Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Farmer and his Sabbath

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day,
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fall the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled 
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Wendell Berry

Great friends share books and authors. In fact, I find that a grounding tether or trust often secures me to someone when writing is shared and discussed. One of the most distinct culprits of this in my world is my friend Alexa. Over the years, I have mentioned her. Usually because of a quote, book, author that I have befriended through her. Wendell Berry is no stranger in that realm. Mr. Berry is a lifelong farmer in Kentucky who for decades spent Sundays wandering his farm, pondering God and rest and writing poetry. There's something about the practicality of his poetry that just seem so honest to me. He writes what he knows--but transforms it into something Holy. 

And I find myself wondering if that's what Sabbathing does to us. Does it take our work, our relationships, our time, our reading, our chores, and transform them into something Holy? 

Sabbath is for rest. God took His day to stop--not because of exhaustion--but perhaps because by examining the work and labor, it transformed it into something deeper, truer. I wonder sometimes if life is not best lived in the moment but truly marked in our souls by pondering it after. CS Lewis said, "a pleasure is not fully grown until it is remembered." I have to agree. Moments are pleasurable. A taste is pleasurable. But the memory of it, solidifying permanent connection, creates an essence--a scent which one can continually point to as a thread in their lives. 

Something about this winter has caused me to sit back and reevaluate my rhythms. How I've set up my life and routines. I have been taking stock of the value and intention with which I am stewarding my day and it's been disappointing and eye opening. Too much television, not enough reading, too little silence, more than enough dessert. 

And I find myself making quarter turns, not towards perfection or idyllic lifestyles, but towards presence. Or more accurately....Presence. 

I always wish to see beyond the means to the end. Jesus is not the means. He is the end. Thus, rhythms, actions, thoughts, prayers that draw me to Him are not the thing to be repeated for results. They are to be shared and recognized but not glorified. We should always pray to see the forest for the trees when we share helpful thoughts or practices. Legalism dies when I see Jesus' presence as my end goal. I think the ethereality of His presence appropriately and necessarily inhibits us from getting to write a rulebook of ways to love Him better. We love Him better in the moments we remember Him. However we choose to pursue that. 

Maybe that's the thing Wendell Berry understood. He took time to pursue the Presence of Jesus. And in that, he understood that his labor was better than he ever imagined it could be because through came an understanding of grace. Knowing that regardless of his efforts on his farm, the earth was controlled by the Creator. There was rest in knowing he worked hard because he saw the Lord through it. Not because by working harder he was given more crops or money or glory. By his labor he saw growth and death and newness and desolation and came to better understand himself and thus love our Lord dearer. 

The earth is good because it exists--not because it exists in a particular state. That is a grand truth to what the Father says over us. He loves us because we exist. Because in our essence is the scent of the Creator. And joy comes when we choose to breathe...and accept our essence. Some days those breaths are weary sighs, others they are gasps between gregarious laughter, and even others they are slow and methodical. 

I pray for better understanding and practicing of Sabbath. Resting is hard work. Stopping takes effort. My hands clench my routines tightly, but I'm asking for every effort to be for His glory and my good. Better to have that in my life than anything else. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ashes to Ashes

Remember, from ash you have come and from ash you will return.

Remember.

How badly I wanted to stay lying in bed today. Knowing ahead was a 15 hour work day and many minutia to facilitate. In finest and holiest fashion, I get up, bleary eyed and grumbling, and make my way to church to be affixed with emblematic ashes and affronted by my sin.

I have been praying for a few weeks now for what to give up or Lent. I grew up Southern Baptist, went to a Southern Baptist college. Let me just tell you, the So Baps don't do this whole Lent thing. In the name of Christian Freedom, it's not necessary. Fair enough. They're right, it's not necessary. My position in Jesus' mind doesn't change because I do or do not do Lent. But somehow, I find myself a little closer when I choose to stop and look. Lent does that for me.

