Archives for July 2011

Five Minute Friday: Grateful

Have I told you our daughter is getting married next week?? (I talk about it here, pictures and all.) Our eldest, widowed for almost three years, has found a soul-mate for the 2nd half of life and we are all over the moon about it. So…life is a little bit crazy around here…and I CANNOT BELIEVE it is Friday again. Already. But here it is, and here is Lisa-Jo, faithful to this calling even from halfway around the world, as she relishes time with her family there. And those of us who follow her adventures are so thrilled that she has this 3-week stretch to enjoy the South African veldt where she grew up.  Check it out yourself at http://the gypsymama.com:

Want to take five minutes with me and just write without worrying if it’s just right or not. Here’s how we do it:
1. Write for 5 minutes flat with no editing, tweaking or self critiquing.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in {you can grab the button code in my right side bar}
3. Go and tell the person who linked up before you what their words meant to you. Every writer longs to feel heard.

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes for the prompt:

Grateful… 

GO:

Ah, what a word. Conjuring up so many images, so many pieces of my life. Gratitude is one of the strongest through-lines in my journey, a sense of wonder and awe, even in the midst of terrible pain at times, at the bounteous ways in which my life is blessed. Many people out in blogland are captivated by an invitation made online and in hard copy to ‘count the ways,’ thanks to Ann Voskamp’s amazing thinking, writing and photography. So I’m doing a bit of that myself just now, taking pictures and journaling a bit about how much of what I see around me is a source for blessing and encouragement. Even some of the hard stuff.

Family – 
strong husband, recovered from cancer, working in the yard until he’s covered with dirt;


beautiful daughters and daughter-in-law, who are strong and feisty and smart and deeply faithful;


tall son, who towers over most of us physically and mentally, but who loves his children and his wife so tenderly and well;
son-in-law (and one soon-to-be) who lean into partnership with joy and curiosity, with love and laughter and thoughtfulness.


grandchildren spanning 20 years who are growing and stretching toward the Light, asking good questions, learning to make good decisions, becoming unique and loving human persons;


a mom who struggles with remembering and understanding but whose smile lights up a room, whose spirit is indomitable and whose beauty still astounds people;


a home that I love and savor, like a true friend, a place of beauty and rest and solace and inspiration;


a life that is long and growing longer and lots more time to live it as the responsibilities that come with a working life shift away from us and onto others.


a God who is beyond my ken but close enough to breathe life into my sometimes tired soul and whose song of joy over me is more and more easily heard.


STOP
oops – went about 60 seconds too long… and pictures added after the STOP.


 

A quiet morning…

Later than I like to be this week, linking with LL Barkat and Laura Boggess at their kind invitation to speak to both ‘a sense of place’ and ‘a sense of play.’  My thanks to them both:
On In Around button
Monday was a quiet day for us.  Usually our national birthday is a time of noise and family and food, kids in the pool, marshmallows over the coals in the chiminea, way too many hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. 

But all our kids had other plans this year, and we found ourselves on our own for the first time in a while. So the house was still, the guest rooms were empty and … it was lovely. 

I slept in a little that morning, in this lovely room which has become a small retreat space all its own. The French doors just to the right of the bed face east, so the morning sun comes streaming in across the transom. Somehow this makes it tougher for my husband to stay abed later than about 7:15 or 7:30, even on a holiday, so he had long been up when I roused. 

And when I did rouse, I pulled up our woven blinds to let in as much light as possible, enjoying the sound of the fountain just outside the window, peering round to see the red bloom of the trumpet vine which lines the fence. A sunny day – something to be relished here on the central coast of California, where June gloom often creeps far into July.  The hot summer heat of the central valley draws in the fog from the sea, and it rests itself all along our peninsula for much of the summer. 

But Monday was glorious and clear, even warmer than it has been for a while. I opened the door to the yard, did a few of my usual daily ablutions and sat back into bed with my laptop open. I’ve been wrestling of late with the excessive amounts of time I find myself spending doing exactly this: sitting with my laptop open, reading blogs, making comments, trying to find my way in and around this amazing world, all the while hampered by some pretty poor technical skills and more than a little bit of confusion about how it all works, what is ‘polite’ and what is intrusive, what is helpful and what is too close to ‘lurking,’ trying to understand what the truly orthodox liturgy is in this new world.

