Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Slipstream: Expanding Our Family

Years ago, before I started my own family, I foster parented one child, Jamie (some names are changed to protect privacy). He lived with my then husband and me from 2-3 years of age. During that time, I got to know his mother well. Sandra was young and didn't have good family support but complied with everything she was told to do in order to get him back so when he was returned to her, I felt positive about it. Sandra graciously let Jamie remain in our lives and he would visit and occasionally spend weekends with us and was a part of our family for the next few years. When Jamie was 8, Sandra and her partner and their children (they had 3 by this time), moved and I lost contact with them. I consider Jamie my first child and have missed watching him grow up.

My friends Jess and Christina had their baby last Wednesday. I was supposed to have been with them for the birth but my workload had just doubled and I wasn’t able to take off. I went to the hospital to meet baby Evie Wednesday morning and held her for a good while.

On the elevator as I was leaving the hospital, the woman next to me asked me my name and it turned out to be Jamie's mom, Sandra! She was as glad to see me as I was to see her and we had a short catch-up visit in the lobby. Jamie is now 25. Sandra and I exchanged phone numbers and facebook names.

Friday morning, Sandra called me asking if I still do foster parenting. She said that her younger son Philip’s girlfriend’s baby had just been taken to the hospital and was being placed in foster care. The baby was due in September but was born in July. The baby, Mitchell, has some health problems related to being born early and additional ones. Sandra asked me if I can take the baby so he doesn't have to go into foster care with strangers.

I don't believe it was coincidence that I bumped into Sandra last week.

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this here but for the past year, I've been working on a sociology project interviewing young adults who have aged out of foster care. I feel a tug toward foster parenting but couldn't consider taking in teens until Finn is older.

Mark and I are 47. I have 3 children and he has 3 granddaughters from his marriage with Ceal but no biological children. We would like a baby together but the odds of conceiving at this advanced age are very slim. We have a lot of love to share.

I’ve written before about the slipstream. My belief is that when we are living according to God's will for us, God puts us in the places we need to be, to learn the things we need to learn, to do the things we need to do in order to serve God. I've had the blessed experience of being in the slipstream. Previously, it has always been positive and uplifting and felt good. What is happening right now feels like the slipstream, as well. It had never occurred to me that the slipstream could be terrifying but that's how it feels: Like God is saying that I need to put on my big girl panties and follow where I'm being guided.

Mark is with me. He is feeling the hand of God in this and is fully supportive. We have had loving affirmation from many people and a Clearness Committee with dear Friends who discerned with us that we are being faithful.

We have an awesome support network around us. My mother lives about 30 minutes away and loves caring for babies. She, as I knew she would, said she will be available to help in whatever way we would need (including caring for the baby when I go out of town for School of the Spirit residencies). The generous, loving members of our community are providing supplies and offers of baby rocking. We have good financial resources. We have a strong, albeit new, marriage.

Thinking the baby would be released from the hospital today and that last night would be our last baby-free night for a while, we had a date with one another. We went out for cheese and then came home and watched the Israeli film “Ushpizin”. Ushpizin is from the Aramaic and means “Sukkot guests”. The film is about an Orthodox Jewish couple who maintain their faith in God during hard times and whose faith is rewarded with a bounty just in time for Sukkot. They give thanks to God for God’s goodness and pray for greater faithfulness which is then tested by the Sukkot guests that visit.

I enjoyed this movie very much the first time I watched it but it really speaks to my condition right now. Mark and I have been given so much together and it is our blessing and our duty to share this with others. I am grateful to God for providing us with this new opportunity to expand our world.

I hadn’t heard anything from Department of Children’s Services since Tuesday and this morning I learned from Sandra that Mitchell was released from the hospital yesterday. I spoke with the caseworker just now who said they are in the process of determining the best placement for Mitchell and have placed him in an already approved home. They will let us know if we need to do anything to facilitate our approval. It may wind up that we are not to have this child after all. I ask for prayers for Mitchell and his mother, Leah, and the people in their lives, especially including his caseworkers. Whether we can provide the best home for Mitchell or not, my love and prayers are with him.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

State of My Heart report #1

When I think of my first School of the Spirit residency, the words that come to mind are: enveloped, encouraged, exhorted and edified. I was awed and delighted that 22 such different people could come together with intentionality and almost instantly create a community centered in God. It felt to me that we all came prepared; as if we had each done all the work we needed to do in order to be present and open to Divine guidance. This hit home on the third day when we were returning from a break and everybody was in their seat exactly on time! I have never experienced everyone in a group of Quakers on time for anything so the fact that we were all ready and engaged on time for each activity, from morning worship to closing, was absolutely amazing to me.

