Centered Hearts, Swelling Gratitude, Abundant Grace. How?

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With busy lives (tasks with deadlines; needs with accompanying cries, whimpers, and whines; minutes that tick by without permission), how can we live with centered hearts (the kind that focuses our caring labor on the long-game care of humanity; not the kind we assume comes from the labels that people use to define our personhood), swelling gratitude (the kind that is born from the “enough” around us; not the painted calligraphy kind that is purchased at craft stores), and abundant grace (the kind that comes from the wells of forgiveness for perpetual imperfection; not the kind from ballerinas or naive optimism)?

If not for the Divine Parent who loves our busy lives, forgives our imperfect attempts, and redeems our busyness, I know not how.

This Thanksgiving, I pause and do more than give thanks.  I pause and pray – reorienting my life in praise of the God from whom all life comes.  In prayer, I move to the place within me where all the tasks, needs, and minutes are interrupted by awe, respect, and gratitude for God.

May I live these days standing in this place – in awe, in respect, in gratitude for the God beyond and within, above and below, present and coming, far and near.

For it is only from this place that I can obtain the centered heart, swelling gratitude, and abundant grace whereby I endure the long days and savor the short years.

So this year, I repeat the steps.

Awe
Respect
Gratitude
Repeat.

Focus
Be satisfied
Forgive
Repeat.

Amen.

Unfastening the Tool Belt: Cease, Take Refuge (Psalm 34)

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“I sought the Lord, and God answered me,
     and delivered me from all my fears…
The poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
     and was saved from every trouble…
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions o the righteous,
     but the Lord rescues them from them all.
God keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.

The Lord redeems the life of his servants; 
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
– Psalm 34: 4, 6, 17-20, 22

“Silence the contending opinions you have within your heart… You do your best to call a halt to these noisy crosscurrents of personal feelings, opinions, and ideas.  You start over… You center upon what God’s estimate of this person was in creation and is now in God’s redemptive wisdom and love… You choose to center down.” – Wayne E. Oates, Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart, 43.

Weary, I collapse.  The tool belt hangs heavy and clumsily around my waist, creating a loud thump as I fall to the ground.  The tools weigh me down and leave me grounded wherever I have fallen.  Where I sit, there I am stuck.  I lift my eyes towards where I wished I had landed instead – a cushioned seat, a place with a better vantage point, a spot in the company of friends.  My body pulses and aches, and the distance between where I sit and where I wish I sat grows further and further.

Cease,” the psalmist says.  “Cease your action. Halt your cause.  Have you taken up that which is not yours?  Remember: when you choose a role that is not your own, the tool belt weighs too heavy.  When you attempt to be The Creator, you no longer can create.  You are no longer free to be a servant of God’s, you are a servant of your own vision.

Drop the hammer, the nail gun, the sander, the heavy to-do list.
Unfasten the belt until it drops fully onto the ground.

The weight of it all quakes the ground. and my soul magnifies its new lightweight state.

Take refuge here before you stand again.  Your bones will be weak but they are intact.  They will hold.  But wait for a moment before you move.  Wait for a few or for a thousand.  Wait until you sense the nearness of the True, Tender Contractor – the One who distributes the work that is building the real Creator’s vision.”

I wait.  As I wait, I sleep, falling into a deep slumber.  Perhaps it is best to rest here for awhile.

Dedicating this Third Boy

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Our words of dedication at Highland on October 29, 2017

On November 21 of last year, we welcomed our third boy.  We brought him home to our sabbatical home nestled among the North Carolina pines, we nourished him among the Blue Ridge mountains, and now we have brought him here into this beloved sanctuary where we ask that you join us in being good stewards of the life that God has given to us.

As one who will grow up in hand-me-downs, we decided to give this third boy his own unique first name rather than pulling from family history. Walter means “powerful warrior.” As one born amidst tumultuous times, this young boy is going to need your help as his teachers, preachers, and guides to nurture within him a sense of commitment and courage. Remind him that he is to be a tender warrior who trusts in God’s relentless work for redemption and resurrection. Call forth from him the wisdom of Walter Brueggemann, Walt Whitman, Walt Wilkins, and Walter McWhorter.

