Let it be more than I can carry

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When there is too much to carry, the world gets too big, the news gets too terrifying, and the sky gets too dark, help me to get small again. Not to feel small but to get small again – to get close again to what I can see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears.  Dry hands as winter approaches. Voices of little ones talking to one another over cinnamon toast, expertly making sense of the smallest one’s babbles in his attempt to keep up with the conversation with his older brothers.

As I get small and get close, I call upon God for what I need.  Around this radius of three feet or so, grant the light to shine like a warm light on a dark morning.  Let peace be.  Soon, the world no longer rushes and there is stillness.  And I remember that the world’s troubles are too much for one person to absorb, process, and address at one time, in one hour, in one day, in one lifetime.

And yet it is here in this one small human life that God comes and transforms everything.  Jesus Christ is the testament that there is no human life too small to change everything.

On these days, I pray the simple prayer:

Let the change be with me this day.
Let the change be in me this hour.
Let the change be through me this whole life long.

Not to my glory or my paycheck or my status.
Not to the glory of a political party or human institution or society’s approval.

Let the change be to the glory of God.  Let peace pour forth from the throne of grace where God calls us to approach with open arms ready to receive mercy and grace – more than I can carry.

Let it all be more than I can carry.

Grace Will Lead Us Home

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Her labored breathing keeps time for me this final morning of her life. Her skinny stomach reveals the contours of her ribs, making it cruel whenever I lift her bed from the office in the mad dash to get the boys to school, encouraging her to the mudroom where she spends her days while I am at the office.  The fervor with which she used to scour the floors for crumbs has slowed to a patient but still persistent walk past the kitchen chairs where the boys have generously left their breakfast crumbs.

There is so much living that we do without any awareness of what we leave behind.  The number of crumbs and floor debris will be revealed as soon as this evening when bedtime snack comes around and her nose is not in search of its spoils.

Late this afternoon, we will scoop up her fragile frame with its rectal protrusion, cancerous mass, and still beating heart into the car. She will anxiously await our destination as she always has, though this time without as much physical ability and nervous energy as once propelled her to climb seats and pant excessively at the driver’s right elbow. We will pass the place on I-64 East where she once climbed into the car seat that held our oldest. Around 15 months at the time, he bore a few scratches on his arms and legs by the time we got off the interstate and I was able to retrieve her from his lap.

We are not in danger of that today.  Instead, our own hearts will be doing their own version of nervous energy as we willfully bring her to the vet for her life to gracefully come to an end.  The human agency within it all is so crippling.  I have found myself wanting her physical condition to dramatically worsen so that we are assured that our decision is merciful. I have waited expectantly to see the pain her in her face so that I can be pain-free in the decision.  But that has not come, even as the condition of her mass has progressed.  What of this impulse to free my own self of guilt by needing the clear suffering of the other to justify a hard decision?  Is this not grace that she has not?

Is it not grace that we have made it thus far – 11 years in our stewardship?  They say she was 2 years old when we adopted her from the humane society… though the white on her face suggests that she might have been older than that.  4 houses along the way.  3 young boys who pulled and poked and prodded.  Countless times when we feared it was the end – escaping out an open door where she would be found by a neighbor or we would hear her collar jingle only to discover her casually following her nose (once on a steep mountainside – eek!).  Or there are the times when she would retrieve a full loaf of bread from the table and consume it in its entirety, leaving the plastic wrapping to send me into a tail-spin with google predicting the worst (thanks, internet forums).

Is it not grace that we have made it thus far – her and me?

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By my side when I came home with newborns. She adored maternity leave and our sabbatical year.  She has been my constant companion in these later years – waiting patiently in my closet as I prepared for the day, curled up in her bed when I would read and write in the morning, following me up the stairs for bedtime routines with boys.

As my companion, she helped me to know myself.  Over these final years, she became a living reminder of the limits of my time and of my caring labor.  I once gave her all of my maternal energy, but it lessened over the years as that maternal energy was distributed for a growing family.  She helped me to see, feel, and name my limits.

But for all the ways I beat myself up for those limits, how can I miss the grace of it all?  She lies here by my side even now. 13+ years old and a cancerous mass.  Breathing in and out, resting in my presence.

Grace lives and breathes.  It outlives our expectations.  It does not quit, even at the limits.  Grace has a surviving quality.

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Last night we celebrated our lasts.  The last supper where she could be found at our feet, catching the scraps and inspecting the youngest’s high-chair.  We took a final walk, but she only made it a third of the way.  The oldest pulled her for part of the way in the red wagon, much to the youngest’s surprise.

img_9847The sky was ablaze as the sun set. Puffy clouds highlights creation’s glory. “Look at the sky,” Drew said. “It reminds me of our walk in Paducah.” Two years ago, we walked along the Pepper’s Mill neighborhood on my grandfather’s 90th birthday, just hours after his funeral service.  The sky that night was remarkable – the glorious handiwork of the Divine, beautifying the world for those with eyes to see.  We returned to Durham the next morning and after a 12-hour drive, we picked Deacon up from the vet and we settled into our new home with her living patiently by our side – a manifestation of the steadfast love that I had preached at my grandfather’s service.

When the door swings wide at the vet this evening and we emerge into the world without our dear companion, may grace abound and may the sky sing…

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
we have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought us safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.”

My Cup Overflows

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cup overflows
photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/val-er-ie/14343350693

These days are full.  My desk holds more piles of tasks and needs than I can tackle in a lifetime, nevertheless in 30 hours each week.  My children hold more needs for their own flourishing than I could ever provide them, even if I quit my job and gave each hour to the labor of mothering.  My grandfather lies in a hospice bed an hour away.  His sons wait upon him as he approaches his final hours.  They watch his fragile frame and listen to his breathing.  He holds more needs than his body can fulfill any longer, even if the drugs and the care continued.

