Tuesday, March 17, 2015

estrella

I have been few places where the stars shine so brightly as the Aqua Nicaragua resort. I hope to find more places, like perhaps the African savannah or Alaska, with even more grand views of the night sky, but thus far my traveling has been somewhat limited. We sat on the beach last night after dark looking at the familiar constellations of Orion, the Big Dipper, and the Pleiades bathed in a host of new stars henceforth unseen. The backdrop of the Milky Way spread across the sky - a sight I've never seen this clearly before - and I was reminded again of how many distractions have distorted my vision of Christ recently. 

I've been humbled recently by the warning in Hebrews 2 not to neglect so great a salvation. The turbulence of the last six months, despite being wonderfully full of great conversations with students, time with friends, and adventures, has been distracting me from my creator and savior. But as always, he brings me to repentance through his extraordinary tenderness. It took a treehouse on the Nicaraguan coast to realize how so many great things can turn my focus away from the very one who cast all those stars into the sky. But it was the tenderness of a dear friend, the beauty of creation, and a few crazy adventures to remind of me of his great kindness towards those he loves. 

So I'm back, and though I may need to find a howler monkey ringtone to wake me up each morning, I am thankful for the reminder to clear away the distractions more often to see the beauty that is out there. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

te amo


I'm sitting in the dark typing this blog post and watching the howler monkeys outside my treehouse as night falls in Nicaragua. I arrived at midnight last night having had only four hours of sleep in the last thirty six hours. My driver, Ricardo, spoke about 24 words in English and I spoke about 12 in Spanish, but he had a sign with my name on it, so I thought what the heck, and hopped in the hotel "shuttle."

We had a two hour car ride at night through the Nicaraguan countryside with REO speed wagon and assorted other early nineties love songs playing in the car, so of course I decided it was the perfect time to learn Spanish. And what better way to learn than by jumping in and asking his name. Well, in hindsight it occurred to me that the word for name sounds a lot like the word for love. And I'm pretty sure by the look on his face that instead of asking his name, he thought I told him I loved him. Of course I was so tired and he was the only way to my hotel, so it may have been a little true.

It just got more awesome from there. After sorting out that awkwardness, we proceeded to mime words to each other and I think I learned how to say tree, stars, beautiful, and large - and it only took two hours.

After just a few hours of sleep in a tree house with the windows open, we awoke to sunrise and the dulcet sound of howler monkeys outside. Then sunshine, hiking, rest, making cacao from the beans, and fellowship with a dear friend. Slowly, very slowly, I feel my sanity returning.

But, mom, I promise not to bring Ricardo home.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Buds

Sometimes I wonder how anyone above the Mason-Dixon line survives winter without becoming a serial killer. Seriously. Winter is always hard. I think I just forget how hard, and it catches me by surprise. Every. Single. Year. If it weren't for nearly twelve hours of plane flight delays, I'd be sitting on the beach in Nicaragua with one of my closest friends drinking in sunshine and rest and fellowship. Instead I'm sitting in the Houston airport beneath the same gray dreary skies that haunt Nashville and sifting through endless pages of AP curriculum material and pedagogical research on grit and self control while receiving text after text documenting yet another delay.

This winter, like this travel day, seems to stretch on forever.

But this winter is also a beautiful season. The extended cold is actually good for my favorite trees. Both the cherry tree and the lilac in my yard need a cold winter to set the blooms, and the colder the winter, the more majestic the blooms should be and the more bountiful the fruit. Although still early, I've started checking them regularly for buds, desperate for my favorite signs of spring.

After pouring myself into the lives of so many students and parents this year, I looked around about December and realized that all the safe people in my life - close friends I could trust to love me even when I fall apart - had vanished. It's not that they weren't safe or we weren't friends anymore, but I had let single parenting, crazy long work weeks, and geographic distance become excuses for not intentionally investing in some of the relationships I needed most. I know that isolation from community makes me vulnerable to a host of sins, so I took an even scarier step and signed up to meet with a counselor.

Since then I've been doing some of the ugly work of winter. Some dying, some pruning, some intentional sowing. It's hard work, but good work, to dig in the soil of my soul and intentionally root out destructive thoughts and patterns. Maybe that's why this winter has felt so long, but I am continually thankful for his promise that all things will be made new. So I keep looking for those buds.

Friday, February 20, 2015

snow day revelations

Things I've learned from our epic ice/snow break.

  1. The topography of my neighborhood, with its perfect combination of hills and shade is excellent for sledding. We may still be iced in come May.
  2. Neighbors with children your son's age are the best.
  3. Be careful where you start sledding because instead of going the anticipated 20 yards, you may run into an elderly, confused beagle way at the other end of the street.
  4. Having an impossibly long to do list is a really good thing when you're snowed in for four days. 
  5. All these years I've been thinking I don't get to folding the laundry because I have other things to do when actually it turns out that I will do just about anything to procrastinate folding laundry.
  6. I don't get bored. I'm too nerdy. My laundry may never get folded.
  7. Quinn is not nearly nerdy enough. We're going to have to work on that.
  8. I may play like an 8 year old, but I hurt like an old lady.
  9. Number 8 leads me to point out that sledding for three straight days when you're recovering from a pinched nerve and separated shoulder and you're allergic to ibuprofen will cause pain so bad you think you're dying. 
  10. The postal service motto apparently no longer applies...
Here's to more snow!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

swallowed up

I know very little, about photography. Okay, really I actually know nothing about photography. I have observed however that the position of the sun is essential to taking a good picture outside. Last weekend we had one absolutely lovely day. As Quinn and I soaked up the last bit of it outside on the greenway, I played with my camera phone a little and snapped a couple quick shots to remind me of the contrast. The first one:


A picture taken mere seconds later simply changing my perspective:


As we walked into the setting sun, it cast shadows over the road before us but painted the road behind us in the perfect hues of sunset. The metaphor felt so obvious it is almost embarrassing to recount.

