Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lesson from the Farmer: You are what you eat.

It's an ancient principle, and logical: whatever I sow, that will I reap.

Sitting inside my coffee shop, surrounded by glass and glint of sun. I cannot avoid half of my reflection in the glass, try as I might - my eyes curved and squinting out the brightness, inviting the crow's to break foot on their outside edges. Bangs bent long over one eye in a funny fashion that screams their discomfort, longing for sheers.

There's the one-ear-perked, sad-eyed, red-collared dog tied to his post and barking for the companion that he loves whose momentarily left him in pursuit of coffee. There's the copper colored Panasonic tourist bike, chained to the post adjacent to dog. There, across Greenwood Ave, is the freelance artist outside the Metropolis Children's shop sawing away at his blocks of wood in a red sweatshirt and baseball cap.

And here is why I love words even more than photography - I choose what you see of my picture. Try as you might, you cannot see what people reside on the corner opposite. They are interesting, too - you would enjoy seeing them. But I will keep them to myself and let you enjoy the dog, the bike, the woodsaw. I have other thoughts to pursue on page: the reaping principle.

This is not to be confused with karma. Anyone who has lived past 12 knows inherently that one of the grave injustices of the temporal world is that bad things quite often happen to those who do not seem to deserve punishment. And, prosperity often keeps company with people whose selfishness, arrogance, and outright cruelty seem to outweigh what good they might offer the world. Karma, world-watchers, is far less logical than truth - a fool's hope at constructing meaning out of suffering that leads only to judgment and confusion.

The reaping principle still stands. If I eat meat, my body reaps protein. If I eat cookies, sugar. When I eat a balanced diet and sleep regularly, I reap health and energy more often than not. When I sow dreams, discipline, and hard work, I reap the reward. When I sow laziness, self-service, and wasteful, meaningless pursuits, I reap emptiness and disgust.

I find as I dream, that I do not always fulfill those dreams. No, in fact, there are many dreams that morph form and fashion and output along the way. Yet the Proverbial saying is true - "Without vision, the people cast off restraint." When I'm working towards nothing, for myself it's a vortex of apathy and introspection. Christ-centered vision turns my heart outward, my eyes upward. Goals give me a reason to eat healthy, to exercise, to budget my money, to think critically, to work hard, to endure.

I find that even the goals that I have are dominated by what I am eating - not just food, but any input to mind, body, soul. Voices - people - books - circumstances. And I must choose what I will listen to - what I will input - or I will be tossed back and forth by waves of doubt, chased down by every voice fighting for my attention.

So in this new year, I am choosing to be more deliberate about my input. The Bible, as God's living and active Word, is my #1 source of input. Input that doesn't align with His Word will not be input that I listen to or accept. I will continue to pursue Christ-centered community, and the voices of godly men and women who have gone before me. I will read - I will budget for reading. I will read about theology, community, business, economics, social justice, anthropology, education. And I will read good literature. I will make time for solitude and for prayer. I will work hard to pay off my debt. I will not be afraid to dream and pursue dreams. But more than dreams, I will pursue Christ - I will drink deeply of His Word, and I will try to understand what it means to follow Him every day, and to act in accordance His Word, His character, His truth. I will be a woman who walks by faith and not by sight, by His great grace and the working of His faithful Holy Spirit.

Hosea 10:12 - "Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you."

A Pigeon's Roped Fear

It's a brand new year and I feel so excited about LIVING it!

Remember my pigeons? Today, I saw them again - the sun is melting a hole through the glass sky and dripping blue brightness all over the cold earth. People are smiling and buzzing around. It's the third day of brightness - second day of newness. I love this beginning.

My pigeons were sitting on the Suzuki scaffolding playing with the hanging rope of the plastic owl. That's right, playing with their scarecrow. Scoffing at their fear. Taunting their enemy: the false enemy. And I reveled in their triumph.

Isn't this how so much of life is? Bitter store managers hang plastic owls from the scaffolds of our dreams to frighten us from hope. Sometimes the owls have feathers. Sometimes their glass eyes roll around in their heads. Sometimes they even make owl-noises. They often look far more real, valid, logical than we might anticipate. But in the end, plastic is plastic. Non-recyclable, non-edible, non-aggressive, NON-WORTHY of our fear. May it be so in the lives of my family - my friends - my community - myself. Lord, may we scoff at our fears and laugh with twinkling eyes in the faces of our enemies. You are our victory, Jesus - what is there to fear?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I wanna be a momma

It's December 29th and I miss my students so bad.

