Playdates with God: Now Sanctuary

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I am reading the chapter again and I am highlighting and taking notes and wondering and I run out of time. I get up an hour early to write the post but it’s not early enough because these words jump out at me: Thanks makes now a sanctuary. Those words jump out at me and grab my heart and it pulses with ingratitude and busy and it gasps for the sanctuary of now.
My hands feel heavy on the keyboard and the still, small Voice calls. I leave the computer. Go to the bay—the place we often meet. I press my forehead to glass and see that the morning sky is cotton pulled thin and the sun is ripening behind this veil. I hear the robins soothe with morning song and watch a rabbit nibble clover in the front yard. 
I close my eyes and let beauty make an imprint on my soul. 
Thank you, I whisper. Thank you.
But it’s not enough and this I know so I pad soft and quiet up the stairs—to the sleeping places. And there he is with those long lashes resting on cheeks. His legs reach the bottom of the bed now and he’s rolled on his tummy, as always. My fingers itch to touch a cheek, to stroke those thick locks that never behave but I know that this time is not for touching…just seeing.
 
I do. I see him. I see him and the words he told me last night—about not knowing what to be, who to be, what he wants.  What I want from him.
The ache sits heavy inside of me—all that I want for him. 
Happy, I had whispered to him in the dark. I only want you happy. That’s all.
 
To be thankful in the now, I must let go of expectation. Of all that I want. 
…here-time asks me to do the hardest of all: just open wide and receive. (Ann Voskamp, OneThousand Gifts).
I can’t make time stand still–can’t stop boys from growing or hearts from hurting with that growth. I can’t fix all that is broken in my tiny world. And when I try? Worry. It’s worry what fills the moments when I get out my toolbox and start tinkering. 
All that I have is this moment. I open wide and receive. And I am thankful. 
…When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here.I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment…(Ann Voskamp, OneThousand Gifts)

Over at The High Calling today, we are continuing our discussion of Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor. Join us?

How do you embrace the God-joy? 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.
The Playdates button:

One Thousand Gifts: The Final

I must apologize for missing my One Thousand Gifts post last week. The family and I were on holiday with limited internet access. I thank you for walking through this beautiful book with me. What a gift it has been to share this conversation with you. This is our final post in this series.
It was the furthest I’d ever been away from home—cradled by that Texas canyon. Two days into the retreat and I still hadn’t been able to reach home. I’d never left them before—not like that; not so long, not so far. Others travel all the time, but not me—not this mamma. Never wanted to when all I love is right here, within reach of my two arms.
But this time I wanted to.
I wanted to go.
But there was no cell coverage in the canyon and the internet was down at home and two days into the retreat I still hadn’t heard the voices of my boys nor seen their faces. All our plans of skyping and picture sending were buried deep in the West Virginia hills.
I didn’t want to, but I broke down a little—quivering lip and all. Ann and Ann were there and they said, it’s ok, we understand. But I felt so silly—this West Virginia hillbilly so far from home. And Ann took my hands in hers, looked hard into my eyes and said, “Laura, I GET this.”
She did.
I go and they stand under the shade of the maple, all six of the love-children, and that chiseled Dutch man stands tall behind them, and with hand that has held me he holds our youngest. They all wave, wave like banners in the wind, and I’ll carry the memory of the ocean-blue eyes all across the Atlantic. I watch them long in the rearview mirror and I am an amnesiac being healed, for I really remember that eucharisteo has taught me to trust. I leave crops in the field and a husband with half a dozen children. There are a thousand ways to humbly let go.
Why do we leave?
What are we looking to fill? Is it that crazy love we are searching for, urged on by the sehnsucht? Do I really think that there is something out there better for me than the love He offers right here…right now?
But then…why do we stay?
Is it fear? When an opportunity comes knocking and He is giving this gift…why do I let fear turn my face in the other direction?
…I would have let fears that He wasn’t close, wasn’t passionately caring, wasn’t tenderly tending, keep me from seeing this sunrise bleeding love up over all the world? Now that would have been crazy! Look at that love that orchestrates red over water, that arranges light to play ocean in shimmering lines, that composes sky to gradate, scale of luminosity. And all for us—in this moment! He chose me—us! To be His bride! True, that’s the intellectual premise of the Christian life, but only as the gifts are attended, not as ends but as means to gaze into the heart of God, does the premise become personal, God’s choosing so utterly passionate. So utterly fulfilling.
He is the Giver of all good gifts. And only He can fill. Could it be that by leaving and by staying that I honor Him? Because He always stays. He never leaves. So I find Him, either way. Or maybe I should say…He finds me.
…Had I left the farm, left my small world, got on a plane to fly a whole night over watery depths, landed in Paris, the romance of France, traveled, yes, even to one of those thousand places you must see before you die, for God to speak to me the exact same word He had spoken to me back at the farm, had been speaking to me for months, a year and half now—the same word He speaks everywhere?
This is how great the Love is and Ann says she discovers “how to make love to God.” Do I dare to use those words?  “The intercourse of soul with God is the very climax of joy,” she says, but I feel shy of these words. I read them over and over and ask, what does this mean? Really?
But deep inside I know.
Luci Shaw says it this way:
Even physical, sexual desire is only an echo of the huge wanting that consumes us, which is never satisfied this side of heaven—the desire to know someone to the fullest, a clenching of two bodies, two souls, the need for a supreme and burning intimacy.
I, too,  remember the Psalm: My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
I do not understand it. I am not a theologian. It is one of the great mysteries of God. There is a reason why He calls himself my Bridegroom. There is a reason why He is portrayed as Lover in the Song of Songs. This Mystery is the becoming one that goes even beyond the union of a husband and wife. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12)
I am fully known. Is there anything more intimate than that?
Mystical union. This, the highest degree of importance. God as Husband in sacred wedlock, bound together, body and soul, fed by His body, quenched by His blood—this is where eucharisteo leads. Lover bestows upon the Beloved gifts, the Beloved gives thanks for those gifts and enters into the mystical love union…
For Ann, it us eucharisteo that takes her there. For me, it’s playdates with God. Whatever it is that works to usher you into His presence. But is there any question that these—all of this—it’s all from Him, out of His glorious riches of love.
Out the kitchen window the sky rolls out. Apple blossoms fill all the orchard. The morning dove warms her bluing hope. I can hear Him, what He is telling the whole world and even me here: this is for you. The lover’s smile in the morning, the child’s laughter down the slide, the elder’s eyes at eventide: this is for you. And the earth under your feet, the rain over your face upturned, the stars spinning all round you in the brazen glory: this is for you, you, you. These are for you—gifts—these are for you—grace—these are for you—God, so count the ways He loves, a thousand, more, never stop, that when you wake in the morning you can’t help turn humbly to the east, unfold your hand to the heavens, and though you tremble and though you wonder, though the world is ugly, it is beautiful, and you can slow and you can trust and you can receive each moment as grace. Eucharisteo. Eucharisteo. Eucharisteo.

