Monthly Archives: February 2015

Making a Home

For years I dreamt of having a house. A place to call my own. Out of this desire, I’ve always tried to make any room, no matter how small, into a home. This is true whether it’s been a dorm room, a field station bunk bed, or an office in my parents’ house. I created comfortable places, surrounded by my stories, but also places where others could visit and tell theirs.

After a while the dream of owning a house faded. I secretly enjoyed living in small spaces within a community – whether that be family or school. In these homes within a home I had the freedom to travel and to change jobs since I didn’t have to bear the responsibilities of keeping up a house. I also had the comfort of knowing that other people were around. I felt safe.

Now, after giving up that dream, I find myself with a house and a bundle of fears. I wonder about traveling away from this place for any length of time and having something break down or fall apart. I worry that the finances won’t be there to keep it up. I’m also concerned that I may spend too much time alone now that no one lives down the hall. All this on top of the deep grief I feel at the loss of my mother who wanted me to care for this house.

However, I inherited more than a building. This was the home she and my father had purchased for their retirement. They wanted a place that welcomed people for meals and was grandchild friendly. Children, grandchildren, family members, and many friends were the lifeblood of this place. Every surface in the living room – the mantel, dining room hutch, curio cabinet, and bay window shelf – was full of photographs, each an image of dear friends and family. So whether the dining room table was surrounded with family for a birthday celebration or my mom and I were sitting down to a simple meal, the lives of the people my mom and dad loved were always evident. Some of my mom’s last words centered on the joy she knew in having had a lovely family and a lovely home.  And it truly was a home for many people.

Even though I am thankful for this gift, this is not the house I dreamt about owning, and definitely not the way I wanted it to come about. I wanted my mother to be part of helping set up a house as she brought a peace lily for the front table or made curtains for the bedroom. I wanted my father to help paint rooms and plant trees. But, I don’t have that dream, I have a building – and I have the legacy of my parents. So, I’ve decided to celebrate the lives my parents lived in this place by remembering their spirits through my own expressions of home.

IMG_3399The multitude of photographs are now put away and the frames are ready to be filled with other images. The space is ready for new memories.  Into this home I invite friends, family, and guests to fill it with their lives and creativity.

  • A place of story and transformation.
  • A pilgrimage way station.
  • A writers’ retreat. A shelter.
  • A place to feast on life.

These ideas come from my mother and father who encouraged their children to dream and grow. They read to us, provided us with marvelous opportunities, and surrounded us with love and faith. Out of this soil I am eager to revisit that dream of having a house and to become the active creator, instead of the passive recipient, of the blessings of home.

A lovely home.

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Ash Wednesday – Stop Now

IMG_3398It snuck up once again, this beginning of the season of Lent. I’m tempted to just overlook it and continue barreling through the coming weeks with the multitude of tasks on my list. What about you? Have you stopped for this day?

As I see it, I’m not ready to step back and reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross. I should have planned better and worked harder over the past weeks so I could have time to spend more time in prayer, Bible study, or even in gatherings of other believers. However, that’s not the point. Lent isn’t about being ready to reflect, it’s about reflecting in the midst of our harried lives.

In one of the readings for this day, from the second chapter of Joel, we see God calling people to gather to him, to turn and repent. Not when they are ready, but now. Now when a baby is nursing. Now when a wedding is about to take place. Now when we are running off to our next meeting.

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
    gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
    assemble the elders;
gather the children,
    even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her chamber.
– Joel 2:15-16

So, today it is time to turn even if we are not ready. There is no better time. Waiting for a project to be completed or a relationship to heal will only lead to more work that requires more waiting and one more thing to prepare. Neither does God want us to wait to figure out world hunger or the latest political maelstrom. All he wants is our hearts as they are now – no matter how broken and withered they may be. In actuality we will never have any thing worthy to offer him that he hasn’t already showered upon us in his mercy.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.
– Joel 2:12-13

It is our hearts he wants and he wants them so he can change them and so he can turn us towards him and out to help the world. If we seek to do either of these things on our own, we will only fall. The surprising thing is that as we acknowledge this, God comes to us in his mercy. His Spirit fills us and in this Spirit we live.

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
– Joels 2:28-29

So, it turns out that preparing for Ash Wednesday would have gotten me started on the wrong foot. I would have thought I was in control and had something to offer. Now, all I can do is trust that God will care for these projects, or let them go, as I take time to stop and look at him. This time reminds me who I am and helps me to step out of my self-sufficient ways.

How will you spend this day and the next forty of Lent?

  • poetry
  • scripture
  • prayer
  • worship service
  • coffee with a friend
  • museum visit
  • walk in nature
  • service to neighbors

Whatever the choice, I encourage us all to stop what we are doing in the midst of life, stop now, even just for a few moments, to find ways to connect with God anew and to relish his grace and mercy poured over us.

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Leave the Story Up to Him

IMG_2552“Our memories are ultimately only fragments, broken by our forgetting, pieces of a past we are not always even sure is our own. And they remain fragments – a broken story – until they are made whole by prayer. In prayer, God mends the fragments into the art of a life, like stained glass, like a quilt, like cobblestone bricks on a circling path.” – Travis Scholl, Walking the Labyrinth

The art of a life.

What a beautiful and life giving image! I don’t know about you, but I can get so caught up in doing all the tasks on my list on a given day that by the end I can’t make sense of it. It’s as if I had paint, clay, ballet shoes, and a piano and just threw everything around without much thought. The materials were good, but the end product doesn’t fit together.

Just this past week several of my days included setting up appointments, running to the store for last minute meal preparations, meeting with students, getting lost in the Web, writing blog posts, cleaning the house, sending off thank-you notes, filling out forms, making dinner, and, finally, sitting in front of the television. In the end I wondered why I’m doing any of it, except to make it to the next day. It seems to be a mess with little meaning.

Many of these activities have potential to be part of something more cohesive – a welcome home for guests, a book for fellow pilgrims, a thriving ministry for students and faculty. The pieces are there. Yet I realize there are often too many pieces for a single picture, or even the wrong pieces. Can a writing life really fit with the schedule of a single woman trying to set up a home, grieve the loss of a mother, build new connections with family, and serve graduate students and faculty? Oh, and then there are the volunteering I’ve agreed to do; the travels I’ve taken and plan to take; the unwritten articles and the untaught classes; the many museums I want to visit; and the meals with friends and walks outside. How can all of these things fit together?

In the end I see a lot of ragged edges and mismatched pieces as I try to create a whole. Maybe what I need is to find a different place to volunteer or a new writing project. Or, a new community of friends who would challenge me just a bit more. But all my efforts usually end up with the same result: a frustrating collage of activities that doesn’t make sense even to me.

Into this whirlwind, Travis Scholl’s words speak peace. Reading his record of walking a labyrinth during Lent reminds me that the meaning of my life is not in my hands. Not in any of our hands. Life comes together as I look beyond myself, especially as I seek God in prayer, learning to see in the way he sees. Through this practice I can look back and realize how these disparate activities fit together into a work of art I could never have intentionally made myself.

After the fact, and through God’s eyes, I can see how what I thought was just another meeting turned into a conversation on education that eventually led to a job offer and to the writing of a book. I can also see how each time I vacuum I am becoming more attuned to the moment and place in which I live, relishing the small things. Through prayer my vision changes and I can tell the story of the past and look forward to the one that is ahead.

I can pick up the materials God has set before me each day, work with them, enjoy them, and leave the story up to him.

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