Monday, July 28, 2014

Sandwiched between earth and sky

I leave home tonight with an old fuzzy blanket tucked under my arm, searching for entrance to a resting place. The meeting place of heaven and earth in my own neighborhood dwelling. I find a door at the base of two enormous old trees and step inside their sanctuary, spread my blanket on the earth at their feet. The shoes and socks come off, for this is holy ground, and my toes need to feel the kiss of breeze between them. My back contours willingly to the ground, melding with it, feeling the mass of it bearing me up at the same time it calls my surrender. 

I stare up at the veiny roof spread high above between these two guardians, a canopy of cracks and peepholes to heaven, light raining down glory. 

I cannot decide where to place my hands - by my side? Beneath my head? - and settle them finally across my diaphragm, where I feel each breath as prayer and meditation. The struggle all week to breathe deep culminates here in intentional practice of surrender. My body fills, expands, loosens.

And I listen to the wind, untangling leaves as it combs through the branches. 

I become small once more, spread open, sandwiched between earth and sky. This tree, whose roots now support me, its bark is lined with ruts, wooden wrinkles set so deep it emanates holy mystery. I could wrap three times the span of my arms around its trunk, I think. I reach out and place a hand gently on its skin and wonder if I might, here, feel God's 

I flip over on my belly, my cheek against the blanket against the earth, my nose tucked in close to my arm. The scent of my human musk, of miles walked and biked in the sun today and soaked into my pores, rises like burning incense. I am reminded from where I come and where, one day, I will return.

On the edge of the blanket, a speck of moth rests. I am grateful for this fellowship. We are not moth and human in this moment, but God's creation under care, called to rest and enjoy.

We breathe in, and God sings through the wind in the trees, and I don't know what is being sung, but it is more than enough.

* * * * * 

I'm linking my words today with Unforced Rhythms. To tell you the truth, I wasn't planning to today or anytime soon. I planned to take a break from posting on my blog, for a number of reasons, but when this happened Saturday evening, I came back and the writing flowed so, well, unforced. This post came as a refreshing follow-up to my last post, which you can find here. I hope, in some way, if you have been struggling to find rest as I have, this might speak to your weary heart. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

A time to fill in the unfinished places

photo credit

The week drags and I with it, a balloon beginning out only a third filled, deflating with each passing day. I recall little from this week, except how much my body protested it, from the moment of the alarm's call to the never-early-enough moment I fell into bed. I remember my senses heightened to the downtown traffic, the over packed lightrail train cars, the buses of tourists blowing on their duck whistles, the endless stream of customers always wanting something more from me. I remember how much harder it was to plaster a smile on my face at work, how much a strain, at times, to have to squeeze myself into a role I no longer felt like playing. I remember eating dinners alone, except for the night we ate with friends and I struggled to keep my eyes open, my mind engaged. 

And I remember the struggle to breathe.

I'm not ever aware of my breathing, but those moments when it doesn't feel natural. In these moments, I'm breathing in deep and slow, a balloon expanding and never filling. And how much I long to finish a breath, finish a thought, finish this season with all its not-enoughs

At work, my back momentarily to customers, a deep, deep sigh escapes, and with it, air and so much more. These escape often enough they catch me by surprise on their way out, so that I'm like a cat poised on the living room windowsill, watching from behind the glass as the birds alight and fly off in the distance.

Take me with you, I say to the sigh as I watch it soar away and I'm pawing at the glass.

And I know I'm in a season of seasons, in the middle of a book of undetermined length, reading the same page again and again, wondering how long I can stay on this page without losing sight of the Holy. 

I want to finish this season of living in the city - this city that I have loved so much yet seems, at the same time, to be pushing me out of the home as it groans in expansion.

I want to finish my long season at this job - this job that has kept me far longer than I ever imagined, that has been a gift in so many ways, and yet is becoming increasingly hard to show up without glazed eyes and a dull heart.

I want to finish a season of marriage that has, so far, been the only story we've known, the same page over and over. And how we groan to tell, to live, a different story.

I want to turn the page on the unfinished, to finish well, to live the next chapter. And I don't know the answers to all the questions that crop up on repeat each time I read this page, except, this UnFinished is the story right now, whether I like it or not. How to live it, to surrender daily to it, to fill lungs and heart that gasp for fullness of breath, these are the real questions whose answers are only found in the moments of resting and gazing out.

And it's here, at this blip of words on the page, I see: I haven't been resting or gazing out. I haven't been out in the sanctuary that refreshes my soul, breathing in and worshiping with the choir that doesn't fit within the four walls of a church on Sunday mornings. In this place where I enter into the Holy presence, my lungs will fill, and so will the chambers of my heart. Filling in the unfinished places with enough-for-this-day.

Joining Lisa Jo and the Five-Minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Finish."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Of getaways, photos and the stories outside the lines

We got away together this weekend, to a little studio on a little farm on a little island, a rare retreat from home. And I know, in simply breathing out those words - we got away - the reaction it elicits. The oohs and aaahs and wry smiles and how nices. It's true, it was nice and quaint and lovely in some of those imagined way. Yet there are so many moments, are there not, that don't fit within the smiley selfies, the you-are-here photos and the snapshots of nature? 

