The Night Gunshots Interrupted the Birds’ Song

 

MO 2015

MO 2015

It’s my favorite space in the house- the top story bathroom which has a small, rectangular window perfect for catching evening sunsets or for smiling at the moon while brushing your teeth. During the fall, I’ve spent hours taking sunset pictures, all the while my soul coming closer and closer to the present moment until I am in an entranced, gentle place filled with color, wonder, and no words.

Tonight I was having one of those yearnings as I looked outside the window. I opened it wide, feeling slightly warm March air press lightly against my face. I scanned the trees to find the birds, whose brown feathers matched the still bare trees, blending in, yet standing out because of that infectious song. Their lively chatters echoed my souls’ celebrations of this last week of winter, knowing not just by the dates on the calendar, but by their choirs that spring is indeed coming.

I grabbed my camera and began snapping some sunset shots. There were two birds singing shoulder to shoulder, true love birds perhaps. I wanted them to move just one branch over to get that perfect shot of the birds’ silhouettes against the backdrop of a cascading orange and red sky. Just move over. I begged internally. Come on, move a little to the left. Slightly annoyed at a missed opportunity for a “perfect” shot, a still small voice whispered in. “Just watch. Just enjoy this as it is. Stop trying to make everything so perfect. Embrace this as it is, not how you wish it would be.” With that I closed my eyes, to solely focus on the delight of the birds’ song. I lingered in this space for a good 20 minutes before wandering back to my room that connects to this bathroom. I left the window open to keep enjoying the birds while I worked out. The night darkness came over, chirps turning from a mellifluous sonnet to an evening lullaby.

And then I heard three loud bangs, a pause, and a few more bangs. Could that have been…? No. It wasn’t, I reasoned. I lived in an under-resourced area of Baltimore for a year, in which there were a couple shootings around the block that I was fortunate enough not to have been home for. All the bangs I did hear in that neighborhood ended up being kids playing with firecrackers, something that’s fun to do, apparently, even when it’s not July 4th. But there are few kids in my current neighborhood, and the ones I have seen are toddlers, plus the seldom one or two six-year-olds.

A swarm of police and an online crime alert confirmed my fear. Helicopters circled overhead. My roommates and I looked out the window to find several police cars a block and half up the street, in clear view from this top story window. We gave each other tight hugs, talked about our own privilege, talked about longings for peace and justice, talked about the neighborhood in which we live, met with its quirks and joys, marked by outsiders and many insiders as “up and coming,” a seemingly trite phrase that has some grain of truth if one considers “coming” to mean gentrification.

Within the next hour, the police cars became fewer in number. I can still hear the “bang, bang, bang,” noise sharply in my head. I look out the window one last time, wondering at what point the birds had stopped singing. I supposed they could have gone to sleep before the gun shots could disrupt their song. But even now as I type this, I can still hear an insomniac bird making noise, as if to have some company in his or her sleeplessness.

All of this feels so disparate. How did the view from the window go from lingering in the beauty to facing the reality of violence? It’s so hard to acknowledge that this same experience happened in one night. They seem so incongruous, the latter incident being one of disbelief- did all of that really just happen?

Yes, it did. We live in a world in which it is possible to hear the song of birds and cacophony of gun shots in a single night. We live in a world with incredible shades of red and pink and purple nearly every evening. And we live in a world in which damaging floods and hurricanes can come from that same sky. I live in a body with hands that long to hold another’s, limbs that long to wrap themselves around someone, a smile with an upper lip that shows a lot of gumline. And I live in a body that yelled, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to a driver yesterday who got too close to me while I was biking. A body with a brain that thought demeaning, judgmental thoughts towards someone today. A body that once accidentally drove through a red light and hit another human being, the “How could you!?” narrative reverberating not from outside sources, but internally.

So much darkness.
So much light.
So much life.
And so much of this life is that space between the darkness and light. Finding hope in despair, beauty in the presence of pain, something sacred in the midst of the banality. So much of life is seeing it and feeling it all, and still gazing your head upwards, feeling love for your Maker in the midst of walking away from a particular way of practicing this love. 

Tonight as I lay my head, I’m grateful for this Maker that I’ve come to know as God. Grateful for the light, room in my hands to accept both of these incongruous experiences. Grateful that there is something beyond the darkness, a story whose ending pages read of love over hate, joy beyond suffering, of discovering there is room for all of us in this story, that no one is or will be left out or left behind.

