Tuesday, October 25, 2011

tumbleweed and purple crayons

Sometimes I feel a little bit like tumbleweed, broken loose and blown about.  Other times I feel a bit more like Harold, floating along with my purple crayon in a nice purple bubble having all sorts of interesting adventures.

My space right now is very safe, and I'm not sure what that means, except to say that I feel I've been given these days as a present to just be, to heal, to regroup.  I find myself wanting to be all kinds of anxious about what I should be doing now that I'm not pursuing a life with Emmett.  I have to intentionally refrain from jumping into activities and commitments simply for the fleeting comfort of finding an identity in something other than Christ.

Not that life's easy, now, don't get me wrong.  Temptation presses in on my little bubble, sometimes poking holes I have to fill with my handy purple crayon almost faster than I can draw.  Or I go tumbling right through the same sins like I have a million times before and find myself tangled and broken in need of repentance.

But I have a strong sense of being held, and I keep reading psalm 139:
You hem me in - behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me.
At the most acute times of suffering, that verse has been suffocatingly oppressive, almost impossible for me to read even though I'm drawn to read it over and over.  But now I can read with something like a feeling of wonder.  In working through Hebrews 12, I've recently come to verse 11:
 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
I wonder how many times I have not submitted to the discipline of the Lord but instead gone about my own way because it seemed pleasing at the moment, only in the end to suffer acutely from my own sin and folly.  It has been freeing to undergo a discipline that I cannot escape, to be pressed upon so firmly that I cannot help but submit, and find that in submission even to the pain and loss there is comfort and peace.  I see now how submission leads to righteousness because, having tasted of the Lord's sweetness to those who grieve, temptation has lost much of its appeal.  As a small example, I have seen the desire for intimacy and love wreak havoc on all sorts of people, myself included, when not submitted to Christ.  And though I miss the intimacy of marriage, I am not (perhaps I should insert a yet here) tempted to pursue it again.  My eyes are opened in new ways to sin and brokenness, and I harbor no illusions about how they damage even relationships based on Christ.  There are a thousand more examples that I am still working out in my own life, as if I'm looking through a kaleidoscope and beginning to see pictures in the swirling colors for the first time.

So I'm patiently waiting as the Lord chisels away at those scales over my eyes.  Like the blind man who saw people walking around like trees, I don't seem to really see things properly the first time (or sometimes the second time, third time, etc), so I'm trying to sit still and be patient while the Lord works on me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Tonight I spent some time updating the journal I've kept for Quinn since he was a baby.  I'm not much into baby books, but I enjoy writing, so I've kept a sporadic journal of his life.  I read it after I finished tonight's entry and found it nice to remember moments or stories I had forgotten.

In all the cleaning and sorting, filing and organizing, and looking through that I've been doing lately, I've found it hard to let my mind rest on one topic.  Like a bird lost over the ocean, I am wearied by my inability to land.  Work and life have been hectic, and I find myself disengaged from just about everything.  Reading is difficult because words dance before my eyes for ages before I can extract any meaning from them, and writing feels like I'm trying to speak through mud or as if I'm trying to form words after just waking from heavy anesthesia.

I spent some time praying for rescue, for a place to land amidst the floodwaters of my soul.  I'm still waiting.  But that's faith a lot of the time for me right now, watching other people's lives move forward while I look for a place to land or an olive branch to let me know that land is out there somewhere.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Last Saturday at the monastery was the kind of crisp fall day that tempts you to curl up in bed for an extra hour, but the schedule of the monastery had me up and out of doors while the chill was still strong enough to creep into my bones.  I loitered about the monastery in the morning, attending my first catholic mass and browsing the gift shop before finding the keeper of the maps.  She handed me a photocopy of a hand-drawn map and wished me luck.

