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Posts Tagged ‘Love’

My friend Amanda snapped me out of my blogging slump today, with this great post about what it means to be a neighbor. It got me thinking…what kind of a neighbor am I?

I’d like to say I’m the type of neighbor who always thinks of others before myself. I’d like to testify that my house is filled with friends, that I frequently visit others just to say hello, that I create about myself a calming presence that welcomes everyone into my midst so that I can show them God’s love in the way I behave.

Reality, I must confess, is unfortunately the flip side of that coin. I’m usually so busy rushing from task to task that I walk too fast to notice the blue sky, much less to pay attention to the needy person in my path. My house is usually a mess, and though I aspire to have friends over for tea, the invitations I issue are too few and too infrequent. I rarely visit or call on others unless I need their help with something, and only after my agenda items have been covered do I ask how they are doing. And since I haven’t been managing my stress well, people are more likely to encounter emotional shrapnel from my venting than meeting me as a serene and loving daughter of the most high.

All right, I’ll stop blasting myself for a minute now and say that I am pretty good at welcoming people, I do love to hear and share stories about all sorts of topics, and generally people give me feedback that it’s fun to be with me. But lately, I’ve been so caught up in project lists, or caring for sick kids, or crying over all the stress in my life, that I’ve been shutting others out. And it’s about time I pulled my head out of my own backside for a minute to take hold of all the opportunities I have to become a better neighbor.

When Jesus issued the Golden Rule, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself,” one of his listeners (an expert in religious law) challenged him to define neighbor. This is when Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. The tale is so familiar that it’s almost become cliche, yet it sill presents a direct challenge to our modern attitudes and prejudices. In Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of Luke 10, the injured man is white and the Samaritan is a black man. In the more familiar version of the story, it’s well-known that Samaritans and Jews did not hold mixed company. Jesus skillfully turns the idea of neighbor on its head! We are to live as neighbors to everyone, not just to people who are like us, or who make us feel completely comfortable all the time.

But even more relevant to my current predicament is the analysis of those who did not stop. All of them were in a hurry to get on with some self-important errand. Yes, I would argue that motivation to serve in the ancient temples, and especially in today’s churches, can easily be born in the ego rather than the heart. We can get caught up in the work, in the plans, in the fundraising and maintaining our image. All for what? For nothing, if at the end of the day we have no energy left to enter the holy experience of being a neighbor to those we encounter.

Perhaps this recent stress I’ve been going through coupled with being sick at home all last week, and now still at home caring for my daughter who has bronchitis…maybe these are blessings in disguise. Each obstacle has forced me to slow down, to think about what’s most important in life, and to truly value the people around me who’ve loved me enough to let me say “no” to the daily grind, and who have kept things going in my absence. Perhaps all the agendas can be set aside. And then I can grasp hold of this new opportunity to remember what the Golden Rule was all about in the first place.

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In 1992 Joan Chittister, OSB published commentary on The Rule of Benedict. This rule is an outline for life in monastic community. Chittister’s interpretations bring this ages-old text into modern context, and she challenges her readers to live their faith more intentionally. Her words have taught me much about the discipline of what it means to live a life in service to God and his people.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 35: Kitchen Servers of the Week:

The members should serve one another. Consequently, no members will be excused from kitchen service unless they are sick or engaged in some important business of the monastery, for such service increases reward and fosters love…

Benedict leaves very little to the imagination or fancy of the spiritually pretentious who know everything there is to know about spiritual theory and think that is enough. Benedict says that the spiritual life is not simply what we think about; it is what we do because of what we think. It is possible, in fact, to spend our whole lives thinking about the spiritual life and never develop one. We can study church history forever and never become holier for the doing. There are theology courses all over the world that have nothing whatsoever to do with the spiritual life. In the same way, we may think we are a community or assume we are a family but if we do not serve one another we are, at best, a collection of people who live alone together.

So Benedict chooses the family meal to demonstrate that point of life where the Eucharist becomes alive for us outside of chapel. It is in kitchen service that we prepare good things for the ones we love and sustain them and clean up after them. It was woman’s work and Roman men were told to do it so that they too, with their own hands and over their own hot fires, could know what it takes to spend their own lives to give life to the other.

