Summer of a Significant Birthday

2017-08-07 23.03.46

  • Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will some day be old.
  • Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.
  • Release me from craving to try to straighten out everybody’s affairs.
  • Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details–give me wings to get to the point.
  • I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. Help me to endure them with patience.
    But seal my lips on my own aches and pains–they are increasing and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
  • Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.
  • Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint–some of them are so hard to live with–but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.
  • Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy.
  • With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all–but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

—From Little Book of Prayers

(by a Mother Superior who wishes to be anonymous)

Hello Friday: Summer’s Endings, New Beginnings

Hello Friday is a look over my shoulder at the events of the past week. I notice what was life-giving and then share it with you, a week-ending examen. Maybe you’ll find something in it that brings you life, too; maybe even try your own.

  • “The Beast” is progressing! I’ve been walking Lewis most mornings. He is more mystery than manners at this point, but he raised the bar for himself this week by demonstrating his ability to wait quietly while I unleashed him upon our return so he could rejoin Boo in their kennel (which we moved to the nut grove when the temperatures soared to sustained triple digits). Otherwise, his norm is to spasm a little too enthusiastically at the door. It’s good to be winning the courtesy contest, if even a teeny bit. (And speaking of courtesy, photo by Mr. S)

Woman standing next to large white dog, holding leash

  • The classic definition of stress is being presented with a challenge one feels they haven’t the resources to meet. My pastor preached on it a few messages ago in a sermon titled, When God Asks Too Much. I listened to it again this week. If you feel like God is stressing you out by asking more than you feel you have the resources to meet, this one’s for you. Stick in your ear buds and take your beast for a 25 minute walk or push back the recliner and rest (audio is messy for first 30 secs; fine after that).
  • I spent a few delicious hours in a mountain retreat with a friend. Our lives are busy these days; in many ways, not our own. But we found a date when the white space on our calendars synced, and squeezed in a few hours to meet and catch up–reminisce, share current status, look forward, laugh, lament, and listen–deeply. Feeling oh-so-grateful.

Green chair by window

And I came away with a new resource to recommend: Seeking God’s Face.

I’ve talked before about my favorite Blue Book, A Guide to Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants. This one may bump it to second. Another prayer-book, but with some brilliant features:

  1. 15 years of actual dates in a little box at the top of each page. I don’t have to know where I am in the Christian year as long as I can remember (or find…) today’s date! It does ALL the thinking. You’re welcome.
  2. No second book needed, includes all scripture text.
  3. Prayers are in accessible, meaningful language that facilitates integration of spiritual thought with current, lived experience.
  4. Eugene Peterson’s thoughtful Forward.
  5. Format that engages both heart and mind.

Yes. It’s that good.

  • Though I am ambivalent about this one, there is life here. My tongue-in-cheek critique of Beth Moore’s book, Get Out of That Pit, had more to say about the condition of my own soul than it did about her authorship. I ended up recommending the book, but also telling the truth about what were, for me, its less-than-glowing aspects. Unflattering truths are hard for me to speak, but it felt good to do so honestly…if I’m honest. My spiritual director suggests God may be inviting me to move beyond my fear of approval by “growing a pair”–which you may or may not approve of my saying. Sorry…I’m practicing.
  • I transported a couple of family teens and their seven over-stuffed bags, water bottles in hand, to catch their ride to the hospital 2 1/2  hours away where a family member is recovering from a heart transplant.flowered design water bottle

 It felt like summer camp drop-off day with my own then-teen girls. I’ve been going through old pictures this week, trying to “minimize” (which is apparently more fashionable to be doing than old-fashioned “down-sizing” was, or “throwing away junk” was for generations prior). Anyway, I’m doing IT and found THIS. The one on the far right is celebrating a 16th wedding anniversary today! Mamas, don’t blink.

Mom and 3 children sitting on brown couch

  • I ran into a music buddy at the home improvement store on the weekend. “Keeping up your chops, aren’t you?” he said. I had to confess I wasn’t, but it reminded me that for a week or two I had felt an impulse toward playing once again, which has been absent for a time. On Monday, I found myself singing: (I know…ancient…)

You are the rock of my salvation.
You are the strength of my life.
You are my hope and my inspiration.
Lord unto You will I cry.
I believe in you, believe in you.
For your faithful love to me.
You have been my help
in time of need.
Lord unto You will I cleave. (Maranatha! Music)

  • This is a good place to mention that the week ended with this coming across from Gretchen Rubin about new beginnings. She’s good for me.

