Sunday is for Slowing

"By making our greatest and most important goal the one of
productivity, we miss out on the ways that God's gifts of grace
come to us by doing nothing."
Nora Gallaher, The Sacred Meal

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Divine Writing


Last week I wrote about Benedict’s advice, to “listen with the ear of your heart” – a kind of deep, attentive listening for God’s presence in your daily life. One way to do that, says Benedict, is through a close reading of Scripture, called lectio divina – literally translated from Latin as divine reading.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a speed reader. I skim and scan. And blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and emailing have all exacerbated that tendency. So when I sit down to read a Bible passage I often find myself reading quickly, to get through the process and check it off my to do list, rather than reading slowly, thoughtfully and prayerfully. And when I’m not skimming, I find that I study the Bible – analyzing, dissecting, probing. I often read for knowledge and information. I try to master the words rather than allow myself to be transformed by them.

I know how to practice lectio divina, in theory, but that doesn’t mean I actually do it, which is why I have molded the process into something that does work for me. I call it scribo divina – yes, I made this up. I Googled the Latin word for “writing” and came up with scribo (my high school Latin teacher just died a little bit inside). Anyway, scribo divina goes like this:

1. I choose a short passage (just a few verses) in the Bible, and read them through several times. If you are just beginning lectio or scribo, you might start with the Psalms, the Gospels or Paul’s letters – don’t head straight for Revelation or Leviticus or you’ll throw in the towel after 30 seconds flat. I suggest that you read the verses aloud if you're not humiliated by your dog listening. While I'm reading, I try to listen closely for words or phrases that jump off the page or somehow seem to have some meaning for me; sometimes I jot these words or phrases down on a scrap of paper or in my journal. I try not to hyper-analyze, but just let the words themselves catch my attention.

2. Next I do a little mulling. Because I’m an Olympic-caliber multi-tasker, this mulling often takes place throughout the day, as I’m going about my life. I think about these words or phrases while I’m driving the kids to school or emptying the dishwasher or sitting during a PowerPoint presentation. And I try to think about why I am drawn to them. Whether God might be trying to tell me something. How the words might apply to my life right now.

3. Then, when I have a few minutes to spare (sometimes it’s in the car as I’m waiting to pick up Noah. Often it’s late at night before bed, or early in the morning before the kids get up), I get out my pen and journal and write my reactions to and thoughts about the verses. It’s not eloquent prose. More often I write in incomplete sentences, or I jot down random thoughts.

Don’t worry if you don’t discover a deeper purpose or meaning for your life through this practice. Don’t fret if you don’t have a dramatic epiphany. Simply think about your feelings – how is your heart, God, speaking to you? – and write. You will find meaning; you will hear God speak to you. It just takes time, practice and patience – and often the voice is a whisper, rather than a clap of thunder (I know, thunder would be a lot easier, and frankly less time-consuming, but I guess it doesn't always work that way). 

Often in writing, I am able to slow the practice of lectio divina – the simple act of putting pen to paper tames my brain in a way that reading alone does not allow. I’ve found that writing has become a form of meditation, prayer even.

So that’s it – that’s scribo (or lectio) divina – a practice that’s been utilized by monks and lay people for centuries; a method that helps us listen for and hear the still, small voice of God. Give it a whirl – you might be surprised by how simple and accessible it is.

Do you practice lectio divina? Or scribo divina? If so, what are some tips that work for you?

Note: This is part two in my Friday Lenten series Blogging Benedict. I am using the text St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living as my guide. Click here to read more about the book (I highly recommend it!). Click here to read other posts in the Blogging Benedict series.

Next week’s Blogging Benedict topic: Stability.

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Glimpses


The Monday after Valentine’s Day I walked into my office to find a photograph sitting on my keyboard, an image of a pine bough bearing a blanket of glistening snow. On the back of the photograph was a simple message: Happy Valentine’s Day.

My friend Michele took the picture, and when I thanked her for it, she mentioned this tidbit:  she’d been grumpily “scooping snow” [note to non-Nebraskans: “scooping” is another word for shoveling. Who knew?! Frankly, I scoop ice cream and shovel snow…but I digress], bemoaning yet another several inches, when she stopped a moment to rest. As she looked up she noticed the surrounding beauty, her yard covered in fresh, fluffy snow, sunlight glinting off dangling icicles. So she threw down her shovel (scooper?), grabbed her camera, and traipsed around the yard snapping pictures.

