Thursday, September 18, 2014

Study Break 2014

I am finishing up a too-short (aren't they always?) study break; one spent chauffeuring family to visit with relatives and stealing the days in between to soak up the healing found in the sand and the sea.

I'm not a sit-out-and-tan-all-day kind of girl when it comes to the beach. I'm more the bring-a-million-books-with-you sort. It's an ideal setting for a study break, and for years now I've stolen a week or two away to do just that. There have been a few breaks spent in other places (with a piano close at hand), but I am centered, mostly, at Emerald Isle.

We have history here, as a family. I have walked this same beach for years, on vacation or break, and pondered Life As I Know It. I have asked questions of God. I have cried with my brother and sister-in-law. I have agonized over the health of my family and the circumstances of our lives.

It is a monument to the passage of time, this beach, these unchanging tides. It is precious to me.

So things change, and things stay the same. These few days have been brilliant and restorative. My heart is full, in so many ways. This time away from my job is designed to enable me to do that job better, and this morning, as my fingers flew across the keyboard with plans and ideas, the churning of the rich soul of solitude and silence made evident its value.

I am so grateful. And in this moment, right here, I am quite content.

I am, at times, fascinated with my own history - stunned by how the years have pushed and pulled me, molded me, shaped me into who I am in this present moment. I doubt that anyone else would be lured by the excitement of blog posts from 2008, but it's interesting to see where I was and what I was thinking here and here. I suppose I harbor some tendencies toward narcissism, and this might be an indicator...however, I find it helpful to reread, revisit, reconnect, even with my own self.

In fact, I am re-reading the same book mentioned in those posts; I come back to it time and time again, because it heals and encourages and centers me in ways that I cannot do on my own.

Today, with the surf crashing around me and the September sun reminding me of its late-season power, I read this passage:
"...the first order of things is that we are creatures and God is the Creator. God is the one who is infinite; I, on the other hand, must learn to live within the physical limits of time and space and the human limits of my own strength and energy. There are limits to my relationship, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities. I am not God. God is the only one who can be all things to all people. God is the only one who can be two places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not. We can't remind ourselves of this enough. This is pretty basic stuff, but many of us live as though we don't know it." - Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton 

No kidding. I keep learning, the hard way, of this simple truth: There are limits.

Coupled with the latest TIME magazine article about the healing power of sleep, I feel like the birthday girl who has just been granted an invaluable gift.

I feel like an idiot at times, that I have to be reminded that I am not God. DUH.

But it is the truth, for this season of my life. I do. I need this grace, this love, to be imprinted on my heart.

And so I will search 'study break' on my own blog, and be reminded of all the times I have leaned on the Everlasting Arms and found comfort in the quiet; of all the books and the thoughts and the music and the deep, sonorous love of the one who is, has been, and will be.

Amen.

My cairn; prayer rocks, for specific people. You know
who you are....

I am thankful for a supportive husband.
Who leaves love notes.

The sea meets the sky...

Not bad office space!

Lots of room to make a mess; a PRODUCTIVE mess!

Me.
Thankful.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Throwed Off

So, our prompt this time is "throwed off".

Ahem.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS.

Maybe it's a Texas thing that I missed out on because I only lived there for 20 years?

Maybe it's some new, current, trendy phrase that you pick up on if you have cable? I DON'T HAVE CABLE.

Maybe it's all the rage in Orange Is the New Black? Because I haven't watched that.

I'm clueless.

So.....

Like we all do in this, the age of internets, I googled "throwed off".

NOT A GOOD IDEA.

First of all, there are many people who apparently missed that day in 3rd grade when the teacher explained the difference between "O-F" (of) and "O-F-F" (off). Because a bunch of people are doing it all wrong.

Secondly, when I typed in "throwed", Google auto-completed, "throwed rolls".

What is THAT about?

UPDATE: I clicked that link, fearfully, and got hungry. "Throwed rolls" are some kind of bread that looks and sounds quite appealing. You can get "throwed rolls" at Lambert's Cafe in Missouri, the ONLY home of throwed rolls. Lambert's Cafe, where they hope you come hungry, leave full, and hopefully have a laugh or two!  

YOU'RE WELCOME, LAMBERT'S CAFE.

So, anyway: Throwing off my inhibitions and concerns, I followed the google into the world of skanky hip hop lyrics. I'm still not sure what it means, but Lil' Wayne sure has an opinion.

I don't much care for it.

So here's what I'm throwing off; any tolerance for cursing, misogyny, the N-word, and absolutely ridiculous sexual bleating. Among other things. It just makes me so weary. And angry. And frustrated.

We can do better, folks. We should.

I have no solution, and I don't even like to hear myself whine like an old woman railing against "KIDS THESE DAYS!!! WHASSA MADDER WITH KIDS THESE DAYS???" But, seriously - I'm not much for the hip hop world; I like the style, but whatever you call Lil' Wayne's lyrics, I DON'T like that much and I don't listen to it. Except Lecrae. Yep, I do like the hip hop when Mr. Lecrae is doing his thing.

I do NOT listen to mainstream hip hop.

