Eucatastrophe: More Than A Happy Ending

We’ve been living the thang, friends, and time hasn’t waited for me to pause, even for a quick hello. So, here’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and an excerpt from my book Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown Up World. Enjoy, and may 2017 hold many wonders for you and your loved ones!

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On the day after New Year’s Day I strip all the beds in the house. The laundry room floor is covered with sheets and pillowcases and mattress pads and I am thinking about the clean slate. Somehow I can’t stand to think of our dreaming being done in last year’s dirt—little bits of skin and dog hair and lint littering up the sleeping.

I stand in the doorway with bedclothes billowing and I see that the dirt of life—the dirt of my life—is a very robust thing. We do what we can to write our stories well, to live a good dream, but there is always the stuff of life—the unforeseen interruptions, the distractions, the dirt of everyday necessities.

No matter what I dream, the sheets will still need washing.

Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday and in honor of one of our favorite storytellers, I wanted to have a party. But our youngest had percussion practice after school and his brother had to tutor some classmates and it was cold and night came early and my body hurt from the New Year’s resolutions and a fall down some stairs. So my firstborn and I took Lucy Mae for a walk in the dark instead and I dressed her in a leopard print sweater. At least the dog would be dressed for celebration.

The evening walk is a heart exercise and especially in the cover of night it seems our senses are tuned to the eternal. Each step has a way of loosing the strings that knot us up in what we can see. I feel around inside of him with questions and he smiles more readily than usual and we walk slowly—even in the cold. On this night, I am thinking about how we enjoyed The Hobbit recently and I remember how Tolkien coined this term eucatastrophe.

Wikipedia tells me that he “formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot.

To me, eucatastrophe sounds like the happy ending, but to Tolkien, it meant more. It’s the way the hero’s fate is tied up in the entire story—it’s redemption in the end that the telling was building up to. It’s the happy ending only deeper.

Tolkien saw “the Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation,” Wikipedia goes on to say.

And I think about the stories he wrote, how they embodied this term eucatastrophe, and I wonder how my life can do the same. How am I living my life that leads this story to the great Eucatastrophe?

I am likely never to face trolls, or orcs, or goblins. I probably won’t be on a quest upon which rests the fate of earth as we know it. But there is always the dirt of life that rears up against me—threatens to waylay this hero from the happy ending.

Am I able to carry this ring?

I smooth down the edges of sheets and fluff pillows into plump resting places. It feels good, this clean slate. But one thing I know—one thing I’ve learned from Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf and life … the journey is a continuous series of stops and starts. There are joy days and dream days and good storytelling. But there are also interruptions, frustrations, and the dirt of life. I must choose which parts of the story will define me. What makes a good story?

Andrew Stanton, the writer of the three “Toy Story” movies and other animated masterpieces, says it well in his TED talk The Clues to a Great Story:

I walked out of there [the movie Bambi at age five] wide-eyed with wonder. And that’s what I think the magic ingredient is—the secret sauce—can you invoke wonder? Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent, it can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling. To hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it’s tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost at a cellular level…the best stories invoke wonder.”

Isn’t the best play the one that tells a good story? The play that evokes wonder? And shouldn’t we be doing this with our lives?

I will keep pressing forward, writing these pages. Because I already know how that eucatastrophe will unfold. I already know the happy ending. And it is steeped in wonder.

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The above is a modified excerpt from Laura’s book, Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, copyright 2014. Used with permission from Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press. All rights reserved.

Playdates with God: Changing Calendars

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Every year for Christmas, my mother-in-law buys me the current Susan Winget Bountiful Blessings calendar from Lang, and I love it. Sometimes, when the year is up, I cut out all of Winget’s little painted birds and the scripture quotes from the calendar artwork and collage them into my own masterpiece. I love the bits of whimsy she paints and often see my own little garden in her vignettes.

After the holiday, when the Christmas cards have lost their luster and that last bit of glitter has been daubed away from the counter grout, I find a quiet corner and sit with the old year and the new to transfer all my important dates from one to the other. Yesterday, the second Sunday of Christmas on the church calendar, was just the day. To enhance the mood, I first filled my bird feeders outside the kitchen window. Then I sat at the table in a dapple of sun and let my pen be the bridge between the past and the future.

As I flipped through the months of 2015, reliving each appointment and special occasion, I noticed the snowbirds pecking around underneath the feeder. A black-capped chickadee flitted in and out of my vision, giving his bright chicka-dee-dee-dee to announce his comings and goings. I revisited wedding anniversaries and baptismal anniversaries and the birthday of Teddy’s preschool playmate. Some names had numbers written beside them in parenthesis: Olivia (15); and I marveled at how quickly the years have gone. Hadn’t I just penned her birth onto my calendar? I whispered the names of nieces and long-silent friends and family members whose birthdates I am not allowed to acknowledge because of their religious beliefs. I did. I acknowledged them. I celebrated them. I gave thanks for their births and their lives.

