november already (a journal entry)

november already  (a journal entry)

-nov. 4-

I am ready and not ready for this all at once.

I’m all registered for next semester, my last, and I’m waiting for the manifestation of the emotional mess that I know I am but haven’t yet acknowledged. This is it. Last time around. I think I held on to the thought of finishing for so long that it never seemed real in my mind. And now, here I am.

November. Already.

Sara Groves got me through the morning and through writing a paper today. I have to watch what I listen to these days, my mind being prone to wander far too much. At least four times in four different places along my week I’ve swatted away the thought, “I wonder where I’ll be this time next year…”

I’m a mess, and therefore, I’m writing. Because this is how I work: I write my way to the solution, the answer, the slow untangle of things.

I’ve taken on what looks to be both a daunting and amazing set of classes next semester. I soundly ignored the self that wanted to just play it safe and did, for once, what I know I will not regret.

-nov. 16-

Twice this week, I’ve consulted my “next-year self” to make a decision –trying to view things in terms of what I know I will regret not having done tomorrow instead of what I am afraid to do today. On the bulletin board above my desk, I’ve put up a quote from a character in a short-story I wrote (no, seriously, I really did this): “self-consciousness is rarely worth the trouble when you look back.” And, yes, I realize I’m just weird enough to have received counsel from a character I made up in my head…and actually, this isn’t the first time it’s happened, either.

But, today, I think the clouds broke. I’m less dragging in melancholy and more just …grateful again. I drove in to school this morning with James Taylor on the radio, amazed again at this place in life that I’ve come to –this full-circle eucharisteo that comes in unpredictable waves of joy and fills up all my empty places.

I talked to another student in my journalism class this week. When I explained that I’d discovered in the class that I don’t think journalism is my thing, she told me that she’s decided to pursue a journalism minor along with her graphic art degree, and I could see the light of “I know what I’m made to do!” in her eyes. If you’ve never seen that spark in someone, be on the lookout for it –spotting that particular kind of joy is a gift. It’s one of the side benefits of teaching that I was looking forward to, but I still get to experience it anyway as a mom and a student.

“Isn’t it amazing when you finally get to that point where you know what you’re meant to do?”

She smiled, nodded.

And I smiled back, because I know what that joy of finding my calling is like now. Some would say twenty years too late, but I’d say, like the magnet on my mother-in-law’s fridge, that God may be long, but He is never late.

timing

timing

I don’t know how we all got through this week, honestly.

I’ve been biding my words, listening a lot, grieving a lot, trying to understand those who I disagree with. Trying to walk a difficult journey, like the rest of us, on both sides.

listening: I’ve learned more than ever this week that the old adage my kindergarten teacher told us is truth: we are given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is one of the best ways to love that I’m aware of, and I’ve tried (and failed sometimes) to practice it this week, on both sides.

understanding: (yes, I’ll get back to grieving) I know there are very good reasons people do what they do. I will always stop short at justifying evil, but, unlike a lot of my brothers and sisters too tired and too hurt and too much in the dark days of grief to do it, I’ve been able to venture a little into trying to understand why –why this man? Why now? Why did you feel this was the right thing to do? And I’m getting some answers. Not enough to make me change my mind (I look over at my brothers and sisters, still hurt and grieving), but enough to see a deep divide I hadn’t seen before. And I know now, they’re angry, too. Anger plus anger never results in much good being done, but anger is still a valid emotion, on both sides.

It’s what we’ve done, what we’re doing with that anger that leads me to:

grieving: I used to see social media as a healing, unifying, positive influence in my life. It’s built bridges with my past hurts in ways nothing else could. Today, though, I’ve already witnessed two interchanges among friends that positively gutted me –and it’s not quite 9 am yet. I’ve gone largely silent on Facebook, preferring the more easily controlled outlet of Twitter lately, and I’ve been deleting a fair number of things I’ve posted there, after reflecting on them a little.

I posted there a few days ago a hashtag revealing who I voted for this election, and (with deference and respect to my friends who’ve actually done this and really know what it’s like) it felt like a coming-out. I voted my conscience, and it wasn’t the same vote as many people I love and respect. Tends to give a person a very tangled feeling in the soul. Because I see now, in the fray of disagreement and conflict, a few things are true:

people who are in lament and feel threatened need space. They don’t need my “help,” they need an ear, a pair of arms, love without condition, grace. So much grace.

