belonging to another

Jon and I have been reading the Tales of the Kingdom series to our children lately, a trilogy of books written by David & Karen Mains. We have been drawn into the allegory as much as our children have been! In addition to enjoying the stories and what they communicate about following Jesus with our lives, I have been pondering a recurring theme: that of belonging.

Early on in the series, an orphan hunter who works for the evil Enchanter, comes to Great Park where the King’s people live. She is hunting for two orphan brothers, to bring them back to the city to work for the Enchanter as slave labor. Mercie, who cares for the children of Great Park, tells the orphan hunter that there are no orphans… all children who live in Great Park belong to someone. The message is clear: it’s the belonging that makes them safe. To not belong is dangerous, makes one vulnerable– they call it being a “one only.”

I understand and value community. I understand the danger in alone-ness. And frankly, I do not like feeling lonely (who does?). But as I have contemplated this idea of belonging to another, something in me resists it. I am independent by nature. I need my space. At times I need to make a decision for me… on my own. How far does belonging go? Does it cross the lines I draw around my soul for privacy, dignity and sacred space? I have known belonging to create safety, but I have also known it to cause harm. Sometimes there is danger in belonging too much to another. We can lose ourselves.

After more than 12 years of marriage, I have learned something of what it means to belong to another… to lay down my rights, to make difficult decisions as a pair, to speak what I know to be true and then listen without jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. We are two very different people who have somehow created a loving life together. I belong to him as fully as I am able, yet I am still distinctly me… and he celebrates that. He belongs to me as fully as he is able, and yet he still uniquely him… and I celebrate that. It is a journey, though. It takes arduous inner work for me to hold on and let go. Then again, often it is a happy adventure!

In almost eight years of parenting, I have also learned about belonging. Giving my time, my full attention, my whole presence to them; does not come easily to me. I crave space and silence and stillness, as I get older. Yet I belong to them, at least in part… a very large part. And they teach me such wonderful things when I pay attention. Why do I fight that?

I have moved in and out of faith communities during the course of my life, and I wonder if I prefer that mode of belonging. If I can imagine a possible end to the belonging, I can stomach the sacrifices a bit easier– I am not saying this is right. I am simply wondering if it is true. Would I rather pop in and out of belonging (which is not really, truly belonging at all), so that I can keep my ideas my own and protect my rights… so that I can avoid true love and genuine transformation? Why am I afraid that truly belonging means losing myself, disappearing? I find I do not like this part of me, the fickle and uncommitted part who is distant, protective. But there is learning and growing to be done if I am patient with me and continue to choose belonging… and turn from being a “one only.”

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pumpkin seeds and puppy training

I have been absent from here for a long time. There are some boring reasons for that. There are also some intentional reasons. I’ve been marinating in life… just trying to live it and not analyze it. Now I am feeling it’s time to write again and reflect on what has been going on inside me.

We welcomed a puppy into our family last month. She’s been a joy. She’s been annoying. I have taken on the main responsibility to train her, which is a painstakingly long process of repetition. And consistency is needed. Can you hear me sighing with impatience? We are, however, beginning to see the fruits of all my labor.

Which has me thinking about seed-planting… recently, my son and I cut open a pumpkin he specially picked out on a school field-trip. at his request, we made pumpkin pies out of it, but he also felt strongly that we should collect the seeds so that we can plant them next year. It was neat to watch him pick out each seed and carefully clean it and lay it on the paper towel to dry. He spent at least 20 minutes doing this. I was amazed at his diligence. Now the seeds are clean and dry and stored in a plastic bag, awaiting next spring. But I haven’t been able to put them away… they are still sitting on my kitchen counter. All over our 10-acre wood, things are dying and preparing to sleep for the winter. But here, in my kitchen, life awaits. The seeds are just waiting to burst. Waiting.

