Day 21: Self-Acceptance and the Mysteries of Grief

The last few months I have been living the stages of grief, swerving from anger to depression and back again, barely catching my breath. I only momentarily live in the broad open spaces of acceptance before being pulled back into the vortex.  Grieving is exhausting and messy and triggers other places of deep brokenness yelling, “aha, and you thought you were more together, more healed!”

 

Yesterday I found THIS BOOK and through the lovely, authentic writing of Leanna Tankersley began to remember the deep, velvet gift of self-acceptance. Crazy that last January I would know that self-acceptance would be this year’s key…and crazy that by December and through one more move I would completely forget.

 

 

Self-Acceptance is nothing fancy, it’s just finding yourself on an emotional map and looking and saying, “Yup, that’s where I am…and Yup, I’m not sure where to go from here” and then just sitting down in grace.

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Sunday I cried through the entire church service like a crazy woman. Andrew had to go in search of tissues I was such a blubbering mess. He came back with 10. I used them all and then left during the exchange of peace to go out in search of more.  Later we escaped through a back door because once again, I couldn’t stop the tears.

 

Before the escape, I lay my head down in front of a small side altar and just looked at the crucifix there. I gazed at He who gave up and kept giving up until there was nothing left to give up. We stared at each other for a while…and then I kept on weeping.

 

Today? The opposite. No weeping. Stillness. Even a small lovely ounce of Anticipation. This is the serious crazy of grief, wide pendulum swings of emotion catching you by surprise.

 

Things I have learned through this season:

 

1. Grieving is circular. It doesn’t get wrapped up tight in 31 days…or 40 days.  Just the idea that I tried to will myself towards 31 days to rootedness makes me feel nauseated now.

 

2. Nourishment is essential. I need serious amounts of Jesus to make it through. My sweet priest friend, Carrie Klukas put me onto this one. Sometimes it takes 10 chapters of the Word to come right through the smothering tunnel to the light. Sometimes tapas meals of scripture just doesn’t cut it. There are seasons of malnourishment where we will need long slow feasts.

 

3. The senses are like a valve for deep emotion to pass through. Music, beauty, art, love-making. They are all triggers.

 

4. People who haven’t gone through this process of moving, loving and leaving, over and over just plain forget. It’s like the forgetfulness of a young mom who just through labor looks in her husband’s eyes and asks for another one.  My favorite question: “So, how are you getting settled?” I just don’t know what to say.

 

5. Grieving just means there was something lost which was of great worth. The truth is that I wouldn’t be grieving so deeply if I hadn’t been given the privilege of loving so deeply. When we do the work to move past the masks to the beautiful, soft underneath with people, we fall in love hard.  Hard.  The loss then becomes more of an excruciating tear. Jagged. Nothing clean about it.

 

But tonight I had to share because for the first time in this crazy ride, I’m realizing that this too is the gift. We give ourselves. We love hard. We choose a wide “yes” over the easy, tightfisted no.

 

We are ushered into the holy of holies with the image of God written all over the dna of a human being and we are hushed into silence. We take off our shoes and share bits of the real over cheddar biscuits at a table at Red Lobster, over a candle flaming in a small prayer room, over a conference table cluttered with thick binders where together we have been seeking wholeness.

 

So maybe this season of brokenness is inevitable after imbibing so much joy and knowing that the well…that particular well…can no longer be reached.

 

And this is perhaps our only taste of the cross following life…of stretching our arms to purposefully love in spite of knowing we are all walking slowly towards another loss.

 

So, here’s to being truthful with our stuff,

to the unexpected surge of anticipation which trusts that empty arms will someday be filled again,

to self-acceptance being the path to wide open spaces,

…and knowing that through Christ, resurrection always follows the cross.

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Day 18: Be Content

I grew up believing I would be a missionary. After feeding on thick books about Amy Carmichael and Hudson Taylor, I buckled seat belts on as many planes as possible and headed to Gabon, West Africa, Albania, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Tibet.

 

I learned to fall in love with people while dancing the salsa in an upstairs cafe in Ecuador, while looking into jet black faces with shiny white smiles, and while trying to learn Spanish one “como se dice” at a time.

