Where Are The Grown Ups?

The Police recorded Ghost In the Machine* in 1981, a release that’s probably bestbrand known for Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. Everybody knows that danceable hit.

But that’s not the song that popped into my mind this week; this week that has seen more pandemonium than magic. My mind went to the sixth track, the one buried in the middle; the one that begins with a chaotic mix of noise, brittle, clanging instrumental shrieks and shouts. It swirls and scatters sound all over the place; and that’s what this week has felt like.

Too much information running through my brain / Too much information driving me insane

Too Much Information

Night after night, I read the news. I follow links and read what seems to pass for news for too many people; I am stunned by the ridiculous theories and propositions, the excuses and the moral high ground that some claim as they seek to assign blame.

It’s always somebody else’s fault.

Somebody else is the bad guy.

Too much information running through my brain, and I’m looking for answers and talking out loud to the TV, and typing and deleting responses to Facebook posts, and my head hurts.

My heart hurts.

I went to my parents’ house yesterday and said, Let me use your blood pressure cuff. I need to take my blood pressure.

My blood pressure is normal. It’s just my soul; my body is fine.

What’s one person to do in the midst of such pain, surrounded by a deluge of information and misinformation? What do we think when we find ourself wondering where the adults are, the ones that we’ve entrusted with the responsibility of setting the ship right and calling us all to our better selves?

The only answer I find, after a week of this fresh angst, is to set down hard on this narrow road of what I know is true, what lines up with everything that is right about this country and about who we are, as created by One who sets forth possibility and promise for humanity to do good:

There is no one race that is superior to another.

Where there is power, there must be humility. 

Oppression of any other person for any reason is wrong, and will do harm to the oppressed and the oppressor. 

The loudest screams demanding rights and privilege come from pain, regardless of the side they’re on. 

For a week now, I’ve wanted to add my voice to the chaos, to claim a side, to align myself. But the noise paralyzed me, rendered me silent in what seemed like cowardice.

It was not.

Be quick to listen and slow to speak, says the voice of Wisdom; and that is the better way to be. And although nothing I say here is fresh or new, or even carries any weight – although I realize now that I’m just chucking my two cents into the gurgling, rushing, detritus of overwhelming noise and information, for no other reason than to articulate what the events of this week have seared into my skin – sometimes you just know that it’s time to come to grips with what it is you believe, and to begin to figure out what you’re going to do about it.

Because, as it turns out, we are the adults. We’re the ones to set the ships right.

A terrifying thought, all things considered; but in light of everything I’m learning about how a kingdom of justice and mercy can and should be lived out here and now, it is an entirely appropriate thought.

Now, what are we going to do about it?

IMG_2286*I listened to all of Ghost In the Machine, a record I haven’t heard in probably a decade. Ironically, towards the end of the album is the track, ‘One World’. The lyric is specific to the Third World, but oh-how-applicable they are to us here in our United States today:

Lines are drawn upon the world
Before we get our flags unfurled
Whichever one we pick
It’s just a self deluding trick
One world is enough
For all of us
One world is enough
For all of us

Study Break: Breakdown

I’ve been contemplating a post about nature and the connection with my childhood and my current experience of God and such. I’ve spent a lot of time outside these past few months, walking and running and thinking. Thoughts have been connecting and brewing in my brain for a few weeks now, and undoubtedly one day I’ll sit down and it will all come pouring out – pre-written in my head, coming to life on these autobiographical pages.

But that’s not the post I’m writing today. Today, I’m writing about patience – ironically, the topic of last week’s message at my church. I helped design the service and worked with my pastor to record the message on location (my job was to manage cue cards and walk backwards – patiently); patience was a hot topic, one highly considered.

Another point of irony; over the past several days I talked a lot about patience with loved ones who are waiting out the healing process in hospital. Patience is necessary in such situations – a patience that bores deep into your bones, as you are at the mercy of others for everything. You wait for your meals to arrive. You wait for someone to turn off alarms. You wait for professionals to evaluate you and run tests; then you wait for them to tell you what the tests show. You wait to be told that you can leave; then you wait for someone to help you get out of the bed and on your way.

It’s been the topic du jour.

And then it became my reality.


We planned to split my study break time between home and Cleveland; we have a place we can go there that allows me a lot of freedom to read and study and write and think and meet and do all the things that I need to do during this time. It’s a great place for me to be creative; it also happened to be where my husband was. So we connected, planned to spend the weekend there and then return home.

Everything was on track until just north of Winchester, Virginia, when the truck sputtered and coughed and then died. Just died. My handy husband crawled underneath and on top of the engine while I clung to the door handle and prayed that none of the vehicles barreling down the road at 70+ miles an hour would run him over.