“I have to do that more often,” Michele told me. “It’s all about attitude, something I need to remind myself of when I get the grumps.”

Yesterday I, too, was having one of those mornings, a grumpy morning. I was halfway dressed for work, one eye lined and mascared, hair wet and stringy, when I dashed into the bedroom to grab a pair of socks. I stopped, my hand halfway into the sock drawer. The rising sun, glowing gold, shone through frosted glass window, painting the room rose.

Half-dressed, face half-made, I walked downstairs – past blaring Sponge Bob and kitchen counters dusted with scattered oatmeal – grabbed my camera, and climbed the stairs to my bedroom. I stood in awe and clicked the shutter.

And the pictures don’t do the glory justice.





O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
From hymn How Great Thou Art

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Fishing and Shining


Recently I received a heartfelt email from a friend, someone I’ve known a long time. It was an apology – an unnecessary one – a confession as to why she doesn’t read this blog. It’s just too much, she admitted bravely. The language, all the Bible quotes – they made her uncomfortable. She just couldn’t quite bring herself to read it.

I’m so glad my friend was courageous and honest enough to share her thoughts with me. She made me think – to step back and ask myself a few hard questions.

You see, when I read my friend’s email, my initial reaction was embarrassment. Shame. Sometimes I'm uncomfortable with this new Christian self, this person who liberally quotes Scripture, who so easily writes about God. Sometimes it still feels awkward, this Christian heart and skin. In many ways I'm just the same. I still blurt, complain, guffaw loudly. I still fall prey to cataclysmic crabbiness, balanced by exuberant joyousness. But in other, more subtle ways, I'm different; a stranger to myself.

My friend’s candid remarks inspired me to take a hard look at myself. Because honestly, it’s easy (or easier, I should say) to write Christian, obscured by a computer screen shield and the furry darkness of early morning, than it is to speak Christian, face-to-face with a friend, in the glaring light of day – and certainly easier than it is to be Christian in the day-to-day grind.

This week, two devotionals I’ve read as part of my Lenten prayer practice struck a nerve. The first, from Matthew 4, is the verse in which Jesus calls to the fishermen Peter and Andrew:

“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

And the other is later in Matthew, when Jesus compares us to a brightly shining lamp, hidden not beneath a bowl, but placed front and center on a table:

“Let your light shine before me, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

While Jesus’ suggestion that we become fishers of men implies that we should evangelize, shout the word of God from the street corner, his later verse offers another option – that we utilize our actions, not just our words, to shine the light of God onto others.

At first glance this second verse presents a possible loophole – perhaps I don't need to worry about verbal evangelizing after all. But it's also this second verse that suggests another question altogether: perhaps I should be less concerned with words, both verbal and written, and more with action? Perhaps I put too much stock in language.

Because really, it’s not so much about what we say, or how we say it, but what we do that makes us true followers of God.

It’s easy for me to rely on the written word, to use language as my crutch. And while I fret that my verbal words don’t mirror the ones I write, that really isn’t the issue at all. The central question should be whether my light shines, whether my actions offer love and service to my children, husband and family, to friends, neighbors and strangers.

Words, in the end, simply scatter on the wind, or melt into cyberspace. Actions endure.

How do you fish? With words? With actions? With both? And how comfortable are you with the notion of fishing in general?

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Rebloom

Yesterday I wrote about the challenges I’m facing in my Lenten sacrifice, as I struggle to steer clear of extraneous social media over the next six weeks. I described how tempting it is to log on for a quick moment or two, scan a few Facebook updates, sneak a peek at how many visitors have stopped by Graceful. I wrote about how the constant temptation makes me uneasy, anxious.

What I didn’t describe, though, was the flip side. The pockets of time that yawn open, ripe with possibility. That’s the thing about sacrifice – to cease one time-consuming activity opens the door for others to flourish.

Like playing.
Go Fish with Rowan and Meme on a Saturday afternoon, fluffy flakes falling fat outside steamed windows.

Resting.
Cozy fleece; quiet, toasty house; New Yorker magazine.

And celebrating.
Enjoying a juicy rib eye, dinner out with both sets of grandparents...and the rare opportunity to toss peanut shells on the floor – the kids were giddy over Texas Roadhouse! 

Lent, I'm learning, is a time to rebloom.

If you are making a Lenten sacrifice this year, are you finding it's allowing you more time to reconnect or rejuvenate?  Are you growing in unexpected ways?

