Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Surrender of a Little Gumnut

While on retreat, I explored my issues of wanting to be in control and not surrendering to God. In the process of reflection and meditation, God gifted me with this:

Julian of Norwich has her hazelnut in the palm of her hand which symbolizes God's love, David from "The Big Silence" BBC documentary has his pine cone that symbolized his opening up and letting go; and, now I have my gumnut.

I found it in the retreat's labyrinth before I started walking it.

I am still learning gratitude but the meditation was exploring surrender.

Give up control? Stop wrestling with something I have no control over? Are you nuts? (geddit?)

I held the gumnut to my nose. It had fresh fallen out of the eucalyptus above, it's cap still green, still firmly sealed over its flower.

The gumnut smells of home. I carry it throughout the labyrinth mediating on "Let go. Trust God. Let God."

I rub it with my thumbs as I walk and I realize --

I cannot make this gumnut flower. Sure, I could force the cap off, probably with a knife, pry open the damp, waxy petals ... As aI child I'd done that before with much smaller gumnuts, so I knew I would break some of the petals and it wouldn't be as open and fluffy as the gum flowers in the tree.

It has fallen to earth too soon, it's potential never fulfilled.

But it is God's creation. Eucalypts lose a lot of gumnuts before they're ready to open. I know, because I've had plenty of practice playing with them as a child.

God loves that gumnut, forever closed. He loves that gumnut like He loves me. It is imperfect and broken.

I can enjoy the sweet odor but I can't make it more than it is. I have to surrender...

The next day, having got the clue to enjoy God, I read a couple of psalms.

All of a sudden, I feel like I am in transition to a transformation, on the cusp of something...

And this is a fast I'll need to do again and again  ... to give up control and surrender to God ... and hopefully discover the beauty that is waiting for me to see.

A gumnut cap smacks against the patio's brick pavement.

Somewhere overhead, there is a new gum flower....

I brought them both home from retreat and keep them in my prayer closet to remind me of this day.

What symbols has God shown you in your walk with Him?

I am linking this to Ann Voskamp's "Walk with Him Wednesdays".

and with ...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A little blue hat ...

It's been a while since I've done a completely crafty/vintagey post.

I stopped by a vintage/antique store recently and near the front was this pretty blue hat.

I walked away. I came back.

I walked away again.

Kept looking at the price tag.

And finally, after waiting a good 5 minutes for the gal to return from the back, bought it. The label inside reads Eva Mae Modes...

I thought I might cannibalize it for the pretty blue velvet flowers ... but now ... I'm not so sure ...

But what would I do with it, if I don't take off the flowers?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Joy Dare Monday...

Weirdly, it's made a difference this week to pray: "Thy will be done, not mine..." I've been a lot less anxious or triggered. Not completely, but getting there. 

This and giving thanks is a process. My post-EfM group is reading Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts" so I found some questions from Zondervan online and am going through them to prepare. It's made me think more about Ann's writing ... but my hubby's reading it, so I'll have to wait :)

This past week's gifts...

160. chance to work on art
161. another wee patch of weeds cleared
162. my three "boys' snoozing on the couch with me

163. feeling overwhelmed at work
164. warm sun, traffic noise
165. bratwurst, swabian-style
166. shade
167. ashes
168. bread and butter
169. nutella shake ... smooth
170. beautiful shadings on blogs
171. sharp sliver smile moon

172. loads of wisteria blooms
173. golden rays between 2 grey cloud banks
174. misunderstandings smoothed
175. side yard weeded
176. garden plans made
177. feeling like I could create a secret garden...

178. purple lupine growing on the side of the highway despite construction
179. being in good voice today
180.  finished reading Numbers (Bible in a Year challenge)

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Joy Dare Monday: Giving Thanks...

"The gifts of God for the people of God" is said right before we receive communion in my church. It's an Episcopal Church tradition that I'm sure is not unique to my church.