And for now, I’m in that space between. The one that has the synonyms and antonyms in the same sentences, and tonight, even the same breaths, encouraged to “just hold on to the way it is tonight and learn to love through the darkness and the light.”

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The Words I Could Never Understand Then, That Could Only Be Understood Now

ImageI binged on 90s music last week and rediscovered some of my favorite gems. Among them, Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Primitive Radio God’s “Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth,” and The Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” I sung them freely around the house, delighting in the early evening spring sun shining through opened blinds, grateful to be in the present moment, yet overcome with nostalgia and wisdom from time’s past.
I think that’s one of the gifts music provides. That no matter your musical history, the words and melodies will find a way to speak to your heart. My small brush with musical talent began in first grade when I got to play the glockenspiels for three years in a row in the winter concert. The best part of all— my music teacher would let me come practice in the music room during lunch time. I figured out what mallet to hit based on sound and never learned how to read music. FACE, Every Good Boy Does Fine— that was a foriegn language I could never understand. In fact, I only made it through high school chorus by knowing that when the music notes flipped upsidedown, that was my part to sing, being a soprano. Needless to say, it’s a talent I never possessed but appreciate like no other.

Music’s gotten me through training practices, heartache, amplified my best days, and softened my worst days. It’s provided me clues of my past and offered wisdom for the future. So as I was singing the familiar harmonies of “Closer to Fine,” I was struck by all the things I missed while singing those words back in the 90s. Things I could never understand until my heart developed into a melded mess from beating fast, and being held after brokenness. Things I could never understand until my memories included those of pain, uncertainty, doubt, big decisions, hard breaks, tough calls, and the freedom of the open road and hostels. Experiences, in other words, that my young heart was too naive to understand until it went through the hard process of growing up and maturing.

I think much like music, pictures or stories speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. As a kid, The Giving Tree was an awesome book about a boy and a tree that fell in love with each other, and now -call me jaded, but- it feels like a story of a selfish little boy who manipulated a codependent tree. I’m still a sucker for Oh The Places You’ll Go, though, and will forever wonder what a zizzer-zazzer-zuzz is in Dr. Seuss’ ABC.

Similarly, much like pictures and stories, parents and friends speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. I learned the joy of what it feels like once you finally see your parents outside of an authoritative role and into the role of an old friend, finally understanding the sacrifices they made to bring your little life into existence. I learned the great sadness it feels to see a parent sick in the hospital, as you question their mortality, and yours as well.

And much like parents and friends, faith/God/a Maker/Creator, can speak to us in different ways throughout our lifespan. That’s one of the things The Indigo Girls reminded me of last week. While I relate to the Indigo Girl’s description of what it feels like to take life less seriously and to search for the things that will fill our heart with peace, perhaps what sticks out most to me is the refrain, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” And how true is that of life, or faith, or getting older and “growing up?” Why does it feel like my human nature to tighten my fists, muscling through things the way think they should go, when perhaps it really would be easier to turn my gripped fists into open palms? Why do I look at paper applications and beg for certainty that everything in my life will all turn out ok, and then lay on my front porch, stare up at the stars, and suddenly don’t care anymore? Don’t care about career. Don’t care about when to get married, if/when to have kids. Don’t care about my sh*tty salary. Don’t care how I’m perceived. Don’t care if I’m understood. And, most freeing of all, don’t care about certainty anymore. And the less I beg of God for answers to life’s questions, the less I feel like I need to explain or defend why I don’t really go to Church anymore because of the way I experience Church when I ride my bike, when my sister smiles, when I feed the chickens, and when I sing old 90s songs alone in my room that feel less like pop culture and more like hymns. 

I’ll stop asking for certainty.
And trust that the God that got us this far can get us the rest of the way.
I’ll linger under stars.
Stand up on my bike pedals when going downhill.
Do headstands in the grass.
Get fresh Earthen dirt under my nails.
Learn from the birds, the bees, and the beats of 90s rock. 

Because I’m closer to fine than ever before
And we’re all gonna be ok. 

