Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reimagining Prayer

prayer, noun
  1. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.
  2. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.
  3. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving.
  4. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.
  5. A religious observance in which praying predominates. ... definition found here.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Do you have an image of prayer? Is it someone sitting with eyes closed, hands folded, in silence? Is it with a cup of coffee, a journal, the scriptures open as the sun rises? Is it something the minister or priest leads at the beginning or end of a weekend service?
 
In my mind, all these things are prayer. Sometimes they are my kinds of prayer. But lately, I've been participating in a different kind of prayer, a kind drawn from definition #3--an act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving.
 
In the past year I've read three books that have opened up my understanding of what prayer can be. As an avid practitioner of Holy Yoga, I already know that prayer doesn't have to live in a box. But these books have helped me to see that prayer is virtually any act of paying attention to what God is doing, expressing my gratitude to Him and being with the truth of who He is in such a way that I allow it to shape me.
An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton,
and Return to Our Senses: Re-imagining the way we pray by Christine Sine
 
Over the last few months, my prayers have looked like this:
 
 
Breath prayer, which I practiced as I watched my children frolic in the ocean surf.
 
 
Being with God in nature, noticing beauty.
 
 
Reconnecting with liturgical prayer.
 
 
Engaging scripture with creative lettering.
 
These ideas are bringing freedom to my prayer and meditation practice. I find myself looking forward to the time rather than it feeling like a "should." I'm grateful for a God who is accessible in a variety of ways, eager to receive my prayers.
 
What about you? What are your favorite ways to pray?
 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Redefining Beautiful: The trouble with my mummy tummy

"Your belly looks like there's a baby in it," said sweet five-year-old Daisy as we stood in a wide-legged downward facing dog.
 
"I know, but there's not," I said slowly, and as gently as I could.

"I know," she replied. But it LOOKS like there is," she said insistently.

"Yeah," I sighed.

I thought about the Pilates classes, the calorie-restricting diets, the “miracle wraps,” the practice of Uddiyana Bhanda, my Spanx, the “Slim & Sassy” essential oil, the transverse abdominal exercises, my drawer full of compression tops, my new and improved postural awareness.

"I've tried a lot of things to make it better, but it still is that way."

Luckily, my tiny yoga partner seemed satisfied with this, and as we shifted into plank pose, she changed the subject.

I didn't lose the conversation quite so easily, though.

The truth is, I understand what my little friend is saying. I don't like it, but I get it. I know that I look at least a little pregnant all the time. I've got what is termed a "mummy tummy," a stomach area that shows the effects of four pregnancies in six years and a digestive disorder that went undiagnosed for a long, long time. (Technically, it is called a diastis recti and you can learn great stuff about it here at my friend Christina’s blog).

It's been a while since I've been asked by an adult how far along I was (the Lord has shown me mercy). But Daisy doesn't quite understand the social faux pas it is to tell someone it looks like she has a baby in her belly when she doesn’t. She was just being honest.

I struggle with our culture’s expectations of what our womanly bodies should look like, despite age and childbearing. On the one hand, I think we ought to be able to grow older gracefully and allow our bodies to be made different by the incredible process of pregnancy and birth (we’ve made PEOPLE in there, for heaven’s sake!). On the other hand, I want to feel beautiful. I want to feel like other people think I’m at least moderately attractive, if not beautiful.

I struggle because I think that I am being judged because of my tummy. I think that people look at me and think that I must not eat right or work out or care enough. I think they think I lack self-discipline. I think they think I must be lazy.

There’s a compassionate voice inside my head, too. I tell me that I eat well, not rigidly (which is important for someone in life-long recovery from anorexia), I tell me to remember that I have been a vegetarian for more than 15 years (resisting bacon that long requires some kind of self-discipline, right?), that I am a yoga teacher and I highly value movement (but I’m not a gym rat, and that’s ok).

I remind myself that what I want most is to be a woman whose beauty comes from the inside. I want to be someone who is most appealing because of the light of Jesus radiating from her. I want to be a woman who is beautiful because of her gentle and tranquil spirit (1 Peter 3:4). I tell myself that if I had the flat, sleek stomach of a teen, it would not make me a kinder, wiser, more loving or prayerful person.

I think about my daughters and the way I want them to feel about their bodies. I want them to know that their bodies are the holy temples of God’s Spirit. I want them to know that beauty comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and that growing older should not bring shame. I want them to know (if they should choose) the miracle it is for your body to be home to a child as God knits him or her together (Psalm 139:13), and that there should be no remorse for your body carrying the evidence of such miracles.

I wonder if this temptation to glorify and vilify our own bodies is part of what John had in mind when he wrote this:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.

Let’s break down the Greek a bit. Lust can be translated “desire, craving, longing,” and flesh is “the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood.” In this sense, it seems possible that we can fall into a sinful pattern with our own bodies to desire, crave, long for them to be something different than what they are. We look at other people’s physical forms and wish we looked more like they do.
 
