Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blue Sky Time

"I am well matched", I like to say when people ask me how I like my job. I love the work that I do because it easily lives inside the layers of values that allow me to BE who I am created to be. I am paid to be present to the Divine.

I enjoy working with the team of educators on staff and the multitude of ministries that unite to try and create space for people to have an awareness or experience of God.


I like my office. It is warm, welcoming, and I have a huge window that overlooks a playground. Our building hosts a lot of happiness, we support one another, and each day is a nice day.

As much as I love the place that I work and the office that I have kept for the past 5 years, I don't love being there all the time. My soul longs for space to explode from buildings and walls into nature's visible transformation.

Fortunately, I work for a woman who believes that we should not spend every work hour within the four walls of our offices. Last month, our boss, pastor, friend encouraged each of us to analyze how we spend our time each day. Do we invest our time in the values of the church where we work? 






Then she asked us to find a space for Blue Sky Time. We had no idea what this was. She explained that Blue Sky Time would be an hour a day, a day a month, an afternoon every now and then...whatever formed naturally on our calendars. This time would be set aside to NOT do work. We would use a portion of work time to do, be, see, go where we are spiritually nourished. She believes that we will bring our best selves to the table, present our best work, come up with our best, most creative ideas if we have had time to refuel our hearts.



I love my job.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Paradise

 Once upon a time there was a paradise land where all the life was wrapped in an aura of magic. Tucked inside the watery embrace of two lakes and a pond was an almost-island . This almost-island was covered in giant live oaks whose branches creeped across the sky and tangled among the palms of their jungle neighbors. 











All of their leaves were covered in gray haired Spanish moss and their arms filled with egrets, hawks, eagles and owls. The lakes were spring- fed and so clear that any living thing who gazed within their ripples would see a whole host of fish, mussels and gators. Snake birds, flamingos, herons, and otters danced along the shores as they caught their meals. 











The warm, sweet breeze soaked across the scaly skin of the sun-bathing snakes. In the distance an osprey calls for her young while a pad-footed Seminole woman quietly heads to the shores to fish for dinner holding a freshly picked tangerine. 




 At least, this is how I imagine a day in my childhood paradise before it became the place that hosted a new form of life- my family. This magical land still lives and breathes in and out the seasons of change that slowly surround its precious shores with suburban Tampa. Five generations have swam in the silky waters of Boot Lake.









 Naked babies dipped their toes in crystal waves while they caught minnows and kept a eye out for mother gators. The natural world hasn't changed much here.



 Even the name of this special land is magical: The Doll House. As long as I have been alive our family has made several trips a year to this wonderland. My sister and I would delight in the jungle as we climbed trees, created forts, and swung from zip lines across property. 

Granny would send us flying through the trees as she pushed us for hours on the tire swing. We would catch turtles and make them our friends. 











Tearing around the property at night we'd play a game the family created a generation ago which sent us screaming for joy as our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles hid in the dark and jumped out right as we passed by. Screams of delight and laughter echoed across the mirrored waters. 






There were long nights on the dock with my cousin watching shooting stars, satellites and once a UFO. Hours were spent picking, peeling and devouring tangerines, oranges and grapefruits from the grove. We rode bikes, took wild rides in the back of Papa's truck or a few times on the front of Aunt B's car.


 In this magical land bathing suits were optional, baths happened in the lake, nap time was on sandy sheets, and imagination was the life force that kept us all laughing.









 Here, grapes could give you courage, you could become one of the fish that Granny was feeding off the dock, birds could eat seed out of your mouth, ice cream went well with cereal, morning came before the sun woke up and the day started when the raccoons would come for breakfast.




Today, as I cross the threshold of the Doll House I am met with the smell of black, sandy earth and iron-red water. Inhaling deeply, I know I am home again, in paradise. This is a place where my inner child bursts from her fleshy cave and runs to leap into every bed housing a sleeping relative until everyone is awake and ready to play.

Even paradise is not immune.The confusion of the adult world has invaded the hedge-fortress over the years. 








We have experienced many forms of loss together over the years. It still sparkles in the morning as the sun glitters across the lake and into the Florida room window where we have talked of joy and pain; experienced both joy and pain. 





