2017

This morning I woke up to a new year.  The neighborhood had turned in last night’s noisy partying for a cloak of quiet to bring in the sunrise.

Welcome, 2018.

I made some coffee, and sat down to think and pray and read and be quieted.

I tried to turn my attention to the new.  But before looking ahead, I glanced back to reflect. Back to 2017.

For me, one word defines 2017: goodbye.  And goodbye is an agonizing word.  It can also be a word that enhances the sweetness of a moment.

It was a year of turning in keys and titles and losing access to web-portals.  It was a year of celebrating friendships over a piece of cheesecake before those opportunities had passed us by.  It was a year of bittersweet.

Social media does a top 9 right now.  Here are some of my tops of 2017:

  • Coming to a decision of peace: Hat Yai would be my next home.
  • The extra-sweet tinge of watching a southern springtime emerge – knowing it would be my last for awhile.
  • Spring break trips to celebrate Joanne’s 30th with Su in the Rockys
  • Biblical Imagination Seminar: The Gospel of Luke
  • Listening to baseball games on long spring nights.
  • Charleston 2.0 with my 8th and 9th graders
  • Barbershop in literature class
  • The poignantly bittersweet final days at FCS
  • Finally becoming an official employee at All In Coffee Shop, short-lived though that stint was
  • Pizza nights at J&Ls when J&S came over too
  • Boxcar children resorts on Lake Erie with sisters and friends
  • Road trip to Ohio with Joe’s kids and Cam
  • Tribe game with nieces and nephews
  • Blue Ridge Parkway in the rain
  • Annie and Mic coming all the way to SC to help me move
  • Playing softball with long-lost cousins in Missouri
  • Two weeks in the Missouri wilderness that touched something deep within my soul
  • Experiencing Ohio in the fall for the first time in 10 years
  • Realizing the dream called Hutchmoot
  • Being witness at the baptism of two nieces and the daughter of dear friends
  • Infinitely difficult but somehow kinda beautiful goodbyes
  • Reuniting with a land I believe God put in my heart to love
  • Looking around at Game Night here in my new city and thinking “I really like these people.”
  • Moving to a cute little place with nice neighbors
  • Singing “Jingle Bells” at a Christmas party and feeling home.

And so many more…

I won’t lie – I look ahead to 2018 and breathe a sigh of relief that this year looks to be more about rooting than uprooting, more about settling in than packing up.  I’m ready for that.

But who are we kidding if we think we know what the year holds.

But I know who holds the year.  Cliché, I know.  But true.  And sometimes it’s the simple truths that get clichéd and then pushed aside as such – it’s those that can give great strength.

Welcome, 2018.

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Exactly . . . Wrong

I once got an A in Physics.  If you know me, you know that my brain functions in the realm of words and ideas, not in scientific figures or formulas.  So, the fact that I aced a college-level Physics course is shocking.

But the truth is this: I really didn’t learn Physics, I learned the professor.

I’d spend hours memorizing the notes before tests.  His questions were always worded exactly like the notes were, and he was a creature of habit.  It wasn’t hard to figure out the true/false pattern: true true false true true false true true false and on and on.  He had a thing for italicizing words that were important.  So I figured out his patterns, and I aced the class.

But in truth, I really didn’t learn much.  At all.

I would not recommend this.  I invested a lot of time and money into a course where I learned …. pretty much nothing.

But the professor, oh he was a hoot.  It was like he stepped off the page of a comic strip characterizing the stereotypical Science prof.  His hair looked like Einstein’s, and his clothing told the story that his money and attention went towards telescopes and chemistry sets rather than unnecessary things like well-fitted clothing that’s not 15 years old.

And then there was his favorite thing: asking a trick question.  He would take great delight in waiting for someone to spout out the wrong answer.  And as soon as it was given, his eyes would light up, he’d get a look of glee on his face, and he’d say:

“Exactly wrong.”

I’ve heard this voice saying these exact words in my head a number of times the last few weeks.  Adapting to a new-again culture often makes me feel like I do things exactly wrong. 

You know all the language about cultural differences: it’s not good or bad, just different.  But in trying to find that different way, I often end up on the side of exactly wrong.

