Monday, March 14, 2011

Ch. 11: Fully Love to Fully Live

He sings love! In the air, over the world, I can see the song, the ardency of the notes pulsing in colors. The curve of the world burns ruby, a jewel prying open the day. And I can see in: Love is the face at the center of our universe. A sacred Smile; Holiness ready to die for intimacy. Light and waves and land and sky crescendo in passion and He serenades, "How do I love thee?"  (p. 203)

I realize how silly it sounds when I say that I cried because the book ended. But it won't be the first time I've been called silly, so I'm good with it.

I've been so overwhelmed with the density of all this, the heaviness of this treasure of One Thousand Gifts, too heavy to hold alone and grateful I don't have to bear it up by myself. I am glad for the company of thousands of beautiful people all over the world along this journey that doesn't end.

It was a simple "I love you, Ann" that I posted to her Facebook wall, and when she immediately responded with a message of love and friendship I wept, sitting here alone in my pink sundress on this sunny Florida March afternoon. It was as though God said, "She hears your heart, so can you imagine how much I hear it?" They are good tears.

My biggest challenge in responding to the chapters of this book has centered around knowing where to start, what to mention, what to highlight. I've said it repeatedly: there is just so much! There is just so much.

And so I push past the overwhelm once more for one last chapter, sad for the ending but with immense joy for the new beginning this discovery has brought.

I caught myself occasionally shy and almost a little bit embarrassed during this chapter, so I can only imagine what a dichotomy Ann must have felt not just writing it but living it, experiencing it, during her stay in Paris. Feeling like I've gotten to know her a bit through this, I felt her blushing a few times, smiled gently at her pale complexion deepening to pink and smiling at her Beloved as He wooed her. Perhaps something within me wondered, "Is it all right to be so open about love?" And I wonder that I wonder.

Seed: I came face to face with a striking truth last night, even before I read the last of the book. Ann's love for the Word soaks through her life in ways that can't help but bloom through in her writing. Her depth owes to the fact that she is completely drawn to, in love with, the Word God and all the love He poured into the Word we hold in our hands, so easily accessed for most of us, and prized not nearly enough.

Water: I have always loved the Word, but when in my life have I been the most drawn to it in ways that showed? I know it, without even thinking; it was when I was at my threshold of pain, watching my baby and then my mother breathe their last. If pain can catapult a soul into intimacy with His Word, how much more so should joy?

Bloom: More of a hunger, a longing that can be filled only by time spent with Him in the Word, intimacy with Him that doesn't stop and start but only flows.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ch. 10: Gifts are meant to be given.

"I am blessed. I can bless.
A life contemplating the blessings of Christ
becomes a life acting the love of Christ."

My friend Trisha knows what it means to let her gratitude blossom into giving, standing as a daily example to her family by answering God's calling to be home with her children to care for and educate them herself.

It isn't that Trisha has the greatest confidence in herself as a wife and mother; indeed she doesn't have nearly enough for the amazing person many of us know her to be. She is a humble woman who trades belief in her own abilities for the belief that God can and will do what is best for His children through her.

And He will, because she is willing.

She is counting the gifts, numbering them and expressing them and her children witness their mama relying on God to rain down His lovely blessings on their family. She isn't worried that there won't be enough, because she knows "enough" doesn't depend on her or her husband, but on the God who sustains life in all ways. And when our children see us looking for gifts in the moments and going bonkers over little things, they learn that the little things are important.

It becomes a habit, as evidenced this morning when her five-year-old daughter saw a bumble bee outside the window and went running through the house shouting, "Spring is coming!"

"It's the fundamental, lavish, radical nature of the upside-down economy of God.
Empty to fill."

Just another example of His ways being higher than ours, different from ours, unexpected. Surprise!

Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives,
and God simply will not be outdone.
God extravagantly pays back everything we give away
and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for:
Joy in Him.

