Sometimes I am the student

When I am angry it seems that God's presence evaporates, my delicate hold left grasping churning, throbbing emotions. But it felt righteous, this anger at my youngest son's father, and so I let myself feel it without letting it encompass me.

What mother wouldn't ache...for a child whose father says he'll call next week and make plans for Christmas Eve and take his son to see the grandparents he hasn't seen in years - and then doesn't call. What mother wouldn't ache...for a child who calls his father on Christmas Day and is told that the trip wasn't made after all, and then accidentally finds out that her child's father and half brothers went without him. What mother wouldn't feel anger...when her child's father says he'll call his son the day after Christmas and celebrate belatedly, but doesn't call. Again. He hasn't called in years, but he keeps saying he will, and my son keeps hoping.

Carman knew I was angry and hurt for him. Just as I decided to pick up the phone at work and apologize for my anger - an apology I knew he wouldn't think I should make -I had voice mail from my son.

"I've been thinking all morning about my dad," he said. "And I decided that it really doesn't matter to me now. I have other really good men in my life, like the men from Threads. Brian just called and he wants to take me out to breakfast and then come over and play guitar together."

No one would blame my 16-year-old son for feeling angry, or hurt or rejected. And yet he shows more wisdom then his mother. He lets go what he can't change. He turns his face towards what light he has been given in this world, the men who have shown him Christ in their kind words, the coffeehouse outings, testing the $150 car I bought him, stopping over and playing guitar for awhile.

So I will not give his father too much of my energy either, but focus instead on those who have brought such grace and love into my son's life. To all you men who say a few kind words and exchange a laugh or a hug with a fatherless boy, you have no idea how precious those brief encounters can be, or how grateful this mother is for you all.


On a quiet Christmas morning

I watch the rain slip into snow
and speak into my heart
the way of a gentle path.

Weighted drops of water thoughts
lightened by my Lord,
crystallized by Christ
into heart song.

Snowflakes of Spirit
softly enter in.
Soul metamorphosis
seen through a window pane
one quiet Christmas morn.

Christmas, 2005


Matthew 6:6

Bless Gaston, who sent me a link to a video by Father Thomas Keating. I had a powerful sense that this was the part of Matthew I was supposed to read.

"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet", a metaphor for entering the inner room of self. "pray to thy Father which is in secret" - in stillness we find him within. This reminds me of Brian's (foxtrot_delta) "heart feelings".

He resides within and we participate in divinity - may I keep dying to self, stilling the chatter, and let him rise within my heart.


Holy Nudges

And so I awoke from a dream. Someone had said, "I need to remind you to read the book of Matthew". And minutes later an email quoting Matthew. And later still at church, quotes from Matthew, and a conversation afterwards with my pastor, who suggested another chapter in Matthew. I had to tell him my dream then.

I had been in such turmoil, questioning not only Christians, but dealing with strobe-thoughts of doubt about Christ being the son of God. I think perhaps I occasionally hear something in my dreams because God knows I need a two by four up the side of my head in order to get through to me.

I'm so grateful for holy nudges that have no rational explanation.


Holy Web Sites

Light a candle in a sacred cyberspace here in the guided, interactive ritual: http://www.gratefulness.org/candles/enter.cfm

And then visit the rest of the Gratefulness Web Site created by Brother David Steindl-Rast.

The Days of Waiting - 28 Thoughts for Advent Calendar.


Family Feud

My twin circles around me and approaches my daughter about the following holiday plans:

"Dear Kelly,
Thanks for the update. I'm trying hard to resolve a lot of different
schedules right now for Christmas Eve, but sincerely hope you and Gordon and Dave can make it. Your mom insists on going to church that night, which is presenting some big problems for the dinner. Linnell doesn't know if the dinner can be served that early, (6:00 pm), and today I found out that Grandpa and Marthe' can't make it for dinner, if it is that early. So, we'll likely have dinner at around 7-7:30 pm, so that they can be there, along with Linnell's parents.

If you are able to make it to Kalamazoo for Christmas, maybe we can both talk to your mom about the need to be somewhat flexible regarding the church service? Christmas is about Christ, but we can celebrate as a family so infrequently that it sure seems to me that on those occasions we could all be flexible to insure we'll be together."

Oh, Bill.

I love our family, I truly do. I wish that my desire to go to church wasn't mucking up all your Christmas Eve plans. I wish that you had talked to me directly instead of trying to circle around behind me and approaching me through my daughter. I must seem like some religious nut to you all, with my passion to be in church on Christmas Eve. Believe me, I want so much to be all together for awhile on Christmas Eve, and don't mind at all if we must leave before dinner, but you already told me how unacceptable you find that compromise.

What you haven't realized is that Kelly wants to be in church that evening as well, and Carman says he wants to be there more than anywhere else. You know I spent a lot of years out of church, but in those years I lived a more watered-down faith, and not that one that is so soaked in Christ as it is now, as it has been in great part because of the church I am a part of.

