Relearning Prayer

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Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn  -Mumford and Sons

Prayer.

The concept conjures up a variety of assumptions…formulas, requests, thanksgiving, an old man judging, desperate pleas, fear, expletives, impossible.

I will not presume to know what Mumford and Sons meant by the above prayer, but they touch a deep place within, where the cries for eyes to serve and hands to learn. It is a call to seeing things differently, taking things out of the box of expectation and make a shift. My paraphrase, “Please keep the earth below my feet, for all of this effort, my blood is running weak. Please protect me so I may gain wisdom from where I’ve been…to learn and serve in new, unexpected ways.”

The longer I walk this earth, the more I realize prayer is infinite. Infinite ways to express oneself, infinite gods/spirits/saints/people to direct prayer to, infinite forms, infinite paths. I have come to believe and accept both God and prayer hold no bounds…at least not any to which I am privy.

Formerly, I operated with the false idea that I was required to follow a special formula or plan for prayers to be valid and heard. I wrote most of my prayers for decades to still distraction. Train of thought was instantly lost upon closing my eyes. I have spiral notebooks dated and filled with longing, thanksgiving, identifying with God (or trying to). The practice was essential, a way to write and organize, to empty. I firmly believe I was met, the Holy Spirit with me.

As of late, my views on prayer have changed. Instead of filling time and space with words, I long to shed the notion that my performance matters. Many days I sit in the dark silence, meditative, quieting body and mind…some days successful, in my view, some not. I know God is present, and the importance is placed in showing up, not in having the perfect words or experience.

Also, I am expanding my definition of what qualifies as prayer:

a candle in a window

yelling and doubling over on a hike, painfully grieving

clinking frothy beer mugs, in celebration

laughing hysterically over nothing remarkable

laying awake at night fearing the worst

writing

walking along tree covered paths, gazing upwards, noticing the contrast between branches, sky and cloud

a random conversation, leaving me breathless over the Beauty

frying up fresh eggs

an apology, a “Will you forgive me, I’m so sorry!”

remembering  the needs, reflecting throughout the day

laying facedown on the carpet, uttering words, heart hopeful and terrified

making a meal, assembling with love

I know some moments require traditional prayer, for my own soul and mind, to express the words, to spell out the need. I must lay the concern down, for it is too much to handle, too much to hold.

Other moments, I need my people, my children, my husband, my friends. We need to be together in prayer, beseeching. Sometimes, on a run, words in time to breath, tears mixing with sweat. Sometimes, holding a child, fingers detangling hair or scratching a back, words spoken…or not. Sometimes prayer is a conversation with God, as if I’m having lunch with my husband….meandering, stuttering, reflecting.

Let us not not pray for fear of perfect performance. Let us pray according to what is called for in the moment. Let us pray around distractions, letting them in, persisting regardless. Let us pray in the urgency and need, let us pray all wrong. Let us pray outside ourselves, ultimately knowing the abundance in and around, inviting us to lay down our pride and ego to enter onto the wing of the unknown but All-Knowing.

May we give ourselves permission to use words or not, to use only one word…maybe,  “Help!” “Thanks!” or “Wow!” according to Anne Lamott.

The key element is trust, trust in our emotions, our senses being led by Someone greater, to learn, to wait, to feel, to know. Some things are beyond our understanding, and may never make sense.

Prayer unites us with the generous and always loving heart of God, who adores His/Her children and gathers us together in peace.

Some days

Some days just are.

Some days invite creativity, cleaning, sorting and spiffing.

Some days invite solving, mastering, mulling and conquering.

Some days invite rest, renewal, naps and movies.

Some days invite constructive criticism, problem solving, checking off list items and errand-ing.

Some days just are.

Some days are neither inspiring nor boring. Some days reflect the mood of the sky, a gray, cold expression. Some days invite washing windows and cleaning out closets and coops and shampooing rugs and dogs. Some days are toilet days, where bathrooms define the smell of the house, instead of the other way around.

