Pay It Backwards

Hey sweet Mamas – I’m paraphrasing my favorite author here – “The day you delivered your sweet little bundles, you brought them into a crazy world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to them. Do not be afraid.” – thought borrowed from Frederick Buechner.

Other human beings will hurt us. We will hurt some of them. The question is what to do with the pain. Of course, there are different levels of pain. What I’m thinking about today is the small-to-moderate variety of human-on-human hurt. And with the start of the school year, my mind is also on my kids.

My middle kid, 8th grade girl, got my attention yesterday. I asked her if she had any particular hopes or goals for 8th grade. She said, “I would like to be more focused and present in class, but really, I just want to try to be kind to 7th graders because I wish 8th graders had been more kind to me last year.”

We hear a lot about paying it forward, but she wants to flip pain on its head and pay it backwards. What a sweet picture of redemption.

I’ve watched the same thing with my senior. He experienced a ton of rejection from 5th grade through last year. Now most of the kids who dished that our are gone, and he seems intent on making sure every kid he comes in contact with feels accepted and respected. He is investing time and energy encouraging younger tennis players, to help their hearts as well as their tennis game.

Our hearts are drawn to redemption stories. We eat up redemption movies. It is because we all understand brokenness. The thought that we could be mended, that relationships could be healed, goes to the very depths of us.

But to live a redemption story means that you must experience pain.

Brutal Redemption

This is not intended to be a brag session on my kids. Don’t worry – we have plenty of whining, door slamming, and eye rolling around here. And I have cried myself to sleep many a night knowing my kids were in pain because of social rejection.

But what an awesome thing to help our kids consider how they can take rejection, flip it around, and pay the beauty of redemption back to younger kids. This works for me, too. I had a lot of internal pain and anxiety during my years with babies and toddlers. Now, years later, how do I flip that around and give back to the Moms who are in that season now?

What does this look like for you?

 

 

Happy Birthday Mr. Buechner

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I realized this week that I have several Buechner books out on loan.:)

My favorite author celebrates his 90th year of life today. This post is going to be longer than my usual posts, but you can handle it – and by “you”, I mean my parents and my fellow Frederick Buechner fans.

It might be sensationalized media coverage, but it seems that darkness often has the last say these days. This world is fragile and violent and scary, but darkness is not the end of the story!

“The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”The Final Beast.

I should just stop typing. What is left to say? And yet, there are other passages I love just as much, so I must go on.

I get a sense when reading Mr. Buechner that the jarringly personal struggle is close – either in his very own heart or the hearts of ones he knows intimately. There are passages that make me squirm because they are harsh and raw and expose parts of me that nobody knows. And then I realize he wrote them because everybody knows if they are honest, because they are about all of us. We all have squirmy parts. Maybe we suppress them. Maybe life has not yet pried up that particular rock. Maybe we keep life so boring and orderly that the rocks cannot be pried. 

One of Buechner’s characters that grabbed me the most was Kenzie from The Storm. At the end of the book, he sits and writes “I’m sorry” over and over again in every language he “has a smattering of”. I cried over that passage, wanting to tell this poor soul that he was terribly, wholly forgiven. And then I realized that the poor soul was actually my own, and I was crying over me, and I was trying to grasp the fact that I was the one forgiven.

But how this truth slips away on the slimy walls of shame and pride, so I never fully hold it. I ask for the same forgiveness again and again. And I ask God to convince me again of what I have known in moments to be true – that I am more healed than I know – that somehow, someday, complete healing will come and I will be able to rest.

Buechner shows us The Story – it is everywhere. It is in the plants, the sky, the water, the spider’s web, our own hearts, and in all the crazy people around us. It is in human torment and joy and ineptitude and discovery. It is easier to see it in the broken people – maybe all their cracks allow us to see some element of that divine image that is all covered up in the polished people. Maybe that is why Jesus hung out with the hooligans – all their cracks gave him somewhere to pour in all that love.

I try to participate in The Story in my own small way because when I sit on the sidelines I can feel the fading of my soul. This passage from Secrets in the Dark gave words to that fading feeling for me:

“Not to help find some way to feed the children who are starving to death is to have some precious part of who we are starve to death with them. Not to give  of ourselves to the human beings we know who may be starving not for food but for what we have in our hearts to nourish them with  is to be, ourselves, diminished and crippled as human beings.”

What if a whole bunch of people on this planet grabbed hold of that truth? What kind of place would this be?!

I don’t know if I’ll write the book or books that seem to swirl around inside me somewhere. I find them now in bits and fragments that don’t fit together yet. But if I do write the book – and as I continue to write my little posts – I will never pretend. I will have to tell The Story as it shows itself to me. I will honor my fellow humans in all of their glorious and complicated brokenness. If I cannot add honesty, grace, compassion and kindness with my words, then I do not want to write.

