Connecting with God, each other, and ourselves in the broken and beautiful

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It’s Gonna Be Okay

 One of my best friends gave me a fresh journal this summer. The cover holds the following statement:

“IT’S GONNA BE OKAY: A journal to reassure myself when I’m overwhelmed by the creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul, all of which, from the completely far-fetched to the sometimes probable, do me no good to contemplate and in fact make me miserable, and even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”

Yes.

Fatalistic thinking is all to easy and comfortable for me. Years of honed practice can do that. I’ve been thinking about how fatalism and worrying leads me out of today. Worries and fears almost always have to do with the past or the future.

This happened, and now everything’s ruined…

or

This COULD happen, and if it does, everything’s ruined…

The reality is that right now, in this present moment, all is okay. I am alive. I have what I need. And the present moment is the only place where I have the power to do anything. To make decisions that can truly enact meaningful change.

In preparing for Sunday’s lectionary readings, our family’s been reading  Psalm 84.  It’s a psalm that calls me back to living today and resting in God’s presence. We’ve reflected on how our praise of and trust in God are intertwined. We most readily praise God when our trust in God and God’s promises are secure. God’s presence is the place where we rest, find strength, and gain perspective. And when we are in the midst of praise, we are grounded in the “now.” We are focused on God and God’s goodness to us, rather than what has been lost or what could befall us.

A life of praise and trust powerfully counters a life of fatalism and worry.

A life of praise and trust keeps me in today.

“…those who trust in You are truly happy…” ~ Psalm 84:12

“It’s Gonna Be Okay”

 One of my best friends gave me a fresh journal this summer. The cover holds the following statement:

“IT’S GONNA BE OKAY: A journal to reassure myself when I’m overwhelmed by the creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul, all of which, from the completely far-fetched to the sometimes probable, do me no good to contemplate and in fact make me miserable, and even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”

Yes.

Fatalistic thinking is all to easy and comfortable for me. Years of honed practice can do that. I’ve been thinking about how fatalism and worrying leads me out of today. Worries and fears almost always have to do with the past or the future.

This happened, and now everything’s ruined…

or

This COULD happen, and if it does, everything’s ruined…

The reality is that right now, in this present moment, all is okay. I am alive. I have what I need. And the present moment is the only place where I have the power to do anything. To make decisions that can truly enact meaningful change.

In preparing for Sunday’s lectionary readings, our family’s been reading  Psalm 84.  It’s a psalm that calls me back to living today and resting in God’s presence. We’ve reflected on how our praise of and trust in God are intertwined. We most readily praise God when our trust in God and God’s promises are secure. God’s presence is the place where we rest, find strength, and gain perspective. And when we are in the midst of praise, we are grounded in the “now.” We are focused on God and God’s goodness to us, rather than what has been lost or what could befall us.

A life of praise and trust powerfully counters a life of fatalism and worry.

A life of praise and trust keeps me in today.

“…those who trust in You are truly happy…” ~ Psalm 84:12

 

Releasing the “Should”

Love from the family cabin! Thanks be to God for the gift of vacation.

Love from the family cabin! Thanks be to God for the gift of vacation.

When was the last time you told yourself you “should” do or be something because you saw someone else doing or being that particular something? You can read my reflection for today’s “Practicing Families” blog that centers on that topic by clicking here.

About a year ago, I learned of “Practicing Families” – an online ministry and blog that support families in following the way of Jesus.  Even though I wasn’t yet a parent, I found the blog to be insightful, helpful, challenging, and inspiring – especially as I sought ways to help the families of my congregation practice faith together.

I love the “realness” at the core of “Practicing Families.” They say they are about (and you can learn more here):

  • Real Faith–This isn’t about saying or believing the “right” things. It’s about doing the best we can to honor God and follow Jesus every day.
  • Real Life–But, of course, we screw up a lot. We are not perfect parents or perfect Christians. And we won’t pretend to be.
  • Real Grace–We celebrate together the good news that God loves us anyway. In the midst of our imperfect parenting, our imperfect families, God meets us and sustains us.

Mondays offer “family liturgies” with prayers and practices to use with your family (or not). Wednesdays are “practicing with children” that hold stories of how we experience God in everyday family life. Fridays are “practicing parents” days that offer spiritual discoveries gleaned from parenting.

It’s a beautiful resource! I have been (and still am on) vacation but am looking forward to the rhythm of my weekly prayer posts once I return.

 

Weekly Prayer – Friday, June 26, 2015

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

In light of yesterday’s post, this prayer calls us to a slower pace that dwells and trusts in God’s provision.

Dear Jesus,

You tell me to consider “lilies” and “birds.”
You promise me“I have everything I need.”
You call me to surrender.
To trust.
You sing me into greater slowness, where I can believe there is somehow enough.
That I am enough.

