Cultivate Space (for the Sweet Mercy)

 

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I've basically been gone from this blog for, um, around eight weeks. (Except for when .) Let’s call it a maternity leave.

In my former blogging life I would have shed a lot of tears, frantically paced the floor over the amount of unwritten words, and internally berated myself for letting all my readers forget about this blog, and (let's be honest) this writer.

Those are fair concerns. In fact, if you’re reading this post, I’m shocked and amazed that you noticed it was here. And I’m also okay with the fact that many people will probably not notice.

My blogging life has changed a lot in the past year. I've written here about how I’m learning to release my , how I’m and for my family when I need to.

But spaciousness in my life has not only been about blogging. The desire to cultivate space in my days for health and relationships has come as slowly as my babies. With each child, I discovered more of my weaknesses, more of my need for wholeness.

When August, my first, was born I was overwhelmed and stunned by the reality of motherhood. When my second baby, Brooks, came around I wanted to feel like motherhood had made me capable. So I tried to prove that I had parenthood figured out, that I was totally cool with two kids. I pushed myself to keep every commitment, to keep writing blog posts (instead of getting sleep), to keep it together. I was a mess.

Some people can transition to a new place in life and continue with their routine. In fact, they need that routine. They are cool moms, you guys. But I am not. I’ve learned this about myself. When there’s a transition, I crave complete focus on the transition. I crave the present moment.

And this time around, that has meant ignoring my writing career for a long amount of time. I spent the early weeks reading, breastfeeding, going to doctor’s appointments with Ace, and playing with my older boys. I needed space to transition. I needed to nap. I needed to eat chocolate nib and sea salt cookies at night while I watched cheesy BBC shows with my mom.

This time, with my third—with a special needs baby—I’ve been given the gift of two seemingly opposite feelings: The peace of already knowing how to take care of a baby, and the wild uncertainty of all that I don’t understand about Down syndrome, of all that can go wrong.

Ace spent the first few weeks struggling to eat, struggling to gain weight. And the gift of those weeks was that I’d done the breastfeeding thing before: I knew how to feed my babies. I didn’t have to beat myself up. I got to receive the reality that this is a different baby and I will learn him as I go. I was wise enough that I didn’t listen when the mean voices in my head told me I was failing.

Maybe that’s what spaciousness is: Giving yourself room to receive the challenge in front of you, while still clinging to the truth. Learning to see that within the pain of the suffering, there is something remarkable. Beautiful. There’s always a both/and.

And so far in Ace’s life I’m learning the goodness of holding to both at the same time: Holding the heartbreak of an uncertain diagnosis in the same hand as I hold the sack of flour baby snuggles. Blessing my older children’s cheers for him as he learns what all newborns are trying to learn: how to lift his head on tummy time, how to grab a toy, how to smile.

When we received Ace’s diagnosis, Chris and I were surprised that though we grieved, though we struggled to see what this would mean for Ace’s life, for our older boys’ lives, for our lives, we never really found ourselves asking why it was happening to us.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about that. How did we skip that feeling? Did we skip that feeling? And our only answer was that we’ve spent most of the past six years in a church that always reminds us that the world and our city are both beautiful and broken, always at the same time. And that liturgy has been planted deep into our souls. It is always both. Life is always beautiful. Life is always heart-breaking.

We can ask why, but we can’t ask why without noticing that everyone else is suffering as well. In different ways, we all walk through pain.

And sometimes your suffering is also your sweetest joy. A now-nine-pound baby that cuddles like a sack of flour and gulps milk (making those baby nursing sounds), and daily grows chunkier thighs.

Time passes and we all learn what we need in the transition. (I need dark chocolate and Netflix.) And babies grow and sometimes struggle to grow. And little boys play and get taller and their blonde hair grows longer. And first graders learn to spell longer words and graduate to second grade.

And the middle boy takes the baby’s face in his hands and says, I just love you so much, my sweet little mercy. And I hold my breath, because, isn’t he? A sweet mercy.

Yesterday was a hard day. A hard day after two and a half months of hard days as an Elder in my church. And when I came home, I sat my baby in his bathtub and poured water on his head over and over, like baptism. And I told him—again, as if he doesn’t know (of course he knows)—that he is God’s beloved, that his life is important and beautiful and valuable. And he stared at me with his dark blue eyes and let me pour the warm water on his head…

In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m learning—over and over again—to cultivate space for this miraculous life I’m already in the middle of: hard Sundays and ordinary baptisms and four-year-olds recognizing mercy.

Sweet Mercy right in front of us. is raising its hourly www.pro-academic-writers.com/ rates on september 1, 2005

Pregnancy, And What Really Matters

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Today I'm upending my self-imposed maternity leave with a piece over at about my pregnancy with Ace. Throughout my pregnancy I thought a lot about the things people say to pregnant women. Things that aren't a big deal unless there's reason to be worried. ("How's the pregnancy going?" isn't always so easy to answer.)

I was less worried about health issues, though there were some, and more afraid in general: of the future, of what would asked of us, of who my baby would be. And the questions of strangers were a constant lesson in reevaluating those fears, of receiving the good gift God was giving me.

And when I say "good gift" I mean it. Look at this face!

Here's a little bit from the post:

And the strangers at the playground and the library, the acquaintances at my son’s school, asked the same questions people have asked for ages. “How’s the pregnancy going?” they asked. “Is everything healthy?”

They asked the questions I’d asked pregnant women in my life so many times before. They asked the questions I was asked in my other pregnancies, questions I never thought twice about answering.

“How’s the pregnancy going?” I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t want to tell the truth either. I didn’t have words for the strangers and acquaintances. What could I tell them except that I was afraid?

Our child would have Down syndrome, and I was trying to make peace with what that meant for me, for my family. I was still reminding myself that it wasn’t a dream each morning when I woke and my body was full of a child I didn’t yet know and wasn’t sure how to plan for.

Read the rest over at

This is Ace

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Dear Reader,

This is Ace. Ace Christopher Evans.