Podcast 129: September Is the Other January, the Fun of Post-It Notes, and What “They” Think.

  • And last, the week ended on a high note having lunch with a treasured friend, nurturing a valuable relationship.

Plate with slice of lemon, takeout box and restaurant check folder lying on table.

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience as cooperation. I love and live  better when I remember that “trust and obey” just means I’m cooperating with Some-thing/-one good beyond myself. And it’s easier to trust when you believe that Someone has your best in mind. Thus, these words have been chock full of meaning this week:

The Lord is trustworthy in all his promises and faithful in all he does. Psalm 145:13b.


What are you letting go of as summer comes to a close? And what promise might those endings hold?

Blessings, G

Book Look: Get Out Of That Pit

adult with kids reading book

Confession: The postman left a manila folder containing a book I forgot I had requested for reasons I couldn’t remember by an author I didn’t care to follow. I’m probably just jealous, for who can resist Beth Moore’s effervescent presentation of hope? Apparently, there are few of us. Remember Proverbs 27:14? “If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.” Such has been been my response to Moore’s prolific output. And like a good neighbor, I have carefully avoided her work—not an easy feat in modern day Christendom. Too bad for me, since I discovered upon opening the package that she has some really good things to say. When I read the enclosure, I was reminded I had, um, agreed to post a review. Here it is.

Get Out of That Pit has a timely message for anyone who finds themselves feeling stuck, unable to stand and having lost vision. From my curmudgeonly introduction, you have surmised that might be me! Moore delights with sunny, southern colloquialisms–if one has an affinity for that form of humor, then sucker punches with unavoidable truisms. As a result of her transparent sharing rather than the plastic perfection of which I [might] have accused her, I found myself open to her message, taken predominantly from Psalm 40, and the account of Joseph.

For me the most valuable takeaway is this: A pit is not, by definition, an external circumstance or a location outside of one’s self, but is, in fact, mobile. One can carry their pit with them into any situation, which she illustrates with a comic sketch of driving/crashing a stinking RV into a well-appointed living room to set up household. She posits at the beginning that it is this internal pit from which our true deliverance must come. As a spiritual director, I was thrilled to discover this nugget within. However, her attention quickly turned, in subsequent chapters, to the external “pits,” i.e. less desirable choices and willful disobedience. My initial thrill, thus, was tempered a bit. I would have liked to see more of the book devoted to the inner aspect. It seemed the freshest.

As to literary quality, while the stories are witty and charming, the writing is redundant and unfocused at times. Thus, I had a hard time staying engaged–maybe it’s just me. Thankfully, the study guide in the back brings clarity where it is lacking within the specific chapters. To her credit, she is forthright, stating that the style is conversational and can be problematic for some (…me, maybe?).

Women, in particular, looking for devotional material full of familiar biblical passages that “fill you up”–a significant portion of the scripture-consuming population, will no doubt find it enjoyable and helpful. Those who appreciate a more serious use of language, whose invitation is to deeper layers of reflection and self-awareness, who want to explore meaning beyond metaphor, should be aware that Get Out… will likely not serve that purpose, though it will serve its purpose in redirecting us to an awareness that we have agency in how long we stay. And it offers some actions to take to help us Get Out of That Pit! Spoiler alert: They mostly concern the mouth.

While I resist formulas, I recognize the value in organizing our thoughts. So, if you or someone you know seems to recycle through insurmountable situations—feel stuck, can’t stand in the face of difficulty, and have lost vision, Moore offers good insight. You may want to skim, though, rather than read each word. Congrats on the 10th anniversary of a successful piece of work.

PRAXIS 1: Don’t try this at home…unless you want to remove barriers to freedom.

At our friends’ recent 50th anniversary celebration, I was introduced to Darci–not her real name–by way of a challenge: You’ll never guess what SHE does for a living!

Cards on table, OX signs, couples picts

Piper’s 50th Anniversary

Thus commenced an impromptu round of “What’s My Line” wherein I discovered that, at 5′ 4″/ 120-ish lbs, she is a long haul, semi truck driver–logging in over 2 million miles in seventeen years! In his 70-year driving career my dad was a 2-million-miler, accident-free. Now she, too, has my mad respect–and he hers, for racking up a good portion of his before technology and paved roads. It takes a lot of doing a thing over many years to realize one’s potential–for whatever, in whatever era.

