Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lessons from the Garden: My favorite child / triage

Just to clear things up- I dont have a favorite child.  I love all my kids all the time.  :)

But when it comes to the garden, the tomato is the favored one.  When you have record rains and despite all your efforts, the weeds are taking over, you have to concentrate your energy.  There is only so much time to give to weeding and tending.  Some things don't get attention.  Sorry green beans. 

The tomatoes win me every year.  It could be because the tomato and mayonnaise sandwich is the best thing to eat ever.   It could be because they are so versatile, going in just about any dish I make this time of year.  I can freeze them, I can can them.  I will be tasting their goodness on the darkest days of winter. 

I don't know why I choose tomatoes over the other vegetables, but I do and I am rewarded now with a bumper crop of these jewels.  The green beans are gone, covered by weeds.  The carrots are hanging on, but there has been a lot of rain for those guys to take.  And the beets are there, but I haven't really dug them up to check on them.

Sad to say, I have had to learn how to do triage on relationships at times.  I have had some relationships that I worked really hard on, even when there was every sign that that relationship was pretty one sided and unhealthy.  I have willed a relationship to be more than it was, but the weeds and floods took it away. 

I now have a pretty good radar for when a relationship is going to suck the life out of me.  I don't mean that I wouldn't stick by a friend's side through a hard time; that is the very essence of friendship.  I mean that sometimes a friendship is not live-giving to both people.  One person is getting encouraged, built up and supported and the other person is ignored. 

I don't know that I am explaining it well because it is one of those things that when you are in the situation, you know it.  And before, I would try try try to get another person to join in the kind of relationship I wanted.  Now I know I can only give what I can give and receive what God brings my way. 

It sounds sad to let some friends go, but when you see the fruit prospering in a healthy relationship, it is a beautiful thing. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lessons from the garden: get by with a little help from your friends

Back in the spring I worked and worked.  I dug up soil, I planted, I mulched.  I took little moments when my toddler was happy and got as much in the ground as I could.  But the day came when it was too late in the season to plant my seeds and I still had big empty spaces in the garden. 

I faced my limits and I accepted them.  There is only so much time I can give. 

And then my neighbor texts- do you want some watermelon plants? 

They had some volunteer plants from last year and I filled in my last spaces with these gifts.

We do what we can and when we can't, many times God sends someone to fill in the gaps.  He made us to not be able to do it all on our own.  He made us to need others. 

Sometimes I'm the giver and sometimes I'm the receiver.  I have to be open to both.

And the old adage is true "good fences make good neighbors".  We have to know how much we can give and how much we can't give.  We have to know when its time to ask and receive help. We have to be honest with others and ourselves. 

Because this garden isn't just for us anyway.  When zucchini is coming out of our ears and tomatoes are falling from the vine, we see that's its all a gift its all grace.

We are all on the receiving end all the time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

lessons from the garden: grace for our limitations

I ran out of time.  Just not enough time to get it all in the ground.  I took the 15 minutes I had here and there and did what I could while keeping an eye on a toddler.  But still, there are sections of my garden that just don't have anything planted. 

And thats OK.

I was on the front porch the other day and noticed something coming up by one of the bushes.  It looked familiar.  It happens to us every year, stray pumpkin seeds from our jack o lanterns find their way into the ground and sprout.  Our front porch is north-facing and in constant shade, so they never grow there well.

I took those sprouts and planted them in one of the garden plots that was not going to get planted this year.

In my little 20 minute time frame, I had filled up that plot.  We may have pumpkins this year, and that wasn't even in the plan.

I spend a lot of mental energy grumbling about what I haven't gotten done.  I set goals for myself and then see myself fall short of them. 

Life is messy and there are so many things we can't predict or plan for.

But there is grace.

There are things planted by accident, seeds of providence that are laid in the ground of our hearts.  They sit there and grow without us even being aware of it.  Its all a gift.

God works the soil, He waters it.  He is the master gardener.

We just let Him work and are thankful for the fruit of His hands.

Forgive me, God for thinking that I make things happen.  It is all your work, all your grace and love that brings good things.  Thank you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lessons from the garden: saying no to good things

Ascension is this week, which means Pentecost is near.  An old Romanian woman once told me to have everything planted by Pentecost. *  Then someone asked this woman, "When is Pentecost?" and she replied "When everything is planted." 

A beautiful picture of the interwovenness of the church and our lives.

But its true, if you look at the seed catalogs, most things should be in the ground by beginning of June.  And I am at the point where I have just accepted that we will probably not get planted everything we wanted to this year.

And thats OK.

A few years ago, I was in a situation where I was very limited. There were just not many options in our life situation and that was so hard.  Especially when I felt our needs were not being met.

We are blessed to be in a fruitful time and place now, which presents another set of problems.  So much to do, so much to say yes to!  So many good things that can help us grow and learn!

But still we have the limit of time.

Just 24 hours, just 7 days, just 18 years with them at home.  We dont have more time to give than we have.  We just can't fit everything in.

In homeschooling, in church, in social events, in creative projects, there is always more to do than we have time for. 

So we say no to good things.  We may even say no to great things. 

We discern what is the best fit, the most profitable, the most edifying.  And we say no to everything else.

I will probably only have a few rows of green beans come up this year.  And thats ok.  We will enjoy what we have.  The lettuce may be sparse, but we will relish those salads that we do have.   

Its all a gift.  Thank you.

*(It actually may have been a Ukranian woman.  If I am stealing this story from Phylliska- sorry!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

lessons from the garden: bloom from your roots

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
 Isaiah 58:11
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.  Psalm 1:3
Several years ago I was on a personal retreat. I found a spot on my hike to sit by a stream and pray.  I came to these passages and I just cried.  I felt like the opposite of prosperous, well-watered garden. I felt dry deep in my bones. 

Our family was in a difficult place.  There were many burdens and griefs in my heart.  And I remember as I prayed I asked that these verses would be true for me.  That God would guide me and satisfy me and that He would bring fruit.  I was thirsty for Living Water.

This year the early spring weather was very strange.  The winter had record-breaking low temps.  The cold held on for a long long time. Then we had rain that flooded many homes.  I have noticed that my azaelea bushes are dead on the top two-thirds of the plant.  I can snap off the branches with my hand.  I wondered if they would come back at all. 

But then I noticed green leaves coming from the base.  And now there are flowers there too.  It looks pretty odd when you see them in the neighborhood.  Dead brown branches on top and vibrant pink and white blossoms on the bottoms. 

This shows me that there is life there.  The roots go deep and even when the cold is too much for some parts of the plant, there is a safe space where the life resides and can make it bloom again. 

As a mother, right now I am focused on my kids' roots.  I am working to instill the truth and love that they will need to draw upon for their whole lives.  They will have hard winters and terrible storms in life, and if they can have roots that go deep, they can make it.

This is also an admonition for me to continue to dig deep and make sure I stay rooted.  With whatever time I can, I must pray. I must read God's word.  I must soak in the worship at church.  My roots need to continue to thrive so that I may bear fruit.

As I see these strange bushes, I am reminded of seeing past what is on the surface. Last year, I dug up a bush that I thought had died.  As I dug, I found that the bush was actually alive and would have come back if I just pruned it and let it be.  I am so quick to judge others by what I see.  I make assumptions on the externals and neglect to trust that God is working on them and in them.  I see them as dead and give up on them, but God has the true vision to see them as they are. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

grab with one hand, release with the other

This weekend, we were in a sticky situation.  Other people's problems affecting us.  Unsure of what we were to do-  We talked about it.  We sat and felt the awkwardness.  We did other things, then we came back to talk some more.

We didn't give up until we were together in it. 

Because thats what matters.

Other people have problems.  We have problems.  But we can't fix other people's lives. 

We gotta be on the same team, the team that is cheering for health, wholeness, a return to God. 

 We are listening ears, shoulders to cry on, and meals delivered.  But at some point there is a place we cannot go.  A place where the pieces have to be put together by those who broke it. 

And we trust that God's love is bigger than any mess anyone can make.  We have faith that God's grace is stronger than the pain we have inflicted.  And we believe that there is not place too dark for God's light to penetrate. 

And we are together.

Monday, April 20, 2015

just a cuppa

Thank you to all of you that stuck with me through lent as I wrote and processed the prayer of St. Ephrem.  It was one of the best lents I have had in a long time, and I think all that writing was good for me to carry the prayer around with me all day. 

So now I am considering what is my writing to be about without the wise words of St. Ephrem to guide me. 

The baby is sleeping through the night now.  I mean like 12 hrs straight sleeping. And I suddenly dont have the dying craving need for caffeine in the afternoon.  I feel like cleaning, like organizing, like getting stuff done on my to do list. 

But I still need to take a moment.  I still need to sit, to reflect, to get keep a little holy space in the middle of my day. 

So I put the kids down for rest time and I make my little cup of tea and I sit.  I check email, I click on totally stupid links from facebook, I find very useful ideas on pinterest.    But the best thing is I just sit and am here to think for just a big and rest.

And I need to write. 

I don't know what the topic will be, but I need to take some time and put down on paper (or screen) the thoughts, ideas and memories swirling in my mind. 

So I will come back here with more writing.  Maybe you will be here reading. 

I am open to suggestions.  Stories, meditations, musings?  Let me know in the comments and maybe it will kick me into my next writing goal.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

for Thou art holy, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

So we have come full circle.  I have walked through the words of this prayer and confronted my own sins and weaknesses.  I have seen the places I am tempted and come up short.  I have asked to be washed clean and forgiven.

And now we look again at the One we have been praying to.  That "Lord and Master" that we referenced way back at the beginning.  And we see that He is not only Lord of my life, right now in the nitty gritty of being a mom in 2015.  We see a glimpse of the eternal.

He is holy, set apart, unlike us but we get glimpses of His goodness in us.  And who God is- is forever.  As one of my kids used to say "No beginning and no end. "

My sloth, despair, lust of power, etc.  will come and go.  I will have struggles and then victory and one day I will go to another place where those things don't really matter.

But God, He is everlasting, without end. 

And tonight we will see Him do what we can't fathom.  We will see him conquer death. 

All these sins that pull us away from him and taint our view of the world, He will overcome them all.  He will trample them down.  He will show that there is no darkness He cannot overcome. 

When we go to church in the dark and wait for the light, we will remember this journey.  As I have prayed, I have been changed.  I am open to receive the Light, the Life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

And not to judge my brother

This line gets snickers from my boys because they have their own seasons of squabbles.  And isn't that really what we all struggle with?  Seeing the fault in others, who are really our kindred? 
This is usually the monologue running in my head:
Wow, has he gained weight.
Her kids are so wild.
She is always complaining.
He is just strange, what's wrong with him?
and on and on and on

What if I had a heart that did not judge and only saw with eyes of love?

Not that all my negative judgements would turn to positive ones--- what if I just received and accepted others as they are.  Without putting a stamp of good or bad on anything about them? 

It sounds impossible.

That's why we are praying for God to do it in us.

Because, like the phrase "you can't choose your family", we don't choose who is on this earth with us. God has made each one of them and put us together in this big global family.  There is the imprint of God on each one of us, can we take the judgemental blinders off so we can see the truth, see the light in each one? 

Help me, oh God, to not judge my brother.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Yea, oh Lord and King, grant me to see my own sin

To see my own sin.  To look in the mirror of my heart and see what is there. 

I can rationalize the things I do or don't do.  I can come up with a million reasons why it is OK for me to do what I know I shouldn't.

I often get in the trap of berating myself.  Sometimes my mental dialogue never lets me off the hook for anything.

I am really good at denial and self-loathing. 

What I am not good at is what I am praying for in this prayer.

I am praying for sight.  I am praying to see. 

And thats why St. Isaac brought back the refrain of "Lord and King".  It takes someone greater than me to help me see.  To heal my blindness that makes me either ignore my sins and faults or wallow in them.

I just need to see.  I need to have the blindfold pulled off and see with honest vision the mess of my heart. 

And thats what confession is.  I bring the bad and the ugly to God. 

And He takes care of it. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

patience and love to thy servant

In the haze of my last baby's early newborn days, I kept saying to her "I'm all yours.  We have all the time in the world.  I'm just going to pour all the love I can on you."  And I did.  I sat and looked at her sweet features.  I nursed her till we both fell asleep.  I didn't do much but love on her. 

But that "all the time in the world" is so short and fleeting.  We get a little window when its OK to ignore the demands around us and just be together. 

Now my moments are usually divided between the needs of 3 kids, a husband and all the details of life.  I am overwhelmed frequently by all that I cannot get done.

Patience and love.  Patience and love.  Patience and love.

I need to go back to that babymoon.  That time when love is in its most distilled form.  Yes, I do the dishes and laundry and errands and bills because I love all these people.  But its not done in that same spirit of timeless, unrushed love.

Love is patient, love is kind.  When we can hush the clamoring of the daily needs and demands, we can hear the heartbeat of love. 

We have time to love.  We have time to look in those eyes.  We have time to say "I love you" one more time.  We have time to listen to a story again. 

Patience with those I love- giving them the gift of time.  Patience with myself- giving myself grace for all I won't get done today.  I'm busy loving.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I am thinking of that scene from Charlotte's Web, when Charlotte is explaining what the word humble means.  Low to the ground was one way of explaining it.

As a mama, I am often low to the ground.  Just today I have squatted pulling weeds, kneeled scraping off stickers from the floor, sat on the bathroom linoleum and read books aloud.  All these things lower me physically, but they don't necessarily  make me humble.

I think mothers struggle as much as anyone with humility.  C.S. Lewis said :

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

 In my experience, there are many ditches along the humble road.  One ditch is to think your way of _________ is the right way.  How you put your baby to bed, how you feed your family, how you handle TV, church, school, etc.   All these have the potential for a mom to feel she has the answers and that others need to know the truth.  These moms are no fun to be around for much time because inevitably something you are talking about will run into an area of their expertise and advice will be freely given, whether you want it or not.  I have been the mom on both ends of that exchange. 

 Another ditch is despair. Its refrain is usually something like "I never do anything right."  The house is a mess, the laundry is piled high, the bills are late, dinner is burnt, my kid cant read yet, my kid throws tantrums, my friends don't call me.  On and on the vortex of despair goes down and down.  There is nothing good to be seen and all the bad is glaring in my face.  And as Lewis said so wisely, this person isn't truly humble because when you are in that spiral you are thinking about yourself all the time. Yup, I have been that mom too.  

These ditches can both come under the dangerous habit of comparing ourselves to others.  I really admire my friends now who are skilled at really listening in a conversation and not comparing their children or house or family to the speaker's situation.  It is hard to do, our bent is to see if we measure up to others.  But a friend once told me, when you compare, it never comes out even.  Either you will be raised up higher or brought down lower than the other person.  

So how can we be humble?  Again, some wonderful words from CS Lewis:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

 Its simplicity is daunting:  don't spend so much time thinking about myself.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

a spirit of chastity

I grew up in the age of "True Love Waits", so like most of you, when I hear the word chastity I think of sexual abstinence before marriage.  After 17 years of marriage and 3 children, that definition is not one that I meditate on as much.

Now, when I pray the prayer of St. Ephrem, I use the more general meaning of "self-restraint" or "self-denial".  Wow, none of the above definitions are ones we see encouraged in popular culture.  Go with your feelings, do what makes you feel good is the mantra we are fed each day. 

We need God's help in this.  Our perception of when to say "enough" is so skewed, we need Him to speak to our hearts and say stop. 

My little toddler is at the stage where she can see the edge of the countertop, but not what is on it.  So she will see a handle and not know that it is a knife.  She reaches up and grabs blindly because of the whims of her desires.  But I see from above and I see the danger and I intervene.

 We need God to do that for us.  We do not have the divine perspective, so we depend on his guidelines, his gentle boundaries to keep us safe. 

For some it is sexual sin, for some it is eating, for some it is too much T.V or video games.  We all have things we have trouble saying no to, or saying "That's enough".  

But like a loving parent, God will give us what we need.  He will give us strength and the prompting of the Holy Spirit so that our hearts can be safe from the things that would hurt us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

But give rather. . .

But give rather. . .
So far we have named sins, weaknesses, symptoms of the human condition that we struggle with and we have asked to be delivered from them.  May they not have a hold on us any more. 

And now the hinge moves and we see what God gives.

There is not a way to have both sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk in the same space as the virtues we will now ask for.  We have to clean the dirt off the windows for the sun to shine through. 

But just as we asked for the sickness of sins to be taken from us, we ask for the healing forces of these virtues to be given.  Please give these, God.

We recognize that just like we cannot rid ourselves of sin in our own power, we cannot put on the righteousness ourselves.  We need God to take the bad and give the good.  We need to let go and then receive.

In our pull- yourselves- up- by - the bootstraps society,  this seems so passive.  We want to DO something to make into ourselves better people. But it isn't us doing the changing.  It is God.

It is just our job to get out of the way.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

idle talk

Woah Nelly.   Does anything characterize 21st century America better than the phrase "idle talk'?  Where do I begin? 

Have you ever watched those home decorating shows that take an hour to show you how one room was renovated?  And most of the time is just talk.  I love watching the craftsmen and women tear down and build new things, but that is not the lion's share of the show.  Most of the show is talking about what they are going to do, what they are doing, and then what they did.  It takes a lot of chatter to stretch what could be a 15 minute show to 1 hour.

There is a southern phrase, "Spitting out words to see where they splatter."  That is the condition we are all afflicted with.  Whether a chat room, message board, facebook comment, texting, realtiy tv, twitter or other modes, we will talk just to hear ourselves.  There is nothing productive coming from it, no deepening of relationships or building others up. 

The thing we need so much and yet run from is silence.  We are like my little baby who will babble away in church, but then is shy and quiet with a stranger.   We don't know the time and place for talk, we let it fill our every waking moment.

And I do this.  I put on the news radio as I cook instead of praying as I work.  I talk on the phone in the car instead of noticing the nature whizzing past me.  I fill the void with noise, not the rich silence in which I can hear God.

Its like I tell my kids a million times.  When I am talking on the phone, I can't hear what you are telling me.  When our ears are filled with the sounds of idle talk, we can't hear God.  When our mouths are constantly talking, we aren't praying.

Oh Lord, have mercy on us and take this spirit of idle talk.  Give us silence. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

lust for power, ambition

I have seen too many movies and TV shows that have criminals, dictators and anti-social types.  That is what comes to mind when I hear "lust for power" and "ambition".  And that is bad because it can make me think I don't have that problem.

But I do.

The way I interact with my kids really shows me my struggles with power and control.  On one hand, God has given me children to raise in the knowledge of Him and that means giving direction and guidance.  On the other hand, God has made my children their own little persons with wills and personalities and paths in life that He will lead them on.  

So there is a dance I do everyday.  Lay out boundaries, give advice, season conversations with wisdom. But mostly I am hoping it sticks.  I am hoping that seeds are planted and that God will be faithful to do the watering and pruning long after I am gone. 

For when it comes down to it, I can only have so much power and so much control. The thing that those Hollywood villans and I do have in common is our finiteness.  We will leave this earth someday and all the words and actions we have done will be done.  All that will be left is our influence. 

So, yes God, take from me the desire to hold onto control.  Take away the need to make all things and people perfect.  Let me be faithful with what you have given me and lay the rest at your feet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

despair, meddling, discouragement

There are days when hope is hard to hang onto.  Children's squabbles wear me down.  My future lawyer has debated with every request.  My future teacher has been just a bit too bossy for all of us to handle.  The dishes and laundry never decrease.  Projects lay unfinished.  Baby needs me all the time. My thoughts drift to an imaginary vacation home on the beach.  . . .

Some translations say despair, some say meddling and some say discouragement. 

I wont even try to go to the Greek or Syrian or whatever this prayer was first written in and figure out the nuances. But just looking in my own life, I can see where they might connect.

What am I really doing when I despair?  I am looking at my life and saying that it is hopeless, that all the things I wish for will not come to fruition.  I cannot do this, that person will never do that, etc. I heap pronouncements and declarations on everyone around me.

Who am I to say when hope runs out?  How can I judge when to give up?

In that way, I am meddling.  I am letting my feelings of discouragement meddle with what God has put in my path.  I am saying what is good and bad instead of receiving what He gives.  I am like the little old lady that sits on her porch gossiping about the neighborhood as they go by.  Except the neighborhood is my life and I judge the events as they come my way. 

I read a wonderful quote today on Elizabeth's blog that gives us a way out of despair:
All the things in this world are gifts and signs. As gifts, they point beyond themselves to the divine giver. As signs, they point beyond themselves to the God they signify and reveal, as a letter reveals the writer. And since God is love, the one thing everything signifies is God's love to us. The whole world is a love letter from God...   (Peter Kreeft)
 Let us see each thing around us as a gift.  The dirty dishes, the fussy baby, the half-done projects. What has God brought to me today? 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Take from me the spirit of sloth

I homeschool, I run a small business, I have a toddler.  Sloth is not something that most people would accuse me of.  It seems more like the laying on the beach, ringing a bell for a servant to wipe your brow kind of word. 

But the furry jungle animal and I do have things in common.  Look at some of the synonyms:

laziness, idleness, indolence, slothfulness, inactivity, inertia, sluggishness, shiftlessness, apathy, acedia, listlessness, lassitude, lethargy, languor, torpidity; literaryhebetude

Ok, so I had to look up hebetude.  (Its the state of being dull or lethargic, FYI)

There are days when I get up and get going and things get done around here.  There are days when I spend way too much time on the internet looking up urgent matters like how tall Geena Davis is (6ft!!) or the wikipedia entry for F. Scott Fitzgerald (did that this morning).   My kids are not neglected, the house is clean enough, but I struggle with that spirit of sloth.  Inertia is a good way to put it, just the difficulty of getting going when I would really just stay put.  

It's really a battle of the wills.   I want to do what I want to do.  Not much different than my toddler throwing a fit when I can't get the crackers to her fast enough. 

I can't say I have conquered this, or am even mildly successful.  I definitely pray this part of St. Ephrems prayer with earnestness.  

One tool that has helped me (not cured me) is to have checklists and a flexible routine.  It takes away the decision part of what to do first.  I look at the list and do what I think I can get done in the time I have.  Or, if I know I wont get something done, I start something that I can put aside when the next interruption comes.  This doesn't mean that I dont ignore the list altogether at times and watch a mind numbing sitcom.  But at least I have  a starting point when I get it together to get started.  

Routines centered around mealtimes have worked best for me.  We usually eat 3 meals a day at home.  So we have to clean up the table and kitchen after every meal so there is not a pile up for the next meal.  The kids are trained to put their dishes away and have after dinner chores, and I can usually get everything picked up that goes in the dishwasher.  I usually dont get to pots, pans and other handwash stuff till evening.  But my goal is to have the counters all clean at night so they are ready in the morning for the next round.  Also, our washer and dryer are in our kitchen, so mealtimes is when I make a shift in the laundry rotations.  I still havent figured out a routine for getting it all folded and put away in a timely manner.  

But as I duel this dragon of sloth, there is grace.  This is a prayer, a petition for strength to overcome what I cannot do on my own.  And God listens. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Oh Lord and Master of my life

I had all the intentions of doing a Lenten meditation based on the Prayer of St. Ephraim several times a week.  But then my toddler started giving up a nap. Which means that her only nap is during morning homeschool time, not in the afternoon when I would usually have "me" time.  Thats when I would write on the blog, or make phone calls, or do anything that required two hands and one brain.

But that hasn't happened for a while now, but I have pondered this question on the days I couldn't write:

Who is the Lord and Master of my life? 

Those words make me a little uneasy.  Ok," Lord" reminds me of Lord Grantham and Downton Abbey so thats ok, but I can't think long on "Master" without difficult images of slavery and beatings coming to mind.   But that is not the kind of Master we serve.  Our Master has a loving, kind yoke that is much easier than the noose of sin. 

What rules my life?  What is the center of my decisions, my schedules, my tasks?  

I would like to say I start the day with a half hour of prayer  before the children arise and receive the grace and wisdom I need for whatever comes my way.  But almost always I sleep until its time for breakfast and everyone is up.  I go by the rhythm and routines we have set up and try to keep the peace among everyone.  If I am successful, we get to bed at night with full tummies, clean clothes and not too many hurts to forgive.

These are the externals, the day to day lists and schedules that are ordered after my family's needs.  But God provides for our needs, so these externals are his provision for what we require to be healthy and whole.

But what about the internals?  What rules my thoughts, my feelings, my daydreams?  When loneliness springs up, where do I go with that?  When someone says something that could be taken negatively, do my thoughts let it go?  When I see others doing something I wish I could do, how does my heart react? 

These are the places where I see that I am not ruled by Love.  I do not give God the reigns of my internal life. My heart runs wherever it pleases, even if it leads me to a thicket of thorns or over a cliff. 

Giving up Facebook for lent was an impulse decision, but it has shown me how much my mind is a minefield.  I ruminate over peoples comments or posts.  I look again and again to see if someone updated the status of their whatever.  I am ruled by the possibilty of novelty, of newness.  The dog startled by the word "squirrel" is me, only my distraction prompt is "People!". 

Providentially, we have also been snowed in for a good chunk of this early part of Lent.  That has of course made us all stir crazy but has given me time to cook some new Lenten meals and to put out birdseed right outside our window. 

It is a small thing, but I find that the little movements outside the window are becoming my new prompts.  I look to see which bird is there now, but approach stealthily so as to not scare them away.  We look up to see what is that new bird and their little peeps become part of our background music.  The original twitter feed. :)

So I am wrestling.  Lent gives me space for that.  Space to see the yuckiness of my heart for what it is and to be honest with myself and God.  I cut some things out so I can give both hands to the hard work of healing, restoration and repentance. 

Before I can even pray the rest, I need God to be Lord and Master over this mess.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

today I will begin

It happens every Lent, usually right in the beginning.  Something to get me distracted.  Something to make me think it is all about me, not all about God.  Feelings try to take the driver's seat to get me off track. 

And I get discouraged.  I see only the failures and shortcomings, of myself and others. 

But realizing my lack of power, control and perfection is really the first step in lent.  Its the first step towards the cross and resurrection.  If I could do this perfectly, there would be no space for God to work.  When I admit that I fail, it opens myself up wide for grace to come in. 

So, I look at today and see where I fell short of the mark.  And I thank God.  I thank him that my messing up is all part of the deal.  And I ask for grace to love others when they mess up. 

Then I go to bed and in the morning I begin a new day.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The best fast

The best fast is to endure everything that God sends your way.   -  St.  Anatoliy of Optina

As I make my shopping list that includes lots of black beans and lentils, this quote struck me.  Almost every year I plan for the things I know are part of lent- prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  But there are always things life throws at me that I couldn't have anticipated.  Discouragements, heartbreak and failures.  Things that I cause and things caused by others but that affect me.

In short, I often feel under attack during the first few weeks of lent.  I feel everything trying to pull my focus away from God.

But God is not absent in these times.  The things that way me down are not burdens he is blind to.  He is with me in the struggle of asceticism, in the difficulty of repentance.  

Endure.  He gives me strength to endure.  I will not have all the answers, I will not respond every time with grace and humility.  But whatever comes my way, I can endure and keep going. 

In the end, I may very well look spiritually like this woman:

But God is like those sweet people surrounding me.  Wheelchair ready, any aid I need is there.  Even if it isnt ready, I keep going.  I endure, and eventually I get there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lenten meditation #1- Lent is like a new toothbrush

A few years ago our dentist demanded that we get one of those fancy sonic toothbrushes.  The kind that are crazy expensive with replacable heads.  This was quite a jump from our usual dollar store toothbrushes but with the dental problems we each have, we decided it was worth it.

The first time I used the sonic toothbrush, it felt like I was brushing my teeth for the first time ever.  I hadn't realized how the traditional low tech toothbrush left so much gook on my teeth until I felt the smooth surface of my newly cleaned teeth.  Wow.

Now, we are still cheapskates.  We use the replaceable heads for way longer than we are supposed to and I am always searching for a bargain on them.  The last set I bought was a store brand and they worked differently, but we still used them (too cheap to take them back).  We have probably used them for a year and last week I ordered a new set from online.

Night and Day.  Using the new toothbrush heads was crazy.  I didnt realize how weak the other brushes were until I used the new ones.  It was that squeaky clean feeling again that I had had the first time.  Awesome.  Made me wish I had switched a year ago. 

Lent is the deep clean of our hearts.  I get hung up on the fasting, the church services, teaching my children all I want them to learn.  But when it comes down to it, we are letting God get in there and do the hard work of wearing off the accumulated layers of gook in our hearts.  Its not like I gamble and shoplift and pillage the rest of the year.  But I forget, I get lazy, I give into the weaknesses of my human nature. 

Like plaque on the teeth, it doesn't get built up in one day and it doesn't go away in one brushing.  Lent is a journey, a process.  It takes us through valleys and darkness and makes us stand in front of the mirror and see ourselves as we really are.  Which isn't always a pretty sight.

But it eventually takes us up to the mountain.  We become the "people of the cross" as we face our Savior and receive the spirit of humility and brokeness that is our only way to the resurrection. 

We will get there, so lets get started. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

a good thing to do in February

When you are sick of the gray skies, the brown grass and the cold temps. . . read a seed catalog. 

It is balm for the soul.  Especially if you are reading the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog.  When the bleak midwinter is closing in, you will find an open window, a breeze of sweet spring air coming through.  A dream will emerge.  A yellow green dream that promises fruit, sustenance and provision.  It is there, you can find it to get you through the gray, cold days. 

here are some snippets:

. . . grown in southern Illinois since at least the 1930's, including by friends of  Abraham Lincolns parents.

. . . An excellent keeper, a beet developed before the days of refridgerators.

. . .  A fully savoyed or crinkle variety

. . . Mortgage Lifter by Radiator Charlie (named because the sale of this popular tomato helped pay his house off)

. . . Aunt Lou's Underground Railroad (brought to Ohio by a runaway slave)

. . . produces an abundance of large, fat, tender, fluted pods.

. . . Drunken Woman.   Gorgeous bright green leaves with ruffled- almost fringed- edges in deep bronze. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

a St. Euphrosynus day

Im not even sure how to pronounce his name, but his story is great.  I won't retell it in detail, but you can read it all here

His icon sits by my kitchen sink because this monk and I have some things in common.  We both have logged a lot of hours in the kitchen.  We both are indispensible yet often invisible to those around us.  We both try to live a life that glorifies God.

But, yesterday was one of those days when I felt at the end of myself.  The baby didn't nap well, which becomes an avalanche of fussiness (for both of us).  By the end of the day I am wrung out like an old mop.

Just from the effort of loving my loved ones.

St. Euphronsynus carried a bit of vision of paradise with him all the time.  Chopping onions, washing dishes, wiping counters.  All the time praying, all the time seeing what we often are blind to.  We are with God, we are walking with God right now.  We are in paradise.  Not a "do this so you can go to heaven" kind of theology, but a right here, right now kind of presence of God with us.   Life fulfilled.

So the older monk's vision of Euphronsynus in paradise was just a window opening to what was already happening.  

His days of cooking, cleaning, mundane tasks were all an overflow of his love of God for those around him.  That's paradise.

St. Euphrosynus, pray for me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I work

The other day I was on the phone trying to make an appointment for a specific day and time.  The woman asked me if I work. With hardly a pause, I replied "Yes"

A couple minutes later a trickle of doubt came to mind.  I know what the woman meant.  Do I get up, get out of the house and go to a place that rewards me for my time and effort with a paycheck?    If she asked in that way, I would have to say no. 

But if you define work as a full schedule of responsibilities that others are depending on you for, a backlog of projects demanding time, and a detrimental effect for days if I have to take off work. . . then I work.

I am not trying to say my life is the same as a mom who works outside the home.  They are different, but they are both hard.  I am thankful for the privileges and perks that come with being a stay-at-home homeschool mom.  But I would be lying if I said there weren't days that I wished I could be in a place where toys are not perpetually strung across the floor and have lunch with adults that have other topics besides legos and star wars. 

So, lady on the phone, I may not work in the way you do.  But my time is valuable and limited, like you.  So, yes.  I work. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sun or a star?

Typical homeschool lunch conversation today- what is the difference between a sun and a star?  Despite my sons' doubts, Mother came through with the right answer.

In their essence, a sun and a star are the same thing.  In their function, they are different.  A sun has something (or many things) orbiting it.  Every sun is a star, but not every star is a sun.

As I sat here, trying to be faithful to my 5 minutes of writing, it occurred to me that this is a good metaphor for what the "selfie" craze is all about.  Obsessively tweeting our every move, seeing what all our friends are doing via instagram, etc.  Are we all trying to be suns?  Are we trying to have others orbit around our daily doings?  Do we think that the details of our lives are the most interesting thing for everyone else to hear? 

Hmm, I am starting to sound like an old person.  Obviously, by having a blog for the past 8 years, I have my part in all this technological self absorbtion.  Ahem.

BUT- what is our center?  What is the most important thing, the thing that gives us meaning and direction? 

We may think we are a sun. I have enough people dependent on me to make me think I am the center of it all.  In fact, we are not suns. 

We are stars that shine bright, but we orbit the Creator that IS the light.  He is the beginning, end and center of it all.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

God revealing Himself

Today is Theophany/ Epiphany.  Whether you are talking about Christ's Baptism or the Magi, its all about God showing us who He is. 

When I think of baptism, I think of a woman's baptism I attended several years ago.  This woman had been forced into prostitution when she was just 14.  The men who took her changed her name so her family would not be able to find her.  They kept her prisoner for years and used her for their gain. 

When I met her, she was probably in her 40s.  She was a mother, she was no longer a prisoner.  She had found some people who helped her walk the road to freedom.  And most importantly, she found God. She found the Healer. 

And she took a new name.  Just a simple, common name.  But one that was of her choosing.  I don't think she knew this, but she chose the name of an ancient Christian queen.  A name that means "bright shining light". 

I don't live near her, but I happened to be visiting her church the day of her baptism.  For all the sermons I have heard that baptism is about rebirth, it never was clearer than that day.  All the shame, the torment, the darkness was left in that water and what came forth was a bright shining light.  She rose up as a new woman, made whole and covered from head to toe in grace.

So that is what I think of on Theophany.  God breaking through the cloud of death and destruction that usually surrounds us.  Our salvation revealed through a man in a river.   The goodness and mercy of Christ poured out on a woman who knew so much pain.  We too can have new life.