A Prayer Answered

I read this in Genesis:

The LORD said to Isaac, ‘Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for  while, and I will be with you and I will bless you.’

 

I felt those words were meant for me. I felt those words were speaking to that place of yearning, that place of not enough. Stay here, right where I have you, I heard God saying. Be grateful for what I have already given you, I heard him say. Live in this land, and I will be with you.

I knew those words were for me, but I didn’t like them. Frustrated with the fact that I’d felt stuck in the same land for a good long time, I was eager to move on to what I thought were bigger and better things. I was ready to do more with the gifts and tools God has given me. But he said no. God said stay.

Michelle DeRusha.

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This morning I prayed a prayer full of frustration and questioning. The words above arrived in my inbox a few hours later. An answer and an encouragement. I hope you find them as helpful as I did.

Some Good Thoughts

 

See, here’s the thing: all of us-every human to grace this good earth-has been given a specific, unique set of gifts. There’s something that makes you you, and me me and them them. And I believe we’re supposed to lean into and chase after and really believe in our heart of hearts that this something is who we are. 

So what is your something?

Cara Meredith.

 

I am chewing on these thoughts today. I think they are part of this journey of reflecting on how I make choices about my days. I thought I’d share them with you. (By the way, Cara has a blog that’s worth checking out. I will be guest posting there next week Tuesday. I’ll send the link once the post is up.)

Small Things

What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

 

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Today, at the start of a fresh week, I find myself still reflecting on some of the ideas from my last post. A close friend gave me the angel in the picture above. A paraphrase of Mother Teresa’s words is etched onto the bottom of the angel’s dress. When she gave it to me, my friend said that she’d chosen it because she knew that I sometimes question the weight and value of my life, and that she wanted to say that it all counts. It all matters. I put the angel up high on a shelf in my writing room, overlooking my desk. I have glanced up at her often and thought of my friend’s kind words, so needed and so graciously given.

I have many plans and dreams and goals, winged things inside me, striving for flight and presence in my everyday world. I have found myself turned inside out with a sense of being less than, not enough. I look at women who seem to have accomplished so much and I wonder what I can do to be more like them. Every moment I am filled with anxiety over what I should be doing. To do one thing means that I cannot do something else, and what if the something else is what I’m supposed to be doing instead?

For almost twenty years I have given myself to my home, and I have loved that. I still love it. I love caring for my garden and cooking meals for my family. It gives me pleasure to create a space in which the work of family can happen and grow, a place where we can learn to love each other better and welcome others into that circle of love. But I have been so preoccupied and troubled by the desire to expand my own territory, that I have been unable to enter fully into delight in these precious things. And with that has come a feeling of pressure on my writing, to find ways to make it profitable, to justify it and quantify its worth.

Over the past few days, I have come across words: from my husband, in blogs and quotes, and in the still, small voice of God. These words have begun to quiet my heart. They have reminded me that the small things I do with love, have value. It’s the “with love” part that I find most compelling. Today was filled with little things. I ran errands; I gave my son a driving lesson; I made calls and checked mails and put on the washing. In a moment I will head to the kitchen to finish cooking dinner. These things have so often been a source of anger for me; they’ve felt like roadblocks and obstacles to the “important” things. But today I was mindful that they are important. And that mindfulness has helped me to see the beauty in simple, mundane, everyday activities.

Part of the Unfolding

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Max Ehrmann

 

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I have been reading the draft of a book written by a friend’s father; it’s a beautiful reflection on his faith journey, with opportunities to pause and reflect on your own. In it he talks about us being part of the picture that God is painting in the world. I wondered about that; the world is such a big place. I was thinking yesterday of the mountains in the deep places of the sea. The thought of those towering peaks far below the light, where unknown creatures live and it is always night, makes me conscious of how small I am. When I reflect on the vastness of space, on the stars that exist in numbers too big for our minds to comprehend, I sense even more the infinitesimal place my short life occupies, in a universe that is older than we can imagine.