I feel like so much (too much?) of my life I have spent waiting… waiting for the next thing, waiting for me to be prepped and ready for whatever I’m supposed to do, waiting to see what the point of my life is. But something about watching my puppy learn and looking at these pumpkin seeds has crystalized a new thought for me. I can see fruit already! Right now. Right now I can see fruit that God has been able to bear in my life. So I wonder…. what the hell have I been waiting for??

Just in the last few days I have been able to reconnect with someone I knew and helped to teach more than 10 years ago. She remembers things I said to her, things I taught her. Just a few weeks ago, I was reminded that all the God-stories I’ve shared with my young daughter are now being shared with her teachers and friends. She remembers things I’ve planted within her. Just a few months ago, I was able to reconcile with a young adult who was in my youth group… someone I wounded. He remembered my actions. He also remembered that he could talk to me. The healing was sweet fruit.

I do not want to overestimate my impact on people’s lives, but I have lived the other mistake, when I think I have done little to nothing of value. Was I just place-holding and not planting living seeds? Is there something fearful about recognizing the significance of what I am doing here and now? It’s tragic to miss the fruit in the present and the past because I am forever looking ahead. It’s as if somewhere in the back of my mind, I refuse to believe that these seeds I am planting are worth something. I always think there is more somewhere down the road, that this is all just prep for that big something else. But this is it. This, right here and right now, is my life and my calling. Sure, there is still waiting involved. When you plant seeds they do not instantly sprout and grow and bloom. I have no magic beans here, Jack. However, my seeds are alive and they are growing. How have I missed that for so long?

what i can do

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I can punish myself (or maybe sabotage is a better word) with negative self-talk. “I can’t do this. I won’t do it right. I don’t have the skills. I don’t have enough time. It’s too much….” Well, let this be the week of I CAN. Here is my current list of awesome skills that I have learned in the past few months:

1. I can caulk well. My thumb makes a wonderful smooth line that covers a multitude of “sins.”
2. I can work that spackle until it looks like the creamiest frosting you’ve ever seen!
3. I know how to apply three layers of spackle properly (not an expert by any stretch, but I’ve got skills).
4. I can sand a wall so that it’s smooth as a baby’s bottom.
5. I can roll paint onto a ceiling and leave NO LINES.
6. I can spackle corners that look pretty good… not professional, but pretty darn good.
7. I can remove baseboard that has been caulked and nailed into place without tearing any paint off the wall. I can even remove it when there is tack strip in the way.
8. I can nail trim into place without putting any dimples in it with a hammer, because I know how to use a nail punch.
9. I can clean up a room, wash down the walls, apply primer, give the ceiling it’s first coat, cut-in the wall color, and apply ceiling second coat in 6 hours flat (with help from my step-mom, of course).
10. I can juggle kids, meals and all this work AT THE SAME TIME, baby. That’s right. I can. 🙂

practicing open hands

I like to write on rainy days… something about the gray colors, the closeness of the clouds and even the smell, make me introspective and thoughtful. So here I am, at my computer, listening to my children discuss the characters on PBS (choosing who will be Cassy and who will be Ord). And while I find rain a disappointment because I love to be out in the sun, I love the effect it has on my spirit. I relish times of reflection and thought in this season of my life. I need it.

Here are my thoughts for today, for whatever they are worth to any readers: It is good that we are practicing living with open hands these days. My family, that is. I was explaining– again– to someone how we come to find ourselves about to walk away from our home of 11 years and our brand new backyard decks, patio and pool. As I was describing the circumstances surrounding our decision to move to the woods and a smaller, older house, this thought came to me. It is good to let go. It is a good practice to let go of what we have worked for, the fruit of our hands and backs, even a place where precious memories have been made… our dreams and wants, what we have spent our time and money on. It is good… because to cling to this house, to call this “ours” and possess it fiercely, is actually a potential distraction.

