What The Sun Dogs Mean

It has been a long silence here on the blog. A long silence indeed. The reasons are many, not the least of which is moving back overseas, but tonight, as I have internet access, I pull a entry from the archive that never made it to posting. (A little bit of winter love for those of you who still are waiting for spring to fully come.)

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This last week, the sun has been rising as I drive my oldest son to school in the morning. As we drive down the back alley, the sky is awash with pinks and purple-y grey hues. As we return, the colours have reached a crescendo and quickly fade. It is enough to make me leave a few minutes early, early so I am pulling back into our back alley before the fade, back in time to see the sky at the brightest point, back to put on the brakes and breath in beauty. At supper, as I scrape dishes and rinse and load the dishwasher, the sky to the right of our house is aflame. I love our house for this reason. Even if the whole place fell apart, I think I’d still be left standing on our deck, watching the wide-expanse of open sky and the way its rhythms paint my days.

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Last week was frigid. Enough to see sundogs, days in a row. And I’d run out, camera in hand.

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In the middle of the cold week with dramatic skies, I read a blog post (and if I had any memory or posted this when I wrote it, I would have a lovely little link for you), where the author says, “To be beautiful, fill yourself with beauty.” And I have felt so small, with such a shrivelled heart, that I hope by standing under these wide skies, wide-mouthed, that my heart may open a bit, rehydrate.

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A friend sent me an email at the beginning of this year. “My watchword for the year” he said, “is beauty. I see that in you”. I ached. Wondered what sort of word there might be when things ahead feel as cold as the Prairie outdoors.

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I want to teach my children to love beauty. I want them to learn from me how to stop, slack-jawed with wonder. I want them to see in me a tenacity, resilience, a stubborn pursuit of what is whole and good and right even when it means tearing hard realities into the tiniest pieces to find something of beauty.

So one of these sun-rise mornings, I pull my two-year old out of the car and set him just beyond the open garage door.

“The angels help Jesus paint the sky,” he says smiling. He looks out over the field and turns to me crestfallen, “But the sun is broken.”

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“Oh Sweetie,” I reply. “The sun isn’t broken. We just can’t see all of it because it hasn’t come up yet.”

“Oh,” comes the reply, his voice small with hope. We stand there a few minutes longer before the cold chases us inside.

 

 

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Day after day, the sun rises still, even if for a time it looks broken.

On the coldest days, it is crowned with rainbows, interrupted by bursts of light.

Notes from the Delivery Room: Pain Is Not the Enemy

Today, I start a series of (one-handed) posts. 

Yesterday marked one week since Liam was born.  As I glanced at the clock throughout the day, it was hard not to draw the parallels: Last week at this time, I was at this point, etc.  It offered me a chance to step back and think through the process a bit.  While I feel a bit funny posting a full birth story, this series is born from the process.  These posts are essentially thoughts on how we deal with pain and difficulty from the lens of labour. Having just walked through it, my perspective may differ from most.  Forgive me if I am too much in my little newborn world and the connections are trite or contrived. 

In my first two labours, both long and drawn out, it was easy to see pain as the enemy.  As things progressed and intensified, my response to the beginning of a contraction became, “Oh no, here’s another one.”  I began to dread them.

The more time passed, the more I wanted the pain to end.  It was wearing me down with its relentlessness.

I wanted the baby here and I wanted the pain to stop.  Obviously the pain needed to continue for the baby to arrive but I wanted to separate the two.  Baby, yes.  Pain, no.

Many good things in our lives are born of pain.  Yet, we despise the pain.  We dread and reject it.  We tense against it, medicate ourselves in a million ways to numb its sting.

This time, I thought it through carefully before.  Pain is not the enemy.  Pain is precisely the vehicle that gets me to where I want to be.  This time, I needed to welcome pain as an integral part of the process.  I needed to cooperate and let the pain accomplish its work.

Curtis was such an encourager.  Having done this twice before, we both knew what I needed to hear.  One step closer.  That one is done.  Instead of viewing it as an obstacle we renamed each contraction progress, another step on the journey.  I didn’t reach a breaking point where I thought that I couldn’t do it without medication.  My mind was made up.  I wanted to be present.  I wanted to be clear-minded.  I wanted to feel the process.  I only needed to do it one contraction at a time.