He's named Ace after Batman's dog. At least that's what August (our six year old) told us a couple of months ago after we'd already been referring to him as "Ace" in the womb for months. Back in November, August had finally given us his blessing on this new member of our family. "If it's a girl, name it Sarah. And if it's a boy, Ace."

Listen, I had no intention of naming my baby Ace. But it was a cute nickname. And somehow, two days after his birth, when he still didn't have an official name, and the hospital staff and all our friends were referring to him as Ace, making his big brother's wishes come true felt like the exact sort of thing Ace would want. He's just cool like that. He's tops; he's aces.

He was born 10 days ago, on Saturday April 11, at 2:07 in the afternoon. I was in labor for 27 hours, mostly at home. He weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces, and was 18 1/4 inches long. And my body and baby were kind enough to wait for my mom's flight to land halfway through my labor. (She'd already planned to arrive that day.) Ace was born at 38 weeks, which felt like a miracle. He was born without my having to be induced (despite my rocky last few weeks leading up to his birth, and our constant concern about some complications he faced in the womb). He was my first birth without an epidural, with a doula and my super-husband cheering me on to the finish line.

He was born with Down syndrome.

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This wasn't a surprise. Chris and I learned that Ace had a 99.75 percent chance of having Down syndrome back in December. We chose not to have the amniocentesis that would make our prenatal diagnosis certain and we went into the rest of my pregnancy with a mix of foggy sadness and hope. See, I had never imagined this for my family. (Who does?) But I'd also grown up the child of a mother who for thirty years taught deaf and hearing impaired children who often had additional special needs. I'd volunteered in her classroom in my teens, and known the folks in my church's special needs ministry growing up.

When the woman on the other end of the line told me that my child would most likely have Down syndrome, I was pushing Brooks in a stroller on the way to gymnastics. I made the call for the test results convinced that if I called nonchalantly, if I called on the way to somewhere, alone with my 3-year-old, it couldn't be hard news. I'd breathe a sigh of relief and continue on my day. Instead, that Tuesday morning in early December I cried in the corner of the bleachers during the 3-year-olds gymnastics class. I called my husband on the phone, trying to make out the words, The test came back positive, stunned.

I couldn't tell you about it then, readers. I had to keep it close all these months. It was too heavy, too real. Instead, in December I wrote about good gifts. Ace was that gift.

"This past week has reminded me that God’s good gifts are not always easy. They are often complicated, prickly things that must be held carefully with tender hands. They are often painful and beautiful at the same time. They are unknown. The best gifts God offers us are often the very gifts that have the potential to completely upend our stories, change the direction our lives were going. It hurts to change direction."

All these months, Chris and I have cried and looked again at our hearts, asked God to show us our motives and our assumptions about our family. We have imagined life with a little boy who has Down syndrome. We've imagined the gift he will be to our older boys, the way God will shape their souls through this child, the reality that when I pray for my older sons to grow up to be men of compassion and gentleness, courage and kindness, that this little brother of theirs might just be the way God chooses to answer my prayers.

We have dreamed and laughed together about this new life we are entering. And we have remembered that, really, this is not a new life at all. It's simply the road we've been walking all along, and we just didn't know it yet. That's how grace usually works, isn't it?

Ace was born 10 days ago, and the moment I held him in my arms, I looked at my husband. And we both smiled. "Look at that face," I said. "This sweet baby has Down syndrome." And Chris touched his head. "Yeah," he smiled at me. "He does." And---by the blessing of God---that is how we knew. There were no solemn doctor diagnoses. There was no secret whispering among the nurses. We received him, met him, and knew.

And the grief and the fear didn't disappear. But it did feel like that grief, the fear that had moved in months ago, that had taken up residence for a while, was now content to scoot down the bench in order for something better to sit beside us: Love, and sweet dreams for Ace's life, and relief that God has given us the better gift, even if we don't yet know what that gift will look like.

This is what I wrote last December, when Ace was a tiny baby in an ultrasound, a positive result on a chromosomal test:

"The good, hard gifts don’t usually come with explanation. They don’t come with instructions, or future promises of ease. And still they come and ask us to hold them, to say “Yes” along with Mary: to receive, not because we know what awaits us, but because we trust the goodness of the One who gives."

This is Ace. He has Down syndrome. I'll tell you more about him as I learn him, as I walk through this new experience of being his mom. But for now, Chris and I are honored to be his parents. And his brothers kiss those fat little cheeks and call him perfect.

Rituals: Paying Attention to the Setting Sun

It was January when we moved into our house over a year ago. We’d lived in San Francisco for close to four years already, but we’d mostly avoided the Outer Sunset District, a neighborhood known for soul-less square houses and tiny front yards paved over into driveways.

San Francisco is a city that was built around the bay, not the ocean. Though its roughly seven by seven miles of land are surrounded by water (the city’s on a peninsula), any iconic pictures of our fair city are pictures of the land beside the bay. The part of town by the ocean is less photogenic, less praiseworthy, plain.

We knew we were choosing our neighborhood based more on practicality and affordability than on beauty. We’d made peace with that reality. Then we happened upon our rental house, built at the perfect angle of the hill, its living room windows overlooking the ocean from a mile away.

Day after day we watch all that water moving straight into the edge of the world, massive container ships leaving the SF Bay for the edges of China. I’m still amazed, like I discovered a secret gem in San Francisco, quietly hiding among the square box houses and paved over yards: Who knew we would find the ocean?

But what we didn’t expect, even after discovering the beauty of our lucky find, was how evenings in this house would transform our family time. The day we moved here it was warm, in the high sixties, and the sky was clear, untouched by the fog that our part of town is known for. We ate pizza on the back patio with the boys and sat down on the concrete just in time to watch the sun fall over the Pacific.  Even our then two-year-old and five-year old quieted themselves as we stared at the path of the sunset. Falling, falling, falling, sink, into the water.

All humans are born with the innate knowledge that we need the sun, and that its path through the sky is our compass, our time-teller, our light-giver. It’s in our marrow to honor that gift from God.

. . .

