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Fair & lovely

Today marked day 13 of walking across Spain on pilgrimage to Santiago. We have walked close to 400 km (240 miles) since starting out in France. It seems like we just started yesterday… It seems like we’ve been walking forever…

A few things that were beautiful today:

– the sunrise over the meseta as we watched the blacks & grays fade into golds & greens as far as the eye could see.

– songs & prayers & conversations & silence & laughter & stories & generosity & love that are slowly turning strangers into family.

– a beautiful impromptu guitar concert performed by a professor of classical guitar in an 11th century church as the setting sun painted the white stone walls into every shade of gold imaginable.

– the local priest laying hands upon us and blessing us as we continued our journey.

– a warm shower, clean clothes, hot coffee, & a soft bed.

– other people.

– a friend who will bandage your bloody & blistered feet with care & tenderness & patience.

– going to sleep knowing that tomorrow we are sleeping in until 6am & only walking 19km. =)

There is much to be thankful for.

What are you thankful for today?

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Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)

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Thanks… and Yes!

Thanks

For all that has been — Thanks. For all that shall be — Yes.

~ Dag Hammarskjold

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beauty today

Early morning waffle breakfasts with my sister Carly and dear friends…

Bike rides and motorcycle rides in the early morning light…

Lazy mornings drinking coffee and laughing…

Beach picnics, friends, stand-up paddleboarding, frisbee, sand, naps, sunshine…

Connecting with family over the phone…

Afternoon run through the park and serindipitous encounters with school friends…

Concocting delicious treats…

Cookouts, laughter, fireworks, games, play, joy, community…

Abundance…

Belonging…

—–

I walked along the lakeshore, small waves tugging and pulling at my feet as I headed out to launch the stand-up paddle-board into Lake Michigan.  I was just excited to get out in the water, to be on a board again (it’s been four years since I sold my surfboard and left Rio and the Atlantic behind, and have just missed it desperately at times).

But there was that laughter…

I turned and saw a young boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, seated in a wheelchair.  The front two wheels were completely submerged, and he laughed and giggled as the waves lapped around his feet, and his dad splashed water on him, and over him.

It reminded me of blessing, of holiness, of baptism…

It was beautiful to see the love of a father for his son, the love of a son for the world around him, and the love of God refracted so beautifully…

 

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Water

The shattering weight of summer-light pressed down and through shadowed tree covered lanes as we walked home from the cafe. Turning a corner, we saw the girl in front of us dancing through, and around, and between rainbow streams of shimmering water, spraying and spinning and spiraling. There was beauty in the interplay of light and shadow, of sprinklers and water and scintillating rainbows that scattered shards of light profligately, without regard for whom might see, or appreciate this holy symphony of movement and color.

“…it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash…”

~ Marilynne Robinson – Gilead

This was one of those moments.

Leaving Neil’s house, biking down to the lake, I was struck once more by the extravagance on display – water in blues and greens, as far as the eye could see, shimmering and sparkling, evidence of grace.

Water is not only for the deserving.

Water does not only quench the thirst of the pure.

Water gives life to all, evenhandedly, without condition, without restraint.

I stopped my bike on the shore, captivated by the joyous call of the water.

Finally, unable to resist, I gave in to its siren song, leaping into the blue-green womb with abandon and laughter, over and over and over again…

Thankful.

Humbled.

Blessed.

Made new.

“…water was made primarily for blessing…”

lake michigan

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Flat tires and looking good

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A number of years ago I spent about four months living and working in Nepal with WMF.  I arrived in Kathmandu a few months after my 20th birthday, idealistic, full of big dreams about the difference I would make, and certain that my time would be an adventure in every way, serving the poor, learning to be like Jesus, and basically having everyone admire me for how amazing I was.  It only took me a few weeks to find out that I was not all that.

I had arrived with visions of being the next Mother Theresa or Gandhi, with a touch of Oscar Romero thrown in, and my expectations were dashed when I discovered that the “working with street kids” (which I envisioned as cute little boys and girls who were hungry for affection and just needed someone to come play soccer with them for a few hours each week to point them on a path towards wholeness, health, and the restoration of all that was broken in their lives) that I had hoped to be involved in wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, we would be spending our time volunteering at one of the local Missionaries of Charity homes, doing distinctly unglamorous tasks such as pulling up water from the well, washing dishes, cleaning, doing laundry by hand, cleaning out septic tanks one bucket at a time, and generally doing the best we could to not get in the way too much, or get talked to sternly by a nun for being too slow, incompetent, or inefficient.  It was not fun.  It was not sexy.  It was not even “missionary cool,” like working at the home for the dying, or with photogenic kids, or with crowds of needy people that you could tell others about and bask in their glow about how holy you were.  Instead, we were at a home called Shanti Bhivan (House of Peace) for mentally and physically disabled Nepalis.  It was simple, quiet, unassuming, and hidden.  It was hard.

