Wednesday, October 1, 2014

the four opposites of true listening {August thoughts on listening, Part 1}

{This year I'm focusing on one word: listen.  My next two posts, August thoughts on listening Parts 1 & 2, were inspired by a fantastic book I recently read and reviewed.  To read the rest of my posts on listening, click here...}

In a recent post I described my latest epiphany from this great book I’m reading on Spiritual Mentoring. My epiphany was - ready for it? - that spiritual mentoring applies to mothering as well. (Big surprise, right?)  And that I already have three little mentorees running around whose souls I’ve been called to build!  Yikes!  So I'm on board with everything I can learn about this thing called mentoring, especially as it connects with my word for 2014: listen.

The more deeply I travel into this book the more things are hitting home.  This week, a friend’s comment about weaknesses coincided with a quote I had just read about how we approach relationships.  

In her email, my friend said she was finding that “allowing God to uncover her weaknesses led to peace and freedom in her life.”  Being honest about her own short-comings, not just to herself but in front of other people, is freeing her to not be perfect.  

I’ve said it before: I like looking like I have my act together.  Vulnerability, showing my weaknesses, does not come easily or naturally to me.  I want peace and freedom just as much as the next person, but to get to that place by showing you my messy?  Just doesn’t appeal to me.

Here’s a list from Spiritual Mentoring of four things a mentor should not be.  As I read down the list for the first time, my eyes grew wide, because I realized uncomfortably that every one of these things has at some point been a hidden motivation for me:  

Four Major Pitfalls for the Spiritual Mentor to Avoid

The Messiah Complex: I believe I am to rescue you or deliver you from the struggles and pain of your life.

The Problem-Solver Mentality: I believe my role is to tell you what the right answers are or to offer a way out for you.

The Assembly-Line Syndrome: I believe my role is to shape you into a predetermined form or product.

The Wisdom Dispenser Approach: I believe I must dispense wisdom-on-demand every time I [talk with you], because I am a fountain of wisdom and truth.

The authors go on to say that “when a mentor becomes messiah, problem-solver, assembly-line worker or wisdom-dispenser, the opportunity for spiritual formation can become limited.  A mentor is none of these four, though problem solving, wisdom and answers may be part of the unfolding process.  Discernment is the pearl of great price for the mentor.  Attaining discernment requires vulnerability, humility and an ear open to listen to the voice of God’s spirit.”  (Spiritual Mentoring, Anderson/Reese, emphasis added)

Did you catch that?  Discernment is the pearl of great price in mature relationships, and attaining it requires vulnerability and humility, and an ear open to listen. 

Hmmm… listen.  My word for this year.  Coincidence?  

There is a crucial connection between my friend’s email and this quote in the book.  Did you catch it? My friend described her road to peace and freedom through allowing God to uncover her weaknesses.  None of those four mis-guided roles or motivations in relationships contain either vulnerability or humility.  The Messiah wants to save out of her own strength; the Problem-Solver wants to have all the answers; the Assembly-Line Supervisor thinks she already knows the plan; and the Wisdom-Dispenser wants everyone to think she’s incredibly wise and has her act together all the time.  

I’m realizing that, to my shame, I have often been happy to wear one of those misguided hats in a relationship rather than seek the humility and embrace the vulnerability necessary to discover true discernment - which is, ultimately, the only thing my friend really needs from me.  She needs me to listen to her, to enter in to her situation, and to hear from God with her and for her in order to find out what He wants her to do.  

That’s all.  

I don’t have to be God.  

I just have to listen to God, and listen to my friend.  

That’s it.  That’s the way to peace, and freedom.

To be continued…

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shep Update {guest post from my 6-year-old}

{For those of you wondering about the status of the stray dog we rescued in the spring, here is a guest post from my son's journal today.  Unedited, used by permission :) }

My Dog Shep

Yesterday I met my dog called Shep and it was really fun.  We went to my dad’s orchard and we saw my dog Shep, and I played with her a lot and there was a puppy there too.  Sometimes they like to wrestle around with each other.  Shep always growls in her throat under her breath when they do that, just like Jack in The Little House on the Prairie. Shep doesn’t live at our house anymore because she was too wild.  I miss her, too, just like my brother misses her.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

“the dearest freshness deep down things” {September thoughts on listening}

{Stay tuned for a back post of August's thoughts on my One Word for 2014: listen. 
Now for a few thoughts from September...}

There is a deep quietness slowly growing in me.  I feel like  a field with a spring of water which has been clogged for years.  The leaves and bracken are slowly being cleared away, handful by handful, and the spring is beginning to well up with clear, fresh water.  

