This practice of learning to see has many flavors. I suppose it's not unlike developing my taste buds to the point of subtle distinction, like a connoisseur. A connoisseur of life.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
This practice of learning to see has many flavors. I suppose it's not unlike developing my taste buds to the point of subtle distinction, like a connoisseur. A connoisseur of life.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Trauma scarred my eyes, distorted the lens through which I interpreted the world.
But each of us are bound to know the scar of trauma in our stories, whether in the past or today or somewhere in the future. So what is the vaccination against the hardening of disbelief, the suffocating fear and anxiety, the cynicism or pessimism that seap into our souls with the scarring?
In one word, thanks.
I'm learning that giving thanks daily, all throughout the day, builds trust. Saying it outloud and writing it down. Trying to think positive thoughts doesn't build trust. Medicating myself for anxiety would not build trust. Even praying about my anxiety or fear alone does not build trust. It's a certain type of prayer, the prayer with thanksgiving, that opens a new path for me to walk on.
I keep quoting one of my new favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, because her words cut a path through the muck to the heart: "Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with the planks of thanks." This is how I walk unafraid. This is how I walk into peace, away from anxiety. Deliberately, sometimes irrationally, turning my back on the scenes and emotions that fill up a moment with heaviness, and training my eyes to see grace through thanks.
I've glided over Jesus' words many times, but not today. Today I want to glide, but I stop and let the words catch up to me: "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23).
When my eyes are ungrateful, full of the shadows of death and loss and sorrow, I see darkness. I live in shadows. The only way to open the curtains that shut out the light, scraping off the crustiness, retraining the retinas, is the ongoing act of giving thanks.
But what about true losses, true grief, legitimate anxiety and fear and sorrow? Ignoring them is not the answer. I can't pretend they aren't real. I learn how to see through them. That bridge of trust is built with one plank of thanks at a time. While it's hard to see in the swirling of dust, in the raw ache of a wound, maybe the answer is to keep walking and not try to see everything in a moment.
"In time, years, dust settles. In memory, ages, God emerges. Then when we look back, we see God's back." Another Ann epiphany. How many bridges have I crossed in life, been able to look back and see God's back, if I have eyes to see?
Friday, May 27, 2011
At the writer’s conference last weekend, I expected to be out of my league. Out of my comfort zone. Out of place. My sister encouraged, “Just go and be a sponge.” Somehow, it worked, imagining myself as a soft, sporous sponge soaking up whatever I could glean from the years of experience of writers around me. It felt less threatening that way, yet still required peeling back the curtain of shy self-consciousness that covers me when I’m around other writers. Being at a writer’s conference, if you’re going to get anything from it, demands a minimal level of vulnerability.
I stepped through the doors at the conference, crossing an invisible border between my worlds. Everyone seemed to speak a foreign language, know the lingo and the slang, navigate the streets with some sense of direction. Jump into the water, however, and see that they, too, are swimming upstream with everyone else. Maybe they can’t navigate the landscape without a map, but they at least know how to read the map. I hadn’t even picked a map up to study.
I’ve been writing from my early childhood, crafting simple, imaginative stories, and yet, this world of becoming not just a writer but an author is entirely different. One of the seminar speakers, a published author, compared becoming a writer to becoming a brain surgeon. Very different crafts, but each must train diligently for years to learn their craft.
If anything, I learned that the road to publishing has many side streets. Numerous roads can lead to publication. But the one thing that separates writers from authors is that authors have the courage to submit their work. Subject it to editing, review, critique, killing, recreating, rejection. And I heard over and over again, all who submit will face rejection. The more submissions, the more rejections. But publication cannot happen, obviously, without that step.
Before that step, however, comes heaps of research and preparation. One word that was tossed around often was “platform.” Writers need a platform because potential publishers and agents and editors want to see that they’re standing on something other than pure skills. They want to see marketing plans, vision, networking, previous publications, a solid following of readers. I thought of my blog, with its ten followers, and then, I have a lot of work to do. That’s not exactly what you could call a solid following. But it’s just as true that every writer starts out somewhere, usually somewhere small and insignificant.
Echoes from a prophet reverberate in my head, “Do not despise these small beginnings” (from the Bible, Zechariah 4:10). Small beginnings. Another facet of learning how to see the great and valuable in the small and insignificant.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
As silly as it may sound, that happened to me tonight at the gym. I skidded into the reception area of my athletic club to check in for my Thursday night Zumba class - a high energy, cardio salsa and international dance class - and barely missed the words on the small chalkboard, announcing, "Zumba class cancelled tonight." My face dropped.
I looked at my Zumba friend next to me, "What? No Zumba...?" I didn't know what to do. I wasn't mentally prepared to stay and bore myself on stationary workout equipment. Turning to leave, she suggested we try out the Nia class instead.
I debated silently, though my face certainly didn't hide my lack of enthusiasm. "Uh... Nia? Have you actually done it before?"
"Yeah, once. It's not too bad. Let's try it."
