Monthly Archives: September 2010

Moving

I wish I were super human and could possibly write something beautiful for you in the midst of my pregnant while packing state. But, my house is in boxes and I’m afraid my brain will be also until I can properly put every lovely thing in its new place on Friday.

So, please have mercy on my quietness. I’ll be back on Monday refreshed and all moved in. Until then, my friends!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Magical God

I’ve been thinking about magic lately. A month or so ago I read a post on Amy Henry’s blog “Whole Mama” (Worth checking out. She doesn’t post much, but what she writes is fantastic.) about how much she wants her kids to believe in magic because her insides know magic is real, even if her brain says it’s not. That post made me think about what it means that magical stories might just open up our imaginations to the possibility of God’s work in the world. Really, isn’t religion is the ultimate (the fulfillment?) of our natural human longing for the magical?

That’s basically what my friend Nancy was sharing last week in Mom’s Group when she offered the same sort of stance: that she loves to read stories to her kids about fairies and spells and heroes who rescue villagers from the mouths of dragons, because all of it points to a need within us to believe there’s something far more beautiful than the finite world around us. Nancy feels that if she encourages that belief in her elementary aged children, they will stay open longer to the need underneath that longing for myth.

Tonight before bed, August pulled out his Jesus Storybook Bible and we read the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. In the JSB version of the story, Daniel is thrown down into the den and not only do the lions’ mouths stay shut (instead of devouring him as they were supposed to do) but the biggest lion curls up on Daniel’s lap and purrs. The two of them sleep that way all night.

I love that picture of God’s work. I believe that Jesus performed the Greatest Rescue (as the JSB likes to call it) ever known to humankind. And I believe that every story in that crazy (and sometimes manic) collection we call Scripture points the depth of that Rescue.

So tonight I smiled at the thought of Daniel with the half-ton lion asleep in his lap, his night of stroking its fur and knowing that the creature intended to be his demise, his one true enemy, had become his friend.

How? It was magic.

Is that what I believe? Do I follow a God who goes ahead of us into the darkest dens, into pits we are bound to fall into and makes a way for our destruction to become a snuggle buddy?

And how am pointing August toward that God who does more than offer hope in the broken places, but instead offers restoration and reconciliation?

Yes, I want him to believe that magic seeds sometimes grow into vines that reach to an entirely different world than this one, one that that somehow his rocket ship (a laundry basket on his head) can shoot into and float inside. I want him to believe that when he squiggles lines on my yellow notepad paper, they can form into shapes that have yet to be discovered. I want him to know that there are possibilities deeper and more life-giving than we may ever experience unless we’re brave enough to believe…

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Be still. Be still.

I know it most likely doesn’t feel like Fall where you are. It’s hot all over the country, which is happy for me (Yay! I get to wear my shorts for the first time this year!) but sad for the rest of you who have been craving the goodness of crisp air and bright leaves. So, let’s pretend that this September 28th is not in the 90’s but is pointing toward a day, very soon, when your streets will be filled with red and gold leaves, when the wind will bite just enough that you need that light short sleeved tan sweater you bought this past weekend and you swear was one of the best purchases of your life. When you will sit outside with friends beside a firepit and laugh.

Happy Thankful Tuesday from Wendell Berry.

Grace

by Wendell Berry

for Gurney Norman, quoting him

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking, the way
is the same. Be still. Be still.
“He moves your bones, and the way is clear.”

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Theotokos of the Sign

When Pastor Beverly joined the clergy at our church in the Philadelphia suburbs, I happened to work down the hallway from her, in a donated office for Young Life. One afternoon, soon after she had arrived at our church, I was in the office preparing myself for a serious and difficult phone call with an angry father. I walked down the hallway in hopes of finding someone who’d pray for me (I was already near tears and hadn’t even made the call yet). Beverly was in her office. I hardly knew her, but we sat together as she prayed. Her prayer was full of silence and kindness. She didn’t use many words, but simply sitting with her was enough to bring me into God’s presence. After than encounter with her I kept thinking that I wanted to learn to pray as reverently and quietly as she.

