Created. Redeemed. Provided For.

I didn’t really relax until Thursday. On a vacation that began the Saturday prior, scheduled to last but one week, that left precious little time to find the good things that one expects with unscheduled, unscripted days and nights.

It just takes that long, and I should know better, because it always takes that long.

But here’s what is good: I sought peace, every day. I’d drag my book and my colored pencils and my fat green journaling book out to the third floor deck, and I’d sit in that extra-wide rocking chair and stare over the tops of the tall trees at the relentless coming and going of the sea. I read, and I thought, and I doodled and colored those doodles beautiful, and I waited for something sacred to rise to the surface.

And it did.

I’m not ready to enter back into the life I vacated; I am certain that is not the plan or the path. I am claiming one more day, set aside to hear and to obey. Today my ears were opened and encouraged, as journaling over a morning coffee on a Sunday morning led me to consider the true intent of a Sabbath, and how precious and necessary that is, and how a Sunday morning outside the norm truly feels like a Sabbath to me, because I was literally and absolutely not working, and when does that ever happen? I’ll tell you: NEVER. So my pen flew across the lined paper and I wrote about the deep, calm truth of the Sabbath; and then I walked a block down the street and went to a worship service and the pastor began his message talking about the Sabbath and Jesus healing a guy on the Sabbath and the religious people getting all upset (though to be honest, Jesus also basically said he was God, too, which is another reason they got all upset). I’m already thinking about Sabbath and God is saying Look, I know where your head is and I know what’s going on in your heart and I hear you and I’m in the middle of this, too, so would you just trust me? How about it?  And the pastor goes on to define the principle of the Sabbath (in the context of his message), which is that doing the right thing is the right thing regardless of what day it is, like Chick fila serving chicken sandwiches on Sunday to all the people giving blood after the Pulse shootings in Orlando, never mind that they aren’t open on Sunday, because doing the right thing is the right thing, period. 

And that gave me lots to think about, in a slightly different direction.

But the bottom line, for me, is this: I went on vacation and hung out with my family and walked the beach and ran / walked 15 miles in one week and talked to God in the same space where we’ve met for conversations about Important Things for the past 25 years. I came home with a handful of shells and these three truths, which are forming something powerful in me for the future:

God created you. God redeemed you. God will provide for you. 

It ain’t much, but – then again – it’s everything. And everything is enough for me, right now.

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To Vacate The Premises

The act of leaving something one previously occupied. 

On the drive down, Mom and I were in the car together – Dad, husband and The Baby (AKA my 6′ tall, 17-year-old son) drove the Suburban, because we’re at the point in life where a simple week away is anything but. People came and went from all directions, at all times, and so cars were plentiful. The fact that Mom and I had 5 hours together was a gift, and it was revealing.

I always regretted not doing more real vacations with you and your brother when you were kids. Seems like all we did was go visit family. I wish we’d gone to more places.

This was a stunning revelation, and it’s stuck with me for these several days, because it’s so normal to me that vacation equals family reunion that I’ve never really given any other sort of time away a second thought. Oh, sure; we’ve had conversations about how we’d like to see the Grand Canyon, and I’d love to revisit the Dominican Republic some day. But when I think vacation, what comes to mind is exactly what we’ve had this week:

Joint efforts to cook dinner, with favorite recurring ‘beach recipes’, plenty of Crystal Light lemonade, and Grandma’s pancakes, whenever you can talk her into making them. 

Joint efforts for the clean up crew; the call to action is Whoever didn’t help with dinner, go clean up! – and they do. 

Sitting on the same beach for several decades and measuring time by how the babies that once squatted in the sand to dig a hole now lay on beach towels reading Jane Eyre on the final summer before they begin college. 

Becoming accustomed to the fact that two of the kids are adulting to the point of getting their own bedrooms instead of the communal bunk room, because they now have husbands. 

Somebody picks up a guitar and plays Take It Easy and Dad asks for some Merle and we sing and play and he cries. 

Long walks on the beach where we get to decompress and talk about how we really are and confess how inept we feel as parents and as followers of Jesus, and remind one another of how much good has happened.

