I heard somebody say once, "Want to see what your thoughts look like? Look around!" This morning as I was having my quiet reading and writing time in the breakfast room, the dogs happily ran in and out through the open door. It was dark and drizzly--the ice on the pond out back melted away days ago and the 60 degree weather (in December in Indiana? Amazing) left in its wake a spring-like scent and the mud to match.
I took a long look at the thoughts I see manifesting in my life right now. Life is good. I am learning. God is close. I am opening more and more each day to receiving more beauty, care, fullness, love, abundance in my life. And those aren't just words. Over the last several years, God has thawed and set free many numb and frozen places in me--my childhood fears about worth and existence; my stoic insistence on hard work; my tendency to put myself last and make myself invisible, denying my own needs and choosing to focus instead of the needs of those around me. God has gracefully opened those mistaken ideas and touched them with life; not making me wrong but showing me where I'd limited my view of myself, the world, and the Divine working in it.
As Don, my new CPE director, said, "Just like there is a God of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, there is a God of Katherine, you know." Today I can say I feel that. And even when I don't feel it, I know it to be true. The God of All loves each of us with an all-encompassing, all-freeing love that we can only barely grasp. The Divine will for us is beauty, care, tenderness, fullness, life, love in abundance--not when we've done enough good in the world or we've netted all the bugs out of our personalities; not when we've solved all our problems and begun making better choices; not even when we resolve to treat people better and can say that we're (pretty much) living up to the Ten Commandments. Right now, as we are, flaws and wrinkles and all, God loves us with a never-ending, never-dulling, unconditional, transformational, life-giving LOVE. It's your God, the God of Abraham, entering your world. Just look around.
Today after our Quaker meeting a friend gave me a beautiful book, called Grace Unfolding: Psychotherapy in the Spirit of the Tao-te ching, and I've spent wonderful moments this afternoon dipping my toes into its ideas and watching the ripples they create in the well of my mind and heart. Early on the authors remind us to be comfortable not knowing things. When we name something we put it in a certain cast--we think we have an answer and the mystery ends. Our openness--and therefore our learning--stops.
It was a good reminder for me, because I want to let my curiosity lead me into the New Year. I want to be surprised by Love, enfolded by Grace, tickled by Joy, and lifted through darkness. I want to get to know parts of myself I've previously ignored and expand muscles in my heart not often used. I want God to illumine my brain in such a way that Spirit can lead it directly. But most of all, in this New Year, I want to be freshly awed and amazed and affirmed and encouraged by the simple, wonderful ways God reaches to touch us each day, in every ordinary circumstance, from every gleaming or dusty rock and every smile, weary or wide. I know how the Universe hugged me yesterday, but tomorrow it may be entirely new and different. What will it be? An adventure, a journey, a mystery. How will I receive it? Hopefully, with grateful curiosity and the excitement of a child.
Good morning! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. We had lots of laughter and food and merriment. The kids all came home and brought friends and loved ones. Our house was full of people munching cookies, drinking coffee, and playing Trivial Pursuit.
But yesterday morning I woke up grumpy. A feeling of emptiness, a discomfort, an irritation seemed to cling to my shoulders and my mood. My husband worried about things...the ceiling in the garage, the bills, the office. It occurred to me that we each had different ways of handling the restless feeling of "now what?" that comes after something wonderful you'd anticipated is over.
At one point I looked at him from the midst of my funk and thought, "But even so, Christmas came." On this after-day when our emotions and tiredness surface, when we feel the natural letdown of separation that is the flip side of togetherness, I was comforted in remembering that the wise men are still coming...the kings are en route, the angels still sing and the baby sleeps quietly in the manger. Mary and Joseph are settling down from the sudden and less-than-perfect delivery of the infant; a place has been made; goodness is here, continuing, reaching, growing, maturing.
I heard once that whenever we're too Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, or Tired (which spell the word HALT), we run the risk of feeling overwhelmed by emotion and under-equipped to face the day. I'm sure Mary and Joseph rested the day after the ordeal of Jesus' birth. The focus of life became sparklingly clear. I need that reminder--and permission--to let my very human letdown surface even as my spirit whispers "Thank you" to a God who paints our hearts and houses in love and laugter, like bells announcing the arrival of Christmas Day.
This morning I wrote in my journal about the thread of understanding that connects each of us when we reach that point of shared meaning with another. We toss the word "understanding" around easily, as in "I understand what you mean," or "I can understand how that could happen." But I think the reality of truly understanding someone--in their heart, spirit, and life circumstance--is actually more profound that we realize.
Understanding is the act of standing under an idea, a burden, a joy, a hope, with someone else. It is a sacred thing. A Course in Miracles says, "Seek to understand someone and you cannot help but love him." If you've ever been misunderstood, you know how important understanding really is. It is the feeling of being joined, of not being alone, of being seen as you are and accepted by another. People who understand us help us simply by knowing what we are dealing with. That knowing doesn't necessarily solve our problems--find us a job, resolve our family conflicts, fix the hole in the roof, make our sickness go away--but it does truly lighten our load by sharing the burden we were carrying alone before we were understood. Maybe an answer will come from that sharing; maybe only the joining will happen. Either way, healing comes.
This Christmas I hope we experience God's understanding in a new way. The celebrated birth of the Christ is about a personal savior, a prophet, teacher, brother, and friend who brings the very real thread of understanding right into our daily lives. It's a direct lifeline to God; a way to understand the Divine and know we stand together--all of us--to experience and share the richness this gift of life brings. Enjoy your understandings today, and know that they are gifts to and from One who loves you. :)
One more note: In preparing for the new year, I've made some revisions on my other weblogs and added a new one. On Joyful Family Life, I'm going to post articles and free e-books related to finding balance, wholeness, and joy as individuals and families. I envision it as embracing all of what I write about faith and technology--the blossom of goodness flowers in our daily lives, right? Please stop by and visit that weblog if you feel so led. :)
On Friday my sons and I went shopping. They are both still at ages where they find more gifts they'd like to have for themselves than ones they'd like to get for others. We went from store to store, browsing a lot and buying a little, but we laughed and traded stories and enjoyed each others' company. At our favorite bookstore, I walked up and down the aisles, seeing what was new, marveling at all the inspiration, hard work, and vision reflected in the thousands of books represented there. It was a bit overwhelming. So many people, working with such heart to produce these books. How will they ever get read? How will they all find homes? How will all that work be honored and received?
I found an open table in the bookstore's coffeeshop, purchased a soy chai (my favorite late afternoon indulgence), and sat down to wait on my sons. At the table next to me , a 60-something fellow sat, staring off into space. He looked a bit like a retired college professor, in his corduroy jacket and khaki slacks. His long overcoat was tossed over the other chair. Before him was a box of cards and a three-inch stack of worn 3x5 cards. I assumed that he was addressing Christmas cards and then noticed that the image on the front of the card was not related to the holiday but instead was a large painted image of ships at sea. Instead of writing, he sat and stared, thinking deeply, reliving something memorable, or searching for an answer, a name, or a message just beyond the edge of his consciousness.
Suddenly I felt sad for him, sitting in a coffeeshop, addressing cards, alone. Do people appreciate him? Does he have someone to have a cup of coffee with in the mornings? Does he feel defeated or victorious about his life? I looked deeper, beyond the emotion, to the place where God tenderly touches each of us in the depths of our souls. We are all victorious because our lives are the stories of Divine Love, I remembered. Suddenly the bookstore, my card-writing friend, and all of us in that place became the gleaming thoughts of God--good ideas, intentions, loves, and stories that were born to be shared. We are creation itself. We create our days, our lives, our homes, our world, along with and in response to the immeasurable and continuous gift of an all-loving Creator. I wanted to tell this man and all the authors of all the books and the music in that store that I was glad they were here, I appreciated their creations, and that in my heart, I gladly received the many gifts they offered--through their work or simply by their presence.
I think it's a message we all need to hear, again and again: Our presence matters, our contributions are known, our love reaches around the world and back again. We help complete the continuously unfolding story of God. It couldn't be told in the same way without us.
Merry Christmas to each of you, and thank you for the many daily gifts of love you bring into the world. I'm glad you're here.
Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' famous first flight. I found it interesting that with all the hooplah organized for the anniversary--which included building a to-scale replica of the brothers' first plane--we weren't able, with our modern minds and tools, to repeat their success. The replica started across the field and nose-dived into a puddle. Commentators remarked, "Well, this just underscores what an achievement this was when the Wright brothers did it a century ago."
Other people had apparently been working on the possibility of flight back when the Wright brothers did it. The difference between others' attempts and theirs, however, was cooperation. Everyone else was trying to create solid, metal structures that would would slice through the wind without being affected by it. But the Wright brothers, who had previously designed and created bicycles, knew something the others didn't know: flimsy can be effective. Their plane, which was shaky and tentative on the ground, was controllable in the air. It responded to the gusts and flows of the wind and worked with them, not against them.
