Happy Father’s Day, Kev

This blog is the overflow of my life as I have dwelled in my dark transformative cocoon home.  Although dark – it has been a life giving home for me and I am thankful for the hope that I have found there. The last six months of silence on my blog has been a sad loss for me.  I overcommitted in my jobs and I didn’t know how to change it. There was no space for “overflow” – that was a tragic loss for me. Time is a precious gift and i have realized that as I am beginning the last season of my life – sixty to eightyish – I have made a fresh commitment to spend it well.  That means making life giving choices with my time. I asked myself, “how do I want to spend the last season of my life?”  And I will post a blog about what is life giving to me soon.  I am so happy to be back.

But what I really want to share with you today- on Father’s Day – is a post from my son Ryan to his dad.  Kevin, this is for you.  Happy Father’s Day.  I love you beyond words.

 

“I like my dad, I do.

A lot.

I’m even going to publicly say that I love him! I do.

A lot.

It’s a strange thing, though, we don’t share many hobbies. At all. My dad’s an artist and I am not. I grew up playing basketball and my dad wasn’t much of a baller. We never had that “one” activity that was ours together—fixing cars, working in the garage, sports, etc. But it didn’t matter, it’s never mattered. I grew up with a dad that always took his children out on dates. Sometimes it was the three of us kids together, but more often than not it was one on one dates. My dad would take me mini-golfing, out to breakfast, bowling, or to a movie. He was always intentional about spending time with us kids and making it both something special but also something incredibly normal. It’s just what he did. He was careful to pay attention to us, to value what we valued, and to take interest both in who we were and what we found interesting. We didn’t necessarily need a sport in common, it didn’t exactly matter ‘cause my dad always loved us and wanted to be with us. I feel very lucky to have grown up with a dad who first and foremost truly loved us kids for who we were. Period.

Surprisingly, as I’ve grown older my dad and I have started to have more in common. Namely, we’ve become partners. As a general rule you shouldn’t go into ministry with family—especially church planting. Ministry is hard and church planting (I believe) is even more difficult. To go into church planting together is asking for family baggage to be painfully drawn out and thrown into the already public and messy ministry world. It’s just a bad idea! And yet that’s exactly the context that we’ve found ourselves for the last seven or eight years. And it’s been glorious. Seriously glorious. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, for a better context to screw up in, to learn, and to explore. Dad I am indebted to you for the trust that you put in me, for the life that you spoke into me, and for the imagination that you developed inside of me over these last eight years. Thank you.

You see that’s just the kind of person that my dad is. He’s always more willing to trust than to judge, he’s always wanting to give an individual a chance rather than vote them off the island. My dad sees the good in people, he’s always able to see past even an incredibly grungy veneer to discover that beauty that lies within each and every person. As a leader he invites people to journey with him, seeing himself as the chief participant more than the commanding leader. I love that and I want to emulate it. I want to see the beauty in people as he does. It’s a wonderful thing.

On a less mushy note, did you know that my dad can create anything. No joke. Give him a picture and he can paint it. Give him three pictures and he’ll combine them into one beautiful work of art. Ask him to make a birdhouse and he’ll go to Goodwill and make one out of an old clock, a shoe horn, and a broken tire iron…and it’ll be the coolest bird house you’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding when I say that he can create anything. His creativity and ability to see things that are not and make them so makes me jealous. I love and hate it ‘cause I wish I had more of it. As a kid growing up it was always cool to know that whatever crazy ideas we had: building a chicken coop, repainting a bedroom, creating a costume, or creating bb gun targets my dad could do. And what was especially important (and connected to what I said about ministry) is that he always invited me to participate. He rarely took over and made my project his—it was always ours and we were always in it together. So, actually, I guess I should take back what I said earlier. The hobby that we had in common was just that: partners. We’ve always been partners. Partnership doesn’t demand a hobby, just relationship and trust.

Thank you dad for being someone that I’ve never had a hard time trusting. If I were to pick one word to describe my dad’s identity it would be the word “integrity”. My dad has always been an amazing person of integrity—always going above and beyond to be a person who can be trusted and who is consistent in who he is no matter who is around. Thank you for that dad. I hope that integrity is a word that my kids eventually use to describe me too.

Did I mention that my dad’s funny? Ok, maybe a few of his best jokes I’ve heard repeated a few times over the years but I don’t think that renders them no longer funny…just familiar. Ha! Seriously though, I love to have come from a funny family, from a funny father, and to have clearly developed into quite the funny person myself. Thanks dad, I think we’ve achieved something special here. Whatever we do lets not stop being funny—we’re pretty good at it.

Ok ok, it’s getting to that point where I understand that if I write much more content on this blog it’ll only be my dad and I who finish it. I could seriously write on and on. The last two years have been rough, they’ve been different. Not only have we all fought through my sickness, not only is there always extended family stuff to journey through, but we also ended our ministry partnership as I was sent downtown to start a new work, dad also started working a second job as a bus driver, and oh so many other changes. For a guy who does life in a pattern, with routine, and consistency it has been so inspiring to see how my dad has adjusted and maneuvered through the messiness of these years. It’s been inspiring to see him stepping up in how he cares for my mom, how he functions as a grandparent to my kids, how he sincerely checks in on my wife and I, how he’s become more and more available in his neighborhood places, and how this has all revealed itself through him as a leader of the Renovatus church. I’m inspired and challenged by you dad. You continually invite me to be a better father, leader, husband, and lover of people. What more could I ask for? I’ve always felt loved, cared for, and special. I’ve always and forever known that you were proud of me–how could I not when you’ve said it so often? Thank you so much dad. I love you.”

 

 

 

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The Story continues . . .

