I’ve read it before, but haven’t ever paid much heed to it: the story of the wedding at Cana. This particular story doesn't describe one of Jesus’ more dramatic miracles after all. Turning water into wine isn’t on par with raising the dead, or eradicating lesions from oozing skin or driving demons from the possessed. The wine at the wedding is lovely, a nice gesture and all, but in the past I’ve always skimmed through this story, more interested in getting to what I considered the more important parts of John’s gospel. In my haste, I always missed this line:

“This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11 MSG).

As my pastor so astutely pointed out, Jesus takes what’s ordinary and readily available at the wedding banquet – water – and turns it into the extraordinary. And it’s up to us to glimpse his presence, both in this story and in our own lives…and believe.

That’s my trouble. So often I'm so focused on looking for the drama – the miracle cure, the CNN headline – that I miss the everyday glimpses of God, the extraordinary in the ordinary.

After Pastor Sara had concluded her sermon the ushers filed up and down the aisles to pass the offertory plates. I heard music in the background as I shifted in the pew and handed off the silver plate to my seatmate, crossing and recrossing my legs, brushing my bangs out of my eyes, repositioning my purse on the floor. I missed the first half of the song, a classical piece composed and performed by a young man.

I finally quit fidgeting, quieted and turned my gaze toward the altar as the musician played the grand piano, notes wafting high toward cross and beam.

As the ushers finished the collection I sensed the entire congregation quiet, focus, succumb. The young man played, shoulders swaying slightly, body moving fluid, notes lifting in rejoicing crescendo. I sat still, hushed by holiness flowing from fingers to keys, joy rising, saturating the sanctuary.

The last notes rang into stillness. The young man stood, a lean teenager with a mop of shaggy hair hanging, plaid shirt untucked over dark wash jeans. He shuffled down the altar steps toward his pew and sat with a shy smile.

Spell broken, the ushers delivered the offering to the altar as we stood, folding bulletins, smoothing rumpled pants, leaning on pews. 

But I breathed in and out long and deep. For I had glimpsed God in a boy and a song, a song played by a shaggy-hair boy in plaid, a boy who had lifted joyful refrains sky-high to heaven.

I had glimpsed ordinary turned extraordinary, everyday turned holy. I had glimpsed water turned into wine.

I had glimpsed His glory.




We skate down ice slick streets

Flakes falling fast on warm lashes

Standing on curb, boots buried deep

We gaze at tree trimmer whirring

Branches cut clean, stumps milky cream

Wood scent sweet in the air

Trying something new today. Melissa over at Making Things Up challenges her readers on "Six Word Fridays" to write in just six words – six words total or six-word lines or six-word sentences. You choose.

I like this exercise because it forces me to write something resembling poetry. And since poetry scares me, this is a good crutch to get me started.

Today the theme is refreshing. And a walk on a snowy afternoon with my boys is just that.

Hop over to Melissa's for some concise creativity...


Bailing on Boot Camp

So I quit boot camp. Remember my foray into boot camp that I wrote about here and here? Remember the abs so sore I couldn’t sing in church? The quads so tight simply crossing one leg over the other became a full-body effort? Well, I quit.

After three weeks of living with a pit the size of a slab of bacon in my stomach, I had an epiphany. "I don’t have to do this," I thought to myself one afternoon at work, as I prepared to drive to the gym. "No one is making me do this. Nothing will happen if I quit."

And in that moment, a weight was lifted from my chest (and my glutes…and my biceps). I called Brad on my drive home. “Honey, guess what? I have great news,” I yelped into the phone. “I quit boot camp! I’m never going back! I don’t have to do boot camp!”

Brad was non-plussed. “Who’d you think was making you do boot camp?” he asked.

The thing is, I pride myself on my self-discipline. I am a sergeant major’s daughter after all – self-discipline is what I do. And people with self-discipline…well they don’t quit.