As I listened to this story yesterday, I found myself wondering which force I am cooperating with. I hope, moment by moment, that it is the transforming Love of God. Does it matter that I am sometimes a shaky and inconsistent contraption? Or is the most important thing that I am willing to trust the wind of Spirit and let my wings be buoyed by that which I do not fully understand and could not ever (and would not want to) control? Leadings and learnings help me navigate, but at best I am a swirling mix of temporal and eternal; never getting it completely right, never absolutely sure I know the direction, but always choosing to fly with the wondrous wind of God instead of fighting--in vain isolation--against it.
One of my professors isn't very open to the way I look at things. After the close of the semester (or so I thought), I received one of my papers back in the mail. His notes and questions were all over it. He asked things that were difficult for me to answer; he wanted more "proof" in the form of quotes from theologians and backup data. I looked at his handwriting and shook my head.
This man is very cerebral, very intellectual. I tend to learn and write from my heart, having given up trying to "think my way to God" a long time ago. Now he's asking me to climb back up in my brain and communicate on his level. As I think about it, I realize that I'm not very open to the way he looks at things.
We've all heard that "the faults we see in others are our own and the resentments we hold against others are the same we hold against ourselves" (I just read this in my devotions in In God's Care this morning, in fact). But do we really believe it? I can see that my resistance to my professor's way of approaching God mirrors what I think is his resistance to mine. Is this really a through-the-looking-glass world? I think it is; more than we know. I'm going to go back to that paper with a willing heart and as open a mind as I can muster, praying all the while that God will show me how to bridge that gap between our understandings in a way that we can connect and ultimately learn from each other. I can't imagine how I'll be able to get from here to there, but I think being willing is a good first step.
This morning all is quiet and the sun has not yet fully transformed us from night to day. We're in that in-between time, just before busy-ness and not all the way out of the reach of sleep. The boys are at school, a bit draggy and tired after a busy celebration weekend. My visiting nephew sleeps upstairs, resting after his first semester at college and glad to be in a place where snow falls and weather changes. The dogs lie beside me here, the now-big puppy George (who weighs in at 109 pounds) crunches a bone beside my chair; Edgar is calmly stretched out on the back of the chair in the corner of my office, keeping faithful watch out the window for any visitors, school buses, or ducks.
I am aware of a new week, a new day, new deadlines, new opportunities. I have just finished my first semester in seminary and have a bit of a breather, school-wise, until the next semester begins. I am researching a new book I begin writing this week, a book about telling the stories of our lives in pictures, words, color, emotion. God continues to draw all the beauties in my life closer in a gesture remarkably like pulling the satin chord on a jeweled purse--my work, my schooling, my family, my friends, my inner life all seem to be coming together in the center of God's hand. I can't fully understand or explain it, but after 40 years of watching for it and believing it would happen, I know somewhere very deep that God is very intentionally creating a beautiful mosaic from the kalidoscope of my life. I ask only for the eyes to see it, the heart to understand, and the continued willingness to trust the goodness of the Artist and the sacredness of His timing.
But just now, before the sun comes up, before the animals leap into their day, before I turn my focus to the first project on my to-do list, I wait in the early morning quiet, just to feel my deep, deep gratitude to a faithful, constant, and abiding God who brings miraculous beauty each and every day. It is a prayer. It is life lived. I am thankful.
Watch for the many blessings in your day today! They are there. God is good! :)
Let's not work too hard this Christmas. Let's let some of the little details go. Let's not worry about the perfect loop on the bow or the height of the candles before the guests arrive. Let's linger at the dinner table after the meal is done and we're all pushed back in our chairs, full of dinner and stories and the good feeling of being together. The dishes can wait.
Let's turn the last-minute, frantic rush to the store into a late-night adventure where we can laugh and talk and relax with each other, taking all the time we need.
God comes, moment by moment. The snow falls and the lights gleam and we see that the smiles on the faces of those we love are jewels worth preserving. God is good. Life is packed with blessing. More than ever before, let's hold an intention in our hearts this year to fully accept all the wondrous gifts God has already given and continually gives. I suspect that might be our greatest gift back to him, the babe, who is born anew in our hearts and lives each day. Merry blessed Christmas!
This morning I awoke a bit burdened. Cameron has the flu and we had a long night. About 3:00 am I started feeling queasy myself and found it hard to go back to sleep. When morning really came, I padded around the house in my fuzzy slippers, feeding the dogs, unloading the dishwasher, making coffee, but my mind was full of vague worries. Worries about my oldest daughter and son-in-law as they try to find a new car. Worry about my mother coming over for Thanksgiving tomorrow (should she come if Cameron is sick?). Worry about financial things, projects and school and what's-comingness.
I went upstairs to make the beds and open curtains. The early morning sunlight made it through the cloud cover and splashed on the wall in the hallway. I noticed. I started down the stairs, hearing in the back of my brain a word attached to each footstep, "Yes, God. Yes, God. Yes, God." When I heard myself praying this, I stopped. What was I saying Yes to? The answer was quick. Everything. Everything God has for me this day. Every blessing, every challenge, every blind spot, every worry, everything. I'm saying Yes to everything in front of me in the future, secure or not. Yes, God. Yes.
Day before yesterday, I went into a drug store close to my house in the middle of the day. The store was almost completely empty--just a guy behind the counter and the pharmacist in the back. A young boy, maybe 10 or 11, came in wearing a bike helmet. He walked up and down the aisles. I thought, "Oh, I remember when I used to ride my bike up to the store and get candy...it made me feel big." Then I began to walk past an aisle and I saw him pick up a back of candy and stuff it into his coat. I stopped for a moment and took another step. He seemed to sense me behind him and walked quickly around the corner of the aisle. I thoughtfully, prayerfully wondered what to do. I heard the paper of the candy bag crinkle and thought maybe he'd put it back. I continued to stay open in my spirit for a leading about what to do, but paid for my purchase and left the store.
As I got in my car I saw the boy walk out the door, stiff-legged as though he didn't want the candy to fall out of his coat. I pulled my car over to the curb, rolled down my window, and motioned for him to come closer. There were only the two of us in the parking lot. I looked directly in his eyes and said kindly, "You know there's another way to get what you want, don't you?"
"What?" he asked, blinking hard.
"You know that there's a better way to get what you want, right?" I repeated.
"Yes," he said.
I put my hand on my heart. "You'll feel better about yourself," I said. "Don't steal things."
He nodded and said, "Okay." I nodded and drove off.
I felt that something very sacred had happened there, although I wasn't sure what. I think in some way the boy had been touched by God saying, "I see you. What you do matters." Perhaps my witnessing his choice--and my suggestion of a better way--will help him think more carefully about his future choices. He had the voice of an angel and the sweetest face. I wondered what family circumstances had left him so bored or so unnoticed that he was resorting to stealing for fun. But I took comfort in the fact that the same God who brought us together at that point in time is with him--and me, and you--right now. We are brought together when we need it as witnesses and helpmates to each other. Sometimes our witness says, "I understand you; I love you; you're not alone." Other times it says, "I see what you're doing to yourself, and I want to tell you there's a better way." Either way, God reaches through us, using our words, our presence, and our witness, to be the hands and voice of Christ to those who forget that their choices really do matter.
Somehow yesterday afternoon everything seemed too big for me. My participation in my online courses felt so earnest; I later wondered whether I'd shared too much, gone too far, thought out loud just a little too long. I wanted to pull back, be quiet, rest. My work felt demanding and difficult, with too many projects, all due on Friday, and schoolwork to fit in there somewhere. I churned around inside, feeling that vague "something's-not-right" feeling, like a big boot was going to drop from the sky and squish me at any moment. Everything had become so important somehow. And overwhelming. And scary.
But these ebbs are always followed by flow, thank goodness. And last night, I cuddled on the couch next to my youngest son, with my oldest son sitting not far away, and we took a rare hour and a half to watch a funny movie: The In-Laws, with Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks. It may have been that the movie was really that funny, or it may have been that I just plain needed to laugh, but the kids and I sat in the family room hooting and howling and laughing and stamping out feet. We raised quite a ruckuss. I remembered the smile muscles in my face. Laughing felt like transformation. I "heart"ily recommend it. :)
I feel very quiet inside just now. When I let our dog out this morning, I went out and stood on the deck and just looked up at the stars for a long moment. Orion's belt. Other constellations I should know but don't. A great peace stole over me, a holy moment. I just wanted to stand there, looking up.
I took the boys to school and came back to the house, noticing the spreading of a glorious pink and orange sunrise. The high clouds were touched with pink on their tops. They were the first to receive the light of the new day. I just wanted to stand there, in the driveway, looking up.
There's something very quiet and tender and awestruck going on inside of me today. I have a list of tasks to accomplish, a book to edit, a school paper to write. And yet, the sky is the color of a robin's egg and the now-gold light has painted everything in bright, fresh colors. How can I make myself climb back into my mind when my heart is so obviously awake? New learnings, new gifts, new wonders. I think I'll go back outside, in the cool morning air, and look up.
