Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.

Allowing time to be ready to move

Allowing time to be ready to move

Photo credit: Pearl Unger

The birds took their time this fall, lingering on the prairies longer than usual. We got more sunshine and warm days than we usually do in Saskatchewan, with autumn stretching nearly two months before the blizzards knocked us squarely into winter. Most of us aren’t ready anyway (How is anyone truly ready for six or more months of winter?). And the birds did their practice flights and then took off, if late.

The four seasons come and go, early and late, without regard to my preference or my readiness. Spiritual seasons are both harder to recognize and easier to ignore – at least for a time.

After my knitting injury this summer, my physio recommended that I take up more regular strength exercise as a preventative strategy for avoiding injury while aging. I still have one more year before my forties, so I am taking the suggestion under consideration. I know she is right. I have managed to lace up my shoes, spend some time on my mat, chase the kids a handful of times. It stops very short of a consistent habit. I have finally stopped believing I will be more valuable if my pants are a smaller size. And I do not know how to exercise without punishing myself. I am not ready.

My parenting feels more lost than found. I want to be more consistent. I see my kids pushing me to the next level. They need me to grow into the next version of myself, mastering adolescent and teen strategies. I am grieving their smallness and my own introduction to baby and toddler parenting. I am not ready to be in the car dropping them everywhere, knowing less about the moments that make up their days, being further from the centre of their collective worlds. They are spreading their wings for necessary migrations and my parenting does not keep up. I know that parenting is something you learn as you go. Still, I am not ready.

My speaking and writing is shifting. I can feel it moving in my veins. It spills out of me and I do not expect what it says. The Spirit whispers to write it anyway. I am afraid of what it means, how it will change me. It is uncomfortable and awkward. I want to do what God tells me to do, go where I am needed, write the words entrusted to me. Tomorrow, maybe? I am not ready today.

Over the last decade, I have made slow and real progress at breaking down my addiction to perfection. I have embraced gentleness, allowed things to shift in me in their own time, invited the grace of being carried. It is still so hard for me to allow myself the time it takes to become ready.

Autumn is a season of transition, a letting go of the things I needed before to make space for what will come next. Very often, I am like my lilac bush still green and bowed in half by the weight of the first wet snow. It needs to be ridiculously and unsustainably heavy before I will consent to drop the summer leaves. I want all the practice flights possible, even if it means flying an extra few days in the cold before I catch up to the comfort of the new that waits for me.

I choose to trust that there is necessary work being done in me while I am getting ready. So much of my resistance is subconscious, chipping away at walls that have been protecting me. I will give myself the grace of growing over a lifetime, receive the love of a God who waits for me to be ready, even while sending me physiotherapists and children and mentors who speak the truth I need to hear.

May I love the me that is not ready. May I hold her with the same tenderness I offer to others who feel exposed and afraid. And may I wait patiently for the readiness to emerge. When the urge strikes to respond differently to the kids, or stretch out beside the weights, may I do just this next right thing without beating myself up for not doing it every time, perfectly, for the rest of my life. May I choose as many practice flights as I need. Amen.

Presence: the art of being where I am

Presence: the art of being where I am

Presence has been swirling around me, chasing me in the fall wind, working its way through my hair. I taste it in time with friends, in singing in a choir, and in the longing to run away from what is hard. We have all been surviving for so long. And there are new hills to climb as we rise out of the critical and isolating phases of a pandemic to enter into reimagining and rebuilding. 

On the other side of grief, of leaving the broken, of destruction is recovering, healing, and growing something new. And one of the practices that carries through both seasons is presence. Just plain showing up for what is and who I am today is both difficult and courageous. 

In the hardest seasons of my life, I had to learn to show up for my difficult emotions. I had learned to repress anger, rationalize fear, repel sadness. But there was no way out but through. I learned to name what I was feeling, talk it through with therapists, family, and friend. I practiced showing up to let others carry me, especially when that was uncomfortable, undesirable, and hard. 

Things are so much better now than they were on those worst days. Still, life brings unexpected cold fronts and exciting, if overwhelming opportunities to grow. Presence means showing up for this too. It is almost harder to be fully present to joy and laughter. To seize the moment for play and relaxation. To set down whatever preoccupies me and really be here in my life. 