 

And I learned to love people while looking into the eyes of the Buddhist monk in Tibet. He invited us into his cell and served us Tang out of a small, metal thermos. Mine had a large black fly swimming in the middle. He quickly turned around and flicked it out and then offered it back to me with a smile. Andrew played soccer with the younger monks in their long red robes in an open space in the middle of their buildings. They kept reaching down and rewinding the fabric as it slipped.

 

But sometimes it’s easier to love the exotic “other” rather than the neighbor who shares a fence.

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In seminary Andrew and I went to Myanmar/Burma for six weeks with a professor and I was surprised to find that now just six weeks was too long. I missed the familiar cheeseburger and now dreamed about a home to bring babies home from the hospital to. However, when we bought the yellow cottage and I woke up early and went to sleep late with the babies, I now craved the unknown of adventure, the red dirt streets of a faraway marketplace, the bowl of noodles with chopsticks.

 

My mind had been captured in a web of discontent.

 

Out of seminary, six years of ministry and two babies later, I started intuiting that the pattern of discontent, my constant proclivity to look for “greener pastures,” was tied to the drag of depression. I had become familiar with its grasping power and it was time to put discontent away. Searching for the key, I turned to my concordance with the word “content” and then Philippians 4:10-14. There I read Paul had grasped what I knew I needed to learn. He wrote: “I have learned the secret of being content” but I had learned no such secret.  All I knew was a gnawing fantasy world that was never satisfied.

 

The secret to a joy-filled life lays deep in the recesses of a hard won contentment.  It cannot be taught. It will never be caught. It can only be learned. It can only be chosen. I was going to need that secret if I would ever learn to love my zipcode.

 

Paul embarrasses our efforts when he writes in chains, (Phil 4:12-14): “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

 

Paul’s secret? “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

 

Our secret? We can choose to love this zip code leaning heavy on the strength of Christ,

 

  • who chose earth when he could have stayed enthroned in heaven,
  • who chose to eat at the table with sinners when he could have eaten in political comfort,
  • who chose service when he could have chosen power,
  • who chose death when he could have worn a crown,
  • who chose to fall in love with an unworthy people, walk their streets, touch their leprosy, use the earth’s mud to set their eyes free to see glory. 

 

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In Linda Dillow’s book, Calm My Anxious Heart, the author recounts the story of a missionary wife named Ella Spees, who worked beside her husband in primitive conditions with the pygmies in Africa for 52 years. Ella’s journal was found after her death along with this prescription for contentment:

 

  1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.
  2. Never picture yourself in any other circumstance or someplace else.
  3. Never compare your lot with another’s.
  4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
  5. Never dwell on tomorrow–remember that tomorrow is God’s, not ours.

 

As we choose this new zip code, we beg for an enlarged heart, for the strength of a Christ who chose service and did not demand impossible perfection. We choose to look into the eyes of our next-door neighbor with grace and beckon with invitation. We choose to eat out of the hands of God who ALWAYS gives good things because He Is Good.

 

We choose the daily yes of contentment.

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Action: Keep filling up the pages of your thanksgiving list. Keep writing line after line. Nature abhors a vacuum and though we start recognizing and journaling the patterns of discontent, we need to fill the emptiness with something new, something good. Also from Philippians 4, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

 

Today Hunt Beauty. Give thanks.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 15: Rebuild

Like the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time, our lives after a move are in various states of disrepair. We can’t figure out how all the rocks fit into our new schedules and so everything feels a bit haphazard, chaotic. We’re catching meals instead of making them. Our prayer life feels awkward and anemic. Even our turns around the grocery store aisles take longer because we can’t find where they put their crackers. It’s similar to any major life change, one that upends our schedules.

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When we skimp on our necessities, we end up getting cheated. The consequences are that we lack the emotional stamina to withstand the emotional onslaught. We are vulnerable, and fragile, our emotions smacking us around. We need to rebuild our protection.

