Sunday, April 7, 2013

Letter to a Friend

Dear One,

I confess, I am a poor friend.  I have not been honest with you.  I am not who you think you see.  I have worked very hard through the years, to create an impressive facade.  For this I am sorry.  By creating this facade, I have unintentionally placed undue pressure on you to focus on performance and measurable results.  For this I am also sorry.  But more than anything else, I am sorry for looking down on you, because my facade was better than yours.

I have spent years building up the image of a woman who can do anything, and who does all things well.  I sewed and crafted, cooked and baked.  I read books, and gardened, and renovated, and decorated.  I homeschooled my children and raised small livestock.  I volunteered my time and efforts in the church and in my community.  I was well spoken, and I always tried to look the part.

And then one day my house of cards came crashing down, and I realized that none of the things I could do with my hands mattered, if I was not able to hold love in my heart.  And my heart was a sieve.  I was so full of holes, that I was bleeding out.  

This realization immobilized me.  Even if I had wanted to somehow reconstruct the shattered facade, I could not have done so.  I laid in the rubble, and thought I would never sew another quilt, or frost another cupcake, or lead another Bible study for as long as I lived.  I did not care if I did.  

I cried at the strangest times.  I withheld myself from my loved ones for months, even years at a time.  Yet I would find huge tracts of sadness and bitterness flowing out of me unchecked, brought forth by the glance or word of a person that did not mean to unloose the deluge.  It was a horrible feeling to not be able to trust myself to open or close at appropriate times.

And thank God, by the grace of God, I have not come through.  Instead I have learned to live in this shattered place.  The house of cards still lays scattered about me, and that is where is belongs.  

The work of my hands, is just the work of my hands.  I love to work, and I love to love on people by working for them.  But my work is not the measure of my worth.  Neither is the reputation I gain by the quality and quantity of my work.  And that reputation was very important to me, if I was to be totally honest with myself.

In truth, I recognize that my reputation isn't worth much of anything at all, unless I am known for loving people.  Me, the broken down house-of-cards girl, loving other broken down house-of-cards people.  The only kind of people there are.

But I realized this horrible thing about myself today...this little section of stacked cards still standing.  I realized that I am looking down my nose at you, because once upon a time my card house was bigger than yours.  I still take pride that my cooking was tastier and my baking prettier.  That my quilts were more intricate and my stitches tinier.  That my home was tidier, and my children could all write an excellent persuasive essay.  That at my most proud and my most broken, I still did it better than you do.

I admit to you dear one, that I am astounded and ashamed of myself, to discover this mean little tower of cards still standing.  So that when you approach me with your cards slipping through your fingers, your heart like a sieve, feeling like you're bleeding out...we are separated.  Kept apart by that delicate little structure that makes me feel more and you feel less.

I can knock it down, and I can tell you so.  But I am so sorry I let it be there in the first place.  Please do not mistake me for anything but what I am.  A broken down house-of-cards girl, living in a shattered place.  Feel free to join me.  Don't mind the mess.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's Complicated but I'm Easy

I was thinking today, about that great phenomenon called F*ceb**k, in which we employ all sorts of little devices to sort out the intricacies of our lives.  Like how we describe the relationships we are "in".  My most favorite descriptor is "complicated".  Not in real life of course.  I don't really enjoy complicated, because the implication is often that things are hard in a complex way.  That we fight a lot.  That we often miss the mark in this relationship, though we are not yet willing to give it up and declare ourselves single.  Not yet alone.

I was thinking of the opposite descriptor, which interestingly enough, FB does not offer as an option.  That option would be "easy".  No, stay with me here.  Really it would.

If I am sitting at the piano with a new piece before me, the teacher may warn me that it is complicated.  Tricky.  Or they may reassure me.  Don't worry, it's easy.

If I am looking at a knitting pattern, a cursory glance reveals if the pattern is complicated or easy.

Dance steps can be complicated and intricate...or basic and easy. No worries, I can't do either.

As I age, I realize that I aspire to being easy.  For so many years I have fallen into the trap of believing that easy was worthless, and complicated was more to be desired.  The harder a thing was to attain, the more worthwhile it was to fight for it.  And there are times when this is true.

But sometimes it's just selfish and stupid.  Why in the world would I ever try and make it hard for people to love me?  Why would I set up a series of obstacles, and expect them to fight their way through in order to prove something to me?  Why do I refuse help until I am bleeding out, and can't fight it any longer?

And on the flip side...why don't I just offer myself and my love freely?  Lavishly?  Expecting nothing in return?  Do I secretly fear it will be rejected as worthless, simply because it is freely given?  Why would I not fear that?  Is it not the model I have made for myself?

