Stories


I really feel like my life has been caught in a whirlwind for the past couple of months.  First, I do think the rhythm of the summer is a little more chaotic than that of the school year.  Then that rhythm continued to follow me into the Fall.  I am a photographer (as well as a mom, wife, and all else!) and this season has been SUPER busy!!

It has been difficult to slow down…rest…play…and not allow work to consume me.  (Although I don’t think I’m saying anything that any other mother wouldn’t say as well!)

So…this is a quick post to say that I’m back (or at least trying to be)!  And to share a resource we’ve been using during this last little bit of Ordinary Time.

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As far as I understand, for some, the last bit of Ordinary Time becomes “Kingdomtide”.  We’ve been trying to practice this in our family – both in our reading and our living of life.  One of the books that we’ve enjoyed reading together around our meal times is Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains.  It is a beautiful allegory of life in the kingdom and each time I read it, I find new depths and dimensions.

For little kids and big kids…it is a wonderful read!!!

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We’ve just had our second round of summer visitors to our house – although this time our visitors were actually stangers when they arrived.  That is right…we had never met them before they, (with three children in tow), showed up on our doorstep.

Now, in all fairness, I had connected with Chamie over a couple of phone calls after she purchased one of the calendars.  She is part of an organization called Raising Micah which focuses on faith formation and family spirituality.  During one of our conversations, she talked about the sabbatical journey that she and her family would be going on this spring/summer and I offered our house as a place to stay should they make it to the Seattle area.  (Chamie wrote a great story about our connection here at their blog.)

So what did I learn about welcoming stangers?

1.  Jesus comes into my house through the stranger.  I was reminded of one of the Rules of St. Benedict…”All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for He Himself will say:  I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35).  It also brought back the encouragement of Mother Teresa to find the face of Jesus in each person.  As the Delkeskamps were with us, I saw and heard Jesus in new ways.

2.  Grace and Flexibility are the garments we wear when the stranger is with us.  Life is not “as usual” when we welcome the stranger.  Time schedules are different, kids do not always get along, agendas need to be checked, and tending to guests takes time away from other endeavors.  My time is no longer about me, it is about the “other” and so grace and flexibility become the clothing I must put on hour by hour.

3.  It is occasion for a Feast.  I have heard that in the ancient monasteries, when a guest would arrive, if the abbott was in the middle of a fast, he would break it in order to dine with the guest.  When others present themselves to us, it is an opportunity for being that “hilarious giver” from 2 Corinthians.  So we ate well and in abundance with dessert at each evening meal (to which my children shout a huge “hurrah”!!)

4.  We must listen and ask questions.  Because the stranger is not us (does not have our same background or history), we must be question askers and good listeners.  The Delkeskamps are a “luthodist” family (Tim is a Lutheran pastor and Chamie is Methodist minister) which is quite opposite my upbringing.  But I had a lot to glean from them – a lot of wisdom and perspective – so I tried to listen well and live in the form of a question mark.

5.  It is a great way to make friends.  I often wonder what would happen in America if we were not so mobile and you had no other options except to go to the truly “local” church.  If we didn’t have so many choices or see church through the eyes of a consumer, would we learn to live with one another in the bonds of unity?  When a stranger stays in your home, they cannot remain a stranger for long.  Neither person has any other place to go, so we must interact, talk, compromise, and live together…all of which grows a friendship.

I am blessed to have had the Delkeskamps here in our home.  I have new ways of seeing the world and of seeing God; I (hopefully) learned to love better and grew my heart in generosity; I got to see how God connects all His people to one another.  And I was able to see a transformation happen right before my eyes – that beautiful metamorphasis from stranger to friend!

On Saturday I attended the Spirituality of Gardening seminar at the Mustard Seed House in Seattle.  It was a beautiful day filled with even more beautiful people.  I learned much about the practical side of gardening here in the Northwest as well as some great insights and metaphors about God, life, and the Gospel we can learn from the garden.

