Tuesday, August 13, 2013

come visit me on Sunburst Street

I invited anyone who followed and enjoyed my ponderings to join me on my new blog, just getting started:  Sunburst Street.

Friday, May 17, 2013

more walking, less pondering

I think this blog has breathed its last.  Not that I won't write, but new words need a new canvas.

The season of pondering has been rich for me; wrestling through issues and questions in writing, as I have - it never felt like a choice.  I had to do it.  When I failed to, it literally seemed as though I couldn't breathe. And so I pondered out loud., and some of you pondered with me.  And I'm eternally grateful.

Lately, gradually, there's been a shift.  Questions that so needed challenging and issues that so demanded my voice, have begun to settle.  I no longer need to argue those points, with others or with myself.  Not because all the questions are answered.  Some are.  On some issues I can give an assured, "This is done."  But most aren't ... (especially the big ones).

What's changed isn't necessarily profound.  If I'm completely honest, I'm just not that interested anymore. Maybe it's like your favorite song?  You can't get enough of it ... until you do, and then one day you find yourself changing the channel when it comes on the radio.  Is it like that?  Or maybe I've just outgrown certain things, or - more specifically - certain ways?  Sounds awfully arrogant when I say it out loud like that, but maybe that is a part of it.  I really can't say.

Some changes are obvious, though.  After 13 years as a "stay at home mom", I went back to work full time this past fall.  I support exceptional children (previously known as special ed) at our local public elementary school, and my first year is drawing to a close.  This has been a major life transition.  I enjoyed a window of time there where all four of our children were in school, and I was free - free to volunteer, visit, write, walk, even sleep.  Free to blog and to read, to walk labyrinths and hike trails, free to sit by lakes and under trees and outside coffee shops and just ... think.  And it was awesome!  I don't regret taking any of that time.

But things are different, now.

Bad different?  No.  I mean, I'm tired - God knows I'm tired.  But the truth is, I was getting kind of ... bored.   I'm finding that some lessons are learned only in the walking, and - this time - I don't mean a labyrinth or an easy stroll around a pond.  I mean hard work walking - exhausted, burden-carrying walking.  That's been the path, lately, as I'm challenged - daily - to show patience, compassion, and wisdom for 8 hours straight to people (big and small) who test me in every way imaginable (as I'm sure I do, them).  Don't get me wrong, I feel the best of me come alive when I'm teaching, I absolutely love it!  But the days are tiring as hell, and I'm also committed to love my own family well, afterward.

That part has actually been interesting.  I worried that I'd be irritable and annoyed with my own four children, after spending all day with students.  While I'm not going to lie and say that never happens, more often there's been something else - something I hadn't anticipated.  I come away from work with an actual longing for my kids; not just happy to see them, but grateful in the core of my soul.  Hard as it is sometimes, I actually know now that we're getting a lot of stuff right.  And I confess:  I'm enjoying that affirmation.  Even on their roughest days (and oh, have there been some this year!) a solid, weighty center of peace has grown within me, that the direction we're taking as parents is good and right and difference-making.  I'm so immensely grateful ...

I've also been humbled this year;  not figuratively, quite literally.  I am an assistant.  Not an administrator, not a team leader, not even a teacher - an assistant (at least, for now).  If you know me at all, you know that this alone, is humbling.  I've also faced specific situations that, despite all my dedication and diligence and determination, have been outside of my ability to fix. Rather than be shamed or defeated by this, I've had to choose to be humbled, which - I feel the need to point out - is a vastly different thing.

So, what's to come?  I'm not sure.  I may blog under a new title on a new site, less about pondering and more about practice.  About being.  About humility and reality and how our addiction to the ideal can make us useless cynics rather than dirty-handed world changers.

I may do that, I may not.

I'm also working on a separate project that won't be shared until it's complete.  I've never been much of a fiction writer, but stories are coming to me now - stories based loosely on actual experiences and characters, which (I suppose) begs the quote, "Careful, or I'll put you in my novel".

I will do that.

And if I forget ... if I start to doubt that I have anything at all to say ... I ask you not to nag me, but - instead - to remind me.  Remind me of the words of Frederick Buechner and Anne Lamott and ... well ... Michelle McConnell.

Finally, thank you.  In all seriousness and with heartfelt sincerity ...

thank you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

pondering grace

It's been a long while since I posted here. To be honest, it's been a long while since I wrote anything at all... of any length, anyway.  I guess sometimes you need a push - like your pastor asking you to share a little something about grace during one of the Lenten services.  I've enjoyed hearing from different folks in our congregation over the past few weeks.  This morning was my turn, and this is what I said:

When I was a little girl, I was told a story about grace. It went something like this...

