Kinder Light

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Kinder Light

Pale silver blue

Light from the smaller globe

Birthed from the ancient earth

Broken off

By fire and force perfected

If slightly lopsided like my mind

At rest reflecting

Illuminating

The ebbs and flows lit from within

Death follows life and life follows death

Cycling

Not weak or less — only other

Strong in softness, because of softness

Sourced waves move tight in formation

Hugging the curves

Boring deep into places where

The wide red waves skip by

We see the forest clear-eyed

When there is time and quiet for

Eyes and soul to adjust

To still

Hold

Ponder

Wander

Exposing the path without

Blinding the wild imagination

Disappearing

Reappearing

Pain and joy

Despair and hope

Groaning and laughter

The kinder light of the moon

Shines without burning

A Web Atremble

IMG_6948Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together.” – Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

2 days ago, I had a delightful conversations with my kids regarding specific teachers in their past. The topic of the week was history class. My middle child made the decision to ditch AP World History for on-level, much to the shock of her brother and sister. Here was the gist of the conversation.

The child making the move had very mature reasons for doing so. She is wise well beyond her years sometimes.

My oldest said he understood, but thought if she had Mr. Parson’s for history, she would love it. He concluded that Mr. Parson’s had not only given him a love of history, but also encouraged him to engage with philosophy and read great books. I would add that I think Mr. Parson’s also gave my kid permission to be his quirky, nerdy self no matter what other kids thought about it.

My youngest chimed in with a story about 2 of her teachers. In 2nd grade, her teacher managed to connect the dots of modern community, ancient civilizations, and dinosaurs into some creative, engaging project that ended with breaking open concrete eggs — or something like that. My kid found a T-Rex toy when she broke open her egg. She said, “T-Rex was my favorite, so I thought it was a sign that I would always want to learn more about history. I was hooked and have been ever since.”

Then she launched into reflections about Mr. Novosad and how she hoped she would one day be able to make kids love history and science the way he made her love history and science. A side note about how deep this love of learning runs with this one – I found her secretly studying her older sister’s AP Human Geography study guide, to which she admitted to stealthily doing at night throughout the summer.

After all of this, my middle child who started it all said, “I’m still going to on-level. Maybe if I’d had a teacher like Ms. Eaton for history when I was younger, I’d love it, too.” Then she went on to explain that Ms. Eaton had changed her life, made her love writing and feel confident about it, and made her want to ask better questions about spiritual things. Wow. I think she is still sneaking back into Ms. Eaton’s classroom to decorate her whiteboard. 

In his beautiful book, Learning the Vocabulary of God (amazing), Frank Charles Laubach asks, “God, what is a man’s best gift to mankind? To be beautiful of soul and then let people see into your soul…” I think that is what these teachers did for my kids.

Maybe all of these teachers know what a huge impact they are having on the world, but I wonder if they have days like me, when they wonder what it’s all about and if it’s worth it. If they had a bigger platform than a single classroom, would the power of their reach grow? I’m not so sure.

In the introduction of Gilbert White’s book The Natural History of Selborne, this caught my attention this morning: “By focusing attention on Selborne alone, White was not limiting the reach of his work but expanding it.” I think it might be the same with teaching, and with parenting and mentoring, too. By focusing our attention on a small group of individuals, the depth of our imprint reaches further than it would if we instead had a diluted influence over many.IMG_6442

I contemplated the math of a teacher’s influence this morning – take the 100’s or maybe 1000’s of students a teacher has over his or her career. Now, let’s be conservative and say that even a great teacher only makes a huge impression on 10 percent of those students, but then those students have children and enter into their own careers. Who will those students then influence? What about their children? Their children’s children? It starts to boggle the mind.

In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster contemplates the age-old conversation concerning the sovereignty of God and the power of the human will. “He invites us into the workshop of his creativity, where we can be co-laborers with him, working together to determine the outcomes of events.” What a wonderful filter for the way we view our work!

Much of what most of us have to offer seems small. I photograph my corner of the world and write my little words. I volunteer and vacuum, clean toilets and grocery shop in order to create a kinder environment for my family. It is easy to write off these simple tasks, but they are important. Who knows what trembles on the web of humanity my small acts of kindness might cause?

French philosopher (as well as Jesuit priest, paleontologist and geologist!) Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.”

For good or for evil, whether you know it or not, you are changing the world.

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I Shall Not Want!