We all know this. There are stories folded within the fibers of those photos that never get told. 

* * * * * 

There's something about getting away from home when you rarely do that raises the bar of expectation, even subconsciously. Things - or These Specific Things - will be different, we tell ourselves, as if location alone possessed a type of magic that is not tapped into in the familiarity of the everyday. And forward we go, Dorothy and the gang on the pilgrimage to Oz, only to unveil that the rather unimpressive little man behind the curtain is no different than the ones we face in the mirror.

And our fragile hearts crumble. 

For in this unveiling, we see that there is a certain built in comfort to home, a net beneath to catch us. It may be less tangled in expectation, for in this comfort zone, we already know what to expect. This is beauty and freedom, and it is also safety box under lock and key. We do not expect.  And that includes magic and mystery and miracle. We are too practical, too wary of, too tired, too wounded, too disillusioned, too fearful - to expect or hope for more than what we are intimately acquainted with at home; or really, More at all.

Going away merely lights this up like a neon sign on a deserted interstate in the middle of the night.

* * * * *

In the sharing of photos, I feel resistance, the pull between two realities. Between two conflicting desires: one for transparency and the other for hiding. Some things are well, and All is not well, but my heart silently begs, Do not believe these photos are an altogether true painting of my life. For if it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, than it may also be true that a picture can only tell a limited story within the fenced yard we loose them upon. Most of our photos tell the same story lines of person, place and thing; what we were doing; what interests us; even a desire to convey a sense of happiness, real or imagined. Often, we have to dig deeper for the truest story.

I look back on the few photos we snapped from the weekend and I'm trying to experience them now from a distance, to allow the layers of untold stories to seep into my heart. For there is more, too, than I even knew in these moments together, some that imprinted and others that passed. There is a beating heart there, pulsing steady, echoing in the fresh corners of memory. Glory and tension, light bleeding through pillows of charcoal cloud.

So I will not force one over the other. There is room for both.

Joining my words today with Unforced Rhythms

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In the roar of the maternal

Summer is in full bloom along the lake, where the green grass is an over-baked, brittle yellow and for miles along the shore bodies are bobbing in the water, packed tight into beach spaces and on docks. Where the waters are clogged with boats and music blares offshore until the curtain of daylight pulls back behind buildings and hillsides and mountains.

Instead of soaking in the beauty of the lake with the masses, I am restless. Disturbed. Homesick.

I am conflicted.

One the one hand, for these three prime months, I am welcomed again into the waters that I love, wherein the edges of myself blur, and I cannot tell where I end and the lake begins. The days are long and lingering and our skin soaks in the rays deficient for much of the year. 

But it comes at a cost. I sit on the beach with my husband watching the joy of us city folk as we revel in the season, and he feels it, too. We drink from this same cup and it is bittersweet. It is joy and it is loss. For in the height of our human enjoyment, we cannot help but feel the absence of so many that we love.

I rarely see the great blue heron, except a shadow retreating in the sky with long legs trailing. The waters are clearer this time of year and also littered with evidence of human activity. Plastic bags, styrofoam cups, lost sandals, bottles, glass, cigarettes, tobacco wrappers, french fry cartons, rubber remains. In the parking lots, masses gather in and around cars, smoking weed, drinking, barbecuing, blaring music, the sounds and smells hanging heavy in the air. 

I look for the heron in their usual spots and they are not there. I ache for them, these shy ones who dwell here year-round, sensitive to intrusion.

I am a mother on tiptoe, peeking in on her sleeping child. I am a mother bear in towering stance, releasing a warning roar. 

I want to round people up and send them home. I want quiet hours. I want people to take their shoes off and enter in on hallowed ground when they tread these sacred places. Do you not know, how this home does not belong to you? It belongs to these ones who are flying away as we invade their space. 

I hold a finger up to my lips and my heart lurches deep within: Hush, please. Do not disturb my children. My brothers and sisters. My family.

At night, I squint out at the expansive sky, up to the tops of the trees. I look and I wait for their return.

I do not know motherhood, but this. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

I am a mountain

" is not a fire as much as it's a glow; 
a quiet, lovely burning
underneath the snow -- is not a fire as much as it's a glow - 
a steady humble lamp light in the window...
I heard that faith moves mountains.
I know it moves my feet
to follow you.
And maybe I'm a mountain, 
because it's moving me to follow you...

And my faith is not a fire as much as it's a glow,
a little burning ember in my weary soul.
And it's not too much, it's just enough to give me hope.
Because your love moves slow,
yeah, your love moves slow." 

~ from Audrey Assad's song, Slow

* * * * * 

I don't know how old I was when I received my first children's bible, but chances were, I was no more than three or four. As the daughter of not only a pastor, but a Christian bookstore owner, I was never lacking in bibles, Christian literature, Christian music, Christian cartoons, the whole works. And I'm grateful for much of this heritage, for the beautiful trail it laid for my feet and the foundation it set in my heart. But at some point, when I finally hit the wall of questioning my faith and eyes that needed to learn how to see fresh what had become so familiar, it's been hard not to feel that there's anywhere to go but backwards from here. 