“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”…

I am seeing more.  

It feels like entering the cool dimness of a great cathedral from a bright summer afternoon.  Slowly, gradually, as my eyes adjust, I am able to take in more and more details of the beautiful interior.

There is so much more to see than I have been aware.

The more my spirit sinks roots down into this quietness, the deeper I want to sink.  It is unspeakably refreshing.  To sit for a few minutes noticing the color of sky, the sound of birds, the curve of my daughter’s cheek.  To reach out to these things with my spirit and know them to be windows, passageways into God’s presence.  To sense Him here with me, close as breath.  This new seeing is a freshly discovered green pasture for my soul.

It’s this new awareness that causes my soul to well up in thankfulness.  I’ve realized, after trying lists and other tools to grow a thankful heart, that I can’t cultivate thankfulness until I first cultivate seeing and listening.  Awakening my senses, remembering I have them, using them to deeply pay attention… Now I can see what I have to be thankful for.  

The seeing itself begets thankfulness without effort.  

I see, and I become deeply grateful.  I hear my daughter’s sweet lips smacking sour grapes with two-year-old delicacy and I am flooded with awareness of her sweetness, and then gratitude that I am aware.  I catch her eye and grin, electricity flashes between us, and my awareness of relationship increases my pleasure in her, and my gratitude grows.  She grins back, blue eyes sparkling, round cheeks pushing up in folds under her eyes, golden bangs brushing her eyebrows.  

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
Every common bush afire with God, 
But only those who see take off their shoes;  
The rest just sit round and pluck blackberries.”   

I still pick a lot of blackberries.  Today is Sunday, a day in which I've started practicing rest and contemplation, and my senses are heightened today while I write this post, which is why I’m aware of the well of freshness springing up enough to write about it.  But when I’m the thick of the week and the moments fly past too quick to grab and I’m changing poopy diapers, making lunch and dinner, welcoming unexpected visitors, and handling requests, phone calls and emails, blackberry picking seems all I can manage.  It takes a tremendous effort of will (and a well-rested body) to remember to see, and take off my shoes for the holiness of it all.  

I mostly plow through unnoticing.

You know, I’ve spent 30 years running and striving, habitually moving too fast to notice holiness.  So I have to keep reminding myself, You’ve only just begun.  I’ve only just started these practices of Sabbath rest and deep, attentive listening.  As I live into the next 30 years of my life and beyond, I’m hoping these practices will continue to bear this delicious fruit of the awareness of “the dearest freshness deep down things” in my everyday moment-by-moment living.  

If I can’t learn to see and feel the holy in my every day, the days of my life will pass and I won’t have spent them aware of God.  Wouldn’t that be an unbearable tragedy?

Because, like a thunderbolt, the realization strikes: we are practicing now for eternity.  What else will we do for all the ages except to notice and delight in the holiness of God, in all its myriad beauties and multi-faceted excellencies?   Forever, we'll delight in Him.  We'll notice and bathe in His holiness.  We'll fall deeper into Him, revel in our intimacy with Him, enjoy the exquisite privilege of curling up in the lap of the Lord of the universe.  

Why not start now?

just a quick note... explain the silence on the blog for the past month.  I've been recovering from my broken foot (doing very well, thanks), and getting my oldest son into first grade in our little local school.  He's in the Russian class, he wears a suit every day, it's been a big deal for all involved.  After three weeks he's doing very well, but we're all pretty exhausted! :)

(Check out my Facebook page for photos of his first day...)

I've got about three posts lined up in the wings (the Internet keeps conking out on me when I get an evening with enough energy left to post), so stay tuned and watch this space for the things I've learned in August & September about listening, motherhood, and this art of sojourning we're trying to do every day... 

Thanks for your patience and your prayers!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

of flying machines and grace-filled mothering

I wish I had a flying machine.

(We haven't actually seen this movie... this model came in an airplane kids' kit!)
Will and I made Yogi Bear's flying machine at “rest time” today.  I reluctantly relinquished my usual hour of lying-down-flat-in-a-dark-cool-room because he’s been begging me for several days to “make a craft”…

That refrain played over and over in my heart today.

My second son (4.5 yrs) currently idolizes screen time over every other thing in his life (including Jesus, his mom and dad, all his friends, and every toy he owns).  Practically all of his communication with me this morning consisted of complaining, whining, and begging for screen time, until I put my foot down and insisted “I can't hear you” as long as he continued to whine.  He finally forced himself to switch to a slightly less nasal tone just to get me to respond.