The losses that have met us here have not diluted the magic that whips our hearts into submission to the  child-joy that quickly takes hold as we learn and grow together.


When I leave this place sometimes I weep. I used to weep for the missing that I knew would soon come. Today, I weep out of gratitude that the magic of this land has been planted in the soil of my soul. I am this paradise place and it lives in me. I close my eyes can I can see it, feel it. When I dream, I am on the shores of Boot Lake again with my family.




Where is your paradise?











  

When you leave it, do you weep for joy of having experienced such a place? 











Or do you weep for missing that you know will soon come as the dust starts to fade from your sandals?







Does the magic linger in the missing?





 Or does it manifest itself in the gratitude?

 



Friday, August 23, 2013

Backpack of life

If all of your life experiences became something you could hold in your hand, what would they look like? What would they feel like? Would they be weighty in your palm? 

If you took that life experience and put it inside a backpack that you carried around on your person as long as you live, would it be a heavy bag to bare?

Would your life experiences build up in that backpack and become burdens that weigh you down, hunch you over, and press on you until your demeanor became calloused and unyielding to joy?

Or perhaps, would you allow the Great Spiritual guides of this worldly walk to work their alchemy and turn each of those burdensome experiences into resources you store in your pack until you need them again?

I had a dear friend who once brought this idea to my awareness. At the time, I was too immature in my spiritual journey and too raw with grief to understand what he meant by this concept. Looking back, now years later, I have seen that this very idea has come into fruition and has changed me forever.

There trauma of watching a parent struggle to survive and finally die of cancer was something I had marked down as a heavy burden I would lug it along with me all my days. Those memories would weight me down and remind me over and over just how short and pitiful life really is. At least, this is what I decided in the moments that my Dad was dying in front of me.

Today, I am grateful to report that this decision did not stick. I believe too mightily in a God whose daily provision and presence is persistent with loving transformation. I see now that the painful process of a parent's death has become a great and powerful resource in my backpack of life. Not only has it become a tool that helps me day to day but it is one that I can offer to others. The gift of sharing these lessons painfully learned, chips away the bulk of that burdensome weight. Each similar experience in my backpack of life that seemed like it would forever be a millstone around my neck, has become another weightless tool on hand for the improvement of living as I make this pilgrimage of growth.

What resources are in your backpack of life?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is the point of Spiritual Discipline?

I have just returned from a staff retreat in the mountains. In the process of developing more aware and intentional communication techniques for our working community, we also had the opportunity to divulge in the other side of that spectrum and explore the power of silence.

I enjoy silence (a little bit each day) so having time to sit on a porch and untangle a knot of yarn (as was our assignment) was really no problem for me. Mainly, I had to fight the urge to stare at my companions on the porch and wonder what they were thinking as they unknotted their yarn. Silence better suits me, as a spiritual discipline, when I am alone.

At the end of the group discussion about our experience with silence, I was surprised to find that some of the staff was extremely uncomfortable in that space. The act of quieting their minds, hushing the flutter of "need to get done" was really a challenge. I do believe I will be a better colleague now that I have seen that being still and present is often a difficult task even for church workers.

Our guide who led our staff retreat closed by telling a Zen Master's story. I could not get my hands on a copy of it so I will do my best to summarize it here.

A man was training with a Zen master, studying closely all the spiritual practices that his master kept daily. Each new morning the master would offer a tool for awareness and balance to his student. One day, after months of practice, the Zen master told his pupil, " No matter how well you master these practices you will never be able to change the fact that the sun will rise and sink each day." 


The pupil was discouraged and confused because he believed he was learning these practices to gain power over himself and the world he abides in. The pupil asked the question, "If I will not be able to change the rise and fall of the sun then what is the point to keeping all of these practices?"

The Zen master answered:

"So that you will be aware of the rise and the fall of the sun."

Perhaps I butchered the story, but I hope you got the point. This was a good reminder to me that spiritual practices and daily disciplines are not tools to give you control over yourself or the space you inhabit. They don't make you more like God and less like a human. They are simply there to help you gain awareness. It is from awareness that transformation happens so that you grow and change each day. 

