I've Moved!

Will you meet me over at my new place?
 
I'll see you over there!

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Thanksgiving Break

Hello, friends. Just a little note to say that I am taking a bit of a break this week for Thanksgiving. The Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday community will return next Monday. In the meantime, may you enjoy this week of giving thanks with your loved ones, may you experience God's presence in your everyday and may you enjoy many kinds of pie. 

Thank you for being...you!





I love this Wendell Berry poem, and it feels Novemberish to me...so I thought I'd include it here.
 

The Wild Geese
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
 
And just in case you're wondering...why yes I am still keeping a gratitude list!
 
 
 
1265 Great Grandma Hilma's donut recipe
1266 Hairdresser attentively and gently cutting the elderly man's hair
1267 Rowan snuggling in the morning in front of the heat grate
1268 Osage oranges on the ground
1269 Afternoon sunlight on the dishrack
1270 Pumpkin cornbread
1271 Peppermint mochas with Noah
1275 Busy husband fixing things
 
Peace and joy, friends! See you next week...

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Weekend Meditation: The Word of God






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The Next Step


The best part about running in Nebraska is that it’s flat. And the worst part about running in Nebraska is that it’s flat. Often I can see a mile or more down the trail, the concrete path unspooling like an endless grey ribbon all the way to the horizon. And inevitably, when I look at all that unspooling trail, I think, “I’m not going to make it.”
I’ve been feeling a little bit like that with this 50 Christian Women book project lately. When mom-friends at school drop-off ask me how the book is going, I say, “Great! But relentless.”  At home, sitting at my desk in the sunroom, I look at the list, at two pages of names lined up one after the other in a column of black ink, tiny check marks penciled next to the ones I’ve written, and I think, “I’m not going to make it.”

I say this to Brad at least once or twice a week. It’s become a joke. Yesterday he came home from work to find me curled on the sunroom rug, my head next to a pile of books with titles like Sisters of the Spirit and Secretaries of God and Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World. “I have to say, it really does look like you’re not going to make it this time,” Brad said, laughing as he bent low to kiss me.
When I feel like I’m not going to make it out on the running trail, I rarely stop and walk. Instead, I set a manageable goal for myself, like running to the next telephone pole or to the tree with the red berries, and I tell myself that if I reach that milestone and I still want to quit, then I’ll allow myself to walk. Inevitably, I get to the telephone pole or the tree with the red berries, and I don't walk. I set another goal -- the stop sign at the cross street or the green park bench. And I keep going that way, taking the next step and then the next, until I’ve traversed the entire endlessly unspooling concrete trail and have landed breathless and sweaty and exhilarated at the end of my driveway.

This, I believe, is the key to surviving the days that make you feel like you’re not going to make it. Simply taking the next step.
So today, I scoot my chair close to the desk, place my water bottle and a bowl of salted almonds nearby and pull the 50 women list from beneath the stack of books. I look at the next name in the column, and I tell myself I will write 500 words. I don't think about the thirty more names on the list or the 2,000 words that will comprise this essay or the 100,000 words that will eventually, God willing, comprise the book. I only take the next step, because I know it will probably lead to a next and a next and a next step after that.

Do you have a strategy for getting through the times when you feel like you’re not going to make it?


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For the Medusa Mother Days {or, When You Need to Pray for Spiritual Growth}


I dumped the entire contents of the paper recycling box onto the kitchen floor. On purpose. And then, with my slipper, I scattered the Best Buy flyers and the sports sections and the torn envelopes and the practice spelling tests and the flattened Cheerio and elbow macaroni boxes. By the time I was done my kitchen floor looked like the floor of a dog kennel. And then I left it all there, just like that. I walked upstairs to my bedroom and slammed the door behind me.
Suffice to say, I did not demonstrate kindness and compassion when my kids most needed it that weekend. I did not exhibit patience and strength when the situation most called for it. And I did not love God, or my neighbor, or my own family, with all my heart. Instead, I ranted, raved, complained, bemoaned, wept, slammed cabinets, scattered the recycling and all but foamed at the mouth. And then, on top of everything else, I felt guilty.

I didn’t feel any better Monday morning. In fact, I felt worse. Not only was I a Medusa mother and a deranged housewife, I was also clearly a Christian fake, preaching one thing here on Monday morning for the Hear It, Use It community, and living another way the rest of the week.

I sat on the couch with my Bible closed on my lap. What was the point, I wondered? Here I was, smack in the middle of Ephesians, close to completing my first cover-to-cover reading of the Bible, and what had I accomplished? What progress had I made? Clearly I was not transformed. Clearly I had not grown spiritually or grown in my relationship with God. Was I not, quite possibly, worse off than when I’d begun? After all, I knew more now; I knew better. Yet I was still making the same, wearisome, stupid, awful mistakes. I was still the same self-centered lunatic of a mother and wife that I’d always been.
 
