Monday, June 10, 2019
Our family is setting out on a vacation this week...so Grace Traces will take a break too from my regularly scheduled programming of posts.
Some suggestions of what to do with the time you would otherwise spend reading my random thoughts:
1. Watch videos on YouTube...there are 300 hours of videos uploaded every minute. In the time that it took you to read this far in the post. 300 hours. Suddenly I feel so behind!
2. Talk to a family member or friend.
3. Learn to balance rocks and re-create the photo above in your front lawn.
4. Go for a walk...unless you are in Florida and it is the afternoon in which case I highly suggest you wait until evening as it is probably hot out there or raining or both.
5. Talk to your favorite fictional character ~ this was the number 1 response when I googled, "Things to do when you are alone."
Feel free to add to the list with your own insightful and beautiful ideas.
May traces of God's grace be woven into every moment of your life...and I look forward to re-joining this blog with regularly scheduled posts in a few weeks.
Grace and peace be with you ~~
Friday, June 7, 2019
Clouds sailing across the sky like a boat across the bright blue sea.
Clouds that are shapes and can awaken our imagination.
Clouds that invite us back to child-like wonder.
In these three clouds I see:
A frog or maybe a kind of lizard (top)
A dog/raccoon/cow on its back (middle)
A skinny shark swimming in the sea (bottom)
But the great part of this is...it doesn't matter what I see.
Or whether you see what I see.
Or whether we would agree that clearly the dog/raccoon/cow combination in the middle is chasing a feather.
Yet, so often when we see something we are adamant and insistent you must see the same way. That is the cultural waters in which we all swim today. But I wonder how often we really persuade people to "our side". So often we end up "agreeing to disagree"...which while it is a catchy cliche, it just means that you stay safe in your camp and I stay in mine...and we refuse to talk about that topic any more.
We have lost the art of discussion.
We have lost the art of see the beauty of diversity, in school of thought.
And you might be thinking, "Well, I am still open minded, it is those people who are not!"
I fully realize that people's actions and words wound us ~ physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I fully realize that you might say, "But it is a leap between talking about clouds and issues of race or gender or orientation!" You would be right. But maybe part of what we have lost is the ability to talk about creative matters where there is space to roam/express insights or ideas and focus only on the weightier parts of life.
I fully realize that it feels safer to be with people who agree with us. Only if we start honestly to go beneath the surface, we might discover just how much difference there is.
Suddenly, we start saying that anyone who sees a frog or lizard in the clouds above doesn't know what he or she is talking about. So we try to find people who agree with us that clearly it is mouse or house or side profile of your mother-in-law.
When I start to hear why you see what you see, you put a frame ~ give me a glimpse ~ into your life. When I listen to your explanation, you are sharing the you that you might often hide.
While this may not heal the world immediately, it may just help us start to form a foundation upon which we might build a relationship...where the traces of God's grace can move in our midst.
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
What do you see inside this frame?
You could go logical and say, "I see a walk way."
You could hypothesize that perhaps this walk way is a bridge, which would be rational and reasonable given that there are railings that would prevent falling.
You could go metaphorical and say, "I see an insight into life as being a journey where we only get to see so far down the road. We cannot know everything, just a bit down the road.
You could focus instead on the greenery growing around, reaching up above.
Or the leaves reaching down from above.
It is almost as if the trees and plants are trying to form another kind of bridge next to the human constructed one.
We could focus on the planks that make up the bridge as a metaphor of each day of this week...how one-by-one they start to form/fashion a path.
We could focus on the railings and ask, what helps keep us safe? OR what hems us in making us feeling confined? OR what boundaries do we push up against along life's path?
We could look down the path to the small parts of shade as oasis, moments to rest from the journey ~ the invitation of Sabbath time.
The power of putting frames around life is that it helps us explore what we might otherwise gloss or glance over.
The above photo was taken on the same walk as the trees from two days ago. It was taken at the turn around of a nature path. I knelt down to try a different angle so you would be looking right down the path. Behind me is an observation place, but all you could observe were trees...a few bugs. But when I turned around I was taken by this visual prayer.
What we see. But too often in the blurry speed of life we would miss this. We would arrive at the end of the walk way turn around as if, "Nothing to see here." To slow down long enough that we might get a glimpse or a trace of grace.
May your vision be cleared and opened to God's movement in your midst this week.
Monday, June 3, 2019
The other day I road my bicycle to a nearby park. As I wandered around surveying the various shades of green that where on display, I ducked under this group of trees for a bit of shade from the sun. When I glanced up, the above photo is what I saw.
The Psalmist proclaims ~ "I lift mine eyes to the hills".
Now in the place I call home there are not that many hills around me to lift mine eyes toward...but there are these trees.
Towering above my head.
There are so many fascinating truths about trees. Consider that what you see above your head is only part of the vast root system growing unseen beneath your feet in the soil. Consider that the roots usually extend at least as wide as the branches. Consider that trees communicate to each other...not only those close by but some distance away.
I lift mine eyes and it is not only what is seen...but what is unseen that invites me into the holy mystery of this day God has made.
This is the power of putting a frame around a moment. It can help focus us in the vastness of life. We can begin to explore the depth and dive deep, rather than skim the surface. And when we begin to expand the frame to include more and more, we can continue such a prayer practice.
But sometimes when you try to put a frame around something...this happens:
Not every frame is perfect. I tried to capture this flower...only to have the wind whip right at the time I snapped the photo. Sending the branch from the center to the fringe.
Yet...the flowers on the tree are still there.
But present...just off to the side...not exactly as I had planned.
This seems a lot like faith.
This seems a lot like life.
