Jul 28 2011

Hidden Abundance

In both Anne of Avonlea and Little Women there are similar scenes I find beautiful: the poignant moments Anne and Jo decide to write about what they love. Sitting at a candle-lit desk, the sounds of the house stilled in sleep, Jo gets out a clean sheet of paper and simply begins. The pages stack up over time and are finally tied together with ribbon (yes, the ultimate romantic touch) and sent away.

The message is clear: write what you love, let it go, and leave everything else to off-stage resolution.

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My most recent response to questions about my dissertation has been to cite total number of pages written: 55.  The page-count mantra is more me telling myself, “Look! You’re almost a third of the way through!”

Since I’m handwriting this 1st draft, the slow accumulation of a stack of pages also connects me to my writing heroines.  I wonder if my adviser would appreciate me sending her a tied, handwritten draft.

Oh, right. For a moment I forgot it’s the 21st century.

But still, still, even with some sprinkles of writing romance, I’ve wrestled with a (perceived) loss of words (and loss of interest in them), words that came so easily 10 years ago, words and joy that went missing after exams and the often barren environment of doctoral education. Words I betrayed by turning a harsh and condemning gaze upon them, judging them not good enough.

TS Elliott says that words crack under the weight of meaning. What about the weight of expectations?

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The words come from my heart, and my heart went quiet in the face of so much self-criticism.

But, I’ve been reminded quite clearly today, my words are not so dammed as I’ve believed. (Ah, the revealing nature of word choice.)

My dear friend Doug said something to me last week that I took to heart: Don’t focus on your weaknesses, don’t try to change them.  Focus on your strengths.

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I got out my journals–the writing project I do without even thinking about it as writing–and, factoring in page size and a conservative estimate of handwritten words per page, I’ve written over 130 pages since January.

Love, frustration, wrestling, friendship, joy, sadness.  The story of a life.

Easily 3000 pages since I began in 1986.

I’ve spent so much time focused on scarcity, I missed the abundance.

The words are still there. They never left.

What changed was only my perception of them.

What abundance longs to be noticed in your life?  What gift do you ignore because it is like breathing? What strength is inviting you to give it some loving attention?


Dec 8 2010

Love or Fear

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This morning I pondered 1 John 4:18.  When I say morning, I mean 2am, the standard hour when anything that might worry me shakes me awake and starts whispering. The past six months, since moving to Seattle, I’ve been very grateful for the strength to roll over and go back to sleep.

But this time, it was about writing a dissertation chapter, due this coming Monday. Everything from general incompetence to the lack of future job opportunities to silliness like, “I don’t know how to form coherent sentences anymore,” listed themselves in my thoughts. Needless to say, it’s a vulnerable area.

I’ve asked many times in the past five years whether this path toward PhD-ness is really God’s call or my ego. I’ve asked many times in the past six months, so-totally-joyfully-wonderfully-grateful to be back in Seattle and at my church, whether I can eke out 200 pages of academic writing, battling the fears that steal sleep and energy, or whether I should raise the white flag.

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To surrender to fear doesn’t seem the best option. It might be the easy way, but not the way, as a daughter of the King, to live “to the praise of his glory.” Fear is not our inheritance in Christ. I can write this chapter, this dissertation, with God’s strength. To give up in the face of fears that tell me I can’t write it would mean calling that truth into question.

However, battling the fear, plowing through, doesn’t seem to be a good option either.  All the energy goes into the war and leaves little for much else. And the past year has shown me how much more there is. This Advent of Joy is overflowing with abundance.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8:15)

I don’t want to live focused on winning a battle.

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So, in comes 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror!” (1 Jn 4:18, Amplified)

The focus is on the Love, not the fear. When Love draws me on, fear cannot repel me.  And God is Love, so God casts out the fear. Not me.

Rather than focusing on all the fearful whispers, I’m focusing on Who is the Love that beckons and all the ways He comes into daily life.  Those people, those experiences, those realities which are Love made flesh, Immanuel.

What this means for the chapter, I’m not sure. Somehow in following the Love, rather than focusing on the fear, an answer about writing the dissertation will become clear.

But for now, this gives me a much better response to those 2am anxious whispers.



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

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