Some days are restless, read, get up, write, get up, prepare food, sit down, eat, stand up, clean. Drive here, park, drive there, park. Talk to a child, grunts in return. Listen to the radio, nothing but chatter. Drink a coffee, same old, nothing new.

Some days are leftover days, piles of noodles, old fruit, on-the-edge soup, muffins lovingly made – yet still sitting on the counter not eaten. Some days the list is long, but the energy and ability to accomplish – nil. Some days the children are annoying and needy and teenager-y.

Some days the bed is unmade, uninviting. Some days the jeans are uncomfortable and sweats pulled on far too early. Some days, the bra stifles, the watch catches on everything, the ring denting the finger.

Some days the screens occupy too much space, populate time not providing anything but a heaviness behind the eyes. Nothing new to see, nothing new to hear, talking heads, talking points. Some days my skin has shrunk, my eyes are tired, my nose clogged.

These days, normal, blah moments, sandwiched between high and low events. These days are stock up days, where the energy is low, but the need will be great. These days are about keeping the whining in my own head, not letting it leak out too much, not letting it take on a life of its own. These days, bound by difficult circumstances are the days to feel, the days to be, the days to wander the four walls of house and car, to take in the humanity. To recognize neither mountain nor valley, just the flatland of a soul. No highs nor lows, just a day.

What is one to do? Put on sweats, eat vegetables and drink beer for dinner, drive the children, ask questions but don’t expect great answers, keep the mouth closed more than open, do the dishes, wash towels. Take a shower, but don’t fight for exercise, read out loud to a kid, put the feet up. Remember the good things, the simple things…don’t make the expectations such that it’s all wrong or not enough. Avert the eyes, don’t look at the wood floors in the sunlight, and certainly DO NOT lay in a position where you can see under couches or beds. Shut your children’s bedroom doors. DO NOT check grades or math pages.  Try really hard to wear comfortable shoes and pants. Don’t smell the dog, don’t peruse the vegetable drawer, don’t go beyond picking up. You will want to throw things and donate necessary items, and make kids pay. Do not do anything you will potentially regret. Take a moment, put yourself on time out…be the grown up and cry uncle on today.

Lovingly dish up the ice cream, find a cloth napkin and clean spoon. Make mention to your husband and children, it’s time to be done. Eliminating any guilt, walk into your room, shut the door, climb into your bed, secure an easy read or episode of Parenthood. Set fear aside, no, not every day will be like this forever. Turn the light out at a decent hour, wait for a new day, pray hopeful for hefty sleep. Keep in mind, knowing deep down the truth but certainly not admitting…

You are awaiting the visit from the untimely and always inconvenient, the peak of womanhood, female-ness and femininity. The part of you that gave life to three embryos, sustaining. The part of you that comes as a surprise every freaking month. It will get better tomorrow.

Some days just are.

Thin

photo credit: Nietnagel via photopin cc
photo credit: Nietnagel via photopin cc

There is a Christian term, originating from the Celts, known as a “thin place.” It seems a bit of an odd term one might use to describe a measure of scarcity, maybe referring to our nerves or time or bodies. In Spiritual practice, a thin place is where the distance between heaven and earth is minimal, where divine and human connect, or maybe even collide.

Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. (Celtic saying)

These places have been described, by many, as actual physical locations, particularly Ireland, where the idea originated. In my experience, the mountains are a thin place, where the cacophony in my head stills and I can be present and aware of God. Or the ocean, particularly where the coastline is especially rugged. Sometimes, travel takes me to a thin place as I am removed from routine and forced to reconcile myself to new surroundings, people and customs. But often, in my life, thin places usually are related to current circumstances, to carrying the burdens of others, and realizing I am but a single thread in a great tapestry. I rediscover no man is an island, that we are all connected on an invisible plane.

Today, I am in a thin place. One of our own, in our community is desperately hurting, in pain, with many unasked questions and few, if any answers. The uncertainty is running deep, and the fear difficult to keep behind the guard wall. The what-ifs, which started as a whisper, have reached a fever-pitched growl, ready to nip at the truths one clings to in the quietest of moments. This time, the only solution is a break-through, a miracle, the perfect puzzle piece in an infinity of choices. The only suitable answer is an answer to prayer. The only acceptable answer is a miracle. This thin place, where Heaven and Earth are closer than three feet apart, is aching for understanding and relief.