Reflections for Easter Sunday


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"Testimony" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

From  Girl Meets God:

The Last Battle, the final volume of Lewis's Narnia chronicles, pictures the end of time. Aslan---the lion who represents Jesus---has returned, folding all of culture and humanity into his kingdom. In the novel's lasts pages, he tells Lucy, a child from London, that everyone she knew back in Blighty is dead and raised to new life. And as Aslan spoke, writes Lewis, "the things that began to happen...were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better that the one before."

On Easter, we glimpse the beginning of Chapter One.

-Lauren F. Winner, (193-194)


Descending Theology: The Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities, cold inched in–black ice and blood ink– till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void even for pain, he missed his splintered feet, the human stare buried in his face. He ached for two hands made of meat he could reach to the end of. In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart

began to bang on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now it’s your limbs he longs to flow into– from the sunflower center in your chest outward–as warm water shatters at birth, rivering every way.

"Descending Theology: The Resurrection" by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2006.

 

Joy is radically different from happiness, for it does not depend up on the "ups" and "downs" of our existence. It is the constant moving away from the static places of death toward the house of God, where the abundant life can be recognized and celebrated.

Henri Nouwen (102)


For more from Jan Richardson, visit her website.

Reflections for Holy Saturday

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The Last of the Brooding Miserables

by Mary Karr

Lord, you maybe know me best by my odd laments: My friend drew the garage door tight, lay flat on the cold cement, then sucked off the family muffler to stop the voices in his head. And Logan stabbed in a fight, and Coleman shot, and the bright girl who pulled a blade the width of her own soft throat, and Tom from the virus and Dad from drink--Lord, the many-headed hurts I mind.

I study each death hard that death not catch me unprepared. For help I read Aurelius, that Stoic emperor who composed fine Meditations in his battle tent.

Surely he overheard at night the surgeons chopping through his wounded soldiers' bones and shovels of earth flung down on blue faces, and near dawn, the barbarian horses athunder.

Still, he judged the young man's death no worse than the old's: each losing just one breath. I would have waded the death pits wailing till I ruined good boots with lime-- a vulture for my dead too long, or half a corpse myself.

Lord, let me enter now your world, my face, dig deep in the gloves of these hands formed to sow or reap or stroke a living face. Let me rise

to your unfamiliar light, love, without which the dying wouldn't bother me one whit.

Please, if you will, bless also this thick head I finally bow. In thanks.

for James Laughlin

-Mary Karr, from , Penguin Poets, 1994

 

"Today we think about Jesus lying dead in the tomb. His bruised and lacerated body, hastily wrapped, rests on a stone slab, cold and stiff in the darkness. Correspondingly, our hearts remain quiet. Yet in the spiritual realm, all is not quiet. A doctrinal tradition going back to the earliest era of the church declares that Christ, in the time between his death and his resurrection, descended to the dead, that is, to the precints of hell itself, in order to liberate a throng of people. The "harrowing of hell,' it is sometimes called. This doctrine is stated in the creeds--"He descended into hell"--and depicted in icons. Many Protestants dispute or downplay it because of the ambiguity of the scriptural texts. But whether Christ "recaptures" captives (see Eph 4:7-10) or simply proclaims the victory of the cross, some momentous event in the grand drama of God's redemption takes place on this holy sabbath. Christ's redemptive power plumbs the darkest depths before ascending to the brightest heighs. Holy Saturday recognizes this wondrous mystery and invites us, quietly, to enter it."

-Bobby Gross, (182)

 

Psalm 31:1-5

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

On Holy Saturday, I walk up the hill to the cemetery and I meet old Fr. Gall walking stiffly toward me, dressed in a black suit, a narrow, European cut decades out of fashion. He twirls his walking stick and says, brightly, "Ah, you have come to visit those who are in heaven? You have come to seek the living among the dead!" The air is full of the anticipation of snow, a howling wind. Words will not let me be: In cold and silence you are born, from the womb of earth, the cloud of snow yet to fall. And from somewhere in the liturgy: What has been prepared for me?

From  by Kathleen Norris (181)

"In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you're picking a career or a husband--or deciding whether to have a baby--there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazzoo. But thinking it through is--at the final hour--horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante--scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine--a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.

In the back of a dark church on Holy Saturday, I sit between Dev and Toby. In the pews, everybody holds an unlit candle, and the priest comes in with the altar's mega-candle. Stopping at the back row, he touches its taper to the charred filament on either side of the aisle. The flame's passed one to another until we're all holding fire in our hands."

From by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2010 (351)

Good Friday: Embracing the hard things

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This year I had the opportunity to contribute to the Lenten devotional. It's meant to be read on Good Friday, so I wanted to share it here with you today.

A reflection on John 13:36-38

Peter genuinely believed he wouldn’t screw this up. He genuinely believed he loved his Lord fiercely enough to lose his own life for Jesus’ sake. Yet when Peter faced the reality that aligning himself with the “criminal” standing trial before the high priest meant risking his own arrest—his own possible death—he disowned Jesus. He lied.

Peter didn’t want to die. But the story of Good Friday is a story about death—Christ’s death, of course, and also our own.

Good Friday is the story of God suffering willingly. To faithfully follow Jesus that first Good Friday, Peter would have had to embrace the suffering of his Lord, to walk with his friend through the massive trauma of scourging and crucifixion. Instead Peter ran from it. He lied to others; he lied to himself.

Like Peter, we are a people who have trained ourselves to avoid sorrow. We know how to lie to save ourselves from pain, we know how to avoid the suffering around us.

To be present to the story of Good Friday, we must sit with Jesus’ sorrow. And to do so is to sit with our own. Easter’s power comes from its victory over death. Without suffering, without death, there can be no rejoicing over healing and resurrection.

Esther de Waal, in her book Living with Contradiction, speaks to our fear, our avoidance, our longing to escape vulnerability and pain. “The promise,” she says, “is not that we shall escape the hard things but that we shall be given grace to face them, to enter into them, and to come through them. The promise is not that we shall not be afraid. It is that we need not fear fear.”