But somebody is. And Lord, have mercy; what is going on in the minds and the hearts and the hormones of the people who are filling their ears with such stuff?

I'm all for democracy and free speech; but where does the line get drawn? When did such vulgar expression become commonplace and acceptable and - gasp - "entertainment"?

I don't know what I'm throwing off, but it's outta here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I Baptize You...

There are lots of things I love about being in ministry.

First of all, just that:"Being in ministry." Really, aren't we all?

Yes, we are. I'm convinced that life itself is, at its best, ministry. 

I know that, properly defined, the word points to the work of religion. However, as a verb, it is simple: Attending to the needs of someone.

I think we are the best of ourselves when we are doing that. In my vocation, it is my responsibility to attend to the needs of others, under a spiritual cloak that folds into the grace of Jesus.

I believe that a healthy, honest, authentic life must include self-examination and the acceptance that there is more than what is seen.

I believe that sincerely, completely and wholeheartedly following the teachings of Jesus offers the best, most authentic pathway to what Joel Osteen calls "Your Best Life Now" - except Mr. Osteen and I differ mightily on what constitutes the "best" life.

"Attending to the needs of someone" puts a hierarchy in place. Whether for a moment or a longer period of time, someone other than you takes priority. This is not as easy at it sounds; as humans, our personal needs are made manifest twenty-four hours a day. There's always something we need or want.

But to attend to someone else's needs puts your own at rest, and within that framework is where your best life is found.

In my experience, ministry has been an absolute necessity for my emotional health and any chance at being a productive citizen. Not as a vocation; I'd be okay teaching piano lessons, or back in the classroom. But the lifestyle of ministry - the one that started with the birth of my daughter in 1990 - that lifestyle set my feet upon a path that was quite unfamiliar to this self-absorbed, selfish, proud young woman. I am sad to say that 27 years of life had done little to teach me to die to my self. Unfortunately, I failed to grasp the importance of that concept through marriage, either, to my shame and failure. But woven throughout my life as a mother were the threads of service and submission, born out of great love and immediate necessity.

Motherhood was essential to break me, in ways that needed to be broken. And as so often happens, beautiful things were created out of the dust of that brokenness; there is no thing in this life that gives me more joy than my family.

Thanks be to God.

The seed of faith had been planted much earlier, but the self-abasement that comes out of serving small children - five of them, simultaneously - bred in me a dependence on God. It whittled away at my pride and sense of self and nudged me along a course of purpose for me life that has resulted in a deeper life and vocational ministry.

In some ways, I am shocked to find myself here.

But truth be told, I think I've been headed this way since I was 10 years old.

/ /

I've had a few conversations lately with a friend who desperately wants to be in vocational ministry. He wants to do what he sees me and his other church-staff-friends doing; he sees a purpose and a position that he longs for. We are talking in circles, with me unable to understand exactly where the barriers are for him, and him struggling to bring clarity - both for himself and for me. He's bumping into walls, perhaps of his own making; but walls they are, and the pain of the bruises compound the frustration.

So I am thinking much these days about why and how I am in the position I find myself; particularly when in discussion with my friend. And on this post-baptism evening, I am reflecting a bit.

Before marrying Tony, while still living as a single mom of five busy children, I began teaching piano lessons in the dining room of my house. Moms waited in the living room, watching tv or reading alongside my own kids, while I worked patiently through Faber method books with their young musicians. Amie and Leslie were two of those kids. Their mom and I struck up a friendship that all too often ate into lesson time, as we always had too many words and not enough time.

Over six years ago, Amie and Leslie became my students. Today, they are high school students; active, high achievers. Both still take piano lessons, alongside dance and drumline and marching band. One has struggled with a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes that put a slight bump in her life - but not a detour. Their father is waging war against cancer, with all the forces of a prayerful, loving community surrounding him.

Their mom remains one of my favorite women; one who gives me the great gift of honesty and authenticity and reveals the heart of a strong, powerful, doubtful, weak person - the truth of what it means to be human.

This evening, in the long line of the 60-plus people who waited on the boat ramp to be baptized in the James River, Amie and Leslie stood.

And I stood right behind them.

They had signed up to be baptized, went through all the proper channels, and they'd requested me. As the minister.

I came unglued when I got the email.

I was overcome with emotion in the water as well.

The fullness of time; six years of eighth notes, Bach and Beethoven and Katchuturian. Dancing and drumline. Frustration and celebration.

Life.

Attending to the needs of these two girls meant spending my gifts and talents to teach and coach and encourage. It meant co-laboring with church music and keyboard settings. It meant being true to my calling to love and honor their mom, their dad, their little brother, their family. It meant serving the church they call home so that they can continually encounter God in a meaningful way, and grow in their understanding of Him and their purpose in His Kingdom.

It means an unspoken, agreed-upon commitment that I'm here for the long run; that should they need anything as they grow into the completeness of the life God has for them, I will be here.

"I baptize you, my sisters..."

Those words were rich and thick with love for me this evening.

Thanks be to God.

/ /

They have always had an incredible flair for giving awesome gifts; today, although a surprise, was no exception. I'm not sure what part was Karen and what part was the girls, but she said it was homemade. 

