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!