Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Water Wins

For 12 months now, Joel and our family have been working diligently on my grandparent's house to make it a home again. The work has been overwhelmingly disgusting, depressing and usually very difficult. He has come home exhausted both mentally and physically, and most days it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel even when it is there. And in spite of all of this, we are so excited to move in!

As we finally approach what should be...has to be...the last few months of work before we can move in, I have started to understand something about home ownership. When it comes to owning a home, owning land, your biggest enemy is also your greatest friend- Water. 

All of the problems that we have had to conquer on this house have been due to water. Leaks have turned to rot, have turned to replacing entire pieces of the floor. Drips have stretched open seams and holes that have allowed vermin into the house or bought air to pour out. Water has ushered in mold, peeled back plaster, sunken the tubs, destroyed the joist, invited in animals, and given house-eating vines the will to live. 

If we are ever going to be able to live in this house we are going to have to get the water under control. But how can you control nature? How do we expect to keep something as permeable and agile as water to bend to our wills? 

As excited as I am to live in this space and call it my home, I am acutely aware that there is something very unnatural going on here...we were not meant to conquer water.

Every homeowner I have had a conversation with in the last year has described a way of living that involves continual upkeep and maintenance on their houses. There is always a project to complete or a chore to take on. This is the phenomenon of ownership. When you own something, you have to take care of it. Any amount of neglect will cost you dearly in time and money.

There is a fine line between you owning a home or a home owning you. When you are up against something like water then you can not ever rest. This makes me wonder at our human decisions and needs to own things. If we cannot rest from the work of taking care of such things, then are they really meant to be part of our lives? What could we be doing if we weren't maintaining our properties? Is the destructive nature of water something that we could ever tame? Why does the human race continue to build, and dream, and pursue these ventures when the test of time will tell the same story it has since the beginning -water wins. 

As I ponder these things, I keep seeing images of Death Valley National Park in my head. The beauty of that desert landscape would not even exist without water. The glorious caverns and crevasses that we love to hike are only there because this vast desert was once a vast lake. Water tells the story of new life. It tells the story of continual growth. 

Disney's Pocahauntus says it best, "The thing I like about rivers is, you can't step in the same river twice. The water is always changing, always flowing. But people I guess can't live like that, they all must pay a price. To be safe, they lose their chance of every knowing what's around the river's bend?" 

Water is a symbol of transformation, of change and rightly so. When I find myself worrying about the gutters that keep spilling over and pouring water under the house, or wondering where that leak is headed down the wall, it does me good to remember that nothing stays the same. There is always change. There is always hope for a new way of being because there is no way this world will remain as it is. As long as there is water, there will always be transformation and life. If we are not growing then we are dying. There is no other way of being. 

So it might be a pain to continually reroute the water so that it doesn't wash into our crawl space. We might always have to fix the plaster. But we can water our garden grow crops that will feed us, we can wash our bodies and clothing, we drink our fill and be healthy knowing that we are part of a world that doesn't leave us trapped. We are water, we need water, and we are shaped by water, so drink up and live in the flow because it leads to new beginnings. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Living in the Overflow

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to facilitate a retreat, yet again! This time, it was for a group of teenagers from Decatur Presbyterian Church. Their youth pastor was working on creating the space for the youth to take on some ownership of their ministry area. She thought they were ready to establish a youth leadership team and hoped that I would lay a foundation for them to work from. 

These youth had a great foundation. What I brought to the table was some awareness. First, we began by looking at everyone's sacred spaces in the day. The moments where they find peace and feel connected to something bigger than themselves. This led to a discussion of prayer and finding their individual prayer voices so that they can meet God in the places where he is already at work. Then we took the 5 Love Languages quiz to determine how the group experienced love on a daily basis. 

Discovering your love language is a powerful thing. It helps youth and adults to see both how they prefer to express love and how others are attempting to show them love. Using touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service, this group was able to identify that knowing each other's  love languages can help to build community within their church and relationships with others. It also allowed them to see spaces where they may be called to spend time with God and ways that they are most likely to experience God's love. 

