St. Francis

He once stood in another garden space, on a piece of soil, surrounded by herbs and flowering perennials. He once belonged to my father-in-law. After Dad Boyd passed away last November, the St. Francis statue made his way to our family. In a packing frenzy, someone wrapped St. Francis in an old towel, and he rode along for miles and miles to a make his home on a new, drier, sandier patch of soil underneath our ornamental pear tree. John placed him in the shade of that tree, close to the house near the patio, where we can see him and remember where he used to be and in whose care he had always been, until now. He stands there all day and night, spade in one hand, tiny bird in the other.

Tendrils of ivy creep toward his feet, little bunnies play nearby, a pair of doves rummage in his station of the yard. In between the shadows of swaying pear branches, the sun laps his head, his back, his face, and the bird in his palm. It is no matter to him, even on days when the sun doesn’t shine and snow piles or rain falls steadily. Still, he keeps his charge, gaze fixed toward the robins, or starlings, or earthworms, or bugs. He manages to keep his spade ready for the tending of the earth, and all along, the winged one he holds never flees.

Clad in monk’s garb, rain-splattered dirt stains add contrast on his gray-scale motif. Browns and greens and pinks and yellows surround St. Francis on any side, nearly any time of year, framing him, highlighting him. Simple and completely unadorned, his sculptured self demands nothing, yet he attracts all manner of creaturely beings.

He attracts us, our family. Gently he calls to us. He speaks about the holiness of tulips and rabbit families, of feeding the wretched starlings, of smelling sweet roses as well as the stench-y daisies. Creamy white paint with sanded grey edges—just a statue. Yet, every day, we live in awareness of not only the 18-inch likeness of St. Francis, we live in keen and tangible awareness of John’s dad and his deep love and appreciation for flora and fauna, of his love for God’s created world, of his love for a small garden fixture in the form of a catholic saint.

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a child will lead

Small, four-year old hands reached out to stroke her baby sister’s head of dark curls.  That Margaret was nestled into the bending slope of mattress where her petite frame touched my own.  We sat, me with the little one cradled in my arms, and she with the anticipation of nighty-night prayers to offer.

“Jesus,” she asked, eyes closed, eyebrows dancing in earnest as she continued, “just help her to reawy rewax.”  Then, she sang an impromptu, quietly operatic lullaby.  Her feet dangled over the edge of the bed.  Small feet, small hands.  Big prayer.  Help her to really relax.

15 years later, God whispers her words back to me.

Don’t worry about tomorrow.  It has enough worries of its own.  Just rewax.

Put your hands to the work I’m giving you, even if it doesn’t look like the work I give to someone else.  This is your story.  Rewax.

I’m teaching you.  I’m helping you.  Rewax.

Have I ever left you?  I led you here.  I will lead you still.  Every little baby step.  Rewax.

All that you have is mine.  Steward it well.  Relish sharing it.  Stop comparing.  I made you.  I know you.  Rest in me.  When you go to bed, just really rewax.  Quiet your mind.  Be still.  I am enough for you.  Nothing can separate you from my love.  Rewax. 

God is outside of time.  My daughter’s intuitive heart asked for help.  Surely, she did not know the fullness of it all.  She was four years old.  Yet, her childlike faith challenges me, even now, across time, in time, in the fullness of time.  For such a time as this.  “Just help her to reawy rewax.”

 

 

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Signature fragrance

Someone asked me, “So what brought you to this area?”  Long pause swollen with want of possible answer, best answer, authentic answer.  I quickly pray to ask God what he would have me say.

Because I could say, “We work for a non-profit.”  It’s accurate.  It’s also not the whole truth, and it makes me uncomfortable to skirt the question.

However, if I spout out, “We are missionaries, and we work alongside people who want to go further and deeper in their relationship with Jesus,” then every small but significant relational building block we’ve stacked together will be forever altered by whatever her perceptions of Christians are.  The pause is long.

