Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)

beauty today

Early morning waffle breakfasts with my sister Carly and dear friends…

Bike rides and motorcycle rides in the early morning light…

Lazy mornings drinking coffee and laughing…

Beach picnics, friends, stand-up paddleboarding, frisbee, sand, naps, sunshine…

Connecting with family over the phone…

Afternoon run through the park and serindipitous encounters with school friends…

Concocting delicious treats…

Cookouts, laughter, fireworks, games, play, joy, community…

Abundance…

Belonging…

—–

I walked along the lakeshore, small waves tugging and pulling at my feet as I headed out to launch the stand-up paddle-board into Lake Michigan.  I was just excited to get out in the water, to be on a board again (it’s been four years since I sold my surfboard and left Rio and the Atlantic behind, and have just missed it desperately at times).

But there was that laughter…

I turned and saw a young boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, seated in a wheelchair.  The front two wheels were completely submerged, and he laughed and giggled as the waves lapped around his feet, and his dad splashed water on him, and over him.

It reminded me of blessing, of holiness, of baptism…

It was beautiful to see the love of a father for his son, the love of a son for the world around him, and the love of God refracted so beautifully…

 

Surprise…

So many people have said it so much better than I can. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to jump in and say it all again – less eloquently perhaps, but no less heartfelt.

He’s alive!  The stunning reversal of Friday’s death and darkness.  On Friday I talked about entering into the pathos of Jesus’ death. Sunday is supposed to be a day of joy, of surprise, of newness, of openness, of awe. He is ALIVE! Jesus, the man who was dead, is dead no more. He lives. He breathes. The heart that grew still and cold beats once more. The blood that thickened in his veins now runs warm and fast. His toes crinkle. He sneezes. His chest rises and falls. He begins to sweat and itch and hunger and thirst.  John Updike speaks of the cells’ dissolution reversing, the molecules reknitting, the amino acids rekindling…  Down to the cellular level, Life has returned.

It’s too much for me to take in.

Why is that? I think that in my heart of hearts, it’s because I want it to be true so badly. But I am so afraid of getting hurt. I am afraid of fully committing to this belief because I fear what it will draw out of me, and what it will require of me.  I equivocate, hem and haw, and commit to it 95 percent, always keeping that bit in reserve so I can try and keep my heart safe. I want Jesus’ resurrection to be true. I believe it is. But I can’t comprehend what it looks like…

I can’t picture Jeferson standing up, laughing his laugh and smiling his smile and singing with his voice, and being stubborn and a brat and angry and hurt and tired and cold and happy and joyful and just so fully himself. I want to. But that hope seems so far away. I can’t wrap my mind around what it would be like to see my mom walk into the room again – to hear her laugh with her entire body, to see the love in her eyes, to have her put her arms around me and feel like a little child again – to grin when she gets frustrated again, and be sad when I’ve disappointed her and to have her be her old self, before she got sick – to hear her scream when Dad would throw her in the water or watch her glow with righteous indignation and action when the poor, abandoned, and weak were left without an advocate, and were abused and exploited and taken advantage of… Oh, to see them again…

But here, in this life, all we were left with is memories. Only their absence is present. Until that day two thousand years ago when something new happened.  Something unexpected and surprising and mysterious and confusing and earth-shattering – Jesus came back to life, defeating death. Two thousand years ago, something changed. The disciples, who cowered in numb broken fear, received the scare of their lives. Their hope had been dead. But in the blink of an eye, everything changed… He’s alive. He’s alive!

We hear the disciples whisper:

“What’s happened?”

“Have you heard?”

“I don’t believe it…”

“Do you really think…”

“No.”

“But…”

“What if?”

“What if?”

And then the appearance of Jesus in their midst. The one who was dead and now lives forever. The one they watched crucified. The one they had loved. The one they had abandoned. The one they had buried. The one they had mourned. This one was in their midst, and he laughed with them, and reassured them and said, “Do not be afraid… Mmm, that fish smells good. I think I’ll have some…”

He was alive. He defeated sin, and hell, and death. Sin could not conquer him. Hell could not hold him. Death could not contain him. He was back – and he was himself – gloriously, surprisingly, unbelievably present and alive!

He is alive!  And those who saw him, accepted him, believed in him – they were never the same.