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Six Days

Photo from here.

Six days. I’m only six days into the six weeks of Lent, and already I’m tempted to cheat on my fast. In fact, I was tempted to cheat the very first day.

I’m six days into my social media fast, abstaining from Facebook, Twitter, blog hopping, commenting and blog stat checking for forty days. On day one, Ash Wednesday, I received an email from a new writer friend, and before I even thought twice about it, I skipped over to her blog to take a peek. Halfway into reading her post I realized, with a lurch, “Oh no! I gave this up!” and with an exasperated sigh, I closed the window.

This is hard. It’s hard to break the habit. They say it takes 21 days – three weeks – to establish a positive new habit, like daily exercise or abstaining from sugar, and I would argue it must take at least that long to break a bad one, too. My computer sits front and center in the sun room, visible from the kitchen, dining room and living room – virtually every spot on the main floor of our house. I swear I hear it calling my name.

I’m restless and antsy, agitated. Not quite sure what to do with myself, I pace. Sweep invisible crumbs off the crumbless counters. Bleach the sink to a gleaming glow. Vacuum…even under the couch. Saturday I organized the Rubbermaid container brimming with wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbons and bows according to holiday.

I’m glad we read Luke 4 yesterday in church – the verses that describe how the newly baptized Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert:

“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” (Luke 4:1-2)

It’s no accident that the verse explicitly states Jesus was intentionally led by the Holy Spirit – by God – into the wilderness when he was at his weakest moment, to be tempted by physical desires, power and pride. I would argue that as we walk through this life, it may be that God intentionally leads us into temptation, too, to help us learn strength, courage, faith, hope and perseverance.

Did you ever have an experience in which you wondered where in the world God was through it all? I can think of several in my own life: when loved ones have been diagnosed with cancer; when I myself battled a long-term chronic illness; when we moved to Nebraska, thousands of miles from my dearest family and friends. In each of those experiences I felt isolated, vulnerable, afraid.

Sometimes we realize only in hindsight that God was there all along, with us as we faced our trials. Sometimes the lesson is learned many years later (this is often the case for me). Sometimes we grow spiritually, and in our relationship with God, as we weather our worst temptations.

Whatever your temptation – whether it’s as silly as the enticement of social media or as grave as the temptation to abandon God, know that Jesus himself was tempted. Jesus understands the trials we endure, the temptations we face. He has walked in our shoes. And know that with God’s help, you too, can resist -- just as Jesus resisted Satan in the wilderness. Ask God for help with whatever temptation you face today. Pray that he will fortify your strength.

What tempts you these days? And how do you resist giving in?

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Listening with the Ear of Your Heart


Today I am launching a new six-week series called Blogging Benedict, a study of The Rule of Benedict, written in the sixth century by a monk named Benedict of Nursia. Throughout this study I’ll be using the book St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Living, by Jane Tomaine.

Fifteen centuries ago a young man turned away from his scholarly studies in Rome and ventured into the Italian countryside, where he founded a monastic community and wrote what he called “a little rule” to help his fellow monks live a spiritual life in community.

“So how does this apply to me?” you might be thinking. “I’m not a monk. I don’t live in a monastery. I don’t need The Rule.”

Not true. Although Benedict’s Rule was written for monks, his advice covers much of what encompasses our everyday, right here in the 21st century: worship, prayer, work, study, relationships, our use of time, community and hospitality. Benedict’s Rule is more useful to us now than ever.

Benedict begins the Prologue to The Rule with these opening words:

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Concrete person that I am, listening with the “ear of my heart” doesn’t make much sense. At first. But the more I read about Benedict, and the more I practice quiet, focused listening, the more I understand that looking for God in all things, in the ordinary circumstances of my life, is possible.

As Tomaine writes, “God is before us and within us, waiting to be found. The challenge is that every day we have so many things to do, and the crush of work can leave us hurrying through one task to move onto the next. But is it possible instead to do our work on one level, yet reflect with our mind and heart on where God is in the task? Can we allow the task before us to reveal itself as an opportunity to find God?”

Tomaine gives her readers a number of ways to practice this discipline, this listening with the ear of your heart.

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Take a few moments to reflect on your day, the small instances in which you felt the presence of God in your life. You can even join an online community – check out Ann Voskamp’s Holy Experience every Monday, when she lists a continuing stream of 1,000 gifts and encourages others to do the same.

