If we were sitting together this morning having coffee I would tell you that life has lent its typical roller coaster as of late (seizure for Lucia- she’s doing great now, though; running over a deer carcass with my car for me-it still smells; no bus for Lucia’s first day back to summer school on Monday- a friend came to the rescue; nurse pulled out Lucia’s tube on Thursday morning-ugh; and we lost power on Thursday night during the storm-got it back early Friday morning)… and yet, as you see, with God’s help, we’re finding adventure in adversity and somehow holding it together!
Summer has been so full of unexpected joys–luxurious and productive staycation for us in June, thrilling aquatherapy sessions for Lucia covered by insurance and rides to and fro covered by Medicaid–even as it’s packed with challenges, too–I sent my book manuscript off to the editor in early June, have been teaching summer school at Princeton since July, and start a new job at the seminary in the fall. All this while the healthcare wars rage on Capitol Hill and we worry as Lucia’s care seems to hang in the balance.
If I seem distracted, unable to focus even in the midst of a sentence, it’s because I am.
But I’m trying to trust that (with the exception of maybe the healthcare battle, deer carcass, and tube being pulled out) there’s a real abundance, blessing, and excess in the way my cup is brimming over, inviting me to embrace this season in its chaotic fullness and to testify to what God’s doing with a life and a heart fittingly overflowing with joy.
So that’s what I’m trying to do (more on how that later), not living a life in response to what others are doing but a life that responds to what God is clearly doing, in a big way in my life, my family’s life, and in this world.
Still, if we were talking this morning, I’d look you in the eye and thank you but urge you to keep making those phone calls on behalf of people who are on Medicaid, who need assurance that health care will be there, not just for the healthy but for the sick, the poor, and the needy. I’ve put some links below that I’ve found helpful and important in wading through the excess of information out there. I did a podcast on Medicaid that I hope you’ll share with family and friends who want to understand its benefits and even as I still feel that families with people with disabilities face such an uphill battle in terms of understanding and coverage, I am thankful for all the support and hopeful that concerned citizens are making their voices heard.
I was reading Margaret Mead for one of my seminary courses yesterday: I sat there for like two full hours just reading and devouring–it was incredible, and this quote of hers that has been on my mind for weeks sprung to my attention. I leave it with you in hopes that you may believe that we can change the world, that God is with us even when we forget it, and that joy is abundant and ample and just as human as fear and defeat!
For those of you who know me well, you know I’ve spent the last year reading almost everything I can get my hands on about the Enneagram and I’ve become somewhat of an evangelist for the personality tool among my friends and family.
Ironically my first foray into the Enneagram was not so entrancing–when I had to do a routine psych evaluation for ministry preparation, the instructor rather used my found type against me, arguing that perhaps it explained my aggression, hostility, and even atypical masculine characteristics! Among people who know the Enneagram well, it’s not a secret that female 8s get a bad rap and are often misunderstood. So that’s why it’s all the more profound that a few days ago, I think I finally realized what’s so powerful and meaningful about being an 8 in this world–a personality I haven’t always found so compelling or easy to live with.
Now if you’re new to the Enneagram, it may sound like I’m speaking another language. But simply put the Enneagram is a personality system that groups our personalities into 9 types, but unlike Myers-Briggs or other personality systems, you’re not easily diagnosed through a test, because it’s a dynamic, interactive, relational system. According to the Enneagram, the best parts of you are also the worst parts of you, so people don’t always find it “easy” or “happy” to find out their types, but thankfully, the system also allows for and encourages dynamic growth.
For my own part, and especially as an anthropologist, I think the Enneagram’s best, most basic reminder is that even if we’re from the same family, we don’t necessarily see the world the same way. But other ways of seeing aren’t bad; in fact, they’re what make the world a much more interesting and beautiful place! One of the best takeaways for me from learning the Enneagram is not just understanding myself better but also building more compassion inside myself for others in respecting and empathizing with the beautiful, perplexing ways they approach life that make the world a much more complicated, but fuller place. Essentially the Enneagram affirms one of the basic tenets of anthropology: our differences make us human!
Therefore, if you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram and even figuring out your type, I’d recommend that you read about all the types, and perhaps in lieu of taking a test, read some of these great descriptions of each type, paying attention to the core values, the things that make you tick (you can scroll down for my suggestions for further resources below). Enneagram types are complex in that they don’t tell you what a person’s vocation will be or whether they will be successful, but rather tell you more about that person’s motivation in life and some of the challenges they face and gifts that they possess.