Large log on truck, man standing on running board

Dad 1951

In trucking terms, he and I had little in common. We did, though, share a love of language and learning. He was also a philosopher at heart. When assimilating new information or processing a foreign concept became difficult, Dad would often say, “Well, that’s Greek to me!” And, in fact, the Greek is helpful.  [See “praxis” (Gr. for practice).]

If you’re short on time, here’s the short version (…you’re welcome). Otherwise, read on.

  • Words are symbols for actual realities
  • Internalizing new realities takes practice, and by extension, time
  • Spiritual formation is not about learning new words…it’s about practice
  • Transformation is the process of removing barriers to freedom
  • Darci is a rock star. So’s Dad. And Happy Anniversary to my friends.

Practice is required to truly learn anything new. Language and learning are hard to separate, but learning involves much more than words, as words are simply symbols for the realities they represent.

Yellow Sign says: Praxis, Theorie

For example, as a young piano student, I studied theory books explaining how music worked and completed lesson books requiring me to actually practice–for an hour a day (thanks, Mom). I exercised the principles for myself until one day my miniature finger muscles had memorized the necessary motions and could perform them without studied concentration. Likewise:

  • Doctors invest themselves in internships
  • Counselors submit themselves to “supervised” hours
  • Mothers commandeer children
  • Pilots soar with flight simulators

Each is showing up and doing the thing, day after day. In the work I do with spiritual formation, it’s quite easy to slip into engagement with the theory of formation and attend less to doing the thing day after day, to praxis.

In A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, an anthology from Upper Room Books,  Howard Rice says this, which I share in the spirit of both accountability and encouragement:

Discipline in the Christian life is not a luxury. Without it we become confused, lose our way, compromise our principles, and discover that we are not the people we had intended to be. No one is so sturdy in the faith that the temptation to surrender bit by bit does not erode conviction. Days go by and we discover that, instead of growing in grace in these days, we have wasted them…These means of grace are not a method of deserving God’s grace, but a pattern by which we enable ourselves to be receptive to grace and remove the barriers that God permits us to erect as the price of our freedom. These tools, or aids, are ways by which we open ourselves to God’s free grace.

A common question I hear is around how to “do” all these practices. “Isn’t this just another set of rules? A new kind of legalism?”

To which I cry a resounding, YES! It can be. And if that’s where you find yourself, notice that it’s happening to you and STOP! Re-evaluate what has taken you there and reorient your heart toward freedom.

It is one of the reasons I’m so glad to have found Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines before I found any of the to-do lists at all, i.e. Celebration of Discipline, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, books I recommend, by the way. But to have reversed them may have been my tragic undoing. While transformation is not accomplished by what we do, our doing something is needed in order for us to experience transformation. That something is to turn, over and over again, to the Love which sets us free.

And that means being who I say I am, doing what transforming people do: praxis.


What practices help you to turn toward God, the Love which sets us free? What will you do today, this week? What would you like to experiment with or know more about? Are your practices changing over time?

Leave a comment. I would love to hear what’s helping you open to God more fully…running, reading, reflecting, resting…it doesn’t have to start with ‘r’.  🙂


Spiritual direction is one such practice. If you’re interested, contact me here for more information.

Hello Friday: Streams of Living Water

Today’s post is a quick hello, hoping to inspire you to notice from whence your own streams flow.

In preparation for Fall startup of CFDM’s Formation 2 program, I’m studying for a presentation on what Richard Foster has termed “streams,” the six major traditions of the Christian faith beginning with the resurrection of Christ, and reading his (Foster’s) book, Streams of Living Water. The only ‘D’ I earned as a student was in History so the irony that I’m not only fascinated by, but deign to teach on, this particular history is not lost on me! As with many of Richard’s writings, his most compelling words are in his explaining why he writes on the topic at hand, or why he recommends the work of another. Such is the case here–he had me at “Introduction.”

I’ve spent a lot of time focused on the state of my physical body this past week. Marta Taylor,  Erin Knight, Corey Schuler have done a fabulous job with the Chronic Headache and Migraine Summit, putting together a panel of speakers to teach on various aspects of cause, management and in some cases, extinction. It has been life-giving.

I had lunch with a friend I’ve not spent time with in years. Honestly, she took the initiative, not me. We sat together at my humble, DIY bar over a simple chicken salad and kombucha where we shared hearts and got reacquainted. How easily we isolate ourselves, limiting the possibility of transformation taking place in others just as it is for us–if we remain open to discovery. Hidden gifts might be waiting that are otherwise missed.