Eric E was our Person of Presence. The role of PoP is similar to that of Traveling Companion or Elder. He held us all, as individuals and as a community, in prayer. He engaged with us during some activities but remained attuned to the spiritual pulse of the group and the needs of the teachers and participants. He fluidly moved from the role of gopher to guide to guy friday. He was a sweet, tender and funny presence. Before leaving on Monday, he shared a group Examen that turned into a beautiful and spiritually enriching sermon asking, “Where are you? Where am I? Where are we?” with loving encouragement for us to go deep in search of an answer. Our class is in agreement he set the bar high for future PoPs.

Our teachers, Patty, Beckey and Mike, bring very different but complimentary gifts to our class. Beckey is new to the program but, as a member of an early SotS class, was completely at home in her new role. They took turns leading us in exercises. In each of their presentations, they revealed themselves to us with honesty so I never felt we were doing “head” work, rather, that our hearts were being clearly spoken to.

We had the blessing of the time of 2 visiting teachers. On Friday, we visited Plymouth Meeting and listened to Dave M share his experiences of being in Beloved Community. His talk was heart-felt and deeply moving. Sitting in the 300 year old meetinghouse, listening to him talk about growing in Christ by growing in his relationship with the Body of Christ was a beautiful gift to us.

Barbarajene W visited us on Saturday and talked about time. She prefaced her talk with “I’m not going to say anything you don’t already know...” and this was true. Hearing, though, a reminder that we make time for what is important to us is always beneficial. We were reminded of being aware of things in God’s time versus how we usually do in human time. I have the Victoria Williams song “On Time” in my head when I think of this:

On time,
On time,
Always on time.
Why you might be going crazy,
About to lose your mind.
Don’t fret.
Don’t worry.
Just feel peace of mind.
That peace of mind that you’re always on time.

This song is about realizing that we’re all living in God’s time, if we can only awaken to it. I sing it often.

On Saturday, Beckey preached about the Inward Christ and the Seed and Joann, a classmate, read from Lloyd Lee’s book on Gospel Order. A lot of people had never heard this and were angry, hurt and confused. I have no trouble understanding this; intellectually, I’m good with it.

After our closing that evening, another classmate, Franchot, gave an impromptu Native American flute concert in the chapel.  While listening, it came to me that I have been just skimming the surface. I do experience God but mostly I’m just flitting about, heedless. I think for the first time, I truly understood being a sinner. While sitting alone among my newly intimate community, listening to the hauntingly beautiful music, I felt God’s presence as I have read described by others, like a searchlight, illuminating my deepest self. I was overcome by feelings of awe and trepidation and yet willingly exposed and vulnerable.  I felt God with me, not as a gentle Presence but as GOD showing me my innermost heart.

I sat in the chapel, crying, needing God but not even knowing what to pray for. I’ve read the accounts of being searched by the Inbreaking Light, being transformed by God. It seems audacious to even pray for that because what if I can’t live up to it? What if God gives me this gift and I remain my own, blithe, willful self?

I wondered if I should reach out to my classmates or one of my teachers but I didn’t know what I could or should say. I stumbled up to my room where I prayed, sobbing, and wrote for several hours. I was shown my sins. I’d known them all along but was shown them as God sees them. Not in words but in knowing, God told me to stop making excuses; stop being lazy and selfish; stop asking for guidance until I am ready to grow into what I have already been given. Knowing my sins and not faithfully, consciously trying to “sin no more” is without excuse.

The next morning during our time for individual spiritual practice, I wrote my psalm. Coincidentally, that morning’s worship was on “Praying the Psalms”.  I found that Psalm 139 spoke clearly to my condition (first time a Psalm has ever really done anything for me). We were given the chance to share and I read my prayer. Reading the words aloud before my Beloved Community felt to me to be a more true commitment than just writing it.

