Anticipation and celebration


On Sunday afternoon, my younger sister married a lucky, lucky man. Four months after their engagement, a year since they had started dating, almost two years after they first met, their friends and family gathered from all over the world. People came from Germany, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Washington, New York, Arizona, and all parts of California (among others) to celebrate their love – their commitment – their choosing of each other for the rest of their lives – and to do so in a way that pointed others to God, to life, and to deeper love.

The rehearsal on Saturday afternoon was a celebratory reunion, full of laughter and excitement as we practiced and watched the bride-to-be walk through the grassy field, surrounded by flowers and nature and green growing things. The rehearsal dinner that afternoon was again celebratory and full of anticipation – as we were served by Kait and Adam, were filled with good things, tables crowded with laughter and movement, with stories remembered and adventures relived, and people tried to capture the essence of the two who we’d gathered to celebrate. That night everyone – wedding party, family, friends, out of town guests – gathered at a nearby bowling alley for a night of play, laughter, music, dancing, a little friendly competition, visiting, and connecting, all covered in a deep blanket of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Sunday morning was full – family and friends running to the reception site to decorate, set tables, place the manzanita trees, hang candles, prepare the dance floor, arranging the room in a way that invited people to celebrate and rejoice while drawing their eyes to the joy Adam and Kait were feeling. So many people pitched in to help – so many gave of their time and energy out of love for the bride and groom.

At the gardens the chairs were arranged close together, inviting the guests to step in close and be a part of the ceremony. The wedding itself was gorgeous and simple – cello, oboe, and violin, communion on bended knee, worship, laughter, and the little touches that were so in keeping with who they are and what they want their shared life together to be about. And they said their vows, reaffirmed their choice, and stood joyful and radiant, together.

From a certain point of view, the reception was fairly normal.  It had all the right ingredients: food and wine, cake and champagne, toasts and speeches, pictures and well-wishing, dancing and laughter. But this was different – special – more – because it was THEIRS. The way the ingredients came together and the love and joy of the people who had gathered there to celebrate with the couple left me speechless at times – the only response was to move, to laugh, to dance. The love and joy were almost palpable. It was enchanting to watch people throw themselves into the celebration, to embrace looking ridiculous and throw propriety to the wind, faces glowing with laughter (or in some cases, the glow-sticks that had been liberally distributed to the dancers). People didn’t want to leave, but the night had to end as all things must.

As we gathered to send them off, bubbles filling the air, they high-fived their way down the receiving line, stopping for hugs and kisses and thanks and heartfelt congratulations and “one-more-things…” And then they were gone.

I think about this weekend, and I think about heaven – “the wedding supper of the Lamb.” I love the imagery associated with this – seeing heaven as a wedding and a feast, a beautiful meaningful ceremony followed by rich food and wine, deep connection, laughter ringing through the halls of heaven, dancing and music and stories flowing through eternity, the gathering of those we love and those we will come to love. I remember the anticipation Kait and Adam felt as they looked forward to the day they could be with each other, and could be united in a new and deeper way. And just as their anticipation melted into celebration, so our anticipation of eternity will flower into riotous, joyful, roof-shaking shouts of joy.

A number of friends who were at this wedding are feeling that anticipation deeply now, as they mourn the deaths of a mother, a wife, a husband, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a grandma, a grandpa… At times, I’m sure they were acutely aware of all those who couldn’t be at THIS wedding celebrating… But I am so thankful, and hopeful, and anticipating with great joy the wedding celebration at which we will ALL be in attendance, from the greatest to the least, where every tear will be wiped away, and death itself will be swallowed up forever. And even as we celebrate Kait and Adam, and their love for and committment to each other, we celebrate the God who gave them to each other, the God who is making all things new, the God who is constantly foreshadowing the good gifts that he has in store here and now, and the God who is preparing the party that will leave us breathless. We wait with hope, and as we wait, we celebrate.  We celebrate because we are all invited.  We celebrate because the table always has room for one more.  We celebrate because the arms of the Father are open wide.  Come on in. The music has started, and it’s time to start dancing…

just breathe…

I woke up yesterday morning to a gorgeous spring day – sunlight sloshing around the courtyard through dappled leaves, jasmine and lavender sneaking in through open windows on the playful breeze, and a few minutes of silence, stillness, and rest.  I don’t think I realized until yesterday how starved my soul was for just a few moments of quiet – this last month (all semester, if we’re being honest) have felt a little bit like this, running as fast as I can just to stay in place…  There has been little silence, and less space that is not spoken for, demanded, filled by distractions and clamorous voices calling for a moment of attention.  And ultimately, it leaves my mind rushing, fragmented, not present, grounded, or aware of what’s going on.  I miss out.  I don’t see.