It is only in Christ’s suffering that grace is ushered in. Grace—God’s rich unmerited favor—does not ignore the reality of our brokenness, our grief, the ways we hurt one another in order to escape our own pain. Grace comes to us in that pain. Grace takes Jesus’ dead corpse—his cold, torn, lifeless flesh, wrapped and waiting in the burial tomb—and breathes life into it.

In some mysterious, cosmic way, God’s grace is revealed to us through Christ’s death. That is the story of Good Friday: “Not that we shall escape the hard things but that we shall be given grace to face them…to come through them.”

Today, you are invited to embrace “the hard things” instead of running from them. You can allow God to lead you deep into your most vulnerable places. You are invited to ask yourself, “How am I lying to myself and why?”

On Good Friday, we can face our fears because we know where this story goes. We know this is the story of grace ushered in. We come through this day of sorrow to the other side, where resurrection waits.

Reflections for Maundy Thursday

Descending Theology: The Garden

by Mary Karr

We know he was a man because, once doomed, he begged for reprieve. See him grieving on his rock under olive trees, his companions asleep on the hard ground around him wrapped in old hides. Not one stayed awake as he’d asked. That went through him like a sword. He wished with all his being to stay but gave up bargaining at the sky. He knew it was all mercy anyhow, unearned as breath. The Father couldn’t intervene, though that gaze was never not rapt, a mantle around him. This was our doing, our death. The dark prince had poured the vial of poison into the betrayer’s ear, and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept, the cracked earth radiated out for miles. In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon of Judas, who was approaching with soldiers, glancing up–as Christ was–into the punctured sky till his neck bones ached. Here is his tear-riven face come to press a kiss on his brother.

-Mary Karr, , HarperCollins, 2006


Untitled (An ancient Celtic prayer for sleep)

O Jesu without sin, King of the poor, Who were sorely subdued Under the ban of the wicked, Shield Thou me this night From Judas.

My soul on Thine own arm, O Christ, Thou the King of the City of Heaven, Thou it was who bought'st my soul O Jesu, Thou it was who didst sacrifice Thy life for me.

Protect Thou me because of my sorrow, For the sake of Thy passion, Thy wounds, and Thy blood, And take me in safety to-night Near to the City of God.

From by Esther de Waal, Doubleday, 1997.


For more from Jan Richardson, visit her website.


Daughters of Jerusalem (A poem for Holy Week)

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In the past I've shared this poem, which I wrote a few years ago for my church, on Good Friday. This year I've decided to share it today, on Holy Wednesday, as we begin to retell ourselves the story of Easter.

Daughters of Jerusalem

from Luke 23:27-31 

Blessed is the womb that never felt one tiny foot press out and drag slow inside. The living lump beneath skin, a curled child who begs to stretch. Gravity presses even the unborn toward earth’s dust.

Blessed are the empty breasts, the woman who never held the baby’s body against her own, rocking in the late night darkness, eyes closed, bodies alive, both clinging to the other for living milk.

Blessed are you, woman! The days are coming when you will be called safe, you without grief for the tender bodies or the world’s sharp corners. Children crash and tear and never come home whole.

Blessed are you who grieve the teacher’s dying, watch his moaning crawl along the broken road. Blessed are you who weep for his blue-beaten body, his wretched stumble under splintered wood.

Blessed woman, you who wail his torn flesh, its dangle toward earth, you who grasp hope that he’ll summon angel warriors, blast this barren hill with light, burn bright this dried up death. Blessed are you who beg mercy.

Daughters of Jerusalem! It would be better if you’d never held the living beneath your skin, known the weight you carried. You point toward what is taken here: The Word that speaks us into being is silenced. The celestial carrier of hope, emptied.

He speaks desperation. He dies his body. But he is pregnant with mystery: he gathers the cosmic collection of every hopeless sigh, every loss, every hatred formed against another, every embittered soul, every unloved and unlover.

It enters him: the great hot chasm of sin. He opens his chest wide to hold the oozing dark. Weep, you who cannot undo the life you’ve made: the small hands, the legs that wobbled and tipped toward earth. Grieve the children, grieve the tree as it falls. Let the green wood thump into the loose dust. Earth gives life green then dries it brown. We take wood and form it either to table or death tool. Who can say?

The Internal Frantic Monster (Or, My Addiction to the Egg Timer)

Photo by  Franck V.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

When I was in 3rd grade, I took my mom’s white mechanical egg timer (with one of those old-school dials that turned and ticked) from the kitchen counter and developed a plan to time each aspect of my morning routine. I set myself some “reasonable” goals—ten minutes for my hair, fifteen minutes for breakfast, three minutes to brush my teeth—and began to carry the egg timer around with me while I got ready for school.

Now, this was not about competition. There wasn’t a timeliness goal in my head. This was more a perfect storm of neuroses: my anxiety and my longing for self-perfection, exploding in my nine-year-old little-girl-brain. The timer would go off while I was still tying my shoes, and I would scream, “I’ll never be on time to school! I’ll never be on time to school!” throwing my shoes at the wall.

My parents (wisely) took the egg timer away from me after two days. But I still feel like that little girl sometimes, carrying my grown-up versions of egg timers, begging their little tick-tocks to assure me that my life is good enough, that I’m performing the way I ought to be. I am addicted to my own franticness. I am addicted to performing enough, in the right amount of time, in a way that the people around me say is good.

. . .

Today I'm contributing to Seth Haines' series "The Recovery Room" over at his blog. You can find my full piece here.

Cultivate: Choosing Love & Humility Over Rightness, or When Resurrection is Our Story

I could say that my silence here has been because I’ve been “busy.” And that would be true, at least partially. Busy covers a multitude of realities, doesn’t it?

But if I want to be honest about the past few weeks of my life, I have to tell you that I am in the midst of a tumultuous season, a time that has felt emotionally raw, frightening.

