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.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ch. 4: Enough Time

God is weaving these happenings together just for me. I can feel it. The timing of what I'm reading, the words that cross my screen, pages of books, utterances of friends known and unknown. He brings these beautiful people who smile as they approach and wave as they walk away. I didn't know them before, and now I feel as though I do.

I watch the photos change one by one, remembering each face as it comes, remembering even which ones come next on some frames. I know these faces, but I wish I knew their hearts. I long to read their words, all of them, to know what brought them to this time and place, their hurts and their celebrations and challenges and failings and dreams and fears.

Why would He let them come if I am not to know their thoughts?

I read of bubbles and light and children's laughter and I remember. My throat constricts and I swallow pain wanting the release of weeping. Not yet.

He gave me this time. This time, right now.

Chapter 4 is where I started underlining. I've found plenty worthy of highlighting in the first three chapters, but the fourth is where I couldn't restrain myself and my hand reached out and grabbed my pen and dove for the page.

I was struck while watching the video by the connection between Eucharisteo and Communion. We commonly call "communion" the "eucharist". I hadn't made the connection, until now, between what we call "communion"--the breaking of bread and drinking of the cup in remembrance of Him--and close, intimate communication with Him. Communion. Togetherness. In the here and now, this moment.

Life is an emergent sea.

He said, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

I am all here right now, in this moment with Him, the I AM.

This is where true living happens.
This is where I learn why I live.
This is where I am free to truly love this life.

Ann said, "I just want enough time."

I found the Family Journal yesterday and read quotes from the kids when they were little, and it hit me hard how precious each thought was and is, how valuable each childlike word. I suddenly feel old and a little lost as I ponder the little one of three quoted moments before now preparing to turn twenty. The years took wing and hurried on too fast and here I am at the dining table brushing teardrops off an old beat-up purple notebook falling apart at the spiraled edges and stained with chocolate.

Bubbles burst and float away. I only have these moments for a too-tiny bit of time. God, why do they have to be so fragile?

Wait. This focus feels all wrong. This isn't about wishing I could go back and relive and appreciate more. Those moments had their time, and I did appreciate them in the best way I could with what I knew then. I think it's okay to wish I had known then what I know now, but it won't help to spend too many moments wishing for what is past, when I could spend those same moments appreciating the sunlight shimmering in the now.

I might be onto something.

Ann: "I just want time to do my one life well."

What does that mean, "to do my one life well"? How does one live a life well?

Seed: I am gently reminded to grasp at, to be aware of, to describe in vivid detail, to capture and preserve in whatever creative forms possible, to be thankful for...each single moment and the multi-faceted gift it is.

Water: I am constantly, fervently, longingly praying for more awareness, more alertness to the gifts. I want to live fully awake. Fully alive. Fully aware.

Bloom: Thankfulness, joyful gratitude, the resulting grace. That, I think, is how one lives a life well.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chapter 3: Naming Gifts

It struck me as profound the way Ann writes of gifts becoming real when we name them. I love the way she brought us back to the Garden where God let Adam name the animals. Wow. He wasn't just giving him busy work! He was allowing his creation to recognize the gift in each and every animal as he called it by its name.

This week I have been particularly awake to the details of hundreds, thousands of gifts within my immediate senses every moment of every day of life. The awareness is almost a hypersensitivity to everything around me, all at once, every minute. I can't help but wonder if these are glimpses of what God feels like--only tiny glimpses, since (not being bound by time and space as we are) He knows all and is everywhere all the time. I wonder if Jesus felt this way, being human and God. That bears further thought. A lot of it, I think.

As I sat with my husband and daughter at dinner, I smiled thinking of Ann giving "Say Cheese!" new meaning and plunked my Nikon D80 down on the table next to my plate. This alarmed my table-mates none whatsoever, as they are becoming accustomed to such quirks, especially lately. I'm finding it rather beneficial having my camera nearby. Almost as handy as my journal and pen.

Seed: The naming of the gifts, as Ann described, intrigues me, thrills me, perplexes me. I feel compelled to dig deeper into the idea of recognizing gifts and their minute detail.

Water: I bought my One Thousand Gifts journal today. I plan to carry it with me in my purse. For Valentine's Day, Steve bought me a new canvas purse/bag big enough to carry my journal and the book. He knows my heart.

Bloom: I've become pretty excited about the keeping of "the list". Rosie asked me today if we could share the journal. I grinned at her and she explained that she was referring to the idea of having the journal open and available for anyone in the family to write in it. How perfectly appropriate for our family. So us.

Ironically, today I suddenly remember our old Family Journal I started back in 1992, a large spiral notebook we always kept on the coffee table for our family and friends to write or draw or doodle in. I went searching for it this afternoon and dug it out, dusted it off, and began to read back through the pages. 19 years of our family jottings in this tattered volume now beginning to fall apart with age and use and a couple too many moves. I laughed and even cried a little at some of the funny things the kids said. Family poetry, quotes, milestones, silliness...all of it a treasure.

