To Wilmore

Wilmore

You are the second quirky little place I’ve lived.  The second quirky place where people liken the flow of transition to a revolving door. Oh, Wilmore, they say with  loaded affection. You’ll see.

And then, they welcomed us. Because that is how they are.

This is the second quirky place where there is an ethic of gentleness and faith is not a platitude-quilt. Rather, it is wondrous tension that pulls us deeper.

Conversation cannot stay shallow for long. It is hard, in this place, to talk about mascara and queso when there is so much at stake in our hearts.

They are risky, here.  People peel back the skin of things and say:  Here, take a look, pull on my heart-strings, because I would like to be changed. They tell me this is a formative thing: to spread our chests and yield, like this.

So, I trust them.  Because trust, I think, can wind up looking a lot like love. Yes, this place has taught me that.

This is the second quirky place where the mailman knows Greek and teaches us in our living room. Undelivered envelopes wave with his passion.

We sit at his feet, still and curious. He could go on and on but, you know, people need their packages.

Yes, we agree. They do.

And then he tells us something about the duty of the moment being filled with God’s presence.

In other words: We are all doing sacred work.

So we keep on, keeping on, together in this quirky place. Community happens, when you do this. When you do your job, deliver packages and speak a dream in a stranger’s living room.

This is the second quirky place that is more space, perhaps, than it is place. We have a space for you to grow here. Or,

Go On.

Find a third quirky place. An even easier exhale. And remember, there is always room, here.

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Art of Transformation

A teacher once told me that strong writers are expert collectors. We gather the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of our surroundings, bring them home to our wily minds and allow them some space so we might become curious.  We, along with Inspiration and Practice, sift and separate our collection: these valuable collectibles until there is a fit. Finally, when there is a fit, an arrangement, we’ve made something new. Novel, even.

This is art-making. And whether it is parenting, listening, cooking, composing or writing there is usually an untrimmable light in the artist’s eye–it’s the joy of the creative process.  It isn’t magic and it isn’t sentimental… it’s art-love, and usually, this kind of love has to do with re-arranging, emptying out, maybe chucking a few things before filling up with something a bit lovelier. Come and see what you do not know, artists say to themselves and to the world. And once you see it, we start again. Curiosity and possibility keep them in love and and open. Art comes out of a deep, deep unknowing which, let’s face it, makes anyone angsty, yet the creation somehow, someway, always gets at the heart of things and makes it lovely.

People-making,  people-working, people-helping…this is artwork too. I know I’m not the only helping professional who gets pegged as saint-like. I suppose it’s nice to be called nice, but I would also say that I don’t like my work because it lets me be nice. I would say that I like my work because it lets me be artsy. Relationships are curious and open-ended and really, really artsy. At least the ones I’m interested in having. The problem is, whether you see yourself as a helper-saint or a helper-artist both involve some serious ego so things can get a little dicey. Especially when you feel like your art is not unfolding itself like art should.
When someone tells me the deeply intimate details of his life and I listen, look, and try very hard to communicate an appreciation of their “collection”–all of its eclectic, human and relatable matter—from their beliefs to their eye contact to their self-image to their parents to their addictions to their style—all of it–and I say:

I see this!!! Here is an idea. What if we take this tiny, special, little piece of your collection and use it to support this other rougher part of your collection…what if we try that. Shift it. Just a smidge. Could we? We’ll do it together. This would be a small, creative, change—a tiny little change— and there would be just the slightest new arrangement. Verrrryy, verrry slight. It would be strange, but also, still, familiar. Remember, that is how art works. And remember? You are art. Let’s. Just. See. How. This. Fits.

It’s not been like that for me. Not only is it not like that, it feels impossibly like that. Instead the moment and the interaction and the whole creative process that I promise I am trying to trust feels closed up and unable to play out. And I know that running too fast and pushing too hard shortens moments instead of widening them, so I really am trying to go easy. But still, the moments feel abrupt and uninspired.

