Why I Count

FullSizeRender-2

The counting. Five years of the counting, one, two, three…fifteen, thirty-six, seventy-nine, one-hundred and….one thousand and….four thousand and…

The counting, the naming, the recognizing, the owning, the defining, the planting.

Naming the gifts, the gratitude, regardless of feeling, regardless of fear, regardless of suffering. Continuing the counting, returning each new morning, the mercy fresh, the coffee hot, the eyes weary, body unsure. Notebooks, iPad, phone – surfaces for my counting. Numbers now in the five-thousands after the decade’s half. Choosing, honoring, naming the simple, the seeming small.

Clem’s soft ears, her carpeted paws

Laughing for a moment

A big ice cream cone at the end

Recognizing incriminating voices

A friend’s kindness

Heat

A compliment

Sleeping through a movie

Home

Delicious soup while cleaning out the fridge

Rainy days

A fast run

The counting a balm for the swiss cheese of my soul, filling up my emptiness, my longing, the severe lack with no name, no reason. Everything good, my home, marriage, family, health – but the shortness I felt, the need to eat, the need to purchase, the need to earn. The need to be noticed and wanted.

The counting a comfort, the weight of my world lightened through the paltry, insignificant recognition – how a bird floats on a stream of wind, a dog’s furry face through a car window, retrieving a piece of litter. Each thing, minor as it may be, evidence of good, evidence of just, evidence of hope.

This Thanksgiving I must admit my disappointment. This country founded upon noble principles, the execution horrific. The people, the groups, the hate, the suffering – all for me to have the freedoms I do. I’m not so sure I like this price paid on my behalf.

Thanksgiving, a national holiday, to take pause and commemorate our forefathers, the feast possibly had alongside our Native American predecessors. I’m not proud. The atrocities unnamed, unaccounted, unconfessed, unrepented. The unjust perpetration on black and brown bodies, the violent rhetoric aimed at our LGBTQ, the call to slam the gates on the world’s most needy and vulnerable. The fear minimizing our believed greatness.

Yet, I still eat the turkey and trimmings. I will lay down stuffed, vowing to never eat again. I will express my sincere gratitude around the table with a sampling of the people I love the most in this life…alongside this bitter disappointment.

Maybe this counting, this naming is the beacon lighting toward incremental change. Maybe this intentional awareness of the smallest, tenderest, most simple of things is an opportunity to stand defiant, to stand unyielding in the face of apathetic cruelty.

When we recognize and name our thanks, we can recognize and name our need. When we recognize and name our gifts, we can recognize and name our weakness. When we recognize and name our abundance, we can recognize and name our scarcity.

In recognizing and naming our gratitude, we uncover the unleashing of limitless love lavished upon us.

I will stand firm this Thanksgiving season. I will see my world. I will witness the incredible abundance through beauty that pours out, pooling. I will honor this beauty while I also witness the suffering, the need. For through this recognition, we are privy to the smallest glimpse of love coming down, living and dwelling with us.

My thanksgiving is the greatest defense I own, for in this counting I see faithfulness, I see mercy, I see beauty and I see tremendous generosity.

This Thanksgiving I will fervently cling to peace, for fear has no place at my table. As I break and eat the bread, drink the wine, I stand resolute in proclaiming life over death.

*One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp started me on this remarkable journey of counting.

The Time I Walked over Jesus in Paris

  
 A dirty mattress, covered in blankets, on a street corner along the Seine River. Perched on this cushion in the middle of the crowds sat a young mother, head covered, a toddler unsteadily tottering toward the busy street. Her voice weak, resigned, calling to the boy. We walked by. I smiled, remembering those early days. The exhaustion, the stoic call, slightly pleading in tone.

Twenty-two hours in Paris, the duration of our stay. Sirens from police vehicles on constant recording, just days after attacks on the beautiful city known for art, culture, love. A haven for creators. Police and military wielded guns, serious guns, ones that would rip apart a limb, surprising me as a welcome comfort.

Fear threatened our plans as we learned of the attacks while in Barcelona, the unknown filled me with questions in the night’s middle as jet-lag interrupted normal sleeping. Checking my phone, the concern of friends, Twitter and Facebook detailed headlines that slowly filled in the outlines of theory and questions. The threat of terrorism a solid reality for all of us, none immune. We relived the suffering and uncertainty from our own 9/11. A stress response submerged slightly beneath the surface.

The fear, however, instead of preventing travel, strengthened our resolve, reminding us of the deep importance for Christians to enter in, to appear rather than run. Our work nominal, but significant in defying the desires of the terrorists, to let fear win, to let fear have the last word. To let fear close off the flow of beauty through love’s expression of mercy and compassion. Our presence, our dollars, our patronage a small act of defiance, a small act of empathy.

