All shall be well

Last summer we spent two days and a night on the beautiful Umpqua River, fishing and floating during the day and pulling up to shore in the evening. At a glassy, wide spot we anchored and fished, passing snacks and bait between boats and vying for the hotspots where the fish were biting.

Above us the rural highway wound round bends parallel to our lazy river. I looked at the cars as they passed; people had places to go, and my life was still, wide, glassy as the river. I felt fixed to the earth like a pin on the map and glad for the excuse to stare at the world—my favorite part of fishing.

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As I sat in the boat, looking up at the cars, I wondered about the people. Were they heading somewhere fun? Leaving somewhere interesting? Or were they fighting—themselves and each other and the world around them? Did they see me on the river and wish for a life that made time for such things? Were they overwhelmed with life?

I’ve been in all those places.

Staring at the world can be overwhelming sometimes. Everyone is coming from someplace and going somewhere else, on the highway above the lazy river and in the store and even at church on Sunday. Everyone is carrying their whole story carefully in them. We are all a sum of everything behind us and our paths run too parallel, not really crossing, not really connecting. The fixed points between us are small and the boundaries of our little kingdoms have few bridges.

I don’t mean to say that I wish I knew everyone better, but I am curious about the inner-workings of others. You have a whole interior self that is unknown and cannot be known by anyone but God, and that self affects who you are to me, who I am to you. There is more to you than just how you intersect my space and time, but I tend to only see you in relation to me—you are the person in front of me in line or passing me in the aisle or next to me in worship. 

Finding a fixed point to see the world from reminds me that my moving and doing and being are not making this world spin. It goes on and everyone goes on and every encounter with another person is the merger of two stories. Or millions of stories. 

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I am reading through Brother Andrew’s The Practice of the Presence of God again. He says that we can’t ask for God’s help unless we’re with Him, and to be with Him means we practice the "holy habit” of thinking of Him often, so I’m practicing. When I think of Him lately, I realize that I am with Him, and this is different than realizing He is with me — which is how I’ve typically thought about God

The earth is the LORD’S and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
— Psalm 24:1

When I acknowledge that He is with me I can lose a sense of wonder in the world. I am bringing God into the mundane tasks and tension, but it’s better because He’s with me. I am scared in this world but it’s ok because He is with me. I can go confidently into darkness because it’s all light to Him and He is with me.

It feels too me-centered to be right, too much my world and my agenda. 

But when I am with Him, I am both fixed and moving. I am in His kingdom here on earth among His people, His image, fixed in His presence and a traveller in His world. He is the host and I am in awe of what He presents to me. 

Being with God may not seem any different than God being with me. It may seem like simple rephrasing. But thinking of myself in this position puts me in His kingdom and makes everything here more sacred, more treasured, deeper and richer and worth knowing. I am allowed to discover His world, to anchor in the river and be in awe of what He's doing.  To stare in wonder.

The world and everything in it is His, not mine, and when I'm tempted to freak out over circumstances, I remember that all shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well, because I am in HIs kingdom and not the other way around.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time. 

Through the unknown, unremembered gate 

When the last of earth left to discover 

Is that which was the beginning; 

At the source of the longest river 

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

 

Not known, because not looked for 

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always-- 

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flames are in-folded 

Into the crowned knot of fire 

And the fire and the rose are one.

 from T.S. Eliot's poem "Little Gidding"

The Foolishness of Creativity

When I was in elementary school I had a teacher who gave us the gifts of calligraphy and poetry. He wore a Mr. Rogers cardigan and wasn’t even one of our regular teachers, but for some reason we spent long portions of our days in his classroom where we learned how to put the nibs in our pens and hear the rhythm in a poem. He opened the world of goodness and truth and beauty to me, in thick books and papers dripped with India ink. He was such a fantastic man that I even bought him a Christmas gift.

Around this time I was inspired to send some of my poetry to a magazine, with a note assuring them there was “more where that came from” should they have a deficit of simple rhymes. I never heard back from them. 

But that’s not the painful part of this memory. 

Continue reading at Fathom Mag.