When I approached her about teaching me “contemplative prayer,” she brought up icons. Although I had a vague knowledge of the existence of icons, they meant little me, other than my assumption that they were the Christian version of idols. Up for the chance to be proven wrong, I agreed. Thankfully, we began with a book by Henri Nouwen, whom I already trusted. Surely he wouldn’t lie to me about icons, right?

What Nouwen and Pastor Beverly taught me was that I’d never before used vision as a form of worship. My eyes are constantly being stimulated in my culture, but rarely did my eyes draw me into prayer. In fact, prayer was almost completely one-dimensional for me. It lacked anything physical or sensory. What would it mean for me to begin to use my senses as a means for encountering God?

Beverly and I began to practice a meditative process in which we spent fifteen or twenty minutes looking at an icon and asking God to speak some truth to us through it, usually taking time to journal and discuss it together. It always led me into such rich conversations with God about realities in my life I would never have noticed otherwise.

Three years ago, at a point when Chris and I had decided we were ready to try to have a child, we took a vacation to Paris, where I made sure we visited the local Greek Orthodox Church. At that point a few icons were so precious to me that I longed to see them painted on the walls and ceiling of a place of worship.

Though I expected the icons surrounding the altar, I had no knowledge of the Theotokos of the Sign, the icon I discovered of the Madonna painted directly above us in the ceiling. This was not Mary holding a creepy looking adult faced baby Jesus. This was Christ displayed in Mary’s womb. Her hands were open in worship, and her child sat inside her baby bump, ruling the cosmos.

I loved it. I loved the non scientific vision of Jesus fully robed in his mother’s (awkwardly high-placed) uterus. I loved the glory with which Mary’s pregnancy is on full display. And mostly I loved Mary’s surrendered hands, palms up, willing to participate in this beautiful and tragic  journey of raising the Messiah.

I bought a little version of that icon. It has sat next to my mirror since, through my first pregnancy, through these two years of child rearing, and now into my second pregnancy.

Sometimes I think about Mary’s morning sickness, and imagine her palms raised in surrender before her chamber pot. Sometimes, I imagine her fears: how she was just a girl with no clue how to raise a child, especially the most significant man to ever walk this earth. And I imagine how important the prayers of her pregnancy must have been, in the midst of ridicule, solitude, fear and anxiety, to hold that God-child inside her womb and offer her hands, open, to her Lord. To say, “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38).

In the moments when I don’t believe I can go through this whole thing again: the pregnancy, the aches, the exhaustion, the delivery, I remember Mary. I remember that in the physicality of my surrender, in my moments bowed to the toilet, I’m making holy vows to God on behalf of this child. I just have to remember to raise my palms.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Nighttime (Packing) Prayer

I love evenings. I love eating with my little family. I love reading or watching way too much TV (Last night? Guilty.). I love the freedom of rest after a day of completing tasks.

But packing never feels completed. And I have a difficult time resting when I could be packing boxes. I’m not really sure why, but I have moving monster who takes over my body for the weeks prior and after a move. I can’t stop till its packed and/or put away in the new place. So, as I type this, I’m trying not to stare at the hangers strewn about on some boxed up books in the living room. Why, I’m thinking, did the hangers make it into the living room in the first place? I’m also wondering why I haven’t finished boxing the books. Everyone knows that packing the books is the first and most fulfilling of the packing tasks. (You don’t have to wrap anything. They’re easy. And you feel like you’ve accomplished something profound.)

But Monster Packer Boyett-Hohorst wants to stop for a moment and tell you that today at Mom’s Group, a woman prayed that as I fill these boxes I would be aware of God’s presence and that I would be grateful. It’s easy to ignore (especially when monsters are taking over my insides) how every box I fill is a reminder of how much I’ve been given. I want to be aware of that, even in times that feel like chaos. (Did I mention that I just heard four croupy coughs in a row from August’s room? Great.)

So, I will now leave you with a prayer I found in my new favorite, The Celtic Way of Prayer. It’s a prayer for nighttime. And I know most of you will be reading this in the morning, but I’m writing before bed, and I promise it’s worth remembering for the next time you need a bit of nighttime peace.