I grew up with the notion of daily "quiet times" or devotions, what evangelical Christians refer to as intentional (often structured) time of sitting down to read the bible and pray, often at the beginning of the day. I remember as maybe a ten year old, the excitement of owning my own bible organized so that I could read it daily, the whole bible in one year.  I started off in January with a youthful bang.  Somewhere around February - or Leviticus (whichever came first) - I began to miss days here and there, until April or May rolled around and I was drowning in bible reading to catch up on.  The feeling of failure and discouragement laid heavy on my shoulders, as every day, I felt I was never enough. I was never going to catch up.

Maybe this is the first memory I have of feeling I'd miserably failed God.

Still, somehow I stuck with reading the bible every day, or nearly so, even if it wasn't the entire bible in one year, and continued this way up until my late twenties.  I knew nothing, really, aside from my inability to keep up with the whole readings as a child, except this overall experience that reading the bible came naturally. I found it challenging to relate to anyone who didn't find it easy to read the bible. 

And the truth is, for the last six or so years, I've had the hardest time sitting myself down and reading the bible for more than five minutes at a time. When I do, I'm a ship lost at sea, bobbing in the waves, not sure where north or south is, east or west. At times, I'll catch a glimpse of the sun peeking through the clouds, note its position in the sky, and the light will reorient my eyes to a sense of direction. But this is not every day or even every week. 

Still, I do my best to keep at it.

And I move through too many days with that heaviness threatening its weight across my heart, that I'm not enough, that I'm slipping backwards, as I watch and hear of all these others doing bible studies and digging in deep and writing devotional blog posts; these ones who are living, eating and breathing the word of God; and I quietly turn and walk away. I fight a sense of guilt that I hear his word carried on the wind and in bird songs on my walks, in my breaths and echoes of heartbeats pounding my ears as I'm swimming across the lake, but not so much in the pages of the bible.  I see the word of God acted out on a daily basis in the theater of life and creation, coming alive before my eyes in ways I never imagined. I hear barbed messages whispered throughout the days - You are not passionate enough! Not devoted enough! Not spiritual enough! Not convicted enough! And I know when I listen to them, I duck my head, subconsciously retreating from the one who is not the source of these accusations, and slowly losing sight.

But I'm no longer able to go through the motions. I love the word of God. I believe the word of God. I have grown to know Jesus in a deeper way through the word of God. But I've come to a place where the word of God is written not only in these sacred pages, but even more, this profound mystery etched upon my heart. A place where, without even reading the bible, I know it; it's in me. I read his words scrawled across the pages of the world outside my door and in the very place where I live, in human beings and in all of God's creatures. This place where I tread with some amount of trepidation and uncertainty, but also, with a breath of refreshment filling my lungs when I catch it on the breeze.

And I know, in those moments of great faith, that this different way of walking in my faith is not less than; it's an expansion, a gradual settling into be-ing. I used to think that faith was a fire and being referred to as "on fire for God," a Christian's great success. But now I know, as the words of Audrey Assad's song confess in startling beauty, that "faith is not a fire as much as it's a glow." It's not an overwhelming amount, but it's enough to get me home. To get you home. It's something closer than my skin, so that I sometimes scarcely recognize it's there. And those mountains that need moving by faith? I'm beginning to see that I am one of those mountains, moving, edging - and yes, at times, jumping - home toward Love. 

Linking these words with Unforced Rhythms

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Belong

I swam to the shore yesterday evening to find him waiting barefoot in the water, fixing me with silent piercing eyes. He arrived after I was already long gone, a speck of pink silicone skimming the lake's surface, but he couldn't find me out there in the scope of his sight. And he waited, standing in the water he never enters. I hugged him and he whispered words to me and pretended to be mad, but I could feel it in the way he clung to me. He had been afraid. 

And for maybe the first time, I let myself believe he loved me enough to fear losing me.

* * * * *

We walked home to change clothes and then down the street to dinner, talking about the history book I'm reading and how it's shaking me up, and he told me what he learned in his history classes in Mexico all those years ago.  Over teriyaki, we smothered rice in hot chili sauce and ate with chopsticks and exchanged words only here and there, comfortable silence. We walked from there to the only store nearby where we could find him a pair of shoes and shorts, and I flashed him a thumbs up as he came out modeling fitted Levis and my heart ached to make him happy .

As we strolled home in the heat of the July evening, we joked as a bubblegum pink Dodge Charger cruised by, "Maybe that's our next car," and speculated about the World Cup finals. In the breeze's caress, I looked up to the towering trees and saw their heads were dipped in gold, spilling down green shoulders. And I said, "What gold is there in all the world better than this?" And he squeezed my hand and smiled, his eyes dancing their familiar way.

I have what seems a few moments in life where I feel I belong; but then I string them all together, these branches dripping gold, and they stretch farther than the length of the lake where I lose myself in its waters and step out again into his arms. 

* * * * *

Joining Lisa Jo and the FMF community to the prompt of "Belong."