Thankful Thursday – Fall Blooms

About this time six years ago, a few weeks into Tween’s second grade year, his teacher found me admiring bulletin boards in the breezeway.

She said, “Hey, can you give me a tip? Tween doesn’t seem to realize he’s in school.”

I immediately replied, “Oh, give him some time. He’ll realize it’s no longer summer by, let’s say, Thanksgiving.”

I wasn’t joking, but let’s all take a quick moment to imagine her dramatic eye roll…

(In my defense, c’mon, this is California! With the amazing weather, he was in the pool weekends and after school until Halloween…!)

After I’d spoken the words aloud, I realized their truth deep in my being: not only does Tween transition slowly, but our whole family stinks at transitions.

You may see us going through the motions. We may be in the right place at (mostly) the right times, getting things done. But that doesn’t mean we’re organized, on top of things, present to the moment. We may–or may not–be any of those things, depending on the hour, day, week, minute…

Six years and so many transitions post-epiphany, you’d think we’d know to anticipate our bad transitions. You’d think wrong, my friend. Oh no, every time, whatever season, we find ourselves once again thigh-deep in the muck, repeating for the umpteenth time: “Oh, yah, transitions…”

And again, and again, and painful as each one of us has to come to our own conclusions about how we individually and as a family are weathering the current storm.

Locally and globally, we have had a weird-weather fall. In NorCal, we’ve had record-breaking heat (115 should not happen here!), followed by mellow days, then more heat with thunder and lightening storms, now wind and my allergies are threatening to do me in. Still, I’ll take it over the storms that hit Houston, the Caribbean and Florida, or the earthquake in Mexico.

Then, this:

These fantastic flowers burst forth in my front yard. The pink one is the size of a face!

My soul stills in wonder at their beauty, and I remember that all things bloom in their time, in their season.

Including me, us, this family.

Due to date miscommunication-confusion, a friend showed up when I wasn’t at home. She left flowers. Cut flowers from plants I’d purchased for her, that she planted, that continue to thrive. The gift keeps on giving, flowers and friendship keep blooming.

Nine days ago I noticed my gratitude journal, forlornly forgotten in this transition-season; I jotted some thanksgivings, and promptly forgot it again. Today I tucked in a print-out of a poem, shared by a friend and meaningful in this time. I will add more personal items tonight. I need gratitude, especially now when transition makes discipline difficult.

Banksy recently posted on Twitter: “The only thing making you unhappy are your own thoughts. Change them.”

And with our dear St. Anne and the communion of saints we pray: Help, Thanks, Wow!

Any one of us might point to demanding circumstances, taxing days and long hard nights, excuses all–many understandably so!–for being unhappy. Thanks changes our thoughts. It keeps us in the now, present to the moment whatever the feels it holds, and gently/forcefully unfolds in time an as-necessary different perspective.

Let’s give thanks for the season, for its unfolding, its blooming, for the unpredictable beauty here and yet-coming.

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Everything Thrums

As I prepare this post, Teen has the TV on while watching videos on his phone and Tween stares into the computer game abyss. The competing sounds drown out the natural world: birdsong, chattering squirrels, leaves rustling in the (too) slight summer breeze. My friend Bruce encourages us to listen, to tap into the flow, to tune our ears to the thrum of God’s creativity. But first, to deal with the noise…

re:create recess #14: Bruce Lawrie

When we were little our play was filled with creativity. Children can conjure up whole worlds before sitting down for a bowl of cereal only to dismantle their creation in favor of three or four more elaborate universes they assemble before lunchtime. I used to spend hours with my Revolutionary War army men that I ordered from the back cover of one of my Spiderman comic books after saving for months, hundreds of tiny molded plastic figures, red for British and blue for American. Great sagas unfolded out back in the sandbox behind the old farmhouse where we lived in Indiana. Regiments of infantrymen and drummer boys, backed by rows of cannons, fought epic battles in the shifting sands, deluged by flash floods emitted from the garden hose, bombarded by bricks and cinderblocks from above, set aflame, in one of the more gruesome and memorable battles, by my dad’s lighter I had snuck from his desk.

