Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Last 10% Conversation With God: Richmond Hill Part 5

My Richmond Hill experience ended with more questions than answers, but that's not a bad thing. I've had much to contemplate in the past two weeks.

We were asked to draw (I know - draw??? Even for a creative doodler like me, anxiety loomed large. I don't think I draw well...) our image of God. The crayons and markers sat neatly on the table; each of us were given a piece of heavy, white 11 x 17 paper.

I kept sneaking a look at everybody else's work. 

Do we ever really, truly grow up? 

When I was done, I realized that I'd responded to the prompt in a rather raw, unfiltered fashion. I just started drawing my image of God.

And there He was, in a corner, arms open wide, cloaked in grace and kindness, redemption and restoration. He stood behind a desk, emblazoned with superlatives like "100%!!" "Excellent!" 

And the rest of my drawing was me. Me and my junk.

It was quite artsy; it communicated well. But my heart sank when I saw the truth of what I'd done. 

My image of God..

In response to a request to draw my image of God, I'd filled up the page with me. Me, me, me. Me doing things. My junk filling up all the empty space between me and the Guy behind the desk.

And what's up with that, anyway? God behind a desk? Handing out report cards?


It was good to rip off the heavy covers of busy-ness and see the insidious perfectionist, grace-must-be-earned lies that have snuck back into my heart. Very telling; it exposed the scrape on my heart that stings as I struggle to find my place, tell my story, live my life fully present to the world. To my world. My friends. My family.

My Savior.

It was a last 10% conversation with the One who created me, and it stopped me in my tracks. It stung. It made me sad. I was disappointed in myself. 

But it made perfect sense, and everything clicked into place. I realized the source of some of my more recent struggles. And with that realization, I felt empowered to realign my movements and focus on a right relationship with God, one in which both parties were where they belonged. Without a desk and a bunch of junk floating in the midst of it all.

Two other revelatory moments: I realized, right before the retreat time ended, that I had introduced myself to the other participants with a brief statement revealing The Worst Thing I Ever Did. In my mind, this helps define me - quickly - to others. It tells the depth of this amazing grace; it shouts, "It's not me! It's Christ in me!" 

But the still, small voice that met me there whispered You are not who you used to be and dang it, I know that I know that I know that but could it be that I am clinging to this definition of myself? Could it be that this is unhealthy?

(yes, mom, i know...)

 How do I live in the tension between 
the very reason I know the depth of my need for Christ 
and this new mercy, every morning? 

My thoughts ran up and down the trail of how I see myself, how I choose to identify myself to a handful of strangers, and I wonder. And I know that I did, indeed, need to work on healing my image of God. I know, indeed, that He is calling me around the corner, higher, deeper, wider. Different.

I closed my door for the final time, slung my backback across my shoulders and headed down the hallway. One other retreat participant was still there, packing her things. I stopped to offer a word of encouragement, well aware of the physical and spiritual wrestle she had alluded to during a revelatory moment in our discussion time. I tossed out that perfect Christian phrase, the one that covers any multitude of social awkwardness moments: I'll pray for you.

She said thanks, and then stood up, the fullness of her six-foot frame filling the tiny room. And she said, "Have you forgiven yourself yet?"

And I had no words. I stumbled, bumbled, mumbled...blah, blah, blah. 

She turned back to her bag and said, "Maybe you need to work on that a little more."

Maybe I do.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What I Saw At Richmond Hill (Part 4)

The view from my room.
What occurred to me in that still, quiet place centers on more of the navel-gazing I have done all my life. I live in this frustrating tension between high capacity, leadership-oriented output (i.e. I get things done) and occasionally paralyzing insecurity (i.e. Am I good enough just in case I am not I'd better do more of the high-capacity awesome things).

I know I'm not the only one.

I've been like this all my life; only recently, with a bit more margin in my life (the nest is slowly emptying), the benefit of hindsight and wisdom and the invaluable presence in my life of good, truth-telling friends, am I able to unpack it and address it.

In that quiet moment on a Saturday evening, in the presence of people I did not know, the gentle nudging of God prompted a powerful realization.

He touched their eyes, and immediately they could see.

The detached retina diagnosis, the surgery, the hurry-up-and-get-it-done drama - all that went well, smoothly, calmly. Afterwards, when doctor's orders included DO NOT MOVE YOUR HEAD FROM AN ANGLED POSITION FOR MORE THAN 5 MINUTES EACH HOUR. FOR A WEEK, I had to adjust. Everything.

I spent a week on the couch, and basically, for the first time ever, I did nothing.

It wasn't a vacation - usually, I stay busy on vacation, blowing and going with family and meals and kids and sight-seeing and all that. It wasn't a study break - I couldn't really read or communicate.