What I realized in this whole boot camp fiasco, though, is that sometimes it’s okay to quit. Sometimes quitting is the perfectly right thing to do. Boot camp made me absolutely, positively miserable. I dreaded it from the minute I woke up in the morning until I was finished with that day’s class. While my friends Laura and Wendy felt energized afterwards, I felt crabby and bitter. Boot camp had a negative effect on my life. I hated it. I complained about it incessantly. I actually worried about it.

Sometimes I think we stick with things because we feel we have to – whether it’s someone else applying the pressure or ourselves, we feel obligated to go through the motions. And while I’m not advocating we all morph into unmotivated slackers, I think occasionally we need to let ourselves off the hook. We need to prune.

Maybe it’s a toxic, life-draining friendship you’ve had on life-support for the past few months. Maybe it’s a rigid diet that's sucking the joy out of your life. Is there something, or even someone, you need to cut from your life? Do you need to release yourself from an unnecessary burden?

Jesus himself tells me it's okay to prune, because cutting one area allows for growth in another:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (John 15:1-2)

When Noah was first born I decided to create a scrapbook of milestones from his first year. I bought all the required paraphernalia – the cute papers, the fancy scissors, the die-cuts and stickers. And I sat at the dining room table every night and labored over this book. And hated every minute of it. Scrapbooking was not my thing. I am not a scrapper. I know this now.

When Rowan was born, I entertained the thought of making a scrapbook for him for, oh, 3.5 seconds. I felt obligated, of course – what I did for the first-born must be replicated for the second, right? But I let myself off the hook. Rowan does not have a scrapbook. He will never have a scrapbook. And if he ever questions why that is, I will tell him the truth: “Honey, Mommy had to choose between her sanity and a scrapbook of your first year. I chose sanity.”

I cut scrapbooking without a backward glance, and that decision surely freed up the time for something more fruitful [hey, if I still scrapped, I wouldn't be writing right now!].

So I’m still riding the high of my boot camp bail. I’ve started to run again, albeit sporadically. And I’ve cut back on nighttime snacking to offset the decrease in hard-core exercise. Occasionally I think about the chiseled bodies my friends Wendy and Laura are sculpting for themselves, but I don’t regret my decision. Cutting boot camp out of my life will surely allow room for something else to grow…and I don’t just mean my muffin top.

Do you have an area in your life that could use some radical pruning?


Clutter-Free Kitchen...for Fifteen Glorious Minutes

It started with dinner at a friend’s house. Brad warned me on the way there, “Just keep repeating to yourself, ‘Thou shalt not covet. Thou shalt not covet.’” He knew. He’d already seen the renovation and addition. He’d glimpsed the gleaming granite countertops, the professional-grade stove, the spacious master suite, the master bath with dual sinks. He knew I would covet.

And, truth be told, I did a little. It was just so beautiful – spacious and airy and fresh. And so restful. My friend Laura has an amazing design sensibility: clean lines; modern flair balanced with a bit of vintage; and lots of white. As I sat on the funky acrylic barstool I gazed at her kitchen. Where was the clutter? The knickknacks? The piles? I counted four items on the kitchen counters: a coffeemaker, a white bowl piled with fruit, a stainless steel toaster and a white jar filled with a handful of wooden spoons. That was it.

The next morning when Brad walked into our kitchen he found it in shambles, and me on a stepstool with my head in a cabinet, pulling items from dark deep.

“What are you doing?” he asked warily.

“Oh, just decluttering the kitchen,” I answered in fishbowl voice, my head still buried in the bowels of the cupboard. Brad knew enough to vacate the premise fast, and I spent the rest of the morning organizing.

You see, when I'd awakened that morning, I had decided that I, too, could enjoy a clutter-free existence. The solution was easy: I simply needed to clear off the counters. The problem, I found out soon enough, was that I didn’t have any place to store the counter stuff, because my cabinets were already stuffed. Hence the buried head.

In the end I filled three bags with “stuff” – items I’d stored for years but didn’t ever need, including a coffee carafe, eight baskets, six serving platters, five vases, a handful of picture frames, a dozen votive jars, a half-dozen mismatched plates and a water pitcher large enough to bathe a miniature poodle in.