I clutch on to the crazies and the frantic, because the spin of so much activity makes me feel productive. Productivity means success, means value, means admiration, is….

lie.

Belovedness as your child means good, means enough, means yes, is…

Truth.

I can never live as you call me to, Jesus, when I am hurried and scattered,
pinging from item to item on that scrap of bullet-pointed scrawl, gloating on the counter.
I know. Even when I do every item on that list, it doesn’t mean I come to the end of the day satisfied,
or that I go to bed with a heartbeat of peace.

What is true in my fritter of activity proves true in my prayers to you.
I so swiftly swipe away the sweetness of one answered prayer because I’ve already focused on the next need.
Like a cloud, my anxiety shifts, hovering from one corner of life’s landscape to the next.

But for today – and maybe I’ll only make it today –
I trust there is enough time to do and be that for which you ask.

I will melt into the resting ground of green pastures and still waters
where deliverance from the frenzy cannot reach.
I will use what time I have to make it a resting ground for
all your children.

In trust of you, in love for you, Amen.

Scripture references –
Matthew 6:26-28 CEB
Psalm 23:1 NLT

There is enough time…

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

When I became a new parent, I no longer thought I had enough time.

I’ve always been an anxious person, bent on productivity and intent on efficiency. Improving something was a thrill, and a completed to-do list a gold star. More done = better. And done perfectly was even better (as though this exists). A terrible motto, and yet, it still tempts me with regularity.

After my daughter, Eden, was born, I found the “hurry to accomplish/do/complete” voice blaring at a whole new decibel level. The curious thing is I didn’t feel so much in a hurry while caring for Eden. It was in those windows of time surrounding her care. Perhaps it was my nagging worry I’d need to nurse any minute, or my concern Eden would need something, or my adjustment to living each day with an unpredictable rhythm.  When I went out to do some errands the hurry helmet came on, or after she’d fallen asleep for a nap, I’d start tearing around the house to get *stuff* done.

When a kind friend offered to babysit one afternoon so I could “have some time for myself,” I drove around town in a panic, making a flurry of stops and trying to check off necessary tasks. At one point, I relented and paused at Starbucks for coffee as a treat. I got in and out of line at least a handful of times because I thought I didn’t have time to wait.

     There isn’t enough time ran on repeat. I vacillated between extremes – sometimes spinning so quickly in my to-do’s so I didn’t have to think about how overwhelmed I felt, and other times, flopping down in paralysis to look at Facebook since I couldn’t decide which task to tackle first.

So many days, I felt tight. Poised to spring into the next action. If I was at one store, my mind was already skittering to the next place I needed to go. If I was preparing the prayers of the people for Sunday’s worship, I couldn’t get the stockpile of work email out of my head. If I was preparing dinner, I rushed along so I could clean the living room. If I was on the phone with a friend, I made myself fold laundry or do something else simultaneously in order to multi-task and “make the most” (what does this even mean?) of the moment. As though conversation with one of the dearest people to me wasn’t worthy of my full attention in and of itself.

A wise person (aka – my psychiatrist in college) once told me, “Arianne, sitting on a porch at the close of the day and watching the horizon is a productive use of time.”

From where, then, did this scarcity of time mentality arise? Why did I feel so pinched and crunched? Why did I stubbornly believe there wasn’t enough time to do what I really needed to do? And why do I still find myself struggling with this on my spinniest days and in my weakest moments?

I look at Jesus, and as one of the busiest people on the planet, he seemed to believe there was enough time for what was most important. He stopped for “interruptions.” He took the day as it came, trusting that what he did was enough for that day. He valued and protected time for renewal, spending time alone with God and retreating when needed. Though people often demanded that Jesus justify why and how he used his time, he never seemed flustered by it. He was humble and secure in his choices. Who he was and what he did was enough. And he let time unfold as it did, not rushing it along. It was okay to have an “already-not-yet” kingdom instead of a fully completed one.

I believe and find reassurance in this on days when my trust in Christ’s love and faithfulness are steady. But what about all the times I get to the end of a long day and feel like there wasn’t enough time? It’s late, the time to sleep is already slipping away like sand through the hourglass, yet tasks remain.

“There’s not enough time, God,” I say, “to care for my community, my family, myself. To be an educated and justice-seeking person. To do the work I feel called to do. AND sleep.”

But God comes back to me with questions when I make such declarations. Questions about what God’s truly asked of me,
what makes a full, abundant, faithful life, and who or what am I trusting.

There’s something awry when I feel I don’t have time to answer the phone call from a friend or family member, or take a few minutes to pen something I noticed down in my journal, or rest in moments of cuddling with Eden after she awakes. There’s also something wrong if I feel I need to make an obstacle course of the grocery store with my madwoman dodging and darting, or continually drive over the speed limit, or sigh and snip when I’m forced to wait in line.

