Hello, again, hello!

Standard

So I have been away for awhile, exploring and dreaming, but for all the world’s wonder, my first love pulls me back, and I must play with words again.

One of the things I have discovered about myself in this interim of quiet has been a deeply embedded fear of the power of my own words. I have worried about the potential for misunderstanding until my thoughts shriveled and my words dried up. Writing has always carried a burden of responsibility for me and fostered a need to choose words carefully and wisely. And so it should.

What I have learned in this period of silence, however, is that it is possible to take on a responsibility that is not mine. I must choose my words with intent, and I must consider the potential for misunderstanding, but I cannot bear responsibility for everything my readers bring with them to the encounter. I turn again to words I repeat to myself daily: “Perfectionism is the enemy of Grace.” And so, falling back into Grace, I pick up my words again. I pick them up with care and compassion, with intentionality, and yes, with imperfection. But I trust in Grace to carry them home safely to the hearts I long to touch. Amen.

Advertisements

"Not all who wander are lost…"

Standard

Thank you, Abba, for:

church steeples pointing to the sky (look up)

beloved prodigals who remind us of, and connect us to, You (look up!)

cycles of change, leading (ultimately) to renewal (fall into winter, winter into spring, life into death, death into life)

hot chocolate on cold, rainy days (extra marshmallows, please!)

books (the kind that grow you up)

poiema (tattoo this on my heart: that you and I are God’s masterpiece, His workmanship, His poem…)

the musical cadence of rain on the roof (and rhythms of heartbeats and breathing)

naps (to process reading)

cricket songs, slowed down to human lifespans, that sound like unearthly choirs (the whole earth is full of His glory, and there is a speed of life where even the rocks sing audible praise to their Maker)

beautiful, intelligent, mature conversations with 5-year-old Sarah about art (she gets it… unsullied by fear, wide open to wonder)

ink-stained fingers (making art)

things that sparkle (and more art)

people who shine grace into darkness (near as my heart, far as the Rising Sun)

 

So, my goal to write a blog post for every day of November is not going to happen, but I am okay with that. Really. I refuse to beat myself up over something that already is and cannot be fixed. I’m going to live out the Serenity Prayer instead, and accept the things that I cannot change. Like the past. It is behind me and unreachable. I’m leaning forward now, into hope.

My temporary blog-silence fell out of several seemingly disconnected and unrelated things. First, a painful disagreement with someone I love, which erupted into angry words, tears, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and just plain not hearing. The conflict circled round and round without resolution. Now we walk around one another stiffly, unsure how to proceed. Lean forward, Rebecca, into hope.

The incident prompted me to do a whole lot of thinking on the monastic practice of Voluntary Silence. Yes, I do catch the irony. It certainly seems inconsistent for a person who spends time making art out of words to take a vow of wordlessness. But honestly, in situations where words become weapons, silence looks golden.

And I’m not talking about the Silent Treatment, where not speaking becomes, itself, a weapon. More like what my grandma used to say: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” But larger than that, even, because when every attempt to fix something with your words seems to lead to more hurt, just shut your mouth, eh? So, yeah. For now. Horizontal silence. Vertical conversation. Listen. Listen. Listen.

Leaning forward into hope really does mean praying for the right words to bring about resolution and restoration and healing. It means watching carefully and hoping faithfully for the right time to speak those words. It means having the courage to speak, in spite of the pain… speaking the words through the pain and into the heart of the pain and letting them heal it. We are broken. Hard graces expose our brokenness, lay us bare to heartache, but they remain graces, nevertheless.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having some long and hard vertical conversations with the only One who really knows my heart. He understands how and why I’ve become so unwilling to settle, yet again, for “sorry” without change, for regret without repentance. Not on my part. Not on my friend’s part. Jesus understands the frustration at its source. Not only my frustration, but also my friend’s. He sees the whole picture. He knows the back story. And He loves both of us. So I feel confident to trust Him here, to bind up our wounds and restore us.

