Monday, May 28, 2012

unnecessary extravagnace

Continuing on the theme of extravagance...

I went to see The Hunger Games the other day.  Perhaps my favorite part of the story is when Katniss, the main character, decorates the body of her friend Rue with flowers.  As I watched that scene play out in the film, a phrase popped into my mind.

Love is unnecessary extravagance in the face of evil.  

I'm sure someone has said that before, otherwise it wouldn't have been in my head, but I couldn't tell you who or when or where to look.

Jesus didn't have to die on the cross to save me from my sin, not that there was another way, just that he didn't have to save me.  In the same way, I suppose there is nothing in this world I am really obligated to do.  I don't have to be a nice person, or a good parent, or a law-abiding citizen.

It was a new way to look at salvation for me.

When speakers get up and say, "You don't have to, you GET to," in that smarmy, well-rehearsed manner that makes you want to slap them, it means nothing.  But when someone draws beauty from pain as a reminder that there is something deeper and more true than this moment, then I get it.

So as a continuation of the last post, I think I'm entering a season of prayer for more extravagance in my life.  Not the kind of extravagance that tries to curry favor or spoil a child, in fact, I'm not exactly sure what I'm praying for.  Thankfully, we have the Spirit who intercedes for us in accordance with God's will, and his groaning is beyond what I can ever ask or imagine.  So here goes nothing.


So I've been reading a lot of poetry lately, specifically Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, and Francis Thompson.  Here's an excerpt from a poem by Mary Oliver called, When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention:

"As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant.  Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground.  This
is our unalterable task, and we do it

And they went on.  "Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,


Lassitude.  Do you know what that means?  I had the vague notion that it was roughly equivalent to laziness, but I felt a pressing to look it up, so I did.  It is actually not exactly laziness, it is the state of feeling weary, listless, without energy.  When I looked up the word lassitude, I felt like I was standing on the wrong end of a jet engine at take off.

Talk about conviction.

I am not a lazy person.  When I don't have something I have to do, I'm quite happy to embark on any of dozens of projects I've wanted to try for a while.  However, I suspect that I've been living in a state of lassitude for months if not years or maybe, if I'm honest, my whole life.  Especially since Emmett's death, there have been days where the only reason I get out of bed is because Quinn is jumping on me.  I feel like I drag my feet though the day sometimes just waiting for the hour when I can hide under the covers again.  Let me pause here and point out that this is not depression.  I have moments of joy and mirth as well as sadness, but the overriding emotion of my life is simply lassitude.

This poem was so arresting because I never really thought of lassitude, the weariness and listlessness of my soul, as a shackle on my heart.  I've wanted to love better and more, I've wanted to do more and be more to the people around me, but I never saw how much my lassitude is a hindrance to who God has created me to be.  I'm sure the feeling of lassitude is part emotion and part biology and part lack of faith, but regardless of its origin, my feelings of emotional and spiritual weariness are probably the single largest hindrance to my fellowship with God.  I don't call people because I'm not feeling perky enough.  I don't show up to an event because I don't want to muster up the energy to make conversation.  I don't even pray fervently, and that doesn't even require physical energy.

May has been my month of medical issues, from strep throat to a sprained ankle.  I've been physically unable to attend church most of the month, and much of my time has been spent in bed.  This time of stillness comes after many months of intense, focused activity.  While the activity was good, I did not realize how much it was covering a heart mired in weariness.  Sure enough, when I stopped moving, I spewed forth lassitude from every corner of my being.  Even though I've had endless stretches of hours to read or pray, I've struggled to do anything more than lay in bed and pretend I don't exist.

