Monday, April 13, 2015

Seminary Diaries: time for delight

Last week, NPR did a radio show on the effects of play, especially in adulthood.  Studies show those who play have less depression and anxiety, and stronger, more fulfilling interpersonal relationships.  I have seen this to be true.  My three dogs are happiest when they are romping through the grass, bounding over the sheets on the bed, and chasing hard after their favorite ball.  Find them dog-piling one another, biting each other's ears, or growling like fierce bears, and you're sure to see the image of joy.

I thought about this only briefly during my busy and stressful week.  I contemplated what "play" even looked like for me.  Then in class this morning, the assignment was to take 60 mindful minutes with God.  We were to sit, alone, in the quiet, and wait for His response.  No analyzing, no worrying about registration, no planning.  Just resting.

As I sat, I looked at the nearby stream, small pond, and bullfrog watering hole.  I saw many birds and geese, the new grass waving in the wind, a clear sky as blue as the ocean, and a lone tree full of new flowering buds.  I felt Jesus sit next to me and say, 'My Father made this'.  I delighted in that idea and delighted in the beauty of spring.  I adored the warmth of the sun, the newness of spring, and the creativity in birds' wings and songs.  I thought, 'The beauty of God--the part I forget to think about--is reflected in nature, in the images around me'.  Then, He said, "My beauty is reflected in you'.

I hadn't thought about it ever this way before.  No, instead I worry about my new haircut, the speech I've been writing for weeks, and sitting with clients.  I worry about my classes and grades, my clothes and shape, and I miss the fact that just being me reveals the beauty of our Father.  When I sit in nature or watch animals, I don' think "what can you give me today? Or what can I get out of you?". I think "you are beautiful, just like this".  And, so does He.

So, with reckless abandon, I kicked off my professional high-heels and traded them for the farm-girl feet of my youth and headed for that beautiful tree.  With bare-feet, I smashed my toes in the mud, kicked the wet grass, and looked up high above me for the birds overhead.  Though it wasn't the assignment and though there were people all over to see, I stepped into the freedom of God's beauty within me, frolicked toward the tree, and sniffed her flowers. 

For a few, short minutes, I played.


Monday, March 30, 2015

what about wild?

It should be no surprise I love animals.  A momma of three dogs, I’d house more if I could.  Something about our dogs playing mimics bear cubs, river otters and frisky squirrels.  So, to prevent myself from adopting all strays, I read and listen to stories and follow pictures on Instagram of the best wild animals and man’s furry friends.  

The latest is an audio book about Bijou, the loveable mutt, and a lion at a local zoo.  Both have a wildness to them that reminds me of the beauty and splendor of the original Creation.  At their core, they are playful survivors, born to thrive in their natural environment, under vast blue skies with fields and valleys to enjoy.  

My dogs, captive to a cushy home environment, complete with chewies, toys, tennis balls, individual beds (which they don’t use if given the choice of the Queen), all the food they could ask for, and hugs and kisses, still reveal that flicker of wildness occasionally.  Typically, it’s aroused by the sight of the dog park, the breeze from the car window, a daring bunny in the backyard, or the smell of a rotisserie chicken.  The lion, however, has lost that wildness.  Even the sight of a nearby human, possible to gulp in one swift motion, hardly entices the king to twitch.  

Sometimes, I look around and wonder where the wildness of God has gone.  Rest assured, He still maintains the most wild of wilds there is—in imagination, creation, dreams, actions, and how He moves.  Sure, it’s much easier to keep God where we can find Him…as our “friend”, behind the pulpit, in rituals and traditions that seem to bring us closer to knowing who He is. But I want something different.  I want a God who shocks me, surprises me, and continues to ask me to keep up.  I prefer the God who mimics His Creation, as opposed to mimicking my own.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

leaving on a jet plane

If you or anyone you know has me on Facebook or Instagram, you'll know this week was inundated with pictures of the Great Pacific Northwest. (Just like the shark, it deserves a capital G).  From frosty beaches to downtown coffees, the trip was a much needed rest and rejuvenation.  I ate, I drank, I slept, and, above all, I looked.  I looked up at the rain, around at the trees, down at my feet, and all around, and every which way.  The miracle of it all, I felt rested.  Like, people before technology, working all hours, and fast-paced societies, rested.

Then, I came home.  And, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I hit depression like a surfer on Mavericks.  I was not at all ready to come back to routine.  I missed the days of sleeping 'til whenever, eating and not counting calories, and getting tattoos because you feel like it.  I missed vacation, missed the break-up of normal, and missed feeling footloose and fancy free.

I've already begun making plans for moving, getting a job in the city, riding the trams and ditching insurance and cable t.v., and spending the weekends on the coast.  But to return to normal and wait for those days just seemed impossible.

Then, I came to my first day of "normal".  I returned to work, with a few women and the overnight house.  Thankfully, a few were still awake, knitting a hat, finding her spirit animal, and finishing up an evening snack.  What might have been ten or fifteen minutes turned into two hours of good conversation, celebrating the week's "wins", tears over losses and memories, and giggles over how the mind of a woman works...thesis to follow. 