God made a perfect world, but we humans are sorry, ungrateful creatures.  We disobeyed God.  In fact, we made such a mess of things that we can't even be near Him.  Then Jesus, His Son, said "Look, how about I go down there and live a perfect life, then die for their sins? That way, when you look at them you'll see me instead."   To which God huffed a resentful "Fine".  So Jesus did just that, and if we believe in Him, He'll save us from God’s wrath.  The End.

Amazing Grace, how ... sweet?  the sound...  

Granted, over the years - as I was introduced to various theological interpretations - my understanding of grace grew more sophisticated, but one core truth always remained:  God didn't like me very much.  He had no choice but to love me, but if it weren't for that deal He made with Jesus, nothing would make him happier than to drop me into a pit of burning flame (courtesy of Jonathan Edwards).  

There's a problem with this story.  Well, there are a lot of problems with this story, but the biggest one is this - it doesn't work.  When you really need saving, this grace is too small.

In 2002 we moved a 3 year old, 2 year old, and 2 week old from my home state of Virginia, to Charlotte. Just months before, our oldest had been diagnosed with autism, so before I’d even had a chance figure out how to get to the grocery store, I jumped into specialists' appointments and IEP meetings.  What we didn't know at the time was that I was also physically sick.  All I knew was that I felt completely inadequate. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. And eventually, Hopeless ... Ashamed ... Depressed.  

I needed saving - not from hell after I die, or from some theological abstraction we call "sin". I needed grace to get out of the bed in the morning, to put food into my mouth and swallow it, to smile at my husband, to not scream at my children ... to keep breathing.

I needed saving in the worst way.

What saved me wasn't the grace of a cosmic legal transaction or a magic prayer of conversion. I was saved - I am being saved - by a simple but profound truth.  I am dearly loved. Extravagantly, immensely loved. Freedom came in renouncing lies I'd agreed to and rejecting ugly pictures of God painted for me by others, and instead daring to embrace what I'd longed to believe all along:  God is Love.  And God loves us. All.

This is what is saving me today:  recognizing that Grace is Light, Love, Power from an ultimate source of Good that never runs dry, available to me at every moment.  Grace is the sun on my face, the wind in the trees – grace is the air I’m breathing in right now, then back out again as I speak these very words.   Grace is a force that literally changes the world.  Jesus LIVED grace, and invites me to do the same. 

This is often harder to believe than the story I'd been told as a child. As far-fetched as that one sometimes sounds, it’s neat - wrapped up and clean.  THIS grace?  It's scandalous!  And the more I grow in it, the more confused I become about what I know for sure and what I don't. So I try to stick to what I DO know:  Breathe.  Walk.  Love.  Pass what has been given me on to others.  

As I do, I continue to be awed by the sweet sound ... of amazing grace.

Friday, December 28, 2012

pondering open hands with Henri Nouwen

Met with a friend over coffee.  Just as so many times before, I found myself recommending this book.

Not as another book (how cliche and lame to offer a hurting person a book?), but as a paradigm shift. As an invitation to a completely new path.

Open hands - for the new year, for the next moment ... for life.

A sample:

To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to god's promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world...
Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule or a source of support in a time of need. Prayer is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.
In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands - a life where we are not ashamed of our weaknesses but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our clenched fists.

Monday, December 17, 2012

pondering sad news

We have avoided talking to our children about the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut on Friday.  Why not let them remain blissfully unaware as long as possible?  But it can wait no longer.  Tomorrow we all go back to school - I as a teacher, they as students.  Conversations will take place that I'll have no control over.  It must be done.

So, I pondered. 

And then I wrote this... (meant for each, individually)

Hey there,
We had a great weekend, didn’t we? I loved it!
While we’ve been having fun, though, some people who live in Connecticut have been going through a really sad time. See, on Friday morning a young man – 20 years old – walked into an elementary school with several loaded guns. He shot and killed a few adults and lots of children that he didn’t even know. It was horrible. 
You’re probably wondering why anyone would do something like that. That is a very good question. That’s what everyone is wondering. As your parents, we like to give answers for tough questions – or, even better, guide you as you try to find them out for yourself. 
But here’s the thing ... no one knows the answer to that question. Not your Dad. Not me. Not Pastor Nancy. Not even the President!  Yep, he went to Connecticut to try and cheer up the people who are sad, and he said the same thing I’m saying right now:  a horrible thing happened, and we don’t know why.  (personally, I'm most suspicious of those who claim to)
We do know this, though. We know that we need to love one another - really hard and really well - because we ALWAYS get it right when we love each other. What happened is scary, but there is no fear in love.  Love is always right and good and true, so we need to make that our focus. We can’t let the little things that annoy us cause us to treat one another badly. We have to let that stuff go, showing mercy and compassion to one another.  We have to take the time to do and say those things that remind the people around us how much we care.
The only thing that can overcome darkness is LIGHT and the only thing that can overcome evil is LOVE.  You are so loved.  I believe that love - along with every other perfect and beautiful gift - comes from God. Your life is full of God’s grace!
We are sad for the people in Connecticut today – that is right and normal. But we will not let it take away our peace or our joy. We will be heroes today. You can be a hero - TODAY – did you know that?  By taking the grace that’s been given to you, and giving it away to someone else, you can turn that person's entire day around.  In fact, you did that yesterday in church! You made SO MANY people happy with your play and songs. Some of those people were sad just like the people in Connecticut, but you made them happy.  That's hero stuff.
Will you do that today, too? Show love to someone who needs it. Give a smile or a compliment or an offer of help - and don’t worry if they don’t notice or thank you.  It doesn’t matter if they love you back, because you know you’ll get more than you could possibly need back here at home.
God is always with you. Always. And so is my love.
                                                            See you this afternoon,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