The other cause for my delay in posting has been this book I’m reading. Yes, that sounds so lame. But haven’t you ever read a book that just blew your boat out of the water and left you feeling a little wobbly on your sandy land-legs? It’s a bit like coming out of the roller-skating rink after six hours on wheels and having to remember how to walk in plain shoes again. (Do people still roller-skate? Hmmm. I wonder.)

Anyway, this book by Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, came recommended to me from several different corners. It kept popping up on the “you might also like” thingies that tease you to shop a little more. The title definitely intrigued. It spoke of ideas that have been germinating in my spirit for a while now. So I downloaded it onto my Nooky Monster. And after The Conflict, I finally got around to reading it. Four times. Uninterrupted by anything else but art and sleep. (In that order.)

Now I’m blaming Ann Voskamp for this! Not just because it was on her blog A Holy Experience that I first saw the title. You see, I responded similarly to Ann’s beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. A birthday gift, I opened it curiously and began to read. When I had finished, I just flipped the book over and started reading it again. It was like eating a very rich, very chocolate, very decadent cake. The kind that comes on rare and special occasions. Chew slowly. Savor the words, prose-poetry for the heart, visual as her photographs. Reflect, reflect, reflect on every nuance of flavor and texture. And, ultimately, rise to the challenge. A friend and I together, undertake Ann’s dare, her challenge, to begin counting graces, to begin living right here and right now in the moment at hand, and to begin offering gratitude for those moments in our broken, paying-attention ways. Eyes wide to wonder.

God used — is still using —  Ann’s book to up-end my world, exponentially. The process of change hasn’t always been comfortable, but it has been beautiful and good. It has been expansive, in the most alarming ways. It has taken me deeper into real, abiding relationship with the Lover of my soul. It has colored every corner and crevice of my spirit. Aurora borealis colored. Bright, shining, double-rainbow glitter-glued. This is free, unfettered, glory art… the nothing-is-impossible kind of art that wise five-year-olds make. A promise from the only One who ever really keeps His promises anyway.

Fast-forward to A Million Little Ways. I’m not sure what it would have looked like if I had read the book a year ago, or even two months ago. But because I have been having this renewed love affair with my Savior, and because He has used this time to show me new things about His love for me, His acceptance of me, His plans for me, and because the title and teasers for this book spoke to some of the same things I’ve already been wrestling with and writing about on my blog, I have been beautifully blown away again, wobbling about on shoes without wheels, and looking for ways to say:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

To Ann.

To Emily.

To God.

So this post may have started off rambling, in a wandering-around-aimless-and-lost kind of way. But I do think it found its way safely home… to the heart of grace that dwells in gratitude.

“At the most basic level of our identity, your job and my job is to be a poem, the image bearers of God, made to reflect his glory. The art you and I were born to make is released out of the core of who we truly are, where our spirit is joined in union with the Spirit of God. Any movement coming from that place reflects the glory of God. This is our highest purpose and, ultimately, our greatest joy.” Emily P. Freeman (emphasis mine)

 

The Art of Making Messes

Standard

I am blessed with:

1. Family. Beautiful, loving, nurturing, faithful family (and a couple of us even share genes and time zones)…

2. Ready evidence that what some intend for evil, God intends for good (and He trumps all)…

3. Hope. Because even when times are hard, we can work together to make them better…

4. A little boy named John in West Africa, who is bound to me by the unfailing cables of the Holy Spirit, through a heart sister and her family in North Carolina. May he grow up strong in grace and know without doubt that he is chosen and loved

5. Beautiful, daily reminders that I am not an orphan, but chosen and adopted by grace, created for a purpose, called to do good works…

When I was in grad school, one of my education professors used to exclaim, “Learning is messy!” It was a mantra of encouragement to all of us not to get caught up in the need to “control” every event in our classrooms. A mantra that promoted a certain flexibility for us, as educators, to embrace the serendipity that is often involved in the process of learning new things. Serendipity cannot be formulated or programmed or calculated or even guaranteed. The best we can do is cultivate an environment that welcomes it, pay attention when it shows up, and offer gratitude for the gifts it offers.