Family has been especially meaningful this week, as our nephew has undergone a second heart transplant. It’s a complex tension, as we hold both his recovery and the donor’s loved ones in prayer. At 17, parents and siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends have rallied to support in so many ways:

People in hospital waiting room

  • Prayer, prayer and more prayer
  • Interrupting vacation plans to get to the hospital in time for the procedure
  • Several people traveling hours to be with family in the waiting room
  • Extended stays nearby to be available
  • Stocking and transporting the camp trailer for family to stay in during the weeks of recovery
  • Posting on social media
  • Artists and friends contributing gifts of prayer and beauty
  • Donating vacation time to supervise siblings and run errands

And in the midst of it, I treasure the overnighter with my ten-year-old granddaughter and an afternoon spent at the library, lunch and shopping with the thirteen-ager; the impromptu drive with another to the pet store (30 minutes away to return the ill chameleon he gave her for their first anniversary–he loves her THAT much); good conversation over dinner with Mr. S; yoga twice this week to stretch and tone and tame an over-active mind.

All of these have been streams of living water to me this week, reminding me that:

  • Life is a gift
  • We are invited to step in fully
  • Difficult times are inevitable
  • We are not alone

As this week of summer days winds to a close, may you be mindful of the Source of Life from which streams of living water flow to you, the moments and experiences that have nourished you these past few days. (If you’re in a dark time–I have been–you may have to work at it…!) May that lead you toward peace, shalom, which is to say in Hebrew, wholeness.

 

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do: Just STOP. Now.

https://picsart.com/i/image-butterfly-swirls-colors-effects-photostory-music-24466664251

Photo: Picsart

“Your card is expired.”

So said the email from WordPress notifying me that if I want to be here with you, I best tend to business. I do and so I did. It was a bit of a gut-punch, though, realizing how I’ve ignored this space…and you…in the past weeks, months.

The blog has been waaay down the list of things that take my time right now. And there may be some changes in what you see here. Hope you won’t mind too much, as living things are always growing, changing.

In the world of blogging inattention is the [nearly] unpardonable sin for so many reasons. Chief among them is how it dishonors the relationship with you, Dear Reader. I’m sorry…really, I am. And given how sporadically I post, there likely isn’t one unless, for some reason, you know me in real time.

Real time is what we’re all short on, right? And all for good reason. Take this last week, for instance.

  • It began with a an out-of-town work trip Monday and Tuesday to attend a board meeting and plan next year’s spiritual formation curriculum. Yay!! You really shouldn’t miss this…
  • Wednesday was errands and home life–dog food, prescriptions, groceries, laundry.
  • Thursday, a neighbor needed help selling, moving, late into the evening–county permits, dishonest movers…grrrrr
  • Friday was grandkid-sitting–foster babies, Mom attending court
  • Saturday and Sunday there were family celebrations–graduations, recitals, parties and all the activity that produces.
  • In between, me and Mr. S ate and slept, watched a Father Brown mystery here and there (yes, I confess to a BBC addiction), fielded emails, texts, attended church and tended to animals and aging parents (Mom’s in the hospital, the goats are out…again!).

Add to that the business of renovation that has upended my environment in a big way and a digestive system that has decided to go rogue–which is a little like carrying a whiny toddler on your hip all day. It’s all part and parcel of this life I love but it demands of me, of us, an outward focus that requires an inward stability if we’re to love freely as we move about in it.

Inward stability has to be nurtured, which languishes when we run short on time. Words like margin, solitude, reflection all feel a bit contrived in such a state. Yet it’s exactly what’s needed. I have learned to build these things into my days in small ways, but sometimes there’s a need to stop the swirling–whatever the cost–and build in wider spaces, intentional times to rebound. Spaciousness in which to think, pray, and listen, which helps us discern a bigger picture, can get relegated to the “B” list. Action and conversation can get prickly, relationships become characterized by tension–audible or silent.

When that happens, it’s time to stop. When the toddler on my hip refuses to be consoled or content, I know I’ve pushed too hard. It’s time to stop. When there is no regularity of rhythm, it’s time to stop.

Like a pacemaker that’s out of sync and must be shocked to restore proper function, we may need the stark interruption of a period of silence. We may need even more. But always it starts with stopping.

Which is what I’m going to do. Now.