When Jesus called his disciples he asked a group of life-long fishermen to fish. He asked them to do exactly what they were already doing, loved doing, needed to do, in order to live more deeply into a relationship with him. We are asked to do the same thing. I asked the youth to think about things they already love, they already enjoy, and brainstorm how those joys and gifts might lead them back to a life in relationship and community with the Spirit. 

This led into a brain-storming session on all the areas in ministry where the youth could do what they love in order to create more relevant and accessible spaces for youth in several ministry areas in their church. They came up with ideas for mission work, local service, worship, fellowship, education, all created with the intention of deepening their relationship with God and building community. They even began to affirm spiritual gifts in one another and decided that they should take on inviting leaders and youth to use those gifts in areas where they would multiply into great blessings for their church.

This retreat was a joy. I loved getting to know these youth, experiencing the sincere commitment of their leaders, and hearing all of their intentions for love and leadership. If your church or youth are ready to live a little deeper in communion with the Spirit, I'd love to help facilitate a sacred space for you all to grow together. 

Name Your Price

Today, Joel asked if we could read the Bible together for a while. Of course! He asked what I wanted to hear as he peeled open the creased pages of his travel Message. I said, "I want to hear about Jacob." So, Joel flipped his Bible open and lo'- he landed right in the beginning of that very story. 

There are a lot of interesting things that happened in this tale. Lots of God promising blessings heaped upon Abraham and Sara. Then promising blessings heaped upon Issac and Rebecca. Both generations of couples doubted and faltered, hurting people around them while discovering that even though they were total screw-ups, God wasn't going to go back on his promise to them. When you finally get to Jacob's tale, you can't help but think this guy is one sneaky bastard. I find myself shaking my head in disapproval and defending him all at the same time. I love him and hate him...probably because he is me. We all are Jacob at some point in our lives. 

From the get-go, he is portrayed as a cheat. He tricks his brother (who, in his defense, is not the brightest candle in the box) out of his birthright. Then he tricks his father (Issac) into giving him his brother's blessing. Having taken everything that was rightfully his brother's, he had to leave town because his bro was fixin' to kill him. Jacob goes to stay with his mom's brother under the guise of looking for a bride (which was only second to escaping his brother's wrath). He met his cousin Rachel right away and fell head-over-heels in love. He stays with her family for a month and helps out on the property. After a month, his uncle says that he wants to pay him for his hard work and asks Jacob what he would like in return for working the land. Leban (his uncle) let him name his price. 

If you have ever read this story, you are going to remember thinking that Leban was the cheat later on. But today, I discovered something new- Jacob was given the chance to name his price. And what did he say? 

"I will work for you for 7 years if you let me marry your youngest daughter Rachel"

All this time, I thought Leban asked Jacob to work 7 years in order to marry Rachel. If you read ahead you will see that when the 7 years was up, Leban allowed Jacob to party really hard on his wedding day and then slipped his oldest daughter, Leah, into the marriage bed. Jacob, somehow, didn't notice he was sleeping with the wrong sister until the next morning and by then, it was too late. The biblical deed had been done. So, he had to work another 7 years for Rachel. This caused so many quarrels and awful family feuds. Both sisters vying for Jacob's affection. One popping out sons right and left and the other, more beloved, giving him her servant to sleep with, and so on. It was an Old Testament soap opera if there ever was one. 

What struck me about this story is that Jacob made that deal himself. What would have happened if he had said, "Uncle, I just want to marry Rachel." Why did he throw all those years of work in there? Leban had already said he wanted to pay him because he was family, why didn't he just tell him what he desired? 

I think Jacob did what we all do. He didn't really believe that he could accept the blessing. He didn't think he deserved it or had worked hard enough for it. This happens to us so often on our spiritual walks. We ask for God's blessings and then we don't accept them. We have been given access every day of our lives to abiding joy and the miracles that come with it, but we don't just take hold of the blessings that are available to us. We barter with God, we bargain, or we take matters into our own hands. What if we just let go and say, "Thank you"?

Jacob didn't deserve Rachel but there is the possibility that he could have just married her right away. Instead, he created a situation of toil and turmoil. 