Yes, I could celebrate the birth of Christ with my own children later on that evening and not cause such divisiveness in our family, but the thought of it makes my heart feel so heavy. This place I go to has become so much more than a building I enter into on Sunday mornings. It has become a sacred place where I encounter God through teaching, worship and the people there. It is my family, just as all of you are my family. I am related by blood to this family, too. It's hard to explain how extraordinary it feels to me to be a part of a family that loves and desires God so passionately, a family that shows me Christ so often through their love, their generosity, their service to others.

If, God willing, all my children are with me this Christmas Eve, I want no other gift than to have them all with me at church that night, having the rare privilege of introducing my children to my other family, and most importantly, celebrating the birthday of the One who has become my passion, my heart, my all, my life.

I wish more than anything you could be where I am. Then you would understand.


Pr@yer Vigil

In the sanctuary, tealight candles placed on black cloths glowed all around the perimeter of the low stage, and pillows were scattered on the floor for those who wanted to kneel and pray. It was quite dark, except for the candles. Peaceful. A Gregorian chant recording bathed it all in a feeling of holiness. I went last night and again today during our 24 hour prayer vigil. There was such a feeling of common unity in seeing others silently enter in and out, kneeling nearby, sitting in chairs with heads bowed, seeking God's face. Our pastor wasn't a part of this endeavor to pray for our church. I'm sure Lee was a part of it in spirit and prayer, but the body initiated and organized this prayer time for our church.

As I knelt in prayer I felt filled with the Spirit, felt tears rise to the surface as I was overwhelmed by this incredible gift of faith in Jesus Christ, this gift of living this side by side with others whose hearts are turned more to eternity than to this world. Sometimes it's so hard to explain this walk of Love to others, to express the joy I feel sharing this journey. So many hearts and souls today yearning to be immersed in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What better life could I hope for?

So ironic...

Well, Carman's dad didn't call (again) and wish his son a happy birthday, though Carman never forgets to call his father when it's his birthday. My son says he doesn't care, but I think he must, deep down.

Carman's dad is a social worker for this agency, in a program called "Families First". Actually it made me laugh when I typed that. I should pray not to feel some bitterness.


Sweet Sixteen

I couldn't let today past without honoring the anniversary of my youngest child's birth! Just like his older brother and sister, he is growing up waaaay too fast. I've got a more recent picture of him on my blog, but I love the one below where he's standing with his sister, the homecoming queen. His loving nature and gentle spirit shines through.


Great Scott

I was hanging out in the sanctuary tonight while Carman was at Essence, his youth group. Suddenly Scott came in, walked right up to me and gave me a hug, which totally surprised me. And delighted me. He told me that he'd been reading my blog, and I got confused. I'm not used to people I know in real life reading my blog! How funny is that...

Scott had read one of my postings about hugs, and how much I appreciate the ones I get at church because sometimes when you're single you go without much physical contact from people. Scott said it was kind of a lightbulb moment for him, and how he realized why his widowed mother doesn't let go for a long time when he wraps her in an embrace.

Scott, if you're reading this, know that I was so touched by your kindness. I have been so humbled by the extraordinary loving kindness shown by people in my church. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by seeing the extraordinary in people who are living their lives walking with Christ. But I am deeply appreciative to be in their company.


The Hurricane Boogie

Kelly and Gordon thought my son-in-law was taking a couple of pictures; they didn't realize he was filming them. Kelly's on her cell phone talking to me in what looks like a barren, boarded up place, but what used to be a lovely living room in a 10th floor apartment. This is a short clip of how you entertain yourself after six days of bathing with baby wipes, and going without any modern conveniences like electricity. Being their mother, this makes me smile everytime I watch it!

The Hurricane Boogie


And the blessings fall...

1. First of all, a large, incredible thing - The Kalamazoo Promise. My son's school district is giving college scholarships to all students. ALL students. My son started there in 2nd grade which means he will have 95% of his tuition paid for four years of college. Amazing grace. The superintendent has been making the national news rounds - Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN. It was so wonderful seeing the excitement and joy my son had when the announcement was made, and basking in it myself. College is attainable now, when it used to be a source of anxiety.

2. Carman was watching me pay an unexpected bill online last night, and knew it took all I had left in my checkbook. Oh heck, all I had left in the world, except for the $30 in my wallet. I had promised him some spending money for his upcoming birthday, and not only did he offer not to accept anything from me for his birthday, then he said he knew that he was getting some money from his dad and he wanted to share it with me. I refused both his offers with tears in my eyes. This man-child of mine has such a huge heart.

3. Kelly called me this morning for advice on which doctorate program she should enter - one she really likes, or one that would be very practical in guaranteeing a successful career. Then she started talking about how she loved sociology, and in her undergrad class she tried to explain her family dynamic - two parents both married two times, and divorced twice. Various and sundry stepbrothers, stepsister, and a half brother (but she never calls Carman her half brother, but just brother). In the midst of me feeling bad that she had such a crazy life she said, "People think how hard it must have been, but you always made our life so positive." An enormous gift for a mother who was wishing she could have given her daughter a more conventional unbringing.

