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A Handful of Crumbs- Thoughts on Grace & Identity

18 Nov

I picked up this memoir by Kim Sunee, “Trail of Crumbs” partially because the cover was pretty, partially because it was on clearance for $5, but mostly because of the subtitle,

“Hunger, Love and the Search for Home.”

That subtitle could just as well describe the book I am currently working on, “The Wizard of God.”

Anyways, it’s a beautiful and intriguing life story. Kim was abandoned on a bench in South Korea when she was three, left with nothing but a fistful of crumbs to survive on. She sat there for three days until a policeman finally brought her to an orphanage where she was adopted by an American couple.

Fast forward many years. Kim meets a wealthy French businessman man who is charming and wonderful and gives her everything she has ever wanted. I was swept into the beauty of their life together, living in the countryside of France in a huge house surrounded by orchards and gardens. Kim cooks these fabulous dinner parties for traveling guests, exquisite combinations that made me long for new food and new places. Her lover bought her a building in Paris to open her own book store that specializes in poetry. There she meets fascinating artists and writers from all over the world. Her life seemed ideal. A fairy tale. She came from nothing, and was given everything.

And it wasn’t just money. He loved her too. Passionately,  in a way that made all their friends jealous.

That would seem like the end of the perfect story, right?

No. she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t stay. She left him and threw everything she had away.

Why? Two reasons stuck out in my mind.

After being abandoned as a child, and growing up in an American family that was emotionally distant, she traveled to try to “find herself,” find a place where she belonged.

She thought she could find herself in a man, in this group of friends who were built around her in France, but it wasn’t enough.

She needed the one she came from to give her an identity.

The other reason was, in her lack of knowing who she was, in her struggling with abandonment and rejection, when offered the wonderful gifts of not only a beautiful life, but the heart of a loving man, she felt like she didn’t deserve it.

It’s impossible to accept grace when we don’t know who we are.

She was left in this world with nothing but a handful of crumbs, and so that’s what she built her identity around. She tried to get professional help, but it never subsided the ache. The more her lover lavished expensive and beautiful gifts on her, the more empty she felt.

I am not trying to psychoanalyze this woman specifically. The reason I write about her story in particular because as I was reading it I was struck with the idea that is perhaps the human condition.

We were born into this world with nothing, naked and screaming. We are often left with nothing more than a handful of crumbs, a few grains of rice, pieces we try to put together to make a life for ourselves, to create a home and a family, to find a sense of belonging.

A little boy in a slum in Chennai India, getting his one meal of the day.

Some of us find grace, find God.

We see He is not angry, we see He has given us good things. But often the more He gives, the harder it is to accept. That sense of debt that was established sometime in the losing of our innocence surfaces.

“Who am I to deserve this?”

The question can really be edited, cut in half, leaving the first three words for us to contend with,

“Who am I?”

It’s easy to see the brokeness, the tragic mistakes we’ve made, the reasons we were left with nothing.

It’s a lot harder to see who we really are:

Sacred, beautiful, works of art.

“It is our light  not our darkness that most frightens us.”

C.S Lewis said it this way in The Weight of Glory, 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

So, what then?

Is there some simple formula? Do we do like this awesome girl and repeat in the mirror every morning convincing ourselves that we are really wonderful people?

I love this video. Yet, there are  not enough magic words to overcome a lifetime of feeling we are unworthy.

There can never be enough people telling you how brilliant or fabulous you are, when your  inner voice that tells says you will never be enough.

It is only in the opening of our ears to hear the whispers of The One who created, the only one with the right to tell us who we are. It is only in believing that we are free

To quote Lewis again,

“And that is enough to raise your thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

We may see ourselves as having only a handful of crumbs, but there is a veil that has been ripped and beyond that, there is a feast we can sit down and partake in anytime we like.

Once we see this feast, once we understand we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters, we can invite the whole world to come, sit, and dine.

Naming Grace Moments

23 Aug

I just got home after being away six weeks. I also just finished Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts.”

It is a book you have to read slowly, breathe in every sentence, let it affect you and wake you up.

Indeed, that is her cry: “Wake up!”

