Daring Contentment

“I believe that the most important single thing beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.” Maya Angelou

When I think of daring. I don’t usually think of me.
But I have been daring lately. Daring to be content.
Daring to be happy with me and the life that is mine. Daring to be unapologetic about the things that I like.

A while back, I read something in some magazine about a shampoo for brunettes that eliminated brassiness–“the unattractive red tones when light hits.” Unattractive? I’ve always liked the red glow the sun brings out in my hair. I liked the warmth and depth it gave to my hair color. That’s brassy? That’s unattractive? Well I guess that you can think that if you want. But I’m going to embrace and love my brassy until my sparkles take over.

Sparkles? I suppose that same magazine would describe them as “ugly gray.” Cover those babies! Right? What if I dare to like them? I might. We’ll see. For now, I’m embracing the sparkles starting to streak through my brassy brunette.

When I moved into my house, I liked the kitchen. I liked the warm wood cabinets. Then I saw kitchens just like mine in all of the before pictures of kitchen remodels with descriptions like: “Boring” and “Outdated.” Says who? What if I dare to like my kitchen just the way it is?

What if I dare to like my body? Just the way it is? Long and finally gathering a few curves. Sharp angles softening. I don’t need a beach body. My body serves me well, mediating my experience on this earth. It is my doorway to Presence. What if I dare to love it? To listen to it? To embrace it? To honor it? Just the way that it is.

What if I welcome my soul, my heart, just the way that I am? In all of my earnestness and quirky awkwardness. A bundle of contradictions. Full of love and fear and hope. Gentle and sharp. Fed by both friendship and solitude. A mixture of doubt and faith. Full of courage and the need to hide. Patient until I’m not. This mixture of shadow and light gives me depth. It makes me real. Human.

What if I dare to be happy with just the way I am? With where I am? With what I have? That’s daring. That’s freedom. That’s power.

_Just be exactly where you are

Be present to the life that is yours right now.
Let go of what you think you should do.
Let go of what you think you should be.
Let go of what you think others think.
God is satisfied with and wants only you.

 

 

Then I Remember My Favorite Things

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February is an Eeyore kind of month. Gray. Gray skies. Gray snow. Gray trees. Gray clothes. Gray mood. But today, the sun is out. I’m wearing hot-pink. And I decided to make a list of some of my favorite things. You know, I think Rogers and Hammerstein had Maria give us some very solid advice.

There are things that I enjoy and like. And then there are my favorites: the things that I can’t stop talking about. The things I want everybody to try. I like it so much. I want you to like it too.

If you’ve been to my house some evening this winter, chances are I’ve made you drink Ina Garten’s Mulled Wine. It’s so perfect for practicing hygge-cozy, delicious, and hot. The perfect accompaniment for good conversation. Unless you are not into wine. I don’t make you drink wine if you are opposed to it or underage. I’m not really a wine pusher.

Do you live in the Minneapolis area? Do you ever travel by Lake Calhoun? Have you been to Rustica Bakery? Have you tried their bittersweet chocolate cookies? My sister calls them magic cookies. Because that is exactly what they are. Magic.

Monday night, I finished reading Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. I cried and laughed my way through that book. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and funny. That’s the best combination. It left my heart feeling bigger and broken open just a bit when I finished it. Have you read it? No? Oh, I really want you to.

Have you watched the movie Sing Street? We watched it about one month ago. Last Friday, I was moping around: “I’ve told everybody I know to watch Sing Street! Has anyone watched it yet? No, not one.” That night I received a text at 9:01 from one sister: “Jess, we’re watching Sing Street right now!” At 9:03 I received a text from another sister: “Jess, we’re watching Sing Street!” You don’t know how happy that made me.

Do you like movies? Music? The 80’s? Ireland? Funny and heartbreak at the same time? You should watch this movie. I must be a Sing Street pusher. I really want you to watch it. I really want to watch it again.