Is it really true that my days are a significant part of this unfolding story? It seems an impossible thought. But then I remembered my visit to Amsterdam in 2014, where I had the privilege of visiting the Rijksmuseum.  The Night Watch, one of Rembrandt’s best known works, is housed there. It is a massive painting, covering an entire wall in the museum. I was overwhelmed, both by the idea that I was standing in front of the original canvas and by its sheer size and magnificence. But I noticed something else. It is filled with minute details. The more I looked at it, the more I saw; every colour, every face was carefully portrayed. Even the shadows served a purpose. Another of Rembrandt’s paintings, The Jewish bride, also hangs in the Rijksmuseum. It is believed to be a depiction of a father with his daughter, just before her marriage. It is beautiful, and I confess that it reduced me to tears. I imagined Rembrandt at his easel, paying attention to each brushstroke, every shade or hue or texture a part of the whole.

I sometimes spend hours editing pieces I have written, sifting through my word choices, the placement of a sentence in a paragraph. I scour my thesaurus, searching for the perfect word to round off a line of poetry or convey an exact nuance of meaning. It is a delight and a joy to play with the words, to craft something of meaning and, hopefully, beauty.

Perhaps this is how my small life is part of a big picture, unfolding in the universe. Each choice and action is part of a greater whole. A beautiful work of art is, after all, made of a succession of brushstrokes. A quilt is created stitch by tiny stitch. A magnificent novel is made of strings of letters tied to one another. It is the coming together of these little things that creates things of great value, beauty and power.

Seeing Joy

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

Rumi

 

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A few months ago I watched Inside Out, Disney’s latest offering. It was a beautiful little film, full of cute lines and brilliant animation. But the real triumph of the movie was its clever and insightful portrayal of human emotion. In telling the story of a little girl feeling displaced by her family’s move to a strange city, the film gave us a glimpse into the inner workings of our emotional lives, and the ways in which different feelings interact to shape our responses and experiences. (In the movie, the girl’s feelings are actual characters, living inside her mind.) Two things stood out for me. First, although joy is the natural leader and the one all the others tend to follow, it is sadness who really saves the day. Her quiet and sometimes faltering actions are what ultimately create equilibrium, after the little girl runs away from her new home, overwhelmed by her sense of loss and anger. Second, it is in integrating her emotions, not in trying to overcome sadness with joy, that the girl moves into a new season of maturity and connection with her parents. The story resonated with much of the thinking that has been forming in my own mind, especially over the last year.

I have spent much of my life wrestling with a heaviness of spirit. It has been such hard work, like the proverbial pushing of water uphill.  This morning someone reminded me that whatever you focus on, is what will grow bigger. Such a simple truth, so self-evident, and yet so easy to forget when my thoughts and emotions pull me into a kind of feedback loop in my brain. Last year, I spent some time with a woman who encouraged me to be curious. Instead of simply trying to change my thoughts or feelings, she said, why not look at them as information, with curiosity. It was such an important shift to make. It infused the process with a lightness and gentle distance that enabled me to look more objectively at things. It also helped me to let go of some of the judgement that only added to my sense of being stuck. I began to see sadness as an ally, as something to be acknowledged and expressed. I found in the process that I have been more open to joy. It’s been such a revelation.

Part of what I have learned is that I am grieving. I am grieving losses and disappointments. I am grieving as I let go of the old relationship with my sons. I am allowing myself to cry and welcome the sadness that comes with daily hurts, both big and small. And as I do, I feel a kind of inner expansion and space. Grieving is a cleansing emotion. It’s so easy to rush to what I “should” be feeling, the sense of balance and peace on the other side of the sadness. But it never comes without entering into the sadness first. Sorrow is a release that opens the door to joy.

It takes so much energy to keep back the pain, to hold the broken pieces together. It turns me in on myself, so that I can no longer appreciate the light all around me. But when I allow grief to do its work, and I am emptied of the “rotten roots”, as Rumi calls them, then I notice things. I see the dewdrop in the centre of the Echeveria outside my kitchen door. I am aware of the scent of water on wet earth when it rains. And these simple things become echoes of deeper joys.

