Category Archives: Examining life

Broken

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“It’s hard to keep things white:
Dirt loves it, blood loves it, sin loves it.
If one were baptized in black,
It would not show the dirt picked up along the way.”
-Carl Grose and Annamaria Murphy
Tristan and Yseult
 

I have been pondering what it is to be broken, to carry around the dirt and messiness we all seem to pick up along the way. Thoughts of brokenness have surfaced as I have encountered it in myself and feel the ripples of it through the lives of others.   It comes as no surprise to me that parenting brings my own weakness into sharp and uncomfortable focus.  There are few more humbling experiences in this life than trying to raise up little human beings.  Sometimes I feel I am in a constant state of  holding my breath and praying I haven’t messed up too much so far.  In a conversation I had the other day with my husband about how we parent in our own individual styles, I just looked at him and said “You know, I am just parenting out of my own brokenness.”  And as I spoke the words, the truth of it penetrated me to the core.  I am.  I am parenting out of brokenness.  I am also working out of brokenness, serving out of brokenness. and living out of brokenness.  I am broken. What does  this mean?  It means so much of what I do is tinged with so much of the me I would rather keep hidden.  The parts of me that are wounded, and seem to either recoil or lash out at others.  The secret insecurities and soft spots that I work so hard to mask.  The ubiquitous pride that  sticks like the dickens to almost all my wrong choices.  The need to be right (even when I am so clearly not).  They are all in there, in the dirt that can quickly soil the whitest intentions.  Dust one off, there is another.  Blot out a blood stain, and it resurfaces.  “Out out damn spot!” It felt good, in a way, to say it out loud.  It is freeing  to come clean and confess, to lay it all bare at the altar.  It is a release  to speak out the truth  and to feel the heaviness lift, even just a little, whether in whispered prayers or moments of intimate transparency.   But the release is short lived and the freedom elusive.   Unkind thoughts, the sharp edges of pride and envy, a tongue quick to criticize and ears quick to take offense are just a few breaths away at any moment. It’s so hard to stay clean.   “It’s hard to keep things white.  Dirt loves it, blood loves it, sin loves it.” So, stained, broken, and somehow not only existing but actively participating in this life.  Here I am. And there she is, and there he is.  Here we all are.  Broken and covered in dirt. And the hurts that we simultaneously despise and desperately protect pull us somehow toward injuring one another.  The wounded becomes the wounder.  The broken become the breakers.  The stained, they are sometimes the first to throw a dirty mess at someone else. No one walks away from this crisp and clean.  No one.  We all have been hurt.  We all hurt.  We carry in us the brokenness that it is to be human. And we break. I know this because I have been convicted of wounding others.  And because I have felt the sting of someone else’s brokenness seeping out and into my own.  I have received the unkind words and actions that I know come from another’s own personal well of hurt.  What I have come to understand through time is that I cannot absorb this pain.    That is not for me to do.  The weight of what breaks them is not for me to carry.  The dirt is not for me to examine.   For all of us, it would seem, that under the first layer of dirt is a deeper layer, and another, and that the deepest layers cannot be seen and cannot be cleansed by anything less than the Divine. So what do I do with my own stains?  How do I function as I should, how can I parent, work, serve, in this broken state?  I cringe as I inwardly review words I have said, things I have done, and I want to know that somehow, in all of this mess, God is still moving.  In my quiet moments of reflection with Him, I hang my head and tears slide down my cheeks.  It is painful, facing the mess, and it is lonely, wondering how He can use His daughter in these soiled garments.