2. Notice the metaphorical breadcrumbs God leaves us to follow. Look back over your life, suggests Tomaine, to uncover the threads that led you to where you are today. Sometimes our God vision is 20/20 in hindsight. Such is the case for me and my move from Massachusetts to Nebraska. In retrospect, I see now that God threw the entire loaf of honey whole grain in my path, not merely the breadcrumbs (you can read about that story here). But it took several years for me to realize that this period of upheaval was actually the result of God guiding my life.

3. Take a thankfulness walk. This is perhaps better accomplished when the weather warms up, but the point is to walk slowly through nature, focusing on your senses – the chickadee chirping in the white pine…the scarlet berries dangling on delicate branches – and giving thanks for the hand of God in all things (I wrote about a similar experience here).

Like any spiritual discipline, listening and watching for God in the everyday takes practice. I’ll be honest, some days spin by so rapidly that I don’t notice him at all. But I continue to practice, and little by little the extraordinary shines through the ordinary.

“Incline your ear and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:3)

How do you listen for God in your life? How do you “incline your ear” or listen with the “ear of your heart?” Add your ideas in the comments below to suggest practices others might try.

Click here to read other posts in the Blogging Benedict series. And come back next Friday for Part Two of Blogging Benedict: divine writing (actually it's Part Three, since I wrote one post before Lent began).

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Dust to Dust


Last night I went to my church’s Ash Wednesday service – the first time I’d been to an Ash Wednesday service in more than 20 years.

Growing up, I always viewed Lent as a period of self-inflicted punishment – an attempt to earn God’s favor, to “be good” in his eyes. Sacrificing chocolate for 40 days, choking down broiled scrod on Fridays, confessing my sins behind the scarlet velvet curtain every week, even succumbing to the black cross smeared across my forehead – all of it was atonement, yes, but atonement tinged with despair.

Despair because I knew, of course, that I could never succeed; I could never truly win God’s love.

While I sheepishly wiped the ash off my forehead with the back of my hand before I climbed the steps to school, I wasn’t able to wipe away my sins so easily. The sins I confessed to the priest one week in the confessional were recommitted again the next. I chipped away at the fasts I'd vowed –  cheating bit by chocolately bit – until I abandoned the whole notion of sacrifice a week or two into Lent.

It was always a relief when Easter finally arrived, so I could be finished with the sham for good.

With God’s grace, I’ve come a long way. Tonight’s Ash Wednesday service heralded not a walk of self-inflicted shame, but of renewal. Not an opportunity to earn God’s grace, but to accept it. Not a punishment, but a repentance.

I didn’t get as much out of the actual service as I would have liked. At one point I noticed Rowan’s forehead wiped clean of the ashy cross, and I was momentarily distracted by visions of a shadowy imprint on the back of my polka dot skirt – or at the very least, a black smudge dusting the back side of my tights.

I did, however, tune in closely enough to realize this: that Ash Wednesday signifies cleansing, restoration, reunion – a time to strip away distractions and step back from obstacles to inch closer in relationship to God. And though I didn’t hear every word of the sermon, or sing every verse of the hymns, that realization is enough for me.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

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Renewal


I was about 14 the last time I gave something up for Lent. I don’t recall for sure what it was, but I’m guessing chocolate. Or perhaps ice cream. Those were the top picks. I usually lasted five days or so before I caved, first with just a tiny cheat – a couple of chocolate chips snitched from the Tollhouse bag, who could count that for crying out loud? Later an Oreo, then two, and finally the whole Lenten sacrifice was thrown to the fire as I engulfed a Ring Ding in two gigantic bites.

Now that I’m a practicing Lutheran I assumed I wouldn’t need to engage in the Lenten practice of “giving up.” I thought that was a Catholic thing. Apparently I thought wrong.

I met Pastor Greg for coffee last week to discuss the frenetic course my life has taken lately. I admitted I was burned out – that with all this writing, blog following, commenting, tweeting, facebooking – it felt like my faith had become a job. Instead of renewed, I felt depleted. Instead of hopeful, joyous, I felt drained.

After listening to my list of woes, Pastor Greg proposed a solution. “Why don’t you give up everything except the actual writing for Lent? All this blog reading and following, and commenting and twittering – everything you’re doing in the name of platform-building – why don’t you give that all up for Lent? Take a break. See how it feels. See if you can get some balance back in your life and connect more deeply with God.”

