Monday, April 27, 2015

Foraging Fig Leaves

I spent the weekend at my parents. Walking, cooking, watching more HGTV and Food Network than is healthy. And praying.

The last one I don't do so often. I say I will. I think towards doing so. But in reality, I think a lot more about praying than actually praying. I think a lot more about being better, kinder, wise, listening, gentleness, awareness, love, than actually being any of those things.

The mental energy I tend to devote to concepts is appalling.

The past few weeks Jesus has been revealing to me the processes I have in place in my life that lead me to sin, not just the sins themselves. The distractions I take on, the platitudes I boast, the running and diversions I frequent, all that preoccupies me from actually healing of my sinfulness and learning to love Jesus better.

This isn't better exemplified than through the conversation I had with someone this morning. Conversation is a euphemism in the case for my actually repenting to her because I'm a jerk. I was a jerk two months ago and today I finally sat down and talked about it. Classy huh?

And what my lack of repentance, my distractions, my platitudes, my diversions and preoccupations have revealed about me is my misdirection to avoid exposure. To self-protect. To forage fig leaves. Because if I can hide from myself, then I can actually hide from God too, or at least I think that's the case. If I never admit that I'm incorrect, then I never need to be corrected. I become the director of my repentance, authority over my change, and god of myself and can just stamp "By the Grace of God" on myself once I've autonomously figured out my shit.

The past weeks and especially four days have shown me is how religious I am. I work the system in my favor. Except the favor is just self-sufficiency. That's my god.

When one friend gently prompted me to consider repentance as an option with my other friend, it was like a tectonic shift in my heart. But the opposite affect. The broken plates actually started shifting back into place. The solution was actually to be broken. To admit defeat and wrongness and selfishness. Placing autonomy on a guillotine is where fresh air permeated.

I spend a lot of time placating myself to avoid having to repent. If I'm not mad/hurt/upset, then hard conversations don't have to happen. So I just seek to never really feel anything bad, and subsequently have missed feeling a lot of good too. On earth, there will always be more joy in healing than there ever is in non-brokenness. Just like how my right relationship with the Father came through blood and death, so does right relationship with my brothers and sisters. Except, it doesn't take physical shedding of blood or a physical death. The cost of right relationships here is exposure to the point of spiritual death. Dying to autonomy. Dying to the hunt for leaves.

Rightfully, C.S. Lewis realized and allegorized this much better than I could in Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

"Then the lion said — but I don't know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. 

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worst than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. it hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I'd down it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt — and there is was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had bee. Then he caught hold of me — I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as son as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."

So I find myself today feeling like a "boy" again. Having been stripped and smarted and washed. The exposure was actually what I needed for healing. Letting the wound breathe. Letting the reality of pain and hurt and wrongness cleanse with fresh air. It boils and scabs at first, but coming back to rightness is so refreshingly good. I don't want to forget it.

I pray for the remembrance of my failure and the deliciousness of repentance. I pray this for you too. May we remember healing to be so much better than hiding. May exposure be much more freeing than self-justification. May we rest in the shade of the trees rather than plucking their leaves to hide.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Facebook, Frienemies and Freedom

Last week I deleted my Facebook. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that I kept saying I didn't care about Facebook and then was on it 6 times a day. When I'm being a hypocrite to myself, I know something probably needs to change.

I'll be honest, when my other friends have "fasted" from social media, I always thought myself a bit better than them. "I don't need to do that," I thought to myself, "I have a handle on it....unlike them." Well turns out I don't. I shut down my account and have felt far more uncomfortable than I would care to admit. So for those of you who think you're better than me, you probably are. As for the rest of us, I thought I'd share what I've been learning from deleting my Facebook.

Facebook is the frienemy of introverts. 
I always thought given my introverted nature that Facebook would be a helpful way to keep up on the happenings of people without having to interact with them. While that's absolutely true, I also knew way too much about way too many people and found myself becoming exhausted when it actually came time to spend with real people. Information overload. For being a person who tends to thrive when relationships are an inch wide and a mile deep, I was inadvertently living the opposite. I knew a  lot about a bunch of people who I don't spend frequent, meaningful time with.