What if we just say, "Yes"? What if we just embraced God's blessings instead of inventing terms around them. God didn't put the terms there. Why do we? This is called GRACE. We have already been giving our inheritance in Christ. We already have full access to the Kingdom and love in the present. We are the ones that think we still have to work for it. What if all we actually have to do is choose it. Be present to it and allow God to transform our daily living because we were able to just say, "We want your blessings" and then accept them. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ruby Slippers

Last month, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I say that, but it was precisely what I want to do with my life on a regular basis. I was asked to facilitate and lead the Presbyterian Women's Retreat for Covenant Presbyterian Church. Not only was I asked to facilitate this retreat, I was given full creative license to bring to the group whatever I believed the Spirit was leading me to share. This elicits two words: Dream Job. 

I prayed about the content of this pending weekend for weeks and decided that what I am called to share is what the Lord is sharing with me all the time. Before I knew it, I was creative a retreat featuring the best of Waked Up. I called it "Ruby Slippers: Discovering your Spiritual Present through your Spiritual Past." This retreat would entail spending three days diving into the joys of our childhood's in order to remember how we were created to encounter the Divine on a daily basis.

I believe that whatever it is that you loved as a 7-year-old, whatever it is that you chose to spend your time doing that made you feel full and happy, is the purest form of how you experience joy today. Our inner 7-year-old knows better how we were called to love and experience abiding joy than our distracted adult selves. By tapping into the spaces of joy we experienced as children, then we can begin to reclaim those very same spaces in our adult lives. 

I have taught this theme before in terms of finding what you want to do for your life, i.e. your profession, but for this retreat, I wanted folks to REMEMBER how they connected to joy as a child. The hope being that the spaces where you connected to joy are actually the same spaces and practices that connected you to God. Additionally, I believe God made you to long for those sacred moments because this is where you meet him. These moments are actually prayers. 

During this weekend we revisited story-book characters from our cultural collective like "Little Women", "Matilda", "Bridge to Terabithia", "Peter Pan", "Harry Potter", and of course, "The Wizard of Oz". These characters and their stories became doors that opened us up to the nuances of being 7-years-old that we often block out and forget in adulthood. These memories propelled us to share our own character narratives based on the experiences of our specific childhoods. Through writing, drawing, creating a children's book, painting and just spending time in conversation, a transformation began happening in our eclectic group of women. It was like taking a deep breath and feeling that subtle energy begin to fill your body once more. Eyes became lighter and laugh's a little more twinkly.

There is a lot of power in telling your own story. By telling your story you are reclaiming a truth you believe about yourself and each time you tell it in new situations you are rediscovering something that you needed to know about who you are or who you want to be. By telling the stories of how we have experienced God or had encounters with the Divine, we were reclaiming spaces where we could meet God again and reminding ourselves of moments where we knew that the Divine was real and invested in our lives. 

There is magic available in the human experience of telling your story. In fact, the authors of our lives are the ones that truly have the authority over our very wills to live. This is why it is critical for us to reclaim authorship over our own narratives and become the people that the Divine created for us to grow into. It's almost like a spell how powerfully the truths of our living, breathing joys can be told by the 7-year-old versions of ourselves. Just claiming these memories will give them fuel to come into existence once more even without our intentional gestures in trying to bring them to life. This is the magic of story telling. Every story you hear and tell will become part of you and like an automaton, it will begin to shape your daily gestures in living. 

Ruby Slipper's was a powerfully fun, transformational delight of a weekend. I hope to have another opportunity to lead in this way or even lead this very same retreat material. For many, we spend a lot of time trying to manipulated and influence the world around us, but when we take a look within and claim the joys that God has designed for us and given to us, the changes we seek seem to just wash over the experiences around us. This is why it is worth taking a moment to look within. Jesus said, "Do this and remember me". We remember and then we become. My hope is that people will remember the precious ways that God has already designed for us to find Him, to connect to him, and in remembering we take action. 

We have had the power all along. We are wearing the ruby slippers. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


What do you want to do with your life? What brings you joy? What do you love? 

These questions have inspired and plagued me for as long as I can remember. At my most courageous and certain, I can answer each of them and boldly reach towards a holistic vision for my joyful future. At my most insecure, I can hardly even remember what joy feels like in the first place. 