I didn't even realize how strong a vice grip that lassitude has on my whole being.  So I've been praying, as much as my undisciplined mind can pray when it encounters such a formidable foe.  I've been praying for deliverance and waiting for my prayer to be answered.  Because, like the roses in the poem, I really do want to spend my life being hugely and damply extravagant before dropping, petal by petal, to the ground.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


My life has entered one long, awful episode of The Twilight Zone for Single Mothers.  If you haven't guessed from the title, I'm now on crutches because of a bad sprain that won't allow me to put weight on my left leg.  But let's not bother with how I got the injury, let us focus rather on what I have learned thus far in my adventures.  You can let your imagination figure out how I learned these tidbits.

1 - Hikers are quite possibly the nicest people on the planet.  Because not only will they tote your 40 lb bag the half mile down the trail to your car, they will pretend to enjoy the experience.

2 - If you happen to be out of meds when you are injured out in the wilderness, find the rock climbers.  They are quite happy to share their prescription pain killers.  Somehow that doesn't surprise me.

3 - Of these three things: elevate your ankle, ice your ankle, and drive a car, at most, two of them can be done simultaneously.

4 - It is possible to check your son for ticks and give him a bath while hopping on one foot.

5 - It is also possible to check your dog for ticks and give her a bath while hopping on one foot.

6 - However it is NOT possible to check yourself for ticks and take a shower while hopping on one foot.

7 - The only clue that I'm not actually in The Twilight Zone is that I have amazing friends who
a. don't blink an eye when I text them a picture of my ankle and ask them if I should be concerned.
b.  go buy me crutches when I find even crawling too painful.
c.  take my kid for the night.
d.  take me to the ER because I'm crazy and stay with me.
8 -  If dinner can't be carried to the table in a ziploc bag held between your teeth, then dinner is not going to happen.

9 - All beverages must have tightly sealed lids and handles or otherwise be drunk straight from the container while standing at the fridge.

10 - Those cute little Batman toys scattered across the living room floor are a minefield of future ER visits waiting to happen.

11 - X-ray technicians still derive vast amounts of pleasure from asking you to bend and contort the only part of your body that is actually hurting.

12 - You've been to the ER too much when you recognize your attending doctor as one who treated your husband once or twice.

13 - There is no end to the number of things you can carry with your teeth.  just sayin...

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I can't tell you how many blogs I've sat down to write, but my heart is so full, everything seems jumbled and incoherent.  On a walk with a dear friend yesterday, I described the state of my spirit as being something like a small child curled up in a ball while a thousand little pirana-like demons rip at my flesh.  I guess if I had to sum it up in a word, that word would be attacked, only that word feels so sterile and abstract compared to my life.  My life isn't the clean, well matched fight you might find in a boxing ring; it's more like an old fashioned stoning with a competition to see who can throw the biggest rocks.

I just keep repeating to myself the first verse of Romans 8, "therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," and Hebrews 12, "therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders."  There's a pretty vivid mental picture stuck in my head of me trying to drag myself to the starting block with those little pirana-like demons firmly clamped in my flesh and wriggling like fish out of water.  I'm sure there's a Far Side comic in there somewhere.

I've been reading Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster, and I've been greatly encouraged by the stories of so many people, both historical and contemporary, that he uses to describe some of the greatest movements in Christianity.  But I have also been reminded through these stories that resisting temptation and seeking holiness doesn't make your fight easier, in fact it leads you to more intense levels of temptation and persecution.  In one of the chapters, Foster describes the life of St. Anthony, who spent twenty years in the Egyptian desert wrestling with his own personal demons before God delivered him.  In a vision of God, St. Anthony asked him, "Why didn't you appear in the beginning, so that you could stop my distresses?"  God's reply? "I was here Antonius, but I waited to watch your struggle.  And now, since you persevered and were not defeated, I will be your helper forever."

What kind of answer is that?  Seriously.  I mean granted it's not scripture, and it's translated from a VERY old text, but still.  God just sat there on the sidelines and watched?  Was there popcorn and a betting pool too?

