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the low bar

My prayer this morning for myself is to move my body and mind away from activities that, in the eyes of the Lord and in the presence of the Word, are too low-risk to afford any substantial benefit to me or to others around me.

There are so many of these invulnerable pursuits and many of them hover around our keyboards masquerading as objects of action. Hashtags, digital photo filters, offerings of cable news-mongering. Others are less obvious: guilt-talking at exercise class about the donut I ate for breakfast, disallowing myself a single drop of contentment until ALL my floors are cleaned, rushing to fill silence with noise.

What are the pursuits and activities in my daily life that push me further away from that sphere of vulnerability where Christ’s mercy hovers and holds. Sometimes it is my own tears, my own justifiable anger. Sometimes it is this guise of busy-ness. It’s perfectly okay to be a Martha (sometimes we have to be) but not when Christ is whispering to us to slow down in a moment that He created for us to worship, to meditate on His Word, to pray, to just allow nothingness.

Silence is a great distance-breaker and in silence we can actually move much closer to the thing we fear, the thing we need to forgive, the thing we need most to say. Silence is like a humming worker bee in the house of your soul–a soul-Martha–flittering and flushing out and making those preparations for us to experience deep contentment and belonging in the arms of God.

I am so thankful that today, I accepted the gift of time to ponder and pray without media distractions, without looking at the sink full of dishes, without hearing the bleep of text messages entering my phone space. Wherever it is we are trying to get as individuals, as people, as a nation, I have this feeling in my gut this morning that this might just be the way back.

The best reparation for violence (even 200-year-old violence) is assumption of an attitude of peace today. Not debating it. Not posting a meme. Not stirring up the pot and allowing our precious, God-given time to keep others from their own restorative moments. The place where we talk about systemic sin and consider acts of reparation needs to be a face-to-face place, where the bees have invaded and restored our abilities to absorb and manage and act with complexity and vulnerability.

God is not saying ignore racism or ignore immigration issues or ignore environmental concerns. God is not saying shut down all talk of “Who do you say that I am” in the marketplace. God is saying Facebook is not the place for these discussions. As a former journalist, I love the world of spin. I enjoy a good debate as much as anyone else. But God seems to be calling me to a truce of sorts, to a walking-away, to a sharing of my photographic moments as though the moments of my life are poems to be legitimately published so the self-publishing must cease.

If you haven’t been silent, really silent before God and if the hush of that hasn’t felt like spring water spilling over into a parched ground, I pray that for you today. It’s been a gift this morning.

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Teacher-Tired

It’s the end of Covid-teaching-year and on behalf of all teachers everywhere, I want to say, not the usual “cut us some slack” but people, salute us everywhere we go, buy us lunch at Panera, donate your beach vacations to us, put us in your wills, and in honor of our dedication to risking our health in order to hang on to the potential greatness of your children, please read aloud to your most precious every single day this summer.

I can’t even describe how tired I feel as a part of a collective fatigue that began when we were abruptly shut down a year ago, told to isolate ourselves from the only support-system we really have (other teachers at our schools) and move our classes online indefinitely. Some of us thought “Zoom” was just a sound little boys made when pretending to drive matchbox cars when this state-of-emergency happened. Some of us thought not attending church was always a bad decision brought on by spiritual drought or disgust at egotistical church leaders, not something to be praised and encouraged. Some of us, the English teachers, thought masks were the things of Metaphor, something donned as a costume so deep, baritone ballads could be performed.

How the world changed since March 2020, how social life diminished, and how pizza boxes became something to be feared, and yet, how the demands of teaching did not diminish at all. In fact, the demands of our profession increased in height and breadth like an adolescent giant on magic beans. While the demands increased as we, the teachers, began to dream about personifications of stress, our approval ratings and public rhetoric about our chosen profession (which already were not so great) began to morph from disgusting to absolutely terrible.

Some of us taught online and some of us went to our classrooms and most of us engaged in a weird hybrid form of the two extremes all the while grappling with what it would feel like if we contracted Covid- 19 on that one day when we couldn’t bear it any longer and let a child hug us or come within two feet of us and talk or hand us a germ-ridden paper to read. And worse yet, what if we contracted Covid and we had no symptoms but we then passed it to another loved one in our family who ended up on a ventilator. Or, what if we ended up on a ventilator for a job that feels more like a mission field, especially when we try to plan our retirements.