I hope on this day that you too will become aware of the rising and the sinking of the sun.







Monday, August 19, 2013

Physical acts of inward change

I have heard all my life that if you want to really change something in this world you have to start with yourself. This have become so true in every possible situation I can imagine. 

Recently, Joel and I had a friend over who has been practicing numerology. Just out of interest and in the name of daily practices, she wanted to pull a medicine card from our animal totem deck. She drew a butterfly right away. It is not going to come as a shock that butterflies are symbolic for transformation. However, she noted the number on the card and it was a 9. I have neglected the numbers on the cards as just corresponding chapters for the book that the cards came with but after this conversation, now I am sure there is much more intentionality behind the number choices. 

She looked at the number 9 and just smiled. She said that a 9 in numerology is also a symbol for transformation. When you write a number 9 you start in the inside and then work your way to the outside. The same thing goes for a butterfly. They are born as caterpillars and in order to transform into something beautiful that flies (instead of crawls) they have to go inside a cocoon in order to be transformed on the outside.



This got me thinking about personal growth and transformation. The reason why this faith journey, this soul journey, the pilgrimage of this spiritual experience on earth is so very important is because transformation starts in the heart of it all, inside you, in your own mind. That transformation makes its way to the outside of your mind. People see it in your eyes, on your person, in your countenance and glow. From that place it becomes something that touches other people and seeps into their personal journeys and experiences...

Our pastor spoke at staff meeting on the same day that our friend showed up and drew the butterfly card. He was talking about transformation. He explained that when people welcome others, care for others, serve others, love others well these are actually physical expressions of an inward change. It is hard to tell when someone's mind has changed. It is hard to tell when someone's heart has shifted in some way. The way we have come to know a person's true heart is by their actions. 

I have always told my kids at church that the best way to judge as situation or a relationship is to look at the fruit that it creates. The physical acts are a reflection of the internal existence. When those acts breed negativity and pain then most likely something inside is not balanced and vise-verse.



When you go about your day, how have your physical acts possibly reflected on your inward life? 

Often times it takes physical acts to help our communities understand that an inward change has taken place. This makes me think of baptism. When people become baptized as an adult they are giving us a physical expression of an inward transformation that has taken place. The same thing goes for marriage. The reason we have wedding ceremonies is so that the community can become part of an inward transformation that has happened between two people and God.

 
If you think about it, all of creation that becomes life giving and beautiful has to first be in a season of "inside" before that life and beauty can move "outside." Think about seeds turn into flowers or fruit baring trees. All of life must first be in an egg, pod, uterus, pouch before it can step out into a new and transformed state. Even when we are full grown it is good to remember that we can daily and are daily reborn and recreated inside.

I have seen butterflies all weekend. I sat on the porch at my in-laws yesterday listening to the pouring rain. To my surprise I saw two huge butterflies dancing through the pelting drops. It made me wonder if I am tapping into butterfly medicine this week. Am I in a cocoon about to burst forth a changed human being yet again? What about you?


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Marriage is not hard.

My grandparents have been married for 65 years now and I have never heard either of them utter the line, "Remember, marriage is hard." They have been through war, issues post war, jobs that travel,never having money, working harder than imaginable, raising a handicap child, building a life together, watching two sons out of three die, loosing jobs, retiring from jobs, saying goodbye to friends who have died, and now finally, taking care of each other as they age rapidly. Not once, in all of our frank discussions of life and love, have they ever told me that marriage is hard work.

I have not been married for 65 years so perhaps my credibility isn't worth two cents to you until I have some gray in my hair. However, I am going to proceed with a theory that I try to practice and live by.To begin, I do not believe that marriage is hard. 

I believe that marriage is intentional. 

I have been in a relationship with my husband for 5 years. We have been married 3.5 of those 5 years. In that time, what I have discovered is that there is nothing hard about being in a relationship with Joel. There is nothing hard about loving Joel. There is nothing hard about combining all of our resources and living together. Honestly, it isn't even hard to get into arguments or disagreements because of one thing- we both have made a promise to be intentional in our marriage.