My friend Andrea lives this truth. In her long and grueling battle with cancer, she has never stopped praising God, pouring into the lives of others and inviting them to celebrate His goodness. His goodness! This woman with no feeling in either leg and a body filled with lumps and a bandana on her head and a song on her lips she sings His goodness with every breath--because she knows that every single one comes from Him!

Seed: A visual of holding the Dead Sea in our hands if we hoard the blessings and gifts we are given and don't in turn give them away. Every act of service with an attitude of gratefulness toward God is an act of living the liturgy, the serving, of God with a humble, thankful heart.

Water: Every act of service with an attitude of gratefulness toward God is an act of living the liturgy, the serving of God with a humble, thankful heart. All service with this heart is my gift back to God, and when I do all as unto Him, there is no expectation to go unmet, no need for gratitude from another that may or may not come--it is irrelevant when I do it all for Christ.

Bloom: He increases, and I decrease. Only His glory remains.

"...and I feel the smile that spreads across a life."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chapter 9: A Matter of Perspective

 "Eucharisteo makes the knees the vantage point of a life."

While reading I thought of a beautiful girl, the daughter of a longtime friend. I am stricken by the gentleness of her spirit, the kindness and humility that radiates forth from her oft quiet demeanor. To meet her is to love her at once. She is childlike but not childish, with a smile that invites and says I love you without words. Hers is a heart I would love to know better.

Chapter 9 opens with Shalom's plea to "take pictures, too?", followed by a little girl on a big quest resulting in a collection of images that takes Ann's breath away. And mine, too, just from the description.

I've always loved seeing the variety in photographic perspective. You can see so much through the lens of another, other angles, other composition, and it is intriguing to note what others look for. Shalom's perspective was not just small in stature. It was simple--small in the most divine of ways--and beautiful. Who thinks of how lovely door knobs are? I remember being drawn to the design of door knobs as a child, turning them over and over to see how the internal mechanism worked. I spent many hours playing with the variety of knobs throughout our big white farm house on Old Brookfield Road. I was about Shalom's age, and I never grew tired of the examination. If I'd had a camera then, I know I would have done exactly what she did.

It's captivating thinking about how simple gratitude changes the entire perspective on life and the way we live it moment by moment. It has certainly changed mine, in profound ways. I have watched anger and negativism and cynicism and fear dissipate like a fog in the warm sunshine of thankfulness. By His grace, I won't ever be the same.

As I read of the antics of the Voskamp children, I think back over the younger years of our offspring and try to remember times when they were mischievous or unruly. It's actually hard to remember such times, although I'm sure they happened. I'm not seeing gray hairs sprout out everywhere for no reason! People often comment about how "good" our children are. What is "good", anyway? I consider it to be loving and respectful and kind, and our children were all those things most of the time. Our oldest had his moments, but he has certainly grown into a fine young man. I'm pretty proud of them all.

On the phone with our oldest son yesterday, we talked about how his ten-year-old daughter Morgan Jaide's personality so closely matches his. I tell him it's because she is the child I wished on him. And as much as I joke about that (and as true as it is that I really did wish her on him), I feel a deep happiness (and yes, at times mild amusement) that she is so clearly his mirror. Yes, she is headstrong and argumentative, but she is also brilliant and benevolent and stands for justice and truth while at the same time remaining gentle and forgiving. She truly is a phenomenal child. She called me on the phone last night. "Hi, Mimi. I just wanted to call and chat with you for a while." It was a lovely hour-long chat, covering a diversity of topics like bugs and God and pizza and little brothers growing up too quickly and riddles and friendship. Her perspective is enchanting.

I am changing, and reading how Ann describes humility and going lower, always lower and seeing life from the vantage point of the knees brings into perfect clarity what God is doing in me through this book. I was reading Let the Crazy Child Write a few weeks ago about how the inner child is the authentic writer's voice. That makes more sense to me now. It's becoming easier and easier to see why God calls us to be like little children.