So it seemed appropriate that I read this prayer in the morning, and it captured something in me:

Show to me this day
amidst life’s dark streaks of wrong and suffering
the light that endures in every person.

Dispel the confusions that cling close to my soul
that I may see with eyes washed by grace
that I may see myself and all people
with eyes cleansed by the freshness of the new day’s light.

…from Celtic Benedictions, ed. by Philip Newell

~ via Sarah Baldwin

It’s hard to hear the still small voice when there is no quiet.  It’s hard to see with grace washed eyes when my focus is the projects and plans that I have to accomplish.  It’s hard to notice the fresh new light when my gaze is focused inward.  And it’s surprisingly hard for me to step away from my to-do list and engage in purposeful, deliberate silence and rest.

But I took two hours – ran down to the lake, soaked up the sunshine, immersed myself in the blue of the sky and the waves, and gloried in movement.  I stopped at the point, climbed down on the rocks til my feet felt the chill of the water and the only sound I could hear was the lapping and splashing of the waves.  I felt the warmth of the noonday sun fill me, heard the laugh of a child chasing a puppy, and every breath was thanks, and every breath was grace.  In the midst of to-do lists, finals, work, packing, moving, saying good-byes, transitions galore, grace pours out, and every breath is a prayer of thanks to Abba Father, the author and source of all life and light.

And it was enough – enough to refill, refresh, and refocus…  enough grace for today…  enough.

Just to stop…  rest…  breathe…  be…

Breathless

There is a weight and a depth that can be found in silence, in stillness, in rest. I am ready to be weighed down, if this is what it feels like. If this is price of peace, then I am ready and willing to drown in that silence.

I sat on the porch a few nights ago, soaking up the brilliant light of a full moon that seems to lend a depth and mystery to the mundane Indiana countryside. Yet even as I write that, I am forced to ask, “Is any place ever truly, completely, utterly mundane? Is there any spot completely removed from the barest hint of transcendence?” Even in the dilapidated cityscapes of rundown warehouses and broken glass, the air full of the smell of urine and cheap wine and despair, you can catch a glimpse of the flickering evanescence of nuclear explosions millions of light years away.

There is so much beauty around us, whether that be the pulsing heart of the city, the space of trees and fields and desert, or the laughter of boys and girls jumping on a trampoline in the neighbor’s back yard…

Tonight, it was the moon, hovering low and weighty and ripe. Tonight, it was the full throated laughter of a little girl, and the strength and grace of a horse, and the knowledge that inside every cell of my body is over six feet of DNA, and that if stretched out it would reach to the moon and back a hundred thousand times over. Tonight, it was the peace and stillness that pitched a tent in my soul, and invited me in to rest for a while.

“We don’t need a lot of money, we’ll be sleeping on the beach, keeping oceans within reach… It’s going to be all right. You can close your eyes tonight, cause it’s gonna be all right.”

 

An instrument of Your peace

I sat out on the porch this afternoon reading a text for my marriage and family therapy class.  The sun was shining, winds were gusting, and it felt like spring was here.  It was so peaceful and relaxing, in fact, that I might have dozed off once or twice in the warm sunlight.  As I wavered on the boundary between wake and sleep, words from the text kept pushing into my mind – “The meaning of the message is the response you receive.”

The meaning of the message is the response you receive.

As I communicate, there is the message I intend to send.  I use words, non-verbal cues, body language, tone, and actions to convey love or anger, frustration or joy, and to try to bridge that gap and communicate.  Yet when that message does not go through, for whatever reason (misinterpretation, misunderstanding, inattention), as the communicator I have two choices.  I can wash my hands of the matter, say “That’s not what I meant to say” in a fit of self-righteous justification, and complain bitterly about how others don’t understand me.  Or, I can stop, reframe, and try again using new words, images, intonations, and actions until the message is received.

