Why 'Receive' Should Have Been My Word in 2015

cultivate

cultivate

Cultivate was my word for 2015, a year that was probably the most challenging of my life. I didn’t write about that word, Cultivate, all that much. Not because I didn’t feel inspired by the power of its meaning, but because I didn’t really have the energy to think about what I was cultivating. In all honesty, last year was not about the bigger picture of bringing forth good things. It was a smaller season of life. It was a season of receiving. The good, quiet, painful work of receiving.

Last January, , I chose that word cultivate, thinking already of what I would do once I had worked through the news of my unborn child’s diagnosis. What would come from this? What would I make of this new thing?

I didn’t really make anything this past year. I simply did what I needed to do. I slowed down.

In the last eight weeks of my pregnancy, my amniotic fluid hovered around the danger zone, and week after week I drove myself across town to have my belly pressed and rubbed with instruments, all checking to make sure Ace was safe in there. My growing bump slowed its expansion. I worried what would be found when the tape measurer wrapped around my middle.

And over and over there was no big answer to those challenges. Drink water, they’d say. Rest.

I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose in those last weeks of pregnancy

I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose in those last weeks of pregnancy

Sometimes the work of cultivating gets halted into those first stages: The hard work you’re asked to do looks more like receiving: Put your feet up, mom of two wild boys. Ask your friends to watch them. Take naps. Stop writing so much. Let Florence bring you dinner, again. Receive, receive, receive.

Chris and I have been watching A&E’s six-part series , which follows seven young people with Down syndrome living in LA. It’s been a joy to watch their lives and personalities, to see their challenges and gifts. It’s a sweet, kind-hearted show. And it’s helping me make peace with who Ace may be as a young man. It’s helping me make space for that part of his story, when he isn’t a child, when he falls in love, or tries to find a job, or learns how to shop and cook for himself.

I keep remembering that receiving is a process. I need to continue, with each step of Ace’s development, to accept the parts of his story that I hadn’t planned for, and to celebrate the gift that he is. Sometimes that means watching these adults with Down syndrome learn to express their emotions or celebrate personal victories, and reminding myself that my boy will likely experience the world the way they do.

It’s receiving the challenges as they unfold. My little nugget of a baby needs to gain more weight. It’s learning how to feed him intentionally. It’s learning how to play with him in a way that both challenges him and blesses him. In short, it’s being a mom. But being one in which the microscope narrows in on every step along his development, the steps I didn’t even realize we were taking with my older typical boys.

2015 was a challenging year, not only because of Ace’s diagnosis, but because of changes within my church. Birth is painful and beautiful and my church birthed a new story, and I was a leader in the midst of it.  Receiving meant owning my decision as a leader. Receiving meant acknowledging the pain and the joy in front of me. Receiving meant believing in the power of Christ to lead us, even when it felt frightening, even when I failed to lead perfectly. Receiving meant pursuing reconciliation.

2015 closed with the loss of an important friend in my life. I’ll write more about Ali when I’m ready to. I’ll tell you this. I scratched my car on the flowering succulent bush in front of her house in November, a week before she passed away, the last time I saw her on this earth. Sometimes I run my hand across the scrape, while I’m calling my kids out of their seats and out onto sidewalks. It’s just a scrape on a car, I know. But it feels like some sort of ebenezer, a memorial of sorts, stones piled high in the place where God was.

We cannot love another person without being marked by them. Sometimes life is about receiving the marks, letting ourselves be hurt because loving people hurts sometimes.

beautiful-soil

beautiful-soil

On the other side of 2015, I’m beginning to understand this: And maybe I did. This past year was our fourth straight year of drought in California. Rainlessness and hard dry ground. The grass in our backyard dried up into stickers and yellow crackling, lifeless stuff.

The grass lies dormant underneath. At least that’s what the people at the garden store said when I came in to buy grass seed to sprinkle before the coming El Nino rains this month. No, they said. It’s not really dead. What you need is grass food. It’s all still there underneath. Just wait for it.