We live in a world that offers us distraction, escape, and avoidance in every imaginable form: smart phones, food, exercise, books, tv, work, hobbies, stuff. The challenge is to use these things to find and live life rather than avoid it.  

I move so quickly between seeing the world for what it is and being totally lost in my own head. This week, I found myself in awe of the fall colours so many times, drawn into the miracle of the people I love, captivated by how good potatoes can be. And in the next moments, I have been completely at a loss for how to move forward through a complex situation, completely annoyed by someone else’s actions, and feeling desperate and afraid. I know what I need to do and how important it is to be gentle and kind to myself and still I struggle with both. 

When I find myself pulled in many directions, lost everywhere but here, I find it helpful to sink deeply into three movements:

  1. Breathe and notice. Feel the air go into my lungs, and push it back out. See the details of my surroundings. Look at the people. Drink in colour, smells, sounds. I am here, right now. 
  2. Feel. Look for and name any emotions that are present. Pay attention to where they sit in your body, whether they are heavy or light, pleasant or irritating, inviting or demanding. Express them however it is possible and safe to do so. And then, let them go. 
  3. Ask. What is the next loving thing you can do to be fully here right now? Don’t overthink it – see a way forward in this moment and live into it with courage. Cry, create, connect – there isn’t a road map. Trust yourself. You won’t always know if it is the right thing. That’s okay. When you see another way, you can choose again if you need to. 

Called back to myself, I often remember my grandpa, whistling in the far yard while he worked or sitting in his wheelchair in old age waiting for a cribbage game when we came to visit. He taught me to watch birds outside the window and cheer at a ball game. The things that mean the world are often surprisingly simple. Call or text the person. Listen with empathy. Say how you feel. Set the boundary with love. Act with kindness. 

Our world needs us here. Present and showing up with courage, for ourselves and each other. Whether you are wading through loss and heartache or rising into a new thing, your presence draws in the Breath that is life. May it being you back to yourself so that you can be yourself for the world. 

Living in the joy of the beautiful mess

Living in the joy of the beautiful mess

Photo Credit: Charlize Perrault

Mess is a theme in my life, and therefore also in my barefoot preaching. I think I return to the theme because mess challenges me so deeply. While I grew, I found relief in order, comfort in control, rest in simplicity. And I wandered into a world with a tendency toward disorder, a resistance to control, and more complexity than I could have imagined. I tried and failed to eliminate the mess, and I crawled out of rock bottom (more than once) to make peace with the reality of mess.

This summer, I am reflecting on the different types of messes, finding myself lost in the beautiful mess. It differs from the destructive mess that threatens to pull me under, that demands a radical and weary surrender to change. It is not the same as the cluttered mess that inspires a garage sale or a shift toward minimalism. The beautiful mess is the collision of human intention and natural wonder and longing for things to be different and exactly as they are, all at once.

A beautiful mess is easier to describe than define. So, I offer a summer of litany of the beautiful mess, in the hope that it inspires your own.

A poppy growing defiantly in the rocks and weeds where landscaping fabric was carefully laid beneath to prevent all the plants from sprouting. A child pouring water on it from a plastic watering can that has long since lost the sprinkle spout – in my sock drawer.

*
One hundred and nineteen people in an anniversary photo. I arrived late, scurrying my last two kids in just in time, after a time change and many reminders to be on time. The frame holding so much joy, and all the perfect imperfections of each smiling (and growling) mystery. The image unable to capture the sounds of the voices, the stories carried by so many lifetimes colliding for the occasion.

*

Tears and fear where I want to be stoic and confident. Receiving a hug, a kind word, laughter. Resisting the falling apart only to discover that my weakness makes my humanity accessible. Finding connection at the bottom, instead of the top.

*

Fifty seven photos of the same white flower, growing in clover and grass. Four in focus. No space left on my cell phone. Grinning toothless selfie.