There's something special to me about the tradition other Christians have laid out generations ago, remembering and celebrating. Fasting and feasting. Mourning and praising. Putting concepts into action to help us experience an inkling of the gamut of emotions associated with Calvary. To remember.

"Bind my wandering hear to Thee" we sang. I am the wanderer, the one always searching. So how do I let Him bind me? How do I find the roundabout that leads from the wrong way back to the right? I fast. This is my first year to try it. And I have the openest of all open hands about it. But I wonder, for me, if there is something there. If observing sacrifice and anticipation, there will be better remembrance.

I don't see Lent as a time to get my diet set straight. I don't believe it to be a time to work on self-improvement. It's taking something I find joy in, good, healthy joy in, and letting it go for a few weeks. It is about fostering anticipation for the return of the joy. And in the meantime, knowing that my every effort to be holy is worthless. Lent doesn't save me. The Resurrection at the end--the celebration of my Savior--saves me. So what better way to practice that image than holding off from something I love to celebrate with for a few weeks? How much more tangible will my joy be when I reinstate a joy-giver as I celebrate the Joy-giver.

Lent and Ash Wednesday have this religious tendency to be skewed. They carry with them the burden of self-deceit that Jesus will love us better or we can be made holier through our sacrifice. Bull. Romans so aptly reminds me that "it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

Thus far, the discoveries I am making this year are only leading me back to the reality that God is. He is just, He is kind, He is love. And because He is the incarnate of those things, He cannot be more or less of them. Thus, my learning His attributes is for my benefit. It's always about drawing me closer to the Axiom Himself.

I trust in Lent because I trust in Jesus to use Lent for my good. And I pray that for all y'all as well. Whether or not you participate--or care. I pray that Jesus uses this season to reveal Himself to be truer and deeper and more necessary to all of us. Because He is. He is the dear Father and caretaker of us. How overwhelmed I am by the steadiness of Him. He is all that is true. And He proved it by choosing to receive brutality for me. I was the one supposed to be mocked. Whipped. Held down and beaten. They were supposed to make me the helpless one. They ought to have mutilated me.

But instead, I get to sit here with symbolic ashes and remember Him.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Days to Dream

Most days I find my mind wandering. Wandering to the land of books and stories, inviting myself into thoughts of springtide and picnics, imagining myself conferring with the flowers, meandering into mindless wonder....just because I like to see it in my minds eye.

These inklings are often much related to a conception of "home". I quickly knead together this word with others like "gardens" or "spring" or "leisure" or "beauty". Lingering.



I drift here more often in seasons like this that are calendar oriented, wrought with details and appointments. And I love the details. I love the organization and the fullness of my life right now. I have longed for this for years and it is perfect. But some days it's just nice to dream.

Dreaming reminds me that Heaven is not far off. These longings, though beautiful and quite possibly attainable one day, are not going to satisfy. I'm pleased to rest in that. I'm thrilled to remember that what draws me to chase my wanderings is the same thing that satisfies my soul. Jesus loves beauty. And he fills the world with it. And he fills the world with juxtapositions of beauty. And we see beauty deeper and fuller and meatier than we would have if all we ever knew was beauty.

My soul is parched in the harsh winter sun, causing me to be drowsy in my determination to remember good things. As I stare at a tiny cup of daisies on my desk today and saunter slowly back into a world of honeybees on hydrangeas and mid-morning brunch in a tidy sundress, I am glad that my savior invented dreaming for my joy.


Good dreams stir fondness and hope within us, and good fondness and hope are cracker crumbs trailing us to the Fond and Hopeful One. It's a perfectly happy chase.

Good dreams have healthy boundaries. They allow us to love a thing to the point which it is capable of being loved and no more. They have understanding and peace that runs deeper than the object being dreamt of.

Good dreams remind of us a Good Dreamer. He is the one who thought the world into existence. Eden was his grandest imagination realized. How wonderful for our Maker to allow us the ability to share in the wonderment of seeing dreams come to fruition for our joy.



Good dreams delight. And delight is so pure and clean and untainted an emotion. We remember the delightful days.