The sacred Three
To save,
To shield,
To surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This eve,
This night,
Oh! this eve,
This night,
And every night,
Each single night.
Amen.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

This is how grateful I am.

Friends, consider this Part II of how I know God loves me. I’m going to share the three major ways in the past three weeks that prayers have been answered in my life over and above what I could have imagined. This is Thankful Tuesday at its most giddy.

1.     Three (or was it four?) weeks ago in the midst of my most self-pitying weeks of pregnancy nausea, I had an in-bed tearfest to Chris about much I miss ministry. Though I always miss the high school kids I worked with, I most missed being part of the lives of the volunteer leaders I mentored. Most of them were in college or just out, most were struggling through dating relationships and quarter-life angst, and most of the girls I met with were people I just wanted to be friends with. I miss long coffee chats. I miss challenging them, teaching them, and sharing my life with them.

If I’m recalling correctly, my tears that night were something along the lines of: how can I ever get to know younger women again when I’m stuck in Mom World? And even if I did meet them, I can’t really invest in their lives. I’d have to demand they come to me. That night when the weeping subsided I think I asked God to show me what I can do to serve. I don’t want my life to become so obsessed with my own children that I fail to see the need around me. I was asking God for some sort of opportunity I couldn’t name.

A few days later I got the most random sort of email from a girl I’d met through a Young Life friend (she’s a leader here in SF) and whom I’d run into every once in a while at church. She, on behalf of her Bible study group of twenty something single women from my church was asking me to teach them, based on reading my blog. (What?! Seriously, you all know what a spiritual mess I appear to be in this thing.) It was miraculous. And I love these girls. And so far, they don’t hate me. But I think it’s because I keep feeding them chocolate. I’m so grateful to have the chance to teach them.

2.     Around the same time, I had a conversation with a mentor and friend from Philadelphia. She’s one of the smartest women I’ve ever known, a physicist and professor at Swarthmore who, along with her gifted husband, is raising her two incredibly talented children (her daughter’s poems are stunning) and living a beautiful life of faith in Jesus. I admire her so much.

Catherine wanted to know how my writing was going. She knows I’m trying to write a book and she wanted to know if I was actually giving myself time to write or simply setting unrealistic expectations and then feeling guilty. Basically, I was doing the latter, trying to write during naptime but feeling forced to spend half of that time doing dishes or checking tasks off a list. Not the most fruitful way to write a book.

Her advice to me was significant. If I really believe God is calling me to write this book at this point in my life, she said, then I need to find a way to have child care. I knew she was right but our budget had no room left for August do more than go to his art preschool program one morning a week.

Did I even pray about this or just feel bummed? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter though. Enter miraculous email number 2. This one was from the SF Young Life Metro Director. He asked me to consider doing ten hours worth of admin work per week (from home!) and it just so happens that I already know how to do all of it. The money I’ll make is enough to get my boy to school three mornings a week, time that I’ll devote to writing. Answer to an unprayed prayer? Yes. A beautiful answer. I will love working with Young Life again, even if it means doing administration.

3.     We found a home. Not just an adequate home that we could afford. We somehow found a home we should not be able to afford. It’s that lovely. It has all the things I longed for: It’s in the city. It has parking. It has a washer/dryer. It has a big enough second room for a two year old and a baby. But, then, it goes over and above. Bay windows with sunshine streaming in. A bathtub I’ve dreamed about. Carpet on the floor in August’s room that he can play on all day long. A stove that my husband can’t stop smiling when he thinks about. Four blocks from our church. And, I’d had no idea: one block from the Young Life office. How did I not know where the YL office was? I don’t know. But, I have to believe that God lined up every detail for us, even down to how easy it’s going to be for August and I to stop by the office and get work done.

I don’t understand how God works. I don’t understand how he can be involved in the most minor of details in my life and still allow another woman and her children to sleep in the open on the streets. In fact, that is a problem I cannot reconcile. But, what I can say is that I believe God loves me and I believe he wants me to know he’s willing to not only meet my specific needs, but to lavish sweet things on me.

