thoughts



It’s my birthday. I’m an age I couldn’t have imagined when I was twenty or twenty five. I’m fifty-three years old today, and it’s a mystery how I got here.

I was single most of my twenties, going to school and working. I was married with children in my thirties, barely conscious much of the time.

My forties were a rebellion. A mid-life struggle, maybe. An examination of faith and church and what it meant to be a woman who was not just a wife and a mother.

Now I’m in my fifties and it’s an exhale. It’s a bit like I’ve been holding my breath for decades, trying to be good at stuff, and now I am letting it all swirl away in deep sighs of release.

In my fifties, I’m giving myself permission to not be amazing. In my fifties, I’m believing what I told my younger self – that God is good and I am enough.

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I’ve lost my way, just a little, with this move we’ve made, away from prairie farmhouse and spring crocus and so much family history. I’ve landed in this mountainy place, beautiful but so new, and it’s not been without small challenges.

It is like the suitcase I’ve been packing for so many years – my whole life, maybe – spilled out along the journey west and I have spent these months trying to find my scattered stuff.

I used to write about family and goats and prairie life and raising rowdy boys and finding time.

All of a sudden, or so it seems, the goats got sold and the prairie got left and the boys grew up and the rhythm of the days changed.

Somewhere between Saskatchewan and British Columbia, I lost my babies and my home and my ministries and my church. But mostly, I think, I lost my purpose.

I’ve spent these past months trying to find these spilled things or, maybe, mourning them. But I realized, just the other day, that those things are lost for good. They are gone. They are memories. They don’t fit this new life in this new place.

We’re all faced with change in our lives. If we are moms, our kids grow up. If we are athletes, our careers end. If we are ministers, our ministries evolve. All of these things must happen. Anything else would be unnatural.

What doesn’t change is our desire to contribute, our need to create, our search for purpose.

Purpose is an elusive destination, a shifting X marked on an uncertain map. It’s more likely to find you than for you to find it. That’s the secret of it. I’ve heard it said it may even grow out of your weakness instead of your strength.

Maybe purpose is found in surrender, not accomplishment. Maybe it is more about listening and less about gifting.

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Mercy is not a virtue that you choose to put on one day. Mercy has to be your deepest way of seeing, a generosity of sprit that draws from your identity, your deepest dignity, which is love. It is basically a worldview of abundance, wherein I do not have to withhold, protect or hoard myself.  Richard Rohr

Isn’t that beautiful?

I can mercy all over the place when I have a worldview of abundance, when my spirit is not shackled by fears of not having, being, or doing enough. “Not enough” is the death of mercy.

Even “just enough” is limiting, if I think about it. Just enough suggests I’m good, I’m taken care of, I have what I need. Honestly, it keeps the focus down and in instead of up and out. Just enough is the mantra of Justice.

The scenery of merciful abundance, though, is expansive, lush, gorgeous… more than enough. Mercy is kindness and patience and generosity. Mercy looks beyond the limited view of just enough to the expanse of more than enough for all. And in that grandiosity, from out of that deep well of love, is drawn the overflowing bucket of understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and kindness.

Justice is important. Mercy makes it beautiful.

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Wait. What? February?

I’ve been sleepy since December. I’ve been yawning and stretching and snoozing, slow-poking my unpurposeful feet through days of HGTV escapism and too much sugar.

I went to church a few nights ago with a boy, the middle one, the one leaning into Catholicism, and sat with him through the Ash Wednesday service. Prayers and bells and songs and then the invitation to come for the marking with ash.

“Is it just for Catholics?” I whispered to my son.

“It’s a blessing. It’s for anyone,” he said, so I followed him through the crowd and stood in front of a stranger who dipped his fingers into an ash-filled bowl, marked my forehead with an ashen cross, and offered me a word of blessing.

I was prepared to feel something in this new experience. I was expecting some kind of joy or a spiritual something, but I was not ready for the hot prick of tears when his fingers touched my skin. The emotion of being touched unsettled me, even as I smiled and turned and went back to my pew and all the while I wanted to raise my hand to my dirty face.

I stood in my place, all uncatholic and uncertain, and I watched the worshippers around me as they dipped and bowed and kneeled, as they crossed themselves and as they folded their hands in prayer, finger tips together in a steeple, as I did when I was taught to pray in Sunday School.

These are things I’m not used to. I’m not familiar with kneeling for prayer. I’m not comfortable with being touched in church. I’m not experienced in such physical expressions of worship and that is my loss, I think.

Faith-family, back in the day, was a physical thing. Reclining at the table together and holy kisses and washing each others’ feet. Our ancient brothers and sisters exerienced their brotherhood and sisterhood in tangible, touchable ways, and I find myself moved by a thing I didn’t know I was missing.

I’m not criticizing, mind. There are beautiful congregations of worshipful people, living their faith in service-filled ways, and I’ve been blessed to be a part of many of them. It’s not a this -way-is-better-than-that-way thing.

But a few days ago, a stranger-brother in faith marked a dirty cross on my forehead, and I was undone. It woke me up, and today I washed the sleep of inertia out of my eyes and wrote these words for you to read but, mainly, for me to remember.

It’s Lent. I’m walking toward the cross.

 

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I am a middle-aged mother with a chin hair problem. Trust me, I have not been stared at while walking down the street in a long time, unless it’s because my skirt has been accidentally tucked into the back of my panties.

