Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On The Way To Easter

My Lent journey took detours I didn't anticipate. I think, however, this isn't a bad lesson to learn about life. Often, our best-laid plans are derailed by a grander design. It's hard to know the purpose and direction in life, and really, isn't that the very essence of faith? 

As Easter approaches, I look forward to travelling to be with my sister and her family. We will attend church services and celebrate Easter, steeped in mystery, celebration, and revelation of Christ's resurrection. It's not a mystery I can even pretend to understand or solve, but it is deeply ingrained in who I am, doubts, questions, mythos and all. 

My visit with my mom went very well and was such a refreshing time for me. She spoils me, and we both enjoyed long, quiet afternoons together. I felt a deeper connection with her and for that, I'm very grateful. 

I also feel new doors and paths opening, some of which frighten me with their capacity for change. But again, I think this is the message of Easter too. Rebirth is never an easy process. But it is one that can bring great peace, love, joy, and purpose. And sometimes it means taking a step into the unknown. 

However you celebrate your Easter, Passover, or the ending of your Spring Renewal journey, I hope it has born in you new doorways of thoughts and a deeper spiritual connection. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you;
the lord make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord lift up his countenance on you
And give you peace. 
Numbers 6:25

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Don't Worry 'Bout It

And so we begin week five of Lent. Our minister in church this past Sunday related the old testament story of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14, if you want to read this interesting story). He also read the passage from John 11, in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. He invited us to read these fantastic stories as-is, if we desire. But he encouraged us to not get lost in the plausibility, but look for the deeper meaning-- the one in which God makes us new, breathing his very life into us.

I'm taking a little impromptu trip to visit my mom this week in Pittsburgh. I spoke with her several weeks ago; she was feeling blue. She hasn't been feeling well and a good friend of hers, a 91-year-old man, has been diagnosed with cancer. At 91, there's really no viable treatment for him. She turns 81 on Friday, and it seemed to me a little birthday cheer was in order, so I called her and said I was flying out for her birthday. Her happy response was all I needed to hear to make the last-minute plans and arrangements worth the effort. 

At 81 every pain and illness brings questions of mortality to her mind. I try to imagine her mindset, what it's like to know that life ahead of her is limited. Of course, the truth is, it's limited for all of us and none of us knows how much longer we have. Last week, a missing student from the college where my husband works was found, passed away, in his car. He was just in his early 20s. 

I don't mean to be a downer here. In fact, hang with me, I'm bringing this to a broader point. 

The Buddhists place a lot of emphasis on living in the awareness of the moment, to cease the stories we create about our experiences and just be in the moment; be aware. Too often our minds race ahead to what is going to (or might) happen next or create content about what is happening now. The stories, rather than the fact of the moment, becomes our truth. It deprives us of peace. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we're going to eat or drink or our clothing or what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough of its own worries. In other words, find peace and joy in this very moment. Let tomorrow take care of itself, and Lord willing, it will. 

This was the very message I needed to hear this week. In the midst of self-esteem issues beating me up, the plans of traveling to Pittsburgh, my mom's health, my daughter's upcoming graduation, my son moving on in his life, all I really need to do is let God breathe life in me. Today. This moment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Beauty Of Mystery

I think it is in our human mind to want to create order, meaning, and definition. We are uncomfortable with feelings like doubt. We struggle with ambiguity and mystery. All too often, we want to rush in and give God a box so we can settle back in and feel comfortable again. We want to say, ahh, there is the path, when it's not yet clear, because to know is so much easier than to not know.

When you are going through chaos in life, when the emotions are rocky or the situation is difficult, people are quick to want to give you a handle, some kind of meaning or definition. Maybe it's one that has worked for them, and for that, we are grateful. But I love when I read something that confirms to me that this unknown, this mystery, can be a beautiful place too. This morning, during my quiet time, I read a passage by Thomas Merton (from A Year With Thomas Merton):

Light rain all night. The need to keep working at meditation-- going to the root. Mere passivity won't do at this point. But activism won't do either. A time of wordless deepening, to grasp the inner reality of my nothingness in Him Who Is. Talking about it in these terms seems absurd. Seems to have nothing to do with concrete reality that is to be grasped. My prayer is peace and struggle in silence, to be aware and true, beyond myself, and to go outside the door of myself, not because I will it, but because I am called and must respond. 

So rather than feel I must fix this awkward place I am in, or align the emotions so I can feel safe in my spirituality, I am still content to breathe and listen this week, letting go of my will of what I think I should be.