 

Here’s MY list of necessities in no particular order and how I’m doing:

  • Healthy food? Sometimes.
  • Sleep? Sometimes
  • Exercise? Barely.
  • Scripture and prayer? Sometimes.
  • Sabbath time? Almost never.
  • Time to listen and receive from God? Barely.
  • Deep connections with a friend? Every once in a while.
  • Spiritual director? Not yet.

 

When our walls are down, we should not be surprised when we are taken out easily.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

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We have to repair the walls to protect the heart.

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Action: List your necessities and prioritize. Work on rebuilding one section of the wall at a time.  Give yourself huge amounts of grace. Wait on the Lord for wisdom. Don’t use a backhoe or bulldozer, just life one small rock upon another.

 

We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 13: Lamenting or How to Give our Negative Emotions to God

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Three weeks ago I looked across to Andrew reading in bed and wondered out loud when we would be allowed to go home.  I was done with this moving thing. Our neighborhood pool had just closed for the autumn, he was beginning to travel again, and I could no longer pretend we were on vacation to “The South.” He looked at me with that uneasy look husbands sometimes give their wives when they find themselves in the deep end and then he quietly whispered the truthful: “We ARE at home.” For a week, tears slid out unable to stop.  I lived a constant lament bouncing back and forth through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief from loss to anger to depression and back to anger again.

 

The uprooting and the tearing had left me breathless, fragile. We had just moved exactly one year before. It had taken 12 months to root in PA, to slowly push one lego block of life onto each other, to watch a life begin to build again. Then they were all torn apart again. I was grief-stricken, angry. Resentment had become my default and I couldn’t make it through to acceptance without moving through the lament.  Everything else was pretending.

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The Psalmist is our guide through praying with integrity and sending our emotions straight to the heart of God. His prayers are never carefully picked out and pasted over perfection. He wails. He whispers out of the pain of anxious depression. He accuses God, “How long O Lord? Will You forget me forever? (Psalm 13:1) He spews out, “shatter the teeth of the wicked,” (Ps 3:7).

 

There are more lament Psalms than thanksgiving Psalms. That’s not the type of information we are given in Sunday school. Most churches have decided to drop all the Psalms that don’t leave us clapping when set to a beat. Eugene Petersen says that we’ve given the Psalms a Psalmectomy, picking and choosing the ones that fit into our comfortable theology. He said that it is a reflection of a Christianity that thinks we should always have our Sunday best on before God: performance-driven Christianity. How we deal with our emotions is a large test of the truth of that statement.

 

Jesus never sinned but he also never wore a stoic mask. He wept at Lazarus’ grave. He fumed at the Pharisees. He whipped the temple back into shape. He spent hours mourning the coming cross in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from me.”

 

We are human. He knows we are but dust. If we try to hold onto toxic emotions, they get trapped, simmer and then so often get dredged back up as sin. We fear walking close to the pain and yet the pain escalates when we try to stay away.

 

We don’t need to fear our emotions. He promises to walk with us.

 

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

 

But we often refuse to get close to the blaze. (Amazing book about this? Terry Wardle’s Draw Close to the Fire.  It’s like finding a guide through the wilderness.)

 

We’ve lost the ancient gift of lament.

 

It seems counterintuitive. We want to slide directly from our negative emotions into a life of the pursuit of happiness and the quick fix but our souls were designed for integrity. Sometimes the way up is down. Living with integrity means opening up our truth before the Lord, acknowledging our struggle. He can handle it, you know. He can handle all our deep brokennesses as well as our petty disappointments. He can handle it, but He knows that we can’t. When we hold onto our brokenness, it begins to break us.

 

When the Redeemer is handed all the pieces of our brokenness, He is given the power to do what He does best, breathe into it and transform it into something new.

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Action: How do we lament in a healthy way? Pick up a pen and paper or spend time with a safe person (a spiritual director? a pastor? a spiritual mentor?) and share your lament with them:

Identify a feeling or a single issue you are struggling with

Address your cry to the Lord. The entire lament needs to be directed to His attention.

Write uncensored. Get honest, dredge up the darkness and bring it into the light. Only there can it be transformed.

Begin by telling the Lord what happened, what was said, how you were hurt, what it has cost you, what lies you have come to believe as a result of this wound. Get specific.