Back home again I am trying to live what I have been shown. How to be faithful? How to not fall back into what is routine and easy? I feel as if everything should be different. Everything is the same and the only thing different is my awareness. In this moment, I completely relate to Mark’s move to plain dress as an external sign of his intention to live for God. If I had an external sign, would I be called back to an awareness of how I reflect God? I can’t imagine what I wear would influence the amount of time I spend laughing at kittens on the internet. The change has to be in my embracing a new awareness of who I am in God.

Mark and I have begun to worship and read the Bible together first thing in the morning. This helps set me on a good course for the day. We’ve begun doing an Examen each evening which gives me the opportunity to reflect on where I felt God’s presence at the end of the day. I’ve tried to be very deliberate about my internet use during the day. I frequently turn to spiritually meaningful music; the song that’s come to me most often lately is “Dear Friends”. I’m listening to Kindling Stone’s “I Am the True Vine” right now. The Chihuahua often interrupts my concentration when I pray for others and I just discovered a really nice way to deal with this: I learned to write with a calligraphy pen for our wedding and, for the first time in my life, my handwriting looks pretty good. Calligraphy has to be done slowly and carefully so I think of each of the people I want to pray for and write their name several times which allows me time to really focus while praying for them.

I feel a great deal of fear that I will not be able to sustain this commitment; that I will fail in my faithfulness. I know Grace is being able to return as many times as necessary but what God showed me and called me to is not just about being forgetful but about LIVING. How do I live up to this? All I know to do is to ask God to show me how and to turn to my Beloved Community (extended) to encourage and exhort me.

Thank you, Friends.

with love,
Mary Linda

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Psalmish Prayer

Divine Creator, Author of my soul,

Please help me to live in you.
Please help me to submit myself to you.
Help me to have the will to live for you and you through me.

Please help me to turn from sin, that which comes between me and you, but help me to find joy and satisfaction in living for you.

Please help me to make you the anchor of my heart and of all my relationships so that all aspects of my life bear the same witness.

Help me to turn from the frivolous distractions and constant seeking of amusement and entertainment so I have space and time and quiet to find the peace of you in every moment.

Am I not good as you made me? Help me to set aside my insecurities as being unnecessary of your beloved child. Show me how to live more fully in you so I may better reflect your greatness and love for us.

Please help me, God Who is the Foundation, to turn with Mark toward you. We both desire this but have let our delight in our quirks and amusements distract us from you.

O my God who gave me life, who gave me everything, how can I begin to express my overwhelming gratitude except by learning to be faithful to your will in every moment.

God, you know my heart and you know my history with intentions.
You know my fear that I will soon forget this and quickly settle back into my normal routine.
Please Great Sustainer, please help me to know and to remember.
Touch my heart and make me new so I do not forget.
Please give me the will to live in you.
I don’t know how to do this without your help.
I turn myself over to you with an earnest heart and open soul; please help me to live in your Divine Will, making you the ruler of my life.

In deepest love and humility,

your child,

Mary Linda

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Radical Hospitality: More from NCYM-C

Besides the transcendent moment in the rain with dear new Friends I wrote about in my last blogpost, and Nanbee’s workshop, the activity I enjoyed most about NCYM-C was morning Bible Study led by Deborah S. The theme for the yearly gathering was Radical Hospitality and Deborah chose individual verses which addressed this theme. Each morning she would give us a printed copy of the day’s verse. We would settle into worship and she would break the silence by reading the verse twice (one day she sang it, too). After that, she had us turn to our neighbor and, in pairs, share what words, images, or ideas arose in our hearts.

I don’t specifically remember each day’s verse but what came to me around Hospitality remains fresh. What occurred to me was how important it is for me to be centered and grounded when I welcome people. It happens that because of my personality and the fact that I make myself available, I’ve often been a public face of my community. I enjoy meeting people, learning about them and telling about us. I ask a lot of questions and try to get a little beyond the superficial if there’s time and it seems appropriate. What happens sometimes, though, is that I forget what people have told me about themselves so that when they visit again, a few months or even just a few weeks later, I can’t remember anything about them and have to start all over again which has to seem very UNwelcoming, insincere and thoughtless. This is most likely to occur when we’ve had a number of new people visit over a short period of time so that I’ve asked the same kinds of questions of too many people too often without letting the responses sink in. Also,I think it is much more likely to happen when I am insufficiently grounded; when I’m all puffed up with how great it is to greet new people because I’m so friendly and get energized by it. I am not centered and am unlikely to be truly welcoming when my ego is bigger than my awareness of how I am reflecting God.

