Back-to-Something-Else

Back to my desk

For the first time in 21 years, neither one of our daughters are going back-to-school. Both are college graduates. Both are making inroads on the job market. Both are strong, lively, caring young women. But there’s no “Back-to-School” this year. It’s now “Back-to-Something-Else”!

From their public school days, I don’t miss the homework assignments that the student does not understand. I don’t miss the “creative” book report assignments. I sure as hell don’t miss the group projects. (And I suspect my daughters would agree!)

There’s plenty of appointments on my calendar. But there’s no dorm room to fill. No sweaty elevators or staircases. No jaunt to buy desk supplies or refills for the printer. No awkward good-byes (and tears by Mom in the car on the way home). 

I gotta tell ya, it feels a little weird. 

Ok, a lot weird. But in a good kind of way. 

Now our years now fall into the natural seasons of Creation. The year doesn’t reboot in September every year. Instead, each new day is a new start. 

I’ve put a new practice back in my life called The Daily Examen. You can use the website or an app (scroll to the bottom for the links). You can write out your own questions for daily reflection. It doesn’t matter how as long as you do it. 

When the house is quiet in the evening, I pause and do a mental reset. I wait. Sometimes I worry. I pray. Sometimes, I rage. But always, I feel re-engaged and ready for sleep. 

So whatever your fall season brings, I invite you to embrace it. With questions. With honest reflection. With integrity. And then with action. 

Back to my roots

 

Old Man’s Cave trail, Hocking Hills, Ohio

 

 A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these, she said, is roots, the other, wings.

Quoted by Hodding Carter in “Where Main Street Meets the River”

We had our annual family reunion last week. It was full of pun-offs, adventures, and close living quarters. We feasted on fresh Carolina peaches, sweet corn and brick oven pizza.

A bodaciously awesome pizza, if I do say so myself!

I realized as I listened to the laughter and conversation swirling around the dinner table that our stories are entwined in so many ways. We share history as well as DNA. We share losses and joys. We fight to the death to keep the essential, clarifying, and off-debated Oxford comma. (See what I did there?)

We shared peaceful views at sunset. Hiking at childhood haunts. Competitive card games. And hugs. Lots of hugs.

The genealogists in the family (my mom being the most experienced) will share interesting bits of family trivia. Through years of research, Mom, (as well as my Dad and maternal grandmother) have uncovered when a specific ancestor emigrated to the US, what wars  they fought in, how they worshipped, and where they homesteaded. The ancestral “fan chart” is impressive with the names and dates going back to ten generations!

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Ancestral Fan-Chart created by my grandmother, Lura Morrow Hickox

For my daughters, I wish for them this same sense of rootedness and belonging. A place to be accepted and encircled with love. A reminder that they are loved and prayed for daily. A retreat from the world when its suckiness seems to out-weigh the promises of the future. A secure take-off. A safe landing zone. And enough love in their buckets to spill out into the world around them.

It’s something I wish for all…  Not a wall. Not belligerence and hate. Not ridicule and judgmental scorn.

It’s really quite simple:

Roots. Belonging. Acceptance. Love.

The true mark of someone who loves God is one that demonstrates their rootedness in the Divine. And the fruit that grows from it.

Jesus said:

You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Matthew 7:16-20 (NLT)

Baby Goats and Sunshine

kid

Cute kid! (Photo credit RevDebVaughn)


Friday afternoon I snuggled a kid. She nuzzled into my arms and contentedly looked at the world around her.

I didn’t know goats would cuddle! I thought of them more as the Tigger-y type, bouncing and jumping around. And they do. But they also snuggle.

Her owner-shepherd had hoped to bring the kid inside to see his mother, who is a resident at the facility where I was seeing patients that afternoon. Unfortunately, she was not a “therapy goat” and so she and her owner hung out in the parking lot.