Focus on the emotions. Don’t hold back. Don’t censure yourself or be concerned with grammar, spelling, form, or punctuation. Just let it spill out.

Count the cost. What has this cost us emotionally, physically, personally, for you, for those around you?

In most lament Psalms, David or another of the Psalmists, after the complaint has been raised, they ask for God’s truth to shine into the pain.  How do we do that? After we have spilled out our honest, uncensored complaint, ask these questions: Where are You in this, Lord? What do You have to say? What hope do You have for me?  Listen. Be still. Wait.

 

We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 12: Get Real

When you packed up that UHaul you carried more than just your tan couch up the ramp, you brought along other baggage too: grief, anxiety, anger, and possibly fear. Moving changes everything. Psychologists say it can disturb the deepest foundations underneath your identity. Everything feels unstable and vulnerable: your job and sense of purpose, your community and sense of belonging, even where you would find your late night gallon of milk.

 

You, my friend, were not meant to carry all that extra weight into your new life.  Today, I give you permission to unpack those heavy boxes.

 

Every loss requires a corresponding grieving period; every dream deserves the dignity of a burial.

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Terry Wardle in his book, Healing Care, Healing Prayer connects dealing with our emotions to archery,

“Expressing emotions is like shooting an arrow. The internal energy created from deep wounding is expelled when an individual releases the feelings of hurt. Such release may be initially difficult, but it enables one to rise up and function appropriately once again. Certainly the intensity of feeling and length of grieving varies with each wound; but expressing the motional turmoil is both positive and healthy. However, when the emotions are killed, denied or stuffed, the powerful energy remains trapped within the individual. This ongoing tension often leads to levels of breakdown. Unexpressed feelings eventually produce symptoms of ill health in a person’s body, mind and spirit. When the breakdown does occur, a person may not initially realize what has happened. But the truth is that a lifetime of stuffing has ultimately fractured their lives.”

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The good news? Our cries are welcomed, not rejected.

 

Psalm 116 has a beautiful picture of our Holy Listener:

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

 

What glorious imagery! His ear is not only available, He is leaning down toward us, focused on the unique timbre of our voice, listening for our cry.

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The truth is that your future ability to love freely in this new land will be determined by how well you unpack your grief. Listen to your slowly simmering emotions. Name them. Then, like the Psalmist who knew the power of the uncensored lament, send it straight to Christ. Send it straight to the cross.  He is the only One who can bear our grief and carry our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:4)

 

Tomorrow we’ll get even more practical. With Day 13 we will learn the how to’s of lamenting like David.

 

Want more? Find it here and here.

 

We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

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Day 11: Root

We are all transplants in this Kingdom, all ball of roots, shook out and replanted insecure, longing for our heart’s true home.

 

 

We are adopted children of the most High who wander through the world with amnesia forgetting to come home, forgetting where our bread (acceptance, security, purpose, Life) comes from.  We turn towards whispers of “little l” life with hope-filled faces and turn away from the arms always offered.

 

We are basically earth scorched thirsty people searching for living water, quenching our thirst in the most unhealthy/unholy of ways.

 

Everywhere I go, when I’m turning toward another voice in hope of some piece of the puzzle coming together, I hear an echo of Him, “Daughter, Come back to Me. Don’t go too far. Attach. Dwell. Abide.”

 

It takes three years for plants to reach down in foreign soil and establish. Three springs that follow three cold winters before they begin to thrive.

 

The gardeners at the Center where I bought my white hydrangeas said to chop off the big snowball blooms for two full years. The roots’ establishing was more critical than beauty, she lectured, tenderly patting the black plastic base. Let them spread all their energy to the tightening, spreading roots and then, she promised, they’ll bloom strong into the years.

 

It’s the roots we can’t see, the roots spread firm in Him that create the lasting beauty.

 

Around that same time wandering through a Christian bookstore, I stared at a black and white Ansel-Adams-like photo. She was a queen of a tree, full of leaves, standing alone, a lace of intricate branches. Underneath the photo was Ephesians 3:17 “Rooted and established in love.”  Paul, midway through his letter was praying for the Ephesians. Now, Paul was hardcore. A missionary of missionaries. I imagine him a bit wild-eyed, like I’d have to look away if I tried to look straight at him. And yet much of his writings come straight back here, straight to the importance of being rooted in God’s love.