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Then, if I stay around long enough to listen,  in the stillness, He breathes His assurances and words of comfort into my heart.   “It is not for you to worry over each stain,” He says,  “and if you could, you would see what I see, that even the traces are gone.  I am renewing you.   When I promised ‘whiter than snow’ it was no exaggeration, no fool’s hope.  It is truth.  And do not waste so much time reviewing each place you are cracked and broken, allowing yourself to become mired in discouragement and self-pity.  Where you are cracked, My light shines through, if you allow it to.  Remember, it is in your brokenness that I use you.  I am always making beautiful things out of dust and I am forever creating beauty out of the ashes.” And so it is.  I come to the place where I can say yes, I am broken,  I am weak and sometimes I am  just plain foolish.  And in this “mortal coil” I will continue to trip up and yes, live and act out of a state of brokenness.  But I have come to see it not as a chain holding me back, and not an excuse to behave badly, but as a constant reminder to go back to the place of cleansing, back to the wells of living water, and then up and out and into my world.  And when I go up and out into the world, I can be filled with a deeper grace for all those who walk with me, and a trust that some will be offered to me in return.

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As Mountains are for Winds

Image “Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.” ― Marcus AureliusMeditations “Ay, to the proof, as mountains are for winds, that shakes not, though they blow perpetually.” ― William ShakespeareThe Taming of the Shrew There is always a moving forward, a pressing on, a progression toward the future.  There are continuously voices calling for change. Change is good, but can we pause for just a moment and recognize that change can be hard, that there is loss, that there is grief?   Can we allow for the fact that in the forward march some beauty sometimes gets left in the dust? We are told that we must continue on, must keep on keeping on, must go with the flow and adapt to the change. But so much changes so fast and there is a sense that sometimes pain is not accounted for or allowed.  Chin up, stay calm, soldier on. What about the grand tree with solid deep roots?  What about the steady cliff beaten by the waves but not diminished?  Can we learn nothing from them?  Yes there is change, fairly constant beating of the waves on us.  But there are firm foundations and places deep down where we can find the solace of steadfast unchanging strength. Not everything needs to change.  And those who push so hard for change need to sometimes stop, breathe, look around, tend to those who are reeling from it all with compassion and grace.  We do not all move so fast so easily anymore. And there is wisdom in the knowing that not all was meant for change.  Not everything is in constant state of fluctuating or adapting.  There is in all of it an ancient undercurrent, a solid fortress, a rock that is higher than the waves, higher than the seemingly insatiable appetite for  something new, something better, something, if nothing else, just different than what is. There is time for change.  There are moments where acceptance and adapting are necessary and good.  But there is also time when it is just as necessary and good to  stand still, take a breath, and hold on to what life is right now.  There is a time to be as mountains are for winds.