Maybe more than any other focus I have examined for Lent, this one feels the most important.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sometimes You Just Need To Breathe

I had all kinds of ideas for a theme this week, but I’m going to be honest, none of them felt authentic. Grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever your sipping preference is, and let’s have an honest chat. 

Here’s where I’m at with this whole Lent 40-day observance project:

When I started out, I anticipated a deep, spiritual experience. I was ready to look at themes and think about how God was directing me through each of them. But as it often goes, once the marriage is in place, the passion wanes. 

The funny thing about passion is how rooted it is in feelings. As long as those butterfly feelings, or in the case of a spiritual journey, that deep sense of communion and connection, we feel on track, centered, where we “should” be. Unfortunately, at least for me, feelings are flighty and deceptive. And right now, I don’t feel very spiritual.

During this Lent experience I have felt more off-track and off-balance than I have in a long time. I’m skipping out on my quiet times. I am being hammered with temptations and side-tracked with rampant emotions. I feel angry and hurt by some stuff life has thrown at me (I know, waa, waa, waa—but if I’m being honest, it is where I’m at).  My creativity is in the pits of black sludge screaming for motivation. I feel like the more I strive to be elevated, the more I’m stuck with my soul’s feet firmly planted in plain ol’ terra firma muck.  

Last night we had really weird weather, even for the Rocky Mountains. The wind was howling and thrashing the house. But instead of the night sky getting darker, it glowed with an eerie red color. Folks from around here claimed the ferocious westerly wind blew the red soil from Utah our way (sure, blame Utah). Whatever the reason, local friends on Facebook swore it was the Apocalypse. The wind ripped through our little valley well into the night. It wasn't pleasant.

But this morning, all was calm and bright again. The sky was a dazzling blue with puffy clouds. The sun warmed the earth, melting the blown snow and ice. Maybe last night's moody storm still haunted me, but all I wanted to do was stay holed up inside. But the sun insisted on shining, taunting me out of my lazy stupor. I put on my jogging shoes, snapped the leash on my son’s dog, and headed out for a jog. Jogging is never easy, I rarely want to go—OK, really, I never want to go—but I know once I'm out and, more specifically, once I am done, I'll be glad I made the effort. Sure enough, as my feet found their pace something wonderful began to happen. The tightness in my shoulders relaxed, the sun warmed my face and body. I finally looked up from my own feet to gaze at the snow-covered peaks, listened to the creek gurgling in its thaw, and felt my heart rate find its rhythm.  

And isn’t that a bit like the spiritual journey?

I think this week I will dispense with the themes and striving. I need to quit trying to be creative or spiritual or loving or... whatever. A friend had this little saying on his Facebook page today:

You don’t need to have a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, let go, and trust the Lord and watch what happens.

Ah, yes. This week? I’m breathing and watching.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Friendship Meditation

Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor.
- Romans 12:10

Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.
- Proverbs 27:17

Friendship is the only cure for hatred, the only guarantee of peace.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Relationships: Putting it In Action

When we honestly ask which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. 
--Henri Nouwen

Last year, as our family faced a health crisis, I learned a lot about friendship. Some people avoided us, probably out of a sense of discomfort or not being sure what to say. No blaming-- it is difficult when, really, nothing said or done will make it all better. But other friends really rose to the occasion. Although many people attended to me, my friend Debbie stands out as a shining example of friendship in action. She sent gourmet food gifts to my son, and as any mom will tell you, "love my kids, love me". But she didn't stop there. She made sure I received cards and little gifts, just to let me know she was loving on and thinking of me.

When our drama and trauma was all over and we made it to the other side (with a happy ending), she even let me descend on her and her sweet family for a week of Florida sunshine and a healthy dose of restorative friendship. Poor lady. I think I talked her ear off about all kinds of stuff I had stored up inside me. And never once did she sigh and say, "Yeah, I think you told me all this before" (she had every right to, trust me).

As I contemplate the past year and think about the loving examples of friendship I've had in my life, I realize that friendship is seen and felt through love's actions. So what can we do to act in friendship? Over the years I've collected a few ideas, some I have learned through the grace of friends, others I have discovered, through the grace of God:

1. Notes:  This week I received a lovely bracelet made in Africa and a note from a friend who had just been there on a mission trip with her church (waves at Corinne). The bracelet is lovely, but the sweet note, her words of friendship, love, and encouragement brought me to tears-- no easy feat for me. There's something about handwriting and the time it takes, that speaks volumes to the heart.