pondering gratitude in a not-right world

It's that time of night, where the heat has finally caught up to the chill. I wake to pull off my long-sleeved pajama top, which has become unnecessary, and glance at the clock as I lay back down: 2 AM.

Sleep eludes me. I crawl out of bed, stumble in the dark to dress, and step outside. Here in Gordonsville, Va, where we are enjoying a mini-vacation, the stars shine with brilliance against the truly dark sky of the countryside.  I gaze as long as I can stand the cold, then head back in to the warmth of the cabin.

That's when I remember, with a pang, what my son had said earlier in the day:  "It isn't right".

We were in the historical district of downtown Charlottesville. I'd watched him hand a man a large hot coffee with cream and sugar, pet his dog for a moment, smile and say, "I think he really loves you!", then walk back toward me.  We took a few silent steps together, then he heaved a loud, heavy sigh and exclaimed,

"It isn't right.  It isn't right for him to be out here like that. People shouldn't live outdoors in the cold. People should have homes that are warm, where people love them."

I stopped walking.  My other son, his younger brother - who had been watching and listening, too - stopped, as well.  I looked them both in the eye.

"You're right.  Listen to me:  YOU. ARE. RIGHT.  What you just saw is wrong.  It shouldn't be.  It has to stop, and it's up to YOU (looking at both of them) to stop it."

They both gaped a bit, but I continued,

"Your generation has to fix this. You have to make them care enough to make it right. My generation has a few who care, but most are content so long as it's not them sitting with their back against a cold brick wall.  In fact, if more people sitting out in the cold means they get more stuff, all the better.  It's wrong.  Look at me:  MAKE IT RIGHT!"

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my husband talking to our girls, as well.  The boys' little sisters were getting the same message.

I then comforted my son with information I could only hope was true, that the man would sleep inside tonight.  That people from a shelter or a church would care for him, as our family has done multiple times through Room at the Inn.  But inside I wondered... he didn't look like he'd had a chance to clean up in quite a while.  I doubted he was willing to leave his dog behind, or that shelters allowed him to bring it along.  As I looked back, his dog was licking his face;  I felt sick at the thought of such a choice.

Back in my warm cabin, I think about the man and the coffee and the dog and my son.  I go to the restroom to look in the mirror.  3 AM looks rough on anybody.  I have bags under my eyes, my unwashed hair is matted to my head ... how long would it take for entropy to take over, leaving me indistinguishable from those on the street?



Someone once told me my problem is that I feel guilty for what I have, that I am ashamed of my success and status in the world.  Was he right?  I don't know, maybe.  Is it wrong to feel that way?  I'm not convinced of that, either.  I'd like to think that I'm grateful, but what does that even mean?  Often, when people express gratitude, it sounds a lot like they are saying, "I'm glad someone else is suffering instead of me".  Is it so wrong to feel that none should suffer?  To not be satisfied?  Is that ingratitude?  I hope not.  I don't know...

I think, again, about my son.  It wasn't a question for him.  It wasn't something he was pondering. He'd made a decisive statement,

"It's not right!"

Turning my thoughts back to him brings a hopeful reminder.  I recall how, a couple of years ago, I'd attended the Global Leadership Summit.  What I'd found most inspiring about all the speakers was a central thread each one had in common.  From Cory Booker to Mama Maggie, they'd all expressed some version of the same story:

"My parents worked hard and made sure we had everything we needed.  But with that, they instilled in us a calling, a challenge, a holy duty - that to whom much is given, much is required.  You are blessed, to bless - we have given to you, so that you will go make the world better for others."

And they'd done it.

I crawl back into bed, grateful ... Yes, that I'm not leaning against a cold brick wall.  Yes, that I have a bed to crawl into and someone to share it with.  Yes, that my children are healthy and safe and warm and fed... but also immensely grateful that the challenge is taking root in their souls, and for the hope it brings, that - because of them - the future will be more "right" than the present.