Communion, or Eucharist.

It's not a big leap to eucharisteo, especially when the liturgy leading to the actual distribution of communion is called "the Great Thanksgiving." Jesus's Last Supper is one of the key images that Ann Voskamp uses in her book to illustrate eucharisteo.

The whole service is a thanksgiving: preparing ourselves to be present with God ("cleanse the thoughts of our hearts..."), remembering how God has always been a part of our story (the readings from the Old and New Testaments) and giving thanks, giving thanks.

Giving thanks for a God who became incarnate, a God who took our sufferings, our wrong-doings onto Himself, out of all time and in all times, and died to give us salvation.

How could we not give thanks?

Thinking back, I'm astonished that I ever thought my church's liturgy was dull. That's the hazard of growing up in the church, I guess. You never think through to the power of what's happening -- and are surprised when you feel the uplifting Holy Spirit.

It should be like that from beginning to end, not just when I'm transported by singing a hymn, or by an isolated moment...

Every word. Is thanks.

142. hibiscus in flower

143. almost missed pelicans gliding
144. a little blue hat (will blog about this later!)
145. husband's delight over little Valentine's Day gift (we don't normally do Valentine's)
146. sound of rain overnight
147. heart-shaped puddle

148. spectacular and unusual giant flower floating above succulent
149. holding off reading a blog post, and then finding the information I needed this week.
150. bucketed down rain!
151. overdue lunch with a friend
152. good talk with another friend
153. walking around the lake with a friend and good conversation (5 miles!)

154. beautiful flowering eucalyptus

155. pizza and garlic bread for this starving walker!
156. cupboard doors fixed
157. first wisteria bloom

158. hibiscus bud
159. lunch with "senior" friends

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What are You Reading for Lent?

I finally made my choice. "Simplifying the Soul" by Paula Huston. The book should arrive tomorrow.

What are you reading for  Lent?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Loving is Hard...

Ann Voskamp has been sharing her heart-worries for her son who is in another country on a mission trip.

It gives me an idea of what my mother went through when I left the country.

For good. (well, I go home for visits)

I left to marry an American and to live in the U.S.

I didn't think it would be hard. I didn't think that one phone call a week wouldn't be more than enough to keep up.

It was hard. One phone call a week isn't enough, although it's about all I can manage.

For some reason, I didn't think I'd miss my baby brother grow into adulthood.

Or that I couldn't really be the big sister to a brother going through heartbreak.

I didn't think about the possibility of nephews. About how they change and grow every day and how I'd want to spend every waking minute with them when I'm visiting home because I see them once a year if I'm lucky.

Or that I would have snatched moments with aging grandparents who would die when I was thousands of miles away. Whose funerals I would miss. Miss the chance to mourn with my family.

I wish I had a picture with me and Pop ...

Blithely, I didn't think of any of that.

And there's no getting any of that back.

But would I change my decision?

And not be married to a man who loves me unconditionally?

And not be challenged in my Anglican faith by his Catholic one? Not to discover that communion was essential to my being?

And not to grow in my faith and my spiritual journey? Not experience God on a Californian mountaintop? And not get to know the monks there and at their East Coast mother house?

And not be a part of a faith community that taught me to pray? That taught me how to love God?

Would I grow and change professionally? Would I have the space to change professionally?

No, a thousand times, no. It hurts not being with family. But I cannot imagine not being here, in this country, in this community, in this time.

Time passes and cannot be recaptured. I treasure the moments I get with family. I try to treasure the time I have here and now (I have to be honest, I'm not always this reflective), to be present.

Because I know the day will come when my circumstances will change again and again.

I can't not love because there's a day when one or the other of us will step out of the other's lives. I've been pretty good at not letting someone in that close, outside of family, but that's changing.

It's a challenge to be open, to be vulnerable, to love, to care, when life could change in an instant.

My husband and I talk about when we retire, move from San Diego, back to Australia and we worry: where will we find a vibrant community like Good Sam?