I am a lot more hesitant to speak truth (IN LOVE –which is a far different thing than shouting down or shaming my neighbor with my own perspective on truth, however true it might be) than I thought I was. I place too high a value on my image and far too low a value on love for my neighbor, even at the cost of losing their respect, their friendship. I need to examine my heart on issues that require self-sacrifice, because I don’t do that well yet. I need to listen, to draw courage, to lean heavily on the heart of God, because courage means to “take heart,” and sometimes, I don’t have enough of my own. I need love, grace. So much grace.

people who are hurting say (and sometimes do) terrible things. Even people I love, people I respect. Even I do this. they need patience, a gentle word of guidance sometimes, compassion, love, grace. So much grace.

There’s a time for everything: a time to listen, a time to speak, a time to speak up, a time to stand, a time to sit in the ashes with someone. The only way to discern the times? A keen ear to the heart of our neighbor and and the voice of the Holy Spirit. And grace. 

So much grace.

 

 

 

unspoken

I didn’t even really know her. She was just someone I knew briefly from my time in a church with over a thousand families at the time I attended there. She was a familiar face in a fairly large crowd.

She died in 2011.

I just spent a few minutes paging through some public photos of her funeral that I found online. And one thing stood out: she was buried in an unfinished wood casket. Her friends and loved ones and family wrote messages on the casket before her service.

It was beautiful. Simple. Meaningful. –And as I paged through these images of a beloved woman’s casket covered with handwriting, the words of love from so many people, I started to wonder –How many of these words on the casket did she hear while she yet had breath? Did anyone pick up the Sharpie from the table and compose their final message, feeling the weight of regret for words they had never spoken?

We waste so much time in this life. We wake up with the assumption that the sunrise is our guarantee to another full day, and prepare for sleep, seeing the sunset as a promise that we’ll get another chance tomorrow. We’re usually right.

Only, one day, we won’t be.

I’m a woman of words. I’ve grown into my identity as a writer. One of the side benefits of my given vocation is a burden for encouragement, an eye for the neglected, a sense of the forgotten. Maybe you’re not so good with words yourself –but you, too, have that sense that I’ve grown into. Maybe there’s someone in your world that you know is dragging a bit at the heels, that’s fighting a battle few others are aware of. And maybe you’re the one hand of God in their lives, the one voice of love and kindness that will keep them fighting another day.

I know, it seems kind of awkward, frightening, kind of difficult to find the words, when you’re not someone who’s accustomed to speaking encouragement directly, with your voice or your pen. It’s a powerful and vulnerable thing, this role of encourager. You send your words out on the air or through the page, not knowing what you’ll receive (if anything) in return. Maybe you’ll say it wrong. Maybe you’ll embarrass the receiver. Maybe they’re hoping you didn’t notice the redness in their eyes, the tiredness on their face, the defeatedness in their voice. Maybe you should just let it go. They’ll be fine.

Encouraging involves risk, and, yes, sometimes you may not get it just perfectly right. And sometimes you will, but you’ll never know what (if anything) became of your efforts. That’s okay. The results aren’t your job. You are the messenger (Feel free to repeat those last two sentences as necessary).

There’s a quote from Henri Nouwen that I only recently removed from my blog heading, and it’s a quote I’ve been leaning heavily into this week:

“Trust that if you are living as the beloved you will heal people whether or not you notice it.” -Henri Nouwen

People who live as the beloved (that is, those who know their primary identity as a beloved child of God) know the healing that Love has done for them. It changes them. They see the world differently, and they are compelled to live into that love and let it flow out of the works of their hands.

You may not see the healing. Maybe not today. Maybe not ever.

Speak anyway. Follow that sense in your soul, value the day you’re given, and with bold hope and bolder assurance in the love you’ve been given, speak life, speak worth, speak healing to that person who needs it.

Don’t wait for a sharpie and a casket.

of mice and deliverance

of mice and deliverance

Walking into my kitchen one mid-afternoon three days ago, I let out an involuntary shriek –jumping nearly before the neurons in my brain had time to process the data:

A mouse.
A small, brown mouse dashed along the cabinet baseboards and into the slot between the cabinet and the dishwasher, dragging its little string of a tail behind it.