And pride…here’s one of the Greek definitions of this word: “an impious and empty presumption which trusts in the stability of earthly things.” When we trust other people’s opinions of our physical forms more than we trust what God says is true about us, we are trusting the stability of earthly things, friends.
 
When we cultivate the things that last, we honor God with our bodies. When we bow to cultural pressure to look or be a certain way, we serve a world that is passing away, we serve a world that will never accept us as enough, a world that will always ask for more, and will condemn and shame us even as it puffs us up with worthless pride.

And so, I thank God for my conversation with Daisy. I thank God for this belly that can remind me that I serve Him and not the world, if I let it. I thank Him that my true worth is not found in the shape of my tummy, but in the shape of my heart, a heart bent towards Him and the Kingdom of Love.
 

What about you? Do you have a part of your body that keeps you from feeling beautiful? What do you think is truly beautiful about you, beyond the physical imperfections? Does your perspective shift when thinking about your body as way to share the love of God with the world around you?
 
**submitted as part of the SheLoves Magazine August synchroblog

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A "Praise Be" Poem

I was never one of those little girls to sit around and write poetry in her journals. Reading back through my childhood diaries, I see I was more of a journalistic record keeper--what we did in school that day, what girl had kissed what boy, who I played with in the afternoon. I know I did write a lot of stories at one point, but there isn't much imaginative writing in anything I now have from my childhood writings.

I tried writing some poems in college. They were pretty much dismissed by a certain poetry professor, and that experience left me scared to try any creative writing at all. I decided to stick to technical writing.

Part of my journey over the last four years, however, has been to be willing to learn, to try new things, even if it means doing it scared. My beautiful and persistent writing teacher Maureen has gently encouraged me. She tells me that it doesn't matter much if a writer has talent, what matters is that she is willing to try and to learn. And so, I try and I learn.

Last spring, Maureen presented my class with a prompt called a "Praise Poem." The idea is that you descriptively list things for which you are grateful in the moment. Because part of my journey since 2010 has also been learning to be grateful despite circumstances, I instantly fell in love with this prompt.

A few weeks ago, I was up late in the evening to catch a glimpse of the "supermoon," sitting on my back porch, just looking and listening and be-ing. Gratitude for small things filled my heart, and I tapped out this poem on the backlit keys of my iPhone. In the spirit of doing it scared, I present my praise poem.



Praise be for the sterling moon
Full in the ebony sky


Praise be for the crickets that chirp from tree to tree
For the katydids and little birds
For the toads that croak
                                      croak
                                               croak

Praise be for the evening breeze
the furry dog asleep in my lap
Praise be for the lightning bug who dances
before the bushes

Praise be for the hum of traffic down the road
And the whir of the cargo plane above

Praise be for your presence, God,
On this summer evening
this anything but silent
                                    night

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Honor, Leviticus 19 & a cup of coffee

Everywhere I seem to turn lately, God is whispering to me about the idea of welcoming the stranger. It's a common concept in the Bible, appearing first in Genesis 18 when Abraham entertains three strangers (whom scripture describes as God) by welcoming them to his tent, preparing for them cakes and a young calf.

Jesus brings it up again in Matthew 25:35 when he suggests that whenever we care for those in need or welcome in a stranger, we are doing this to and for Him. The writer of Hebrews encourages us again in chapter 13:1-2 by writing, "Let love continue among you. Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all—even to strangers—for as you know, some have unknowingly shown kindness to heavenly messengers in this way" (The VOICE). 

God prompted this idea to percolate in me through my friend Dana, who told me about Irish poet John O'Donohue, who talks about the notion that every person is an "ex-baby." As Dana described it, if we can just see past the hard exterior of the adult to the inner ex-baby, perhaps we could cultivate more love for one another. 

I began to look at people I encountered with this framework. Driving down the street, I would see a business man, briefcase in hand, entering into Starbucks. "Ex-baby," I'd tell myself. As I passed the bus stop, the waiting passengers slumped on the benches or chatting on a cell phone, I tried to really see them. "Ex-baby, ex-baby, ex-baby." At the checkout line at Target or the grocery store, I attempted to look the cashier in the eye, to notice her name tag, to thank her for her service to me, and to thank God for this ex-baby, for how she is exquisite in His eyes.

God next highlighted this idea as I listened to podcast sermons from House for All Sinners and Saints, a little church in Denver, CO. Over and over in the teachings, they talk about holding a value of welcoming the stranger. The speakers expose what a difficult thing it can be to actually walk this out, but also the amazing gifts that can emerge when one does.

Recently I finished reading An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor where she writes about the practice of encountering others. She writes, "Jesus taught the practice of encounter. He taught it not only by what He said, but also by what He did," and "Why should we love the stranger? Because God does." She explains how in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, there are 36 instances where the people are instructed to 'love the stranger,' reminding them that they were once strangers in the land of Egypt (during a time of exile and slavery).