But we surely will leave Good Sam behind one day and I will miss the friends we've made here like I miss my brothers and my nephews.

One can only live and love... Even when it's so hard.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Joy Dare Monday: Being on Retreat

My list this week is a wee bit epic. On retreat, I had more leisure to observe God's gifts.
One of the things I am learning is about being not just aware of God's presence but open to it. Perhaps that's the same thing.

While on retreat, I ended up spending time examining some of my negative emotions with the goal to let them go, a practice I had just learned via a Monk in the World podcast.
I didn't realize it until that evening, but God had other plans.
I am walking, processing negative emotions and I see seed pods fluttering in the breeze. I am utterly distracted.

I resume walking and thinking, but noting what's in flower and then in the midst of journaling some particular insight, someone says "look at the turtles!" 

Funny how it blurred, it looks like an impressionist painting... better pic later...
I finish writing (ha!) and look at the turtles and share that with a few others in the park. Admire someone's purple glasses.
Get back to the walk and the heavy thoughts... And I say hello to a woman sitting on her porch. (who on earth sits on their porch in SoCal any more? You may well ask who voluntarily says hello to strangers any more? 'Cause that'd be me.) She's weaving a basket and we converse.
Now I enjoy each moment described above, getting totally distracted from the serious work of "retreat".
But stubbornly going back to it... Well, at least until I realized how far I walked and I had quite the hike back. Uphill. Both ways. (ok not that last one.)  Then it was one foot in front of the other and wishing I'd brought along a bottle of water.

Even on retreat, I'm not great at listening to God....
The gospel reading for last Friday was from Mark 7. Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment.
"He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”)." (Mark 7:34)
Be opened. Be aware of God's presence around you and in you. 
And do what I did not think to do: to just enjoy the whole walk with God beside me showing the delights, each of his wonderful creations, all of them and give thanks.

view from my room. I need to remember to bring a better camera than my iPhone
104. making room
105. my new passport arrived!
106. snuggling with hubby and pups on the couch.

107. sun's first chance to peek through clouds

108. pelicans flying, one skimming the ocean
109. discovering the potential gift of welcoming prayer (inner hospitality) 
110. catching the bus to Old Mission with such good timing as to see where the bus stop had been moved to!

111. jonquils hiding

112. getting blown about while waiting for retreat house to "open"
113. hardly anyone else here! have the place practically to myself!

114. heady scent of pink jasmine

115. chanting Compline
116. time to listen to birds and faint drone of traffic, to look up at the mountains with a hot cup  of (not particularly good) Earl Grey tea -- wishing I'd remembered my own stash!

117. seed pods bobbing
118. turtles lined up in the sun

119. a fallen gum nut that will never flower and nothing but God's will will make it so. (blogging on this soonish)
120. Let go. Trust God.
121. Bringing the right books with me on retreat. The last chapter of "Praying Our Goodbyes" (by Joyce Rupp) turns out to have the guidance I need after reflecting on some psalms and my life.
122. the Westminster chimes sounding throughout the house - reminding me of home.

123. sun rising over hill and filling air with warm yellow light.

124. two large grey squirrels bouncing off and around a tree and fence posts (playing? competing? mating?). In another tree, two small golden brown squirrels (chipmunks? but they have fluffy tails) move swift but demurely, cautiously.

125. clusters of bright yellow "daisies" on a succulent.