This is easier with labour than with life.  Labour is finite pain.  Labour will end even though there are moments when it feels like it never will.  The trouble with the rest of life is that there are no guarantees.  There are no promises of emergency C-sections if things get too stuck or stalled or scary.

So pain becomes the obstacle, keeping us from a comfortable life.  Hurt discourages us because it stands in the way of what we desire.  We see pain as an interruption.  Its agony wears us down.  So we stop counting steps.  We stop marking progress.  Neither are easy to measure.  We find something that numbs us, distracts us.  The pain around us keeps on going but we don’t feel it so much.  But what if God is working in our pain? What if He can use it, redeem it, rework it so that it isn’t wasted?  Would that change anything?

I am not saying we should like pain or even desire it, but when it comes, and it will come, what would happen if we welcomed it as a step on our journey?  What if we worked with the difficulties instead of bracing against them so they form us and shape us?  Just maybe, they’ll birth something new.

Beef Wellington Hacked

Waiting isn’t easy, whether it is for those test results to come back, waiting on direction for a difficult decision or waiting for answers.  There is something about waiting that makes us feel like we’re standing over a set table and the food is getting cold with each second and why won’t everyone just show up when we’ve already called three times?!

Waiting doesn’t bring out the best in us.  It turns us inside out like a garment and exposes all of our rough edges, our unfinished sides, our untrimmed threads.  We can seem like such good and even holy people until we’re asked to wait.

I enjoy watching cooking shows.  Not the kind where people calmly put together Beef Wellington in their spotless kitchens but the ones where there are time limits, mystery ingredients, competition.  It keeps it interesting.  I like when people are forced to improvise, to modify, to sweat and still produce something beautiful.  There is something more captivating about beauty when it doesn’t emerge from a perfectly controlled and tranquil environment.  When something stunning shows up in the midst of flurry and flour flying and oil spraying and last minute changes and then sits so calmly on its bed of sauce smeared in a wine shaped arc, it gives us hope that it in our flurry and flying and improvisation and sweat that we too can end up with something beautiful.

But sometimes in the hurry, things go awry.  The meat usually.  It isn’t cooking the way they want.  And as the clock ticks down, out come the knives and the chefs invariably start hacking a bigger portion of meat into little pieces, the juices spilling out on the cutting board, seeping away.  They say, “I didn’t want to serve raw meat to the judges” and the critique usually is, “Your meat ended up dry.  And it really doesn’t look appealing at all.”

Most of the time, the clocks we chase are our own, made of our own expectations or hurry or unwillingness to sit and wait with the hard things.  We take what is cooking beautifully, what has been nicely seared to keep the juices in and we start to hack it, watching the juices seep out.  We pan fry to hurry it up because raw is intolerable.  In our haste we overcook the thing.  We lose what we had worked so hard for.  We lose what could have been beautiful.

Can we hold in tension a belief that beauty can be born of flurry but that much of our hurry is born of us and our own impatience?  If so, we may find a calmness, a tranquility and, with fingers flying or stilled, the hope that all things are made beautiful in His time.

 

When Nothing Seems To Fit

I am 39 week pregnant, due in under a week.  I should be burrowing down, anchoring down, building something around me to settle in with the baby, to nuzzle and raise him in a cozy den.

But every page of the calendar, every conversation somehow reminds me of the other voices that are saying order, purge, pack, prepare, pull up stakes.

I feel pulled in two such opposite directions.  Moving countries and having babies generally don’t go together for a reason.

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What nesting looks like in my world–squeezing baby clothes into ziplock bags.

I sit in front of two Rubbermaid containers and sort my clothing into piles.  Maternity clothes that don’t cover my belly anymore, transition clothes for those lovely not pregnant but still chubby days months and finally, clothes for the heat that I hope will fit when we move 6 weeks after the baby.

Shells, yes.  But how do I know if I can fit.  How will I stretch still?  How will I adjust?  They are just shells, yes, but I feel the swelling of emotion, this buldge in my throat, the constriction of my heart like a waist-band too tight that leaves stitching and hem marks branded deep pink in the soft places like a wound.