This is the last in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are. 

Related:
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Two 
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Three
One Thousand Gifts: The Now Sanctuary
One Thousand Gifts: The Hard Eucharisteo 
One Thousand Gifts: The Great Beauty Hunt 
One Thousand Gifts: Seeing Through the Glass
One Thousand Gifts: Just Trust 
One Thousand Gifts: Go Lower 

One Thousand Gifts: Empty to Fill

They announce in church that our local Community Cupboard needs more donations.

“We served 42 families last Tuesday,” one of the volunteers says. “People are hurting.”

I remember.

I don’t know how my mother would have made it without help when we were kids. A single parent with five kids and no education. Armed with scant child support and food stamps. There were times it wasn’t enough. My lunch ticket at school was a different color than everyone else’s.  Its bright red color screamed to everyone that I was a “free luncher”. Pride often led me to go without. I would sit at the table with my friends, hunger pangs gnawing. Sometimes I look in wonder at the abundance of my life now. How in the world did I get here?

How can we not?

In the October mist, eucharisteo opens the eyes, the heart, to the grace that falls upon us, a drop, a river, a waterfall of blessing filling our emptiness. It falls into the open hand and makes life a paradise again. We wonder: If eucharisteo had led us to let go and open the hand to receive all His shimmering river of gifts, how can we now close the hand?

These two boys—they have never wanted for anything. I’m so grateful we can give them more than I ever dreamed as a kid. I tell them stories from my childhood and they listen with eyes wide. With hearts wide open.

How else will they know?

I turn my hand over, spread my fingers open. I receive grace. And through me, grace could flow on. Like a cycle of water in continuous movement, grace is meant to fall, a rain…again, again, again. I could share the grace, multiply the joy, extend the table of the feast, enlarge the paradise of His presence. I am blessed. I can bless. A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ…be the blessing.

But sometimes telling the stories is not enough. Sometimes, we have to wash the feet.

Eucharisteo is giving thanks for grace. But in the breaking and giving of bread, in the washing of feet, Jesus makes it clear that eucharisteois, yes, more: it is giving grace away. Eucharisteois the hand that opens to receive grace, then, with thanks, breaks the bread; that moves out into the larger circle of life and washes the feet of the world with that grace. Without the breaking and giving, without the washing of feet, eucharisteo isn’t complete. The Communion service is only complete in service. Communion, by necessity, always leads us into community.

We do this because we love. We do this because He first loved us. It’s a way to His heart, this opening of the hand. And we feel His hand in ours. We feel His pleasure.

…Eucharisteo has taught me to trust that there is always enough God. He has no end. He calls us to serve, and it is Him whom we serve, but He, very God, kneels down to serve us as we serve. The servant-hearted never serve alone. Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him.

We cannot truly know all that we are given until we give away. And this is the Jesus-love; this is the love that gives—that wants to give—despite what it requires. And I don’t do everything right—I don’t do hardly anything right—but this I pray for my boys: That they’re hearts will always be tugged to help others.

Where would there mamma be if others hadn’t also?