A few of the items held sentimental value, but most I’d held on to for “someday.” The day, for instance, that would surely arrive when I would need the coffee carafe for the ladies brunch, complete with lemon scones, raspberry jam and coffee served hot with a dainty creamer and a china bowl full of sugar cubes (and I don't have to tell you that I own the sterling silver sugar cube tongs – you know that already, right?). In ten years at this house, that someday has not yet arrived.

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," said the British Arts and Crafts designer William Morris.

A grand philosophy for sure…but one that’s darn hard to live by. Frankly, I have an awful lot in my house that I don’t find remotely useful – like the miniature silver sugar cube tongs – and much that is profoundly ugly – like the ceramic chickens from my Nana’s kitchen. But yet I hold on to most of it, sometimes because it’s sentimental, but mostly because it’s simply there. And worse, I continue to acquire and accumulate, simply because I can.

The kitchen de-cluttering experiment was useful, though short-lived. Turns out, it takes a lot of effort to keep those countertops debris-free…and I’m willing to bet that on a Wednesday evening at 6 p.m., my friend’s countertops aren’t looking too snazzy either. In the end, though, the process did teach me a lot about me and my stuff – why I hold on to it, why I like to possess so much of it and why I’m so reluctant to let it go.

What about you? Do you keep stuff just for the sake of it? What do your kitchen counters (and cupboards) look like these days?

This post is part of my ongoing series The Shop-Not Chronicles (I'm not shopping for an entire year – egad!). Read more here.

I'm linking up with Cheryl over at Culture Smith. She's talking about simplifying today...


Standing on Holy Ground

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

I've read these lines and the passage about the burning bush in Exodus a number of times, and each time my reaction is the same: "Why haven't I ever gotten a burning bush? Where's my big sign?"

I slog through everyday routine, eyes searching for the big sign, the dramatic miracle.

And when I don't find the over-the-top God, the God who shouts, “Here I am!” I complain that I don't see him at all. I wonder why he doesn’t show himself to me, why I can’t hear him, why I don’t get the miracles in my own life like the ones I read about in the Bible.

Yet the more I write, the more I see that God is here, in the everyday mundane, in the grit of daily life. Every inch of this Earth, his Earth, is his creation. And every bit of it is holy ground. My cluttered, crumb-counter kitchen, our postage stamp backyard, my paper-piled office, even the dingy neighborhood Walgreens and aisle six at SuperSaver.

He is everywhere. I simply need to open my eyes to see.

How do you train your eyes to see holy ground?


Never Good Enough

This past summer I read a statistic that had me howling in indignation:

According to Nielsen’s television audience report, the average American home now has 2.93 TVs per household. In 2010, the number of U.S. homes with three or more TV sets increased to the highest percentage ever at 55%. What’s more, the average American home now has more TVs than people (people: 2.54).

“What?! That’s ridiculous – the average, the average! American family now has three televisions? Three?” I snorted to Brad. “Think of the starving people! Think of the millions without even clean drinking water! Think of the billion people who live on less than a dollar a day! And we Americans have televisions! More and more televisions!”

I didn’t stop there.

I proceeded to toss out names. “The So-and-Sos have five TVs, five, including one in the bathroom,” I announced. “And you know the So-and-Sos? Each of their kids has their own TV in their bedroom!” I rattled off people I knew who owned three or more televisions and denounced them for their materialistic shallowness. And then I went a step further: I accused them of ignoring the world’s poor and suffering.

By the time I was done, I’d riled myself into a frenzy. My family, of course, has only two televisions, so we don’t fall into that category, I reassured myself. I glossed over the fact that one of those is a brand-new HDTV, which replaced the perfectly functioning television we already owned.

I also missed the fact that in condemning others for their supposed sins, I fell prey to one of the most damaging sins of all: self-righteousness.