There’s more; it’s every moment, every day, and I am reminded, again and again, of how necessary this time is for my soul. Lately, I seem to question everything; I feel less than successful in my life in so many areas, and tied to that feeling of insufficiency is this nagging suspicion that I don’t deserve a vacation. I haven’t earned this gift, this tremendous blessing of a spacious, air-conditioned house filled with family and seven full days of doing absolutely nothing. There is so much to be done, and the constant drumbeat of the brokenness inside of me still – still, after al these breakthroughs and discoveries and epiphanies and redemptive moments – lurks to say YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING.

With that mindset, it’s nearly impossible to vacate the premises.

But after almost five full days, I’m getting there. I’ve chewed up three books of fiction. I’ve dug into a new book that is restoring my soul. My morning prayer journaling / sketching has morphed from dark, angry, bound-up colors to something calming – blue and green and peace-filled.

I am very fond of looking up definitions of a word – I love words, words matter, I’m a words girl – and letting those new words behind the one word wrap themselves up in my thought patterns to help me define (see what I did there?) exactly what it is I’m contemplating. Vacation can be defined as follows:

The act of leaving something one previously occupied. 

There it is, right there. That equals 50 minutes in the therapist’s office.

I’m on vacation to leave the anxiety-ridden, overwhelmed, wrong-thinking, control-freaky, way-too-busy, self-doubting, insecure, fearful, overstimulated me behind.

So far, so good.

#grateful

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How Are YOU Doing?

It happens all the time, but twice this week I stopped and paid attention, because it unnerved me.

Meetings: I have them every day, all week long. Project management, people management, checking in, reporting. Our ‘business’, such as it is, centers on people and God, and so we interact with both throughout our work week. I’m a creative person, and that’s primarily what I bring to the table, but the nature of my role makes me a people person, too. So that’s where much of my attention goes during my work day.

Creative, yes; but my work style is a ‘Director/Motivator’, based on my Insights Profile, so when we get down to business, I often function in a ‘Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone’ manner. Here’s a direct quote from my profile:

She is bored by facts, details, and repetitive activities, especially those not relevant to her current areas of interest…only when a strongly held value is at risk will she willingly attend to important facts and details. 

We use Insights Profiles to aid in communication and leadership development with our teams. The profiles are amazingly insightful (hence the name!) and helpful as we interact with others, but can I just confess that I’m most fascinated by my own profile? What does that say about me? I’m a horribly selfish, self-absorbed person.

Yes, I am. I’m human. I think we all are fascinated by ourselves to some degree, and maybe that’s a good thing; remember that old adage about an unexamined life not being worth living? Today, I make no claim on humility or putting others first. Today, I’m thinking about me. But, oddly enough, that’s what set me on edge this week.

Several times this week, I started meetings with a general How’s it going? What’s happening with your family / project / relationship / etc? From my supervisory / leadership position, it’s a sincere question; I really want to know. It matters. My colleagues answered and the conversation was flowing easily, but then the tables turned.

How are YOU doing? they asked, and I bristled. I hemmed and hawed…but then I started talking. Or, more accurately, verbally vomiting.

I’m good it’s all good had a long week driving to Florida with my parents but it was great to see family lots of transitions we are planning right now school is almost out kids are fine summer is finally here vacation in just a few weeks lots to juggle wearing lots of hats simultaneously but it’s all good…..

All the while, as the words are tumbling out, internally there are red lights flashing DANGER! DANGER! STOP TALKING! DANGER ZONE! and I found myself irritated by the question.

I don’t want to talk about myself.

(And yet I am fascinated by myself…)

It was unnerving, and in the moment I told myself that I didn’t have time to talk about myself, that we had more important things to do, that my attitude or situation or current state of wellness had nothing to do with the task at hand. Annoyed, I even projected that on the person across the table from me (Why are you derailing this conversation? WE HAVE WORK TO DO! Stop deflecting my attention!!!)

