The Little Things

The following is an assignment I’ve submitted for a current class I’m taking. It was intended to read more as a blog post than academic writing, so I decided to actually post it to my neglected blog.

Fasting: going without

“Ok, God, give me something to sustain me!” I yelled sarcastically as I read a section from Richard Foster’s classic book, Celebration of Discipline. He wrote “Fasting reminds us that we are sustained ‘by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Food does not sustain us; God sustains us.”[1]

I was only about three hours into my fast.

I texted with my friend Yaakov throughout the day, as he was also fasting; it was Taanit Esther; I had chosen that day to fast because I knew I would get support from him.

Kelly: “I don’t know how you do this multiple times per year.”

Yaakov: “How bad is it?”

Kelly: “it hasn’t even been 3 hours since sunrise and I am getting hungry, cranky, and a little shaky.”

I went back and forth about whether or not I had to actually complete what I started. There are no rules I have to follow; this discipline is an experiment for me. I could adapt it any way I wanted. I could quit.

I am not a quitter.

Kelly: “what is the purpose behind fasting, other than God said so?”

Yaakov: “Many times in scripture you find that when people are satisfied and things are going well that they forget about God. So fasting is a sign of self-affliction to help you remember to turn to God in contrition.”

“Dinner’s ready!” I announced to my husband and kids, and started dishing food onto my kids’ plates for them to take into the dining room. My husband got a plate and said, “I’m not really that hungry.” I gave him a LOOK. I hardly spoke during dinner. I stared at Greg’s plate of pasta and meatballs, watching him twist the fettucine around his fork. My older son noticed. “Why are you just staring at Dad’s plate? Why aren’t you eating?” I reminded him I was fasting today. He went on with his meal. I got up and made a sandwich to go since I had to take my son to basketball practice later, and my fast would end as the sun slipped from the sky at 6:52 p.m. The facility has a concession stand and asks people not to bring in outside food, but I wasn’t interested in concession stand food, nor in paying the exorbitant prices for it.

One hour to go.

Yaakov: bon apetite

Kelly: two minutes!!!

Kelly: mmmmmmmmmmm

I don’t think a roast beef and pepperjack cheese sandwich ever tasted so good, and I paid  $1.75 for a Twix candy bar.

Gardening: lessons in death and life

When I discovered that gardening and running were the activities I had for number six, I felt a little deflated. At 42, I know full well that gardening is not a skill nor an interest I have, and I have absolutely, without a doubt, hated running since I was a child. Of the two, I prefer plants over running, and since it is not the optimal time to attempt to garden, I bought a bamboo plant because supposedly it is something that is easy to keep alive. I even bought it plant food.

I have never kept a garden, but my backyard used to be beautiful; in its prime, it looked like a scene out of a flower catalog and had been on the local garden tour, but when we moved in, years of neglect and overgrowth hid the way it once was. Every spring and summer I trim branches, tear out weeds, and attempt to make it look somewhat nice again. It is a lot of work but with it comes surprising lessons.

My favorite part of the yard is the lilac tree outside my sunroom door. When it is in bloom and the weather is nice, the heady scent drifts in through the screen. The first year I trimmed it back, I was afraid. I knew trimming was supposed to be necessary for growth, but I also did not want to inadvertently kill it. The next year, I was amazed to see new growth; branches sprouting from near the bottom, where I hadn’t trimmed anything. They didn’t bloom, but they hold the promise and hope that they will someday. My bamboo plant has some brown leaves, but it does appear to still be alive. It is strong and resilient, but still needs care and maintenance. It cannot get through life in a solitary manner.

Journaling: regular maintenance

“Have you journaled lately?” Robert, my senior pastor, asked me the other day, after I had stood quietly in the office, my head against the window, looking out into the empty parking lot as the rain trickled down from the gray sky. We were not under a shelter-at-home mandate yet, but we had decided to cancel all in-person activities.

“No.”

“Maybe you should, so you can process what you’re thinking and feeling about all of this.”

I knew he was right, but I cannot find the energy to journal, which, for someone who has journals going back to the fourth grade, says something. It says I do not really want to face everything that is happening and what it makes me feel.

It is a time when spiritual practices are perhaps more vitally important than any other, yet also a time when it becomes easy to forget about them, especially with schedules and routines all out of order. When it is difficult to know what day it is, it is even harder to implement any new practices. In this time, I’ve relied more heavily on my “Sacred Space” guided prayer app; I use this regularly each morning when I have my coffee in the sunroom. While it is still dark, I can sit in the silence, one hand warm from the mug, the other tapping “next” as I move through the prayer.

Spiritual practices have different dimensions and will work differently in people’s lives. Sometimes, we need the “big” ones, other times, something simple and regular to hold onto in the midst of life’s uncertainty, and always, we can learn about life and resurrection being revealed in time in the little things, after deprivation, pain, and death.

 

———————-

[1] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th anniversary ed., 3rd ed., rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 55.

I’m Not a Music Person

“I’m not much of a music person.”

I’ve described myself this way numerous times, yet, I’m not entirely sure how it came about. I used to like listening to music, though I can almost never tell you the name of a song or artist, and I don’t have a favorite genre. Over the years I’ve listened to rock, soft rock, pop, country, classical, and probably others I don’t even know what genre they go in. I haven’t ever had to make sure to get anyone’s newest album (well, except back in middle school when I was obsessed with New Kids on the Block, of course).

I’m not musical, that’s for sure. I can’t sing well and even though I had a whole two years of piano lessons, I hated practicing and about all I can remember is the C scale, chopsticks, and heart and soul. I own a guitar, but I can’t play it. There are lots of musical people in my family though; in fact, being non-musical might be more of an anomaly.