It makes me excited to be a mom.
So I dream.
Someday, when I can't teach, and my kids are at home,
I want them to have their friends over after school every day to do homework.
And I'll make 'em all cookies.
And ask 'em to stay for dinner.
And we'll have conversations around the dinner table
Like we do in my classroom now . . .
About funny things and difficult topics - controversial things - values building.
And I want to take my kids hiking and skiing and to the beach.
And to soup kitchens and prisons and street ministry.
I want my kids to learn to love deeply, without being afraid of hurt. I want them to know how to have discernment about evil, but not to be afraid of broken people. I want them to learn to look on every individual as an image bearer of God. Not just the ones that look like them, believe like them, behave like them - all people.
And I want to teach them about the value of being in a community and BUILDING it . . . investing deeply - incarnational ministry. I want to teach them to love the church and to serve there with all their hearts, even when they get burned.
And teach them about how special prayer is and how much I love the Bible, and how Jesus really is trustworthy and good and always faithful.
I want my kids to learn to hate evil because God hates evil, and to love God because God is love.
And I want to have picnics in the backyard and do face paints and drink hot tea in the kids' section of the library and read books sitting on piles of pillows.
And I'd teach them how to ride a bike and throw a ball and drive a car and use a savings account.
And my daughters and I would paint each other's toenails and my sons and I would wake up early on rainy school mornings to take the dogs for walks together through the neighborhood that we love so much - where we know all the neighbors by name and have em over for dinner.
And my teenagers would learn to make time to visit people at the hospital when they're sick, even if it means skipping a basketball game.
(sometimes, i never want to leave seattle)
(but if I lived here forever, i'd want to live in a little house on Cherry Hill right next door to juvi.)
and we'd spend xmas eve there.
And every Tuesday afternoon.

Monday, December 27, 2010

When the Sun Gave up Her Throne

I have often wondered where EVERYONE ELSE was on the day that the sun gave up her throne and decided that I would be a better center of our solar system.

December 27th. 11pm. I'm sitting on an over-stuffed and lonely green chair that nervously stands tall like a butler, hand-clasped beneath a lamp whose flood is the only light in this quarter of the house. The chair tries (completely unsuccessfully) to remain obscure, unnoticed - like an awkward-handed, wide-eyed man graying in the corner of a bustling room of women. I feel arrogant sitting on the thing - like I'm intruding on shyness, a disease that I respect with a sense of wonder and awe because I understand it so little. The room is cluttered with 2-year-old girl: dolls and their clutches, a plastic barn and its smiling animals, an old Christmas tree and its dappled branches. I sit in sweats, make-up-less, flat-haired. One bottom molar aches dully from its mounted lair, probably from over-indulgence in sugar. For some reason, each year the days between Christmas and the New Year seem shadow-casted, pseudo-houred, half-lifed.

I've spent almost a week now with my family. I feel strange - like a plant temporarily removed from its pot. Shouldn't I feel the most potted when I'm with my family?

I love my family - the word "family" itself gains deeper meaning and higher value with each passing year. I enjoy spending time with them, and I miss the close-knit knowing one another of what it was to be a child. I'm so blessed to have such a wonderful family. And yet, it's very hard for me to spend time with my family. This week has been difficult. A lot of internal wrestling. The things that I dislike about myself the most seem constantly to protrude when I'm around these others, and I feel myself constantly wanting to escape and to hide.

Here are the soft words:
I'm analytical. I'm sensitive. I'm passionate. I'm intense.

Clip off the soft ends, and these are the traits that protrude:
I over-think everything, and I get stuck in thought-circles that lead to the Walls of Self-Protection.
I take things too personally, I'm hyper-sensitive, and I get hurt or offended way too easily, and I have a SUPER hard time getting over ANYTHING without talking it through, which often is not appropriate or desirable to other people.
I'm emotional and hold the things I care about too close to my heart, causing me to be volatile and often difficult to communicate with.
I'm serious and like to have deep conversations. I'm not good at small talk or being funny except on rare occasions like when I'm disgusting myself by flirting with people that I'm usually not interested in.
I'm extremely selfish.