*

A text from a friend describing the hour of quiet she was gifted for the mere cost of fort building. Found items from the garage. All the blankets freed from the fresh laundry basket. Nails and hammers everywhere. Fresh mud. Laughter. And a bathtub with warm, running water and an abundance of soap. Kids old enough to clean up, as well as build.

*

The same old argument, resurfacing with new words. Eyes to recognize the pattern. Hearts to see the hope that this time it might end differently. Grace for stepping out of the dance that leads to destruction. Gentleness in the words. Softening into what we all need instead of who is right.

*

A problem. Stated factually and aggressively. A myriad of ways to respond and people to share in the carrying. Disagreements voiced, tensions held, differences surfacing. Questions holding more power than answers. Perspectives shifting. Problem giving way to possibility.

*

Trees growing up through a deck. Prairie grass reclaiming a garden. Gophers moving into wooden cabinets a century old. Life taken over by life. Remnants abandoned to an archaeological dig for some century that isn’t this one.

*

A beautiful mess is a privilege. The resources you need to love in it are right in the mess itself. Its imperfection is an invitation rather than a threat. It whispers to stay awhile a marvel at the mystery of what you would have missed if you had caused or created it, tried to control it, or found a cure for it. You couldn’t if you tried.

A beautiful mess is the gift of receiving what life does when I live in it. I arrive with my intentions and creativity, welcome the others and their stuff, say yes to the improvisations. A beautiful mess is built on the trust that what could be is better than what I would have done on my own.

Here’s to the beautiful messes. May there be more of them. And may I have the grace to love them.

Writing the story of a life

Writing the story of a life

Writing, for me, is both a part of how I make my living and how I make sense of my living. My summer reading has coincidentally connected around a theme that, in the end, a life is just a collection of stories. What does it mean to write the story of my own life, a scene and a day at a time?

I often tease my kids that you don’t see many characters in books or tv shows soaking up screen time. It makes for pretty boring plots. At the same time, I would not want to read about or watch a chronicle of an eight-hour work day, let alone a minute by minute account of a career. Every good storyteller has to sift through the words that get included, as well as the ones that don’t.

In writing the story of my life, however, I live through a lot of moments that won’t make the cut in the highlights or the bloopers. Our world is currently obsessed with capturing the moments and sharing them, but there is so much (and maybe more) value in the things that happen between photographs and bonfires. When we tell the story looking back, we will identify the parts that mattered most, interpret the meaning, and make sense of what happened. I long for that kind of clarity in the living of it.

The summer has offered three messy movements that I don’t have meaning for yet.

First, I started off the long weekend by finishing making a long-awaited Gryffindor quidditch sweater for one of my kids. And when I got home, I discovered that I had injured myself knitting with many hours of repetitive movement in the combined ten hours of drive time. (My fourteen-year-old thinks this is the funniest extreme sporting wound ever acquired.)

I am shocked, as always with relatively minor injuries, just how much I take for granted when my body is working the way it should. And, the most important part of the story is the several times a day of physio stretches I need to do to ensure I can continue to enjoy knitting and playing the guitar and doing yard work.

The rest required by my hand surfaced a second movement of healing for me. I recognized how frequently I fill my life up to avoid feeling what surfaces when I am quiet and still. I long to be understood and affirmed, to have people happy with me, to know what to do in all situations. When I am misunderstood, confused, and have disappointed people, I struggle. I don’t even let myself feel it most of the time, let alone take a photo of it to tell the story. After five years of intense grief and healing work, there is a movement towards more ordinary growth. Seeing a coach and practicing new habits will help in ways I cannot yet know.

Finally, my oldest child has been away at school for the year. It is so good to have her home, playing with her siblings, making us watch ridiculous TV, and updating our vocabulary. We have arrived at the years I longed for: sleeping in and going on adventures without diaper bags, hilarious conversations and eye rolling. And for the first time as a parent, I feel nostalgic and a little sad. The kids are growing up, fast, just like everyone says.

Making the most of it includes epic road trips and one million reminders to pick up your socks and unload the dishwasher, again. I wish I could know which conversations will scar them for life and which ones they will remember when I am gone. I long to be able to be the mom they need and I know I can only do my best. It’s a miracle that the story of my life gets to include so many mundane movements, messy mistakes and do-overs, evenings at the park and walks around the block that are completely unremarkable. I write the story of my life by showing up for today, making a few more steps towards being and becoming the person I was created to be. The plot moves forward when I love the best I can and try again tomorrow, to find a way from this moment into the next one with grace.