Nevertheless, I am not called to give up on the art of transformation. This is how my work and my faith must be together forever because when my work and my God say, “Go! Break into darkness” and the people, this art before me say, “I much prefer the protection of this darkness. STOP MESSING AROUND WITH THE DARKNESS. I would like to make a very big hedge around my heart and you, crazy hopeful lady, are making me want to make it BIGGER.” And while the particular instance to which I’m speaking may be a professional one—the dynamic is perhaps, even more accurately a relational one—the one that happens between parents and children and friends and neighbors and husbands and wives and if it’s not happening it may just be that together, there is not enough push for true authenticity and true community. Because, art is also one of the grandest ways human beings have ever come up with to make the strange and the bizarre and the unknown BEAUTIFUL.

So if my patients are refusing to be beautiful for me I have no choice but to turn up the soil of my own heart and pray as organically as I know. Please God, could you recycle my human-matter and the world’s human-matter, and any other skunky matter that has crept in the past couple of weeks… could you please recycle into anything really, but it would be lovely if you could recycle it into something made of more wisdom made of more patience made of more goodness. Lilacs maybe? Could I grow a lilac bush in my heart please? If its truth, I need it. And not only does God have the license, but God, really can create the most beautiful out of the most inconceivably beautiful. I believe this. God can create tens of millions of lilac rows out of this pitted mulchy mess.

So, already, there is comfort in this. Isn’t there? Comfort in this for my unpleasant patients who despise others and themselves and the constant reminders that this is so, comfort for me who is beginning to dislike my unpleasant patients because they make me look at me and remember that my heart is not so big and certainly not creative enough for all of this. Comfort for the parent trying to protect uncontrollable children that they love to smithereens but must set free at the same time. Comfort for the woman trying to understand what it means to care for herself and love others with courage and kindness. It’s comforting not just because it’s possible but because it’s the same prayer all around. No one can say that they do not need the soil of their hearts turned up. In the hardship, whatever it is, there are invitations for even greater re-arrangement and masterpiece because we are all workmanship and we are all too sacred to ever be finished. Love works on things. And in love, God works on things. No one likes to be “worked on.” So, thank God, we are not alone. And thank God that love working on things might mean there begins to emerge within us an even greater semblance of truth.

The deepest reminder of this is the way God, who is beyond any kind of loveliness, sent a divine person, Jesus, to work on things. A person, Jesus, to be light in dark things.  A person, Jesus to re-arrange things. To majorly, majorly overhaul the soil of all things. And this person, Jesus, was strange because of where He came from, and who He sat with, and what He said. And what may have been stranger still, is how people clung to this strangeness. In droves, all of them, together, they went to him and clung to his garments and his strangeness. Jesus embodied the strange AND the familiar and these things together, made the Gospel truth. Truly. So they clung. They lingered. Because Jesus was grace and truth incarnate.

So, today, God is using people, and community and each other, so that we might cling with our hearts, to all of the strangeness, because there is speck of it that resembles truth. And then might we let ourselves see a larger speck and a larger speck and before you know it we we will totally shoveling out our heart soil….all of it….over and over again…even the lilac bushes….saying here, take it, each day, take it. We are giving ourselves up to God and each other, longing for more transformation. More art. There is always more art! These are the saints, to me. Not necessarily the big hearts, or the nice hearts or the creative hearts or even the most inspired hearts. They are not necessarily the most responsible ones, or most hard-working ones, or most passionate ones. The saints are the ones whose hearts have been so shoveled out that every day, they look up and give up and in faith, make more and more room. And say, yes, yes and yes.

Everything will be made beautiful in its time.

Kentucky Thresholds

So, there was time, (say last week) that I was trying to push July along so as to feel “settled.” And then, I realized, in talking to many folks, that I kept saying something along the lines of, “it’s strange not being in some sort of routine.” I’m sure I said these words because it is strange to be on summer vacay in my new nest, but it’s also way fun. We are loving the quiet in this sleepy hollow of a town, any “heat” just isn’t when you’ve done Texas in July for the past six years and in addition to all that, the dusks are glorious. Every evening the sky seems to get ready like it would before a thundershower, but instead it busts open with all kinds of peachy colors. I wish I had a poet like Mary Oliver to come sit with me on the front porch and narrate everything because it looks per-fect. She would especially be wonderful to have when the fireflies came out. They don’t stop coming. They don’t stop blinking and twinkling their little selves and giving an extra dose of mood and energy to the whole dusky scene like smooth jazz music or a big bonfire might.  These fireflies– they are very good at their jobs and it’s more than enough–definitely more than those routines I was lamenting the absence of. So, I stopped doing that and resolved to press in hard to these God given days and all of its tremendous Kentuckyness because that is where we are.