 

Ashes of Hope: My Love of Lent but Not of Murder on a Cross (PLUS 40 Days of Sustainability coming soon)

Even the winter won’t last forever. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
We’ll wake up in April, ready and able, Sowing the seeds in the soil.
Even the darkness cannot disarm us. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
-Audrey Assad

Easter is what many would argue to be the quintessential turning point of the Christian faith. The crux. The climax of the story. The thing that you must be able to articulate into carefully formed sentences depicting your belief, as though words and theology solely define your spirituality and very existence. Perhaps from all of this lies the basis for the trite messages that I, along with so many others, have heard about the Christian faith. “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt.” “Jesus stood in your place and died for you so that you might have life.”

And if those words bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away, nor discredit them.

It’s just not the Jesus I’ve come to know, face-to-face in my human spiritual struggle. 

The Jesus I’ve come to know didn’t die at the hands of a blood-thirsty, vampire-like God who needs to see someone murdered in order to forgive people. The Jesus I’ve come to know, and the God to whom he points, is a rebel. A revolutionary who challenged the privileged and elevated the marginalized. Who spoke out of turn, unafraid to make people think harder about themselves and the world around them. Who taught us to slow down long enough from our exhausted minds to “look at the birds and flowers,” and to be a visionary in whatever issue your culture is facing.
Direct from the mouth of this revolutionary contains the most gripping parts of the Eastertide story, in my experience. The pieces that I rarely heard pastors and Bible study leaders quote. The part where Jesus, our supposed role model, screams up at God, “My God, My God, Why have you screwed me like this?”  Because that’s life, that’s reality. That’s the affirmation I look for when I’m stuck in the mud and mire and all around me are hope-depleted apertures crying out for just a flick of mercy from a kind and loving God, begging for auspices that come from this Divine Light. And to hear Jesus utter these same words gives me confidence that I am in good company when I am in the thick of the squall and my once blithe heart feels incapable of coming back to me. When I’m a low that low, that’s when I know I’m only a few steps out from mercy. Because we, like Jesus, get to experience the surge of joy that is the resurrection, ashes of hope that sing of redemption.

I think these ashes of hope are what the soul longs for. Beyond a good love story, a good hope story. To know that all of our troubles will not be squandered, but used for fodder to keep these tales of beauty-from-pain alive. To give us the fortitude to know, anchored in our core, that it doesn’t matter what comes our way, for it won’t last forever. But the feelings of hope and the aftermath of beauty will hit us so viscerally that we tear up at the thought, “I didn’t know life could be this good.”

This is why I haven’t given up on Lent or Easter, despite some of my theological wrestlings and frustrations with the traditional teachings of this spiritual season. Lent draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. A 40 day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring. During those 40 days, shoots on trees develop, buds blossom to form magnolia flowers- my absolute favorite tree on this planet that reminds me there is no cold that cannot be endured to eventually give way to life. The sun graces us for 2.5 minutes longer each day, until we’ve accumulated some 177.5 minutes of additional daylight come Easter evening, thanks, largely in part, to Daylight Savings Time. (Can you tell yet that spring is my favorite season and consumes many of my thoughts?)

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Copyright MO 2013

And so I don’t know where your heart is this season. Maybe it’s hiding in guilt and shame, underneath a veil of many coverings, because you feel it has gone so far awry from any sort of “straight and narrow.” Maybe your heart is parched, longing for a bit of this hope story. Or maybe your heart abounds in a joy so full, that it might cry droplets of gratitude onto baby seedlings that will soon lean their faces toward the sun for the first time. But one thing I do know, as we forge into spring, is that all around you, life begs your soul to awaken, and if it cannot awaken on its own, let its colours take you to places unknown until hope uncovers and your soul sees vibrant hues ablaze in beauty.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over the hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
-Mumford and Sons

    

Coming tomorrow: My 40 Day Sustainability Plan- Come observe Lent through environmental social justice

60 Seconds of Beauty Before Smashing Your Head Into The Keyboard

smash headToday is one of those “smash face into keyboard to continue” days. Smartphoneless, I discovered I missed several important emails, including a few deadlines. I began a grad class this week. Work, often feast-or-famine with the patient population I work with, who experience several barriers to medical care, was definitely a feast this week. A large one. Thanksgiving with all your extended relatives, kind of feast. Add triathlon training, a conviction to be a better friend/family member, and a few other commitments, I noticed the all-too-familiar trap of spreading myself thin in a flurry of perfectionism.

