Lessons from Easter morning

The father and his college-aged son led us in Easter hymns. Our songs joined with the bird songs. At 7 a.m., the sun was easing its way over the tree line. The father played guitar. His experienced voice rang out warm in the cool morning air.

“Christ is risen,” said the pastor.

“He is risen indeed,” we affirmed.

The congregation was a mix of ages and stories. Some of us had visible scars. Some were grouped in families while others came by themselves. We all sat together on wooden benches in a semi-circle around a simple cross. On the bench in front of us, a young mother rearranged a fuzzy smiling monkey blanket around her young boy in his pajamas. He leaned on her. His older brother put his arm around him to add a little warmth.

During communion, the father played the keyboard while the deacons passed a wooden tray of small cups of juice and bread. I tore a piece off of the loaf. I held my cup.

The congregation was served and the deacons returned to the front. The son tore off a piece from the loaf and gently placed it on the keyboard along with a cup for his father. He looked after the one who was giving to us. Who do you know who is always giving? Show kindness to the kind—the selfless ones who look after others—so they can keep up their work of softening the world. Tear off a piece of bread for them. Give juice to those bringing music to our day.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. –Mark 16:1-4

We usually attend a service of hundreds indoors, a rich and triumphant worship in an expansive space. For Easter, I like the sunrise service outside. I feel humble, exposed to the elements while nestled in the intimacy of a small group.

It’s easy to imagine being Mary, worrying about who would roll the stone back. I think about the hurried walk to the tomb, early in the morning, maybe a morning like this one. The spices waft on the air from the bag in my hand, swinging as I walk. The repetitive thought start to wears a rut in my mind, “Who will roll the stone back?”

I focus on the future tasks I have to perform. How will the meeting go? Will this situation work out? Will these bills ever end? Will his health get better? Will it get easier?

How many times do we worry about who will roll the stone back?

The truth is God will bless us a thousand times before we die. God will work in our lives and exceed our positive—and negative—imagination no matter how we fuss. God knows children fuss, and we are yet children.

Do not worry about the stone.

Christ is risen.

Blessing

Lord, what are we that
you love us so?

Take the stone out of our mind.
Fill our thoughts with your hope.
Let us live as Easter people,
in your extravagance

Alleluia!

Tell me your thoughts!

What stood out to you about Easter this year? What have you worried about that turned out to be different than you thought? Who will you spoil this week?

PS-new blog design! Thanks for all the feedback!

The importance of rituals

crystal

crystal

Giving thanks

Spiritual rituals provide a strong structure to form our lives. They break up the relentless flow of days so certain acts are set apart as worthy of our attention and devotion.

In good times, they define who we are. By saying grace before a meal, I replenish my well of gratitude. Instead of thoughts of traffic or hassles, I give thanks. This ritual changes the flow of my thinking and prepares me to eat with more reverence.

Rituals meet spiritual needs when our individual strength fails. In crisis, I know to pray where before I might have wilted from pressure or coped through self-destructive ways.

People say rituals can seem empty. I counter that it is our job to be present. It is never about the glint of gold or careful embroidery. Our life force—our caring intention—makes rituals powerful. Without our mindful focus, any ritual will seem empty, no matter how ancient or lavish it is.

Breaking bread

Serving as a deacon in church, I had the opportunity to take communion to the local assisted care homes. If you want to feel young, spend a morning with women in their 90s! They had such an illuminating perspective on life after nearly a century of experience. I felt like a pipsqueak practically just out of the egg while talking with them.

One woman had difficulty seeing and hearing which made it problematic for her to engage. She had limited ways of interacting with the world. Phones were an impossibility. She couldn’t watch TV because it didn’t make sense to her. She couldn’t read or listen to audiobooks. The elder and I did the best we could, but it was difficult to have a conversation with her.

We asked if she wanted to take communion. She said yes. We took out the bread and juice. As the elder began to read the words of institution, the aging woman’s eyes took on a new light. She began to repeat the words with surprising vigor and enthusiasm. She knew them by heart. “In remembrance of me,” she said. She nodded. The ritual awoken and comforted her. She repeated, “Do this in remembrance of me. Yes, that’s right.”

She took communion with her full self, present to the mystery that transcends our physical bodies of earthly limitations.

Going forth

The nourishing rituals you invest in now will serve you your whole life, even after your eyes and ears fail you. Consider which rituals are meaningful to you, and practice them with your whole heart. Be mindful and present; you provide the fuel that makes the motor of rituals run.