Did I mention it was dark?

Unable to find or fix the issue, we called a tow truck. Twenty minutes later – thank you, God – the truck was on a flat bed and I was sitting up high in the cab of the truck between my handy husband and Brad, the Tow Truck Guy. He drove us to his family’s repair shop, and he probably thought we were nuts as he pulled into the parking lot.

This is your place? This is it? No way! You’re kidding! This is your repair shop?

It was right next to Pack’s Ice Cream – a place we stop every.single.trip, because we love ice cream. Pack’s has the best soft serve in the state.

The repair shop shared a parking lot with Pack’s; in fact, on a previous trip, I’d used the rest room at the repair shop. Brad chimed in.IMG_1420

Yep. That’s our place, too. My sister runs the ice cream stand. 

Thus began the interesting adventure of How We Tried to Get Home and Almost Bought an Ice Cream Machine.

Brad was great; after unloading the truck, he loaded us and our luggage in his personal vehicle and drove us to the Hampton Inn. He did take the long way into town (Just wanna avoid the interstate highway…), and I confess that on one of the darkened streets in the warehouse district, I wondered if we might be the topic of an upcoming 48 Hours investigation:

 (VIRGINIA COUPLE KIDNAPPED AND MURDERED NEXT TO THE APPLESAUCE FACTORY; ROGUE TOW TRUCK DRIVER AND ICE CREAM LOVER UNDER ARREST!)

But Brad’s a good man who just doesn’t like driving on the interstate. He got us safely to the Inn, and we flopped on the bed and watched four episodes of International House Hunters because we don’t have cable and it’s pretty exciting to have unlimited access to HGTV.

For me it is, anyway.

The next day we woke up, observed our surroundings, and remembered that we needed to go to the post office – Syd’s birthday package was still in my bag, and I had four days to get it to New Hampshire. Finding a post office was imperative. Fortunately, there was one right down the street.

“Right down the street” is great, if you have a vehicle. We didn’t. However, there were sidewalks; so I persuaded my husband that a mile-long walk would be good for us. An hour later, I’m not sure he agreed, but we took that walk, and it was good for us, and the package arrived in time.

For the rest of the morning, we waited around for The Call; it came around 11:30AM. The truck problem wasn’t complicated; the part had been ordered and it would be ready to go around 4PM. They’d come and get us.

The Hampton Inn folks are THE BEST; Carly and Brady took our luggage and stowed it in the office; we officially checked out, but just hung out in the lobby for the rest of the day.

The repair was finished. Brad showed up in his car again and took us back to the shop. We paid the bill – very reasonable – loaded our luggage back up, and then went to get ice cream. In the course of conversation, we discovered that the ice cream stand had recently upgraded machines and had decided to sell the still-functional older machine.

My husband’s eyes lit up.

As long as I’ve known him, he’s talked about getting a soft serve ice cream machine. He wanted to put one in the music store, or set up a stand. We’ve even brainstormed names for the ice cream he would serve. The man loves frozen custard.

Was this a sign from God????IMG_2250

Of course, we thought maybe it was; so we entered into a serious discussion and evaluation of the used machine. Due to a variety of circumstances – one being the 500 pound weight of the machine – we decided to go home, think and pray, and then return.

We shook hands all around, climbed in the truck, and headed south.

It started to rain.

Ten miles down Interstate 81, the truck choked. Again. Just like the night before.

This time, it was daylight; but we were on the Weigh Station access ramp surrounded by eighteen-wheelers flying by at the speed of sound.

We called Brad. We watched the northbound traffic pile up and realized that even if we got towed, we were going to have a heck of a time getting back to the shop; traffic was at a standstill.

So were we.

It was still raining.

An hour later, a new tow guy shows up. He gets the truck on the flatbed, tells us he knows a way around the traffic jam, and off we went into the Virginia wilderness. Once again, I figured we’d be abducted and left for dead…but it didn’t happen. In fact, we had a nice conversation and eventually made it back to Brad’s shop…

Which was closed.

But Brad had arranged for one of the mechanics to wait for us. After the truck was unloaded, Wayne drove us back to the Hampton Inn – after a pit stop at the CVS, because I needed a) laundry detergent (we were out of clean clothes) and b) Post It notes.

We thought you guys left?

We did. We’re back.


I did a load of laundry. We went to Five Guys – because it was across the street, and we could walk.

We watched more HGTV and got a good night’s sleep. I woke up early and tried to quell my anxiety, because I was getting pretty much nothing done. Study break time is supposed to be uninterrupted space for thinking and digging deep into some creative time; none of that was happening. My wheels were spinning, I was feeling overwhelmed and out of time, and I had an impending sense of doom. I sat in the lobby in my pajamas, drinking coffee and trying to get some reading done. I watched everybody else come down for breakfast, check out, and leave – continuing their journeys.