I get to make my choices about my time. 
I could spend an entire post blaming Facebook for my distraction, but it can't/won't change its nature. It's an object. I've felt uncomfortable the past week because in the past I spent my down time perusing Facebook, taking inventory of the goings-on of everyone in my inner, outer, and beyond circles. I've been noticing the lapses in my day more and am having to make choices where I spend my mental energy. It still looks like online shopping sometimes, but there's something about removing my reflexive source of entertainment that has caused pause. I'm reading more in the evenings, and during the day am asking my office mate how her day is going when I have ten extra minutes and need a mental break.

I have forgotten how to ask questions and learn about people.
When I removed the influx of information about people via Facebook (what they did that weekend, photos, who their friends are, etc.), I realized I actually have lost some ability to create conversation out of nothing. I have grown so accustomed to referencing information I learned about them online, I have neglected the art of learning about people based off of simple questions (other than "how's your day going"?). I am awkwardly having to remember to ask about people....slowly reverting from always knowing what's going on to choosing to care to ask and realize things I don't know about them.

That which I thought I was gaining from Facebook was measured on a false scale. 
Nothing is wrong with Facebook. I think most people can go on for a lifetime and use it and never have an issue. However, I have far less self-control than most people. I never chose to give it up before now thinking that what it provided me was more helpful than if it wasn't there. It's where I have posted about my blog, how I remember birthdays, where I saw people's names so that in the future when I met them I had a frame of reference. But in reality, I don't care if anyone really needs my blog....so if my "readers" fall off, I'll still be content (plus I can post about it on Instagram), I'll always know the birthdays of the people I'm presently close to, and there's nothing wrong with meeting someone I have no idea about and shaking their hand for the first time without seeing 100 million pictures of them prior to our introduction.

Social media is a great thing, meant for fun, and nothing more. 
I read this Citizen's Press article a few weeks ago. It was just another cog setting this deletion-mindset in motion. Truthfully, I deleted Facebook but I still love Instagram. It isn't an issue for me. Some days I'm on it 4 times, others I forget it's there. I'm not a hypocrite, I just realize that my heart is what matters, not social media or rules I make about it. My admonishment for myself and others is to always examine the sources of entertainment (and all else) in our life, pray and ask the Lord to reveal bentness, repent and change as needed. There should always be freedom to enjoy and nothing more. Facebook had gotten out of hand for me and I'm happy to admit that.

Jesus is better than my perspective on Facebook.
That's the rub. Facebook wasn't always a bad thing for me, it wasn't always a good thing for me either....it was just a website, and like anything else in this world, it can be abused because I'm sinful. For me, this shift has been a quarter turn towards Jesus and away from building my own kingdom. It's freeing me to be more present in my day and to a way to see how I can better abide in Jesus. Creating rules around things that aren't sin issues is unhelpful garbage, so I don't have a rule book to social media. I am only praying for self-awareness and humility to admit when I sense problems for myself. That's my prayer for my life. That Jesus would give me more of Himself and reveal to me the patterns in place that cause me to stutter in knowing Him better.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My Worry

Sometimes I worry about what I do here. I worry about my attitude, I worry about perception of others, I worry for you as a reader. Perhaps I'm giving myself too much credit, or perhaps I am being given a good dose of humility. What I do here really does not seem so important. Typing words into an abyss of millions of others who are typing words. 

But somehow my society really loves to take excerpts and run with them to create perspectives and that's given me pause this afternoon. I am not insecure of how or what I write, but today I feel fear that what actually is happening is not helpful. Is what I'm doing perpetuating the social media frenzy? Is it provoking others to judge or envy or pity or doubt? Am I causing more harm to you than gain? Today, I am experiencing a healthy dose of stoppage. 