I read two accounts yesterday. One was a New York Times review of a new release Alone Together, in which the author laments the vast impersonality that is occurring due to widespread use of technology, the internet in particular. The other was an entry by one of my favorite bloggers, Holley Gerth, in which she states:

"The distance between hearts just keeps getting shorter."

It's all a matter of perspective.

There is no shorter distance between hearts than with children. Before they grow up and have all that instinctive kindness and connectedness taught out of them, they are such naturally loving creatures. It makes me wonder how it happens that we lose that inborn gentleness somewhere along the line. And then I think of my children and I realize they have never lost it. And I wonder what was so right about their growing up that allowed them to keep it. It certainly wasn't that we were perfect parents. I can only conclude that is simply all His grace.

Seed: Living life from the perspective of being on one's knees. Viewing life through the eyes of a child. Loving instantly and unconditionally like we did when were little.

Water: Pondering, musing, reading, studying, conversing, asking...always asking.

Bloom: A return to childlike living and loving in ways that more closely resemble His agape love. Shooting photos from a cruising altitude of three feet. Loving life like I rarely got a chance to love it as a child. Not focusing on the years taken from me but reliving that same youthful joy in the here and now. Sharing that joy with my family, with friends, with everyone. Living fully right where I am because life is full of surprises and joy springs from the childlike heart like liquid diamonds and illumines everything.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ch. 8: Builder of Bridges

I happened to be at the bookstore with my son when I read chapter 8. I kept stopping every page or two just to let it all sink in. No, to let it squeeze my forehead and pinch my synapses and crush my heart and then put it back together again. This book is breaking me in ways I can't figure out how to describe, and rebuilding me like only God could have planned.

During one stopping time I peered over my laptop screen at Matt and whispered, "You have to read this book."

He smiled wide. "Mama, you want everyone to read this book."

It's true. I want everyone on the planet to read this book. My immediate thought is, do I push the Bible on people like I've pushed--er--promoted this book? Maybe it's just that this book has pointed me toward the Word-God like no other book (save for the Bible) ever has. I am driven to His Word because of this book, because of Ann's narrative, her realness, her sharing of her story and her invitation--no, her plea--for others to taste the beauty and glory and joy of eucharisteo along with her. That is what I want, too.

This entry was posted only partially complete and wasn't finished until I viewed the Ch. 8 video. I had to start writing as soon as I finished reading the chapter because I couldn't not write. This is so hard to word, but this compulsion to try to do just that has me firmly in its grip.

With only three chapters left after this one, I am already dreading the ending of the book. I love the way Ann described the overwhelming let-down when she reached the 1,000 mark in her gratitude journal. But then she realized that not only could she keep counting, it was the very thing the counting of the first thousand had primed her to do. The end of the book is only the beginning of a new life, the abundant life, the life fully lived in gratitude and trust and intimate relationship with my God Whom mere words can't contain.

I am freshly inspired to continue the writing of my memoir, to word snapshots of my life as I have always longed to do, only this time I have a greater purpose for the wording. This time as I describe things I've lived through, there is a reason for the telling. That reason is to paint a portrait of the bridge He built that spans the tiny breadth of a singular life, but it is mine to share and the task rests at my hand. This makes me smile deep.

Ann describes herself at various times in her life, and through this chronicling she builds little bridges from one God-rescue to the next all the way to now while she shares all of this with me, with us, with the world. Her book is a portrait of the provision of the Creator of the universe, of everything, but it is more than that. It is a portrait of the love of One who would lay it all down for those He created.

What kind of love is this?

Would He not also provide for His children?

Yes. Yes, He would. Yes, He does. All is YES in Christ, because in Him all things live and move and have their being.

Once again, there is too much packed into a single chapter. Too much for my mind to fully consider at once without igniting. But then perhaps a mind on fire is not something to flee. That alone bears further thought.

"The full life, the one spilling joy and peace, happens only as I come to trust the caress of the Lover, Lover who never burdens His children with shame or self-condemnation but keeps stroking the fears with gentle grace."