Over the years, I have witness couples who grow apart, break up, divorce, and map out new lives often with a wake of pain rushing behind them. I have had friends who remind me of how hard marriage is and how no one ever tells you how much work it will be.

What being intentional in your marriage means to me is that both partners recognize and embrace the fact that they are going to grow and change continually throughout the course of their lives. They will constantly have new interests, new desires, new dreams, new hopes, and daily experiences that will shape the person they are becoming. I have said it before; if we are not growing then we are dying. The same thing goes for marriage. 

Someone once told me you can never date someone and expect to change them. That is true. What you can expect is that they will change. 

Intentionality in marriage is being open to that change. It is being willing to become part of that transformative experience. Support the change, grow with the change, invite each other into the transformation so that you can transform together. Marriage is growing together.

The most important thing I have realized is that you cannot expect your partner to be the same person you married all those years ago. In fact, why would you want them to be that person if it means they aren't growing? I am not talking about personality types or fidelity or inside jokes or whatever might be making your hair stand on end right now. Those should remain constant. I am simply saying that Joel and I are so different from the people we were in 2010. Our beliefs have changed, our goals, our non-existent 5 year plan, our hopes, and our love languages. Even little things like who our friends are, how we want to spend our time, or just that we are not as extroverted as we were in the beginning. We have changed a ton, but we have invited each other into that change so that we can support it and become part of it together.

Those moments in our marriage when something seems off usually boil down to a simple shift in awareness or education. We try to be intentional about informing and inviting each other into our personal journeys. Most of the time, it turns out that we are growing in very similar or complimentary way. When we are intentional about communicating our journeys or new ideas, etc, then we can be intentional in supporting one another or finding ways to unite our new visions or goals.

I suppose some people might view intentionality itself as hard work. In my short life experience, I have found that intentionality is a way of experience love. It is not hard to love the person I promised to spend my life with. Being intentional with Joel is exactly what I am called to be.

Anything that changes your life for the better is worth being intentional about.

 If you ask me, marriage is not hard. Marriage IS intentional.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Breathe

I stood there dumbfounded as an energy doctor held her side table lamp up to my eyeball.

"You need to sweat," she affirmed just from staring into my left eye. Then she went on...

"You need to breathe. Do you breathe? Claire, you are not breathing!"

This statement really caught me off guard. I knew I needed to workout so it didn't surprised me that someone considering my health very closely would advise that I get my workout on, but breathing? How as I NOT breathing?

After a few seconds which seemed like minutes as I tried to think of an appropriate response to this second question, she spoke first...

"Has something bad happened to you? Did someone die?" This time she stunned me. I just assumed everyone from church knew that my Dad had died and during that time of my life I still had not allowed myself permission to let go and grieve. I told her about Daddy and she nodded like she had already read my mind and knew what I was going to share with her.

"You store grief in the lungs. You have to breathe."

This began an almost year long journey of counseling, self discovery, and relearning how to take deep breaths. 

Now, when I feel my body tighten instead of letting me fully inhale that deep breath of air, I consider whether something is bothering me. It's amazing how often something really is on my mind that I haven't addressed. Can you take a deep breath? Are you coming up for air?

Awareness of the inhale hesitation made a big difference for me. Yoga also helps. Do you breathe?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Explorer

I explore how to cook with new fresh herbs
Maybe it is curiosity? Maybe I can't sit still? Perhaps I am just drawn to discomfort or newness or even just stretching the limits of who I think I am? I don't know what it is but I love to explore. 

I have already made it clear that I love to travel but maybe the root of this desire goes even deeper than sheer delight or appreication. Maybe I am an explorer.

I was recently relearning Carl Jung's 12 archetypes that describe human personalities in our world. The idea is that you are at least one of them and that all people can be broadly categorized into archetypal roles. I am not into boxing people in, but I cannot pretend that this systematic creation we are part doesn't have patterns.

As I read through these I came across the defition of the explorer.I felt each word in the core of my being as utter truth.