I hope you make some time to dream good dreams today. It find it's good for the soul. Spring is coming!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Give me all the alone time.

Give me Ikea trips in solitude.

Give me single movie dates. 

Give me isolated tables in coffee shops. 

Give me a quiet office. 

These are the scenarios which I prefer. I am an outgoing introvert. I can do social, but I like alone. 

However, as I'm getting older I'm finding how impossible it is to sustain the isolation. I just keep meeting really great people. People who stick with me and listen to me and care about why I like to be alone. There is joy in sharing and understanding. Joy that cannot be experienced in the solitude. Joy surpassed. But the deeper these people seep into my life the less sure of myself I am. Not in my security, but in my sufficiency. 

Affirmation is a funny concept. It says we share with people not just what we like about them, but we share in what ways it attaches us to them. Affirmation is the explanation of lingering. True affirmation burrows and plants relationships with deep roots. 

It makes sense, when friendships dissolve, the most grief is experienced not when remembering experiences, but words. I look back on many friendships in my life and I can't remember where we were or why we were having that given conversation, but I remember exact phrasing of words that fed my soul. I tear up remembering the warmth of verbal affection, often times greater than any hug I could have received. 

Affirmation comes through noticing. It comes through stepping deeply into a moment to hear not just the sentence uttered but the soul-well that it drew from. 

And maybe that's what it is. Maybe sharing genuine words with one another is drawing deeply from each others wells. Satisfying deep parchment for relationship. Sipping the wine of our Father and celebrating complexity of selves. Communion. And in all reality, this communion can turn bitter. It comes at a price. Hence why sufficiency is questioned. If Jesus is not the one filling my own well, I will always be drawing from other people to fill myself and it will leak, diluted and stale. I am only as sufficient as my dependence on the One who knows how to fill me. And He knows because He created me. 

I don't know why this has struck me so deeply 3 pm on a Tuesday, but somehow it has. The sweet memories of Chicago on my mind from this weekend and a friendship that so simply depicts this communion, the growing depth, that can come when I choose to be squirmy and uncomfortable and leave my solitude for bits of time. Don't get me wrong, solitude is good, but maybe, just maybe, I don't need so much as I thought.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Grangst

I'll be honest, New Years resolutions stress me out. The only purpose they serve is to cause me to believe that the life I'm currently living now is subpar and that if I am more self-aware, more disciplined, more confident, more anything, I will be happier. They place a timeline and a structure around conviction, stifling it of it's natural bite. 

Right now I find myself thinking about the opposite of resolutions. I am thinking about grace, and not just thinking about it, sniffing around my life for it. I hold tightly to grace. The grace that Jesus offers me, salvation grace. I press into his willingness, his bloody offering to me over and over again, amazed that He wants me though I am constantly biting it. 

It's humbling and thoughtful to sing that in a hymn. Though I'm finding I'm not so capable to see it in my sin. When repentance grabs a tight hold of me, when I am nakedly taking ownership of my callous nature, how does grace apply then? When I am needing to reconcile with people, how do I believe in the absolution grace offers me? What I'm getting at is, where does grace meet angst?

We know what it's like to have wronged someone. We know what it's like to be a moral failure. And there are consequences to that. Consequences that take days, weeks, months, years or sometimes eternity to reconcile. How does Jesus' grace answer my offense in those moments?

And I struggle. I struggle because I'm prone to seeing my failure as the climax and the grace as the falling action of my story. Grace is the answer to my problem and my problem is the pinnacle. In that belief, grace is only a response, which leaves room for other responses....non-grace living. When truly grace is an alternative plot line altogether. Sanctification sees my sin as the rising action and the grace as the climax. It sees Jesus as it's own hero who defines all falling action therein. Grace isn't a causal response to my failure, it's the reason the story was written. 

