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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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!

Finding union in love

James Finley on Thomas Merton:

The Samaritan going from Jerusalem to Jericho found a man half dead who had been beaten by robbers. As the Samartian bound up his wounds, Christ met Christ. Weakness met strength and both found hope in life beyond division and fear. Love is the epiphany of God in our poverty.

I want this in my life. This is what matters.

on becoming fully human

My mind is filled with a million seemingly random thoughts lately, all somehow connected to my current spiritual path… the one I have been fighting ever since my connection to God was awakened as a teen. You see, I’ve always been a “go-getter,” filled with ambitions and dreams and the drive to DO SOMETHING. Often my drive to do something has been related to situations where I saw obvious injustice, abuse or neglect. This has, in many ways, served me well in life. I’ve met challenges and survived. I’ve done significant work. I have experienced life deeply.

However, this same drive and ambition has prevented me from embracing my full humanity…

I have been slowly reading a book on Thomas Merton called “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere,” and it talks about humanity’s sin in a way that is new to me. In Merton’s view, our sin is rooted in our choice of independence over dependence. Now, I was always under the impression that my independent spirit was a GOOD thing, so you can imagine my reaction as I’m reading this book. I want to tell him he’s wrong. I can take care of myself and chase after my dreams and do it well for the most part. What’s wrong with that?? Well, that might be true, but I also know something else that’s true. Having lived into my mid-thirties, I realize that my independence is a lie. It seduces me into thinking that I have little need of anyone or anything; it dupes me into believing that I am queen of my own fate. There is nothing better than becoming a mother to bring one to her knees. An island, I am not. There is nothing like helping a loved one die to uncover the lie. I cannot control anything– not the medicines or the professionals who prescribe them, not disease, not my children, not my husband, not my parents, not my puppy, not the earth or its weather patterns. Not one damn thing. I am dependent on God. Utterly dependent. And I am connected to the people around me in a way I cannot even put into words, but they are not mine to change or control.

When I choose to ignore these truths, I put myself between myself and God (thank you, Merton, for helping me realize this). I also put myself between myself and those whom God has given me. I have created this false self, this queen of her own universe, and God has been slowly deconstructing her over the last years. It’s painful, let me tell you. But there is a longing in me to be done with her… because she keeps me from being fully human. My full humanity is in my connection to God and others… the only way to live fully human is to embrace my dependence and utter powerlessness… to open my clenched fist, clinging so desperately to a life of my own making and embrace whatever comes. And of course, to let God be God.

I was recently having a conversation with God that went something like this (beware, I’m not very reverent in my prayers sometimes):
“God I hate this. This is one of those situations where I have NO VOICE. None. I’m just supposed to smile and go along with whatever, and it sucks. They don’t even care what I think.”
“KrisAnne, you have a voice with me. Always.”
“Oh, really? Cause last time I checked, God, you do whatever the hell you want with my life, too.”
“Ok…. I won’t deny that. But honestly, I adore what you bring to whatever situation you find yourself in, KrisAnne. I really do. You bring fire and beauty and whit and wisdom. You bring intellect and heart and intuition. You bring you. And I love that. It brings me joy.”
“Oh.”

And in that moment something cracked in my soul. I finally got it… that this life isn’t about gaining more control over stuff and having my say. It’s about being fully me– fully human quirky beautiful me in the middle of it all. And I cannot do that when I’m trying to make it the way I want it. Because I’m trying to be god. I am less than human– and there’s little room for love or mercy, compassion or forgiveness when you’re trying to force people into your god-plan.

As this Truth is sinking in, I’ve been sitting by our living room fire and praying that the heat will melt away all that is less-than-human in me. I can’t get enough of it, actually. I want to be by that fire all day, just offering the scorching flames my SELF. Burn it away, God. Consume all the cold, unbending parts and let me be fully human. Let me be.

