A Winsome Giveaway

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Each morning when I drive through these ancient hills on my way to work, the sun is higher in the sky. I wander out into a wide awake world and daylight becomes the early bird. Time has a slippery way about it, and these days, I notice how quickly the seasons come and go. So when I get the chance to slow down—to change the scenery and open eyes wide to each moment, it feels like a celebration. That’s what the Winsome Retreat did for me last weekend—spoke kairos time into my chronos. I met so many amazing sisters, made new friends and caught up with old. I wanted to share a few of my new friends with you so you might celebrate with me also.

Jenn Hand is the executive director of Coming Alive Ministries and she is amazing. Jenn is a missionary with a heart for all God’s children. Did I mention she is hilarious? We laughed so hard when she gave her talk that my cheeks hurt after. And she is just the same at the dinner table as she is behind the podium. A genuine, generous, all-in-for-Jesus kind of gal. She tells the best stories and they always lead her listeners back to the heart of God.

Emily Dean is the founder/director of Varity Vareé, a multi-media business that takes everyday women and tells their story in a beautiful and new way. Each woman they feature participates in two photoshoots and an extensive interview. I asked Emily what gave her the idea for such a unique business. “I was doing a lot of modeling, “she said, “and I realized that when I did that work I felt like a canvas for the beauty other people wanted to project.” She wondered what would happen if every woman was given that opportunity to be in the spotlight. Varity Vareé was born out of her ability to see the beauty in every woman. She wanted to share those stories and lift them up as beautiful.  Our conversation got interrupted by Emily’s wee one—the tiny eight-week old infant she had with her at the retreat. She also sang with the worship team all weekend. A woman of many talents and much beauty.

Hilary Hyland is a photographer, artist, singer, and musician. She designed the Enough print that retreat attendees were gifted with. When I told Hilary how much her voice captivated me, she smiled and told me she had been hoarse the past few days! She said God was really using that to stretch her. But believe me, God made it work. Her earnest vocals pulled us right into the holy. Check out some of Hilary’s photography work here.

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Kim Hyland, founder of Winsome (mother to Emily and mother-in-law to Hilary) gave the opening keynote Friday night and she talked about how, as the body of Christ, we need each other and the unique gifts we all bring into this world. Winsome was a living, breathing example of that—each person there made the weekend lovelier and lovelier.

I’m still processing all the sweetness of the kairos time we had together. Because joy multiplies when shared, I want to give away a little bundle of books to one reader. Included: A signed copy of Jenn Hand’s 31 Days to Coming Alive and a copy of Deidra Riggs’s Every Little Thing (plus a couple extras). Deidra gave the keynote Saturday night and her message was Spirit-led and beautiful (just like her).

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Leave a comment by Thursday 4/21 for a chance to win. I’ll announce the winner next Friday.

A Prayer for Paris

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This morning, we reel from the attacks in Paris and I light a candle for the lost and wounded. I pray God’s comfort for the shaken world and weep with those who weep. My cheeks are chapped from the long walk in the wind last night and they drink tears thirstily. I lean my forehead against the window and watch the morning light spread like seeping tea. The air in our little valley is still restless and wandering leaves are soul’s bread. Did I once stand in those waving grasses, cheeks scrubbed pink and eyes full of blue sky?

On a morning like this I cannot help but think, what would I do without Jesus?

Yesterday, I read these words:

Organized religion is an attempt to communicate religious mystery to people who have not experienced it, and most often the task falls to people who haven’t experienced it either. What is deemed sacred in organized religion? Not the original revelation, but the robes, the ceremonies, the houses of worship, the scriptures, the ministers or rabbis. The original sacredness disappears in dogma and ritual—physical manifestations—that become holy in and of themselves and are worshiped long after their meaning is lost. Essentially, it is a form of idolatry. Furthermore, people who dare to proclaim themselves mystics or prophets, and declare they are in personal communication with God, are ostracized or worse. It’s ironic that religions now repudiate the very kind of people and dramas on which they were founded. As a result, the biggest threat to the religious experience may well come from organized religion itself.” ~Diane Ackerman, Deep Play

How arrogant, how flawed, how narrow-minded, I found myself thinking. This self-described “agnostic,” this “Earth Ecstatic” as she terms herself … how dare she? I wanted to close the book, boycott her words, shut out her self-absorbed, pleasure-seeking philosophy. She doesn’t have the faintest inkling about what it means to live a life of faith, I mused. And then I listened to myself. She doesn’t have the faintest inkling about what it means to live a life of faith! The self-righteous kind of view leaves me empty, separates me from other image-bearers of God. But when I look with love, when I look with compassion, my heart of stone is replaced with one as tender as fresh-churned butter.

It is true that often those who welcome mystery and wonder into their lives are the ones overlooked. They quietly sit in pews and marvel at the goodness of God. Yet, in the face of tragedy, these tender ones are mobilized. What if we show them what it means to live a life of faith? To be one body, to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? Instead of judgment, let there be love.