I set out across the road, awkwardly juggling the map and my day pack while trying to turn my head all directions at once.  I was ill prepared for the sudden downturn in temperatures, so I alternated holding the map and tucking my hands into my sweatshirt.  The grey clouds marched in full state across the sky, pierced only now and then by a warming shaft of sunlight, so that I would be chilled right down to the bone one minute only to be rescued by a brief break in the ranks.

Across the road there was a nicely mown path through a field to the top of a hill where a statue (I assume of Jesus) stood.  Several people walked up to it or sat on benches nearby.  The possibility of following a wide, well-populated path was tempting, but I was far too cold for a leisurely stroll and too anxious to get  lost in the woods, metaphorically speaking.  So I headed a hundred yards or so down the road where a small trail led through the woods to a vague marking on the map labeled "statues."

Now I'm quite timid about heading off into the woods by myself.  Contrary to my what my last post might indicate, I'm actually not nearly as afraid of getting murdered as I am of getting hopelessly lost and missing lunch.  So I actually considered staying in my room all weekend and reading, taking short walks to the gift shop whenever I felt the need to sample fudge.  My timidity, combined with my stunning lack of directional sense, pretty well convinced me that I was doomed to die of starvation if I set one foot off the road.  Whether out of stupidity or simple need, I forced myself onward, traveling well-worn paths that morning and venturing further into the knobs (that's what they call the hills around the monastery) as the weekend wore on.

Leaving other people behind at various benches or statues, I kept pushing onward until I finally broke into my own private clearing, slightly off the trail.  The dew had already soaked through my shoes, and I paused to bask in one of the rare shafts of warming sunlight and listen to what first sounded like torrential rain but turned out to be the wind crashing through the trees across the clearing.  Slowly, I felt loose wisps of hair begin to dance around my neck.  Suddenly I found myself swallowed up by the wind as that small piece of sunlight was once again obscured by clouds.  Here would be a nice place to talk about how I was similarly swallowed up by the spirit of God, yadda, yadda, yadda, but really, all I could think was, "man, I hope it doesn't rain.  I'll probably get lost AND get hypothermia."

I wandered around for another hour or so that morning, getting my bearings without wandering too far, choosing to defer adventures requiring any more courage until the afternoon.  I felt particularly uninspired and morose, and of course I was afraid of missing lunch, so I made my way back to the monastery gardens and found a place where I could read and write that was sheltered from the wind but warmed by the temperamental sunshine.  So I read for a while, and then I wrote:
I wake up to God every morning, his name in my heart and on my lips.  I hide his word in my heart and chatter to him throughout the day as if we were old friends, and still I feel the depths of my inadequacy, an impossible distance between us.  Like a child playing house, so I play at keeping religion.  And instead of feeling closer to God, I begin to wonder if I ever knew him or if he has been to me nothing more than a paper doll to dress up and and keep me company wherever I go.  In this I envy the birds around me, the insects and wildlife: to just do, without thought or reflection, that which you were created to do.  And perhaps in doing what is to us the mundane, simple task of living, others will hear music that, like a birdsong, lifts the spirit and points heavenward.

Friday, October 7, 2011

psycho killers

Wow.  What a full week.  I had fully settled in my spirit to spend this week reflecting and reading, and instead I've spent my small slivers of spare time watching videos of Emmett that came in the mail and looking through some of his notebooks that I keep finding squirreled away all over the house.  My spirit has been quiet and reflective.  I wouldn't say peaceful, exactly, but free from the frantic emotional swings so characteristic of my soul lately. 

I've been plagued with terrible dreams for a while now.  Ironically they were particularly bad while I was at the monastery, but yesterday morning, I woke up from one that was both awful and so arresting that I immediately started praying.  In the dream I was at school, and though in the dream I knew all the people, they were not actually people I know in real life.  There was a serial killer on the loose, and his first move was to kill the entire cheerleading squad (what does that say about my psyche?).  Although there was a group of men trying to capture him, he was able to continue killing.  Then when I was on the phone with a friend, he came to kill her and she told me who it was.  It was the man in charge of group trying to catch the killer.  And I had a problem.  I knew no one would believe me because this man was so charismatic, with the kind of magnetically attractive personality that leads you to believe almost anything rather than the truth.  So he came to my room, and asked me to go on a walk with him.  And there was this weird moment because I knew he was a psycho killer, and he knew that I knew what he was.  But he was so freakishly attractive that I really didn't care if he was going to kill me.  Until some teeny tiny voice in my brain started shouting, "run you moron!"