Hope to see you more often. Ciao.

 

 

” Wholeness does not mean perfection.”

Here’s a quote worth thinking about from Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (Jossey-Bass, 2004)

“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness – mine, yours, ours – need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”

There’s no denying brokenness. I admit that detecting devastation comes more rapidly to me than envisioning seeds of new life. While I don’t particularly tolerate it–brokenness–well in myself, I have developed an appreciation for its role.

In fact, denying brokenness by reaching into the bag for seeds of new life before the soil of devastation has warmed, may interrupt its very important work in us. Premature “hope,” indiscriminately scattered, may never germinate.  Continue reading

Easter Octave: Love On a Grand Scale

Mother’s Day greetings have replaced Easter in the card racks, the bunnies are clearanced and the pastel peanut M&M’s are 50% off (thank you, Mars Candy, for NOT helping…).

Being a musician, the phrase “Easter Octave” caught my ear. It was news to me to learn that, for centuries, Easter was formally observed as a full season, not just a day or even a few days, within the liturgical cycle.

Easter through the following Sunday makes up the “octave” (eight). Each Sunday after Easter is known as the second Sunday of Easter, the third and so on, until Pentecost. All of that to justify for us non-liturgists why I’m still posting this piece of art related to Easter, four days “late”.

Listening to the narration (:55-1:40), I was struck by the thought that God’s hand securely holds a symbol of victory even above the apex of humanity’s depravity as fully displayed. Christ’s Love does indeed contain the capacity to conquer all.

Thanks to a colleague, Mark, who shared this with me, I’m passing it on for you to have a few mid-week moments with. I hope you take it.

How does it speak to you?

 

Holiness 101: People Matter

If you react to the term “holiness” like I do, this may help you breathe. May even help redeem it. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

Episode 73 – Holiness is Better Than You Think // Trevor Hudson – Renovaré

https://renovare.org/podcast/episode-73-trevor-hudson

Mindful Monday

20161115_152358.jpg

Meet “Lewis”

The Beast, our new Great Pyrenees/Belgian Shepherd, turned five months old last week. He doubled in size in four short weeks, requiring the help of a pre-teen grandkid just to hoist his sorry carcass into the vet for his last parvo vaccine!

There’s nothing like a new puppy to help you pay attention. Take your eyes off the little buggar for a second and the curtain is shredded. Or there’s a puddle of pee demanding yet another round with the Resolve. The cat suffers from PTSD and the hose you left out mysteriously sprouts a new hole. Well, not mysteriously. Meet Lewis, our newest reminder of what it costs to NOT pay attention.

We miss so much when we don’t:

  • The fleeting look of tenderness in the eye of someone who lets down their guard for just long enough for us to see the fear behind the front they prefer to wear
  • The nudge to send that email or text to the person needing an atta boy/girl

A high-pitched shriek of childish delight easily arrests our attention, but the more subtle moments, the mundane, the nuanced… it’s easy to forget those are just as pregnant with life if we pay attention.

  • Laundry reminds us of work accomplished or an event attended. Yet was I fully invested, wholly engaged, entirely present?
  • Dishes indicate a satisfying meal. But did I bother to take in the aromas, the textures, and can I remember with whom my meal was shared, or our conversation?
  • Fueling the car or balancing the checkbook, the privileges of enough. Was I aware that I was shopping on purpose, though, rather than simply self-medicating?

Life is made of routine, non-descript moments. Thanks to help from uber-efficient brains, we learn to function without thinking at all about how to open the front door or climb stairs. Heuristics someone smart called it. Shortcuts. Imagine if you had to methodically tell yourself to execute every move required for tying a shoe–there was a day, remember?! But now you can do it all without paying attention. Alas, the tradeoff is that over time auto-pilot becomes our default.

Think about your yard, your car’s interior, your office desk…Things left entirely to themselves generally speaking, end in at least mild disarray–which is charming in an English garden, but not in dog training.

Ergo, here’s a “Mindful Monday” post, a gentle poke reminding you and me to exercise our attention muscles.
Mindfulness, awareness, paying attention:

  • Is a step in developing our capacity for gratitude.
  • Helps us nurture and steward well the life we are given.
  • Serves us in recognizing where we get in our own way of receiving love and being more loving–something neither of these pests pets have any trouble with.

Sure, it takes a little time, a different kind of energy, but it keeps stuff from soiling the carpet…if you get my drift.