My only impression of Nia was peering in on a class of older ladies, middle-aged granola ladies, young hard-core yoga ladies, dancing in flowy shirts and hippie pants, a blend between tai-chi, ballet, and a zen-like free-for-all. Not exactly Zumba. Not exactly in my comfort zone. But I felt like dancing, and curiosity won out.
So we took our shoes and socks off and waited in the back of the cozy studio, in front of the mirrors. The teacher came in, welcomed us to the class, and briefly explained that Nia is a compilation of three different types of martial arts, modern and jazz dance and some other types of movements I'm not familiar with.
The music invited us in, slow and rhythmic, enchanting, beckoning. Self-consciousness shed off like a discarded garment in a warm room. My eyes closed and I let my body lead me wherever the music danced. Eyes opened, and I saw myself in the mirror. Tightened muscles gradually loosening, limbs flowing in graceful femininity.
"Feel the joy of movement," our teacher instructed. My arms and hands, legs and toes, understood it before my mind did. The mind can be a little slow, but it caught up. Muscles and mind relaxed into the freedom of joyous movement.
Turns out, I didn't need high-impact, energetic routine tonight. I needed barefoot, graceful, creative, spontaneous, joyful, free.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
"Thanks makes now a sanctuary." Ann Voskamp's words from One thousand gifts ring in the space between ears and heart now on a daily basis. I felt myself walk in on several moments such as these with customers in the last few days. Sacred, holy, don't-trample-the-daisies sorts of moments. Take your shoes off, open your eyes. These are the moments to tuck away and savor.
A moment like this.
My eyes find his, dark and smooth as the espresso that daily beckons, before he steps into line Monday morning behind the regulars awaiting their morning caffeine. The gentle man, the one who makes the weekly trek from British Columbia to Seattle for chemotherapy, the one with the peaceful eyes and the strong heart, whose skin bears the colorful marks of cancer's treatment. I send him a nod, pleasantly surprised. He’s usually here only on weekends.
He steps up to the register, orders his tall Pike Place brewed coffee. "This cup of coffee - specifically, this roast - is the only thing I taste all day."
Frozen in place, my brain waits to register this new information. A brave smile crosses his face, an accepting shrug lifting his shoulders, admitting, "It's a highlight of my day."
My mouth opens and closes like a guppy fish, my smile not so brave, in a moment recalling all the things that pass over my tastebuds on a daily basis without truly being savored.
With the luxury of no one behind him in line, we chat for a few minutes. A few minutes of story, his life before it changed drastically. Once a successful entrepreneur, in both Seattle and Canada; then, cancer invaded. One cancer, then another, pillaging life, nailing a grim prognosis to the door. And yet. Heavy with hope, born on the broad shoulders of that three-letter word: Yet. This man refuses to let cancer have the final word. He's studying now for his MBA. He knows what the statistics say, what the doctors say, and still he says, "I'm a firm believer that miracles happen."
My head bobs up and down, an emphatic yes. "Me, too, I wholeheartedly agree." And in my heart, and in my prayers, yes, yes, yes! I want to proclaim it on his behalf from an impossibly high mountain: YES!
This moment, this man, this face, these words, play on a large screen in the theater of my mind all day long, compelling prayers I can scarce clothe in words. Compelling thanks for yet another moment of life, for gifts like health and taste that may not always be; for unexpected teachers; for God in the face of a man.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
A dear friend and I were catching up on each other's lives last night. A rare treat. It didn't take long into speaking and listening to our stories to see a common thread: we're both hungry to learn to live full of joy in each moment we've been given, with what we have. And this, we're also learning, can be a full on wrestling match.
What is that balance, we wondered, between being honest with what we're experiencing - the anxiety, depression, fear, anger, sorrow, you name it - and still seeing the joy?
I shook my head, "Whatever it is, it's not easy." And I thought, maybe it's in the seeing.
Yes, it might be in the seeing. During the work day, it can be easier for me to live in the moment. I'm pushing down what seem like intrusive emotions, putting them up and away on the shelf for later study. I'm coaching myself to stay here, live here, give here. But when I clock out and I slip down into the driver's seat of my car, fasten my seatbelt and point my way toward home, that book on the shelf opens up. Sometimes, it falls off the shelf.
Eyes open, desperate searching, I want to see, I must see. Anything. See the beauty in the ugly. I strain these eyes, grasping at whatever glimmer of glory I can capture. But some days, the eyes brim with tears and the sunglasses go on and I step inside the door of my home, slump to the ground and whisper blurry-eyed prayers.
Where is the beauty in this moment? This weak and crumpled moment. I've been here before, many times before, and struggle beneath the water to break the surface and fill my lungs.
I breathe in, breathe out. In thanks, out thanks. The breaths come slower. I'm aware I'm not alone, held by invisible arms, leaning on Someone I can't see. The thanks come harder, clearer. My heart rests, finally.
Through the blurry eyes, I see grace. I feel grace. I am held. Joy is right beside me, waiting to be touched. In plain view at all times, but not plainly seen.