I’ll be frank. I was aghast at the suggestion. While my mouth was forming the response, “Hmmmm, that’s an interesting idea…” my brain was reeling. “What???!!! Are you kidding me? You’re suggesting I stop, cold turkey, everything I’ve done in the last six months to building this platform and just…do nothing?” Like I said, I was aghast.

Yet I knew in my heart he was right. I knew in my heart that giving up the extraneous social media for Lent was not only a good idea, it was necessity.

You see, I have an addictive personality. Red light, green light my dad calls it. We don’t have flashing yellow. My dad and I don’t proceed with caution. We dive head in. “Make it happen!” is my dad’s motto, a slogan I’ve heard innumerable times through the years.

So when the agent I spoke to last summer kindly suggested that I needed to build a platform if I had any hope of becoming a published writer, that’s what I began to do. I launched this blog. I began to read and follow dozens of other Christian bloggers. I commented prodigiously on other blogs. I joined Facebook and Twitter. I tweeted. I guest posted and joined other blogger networking sites and wrote and submitted articles to online and print journals. I initiated the “Make it Happen” plan.

And I obsessed. I became addicted.

Here's how I know:

1. I’ve developed tendonitis in my right elbow…not from a killer Venus serve, but from constantly clicking and shuffling that innocuous little mouse from blog to blog to blog.

2. I sneak around other blogs while I’m at work. At my paying job. I tell myself I’m just going to take a quick peek to see how many comments I have, and before I realize it, I’ve spent 25 minutes surfing, commenting and tweeting.

3. I blog while Rowan sits on my lap for a morning snuggle. As my arms wrap around his little body, my fingers clack across the keyboard, and I peer over his rumpled, fuzzy head at the computer screen.

4. The kids make increasingly frequent comments like: “Mommy, are you doing your ‘blod’ again?” And, “Mommy, why do you sit at the computer so much?”

5. I practice idolatry. I worship at the altar of the Site Meter.

In the old days the forty days of Lent were a time in which those new to the faith prepared for baptism, by participating in repentance, fasting and prayer. But even today, Lent signifies a very personal return to God – a time of reflection, sacrifice and repentance. A time of forgiveness and renewal.

I need to return to God. I need to relinquish control, hand over this addiction, this obsession I’ve developed. Hand over the need to control my future.

Yes, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that all I’ve done to build this tenuous platform bit by bit over the past six months will crumble like a house of cards. But my fear just clarifies the necessity of this social media fast. If I’m this afraid of letting go…then I must let go.

So…I graciously thank each one of you for sticking with me through this six-week Lenten fast. I’ll keep writing, and I hope you’ll keep reading. And I apologize in advance for not responding to any comments you might leave here or retweets you might post on Twitter. I feel guilty for gluttonously accepting your support and not returning the favor, but I know if I start down the social media road, I won’t be able to stop [my blog posts automatically feed to Facebook and Twitter...just wanted to mention that so you didn't think I was cheating!].

I’ll let you know how it goes here throughout the next six weeks. Like breaking any addiction, I doubt it will be easy. But I am truly thankful for your support and understanding.

Are you planning to give up anything for Lent? And if not, what do you do, if anything, during these 40 days?

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Blowing Bubbles



This is a boy who embraces life. While I’m bent on bemoaning foul weather, disgusted by gritty snow and sharp, biting winds, he buttons into puffy coat, pulls on striped cap, climbs atop the tallest snow bank and blows bubbles.

Just as if it were May. Just as if daffodils bloomed. Just as if robins fluttered. Just as if the heady scent of lilac and sweet breezes graced the air.


Circumstances don’t matter a bit to this boy. Obstacles don’t stand in his way. He blows bubbles into February air.

I’m unwrapping this gift of living life with gusto as part of Tuesdays Unwrapped over at Chatting at the Sky. Join me over there for the hope of spring.

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Content


Hello there. When-Then Girl here. Oh you know the one; you’ve met her here before. The girl never satisfied with the present. The girl with her eyes focused on the other side of the fence, the greener side – the future pasture, ripe with the possibility of true happiness.

Before I met Brad I would think, “When I get married, then I’ll be happy.”

When we rented our tiny apartment, the one nestled under the eaves of an old house that leaned over the lazy Poquonock River, I figured, “When we buy our own house, then I’ll be happy.”

Before Noah was born I assumed, “When I have a baby, then I’ll be happy.”