One of my daughter’s favorite forms of recreation when she was young was creating endless shows: plays, book readings, operatic arias, puppet shows, tumbling exhibitions, karate demonstrations, ballet, rock-n-roll shows, modern dance, the Macarena. The only encouragement she needed was a momentary lull in the adults’ conversation.

Maybe it’s because kids are so fresh from the Creator that their recreation revolves around creation. Imagine the fun God and Jesus must have had as they sung the cosmos into existence, reveled in the creation of the DNA helix, grinned at each other as the two trillion galaxies unfolded. How they must have marveled together at the first beloved child they breathed into being. Everything thrums with God’s infinite creativity. The mountains proclaim it; the Pacific shines with it; the Milky Way aches with it. Our kids are filled to the brim with it and when they play they are swimming in it.

As we age our creativity is dulled by worry and planning and all the other grown-up thoughts that fill up our heads. When adults make art they set aside the constant murmuring of these internal voices long enough to allow the Creator’s love to flow through them again. To create is to connect with the Life we sense pulsing just beneath our day-to-day reality, just out of sight. We catch glimpses of it, hear faint echoes of it, but can’t quite hold onto it. To pick up a pen, a paint brush, or a lump of clay and take the first step in search of what lies below is to reach out for the unknowable. We hope to capture a bit of the Light, something real that others can feel and connect with. To create art is to connect. These mirrors we build—a poem, a sketch, a line in a play—manage to reflect truth in a way our words and thoughts cannot.

It is as if these truths pre-exist us and it is the artist who discovers them, hacking through the thicket in search of something she herself can’t fully describe. The writer sits at her desk and aims in the general direction of where she caught a glimmer of Light. She writes and rewrites, not yet clear herself on where the piece is headed, cutting, editing, and editing some more. And then slowly she begins to see where she is going, perhaps she is on to something here. She reads her work aloud again and again until she discovers she may have found it, or a bit of it, the truth just beyond the veil. Built from words, her poem is a vessel that holds more than the words themselves can convey.

In 1964 Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias first heard the distant echoes of the Big Bang, an “inexplicable hum” they picked up on their radio telescope in New Jersey. Apparently, when the Word and God got together to kick things off, they started by humming a tune. To sing and to dance is to align yourself with the Flow, to experience the harmony of Father and Son. How easily our kids pick up on the joy singing through the world, ready at a moment’s notice to boogie with all they’ve got, to run and leap in the fading evening light, to curl so thoroughly into a story being read aloud to them before bedtime that their bedroom, their daddy, their teddy dissolve into the unwinding tale. Perhaps we can learn from them, turning our senses like a finely tuned radio telescope to the music of creation. Perhaps we’ll discover the song that moves us to play with our Creator.

Bruce and his creative daughter

 

Bruce Lawrie lives in Moraga, California. His work has appeared in Portland, Notre Dame, The Best Spiritual Writing, and elsewhere. Links to published stories: Who am I Lord, My Turn, and The Ride of a Lifetime

When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Creative

Today’s guest post comes from a friend who for years pew-sat near where I pew-sat. We waved, smiled, hugged, and regularly engaged in worship side-by-side. I came to know her creative heart as she shared through a regular design article in our local paper and through her business posts over social media. Her eye for beauty never fails, and neither does her willingness to pray.

Create Challenge #33: Ann McDonald

Creative
Endless possibility
Firmly plant
God’s heart, the soil
Steward in the secret place
No limit
No place too deep, heights beyond
Measure scars
Healed, beauty born
Order out, safety balance
Justice scales
Creative beyond measure
Increasing
Holy, shouldered
Love, weight, fallen yet redeemed
To a
Place of honor stewarded
Secret place
The psalmist sings
Transparent truth, weight measured
Rhythmic chords
Bearing anguish, healing souls
Spirits soar
Beyond clouds
Relationship, chords become
Life, birthed
In blood, redeemed creative
Bring forth new
Today, glory
Endless soil, possible
Rooted in
God’s heart, stewarded from
Secret place
Creative, you
Are, beloved truth, birthed from
Blood, redeemed
Endless possibility
From the soil
God’s heart, now seeds
Break through, growth, fearless, timeless
Creative beamcdonald

Ann McDonald is a visionary creative strategist and tactician. She has a unique skill for constructing and deconstructing the macro without sacrificing the micro in the marketplace and in the realm of ideas. Ann foreruns curriculum creation for consultants, and coaches Leaders across the spectrum unto growth and profitability.