This is the thing that I keep coming back to: if I could just seriously quit being selfish, my life would be so much BETTER and EASIER and SO WOULD EVERYONE ELSE'S WHO IS CLOSE TO ME! But that is really hard. I'm always concerned with myself: What people think about me, what people offer me, what people will give to me/should give to me/have given to me/have not given to me. How other people can understand me better, treat me better, love me better, serve me better.

AHHHH!!! Who can rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Jesus, wow! You are stinking CRAZY for still loving me. But this is the thing, can you please change me? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! I've tried everything, and it just doesn't work.

I want to die to myself SO stinking bad. I really really really do. I've had enough of this garbage. I'm tired of living for myself. Again. Today. And if You could, will You allow this prayer to count for tomorrow too, because I've only got a half an hour left in this day and everyone else around me is already asleep, so if you make me unselfish now NO ONE WILL EVEN NOTICE OR BENEFIT. (Or think good thoughts about me and offer me praise.)

Also, Almighty God of the entire Universe . . . I choose to trust that You made me the way You did for a reason. And I'm glad. But also, I screw up the personality that You've given me a lot. Right now, the word "sanctification" tastes WORSE than hominy in my mouth and I'm pretty much done with the idea of it. Please make me perfect, because I'm sick of dealing with my own shit. And I'm pretty sure everyone else is too. And I mostly want their worship.

OK, I see now. You are the One who is worthy of worship. Not me. Repentance is good - because it teaches me that You are God and I am not, and that You are worthy of worship and I am not. No one will ever love me perfectly - or even well - apart from the grace of Jesus, because I'm difficult to love and because of my own choices I'm not worthy of love. At all. Which only makes You all the greater for ALWAYS LOVING ME.

Lord, I've tried so hard to become unselfish by serving other people. I can serve at church - I can serve at work - I can serve at prison or any other non-profit . . . but man, when it comes to serving my family and the people close to me, I really REALLY do a poor job.

Can You please change my heart and help me? I just know I can't change my heart. I can't change the roots at all. Thanks for unpotting me. And thanks for being my covering - not leaving me exposed. Lord, prune me. Pull up the unfruitful branches, make room for more growth and more change. Give me a year, Jesus, where I can stop dreaming and trying so hard to move forward - and just sit tight and let you teach me how to LOVE my family and the people that are the closest to me.

And Lord, please, for the sake of EVERYONE AROUND ME, please help me to stop being such a flirt and thinking about men and marriage ALL THE TIME. It's embarrassing, hurtful, selfish, covetous and ultimately shows that I don't trust You at all. I want to be a one-man woman :) (even though I think that's kinda a dorky phrase), and I want to not covet attention from ANY man except for the one that pursues me the way Jesus pursues His church.

If I could sum this all up, Jesus, this is my prayer: teach me to fear Your name, to love my family, and to die to myself. (If you really want me to be analytical, passionate, intense, and sensitive, whatever - just please put it under the cross. I CAN'T DO IT ON MY OWN!!)

Thanks, Jesus. Amen!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Preparing for Death

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving, and my week has overflowed with snowy adventures - rare for Seattle, particularly this early in the year.

Last weekend, my housemates and I headed out to the cabin on Guemes Island. There's something so sacred about the space there, and the power of what it is to get away from the city far enough to hear God's voice rumbling over the deep.

As we crossed the water on the ferry late Friday night, rain falling out of the dark suddenly and spontaneously transformed into glistening flowers of white cotton falling on the water in the inky black night. Mari built a fire when we got to the cabin, and we laughed around the flames in our pajamas. The whole weekend was magical.

Sunday morning, I took a long walk on the island's shore. The sun hung like a round, fluorescent light-bulb glowing behind the opaque white sheet of sky huddling close to the ocean's stoic, stern ripples. I was anxious about many things -- as usual, plans for the future dominated my mind and churned in me until I became fearful to the point my breathing was impacted.

Over breakfast the morning before, I shared a bit with my roommates about my time in Nepal and Uganda, the process of becoming involved in YWAM, the way I perceived and obeyed God's call to "missions," and the subsequent transformation of my beliefs and values surrounding words like "mission" and "calling" in light of God's imminent return.

I spoke of contentedness and community -- of laying down the lust for adventure in return for what I believe is more valuable, digging deep roots and committing to one place for the long-term in reflection of Jesus' incarnational ministry. Focusing on people as the ultimate adventure instead of place -- walking through the ups and downs of life in a single place instead of skipping across the nations in seek of the new and the fresh.

