Hours

Matins

The children cry “Happy New Year” from their rooms. Shane and I made it to 11:30, then sent everyone to bed. We drift of to sleep to the pops of fireworks in the distance

Lauds

I am up to do the woodstove. This is my time, the time I take to do my reading for the day, soaking in the still, dark hour.

Prime

Shane is up to stoke the fire and soak up the sunrise, I roll over and return to my sleep.

Terce

Today is Shane and I’s anniversary. He sits next to me sipping cocoa as I write. We still have Christmas lights up, lining the rafters of the living room ceiling. The kids got up early to spiffy up the house, well, some of them did, anyway, and now they are carelessly tossed throughout the room on a variety of screens.

Gracie isn’t up yet. It will probably take me to actually rouse her out of her bed. The fatigue is just one of some concerning symptoms she has dealt with over the past few months, but I think we are on the mend. We haven’t nearly the intense struggle experienced by the cousins.

Belle is playing a puzzle game on the xbox, as her sisters patiently advise her. Even Emmy looks up from her phone every once and a while to offer advice, which I will take as a win. It has been a long road incorporating another tweenager into our already big family. The past few months resentments flared a bit after our dear girl’s “sprained ankle” refused to heal, necessitating lots and lots of physical therapy and other appointments. The sprained ankle was a growth plate fracture, and is recovering with proper treatment.

And the Lord provided a special mercy for some of the other kids. With all of the other appointments, my individual dates with the girls fell by the wayside. They missed it more then I realized, but by the time that hurt came to light, our budget was already tight in anticipation of Christmas. On Christmas Eve, some visitors to our church handed me a jar of coins. It was enough to take each of the girls out in the following week and spend some special time with them individually, and it was just the cure their hearts needed.

I haven’t written much this past year, but there has been much to treasure, much to ponder. As the children grow and become, I find that I also am challenged to grow, to become. There are questions of my life long unanswered, strings left dangling as I jumped from one thing to the next. In this season, I find disparate threads beginning to come together. A Pentecostal upbringing meets a current liturgical context in the form of contemplative prayer. I see a future in my mothering vocation as I look to a ministry and training in spiritual direction. I am free to embrace my “life that is” as a vital, integral part of who I am becoming. Its struggle and suffering are only kind instructors in the Way.

Sext

Shane wakes from a dozey sleep beside me. It is time for the children to come off screens, and for me to make lunch. Today is a rare day off work for him, and I will feed my dear, hobbit man, and perhaps even bring him a pipe. He continues, in spite of the physical exhaustion that accompanies his ataxia, to get up early each morning, to check the fire, to go to work. He stays up late with me each night, to bank the stove before bed, discussing with me the various books I am reading, bringing to our talks a wealth of historical and theological insight. He is wise, and kind, and 14 years later I am still quite fond of him.

He has surprised me, and delightfully so. He puts feet to my crazy leaps of faith. Years ago, it was in coming up with a table of repairs so that our home would be suitable to take foster children. He budgeted, planned, and executed all that was necessary for us to realize that dream. This year, I brought him a niggling idea of taking some seminary classes. Today, we eat cheesy rice and beans for lunch, a concession to the budget Shane came up with in order to make that happen. I couldn’t imagine a better traveling companion or more suitable spouse.

None

I write as the teakettle whispers from the stove. In a moment I will sit with my dear one and drink peppermint tea…Normally, we go out on an anniversary date on New Year’s Day, and take an afternoon to dream and plan. This year, we are planning a trip for the coming weekend. Today we rest some and tidy our offices and unclutter out minds.

Vespers

After supper, when the dishes are done and the floor is swept, Shane will watch a show with the kids as I take an evening walk.

Compline

We curl against each other with our respective books. It is still, and quiet, and so very good.

 

 

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Seeing Him here

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I was going back through this year’s journals, looking for themes in this past year. My word for the past year was “Occupy” with a mental image of the busy workings of sparrows. What has become abundantly clear is that truly, truly, sparrows are seen by a loving Heavenly Father.

