Thursday, July 31, 2014
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
And this is what came our way: All night, we kept running into people we love--like walk-to-school neighbors, friends from church, and even a former student of mine. At one point, we found ourselves visiting a grad student and praying with his family who was in town to help him move out.
Everywhere we went, significant parts of our marriage found representation through people sent our way: walking together every day with the Neighborhood Walk-to-School group, ministering together to graduate students, teaching college students, and volunteering with youth ministry and church. It was fun that these encounters kept happening all night.
And yes, we had all this and our bookstore, romantic dinner, and movie too!
It was a beautiful night out because every half hour or so, we received little reminders of what makes marriage so great. For years, we've been together in life and ministry; it's been so purposeful and connected to others that our night out included a wonderful sampling of what the years have meant to us.
It was never just about us.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
My friend tells me that in the past he's agonized over why he's writing and for whom and whether this sort of thing--especially the publishing part--diminishes his character. It seems inherently narcissistic, inherently self-glorifying, and inherently dissonant with the hidden and quiet life.
He tells me he struggled but finally realized this: "Without writing, I'd be lost."
The writing life helps us find our way.
Why care so deeply about why and for whom? The business of it doesn't care for the soul. But writing? I think of the necessity and pleasure of it. I think of how it nourishes the soul.
Another friend recently told me she loved talking to a particular person because of the way this person "cared for her soul." The words resonate for days.
Writing helps me care for my own soul and, by God's grace, the beautiful souls of others.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014
I learn something about this plant whose fine accomplishment has been kept for 80 years.
Nobody knows why it waited so long. Nobody can explain the particular timing of it. It's a mystery.
All I can think about is the truth that our gifts and offerings to the world will keep until the right time--when they're needed.
Until then, we live in the mystery of it and the comfort that we can save all our offerings until they're wanted.
They will keep.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
I'm so sore I could just curl up in a ball and never move again. Muscles that I never used have been thoroughly used.
I remember this morning that when you're building muscles and getting fit, the sore feeling means one is getting stronger. It's really the only way to grow.
Oh, glorious pain! This is how to move into strength and then, eventually, into the freedom to run.
Friday, July 25, 2014
I'm so focused on what I need all the time. As you know, I'm always asking my heart what it's missing because I'm a walking existential crisis. I've already confessed this problem to you, so bear with me.
I decide to ask God to show me what the heart needs most of all. I was inspired to ask such a question because I was reading Hannah Whitall Smith again this morning, and I love how she asks God to reveal to her the "secret" of a happy life. She wanted happiness! She was tired of miserable Christians who walked around in perpetual angst (oh, she would have been so annoyed with me). She wrote a whole book on God's answer to her question about happiness called The Christian Secret of a Happy Life.
But back to my question to God. I'm tired of perpetual angst (even if it is part of the poetic sensibility, the divine madness of the artist, and the dreary lot of the writer). I'm tired of struggling so much for peace in my heart. I'm tired of not even knowing the answer to a question two different friends asked me this week. They looked at me with such love in their eyes and said, "Heather, what do you really want?"
What do I really want, God?
As I'm rounding the corner, I imagine God answering me. I think of this truth:
I think of how David begs God in Psalm 51:12, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation." He doesn't ask for more friends, more wealth, more wisdom, a different city, live music, fine dining, or more fruitfulness. He asks God to restore the joy of salvation to him. What the heart needs most is the joy of our salvation!
I think about this as I walk, and the fog clears inside of me. Everything I most desperately want, I already have: the righteousness of Christ, the immediate and unmediated access to God, and the knowing and being known by a Savior. Yes, forgiveness of sin that separates me from God--this is what I most desperately need. And because I have it already, I ask God to restore the truth of it to me, the pure and raw joy of it.
When I lose my focus and wonder what I'm missing, I'm going to think about this summer morning walk and how I remembered the joy of my salvation. It was a great little walk with God.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
I love the principle of it all: the more it offers, the more it can offer. It's a generous plant, a biblical plant.
Then, while I sit crossed legged in the chairs designed for small children in the lobby of the Music Academy as my children practice piano, I read about the concept of saying "no" to oneself. It goes against the grain of everything I've read lately; instead of self-actualization, self-fulfillment, authentic selfhood, and saying "yes" to our true selves and true desires, the Christian notion of self-denial rubs at all my rough edges. It's so unnatural! It's so. . . wrong.
But maybe not. Maybe this is the most natural and obvious thing in the world.
It's like the bean plant that gives everything away--everything!--and finds it has more and more to offer as a result. It doesn't shrivel and suffer. Instead, it thrives at the very spot it lost a part of itself.
It's right and good to say no to oneself. At that very spot, a harvest comes.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Every two years, I make a photo album on shutterfly.com. Essentially, I tell our family story for those years. I choose a theme or a word to frame this story, too.