Words such as these drive like tent-pegs into my consciousness, and I know why. My husband, my best friend, my life-mate since I was fifteen, has shown me what it is like to be truly, selflessly loved. When we met, I was a scattered, splintered girl who had known more than her fair share of fear and trauma and grief.

And blame. Told at 12 that I caused my father's death, I accepted responsibility and carried the indictment as truth without flinching for some 18 years before I could bring myself to clarify with my half-sister that it was true. I remember her look of shock as she stared back at me and half-whispered, "What? What? Of course not! Daddy died of congestive heart failure that had nothing to do with you!" I explained how Granny had told me I had broken his heart when I went to live with Mama, and didn't he die of a broken heart? She hugged the girl me, now 30, and spoke the no over and over and we cried and an anvil fell off my chest there in the soft Georgia clay along the edge of Shanna Drive.


Who dries the eyes when a willow cries?
Though death is great
When will we see that tears aren’t free?
The weeper, curled silent
When pain fades too slow for another to know
Her eyes are barren
The farthest reach our souls beseech
A lonely sahara
In a broken creed with a demon freed
Who dares mourn the mourner
Impaled through the soul with a spiritual pole
Rising on the mourning morning
Glory turns on the light-switch dawn
Rain to reign
Impaling through the soul leaves a spiritual hole
A joy to feign
Holy soil to be tilled where a heart should be filled
Listen! Listen, close thine ears
Bled dry of sorrow waits tomorrow
Who can hear the morning mourning?

 jeff easterling

Of all the poetry I've read throughout my life, "Willow" stands out as my favorite singular poem, perhaps mostly because of the depth of insight penned by a 15-year-old. I have thought of these words often over the years, their message always somewhere in the back of my mind reminding me that when Glory comes, our sunrises burst forth without sadness or sorrow. Who could know that a child I bore could minister to me in such a way through verse he wrote as a teen and probably hasn't thought about in years, that a song of pure worship written straight out of Isaiah 41 by a 16-year-old could adhere to a mother's very heartbeat, that pictures drawn by tiny hands could soothe and heal and remind a mother that she matters? Just examples of how all is grace, more creative blooms of YES in Christ because He was there then He is here now and the truth shines through that He knew.

Would He not also cast out the demons that vex and haunt and torment His children?

Yes, because it is Him who reigns, Builder of bridges who calls His people to bridge rough waters for one another, Rescuer of hearts and souls entangled behind Enemy lies, Comforter who hems us in behind and before (Ps. 139:5), Creator who inspires His children to create and bless.

Seed: How I respond to the stresses in my life can either be sin or my trust in God lived out loud.

Water: Awareness, always more awareness. I pray for ever-increasing cognizance of how my responses to occurrences and circumstances every day show what I really believe about God's love and power and grace.

Bloom: Christ shining through my life in every circumstance. In every circumstance.

Living eucharisteo every moment of my life shows the world over and over that He can be trusted. The quality of our lives is not determined by how many of the moments show God worthy of our trust. He is always worthy of our trust. It is our eyesight needing adjusting, not His credibility. He is I AM. And that is more than enough to allow us, His children to open our eyes and our hands and our hearts in childlike belief and soul-deep trust.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ch. 7: All is Well

I felt Ann's heart breaking in this post, my own reaching out to hers mother to mother. Ironically, looking back over 30 years of mothering there haven't been many times when I felt that deep ache over my children's choices and behavior. But one particular time came quickly to mind when I read this chapter.

Trevor and Matt were probably 10 and 8, and they were messing around and horse-playing like boys tend to do. We've always ignored the advice of others to allow their horse-playing to escalate to fighting, letting them "duke it out" and settle their differences, like they would be better for the altercation. So this time, when things did escalate to a shove and a hit, I came onto the scene with shock visible on my face.

"What are you doing?" I looked from one to the other, both heaving big, angry breaths.

They explained that things had just heated up from their horse-playing and they got angry.