I couldn't do anything.

I could not do any thing.

And here's the thing:

Friends came to see me. Just to visit, to talk, to check in. Sally and Susan and Lindsay and Natasha...they just came by.

People brought food to my family. Because they figured we wouldn't eat, and they wanted to help.

Co-workers took on my work load. And they did fine.

And here's the real thing:

I didn't earn it.


I didn't earn it.

There's nothing I could have done, because I couldn't. And yet people still cared.

And what's more, I felt God's presence. God still cared.

I knew all those things intellectually, of course. But for the first time in my life, I received a specific kind of grace and acceptance and did absolutely nothing in return.

It had not occurred to me the depth of the meaning of this in my life. I didn't see it until those quiet moments at Richmond Hill when I had time and space and direction to see it.

God loves me.
People love me.
Just because.
That's what love does.

That was only Saturday night...there was more ahead that I did not anticipate.

I'm blogging about my recent retreat experience at Richmond Hill. Thanks for reading...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Words Speak For Themselves (Richmond Hill Part 3)

The garden at Richmond Hill
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
These were the words that drew all of my attention during the reading; specifically, he touched their eyes.

It was just a few months ago that I had eye surgery for a detached retina. (Remember? Details here.) The medical procedure went well; the recovery period was "eye-opening" for me.

Pun intended.

I had no intentions of reflecting on my eye surgery, subequent recovery and the spiritual implications during this retreat. But there it was.

He touched their eyes.

Before the miracle of modern technology, and without the miracle touch of Jesus, a detached retina led to blindness. Fortunately, times have changed. After my diagnosis, action was swift. Surgery happened right away, and my sight was restored.

Immediately they received their sight.

The retreat facilitator read the words, over and over. They covered us. Those last two phrases resonated.

She spoke again.

"I'll read the passage again. This time, listen for what God wants to say to you."

It's fascinating, really; we spend time unpacking scripture, studying Greek and Hebrew, researching words and phrases, looking for meaning. Those things are valuable, necessary, important.

But sometimes, the words speak for themselves. And we listen, and God has something to say. And here is what I heard:

You didn't even know you were blind.

I am blogging about my time at Richmond Hill. Tune in tomorrow....

Richmond Hill Retreat Part 2

I love to play a piano.

The best 'retreat' for me includes time behind the keys. The most powerful moments of any break or focused personal spiritual formation time for me include those with my hands on a piano. Somehow, it remains the purest form of prayer for me - straight from my head, through my heart, out the tips of my fingers.

I struggle with relationships. I do have issues with my image of God. I worry way too much about what others think of me. 

But there is purity when I play for myself. 

My heart leapt when I walked - early - into the Solarium where we would begin our retreat. Tucked into the corner was a beautiful baby grand.

I smiled and sat down to play; a single candle was lit in the center of the room, but it was still and empty of people. The keys were unfamiliar to me, and it took a while to get comfortable. I played tentatively and softly, just enough to loosen up my soul as I prepared to meet and interact with whoever would be filling the six empty chairs in the room. I closed my eyes.

When the air stirred, I looked up to see the retreat facilitator sitting, her eyes closed as well. I stopped and she said, "Thank you."

The other chairs filled; a former teacher, a professor, a Richmond Hill intern, a retail clerk, a mother. We said shy hellos and got brief bits of info about the schedule.

We had time to relax, to walk around the beautiful grounds, to rest.

You can see the city from this vantage point...
We met in the chapel for prayer; the community gathers three times each day to pray, following the Book of Common Prayer. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the rhythm of a liturgical service, leaders take great pains to explain carefully what to do, where to find the prayers, how to respond. Each time of prayer is "seeker sensitive" and inclusive. 

Prayer is relatively short, followed by a meal.

We met in the Solarium again after dinner. I went up early again and opened my heart over the piano.

Our facilitator told us that our evening activity would center on Lectio Divina.
In Christianity, Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word. Traditionally Lectio Divina has 4 separate steps: read, meditate, pray and contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God. The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. - (source)
She read aloud to us. Her voice was honey, smooth, gentle, beckoning. I listened; she read the same passage a total of six times, with the ultimate question being What do you think God is saying to you?

The scripture was this passage from Matthew's gospel:
As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. 
Every person in our circle heard - received - something different and definitive from the passage.


Taken completely by surprise.

I'm writing about my retreat to Richmond Hill this week. Stay tuned for more tomorrow...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Retreat And Obedience At Richmond Hill

The outer gate
I went on retreat last weekend, off to one of my favorite places in the world. Richmond Hill is one of the city's best kept secrets; it sits high atop the hustle and bustle of daily life in the middle of Church Hill. The property was established in the early 1800's, and has been a boarding school and a convent; it is rich with history and beauty. In a city full of Civil War-era monuments and relics, Richmond Hill is a unique place of peace.