And so, though at one time I listened to music regularly, somewhere along the way I gave up on it. I lost interest in having it playing around the house or in the car, and felt like a cranky old person when I thought music at church was too loud, and like something was wrong with me when I got bored singing the praise songs that so many other people seemed to enjoy so much, and then there’s also the unsaid expectations at times that “Christian” music is the type of music that should be listened to, not “secular” music.

I’ve been reading a book called Beauty, by John O’Donohue, and when I came to the chapter on music I thought it wouldn’t be all that interesting, because, remember, I’m not a music person.

He writes:

In contrast to most other forms of art, music alters your experience of time. To enter a piece of music, or to have the music enfold you, is to depart for a while from regulated time.

This is how I often felt during ballet class (which, guess what, involves music). During a 90-minute class, I was able to only focus on dancing; thoughts about anything else in my life didn’t even enter my mind. It was a time-altering experience. It didn’t matter how hard the steps were or how many times we had to repeat something; I was lost in it.

But I’ve been listening to music again in the last few months, to songs that inspire and encourage me, and express what I think or feel, songs that can hold the tension of joy and sadness, faith and doubt; that acknowledge that life isn’t just wonderful all the time, and to music without words that calms me when I’m agitated.

I have enjoyed listening to new-to-me songs as I work in the yard or find peace and solitude in my sunroom, songs that may express what I feel or think, or didn’t know I felt or thought.

I think I’ve decided that it isn’t that I’m not a music person. I just don’t want to feel as if there’s only one kind of music I’m supposed to listen to. There’s such a variety out there that when we write off certain types as something we shouldn’t listen to, it limits our own experience of understanding ourselves and connecting with others, and we can become more isolated and lonely.

Here’s a variety of songs I’ve felt a connection to lately:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7k0a5hYnSI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCg2BoKiuOM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-Z1YwaOiw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY7HrPIlu-Q

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwfAKN4r4tM

What music do you most relate to, and why?

Bloom Where You’re Planted

“Bloom where you’re planted.”

I’ve heard that phrase many times, and I generally like it and find it inspirational; it shows that despite the circumstances we face in life, we can still make a difference. We can still matter. We can still thrive.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply deciding to bloom.

My backyard was once amazing. It was part if the local garden tour and the owners spent at least 20 hours a week taking care if it. I don’t even have houseplants because I can barely keep any plants alive, so this is new territory for me.

When we bought the house a year ago, the yard was neglected and overgrown. We’d rented it for a year and two other families had rented it for a few years before us. I’m guessing there was five to seven years of neglect; the only thing any of us really did was keep up with the mowing.

Once it was ours, though, we needed to get it in shape, and thanks to the invaluable help from our friends Andy and Laura, we made a really good start on cutting out a lot of dead and overgrown stuff. I don’t even know what most of it is or was. I can pretty much only identify the lilacs, peonies, and roses.

Despite not knowing what a lot of the plants are, I have delighted in seeing everything bloom each spring and summer. It was planted with love and well-cared for over the years before the prior owners moved away. I’ve noticed though, that there are some plants in my yard that are not blooming. It could be that the years of neglect have killed them, it could be that they just need to be pruned and they’ll grow; I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that waiting for something to bloom can take a long time and a lot of care. The plants don’t just thrive on their own. I wrote about how pruning has helped my lilacs sport new growth, and on Instagram I marveled at how pruning helped my roses bloom more this year than last.

In order to bloom where you’re planted it’s not only up to you. You need others around to help with the watering, weeding, and pruning. You need knowledgeable and caring people to come alongside you and help you.

In his book Anam Cara, John O’Donohue writes:

“The soul needs love as urgently as the body needs air. In the warmth of love, the soul can be itself. All the possibilities of your human destiny are asleep in your soul. You are here to realize and honor these possibilities. When loves comes in to your life, unrecognized dimensions of your destiny awaken and blossom and grow.”

We are all like the plants in my yard.

We all need to be loved and cared for in order to bloom and grow.

 

Awake My Soul

I’m terrible at keeping New Year’s Resolutions, so I just don’t bother to make them. A few years ago I was intrigued by the idea of choosing a word for the year, and have done it off and on since then.

I’ve been learning a lot about being an Enneagram 9, and one of the most important pieces of information I’ve learned about myself as a 9 is that we are often asleep to our own desires and needs because we don’t think our voice is important, and that we need to wake up to them.

So I chose the word “awake” for 2018, found a Bible verse to go along with it, and made a pretty graphic to post to Instagram.

Then I pretty much forgot about it.

Until March.

I’d spoken about the woman at the well in John 4 to a group of young adults, and when I was finished, one of them asked me “when are you writing a book? I want to read it.” I’d only just met her that night; she had no idea I was a writer, and that I’d love to write books.

She saw me.

For days after that experience, I woke up feeling happy. I wouldn’t have described myself as an unhappy person prior to this, rather, I just felt sort of somewhere in between. But being seen and acknowledged changed me, and changed how I was seeing myself.

I was waking up to my own life.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of thoughts and conversations and have done a lot of writing in my journal about what this means to me, this new phase of life that I have entered.

I wanted to commemorate it somehow, and so I chose to get a tattoo. It’s on my inner wrist so that I can look at it whenever I want, and has the words that started it all, from Psalm 57, in Hebrew.

It’s only the beginning. As I spoke about in a recent sermon, faith is a long journey, and this awakening is only a new starting point for me.

Awake my soul.