I'm asking to see this better. I'm pushing into those moments when I fail, believing grace to not just apply to the angst, but to be the same as it...grangst if you will. What Jesus' salvation offered me was the ability to look at contention as redemption. It is what answers sin with humility, not needing to save face when I repent to people, dissolving shame into appropriate pain and remorse. Grace isn't a happy lifestyle. Grace is a hopeful lifestyle. It says we can fully face ourselves and each other and live deeply. Penitently. Honestly. Gutsy. It's audacious and willing to be wrong and corrected. It's also willing to convict and correct others for their good. 

What the grace Jesus offered me and is instilling in me is really authenticity. Jesus gives me the opportunity to not be self-protective, to be wrong, to be free from my fear of scrutiny. In return, it offers me a life full of relationships I trust with my soul, knowing that they don't save me but Jesus has saved us both and will use us to push each other "further up and further in" as C.S. Lewis says. 

Jesus meets us in the actuality of today, with addictions, disease, hashtags, anxiety, coffee dates, anger, family conflict, to do lists, resolutions, anti-resolutions. He speaks to today. He says he's enough for today. What struck me so profoundly this week was the reality that Jesus doesn't even need my penitence. He's not waiting until I'm repentant enough to change me. I don't have to foster that in myself or in others. He saved me even when I didn't know I needed saving. That's the crux of it all. I am not my own hero. I am not the main character of my story. Jesus is. And that's the real comfort. That's the freedom that makes resolutions dull. His kingdom says I don't need to make lists and changes to live a better life, I just need to pursue His presence because He already did all the work. 

It matters not if I'm skinnier, better read, paleo, craftier, wearing better clothes, in a better job, etcetera before this year is over. I am accepted now, and that's enough for Him....shouldn't it be enough or me too?

 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mother Mary

It's 55 degrees. 94.9 is back to playing Billy Joel on repeat. And all around me Christmas deflates back into the recesses of basements and closets for another 364 days. 

But I'm not done thinking about it yet. In fact, I feel as if I've just begun. Even though Advent was a time for pondering, the height of momentum happens Christmas day. Contemplation, for me, at its deepest level happens when it's no longer forthcoming but here. 

I spoke the part of Mary for my church's Christmas Eve service. Basically I'm holier than everyone and was offered the privilege to say boldly, "behold I am a virgin" on stage in front of my whole church....twice in one night. I should hope all of you one day are offered that fine joy. 

Besides mortifying my soul in the name of Christmas, reading the part of Mary did something to me this year. It put me in her shoes,  I said the words she said and it caught me off guard. What must have it been like?

"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." 

Sitting in her hay-bed. Knowing both her and Joseph's side of the story. Hearing some outcast-shepherds tell their tale of heavenly host, followed by these strange rich men from another country one-up the shepherds, talking about how they followed a star and a hunch to a foreign barn with a teen-mom and her non-baby-daddy to give them presents. 

What must have it been like to hear an angel tell you you're going to have a kid, then hear a story echoed so similarly from strangers who come to see your barn-child? It's as if God decided to give Mary wave upon wave of affirmation. "No Mary, this wasn't all a lie, this little guy who you're going to breastfeed and change diapers for, he is the one your ancestors waited and labored for, He is going to save you. And I will prove it to you by sending vagabond farmers and millionaires to tell you so." 

So while everyone around her swapped stories and ogled Jesus, Mary just watched and put the pieces together. Knowing deep in her soul that life as she knew it had changed for not just her, but for all humanity. 

I wonder how many times in her life Mary came back to their family's beginning. How many times did she have to remind herself that God gave Jesus to the world, not just her? How many times did she have to recall the shepherds manifesto and withhold her own inkling to tighten her grasp of Jesus and let him go? How many times did she have to recall that Jesus was God with us when it seemed he was just a defiant 12 year old runaway embarrassing his parents?

And maybe Mary didn't doubt and that's part of why she was blessed. Maybe when angels tell you something, you don't doubt it again. Even 30 years later.