Since the 1980's, the walls have enclosed an ecumenical retreat center and residential community, focusing on daily prayers for the city and surrounding areas and "personal spiritual development and interracial harmony".

I've made a few day trips to Richmond Hill. I have walked the labyrinth, attended a centering prayer group, snuck into the chapel to play the piano and fallen asleep in the library while reading Thomas Merton. An overnight retreat was on my bucket list; I intended to do a solo retreat and see what happened, but Healing Your Image of God was a guided retreat on the calendar.

I signed up.

I told myself that I certainly didn't need my image of God healed - if anything, I've got that figured out - but certainly I'd learn something.

I learned something alright; that in spite of how much we grow, in the hustle and bustle of life, corruption of truth can sneak in under the corners of our well-ordered activity.

I'd told Tony as I drove away that I was a tiny bit apprehensive, if only because I was venturing into uncharted territory. Control issues, you know; this was something I'd never done before; but I knew God wanted me to go. He responded, "Do you have a habit of disobeying God?" Then he kissed me goodbye.
Fifth door on the right...

I walked down the long hallway on the third floor to find my room. On the ancient wooden door frame was stenciled the "name" of my room:
St. Benedict - "Obedience"
Well, then.

I'll continue to write about my retreat experience over the next few days.

Could You Be More Beautiful Than You Say You Are?

I tell my daughters they are beautiful. Sometimes they shrug me off and say, "Mom, you're supposed to think we're beautiful. You're our mom."

My friend Kelley is radiant with the child growing inside of her. I told her that her hair looked amazing. She reached up and touched her curls, and looked at me rather puzzled.

I tell my friend Sally she is beautiful. I'm not sure she believes me.

I tell my friend Lindsay she is gorgeous. Sometimes she winces.

I tell my mom she is beautiful. She doesn't smile.

I tell myself....

....well, I like to think that I tell myself the truth. 

I never tell myself that I am beautiful. But my friends are.

Could it be that we are all more beautiful than we realize?

This is powerful for me today; I am striving to live in this place where there is no condemnation. Our human brokenness is often rooted in such deep, dark places; those roots sometimes grow deep. They paralyze us, challenge our desire to dance. 

This film promotes a product, yet; but somehow I think that it represents the overarching love of Christ, who sees us as his own. This counts as prayer and meditation today, a hymn sung to the glory of creation.

We are created, we are beautiful, we are loved.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Study Break 2013

Every year, I get a study break.

Every year, I try to take a bit of it.

This year, I'm doing it right.

(Here is a little glimpse of last year's break...)

I'm taking the entire break in one big clump, as encouraged by my boss (who had a terrific, extended study break during his sabbatical last summer). After Easter, I tidied up a bit and then left creative planning in the hands of my remarkable team at PCC and set off. I spent the majority of the first week in Savannah, where I managed to renew my soul and spirit through connections with my daughter, her friends and an incredible church. I did some good, hard study preparing a message for City Church, and enjoyed the challenge of sharing a message from God with a group of relative strangers. Great conversations were had, incredible food was eaten and the 2013 Study Break was off to a great start.

Sarah and David...
I followed up with a trip to Raleigh - with my eldest daughter and her boyfriend - to see her reconnect with her brothers, and to see my eldest son's drum line take first place in the AIA championships. It was a good, if incredibly exhausting, Saturday.

This week, I am mostly home. I've set aside specific goals for each day; yesterday, I reconnected with a husband who held down the fort (in spite of a sinus and bronchial infection) while I was gone, and I did my part at his music store by teaching some incredible musicians their private piano lessons.

You know who you are...
In this photo, you'll see one of my students' hands as she begins to work on a Clementi Sonatina that I played in high school. What goes around, comes around. I find that one of the greatest joys in my current existence is the privilege of working with piano students. To see music come alive for them, as the discipline of years of practice and dedication pay off - wow. It connects everything internally - my love of teaching, my passion for music, my genuine fondness for my students - and the reward is like nothing else. It is passion and purpose, and spiritual in ways that I can't even articulate.

I took a walk through our little village. It's no Savannah, but it's home.

Today I was a domestic diva, staying home, listening to my former pastor preach via the magic of the internet (Jamie Rasmussen, Scottsdale Bible Church - the man God used to teach me the most about grace) and cleaning. Sort of. I'm a half-hearted cleaner who is easily distracted, so it was not difficult to interrupt the day with a conversation over coffee with a good friend who also happens to be my current pastor. And my boss. Lots of great stuff going on in life and in our church, and it was good to reconnect.