I opened my Bible anyway that Monday morning, more out of habit than for any other reason. I draped the black ribbon over the leather cover, settled my glasses on my nose and began again where I’d left off a few days before, halfway through Chapter Three.

As I read the section entitled, “Paul’s prayer for spiritual growth,” I knew instantly that although he’d written it for the Ephesians long ago, the prayer was meant explicitly for me that Monday morning. In fact, when I copied the prayer into my journal, I altered the words slightly, to make it a prayer for myself.

I’ve read this prayer in my journal every morning since then, and I’m including it here today, just in case you, too, are having a Medusa mother, deranged housewife kind of day. Because, after all, there’s hope in God, through God, with God. There’s always hope.


A Prayer for Spiritual Growth (Adapted from Ephesians 3:14-21)
I pray that from Your glorious, unlimited resources, You will empower me with inner strength through Your Spirit.

I pray that You will make a home in my heart as I trust in You.

I pray that my roots will grow down into Your love and keep me strong.

I pray that I will have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high and how deep Your love is.

I pray that I will experience this love, though it is too great to understand fully, and that I will be made complete with Your fullness of life and power.

And I pray that You accomplish infinitely more in me than I even think or ask.

Glory to You, forever and forever. Amen.



With Jennifer, Emily and Duane:

 

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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Guard Against Greed


Sometimes when I read the Bible I make the mistake of reading it too literally. Take yesterday's reading for instance, from Luke 12. Jesus tells the stoy of a rich man who is so wealthy and has such an abundance of crops that he tears down his barns and constructs new, bigger barns in order to store all his grain and goods. (Luke 12:3-21)

When I read the story, my first reaction was, “Oh, good, I’m not that rich. I don’t have to rent extra storage units to house all my accumulated stuff. I don’t have a basement and attic and closets crammed with too much stuff. Jesus isn’t talking about me here. He’s talking about other people. Rich people.”

When I read the passage a second time, though, I noticed this verse:

“‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’” (Luke 12:15)

Suddenly I realized that I’d read the story of the rich man and his barns too literally, too specifically. With these words, “Guard against every kind of greed,” I understood that Jesus wasn’t talking only about material wealth. He was referring to anything that diverts our attention from God; anything – not just money or material possessions – that attracts our worship, worship meant for God alone.

Greed, Jesus tells us, comes in all kinds of subtle, wily packages.

Maybe you’re greedy for power.

Or recognition.

Or a certain job or a particular lifestyle.

Or time.

Or a specific body type.

Or the desire to fit in with a certain crowd.

You may not have brand-new barns lined up in your backyard, or even a basement or a storage unit full of stuff, but chances are, you struggle with greed in some part of your life. And if you’re not sure where your own personal greed hides, just ask yourself this:

What in my life distracts me from pursuing a rich relationship with God?

Your answer is likely your greed.

: :
 
Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word.

If you're here for the first time, click
here for more information. Please include the Hear It, Use It button (grab the code below) or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in -- thank you!

Please also try to visit and leave some friendly encouragement in the comment box of at least one other Hear It, Use It participant. And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.


Thank you -- I am so grateful that you are here!


 
A NOTE ABOUT NEXT WEEK's HEAR IT, USE IT COMMUNITY:
 
I will be taking a blogging hiatus the week of Thanksgiving, so there will be no Hear It, Use It link-up on Monday, November 19. Thank you for the respite --
see you again on the 26th!!
 







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Weekend Meditation: May You Understand





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To Know the Dark, Go Dark


“What are you reading?” he asks, diving onto the bed, pulling Nana’s afghan over his body as he curls next to me.
“Some poems,” I answer, showing him the cover of the Wendell Berry collection I picked up from the library. “I don’t usually read poetry,” I admit, “but sometimes it’s good to try something new.”

“Read me one,” he says, pulling the afghan up to his chin.
I flip through the book to find the the shortest poem. I read “To Know the Dark” aloud, because it’s only four lines:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings
.


“So what’s the answer?” Rowan asks.
“What do you mean, ‘the answer’?” I say.

“You know,” he says, “The answer. The answer to the poem.”
He thinks it’s a riddle. Too much Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, evidently.

“Oh honey, there’s no one answer,” I say. “That’s the hard part and the wonderful part about poetry, there’s not just one right answer.”
He pauses a moment, considering. “It’s a bat,” he says. “It’s about a bat.”

I read the lines again. “Yeah, I can see how you would say that,” I say. “Because of the part that says ‘without sight,” and the ‘dark feet and dark wings.’” Rowan nods, pleased.
He stays under the afghan to hear another poem, and then, concluding this one is about a tiger, he leaps off the bed and out the door, leaving me under the afghan alone, thinking about his question.

