Learning to Bend — A Post for Amber Haines

There are some people you know instantly are kindred spirits. Amber Haines is one of those for me. I have read her blog faithfully for five years, have cried with her over the health crises of her youngest son Titus (virtually only, though I’d have been more than willing to do so in person if she didn’t live all the way across the country!), even won some beautiful Amber-made jewelry several years ago. She has a new book out – a beautiful book which I hope to review in this space very soon. I urge you to order your own copy of “Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire & Finding the Broken Way Home.” This piece is one of a long series of guest posts that she has invited, each of them speaking to that broken way home in one way or another. An image she uses in her book is of the cold linoleum floor on which she was found by God one desperate night. And that’s where this piece begins.

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That bathroom floor can be a cold and lonely place. I’ve been there, at the end of myself, done in by doing good, exhausted by my own refusal to ask for help, by my unhealthy relationship with food, by my misunderstanding of the gospel of grace. There are all kinds of ways to be broken and I am no exception.

All my life, I have been the good girl — obedient, careful, helpful, the one who takes care of things and people. I don’t think I ever went through a rebellious phase as a teenager. Maybe it’s because I’m an eldest child, maybe it’s the way my mother instilled certain fears in me at an early age, maybe it’s the way I’m wired. I never tried anything on the ‘don’t do’ list, I never quit going to church, I read my Bible and prayed every day, I toed every line put in front of me, generally without complaint. To most people looking in, I was a very together person.

Along the way, however, I never learned much about self-care, about healthy boundaries, about knowing when to stop. And I learned to use food as . . . well, just about everything: a pacifier, a reward, a comfort, a go-to, quick-fix for any emotional struggle, a boredom-satisfier, a crutch when facing a difficult situation, even a subversive way to be rebellious. And for many years, it worked pretty well.

Except for the unfortunate fact that I carried far too many pounds on this large frame. Despite the copious tears that I’ve shed over that truth during the last 40+ years, I now see that that my size was an important part of my story. Somewhere, deep inside of me, I needed to be big. Big enough to meet the needs of all the people around me, big enough to take care of three little ones who came faster than imaginable, big enough to deal with the busy schedule I always managed to set for myself, big enough to get through seminary at mid-life, big enough to handle whatever curveball my pastoral jobs might throw at me. Big enough.

Slowly, with time and experience — much of it difficult and painful — I am learning to lean into the biggest truth I’ve learned: it’s okay to be small. In fact, it’s necessary to be small — to recognize our own inability to ever be big enough, strong enough, good enough, devoted enough, loving enough, capable enough, sturdy enough . . . enough . . . unless . . . we learn how to bend.

Come along over to Amber’s place to read the rest of this and to join the conversation.

 

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Shared Moments of Delight — a Guest Post!

One of the sweetest things about this internet world is the connections that can be made — connections across time and distance, life experience and life stage. One of my dearest ‘finds’ has been Kelly Chripczuk, who writes beautiful words over at “A Field of Wildflowers.” Turns out she is a licensed pastor in the same denomination in which my husband was raised and with whom we served in Africa over forty years ago. She wrote this sweet, small piece and asked if I thought it might fit in with this 31-Day series. YES, indeed, it does! Delightfully. Thank you so much, Kelly.
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Kelly Chripczuk is a Spiritual Director, Writer and Speaker who lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband and four kids.  She writes and speaks on the topics of identity, anxiety, transition and the practice of noticing and receiving the love of God in the midst of daily life.  You can find her blogging at www.afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com or follow her on facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/AFieldOfWildFlowers.
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It’s a rare Sunday evening with no school on Monday.  To celebrate, we’re having a “pizza party” in the living room, the six of us gathered around the lap top with paper plates filled with pizza and chips.  The older kids, my husband and I line up along the old leather couch and the three-year-old twins sit in front of us in little plastic chairs, their plates resting on the old scarred piano bench. 

The kids watch the movie and my husband I alternate between watching the movie and watching our children.  We share looks over their heads as entertained by their perceptions of the show as we are by the movie itself.  Then this little exchange, so precious and sweet, takes place between the twins:

“Yours yummy?”  Isaiah asks, holding a sour cream and onion potato chip in one hand, his faced turned toward his brother who doesn’t hear him.