  • Say grace at mealtime
  • Receive ashes as a symbol of mortality
  • Take bread and wine as communion
  • Wear a cross or other symbol of your faith
  • Light a candle in memory of a loved one
  • Pray for the comfort of others
  • Kneel while praying

Blessing

Lord, bless us with your presence
in all our spiritual practices.

Help us learn your ways while
we are strong so
we know your ways by heart
when we grow weak.

May we find courage to commit
to rituals that define and shape us:

To do this in remembrance of you

not from mindless habit but
with eager anticipation,
earnest longing
and true love.

Tell me your thoughts!

Which rituals help to strengthen your faith? Can you remember a ritual that you were caught up in?

From dust to dawn: my reflections as Lent begins

Hand with ashes

Hand with ashesThere is something—a practice, a way of praying, a letting go, a new dependence, a gift you need to give—that will bring you closer to God.

What is it?

Lent is the time to ask this question. Then it gives you 40 days to change, to prepare and to open your heart to the Lord.

Of all the Christian seasons, Lent is my most beloved. It demands a stripping of pretense. It reduces the indulgent bloat of my life into a lean and meaningful structure.

I started practicing Lent wholeheartedly four years ago. My mother and brother had died within five months of each other. I knew the feel of a life reduced to ashes in my hand. I lived in the agony of raw loss. How could the world continue on? And yet it did.

Its regularity and continuation also offered a vague comfort. It didn’t matter that some days I only went through the motions. The momentum of the world carried me along with it. Stores stayed open and sold grapes. I bought them. My family had needs. I met them.

The start of Lent with the imposition of ashes on the forehead with the words of you are dust, and to dust you shall return reminds us to relinquish the unnecessary and devote our full power to loving.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”

Peter loved his teacher. He promised that he would love him and give his life. Every time I hear the story I want Peter to do better. This time! Let him be true to his word and live up to his promise. Let him be a loyal friend. But he fails. He fails to love as well as he should.

We fail to love as well as we should. But shouldn’t we keep trying? Before we return, shouldn’t we throw open our arms and hug one another while we can?

Blessing

Lord, we think so often of ourselves.
Bless us with reminders of how our greatness
turns to dust,

Bless us with reminders of how the love we nurture lives on.

A woman with a generous spirit treasured her friends
and handed out her abundance: time, affection and baby aloe plants.
Her friends took her plants and passed them on.

I did not know her, but I received a plant from one of her friends.
From a tiny plant the size of my finger, it became 24 hand-sized plants in less than two years.
This Sunday, I repotted them so they can stretch out and keep multiplying.

Lord, let our acts of love thrive in your light.
From one small act, make it grow to 24. Then 240, then 2,400,
then so many acts of love we lose count.

After we return, let us be remembered
for our friendship, our faith and our love.
And if we’re not remembered, may we leave something good behind—encouragement,
a smile to soften someone’s hard day,
a gleaming green plant growing toward the light.

Before we return, make us doers of uncountable kindnesses.

Tell me your thoughts!

What act of kindness can you perform today that might be multiplied tomorrow? What have you chosen as a practice for this Lent? If you are local to Columbia or Moberly, would you like an aloe plant? 😀

Comfortable feet (post-retreat thoughts)

Golden light on the field

Golden light on the fieldThanks to the gracious and loving women at the retreat last weekend, I had a great time. Here are a few reflections on what I learned (or what I was reminded of).

A day and a half is only a taste of relaxation.

Productivity and patience don’t seem like natural partners. I noticed my impatience especially during silent time.

Being productive is a driving force in my daily life. My mind flows like a garden hose turned on full. It’s not something I can turn off. So much pressure! My days are filled with lists of to-dos based on requests from others. During silent time, I decided to color a mandala. I found myself hurrying to get the shapes colored in. I felt the pressure of meeting the goal to get it all filled in more than I took pleasure from the act of putting colored pencil to paper.

I had the same struggle with walking through the labyrinth with a friend. We ended up having rich and fun experience: laughing, crying and opening our hearts to each other. But in the beginning, all I could think was, This thing is going to take forever! I focused on the goal of getting through, instead of being present to the experience. Last time I checked, there are no labyrinth races! But if there were, I could see myself as a competitor. 😀

Spirituality needs to be something I relax into, rather than something I accomplish. No fist-pumping allowed after prayer and Bible devotion with a cry of, “Yes! I won spirituality today!”