I’ve had a blog for a long time now.  But I haven’t really written on it much until this year. There are a few personal reflections spread here and there, but after getting badly burned by one of those during a tender and difficult time for our family, I pulled way back from that kind of writing. Instead, I used this space to post sermons and public prayers.  After all, the blog had been opened at the request of my boss at the time, who is a techno guy and urged us as a staff to join him in the blogosphere.  So…sermons and prayers…sufficient, non-controversial, only as personal as any publicly spoken words are personal. Safe. Like this shy oriole who flits about our yard every spring and summer, I hid in the brush out here in the far western reaches of north America, choosing to keep things tidy, non-threatening, circumspect. 

Then came retirement – and this increasing sense of urgency about writing.  Just writing – about life, family, faith, doubt, death, aging, dementia, suffering, joy, beauty – but doing it more personally, more identifiably in my own voice… something I am still in process of discovering. And this kind of writing feels a whole lot less safe. In fact, it sometimes feels downright dangerous. 

That urge to write less safely, more openly, led quite naturally to reading – lots and lots of reading – other people’s blogs, community blogs (like ezines), blogs about blogs, blogs summarizing blogs, blogs, blogs, blogs. By Independence Day I was feeling increasingly DEpendent upon this time with the laptop, this need to figure out how — if I actually did find my voice — to create a space to be heard. I became more than a little bit obsessive about how to do it right, how to ‘grow the blog.’ Which is why I posted a bit about that whole struggle earlier this week with this post on what to do when you can’t sleep.

So. Monday morning, I was just sitting here, doing my usual sorting through about one hundred email subscriptions to a wide variety of blogs, hunting for any meager indication that anyone was actually reading anything that I’ve written, when I stopped for just a minute and looked up. Just outside my large window – the one we laid out very exactly so that the gingko tree we love could be saved – I caught a glimpse of bright yellow in the lime green shrub that is almost out of my view from this vantage point on my bed. An oriole! 

I have tried for the last three or four years to capture a decent photographic image of these birds. But they are very sensitive to movement and excessively shy, so it’s been tough sledding. I knew my larger camera was in the house, instead of it’s usual perch on the back seat of my car, so I carefully got up, found the telephoto lens and sat down very slowly on the end of the bed. And I got four shots before he heard the click of the shutter and disappeared from view.

Is he not the most gorgeous thing? Those of you living in other parts of this continent where all sorts of birds migrate in and out may think I’m more than a little bonkers to rave about a yellow bird.  And maybe I am. But we see these birds so seldom around here. Their color, their markings, their behavior – all of it is somehow exotic and captivating – something very out of the ordinary, a spot of beauty that is often elusive and nearly irresistible. We can hear their machine-gun-like rat-a-tat-tat far more often than we can ever catch a glimpse of their vibrant feathers, so each time we do, it’s a bit like a siren call.  Where is he hiding this time? Come out, come out, wherever you are…

It’s beginning to feel like it’s time for me to come out of hiding. I’ve spent a good bit of my time, both as a wife and mother and as a pastor, encouraging others to relish who they are, to take risks, to speak their own truth, to step into their gifts, to partner with God in doing the kind of kingdom work that only they can do. Do I believe this for myself?

I am discovering that as your life circumstances change, your ‘own truth’ changes right along with them. Retirement gives me a smidge more freedom to say things and write things and ponder things aloud than being a stay-at-home-mom or a staff pastor ever did or could. And I loved being both of those things. I am beginning to believe that I will also love being retired, for a good long list of reasons – headed this week by the freedom to sit in my nightgown and take pictures of a transitory thing of beauty in my own backyard.

 

Scripture and a Snapshot – Lilies of the Field

This has become one of my favorite themes to join each week – and because of the holiday, the founding mothers for this meme have extended the linky deadline until Friday.  I join this group through Katie Lloyd Photography, but there are several other blogsites who also welcome contributors to this same bloghop.  Welcome to any and all who stop by from those fine places:


Perhaps one of the most oft-quoted sections of the Sermon on the Mount
is the one containing these words.
And I have a confession to make:
they have always bugged me a little.
There.  I’ve said it.
Gasp.
New Testament red letter words bug me sometimes.
Until I studied it in some detail a couple of years ago,
the gospel of John was the red letter book 
that bugged me the most. 
Jesus speaks so circuitously there – 
round and round, repeating the same words, the same ideas, 
using language that seems almost intentionally vague,
open to a wide variety of interpretation. 
Does Jesus ever bug you?
Do you sometimes wish that he would speak 
just a wee bit more plainly, 
maybe using fewer metaphors that require 
a Bible dictionary to understand and appreciate?
Like this one, for example.
Comparing us – human beings made in the image
or our Creator – to a bunch of field flowers?
OF COURSE, they neither toil nor spin –
they’re LILIES.
They’re not complex and complicated like we are –
they’re simple plants,
with the DNA to bloom built right into them.
They can’t choose their ‘look.’ 
Even the time and season when they
burst into their riotous profusion of grace and color
are pre-determined, set by their very nature.
They CAN’T worry about what they look like –
they don’t have it in them.
They’re made to bloom,
in whatever shade, hue, size, shape their 
DNA strand tells them to do.
Uh…wait a minute, here.
Wait just a dad-gummed minute!
Do you see what just happened?
Those red letter words, with their
seemingly inappropriate metaphorical comparisons,
began to jump and vibrate right off the page.
Anyone else notice that?

Do you suppose that’s what Jesus had in mind?
An eloquent word picture, taken directly from
the materials at hand – flowers in the field,
waving in the breeze,
shining their beautiful faces at the
assembled crowd.

“Take at look at these beauties, my friends.
They’re doing what they’re designed to do.
And they’re not anxious about it,
they’re not trying to overthink it,
they’re not worried about what the flower 
next door might think,
they’re not concerned if that clump over there
has a few more blooms, or has a deeper layer of color.
Why do you spin your wheels so furiously?
Why do you choose to make it so much more
complicated than it has to be?
Why spend your energy on so many extraneous details?

“Be who you are designed to be.
Look at the DNA strand within,
the one given you by my Father and your Father.
And then bloom, bloom, bloom
no matter what size or shape or season of life you are in.
You have all you need to be the best you in this world.
Look to the lilies.”

Do you see what I mean about Jesus really bugging me sometimes??
Oh, yeah.
Bigtime.

also joining with Emily at “Imperfect Prose” this week:


Check It Out: An Actual Guest Post!

Yes, friends – you read that right.  Today, I am contributing to the online study of Philippians over at BibleDude.net. Those folks over there are really generous, inviting anyone who wishes to sign on for a part of their rotating lessons.  Working through scripture has been a long-time love of mine, so this was designed just for me (and a few thousand others, it appears!)

Wander on over there and check it out.  And while you’re there, look at some of the other fine stuff that shows up on that blog.

http://bibledude.net/2011/07/philippians-212-18-lights-in-the-world/#more-12302

What To Do When You Can’t Sleep…

It’s very late in California and I can’t sleep.  This doesn’t happen to me very often, and usually I stay in bed, toss and turn, count, pray, sigh…and wait.  But tonight, I’m truly restless.  Most likely the immediate cause of this bout is a handful of dates and nuts I gobbled too late – about 9:30.  They’re still sort of sittin’ there, reminding me that I really cannot eat much at all after about 7:00 p.m. 


But I think there’s more going on here somehow. 

This week, I’ve been resisting this writing, this writing I try to do here at this place.  Wondering why in heck I’m doing it at all, whether it’s worth the time, the angst, the crazy-making, semi-obsessive thinking/reading/planning/wondering.  

I think I have this ‘call,’ you see.  This belly-deep urge to write it all out.  To do what writers do – which is to tell the big story by telling small ones, to lay out the details of one off-the-beaten-path life in hopes that my singular story might connect somehow, somewhere with the broader swath of human existence. All of it offered up as frail, delicate gift – a gift of encouragement or hope or even rueful recognition.

I sat by the ocean for a while today, sorting through a pile of papers I’ve been collecting.  Printed copies of various blogsite’s suggestions for ‘building my platform,’ or ‘marketing ebooks,’ or the latest take on those 3-simple-steps-to-stardom.

And as I sifted and sorted, it hit me – hard – that I’ve gotten more than a little bit lost of late. Platform?? What do I care about a platform? Stardom?? I don’t think so. In fact, I don’t even hope so.

If the call is to write it all down, then that’s what I must do. I must write what I see, what I feel, what I’ve lived, what I’m living. I need to wonder out loud, to find my own voice and then have the courage to speak it. 