“Yours yummy, Yevi?” he persists, raising his already loud little boy voice and replacing the unpronounceable “L” of Levi with a “y.”

“Huh?” his brother finally replies, turning to look him in the eye.

“Yours yummy?” Isaiah wants to know.

“Yeah, yummy!” Levi replies with unmistakable enthusiasm.  “Sometimes me dip it on my pizza like this,” he adds, demonstrating his method of scraping a chip across the top layer of pizza.

“Yeah,” says Isaiah, turning back to the show with the satisfaction of their shared pleasure evident in his voice. 

Witnessing this from behind, my husband I smile with our hands over our mouths, our hearts savoring the bond of companionship so deep, so sweet, in ones so little.  We’re delighted by their delight, our hearts awakened to joy through this small moment of pleasure shared.

 

What small moments of delight have you experienced lately?  

Just Wondering

My One Word: A Guest Post

Charity Craig has become a dear friend and is one of my favorite writers on the web. She has started a wonderful new series called My One Word and invited several to contribute. The whole post can be read at her site today:

My nephew, his bride, and my niece, who was her brother’s ‘best person.’

Disappointment

 

  noun \ˌdis-ə-ˈpȯint-mənt\

: the state or feeling of being disappointed

: someone or something that disappoints people : a disappointing person or thing

 

It’s been on the calendar for a year — one.full.year. And I had to miss it. My nephew got married last Saturday. A stellar occasion, according to those who were there. A two-day event in northern California, alongside the Russian River, a stone’s throw from a beautiful stand of redwood trees, a short drive from some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. My son and his wife were there, my brother and his wife were there (of course!), but I?

I was right here.

Here at home, crying quietly and feeling deeply disappointed. Here’s why: I injured my foot about a year ago. And things got worse over the months between then and now, requiring two different kinds of surgical intervention and a long, LONG recovery period. We thought we had planned things well — we counted backwards from the wedding date the eight weeks the doctor told us recovery would take, and scheduled the surgery for that week.

He did not tell us that eight weeks was the minimum recovery time, that in real life, not a medical textbook, this recovery takes more like twelve to sixteen weeks. Though I am now able — just this week! — to do full weight-bearing, I am not yet able to walk without a boot or without a walker. And this wedding was outdoors, on rough terrain — not possible for me yet.

So, yes. I’m feeling disappointed.

And living with disappointment is a tough gig. Nobody chooses it. Yet somehow, we all experience it. Life is filled with disappointing moments and disappointing people. If we let it, disappointment can sometimes move to center stage and maybe even begin to define how we understand ourselves and how we experience life.

Please join me at Charity’s lovely space to read the rest of this reflection.

 

It’s Not That Easy Being Weird — A Guest Post

One of the best books I’ve read this year is Michelle DeRusha’s beautiful, funny, and profound memoir called “Spiritual Misfit.” I’m honored to be guest-posting for her today, in her ongoing series about being a misfit. Here are the opening paragraphs of that essay . . .

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All my life, I’ve been the one who didn’t quite fit. No matter where I’ve landed in my own spiritual journey, I’ve managed to be the one who is different — quirky, opinionated, on the edge.

I was the kid who had the most memory work badges and sang alto in the kids’ choir at our first church. But I was also the kid who hid out in the caretaker’s apartment, playing with his baby and talking to his wife instead of socializing around the punch bowl with the rest of the 5th graders.

We moved to a new town and a new church when I was 12. The youth group was huge and I went to every thing that was offered.  I landed in the hard-working-leadership-tier, but never in the popular-kids-who-also-have-skills elite. And that was okay by me. I was tall and rangy and not terribly graceful. I was also physically fearful and lurking underneath my loud voice, an insecure, uncertain teenager.

I married young. It was a great decision for us, one that took us halfway around the world to live and work for two years. And I was really a misfit there. A southern California conservative looks nothing like a Pennsylvania holiness conservative and I found that out the hard way. Yet, somehow, we survived and even thrived in that beautiful place.