What’s the answer?
I think sometimes I approach faith the same way Rowan approached the poem. What’s the answer, I want to know. THE answer. And while I know that Jesus is the be-all-and-end-all answer, and that’s all, in the end, I really need to know, I often find myself grappling for other answers to questions that gnaw at me, the why questions.

Why did my cousin die before she reached age 30?
Why did my children’s grandparents die too soon, leaving them with this empty, awful grief?

Why do 26,000 kids die every single day because they don’t have access to water, something as simple and readily available as water?
Why, in short, does suffering exist? And why doesn’t God do anything about it?

I want THE answer to that question. And others.
Religion, like poetry, doesn’t provide all the answers.  We might get hints. We might get flashes of clarity, moments of illumination, but a lot of the time, we live in the dark, turning questions around in our heads, trying to figure out the why, searching the Bible for answers, praying for the peace that passes all understanding.

Maybe though, what I need to do is revisit the answer I offered Rowan about poetry. Maybe the hard part and the wonderful part about questions in faith is that there isn’t just one right answer.
Maybe God doesn't give us all the answers because we need to know the dark, to go dark,  to see for ourselves that even the dark blooms and sings.
 
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


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Carrying On


So I’m feeling a bit bad about the most morose post of all time on Monday – and what timing…the day after we celebrated All Saint’s Day. As I listened to the sermon on Sunday I cringed when I recalled what I had already written about those same verses from Isaiah 25. Pastor Sara’s interpretation was SO much more hopeful and positive than mine. In light of that, I decided to write a little about what she said here today – a Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Wednesday redo.
During the All Saints Day service I thought a lot about my loved ones who have passed on.

I remembered how much Nana loved to watch my sister and me play dress-up, even when we clomped over the linoleum in her fanciest shoes, even when we wrapped a dozen strands of her favorites beads around our necks in a tangled mess. She always slipped a five-dollar bill into our coat pockets before we walked out the door, and she smelled like Chanel No. 5 when I pressed my face against her rose-petal cheek. I remember how her glow-in-the-dark rosary lit the bedpost in soft, green light.
I remembered Papa’s gruff love – how he never liked hugs or kisses, but flipped pancakes, carved wooden birdhouses and took us to feed bread crusts to the ducks in Forest Park. He always cooked Thanksgiving dinner, from the turkey to the mashed potatoes to three kinds of pie, and then did all the dishes afterward, too, washing each piece of china and silver by hand, steam rising from the porcelain sink, fogging the kitchen window.

I remembered my in-laws. Janice’s humble gratitude, her steady joy, her quiet faith. She baked an apple pie to absolute perfection, wrapped it tight in saran wrap and brought it with her from Minnesota to Nebraska every autumn, just for me, because she knew it was my favorite.  I remembered Jon’s exuberance, his love of storytelling and 50s dancing, how he delighted in my boys so much. I remembered his incredible generosity, how he was always ready and willing to give anyone exactly what they needed.
As these memories spooled, I heard Pastor Sara remind us that All Saints Day is a time to recall these lives well-lived, but also an assignment, a responsibility, a commissioning placed in our hands. As we remember our loved ones, we are commissioned to carry on their lives as best we can, to pass on what was important to them, to carry on their faith.

So today, in honor and memory of my loved ones, I am thinking of joy, gratitude, generosity and delight. I’m thinking of apple pie, birdhouses, stories, dancing and rumpled bills stuffed deep in coat pockets. I’m thinking of the people I love, the ones who are gone, the ones whose legacies I carry on.
What's one quality of a loved one in your life that you would like to carry on?


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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: When God Doesn't Give You the Answer


I watch as he trudges up the sidewalk toward school, backpack slung over one shoulder, left shoelace untied. He looks back. I wave and smile wide, but his face is a pale, hard mask. He turns toward the school again, and I stand still as ash leaves float like butterflies to the ground. He turns to look over his shoulder once more, and I wave and smile again, my teeth clenched in false bravado.

He disappears around the corner. I shuffle through piles of limp, ragged leaves, head back to the van, a dull gnaw festering in the pit of my stomach.

One of my sons is suffering. He has been, on and off, since his grandparents died. “I’m sad and I don’t know why,” he says softly as I butter toast in the morning. He’s crouched low, hunched on the kitchen step stool, his knees pulled in tight to his chest.

I snuggle close with him on the couch while we watch Wild Kingdom on Animal Planet. Smooth his hair. Point out the clear, blue sky and the brilliant sun as we drive to school, mention it will be a good weekend to spend outdoors, maybe hiking. But all my murmurings and snuggling and smoothing don’t make a bit of difference. He’s still sad, listlessly scuffing up the sidewalk with his head hanging. And I still have the pit as I pull the minivan away from the curb.

