Nov 8 2010

Doing Scales

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Every Friday was painful. Literally.

Band-aids covered my fingers and the shaking in my voice went to the tips of my toes. Hardly any of the strings rang clearly and my voice was a whisper.

The only comfort was everyone had their moment in front of Miss Samuelson’s guitar class.  I practiced on the guitar until my fingers were red and hurt so bad I cried. I practiced an hour everyday in class and then more in the evening, just to perform Leaving on a Jet Plane or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, with some shred left of my 7th grade dignity.

I practiced as I had never practiced before.

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Weeks and weeks passed. The pain gradually diminished and my fingers did not agonize over every chord change and I learned to sing alone.

I kept singing after that year, but the guitar grew dusty until I went to college and discovered God not only enjoyed organ hymns and choir music, but also guitar praise choruses.  And I finally was thankful for the band-aids and shaking, as I learned to worship and lead others in singing.

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Practicing has become an important concept for me.  Other life experiences made me think a person either has a skill or doesn’t, and there really isn’t much that can be done.  But it simply isn’t true. We can practice.

And even more important.  We can fail. Put band-aids on our fingers or our hearts, and get back to practicing.

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.  If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want.” (Donald Miller)

What do you want, enough to practice over and over, enough to risk failure, enough to walk through some discomfort?

God invites us to practice with the Holy Spirit.  Doing scales each day in prayer and God’s Word, playing the pieces of our lives–choices, conversations, relationships, work, griefs, hopes, pain. We can learn over time and with the Spirit to play them with less fear, with more love and trust. Maybe even with gratitude.  The goal is not a perfect grade, but a life sung in worship to the glory of God and for the sake of others.

And the best promise of God’s grace and hope:

I so often miss the notes and still God carries the tune.

In gratitude for…

Life with less screen time, growing more comfortable with silent solitude, so thankful for focus and renewed creativity.

An interview for a dream position at a dream school.

Delightful lunches and encouraging conversations with friends.

Getting caught up in the Story this week and finding a spark for evangelism growing in my heart.

Three adults and two children singing “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful” in the car to calm the twinfants’ chorus of crying.  A choir could never sound as beautiful.

Spending a delightful hour with my young friend Jack, buzzing down the aisles of Costco, talking and laughing.

holy experience


Oct 25 2010

40 Days

“The wind is blowing away the leaves.  I can see more of the bus barn, a field of yellow, and trucks like little toys coming and going.  They must use the parking lot to practice backing up because the semi’s do it over and over, the beep-beep warning a distant refrain under John Dowland lute music on Pandora.  If not for practice, then it must be a window into a level of transit hell where truck drivers must park exactly between the lines, and do it over and over till they get it right. As I watch yet another attempt, the fireplace rumbles and puffs, adding a soft percussive line, and occasionally a wind gust flutes across the chimney, blowing a deep under note.”

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On October 10th, I embarked on a 40 day experiment: no TV shows or movies.

While my media ingestion habits were not extreme, I found that the time I spent was affecting time in other activities: reading books, writing, engaging in conversation.  Passively watching media was an easy way to fill time when I was tired or when I didn’t know exactly what else to do.  And, more troubling, I suspected that screen media was encroaching on my enjoyment of reading and stealing time from things I delight in doing, simply because watching pre-packaged stories requires much less effort.

Honestly, even with all the good reasons for limiting screen media, and new research about media and learning, the main reason I pulled the plug was a challenge God put to me:

“How badly do you want this contemplative life, Susan? Are you will to put forth the effort?”

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“Exactly what did you have in mind, God?”

I’ve been trying to craft a life that is conducive to praying while doing sustained academic reflection, and then sharing the fruit of that reflection in intensive writing.  While that has involved setting up a daily schedule and activities, I hadn’t dealt with reality of extended times of solitude yet. The biggest surprise for this introvert girl: long periods of unscheduled openness and being alone makes me twitch!

DSC_0078As the rhythm has settled in, I’ve found I love the idea of such a life, fear the reality of it, and fail at it daily.  Thus, I prayed, “Help God!” and God’s always-wise questions laid bare a number issues, TV being one of them.

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Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, suggests that the way out of attachments is not to find a replacement attachment or addiction–something healthier, yet just as much an idol–but to sit in the spaciousness of what was once present, in all the scary vulnerable openness.

As the leaves fall, only bare branches remain.

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So I’ve been sitting with the spaciousness, rather than filling it. A few times I’ve walked, pacing laps around my apartment, clearly uncomfortable with the silence.  The desert monks from the 2nd century say, “Stay in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

Two weeks in, the results are becoming noticeable.  I no longer feel resistance toward paying attention to reading and writing. I feel more present to life in general and simply more joyful.

My own imagination seems to be dusting off spiders and cobwebs, sputtering a bit on the dust from disuse, and helping me to not only engage my life, but helping me find words to describe life.

So today, in gratitude…

3-D life

Imagination

For words, and that they show up when I wait patiently and attentively

Rich conversations with friends about life, God, faith and love

Falling leaves

Helicopter seeds blown in the wind

Determined hummingbirds flying fiercely against the gusts

Joy

Homemade muffins

And an inquiring Stellar Jay…Ah! such amazing blue!

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holy experience


Oct 19 2010

Stories

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Sun is streaming through the windows as I wait for the first hummingbird to taste test the new batch of sugar syrup. Earlier, I watched as one by one they hovered around the space where the feeder should be, then checking the wider area, “Maybe its lower now or over here closer to the plants.” Some nuz the purple ribbon holding the glass spiral my friend Holly gave me, hoping for sweetness from something so like a delicate flower.