What does it mean for us?  That because of his resurrection, we know that death has been defeated. There is hope, not only for the life to come, but for this life now! His eternal, Kingdom life spills back and forward through time, transforming us into something beautiful – flawed and broken, yet being renewed – helping us become who we were born to be… Because of the events of Easter, we have hope. Because of who Jesus is – his beauty, his promises, his life, his death, his resurrection – we have hope. Because of him, everything has changed. And there’s no going back to the way things used to be…

 

Play

Saturday was a gray, chilly, cloudy day, but after 9 hours at work indoors, I felt the need for movement, for outdoors, for fresh air and open skies.  There weren’t many other people out on the lakeshore – which meant that my favorite method of running wasn’t really an option.  (I motivate myself to run by running imaginary races with the other runners – and try not to forget that they don’t know they’re racing me, so it’s bad form to taunt them when I pass them…)

Horizon to horizon was shades of gray – gray green lake with billowing waves, overcast sky of slate and smoke…  The air was steely, biting with each breath, and it felt cold (especially after the heat wave of last week.)  But movement and the swish of feet played counterpoint to the spray of waves breaking on the storm wall, and I danced.  2/3rds of the way through, I found a miniature tennis ball that some dog had brought, played with, chewed up, and left, and I spent the last 2 miles dribbling and spinning, remembering the kids from Rio who would play with whatever they could find.  I left it by the tunnel under Lakeshore Drive for someone else to find.  I felt so content.

This afternoon I went out again – the day was sunny and warm – brilliant golds and greens and blues threatened to overwhelm the senses, people crowded the path, and the beat was infectious.  And sitting by the underpass was my little red and blue tennis ball from Saturday.  I kicked and chased it for a mile or two, then carried it the rest of the way over the sand and along the stone.  For some reason, finding that little ball made me feel free – and chasing it towards and around all those serious runners who were in the business of exercising reminded me of the joy that I feel when I’m out there.

How did you play today?  And if you didn’t, how will you play tomorrow?

Taco Fridays

When I was growing up, Fridays were “taco days.”  Friday morning, while we kids were in school, my mom and Hermelinda would make homemade flour tortillas, delicious guacamole, fresh salsa, and all the fixings.  It was there that I learned to pile on the toppings until my tortilla threatened to burst, and slowly learned to enjoy tomatoes and onions.  Tacos were my favorite food growing up, so Fridays were a little bit like Christmas for this missionary kid.

But it wasn’t just the food that made Taco Fridays special.  My parents practiced hospitality often – inviting others over, into our home, to stay, to celebrate, to laugh and worship and tell stories, to eat good food, and to enjoy each other’s company.  My parents practiced hospitality generously – with other missionary families, with our neighbors and friends from church, with the co-translators and their families, with orphaned boys who had been abandoned in the hospital, with fugitive terrorists from the Sendero Luminoso.  And my parents practiced hospitality in a way that drew us kids into the practice.

Everyone was allowed to invite one friend over each Friday.  So our family of six would often turn into 10-12 people around the lunch table – eating, laughing, enjoying table fellowship together.  And each of us, from my parents to the children, was a part of being hospitable – of opening our home to others, and sharing our lives together.  It was a beautiful, delicious, sacred experience.

As I remember Taco Fridays, I realize how all too often I’ve waited to practice hospitality.  I’ve waited until I’m no long alone, or until I’m settled into a place of my own, or until things are better, things are easier.  But lately, I’ve been challenged to ask how I can create those spaces for community to flourish – for Shabbat to enter my life and my home and my community – and am excited to intentionally begin putting into practice the lessons I’ve learned from Taco Friday.

Wanna come over tacos and stories and laughter?  I’d love to have you…

Perú visits Peru

As an American (albeit one who was raised and has spent most of his life in a foreign country), this video makes me so happy…  What happens when the residents of Peru, Nebraska (population 569), are visited by a bus of Peruvians?

I love watching as people are transported outside of themselves to something new – something different – something (for me) familiar and beautiful and comforting.  I love watching as Peruvian idiosyncrasies, music, food, and laughter (and even the ice cream vendor selling lúcuma flavored ice cream) sweep away the residents of Peru, Nebraska.

I might have more thoughts on this later (cultures, “the other,” or random musings).  But for now, I leave you to enjoy “El Perú visita a Peru.”