Dinner at the River

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

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

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Taken by Eliot

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“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

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Taken by Eliot

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

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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. 

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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.

The Good Soil of Reconciliation

Once, there was a son who wished his father dead, took his money, and ran.

And once, there was a father who abandoned his child, a mother who said she was through, a friend who betrayed the most intimate secret.

Forgiveness actually means reaching into the depths of your pain, to do a kind of surgery there, a cutting and shifting and sealing.

I’ve carried around the sting of unsought reconciliation, where there are uncleaned corners of dust and dark.

And where there was once fruit, it is only barren space.

Forgiveness is pulling up the soil and the roots of the plant that’s in dire need of new life, and it’s planting that shoot in brand new soil.

There, we learn how to trust God to bring us healing and reconciliation, even if it doesn’t always lead to restoration.

Restoration is putting something back in its place, re-instating its former role in your life.

Forgiveness doesn’t always allow that, for all our seasons that change and our hearts that are constantly molding themselves into some new shape.

But the act of reconciliation, or conciliation, is that active surgery, that mediation, that hard and long work of forgiving over and over again.

In Jan Karon’s novel Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, the main character of the book, Episcopal priest Father Tim, reflects on the long and hard process of forgiving his own father:

“Love is an act of endless forgiveness,” he says.

Since reconciliation is constant, we trust that in that constant opening, often painful, God is there.

God is freedom in forgiving from the deepest part of who we are, even past the pain of acknowledging our hurt.

He is the softener of hearts, and the builder of relationship.

In all of it, He is there, in the deep and painful process of pulling and tearing and re-planting in good soil.

And there, the light of the sun, the fresh drink, gives new life, the slow and steady reconciling reach toward heaven and toward each other.

There will be tears and screams, hard truths and pain.

But then there may be fruit.

The root of my deep pain may never be fully solved, fully reconciled, fully restored.

But what we choose to let happen inside of us, turning our pain to the light, that’s what keeps us human, keeps us breathing, keeps us reaching for all the wide open, holy spaces.

And oh, how we need them.

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A Lesson For Today: Practicing Patience

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Because we have a balcony garden, I use two milk jugs full of water to hydrate my plants every day.

I go to the kitchen sink, put the open container under the faucet, and wait.

It takes a little while– to my severely impatient self, too long– for the jug to fill all the way.

And there’s not much I can do in that space, except watch and tap my foot on the floor and sip my ever cooling coffee.

But today, I realized how thankful I am for this moment, for this act.

There aren’t many ways to force ourselves into the waiting anymore, not the way our lives seem to thrust themselves along in constant busyness.

I’ve never ached and longed for the quiet like I do now.

And I’ve never cherished acts of patience like I do now.

Because they’re both the hardest for me:

to sit and rest when I could be cleaning, cooking, working, moving, creating–

and to stop and wait when I could be hustling about, worried and frantic.

It’s these little practices of patience, like filling these milk cartons in the day, that keeps me tethered.

Sometimes I think as people, maybe more as millennials, we’re all constant drifters–

to the newest fad,

to the newest scene,

onto the next season,

into the next home,

and before we realize it, we’ve flown everywhere and never really landed.

For this next five to six years in Atlanta, I want to be tethered.

I want to be content, quiet, resourceful, kind, and so, absolutely, more patient.

And if I have to keep a Georgia garden on my balcony all year long to remind myself of my need for hydration, of my need to re-fill that milk jug over and over again,

then I will let it be my holy act, a reminder of my salvation and rest, while I hide behind the towering zinnias in expectation of their bloom.

“God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

The Journey of Benediction

“For all that has been, thanks.

For all that is to come, yes.”

–Dag Hammarskjöld

This last Sunday, two of our pastors shared their last morning of worship with us.

The next season is unclear, except that we move on toward the goodness of Jesus, deeper into the heart of God.

And Sharyn and Julie move on in it, too.

They will wake up every morning and do exactly what they are called to do, coffee cup steaming in hand.

And the rest of us– well, we’re all called to things too, every single holy thing that shapes and molds us into more beautiful reflections.

I’ve never been through this before, but when Julie asked us all yesterday morning, “What do we know?”

Then, I knew.

I knew that we are not all journeying on completely separate journeys, because we’re all under one canopy.

They walk on, and we walk on.

And God is good to them, and God is good to me.

Before we even knew them, I encountered Julie and Sharyn from afar. I listened to Julie’s sermons online every week, listened to the cadence in her voice, her intentionality in shepherding and walking with the people in her church family. And I emailed Sharyn for help finding a house, and she poured her compassion out to me through the cyber waves.

Because we had no one in Georgia, no one to tether us to community.

These two women pulled me close, told me I was a writer, asked me to speak and teach, to give my good gifts and to not be afraid.

So, we are not afraid.

We walk in the light.

We call ourselves holy.

We call the Church blessed.

And we give each other and ourselves, every day, the benediction, this utterance of blessing, just as Julie gave it to us every Sunday:

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Amen.

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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