Soon the leaves will fall and reveal more of Queen Anne hill and the trains. The weather changed overnight, it seems, from balmy fall to crisp winter. I woke this morning to fog erasing all evidence of the city, diffusing the light, and muffling the industry. The smell of brown leaves reminds me that All Hallowed’s Eve comes soon. No need to decorate, the spiders have set up house in every bush, between poles and rails, their nets glistening with dew each morning.

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Stories. Little snippets of life.

On Sunday afternoon, my friend Kelly gave me the gift of time and beauty, taking me to the Kabota Gardens. What was once the landscaping of an family estate and business now is a Japanese-American park gifted to the city. Trees of every variety, rocks rising up from the earth, a little copse of pine, narrow paths into secret sanctuaries, hydrangea blues and pinks, autumn reds, and water. We wandered upwards, following a rivulet, delightful as it rushed and gurgled and swooshed over rocks and under bridges, to a waterfall with fuchsia-blooming moss lining its spillway. On most likely the last sunny warm day, we wandered and talked, sharing stories and enjoying the visual story of the garden.

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I have been reading author Rumer Godden’s memoir of her writing life from 1945 to 1985. For all the fantasy and mystery novels , literary classics and theology tomes I’ve read, never have I been so taken by non-fiction, nor so delighted by the gift of story-telling. I’m mere pages from the end and find that I’m reading more slowly, savoring the little details, the artful turn of phrases, the insights.

Children know the joy and pain of stories, and they beg for them each night or at the dinner table, or wrestle with sounding out the words in their first books, undaunted, to be caught up and transported. They can hear a loved story over and over, never bored.

Rumer’s writing has returned me to that love, seeped into me and ignited both a gratitude for, and a desire to tell, stories. To use words and writing (so hard for so, so long) not for conveying information, or to teach, but literally, to see words, taking the lessons photography has been teaching me this past year and approach writing more as a way to capture a moment in its fullness, to savor, to remember, to share.

As I photograph moments, and now have tried to write out those moments in words, the feeling is akin to prayer, and why not prayer be the word-photo, whispering, laughing, yelling, crying our story to the One who delights or weeps with us in the telling?

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Ah, a hummingbird has finally arrived, glinting green in the slanting morning light. He takes a sip, then another, then gently lights on the perch, drinking long and deep. It is good.

In gratitude for stories…

God writing and joining our story

Tea and conversations, walks and sharing

The joyous story of an adoption

Listening to Jack read aloud The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Rumer Godden

Kabota Gardens, the story in their beauty

Lynne’s sermon and her gift of sharing stories

Photography’s continued lesson for living

Selling my first two photos and doors opening for more chances to capture moments and help stories be told with light and shadow.

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The Northern Flicker, whose visits add some lovely wild fun to my day, especially when he tries to land on the bird feeder–swinging it precariously.

holy experience


Sep 27 2010

Feathered Gratitude

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268. Grateful for the little hummers visiting me today.

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269. For the little feet.

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270. For the amazing wings.

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271. For glints of iridescent red.

272. For the Creator God who designed these little hovercraft and that they always show up when I need to remember Love.  They are God’s laughing “Yes!” to me.

(for more hummingbird delight, go to my photostream here)

And….

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273. Now back from an emergency trip to be with my parents in Texas, I am so grateful that my dad is doing better after being in the hospital!

holy experience


Jan 2 2010

Making a Gratitude Journal

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My recent posts have centered around two themes: gratitude and memory, the two areas I believe God is leading me to focus on for 2010. In this time between Christmas and Epiphany, the traditional twelve days of Christmas, I have been working on a gratitude journal where I’m recording both my One Thousand Gifts list (an edited version is on-line here), and memories of joy which come to mind as I review my life.

Just in the short time of making the list, I have found that I’m beginning to look forward to the time I spend reviewing the day.  Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it takes a little digging.

Making the Journal

I selected some magazines for images and patterned craft paper my dad gave me to decorate the cover and each page:

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(My own tastes lean toward nature photography, flowers, and victoriana, but a journal could easily be crafted differently.)

During the course of the afternoon, my mom came in to see how it was coming along.  One magazine, The Girlhood Home Companion, had some paper dolls in the back, which led to my mom delightedly telling me about her afternoons as a child (before Barbie) cutting out paper dolls.

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And the finished journal:

Gratitude Journal

Nov 12 2009

Commit to Your Life

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As I walked yesterday, thoughts about my prospectus swirled in my mind, as they have for months.  Fifteen pages seems so small compared to papers and projects I have previously written.  It also seems a tiny number in comparison to the stack of pages that will ultimately comprise my dissertation.  I have been learning from these chaotic thoughts and fears the difference between simply writing to fulfill course expectations and writing that flows from a much deeper place: from what compels me, from what wakes me up at night and begs to be expressed–not for myself alone, or for a grade.

As I wrestle with writing, a phrase keeps coming to mind: commit to your life.  There is no other life than the one I am living right now, so one option is to write. Now.  Not when I no longer feel panic. Not when I have a cottage by a lake or peaceful mountain view.  Not when I have memorized everything about my topic. Nothing will magically make expressing ideas from my visual brain into words any less difficult or writing from my passion (from the Latin passio, suffering) any less painful.  Certainly, there is also joy, but not all the time. The ideal time, setting, mood or  Susan will not suddenly appear.

If I wait, I will never write.

Or I could choose not to write. A perfectly fine choice.

But I can’t imagine that.  Oh, I can vow I’m done with it all, but something keeps bringing me back to the page.  Something keeps nudging me to commit to my life,  “put it in writing,” risk making some ripples, and trust that something good and beautiful can come of it.

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