I’m going to need more than a day and a half to change my ways—and make some adjustments in my life—to find inner peace. Something to think about as I consider my Lenten practices (Ash Wednesday is next week).

Pray with other people to sustain your faith.

Whether in our daily worship or small group, praying with others buoys me up. There are losses, heartbreaks, betrayals and evil in the world ready to tear us down. Prayer boosts the system. If life is going smoothly, it prepares us for tough times ahead. If life is rough, it soothes us to lay our burdens down. All my worries, my tendency to push myself too hard, my impatience, my stuck places that lack flexibility: I gave these weaknesses to the Lord.

Write with other people to nourish your imagination.

During our creative hours, I offered a mini writing workshop. What a delight to sit in a circle with imaginative women and move our pens across paper today! Taking a solitary act like writing and make it into a spiritual practice in community was powerful and strengthening. I read poetry and used some of my favorite books on writing. Drop me a note if you’re interested in the books I used.

Get comfortable. Start with your feet.

A day spent in slippers is a day well spent. Amen!

Blessing

Gracious God, bless us in the many ways we make community:
whether at a church retreat, Toastmasters meeting or bowling league.
Keep us turning away from our self-centeredness and always
back to you, back to service.
You are not impressed.
We have nothing to prove to you;
you’ve already given us your gifts of peace, forgiveness and
perfect love.

Tell me your thoughts!

Is there a place you push yourself too hard? What are you considering as a change to bring more quiet into your life? Will you do something for Lent?

Why I retreat in silence and slippers

hand with rock and cross

hand with rock and crossI’m counting down the hours until this weekend; I’ll have a sleepover with dozens of women where we worship, eat, do crafts, sing, laugh, pray and have silent time together. I’ll be at the Broadway Women’s Retreat.

Why go on a retreat? It gives me a long view of my life when I remove myself from the daily routine. It’s hard to see a pattern from the inside. Going on a retreat pulls me out of the pattern so I can see it from a distance.

I do much of my life by habit. It’s a good thing because if I had to decide every moment, I wouldn’t have the energy to get through the day. With my thoughtful deliberation style of decision-making, I would probably get stalled out before 7 a.m. Habits are like little times of coasting. They allow me to function.

During retreat, I stop the motion and momentum of my life; I step away from the memorized choreography. It’s like an open-ended time to hear the music again. What was this dance about again?

Preparing myself to retreat

To prepare myself mentally, I’m working on letting go of as much mental clutter as possible. I plan to make a master list of all the obligations I have; get the worries out of my head and onto paper where they look more harmless. I will cut ties with my responsibilities. No household to keep going, no animals with needs, no meals to cook, no deadlines to meet.

I spend a lot of energy on self-improvement and meeting the needs of others. I care about achievement and seek betterment for everyone. In retreat, I put all that aside. This is time where I only seek honesty in my relationship with God. Less self, less responsibilities, more God.

My single focus will be opening my mind to the Spirit. I hope to relax. I normally chug through like a paddle boat, churning up the waters of my feelings. In relaxation, my emotions become clearer. With clearer emotions, I can feel more of the Spirit.

In retreat, I get a hint of how to align my will with God’s will. What are the subtle promptings? What do I need to refresh? What do I need to discard? What parts of the pattern of my life don’t make sense anymore?

As I soak in contemplation for 36 hours, I plan to wear my slippers as much as possible.

Your prayers

I would welcome your prayers that I have a nourishing retreat. If you have something on your heart that you would like me to take into silent prayer this weekend, send me an email, fill out the comment form that will send me an email or let me know in the comments below before the end of day Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.

Blessing

Lord, you always seek us.
Let us make time to step out of our routines
and step into open-ended time with you,
free of distractions,
free of expectations,
free of responsibilities.
Our noisy world of cares will wait.
Help us breathe and relax.
Let us pray without distraction.

Remind us we were children who
delighted in blowing seeds of a dandelion.
Refresh us with a sense of wonder.
Turn our hearts to seek you as
you always seek us.

Bless the ones who keep things going
while we are on retreat.
Bless the ones too busy to join a retreat.
Bless the ones too scared or too jaded to consider silence.

Bless the ones who confuse your silence with a lack of caring.