I have been stared at in India for thirty-something days, now. It’s because I am white, of course. I am very, very white, right down to my chin hairs, and that makes me obviously different. I also dress and talk and eat and laugh in distinctly different ways.

I am not used to being this obvious.

Here in India, in public places, people will often ask me for a photo. Momma and baby will stand beside me and I will smile with these strangers while Daddy takes the snap. (That’s what they say here. Let’s take some snaps to remember each other by.)

It’s a bit weird and uncomfortable, and I haven’t quite worked out the motivation for it. I’m guessing it’s a combination of novelty and misplaced white-person honour, but I really don’t know.

The street markets, though, are the most challenging. On a good day, I ward off the stares with nonchalance and self-confidence. On a bad day, I’m certain they are all passively annoyed at the clumsy, foreign woman who is willing to pay four times the going rate for a chocolate bar.

Occasionally, when I am feeling righteous, I think things like:

  • This must be what it’s like to have a visible disability.
  • This must be what it’s like to be an immigrant or a foreign exchange student.
  • This must be what it’s like for my really tall friend, Dawn.

In my not-so-righteous moments, which are most of my moments, I am mostly annoyed. I don’t like being stared at. I don’t like feeling like I am different. Being watched makes me feel defensive and feeling defensive makes me suspicious. I assume things about what others are thinking.

Then the t-shirt vender smiles at me and I realize I don’t have a clue. I really don’t. And I am so ridiculous.

They stare, sure. Maybe some of them have negative thoughts about me, but most of them have forgotten about me three minutes after I’ve passed by. I’m no big deal. I’m a passing curiosity at best. And, let’s face it, I’m staring at them, too.

Being stared at in India has been good for me. It still makes me uncomfortable, but uncomfortable experiences are often important, humbling, learn-something-about-yourself experiences.

So, thank you for staring, India. I hope we will be mutually respectful in our curiosity. I hope I  will be a positive example of a foreign tourist in your midst. And when I blunder, I hope you will laugh with me and forgive me my boorishness. It’s not intentional.

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A popular blogger was kindly chastised the other day for not using people-first language. She’d referred to her friend’s cute baby as a Down’s baby (as opposed to a child with Down’s Syndrome) and her comment section lit up. People-first language, please, was the gist of it. My initial thoughts, I confess, were along the lines of, Oh, great. More political correctness to stumble over. More silly this-is-how-we-say-it-now. But after a moment’s consideration I realized, of course.

People-first language, please?

Of course. Yes.

Because people are always people, first.

I’m conscious of it, now. I’m more deliberate in my thinking about you. I try to consider people in a people-first way. I’m more intentional about looking past the easy, first-glance descriptors, past the first impressions. I’m exercising my Jesus-eyes, those eyes that look deep into hearts and souls. So …

The checkout girl at the grocery store is, instead, the woman who woke up early and went to work to earn her dollars by helping me pay for and pack my family’s food, so I sincerely thank her and wish her a good morning.

The homeless man wandering the downtown streets is, instead, the man who, for reasons unknown to me, does not have a place to live, and so I look at him and smile right into his face as I walk by.

The bratty kid in the park is, instead, the child who is having a hard time making friends, so I put a hand on his shoulder when I ask him not to push and I smile at his momma.

I’m trying so hard to negate all those years of first-impression eyesight. I’m trying hard to not see you as the snobby woman or the crippled guy or the blonde girl or the disrespectful teenager or the needy friend. I’m even trying to go beyond seeing you as a perfect mom or the smart girl or the lucky one, because that’s not fair or accurate, either.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself, too. I’m trying to see myself as a person, first. I am trying to look into my own soul and my own heart, and to see what He sees when He calls me Beloved, to see myself as a girl who is smart and beautiful, as a woman who loves to laugh and enjoys a good story and takes courage and tries her best.

We are people first, friends. All of us.

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I was one of those who drank the Tiny House kool-aide. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those websites and links with words like off-grid and financial freedom and eco-friendly and how to build a house out of a shipping container for $2000. I drank a tiny glass of all that tiny wonderful-ness and I imagined an amazing tiny life and I thought:

How cute. How adorable are those tiny sinks and tiny toilets. How wonderful to pare your home down to such a basic level. What freedom! What an awesome way to disconnect from consumerism and materialism.  How lovely to miniaturize everything. How easy it would be to clean and organize.

Then, without really planning for it, tiny living happened to me, and it looks like two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an itty-bitty multi-purpose space in the basement of our friend’s home. (He is so sweet. He could not be sweeter.) We share his upstairs area (kitchen and living room) while trying to give him the space he needs for his own busy life. We’re paying him a tiny amount of rent and in return we have the gift of time. A year or so to settle in and live in this town and figure out what *it* will look like for us.

Reality is often less adorable than the dream, isn’t it? Reality right now is an ugly second-hand couch (ugly couches are my lot in life, it seems) and a lot of close-quarters navigating. Reality is tolerance and accommodating each other and sharing. Reality is crowded.

It’s kind of a fun challenge. It’s not the tiny home of my dreams, maybe, but life is not a dream. Life is real and complicated and requires grace and flexibility, and if you embrace all of that, it can be a tiny bit wonderful.

May we live all kinds of tiny graces today, friends, no matter the sizes of our homes or the expanses of our lives. May we find polite ways to share our spaces, whether at home or in the grocery store queue or online. May we use our words in healing, supporting ways. May we share coffees and cookies and rub elbows instead of throwing them. May our close quarters invite intimacy, friendship, and cooperation.

May we experience all the unexpected crowded blessings life offers.

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