But as I mentioned, when a lot of people find out their Enneagram type, they recognize it primarily because of the flaws they can see so clearly in themselves, while they fail to acknowledge or hone the strengths that inhabit their way of seeing the world. As an 8 (with a 7 wing), “the challenger,” someone who is a natural born leader, makes decisions incredibly quickly, and is fearless, I had been really struggling with an experience of vocational discernment as of late. In fact, because of these impetuous and quick-witted qualities, I kept remarking to my “spiritual director” that I suck at discernment: the waiting game, the listening game, the methodical weighing of options is just not me. And as someone who is much more inclined to rely on my mind rather than my heart, I bemoaned my lack of intuition.
However, this type of thinking ignores some of the qualities which make 8s truly exceptional. Because of my gusto, I am truly and uniquely fearless. This certainly becomes a weakness in that I may struggle to emphasize and understand the insecurities others often face on a daily basis, but in my own life, when I see a challenge, I am invigorated, affirmed, and inspired. Sign me up, I think. I’m all about taking risks, I scoff. Bring it on!
Thus, in my life when I have been able to reframe uncertainty and discernment as a challenge, I’ve been able to very quickly embrace the adventure that God has in store for me, not worrying about the consequences or the trials of that risk but plowing full steam ahead. (As I told one of my friends recently, I may be a battering ram, but I can be a battering ram for Jesus!) What I’ve noticed in discernment and uncertainty, though, is that I have a tendency, as many of us do, to try to usurp control (how very 8 of me) from God. I spin into full-on planner mode, determined to think through the details of my future, when the very best that God has for me may not even be visible yet.
My spiritual director has invited me to ponder God’s faithfulness by asking me, “Think of the five greatest things in your life. Which ones were you responsible for? Now which ones did God provide?” Indeed, as a person of faith, in spite of any Enneagram personality knowledge, I am committed to living the life that God has for me. And I’ve realized that this involves abdicating my long-term planning role to God. Ironically, uncertainty and long-term planning are two things that in my penchant to control, send me spiraling out of control, leading away from my strengths and gifts as a passionate 8 who leads with vision and conviction.
I’m not alone in these insights, though. There are many, many people of faith who have begun to draw upon the Enneagram for wisdom not just about who we are, but who we are in God. For me, I’ve started to see how unique it is that I love a good challenge and that I’m not afraid, and I’ve become even more convicted to strive toward the unique vocation (somewhere between anthropology and ministry) that God has for me, even though the world may not always understand that call. 8s are often known for being resilient and strong, and I realize now that this takes “guts.” Even though I may lack for what I termed intuition, I am at my best when I’m relying on and hungering after God, throwing all of myself into that new challenge and adventure!
How has the Enneagram helped you live more fully into your purpose in God? What lessons have you learned about God and faith by getting to know yourself better?
Yesterday a woman who works at Barnes & Noble walked right up to Lucia and greeted her–she knew her but she didn’t know me. One of Lucia’s favorite nurses, determined that she wouldn’t become isolated with our recent move to the country, regularly takes her on outings to book stores, walking trails, parks, and libraries, and this woman had read books with my child many times!
One day when I was working from home and a friend stopped by the house, Lucia was out on one of these excursions unbeknownst to me. The friend was a little disappointed.
Lucia has her own social life, I chuckled. Who would have imagined? I thought.
Indeed, I think it’s easy given Lucia’s diagnosis, physical, and cognitive challenges to presume that she lives a limited life, but this is so far from the truth. Precisely because we’ve been forced to rely on nurses, doctors, and therapists to help us care for our medically complicated child, Lucia’s social network has certainly widened beyond the typical two and a half year old.
At the outpatient facility where Lucia does her therapy she’s not usually interested in toys, but she always cranes her neck to see the other children running and jumping and shouting. This morning Lucia’s nurse, having just returned from China, brought her a Chinese children’s book and Lucia cocked her head to listen as the two of us yammered on in Mandarin about her trip. Several months ago, one of her nurses put her hair in Jamaican braids!