So many of the horribly unhealthy patterns and habits I have cultivated and clung to for a lifetime, are rooted in this lie; that the simple truth is not quite truth enough for my complicated situations.  And so I construct intricate addictions and the complex justifications they require.

But now I want to be done.  I want to be an easy old lady when I grow up, and I want to advertise it in places more public than F*ceb**k.  Because I want to be "in a relationship" with folks who are easy, and folks who are complicated.  I don't want to make them fight for anything or prove anything, but I will fight and prove for them every single day, if they need that.  And I will believe the simple truth enough for myself, and for the people who cannot believe it for themselves.  In myself, left to myself, I will never ever become that, but the God who created me to not ever be "single", alone, an island unto myself...maybe that God will help me become an easy woman.  I can only hope and pray it's possible.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Easter Hymn

Now The Green Blade Rises

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love whom hate had slain,
Thinking that never he would wake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Forth He came in quiet, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Quick from the dead the risen Christ is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Christ's touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fellowship of the Broken

"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken." ~Henri Nouwen

I recently encountered this quote.  I freely admit I have not read it in context.  The book that it is reported to be taken from is called The Way of the Heart, and because it is not available for Kindle, I can't get it instantly.  Poor me and my first world problems.  There it is in my shopping cart, along with a CD by Pink, and I wonder what in the world that says about the state of my mind these days.

I have been thinking about these things lately, so when I read the quote, it resonated deeply.  It said what I had already been thinking and feeling deep within myself.  It said what I have experienced to be true, on both sides of the suffering fence.  Oh no, that is so very wrong, and my language betrays it.  There is no suffering fence, and we do not find ourselves on the one side or the other.

And still I want to think of it this way.  I want to divide up neatly, those who suffer, and those who comfort.  I want clear delineation of where I sit.  And of course I would prefer not to be the one suffering.  Sign me up as the comforter.  I will earn my bread with kind wise words.  I will brainstorm possible solutions.  I will roll up my sleeves and work for change.  And by doing so, I do the very thing I hate.  I flee from suffering.  I turn my face away from it.  

In all my busy, active, relevance I throw away the greatest "enter into solidarity with those who suffer".  Because I hate it.  Solidarity with those that suffer is me.  It is knowing that suffering is the human condition; that the paralyzing boundaries of pain that cannot be smoothed away, are the lot of every man.  There is grief, and distress, and death itself, and it cannot be eradicated by the right word or the right action.

There is absolute terror in the realization that there is no quick cure...that there is no cure at all, and so we flee.  I want to learn to sit in silence, and hold hands, and shed tears.  And I so deeply crave that someone will come and do that together with me.  Because we are not sufferer and comforter, we are the fellowship of the broken.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Weight of Words

After a long long time of quiet and seclusion, I have begun to talk to my friends again.  I have begun to have conversations with my children and my husband, about things that matter to me, and things that matter to them.  We are all telling our stories, and figuring out how they intersect and overlay one another.

It has struck me recently, how our words have such weight.  When a loved one sits across from us at a table in a coffee shop, or beside us on a long drive, perhaps in that place they will know that it is right to unburden themselves.  I never forget these sacred moments, as other souls invite me to stand inside their worlds, their skins, just for that brief time.

What I often do forget, is how I responded.  What words I said in response to the sharing of a heart.  But those words that trickle out of my brain like water through a strainer, stay in the minds and hearts of the person opposite me.  In the last several weeks I have heard this phrase a number of times, "Do you remember what you said to me?"  Five, ten, twenty years ago.  And I have to confess that no, I do not.  I remember you.  I remember your face, your voice as you told your story, the cups on the table between us, but I do not remember what I said to you.  

Please, please let it have been gentle and kind.  If nothing else, let it have been kind.

And then the person will recite back to me what I said to them in that moment, and I recognize the familiar cadence of my own words and thought patterns.  And I realize this.  Our words have such weight, that people will carry them for years.  They will take them out and turn them over in their hands, and feel their shape.

Please, please let me be gentle and kind.  If nothing else, let me be kind.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Coffee's On

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about generosity, and gifts, and hospitality.  They are all tied together I believe, and you would be hard pressed to find a hospitable person that didn't love to give gifts, or a generous person who wasn't thrilled to share their home and life with others.

There are things we do at certain seasons of our lives, and perhaps the ways we carry through, change and evolve as we do.  There are pastimes and relationships in my life, that have faded and disappeared over time.  Other people and passions have filled their spaces, and it has been right and natural.

But when kindness, and generosity, and gift-giving, and hospitality leave, I suppose it is right to take a hard look, and not just assume that a season has passed.

Years ago, I was gift giver.  I loved to plot, and plan, and create the perfect special gift.  And I was an impulsive gift giver as well.  I saw that someone loved something, or needed something, and I wanted to give it to them.

Our home was a hub of activity.  It was the place where the best parties were thrown, and long dinners were shared.  It was a place where the coffee pot was always on, and the door was always open.  At times we would arrive home after a day out, and find folks waiting on the porch or in the kitchen.  I have  awakened in the morning, to find the closest of friends already in my kitchen, starting the coffee or cooking breakfast.  There was nothing strange about it.  It was how we lived.

And then something changed along the way, and I have never been able to put my finger on why that was.  We moved away from close friends and family, so maybe that was the reason.  Yet that reason didn't seem to hold true, because we had always made new friends as easily as keeping up with the old ones.  We moved to camp, where our job was hospitality, so perhaps we just wanted time off the clock.  But even that didn't seem to ring true either.

Recently I realized that I had begun to give gifts again.  Small gifts, something of my own that I thought a friend would enjoy.  A book, or a movie, or a piece of jewelry.  Small gifts of time, and energy, and emotion.  

It has been in the giving, once again, that I began to sense the reason for the lack.  There are seasons of life that knock the stuffing out of you.  They leave you bereft of confidence that you have anything to give, anything any other soul would want to have.  When you are asked very specifically to give, you do.  Cheerfully and willingly, but tentatively as well.  But unless you are specifically asked, you assume that you are not wanted.  Not needed.

It becomes a way of life, an ingrained habit, of turning away and into oneself.  Just the same as there was once a habit of turning outward and toward others.  The old ways will never come back exactly the same as they were.  The same friends will never gather in those houses again.  Children who used to run and play, are now grown, some with children of their own.  We have learned new recipes, for long meals and life itself.  Still, I hope that as each day passes, all of my friends, both old and new, know that the coffee pot is on and the door is always open.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Not One Word

A couple of days ago, a friend wrote this post, and it made me tear up a little when I read it, because so much of what she was saying is so close to the surface for me these days.  Go.  Read it.  You won't be sorry you did, and this post won't make sense if you don't.

It seems like all  the cool kids who blog, have been picking words for themselves, for the new year.  Words like "brave" and "fearless" and "light".  I thought about that, and I realize that I would be more able to choose a word to describe my old year in review, than pick a word to describe what I hope my new year will be.

The thing is this.  I don't know what this year will bring, and I don't even want to pick one little word to try and steer it.  And that's not a criticism at all.  I understand being purposeful and intentional, and if having a word becomes a touchstone to spur a person on, I'm all for that.

It's just not for me, for this year.

I feel as though this blog is changing, because I am changing.  The things that used to be important to me, don't always take center stage anymore.  Things like being right, and having answers, and being able to fix things.

Where I come from, this is a spiritual issue.  Being right is the most important thing.  Having the right answers is a sacred responsibility.  Being the bearer of truth allows you to fix anything...anyone.

But what if I just said, "I don't know anymore. I used to think I had the answer to that question, but now I'm just not sure."  Does that mean I have abandoned my responsibility?

I used to think I could weaken or shake a person's faith with an answer like that.  Like their faith was dependent on something I could do or say.

I used to feel like the things I did and said were so important.  Like people were watching and taking their cues from me.  And if I missed an opportunity to speak up, and insert truth and wisdom into their lives, it would all fall back onto me.

But now I just think of how foolish that was.  How foolish is was to think that I was that important, and how foolish to feel that somehow I would be held responsible for the choices others made.

The thing is this.  All I have left now, is this sense of my heart being outside of myself, in the hands of a trusted few.  And so, when a person comes and places their heart in my hands, I am no longer struck with a sense of self-importance.  I don't want to answer their questions, or show them where they've been going at it all wrong, or fix their problems.  

I'm actually pretty certain, that a good deal of the time, I know absolutely nothing about those things.  But I do know how to listen, and love, and hope, and pray.  And I am terribly aware of what a sacred space I am standing in.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Life Resolutions

This past year, I was cleaning the boys' room, and I found this little book.  I remember when Hippie Boy was given this book.  All these long years it has stood quietly on the shelf.  I sat down on the bed and opened it, and this was the first and only entry.  

It made me think of all the years of my life, when I resolved all sorts of things, at the New Year, and at other seasons.  I no longer make a list, only to promptly forget it, to find it sitting quietly in the dust of future years.  But I will press forward with resolve, and most of all hope. 

The most beautiful thing we have been given is not a book full of blank pages, or a calendar of clean white spaces to fill.  It is newness of life, lives that can be made and remade, written and rewritten.