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Artist Mother

I wish I could capture all of it, that a sort of memory existed where I could save every blasted moment:

The pinkish haze of the colored twinkle lights that illuminate the living room from the scrawny potted cypress leaning under the weight of sentimental ornaments.
The low rumble of the wood stove as embers of pine and pecan radiate ominous, oppressive warmth.
The unbearable anticipation of the greatness of my husband, as he sleeps off this latest illness. Do I have enough faith not to care whether he succeeds or fails?
The way I love him even when he disappoints me, and especially when he surprises me.
The littlest one on the bottom bunk in a nest of blankets, snuggled under a canopy made from monkeys and gauzy scarves dangling from the slats above.
The bigger one with her long legs sprawled over the railings up top, the mystery of what she has yet to know escaping in sleep-drunk proclamations from her dreams.
The way they both seem to grow before my eyes, how every day they seem to know more.

And in the cupboards, in the closets, in drawers and baskets and boxes, all the projects waiting silent and impatient…for this too shall pass.
“Shape me! Sculpt me!” Brushes, paints, paste, paper, metal and fiber beckon from their exile.
“Later,” I murmur. Then I declare more firmly, “Not now!”
But there is only now, I know.
So I force myself towards sleep, disregarding all the nearly forgotten brilliance I embodied just an hour ago as I gazed at the bathroom mirror.
And every day I seem to know less.

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The Wise Fool

A simple thought returns again and again throughout the day: I am not God. Yes, I know this is obvious…but not as easy to comprehend as it seems it should be. I’m amazed at how many times throughout each day I try to get other people to do things the way I want (read: manipulate) in an attempt to feel powerful and God-like. Well, at least as close to God as my imagination can take me.

And then I remember exactly why I am not God. He doesn’t manipulate. He doesn’t use guilt trips; in fact he considers wallowing in guilt and shame a sin, a defamation of the holy temple he created my body to be. He never forces or entices us into doing his will, even when he knows for certain that our choices will lead us into tragedy and disaster.

After years of studying healthier ways of emotional expression, my actions are finally beginning to change. I’m growing up, walking in maturity. I’m learning to keep my mouth shut instead of bossing or demanding. I’m learning to identify my own feelings, and not to project how I feel onto other people. I’m learning to pause before I make requests to be certain that I’m giving the answerer the autonomy she needs to say “no” if she needs to.

But what happens internally if I make a request of someone else and the answer is no? Well, usually I obsess on it, write about it, call someone about it and “vent” for an hour, call my mother and cry about it and then proceed to dump all my other emotional baggage at her feet…it can get pretty ugly.

Until now. Something is different. Something inside of me has snapped, and all the anxious, obsessive thoughts are beginning to unwind. I’m not claiming to be perfect or anything…I still have tantrums, still manipulate and make demands. But I am claiming to have grown in emotional and spiritual maturity.

I had a conversation with my friend Havilah today that started with me saying something like this (loose paraphrase): “Wah wah wah!!! Complain complain it’s all his fault bitch complain blame wah! (this goes on for about 5 minutes, at which point I am able to cut myself off from venting) Huff, puff, sigh! Phew…sorry about that. I’m done now. So anyways…uh, how are you?”

Doesn’t exactly sound mature, eh? But I was able to cut myself off from spiraling into self-pity alongside of the grandiose idea that I might be better than the people about whom I was complaining. And I didn’t ask Havilah to fix it or give me an answer. It’s great to have friends who can just listen without trying to fix me. So progress was made even in midst of the setback.

Havilah proceeded to tell me a story about a situation when she trusted in God even when the results seemed up in the air, how she’s learning to pray and let go of her desired results, and how God has been working even in the little details of her life. In other words, she was able to resist the temptation to manipulate, make demands, or control the circumstances and God worked it out peacefully in a way she never could have accomplished had it been left up to her.

And then she shared a challenge with me: once we learn to let go on an outward, visible level, we will then need to learn to let go inwardly. Now it’s time for us to deal with all the crap on the inside, the anxiety and fear, the self-loathing and obsessive thinking. It’s one thing to make peace with the people around me, but another to feel peace inwardly and then act from a place of faith and trust.

As I approach my 32nd year of life, I’m just now learning to welcome and cultivate a space for inner peace. Some days I have it, some days it seems I’ve never experienced it at all. Proverbs 14:1 says it well: “A wise woman builds her house; a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands.” I am the wise fool; when I succeed it brings glory to God, and when I fail it is all self-sabotage. So I am learning to pay closer attention and think twice before I try to snatch the master plans out of God’s hands. I’m learning that he’s the head of my one-woman construction crew, and that when I try to take the lead it tends to be a day of demolition.

You see, God’s plan for my life is but a mere speck, a single thread in the infinite tapestry of creation. For me to think I know what’s best in my own life is questionable; to think that I know what’s best in the lives of others is plain insanity. Changing my own plan could create holes in the tapestry a few rows over, or ruin the blending of the many-colored strands. Trying to change the plans for others can create a mess seemingly beyond repair.