There was a parade of people who came to pet the kid. The little goat must have wondered what all the fuss was about as she looked at all these smiling humans… Ears wagged. The occasional bleat. And then she contentedly snuggled and snoozed in the midst of the hubbub.

I drove home thinking about my day… It was warm, sunny and breezy. It’s spring. The season of new life, new growth. (And allergies!) Yesterday’s brown branches show new buds today. Flowers that I didn’t see budding have popped open in all their glory. Overnight, I see the differences in my yard. It’s invigorating!

It’s easy to see change as the seasons flip from winter to spring. But in the every day moments where my calendar is full of routines and phone calls and errands and charting… I don’t see growth. I forget what things were like just a few weeks ago. I doubt that things will EVER be different.

There’s a parallel here between the changes we notice in nature, and the ones within us. Changes from the work of God’s Spirit in us. Changes from within our hearts where our attitudes, our dreams, our words are transformed. Much of the time, the work of the Spirit is slow, gentle and inviting. And other times, like the blast of an icy wind gust, we are dramatically and utterly different.

And in those in between times, when we’re not sure what’ showing on, or what crazy change is coming up next? It think that it’s not a bad idea to snuggle a goat… 

 

Friday Five: Push or Pull?

The traffic crawled for over a mile this afternoon and this was most of what I could see:

DO NOT PUSH (if you know what's good for you.)

DO NOT PUSH (if you know what’s good for you.)

It was the inspiration for this week’s Friday Five (which I’m hosting this week over at RevGals). Play along if you’d like!

I am fortunate to have some great encouragers in my life. The ones who know me the best are great at knowing when to challenge me, and when to just chill and let me figure it out myself. SO… think about the encouragers and challenges in YOUR life and tell us…

  1. After achieving a goal, do you set the bar higher, or rest on your laurels? I am someone who pushes herself, always going for that next goal.
  2. Which is better: a kick in the pants or a hug and a cuppa? If I’m struggling, I need “a hug and a cuppa.” I am far too self-critical and have (probably) already kicked myself around the block.
  3. What’s your baseline motivation? Fear? Competition? Not getting caught? 😉 Being seen as lazy. I’ll push past my limits to try and do it better. One of the things I’ve had to learn along the way is to let “good enough” be OK sometimes.
  4. When you’re facing a big challenge, do you need to talk it out, or puzzle it out yourself? It’s kind of a combination. I want to talk about it, but not so that you give me the answers.
  5. Who is in your corner – always? Who helps you achieve more than you imagined you could? (You don’t have to give names) Family. Friends who have gone the distance. Some pretty amazing co-workers. And RevGals that I’ve never met IRL but always have a word of encouragement when I’m feeling defeated.

BONUS: A picture, piece of art or music that expresses your experience of the push/pull process.

I found this in my photo files. It speaks to me of this process of making headway and then falling back into old habits or struggles. I also like the image of being in the process with someone — human or Divine.

Abandoned swingset. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn

Abandoned swingset. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn

Safety Recall: Hurry Up and Wait

The other day I went for my “free” recall repair of a defective airbag assembly in my trusty Honda Pilot. The repair came with a “free” loaner car. What wasn’t so free was the time I spent waiting… For the rental car company to pick me up. For the rental car car company to have a car for me to rent. For the rental car company to get the car I was going to use cleaned.

I had some morning appointments… that had to be moved. Philosophically, I tried to see it as a chance to relax and play a mindless round of games on my phone. I tried to look polite (and not as annoyed as I felt) when I got the next update that started with, “well, it’s going to be a little longer because…”

There are times like these “hurry up and wait” moments where one’s patience is tested and one’s upbringing to be courteous and kind is challenged. And then… I thought of the times that I had kept someone waiting. More times than I would care to admit, actually! Sometimes it was because I planned poorly and didn’t take into account the traffic I might face. Sometimes it was because an errand or a phone call chewed up more time than I planned. And sometimes… it was a lovely intersection of bad luck and someone else’s poor planning.