See that everything in your life is a gift, that joy only comes when choose to be aware of the grace that surrounds us, always.

In naming these “grace moments” we remember how blessed we are, how beautiful and worth living life really is. We see God.

“When I name it, the naming itself manifests its meaning: to know it comes from God. This is a gift! Naming is to know a thing’s function in the cosmos- to name is to solve mystery. In naming that which is right before me, that which I’d otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible. The space that spans my inner emptiness fills in the naming. I name and I know the face I face. God’s! God is in the details; God is in the moment. God is in all that blurs by in life- even hurts.”

And so, here is my attempt to name just a few of the gifts that I’ve seen and experienced the past six weeks as I traveled to North Carolina, New England and back.

1. Blueberry pie, made of blueberries picked that day, constructed of awkward whole wheat lattice, actually tasting delicious.
2. The marvelous invention of Air Conditioner, a perfect example of “you don’t know what you go till it’s gone.”
3. Swimming in lakes so cool it takes a lot of guts to dunk under, emerging to see a mountainous background.
4. Picking fresh basil and orangeish cherry tomatoes from my mom’s garden, carrying handfuls of each to the kitchen, inhaling my hands and letting the scent linger.
5. Watching Houdini, the scruffy lovable mutt I rescued in Texas who now resides in New Hampshire, sleep on his back, paws sprawled out, belly open for scratching.
6. My brother’s hugs.
7. Going exploring in the woods with Jean-Thomas, my brother and my nephew, only to “discover” the remnants of a “Native American camp.”
8. Large empty swimming pools.
9. Biting into a roll of Sushi, “I don’t remember what this is called, but it’s my absolute favorite!”
10. The “good burn” of wasabi.
11. Conversations that awaken the spirit.


12. Water wars, the only weapon- the hose.
13. Blueberry pancakes at my favorite diner that is made from a boxcar with my family.
14. Being ok with the memories that hit me every corner I turn in the town I grew up in.
15. Hugging my 98 year old grandma, and getting the sense that even though she has lost most of her memory, she is at peace.
16. Seeing the edge of New York City by train, only to go underground and emerge in the middle of Grand Central Station.
17. Hot dogs and Coke in Time Square.
18. The wonder of going from country to city to country to city and realizing I am a country girl at heart but I love to visit the city.
19. Getting lost of the miles of road the eccentric millionaire hermit has built on the mountain my parents live on.
20. Walking out of the woods to see an extensive field, fruit trees and wild flowers surrounding a large pond.
21. Writing the first few chapters of the book and knowing with God all things are possible.
22. How I can be reading about a civil war veteran, a brain scientist, and a farmer’s wife and somehow make connections with all of them.
23. People who live inside songs- music flows through them and out of them and the world is left stunned by the beauty of their existence.
24. Making poetry with Becca Hall out of the menu at a Italian cafe by crossing out certain words in the history descriptions.
25. How the landscape changes as the coast approaches and the air becomes salty-clear.
26. Lobster rolls, with chunks of lobster meat the size of my thumb.
27. Reading gravestones from the 16th century.
28. Not speaking to old friends for a year and still being able to text them, show up at their house to spend the night, and eat and talk as if we do that every day.
29. Being surrounded by old brick in Boston.


30. Archaic bookstores with hidden back corners and leather chairs.
31. Pugs wrinkles.
32. The way I am known better then I know myself.
33. Breaking through communication barriers, even when it hurts, it is so much better on the other side.
34. The relief of letting go.
35. That I am not forced into a job that I hate.
36.  Dreams, beginning to unfold.
37. Being more excited then afraid of the future.
38. Knowing I am loved, always.
39. You.

40. Messages, scrawled across boulders in Central Park.

 

“If my inner eye has God seeping up through all things, then can’t I give thanks for anything? The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible. And it is the art of gratitude that makes joy possible. Isn’t j0y the art of God?”

Can we postpone Jesus' coming by expecting it?

19 May

On Saturday, we are all going to be singing the classic 90’s REM song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

There’s been a lot of hoopla about the May 21st people.