 

I want to tell you just a little bit of the rest of the story. Most of you that have joined me on my blog are aware of my son, Ryan’s, blog where he invited us all to walk with him through his journey with cancer. If you are not familiar with Ryan’s blog – check out Grassrootsconspiracy.com.

Last summer on Ryan’s Birthday – four and a half years after Ryan died from a glioblastoma in his spinal cord – I ran across two messages that had been sent to me on my Messenger app. I had not run across the “filtered messages” before – when you are in a grief place your curiosity goes out the window – reserving all energy for getting through the day.

I would like to share with you one of those messages.

Her name is Rebecca and she sent me this message in May of 2014. Rebecca lives in London, United Kingdom.

“Dear Brenda, I hope that you don’t mind me emailing you. I have spent some time recently being inspired by your amazing son, Ryan, through the gift of Soul Pancake and their documentary series, My Last Days. I watched the film about Ryan and then began reading his blog and learning more through the internet about this incredible man. I wanted to make contact with you and let you know the impact that Ryan has had on my life, and on so many peoples’ lives. Of that I am positive. His style of writing is addictive; he was hilarious, brilliant, wise, sincere, thoughtful; an expressive and genuine son, brother, father, husband, and friend. I am a 34-year old mother of ten-month-old twin boys, from London, England.   I am Jewish, however I do not practice religion. In the last few weeks since I have read about Ryan and the purpose of the Grassroots Conspiracy, of his belief system and the idea of living like Jesus, of loving your neighbor – I have been thinking so much more about spirituality and about this very idea of living like Jesus. Whether or not I know Jesus, the concept, the inspiration provided by Ryan, is unique to me and something for me to take with me on my journey, in my story, and input into my world. I wanted you to know that I am so deeply, deeply, sorry for your loss and for all of his family. I cannot imagine the pain you are experiencing but believe your love to be eternal. Ryan has touched so many lives and made such an impact, I truly feel he has changed me, and has therefore changed my children and my husband and their experiences of how to live and cherish those around them. Who Ryan was has genuinely left me wondering how he became such a together, driven, creative, soulful child and adult, and thinking about how I can encourage my children in that direction.  I think about this all the time and even over here in the UK, we are thinking about you and how to live Ryan’s message. Again, I hope you do not mind me emailing you. May your God bless you and your family. With love and best wishes, Becky.”

To run across this message almost five years after we lost Ryan, was such a gift. The gift was multilayered, as you can imagine. Of course, my mama-heart was moved and deeply comforted – but I think an even greater gift was the validation that God continues to use each of our offerings to bless and accomplish His beautiful purposes in ways that we can never predict and are often unaware of. I love that. This piece of Ryan’s continued story reminds me that somehow, someway, God is present in this messy broken world; that no matter what our story is – no matter how broken and messed up it all is – He continues to reveal Himself in whatever unfolds. I love that over in England there is a family that is trying to love people where they live, work, and play.

But there is more to this story. So, after I discovered this message, I responded to Becky. Three years after Becky wrote her message, I wrote her. I thanked her, of course, sharing with her that I miss him every day and treasure any response to his life’s message of Love and living like Jesus. I shared with her that even though I don’t know her story and what her journey has been the last 3 ½ years – I hope Love has touched her, her husband and her babies.

She wrote back that very night.

“Dear Brenda. Wow, thanks so much for getting back to me. Actually the 3-year gap between communication was useful as it allowed me to reflect on what I wrote then. Ryan remains meaningful to me. Following reading his writings and watching the Soul Pancake series, I started volunteering and then working at a local hospice. One of Justin Baldoni’s messages was that those facing death often have incredible depth of insight and he wanted to document it. This alone is what led me to the hospice, and I shared this at my interview in 2014. I’m now retraining as a nurse with the intent of remaining in palliative care, which is where my soul now lies. So the message I wrote to you over 3 years ago remains true and Ryan’s words and experiences truly changed me on an indescribable level and in ways I hadn’t yet realized. With love, and immense respect for you and your family, Becky”

Our stories matter. It may not be a blog like Ryan’s that people see all over the world – but your story is most definitely seen. Your story is seen by your family, your friends, your enemies, your church, your co-workers, those at your grocery store, at your bank, your pub, your daycare, at your favorite restaurants, your gym . . . That’s a lot of influence. Ryan was just as flawed as the rest of us. Positive Influence isn’t about perfection, but about being present and loving and showing compassion to those in our world. The question is what kind of influence will flow from my life. Will I allow all the wounds that invariably come just be being alive in this crazy world, to make me bitter, negative and resentful or choose another path? I think the key to leaving a fragrance of grace and beauty in my world comes from letting go (letting go is another way of saying “to forgive”) of all the wounds that others have inflicted on me – that does not mean all those people are safe for me to be in relationship with – but holding all the injuries inside me only destroys me. As we go through life, it would be easy to collect a truckload of offenses and hurt feelings because living in relationship is hard and messy. And our ego feels so justified in keeping track.

Let’s decide to collect stamps, or garden gnomes or salt & peppershakers instead. As we choose to let go, then we have more emotional space available in each moment for extending kindness, grace and mercy. I want my story to leave that kind of fragrance and influence. But … I do have an awesome souvenir spoon collection, if you ever want to see it!

 

 

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Tattoos

At the age of 56 I got my first tattoo. I do not look like a woman who would have a tattoo. I have always tried to look way too “proper” – trying to “do it right” which instead of being life-giving, sucked life from me.   Choosing a life focus of “doing it right” just doesn’t bring grace, mercy, beauty, gentleness or love. Something had to change. Actually everything within me began to change.

