Blackberry…

Yesterday was a real blackberry wrangler. The Himalayan variety is considered a noxious weed in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. And they are gnarly; grasping and scratching, and tearing out one’s hair. But after donning my hazmat suit, I kinda like those blackberry days… the gnarly things refuse to be ‘managed.’ Yesterday’s session turned out to be a little like church.

The blackberries spring up in seemingly devastated landscapes – clear cuts, vacant lots, abandoned farmhouses. In our case, they jumpstarted when we thinned the upper canopy; filling in where the undergrowth was traumatized by falling alders and cottonwood giants. In an uncanny way, they have allowed the elder- and salmonberry to flourish as well, and recreate habitat for small creatures. Preserving that habitat was part of our intent, but the blackberry invasion not anything like the method we had imagined.

As I climb and crouch among them, they seem almost desperate to grow, to reach the light. Their crowns are both hidden in the dark, and lurking in plain view. I used to be afraid of desperate people, afraid that something of the trauma that had ravaged their landscapes might rub off on me. But after half a century of trying to grow by cautious and thoughtful management, experiencing desperation myself with just a glimpse of the extent of trauma in our world; I am mostly impressed by their resilience, and in awe of their knowing to seek the light. I could cross-examine the foundations of what that means – to seek the light. But I know who spoke sunlight into being; and that seeking interface is enough to give me hope.

jfig  7/17

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Prayers in the Margins; a reflection

In her book, An Altar in the World,(1) Barbara Brown Taylor begins with a poem.

“The tender flesh itself

will be found one day

–quite surprisingly—

to be capable of receiving,

and, yes, full

capable of embracing

the searing energies of God.

Go figure. Fear not.”

Dear God, today, to whatever extent my tender, broken flesh is capable of receiving your energies, may I extend them toward the reconciliation of man and Maker; that reconciliation which invites mystery: the mystery of Gentile as neither inferior nor superior, but as ‘same’.

Mystery, indeed…

Sear, they do, these mysteries; lining the walls with question in the cathedral of one’s brain. Sear, not seethe, I implore thee. For I surmise that seething, unremitted, comes to a common, bitter end… Surely, I am not worthy to seethe, in this body of broken flesh.

May our skins look neither anemic, nor aged, alongside one another, but rather illuminated by fiery contrast, hands folded against one another. And I will love my color…and hers. I wonder if our pain is not that we sometimes hate our hue; Oppression’s ‘ other’ face.

May the tendrils of incense, one pale and one burnished prayer; entwine as they climb, reaching toward your wisdom.

May brother’s glaring weakness be bridged by my strength, and my blind spot navigated by his story’s light.

May your mercy weld the two together into faith weightier than our differences. Weighty, wise, whole in wisdom. For we ARE weak, and spoiled of flesh, without both the wisdom, and the mercy…

And , then:

“Therefore, the flesh

is not to be excluded

from the wisdom and the power

that now and ever animates

all things. His life-giving

agency is made perfect,

we are told, in weakness–

made perfect in the flesh.”

These lines taken from Scott Cairns (2) adaptation of Capable Flesh by St. Irenaeus

I am convinced that I have not the answer, and neither do you. We must go searching the answer, together. For the prisons of color and gender are not the only oppressions we bear; nor poverty, nor pain. The oppression we bear, is ‘human’; and unless we bear this cross  together, this same one borne by Christ, it will be but a ‘beating stick.’

And from the middle of the poem:

“For even at its beginning

the humble clay received

God’s art, whereby

one part became the eye,

another the ear, and yet

another this impetuous hand.”

 

And so, ‘life-giving agency’ becomes our quest. Are any of us capable, then, without first being given breath? And can we deny the life that presents right in front of us, the breathing broken… and not wonder also at its source.

jfig/11-15-2016

 

1) Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)

2)Scott Cairn, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007)

 

tuesday mornings…the stone prayers

For some reason, this first week after Easter, the stone has drawn my attention. Propped there for years, in hearing and celebrating the life-breathing message of Christ’s resurrection; it is in the picture, then not. But it has captured my attention this year, as I feel a stone’s weight of concern sit upon my heart – for friends, for family; for the future of the world, backlit by the crossfires of social commentary. And I see that the power that raised Jesus from the dead, also lifted away the stone that would hold us, at least, in the grave.

There are other stones God addresses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, God asked Joshua to have one man from each tribe carry a stone of remembrance from the river, gathered from this spot: “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by…Joshua 3:17a  “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:6,7 (1)

The river ran a boundary between the Israelites in the wilderness, and their stepping into the land of God’s promise.