The past few weeks my mind has been a flurry of consistently big thoughts. Not-so-subtle shifts in how I'm seeing and experiencing and pursuing my people and my time. A lifelong friend and I ate Indian food and then went for a drive last night. We continued the conversation we've had a dozen different times this month. A conversation about slowness, methodical living, purposeful time, simplification. 

These are words that are constantly rattling in my mind recently. How do I take out more things for the sake of putting in deeper things. Deep things in my life can't live in massive community, they are introverted changes, needing room to breathe and time to latch on. Deeper rest, deeper relationships, deeper attitudes, deeper fun. I've made lists recently of things that can provoke timeliness in my life to let them stew. Things I know I already like to do, but placing them in bulleted form somehow gave them more teeth, a simpler way to decide what to do with my free time. 

And my worry comes from these changes in myself. There is nothing about these thoughts that I don't find helpful or I fear sinful, but what I really fear is that I'm deciding somewhere in this that everyone ought to grow as I am growing. Or said differently, you ought to think and be like me because my thoughts are profound enough to be blogged. I don't think this blog has been that arrogant all the way through, but this week I have noticed this shift of expectation. 

In the slowness I've been pressing into, the depth and moments of change make me want to share. They instill in me a desire to provoke others to experience the same. I start to see my changes as being THE changes. The ways I sin as being the ways EVERYONE sins. And while that may be true, I would be loathe to miss the forest for the trees in learning how to just offer suggestions or anecdotes to those around me. 

Rather than sharing my sanctification in a way that offers rest in the grace I myself am receiving, I find myself offering it as an insinuation, a nuanced but horrible shift. I hope this maybe hasn't been felt by others in the garish way I'm seeing it exposed in my heart, but somehow I think my messiness is pervasive enough that it's been felt by others. 

Amazingly enough, Jesus doesn't just change me, He changes how I change too. I think that's why frustration and a felt lack of progress is often how we feel as we're noticing His work in our lives. He's not just changing the thing in us, if He were, we could just learn the rules and move forward and be better. But He insists that the way I change is also writ with sin and needs to be altered as well. He doesn't leave a stone unturned as He roots out sin in me for my good. It only leaves room for me to lean heavier on Him. 

And that's the part I don't worry about. The "how" of His teaching never actually outweighs His presence. Becoming a "better person" is a garbage pursuit, I will never be better. But in His shadow I can be healed from my worstness. And that progress is often uglier than I'd like it and not very blog-worthy, but perhaps most of all should be shared. 

By His wounds I am healed and you are healed. We are offered healing from ourselves and our selfish, worry-worthy tendencies and each others arrogant and insensitive actions toward each other. I don't have to offer you the list of things He's showing me to enact in hopes that you pick up my sanctification. I can offer you the same thing I'm always offered, grace to be. Grace to hear your pain and mundane and your minor frustrations and your immense joys. To hear them and believe for you and with you that Jesus changed everything this Easter weekend so that we don't have to remain in these places. 

That's what I really hope to be offered by you as I worry that I am ruining all of your lives. And that's what I pray I'm learning to offer you. I'm thankful for you little readers and I'm sorry for my frailties in this outlet--and all the others that I may interact with you. Pray for me and I will pray for you and we can remember for each other that Jesus finds us here. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Almost Invisible Hospitality

You know those moments when you start to rethink that which you've always known to be true of yourself? Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, sometimes just for the same. I am in a season of rethinking--for what, I'm not quite sure as of yet.

Hospitality has become a familiar thought. A perpetual ambition. A definitive personality trait. And this week I find myself asking--if that is my gifting, do I really even know what it is? 

What is hospitality? What does it mean to experience it? How does one create a hospitable environment? 

Hospitality is most often assimilated with homemaking. A sunny house, freshly baked bread, perpetually fresh coffee, a cozy chair in the corner. I don't deny that the two go hand in hand, but I don't think it's because homemaking is hospitality or hospitality is homemaking. Home is the place we most assimilate being cared for and having needs met. Needs for joy and laughter as well as sustenance and empathy. Most of us think of home, whether we've seen it modeled or it is still an idyllic Norman Rockwell, as a safe place. If that's the case, then maybe hospitality is so naturally paired with it because hospitality is the art of caring for people. 