But before I could drag myself into work for one final day this week, I marveled at an urban creek that I pass on my commute to work each day. Sun kissing ice blocks in emerald green water, a gem amongst graffiti and the click-clack of trains off in the distance. “Lord of Lords,” an old hymn, comes to my mind, and I suddenly find my soul in a pining connection to the lyrics, “Keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus’ face. Let not the things of this world ever sway me.” As much as I refuse to go back to my former version of Christianity, there is so much that I want to make sure I don’t let go of. And one of those things is to keep steady resolve on Jesus’ ways, because that way of living feels more fulfilling, more rich. A teacher who catches us in the midst of snowballing worry, and looks us in the eye to say, “Hey! Snap out of it. Can worry add a single minute to your life?” (aka what I hear from Matthew 6:7).

Copyright: MO Baltimore, MD

Copyright: MO
Baltimore, MD

This winter, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of the Falls. Each morning, I give myself permission to temporarily fix my gaze from the road to this scene of peace. Usually frantically running late to work, I often glance only long enough to smile at it. But today I decided to stop long enough to hop off my bike, take a picture, and remember the words of Anna Quindlen: “And realize that life is glorious, and you have no business taking it for granted…” (From “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”)

Biking along the Falls, I feel as though I’m being taken away to Canada. One to share my voice only to the shower vapors, I softly sing aloud, “on the lakes of Canada…” Instead of aimlessly passing up the opportunity to be transported, I intentionally decide to stop whooshing by it and stop for just 60 seconds to soak it all in. 60 seconds to let my eyes dilate, absorb light and movement, to not think about anything in particular, to just be. 60 seconds to create experiences of beauty.

It was the best 60 seconds I’ve spent today. I’m so tired of rushing through life, not pausing to create moments of peace, order, beauty, serenity. Because unless we stop, unless we do something to forge scenes of beauty, unless we sew them together with beautiful seams of peaceful patchwork, we can easily forget. At least, I do. We forget the peace that can be found in this world. Forget how beautiful it is, because in the celerity, in the achievement-oriented rat race, it can seem like peace, beauty and order have left the building.

It’s no coincidence to me that as I hop back on my bike, the next piece of graffiti I find is the wall that over the summer read in big letters,

Go placidly amongst the noise and haste…
                             and know the peace there is in the silence.

go placidly amongst the noise and haste

I’m going to stop more. Because it’s up to us to create scenes of beauty in our lives. It’s up to us; it’s our responsibility because if we can’t find peace and order and beauty, then maybe we aren’t stopping long enough to actually exhale and find it.

Yes, I will take ownership for having peaceful moments in my life. And be gracious to myself when I forget to stop—When I’m at my desk, smashing my head into the keyboard for one more day, kicking myself for not stopping.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin again. The Falls will be there. Birds on Trees will be there.

“Flowers in the garden.
Laughter in the hall.
Children in the park.
I will not take these things for granted…
…Anymore.”

-Toad the Wet Sprocket 

The Art of Slowing Down (And The Wisdom of Louis Armstrong)

I’ve often heard that Lent is a season of slowing down. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. An opportunity to go a little deeper in trying to figure out Jesus. A time to pause. A time for simplicity.

This Lent, I decided to get back into biking to and from work (in addition to cold showers and placing a penny in the “Suck it Up or Shut Up” jar each time I catch myself complaining). IMG_1458
When I moved across town in June, I said I’d bike once I found a good route, but I weasled my way out of it for reasons such as having to bike through some sketchy areas by myself, something I was a bit fearful of.

Now a few days into it, I’ve found a route and a rhythm. I got off to a rough start the first day of Lent biking home drenched by the down-pouring rain. Two cars didn’t see me, causing me slam on the brakes, skidding in the middle of an intersection. Cars passing by splashed water up against me like a small ocean wave. It was cold. It was dark. And I kept making wrong turns, making my time in the rain even longer. I had a “shake your fist at God” moment, muttering things that warranted pennies in the jar, and then managed to put my sopping wet hand back on the handlebar. I thought about the journey that women in Africa make to and from water wells and firewood piles on a daily basis, often risking the possibility of getting raped just to gather these essentials for their families. Surely, I didn’t have it so bad.

And most of us don’t.

As I biked home today and pulled up to my house, exhilaration flooded my body with the sounds and sights of life around me. Daylight was still visible at ten of six. Birds chirped goodnight lullabies to their young. Soon, it will be March, which will usher in spring.