It is good for me to know this and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn it. I can now be more mindful and deliberate in my approach to newcomers. I have also learned that I need to prepare to greet people before I get to the meetinghouse by becoming attentive to what God might be guiding me to do or say.

I, um, do want to say a word about the Bible study. I can’t really say how long it has been since I’ve done Bible study in a group. In various situations, I remember exploring a few passages in support of something else we were learning about but even that has been a long and rare time. What I remember is how head-y it was with people wanting to share KNOWLEDGE and to dissect it and talk about the linguistic and cultural understanding of what it means. I really appreciated Deborah keeping us focused on our hearts so that we talked about how the words rested in us. The difference seems significant, to me. Knowing versus owning. The potential for transformation seems less likely if only the head is engaged.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Conservative? Radically: An essay on my first experience at North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative

I’d never heard of Conservative Friends until sitting with my then new friend and fellow Friendly Adult Presence Mark Wutka at a Southern Appalachian Young Friends retreat 5 or so years ago. We were both members of Liberal Friends meetings and I did what most every Liberal Friend does when confronted by the word “conservative” in this context, I sorta bristled before asking Mark to explain what Conservative Friends means. He told me that Conservative Friends seek to follow a traditional Quaker path. Their worship is unprogrammed but it is more Christ-centered and Bible based than Liberal Friends. He said he feels much more spiritually at home worshipping with Conservative Friends than he often does among Liberal Friends. I trusted Mark to speak from a God-filled place and so was interested in Conservative Friends but filed the information away as a curiosity rather than anything I wanted to immediately pursue.

Fast forward to the present: Mark and I are married (it blows my mind to think of God preparing us for this from our first encounters!) and attended North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative together this last month. I wasn’t sure what to expect but what I experienced was a blessing! It was a joy to me to see how well-loved and cared for Mark is in this community. In part because so many of his School of the Spirit classmates were there, it felt like a family reunion: Mark was hugged and I was hugged and introduced and then hugged again. It was lovely.

The community is small and it was easy to feel the intimacy and deep relationships between people who know one another as the Body of Christ. What impressed and thrilled me was the shared spiritual vocabulary and the unabashed acknowledgement of Christ actively working in folks’ lives. I was happily moved to hear people in casual conversation talk about obedience and following God’s will.

Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business are the heart and major activity and are well attended. They make it a practice of having each Monthly Meeting answer the Queries from NCYM-C Faith and Practice as a body and the clerks or representatives of each MM read the responses together. I can’t say I was always edified by the responses (some were exceedingly verbose) but I found the practice compelling.

Friday evening, one of Mark’s classmates from School of the Spirit, Charley B directed the 2nd performance of a play she wrote as a class project, The Call. Ashley W read the role of a young woman called to ministry. The play was about the challenges she faced, practical, emotional and spiritual and the support she received in the form of Friends who preceded her in ministry. I found the play to be well written and researched and deeply thoughtful.  It was well-received and good conversation was generated afterward.

On Thursday, during her workshop “Dance of Compassion”, I fell in love with Nanbee. Her open heart and guilelessness are a rare and amazingly beautiful gift in this world. Immediately we felt like Soul Friends and tried to find time to sit together to get to know one another better. Friday night after the play, my favorite time of the entire 5 days happened. Nan, her husband Tom, Mark & I got together at a table on the patio. After visiting a bit, Mark decided to go to our room to write a letter. Shortly thereafter, Lloyd Lee and Ashley joined us. It had rained at various points that day and while we sat at our table, it began to drizzle. We raised the umbrella just before the downpour started. Because several of us were newly acquainted and I wanted to know each of them and didn’t want to waste the opportunity making small-talk, I asked everybody questions. I like to ask the kinds of questions one only needs to be an expert about one’s own life to answer so everybody can share something and not feel ignorant or left out. Sitting in the our increasingly damp little island in the middle of a crashing storm, creating a wonderful intimacy while telling stories about ourselves was deep and rich for me. I feel we shared something rare with one another and I will, I think, remember it the rest of my life.

After having sat in business meeting for days, Saturday evening’s activity was exactly what everybody needed. We played “A Big Wind Blows” and “Four Corners” and moved a lot and laughed even more while sharing thoughts and ideas and bits of ourselves. It was great fun.