So yes, I will share my journal with my family, leaving it open and inviting while we're at home and carrying it with me in my new purse/bag when I go out. And one thing is certain, this awareness, this alertness, this gratitude that is quickly becoming inseparable from breathing, is only growing stronger by the minute.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chapter 2: Eucharisteo

Seed: Something God impressed upon me today (and before I realized what I was doing, I spoke it out loud--freaked myself out a little bit) was, "One sin brought condemnation on all, and through one death, redemption came for all." I kept trying to think of what that had to do with this chapter. Then it hit me. He could break the bread that last night with joy and thanksgiving because He was already looking at the outcome. He wasn't focused on the death (or the scourging, or the spitting, or the judgment, or the climb carrying the beam, or the nails being pounded into his flesh), but on the JOY set before Him. The joy set before Him was me! It was us! What a thought. And what does He ask of us? Eucharisteo. The recognition of what He did, the way He made, the Grace He extended, the LIFE more abundant that we have because of His obedience to the Father. If that isn't something to be eternally, madly, crazily thankful for, I don't know what is.

Water: Living the yes to Eucharisteo, to Thankfulness, Joy, and Grace, must be intentional. It is anything but natural. The natural response is to complain, to say that what He gives/allows is not good, not right, not what I had in mind, not welcome, not appreciated. The natural response is selfish and humanistic and buried in dying flesh.

Bloom: Eucharisto breathes life, beauty, delight. It notices details in the moments and doesn't let anything go by without seeing deeper meaning, whether "good" or "bad". This kind of joyful, graceful thanksgiving frees me to fly above what would slam me to the ground in this life. Illness. Death. Anger. Mistreatment. Betrayal. Past abuses. Haunting memories. Nightmares. Regrets. It all transforms when viewed through the lens of Eucharisteo. We cannot taste the mystery enough to understand it until Glory comes. But we can eat it and give thanks for it moment by moment knowing He will make sense of it all. He is the only one who can.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chapter 1: Empty Arms Always Reach

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." - Henry David Thoreau
I have too many heart-responses to this at once. I read the first chapter online while waiting for my book to arrive. When I finished, I dropped my head to my desk and wept. All the memories came flooding back, and more than once while reading I backed away from my desk as though I’d touched something hot. It hurt, this searing of scar tissue and pulling of scales from eyes.

I don’t want to remember what it felt like to feel a baby drop from my body like something unwanted and meaningless. I named him/her Jamie in my semi-knowing in the paleness of a tiny bathroom before the tingling feeling came and it all went black.

Eleven months later I sat in a wheelchair by the hospital curb, the previous year playing out in my head like a nightmare on the big-screen. A precious little girl. We had two beautiful sons, and the four of us couldn’t wait to hold her. Heather Rose was the delight of our lives from the moment she was born. Ten hours later she was gone, stolen by a virus she just couldn’t beat.

I sat there holding her for a long time after her sweet little spirit floated heavenward. I remember thinking if I just loved her enough and held her close enough to me she would take a breath and turn pink and live. The questions weren’t forming yet. I was still numb. They wouldn’t come until a few days later when I calmly asked my best friend to please, please help me die. Her face contorted into an image of sadness I won’t ever forget. I choked out that I just couldn’t let my sweet baby go without me, that it had to be dark, and she had to be scared, and what mama lets her baby go into a dark hole without trying to follow her?

The hard questions came next, the why and the how-could-this-happen and the what-sense-does-this-make and all the anger that sets in when the answers don’t come.

But before that, I sat on the curb and watched all the families leave with their flowers and their balloons and their pink-cheeked babies fully alive and dressed in outfits they had picked out special and laid aside waiting for that moment. I’ve never felt so alone.

I didn’t want to remember those things here at my desk reading that first chapter of a book by a woman I’d only just recently heard of. Heather Rose would be turning 21 in a couple of months. Why exhume such gut-wrenching ache after all this time?

I am praying I find out why in the pages of this book. I am believing that I will. I’m looking for the pinholes, and one of the most overwhelming things about all of this for me is reading all these words, these responses, these hearts poured into space for us each to read and know that we are anything but alone. This is a seed that even now springs forth with pale green hope.

Thank you rings so empty. But I do.

Seed: I'm having a hard time narrowing down the seed. It feels too big, or something. Too broad. Maybe there are just too many seedlings. One thing that stands out for me is this gripping sense of injustice at the tragedies that befall us, the magnitude of the losses in this life. When I lost Heather, suddenly nothing made sense about life. If a beautiful little baby could die in her mother's arms, if a mother could be faced with offering her child up to Jesus with trembling arms and empty everything, there was nothing fair or right about life. It made everything feel empty and dark and devoid of meaning.

Water: Through the years since losing Heather, God has shown me in ways I can't describe that He has never left me. He has, true to Romans 8, that He can and will use all things for my good. Even the losses. Even the emptiness that couldn't be worded when my arms literally ached to hold my baby for weeks after she was buried in that tiny white the Nursery section of the Limona Cemetery on a breezy April afternoon. He showed me that there is a strange logic in how illogical it is to bury our babies.

There is logic in the backwardness and the wrongness of pain and loss, because everything in this life has been upside-down since the Garden. Like maybe it might help just a little to know that it wasn't supposed to be this way but because of the Fall this emptiness has become our logic. It's what happens when we are separated from our Creator. Rocks cry out and clouds billow and veils are rent and babies go white and hang limp in mothers' arms.

Bloom: The one hope that springs forth pale and green from the soil for me is knowing that one day this will all make sense. One day I will see the tapestry from the other side and all the threads will fit together without tangling and knotting and there will be beauty for ashes. In the now, I wait along with everyone else for His coming, for all to be made right. And while I wait, I try to keep singing, even when the notes are raw and ragged and when sometimes no music comes forth at all. I have to believe He still hears me trying, and in that alone it is my prayer that I can make Him smile.