Not us. I sat and watched them all head out the door, nursing my coffee and bad attitude. It added to my frustration.

The morning shift girl walked by.

We thought you guys left? You’re back?

Sigh.

The Call came around 10:30; they found the problem. They could fix it, for $500; but it didn’t have to be fixed right away. As long as we didn’t hit The Wrong Switch, we could get home safely and fix it later.

We chose the latter; they said they’d send a guy over with the truck.

I ran upstairs to take a shower and pack my stuff. An hour later, the guy showed up.

I drove it around for a while. Forty minutes or so. Just wanted to make sure you guys didn’t get stranded again. The truck’s fine.

We loaded up our stuff, drove the mechanic back to the shop. Went in to settle up and got a bill for $0; they covered it all, from the second tow to the mechanic’s time.

Well.

We decided against ice cream and headed out of town. The truck ran fine. We stopped at Dairy Queen because my husband changed his mind; he needed his ice cream fix.

And then we made it home.


I learned a lot in those two days. When we were finally safely on our way home, I uncorked and starting sharing my anxiety verbally. My husband – full of wisdom and patience – poked and prodded and helped me dial everything back to a manageable level of normal. The Post It notes helped, too…

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I learned what it was like – just for 24 hours – to not have a car. Want to run to the drug store? Too bad; it’s two miles away. And it’s raining. Want to go get something for dinner? Your choices are limited, and most of them are fast food. Unless you feel like walking three miles. In the rain.

I learned, most of all, what it’s like to encounter good people who care about doing a good job and simply being kind to others. Brad Omps and his family business – top notch. The second issue with the truck was not their fault – but they took full responsibility. They took care of us, too. And they were kind every step of the way.

(Plus, they have ice cream…)

The Hampton Inn people? Friendly, caring, understanding that we didn’t really want to be there – so they made us feel at home as much as possible. They gave us toothbrushes and toothpaste, and they made us laugh.

My husband? Simply the best.

Mostly, I learned this: It’s fine to talk about patience in theory, or in a church service. It’s another thing to live it out in real time, and to accept that every meeting can be cancelled, every deadline can be missed, because Things Happen. It’s how you handle those things that makes a life. I encountered quite a few people in 48 hours who are living that out in a way that matters.

And I’m grateful.


Highly recommended if you need a tow or mechanic work in Winchester: Omps Garage.

Packs Ice Cream

Hampton Inn North Conference Center

Study Break: Dreams

I slept hard last night; went to bed late, but six hours later I’m wide awake, nudged into consciousness by a complicated and convoluted dream.

I’m not one to wake up and write down dreams, but that’s what I did this morning. As the words and and snippets of memory (memory? is that the right word for the images you dream? They’re not really memories, per se; but they come back into my mind in the same fashion…what is the word for that?)…..

I’ve lost my train of thought.

Anyway, I jotted down what came to my mind and the connections were unclear, but fascinating. It was my family – all family members, appearing in a church located at the immediate shore of the Pacific Ocean, which was filled with surfers and seagulls; and yet the church was down the street from my old church in Ohio (it was a dream, remember?) There was a bicycle for transportation with a broken chain that I could not fix.

It was an old church building filled with a crowd – some I knew, most I did not. The electricity as the service began was tangible, but it wasn’t a production sort of energy. It was messy and loud kids and ladies in dresses and guys hanging up curtains in the windows and what just felt a lot like community. A female pastor, her husband also a pastor – turned out she officed there and was part of the community, but her husband would be the preacher.

At one point I looked up and saw my aunt Kay, and my uncle Jim. My uncle Dave. My cousins, Joey and Jimmy. Their kids and wives. My cousins Drew and Garth and George. My children. My dad and my mom.

At one point we were all in our big red Suburban, being driven around by my mom (an unlikely scenario – my mom prefers not to drive. But it was a dream.) Awareness and emphasis was on the health of my dad and my aunt.

The first song was Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’, and Doug Dowdle -our insurance agent from Virginia – made a cameo appearance; lip-syncing while holding a brand new baby. A couple of the Warinner brothers, from home, were fixing things and preparing things throughout the building.

I took responsibility for the baby and at the end of the dream, while trying to change her diaper, she stuck her hand in the thorn of a rose bush. I’d laid her down too closely to the flowers, and her crying woke me up.


Crazy stuff – but fascinating to contemplate how much of my real like – the preoccupation with my loved ones and their health, particularly – weaves itself through the act of dreaming. I’d love to know what it all meant.