As I sat with my pen, flipping pages on two calendars, pouring over days past and days to come, my husband walked in the kitchen. “If only you had some electronic device that had a calendar on it so you could keep track of those things. And even get reminders,” he teased.

I do use the calendar on my phone quite a bit. But it can never replace this sacred New Year’s ritual. This practice has become a way of sanctifying time—of remembering and letting go, of praying into the newest year.

Do you still use a wall calendar?

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

The Top Five Lessons from 2015

It is January, the month named after the Roman god Janus—that god with two faces, so depicted because he looks both to the future and the past. They called him the god of beginnings and transitions.

But as sit and look out into the meadow this morning, watching what I believe to be a rough legged hawk prey patiently from the top of a naked pear tree, I feel the presence of the One True God fall over me. I see the wisdom of looking back to look forward, and I know this is why our good God calls us “to remember” so many times in scripture.

I remember this morning. As I look back on 2015, it seems a year of transition, a year of change. This is the first lesson I carry with me into the newest year: Life is about change.

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It seems that old country song was right, life is about changin’. 2015 is the year our eldest left home for his first year of college. We’ve floundered in this almost-empty nest. Jeff started a new job, charting a different course for our life together. I lost my job at The High Calling, which has gone on to become something entirely different than it was when I cut my editorial teeth there. We said goodbye to the pastors who have shepherded our church for the past six years, and are preparing to welcome a new spiritual leader. We buried some dear ones, and pondered what it might mean to meet up with them again in glory. These outward changes sometimes appear good, sometimes appear bad but one thing they all have in common? They all require an inward shift.

That brings me to the second lesson from 2015: If I am not changing, I am not growing.

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To resist change is to resist growth. Wouldn’t I rather stay in my comfort zone? Dull the pain of the transition by sinking into monotony? Yet, scripture tells us that the Christian life is never static. It is a state of always growing, a journey toward maturity in Christ. We are to grow up to become more like Jesus every day, says the letter to the Ephesians, up into the measure of the fullness of Christ. This past year, the world has struggled with race relations, terrorism, and letting love overcome fear. The problems of the world can seem so big that it can feel like my small life cannot make a difference. But when I let love lead and try not to run from the hard places, change can bring good things.

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Lesson three is this: Faith comes first. By this, I don’t mean we must put our spiritual lives first, though this is certainly true, but that sometimes we must confess belief in a truth before it is visibly apparent. Believing in a promise despite a lack of tangible proof will stretch faith in new and unimagined ways. Walking through the darkness of depression with my husband has been one of the greatest challenges in our marriage and our faith. But we continue to hold on to God and to each other. By the grace of God the light moments are spreading over us the same way the sunshine spreads over the meadow in the morning.

This year I’ve also learned how intricately My faith life and my physical being are yoked together. For much of this year I have been unable to run due to continued struggles with plantar fasciitis. During weeks of resting my physical self, I have felt my sense of wonder begin to wither. A lack of physical activity, for me, seems to have the peculiar effect of making me feel far away from God. Gradually, I’ve learned that it’s a precarious formula of caring for this temple of my body and making sure I am out-of-doors some every day. Running combines these two and being unable to run requires me to be much more deliberate in meeting these two spiritual practices.

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The fifth and final lesson I’m carrying into 2016 with me is a renewal of the awareness of The importance of my alone time with God. I’ve been working more hours at the hospital lately, which affects my freedom to plan more adventurous playdates with God. I’m still learning how to steward my time better in this new season. Writing, reading, and ministry have necessarily taken a back seat to other professional demands. This is a big shift for me. Even when I can’t leave the house for a playdate, I am learning once again to relish simply sitting with God. Such freedom in that simplicity.

So here are my top five lessons from 2015:

  1. Life is about change
  2.  If I’m not changing, I’m not growing
  3. Faith comes first during the dark seasons
  4.  God cares about my body and how I care for it
  5. Time alone with God must be a priority

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January may be named for the Roman god Janus—a name that comes from the Latin ianua, which means “door”. Mythology has him the keeper of doors, gates, bridges, and passages.

But this is the kind of door my God keeps—one made from parted waters, one that passes safely through tongues of flame, one that parts the heavens in a windstorm. These impossible, seemingly impassible doors; these narrow gates that the world whispers about, this is not the way, it is too hard—these are the kinds of doors my God keeps. He opens them wide and still, I squeeze through as if only a tiny crack.

