July 19, 2014

rest, redefined?

It's a funny thing.  You'd think with all this resting, the place would be going to pot.  But my house is in order (as much as it ever is) and the flowerbeds have never looked better (which, I caution you, is not saying much).

I keep putting myself on one of those porch rockers to gaze at the trees and the sky, watch the birds and the cats and the boy, air out my thoughts and watch hopefully for cars slowing down to pull in our driveway and ask for a kitten (per our sign:  KITTENS:  free to a good home).

And I keep jumping up to do things.

The other day, for instance, I swept the driveway.  (And hold your "big deal" - we have probably 3500 square feet of driveway - or cries of "OCD" - the driveway is under the canopy of no less than three 60-feet tall mature nut trees & is the constant recipient of twigs, tree flowers, leaves, and nuts, making our driveway less than hospitable to the bare feet that frequent it).

I was going to enumerate the other things I've jumped up to do, but realized that that was borderline ridiculous, because it would no doubt look like an abysmally small list to some of you.  Suffice it to say, not as much resting is occurring as I thought might.

However, I seem to be making some headway when it comes to banishing "should."  So when I swept the driveway, it wasn't because I looked at all the debris and thought (as I normally would have), "I should sweep that driveway."  [insert sigh].

Instead, I was sitting on my rocker, drinking in the colors of summer along with some deliciously unseasonable cool air, saw the driveway, and thought to myself, "You know, I could sweep that.  It would look nice swept clean....."

So, progress.

Also unusual was another day this week, in which I was with company morning, afternoon, and evening.  And if that doesn't strike you as anything unusual, you don't know me very well.  I spread out my doses of social verrrrry carefully.  I love my people, and I love my spaces in between my people.

But this particular day I had three doses of very different people, including some little people (which usually threatens my sanity), and I somehow maintained both composure and calm.  I even enjoyed it - all three times!

I do believe that this is evidence of God working His Sabbath into me.  (and this, from a not very "thus saith the Lord" kind of girl!)

Seeing this breathes life into me.  I will continue to seek God through rest.


And somewhere down deep, the seed of hope begins to swell with life ....

July 15, 2014

a horizon

[written one Sunday afternoon in June...]

I've never been sure enough of myself and my impressions to be a “thus saith the Lord” kind of girl, but in the past few months I've felt a sort of divine invitation to “come away for awhile and rest.” As you might imagine, this is a smidge on the tricky side for a stay-at-home mom of four (who also has sole responsibility for their schooling).

But gradually, it's happening. With the counsel of my Farmer, I've been reviewing my commitments and slowly but surely releasing myself from them.

Not surprisingly, my social sphere limited as it is by my current vocation, most of my commitments were at church.

I wrote to the prayer ministry coordinator and asked that I (and my Farmer) be removed from the after-church prayer schedule. We found substitutes for Sugar in the church nursery. I told our moms' group's leader that I wouldn't be available next year to help plan the schedule, call speakers, maintain the blog, pray before meetings, or do the secretarial work.  I let the co-leader of the Sonshine Girls know that I would be taking a sabbatical from non-family responsibilities.  

We broke it gently to the children that we may not be participating in church clubs next year.  The gentleness turned out to be unnecessary – they are far less attached to these activities than we think; it is their relationships with family and close friends that matter most to them, and the way they see it, this will give them more time with both! 

Those were all things that I loved. In the past, I have accepted positions for wrong reasons: someone told me I'd be good at it, I wanted to see what it would be like, or the worn-out old “they needsomeone to fill it.” I learned that lesson the hard way several years ago when, juggling too many responsibilities, I heard my young daughter ask wistfully as I slung my purse over my shoulder and grabbed the car keys, “Are you going to another meeting?”

I want to be present for my family.

Flashback to my childhood: my father, the younger of two bi-vocational pastors at a small country church, spent what seemed like many evenings away from us taking care of church business, and while home, many hours ensconced in his study, working on church business. In case you're not familiar with bi-vocational pastorates, it means that he worked full-time as an electrical engineer during the week, and divided his free time between church and home responsibilities.

He took this on the year I turned one, and was still pastoring there when I left home after high school for a mission assignment.  That's nearly two decades of meetings.