For some, following your heart's desires is the only way to live. It is an adventure! It takes your whole being! For others, it is hard to narrow down what it is that you'd like to live for because there are so many interesting things to feel passionatly about. Then for even more folks, life is full of many desires and many passions. It will never just be one path, one certainty. 

So how do we begin to discern how we will use our precious time on this planet? 

Right now, I am watching my 7-month-old-daughter explore our living room. She has pressed herself into every nook and cranny of this room and still she finds something new that will fascinate her. Some things she has touched a thousand times and she still experiences something wonderful in just one more interaction with that timeless treasure. What she never fails to be is curious. She misses nothing in a day. She sees everything, hears everything, touches EVERYTHING. She wants to know what I am doing, what Joel is doing, what the neighbors are doing, what that dog is doing and ALL at the same time. This child is curious and each of her curious wanderings led her somewhere new.

Experiencing the world with her is reminding me of a part of myself that I don't give a whole lot of credit to- my curiosity.

My curiosity is a daily assistant to my discernment. It is simple, it is often subtle and easy. There is no pressure when I am curious. It just happens; gently taking me by the hand, visiting interesting non-threatening places until I find that I have landed on something akin to joy. 

The other day I watched a movie about the life of Frida Kahlo. After I watched it, I found myself looking up information about her. I was particularly interested in photos of her, not necessarily her work. I liked how she wore flowers in her hair and found myself thinking about roses throughout the day. Later in the week, I decided to paint some big roses which I have not tried before. Painting the roses, I learned that I really enjoyed painting flowers. It was freeing and bright. I felt my heart refueling and eased myself into a moment of peace and assurance. Today, I have someone interested in buying that painting. 

It all started with curiosity. 

Who knows what will come next, but it was curiosity that led me on this winding little path and brought me to a place of painting for myself again. I needed that space and to create for my own enjoyment. 

While there are many desires in my heart that almost always blast me to spaces of joy in my life, I also know that curiosity will be quietly ushering me along a path that I could not have designed for myself. It will expose me to new wonders that escape the sureness of my mind. It will teach me something fresh about where I can find meaning and joy. And in the end, curiosity will have led me into the fullness and depth I am ultimately seeking from this experience of living life on Earth. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Not my Good

The day we moved into our house we left the boxes taped up and stacked in the living room and headed to the back yard to begin building our first garden. Within 24 hours we had raised beds constructed, a truckload of mulch, and seedlings planted in the ground. Having a vegetable garden has been a priority for us from the beginning. 

This summer, I have written no posts about our garden and it isn't because we opted out of having one. We could have done that. We had some pretty good reasons what with the arrival of our first child and the overwhelming project of renovating my grandparent's home three towns away. However, we still got out there and planted our summer veg.

This summer has been different, though. In the past, Joel or I would spend every night watering our 8 raised beds for about 20 mins. We would spend mornings collecting the fruits of the harvest, our chicken eggs, and doing some light weeding so that it doesn't get away from us. We would freeze the vegetables that would grow in abundance and eat them all year long. Every three weeks we would fertilize the soil with my father-in-law's magical concoction and use pest control to get a handle on vermin that might be destroying our squash or zucchini. 

This summer we have not done any of that. 

But in spite of the heat, my total negligence with watering, weeding, and harvesting, we still have vegetables to eat. 

I have hardly set foot in the garden outside of a monthly weeding and weekly harvesting. Occasionally we will water the plants, but we have left these beds to fair in the sultry Charlotte heat all on their own. And guess what...they live.

It hit me today that this garden is no longer MY garden and never really was in the first place. I have done precious little to keep it alive. I have not worked for the harvest that is still abundant. These vegetables have faired well by the grace of the Divine or however you would see it. 

It's been a good reminder that while I work hard to make things good, ultimately good things can come into existence without me. God makes good things. And these perfectly evolved plants are an example of it. 

Without me, they still grow and produce fruit, and feed me and our neighbors. When I am invested in the good thing that God is already doing in our garden then the harvest is even larger. Basically, it's been a metaphor for life on Earth. God is already doing good things and I can be a witness to it or I can contribute to it. Good will come either way. 

