Wednesday, February 26, 2014

awake my soul {a repost from the archives}

{An edited repost from the archives... I needed this reminder again today!}

His grey-blue eyes shine.  I can see white flecks like stars.  His dark eyebrows are glued to his hairline in surprise.  His grin glows with delight.  He lets out a whoop.  


He demonstrates with his fingers squashed together, palms flat, hands turning and scooping in vehement twisty motions.  

The flight of his paper airplane.  

He can’t stop smiling.  

When was the last time something as simple as a paper airplane inspired that kind of intense delight in me?

And you know what?  I would’ve missed it.  I was almost too engrossed in checking email, right next to all that joy, and I almost missed the moment.  

It was a song that saved me.  I indulged in some new music recently, thanks to a miraculously fast internet connection that has suddenly materialized at our house… (Thank you, Lord!!)  

So, Shaun Groves’ song “Awake My Soul” was just playing on my iPod ten minutes ago while I scrubbed potatoes.  

Awake my soul 
to live this moment
Awake my soul, 
give thanks and hold it dear now
God is here now
Awake my soul

On his next throw, Will's airplane lands on my back.  He goes into stitches of laughter.  

I let go of my keyboard, look over my shoulder, make eye contact with Will, and dissolve into fits of giggles with him.  The airplane is in the shape of an eagle, and we laugh that “there’s an eagle on my back!”  

And because I’m in the moment, that “wings like eagles” verse pops into my mind as I spark squinty laughing eyes with my four-year-old.  Is there anything more exhilarating than laughing, locked in eye contact with a child, about a secret joke?  All the thrill and mystery of childhood is in his eyes, and when mine meet his, some electric current infuses his sparkling joy into my soul.

Not to be outdone, Ben climbs on my back, wraps his little arms around my neck, and grins delight into my ear as we rock back and forth.  Soon all three of us are a laughing, giggling pile on the couch, me choking from Ben’s death grip around my neck, drinking in his sweet, sweaty smell, caught up in sudden sheer delight that these two amazing, joyful little people are my sons.  

And this was supposed to be just a brief email check before returning to the “real business” of the day - making potato salad, laundry, vacuuming, etc. 

But I wonder…

What other delights are in store today, moment by moment, if my soul stays awake?


{Click here to see Shaun Groves perform "Awake My Soul" in concert.}

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Second lessons in listening... {One Word: listen}

{This year I'm posting once a month on my One Word for 2014: listen.  To read January's post in this series, click here.}

So… this whole One Word: listen thing for 2014?  Well, January started off with a bang.  

February?  Um… not so much.

Want the truth?  Ok.  Here it is.  That still, small Voice I was so attuned to at the beginning of 2014?  I’m embarrassed to say, I effectively turned off my ears for the last half of January.  

I clutched and finagled little pockets of time for myself, obsessed over blog schedules no one cares about but me, compared myself incessantly to all and sundry, and dissolved into petulant tears because the whole world was unsupportive of “my” art.  I whined incessantly about not having time for myself, and resented the demands of my roles as mother and homemaker.  

In a nutshell, I succumbed to my old demons of control and insecurity.  It’s been ugly.  

Have I been listening?  Not much.  

Should I have been listening?  

Um… definitely.  

Because when I started listening again (sometime around the end of last week), I started hearing again.  

This week, thanks to some quiet, calm direction from the ever-pragmatic and focused Kat Lee, I finally managed to a) go to bed a little earlier, b) get up a little earlier, and c) quiet my thoughts enough in the mornings so my heart could tune back in to that all-wise, still, small Voice.  

And finally I heard what He’s been trying to say to me for a while…

Let.   It.   Go.    Let go of your needs, your agenda, your desires.  Give them to Me, and I’ll take care of you.  Trust Me to further your art and your dreams, and you focus on looking after the people I’ve given you to love.

(Ok, if I’m completely honest, I have to admit that I heard Someone whispering that in the inner depths of my soul, but because of my self-centeredness it sounded like someone speaking on the other side of a glass window, muffled and burbly, and all I had to do was turn my face away so I “couldn't” understand what He was saying…)

So, here’s what February's teaching me:

Lesson #1: 
When I’m consumed with myself, I can’t hear anything properly.

As long as my thoughts are filled with my agenda, my goals, my dreams, my needs, there’s no space for anyone else to say anything, especially God.  The needs of my family become a burden, and I stop serving out of love and start doing it out of duty, which quickly fills me with resentment.  

The challenge for me is to open my hands, let go of my own needs and wants, and re-surrender to God’s plan for my day.