In my recent endeavors, I am finding the title of "hospitable" to ring a little empty in my heart. I don't feel hospitable, and as I'm questioning why, I am discovering it might be because I am not actually caring well for anyone. 

I grew up a shy child. Shy, chubby and moderately obsolete in social circles. Thus, when I reached high school and started making friends, I was embracing those friendships with much deliberance and intention. I cared about them....maybe out of a selfish, needy heart, but I did care for them and their good more than anything. As I've grown older, I've still cared for the good of those I know, but my method has transformed. I've grown more confident and have been exposed to many more people. Chats have become more anecdotal and surface level as I've learned the art of being a conversationalist. And in turn, also picked up the poor habit of talking too much. I find myself listening to respond rather listening to learn people. 

And I miss the learning. I miss the place that took relationships. The better place where I could care for their souls because I knew more than hobbies and general frustrations. There was a timeliness to relationships when I asked questions. It wasn't about entertaining but about developing. 

Jesus is dissembling some of the falsehoods I've attached to my growth over the years. Which has lead me to this place to reconsider hospitality. Maybe this is such a Christian belief because it is so aptly connected to community. Hospitality says I will invite you into my mental capacity, my house, my realities. You get to take up residence within my personhood. Hospitality connects us to one another because it creates gravitational pull. When we listen well to others, hearing their joy, frustration, angst, confusion, teasing, etc. we are somehow able to also learn their needs. Do they need kind affirmation? Do they need an anecdote? Do they need space? Do they need attention? Do they need to eat? Do they need money? It transcends a physical space into being a holistic reality. 

Hospitality is recognizing needs in others and pursuing them with our means. It's caring about others in ways that a clean house never can. To be hospitable we put effort into understanding one another. And that burden falls on everyone, not just house wives. 

No wonder hospitality is a core value of my church. It says I have been freed from my need for affirmation from our relationship so that I can completely devote my means to providing for you. And Jesus is the one who freed me from that need, and let's be honest--is continually freeing me from that, because I care what you think. 

It's funny that hospitality has become based around pretense, when in fact true hospitality is completely the opposite. Hospitality can be inviting people into your beautiful home for a savory meal or it can be listening to your cubical mate complain about her dogs snoring at night--just so she feels like she matters. 

I am still going to enjoy home decor and cooking--because I do. But all of the sudden I'm realizing how little weight that actually carries in the world of care. My heart rests in beautiful places, but it moreover rests in feeling understood and known. I would choose that over a beautiful environment every time. When we take the time to slow down--to think about ourselves, become more self-aware, and pray for eyes to see our strengths and our flaws, something happens there. Something sweet and transformative, the presence of Jesus is there. 

I read this poem by Wendell Berry tonight. 

The frog with lichened back and golden thigh
Sits still, almost invisible
On leafed and lichened stem,
Invisibility
Its sign of being at home
There in its given place, and well.

The warbler with its quivering striped throat
Would live almost beyond my sight,
Almost beyond belief,
But for its double note--
Among high leaves a leaf,
At ease, at home in air and light

And I, though woods and fields, through fallen days
Am passing to where I belong:
At home, at ease, and well 
In Sabbaths of this place
Almost invisible,
Toward which I go from song to song

We live in a society that makes us think we have to beg for attention--subtly and slyly of course. You have to demand attention by not demanding it. But as the lovely line from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty says, "beautiful things don't ask for attention". Hospitality is one of those beautiful things. It is more than internet worthy homes and Instagram worthy cookery (though I love them both). There is something Christian about the invisibility of being about the thing without ever noticing if someone notices. It's serene and undemanding. It's where the end satisfaction of joy in Jesus and His provision makes the most sense. Maybe instead of being a conversationalist, I would rather be almost invisible. Still talking to people, but really listening, making them feel seen and heard. Meeting their needs. Letting them matter. I have been given more than enough to do that. 

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!