The more I am able to tap into the work of the Lord the richer and more abundant the harvest will be. But if I don't tap into it or I can't do it right now, it doesn't mean that the good fruit isn't growing. It is like the story of Feeding of the 5,000. There was food among the people, but Jesus created an overwhelming abundance when someone was moved to share.

I think about this a lot in life. Ultimately, as a believer, I think my call is to connect to what God is doing right now, in the moment. I want to be part of the good that is already being created around me. I also know that God doesn't need me to create good. The Divine creates good things all the time. My participation contributes to the abundance, the overflow of God's love among us. We get to choose to live in that overflow just like that boy chose to give Jesus the fish and bread that he had with him. 

This is a comforting thought during a season where I don't have lots of time to help people, to volunteer, to worship, to create. I don't need to worry that good things are not happening because I am not organizing them. I just need to focus on what good things are being grown around me become part of that harvest myself.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Common Market

Almost three years ago, Joel and I chose to move into the coolest neighborhood in Charlotte. For us, there was absolutely no doubt that this would be the greatest place in town because it was two blocks from our most beloved hangout- Common Market (South End). 

Common Market was more than a deli, a bottle shop, a coffee stop, or a good place to get free wifi. It was pure magic. It was in an old brick building that had a whimsical courtyard out back. This courtyard was surrounded by walls that seemed to have the power to blot out the terrors of the world beyond them leaving you nestled in a world of creativity, community and good drinks. 

Everything was welcome at Common Market. Anything from locally made baked goods to plastic tentacle fingers could be found here. You could drink a six-pack, a bottle of wine, get local beers on draft, or just sip a kombucha. Anyone could find something to enjoy in good company. 

And good company was always present! Common Market was always full of people- ALL kinds of people. All ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, the gamete were found shoulder to shoulder, sharing drinks, starting conversations and jamming to sweet tunes. Everyone was welcome and we felt it. 

All kinds of music could be heard here too. Most nights of the week there would be live music or in-house DJs.

The folks who worked at Common Market worked really long hours and you know what, they wouldn't even leave when their shifts ended. These folks loved it so much that they would come in on their days off or hangout on their breaks. For me, this speaks volumes if nothing else does. 

Common Market South End has been the only place I have ever patronized that truly offered common ground to everyone. My sister joked that "it is an extroverts dream" because you are forced to meet new people every time you go. If you want to sit down, you have to at least ask for the empty chair at someone else's table. However, the truth is, you are probably going to be invited to that table and before you know it, you will have a half dozen new friends to look forward to seeing again. 

This spot was special. It wasn't just the strange local artwork that hung precariously off of anything that stood still. It wasn't just the apple tree that grew in the courtyard and offered us fresh fruit each fall. It wasn't the delicious $1 coffee with risque names, or incredible beer selection. It was the people this place attracted. 

I felt welcome there all the time. I could show up in my Pajamas or come dressed to the nines. I enjoyed hanging out there when I was pregnant and later with a stroller and baby in tow. I shared a glass of wine with my 92 year old grandmother in the same place where I played 5's with a bunch of friends from college. On closing day we passed Noelle to total strangers who kissed and cooed over her like her own grandparents. Where else can you have this besides your own living room?

There is just nothing like it that I have found on any of my travels. It was a very special place and now it is closed. The public have been told that they will be seeking a new location since the entire block was bought out by a developer who wants to turn our community gathering place into another apartment building. So we have hopes CM will open in our neighborhood again. But the truth is, it will not be the same. The Common Market as we knew and loved is gone. 

Someone once told me to not get bogged down with the emotions attached to the past but start sending good feelings to the future. He urged me to be excited for the NEW Common Market. I know we can fall in love again. I know that this new location could be even cooler, even more welcoming, and hold true to all that we valued about our old community center. 

I have hope that the future Common Market will offer all the magic and delight it brought to our lives. But for now, I say, "Thank you." Thank you for all the great times. The opportunities to meet amazing, new people. Thank you for the gift of being in a place where you can look around and believe that America is good and people do love one another equally. Thank you for many great nights, big hugs, life-giving cups of coffee, and for damn, good rice-crispy treats. And most of all, thank you for taking me as I am every 
single time. 

Oh, Common Market, I will miss thee, truly.