At the very least, I am sure that the overriding emotional connection is of family; in the dream, when I looked up and saw that all of my extended family was there, I was flooded with feelings of joy; affirmation; gratitude. Those feelings seem quite real to me in this waking moment. It seems somehow to be the point.

But who knows?

I’m writing this first thing, early, rough and scattered. It makes no sense and it’s not much of a blog post, but I’m writing down the reality this week – and so it’s not a bad place to start.

Study Break 2017

I’ve just arrived in Cleveland for Study Break 2017, a great gift that has been part of my work agreement for over a decade now. Because creativity is required of me in terms of the things I’m expected to deliver at my job, it’s been necessary to unplug from all the meetings and the day-to-day minutia and have some head space to focus, deeply, on specific projects or strategies. Built into my job description is this time, and it’s been valuable, even providing some watershed moments for my professional and spiritual experience over the years.

I’ve written about these breaks, too; rereading those posts reminds me of what’s been and what might be to come.

I’ve often tied these breaks into a bit of travel – usually connecting with family, if only to have a place to stay. A partial – and very productive – week in Savannah remains one of my best memories. During a season when my parents had a little place at Emerald Isle, that became my go-to for a week of reading, writing, and long, contemplative walks on the beach.

As years have passed, scheduled study breaks have become irregular. There’s just been too much to do. I’ve learned to build that creative time into the middle of a work week, to set aside an entire morning at the coffee shop with the phone on silent.

But the possibility of that extended time away is always in the back of my mind. Sometimes, I’ve been compelled to schedule a break because I needed an escape hatch from the overwhelming daily grind.

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Travel

That’s not a study break; that’s a vacation.

Two different things.

This year, I scheduled the real vacation with the family early in summer, with a study break close behind. That’s where I am now, and it begins this weekend with a big stack of reading material, a couple of long lists, and some specific goals involving strategies and long-range planning. But there’s also a relational component – because that follows us everywhere we go. People I love who need care, friends who need a listening ear; my own self, which needs some space to think and process.

It’s possible to unplug from the internet but we never really get away from ourselves. That, I think, is part of the opportunity and challenge of embracing our humanity.

There’s always some growing to do.

Here’s to that journey; I anticipate a swollen heart and full head by the end of this week.

Remembering

I am currently digging deep into the concept of spiritual identity; it’s resonant and powerful. I’m learning things that are connecting dots in the grand arc of how our emotional, spiritual, and physical selves are interconnected. It’s good stuff.

It’s true stuff; I know this, because as I read and learn these concepts in a rather abstract way, they are coming to life around me in very real ways. I keep thinking of this statement: Eyes to see, ears to hear. When you learn something intellectually, it’s never quite complete until you really get it, right? But knowledge brings awareness, and you start looking and noticing.

Eyes to see, ears to hear.

The concept of remembrance as integral to faith and identity has re-emerged for me in recent weeks. A friend reminded me yesterday that this is nothing new; I learned this two decades ago in an Experiencing God study, and it’s obvious to anyone: What we remember matters. Experiencing God calls them ‘spiritual markers’; an Old Testament story gives us the idea of a raised ‘Ebenezer’ to mark a moment and a place. Trevor Hudson says, “Christian faith is grounded in remembrance” – and not just in the information that we are to remember, but in our experiences.

“All of us carry memories within our hearts, and when they are recalled we enter into a mysterious journey.”

In my reading and underlining and study, I’m taking all this in and agreeing with it. I’m looking for ways to understand all that has happened in my life and how it comes together to form my identity. I appreciate this knowledge.

But this morning, knowledge became reality. In a season in which there are some difficult struggles and challenges, a day when I awoke with a heart burdened by the pain of people I love and care for, remembrance brought cleansing tears – sobs, even – and an outpouring of praise.

Our lives are sacred journeys, often only understood through the lenses of remembrance. Yesterday, I remembered that it was my daughter and son-in-law’s third anniversary; one to be celebrated, but with a tinge of sadness, as they are separated for several weeks as he serves out a commitment to the armed forces. In the current circumstances, the day was marked by the date on the calendar and a verbal acknowledgement.

But there is much more to remembering, and I encountered it fully this morning as I watched this video – and thank God for it.

This is my family; this is my home, transformed. These are our friends. This is the grace of marriage and divorce and remarriage and the love that is bigger than the failures. This is the joy before, during, and after a covenant ceremony. This is sisters, and brothers, and friends.

This is the joy of dancing in the dark and the shimmering light of glory.

These images, woven together in a sacred offering of the beauty and joy that transcends everything, remind us of what is good and possible and right, even in the midst of a reality that might not be quite so. To remember is to be alive, and to have strength for the journey that is still unfolding before us.