The pew of Notre Dame hard, unyielding, a welcome relief from the burden of touristing. Red, white, blue lights splayed upon the domed, ancient ceiling. We participated from afar in the prayerful seeking, the grieving of congregants. Walking the stone banks of the Seine River, meandering the courtyards of the Louvre, pausing under the gold gilding of statues. A moment of  reverence and wordless prayer at the Bataclan Concert Hall, the memorial overflowing with candles, notes, pictures, quotes, Bible verses. A ten-speed still u-locked to the wrought iron fence upon which the elements were propped, central to the memorial, indicating the owner would not return. Camera crews, a large Muslim contingent offering unified support – equally horrified by the acts of religious extremism in the name of their treasured faith.

Strolling along, distracted by the foreign, grandiose expanse of light, sound – the city on display, the mattress once again in our path. Seated now was a worn young man. In an attempt to avoid the cushion, my eyes glanced downward, resting briefly upon the serene, sleeping faces of mother and child. Nestled in the folds of blankets, hidden, ensconced. Nursing, the child attached at the young woman’s breast, the intermittent suckling an opportunity to provide a small offering of comfort to the young life. A gift of nourishment, a sacrifice of love for this life, born on the run, born into pain, born into conflict.

I uttered meager words after walking past, Could this be a refugee family?

Eric returned, deposited a few Euros into the plastic water cup. We continued on, my thoughts faraway. The young family revisiting me in the sleepless bits of night, in the quiet of train and airplane, in the return to the safety and warmth of my home, my land.

I passed by Jesus. I passed by the least of these, the ones discussed in scripture, the ones in debate after debate on the news. The ones dying in icy waters, drowning, the young and old marching for miles, rejected.

I passed Jesus. His family, his nursing form, mother curled about him, father pleading for coins.

I passed Jesus, this cornerstone of my faith, the benchmark upon which everything is predicated. I kept on walking.

I am Peter. I am Paul. I am the rich man. I am the Pharisee. 

The powerlessness of it all, the hopelessness. The fear yearning to creep in, to become hard and sinister and braced. Except, the Christ came and died to be grace, grace that yields pliable and hopeful and beautiful. Grace allows us to live loved, to live well, to live seeing.

Jesus is all around, in the serene face of the nursing child, the worn mother, the hungry father. Jesus is in the mourning, grieving faces at the Bataclan. Jesus in the relief of Carol, our bed and breakfast owner, knowing we came. In the heart of our cab driver in London who confessed his desire to end his life after the conclusion of his professional soccer career. 

Jesus is all around, in our children, our friends, neighbors, our schools and churches. Jesus is in the meals, the days, the sleeps, the celebrations. Jesus is in the debates, the votes, the disagreements. He always goes ahead, preparing a place.

Let us not be so enamored with the creation of man, the desperation in the cruelty of evil doers, the fear that threatens to topple and break our comfortable lives. Let us live loosely, our eyes upward, our eyes downward, bowed, recognizing the opportunities before us to shine and provide relief.

Capturing the Hustle

photo credit: 'Daily Grind', United States, New York, New York City, 5th Avenue via photopin (license)
photo credit: ‘Daily Grind’, United States, New York, New York City, 5th Avenue via photopin (license)

Hustle is a term I have actively avoided. Dissonance like nails on the chalkboard, contorting the strive-free life I’ve tried to attain. The picture in my head of stressed out, amped up, exhausted me. This is the me I used to be, the me I thought I should be, the me that needed to prove and scrap and earn.

There are a couple definitions for the word, according to dictionary.com. The first: to proceed or work rapidly or energetically. The second: to push or force one’s way; jostle or shove. The idea of working intently with purpose, vigor and energy is appealing, not much can compare. Recounting King Solomon in Ecclesiastes: A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This, too, I see from the hand of God.” (Ecc 2:24)

This idea of hustle is not wrong, I get it – to put oneself out there, making important things happen, dreaming big with boots on the ground, storming the castle gates of reticence and reluctance.

The second definition of hustle makes my skin crawl, the very reason I do not typically prefer the word. I am not interested in pursuing a career, hobby, life that requires forcing, jostling or shoving. We’ve all been hustled, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a scam or a slimy business deal. The feeling stays, because of the palpable offensiveness of the transaction. Being used by somebody stinks.

Over recent years I have climbed the tough, arduous road to eradicate the striving, to ease into my designed, created being, to graciously become. Silencing the voices that chant of my inability and shortage of worth has been my life’s work, checking, re-checking competitive tendencies born from scarcity and jealousy. The measuring stick, my filter, the lens through which I determined worth, where I fit on the spectrum – suppressed. These grace-defeating mechanisms I have ruthlessly, not always successfully, named and challenged and confessed. While vestiges of the old still cling, I choose to operate out of abundance and generosity, rather than fear and control.

So, as I long to live better into my call by adding writer to my list of hats, I hope to dig deeper into the craft, while maintaining integrity and vigilance.