Despite all of this beauty, I was about to walk in the house to begin my usual routine: put away my dirty work clothes from the day, wash today’s lunch containers, pick out clothes for tomorrow, eat something better than cereal for dinner…

But I stopped myself. Why did all of those things seem so pressing? Why do I do each of those things the second I come home? Outside, the sky is changing hues from deep cobalt blue, to indigo purple, to peachy pink, without the help of any human hand. How can I settle for doing dishes when the world around me is putting on a symphony of light and color in the sky?

I sat on the ledge of my front porch, dangling my feet over the edge, bouncing them up and down. I looked up the block and felt gratitude to have the opportunity to live in a neighborhood I enjoy coming home to. I looked up at the two airplanes in view, traversing the sky, filled with passengers, dreamers, grace-givers, homesick spouses, screaming infants annoying the people in front of them, questioners, seekers, searchers, adventurers, and people wondering how quickly they can get off this airplane. Fellow human beings, like you, like me, in a slate colored vehicle with aluminum wings and flashing lights that can get you from Atlantic to Pacific in five and a half hours.

All of this is so amazing.

This world. It’s so beautiful. And everyday, we have the opportunity to relish it. How many days are spent checking off to-do-list items on the backs of receipts? Why do we think we’re so busy all the time? Why do I always feel like I have things to do, when really, all that I might need to do in that moment is…. slow down and look up.

Look up.

The dishes can wait. Your lunch will get packed. Come. Sit. Out here on the stone porch. Come sit and settle in with your maker, like a child and a parent snuggled up on the couch. Breathe in the world around you. Observe the movement of cars filled with people; some going home, some going to meetings, some going to fill their refrigerator with more food than we can ask for, some going to see a dear friend, some going crazy. Feel the stillness of tall trees; though brown and bare now, a metamorphosis is coming. Stop rushing. Enjoy your life. Enjoy the Earth. Enjoy every good and beautiful thing around you.

I sit outside until my fingers feel numb.

Spring’s a’comin, but it sure ain’t here yet.

I sink deep inside myself, shoulders unslumped, before heading in.

Louis Armstrong was right, I think to myself.

What a wonderful world.

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Thoughts on Solitude.

There was a bird outside my window this morning
Happily chirping its song; its story.
Another one joined in.

I’m not sure what they were saying
But I felt like their language spoke to my soul
Reminding me to go outside today
And spend some time in solitude.

So that’s what I did.
I zipped up my snow boots
And hit the trails
Climbing up powdered white paths
Sparkling like sugar cookies
In the mid-afternoon sun.

I glanced down at footprints of deer
And footprints of other hikers
Wondering what their journeys are like
And how they experience the world around them.

Sometimes I feel guilty going places alone.
Life is short
And people are beautiful, after all.

A couple years ago
I moved back to Baltimore
And within a few months, realized most of my friends had moved home or moved away
And I had a night
Where the few friends I had left
Were all busy
And I felt an immense loneliness come over me.

It was a cold, dark January evening and Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder
can be more than SAD; it can be depressing.
I was so lonely inside; I scared myself.

Have you ever had a moment like that?
Where you’re so caught off guard by what’s going on inside?

I did the one thing that I thought might help.
I called an old friend in New York just to make sure I was alive and breathing.
Luckily she answered.
She was out with friends
And I think she thought I was acting a little melodramatic

But never the less
A few words
From an old friend
On a lonely night
Melted away tears of despondency
And I vowed to never get that lonely ever again.

That was two years ago.
I’m thankful for new friends who’ve touched my heart
and for old ones who’ve stuck it out.

Although as a recovering people-pleaser and conflict avoider,
There are times when it would be much easier to keep inside my shell;
I’ve come to realize that people, community, are absolutely essential to personal growth,
apart from which my soul would deaden bit by bit.

But sometimes I don’t want to talk
And sometimes I need to be alone in my thoughts,
With God
Staring at vast skies like open pages.

I need to lie on my back
Let the grass be my pillow
And take pictures of the sun sinking behind open fields.

And sometimes,
In my calmest of moments,
I need only to be outside and sit there;
Doing nothing particular at all.

So I’ll sit on my front porch
While crickets sing to evening stars
And I’ll stare at the moon
Wondering what the moon sees when it stares at us.

All of this connects me back to the world around me
To God, to people, to the shifting Earth upon which we stand.
And all of this makes me realize
That solitude is an indispensable part of life
For wallflowers and social butterflies alike.