Seeing grace and sifting through clutter

Seeing grace and sifting through clutter

Saturday morning in early June. Sunshine streaming through lilac bushes. Birds singing from underneath leaves that seem to have grown overnight. And tables full of things we hope other people will like well enough to take home when we open up the garage door. There are stories attached to the stuff. The kids keep changing their minds and sneaking things back in the house. The seeing and the sifting happen simultaneously.

Despite moving just a year ago, there are enough things gathered to have a decent little garage sale. I’ve been sifting through boxes and closets, removing things that we no longer use and just don’t fit in our new world. It amazes me how our memories are held not just in our bodies but also in our things.

I hold the smallest lifejackets, checking that they are actually too small for the smallest kids even though I have known the answer for three seasons already. I can hear the laughter on the boat, see the scrunched up baby-face that hated the lifejacket, feel the spray of water on my face when I held a sleeping niece wearing it. There isn’t room to hold on to it if we need to store the bigger sizes we need now.

Books that tucked us in. Tupperware too big and too small. The first costumes our kids wore to the grocery store. Picture frames and a house phone. A casserole dish and a lid without a pot. Ponies with the hair brushed out. Wall art and the last swing set. Sifting and not seeing.

I wore the same dress for a hundred days this winter, a challenge to interrupt fast fashion and experiment with wool. It taught me that I need so much less than I think I do (and also that very few people notice or care what I am wearing). I am learning to do more mending and buy second hand. I am seeing the contents of my life with a longer view.

The kids have been begging for a garage sale for years. I have been resisting. We still needed so many of the things we had. And, maybe more honestly, garage sales are a lot of work. It is easier to close the closet door than sort through the contents. Easier to hold on to the things than let them go with the memories they hold.

It doesn’t seem fair that there is just too much life to remember all the moments.

Sitting in the sun on a cooler full of cookies and puffed wheat squares. Knees knocking against the kid-sized table. A hand-written sign for the lemonade stand. Seeing and not seeing.

The four-year-old surprised us with the most stamina for sales. I do not feel nostalgic for the sleepless years, but I love four-year-olds. The honesty without a filter. The sponge brains that repeat everything they are learning. The confidence of knowing everything and finally having the words to say it all. He sat on the driveway welcoming people and offering them lemonade for most of the day.

He spilled it. He tried to pay people instead of taking their loonies. He danced when someone said yes. “Mom,” he said, about two hours in, “This is the best day ever. Can we have another garage sale yesterday?”

It was a perfect day. Extended family and laughter. Cousins buying jewels from the next sale down with their pocket change. Neighbours wandering through to look and to buy. Trading like-new Tupperware for ten bucks and a home-made tea roll. Kids learning to talk to strangers. Letting go of our past life to make room for the present and the future.

In all the sifting, I am seeing the moments that make up my life. Seeing and cherishing the people that we were and the people we are becoming. Seeing past the colours and shapes transmitted by my eyes, and seeing the grace of living. Let me live here.

I love the miracle that God created a world where atoms and molecules combine into matter that matters. Nature and fiber and textures that cradle us into life and carry us through.

There are times for acquiring and roaming far away, and times for coming home and sifting through. Days pass, one after another, in this space between a pandemic and whatever follows after. I want my stuff to help me see what matters.

Trusting what is to take us where we need to go

Trusting what is to take us where we need to go

Photo Credit: Marc Perrault

Trust wasn’t the lesson I was expecting when my partner planned a surprise anniversary weekend away. Seventeen years later, we returned to the Cypress Hills where we stayed as newlyweds. The lodgepole pines appear not to have changed as much as we have.

I have confessed my allergy to nature before. The condo style room in the park in early May is a better fit than we knew all those years ago. It is still cold enough that my skin doesn’t itch from the heat and there aren’t enough fires or leaves to make my nose and lungs revolt. Marc had plenty of beauty to capture with the camera, though the clouds sadly covered the stars. There was great scenery for knitting and playing board games.