I spoke of the glory of ordinary life lived before the face of God -- in any neighborhood or community, even ours. I spoke of missional ministry in the grocery stores and restaurants and banks and work places on equal level with learning a new language, running through the mountain villages, pioneering through the hill tracks, assisting women in the birthing process in the rural middle east.

And I believe all those things are true. But I'm honestly struggling a lot to lay down some of my dreams -- because I fashioned so much of my identity around going to proclaim the freedom of Jesus in places that no one would go. In my present life, I feel a strange reticence to speak of those dreams (regardless of how real and pervasive they have been in my life for many years) . . . and yet I also feel it unbelievably painful to relinquish those same dreams.

I keep returning to the same question: am I trading my inheritance for a pot of stew?

I also have a tendency to look at things very linearly -- like the whole weight of choosing between two entirely different lives is all falling on my shoulders. Do I want the beautiful life of becoming a wife and a mom, serving in my church and knowing all my neighbors, having kids from school and neighbors from the community over for dinner every night, living ordinarily and loving extraordinarily . . . OR do I want the life of throwing all comfort and self-reliance to the wind, abandoning myself to this crazy life of mission, going to the middle east and drowning in the culture, getting to know the language and inviting women over to my house for tea, raising kids with them and having them all over for dinner -- to laugh and share about the powerful work of Jesus, assisting with healthcare and baby birthing and childhood development ... with always the risk of prison and persecution hanging over my head?

The funny thing is, I feel like those two pictures of life are actually so similar in so many ways -- just different places. To be honest, even though I see that the need for God's Kingdom in Seattle is desperate, I still feel a strong draw to go where no one is going (because the need is great everywhere). In Seattle, the need is great and the risk is small. Not so in the Middle East.

These are the biggest driving fears that keep me from going: Will I have strong Christian community to lift me up and point me back to Jesus when I am afraid, broken, and undone -- or just complaining about my lack of security/comfort? Will I be using the gifts that God has specifically given me in the most useful way by going to a place where women are literally swallowed by society? Will I EVER be able to find a man that wants to serve the poor and the broken with HIS WHOLE LIFE -- even in a place as crazy as the Middle East -- and also wants to lead, love, and shepherd a family? And if not, can I believe the Bible enough to trust that Paul was right when he said that singleness is not a curse but a GIFT that releases me into a life totally devoted to Christ?

Jesus, can You husband me in a way that satisfies every need & desire in my heart -- even today?

ANYWAY, all these thoughts were muddled in my head as I walked along the shore on Sunday morning. And I just began to proclaim the truth of who my Shepherd is and how He leads me, how much I know His character and His voice, because His sheep hear His voice and can discern between false voices and anxieties inside. I began to proclaim His promises and rejoice in His goodness and His truth until I stopped in front of the ocean and just started weeping, overwhelmed by the power and the beauty and the glory of who God is and how much He loves me.

And through all of that, I heard only these words from Him:

Prepare for your death.

Prepare for your death.


I don't know exactly what that means, but I know it's from the Bible.

Galatians 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

Colossians 3:1-3 -- "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Matthew 10:38-39 -- "And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

What does that mean, then, to die to myself?

To die to my dreams -- to die to my control -- to die to my ideas about the way my life will look -- to die to a kingdom that is about me, to relinquish my kingdom for Christ's. To die to my comfort -- to die to my security -- to die to my plans and treasures and fears and joys -- to die to all my relationships, at least in the sense that I would give them all up for the sake of Jesus and what it means to follow Him.

Lord, who can honor this Word? When I really look at what it means to DIE to myself, I am terrified at ANYTHING that might mean. Help me, Spirit, in Your great grace, to obey.

I die to these eyes. I die to these hands. I die to this mouth. I die to this heart. And by proclaiming that, will You make it true, Jesus? Will You come in and wreck me, LORD, and use this shell for Your Kingdom and Your glory? Help me, Lord, to set my mind on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

I am but a handmaiden of the Lord -- may it be to me according to Your Word. Amen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Killing Pawns

Matthew Arnold -- The Buried Life

"But often, in the world's most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us -- to know
When our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves ---
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpressed.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well -- but 'tis not true!
And then we will no more be racked
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothing of the hour
Their stupefying power;
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul's subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day."