My advice on the doctorate program: Follow your passion. Do what you love. Listen to your heart and you will soar beyond your expectations.

I think it was very good advice.


The Diner Church

I took myself out to lunch today at the little diner my friend and I like to frequent once a week or so. I sat at a table in the little back room with its burgundy oilcloth tablecloths, the salt and pepper shakers sitting neatly in the wire basket caddy along with the sugar and Sweet & Lo. I brought my copy of "The Jesus I Never Knew" to read while I sipped my coffee out of my thick, white ceramic mug while indulging in two evil cigarettes - one before lunch and one after. But I did more musing than reading.

It was Rhonda's birthday today, and someone had scribbled the announcement on the chalkboard over the cashier's desk. Rhonda, a sweet young mother of two came bubbling over to my table to show off her new birthday haircut. It was adorable, and I told her so. Rhonda always makes it a point to be friendly, and bubbly and kind. I sat there listening to the hubbub in the other room. All the waitresses were bubbly, and kind. They were bantering with the regulars, flirting with the 80-year-old men, squatting down to coo and ahhh at the baby in her car seat carrier. The waitresses there serve everyone joyfully, and serve everyone joy.

Isn't that what church should look like?

Last week Brenda and I were cashing out our $5.25 lunch special and talking to Rhonda about being "regulars" now. Rhonda started talking about how she cares about all the people there. She said that she'd noticed that one of her regulars, a man in his mid-80s, had been gone for a few days, and he's usually there every morning. Somehow from conversation she had an idea where this man lived, and so after work she drove around and found his place and knocked on the door. Undoubtedly he was surprised. She sat and visited with him for over an hour, and found out that he'd been in the hospital for a few days, which explained his absence. I'm sure he was touched that this waitress cared enough to track him down, (stalking him, the other waitresses teased her). What a loving and kind act.

I think the Antique Kitchen diner is what church should look like. I think I should be more like Rhonda, and I think I should tip her more than I do.


The World Breaks Many of Us

Two weeks ago in our worship gathering we viewed the movie of postcard secrets that people are sending in anonymously for a project. They're heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and so naked in their vulnerability. I interspersed the Flash movie I did with quotes from a Psalm - how else could we get through such pain without the One who is Love?

I also created a prayer table with more postcards, river rocks, candles and faux barbed wire. I feel so honored to be allowed to do this creative work with the goal that it will help draw people closer to God.

More photos:
Photo One | Photo Two | Photo Three


The Things I Do....

....to make my children laugh. While my big kids were still power-less in Florida, I went to a Halloween party as Hurricane Wilma in their honor. Today Kelly called in tears - alone in a 10 story condo building with her husband and brother at work, no power, everything starting to smell of mildew, and the elevator only running an hour today. I called my cousin Deborah - she has an apartment on the beach in Boca, (and one overlooking Central Park and three other houses). What a blessing - Kelly is now waiting for her husband and brother in a beach apartment with electricity! But I digress....my lovely Halloween costume. No shame in looking ridiculous for my children!


My Spiritual Atheist Friend

My friend Michael and I met at Flesher's Field Wednesday, when the air was crisp and cool, the sun warm on your skin, and the Autumn leaves swimming in brilliant color. We found a path carved into the woods. I was so excited to find it there right near my home. Michael was much more matter of fact about it as he lives in a dome house in the woods and walks in the woods every day.

Being the artist-type, I kept stopping and staring at the canopy of branches overhead, and watching the sunlight dancing over the leaves. Michael, being the woodsman, started identifying trees for me. Hickory. Hawthorne. Sassafras (which has a sap you can scrape off and chew like gum, and whose bark has a wonderful scent, I was told).

While we were looking at the trees Michael started talking about Geronimo, and how he would stare at the spaces between the branches of the trees and it would alter his reality. He said that Geronimo could make himself invisible practicing that, and had walked away unseen in the middle of skirmishes or capture. I told Michael that I remembered he and I practicing that once years ago, and how I suddenly felt a huge rush of energy surge up through my body. During our conversation Michael asked me if I thought there was spirit in the trees, and I said that I thought there was a divine spark in all living things on earth. He seemed a little surprised by my answer - maybe because he hasn't believed in God, and yet my belief is that the spirit he feels in the woods is God. I said I think even rocks might have that divine spark within them, and Michael said he knew they had an energy. Once, he said, he read how rocks could be stacked in a certain configuration to create some kind of energy field. Because he was good at balancing them, he built up a tower of rocks according to the instructions and said that you could feel the energy when you were within a few feet of the structure.