As I whiled away hours of diaper-changing and dusting, I thought, “When I go back to work, then I’ll be happy.”

Lately I often catch myself thinking, “When the kids are finally in school, and I have more time to write, then I’ll be happy.”

See the pattern here?

When-Then Girl is chronically discontented.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells me he doesn’t have this particular problem:

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

So what’s Paul’s secret, you ask? Simply this:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:13)

It’s one thing to glimpse contentment when life flows along like a burbling brook. But I can’t help but wonder, what would happen if I were faced with something big, something tragic or calamitous? Would my flimsy contentment dissolve like a sand castle washed beneath a frothy wave?

The key, I think, is in the word contentment. In this context, in Paul’s words, contentment requires a broader definition – beyond mere happiness, beyond simple satisfaction and into the realm of peace. The peace that comes with letting go.

I think of my sister-in-law Vanessa, who told me, as she stood in my kitchen not long after her husband was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and given a 20 percent chance of survival, that she would “be okay,” that God would take care of her and their young son, no matter what happened.

I think of my mother-in-law Janice, and also of Vanessa’s father, Tom – both of whom exude peace and joy every day, despite their suffering. To talk with them, you would never know they battled grave illness, so focused are they on present joy and on giving to those around them.

Vanessa, Janice and Tom all have something in common: a contentment that reaches beyond worldly concerns. Theirs is a contentment of peace, the peace that flows when one relinquishes control, when one looks to God for strength.

I hope and pray that when my time of trial comes – and it surely will – that I will find peaceful contentment and unrelenting strength through God. For guidance I need only to look to the role models around me. They quietly demonstrate every day, with untold grace, exactly how it’s done.

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Love is All Around

A few days ago Noah pointed out this detail in his succulent garden: notice the heart-shaped leaf on the right-hand side of the photo.


A treasure that would have gone unnoticed for sure, had it not been for Noah's keen eye.

"The door should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the
ecstatic experience."
Emily Dickinson



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Metaphor, Take 2

This is how I often approach life:
Careening, tearing, screaming, racing, rumbling...

This is how God suggests I approach life:
Quietly.

Be still, and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

What are you these days -- the careening train, or the still, quiet leaf?

Thanks to my friend Tom for the video of the North Dakota train. Tom, how's that snow treating you down in Dallas?!

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All in a Day's Work

As a mom, wife, communications specialist and writer, I wear many hats. We all do -- unless you live in a monastery, you've got headwear aplenty decorating your hat rack.

So for this week's You Capture assignment -- work -- I was hard-pressed to pick just one of the many functions I perform. 

There's short-order cook:

Launderer:

Dish washer:

Chauffeur [don't worry, I was at a red light]:

Queen of Household Hygiene:

Reader:

Snuggler:

Writer in my spare time [5-7 a.m.; 8-9:30 p.m.]:

Hmmmm...what did I forget? Picker-upper, vacuumer, grocery shopper, tickler, hugger, kisser [and let's be honest here, yeller]. Most of my work falls under the general title of caretaker.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."
Thomas Moore

Photobucket

Quote first seen at Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience.



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Praying Madly


Rowan’s been saying grace for us lately at dinner. His prayer in the last week or so has sounded something like this:

"Thank you for this yummy food, God. And please, God, help the people in Haiti be not mad that their houses were ruined. Amen.”

I admit, the first time or two I was tempted to admonish Rowan: “Oh no, honey, the people in Haiti aren’t mad…you don’t need to pray about that, honey.”

But then I realized, Rowan is right. At least some of the Haitian people are mad. Angry that their already difficult lives have been made even more difficult. Angry about the losses they suffer. The grief they experience. The horror they witness.

These feelings and reactions make sense to Rowan. He assumes the Haitian people are angry in their devastating loss, and he prays to God, that God would help give hope to his people and help them find peace.

Still, I wondered why it was so difficult for me to hear Rowan suggest that the Haitians are mad. Is it because of the implication that perhaps the Haitian people are angry at God himself?

I think many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of anger directed at God. Certainly as a kid I would never have imagined being allowed to express anger at God. In my mind, God could certainly be angry with me. In my little kid mind, he often was. But vice versa? Absolutely not. That would have been impudent at the very least; blasphemous at worst.

But now I think differently. Now I think Rowan may be right – that we are allowed to be angry with God. After all, in expressing our anger toward God we communicate with him, converse with him. In expressing anger, we enter into a relationship with him. And I think God might prefer that to the alternative, which would be silence, no conversation or connection at all. Or worse, false prayers – squelching anger and skating over it with empty words.

