Thursday, May 30, 2013

a new kind of quietness {how to keep a quiet heart: Part 1}

I’ve latched onto Ann’s practice of naming years.  Two years ago was “The Year of Here.”  Last year, “The Year of Letting Go.” 

And then, towards the end of last year, the phrase “a handful of quietness” kept circling in my thoughts.  I liked the way it sounded, how it felt in my my mind.  With a newborn baby and two preschoolers, I was craving a handful of quietness!  

I can’t remember where I came across it, maybe in something I was reading while trying to get my head around moving back to Central Asia with three kids.  It took me a while to find the verse it came from (who reads Ecclesiastes, anyway?)...  When I finally found it, the whole verse jumped off the page at me:

6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.  
Ecclesiastes 4:6

That’s what I want for this year, I thought to myself.  I don’t want to be full of toil, striving after things that will only blow away in the wind.  I need some peace and quiet around here!

Now, more than a quarter of the way into the year, the kids are resting, and I’m sitting at my kitchen desk in a pool of afternoon quiet.  My hands cupped around a mug of hot tea, I’m reflecting on what the title “The Year of Quietness” might mean for my 2013.  My heart sinks slightly.  I’m not very good at being quiet.  I’ve always struggled to hold my tongue, always talked too much, too long, too loudly.  (I come from a whole line of talkers, actually.)  My husband says sometimes I “drown him with words.”  Poor guy.  Guess which one of us is the internal processor.  

So.  Me, be quiet for a whole year?  Whose idea was this? with a pointed mental glance in Jesus’ direction.  What were You thinking, anyway?  Does this mean I have to spend a whole year saying nothing, asking nothing, pursuing nothing?  Just obediently holding my tongue, while inside I’m about to explode?  

I cringe at the thought.  Maybe a month-long fast from talking would be good for me, but  - a whole year?

Or... is there maybe another, deeper, truer way to view Quietness?  What about quietness of heart, quietness of soul?  Would that help my mouth speak less,  more quietly?  I remember, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…” (Luke 6:45)

How do I keep a quiet heart, so I can keep a quiet mouth?

I’ll never forget Dr. K’s handwritten comment in the margin of one of the papers I turned in for her senior seminar class.  One of my all-time favorite professors, Dr. K didn’t just teach.  She mentored us, counseled us, and held us accountable.  She urged us to probe deeper, exploring our true motivations for life, learning, and making music.  

In red ink, she jotted in the margin of my paper: “You sound so driven. What are you striving for?  

Until I read those words, I had never thought of myself as “driven”.  But her insight went home.  I was driven, I realized.  I practically ran everywhere on campus.  What was driving me?  I started wondering.  Was it something outside of me, or was I driving myself?  Who or what was I trying to measure up to?

Back then, in the Wheaton Conservatory of Music, I think I was trying to measure up to all my stellar peers around me who I always felt were more talented, more disciplined, more successful.  By the end of college I did realize that my goals in the world of music were fundamentally different than most of theirs, and I gave myself permission to do different things as a musician other than perform classically.  

But now, almost 10 years later, Dr. K’s comment comes back to haunt me.  In many ways, I’m still driven.  Driven to keep my house neat as a pin, driven to research every single curriculum option available for homeschooling, driven to criticize, pick apart, micromanage.  

The writer of Ecclesiastes contrasts “a handful of quietness” with “two hands full of toil and striving after wind.”  I’ve come to realize that my drivenness, my “striving after wind”, originates from within myself.  I need to learn how to set myself free.

The other day I came across an article written by one of our ministry leaders.  Among other things I identified with, she admits to being task-oriented, perfectionistic, and loving list-making - even making lists of the lists she needs to make!  (I thought I was the only crazy person who did that?!)  In her article, she enumerates various ways she’s found to combat her drivenness.  This one leapt out at me:

Learn how to lay things down— This year I am reflecting once a month on the passage in Matthew 11:28-30 that says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

“As a result of this reflection, I’ve learned to write a new kind of list: a list of the expectations I have for myself which have become burdens. I am learning how to lay them down at the invitation of God to lift my weariness. The practice has been freeing and life-giving for me.” 

- K.F., one of our ministry leaders

Lay things down at the invitation of God, to lift my weariness.  I need to learn how make a new kind of list.  A new kind of list, a new kind of quietness.  

I sip Earl Grey, journal open in front of me.  I jot down across the top of a new page: 

What expectations do I have for myself that have become burdens?

I cup my warm mug with both hands, think through my life, my habits.