I do this regularly, you should know. I usually start with the best intentions, but it doesn’t take long before those intentions morph into ugly self-righteousness. I step onto my soap box and rail. And pretty soon I place myself above everyone else. I define myself as better.

I become a Pharisee.

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor -- sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Mark 2:17 NLT)

When Brad eulogized his mom last September, one observance he made about Janice stood out plain as day. He recalled that several people had said they'd never heard her say anything negative about anyone else. I can attest to that – I never once heard Janice gossip about or badmouth a single person in the 17 years I knew her. That quality, Brad noted, came from a place of self-assurance – not a prideful self-assurance, but a genuine humility. Janice knew that she was not better than anyone else, and she lived out each day with that knowledge in her heart and exemplified in her actions.

Janice never assumed she was "already good enough." I pray that I will learn to follow her example.

Do you ever have times when you think you’re “already good enough?” What brings you back into reality?


Keeping Busy

This is how she busies herself
while the computer wheezes, ailing.

Seeing sticky strands stringing vintage fixture,
she wonders when the house grew haunted.
She soaps crystal pendants in sudsy sink
and rubs soft dishtowel over etched glass.
One by one she dangles ceiling earrings from tarnished silver,
then flicking switch
she flops onto stale linens
to lie beneath cold glow.


[My computer continues to suffer in the shop with a malicious virus. By the grace of God I had written the four previous posts this week in advance – a rarity indeed! Thank you for patience as I have not responded to your lovely comments this week or visited your blogs. I clean my house (including bedroom light fixtures!) in a restless fury while I wait for the computer to return to good health.]


The Calling

I used to lament the fact that I didn’t have a talent. I yearned to play the harp or the French horn, to paint watercolors, to sculpt or dance or sing with a voice pure and clear. I felt boring, ordinary, like I didn’t have anything that made me unique.

People who knew I wrote for a living would often ask me, “So do you write anything on the side? Do you ever write short stories or poetry? Do you do any creative writing?”

I hated that question. It made me feel like a failure. “Oh no, no, no,” I assured them. “I’m not that kind of writer. I just write for my job. I’m not creative that way.”

I wrote annual reports and brochures, fundraising letters and ad copy. I viewed my writing skills as practical and useful in the corporate environment, but never once did I consider writing a talent. And I certainly never viewed my writing as a calling.

In my mind, a calling was something grandiose and life-changing. Priests and ministers were called into ministry; nuns were called to join the convent. Missionaries were called to serve the poor in Africa and South America. People who wanted to change the world were called. Ordinary, regular people like me weren’t. Ordinary people didn’t have extraordinary skills that would answer a true calling.

When I read the Bible, though, I saw that the disciples themselves were not blessed with extraordinary talents. Matthew was a tax collector, Peter a fisherman. The disciples were ordinary men with ordinary jobs. Jesus didn’t bestow any special talents on them; he called them his followers and used what skills they already had as a foundation upon which to grow them.

It’s taken me a long time to accept the fact that ordinary skills are a calling from God, too. And it’s taken me even longer to acknowledge that my writing is a calling from God.

I wondered how something so basic, so everyday, could be considered a gift. I also hesitated to define it that way because I was afraid. To name a skill a “calling” gave it weight, importance. Suddenly there was much more at stake. To acknowledge that I wrote for God felt scary: too big, too important. I didn’t feel up to the task.

Over time I’ve learned that God calls everyone. He doesn’t pick only the very special or the most talented; he doesn’t choose only the experts, the gifted or those with the highest IQs. He calls each one of us, because each of us has something to offer him. And it’s our job simply to answer.

Have you ever considered that your “ordinary” skills might be a calling from God?

[Written as a reflection on Sunday's reading: John 1:43-51 and sermon.]


In Step

I remember the first time I saw Riverdance on television. Flipping through channels as I lounged on my parents’ nubby couch late one night, my jaw dropped when I caught sight of those lithe bodies and kicky heels reel across the stage, every one of the dancers’ limbs moving precisely in unison. Toes and heels tapping, arms taut, torsos erect, the entire troupe of thirty dancers moved perfectly in step. I couldn’t take my eyes of them.