My church is in a moment of uncertainty, when questions over doctrine feel bigger than anything else, when people who love each other deeply fall passionately on opposite sides of the issue at hand, and learning to talk about it out loud feels painful and impossible at times. There have been a lot of tears at my kitchen table this week, a lot of conversations about the gospel and how to read scripture. In short, we’re living in a moment in our church that has been lived in many times before in other communities, both now and throughout the past 2,000 years. What we must decide is how we will choose to wrestle through these questions, whether we will choose to engage with one another or leave one another.

Stability matters. And, just as I reflected in , it is always the harder choice.

And, in the midst of loving my church community, , for such a time as this. I believe that. I have to. All I can do is pray for mercy and make decisions with humility. All I can do is beg God to take my offering and bring forth something beautiful.

I’m also an elder who is eight months pregnant, carrying a pregnancy that has been anything but certain. Since December I have held tightly to a challenging prenatal diagnosis, one that may or may not be accurate. I have settled into the pattern of weekly non-stress tests, to see if this is the week my baby may be in distress, if this is the week we are rushed to the hospital to deliver a baby my body is not yet ready to deliver.

And each week, I have been sent home to my little boys with the instructions to rest. I drink water and try to help with homework from my spot on the couch. 

These two tender things must be walked through before I can really write to you about them. They are two living organisms: my church and my baby. Both must be tended, cultivated, allowed to grow into the sunshine, even if I don’t know what will come of them.

And what else can I write about? This is the season of my life right now. Uncertainty, yes. But also responsibility. And deep belief in God’s goodness. And hope, that whatever this season of growth and tenderness and prayer brings, Jesus resurrected will be my courage, my compassion, my wisdom.

In the past two weeks I have had some of the hardest conversations of my life with people in my church community, people I love.

And you know what else? In the past two weeks I have had meals delivered to my home. My kids have been picked up and taken to the park because I needed to rest. My church community has fed them ice cream and read them stories. My church community has mopped my floor while I napped or fed my kids chicken nuggets while I talked through difficult issues on the phone in another room.

I sat on the pew this past Sunday and cried as a dear friend and pastor shared his process in this uncertain time, and asked us to enter into a conversation that is not easy. “Healthy families have to learn to have hard conversations,” he said.

And I know that’s true. You know what else I know?

Our doctrine doesn’t make us a church. What makes us a church is how we love the pregnant lady who needs to stay on the couch. What makes us a church is how we mop each other’s floors and take each other’s kids to the park. What makes us a church is how we learn to see one another as God’s beloveds, and speak kindness to one another even when our passion is loud and fiery. What makes us a church is how we choose love and humility over rightness.

Yes, I wouldn’t have chosen either of these uncertainties. But cultivating something beautiful always demands pain. Isn’t that the way this world has always been? The seed is planted whole into the earth, but it must split open before the sprout can push its way from the darkness and into the bright sun.

How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write

Photo by  @gebhartyler  on  Unsplash

Ed Cyzewski's writing is always thoughtful and gracious and challenging, and I love that his newest book is one that considers the disciplines of prayer and writing together. What a beautiful idea. When he approached me asking if I'd like to host his thoughts on how he uses the Prayer of Examen both in prayer and in writing, my word-nerd/prayer-nerd (can you be a prayer nerd?) self exploded. Between now and March 16 his e-book is available for only $1.99!

So happy to host him here . 

 ___

When I try to pray, I often find that my anxious thoughts get in the way.

When I try to write, I often find that I can’t form a single thought.

It feels like feast or famine most days.

How can I face my thoughts for prayerful contemplation without getting swept up in anxiety and worst-case scenarios?

How can I hang on to a few thoughts that are worth exploring through writing before the blank page wins?

Thankfully I’ve found that one practice can help with both problems. The Examen, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, offers a lifeline to stressed out, over-thinkers like me, while coincidentally prompting writers to address what matters most.

 

Praying with the Examen

Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift given directly from God. After spending a significant time in prayer, he found that prayer could move forward best with this time of reflection and meditation.

The Examen is set apart from run of the mill self-reflection right from the start by its first step: Awareness of God’s Presence. We don’t face the most challenging parts of our lives alone. God is with us as we begin the Examen, and as we move forward into it, that awareness will only grow. In fact, the Examen encourages us to invite God into our days and our times of reflection.

The genius of the Examen is the way it stops the roller coaster of worry and distraction when I begin praying, while still offering a path forward. It provides an orderly, prayerful direction to my thoughts so that I can honestly face what I’m truly thinking without feeling restrained.

My own Examen practice follows the guidelines in the (Apple Store only). The initial reflections on God’s presence and gratitude for the day are followed by “consonance” and “dissonance” questions or prompts where I type in my replies.

The consonance section focuses on the positive relationships, events, and experiences of God throughout the day. The dissonance section focuses on what is discouraging, restricting, or provoking fear. It ends with an invitation to five minutes of silent meditation. Other Examen guides offer variations of this approach.

Any practice of the Examen should include reflection on our days and awareness of our emotions. Some guides distill the Examen into :

1.  Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow.

I encourage you to begin with at least one period of reflection in the evening (Ignatius practiced the Examen twice a day). While I can’t speak highly enough of the Examine app, perhaps you can begin with just a few questions or prompts and then add new questions as you develop a routine.

If you don’t use the app, I also recommend journaling your replies to each prompt. Even just writing a few words for each prompt on the page can be tremendously revealing—as if we can finally own up to the truth once we see them typed on a screen or penned onto a page.

While the Examen often ends with an invitation to silent contemplation, there are plenty of directions you can take. I’ve often merged it with either , where I use a sacred word to still my thoughts, or the Divine Hours where I use one of the scripture readings for —using slow, repetitive scripture reading to guide prayer.

However you choose to move forward, I’ve found that the Examen provides an essential first step for confronting the issues on my mind, guiding my contemplation, and then freeing me to pursue other spiritual practices.

 

Writing with the Examen

Whether you write regularly for publication or you simply keep a journal, the Examen can provide a steady supply of writing prompts. I’ve often finished my Examen and prayer time by jotting down a few ideas in my journal or in a notes file.