That solitude isn’t selfish
But creates room enough to embrace resonate beauty.
It disrupts the rush, the driving back and forth, the cacophony of sirens blaring through city streets.
It forces me to address the thoughts that keep resurfacing my mind
When it would be easier to keep ignoring them.

It lets me find myself under willow trees
Beside gurgling streams
That sound like the warm water
That will fill up my bathtub tonight.

It helps me find my center
Whether basking in sunshine
Or crunching in leaves,
Whistling along with the birds.

So may it be.

May we find solitude
That fills our souls
So that we are alone, but never really alone.

May we be filled with wonder
That prevents us from ever daring to think we can fully understand
This world, this beauty, the footprints and fingerprints of another.

May the birds’ song serenade you
Open paths guide you
God’s smile shine upon you
And give you peace.

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How do you find solitude? What do you, not do? Where do you go? Where don’t you go? How often do you experience solitude in your life?

Turning Chain Linked Fences into Open Fields

“loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
   set the oppressed free and break every yoke” ::isaiah 58::

  

“Proclaiming freedom to captives” and “where the spirit of God is, there is freedom” are beautiful gems strung together like pearls throughout the Bible. Here’s 68 more of those. I’m sure there’s more.

But what do you do when this very same belief, Church, Christian faith, doctrine, enslaves you?

What do you do when you’re told “you’re wrong?” When you cringe at the idea of voicing up a question, sharing your experience, or your opinion for fear of retaliation? What do you do when you aren’t accepted by some? What do you do when everything in your heart tells you one thing but your head is full of voices that drown you in disapproval?

What do you do then, when you discover yourself straight in the arms of God, away from those restraints and fears and arguing, as s/he places you in his loving arms beside still waters? What do you do after a good heart to heart talking-on-down from your maker proceed by an introduction to children of the same God, playing in a big open field, beckoning, inviting, waving you on in, urging, “come on in, there’s room for you!?”  When someone invites you to cartwheels, to running barefoot through this wide open field, heel against moist Earth and cushy, verdant grass? When someone sits beside you, blowing on wishies, talking about the Ancient of Days, and love and grace as they share their kite with you, untie the noose around your neck, and replace that choker of dogma with wings to fly? I know, they feel a little funny at first, right? But go on. Those wings are yours. And you can choose which direction you fly. Trust me, babe, these wings are made for you, by your Creator. He longs for you to give yourself permission to let your feet off the ground and take flight.

Suddenly each of you will have flown to a place. A place with this big, big table, with some grape juice and wine, some bread and some wafers, and you realize that everyone you’ve ever known and everyone you’ll ever know is gathered here, around this same table, and none of us are bickering or arguing or correcting or any of those other forms of speaking you can do with your mouths… just the kind of speaking that comes from our hearts, as we hold one another’s hands in reverence of the great big God who brought us all together. What do you do then, gathered around this love feast of saints and sinners, the “wrongs” next to the “rights,” brushing hands and elbows until surrender takes over and those hands are squeezing each other’s? Oh the downtrodden and weary suddenly finding their soul lifted as an inexplicable joviality takes over, cobwebs of depression and never-being-good-enough flinging and zinging up into the atmosphere, slowly dissipating into the cosmos, exploding into stars, bringing light to darkness, and beauty, too.

I don’t know what you do.

But worship the Holy.

And forget the rest.

And decide that this little bird’s gonna leave the cage, open up, and sing, along with all the other birds on trees, calling out to one another from Evergreen to Evergreen, and telephone wire, and, if you’re not ready to fly just yet, we’d still love to hear you, even from your nest.

We’ll celebrate all that’s bright and beautiful and good.

And try to live everyday in that field and around that table.

And create fields where it seems like there is only cracked pavement baking in the mid-afternoon sun, litter bunched around the chained fence.

And we’ll stock our fridges with bread and wine, ready to whip them out whenever we’re stuck in a moment that’s far strayed away from that meadow, those still waters, these gripped hands that are desperately ready to be open palms, clasping your hand, as you hold someone else’s, like dominoes mellifluously falling into sea billows of grace.

I’m ready for this.

I’ll head out to the grocery store now and make my way to those fields.
And though late autumn has settled in, I’ll bring nothing but a lightweight jacket, knowing my heart will grow warm from all of the love and the hugs and hands holding other hands.