I read this the following morning:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthian 5: 1-4
As I long and groan and wait, I stare into the dark shadows of the promises we have in Christ. I can make out dim shapes, but I fail to see the color. When I look back though, the brilliant hues of past grace remind me to press on with great endurance. Because one day all this mortality, this frail imitation of life, will be swallowed up by an eternal life so incomprehensible, so radiant, that looking at it form this side casts everything else into shadow.
 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

tornadoes

Cold, bright days like today are one of winter's few crowning glories. The warmth of the sun on my face juxtaposed with the crisp, stinging air stirs up a thousand beginnings to stories I could never have the time to write. Today feels like it could give birth to some great adventure. The gray, rainy days of weeks past weigh heavily on the soul, and not just because of the vitamin D deficit. They are a reminder of the heaviness of sin, the fullness of the burden we carry that taints every thought and word and deed like so many muddy footprints in my foyer.

Spring is coming, bringing with it the promise of those wild storms we can get here in the South. California has earthquakes, Florida has hurricanes, but here we have tornadoes. Wild beasts of wind borne of the clash between hot and cold air, they dish out judgment with vengeful fury. The violence and randomness of their destruction inspires a peculiar mix of awe and fear. Most of us will never actually see a tornado, but the paths they leave are unmistakable.  

The memory of elementary school tornado drills has been bouncing around my head. I can still remember what it's like crouched up against a wall with hands protecting the neck and trying to shift your weight so your feet don't fall asleep. Mere minutes of practice left me with the sole thought that I'd rather risk dying than spend more time on my knees feeling that dreadful tingling make its way down my legs. 

I have been uncommonly short of words lately. Although I'd like to blame it on the work load, a shoulder injury, or traveling with students, I really can't. I just haven't had words, and that does not bode well for the state of my heart. Although I still struggle to find those words, I finally found that the picture of me stuck in tornado drill position portrays exactly how I feel.

Experiencing pain and brokenness in close relationships, losing Smudge, single parenting - a perfect trifecta for emotional retreat. I have been receding from community so slowly, I hardly realized it was happening. But the tingling effects of emotional and spiritual numbness have been working their way up my soul. Actively resisting quiet times is unusual for me, but I've been pushing even God away, despite his overt tenderness and compassion towards my stubborn heart.

Reading 1 Corinthians this morning, I came across this little nugget in verses 37-38:

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
February, with its unpredictable weather, its crazy lows and highs ushering in the first hint of spring storms to come, is the month I plant the little dried snap pea seeds in the ground. They'll weather the final frosts of the year with sober dignity, peeping their brave little heads above the soil in early March. My prayers and reading and studying feel like the hard wrinkled edges of that snap pea seed. Worthless and dead, dried and hardened to protect the faintest promise of life. But the promise is there, however lifeless it may seem at the moment. When those tiny buds pop their heads out of the ground into the blustery spring storms, they won't have any more hard edges to protect them from the blasting winds; they'll have something better, a supple grace to not only survive the violent winds of a passing tornado but also in the midst of the chaos to bear the delicate purple blooms that will birth life giving fruit. 

So is his promise to me, despot my stubborn resistance:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
My new prayer is to submit to that grace at work in me, to trust the mystery, and give myself over to him who has promised to clothe me with immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

go to the work


I've never much enjoyed New Year's Eve. I don't particularly enjoy staying up late, and I don't see much point in getting wild to celebrate a tomorrow that will most likely look very much like today. But this morning I was beginning the final chapters of my study in John with a look at Jesus's resurrection, and this verse has been with me all day. The reading at our wedding was from the beginning of Revelations 21, finishing with this verse. And something about the coming of this new year reminds me of the new creation Christ ushered in when he defeated death.

Because I've been dwelling on the theme of a new creation all day, I flipped back through Surprised By Hope, by N. T. Wright, and I came across this gem towards the end:
The genuine Christian hope, rooted in Jesus's resurrection, is the hope for God's renewal of all things, for his overcoming of corruption, decay, and death, for his filling of the whole cosmos with his love and grace, his power and glory....  What I am saying is, think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection; and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism, the renewal of space, time, and matter as the anticipation of the eventual goal and the implementation of what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection.
I've been sloughing through some really tough school work this break that is preparation for the upcoming semester. In a profession like teaching, it's easy to get distracted with thoughts that outcomes are directly impacted by my level of preparation and skill. But I'm learning more and more that when my focus narrows simply to my own efforts, despair and hopelessness creep in and begin to take control. I needed this reminder to go to work with the anticipation that my greatest goal has already been achieved and I get the joy of watching it unfold. My work for today, and each new day, is to act as a faithful steward of the new creation, ushering in a tiny foretaste of what God has in store for us, showing this decadent world a picture of what God is doing in the whole cosmos.

Despair and hopelessness are loud voices in my head, so today I am arming myself with his victory and his promise in order that I might go to the work that is before me with joy and trust that all things will be made new.