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August 22, 2013 · 10:03 AM

The post I couldn’t finish

ImageRather we need to be exacting with ourselves regarding our integrity and motivation, and very generous in ascribing the best of motivations to the actions and efforts of others.” -Charles Ringma, Seize The Day with Dietrich Bonhoeffer I might have been in a mood. A few weeks ago I began a post I just couldn’t finish.  It was nothing to horribly scandalous, but it did cause a twinge in my conscience nonetheless. This  nonpunishable post was born out of a recent annoyance I have felt at something we all encounter, likely daily.  It was concerning those pesky “than thous” that flit about us, on TV, in conversations, in social media, and even with close friends and family. “Than thou” used to be restricted to the realm of religiosity, as in “holier than thou,” but now you think of an area of life or current philosophy or lifestyle, and the than thous have found a very comfortable spot to nest. Among the “than thous” I seem to encounter (you may have others that come to mind)  are healthier/more organic than thou, more of a foodie than thou, fitter than thou, greener than thou, more progressive, hip, or enlightened than thou, more creative than thou, and better overall parent than thou (although that last one has probably been around since there existed more than one family on this earth).  And sadly, as much as I love the work of Brene Brown, (and I do), I wonder if we sometimes don’t also slip into more genuine/ “real” than thou and more compassionate than thou. Of course, as soon as I began mulling all these things over, and feeling, well, a bit smug, I had one of those looking in the mirror pointing a finger pointing back at me moments.  What am I then?  Less “than thou” than thou? And I had to stop writing and start really thinking this through. So where do these “than thous” come from?  The more I ponder this, the more I think they actually begin in a beautiful place, maybe like weeds that pop out in a lush lovely garden. We all, I believe, have the potential for passion in us.  And that passion manifests itself in different ways, maybe because of what we have been exposed to or educated about, maybe because of people we love and admire, maybe just because we are “wired” that way. So the passion grows and we get excited about it and it bubbles over so that it becomes part of many of our conversations.  We want to share, we want others to understand, to see the beauty of the garden. I think where the stink comes in is, well, pride.  Pride sneaking in once again.  Pride causes us to say things like “Well, would never…” or “I always…” and then pride gives way to judgement which says “How could anyone…?”  and begins to view others as the unenlightened masses. And then, of course, there is the backlash, which I experienced in my own heart and mind:  “Well,  would never say those things.  I am not prideful.”  Um.  ok. So what to do? How do I rewrite this?  Two things come to mind.  One is to humbly suggest that all of us work to cultivate our passions, our gardens, while at the same time mind those weeds (or bugs, pick your metaphor).  It is difficult, but not impossible, to bring those passions, those beliefs that come from deep in our souls to the table humbly, graciously, kindly.  It is possible to pick up our heads, look around, and see the bounty of all that others are also bringing to the table.  It is possible to stop talking (or typing) long enough to listen to someone else’s story, open up to the passion that dwells in someone else’s heart. And secondly, I walk away convicted that I can be guilty of missing the garden for the weeds.  I can too easily be distracted by the tone and miss the heart behind it.  I need to have eyes and ears to take in what others have to offer and drop the self-focused mindset that this is all about comparison (or frankly, all about me, and how I may or may not measure up).  I need to be quiet, even in my mind, and allow the beauty of another’s heart penetrate my own. And so this is the post I wrote and finished.  And this is the mindset, and the “heartset” I will (try to) keep.

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Let Our Words Be Few

Image “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'”- Matthew 11:17 “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever…What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” –Ecclesiastes 1:4,9 Pride is as alive as it ever was, and it is so very seductive. No one is beyond its grasp. Pride whispers sweetly in our ears until we are lulled into believing we have the absolute right to demand the church be molded into our image, brothers and sisters in Christ bend to our personal tastes and preferences, and Christ himself be whittled down into a comfortable pocket guide for living. No one is exempt and no moment in time is safe from the siren call of pride and the assertion of the will. Each one of us is as prone as the other to fall into the trap. I will preface a link to the recent article by Rachel Held Evans by saying the words and specifics may vary, but the idea is not new. Nothing is new under the sun. We all at one time or another have desired to tailor God, His Word, and His purposes to our will.  Evans addresses the evangelical church, and its perceived failure to hold captive the attention and loyalty of so-called millenials.    The desire to cast a wider net is understandable, but some of the ideas represented here seem to be rooted in the desire to have a sovereignty of self, to base our criticisms of institutions on our own authority, not the authority of scripture. “It is clear,” Eugene Peterson writes urgently in Eat This Book, “that we live in an age in which the authority of Scripture in our lives has been replaced by the authority of the self: we are encouraged on all sides to take charge of our lives and use our own experience as the authoritative text by which we live.” Not only this, but “we are in the odd and embarrassing position of being a church in which many among us believe ardently in the authority of the Bible, but, instead of submitting to it, use it apply it, take charge of it endlessly, using our own experience as the authority for how and where and when we will use it.” We can slide so easily into the habit of self-appointed authority with God’s word, with His people, and, (this should cause us to shudder), with God Himself. It is so tempting to say we want a big God with power and glory and majesty, but in the same breath want to manage the Almighty and His work on earth. We want the great King to be safe. But we are to be admonished in this kind of thinking, just like the character of Susan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” This foolish desire to waltz into God’s house and lay out a list of demands has surely been a problem since the time of the writing of Ecclesiastes, prompting these words: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know what they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth. So let you words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) Let our words be few. And let those words be appropriately humble. Let us remember, no matter what generation we are in, that we do not call the shots. It may be that it is more tempting for the generations now coming of age to feel entitled than previous generations. (Though I doubt it. Nothing is new under the sun). It also may be that there have been some misguided attempts by various churches to cater to one group or another, motivated by fear of losing numbers. Haven’t we been warned though, that “the love of most will grow cold?” (Matthew 24:11) I believe a church’s effectiveness in pursuing and carrying out the will of God does not lie in popularity but in holding fast to His Word, and in effectively using those who will be counted present and available. The question, then, isn’t  what is the church to me, but what kind of instrument am I in the church? What do I bring? How can I humbly serve, minister to, love, console, rejoice with, and walk alongside my brothers and sisters? How can I be hands and feet to those outside the walls of my church and beyond the boundaries of my comfort? This is to walk in the feet of Christ. This is, again in the words of Eugene Peterson, “liv[ing] these Holy Scriptures from the inside out, instead of using them for our sincere and devout but still self-sovereign purposes.” This is the antidote to pride. So let our words be few. Let our demands be silenced. Let our condescension and criticisms be muted and our actions speak volumes. And let our actions not just show that we love our neighbor, as important as that is. Let them show that we submit to the will of the Father, and follow the first and greatest commandment, which, if we truly take Christ at His word, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37-38) Let our words be few. Let our awe be genuine. Let us humbly acknowledge that God is God and His Will will be done, whether we choose to be a part of it or not.