A 25 year veteran of the Luxury Design Industry, Ann is the Business Moderator for a trade community over 100,000 strong. She has a passion for equipping creatives. She creates processes to bring ideas from raw form to implementation, and then towards influence and increase.

Ann graduated from UC Berkeley, is married to Patrick, has two grown sons, three pugs, and currently splits time between Lake Tahoe and the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Thankful (Maundy) Thursday

Maundy Thursday. Also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries (loving this last one – because isn’t God’s love SUCH a mystery?).

Maundy Thursday is the day on which we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed (later that night), crucified (Good Friday), and resurrected (Easter).Da_Vinci__the_Last_Supper

The word maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum, which means command. As in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Oy, love can be hard!

Sometimes, it feels like too much. Too much to ask.

I’m wrestling with God this Maundy Thursday. Someone has hurt one of my cubs and this Mama Bear wants to take them down. (In my honor, please read that with a deep, booming, fantastic God-like voice: your favorite Batman, or Morgan Freeman, even Arnold in Terminator…)

How to respond graciously when I don’t want to? Sure, decorum works most effectively, but I want to kill with kindness. Really, I want the kill. Sigh…

I know what today is: a solemn day, an important day for Christ-followers. My One Year Bible doesn’t know that this particular calendar year has landed MT for March 24th. So I sit down with my Bible, knowing I need a heavy dose of God right now, and read this:forgive

Am I willing to listen? The command isn’t just to love, but to love my enemies! Loving my guys is easy. But to love, do good, bless, and pray for my hateful, hurtful, cursing enemies…YIKES!

Therein lies the rub. The true command of John 13:34 is to love like Jesus loved. How did Jesus love? He didn’t say a word in His own defense. He sacrificed His life. He loved with such a costly love that He gave everything He had. And because He loved us SO much, He died to save every single one of His undeserving, unloving, hateful, hurting, cursing enemies who would recognize their own sin and say YES! to His overflowing love.

Jesus said yes to me before I could even attempt to deserve His love (not that I ever could, try as I might). And now it’s my job, as His follower, to say a loving yes to others who don’t deserve it.

I don’t want to. And I still do need to seek justice for my hurting cub. Love doesn’t negate consequences. But God’s love calls me to a standard I can’t, won’t, achieve on my own.

So I ask for God’s love to fill me. To forgive my sins as I forgive those who sin against me (and my cub). I ask God for the willingness to listen, to love, to forgive, to do good, to bless, and to pray – even when that’s the last thing I want to do.

Because, I’m pretty sure, Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, and yet He prayed: “…not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

One of my favorite poets, George Herbert, writes of this mystery:

I threaten’d to observe the strict decree
    Of my dear God with all my power and might;
    But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
“Then will I trust,” said I, “in Him alone.”
    “Nay, e’en to trust in Him was also His:
    We must confess that nothing is our own.”
“Then I confess that He my succour is.”
“But to have nought is ours, not to confess
    That we have nought.” I stood amaz’d at this,
    Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
    What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
    Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

 

It’s not up to us. Every inclination we have to do good, to trust God, it all comes from Him. We are His, and thank God for Him who leads us to trust our Christ, who cannot fail or fall, who keeps it all, our Hold-Fast.

 

Thankful Thursday – A Poem & Pictures

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, here is a Maya Angelou poem interspersed with pictures of recent moments which made me feel grateful for this life.

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.blue lion bows
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.puzzle tulip
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.coffee heart
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.Proverbs