I sometimes felt empathy leap from my heart across a six-foot span where I tried with all my mental might to propel it toward a struggling student in a mask whose words I could barely understand and whose eyes I could barely see. During Spring 2020, I actually assembled care packages and mailed them to my Composition I students because I felt so bad about the learning situation that had been thrust upon them. My students were so gracious, but this year, that grace has hurt.

It seems that everyone, everywhere has an opinion about what we, the teachers, should have been doing better, sooner, longer, faster, higher. It’s a strange profession, where we inherit students who have never been read to, who have come from homes who have not prized learning and thinking and eating meals together, and we are expected to take advice from these same adults about what is best for our current generation of students. The same society who won’t pay teachers as though teachers are “essential workers” wants to play the “essential worker” card and thrust us into unsafe environments so their kids can play sports.

Teachers, everywhere, are deeply tired. Most of us, despite everything, love our jobs and wouldn’t choose to do anything other than what it is we do. This summer, if you see a teacher sitting on a beach towel somewhere with eyes closed, remember that the fundamental question in education that has emerged from this pandemic isn’t “Do you respect teachers?”. It is, do we respect you? I have learned and earned a certain resiliency through this pandemic. My best is good enough, and more importantly and I am putting this in all-caps for emphasis MY BEST IS ALL YOU ARE GOING TO GET. Don’t be an unteachable public with unyielding ideas about what teachers aren’t doing enough of. Or go ahead and be that, if you must. For those who wanted schools to open, whose big idea was it not to put higher ed. on most priority lists for the vaccine? I’ll be somewhere in the sun, on a beach towel, with ear buds playing my favorite music and a fruity drink in my hand for as long as it takes.

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Empathy Principles

  1. The validity of someone else’s opinions/beliefs isn’t dependent upon my ability to understand them. Logic is the slave of Emotion. Treat what a person thinks with the same kid gloves you would handle how it makes them feel.
  2. Abstract hate is a self-inflicted wound. If you hate someone else for saying hateful things and for promoting and spreading hate-filled ideas, and you decide to publicly post about your hate of the haters, you just became the thing you hate. And worse yet, you just endorsed hatred as the appropriate response.
  3. There will always be people who can afford to escape to Cancun. There will always be people who can get a reservation at French Laundry.
  4. Sometimes it rains in Southern California and sometimes it blizzards in Texas. It is impossible to ascertain WHY bad weather happens to people who don’t own coats while the snow is still falling. Maybe it is no one’s fault. The same people who get red-face angry at religious people for tying up all narratives into a crisp, red bough of “all actions come with a consequence” and “sinners in the hands of an angry God” seem quite judgmental about environmental truth and consequences.
  5. You might hate AOC. You might loathe Rush Limbaugh. They are human beings with families of their own. What you say about them says much about you, how you were raised. Don’t embarrass your ancestors by lowering yourself to the standards of someone you have no respect for.
  6. Respect is an action, a decision. By demonstrating your capacity for it, you make the best argument. Sometimes silence sets the table. It’s where all the cooks place their best dishes. It’s where all the children want to eat. What if we all took a moment to chew our food and listen?
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Prayer

Lord, if you are moving, let me still myself.

Let me be a pauper of a vision to myself

so that all eyes–my eyes–stay steadfastly on You.

Sometimes I declare You give me words and I thrash

about. They are like unruly children with a fierce

energy and agenda of their own. Slow me way down, Lord,

like a low creek bed in a cavernous mountain. Create

a covenant in me, between us–the intimate bounty

You pay let me always remember. Let me always

cling to the truth of cost and sacrifice and that none

of it was me.

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House becomes a home

My husband and I have always been vagabonds. Every home we have ever lived in has always been negotiably for sale. We’ve lived in and renovated several homes in our 38 years of marriage, and now in our late, late 50’s we find ourselves in a 4,000 square-foot Tudor home, sitting on an acre of landscaped grounds with a pond in the back. It’s a home that feels both expansive and cozy at the same time. I love my home. It has been a bumpy ride, but I finally feel a sense of belonging and commitment to this home. It’s like the Cherokee in me feels finally connected to a deeper heritage, something deeper than myself. Perhaps it is all the wonderful memories. Perhaps it is the sound of my grandsons calling out “Grandma’s House.” Perhaps we are just getting older and less energetic and want to stay put.Whatever the reason, it feels good to feel like a permanent fixture. I no longer feel the need to apologize or overcompensate by buying everyone’s bbq at sibling gatherings because I am the one who lives in the small town. I think this house just happens to be the place where I have grown finally comfortable in my own skin. Today, I received the most amazing gift from a favorite college professor of mine who has graciously served as a constant mentor to me since my early 20’s. Two beautiful works of art now hang in my kitchen–gifts from him as he downsizes into a smaller apartment after the death of his beloved wife. What a treasure to have received this love gift from him. Hanging in my kitchen near my walnut kitchen island, I can only feel one thing–I am home.

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Jan. 20, 2021

Thoughts.

Beautiful inauguration. Beautiful speech by our new President Biden. Wondrous to see a woman as our vice president. I just loved watching the body languages of former presidents and their spouses. Bill and Hill don’t look very connected. Laura Bush is so elegant. All those high-end pant suits and pretty coats. So nice to see the Flag and police and National Guard back in the high-life again.

Really refreshing to see all the optimism on my facebook feed. Let’s keep that up. From this point on, anyone that blames anything on Trump should be banned from social media. The person in the driver’s seat with the key fob in hand must take responsibility for his own driving. The road is fresh. Let’s start anew.

Let’s move on, liberal left. Speak his name no more.

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Pace of Life

2020 for all of her shutdowns, cancellations, and isolations, has seemed to create a frantic stir within my soul. My inner life has been off-kilter. What seemed to work, at least marginally, prior to 2020 no longer does the trick.

I realized this year that after our youngest son departed (prior to his return for virtual college in 2020) I was prime for, not a pacemaker (thank God) but a pace makeover. Yes, long after the baby had grown up and spread his own wings to fly, I was still consuming food, conversations, texts, relationships at the pace of an aging soccer mom.

Raising our four children had been the primary role of my life. I was scheduler, short order cook, cleaner, organizer, concierge, informal sports and life coach, spiritual life director, laundress, family fitness guru–and I loved my life, especially because these duties simultaneously overlapped for a few years with the new and exciting role of Grandma. And as an aside, I earned a masters degree and began a new adventure working outside the home as an English professor. And somehow through it all, I still had an amazing (albeit neglected and imperfect) relationship with my husband.

Fast-forward to 2020. Fast-forward to tomorrow. Fast-forward to anywhere but now. My reptile-brain mostly functioned for many years in overdrive as I performed one task while planning the next. It was the only way survive. The strange thing is, I could still feel the edges of peace around my existence so I thought I was fine.

Until I quarantined for 12 weeks in 2020 and taught online classes for the fall semester. Not by choice, my life was shredded down to “bare bones” and it didn’t feel good to me. I reached out with my eager fingers for those soft edges of faith and inner nourishment and I couldn’t feel anything but the phantom limb of words I hadn’t attended to for so long.

So 2021 is going to be a year of replenishment for me, and specifically that will include immersion in the Word of God and writing about that, because, well, when I take in life force, that is what I naturally do. I don’t have big plans for 2021. I just want to sit around a fire pit and talk into the night with old friends. I want to be able to get within six feet of my precious students. I want to continue some of the positive effects brought about by staying home so much. For one: less Netflix. Has anyone else completely soured to the idea of watching television as entertainment? Cooking and eating in. Me, myself, and I around a table with my husband can still be a family meal. Driving less. Mediocrity at times is okay. I have always prized my ability to aim higher and do more than is expected of me in every facet of my life. For a new pace, God’s pace, to intervene and shape this year, I have to lower some of those personal standards and prepare for His higher purposes and attainments in my life. This is incredibly difficult to even write about, much less do. So…prayer. I’ll be praying more.