The natural world surely has lots of lessons for me right now. As I was driving yesterday, I just felt swept up in the beauty of the fall colors. It seems to be an unusually beautiful fall here in Indiana, but then I may say that every year. My breath is just taken away by the vibrant oranges, the gold and yellow, the shocking red, mixed in with the continual carpet of green, touched with brown. I don't have to push my imagination much to see God with a palette the size of Texas, lovingly painting fall colors from one end of the country to the other.
But yesterday I had a new thought. I let my mind play with cycles--cycles of newness, of growth, of maturity, of fading, of passing into something new. I thought of our lives, born as perfect infants, growing and gaining physical and emotional control, learning and changing and building, reaching a sense of mastery in our work/lives/selves/relationships, the eventual fading of our strength as we watch others begin to bloom around us, and finally a passing into a realm that is new to us, leaving this season for another to grow into.
I wondered about the colors and how they intersect with us in our lives. In the beginning of springtime, when leaves are born, they arrive as buds and spread into leaves. Some trees flower; some trees cover themselves in leaves--most are some shade of green at the beginning. There is diversity among the young leaves, but it's minimal compared to what happens late in the cycle. Then those young beautiful leaves and flowers do something miraculous by drawing on some inherent natural ability none of us knew about--they change before our eyes into red, orange, yellow, gold--who knew they had such beauty in them all along? And although a single bright fall tree can raise our eyebrows and lift our spirits, a whole forest of them--along a highway, across a hill, behind a school--tells us something of Divine mastery, the perfect sacredness of timing, and cycles, and hope. A whole generation of trees turns beautiful in its aging, showing inner gifts in unique and amazing ways. Don't we do the same thing? As we grow and mature, aren't we also more able to show our own innate, natural gifts in a way that is free of the social pressures to be just like everybody else? And doesn't it make us, as a generation, that much more beautiful when others still coming along see us growing into our own abilities and sharing naturally what we've been given?
What color are you today? I'm feeling a bit orange. And grateful, too. :) k
I don't think my next-door neighbor understands the way grasses grow. Along the edge of his house, he's got the most beautiful ornate grasses--long, lush, deep green, swaying in the breezes coming off the lake. But twice now, just as the the grasses display their graceful tasselled heads, tinged with a hint of purple, he hacks them off into a uniform, page-boy cut. Instead of standing long and achingly graceful in the breeze, they are blunt and linear, topped off to align with the handrail on his deck.
Yesterday I saw a few of these grass heads in my yard and I wanted to go pick them up and tape them, somehow, back onto the stalks from which they were severed. I know how silly that would be. But I wished for a way to be able to tell him how beautiful they were in their natural state--that yes, they are a bit messy and uncontrollable, and no, they don't perfectly match up with the height of the deck or the angle of the landscaping. But perhaps that's the point. Natural movement. Easy beauty. Simple grace.
I've very aware that the lesson for me here is to leave someone else's version of beauty and rightness alone. It's his yard; he can do what he wants with the plants in it. Surely we all have that right.
And yet something inside me aches for the plants that never get to show the world how brilliant and perfect and awesome they'd be if they were allowed to grow to their own wonderous potential without anyone else interrupting and controlling their growth. Maybe that touches me so much because I want it so badly for each of us, too.
May your day be filled with a loving acceptance and honoring of the beauty you bring to the world, your way.
Today I've been working on a proposal for a book on scrapbooking. I've spent the whole day immersed in beautiful images, wonderful colors, textures, photos, buttons, letter blocks, ribbons. I ventured out to the scrapbooking store (we actually have a whole store full of scrapbooking supplies here in my midwestern town) and was shocked to see no less than 20 different people--mostly women--shopping in the late morning, buying scrapbooking supplies. The ladies behind the counter were wonderful and smiling. They know a secret to life I've only begun to discover. Time. Time to do things, just because. Time to save a ribbon from a package, pull it out of a drawer, straighten it, put on a bead, and hot glue it to a scrapbook page. Time to cut a hundred little shapes out of their favorite patterned paper. Time to plan a page, a fully rounded page, that captures a husband's return from the war, complete with scraps of his letters from overseas, the postage stamp from France, a sepia-toned photograph with those colorized cheeks, and much, much more. Time to think, to dream, to feel the emotion they felt when the moments first occurred. Time to relive the great gifts of love and challenge and joy those items mean to them.
It's something I want to learn to do--savor the moments, the fully rounded moments in which I'm aware that life is happening at its fullest, right now, in me and around me. The time we can take to fully experience the color, sound, taste, feel, and touch of this moment is up to us--in spite of what I say or think, nobody sets my priorities but me. No one else is keeping me from slowing down and letting time expand into a greater meaning. Maybe it's just a question of focus, of making more room. I'll give it a try and keep you posted. In the meantime, keep those scrapbooks handy. :)
Little shining silvery moments make everything sparkle for a moment. A laugh at the dinner table. A quick but fully-meant hug on the way out the door. A child who misses you. An unseen fall cyclone, lifting a dozen leaves and swirling them magically, happily through the air. A breaktaking curve down through a tree-lined valley--red, orange, gold, and brown. God is here, inside, and there, everywhere. Sometimes the beauty is just too much and I wish so much that I could take it all in, capture it, remember it, keep it. But I know it's not mine to have and hold; just to accept for now, to pile up, to jump into, to embrace, to love. When it goes, it goes. But there's more God where that came from. :)
I am thinking this morning about the importance of knowing people for whom the promise is working--people who make daily choices to live by faith and see it working in their lives. People who face frightening times and tell stories about a God who took every step with them, never leaving their side. People who can nod and smile when we tell them our struggles, who can assure us they've been there, too, and that God was faithful.
Perhaps more than anything else, this witness is what we miss when we haven't yet found a community of faith where we feel welcome and at home. We need not only to hear the words of the sermon and accept the challenge of the readings; we need to see God's love working, uplifting, embracing, transforming the lives of those around us. It's God's witness, reaching out to us through one or maybe dozens of people who have gone before, that makes the difference for us now, today. And one day soon, we will be the storytellers pointing God out to the ones coming after us on this path.
Last night, after running errands all over town, a quick dinner, the carving of pumpkins, bathtime, and bed for the little one, I settled down in a quiet house and turned on the television. I had intended to finish a chapter I need to read for class--but instead I found myself watching Style Court. Style Court! I laughed at myself as I watched the "plaintiff" and "defendant" present their cases, I listened to the "judge" issue a verdict about the attire of the defendant, and saw him send her off for a complete makeover. I was aware that I was wasting my time in a big way, time that I should have been spending on homework. And yet...as I watched, and endured the second story in the show, I realized that what I was waiting on was transformation. I was eager to see how the defendant turned out, with her new corporate-casual clothes and more sophisticated haircut. I wanted to see her smile and know she was happy with the attention and the results. I wanted to see the "plaintiff" satisfied and smiling at the change. I waited, despite all my other obligations, to see what the result would be.
I think as people, we love transformation. We wait for it, we know it's coming, we know God's up to something--in us, in our lives, in those we love. We know we are in the midst of a great makeover, from likeness to likeness, from struggle to peace, from fear to love. Transformation is our hope and promise. A look in the mirror shows us how much we've changed--and not only in physical ways--as we grow and learn. A look up or within reminds us that we still have a way to go. But we can trust our Stylist, and we can know that the change will ultimately bring out our natural, sacred beauty.
Yesterday as I was on my way to Cameron's school to supervise the after-school activities of fifth and sixth graders, I was thinking about how much I love to be in certain places at certain times. I love being in schools, hospitals, churches--at least in part because the priorities are so much clearer there. Unlike in business, where the "bottom line" is always a ghostly shadow hovering around all goals and expectations, in helping professions, the focus is on the individual: slowing down and helping a child learn, becoming sensitive to and helping alleviate another's pain, taking tender care to be present with the spirit of another.
As I thought about this, a new thought occurred to me. I wanted to take that idea deeper. What was it about having those clear priorities that was so freeing to me? The answer--the struggle for right and wrong goes out the window. The illusory division between being "good" or "bad" disappears. The striving to achieve dissolves and acceptance floods in. There is only the person, the child, the spirit, God. There is joining and there is peace. And the empty categories we strive for in the dollar-driven world-- "smart", "strategic," "business-savvy," "successful" --fade as we learn to be tenderly present and available to another.
I realized then that as I was driving through the October-colored countryside, seeing the sunlight filtering through orange and red leaves, I was living a "no-stress moment." Right then. I just wasn't noticing it. What stands between us and the peace of God in this moment? Maybe only echoes of expectations that don't really matter when we choose to turn our minds and hearts to God.
This morning on my way back from taking the boys to school, I sat at a four-way stop next to a man in a little red sports car. He looked ready for the day, in his crisp white shirt and dark sunglasses. His left hand clasped the steering wheel as he waited his turn; his right held a danish he was munching hungrily. He leaned forward, eager to go--not anxious, not aggressive, just eager. As I drove past him, I thought, "How often do I so eagerly lean into my day?"