 

The full verses of 17 through 19 go like this, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” We need to be rooted in love in order to be filled with God.

 

Chapter 8 in Romans, the chapter I would gladly take to a deserted island (or maybe just a four star hotel) and feast on for weeks, climaxes in this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

The man was rooted and established in some serious hummus-filled love. You’d have to be in order to endure the whips, the chains, the prison isolation, the shipwrecks. He’d be dashed and wrecked about the rocks of life without that firm anchor of love. And maybe that’s all we’ve known.

 

We are so often like adopted children wondering where home really is, insecure, fearful when my dear friends, our Abba is firmly here with us. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Mt 28:20)

Every moment we:

stop and look into His eyes,

whisper “Jesus” in joy or wonder,

search the Word for his self-revelation,

fill up the lungs, drink deep breaths of His love,

bring our fears to his lap,

take our sins to the cross,

listen, getting used to the sound of His voice,

worship with arms outstretched,

or double back, saying thank you.

All this roots and establishes us a little deeper.

It is the constant abiding John talks about, the branch coming in close, attaching firm to the Vine.

 

 

Christianity is less a lifestyle of trying hard and more a constant doubling back, coming in close.  And the most beautiful service, the most powerful wave-walking trust and firm obedience? It comes naturally out of the coming in close.

 

The beauty will come. One day it fill unfold into bloom. And my friend, I can already see in you the tight nubs whispering of future glory.

 

And you, my friend, how do you send the roots down deep into love?

Summer Gross

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Day 10: Embrace Solitude

Wide open, unfilled spaces can be utterly freeing. Anne Morrow Lindbergh in A Gift by the Sea rolled up the rugs in her “shell of a beach house” to encourage visual simplicity, a way of embracing the quiet. With this move, your schedule has been tamed, the phone stilled and the clutter hasn’t yet crept back onto the countertops. Here in the wide open landscape, you have the freedom to listen to the direction of your life once again.

 

Breathing space.

 

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“Therefore I will allure her and bring her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14

 

The desert can be fierce and unrelenting or it can be the quiet space where in the stillness God’s voice becomes strong again, where His hand becomes the only comfort, His table the only place we come to for bread.

 

This is the call I hear today: Be still and do not rush to fill the emptiness. Use this time to to listen to His voice.  Start by brushing close to His tenderness. Don’t start with words, just practice His presence. Repeat the truth: “He is here.”

 

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But there is another honest truth of life in the desert. And at first it feels like the opposite of the first truth, the gift of hearing the voice of God, but in reality, it is a further deepening. In solitude our emotions rise loud, perhaps even crying out, demanding attention like a raw wound.

 

We may have wrapped our wounds carefully in the busyness of our last setting, in the friendships and hard work, in the virtual and real landscapes that crowded our view. Now in the lack of distractions of a new move, we may feel deeply all that we lack, all that we have left behind, or perhaps all that we have always hungered for. Today, get still and listen to the unquiet within your soul. Let it rise to the surface. Be brave. Name it and bring it to the table with Christ.

 

Action: Get out a journal today and listen.

  • What voices are trying to define your identity? What do they say about you?
  • Where are you running when you get lonely? TV? Facebook? The refrigerator?
  • What lies are echoing off the bare walls of your life?
  • What do you fear you will never have again?
  • What deep desires keep rising to the surface?
  • Where do you go to get filled other than Christ?

 

Bring each one to the table in the next few days.

 

Jesus was allured into the desert by the Spirit for forty days in order to confront the temptations of the evil one. Today, confront the voices who are tempting you to believe their lies.  Name them. Bring them out of the darkness into the light of God’s truth-filled presence. Then ask God what truth He wants to use to combat these lies.

 

Pray that your wilderness will not be wasted.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

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Day 9: Play

Moving is hard, slogging work: new relationships, new rules, new horizons, and the daily mixture of grief and joy. You have been hard at work, my friend.