Suddenly, mid "I fit more with the bear than the hawk" sentence, I remembered, "what you're doing still has purpose".

Only a few days prior to the vacation, I took a picture of my rainbow-colored schedule and reminded myself of what a rich life I have going on right now.  Sure, it is full to the brim and I am sleep-deprived, but I am learning and gaining at a warped speed...probably a speed I will never again experience.

So, somewhere between pictures, I lost sight of what I'm doing.  I'm working towards my top goal; I'm learning each day from those more and less experienced, and I'm soaking in the depths of what I am most passionate about.  Yet, hours ago, I was willing to trade it all for a one-way ticket, an ankle bracelet, and a tent.

And, truthfully, I think that's what happens when we're in the muck of hard work.  On a day to day basis, I look for little escapes, ways to leave the hard work behind and find rest or ease.  This time, it just looked a lot more concrete, perhaps do-able, and a little bigger.  But each time I pass on engaging in a project or a person, each time I zone out of the anxiety or pressure, and each time I make a joke to avoid something bigger, I'm leaving on the red-eye.

I wondered, briefly, if this ache is what it felt like to leave Eden, too.  To look behind you and see youth, freedom, happiness, joy, and life know that there is rest, but you are far from it.  Again, maybe it's dramatic, but I think Eden will feel a lot like vacation.  I think we'll experience rejuvenation--or the equivalent of rejuvenation when you're not previously tired, weary, and worn out.

What these women taught me, is that this hard work still has purpose.  Yes, I want to escape, I want to jump forward, I want to stay in perpetual vacation mode.  But there is work to be done, work that is good, work that will produce rewards and a good life.

God dreams big. And he invites us to dream big with him. God has planted dreams and desires in each one of our hearts, and they are unique to us. Opening up our spirits, our minds, our heart, our imaginations to what we would really like—to even the possibility of wanting—allows the Holy Spirit to awaken parts of ourselves that are in such a deep sleep no dreams are happening.

-John Eldridge, Becoming Myself

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Seminary Diaries: you aren't there

I've skipped church for a couple of weeks.  Not for any specific reasons, just that between a two week (meets every day) class, doing the laundry, going to orientation, interviews for jobs, and wrapping up last semester's notes, Sunday mornings have been my only retreat.  Extra rest, a decent, not-on-the-fly breakfast, a good walk, and a moment or two to breathe.

So, this past weekend I decided it was time to rejoin the routine and head back to Sunday morning worship.  This week marked the beginning of "seeing clients" at school, so I figured the extra encouragement would be helpful.  I still didn't want to get out of bed, still wanted to sleep and fry an egg instead of microwave oatmeal.  But, I went.

Even in the parking lot, Alex could tell I wasn't fully invested in my decision.  This particular Sunday was also the day for the "newbies" luncheon; a.k.a. sit around tables with strangers and put on some happy faces. (I know, I know, this is not their intent, at all. But it felt and was this awkward for the most part.)  "We could go walk around the outdoor mall?" he said.  No, no we can't trade Sunday morning church for a new pair of flats and a get-me-in-the-mood-for-spring blouse.  So, in we go.

We worshiped, we prayed, we fellowshipped, we listened.  And You weren't there.  I looked and listened and waited, and I couldn't find You.  You weren't in the words or the music; You weren't in the faces of others; You weren't even sitting in Scripture like I thought you would be.

One could blame this on my obvious disinterest, or maybe the fact that I'm sitting in struggle of my own. Or you could blame it on my vocational interest.  Either way, I'm not finding You in the Sunday morning rituals (while good and wonderful) like I'm "supposed" to.  I see You, more clearly, more real, more personal, in the faces of those who have been handed the reality of their brokenness; sitting in sadness, grief, fear, worry, and anger.  I see You in the people who have nothing left, the ones most of us pass by because their strife seems too heavy, too burdensome, too ugly.

And, truthfully, I still see joy and peace and comfort in these faces.  Maybe we're not celebrating, but we're struggling and suffering to find the Spirit within each of us. So, I believe You are celebrating.  I believe the tears, heartache, anger, frustration, and deep, dark thoughts of those of us in strife are more connected to you, than some of the smiles sitting in the pews.

It's not understandable by so many.  But, to me, I'm just not finding you in the songs, the prayers, the bulletins, or the message.  I'm finding you in the people who look like me; sitting and waiting through the difficulty of the human condition.  Sure, I know You love Your church and I know deep down I love her, too.  But, for now, I want to be surrounded by those who are leaning, running, and scraping their way towards you because life is in shambles.  To me, that's where You are, that's where I find You, and that is where I learn who You truly are.

"Here's some questions I've been asking myself; What if I forgive myself? What if  I was sorry?  But if I could go back in time, I wouldn't do a single thing differently. What if all the things I did, were the things that got me here?"
       -Wild, Reese Witherspoon & Cheryl Strayed