If you have ever received a book from me, chances are that book is John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I’m an unashamed O’Donohue pusher. His words are so wise and true. They have changed me. I can’t loan you my copy, because I haven’t stopped reading this gem since I bought it almost 4 years ago. You should get your own copy.

What are some of my other favorites? Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, Rumi, Parker Palmer. I’ve told a lot of people to read their books. Gosh, I sound really bossy.

I guess this blog exists because I can’t stop talking about contemplation, practicing presence, God. Those are my deep-down favorites. They change me. They make me more me. They break my heart open and make it a more spacious place. I hope I’m not a pusher here, I’d rather be an inviter. This stuff is good.

Oh. And this guy. Isn’t he so cute? He likes me. And I like him right back.

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What do you know? Those are just a few of my favorite things, and this list thing worked. I don’t feel so gray. What about you? What are your favorites? What do you want everybody to try? Maybe I would like them too.

 

Words of Grace: 10 Favorite Quotes from Frederick Buechner

I love words.

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you might know that I especially love Frederick Buechner’s words. Not only do I love the way that he paints beautiful pictures that burrow deep into my soul, that catch my breath, that bring me to tears. I love how Buechner illuminates an honest, searching, beautiful faith. His words make my own searching faith feel just a bit less lonely. I find myself hopeful and somehow more alive when I read Buechner’s words. They are a gift for which I am thankful.

So in honor of Buechner’s 90th birthday today, I’m sharing a few of my favorite quotes of his. I hope you enjoy!

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“Don’t start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks. . . ” Listening to Your Life

 

“I believe he says it to all of us:  to feed his sheep, his lambs, to be sure, but first to let him feed us–to let him feed us with something of himself.  In the sip of wine and crumb of bread.  In the dance of sun and water and sky.  In the faces of the people who need us most and of the people we most need.  In the smell of breakfast cooking on a charcoal fire.  Who knows where we will find him or whether we will recognize him if we do?  Who knows anything even approaching the truth of who he really was?  But my prayer is that we will all of us find him somewhere, somehow, and that he will give us something of his life to fill our emptiness, something of his light to drive back our dark.”  The Longing for Home

 

“Beyond all we can find to say about [Jesus] and believe about him, he remains always beyond our grasp, except maybe once in a while the hem of his garment. We should never forget that.  We can love him, we can learn from him, but we can come to know him only by following him–by searching for him in his church, in his Gospels, in each other.” Listening to Your Life

 

“And just this is the substance of what I want to talk about: the clack-clack of my life. The occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace. The muffled presence of the holy. The images, always broken, partial, ambiguous, of Christ. If a vision of Christ, then a vision such as those two stragglers had at Emmaus at suppertime: just the cracking of crust as the loaf came apart in his hands ragged and white before in those most poignant words of all scripture, ‘He vanished from their sight’–whoever he was, whoever they were. Whoever we are.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“The alphabet of grace is full of sibilants–sounds that can’t be shouted but only whispered: the sounds of bumblebees and wind and lovers in the dark, of white-caps hissing up flat over the glittering sand and cars on wet roads, of crowds hushed in vast and vaulted places, the sound of your own breathing. I believe that in sibilants life is trying to tell us something.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace. Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace. Jesus calls us to show this truth forth. Be the light of the world, he says. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do.”Listening to Your Life

 

“Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“But I don’t want to dream this day out. I want to live this day out. I want to live this day out as though it were the first day of my life because that is of course what it is.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“And what is it like: to be alive in this maybe one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and be alive in it. Nobody claims that it will be painless, but no matter. It is your birthday, and there are many presents to open.” The Alphabet of Grace

Do you have any favorite Buechner quotes or books? Please share! I’m looking forward to adding to my collection.

To Pause at a Threshold (Or: What in the world happened to the time?)