Recently, the sense of security in my world was violated. No longer naive, I notice fear building in myself as I process through the world not being safe. The world as I knew it no longer is. And I'm having to remember promises that Jesus didn't come as a warrior, he came to bear the unsafeness and offer us security beyond it. Jesus came to eradicate fear from my life, promising peace to those with whom He is pleased. He's pleased by people who believe His Gospel, who believe that a baby who came with such divine intricacies, is who He says He is. 

He is the wonderful counselor, inviting himself into our fear, pain, anxiety, depression, mental deficiencies, to provide respite and healing and strength and courage.

He is the mighty God, He doesn't fear our destructive capabilities because His own abilities  supersede them innumerably. And He will prove it one day. 

He is the everlasting father, he is the Jesus of all the generations before us who bore our names and lineages. The good kind of father that is patient and sturdy. Watching us fail and fail and waiting for us to ask to see the better way, joyfully guiding us there. 

He is the prince of peace, bearing the weight of nobility and honor, he directs us towards peace in our souls. He stands true to peace, always pursuing it and offering it to us. Peace with God, to bear the family name of Redeemed. 

So as my boat is still rocking back and forth, I am remembering all that was meant to be remembered. Jesus was born to be my refuge. Tender and mild and valiant and courageous. He is my good, untamed Savior, capable of withstanding that which I cannot and holding me tenderly as His mother once did for him. 

And I will continue to treasure these things and ponder them in my heart....even though it's the 26th. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

O Tennebaum

We Jacksons do Christmas the right way around here. With lots of Yuletide pomp and Christmas-stance. Friday my mom, sister-in-law and I unpacked the Rubbermaids brimming with stockings, ceramic villages, faux greenery and my moms collections of snowmen and Santa Clauses'. We listened to Amy Grant sing Grown Up Christmas List and Nat King Cole's seranade of O Tennenbaum and lit Spruce scented candles. 

Saturday we gathered in Clan firm and drove to the Christ,as Tree Farm that once was my grandfathers. For 40 years he tended to saplings and fostered cheer through months of sweltering heat and infestations to grow ten acres of pine. We chatted with the new owners, kind as can be and I was just grateful as I chased my niece throguh the memory forest while my sisters little family searched. 

Once we found them just the right one, returning home, we congregated and opened the tins of ornaments that have graced our tree, some for 36 years. Now a flocked, pre-lit wannabe graces our living room, but the effect is much the same as if it were real. And I wanted to share our little tradition with you. 


You see my out-of-place Kung Fu Panda ornament. I would tell you of my sweet dad bringing me this home from his Hallmark job to cheekily foster my love of animated movies when I was in college. 


We may also note that Jacksons are kind but raucous people. And when decorating a tree, the tendency for the most sentimental ornaments to get broken is strong. My brothers baby ornament has survived the fray for 31 years with only a small case of flaking and a chipped top. 


We would all argue who gets to tell you all about the infamous Santa. My dad made this in this Kindergarten class 52 years ago. My mother patronizes our affection for him by insisting he be put on the back of the tree. We'll take what we can get for this little guy to live on. 


My dad would tell you about how for years this ornament was put on as a reminder of my brothers near-yet-far presence while in the army. Now he gets to place it on himself while holding his daughter. 


Someone would share how back in 1991, my parents purchasd this ornament to hold strong to our roots while we moved into Chicago Bears country. It did the job and they raised three very fine Chiefs fans. 


My mom would tell of how she had a lunch pail extremely similar to this growing up, so each year we pull out this ornament and she hooks it on to cherish the memory of childhood. 



And finally, when looking at our tree, you will see these bright bulbs littering the empty space between branches and ornaments and they are their own type of sentimentality. I would explain how my mother bought three boxes of these from Macy's the winter before her and my dad got married. They have met the most liberal demise over the years, but the remnant is still used to fill the gaps. 



This tree tells the story of our family, of births and distance and family jokes. You wouldn't see the raffia my mom insisted on tying to the branches for years, but we would probably express relief at the twine bows absence. But mostly, as I admire the decorum, I am just glad for this emblem that ties our family together. I love that it tells our stories.