It’s the turning-point of summer’s end in my neighborhood. The trees are just beginning to yellow into fall color, the nights are cool enough to prompt a 3 a.m. trip to the bedroom window to crank it shut against the breeze and grab another blanket on the return trip to bed.

A mouse. Perfectly understandable, I thought, remembering that the mail carrier left the back door slightly ajar in her attempt to drop a package in the entryway. Beside that, we’d spotted one already in the basement, put out a live trap baited with a glob of peanut butter, and caught it –unfortunately a day or two too late to release it. I discovered it not by sight, but by following the piercing smell of dead rodent wafting through the basement storage area. Perhaps it would have been more humane instead to have set a spring trap, I thought, as I carried the trap casketing the rodent upstairs to the trash can outside. Still, we tried. Poor thing.

And now, there’s another one. –Perhaps more, you’re thinking, if you’ve had a house with mice. I’ve not arrived at that conclusion. Yet. My husband spotted him (or her?) once more in the basement workroom directly below the dishwasher (–still not admitting we might have more than one, remember), but we haven’t seen it since.

Still, it’s been on my mind, for many reasons.  Years ago, I attended a “healing prayer” workshop at our church, when I was in my twenties, recently married, still finding my way about life as you do in your mid-twenties. Uncharacteristically for me, I agreed to serve as an illustration of what healing prayer might look like. In other words, I was the subject.

The leaders of this seminar, which by the standards of my denomination edged on the mystical and “charismatic,” prayed over me and listened for, I assume, God’s word over me. Two things came from that session, both amusing and unsettling in their accuracy.

“I’m seeing a mouse,” she said, in the listening-prayer part of the process. Would this mean anything? My husband was beside me, stifling a laugh after a moment’s thought. This mouse, she elaborated, had a habit of running out to get what it needed and dashing immediately back into its hole. Slowly realization dawned –the mouse was me. It’s how I operate –I rarely step out into the light, I resist being revealed, and I usually run into hiding when threatened. The metaphor, vision, whatever it was apparently worked, or at least my husband thought so.

The second thing she saw was a book. Because I was in my bold mid-twenties, I was foolish enough to question this. –Are you sure it was a book, not a canvas, not a painting? This isn’t right, I thought. A book. Maybe an allusion to illustration, I asked? Perhaps, she answered, but it’s such a beautiful book…

The punch line there is that a few years down the road, I recalled that she was one of the first to point out that my true calling might have been more with words than paint. I’ve long since lost the string that threads those two visions together, but the two pieces have stuck in my mind for years.

And, so, this is why I suspect that the sudden appearance of this little rodent-harbinger of prophecy that exists somewhere in the dark recesses of my kitchen cabinets was sent on a mission.

At present, I’m in mid-dash along the baseboards of my life, driven again by desire, yet motivated in the deepest part of my gut by an instinctual drive to not be found. Because everyone knows, mice who get found get dead.

And then I remember Reepicheep.

Reepicheep, the warrior mouse that C.S. Lewis wrote into his Narnia Chronicles. The proud mouse that defied biology and instinct and challenged enemies exponentially bigger than he. And I laugh. I am no Reepicheep, Nor am I a kept mouse, a pet in a cage.

Now that I think of it, perhaps not all mice who are found are doomed to life deep in dark cabinets or death by trap or starvation or dehydration. Some spend their limited days under sunshine in fields of abundance, free to glean their daily bread and roam on fresh, soft soil; their lives cut short in a clutch and a sweep, grabbed up to become part of the great food chain of farm life, nourishment for a bird of prey. The risk is all relative, I think, and the outcome is the same, but given the choice, I’ll follow the field mouse.

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Epilogue: Several days later, the realization has settled in: we have mice, plural. My husband, daughter, and son just captured a wee one who had the misfortune of finding her way into the heating duct and trapping herself in the intake duct to the furnace. My daughter heard her pattering along the ductwork in the basement and attempting to chew her way through the furnace filter. She was successfully captured, alive, given a consolatory snack of a couple guinea pig pellets and hay and at present, they are bringing her out to the fairgrounds, presumably on the edge of the cornfields, where she can hopefully live a much better life than she could in our home. And now I see, know, and understand that sometimes, mice who get found …are delivered.