I’ve been thinking about that this morning, because of a card that came in the mail FullSizeRender 46yesterday. One of the people who sat across from me as I was engaged in these internal somersaults sent me a card, and only the Divine Creator of the Universe could have orchestrated its arrival at the most opportune time. Just hours earlier, I was stumbling over my words trying to not talk about myself while simultaneously talking about myself anyway; then I got home and opened the mail and sort of crumbled.

The eagle has become a powerful metaphor for our team. You can read the back story in this blog post from Miles Welch; suffice it to say that we have been captivated and encouraged by the challenge to Be an Eagle. It’s become an axiom for us, and a way to encourage one another. Don’t be a duck; be an eagle!

“Never doubt the eagle that God has placed within you and you are able to soar….”

It appears that I’m working like an eagle, I think. But in another powerful metaphor, the truth is that I’m crippled. I’m struggling with broken wings, and grief that is just now catching up with me; internal assessments of my changing role as I parent adult children and one remaining teen. A challenging cultural climate and changes that push me out of my comfort zone. Changing relationships and the inescapable impact that the passing of time brings to all of us. Changes at work, changes at home…

The key word is change, and for someone who rearranges the living room furniture constantly because I need change, irony reigns here.

Too much change.

And what really happens when people I love and respect and trust say And how are YOU doing? It’s not that we have too much work to get done; it’s not that I doubt their sincerity. It’s that in that brief, honest moment I begin to answer the question and see that the right answer might be, quite simply, Not so well…. Panic sets in and the present tense swirls all around and what needs to simply be an expression of grief turns into me trying to control and explain and manage and sound like I’ve got it together.

I learned something new today; let’s add it on the irony pile. Tradition and the movies have taught us that the cry of an eagle is a loud, piercing, majestic screech. But it’s not true. The sound we associated with an eagle is actually the overdubbed cry of a red-tailed hawk. A real eagle sounds…well, pretty wimpy, actually. It doesn’t quite meet up to expectations.

But it’s true.

And it’s a gift to me, in a bizarre sort of unmasking of assumptions. On this Sabbath day, it is well for me to drop the pretense and slow down and ask myself How are YOU doing? and answer truthfully, even if the reply is nothing but a waterfall of questions and confessions.

Our Insights profiles offer Suggestions For Development that I find especially helpful today.

Beth may benefit from: Slowing down and thinking things through; A week’s private meditation alone; Being left alone to work quietly…

Don’t mind me today; I’m just over here developing. And thankful that all the time, things are working together for good.

And especially grateful for those people who sit across from me and ask How are YOU doing?, even if I’m a bit dodgy with my answers.

 

 

The Things I Am Made Of

I remember driving down the rutted roads late at night

Following the summer moon, bright as any pair of headlightsIMG_0452

I felt the air on my face and the night pressed inside my palm

 A moment captured in a place, this memory stays strong

O my darling, o my love; o my darling, o my love

O my darling, o my love…the things that we are made of…

I heard this song last week and it broke me clean in half. Music can do that, you know; any great art can wreck you, tear your soul to ribbons, dismantle you and leave you fragmented, in pieces. I read books, sometimes – sentences and paragraphs that create stories and characters and tension and sorrow and joy – and I can’t help but tumble into the world created therein. The best book, I think, is an invitation, and I readily respond.I am transported to the place where I am so much in that other world that the things that are real and tangible, the flesh and blood and work and food all around me – these are the interruptions, the false things. I become immersed.

 

It takes time to recover.

It is unnerving.

There are bonds within music as well; don’t we all have a song that is ‘ours’, a moment of real or recreated romance? First dances; what played on the radio during our first kiss. The song from a grandparent’s funeral that still wields great power. These are the most powerful for me, these soundtracks of the past.

To this day, one of the most powerful moments in my entire life is wrapped around a Mary Chapin Carpenter song.

