Put a Frame Around It

IMG_7701

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!

 

Sermon Superstars

IMG_6133

The external beauty of Saint Maio’s Chapel in Colorado reminds me of the beautiful hearts inside many churches around the world – pointing us to God’s love, grace, and mercy week after week, encouraging us to give that love, grace, and mercy to each other.

Sitting in church this past Sunday, I contemplated the enormous task that our pastor took on every time he stood on that stage.

In English, we use approximately 100-120 words per minute of speech. Being conservative, allowing for dramatic pauses, scripture reading, and hopefully some laughter every now and then, let’s assume our pastors write 100 words for every minute of a sermon.

So, 30 minutes – around 3,000 words. 45 minutes – around 4,500 words.

Every single week, we expect them to come up with all these words – and not just any words. They must be true, engaging, interesting, educating, grace-giving, and new. And they should all fit together in some sort of format that is likely to help people remember them – at least remember something.


“To be effective the preacher’s message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God’s present voice to a particular people.” – A.W. Tozer (piece of cake, right?)


That always seemed hard, but since I’ve been writing my little 600-1000 word blog posts, it seems close to impossible to succeed at this task week in and week out.

Let’s look at it another way – the average 240 page non-fiction book has approximately 70,000 words. So, if you teach for 45 minutes each week, you essentially write a book every 15 sermons.  If you teach 80% of Sundays, you write and then speak enough words to fill almost 3 complete books every single year. 

That is daunting. It gives me a vast appreciation for the tireless efforts of the men and women who serve us in this way.

So thank you Steve Bradley, Scot Pollok, Jane Pope, Peggy Lesch, Dian Sustek, Dave Anderson, Len Woods, Dicky Love, and many others who have taught me faithfully through the years. I am grateful.

Thank your pastor today, and remember these numbers the next time you start to critique their sermon.

Happy Birthday Mr. Buechner

FullSizeRender (1)

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.

What Makes Your Heart Sing?

263212_10150746077405554_6077672_n

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.

How to Become Totally Awesome and Lose Most of Your Friends in 6 Months

IMG_0184

  1. Declare that you are going to become totally awesome and detail your plan. E-mail this plan to your entire contact list.
  2. Post your results daily on every social media account you have – preferably post from the gym. Include lots of motivational quotes with puppies and rainbows.
  3. Go every-thing free in your diet – sugar, wheat – heck – all grains, caffeine, dairy, alcohol, chocolate, legumes, and anything else you can read about on the internet. Describe your dietary martyrdom at every party, dinner, and (decaf) coffee break.
  4. Get so much sleep that you always have a bounce in your step and a smile on your face. Tell people how they can be happy just like you.
  5. Get so excited about awesomeness that it spreads to your kids. Then post all of their athletic and academic achievements on Twitter and Instagram, trophies in hand.
  6. Do Crossfit or Burnfit or Hot Yoga or HIIT. It has to sound hard. Walking with your neighbor will not cut it. Don’t forget the workout selfies.
  7. Know everything about everything, all the time. Develop smart talking points so that you can clearly articulate your opinion on politics, religion, fitness, and parenting at the drop of a hat.
  8. Give away most of your possessions; then let everyone know how amazing it feels to be so free of materialism. You can always borrow things from your stuff-hoarding friends when you need it.
  9. Take regular breaks from social media, and make sure you alert everyone each time you are off the grid so they won’t panic when they miss all your pictures illustrating your pursuit of awesomeness.
  10. Put forth consistent effort on social media to become “friends” with people who have already become awesome. Then, let all of your old friends know when someone awesome follows you or comments on your post.

If you do these things for 6 months, you will likely have a lot more followers on Twitter, you will lose weight, feel physically strong and confident, and find yourself disconnected from most of the people you have known your whole life.

But not to worry! You can now move to the awesome table with all the other awesome people. You can be on their podcasts and they will promote the book you are going to write. Then you have them on your podcast and promote their book. It’s similar to a pyramid scheme — each guru propped by the slightly lesser (newer) gurus beneath them. But maybe you are still getting in close to the ground floor of this exponentially expanding operation.

Anyway, you will be so busy recording your new webinar class on how to get awesome and attending important conferences and interviews, you won’t have much time at all to miss your old pals. They are probably just jealous anyway.

OK, OK- that was a little snarky. But hear me out. I write this as a warning to myself. As an aspiring writer, it is easy to look at those who have “made it” and think that I need to follow their road map. It is tempting to do things that might get me noticed for the wrong reasons.

I am actually longing for some new friends, but I am looking for the real deal. And I think my old friends are amazing and worth hanging on to. When it comes to what I think, read, and write about, I’m searching for something that goes deeper than it does wide. We’ll see if I can find it.