We can stop for a day,
a few hour, or a few moments and
find you.
In finding you, we find peace.
May we all live in your peace.

Tell me your thoughts!

Have you ever gone on a retreat? What did you get from it? What kind of retreat would you like to go on? Have you ever tried a little one-hour mini retreat?

Electric People

van-gogh-haystacksWe are an electric people. We don’t think about it much until we think of the Amish. Clark, Missouri, is known for its Amish community. I went with some friends this week to visit the shops for Amish goods.

It would be easy to romanticize their culture, as if this is how we used to be. We were more neighborly perhaps. Even today, if we lived amongst our own religious group with a set of common interests and goals, we would have a completely different outlook. Most of us live rather randomly today, picking a community in general and a house specifically.

In Amish country, we drove slowly. About half the traffic were horse and buggies. The road showed unusual wear: if you looked closely, you can see the worn strips from horse shoes. Nothing seemed to go to waste. Even the grass in the ditches next to the road went to use, populated with chickens and horses.

A small investment in the store brought me a basket filled with bulk spices. I stayed close to the wood stove that warmed the store. The spicy smell mixed with a scent of apples and burning wood. They sold potatoes and flour by the 50 lb. bags.

Outside the car window, I saw hay gathered in tied haystacks. It made me think of Van Gogh.

What stood out the most to me was the laundry. We were visiting on a Monday, traditionally laundry day. When we drove through, it was mid-morning and 40 degrees. They must have been washing while it was still dark to have it already hung. I would like to think it was a weekly load that hung out on the lines that often stretched more than 50 feet. If what I saw hanging out was the daily load, then God bless them.

I respect that the Amish have been intentional and made decisions about technology as a community. Amish society 100 years ago probably looked different than Amish society today. But they got together to plan how to change and why. We decide as individuals how much we want technology to intrude but it’s difficult to resist the tide of faster, better, more. Distractions have always existed, but now they are expertly targeted to distract us: Play more! Buy more! You deserve it! Bright colors, flashy lights, doesn’t this thing look good? Click click click!

Electronic screens made a fence between us

Kids moved independently throughout the community. A dark, lanky horse moved out in a quick trot. A boy of around 10 held the reins of a two-wheeled cart. We saw sisters walking to the store, hand in hand. They waved in friendly greeting to us when we passed.

Tonight I watched the news. They talked about the problem of teenagers using Snapchat with untraceable messages. Parents can’t know what photo was taken or what was said. “Your parents don’t know, your girlfriend doesn’t know.” They discussed the lack of accountability.

After our trip to the Amish country, I got home with my electricity. They installed our new dishwasher. I had two loads of dishes waiting. I put them in and the washer was so quiet, I could hardly hear it.

I filled up my washing machine with our clothes. I took a moment to watch them twirl and fall.

With my machines, I have time to write, walk the dogs and crochet for fun instead of income. As I wrote this blog post, I wondered if I’m too dependent on machines. Have I lost my appreciation? I looked up from my laptop to ask someone but my husband was focused on Candy Crush and my son was texting.

We are an electric people.

Blessing

Lord, let me remember I can survive without
conveniences.
Things of the world are nice but not necessary.
What matters is a birthday meal shared with friends.

Help us see another birthday as a blessing. Because each
birthday is.

Let me pull my attention away from
electronic devices and back to people
who thrive with our eye contact, our hugs and
our listening.

Lord, help me be an emissary of your love.

Tell me your thoughts!

Have you ever visited Amish country? How did it affect you? What do you depend on that wouldn’t work without electricity? What kind of simplicity attracts you? What do you think the world will look like when the teenagers of today are grandparents?

Blue? Try green instead!

snake plant

snake plantEver get a case of the winter blahs? Short days and long nights give you the blues? A little green life will energize your space! You’ll feel better with oxygen and a touch of nature.

During my week off for Thanksgiving, I wrote 5,000 words on my memoir. (I’m so close to finishing!) As I wrote, I realized that one of my characters wasn’t human; it was my first houseplant.

I was 20 when my housemate gave me this plant. Almost 25 years later, this plant still lives with me. It’s survived the zaniness of my 20s, the unintentional neglect of my 30s when I was child-centered and more unintentional neglect during my outwardly focused life of my 40s.

It even survived a trip across the country from California to Missouri in a cardboard box through the mail with no soil on its roots.