Ugh. Not a fan of waiting. Not at all!!!

Hurry up and wait…

My friends in the military use that phrase to describe the time they spend in formation, waiting for a dignitary (or officer of the day) to show up. It seems pointless. It appears arbitrary. It’s also a good way to describe the way I have grumbled against God not being on my timeframe for an answer to prayer.

In the end, the car had to stay in the shop another day because they ran out of parts. And yes, I got to drive a zippy little sports car (for free — almost — I did have to buy gas!) as I blasted XM radio rock stations. The chaplain rocked her caseload that day. Not a bad result from all that waiting.

OH… wait a minute… I get it…

Amen.

Dragon Repellent (And other ways we face our fears!)

Many, many years ago, one of our daughters would wake up in a full-blown panic, calling for us:

Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons!
Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons! 

Tears on her face, she would curl up against us, while we tried to soothe her. She didn’t want to sleep WITH us, as much as she wanted the dragons to ‘go away.’ We had little success in persuading her the dragons had left until she fell back asleep.

This happened on and off for a couple of months. It was exhausting for all of us. Nightlights. Music. Aroma therapy. Stuffed animals. We would go a couple of nights and then… BAM. Her pediatrician noted it and said that it was a part of brain development. She wasn’t sleep walking.  It wasn’t night terrors. It was probably just “bad dreams.”

Except, these were not dreams from her perspective. There were dragons under the bed. And they hid when we came in the room. And they only came out at night… At one point, I even tried opening the window and shooing out the dragons before bedtime. (Yes. I was desperate. And pregnant.)

Funny thing, there’s nothing in parenting books about “dragons”…

Finally, I had a fit of inspiration. It was after we had come back from a camping trip and we used a lot of insect repellant. And there were no dragons. Hmmmm….

Before bed one night, I produced a can of “Dragon Repellant.” (It was actually a room deodorizer spray with a conspicuously hand-written label on it. Whatever. She was 3 and a half. It worked.) I sprayed the room and then under the bed and announced that the “Dragon Repellant” would keep the dragons away.

And, it did!

Since those early days of parenting, there have been other fears and tears that no amount of “repellant” would keep away. Gradually, we have all learned a lot about conquering fear. Or rather, allowing the Spirit of God to be a source of confidence, courage and coping. We read verses and learned songs. And mostly, we admitted when we were afraid and needed God to help us.

Isaiah 41:10 (Common English Bible)
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold youwith my righteous strong hand.

Joshua 1:9 (CEB)
I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Romans 8:14-16 (CEB)
All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.

There is a healthy kind of fear. It allows us to retreat and evaluate our safety. That can be healthy and life-sustaining. The fear that God battles for us is very different. It is the kind of fear that paralyzes and causes us to retreat from growing, or pushing past personal pain.

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The fear that God conquers is a fear that limits us.

It is a fear that binds.
It blocks.
It takes away our willingness to try something new.
It puts up artificial boundaries.
It creates barriers between us.

It’s been a constant growth experience as I face fears of different kinds. Of learning what kind of courage it takes to speak my mind. (Or to be silent and pray.) To express an opinion. (And to stand up to opposing ones.) To ask hard questions. (And to accept that we won’t agree on the answers.) To take a risk on a new venture. (Or use wisdom and decline.)

What’s so funny about all this as I face my own fears is that people have told me that I inspired them to try something new. And I laughed. Because, well, in the back of my mind, I am quaking in fear, praying, and fearfully spraying “Dragon Repellant” at all of the things that worry or scare me. I’m trying to have faith that conquers these fears.

And even in my fears, God hears and answers. In the saddest, angriest, darkest, most fearful moments, God has been there. I am grateful.

The Light dawns. Hope returns. Blessed be.

Blessed be the Name...

Blessed be the Name…

Matt Redman wrote a worship song years ago that reminds me…
Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name.

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord…”