126. convent chapel open today
127. news we'd been hoping wouldn't come -- a friend's cancer has recurred. hard eucharisteo
128. prayer, candle lit, dedicated eucharist
129. the other retreat guest will give me a ride to the station tomorrow. No worrying about a taxi!
130. old Whittemore book with  beautiful truths ("Joy in Holiness")
131. fledgling woodpecker -- at least smaller than the other 2 woodpeckers it chattered with.
132. tired feet, tired eyes
133. mistaking Office for office in conversation with a monk (Divine/Daily Office)

134. sun-reflecting ocean, white surf

135. mare's tail clouds
136. dolphins!
137. train running late, giving me tim to write more blog posts. (it ended up being 2 hours late...)
138. patch of blue sky
139. garden patch planted

140. messing about with the shaker during worship
141. feeling like I'm back on an even keel -- did I get it out of my system? or was it the prayer while still in bed: "God, this day is yours. Thy will be done, not mine."? perhaps I shouldn't even been asking that question...but I'll keep praying that and get back you.

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

and with ...

Friday, February 10, 2012

God's Love Stories: Who Else Is Telling A Similar Story...

I am not the only one talking about discovering God's deep love for us, no matter what blockades of shame, guilt, unworthiness we put between God and us.

What links or stories  have you found that speak of God's love for us? Please share in the comments below!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

... Come to the Fountain...

It seems to me that when I wrote my blog post about the song "All who are thirsty", I didn't actually finish it. Why I didn't realize this before the post went live is a bit of a mystery, because as soon as I read it, once published, I knew it was unfinished.

If you missed the last post, here it is. I'll be here when you finish reading it and come back.

And in case you didn't click on that link and read it, I reflected on the lyrics of a Christian praise song that I suddenly realized was meant for me as much as it was for the congregation I've sung it to.

I am thirsty, weak, in pain and in sorrow. Yes, but that's not all there is to me, or indeed to any of us.

fountain @ St. Mary's Retreat House, Santa Barbara
For there is, if we but open our hands to accept it, God's love and mercy, the water of life, through God's gift of Jesus to us.

Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life.... 
Come, Lord Jesus, come ...

It isn't easy to do, to hold out your hands for that gift.  To really surrender to the healing fountain, but even giving God just a little, starts the healing.

fountain at Santa Barbara Mission
And if I'm really honest, I haven't surrendered totally to God yet and I don't know if I ever will. It sometimes feel like an impossible thing.

But getting closer? So so sweet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Joy Dare Monday: I reached 100!

Continuing the list...

82. finding my iPhone (it took 5 calls to it to track it down)
83. seagull soaring, curve of wing
84. Sunday's anthem running through my head: "God Will Supply"
85. finding Tim Tams @ Target
86. a half moon so high and far away
87. a dog that needs a haircut (and looks so goofy)

88. finally caught up in the Bible in a Year challenge and finished Exodus
89. world exhaling vapor into crisp, fresh morning air
90. boss in a ridiculous lightweight mood
91. writing my first letter to the child I'm sponsoring

92. a sung prayer, coming back again and again throughout the day. "To You."
(you can hear a preview of the song here at CDBaby)

93. husband safely home
94. singing with my voice
95. first lesson in being taught how to use the camera off the auto setting
96. the evening star so bright

97. conversations on Christianne's blog (aka she mentioned me in a blog post)

98. words I needed to hear
99. enjoying time spent at a post-ordination party (and packing brownies)
100. whoo hoo! 100 gifts noted!
101. baked beans on toast
102. neighbor's lumpia
103. inspiring magazine

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lenten Study Choices

What to study this Lent? I have a plethora of choices, only one of which is actually already in my possession.

Here's my Top 5 list:
cover from Paula's website
  1. "Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness" by Nan C. Merrill
  2. "Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew the Spirit" by Paula Huston
  3. "Windows into the Light: A Lenten Journey of Stories and Art" by Michael Sullivan
  4. "Windows into the Soul: Art as Spiritual Expression" by Michael Sullivan (the first book)
  5. "What Women Tell Me: Finding Freedom from the Secrets We Keep" by Anita Lustrea
And if you're keeping track, that's two Catholic authors (am guessing Nan was), two books by an Episcopal priest and one non-denom author.

I am taking Nan's Psalms book with me on retreat, so I'm thinking Paula Huston might be the book of choice, mainly because her other works look really interesting too, and this might be a nice introduction to her style.