This plant cheers me up. It’s been an important part of my path toward wellness. Upright and green, it never tires of stretching for the light. It reminds me that I have to keep growing and stretching for the love of God that nourishes me as sure as the sun sustains my plant.

Consider yourself a true black thumb? Known for your plant-killing reputation? Do you also tend to push yourself too hard, often ignoring your body and running yourself ragged? Taking care of plants is one of the simplest and most satisfying ways of care taking. By nurturing another living thing, you will slow down and take better care of yourself.

Good plants for busy people

Two common problems with plant care are over-watering and incorrect light.

aloeBefore you imagine me as some magical plant-raising fairy who makes vines swirl up with the twist of my glittery green finger, I’ll admit that I have killed many a plant. Many.

Before I was a mom, I could care for the finicky ones. Misting an African violet, or doing daily trimming and fussing, all that used to be possible before motherhood and the demands of life. Now I stick to the ones who can live with the level of care I can give them (read, minimal).

These are my longtime reliable friends. I recommend them as the best place to start if you’re new to plants.

  • Spider plant (extra benefit: this one purifies the air for you!)
  • Pothos (free if you know someone growing this! You can take a cutting and start a new one easily)
  • Snake plant (obviously, a beloved one of mine! This one also purifies the air and removes the formaldehyde and nitrogen oxide produced by fuel-burning appliances)
  • Rubber plant
  • Jade plant (some Asian cultures believe this one will bring you good fortune!)
  • Aloe (nice to keep in the kitchen in case you get a burn! A gift from a friend at church, the one shown in the photo sits on the sill so we can enjoy it while washing dishes)
  • Zebrina (another plant that is easy to start with a cutting)

What do plants need?

  • Light and location
  • Water
  • Soil and nourishment
  • Attention

Sound familiar? Give yourself the equivalent.

Light and location

Make sure you get enough light this winter!

Spiritual meditation on light
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:6

Water

Plenty of water will keep you healthy, hydrated and better able to fend off viruses.

Spiritual meditation on water
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
You water its furrows abundantly,
you settle its ridges,
you soften it with showers,
you bless its growth
Psalm 65:9a,10

Soil and nourishment

Following nature’s rhythm is healing. Wellness comes from a supportive environment and encouraging people. What are you grounded in? Learn from the plant world. Deepen your spiritual roots in good earth. Lengthen your branches to the sky.

Spiritual meditation on soil
Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!
Joel 2:20-22

Attention

What are you paying attention to? Worldly temporary things like technology? Or the inner peace that surpasses understanding? The actions and thoughts you feed will grow stronger. Feed the right things.

Spiritual meditation on attention

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace…
Romans 8:6

Remember, connect with nature for wellness this winter. Replace your blues with green!

Bonus: you can enjoy a two-minute meditative slideshow video featuring my office plants: http://youtu.be/9e9swsZxm8s

Please add your thoughts in the comments below and also be sure to share which plants are your favorites!

Are you letting weeds grow in your life?

fence row with weeds

fence row with weedsIt was a hot afternoon July 4, 2000. I had been a homeowner for 11 days.

We bought ten and a half acres of land in the country, a mix of pasture and woods. Our house was about 175 feet from the gravel road, inside a barbed wire fence.

When I looked out our picture window toward the road, I saw weeds. Not small, easily overlooked knee-high weeds, the tender, innocent type of greenery that could be forgiven because it was pretty (I have a soft spot for the cheery faces of dandelions in the spring). I saw weeds taller than my own height of six feet: giant ragweed.

I changed to raggedy jeans and a t-shirt. After tromping to the barn for a tool I deemed suitable for battle with ragweed (a machete), I began to hack away.

And hack. And hack. I could only work at their bases above the ground, trying to topple them; they were too big to uproot.

The woody stems were almost as thick as my wrist. They refused to let go of life without a sturdy fight.

Having moved to Missouri a year and a half earlier, I was new to the state and didn’t know much about ragweed. For example, that I’m highly allergic to it.

My nose ran. Where I dripped sweat—which was everywhere—yellow pollen stuck to me. My hands were red and puffy. I alternated between puffing and wheezing. My eyes got bulgy. I could feel them tearing up.

The bout reached a decisive moment for victory.

Gen vs. Ragweed

OFFICIAL FIGHT ANALYSIS: Gen outmatched, exhausted and overheated, falls with a defeat time of one hour despite being in a much higher weight class. Ragweed wins, celebrates its victory by standing proud in 95-degree weather.