I wonder, as they look at the stones, do they also remember another water crossing??? Ex. 13:17.18a  “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” (2)

In that desert, at Pharaoh’s approach, the people “were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Ex 14:12

Moses replies, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” Ex 14:13a (2)

In between the Red Sea of deliverance, and the river separating them from the land of God’s promise, lay 40 years in the wilderness. It feels like wilderness sometimes, to be rescued by God from the darkness of sin; only to wander in a place of shameful weight, whether the sin is one’s own, or committed against one; wearing clothes the cold gray color of the grave. It is also a place where we again, begin to trust that God is with us, that He has always been with us, a place where we learn anew the truths on which to stand. A place to begin to look up and see the promise. And in that place, we lay down curses and shame. We fold the grave-clothes honorably, for they have brushed our skin, sometimes for years. But they are grave-clothes, and we lay them behind to pick up stones. Not the familiar weights of guilt and shame, the bricks of Egypt, that God knows we are prone to find less terrifying, but stones of remembrance of his power.

Joshua set up the stones east of the Jordan. “He said to the Israelites, ‘In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” Joshua 4:23.24  (3)

Powerful God, Mighty Deliverer, we are a people terrified and traumatized by the past; rescued only by your deliverance. Evil runs rampant over the earth. Some of us remain in need of rescue. Will you push back the waters that block our escape, by your merciful grace? Will you do on earth, what you SEE in heaven?

Thank you for the freedom, and the toil of the wilderness, for it teaches us about you; about your provision, your  heart.  Thank you for wilderness time to re-tapestry our hearts with death and life, to look more like yours. Will you renew mine?

In the wilderness of societal confusion, where factions cry out; will you give us dry ground on which to stand firm? May we see in the stones, 12 of them, the breadth of your reach? As we come into your presence, the Holy of Holies, will you steady us in  truthful worship, toe-to-toe, side-by-side; our lives grounded in WHO YOU ARE rather than the politics of the moment?

You have promised…to give what is both meaningful to us, and praise-filled for you. Rivers of deception separate us from the realization of that promise. The subtleties of confusion keep us churning between ‘dry ground’, and desert, looking back…. Make us wholly your own, in fear and awe of you, we pray.

(1,2,3) All scripture references taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version c 1973,1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission.

Declaration

Some years, our family has been privileged to collaborate in crafting a Christmas carol. As we move from Thanksgiving to Advent, I am thankful for a God , who sees, and knows… Here is this year’s rough copy, based on Isaiah 61. When all the musicians get here, we’ll work out the transitions.

Declaration

I have come…to find the lost, you lonely

Lend my truth, to light the corners of your mind.

I have come…to help the broke and hurting

Mend your hearts: I offer to you mine.

Let the little children come – the orphaned, lame, forgotten ones

Climb into the reaches of my heart.

Let the weary, burdened see; there’s rest in doing life with me

The blind, the poor – in seeing what I see.

 

I have come…to loose the chains that hold you.

You’re free to soar, unfettered by a past.

Beauty’s hope, in trade for broken dreams and burned-out ashes,

Joy will rise into a kingdom that will last.

The valleys and the hills made low, an easy path for us to go

Let the echoes ring, of the joy I bring.

I have come.

I have come.

 

(SPOKEN)   I have come, image of my Father’s glory.

HERE I  AM…  to offer you his love.

I bring strength for your trial, power for your struggle,

The gift of wisdom, and a peace that will not end.

 

(SING)   Let the children come…

Let the people see…

Let my kingdom come

When you believe.

jlf12/14

Echoes…

Midst December’s relentless march into longer.. hours… of darkness…, we introduced a series on hope, with the metaphor of a crevasse  reverberating with the echoes of need and plenty, have and have not, in an effort to find light in the darkness. To somehow bridge the gap.  Here’s a spring perspective, dedicated to Miss t. and fam, for their resilience.

In FEBRUARY of 20__ (who can keep track anymore) I stared at the puddled floor of the Firs Chalet drying room, at my children’s boots. Heavy fans thrummed steadily in some attempt to stir the heavy air, but nothing stirred the moisture-laden boots (and sopping socks) that lay miss-matched and askew in the middle of the entry. We were at the chalet for a homeschool ski retreat, with a variety of families, many of whom had more children than we, and better established plans of training them up than we. These were lovely people, with lovely children. I’m totally serious…l.o.v.e.l.y. I held in one fist, my aspiration to be a good parent and in the other the big question, “How?”   My mesmery (I know it’s not a word, but it should be) was broken by one small voice crying, “Mom, you pick them up…” as a wee body darted past and clumped up the stairs. I’m not sure in what, because I had the boots… I replied in a loud, pained voice, “I am not your servant” And midst the ongoing thrum of the fans, the stillness on the stairs, the as yet unanswered, ‘how’ in my head, I heard the echo, “Oh, yes…you are.” Oh, yes, you are; yes, yes, you are… a servant. It was clear to me, that it was not in the act of picking up boots that my children were responsible for themselves; nor in having exactly the same parenting style or plan as these other successful couples, that I was to serve; but in laying down my expectation of parent, to pick up their need as child. Everything from love that dares to discipline to clean socks to reassurance in the dark falls under serve. Oh, yes…I am