I toughed it out for a few weeks.  After all, I was with a team of people, and to simply stop going would look bad.  I didn’t want others to think poorly of me.  I didn’t want them to see how unspiritual and shallow I truly was.  I didn’t want them to see me as I really was, so I pretended.  I pretended to be a servant, all the while grumbling inwardly about how I didn’t really want to be here, and how I really wanted to be somewhere else – somewhere more exciting, more dramatic, more more…  But inside, I was stuck.

Our regular schedule included getting up at 5am for an hour of silent, contemplative prayer.  The first month or so involved lots of falling asleep in the midst of it – only to be woken by a jab in the ribs from Julie, or a throat clearing from Ben or Kipp.  I’d return the favor when I noticed their breathing turn too deep or regular for being awake.  But as we stuck it out, I began to recognize something beautiful and holy about those quiet, dark, cold mornings we spent on the floor, wrapped in our woolen blankets, learning to quiet our hearts and inhabit the silence that was a doorway to God’s heart.

After prayers, it was time to go to work.  There were two bikes that we could use, and for the first few months that was my favorite part of the day: the 30 minute bike ride to work.  It felt like a video game as I dodged tuk-tuks and cows, taxis and pedestrians, buses and trucks, dogs and street vendors, weaving in and out of the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu’s morning rush hour.  I felt alive – the adrenaline flowed – and it was exciting in a way that the rest of my days were not.

One morning as I was riding to work, I was feeling tired, grumpy, and just plain fed up.  We had been there for a couple of months, and whatever appeal had been present at the beginning was gone.  I didn’t want to go.  I didn’t want to serve.  I didn’t want to go to the stupid Missionaries of Charity home, run by the stupid nuns who would just make me feel bad for not giving more, doing more, being more…  I felt like I wasn’t enough.  And I wanted to do something more fun.  I wanted to stop and go to a cafe and get breakfast and coffee and spend time reading my novel.  I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  Who cared if I was on something called a “Servant Team.”  I was tired of serving.  I wanted out.

But…

At the same time, I was intensely self-conscious and worried about what others would think of me.  If I just didn’t go to work that morning, the nuns would ask about me.  Kipp would know that I didn’t show up.  I couldn’t lie about it.  They would catch me.  They would know the depths of my self-centeredness, my shallowness, my laziness and general lack of spirituality.  They would know that I wasn’t really like Jesus.  Not in any ways that mattered, anyway.  After all, I couldn’t even spend a measly five hours volunteering and working with the poor – the poor that I claimed to love, and had come to Nepal to serve.  However, I had found that loving “the poor” in reality was often difficult, challenging, and hard (just like anyone that you truly enter into relationship with.)

I didn’t want people to know who I really was, and how I really felt.  But I also didn’t want to go.  At that moment, I had a brilliant idea…  What if I got a flat tire?  If my bike tire went out, I’d have a ready made excuse.  I COULDN’T go in to work if my bike tire was flat.  I’d have to stop and get it fixed, and who KNOWS how long that would take.  It might take all day, if I could find someone slow enough…  and my problem would be solved.  It just might work…

I could explain to anyone who asked how I intended, nay, deeply WANTED to go to volunteer today.  I was trying to, but my cursed bike let me down by getting a flat tire, and what was I supposed to do?  …  Yes.  I would have the rewards of people looking to me and still admiring me for what I WOULD have done if only the mechanical bike hadn’t gotten in the way.  AND, I would be able to do what I really wanted to do, which was read my book over a pot of coffee and a set breakfast (with little delicious pastries) from the German place down the road.  It was a win-win.

However, there was only one slight problem with this plan.  My bike didn’t have a flat tire.

I didn’t let this stop me.  I still had a few miles to go before I got to work.  There was still time.  There was still hope that I COULD get a flat tire.  And if it needed a little help from me, then that could be arranged…

So, I started hitting potholes.  Every pothole, crack, piece of glass, sharp object, bump, or nail in the road…  If it was there, I hit it.  I started pushing hard on the front tire, trying to put more weight on it and get it to pop (or at least go flat) before I arrived.  As I drew closer and closer to Shanti Bhivan, I grew more and more nervous, and more and more frantic.  The tire wouldn’t pop.  No matter what I hit, no matter what I ran over, it wouldn’t go flat.