Funny how with this friend of mine who declares himself an atheist, I have the most interesting spiritual talks. I think he just hasn't been exposed much to the concept of God. I was feeling kind of guilty later for not even bringing Jesus into the conversation, but also realizing at the same time that I don't want to falsely create a conversation in order to push my beliefs at him. It suddenly came to me that I don't need to talk about Christianity, what I need to do is become more and more familiar with the words of Christ, because I think Michael would totally get into the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Michael thinks Christians are all right-wing, conservative, Republican evangelists, and he's always kind of loathed them. I think he's getting an inkling from me that not all of them are. I suspect there are a lot of anti-Christians who have been so turned-off to the media portrayal or their own experience that they've never really learned much of anything about Jesus.

Meanwhile, I think I'm going to stare at the spaces between the branches more often. It was interesting that just today I read this article about an encounter with expanded consciousness written by a Christian.


@ Threads

I was struggling before church this morning with feeling totally unloveable. Sometimes I think I get in my own way, and I need to keep the focus on God and not me.

But then in church our worship band leader was talking about this amazing, incredible God that doesn't just love us all collectively, but each of us individually as well. Ron said, "He loves Paula, and Anne and Carman..." and tears immediately sprang to my eyes. It seemed as though God used Ron to use my name and my son's to remind me that I am indeed loveable in his eyes.

Lee was discussing impulses during the spiritual talk and asked us to grab someone and talk about an impulse we've had in the last week. I saw a young man sitting alone across the aisle from me, so I went over and sat next to him. I told him kind of tongue-in-cheek that I'd had the impulse to make my son go out and mow the lawn one night. And then Ken told me that he'd had the impulse the other night to open his Bible and read it for three or four hours, and that he was going through a divorce. I felt like God sent me to Ken as another reminder to just keep my eyes on Him alone, get out of his way, and let him work. I told Ken that I had been through divorce myself and he asked me if I could give him some spiritual advice on how to get through it. My heart was touched that this man who'd only known me for less than five minutes would trust me with such deep and open questions. I told him I'd come talk to him after church, which I did. He left with my phone number, an invitation to lunch, an offer to find a man to talk with if he preferred, and my prayers for the coming week.

Then a large group of us meet after church for lunch, and a young teenage girl I'd just met told me that she's struggling with her faith. Another deep and soul touching conversation, and a promise from me to continue our talk in email.

I cannot dwell on feeling unloveable when God sends me out to love people. I just didn't expect that he would take a 2 by 4 and hit me over the head with it quite so dramatically in such a short time.


On a Fall Day

There was so much work to do, but while I sat outside with my son listening to him play guitar on a glorious fall day under an Autumn sun, I thought...this....this is what life is all about.


Another Chapter

I called my sister tonight and told her about Lori. My ex had spent the weekend with Sue and her husband, and she's spent a lot of time with Lori as well. In the telling of one story, another smaller story emerges. Sue has been worried about my ex's drinking. He doesn't eat all day. During the week he lives on cigarettes and coffee during the day, on the weekends I think it's cigarettes and beer. I think he smokes pot everyday as well. Sue now sees her husband trying to keep up and not being able to handle the quantities that G. can.

I feel like I am in the middle of a novel. I've always struggled about the guilt I felt about divorcing G. Both of us were children of alcoholics - where would we be now if we had stayed married? Would I have influenced him to drink less? Or, more likely, would I have been abusing substances the last quarter century? How much did he and Lori drink together? I know my daughter worried about her dad's drinking years ago when he was with Lori. She was never really sure about it, though. He didn't see our kids very often. And now when I tell my sister this awful story about Lori, Sue's concerns come spilling out. Perhaps truth emerges more easily in the midst of tragedy.

G. and I, both with alcoholic backgrounds. G. was a Christian when we married. I wasn't. Through the years since we've been apart I've turned to Christ, he's turned to beer and pot. And now my sister worries about his influence on her husband. And now his second ex-wife kills a man while drunk driving. And now I wonder what is waiting on the next page...

In a Heartbeat

Lori consumes my thoughts today. She was my first husband's second wife. They have been divorced a long time, but have remained quite good friends. My daughter called me this morning and said that maybe it was strange to ask me to pray for my ex-husband's second ex-wife, but she was asking anyway.

Lori was driving home Saturday night after spending time with her son and his father. I guess she wanted to spend the night, but her son's dad didn't think that was such a good idea. Lori was driving a quiet, Indiana road late at night, and leaned over to reach for a cigarette. And in the next instant, there was a crash, and a body on her windshield. Out of fear? shock? whatever happened to her mind in that split second, she kept driving. Several miles down the road she stopped and called 911. She was arrested and charged with several offenses (from what I read from an article online). Drunk driving, causing the death of a person while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident.

Lori killed a 19-year-old young man, who, for some reason, was out walking in the lane late at night. His older brother just came back from Iraq last Tuesday.

My ex-husband, and hers, bailed her out of jail yesterday afternoon. I heard they treated her pretty badly in jail. I don't imagine they're too kind to someone who was drunk and killed a person, and left the scene of an accident.

Even without Kelly asking me to, I would have been praying for Lori and for her family. I'm praying for the family of the young man who was killed as well. In one week a son returns safe from war and another one dies on a lonely stretch of highway.