In fact, many of the psalms begin in anger; sometimes it seems anger is a conduit for prayer and, ultimately, for thanksgiving.

Psalm 22 begins with the despairing cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsake me?" but by the end praises God:

"All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations."

I’m glad that Rowan already seems to know the truth of this – that being mad at God is okay. I'm glad Rowan is able to approach God honestly, without sugarcoating words and feelings. I hope he is able to continue this as he matures; I hope he is able to nurture an honest relationship with God.

My job as his parent is to help him do just that.

How are your conversations with God these days? Do you sugarcoat your emotions or do you bare your true soul?

* * *

As a side note today, I'm pleased to say that Ginny, over at Make A Difference to One, is featuring a post I wrote late last month. Hop on over to read all the great advice for families that she offers on the site. Make a Difference to One is a terrific resource with lots of guidance, inspiration and helpful advice, and I'm so pleased to be posting there today! Thanks, Ginny!


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Doing


Lately my prayers have felt a bit shallow – hollow, disconnected, distracted. The fact that I’m still praying is something at least. This is a 100 percent improvement over my prayer state just three or so years ago, when I didn’t pray at all, when it never even crossed my mind to pray. But still, I have rather high prayer expectations these days. I yearn for a feeling of peace to flood every fiber of my body, the yielding that seems to make my insides, my soul, fold into itself.

That feeling? It’s rare. That’s not often the feeling I get when I pray.

Most days my prayers feel dry. Tossed up like stale bread crusts for the birds, landing willy-nilly on slushy snow. They feel empty, hollow like a blown-out Easter egg. I recite them in my brain but don’t feel them in my heart.

Maybe I’m doing something wrong, I wonder. Maybe I’m not concentrating enough. Or focusing. Or yielding. Or relaxing. Maybe I don’t have enough stillness in my life (yes, this is a given). Or enough faith. Or enough love for God in my heart. Maybe I’m just not cut out for praying. Maybe I’m supposed to be mopping floors at the local soup kitchen instead, leaving prayer to people who have a direct connection. Maybe I should just ask others to pray for me – maybe that would do the trick?

But yet…there are those rare, extraordinary moments, prayerful moments that glimmer with life – prayers that leave my heart bursting, my body fresh and renewed with a palpable sense of peace.

The last time I experienced one of these moments was during the week prior to Christmas. In the dimly lit sanctuary, candles flickering, darkness wrapping, I closed my eyes, relaxed my limbs into the pew, and sat. For 45 minutes I sat. At first I didn’t pray at all. I just sat and rested. Caught my breath. Released the pent-up stress of crowded malls and wrapping paper wrestling. And finally the prayers came, lifted up in the darkness – not dry and stale, but ripe with life and peace and thanksgiving.

So while I’m often tempted to throw in the prayer towel, this glimmer of prayer that feels more real, more authentic, keeps hope alive. And I continue on. I pray, patiently. I “keep on doing,” as Paul would say.

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you,” urges Paul in his letter to the Philippians (4:9).

Paul advises me to keep on doing the things I’ve learned and received, heard and seen – all that Jesus has taught me so well – and that in this process, in the doing, God will be with me.

Paul doesn’t guarantee that the peace of God will be with me – Paul knows full-well that we won’t always have peace in our hearts. But he does suggest the reverse will be true: that in actually doing what we’ve learned from Jesus, in acts of repetition that may even seem senseless and empty at the time, God himself, the God of peace, will be there…even when it feels like He’s not.

I'm sharing this glimpse of peace with Emily's Tuesdays Unwrapped over at Chatting at the Sky.  

And I'm linking up with Bridget Chumbley's One Word Carnival on patience...because I'm patiently waiting in prayer today.

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We Do



It all started, ironically, with a stomach bug on Valentine’s Day. Soon more symptoms followed, one blooming after the other: swollen glands, throbbing headaches, pressing fatigue, skin rashes, nagging cough.

Swallowing back nausea, I choked down a single blueberry at a time and dropped fifteen pounds in three weeks. Even my underwear was too big, pouching around my hips and sagging like a stretched-out swimsuit in the rear.

A few months prior I had run my first marathon, and now I could barely stagger six blocks from Grand Central to my office....

