hearts. The poor are willing and easy to direct. Like little puppies they do not take their eyes from their master’s hand to see if perhaps he may throw them a little morsel from his plate. So carefully do the poor follow my promptings that they listen to the wind (which blows where it pleases), even when it changes. From the sky they can read the weather and interpret the signs of the times. My grace is unpretentious, but the poor are satisfied with little gifts.

–Hans Urs Von Balthasar

May we find that we are not guilty, but dependent.

We’re not full, but abandoned and naked.

We are not shamed, but quieted.

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I’ve taken plenty of selfies, pictures that show me how I want to be shown to my Facebook friends and readers. This picture was taken by Eliot, the way he wanted to see me in the shadow of our sunroom. This picture was taken by a 2-year old who saw beauty in the way his mama was sitting on the couch, the way she was crouched forward looking for something, it seems, in the air in front of her.

Friends, the view God has of us is not the view we have of us.

Let us be thankful for that.

 

 

 

A Lesson in Lighting: Shalom In Our Stories

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The apartment is still coming together, slowly but surely.

I worked on the balcony today, and to my joy, the air outside was a breezy 75 degrees, so I was comfortable as I worked.

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There’s a great deal of peace, of shalom that comes with a home that’s put together, to a space that has room for every little thing–

Now, I don’t always do it well. There are definitely odd things in odd places, but organization is a constant process, like the way we try to find God in all spaces, every day.

There are stories to be written inside these walls.

There’s lemonade to make and there are veggies to chop.

There are babies to be snuggled with and a dog who needs a wrestle.

Today, there are candles lit. Little tea lights that give shine to shadowed corners and forgotten nooks.

There are boys munching on tortilla chips and I must quiet my heart again and give thanks for the sweetness here.

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In the end, it doesn’t matter exactly how we decorate, what style blog we follow or Pinterest board we imitate.

But the objects we place around us call out the stories in us, and in the corners and at the couches, around the tables, we share.

When all is gone and we gather with only our hands and feet and worn souls, the lives we’ve created in these places live on.

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So, create your space. Give yourself to that empty sunroom, that unkept and never-decorated area that’s been calling for attention.

Create and create again every day after, until your life becomes word and flesh, rhythm and prose.

Light your dark corners, fill a pot with flower and soil, and breathe in deep.

This. This is life, and this is our story.

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The 12th Day

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We’ve been here 12 days.

12 days, and I’m already running the tallies in my head. The guilt is sinking in, that guilt that siezes me and instantly builds a wall up around me.

This guilt, instead of drawing me into the arms of forgiveness, pulls me to the darkness of apathy and avoidance.

Today I come to the quiet and wait for God to speak–

Because of the move and transition, we haven’t been to church in over a month, and that means that I can almost feel the physical ache in my soul.

We drive by a particular church in town and my heart bursts with expectation.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and we will worship with other long-standing believers.

We will stand in one room to acknowledge all that God is and all the ways He’s for us.

United.

The apartment is coming together, and my joy of decorating is being satisfied daily. It’s a beautiful process to take an empty space and fill it with all the things we are.

We’ve gone swimming and made play dough.

We’ve built a tent and had a picnic.

We’ve shared meals at our tiny table and we’ve snuggled in our beds.

We’ve enjoyed rainstorms that give us relief from the Georgia heat.

We’ve had lots of coffee and some wine, lots of cheese and more yogurt.

We’ve watched movies and read books, colored pictures and cut with scissors.

And some moments I look at my boys and see all that I have, and I’m thankful.

And then I am tugged into darkness, where shame reminds me that I’ve enjoyed one too many movies,

that my kitchen is still a mess,

that there’s more decorating to be done,

that the boys’ toys are scattered,

that Isaiah cries too much

and Eliot’s whines too often..

Oh, exhaustion.

And I’m left feeling lost and sad, and it’s not the way God intended it to be.

I long for unity. Unity with my family, with my God.

The reality is that we can get lost going in any direction–

We can retreat to our movies and food, books and relationships,

or we can destroy ourselves with the tangling ropes of over-work and no rest, of a checklist that proves no relief in the end.