If I wrote all the instances here, you would hardly believe it. Answers to questions and prayers that came in sermons, in whispers, sometimes like a mighty rushing wind, and most recently in a jar of coins that found their way into my hand at the end of a candlelight service.

In 2017, God worked amazingly, miraculously in the lives of loved ones.  These were the answers to decades long prayer.

In 2018, He came for me, in a thousand persistent, life altering little ways

I’ve tried to write it out, but it would take a book. Basically, imagine a domino like series of events. Innocent interactions that were hinges, redirecting my path. A whim  to strike up a conversation became an introduction, a nudge towards a new way of understanding, which in turn became a map towards more than I would have ever known to ask for or imagine. But more than that, a freedom from the constant fear and worry that had plagued my life.

And always, always, little reassurances. Little signposts along the way. On Saturday night I journal a question or pour out an anxiety, on Sunday morning that very thing is mentioned in the sermon. Or I find a bible verse that is particularly meaningful, and it starts popping up everywhere. Or I think, gee, Lord, I really wish… and he answers that small desire, as He lures me, further and further, into the desert with him. This morning, I sat through a Disney movie sobbing, because of a particular lyric that spoke to me of Him, of a truth that I needed to hear and remember on this particular day and time.

And I begin to wonder if maybe those signs were there all along? Was I too preoccupied to see them. Were my ears too full of stuff and nonsense to hear Him?

The more I see Him, the more I am undone. (Seriously, by this time next year I may just be a puddle)

And so I  tell my children to look for the signs. Everyday. Can they see Him in the glint of light reflected in a raindrop resting on the variegated curl of a leaf? Is He there, just now, in the hint of woodsmoke on the wind, or the biting promise of snow? Time slows to an eternity between heartbeats as He rises in brilliant magenta on the first rays of morning sun. The world and its moments are full, pregnant and teeming with very God.

I have no word for the next year. There are none that remain, but Him.

The Sea

One day the sorrowing sea

shall be

no more

But until that day she

heaves and sighs

rolled and pulled

roiled, billowing, never at rest

 

That prince, O Pride, sets up his jewel encrusted throne

distressing, oppressing

That prince of fools!

Your Victor foe reclaims a bride

One-Only-Wise

hovers and covers

calls to her deeps, caresses her face

reflected, neglected

Ransom of peace

 

STILL, the sorrowing sea

shall be

no more

She will give up her dead,

Offer up salt tears

And return to the depths

Perhaps there

she will gather

mother, nurture

little streams

that make glad the city of God

 

Still

With the coming of the colder winter months ahead, when bulbs sleep and little blooms, and snow may blanket all in peace, I turn my attention to thoughts of stillness. What does it mean? Why is “stillness” so hard for us?

What would it look like to be comfortable with not knowing?

I faced a situation recently where my best laid plans went awry. I don’t know what is going to happen. I still don’t. I fight the urge to extrapolate an answer based on every new piece of information. To take control.

Or, to avoid thinking about it all together. To not be emotionally present with my own discomfort, but to crowd it out with business or frivolity or things. What does it look like to experience our winters? To let the cold and the snow come. To wait in darkness. Why does this seem so counter-intuitive?

In The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, the land of Narnia, under the rule of the white witch, experiences  a seemingly unending winter. “It is always winter, but never Christmas,” says the sad Mr. Thumnas. As the witch’s grasp begins to weaken, Father Christmas comes. This is the long awaited sign that Aslan is on the move.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

Stillness comes with the hope of Christmas. We wait, not just numb with the cold and the grip of earth, but with expectation, longing even. For those who are His own, this not knowing is not a forever death, but a wrapped gift under the tree. It is the groaning for Christmas morning, the sure knowledge of goodness to come.

Spring always comes, and there is a sweet joy in the waiting.