ChristineSine

Above is the beautiful Christine Sine who hosted the event for us.  She put together a binder of her writings about gardening through the seasons.  I have only just begun to look through it, though I am sure I will reference it often!  I enjoyed how she taught the event…she spoke a little, had us participate in some corporate readings/prayers, asked us questions, and had us participate in certain aspects of gardening.

Compost

One of the things that struck me from the seminar was that, in many ways, gardening is not just about planting seeds but about building up the soil.  One of the best ways to do that is by using compost.  In our world today compost is easy to come by if we go down to Home Depot and buy a bag, but then I think we miss out on the lesson from life.  Compost piles at home are created from the garbage of life.  We take our plant food scraps along with paper and our organic yard waste – all the things we would’ve thrown away – and we can put them in a bin and in a matter of months we have rich soil amendment!  How like God…He many times takes what we think is the garbage from our life and turns it into life giving material.

HandsTieingApples

One of the activities we did (that I had never heard of) was to take those short nylon “footies” and cover the young fruit on the apple tree to protect it from some sort of pest.  It was fun to see everyone in and around the tree looking for the small apples.  It reminded me of the need to protect the young fruit in the lives that we disciple (especially our children).  They sometimes need us to cover them until they are formed to maturity and the threat of pests is gone.

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I was also quite challenged by the idea of companion gardening – planting certain plants with one another so they actually replenish one another.  (Evidently tomatoes LOVE carrots!)  We talked about what a beautiful picture of diversity this is…how the Body of Christ needs this diversity across generations, races, denominations, etc. because we too can actually replenish one another and add nutrients to the soil that benefits another.  Christine also made the observation that when there is only one type of plant, when pestilence hits all the plants are wiped out, but when there is diversity, some of the plants may be effected but the different plants keep the bugs from wiping everything out.  Do we think there is any correlation in the church???

SeedsInHand

I think planting seeds themselves is an act of faith.  How much sense does it make to put something so small and easily crushed into a hole and cover it up with dirt so we cannot see it anymore?  And then to faithfully water the area though we see no signs of life or growth for a time?  Yet the amazing thing to me is that those small seeds can grow into the very food that gives strength and sustenance to our bodies.

WateringHands

Ahh…and here is that faithful watering.  I like this picture because it reminds me of what we do with one another and especially our children (for those of us who are mothers) – holding them in our hands and faithfully watering the seeds planted in them!

Just a couple of other thoughts that I wrote down (meaning they are not MY thoughts, but someone else’s):   1)  to be done well, weeding is done in a kneeling position (Should this be my place and posture for confession??)  2)  a sunflower faces East in the morning and West in the evening and tracks with the sun all day long (Oh, that I could say I track with the Son all day long!)   3)  how do we form and build sustainable spiritual practices that bring about an authentic and whole-life faith??  (within communities, the church and our homes)

WholeGroup

So here is the whole group of us from the seminar.  I think that may have been my favorite part – meeting some really neat people and talking with them about the garden and God!  Thanks to Christine Sine who has been faithful to the stirrings that God has put in her heart and is willing to teach the rest of us!

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I spoke with a friend yesterday about habitual patterns in our lives that lead us into  bondage.  We talked about stories we tell ourselves that cause us to become enslaved and lead to unsure footing as we walk in the world.  It reminded me of the binding of the feet practice that took place in ancient China.  Years ago, the Chinese, had  a practice of binding the feet of young girls.  As these girls grew up their feet became deformed, mangled, tiny and unable to support their bodies.  They could not run or skip or play.  The binding not only caused deformity to their feet, but their entire lives as well.

As we are story-formed, we must see that there are some stories that bring bondage.

They begin perhaps when we are young – still so formative and malleable.

Those stories become the long cloths that bind our feet – pulling our toes back toward our heel – reducing our ability to stand firmly.

Those binding stories cause deformity to our normal growth.  They cause much pain and leave us prone to fall.

The binding, many times, is done by mothers and fathers simply living out familial stories – never questioned, so unseen.