Oh, for the wings of a dove…

After sticking the flying machine together and taping feathers to strips of felt to make Indian headbands, I snuck into my room to lay down on my bed, but I barely got 10 horizontal minutes before Ruby woke up.  Ten whole minutes.  

Then it was up-and-at-‘em again, off to the shop, greeting the entire neighborhood en route to and from, the flurry of getting dinner, letting the dog out, putting the dog away, kids fed, bathed, toenails clipped, put to bed, phone calls made, emails typed, and… I’m still so wound up that even though I’m exhausted, I had to type the rough draft of this post before I could even start my bedtime routine.

I want to fly away on Yogi Bear’s flying machine, without anyone sitting behind me - just me.  By myself.  Alone.  Without anyone else.  Alone.  Did I mention, I want to be alone?

Oh…that I could fly away, and be at rest!

Where are my wings?  I kept glaring up at heaven.

Ever have a day like that?  What did you do? 

Desperate, in the middle of the afternoon, I made Ben write down what he was thankful for, and then I did the same - a purple prophecy written in hope, since it sure isn’t evident yet…

(in case it's not clear in the photo, Ben's list - made with help - includes "cousins in NZ, a cute little sister, 2 grandmas who love me, Gpa Tim and that I have his name, and a ride in a donkey cart today")

I went out after rest time and took pictures of sunflowers, each click of the shutter a tiny burst of helium in my heart, finally lifting it up off the ground to gain a bit of altitude…

I petted the dog… For the first time in my life, I’ve discovered how therapeutic it can be to scratch the velvety fur behind a dog’s ears.  I’m amazed it’s taken me 30 years to discover this!

And now, I’m writing this blog post, looking for wings, hoping the story of this day will encourage even just one other heart out there…

The next day...

I discover that a book review for a course I’m taking is due right now, so during “rest time” I curl up with my Kindle for a hasty reading session.  The book I’ve chosen to review is a thick tome on mentoring which came highly recommended, but my initial scratches (months ago) left me worried it might be quite dry.  Hah!  Completely the opposite.  I can’t stop highlighting.  

In the middle of Chapter 2, the author is describing how a good spiritual mentor can help us discern spiritual meaning in and through the events of our daily lives. These words jump off the page:

“[Eugene] Peterson compares pastoral ministry to work on the farm with its routines of unglamorous chores, such as cleaning the barn, mucking out the stalls and pulling weeds.  Spiritual mentoring is farm work in which we meet routinely with our mentor for periodic unglamorous conversations and prayer.  Though moments of grand epiphany burst in or around us, the heart of mentoring another is the modest work of the routine.” (emphasis mine)

This girl, who’s never owned an animal larger than a hamster, has been feeding chickens, scooping dog poop and pulling up huge fistfuls of garden weeds since the beginning of summer, so the “farm work” analogy currently has a - shall we say - pungent meaning for me.

But it was the end of that paragraph which took my breath away:

Most pastoral work takes place in obscurity,” says Peterson, “deciphering grace in the shadows, searching out meaning in a difficult text, blowing on the embers of a hard-used life.  This is hard work and not conspicuously glamorous.”

I have a confession to make.  [stage whisper]  I’m one of those people who secretly likes being “conspicuously glamorous”.  Really.  I like getting attention, looking put together, receiving credit for what I’ve accomplished...

Guess what I’m discovering.  

Motherhood is anything but glamorous.  

(Big surprise, right?)  

Motherhood is “deciphering grace in the shadows.”  

When I read that phrase, I saw why God wants me to read this book: not because I’m supposed to go out and collect unsuspecting mentorees on which to bestow my vast depths of knowledge (hah!), but because I already have three little mentorees living in my house everyday, whose souls I am (scarily) responsible for shaping.  

I mean, of course if you’re a mother, you’re a mentor, right?  Yeah, ok - it should’ve been obvious, I guess.  But for some reason, I just didn’t connect motherhood and mentoring.  I thought mentoring was something older, more experienced adults did for younger adults… (so, um, that would be me, with my three little adults-in-training…)  

I know it’s God who works in all of us to will and to act according to His good purpose, and I know He is ultimately the One forming the character of my children, but I also have a huge responsibility to partner with Him in raising my kids to be godly, mature, responsible, joy-filled adults.  After all, He did pick me to be their mother - gulp! - and here in the middle of this book on Spiritual Mentoring, I am finally getting it.   

I need to learn how to become a good mentor because I already have three precious souls under my care.  