“Whether or not it seems sacred at first, a threshold can become a holy place of new beginnings as we tend it, wait within it, and discern the path beyond.”
-Jan L. Richardson

I find myself at a threshold this morning–stepping from what was and into what is to come. Life is made up of thresholds. Some are momentous: like a wedding ushering you into a marriage or childbirth ushering you into motherhood. But many thresholds are cloaked in the ordinary moments of ordinary days and can slip right by almost unnoticed.

Today’s threshold is of the latter kind. We woke up today and ate breakfast. The boys went to school. I put a load of laundry in the washer. My daughter and I marked today by eating lunch at a nice restaurant together. We played tic-tac-toe and I Spy while waiting for our food. I dropped her off at preschool. Tonight we will go to baseball practice. Tomorrow, we will wake up. Eat breakfast. The boys will go to school. They will be home before preschool starts tomorrow afternoon. Summer vacation cannot be here soon enough for them.

It will take a while to find my summer rhythm. I’m often slow to adjust. And when fall arrives in a few months, we will wake up one morning, eat breakfast, and all three of my kids will be heading back to the school down the street.

I am no longer the mom of babies or toddlers or preschoolers. This has been my role for over a decade now. A new rhythm awaits.

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photo by Jennifer Holmberg

 

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Where is the time? (To quote my Oma.)

 

I am both excited and left with an ache that is almost regret. I wonder whether I savored this time appropriately. I worry that I let it just slip by unnoticed in the rhythm of every day life.

I wanted this year to be so special. I wanted magical, memory-making moments.

My ideal days have a trace of golden sunlight surrounding everything. That is not the world that I live in though.

Most of our days were absolutely ordinary. My daughter played with friends and cousins. We played at parks once in a while. We visited the zoo a few times. We spent a lot of time at home. We are a family of homebodies. We’ve had plenty of time that has slipped by unnoticed, and she may have watched too many episodes of Curious George.

Where does this idea come from: that normal every day is not enough?

Not only are my idealized days cloaked in golden beauty, I expect myself to be wide Awake and open-hearted, fully appreciating the moment that I’m in. I certainly don’t spend every minute of my day with this kind of wonder. This does not describe the last decade of my life by any means.

But occasionally, I do catch fleeting glimpses of these wide-awake moments.

Most of the time, these moments don’t reveal themselves at special outings or while we are on our rare adventures. These wide-awake moments can and did happen in my living room. They happen when I walk my daughter to preschool and we talk about the signs of spring. They happen when we squeeze hands with our special I-love-you signal. My wide-awake moments happen when the weight of my daughter rests on my lap and we share a good story. They happen when I marvel at her big gray-green eyes and creamy smooth skin. When she is busy performing on her stage (the coffee table) and trying to memorize the lyrics to Starfish and Coffee.

What is there to regret? These sweet memories made up of ordinary time spent together usher us to this new threshold. New memories of ordinary moments wait to greet us on the other side.

Walking with your Eyes and Heart Wide Open

“Creation itself is a sacred text through which the presence of God is revealed to us.” –Christine Valters Paintner

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Last weekend, I hiked with my family through a gorgeous piece of woods in a state park close to home. The trees were green with young leaves. Warm sunlight illuminated young ferns and a myriad of purple, white, and yellow wild flowers emerging from the forest floor.

“Did you know that some people describe nature as the first Bible?” I asked my kids before we arrived at the Big Woods. “Why do you think that is?”

I received blank stares, which is okay. I’ll keep talking. These kids surprise me sometimes with what they retain when I think that they are not listening.

“Nature can tell us about God if we are paying attention.” More blank stares.

“When we walk in the woods today, let’s keep our eyes open. What do you notice? What makes you wonder? What do you think God might be trying to tell you on our hike?”

I think my kids just hiked for the pure joy of moving their limbs and climbing rocks down the stream. It is fun to be just a little bit wild. And this is good.

I tried to keep my eyes and heart open. I had a little help.

