fall background

Friday, May 20, 2011

Celebration of a (continuing) Life

*     When all is said and done, the gift we give each other is ourselves.
A           A life was celebrated this past Saturday and Sunday..... Mine!!!  My best-friend-since-3rd-grade, Peggy, flew in from Chicago to surprise me, which she did on Saturday! Katherine, Molly, Jeff, Molly's husband, and of course the light of our lives - Jack-  had a 'pool party' after she arrived. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm, although I did have to heat up the pool a bit. We ended up the day by going to eat at a favorite restaurant. :)
             Sunday, another beautiful day, found Peggy and me meeting Molly and Jack at the zoo. Peggy and I took over Jack in his stroller and Molly went home to prepare for a church pot-luck.  Fun was had by all! Jack loved the 'monks' and 'elfn' and Peggy and I got treated when the lion roared over and over again!  He even got on the 'cliff' in his area to do it!  Just like the Lion King! Neither of us had ever really seen or heard that before!  Jack was less than impressed. He mostly enjoyed climbing on the railings at each exhibit!  Jack also preferred walking as opposed to riding in his stroller. He was a good little walker until he tripped. I had his sweaty little hand so he did not crash, but I could tell it was time to pack it in.  As we drove home, Kat called to see where we were and said she had finished her yard work and was going swimming and would see us at my house.  (Little did I know she was tracking our progress!)
              We pulled up into the garage as usual, I got Jack out of his car seat and we go in through the laundry room door....into a big yell of "SURPRISE!!!!!!!" My girls were having a surprise 60th b-day party for me!!!!  OMG!!!!  I was more than totally clueless! I was so surprised I forgot to put Jack down! I just gaped!  My eyes must have been HUGE! Really and truly, I did not even realize I had enough friends to even make up a surprise party!  Jack was almost frantic to get to his mama before I had enough sense to let him down and greet my friends! (Remember, we had been at the zoo getting sweaty....)
              I am still flabbergasted and I still get tears in my eyes!  What a Divine Conspiracy had happened right under my nose!  As I visited with my friends, I heard over and over, "I thought I almost gave it away when I .....  Didn't you wonder????"  I had seen NONE of it coming!  When did I stop paying attention to my life?
              I used my 6-hours-each-way trip to Louisiana to think about my continued surprised-ness.  I finally realized it was because I do not expect people to think I am special and to do special things for me.  Especially things that take a lot of time and any effort. Especially here where I have been for only 3 years. The girls got names of my friends from other friends, sent absolutely darling invites out, cooked a huge, delishious, wonderful dinner for about 35 people who showered me with gifts and love.  How could my 60th birthday not be my best ever?
              I need to take some time and rethink how I look at myself.  But most of all how I am loved by my precious children and friends, and also by a God who thinks I am precious and delights in surprising me and showers me with blessings beyond all that I could even ever ask for or imagine!

Holy Darkness

From You I hide me
How much will it hurt this time
To make me more me?

In the deep darkness
My name is called by Abba.
I’m again chosen.

The consuming night
In which souls seem to get stuck
He comes with new life.

In the Holy Darkness
Seeds crack their shells and emerge
Waiting is very hard.

Hidden by the night
Plowed under by unbelief
I yearn for the light.

My soul waits for you
You grab my hand and we run
Into Your freedom.

     I just got back from the third session, of a six session, 2 year-long retreat. During the past few months and days, we read and talked about “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The “Dark Night” is a time in life when God seems very silent and far away, when usual spiritual practices hold no comfort, and there is an exceedingly dry feeling in the spiritual part of us. A great sense of loss comes, as there seems to be something missing inside. However, the rest of life seems to go on pretty much the same. In that way, a “Dark Night of the Soul” is different from depression. During depression, life does not go on; it is slowly dragged out of us only by the greatest of efforts. All of life seems too much trouble, not just dryness or loss in our spiritual life.
     It can be terrifying when we realize that no personal power, action or thought can satisfy our longings for God. Every spiritual discipline (practice) is tried in order to bring the comfort level of intimacy with God back to where it last was. This time is, however, a necessary part of the deepening of a spiritual life. It is there, in the dessert, beyond our sight, that God does his greatest work. Often, God’s work or movement in our lives does not make sense or even realized until after the Dark Night is over. Only at the dawn can we look back at that time in our lives when we can finally say, “Oh that is what was going on."  The “Dark Night” can go on for a short or long time, months or years. I have often wondered if God couldn’t choose an easier way to move us closer to Him…..
     During this retreat time, we are “being trained” to become spiritual directors (aka spiritual friend, spiritual mentor.) In this discipline, we help others find and walk their spiritual path, see God in their lives, and find their growing edges. In other words, draw closer to God in a myriad of ways. Discerning that I was to be a helper in this way was a long time coming. I have been in spiritual direction for about 8 years. Having someone help me see God move in my life has been extremely helpful. I knew what a blessing it had/has been for me. But could I do the same, a good enough job, or would I mess it up royally? Should I be not just encouraged, but allowed, to work with other seekers? EEK!  What I need to remember is that God is really the spiritual director here, I am just a conduit for Him.
     I began this retreat last October not knowing if God had “called” me to be a spiritual director or if it was just my own wanting-to-be-one. I think I have my answer, at least in part. We have had to “find” someone we could “practice” on. This was a little daunting for me as most of the attendees are ministers, thus having a ready supply of people with spiritual lives. And, even though it is overseen by people with training and long experience in this area, who would want me to “mess around” in their spiritual life? So I prayed a lot about this dilemma. God surprised me with someone in a very timely manner. My directee and I are off to a good start, or so I am assured. I get to grow in this process too. :)
     Part of this training is that we continue to see our own spiritual director. I had someone in Palestine, but have a new one here in Fort Worth. She can often see what is going on in my spiritual life better than I can. When I see her, her first question is usually is something along the line as, “how is it between you and God?” or “how is your soul today?” There is not always a clear cut answer…….