The obvious answer from most Christians is simply quoting verses like Matthew 24:36. But how far is too far when expecting the end of the world? Maybe a better
question is, what exactly are we expecting?

The following is  excerpt from “The Cloud and the Line- Alternative Thoughts on Morality” By Paul Gibbs. It gives unique insight into these questions. It is also the book I’ve been helping type out and edit, and I am very excited about it. 🙂

Please click here and like the page to get updates on release information.

Jesus paints a wonderful picture filled with hope of his kingdom on earth, but only hints at what is to come. He is not exactly explicit about times and dates. Instead He urges us to build towards something very cool, somewhere, at some time in the future.

Why would the Father tease us?

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

He seems to be stressing the importance of being prepared for His coming, while purposely withholding any real clue as to when that might be.

Why?

First of all, we have to understand that Jesus agreed with His fellow sages about the Judgment Day. Much of what He says about His coming seems to be in line with their thinking. His statements seem to be more like reminders than something totally new.

What makes Jesus’ statement different from His contemporaries is that they believed that the coming of the Messiah and the Day of Judgment would be simultaneous. Jesus, however, teaches His disciples that these two events will not happen together. He, the Messiah, has come yet there is still time to get ready. So how much time do we have?

We do not know.

And there is a reason for that.

There is a reason why this is hidden, why it is not yet being disclosed, why you and I should not waste too much time trying to work it out.

It was said by these sages:

“May the bones of those who calculate the end be blasted away.”[i]

Why would the rabbis so harshly warn people not to spend their time calculating the end?

You may find the answer quite shocking.

Because they also said:

“It has been taught that three things come when the mind is diverted: The Messiah, finding a lost article and a scorpion.

So don’t postpone his coming by thinking about it![ii]

I was taught as a young man that we can speed up the coming of Christ by reaching the whole world with His message. Now here, the writing of Jesus’ colleagues suggest that there are also ways we can slow it down.

Can this be true?

And if so, why?

On a road trip back from California, my family and I pulled in to a New Mexico motel. It was the usual simple set up, just two double beds and a shower. I prepared to crash and sleep as usual before getting up to complete the second leg of our journey.

This particular night, however, was a little different.

There was a scorpion in the room.

It was the first time I’d seen a scorpion in real life and I wasn’t expecting to see one ambling along the foot of my bed. I was quite sleepy, but still a little panicked. My tired mind went through a questioning process:

“There’s a scorpion in my bedroom! Is this usual? Is it dangerous? Should I just leave it? Should I get rid of it? How do I get rid of it?”

For a moment I considered letting it go, hoping it would crawl back outside, but then my imagination ushered in the possibility of one of my sons getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and stepping barefoot onto it. I am one of those people who doesn’t find it easy to kill insects. Instead I spend considerable time hunting them down, catching them in paper cups in order to re-enact the film Born Free, and then setting them loose in my garden. The idea of hurting this scorpion that seemed so little was troublesome to me. It was only small and fairly transparent.

Could it really do that much damage?

Finally, I decided not to take the risk, and I squashed it with my shoe. Only later did I find out that with this particular scorpion, that was exactly the right thing to do!

My biggest problem with the scorpion was that I was not expecting it and, therefore, unable to handle it.

If we expect things, we tend to handle them. Our humanity wants to handle God. We secretly hope to force Him into some kind of deal. Deadlines and deals seem to go hand in hand.

But God is not only unimaginable. He is also unmanageable.

Could it be that God purposely wants us to be ready but not expectant?

Why? Because our readiness will be more genuine.

If we are expecting God to turn up and judge us, we are more likely to be doing the things He tells us to do only to avoid punishment or gain a reward. If we are not expecting it, then our actions are more likely to be motivated by authentic faith.

Many of us are tempted to give depending upon what we will get in return.

The Father is calling you not to a deadline, but to become a lifeline.

 


[i] Rabii Shmuel bar Nachmani said this in the name of Rabbi Yonaton (Sanhedrin 97b)

[ii] Rabbi Zera (Sanhedrin 97a)

 

Crabgrass and Oak Trees- A Review

5 Apr

As soon as I read the back cover of Crabgrass and Oak Trees, I knew it was going to be fresh and life-giving.