 

Today toss “have to” aside and travel on over to the side of your brain where play resides.

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Put on your favorite dance tunes and slide over the hardwood floors in your socks. Go to the art store and pick up new watercolor supplies. Go to a concert and lose yourself in the string section, saunter slowly around the paths of a park, or just pile magazines on your bed to peruse with a warm cafe au lait in your hands. Push a canoe paddle through the water, make a new recipe, pick up forgotten handiwork, take in a new movie (one acclaimed for children). Go to the dollar store and buy bubbles.

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Enter in.  Often go to the park with your kids and sit on a bench, perusing your facebook while the children play? Today, enter in. Swing beside your little guy. Follow her up the ladder into a world up in the trees. Put on your tennis shoes get out onto the field and kick the ball.

 

Enter in with all your senses. Plant your feet in the sand. Make bread. Visit a gardening store, smell and dream.

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Today, you have permission to forget the boxes still piled in the corner of the living room and walk out the door. Today we play.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

 

 

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Day 6: Home Base

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Every new exploration needs a home base but when we are struggling to put down roots, sometimes we neglect ours out of rebellion. I don’t mean that in not creating home we are sinning against the homemaking gods, but sometimes in our grieving we can live shallow, in hope that it won’t hurt as much if we have to pull those roots back up.  Today, make homemaking a step toward trusting the God who is watching over the seeds of your future.  Say “yes” to home.

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Ina Garten’s intro to her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa at Home, always inspires me to simmer mulled cider on the stove, light a candle on the island as I work, and love my family with a welcoming home base:

“‘Something smells really good!’ my husband, Jeffrey, exclaims every Friday when he walks in the door. Most weeks, Jeffrey has been around the world and back and when he walks in that door, I want him to feel that he’s really home. What he doesn’t realize is that what feels very casual is, in fact, quite deliberate: the music is playing, all the lights are on, there are flowers everywhere, and chicken and onions are roasting in the oven.

I didn’t always know how to do all that. It took time and lots of experimentation. Over the 38 years we’ve been married, I’ve tried everything–the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I’ve evolved a style that seems to work for me. I like knowing that there are twenty new magazines on the coffee table, delicious French teas in the pantry, and expensive bubble baths next to the tub. A good home should gather you up in its arms like a warm cashmere blanket, soothe your hurt feelings, and prepare you to go back out into that big bad world tomorrow, all ready to fight the dragons.

I’m basically a nester. All day long, I feel as though I’m batting back the baseballs that are being hurled at me: decisions to make, places to go, cranky people to deal with…and when I come home, I want my house to feel serene and beautiful, like the way to feel when you get into bed piled high with down pillows; you’re safe.”

Good Monday morning, friend, we’re on a journey to thriving right where we’re planted. We just moved five states south and I’m stumbling through learning to love a new town full of the broken beautiful. Come along? Type your email into the “Connect” square on the right hand side of the front page and join me for the pilgrimage. It’ll be nice to have your company along the way.

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Day 5: Sabbath, The Sacrament of Now

We spend so much time fighting with comparisons, don’t we? (I like this ice cream shop back in PA better than that one.) We build a fantasy world comprised of all the places we’ve ever lived or think we’d want to. This exercise asks us to be fully in the present. What I’ve learned is that being fully present in the now is a surprising gateway to thanksgiving, a gateway to awareness of God’s presence, and a gateway towards the contentment we seek.

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I needed a day off. I could feel the rising crankiness, the need to gaze quiet. I had created Monday’s schedule to fill, refresh, to build something worth standing on for another week, a Sabbath.

 

There was just this one other thing to fit in: the oil change. No problem, I thought. But the voice on the other line said he only had one appointment left…smack dab in the middle of my well-planned day. With annoyance, he grumbled, “Ma’am, is that the time you want, or not?” I had been dreaming of a hike around Slippery Rock River, skipping stones into the current, a slow saunter around a bookstore, even a Target run (FYI, I love Target entirely too much, enough to be included in this “favorites” list.) Noon? I could feel a whine rising. The car would take at least an hour and a half and the day’s schedule was now smeared.