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August 1, 2013 · 5:55 PM

It Is There

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I am tired of small. I want big, grand, overarching words and ideas. I want big imposing rocks, not small pebbles. I want immensity. And I know it is there.

I am tired of small discussions revolving around small concerns that generate more small concerns. I am tired of topics that wind themselves down to childlike arguments. I want vast oceans of thought. And I know they are there.

I want the ocean, the mountains, the waterfall, the big clear overwhelming sky on a cold quiet winter night. I want to be overcome by all that is out there. I could never climb it, swim it, or touch it, but I want it there.

Why do we dig ourselves into little caves of personal taste and preference, of self sovereignty based on our limited experiences in our small lives? Why don’t we grasp for the greatness of God’s presence and the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love? Why do allow ourselves to be held back from throwing ourselves into this never-ending boundless sea that is laid out right before us? It is right there before us.

We are blind and deaf and too easily sidetracked by the tiniest of thoughts that we somehow miss the looming grandeur of our Creator, our Lord, our Savior. We pick over a grain of sand when right before us is this colossal eternal Rock. We should be pondering, discerning, perceiving, knowing, grasping for the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we would even dream in our wildest dreams.

This is huge. This is what we are aiming for. We cannot miss it. It is there for us, if we will be rooted and grounded in His Word and His love.

Let us forsake the small. Let us reach for the impossibly wonderfully overwhelming overcoming Love that is there to be lavished on us, if we will only open our eyes and ears and reach out our small, feeble hands. It is there.

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Why I Said “No” to Marie Claire

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So a strange thing came in the mail the other day. It was the latest issue of Marie Claire with an offer of one year free subscription. I have no idea how or why it was sent to me. It really doesn’t matter. Because (after paging through it), I threw away the magazine and went online to cancel the subscription.

Why did I do this? Out of fear that “if it seems too good to be true, it is,” that I may somehow be incurring charges that are hidden in some fine print somewhere? No, though that thought did cross my mind. Out of some purist revulsion to the images of less than fully clothed ladies littering the pages? Not really, but that did make it easier.

I did it because, as I sat on my deck on a warm summer evening and casually flipped through the pages, I felt myself at once drawn in and repelled. And I recognized a feeling that washed over me, a hauntingly familiar feeling. I can trace this feeling back to looking at Seventeen Magazine when I was probably 12 or 13, then Glamour into my 20s, and more recently, really any magazine within reach when I am getting my hair done. This is a feeling that I am quite certain most women who flip through these magazines can recall easily. The feeling? Inadequacy.