Invitations

 

But what did it mean?

In this living dreamscape

What were You trying to say by

a baited answer,

The broken washing machine

thrice spewing water,

a girl in the boot who was late for school,

the deer I hit this morning,

the calendar full of appointments,

and at the edge of the woods: coyotes (or deer)

depends on who you ask,

Moses with a staff held in the air,

arms trembling.

Four Noisy children

sent out to see for themselves

“look for God”

I said as I shooed them out the door

“and watch out for coyotes”

(or deer) depending on who you ask.

One came back with a bowl full of mint leaves and berries

” taste and see ”

Two came back, covered in mud,

they checked for themselves, and decided it was deer

One furtively slipped in through the door,  heated water for tea, and invited me to drink.

 

 

 

 

Consider

“Consider how the wildflowers grow”

I should be writing an essay, but today’s lectio pulls at my attention. Consider.

“They do not labor or spin”

I spent the morning split between teaching children, switching loads of wash, and pulling down the dated and drooping  ceiling tiles in the living room, to reveal the beautiful bare bones beneath. Ire rose up every time I caught a glimpse of children forgetting to finish their school assignments or littering our shared  office with bits and scraps of cardboard.

“Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was  dressed like one of these”

They wear the cardboard as boats and rockets and robot suits. When I chase them from the house, they sprawl in the grass with their books, unhurried, unworried, and blissfully unaware…

“If that is how God clothes the grass, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you–you of little faith!”

of what a disaster our house is, the debris I clean from the living room floor, or the number of minutes we have until Shane comes home from lunch. And the wash! How did we get so far behind again! Did I remember to pull out the soup bones for tonight?

“Do not worry about what you will eat or drink. Your Father knows what you need”

I needed a moment. I turned on this meditation as I prepared to wash off the dirt from the morning’s work. Hot water carried it away in streams, along with my frustration at messy bedrooms and towels on the bathroom floor. Consider.

Consider Legs. They’s served me well today. Usually I get in the shower and bemoan thick calves and chunky thighs. I compare my body to some template in my mind. One that I’ve never measured up to. Instead, a curious thought pipes up next to the usual ones. This thick body serves me well. Not every wild flower is a rose.

I go on to consider provision, that I have to search a chest freezer for soup bones. Consider the solid wooden structure under drooping tiles. Consider wild and careless childhood, free from fear or want. Consider the wrapped Christmas presents that arrived in the cardboard boxes that now litter my office.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well”

Sometimes it seems like too much. Sometimes it is. But it is good, and so very abundant.

 

In the here and now…

A few weeks away from my fortieth birthday and…

I am here.

Here being my quiet corner of the office typing while my family finishes supper. There are open books scattered over my desk. Here is the good land, where all my kids are old enough to wipe their own bums, adventure stories and National Geographics litter open surfaces, everyone wants to paint rainbow streaks in their hair, but no one is bringing home boyfriends. Here is letting go of perfectionism and growing comfortable as a human being, with no super human traits. Here is the place where I sin, repent, repeat, and give others permission to do the same. Where I am joyful, and angry, and sad, and sometimes oh so anxious. Here is a place of habits and routines, of counting calories and taking walks, of intentionally seeking mundane regularity. Here sometimes I see glimpses of heaven, but I still got 2 inches of mud on my shoes. Here is a wet basement and plumbers and salt for the water softener and a drain to unclog, pots and pans to wash,

and now

In a present moment, almost. Seeing how much can I get done in the three hours before I send the kids to bed, pour myself a glass of wine, cuddle next to my dearest, and put on a favorite show (Being Erica is my current kryptonite, I’m halfway through season three and should finish right as Hulu starts airing the current season of This is Us).