2. Listening: Easier than it sounds. The tough part, I've learned, is listening without feeling like I have to fine-tune or correct or offer a solution.  I want to fix it for my friends, but that's rarely possible. Listening, sympathizing, and agreeing is usually all that's required or desired.

3. Small gifts: What is it about a gift card to a coffee shop or a pretty bookmark that perks a person up? It doesn't have to be anything expensive; it can be homemade, but a little present can really make a friend feel special.

4. Coffee or lunch: I have a friend who meets me for coffee every couple of weeks. We chat and sip talking about our kids, animals, aging, finances, and whatever else comes up. It's a lovely time together. I always leave feeling refreshed.

5. Walking: Another friend and I go for weekly walks, through ice, snow, and sunshine we get out and walk for an hour or so. Not only are we getting a little exercise, but we spend the entire time talking about all kinds of topics-- parents, marriage, faith, church, our town, trends-- whatever we want, really. I look forward to my weekly date with this sweet lady.

6. Do the unexpected. Once, a friend of mine was in a dispute with her sister. It turned nasty. All the handmade ceramic gifts that she had once given her sister were left, smashed, one-by-one, on her front stoop in brown paper bags. My friend was crushed. One morning, I got up early, bought her a pretty flowering plant, and put it in a brown bag in front of her door with a note: See, not all things left at your door are bad. She told me that when she first opened the door and saw the bag, her heart sank. But as she dared to open it, her hope was restored. It warmed my heart to know it made her smile.

7. Be there. Another time, a friend of mine called one late night and told me she was suicidal, and if she decided to take her own life, I was not to feel guilty. We hung up the phone, and I stared at it for a few minutes. Then I told my husband I was heading out for the night. I grabbed my sleeping bag and a toothbrush and drove to her house. When she answered the door, I sent her to bed to rest. "Go to bed. I'm cleaning your house and sleeping on the couch." I'm glad to say that over twenty years later, she is a lovely, active person enjoying life. At least for that night, she was under my watch and much too polite to follow through on her threat while I was there.

I think the common thread for all these ideas is time. When we invest time in our friendships-- whether through a phone call, visit, or jotting a note, we invest in the other person. There are so many things demanding our time, but few will reap the joy and satisfaction of a friendship.

What else would you add to the list to add action to friendship? Do you have any stories of acts you have done or others have done for you to encourage us and offer ideas? Let's go in blessings this week and be a friend. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In The Name Of Friendships: Lent Week Three

Beloved, let us love one another.
-- Jesus

Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
-- Mother Teresa

This week for Lent, I am focusing on relationships-- friendships, acquaintances, people we pass on the street, those we write comments to on Facebook. Sometimes I'm so dismayed by the things I read on social media or the gossip exchanged over a cup of coffee. We can be awfully hard on each other. In the name of our beliefs and views and our "right" to air them-- liberal or conservative-- we can be unkind and insensitive. 

I admit I've not always had an easy time forming healthy friendships. I didn't use to be like this. When I was younger, I felt much more open and less guarded. Over the years, I've allowed a few life experiences to make me gun-shy and wary. Being a "pastor's wife" came with a fish bowl type lifestyle, replete with expectations. I think I've become a little more insecure, afraid that who I am isn't good enough. And I think, in part, I've not always done a good job choosing friends. There are probably a variety of reasons, but whatever the cause, the end result is somehow my skin was worn thin and I sometimes feel like I'm permanently flinching around people. 

But it's time to change. 

And this is the focus for my prayers and meditation this week: to be a better friend. Being guarded is a form of selfishness, keeping me from thinking beyond my own interests and concerns. It's time to quit chasing after relationships who don't want me as I am, or who don't have time for me. It's time to spend more time listening without judgment, laughing without inhibition, and loving, just because it feels good to love freely. 

I am thankful for the lifelong friendships I do have-- the ones who haven't given up on me (waves at college pals). I am thankful for the coffee dates where nothing is required of me but to show up, chat, and enjoy. I am thankful for Facebook, which has allowed me to reconnect with wonderful people from my past, and meet amazing new friends. And I'm thankful for the friendships that have yet to blossom and help me age with humor, grace, and empathy. 

How about you? Are you where you want to be with your friendships and relationships? Do you reach out readily or are you like me, more guarded and introverted? How could your relationships be a meditation for Lent this week?