It takes a lot of time, but I remember this: My wise counselor told me that part of mental health is the ability to tell an integrated life story about yourself.
He talked about the importance of telling the story of one's family history. He challenged me to find treasured family memories from my own childhood and now, as a mother, to pass on the gift to my children of the story of their lives.
This is essential. This is critical. I had no idea.
(Photo album design seemed to me the work of crafty mothers who gathered for scrapbooking parties. I've never been to one of these parties, and I wasn't about to start going! Thank you, Lord, for websites that do the creative work for you!)
Yes, my counselor told me that family photo albums are part of mental health and the well-being of my children. People research this kind of stuff. Family story telling matters deeply. Deeply.
Photo albums for mental health! Imagine!
I sit down and sift through all the photos. It takes me an hour to get through April. I make pages and pages of photos, and guess which story I tell?
I tell the story of God's faithfulness. I tell the story of perseverance, of God's sovereignty, of God's provision, and of love.
I tell the story of love.
Page after page, I record the truth for them for years to come.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Sunday, July 20, 2014
First, I remind my daughter to immediately make a guest feel comfortable by helping them settle in. This means letting them know where to place shoes and coats and where the restroom is. Then you can offer a beverage or a snack. You can also ask a guest if they feel too hot or too cold in your home. The goal is his or her comfort.
Second, I teach my daughter that great hosts have a plan. Instead of friends staring at one another not knowing what to do, I encourage my daughter to make a plan of possible activities for them to enjoy together that the guest will particularly love. With a plan of lots of options, a guest can chose something she really enjoys to do.
Third, I tell my daughter that the needs of the guest come first, so it's a great opportunity to defer to someone else, to take your turn last, and to put your needs aside for a time.
Fourth, I talk about the power of the Special Treat that the guest isn't expecting. Whether it's a chocolate cake, a rented movie, a recipe to create together, an outing, or a craft, you can offer little surprises to delight another person.
Finally, I send my daughter upstairs to tidy up. Cleaning the bathroom, organizing the playroom, and picking up clutter means that the guest can enjoy a lovely space that's clean and fresh smelling.
Why do this? Well, teaching children to host well gives them a lifelong skill of how to bless people with the resources God gives us (our home, our possessions). It also builds empathy as you ask your children to imagine how another person might be feeling.
Hosting other people is something I do every week, if not every day. It's part of having a home and blessing a community. It's a great ministry. It's something I had to learn from others, so today, I'm passing it on to my own children.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Friday, July 18, 2014
If you haven't read The Hiding Place, it's the account of how a Dutch Christian family helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust. We follow Corrie ten Boom's imprisonment in horrific conditions and how she found strength, hope, and forgiveness in Jesus. You can also watch the movie made in 1975 based on Corrie's book.
This book is especially meaningful to me because I remember how one summer at Camp Greystone, I met the traveling companion to Corrie ten Boom, Ellen Stamps. Mrs. Stamps was a visiting speaker at camp who shared many stories of her time with Corrie ten Boom as they traveled the world together to share the message of Jesus Christ before Corrie died.
I scurry down to my basement and pile up all the old journals from that summer at Camp Greystone. I find the one that takes me back to this moment:
One day, Mrs. Stamps invited me to her little guest cabin, brewed me hot coffee (even in the middle of summer), and prayed with me about my own life and struggles. It was July 26, 1995, and I wrote in my journal everything I learned from this humble woman who had more wisdom stored in her than any person I had ever met. She talked to me privately--as the rain fell and the coffee brewed--to impart a few special lessons just for me.
I felt so loved by God that He would allow me to spend time with such a godly woman. I wrote in my journal, "I think my life began to change on July 26, 1995." I was young in my faith. I was confused and full of shame and worry.
I learned this:
Mrs. Stamps began by telling me that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Hope. Anything else is wrong. Don't listen to any other voice but Hope.
She also told me that the ups and downs of my heart are like the waves of the sea, but that the Holy Spirit is a calm place within me.
We sat in two chairs by a small wooden table with just a lamp and a Bible on it. It rained, and I could smell the mulch and the pine trees. Mrs. Stamps' wrinkled hands held onto mine. This woman who had spent so many years traveling with and learning from Corrie ten Boom held my hands in hers, and I wrote in my journal about all the hands those hands had comforted over the years. What would my hands do in my life? Why was God letting me touch what I felt like were sacred hands?
She spoke of forgiveness--of forgiving oneself and receiving the Lord's forgiveness.
She also spoke about a beautiful broken harp that no one in the village could repair. In this illustration, the only person who could repair the harp to make beautiful music was the one who built it himself. Mrs. Stamps reminded me that God made me and knows how to repair whatever is broken in me.