Lori's life changed in a heartbeat. I have no idea how this will form the rest of her life, her mind, her heart, her faith, if any. Kelly said on the phone, "Dad told me he'd been praying. Can you believe it?? Dad? Praying?" Yes, I could believe it. Life stripped down in an instant to the one thing, one person, that we can hold on to in the midst of crushing pain. Lord, keep them all in the palm of your hand, give them comfort for their loss and strength for the trials ahead.


Shards in God's Mosaic

Last Friday for church I drew a large picture on a 6'wide by 4'tall board. It was a Celtic cross filled and surrounded with outlines of mosaic pieces for people to color in during our gathering. It was based on our spiritual talk from Judges that Lee summed up in his sermon outline thusly (thusly??):

"SYMPTOM #3 - we limit ministry to a few elite and trained professionals. God will use whomever He chooses. It was true then and now. We have to look in the mirror, "If I am a follower of Christ, I am His minister. I have gifts, I have a calling, and God can use me. We will see in the lives of 5 of the judges how unlikely they were to be used by God. CURE: we must invite all of God's people to minister according to their gifts and calling. The church will never become all that God wants it to be until every follower of Jesus is ministering according to their spiritual gifts. Some people are still sitting on the sidelines, refusing to serve. Their excuses could have been used by the judges themselves! God will use whom God will choose."

The words in the graphic above painted themselves in my head while I was contemplating what drawing to do to help represent how we are all called by God to be ministers.


Accountability Again

From someone else's blog. This was sent to me by a member of my small group. Unfortunately I can't find the original link.

The other day Lucy offered a superb reflection on accountability vs. redemptive relationships as part of Christian community building, spring boarding off a quote from Doug Pagitt, who says in part: Accountability is built on the notion that a person will do her own work as she seeks to live a Christian life while others do what they can to keep her on track. This may seem like the best our local [church] community can offer us, but we are striving for more. We feel called to vulnerability. Lucy follows up on this, saying: Accountability is such a shallow way of relating to each other. Making sure each other are doing what they are supposed to be doing isn't what I see Christian relationships as being about at all. I don't think that accountability is so heavily emphasized in the Bible. Redemptive relationships are ones where we each actually become the agents of transformation, love, care and restoration in each other's lives.

When I was in seminary, the small group/accountability movement was getting in to full swing. A fellow student asked me one day to hold him accountable for his goals. I thought about this and replied that he could simply remind me of them and how he felt he was doing in their achievement, without comment or judgment on my part, but that friendship seemed a better option. Apparently that wasn't what he was looking for since a friendship never developed between us.

Several very spiritually detrimental things are hidden in church accountability groups. First and foremost, "accountability" is often a synonym for "blame". This type of accountability turns we who are to be servants into masters. We scrutinize and inevitably criticize how others in the church are serving us, be it the pastor, Sunday school teachers, choir, choir director, worship team, you name it.

Second, accountability is far removed from interactive relationships. Jesus didn't hold his disciples accountable to him. Rather, in a church as the Body of Christ we hold ourselves accountable to each other, relationally, not legally or even per se morally; more on the lines of, "How is it with your soul?" And "Are you growing in Christ? Is he growing in you?" Or the old Methodist question: "Are you going on toward perfection (in God's love)?"

The business world uses "accountability" as a means of wielding control over employees. When churches ape this, they move contrary to the servant spirit of Jesus Christ, enslaving rather than freeing. Yes, we are told to "confess our sins to one another" but in the spirit and context of forgiveness and redemption, not approbation and censure. No one's sin is greater or more heinous than another; those are human qualifications; sin is sin in the eyes of God. We are each sinners confessing our sin to other sinners, others who fall short of the glory of God and are in need of Christ's redemptive grace. Without this kind of humility with each other, confession rings hollow, or is absent altogether. The practice of accountability, as it is both understood and enacted in today's culture, does not foster humility but a quiet arrogance, especially when and where accountability is demanded.

Finally, followers of Jesus Christ are to be bearers of his agape, his self-giving. This, as Pagitt notes, requires vulnerability, not a pretty or easy thing in most churches. Accountability produces a lopsided, one-way, quasi-vulnerability. It must be understood that making oneself vulnerable does not mean opening oneself to abusive attacks. Not at all, and such attacks must be confronted immediately. Rather, vulnerability is opening ourselves to our own wounds and the wounds of others, not to wear them as badges of honor or excuses to hurt each other; but to be healed through Christ's redemption spoken through us.


Gagging on Accountability

I was the voice of dissention in my small group Wednesday night when we reviewed a new covenant handed out to all the groups. This was the paragraph that caused discord within me:

"ACCOUNTABILITY: We agree to let the members of the group hold us accountable to the commitments which each of us make in whatever loving ways we decide."