I hadn’t thought about Riverdance for a long time, until recently, when I read this verse:

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25).

...find out where I'm going with Riverdance and the Holy Spirit over at Ginny's place, where I am posting at Make A Difference to One today...


The Why

It was seven words.

In third grade I stole a necklace.

I typed them in the cold basement, hunched over the keyboard with my bulky red fleece robe pulled up to my ears.

And then I typed more, in early mornings and late nights and in fragments squeezed between stirring noodles and buttering bread, between folding dish towels and pulling rocks from the washer. Those seven words became 104,000 in two years. And in that time I wrote myself, with God's grace, straight into faith.

It was foreign ground, this faith. Having abandoned God twenty years prior (or perhaps I never knew him at all?) words on the page and screen tread an unfamiliar path toward him. I didn't even realize it at first – I simply thought I was writing my life. Turns out, I was writing toward life.

When I wrote that seven-word sentence and then more four years ago, I wrote to believe, to find my way into belief. Not much has changed since then. I still write to believe every day.

You see, I'm the kind of person who lives fast. I talk fast – my Nana used to say it was the French in me – I drive fast, I clean fast, I read fast, I type fast. I am a champion multi-tasker. Let anyone challenge me to a multi-tasking duel, and I assure you, I shall win.

The trouble with living fast, of course, is that I miss things. Big things, small things, pretty much everything. Without words on the page, I miss God in the everyday.

When I first started to write I worried that it was cheating to walk through each day with an eye toward what my life might produce for the page. Did I experience life, really live it, or did I simply observe it through a viewfinder to record for later?

What I've realized, though, is that writing compels me to look at everyday nuances more closely in the present. Writing slows me down, helps me absorb. 

Writing helps me see, feel, smell, hear, breathe. Praise.

Light on auburn eyelashes. Splash of scarlet on the woodpecker's speckled back. Chanel No. 5 wafting from the lady stooped over her cane. Humming chorus burrowing into coneflower blossoms. Owl calling in slate-blue morn.

If I didn't write, I might walk right on by. Writing primes me to see God more clearly than ever before.

I see holiness everywhere. I tread on holy ground, look around, see, worship. 

And then I write. Because for me, to write is to live and relive and live right.

Talking about why we write over at Ann Voskamp’s place today. Why do you write?


You are Holy

As a kid I thought I understood the definition of holy.

Holy was the priest, dashing droplets of water on our foreheads, incense clanking acrid plumes as he lumbered down the aisle in fluttering vestments.

Holy was the bishop, with his curved crosier and towering mitre.

And of course holy was the pope, soft-spoken John Paul, hunched shoulders, gentle smile.

...will you join me at (in)courage today as I reconsider what it means to be holy? I am delighted to be over there today...

: :

Note: The regularly scheduled Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday post will run on Thursday this week -- I apologize for the zany schedule!



Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Romans 12:9



A few days ago I mentioned that we spent Christmas and New Year’s in Florida with Brad’s family. I struggled while we were there, battling restless emptiness and distance from God. It felt like I’d forgotten to pack God in my suitcase and left him standing at the end of the driveway. All the Advent preparations – the candles, the dinnertime devotions, the scaling back and slowing down, the moving toward, the anticipating, the becoming – vanished into the  vapor trail as we soared south.

Even after we got back to Nebraska, I couldn’t dismiss the feeling of failure. I bemoaned the fact that I’d forgotten God on my vacation, wondered why it’s so difficult for me to see him and celebrate him.

In the midst of my angst I received a lovely e-mail from my friend Leslie, over at Let a Joy Keep You, who said this:

"I do relate to that vacation-world-God-void thing. But I also believe that those times of just fun are gifts from Him (every good and perfect gift...), and that He smiles watching us enjoy those moments of blessing. I believe that enjoyment is a form of relationship with Him, too. So I encourage you to enter that rest. He loves you. He blesses you. You are in Him, always."