[caveat: I was a child, seeing my dad through a child's eyes. I don't know what his hours actually were, and there are photos to prove that he also played with us. I remember him reading the Little House books to us, and later, the Chronicles of Narnia. His study door was closed, I believe, but I always knew I was welcome to come ask for a sip of his coffee or help with a broken doll, to share a contraband kitten, to settle a disagreement between my siblings, or get an opinion on a book.  I did feel cherished by him - I just would have liked him to be there more often.  This post is not about his choices - which I honor - but about mine.]

I recognize that I don't have a whole lot of control over what my children remember of their childhood, and of me – our memories are extremely selective, and unreliable. But I do have some say in the matter, and I didn't want them to remember me running off to committee meetings, so I freed myself as soon as I could from as much as I could.

But that was several years ago. Why am I disengaging now??  Everything I was involved in, I loved doing. 

The problem is, my margin had disappeared.

No book on the market will print lines out to the edge of the page – you couldn't read it. The margin helps you to make sense of what's written. In music, there's the rest. In art, negative space to set off the focal point.

In life we need margin, too. Going non-stop leaves no time to reflect, no time to weigh decisions. Without margin we react instead of responding.

And being more reflective than some (go ahead, ring the "introvert" bell), I need more margin – more space in which to think about my life, and the life my Farmer and I are building for our family.  I want to have time to feed on God's word rather than merely read it.  I want to have time to watch my children instead of just keeping an ear out for cries of distress.

Every mother of us has been admonished by some well-meaning older woman (usually while we're juggling a baby, a toddler and a diaper bag, at least), "Enjoy them while they're young!"  Well, I can't seem to enjoy them, really, when I don't even have time to observe them.  And over a decade into this parenting thing, I can see that time does fly, and the only way I can slow it down is by slowing down.

So we're taking a sabbatical. 

 For the rest of the summer (and possibly longer), we'll be free from our usual commitments (although my Farmer will continue to serve out the remaining months of his term on the church board). Unentangled, we'll see what happens to us.

One thing that I've been challenging myself with is doing nothing.  “Do nothing all day. Then, rest from it.” reads a quote in my purse notebook, written months ago when a friend prescribed it to me. To my surprise and disappointment, doing nothing is difficult for me!

Especially inside.

Have you ever (and you have my permission to think waaaaay back to your childhood summers) sat outside and gazed at the clouds, or the trees above you, or into the flames of a campfire, or at far-away hills and just let your mind roam? Peaceful, isn't it? Calming and oddly refreshing, too.

Now try to do that in your living room.

The indoors is just not conducive to reflection. I see the cobwebs in the corners, or the toys that Nice left out, or the papers that need attending to. I think, not about eternity or the meaning of life, but what to make for supper, and whether I should return those calls now or wait till tomorrow.

So I'm happy to be outside today. Yes, this time with my laptop and something to say, but outside nonetheless.

In the past few weeks I've been learning the art of the porch rocker, the gaze toward the hills, letting the mind come out for an airing (interrupted by Lil' Snip's observations regarding sand, bugs, and new flowers in the flowerbed, true, but I take what I can get). I'm not good at it, yet, but I'm getting better, and I know one thing for sure: you've got to be outside if you want it to work at all (although a good view through a window will work in a pinch; I just haven't got any window views with adequately placed seating - yet!).

And the further you can see, the better. 

 Today I can see several miles (okay - two, maybe) across farms and fields to tree-covered hills that still exist, where the roads are not. I feel a breeze under this maple tree, and see puffy white clouds slowly spreading across a clear Caribbean-sea [colored] sky. Birds chirp (and occasionally sing) and the heat quivers over the cornfields. 

A blackbird bursts out of the wheat growing beside me.

A biker pedals by silently.

A white cabbage moth flutters through sunlight in contented commonness.

A vulture rides the wind,
gnats hover over the keyboard,
a jumbo jet thunders distantly overhead.

Swallows flit playfully past,
a breeze rustles the leaves of a line of walnut trees.

Horse-drawn Amish carriages (“buggies” to us locals) go at a slow Sunday walk, home from church or a visit.