Gardens, Grapes And Gnomes

My mom and I used to play this little game; every year, she’d give me the rooted cuttings from some of her spectacularly healthy houseplants. Pre-planted, fertilized, perfectly formed. She’d bring them over and I’d be excited about the prospect of beautiful plants filling my porch and the corners of my home – just like my mom did in her home.IMG_1714

And then I’d watch those plants die.

Too much water. Not enough water. Neglected too much, or not enough. Who knows; it just seemed that there was a toxic aura in my house, one that ensured certain death to any living photoautotroph (word of the day, y’all!) that dared enter.

So I’ve had it fixed in my mind for some 30-odd years; I don’t do plants. I’m not good at that. Not my skill set.

But here’s something I have become more and more certain of with every passing year:

A lot of what we believe about who we are is not rooted in truth.

And it’s interesting – sometimes painful – but inherently helpful to spend some time pushing past those assumptions about ourselves. I daresay it’s even necessary.


The use of garden as metaphor has been worked to death. Countless poems; a gazillion blog posts. The creation story. The scriptures are full of cultivation images.

It’s almost too easy; the representation of tilling soil and death to life and rebirth and fruit and vines and all that. I’ve got nothing new to say about that. Who needs another blog post about gardens and growing and process?

Well, I do. Because this is my life, and the twists and turns of the process of embracing fully who I am and my responsibilities in this world become clearer to me when I take the time to contemplate the things that are living and dying in the soil around the place I call home.

It is not true that I am incapable of managing plants – houseplants or any other kind of plants. It’s a false belief I have chosen to hide behind when things died or didn’t go as expected.

And that, my friends, is the metaphor that matters.

I’m reading two incredibly powerful books at the moment: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, and Discovering Our Spiritual Identity by Trevor Hudson. One might say I’m overdoing it in the area of introspection, but I have come to believe what Scazzero uses as the tag line for his book:

It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. 

Don’t be offended, but I believe this is true: You are emotionally immature. So am I. Emotional immaturity is the reality for all of creation, I think. All of our life experiences are opportunities for growth; speaking for myself, I see places in my soul that will need healing until the day I die.

Fear of conflict and pain.

Feelings of inadequacy.

Using God as a safety net or insulation.

Refusing to acknowledge my feelings.

We all struggle, and if you say you don’t – well, I’m not judging you, but you’re either super-evolved and I need to spend some time with you, or you’re not being completely honest. In my experience, emotional health is something we humans all wrangle with, regardless of age or circumstance.


So, anyway – back to the plants. Contemplating my own attitude about gardening and growing things, and pushing past the assumptions I’ve carried all of my life; here’s a few things I’m learning as I walk around outside:

Things Happen

With or without your intentions, stuff grows. There’s no such thing as complete control because it’s simply a fact of life: stuff is gonna grow, because that’s the nature of life. You can ignore it, declare Well that’s not my problem – I didn’t put it there!, or get angry because your plans didn’t include six square feet of wild mint, but at some point you have to not only accept reality, but embrace it, quit blaming somebody else, and find a way to work with what you’ve got. (Feel free to run wild with your own metaphor here, about all the things that have happened in your life that were unplanned, unwanted, and unfair.)

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This mint comes up year after year, uncultivated and unbidden. It looks like a weed, but it smells like summer and tastes good in iced tea. 

There Will Be Interference

Every time I encounter the hostas in the backyard, ravaged by the hunger pains of our friendly local deer population, I mutter angrily under my breath. I grieve over the desolation, the utter destruction of all that was beautiful reduced to blunt, chewed-up stubs. The Japanese beetles – well-known for their voracious appetites – are hard at work, chomping the leaves of our grape vine to bits. These attacks reduce the healthy plants to broken, desecrated shadows of what they once were. But I cannot complain too much; the deer and the bugs are simply doing what comes naturally to their species. They eat what’s in front of them. The natural order of things often includes actions that are for the good of one, while terribly upsetting to me. That’s just the way it is.

 

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Backyard hostas, generally neglected by me…
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Japanese beetles working on the grapevine…I’m not sure what they’re doing is legal…..

Sometimes You Gotta Use Protection

Thinking ahead and utilizing the wisdom and experience – and sometimes a concoction of rotten eggs and garlic powder – can keep things intact. I can accept responsibility and do my best to create boundaries, and that can preserve the status quo. I don’t have to simply accept all that happens to me; it’s possible to act in advance with positive results.

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Hostas in the front yard that I remembered to spray….

Life Comes From Devastation

Even when new growth has been laid to waste, beautiful things still rise. There is resonant strength when roots are solid; though what’s apparent on the outside is in ruin, beauty still pushes its way to the surface.