St. Anthony's story captivated my imagination, and it was like I could feel God opening my eyes to see myself standing on the edge of a vast desert.  Here I am thinking, "no that's supposed to be behind me God.  Isn't this supposed to be my year of Jubilee that I get for all the suffering I've endured?"  But I look out on the immense stretch of time before me, and I can feel the suffocating heat of loneliness and discouragement and long-suffering.  I feel myself choking on the dry heat just thinking about that picture.  Yet I am also deeply aware of two things.  First, God is with me, watching, because he showed me my desert.  I wouldn't have known had he not opened my eyes.  Second, it will end.  I may have to die to get there (as my stubborn and slightly sarcastic self so helpfully reminded me), but it will end.  I have no proof, only a promise made to my heart and hope.

From Galatians 6:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
I cannot express how much I want to please my flesh right now and justify my behavior by claiming that I deserve to be happy because of what I've been through.  But I know better.  I've tasted the emptiness of sin repeatedly, and I've seen death, which shatters all of sin's illusions.  Yet I still grow weary of doing good.  Weary.  What an accurate word.  If I started listing all the people I know who could apply this word to their lives, I might die before I came to the end of that list.  Then again, as an introvert, I don't really know that many people, but I bet there are that many out there.  Some days before I even get out of bed I'm already looking forward to crawling back into it again.  Don't you?  But God promises a harvest and a time of reaping.  Yet the promise is so intangible, it isn't enough to keep me going most days.

So I have to go back to his words, where I read Psalm 107 this morning.  I'm not going to quote it, but go read it.  Right now.  The psalm was such a beautiful reminder of God's compassionate love for his people; some wandered in deserts and he delivered them; some sat in darkness and deepest gloom and he saved them from distress; some became fools because of their rebellion and he healed them and rescued them; some  were drowning in storms and he stilled the storm to a whisper.

God delivers.  Do not grow weary.  Too late.  But these things I pray for myself in my own weariness:

From Romans 8:26-27 - that the Spirit who searches my heart would intercede for me with groans that words cannot express.

From Romans 8: 38 - that I would be deeply aware that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ.

From Ephesians 6:13 - that when evil comes, after I have done everything I know to do, that I would simply be able to stand.

And I come back to that same mental picture of me trying to drag myself to the starting block with thousands of piranas chewing my skin.  (Should I admit that this picture in my head always has the angry birds soundtrack in the background?  Because it really does, which adds a nice chuckle to my overly dramatic imagination.)  And it feels so alive to be fighting, to know I'm in the game.  Until one of the piranas hits a nerve, and then I collapse into a heap of miserable failure, only to pray in the midst of my weariness for the strength to drag myself up once again.

Monday, May 14, 2012

a spool of thread

Thursday Quinn came home from school somewhat frantic.  I realized later they must have been talking about mothers day at school, but he went to his room and told me I couldn't come in.  As I was fixing supper, he came in intermittently to ask for scissors, glue, and paper.  About the time I was starting to wonder if I should make sure he hadn't cut up his books and glued them to the wall or something equally random and likely, he came into the kitchen with his mothers day gifts: a card made of cut up construction paper to which he had attached an unused sheet of Toy Story stickers, a sheet of Batman stickers wrapped  in notebook paper, and the last bit of a spool of blue thread I gave him over a year ago to play with.

My heart melted.

After explaining to me that these were my mothers day gifts and that he loved me because I was the best mommy in the world, he felt the need to explain to me exactly what each gift was, specifically pointing out the unused stickers about which he said, "I left them on the paper so you could use them for art time, like cards and things."  When he got to the Batman stickers, he paused in the middle of lovingly caressing the stickers, to say, "well, maybe we can share these, like you can have one side and I can have the other...."  Talk about having to resist the urge to laugh out loud.  After settling who could have each sticker, we moved on to the thread, which he handed to me gently saying, "umm.... This is for you, but I may need to borrow it again later."

Wait for it...