Sunday Meeting for Worship was followed by a reading of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Advices. Mark had been asked to read them, which touched him. Again, I’d never heard Advices read aloud before a body like that (SAYMA’s Faith and Practice doesn’t contain Advices and I honestly can’t imagine a body of Liberal Friends ever agreeing on Advices-seems too much like control). I can’t say the language of the Advices is completely comfortable for me but I tried to “listen in tongues” and hear the Holy Spirit behind the words.

Beforehand, I’d been feeling some serious trepidation about going to NCYM-C due to the fact that I wouldn’t know one person there and it being Mark’s (and Mark and Ceal’s) community. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to me, or if I’d be comfortable with the spiritual vibe. Turns out that I was nurtured and enriched in ways I never could have imagined and I’ve made at least one friend I know I will keep all of my days. I returned home with a renewed spirit and joyful heart and am humbly grateful for the experience.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cronkin' on Christ

I sat down last summer to read Sandra Cronk’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297  “Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community”. It took me at least six weeks of wrestling with one word before I gave up. That word? “Christ”. She first used Christ in the introduction: “Coming out of a great spiritual revival, transformed and guided by the Spirit of Christ...”. No problem with that. She even provided a definition on page 4: “...It led them to Christ, their Inward Teacher and Guide.” This did not help me when I became stuck on page 7.

“It is in this covenantal tradition that Christians have understood their relationship with Christ as a new covenant. George Fox proclaimed that Friends were entering into the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah. For Fox this covenant was the fulfillment of all that went before. In this new covenant God’s law was not to be written on tablets of stone:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts;...And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor..., for they shall all know me, …; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34, Revised Standard Version)

For early Friends the new covenant was Christ Jesus and their living relationship with Christ...”.

(imagine, if you will, a car...slowly...coming.  to.     a.        halt.  Only not a car. Me.)

Christ? Christ Jesus? What? What does that mean? I tried to continue reading the pamphlet but each time, I’d be drawn back to that paragraph, perplexed and frustrated. I was good with the idea of an historical Jesus, the deliverer of the Sermon on the Mount, the man who taught that we are to love God and love one another. The message Jesus taught is why I consider myself a Christian. Jesus as the teacher, guiding us to open our eyes and see we are with God right now. Jesus as a human who was more in touch with That of God than most people. But Jesus Christ? Jesus the Divine? Jesus Christ, which is often followed by our Lord and Savior? Uh...I’m sorry but I can’t go there. I can’t accept Virgin Birth, Resurrection,etc. In touch with God, yes, but not God incarnate. Sorry but it just didn’t speak to me and no matter how I looked at it, I wasn’t able to find meaning in it.

What could I do with the agitation I felt around that last sentence? After rereading it fifty-eleven times and confronting Mark about it repeatedly, I resentfully set the pamphlet down and walked away from it thinking “we’re just going to have to agree to disagree”.

But then something happened. I can’t tell you when exactly but my heart opened and what I came to understand and accept is that God is the universal and Christ is the personal. God is what unifies us and Christ is God communicating to each of us. Individual names for different aspects of the divine but still one God. I’ve had a blossoming around Christ since then. I embrace my understanding of God’s relationship with me as being through Christ. I would even say that I find peace, joy and delight in Christ in my life. I feel comfort and security in the concept of Christ: God is so big and ultimately unknowable as to be sometimes overwhelming (awe-some, fear-some) but Christ is intimate, knowing and encouraging, whether firmly directing or gently nurturing, with love.

I struggled with this for so long last summer that it became a thing for me. Mark would ask me what I was reading and I’d sullenly reply, “I’m still Cronking”. Once I “got it”, cronkin’ became a good thing. I was just accepting into the School of the Spirit Spiritual Nurturer class #9. Sandra Cronk was one of the founders of SotS so for the next two years I will be cronkin’ hard.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Walking Selfishly

This is not a post about money or class privilege or social structure but those things frame it. I am not poor, not right now, anyway. I'm about to marry a man who, in two years, earns about what I've done in my lifetime (admittedly, I've not earned much, having been a stay-at-home mom for much of it). We have a nice house in a safe neighborhood. Last year, however, I did not have many options. I'd been laid off from my job and with my divorce lost my health insurance and my home. I was scraping by on $880 a month in unemployment benefits and lived in a spare room of a friend's house with my youngest son. Life was challenging and sometimes required some creative accounting ("Peter? Paul? Who gets paid this month?").