I will treasure it, always.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Joy Becomes Everything

The prompt is 'joy'. You can read other accounts here and here and here, but this is mine.

Joy used to look quite physical, as in jumping for it. It was exuberant expression of welcome as it appeared, or maybe even a last, muscle-bound push toward heaven to bring it down. Like once it was created - or recognized - joy floated right there above my head, within arms' reach. I just had to push and reach and pull a bit to grab, to bring it to me, to own it.

These days, joy tends to float down from the heavens, like tiny bits of manna sprinkled almost at random. They sustain and amaze, these little bits. They no longer need such effort to be captured. They just appear.

I don't have to bring it. It's there, dust mites floating all around, illuminated when the angle of sun and shadows are in sync, when I have eyes to see.

Last night, the night before school; always (and forever, I suppose) full of excitement and anticipation, I couldn't sleep. I nestled into the crook of my husband's arm and lived in the joy of that moment, this touch, a closeness that may well be fleeting, because who knows what the next day will bring? We had that moment, hands entwined, the easy sound of his breathing in rhythm with my own.

I clung to that joy most of the night; the excitement of Everything New Begins Tomorrow was so great that sleep eluded me, until 3AM. It's the back to school thing, I think; I went to school as a student; I continued as a teacher; and as a mother, for almost 20 years now I've shepherded my children into and through their first days. For some 45 years now, fall brought to my doorstep a new beginning. It's still a moment of expectation and anticipation.

All but one of my kids have finished the adolescent years of public education, and today that one indulged me once again, standing on the sidewalk for the obligatory first day photo.

He was alone.

That was a first.

But there is joy there, too, in that things change. I have a friend who is expressing some recognized need to slow down, to withdraw, to be still. It's more than just living into that Bible verse that most evangelicals have quoted to themselves and on another when they are overbooked and under resourced: Be still and know that He is God. It's not just a daily solution, it is A Different Way. I feel it and sense it, in the quiet of this morning in an empty house, in the sole steps of one child making his way to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus. 

And I read it, in a quirky and almost amusing bit of timely interaction with the book I am slowly savoring, bits and pieces every morning:
"...the first half of life is writing the text, and the second half of life is writing the commentary on that text. We all tend to move toward a happy and needed introversion as we get older. Such introversion is necessary to unpack all that life has given us and taken from us. We engage in what is now a necessary and somewhat natural contemplation...we move toward understimulation, if we are on the schedule of soul. Life has stimulated us enough, and now we have to process it and integrate it. Much of life starts becoming highly symbolic and "connecting," and little things become significant metaphors for everything else."  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

And there, in that big chunk of quoted text that any reader might likely simply skip over - there it is. Joy. Defining and explaining and becoming, all at once. 

Life becomes symbolic and connecting 
and everything is metaphor.

Can that be joy? Not a thing or a place or a person or an event - but everything?

It is, for me. There is a gleeful, joy-filled resonance in this. It grabs hold of the deep gestation of the beginning, when the word was with God and the word was God and in him all things were made and nothing was made that has been made, that circle of light and life that rises above and becomes everything.

It is family, the expansion of a heart as a massive holding tank for love, and the way that a solitary walk towards the bus can carry four siblings and the bloodline that defines who and whose you are, all caught up in fifteen years of lanky adolescence. 

It is a sleepless night, with restless thoughts and odd dreams, carried all the while with subliminal knowledge that there is joy, and there is morning, and together, they both will come.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Time And A List Of Books

I slept for eleven blessed, peaceful hours last night.

This morning, I am moving slowly. My hand reached for the coffee cup with smoothly rounded edges, aware that I'd have time this morning to sit and hold rather than throw back and gulp.

That's a morning, right there.

So I am listening to a little Hezekiah Walker, proclamations that Every praise is to our God!! ringing loud and clear, my mind at ease, because gospel music is never boring (hello, key change! hello, crazy atonal transition riffs! hello, ANOTHER key change!!!) and nothing stresses me out more than boring music.

It is a gift, this morning. No stress, for the moment.

My friend Dianne created a list of her twelve favorite books and asked me to create a list of my own. I'm not sure what the rules are (only fiction? only ten?), but I don't really care.

Here are some books I really like. I recall them like favorite friends, and hold a piece of each close to my heart.

The Bread of Angels - Stephanie Saldana
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
The World According to Garp - John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving*
The Stand - Stephen King
11/22/63 - Stephen King
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt**
Travelling Mercies - Anne Lamott
An Altar In the World - Barbara Brown Taylor
The Cloister Walk - Kathleen Norris
I Am Charlotte Simmons - Tom Wolfe***
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett
The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke****

I read everything Patricia Cornwell writes, but it's kind of like eating M&Ms; they're really good in the moment, but they don't have a lot of staying power...

*(I could actually make a list of all of Irving's books and be done....)
**(of course)
***(detest most of the characters and the plot, but oh, how this man can write...)
****(Burke is one of the most underrated authors of this generation; the Dave Robicheaux series is brilliant)