Good writing, like any good art, needs to confront the most challenging aspects of life. Whether exploring our pain, anger, or fears, writing won’t ring true if it fails to confront these deeper issues or only offers pat solutions to complex issues.

The Examen pushes us beyond our filters and even the shame that could keep us silent. When we face ourselves as we truly are before entering into prayer, we’ll start to see clear paths forward for writing.

Some may only need to write privately about an issue in order to gain additional clarity and direction. Others may tap into their fears and insecurities and find that they have something to share with their readers.

From my fears about work to my struggles with anger and control while at home with our kids, the Examen has helped me take important first steps toward the kind of writing topics I needed to pursue. However, I don’t think I would have ever seen these topics with the same degree of clarity if I hadn’t spent month after month addressing them in my Examen.

As I followed up on these issues in my writing, I found a space to process them further. Once I had a better grasp, I knew what to pray about that evening. Prayer and writing became a self-sustaining cycle.

While my prayer and writing stand apart as distinct practices, they blend together and support each other. There is no sacred and secular. There’s just life, and both practices work together.

I trust that my approach to writing and prayer isn’t for everyone, but even the most basic use of the Examen may bring a sense of peace and order to your thoughts that could create a deeply needed space for prayer.

This post is adapted from my new book .

Order the eBook version for $1.99 between now and March 16: 

Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology. He’s a freelance writer who regularly addresses the intersection of faith and writing on his blog and tweets as @edcyzewski.

Found at SheLoves Book Club!

I've had the privilege of writing a couple of times over at SheLoves Magazine, one of my favorite online spots, a space packed full of gifted women and rich writing.

And I'm thrilled that SheLoves has chosen Found as its Red Couch Book Club book for the month of March! 

If you haven't yet read Found, now is the perfect moment to read it alongside of community of other readers, and join in discussions on Facebook and at SheLoves. I love that they've decided to read Found during Lent, because so much of the book centers around following the church calendar and making new liturgies in our ordinary lives.

If you want to read more, here's a link to the Red Couch Book Club over at SheLoves Magazine. Take a peek!

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.

Still True, All the Way Through

 

Photo by  Akira Hojo  on  Unsplash

Photo by Akira Hojo on Unsplash

The other night I sat in a meeting with five other church elders and my head pastor, listening to him share the hard realities of leading our church. As he spoke to us, I recognized (again) the gift of being lead by a person who is attentively listening to God’s spirit. Thirty years in ministry, and he is still willing to change his mind, submit to God’s movement in his life, even when it’s painful, even when it hurts. For what felt like the hundredth time, I came home to my husband and said, Being a pastor is hard.

I said, I’m so grateful he is the one who leads us.

I know all about the other kinds of pastors, the ones who do not love deeply, or grieve, or take risks. I know about the ways leaders can hurt their followers, especially when those leaders have the job of representing the great, mysterious God.

I wrote about it here once, .

I want to write this for you. You, the one who sits with your face in your hands and begs yourself out the door into the church on Sundays. You, who questions hierarchy and recognizes the broken tendencies of leaders. You who wonders how the church can ever be its true self, how Jesus’ dream for God’s people could end up so flimsy. I want to write a story for you about what is possible.

I want to tell a story of the pastors I believed, then feared, those whose real lives seemed fraught with empty relationships, those who spoke words from the pulpit that felt closer to manipulation than truth. I want to tell how my hope cracked under the pressure of my dreams for them. My world told me they were super heroes. Under their capes, it turned out they were broken like me.

I want to write a story about those years I scoffed and rolled my eyes, longing for answers, assuring myself I was alone in the struggle. I want to write about the conversations my husband and I had back then, the tears: “What is church supposed to even be? Is it hopeless?”

When I found out my beloved Deeper Story was closing its doors, I went back to the archives to remind myself of all I’d published here. And it was sweet to find I’d told a wide-spaced story, one with a long view. It was sweet to be reminded that these past two years, month by month, my posts have told a story of faith, one I’m honored I was allowed to tell.

That first post was about . I’ve also written about . I’ve written about  and . I’ve written about how , a God-medal for the most perfect life. I’ve written here about the  and the grace of learning to become a priest-mama, .

I wrote  that, “beyond the fog our God holds us: Our theology, our fear, our broken burnt up lies, our needy bits of heart. Our healing.”

And today, in my last Deeper Story post, it feels right to end with the first words I shared here in this good space, where I’ve been asked to tell my stories, to walk through my past two and a half years of holding faith with open, grateful hands, where I feel that in some ways, I’ve written my way toward a new space of hope and faith in the story of Jesus and his Church.

I’m still writing the story of how church is hard and complicated and good, how following Jesus is always dangerous because it’s the realest thing. .

Christine says, “If it’s real, it has to be real all the way through.” She points her finger through the air. “If it breaks down, if Jesus is not who he says he is, none of this is worth it.”

I’d just said how grateful I was for the space they had created within our church community: humility, genuine compassion, kindness. I’d said I’d never forget how she followed me out of the sanctuary our first morning at Christ Church, my embarrassing exit with crying six month old. She’d found me and sat beside me, said, “We love crying babies here…”

And she had meant it.

“True all the way through,” she says in her living room, t-shirts crumpled on her lap.

And they bless us and send us out into night.

The good, hard things always end with blessing, don’t they? They always end with hope.

The Ashes and the Being Made Whole

Photo by  Ahna Ziegler  on  Unsplash

Today is Ash Wednesday: let's think about wholeness, okay?

I had planned to worship beside my husband on Ash Wednesday. For the almost-decade of our marriage, we have never once been to my favorite service of the year together. He’s had to work late or go out of town or somebody’s been sick. This was finally the year he would sit beside me and he’d know, understand, what moves me so deeply about this service. The ashes and the honesty and the hymns and the way the Church aches together.

Part way through Brooks’ afternoon with the babysitter, my almost-two-year-old, who’d been succumbing to a virus for a little over a week, began crying hard enough to demand a stroller ride home from the park. The day before he’d had a fever, but that morning he’d appeared happy, near-healthy.