I was inspired to cook by the incredible tacos at Foxy Loxy.
These are a far cry from Foxy Loxy, but they were homemade and it's a start....

I visited my church, enjoying very much the glimpse of the faces I love who are carrying out the mission of PCC. I visited my husband. I came home to visit my son, and I listened over the phone as my daughter read a dramatic interpretation of her testimony, which is entangled with my own, and I found myself very emotional.

The freedom to move throughout the day with the undercurrents of grace and inspiration all around me fuels the best, deepest part of my creativity. Things begin to churn and swell and before I know it, they erupt. I know I am where I am supposed to be, and expanded breathing room like this helps me to be my best.

The remaining days of the week include focused study time, artistic inspiration, a structured retreat at Richmond Hill and moments with my boys whenever I can find them.

I'm also thinking of planning a big party. I'm turning 50 in just a few weeks!

I'm grateful for every day of every one of those almost-fifty years; with each day that passes, my gratitude grows for the privilege of life, well-lived. Working, study-breaking, vacationing - it's good just to be alive.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


I'm the only person I know who hasn't watched The Passion of the Christ. 

Well, besides my mom.

I've wanted to use my own imagination, my own experience to see the life of Jesus. 

We don't have cable, so I haven't watched any of the latest Bible series that's gotten so much media attention, either. 

But inspired by my friend Paul's post, and his honest confession of tears, I watched this video.

And I sat in a Savannah coffee shop and cried. 

And rejoiced.

Grateful for powerful art that tells a strong story. 

Grateful for one Life that brings life.

Life, for me, abundant and full.

Friday, April 5, 2013

All These People

I am sitting in Foxy Loxy, a house-turned coffee shop, just a few steps from my
daughter's apartment in Savannah. It's a cool, rainy day. I've snagged a table on the enclosed porch. Wooden shutters wrap around me at eye level, and the glow of the apple icon on the computers around me are the only connection between those of us parked in this tiny room, coffee in hand.

All my life, I have loved to travel. I visit places and am captivated not just by the things that stand, the places and markers of history and culture, but by this tantalizing thought that always grabs hold of my imagination:

I could live here.

And I could. Really, anywhere I ever go, it comes, unbidden; this projection of what my life would look life if I lived here, in this place, wherever "here" is at the moment.

I love to imagine. The grass is always greener, it seems; and often, it's not just the place, but some other version of me that fascinates me. Here, surrounded by Spanish moss dripping from the trees, the bulky Bull Street Library gleaming right across the street, the students carrying portfolios and backpacks dodging puddles on the sidewalk, the constant stream of movement. Cars and people. Cars and people.

Lives, intricate and important. All these people...

I'm rambling a bit, obviously. I've spent two full days here with my daughter, not as a tourist but as a traveler. I've met her friends over coffee, heard the dreams of artists who are passionate about their faith and their art, who are spending their summers serving others at camps and workshops from North Carolina to East Asia. We exclaim delight over the pastries at Back In the Day Bakery and mull over the challenges of city codes for church ministry coffee shops. I'm watching students spend their free day doing construction work - unpaid - for a church project.

All these people...

I spoke at City Church here in Savannah last night, part of a week-long intensive called Movement. I agonized and worried over what I might possibly have to say and share with anyone. My insecurities rear their heads in mighty ways and do a fine job of distraction; but in the end, after a few days of simple real conversations, real dialogue and incredible food, I stood in front of a room full of people and delivered the message. It was, in a word (or 2,833 words, to be exact), simply what I felt God told me to say. All the structure, all the planning, all the time spent molding and shaping an arc of narrative and context - all so much time and energy, reduced to an open mouth and these are the words God gave me to say to you.

And the thing I discovered is this: I have this thing in me, the truth of my life and the daily working out of my own salvation (with fear and trembling) and the small gifts of confession that I give and receive from the people in my daily coming and going and the things I have seen and felt and heard and lived. I have this thing, grounded in a foundational faith and trust in the workings of something beyond the tangible, something ethereal and spiritual and beyond my understanding or sight.

I have this life. I could live here, in Savannah, or I could live in Raleigh or Seattle or Tolar, Texas, or Chagrin Falls, Ohio, or right where I am. I could live anywhere, but I get to embrace the fullness of the life I have lived regardless of where I sit. Last night, I spoke these words: "I have walked this broken earth for almost 50 years..."

I am embracing this now, surrounded by youth and passion and energy and the incredible working swirl of creative fuel for life and Jesus. I have the privilege of speaking and sharing but far greater is the joy of a shared meal, the glimpse into the life my daughter is forging, the tiny graces of God, the energy of beauty and the lives of all these people, intricate and important.

All these people.

God, I am so blessed.