still winter on the inside

It felt to me that winter was going to last forever this year. I couldn’t wait to watch our 10-acre wood come alive, and I kept talking to the bushes and trees, “Come on, please. Grow. I need new life. I need some color!” Then it would snow… again. But here I am, sitting in my sunroom with the windows open, listening to new bird songs, and I can almost see the apple tree blossoms opening before my eyes. The grass is green. The daffodils and tulips are actually almost past their best blooming days. What surprises me most… and disappoints me… is that the change of season has not changed my weariness of spirit. I am glad for warmth and more sunshine, but I am still tired inside and out. Where is the lightness in my step that I thought would come? Where is the joy this time of year is supposed to bring?

My daughter said recently, “God speaks to me at night, mom. And sometimes He mumbles, but only sometimes.” And I thought, it used to be that simple for me. I used to talk like her. I used to have that kind of faith. But somewhere in my week-in-week-out, year-in-year-out ministry life… it has gotten… what is the word? tired? old? complicated? disappointed once too often? God seems to be mumbling right now… more often than not, actually. Or maybe I can’t hear Him because I’m talking too much. Maybe I’m disappointed because I’m looking for a different outcome than God has in mind. Church is the same. People seem to be the same. God, what are you up to?

In January, I drew a word out of a basket. This is a ritual at our church… our pastor prayerfully chooses words from scripture, puts them on small pieces of paper, folds them and places them in a basket. Each of us blindly chooses a word from the basket to be our “grace” for the coming year. In December, we will tell the stories of how God has brought that grace home to us over the past twelve months. My word for this year… you’re not going to believe it. It’s GOODNESS. When I picked my word out of the basket and unfolded the paper and saw that, I thought: how I need this right now! I need to see the goodness of God! It would be food to my soul. My heart is filled with so many wishes for my church, my family, my friends… presently unfulfilled wishes.

So I’m taking my winterized heart and soul to God… and trusting that despite what looks like failure or disappointment, that is not the end. It takes practice. I sit in my hammock and listen to my kids play in the creek a lot. And I tell God that winter is still in me. In this year, there will be goodness– Good things in ministry, good things for my family, good things for all those who God loves. I will see it. Spring will come!

vision

The last of the leaves are falling all over the 10-acre wood these days. The trees are nearly barren. I can see all four borders of our property now, and the spaciousness helps me breathe deeply.
I wonder, as the sleep of winter approaches, does dying help us see beyond what’s right in front of us?
Does it give us a wider, longer view of existence, of our lives, of all that God is doing?

to the 10-acre wood

For the last month or so, we’ve been living a curious journey. I wanted to write about this sooner because it has been the source of some profound reflection for me… but it includes news that my husband and I wanted to share personally with some people before I shot it out through cyberspace.

For many reasons, my husband and I had decided that this house we presently live in would be our permanent home. It’s not perfect. The location isn’t perfect for a family that loves the mountains as much as we do… but it’s home. It’s where we dove into ministry together; it’s where my mother died and my father spent two years living with us; it’s the home we brought our babies to after they were born; it’s where we’ve learned the art of hospitality, of sharing our home with others because this home belongs to God. Not to mention (and this is really the kicker), both of us despise– and I do mean utterly despise– moving. So we took on the stress of a major project, revamping the backyard to our liking, and we were at peace. Well, peace is relative, isn’t it? This past summer was not easy for either myself or my husband. The exhaustion and mess and busyness of adding the pool project on top of everything else took its toll (and it still is… we’re not done yet).

But… then God spoke. Do you know what’s coming? You got it. Something new is being born.

Out of clear blue sky, we were given an opportunity to buy 10 acres not that far from here. 10 beautiful acres in the woods with a babbling creek and all the wildlife and spaciousness we could want. Even though I verbally said “no way” as soon as the opportunity presented itself, somewhere deep inside I felt the urge to see it. I felt a drawing.

But it didn’t make sense. We love our neighborhood. We love our house. We’re creating a whole new living space in our backyard. Our roots are here. And what about our strong calling to hospitality and missional living among our neighbors? How are we being Jesus if we’re hiding out in the woods? Yet… God was drawing me… He was there as I walked the grounds, speaking to a deep place in me… Interesting, as I thought of grieving the loss of the place where I spent the last days with my mother, I felt her walking with me by the creek in the 10-acre wood, bird-watching and noticing beauty everywhere.

Small steps. We started exploring the possibility more and more– crunching numbers, making inquiries, talking about all the issues involved. I kept whispering a prayer, “close the doors, God, if this isn’t you. make it clear, please. make this clear.” Dreams. I started day-dreaming about ministry possibilities. What would it look like to be hospitable here? What could ministry look like here? I thought about all the monasteries and convents that invite people to come away and be with God. A retreat place. Yes… maybe a small retreat…

I spoke with my spiritual director not long ago about all of this and how crazy it seems. She said, “But Kris Anne, all I see on your face and all I hear in your voice is anticipation. You feel it, that God is, in this very paradoxical circumstance, calling you to another conversion. The extrovert called to the woods! Conversion of your known way of being and known way of living into a new way! You’re already open to the possibilities, aren’t you? Embrace the surprise and the unexpected, Kris Anne. Hear the call, whether or not it works out with this property.” Embrace the crazy? Ok… I might learn something, and it might be joy!