This led me to look this up for myself, and I found myself reading in Leviticus 19:34. "You must treat the outsider as one of your native-born people—as a full citizen—and you are to love him in the same way you love yourself; for remember, you were once strangers living in Egypt. I am the Eternal One, your God."

Now, I am so familiar with Jesus' words telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I love loving the people I already love. Most days I think I follow this directive fairly well (with a disclaimer that I know I am not perfect, make a lot of mistakes, and, of course, have room to improve). But I love to love...the people I love already.

However, what God is showing me particularly right now, is that I often hide behind a veil of shyness and introversion to protect myself from loving the stranger. I'm seeing how I can often view strangers as suspicious and to be feared. I am seeing how I do not want to take the risk to love the stranger. Loving the stranger could be risky, it could get messy, it could require of me in ways I don't really feel like giving.

But what it seems God is trying to teach me is that, from His viewpoint, there are no strangers, really. That everyone I encounter is His beloved child, worthy of my attention, respect and honor. That even the stranger is my neighbor, whom I am to love as I love myself.

As this consciousness has been brewing in me, I have been asking God for opportunities to see when I could love the stranger. So the other morning in line at the coffee shop, I felt God nudge me. "Buy coffee for the person behind you." Aaaggghhh. My mind immediately started racing. "What if she thinks I am weird? What if she buys a $7 drink? What if she says no?" God was not persuaded by my arguments.

I turned to the woman behind me and gently asked her if I might buy her coffee. She said sure, ordered, and said "thanks" as she went on about her day. It wasn't this magical moment where everything became right in the world or anything. She didn't hug me or say I had made her day. But I knew that I had listened to voice of the One, that I had honored His prompting, and that for a moment, I had cared for this ex-baby stranger in a small way.

Here is my prayer for today:
Father God, may I see each person I encounter this day as one of Your beloved children.
Jesus, may You share Your love for every one through me.
Holy Spirit, reveal to me the ways I may honor others through my prayers and words and deeds.
In Your name,
Amen.

**Submitted as part of the June synchroblog for SheLoves Magazine.**

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Friend Loves at All Time

"A friend loves at all times." Proverbs 17:17

Just before lunch on Friday, July 30th, 2010, I left my three monkeys with my friend Courtney. I was running to the OB for my ultrasound appointment. I was supposed to be back by two-ish.

Courtney was a friend from church. She was employed part time and we had an empty apartment in our garage. We figured it was a win-win for us all. Courtney lives in the garage & hangs out with us, helping mama in her off hours. It became an especially great plan when I got pregnant and became completely miserable most of the time. Because Courtney worked her real job in the mornings, she could hang out with the babies in the afternoon, when my "morning sickness" was at its worst. Mama got to sleep through the nausea, the babies didn't burn the house down or play with knives. Win-win. So, Courtney was already worth her weight in gold around this home on that fateful day.

I remember texting her from the doctor's office. The baby had no heartbeat. We were on the way to the hospital. She replied that I shouldn't worry about the kids--she'd take care of everything.

And she did until we got home sometime the next day. The kids were in her wonderfully loving care, entirely unaware of what was happening.

Over the next few months, Courtney continued to come over each afternoon to be with the kids. But now, instead of persistent nausea, it was debilitating grief that kept mama in her bed. I remember just trying to hold it together through the morning until she arrived at the back door and I could go collapse in anguish and tears on my pillow.

Day after day, this angel came and played Hi Ho Cherry-O and gave baths and changed diapers and made macaroni and cheese. She pushed swings and read stories and listened to the sound of the Wonder Pets on TV while she washed our dishes. Day after day she listened to me cry and question and say, "I just can't do this."

Somehow we made it through that terrible season and I managed to be able to mother a little bit more, and the economy let up a little and Courtney's part time job became a full time job and we knew the days of her living with us were drawing to a close.

She moved up the street into her own place and we saw her pretty regularly. And then one day, she got her dream job in NYC. It was such an amazing opportunity and I knew she had to do it and I couldn't imagine how I was going to make it without her here. She moved away and tackled NYC with courage and charm. That was a little over two years ago.

We kept in touch as best we could with Facebook and phone calls and her visits home. The kids missed her terribly and we were always thrilled to hear from her.

A few weeks ago, I got a text. She had an interview back in NC. I prayed and crossed my fingers.

Today, she texted me. "I'm home."

D and I drove straight over to her condo. When he realized where we were, I cannot even explain the noises of glee that came out of that child. Here is what it looked like when he saw his Courtney for the first time in a long while.



Even though I tried to explain she was home for good, my boy would not let go of her for a full five minutes. I understand.

I realized as I watched him hold her that, in so many ways, she was as much a mama to him as I was. She was there to rock him to sleep, to count his little toes, to kiss the boo-boos from when he learned to walk. He was 13 months old when Matthew was conceived and 18 months old when we lost him. I distinctly remember the sound of him waking from his nap and calling from his crib, not "mama" but "Cot-nee!"