“The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart. This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes.”         – Richard Rohr

It was 80 degrees; I was on horse back, riding with a friend on the Whipple Creek trails that are set within a Northwest forest. So, even though in the sun it was pretty warm in the shade of the trees, it was perfect. A gentle breeze was blowing above our heads in the tops of the fir trees. The sun would break through the canopy of leaves and shine on the carpet of moss and the fir needles. There were so many lovely smells: the scent of the warm toasty fir needles, horse sweat, leather saddles, sun screen and the green of the forest. I kept just trying to breathe deeper to extract all of the summer I could from air. And the sounds: a myriad of birds each singing their unique song, clip clop of hooves on the trail, bugs buzzing by, creaking of the saddles, jingle of the bridles, trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and the creeks we passed rushing along their merry way. And the trees! The huge massive old trees. How old, I wondered. What is your story? But I notice in all this life, there is change and death too. Old trees that have fallen. I felt sadness at their loss. Will their stories ever be told – what they have seen in their hundred years?

I had been taking all this in – pondering the harsh reality of change, loss and death and I looked down at my arm, where on my left forearm is my tattoo. “Behold, I am making all things new.” And it spoke to me a fresh: Making all things new. And I looked back at the old tree lying on its side – a big giant whose story you would think was done. But then I noticed that from the sides of those fallen firs, were ferns and young saplings. The huge root ball – that was now a wall – was covered with new plants growing out of its massive root system. The tree is now colonized by a multitude of specialized insects, beetles, ants and maggots that are doing their part to help the tree to become fresh rich soil and the source of life for the next giant fir.

Life was coming out of death. New things were being made. That is the truth of this world. That is THE truth. Jesus showed us. Death and then transformation. Letting go and surrender is the path to something new. It sounds beautiful and romantic that beauty comes from ashes. But the truth is, I’m not real comfortable with that.   I don’t like that death is a part of life; that change and loss are a part of becoming; that things falling apart bring space for renovation and transformation. I’m fighting it – I can feel that I am. Don’t we fight change? Because change means loss and loss means suffering. And I really don’t want to feel pain. So through the years, I tended to keep my heart shut down. If I kept myself from feeling my pain, I surely didn’t want to feel yours. As I have walked through my own experience of “falling apart,” slowly, like bugs eating away at my old self, I began to “see” differently. I began to see that God has created me from dust twice: Once when I was formed in the womb – and then again years later when I consented to my demolition and renovation. The first time, it only took nine months for me to be made new. This second re-creation is taking from mid-life to the end of my life. In our beginnings when we are born – we arrive “unwounded” (innocent) and connected to our Creator. But it doesn’t take long for us to begin to feel separated, isolated and wounded and forget that God’s divine image is within us (we were created in the image of God). And so we each begin to develop a “false self” or “ego” to trust and calculate our way through life. And that can work for us for a bunch of years until life brings mystery – experiences our ego just can’t figure out – loss of income, death of a loved one, cancer, divorce . . . and we are undone. Dust. We then have a choice: to surrender and say, “yes,” to the renovation process, or to close down and become bitter. Paul D’Arcy reminds us “Keep your heart open until, through that tear in your heart, you see something new.”

As I was “decomposing,” my heart and vision began to open up. I began to get a glimpse as some of the fog began to clear and now I don’t just see the suffering, I feel it too.   Man, I am ruined! That is certainly not the “new” I planned on! Maybe I want to be blind again, to not notice that everyone is hurting; that devastating change and loss are part of each of us – part of me. And I look down at my tattoo again. I look around at the forest – at the dead old tree. . . . and I am forced by light, to see all the new life growing out of that disintegrating tree. I see how transformation is a part of this world., and how change in its various forms, can usher in beauty, mercy, grace and Love if I consent to my original purpose and intended beauty that God put within me when he made me. When I chose my tattoo, it was hope for heaven, that someday everything would be new and right again. But as the fog clears and my vision improves, my heart swells to embrace the truth that “new” is being made all around me and inside me and all of the time! New life out of death. . . beauty out of ashes. I still hate death. But there is hope that today I will catch a glimpse of something new.

 

 

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The Bite of Truth

The movie begins in black and white. I watched the Wizard of Oz every year through my growing up. I am remembering Dorothy’s unique experience as the twister scooped up her house and carried her and Toto up over the rainbow. And then down the house came with a thud. And the wind stopped and all was quiet. She walked carefully over to the old kitchen door and cautiously opened it. And as she swung the door open – color explodes on the scene. She is in another world.

I drive up to a house at the end of a dead end road. There is a mobile home and an unattached garage built in the 1970’s. I park and walk up to the old garage door and carefully open it. What was a garage is transformed into a barn. And I am in another world. The smell of hay refreshes my senses. As I cross the threshold; a rainbow of aromas flow through my body. The fragrances are rich with meaning. The sweet hay is the first to greet me. It is sweet because it also suggests provision. The barn is full. I can rest because there is enough. I am grateful. And as I travel further in, I hear knickers from my friends inside. Three horses greet me with a bid to come further in. They are ready for breakfast. Pine shavings and horse perfume fill my heart. “Hi, my friends.” They nod – more suggesting I hurry with the meal than a greeting of love. But I know affection is woven through their herald. All three – one mare and two geldings – are paints. The American Paint horse is a breed of horse with large pinto spottings of white, brown and black. Typically they have two colors but my Tonto has three, which is more unusual. Tonto is an 18 year old gelding that is nicked named “Dennis the Menace.” He thinks way too much for his own good.   Tonto was given to me at a time of deep grief in my life. My son had died a year and a half before and so the timing for some added comfort from my life long love of horses was perfect. My saddle had been waiting in the attic for 15 years in hopes that another horse love would come into my life. Tonto shares the barn with Ritzi and Gizmo. Their winter coats have been shed and they shine in the sun that is peeking up over the horizon. I hear the barn swallows chirping at me to move so they can bring breakfast to the crew in the nest above my head. I deliver the long awaited meals to my three 1,000 lb. companions.   They are grateful and dig in. I lay my head on Tonto’s side and draw in deep drafts of his fragrance. Ahhh. I rest. Breathe deeper. I listen to the crunching of hay, I feel his breath, his heart. The rest of the day is gone. Only this moment is here. I step back from his side and ask for a kiss. He leans his head close for me. His soft mussel makes for a velvety kiss – sweet affection. That’s my practice – a muzzle kiss when I arrive and one when I say goodbye. Before I leave my haven, I stand at the stall and gaze out into the field. I hear a few frogs as the sun continues to rise out of bed.   The birds outside have been up for an hour. I suck in all I can grab from the moment. It’s good. My shoulders are relaxed, I tune into my breath – paying attention to each inhale and exhale – letting go for the moment of my addiction to calculating and planning my day. One last deep breath and I have renewed confidence that I can embrace the day ahead with gratitude.