Crabgrass and Oak Tees is a beautiful book about what the church is.

It’s hard to see the church as beautiful at times. We’ve all been disillusioned, hurt by hypocrisy, jaded.

In our escape from “churchianity” into something more natural and life-giving,  it is normal and even trendy to focus all that the church is doing wrong.

But as I began to read Crabgrass and Oak Trees a sense of peace and relief began to grow and entangle its way into my heart, because I saw a glimpse of what the church is doing right.

Author Jonathan Almanzar begins by sharing a memory of his childhood, a Sunday School assignment to draw a picture of the church. After drawing a massive Oak tree, his teacher was impressed, and the image stayed in his mind for years.

A symbol of strength and security. Ageless and mighty, towering over the rest of creation.

Years later, he drove through Kansas after a tornado. When he saw the disassembled oak trees strewn about the ground, his ideal collapsed and the metaphor in his mind began to shift. Maybe the oak tree wasn’t the best picture of the church after all.

When the winds and the storms rage, the strong fibers of the tree had no bend which caused them to snap.

“But there was something that didn’t budge. Something tiny, almost powerless. Something that had been trampled over, devoured, cut down, fed to animals, and looked on with general disdain. Crabgrass.”

Almanzar goes on unpack the analogy of a church that is “grassroots” instead of corporate, giving in secret instead of broadcasting, focusing on inside-out transformation instead of an emotional show.

Page after page there are breath-taking stories of “normal” people being  Jesus in their communities.

My favorite story was about a dying church in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. The church was an old oak tree that had once stood in splendor, but was now rotting from the inside out. A few of the leaders got together for a retreat, and began to be open and honest about the condition of their church. They begin to confess and realize that their focus had been more on their twelve million dollar building addition and less on the homelessness, drug abuse, and domestic violence of those who lived beneath the church’s shadow.

They began to change things. With a church population of mostly retired elderly, they began giving from what they knew. Not just money, but time and skill. They taught classes on life skills, parenting, budgeting, and various trades, enabling many families to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. They started a feeding program- not just an ordinary soup kitchen, but a cafe with real delicious choices of food, completely run by volunteers in the church. This group of elderly ordinary folks from a “dead” church, changed their entire town.

The book is full of earthy, tangible snapshots of heaven coming to earth. Lives transformed. Whole communities brightened. A world being shown the love of Jesus.

This is the church.

I recommend this book to anyone who may need to be reminded that the church is indeed Jesus’ natural plan for the world. And it is beautiful.

You can read a free chapter here: http://rhizomepublishing.com/free-chapter/

Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/crabgrassandoaktrees

Author’s blog: http://openapologies.com

Thanks to Jeff Goins for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

Monet Refuses the Operation

9 Feb

I never post things by other usually, but in this case I couldn’t resist. I just started Plan B- Further Thoughts On Faith by Ann Lamott and she opens it  with this poem by Lisel Mueller. It really speaks for itself, I have no comment to make other then it ratifies  my continuing realization that life cannot be defined, that art expresses what science cannot.

Doctor, you say there are no halos
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

The Flash

6 Nov

When I was a kid I lived in books. I was shy and lonely and scared and books were my comfort, my friends. Through stories, I lived adventure, I lived beauty. I could be anyone I wanted to be. When I was nine or so I stumbled upon the world of LM Montgomery. While best known for her beloved Anne of Green Gables series, I became bosom buddies with another orphan girl.  Emily Of New Moon opened my eyes to a world of enchantment. She saw things I knew I could see, but felt crazy for feeling it. Emily was a writer. I recently re-visited the first book in the trilogy, and felt like I was reclaiming a part of myself that has always been there but in recent years, I am rediscovering.

“It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty.

Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside- but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond- only a glimpse- and heard a note of unearthly music. This moment came rarely- went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it.

She could never recall it- never summon it- never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing.

Tonight the dark boughs against the far off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window sill in a storm, with the singing of ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in church, with the glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of the ice palms on a twilight pane, with felicitous new word when she was writing down a description of something.

And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.”


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