Or perhaps the binding comes from society’s stories – pimple-faced, adolescent stories that sing the virtues of beauty, intelligence, riches, success.  All told without the depth of wisdom.

The sad news for those whose feet were bound in China is that even if they remove the binding, the foot remains stuck.  It cannot expand or stretch out to normals proportions.

For those of us who follow Jesus, however, we know that is not the final story.  For as we remove the cords that bind and present our withered, twisted feet to Him, we know He can heal and has the authority to tell us to “Rise up and walk”.

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_mg_6409_1(picture taken in Guangzhou, China, 2008)

This week I have learned to “present my body” (Rom. 12) in some unorthodox ways, but it has lead to some orthodox thoughts – and a refreshing reminder of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

So, a few weeks ago a friend of mine called and invited me to a hot yoga class.  This new studio had opened up in town and was doing a deal 10 classes for $10.  You really can’t beat that price AND since I have been SO cold this winter, I thought that it would be worth $10 just to be in a hot room for an hour.  This last week I went twice to hot yoga and though I don’t subscribe to yogic-spirituality, it has taught me some things about abiding and presenting my body.

During the hot yoga class, the room is heated to 110 degrees.  At first, it feels so good – coming in from the cold outside, my freezing toes finally thaw and turn toasty.  However, once we begin to go through the postures, I begin to feel the discomfort of the heat and the enormous amount of sweat dripping off my body.

The class progresses as we move our bodies into a posture and then HOLD IT.  At this point, all my faculties are engaged – my body needs to hold still, my mind needs to focus and my will needs to dig in.  We only hold the posture for one minute, but during that time it seems as though the clock goes into slow motion.

As I stood in one of the postures the other day, the Lord entered into my thoughts and said three words, “Abide in Me”.  I realized that up until this point, I wanted “abiding” to be easy, soft and angelic with warm Hollywood lighting and a nice deep sigh (and maybe some tranquil music playing in the background?).  But here I stood in a far more of what, for me, is an abiding stance – shaking, sweating, trying to focus and not fall over, in the heat of the moment with no relief in sight.  It was as if God said, “Tara, sometimes abiding means that you present your body and remain in that presentation whether it feels good or not.  Just stay!  Remain though you are enticed by the sensation to flee or quit.”

Then, on Saturday night, I went to church and realized I had no feeling of worship or desire to be there.  But once again God entered my thought process and took me bck to the class earlier this week.  He showed me that standing in the sanctuary is the same lesson as in the yoga studio.  “Present your body, Tara.  Take up the postures and remain.”  (However, this time my reason for doing it was far greater.  It wasn’t about exercise, it was about His Worthiness.)  Once again, all my faculties were employed – my body in standing, my mind on the words I was singing, and my will to choose God and not my sensations/feelings.  I learned to remain – to abide – and not run to anything else.

I am not sure what sort of training this is or what it will lead to, but I know that I am supposed to “present my body” and “remain”.  I am not being given any feelings or spiritual experience, only a training of my focus and will beginning with getting my body into the space of obedience.

So one thing you need to know about me is that I hate doing laundry. Well, perhaps hate is too strong a word…um…nope, that’s the right word. I hate it. Actually the part I hate is taking the clothes out of the dryer, folding them and getting them put away. I make my kids put their clothes away, but I have been known to lay my shirts over the back of the chair in my room and just wear them from there. (Actually, I’ve also been known to leave clothes in the dryer for days at a time.)

This is a great explanation why I have been avoiding writing lately. I feel like my mind is one of those huge industrial laundromat dryers and my thoughts are the clothes – getting warmer and fluffier and going round and round and round and round.

I can see this clump of ideas, details, and thoughts – some pieces are more colorful than others, some have cooler patterns. I am able to identify some of them as they tumble past the big window but inevitably they roll back into the larger pile and continue their journey.

Unfortunately, there comes a time that the laundry has to come out and be folded and that is where I’m at with my thoughts. I need to begin to pull individual pieces from this dizzy mess. I need to fold them, then wear them or put them away.