One morning, in the middle of February, I arrived at my barn sanctuary and I noticed the fresh bale of hay had a lot of alfalfa woven into the flakes. Hmmm. I better watch that. The winter sun is shining, bringing a fresh shot of sugar to the field and some sass to the herd. Alfalfa will only intensify the piss and the energy level. I delivered the morning meal, got my kiss and completed my chores. I saunter over to Tonto’s feeder and leaned on the post, just absorbing the joy of the moment.   Tonto looked over at me, turned his head close and – as if in slow motion – opened his mouth and bit my arm! I was in shock! What?! I staggered out of the stall, got the lead rope and proceeded to “encourage” him to get the hell out of this barn! As reality sunk in, my arm throbbed. A rainbowy bruise the size of Canada appeared on my upper arm – like a polaroid picture developing. As my tears flowed, I got the whip and began waving it in the air to communicate – “don’t you dare come back in here – not yet – not now!” I began to sob. Loud wails rang out into the early morning stillness. I stumbled outside into the pasture as I wailed and waved the long whip around threatening pain if he comes near. He ran. I cried tears of lament. My sobs continued . . . I began to listen . . . as if stepping outside my body, looking down at myself, and listening to my broken heart. I wondered. This seems extreme – more grief than one would have expected from such a betrayal. What else is happening here? Betrayal . . . a trust broken (and yes, I know Tonto is an animal and perhaps I had misplaced trust). This isn’t about a horse. These tears are coming from a deep place – grief that has been carefully stowed away because it was too big to live with. I search within, inviting my story to immerge. Betrayal . . . a violation . . . a broken trust . . . deep wounds. The darkness fades and thoughts of betrayal between a child and trusted adults come into view. I think that often our large emotions of today are rooted in the wounds of long ago. And so often we are hell-bent that our distress, anger, fear, panic, etc., are about what happened today – about a horse bite. We don’t want to unpack what has been carefully tucked away a lifetime ago. The lie is that those past hurts don’t affect my life today. But they absolutely do.

Author Richard Rohr has said, “We pay a big price when we put all our energy into keeping a heavy lid on the unconscious.” So, with courage we choose to look in; because it’s the only path to freedom from our wounds. Embracing truth.   Choosing to not pretend anymore. Allowing light to shine in the dark places.   Inviting the whole story up from storage. My giant wails continue as I wave threats and curse words in the air.   I listen and I peer into history. And a pasture becomes my therapy office.

I allow myself to remember a little girl. Her heart is ravaged, afraid, and alone. She is determined to be strong and unaffected. So, she finds a way to shut down a part of herself – so she can function in a place where the pain is not allowed in. Tears are no longer allowed.   Survival depended on not feeling – closing down. Betrayal brought no sobs back then – no – those will have to wait about 50 years. Then there will be space – a safe place – perhaps in a garage barn among some hay, pine shavings and 1,000 lb. friends.

‘“The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.’(1 Kings 8:12). God in the dark . . . A voice said to me, God suffers with you. God weeps with you. God lives in your darkness. This is the recognition that turns our darkness into a shining thing . . .

Today I’ll say to myself, accept life – the places it bleeds and the places it smiles. That’s your most holy and human task. Gather up the pain and the questions and hold them like a child upon your lap. Have faith in God, in the movement of your soul. Accept what is. Accept the dark. It’s okay. Just be true. You are loved. Your pain is God’s pain. Go ahead and embrace the struggle and chaos of it all, the splendor, the messiness, the wonder, the agony, the joy, the conflict.” Sue Monk Kidd.

The gaze back in time continues. It’s hard to see through the haze – trying to swim through the darkness back in time. The shadows don’t want to be exposed. The small girl wants to be seen but holding the truth of those who wound instead of protect and heal, feels paralyzing. But she IS holding it – that’s the truth of it all! Perhaps now the present can help hold the sorrow with her. We can walk side by side and bear the load together.

“The message that I discovered in Dorothy’s cyclone was that crises can be holy beginnings if we allow them. If we listen, we’ll hear God calling from the tumult . . . When the cyclone struck, Aunt Em threw open a trap door in the floor and disappeared down a small, dark hole into the cellar, shouting for Dorothy to follow her. There’s always the risk that we’ll retreat into the security of the cellar rather than ride the cyclone to a new place.” Sue Monk Kidd.

May we each choose to take the risk. When part of our story is ready to be seen and heard – may we join God in compassionately entering the cyclone – that was perhaps long ago placed down into the dark cellar. Embracing light, truth and presence. We just may find that we are in another world . . . of healing, peace and beauty.

