Friday, April 30, 2010

when the good is the enemy of the best

ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there are seasons in life. different priorities occupy us at different times; different things are important in different phases.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace" (ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

(the byrds, anyone? turn, turn, turn...yeah.)


but what are we to do about those times when what we're called to do--whether it is to mourn or to tear or to give up--is just exactly what we feel sure we cannot bring ourselves to do? certainly, there are times when we have no choice: there was no question whether i would mourn the loss of eliza or zeph, as i had no power to make that decision. but what about when a choice itself, one over which we do have power, promises to lead to tearing or killing or war or searching in ways that we feel certain we cannot bear?

and what of the voices that say, it can't really be what you're called to do if it's so painful! God can't expect you to do that! ? what of the voices that say, trust your gut! or this can't be a bad thing!? what of the voices that say, don't worry about all those other voices; this is good!?

voltaire is credited with having said, "the best is the enemy of the good." but you've probably equally often heard it said that the good is the enemy of the best. the question of the day--of the year, of my life--is how to discern what is best. there is a lot of good to be had, a lot of good to be done. but can it be true that there are times when pursuing something that is good may in fact be to the detriment of what is best?

i have watched (and coveted in the watching, okay, i'll admit it) my neighbor cultivate a beautiful lawn over the past couple of years. in order to do it, though, in order to acheive the best lawn he could, he did not start by planting. he started by uprooting, by killing. you see, he had a yard full of things that were not the best, like crabgrass and weeds and dandelions and clover. (since i still have just those things, i'm going to label them "good" or at least "good enough"; otherwise, i might be driven to even more covetousness.) he used tools and chemicals and lots of elbow grease to kill and uproot what was good in order to plant what was best. and in the process, there was dryness and sparsity and death. (okay, i know; it's just a lawn. but it was brown and dead-looking and stuff. hang with me.) but after he had killed the good, he was able to cultivate the best. as a result, he has a lush, green lawn with beautiful grass and very little else. there was, in the rescue of his yard, a time to kill and uproot before there was a time to plant and build. the good(enough) had to be eradicated in favor of the best.

but that's a lawn. what does that look like in a life? what does it look like to choose to kill what is good--to uproot what is familiar and okay and good enough--in favor of what is best?

and how can we be sure what is best?

there's the rub that's rubbing me, if i'm honest. if we always knew what was best--like my neighbor, who knew full well that a carpet of real grass was absolutely far superior to the assorted stuff he was replacing--we would not have so much trouble eliminating what is good in favor of it. he had no qualms about dousing those weeds with poison, even though it meant he'd have a season of brown in his yard, in anticipation of growing something far better. but it's not always as clear as uprooting and planting, so how do we know what is best to pursue? how do we know what to tear in order to mend? what to keep and what to throw away? when to be silent and when to speak? and where do we find the courage to know when to search and when to give up?

i'm still pursuing that one Voice over and above all the rest. but it can be so hard to drown out the many voices, not the least of which live in my head, in favor of the One i must pursue. i need quiet and patience and rest to really listen, all the things i have learned to avoid so well. the more i fill my time with people and places and voices the more i kill the stillness i cannot afford to lose. is it fear? sometimes i think it is. do i really want to listen well enough to hear what may be a call to mourn or tear down? is it not easier to wrestle with the voices i can locate with a simple phone call or email or sleepless night of writing than to wait--and wait and wait--on a Voice i am told only to wait for?

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.'
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper" (1Kings 19:11-13).

i have been brought back again and again to these verses. Lord, please silence the wind and the earthquake and the fire; may they be still and quiet so that i may listen for the whisper, for the call to what is best.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

words i love

"Bunny ran up to the house, thumb and forefinger pinched together.
'Aunt, the sky is the biggest thing in the world. Guess what's the littlest?'
'I don't know, my dear. What?'
'This.' And extended her finger to show a minute grain of sand.
'I want to see.' Sunshine charged up and the particle of sand was lost in a hurricane of breath.
'No, no, no,' said the aunt, seizing Bunny's balled fist. 'There's more without number. There's enough sand for everybody.'" --from The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx

(yes, still the same book. i'm reading very slowly these days.)

"How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand." --Psalm 139:17-18

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

hearing voices, or it just so happens

i have been listening to lots of voices lately. and i've had a song stuck in my head.