Over the past three and a half years, I have many times been filled with thanks for having her in our lives during that difficult and painful season. I've thanked God for having her here, even as I've apologized to her that He asked her to be. I recognize how difficult it must have been for her to continue to come to our house day after day all those months. But I am ever grateful she did because I don't know how we would have lived without her.

Today my guy wrapped his arms around his Courtney like he was never letting her go. I was filled again with gratitude for her presence in our past and filled with joyful anticipation for having her back in NC and in our lives again.

There will never be enough words to express all my gratitude to this amazing woman for her selfless service to me and my family during our darkest days. But I hope somehow that the hug she got today communicated something our enduring love for her and reminded her of the way she brought heaven to the midst of hell on earth for us.

We love you, Court. Welcome home.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lessons From a Well-Worn Sweater

I've been wearing the same clothes for a week and a day.

Seriously.

It's not that I don't have more clothes, but a friend invited me into a Lenten exercise to wear just 6 articles of clothing for the period of Lent leading up to Easter (inspired by Labour Behind the Label, an advocacy group for garment workers).

Lent traditionally encourages folks to take on a fast of their choosing to create an awareness and open space for more reflection and prayer in preparation for Easter. Often people choose to fast from a certain food or drink, like sugar, chocolate or coffee. Several people I know are fasting from social media (great idea!).

When Steph invited me to this exercise, it sounded awful. And hard. And boring.

So I knew I should definitely do it.

Because Lent isn't supposed to be easy. It is supposed to remind is of the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus and God. It's supposed to remind us that the world doesn't revolve around us.

So, I'm a week and a day in and I'm starting to get bored of my clothes. But I will tell you what.

I'm becoming more aware of my privilege as I look at the rows and piles of unused clothing that hang in my closet and sit in my drawers. I'm thanking God for the people who made my shirt, those who made my jeans as I put them on day after day. I'm becoming more aware of all the people who support my cushy lifestyle...the farm workers who picked my organic spinach, my Fuji apple, the miner who drilled the oil for the gas in my car, the people who clean the restroom at the YMCA where I work. I am thinking of those who are homeless every time I feel a little chilly and reach for the same sweater.

I'm starting to "see" people, even if I am not actually laying eyes on them. This Lenten exercise is giving me a broader perspective.

This week in my Holy Yoga classes I taught this passage from Isaiah 58:5-7 (The VOICE):

What kind of a fast do I choose? Is a true fast simply
        some religious exercise for making a person feel miserable and woeful?
    Is it about how you bow your head (like a bent reed), how you dress (in sackcloth),
        and where you sit (in a bed of ashes)?

        Is this what you call a fast, a day the Eternal One finds good and proper?
   
No,what I want in a fast is this:
        to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
        to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
        to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
      A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
        giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
    Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.




I'm so grateful that I follow a God who isn't interested in empty, religious ritual. Instead, He is interested in opening my eyes to the things that He sees, interested in opening my heart to the things that His heart beats for.

There are many more weeks of Lent and I am sure this journey will have it's ups and downs. But for today, I'm grateful for this fast and what I'm learning.

 
Here are my items. I cheated. I picked 7. Because I am a "P" on the Myers-Briggs and narrowing down anything is a near impossibility. Also because between March and April, temperatures can vary between 30 and 80. Which is exactly what it did between Tuesday and today. I'm giving myself grace.
 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Nature's Child - a gather

Oh, hey, Word of the Year 2014.

WRITE.

Right.

So, making 2014 the year of writing has turned out to be harder than I thought. In actuality, it's feeling like the year of writer's block...

But, anyway, I take writing classes with the ever-so-lovely Maureen Ryan Griffin and she has an exercise called The Gather that she has us do every so often. The idea of The Gather is that you listen to a piece of writing (usually a poem), then listen to it a second time as you listen for words and phrases that capture your attention. As you gather these words and phrases, you write them on a piece of paper in no particular order. In the center of your paper, you've reserved a square for your working title. You then take the words and phrases and use them to construct a new piece of writing in 5-7 minutes.

This Thursday, Maureen read us a poem called At Gettysburg by Linda Pastan. Here's what came out of this gather for me.

**************************************************************************************************************

Nature's Child
She spends her summer mornings within the borders of her yard while mountains peek over her shoulder. Green pines stand side by side on the western edge. She stares at the tiny, tender white flowers with pink stamens and wonders how something so delicate can push up through the hard earth. While listening to the bubbling creek to her left--she mustn't go there alone--she is learning about the points of a small, domed cactus--what they know themselves, a sharp prick, likely to draw blood, can never be avoided. Under the impartial blue sky, she is grown here, finding her form.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tables

I've been thinking about tables a lot lately. Yes, that's right, tables.

I've been thinking about the holiday table at my Grandma's house in years gone by. There was one big, formal table for those who were going to be able to mind their manners, make pleasant conversation with the international guests that Granddad always seemed to invite to family meals, and keep from spilling the gravy. This was the "adult" table.