And the reality is that Jesus is in the midst of all of it, and we must tune our hearts to recognize Him.

Thomas Brodie said:

Oneness with ultimate reality is not an abstract idea; it is a spiritual experience of knowing that the timeless God is at the door inviting you to full union. It is an attentiveness to the present, a readiness, at every moment, to receive reality, to enjoy deeply even the simplest things.

The simple things have been flooding our days, the simple realities of grace. I look at my boys and remember how absolutely blessed I’ve been, how blessed this reality and life is.

This morning I join the mystics of yesterday and today and I claim rest from the checklists and pressures.

I rest.

I look around.

I give thanks.

And I enjoy the unity that is given always.

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To The Four of You:

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I’ve thought a few different times about writing a thank-you note, but it’s not enough. I need a thank-you soliloquy, a novel full of gratefulness and limitless lines of you-shouldn’t-have.

I’ve learned a few things about parenting over the last four years. One of the biggest lessons is that my selfishness can trample their needs if I let it.

We’re here now, settled without parents, without extra hands and help and meals and money.

It’s us, the five of us, big, hairy husky included, and we tread these waters with confidence that God leads.

The ComCast guy showed up early yesterday morning to install our internet, and it broke up the emotion– because who wants to bawl like a baby in front of the cable guy?

So good-byes were quick, relatively tearless, and entirely precious.

For a few months I’ve been trying to put into words what they mean to me– the four people pouring love over us, in the midst of parental uneasiness and the way my body can’t digest sarcasm (Micheal, I’m sorry, again).

There are house rules to keep and boys to feed and then there are boxes to unpack and dogs to walk, but at the end of the day I look out my balcony window, street-lamp lit, and rest in gratitude.

For every one squabble we have over in-laws, other couples have hundreds, and I can’t believe how blessed we are.

This new city is ours. It’s Eliot’s and Isaiah’s. That patch of grass outside the apartment is Sam’s, Emory is for Travis, and this quiet coffee routine is for me.

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But we opened the present of this world and city with people who love us, who have spent years pouring and praying, who watch us as young people, as married people, as parents, and who lean in and nudge us with support and approval.

For every second I’ve rested in self-pity over the last two months, shame on me.

In the midst of every world hurt, I am absolutely comfortable and absolutely blessed.

And as far as parents go, they are absolutely…wonderful.

The thank-you novel can never be enough, so all I can say to you is…

We see your love.

The roots you’ve planted run deep.

You’ve been our bridge, and we walk from who we were years ago to who we will be years from now.

We walk in this day knowing you’re behind us.

We love you.

 

 

Thank you for everything.

A Lesson At The Hearth: we have arrived

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“It (God’s will) is the living flame of God’s own Spirit, in Whom our own soul’s flame can play, if it wills, like a mysterious angel. God’s will is not an abstraction, not a machine, not an esoteric system. It is a living concrete reality in the lives of men, and our souls are created to burn as flames within His flame.

The will of the Lord is not a static center drawing our souls blindly toward itself. It is a creative power, working everywhere, giving life and being and direction to all things, and above all forming and creating, in the midst of an old creation, a whole new world which is called the Kingdom of God.” — Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

We’re here, and our GPS is attached to us as close as our children at the hip.

Our apartment still needs the heart of our furniture, and until Trav arrives with the U-Haul tomorrow, I fight my toddler, who just wants his toys back. Unpacking will be like Christmas.

And I’m chasing my unleashed husky across the parking lot and through the pine needles, the ones he dragged me through earlier in the morning.

And I’m nursing the wounds on my leg with a piece of my aloe vera plant, a housewarming gift from my step-dad. It sits in the sunlit window and brings peace.

Today is a cool, rainy day, and I’m sitting with that latte I’m always wanting, and I’m quiet.

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People smile here, make eye contact, walk their dogs and talk to your children. Beautiful black women sport shaved heads.

And I’m thinking that every person who walks through this coffee shop must go to the church we’re planning to attend, that everyone around me must love Jesus and community.