All surfaces in my house cleaned off all the time.  {The lie: A tidy house is the source of my peace.}

Yummy meals every single night - no room for “duds”.  {The lie: I’m letting my family down if I cook something they’re not crazy about.}

Must reply to every email, and feel guilty if several days go by without checking.  {The lie: my friends will love me less if I don’t reply right away, AND my feelings of being loved are essential to my identity and self-worth.}

Must keep up with my Scripture memory program, must wash all the dishes before going to bed, must, must, must… 

I really do think I’ll feel better if I can check these things off, but they just come around again tomorrow, and I never actually feel ahead of the game.

The writer of Ecclesiastes calls these things what they really are: “wind”A gusty puff of air.  No substance, no lasting value.  Certainly not worth striving after.  Burdens, really.  Windy, airy burdens that will blow me off course, distract me from what really matters.

I have to lay these burdens down.  If I don’t, they’ll strangle me, and then I’ll strangle my family with unrealistic expectations (mostly for myself!) and the ugliness that leaps out of my mouth when my expectations aren’t met.  

But how do I lay these burdens down?  How do I open my hands, let go of my striving, and receive quietness and freedom?

A memory verse jumps to mind: 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 
Romans 8:1

If you and I are in Christ Jesus, there is no. more. condemnation.

What holds us captive is our own condemnation of ourselves, our own false imagining of God and how He sees us, our own wrong assessment of what we have to do to measure up.  It’s all a lie!  Christ took all that condemnation upon His own self, so we don’t have to live under guilt anymore.    

So… I am free!  You are free.

In Christ, we are free to stop striving after vain goals and unrealistic expectations.  

Free to let go, free to focus on what really matters: being all here, in each moment.  Cultivating gratitude.  Stepping into grace.

We are free to lay down our self-imposed burdens, open our hands and receive…

...a new kind of quietness.

Monday, May 20, 2013

diamonds in the dump

He says yes.  

Even though I failed to get up early enough for a walk this morning, there is still grace.  

Outside the kitchen window, green branches tossing in early sunshine lure me like a magnet.  He agrees to flip French toast so I can slip out for ten minutes.  Grace.  

I pull on jeans, zip my red fleece, shove my feet into tennis shoes, grab a cap.  Then, I’m out in spring goodness, breeze blustering my face, and I feel only slightly guilty as I crack the gate and escape into opaque, white light.

I walk my normal route: left out the gate, across the little bridge, up the rise to the top of the ridge, and along the high bank of the “river” (which is really only a glorified irrigation canal).  Usually I walk along the ridge as far as the big bridge a quarter-mile down, but today I’m only going halfway before I’ll need to turn back to French toast and the baby’s morning feed...

It’s been a week or so since I’ve walked this route, and every day the sun has been getting up earlier, so this is the first morning I’m walking in full blaze.  As I crest the ridge and turn to head downstream, I stop in my tracks.  My eyes are almost blinded by winking, blinking diamonds.  

Everywhere, bits of broken glass bounce the light into glorious, glinting fragments.  


You see, this mound where I walk actually doubles as the town dump.  Broken bottles, dirty diapers, old car tires, and coils of rusted wire litter my route, and I take this path only because I’m sure of meeting no people at almost any hour of the day.  I walk here to be higher up - the raised riverbank offers a view of the mountains - and alone with my thoughts.

And today there are diamonds. 

Winking, blinking diamond glory, all those bits of broken glass reflecting a paean of praise to the sun.  Brilliance from brokenness.  

My eyes are full of blinding light.  I grin as I raise one hand to shade them.  

In just five quick morning minutes, I’ve found glory. 

I walk along the path into the sun a couple minutes longer (stretching my window of breakfast-grace) and as I turn my back on the sun to walk back towards our gate, the sparkling view dulls.  

But my eyes are still dancing with specks of glittering light, and I’m still smiling as I turn my face into the breeze and thank Him for shining glory amidst all this brokenness.  

Today I'm thankful for:

a husband who makes delicious French toast.

ten minutes all to myself.


sunlight tossing in green branches.

broken glass.


the way God can make beauty out of anything, 

even trash.

Monday, May 13, 2013

aphids of complaining, petunias of thanksgiving

I have two potted petunias hanging outside my front door.

One is thriving, one is dying.  


White blooms burst from the healthy one, while the sickly one can barely hold up its limbs.  What is making the difference?

Tiny aphids are draining the life from one of my plants.  