St. Francis prays

I beg you, Lord
let the fiery, gentle power
of your love
take possession of my soul
and snatch it away
from everything under heaven
that I may die
for love of your love
as you saw fit to die
for love of mine.
amen.

that bag of seeds

Remember that bag of seeds from my previous post? I walked into the kitchen one morning and glanced at them and immediately felt a rush of negative emotions. They had grown moldy. I was sad. I was disappointed. And honestly, I was a little angry. Apparently, those seeds owed me something. They were supposed to stay nice so that I could plant them, and they would grow into healthy plants and bear fruit. What do you know, my capacity for arrogance and self-centeredness is well intact… also my ignorance of the fact that this was probably my own fault for not allowing them to thoroughly dry. I’ve been thinking about those moldy seeds for about a week now… and the sadness is still pricking my heart.

I read a new chapter in “Living the Incarnation: praying with Francis and Clare of Assisi.” The author was explaining their sense of kinship with Mary as a prototype for Christians. Each of us, they say, is called to birth the Lord Jesus in our own lives and encourage his birth in the lives of those around us. That means being open to God’s Presence within. Oh. We have to stay open, huh? I am realizing how closed I am lately. I think my soul is the thing that’s moldy… it’s been locked up in a plastic bag and the moisture from my undried tears has allowed mold to grow.

I have not paid attention to what has been going on inside me lately. I have filled my life with a lot of noise and the clutter of technology (and a whole host of other life demands)– all of this as a way of ignoring what needs to be tended to inside of me. This is me running away and sabotaging my chance to thrive in God, so that Christ can be birthed even more in me. I am afraid of what is inside, my own ugliness and well as my unhealed wounds. And I am surprised at this growing sense that I am angry. Very angry. Why? And what do I do about that?

There is no way to remove the mold from those pumpkin seeds and save the life that is inside of them. They are done. But God is inviting me to let Him do the impossible– remove the mold from the seeds of my soul and bring me abundant life… and joy. Joy is something that feels somewhat foreign to me. Maybe it comes from growing up a pastor’s kid or a nerd. Who knows. But I am, for better or worse, a fairly serious person. Well, let me say I can laugh and joke and be goofy sometimes, but in general, I take life and people seriously. Life is work to me. I am well aware that it can be hard and painful. Spirituality, too, is often hard and painful. But Francis and Clare speak of joy so often, and I shake my head. Really? Joy in poverty? Joy in confession and repentance? Joy in learning to walk as Jesus did? Joy in suffering? What is this joy? I think I would like some of that.

“This is the meaning of conversion: learning God over and over and over again, a different lesson each time. Meanwhile God acts as if we knew him well.We are basically afraid of this God who strangely likes us. The gentlenes and understanding of God disconcert us and reveal how much our ideas are based on projections from within. We see God as judgemental because we are. We see God as demanding and totalitarian because we are. As distant and cold because we are. And here is the paradox– who we truly are is what God sees us to be. Unless we live in God’s Presence and learn Him over again, we will remain in exile from ourselves. Our true self is hidden in Christ, he who is most fully human. We are kept in exile by our compulsions and attachments which drive us. They are like an addiction. They retain power over us because we are used to them. Our greatest sickness is that we prefer what we know and what we are used to over risking the unknown. The truth, however, will set us free so that healing can begin.” from chapter 6 of “Living the Incarnation” (excerpts from pp. 76-79)

I have to tell you that these few pages, and especially the words quoted above, were like a revelation to me. I know it’s very meaty, so read it again slowly. It is amazing. I read this and realized that I am sad and angry because I am in exile from myself and from God… a self-imposed exile. To be whole again, I need to learn God again. I need to trust who He is, trust His love for me again, and trust who He sees me to be… if that makes sense. It is not that I did not know God before or know any Truth before. But it is time to take another step in the journey and learn more of Him… and learn more of me as well, to be more fully who God created me to be… more fully human. It’s an interesting idea to consider. It feels risky. Am I ready to allow God to remove the mold?

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?

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