Ever hear of a Standardized Patient? A SP is a person who is hired and trained by a medical school to present specific symptoms to medical students who are learning how to do patient interviewing, examinations and diagnosing. I worked as an SP at Meharry a few years ago and last October, applied to do the same at Vanderbilt. The type of SP gig I was applying to do what much more specialized than general SP work and I was asked to get an exam by the end of the week as the training was to start shortly thereafter.

By this time I'd been without health insurance and unemployed for six months and hadn't an extra cent to my name so went to the only sliding scale clinic that could fit me in quickly: Planned Parenthood (cost $125 and I wound up paying late because I didn't have that much in my bank account at the time). The exam went fine, no problems, but the result from a test came back indicating a potential problem. The next step was to undergo a test which showed a moderate not-serious-now-but-very-serious-if-not-dealt-with condition. Unfortunately, PP doesn't have the resources to treat this condition so I was referred to The Center for Women's Healthcare at Meharry.

Meharry Medical College serves the people in Nashville who don't have health insurance. In many ways, I'm sure they do the best they can with the meager resources they have. I will say that they could do a whole lot better at training their intake staff. It took 5 months to get this procedure scheduled and during that time my records were lost, I was spoken to rudely and hung up on when I tried to find out who I needed to speak with about scheduling. I've been shocked at how unprofessional some of the administrative and support staff have been. I am able to advocate for myself, I can't imagine what it must be like for someone with fewer resources.

A week ago last Friday, I went in for my pre-procedure consultation. Anticipating further administrative problems, I got to registration early and checked in. I was told to wait in the lobby and would be called when they were ready. Again my paperwork was lost in the shuffle and I was left waiting for quite a long while. As I sat, increasingly miffed, looking at the other people sitting around me, I found myself thinking, "I don't belong here." I looked around at the other people, the young Hispanic mama with her beautiful, chubby children, the woman in the K-mart sweater with a thick Appalachian accent, the colorfully dressed middle aged man with highly polished pointy-toed alligator shoes, the older couple both wearing NASCAR t-shirts, the young tough with the tattooed neck and shaved head, all of whom were there for the same reason I was-lack of other options-and had the horrible impulse that I am better than them therefore I shouldn't have to be in that environment, treated with such apathy.

I, of course, did not see my own snobbery and bigotry then, I was too caught up with indignation. It wasn't until a few days later that I recalled the feeling of superiority and disdain I had. I've been wrestling with it since. The system sucks but the individuals are not the system, they suffer in it as I do, probably a whole lot more (for instance, I create my own work schedule so can take time off for appointments and not lose income). "...walk cheerfully answering that of God in every one." Hardly. I certainly wasn't aware of the presence of the living God while sitting there seething last Friday. I wasn't rude to anyone but I certainly wasn't a loving example either.
I don't anticipate having to deal with our societal inequalities nor my own inner ugliness again for a while. I pray, though, that the next time I do, I'll be aware of God with me rather than paying all my attention to poor, pitiful me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Chihuahua is Alright

The Chihuahua has been alive and well and completely manic for the last long while so entering into worship has been seemingly less than rewarding. I sit still with my body mostly quiet, so I suppose I appear to others to have an Old Argus mind (Argus is my dog, the most gentle, mellow, wonderful dog ever). While my body is still, my mind is racing like a young greyhound after a jackrabbit. Mark and I have tried to remember to have daily worship with one another. We sit in the Quiet Room in The Burrow for 15 or so minutes in worship and then perhaps will do a bit of worship sharing around a query or whatever came up for one of us out of worship. I sit, quiet my body, and try to quiet my mind: I express my gratitude to God for the myriad blessings in my life, sometimes try to hold someone or something in prayer but generally by then The Chihuahua has been yipping with the determination of a fly at a picnic. This has been the pretty consistent state of my mind for months and months.
I don’t feel frustration with myself or feel I am failing or doing something wrong. I accept that this is the way my brain works and have found other ways I am able to connect with God. Although I’m not generally able to feel God’s immediate presence in the stillness of worship, I am aware of God with me and around me and sometimes through me. I know God is with me when I sit in silence waiting with others, even when The Chiuhauhua is yapping so loudly I’m utterly distracted from my awareness of God.
Last weekend, when working with Mark on our goal for Couples Enrichment, I felt God’s presence intimately and purely. God was with us, guiding us, as we held our relationship in prayer. When we sat in worship together on Monday, I thought about my inability to center into mental stillness in worship but how God is so near to me. In the past, it seemed to me that when The Chihuahua held ownership of my mind, I tended to be distant from God, unable to be immediately aware of God’s presence. But for the past year, year and a half or maybe longer, I’ve been more deliberately attentive to the practices I know bring me closer to God: writing, reading and especially talking with f/Friends about God and spiritual matters. I realize that not being able to be all Good Quaker by centering and quieting and going deep into worship is ok with God. I feel sure that God is good with whatever works for each of us. My intention in worship is to become aware of God and maybe I won’t be able to do so as centeredly, weightily or consistently as other Friends, but I will do it in my way, the way God made me to be, and it will be good.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Turning Outward