We had our kids early, and our grandkids even earlier. So for the last 40 years, we’ve been ahead of the curve by a long shot. And guess where that puts us now? Smack dab in the middle of just about everything. We find ourselves sandwiched between ailing parents, home-buying adult children, college-aged and pre-school grandkids.

We’ve found ourselves sandwiched between generations theologically, too — 

Please come on over to Michelle’s beautiful space to read the rest of this weirdness. . .

A Granddaughter Remembers — A Guest Post from My Daughter

Visiting the blog tonight is my middle child, Joy Trautwein Stenzel. Joy is exactly what her name says she is – a joy to us. She and her husband Marcus are raising three good young men in Monrovia CA and are both special education teachers, working with blind students across the age span from pre-school to 22. (Our eldest daughter also does this good work.) Our children grew up with their paternal grandparents less than five minutes away and were often in their home, as you will see. I love the way this piece celebrates what some might call the ‘old-fashioned’ virtues. To me, there is nothing old-fashioned about any of it — it’s a heritage we are humbled and pleased to call our own. Interspersed throughout her lovely words are photos scanned for us today by one of our grandsons, Joel Fischinger. Here’s Joy:

IMG_0022Joy, Mama, Lisa – on vacation at Mammoth Lakes, an annual excursion for many years.

Solid, dependable, disciplined, hospitable, thoughtful, committed, consistent. 

My grandmother embodied these qualities.  In an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world, such characteristics are on the decline.   And for an overly anxious and easily overwhelmed child, the unwavering reliability of my grandmother was a source of familiarity and comfort on which I knew I could rely.

IMG_0104The first in her family to graduate from college, at UCLA in the mid-1930s.

Mama was very steady and measured emotionally—quite the contrast to me.  She rarely (if ever) raised her voice, and I only remember seeing her cry twice—when speaking of a beloved brother who had died too soon, and when her only daughter and her family were pulling out of the driveway to move across the country.   Her level mood created an atmosphere of comfortable predictability for an emotionally volatile child—I knew exactly what to expect when I walked through her door. 

So solid.

IMG_0703Enjoying Crater Lake with Jean and Richard, early 1950s

I knew when I went to Mama’s that there would be no surprises in either her temperament or the physical environment.  Almost all of the furniture, toys, games, dishes, and appliances (no new-fangled microwaves for Mama!) stayed the same in their Wagner Street house from the time I was born until they moved to Santa Barbara. I played with my dad’s old toys, as did my children after me.  I took great comfort in the familiarity of it all. 

So dependable.

IMG_0113One of the last pictures of both Mama and Papa with all of their grandchildren, late 1990s

If we ever spent the night at Mama and Papa’s, we knew what we would find when we walked into the kitchen in the morning:  the two of them seated at their little blue kitchen table, drinking coffee, reading the Bible and praying for family, friends, and missionaries.

So disciplined.

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Same grandkids, several years earlier! On Kauai for M & P’s 50th Anniversary.
We hope to continue that tradition in the summer of 2015 – can you believe it?

We also knew that we would be well-fed when we entered their home.  Mama was a wonderful cook, and hosted frequent meals for family and friends.  She had a small but delicious repertoire of family favorites:  BBQ short ribs, lemon meringue pie, tapioca, homemade applesauce—terrific food served on the same dining room table with the same china, flatware and crystal goblets year after year.  To ensure that everyone would fit around the table, the piano bench served as a seat for the two smallest family members at one of the short ends of the table—no kids’ table at Mama Trautwein’s!  Every leaf of that table would emerge from the closet so that we could all be together.  That dining room set now resides in my own home, where I can only hope to entertain perhaps a quarter of the number of people she hosted so warmly over the years. 

So hospitable.

IMG_0556Gathering around that dining room table, about 1979 or 1980.