So here are the items that I’ve taken out of the dryer today:

1. Today would have been my dad’s 66th birthday. As I thought about this I began to cry and wondered why, after 12 years, do certain moments still make my heart miss him? I know he is home in heaven, but some days I just wish he was sitting at my kitchen table having a cup of coffee with me. The tears remind me the power a parent has on his or her children. And it also reminds me that I am not guaranteed another day with my kids, so I had better not squander it.

2. I have also been thinking a lot about something a friend said to me a few weeks back. We were talking about a certain spiritual practice of hers and how difficult that practice was for her at the time. I asked her why she continued to remain in it if it was proving to be so frustrating and her answer resonated with my heart. She said she kept with it because it was teaching her to “give her attention to [certain] things rather than things grabbing for her attention”. The difference in those two phrase was quite pronounced in my mind and I felt my whole self saying “YES!”

As I read the “I am” statements, my heart is becoming exposed in this arena. So often I let things grab for my attention, my affections and my trust. I find myself “hungry” for something and let stuff grab my appetite, but Jesus says to me “I am the Bread of Life. Give your appetite to Me.” I find myself worrying about finances and let money grab my attention, but Jesus says to me “I am the Good Shepherd. I will take care of you. Give your worry to Me.” I find myself wanting the applause of people and find situations grabbing for my attention, but Jesus says to me “I am the Vine. In Me you will find your sustenance. Give your significance to Me.”

I am learning that these “I am” statements come into play in so many moments in my day. I want to give myself to Him and not be grabbed by fleeting fancies or idols. Oh Lord, help me!

Since the evening is drawing to a close, I’m going to turn the “dryer” back on and let the thoughts take a few more spins around (another practice I do in real life when I don’t get the clothes out soon enough!)  I’m exhausted from trying to fold it all so neatly!  I think maybe next time I’ll hire a maid!!  And one more thing….can I tell you how much I hate ironing???

Since the season of Epiphany is a season of growth and discipleship and work, we have really tried to focus on connecting with our kids in areas of spiritual formation and discipleship.  Now, around our house this may not take the typical form of a “bible study”, but may involve rock climbing, conversations in the car and most likely, Starbucks.

My daughter and I have started having a Tuesday night “Starbucks date” while my husband and son go rock climbing.  I have enjoyed this hour or so of conversation with my 11 year old.  We usually read through Psalm together and then talk about “stuff”, as the Spirit leads.  This last week, I was blown away by her insightfulness and, as I took it to heart, I was schooled by my daughter.

She had picked the psalm for the evening – psalm 100 (probably because it was short!)  As we read through it, her Bible had a reference to John 10 from “we are His people and the sheep of His pasture”.  So we decided to follow the reference.

After we read John 10, I asked her what she thought about it and here is what she said:

“I guess it is a little confusing because Jesus calls Himself the gate and the shepherd….(pause)…but maybe He needs to be both, Mom.  Maybe He is the Shepherd who leads us to the Gate and then He opens the door for us to come in to life with Him.  (Another pause)…and I guess what the sheep need to do is listen really well to hear His voice and then go in the direction He says.”

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So I asked her how we could know if we are listening to His voice or not.  She responded, “Well…I know that He wants me to obey, but I also think my heart wants to wander off on its own.  It’s kinda like when I even think I’m going to hear His voice and I just want to do my own thing – then I wander off, thinking He can’t find me or else I just ignore Him.”

Now for some this may be “no duh!”, but to hear my 11 year old articulate our propensity to hide from God and then God being the shepherd who finds us and leads us to Himself AND then is the very Door unto Life…I was amazed.  I was struck again by the grace of a God who found me in my inability to find Him (even if I had wanted to find Him) and lead me in my wandering to Himself.  And I was filled with the overwhelming joy that the same Shepherd who has guided me thus far, has found my beautiful child and is allowing her glimpses into His very heart.

O God, thank you for the precious gift of this conversation with my daughter.  I see You pursuing her and teaching her to hear Your voice.  Teach me also, to hear You better and better and to confess as quickly when I begin to wander.

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