And then there was the "kids table," which was actually a couple card tables next to one another with one of Grandma's terry cloth tablecloths draped over it to make it look like one table. This would have worked if the legs of one of the tables hadn't been an inch shorter than the other table. However, this was the table for you if you were prone to making loud noises or falling off your chair or making naïve (yet inappropriate) comments at dinner.

I've been thinking about the "Seniors' Table" in my high school. There was one hexagon shaped table that sat on a landing atop a set of stairs in the lunchroom. This table was known as the Seniors' Table and the only people ever allowed to sit at the Seniors' Table were seniors...unless you happened to be a very pretty cheerleader dating one of the most popular seniors, but even then, you might be walking a tight rope trying to sit there.

There was nothing special about this table, in particular, or the blue plastic molded chairs that circled it. What made it special was the status it implied. When you sat there, you were a SENIOR. You had risen to the top of the school heap. You were really someone sitting there, looking down on all the other kids, with their lunch trays and cardboard cartons of milk, wistfully waiting for the day that they could sit where you were.

I've been thinking about the tables of the dining hall at my small, liberal arts college. If you'd entered the dining hall off meal time, all the tables would have looked the same--round and rectangular, cream-colored laminate, with oak wood rounded edges. But come in during meal time and these tables were owned. This table was the for a certain fraternity. The sorority girls that dated all the boys from that fraternity sat across the walkway at their table. Another table was for the football team. Over in the corner was the table for the multi-cultural students association. Most every table in the dining room was claimed by one social organization or another. Kids like me, who didn't easily fit into any particular category, took our trays out of the lunchroom entirely and ate in another room that was supposed to be for studying. Even sometimes in this space, I didn't know where I should sit.

And I have been thinking about the Banquet Table. The table that Jesus describes in the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14. The table that we anticipate whenever we take communion, the Lord's Supper.

Over a year ago, my dear church Renovatus began observing the Eucharist weekly. I'll be honest...at first I was a little annoyed. Communion takes a l-o-n-g time and I just really didn't get why once a week was so much better than once a month. Until this time, communion had just kind of been this checklist thing I did monthly...wander forward toward the altar while I examined my heart for any unconfessed sin, take the bread, dunk it in the juice, swallow it down with a sincere (but quick) internal prayer, "thank you, Jesus, for dying for my sins. Amen."

Along with the practice, our pastors have taught more on the Table, on the eucharistic practice and why it is central to the heart of Christianity, and more specifically, why it is central to the heart of following Jesus. In addition, God has given me the opportunity to hear other speakers teach on the Table and has given me authors to read about it. Through these things, He is showing me how His table is so different than so many of the other tables I've experienced in my life.

See, in God's home, there is no kids' table. You're invited to the table even if you are awkward or rude or clumsy. In God's dining room, there is no special seating for people of a certain status or rank of achievement. God isn't looking to separate us out into the cool kids and the misfits. No...what Jesus shows us through the communion table is that in God's reality, there is one table. ONE table. One table for the righteous and the sinner. One table for the well-liked and the loners. One table for the ones who have it all together and the ones who are a hot mess most of the time (yours truly). One table, one people, one family.

This practice of Eucharist is changing me. When I come forward to partake of the bread and wine these days, in addition to my prayer of thanks for the cross, I also add a prayer of gratitude for being invited to this table. I see God welcoming me in, whether I've been kind and loving or selfish or clueless, whether I come filled with joy or I come weary, whether I come with my heart bared or still hiding from God. "Come," He says to me. "This is where you belong."

And even as my heart begins to accept that this is where I belong, I'm seeing that you too belong at this table. You belong if you are my friend or if you are my enemy. You belong if you are "good" and you belong if you are not. You belong if you and I agree theologically and you belong even if we don't. We all belong at God's table, friends. We all belong.

PS-This is the invitation my church uses weekly as we come to the Table (I do not know the original source). God has used these words to change me, to woo me, to invite me home. May He use them in the same way for you, too.
 
This is the table not of the Church but of the Lord.
It is to be made ready for those who love him,
and those who want to love him more.

So, come,
you who have much faith and you who have little,
you who have been here often and you who have not been for a very long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.

Come, not because it is I who invite you: it is our Lord.
It is His will that those who want Him should meet Him here.
 
*written for and submitted as part of the SheLoves Magazine synchroblog for February.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Longing Fulfilled

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. -- Proverbs 13:12

In the year that followed my son Matthew's stillbirth in 2010, I believed that everything would be ok once I could just get pregnant again. Once I could feel my redemption baby kicking around in my womb, once I could hold him or her in my arms, it would begin to make sense. I would tell this baby how I hated losing Matthew, but it was worth it because I have YOU.