I am mildly anxious much of the time, but there have been periods of my life when anxiety has risen from a simmer to a boil. Once was during a twenty-something transition and who-the-heck-am-I crisis, once when each of my girls was 10 months – hormonal, postpartum craziness that landed me in the hospital the first time for cardio tests, and for reasons that are yet unclear to me, it’s gotten pretty bad in the last 3 months. During these times, I have occasional, debilitating panic attacks out of the blue.

My kids all have big stuff going on. That is usually the case as they are all teenagers, but my ability to handle it with healthy boundaries broke down this week. I don’t let them in on that, but it can trigger me. So, I was sitting in my living room a couple morning’s ago, worry-praying for one of them and stuck in a significant panic attack. It felt like my chest was filled up with cheap polyester stuffed animal filler and it was creeping its way up my throat. My heart pounded, and my brain felt like slime. I couldn’t process or see straight.

I started whispering, “The Lord is my shepherd,” over and over again. That’s a new one for me as I’m not much of a chanter, but it’s what came out. After about the 20th utterance, I went one phrase further and managed a faint, “I shall not want.” And BAM, a light went off – my slime brain returned to its natural sponginess and the polyester filling that threatened to choke me receded.

The “I shall not want” part has always felt like a passive thing to me, but it occured to me that if it was passive, David would have said, “I do not want.” I checked in on the Hebrew (as if I knew what I was doing) and remained convinced that “I shall not want” was indeed his direct intent – he was choosing it, or at least strongly agreeing to it. Remember Gandalf on the bridge in the The Fellowship of the Ring movie? “YOU… SHALL… NOT… PASS!” Worth watching again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJZZNHekEQw

Anyway, that’s the scene that came to mind, so I gathered my inner Gandalf and said out loud, “I SHALL NOT WANT!” It has stuck with me ever since. I keep repeating it in my head every day, over and over again, because the truth is, no matter how many green pastures I lay in or how many quiet pools of water I wander by, I still want. I still want what I want when I want it. I struggle finding contentment in the midst of chaos, especially when that chaos is surrounding my kids.

It’s not that the temporary wanting of peace and prosperity for my kids is a terrible thing – it gets ugly when I elevate that want to the point of worship, when I center my emotional stability and joy around things going well for them. It’s a real problem when my want of temporary victories trumps my want of long-term growth and deeper love for them and for me. The question is not what do I want, but what to I want most? “I SHALL NOT WANT TEMPORARY SUCCESS IN EXCHANGE FOR LEARNING HOW TO LOVE!” Gotta go full-Gandalf on it.

My kids will certainly know the other part of the passage, the valley of death, during their lives – death of people, dreams, security, esteem, jobs and confidence. I will struggle when they find themselves there, but I want them to know that they do not need to fear the evil because God is with them every step of the way, just like he is with me when I panic.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2     He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside still waters.

3     He restores my soul;

He leads me in paths of righteousness

   for His name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk

   through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

   for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff,

   they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me

   in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

   my cup runs over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

   all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

   forever.

Jennifer (2)

Beauty Balm

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With Krista Wallace, on the drive back from Big Blue Trail, CO, following our 13 mile hike.

There are 2 significant things I have been learning this year – presence and expectancy. I have my continuing struggles and frustrating patterns, but I have come to expect God to meet me in the middle of them. I expect him to work on me and show me things, and I, in turn, try to be agreeable to the process. The “work” I have been called to when it comes to my own healing and growth can be hard at times, but there is a part of it that consistently brings me immense joy. That is the work of paying attention.

Richard Rohr draws a wise connection to these words from the gifted photographer, Ansel Adams, who said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Rohr continues the train of thought, “So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months, and years of “fear and trembling.”” –Breathing Under Water

I was struck to the core by all of this – It wipes away every bit of the shame of struggle. In fact, it is the struggle itself that allows grace to do its best work!

I have taken some lovely photos the past couple of years. Someone asked me recently, “Why do all of the beautiful things find you?” I was a little taken aback, and as I glanced over my photos, I thought for a moment that there was some truth to it. But I quickly realized that’s not really the way it works.

I am astonished at times when beauty finds me, but it is easier for beauty to find me when I pay attention to the urging to get up at 4:30 in the morning, climb out of bed at 2 a.m. to see the stars, listen to the birds and educate myself on their migratory patterns, work on a writing or editing project till 10 p.m. instead of watching T.V. so that I can spend the next morning at the state park, or sacrifice a little physical comfort.