God of the Universe,
you made the heavens and the earth,
so we do not call our home merely “planet earth.”
We call it your creation, a divine mystery,
a gift from your most blessed hand.
The world itself is your miracle.
The people of the world, our brothers and sisters.
Help us to see in their faces your presence.
Upon the people of France
may your stars rain down their blessed dust.
Comfort, comfort your people, O Lord.
(adapted from Blessing of the Land or a Garden, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

West Virginia Morning: Lifting the Small Voice

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In the mornings, my injured foot screams against movement, complaining with every bit of weight it carries. Yesterday, I returned to work and donned real shoes for the first time since the sprain. I did well walking the hard floors of the hospital all day, or so I thought, until this morning. So it’s more ice for me, foot up, and sulking. I am a poor patient.

We are tumbling back into the chronos time, jumping into the calendar days, and with each sinking of the sun the light-soaked sea seems a distant memory. Some things do not wait for us to catch up.

Last week when my family was slowing by the sea, a very disturbed young man entered a church in South Carolina and, after sitting with a group in Bible study for over an hour, shot and killed nine people. This terrible news came to us late by today’s standards—we were partially unplugged as we opened our hearts to leisure and to each other. But the next morning, my mother-in-law texted us a picture of Bonnie, who stayed with her grandparents while we were away. She wanted to show us how our girl was keeping their cats in check. In the picture, Bonnie stands guard before a cat-occupied chair. Behind this silly scene, the television. And on the screen are pictures of the nine individuals killed in that senseless attack.

I couldn’t breath when I took it in.

The rest of our holiday was tainted, the dark whisper of death shadowing each moment. How dare we frolic in the sun, laugh as ocean waves lap over us, toil through shells and sand—when individuals and our nation were hurting so? It all felt so frivolous, yet … I held each moment all the more tenderly for my breaking heart.

And so we have realized that all our knowledge, all our perceived progress, all that we think we know about race relationships in this world can turn to dust in our mouths in an instant. We have been naïve in the desire to believe love has conquered and all is well. We are left bruised and bewildered.

Where do we go from here? How can anything I say even matter?

Before we left on holiday, I finished up some editorial work for The High Calling on an upcoming theme called “The Power of Empathy.” I read so many resources about empathy when preparing my editorial summary. One of the best was Brene Brown’s TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability.” In it, she gives four qualities of empathy:

  1. The ability to take the perspective of another person.
  2. Staying out of judgment.
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people and,
  4. Communicating this recognition.

Brown says, “Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something inside myself that knows that feeling.”

My voice is but a small one. One white woman who knows so little of how to love through a mess like this. Yet, it’s important for me to speak, it’s important for me to communicate that I recognize how broken this world is, how sorry I am, how helpless I feel. It’s important for me to speak against this terrible violence, to wonder with the many what can be done. I am trying to look at the world through a different perspective. I will keep trying. It matters.

Christian Wiman speaks of “life as landscape” or “resume.” We all long to look back on our existence as a whole and name our impact on the world. But, he says, this isn’t the best way. Life is incremental, he says, and we can never “really see this one thing that all our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to.” He goes on to say, “We are meant to be a lens for truths that we ourselves cannot see.”

I want my life, my words, to be a lens for truth.

If you are struggling with what to say and do, you may want to read this post from my friend Deidra. We must join hands and speak. As writers and storytellers we have a unique position of influence. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, “Stories set the inner life into motion.” The stories I share here are meant to bring unity, to shine light on beauty, and awaken in each reader the awareness that we all share certain qualities. But also to celebrate our differences without judgment. Natalie Goldberg says, “We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves, we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us.”

This is a good place to begin. Again. And again. One increment at a time. Being a lens for truth. Letting our stories move people to action, even small ones.

We move forward in this hard place. Together.

Freedom: Some Thoughts on the Jumping Tandem Retreat

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I notice anew that this is the season the Maples let go of their seeds. When we walk lately, it is in a whirling, twirling ticker-tape of spinning helicopter seeds. Bonnie tries to catch them in her mouth and I cannot shake the feeling of a parade. Somehow the walk becomes a celebration.

I’m still thinking about the Jumping Tandem Retreat. Before I flew to Nebraska, I spent a few days weeding out my flowers, mulching over wild violets and honeysuckle, planting the garden, dreaming of color. The lilac bush was in full bloom, leaving the air heavy with its heady scent. And I was tired.

I landed in Nebraska to open arms, strong and tender shoulders, and grace. Words cannot capture the sound of a room full of women lifting their voices in praise; words cannot capture the way tears cleanse, how a slow-spreading smile lights up a face.

We are made to be in the presence of one another.

We began with the story of brokenness. Our first keynote speaker was a Willow, bending before us, giving herself in offering and making the space we shared an altar. Grace. Her name is Grace. And she is beautiful.