It isn’t that I don’t want to go.  I know we are going where we should be for this season.  Back.  I know it will fit again, the language on my tongue, the laundry on the rooftop line, the scrub of soil from vegetables, the dirt from the track packed into the grip of my runners.  It will fit again. 

And this wee one, he will fit too.  I will wrap him tightly, carry him on my chest out of the hospital, past boxes, through customs, to teach him the word hogar, home.  The word will still roll round and full.

We’ll unpack sandals one day and the next we’ll shake cockroaches out of the Christmas tree wrapped black like a mummy.  We’ll catch up, with the local family we live with, as one can, in fragments, circling forward and backwards.

Ya me dijiste.

Oh, I already told you that.

Thoughts of what we’ll miss and are missing will circle like whirlpools of snow outside the lit windows.  Less places set at the table this year.

The stretch and the adjustment—I want to separate these—baby and moving.  I want some space between.  But maybe they fit afterall.

My citizenship isn’t here.  It isn’t as though Canada is really my home.  I can still burrow deep, deep into hugs while I have them, deep into the smell of freshly washed baby skin, soft.  I can burrow into the covers with my boys to tell stories as if the bed weren’t the only thing left in the room, to peer out the window of the plane as if it were the first time.  I can burrow deep into the rich comfort of Christ—the one, who by his birth, left his home, the one who understands.  And he offers me an invitation to take two disparate pieces and stitch them together.  In them I can find new understanding and a new way of being understood.

What are the pieces in your world that don’t seem to fit together?  How do you hold them in tension? 

Practice Makes Perfect: Why Is Gratitude So Hard?

Yesterday we talked about naming.  Today we continue on that theme but in a very different way.

1000GIFTSI’ve been slowly reading through Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  Slowly because there is a lot to digest.

Voskamp suggests that the downfall of humanity is our ingratitude; a failure to give thanks is the root of all sin and brokenness.  She challenges us to begin to name the blessings around us in order that we may be remade by gratitude.

She quotes Alexander Schmemann who says:

Now in the Bible a name…reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift.  To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.  To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it.

So then, the challenge is to see all of life as grace, all as a gift.  The challenge is to view struggle as birthing beauty and to name the beauty.  Generally I focus on the empty, on the pain, on the struggle.  I want my tongue to learn the langue of gratitude.  I want to teach my children the view from the lens of grace.  I desire my gratitude to be not trite but true and holy.

I am slow to gratitude.  It is as though my eyes can see and take in all that is good around me but my tongue is slow to speak it.  Honestly, I’m kind of rotten at it.

Do you practice gratitude?  How?

The Chai Conversations: On the Best and the Good

While it feels highly unrealistic to commit to a blog post a day when I have a baby due any day now, I’m at least giving it a shot, linking up with a 31 day challenge.  

When I think of tea, I think of sharing a pot with someone and having a good heart to heart talk.  My goal this month is to brew a few cups of Chai…to open my heart a bit and invite response.  I’d love to begin a few conversations.  So draw up a chair and muse a bit with me.

 

When you work in the profession I do, living overseas working with people with great needs, people assume you are in it for the love of it.  Living the dream.  The height of fulfillment on a daily basis.  Yes, it may be hard but there’s nothing you’d rather do.

And that’s the way we all want to live, isn’t it.  For passion.  Fulfillment. We want to live the way children run, free, fast, unexhausted.  Where the blood coursing through your veins propels you to live, fully,  sprinting, heart beat pounding in your ears, face wide open to the sky, arms swinging.

People assume I love my work.  Love my life.

And I do.  Some days.  And then some days I want to run away from it, blood coursing, arms swinging, sprinting face first into the wide world of predictable and comfortable and 9-5 and job descriptions and anonymity and English.

Most days I’m just there.  Neither loving it nor hating it but trying to be faithful.

Sometimes we do the right thing because it is the right thing and we train our hearts to follow.  I wish it were the reverse—our hearts know best and if we follow our hearts we will do the right and rewarding and beautiful things.  But sometimes our hearts are lazy.  Sometimes our hearts have good intentions but are weary.  Sometimes our hearts don’t know what to think because they were designed to feel and not think!

So we go back to what is good.  We go back to what is true.  We go back to the things that are pure and noble and worthy of doing them.  And we do them for those reasons, not because we desperately need to feel something in order to be alive.