I love these early mornings--they are thoughtful, reflective times. In the many years since I started my business, I've changed from "hitting the ground running" every day to "spending a little time leaning on God's windowsill." The mornings are calm, simple. The busy-ness comes soon enough.
But my thought this morning was that sometimes, particularly in times of uncertainty and struggle (like now), I hesitate before the day, tentative but hoping things go well, counting on God to bring the right projects, to open the way, to calm the anxieties. There's a power that's missing, a claiming I forget to do, when I allow myself to peer through a cloud of nameless worry into the day (and days) ahead. How much better to claim God's promise and presence and lean eagerly forward into the day, excited to see what God will do, confident that we are helped and blessed and loved, knowing--and acting on the knowing--that the way will open as we share ourselves and our days with God.
Journal entry, early this morning: "All is peaceful. A quiet rain is falling on this First Day morning. I see myself as part of the movement of the leaves, the ripples on the lake, the sound of the rain, the gleaming droplets of water on the back of the chairs. I am part because I witness--I am linked through experience and appreciation to what I behold. And so I am to God, a changing part of Divine Expression as I participate in this life. How good God is!"
And tonight, late, my mood plummets as I hear that words of reassurance I gave to a loved one were used in a hurtful way against someone else. How I wish I'd fought the impulse to make everyone feel better! Sometimes the words of comfort that come so easily really would be better swallowed. Perhaps others sometimes need me not to comfort them. Perhaps in some situations I am meant only to be a witness to their struggle and stay connected with them in its midst.
Well, I had one of those tough phone calls just a little while ago. A project I dearly loved, something that was wildly creative, fun, fast-paced, and collaborative (with a partner I looked forward to working with every day), got cancelled. Just like that. We'd been running flat-out to launch a new magazine within a very short timeframe--we saw everything falling into place, beginning to take shape, emerging in layout with color, energy, life. It was beautiful--it was good--it hit the mark. Every day I thanked God for this gift of a project, an unusually bright spot in what can often be a quiet, studied, solitary type of work.
I got off the phone and the waves of disappointment rolled over me. I went outside to sit and think and pray, trying not to grumble and complain or cry. And the words, "plans to give you hope and a future..." echoed in my head. Yes, Lord, I remember that verse. It's Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that has pulled me out of many dark places in my life:
"For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
I know that wherever I work and whatever I work on is God's call to make, and I know there is a reason underneath all this that has something to do with trust, love, hope, and faith. But I come face-to-face, yet again, with the difference between God's will and my own. And I choose His, I really do. Even when I don't understand it.
Just last weekend I was talking to a friend who was having trouble with her teenager. "The great thing is that God isn't done with this situation yet," I reassured her, "the story isn't finished." Now those words can comfort me. There's more to come. The God of creation is still creating in us, through us, and with us, this very minute. When I remember that God is busy at work creating, even in this disappointment, I find that "hope and promise" for the future and know that soon...in the next hour, maybe two...I'll be able to thank God even for this, knowing and claiming that what God has done before, He will do again--and more.
A poem presented itself to me this morning, watching the birds and the breeze in the early light:
Every thought flies to God, within God,
Every movement moves the Divine,
Every choice is the Universe in action,
Every tear feeds the ocean,
Every laugh sends a bird into flight
or causes a flower to open.
It is because of You in us, dear God,
That Your creation continues,
Alive now and ever unfolding.
May we live this day in Your Holy Presence,
Alight with wonder and
Delighting in You."
I've started taking classes at Earlham School of Religion and my mind is jumping for joy with all the new ideas, connections, associations, and possibilities it is discovering. What a gift to be able to explore God in this way, in a community of faith, at this stage in my life! I've been devouring the reading, reflecting on it and turning it over in my mind, posting my thoughts and discussing with others the new ideas this is opening up. It's fabulous, and I'm thankful. :)
But this morning, before my eyes opened, I heard myself thinking about a fellow classmate's posting in our online course. My brain spun around and around the issue, tapping at it, toying with it, trying it on for size. About 12 inches south, my heart sighed. "The brain's getting all the attention," it complained. "What about me?"
I realized very quickly after waking that all this study about God is going to ultimately be a good thing only if I enjoy it with God. I missed the quiet, the calm sense of One, the deep breathing in of Spirit that I traditionally allow for in the early morning hours. My brain was so excited that it jumped right into the day and began processing and associating from the first minute of consciousness. My heart, my spirit, understands the brain's excitement, but needs to be the listening power. I realized that what I needed, really and truly, was a bit of together time with God.
So I sat. I didn't read. I closed my textbooks. I withdrew my eager energies from solving online puzzles. I just sat, and looked at the lake, and waited for the ducks to wake up. And slowly, I became aware of God's presence again--in the crickets' song, in the sunlight dancing on my hands, in the movement of the leaves. I felt the peace spread and my brain relaxed and I just settled in to wait, soaking up that remembering. Ah. That's what I needed. Really and truly.
Have you ever read, The Game of Life and How To Play It, by Florence Scovell Shinn? It's a practical little book written in 1925 by an amazingly clear woman who understood that "the power of life and death is in the word," and "as a man thinketh, so shall he be."
Written in Christian terminology, The Game of Life shows us how what we say impacts, blocks, or twists what we create in our lives. The book found me in a Columbus, Indiana library about 10 years ago...it literally fell off the top shelf on my head when I was reaching for something else. I started to put it back because I didn't like the title (I first thought it was some kind of manipulative sales tool), but something prompted me to open it and look inside. The clarity of thought--the power of the word and the beliefs behind it--jumped right off the page. I knew I needed it. I checked it out and read it, and then I bought first one copies, and then many copies.
I've underlined and reread the book probably twice a year every year since. I'm called back to it when I get stuck in something in my life--the clarify of thought helps release me. I remember what to pray for and how to pray it--I remember how I get in my own way with the words I speak and the thoughts I hold, and it helps me dissolve them and get back into the nestle of God's arm.
I've been trying to hold on to a clear idea I gathered from Florence's book just a few days ago. The section was on taking responsibility for creating (in partnership with God) the highest ideal for my life. She said the only thing that gets in our way is a conflicting message or thought in our desire, our faith, or our words. So I began to work on the idea of congruence, and I came up with three questions that help me determine whether I'm all in line with what I think I want to create in my life:
What do I desire? (get a clear picture in my mind; confirm with God that it's right for me)
What do I believe about what I desire? (do I believe it's reachable? Do I believe it's God's will for my life? If not, go back to question 1)
What do I say about what I believe and desire? (do I go around saying, "it's too much for me," "there's no time," "I can't do it," "I'll never get there"? Those negative words and others diffuse the desire and the faith so that ultimately whatever I'm hoping for won't happen.)
That's what's on my mind today. I hope you desire good things, believe they can happen, and speak what you know about our faithful God who draws us ever closer in truth and in love. "And mercy and goodness shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." :) k
In the last 24 hours, Indiana (specifically, areas surrounding Indianapolis) received just under 10 inches of rain. It's a new state record. I've never seen anything quite like it--torrential, constant, unrelenting rain. I awoke half a dozen times in the wee hours of Monday morning, wondering sleepily, "Is it still raining that hard?" Yesterday we watched the water rise. It swallowed our dock and made its way toward the house. The dogs were nervous. Neighbors wandered about in raincoats and t-shirts, pulling logs from the water, shaking their heads, watching the rain. Cars stopped short of venturing into what could be fast-moving deep overflows across nearby roads. At one point our small community was an island, for an hour or two, while the creeks and drainage ditches struggled to accomodate the sudden outpouring of abundant water.
Everything changed in those few hours. We went out only if we had to. We allowed more time. We knew it was likely there would be impassable roads, roadblocks, and traffic backups. We were ready for anything. And when it came time to go, prayers were said and hugs were tight. "Be safe," and "Call me when you get there," and "Don't take any unnecessary chances," replaced our regular afternoon goodbyes.
What struck me, though, was how grateful we were. Grateful and slow. Glad simply just to be dry, to be safe, to be able to care for each other. Someone who might otherwise be irritated at me for being late was now simply glad I made it there. Pressure I might have otherwise put on myself to go to the store and cook a big family dinner faded to the comfort of homemade potato soup and BLTs. We made do, because we remembered what was important. Care, concern, prayer, and compassion ruled.
Today we've got the mess, but we've also got the memory. We know what's important. We instinctively return to it in those times when our priorities are once again made priorities in our lives. I can see why into every life a little rain must fall. In fact, I think a good flood now and again (Indiana, not Genesis-style) is good for the soul. :) k
Today I had the good fortune to sit and listen to an experienced chaplain and teacher talk about families and the systems they are born into, create, and perpetuate. He began the meeting with a simple prayer that touched me and I wanted to share and remember it:
To everything that has been, we say "Thank You."
To everything that will be, we say "Yes."
May your day tomorrow be filled with the sunlight of acceptance and the gentle breezes of grace. :) k
I woke up this morning praying this little poem! Perhaps I was more awake than I thought, or maybe my spirit was having conversations with God through the night and my conscious mind just overheard a bit of the end of it. :) Whatever it was, here's the poem I "heard":
Many things to think about
But only one thing to be:
A part of true Divinity.