As I pulled up to the front gate, I was disgusted.  “Fine,” I remember saying to God.  “I’m here.  I’m not happy about it.  I don’t want to be here.  But since I’m here, whatever…  I’ll serve.  But don’t expect me to be happy about it…”

I grudgingly walked through the gates…  and as I fell into the rhythm of work, or buckets pulled and clothing washed, of meals served and wounds tended, something happened…  My anger – my bitterness – my frustration – it melted away.  I couldn’t hold on to it.  I tried.  But somehow, someone reached through and softened my heart.  Through the practice of obedience, I was transformed and made obedient.  Through the discipline of service – by simply showing up – my heart was renewed.  I left that afternoon rested, thankful, and blessed.  Joyful.  At peace.  All because the tire I had been hoping and praying would go flat held up.  All because my attempts at sabotage had failed.  All because God would not give up on me.  All because of grace…

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Anticipation and celebration


On Sunday afternoon, my younger sister married a lucky, lucky man. Four months after their engagement, a year since they had started dating, almost two years after they first met, their friends and family gathered from all over the world. People came from Germany, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Washington, New York, Arizona, and all parts of California (among others) to celebrate their love – their commitment – their choosing of each other for the rest of their lives – and to do so in a way that pointed others to God, to life, and to deeper love.

The rehearsal on Saturday afternoon was a celebratory reunion, full of laughter and excitement as we practiced and watched the bride-to-be walk through the grassy field, surrounded by flowers and nature and green growing things. The rehearsal dinner that afternoon was again celebratory and full of anticipation – as we were served by Kait and Adam, were filled with good things, tables crowded with laughter and movement, with stories remembered and adventures relived, and people tried to capture the essence of the two who we’d gathered to celebrate. That night everyone – wedding party, family, friends, out of town guests – gathered at a nearby bowling alley for a night of play, laughter, music, dancing, a little friendly competition, visiting, and connecting, all covered in a deep blanket of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Sunday morning was full – family and friends running to the reception site to decorate, set tables, place the manzanita trees, hang candles, prepare the dance floor, arranging the room in a way that invited people to celebrate and rejoice while drawing their eyes to the joy Adam and Kait were feeling. So many people pitched in to help – so many gave of their time and energy out of love for the bride and groom.

At the gardens the chairs were arranged close together, inviting the guests to step in close and be a part of the ceremony. The wedding itself was gorgeous and simple – cello, oboe, and violin, communion on bended knee, worship, laughter, and the little touches that were so in keeping with who they are and what they want their shared life together to be about. And they said their vows, reaffirmed their choice, and stood joyful and radiant, together.

From a certain point of view, the reception was fairly normal.  It had all the right ingredients: food and wine, cake and champagne, toasts and speeches, pictures and well-wishing, dancing and laughter. But this was different – special – more – because it was THEIRS. The way the ingredients came together and the love and joy of the people who had gathered there to celebrate with the couple left me speechless at times – the only response was to move, to laugh, to dance. The love and joy were almost palpable. It was enchanting to watch people throw themselves into the celebration, to embrace looking ridiculous and throw propriety to the wind, faces glowing with laughter (or in some cases, the glow-sticks that had been liberally distributed to the dancers). People didn’t want to leave, but the night had to end as all things must.

As we gathered to send them off, bubbles filling the air, they high-fived their way down the receiving line, stopping for hugs and kisses and thanks and heartfelt congratulations and “one-more-things…” And then they were gone.

I think about this weekend, and I think about heaven – “the wedding supper of the Lamb.” I love the imagery associated with this – seeing heaven as a wedding and a feast, a beautiful meaningful ceremony followed by rich food and wine, deep connection, laughter ringing through the halls of heaven, dancing and music and stories flowing through eternity, the gathering of those we love and those we will come to love. I remember the anticipation Kait and Adam felt as they looked forward to the day they could be with each other, and could be united in a new and deeper way. And just as their anticipation melted into celebration, so our anticipation of eternity will flower into riotous, joyful, roof-shaking shouts of joy.

A number of friends who were at this wedding are feeling that anticipation deeply now, as they mourn the deaths of a mother, a wife, a husband, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a grandma, a grandpa… At times, I’m sure they were acutely aware of all those who couldn’t be at THIS wedding celebrating… But I am so thankful, and hopeful, and anticipating with great joy the wedding celebration at which we will ALL be in attendance, from the greatest to the least, where every tear will be wiped away, and death itself will be swallowed up forever. And even as we celebrate Kait and Adam, and their love for and committment to each other, we celebrate the God who gave them to each other, the God who is making all things new, the God who is constantly foreshadowing the good gifts that he has in store here and now, and the God who is preparing the party that will leave us breathless. We wait with hope, and as we wait, we celebrate.  We celebrate because we are all invited.  We celebrate because the table always has room for one more.  We celebrate because the arms of the Father are open wide.  Come on in. The music has started, and it’s time to start dancing…

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