Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Snow barriers

Swaths of snow slip off the metal roof and slunk onto the ground, where heaps already surround the house as if to create a fort. The barrier even covers the sidewalk, which directs one's passage from the front steps to the front gate, which opens toward the mailbox - that connection to the outside world via snail mail. Traversing across fallen snow, I am reminded of life's barriers, too. The paths we follow through life do not have gazetteers as guides. Often, we think on our feet - meandering in a way as doors open and opportunities pop up. Even when we plan our future, it never comes about as we anticipate. There are always disappointments and delights.

How do you sift through the range of emotion when you consider the future, friend? Are you uncertain and frightened? Do you find adventure and excitement await you? Perhaps you're indifferent and drifting along? Take a moment to consider doing something that is uncharacteristic for you, but that can proffer a richness to life you might never have realized. If you are usually a home-body, visit a nursing home and bring a joyful conversation to someone's day. If you are usually overly-busy and independent, take a brisk walk through a natural setting and offer a prayer that God could show you something to inspire your spiritual life. If you are usually sedate or critical or pessimistic, volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen and really pay attention to the people that walk in through the doors - their joy, even amidst the most strident situations may harbor the same hope in you.

Pass over the barriers that usually hold you back and consider the hope waiting when you do.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lamp light

Lamp light.  senk 2013
Lamp light slips off the wooden table and pools upon the floor. It's brightness cuts through the dark morning so clearly and yet still creates a cozy glow, into which I have nestled with Gratian as he sips milk from my breast. Another early-rising boy rushes into the room. His footsteps are so adamant that I expect to see tangible prints pressed into the pool of light on the floor, as if he rushed through sand along a beach.

But, the light is only disrupted for a moment. And, even then, it slides across his feet and falls once again where it had crept. Placing his head in the soft, dark-blue seat of the rocking chair, my three-year-old closes his eyes, smiles, and says, "Where's Ezra?"

"Hmmm... where is Ezra?" I reply. "Is he under the bedcovers?"

"Ha! No," says Ezra.

"Is he in the cedar chest?"

"No."

"Well, is he behind the curtain?"

"No! Here he is!" And, Ezra jumps up with his arms wide. "Did you see me?"

I ponder my son's question. Often, I am so focused on what is directly in front of me that I miss what is going on around me. And then, for that, my surroundings are so chaotic - constant noise and motion as a result of three sons 6 years of age and younger - that I long to recede into my interior life. I long for quietude and times to sit in contemplation, either reading, writing, or savoring the bit of God I find in nature and through my artistic endeavors. 

In reading, "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," a collection of her writings compiled by Brian Kolodiejchuk, I find myself desirous of the type of focus she placed on her relationship with Jesus. A life of contemplation and service - though it may be romanticized in my mind - sounds wonderful. And yet, though it may not be what I intended for my life, it is what I have received in being a homeschooling mother. My mission is here - mingled in the daily grind of life with three children. My mission is here - working the knots out of my spirit in an attempt to be more Christ-like while caring for the needs of my sons, even in those times I would rather serve myself. 

Where is your mission, friend? You might not be a missionary in another country, but that doesn't mean you are without a mission. Look at your life and see what God has clearly placed in your path today. Like the pooling light, let your focus lead you to serve the souls you meet today - whether they are weary or jubilant, grumpy or kind.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Soothing comfort

Captured tide.  senk 2013
What brings you comfort, friend? Perhaps the warm kneading of waves on your feet as you amble along a sandy beach? Or, maybe your face smiles just thinking about a warm vanilla rooibos chai, slightly sweetened and sitting beside a chocolate-chip scone? Then again, maybe uninterrupted time savoring the expanse of blue mountain views while hiking trails through God's inspiring forests and fields is more your style?

When I was a young child, my first experience trying to shower was a nightmare! I screamed in the tub, while my hands flailed to wipe soapy shampoo bubbles from my face. The thought of that burning sensation still makes my eyes tingle. Now that I am older and a mother not only to two energetic young boys, but also a one-month old son, I anticipate my next shower with excitement. It's amazing how a little vanilla-verbena body wash and the warm spray from the shower head focused on my shoulders can change the course of my whole day.

So, what brings you comfort, friend? May today send an opportunity to relish that soothing presence in your life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Innocent beauty

Gratian's lovely feet. senk 2014.
Sometimes when we try to comfort and love those dearest to us, we find instead they resist that compassionate care. I consider the times when Gratian cries, even when he's held or nursed or soothed or waltzed about the room in a gentle sway while calming music plays in the background. I consider the times when Ezra - usually overtired - fusses about having to take a nap or being required to wear a hat to go out in the cold or sharing toys. I consider the times when Joey scowls over having to engage in constructive and creative play before he can watch a cartoon. And, of course, I consider the myriad times when I have pushed away rather than allowed myself to be comforted.

Of course, it's not always easy. The time when we need compassion the most is often when we get it the least. I remember a time in my past when my mother was in the hospital. She had fallen and none of us knew to what extent she had hurt herself. Feeling obliged to attend a church meeting the next day before she could come home, I was only half-engaged in what was happening. Afterwards, I was ready to leave - to find out how my mother was doing. I didn't expect to be stopped by someone who was requesting me to sign up to provide food for an upcoming dinner. I was so angry at the lack of compassion over my desire to be with my mother, I lashed out, "You have got to be joking! I need to go see how my mother is doing." Someone else attempted to calm me, but I just pushed away.