The dream petered out from there, but I woke up breathless with God's words to Cain in Genesis 4 on my heart, "sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."  For the first time in a long time I really felt the heartlessness of evil and it was creepy.  It was like that face in the dream was leering at me, knowing exactly how to wrap sin in a package so enticing that I wouldn't even care I was running to my death.  So I immediately started praying, terrified by my own helplessness in the face of evil, not that something would happen to me, but that I would be tempted away from Christ to my own spiritual death.  I prayed over and over to be hidden in Christ and protected beneath the shadow of God's wing.

Paul warns repeatedly to flee temptation, sin, evil, idolatry, etc.  So I've been praying to be able to hear that teeny tiny voice when it tells me to run like crazy and that I would be given the strength to set my legs in motion.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Perhaps if I wanted to find some sort of deep, soul-satisfying peace in my silent wanderings last weekend, I shouldn't have listened to an audio recording of Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge on the drive to the monastery.  Probably not a good call.

I tried not to have any expectations, but I found myself somewhat disappointed by the lack of extraordinary.  And then I picked up a little book called, Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen.
Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply.  It is like discovering a well in the desert.  Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper....
Remember that feeling of diving into a new relationship that makes you want to stay up late into the night talking, discovering all you can about this new person before you?  In the same way, being intimately awakened to the tenderness of God through suffering makes you want to jump in head first and drink up everything you can.  Except that there is no end to God.  Had we never been separated from him in the fall, an eternity would still be needed to plumb the depths of God's mysterious goodness.  And I realized that my frustration was really impatience, as if I could force my soul to enlarge or my eyes to open.
From the moment we claim the truth of being the beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are.  Becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.
If it is true that we not only are the Beloved, but also have to become the Beloved; if it is true that we not only are the children of God, but also have to become the children of God; if it is true that we not only are brothers and sisters, but also have to become brothers and sisters...  If all that is true, then how can we get a grip on this process of becoming?  If the spiritual life is not simply a way of being, but also a way of becoming, what then is the nature of this becoming?
...  This is such an important question because it forces us to let go of any romanticism or idealism and to deal with the utter concreteness of our daily lives.  Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do.  It entails a long painful process of appropriation or, better, incarnation.  As long as "being the Beloved" is little more than a beautiful thought or a lofty idea that hangs above my life to keep me from becoming depressed, nothing really changes.  What is required os to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life.
Isn't that just good enough to soak in?

So I let go of my expectations for the weekend and just tried to be present, prayerfully asking God to show me that I am his Beloved, and I plan to carry that prayer into the days and weeks to come.


I haven't written much lately because there wasn't much to say.

I got to the point last week where things were moving along fine, but I still seemed to carry a deep sadness.  How do you communicate that without wallowing in self-pity?  How do you propel yourself forward each day with intentional perseverance while gracefully acknowledging the grief?  I'm not sure I've found that balance, yet, and my moods still vary so widely I feel like an infant being tossed about on the waves.  Sometimes it is better to be silent.

So last Friday I left Quinn with friends and made my way up to a Trappist monastery in Kentucky called Gethsemani Abbey for the weekend.  It was an unexpected, last minute getaway, and I was looking forward to some rest (didn't happen), reading (happened), hiking (happened) and praying (happened).  I'll spend the next few days blogging about some of my wanderings, both reflective (on some of my readings) and humorous (on getting lost in the back woods of Kentucky).

But for now, I am attempting to catch up with life, which is demanding this time of year.