This is the tenth in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are.  Join me this time next week for a reflection on the final chapter–Chapter eleven.

Related:
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Two 
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Three
One Thousand Gifts: The Now Sanctuary
One Thousand Gifts: The Hard Eucharisteo 
One Thousand Gifts: The Great Beauty Hunt 
One Thousand Gifts: Seeing Through the Glass
One Thousand Gifts: Just Trust 
One Thousand Gifts: Go Lower 

One Thousand Gifts: Go Lower

I think about it all day and the more I let it have sway the more it does. It hurts. The words were said careless. Not given to me but thrown. It’s been weeks but still I can’t let go.
There was the man who sat in my office the other day—sobbing.
All this just brings up feelings that I thought I’d let go of.”
I know. Oh, how I know.
I turn on music to distract my mind but it only provides a mood for rumination. I try to rehearse the scripture, but my heart won’t let my mind focus.
I become the little girl me, alone and lonely.
No one understands.
And the more the hurt settles into my pores, the more I let it define me—the angrier I become.
Well, he should have…
Why didn’t he…
The angrier I get, the more it feels right. I am entitled to feel this way.
But the thing is—justified or not—it doesn’t feel good.
Righteous indignation only perpetuates the wrong. It keeps me from giving grace. And who am I? When it has been lavished so richly on me?
I go out to the garden.
…That word humility itself comes from the Latin root humus—the kind of earth that grows good crops. God gives the earthto the humus-people, the humble ones. Humilityis that good humus that grows gratitude that yields abundant joy.
And this is where I find the strength to forgive—on my knees, pawing this soil, tilling it with my fingers and pulling the weeds.
My heart is like this garden. So much hurt can go to seed if I don’t tend it regularly. I forget myself here—forget that cutting in my heart, that feeling that I don’t belong. Here, the smallest of creatures fills me with wonder and I am lost in joy. 
True saints know that the place where all the joy comes from is far deeper than that of feelings; joy comes from the place of the very presence of God…
It is in this forgetting myself—this making me small—that things fall back in the proper place. And I am grateful.
Awe…awe ignites joy because it makes us bend the knee and I remember a night chasing moon and we are in deepest happiness in the posture of grateful worship. Because the God-likeness within our smallness speaks to Father-God in His magnificence. I hadn’t understood that in wheat under lunar light: That all wonder and worship can only grow out of smallness…The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give.

This is the ninth in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are.  Join me this time next week for a reflection on Chapter nine.

Related:
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Two 
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Three
One Thousand Gifts: The Now Sanctuary
One Thousand Gifts: The Hard Eucharisteo 
One Thousand Gifts: The Great Beauty Hunt 
One Thousand Gifts: Seeing Through the Glass
One Thousand Gifts: Just Trust 

One Thousand Gifts: Just Trust

Just trust.
That’s what her farmer said to her when her toes were curled tight and that barn loomed heavy on the horizon.
Just trust.
How many times have I said these very words to my own man—his toes curled tight, his heart strapped up in worry?
Stress isn’t only a joy stealer, she says. The way we respond to it can be sin…
Just trust.
Trust is the antithesis of stress, she says. And I know this must be right, for trust is still–calm waters. Trust is sunshine on the face. Trust is Strong Arms wrapped around me. How can stress penetrate trust?
But…it does.
This long spell of waiting, with questions hanging from thin lines—haven’t I pointed my finger at the sky and doubted? In the dark of night I’ve shed tears. Because bad things happen to good people. And I don’t always get what I want. And children get broken. And the wait is always too long.
How do I fill the gap of waiting?
“…Something always comes to fill the empty spaces and this is what I’ve come to do with white space. I invite thanks. For this is His will, thanks the one thing He asks to be done in everything and always and only because He knows what precedes the miracle.”
Thanks becomes bread, she says. Thanks feeds our trust.
I count these gifts, write them on my heart. And they feed. And when the hard eucharisteo comes, I remember this:
 “He gave us Jesus. Jesus! Gave Him up for us all. If we have only one memory, isn’t this one enough? Why is this the memory I most often take for granted? He cut open the flesh of the God-Man and let the blood. He washed our grime with the bloody grace. He drove the iron ore through His own vein. Doesn’t that memory alone suffice? Need there be anything more? If God didn’t withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need?
…All gratitude is ultimately gratitude for Christ, all remembering a remembrance of Him. For in Him all things were created, are sustained, have their being. Thus Christ is all there is to give thanks for; Christ is all there is to remember. To know how we can count on God, we count graces, but ultimately there is really only One.”
I remember this Perfect Gift. And it is enough.

This is the eighth in a series on Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right WhereYou Are.  Join me this time next week for a reflection on Chapter nine.

Related:
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter One
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Two 
One Thousand Gifts: Chapter Three
One Thousand Gifts: The Now Sanctuary
One Thousand Gifts: The Hard Eucharisteo 
One Thousand Gifts: The Great Beauty Hunt 
One Thousand Gifts: Seeing Through the Glass