Before we can cultivate the dormant grass, we first learn to receive the rain. Receiving is making space for more.

All along there is something living underneath the death we see. It’s waiting for the specific rain that brings it forth into the world. What looks like dry ground. What looks used up and undone.

Cultivating starts small. First we receive.

And then God brings forth what God brings forth.

Cultivate the deep, cultivate the simple

Photo by  Ina Soulis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ina Soulis on Unsplash

“Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us shallow and complicated.” Fred Rogers said that. As in Mister. As in the fire engine red cardigan and the songs about neighbors. And I’ve been ruminating on those words this past month.

Complicated. How often do I use that word in my daily life? How often do I run through my days living “busy,” living “complicated”?

For Lent I’m thinking about deep simplicity versus shallow complexity. What does it mean to cultivate a deep and simple life, to weed out the things that—in their seeming importance—seduce me into believing their complications are necessary?

Isn’t our culture full of those sorts of weeds? The ones we allow to grow into our lives simply because they seem that they ought to be valuable? More activities for our kids, more work, more material consumption, more commitments in church and school! And soon we don’t recognize what we value anymore, because all it seems we have time to value is our own time management.

What is deep? What is simple? The answer to those questions almost always points toward what is good.

I’m also learning to ask what is tricking me in its own complexity. There is much in life that seems important but is actually shallow, undeserving of my desires, underserving of my time.

Since this past summer, beginning around the time , I committed myself to stripping out the parts of my life that were overwhelming me. Most of them had to do with my writing career. I asked myself what I really love about being a writer. My answer was this: I love creating something that is rich and beautiful, offering it as a gift to others.

Then I compared that with what I spent most of my time doing: social media, self promotion, keeping up with the blogging requirements of what authors are supposed to do be noticed and valued. And I realized I was tired. I wanted to write more simply. I hadn’t been doing the social media circus act because doing so was actually providing me a salary. I was doing it because I was supposed to.

I decided I would make a conscious effort to write more intentionally and let myself write slowly, especially while my kids are small. I took a summer break from blogging, came back in the fall in the early stages of pregnancy, and have taken my time ever sense.

It would be really nice for me to say: And since that choice my blog readership has grown! (That wouldn’t be true.) Or, now I’m inspired to write the next great American novel! (Nope.) Or even, now I have the energy to dust off my collection of poetry and actually send it out to journals. (Not that either.) But it has given me is permission to rest, permission to go to sleep early, to read, permission to play with my kids without social media demands hanging over my head.

It’s also—slowly—given me permission to not work like crazy to turn myself into something impressive. I want to believe that I don’t have to be important in my writing career to live into my calling. .

I want to cultivate the simple and the deep in my ordinary life. I want to be present for real people in my physical life. I want to serve my church and community. I want to be a good friend, a mom who isn’t constantly busy, constantly distracted.

This Lent I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I’m not forgoing those things. I’m just practicing life with their incessant reminders that I need to be online. I want to make it simpler. I’m preparing for a baby to come in April. And there are real things to do. Blankets to wash, minivans to shop for, evenings to sit still and feel little baby wiggling around inside.

Last week my pastor preached on the Transfiguration and quoted :

“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that the fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the more devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.”

There’s the word again: shallow. As humans, we most often train ourselves to choose the shallow. It hurts less. And in order to make ourselves feel valuable, we shape the shallow to look important, complicated. Shallow lives are dangerous things.

And then there’s Jesus. We who believe in him are the people who believe in the hurricane turned human, in the fire become flesh. How far are we willing to walk into this faith of ours? Are we willing to trust in the deep reality that leads us out of shallow complications and into the rich simplicity of Jesus?

Here’s our question: What will we cultivate this season of Lent? What are we drawing ourselves nearer to? What are we discarding?

Can we choose simplicity over the loud raging of our busy, performance-driven lives? Now that’s a question.