I need to learn how to “decipher grace in the shadows.”  I have this sneaking suspicion that if I can find grace in the shadows, I’ll find those wings I’ve been looking for.

photo credit
I scroll back in my Kindle to another quote earlier in the book which I highlighted in the context of adult mentoring but which takes on a new savor when applied to motherhood:

“The good mentor will help us ‘read between the lines’ for the hidden and quietly earthy messages that God will give because life is full of God.”

Yes.  To help my children read between the lines of life and unearth God’s messages for them because life is full of God. 

Or this one:

“The success or effectiveness of spiritual mentor may be directly related to the ability of mentor and mentor to move beneath the surface into the depths of treasures within the mentoree.  Anything that we bring to the surface has the potential to turn out to be silver or gold hidden in the rough, angular and random shapes of the earthly rock containers that carry these unique treasure.  The patient, sometimes tedious work of mining for the rich treasures within the seemingly worthless rocks is the work of spiritual mentoring.  These rocks are the stories of our daily lives.”

So.  Guess what?

In the midst of the tedious daily grind of dealing with bad attitudes and ungrateful hearts (often my own), dishes, laundry, farm chores, and cooking, I am mining unique treasures of gold and silver in the souls of my children.  I am helping them read between the lines of life for God’s messages.  I am “deciphering grace in the shadows.” 

Those glimpses of grace, when brought out into the light, become wings with the power to lift me up out of the mundane, into the holy. 

Does this resonate with you?  This doesn’t just apply to children, you know; we are mining for treasures with every friendship we have.  We are “deciphering grace in the shadows” in each conversation, each email, each train of thought, each journal entry, each prayer we whisper to the Holy Spirit in the depths of our hearts.  

We are all spiritual mentors for each other, and our holy work is the quietness of listening and paying attention to the “hidden and quietly earthy messages” God is every moment giving.

Because life is full of God, there is grace to decipher in the shadows.  

And that makes the shadows full of wings.

photo credit

Thursday, August 14, 2014

at the intersection of need and grace

Ok, so I’m not in that much pain.  Not nearly as much as some of the people I’ve been reading about lately.  Compared to them, this ordeal is nothing.  Less than nothing.

But I’ve been thinking about grace, and how hard it is for me to receive it, and give it.  

Having a broken foot and hobbling around on crutches has made me freshly aware of how needy I am, and somehow, having my neediness out in front of me, for me and all the world to see, has finally freed me to ask for and receive grace humbly.

Why is that?

Is it because there is no possible way to hide this need?  I don’t have the option of covering it up, or wearing a mask?  It’s on my foot, for goodness’ sake - everyone can see why I can’t walk properly, it’s encased in white and hard as rock.  I’m free to not give excuses.  I’m free to not have to feel guilty about this one.

Is it because everyone agrees that this is a need?  An injury is an injury.  People have them every day, live with them for years sometimes, they’re painful, and people with injuries need help. Period.  So it’s “ok” for me to ask for help - everyone understands.

What about when I’m lonely? Why do I feel the need to cover that need up?

Or when I’m caught in the comparison trap and feeling less than, or not enough?  

What about feeling hurt and bruised by words someone said, or didn’t say, or won’t say?  

Why can’t I let those injuries hang out there too, for all the world to see?  Why do I let them fester somewhere deep inside of me, eating away at my ability to ask for and receive grace?

The fact that the physical can be seen while the spiritual is invisible means (in my illogical subconscious mind) if my injury can be seen, that makes it justifiable.  Understandable.  Excusable.  Since there was nothing I could do about this, it’s ok to not be perfect, to not have my act together.  It’s out of my hands.

But sin-struggles, however, or character flaws, or abscesses of the soul - those are different.  Illogically, I feel I should somehow have control over those things, or should be able to deal with on my own, or that no one else struggles with them, so I’ll just keep them to myself.  I tell myself (subconsciously) those internal pains are my responsibility to deal with.  They’re embarrassing signs of weakness and imperfection, and I hate them.  

The trouble is, heart-wounds hurt just as much - sometimes more - as a broken foot.  And when they’re not dealt with, they fester, and they start to suck me dry on the inside.  When I can’t receive grace for those parts of me that are hurting or wounded - like not being a perfect mom, a perfect wife, a perfect home-educator, a perfect friend, a perfect artist, a perfect listener, etc, etc - then I can’t give grace either.

When I can’t give or receive grace, I live in a chronically discontent state, critical, impatient, resentful and unsatisfied.  And because as the homemaker my mood sets the tone for our whole home, my family has to live in a poisonous environment that is the exact opposite of my actual vision for our home: a place of welcome, belonging, peace, purpose, forgiveness, contentment, creativity, beauty, and joy.  