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The deer chewed the leaves down to nubs – but this beautiful stalk rose and flowered anyway. 

Sometimes Things Die

It is the very nature of existence; there is birth, and there is death. At some point, we must relinquish control and accept this truth. And we must confront the pain, the grief, the sorrow and the frustration; we must acknowledge the desperate anger of unfairness and inequity, and make peace with our own pain – even if it is self-inflicted.

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Peonies I tried to move. They didn’t make it.

Stop And See

It’s easy to stop and look; much harder to stop and truly see. What is in existence around me is often completely independent of anything I have done. The view is spectacular and beautiful simply because it is. I am welcome to move things in and out of the frame, but the bottom line is one I must accept and understand: I am a witness to this life, and if I fail to truly see the panorama of beauty around me, I remain ignorant. I am lessened.

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I stood under the sugar maple tree this morning and felt tears come to my eyes, simply for the sheer beauty. The shade, the shadows, the green hues, the blue sky…

Your Efforts Count

The small things I add to the landscape around me can make a huge difference. My contributions matter, and ultimately I can take responsibility to appreciate the end result. Regardless of whether or not anyone else notices or applauds my input, it is legitimate. It’s enough me to appreciate my own effort and call it good.

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I like my little gnome. Does it matter if anyone else does?
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Come over!

 

What’s Growing

I planted a garden this year. I laugh at myself as I say this, because my ‘garden’ consists of the following:

1 watermelon plant

3 squash plants

2 pepper plants

1 strawberry plant

3 tomato plants

That’s not a real garden, and I know it. But we all have to start somewhere, don’t we? My husband tilled up a little piece of ground and fertilized it with the composted waste from my kitchen over the past three years, and I planted my plants.

They’re growing; flowers on the squash, sure and steady growth from the tomatoes. And this:IMG_1575That’s my baby pepper – soon to be a full-grown pepper, soon to be part of dinner in the very near future.

I’m drawn to the effort of growing things these days. Even as my youngest child prepares for his final year of high school, as my two armed-forces-wife daughters prepare to take leave with their husbands, as my eldest son finds his way as an adult, as my middle child chases her bliss from coast to coast. I’m digging in.

Planting things. Watching them grow.

Taking root.

 

Do The Next Right Thing

IMG_1366John Ortberg once said:

“Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap.”

I’ll amend that this week – for personal application – to say that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a walk.

Or two.

Add some running along the way.

Remember that you love to run.

Remember that you can always go a little farther than you think you can.

Choose a place to walk and run that is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Look for water.

Stop and smell the flowers.

You will find rest for your soul.

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Wise Old Woman Part Four

Recently, my work team did an exercise designed to reveal our ‘Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’. Based on Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages relationship communication tool, this little test helps you and your coworkers develop effective ways to talk to one another.

Side note: Reading Five Love Languages was the primary pre-marital counseling tool Tony and I used, and it remains invaluable information. I highly recommend the book as a tool to make any relationship – but especially a marriage – better.

Anyway, my workplace results were only slightly different than my personal relationship  ones. My profile indicated that my primary languages of appreciation are words (no surprise there!) and gifts.

I celebrated my birthday the previous week, and I was not shy about marking the occasion.

It’s my birthday! I proclaimed in the office. I loved it when everybody sang to me. There were a few surprise gifts left sitting on my desk, and they filled my heart with joy.

Another side note: It bothers me a little bit, that I get so excited about unabashedly celebrating me. Somehow, the calendar date gives me permission to unmask my ego and loudly invite applause for my very existence. That seems rather uncouth, as my mother might say. It seems an ugly revelation of the extent of my self-absorption. But, you know what? I’m just going to accept it; because most every other day of the year I’m all up in my head about whether I’m doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, and if one day a year I can let all of that go and just embrace the fact that I am alive! Yay!, then I’m just going to roll with it…

Back to the story and the languages of appreciation: I do like me some gifts.

Gosh, again – that sounds so egotistical and self-absorbed! But let’s just go with it..

Mostly, I get excited about little things that demonstrate that somebody heard me, and remembered. For our family celebration, one of the kids remembered that I mentioned wanting to draw hummingbirds to the house, so they gave me a bright red feeder and some nectar. Another kid latched on to a story about my college bar band years, when I hauled my Fender Rhodes suitcase piano in my little Subaru hatchback, with an inch to spare on each side. That child drew and watercolored a sketch of said Subaru and said keyboard (seriously? Who does that? My kid!!!!) Another kid sketched the prayer closet in the Richmond Hill garden, with a whole host of words on the back – because they knew how much it mattered to me.

Save the bling and the big, expensive stuff. It’s truly the little things.