Those were powerful and important moments in my journey with the Lord as a twenty year old.
So I'm sitting in my rocking chair, now two decades later, and I go back to the lessons of Corrie ten Boom that she passed on to Ellen Stamps. I had forgotten my favorite lesson from Corrie's father after her first broken heart. He tells her this:
"Corrie. . . do you know what hurts so very much? It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked, that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for this love to travel."
All morning, I think about when our love (our desires, our dreams, our hopes) is blocked and we experience pain. I'm filled with such overwhelming hope when I see the wisdom of asking God to open up another route for our love to travel.
If not this path, then that one. If not this, then something else. I pray for God to keep my love strong and to open up all the routes on which this love might travel best.
I look back on the wisdom of Corrie ten Boom, her father, and Ellen Stamps. On a single rainy afternoon twenty years ago, their stories intersected mine in a way that changed me forever.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
When I walk far enough, I'm surrounded by the woods again. It's cooler and darker here, and a deer darts by me.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Well, here's the truth: you plants some seeds, and one day, one glorious day. . .
PS: We planted all the seedlings in Kate's old Turtle Sandbox. We filled the sandbox from childhood with potting soil to repurpose it.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I had no choice.
I hardly ever played cards, and when I did, it was War or Go Fish with my sister as a last resort on rainy days on the military base in Ft. Lewis.
Apparently, in an alternate universe, a whole world of Rummy, Spades, Gin, Anaconda, Blackjack, Poker, Egyptian War, Euchre, Hearts, Sequence, and Slapjack existed around joyous dinner tables everywhere. No matter how hard I tried to join in with the trend, I could only picture the low swinging light fixtures, dangling cigarettes, and hushed conversations. Card playing seemed creepy and underground, the behavior of misfits or else grandmothers in Bridge Clubs. It seemed profoundly boring, and like I said, a last resort for folks who had nothing better to do.
My friend actually kept a deck of cards on his personal being at all times. This is how important it was. This is how much card playing was part of his life.
This summer, card playing became part of my life--not as a last resort--but as a first choice with my daughters, their cousins, uncles, and grandparents. True, we were stuck together in a lake house, so it could have felt like a last resort on rainy days. I woke up and made a plan for our card playing after dinner. I had to schedule it because I loved it so much. We'd play for over an hour before we all went to sleep.
During the day, my nieces and nephews would coax me over to the table to play whatever card game they chose for the afternoon.
So I bought a deck of cards. I have it right here. I've played a version of Rummy (Shanghai Rummy, the best game ever. Rules here) twice with my children already today. I've invited others to play, too. I'm actually thinking of keeping a deck of cards in my purse.
I've become my friend, and I'm so glad.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Friday, July 11, 2014
In my twenties, one of my wise mentors from Camp Greystone told me, "You are making life too hard, Heather."
In other words, I needed to relax and ride life's waves a little.
The Italian Mama and I just recently joked about how much we have to understand what stuff means. We have to sit around and philosophize about life's deepest questions all the time. There isn't enough cannoli in all the world to fuel our thinking about life's major questions: What am I doing? Why am I here? What does this mean? What does it mean?!
It's how God made me. I must do this kind of thinking. The downside of this way of being is that I always feel a little off-kilter, like a tipping sailboat. I always feel an undercurrent of homesickness, a not-rightness, a longing, a nostalgia for something I never had but know is there or about to happen. I feel tossed about in the breakers.
It's unsettling how unsettled I am inside.
It's good and bad; the beauty and joy of deep thinking brings along with it the dark things, like waves on the sea that bring gorgeous shells but also bone and shards of glass.
The only thing that comforts me is a Bible verse buried in Psalm 138. It's just this: "God will fulfill his purpose for me." And another? Ephesians 1:11 that God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will."
When I choose to believe these two verses, I feel the sailboat inside anchoring. I feel the tide delivering the peace and wonder of something like golden seahorses and starfish, purple sea glass, and rainbow abalone. God will make me who I am supposed to be, and everything is happening just as it should happen.
I can sit back and worship God for whatever He delivers into my hands, whether broken or whole, crashing or calm. What does it all mean? It means there's a great tide of His love that will always, always carry me home.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Monday, July 7, 2014
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Saturday, July 5, 2014
Friday, July 4, 2014
You'll hear about times before running water and flush toilets, about tobacco fields and what used to be right there in that field that's now something else. A golden thread the color of sweet tea connects everyone to everyone else in little towns where people remember when the bank started (great, great granddaddy) or when the railroad tracks were placed (right up near the house) or when a certain road came into being that's the last name of your family on your grandmother's side.