When we browse the enticingly glossy pictures of impossibly beautiful impeccably dressed women, we are told, in bold type, how we do not measure up. The message is loud and clear. You are not (fill in the blank) enough. Whatever your insecurity, there likely is a photo spread or article to make you feel worse about yourself. But, wait! In three easy steps, you can improve yourself! You can have fuller lips, a more toned body, better hair, hotter style, a cooler career, you name it. If you’re single? Here’s how to “catch a man.” If you’re married? Boy, are you missing out! The new thing? “Taking a lover” How empowering!

The thing is, I know all of this is so ridiculously across the board false. I know it. You know it. We all know it. But something insidious happens when we allow our eyes to rest on the impossible images and the false claims of what it is to be beautiful and whole. The lies seep into to our minds as we glance down at our own bodies, look around at our houses and wardrobes. “I am not good enough. I can (and should) be taller, skinnier, cuter, edgier, more stylish, have better skin, go out more…”

It takes only a few minutes to be drawn into this made up world where everyone is having more fun than you with more flair and style than you’ll ever have, and looking oh so wonderful doing it. And while part of your brain says “whatever” part of you gets sucked in, and you turn the page, read the article, study the fashion tips. Suddenly you are lifted from a world where things are just fine into one where, well, something has to change. And, most tragically, we begin to buy into the deception that any of these vapid concerns or surface changes could ever provide lasting and pure happiness.

Like I said, I don’t know how or why I came upon this “free gift,” I also don’t know how or why this seduction works. But it doesn’t really matter. Because the only way it works is if I let it in.

So Marie hit the recycling, and I sat outside, listening to the chatter of my children, breathing a quiet sigh of contentment, before going in to tackle the dishes.

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Up North

Originally posted March 31, 2013

 
Ok, so I’m going to cheat a bit.  It is Easter after all, and I am enjoying the day of rest with my family.  Which actually has a lot to do with what I want to post- a page from my journal, dated March 26th.   Our family went up north to the family cabin and enjoyed some time away from the “everydayness” of life.  Here are some thoughts on the last full day there:

Right now I just want to sit and bask in this simple moment.  We have taken a few days to be up at the cabin, and to have an “electronic detox.”  No TV/ movies, no Wii/ Mario, no internet/email/Facebook.  But the “nos” have not had as much impact as what we have done.  We have played games, played outside, had snowball fights, met a neighbor, gone on nature walks, talked, laughed, been quiet, read, and rested.

It’s quiet right now.  Dan and Harry are out for a walk.  Chuck and Maggie are upstairs in the loft, reading.  Occasional comments float down to me…

I have this sense of calm.  Right now, in this moment.  Calm, and gratitude.

It has not been perfect, or tidy, or all of everything that any one of us may have wanted.  But it has been completely what we have needed.  I needed this, I realize.  I needed this to see that when I am stressed, exhausted and overwrought, it does not always mean thatI need to take a break from everyone and everything. Sometimes it means that we need a break, together, from the routine and the static and chatter of everyday life. 

It’s nothing magical.  It does not need to be a big, sweeping gesture, not a plane ride to a beach somewhere (not saying that wouldn’t be nice someday).  It can be a simple drive, a few fleeting moments.  Nothing radical, but big in its own way.

It’s big because I think they will remember some moments from these days.  I hope they will.  I hope they remember a trip to our neighbor Ernie’s house to bring homemade cookies as a thank-you for plowing out our driveway, so we could get in; and his giving us a tour of his property, including his shed where he recently build an apple press, and inviting us to walk his trails full of all kinds of wildlife, anytime.  I hope they remember Dan’s “trivia games” at dinner time, designed to help them learn more about our families, their heritage.  I hope they remember our all busting out laughing at the silliest things, but truly laughing, together, as a family.  I hope they remember and treasure these things.  I know I will.

I wish I could stretch this time out just a little longer.  I wish we were not leaving tomorrow.  But I will refuse to live in the “if-only” and will embrace the “what-is.”  And what is, right now, is this moment of calm, of rest, of renewal.  And not just for me, but for Dan and for our family.  That is priceless.

“I say to myself ‘ The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.  It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.'” -Lamentations 3:24-26

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

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