I think about the incredible richness of the life Lucia leads and I am in awe. Our minds, our predictions, our perceptions of life with disability often fail to see beyond the presumed downside of dependence, medical necessity, and constant care. But Lucia’s needs have, in such a good way, forced us all to expand our very limited social circles and our very limited notions of what life with disabilities entails.
A month or so ago when I spoke on the phone with a parent advocate about Lucia’s impending transition out of the state’s early intervention program and into school, she compassionately yet inaccurately projected another presumption onto me: “Oh I’m sure your heart is just breaking at the thought of her going to school all day, on that big bus. I’m sure it is so hard to see her go.”
Perhaps it would be hard to see Lucia get on that bus if she hadn’t already been living her life so fully. But knowing how much Lucia enjoys all of these people, adventures, and diversity in her life, my husband and I are decidedly eager and excited for her to start school. Perhaps another thing all these doctors visits, nurses, and therapists have prepared us for is trusting others with our kid, knowing it’s so important to share her rather than shelter her from the world.
When I look in awe upon Lucia’s full life, I cannot fathom the wisdom of God. This is precisely the life I would want for my child, and yet, who could have imagined this life in particular? Who could have imagined this village that God has provided, this little social butterfly despite her lack of words and gestures? Who could have imagined that it would take the world and its limitless possibilities to help us see how Lucia has expanded all of our lives? Who could imagine that a life with disabilities could be so rich and nuanced and bold and grand?
If we were having coffee today, I’d tell you that it’s been a thrilling week teaching in the Freshman Scholars Institute program at Princeton, talking with my new students (about Plato, Freire, Hitchcock, and Du Bois), and also hearing some of their stories and their passions. When I sat with them on Sunday evening during dinner, I noticed that while they were saddened by the violence in their country, they were not defeated by it–their hope for the future is inspiring.
I’d tell you how challenging I think it may be for me to keep a handle on my writing projects and professional goals with this busy summer semester course. A month ago at the Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary, several workshop presenters talked about the efficacy of collaborative writing partnerships. In one pair, two academics set quarterly writing goals and checked in with each other on writing schedules once a week, also exchanging work, and talking about writing over a weekly call. I’m striving to set and keep writing goals myself and considering such a partnership as one possibility.
How do you keep your writing goals? What are your best tips? Would love to hear from you!
Finally, I’d talk to you about all the excitement and anticipation my family and I have about moving into a new house in the coming weeks. As you know, we’ve been living in other people’s apartments, and God’s been providing for us so effortlessly, but at this last stage, I feel the anxiety creeping over me. It’s been easier, I think, to be faithful with little, and I struggle with the grandeur and responsibility of moving into a bigger place. Also moving is just the worst, and the thought of that upheaval leaves me weak.
There is this thing we do, especially over in academia, but also in life, where we presume that complicated, busy, and grandiose is better.
Especially in my professional corner of the world, people often speak in belabored language and write long-winded sentences, and it’s all emperors new clothes until we realize that nobody can actually understand what we’re saying, no matter how profound it may be.
In my personal life, that version of over-complicated also takes the form of swimming upstream, presuming that every moment needs to be set to a purpose, and that things like pause and sabbath, leisurely strolls, or even hearty laughs defy the Protestant ethic in a decidedly unfaithful way.
But surely that’s not what God intended for us…especially in the summer!
I have to admit that I once looked at offices that recognized summer hours–leaving early on Fridays–as flat out lazy. Sure, summers are afforded teachers for restoration given the demands of the academic year, but I always felt a little guilty about that, too. Indeed, for professors, summers are not breaks or vacations, but our best research and writing is supposed to be scrunched into these three hot summer months.
But I’m starting to see the wisdom in simple, summer strokes, going with the flow, and finding a rhythm in this slower season of life that embraces restoration, intention, and the sacred pause.
When my writing time was cut in half these past few weeks because of nursing vacancies, I initially panicked, but as I let my pen wander between lofty goals of articles and future plans, ordinary blog posts like these, and my book project, somehow my productivity multiplied. Somehow in the slower strokes of summer, the steady motions of my pen, however pedantic, became productive.
I know summer can’t last forever, but I’m aching to hold onto its cadence as long as possible.
The benediction this Sunday, reprinted below, came from Paul’s letter to the Romans, paraphrased. May your “ordinary, sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life” slow down just a bit this week to encounter and embrace God’s extraordinary brush strokes upon it:
So here’s what I want you to do as God helps you. Take your everyday, ordinary life–Your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around-life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Amen.