 

 

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Giving Birth to Love

“I imagine her hunched over on the donkey, soiled robes pulled tightly for warmth around her swollen body. The weariness of the long pilgrimage is unspeakable. She rests one hand on her belly. Then the road becomes steep and her free hand grabs the rope lying across her burro’s flanks. She steadies herself. She thinks, but I understand so little about love. How will I guide this soul? And in that silent moment she realizes that consenting to love, love in this form – love in every form – is the journey she will take.

She’s very young but, like the rest of us, she will have to let go any prior ideas about love: what it is, what it should feel like, where it might have taken her. She will have to let go the securities that got her this far. This new love will turn everything around. Nothing she’s learned previously will apply; no knowledge applies indefinitely. I can’t lean on anything but the God within. It’s hardly a thought; it’s a knowing. There is nothing else.

She considers the great mystery of life and the straining to give birth to a baby, but also to give birth to something hidden deep within. Two births, really: the birth of her child and the inner birth, the total surrender to God.

In some deep recesses, we know her story isn’t important at all unless we can live in our own surrender. She is only pointing the way.”  Paula D’Arcy

I wonder if any of us really understand love in our beginnings. I know I didn’t and 60 years later, I’m just beginning to have a glimpse of Love. In my growing up story, love was about buying gifts, being good enough, a reward for obedient behavior, appearance, security and control. And I found a way to work that system. In fact I was pretty fluent in the language of “merit love.” I worked hard, 24/7, to earn all that I felt I needed, to feel cared for and to secure safety for my world and me. In fact, I felt responsible for my world and making sure they felt “love” too – so I worked extra hard – thinking that I actually had some control over my little universe. Taking care of the universe keeps a person pretty busy. So, of course, when you are that busy – because there is a lot to do to insure everyone is loved, cared for, and safe – I didn’t have time to actually “be present” with those I loved. I remember a conversation with my middle daughter when she was about 6 years old.   We were sitting on the couch and she turned to me and said “God doesn’t hear us when we talk to him.” She had my attention. I was present at that moment. She was trying to communicate that her experience is that ‘she is not heard.’ But it’s hard to present when you are trying so hard to keep all the plates spinning and the world running smoothly.

Years before, when I discovered God as a teenager, I began building my “God relationship” on this “merit” foundation and understanding of love. There was no mystery – I work hard and God takes care of me and mine. Love. Me in control. Safe.

And then something awful happened. That’s how it works. We and our egos create a world where we are in charge and we know the system because we created it. And our life strategy “works” for us (it probably really isn’t working well at all but we are committed to it and it’s familiar and sticking with the familiar is always better than change, right?) until it crumbles and as hard as we try, we can’t put the pieces back together. Usually none of us willingly change until, as Richard Rohr puts it “our own little salvation project” ceases to work. And my “merit love project” fell apart. God didn’t follow the plan. Love is: I obey and try really hard and then nothing bad will happen. (Ok, I know that is steeped in denial. Why do I choose denial? It is not a friend to me. I was wrestling with a recent choice I made to embrace denial – wondering why I chose it. And then I realized that denial is just another form of not being present.) and so there I sat, in the rubble – me and my ego.   But I wasn’t alone down there in the chaos. God was there in the midst and I began to be able to hear and see the truth that has always been available to me. Love was speaking but now I began to listen.

“We can’t manage, maneuver or manipulate spiritual energy. It is a matter of letting go and receiving what is being given freely. It is the gradual emptying of our attachment to our ego so that there is room for a new conception and a new birth. There must be some displacement before there can be any new “replacement!” . . . Whatever God gives is always experienced as totally unearned grace and never as a salary, a reward or a merit badge of any sort . . . If we ourselves try to “manage” God, or manufacture our own worthiness by any performance principle whatsoever, we will never bring forth the Christ but only ourselves.” Richard Rohr.

Love broke in. But birth is painful. I realized that I cannot birth myself.   It’s funny that letting go of pretend control is so scary. None of us are really in control . . . of anything. I want to say, “well, the only thing I can control is me.” Nope. Not even me. Rats. And surrender beckons me. Let go and rest is a message that invites me in a tender soft voice. Love wants to be born. And eventually I began to ask some questions and realized that I “will have to let go any prior ideas about love: what it is, what it should feel like, where it might have taken me. I will have to let go the securities that got me this far. This new love will turn everything around. Nothing I’ve learned previously will apply; no knowledge applies indefinitely. I can’t lean on anything but the God within. It’s hardly a thought; it’s a knowing. There is nothing else.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Pure presence

I wanted to share with you another excerpt on presence by Richard Rohr.  As you read and ponder these thoughts on presence, remember that God is in this moment.  He dwells in our hearts, minds and bodies – all we need to do is be awake and aware to see.

“Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth. Wisdom is a way of seeing and knowing the same old ten thousand things but in a new way. As my colleague Cynthia Bourgeault often says, it’s not about knowing more, but knowing with more of you. I suggest that wise people are those who are free to be truly present to what is right in front of them. It has little to do with formal education. Presence is pretty much the same as wisdom!

Presence is the one thing necessary to attain wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep your heart open and soft, your mind receptive without division or resistance, and your body aware of where it is and its deepest level of feeling. Presence is when all three centers are awake at the same time!  Religion decided it was easier to believe doctrines—and obey often arbitrary laws—than undertake the truly converting work of being present.”

Rohr shares with us a ‘meditation of tea’ practice that encourages us in our pursuit of presence.

“You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.

Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.

Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.

If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.

You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.

Life is like that.

If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.

You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.

It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.

Learn from it and let it go.

The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.

Worrying is worthless.

When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.

Then you will begin to experience joy in life.