I’m not saying that if we had decided to stay here and enjoy our house and decks and pool, that that would be a bad thing, necesarily. It is not sin to enjoy what we have worked hard for. In fact, one of our dreams for the backyard was a dream of hospitality and sharing our home and lives with our neighbors. It was not entirely selfish (well, maybe a little bit selfish). But what we have been called to do now is an even greater act of hospitality, and it is beautiful. To care for this home and beautify it for someone else, for another family. Sometimes it kills me to think about “giving away” all of this (in quotes, because it’s not like they will be getting it for free). To think that we’re only building this for someone else and not for ourselves… it’s frustrating and agonizing… but why not? Why not make something nice and beautiful for a stranger? Why not give it away? Why should this place and these things be so precious to me that I am not willing to hold it with open hands, ready to release it when God asks… and then be ready to receive whatever is next? This is a discipline that we are learning and it is good and right to learn it.

It is also good that our children observe us learning this practice of holding what we have with open hands. They have asked us why we are doing this, working so hard on these projects when we won’t be staying here. My answer? Because God has called us to move on, and our new home will be beautiful, too– the new adventures we have there, the memories we make there, will be wonderful. The work we do there will be good… and we hope whoever comes to live here next will enjoy what we have made. It is as it should be. We hold all these things with open hands, freely receiving… and freely giving it away when the time comes. It is good.

pursuit of happiness

I confess that the thrill of our adventure into the 10-acre wood has all but vanished for me, fickle human being that I am. My days are filled with lists and that nagging notion that there is always more to do, in spite of my busy hands and sheer exhaustion. I feel guilty when I choose to sit and read (or write) rather than clean out closets and cupboards… another part of me resents the burden of all these extra tasks that have invaded my life… and I get frustrated with my lack of maturity about these things.
This was my choice. I knew what it would mean and chose it willingly. What do I have to be frustrated about? During those times of normal routine when I had plenty of time to complete all of my necessary tasks, I imagined myself as a gracious person– patient, compassionate, thinking of others, giving generously of my time and attention. But then I entered real life… and where did that lady go? Turns out I am miserable, resentful, exhausted, short-tempered and selfish.
This past week has been especially difficult. I have lost my temper and my joy, and I am afraid that my children may think, that I simply don’t want to be with them. The truth is, I just don’t have much left to give to them right now. I know this isn’t the good-Christian-mom thing to say (because our kids are supposed to be our priority, right?), but it’s true. I try to imagine myself as that mom who can plan out her days so that her kids get her “best” and not her left-overs… but I come to find that this isn’t me.
The thing that most disappoints me about my current inner state is this: it seems I have bought the lie that my life is supposed to be about my pursuit of happiness, that I am on some journey to find my “happy place” where all is well and at peace and I can finally take a deep breath, relax and enjoy it. I am not satisfied to be on the way, on the path. No, I must get there and I’ll be pissy until I am.
Even now, as I tell the truth about who I am and have been, I want to fix whatever is wrong with me, so that I’ll be happy (and then everyone around me can be happy, too). Can’t I just change my thinking about the work on the house? Could I just order my tasks differently, schedule some “days off” to play with the kids? Maybe I should call in some help from friends? None of these are bad ideas, and I may actually choose to do one or more…. but there’s something deeper going on here, and it disturbs me.
As a Jesus-follower, happiness is actually NOT my goal. It’s not what I am aiming for in this life (yet somehow, it seems some part of me must think so). My goal is union with Jesus– to put on his way of life, to have his heart and mind, to follow him so closely that it is hard to tell where he ends and I begin. I trust that happiness will result, though I prefer to call it joy. I trust that peace, wholeness, beauty and goodness will come of this union. But those things should not be my pursuit; they are not my focal point.
My focus is Jesus, the King of Love… in the face of my children, in the soapy water where my hands get wrinkly, in the vacuum cleaner and the dusting spray, in the voice of my burdened husband, in the piles of junk that I don’t know where to put, in my exhausted and sore muscles and my chaotic brain. Jesus. Jesus, my Lord. Be my pursuit. I will say it until my heart and mind follow in obedience. I will speak it until it is true: I pursue YOU, nothing more and nothing less than YOU.