But by the time they reached the sidewalks of our street, my babysitter was calling me frantic.

“You should probably come meet us outside. Something’s wrong with Brooksie.”

I jumped from my desk and rushed down the stairs and out into the sunshine, where she was running the stroller down hill toward me.

“Brooksie!” I shouted at the slumped boy beside his oblivious brother in the double stroller. The eyes that had been gazing off into some secret nothing, refocused on me.

“Mommy, Daddy, Buppy,” he whimpered. “Mommy, Daddy, Buppy.”

I pulled him out of the stroller and looked at my babysitter’s worried eyes.

“He wouldn’t respond to me, Micha,” she said. “I was kneeling in front of him and he was limp with his eyes open.”

I brought him in the house. His skin was fire hot. I took his temperature, 104.3.

Yes, no wonder he was gazing off into the nothing.

You do what you have to and you worry later. I poured Tylenol down his throat. I called the doctor. I waited for her return call. By then it was after five and my husband was on his long commute home, stuck in traffic. As the medicine kicked in, Brooksie began to engage with me. We read stories and rocked in the rocking chair. He asked to eat.

The after-hours clinic said to bring him in at 6:50. The babysitter went home.

Brooks had been easing into a Daddy-phase for the past couple of weeks. But on Ash Wednesday day he came into it with all his heart.

“My need Daddy! My need Daddy!” he cried.

“Daddy’s coming soon, baby,” I said as I rocked his fevery body. “You want to go to the doctor?” I asked.

“Wid Daddy,” he mumbled.

“Yes,” I said. I texted Chris. Would he like to take our boy to the doctor?

Of course he would, he said. Of course.

August had been excited all day for the Ash Wednesday service. Unlike my childhood, where church was a place I spent every Wednesday night, this going in the middle of the week thing (and at night!) is fantastical to him.

By the time my husband arrived home from his two hours stuck in traffic on a bus, Brooksie was in his pjs, his Tylenol fully at work in his body. August was dressed for church. And I was handing a piece of paper to my husband in which I’d scratched out every single thing that had happened to our sick child that day. I not only gave it to him, I read it aloud, just in case.

What kind of mother leaves her baby with a fever of 104 and goes to an Ash Wednesday service?

Chris dropped us off and I took August to the room where the children were listening to a story about Adam and Eve, about a Terrible Lie they chose to believe, about their broken spirits and minds, how desperate we’ve all been ever since.

While he listened, I sang slow hymns in the sanctuary. There, in the back of the balcony where the late-comers huddled together, I felt like I was singing alone, with only the violinist there to accompany me:

Jesus I long for thee And sigh for Canaan’s shore Thy lovely face to see And all my warfare o’er… I pant, I groan, I grieve For my untoward heart; How full of doubts I live, Though full of grace thou art

I cry every year on Ash Wednesday. Maybe it’s because I’m alone. Always alone, always late.

. . .

Last year in Austin, Chris was away for work and I couldn’t get myself together to get the boys to the service and forfeit our baby’s bedtime, knowing I’d spend the whole service nursing and hushing.

That afternoon, after August woke from nap time, I took leaves burned them in a pan in the backyard. And I marked myself. I said, “Micha, you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It felt like most of my moments of personal prayer: distracted, not quite complete, the little boy playing cars around me.

“I want ashes too,” August said.

“Okay, but this is only something we do if we are serious. It’s not a game. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he said and sat before me on the deck.

“It’s to remind us that we have broken hearts that only Jesus can fix.”

Then, as a priest-mama, no different than any other day I have held up Gospel and broken bread before my boys, I sealed my son with ashes. I called him to some future repentance he could never then understand. I marked him with the cross, . Or to us, there in the backyard, a symbol of wholeness, a symbol that .

I reminded August (and myself) that his life is ashes.

And like that, our service was over. He was back on the grass with his cars, a mess of a cross on his forehead.

. . .

While my husband and toddler sat on the doctor cot in an after-hours clinic, I watched the first rows of worshippers snake toward the priests in front. And there, coming down the aisle was the row of children, my oldest boy in his black zip-up hoodie looking around the big room at all the faces.

I stood where I was, longing to walk through the line beside him. I rushed down the balcony stairs and cut in front of those in the middle section. August’s line was veering left, mine right.

I was marked. Reminded of my mortality, of hope against death. I walked the side of the great room and across the back, met August’s line as they headed back to their room. I caught the eye of the children’s pastor and August was released back to me. We sat on the floor in the back the sanctuary, my four-year-old in my lap, and we sang:

Out of unrest and arrogant pride, Jesus I come, Jesus I come Into Thy blessed will to abide, Jesus I come to Thee.

I thought of how many nights of my childhood I stood behind a pew and sang low and heavy, “All to Jesus I surrender…I surrender all…” I’d rock side to side or back and forth while the pastor begged the people to come forward, to be saved. How many nights did I rock under that brass lit chandelier dangling above my head and make promises? How often did I say, Whatever you ask of me, Lord? How many times did I pray, Make me brave?

There, right there in that moment on the floor with my back to the wall, my son in my lap, I remembered to own the grace that’s been given to me. I remembered that I am ashes and so is my boy. But we are going to be made whole. We are mortal and weak. But, still, . I remembered to believe.

Out of myself to dwell in Thy love, Out of despair into raptures above, Upward forever on wings of a dove, Jesus I come to Thee

We sat on the floor and I sang those words. Across town, my husband and baby walked the aisles of Walgreens and waited for the antibiotic. And all of us were ashes. All of us were recipients of grace. All of us were coming to Jesus.

I come, I come, I sang, my face in August’s hair, our heads covered in grime.

WALKING EPIPHANY in San Francisco

Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

 Tamara Hill Murphy is a blogger and friend of mine from our days together in Austin. She is also a wonderful blogger who writes about the "Sacramental Life" and living intentionally through the Christian seasons. She has such a creative mind and comes to these things in beautifully unique ways.