And what I’m discovering is, once I finally lay my agenda on the altar and tune in to God’s Voice, He meets my needs!  He shows me little pockets of time to make art, or He frees me to just take a nap and stop pushing myself so hard, or He helps me be content with the art I’ve already made and dissolves the pressure I put on myself to constantly make something new.

Lesson #2:
Complaining clogs my ears.  Thanking re-opens them.  

Focusing on all the things I’m not happy about is like turning down the volume on God’s voice so I can’t hear Him or sense He’s with me.  Thanking Him for the gifts He’s giving in that moment suddenly re-opens my ears and swivels up the volume, and His voice becomes audible in my heart again.   

I’ve realized that complaining is just general flailing in the direction of the Universe, or at anyone who happens to be listening (usually my patient husband).  Thanking implies you have Someone to thank, so you’re talking to Someone, so there’s actually Someone there, and maybe that Someone has something to say back to you… 

One of the best quotes I’ve heard (I wish my fragmented Mommy brain could remember the source):

“If you are complaining, it means you are believing one of two lies: Either God is not good, or God is not loving.”   

The act of giving thanks immediately turns my eyes away from myself to God’s Presence in that moment.  And right away, I feel more peaceful.  

What keeps you from hearing God’s voice throughout your day?

In what small (or big!) ways is God already using your word for 2014 to change and grow you?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

on writing and other peculiar habits...

{Linking up again this weekend with the ladies over at the Velvet Ashes Grove, writing about... well, writing!}

Picture a little girl perching on a wooden stool at a low table, head bent over a small piece of paper on her placemat.  She grips a purple marker tightly in her chubby fist, poking the tip of her tongue out in concentration.  Finally, she heaves a sigh of satisfaction.  

“Look, Mommy!” she jumps up and runs to the kitchen table, waving her scrap of paper. “I filled it all up!”

Her mom takes the scrap of paper and looks at it.  From top to bottom, every inch of white is completely covered with wobbly rows of tiny little scribbles.

“See, Mommy?” the little girl says proudly.  “I’m writing!”    

One guess who the little girl is.  


My Mom still has the paper.  

My own little writer...
I remember sitting next to my Mom at the kitchen table, resting my chin on the tablecloth, watching her left hand move gracefully across the paper forming magical connected letters called “cursive”.  I would watch for a while, then I’d get a bit of paper from the basket by the phone and sit down at my little table to practice.  

I filled up reams of paper scraps with my “writing”.  I loved the feel of the marker or pencil or pen in my hand, the sliding, curvy motion as the tip curled across the paper, the look of the ink as it unwound itself in knots and loops and dips and dots.  I loved the tidy straight rows of inked shapes, one row under another, marching down the page.  It didn’t matter to me one bit they weren’t real words.  

I was writing.  

I remember sitting bored at my desk in front of my homeschool Saxon Math book (it was a good book - I just detested math), gazing across our postage stamp lawn at the huge scarlet-leafed maple tree.  Guiltily latching my bedroom door, I would slide Saxon aside and write a poem instead.  

In Jr. High, a friend and I wrote almost a whole novel together.  It was to be the first of a trilogy; we unashamedly plagiarized J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  The heroine was a combination of the two of us, and the hero was modeled after a boy we both liked in youth group.  To our credit, we did create a completely original race of beings called “the Gargoilim”, but our “Nolbids” (Hobbits) and Elves were pretty much all J.R.R..  

I wasn’t good at making the plot exciting, so my friend would write the gist in outline form and pass the floppy disk to me on Sundays, and I would embellish to my heart’s content all week.  I was really good at embellishing.  Then she would take the finished pages back and draw beautiful, detailed illustrations with colored pencils.  We were completely absorbed in our project, and completely happy.  We wrote for the fun of writing and created for the joy of creating.

In the years since then, I have journaled.  And journaled.  And journaled.  Boxes of journals crammed with my handwriting are living in storage all around the world - my parents’ house in Sonoma, my mother-in-law’s shed in New Zealand, my desk drawers here in Central Asia.  Every era of my life is chronicled.  In detail.  If one of my great-grandchildren decides to write my biography, they’ll be in researcher’s heaven.    

Obviously, I can’t stop writing even if I wanted to.  In an earlier post I said if I was ever kept in solitary confinement, I’d write with my fingernails on my jail cell wall.  

It’s an addiction.

It was a couple years after college that I started asking myself, why?  Why do I feel this irresistible compulsion to move pen across paper, even if no one ever reads it?  