 

We would have to be content on our own familiar streets.  No adventures today.

 

I pushed the button for the garage door to open. “Xavier, we’re going a walk. You lead.” Exercise always clears my head. He swung his thin four-year-old leg over his muddy BMX, still balanced with training wheels. I held onto his black leather bike seat and pushed him up the short hill toward town until he could pedal forward himself.

 

I had lost the heart to lead: “Left or Right, Xavi?””Left!” he steered down the curb between the two white lines. Again and again he pedaled north taking us beyond our normal boundaries, one block after another, straight down Beaver St. We landed at the bottom of the hill in Edgeworth in a triangle of a park, huge oaks, small brook, inviting child-size stone bridge. Sometimes you don’t need to leave town to visit new kingdoms.

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We were in unfamiliar territory in our new town. We scrambled down stone walls directing fast moving run-off water. He combed through the pebbles with his fingers, water trickling through then piled them together to build a dam. Running up and down the creek, He tried to stay on the dry sidelines, looking back again and again to see if I was watching, eyes shining. I watched the magic gather and spread. Under the bridge, he spread out his arms, a strong man holding it up. I sat down in the middle of the joy fully immersed in the present.

 

My own stuck stream of delight was undammed by entering into NOW, senses alive, scrambling on rocks, listening to water grate over pebbles, breathing in the freshly mown grass. Simple, I know. But I wondered, how often am I truly Here, Now?

 

Back at home, I took out the dollar-store bottle of bubbles and the “fancy” camera. Just last year he could barely blow a bubble, more soap would spill on the concrete than spin through the air.

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As he blew into the wand, I held my breath. How often do I live life shrouded in a tangle of emotions and lists written long, pounding hard after life, when Life can be blown up full right here in the present?

 

I’ve always wanted to be one of the fully present people. Available. Paying attention. Listening. An “icon” of Julian of Norwich hangs above my writing desk, she who was cloistered in Norwich’s cathedral, present to the Presence, anchored.  So often I spin dizzy through life, my feet barely feeling the fake brick kitchen linoleum, missing the present as I reach out anxious toward the future.

 

The present is as temporary as a bubble floating upwards and all we have is the gift of now to enjoy, to taste and see that God is good.

 

And I know: He is almost five and I want to memorize the surprised giggles, the smell of his sweaty blond head, the shine of his eyes as he twists around and searches for mine, to live thankful Now.

 

I want to be marked “present.”

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Today’s Action: 

A spiritual exercise: The Sacrament of the Present Moment

We live life stuck in yesterday’s regret or deep in the future of “have-to-do’s.” How often do we miss the daily feast found right HERE? This is the Sacrament of the Present Moment, the Sacrament of NOW, a way to receive the gift being sent. This is a practical way to stop, pull up to the table, grab a fork, and taste the feast He has sent.

Practice opening up to the senses one at a time:

What do you see? Let your eyes stop on a detail of life. Study it.

A minute later, open up your sense of hearing. Listen. Let the sounds of life in without needing to evaluate them. What do you hear?

Then, after a minute, ask yourself, what do I feel? What’s under your feet, between your hands? Feel the warmth of the mug, the wet sand under your toes.

This one we often forget…a sense of smell, the clean fresh smell of laundry? The sandy smell of your child’s head after a day at the beach?

And then when eating or drinking? Be fully present, taste each herb, feel the texture, fully enjoy the bite. Savor.

Savor the moment, receive the gifts of God, watch for the joy. Allow the practice of the senses to send you straight into thanksgiving. Thank God for what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, tasting. Acknowledge that He is present, the Giver of all good things. Stop. Invite Him into the moment. Enjoy His company.

Share with us one of your favorite ways to be fully present. On the back porch with your first cup of coffee? Rocking that little one to sleep? Deep in the arms of your love?

Want more? I’ve typed out post after post on this struggle toward present joy. Start here?

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Dear friend, I’m always blessed to have you as a companion on the journey and right now we’re five days into #31 days of writing learning to fall in love with our zip code. Want more? Slip your email in the Connect box on the front page.

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