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As we drove through Tennessee, Travis asked me why we’re here.

“Because God brought us here,” I said.

Sometimes he asks me these questions because he’s curious about my reply, because he wants to keep our hearts in check. A PhD program? My genius husband? My mothering skills?

No.

And no, we weren’t brought here blindly, without direction.

No, God’s will is direct and it’s unmistakeable in this.

But as I’m pacing the parking lot and my body shakes from the adrenaline of almost losing our dog to the woods, I ask God to help me.

Help me love my boys.

Jesus, help me walk this damn dog!

Jesus, sorry I cussed…

Jesus, we trust You. Get us settled here.

I’m aching to talk to anyone– hoping the woman next to me at this table will ask where I’m from, as if she can tell I’m an Arkansan.

Have I said yet that we’re already falling in love with this city?

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I’m a simple soul, easily entertained by food and coffee, books and people.

What I’m falling in love with here is the security of God’s will over us.

It’s a “living concrete reality” that pulls us close to its hearth for warmth.

I’m tired and stressed, but I am so warm, so secure within the fold, and so ready for more Kingdom Come.

Kingdom, come.

 

 

 

While Pouring Sugar

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I pour white sugar for my coffee, let it flow as granulated crystals;

I pack my cart full of groceries, full of clothing, full of thrills.

I sit still for tiny moments, lit by lamplight, air is stale;

I calm my sorrows in the quiet, remember, everything is well.

Everything that ails me, every trifle, bland concern;

It means nothing to the memory of widows, lost at war.

It means nothing in the oceans that see above them rockets fly;

It means nothing to the orphan dreaming terror through the night.

My ache and plague, it is impatience, it’s submission to my want;

My lonely company is ungratefulness, it’s vanity, it’s harm.

But here now, my sights are lifted, I am cleared and yes, released;

I see the world about me, smell the stenches, see their feet.

They are bloodied by the running, days of longing for some rest;

And shelters do no good, nothing there revives the dead.

I cannot touch them, though I try to, try to read their eyes and scars;

But I cannot fathom a refugee, cannot displace my own proud heart.

But here, I’ll try to open it, try to crack the door ajar;

So I can taste the sorrow, taste humanity, taste these wars.

I need to see their hope in depth, their Trinity, their peace;

I need to see their beauty marks, to sit with them, to sing.

My coffee cup is empty, and my baby, there he sleeps;

When he wakes, I pray he’ll find me, see my sorrow differently.

My doors are opened, soul enlarged, and wide horizons stretch my view;

Remember, I am mother, I am sister, I am with you.

WE ARE MOTHER.

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This morning I saw Isaiah’s smile. I saw him rise from the bed and look at me– I saw him safe.

Every morning he wakes there, every morning, smiling at his mom.

And I look at him, and I don’t know who he’ll turn out to be. I don’t know how long he’ll live or what conditions he’ll face. I don’t know what his patriotism will look like, how extreme his beliefs will be.

If you’re not a mother, maybe you don’t understand. I’m not a politician, so maybe I don’t understand.

But statistics are clear: civilians are dying every day in these wars we wage, and we lose each other in the fight and battle cry.

And my baby cries because he “bonks” his head. And her baby cries because they’re running for their lives.

But I am like the mother in Gaza, and she is like me.

In the candlelit prayers, in the rocking back and forth and in the head coverings and pixie cuts,

WE ARE MOTHER.

In hide-and-seek and at breakfast time, we gather in and round and say that we are family.

Before you call someone enemy or other, before you stomp on a grave, recall who you are and how you’ve come here.

If there is peace, let it be in the likeness of our humanity, in the likeness of our place.

Someone there is a farmer like you, a friend like you, like the father in your neighborhood.

What is the power of the simile, what transformation comes from metaphor?

It enables us to see ourselves in each other, for better or for worse.

Ask yourself who you look like.

As for me, I look like a mother, and for now, it crosses all boundaries of race, religion, status or rank; it crosses oceans and I land next to the woman who, mourning, cradles her child in her tired arms.

WE ARE MOTHER.

 

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