2020 has welcomed me with her thorny arms into an era of less-is-more. I can chew my food. I can linger over thoughts and conversations and books. I can spend time in quiet praise of all the wonderful I have almost drowned myself in, one drop at a time.

And….I’ll probably write a bunch about my daily failures and small successes along the way.

What about you?

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God’s reply: “Nonsense, my child.”

You are not enough.

Your nose is too long.

Your hair is too short.

You have thunder-thighs.

You have toothpick legs.

You are too strict.

You are too soft.

You speak with a funny accent.

You take yourself too seriously.

You are so traditional.

You are so avant-garde.

You live in a small town.

City-slicker.

You neglect your children, working outside the home.

You have checked out on the mommy track.

You don’t read your Bible every day.

Legalist.

You voted for _______!

You’re too quiet.

You talk too much.

You are so privileged.

You are so poor.

Your skin is so_____.

What would you add to this list?

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Noise

God, sculpt upon my tongue

the quiet prayer, for a meadow

can be burgeoning with noise, a cackle

of ideas like so many grasses vying for the sunlight.

Let us stop pointing out what isn’t Christ and stare upon

the still photograph of a mother and her child or the humble outstretched hand of the giver, the attention of the powerless

on pushing forward some kind of greater good, however small.

For there is nothing less Christlike than pointing out what isn’t Christ in others, whether left or right. This kind of judgement isn’t forward-thinking or progressive in any way except to diminish or censor or damn. This kind of judgement conserves nothing, preserves nothing that is worth remembering.

How are any of us truly among the slighted? We have been saved by grace.

I think today, I will drink a glass of cool water and I will walk in quietude and stew over the fewest of words: the baptism of my soul into the unspoken waters of life. Delete my thoughts, Lord, and fill my mind with love. Make my brain a heart, apolitical, not logical, just so ordinary, part of the human race, where everybody gets it wrong.

The great commission must now haunt Your Church. There has only ever been one thing to do. Let us be about the doing of it now.

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An untitled piece

Today. Jan. 7, 2021. So far 2021 has not produced the peace and resolution we are all so hungry for on so many levels. I just turned off the news and my writer’s mind feels like a jumble of glass mosaic pieces, abruptly shattered by a giant, anonymous hand, like I am in the midst of a terrifying fairytale in a fictitious country, not the United States. Right now, in this moment, only words are coming to me, so I thought I would record those:

Guard. Guard your heart and mind today. Think of words, yours and others, as potential blades that can harm others. Anything that is not an act of kindness is an act of violence.

Consume. Be mindful of what you bring into your mind and body. This New Year I have resolved to improve upon the parts of life that I can control, so I am eating as healthy as possible.

Fringe. What exists on the fringes of my life, of my relationship with God? Are there hungry people who need bread? Hurt people trying to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. Am I standing in their way? Am I anxious because I am trying to protect parts of my life and lifestyle that I really don’t need? Whatever is lost that doesn’t cause me to be lost in the spiritual sense is not really a loss, is it?

White. I don’t identify much as a white person but as a person of mixed heritage. Today my identity or identities feel fractured and bruised. Perhaps we need to, as a nation, recreate the Crayola box and designate some new colors. Disenfranchisement is a color. Those who feel powerless are a color. Anger is a color. Disbelief is a color. Unpaid bills is a color. Violence is a color. Addiction is a color. Educational inequality is a color. I want to heal our nation of these. Freedom is like Grace. She can’t be misused or she isn’t free. Unlike toilet paper in a pandemic, you can’t exhaust Freedom’s supply, but you must pay attention to both neighbor and self when deciding how to mete out the rights. Even after the playing field is made even (and I pray this happens) there will be some who are able to run faster and farther, who will succeed more than we do and we must refrain from the temptation to shame and blame. We can’t just rearrange the Hate. We must replace the Hate with Love.

Think small. Right now, think small. Rather than post–pray. This is both prayer and post. God says, embrace the hypocrite in YOU. Bring all of your layered and complicated social and intimate relationships to me this morning. Where there is brokenness, there is opportunity for great work.