Many things to organize
But only one thing to do:
Be fully present, now, with You."
Tell me what you love,
Because then I'll see God alive in your eyes
And your smile will spread
To enfold me with with the gentle arms of His tender light.
Tell me what you love,
Because that's where we can truly meet
Not as storytellers of worries and woe
But as children who know our God is with us, faithful, real.
Tell me what you love,
Because that's the path God walks with us
Alive in love, growing in each season, blossoming for harvest
Every good thing, a million different forms of love--all His, all ours, all Him.
If We Really Believed Our Prayers Were Answered...
There would be no sickness, no hatred, no wars, no poverty. There would be nothing to fear, nothing to lose, nothing to wait for, nothing to want. We would smile with understanding when a friend seemed to have a bad day, whisper a quick prayer, and say with confidence, "Things will get better now." We would beam at each other with the Love of God because we'd know That's All There Is. We would notice the ripples in our day--a broken garbage disposal, a funny clunking sound in the car, a burnt piece of toast--but recognize them for what they are: little details that are handled easily, not the "final straw" that breaks the camel's back and sends us into the doldrums of worry for an entire afternoon. We'd know in our heart of hearts that God's got everything covered and that we are his children, each and every one of us--none of us more than another, and nobody ever less.
When I follow this IF all the way out to its logical conclusion, I see an image of a peaceful world, filled with kindness, cooperation, and love. Maybe I don't need to pray more. Maybe I need to believe more in the prayers I pray and in the promises of the One who listens.
Just a few minutes ago my son Cameron and his friend Justin appeared in the door of my office. I'm sitting here writing, trying to get an article done by the end of the day.
"Would you take us to the pool?" he asked, hopefully.
"I can't, honey..." I said. "I've got to work."
"Well, Justin's dad might do it, but he's on the Internet looking for a job."
Only a 10-year-old could throw that out, so unflapped by the significance of the information. He was just interested in going to the pool. But suddenly I was washed through with a wave of compassion for Justin, for his dad, for their entire family. And I reeled for a moment, thinking of all the people I know right now who are out of work. Several people in my immediate family are struggling, out of work, or looking for work. Every which way I turn, people are experiencing layoffs, downsizes, or company reorganizations. Most of my work comes from the technical publishing industry, and we've all been hard hit in the last two quarters--some people are saying computer publishing is down 50% across the country. These are not just numbers. They represent great anxiety, family troubles, bad moods, and huge looming fears for the future.
I've been self-employed for 15 years, and a single mom for most of them. I know what it means to go out to the mailbox, reminding myself with each step, "My checkbook is not my savior." I remember the feeling of relief when the check would finally come and the feeling of worry as I watched it go immediately out again. I lived through those late night panics when I would suddenly sit bolt upright in bed and look at the ceiling and say, "You do have a plan for this, right? I mean, I know you have your eye on the sparrow--but you're not going to forget my mortgage payment, are you?"
Trust in God is the single best investment I have ever made. We draw heavily on our trust when we move into the uncertain and unpredictable situations in our lives. When we're out of work, our feelings can overwhelm us--it feels like we'll never find work again. But I hold to the belief that God knows what he's doing. We don't always understand the plan in the moment (or even afterward), but I trust that if he can keep a whole generation alive in the desert by delivering daily bread with the morning dew, he can figure out a way to keep our finances afloat until the next position or project appears. I just stay very close to God in prayer and do my absolute best with any work I have; then the rest is up to him. And even if he wants to change my priorities, moving us to a smaller house, causing us to shed some of our debt, helping us to refocus ourselves on him instead of our income, we know he'll be with us to face whatever lies ahead. I'd like to offer a prayer for all those who are seeking work and going through worrysome financial times (please join in if you feel so moved):
Dear Father, help us to turn to you in the big and small things of life. Give us a real sense of the abundant universe you have created; help us to notice the richness in our lives and the many, many gifts you place in our paths every single day. Please comfort us and make your presence so real that we know you walk with us always. And help us not to place our belief in the scarcity we see, but to affirm, like the king you told to dig ditches in the desert before the rains began, that you are surely bringing good to us. Also, Lord, remind us of the many things we give each day--service to others, love, encouragement, forgiveness, blessing--and protect our hearts from becoming miserly in fear. Giving is your way. We know you are total love and total blessing. We thank you for your love and guidance, and pray that this time will bring us ever closer to you, dear God. Amen.
Today I had the wonderful experience of taking a walk with a dear friend--someone I've known since high school, someone I've traded husband stories and kid stories and life stories with for a span of decades. We walked together on this beautiful summer morning--cool and cloudy--and I listened to the joyful things happening around her and felt how in love with life she was. I heard myself offering stories from my own life and learning right now, but I was very aware of something different--on a deeper level, in our hearts, there was such a feeling of connection and understanding that the words I used seemed so little and weak in comparison. I'm a person who works with words for a living and I know the power we give them--words can join and words can separate. They can bring reconciliation or division. They can carry thoughts of love or judgments that wound. But today, walking and loving, I understood clearly the difference between experiencing joining and talking about it. Lord, keep me close and draw me to continually understand you better--not just talk to and with and about you. :) k
Moments ago I was sitting out on the deck, reading Love Poems from God, a collection of poetry by Rumi, Hafiz, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, when my Japanese neighbor, Madori, called over to me. She is wonderful and sweet--we've found our way through several conversations, gesturing and finding words we can share to make ourselves understood. Our interactions are always filled with smiles and laughter and those moments of Aha! when we realize we have found the right words to connect. Today her musical voice lifted my attention from my book and I looked over and smiled. Seeing that she wanted to ask me something, I got up from my chair and walked over to her yard. She reached for the words: "You like your book?"
I smiled and said yes and explained that each morning I come out with a cup of coffee, and read and write in my journal.
"What do you read?" she asked.
"Books about faith," I said. Her eyebrows drew together as she tried to decipher what I meant.
"Books about God," I said, trying again.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, smiling. "Yes!"
God, I just wanted to say how nice it was to see you in my neighbor's eyes. You flow across all barriers, you light up all things, and when we look closely, we find that you're there before us, smiling, waiting for us to recognize you. :)
Do milk weeds grow where you live? Here in Indiana, in the mid- to late summer, milk weeds grow tall and brown and stalk-like, reaching toward the sky. They develop pods with a hard casing, large enough to fit in the palm of your hand. When I was little girl, I would sometimes walk to a friend's house through a field filled with milk weeds--the prickly exterior of the pods would catch on my shirt and hair as I made my way down the path. But late in the summer, something magical happened. The pods opened by some unseen force and inside revealed a beautiful white cotton--the bed of an angel, I imagined.
This summer seems to be a time of breaking apart for many people. Jobs have been lost, illnesses diagnosed, accidents experienced. Relationships are strained by stresses and the weight of the unknown future. Daily, faithfully we try to see and hear and know God, a little more, and then a little more. This morning I had a sense that this breaking apart is really an opening, like a milk pod, that comes when we're ready. Our circumstances break open--the illness, the job, the accident--and inside, we see that God is offering us an opportunity--to heal, to love more truly, to be free of circumstances that don't fit us, to remove every obstacle that gets in the way of our growing experience of him.
May we each be awake to every divine opportunity we are given today and cup each unexpected challenge gently in our hands, waiting patiently for God to open the pod of our circumstance and reveal his soft comfort and tender love within it.
I love the way God shows up everywhere when we have the eyes to look. Keeping our mind's eye, as well as our heart and our ears open is important in welcoming the voice and face of God wherever, however, and whenever we can. Moments of recognition, or remembering God, sometimes come on me in the smallest things. Seeing a cardinal. Noticing a salmon-colored sunset. Hearing a certain musical chord or a child's laughter; looking into a baby's big, beautiful, wondering eyes. God is truly everywhere and we can feel his presence any time. The only trick is in being open to it, keeping ourselves from being bound to the earth by the worries of our fleeting-but-incessant daily concerns.
Right now I'm reading The World As I See It, by Albert Einstein. This closer look at Einstein was sparked by my recent wondrous journey through E=mc2, by David Bodanis. I love the way Einstein describes God as "The Old One" and the source of all life and reason in the universe. In the essay I read last night, eulogizing one of his dear friends, he writes about the gifts a true friendship offers. He talks of how we can help each other break free of those things that bind us to the small, absorbing circumstances of life:
"We both felt that this friendship was not only a blessing because each understood the other, was enriched by him, and found in him that responsive echo so essential to anybody who is truly alive; it also helped to make both of us more independent of external experience, to objectivize it more easily."
Through our friendships and connections, we help each other break free of the ties that bind us to the earth, helping us remember what is important and lasting, pointing us to the eternal divine within us all. May we each have a moment today in which we remember that we are the living reminders of God's eternal love and faithfulness, placed side by side in this world to give each other strength and point to The Old One who holds us together in an embrace that will never end.