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Now July is almost over, I turn 29 tomorrow, I’ve found that my tree-hugging/van-building Luke writes really heady, smart papers (knew it. proud.),  we go to Farmer’s Markets a lot and I start work on Monday, August 12th.  Aja has some doggie playdates in the works, I got lost in a novel and also had a garage sale in the rain. You see, I could write a lot of these disjointed, listed sentences because life has been really list-ish and scattered. I think it’s because I get stressed out by list rigidity and become scattered. Luke tends to think that it’s not sticking to these lists that makes me scatter. Myers Briggs people: it’s a total P/J thing. Insight welcome. Whatever the case– over the past couple weeks, I’ve found myself looking for the spice rack while deciding where the lipstick plant should go all the while tiptoeing around the pile of dirt in the kitchen because I STILL CAN’T FIND THE DUSTPAN.

On a non-scattered, clear-as-day note, we went to a new church on Sunday and had lunch with some very funny, kind and talented couples who seem to love Jesus and community and each other a whole heck of a lot and oh, how that makes my heart swell with all kinds of things, but mostly peaceful hope. Peaceful hope is clear as day.  And I think it can also be blinking like fireflies. Or busted open with peach like the Kentucky sky. Peaceful hope is happening, even when we are in the middle and tiptoeing around the dust pile and moving locations which is the ultimate “everywhere and nowhere” feeling like my friend Jennifer says. I also know it is Divine, always– but especially for someone like me, who, can be a little rushed, a little fretting a little disconnected and a lot anxious. A lot more anxious than she likes to admit especially when this transitional journey has been so imperfectly beautiful and every day I seem to forget that we have been led.  And so, once again, I find myself in the soft and mysterious folds of my spirit, my mind and this transition. Are we not always at this kind of threshold?  Trying to break through–to the other and more certain side– organized spice rack in one hand, lipstick plant in the other? So this day, this new day, in the tiny, before-the-threshold and very liminal space, I am quieting down and taking up residence.  As is the case with all true and worthwhile things we must have the courage to press on and in AND the courage to say–  not too hard, now. Ea-sy. Not. too. hard. And here is where the peaceful hope walks in with another sunrise.  Or, this morning, it was a prayer that I had once written in one of my journals.  An old-old benediction sounding prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:  Christ be with me /Christ before me/ Christ behind me Christ in me /Christ beneath me/ Christ above me/Christ on my right /Christ on my left/ Christ where I lie/ Christ where I sit/ Christ where I arise/Salvation is of the Lord. 

So simple and grounding and so very perfect for the threshold.  Walk on. Go forth. Stay still. Welcome in. blog 1

Thank You for Moving Us

Moved!!!! Yeeessssss.

This Thursday is a lot different than last Thursday.  This Thursday: there are seven (note– just 7, not 27, or 77 or 700) boxes left in the living room, our doggie is content dominating her new squeaky toy, my husband is doing such strategic office organization that I am beginning to rethink his vocation and I am saying to myself, “Yes, I think you have time to go ahead and update your blog.”  Last Thursday, on the other hand, was a rainy, 4th of July move-in to our new home in Wilmore, Kentucky. After weeks of preparation best summarized by cardboard moving boxes and that packing tape roll-y/smack noise I was feeling pretty zapped.  I know it’s dramatic, but my mental picture of myself on that move-in morning is with little slit-eyes, a coffee IV, some kind of matted hairdo and weird shoes. Yep.