And there were trails for hiking. This isn’t a first choice of activity for either of us, but the park was quiet, still melting away the final patches of snow and silently awaiting the summer crowds. I was trusting that something different would be good.

At the entrance to our most challenging trail choice, I laughed out loud at the warning to watch for cougars. “It would be a great irony,” I said, smiling at Marc, “if I died in a wildlife attack on a hiking trail.” He agreed. I can definitely count on my fingers the number of trails I’ve attempted in my life, and most have only had the danger of my tripping over my own feet.

I became breathless on the climbs and focused on my footing on the declines. Seventeen years has given way to comfortable silences and conversation that stops and starts through two decades of memories. The lodgepole pines towered above us, shrinking the significance of our years together.

I stared up at the trees, a green canopy meters above us, with only old dead remnants of the branches near the ground. The younger trees, green and spindly, stretching up to compete for the sunlight. Hard pinecones forming on the undersides of the older trees, dropping to the ground to wait for a fire to break them open.

The forest floor is a mess. Dropped pine needles, interrupted with deer droppings. Broken branches and fallen trees from the windstorm days before, layered on the trunks from seasons past. Grass and leaves and tiny flowers breaking though wherever enough light and water allows.

“What are you thinking about?” Marc asked in one of the long flat sections. “About how the trees grow up and discard the parts of themselves they don’t need anymore,” I breathed. “About how messy growth is. And how I simultaneously am embarrassed by my younger self and grieve when she goes. I like how the trees grow and make me more patient with my own growth.”

I am in the awkward stages of early middle age, still having so much yet to do and knowing in ways my younger self couldn’t how much effort and perseverance and suffering it takes to build with love. Now, I am ready to let go of the mirror’s distortions as I care more about who I become and who I love well than how I look while I do it.

And it is the forest, rather than a single tree that leads to the trusting. Together, the trees make shade. The wind blows through them to make the gentle creak of their swaying, a constant whisper that assures us we are not alone. Together, they rise and fall. They drop the seeds of their growth so more trees will follow them. The next generation of forest will rise out of this one, exactly as it is, in all its glorious imperfection.

Near the end, I was surprised by a tree suspended vertically, its broken trunk hanging just above my knees. It fell nearly forty feet, suspended in the branches of a younger tree beneath it. “There you are,” I whispered to my sister, the maid of honour who left us just before year twelve. Creation carries the living and the dead, the dreams already realized and the ones to big to see just yet.

This place we are in right now is exactly the place from which we will become what we will be. If the dream is to be realized, it will rise out of what is now. The only thing to do is to be brave enough to take the next step, and the next one. Sometimes the path is clear, and sometimes we will forge our own.

The years pass so quickly and the moments matter so much. May we let go of the branches that no longer serve us. May we be nourishment to the creatures that rely on us for food, for love, for play. May our brokenness and our strength offer hope and healing where it is needed. May we never stop trusting that what is now will be the path to where we need to go. Amen.   

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering


Photo Credit: Becky Stevenson

When I think about the long list of things I need to practice, resurrection has never made the list. But I have been returning to the theme year after year in my writing. In 2017, I wrote about not being ready to rise. The next year, I was baking buns and reflecting on relaxing into the rising work of God. And then, the danger of daring to embrace joy. Apparently, I need more practice than I thought.

My (Catholic) faith tradition is really well-known for nailing Lent (pun wittily composed). And with our reputation for ashes and penance and giving up stuff, we have also received a collective inheritance of Catholic guilt and a tendency toward solemnity. Ashes and repentance are only one part of the Paschal story that is the heart of our faith: they are meant to lead us into resurrection.

 We’ve all been walking through an exceptionally extended pandemic lent in the liturgy of our lives. This long season has asked us to enter into a sacrificial suffering, a humility of spirit for the sake of those most at risk. And in the process, we have practiced being especially discerning, sacrificial, and solemn about life. Because we become through our behaviour, the season of surviving the suffering has changed us.