Blessings on your day! :) k
There's a downside to being a person with a "helpful" personality. If you have been blessed with the gift of being able to see where things hurt, a desire to want to make things better for people, a hunger to improve conditions, a longing to leave the world better than you found it, you (like me) run the risk of thinking that you know how to fix things. When a friend loses a job, you know where to tell her to look and which role will be "right" for her (I'm notorious for this...just ask my daughter!). When someone close to you suffers a disappointment, you sift through the damage to find the root of blessing that's in there somewhere. Neither in itself is a bad thing. The problem comes when we forget that there may be countless other options, and we lose sight of the fact that God may be at work in the situation in a way we can't even imagine.
What I've found in my own life is that the "helpfulness" that comes out in the form of making suggestions, offering reassurance, giving encouragement, or suggesting interpretations, is an attempt to make the other person feel better and perhaps offer a solution they haven't thought of yet. The catch-22 is that in so many of the most difficult situations in our lives, the real point of change happens only when we dig in and begin working through things with God. While we struggle within ourselves, or listen to the counsel and suggestions of others, we may still unknowingly be trying to put a temporary bandaid on something God wants to heal and wipe completely away. When we reach out to help others, we mean well; we simply want their pain to go away. But God may have something deeper, something eternally healing in mind. Would I step in and reassure another if I knew all my "help" did was delay the moment she turns to God?
Our companionship with each other is vitally important as we walk through this life. Our joining is God's purpose; our love and compassion for each other is the greatest visible manifestation of God at work in our world. I do think God gives us insights and ideas we are meant to use to help those around us. But perhaps I need to be more discerning about the "help" I offer. If I listen very closely to God, I hope I'll learn when my "counsel" is an idea from Him and when it is my own intense desire to help. And as I continue to learn, I suspect I'll discover that in many cases, the best way for me to help others is not to try to change them or solve their problems, but to love and understand them and demonstrate what I'm learning in my own life--that I need to look to God for the real answers, the lasting gift, the eternal Love.
This morning I was rereading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (I love this book!), and this quote jumped out at me. Just last night I was writing something and trying to describe that feeling of "home" or "fit" I found at certain moments, in certain places, with certain people. This quote says it perfectly:
"...I found myself changed all at once; and my soul, which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest."
Yes! Exactly! I hope you have had moments when your soul is in her center and resting in peace and love. In fact, I hope we each experience it today. In times like these, when everything seems unsettled and chaotic, isn't it nice to know that we can still hear and know God in the center of our being? Blessings on your day! :)
People talk a lot about being "obedient" to God, doing what we feel He wants us to do, even when we don't feel like doing it. This is living up to a standard, keeping within a certain boundary, faithfully netting out small habits and flaws that would in some way go against the ten commandments. This morning I've been thinking about "obedience" in a new way. When our children are very small, they need to obey us in order to stay safe. They learn to stay away from busy streets, avoid touching hot things, and generally learn to stay out of danger. As they grow, we teach them obedience in the smaller things that help them get along better in--and give more to--the world. They learn manners, respect, faith, charity, and compassion. As they grow to adulthood, our expectations of their "obedience" fade away as we recognize that the lessons they needed (first to stay safe, and then to live a good life) are now internalized in them, part of their thinking, knowing, and living process.
Many people think of God as a judge, a great omnipotent being who see our every mistake, knows our every flaw, and plans--sometimes by bringing pain and hardship to us--to net out those unsavory characteristics so that we might be perfect one day like Him. I think of God as an all-loving Father, One who loves us with a perfect, endless, all-encompassing love that is beyond what we we can fathom. Our obedience to Him is not a prerequisite for His love; in fact, our obedience isn't for Him at all--it's for us. By listening to Him and faithfully applying what we hear, we learn what it feels like to walk with Him at the center of our hearts. This reduces our guilt (and the separation that comes as a result of it) and enables us to allow more of His love in. By obeying the sense and essence of His message, we gradually trust Him enough to allow His healing light to illumine all the hurting places inside us that so need it. By keeping within the parameters we are given (no other idols, love our neighbor, put God first), we stay safe and learn to live a good life in Him.
I believe there's another stage beyond obedience when much of the self-training is done and the lessons of Love are internalized in us. That's where we enter an adult partnership with God, sharing in His work, working side-by-side with Him, full of His spirit and sure of His love. We no longer need to focus on "obedience" because we understand. We know. We live immersed in His love. We can throw away that picture of God as a judge with a big shoe, waiting to squish us for saying or doing the wrong things. We are no longer children. We can stand up tall, look Him straight in the eye (whether we find that eye in a flower, a loved one, a piece of music, or even a storm), and tell Him that we love Him. Not because we're afraid of doing otherwise, but because we mean it.
Yesterday was a tough day for my son Cameron. It was a night game and the lights beamed down on our team of 3rd and 4th graders (the "Mets"). Cameron stood on the pitcher's mound and took a few warm-up pitches to the coach. At 10, this is his first year in little league ball, and he was selected to be one of two pitchers early in the season. This is the first year they play team-pitch ball (meaning the kids pitch to each other instead of the coaches pitching) and Cameron has done a good job in the six or so games they've played in learning how to focus and get the ball to the catcher's mitt in such a way that he hears the great sound of the ump's call, "Strike!"
But some games you win, and some games you lose. And yesterday had the earmark of the unexpected. As the coach returned a ball, it went high and struck Cameron right in the mouth. The crowd went "Ooh!" and I fought my mom tendency to jump up from the bleachers and hurry out to the field to see whether he was all right. The coach hadn't seen the ball hit him, and Cameron stood out there on the mound, pushing his tongue against the inside of his mouth, resolving not to cry. He blinked hard a few times and kept his face as blank as granite. I zeroed in on his eyes, watching for signs that I needed to do something. He looked back and I mouthed the words, "Are you okay?" and he nodded.
But as strong and admirable as my son's stoic, "the-game-must-go-on" attitude was, after the first pitch, his focus began to deteriorate. Ball after ball he threw--inside, outside, high, low. Twice he struck the batters and they walked to first base. I watched Cameron go from a proud, in-control stance to my little, hurting boy--and how badly I wanted to go out there and comfort him! I called out some reassuring things from the bleachers--but not too much, because I've learned that moms' voices on the field can be a bit embarrassing for 10-year-olds. The inning was agony; I kept wishing the coach would just take him out and let the other pitcher finish the inning. But the coach left him in, and Cameron kept throwing; the other team moved ahead on the scoreboard; and eventually, we heard, "Strike three! You're out."
When the game was over, I watched anxiously for Cameron to emerge from the dugout. He came out, still with a bit of a swagger in his gait. But as soon as he saw me, his eyes filled with tears, and he pointed to the huge goose-egg bruise just below his bottom lip. His lip was swollen and the inside of his cheek was cut. "I didn't want to spit out the blood," he said. "That's gross." I hugged him and mussed his hair, kissing him quickly on top of the head. We headed home, mom and her weary warrior. On the way, he described all his aches and pains and spilled out the worst moments of the game. "Everything hurts," he said. "Anything that anybody could ever be to be miserable, I'm it."
At home, I fixed him ice cream while he took a shower. When I tucked him in, I said, "You know, you had a really tough game tonight and a few bad breaks. But you fought valiantly, and you stuck it out. You should be proud of yourself for that."
He lifted his head off his pillow and looked at me with a crooked, swollen-lip smile. "Hey, that gives me something good to dream about!" he said, and nestled happily under his covers, ready for well-earned sleep.
For Cameron, this is just one event in a lifetime of what will no doubt be many unexpected happenings. We get hit by balls and beset by bills; we find ourselves in situations we didn't ask for, and we face problems we didn't create. We don't always have a cheering section, and we sometimes have no clue what to do next. But we know we are loved by One who does know--One who walks with us, helps us to see the good in any situation, and gives us the strength to stick it out. And at the end of the day, those words, "Well done," will erase all memory of the bumps and bruises we get on our way back home to Him.
In unpacking one of the many catch-all boxes that have successfully made the move to my new office, I discovered a journal of unusual quotations that I'd read (and forgotten) long ago. I liked rereading them so much that I decided to post them...so if you'd like to take a look, click this link: Discoveries. Have a good weekend! :) k
This is what's in my head this morning. Someone close to me is going through a rough time. I've been through similar situations in my own life, more than once, and I have been praying for clarity on how I can best help now. As I was writing in my journal a little while ago, I found myself replaying my own experience and some very clear steps I took (and continue to take) with God came into focus. I thought I'd share them with you, too.