Buried Things

Lazarus

 

You waited

and waited

the long, slow drip of hours counting out the grief

the helpless lingering over death

listening for you

but you didn’t come

not until the stone was rolled and grey and closed

not until after the end

after it was too late

 

then you came

your coming a reminder of your absence

our words an accusation not voiced

stated blunt and raw with the why

your pain as it seemed unnecessary to us

to us who had seen the weight of your power

 

“Lord if you had been here”

why were you not here

only us in our grief and loss and smallness

“See how he loved him”

even so, even more so for that

why were you not here

 

“Even now, whatever you ask…

move the stone?”

this heart, fresh broken with spent hope and betrayal

this fearful faith mingled with the knowledge of the smell of death

you weren’t here, not even for the heavy work of sealing up the dark

and now you ask us to open up again

to let the streaming light pour hot and blazing on the covered wounds

 

your voice calling them out

these buried things papered over and hiding in the shadows

behind the stone

waiting for glory

 

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I wrote the poem above this morning, as part of a reflection on the story of Lazarus. It’s such a well-worn narrative, so steeped for me in echoes of Sunday school lessons and sermons on the power of Christ over death. But this morning as I read it, I tried to enter into it more personally. I heard the heart behind the words spoken to Jesus, by friends full of the freshness of grief, overwhelmed by questions and feelings they could not understand, were afraid to name. When I started writing, I was simply trying to tell the story. But as the words formed on my screen, I found them leading me into a realization.

There are things buried beneath the surface of my life: griefs and questions, lying quiet and still. And I have left them there; where they cannot touch me too deeply or undo the threads I am weaving together in my desire to form a life of purpose. I wondered today about how I am sometimes called to open these things up to the light, to let myself acknowledge them. To believe that somehow they can be transformed, healed. To trust that I am in the hands of One who can see beyond the limits of my own vision, to something greater.

 

Content

Benedict says to simplify. He says to do the physical work in front of me, to do it unto God. Not from guilt, not from fear, but as an offering that God might take it and make it beautiful.

 

All that I long to be: the woman grateful for her life and at ease in the world, begins with allowing God into the mundane, into the earth of my life.

Micha Boyett

 

I decided to love my life and to be satisfied in Jesus. I wanted to live as his friend. I wanted to believe the love of my Father, to be his girl child.

Amber C. Haines

 

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So Christmas and New Year have come and gone. The bustle and hum of visiting family and outings has faded away. Last week we spent almost every day on the beach, feeling the heat of the sun and the icy chill of our West Coast waters, coming back home to enjoy the pool and the garden, and to delight in the sweetness of time spent together. It was a beautiful festive season, full of family and old friends. It was a time touched by sadness too; my father-in-law was unexpectedly diagnosed with a serious illness, the impact of which we have yet to fully understand.

I think back on the last few weeks. I think of my little niece in my arms, squealing with delight as the waves crashed against our skin, a seal surfing joyfully in the breakers nearby. I hear my brother’s laughter mingled with that of my sons’ as he teased them, jokes shared with my sister-in-law. I taste the cherries my mother-in-law sent for us to enjoy on Christmas Day. I see my parents, their happiness at having their family gathered around them evident in their smiles. By the end of last week, I was exhausted; I felt the way you do after a day filled with happy memories, spent and tired and full of the lightness of joy.

Now it is back to the everyday. Next week our younger son begins his Matric journey. Our older son will move more fully into the world of work and responsibility. I have goals and plans for the days ahead. Already, there are highlights to anticipate. My birthday is coming up soon; I have a trip planned for March. There will be other birthdays and anniversaries and moments of celebration. But most of life is lived in the in-between times, in the getting out of bed to chores and to-do lists. There is the slow, patient work of growing my dreams and hopes into realities, the releasing of myself into each day’s calling, with a whole heart and a quiet mind.

As I prayed in the stillness of my home a few days ago, I was reminded that the challenges of 2015 will follow me into 2016. Some things will continue to be hard. But I also heard the whisper of my Father, telling me that his love and presence are unshakeable. I have been so aware in these past weeks of the richness and beauty woven into every day of my life, even in brokenness, even when I feel sad or anxious, even in the mundane and ordinary.