As you eat your next meal—perhaps with family gathered for Christmas—enter into the experience mindfully. Savor the aroma. Taste the sweetness. Appreciate the delicacy. Experience the joy—right now—without needing anyone to notice. But they will!”

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The One Thing

In this blog, I will frequently be referring to dwelling in the darkness, since it is in the dark that we experience transformation and where most often we are made new. I wish that wasn’t so, but it is. Unfortunately, most of us will not willingly choose change and transformation. We are attached to how we have set up our life management plan, regardless of the fact that it is not really working for us. It usually takes the loss of a job, loss of a marriage, or death of a loved one – some kind of devastation to open up our hearts to something new – to open us up to the real; to God.

None of us wants to be remade. Because to be remade, we have to be undone, dismantled, ruined. Change in any form seldom feels like our friend – none of us would ever choose tragedy. I wish we had the choice, but we live in a broken world full of pain and suffering.

My dismantling began about 15 years ago when some childhood trauma realities began to emerge. It is interesting that often some of the difficult truths we carry surface at mid-life and demand to be seen. And that is the beginning of rough because we have worked very hard to create a “reality” we can manage. It is usually steeped with denial but we’ve convinced ourselves we like it that way – even as the past wounds, pain, trauma, anger, bitterness we have stuffed away oozes out onto our family and friends like rotten garbage that we tried to seal into a suitcase years ago.

As I walked deeper and deeper into the abyss of all I had carefully hidden away, so much of what I had trusted in came into question. I began to feel confused about what I could trust. And then while in my bewildered dwelling place, my son died. A state of chaos set in. I felt abandon and lost. I did not lose my belief in God but I lost the intimacy I had clung to. I lost the god I had made. I began to doubt many of the spiritual voices I used to trust – so much didn’t make sense anymore – all the trite explanations for suffering I once spewed out on the hurting rang empty.

Sue Monk Kidd said “I felt I had been dropped into an abyss of unknowing, into a stark confrontation with my own pain and wounds. The darkness seemed to encircle me on every side. At times I felt abandoned and afraid inside its roundness. At other times the darkness felt strangely nurturing, swollen with the mystery of becoming. I wondered if this was what one encountered at the heart of the chrysalis.”

And in that dark place – some treasures began to emerge. I found some new fresh voices – authors – speaking hope into my cocoon – little pinpoints of light. One of those is author and Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr. God used Rohr’s voice to actually validate that place of “unknowing;” as an actually beautiful place to live; that I didn’t have to have all the answers. In fact, letting go of the answers and having courage to live with mystery and the reality that life is not black and white as our ego desperately wants, began to seep into my chaos.  And so, I will be sharing some excerpts from Rohr and other authors that spoke into my broken place and helped me to hear God’s voice anew.

Through the next couple weeks, I would like to post several entries on the subject of presence. My life has been an extreme battle with being present. My coping method with my trauma story was to mentally leave. I lived a large portion of my life shut down and therefore missed a lot. Part of my healing journey has been to grieve all that I missed – and yet feeling grateful for my ability to “leave the moment” and therefore survive some unsurvivable experiences.   The tricky thing is that we bring those coping strategies that we actually don’t need any longer, into adulthood, which now hinder us in relationships and personal development. For me, the life journey of presence – being connected to my heart, mind and body in each moment has brought the reality that God is in each moment as well. As we are officially in the Christmas season – which can really challenge our ability to be present with so many potential demands on our time, energies and finances – I am sharing this excerpt from Rohr’s recent post. May we both remember the “one thing” of being present in the days to come.

 

“Martha, Martha, you worry about ‘the ten thousand things.’ So few are necessary. Indeed, only one. — Luke 10:42 (paraphrase)

“These well-known words come from Jesus to his dear friend, Martha. He is the houseguest of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha is doing the reasonable, hospitable thing —rushing around, fixing, preparing, and as the text brilliantly says, “distracted with all the serving.”

Martha was everything good and right, but one thing she was not. She was not present—most likely, not present to herself, her own feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be needed. This is the kind of goodness that does no good! If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. Presence is of one piece. How you are present to anything is how you can be present to God, loved ones, strangers, those who are suffering.

Jesus taught Martha at the mundane, ordinary level because that would reflect her same pattern at the divine level. For Martha—and for us—such naked presence was indeed “the one thing necessary.” So much of religion involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to salvation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: how we do the moment. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. This is so important that Jesus was willing to challenge and upset his hostess and make use of a teachable moment—in the very moment.

Jesus affirms Mary, “who sat at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10: 39), in precisely the same way: how she is doing the moment. Mary knows how to be present to him and, presumably, to herself. She understands the one thing that makes all other things happen at a deeper and healing level.

“Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. If you are present, you will be able to know what you need to know. These are the seers! Truly seeing is both that simple and that hard.”

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Responsiveness

“Being a blessing can be seen when we mow our neighbors yard, when we volunteer at the soup kitchen, when we scrub graffiti off the local shops walls, when we care for single moms, etc. But being a blessing is not actually about activity – it is all about responsiveness. It is about responding to those around you, which requires listening, which requires showing hospitality, which requires creating space in your life, which requires a posture of openness to others. We can fill our schedule with doing nice things, with volunteerism (which is a good thing), with activity. But this doesn’t mean that we’re truly being a blessing. Responsiveness is all about the other person whereas activity can often become about me. The opportunity to respond rarely happens when we want it to, it happens in the middle of life, in the middle of chaos. Activity happens on my own terms, within my planned schedule, and in a context that I’ve chosen. Responsiveness demands that we’re willing to stop what we’re doing to be present for someone or something else. Being responsive kind of sucks. It’s hard. It requires much.” – Blog post from “Musings from the Ground Up,” by Ryan Woods – posted on 4/29/2012

Throughout my life, I hated that the one word that often described my life was “busy.” Busy planning activities for the family, planning activities for the church and youth group, planning meals for the Home Communities, organizing events, scheduling, helping, doing, running . . . and as I reflect, I have to confess that being busy doing good things was my way of being in control.  Sure, there are worse choices – but since I was not connected to me, my feelings, my story, the present moment or, unfortunately, to you – I had to keep the pace fast to stay ahead of my ginormous feelings and story that really wanted to be seen and heard. And as author, Richard Rohr, says “how you treat yourself is how you treat others – how you love anything is how you love everything. How we operate inside ourselves is how we operate outside ourselves. Love is of one piece.” Observe yourself and you will see that this is absolutely true.