For many, as the world opens up, the things we used to take for granted feel like miracles. Gatherings of more than small groups. Seeing smiles. Reaching out to touch or hug a friend. And at the same time, these things feel risky, and still are. For those receiving cancer treatments or living with autoimmune conditions, isolation has become even more necessary now.

We have been practicing caution for so long, joy can feel out of reach. It is time to practice resurrection.

Christians on the Roman calendar celebrate Easter for fifty days. Note that this is 10 days longer than Lent and the Christmas season barely hits the double digits. Most of us can hardly handle a celebration that lasts longer than seventy-two hours before we crave the rest of ordinary time. We rush home from whatever plans we have scribbled on the calendar and retreat into sweat pants and laundry and a good tv binge to recover from indulging in our over-the-top celebrations.

But what would it look like to practice rising, to live into resurrection in our every-day lives in a way that we can sustain? Is this not what the joy of the resurrection invites?

The restrict-and-binge cycle is not a healthy or holy way. There is a time for sacrifice and a time for abundance, a time for repentance and a time for celebration. And we can practice both as they are needed, moving in and out of one and the other, hour by hour and day by day.

Even while we hold our own and the world’s pain, we can practice resurrection. We can take a walk and delight in the signs of spring. Count the buds forming on trees, the flowers breaking through cold earth. We can set our prayers for the suffering in the arms of God for an hour and let ourselves laugh till our sides ache.

Salvation is something that God gives to us by working it out in us. In order to receive the gift, we have to cooperate with it. It isn’t enough that Jesus died for me if I insist on earning salvation by being a grouchy martyr; I have to receive the gift, opening it up and letting it change me.

God invites me to delight in joy, to receive it and wonder at it, to choose it over and over again. Will I practice setting down my misery, no matter how valid, to giggle with my toddler before bed? Can I practice seeing the miracle of the person in front of me even while they fold the towels differently that I do? Am I willing to delight in the absolute perfection of my favourite song on the lips of my teenager coming from her messy room?

What if the world knew the followers of Jesus as the joyful ones? Jesus’ resurrection is not just a day, but is actually our present and our future. May we spread the Easter candy and good news over all the days instead of just a select few. May we practice rising with the same tenacity as our repentance. And may the resurrection we practice bring new life out of the ashes of the last two years.

A prayer for hope in the wreckage

A prayer for hope in the wreckage

Photo Credit: Sarah Tosh Manafo

As the world feels like it might give way into dust, I’m clinging to a promise of hope. I can still feel the faint dry spot on my forehead where it was marked with ashes. We haven’t been promised permanence, and that pisses me off. The profanity feels necessary. And still. The eternal Word promised to be with us always. Hope is falling, even here.

Too many times I have heard that everything happens for a reason; I am increasingly convinced it is a lie from the pit of hell designed to let the violent and abusive off the hook. But a quieter truth whispers hope when I am afraid: God wastes nothing.

Droplets of water, grains of sand, collections of air blown by the wind. This is the stuff that God has used to form the most majestic parts of creation. Why would humanity be any different?

From my earliest memories, I can recall staring up at the sky in wonder at how small a speck of creation I occupy. In a vast universe, I am nearly nothing and yet my heart proclaims my existence with each muscled beat. God is so deeply invested in all of it, without being controlling of any of it.

All this life is so full of meaning and so fleeting at the same time.

We wade through the wreckage of the pandemic we have been living in. We watch as a beautiful people are threatened with weapons and rubble. We do the next right thing, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Since God grieves with the ones who mourn, shares in their sorrow, echoes in the rallying cries of peace and justice, I know deeper than I have known anything in my life that God does not cause destruction. I’m counting grains of sand, strollers and canned good, notes of the Ukrainian anthem sung by my neighbours. I am counting the tears of refugees, the bodies of the dying, the impossible number of dreams left behind. I am gathering up the wreckage to offer it back to the One who will make it all new.

Here we are, Maker of Heaven and Antelope Canyon. Here are the pieces, Prince of Peace and Pripyat (a city abandoned after the Chernoble explosion). Right here is our desire and our destruction, God of the lowly and the least. Take all that we have and all that we are. Everything that we have made and all that we have broken.