When birthdays rolled around, we knew there would be a dinner in our honor at Mama and Papa’s house.   Mama would let the birthday girl or boy set the menu.  We always picked our favorite dishes (which probably weren’t her favorites!):  orange jello packed with pieces of fruit, butter brickle cake topped with toffee pieces and hot fudge.   When we became teenagers, Mama made each of her grandchildren a treasured cookbook filled with handwritten recipes for the family favorites we all loved, complete with personal notes and anecdotes related to certain dishes—a gift we all cherish and use regularly.  My own children have even been fortunate enough to experience the anticipation of an unfailing Mama Trautwein birthday tradition—every year on their birthdays, she has sent them two dollar bills, the same number of bills as their age.  Needless to say, they have amassed an astounding number of two dollar bills! 

So thoughtful.

IMG_0174Not only did she host birthday dinners at her house, she also came to birthday dinners at our house.
We did birthdays up right in this family.
This picture cracks me up because the Birthday Boy almost got cut out of it.
And we just noticed tonight, he’s wearing doctor gear, of all things! And now he wears the real stuff. Go figure.

Mama established countless family traditions which were joyfully anticipated throughout the year.  Every Easter, we knew we would receive a heaping plate of bunny and lamb cookies decorated with pink icing with chocolate chips for eyes.  We dyed eggs every year at that little blue kitchen table, and Mama took us on annual Easter egg hunts at Descanso Gardens.  Mama decorated a Manzanita tree every Christmas with tiny ornaments, and she gave my sister and me our own manzanita branches when we were in college, with new ornaments for them every year.  Each member of our extended family had a stocking that had been lovingly decorated by Mama, unique to our interests.  Mama found a lot of joy in holiday traditions. 

So consistent.

IMG_0515This woman LOVED Christmas! 

IMG_0060And the Easter egg hunts at Descanso continued with the great-grands, too. The four oldest, about 15 years ago.

Mama and Papa also loved to travel.   They arranged annual extended family trips to Mammoth Lakes.  These vacations gave the cousins a chance to bond, and allowed Mama and Papa to share their love of fishing, jigsaw puzzles, and board games with their offspring.  Mama and Papa took exciting vacations without us as well, and invited us over for slideshows when they returned to share their adventures.  They always brought back trinkets and souvenirs for us and sent us postcards from around the world.  And Mama sent our own family off on road trips with boxes of cookies and wads of dollar bills to purchase souvenirs of our own.  She did these things every summer, without fail. 

So committed. 

D-68cMama, Papa & Jean visiting us in Africa, summer 1967.
I was 4 months pregnant with their first grandchild on this trip.

We will miss Mama, but many of the traditions she established continue in our own families, keeping her memory alive.  We have been blessed indeed to have such an amazing woman so actively involved in our lives, setting an example we all aspire to follow. 

Solid, dependable, disciplined, hospitable, thoughtful, committed, consistent. 

Old-fashioned qualities?  Perhaps.  But never out of style. 

Thanks so much, Joy. Beautifully said and right on target.

IMG_0103Kathryn Trautwein, in the early years at the Samarkand, before dementia.
A truly lovely lady in every way I can think of, a good, good woman.

On Vulnerability and Boundaries — A Guest Post for Nacole Simmons

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In the fall of 2006, I got a new boss. He arrived on the scene after two years of searching, two years marked by upheaval in my life, personally and professionally.  I had been working as an Associate Pastor, part-time, for almost ten years by then, and I was deeply relieved to welcome him and to learn to work with him and for him.

One of the first things he asked me to do was start a blog. Yes, you read that right. My boss, the senior pastor, asked me to begin writing on a blog. He already had one, and used it for brief reflections on life and ministry, very rarely for anything personal.

But I’m not wired in the same way, and when I was invited to write, I chose to get pretty vulnerable, pretty quickly. And I loved it. I was careful, especially when trying to write out the difficulties that always attend a new working relationship. I tried to make it about me, and what I was thinking/feeling. And, for the most part, I found my way to a pretty good balance. I posted infrequently, about once or twice a month for that first year. I learned to import photos, and often chose to write about my family, especially my grandkids.

