Monday, May 29, 2017

the gift of staying

Most writing days I want to get away – to a coffee shop, the lobby of the local Inn, a well-manicured botanical garden. 

Today I felt like staying. 

We are easing into Joey’s summer schedule of flexible hours so he has taken over with the kids this morning – making sure they are eating, learning, not killing each other or doing any permanent damage to the house.  I hear their footsteps, the opening and closing of doors, and the muffled conversations.  I remove the piles of books and clothes and pictures frames and a dozen other odds and ends from the table beneath the double windows in my bedroom.  I stack them all on top of the white coverlet of my bed.  Maybe I will put everything in its place later, or maybe I will just transfer it all back.  For now it is behind me and the green of our lawn framed by the row of white hydrangea and the towering trees of the woods are in front of me.  

A wide, open space.  
A spacious place.  
God keeps calling me back there.  
There is room to move and breathe and it is quiet enough for listening without distraction. 

More and more I am listening for the things my ears cannot hear and looking for the things my eyes cannot see. 

I am finding them. 

Sometime easily and abundantly. 
Other times the going is slow and the rewards are sparse, but still I persevere because always, always, it is worth it.

I don’t have a perfect work space in my house.  I’ve found I don’t need one.  The weathered aqua blue side table that is just barely tall enough to slide a chair underneath is the only piece of furniture I could fit into the small space of our bedroom.  Our bedroom is the quietest place in the house with a lockable door.  It works fine. 

I have opened up the blinds and cracked the window because it is unseasonable cool this morning.  The camellia bush a few feet beyond the glass has grown too high and has too many wayward branches poking out of its core.  Trimming it is on our to-do list, but not the top of it. 

Despite the obstructed view I can look to the left and see the edge of our vegetable garden peaking out from behind the hedge separating the upper yard from the terraced section.  The runner beans are beginning to stretch up the rows of string woven through stakes meant to provide a path for their growth.  If I squint I can even make out the tiny purple blooms amongst the leaves, promising a harvest. 

To the right of the monstrous camellia the grassy hill leads past the concrete bird bath, along the overgrown garden of spider lilies and Lenten rose up to the play house.  The white curtains I hung on the front are frayed at the bottom but they look lovely billowing slowly in the breeze.  The paneling Joey carefully erected on top of the raised deck foundation he built is painted a creamy white making the simple gray-brown shutters my brother helped me construct out of reclaimed barn board stand out.  The roof panels are brown and rippled and always remind me of Spanish architecture which I was unusually drawn to as a child.  The slide hung from the front is yellow and the wagon parked underneath is red, but otherwise the whole structure blends unobtrusively into its surroundings.  The chalkboard wall is weathered and peeling off the back side.  I can barely see it from where I sit, but I know what bad shape it’s in.  It’s on the list too. 

There are many things in need of our doing out there on the other side of the windows, but I don’t feel the weight of them right now. 

Even after all these years of practice I still have to make a conscious effort to shift from doing mode to being mode.  In this place, I can be fully present and fully appreciative of what exists without any help from me. 

There will always be things to do clambering for our attention, but there will also always be a need to be whispered in longing. 

Just as I finished typing that last sentence I heard footsteps and the slow turn of the doorknob.  For some reason I chose not to lock myself in this time.  That is always a risk, but today I wanted to be tucked away yet accessible.  Lucy entered on unusually gentle feet and whispered kindly, “Mommy, can I ask you a question?” 

Of course.

She cracked open the library book in her hand, “I know we are reading a different chapter book right now but I am doing my 20 minutes of quiet reading and wondered if it would be okay if I finished this one instead.”

Sure.  That’s a fine idea, honey.

"Ok," she said with a soft smile.  As she pulled the door closed behind her she turned, “I love you.”

I love you too.

Sometimes I am deeply drawn to having us all under the same roof.  Even if we are each involved in our separate things and there is work to be done, I find comfort in knowing we can whisper our “I love yous” to each other any time we please.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

the discipline of missing out

In my youth, and particularly as a teenager, I worked overtime at one job more than any other.  

No, it wasn't the one in the shoe department at Belk 
or the one as a day camp counselor over the summer 
or the countless babysitting gigs.  

The job I put the most blood, sweat, and tears into was the job of not. missing. out. on. anything.  

As an extrovert with closet insecurities, I felt a burning need to always be ‘in the know’ - to maintain my acceptance by peers, increase my influence over others,  and preserve my privilege of inclusion.  Sometimes it truly felt like a full-time job {and we didn’t even have cell phones or texting back then!}.  I spent a lot of time on my Victorian style phone with creamy coil connecting the vintage-looking receiver to its gold plastic base.  I wanted to be a part of
all the conversations and
all the parties and
all the sleepovers and
all the road trips
and I feared missing anything because maybe I wouldn’t know about the next thing 
or the next thing 
and eventually I wouldn’t just be missing out, I would BE out.  
On my own.  No longer a part of the ‘in’ crowd. 