And I realized this is exactly how I approach God.  Oh come on, you knew I was going there.  But isn't it true?  Everything I have comes from God, and when I come to him with my offering, I'm not bringing him anything particularly useful or wonderful.  But the state of my heart is the true gift that delights the Lord.  In Amos 5 (vs. 7, 10-11), the Lord describes the people of Israel:

You who turn justice into bitterness
     and cast righteousness to the ground
You hate the one who reproves in court
     and despise him who tells the truth.
You trample on the poor
     and force him to give you grain.

About these people the Lord says later in Amos 5 (vs. 21 - 23)

I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
     I cannot stand your assemblies.
Even though you bring me burnt
     offerings and grain offerings,
     I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
     I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
     I will not listen to the music of your harps.

That reminds me of Psalm 51: 16-17

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
     You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
     A broken and contrite heart,
     O God, you will not despise.

It wasn't the stunning array of gifts from Quinn that made me love the gifts, but his love that overflowed  into a desire to please me.  And the crushing grip of sin and grief that has rendered me near catatonic for days began, ever so slightly, to loosen its hold on me because I was reminded that God rejoices over me, not because of what I accomplish, but because I am his child.  No matter what I have offer, even a scrap of thread on a spool, makes him smile.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Last Thursday, Quinn and I got caught in the rain on our walk back from getting frozen yogurt.  A few years ago we discovered a way to cut through the woods a come out near some shops by our house without hitting the main road.  Quinn asked me recently why I liked walking there instead of driving, and I replied, "because it makes me feel like we're in a story and something crazy might happen!"  Now we have to chase villains and fight off monsters and wonder if we're going to get sucked up by aliens.  So getting stuck in the rain simply inspired us to become boats, though being a boat certainly did not help us avoid getting wet.

Each year, the first time I get caught in a summer rain, I'm always caught off guard, even more so this year, since April feels like summer.  I'm expecting the piercing cold of winter rains to cut into my skin, so I hunch over and hide under trees.  But when I finally run out into it, I'm taken aback by the loveliness of the soft rain kissing my skin.  And I laugh.  I always laugh.  Cause I'm nuts, probably, but I love it.

So Thursday night, for the first time in a long time, I felt invigorated, like everything was going to be okay.  Because lately I've felt, well, kind of left behind by God.

I opened for my beloved, 
    but my beloved had left; he was gone. 
    My heart sank at his departure.
I looked for him but did not find him.
    I called him but he did not answer.
The watchmen found me
    as they made their rounds in the city. 
They beat me, they bruised me;
    they took away my cloak,
    those watchmen of the walls! (Song of Songs 5:6-7)

I struggle lately with feeling like I've missed the bus.  I know a lot of it has to do with the process of reorienting of my life now that Emmett's gone, but I feel like one of those unwise virgins who forgot to bring extra oil in the parable and so missed the wedding.  Is that it, really?  I just looked the other way for one minute and the bus passed me by.

That's how I've been feeling for a long time.  And Thursday, I started to feel a little better emotionally.  Then I got sick.  The "lay-in-bed-face-down-for five-days-and-try-to-will-yourself-into-a-parallel-universe-where-you're-not-really-sick" kind of sick.  I finally started some good drugs last night, and slowly, very slowly, I've been coming out of the sickness fog, and it feels very similar to coming out of my spiritual fog.

So this afternoon when I woke up from a nap and had that rubbery muscle feeling like I was half Gumby and half pilates rock star because I finally wasn't hurting all over.  I swear I could have stretched my hand to my foot without bending a single joint, kind of like Inspector Gadget.  Well, I guess that's how my soul feels too, all stretchy and limitless.

So I read Song of Songs when I woke up this afternoon.  And though some of the imagery makes me chuckle, (teeth like flocks of sheep just shorn, anyone?), it was good to be reminded of God's love for me:

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; 
    you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
    with one jewel of your necklace. 
10 How delightful is your love , my sister, my bride!
    How much more pleasing is your love than wine, 
and the fragrance of your perfume 
    more than any spice! (Song of Songs 4: 9-10)