Too Big…Big Enough

Today the world’s problems got too big for my heart to handle.  Up until this point I’ve been able to keep a “safe” distance to not get overwhelmed with all that is transpiring outside my house. But then I saw a post from a friend down in Guatemala.  Last fall God invited me to take a trip with him to meet my brothers and sisters living in Guatemala who are considered among the poorest and most vulnerable in our world.  It seems that this pandemic will threaten to push the rich and the poor further from one another.

While in Guatemala I visited the garbage dump in Guatemala City that thousands call home and even more call their place of work.  Their government has decided in the wake of the coronavirus to shut the dump, and I understand for good reason, but this also means 30,000 people, who already barely eke out a day’s wages for their family to live on are now without work.  Let that sink in, 30,000 people.  Walking through the cities of this beautiful country I met more folks, mostly women and children, who earn their life wages selling on the street corners.  With everyone in quarantine right now their ability to work has dried up too.  I know in my own community and country the unemployment rate is climbing to frightening rates but what happens when unemployment meets those that are already vulnerable impoverished people like my friends in Guatemala?

Upon reading this news my heart started to race.  What can I do to help?  How can I fix something this big?  As my anxiety flared up I retreated to my sacred spot, where God and I go to talk together.  I cried with him and pleaded what can I do?  I’m a helper and an idealist by nature, my desire is to fix what is broken around me but this often means I can get a savior complex, quick.  As I looked at the magnitude of the world’s problems feeling guilty that I couldn’t do more God scooped me up and whispered in my ear, “I got this.”

I am thankful that my heart is learning more and more to listen to his gentle voice that tells me I’m already enough.  The guilt and anxiety that was starting to crush me made me blind to how I am helping and loving right now in my own home and community in the ways that I can.  Fear would desire us to see our efforts as small and therefore meaningless but God says each act of love is huge and impacts his kingdom.  Having a dance party with my kids to alleviate their stress is huge.  Painting little rocks to place around our neighborhood for our neighbors to find is huge.  Being intentional about staying in touch with family and friends to listen and stay connected is huge.  Picturing my friends in Guatemala in my heart so I can pray for them, lament with them and share their story is huge.  Writing every time I feel an invitation from the Lord to share what’s on my heart with all of you is huge.  He showed me that the list goes on and on.  The plight of 30,000 people felt too big for me and guess what, it was, but I don’t take on that plight, God does because he’s big enough.  I will love here and now how I can and how I am called to.

When Jesus’ disciples were about to face a situation that was going to be too big for them Jesus gave them these words.  May they resonate in your heart when fear, anxiety, and guilt try to crush out his gentle voice to you.

“I’ve said these things to you so that you can have peace in me.  You’ll have trouble in the world.  But cheer up!  I have defeated the world!” ~John 16:33

A prayer for today

I discovered The Prayer of St. Francis about a year ago.  It has begun to reorient my heart as I pray it each day.  The words have been especially pertinent as of lately.  Perhaps it will guide you today too.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

Observing Grief

Friends, these are uncertain times, are they not?  The majority of us are not used to waking up one day and having our whole world, really the whole world, change before our eyes.  From the way we interact, live, approach life, we’ve been given a reset button of sorts.  We woke up one day in the last few weeks and suddenly everything was different.

For one population I’ve had a front-row seat to watch this change unfurl, my kids.  We went to bed one-night expecting school and a “normal” routine the next day and instead woke up to school canceled.  That first day felt like a fun snow day of sorts, though the weather was an abnormally warm 70 degrees and sunny.  Instead of snow gear, they donned shorts and t-shirts and ran and played out back only stopping to retrieve their picnic lunch. I thought to myself, this quarantine is going to be great.

Then the reality of what we were facing began to hit.  The enthusiasm that we started with started to deflate and emotions ran high.  Our reactions to one another were less than becoming is the nicest way to put it.  Midway through the week,  as I was hiding in my bedroom from the kids, I began to pray, what invitation is there to see here?  What eyes do I need to see?  Reinvigorated by a good cry and few bites of leftover birthday cake we went through the rest of our day but this time I saw what was going on inside my kids, they were grieving.