“The health of the eye,” says Emerson, “demands a horizon.”

And so, I think, does the soul.

     --- < O > ---

And now, after an hour or so of reveling in the horizon and the birds and the artistically-leaning fencepost, it occurs to me that Quiet Time is halfway over, and my Farmer is probably sitting in the unimaginative living room eating ice cream, and that it would feel fine to leave my dappled shade now and join him.

And so I do, buoyed with plenty of horizon now, plenty of margin to frame the living.

July 5, 2014

the desert years

Last week when I went for groceries and the cashier asked me how I was, I was too fresh from my hard in-the-car cry to say "fine" convincingly, so I went with "all right" and as much smile as I had.  She didn't buy it, and raised an eyebrow at me.  I copped out with "it's just one of those days."

Well, today - another grocery run day for me - was pretty much a repeat.

This time, though, I smiled at everyone in the store who would meet my eyes, determined to make my own good cheer.  I chatted with the cashier and bagger, and smiled my way back to my car (where I repacked all my groceries to fit into the cooler.  Mental note:  next time ask them to put the cold items into the blue and the orange reusable bags; together, they fit).

I smiled through the library and the dry-goods store and the BK drive-thru, and then I parked my car in a shaded space at the park, and gazed at flowering hostas and neatly-kept paths and studied the light while I munched my burger.

Amazing, how the light brings things to life.  Grass in the shade is just grass, almost invisible, certainly not noteworthy.  Grass in the sunshine, though, is bursting with vitality - you almost expect it to break into song!  And leaves!  Well, leaves in the sunshine - especially if there is a bit of a breeze - are downright celebratory.  All that dancing and frolicking with light pouring through the chlorophyll in their cells and turning them into living jewels - !  I've tried taking pictures to try to capture it, but am never satisfied with the results.

I want to be like those leaves in the sun - full of life, filled with Life, and instead I so often feel heavy with cares.

Now, level with me, Christians.  Is it just me, or is life hard - even sometimes during seemingly pleasant circumstances?  Even with God?  

The fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control - do you often feel full of that?

I know some bubbly Christians.  Not intimately.  I don't know if I've ever known anyone well who was truly and consistently bubbly.  But there are some I don't know well who bubble quite a lot.

I'd like to be bubbly.  (By now, though, I rather suspect that bubbling is not to be my primary lot in life).

I know that bubbliness is not listed in Paul's letter to the Galatians, but I really want to know:  what should an earnest Christian expect her inner life to look like?  Do anxiety, depression, and heaviness betray a neglect of spiritual disciplines?  Does a lack of vitality resolve with sufficient efforts toward God?

Some people hint that if you're really Spirit-filled, you'll be sort of "on" all the time (or at least most of the time).  Do you actually know anyone like that?  Are you like that?

Is it personality?  Some get to be Tigger, some are slated to be Eeyore?  Is it because we live in a fallen world - nothing will be as it should be until heaven?

For forty years I've gone to church nearly every week.  My family has been Christian for generations.  As a new teenager, I raised my hand to accept Christ as my personal Savior (an experience I was tempted to repeat on numerous occasions, just to make sure I was truly sincere about it).  At the other end of my teens, I was prayed over to receive the Holy Spirit, to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.  I have prayed in tongues. I have seen God answer the prayers of my children, and have received prophecy over my life that has moved me to tears.

Why this dry spell, now??  Why so long, and so wide, and so deep?  I cannot fathom how God gets glory from my tears, from the barrenness of my spirit.

Later on the porch, resting after I'd vented my frustrations a bit with mulch and a shovel, it hit me:  I want to choose the fruit that the Spirit is working in me, and if I had my druthers, I'd choose joy every time.  JOY!  A great big old dose, splashing over onto everyone around me, spreading laughter and hope everywhere I go.

But just maybe, I've overlooked faithfulness, there towards the end of the list.  Good old undervalued Faithfulness - not much of a star in today's culture - plodding along there not unlike Patience, another attribute non-native to my temperament ...

And if it takes a desert to form faithfulness in me, what can I say except "Not my will, but Yours be done, Father"?

So be it.  Even Jesus, after all, spent time in a desert . . .

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