(these two things will come together--i promise--if you'll stick with me for a minute. have i ever failed to deliver on these promises?)

i have found myself seeking the right voice to speak into a specific situation in my life recently. two roads are diverging in a wood, so to speak, and i...well, i keep thinking if i can just talk to the right person about it--someone familiar with the metaphorical roads, someone who has been in the same metaphorical wood, someone who knows me and knows what's best for me (in a decidedly non-metaphorical way)--i'll be able to figure out which road to take. it's a delicate thing, and not something i can share in a lot of detail right now. but suffice it to say, it's been weighing on me. there are so many good people to ask, so many good voices to seek, so many wise pieces of advice to be gleaned! and inasmuch as i have been able to, i just keep looking for the right voice.

i spent this morning with a friend whom i trust implicitly to speak into my life. i poured my story out to her, asking her for something, i don't know what: advice? support? wisdom? i wasn't sure. what i knew she'd give me was love and prayer.

it just so happened (if you believe that things just so happen) that we were walking in the woods as i told her my story. and it just so happened that we had taken some time to sit down on a bridge over a little creek. and as she prayed for me, she prayed that Jesus would take my hand in this process as i make these decisions. it just so happened.

as for the song that's been stuck in my head, that was trickling through my thoughts even as i listened to the creek trickling underneath us as she prayed (which was, by the way, not in her head at all, as she'd never even heard it, which i know because of course i asked her later)--well, i can never seem to remember the words to the verses, so it's the chorus (in italics below) that has been the "coincidental" (if you believe things just so happen, of course) soundtrack to my weeks recently:

to the river i am going,
bringing sins i cannot bear.
come and cleanse me, come forgive me.
Lord, i need to meet you there.

in these waters healing mercy
flows with freedom from despair.
i am going to that river,
Lord, i need to meet you there.

precious Jesus, i am ready to surrender every care.
take my hand now, lead me closer,
Lord, i need to meet you there.

come and join us in the river.
come find life beyond compare.
He is calling, He is waiting.
Jesus longs to meet you there.

(listen here, if you're curious)

it just so happens sometimes. surrendering cares at the river with Jesus holding my hand sounds pretty good. i'm glad for the reminder of the Voice i ought to be seeking among all the others, the Wisdom i ought to be after. and i'm especially glad for the promise that He'll meet me there, wherever there happens to be.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

the secret life...

if you know me, you know i love the wral azalea gardens. i made what has become my annual pilgrimage there today, just my camera and me. it was, as usual, a weighty delight.
(more here on the weighty part, if you're curious.)

as for the secret life promised in the title...

...of pistils and stamens (yes, i pay attention to my daily kindergarten recaps)...

...of birds (who mostly succeeded in remaining secretive)...

...of bees (of course--surely you anticipated this book reference, no?)...

...of trees.

having not grown up with them, i'm not sure i'll ever be unsurpised by the beauty of azaleas. the pure, overwhelming display of beauty...i like to think of them as a gift from God, delivered with a little smile: "you have no idea what I can do. here's just a glimpse of Glory, a hint. you have no idea."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

the world of transportation

i'm sitting in the church nursery (yes, there's a reason, and no, it's not important) and thinking about cars. (no, not the plastic ones with which i'm surrounded. the real ones. i know, i know: just hang on and keep reading.)

as i walked out of work the other day, en route to the carpool line at luke's school, i was struck by what i saw in the parking lot. leaving the building, i was faced by a row of silver and gold (oddly enough, perfectly alternating, which is probably why it struck me) compact cars. the pattern was only interrupted by my big blue minivan, which stuck out like a sore thumb. i had only ten minutes and a few miles to go before my big blue minivan would be just one of many big blue (or silver or gray or red or black) minivans. but here in this office parking lot, i was far and away the only one. or should i say my van was far and away the only one? no, it was i who was the only one.

what i got to thinking about was how obvious it is sometimes what world we inhabit. for those whose primary place in the world is work, like most--if not all--of my marketing colleagues, a silver or gold compact car is the tool for the the to-and-fro. but just a few miles away were the people who drive the same tool i do, filled, just like mine, with car seats and scooters and soccer balls and picture books, not to mention a healthy assortment of empty juice boxes and granola bar wrappers and fast food napkins (gasp! never!) as well.

add to that the fact that i sit in the church nursery right now, blogging and answering emails. it gets a girl thinking about her place is all.

what am i doing driving a minivan full of mommy debris to work? dragging editing work around in my carpool-mobile? am i trying to live two separate lives at once? and as for the netbook in the church nursery?