Mark and I were edified this week by participating in an FGC Couples Enrichment weekend. Couples were encouraged to identify and define a goal for the next year for their relationship. Our goal is spiritual in nature. Our main obstacle is our own tendencies toward procrastination so we decided to try to do a weekly worship—like a meeting for worship for the conduct of business for us as a couple—in which we hope to listen to any leadings God may have for us, set our intentions for the week, and create structure for ourselves in order to help us meet our goal. Scheduling our time somewhat will allow us to pursue things we feel are important--worship sharing, reading, studying, writing--but that we’ve not been attentive to recently because of more frivolous distractions. We trust that seeking God’s guidance will allow the myriad facets of our lives to take their rightful places.

As Mark and I sat together discussing our vision, I was given a clear message that we are to stop being so self-indulgent and prepare ourselves to take responsibility for what we have been given. Our goal is spiritual, learning to live together in Christ, but it seems that realizing this goal is grounded in the physical reality of The Burrow and so we are to apply ourselves to readying our home to offer hospitality. I think, perhaps in a feng shui-y kind of way, the boxes of books and dusty bookshelves are symbols of inattention. Making The Burrow comfortable and interesting for guests and for our family is the beginning of a larger calling, I think.
I do not in any way believe in a “name it and claim it” kind of theology. I don’t believe that God wants us to prosper in material wealth but in Truth. When I say that all I identified as wanting to bring into my life—and more—has been given me, it has. But I believe it has because stating my desires was done while seeking God’s will for me: listening, praying, waiting and discerning. When I wrote the blog in December 2010 about what I wanted to create in my life, it was informed by years of prayer and learning, conversations with centered and trusted Friends and even a Clearness Committee. After I wrote it, I lost my marriage, my job and my home and, against reason and my own impulses, was clearly instructed by God to… wait. Waiting is hard, especially when one hasn’t a clue why one is to wait. But the message to me was clear and so I waited. It wasn’t easy; at times I felt fear, anxiety, frustration, even despair, but I trusted God to have a plan and waited.
And then Mark entered my life bringing love and great joy! Our love brought this home and the amazing miracle of all my intentions into existence. I’ve spent the past two months awed at how good God has been to me, grateful every moment for Mark and the wonder and beauty of the life we’re creating together. But especially grateful to have been given the lesson of listening and waiting, the gift of faith.
The last two months with Mark have been a honeymoon, learning the day-to-dayness of how to live together, share, work side-by-side, balance needs, and rely on one another. We’ve had a marvelous time playing, laughing, and loving together. I wouldn’t say we’ve been irresponsible; what I would say, though, is that we’ve spent a lot more energy between us than directed outward. "To everything turn, turn, turn…" It wasn’t inappropriate for us to do that for a time. When we talked about our goal for the year, however, I had the clear message that it is time for us to use our energy to begin to actively bring the gifts we’ve been given to fruition. It is time to act.
I’ve no idea where this is going to lead, no clue what the outcome will be. God’s guidance is like that of a GPS—you only get the next little bit of the map, the part you need right now to act. Mark and I are learning to pray, wait, listen and discern together. When I said that I felt God clearly telling me that we are to begin turning our energies outward, he responded by saying the leading sounds true to him. I feel blessed beyond words to have this kind, passionate, hilariously funny man who is also my true spiritual helpmeet.