Some people remember the first time; some can’t forget the last

Some just select what they want to from the past

It’s a song that you danced to in high school, it’s a moon you try to bring down

On a four in the morning drive through the streets of town

Come on, come on – it’s getting late now

Come on, come on – take my hand

Come on, come on – you just have to whisper

Come on, come on – I will understand                ‘Come On, Come On’ – Mary Chapin Carpenter

Many years ago, someone handed me that CD – an offering of grace and encouragement. I had never even heard of the artist; I listened to the country pop songs with mild appreciation and amusement, even. She’s funny and many of her songs carry humor with a wry sensibility. She’s a great songwriter.

But then this final track came on, and I can tell you now just as clearly as if it is my current reality: I sat in the dark with headphones in and my portable CD player clutched in my trembling hand and tears streamed down my face. It was the story – the history and the present, pulled together; it was the way the piano was orchestrated, to pull the bottom end of the song into a solid place – the piano as percussion, sparse and perfectly timed. The whispered vocal. The connection, the assurance that I will understand; this song connected to my soul and still, to this day, compels me to stillness and something so holy that my legs tremble and my heart folds in on itself. The message I received was sacred.

This visceral, emotional, soul-filled reaction was not just the because of the impact that the song had on me as I experienced it. Because this friend had handed it to me, I took it as a message; a sort of secret, passed from one to another. I felt this song so deeply, so profoundly, and I connected it to my friend and believed that we shared something with this song – that there was a deep, meaningful truth between us that culminated in the invitation.

Come on, come on….I will understand…

That memory has soothed and encouraged me for many years now. It has been resonant, and a powerful tool to tug me towards nostalgia. It was ‘our song’; it had deep meaning and connected us on an almost cellular level.

Not too long ago I had occasion to mention this song and that memory to that friend, and I remarked upon its transcendent power and deep meaning. I don’t remember clearly the details of the conversation, but my friend replied, essentially, Huh? What are you talking about?

The Mary Chapin CD. That song! You know!

What song?

The song you gave me! You know!!!

What?


Turns out I was alone in my deeply poetic vision of our connected souls. It didn’t happen. My friend gave me that CD on a whim; it was a slight notion, a thought that I might enjoy a female singer songwriter. We weren’t connected by the deep, hidden meaning of a song – not at all.

It was my imagination.

This really bothered me for a while – for a few weeks, in fact. I looked back on these deep feelings – during a season when I had a LOT of deep feelings – and tried to reconcile the ‘togetherness’ that I assumed with the truth that I was alone in all of that.

Then, just last week, I listened to this interview with Mary Chapin Carpenter (thanks, Mom!), and I heard The Things That We Are Made Of for the first time. It harkens back to Come On, Come On –the phrasing and the vibe of the song are so similar. I couldn’t help but connect the dots; it’s almost like chapter two of the same story.

But this time, it was just me listening. And here’s the thing: I cried anyway. I felt deeply. I was – and continue to be – profoundly moved by the lyric and the wistful melody. There’s no connection, no shared understanding; there’s just me.

And that’s enough. It’s enough to let my heart yearn so that it repeats, three times, O my darling, o my love, before the honest and open acknowledgement of the things that we are made of. 

It’s enough to recognize what I am made of, and to make note of where I see it in another, and to hold this song of life and love and memory close to my heart, all by myself.

 

Falling

Rain falls; the trees and bushes and grass in our backyard sizzle with a deep current of color that looks synthetic, it is so green and lush and vibrant. Wet leaves reflect the light FullSizeRender 45that hovers between the clouds and the earth.

This morning is my time of peace, of settled slowness. No meetings, no work; I gladly trade my Sundays for the unhurried pace of a quiet Friday. Empty house, room for deep breathing and small things that remind me of myself. The back door is open and the cadence of drizzling rain mixes with a melody on the current of the slightest breeze.

Today I am listening to music; a collection of cover tunes. I am fascinated by the prospect of interpretation. To hear musicians who create powerful art in their own name lean into the work of another and bring new life – I have always found this type of work compelling.

I think it’s how life goes, really. A wise man said There is nothing new under the sun; to some degree, we’re all just covering what has come before. We burn with passion early on; we blaze new trails and grab at opportunities and sometimes wreck ourselves with the notion that we’re not doing enough and then we grow into ourselves and realize that ultimately we’re just covering the human existence. It’s mostly been done before.