I remember sitting in an upstairs room in a little guest house during my first year overseas on a holiday with three girls from my English-teaching team.  We were enjoying the quaint touristy Asian town, and I was trying to process something - I can’t remember what.  (I was always processing something.)  That afternoon each of my roommates was occupied, and no one was really in the mood to listen to me think out loud, so I sat there on the bed and tried to do it by myself.  

I decided to think an entire train of thought in my mind beginning to end, without saying anything out loud or writing anything down.    

I couldn’t do it.  

I nearly drove myself crazy!  

I actually got scared.  What kind of person was I who couldn’t hold a coherent string of thoughts inside my head - was my brain a sieve?  Why was it evidently essential for me to use some external crutch - a pen, someone’s ear - to reach a mental conclusion?

Since those days, I’ve become intimately acquainted with the term “external processor”, and this perpetual urge I have to put words on paper or debrief with a friend in order to reach a conclusion has been partially explained.  (Whew!)

But aside from using words for compulsive external processing, I’ve had a life-long love affair with words themselves.  I always read them voraciously, thrilled to their savor and their power, and avidly put pen to paper to form them myself.

A peek at my ever-messy kitchen desk, where I do most of my writing -
complete with candy wrappers, old rubber band and TP...
“I write.”  That’s easy to say.  That can mean journals nobody sees.

“I’m a writer.”  Whew.  That’s a lot harder.  Somehow saying “I’m a writer” seems to ask a lot more of me and feels more intimidating than saying “I write”.

I’m still in the process of realizing and embracing the fact that the second statement is actually the same as the first.  If I write, I'm a writer.

I haven’t published one single article, anywhere, even online.  I haven’t even guest-posted for anyone.  Ever.  

So how can I call myself “a writer”, you ask?  

Because I write.  Every day.  Because I can’t not write.  It’s just something I have to do.  

"I’m a writer."  It’s starting to feel really good to say that out loud.

So… here comes the crunch, the part of this post where I get really honest:

Recently I’ve been feeling differently about this writing thing of mine… I want to Make Something with all this writing.  

I started my blog when my first son was born, mostly for my Mom (and other dedicated, wonderfully loyal friends) to read stories and see pictures of our kids and our overseas life.  But gradually, over my six-year blog life thus far, I’ve started to think almost as much about writing books as I do about reading them.

I do not have a big announcement to make (as in, watch out, world - here comes the next NY TImes best-selling author!).

But I do have Heather Seller’s inspiring book Chapter after Chapter: Discover the dedication and focus you need to write the book of your dreams living on my nightstand.  

I do not know what the future holds.

But I do dream of {gulp!} writing a book of my own someday… (I’m saying it out loud.  On the internet.  There’s no going back.)

I want to Make Something with all this writing, something more concise, profound and useful than stacks of journals hidden away in boxes.  

But since I’m not to the book-writing stage - yet - for right now, the Something I’m Making with words today is... (drumroll please) 

...this post.  For you. :)

And here’s what I want you to hear today:

Whatever “weird” (in the most flattering sense, of course) or insatiable habits you may have, pay attention to them.  Why do you feel the need to do them?  What is in you that isn’t in anyone else?

What is it that only you can do?  

Kenneth Atchity in his book Write Time (recommended by the ever-wise Heather Sellers) advises, 

“Stop doing things no one needs to do.  

Stop doing things someone else will do if you stop doing them.  

Stop doing things that aren’t the kind only you can do.  

Start doing the things you want to do, the things only YOU can do.”

Get the picture? 

Maybe the reason I can’t stop writing is because I need to keep writing.  Maybe there’s something God’s put in me to say, and all this writing is practice for letting it out one day.  

Maybe the thing we can’t stop doing is what we’re made to do, and we could stop putting it under lock and key and saying we don’t have time, and just let it out to breathe a little.  

Emily P. Freeman, in her lovely and inspiring book A Million Little Ways: Uncovering the Art You Were Made To Live, says, “Being an artist has something to do with being brave enough to move toward what makes you come alive.”

She goes on to say, “God is on the move.  But he is not invisible.  As long as there are people on earth, the world will have glimpses of God.  He chooses us to move through.  He chooses your personality, your spunk, your passion, your strengths, and your weaknesses to work in and through and with.  Christ still moves around in the world through the filter of your you-ness.”

My me-ness definitely includes writing.  Writing helps me process life.  I think better when I write.  I love better, calm down, and see clearer when I write.  

I can’t not write.

What is it you can’t stop doing?  

Maybe that’s the thing you were meant to do - the art you were made to live.