i have prematurely (and hopefully not permanently) graduated from the absorbed-by-minivan phase of life to the drives-a-compact-car phase. i don't have any kids at home to keep me in touch with the playgroup set, but i'm also not yet ready to jump into the now-that-all-my-kids-are-in-school world. my friends are either absorbed by potty training and sleepless nights or kids learning to drive and heading off to college. i am neither.

which is just one more way i inhabit a space that is very sparsely populated.

even as my friends cannot, in many significant ways, meet me in my grief, solely (and thankfully) for not having experienced it themselves, so they cannot meet me in my compact-car-versus-minivan conundrum. they live in one world or the other, not somewhere in between like i do. grief can be isolating, the books tell you. but no one mentioned the loneliness of an empty minivan or the conspicuousness of not driving a four-door.

music and Creation, in which i struggle to decide what to capitalize (if you must know)

have you ever watched a musician perform? i mean really watched?

i had the privilege to take part in a benefit concert and art auction put on by our church last weekend in support of our sister parish partnership with st. paul's church in butare, rwanda. many remarkably talented musicians performed, artists contributed their work, and behind-the-scenes volunteers worked endless hours to make it happen. the experience was striking for so many reasons, some of which will have to wait for another post, maybe. but what i couldn't help writing about on a scrap of paper i found in my choir notebook even as i sat and watched a trio of friends perform was the beauty of the act of creation.

sure, playing an instrument involves a fair amount of body involvement--fingers for the piano keys, feet for the harp pedals, hands for the flute. but have you ever watched a harpist's shoulders? a pianist's jaw? a floutist's eyes? as i watched my friends perform, i was startled by the full-body nature of creation. each musician's whole being was consumed by the beauty s/he was creating. which made me think about Creation (with a capital C): what did it look like for God to pour His entire Self into Creation?

and then, as i watched this trio some more, i got to thinking about the Trinity, too. because as i watched, i wondered who was leading. at times, i could see the harpist and pianist looking to the floutist's nod or foot-tap to help keep tempo. but at other times, the floutist and harpist waited on a flash of the eyes from the pianist; and sometimes, the harpist signalled almost imperceptibly that the pianist and floutist should slow down. and always the three communicated: a smile, a nod, a glance. had they not kept perfectly in touch with each other, the beauty would have been incomplete, the creation imperfect.

which must be how it was with the Trinity at the time of Creation. the Godhead Three-in-One. what an amazing picture. now i was not only trying to imagine God pouring His whole Self into Creation; now i was trying to imagine all three Persons of the Trinity pouring Themselves into each Other and into what They were creating. i'll confess that the shack flashed through my mind once or twice, william p. young's intriguing but unsatisfying stab at a portrayal of the Trinity. (don't get me wrong: there's definitely some good stuff in there. but it's not quite it.) and as i watched these imperfect humans create stunningly beautiful but imperfect music, my breath was quite literally taken away by the thought of the Perfect God--the Perfect Trinity--creating something in His--Their--own image. what beautiful music it must have made, the music of the spheres.

a promise

i've got blogposts in my head. just no time to get them out. they're coming; will you accept this picture as a promise and not abandon my blog just yet?


Saturday, April 10, 2010


"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday."
--Pearl S. Buck

homecoming. four years ago yesterday:

Monday, April 5, 2010

words i love

(i think i need to start a regular series of posts of favorite quotations from things i'm reading. this will be the first official installment, then.)

"After six months of copy desk fixes Quoyle didn't recognize news, had no aptitude for detail. He was afraid of all but twelve or fifteen verbs. Had a fatal flair for the false passive. 'Governor Murchie was handed a bouquet by first grader Kimberley Plud,' he wrote and Edna, the crusty rewrite woman, stood up and bellowed at Quoyle, 'You lobotomized moron. How the hell can you hand a governor?' Quoyle another sample of the semi-illiterates who practiced journalism nowadays. Line them up against the wall!" --from The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx

(i'm afraid i might be the "crusty rewrite woman" of my department at work. maybe i'll have to try the "lobotomized moron" line on a particularly bad day...)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

repost: come home

(i wrote this last year on holy saturday, and since i don't have anything new to say this year, i thought i'd post it again in case you didn't read it before.)

mama, i just found something that used to belong to eliza, and it makes me think about her a lot. and it makes me feel sad. it makes me think, "come home."

it's Easter Saturday, that weird, i-don't-know-what-to-do-with-it day in between Eli, Eli and He is risen. yesterday, we erected our wooden cross in the backyard; buried luke's Lambie, wrapped in a towel, in a cardboard box tomb; rolled a backyard stone in front of the box's opening. luke was sad to leave Lambie out there all by herself all night. it rained and stormed; i, too, wanted to bring her in. or at least check that she wasn't getting wet. sam went out and wrapped her in a plastic bag, just to be safe.