I'm amazed, discouraged, and gladdened all at the same time to hear that Arnold himself aches with that same inadequacy of words to pin down meaning, feeling, expression. I feel that so deep sometimes that it forces silence, laughing like the black night over me. Silence herself isn't so bad. It's only that sometimes, the silence is so rich and pregnant with a meaning she refuses to relinquish. Hateful.

But then when they come, the Words tie strings to my fingers and I feel myself no longer in control. I've got eight puppets attached to my arms that dance across a lettered stage, and somehow meaning stretches herself across this hard computer screen. What a wind, what a rogue is Language - and I, impassioned lover, sit entranced at his feet.

This morning, I woke with the moon beneath my eyelids -- the puppet strings grew taught on my fingers and grasped for their stage to dance.

Writing is therapy. You may quit the audience at any time, but the puppets won't stop dancing on their stage. They don't move for an audience. They move to find breath. Few are invited in to this audience - I try to appear more down to earth, and I've quite mastered the art of pretension until I don't even seem pretentious.

All are pretentious. All strive and push for some appearance that they can't quite master. I try my best to appear not crazy - I fear I am, a bit. And then I wonder what it means to be crazy or to be sane after all. Perhaps the craziest are those who think they are sane.

I was at the zoo this morning with a very close mentor. The zoo is walking distance from my house. I love it. It was a still morning, and cold. I clamped my coffee in moon-arched fingers. I heard the lions wake through moon-arched jaws. I watched the orangutan with his arm slung, moon-arched, just so over rope. I drank in the penguins' moon-arched flippers, bellies, beaks. I see her everywhere today, the moon.

My mentor and I shared our Blacks and Whites. Or perhaps more accurately, shared parallel journeys of relinquishing them for Grays. Blacks and whites are for categories, for controlled understanding, for war. I don't have many of them left. My life is both sides of a colliding chess set, and I've already lost most of my pawns. I sense myself growing far less easily angered and less defensive than I once was. I have little to defend, less that causes offense. I feel smaller. By surface area, I take up no less space in the universe. But in ways beyond mass, I hope to take up less space. My pull is less towards dominating space and more towards relinquishing it. When I was in college, that was quite the opposite. Battle has some good effects, then. (Though now that my desire has shifted, I'm repugnant to discover all the shifting shadow piles where I've hoarded power, like an old bag woman's basement.)

I was with a friend at coffee yesterday who said she's been asking herself in all her relationships, "Where am I taking power?" What a profound thought. I want to emulate her in this. Lord, thank you for the model you provided of one who gives up power -- even power that is rightfully yours. I also would desire to do the same. Give me the grace, Lord, to identify and relinquish power, control. I surrender. Amen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Creator of Light

Slope of moon fingernails her yellowed Cheshire smile, fixed, tart, bent lines ending, into eternal demi-god of deep, barren blank. I blink, fixated beneath this wonder – that the sun should mesh herself, flabby and yellow-shadowed, against the hoary rock of moon to color even this sliver.

How small I feel, and fragile. What miniscule token of yellow the sun blithely offers me to heat skin tawny from gray night forged.

Dillard’s words flow in and out of my tangled web of mind: “How can people think that artists seek a name? A name, like a face, is something you have when you’re not alone. There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination” (Holy the Firm, 72).

I wonder at this thought – artist as tool, upholder, revealer of light – of truth that already was and only needs telling. Not creator. Only proclaimer. Proclaimer of that which is already – of that which was far before sun offered skin yellow, far before skin – and sun – and yellow.

We all then, Dillard, are fleshy wicks. All of us proclaim, reveal, enlighten – sacrifice. But what? And to whom?

I wake up to jacket shuffled over chair just so, and the lines – shadows – colors of it all intrigue me. I drive home to telephone wires plastered against a grayish seething sky. I sit in the kitchen adjacent to jaunty curtains lined against door frames, archaic wooden fences pushed in crooked lines against the houses and fences and naked trees beyond, like a pile of postcards stewed together clumsily.

The power of cell on cell, forged beauty – the significance of color shades and jagged shapes – the ordering of creation – is a wonder. Capsized by her beauty, I am overwhelmed by the mystery of Creator pushing natural, temporal, onto eternal. We all, like a hiccough in time, breathe to enjoy His handiwork. He belches fire and glory, and we, his people – shrouded in his own blood sacrifice – are the quintessence of His beauty.