I just finished David Gregory’s highly engaging book How’s Your Faith?. One of my favorite thoughts:

“There’s a very specific way that I have resolved to change. I want to get better at developing and sustaining community.”

I came away from my time in his book with a renewed desire to strengthen my community and to bring my best self to the world with God’s help. And I know deep down that my best self will never be found in the pursuit of “awesomeness” on the world’s terms.  

My best self will only be found in authentic and intimate connection with other real, struggling, beautiful humans.

Please follow along – just kidding – no, really – you can follow along my exploration by clicking on the follow button above. Or just tell me who you are and what you are reading and what you are searching for or struggling with. I would love to know.

Beware the Woods’ Words

FullSizeRender_1 FullSizeRender

Ah, Cindi Woods. Your blog entry, Moving Children, Moving Pictures, stuck in my head and my heart like gum on a sidewalk in August in Houston. Thanks to you, I got nothing practical done Friday afternoon. The washer and dryer empty, not because clothing is folded neatly in drawers, but because laundry was never started. Dishes – yeah – some are from last night. My daughter walked in from school and was quickly whisked into another room so I could finish the last minutes of my movie. Movie ending at 3:05 p.m., you ask? Yes – 2.66 hours of Boyhood – microwave popcorn and a glass of Merlot to boot. Mercy! I could have watched the whole thing again.

From lovely Nicole at the end of the film, “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.” I was seized by this film this afternoon. Patricia Arquette was undeniably brilliant as the Mom just trying to survive, but Ethan Hawke as the biological Dad stole my heart. Oh my gosh – the campout, the sex education, the honesty, the transformation – that father/son relationship is my favorite ever captured on screen. His “how was your week” rant was classic. The bowling alley, “You don’t want the bumpers. Life doesn’t give you bumpers.” Ain’t that the truth! I know those stinking gutters.

I can already feel the micro-tears on the edges of my heart as my son is wrapping up his Sophomore year of high school. I can’t even get my head around the idea of my kids being gone. Arquette in her fantastic last scene, “…I just thought there would be more.” I actually said out loud, “I just thought I would BE more.” And then the song towards the end as “the boy” drives away from home – Hero by Family of the Year.  That just capped it off perfectly – I was DONE.

Or so I thought… but my weekend wasn’t finished yet. 2 days later, I sat down to watch Begin Again – you know why? Partly because I had it sitting next to my DVD player, but mostly because of a text I received from LEN WOODS. This man and woman are smart and powerful on their own, but Holy Dynamic Duo, as a team they are downright dangerous.

Begin again – I think that is what I’m trying to do – and somehow writing and music are all tied up in it. And Len – he gets it – that’s why he texted me after he and Cindi watched this movie. He set me up. The movie was already crawling around my brain before I even pushed play. And what is it that registers to the very core of me? First, that writing and music and life offer no guarantees. We just make the best of what is offered and give the best that we have to offer back. I also saw myself in this film – finally willing to say that I am a writer, finally willing to do the work I’m supposed to do. And then the fear – oh, the fear – that comes with that admission.

The good thing is that I don’t want to be a *WRITER* – known by all – fame of any sort seems like a terrifying and limiting prospect (not to mention highly unlikely). I think I want to be a “writer” – notice the lower case – like my husband is a pilot. What does she do? Oh, she writes and takes care of her sweet family. Maybe that’s the deal. Sounds a little different than she is a housewife that dreams about writing.

And why would the wording there make a difference? I’m not sure how to answer that one. Sometimes I wonder if it’s an ego problem, but then I consider my husband, the pilot. When he is asked what he does, has it ever occurred to him to say, “Oh, I’m a husband and father. I also fly planes for United Airlines.” Um…NO. And do I find that offensive or strange? Of course not (I also know that the order in which he answers is not a reflection of the order of his priorities). So why is it strange that I would like to be a writer with a dear husband and 3 kids? Is that different? I have to admit, it registers differently inside of me. When I think of my 2 daughters, I long for them to be __________ and mothers and wonderful wives. In fact, I think they would be better wives and mothers than I have been if they have the __________ filled in first. I wish I had had a better sense of my own personal identity, some confidence in my own giftedness, in the first 40 years of my life. Might have saved some heartache.

But back to my original point – which is to present a warning to the world that Len and Cindi Woods should not be underestimated. They transformed my weekend into one of deep contemplation, a small river of tears, and renewed determination. Beware of their deep insight, their sharp wit, their clever words and their contagious encouragement. Subscribe to their blog with the full understanding that your life may well be disrupted.