It's so rooted, so tightly stitched together like the quilts on the bed grandma made herself, that I wonder what that must feel like for my daughters. I wonder what it must feel like to slide right into your place in a big family that's been here always. I think about the belonging of it, the inclusion, the golden thread that tethers you in.
It just wasn't like this for me for many reasons--some being about military base hopping and then East Coast living when most extended family was West Coast, and some being about simply not knowing our own family history, or choosing not to. People say that children who grow up this way gain a certain adaptability and enjoy the blessing of escape from the burden of family, but I don't think these things are true.
I think you long for belonging in a big old family your whole life. Maybe it's just me; I find myself jealous when my Penn State students, mostly Italian, describe in detail the enormous family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas or when I read memoirs of students traveling to Ireland or Spain to meet distant cousins for grand family reunions. They always, always talk about belonging to these people, and I see their eyes glimmering and looking off in the distance with reverence for this holy thing of family.
I think we are indeed made to be rooted, and that's why all my wandering insides leapt when I read in Ephesians this morning that I'm rooted and established in a profound familial love that this earthy family merely, at its very best like say, on the 4th of July or Christmas (did I mention fried chicken and all those salads?), symbolizes or prefigures.
Like a shadow of things to come, a mystery.
If you read Ephesians, you're going to find all sort of verbs: included, rooted, established, adopted into the family of God. The whole thing is about a family! Keep reading the New Testament, and you're going to think about the family of God differently.
It's deeply rooted and tightly stitched. It's the thing you're longing for that you simply taste a bit of on such holidays as this one. After all, today we extend our family to include being American. We know what it's like to expand our family borders in a moment of patriotism, and today, I remember that my own family borders go even further, right up to the golden tables of heaven.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
(I've already had three of these cookies with a tall glass of milk. I tell myself I'll eat healthy meals next week after July 4th. I've decided this because I know for a fact that tomorrow the whole family will feast on fried chicken, lemon meringue pies, blackberry cobbler, deviled eggs, more fried things, and more buttery things. They'll be homemade ice-cream and all sorts of grilled sandwiches with all those Southern Fillings. Folks do it right 'round here. It would be wrong to deny myself this kind of lovin'.)
Inside the bag, I find the book I've been waiting to read. (It's the book that comes before Belong to Me called Loved Walked In.)
I know he drove to another town to get this book because the bookstore in town had sold their copies.
"I had time to spare, and I thought this would help you rest and relax." Oh, my love language! Oh, my dear, sweet husband! I don't need diamonds; I need books. Books and fried things.
Before I curl up to read, I walk around like a waiter holding my chocolate chip cookie platter. I find anyone around and offer up the treats. I believe the cookies will bring a little joy. Cookies do that, they really do.
I check my email messages a little later and find that my friend, Elaine, has sent me a link to an adorable turtle video in which the turtle chases a ball around with a dog. I smile and feel so loved that she would think of me.
So here I am, in a little cocoon of love where grandmas cook, husbands drop books into my hands, moms bake cookies, and friends share turtle videos. There's love to pass around today in whatever form it takes. I give it and I receive it. We build the whole rainy day on it.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Writing sheds new light so we can see; writing has everything to do with snatching words like fireflies and holding them still to illuminate the dark night.
I talk back to the writer: Yes! I feel this way! Yes, I know just what you mean! Yes, that's what it's like for me, too.
I recall the clarity I felt when I read Frederick Buechner's Longing for Home in college and how he gives expression to the homesickness we carry with us always, like a splinter in our foot we feel every step we take. I remember reading C.S. Lewis and taking a deep breath of clearer air because he named for me the longing, the mystery, and the joy rattling around in me trying to get out.
It's like when you read the Bible and suddenly meet yourself. Hello me. This is me. Jesus comes to articulate (a great verb: the art of speaking well and also to form a joint between two things) the essence of the unseen God. When Jesus speaks, we recognize what we've been longing for all our lives but could never name.
Charged with the task of illuminating and naming, we keep pressing the pen to the page.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
(I want to rise above the lesser intentions of eating less carbs.)
I love rituals (my husband and I have a morning coffee ritual, for example), so for the first of each month, I ritualize it by praying for my family and asking a special blessing on this new month. I discover this morning that there's a Jewish ritual for the first of each month found in The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival, by Marcia Lee Falk. In translation from the Hebrew (Tefillat haChodesh), it goes like this:
May the month of ___________
be a month of blessings:
blessings of goodness,
blessings of joy,
peace and kindness
friendship and love
May truth and justice
guide our acts
temper our lives
that we may blossom
as we age
and become our sweetest selves.
May it be so.
I would like for July to be a month like this. I will look back on it in August and say that it was a month of fulfilling work, health, radiance, and a particularly defined blossoming into our sweetest selves.
May it be so.