When I watched Chris’ face as he saw the stove in our new kitchen for the first time this Saturday, I understood how God must find such joy in giving us good gifts. There are plenty of things I don’t deserve and I don’t understand. But, right now, I’m so thankful that I’ve been given so much.

11 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

How God loves me: a story

I grew up in a loving church community. I was nurtured, cared for, challenged. That world shaped me in really beautiful ways. It also taught me scripture in a way that set fire to my natural neurotic tendencies. My church honored people in ministry. Their photos were framed in the main hallway. The only women I saw in those frames were ministers’ wives and missionaries. I knew what it would take to be an honored Christian woman.

In Sunday School, I learned Bible stories from the position of “be more like this biblical hero.” Noah had faith and built an ark. Would you build an ark in the middle of the desert if God asked you to? Peter walked on the water but then took his eyes off Jesus and started sinking. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus! Christianity was often portrayed to me in terms of what I did or didn’t do, which would result in either a positive or negative reaction from God. I don’t think it was necessarily intentional that I rarely was given more than biblical morality stories, it’s just that morality is an easier concept to teach children than God’s unconditional acceptance. I was rarely offered a practical understanding of what it might mean that God loves me already despite my moral failures. I wasn’t really taught that when Peter began sinking in the water, it was Jesus who rescued him, not Peter’s own ability to please Jesus.

It just so happened that I loved Jesus. I always did. He was the dear man in the pictures who sat beside children and told them stories. He was the one I held private conversations with as a four year old on the swing set. But all those morality lessons didn’t swell that sense of love I already knew. Instead, I grew to fear his response to me. I didn’t fear that he’d hate me. I knew Jesus loved me. But what I feared was that he’d accept me as just some regular girl. Plain. Not worthy of the boys club of disciples. I wanted my picture on his wall. I wanted him to want me.

Is that crazy? Probably. But it sank deep into my psyche. I wanted to be enough for God to adore me. I wanted to be holy, not for sake of holiness, but for my own longing for genuine acceptance.

I did it well. Earnestly. Adults loved me. If there was a new girl in the Sunday School class, they turned to me to be their welcome wagon. If there was a silence in the circle when we’d been asked to pray out loud, I volunteered.  It wasn’t because I was a show off. I really (as much as I can judge my child/adolescent self) wanted to live out the genuine faith I had in Jesus. I simply only understood my faith in terms of my own attempts at deserving God’s love. I strove.

I can go into stories of my religious neuroses but I won’t. (Let’s save them for a book.) But I can tell you that I’ve been coming out of that suffocation for the past 10 years. It’s not easy to rework an unhealthy relationship into something life-giving.  What I’ve been learning is so small that it won’t impress you. It’s this: God loves me.

That’s it. God didn’t love me more when I barely slept because I was so overbooked with helping teenagers that I didn’t get my assigned reading done. (That was me in college.) God didn’t love me more when I had the luxury of spending long Saturday mornings journaling and reading theology at the coffee shop (post college). God didn’t love me more when I worked for a full time ministry seeing beautiful things happen in high school students’ lives. He didn’t love me more than he does now, when I spend my morning reminding August about colors and dancing with him in the dining room.

That truth has been hard to come by. It still is. When I confessed to my spiritual director that my prayer life had been virtually nonexistent during the worst of my first trimester exhaustion and nausea, I cringed emotionally, prepared for her disappointment. She didn’t scold me. She told me I was doing the right thing to get that extra sleep for my body and my growing baby. She told me it was time to allow myself to be loved. To experience God’s pleasure (not his disappointment!) in me when I fix August a sandwich for lunch, when I read him a story from my nauseated position on the couch. God loves me, she reminded me.

I’m realizing that my task for this moment of my life (stay at home motherhood), and more specifically, this stage of pregnancy, is to receive from God what he longs to give me: love, unearned. I did not earn my place onto the wall in the church hallway. I failed in my childhood dream of becoming Lottie Moon and somehow making it into the special section of God’s beloveds. I became the least kind of hero: the mom without a real job. And I’m realizing that the Jesus I’ve always loved has always loved me. And he loves me most in the middle of my weaknesses, in my failed attempts at becoming a spiritual hero.

It’s his job. Loving is what he does.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized