Lenten Wilderness Guide (Week 3)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 3: Hang in there! 

     The world that we find ourselves navigating is no doubt a fast-paced, next-day-delivery, instant-oatmeal kind of world. Therefore, when life brings us into an elongated season –especially one that involves suffering or even growth– we are often caught off guard by the length of the season. We know though that some lessons just cannot be learned overnight, as tough as that may be. Just like a golf swing cannot be perfected in one day, our spirituality cannot be quickly downloadable like a PDF file. The good stuff takes time to know intimately.

We see in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus takes a long season of forty days to engage with tough spiritual questions, all while he is starving for food. These temptations that the devil brought forth centered around Jesus’ identity and mission. Had he not known who he was or what he was here to do, perhaps the devil’s tantalizing temptations would have been harder for Jesus to resist.

As people of long-seasoned faith, we need spiritual disciplines in our lives that we practice every day–on the days when we feel like it and on the days that we do not. Just like it takes training to prepare for a college entrance exam or a 5k, our faith takes training. In order for the best of our Christian tradition to come forth from us in the hardest moments, we must practice it every day, so that it becomes our rhythm, our mother tongue. Spiritual practices like prayer, fasting, self denial, sacred time, service, justice and resistance work are just a few practices that help us live our faith values every day and prepare us for the long seasons that life will bring.

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Offering yourself and your gifts – What simple serving projects could your family do together this week? Some ideas might include:. taking a bag of groceries to the food bank, gathering old clothes to take to a shelter, writing letters or drawing cards to send to people who need them, etc.

Acts of Worship: Slow down this week and find space to wait. When you get home from work or the day’s activities, if you usually turn on the TV or get on your phone, consider leaving it off one night. Create space to sit, wait, and listen to your spirit and to God’s spirit. Perhaps there has been something nagging at you that you need to stop and listen to. Perhaps there is someone you need to talk to or reconcile with but being busy has kept you from having to face that. Perhaps you need to make a life decision but have felt stuck and need the space to talk to God about it. Whatever the case may be, sit and wait for God to make the way forward for you.

Acts of Devotion and Spirituality: As we journey through this Lenten season, there are several weeks left. Consider reading a few chapters a day to read the entirety of the Gospel of Matthew. There is often so much blessing in reading a gospel in its entirety because it situates the text in it 1st century antiquity and gives a powerful narrative to popular texts that we focus on often.

My Quarrel with Writing

The hesitancy of sitting down to write is one which wins most often between the choice of the busying of my hands with other more-pressing, more-important, more-satiating tasks, and writing. Writing is always time-consuming and sometimes energy-draining; it is a creation and thus, leaves the creator vulnerable to critique if it is shared with others.

If it is forced, writer and reader see through it immediately. If it is organic, it speaks for itself.

While I used to write somewhat prolifically, I now am much more accustomed to distracting myself with other tasks. Surviving life and trying to find an authentic, faithful, accountable way of maneuvering my whole self in the world takes a great deal of my energy. Couple that with my care-taking posture and I sometimes have little self to create.

Further, there are so many manifestations of unjust systems that are built to intentionally keep folks (both human and nonhuman) at the bottom; these manifestations spring up every day and become accessible to us via social media platforms if they do not happen to be local. There is always something to write about, or to let that space of creation be devoted to listening.

There will always be a truth and untruth in the creation that writing brings (teachings from the principles of nonviolence). If I cannot hold both of those realities, then I cannot give my whole self to anything, but especially the creation that writing produces.

In light of these elucidations of why I frequently claim writers block as a malicious disease with which I have been plagued, the irony remains that I am actually writing this piece and that my agency remains to take up the pen. Because it is in the writing, the creation rather than consumption, that I re-acquaint myself with the discipline of being faithful to who I am. I am a writer who, at her very core, believes that consumption, as a way of being, is the very worst posture one can take through life. A writer who will live alive and die believing love is the only way to be fully alive.

I will never apologize for loving. I will never apologize for being me.

That’s why I write today.


The End of a Semester…

The end of the semester.
It usually brings an enormous flood of un-interrogated emotions. The closest, most pernicious emotion is exhaustion, followed closely by analysis of all the mistakes of the semester. The rat-race that is graduate school technically provides a 3 week reprieve from due dates on holiday break, but I always wonder how we are supposed to push so hard during a semester (and finals week) and then are supposed to be able to turn off a switch so that we may rest. I have not yet begun to mention the flood of holiday activities and catching up with folks that I need to do.
The physical, emotional, and mental toll of graduate school, particularly programs that focus on justice-making, is very difficult to understand until one has gone through it. The limited budget, the individuation of self, the constant realization of how much you don’t actually know and that we’ll never know is taxing.
The constant desire to learn is something I would not trade for all the world. It keeps humility and curiosity as constant companions; however, it also means that I do not rest well and boundary-making is a difficult feat. It also means that I set higher goals for myself, which are not always well understood by others.
I have been waiting to post until I had a positive word to write. But after a semester of police brutality, archaic state laws, protesting, writing, listening, and trying to keep some semblance of emotional/ mental stability, I do not have much positive to write.
But even in this exhaustion, I can find gratitude for the opportunity to be exhausted alongside some of the most incredible ministers/ faculty/ activists there ever were.
Thanks be to God.

Singing For Our Lives…

“If you are mesmerized by televised stupidity, and don’t get to hear or read stories about your world, you can be fooled into thinking that the world isn’t miraculous– and it is.” –Anne Lamott in Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith

Earlier this winter, Pete Seeger died. Pete was a folk music legend and a protester. The kind of man who sang stories of relentless optimism and agitation….of workers uniting, of Central American Freedom movement struggles, of nonviolent resistance and international disarmament, of caring for the environment, of his love for America and dream for what we could be as a country if we realized our interconnectedness.

Pete’s songs were songs of protest. Songs which refused to get into bed with the status quo. Songs which prophesied of a better way. Pete was prolific songwriter; he believed that folk music was the music of the people and it was meant to be shared and sung together. For him, singing was the way to stand in the moment and say: “here we are, standing here, fully human, fully alive, and demanding better, singing for our lives.”

For me, the space of optimism that Pete held in the face of injustice and oppression was what drew me to him. Much like Lamott’s quote, Pete saw the miracle in life because he was fully engaged in it. I’m afraid sometimes that all of our gadgets fool us into thinking that we are living, but really, we are experiencing a screen at best, and televised stupidity at worst.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to wake up. The old kick-in-the-pants routine. Wake up. Take control. Sing.

The busyness of life can lead to fatigue and a rote routine of daily decompressing by turning on the TV, scrolling through facebook, or watching the latest must-see You Tube video. We can end up consuming so much more than we create and this doesn’t work for the human spirit. It doesn’t ask us to be our best selves. We lose passion and purpose. And sometimes, our voices.

Have we lost the miracle of a sunset? Have we lost the miracle of the complex biochemical processes that must occur for an apple to be digested in our bodies? Have we lost the miracle of living in a community of people who know each others names, stories, and dreams? Have we lost the miracle of helping each other or working for a cause that is greater than ourselves? Have we lost the miracle of eating a fresh tomato from a garden that our hands toiled in? Have we lost the miracle of confessing our joys and concerns to each other? Have we lost the miracle of crying together? Have we lost the miracle of aching for our significant other? Have we lost the miracle of a drenching rain seeping into a scorched earth?

Have we become so disconnected with the earth and each other that we cannot feel anymore?

Being a human is a miracle. But if we forget that, we can one of the most destructive forces ever.

It’s easy to do with all of the notifications to keep up with. Sometimes, it’s easier not to feel, or examine our belief systems thoroughly, or wonder who are best selves really are. It’s easier to consume music than to create it. It’s easier to consume ideas rather than create them. It’s easier to ignore our dissimilar neighbor than to love her. It’s easier to live carelessly than to live consciously. It’s easier to keep tearing down trees as if we own this earth, than it is to plant them and work to help ecosystems thrive. It’s easier to ungraciously read biblical texts than it is to actually research them. It’s easier to criticize than to innovate. Its easier to turn on the TV instead of engaging in vulnerable conversation.

It’s easier, but it’s not better….because we are fooled into thinking that life isn’t miraculous.

And, it is.

Anne’s Call To Mobilize: Thoughts on Anne Lamott’s Nashville Talk

Recently, New York Times bestselling author, Anne Lamott graced Nashville with her presence; more specifically, she graced the Nashville Public Library’s Salon series, which seems so appropriate as she is a relentless advocate of the necessity of public libraries. If you are reading and are not familiar with Anne, I would suggest you pick up the nearest Traveling Mercies available. With all due haste. Make it a date night to go buy this book then read it with your significant other…

ASC End celebration 006

I promised that I would share some of Anne’s thoughts, which are really, all of our thoughts, said in a profound and hilarious way…

Anne spent most of the night conversing with another NYT bestselling author, Ann Patchett, who co-owns Parnassus Books, one of Nashville’s last independent book stores. The two were just hilarious, feeding off of each other, with elevated dialogue laced with grace and introspection.

Lamott covered the gamete of topics ranging from her new grandson, Jax, to faith, to writing, to activism. In her dialogue about writing a good story, she stated: “If someone will write about the mess with a sense of humor, I’m all in. Tell me a story. We are a species who is fed and enlivened by stories.” She also noted the discipline of writing is where the joy comes from and that being published is not (publishing makes you even more mentally ill than you were before, according to Anne).

Informing us about her grandson’s most recent sagacity into her slight tendencies to become over-committed, she quoted from Jax: “Nana, you are carrying too much and you are going to fast.”

By far though, my favorite part of the evening was her discussion of activism. “Listen young women, we [older, female activists] have fought for you to have the freedoms you have today… and our backs are tired and our feet hurt and our vision is failing. We need you to mobilize.”

Ultimately the evening ended because we were out of time and Anne had to use the ladies room. But I left with a sigh of relief on my breath, gratitude in my heart, and the fortitude to persist.

So Millennial women, what do you say? Can we elicit change? Can we carry the baton which is extended to us by generations of oppressed women?

A Bird’s Eye View of a Tired Sojourner

Welcome back to the blog! I am both grateful that you are here and apologetic for having not written with much frequency as of late. Truth be told, I have lacked both the time and energy to sustain the penning of posts here.

My life has been consumed with finishing up my current degree program with some semblance of sanity, and maybe even grace on a good day. I have deadlines still which should be first on my priority list today, but instead, I am finding myself logging on to pen a new post. Maybe because I know this is a place which brings inspiration and joy to my life amidst a turbulent world which has lately reflected violence and beauty quite simultaneously, almost in the same breath.

This spring semester has required me to step out of any comfort zone I may have constructed for safety and solace. I have continuously been pushed, prodded, and poked into the arena of fight or flight responses. The arena which requires me to dare greatly. This is a place which fosters, no demands, growth and courage. And I am tired and frankly, uninspired.

I am sure that soon I will have time to reflect on what I’ve learned and this will help me practice the gratitude which I long to possess with regularity. Until then, I know a few things. I know that I am loved. I know that I have talents which, when utilized, are beautiful and unique. I know that I will make it through this.

Stay tuned. The blog is revving up again. I have personal and OEC posts. I have interviews. Sojourn with me this summer. Until then, let’s keep calm and share our bananas.

Diners, Dives, and Sacagawea…

The road has been my home as of late. One day in the Appalachians and the next, the Rockies. My schedule has been rigorous and taxing, to say the least. All a part of the whirlwind of finishing up this degree and beginning another.

All that to say, I appreciate your patience, in my blogging absence. I often think of much I want, nay… I need… to write about, but lack the time to fully devote myself. Most of my writing lately has been given to my thesis. I hope to soon have a free bit to write…. I have much on my heart and much I want to hear from you.

I pray that Lent is treating you well. That you are praying and reflecting and taking time to find that which resonates with you. A song. Another soul. A sunset. May this time of waiting and fasting be one that brings you an other-worldly perspective.

May you feel. May you know. May you heal. May it be a miracle.

Fill me in on your Lent season. Do you celebrate Lent? What are you learning or unlearning?

Advent What?

So what is this Advent deal all about? Are you currently observing it? Let me just suggest you open up this link and listen to an Advent song while reading this post.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Advent because I have never actually celebrated it,
and this year I am taking time to feel everything that this time has to give. It’s almost a misnomer to say “celebrate” Advent because what I have found thus far is a sad season… one of longing and expectation for the day that is Christ’s birth. It’s a season that does not leave room for cheery Christmas carols or green- red sugar cookies. I’m finding that it’s requiring me to slow down, to stop… stop consuming, stop talking, stop worrying, stop making idols, stop running around… a time to stop.

Perhaps we have abandoned the idea of longing in our fast-paced, minute-to-win-it culture. Everything’s got to happen now. Pronto!… as it should have been completed ten minutes ago. We don’t long for things nearly as much because, well, we can have them right now. We speed up relationships. We speed up acquiring possessions. We speed up worship services. We speed up conversations. I think we’ve forgotten what it means to yearn… to long…. to ache for something deep within. Something that is surely coming but is not here yet.

It’s odd to have to actually plan to slow down, to set a date on the calendar in which you block out time to stop. To turn off the gizmos and gadgets. To be quiet. To just be. Without this time, we, as creatures of busyness, become unsettled. We numb ourselves and buy special mattresses to help us sleep and yet what we need is space to meditate, to reflect, to pray… a contemplative time which is required for us to arrive at thoughts that will be necessary for our future.

If no other time of the year, Advent is a time for this. To slap the busyness and commercialization of Christmas in the face. To reflect and remember who I am… what is my ethos? What is my purpose here on earth? What have I done with this year?

A time to long for what we don’t yet have. To expect. To be caught in the parenthesis of the past and what is surely to come.

The day is coming when we will celebrate, but it is not this day.

This day we long for what is to come. And when it comes, we know it will come with intentionality and significance.

At Communion this past Sunday, before serving the bread and wine, my pastors prayed that this bread would sustain us through this time of longing and stillness.
I pray that you too would be sustained during this time of longing. That you would be sustained with the bread of contemplation and reflection. And if this is a sad time for you, let it be. Embrace the pain and make it a part of you. For we must do this… our spirits are crying out us to slow down and find meaning.

We will celebrate soon. But for now, we long.

How are you observing Advent? I would love to hear ideas!

A City Girl in a Farmer’s World

Recently, I embarked upon a northern road trip to the Land of Lincoln…the Prairie State… the Midwest… Illinois. A cousin’s yellow-and-orange-misty-eyed wedding instigated the journey north. My mother, grandmother, and I decided to make this last minute trip with the eager anticipation of hugging dearly missed relatives. Fellowship was the goal here. And it was one that was met with great fervor.

Crossing the state line, we were welcomed into IL with the gracious hospitality of my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Sherman and Aunt Sue. These two are quite the pair and I can very honestly say, some of my favorite people in the world. Sherman is the quintessential Great American Prairie farmer. He was born on southern IL soil and has farmed the same soil for 70 years. He has a relationship with that land that I can only gaze at from afar with my city girl eyes. He’s got to be the most patient man and teacher I know; people always remember meeting Sherman because they immediately notice the kindness in his eyes. He married a beautiful woman named Sue; she truly is his better half. Sue has the uncanny ability to make anyone she converses with feel as if they are extremely important and their story matters. She really just cares. And she cooks a mean butterscotch cookie.

Disembarking the interstate, country roads led us to Sue and Sherman’s farm. We passed through small towns that made me feel like I had gone back five decades to the days of yesteryear America. Let me tell you, I got a great view of the town square, since I had to circle it multiple times after we spotted a much needed post-office box. I later learned that for Sherman’s 50th birthday, Sue and company kidnapped him, robing him in one of her lovely shawls, and paraded him around the square in an antique wheelchair. Apparently the square has multiple uses as grooms used to push their new brides around the square in a wheelbarrow. Boy if that doesn’t speak romance, I don’t know what does.

Waking up at Sue and Sherman’s is quite the experience. After a sufficient amount of coffee, I was met by Butch the pet turkey. He looked at me as if I was the species who was out of place; I decided he was right and quickly maneuvered myself to a different part of the barn. Don’t get me wrong– I have a great appreciation for the avian species, I just figured I’d appreciate from afar.

About that time, I heard the approaching roar of loud machinery coming into the front yard. I grabbed my camera and ran over to see a large John Deere combine. Now, you may know what a combine is, but let me tell you, I did not. So I’ll explain. This is a massive piece of machinery that is used to harvest six rows of corn at a time. Sherman spotted my wide eyes and asked if I wanted to ride with him. Naturally inquisitive, I did. As I ascended the combine ladder, all I could think about was how I should be tweeting this memorable moment.

As it turns out, I didn’t have the time because we immediately set off to harvest the corn. In his infinite patience, he explained to me how the combine cuts and thrashes grain; he also lent me much insight into a farmer’s world. As he was driving, I noticed the sun spots on his tan, calloused hands. Hands that had farmed for years. Hands that made corn grow. Hands that made love grow.

After half an hour of talking, Sherman pulled the big combine brake and announced that it was my turn to drive this baby. I was pretty sure I heard him incorrectly, but when he started to switch seats with me, I knew he wasn’t kidding. I thought about explaining to him that I can barely work a toaster or that just last week, I managed to break a toilet handle at work.

As it turned out, I didn’t have time to explain any of this as I took the pilot’s seat. I figured this was kind of how life goes– it forces you into something, you aren’t qualified or even quite ready for. With much trepidation, I let the brake off and began aligning the combine to harvest the next six rows of corn. Sherman believed I could do it, so I did too. With his patient voice guiding, I farmed. And as it turned out, I had no time to tweet. Life was happening and I was busy.

About halfway through the weekend, I started to get wrapped up in the 80 items on my to-do list and the internet access that I didn’t have. I started to worry about deadlines and the busy week ahead. But then the night wrapped up with a long-time family friend coming over to extend hugs and lots of laughter. As we sat close laughing about old family mishaps, I realized that this was my to-do list. This moment. And I needed to be present.

Sometimes we are so caught up with the future, that we fail to live presently.

Sometimes we need to slow down and say, this person matters. These people matter. I need to give them the dignity of my full attention. I need to be in this moment because this moment will never come again. I need to embrace this love, this laughter, this joy. Because if I’m not careful, the life I am so eagerly awaiting will pass me by without my noticing and all I’ll have to show for it is a marked off to-do list.

As we finished up the weekend singing hymns at the old country church down the road and to the right, I realized, the Land of Lincoln taught this city girl a lot more about life than just how to drive a combine.

So tell me, what life lessons have you been learning this September?

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

This week has been one that I have long since been looking forward too… its been a reprieve from busyness, a chance to breathe. This year has been SO amazing so far… but also one that has demanded the most of all of its moments. I stay busy, I use busyness as an excuse to not feel sometimes; I think this is something that we all do at times, and come to face reality once we slow down.

I’ve enjoyed this break because it has helped me to gather my thoughts and regain my priorities, a chance to fellowship with my Maker. I am reading a book that I won’t soon forget… a Donald Miller book. And so I have to give him credit as my inspiration for this post. Miller becomes transparent in this book so that he can relay his story…one that he found boring and meaningless. He began changing things… he initiated the steps of creating a catalyst that sparked a change in his life. He wanted to live an epic story. It’s as simple as that. He wanted his story to be lost in the greater story of Jesus. “And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

I know that we often read books that “light a fire under us,” and we quickly resolve to change our ways and actions. We do this because we feel God using the words of another author to speak to us….then as rapidly as the words came into our lives, they leave. I say “we” here, and mainly mean “me.” I think though that since January of this year, the Lord has been preparing my heart, growing me, asking me to change. And so, I say that to say, that I feel like the Lord was getting me ready to read this book and allowed me to read it when I did because a wonderful brother in Christ so kindly gave it to me. I am thoroughly encouraged by Miller, a man whom I have never met. I am encouraged to not let fear keep chains on me… I will live abundantly, I will do what the Lord has called me to do, I will be in love with Him. I will live in a story that is greater than my own, a story where it’s all about Jesus. My life is His. And that gives me joy that’s unspeakable.

Life’s too short to be caught in meaninglessness. It’s too short to miss the sunset. It’s too short to be unkind. It’s too short to be boring. It’s too short to be scared.

Every story is different. I am not even beginning to suggest that I am surrounded by boring stories. At all. I have met some incredible people with incredible stories. Some women I’ve met are strong mothers and have chosen love above all else. Their stories are epic. I’ve met brave children in Africa who smile in the midst of turmoil. Their stories are epic. I’ve met a guy who trained for months to run a marathon to raise money for an organization that he cared about. His story is epic. I’ve met a man who makes wheelchairs and made one to push a disabled friend in a marathon. His story is epic. I’ve met a woman who gives herself to loving the homeless of Nashville. Her story is epic. I’ve met a couple who gave up what they were doing in Tennessee to go serve for a month in Haiti after the earthquake. Their stories are epic. I met a woman who lives with constant back pain but gets up everyday, loving and serving her loved ones. Her story is epic. Does your story point to Jesus? Are you laying everything you have and everything you are on the line for Jesus? Will someone someday remember your story as epic…and will not be able to recall your name because you pointed your story towards Jesus?

If you read this…I want to hear your story. Message me. Much, much love to you.