The word accountability alone sticks in my craw. No doubt in prayerful musing later on that this is probably a trigger from my own past. There was a lot of unlovingness in my relationship with my mother, and so I'm viewing this through a distorted lens.
Still...how did this become such an acceptable term within the world of Christ followers? I've researched and found an article that explains scripturally how this accountability thing all fits in. I've listened to my small group members explain that this means a close relationship with someone who is not there to berate you, but to check in with you and see how you're doing. I understand their viewpoint.

Still...if I am embracing this life in Christ, if I am trying to stay as much as possible in God's presence and let Spirit transform me, shouldn't there be a better word, a better phrase for walking alongside me as a fellow follower of Jesus of Nazareth than "accountability"?

In the world out there, it's often a harsh word. "Someone's going to be held accountable for this!"

From webster.com:

Entry Word: accountable
Function: adjective
Text: being the one who must meet an obligation or suffer the consequences for failing to do so (the owner was held accountable for his dog's biting of the child) -- see RESPONSIBLE

I understand all the reasoning and the loving explanations for this word. But I don't have to like it.


The long and winding road

I dreamt last night of a curved, country road in Autumn. In my sleep the phrase "empty road" kept echoing in my mind, and for some reason I thought it was important that I remember that this wasn't a path of peaceful solitude, but one bereft of that...

It dawns on me as I write this, that the image I saw was an avatar of a young woman from the Ooze who has been struggling with depression. Perhaps I was being reminded to give more love and friendship to one whose road is empty.


Gentle Rain

God woke me up at 5am on a Wednesday morning, and I felt nudged to pray for my pastor who is handling the accidental cancellation of his medical insurance, maintenance chemo treatments, a week in a campground with his family between moving to a new house, and various and sundry pastoral responsibilities.

Dear Father,
In the crazy, busy, stressful
Torrents of churning life,
In the storming downpours,
May you be a gentle rain,
A calming brook,
A deep and quiet river within us.
May your voice be a summer’s breeze,
A gentle lapping of waves
on the shores of our soul.
May you fill our hearts with peace
Like the whisper of wind
Caressing the meadow grass,
Like the cricket’s song welcoming twilight.


In Memory

My sister and I flew down to Florida when my mother died two years ago. One day looking through her old photo albums I ran across this picture of her.

Michigan State College Graduation - 26 July 1946
She died 57 years later to the day.

Rest in peace, my mother.



My writing/reading for our 7/23 gathering, based on Ephesians 2:10:
"For we are God's masterpiece."

Somehow we manage to soil
With our thoughts
The canvas of our soul.
Forgetfully, unknowingly
We add pigments,
Painting ourselves with fear,
Coating a layer of hopelessness,
Sketching ourselves with the mud of the world.

Wash our soul-canvas, Lord,
Soak us in your grace.
Let us feel each brush stroke of
Your love upon our hearts.
Return us, replenish us,
Restore us, remind us
That we are your workmanship,
Your artistry,
Your cherished ones.
Beloved, we are your masterpiece.


God Breath

God breath
brush my cheek
with your kiss,
bend the branches
of my soul,
dance into my heart
your God wind.
Rush in, rush in.

God flame
stir the embers
of my spirit,
illumine me
with love,
sear my heart
with passion.
Burn deep, burn deep.

God breath,
be in me a swirling tempest.
God flame,
be in me a roaring fire.
Consume me, O consume me,
I pray.


Hunger at a Picnic

I think we had the bad luck of picking the hottest day of the year for our church picnic recently. Kelly, my Floridian daughter, was home visiting for a week, and she came with Carman and me to share a meal with my church family after our Sunday service. I was busy doing my usual graphic artist thing by taking pictures for our church web site. I was also trying to pay attention to those who seemed kind of off by themselves. Jessica sat alone at a table most of the time I was there, and I told her that I wanted to talk to her soon, as we haven't had a lot of conversation lately. And I know her life has been so hard.

But it wasn't until a couple days later that I realized how alone my daughter felt when we were there. I can see that in this picture I quickly shot of her. She's almost giving me a polite smile, but I caught her in real mode.

I felt sad when she told me later that she tried to engage people by smiling and making eye contact, and it didn't work. I felt sad when she told me that one young woman made kind of a rude comment to something she said. Lee had just given a spiritual talk about being God-saturated, and here we were isolating ourselves from others. How I wish our mutual faith in Christ would transform us all into family that reaches out and embraces others with the passion that early Christ followers must have felt, or the passion that Christians who worshiped in countries where our faith was forbidden must have had.

I tried to think of a practical solution from event planning experience, but that wasn't any good. The only thing I could do was write this prayer:

Dear Father

We ask you to bless this food
And to bless those without enough sustenance,
Whether they need nourishment for their bodies,
or the bread of friendship for their souls.

We thank you for this chance to share a meal together.
We pray that you will open our hearts and remind us that
We are all your children and all family.
Coax us to share a smile with a stranger.
Encourage us to say a kind word.
Nudge us to strike up a conversation with someone
We’ve never talked to before.