Grief is a companion we’re familiar with around this home.  And since we’ve spent time getting to know grief I know it comes out in unique ways from different people, at different stages along the way.  My kids woke up one morning torn away from their friends, their teachers and their everyday community and way of life.  Yes, home is their special place, but the majority of their waking hours are spent in school.  They’ve been given very little explanation as to why this is, that they can understand at least (“because of the coronavirus, right Mommy?”) and they never got closure to say goodbye.  At the end of the school year or even before an extended holiday break teachers, would have been winding down and special celebrations had.  Our kids got none of that.  I also realized where I can send a quick text or Polo to a friend, our kids are too young for their own devices and social media so they’ve essentially been cut off from their community.

I’ve seen and read headlines of how to help kids cope with the fear and anxiety of this unsettling time but I haven’t seen much about dealing with the fact that they are grieving.  Not only is school missed, but sports and activities, birthday parties and just the fun of a meet up at the neighborhood playground.  Grief can come out at any moment and I’m trying my best to keep these new eyes of compassion to see when my kids need a hug and not a lecture.

I think it’s true that all of us are grieving in a way right now.  How do we give ourselves grace so that we can extend that grace to others around us who need it too right now?  Sometimes it might be a good cry and some birthday cake.

Home is what Shapes us

Home has been near and dear to my heart for over ten years now when I made a shift in job title and became a Stay at Home Mom.  My primary place of work became my primary place of living and so the idea of home took on new meaning in my life.  I began to view home as more than a place to eat and sleep and to see a bigger view of what was going on in my four walls.  As I learned at the feet of “Mama Sally” Clarkson and others, God invited me not just to care for my children but to live out the cultural mandate and cultivate creation through my home.

Home is what forms us, nurtures us and inspires us, into who we are and who we will become.

The art on the walls of my home, whether created by little hands or those of a seasoned artist, is no longer merely placeholders on a blank wall but cultivate beauty, evoking feelings and thought to inspire.  The furniture that fills a room is selected in a way that honors who made it and how it was made to welcome all that sit upon it to find rest after a long day or spurn the imagination of a child to become a boat or a fort of epic tales.  The morning routines we form as a family in our home aren’t just about getting out of the door on time, but preparing us and strengthening us for what we will be invited into. And the list goes on and on as each object, each tradition, weaves into the fabric of our being.

For me, this picture of home has been lived out in a very small way, for me and my family, but after traveling thousands of miles south to the country of Guatemala and being invited into so many countless homes there I saw the universality of this theme of home come alive.  Homes exist all over the world because the human race has multiplied and filled the world.  So though I entered homes of different sizes and shapes and locations, each was filled with the same themes of Belonging, Love, Beauty, Joy, Lament, Comfort, Celebration, Inspiration and on and on.

I realized the importance of welcoming others into my home to learn who I am and traveling to others homes to learn who they are, whether it be my neighbor down the street or my neighbor in another part of the world.  To enter someone’s home is learn who they are since it is the place that has shaped them.  In it, I learn my neighbor, though their home is unique to them and mine to me, is not so very different at the foundation.  I appreciate them for who they are and the story their life tells and I see how our homes together more fully depict God’s kingdom here on earth.

May home take on a deeper meaning in all our lives.  Our home will shape us, whether we see it or not so may we be purposeful and thoughtful in the way we approach it.  May we be intentional about getting to know other people’s homes so we can get to know them better.  Look for the universal themes and foundations that shape each of us and open wide the arms of your home to receive all.

A Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage has been defined as, “a trip with God, to meet God, together.”  I just returned from a 10-day pilgrimage to Guatemala and El Paso/Cd Juarez.  Below is a link to a piece a wrote up about my experience.  Perhaps God will prompt you to journey with him as well.

“On October 20th, 2019, Coracle sent a team of 12 people on a 10-day pilgrimage, to “take a journey with God, to meet God, together.”  We traveled south to Guatemala for several days, then north via Mexico to the border cities of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The purpose behind our journey was to discover why thousands of brothers and sisters every year make this same journey, albeit under very different conditions.