I sabotage my own dreams with my inability to receive grace for my internal wounds.  When I can’t receive grace, I can’t give it either.  So no-one gets the grace or the help or the healing they need, not me, or anyone else around me.  

What a miserable way to live.

I want to change this.

Maybe that’s why God broke my foot.  Maybe this silly rolled ankle and subsequent 8 hot, Saturday hours in a taxi crossing a sprawling city to pursue x-rays, a cast, and crutches at three different locations is all meant to teach me something.

Maybe God wants me to notice something about my attitude now, when I’m forced to humble myself and ask for help - nicely, so as not to alienate the people who will have to continue to help me for the next 28 days.  Maybe He wants me to let go of some of the small things I chronically keep up with (and make others keep up with):

-clean kitchen surfaces
-a clutter-free floor
-random mugs left lying around collected and brought to the sink
-beds made
-dirty clothes off the floor and into the basket

There’s nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves, but when I make them into idols and elevate them to a far higher level of importance than they deserve, and make others in my family serve my own drive for perfection even when it makes them miserable… Then something’s out of whack.  

Grace is missing.  

Maybe God broke my foot to show me that at the intersection of need and grace when I have no choiceI am actually capable of giving and receiving grace, for myself and for others.

And maybe knowing this important truth about myself will enable this "grace thing” to stick long past my 30 obligatory days of crutches and dependence.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

for when God calls your bluff

I have a confession to make.

I usually write and re-write each post several times, trying to get them word-perfect, thinking through everything to the enth degree to make sure I sound really profound...

I hardly ever write unscripted, directly onto the screen, like I'm doing now.  Part of my reason for writing and editing posts ahead is our usually frustratingly slow Internet (which seems to have picked up this afternoon).  But mostly I do it because I like to look perfect.

I like looking perfect.  I like to have my act together, do life fast and efficiently, never drop any balls.

Well, God called my bluff.  

Here's a grainy PhotoBooth picture of my two feet, currently stretched out on our veranda couch, and my latest acquisition: kasteli, in Russian.  

And here are a few thoughts on my two days so far - out of thirty - which I will spend on crutches...

Top Ten Things My Broken Foot Has Taught Me (so far):

#1 - Using crutches really hurts your armpits.

#2 - Not being able to do things fast - or at all - is driving this efficiency-craving person crazy.

#3 - Sara Groves' latest album, Invisible Empires (which I listened to in the car yesterday on my 2.5 hour journey - each way - to and from the city to get my foot x-rayed and casted) has taken on a new and deeper meaning.

#4 - The book I started reading today and can't put down, Behind The Beautiful Forevers: life, death and hope in a Mumbai undercity (Katherine Boo), has put my entire life into perspective in a way I could not have absorbed before Friday.  If I am feeling inconvenienced and frustrated by a tiny crack in a toe-bone, how do I have a right to complain when so much of the world lives in poverty and agony and mark their good days by whether or not they had to eat rats for supper?

I have so. much.

I am so. blessed.

#5 - Being forced to slow down is good for me.  (You'll notice this is almost a repeat of #2, except here? It's positive.  See?  I'm learning already.)

#6 - Being required to rest shows me how bad I am at it.  This is not a good thing.  Which makes me thankful for the chance to learn how to do it better.

#7 - Having to depend on others for the simplest things (like toilet paper to blow my nose) is both humbling and life-giving.  The truth is, I am dependent, whether I like to admit it or not.  Hobbling around on one leg requires me to acknowledge that truth.  Which said acknowledgement is healthy for my soul.

#8 - Realizing I have the best husband in the world is making me fall in love with him all over again.  (As I type this, he's humming in the kitchen while making dinner.)

#9 - Depending on other people makes me depend on Jesus more. (see there a theme here?)

#10 - Breaking my foot earned me 8 hours in a car by myself (well, if you don't count my wonderful local taxi driver, who patiently ferried me all over the hot city from place to place).  It was a unexpected but oddly satisfying break from the routines of home, a chance to reconnect with God through music, and through meeting brand-new and surprisingly helpful and compassionate images of Himself.  I'm not saying I'll go out and break another bone just to have time to myself (ok, the thought has crossed my mind) - but every cloud does have a silver lining!

Extra Credit: #11 - Crutches can be used for all kinds of things, including machine guns and electric guitars.  

So... there you have it.  God called my bluff, and I'm now asking Him for the grace and patience to make it through another 28 days of hobbling, being needy and dependent, and asking for help.  

Pray with me?

With love,