 

 

what matters

There’s a spark somewhere that I hit sometimes when I write. It doesn’t always happen, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out the alchemy to make it happen when I desperately want to sometimes. Sometimes it takes time, thought, quiet, a few days’ rumination. Sometimes, there’s a holy moment of incredible joy when I hit that final word and know that it is done, and I got it exactly right. But the more I write, the more I appreciate that rare moment for what it is. It doesn’t come along without paying the dues of days and weeks where that moment just won’t happen.

I’ve never loved anything –writing or otherwise– without that spark of …whatever it is. Passion, life, risk, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something like the breath of the Spirit into an idea or a person or a leaf on the wind. I can’t make it happen. I suppose that comes with the territory of this calling I’ve walked into. Everything I write that matters is written with borrowed words. I’ve invented no language. At best, I’ve been taking notes of the world, carefully curating thoughts and ideas and images, gathering them all together as I travel, bringing them home, spreading them on the picnic table, sorting them, arranging them in such a way as to tell not just the story, but to give the idea of what it was like –the wandering and the walking along. Not just the collected items, but the thread that ties them all together. That’s the magic that happens when I get it right.

Just enough words, not too much, paired with a willing ear or eye and the magic happens. I wish it happened every day, but maybe that would be asking too much.

Or would it?

Faith and the Art of Base Jumping: the latest milepost on my journey to find joy

If I had to write a title for this chapter of my life, I’d title it “Faith and the Art of Base Jumping.” A lot of my days lately start with my feet hanging over the edge of the bed like they would at the edge of a cliff. I have to push aside the terror that rises when I realize that following this dream means I’m once again in student loan debt. I occasionally see visions of that famous debt clock that is somewhere in New York, ticking off the billions of dollars of government debt that our great-great-grandchildren will be paying for. My own debt clock is a few digits shorter but none the less terrifying.

But there’s a more joyful side to the cliff-edge morning stance. I occasionally am granted a glimpse of the possibilities. I have momentary (uncharacteristic) monents of unreasonable optimism in which I can envision this thread of story leading on into the future and intersecting with the lives of others. I see the healing in the listening. Healing in the telling. I can get a fuzzy picture of what ministry might look like someday. I look behind me and see the accidental ministry that’s already happened. Henry Blackaby has a quote that I’ve learned to live in to: “We don’t choose what we will do for God; He invites us to join Him where He wants to involve us.” My job lately has been walking around with eyes open, looking for openings and waiting for the gentle push into them. …Okay, who am I kidding here? Sometimes I need a good shove.

Faith is hard. But our concept of it, I think, is erroneously simple. Faith in the abstract sense, looks too much like negative capability, like something that’s an action in the sense that it’s not doing something. But faith is incomplete without the action that must follow it.

Faith is the whole act of sitting in the chair. It’s not found in the distance between your behind and the chair’s seat.

When that chair to which God directs me is one of those Swedish modern chairs that look cool but like they won’t support my ample self, I hesitate. But when I see a room full of people sitting in the same chair, that hesitation subsides. That room full of people is the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews –the divine cheering section of saints that have already reached the finish line, whose stories are left behind for our encouragement. Sometimes it’s in the voices of the people walking the journey just ahead, just behind, or alongside me. The important thing is to learn how to hear the cheering.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Heb. 12:1-3

Change Calling, part one

Change Calling, part one

            “Hello, you’ve reached my crazy, busy life. I’m sorry, but I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the tone, and I’ll get back with you in ten or twenty years or so. Your call is important to us…”

College is supposed to be the place you find your calling. In my case, however, my calling was there, hiding from me in plain sight even before college, but I seem to have forgotten to check the voicemail.

The first snowy day of December in 2010 found me skidding helplessly down the frontage road that emptied into highway 11 in Sioux Falls. Alone in my minivan, I was feeling conflicted about the job interview I’d had a few days before, and wondering why I really didn’t want them to call back. The interview had gone really well, I’d thought, but I still had a feeling in my gut that something just wasn’t right.

As I was careening down the hill, my thoughts were divided between finding a clear spot between the cars so I could get down without crashing, and thinking about emailing one of my former teachers who had mentored me through high school. I figured that regardless of whether I got a reply in time, writing it all out would help me get things sorted out. As I reached the bottom of the hill (safely), I decided to sit down and send the email when I got home.

I returned home, I sat down to the computer, pushing aside my unfinished college re-application form, and composed the email. I hadn’t reached a conclusion by the time I hit send, but I knew change was in the wind.