So thank you, Frederick Buechner, for setting the mark high. My life, for one, is deeply changed.

Beautiful, Terrible

Again from Secrets in the Dark:  “The final secret, I think is this, that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been to the wilderness with us.”

This is what I believe – at least all the days I am able to believe. It was reading Buechner’s books that first gave me peace about unbelief, that let me know that my sometimes lengthy moments of doubt do not undo the long periods of belief. That is my wilderness, and God does not desert me there. In fact, it is often the place where I am mysteriously renewed.

At the end of my earthly days, these are the words that I hope to say to my children and my friends, “If I loved him with less than all my heart, soul, mind, I loved him with at least as much of them as I had left for loving anything.” Amen.

Bubble-Wrap Free

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Some days I wish I had special bubble wrap for my kids – material that was impermeable to hate, yet love-breathable – so I could send them out into this beautiful creation to soak it in without the terrifying risk that entails.

It would also protect their hearts from the damage they are capable of doing to others – for all the wrongs done to me, bundled together, have caused me far less distress than the wrongs I have done to others.

Beautiful, Terrible

Yet, I know that it is new experiences that will give my kids breadth, and it is pain and struggle that will give them depth. So I send them out the door every day bubble-wrap free, and I pray and pray and pray they will return safely to me so we can ponder the new things they have seen and repair the damage done.

Stitches


And then I pray some more for the strength and courage to do it all over again.

What Makes Your Heart Sing?

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Apart from my first priority to care for my family, what is my purpose? I am uniquely made, so what sets my particular heart alight? What makes it ache? What makes it sing?

As I walk through this spectacular yet broken world, there are 2 things that I long for most – grace and compassion. I want to spend my energy bringing more of those 2 things into the world and encourage others to do the same.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” -Frederich Buechner

I find my deep gladness when I meet with the world’s deep hunger for grace and compassion. And so it is there that I will invest whatever skills that I have out of my immense love and appreciation for my fellow human beings.

The song below tells a story that represents the way I long to walk through my days – where giving grace and showing kindness to those in my path is the natural response to the unfathomable grace that has already been given to me.

In my younger years, I had a simplistic and worldly view of success. I saw it as measurable in terms of numbers – money, public acceptance, accolades, followers. That no longer works for me. It was another passage by Buechner that flipped the switch. Any guess who my favorite author is?


From The Hungering Dark:

As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. 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. No man is an island.”


The success of my life’s work – my relational work, my professional work – is not linear at all! It is connected to the great web of humanity – a web that will last far after my physical life is over. I have no right to know, no way to know, the true measure of my impact.

A social-media-savvy guru can put out baloney to millions of people and not effect a single heart, while one private act of compassion can heal and set a life off in a direction that will eventually change the world. WE DON’T GET TO CONTROL THE OUTCOME!

The only thing that is in my power is how I choose to interact with the present moments I am offered. How do I use my time? How do I interact with the random people that connect with me in this great web of life?

From a professional standpoint, I feel called to work out this purpose in 4 ways:

1.Writing – Sometimes things come into my head and heart that I know I am called to share to the best of my ability. It is up to me to be clear, concise, accessible, encouraging, and engaging through the use of words.

2. Reading – I love to read, and I spend a lot of time doing it. Wise authors change me and say certain things that I could not possibly say better. Absorbing their wisdom and encouraging others to do the same through writing inviting reviews is a particular way I would like to put my writing skills to use.

3. Music – Setting lyrically crafted words to melody is a privilege. In my experience, these things arrive on the doorstep of my mind. It is my job to honor their arrival by working hard to improve in my ability to put them together.

4. Photography – Capturing the astonishing beauty of creation is my favorite hobby. Connecting these images with words of wisdom holds a synergistic power that allows truth to sink deeper into the heart and mind.

This is what I set out to do. I am working out the details. Many days I stumble, or doubt myself, or feel lazy. Some days, I forget about the mystery of the great web and get rattled by the linear thinking set by the world’s standards. And that’s OK. The point is to get back to it as soon as I realize my error. It is all sourced from love- that’s where the grace and compassion originate. If love is my source, the outcome of my work will be exactly what is intended.

From Elizabeth Gilbert’s kick-in-the-butt book Big Magic:

“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that—whatever the outcome—you have traveled a noble path.”

So, my dear handful of readers, what makes your heart ache, and what makes your heart sing? Where are you in this beautiful web of life? Putting this on paper (screen) helped me. I would encourage you to do the same – and to share it. Sharing provides the accountability that encourages us not to give up.

I Would Love to Be an Underrated Writer

 

 

Dream Worth Writing For (2)

I had a swarm of thoughts last night when I could not sleep at 2 a.m. I picked up Richard Rohr’s brilliant work, Everything Belongs, and read this line, “The calculating mind is the opposite of the contemplative mind. The first is thought by the system, the second by the Spirit.” This got me thinking about my potential career as a writer.