This morning as I sat alone fully embracing the fact that there were many things I was voluntarily missing out on in order to reap the benefits of solitude, I got a text from one of my college girls.  Anna is working at a camp in Texas over the summer and she has been struggling with spending a month in a new place away from everyone she knows.  She has a heart for God so she knows there is a bigger picture.  I think she was just wishing she could see it.  She wrote to tell me she had been so encouraged by something from one of my books she just read.  I went back to read the section she referred to and I had a lightbulb moment.

The piece Anna was referencing was about Moses and how even {or especially} the unglamorous seasons of his life when he found himself alone, an outsider, far from ‘in the know’, were preparing him for something greater.  I realized there may be some advantage to the discipline of missing out.  

It is solitude on steroids.  

It is voluntarily choosing to remove yourself from the people who know and accept you to do something else, on your own.  When I was in college that prospect might have terrified me.  Anna is much more spiritually mature than I was at her age. 

I can’t be sure, but I’m wondering if there is a slight fear of missing out in her heart.  I’m wondering if she feels lonely and her mind wanders to others who are off on fun vacations with their friends or back home relaxing with their families.  Those thoughts could create a longing, a desire to escape, for anyone.  There is an allure to the easier, bustling, more familiar path all your friends are taking and an aversion to the unknown, quiet one you take alone with fallen tree limbs to step over and hidden rocks that could cause you to trip and face plant.  

When we remove ourselves from what is familiar and comfortable there can be a painful transition period, but on the other side is something worth all the heartache.  On the other side is a clarity of vision for who we are and who God is.  That could never be obtained when so much of our energy and attention is taken up by not missing out.  When we are constantly in the presence of friends and family we begin to adopt an identity defined by them and we lose the essence of our identity defined by God.

All our efforts to not miss out on what is happening in the temporary world around us actually cause us to miss out on what God wants to do with the eternal world within us.  So I’m praying Anna through the transition, knowing God’s reward for her is on the other side - the IN-side {not the IN crowd} will be rich.  I’m proud of her for being brave enough to go to a place where she is unknown by others so that she might be more fully known in the presence of her Creator.

From where I sit I can see the vegetable garden in my back yard.  Just yesterday hard and heavy rains pelted those tender runner beans that had just begun to stretch towards the sky.  It’s not easy to stand there on your own and endure that kind of discomfort, but today they stand taller and their purple blossoms have been revealed.  God knew standing alone in the hard and heavy rains were exactly what they needed in this season of their growth.  Very soon they will produce the harvest they were created to produce - and so will we.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

a spacious place

I always loved the idea of meditation.  I was just too busy to actually try it.

How ridiculous.  It was in my busiest moments that I needed the slow, still awareness most.

I have finally matured enough to realize the world will not stop spinning if I do.
I have finally released pride and control enough to regularly step away from my doing and into my being.

I wish someone had told me years ago about the big, wide world waiting there.  If you think you are 'missing out' by carving time out of your day to sit and breathe and listen, let me kindly correct you.  There is nothing more important than going underground - under skin and bone and years worth of masks - to find the tender, fragile soul crafted in a divine image.  It will take your breath away...and then give it right back - deeper and fuller.

Every day I press through the arguments and excuses in my head and get to the deep place, because every day the enemy is waiting to steal my awareness of the sacred.  He brushes past disguised as common sense, practicality, deductive reasoning - slipping notes into my pockets.  Not love notes. Fear notes.

Second guessing
Prideful problem-solving

But I've learned his ways.  The awareness has taught me well.  I recognize the handwriting.  He may set my heart racing and my mind reeling temporarily but I know to run - hard and fast - back to the quiet space where I can hear the Truth Teller.

Lay it all down.  See it in his light.
Lay myself down.  Feel the light.  The lightness.  The freedom.

I push away what should have been or could have been and look only at what IS.  Right here, right now.

Prayer must lead us beyond mind, words, and ideas 
to a more spacious place where God has a chance to get in.

How many times have I let my mind, words, and ideas crowd the space inside of me?  No room for truth.  No room for love and grace and the perfect peace found in releasing the full knowing to Him.

Don't run from the spacious place, friends.  Release your grip, lay your open palms on your lap, close your eyes, breath deep, deeper, deeper still until you find yourself there...home.  Really.  Go do that.  Everything else can wait.

For more encouragement in the practice of spiritual disciplines 
you can find Elizabeth's new book - begin. HERE.