As I browsed our vacation photos last week, I finally saw that Leslie was right. God had been with me all along...

In joyful faces and exuberant bodies.

In a father-in-law’s seaweedy grin.

In siesta fans and  elegant beaks.

In a gemstone jelly and the vast sea. 

What I’d missed in present-time was clear as day in the rewind.

Have you ever forgetten to pack God along in your vacation suitcase? Do you live in the present moment or do you have to rely on the rewind from time to time?

And Leslie? Thank you.


Morning Has Broken

My favorite moment of the day is the two seconds it takes every morning to raise each of my two bedroom shades. I stand at the window, blind cords in one hand, silky sheers held back with the other, and draw the matchstick blinds to the world.

I greet blue dawn as owls call final greetings from the white pine and the rising sun washes brushstrokes on the slate horizon.

Our neighborhood sleeps still. The feeder sways tranquil in the breeze, early birds not yet unwrapped from cozy nests. A hum buzzes from the boulevard, muffled by golf course green draped in white like bridal tulle. A morning dove perches plump on the bough.

Morning glory amazes. New dawn births fresh hope. The day begins, and I am peace.

We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive, that we become immune to the glory of creation. We barely notice the cloud passing over the moon or the dewdrops clinging to the rose petals. The ice on the pond comes and goes. The wild blackberries ripen and wither. The blackbird nests outside our bedroom window, but we don’t see her. We avoid the cold and heat. We refrigerate ourselves in summer and entomb ourselves in winter. We rake up every leaf as fast as it falls. We are so accustomed to buying prepackaged meats and fish and fowl in supermarkets, we never thank and blink about the bounty of God’s creation. We grow complacent and lead practical lives. We miss the experience of awe, reverence and wonder.
Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

Do you greet each day with a morning ritual?

Linking up with Dayle for Simple Pleasures over at A Collection of This and That:

Project Simple Pleasures2

And with Jennifer Davis as she ruminates on the word "peace" for her Journeys series.



January is for Nothing

It wasn’t yet October when the winter dread crept, slinking slyly to lay heavy in my limbs.

Since moving to Nebraska nine years ago, I’ve grown accustomed to summer’s raging heat – cicadas sawing into thick air, sweat beading on brow. Now I dread winter instead– a house so drafty I’m forced to take to my bed, the weight of Hilma’s quilt on my chest. Shoveling snow in piles waist-high along the length of the driveway. Cooped up inside, vents blowing desert heat, cracked skin slick with Lubriderm.

But this winter I find surprising solace instead. As I turn crisp calendar to January, white squares march row after row, unblemished and pristine – a month of nothing. Clean, expansive nothing. And it’s a luxury to embrace the nothing – no plans, no parties, no wrapping, shopping, baking, mailing.

The house is stripped bare of holiday adornment. Mantel and bannister, walls and tables naked and empty, save the same-old.

Noah and I grab our cameras, pull on boots, scarves and hats and wend our way through the neighborhood. God works subtly in these chill months. We need to look closer amongst brittle branches and stiff prairie grass for beauty unscathed. But it's there. Not in the parading autumnal drama or exuberant, fecund spring, but in quiet still.

In the glinting tip of a cedar waxwing. In a chortling chickadee. In the pine bough hung with wooden fruit.

One of the things I love about Noah is his eye for detail. While I would trample the heart imprinted in the melting snow, or fail to notice sunshine illuminating milkweed fluff, Noah turns my glance toward beauty blooming even in the most desolate winter landscape.

If it weren't for Noah I'd stay indoors, feet wrapped in fleece socks and an afghan on my legs. I'm grateful for a boy who appreciates God's smallest gifts. And insists that I look for them, too.

"I can set a little altar, in the world or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome the place is. I can flag one more gate to heaven – one more patch of ordinary earth with ladder marks on it – where the divine traffic is heavy when I notice it and even when I do not. I can see it for once, instead of walking right past it, maybe even setting a stone or saying a blessing before I move on to where I am due next."
Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

What gifts do you savor in these slower months?

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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