I have been thinking lately about how helpful it is to reframe major challenges in life as adventure.
You know how sometimes you’ll be going through something and someone will try to comfort you by saying, well, it will make a great story later, won’t it? What if we could embrace the great story now?
It sounds crazy, but I think my life is just as much, if not more of an adventure, here in the everyday with a baby, classes, and trying to be faithful to God as it was living in China and traveling the world. I’m trying to be grateful for the adventure as I’m living it rather than tomorrow or in a couple years. I’d love to hear how you do that in your lives!
It’s finally a little warmer, though there’s still heaps of snow on the ground. Yesterday our little family took a lovely, cozy walk through the snow. I just love how it crunches under your feet. About a year ago, a friend gave us the children’s book, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, because our daughter, who will turn one next weekend, was born in between two snow storms. It is my favorite children’s book that we own, and I’ve been reading it to her a lot lately and reminiscing about her coming into the world amidst slow flakes coming down in the wee hours of the morning.
Yes, I’m adult, yes, I was raised in Wisconsin, but there’s still something so magical to me when it snows. I remember my husband trying to describe snow to his students in South China who had never seen such a thing. They were incredulous and full of wonder. I wonder if they will ever see it snow in their lifetime.
Sure, it gets cold out here. But life is quite the adventure anyway.
The other day I read a post from one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, entitled, “Creating a Lovely Morning.” In it, Leo Babauta talks about how he combines just a few tasks, something to look forward to, and mindfulness to create a lovely morning.
If you read my blog with any frequency, you’ll know that I’m a self-proclaimed morning person, like Babauta, and that I get such an inordinate pleasure out of greeting the day that I relish knowing I have the whole morning in front of me at five or five thirty am. Mornings have all the joy of possibility, confirmed by the beauty of morning light, the emptiness of the world, and the solace of the silence when the world has yet to wake.
Simply put, mornings are my sacred space.
Coming off of a relaxing vacation, however, I’ve been sort of lacking the energy to jump into action in the am. So, following Babauta’s lead, I’ve put some thought into what my lovely morning might entail in an effort to to reframe those early hours.
I’d forgotten that what sent me on this deep spiritual quest during Lent was the increase in silence in my life since the birth of this baby, and the subsequent invitation to let God fill those silences. Since that realization, I’d picked up Foster’s book in an effort to be more intentional about my spirituality, and therefore, I’d been the one filling the silence with all sorts of things, from counting precious hours of sleep to pondering the tasks for the day ahead, and even my devotional study.
This is not another mommy guilt blog about how I should have been treasuring the moments with my infant suckling at my breast, but rather a mere realization that I hadn’t been faithful enough in those moments to allow God’s voice to be louder than my own. In a previous post, I shared Foster’s words about how our fears about entering into the silence often reflect a distrust of God, and for me it’s no different. I recently read this post from the author of the blog, Becoming Minimalist, in which he ponders our collective societal aversion to silence. Joshua Becker writes, “While anyone can experience silence at any time by finding a quiet place to sit for an extended period of time, I have found solitude does not occur naturally in our noise-centered world. It must be intentionally pursued by each of us.”
In my own post on “The God of Silence,” I talk about the value for me in practicing centering prayer and reframing the experience of silence not as one of absence but of presence.
But I still struggle.
I still doubt over and over whether God will truly meet me in the silence.
But what if God was already there? What if the essence of God was that God goes before us, is ever-present, always waiting on us when we call?
Perhaps that was why some of the words from the liturgy this weekend at church seemed to jump off the page. We prayed together, confessing, “Fear and worry hold us back. We confess that we try our very best, carrying the weight ourselves. We gladly hand some of our worry and fear to you today.”
What a simple action, I thought, handing our worry and fear over to God, and yet we cling to these things as if we love them more than peace, hope, and love.
And as we took communion, we spoke, “When we come to this table together, we trust God will satisfy our hunger and our thirst. Jesus shared this meal with a hungry crowd long ago and he shares it with us today. Let us bring our hunger and our thirst to the table of the one who called himself the Living Bread.”
Fear and worry, hunger and thirst, these are the little that Jesus asks of us, and yet we cling to our noisy lives with such cowardice. I don’t know about you, but the thought that our mighty God wants our heartache, and that God is so pure and humble and innocent and present, moves me. The least I could do is listen, right?