While I don’t want to stand so closely to Peter and his denials of Christ that they somehow become my own, I confess that I just don’t want to speak too loudly sometimes.  The version of Christian that I see in lots of places provokes a hiding instinct in me.  Since changing gears in mission from pastoral to para-church ministry, we’ve enjoyed greatly the ability to blend in with people and be known simply as John and Shannon.  I’m hesitant to blow my cover.

Exposing what we do comes with a price.  It’s akin to reaching into my purse, pulling out my signature fragrance, and spritzing the people around me.  Some might appreciate it.  Others may prefer the opportunity to draw in close enough to me, take a whiff of what I’m wearing, and discover the subtlety pleasant and interesting.  I don’t fear the exposure because I want only to chase after Christ and make him known when it’s comfortable and private.  The revelation of occupation–or calling, to be more specific–changes the stakes of relationship.  Especially when what Christians in the United States are up against is as much the reputation of unattractive behaviors of their brethren and with their brethren as it is the persecution from the culture.

What if I peel back my shirt sleeve, show my Jesus colors and, right away, I get lumped into piles of manure?  What if they smell lingering manure on me, as surely I am culpable, too?  Or, what if they have been so wounded by some soul who abused them in the name of God or the church?  What if they hear the “loving” way the church talks so much about changing the world but sees how little they (we) seem to do in the way of really loving people?

No singular person carries the burden to correct these pains, though the scriptures are full of examples of praying prophets who shouldered heartfelt confessions on behalf of not only themselves but the whole of God’s people.  We should take note and do likewise.  I should take note and do likewise.  The mounds of division and hurt I see grieves me deep in my gut.  All along, water for the thirsty is in our hands, and we’re watching people die of thirst while we argue over the water pitcher.

I can’t calculate how I will be received, no matter how I answer the question, no matter which way I carry the water.  As with so many conundrums, the best answer comes when I abide in the love of Jesus; there, in his heart, I learn what to say.  And I have no choice but to leave the fall-out up to him.

“Job change,”  I tell the woman.  “My husband was in pastoral ministry for many years, and, after a long journey, we changed direction.”

I watched her face, then I nervously scanned the walls of the warehouse structure where we stood.  I counted panels on the walls.

She asked a few more questions while we waited for our boys to finish their play.  We filled the gaps with parent talk and odds and ends.  Only God knows what she thought or thinks.  It’s okay, I guess.  But I know I liked it better when she just knew me as Shannon.

It’s not, as some might propose, that I do not have a burden for those who do not know the beauty of walking in relationship with Christ.  It’s not, as others might suggest, that sharing the love of Christ is not necessary.  My soul bears an interminable ache for the world to experience the utter relief of knowing God through Christ.  For me to be quiet about where to find bread would dishonor my Lord and would deny the hungry food.  No, it is neither of those things.

It is this:  when I am myself, without a label, Christ in me lives to show forth his glory by his fingerprints upon me.  My words may be necessary at some point, but the fragrance of Christ had better be apparent without them.  Otherwise, perhaps I am not my true self at all.

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Playing is training

Growing up in a small town with lots of extended family nearby meant that we spent of a lot of time with cousins on both sides of the family.  My brother and I considered my Aunt Carol and Uncle Phil’s house as much home as we did our own.  With one boy and one girl in their family and one boy and one girl in our family, it was a natural pairing.  We spent countless afternoons playing in the cornfields behind their house, exploring acres of farm land, climbing in the barn and silage cribs, and making a boat or spaceship out of the monkey bar swing set. The youngest among the four of us and rarely hindered by the difference in age, Sammy led the way on many of our adventures.  When he was somewhere near the age of five, he began using the term sissy baby.  (I don’t recall if it was a Sammy original or if our cousin, Glenmore, made it up.)  When Sammy called any of us a sissy baby, a gauntlet landed at our feet.  We were faced with a choice.  Walk away from the challenge of the day, be known as a chicken, and wear the name.  Or face the challenge, whatever it was.