Waste none of it. Make the very wreckage a sign of our hope.

May no flower petals fall without becoming something more beautiful. May no life be lived without witness or memory. May every breath give way to a wind of change. Take the sacrifices, the courage, the losses, and work your resurrection.

This is the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery and exile. This Presence was with Daniel in a lion’s den, Esther in a castle, Jonah in the belly of a whale.

Be with us now.

We are exhausted and unsure, and we are not alone. All of the majesty and misery of earth is passing away and a miracle. Give us the strength to love for this moment and the next one. Keep us counting the cost, measuring the weight, bearing one another’s burdens.

Soften the hearts of all of humanity that we might believe that hope is enough when we cannot be certain. And when we see someone losing hope, let us hope for them, carrying them along until they can take another step. When it is my turn, remind me that I will need you to hope for me.

Hold our fears, cradle our confusion, stay the uncertainty. Show us the cracks that will let in light. Lead us to the people who will offer what we need and receive what you have given us to give away. Sustain us past the point that all seems lost.

Detach us from the painful expectation of permanence. Receive everything we offer. Make the wreckage into something worthy of the pain.

May our collective sorrow and radical acts of love be gathered up in You, source of our Hope.

Amen.

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Photo Credit: Darryl Millette

It is a January deep freeze in Saskatchewan and my three-year-old buries himself in his blanket in the morning and says, “It’s cold and I’m tired. I’m not getting out of bed.” He just says what the rest of us are feeling. Navigating out of holiday mode and back into real life in a winter new year is a stretch. I have literally nothing left for resolution. It is a good thing that grace is God’s way.

Resolution talk still lingers in the frigid air. Diet ads find their way into my feed despite considerable efforts to exclude them. Omicron is snowing over our collective longing to be rid of the pandemic. I need discipline and hope more than ever. If past performance is any reliable indicator, I am most likely to rely on grand plans that exhaust and deplete me as well as my people. When I am defeated or give up, I resort to the opposite: don’t bother trying and then you can’t fail. There has been a lot of resigned lack of effort in surviving the pandemic.

After a major trauma, it has been my experience that human capacity for intentional progress on goals is diminished. My therapists reminded me constantly that healing is rarely linear, and though we participate in it, we respond to life in healing ways rather than direct our own healing. I dislike this. And still, I have found it to be true. Healing is a flow of grace that comes from beyond me.

The pandemic has felt so similar to the intense grieving that followed my sister’s death: unanticipated, unpredictable, and unending. There has been so much to let go of, to endure, to struggle through. And two years in, our family is still learning how to live here. (Even with three years to practice before).

I’m feeling the new year urges to new life. The hope that comes from celebrating the birth, once again, of a divinity that comes to where I am, no matter how resigned. There have been persistent invitations pressing at my heart now for awhile: to move, to risk, to become. It feels dangerous after all this surviving to respond to an invitation to living more deeply.

After all of the losses, I know that I cannot handle firm resolutions and reliance on my (stubborn) will. Neither has had lasting success before the trauma anyway. The unexpected upside of being so plowed under is that I can see with hindsight the way that grace carries me through.

Grace might be the one thread that holds me fast to faith. A constant sparkle in frosty air that disappears to my peripheral vision as soon as I try to focus on it. Love that shows up even, and maybe especially, when I least deserve it. Pain that gives way to something good.

It is cold. I am tired. And I am getting out of bed, turning on the Christmas tree lights and moving because God keeps whispering that I need to. I will not make it there every day, but it is enough that I do so gently when I can. I am tracking less time on screens and more time outside. There is a path of grace between planning to fix everything that is “wrong” with me and declaring myself a lost cause.

Here, in the break between snow storms, there is a lot of clarity under the rainbow sundogs that frame the sun whenever it appears. Grace doesn’t measure me – it moves me. Slowly, I am finding a deeper sense of myself that is not falling short but falling into a rhythm of life.

When all the things I “should” do start to overwhelm me, I listen to the sound of the hoar frost. Grace shows up when the whispered invitation meets my capacity to respond, however small and slow. Resolve is giving way to gentleness. Maybe this is what I love so much about my elders?