I grew up encouraged and affirmed. The message I received was that I could do anything and be anything. For the longest time, I interpreted that message incorrectly; I thought myself set apart, different – maybe even better than.

God forgive me.

The slightest twisted interpretation – all my own, I must add; I do not lay that notion at my parents’ feet – led me into some twisted situations. My head was a mess for a while. It added tremendous dimension to my faith journey, to the submission of self to a greater whole. Rising up out of that murky water, I found relief in the idea that I didn’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders in terms of doing great things. I was – I am – simply part of a whole, a stitch in the quilt of existence that has always been and always will be. The paradox in that realization is that rather than defeat and despair, I felt freer to create, more equipped to do and be anything, to seize this one wild life and to do something with it.FullSizeRender 44

It’s always a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

I’ve never listened to A Tribute to Joni Mitchell straight through; not until today. I knew of Prince’s version of A Case of You and I’ve played it over and over and over again, drawn into the incredibly piano work and depth of passion and his voice – that voice….

But this morning, I’m listening to all of it. Track by track, artists who have invested their lives into bringing truth into the world through music are offering their own versions of Joni Mitchell’s truth. These songs are so personal and precious, tiny snippets of a unique life and distinct moments in the life and art of a woman born in 1943. I know these songs; they are part of my own history, when I learned and listened and even offered my own versions during my stint as a working musician in Lubbock, Texas in the early 80’s. Today, they fall into my ears and stir my heart in a gentle form of grace.

The Ecclesiastes passage once depressed me; I read it as Why even bother? Nothing even matters. 

But I don’t feel that way anymore. I accept it as a gift, as freedom, as grace.

Life as an exquisite cover tune; what a great opportunity. (insert smiley face).

The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
    then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
    Around and around and around it blows,
    blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
    but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
    and then start all over and do it again.
Everything’s boring, utterly boring—
    no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye,
    boring to the ear.
What was will be again,
    what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
    Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
    Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
    And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either.
    Don’t count on being remembered. 

Ecclesiastes 1.3-11, The Message

When I Learned The World Was Not So Simple

I’m leaning into an old circle of blogging friends from way back when, and somebody got approved to throw out writing prompts, and I thought I might play along for a while. 

I’ve been stewing over this post for several days. It happens, sometimes; I write something in my head completely before I sit down and start typing. This has occupied my head for a while; if I’m honest, which I try to always be, this story has taken up room in my head and heart for years.

Decades. 

It remains the starting place for one of the biggest challenges of my life; the source of anger and frustration and bitterness and emotions that I’ve never completely reconciled. 

The prompt was this: Write about an event that revealed to you that the world was not simple.

So I will.


I rediscovered faith in my mid 20’s; I became part of a congregation that was fundamental in its doctrine and practice, and very different than the one in which I had been raised. Talented, with leadership gifts, I fit in and even thrived in some areas; but I quickly realized that there was a place for women and a place for men and that they were quite different.

I bought it. I wanted to fit in, and I was zealous in my desire to please God. The people I encountered were kind and loving and passionate. They welcomed me and encouraged me and I wanted to belong.

Fast forward a few years, into a marriage and motherhood and a new extended family. The intermingling of faith and family was a powerful draw for me; my history was one in which religion was a private, quiet affair, and a family so outspoken about their evangelical passion for Jesus and so committed to church met some unarticulated need in me. They were special and united and designated for something great. Chosen. Set apart.

I bought it. I wanted to fit in, and they accepted me with love and grace.

This was a large family, in comparison to the norm. Lots of kids. The eldest, married first with two kids, was kind to me, if somewhat mysterious. But she helped set the tone for the Family First identity, the tight, close-knit identification of what, for all intents and purposes, was set before the community as – wait for it –

The Perfect Christian Family

Honestly, I’m not sure I ever literally heard those words – but it was there, underneath all of the church-going and preaching and birthday parties for Jesus and mission works. And it’s what I thought would work for what I needed.