More than once, when my husband served as a pastor (nearly 20 years of it), I told the Lord, “I don’t have what it takes to be a pastor’s wife.”  More than once, he reminded me, “Of course you don’t.”  Millions of times as a parent (nearly 20 years of it), I’ve ached in my inadequacies.  Probably half a million times in the last couple of years, the reality of my limited ability to do well, speak well, understand well, travel well, move well has pierced me in the innermost places of my soul.  This is not about self-loathing.  It’s just a true story that I have often confused growth and maturity with pride and self-sufficiency.  Self-hatred and self-awareness do differ.  I’m just saying I don’t have what it takes to fight.  I’d rather just wear the name of sissy baby.  Sometimes.

The word of God planted in my soul gasps for air, begging to be heard and spoken.  “You don’t fight with the weapons of the world.  Your weapons have divine power to demolish strongholds.  With your weapons, you demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”  (II Corinthians 10:4)  “Your battle is not against flesh and blood.  It’s against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

When I was a little girl living in that small town, no one told me what kinds of things I would battle as I got older.  For sure, no one ever told me that I had an enemy who wanted to do more than be just some sort of boogie man.  I was a kid.  My cousins and my brother and I were kids playing.  What did we know about what it meant to be warriors fighting for our hearts and for the hearts of others?  Church was one thing we did, and God and Jesus were included in that sphere and not many other spheres.  Outside of table grace and bedtime prayers, we never linked our adventures and play with spiritual formation.  But maybe we understood intrinsically more than we consciously grasped.  Maybe the challenge to rise up with courage in our adventures was a subtle call to face the darkness, or the heights, or the fear, or the bully.  Possibly, we were in training for grander adventures and more potent stakes.

God, I don’t want to be a sissy baby.  I don’t want to be one.  I don’t know that I have what it takes, but that’s okay.  You do.

 

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On Writing and Living

“So our language isn’t just for communicating–it’s for co-creating, it’s for communing.  With our words, we bring realities into being, we track our history, we polish our present, and we carve out the direction of our future; we renew, awaken, and build toward redemption.”   –Dave Harrity, Making Manifest

More and more, God is shaping my heart, and he holds it in his hands while he allows it to break for his fractured creation.  A yearning for Eden dwells in me, a yearning for a re-created beauty, for a triumphant return of the King to set things in order.  And every day, his voice beckons me to participate with him, to usher him into this world, to put down paving stones of his kingdom.  Right now, while I wait for the culmination, he asks me to bring his kingdom wherever I set my feet.

Daunting.  As he means me to add my limited fish and loaves, a paltry offering of my very self.

How can this be?  Surely, he remembers that I am dust.  Certainly, he knows more than most how frail I can be on those days when who I am is still fraught with insecurity and doubt.  His mystery and his sufficiency invites me past my dustiness.

Flannery O’Connor says that, as a writer, you can choose what to write but you cannot choose what you are able to make live.  In writing and in life, it is for me to lay down my words for potential life–or for the slow death as they do not rise to life.  Either way, I’m setting my heart and mind to write and to live as one who bears the indelible image of God expressed in me, whatever may come.

It can be utterly frustrating to be  myself, even with the clear knowledge that I am God’s workmanship, his poemia.  Living in a broken world means that we do bump into the wounded souls around us.  We are all bound to be misunderstood, to be misinterpreted, to be disliked.  That’s fair.  But what good comes of refusing to write, or create in any way or to simply live, just to avoid the risk of pain?  What awe and glory might also be avoided?  If I am God’s handiwork, I am in process.   Perhaps the frustration might relent if I settle into the deep-down knowledge that God will not abandon the process.

Is a part of what is means for me to co-create that I build toward redemption?  This phenomenon of laying down my insecurities and limits, releasing the fear of being misunderstood and maligned, giving over the longing to be really loved and known–letting it fall into the ground to die and watch it be resurrected so that I can participate in new life?  To become less so that the potency of Christ becomes enough for me?  To love full-on but with a properly broken heart?  To keep craving justice but with a passion fueled by grace and mercy?  To tell a better story, to breathe words of hope and healing into the lives of those around me, but to do so out of the limitless love of the one who authors the story of redemption?

Dear Lord, let me be a part of your Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.  Let the words that well up in me really be a part of co-creating and communing with you and with others.  May it be so.

 

 

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