For more than a year, I hoped and prayed and did all the things one must do in order to make a baby. I tried to approach it with patience; we'd been slow to conceive before. But month after month, I would stare at a blank pregnancy test, the stick assuring me I had no reason to cling to hope. Each month I mourned the loss of Matthew AND I mourned the loss of the baby I had held in hope in my heart.

After many, many months, my dear husband cautiously began a conversation. He knew how much I wanted another baby. He knew how much I hurt. But he looked at our three other kids -- no longer babies themselves anymore -- he saw us moving into a new phase of life, one without diaper bags and naptimes and containers of baby puff snacks. He wondered to me if, perhaps, the "having another baby" ship had sailed.

I knew he was right.

I hated that I knew he was right.

I hated that admitting he was right meant I had to give up my hope that Matthew's death would someday make sense. I hated that I wouldn't have my redemption baby, my baby that would remind me that, though I'd been through the wilderness, there was, in fact, a child of promised land now.

In addition to my grief about Matthew, I needed to grieve the hope for another child. I had to grieve that God wasn't going to wrap this difficult season up with a baby-shaped bow. I needed to grieve that this was not how I wanted my life to be.

How do we maintain hope when circumstances don't go as we would like them to?

Part of that journey for me has been truly understanding what I hoped for in the first place.

What I really hope for is:
  • the chance to be a really great mom
  • a family where love and kindness are the foundation
  • a home where laughter and affection are abundant
  • a family culture that is supportive of each other through & thin

Before Matthew's death, I had found all those things with my other kids. I wanted more of that. I wanted it with Matthew. I wanted it with the next baby. I'm a bit of a love-junkie, and I thought "the more babies, the better."

And yet, what I've had to learn as I navigated this tough terrain of learning to hope beyond circumstances, is that all I TRULY hope for is already present, more babies or not.

As I've started to come to terms with the disappointment that we will not have another baby, God has met me with the truth that the deep longings of my heart have, in fact, been met with my living children. He has shown me that He, too, is acquainted with suffering and grief, but also knows the desire for a lively, thriving family. He has turned my mourning into a deep appreciation for what is, and given me an awareness that I have the opportunity to choose to cherish the moments of joy -- and to even hope for more.

As I've come into a new perspective on what hope can be, I've moved from the deep heart-sickness of consuming grief to a place where I can take in a deep breath and delight in the scent of the blossoms on the tree of life.

**What does it look like for you to maintain infinite hope? I would love to hear your good stories, too!**

*originally written for the SheLoves Magazine synchroblog

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hagar's Story: Seen and Known

In the Bible there's an interesting story of a woman named Hagar. She's the maidservant of Sarai, Abraham's wife. Through a strange series of events, Sarai arranges for Abraham to sleep with Hagar in order to produce an heir. This doesn't actually work out relationally very well and Sarai ends up, as the Bible puts it, treating Hagar "harshly." Because of this, Hagar runs away, into the wilderness.

I imagine the wilderness of Abraham's land to be fairly barren and, back in those days especially, probably scarcely inhabited. I picture Hagar...alone, probably scared, definitely vulnerable--to the elements, to wild animals, to any men she might encounter.

The story in Genesis tells us that Hagar did encounter someone  and that someone was an angel of the LORD. This angel speaks to Hagar, calls her by name, saying, "Hagar, Sarai's servant, where have you come from and where are you going?"

The angel and the maidservant continue an unusual conversation where the angel tells her she is pregnant and what she ought to name her son. The angel also tells her to return home.

The story tells us from then on, Hagar used a different word for God--a word that means "the God who sees me." (I wonder what word for God she used before that...)

This is quite a strange story, really, and on its face, I read it and feel angry for Hagar. Why did Sarai concoct this plan to give Abraham an heir? Why did Abraham go along with it? Why did Sarai mistreat Hagar (and what did she do to her)? Most of all, I wonder, why on Earth did that angel (and God, by proxy) tell her to go back home?

I'm struck, however, by how Hagar responds after their encounter. The angel addresses her by name. The angel asks her where she's come from and where she's going, thought it obviously knows right where she's at in the moment. This angel somehow knows Hagar, knows she's in the wilderness, knows of her challenges, knows of her pain. Hagar comes away from their conversation saying she has seen the one who sees her.

Seen and known. I think that's something we are all hoping for. We all want angels to come along our path in the middle of our wilderness and see us for right where we are, to ask us good questions about where we've come from and where we are going, to speak words of hope into us, and send us in the direction of home.

We often feel alone in our wilderness voyages, don't we? Where are our angels with knowing words and seeing hearts? I don't know what made Hagar ready to see this angel, what made her ready to receive its words. But something inside her saw and knew that angel when it came her way. Something within her was ready to abandon the wilderness, something within her was willing to answer the questions about where she'd been and where she was going.

Perhaps there's a lesson for us in this, too. That in the middle of our desire to be seen and known, we must be ready to respond as angels with tough questions cross our paths. We must be willing to be seen. We must be willing to open our hearts to being known.