Right now she is hosting a series throughout the season of Epiphany (which lasts until Ash Wednesday, eight days from now), in which she asks her guests to walk through their own neighborhoods as a spiritual practice during this season of light. (When Jesus tells us both: "I am the light" and "You are the light.”)

I loved getting to go through my neighborhood and share about what I love about our life here in San Francisco. I also loved thinking about our walks through our neighborhood of The Outer Sunset as a spiritual practice.

See what I wrote here.


This is the view from my back porch on a clear day in winter. In the church calendar we are in the season of light. In the Outer Sunset of San Francisco, this is the season of sunsets, a miraculous time of year when it feels like almost every evening we get to watch the sun sneak away into the Pacific ocean. Much of the year here is covered in fog and the ocean is distorted from our view behind a canopy of gray. But, during Epiphany for the past two winters we’ve spent in our home, the sun has set with bright reds and oranges, unmarked by the curtain of fog.



I always feel sorry for the season of Epiphany. It’s a shame to have such a remarkable name and always be ignored. I mean, it’s got to be tough to be the season that shows up right after Christmas, to mark the day we ought to have taken our trees down and stored our decorations. To be the liturgical mark on the calendar when everyone sighs some relief before we all start up with preparations for Lent. Poor thing.


Ah, Epiphany. I remember when I first learned that word. I was a secret word-nerd in middle school and high school and would never have owned up to the fact that I loved learning the word “elaborate” in 7th grade Language Arts. It sounded so sexy on my tongue. “Elaborate!” Mr. Jester would say as he shuffled up and down our rows of desk and jingled the coins in his pocket, discussing the five-paragraph essay.


I didn’t learn “epiphany” until I was in 12th grade, in Mr. English’s (his real name!) British Lit class. He described it as an “Aha!” moment long before Oprah ever claimed the phrase. We would discuss the main character’s moment of epiphany, when she finally discovered what she was meant to know, recognized the truth that would change the course of her story.


My story changed when I moved to San Francisco over five years ago. I’ve lived here for more than four years, with a one-year jaunt to Austin there in the middle. We have lived in four different neighborhoods in the four-plus years of our life in San Francisco, and in each, we have come to love and appreciate the offerings of each particular corner of the city.

 . . .


www.bachelorschreibenlassen.com/

One Word 2015: Cultivate

I know, you’re supposed to pick your word for the year during the first week of January. That week I was on vacation and taking naps.

Well, then you’re supposed to pick your word for the year the second week of January. Sorry. I was unpacking and putting away clothes and organizing all the stuff we brought back to San Francisco from our (finally sold!) home in the Philly area. I’m talking, organizing water damaged college pictures, y’all! And you expected me to blog?

Well, then, there’s always the third and fourth weeks of January. Yeah, except I was pregnant those weeks.

(I know. I was pregnant all the weeks. Best excuse ever.)

My point is that it’s February and I’m proud to say that I picked a word for 2015.

In December I wrote a post about receiving.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot for the past two months. Can receiving be an active work? We think of receiving as passive, but when we receive with gratitude, when we accept life’s dangerous and painful gifts with joy, isn’t that the active work of the Spirit?

I thought about this all through our Christmas trip out east. I thought it about it the first week of January while I was napping. I thought about it the second week of January while I was organizing water-damaged college photos. And then, at sunset a couple of weeks ago, I went out into the chilly Sunday afternoon, set my pregnant self down on the cold concrete, and started pulling weeds that had accumulated in the rains that fell on San Francisco in the weeks leading up Christmas.

I sat in the gathering dusk and pulled out the clovers that want to take over every spot of ground in the Bay Area this time of year. And while I pulled them, I wondered. How do we receive in a way that isn’t passive?

I thought about my pregnant self and all the aches and pains that have come this time around. (My body seems to be highly aware that it has done this more times than it wants to.) And I thought about the sweet work of participating in God’s creation.

I don’t control my baby’s development; I only host it. But I do suffer for the sake of it. And what does that mean? Isn’t carrying a child about more than simply “receiving”? Pregnancy is the process of supporting and nurturing something good and beautiful that cannot be controlled. And, yet, that work I can’t control is anything but passive. I am working hard for the good of the gift I carry within me.

Maybe receiving God’s good gifts has more to do with cultivating—making space for growth, nurturing, pruning, assisting, harvesting.

Cultivate is a word that feels capable of holding many words at once: When we cultivate, we prepare, but we also make room, plant, weed, water, care. Cultivating is not passive, and still we don’t control the ultimate creation. Still, we receive the nurtured plant knowing that while we gave it the best possible place of growth, we did not breathe life into it. That work is God’s. Life and breath are the mysteries we cannot claim to own.

For the next eleven months, I’ll be writing and meditating on what it means to cultivate in our daily lives, because to live as the wholehearted creatures we are intended to be, we must be people who make room for life, who nurture life, who embrace the daily work of making our small spaces of the world beautiful.

I'm hoping you'll join me. We'll cultivate something lovely this year, okay?

The Tightly Stitched Gathering of God

Photo by  Hanna Morris  on  Unsplash

“Payton,” I say, “I was baptized when I was seven, too.”

In my memories I don’t see myself—the permed blonde frizz on my head, the teeth too big for my skinny face, the courage I must have held to have chosen such a thing at such an age. What I remember is the room of believers who loved me, who sat in silence in the pews I gazed out into.

I recall the feel of Brother Shad’s hand on my back and my awkward tilt into the water. I remember what it felt like to know that I had chosen Jesus because he had tugged me to himself.

How did I know such a thing then? How did I believe?

In the service, I stand at a microphone to the side. I say, “On behalf of the Board of Elders, I present to you …” And I introduce them one at a time. But it’s Payton whose name chokes me up. She stands from her seat and walks alone the few short steps to the altar where the Holy Spirit hovers over the water.

It is so ordinary and mysterious and we make promises to her and promises to God. And she makes promises also, with the simple faith I recognize as once my own.

. . .

Today I'm over at SheLoves Magazine, thinking about the beauty of baptism and young faith. Read the full story here.