These thin places, for me, are not exclusive to trials. I am finding that of late, opportunity and need are smashing together. One minute, I can be ecstatic with the fruition of long held dreams, and the next reminded of the heartbreak of many. One minute rejoicing with a friend, the next lamenting the choices of another. The both/and. Both hold equal opportunity to experience a moment of the shrunken distance between heaven and earth.

In today’s early morning hours, longing for sleep, but knowing deep it would remain at arm’s length, I sat with a candle lit in the window for our friend. I sat silent witnessing the flicker of determined light dancing in the darkness, recognizing the thin-ness, the combined frailty and fervor of the moment. Light overcoming, demanding notice, unceasing. This thin place where human effort and understanding halt, yielding space for the Divine to do what the Divine does best…bring hope, laughter, peace…out of the most wretched of situations. To shine the rays of Love through community, through grace, through understanding, through blessed peace.

When we are worn thin, the One who knows, who suffers with His children is shining His light of generous Love bright and unrelenting into our hearts through the sheerest of membranes, the most thin of places, breaking down the barrier to demonstrate His heart of solidarity and provision. May we sit still long enough in discomfort and ask the questions in order to experience the complete and marvelous beauty in it all.

May we recognize that perfect moment when Divine and Human meet.

A Parental Thank You

December 1989: My high school senior year. Dad accepted a new pastorate 40 miles from our  home of five years. I was to be removed from my high school, the middle of senior year, to finish up at another. My sister, a junior with a long term boyfriend, was devastated. I, surprisingly, was not.

Turns out, the second day of classes, I noticed a cute boy in AP English. At first glance, I thought he was short and chubby…not true. At 6’4″ my crush, turned boyfriend, turned husband was nothing but everything I ever wanted in a man.

January 2015: Twenty-five years later, we all returned to California, all five siblings plus spouses and children, to celebrate my father’s retirement…the final Sunday at this same church and 40 years in the ministry for my dad.  Many of the congregants are original to our 1989 arrival, and watched us all, especially my brothers, grow up.

In all my questioning with today’s church, and the frustration I have regarding who is in and who isn’t, this weekend was a welcome relief. I watched a sizable group of people express heartfelt and earnest love to my parents. And I have seen my parents over the years, do this in return. I saw a body of believers, who in our human messiness, remained for the long haul. Sure, their 25 years had it’s fair share of difficulty and disappointment. But I also recognized laughter, generosity, abundance, integrity. I witnessed a church who stood by my parents, earning the right to speak into one another’s lives.

In conversation with my mom, she tearfully said the church received their best. The five of us have had to figure it out, sometimes not being the priority in a minister’s family, sometimes craving the attention of two very busy, very tapped out parents. We each have had to come to terms with this, some more easily than others. However, on Sunday, I recognized redemption. Each one of us was a minister too…maybe not actively, but certainly passively. We learned how to love well, how to give generously, how to prioritize our families, how to seek health. We were taught how to give grace to others…how to forgive…because my parents, possibly wishing it was all perfect, know it wasn’t. They know things fell to the wayside, and sometimes they fell apart. But, these relationships, family and church, are long running. This honesty is where healing begins, where forgiveness happens, and where the past can be laid to rest.

I long to give this gift to my children…to see me in my messiness. Maybe I will recognize it and seek forgiveness, or maybe they will tell me about it later. I pray that I handle it as mine have. I own it, seek to make amends, and move forward the best way we all know how.

Thank you to my parents, who have modeled humility and kindness. In this, I think maybe we kids did get the best. We got to be privy to the real pastors, and what it looks like when things fall far from ideal. I am grateful to you, Dad and Terry, for the model of integrity and humor that has carried you through many a difficult time. I am grateful to you for resting in the lack of resolution, knowing things would eventually come around. I am grateful to you for being honest about what not to do. You have provided a wonderful jumping off point for each one of us in our own life journeys. I am indebted to you for demonstrating what love truly looks like, and sometimes it is not what we expect. You have been faithful in what God has entrusted to you.