I bought it. I needed an identity as something better than who I had been, and instead of picking up on the grace-filled gospel hope that is centered in the real truth of who Jesus is, I leaned into something altogether different and aimed to be part of The Perfect Christian Family. In fact, I set out to quickly build one of my own. I told myself that it would be enough, that it would last, that making everything look good was the point.

I bought it. At this point, it was my own lie, and I was hooked.

One day, one of those perfect family members did something decidedly imperfect. She left her husband.

They had two young children.

It was utterly inconceivable.

As a good Christian should, I took it upon myself to make sure that she was encouraged and quite possibly convicted by truth; I told her that God hates divorce, that God would want her to stay and serve her husband, that certainly this was some sort of blip, a minor problem, that she needed to go home and reconcile.

I may have even used the words “submit” and “obey” at some point.

In my smug righteousness, I did what seemed to be right to me. She was polite, initially, but I wouldn’t let up, and finally she lost her temper, and she told me, as I sat in a tiny kitchen in Hico, Texas, the truth that would rock my world.

I remember the fury leaking through her voice. I remember hearing her anger at me, and my lack of understanding. I remember her frustration.

I remember these words:

Do you really want to know what’s going on? Are you really ready to hear this? Are you sure you want to know the truth?

In my innocence, in my utter conviction that the world was black and white, wrong and right, lost and saved, I said yes; of course. Truth is good! Tell the truth!

So she told me the truth, about why she’d left home and married so young, and why things were not always as they seemed, and why she was such a mess and in counseling, and why she knew that she had to do the right thing for the right reason, and why I should keep a careful, protective eye on my young daughters around the extended family.

And I realized that there’s really no such thing as a perfect Christian family, and that the world was not as simple as I hoped it might be.


Much has happened in the years since, and I lay no claim to what is true and what is not about those more recent events. I do not know, and it is never safe to assume. But I know that this part is true, because I lived it and I remember it; it marked my family.

No, that is not accurate: It totally shifted the axis of my little family and my experience in the world. It blew apart the carefully constructed “Christian lifestyle” I operated within and talked about. It created a nebulous environment of intentions and assertations that had no foothold in honesty, because of the deeply interwoven layers of anxiety and refusals to acknowledge, admit, confront – or much less talk about it. What family really knows how to navigate such waters? It is complicated. 

And complicated things can become cancerous. 

In spite of this – of all that is true, and all that has disintegrated since, I still hold that there is opportunity and space for redemption and restoration. Truth brings freedom. It can be complicated. But it is possible. 

Peter, Paul & Mary: Donna’s Memories

I have another friend I’ve never met; one who has been in the blogosphere for as long as I have. Her journey is fascinating – the child of African missionaries, she draws from a rich deposit of memories and experiences. Read her blog here – and read on below to discover Donna’s Record of Influence, and a sweet love story.

By the way…my parents had this record. Or maybe it was an 8-track. Either way, I know these songs, too…


My record of influence is the album “Peter, Paul and Mary in Concert”. There are so many aapf_1555ways this record was important—but here is the primary reason.  It was the FIRST gift ever my almost boyfriend (now husband) gave me. The album included a song of Mary singing “There is a Ship.”  You see, that’s the song that helped my husband fall in love with me.
We were working together at a youth camp one summer. Our first interactions were full of mutual intense dislike. I though him cocky, and he thought me uppity. Such is teen love. Anyway, by the end of the camping week, we were talking more and more. The last overnight of camp all the kids took to the surrounding woods with sleeping bags in hand. And, of course, so did the counselors. After the campers were asleep, my to-be-husband and I talked. And talked. And then I sang to him “There is a Ship”  which includes in its words “But not as deep as the love I’m in, I know not if I sink or swim.”
I don’t know if that did it, or if the fact that he told me then that no one had ever sung to him, but whatever it was, that was the electric spark. And that—dear reader—is how and when and why my now husband and I fell in love. That was in the summer of 1965.  So the influence of that record—for us, it was for a lifetime.