These days pass quickly. Annie is reading, Gracie starts high school next year. We signed adoption paperwork for Belle. Emmy is in college. I am loving my classes. Waiting to see how a professor responds to a strong stance I took in my most recent paper. Devouring material in my first counseling class. At the rate I am going, it will take me another two years to finish my undergraduate degree, but I am in no rush. It’s another strand I braid into an already vibrant tapestry.

I stopped seeing how colorful it all was, once. I’d run out of dreams to dream and things to look forward to, and the dishes seemed like mountains and I got lost in the mazes of my mind.

Someday,

I want to take classes related to Spiritual Direction or Pastoral Counseling. I want to always practice hospitality. I want to adopt again. When the children are grown, I’d like to take in adults who need care. But that is a someday I think about in the Here and the Now,with my hands in soapy water and feet tracking mud…

My Father’s World

“Babygirl!” “Babygirl!”” “That don’t go in there! What you trying to do?” The man’s name was James, he is a retired army mp who now works at 7-11, and two weeks ago he stopped me from putting oil in my radiator. He got the oil where oil goes and diagnosed the cause of my car overheating, a broken water pump. This kind stranger worked with my overheated car for a good while and got it running well enough to get to a relative’s house. They in turn patched it up enough to get it to the shop.

Got my car back from the shop just in time for my kids to go on a church youth group trip to Lake Anna. Last time we went to the lake, a kind stranger named Marty opened his shop for an afternoon to repair my wipers on a rainy day. No adventures going down this time. We enjoyed the sweet hospitality of church family. The kids swam and boated and tubed and water skiied. We ate amazing food. I couldn’t have given them a weekend like that on my “saving for a new vehicle” budget, but thanks to the kindness of others, their summer ended on a definite high note, with stories they are still bubbling to tell.

The car started running a little funny on our way home from the lake. Enough so that we decided to take 11 rather than 81, knowing that we were more likely to get help, if we needed it, in one of the small towns we were passing through than on the side of 81. Somewhere after Buchanan, the road forked and we took the wrong side, winding up on 81 despite our best intentions. We hadn’t gone very far before the engine seized, leaving us in a ditch at the side of the highway.

We called a tow truck and my husband to come meet us. For future reference, a call to #77 will bring a state trooper to wherever you break down. They will call the nearest tow truck and wait with you until they arrive. I did not know about that, so a half hour later, it was dark, I couldn’t get the car started, and the battery was running low. My headlights and flashers began to dim, and the children became increasingly frightened as 18 wheelers whizzed by on the highway.

Before the lights went out completely, our tow truck arrived. It wasn’t the one we called. This shop owner had switched jobs with the guy we called, because he overshot the exit he was supposed to find his tow on. This was the first providence, as this particular tow truck had a large enough cab to fit all of the kids. The next providence was that this man’s shop was 20 miles closer to home, which was helpful as Shane was meeting us.

The final providence was this: that Wayne was a father of four who loved Jesus and understood kids. He got the car functioning well enough to drive out of the ditch and the kids safely situated in his cab in no time. He chatted with us over the course of the ride to his shop, listening to the kids’ stories from their weekend and sharing with us a miraculous testimony of God’s faithfulness in his own life, and in the lives of his children.

As I think about the beauty of nature that I saw this weekend, the wonderful rest, and the kindness of Christ reflected in human forms, that old children’s hymn about it being “My Father’s World” comes to mind. Despite the impression we get on the evening news, as long as His own children remain in the earth, it is a place of beauty and even kindness.

 

Ministry in the Margins

Several trains of thought collided for me a few days ago.

One train of thought goes something like this: “The fruit of the spirit is something that must be cultivated in our lives. Gifts are given freely, but fruit is grown. I have to choose gentleness, love, peace and patience, over my natural tendency to the opposite extreme, put off the old man and put on love. If I am choosing fruit in the moment by moment, and leave the rest up to God, things will pan out the way they are supposed to. My job is just to choose kind in any given situation”

Another train of thought flows from discussion board posts for my psychology class on helping kids and teens succeed. I had an opportunity to think about people and ministries who greatly impacted my life. Often times that impact was a side benefit from what that person or ministry was out to accomplish. Sometimes they never accomplished their goals. Yet, in each instance they greatly influenced my, and others. walk with the Lord.