Through Ben’s Eyes

A few weekends ago, we went to the cabin in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania with my husband’s family. We took the grandchildren for a walk to pick up fall leaves. It was a gorgeous October afternoon– a bit past the peak of fall colors, but still full of beauty.

My son, Ben, was the slowest of the walkers, so I hung back with him as he chose leaf after leaf after leaf for his “treasure bag.” After I watched him choose what appeared to me to be very ordinary dead leaves, with brown spots and without much color, I decided to ask him a question. “Ben, why are you choosing those leaves? They don’t have much color and they have ugly brown spots on them.” To which he replied, “Mom, God made these, too!” He twisted his face as if to say, why can’t you see what I’m seeing, Mom, because it’s so obvious!

It’s something we’ve heard a thousand times in Christian circles, that beauty is everywhere and we just need to learn to see people and things the way God sees them. But as I was sharing this story with my spiritual director and bemoaning my inability to do this well– to see with God’s eyes and appreciate all the gifts in my life, large or small, she responded in a surprising way.

“Kris Anne, it is already in you to do this. You have the eyes to see, and it’s only your unwillingness to believe in the light within you that is keeping you from blossoming into all the potential that God has placed within you. Think about your mom. You have told me before that she had little worldly beauty, yet she was beautiful to you. You loved her hands and her eyes, her spunk and mischievous wink. You know true beauty. The Spirit has given you great power… you just don’t believe that yet.” The truth struck me head-on.

I wonder sometimes if we, in the same way, underestimate God-in-us as faith communities. Do we have faith to believe that it is already in us, as the Body of Christ, to see with God’s eyes and to act in God’s power to bring the Kingdom into visible expression? Do I believe in the Spirit at work in my own church community… or, as our shortcomings and struggles rise to the surface, do I underestimate what we’re capable of?

She’s Wearing my Shoes

I was down on my hands and knees the other day, fishing around for something that was lost under the refridgerator. Suddenly, I heard Heidi saying something to Ben. She had taken his hand and was bending over, looking into his eyes as she was speaking. “Ben, I know you don’t really want to go, but it’s time for school so you need to get your shoes on now. Let’s go. Come on, honey.”  I looked up and said, “Heidi, what are you doing, why are you talking to him like that?”  To which she replied: “Look, mom, I’m wearing your shoes!”

First, let me just say, that I’m glad the first words out of her mouth, as she was pretending to be me, were NOT “Stop that! Come here now! Listen to me for once- I am your mother!!” etc., etc.  🙂   But secondly, I wonder what it is about shoes that define the person, in the eyes of children. Maybe it’s just that they are the easiest articles of clothing to find lying around. But why not my coat or my sweater? What is it about shoes that are so fascinating? Well, whatever it was that prompted her little charade, it has me pondering imitation.  Heidi longs for time with me, longs for my attention. She uses my words and tone… even my facial expressions sometimes. She constantly talks about being a mommy someday and having a daughter. Imitation comes naturally to her. It’s how she learns.

I also learn best by imitation. When I’m learning a new melody line, rather than sitting in front of pages of music, I play the song on my computer over and over again, singing and playing along– trying to get the notes, rhythm, mood, and tone of the song exactly right. I also noticed that I write in a style similar to my favorite authors (though I’m obviously not anywhere close to being as talented as they are)… I use their vocabulary, imagery, sometimes even their writing rhythm. This is not really a conscious thing, but the repetition of reading the same authors’ writings over time has imprinted their style on my brain, I think.

So here is what I am currently wondering… As a Christ-follower, how do I learn best? Currently, I spend a lot of time sitting in a classroom, talking about theology and leadership and church history (or reading textbooks and writing papers)– but do I adore my Lord so much that I strive to imitate Him? Am I learning from Him the way I learn a new song, with repetition and detailed observation– in one sense, “singing His Song” along with Him? Am I beginning to think and talk and the way He does, because I have heard His Words so many times that I don’t even realize they have become part of me?  I realize I’m probably not saying anything new here, but it hit me again when I saw my little girl wearing my shoes.

“Anyone who claims to be in Christ must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6

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