Help us this day to share our food and our selves,
As your Son did with so many of us, at so many tables.



2 Timothy 1:7

'For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.'

This has been my mantra as a single mother. When I walked in to work one day only to be told that they had to lay me off because of financial problems, I burst into tears, wondering how I was going to support my family. A week later, my landlord told me I had 30 days to move out of the apartment I'd lived in for five years because he wanted it for his daughter.

I talked about this in church today, while we had a panel of moms on stage, a la "The View" - talking about the challenges of being mothers in our culture, and how our faith helps shape us.

After I told about how I used to use that scripture to help alleviate some of the fears I went through as a single mother, I talked about how the more I stay in the presence of God, the more fear doesn't reach me, the more I feel that peace beyond explanation.

But I went home from church knowing I had no money left in my checkbook or savings account until payday next Sunday. Yesterday I felt at peace, knowing I had my emergency Pepsi bottle bank filled part way with coins. I filled a ziploc bag full of them and Carman and I went to the store and poured them into the coin machine and then bought groceries - and left with $1.40 in cash.

So there's food, lots of food, and I'm grateful. But I felt rather like a charlatan after church because I've felt depressed since then, and nervous about making it to Friday. One minute I am so strong in feeling my connection to God and at peace with whatever comes. The next minute I'm depressed and feeling like God is far, far away.

But I'm back to thanking God. We'll make it. And he'll still be there loving me, even when I stumble away from him in my humanness.


Now I Know....

I tore this snippet of type out of someone else's blog today:

"...chaos is a precondition to creativity"

I was going to also quote the author, but by the time I clicked on the blog link and created a new post I forgot it. So even though I know that quote is about God and not me, it is also me. And it's comforting to just accept the fact that I will always be in the midst of chaos, unable to find important things like IRS documents or birth certificates. But throw my brain into the midst of a faith-related design project and a spiritual calmness descends and order flows.

Chaos is a precondition. Good in my wacky brained world to hang on to that fact.


First, Do No Harm

I walked over to talk to a woman that Angie was already talking to at the gospel mission. She looked homeless in her layers of clothing, and heavy tweed overcoat, long grey hair, and small cart full of knick knacks of things. Her face looked like a man, too, and at first it threw me off that this woman had a moustache and such masculine features. It threw me off in the sense that at first I wondered if I got it wrong; it's disorienting not to be able to place someone's gender right away.

She didn't talk long. I think she pegged us for Christian do-gooders, and she probably pegged us right. Not that our motives weren't good ones, they were. But when you're homeless I don't imagine that good motives count for squat. She talked about how sick she was of Christians trying to convert her to Christianity, and she almost spit out words about how she doesn't need it, doesn't want it, and was raised in a Christian home and knows what it's all about. The thing is I don't think she knows what it's all about if all of her reactions are negative ones. Unfortunately somehow she must not be hearing from anyone about Christ's incredible love and passion for us. I had sat through the same mandatory bible study that she did, so I know how boring the pastor was who delivered the message. Boring and off the mark. Boring and embarrassing in ways, like when he talked about how he wouldn't buy a Cadillac because it wouldn't look right as a pastor. I don't imagine homeless people care to hear about someone buying a car, or trying to sound humble because they could have bought a Cadillac and didn't.

I wish I'd thought fast enough and told that woman, "Yeah, sometimes we really suck, we Christians." Because sometimes we really do. "Here, let me take my religion and shove it down your throat because I need to save you really fast so you don't go to hell."

I wish I could have apologized for all the sucky Christians she's encountered. I wish I could have said it that way about how we suck sometimes because maybe it would have made her laugh, and laughter can be a huge blessing. I wish I could have given love, offered repentance for wrongs done in the name of our faith, and showed her just a tiny glimpse of Christ.

As it was, all I thought to say was, "At least you're honest about your feelings about Christianity," and she said rather bitterly, "Yeah, but do you think they care?" And I said, "I think they should."

But what I said wasn't enough. Was it something? Probably not. But maybe next time.



Tonight in my small group we're going to the Gospel Mission to hang out with the people staying there who have no homes. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to go tonight. I was out taking a break during work when I got a call on my cell phone from Carman. Our electricity had been turned off. I hadn't even noticed that I had a shut off notice. In my inbox I'd seen a bill for $87 but I figured that wasn't too much - little did I know that was the minimum amount required to keep my service on. Thank God I just did a little freelance work after not doing any for a long time. It cost $307 to have the power turned back on.

I left work an hour early. For one thing I was crying, and I never cry at work. For another thing, I didn't want to leave Carman sitting there all by himself with no electricity or heat. When I started driving home, the tears just came pouring out again. What is it about having one of my utilities turned off that makes me feel so helpless and so alone? When I walked in the door I started crying again, and my wonderful 15-year-old son just said, "I think you need a hug," and came right over to the couch and gave me one.

I was so, so lucky that Consumers came within an hour or so and turned my power back on. Although I was getting a lot more cleaning done than normal without my computer, and with all that anxiety churning through my veins, it was such a relief to see lights turn on, and hear the furnace kick in.