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Holding On

Like the rich young ruler
There have been many things I hold with clenched fists.
And as God has pried open first one finger then the next,
I get glimpses of His promises to me.
One by one, each finger lets go and the greed, bitterness,
Fear, self loathing, defensiveness, hate, unloveliness, worthlessness, fear, fear, fear
Are given into His hands.
At last my hands are open
And I can raise them in praise, friendship,
To give, to show love, to touch, to hold, to receive
All good things God has been waiting to
Bless me with before the beginning of creation

     A clenched fist looks angry; powerful in its ability to hurt. This body language carries more meaning than any words spoken. A fist portrays frustration, rigidity, hate, belligerence, and aggression. It is where we keep what we have grasped in our lives, whether good or bad. The negative things clutched inside our fist are what will keep us from a closer walk with God.
     My friend Martha told me this analogy. Imagine that you are holding a hamburger just like you like it cooked with the condiments you prefer on it. It looks so delicious. Experience tells you, you will need to hold it with both your hands or it will fall apart and make a messy pile on your plate. So, you are holding this hamburger thinking about taking the first yummy bite.  As you open your mouth wide for the first bite, you notice God is standing right in front of you with a big, juicy steak, cooked just right. You want the hamburger AND the steak! (I would want take one of them home in a doggie box.) However, to get the steak you have to take one hand off your hamburger. What do you do? Try the one-handed hamburger  hold? Which do you desire most, what you already have or the better thing that God is holding out to you?
     In the poem above, I have mentioned many of the things that I have held in my fists. Usually God has had to work hard to even get one of my fingers open. And on occasion, I open them just to try to get a better hold. When I do that, some of what is being held escapes into God’s waiting hands and he whisks it away. What a relief!
     I go on to point out what your hands are able to do once you have let go and they are open to receive. Another thought just occurred to me. Instead of holding individual fists tight, put them together and your hands will become a picture of prayer.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Being Made Fruitful

We don’t need to know
What seeds God has planted within us.
We just need to have our soul ready.
He will till it up – perhaps playing havoc – we dread this
He will water it – sometimes with our tears.
He will bring sunshine to it -through our smiles
He will tend the garden of our souls and make it fruitful.
We will just have to watch and see what grows.
God will use our fruits to feed the world.

     Gardening is one of my favorite occupations. It is there that I feel most connected to God. (The other time is when I find a close parking space!) Gardening is therapy for me, I can get lost in it. It sometimes surprises me how big my plants grow, or how small they stay, regardless what the little tag says. I have to dig them up and put them elsewhere else, where they will get the right amount of sun or shade. This moving often wreaks the effect I was trying to create. (Is the is the demon 'control' making an appearance?) I try to keep the flowers fertilized and properly watered. I have seen a saying that says "God laughs in flowers." What stupendous joy he must have felt as he created the Garden of Eden.
    Looking at my beautiful garden makes me smile. I have been known to drive by the front of my house just to look at it! The first year I ever planted flowers, my therapist at the time just smiled and said, "At last you feel like you deserve beauty and wonder in your life." We all deserve beauty in our lives. I think God surrounds us with abundant beauty but sometimes we don't recognize it as such. There are times that my gardening seems like just one more thing to keep up with. That is until I, while walking to get the mail, see weeds and bend down to pluck them out and all of a sudden I am immersed in the task and forgetting the mail.
     When I moved into my current house, I promptly pulled out all the formal landscaping that so defined all the gardens I had had up to that point. My neighbors have kept theirs all pruned and shaped. I was beginning a new life, and I wanted to begin with a new type of garden here. My favorite kind of garden is the "cottage style." This style is one big beautiful mess, with flowers growing over each other mingling their colors and textures and making an artist's pallet of wild beauty. This kind of garden also symbolizes my life up to this point. A crazy, beautiful mess of color, experiences mingling and harmonizing or clashing to make up a feast for the eyes.
     My soul has definitely been plowed under several times, sometimes so deeply I feel like I have lost sight of it. Even so, I have watered it with plenty of tears; friends, children, faith and laughter have spread bright sunshine in even the darkest corners; God tends to it, prunes, fertilizes and weeds it, when I let him. (I HATE pruning.) Flowers (fruits) appears, even when I don't understand why or how or what kind. And I am often blessed that I can help God give out bouquets to others.