On This Ground I Dance Upon Called Earth

On Rest and Renewal

I always am blown away by spring. Breathless, I delight in the colors of spring, dizzy by their hues and shapes. I am drunken by the intoxicating  fragrance of magnolia blossoms. I am constantly in awe of new buds on trees, blowing on wishies, plucking wildflowers from the ground as I place them my hair.

Today was one of those beautiful spring days where that feeling just seeps into the enclaves of the chambers and walls of my lungs, heart, and arteries; a day where you are convinced that you are literally breathing in life, with every breath.

Brian whipped out his camera as we marveled over the reflection of the blue sky on a water droplet on the leaf of a daffodil. I got up close to a baby bee roaming around on a weeping cherry blossom tree. I looked at it from different angles until I was literally staring into its eyes.

We went on a “Sabbath Walk,” where we barely spoke to each other except for a few faint whispers, “I saw a fox!” We meander through creeks and logs and hear the chirps of birds high above, singing joyfully. My mind feels like I need to be doing something, need to be praying, need to be singing a worship song to God, but I realize that I have no words; that all too often I rush around doing things when really all I need is to be. To learn from the joyous songs of the birds, to listen to the cool creek water trickle down hills, and be completely convinced that there is nothing in life I need to worry about. It’s hard to feel anxious when surrounded by such beauty. It’s hard to dwell on your fears when you realize that if God can help flowers grow, He can surely help you with whatever is so pressing on your mind.

Time stops in such moments. Nothing else matters in these moments. I decided yesterday that I will continue to create time and space to make sure I have these moments of quiet awe-filled worship on a weekly basis, because in those moments, as I’m captivated by nature, or breathless by stars that are so so so so far away, I realize that there is so much more going on here than we realize. That nothing is normal about this human experience; that there’s these little tiny things called cells and they make up the leaves to plants, animals and human beings. That right now I am actually standing somewhere on an Earth that is moving and rotating, though I can’t even feel it. I am held down to this Earth by gravity, which keeps me from falling off. I.can’t.even.feel.it.

Flipping through scripture, I am always refreshed when I hear God speak about creation. Jesus tells us to look at the birds (Matthew 6:25) and to learn from the wildflowers (Matthew 6:28). In Psalm 23, we’re told that God wishes for us to lie down in green pastures; to be lead beside quiet waters. Job reminds us that God “spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in His clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.” We are reminded that creation itself is meant to teach us- yes, to learn through their actions, not their words, for they need not speak verbal language. “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all.” (Job 12:7-10)

So today I will learn from the birds in air, and the shoots developing on trees. I will look at the wildflowers and how they are able to grow, year in, year out. I will remain in awe of you, Lord, and the works of your hands. I will remember your calm, your peace, your authority over all things, even at work this week, where there are days in which I feel as though I hear nothing but sirens, see nothing but trash on the streets, and yet find you in unexpected ways through the smile of a stranger or the excitement of neighborhood kids riding their bikes after school. And be it inner city, forest, behind the desk, or out in the community, I will ponder you, God. I will seek you, God. I will find you and be awed by you as a precarious child of you, God. And I will celebrate you on this ground I dance upon called Earth.

My favorite part of my parents' home is their Magnolia tree in the front yard.

Photo Credit: Scott Otterbein

Storms. Blessings. ((Up With the Birds))

I’ve heard it said that, “you’re either going in to storm, in a storm, or coming out of a storm.” I get that. I believe it. I’ve experienced it. Whether you look at the weather, the Bible, or your own personal experiences, we know that life will present us its own trials and conflicts for growth and no one is exempt. Good times don’t last forever, because we need change, a shift in routine, conflict to shape us and mold us into the people we are capable of becoming. Storms and deserts shape you… if you let them. In those moments, you develop your “trust muscles” towards God, you learn to depend on Him, and you are changed by your desert experience.
So, yes, I know this to be true.

But I got thinking.

What if the opposite was also true?

“You’re either approaching a blessing, experiencing a blessing, or going to experience a blessing.”

Does that work?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not living to “be blessed.” Rather, I’m trying to live to be a blessing and also to appreciate the constant blessings in my life, the everyday breath we breathe, people who love us and who we love, laughter, God’s constant presence…

But, for just a moment, I decided to relinquish the voices in my head that tell me “no, no, no, Melissa; you’re not supposed to think like that. That’s not what God would want-” aka- all the “don’t think for yourself” kind of voices. I waved them out of my mind, if only for a moment, like a fly swatter, saying “just shoo for a minute, will ya?” and thought about it without the dogma of needing to impress others with the shooting darts of “this verse” or “that verse” and embraced my faith from my own free thinking thoughts and experiences of God.