It is finished… A brilliant friend surprised me the other day, by asking me to pray for strength; “strength to make wise decisions; ones that you would encourage in your 14 year-old, like going to bed at a reasonable time instead of staying up late to watch a movie, when you know what will be asked of you tomorrow.” I knew exactly what he meant, because as the years lengthen, I find my capacity thinning (too bad it’s not carried in my…hmm). It occurs to me , that it may not be the capacity in which we serve, so much as our willingness to find it a privilege, whatever the task, that fills our cup for the next effort. Some people seem to naturally overflow with this enthusiasm for service, but not me. I wanted to be SOME.Body; not just anybody. As the years went on, and I became less impressed with myself, and more impressed with what God was working in my kids and in and through other moms, that left-handed fist started to slip its grasp a little. I realized that it was going to be pretty difficult to carry the cross, if my hands were full of, well, ME. Gradually, the cross became a place, not to launch myself from, but a place to drink life from, because every time I let myself die there at Jesus feet, God filled me up with something he could use. Wow! And if I got stuck looking at the crumpled up remnants of the old me, He quietly echoed, “It is finished.

Last Sunday, I got to visit our stunningly beautiful daughter Laura (someone else’s words) for Mom’s weekend @ WSU. The homily at church was about Peter. Poor Peter… who got tangled in the circumstances, like so many of us do, and denied knowing Christ. Well, he outright lied, didn’t he??? After rereading the Gospel accounts (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18), I wonder if there was not an echo of truth in Peter’s words, “I do not know him;’ an echo that we share in the passages of life in which we cannot see Christ. For he did not yet know the Risen Christ. It seems obvious that we deny Christ, if we remain in our sin, with no attempt to move forward into his redemption. But perhaps as believers, it is often not the dying Christ which we deny, but the risen one. I do not know him, in the places where we have not yet allowed the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, to pull us up out of the grave clothes. Voluminous grave clothes, in which we sometimes hide with our failings, our fears, our weakness, instead of allowing Jesus to gently fold them away. What are we afraid of, when it is finished? Peter, who had limited success walking on the water, ran undeterred through it, to get to the Risen Jesus; to see who this was that he did not yet know…And Jesus commissioned that thrice-failed Peter, by the same power that raised him from the dead, to feed sheep. Love me, Peter, and feed my sheep.

The echo of Jesus’ coming, rolled across the hillside from his birth, to his resurrection, commissioning shepherds with a message – an echo from the chambers of God’s heart… may it find a home in yours.

Steel Magnolias

…sitting in prayer time this morning after reading the headlines of Ann Voskamp’s blog, http://www.aholyexperience.com and feeling challenged to pray for my sisters. I bolstered my attitude with a worship song, and landed at the cross…for several run-throughs. You can listen to “At the Cross,” by Hillsong, on youtube or http://www.worshiptogether.com. What a great reminder that NOTHING can separate us from God: not our confessed failings or just who we are or the challenges encountered in the daily journey to wife, or mother, or sister in Christ, or big monsters like illness and special needs and abuse and Mistakes. Jesus tore the veil of separation. We just have to walk through…That’s what makes me think of Steel Magnolias – that the seasons of life bring so many things to walk through; and girls are good at walking and talking, holding hands.

IMG_3002With style.

But the BIG walk-through, is remembering to walk through at the foot of the cross, like some cinematographic feat of stepping right through the image, and having it close behind us protectively as we rest at the feet of the risen Jesus. It’s done – his tearing of the veil. His covering over of all the coulda-woulda-shouldas, and the things we wish had do-overs. His propitiation (sorry, I had to throw that in there) for all the things that need more than our fixin.’  It’s done, just for the asking.

Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

Because we are emotional beings, we tend to get caught up in the angst and celebration; the ‘woe is you,’ and the ‘Baby, you can do it.’ One can read about such celebrations of sisterhood, but so often, we don’t ‘feel the love’ of it until we are way into the woe…  We are separated by miles or the business of taking care of home and family, or juggling responsibilities. ( Is it the ‘Year of the Multi-tasker yet?) As one both organizationally challenged, and born serious, I feel pretty helpless to try to lighten another’s, not to mention anothers’ load(s). That is until Hillsong sings reverently, and I belt out  jubilantly, in the privacy of my home, “What can separate me now?” and realize anew that the long list of beautiful, amazing sisters – who are steppin’ out in fear and trembling just like me- are covered by the same promises:

Romans 8:29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn [fn14] among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, [fn16] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

scriptures taken from NLT, courtesy http://www.blueletterbible.org

My hug can’t reach them today. but this whispered, triumphant prayer can. It’s so simple – holding each up,  in the middle of my weakness, in the ever-so-small palm of my hand, to an all-powerful God: God, wash over R, and A, and K, and L, and K and LD, and MP, and M and C.C.C. and K and H and K and K and FEG and J, and K and D and K ( wow, that’s alot of K’s) and M and AP and everyone I forgot today and our own four beautifuls… and all those crying inside, ‘God, send me someone please.’ God wash over them,  with your grace, and your strength, and that amazing Jesus welcome, “Come sit by me…” Wrap them up in your whisper of hope that is real; more real than any disappointment, or mind-blowing, exhaustive chore, or fear of what tomorrow holds. And the sisters will say/sway, A.M.E.N. Amen, God, to what you are doing. Amen.

jlf 2/12

Change of Heart

Thank-you, Kathy Hill, for tweaking my heart… For 10 years of Little Miss Sweetness’s life, the primary focus of my caregiving seemed to be providing safetyand nurture, and meeting her basic needs out of a wealth of mother-love. Intermingled in there, was the role of providing opportunities for her to develop interests and friendships, but her attention span was challengingly short for her to engage for long. She continues to be passionate about those who regularly people her world, and a variety of canine and other four-legged friends; squealing with delight to encounter any of them, whether at church or school or in the grocery store; but for the most part, anything else fails to hold her attention for long. As Little Miss Sweetness has becme more adept at handling her own mobility safely, and navigating social venues, it has become increasingly important to access opportunities for her to grow in her understanding of, and enjoyment of the world, to facilitate interconnections between her and the rest of the planet. It has also increased our ‘conspicuous quotient’ considerably; and while I enjoy being the center of attention, I like to reserve that for when we are ‘looking smart’, not when we are piecing together social appropriateness. We used to fly under the radar as just a mom and a large baby…no more. So while Little Miss Sweetness wrestles excitedly with whomever new she gets to meet, ‘mom’ wrestles’ with how we look. To a certain extent, I’ve slowly stopped wanting every possible opportunity for growth for my daughter, and started hoping we can just get through the church foyer without creating a scene. A scene for whom??? I used to think the whole world was a stage for lucky children…

I’m not sure when my attitude changed. (It was probably always there to a certain extent; that wanting my parenting to be validated by the behavior of my children. We have long since let that go by the wayside – and I have a much greater sense of appreciation for parents who wrestle with exactly where to draw the boundaries. When I see them doing so with patience, they get my vote. ) I find it challenging to switch roles, even in my adult mentoring relationships, from the needed, to the needy and back again. Juggling expectations then letting go at just the right moment to allow someone to fly is tricky in the best of weather. This is accentuated in my relationship with my teenage daughter, who while beautiful in so manydetails of appearance and character, also needs me to provide many details of personal care. And she is beautiful…sensitive to the expressed feelings of others, aware of their need to be drawn in. She is delighted by humor and babies and living things. She is resilient to a fault. She’s happy. And she is appreciative. All in all, not bad for a teenager! But some small part of me, that while I cannot forget she is mine, all mine in the daily demand, has forgotten that she is mine , all mine, in the delight, the privilege to embrace in a mother-daughter dance. My husband, God bless his soul, keeps a loving view of who she is, and when I confessed my sorrow at this angst, he was quick to affirm the efforts I’ve made to create opportunities. Just recently, we took advantage of a non-school day to go out for breakfast – it’s what I would have done with my other girls, and we had a blast confusing the waitress with our fumbled ordering. My fumble, her gain! There is hope. But I am grateful for Kathy, who said in not so many words, “God does not see my disabled child any differently than He sees me.’ If that’s true, then I guess I don’t get to do so either. And if I am pressing along because this is what I have to do, rather than because this is what I am privileged to do, then I have missed a beat somewhere. I have missed seeing Jesus in Little Miss Sweetness, in someone’s invalid grandmother, or in a neighbor’s mother with mental illness. Our special charges are not measured by capabilty or fluency or even sit-still-ability, but just as one created by, and belonging to God, as fully as you or me.

I am reminded of a time in marriage, when I lamented the need to walk through one of my husband’s struggles alongside him, compalining all the while, “Why should I have to do this?” (I will probably have to do a full confessional on selfishness some other day…right after the one on arrogance.) In some moment of grace, I was able to catch a glimmer of truth; that it is not my chore, nor obligation, but rather my privilege, to serve one so loved by God. It’s part of why I share this post – not because I’ve figured this serving thing out – but because I’ve felt the struggle of it, in many of  the relationships in which we are called to serve one another. It is sometimes easy to bend one’s head to the task, even obediently; but forget to still one’s heart to the privilege. Godspeed.

jlf 2/4/13