Be brave.  Write.  Create.  Be you.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

for when you're feeling homesick… {Pt. 1}

{Today I'm linking up with the community of sojourning ladies over at Velvet Ashes, posting on last week's prompt "Home"… I have so many thoughts on this subject, there might have to be a Pt.2 to this post!}

A black car pulled up in the driveway, and my husband got out of the driver’s seat.  Ben and Will ran to meet him across the yard of our rental house.  Daddy picked them up and swung them around.

“What do you think of our new car?” he asked energetically.

Three-year-old Ben’s face immediately fell.  “That’s not our car!” he protested.  “I want my blue car!  I want our car, from Central Asia!  I want to go home!”  He burst into angry tears, and James’ face registered consternation as he looked at me over Ben’s head.  

Of our two boys, Ben struggled the most last year with our transition back to New Zealand for the birth of our next baby.  He didn’t like our “new” house, he didn’t like living in Christchurch, he wanted his own bed, his own house, his own trike back in Central Asia.

In a word, he was homesick.  

We’d only been living in this Central Asian village four and a half years, but we moved here right before Ben was born, and since three months old he’s spent more time here than anywhere else in the world.  

From our first days here my own heart, too, has been knitted to this place: the people, the simple layout of the town, the routes to different friends’ houses, the mountains, the fields, the flocks of sheep and cows and horses, the quiet, slow, backwater feel of the place.  

All three of our children (now ages 6, 4 and 1) have spent their early childhood here, so this place is the most familiar to them.  When we’re visiting one of their two passport countries, it’s so ironic to me when they say “I want to go home” - and they mean this tiny corner of Central Asia.  

It’s been in this village that our family has transitioned from three members to four members, and now to five with the addition of our daughter last year.  Our rental house for the past two years is the place where I prepare our meals, where we sleep and play and wake up day after day.  It’s the first place in which I’ve hosted my own parents, proudly fed them pizza and breadsticks made from scratch in “my own” kitchen.  

At this moment, for this season, this is our home.

My dad, having breakfast with the boys in our rental-kitchen...
I remember my Mom stenciling our house when I was little,
so when she came she helped me stencil this rental house,
even though I know we won't be here forever…
Now, when I see my red cherries, I think of her.

This has not been tested yet, but I think even if we have to change houses again in this country, or even if we change countries (a very real and contemplated possibility), “home” for us and our children will travel with us to the new place.  We’ll have our dishes, our bedspreads, our pictures on the walls, our books, our carpets, our water-filter, the same clothes and shoes and toys… and we’ll be together.  Familiar things and familiar people will make both the external house-shell and the internal atmosphere of our next house feel like home to all of us.

The dictionary on my word processor defines “home as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or a household.”  But don’t you think it would be more accurate to describe the essence of home as familiarity?  Beloved people with whom we can be ourselves, a place where we know every little nook and cranny, a certain possession treasured because it evokes special memories… 

Our hearts seem to be designed to knit to other hearts and tie to certain places.  

In Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, the prince has a conversation with a fox in which the fox asks the prince to tame him.  The prince asks, “What does ‘tamed’ mean?” 

The fox replies, “It means, ‘to create ties’…” 

“‘To create ties’?”

“That’s right,” the fox said.  “...If you tame me, we’ll need each other.  You’ll be the only boy in the world for me.  I’ll be the only fox in the world for you…” 

We are made to ‘create ties’, to long for connections that make us unique to the other in all the world.  We are created to lavish love and care on a person or a place, until they become so familiar and precious that when we’re away from them we ache inside.

And yet, places aren’t permanent, however much we wish they were, and eventually we have to say goodbye to people we love.  On this planet, the only constant thing is change.   

The apostle Paul compares our earthly bodies with tents (he was a tentmaker, after all, so he knew his stuff), and says we have an actual “building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…”  He encouraged the Corinthian church to look to the “unseen weight of glory beyond all comparison” to get them through “momentary, light affliction…”  (2 Cor 5:1-6)

How does knowing our true home, our “house not made with hands”, is in heaven - and that means we are actually sojourners, strangers and aliens on this earth - factor into our understanding of “home” and our heart-sense of where home is?

I find this difficult.  I’m a physical person with a physical body, and my heart naturally knits to beloved people and special things and physical bits of earth.  It is so hard for me to believe that intangible, difficult-to-imagine heaven will actually feel more like home than here…  

I do know God will be there, and I know the closer I draw to Him now in this life, the more familiar He will feel and the more my heart will be knitted to Him and I will long to be with Him in person all the time, face to face, without ceasing.  