“Softest of mornings, hello. And what will you do today, I wonder, to my heart?” ~Mary Oliver, Devotions


None of these “sacrifices” guarantee that I will find beauty, but I sure give myself a better chance. In all of the photos in the slide show below, I gave up something to get them – I got up early, stayed up late, stood still for a long time, turned off the TV, hiked a long way, got hot, got cold… something kind of hard, or really hard. I did nothing to make the scene beautiful, but I was willing to put myself out there.

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Sometimes working with God means I wake up early, read challenging books, step into tough but necessary conversations, place myself among people who are not like me, vulnerably confess my struggles to a friend, or say I’m sorry, frightened or hurt. None of these things is guaranteed to make me beautiful, but all of these things, in cooperation with a caring God, give beauty a fighting chance.

Job 12:7-12 The Message (MSG)

7-12 “But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?”

 

The Long Hikes

Thoughts of Colorado dance in my mind this morning. This summer is flying by, and our trip snuck up on me. 10 days till check in!magicmountain

The Crested Butte hikes await. I love the short, steep climb to Meridian Lake, the scramble to the CB peak, Judd Falls, Lower Loop – meandering, photographing birds. These little hikes are the morning walks of Crested Butte. What a treasure!

But there is another kind of hike I want to experience with my kids this summer – the long hike – Copper Lake, Rustler’s Gulch, Aspen to Crested Butte kind of hikes – hikes that push you beyond your current fitness level, that get hard enough at times that you have to force yourself to see the glory that surrounds you.

These hikes are a reminder of the long hikes of life – the ones that involve deep grief or toil. These times take us on a path deep inside ourselves – strenuous, painful, lonely paths. But if we will endure, they lead to these beautiful pools – pools so deep and wide and pure that they have room for the divine to join us for a swim.

As Mary Oliver writes: Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” I would add that if we are brave and willing to do the work, we might find that the unimaginable was there inside our heart all along.

When the divine is invited to swim in our deepest places, we are transformed. We come back to our lives, and the glory of the deep colors everything.

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“…but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” ~Romans 5:3-4

Banner Birding

I was bemoaning my to-do list because it has prevented me from going to the coast for a birding trip during migration. I gave myself an attitude checkup a week ago and decided to let it go and to savor the beauty in my own area. I wanted to share a little of what I have seen in the past 4 days. It has blessed me immensely.


“She is one of the most noticing people I’ve ever met, always paying attention to the birdsong in the background, the leaf on the tree.” ~Ursula K. Le Guin, No Time To Spare


These fascinating flying friends bring me joy. Enjoy my little slideshow. XOXO

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Put a Frame Around It

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I spend a lot of time creating things. Some days I catch myself wondering if it’s a waste. Why do I write the words and melodies, snap the pictures, write the blog post, or dream about the book I’ll finish one day? I don’t make a dime. I am certainly not a writer in demand!:) And yet… I think creating is a big part of what I’m called to do.

For any of you who have read my blog, it will come as no surprise that I found my answer in a Frederick Buechner book.  I have always felt a deep connection to Buechner’s writing. He gives words to the thoughts that swim between my dreams and my waking – things that drive to the very core of me but I cannot name. 

This quote from The Remarkable Ordinary sums up why I wander in the woods and struggle with my pen and paper.


“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything.”


That is why I wrote this post, why I get up before dawn and ignore mosquitos, heat or cold to take my photos, why I spend hours trying to get a melody just right. First, it is for me. It is my way of telling my heart, “STOP! Look at this. Really look at this.”

 

Then I share some of these things with you so that you might say to yourself, “STOP! Would you look at that? What a wonder!”  I don’t want you to look at my photo of the moon and say, “Look at my friend’s post. She is a great photographer.” My hope is that you think, “I can’t believe she saw that in Magnolia, TX. Hey, I can see stuff like that, too!”

Next time you see a beautiful moonrise, consider that no one who has ever lived or who ever will live is standing in the exact spot as you, at that exact time, with the specific memories and emotions and dreams you bring to the moment. That moment is a gift from the universe, from The Creator, in my opinion, for you and you alone. 