(cover from Church
Publishing website
On the other hand, I can see using the two "art as prayer" books (starting with #3) and continuing through Easter and after Pentecost by following up with his first book (#4)  and then Christine Valter Paintner's "the Artist's Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom: a twelve-week journey" but maybe that should wait until after I finish Suzi Blu's art journal class. But on the other hand I've noticed a lot of "light" references lately, so maybe....

I want to do Nan's book and maybe option #5 ("What Women Tell Me") in a small group, not by myself over Lent. 

If I can gather one: here online or in person in my community.

What do you think? Which one should I read and study for Lent?

(And I should note, I am not being paid to mention or review any of the books above. Just trying to figure out which one to read!)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Language of Love

As an Australian living in the U.S., my use of certain words and phrase occasionally proves tricky when it comes to others understanding me. The way I pronounce words, the slang I grew up using can often throw an American for a loop. (Hopefully I’m not losing anybody now...)

Some would say the language of love is the billing and cooing of lovers, but it is more, much more than that. It’s how you build relationships, by meeting someone on their own ground, in their own language.  
The language of love uses lay terms instead of jargon, so that others can understand without having to learn the insider’s tongue.
The language of love is found in the give and take of a conversation.
The language of love is found in the intentional silence of listening.
It’s the language God uses and it’s the language used by those who believe they are to reach those who have not heard God.
My goal with this blog is to reach those who believe God does not love or care for them, some of whom are Christians, some not. So I try to write with a heart-language, not church-language. Heart-language, not doctrine-language, or tradition-language. Common English, in other words.
At least I try.

Christian Jargon May Not Be The Right Love Language
Because I know the Christian-doctrine-tradition language, and I know it well. (I work in a church and have spent most of my life in it.)
Other words create blocks.  We use shorthand to declare ourselves as God's: salvation, redemption, “sin washed white as snow” (from a favorite hymn of mine).  It’s a great language, but not for someone who doesn’t know their meaning, not for someone who in their heart of hearts believes that their sins are not washed clean.
Instead I want to unpack their meaning, what lies at the heart of why we say those things. Why it matters.
Scripture May Not Be The Right Love Language
Even using scripture can be a block to those I want to reach.
Certainly quoting 20 separate bible verses doesn't get your point across unless your goal is either to show off your scripture knowledge or that you know how to use a concordance (ruh-oh, church word!).
Dense Writing May Not be the Right Love Language
And honestly? Studies of how people read online show that your readers are likely to skim all those bible verses. They look for short paragraphs, sub-headings and bullet points. You’re probably not reading this now.
But God’s language is the language of love, so I am not talking about abandoning scripture, or doctrine or church tradition. Illustrations are important. St. Paul knew that. In Acts, he talks in the synagogues using the Old Testament history of Abraham and Moses; and he uses Greek poets to talk to his non-Jewish listeners in Athens.
a "heart" stone...
So here I go, using scripture. In the bible, in the first book of Kings, there is a story about a young boy who slept in the temple. He was an assistant to the old priest Eli and slept nearby to come to Eli’s aid if he was needed.
So when God calls out to Samuel, Samuel didn't know God spoke to him and goes to Eli. As in all good stories, this happens a couple of times before Eli realizes that God is calling Samuel.
There’s this neat line of scripture: “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (1 Samuel 3:7, follow the link to read the whole story ) 
Samuel doesn’t understand God’s love language, even though he’s the boy who sleeps in the temple. Without Eli’s assistance, Samuel would never have stopped to listen to God’s word.
It’s not up to me to  be God’s word, just to bring others to a place where they can hear what God has in His heart for them.
The language of love is the language of the heart. 
My heart.
Your heart. 
God’s heart.
Can you think of other love languages? Or other languages to avoid when reaching out to others who are not Christian?

I am linking this to Ann Voskamp's "Walk with Him Wednesdays".