So, as I have been on my journey towards surrender, presence, and more authentic connection with my world, Ryan’s words were powerful for me as he spoke of living in a place of responsiveness. But I’m pretty sure to live in a “responsive” place requires that I’m not in charge. That I don’t schedule the heck out of every day – that I allow for margins (those chunks of time on either side of appointments and commitments) so there is time – time to listen, time to be available, time for spontaneous hospitality, time for us.

The neighbor knocked on the door. We share a fence but are on different blocks. We talk over the fence in the summer but during the winter (as it was then) we don’t have contact (unfortunately). But he came and knocked. He wanted us to know that his wife had cancer and was just placed on hospice. He was timid and spoke softly, but he told us that their freezer was full at the moment but there would be needs as time progressed. And there he stood, being vulnerable, asking if we would be responsive. I had to fight off all the guilt because I didn’t already know that she had cancer. What kind of neighbor am I? Here they were suffering, and I didn’t know. I think guilt murders “responsiveness”. And I was determined to not allow guilt to win. My husband went over later that day to get contact information and check on needs for this moment. When he returned home, he told me that the other piece of their story is that their daughter had just died two months ago and then they discovered his wife had cancer. My gut ached. Guilt started hitting me – “they lost a daughter! And I didn’t know!” Man, someone else’s pain can so quickly take a turn and become about me. Shame ran into the picture with a club, not just beating up my choices, but attacking my identity. “I am so self-centered and uncaring. They have been hurting all this time. Their child died too – our son, their daughter. And now he is saying goodbye to his wife with the devastation of his daughter’s departure just moments before.” Let me make something real clear: shame is of the darkness. Shame is evil and wants to destroy us.   Guilt is about what we have done but shame attacks who we are. It must be cast out every time! And so as I cast out shame and extended compassion to myself – because we are all flawed and distracted . . . then – surprise – gratitude had space to peek into the story. He came and he knocked and invited us into their story. Their freezer was full he said, so others have been caring for them. But for a moment, it was our turn.

So, I went over the next day with some dinner. Her hospital bed was in the living room. And I sat and listened to them share about their adult daughter that had died. I had to choose several times to consciously not go back to a shame place but to actually be in the room and allow this to not be about me. She was dying. Be here Bren. And then she asked me to brush her hair. “Would you fix my hair?” She had long gray hair that was in a tangled ponytail. And as I began trying to untangle and brush, I realized that because of the chemo, her hair was falling out and I was holding a portion of her hair loose in my hands. So, I suggested a braid and she was delighted. I think her delight, though, really was about being seen, being touched, about connection. I wasn’t there long, but long enough. She died 2 days later.

Responsiveness. As, I read the excerpt from Ryan’s blog, one morning recently, I was reminded again to be available in a posture of openness as I go through my day. I then headed to work. At one point in my work morning I had to get something out of my car, and I noticed a young man standing in the middle of the parking lot between my car and me. I was on a mission (evidentially, responsiveness was not the mission) to get my project out of my car and get back to work. So, I again walked around him (seriously, Bren?) – but as I got close to the building, his posture sunk in. I looked back at him, observing how he slowly, painfully, was walking through the parking lot. He had a brace on one leg (one just like Ryan wore when his leg was paralyzed) and he was laboring to walk. I thought, “Bren, why did you walk right by him?! This is crazy!   I just read about having a posture of openness. What were Ryan’s words? ‘Responsiveness demands that we’re willing to stop what we’re doing to be present for someone or something else.’ I should go say hi to him. I mean, he was right in my path and was just standing there saying in essence ‘I’m here, I’m open to connecting with another human being,’” and as I am talking to myself, I am watching him laboriously hobble over the pavement, getting further and further away. I went into the building thinking I missed my chance to be “responsive.” No, I say to myself! I can reclaim this responsive moment! I turned around and went back outside and the young man was down the street by now. Did that dissuade me? No! (okay, now I’ve crossed over from being “responsive” to being a little bit of an obsessive creepster)I pretended to be taking a walk down the street, literally almost stalking him at this point, and finally caught up with him and as I awkwardly walked by him, I tried to engage him in conversation. I made a pathetic attempt to validate his hard work in walking and asked if he had been sick. He said it was from an accident … and our deep moment of bonding ended. Yeah, that was completely awkward and disturbing and definitely had the creepy vibe. Okay, so perhaps this “encounter” was really about me – again. I’m pretty sure that responsiveness is not about chasing a guy down the street. It might be about a bigger story being told. A story where, fellow human beings pause in the middle of the chaos of life and become available to one another. Where beauty happens in a moment because I choose to let go of controlling my world and I notice and value you.

“Jesus referred to this kind of stuff as the kingdom of God breaking into the world. Some just say we are learning to be nice. Whatever verbiage you use, the idea is that these kind of moments remind us of how we are intended to live, of who we are intended to be, of what life together is supposed to be like.”  Ryan’s blog 4/29/12

 

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Sacred Space

 

“Our big emotions are the path to being awake. . . . awareness is the key.” Pema Chodron

My grateful/thankful emotions feel so big! It’s so weird how you can have huge feelings of thanksgiving and be devastated – all at the same time.