Every night as I rock and feed Eden before bed, I pray Psalm 23 over her. I used to just say it once, sometimes reciting the words rather automatically when my brain was still full and busy with the events of the day. But lately, I’ve been praying the Psalm over and over and over again as Eden drinks her bottle in the dim light of summer evenings. It’s the beginning of the Psalm that echoes most in my soul these days –

“The Lord is my Shepherd,
I have everything I need…” (Psalm 23:1 NLT)

I’ve taken these words to be not just a promise of enough time, but a call to contentment with my time. There is enough time is the new mantra I’ve started repeating. And it resonates not just for parents, but for other caregivers, or people who simply feel responsible for other people, which in reality, is all of us.

If I know I’m valued
not because of what I accomplish, but because I’m God’s child;
not because I did things perfectly, but because I did my best and tried to live in love;
not because I solved all the problems that make God cry, but because I cried along with God while I did my little piece to help
then there IS enough time.

There is deep strength and confidence in contentment, and in knowing I have all I need (including time) to live as God asks me to live. And on days when I wrestle so much with what God is calling me to do and I only hear the blare of the “hurry” voice, that is when I most need Psalm 23. I try returning to faith – to trust the time is enough and my call is toward a simple life of generosity, compassion, and delight.

P.S. – Tomorrow’s Weekly Prayer will center on this theme of a slower, trustful pace….

“Ash and Starlight”

Dad and me, 7 months pregnant with Eden and just one week before Dad died

Dad and me, 7 months pregnant with Eden and just one week before Dad died

Last August, my beloved father, Dr. Tom Braithwaite, died after an eleven-year journey through cancer. Dad loved to sing.

My Dad, brother, and I all around the piano, with Dad and Matt singing duets the week of his AML diagnosis

My Dad, brother, and I all around the piano, with Dad and my brother singing duets the week of his AML diagnosis

It was a passion he shared with his brother. They regularly sang as a quartet at church, and after Dad’s death, my uncle commissioned a musical piece for the quartet.  He did not seek to memorialize or honor Dad, but rather, the message Dad lived and the gifts from God he shared. Timothy Takach,  founding member of Cantus, would write the music.

Last December, my uncle came to Fort Wayne to sing for my daughter, Eden’s, baptism. During his visit, he shared with me the secret of his musical commission. “I know you’re still not getting any sleep,” he said, “and I want you to think and pray about it, knowing I am truly fine either way,” he continued. “But, I wondered if you’d be willing to write the text, the poetry, for the piece.” Overcome with both the gift of this piece and the opportunity to have a part in it, I immediately agreed.

“The timing is perfect,” I said, as I knew I’d be headed to South Carolina in January for a week with my writing group.

Little did I know what was in store. The night before our 7:00 a.m. departure, my phone rang and on it was an automated message from US Airways. “Your flight has been cancelled,” said the fake voice. That was only the beginning. The next day would consist of sitting on the tarmac for two and a half hours waiting for a de-icing machine, two turbulent flights through which Eden howled (simply expressing aloud what we were all feeling), clothes drenched in spit-up, a missed connection, another delayed flight, standing on the middle of the tarmac in rain and wind waiting for a stroller in Charlotte, and lost luggage upon arrival in Charleston. The frosting on the cake was the delivery of my suitcase at 3:30 a.m. with the handle broken off, a fitting image for the start of the week.

Eden’s reflux fiercely flared, and I had next to no time to write as I needed to care for my sweet baby in pain.

It was Wednesday afternoon and Eden was blessedly asleep. God and I had a talk.

“How can I possibly write this piece, God? The week’s halfway done and I haven’t written a thing.”

“Buns on the chair,” God said.

I started roaming the beach house for the perfect place to write as I knew I needed ultimate inspiration for my limited time. I went to the porch, then the living room, then back to the porch, then upstairs.

“Buns on the chair,” God said again. I finally settled at the table near the kitchen and pulled out my laptop. I knew I had half an hour, maybe an hour. I stared at the white screen, the blinking cursor, and exhaled.

A quiet miracle happened. Memories, Scripture verses, poetry, music – they flooded my heart in one big wave like the ocean outside the door and rippled from my fingers onto the page. In 45 minutes, the piece was done. I was a formless mess that week, but the Spirit sat down at Her pottery wheel and said, “I can work with that.” My weary surrender coupled with Holy Hands produced the piece.

My writing group heard and held the piece. They heard and held me.

My writing group - the piece would not have been possible without them

My writing group – the piece would not have been possible without them

Upon returning home, I sent the poetry as well as my explanation of the piece off to the composer. For the last few months, he worked hard and was able to complete it in time for the weekend this spring when we interred my father’s ashes. The piece debuted at my home church, First Presbyterian Church in Sioux Falls, on April 12th, and was sung by the quartet of which my Dad was a part.