This is a love story, believe it or not! To continue reading, hop on over to my lovely friend Deidra's blog, Jumping Tandem, where she is featuring this story as part of her February series on love. Deidra, thank you for this!!


[Addendum: Today, February 12, I am linking this post with Jo's Flashback Friday series, over at Mylestones. The theme this week is love, and although my story isn't standard, it fits the bill!].

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Saturday Evening Post


On the first Saturday of every month, Elizabeth Esther hosts The Saturday Evening Post, in which participants get to link up their favorite post from the past month.

I'm loving this idea for three reasons: 1. it allows me to post without having to write anything new; 2. I revisit posts from the past month that I've already forgotten about (huh...I wrote that?); and 3. I get to meet a brand-new batch of bloggers participating in the Saturday Evening Post.

So...I've chosen this post from January, about a rough but ultimately renewing day.

And don't forget to hop over to Elizabeth's blog to peruse some really great posts.

Talk to ya Monday...

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Home


When I first moved to Nebraska I felt dislocated and out of sorts, smothered by the vast landscape, ironically, and yearning for my home – although I really wasn’t sure where that home was really supposed to be. I wrote this piece back then as I mused about place, and today I’m posting it here as part of Mylestone’s Flashback Friday series [I love Jo’s blog, by the way – she’s a stellar writer, so hop on over there and check it out].

This piece is about summers spent camping in a trailer in Connecticut – just about the best childhood experience two girls could have.

Going to bed was the best part of the day. Better than hunting for elusive lady slippers bobbing next to stinky skunk cabbage, the woods cool and buggy, the forest floor spongy with pine needles beneath my sneakers.

Better than bellowing, “Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon…” into the crooked twig of a microphone as we hunted for glinting mica in the brook’s sandy bottom.

Better than crunching raw spaghetti straight from the box, anticipating the sweet Ragu and buttered Italian bread, stream rising from the Dixie plates my mom plunked onto the picnic table.

Even better than sitting by the popping campfire as dusk settled, my marshmallow flaming like a kerosene lantern on the end of the sharpened oak branch. Going to bed was better than all that.

My sister Jeanine and I snuggled into sleeping bags laid over our bunk mattresses. A filmy shower curtain hung from a rod separated our section of the camper from my parents’ sleeping quarters, where the dinette converted into a double bed. Jeanine’s sleeping bag was much newer than mine, a slick, chocolately nylon that swished when she moved, patterned with green and gold mallards and cattails on the soft cotton interior. I envied it from the moment my mom spied it at Caldor’s on sale; it even smelled new compared to my ugly, musty, old thing. I slept in my dad’s Army cast-off, an olive green, military-issued bag, branded “Property of U.S. Army” on the exterior, its insides plaid wool, rough on my bare legs.

We both knew I had the better bunk of the two, though – the one perched over our campsite like a castle turret. The tiny rectangular window in the upper corner slid open, and from it I could glimpse the hunched backs of my parents and their friends, their aluminum chairs scraping the pea gravel as they inched closer to the flames. Sometimes they made popcorn. The buttery smell of Jiffy Pop bursting from the tinfoil pan and mingling with the sweet, woody scent of the campfire made my mouth water as I lay in my bunk. I would listen for the clink of the metal Coleman cooler, the rustle of hands in ice cubes and the sharp pop of the Busch tab as their voices rose and fell, a murmur punctuated by sudden laughter, then a murmur again.

“Now what are they doing?” Jeanine would whisper from an arm’s length away. And I’d narrate the night, play by play, until we got sleepy, feathery images of mica and moss folding into my words, the whippoorwill calling from the birch tree.

A flashback…posted as part of Flashback Friday over at Mylestones. Click on the image below for more flash-to-the-past stories of siblings [and I realize my flashback has nothing to do with faith...but oh well!].

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Six Weeks


On Tuesday fuzzy Phil crept out of his den and glimpsed his own shadow. And most of America sighed over the thought of six more weeks of frigid temperatures, freezing rain and grey skies. Even Noah seemed a bit let down at the thought, although Rowan, ever the optimist, insisted winter was done.

I admit, I haven't loved winter this year in Nebraska. We've endured interminable stretches of grey gloom, sub-zero temperatures and a whole lot of snow. But today I'm taking a moment to appreciate the beauty I have glimpsed, in the hopes of convincing myself -- and the rest of you -- that winter's not so bad after all.










You are resplendent with light,
more majestic than mountains rich with game.
Psalm 76

StudioJRU

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