We initially planned on primarily calling him “Walt,” but we have found that we call him “Walter” just as much as we call him “Walt.” We will let him decide when he’s older which one he prefers, but until then, you can pick the name you use.

Walter has joined a brotherhood full of energy and mayhem and fierce attachment to one another. Walter’s middle name defines him as a brother. James wanted to name his brother, “Thomas,” which is coincidentally Carol’s brother’s name.

Within this intimate relationship as brothers, these three will learn the hard lessons of how to be in human relationship – how to wound and how to heal. But amidst it all, we hope that they will always remember the deep soul-connection that they share as fellow companions on this journey.

Highland, may you join us as we seek to raise brothers who God calls to a more difficult but redemptive form of brotherhood.  Though there will inevitably be competition, arguments, and grudges, may you teach Walter and his older brothers to…

Bear with one another.
Forgive one another.
Give thanks for companionship.
And let Love bind us.

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Years

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IMG_4487.JPGLife dances its days before us, each day emerging, combusting, and evaporating into the next.  PB&Js, sliced red peppers, zipped backpacks, seat belt “clicks,” “goodbye”s, “how was your day?”s, and “I love you, see you in the morning”s.  Then, as if suddenly, it has been seven years.

How much have you taught me?  How much more will you expand my rib cage to hold this heart?  It is almost too much to fathom.

I am not ready for all the celebrations.  I am not yet prepared to wholeheartedly walk through the threshold.  But I love you.  And that love is the ultimate end of these days.  So I will dive into the favor-bag-creating, soup-making, gift-wrapping, and list-making.  And I will begin to let my mind pause and let stillness settle so that my everyday heart might melt enough to see you in all your glory and be undone by what it does to me.

All love, when seen unfiltered and received in full, holds power to expand us up to the boundaries of our human flesh and bone and sinew and heart.  Without an idea of the God who created us and holds us together, I cannot imagine bearing the weight of this love alone.

Gratitude swells.  Awe multiplies.  Humility grows.

Here I stand, a mother – the one with the beating, exposed heart, just as dangerously-tender and boldly-alive as the day that they set you in my arms for the first time.

33: The Near End

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“On my island off the coast of Maine, I lived with the sea.  The whole ocean in its vastness I do not know.  I never sailed the tropic ocean where the Orinoco and the Amazon pour out their floods; I never watched the Artic and Antarctic seas wash their ice packs.  Wide areas of the oceans are to me unknown, but I still know the ocean.  It has a near end. Its waters surround my island.  I can sit beside it, bathe in it, sail over it, watch its storms, and be sung to rest by the music of it.”  Harry Emerson Fosdick Continue reading

Holding a Father’s Hand

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For long stretches, the boys turned from bodies-in-motion to bodies-in-wonder as they stood out in the waves and watched the ocean water crashing in upon their legs.  I’m sure they squealed at the wonder of it all, but their noises did not reach me as I sat on the sand.  I marveled at the scene.  The waves were powerful forces that represented equal parts wonder and danger.  But the boys did not waver before the waves for they held their father’s hand. Continue reading

The Sojourner

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Bobby,

Ten years since your passing, I devote my morning to you on this anniversary.  Amidst getting the oldest to the bus stop, feeding the youngest, and “being with” the middle, I have tried to write you to somehow connect with you across time and space.  The written word is insufficient.  My memories are starting to show wear and tear.  The distance from your family during this sabbatical year makes the time and space feel all the more insurmountable.

The reality of your death feels more comfortable than the memory of it.  When the memory is fresh, then it feels like news – when your death was newly received or noteworthy; when it was not true and then when it suddenly was.  Living in the space of time close to when it might not have been makes me remember the inherent hope that there could be some cosmic re-ordering of events in time that could right the wrong, fix the mortal problem, or resurrect the recently dead. Continue reading