The poetry and its explanation are here, as well as a link to the video of the quartet singing.

“Ash and Starlight”

On waves where trembling feet

sink and dance there rises

between my toes a peace

Where heaven and earth embrace,

Where the ash in my mouth, the starlight in my bones

Weave together in wholeness.

 

I run

Carried on a strength beyond me,

Feet raging against soil I did not choose.

My eyes turn upward,

And through the grit, the tears, the joy

Long to glimpse the land of the living.

 

I sing

Adding my voice to the universal chorus.

Turning my song from a plea for deliverance

To a chord of gratitude

 

I love

Unfurling my hands in aching yes

and clasp the holy gift, which is this day, which is enough.

Another chance to live

– to burn with grace.

In this piece, I sought to speak – to pray – from my Dad’s perspective. I wanted to bring together some of the beautiful, enduring lessons Dad both learned and passed on to those around him. I reference favorite Scripture passages, pieces of music, memories, particular passions, and qualities of my Dad.

The first stanza begins with reference to the Gospel story from Matthew 14:22-33 where Peter walks upon the water to Jesus. This was a very meaningful story to my Dad and especially resonated with him in the last year of his life. Dad recognized that Peter’s (and his own) walk to Christ wasn’t a steady one. It included fearful moments of sinking as well as faith-filled ones of hope. One of the most powerful memories I hold of those final days with Dad is the deep peace he felt, even as death was near. Dad had such a security in his heart, and he sought to impart that same peace to us. He lived in the “thin place” where heaven and earth embrace. The “ash” and “starlight” also correlate with this weaving of heaven and earth. In the Genesis account of creation, we remember God created us from ash/dust. We and the earth are one. And yet, we are God-breathed creatures, fashioned in the image of our Creator who also made the stars beyond us. A personal story from the day after Dad died involves the earliest hours of the following morning. My Mom went out very early (probably 4:30 a.m.) to the hot tub in the backyard. As she sat in the dark and looked up to the sky, she recounted how all at once, the stars began to twinkle and sparkle. She immediately felt it was a sign and gift from Dad, now among the angelic choir above.

Following the first stanza, I use some of Dad’s God-given passions to structure the rest of the piece. Dad was an avid runner. He often referenced his journey with cancer to running a race, and drew deeply upon the metaphors of perseverance and stamina. A favorite Scripture of his was, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” from 2 Timothy. Especially in his later Caring Bridge posts, Dad would sign them, “upward and onward.” He focused on keeping his eyes ahead, and as the illness raged on, grew more and more honest in expressing the range of feelings he had toward God and the world. God embraces our rage as well as thanksgiving. The reference to the “land of the living” comes from Psalm 27 – a favorite of my Dad’s. It was the place toward which he kept “running.”

Stanza three builds from Dad’s love of singing – something he did from a young age. He sang in numerous groups, from the South Dakota Symphony chorus to church choir to family sessions with his son, brother and myself at the living room baby grand piano. Dad’s singing was a true offering of worship. He loved to sing for church, sang at many funerals, offered music as part of the “Doctor’s in Recital” concert to benefit the Children’s Care Hospital and School, and more. It was a gift he stewarded so beautifully. Using the metaphor of “song” for his life and faith, I wanted to express how Dad’s prayer changed throughout his 11-year illness. At the beginning, Dad had a “battle” mentality. The disease was something to fight at all costs, and his prayers centered on deliverance from the illness and struggle. In the last years of Dad’s life, particularly those final months, Dad’s main focus was pleasure in and holy gratitude for the present moment – that one shouldn’t get wrapped up in the future or making plans for what’s to come, but rather, cherish God’s gift of today.

This is a theme I then carry forward into the final stanza. One of the main lessons I hold from Dad’s life is that of love. As painfully hard as his life was at the end, he accepted his circumstances with fortitude and grace – an “aching yes.” This is also a connection with one of Dad’s favorite poems – e.e. cummings “I Thank you God for this Most Amazing” and its lifting of all that is “yes.” Dad relished the day, and often spoke of how this gift was enough.

The last line about burning with grace harkens to the refining fire of which Scripture often speaks – that while our trials do not come from God’s hands, they are opportunities for incredible transformation. It also echoes some of the lines of T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding and the themes of fire. The flame is powerful and holds a ring of eternity. Our life in God carries from this world to the next in a seamless strand.

I wanted the last word of the piece to be “grace” as God’s grace is what sustains us and makes transformation possible. God’s grace undergirds our lives and opens us to love. I believe my Dad’s parting message was that all of life is both grace and gift – take it in, breathe it out, and thank our Creator.

Watch the video of the debut performance here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79iTSIdG7Xw

 

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