It is not official yet, but it looks like we will be living in the wonder of the 10-acre wood come this spring… maybe not until summer. The next few months will not be easy. We’ll be in the middle of more projects and preparations… but it’s a beautiful paradox to me. What a wonder it is!

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?

The Hope of Easter

I wish my brain were not so completely fried at this moment, or I would write much more about NT Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. But the truth is, I just completed my seven-page paper and need to get some sleep before my all-day class tomorrow. This book is one that every pastor and really, every Christian, should read. We have gotten way off-track in our theological orientation toward “saving souls from hell for heaven,” rather than working alongside the Spirit to bring in the Kingdom!

I am not suggesting (nor is NT Wright) that heaven and hell do not exist, but when Jesus was raised from the dead, the Kingdom broke through on earth and it continues to break through… when Jesus returns at the end of this age, Heaven and Earth will be joined… all creation will be redeemed and made new, all things will be set right once again, our bodies will be raised and transformed (and we all will face judgment… all of us). This world is NOT headed for disaster, but for new creation!  “May God’s Kingdom come, may His Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!”

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As I often do, a few key quotes:

“The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious expeirence, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises this hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is the true Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun… how can the church announce this [good news]? If it’s actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addtion, its own internal ife gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community, then suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense” (p. 227)

“The large-scale hope of the whole cosmos is the great drama within which our little dramas are, as it were, the play within the play.” (p. 80)     SURPRISE, it’s not all about us! (that’s me talking, not NT)

“Every act of love, every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity– doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom– is an earthly event in a long history of tings that implement Jesus’ own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope, pointing back to the first and on to the second.” (p. 295)

“When the church is seen to move straight from worship of the God we see in jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’ table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them are the poeple who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed– then it is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also natural for people, however irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be part of.” (p. 267)

“When [God] corners us and finally takes us in his hand– we find to our astonishment that he is infinitely gentle and that his only aim is to release us from our prison, to set us free to be the people he made us to be. But when we fly out into the sunshine, how can we not then ofer the same gentle gift of freedom, of forgiveness, to those around us? That is the truth of the resurrection, turned into prayer, turned into forgiveness and remission of debts, turned into love. It is constantly surprising, constantly full of hope, constantly coming to us from God’s future tos hape us into the people through whom God can carry out his work in the world.” (p. 289)

The Labyrinth

Grass, leaves, dry ground

Stones and winding path

Sun on my face, gentle breeze through my fingers

The crunch beneath my feet

Birds chirping, sirens sound four blocks away

Shoes off, bare feet on the path

Turn toward the center, down a little hill

Shady spot beckons

Keep walking, now turning away from the center

Children laugh, bees buzz, a dog barks

Back up the hill and around another bend

Now in the center, time to pause

The way back out, still winding

Sounds of life all around

But I’ve been to my center

I am still there

I’ve walked all the turns in the path

And I am ready now

Weeds around my heart

The warm sun beckoned us outside after lunch today.  The kids ran straight for the swings. I followed behind, and before long I was distracted by the wild strawberry weed and grass in the flower garden next to the swingset.  I knelt down and started to pull.

If you know anything about wild strawberry weed, you know that you don’t just pull one weed at a time. This is a vine-like plant that winds its way all around the flower bed.  Thankfully, the roots are pretty shallow, so it’s not impossible to get it out, unlike dandelions and thistles.  It is, however, difficult to be rid of wild strawberries for good. In the nine years we have lived at this house, we have ALWAYS had this type of weed.  It is everywhere… in every flower bed… all around our property.  No matter how often we pull it out, no matter how careful we are about following the vine wherever it goes in the soil and getting every root, it is eternally present. And very annoying.

As I listened to the laughter of my children and pulled these stubborn weeds, I thought about Jesus’ parable of the seeds and the sower.  Weeds choked out some of those Kingdom seeds that were planted.  How sad! I wonder what wild weeds are choking the God-seeds in my heart and soul?  And what weeds are choking our churches– wealth, power, busyness, comfort, entertainment, even family? What stubborn distraction or addiction or sin has wrapped itself around me, around us, sending roots down all over the place, refusing to go away?

I wonder if I am more wild than pruned. I wonder if there are weeds choking me, that I am not even aware of, or that I am more attached to than I realize.  How painful would it be to allow my Lord to pull those viney things?  Wild strawberry weed does not produce much fruit.  God, I do not want to be choked by weeds! Holy Spirit, make me willing to be pruned and weeded.  Make our churches willing! Pull, go ahead and pull.