And so I’m returning to that simple message on this foggy Tuesday morning. I’m returning to the silence with my ears attuned to the presence of God. I’m bringing my fear and my worry, my hunger and my thirst, and I’m trusting that God is already there, listening, as I listen for him.
I’m nearing the end of my Lenten devotional, Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, so besides needing another short book to fill the rest of April (any suggestions, guys?), I’m also finally starting to discover the meaning behind the curious title.
As Foster writes, “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines’ functioning in our lives. God brings about the transformation of our lives through the Disciplines, and we will not know genuine joy until there is transforming work within us…Celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed” (Foster 193).
Foster describes how we can’t take a shortcut to experiencing and exhibiting joy, but we can certainly experience joy through seeking God in prayer, confession, service, and worship, and it is God who is the source of this great gift.
That last line, “celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed,” reminds me of a reflection I read this morning from Micha Boyett where she discusses the ordinary tasks of readying her two boys for school alongside the rather extraordinary miracle that Jesus does by turning water into wine. Boyett’s pastor described the miracle as Jesus “replacing the joy,” and then points to our own lives, saying, “Look where you’re frantic and that’s probably the place where you’re trying to find joy.”
But the challenge is that finding joy, requires little of us and so much of Jesus, that we often spend the better part of our days scouring and scrubbing only to miss the promise of the dirt, the simplicity, the ordinary holiness of our bent up, misshapen lives.
Foster goes onto discuss a spirit of carefree celebration where we rely completely on God, and experience radical joy through our trust in God’s greatness rather than ourselves. I look at the last few weeks and this controversy over World Vision’s decision and retraction for hiring gay staff in committed relationships, and I wonder, where is the joy? I look around me at churches working arduously and desperately to spawn last ditch ministries to save themselves, and I wonder, where is the joy? I look at each of us going about our busy lives, failing to truly see those in front of us, to listen, to love, and to rely on God and one another, and I don’t see strength or independence or carefree celebration, but fear and greed and angst.
I certainly don’t see joy.
The Church in America is in need of God’s joyful transformation. We need less of us and more of God, less of our will and more of God’s grace and love and mercy. And it’s only by way of the cross, that we are found by grace, and the we experience such true, unadulterated joy.
We don’t often think of Lent and the journey to the cross as a journey toward joy. We often place the story of Jesus turning water into wine and Jesus’ death on the cross in two completely different literary categories, but what if we are called to live out the whole of our faith as ordinary, yet joyful people? What if the transformation God enacts on the cross and in each one of us amounts to replacing the joy of humanity, and we’ve been missing something as we try so hard to just “get things right?”
We need look no further than our ordinary lives to answer the question, “where is the joy?”, and yet we struggle against what God has done for us. We need look no further than the cup of wine to remind us of both Jesus’ holy sacrifice and great joyous celebration. Let us accept the joyous transformation that Jesus brings to our lives, and let us live with great reliance on God, great grace for one another, and above all, great joy.
“One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying on words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control unless we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.”
—Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 100-101
Have you ever doubted whether God was really there because God’s silence seemed to indicate otherwise? Have you ever cried out to God, wondering how God could remain silent in the face of hardship, pain, or injustice?
Conversely, have you ever sat in a car or beside a friend or a family member in complete silence and felt deep companionship and comfort, but hardly any need to speak? Why is it that we can trust others with such deep, holy silences, and yet when we encounter silence in our spiritual lives, we assume that God is woefully absent?
One compelling aspect for me of adopting the discipline of centering prayer has been this reframing of the concept and experience of silence as the presence, rather than the absence of God in our lives. As Foster writes above, in the silence, God takes control from our greedy grasp, but God cannot do so if we refuse to trust God.
During this time of Lent, I invite you to reflect on where God has been silent in your life, and how you might cede some control and trust to God in those areas. As you do so, imagine God’s hands, busily, yet quietly working. Believe that silence does not indicate God’s absence, but rather God’s presence, God’s faithful accompaniment to you, in deep, holy, silent communion. Trust that after those dark nights of the soul, the sun will rise on another, better morning. And find it in your heart to let go and trust God with all of your life. Even and perhaps, especially when you feel weak and utterly helpless, our God may be silent, but God is there.