In this age of Twitter and Snapchat, a writer’s hope of financial survival, especially when starting out, is all about content creation, connecting, getting people’s attention, and fighting for that 5 seconds of screen time. That entire list is accomplished by our calculating mind. I would take Mr. Rohr’s argument one step farther.


In regards to writing, our calculating mind is not only the opposite of our contemplative mind, it is actively killing it.

 


 

When everything I write goes through the filter of content, branding, audience, and success, truth and creativity are often sacrificed.

My friend Len Woods recently referred to Frederick Buechner as one of the most underrated writers of his generation. And I agree! Buechner’s work has had a profound impact on my heart and mind. So, why is he underrated? I believe he is only underrated by our culture at large. It is not many people who want to journey into the difficult realm of deep contemplation. But among the contemplatives who know his work? He is usually on their very short list.

So, why am I writing, reading, thinking and connecting? For broad success? Admittedly, I would love it if my writing could help send my kids to college – I won’t lie; but beyond that, I want to write only what is true and real to me in hopes that it will reach the lives it is intended for. That might be a small number, but what a rich writing life it will be!

So, if someone says of me one day, “She is one of the underrated writers of her generation,” I cannot imagine a bigger compliment. That is a dream worth writing for.

We All Have Secrets in the Dark

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“I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life” (236). Thus says Frederick Buechner, feeling embarrassment caused by a letter that gushes of the life-saving nature of his words. This is why I am drawn in like a moth to the flame to his books. This gives me permission – more of a command really – that I am not to hide my own thoughts and words of encouragement away from the world just because I need my own words more than anyone.

I believe that most of our secrets are bound to two of the most powerful tools of darkness that I know: SHAME and BITTERNESS. Both cause us to box away any love and goodness that we have to give. Both are arms of the life-sucking, heart-suffocating monster of unforgiveness. And the result of that is devastating. “Not to give of ourselves to the human beings we know who may be starving not for food but for what we have in our hearts to nourish them with is to be, ourselves, diminished and crippled as human being” (250).  Then, as we are crippled, we begin to resent ourselves and those who have wounded us even more, and the downward cycle continues.

How do we stop this madness? Years of psychotherapy? Drown it with the bottle, or the refrigerator, or busy-ness, or entertainment? Maybe more effectively, the answer is to step bravely out of the shadows in love. Maybe there are times when love is but a flicker, but we give what we have like the poor woman at the temple and her little coin. “Literally or figuratively, for you and me to feed each other, to tend to each other’s needs, one way or another to take care of each other, is more and more to become part of the dance of earth and sky and men and women and water and beasts that according to the psalmist makes the floods clap their hands and the hills sing together for joy” (243). Yes, please. Sign me up. Break me free of my prideful self-obsession with my own failures so I can dance, so I can love.

No darkness is too dark. No fall is too far. No failure is beyond recovery. Even “when we feel the most spiritually bankrupt and deserted by him, his mark is deep within us. We have God’s joy in our blood” (240). It is possible that we will fail to be brave in this life, that we will hide behind our labyrinth built tall and high with our hedges of fear and shame and anger, but even in that sad story, the story doesn’t end there. Our essential, eternal self will be rescued and immersed in his joy in the end.

In a world of Insta-everything, where most of our “friends” are filtered and edited and polished to an almost painful shine, it is vital that we dig deeper to find points of authentic fellowship. “I don’t think it is always necessary to talk about the deepest and most private dimension of who we are, but I think we are called to talk to each other out of it, and just as importantly to listen to each other out of it, to live out of our depths as well as our shallows” (220). In this light, every encounter can be life-giving, love-giving, if only in the smallest and gentlest of ways. And this is where we will taste the joy, his joy, that runs hot and sweet through our veins.

“The final secret, I think is this, that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been to the wilderness with us” (103-104). This is the promise that I rest in today. This is the promise that pray I remember the next time I lose my way.

I could write an entire book in response to this book, Secrets in the Dark – A Life in Sermons. But I just gave you a few high points. Get a copy. Sit in it for a while. Mark it up and fold back almost every page like I did. I am not the same as when I started it.

The quotes match up with the page numbers in the paperback copy as pictured.

If you are still with me at the end here, I would love it if you would leave me a comment telling me about a book that you have read recently that has left its mark on you.

Loud and Clear – Authors Aligned

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I’ve got books running out my ears, overflowing bedside tables, desks, and coffee table. Sometimes, I think it would be better to read one at a time, but I have reading ADD. So, right now there are 4 (officially) going at once. And this time, instead of being confusing, the stars aligned and the combination is magic. It’s like the authors got together and planned it just for me. I’m only part-way in to each of these, but I am so excited about what I am learning, I need to record it in stages.

From Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner: “But the danger is that there are so many voices and they all in their ways sound so promising. The danger is that you will not listen to the voice that speaks to you through the seagull mounting the gray wind, say, or the vision in the temple, that you do not listen to the voice inside you or to the voice that speaks from the outside but specifically to you out of the specific events of your life, but that instead you listen to the great blaring, boring, banal voice of our mass culture, which threatens to deafen us all by blasting forth that the only thing that really matters about your work is how much it will get you in the way of salary and status.”

From Louder Than Words by Todd Henry: “Your authentic voice is the expression of your compelling “why.” It defines the space that you are wired to occupy, and the unique value you are capable of contributing, which means that if you don’t use it, then that contribution is unlikely ever to be seen.”

From Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown: “I told him that with every ounce of my professional and personal being, I believe that vulnerability – the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome – is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.”

From Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago – the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth – loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts.”

A note on this last book – this is a tough and jarring book that leaves me gasping and confused at times, that makes me struggle with my view of myself as the truth about the struggles within the black communities are laid bare. This book is prose written as tightly as the best poetry by a man who has found his voice and is willing to share it with astonishing vulnerability.

These 4 books taken together challenge me from every angle – from the practical with Todd Henry, to the psychological with Brene’ Brown, the deeply spiritual with Frederick Buechner, and the brutal intellect of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Any one of these books would change me. All together, this season of reading will be unforgettable.

Playlist, Bookshelf, and In the Queue

Songs at the top of my list this week:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTbVIfqeDq0

Black Sun – Death Cab for Cutie – They continue to amaze.

Lonely Daze – Kate Tempest – A true poet.

Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes – Raising their own bar.

The Labyrinth Song – Asaf Avidan – New to me this week.

River – Ibeyi – Twins make it twice as nice.

False Hope – Laura Marling – Love her voice, gets under my skin.

 

I’m slowly digesting The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison. Insightful does not do this writing justice.  It is bold, razor-sharp, and downright jarring sometimes. This is NOT a Max Lucado book – do some investigating before you pick it up. Here is a taste. “I keep thinking I’ll communicate my pain most effectively by expressing my desire for the things that might dissolve it.”

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When I have a little quiet morning space, I read a chapter of Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark.  “Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy are only from God.” That has been bouncing around in my head this week. I’m also about to start his novel, Son of Laughter – his story based on the Jacob narratives from the Old Testament. I have a feeling I’m in for a treat.

In the Queue (I’m a little behind) – Boyhood and Begin Again. I’m also slowly making my way through Doctor Who so I can better keep up with my 15 year old son. Almost through season 3 and pleasantly surprised.

What about your lists?  I would love to know what has your attention and why. I need to read something that is entertaining, preferable fiction and not full of sorrow. Recommendations?

Talent Trading

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In hopes of finding parenting wisdom and guidance last night, I sat to read a chapter in Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark entitled “Adolescence and the Stewardship of Pain”.  Oh, how you get so deep under my skin, Mr. Buechner!  I thought this would be a nice little read to help me help my son, but no – it was all about me in my perpetual adolescence.  So true!  I want to be a big girl, I do.

The chapter is so dog-eared and underlined that I am unsure how to distill it for a little blog entry.  I will try because it held such meaning for me, but I’m hesitant.  He takes exactly the number of words needed to make his point, so to pull out sentences borders on disrespect.  My best recommendation is to stop reading this entry, order the book, and just read it for yourself.

If you are still here, the parable he uses to make his point is the 3 servants left with talents as their master travels.  Mr. Buechner reminds us that sometimes the “talent” we are given is pain – pain that can make us more or less human depending on our handling of it.  At the end of the story, the worthless servant who loses his measly little talent is the one who buried it out of fear. NO!!! My life is on full display right there in the book of Matthew. Who’s the adolescent now?

When pain is buried, it is wasted. It is left to rot instead of being used for glory – for the glory of human connection. We are called to be traders of our talents, whatever talents we are given. “To trade is to give of what it is that we have in return for what it is that we need, and what we have is essentially what we are, and what we need is essentially each other. The good and faithful servants were not life-buriers. They were life-traders. They did not close themselves off in fear, but opened themselves up in risk and hope.”

Risk and hope have not been prominent character traits in my first 43 years, but hopefully I have time to change courses. Maybe I will write my words and sing my songs instead of burying them.  Glory be!  I will become a life-trader, a trouble-sharer, a joy-toker, and hopefully an occasional pain-reliever.  If you are reading this, you are probably already one of my fellow-traders, and for you, I am deeply grateful.  Please forgive me for the times I have withheld my little talents, whether they be my pain or my unique giftedness (and we all have that). “The buried life is itself darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth and the one who casts us into it is no one other than ourselves.” I have lived that hell on earth, and God rescued me in His unending mercy.  I never want to cast myself in that pit again.