Back home I leave my jacket and sneakers on and pick up my Bible. I want to look at Sunday’s reading before I run, so I can mull over it while I labor through four miles. I read these lines from Isaiah 25:

There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.(Isaiah 25:7-8, NLT).

I read those words, words so fitting for the despair that jags through my stomach, words of hope and consolation. And I feel nothing.

It’s not that I don’t believe the words. I believe them in my head. But in my heart, in that moment, as I stand in the sunroom in my sweatpants and running shoes, I don’t care about the tomorrow, about eternity and Heaven and everlasting life and salvation. In that moment, I am concerned only with the now. This moment of heartache and fear.  This moment of suffering and grief. The pain of now. Today. Those words seem fine and good for the someday, but I want comfort, a solution, solace, a promise for today.

I thought about those verses long and hard during my four-mile slog. I’d like to tell you I had a revelation, that I returned with renewed hope, soothed by God’s promise of a someday free of suffering. But I didn’t.  And I know this isn’t an inspiring, uplifting thing to say, but frankly, I think that’s simply how it works sometimes. You go looking for answers from God, and you don’t always find them right then and there. That’s why faith requires faith.

I will tell you this, though. I picked up my Bible again as I stood sweating in the sunroom after my run. It lay open on my desk to Isaiah 25, where I’d left it when I’d walked out the door. I read the same verses, and then I read a little bit more, through the end of verse 9, which says this:

In that day, the people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

Do you see the word that’s repeated twice? Trust.

We trusted him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.

And this is my answer for now -- I trust him, even when I don't have the answers I yearn for today.

With Emily's Imperfect Prose:



::
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Weekend Meditation: A Harvest of Blessing

 







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Reading, Even When Words Leak Out of My Ears


“How can you read more after reading all day for your project?” he asks, standing in the doorway of the bedroom. I’m in bed, under the covers, a glass of red wine and a plastic bowl of Cheez-Its on the nightstand, a book propped open on my lap.
Brad’s right. I am reading constantly these days, three or four or more books every week, titles like The Eagle and the Dove, A Study in Contrasts: St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux and Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Revelations – research for the 50 Women project.

I can’t ease up, even for a day. When I signed the book contract, the first thing I did was grab the calendar and plot out exactly how many profiles I needed to write each week to meet my June 1 deadline. It came out to 1.5 –  but realistically it’s two, 2,000-word profiles each week if I want to allow time for proper editing at the end, and if I want to take that family vacation in December and not haul my laptop and eight library books to the beach with me. 

Suffice to say, I am reading. A lot. Skimming, really. I don’t have the time to read three or four books cover-to-cover per woman. So I skim. The words feel like they're piling up in my head and spilling out my ears.

One would think, in light of all this reading, that the last thing I’d want to do before bed is read some more. But reading has always been my favorite pastime, my escape, the way my brain relaxes. Some people watch TV or play computer games or bake cookies from scratch. I read.

As a kid I took The Secret Garden and The Island of the Blue Dolphins into the apple tree in my backyard. I settled in a gnarled crook between two lumpy limbs with a book in one hand and a half-dozen Keebler chocolate-covered grahams in the other, the sweet scent of apple blossoms hanging like a veil around me. I read constantly as a kid. I was never without a book.

And so now, even though I’m up to my eyebrows in research reading, I still read a few pages (or chapters) for pleasure before bed every night. That said, I am pretty choosy about what I’m reading for fun. It can’t be too intellectually taxing (The Brothers Karamazov, for example, is not an option...probably ever -- this, by the way, is one of Brad's favorite books, along with Moby Dick. Enough said.), yet the books also need to be well-written, because I am, and always will be, a book snob.
I’m gravitating toward memoir (shocking, I know) and personal essay. I just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I loved, and I re-read Katrina Kenison’s The Gift of an Ordinary Day, a beautiful, lyrical memoir about transition, motherhood and learning to live toward quiet.

Now I’m reading one of Katrina’s favorite writers, Dani Shapiro – I picked up her memoir Devotion from the library, and I’m hooked. I’m also reading Cold Tangerines, by Shauna Niequest, who is a beautiful writer with an authentic voice and a gift for description. And then there's the book of poems by Wendell Berry in the stack, but I haven't cracked it open yet. I don't typically read poetry. I'm a little scared (yes, I do have two degrees in English, and I'm still scared of poetry). And I've been visiting this blog, because it relaxes me (you'll see what I mean).

Reading quiet, deliberate, thoughtful prose gives me a place to rest in beauty and peace, even after – or maybe I should say especially after – a day soaked in words.

So tell me, what's on your nightstand right now? Got any good recommendations?
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