So I’m just merely thinking, reflecting, as Coldplay’s “Up with the birds” plays on in the background of my car.

I totally believe the storm thing. But sometimes I just simply need some encouragement; to know that something good will happen. Some optimism to remind me that life is not just about storms and valleys… storms and valleys… deserts, desert experiences. Suffering. Suffer much… as I think the church has soooo deeply ingrained (at times, “drilled” I think would be much more appropriate) in my head.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think life is all about blessings and I don’t believe in the “prosperity gospel.” I don’t ask God for tons of money (but do ask for enough to get by) and refuse to buy a Cadillac and mega home and say, “look what God has blessed me with!!!” while millions go hungry and homeless tonight.

But I think it’s ok to point out that God’s blessings will come. That there is hope. Optimism. Because we serve a god who uses all things for good. I’m learning to get rid of the harsh religious voices that try to ensnare my thought life, telling me what I’m supposed to think and say and feel and do. And I’m learning just to be me. The child of God, with a sound mind, body, and spirit, that God made. And in the process, I am reminded that it’s ok to delight in blessings. Seriously— it’s ok. Can you imagine giving your best friend a present, watch her sheepishly open it, and squeak out, “uh, thanks!?” and stuff whatever the gift was right back in the box and quickly move onto other things? I’m learning, or rather re-learning, that God is a great giver. The New Year’s Day rainbow that appeared in the sky above my neighborhood. A giver of a “future and a hope,” even when I can’t figure out what the heck it is I’m supposed to be doing with my life some days. Incredible, ridiculous, ab-workout kind of laughter like tonight’s dinner with new and old friends.

So. Storms. Blessings. I think they coincide- and mix together in a catalytic beauty, ordained by God.

I know about storms. But today, I’m going to keep my head up and remember the blessings that God produces… ‘cause good things are coming our way. 🙂

Like Birds On Trees

4/5/10
At my favorite park, reflecting:

I look out there into that creek, water gracefully sliding its way down stream around rocks, and I look up into that g i a n t blue sky, the sweet fragrance of magnolia captured in the warm breeze brushing up against my face. All I can think about is how what I see in the world doesn’t seem to equate to what I feel like Jesus offers us. I think about what my faith community taught me during college about my gender and feel hurt, small, and my heart aches because I don’t think this is what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give us life to the full. I think about what they and so many others have said about homosexuality and how most of them have never bothered to sit beside still waters with someone of a differing sexual orientation.

I skip some rocks and ponder the sacrificial love of Jesus who touched those who were rejected by society (Matt. 8) and never condemned anyone (John 8).

And I think about all the beauty in the world and how much peace we could share if we could stop and slow down more and marvel and learn from the beauty around us. Trees offering birds a place to rest and make a home. Ducks in the pond just coasting along the small water ripples, no hurry, no worry, just your best duck friends and you cruising along the cool early spring water. Birds exhaling beautiful harmonious songs of gratitude and joy, as if to delight the tree, to bring out the green on its leaves or to encourage the growth of blooming buds daring to come out and experience the world, knowing there would be winds that might shake off its petals and that winter is inevitable and one day in the future it will die, signaling the finality of life and death, but d a r i n g  u s  t o LIVE BRIGHTLY AND BEAUTIFULLY WHILE WE ARE STILL YET ALIVE.

And look at the flowers. You don’t see them arguing over who’s pink and who’s purple and why it’s wrong to be a perennial instead of an annual. Just harmony and brightness and joy. Maybe the flowers know more than we humans do when it comes to Jesus’ goals of being of “one heart and one mind, so that we’ll be unified and together” (John 17).

So I’m sitting here, stretching at the entrance of my favorite park, post-run sweat slowly drying to my forehead and cheekbones. And God is bringing me back to s i m p l i c i t y . That really, S/He doesn’t want our arguing. That S/He is so simple, yet its the simplicity of God that makes Him/Her/the Spirit seem mysterious. That one day, we will all hold hands and D A N C E in heaven, like birds on trees, being moved by the warm magnolia breeze, like purple annuals and pink perennials growing in the same garden of love.

Copyright MO 2012