We drive on the opposite side of the road here in Thailand from what my American upbringing has taught me.  Thankfully, Thais are well-known for their laid-back, forgiving way of life.  This saves many-a-foreigner from being chewed-out to kingdom come for some dumb move we made on the road.  Yes, I have driven on the wrong side.  Sometimes completely unaware of how exactly wrong I was.

The worst is when you think you’re mastering this thing and then come to find you are, you guessed it: exactly wrong.

The other day I was on my bicycle, peddling home.  It was the busy time of the night, and I was dreading navigating my bike through the heavy traffic on Punakon road, the main road that runs near our house.  I was especially dreading the right-hand turn that would require me to cross traffic: traffic that includes dump trucks, overly-loaded pick-ups, tons of cars, darting motorbikes, and what-not: traffic that leaves the bicycle-peddler feeling like the bottom of the food chain.  In the first two weeks that I was here, I saw two accidents with bikes making the right-hand turn at the busy time of night.

So, I decided to outsmart the system.  If I peddle just a quarter of a mile past the road where I usually turn off, I could make a simple left-hand turn, basically merge onto traffic. 

Great idea, Maria!  You’re totally outsmarting this system. 

So, I’m peddling along.  High-fiving myself for how smart I’m being and how quickly and easily I’m adjusting to this new traffic system.  I drive past the cut-off road I usually take and grin.  Nope, I’m smarter than that!  Normal people would take that road, but not me!  I’ve got a way of outsmarting that right-hand turn. 

I finally reach the next cut-off road, still feeling pretty smug about my decision.  I turn and head towards Punakon.  I’m whistling, thinking of how this is a microcosm of adjusting to all of life in Thailand.  And I’m mastering it.

And then I reach Punakon road.

And the traffic is going the exact opposite direction that what my brain had told me it would be going.

I was, once again, exactly wrong.

Yes, I went out of the way to avoid making a right-hand turn, when in fact, had I taken the route I usually take, I could have done the simple left-hand turn into traffic.

I went out of the way to do exactly what I was trying to avoid.

Thank you, professor.  Exactly wrong. 

Yesterday I was sitting in the Immigrations office waiting to register as an alien (yes, that title fits me these days).  I had gotten my queue number, and was waiting for it to be called.  The wait was taking forever-and-a-day, so I pulled out my little notebook and started writing this.  After an hour, I was getting a little peeved at the system.  Why does this have to take so long?  After two hours, I was angrily spewing things like “patience is a virtue” to my fed-up self.  Finally, after two and a half hours of waiting (yes, that is 150 minutes) it was starting to look like everyone was going home for the day.  4:30 had come and gone, and I guess I was just left to come back tomorrow.  I got off of my seat and forcefully strode to the counter.

“Excuse me, I have been waiting for 2 ½ hours.  Could someone please help me?”

The man behind the counter asked me why I was there, I handed him my papers and tried to explain in my limited Thai.

He looks up at me and says emphatically: “You didn’t have to take queue number for this!  You can just hand it to me right away and you don’t have to wait.”

Exactly wrong.  Again.

In about 60 seconds, he stamped my paper and had me on my way.  I didn’t know whether to scream or to cry.  I wanted to do both.  In fact, I was halfway out of the building before I realized I had done another cultural no-no.  I had left the office of someone of fairly high position without politely wai-ing and khap-khun-kha-ing.  So, I went back to have take-two at taking my leave politely.

Oh, haste the day when I find myself in fewer exactly wrong situations!

 

 

 

 

The Vineyard

The northern Ohio autumn sun slants its light through the colorful maples.  A slight breeze follows, making me glad for the extra sweater I threw on earlier.  The air has that welcome bite to it, a freshness marked by the changing of the guard – from summer to autumn.  Around me are some of my favorites, a handful of family who are joining in on the venture to the vineyard.

We are set out on a mission: gathering grapes to enjoy today, tomorrow, and in the long, dark winter days when fresh fruit is shipped in from Mexico.  Certainly we will taste our fair share in the picking.  My inner fruit-farmer is thrilled to be able to harvest this sweetness.

I’ve never seen arbors hanging so heavy with the fruit of the vine.  We had entered grape paradise.  Everywhere we looked, masses of grapes hung, begging to be chosen.  Our baskets filled in no time at all; tasting led to full-out feasting.  As we moved down the row, the seemingly impossible happened: the picking got even better, the grapes even more plentiful.  It was beautiful.  And bountiful.  And tasty.  And rich.