Fast forward fifteen years (or so), and I’m only just scraping the surface of how true that mantra is, both in the classroom and in “real” life. Certainly my years in the classroom, both as a student and as an educator, reinforced its reality innumerable times. Learning is messy, and none of us does it in the same fashion, or even in the same time frame. I suspect this is the biggest flaw in today’s “educational reform.” In their efforts to “tidy up the system,” lawmakers are focused on rigid pacing and uniformity. It is a focus that works great for marching bands and street parades. For education? Not so much. And yet, the powers that be are shocked again and again when, three or four years into every new initiative, their reforms don’t exactly bear the fruit they were expecting. But that is a soapbox for another day, and I don’t doubt I’ll climb up on it. Many. Many. Times.

Today I am really thinking about how the idea that learning is messy applies outside of academia, in the great school of life. It has been over two years since I “retired” from public education. During this time, I have been recovering some lost parts of myself. Namely, the artistic, creative side of myself in applications beyond lesson plans and school improvement committees. Instead of being an editor for unwilling seventh graders, my vision has returned to my own writing. I am learning to create art in many forms, from mixed-media collage and painting, to jewelry making, to a meditative form of pattern doodling called Zentangle.

Sometimes, in the middle of a project, my work table looks like an explosion happened. Mostly because it did. An explosion of love for the work before me. An explosion of curiosity for what will happen if I do this… or this… or (oh, wow!) this…. An explosion of satisfaction when the work and the curiosity marry into a finished piece that looks and feels like art to me. And I don’t even know what to call that explosion when someone wants to purchase something I’ve created, allowing me to live by my art. It transcends words.

Ever notice how some people reach a point where they just stop learning new things? For some it starts early… that first time in public school when they experience “failure” and shut it all down. For others, it comes later, after decades of expertise make them feel they don’t need anything more. I always feel sorry for people who lose interest in learning. The color goes out of their lives. They become gray and one-dimensional. The most interesting people I know, regardless of their age, are those who never stop exploring new things. Even if all they can do is “google it,” those who cultivate an interest in learning something new have a multi-faceted and sparkling demeanor that pulls me in and makes me want to bask warm in their presence.

Maybe one of the reasons people lose interest in learning is because of the mess. Maybe they think they’re doing it wrong. Maybe they don’t understand that learning is supposed to be messy. And that’s a good thing.

So. If it’s been a while since you made an explosion:

in your garden,

at your desk,

on your computer,

in the kitchen,

in your workshop,

in your journal,

or in the bedroom…

then maybe it’s time to get your art on.

Go ahead. Make a mess. You’ll be richer for it.

 

 

Spinning the Top

Standard

I am blessed with:

  1. Mom’s recovery from a recent illness
  2. This morning’s “cradle sunrise”–full of pale pinks, blues and yellows
  3. Sharing part of my “His-story” aloud with a friend and discovering certain memories are not as painful to probe as they once were
  4. This pink-clad baby — laughing-right-out-loud-at-nothing-in-particular-but-baby-joy — on her mommy’s lap at the table beside me

I have found that I go through “seasons of thought” like the planet changes seasons. Often sparked by conundrums in my life or bumpy rides in relationships, these thoughts spin about like tops set in motion, until they achieve some resolution… or revolution… of enlightenment for me. I wrestle with them, like Jacob and the Lord, and I will not let them go until I am blessed with… something… understanding, peace, contentment, direction in the way I should go.

Mostly the top spinning is quiet. I do a lot of silent reflecting, reading, praying. Sometimes I need to bounce words off of others until I can find my way. Always, always, always, God speaks into this process at some point, which amazes and astounds me…. That He should hear my thoughts…. That He should care to offer His input in such beautiful, creative ways.

So, most recently, the whirlwind of thought has revolved around the question of pain. Deep, personal pain, encountered in my  life and in the lives of people around me. Our reactions to pain. The patterns that we tend to play out over and over again, every time we encounter experiences that threaten our comfort or gouge deep-down, indelible scars into our trust.