There are limits to who we are and what we can do.  Continue reading

34: Blessing on the Frontier

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All at once, the sun rises on year 34.  I fall out of bed early and consume coffee, cereal, and scrambled eggs as quickly as I can so that an early morning run is still possible.  I read David Whyte.  I scribble words in my journal – scratching out a few, leaving a few sentences unfinished, starting and stopping, letting it be.  Our old dog snores close by.  She always insists on being close to me – a gift that I know I will miss when her days come to an end.

The youngest begins making some moaning sounds, and I wonder if my quiet time is coming to an end.  Frustration comes as I have no clarity on this morning.  No idea or image or inspiration insists on being born this morning.  But I show up anyway.  I re-read my birthday posts from previous years, and I remember the places where I stood, the people that surrounded me, and the state of my heart in those years.

 

“Maturity is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts; most especially, the ability, despite our grief and losses, to courageously inhabit the past the present and the future all at once.  The wisdom that comes from maturity is recognized through a disciplined refusal to choose between or isolate three powerful dynamics that form human identity: what has happened, what is happening now and what is about to occur.

Maturity is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom, but a living elemental frontier between what has happened, what is happening now and the consequences of that past and present; first imagined and then lived into the waiting future…

Immaturity always beckons, offering a false haven, an ersatz safety, in one state or the other: a hiding place and disappearance in the past, a false isolation of the present, or an unobtainable sure prediction of the future. But maturity beckons also, asking us to be larger, more fluid, more elemental, less cornered, less unilateral, a living conversational intuition between the inherited story, the one we are privileged to inhabit and the one, if we are large enough and broad enough, moveable enough and even, here enough, just, astonishingly, about to occur.” ~ David Whyte

Frontier: The extreme limit of settled land beyond which lies wilderness
Intuition: The ability to understand something immediately and instinctually

Each year’s birthday post is a sort of blessing that I offer to myself.  A blessing names where you stand, what you long for, and the hope to which you cling.  This year, my blessing is taking its time to emerge.  It does not come with ease, but I trust it in its unfolding.  It cannot be rushed. It does not work on a timetable.

For now, there is water to drink, running shoes to lace, and miles to run.  There are supplies to gather, sunscreen to lather, and boys to prepare for the pool.  There are smiles to offer in passing, small moments to enjoy, and texts to send.

Perhaps this year’s blessing will come in the living.

This birthday, I bless the settled land and the wilderness.
I give thanks for the inner understanding which guides my feet.
I notice those who walk it with me.
I claim the living, and I pray for more – more stubborn gladness, more tender courage, more gentle grace, and more hours with which to know it all.

For all the ways that the “more” will transform me for the living of these days, I pause and give thanks.

 

EASTER #7: Enough Time

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IMG_8427To practice patience as a mother of three young children felt like either a much-needed focus or an exercise in futility and frustration.  John O’Donohue told Krista Tippett in his 2105 interview, “Stress is a perverted relationship with time.”  I love that interview, but its truth can feel ironic on all the mornings when boys must be dressed, fed, and teeth brushed in order to leave by a specific time.  How would John O’Donohue have phrased it differently if had to repeatedly tell his children to get their shoes on and not get toothpaste all over the walls?  No matter how much time I spend in prayer in the mornings, living in a time-obsessed society can dismantle all the patience I have.

But my Easter practices invited me to live into this virtue as I prayed all week, “God, can you dissolve my anger when delay and difficulty disrupt the journey?”

To practice patience is to remember hope.  “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25).   If.  There are some days when hope feels like a choice, a privilege, a gift.  Hope invites me to live into the alternative narrative: all is well as we wait, even as all is not yet well.  Hope is a daily invitation which I must acknowledge and accept.

To practice patience is remind myself of the promise where rest is found.
To practice patience is to change my relationship with time.

When the journey holds delay and difficulty, it is tempting to throw up on my hands in defeat.  When mornings are most difficult, it is tempting to lean into my anger and my seemingly-well-earned frustration. Anger over injustice breeds repentance.  But anger over the imperfections of myself and others breeds pride, hatred, and isolation.

This Easter reality grounds me as an abiding branch on the life-giving vine, tended to by the Good Gardener.  When I can abide in who I am and whose I am, then delay and difficulty are not the whole narrative.  Delay and difficulty are not the faults of another.  Delay and difficulty can never take away the good news of resurrection.

It is the promise that frees me.

The promise allows me to extend my hands in resilient kindness.  I can lower my voice, letting the angry yell dissipate into a gentle whisper.  I can practice stubborn gentleness, for I know that the journey’s delay and difficulty cannot overwhelm the joy that lies ahead of us.  I can live with persevering devotion and a patient heart.

Even with all of the beauty of God’s creation in full bloom, there is no greater beauty than human beings practicing patience with one another.   There is no more abundant glory than when we, as branches, reflect God’s steadfast devotion and become people of resilient kindness, stubborn gentleness, and persevering devotion who love one another.

Love.  May there always be enough time to love.

EASTER #6: Pausing for the More

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Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings/misfortunes of others
Kindness: quality of being friendly, generous (showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected), and considerate.

IMG_8999-2After a week where time was scarce and there was not enough of me to meet all the surrounding expectations, I breathe in this morning and remember the completeness of Easter – that which can never be achieved through human effort nor can it be lost despite of it.  So for this sixth week of Easter, I pause in my reflections to be close to the vine, trusting that the “more” to give can only be born from the vine and tended by the Good Gardener. Continue reading