there's someone else i'd like to bring in from the wet dirt, too.

what did the disciples do on Easter Saturday? we can dye eggs, hunt treats, and prepare for tomorrow--He is risen, Hallelujah!--because we know tomorrow comes. all the disciples knew that saturday was that their friend, the one they thought was The One, was alone in the tomb. dead. gone. on Good Friday, we reenact the Passion, reenact the horror and absolute evil of the crucifixion; on Easter Sunday, we reenact the rejoicing and celebration and blissful surprise of the resurrection. what do we do with In-Between Saturday?

i'm usually in too much of a rush to get to sunday to worry too much about my theology of saturday. prepare the treats, cook and bake for a big dinner, dye eggs...friday's over, after all (whew), and sunday's coming. i can safely use saturday to get all the preparation for sunday done (because there's no church today, whew again), so sunday i can rest and rejoice.

but i'm hung up on saturday this year. i'm living in the already and not-yet. every day is In-Between Saturday. eliza is in the tomb, dead, gone, and i can't wrap her up to protect her from the storm. she doesn't need protection from the storm, after all, because we're not going to bring her back inside tomorrow, back to snuggling in bed with us, like luke will with Lambie. here's the thing: it's not friday anymore for eliza, but it's not sunday yet for me. her suffering is over; she's already in the already. and i'm stuck in the not-quite-yet.

but what if i use this In-Between Saturday to prepare for Easter Sunday? that is, how do i prepare for the feast, the rejoicing and celebration and blissful surprise to which eliza has gone ahead of me? the disciples mourned; they didn't know that sunday was coming. i know. i know.

i'd like to think eliza and luke might be sharing the very same thought today: Come Home. so i'm going to get ready. i'm going to clean house and tidy up and prepare for the feast. The Feast. Matthew 8:11 says that "many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." praise God.

i'm using my saturday to get ready.

Friday, April 2, 2010

jumping the gun

yup, my blog's got an easter look. and yes, i do know that it's only 9:40 on good friday night. but i don't plan to be around here much the next couple of days, so i got a head start. and anyhow, i am--as always--in a rush to get to sunday. He is risen, indeed. alleluia!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


at our maundy thursday footwashing service tonight, our rector began his sermon by encouraging us to consider what we would do with our time if we knew, as Jesus did that thursday night, that it was to be our last on earth. with whom would we share our last meal? who would receive our last phone calls or emails? what would our last facebook status update be? (luke turned to me at this point and repeated the question to me directly. oh dear. time for a facebook hiatus, i wonder?) our rector also raised the question of what would be left undone: work incomplete, relationships undeveloped, plans left behind.

(what would my last blogpost be? i have no idea. but you can bet i was thinking about it.)

what the sermon did get me thinking about, though, was how eliza spent her last night. (disclaimer here: this was not at all what the sermon was about. sorry, dear rector. i did get the message, and it was a really good one. but i was thinking about this, too. and it's my blog, so...) it was a thursday, eliza's last night was, and although we didn't know it would be her last, we knew she didn't have many more ahead of her. and so, after luke went to bed that night, friends surrounded us and prayed. lots of friends visited eliza upstairs, where she labored through each breath in her heavily sedated sleep. i don't remember thinking it would be the last time these friends would see her, but i know now that many of them did realize it would be.

my house was not clean; my bedroom in which eliza slept was filled with visitors who no doubt had to step around piles of unwashed laundry just to get to her crib. i remember sitting on the end of my unmade bed explaining eliza's medical situation to people i could never have imagined inviting into my mess that way. i'm pretty sure i never even offered anyone anything to drink, and my guess is my kitchen was filled with dirty dishes. luke's toys almost certainly remained strewn around the living room.

but on that last night of her life, eliza was surrounded by people who loved her. sam and luke and eliza and i were all drenched in love and prayers, both from those around us in our home and those who couldn't be there but joined in our vigil from all over the world. as for what eliza was leaving undone--what was left undone all around her--it didn't matter. what was certain and true and good and important was Love. and that's all. i'm pretty sure i know how i'd answer my rector's question, then, because i'm pretty sure i experienced it that night. but for family and friends who couldn't physically be there--a regrettable and unfortunate consequence of distance and of the rapid nature of her decline--i think that eliza's last night had just about everything important in order. i'm not sure i could ask for more. and i am so grateful for that.