I'm learning that thanks opens my eyes, and in that opening, I see joy.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Words come alive to me in pictures. I think it’s one of the ways God communicates with me, as if the words spoken are a seed and his breath the germination and the picture that follows the blossoming flower. It was like that for me again today in the counseling office. It’s amazing to trace the trail of thoughts that eventually lead up to these pivotal moments where images birth life. Today, it was as repetitive as listing off the things I used to do (a.k.a, performance) that I equate as spiritual growth, or at the very least, a direct correlation. I hashed through them with an intonation of failure, counting them off on my spiritual fingers as jugdment for my lack of pursuit of God.
I used to read my Bible every day and study scripture. I used to play my guitar and worship for hours by myself. I used to write God beautiful songs. I used to lead others in worship, also playing and singing for hours of prayerful worship. I used to be involved in prayer ministry. I used to have the desire to serve and give of myself more to others in need. I used to talk about God more with people. I used to have more to give....
I used to spread before God a feast.
Whoa, hold on, I felt something coming.... and then, the image. The tears pooled in my eyes’ seemingly bottomless reservoirs and spill warmth down my face. That’s it. I used to have a feast for God, and now, I have nothing. Nothing but famine.
I saw myself laying a feast at my table for God in the tiny studio apartment I used to inhabit, back in the day before my life completely changed. We ate fairly well. I was a good hostess, with a good income and a nice spread of fare for him to dine on. We were laughing and enjoying the abundance together.
And I saw us now. In the tiny little apartment I share with my mom, where I sleep on a mat on the living room floor. There is no table, just a blanket spread on the carpet. We are sitting cross-legged, dining on... dry saltine crackers. I am sad, because there is nothing to eat in the house, nothing delicious to feed him. I sit before him and cry, heaving shoulders, quivering lip, snotty nose. I am hungry, and he is with me in that hunger. He smiles at me and puts his arms around me, taking the cracker I offer him, now soggy from my tears. He is unphased. I expect him to pack up and leave, find another house, another roommate who can feed and serve him better than me. But he just sits with me and eats that cracker as if it’s the best meal in the world. And it seeps into my soul, for a quick moment, that this - this moment - is what the marriage vows are all about.
In sickness, and in health. For richer, or for poorer. In feast, and in famine. He’s not moving out. He’s not finding someone else. He hunkers down with me through the famine, reminding me to breathe. Reminding me that it, too, will pass. The clouds will open and release their rains and the seeds that have been planted will be watered and the crops will grow and we will once more feast. But he’s not daunted by my famine.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I stopped by his chair and said hello. At first, it's hard not to stare at his face as I'm fixing my gaze on his eyes, simply because my eyes are distracted by the superficial. My mind reels with questions. What's his story? But of course, I dare not ask. Instead I ask gently, "You've been making this trip for quite awhile, haven't you?" My way of asking, how long have you been on this journey, living with an illness?
"I have," he answered softly. "For many years. And I'll be doing it for the rest of my life."
I stood there practically stammering in surprise. "Your whole life?" I'm incredulous. I had no idea there could be a cancer that exacts such payment for the remainder of life, with no hope of remission. I didn't know what to say. I felt I was teetering on the precipice of an incredible story of sorrow and daily courage. How does this man do it?
I have trouble living in the fullness of each day, straining my eyes to see through the cracks of sorrow to the beauty of life and God, and all this without the added sorrow of a terminal illness. Permanent treatment. No weekends off from hours spent hooked up to IVs filled with poison, skin bearing the marks. No medical hopes of ever getting better. I chat a little more, smile and say goodbye, and bow my head as I walk away, gently chastened. This man appears to possess an ability to embrace life in its broken messiness that I in my own sorrows have only gasped to find. My soul gasps for air. Joy is what it seeks, but anymore, that feels so elusive and slippery.
I skipped church today because I was too tired to go straight from work, after having gotten up a little after three this morning. Instead, I grab a book that was laying on the couch and head out the door to a coffee shop, knowing my chances of staying awake are better there. I've been wanting to read this book since I heard about it several months ago at my writer's group. One thousand gifts is what it's called. Based on where the author was coming from and her raw authentic style of communicating, I felt a kindred spirit in her. I'm not very far into the book, but already, my attention is seized.
She's talking about the Greek word, eucharisteo, to give thanks. The root of that word is charis, which we know more commonly as "grace." But the Greek derivative of charis is chara - "joy."
In one of her first chapters, the author wonders: "Was this the clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo - the table of thanksgiving... Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?... The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now."
As long as we're alive, it is possible to be thankful for something. And as long as I can be thankful for something, I can experience joy. It seems to me I've known this in my head for a long, long time, and still, it escapes me in the day to day of living. I have tried to write about beautiful rubbish - of seeing the redemptive beauty of God's story in the rubbish of my life and the world around me - but in actuality, my eyes have been more blinded by the messiness than captured by the beauty.
It is time, again, to learn to see.
I think it begins with thankfulness, and maybe, this is all I need to know.