Yesterday I boarded a flight that catapulted my life into a season of change.  As my Delta plane ascended out of Atlanta and I caught my final glimpses of the Southeast for what could be a long while, this image of the vineyard became emblazon on my mind.  I was transported back to that picture-perfect northern day in the vineyard.

I remembered the storybook setting, the great companions, the well-manicured vineyard.  But mostly, my mind’s eye was fixated on the fruit.  On the bountiful harvest we enjoyed.

Why is this image front and center in my mind in this moment?  

I wondered that.  I still kinda wonder that.  But as I think on it, chew it, mull it over, I find that it might not be a total coincidence that my mind was fixed on this image of fruitfulness as I embark on this new venture.

Dividing callings between sacred and secular leads us down a dangerous path.  All walks of life are sacred if given fully to Christ.  From toothbrush-maker to full-time pastor, all callings and vocations are venues through which we work as worship.  We do a great disservice by magnifying some as greater than others.  In some situations, I feel like people look at me as a “better Christian” than I once was, or as better than others because I am moving into full-time missions.  I don’t like that separation.  In fact, it’s wrong.  We are not called to great things, we are called to obedience.  And if obedience means living a little, faithful life, then chasing anything else is disobedience.

There is a strangeness about moving overseas.  To use the metaphor of a farmer, it seems like walking into a fertile land, a land ready for planting.  It also seems like a field that needs extensive cultivation before the seed could possibly take root.

It seems like an atmosphere perfect for cultivating fruit in my own heart.  A greenhouse for growth.  A keen awareness of my need of Him.  A renewed understanding of my own status as sojourner in this world.  A poignant reminder of loneliness, an ache that only He fills.  All of which can combine for fertile soil for the Master Gardner to grow fruit within me.

But then I think back to that storybook day at the vineyard in Ohio.  The setting was perfect, the weather just-as-I-would-have-ordered, the companions some of my best.  Really, no matter what we had done that day would have been enjoyable.

But we had set off to harvest fruit.  And had the vineyard been as well-manicured as it was, the sky as blue-blue as it was, the everything as perfect as it was, and yet, the vines had been empty or had poor fruit to pick, we would have left disappointed, our expectations unmet.  We came for fruit.  And had it not been there, it would have saddened us.

In about 35 minutes I deplane at my final destination.  I walk off this plane into an atmosphere that is good for producing fruit in my own heart.  I step into situations where I will need increased patience, grace, love, and hope.  Feeling the outsider, feeling misunderstood, all of it invites me into deeper communion with the One who knows me best.  I want Christ to do His gentle, firm work in my heart through this experience.  I long for the fruits of the vine to grow, to multiply.

But a change of address will not do that. Great sacrifice alone will leave me empty.  Only Christ, the True Vine, grows the fruit.

Maybe my focus is on the wrong thing.  Rather than the juicy cluster of grapes, the unsung hero of the vineyard is the strong, hearty vine, without which no fruit is possible.

In the same way, my focus needs a shift.  Rather than looking at this season of international ministry as an opportunity to learn to be more loving, to cultivate more humility, to grant more grace, my eye needs to be singular: fixed on the vine.  Intimacy with Christ must be my first goal.

So I embark into a setting ripe for fruit-growing, but today I choose to fix my eye on the Vine. To chase intimacy with Him.  To endeavor to live in surrendered obedience to Him.

And I’ll let Him handle the fruit.

Random fact of the day: the final four-ish paragraphs were written on an airline-issued barf bag.  The announcement had already been made to stow laptops and electronics, so I grabbed the empty bag to write out the rest.  I will point out the word empty.   I figured you’d want to know that information.  

Tossed Salads

It’s evening.  The clock is ticking.  The curtain hangs crooked on the window in front of me.  My glass of milk is empty.  My toes are kinda cold.

There’s something I’ve been avoiding lately.  Avoiding like the plague, you might say.  Avoiding to the point that I’ve almost become afraid of it.

What’s the it, you ask?   You ask, I answer.  It is A Pen.

The thought of picking it up and putting it in my hand and purposefully making connection with the page and letting the things hidden in my heart travel to my head and follow my arm down to the pen. This thought scares me.

These days, I only seem comfortable writing about clocks and curtains and milk and toes.  Not about things tucked away deep within.

Here I am, standing at the cusp of some intense change.  My heart is full.  Full and running-over kind of full.

But words evade me.

I’m changing zip codes soon.  Changing country-codes, actually.  I’m walking into a place where I’ve had a dream-tucked-away-about for a decade plus.  I’m leaving a life-work that has basically defined me, a work I love and thought I’d keep at for a long, long time.  I’m moving far from family. I’m returning to a land that claimed a part of me years back.  I’m bidding farewell to a life I’ve loved.

This should combine to be enough to fill journals with ferocious emotional strokes of the pencil.  Isn’t this where good art is born?  In the unknown, in the brazen excitement of new frontiers, in the depth of sadness of letting go?  Shouldn’t this angst be birthing something good from my pen?

If so, why is the thought of picking up a simple vessel of ink capable of freezing me with fear?

Perhaps it has something to do with how deeply the pen pries back the layers within me.  It pulls back the flesh, the cover, and divides what’s really inside.

Maybe I don’t want to see what’s all inside because it’s so confusing.  How can one person simultaneously be feeling elation and dread?  Fear and faith?  Hope and anxiety?  Doubt and surety?  And not only feeling those things simultaneously, but feeling each of them about the same thing?

Maybe I don’t pick up the pen because that just doesn’t make sense.

Like a tossed salad with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes mixed right up beside rancid goat cheese crumbles which are tight up beside grade-A bacon bits which brush up beside rotten broccoli.  How can so much goodness and so much grime end up all in one spot?  How?

Is this what Life Abundant looks like sometimes?  Is it?  Is this where the good, the bad, and the ugly, all wrap up in a package called Living-Among-Brokenness?  Is this where the redeemed heart comes full face-to-face with the depraved world?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but my pen makes me asks them.  When I face my fear and lean into this plethora of emotions, I am a bit blown away with what’s all there.  But underneath all of them lies an unquestionable bedrock, an anchor I need so much these days.  Undermining it all is a sweet, real, true, known peace.

Cling to the peace, MariaHold fast.

This one thing I know with surety: The Prince of Peace has not left me alone.  He has led me here.   He is sure and certain in my instability.  He is in the middle of this mixture of wild excitement and quiet grief.

So if this muddle leaves me ever more grateful for this never-giving-up presence, then I shouldn’t have to be afraid of my pen.  I shouldn’t have to make it all make sense.  I can embrace this tossed salad of feelings knowing this comes with the territory of change.

And maybe I should go fix the curtain and pour me some more milk now, too.

 

When Silence Falls

He chooses the song.  I read the words of the Psalter.  I will sing praises to thee among the nations.  Familiar.  Secure.  True.  He strums the opening intro.  I hear the key, the opening note.  Harmony fills the room like a sweet fragrance.

Pitch is clear in my head.  I open my mouth to add to the melody, but my voice box misfires.  Nothing.  Confused, I try again.  Still no sound comes.  Only silence – a strange phenomenon for one who usually has to keep volume control in mind.

What’s this?  No song to sing?  Only silence.  Yet a peculiar peace calls me to keep it that way, to stay still.

Other voices fill the void that mine leaves.  I hear her smooth harmony behind me, echoing the words of the Psalter.  For thy steadfast love is great, is great to the Heavens.  Hers was the voice that offered quivering prayers while her son lay on the operating table, cranium opened up.  Only two months ago.  Tonight, her song is tinted with a depth that only deep ache in the heart produces.    As she joins the song of the saints and sages from the ages, a new seed a hope breaks forth in my heart.

It must be true. 

I’m teleported back in time, tumbling head-over-heels as my imagination carries me to another place, another time.  Light from the room I find myself in pours out into the heavy night air.  Nearby, a shrine.  Above on the mountain, a temple to a god of gold.  I’m remembering the discouragement, the deep-seated heaviness I fought in that Land.  Silence finds me again.

But in that room filled with light, I hear the same song through the voice of another.  Her eyes closed in worship.  Her heart carries her song on the wind.  And thy faithfulness, they faithfulness to the clouds.  My heavy heart feels lighter, hearing her song of faith.

It must be true. 

Today, I curl my cold toes under a blanket, grateful for the four walls that provide protection from the southern winter wind that blows outside.  The clock ticks.  The heater hums.  I feel peaceful.  Again, within me I sense a nudge to be quiet and listen.  The wind howls “I know you” outside the glass.  The clock ticks “It’ll be ok” from the living room wall.  Life is joining in the song.  Be exalted O God above the heavens, let they glory be over all the earth. 

It must be true.

And inside, a quiet shift.  Things seems to slide into place a little more.  The seeds of hope gain some strength, some courage to sprout a little.  Silence has spoken truth to me—through the song of the saints and the still of quiet.

The things that I hear when my own voice box clears.

I wrote the first draft of this about a year ago.  This week, I pulled it out, dusted it off, and reworked it a bit.  In doing so, I marveled at the steps the Lord has walked with me through this last year.  I was in a dark place when I first penned these words, but He has faithfully led me and brought me to a new place of hope and peace.  Revising this has reminded me of where He has brought me from, and for that, I give Him praise.  

I Can See Cloud-ly Now

If people were to compare me to a Winnie the Pooh character, I think many might say I’m a Tigger.

Secret: I can be a really good Eeyore.

Eeyore, the clouds always seem to follow him, to find their comfortable place over his head.  And Eeyore himself is at home under their shadow.  Eeyore and The Cloud.  They’re basically friends.

So often when I write, a weather metaphor emerges.  I’ve written about fog, smoke, and rain.  Autumn leaves and spring puddles have led me to the pen and page.

Today, it’s Eeyore’s cloud.  But so much more than the cloud, it’s the question of how to be ok with the process of something heavy hovering overhead without letting it soak up all the light of the sun.

I don’t know how to do that well.  I think that’s where my Tigger tendencies spring into action and bounce me away from Eeyore’s cloud.  Unfortunately, distance does not dispel clouds.  It simply removes me from the reality of them.  But soon enough, those pesky clouds finds their place again, back over my head.

Last week I went for dinner with some fine friends.  We dined on choice cuisine in the Tolkien-esque setting of an underground restaurant filled with wooden barrels and doors.  The atmosphere was worthy of that over-used emoji that represents perfection and the food was off-the-charts.  But days later, what I’m still gnawing on is something that was said.

The discussion turned to how easy it is to take bargaining chips to the table when we’re in relationship with the Father.  I’ll give this up, but I expect that in return.  I’m willing, Lord, but you owe me one.  My sacrifice deserves to be rewarded.   Wrestlings none of us like to uncover; they’re far too revealing of the selfish pride within.

And then Caela interjected the thought: Christ in Gethsemane.

I’ve thought about it a number of times since.  There He was, God’s own son.  Wrestling, bloody, under the heaviest cloud the world has ever known.  He was asked to carry an unthinkable burden, to meet unparalleled sacrifice.  He begged for it to go away, but what He was most worried about was His father’s will.  He laid no chips on the table.

Hebrews tells us that He endured all this “for the joy set before Him.”  He saw beyond the suffering, the scorn, the shame.  And what He saw was worth it all.  He didn’t let the cloud snuff his view.

He saw beyond the cloud.  And beyond that cloud was joy.

I don’t want to be like Tigger and bound away.  I want to see beyond Eeyore’s cloud, even if its parked over my head.

Jesus, give me your eyes to see the joy set before me.  

Misfit

It was full of all the things I ran low on, ruffles, pink, and frills.  It was every girl’s dream, but my reality.  Visitors would fuss over it, and I would shrug it off as mundane, as you often do with what is your own.  Of course it wasn’t only mine to claim; I shared it with Annie, with whom I shared almost everything but my toothbrush, and it had been a hand-me-down from the big girls.

It was my bed.  But mind you, it wasn’t any old bed.  It was a canopy bed.  Goodness, under a pink canopy, who couldn’t help but have dreams of sugar and spice and everything nice?

But that’s not really what it did to me.  What I remember most is my nightly ritual of trying to kick down one of the top bars; I wanted the bed to fall on my head, and not just because that rhymes so well.

Something about that bed made me feel like a misfit.

As a girl who enjoyed football more than foot scrubs, the misfit feeling was not uncommon.  I reacted like a flamboyant firefighter to anything feminine.  I thought the only way I could be cool was to steer far clear of the path of anything soft, sweet, or stately.  I was determined that being feminine represented weakness, and I wanted nothing to do with that.

Little did I know what kind of strength and courage womanhood really takes.  This truth took me years to uncover.

I see replicas of my younger self from time to time.  Young girls having wrestling matches with the idea of femininity.  It’s no wonder, with gender roles under such serious attack in our culture.  I’d even say they are way too often poorly defined within our churches.

If I could write a letter to my younger me, one of the first things I’d say is that it’s not necessary to love all the frills and trills in order to embrace what it means to be a woman.  Nor is this embrace a sign of weakness.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Scripture uses words like defender, shield, helper, and deliverer as synonyms of the word God used for woman.   That doesn’t sound so weak.

If you were a misfit like I, we can’t go back and un-think those things that made us determined to find our own way.  But we can lend a hand or an ear or, best yet, show a better way to another who knows this road all too well.  Lord, help us all to do this well.

Visions of pink canopy beds don’t make me feel like a misfit anymore, but something inside of me still kinda does want to see if I can kick down the top bar.

I guess some parts of the story do stay the same.

Mid-Air

The mid-air moment of the jump into a pool of water both fascinates and terrifies me.  There’s no turning back.  The water is your destination, no matter how cold or dangerous or wonderful it might be.  It’s either going to be a whole lot of fun or a whole lot of pain.

I’m in mid-air right now.  This writing thing sounded like something I needed.  I love to write; I need to write.  It clears up the foggy windows like the defrost button in the car.  Something about well-ordered, neatly-lined words on a page help me not-so-organized self see things a bit more clearly.

So, here goes.  My commitment is one hour of writing per week.

I am honored to share this excursion of paper and ink with the Word Shakers.

Jump made.

Splash.

By My Roots You Shall Know Me

A few weeks ago, the roommates and I had the annual tree-putting-up night.  It’s become tradition here behind the green door, all current members of the house gather their ornaments and lights, we order in Chinese take-out, and we listen to Bing Crosby or some other Christmas crooner.  This year, we sat around the table to eat before we made the tree sparkle with love and light.  We talked about Christmas and traditions and 2016 and memories and life.  Seeing as I am my mother’s child, I could not resist the opportunity to ask a question of sentimental value: what word defines 2016 for you?  How will you remember these past 365 (not quite that many yet) days? 

I love hearing people answer these kind of questions.  But then there’s a little problem; they always make me answer them, too, and then I have to think and it’s hard.

But this year my word was easy: roots.

For sure, that’s the word of the year for me.  I have discovered new depths of what roots mean, of how roots define, and of how roots come to be transplanted.   I’ve had to learn that uncovering others’ roots helps me to understand them.  Ironically, I’ve also been learning that solid roots allow wings to grow.  Roots are crazy important.

The branches on a dogwood in April put on a marvelous show.  But it’s a healthy root system that helps that happen.  Without it, the glitz and glamour of the leaf would be nonexistent.

But the funny thing about roots is how hidden they are.  Especially when you’re a nomad.  But they’re there.  Oh boy, yes they are.

So I guess this year has been a time of me learning this.  Learning this about myself and about those around me.

There are three kinds of root systems for a person: regional roots, family roots, and faith roots.  2016 has taught me how deeply each of those roots run within me.

First, regional roots.  I’m a transplant.  I moved to the hills of South Carolina going on nine years ago.  I love that my wings have brought me to the land where tea is sweet and neighboring is an art and life moves a little slower.  With each passing year, my roots here grow, they deepen.  I’m not a visitor in this zip code; this is home.  And I love that.  But a transplant will never be a true Southerner.  There may be flairs and flavors that sink down, but you can’t replace a system completely.  I discover that when I go to the land of my roots.  I’m a Northern Ohio girl deep within.  That land has shaped me.  The land where people work hard and live with less-than-ideal weather conditions.  The land where sports fans know heartbreak way too well yet return the next year with a well-spring of hope.  I get that.  It’s who I am, too, because that’s the root system built under me from the land of my childhood.

Next, family roots.  Inescapable.  The way we were raised settles deeply within us. I’ve thought about this a lot lately, especially with extended family.  My dad’s family was together a few weeks ago.  In the morning, one-by-one people appeared, crusty-eyed and bed-headed, looking for coffee and a spot by the fireplace.  I had to grin at the less-than-fashionable way that we related.  But that’s kinda what it means to be a Mullet.  A little crusty around the edges.  Like it or not, that’s a root.  And strangely enough, it’s comforting when I’m connected to it.  Family roots run deep and long and finger their way through everything.

Finally, faith roots.  Even within the Christian community, there are so many brands of these.  Having both parents who were raised Amish and growing up Mennonite myself, I probably have no clue how much these traditions have influenced me.  But as I get older, I get more and more fascinated with how deeply this has shaped me.  I’ve got “shema” issues, straw-hat inhibition, and get a kick out of the Mennonite game.  You can fight against this root, but it will win.  Traces of it will show up in the craziest places.

This is who I am.  This is how my roots have shaped me.

Atticus Finch famously told his curious little Scout that if she ever really wants to understand a person, she needs to climb inside of his skin and walk around awhile.  I think he was telling her to study roots.  I know it’s been true of me this year.  Somehow this process of exploring and appreciating my own roots and seeking to understand those of others has helped me understand myself and those around me.

So what’s been your defining word this year?

 

A Slice of the Dawn

For awhile now I’ve been needing it.

In reality, I always need it, but sometimes I know it more than others.  I need it in order to go on. I need a glimpse, a taste, a slice.

I need a slice of the dawn.

It’s a bit egotistical of me to believe that Jesus will break through the eastern skies precisely at dawn at Eastern Standard Time upon His return, making it dawn for those of us in this span of earth but not for the other billions scattered over it.  Maybe He’ll mess with the morning light and make it dawn for everyone.  Or maybe it’s not really that important.  Maybe it’s just me who has this fascination with a sunrise exploding with His presence.  Or maybe not.

These days, I’ve been feeling like I need a glimpse of it, a glimpse of the scene that both terrifies and satisfies me.  A glimpse that gives me undivided certainty that He is the Mighty Conqueror.  A sneak-peak of the day when I will be fully-known.

The chains of time weigh heavy on our immortal souls.  For me, that weight is often dulled by distraction.  A busy lifestyle, an ever-present Facebook feed, a fridge, whatever it may be.  But then along comes something that slices through all of those cushy barriers I allow and cuts deep inside to retrieve that deep longing.  The longing that I can hardly even name.

How is this ache uncovered?  For me, it’s a number of things.  A magnificent show of clouds and sun on a background of blue; a story that draws me in so deeply I hardly know how to get out; songs that bring unexplained tears to the surface; kids who draw me into their world of wonder; friends who know me in a glance.  All of these and so much more.  It’s the stuff of heaven that’s cloaked with the skin of earth.

Lately it’s been an album, songs with the perfect combination of words placed on a musical score that sneaks deep into my heart and pulls back the layers leaving this longing, this ache, fully revealed.

It woke me up long before my alarm this morning.

So, I poured some coffee, grabbed a blanket, and headed to the deck to watch the dawn come.  I asked the Giver of Life to give me a glimpse of Him in this ache.  To remind me that one day this ache will be replaced with a full understanding of myself, of Him, and of the world.

The rooster crowed, the leaves fell, the sun began its slanting turn.  The world awakened around me, giving me a glimpse of His might.  My heart stirred, my page filled, my soul quieted.  And in the middle of all the action, my eyes began to see.

I have a slice of dawn.  I don’t live in the dawn yet, but I can see pieces of it.  I am placed smack in the middle of a masterpiece of a world that is a beautiful glimpse of who its Creator is.  I rub elbows with other immortals all day long, seeing yet another slice of His majesty.  I have the written Word that reveals His heart and His ways.  I have the Holy Spirit residing within me, joining me on the ups and downs of this thing called life.

Slice, slice, slice, slice, chunk.

He allowed a sword to slice through His heart so that one day the chains of time will bind us no more.  In that unbinding, we will live fully for who we are.  I can’t wait for that day, for the dawn.  But in the meantime, He gives us so many sweet reminders of His grace, of His presence.

It’s so good to live unforgotten in the in-between.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12