When I am faced with a difficult situation I don't know how to resolve, I follow these general steps:
I pray, listen carefully, and do exactly what I receive in prayer--immediately. In the prayer, I ask God to reveal to me anything I am doing to cause the circumstance and tell Him that with His help, I'll face it honestly and allow Him to show me how to heal it. (invite God in)
I take full responsibility for my situation and accept it as a learning. (face myself clearly without judgment)
I weed out self-pity at all costs because self-pity tells me that I'm powerless and a victim of the situation, which isn't true. (recognize the power of change is within me)
I make sure I'm willing to do the work--and I do it, even if I don't want to. When God reveals something in me that is unhealthy, I immediately begin to apply what I learn. This takes self-discipline (which I often need to pray for help with) and humility (because I am often surprised that I have so much to learn). Luckily, God provides more of both of these things when we ask. I've learned that if I don't apply what I learn, the situation will continue or come back in another form until I do. (apply what I learn)
I try to stay thankful for the experience, no matter how dark it seems, because it is drawing me closer to God and revealing those places in me that have not yet been healed by His light...but they will be. (be thankful)
I watch for even the smallest signs of change and growth--and claim and give thanks for each one as it appears. This keeps me moving forward--I can see that God is leading me out of the situation, bit by bit. (watch for the good)
I diligently step forward into that new place and refuse to be dragged back by fear or doubt into the place I'd been before. (claim each step and move forward)
This process with God has worked many times for me in many different circumstances--through divorce, financial troubles, illness, and more. You may have a much different process, but in the end we can all be sure that God will bring good from our situations in many ways. At the very least, the situation will be healed, God will be at the center of our lives, and we will have been given an experience and a witness of faith that one day may help another person find the path out of a dark valley.
My brother and I had an interesting conversation yesterday. We're both old enough now (in our 40s) to talk with some perspective about life. We discussed the path of growing more peaceful--the sowing and reaping metaphor--and thought about how much the small things, faithfully done, help shape our days this week, next week, and next year. When I think of the things I do faithfully each day--care for my family, study about and talk to God, write about what I discover in faith and in the technical realm--I realize that I can see pretty clearly what I'm investing my love in for the future. And it fits me. I like it.
What do you do faithfully, each day? Those activities are building your tomorrows--they are an investment of your love and energy. I hope--for you, for your family, and for us all--that it's something that brings you joy. :) k
This week, Christ stepped into a conversation I was having with a client who was struggling with his business communications. He offers a good service and people are always pleased with the work he does (they get more than they expect), but he continually wrestles with how he communicates what he does. He was so knotted up about ths issue that he couldn't see the simple. And that's what I'm always drawn to. I asked, "What's the truth about what you do?" He succinctly told me what he does for people. I told him what was in my heart: If you know what you offer and you tell the truth about it, you don't have to work so hard at pithy messages and consistent approaches. If you know there's something true, something clear, something focused about what you do, share that. And if you don't yet have that clarity, pray, meditate, walk in the woods, listen until you know what's true about you and what you offer people.
I remembered a friend who once told a small lie that escalated into a big one. The small lie--about where he went and who he went with--became a huge cover-up that eventually spread into all areas of his life. He spent so much time and energy trying to keep his partner from finding out about the lie that he began to feel as though his whole life was a lie. Finally, when his partner stumbled across one small piece of the lie, the whole story came out and both people were hurt and reeling by what began as a silly little lie.
When we are truthful with ourselves and others, we don't have to carry around past conversations, coverup stories, false faces, and exaggerated histories. We don't have to worry about what others may one day find out about us. We don't have to live looking back over our shoulders. We can simply stand wherever we find ourselves, doing our best in each situation, and moving forward. In this way, the truth really does set us free. When we live with truth as our priority, we are free to connect authentically with each other and we can be more open to the presence of God in every moment and every exchange.
The other morning as I was driving Cameron to school, I noticed the faces of people driving--the person in my rear view mirror, the lady waiting to turn as I went by, the people in the cars in the oncoming lane. I was struck by the seemingly vast differences of us all--our backgrounds, our families, our careers, our hopes, our struggles--and I thought of all the diversity within each individual life. An affluent person today might have been hungry as a child. And that same person might experience financial struggles in the years to come. Some are healthy; some are not. Some have loving homes; some do not. Some have overcome the hurts and hurdles holding them back from childhood; some have not...yet.
As I thought about the very great differences in our lives, I also was aware of our sameness. As Bonhoffer said, "We are all equally in need of salvation." Throughout our lives, somehow, perhaps even unknowingly, we will be drawn closer to our loving Lord. Our circumstances--financial, health, relationship, and emotional--may simply be doors inward to the place where eternity, and eternal blessing, live in us. Looking at it that way, does it really matter that some people have more money, some have better health, and some better relationships than others? If our outward circumstances are the door inward to God, we can be happy that we each have doors of opportunity that take us closer to Him, no matter what those doors might look like.
So often when something goes wrong in our lives, we begin to look for reasons...searching for the why. The thinking is that if we do everything right, if we play by all the rules, watch our health, eat right, listen to our consciences, and pray regularly, nothing "bad" will happen. And then when something *does* happen, we feel, as Henri Nouwen says, that we are "living under the curse, instead of knowing our blessedness." But Jesus already explained how this whole curse-blessing thing works in relation to circumstances. When he was asked whether the man's blindness was due to his or his parents' sin, Jesus said, "Neither. This occurred so that the glory of God might be known."
So when someone falls from grace--Martha Stewart's empire is dismantled, the preacher's affair is discovered, a friend is diagnosed with cancer, or we lose a job, do we believe that the circumstance is simply an opportunity for God to make himself known, to that person and to us through them? Or do we look at their (or our) lives and say, "Well, we should have seen it coming. Power corrupts. Stress saps the immune system, and corporate America is only interested in the bottomline." The choice of vision is ours. What are we looking for? That's what we'll find. As for me, I'm going to reserve judgment and keep my eyes open and my heart awake, waiting for God to appear in the open door.
I begin each morning by "leaning on God's windowsill" awhile, spending time in the breakfast room, watching the sunlight touch and awaken the houses on the other side of the lake. I read from my favorite devotional books, I write in my journal, I think and pray. Yesterday morning I felt such a yearning to be doing more, and doing it more directly, for God. As I was praying about it, a sudden, clear thought emerged in the middle of my outwardly bound words: "Who is this 'I'?" And I was instantly made aware that I was telling God what I wanted Him to do. I wanted Him to provide the outlet for me to write more about Him; I wanted Him to bring the channels and outlets for sharing with more people; I wanted Him to let me know--in an unmistakable way--that I was doing what He wanted me to do...
Katherine, who is this 'I'?
I quickly felt a ripple of embarrassment, and then I began to pray--instantly, unintentionally--the words and thoughts just poured out without my looking for or forming them. It was odd and wonderful. One by one, people sprang to my heart and I lifted them up and into the light of God. I felt led to pray for some people I didn't even know as well as those I did. I felt a great love for each person as I prayed. For Kristy, who needs clarity in her career; for Andrew, who needs healing in his marriage. I don't know these people, and yet they sprang to mind and I prayed for them with all my might and let the prayers fly to God. I know it may sound strange, but that's what happened. I decided not to question it and simply lift whoever God put on my heart up to Him to do what He knows is best.
Perhaps that was the answer to my prayer...perhaps God was using me the way He saw fit and letting me know in an unmistakable way that it came from Him. I'm not sure. But I do know that I felt, for a brief moment, what it was like to be poured out for others...to let the well-defined and protected 'I' go and let my spirit relax and float along in the love of God. I cannot tell you that I understand these moments; only that I felt very blessed and felt that God was very close. So many small and miraculous gifts He gives us each day! May yours sparkle brightly for you today and draw you closer to Him. :)
There's a line from Rumi that says something like, "Even if all our friends are sleeping, we have to allow ourselves to awaken and move. Movement brings us to a new place where new learnings can come..." I'm finding that this move to a new house has also created internal movement in me. New awarenesses. Things inside are bubbling up in this new environment that I'd forgotten I had--or would like to forget. Things like feeling sorry for myself when I'm overworked; wanting to run away when I feel misunderstood; allowing myself to simply react to situations around me and feel powerless instead of taking responsibility for myself and my choices and remembering that it's within my power to say No at any given moment.
But God and I have an understanding. I'm willing to let Him reveal all these bumps and wrinkles and self-absorbed tendencies in me, but I ask Him to heal them and take them away. Up and out--revealed and dissolved. That's the plan. That's my intention. And that's what's going on. Seeing myself in this light isn't flattering, but when I remember that God's light shines away the darkness, I know He can illumine all the shadows of fear that still hide in the corners of my belief system about myself, about Him, about the world. If I accept all these revelations as opportunities for the touch of His healing love, I'll move through them gracefully, learning and loving and letting them go.
Blessings to you in your revelations today, as well. May He help us to regard ourselves with kindness and love as we allow ourselves to become more and more like Him. :) k
I have a friend who sits in a different pew at church every week. Through the years, I've seen her bounce around from place to place. One week, she'll sit with me in my traditional spot (third row from the back, as far to the left as I can get); the next week she might be way up front or over on the other side. She told me once that she intentionally sits in the places of people who choose the same spot week after week (although she's taken occupied my place). She feels she's doing them a favor, breaking them out of their familiar routine, forcing them to experience worship from a different perspective. I always thought that was a bit pushy--I mean, why bump someone out of their seat who enjoys that feeling of comfortable sameness?