(At this point, you’re wondering what this has to do with wisdom, since an exhaustive list of Beth’s Favorite Birthday Gifts is less than thrilling…)

Here’s the point:

On my birthday a few weeks ago, I rose before my husband and left the house before he was coherent. As the day went by, I checked my phone repeatedly for the Happy birthday baby! text. I waited for a phone call.

Nothing.

This, from the guy who calls or texts every single month on our anniversary date to say Happy anniversary, baby….

By the time I got home, I was pouting. He had mentioned, a few days prior, that we’d go out to dinner that night, but my mind was full of negativity and I expected the worse.

I walked through the door – pout and all – and found him fresh out of the shower.

You ready to go celebrate your birthday? He smiled.

I took a minute to indulge the pout, explained that I’d missed hearing from him – for which he apologized – and then got over it.

Let’s go see your first birthday gift he said.

We walked out back to look at the almost-finished raised garden bed – with a beautiful picket fence – that he and David had worked on for the past week. I smiled and rejoiced and thanked him.

Ready for number two? We were still outside; I looked around for a hint and saw nothing but the normal landscape of the back yard. He took my hand and led me towards the woods.

Last year, I remember you saying that you wished you had a path in the back woods behind the house…

I interrupt to tell you that one Saturday evening last fall, I decided to explore the woods behind the house. It’s thick and dense in places, but there are houses and roads in either direction. To make an exciting, dramatic story short: I got turned around and ‘lost’ and panicked. Quite claustrophobic, I couldn’t figure out which direction was home, and I could barely even decipher whether or not I was going in a straight line. Plus, the sun was going down. I got a little scared. Eventually, I got home, of course; it’s not like I was in the wilderness. As I relayed the story to my husband, I said I wish I had a real walking trail back there… That was months ago.

So, anyway, I remember you mentioning that… We walked into the natural clearing behind the fire pit and turned to the right.

….so I made you a path for your prayer walks.

IMG_1284He’d spent the entire day on a borrowed tractor, cutting out a pathway for me to walk and pray.

He’d heard me.

I still don’t have enough words; I still don’t know how to get over what it’s like to be loved like that.

Grace. Only grace.

If the story ended there, with Oh, my husband loves me so much and I’m so happy!!!, it might be enough. But the real punch line is what happened a week later.

Remember the arc of the narrative here? About my desire for wisdom, and the in-your-face encounter with the message from James, and the recollection of the prescriptive to ask for the ancient path and walk in it and the small print statement that I ignored (But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’)?

Still with me?

That Tuesday morning – one week past my birthday – it seemed that an exasperated, yet endlessly patient God was saying, I hear you. I know you want wisdom. Here’s how to get it. And don’t forget that I showed you those ancient paths and the good way. Don’t forget…

And it struck me: My husband, who repeatedly shows me the sort of of unconditional, grace-filled love that I believe represents a glimpse of how the Creator loves the creation; he gave me a gift, something I specifically asked for. He gave me a path.

And I had yet to walk it.


Here’s what I have learned:

God is a good father; the Creator does, indeed, love his creation. As our souls twist and turn and look for a place to stand, as we navigate our changing lives and struggle through our situations, we are seen. We are heard.

When our hearts bend toward real answers to questions of identity and purpose, and when we look inward and upward for revelation, we are seen. We are heard. 

The answers are quite often placed right in front of us. We are seen. We are heard.

For people like me, whose lives are caught up in taking care of others, being receptive and responsive to the spiritual and emotional needs of others, scrambling for awareness at all times, lest a ball get dropped and someone gets hurt – it doesn’t take much to push the compass off kilter.

There comes a time when everything you say – the prayers you pray, the counsel you offer, the wisdom you share – needs to boomerang back to bless your own soul. If your position is askew even slightly, the boomerang flies right over your head and into the weeds.

Wisdom, my friends, is not buried in the weeds. It’s right in front of us, in ancient truths written centuries before us, and in the honest love throbbing in the present tense.

It is in the words you claimed years ago, but forgot – or explained away.

It is in the places and people that settle your heart.

It is in the longings of your childhood, the time and place where your soul was free of cynicism and burdened by responsibility; where anything was possible, and God seemed to be all around.

Ask what the good way is. It will be revealed.

Don’t forget to walk in it.

You will find rest for your soul.

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Wise Old Woman Part Three

Let’s recap, shall we? (If you missed previous posts, you can read Part One here, followed by Part Two.)