"Angry enough to really hurt one another?" I couldn't keep my voice from shaking. Their faces mirrored my sadness as they realized how deeply their fighting had affected me. I swallowed hard and looked at one boy. "You shoved my son. Why?" He dropped his head. My gaze shifted to the other boy. "You hit my son. How could you do that?" Eyes pooled and lip quivered.

"Sorry, Mama." They both muttered together. I explained that it was God they needed to apologize to, and then one another, but that I appreciated their contrition and hoped that would never happen again because that isn't the way we solve our issues or process angry feelings. There was discipline to follow, but now ten years later they still say it was the look of horror and sadness on my face that shook their hearts and made them never want to hurt one another again.

The truth is, we have had a relatively easy time of it with regard to our children's behavior overall through the years. With the exception of our firstborn (who has turned out to be a fine young man who loves and serves God, just for the record), there hasn't been much in the way of rebellious or defiant behavior. But then such behavior is but a small part of the central point of this chapter.

Seed: What stood out to me was how Ann allowed God to calm her in the midst of a circumstance of great pain and conflict and anger, processing not only through her but from her through her child, to learn the harder lessons of eucharisteo.

Water: I continue to stay vigilant, ever on the lookout for ways to allow thankfulness to be my processor for every moment, every circumstance, every occurrence in my life. "There is always a well. All is well." I can draw from the well at any moment, and each time I do I am brought a little bit closer to His plan for my life--my beautiful, abundant life.

Bloom: Thankfulness always as my response, always gratefulness rather than resentment, always aware that a miracle could happen at any moment because every moment alive is a miracle all by itself.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ch. 6: Wanting to See God

There is so much in this one chapter, I felt like my head was spinning. I read it in an hour, but could easily have taken three days to let it all sink in. Perhaps it was good that my main computer was down for several hours between yesterday morning and about an hour ago; I had time to really ponder several things.

I had never given much thought to the fact that God used a serpent in the desert when He said the Israelites must look upon it to live. Then follows the irony of  Jesus telling His disciples that just as the serpent was raised up so the people could look on it and live, so would they look on Him raised up on the cross and live.

In this chapter Ann talks about what it means to see God. Where do we see Him? How do we look upon Him? Are we always looking for Him?

And then comes the real question: Can I see God when I'm not in the field under the moon, by the seashore listening to the waves, standing in awe of mountain majesties? Can I see God in my everyday?

If the only way to pray without ceasing is to pray with eyes wide open, then that means I must see Him in every moment, in every detail. In every detail. But do we really want to see? I mean truly see?
"I have profaned the sacred, treated the holy in an unholy way. There are times, I still do. But I am prayerfully purposing to walk towards all of life as sacred ground, all of life as hallowed–because God is here, everywhere."
The beauty we observe is a reflection of God, who is Beauty Himself. Do I see the beauty in everything?

There is one thing that stayed with me the whole way through the chapter, and I'm pretty sure I know why. It is this: What of Darryl? His role in this Run For the Moon is veiled but vital. Why did this haunt me? Because what Darryl did for Ann is what Steve does for me, has done for me every day since we met when I was fifteen. He has always supported, always celebrated who I am deep-down. He has seen it even when I didn't see it myself because he took the time and effort to truly know me. I was touched when at the end of the chapter Ann wraps the whole thing back around to an awareness of the beautiful gift her husband had given her. What a selfless, Godly thing to do. We are wives blessed of God.

Almost poetically, I turned a page in chapter 6 and a note from Steve fell out of my book.

"I love you. You are so wonderful." 

Sharing the study of this book with him is one of the greatest blessings of discovering it.

I have discovered such beauty in the writings, in the faces, in just the meeting in this tiny way, of so many lovely women from all over the world in the study and discussion of this book. I have seen beauty I didn't know existed in the thoughts shared by these women I didn't know existed only a month ago. I read of their shadow moments, of their calling out to God, of their hope and their joy rising up from the ashes of tragedy and loss and illness and pain, and instead of shrieking "Curse God and die!" they swallow hard and softly whisper, "I want to see God and live."