But this week I think differently. Because now, on the other side of my move to the new house, I can see that I had gotten so comfortable in my old surroundings that it was very difficult for me to move to a different place. My seat was chosen. My life was set. I liked my spot and even though the place I was moving to was a great blessing and something worth doing, my flexibility muscle had atrophied to the point that moving beyond the familiar was a great struggle for me. I've always thought of myself as very flexible and easy-going, but after this past week I know I need to change the "very" to "somewhat." I'd like to build back up to "very" so that I can accept with a smile and full gratitude whatever God has for me, wherever He wants to put me, however He wants things to look. I know in my heart that I really *don't* need things a certain way, at a certain time, in a certain pew. God is with us everywhere, every time, in all things. There is nothing we can do and nowhere we can go that is outside the love of God. So why do I cling to the familiar when I've got a relationship with the Known? I think I'll sit on the other side of the aisle next Sunday and find out. :) k
I'm writing to you from a new house. Funny how unsettling it is to move from one familiar set of surroundings to new territory. When I was younger I didn't get nearly so attached to places...my work often caused me to move from place to place; I didn't have strong family ties, so location wasn't central to my thinking. But today, with three kids (and several others I've adopted as my own), two dogs, two cats, a home business, neighbors, a church, friends, clients (oh, and a turtle), moving is a much bigger deal. I'm dug in. I'm connected every which way. I'm at least partially defined by those I see and know and visit with--I'm at least partially affirmed by my accomplishments at work, my vision of achievement, my understanding of the expectations of those around me. How much I need a strong inner remembering of "God with me"! How much I rely on knowing that God is opening these doors and then I step through them, listening carefully...how much I count on God preparing the way and blessing our moments--and our future--with his love. When the change-stress grips me, I take a deep breath and say "Thank you," for where I am, what I'm doing, who I love, and those who love me. My outer circumstances have changed, but God hasn't. Thank you, God, for reminding me. :) k
This thought occurred to me this morning: I know God loves me. People, I'm not always so sure about. But if I believe there is that of God in everyone (and I do), doesn't it follow that there is the spirit of Love, for me, inside each person I meet? Of what (or whom) then shall I be afraid?
When I was a little girl, I spent hours pouring over pebbles. It didn't matter where--on the playground, sitting beside a creek, in a driveway, or in the yard. I was always fascinated by the shape and color of the small stones I found. Much to my mom's dismay, I often had pockets half-full of dirty white or pink treasures. The smooth, white pearly stones were special to me, but the pink stones--which may have been a kind of rose quartz--were my favorites. They meant something really good; they meant I was lucky to find them; they somehow told me I was blessed.
I have no idea why, but this feeling and activity--watching for signs of blessing in the common world around me--has grown with me into adulthood. Today when I see a cardinal, I think "God loves you." When I see a rainbow in the sky--particularly those morning and evening rainbows that appear in high clouds on sunny days--I remember with gratitude the many blessings we're given each day, but that we often miss. When I hear certain strains of music, feel another's genuine concern, watch the miracle of forgiveness happen right before my eyes, I know God is very close. In the past, some people have said I'm looking too closely at things--studying those stones for blessings. But for some reason, that's the way I'm made, and that's what I tend to do, in my life, in my work, internally and externally.
This morning after I dropped Cameron off at school, I was driving home through traffic. It was a perfect spring morning--I noticed the beauty around me and felt peaceful within. Suddenly inside, I heard: "All the best you believed is true," and I had an image of myself, gathering those wonderful little pink stones. I understood this to mean that all the times I hoped coincidences in my life were God communicating with me, it was Him. All the little messages I interpreted during a day's time to mean God was reminding me He was with me were true. All the best I believed--of God, of myself, of others--is real, and right, and eternal.
I hope this makes sense to you, wherever you are in your faith walk and however your draw God close in your day. All the best you believe of Him--and of yourself--is true. Next time you see a cardinal, or a pink stone, remember that.
Yesterday was packed. I had a list of about 10 errands to run, one chapter to write, and one chapter to edit. Plus it was Cameron's first day of baseball practice for the season and we had to get Christopher ready for a four-day high school trip to Dayton, Ohio (meaning he needed to find all the clothes he wanted to take so I could make sure they were washed and ready). My approach to days like this, when work and life entwine so much, it usually very methodical and logical. I make a list, I set priorities, I make a plan, and I carry it out, step by step. But yesterday, because the errands were scattered all over town, I was trying to figure out the best route, the best way to approach all these things and get them done before baseball practice. Instead of my logic kicking in, I just felt frustrated. I couldn't make sense of it. For some reason, a clear route wasn't emerging. At one point, I thought, "This is silly. Why can't I figure this out? I do this all the time..." and I prayed about it and tried to leave it with God to solve.
By 2:00, the answer hadn't occurred to me. I looked at my list of things to do and tried to put them in a smart order. My frustration grew. The only thing I knew to do was the first step. I knew I needed to get something notarized for my daughter so I could Fedex it to her by the end of the day. That was my priority. That's all I knew. So I started there.
The people at the bank were very friendly--I didn't have to wait, everyone was pleasant. I felt my spirits pick up. Walking out to the car, I knew what I needed to do next. So I did it. After that was completed, I knew which task to work on next. So I did that. By the time I picked up the boys from school, most of the errands were done and a surprise by-product had appeared in my day: Joy. The boys and I laughed and talked. We stopped and had a fun dinner together. I got the rest of the errands done and Cameron delivered to baseball practice (a half-hour early, in fact; I had the time wrong) and the feeling of joy stayed with me through the night and I still feel it today.
Amazing how something I struggled with, something I tried to turn loose to God, came back step-by-step to bless me in such a wonderful way. I could see no answer but the next step, but I know now, sitting here, that when I stepped forward into what I knew to do, the next step presented itself. This is a good lesson for me, because I'm a map-maker, a planner...I like to have the experience sketched out before I jump in. But God has another way. And it mixes my own skills with his guidance; my listening with his speaking; my trusting with his leading; and my action with his direction. Thanks for the object lesson, God! And for a productive--and joyful--day. :) k
It's been such a busy time (this is an old refrain for me), and life sometimes seems to accelerate without my realizing it. One day I wake up feeling overwhelmed, out of time, edgy, and put-upon. The boys need to go here and there. I have this meeting and that meeting. A passel of deadlines pop up around me like spring flowers. My head hurts.
And then I remember God. And relief washes through me, along with the thought that, even in the midst of a busy life, my relationship with him is growing. I'm seeing him and feeling him more and more in my day. I think I'm beginning to understand "presence." The love I feel for others is ever at the ready--even for grumpy drivers and out-of-sorts clerks--and I know it's God changing me, loving me, healing me from the inside out. Life is good, right now. Life's seeming acceleration can seem to bring me stress for a moment, until I realize and embrace what's really going on in my life. I'm getting closer to God. And that's what I truly want.
This afternoon I received a newsletter from India, written on behalf of a holy woman known as Amma, "the hugging saint," who spreads a motherly divine love to all she meets. This quote particularly touched me:
Today, voices in protest against the on-going war are rising all around the world. The voice of prayer should rise along with the voices of protest. May that chorus of voices of prayer soothe the hearts of all. May there be peace and contentment everywhere, in everyone, always.
Today I'm posting the last prayer from Prayers for Peace. Thank you for allowing me to share these writings with you, and thank you to those of you have sent encouraging and uplifting notes in return. I so appreciate each of you and feel very strongly that our prayers and loving thoughts really make a difference. If you've missed any of the prayers in the last few days or want to revisit one, you'll find them as links on the Practical ~f a i t h~ web page. Please stop by or send the link to others as you feel so moved. I hope you're all doing well and keeping the faith and growing ever closer to our true source of Love. Please continue your prayers for peace and hold firmly to the vision of a peaceful world that God has planted in our hearts. :) Katherine
~ Prayer for Our Hearts ~
"He has ordained for you the faith which He enjoined on Noah, and which We have revealed to you; which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, saying: 'Observe the Faith and do not divide yourselves into factions.' " --The Koran, 42:9
Father, you see the good, the loving, the kind, the giving in each of us. You alone see us as we are revealed in Spirit and know the true Oneness that we share with each other and with you. Bring us back, O Lord, to an awareness of our sameness. When we are tempted to see ourselves as separate, help us to calm our minds and listen to our hearts until we can hear the knowing voice of Spirit, saying “Do not be afraid.” Each day you draw us closer, and each day you teach us more. Let us remember we travel together on this road back to you. And show us how to remove our agreement—and thus our power—from the belief that we are separated by our faiths and philosophies. We are all your children, now and forever. Amen.
The world we see paints fearful pictures of war and conflict all around us. But, as we have heard so often, we choose the reality we see. And what we pay attention to grows. Is it possible for us to look for the signs of love beneath the violence? Are we able to see that of God in everyone—and focus on their Higher Selves—in spite of what they would show us on the surface? Let’s not let our differences define us, but instead choose to feel and know and understand where we are all the same. The peace that beats in a loving heart, a heart truly free of fear, would be enough to bring light to the entire world.