 
I explore the flavors of fruit combinations in my juices
The Explorer
Motto: Don't fence me in
Core desire: the freedom to find out who you are through exploring the world
Goal: to experience a better, more authentic, more fulfilling life
Biggest fear: getting trapped, conformity, and inner emptiness
Strategy: journey, seeking out and experiencing new things, escape from boredom
Weakness: aimless wandering, becoming a misfit
Talent: autonomy, ambition, being true to one's soul
The explorer is also known as: The seeker, iconoclast, wanderer, individualist, pilgrim.


This is such a part of my experience and identity. As life goes sometimes, it just so happens that while I was reviewing these archetypes I was not traveling the world likeI would prefer, I was sitting at my desk at work. I was considering the possibility of turning Jung's theory into small group curriculum. I was already having a hard time concentrating and in the middle of summer I end up spending way more time in my office than I could ever, possibly want to. In that frame of mind, I was suddenly unsettled. I could not stand to be inside another moment and was bombarded with the desire to fly away...anywhere...right...now!

I explore an old friend's new stories of his new life
I had to think this through. If I am an explorer in my soul then I should be able to experience growth and joy anytime I am exploring. Just like with Vacation, I was reminded that the gift of exploration for the fulfillment of ones life can happen through many avenues.

Lately, I have been exploring books, ideas and YouTube tutorials on human energy.  It has also been fun to explore the neighborhood I have moved into, finding little treasures like miniature Stone Henge around the corner, a Boo Hole, and new neighbors who also can offer me a chance to explore their stores. I have explored my own talents and creativity by painting new themes or learning how to grow new plants on my shady porch. 

I explore new places to have a drink and eat dinner
The gift of exploration is so adapatable that I really began to see that I explore not just places and things but people and myself. Exploration isn't something I have to leave Charlotte to do.It isn't something I have to leave my house to do. I am exploration.

Maybe you are not an explorer archetype like I believe I am, but perhaps you too just needed a little nudge to seek and see your day to day living as much more than just going through the motions. 

Just explore that idea and see what becomes of it. I bet it will be good.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pray for the child you were

My rockin' Mom in NM (photo by Anne)
My mom returned recently from a spiritual journey to New Mexico where she too visited Ghost Ranch for a course in self discovery. She topped me in badassness by taking on a "vision quest" modeled class that required that she hike most of her time there, camp alone with just a sleeping bag and a tarp, climb cliffs, mesas, and face coyotes (well that part was not required but it happened none-the-less).

She took the challenge head on to face her fears and bare her soul. From my perspective, this adventure not only bleached her hair and tanned her skin- it gave her heart eagle wings to soar to a place of inner peace. I am so proud of her for embracing it with all she is made of.

Her story is not mine to tell but I will share an idea that I took from it and the context from which it was birthed. On the last day of her vision quest, she and the small group visited Christ in the Desert Monastery. There is a hermit in residence there who mom found herself drawn to. His story was impressive to hear. He was a former millionaire, wall-street, agnostic who somehow meets God on a trip abroad and next thing you know he magic-eight-balls the Bible and turns to passage on the Rich Young Ruler which changes everything about his life. He did exactly what it said. He gave everything away.
 
Photo of Anne by Anne at Ghost Ranch, NM


Mom said his blue eyes were piercing as he spoke a personal truth to each member of their class through his story. She knew she could trust him and that God would speak when he did. Of all that she relayed, the part that struck me, and probably because it struck her, was the part about childhood.

He said that God is the Lord of past, present and future. Time does not hold Him and He can heal however and whenever He wants. This hermit suggested we do something I have never considered before: Pray for the child you were. 

What a concept! How many of us have moments in our childhood that defined us in some painful way and perhaps still inform our choices today ? How many people would do it all again? How many people would like the chance to forgive parents, friends, siblings, or even yourself for something you were part of in the past? How many people out there struggle with abandonment, abuse, guilt, or fears that started when we were too young to process them?

This hermit suggested that just like we can pray for our current states, we can pray for the child we were. I think this essentially means that we can pray for the child within. Furthermore,I think he is suggesting that not only can we pray for our inner child but that this child can and will be healed by God.

Photo by Anne at Ghost Ranch, NM
I don't know about you, but I like the idea that NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING is out of God's reach. Past. Present. Future. They are all His for the healing.