That was how I began my second chance at finishing my college education.
In May of 1993, I left Dordt College (a small college in northwest Iowa –if you know about it, you’re probably related to someone who goes there) after two years, after my dream of teaching art turned to disappointment. I had finished Ed 101 with an A …and the undeniable conclusion that I was not cut out to be a teacher. My “Plan B” was graphic art, but Dordt’s art department then was not what it is today, at least as it concerned digital graphics. So when my dad offered me a job back home with the family printing business, I did the math and moved back home. I figured the degree could always come later, if I needed one at all.

For the following seven years, I worked as a graphic artist and pre-press technician, and found that while the work was challenging and interesting, the magical aura of “This is it! This is what I was born to do!” failed to materialize. My jobs paid the bills and put my husband through graduate school, but when my job title changed from “graphic artist” to “full-time at-home mother,” I was completely relieved. Surely this mom gig was what I was born to do. …And it was.

I found that with a house full of pre-schoolers, my days were full of more than just diaper changes and reading stories. I found skills I was not aware I had –I could manage a home better when I was home full-time, I read extensively on nutrition and voluntary simplicity (partly sparked by necessity as a one-income family). I became a student of my new profession.

In our travels during those years with little ones, we spent a difficult year living in Phoenix, Arizona. My husband had taken a job there teaching, and we quickly found that the job was not a good match. Our church, however, was a perfect match for our needs that year. Like us, our church was in a transitional period, examining its mission, and as a part of that investigation into who we were as a church, they sponsored a weekend seminar designed to help each of us find our own calling as individuals so that we could better bring our gifts together as a church. I honestly didn’t figure I’d find much new information. I knew that since girlhood, I’d loved the idea of being an artist, and while it wasn’t the thing that I naturally gravitated to, doing art was the thing I wanted to do.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Armed with three colors of post-it notes and a blank posterboard, our Saturday-morning assignment was to piece together a storyboard of our life. Negative memories and influences on one color, positive on another, and neutral on the third color. Once that was put together, we studied it, questioning over the big-picture patterns of our lives –where God was moving us, our resistance to that moving, and what that could mean for the future.

To my shock, I found that while art had always come as a struggle, writing (including the work involved in doing the storyboard project) both came easily and naturally and also gave me a joy that I’d previously dismissed. I sat in front of that storyboard the day or two after the workshop, piecing together the clues: I journaled through high school, and I credited it with keeping me sane and emotionally healthy. In elementary school, I was known as the girl with the above-average reading and spelling skills. One sixth-grade teacher published a short story I’d written in an anthology of student work. Another teacher referred to me in a second-grade report card as her “little reader for the Lord” (Christian school teachers… bless their heart). My favorite memories of childhood involve a chair and a book. My favorite place to be had always been the library or Barnes and Noble. A friend in college had read a literary analysis of The Scarlet Letter I wrote in high school and was fairly intrigued by it (“Who writes like this in high school?!” he asked).

While we were piecing together a church mission statement, I wound up as our small group’s secretary. I was at a table with two professional writers, and both commented on my ability to gather the things we’d mentioned into a clear, concise and complete statement.

Slowly, the light in my mind came on: what if, all this time, I’ve been a writer?

This is what finding my calling looked like. Not a sudden, timely realization, not a goal, not the culmination of a collection of hard-won skills, but a gradual revelation. To borrow a phrase from John Green, it happened slowly, then all at once. (If you missed the reference, ask any teenage girl who reads. She’ll get it.)
As a result of that epiphany, I found myself a few years later back within reasonable commuting distance to Dordt, my old college, but it took me several years to gather the faith to make the jump and finish my degree. But I count that snowy day in December as the day I began my journey back to college. I finished the email, and was shocked to find a reply only an hour or two later, encouraging me to waste no more time if this was where I believed God was calling me. I sent in the re-application, and by January, I had started back –just one class, and no certainty of what would come after that—but I felt a joy that I hadn’t had since those days with a house full of babies and preschoolers. I knew that finishing my education would enable me to be a better steward of my gifts, but I also knew that finishing school meant finding a job at the end of the process. It took me a while to figure out that what I was experiencing was a change of seasons.

By this point, my kids were all in school. I watched my own dedicated full-time at-home mom in “retirement” from her career, and knew from her experience that even though I would be a mom forever, in my case, being an at-home mom full-time was only a temporary job. God was opening me up for another vocation.

(to be continued)