So, I’m not writing that you might have the unfortunate image of me looking like a mover–zombie. Instead, I’m writing to let you know that the Body of Christ has been ANGELS. True angels. All of those sacred phrases like “being the hands and feet” and “being known by love”  and “feeding and clothing and taking care” weren’t just phrases, but were walking, moving, talking GINORMOUS hearts and we were the receivers.  I have never had nor seen brand new neighbors come over to help you unload after 1. you pull your diesel truck into their sleepy-town and SLEEPING neighborhood  at 12:30 am 2. the rain is not stopping 3. it’s their day off 4. The moving ramp is steep, slippery and somewhat of a death wish.

But they did. Five new neighbors, they all came over with broad smiles and peaceful dispositions and Wilmore welcome brownies and they did.  And even as the rain kept doing its thing and the Gatorade ran out and their glasses got wet, they were easy and light.  Those were/are our Bluegrass angels.  East Texas angels, you are next.

I suppose one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is your belief in them.  And that’s where things started for us, Texas angels, with your belief in us.  When we started saying, “I think this is it. I think we are called to this ministry-thing for the long-haul and need to pursue formal theological education.” People can say lots of things when someone speaks out of their heart like that. They can say things like, “Hmm. That’s interesting.  I hope that works out for you!” They can leave things at, “Good Luck! We will be praying for you!”  You gave us more than that. Instead, there were lots of knowing smiles and sincere head nods and almost winks. Phrases like, “Of course you are! We were just waiting for you to figure that out.” It was the best because it was sincere and made us feel like we weren’t crazy, and maybe, just maybe, we were listening to the voice of God with the clear ears and the soft hearts I pray for. The Pastors, the staff, our whole community really were quiet fans declaring into our lives big, God-filled dreams like loving parents do for their children. To this grand community of dream-believers and us-believers:  thank you.  I speak for both of us when I say your words have burrowed their way deep in the soul of this journey and we feel them. We feel the way you have told us that we are a team and we complement each other well. We feel the way you told Luke he can be a great Greek scholar and I can be a devotional writer. We feel the way you tell us our ministries have spoken to you. And in times of doubt and the inevitable jerkiness of transition we will cling to God and your send-off chorus:  Have Faith. God is making a way for you. This is your path and it’s GOOD.

 And what’s incredible is that these words were just the first part. That moving week you were angels in word AND deed, who clapped and flapped your wings, flew behind us, packed our boxes, brought us lunches, filled our gas tanks, scrubbed our oven, weed-wacked our lawn, touched up the ceiling paint (serious saint), did our laundry and raised tuition support. The list is endless. And truly, it is because of you, this divine momentum and this Holy Spirit-push that we are here. Texas angels, you have sent us off with buckets, and I mean BUCKETS of self-sacrificing, Christ-like love. No wonder it was raining buckets when we got here– it was just reminiscent of the buckets you sent us off with. Love-Rain.  Sorry. I didn’t quite recognize it in my mover zombie state.

So now here we are (we’ve been saying that a lot lately) and to make this finale/beginning even grander, we recently received word that a number of personal contributions are being sent to Asbury for Luke’s tuition. Again, I say the heartfelt and inadequate words: thank you.  In faith, you have believed in us so much so, that you have opened your hearts, homes, time, words and wallets for us. I am head-to-toe honored to call you our friends and very unsure about an adequate expression of my gratitude. So, Ill tell you this: in 1 Samuel 20:41, the writer Samuel captures the intensity and humility of David and Jonathan’s friendship when David kneels to the ground and bows, three times before Jonathan. Even though I am not near you, I am before you in so many other ways, and as David bowed before Jonathan, I bow before you. And after I get up, we get up, after we stop unpacking boxes and saying things like “here we are” and “I’m not sure there is a shirt/shoes law in Kentucky” we will begin to live ourselves into this new work God has begun in us. We are in this together- you and us- an angel army of cheerleaders, of teachers, of mentors and scholars. An army of ceiling painters and cooks and organizers and lawn mowers and peacemakers.  A hospitable army, a merciful army, a wise army, a God-fearing one. Blessed be YOU, the angels who work for the Glory and the Kingdom of God.

Oh, and one more thing: we really miss you. All our Love, Sarah and Luke

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