Even to say others are making a journey is an understatement.  In truth, they are fleeing their homes as a last resort, leaving behind their families, their cultures and their people to seek refuge and justice because they have exhausted all other options….”

To read on, click on the link below…

https://inthecoracle.org/2019/10/a-report-from-guatemala-and-the-border/

Shifting Perspective

A shift has slowly been taking place in my perspective of life.  When I was younger, I was proud and naive and relied much on my own self-righteousness.  Of course, this youthful way of life shrouded my ability to see my own pride especially because there was no outright malicious intent in my actions I believed, but they were selfish none the less.  I thought and acted in a way meant to glorify God and of course, his grace was always to love me and bless what little I offered him of myself, but I’m thankful that he didn’t leave me in this state.

The ego breaks down at some point and we are all faced with a mirror, will I continue to keep living this way or will I put my hope into something else, a life promised to each of us, but we realize will not come about on our own efforts.  Jesus’ words that if we try to save our own life we will lose it, but if we choose to lose our life, for his sake, we will live, begins to take on a whole new meaning, and slowly, slowly, the ego drowns in the fount of baptism and we begin to emerge into the true life.

Before my ego fell I remember reading Ann Voskamp’s words of a life of gratitude, the Eucharistic life and thinking if I just start keeping a daily journal of gratitude then I will transform.  It helped for a time of course but my efforts lost their steam.  Now, I take in the Eucharist every time it’s offered to me, drinking and eating it up.  I’m learning the fullness and richness of a Eucharistic life now, not because I did something but because I’m making space and communion with the Eucharist itself, and he, in turn, is transforming me so that my actions are becoming his actions.  What a different way to approach this life.

Before my ego fell, my heart ached with the word “present”, to be present in the current moment of my life and to be present to the Presence.  Again I read words of great saints who lived this life I puzzled to learn their secrets but not much was revealed or changed so that longing for presence sat inside of me for years.  You see before I was preoccupied by what was next, whether a small mundane task or the grander plans of life.  I said it was so I wouldn’t squander a moment or the gifts and talents given to me but ego once again shrouded the real reasons.  Really, I sought my own fame and the glory the accolades I would receive to feed my inner god.  Then the shroud fell and I was forced to confess my own sinful nature to myself.  It doesn’t seem like much but the more and more I sit in this humble state of confession, repeating the Our Father over and over, I make room for the Presence in my life and he shifts my perspective onto the present.  The funny thing, I didn’t try to do this on my own, nor was I aware of it.  God graciously pointed it out to me through my dear Spiritual Director.

I look back now and am so grateful for the perspective of time.  Before I thought if I could just read a book or intently study the Scripture or put into place new habits and disciplines I would bring about my transformation.  These things did produce beautiful fruit in my life but still, that veil existed and I was blind that my own pursuits which mostly came from my self-will which would only take transformation so far.  This is the state of our youthful, dare I say, adolescent mind state, which puts ego in the center and allows the Pharisaical mindset to dominate.

I encourage you if you’re tired of doing things your way, thinking they are God’s way and you’re coming up short, don’t be afraid to face the mirror and try something new, something different.  Many will walk away from the mirror and try a little harder or try something different but I promise it will all lead back to the same roadblock.  To truly live, do as Jesus instructed and lose your life.  Sit with God and ask him how.  Sitting in silence and solitude is the start and it is the end of a life well-lived in love.

 

I come to the end…

It’s been a month of sad news, almost daily it seems.  The unexpected death of a dear, sweet man, who came back from the pit of death once before only to be led there once again, far too soon.  A young woman who’s womb will no longer be able to bear life as she and her family wait with bated breath hoping her one child will live.  A mother and father who wait vigilant at their young son’s bedside, a little boy younger than mine, who is battling for his life.  The solemn words, “stage 4” that punch you in the gut when they are uttered and wondering what the journey will be ahead.  A young woman’s life, who on the outside is articulate, strong, hospitable and full of love, but who’s heart on the inside is weighed down with grief and despair that is too hard to carry on anymore.  And for me, saying goodbye to yet another dear friend, and all this news stirring up the grief I have borne myself over these last years.