The baffling fact behind all these metaphors is this: That somehow the times when I grab for my blueprints and run for the hills are still part of the plan. How does God do it? How does he know all the good and all the bad, and still accept and love me as I am?

I can’t answer this question, and so I will pray for more understanding, and a deeper sense of unconditional love in my life. I’ll close with a prayer written in these few verses from Romans which sum everything up beautifully and reinforce the fact that I am not God, thank heavens for that!

Romans 14:6-9

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.”

Amen.

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Last night during worship at Koinonia we sang what is becoming one of my favorite songs, called Your Love is Strong. Some of the lyrics read:

The kingdom of the heavens
is now advancing
Invade my heart
Invade this broken town
The kingdom of the heavens
Is buried treasure
Will you sell yourself
To buy the one you’ve found?

As we sang, I was overcome with how deep the love of God is for me, and I wept with joy for the care that he has for my life and every single living being in this entire universe. If this is what it means to sell out, I wish I had done it long ago.

These lyrics explore a brief yet powerful parable from Jesus’ time on earth. Matthew 13:44-46 reads:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

Likely if we met a person doing the equivalent today, we would write him off as foolish and careless. What we forget is that storing up treasures in the kingdom of heaven is so different from earthly savings. I want to be foolish enough to give up everything I have, to sell it all for the pursuit of the Kingdom.

I’ve been reading daily from My Utmost for His Highest, and in today’s reading Oswald Chambers writes:

Eternal life has nothing to do with time. It is the life which Jesus lived when he was down here, and the only Source of life is the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the weakest saint can experience the power of the deity of the Son of God, when he is willing to “let go.” But any effort to “hang on” to the least bit of our own power will only diminish the life of Jesus in us. We have to keep letting go, and slowly, but surely, the great full life of God will invade us, penetrating every part. Then Jesus will have complete and effective dominion in us, and people will take notice that we have been with Him.

Again, here is the challenge to let go completely, to release everything I have and everything I am to the power of Christ and his infinite love. At first glance the parables of the buried treasure and the pearl seem to be about material goods. But it’s deeper than that. To experience heaven, I must release everything I know, everything I say and do, everything I think into God’s hands.

It’s here that I encounter another great paradox: God desires nothing more than to simply be with me, for me to come into his presence. He will pursue me literally to the gates of hell in order to bring me home with him. Yet, the kingdom of heaven is not about me; God is not pursuing me because of how wonderful and perfect I am. He is in hot pursuit of my brokenness and my sinful nature, begging and pleading with me to allow his spirit to work in my life and heal me. The love and grace of his healing become available to me when I let my guard down, when I’m willing to sell out, to give up even my most closely held ideals and values for the sake of the kingdom.

Sounds contrary to the culture in which I came of age, a culture that taught me lines like “I am woman, hear me roar.” A culture that taught me to fix my outsides and wait for my insides to come around. A culture that taught me to pick my ideals, carry them in my pocket, and never settle for anything less. But the problem is, when I rely on my personal power and my human understanding of these ideals, I sell myself far short of the glory that God’s plan holds for me. I’d rather sell out to the Kingdom of Heaven than sell myself short for a few hours of earthly glory. So today, I leave my broken spirit in the hands of the Lord, ruins to be invaded, plundered by his agents of love and grace.

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Fool for Love

My friend Ann is an amazing writer. She has this knack for capturing moments, for drawing out the truth that shines through hairline cracks in the mundane. While reading her blog tonight, in a post called Germophilia, I came across this quote:

Her lack of thoroughness in paranoia is disappointing. Why settle for neurosis? If one really wants to be positive of one’s hygiene, commit to psychosis.

And it stopped me in my tracks. How many of us are merely neurotic? How many of us place our boundaries too near and our limits to low? And so we hold ourselves in restraint, never allowing ourselves to peer over the edge of the cliff, much less to take a flying leap of faith.

I remember a long time ago hearing a performer assert how un-cool she was. Cool people never get excited over things. They’re ridiculously calm, meet every situation with unnerving aplomb. Their flippant nonchalance drives some to envy. But not her. This woman stated that she hopes no one ever calls her cool as long as she lives. She wants to be excited about life, to get all crazy about little details. To run screaming for the edge and then take the plunge. To do things that leave her cool counterparts so embarrassed for her because, secretly, they wish they had the guts to do it too.