God didn't rescue Hagar from all her difficult circumstances, and it isn't likely that He's going to rescue us from all our wilderness spaces, either. But maybe we take solace in the notion that along our rocky paths, He will send angels who, when we look back, help us to know that we are seen, we are known, we are loved.

Dear Matthew: On the Third Anniversary of your Due Date

It could be your third birthday today. It could be the day when we are having cake and ice cream for the second day in a row (because your big brother's birthday was yesterday). It could be the day we watch you open brightly wrapped gifts like trucks or trains or a new ball--who knows what would be capturing your interest these days. It could be a day where I marveled at the boy you've become--that you weren't a baby anymore. It could be the day where I told you stories of what it was like on the day of your birth and showed you pictures of your newborn self at the hospital. I would tell you just how in love with you I was. It could be the day when I made your favorite meal for supper. Would it have been pizza or macaroni and cheese? Maybe tomato soup or spaghetti?

Instead it is the day where I look back on all it could have been, on all that I wanted it to be. It's a day where I wonder if your hair would have been brown or blonde, your eyes hazel or blue. It's a day where I pray "why?" and wonder "why not?" It's a day when my arms ache to hold you, my lips long to kiss the top of your sweet head. It's a day when I look back at the day that was your birth day. I remember holding your lifeless body in my hands--how tiny and perfect were your little hands and feet! Today is the day where I can, once again, take a deep breath and choose to focus on my gratitude for all I had with you, instead of all I lost.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

One Word: WRITE

I haven't ever done the "word of the year" thing before. I know friends who do this, who name their years with an intention, a focus, a hope. But I will let you in on a little secret...when something becomes a "thing," I'm more likely to walk in the other direction. I guess I'm a little against the grain sometimes.

But as the new year drew closer, I felt something stirring in my heart that I should have a word for 2014. I'm trying to live with more intention, more focus, more attention to the things of the Spirit. And that's what this stirring felt like.

A few mornings ago, I opened up an email from one of my favorite blogs, She Loves Magazine. And there was this post, on using one word to frame the upcoming year. I know we don't really get emails from God--or do we? Because this felt like an email that had the gentle, persuasive voice of the One.

I began to pray about my word and I quickly heard a word that is a mixed bag for me. WRITE. I do love to write. Writing is important, healing, cathartic for me.

Yet writing can be painful. Sometimes it's scary. It is time consuming and often feels like a luxury I can't afford. And don't even get me started on the baggage I have around the word "writer."

I started to throw out other alternatives to God, other possible words we could use for my word instead. But, no, I felt, the word is WRITE.

God began to show me that while I am supposed to do more of this thing where I put my words on paper or a screen, the word WRITE is also about the way that I script the stories of my past, my present, maybe even my future. He showed me that writing is at the center of His heart, too (John 1).

So, I'm taking on the one word for 2014. WRITE. Knock-kneed, wobbly, shy and timid, I step forward to fall in stride with wherever He's taking me with this adventure. If you feel inclined, I would love your prayers, your encouragement, your own stories of your one words to inspire me, too.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thirteen Moments for Gratitude

"There are years that ask questions and there are years that answer." - Zora Neale Hurston

This was most definitely a year that asked questions. In so many ways, 2013 was an uphill climb. Things that seemed stable got upended. I found myself in tremendous shifts in relationships and calling. If I were to look back and give this year a name, it would be "hard." I'm eager for the emotional reset button that the new year brings. 

But one of my most important lessons of this year has been to develop a practice of gratitude, even in the midst of sorrow and difficulty. There has been beauty and there has been joy in this year, too. And I’d like to share thirteen highlights from 2013 with you, presented in no particular order. 

1.    J and I celebrated our 11th anniversary this year...in the middle of Disney World on an adventure with the kiddos. We wouldn't have had it any other way. Disney is a special place for us and we love the fun, imagination, and joy it inspires. We took a whirlwind tour of each of the four parks, blissfully taking in the rides, shows, treats, and characters.


2.    At the end of the summer our kids hosted their own art show. All (rainy) summer long, the kids painted, drew, stitched. The house was covered with artwork in preparation for their show. This was pretty fun in and of itself. But the best part of the plan was that it was a benefit for a refugee neighborhood called Birchcroft that our church supports. The kids worked so hard because they had a goal in mind...to raise as much as they could for Birchcroft. On a sunny afternoon in August, many visitors came to our back yard to enjoy the art and company. And by evening, the kids had raised enough for a family to have groceries for a month. They were thrilled and J and I were so proud. 



3.    In March, we did something we almost never do...we took a spontaneous road trip. J and I had visited Savannah last winter and had fallen in love. On a Friday afternoon, I texted J and said, "let's go somewhere, anywhere." A visit to expedia.com and few hours later, we were flying down I-77, kids in tow, headed south. We had an amazing weekend in Savannah, eating delicious food, checking out gardens and park squares, visiting art shops, and looking for dolphins in the bay. 