But this Doorkeeper? He not only holds the door aloft, he reaches for my hand and pulls me through. Happy New Year, Beloveds. Praying many open doors for you in 2016.

Playdates with God: When You Don’t Want to Go Back to Work

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The holiday is over and this morning we step back into the ticking clock. I awaken before the alarm sounds with urgency, fill those final moments of dreaming with prayer. I hear one of the boys get in the shower down the hall and so I rise to do the kitchen piddling; pack the lunches, fix a simple breakfast. It is twenty-eight degrees outside and the cold adds to the stiffness of the morning. We move through the required actions woodenly, barely lifting our eyes to one another.

The beauty of the rest is that it re-fuels us for the work of our hands, right? Then why this dread? Why this dragging of the feet? I have gotten used to having them underfoot, listening to him breathe beside me. Yet, even as I kiss him goodbye I realize that I would not miss him so much if he were with me all the time.

This morning I watch a full moon sink below the dark horizon and give thanks for the rhythms of this life. We all bear God’s image and were created for the steady weave of work and rest. I have lived long enough to know that happiness cannot exist in one without the other. This is by design. We were created for both. To wish one away would be to miss the beauty in the other. Work and rest exist as two parts of a whole.

I am always telling my patients that the words they say to themselves matter. Our self-talk determines the ways we see. This morning, I practice what I preach. Here are three simple steps I take when my heart dreads to move forward.

  • Pray Scripture. My favorite go-to verses to jumpstart my spirit are Philippians 4:4-8.

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

  • Give Thanks. I thank God for the work he has given us and spend time reflecting on specific moments during our break that I am grateful for. Meditating on these things gives weight to both the work and the rest, reminding my heart of the value of both.
  •  Take off my shoes. Ok, maybe not literally, but I remind myself that I stand on holy ground. No matter where I am or what I am doing, God cares about the details of my life. My work matters. I need to remind myself of this or I might be tempted to perform my daily tasks half-heartedly. Scripture tells us to “work as if working for the Lord and not for man.” When I work with the knowledge that the way I do my work has eternal consequences, it invigorates my efforts.

In the end, it’s all about the bigger picture. Every good thing comes from God and returns to those great hands. Because of my frailties, I can forget that I also rest in his hands.

What about you? What are you whispering into your heart as you step back into the usual?

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

New Year’s Eve

I am writing on a Wednesday morning. A heavy frost covers all I see and this morning when I took Bonnie out I could hear the frozen blades of grass bend beneath my feet. The sky is white, the sun straining to be seen. It is the last day of 2014 and we have plans to celebrate the passing of another year with friends tonight.

I have spent the morning looking back, drinking coffee, and letting tears wash away the old. While other bloggers will share “my favorite memories” posts or “what I learned this year” posts, I feel grateful only to have survived—my chin scraped and knuckles permanently whitened from grasping for the end. The other day, Jeffrey asked me, “What was your favorite part of this year?” Asking, asking, that boy is always asking.

We are doing better, but still, this year will be remembered as the one covered in darkness. And yet, there have been many holy moments—times when light broke through and we glimpsed our true purpose.

There was Haiti, the way my heart was broken for a doe-eyed, brown-skinned people and their insuppressible joy in the midst of incomprehensible poverty. I do not want to forget. I have been changed by that one short week, my vision altered forever. In truth, I may never get another opportunity like this again. All the images we see online fail to mention the great expense required to make such a trip—the magnitude of resources required. I look back in gratitude at being allowed the privilege of such a journey and will treasure it always.

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I published a book; a gift I am still unwrapping.

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There was the trip to Connecticut with Teddy, which allowed me a glimpse of a new side of my boy. And I was so proud of the gentle way he is learning to love. There was watching Jeffrey play snare with the marching band, my heart swelling inside of me. There were two surgeries for one of our boys, these moments of vulnerability burn inside of me still. Our Bonnie-girl came to us, bringing a whirlwind of joy.

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There was Ferguson and Russia and the missing airplanes. There were moments of triumph and moments of despair.

My word for the year was “shine” and I didn’t. I hid behind fear and ran from good things because I wasn’t brave enough to meet them. But there is grace and with each new beginning I am humbled anew by the fresh start.

This morning God whispered a name in my ear. Joshua. Through tears I nodded at Wisdom. And then I opened the book to see what this ancient text would speak to me about this particular place I am in. I read chapter one, which I know well.

“Get ready to cross the Jordan River,” said the Lord. “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And so I’m dipping my toe into the river of a new year. And this seems the best promise to carry with me.