I want to see God and live.

Seed: I feel like I am being urged to look with new eyes, with eyes healed by the Gentle Healer, at all of life, each and every moment. To look for the good, to look for the God in all of it.

Water: Each time I share the beauty and transformation of this book with another soul, I feel as though its truths take deeper and deeper root within my heart. The awareness of His presence, of His good and perfect gifts, of His goodness in all things at all times, has become so acute that it's almost palpable. I shared it with several people this week, and find myself giddy with excitement when I read passages to them and their eyes light up and I can see they are instantly hungry for more. We all have holes that only His beauty can fill. Sometimes we just need to be reminded to look for it.

Bloom: I am different. I can feel it in many ways, the most obvious of which I notice in the deep inner peace that has settled over me. Along with that has come a deep longing to grow kinder, more gentle, more compassionate, more graceful toward others. I am watching negativism ebb away, my words becoming more aligned with His Word, my joy being made more and more complete.

There is so much to learn, so many ways to grow. This is my time to bloom.

"Suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart—and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty." 
--Ann Voskamp

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ch. 5: All is Grace

I struggled a bit through chapter five, not because of the numerous shadow moments I've endured throughout my life, but because of the depth of truth and revelation in the words.

I think back over my life at what the world would consider the darts, the darkness, the dangers.

If I came through

  • Parents divorcing when I was two
  • Being taken from one parent at three
  • Being beaten black and blue by an angry step-father
  • Being kidnapped from the other parent at four and hidden away
  • Living on the run for two years, blue lights always flashing
  • Waking up in a different jail every morning
  • Being given a fake name my memory has since blocked out
  • A car accident that left my skull fused back together with a metal plate
  • Abuse by a family member for six years 
  • Living with far too much freedom for a preteen and paying the price
  • My father dying when I was 12
  • Being told Daddy's death was my fault because he died of a broken heart
  • Being convinced I didn't deserve to live
  • An older step-sibling shoving me into drugs and alcohol at 13
  • The first guy I dated at 15 thinking no meant yes
  • Getting pregnant at 16
  • Miscarriage at 11 weeks
  • Watching our newborn daughter take her final breaths in my arms
  • Losing my brother, then my mother 11 months later
  • Half-siblings who just weren't interested in having a little sister
  • Betrayal by those I called my best friends 
  • Church abuse that left me reeling and confused and broken
  • Grief-triggered depression that threatened to drown me

How can I not focus on the fact that I came through them all?

Was it not His grace that brought me safe thus far?

And how can I not focus on the beauty that God has brought from these ashes?

  • I am healed and whole.
  • I do not carry weighty baggage from my past.
  • I am married to the most precious man God could ever have dreamed up for me.
  • I am a mother--what I always wanted more than anything in the world to be--of five sweet children, and now a grandmother to two.
  • I have had an opportunity not every woman gets: the blessing of homeschooling our children for the past 23 years.
  • All five of our children walk with God.
  • I face each new day knowing I have faced grief and walked through it to the other side.
  • I am a daughter of the Most High God.
  • I have amazing, genuine friends.
  • I have seen brokenness mended and relationships healed and reforged.
  • I have a family that loves and supports one another in ways that are difficult to word.
  • I am supported and celebrated in who I am and encouraged to do what makes me smile.
  • I have experienced a body of Believers who truly "get" what being the Church is really all about.
  • I have enjoyed good health for most of my life.
  • I have known love that I never knew existed.
How could I not say, "All is grace!"?

Seed: God reminded me through chapter five that I have a strong foundation on which to build the belief that my God is with me always, in times of excruciating pain and mountain-top bliss, and all between.

Water: I am seeking out Scripture that bears out the pervasive Grace of God in every moment of life.

Bloom: I am stronger, calmer, and more complete than ever. I feel His presence with me every moment. I'm noticing more and more the difference these changes are making in how I live, how I speak, how I act, how I approach and respond to life. Like the sunrise comes the dawning that His grace truly is sufficient for me.