The first workshop I attended was called “The Art of Truth Telling: How Grace Unmakes Bitter Fruit.” Listening to Alia Joy speak of meeting God in suffering was the best place to start. She spoke of how the hard circumstances strip you bare, leave nothing but honesty and an acute awareness of God with us. She said she felt ill-prepared, due to more unforeseen circumstances, but this is a safe place to fail, she said. She didn’t.

My Bible study sisters and I have been reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. This morning I read this:

In Christ Jesus the freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we are.”

Yes. This is grace. This is what I felt at the retreat: freedom to move freely in the mystery I am.

I listened to Kim Hyland, that Winsome Woman, speak about freedom. About how a quest for perfection can suffocate a life. I listened to her and loved her and felt a love for every woman who is doing the best she can in this broken world.

Dr. Helen Fagan shared her story in the second keynote. This woman’s heart is so brave and beautiful. “We grow the most when we are around people who are different than us,” she said. And her story is one of constantly growing, always seeking truth, endless curiosity.

I listened to the poet John Blase speak about “Bearing the Burden of Nouns,” his good words transcending poetry and encompassing all of life—gently prodding me to tend the nouns in my life better. I would pay John to read me poetry all the daylong.

And then there was Michelle, whose humility and grace and self-deprecating humor moved us all to such a warm place of communion I thought my heart might swell out of my chest.

Words cannot capture, friends.

I returned home under moonlight to find the lilac blooms on the wane and I told my boys all the stories I gathered in my head with words, all the stories gathered in my heart.

“Don’t you love God’s people?” I said to them. “Don’t you just?”

The Maple seeds spin and blow in the breeze and this aging woman feels the freedom of a new sowing; and everything old is new again.

Move freely in the Mystery, Beloved. There is always grace.

 

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We can’t un-create our memories, I told him. Some things, we’ll forget, but mostly we’ll remember the things that make us feel strongly. What do you think I will remember about this weekend?

He lay on the white sheets of the hotel bed, his face turned away from me. It was just the two of us—brother in the shower, dad getting coffee.

I wasn’t trying to shame him. Just make him think. I wasn’t sure which one was happening.

He wanted to be mad, so he didn’t say anything.

What you do—what you say—it affects other people. That’s why you must be very careful with your words and actions. There’s no do-over.

I went on about forgiveness and grace, something about how we write the stories of our life. He took his turn in the shower without a word or backward glance to me.

I just sighed.

While he showered, they went ahead to get breakfast—because there’s no asking a thirteen year-old to wait. But I did. I waited.

He came out in a rush of steam, white towel wrapped around his little body. Immediately, he lunged at me–wrapped his arms around my waist, buried his face in my chest.

I’m sorry, mommy, he said, melting in the steam.

It’s okay, honey.

I smoothed his wet hair with my fingers.

But I can’t take it back, he said. I can’t un-create it.

Oh, honey, I said, hugging his warm pink flesh. You just did.

We can’t un-create our memories, I had told him. But that’s exactly what we did in the next moments. We sat on that hotel bed and went through the events of the previous day and night together. But this time, we picked out the good parts. There was no mention of the bad attitudes, flares of temper, or sulky silences that colored the entire trip. I didn’t refer to how let down I felt– that this time I had so looked forward to had been nothing but a big bundle of stress and disappointment.

I wanted him to know. There are consequences to his choices. Surely he knows this? He just didn’t think about it in the previous twenty-four hours. He didn’t want to.

What he says and does affects me. What he says and does affects those around him.

I wanted him to know. But do I? What I say and do matters. It impacts my small world. And my small world impacts the world at large.

Scott Cairns, in his beautiful book The End of Suffering, reminds me:

…Every choice in our lives that separates us from communion with God, and every decision that clouds our awareness of His presence or erodes our relationships with on another has a profound and expanding effect—as the proverbial ripples in a pool…

As I forgave my young son and chose to let go of disappointment, I felt the ripple.

Trouble was, we had been a bowl full of ripples all weekend…the wrong kind. Like when I hissed out of the corner of my mouth to the boys that I might strangle their father any minute. His ripples had bumped up against me until I was a tidal wave. It was a weekend of roiling waters.

This idea—that we are all connected—is not a new one. We are the Body; we cannot be whole apart from one another. But have I really considered what this means?



…all of creation is implicated in this phenomenon we variously call salvation, redemption, reconciliation. Like the late theologian John Romanides, I suspect that our saving relationship with God is quite specifically “as the Body of Christ”; our salvation is not a discrete, individualized, private bargain struck, but comes by way of our continuing participation in divine life, as a member of a holy body that is at once both alive and life-giving. (Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering).

How do I communicate this to my young son? How do I commit it to my person?

We are not alone in this thing. We need each other. It’s much easier for me to be aware of our interconnectedness when the one my ripple washes over sits beside me. It’s easy when I have felt the ripples of his actions. But what of my other parts? The ones in other countries gasping for air, for clean water, for…love? What of those in the inner cities who know no other way of life than violence? The homeless?

As I hold my boy in my arms, I feel the world in my arms.

Oh, Lord. Be the stone. Let me be a ripple of your splash.