A dear senior saint, a man named Geoff, immediately comes to mind. He had such a heart for evangelism, but none of his big ideas about it ever bore much fruit. When I met Geoff, my family was living in a homeless shelter. Geoff would show up on Sunday mornings and offer families a ride to church. We never ended up going to that church, but we did build a lasting friendship. Geoff was the person who filled my head with missionary stories at a time when my family situation was bleak. He helped me overcome the crippling shyness of my teenage years. not intentionally, but because he made passing out gospel tracts and talking to people a condition of him giving me rides to work. At a time when I really needed to know who Jesus was, he decided to edit the sentence structure of the gospel of John, and insisted I reread the entire gospel every time he moved a comma. I must have read that gospel over 100 times over the course of our friendship. Geoff was quirky, but God was able to use him in all of his humanity. Some of the most effective things that he did, were done incidentally, as an outflow of him just being who he was.

The last rain of thought comes from a book I am reading on “Missional Spirituality”. I have been chewing on this quote for the past few days “God calls the church to be a sent community of people who no longer live for themselves but instead live to participate with Him in His redemptive purposes. However, people will have neither passion or strength to live as a counter-cultural society for the sake of others if they are not transformed by the way of Jesus.” (Heland and Hjalmarson, 2011, p25)

So the trainwreck is this: We are called to occupy until Jesus returns. We should and must work. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. God can and will meet us in the doing. Yet, unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. We are not bright enough to really know the end of the thing from the beginning. We may never know in this life what of our work has been pointless. The work, however, was never supposed to be the end. The end is a changed heart and life.

We seek to write soaring epics to the glory of God, but maybe the more important thing is the chicken scratch in the margins of the page.

Where Light Plays

There was a time in my life when I’d look at the idyllic scenes in the lives of others, I’d see their seeming peace, and I’d seek to copy the circumstances of that peace in my own life. If I had the same pitcher…If I baked the same bread…wore the same costume, then maybe, just maybe…

But therein lies the problem, when we try to get our marching orders by comparing our life to others instead of from the Captain of our Salvation. Besides the fact that each believer is a unique reflection of God’s glory with their own gifts and talents, we all also have our own race to run, and the places of our starting lines and finish lines vary.  There are scriptural principles that apply to everybody’s situation, but only One Spirit that knows how and when to apply them to the lives of individual believers. Sanctification is not instantaneous, and we run a risk of shipwrecking each other, or ourselves, when we expect uniformity.

The image I’ve added to this post is a painting by Vermeer. The other day I was looking at it and realized, the artist wasn’t particularly trying to capture the circumstances of the individual, but rather the play of the light. Vermeer was all about the light, and we should be to.

The play of the light is why it is said that Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, choose the better thing. A life of inner illumination is the basis, is the bedrock foundation, of biblical submission. For the monk, the wife, the priest, the miller, the miller’s daughter, for all christian children and ministers of the gospel in every place:the subject of the scene is the play of the light.

Contemplation is one way we can stop and see the play of light in our own life and circumstances. It may be as simple as taking a moment in nature to hear the testimony of sunshine. It could be  intentional moments  throughout the day meditating on the words of a favorite scripture passage, or writing a list of things we are thankful for. However we do it, we stop in the midst of whatever we are doing to acknowledge the ever present, all sustaining hand of God.

And suddenly, we don’t need to feel like it all relies on us, or one some other savior  we’ve put in the place of Christ. A person attuned to the voice of the Beloved can thrive in any place, in any circumstance. Without that inner acknowledgment of goodness and presence, even sweet things will seem sour.

In the moment, in every moment, this truth remains, and light plays in every place where it is acknowledged: the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.