But in July of 2007, something hard happened. Our son-in-law was in the midst of a long and very difficult dying, suffering from the after-effects of intensive radiation to his head and neck when he was a teenager. Our daughter was trying to finish a masters’ degree in special education, so that she could go to work after fifteen years as a homemaker. Her husband was on full disability at that point, and they desperately needed medical insurance. Her program required a 10-week internship at a hospital 400 miles north of her home and she worked like a champ to make everything happen. Some weeks, her husband was well enough to go with her, but some weeks, he needed to be closer to home.

We housed her husband and two younger sons (the eldest was working at a camp on Catalina Island that summer) for one of those closer-to-home weeks. And that experience was one of the most difficult times I’ve ever walked through. Watching someone you love suffer — and watching how that suffering impinges on the lives of two young people — well, it was hard, sad, painful. . . there are no words.

But I tried to find them anyhow. I wrote a post, not using names, about watching this particular kind of suffering. I finished it late one night, posted it and went to bed. At 7:00 the next morning, I went in and removed it, feeling unsettled about writing something so deeply personal.

The post was up for less than twelve hours.

But in that time, someone close to him found it and was deeply wounded by it. I was crushed — repentant, sorrowful, so sorry for causing pain and for further complicating my daughter’s life. My heroic girl was already exhausted and overwhelmed and my post made everything worse.

I crossed a line, one that I deeply regret.

Please follow me over to Nacole’s site to read the rest of this post . . .

 

31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . DIVE IN DEEP

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When the water is deep,
and we feel tiny,
it’s scary to take the leap, isn’t it?

But, oh! It’s worth it!
To feel the cool water whooshing around us,
to hear our parents and grandparents on the sidelines,
cheering us on,
to know the exhilaration of moving through the fear.

YES!!

There are so many things in this life that are scary,
so many invitations to leap into the deep water,
to take a chance,
to spread our wings,
to dig, dig, dig. . .
and then . . . LET FLY.

 

And maybe one of the most important places for us to dive in deep
is right into the center of ourselves,
to look and listen and learn
about how we’re wired,
what makes us tick,
what slows us down,
what fouls us up.

Jennifer Dukes Lee is one of my favorite people in blogdom.
She writes her heart and she writes it beautifully.
She encourages people all over the place,
and she tells her story well because she knows her story well.

She invited me over to talk a little bit about writing,
to offer a ‘tip’ of some sort to others.
Well, I’m fresh out of tips, but I do have a lot of life experience.
And I’ve taken this particular leap of which I speak —
I’m still taking it.

The work of self-discovery, self-knowledge – well, it’s never done.
We are always on the journey.

Why don’t you hop on over to her place to read a little bit more about
why I think this particular journey is so  important,
why we all need to dive in deep.

You can find her place by clicking right here. 

And our girl on the diving board?
Yeah, she took the leap!
And we all cheered. 

 

Day by Day – A Guest Post for Micha Boyett

When I was 17 years old and a recent high school graduate, waiting to both lose and find myself in a very large university setting, I spent a good part of that last carefree summer volunteering as a camp counselor. One weekend, my supervisor drove me down the mountain to her parents’ home so that we could do a little laundry and breathe more heavily oxygenated air for a day.

And as we swerved our way along that curvy mountain road, enjoying the view from her vintage VW Beetle, she taught me a song, one I had never heard before. It was an old Swedish hymn called “Day by Day,” and in a way, that sweet and simple melody became a kind of theme song for the rest of my life, even though I didn’t sing it again for a long time.

About 13 years, to be exact. The year I turned 30, my husband and I and our three young kids (ages 3, 5 and 7 at the time) joined a neighborhood church that happened to be part of the very denomination that birthed the hymn I had learned driving down that mountain. As my children were growing to adulthood, as I was  discovering who I was without those children to tend, as my marriage morphed from very traditional to one of mutuality and partnership, I sang that song often. Each time, it touched something deep inside me. Each time, it called me to lean into trust — just enough trust for today.

God knows, if I’d tried to trust for all the days I’ve lived, I’d have crashed and burned long ago. I can just about manage one at a time. So often over the course of the last 50 years, I’ve found myself offering this phrase to people I love, people I counsel, people I write to, people I preach to, people I share life with. And most of all, I’ve whispered it to myself.