  1. I meet the executive coach and articulate that I am craving something different; a life that is more about being than doing. The future my soul longs for has more to do with being still and being whole (my understanding of wisdom) than what has occupied my energy for most of my life. (Remember this phrase: I want to be a wise old woman. That’s important for future plot development.)
  2. A short piece of scripture speaks to me, and I claim it. I write it all through my journal and see things refracted through its truth. It’s about ancient paths and walking and nature, all which resonate deeply with where I am in terms of perspective and how my soul is nourished.
  3. I become depressed or tired or overwhelmed or lazy, and I forget about the path. I get whiny. I want to sell everything and move to a lonely place where nobody knows me.
  4. I read the scripture again and realize that I’ve conveniently left out the final phrase: But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Also important for future plot development.)

That last bit – the ‘We will not walk in it’ line? This seems like something only a rebellious person would say, or perhaps an attitude issue for a nation of people who kept turning away from their culture and their heritage and their God.

Or maybe it’s something relevant to those of us who simply suffer being human. Like me.

All I know is this; apparently, that became the cry of my rebellious heart. What I saw as sorrow, grief and depression was more likely an inability – or unwillingness – to see and remember and take note and put into practice that which had been told to me. And, quite frankly, that which I have told to myself – and to others, via this Instagram post:

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Sometimes, I just want to slap myself. I mean, honestly? How can a person be so oblivious?

Sigh.

Anyway….here’s how it all went down, now that we know that I was in a not-so-good, somewhat oblivious place. Here’s how the revelation finally came, my big ‘aha’ moment.


You might recall that I was with my trusted friends on a work retreat, where I finally said some things (my by-now-standard, “I want to be a wise old woman” refrain) and felt really vulnerable and raw. I didn’t sleep well.

The next morning, our first task was a spiritual centering exercise. Our boss had given us an outline of the agenda with eight scriptures marked. He walked around the room with a handful of paper strips.

‘Take one,’ he said. ‘Whatever number you get, that will point you to the scriptures you’ll read on the list. You have 30 minutes. Read, meditate, find something that speaks to you and is relevant. Look for a personal application; then come back and share what you discover.’ I reached out and grabbed a thin strip of paper. I got six.

I checked the agenda outline, and then I looked at the paper again.

‘Hey – is this a six? This looks weird…’

One of my coworkers spoke up behind me. ‘I got six,’ he said. ‘It can’t be six. That’s my number.’

My boss looked. ‘That’s a seven,’ he said.

‘Who makes a seven like this with a loop in it?’ That was me, being rude.

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Six or seven – YOU DECIDE.

I got seven. (FOR THOSE KEEPING SCORE, YOU MIGHT REMEMBER THAT MY ENNEAGRAM NUMBER IS APPARENTLY SEVEN. I DIDN’T EVEN CONNECT THOSE DOTS UNTIL SOMEBODY INTERRUPTED THE FLOW OF THIS STORY TO POINT THAT OUT. HOLY MOLEY.)

Seven.

Anyway…I grabbed my Bible (on my phone, because apparently I FORGOT TO BRING MY BIBLE, and who does that on a SPIRITUAL WORK RETREAT anyway? Lord, have mercy; slap me again…) and my journal and scooted back to a private corner to read the verses.

They were all in James, and I have no idea why he chose that particular book, except that it is filled to the brim with advice about how to live.

Well-timed.

I looked up the assigned verses, and – I kid you not – it began just like this:

“If any of you lacks wisdom….”

I stopped; it seemed there might something happening here. I decided to copy the passage from the app on my phone directly into my journal. Here’s what I wrote:fullsizeoutput_8c4e

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all…but when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea…that person should not expect to receive anything…”

Stop right there and tell me that if you had been toting around a mantra for eight months that declared a desire for wisdom, that you wouldn’t have sat there, stunned.

I did.

But wait – there’s more. The ‘7’ assignment was the only one that had two passages of scripture. I often cross-reference scripture with The Message version; I love the raw, authentic, contemporary poetry of Peterson’s interpretation. I adjusted the app filter, found the new verse, and read these words:

“DO YOU WANT TO BE WISE?”

I AM NOT KIDDING.

(Can we all pause here for just a moment? Because for some of you, this might be anticlimactic. It might appear to be little more than Bible-banging nonsense and coincidence. That’s fine; go ahead with your opinion – you are welcome to it. But there is NO doubt in my mind that the universe itself got fed up with my whining, that God took pity on my frailty, and sent me this message. It couldn’t have been any clearer.)

In my journal, there are two additional passages that I continue to return to, over and over. Because just in case I didn’t get the message – just in case I need something a little more obvious, blatant, and plain-spoken – here’s the complete statement from The Message:

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Life well, live wisely, live humbly.”

And then, for the bonus round:

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help.”

There’s one more part to this story, one that concerns an incredible birthday gift that brings everything full circle. That’s coming tomorrow, but here’s a hint:

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