Because when the call first came it sounded like this: “Write for your granddaughter, Diana.”  No platform. No ebook. No stardom. Very simple, really. Write for that precious girl. And now we have two precious girls.

That was a little over five years ago.  I was still working, my older daughter’s husband was slowly dying, my middle daughter’s youngest had just come out of the NICU, my husband was recovering from prostate cancer, my mother was lost in grief over the death of my dad, my job was good, but demanding in ways I never fully understood until I quit doing it.

And there was no space. There was no time. There was no extra energy. Now, I have all three. (Well…maybe 2 out of 3!) 

So. Gracie. Lilly. Whatever comes out of these fingertips – it’s for you. It’s coming out of my aging brain and my tired heart and it’s coming because I believe God is nudging me, pushing me, calling me to it. And it’s coming because I love you more than life. 


I hope there is something in these meanderings that will help each of you to learn to listen to your own hearts, to discern the call of a good God in your lives. I promise to keep praying for you (and all your older guy cousins). I’ll be praying that as you grow into bigger girls, and then into strong women, that you will know how deeply you are loved – by your parents, by your crazy extended family, and by the God of the universe who has uniquely crafted each of you and who calls you ‘daughter,’ and ‘friend.’ 

And now, I really must go to bed!

On Maui, retirement celebration trip in February, 2011

My personal word of thanks to Jeff Goins and to Gordon Atkinson for wrestling out loud with these very issues on their personal blogs recently.  

Joining with Jen over at “Finding Heaven” and all the sweet sisters of the SoliDeoGratia group and Ann Voskamp for her WalkwithHimWednesday series: 




Saturday Evening Blog Post: A Personal Favorite

Joining in with Elizabeth Esther’s monthly invitation to submit a favorite blogpost from the last month.   (OOPS – forgot to put a link in back to my post selection.  It is not available below.)

These are the guidelines – have fun reading!

SATURDAY EVENING BLOG POST, vol. 3, issue 4


Welcome to THE SATURDAY EVENING BLOG POST!
This is where bloggers gather on the first Saturday of each month to share their favorite post from the previous month! Today we’re sharing our favorite post from JUNE 2011!

 This month I’ve selected “Morning Glories” because it was in the top 5 in terms of visits and because it’s short and I like the pictures a lot.  How’s that for choosing a post??

This particular post was written in response to another invitation, this one from Three from Here and There.


Check out both sites for some fun internet exploration!

Five Minute Friday: Welcome

Once again loggin on with Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama for her fun five minutes of intuitive, unedited writing.  This week’s topic is one I sorta wrote on already for Michelle DeRusha’s and Jen Ferguson’s blogs, but I’ll see what floats to the surface once the timer begins:

 On Welcome:

GO:

Sometimes welcome is a place: the houses we’ve lived in, our parents’ homes, our kids’ homes, our friends’ homes, our church, restaurants where they recognize us.

Sometimes welcome is an indescribable feeling, a certain something that I find, especially in reading very good writing.  I felt welcomed into Madeleine L’Engle’s world, even though I didn’t know her.  Fred Buechner, Eugene Peterson, Anne Lamott, lots of the bloggers I’m discovering lately.  It’s something in the word choice, the style, the je ne sais quoi – I’m invited to share something special, something almost sacred, something I can’t name or even define very well.  But I know it when I find it.  

But mostly welcome is people:  first of all, people who know me well and love me anyway.  But there are others, too.  Some of the people I’m coming to know through blogging, some of the people I meet in the daily comings and goings of my life.  A lot of the people in the church where we regularly worship.  And also some of the people at churches where we’ve been visiting this year – that’s wonderful to find, wonderful to experience.

What I am learning about this God we serve is that WELCOME is almost equivalent to a name, a definition for who God is.  As I read scripture and as I walk this life as a follower of Jesus, I am finding more and more doors opening, hearing more and more cries of long-lost recognition, feeling more and more like I’m home.  So I have to ask – do I offer that welcome well to others?  Oh, I hope so.