I have grown to love mornings. I didn’t always love mornings. I never could figure out if I was a morning person or a night person. I settled on that I was just a day person. But somehow loss and tragedy transformed me to love mornings. And parts of my mornings are spent in a coffee shop: one of my sacred spaces.

I feel very thankful for this sacred space. What makes a space sacred? What makes it Holy Ground? Perhaps, not what I imagined. As I sit here in mine, it’s not quiet. There is music, some gentlemen talking over coffee and a bagel, cars rushing by and a gentle morning breeze (today it is a sunny morning so I am sitting outside). I love to sit outside because there seems to be more life out here. I feel a deeper connection to the whole world outside. There is a homeless man sleeping at the bus stop and he was just joined by a couple friends who brought a pizza to share for breakfast. And when I’m sitting inside the café, I smell coffee (that waft of coffee steam as I pour my first cup smells like vacation), fresh yeasty bread and bacon. Sometimes my senses are surprised by the lunch prep beginning and onions invade my space. But there is also a deep sense of community here. Tom always sits in the front booth. I call him Elder Tom because he listens and is attentive to everyone’s stories. Five years ago when my son, Ryan, got sick, Tom would check in with me and listen. At one point, when Ryan was on hospice, Tom quietly sang a hymn over me as we stood among the coffee pots. As he sang, I wept as I experienced deep grief and a warmth that flowed through my heart because my pain was seen. What an amazing gift to give – to really “see” someone.

But it’s here that I breathe – deep breaths. I rest my mind, relax my shoulders, and listen. There are no dishes to do, no clothes to fold, the weeds in the garden can wait. Because here, at my coffee shop, there is space. There is room for stillness, reflection, for God, for me and for the other.

Anne Lamott says, “Earth is forgiveness school.”   We need space to forgive . . . to slow down and be still enough to see . . . to recognize the hard places in our hearts. For years and years I ran. Running to keep ahead of the pain – to stay asleep – to stay numb.

There is a soft spot in us that wants to be held and heard. But it is a fragile shy place that responds only to compassion and loving-kindness. We need a gentle space that provides a safe path for all the wounds that are being held. It can feel counterintuitive to extend, as Gerald May put it “excessive compassion to ourselves.”   And it is in this place of abundant compassion that truth tiptoes in. Wounds and hardened places begin to be revealed. It’s in my sacred space that I begin to see my truth – and here is an invitation for courage. The glorious thing is that each compassionate choice begets another. Every moment of courage gives grace for more courage. Providing a safe place for a moment of truth sends mercy throughout our bodies, with an invitation for more truth to peak out into freedom.

My son died when he was 30 years old. Ryan’s grave is sacred space. I like to sit and read to him, eat my lunch, clean up his grave stone, freshen up the flowers and rearrange the sacred heart rocks and Disney pennies that have been carefully laid as messages of love.   My goal has been to visit his grave each week – doesn’t always happen but when I do get to stop by, I began a practice. I can’t help but notice that there are so many grave stones that are overgrown with grass creeping around closer and closer until you can hardly see the name of who lies to rest there. Life has taken their families’ hostage and they haven’t been by in a long time. Life gets so easily crowded. So, I decided each visit I would clean up one grave.

Today is Billie. She was only 49 years old when she died. The epitaph on it says “Outstanding wrestling mom.” Only 49 … it’s been 16 years . . . the grass has enveloped the message. The kids must be all grown by now. Perhaps they have children of their own. Remember me, says the grave. Billie, I’m sorry you had to leave your family so young. Today I see you.

As I packed up my tools, chair, lunch bag and books – an older woman and her fluffy sheep dog walked by. She spoke to me. I’ve noticed that etiquette at the cemetery is that generally you don’t speak to one another. Each one is there with a heavy heart – carrying sorrow, guilt, loneliness, anger, bitterness, love . . . pain. But Kay spoke to me. She said, “Last summer I tried to take care of your tomato plant you placed on his grave. I carry water for my dog on our walks and so I watered your plant every time we walked by.” The beautiful thing is that this day I had just delivered Ryan’s tomato plant for this summer. I had wondered how his tomato plant had survived all summer through our unusual heat last year.  Ryan & I loved to garden. When he was in middle school, he grew pumpkins and researched how to grow a giant one. So, he carefully chose one pumpkin and watered it with milk and tended it daily. I wept as I thanked my new friend, Kay, for caring for “Ryan’s garden.” I never dreamed that a cemetery would be a sacred space for me.

 

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To Be With

I am sad this morning on so many levels. A friend is very sick in the hospital. Another friend is grieving the death of a precious young friend who died from cancer this very morning.  Then there was the  tragic needless loss of life in Texas yesterday, and today was our last full day with Ryan on this earth 5 years ago. I’m not sure that my goal of writing/posting something each day this week was such a good idea. I spoke yesterday of the gift of presence and as the day progressed, I began to realize the challenge of being present with my story – especially this week – if I am trying to communicate publicly. So, I have given myself permission to post or not to post (I know its only me that is keeping track).

Here is a thought from Henri Nouwen in his book “Bread for the Journey”.

“Consolation is a beautiful word. It means “to be” (con-) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see.   We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old man who wonders why he should stay alive.

To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” . . . We can simply say, “I am your friend, I am happy to be with you.” We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence. Sometimes it is good to say, “You don’t have to talk. Just close your eyes. I am here with you, thinking of you, praying for you, loving you.”

That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as receive it. “

 

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