May this year bring me closer to the movement of the one who sends the snow. May I see the beauty in the fresh snow and the invitations God whispers. And may I remember that a gentle response is a profound participation in grace.

Presence: the art of being where I am

Presence: the art of being where I am

On the other side of grief, of leaving the broken, of destruction is recovering, healing, and growing something new. And one of the practices that carries through both seasons is presence. Just plain showing up for what is and who I am today is both difficult and courageous.

Writing the story of a life

Writing the story of a life

In writing the story of my life, however, I live through a lot of moments that won’t make the cut in the highlights or the bloopers. Our world is currently obsessed with capturing the moments and sharing them, but there is so much (and maybe more) value in the things that happen between photographs and bonfires.

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Even while we hold our own and the world’s pain, we can practice resurrection. We can take a walk and delight in the signs of spring. We can count the buds forming on trees, the flowers breaking through cold earth. We can set our prayers for the suffering in the arms of God for an hour and let ourselves laugh till our sides ache.

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

After a major trauma, it has been my experience that human capacity for intentional progress on goals is diminished. My therapists reminded me constantly that healing is rarely linear, and though we participate in it, we respond to life in healing ways rather than direct our own healing. I dislike this. And still, I have found it to be true. Healing is a flow of grace that comes from beyond me.

Less – and the Mess in my Heart

Less – and the Mess in my Heart

Owning less has been a necessity and a goal as we downsized our home with our last move. And last fall, I took up the Wool& Challenge to wear the same dress for 100 days in a row. I was intrigued (as a knitter) by the prospect of wearing wool, exhausted by the choices in my closet every morning, and challenged by the impact fashion has on the environment.

Embracing complexity to find a simple peace

Embracing complexity to find a simple peace

Complexity is piling up like snowbanks on my lawn. We just get one wet snowfall shoveled in time for the next one to blow into a bank around the door. The piles started out neatly enough. But it is late winter now and the ice threatens to freeze my heart along with the missing mittens. The chaos and division desperately need some spring.

On Being Barefoot…

Before the burning bush, God asks Moses to take off his sandals, to notice and reverence that he walks on holy land. This holy land continues to burn before me, before us, signaling God’s presence before we arrived rather than because we did. This life we are living was holy before we existed in it. This land and creation we call home is the first book of revelation, God’s love letter to us, bearing witness to the Creator of it all.Our lives and the moments that make them up are the stuff of sainthood, our invitations to participate in Divine life to be swallowed up and fulfilled by God. At the grocery store, in the false solitude of our cars and commutes, in our laundry rooms, and over text messages. My shoes run the risk of “protecting” me from the sacredness of this naked moment. And how I love shoes, and how my sensitive toes resist the prickles of grass and the mess of sand. But barefoot is how my spirituality works, daring to live an embodied and earthy love of Jesus who took on flesh. I’m wandering through this life, yearning to let go of my shoes, to walk reverently and with deep attention to what passes under my feet and to what isn’t yet my path. Barefoot is how I write, how I speak, how I work. Experience shored up against an insatiable thirst for knowledge; direct honesty honed by sensitivity; and vulnerability chained to a commitment to competency. And an unapologetically barefoot tendency to speak it as I feel it, which leads me to…

…and Preaching

I’m a preacher without a pulpit, with words that burn until they are spoken ~ aloud or on a page.

My ministry is one of colliding words and ideas, reaching out to find a connection with God’s amazing people.

The world seems to me to be spilling over with grace and we seem to be people who, all too quickly forget that all of this is pure gift.

When I’m driving, eating, visiting, resting, cleaning, working, playing, and almost everything else, I’m frequently stunned by the pure miracle of what simply is.

It’s not all promised joy and ease, but it is all presenced and remembered by the One who gives it. And I can’t stop talking about it, proclaiming it, preaching this good news that we have not been forgotten or forsaken in any moment of this life.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, my words seem to be given to encourage and inspire. In a world where women and girls are still too-often silenced or secondary, I’m barefoot and preaching because my soul won’t rest any other way. If my words can be a gift to you, then that is a gift for me.

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