STOP 

Finding Encouragement

FaithBarista_FreshJamBadgeGJoining tonight with Bonnie at Faith Barista and Ann at A Holy Experience.  And because I FINALLY think I’ve gotten this done in time, with Emily for her wonderful meme “Imperfect Prose.” The topic? In what area of my life am I feeling I need more encouragement?  Not sure I’ll stay completely on theme, but I’ll give it a whirl:




 
Is It Really About Me Now?
My 5-year-old granddaughter did something scary this year: 
she learned to trust herself enough 
to ride her ‘pink and puhple’ bicycle 
without any training wheels.
She beamed with well-deserved pride as she sailed down 
the driveway and into the cul-de-sac where she lives.  
She did it! 
Visibly tense, but still determined, she did it
At the tender age of 5, she conquered that niggling, 
wriggling worm of fear and self-doubt 
that can too often gnaw away at us, 
keeping us from trying something new, something scary.
Sometimes that’s true because we’re afraid we’ll fail – 
that we’ll fall down and skin our knees 
or otherwise embarrass ourselves. 
Sometimes it’s true because we’re really afraid of success 
and how that success might change our lives,
change our image of ourselves, 
change the expectations of others about us.
If I take a running leap off that particular cliff,
and if, by the grace of God and exactly the right wind currents,
I somehow manage to land on my feet,
then what else will I have to do?
How will being successful change how I see myself?
How others see me?
For the last two and a half years, I’ve been meeting with 
a remarkable man for spiritual direction.  
His name is David and he is trained in depth psychology 
as well as ‘missiology,’ 
a topic probably more common for Benedictine abbotts.
He works with dreams – I mean, the things you see and experience when you sleep – and it has been the most fascinating, enlightening work 
I’ve done in a long, long time. 
He, and another trusted counselor, have been gently preparing me for this next, last stage of my life. A stage that could last another 20-25 years,  
given my genetic history,  
but nevetheless – the last stop in a long line  
of different experiences and identities:
daughter,
sister,
student,
friend,
girlfriend,
wife,
mom,
church volunteer,
choir member,
soloist,
Bible teacher,
women’s ministry leader,
florist,
seminary student,
preaching TA,
pastor-in-training,
associate pastor,
occasional writer,
grandmom,
retired pastor. 
So…here I am. At this end of that long list,
that long, interesting list of different hats I’ve tried,
different roles I’ve played,
different personae I have assumed. 
So the question becomes: who am I now?
What adventure is left for me to leap into?
And will I have the courage to make the leap?

Abbot David has been saying things like this to me  
over the course of these last 2+ years:
“This next phase of your life is about you, Diana.” 
Say what?

I am learning that what he means is that in retirement –  
as I move on down the road to crone-dom!! – 
I am no longer bound by the needs of others.  
No children to raise, 
no congregation or institution to satisfy.
Caring for the needs of other people is no longer
at the top of the list for the use of my time and my gifts. 
And to tell you the truth,
this thought is so foreign to my own experience and understanding  
of myself that I find it terrifying
All of my life, I took care of others,  
believing that was what girl children did. 
And all of my life, I tried to be ‘big enough’ to handle that massive job! By God’s grace and a whole lot of therapy, I worked my way through the more neurotic and anxiety-producing parts of that mindset,  
but it still shows up now and again.
An ever-growing part of me believes – and will fight for the rights of other women to believe – that each and every one of us needs to find time and space to care for ourselves – to do the things that nourish and flourish us.
But I admit that there is still a part of me that clings to the strange and partial version of feminity with which I was raised, the part that says,
“You’re just being selfish if you pursue your own interests – if you read too much, if you like to make things with your hands, if you want to write your heart out.” 

So…I’m trying to learn to do some really serious inner listening, trying to find that place inside of me that is really and truly me.  
The part that was told in the 5th grade that I had a gift for writing, a gift.
The part that was told in the 11th grade that I had a gift  
for spoken communication, a gift.  
The part that was told in seminary that I had a preacher’s heart  
and a preacher’s voice, a preacher’s gift for words.
The part that is literally driving me crazy these days,  restlessly moving me to this keyboard at all hours!  

And this is what Abbott David is trying to say to me, exactly this.  That this is a time to push inward, to find the center, to explore what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced and who I’ve become over this life of mine. 

I don’t know the answer to all the questions yet: Will I be brave enough to take the leap?  Can I set my face like flint and drive down that driveway? Jump off that cliff? Follow that dream? 

What I do know is that I don’t make the leap alone.
I have a Savior who holds my hand and says, “Let’s do it together.  
That’s why I’m here, you know.  
To partner with you as you continue to grow  
into all of who I’ve designed you to be.”  
Maybe I’ll get there yet.