We run away.

We clench our teeth and shoulders and hands.

We shake our fists at one another and Heaven.

We withdraw from others.

We hide.

We wear masks.

We lick our wounds.

We gnaw our hearts.

We grow angry, bitter even.

We lash out at others.

We deny our needs and vulnerabilities before the enemy, and we make enemies of everyone.

These are some of the patterns that I have observed in others, but also (dare I confess it?) participated in myself, when confronted by pain.

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we are to love into those places of pain and brokenness in a way that honors Our Father, who is love.

So I’ve been reflecting, reading, praying, pinging ideas and words off friends whose opinions I value, and praying some more on this one. And God has been speaking into the process with His usual creativity.

Reading Ann Voskamp’s blog A Holy Experience, I am reminded that we are all like Jacob, looking for blessings we cannot give ourselves. It was a pattern in Jacob’s life… disguising himself as Esau for a blessing from his earthly father, enduring a wrenched hip socket for a blessing from his Heavenly Father. But it is a pattern of need that we all share. Ann writes:

Everybody is just a brave beggar looking for a blessing. We’re all Jacobs. There isn’t anybody who isn’t starved for a word of blessing.  What if no one had to dress up any better, any stronger, any braver — and we just handed out words that bless to everyone just as they are in all their real and honest messiness?  What if we weren’t about dressing up as good — but about giving the blessing now? This changes your life and a thousand more: Only speak words that make souls stronger. To the smoldering teenager and the bored guy pumping gas and the burdened husband slumped at the table and the volcanic kid spewing lava ugly everywhere. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and words have the power of God in them. Words have the power to literally breathe life — to literally reshape the atoms of real lives. Sticks and stones may break bones — but only words can curse a soul or be a blessing We could make it a different world: We don’t demand anyone go dressing up as good, to get our blessing now.

So I am reminded by my Father through Ann’s blog: “words have the power of God in them.” I am reminded of the need to choose words carefully, thoughtfully, and to lay them down tenderly, like a blessing, on the souls of those around me who are wrestling through this messy business called life… just like I am.

Never mind our patterns. Jesus knows we have them. Do we really think He sits on His throne in Heaven muttering:

“Oh, here we go again!” [Big eye roll] “Ignore her.”

“That’s just her way.” [Careless shrug] “Leave her alone.”

“He does that every time.” [Angry gesture] “Just walk away.”

I suspect laying down a blessing is a bit like forgiveness… How many times must I forgive? How many times must I bless?

Well… how often does Jesus forgive? How often does He bless?

And do I really wanna be like Jesus, or do I just say I do?

“What if no one had to dress up

 any better, any stronger, any braver —

and we just handed out words that bless

to everyone

just as they are

in all their real and honest messiness?”

The question gives me a lot to think about.

Embracing thanksgiving as a lifestyle

Standard

So my friend and I have been seriously applying Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts to our daily living… learning to hold our hands open to God’s blessings and give thanks for them, even when they (sometimes) don’t feel like blessings. Our Friday morning breakfast conversations are filled with the struggle, the challenge, the very real effort involved in this practice.

There are definitely areas on both of our lives where we just. aren’t. there. (YET.) And maybe we won’t get there this side of Heaven. But I’ve decided that’s okay. I don’t think Jesus will fault me for being open to thankfulness, even when I wrestle to actually BE thankful.

The PROCESS is the thing. And in those quiet moments of slowing down, listing gratitude, naming miracles, I have begun to see His blessings everywhere. The richest one of all has been the growing ability to really see this moment. The one right in front of me. The one He wants me to LIVE in. Right. NOW.

How often do I allow my joy to be robbed by my tendencies to dwell on the sorrows and failures behind me or borrow troubles from a tomorrow that may never come? Mindfulness of the moment has never been my default setting. And yet, here He is, in this moment, teaching me attentiveness and gratitude. I am a debtor to Grace, it’s true. But not impoverished by the debt.