Where I believe the traces of God's grace are all around us...if we pause long enough to sense the ways the world is saturated with the sacred.
Friday, May 31, 2019
As we have been prayerfully pondering our own understandings of success...what is roaming and rummaging around my mind is a wonderful prayer by Thomas Merton.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I, especially, love that second line... "I have no idea where I am going"...
Yup. That seems like a daily truth for me.
I don't always see clearly...I stumble and bumble...fall flat on my face. I get turned around and confused.
Then, I love that line that in the midst of the confounding and confusing...that the desire to please God DOES please God.
Imagine God delighting in the orientation of our hearts toward God and the good of others/world. Not because we arrived at some predetermined destination of success.
Not because we have proven ourselves and God awards us with a certificate.
Not because we deserve or earn God's graceful/loving presence.
But because that is who God is.
And who we are in our deepest sense. That is the desire, to connect with the part of ourselves that is kept hidden because the world is too wild, harsh, and hard to let that vulnerability be exposed to the raw elements.
I invite you to hold this prayer this weekend.
Let it simmer in your soul.
Let the words sit on your tongue ~ to determine/distinguish the taste of each.
Let the truths sink down and see how they sit within you...do they awaken joy or confusion or indifference?
How might this prayer speak to and sing out about the question, what is success, that has been guiding us all week long?
I pray that as we dive together into these waters...there will be more than a trace of grace that buoys us and helps us float in God's presence.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8
We have been letting the question, what is success, stir and swirl and sit within us.
I pray there have been moments of honesty...heartfelt shining of a light on your life.
I pray there has been a gentleness not to get caught in the dualistic thinking of either/or. For example, either pursuing a degree is absolutely right or wrong!!
Again, I am grateful for my education...the experiences...the moments that formed and fashioned me. And I also realize there is more than book knowledge and arranging my mental furniture or passing a test that matter in this world.
I love this third chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians. A quick note here: any of Paul's letters were not written to us...yet we might still find something for us in these words.
Paul starts off chapter 3 by talking about his accomplishments. His wonderful history and heritage. How he was circumcised on the 8th day...ouch...and I bet he really doesn't remember that ~ nor would he want to.
How he was part of the tribe of Benjamin...which was the "cool" tribe...like people who can trace their ancestors back to Pilgrims on the Mayflower. I think my ancestors came over smuggled on a cargo ship escaping England.
How he was a Pharisee...he had the right degree and pedigree.
How he persecuted the church...which maybe he did not want to bring that up to people who he would have persecuted. It is like talking to a cow about a delicious hamburger only now you are a vegetarian...you think.
Give that last line a second...I think eventually it might be funny. Or if not, we can move on.
But then Paul turns on a dime in verse 7 and says...well that was all hogwash. It was all like putting lipstick on a pig.
That is Iowan speak for rubbish.
Yet...I would also want to say/suggest to Paul that who he was made him who he is!
We cannot rewind time or redo the past or take a mulligan on a mistake.
But maybe...in some cases...we wouldn't want to either.
I fully realize there are painful past moments we would not wish on our worst enemy. Or were caused by our worst enemy!
But there are also moment that through the difficulty I grew. Through the pain I found new empathy that I didn't have before. Through processing the pain I arrived at a way of being that would not have been the same if the road had been smooth sailing alongside a chocolate river.
How can we hold onto who we were and how that shaped who we are...letting that shine a light on our understanding of success?
I pray if we do this...there would be more than a trace of God's grace in our lives in that moment.
Monday, May 27, 2019
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain -Christ Philippians 3:7-8
It is graduation season...which means there is a fresh crop of well-meaning, advice-giving, platitude offering speechifying going on right now. It means that people are trying to both congratulate and motivate...and having sat there in a rented gown a couple of times...I not sure I remember most of what people were trying to impart to me. Perhaps that was because often it is so warm in those graduation gowns...you fan yourself with your program, maybe the air current causes the words to go in one ear and out the other. Or maybe by that point, it is such a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, you worked hard for that piece of paper you are about to get...on the other, you are about to leave the familiar rhythm of high school or college. There are so many emotions swirling and stirring at that moment. It can also be this awkward moment of sitting next to someone you didn't really get to know over four or three or two years...and your friends are two rows back because they had the audacity to go and have their last names begin with "M"...while you are stuck making small talk with someone you probably will not see again.
Which brings me to a great question from Denise Pope, what is success?
I grew up thinking success was that educational goal.
I grew up given a script that success meant getting a good job.
I grew up believing that 'the good life' was about a house and providing for my family.
Don't get me wrong...those are all good things. I am just not sure that is success. I value my education, but in the end it also made me realize how much I did not know and how learning was going to be continual. I love my job, but that isn't all of who I am or long to be. I am grateful for the roof over my head and the food on the table.
But I don't know if that is really what success is all about.
Denise Pope asks people this question, she reports that youth will talk about much of what I just did. Job. Money. Prestige, even power or position.
Their parents talk about success as being good people, caring about others, and being content/joyful in life.
There was very classes on those subjects in school.
There are very few good models of that in the world today.
What we read online and in the paper...what we see in so many leaders today is more of the insatiable desire for more...to continually define the world by winners or losers.
Which is it?
It could be both...but that also makes it really tough to plan the day!
Do I keep reading or enjoy the sunny day splashing in the pool?
Do I put in more hours at work or just sit and breathe?
And yes, while I want to do both...sometimes the to-do list is just too long and we need to make choices.
Will you sit with me on this wonderfully insightful question, what is success?
And may there be a trace of God's grace stirring within us as we try to lean into and live out that question.