Wednesday, June 15, 2011

the llama won't stop dancing.

i have been hanging out with a lot of children these days. yesterday i took a few moments simply to acknowledge the fact that i was getting paid to pick strawberries on a beautiful cool day, to make grilled cheese sandwiches, go to the library, spend way too long feeding goats at a petting zoo, and play at a park. today i got paid to hide in a closet with a seven year old and tell "ghost stories" in only the glow of a flashlight (my stories weren't so scary on account of i hate scary stories. and by closet i mean a wooden box about 2 feet deep and 3 feet long - my neck hurt. i thought they might have to cut me out of there, haha)

aside from my family, this summer i will probably be spending more time with children than anyone else. the three kids i babysit are champs. they're adventurous and silly and for that i am so thankful. (granted, yes. they drive me crazy sometimes, they fight and disagree and whine - but who doesn't? i have a lot to learn from them.)

so yesterday we found ourselves at Longs Park on the big wooden playground. we played tag for a bit but that turned out to be a terribly huge task. after a lot of running and not much success in tagging the correct children, i recommended that we play hide and seek. not the regular hide and seek however, i told them about the hide and seek we used to play when i was little - the kind where you hide, but then you all try to return to starting base without being seen. it's hide and seek with a curve ball, it gives a little more purpose and challenge to a game that can sometimes get lonely. (i mean really, who thoroughly enjoys hiding in the same dark, tight space waiting to be found? i don't. i get bored. i'm always that kid who switches hiding places and is then accused of cheating, lame.) after explaining the game they agreed that it sounded fun enough to try, so try we did. i counted first. after spotting everyone fairly quickly (hiding spots always get better as the game progresses) it was my turn to hide. like an excited child i searched for the perfect spot. when the counting stopped and the seeking began, i slowly began creeping back towards base, forgetting however - that i am taller and easier to spot than i used to be. (especially in a wooden playground with so many children who fit so perfectly into the cracks and crevasses.) the first time kelsea spotted me easily  - she saw my blue shoes sticking out. even though my head was hidden, i forgot about the rest of me. in the attempts that followed i was continually struggling to fit my 20 year old self into 5 year old hiding places. as i attempted to hide behind small wooden poles i forgot that my shoulders are broader, my hips wider than when i was five. i crawled and scampered as low as possible, but always peaked my head up at the wrong time. confidently i stepped into the game, feeling the familiarity of playing it years before rush over me - and shamefully i walked back to base each time i was found. not once did i make it back to base without being seen.

not only have i stepped into a game of hide and seek with far too much confidence, i have also stepped into the familiar circles of home with too much as well. the familiarity of home always presents a challenge to my heart's desire to seek God's guidance. this place is known to me; the roads i drive are the same, the room i sleep in is still cold and dark, and the people i love are still here. i know how to live here, i know how to go from this to that and back again. i know how to handle myself and get through a day, or at least that is the foolishness i buy into. like my confident footsteps to the perfect hiding spot, i easily buy into thinking that i can live these days on my own. i quickly forget that i am different, that i do not fit easily into the crevasses and cracks that i once filled in this place - my role has shifted and i do not quite know what that is anymore. i have grown and changed. not only this, but i tend to forget who gives me breath. i forget who made this whole game up to begin with. so i trudge through my days on my own strength, i step out with confidence and shamefully hang my head each time my strategy does not quite work. (why this continues to surprise me, i know not.) 

it is always hardest to follow God in the most ordinary of settings, to seek his face and his truth when you are pretty sure you know how to live well where you are all on your own. it's hard to ask him where the best hiding place is when you know the playground like the back of your hand. i believe it's important to step outside of our comfort zones into territory when we have no option but to trust God, but perhaps it is harder to force ourselves to trust and seek him in the most comfortable of settings. this is the tension i find myself in these days. 

but even the familiar is full of surprises, and God reminds me that i do not know this place as well as i think - a lot of times the lens through which i look is the problem. afterall, kelsea saw a llama doing ballet moves when i just saw a llama scratching its foot. 

God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed.
As roses, up from ground. 
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

practicing the presence.

it's funny how quickly we forget things that we promise ourselves to always remember. it's funny how we can be so convicted by something, and then stumble into the very same mistake the next day. it's frustrating, troubling, and funny being a human with a spirit so willing and a flesh so weak.

since returning home i have found myself doing very different tasks than what i have been accustomed to for the past nine months. and although when i was at school writing papers and studying for tests i could not wait to get home and do "manual labor" as opposed to studying, now that it's here - i kind of miss the paper writing. maybe it's the heat combined with the humidity combined with a restless heart that wants to do whatever it pleases but i have been wrestling with discontentment and so far this week, i'm losing. it's a painful fight.

this week my mornings and late afternoons have been filled with weeding, raking, mowing, leaf blowing, etc. and although it is true that in the spring i raved about this work and how much i enjoy seeing such tangible results, this week i have been swallowing my words and they are not going down easy. it's hot and most days i don't want to do it. yesterday as i was walking up and down the driveway picking up sticks (SO many sticks.) my mind wandered to everyone who has a job in air conditioning, my mind started circling in familiar patterns of envy and pessimism. as soon as i started dwelling in the cycle of cynics however, God brought to mind something i poured myself over in the spring. a small little collection of letters and conversations by Brother Lawrence, a monk who washed dishes for a living and spent his life practicing the presence of God. he disciplined himself to see even the most menial and seemingly unimportant tasks as acts of love and devotion to God. he trained himself to live constantly in God's presence.

"We need only recognize God intimately present with us and address ourselves to Him every moment. We need to beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful and for rightly performing those things which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving God thanks when we have completed them...Our sanctification did not depend on changing our works. Instead it depended on doing things for God's sake which we commonly do for our own...We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed." 

as i continued to pick up sticks and occasionally wipe the sweat from my brow, i tried really hard to find some great metaphor for what i was doing. 

i failed. no metaphor came to mind. no poetry or story or lighthearted revelation. it was just me and the sticks and a tractor panting on the driveway. 

but sometimes we just have to pick up sticks because we love God and we know that he is present with us always. sometimes God provides blessings wrapped up in boxes that we do not recognize and we do not particularly want to open, but we must. and we mustn't pretend to be grateful for those boxes like we pretend to smile when we open a really ugly sweater from our great grandmother. we must truly really sincerely and genuinely be thankful for that which God provides us with, knowing that all we have is a gift. all, everything, every single thing i have is given to me. and he knows us better than we know ourselves, he knows what we need - which means no room remains to complain. and yes, i suppose that even picking up sticks and getting poison ivy and hoping the groundhog that lives under the playhouse doesn't bite you can be a gift. because all of these things are signs that God is providing for me in ways that i could not have imagined. 

so i'm learning again what it means to practice God's presence. to every moment practice being in the presence of God, to do all things out of love for him, to do all things for him. i'm praying for mercy and trying to discipline myself in gratitude, attempting to be thankful for that which is far easier to complain about. like the parable of the talents, i want to be faithful to that which has been given to me - to invest all i am in what i have, multiplying that which God has entrusted to me. . . 

"The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you have entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' 
His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!'" 
Matthew 25:20-21

if you want to... google search "Brother Lawrence, practicing the presence of God" - print it out and read it read it read it.