How is it with my soul?  I feel sorrow and I mourn.  The pain and brokenness of this life felt acutely on the surface.  And I cry out as the Psalmist did, why O Lord, why?

scenic photo of mountain during dawn

Photo by Rizknas on Pexels.com

I sat with Psalm 139 today.  It’s words familiar and safe, a warm blanket to wrap around a tired soul.  God’s answer to my why, today and every day, look up dear child, look up and know that I AM.  When the days seem dark, they are light to me.  When you do not know, I have already written it.  When you don’t even know yourself, I formed you when you were nothing, knitting every detail together into a wonderful work, a person of beauty.  I AM.

Lately, I’ve been embracing the word mystery.  To embrace mystery means to let go of control.  To embrace mystery means to sink deeper into Love.  To embrace mystery means to plant myself more strongly onto the foundation of Hope.  To embrace mystery is to trust.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them–they are more than the sand;

I come to the end–I am still with you.”

Work that glorifies

Yesterday I spent a lovely day with my dear friends at Coracle.  We sat around a large board room overlooking the city of DC to discuss the topic of work.    As I’ve talked before work is not some hardship meant to just fill our time up here on earth.  Work is a God-ordained gift, given to us his image bearers at the dawn of creation.  Genesis 2:15 instructs us that God gave us the garden to work, (cultivate is the actual word here) and to care for.  It wasn’t till after the curse in Genesis 3 that our work was cursed as well, our food to come from the sweat of our brow because the land had been infested with thorns and thistles.

But of course, God never ends the story there.  Jesus comes to this world to bring dignity and meaning back to our work, to redeem it.  He works most of his life as a carpenter, a ‘tekton‘ I learned yesterday, which has a much fuller meaning I knew before.  He spent the majority of his time, not with the professional religious folks but with the everyday workers, tax collectors, fishermen.  Then on the cross, he took the thorns and thistles, the full measure of sin and he defeated it.  Our lives now are redeemed to the fullest meaning that even our work done now can take on its original intent, to glorify God and prepare us all, this whole creation for the new earth to come.

I heard this complete gospel in my college days.  It was a way of life that ignited me to see each task I performed, each paper I wrote, each exam I studied for, each job I took on to be done to the glory of God.  Colossians 3:17 became my mantra, “and whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks to him through God the father.”  I was introduced to a gentleman named Brother Lawrence, a monk known for how he lived each and every day doing what he called, practicing the presence of God.  Brother Lawrence lived his days in a continual awareness of God with him.  He is also well known for saying that he could peel potatoes even to the glory of God since all work was done for God.  I wanted to live this way, knowing that even peeling potatoes was God ordained and glorifying, living into my image bearing identity.

And I did.  I set about my years post-college in passionate pursuit of serving God through all my actions and sharing this complete gospel with everyone I could, that the lie of the dualistic life, the sacred and secular divide was false when it came to our lives, our whole lives, including our work.  I was busy doing, doing doing, for God trying to please him through my work each day.  But these seasons of doing don’t last forever and I found myself lost wondering if I’m not doing for God or serving him as I once thought was the only way possible, am I still glorifying him?  What does he think about that?  What does he think about me?

In my later years now I revisited my old friend Brother Lawrence and sat as he instructed me on his life, through his words.  I began to see his life and his practice completely differently.  Brother Lawrence didn’t start with his doing to glorify God, he started with his being to glorify God.  That constant awareness he lived into of the presence of God, the presence of Love with him always grounded him in his identity as a child of God.  His practice was neither fancy nor complicated, just a centering of himself on God so that no matter what he did, “in word or action,” he did for God not through his doing but through his being.

These days I’m switching things around.  My primary task each day is not centered on doing anything but sitting with my God who is always with me.  He gently reminds me who I am, his child and image bearer in this world.  Sitting sweetly with my Lord I am able to hear his voice and the instruction he has for me that day, the work that he will offer to me to do, whether it be washing clothes, running my son to baseball practice, writing this blog entry and yes, even peeling potatoes for an evening meal.  Living into the constant presence of God, abiding in the Vine and his word is what makes my branch fruitful and ultimately glorifying to God.