4.    I traveled to Arizona in October for a weeklong training retreat with Holy Yoga. While there, I had an opportunity to teach yoga for the group of developmentally disabled teens and adults who worked in the dining hall at the retreat center. (Several of the other retreat participants took part, too). It was one of the most fulfilling and holy experiences of my life, knitting together so many pieces of my past and my heart. Click here for a video snapshot.

5.    In July, my longtime friend Kim and I did something crazy. We invited 20 kids (including our own) to come to a day camp with us. Kim is the founder of Natural Wonders Play Studio. Natural Wonders is a child-friendly, sensory rich play experience that utilizes natural materials to develop and expand kids’ imaginations and creativity. In a word, it is amazing. We paired Kids’ Holy Yoga with Natural Wonders and found the two to be like peanut butter and jelly--they are good alone, but even better together! Camp week was hands down the most exhausting but rewarding week of the summer.


6.    Twice this year I got to see my oldest child pursue her dream of being a real-deal ballerina. She dances at Open Door Studios (the most amazing dance school ever, IMHO) and was invited to participate in two productions: Peter and the Wolf in March and Grinch in December. She played a butterfly and a mouse, respectively. To see my somewhat shy girl simply shine on stage were a few of those moments I think of when I remember the verse where it says that Mary, mother of Jesus, treasured “these things” in her heart.


7.    What an amazing day it was when my girls decided to get baptized! I was so encouraged to watch them choose to make this public declaration of their love for Jesus! 



8.   This fall I co-led a virtual (web-based) training for Kids’ Holy Yoga with my soul-sister, Rachel. We trained 23 women to become ambassadors for Jesus through prayerful and playful movement for kids ages 2-12. In the process, we discovered more about what it means to be a child of God ourselves. It was a rich experience to travel this sacred ground with these ladies and I can’t wait for our next session in 2014. (Curious? Click here for more info).


9.    In so many ways, this year for me was about Brene Brown. Just in case you haven’t heard of her, Brene Brown is a social work professor at the University of Houston who studies shame and vulnerability. I first heard her speak on OnBeing and then watched her TED talks. I watched them again and again. And again. I picked up her most recent book, Daring Greatly, and spent much of the spring reading it and discussing it over coffee with my friend Tracey. I then read her second book, The Gifts of Imperfection. And then I re-read it and then read it again. In August I read Brene’s first book, I Thought It Was Just Me, But It Isn’t. Good stuff.
There’s too much to say in a little snapshot about how this woman’s work—and really God through her work—has impacted me this year. What I will say is that if you haven’t watched her TED talks, for the love, please stop reading my blog post and go listen to that instead. J


10.  I belong to an amazing church. I mean, really amazing. Renovatus isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we claim it--we’re a church for people under renovation. (And, really, isn’t that all of us?) 
And more than just belonging to an amazing church, I am blessed to be part of what we are pretty certain is the best small group in this church. This year brought us the opportunity to dig in deep with each other, to put the rubber to the road in terms of life in Christian community. I am so grateful to have shared many meals, tears, laughter, stories, prayers, hopes and dreams with this bunch. Love you all so much.

11.  On November 3rd, I thought my heart might burst open (in a good way). My love got up in front of the whole church and gave an incredible sermon. This wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve heard him preach many times before and I was with him while he went to seminary to get his Master of Divinity a decade ago. But there has been a season of many years where J didn’t preach/teach/speak at all. There are reasons and stories behind that that aren’t mine to tell, but I can tell you that I’ve missed hearing the voice of God uniquely expressed through my husband. And on that Sunday in November, I saw a long-dormant gifting in this man come to life again. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks as my soul rejoiced in God’s ability to bring a story full circle. (If you want to listen, click here and scroll down to the sermon called Crooked Paths).


12.  In September I had the sweet privilege of coordinating a 3rd annual Holy Yoga Women’s retreat. Together with four other leaders and 35 participants, we explored the idea of finding “beauty from ashes” as we dug into Isaiah 61. This was a lovely weekend full of cleansing tears, holy laughter, reunions of Holy Yoga family and deep soul healing. What a gift.




13.  Every year since 2006, we’ve spent a week in the late summer in Holden Beach, NC. We started going with one other family, and through the last eight years, we’ve added several more families along the way. One we literally picked up on the beach—they were staying a few houses down, we struck up a conversation because they had a cute baby—we’ve never let them go since and they’ve become some of our dearest friends.
We rent a row of houses, throw up a couple of sun tents, and spend a week together reading, jumping in the waves, sharing bags of snacks, digging for crabs, building sand castles, chatting the days away, enjoying beverages into the sunset. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this week and the people I get to share it with.




The thing about a practice of gratitude is that it brings you perspective. I look at the broad arc of 2013 and call it hard. But when I zero in on these specific experiences, I call it sweet. I call it full. I call it rich. So, thank you, 2013. Thank you for the ways you pruned and refined me, and for the ways you blessed me.

Happy New Year, y’all. Thanks for reading. xo