I hope the next chapter provides a new place of freedom and discovery. Plus maybe a healthy dose of Colorado goodness.

Perfect love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.          1 John 4:17 NIV

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. 1 John 4:17-18 MSG

This past summer, I finally relented and purchased a new-to-me mountain bike. My previous ride was a tank with squealing brakes. It was not a fun experience…or safe, for that matter. The hope was if I got a lighter, better bike, I might actually enjoy mountain biking and not be so darn scared. In the past, I may have been known to, in a moment of desperation,  throw set aside my bike before sobbing in the fetal position, Eric looking on in disbelief, but not surprise.

I began challenging myself more on local trails, going out alone, taking my time. I became aware of a problematic tendency. Through some patient coaching from my husband, I came to realize how uber focused I was on each obstacle. Every rock or root, instead of increasing my pedal cadence and moving up and over, I would come to a near stop to maneuver around, so as not to fall. However, anyone who has ever mountain biked or skied, knows that momentum is essential. The moment I allowed fear into the experience, I became virtually paralyzed.

Fear is a powerful motivator…a motivator towards control, perfection, scrutiny. When I become afraid in my life, like on my bike, moving forward well is impossible, and each bump in the road becomes an object of concern. I exist in a land of extremes. Everything becomes worrisome, everyone is criticizing me, I can do nothing right or valuable, I am always going to fail. I can never live up to my expectations (nor can anyone else). I get blocked, creativity comes to a stand still, because I’m terrified of what others will think. Relationships are harmed, when I feel lonely as a result of my fear, because I isolate myself. Health suffers because of the need to strive and be in control. I cannot enjoy the things that bring most pleasure…typically, the small things.

While mountain biking, when I allowed fear to motivate my actions, I was miserable and actually less safe. When I let fear in – instead of yielding to trust – hope, joy, and peace all leave, along with desire.  I become so overwhelmingly concerned with the “what-ifs”, there can be no joy or promise in the journey.

What about fear and love? If perfect love drives out fear, could it be possible that the reverse is true…fear drives out love?

If there is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear and God is love, then the Holy Spirit would also be love. The indicators of a life lived according to the Spirit (Galatians 5), are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If we live a life characterized by fear, and love and fear cannot co-exist, then potentially could our lives demonstrate hate, misery, conflict, impatience, unkindness, harshness, cheating, gluttony and greed?

I wonder, how has the Christian expression of love, possibly been perceived as the opposite, hate? We may think we are loving someone, because we don’t want to be complicit in their “sin”, by speaking Truth as we see it, or as we believe the Bible says. Is love actually motivating our hearts here, or is it mainly fear? I have to check my motives. Am I being motivated out of generosity, freedom and grace? Or scarcity, control and shame? God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’sThis is a game changer. We are to be free of worry…our standing is identical with Christ’s when we live a life of love. Why are we so afraid?

Fear is a block. Fear cancels our ability to perceive the love of God, and our ability to love others. When I am afraid, seeing beauty or experiencing grace and gratitude is an impossibility. I live stuck. I live in scarcity. The only way I can combat fear when it rises up, is to stop. I have to stop in the moment, seek the face of the One who adores me, made me, knows me and loves me beyond measure. I have to look up and give up. There is no way I can move forward when I am living while trying to control. I have to surrender…turn my palms over, dump out the contents, face them upward to receive the goodness that only the Lord can give. Only in this “letting go” can I receive again.

Living in love or living in fear is a choice, it’s a fight. Honestly, some days, fear wins. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. Thankfully, I recognize the power of God’s wonderful and magnificent grace that comes in and breathes relief, hope, freedom and mercy into my soul. It reminds me, through Jesus, I always get a do-over. I always am loved. I always am worthy.

I always have hope.