What an incredible idea. Prayers to you inner child. Let the healing begin.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lust



My pastor rocked the subject of Lust after a summer of studying the Seven Deadly Sins and Saving Virtues. I cannot do it justice through my own descriptions so just watch or listen if you are interested. I hope you walk away encouraged and inspired that it could be possible that we have a creator that delights in our pleasure and provides for us to experience true wholeness.

Watch and Listen to Bob's Sermon here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Travel is a value

"To travel is to live." Hans Christian Andersen

Chile
 A bold statement that I find completely true. I love to travel. I desire it in a way that motivates and focuses me like nothing else. The adventure, the unknown, the anticipation of new,of excitement, the deep need to explore a world with as much curiosity as I explore the people in it, the senses so unfamiliar, I love everything about it.

I married a man who shares my joys. Joel and I both want to travel. We enjoy traveling. We love traveling. Most of all we hold travel as a personal value in our daily lives.

We have both done a good deal of travel in our lives. Since we began dating we have visited the UK, Italy, Malawi, Chile, Maine, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Chez Republic, France, California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alabama, Gerogia, DC, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Vermont, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, New Jeresey, New York. 
Chile


Before we were together we both ignited this love to travel. Joel visited Jamaica, Guatemala, Australia, and Mexico. I went on a backpacking trip in Spain and Portugal, another one in Eastern Europe hitting Hungry, Slovakia, Poland. I took a pirate ship sailing tour of Greece. I visited Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, Lichtenstein, Belgium, Sicily. I visited New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, and so on and so on.

Whenever there is an opportunity to visit somewhere new, you will find one of us leaping "yes!"
Cincinnati


We have had friends who ask where we have traveled over the years. These questions always makes me hesitate. Sometimes I feel like I am bragging or showing off in some way that I have had such vast and worldly experiences. I used to provide a couple of countries or towns as an answer and then leave it at that.

Anyone who has visited our apartment is familiar with our world map. We have marked every city we have visited with a red dot. The dots pour over the continents that we have touched down on. Returning from the bathroom, our friends will come back into the living room with an awe-struck look on their faces. Then they will ask if those are places we want to see or if they are places we have seen. Other times, our friends will come back in, skeptical, and ask how in the world we afford to take so many trips around the world. 
Arches National Park


The second question is the one I would like to answer today. 

Joel and I value travel. This is a personal value that we keep and honor. When we plan out our budget, our calendars and our time, we calculate traveling into all of that because it is very important to us. I feeds our souls. Travel is a value, this is something that we invest in. We have a savings account that we add money into every single month for travel only. We do not touch it until we have saved up enough for the next planned adventure. 

 Since travel is a value for us and we want to invest our time and money into it for our own joy and wholeness, we don't spend that money in other places. We could buy really nice cars and pay a car payment but we'd rather travel. We could buy a house and have a mortgage, but we like to travel. We could buy clothing and go shopping all the time, instead we like to travel. We could go out to eat every night, but we like to travel. We could have beers everyday after work, but we like to travel. We could buy lavish gifts for all our friends (instead we make them), but we like to travel. We live in a (cute) small, older, lower rent apartment because we like to travel. We make most of our daily decesions to support our love for traveling.


Rome, Italy
I have a lot of loved ones and friends who love the idea of traveling. They dream about amazing locations they'd like to visit someday. Many of them hang their heads and sigh that they don't have enough money and some of them don't. But then again, I look at that new watch, the brand new car, the $100 bill from the bar tab the night before and wonder if that they mean is: I don't value travel. It is totally OK with me if you don't value travel.

If you do value travel and you make a paycheck, chances are that you can put a little money away each month to add up to your dream trip. What if you went a whole month without buying any alcohol and just put that money in a travel account? What if you didn't buy any cigarettes? What if you cooked at home and didn't eat out for a month? 

If traveling is a dream you hold dear and you haven't made it come true yet, how can you create some minor changes for a couple of months to open the door to incredible transformation through travel? 

For me, Andersen is right. Traveling is living and I will invest in life any day. I will no longer shy away from telling the truth. Joel and I value travel and we invest in it. We are not bragging, we are not rolling in dough, we save for each epic adventure because we love it.