While I was engaged to my husband, I went through this. When I was with him, I felt such a sense of belonging, of homecoming.  He made me feel so safe and loved and welcomed and cherished that I wanted to be with him all. the. time.  The more time we spent together (and even while we were apart), the closer our hearts drew together and the more familiar he felt to me.  The more familiar he felt, the more I loved being with him.  As we neared our wedding day, separating for sleep was torture.  (Having said that, after marriage, learning how to actually sleep and get good rest in the same bed with another person definitely took some getting used to!  But it was bliss not to have to say goodbye.)

A little-seen engagement photo from 9 years ago… :)
I wonder if that’s how we’re meant to feel now about heaven.  Like an engaged bride feels about her coming marriage.  What if we felt so comforted and accepted and safe and welcomed and cherished when we experience the presence of even Jesus’ non-physical Holy Spirit, that to be physically with Jesus Himself, our Bridegroom, face to face for all time and never have to say goodbye again… would be unimaginable bliss?

Maybe that’s why Paul (a person with arguably one of the closest ever relationships with the risen Jesus) wrote to the Galatians saying, “It is better for me by far to depart and be with Christ, but for your sake I’ll stay here on this messed-up, broken planet and keep shepherding you for your progress and joy in the faith…”  (Phil 1:21-25, my paraphrase, emphasis added)  

He was longing to be united with Christ.  

Paul goes on to describes death not as unclothing us from our earthly bodies, but as being further clothed - “swallowed up by life.”  After death, we’ll be more Alive, Paul says.  Our resurrection bodies will be even more gloriously Real than the ones we have now.  

What if it was the same for our sense of home, and all our knitted ties here on earth?  What if after death (or when Jesus comes back!) we experience an even deeper sense of familiarity and delicious Home-coming than we ever have before?  

In his book on heaven and hell, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis imagines the grass of heaven to be so much more Real than earth-grass that its spikes hurt the feet of the spirit-people who travel there in a bus to take a look.  Might the sense of Home in heaven be like that too?  More Real, more strangely familiar, more deliciously comforting than anything we’ve known on earth? 

What if all our varied experiences of “home” on this earth - our house growing up, our parents’ home, our new homes we build as adults, our various patches of earth around the world to which we tie ourselves throughout the course of our lives - what if all these glimpses are merely meant to whet our appetites for the Real Thing?

What if we imagined each glimpse of beauty or delicious sense of homecoming or mouth-watering whiff of baking bread or sweet kiss from our child as a lovely shadow cast by an even lovelier Reality in Another Country?  Wouldn’t we long to get to that Country?

In his thought-provoking fairytale The Golden Key, George MacDonald describes the journey of two children, Tangle and Mossy.  During their travels they pass through a land of wonderful shadows, which MacDonald narrates in part like this:

“Now a wonderful form, half bird-like half human, would float across on outspread sailing pinions.  Anon an exquisite shadow group of gambolling children would be followed by the loveliest female form, and that again by the grand stride of a Titanic shape, each disappearing in the surrounding press of shadowy foliage.  Sometimes a profile of unspeakable beauty or grandeur would appear for a moment and vanish.  Sometimes they seemed lovers that passed linked arm in arm, sometimes father and son, sometimes brothers in loving contest, sometimes sisters… Sometime wild horses would tear across… But some of the things which pleased them most they never knew how to describe.   

“About the middle of the plain they sat down to to rest… After sitting for a while, each, looking up, saw the other in tears: they were each longing after the country whence the shadows fell.”

For the rest of their journey Mossy and Tangle are filled with this unspeakable longing to reach “the country whence the shadows fell”.  MacDonald ends his fairytale  like this:

“He took his key.  It turned in the lock to the sounds of Aeolian music.  A door opened upon slow hinges, and disclosed a winding stair within.  The key vanished from his fingers.  Tangle went up.  Mossy followed.  The door closed behind them.  They climbed out of the earth; and, still climbing, rose above it.  They were in the rainbow.  Far abroad, over ocean and land, they could see through its transparent walls the earth beneath their feet.  Stairs beside stairs wound up together, and beautiful beings of all ages climbed along with them. 

“They knew that they were going up to the country whence the shadows fall. 

“And by this time I think they must have got there.”

Surely our love of “home” and our ability to get “homesick” proves that every human being on this planet has a God-planted longing deep in our hearts, a longing to find our Way Home.  

Isn’t it wonderful that the One who said, 

“I have gone to prepare a place for you...” 

also said 

“I am the Way…” ?

And aren’t we here, sojourning on this planet, to introduce the hearts longing for home all around us to that One who is Himself the Way to our True Home

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get to 

“the country from whence the shadows fall”.  

Because once there, with Him, we’ll never be homesick. ever. again.