When Your Life Needs a Review

In our family my husband is the great story teller, be it a true story or something he made up for the kids. He is the one who can retell an event without missing an important detail, who can hold the punch line in perfect tension, and who will take you along from start to finish without losing you in flashbacks or fast-forwards. 

I am the one who tells a story as if a novel were cut into a million pieces and I had randomly chosen a few, shuffled them into any order, and retold the fragments with long pauses and stares. Oral history is just not my forte. 

Part of the problem may be my impatience. I get bogged down with details and transitions and segues, wanting to get right to the point when I’m recounting something aloud. I tend to tell the highs and lows and leave out too many important connecting points, and anyone listening is left as fragmented as my story. I think I’m just realizing this about myself — this trouble with transitions. 

As a listener, I’ve been known to roll my hands in the air and bob my head in an attempt to move the story to its conclusion. I am not proud of this habit, and especially not proud of the fact that I really only do this hand-rolling-get-on-with-it motion to my husband. It's so rude and I am a terrible person and I really should just sit on my hands, listen, and learn. I should be polite enough to pay attention to all the details that are important, even if they’re not important to me.

In the same way, I tend to skim details as I’m reading. It’s not as rude because the author can’t see me, but let’s talk about scripture for a minute — about how I roll through lists and repetition and why does Moses have to say the same thing again and again and didn’t he already tell about all the ways they failed in the desert? I’m about to enter the Promised Land with Israel again, but first we have to stop and recount the mistakes, the reasons why so many of them didn’t make it, the reason Moses himself won’t make it. Deuteronomy is basically one big Review of the Desert Wanderings, before the test of Jericho that begins the book of Joshua.

What this all boils down to is my distaste for review. I want things to roll forward, make progress and move the needle. Yet at the same time I seem to be constantly doing some kind of internal-review that leaves me prone to regret and second guessing. I am this particular kind of contradiction: we will do whatever the Lord says to you, Moses; but don’t take too long or we’ll be dancing before the golden calf. 

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The students I tutor once a week are currently (hopefully) reviewing the material of our last semester in preparation for their final assessments.

Our accountant just finished reviewing our taxes with us.

My youngest son is reviewing all his map drawings of the year to get ready for his final, big drawing of the whole earth. 

All these reviews are fine and good and I welcome them, but in my own life I’m noticing that a true review is harder to make. It’s as though the days behind are circulating a great gray fog, pushing the days ahead to be more frantic, more prepared, to stay ahead of the misty accumulation. I don’t know what to do with all the pieces of my life when I look back with the intent to review and not just reminisce. 

A review is hard because it will take time and work and a detachment from myself. 

I’ve often wished that someone — that God — would just tell me in plain language what the heck I need to fix or stop or add or continue doing. I know; it’s all there in the Scriptures. But you know what I mean, right? I may be missing something obvious, some habit or way of thinking or doing that is hindering my walk.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to Socrates. That may be extreme in this context, but certainly my lack of review makes everyday living a little haphazard. I want to put the skids on fast-forward living and on the kind of backward-looking that only remembers but doesn’t truly re-view. Looking back should make me a better listener, one who doesn’t roll her hands and simply push the story forward. Review should produce thankfulness, recognition, awareness, attention to detail, and lessons for the days to come. 

Like the Israelites, downloading a review of all God had done in the midst of their failures and attempts at godliness, a good review can prepare us to be the people we want to be.  I would hope that a review might also reveal that the people we have been being, the ones coming out of the fog, are similar to the ones we want to be; that these many years of alternating between wandering and following have built some sort of forward-motion in us; in me. 

The first step will be to set aside the time. Second: prayerfully consider the last month or so of your life. What brought peace? What took it? Where have you over-reacted to situations, and what events led up to that? What projects or goals have been on your list for too long, and what tools do you need to actually accomplish them?  The Accidental Creative gives great guidelines for making weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews, and Ephesians 4 is a good reminder and plan for change. 

May your margins be wide enough for this sort of review, friends. And if you are feeling a little defeated, may you remember that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 and rejoices to bring the wanderer back. We can begin, again, in that joy.