All the energy that should be bursting into beautiful bloom is being sucked away by these minuscule pests.  

I couldn’t help but see the parable: 

I have days like each of these plants.  

My full-of-life blooming days are characterized by flowers of thanksgiving.  

My depressed, grumpy, everything-seems-so-hard days are usually caused by aphids of discontentment.  

The trouble is, the more I complain the worse I feel!  

I’m realizing that every complaint is like one of those little tiny pests.  They don’t seem very important one by one, but taken all together, they will eat you alive.  

In contrast, the more I thank, the more I bloom.

Every time I breathe quiet thanks - for cheese, for a knife to cut it with, for hot running water in my tap, for a mug of tea, for a working toilet - it doesn’t seem very significant.  Mundane, really.  How could this possibly be making any difference?

But guess what?  I’m happier.  Really.  I. am. happier.  I’m less grumpy, less petty than I was a year ago (I hope).  Replacing complaining with thanking is actually changing me.  Whether my hours are rolling out neatly or full of interruptions, whether I’m feeling tired or rested, giving thanks is gradually changing my perspective, my heart-space, the flavor of my days.  

I am quietly starting to bloom.  

What are your “aphids” today?  What things are you tempted to complain about?  Could you give thanks for those very things, and watch your day change from feeling sucked dry to bursting into bloom?  

Monday, May 6, 2013

framing up a miracle

It felt like an electric shock through my heart.

I stopped.  Stared at him for a second as he was kneeling on the floor.  He grinned at me, with that knowing look of his that makes him look 15 years old instead of 5.  Then he bent to his task again, cheerfully with a good will, and I stood watching him, rooted to the spot, this tingling warmth growing in my heart.

I’d asked them to clean up their toys before we played a game.  

He’d opened his mouth to say “Awww - “ and then stopped himself, mid-grumble.  

For a second, he sat motionless with his head down.  “Mom,” he’d said then, lifting his head, “I almost grumbled, but then I remembered our verse… Do - “ and I join in and say it with him, our voices both breaking into smiles - “all things without complaining or disputing.”  

I’m nodding, still smiling, feeling that tingle go right through me.  

“You know,” he adds, a toy in his hand, “when I had my head down?  I was praying.  I asked Jesus to help me do it without complaining.”  

I stood there rooted to the spot, a thrill of wonder in my heart, watching my son obey with a good will.  

Where have I felt this before? I thought.  Yesterday.  It was yesterday, when I was framing up green sunflower shoots poking through earth.  

I wanted to freeze this moment in time too, capture it like a photograph in my soul.  Frame up a miracle: my son’s heart, with the little green shoot of the Word poking up.  Word-seeds taking root in his heart, germinating, sprouting, pushing up to the surface.  

The weed of his sin choked out by the sturdy sprout of Truth. 

It was like physical green suddenly birthed into spiritual green: fresh, green miracles, outside the house and in.  

I was suddenly surrounded by glory.  

Today, I am thankful for:

The visible sprout of Truth.

Grace evident in my son's life. 

That our home is nurturing spiritual growth!

Sunflowers growing.

Seeds.  Every-day miracles.

Grace.  Every day undeserved, every day incredible.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

six thousand cups of promise

{A amazing glimpse into one of my husband's current endeavors...}

Nestled in dark dirt, surrounded by a white plastic sheath, a cherry seed waits.

Lovingly planted by careful hands in the dead of winter, it slept long months in its cup of earth in cellar dark, biding its time. 

Yesterday, its cup was placed in a wooden crate with forty-nine other cups containing its brothers and sisters.  The crate was lifted and carried up and out, into the moist, spring air.  Other crates are carefully placed beside the first, until the ground is covered with six thousand cups of promise.

Now the seed stirs.  Stretches slightly in its earthen bed.  Thinks its first, faint, cherry thoughts.  The spring sun gently warms its bedclothes.  Warmth seeps down into the dirt in the cup.   The seed feels moisture all around, senses warmth above. 

Then, one day - pop!  The seed-case cracks.  A tiny, green, living tendril noses its way up between particles of earth.  Its green point blindly breaks the surface skyward.  

A cherry tree is born.

{Isn't this like our faith?  In the dark of a winter season, we can't feel ourselves growing.  We lose heart, despair of ever changing.  But then one day - pop!  The hard case of doubt cracks open, and suddenly we can feel again the warmth and love of God's presence.  We stretch up towards His light, and watch as His promises bear fruit in our lives, even through dark times - and sometimes because of them.}