Parenting is like this.  By our facebook posts, you’d think our children were always smiling in our organized living rooms with combed hair and wiped noses.  But we don’t have our cameras on the ready in the mornings when they’ve put clean undies on top of the dirty ones and won’t hurry up.  When we need to walk out the door in two minutes—or should have walked out the door two minutes ago—we aren’t camera ready, aren’t even really loving it, this parenting of rush and fluster.

Of course we have those good moments too, moments where our kids stand at the school yard fence, too small to be embarrassed by blowing kisses and kisses and still more kisses and catching ours and stuffing their pockets full for later.  We have those early morning snuggles or those mid-day giggles that fill the pockets of our hearts.  We love that.  We can live for it.  But when our pockets get turned inside out by the day and all we have emotionally left is lint for the hungry child, the dawdling child, the defiant child, we keep on being parents.  We keep on acting in love.  We act in love not because we always feel it but because it is right.  It is good.  We calm ourselves by reacting calmly.  We remind ourselves to love by acting lovingly.

I had a conversation with a friend a few weekends ago.  She shared with me a thought a co-worker presented speaking to a group of new college students.  “Sometimes,” this lady said, “we get so focused on doing the best.  On being the best.  Whatever happened to just settling for good and expecting good.  God looked at his creation and declared it good.  Why can’t good be good enough?”

So, I find myself, wondering about good, wondering about right.  I find more peace there than when I strive for all dreams and all fulfillment all the time.

But my question is:  Is that healthy, whole realism or settling for less than the best?  What do you think?

The Scream

The road to recovery following my knee surgery was rough, as you may have read.  The issue was not so much my knee (although it still isn’t 100%) as it was other complications.  The long and the short of the story was that I spent over two months going back and forth between my bed and the couch with not much else in between.

When I recently started to feel better, I felt this tremendous desire to piece life back together.  My understanding was that life, in that season, had been broken and fragmented and now the very best thing was to try to fix it.

Piece it back together.  The words were almost palpable, visible, like a branding or watermark over the images of my life.

Piece it back together.

My mission:  Restore order.

Spend better time with the kids.

Catch up on piles of work.

Start to exercise again.

Be productive.

Make every moment count.

Put it back together again.

So, I asked Jesus how.  How do we piece it back together again?

His response stopped me in my tracks: “It was never broken.”

What do you mean, it was never broken?  Weren’t you there?  It felt very broken, with so many things inverted and out of place like a puzzle scattered on the table with no box top to guide you.

So many pieces.

“It was a whole picture,” he said.  “Just not the one you wanted.”

Then, swiftly and quietly, the image of E. Munch’s The Scream:

 

The Scream

It wasn’t broken.  It was a complete picture.  Just one picture in a series.

It wasn’t broken after all; it was whole.  A whole searing image of enduring pain.  One we love and hate.  We love it because it captivates, validates, swirls with humanity.  We hate it when it is our own mouth dropped open, dark sounds spilling out through our hands as if we were trying to block the opening but somehow can’t maneouver them to a right position of silence.

We are torqued and skeletal with pain.  While the dark river threatens to sweep us off the page, others walk by unhearing, unbent, toward bright skies.

When we are in The Scream, we feel like our feet our stuck to the bridge, our hands glued to our face.  We are unmoving.  Just plain stuck.  Frozen.  Too tired to do anything but let our insides spill out in lament.

And I want to rearrange the image.  Ease up the corners of the open mouth into a smile, hands clapped to cheeks in wonder.  Swap out the turbulent sky for a fiery sunset, the kind that ignites inspiration.  I’d move the people closer together and soften the movement implied in the environment.  Maybe I’d add a few brush strokes that suggest trees or blossoms—something alive.

Because I don’t like to equate hard with whole.

But what if the challenge is to view hard as whole, as passing and limited?  What if the hard image is merely one contained image in a larger body of work?  What we allow for a full range of human emotion in the gallery of what we consider beautiful or at least meaningful?

If we stop and pause to consider the significance of what currently frames us instead of desperately trying to unstick our hands and feet to run to the next canvas, we might find something redemptive after all.

Do you agree?