I couldn’t help but notice the flowers as we marched along the path in search of the main attraction–a waterfall at the end of this particular hike. I noticed the flowers–small dots of color among the green–but I didn’t pay them too much attention.

Then a volunteer naturalist standing along the path struck up a conversation. “Do you want to see something that you can only see here?”

We stopped. She pointed out a miniscule flower hidden next to the path. “This is a dwarf trout lily. These flowers are only found here. In these woods. No where else in the world.” We would never have known to look for it. It was so tiny, it wasn’t much to look at. But it’s amazing to think we got to see this rare and endangered plant. We would have missed it completely if the naturalist hadn’t been there to show us what we didn’t even know to look for.

Another naturalist was waiting for us a little further down the path. “Do you have any questions about any of the flowers that you see?” We stopped again. We took a closer look at the flowers near our feet. “What are those?” I asked pointing to some purple flowers on long stalks. “Those are phlox.” I could see the resemblance to the phlox I’ve seen growing in gardens, but I wouldn’t have been able to put them together on my own. She pointed out buttercups. And she told us how we could distinguish yellow violets from the buttercups by the violet’s heart-shaped leaves. The small, white flowers that were everywhere are false meadow rue. She pointed out trillium–three pure white petals on long graceful stalks. A member of the lily family.

There were many more flowers than I initially thought. As I crouched down to take another look around me, I noticed an unusual looking flower. It was camouflaged. And beautiful. “What is this?” I asked. “Oh, that is a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. You have to look for those, don’t you?”

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It is amazing what we can see—what is in plain sight when we stop, when we slow down and open our eyes.

And I loved the gift of someone coming alongside me to help me identify what I was experiencing and seeing.

I need this with more than just flowers. I’ve needed someone who could tell me, “Yes. Those questions are good questions. They are part of the journey.” I’ve needed people to ask: “What is it that your heart wants?” I hadn’t realized the importance of that question. I’ve needed people to reassure me that it is a normal part of the spiritual journey for the fiery feeling burning in my chest, the one that got my attention, to fade and that this tends to happen as our relationship with God becomes more intimate, more subtle, more like the air we breathe. I’ve needed people to remind me to keep my eyes open for the way that God works and speaks into our lives: through synchronicity, through dreams, through our bodies, through the dreams and desires that were planted deep inside of our souls.

We need people who can point out to us what we might miss if we keep marching along, business as usual. I need those people. I’m so thankful for them. I’m thankful for walks in the woods that remind me of these things.

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A Practice for You: Contemplative Walk

I am really enjoying Christine Valters Paintner’s book Water, Wind, Earth & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements. This is a rich book. In her introduction, Paintner quotes Chet Raymo:

“All my life has been a relearning how to pray–a letting go of incantational magic, petition, and the vain repetition of ‘Me Lord, me,’ instead watching attentively for the light that burns at the center of every star, every cell, every living creature, every human heart.”

Paintner’s book helps us to learn how to pray in this way. She offers us a beautiful array of reflections on the elements and practices that help us to pay attention to the ways that God may be trying to get our attention. The questions that I asked my children were adapted from Paintner’s description of a contemplative walk. This may be a practice you’d like to incorporate into your own rhythm.

I’ll paraphrase Paintner’s description:

Take your time and walk slowly, without an agenda. Keep your awareness on your immediate surroundings or on your breath. “Be receptive to each moment as it unfolds before you, holding it lightly in your awareness, bringing both intention and attention to this time.”

First Notice. What do you notice? What captures your attention? What is inviting you to pay closer attention?

Move to wondering. “I wonder …?” I wonder why this grabbed my attention? I wonder what this has to say to me?  Paintner advises: “Let the wondering draw you to a deeper sense of conversation with the holy presence.”

As you return from your walk pay attention to the questions and stirrings that remain in you. You may want to journal your response.

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This week, I hope you get a chance to walk outside with eyes and heart wide open.