A calling does not select for us the assumed, effortless journey. Nope. A calling demands us to proceed in faith, which we can know with certitude, is not certitude. Faith reveals the immediate next step, then the next and the next. We are not privy to the path until we’ve gone long and far enough to stop in our tracks, securing the hard-earned right of hindsight. The path will always materialize, it is up to us to seek, to find, to walk.

I choose first-definition hustle. I choose to put myself out there enfolding the vulnerable and uncertain situations. Living in the tension somehow produces results. My fear of hustle, may be a paltry excuse to dwell in the comfortable, the predictable. If I want to make any headway, beyond where my natural ability will deliver, I must choose this exposed, nebulous, uncomfortable risk.

Choosing to operate from a place of surrendered hustle (shustle?) is my aspiration. The writing, the cringeworthy of self promotion must arise from a place of quiet stillness, abiding.  Recognizing the pitfalls, the temptations, I know the red flags will fly and I will look the other way. I might choose wrong, I might prioritize poor, I might fail. Furthermore, I might also choose and prioritize well and I will succeed, somehow. Both/and always. One never mutually exclusive of the other.

The challenge, attached to any call, is worthy and good. Our work can flow from this place of surrender and trust.

I have honored the stay-at-home mom role. All of us have benefitted tremendously. My presence still mandatory and critical, yet I have leeway and space to hone and promote this creative endeavor.

So, with assurance, a smidgen of trepidation and loads of excitement I will usher you to your front seat as I shustle on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + (what? I didn’t even know that was a thing until last week). My new work, entering the fray, will involve playful, thoughtful, farm animals, and grace.

Thank you for your abundant kindness and encouragement. I look forward to hearing from you regarding your own paths.

Let’s do this.

How I Was Born Again (not the way you think)

How I Was Born Again-2

Sixteen years ago, under the gaudy, fluorescent lights of an operating room in Boulder, CO I was born again. Ushered in by the prodding and poking of two implement-wielding physicians. The urgent rush of blood and fluid accompanied my coming forth into the blinding world.

My greatest emergence conjoined with the birth of my oldest, he arrived on the scene, ripping the bandaid off my comfortable, presumed existence with breathtaking force. One could never claim him inauthentic, for his undeviating character presented with the first kick, the first flip, the first episode of heartburn. The pregnancy, labor and delivery consistent with how he lives his days.

Brooks is my greatest test, my foremost lesson. The worst, most regrettable behavior directed at his slight form. Persistent, his obstinacy ground me down to the basest of action. Tendencies developed from desperation and martyrdom flew as rage, shattering pride into infinite shards of humiliation – my voice raspy from the screaming, spirit broken from the shame.

This child, honestly, not what I asked for, not what I fantasized acquiring from this parenting dream. We all say we are content with a healthy baby, of course that was also true for me, but I had ideas. Longing for the child to reflect me, holding my assumed best interests, I requested compliant, amenable, hushed, docile. Brooks was supposed to be my champion, my image bearer, my source of applause.

Thomas Merton states:

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

The journey toward love is long and windy, with detours and slow returns. Love often appears contrary to all we’ve envisioned.

I was entrusted with the task of raising and loving the child I needed rather than the child I thought I wanted. The chopping block held preconceived motivations, unspoken fears, romantic fantasies. No longer was I writing my own narrative.

My greatest work whittled to learning my love’s expression in this young, precious, formed life. This new story forced me to relinquish entitlement through daily surrender, through trust, through the dissolution of the dream.

My other greatest work has been to love myself.

These tremendous failures of mine are met with grace, from the generosity of a three-year-old (“It’s otay, mommy”) to the love I receive from God; from the forgiveness bestowed by a  friend to the understanding and acceptance conveyed by my husband. All good, all beautiful, all powerful.

The task I hold to my dying day is to live loved. In living loved we love better, freer, fewer strings, more abundance, grace overwhelming. Championing others by relinquishing competition, jealousy, insecurity and fear unites us, unites us in this ever-important work of mercy.

Validation and worth will clamor at the gates, for I am human, imperfect.  Loving our people in their becoming and potential, outside of our own assumed need is life-giving, holy.  My children have each been entrusted to bring light into the corners of their worlds. My privilege, my task is to walk alongside, demonstrating, encouraging, admonishing, speaking only when necessary. Requiring them to live for my happiness hobbles them, impeding their ability to move forward into their own calling and future.

My joy cannot be hinged upon someone else meeting my expectations. Salvation comes from walking the well-worn path of self-discovery blended with hefty doses of surrender and trust.

In releasing another, I discover myself.

Thank you Brooks for your relentless tenacity, perseverance, and generous forgiveness. Thank you for walking this road with me, the journey of birth and new life, sojourning this bright new world in tandem. I love you.

Happy birthday my precious boy.