When we create, in our feeble attempt to capture this magic, we get to participate in the divine dance. We are framing tiny miracle moments.  If my art influences a handful of people and deepens their desire to find their own such moments, I am contributing to the very work of creation – I am bringing wonder, love, and peace to the world in a way only I am equipped to do.

You and I are also works of art. As we expand our ability to pay attention to nature, we begin to see each other through new filters. More from Buechner from his book  Whistling in the Dark:


“So we are to see each other like that, as Jesus sees us, framed as if each one of our faces is seen by him.”


I hope for anyone who reads this, that you might have eyes to see the love infused into the corners of creation you encounter. And may we all see each other – and ourselves – as the spectacular works of art that we are!

 

Gloomy Goodness

IMG_5011I want to disappear for a while – to read British mystery novels, sleep, drink grownup hot chocolate and not see a soul. Even better, I want to hibernate in an isolated cabin instead of my house – I’m tired and lazy, so my house is a mess, and that distracts me from my books and Netflix.

In the past, I would fret, with what little energy I had, about this winter slip into what many would describe as mild depression. This year, I look at the dreary rain drops dripping from the bare, gray branches, and I welcome the slight sadness with a warm fuzzy blanket.

For I have learned that this feeling always precedes the buzz of anticipation that happens like clockwork at the end of every February, when the first buds appear and the early migratory birds arrive. I would not appreciate the coming light without first knowing the darkness.


“For me it was important to be alone; solitude was a prerequisite to being openly and joyfully susceptible and responsive to the world of leaves, light, birdsong, flowers, flowing water.” ~Mary Oliver


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Forget New Year’s Resolutions

This week, we reflect – Christ came. He came as a baby at a particular place and time, but in an eternal sense that no words can explain, he comes again and again. He has come to me. He comes to all who call upon him in the midst of the current chaos of this world, in the midst of the chaos of their own internal world.

Fully man, he continues to enter our fleshly, decaying world as only one who has lived in a fleshly, decaying body can.

The advice lists for new year’s resolutions 2018 have started to float across social media networks. The more sophisticated lists now advocate “new year’s intentions” and sound deep and mature: things like kindness to the grocery cashiers, time in nature, daily focused meditation, simplifying, etc.

All good things, but then I read this in my favorite prayer book, The Valley of Vision.  I think I have found my new year’s, my rest-of-my-life hope and intention, because everything else loses its luster in the light of it.


“Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being… Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly Husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until thou alone art seen in me, thy beauty golden like summer harvest, thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.”


As anyone who knows me can tell, I am a woman who often processes in images. I called to mind the last time I saw a huge commercial tiller running through the rich, deep-black soil. Have you seen a tractor plough up close lately? Those are some awfully big blades. Isn’t that how life feels sometimes? Like huge blades are shredding our hearts? What if that shredding could be laying the groundwork (couldn’t help it) for the person we are meant to grow into?

(Side note – I was looking at images online of tractor ploughs as I wrote this, and I came across a website from the UK called The Society of Ploughman – it’s awesome. They have competitions and everything. Check it out. The internet is amazing.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarry close up. When I think of a quarry, I always think of this scene from the film Garden StateGarden-State-Screencap-indie-films-1931521-1024-436I consider the violent demolition needed to create a gash in the earth the size of this, and I shudder a bit when I consider applying that image to my life. But the writer I quoted above longs to be quarried so that he might overflow with living water. That makes me tremble with excitement.

It is life in Jesus Christ, life in the one God-man, the one whose birth we celebrate this week, that can plow and quarry our hearts for the purposes of love and expansive grace. This is the life that I am scared to want, but still, want it I do. Oh, quarry me deep.

Shrouded Supermoon

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My lens is pointed directly at the setting supermoon, and yet a billion tiny things stand between my lens and that moon, rendering it invisible to me. Countless droplets of water conspire against me, each so tiny that I cannot make out a single one.

This is often a picture of my life. The BIG THING is right in front of me, and yet I am oblivious to its presence because I have let a billion tiny, almost-invisible things get between me and it.

My busyness, my wandering or fretful thoughts, the noise, the tweets, the news, the TV, the sugar and caffeine, other people’s expectations and their subsequent disappointments… I am so used to the bombardment. It has become my constant background, so I rarely notice it is there.

But sometimes I feel fretfully lost and see the path fading in front of me. For a brief spell, I acknowledge the dense fog and consider what grand thing might be right before me, hidden from view.

(I’ll be back for you this evening, my moon.)