Over and over again. . . 

One of my favorite bloggers, Micha Boyett, invited me to participate in the beautiful series she is running called, “One Good Phrase.” I am honored to be there today. Please click here to come on over and read the rest of this piece (and to find a link to a lovely rendition of this sweet hymn. . . )

Learning to Listen: A Guest Post with Anita Mathias

Many years ago, one of my dearest friends pinpointed a particular problem of mine: I wasn’t really listening when she talked to me.

Oh, I was physically present, with my body turned towards her, ‘hearing’ her words. But I was not truly listening. She told me that I seldom made eye contact and seemed to be constantly distracted by everything else that was going on around us.

Ouch. Her words stung, as the truth so often does.

After a minute or two of denial, I had to admit that she was right on target. I had this habit of trying to multi-task when someone was talking to me.

I too often chose that time to scan the room, or the patio, or the restaurant — wherever the conversation was happening — to be sure I wasn’t missing something important going on around me.

As if the person in front of me was not important enough.

Or, I would busily scan an invisible list in my head, checking off tasks that needed to be done.

As if life is all about how much we can do, accomplish or perform.

Almost always, I found myself so concerned about my own response to whatever I was hearing, that I had little interior space to simply receive the words of another as the gifts they were.

As if my words, my stories, my experiences were of more intrinsic value than the other person’s.

I was there. But. . . I wasn’t. Physical presence? Yes, assuredly. Emotional presence? Not so much.

For most of my life, I have been a busy person, involved in numerous activities and commitments. From family to church to philanthropic groups to running a small business from my home, to attending seminary, to working in the parish setting — I’ve kept my plate full.

My friend’s words came when I was a seminary student, still managing a floral business, and also serving as a pastoral intern at the church we both attended.

I was over-extended, over-tired and emotionally overdrawn. The well was dry.

Listening, really listening, to anyone became increasingly difficult for me to do. Something had to give, priorities needed to be realigned, and I desperately needed to learn what it meant to pay attention to the lives and stories of other people, most especially people near and dear to me.

Please join me over at Anita’s lovely blog, “Dreaming Beneath the Spires,” to see the rest of this reflection and to find out how I learned to listen a bit better. . .

Feeling Boxed In – A Guest Post for Allison Vesterfelt

 

What is it about cardboard boxes? Children love them, adults recycle them, and all kinds of good things are contained within them. They are, however, designed to be temporary, reusable, for delivery purposes only. They were never meant to become permanent fixtures — they simply do not have the strength to endure the wear and tear of daily life, much to the chagrin of toddlers round the world.

I’ve watched children use their imaginations to create all kinds of interesting habitats out of a simple, large box. My own kids once made a playhouse, complete with windows and window boxes and a front door that opened and closed. And for a while, they loved playing in it and with it.

Over time, however, the box became wobbly and refused to stand up properly, the edges of the windows and door became frayed and bent and the entire house began to list to the left quite badly. The kids gradually lost interest, realizing that the box had served its purpose well and now it was time to move onto something new for entertainment and experimentation.

Boxes are supposed to have a limited shelf life.

It’s a pity we don’t more fully understand that truth in real life, the life we live from day-to-day, the life in which we human creatures find — or even create — our own special boxes and then crawl right inside them, insisting that the view from there is true and good, and in fact, all there is to see.

A box can be a cozy thing, I suppose. A place with clear boundaries, with edges, a place where we feel protected from the winds of fear and uncertainty, or the temptation of the new and different. And there are stages in our development as human beings when boundaries are needed and important. Children and adolescents need to know there are limits and that there are good reasons for those limits. Even adults recognize that there are some boundaries better left in place, for our own good and the good of our neighbor. As believers in the Book and as followers of Jesus, we choose to believe that those boundaries are divinely inspired, gifts to us for our well-being on the road of life.

But boxes? Boxes are never divinely inspired

 

Please click on this line to read the rest of this reflection over at Ally Vesterfelt’s lovely blog. . .