Afterwards I realized two things. One, I never prayed about this. I just cried. I didn't reach out to God at all. I thought about praying, but I didn't do it. I just felt bereft instead. Two, it doesn't escape me that I had my power turned off the very day I am to go to a homeless shelter to hang out with the people there. Maybe that was the fasting I was supposed to do today - fasting from electricity and heat.

I hope next time (will there be a next time?), I remember to call out to God.



23 february 2005

Wednesday night was our second meeting of the small group from church now called "Crux". Aaron and Angie have a rather out-there idea for this group; going out and being with people, and going out and serving people. Radical love.

The group right now is comprised solely of young people, except for me. Jonathan, Ethan, Aaron and Angie - all young people who grew up in the church. And me - the former wild hippie chick. It's strange to be the elder of this group and know that you've lived more on the edge, more on the seedy side of life then these younger ones. But I guess that makes me a good candidate for going out there on the streets. I've seen what habitual alcohol consumption does, and tasted my more-than-fair share of drugs, and sold my soul without even knowing I'd agreed to a transaction. I also lived and believed wholeheartedly in the idealism of the peace movement when I was a teenager. No wonder I have embraced a savior who was radical and called us to love one another.

Love One Another. That's where the name "crux" for our small group comes from. Because this small group has a specific focus on mission work, I thought it needed its own identity. Jesus' core commandment was to love one another. And the core, the primary focus, the center of something, is the crux of something. And the "x" in crux is a cross. And then I took the X and elevated it above the U. The U became in my mind the empty vessel of us, the longing of our spirit to be filled, and the X above it symbols the answer to that longing and emptiness. It is also to me a symbol of the sacrament of communion, and Christ's sacrifice upon the cross. And besides all of that, it is still decidedly an unChristian looking logo, which was also an intent. I'd rather have people recognize us as followers of Christ by our actions then by a symbol on our shirts. If we ever have shirts.

I miss half of the first meeting when everyone went out and rode the bus around town. A good thing for those of us with cars to do. Last night we studied scripture about loving people, and also discussed how God showed love to Adam and Eve even after they had betrayed him with the apple thing. There is an awful lot of grace shown there in a passage which at first glance looks full of anger. After all God could have just obliterated his creation. Started over again. Maybe created people that wouldn't have been so disobedient.

Then we talked about what we could do next week to just go out and love people. I mentioned that I sent a letter to our local mosque after September 11 apologizing for any mistreatment the people there may have suffered at the hands of Christians. There were incidents of that - one Arab-American closed his gas station down entirely after suffering several damaging attacks on his building. Another person there just for the evening mentioned that he has a web site as a go-between for landlords and potential renters. Aaron came up with the idea that maybe we should go and clean bathrooms for college students. So that is what is on our agenda right now. Scrubbing toilets and writing letters of apology to those who may have been offended in any way by Christians, and offering to be of service.

Yes, it's a different kind of small group, and my heart tells me that it's exactly where I should be. Just out there loving radically in Christ's name.



I just woke up from a bad dream. I have such a pounding headache now. Carman kept needing to be rescued, including pulling him up on a moving train when he lost his footing. I wonder if it's because I'm a single parent that I have so many dreams of rescuing or looking out for others?

One time recently I was praying in my dream, and I knew God was around. He wasn't in this dream, when Carman was about to be crushed by a train. But two of my friends were there, who both jumped in to help me. Both of them are Atheists.

Recently a Christian friend of mine let me down, and one of these Atheist friends was very good to me. Maybe I trust that my Atheist friend would be there for me in dire straits, but not the Christ follower. At its best that is ironic, at its worst it is sad indeed.



I catch glimpses of the outside world through the windows at work.

White snow on grey branches, white sky with silvered clouds. There comes a time when the beauty of this winter world's purity is lost in me, and only the oppressive lack of life and color remains. I have to grasp on to glimpses of sunshine and blue skies, drink in the grace of light on a day that aches with cold.

My spirit struggles in the bleakness of these months, and all I can do is keep exercising my soul to see all the blessings in the quiet time of winter.


God & Hats

It doesn't really seem as though God would have anything to do with me buying a hat today. (Two hats actually. One a grey-green with these lovely flowers...but I digress.)

It was a nothing-degree day outside but the sun was brilliant. Not being the recipients of much sunshine here in Kalamazoo, that alone is note-worthy. Some women may have considered it just a fun thing to do - meeting friends, buying lovely hats, having coffee together on a Saturday morning. But I knew it was something exquisite and precious.

Sharing life with friends. Laughing at ridiculous looking chapeaus perched on our heads. Scones and coffee. God has so blessed me. I used to stay too hidden away from everyone, alone all weekend, working too much, isolating myself. And so now each time I live in relationship with others I am filled with such joy and a profound sense of what a gift it all is.

People I love. People who love me. How could I not see God in that?