The Present Moment

Too often when I stop and catch my thought pattern I find I am distracted by what has happened, reliving the what and when and how over and over, or I’m preoccupied with what is coming ahead, the to-do list, the maybe, the unknown I’m trying to control.  In either instance I am very rarely focused on where God is with me.  My thoughts are inward.

God’s gentle voice calls me out of that headspace and slowly I am attuning my heart to follow where it leads, and often where it leads it to the moment right before my eyes.  The more I discipline myself to practice the present moment I see that it has nothing to do with the human construct of time, instead, it draws our attention to the thin veil that separates our world with heaven and in that space, we meet God and we experience joy.

God has given me wise teachers in life who are always attuned to the present in the form of my three small children.  Children are not distracted with what has been or what the future might hold, they have no concept of time.  At any given moment I know exactly what my children are thinking and feeling, engrossed in story time, building a world of make-believe, feeling the deep hurt after falling off a bike, or the disappointment of no dessert.  They feel happiness and fear and sadness and all the things I believe because they are so present to their true selves at that moment.

One day I was playing with my three year old and he kept getting frustrated with me.  I realized I wasn’t having much fun either and then I realized it was because I wasn’t actually playing.  I was thinking of all the things I should be doing, could be doing.  And then it hit me, be present to this moment, the one that is gifted me right now.  As I could fully give myself over to play I felt peace and I felt joy and happiness and fun.  I connected with myself and my son deeply and when we do that, we always connect with God as well.

I think back to the moment I sat at my father’s death bed and watched his last breaths slip away.  I characterize that moment as feeling the deepest joy and deepest sorrow in my life.  I felt deeply because I was present deeply to the thin veil.  At that moment I knew God presence and I knew my true self to be present.

If we want to be people who are fully alive then I believe we must be people who are fully present.  Perhaps this is just one more way we must become like little children to inherit the kingdom of God.  The smaller the child the less the false self has guarded them off and so the easier it is for them to just be present.  Today let us listen to the gentle voice that calls us to him.

Not even you

A Sunday morning many years ago I was singing the words in a bridge of a song that had been plucked from the book of Romans, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?”  As I passionately belted out the words I heard a whisper in my heart, “You Kelly, you are the only thing standing in the way of me working in your life.”

I stood in shock as those words soaked into my heart, I was what held me back from reaching the true potential that God had created in me.  And I was sad because I knew they were true.  And they weren’t spoken in acquisition or anger but in gentle conviction, which I think made me even sadder.

Well, I continued to walk around with those words year after year.  I couldn’t quite shake the weight of them.  At first, they felt like a prescription to a problem.  The state of my being was one of fear, that held me back from taking challenges, resign to the notion that this was just life, accept my place and position for what it was.  Then as time went on they prompted me to inquire further, why were they true and for that matter what did they mean?

As we self reflect we are able to find the image bearer in us that shows us who we are in Christ.  I was able to weed through all this to realize that the Kelly that held me back was not the Kelly that imaged Christ.  And if it was a false me, well then she could be pushed aside so that Paul’s words would manifest into truth, that nothing could stop me if God is for me.

I began to believe that God was really for me, that he loved me beyond measure.  As love permeates us it drives out the fear that stops us.  This involves a lot of truth-telling, a healthy dose of confession, a posture of humility and a willingness to walk in the light, let it shine so that it can heal.  And with that healing comes hope, because God’s last word is always hope.

A few weeks ago I was listening to another song, but the same words from Romans 8.  In this new place of healing and hope with God, “If God be for us,” rang out from the third part of Handel’s Messiah.  As the words echoed in my heart, the voice whispered to me again, “And now not even you can stop you or me dear one.”  God took my sadness and filled me with tears of joy.

We all come to places where we feel stuck, like we are our own worst enemy.  Even Paul says in the chapter before that he finds himself in this cycle of doing what he doesn’t want to do and not doing what he does want to do.  But if we let ourselves become aware, then we can become engaged, we can wrestle with God in these places in our lives.  We must strive ahead and remember that we are Easter people, people of hope and that if God is for us, then who could stop us?