And so it is with me. I’m not cool. I talk too loud, too often and too long. I get excited about ladybugs, chickweed and clouds, about bits of scrap metal that I find and add to my collection. I throw temper tantrums. I’m proud of my prematurely gray hair. I fart in public. Yeah, definitely not cool.

Whenever I try to be cool, whenever I settle for mere neurosis, I sense that I’m disappointing someone somewhere. I’m conforming to the social norms that tell me to be just crazy enough, just “different” enough to keep the favor of my peers. If I can just be an individual like everybody else…oh wait, guess I’m not so out there after all. But to “commit to psychosis” would be taking it a step too far, right? Not when leaping over the edge means leaping into the complete care of God. I feel now more than ever that in order to give over entirely to God, one has to lose her cool entirely. I go through weeks when I lose it multiple times every day. And I know now that being called to a life in service to Christ is anything but boring.

I feel extremely blessed as well as totally frustrated to have discovered my calling at such a young age. Blessed because I get to be reinvented in my 30s, and if it’s this amazing now I can’t wait for the transformations that come in my 40s, 50s and 60s. Blessed because I get to live in a relationship with God that gives me freedom to explore all the darkest corners of my world without fear. Frustrated because, too often I want to be cool instead. Frustrated that I’m not out doing cool things like partying all night, traveling across the countryside…oh wait, I tried that and it didn’t work for me. But the alcoholic in me still longs for my skewed perception of freedom, which involves no responsibility or ties to anyone.

My mom gave me a copy of Surrender to Love and I just started reading it tonight. I’m amazed at how easy it is for humans to believe the lies we have told ourselves about God’s love for us. We have somehow turned the unconditional, infinite love of Christ into a tool used to punish and bring shame to one another.  Since humans don’t like to be ridiculed and blamed, it’s no wonder with these sorts of perceptual errors that we would rather take matters into our own hands than trust in God, the life force of pure love.

From what I can tell, all of us cool people needed to tone down our negative emotions that could not be soothed by our mistaken mythology about an angry, punishing God. Instead we numbed ourselves until we couldn’t feel the pain. The problem is, we couldn’t feel the love any more either.

And so the paradox alights: In order to feel the crazy love of God, we must open ourselves up to the possibility of immense pain. For God is not going to force himself on us; he can only come in and heal those broken places if we are there to unlock the door and let him in.

I used to try to avoid the darkness in my soul through any means possible. I would have given anything to be cool. Now I’d rather be called a fool for love, and so I’m going to continue diving headlong into the abyss. The darkness is immense sometimes, but I am not afraid. Because today I know the light of God’s love that will reach in and draw me through to the other side.

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Love is…

I’m trying something new on this blog tonight.

I like to write. But I also like to make art. Collages mostly. I have some rules for myself about my collages: The materials cannot be new, other than paintbrushes and glue and fasteners of other sorts (like screws or wire…I’ll share photos of some of my metal collages some time soon). The only place I will buy materials is at the thrift store, and generally the items cannot cost more than $2. Every once in a while I allow myself a splurge. Otherwise, all materials are strictly free.

And so, I wind up making art out of things that most people would throw away, or objects that would be left laying on the ground in a parking lot, on a sidewalk, or along the dirt roads of southern GA. One day I was standing outside of Koinonia’s laundry room talking with Sally Ann. We both noticed a scrap of metal laying on the ground. I picked it up and she offered to throw it away for me. “Oh no,” I responded. “I’ll save it for my art.” She shook her head and waved her hands at me in exasperation. “Good Lord, Sarah!” Some of the folks from around here don’t know what to make of my fascination with other people’s trash.

The piece that follows is a gift for my friend Elizabeth. She is struggling with depression right now, and so as I worked I prayed for healing for her spirit. She also spends lots of time with my kids, and so I love the way that the word childhood played into the piece. It started with a poem from a little booklet I found in some things a former Koinonia member left behind. The book was filled with cliched poems about God and cheesy little prayers. The one I used was entitled “Love is…” and was inspired by 1 Corinthians 13. I also have a mini Gideon Bible that has a torn cover (my girls nearly destroyed it while playing with some friends one day) and so I like to use passages from this damaged volume. I find it interesting that the Gideons decided to use the word “charity” instead of “love” in their translation. The frames were half price at Goodwill, and the images came from a second-hand book about exotic goldfish.

So, without further ado, here are some photos of my handiwork. You can click on the images to see the detail in greater focus.

Remember that God is love, and Love is…all you need! I hope in this new year that you are filled with inspiration and wonder. Happy 2010!

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