Do you ever feel yourself doing that, friend? Do you push away when you're at that gut-wrenching state and tears drip without trying? 

As I hold my newborn's little feet during bath times, I am amazed at the innocent beauty captured there. Newborns have no way to fend for themselves. They require a constant state of care and compassion. Even when they're pushing away and fussing, compassion is what they need. It's not always easy to show or to receive compassion, but it doesn't mean we should stop trying.

So, if you have been trying to show compassion, don't give up. If you have been slow to receive a helping hand, allow yourself to feel the comfort others want to give. If compassion has not been in your vocabulary, by all means start using it! God doesn't mean for us to live a life of solitude. We all need the love of others and we all need to give love to others. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No matter

Joey at The Getty Villa, CA. senk 2013
Even on a day when the sky exudes monotonous-gray, there seems to be a poignant light pressing on the clouds. If the sheet were just a little thinner, perhaps the backlight would radiate its golden glow more ardently. Instead, the brightness seems to slither through the clouds, emitting a radiance akin to snow on the ground. With this wintry sight clearly in view from every window of the house, I sit cozy and warm near the Jotul, whose belly burns and churns an orange glow that reflects upon the floor. My newborn sleeps, save the occasional soft grunt or lip-smack sound that indicate an early cue for hunger. My other sons are helping Daddy stack mimosa wood - the start of clearing trees, whose roots are beginning to invade the septic system. And as we each are in our respective places, fulfilling roles we have to play, I consider those of my dear friends, too.

Henri Nouwen introduces "Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life" with a compelling thought, wrapped in the book's first pages: "The unity of life among us is even deeper and stronger than the diversity between us" (2013:xxvi). In life, we are so apt to notice the differences we have with others that we often forget to truly look at the heart, instead. Our biases and prejudices overpower our spiritual sensitivities - and we keep ourselves at arm's distance (or much more). Do you ever feel this way, friend? Do you catch yourself pushing away rather than cozying up to others?

As an introvert, whose past pulsates with painful experiences, I often let my distrust of others (especially those closest to me) keep me from opening up. I'm afraid of the unkind words, the bitter actions, and the clear ways in which others have made it known how I constantly fail them. And yet, I know the truth of what Henri Nouwen speaks and I yearn to grab onto that beautiful unity of life far more than that wedge of diversity. Do you yearn for that, too? For the confidence to focus on the freedom that faith gives? And in that freedom, finding the ability to trust, to smile, to hope, to live, again.

Perhaps you'll tuck this reminder in your heart, in your mind's eye, or post it to a mirror. Perhaps you'll read it and forget it until a moment percolates the thought back into your mind. Perhaps it will change the way you look at the next person you meet. And today will smatter that smile back across your face, where its presence reminds whomever you meet about "the unity of life among us."

Monday, February 3, 2014

A bright sun

Autumn's watermark.  senk 2013
Ephemeral dreams of sunlight's spray on autumn blossoms invade my mind today. Here, in a vale between mountain ridges, wet snow slushes to the ground, leaving tufts of withered-golden field grass and charcoal-gray tree trunks to break up the white blanket. I know the bright sun will bring warmer days, filled with opportunities for the hiking and gardening I love. But, on days like this, it's hard to realize.

Do you ever feel like this, friend? For me, my challenge is a year on a newborn's schedule: breastfeeding every 2-3 hours, learning what calms my little Gratian when he's fussy, and meeting the needs of my other young sons at the same time. There is such joy in a newborn, but such exhausting work, too.

Today marks two weeks with Gratian. And, I find myself thanking God for His help after each feeding session, after each fussy spell (whether it's Ezra or Gratian), et cetera. What moment by moment trial are you facing, friend? Are you a mother of young children, too? Perhaps your trial is more internal as you face loneliness or depression? Perhaps your trial is dealing with the unkindness of a loved one or a pain-filled past experience?

Whatever your day holds amidst the weather you are facing, know that time is transitional. And, as each day passes, you'll find new strength and hope, too.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Looming schedules

senk 2014
In American society, we tend to view due dates as if we're paying bills. The larger medical practice often projects a specific date that looms in our minds in anticipation of our newborn, until it turns into stressful frantic when the date passes. And yet, not even 5% of births actually occur on the due date!

Inductions, c-sections, and interventions often occur unnecessarily because of the anxiety over nature's perfect timing. At the first sign of strong contractions, we often expect labor to have begun before more certain signs emerge. In doing so, we send ourselves into a spiral of uncertainty that needs a calming reminder that everything is okay. Pregnancy is not an illness, it's a blessing - and it's a blessing that confronts our scheduled plans with a jovial laugh. There are times when intervention is necessary, but for low-risk pregnancies, it really is best for mommy and baby to be patient and let God's timing work along a range, rather than a precise date.

Do you help with this, friend? Are you a source of positive encouragement or negative stress on a mommy-to-be? No matter who God places in your life today (whether a pregnant mommy, an unknown face, or even the remotest of friends), consider how your words and actions (or lack thereof) can come across to that other God-loved person.

We let specifications, schedules, and expectations rule our lives in ways that are unhealthy. Dare to be different and challenge those standards with a new one: stopping, savoring the smile of another human being, or actually taking time to help paint a smile where it's needed.