In other words, we cannot hope to be understood by others unless we first understand them, and how they perceive us.

It’s a simple concept, but one that is not easy to put into practice.  St. Francis himself prayed “Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much… to be understood as to understand.”  And I wonder, how much conflict, frustration, and miscommunication might we avoid if we practiced this other-centered style of communicating?  How would our other relationships change?  What would be birthed?

light and shadow

Sometimes, words are not enough.

Sometimes, words confuse, weigh down…

But sometimes, words are all we have to give.  And so these words are written, knowing full well how inadequate and superficial they are.  And the hope is that through the words, love is shared – presence sent – courage grows – a candle is flickers – the darkness is kicked – and daylight spills out and overflows just a little bit more.

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I was 17 when I moved into the dorms at Taylor – fresh from the jungles of Peru, a little overwhelmed and confused by the United States, by the culture, by life.  I was heartsick and homesick and felt desperately alone, wanting to be with people who knew me – with my family & friends – for my mom’s cancer to be healed – for death to take a step back from our lives.

There was a community of international students, missionary kids, and other fun people who lived in a home off-campus called “the Souphouse.”  For that 17 year old kid, this home and these people were a lifeline.  They understood me, listened, and provided a safe place for me to adjust, acclimate, and begin to process what was going on in my life.  Dave and Rhys were a part of that community, and I am so thankful.

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This morning, I sat at my computer, reading about their daughter Lia, who is in a hospital in Seattle.  I read, and I prayed, and I wept.  She is fighting for life, for freedom from pain, and her family is with her in the midst of that.  This is Lia.  She’s three years old.

Rhys wrote,

“…we’re not seeking a cure. we’re seeking to do as little harm, and hoping to introduce something good. the goal is to maintain, to hang on and get every bit of life from these moments…

…parts of lia dwell in God’s house already, her feet are dancing, and her mouth sings with the angels. her body runs without effort, and yet she is still tied to this earth. her body is ground-heavy, weighed with the brokenness of being alive. even as i treasure her, i know that her house is being built. it’s not brick and mortar, but a floor to ceiling windowed house that opens to jungles and oceans. giraffes run freely through the rooms, leaving behind little star shaped footprints. the ocean laps against her windows, and the dolphins come to speak with her. she holds a merry court with angels, and her body is strong.

 when i think about it like this, the promises don’t seem so hard. it’s just a deep measure of peace surrounding we two on the couch while we wait…”

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water in my eyes…

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As I was reading, I heard Gungor playing in the background:  ”

This is not the end
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider

This is not our last
This is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider

And you know you’ll be alright
Oh and you know you’ll be alright

This is not the end
This is not the end of us
We will shine like the stars bright, brighter

and once again, tears streamed down my face.  This is our hope, and our prayer.  For Lia.  And for the world.

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     “Praise, praise!” I croak.  Praise God for all that’s holy, cold, and dark…  I kneel down beside him till within his depths I see a star.

Sometimes this star is still.  Sometimes she dances…  Within that little pool of Wear she winks at me.  I wink at her.  The secret that we share I cannot tell in full.  But this much I will tell.  What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.

~Frederick Buechner (Godric)

As we wait, and hope, and pray, and mourn, and weep, and listen, and treasure, my mind keeps coming back to that last line.

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”  

So we pray peace, and rest, and love, and ringing peals of little girl laughter to fill and overflow that hospital room, for today, and each and every day that remains…  And through the tears, we wait.  And through the dark, we wait.  We wait for hope realized.  We wait for all things new.  We wait for Easter.  We wait for You.  We wait…  Be near us in the waiting.

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For those of you who pray, or just want to know more, you can go here for updates, prayer requests, etc…  Thank you.  And if you want to help friends travel to see Lia in March, go here.

Tree of Life

So I was listening to N.T. Wright speak a few days ago, and he mentioned seeing this at the British Museum – such a creative way of visualizing the hope of peace – of shalom, of wholeness, of grace, of life – and the One who makes it all possible.

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  ~ Isaiah 2:4

(more on N.T. Wright, hope, justice, beauty, and Jesus in the near future…)

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(ps.  enjoy listening to the Moçambicano Portuguese…  I love it – the accent, inflections, and how similar and different it is to “my Portuguese…”  =)