I gave up. Back inside with iced tea and air conditioning, I looked out the picture window again.

In my new home for less than two weeks, I was already defeated by a weed with a nature for knockout through fast growth, allergens and strong stems.

I surveyed my work down the fence line. I’d removed about a four-foot-square area.

It was hardly noticeable compared to the 120′ of ragweed that stretched across the front.

We had some work to do.

The Harvest Story

A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. (Matthew 13:3-8, The Message)

Maintaining a healthy spirit

barbed wireWhen soil is disrupted, this is a time when weeds take root. When the foundation of your life is being turned over (think: teenagers, any kind of big life transition like the end of a relationship, job loss, health issue), you’re more vulnerable. Ask for help.

Give yourself more time to rest and reflect. You’re setting up the rest of your life. You need to replenish yourself.

It always surprises me how little it takes to go from choice to consequence to habit. A bad choice seems innocuous, small as a seed, “just this once.” But that choice grows and takes root in your life until it’s a habit, like a patch of six-foot-tall ragweed, defiant to change.

We did get most of the ragweed out and we removed the barbed wire fence, all 1,800 feet of it. The ragweed comes back every spring, eager for sunlight. Nature shows us competition: for space in the physical world, the mental world, the spiritual world.

Good soil needs constant nourishment. What are you doing to build the vitality of your spirituality? What will grow in the ground of your life?

Be the good soil and bless the world!

Prayer

May we be people of good soil,
not just asking for the bread of the
harvest but growing,
praying,
praising,

bringing a bountiful harvest
of love and compassion to all we meet.

The only sip that satisfies

goldDuring this month of Thanksgiving, I’ll reflect on being grateful in unexpected ways for unusual reasons.

Before you read today’s blog post, I recommend you get a glass of water.

The norovirus hit hard that fall. It seemed unstoppable. There were those who tried to control it. They disinfected, wiped, sterilized and disinfected again, with vials of sanitizer in their purses that they put on in regular intervals.

There were the carefree who tossed off truisms like, “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I think flu shots and antibacterial soap are making things worse.”

The virus attacked everyone, the disinfectors and the happy-go-lucky.

We were the middle of the road. We washed our hands well but carried no alcohol gel.

When the headache came, I knew what I was in for. I had heard enough stories. I brought a bowl and a bottle of water next to the couch and prepared myself for a journey into the land of illness.

Sickly Child

My mother always called me “a sickly child.” She would say, “You’re a sickly child like your father.” How she knew the state of my father’s immune system when he was a youth was a mystery because they didn’t meet until he was 20. But she insisted. Had he said such a thing to her himself? I tried to imagine him whispering during some candlelit dinner in their courtship, “You know, I was a sickly child.”

When sickness comes for me, it is familiar. The official title of Sickly Child was born out by my example of having chicken pox twice. I spent many hours ill.

It is said that we can hear God best when we are still. That is true for me. Even stillness enforced from being sick can slow me down to mindfulness and a spiritual view. I notice the room and my body in ways I never do while rushing around in wellness. I watch dust motes drift through sunlight and find airborne patterns of houseflies.

The land of illness

As the norovirus staged the coup of my body like a terrible dictator without mercy, I let my consciousness dissolve in the puddle of vagueness.

All my fluids came out of me, from every direction. I could not move. The fever brought a blurring between the room and my imagination.

States of sleep and wake swirled like drops of blue paint in water.

Sour clothes wrapped my body that couldn’t decide if it needed five blankets or a fan set to high. A permanent pair of pliers was stuck on my head, always squeezing.

My husband was sick at the same time on a couch a few feet away, but it might have been in another house for all the help I was able to offer. We could only moan to one another in sympathy. Our lips cracked and we rolled lip balm back and forth.

Movement such as handing over lip balm required more energy and motivation than we had.

I lingered between the land of the living and the land of illness. From the land of the living, I heard noise, shuffling in the distance; my young son fended for himself with crackers for dinner and ramen for breakfast, cooked from the microwave.

Days before, I had stopped eating.

Living water

Three days into the sickness, I could drink no water. My joints ached as if their linings had been ground down. My eyelids grated against dry eyeballs. I kept them closed because blinking hurt too much and the light felt like a personal assault.

In the middle of the night, I woke. My tongue stuck to my mouth. The bed damp around me, I could think a clear thought, “My fever’s broken.”

I was thirsty. Not a mouth thirst, a throat thirst or a belly thirst, but a thirst from behind my dry eyes, the ends of my shriveled fingers, the thickened marrow of my bones.

I clawed the comforter and pulled myself upright. I took a moment to settle. I swung my legs over. Using the wall as a support, I made my way to the bathroom sink. I filled a glass with cold water from the tap.

I held my glass. My vision cleared. The water sparkled and glowed from golden streetlight pouring in the window. It seemed to be everything I had ever needed or wanted. It was life, mine to take in.

My heart echoed in my ear. A clear thought broke through like dawn cuts darkness and mist, “I will give you living water.”

I understood.

I drank the water. I had never had such exquisite water. How good, how sweet must living water be! If this is only the water on earth.

I was back.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10

Be blessed as you drink water today. Because you are.

 

What is something you’re grateful for that didn’t seem like an obvious blessing? Have you ever had a spiritual experience come out of illness?

Crying at the water’s edge

baptism

baptismThe baptism was over. The newly baptized teenager in a wet, white robe was welcomed with whoops, clapping and a big towel. The pastor stepped out and left to dry off. The little children who had gathered around the baptismal pool got up to return to their parents.

The worship service continued. My eyes stopped running and slowed to a trickle, just enough to wet my cheeks instead of my neck. My shakiness eased. I blinked a lot, still woozy from so much crying. My eyes felt replaced by sandpaper globes. The tip of my nose gleamed red like Rudolph, tender from tissue wiping.

I’d started crying an hour earlier, even before the service started. When I was out in the narthex—full of anticipation about the moment to come—my friend Carla approached me. We faced each other and she took my hands.

“How did your son come to this decision?” she asked, her eyes tearing up. “I didn’t think he was headed in this direction.”

“This summer, he had a revelation. He stayed up all night and wrestled with God,” I said. I could feel the pressure building behind my nose, my own eyes starting to pool.

“Like Jacob!”

“Yes, exactly! Wrestling with God like Jacob. He went through all his feelings and thoughts. For hours—all through the night—he struggled. He found answers for all the reasons he didn’t believe. As morning came, it hit him. He realized he did believe in God and he was a Christian. He even changed his status on Facebook.”

“So then it was really official!” she said and we both laughed. “How amazing that God worked in his life this way!”

“So amazing! It made me feel like God is working in everyone’s lives even when we can’t see it. We just don’t know,” I said. “I could have never guessed this.”

Grace and faith

After the baptism, as the service continued, I sat in happiness, knowing the pews around us were filled with friends who loved my son and took delight in seeing him get baptized.

Love flooded the sanctuary.

What is more precious than a child?

What is better than a child who dies to his old life and gives his new one to the service of the Lord?

He is a new creation.

As I sat, my son rushed up the aisle to me. I seized my still-damp son tight and wept fresh tears. We held each other and both shook from crying as the congregation sang.

Our pastor, Tim, explained at the end of the service that grace is God’s love given to all. Faith is our response to it. With faith, we start our relationship with God.

Ordinary moments and God moments

Most of my time is spent in ordinary moments. I copy and paste for hours at work. I disinfect the sink. I heat up chicken strips. I ride in an old car on a long commute. I crochet stitch by stitch on an afghan that seems like it won’t ever get finished. I let out the dog—again—even though she just went out!

But a few of my moments are God moments, when the holy light of God shines warm and clear. I can see and feel God with a palpable sureness, like my bare arm feels sunlight on a cool day.

I want for nothing. I feel complete, content and timeless. All is perfect. All is well. The tent door between our world and heaven is slid open so a sliver of light comes through. I look out. I get a glimpse of glory.

This moment—this hug from my son newly born in the life of Christ—was a God moment.

The last time I cried so much was from sadness: years ago when my brother died of suicide, a culmination of loneliness, desperation, mental confusion and drug addiction.

It was his death that made me want to go public with my faith as a Christian. It was his death that drove me to seek a church. Resa, the friend who sat at my side during my first visit to church, was again at my side, holding my hand while my son was baptized.

This time I cried so much from joy.

We can’t know what will happen. My son will take his own way with unseen hills to climb and curves to follow. I can’t make it smooth. But now he’ll travel with faith as a source of strength in a community of Christians all working our way toward God.

Our lives will end. But the love of Christ goes on forever.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water,
suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God
descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17 (NRSV)