baptized by water

IMG_0908I’ve been thinking about the corrosive force of water. In this space I’ve been invited to occupy the past two weeks there’s this amazing window. It backs up to some Alaskan wilderness—there’s a stream that cuts through the forest ten feet from the edge of the window seat. It has become my window. In the morning I hop out of bed and land here, greeting the sun that never sets, writing the words that have been churning in my soul, and sipping coffee. It’s been a happy place for me. I will be sad to leave it. It’s serene and peaceful and I want to package it up and take it home with me.

I’ve discovered that bodies of water call to me. Something about rivers, streams, and oceans soothes my turbulent soul. Even on the 21 mile kayaking trip that exhausted me beyond belief, I continued stroke after stroke because I could hear the water lapping at the edges of the boat around me. Once we were out of the water, however, I experienced a different reality that ended with Doug carrying me up the hill to our tent, helping me get dressed in dry clothes and leaving me curled up inside the sleeping bag where my body worked to generate heat.

I’ve been watching the water. I’ve been watching the way it cuts through the land. I’ve seen how it floods it’s banks, killing trees, forcing the land to recede when it needs more space. It will not be stopped or diverted. It is indomitable. Little by little, even this harmless creek that flows through my father-in-law’s backyard is carving through earth, forcing it’s way through. It’s not at all tamed or peaceful. It’s not safe. It’s a pretty picture—but it must never be mistaken for anything less than powerful. 

I’m tired of living at the surface. I’m tired of one-dimensional stories. I’m tired of two-dimensional characters and tropes. I’m tired of conversation that talk about the weather or read like a “dear diary” entry. 

I want to suck the marrow out of life. I want to see beyond the pretty picture to the rapids and tides that flood the banks. I want to see how we’ve taken the lot we’ve been given and moved beyond it. I want something thick that I can sink my teeth into, something that forces me to pause and wrestle with the truth I’ve always thought I’ve known. The life-giving source is so much more than a river, so much more than a body of water. It’s all the terror and destruction found in this world. And I want to see it and know it. I want to see and know people.

So often I have settled for one or two dimensions. People get scary when we get close. When people exceed the boxes and boundaries we’ve put them in, it forces us to change—but that’s so hard to do. Often it’s easier to walk away, lest the world as we know it get carved up and redistributed. Self-preservation. We stopped seeing each other as people so that we could send each other to hell.

I don’t want the world to stay the same anymore. I want to see the world turned upside down. I want water to cleanse and baptize me so that I can be made new. So that boundaries are forgotten. I want relationships to have dimension so stereotypes dissipate. I want relationship instead of ownership. Water has become my theme, my metaphor. It speaks to my heart. It soothes and calms me. It beckons me to abandon the superficial and to go deeper. Always deeper.

leaning into the abundance

IMG_0827The bike ride was long and on a partially eroded trail. Trees reached out to brush against me on one side and a drop-off threatened on the other. I stopped often to get my bearings and breathe, walking when it overwhelmed me. 

“This path is too over-stimulating. I can’t take it all in at once,” I complained, ducking under another tree branch and falling off the bike for the nineteenth time.

We took a break when we ran into the rest of our group who had started an hour before us. They were sitting, enjoying the view and eating lunch. I walked down to the water. I needed to touch it, to feel it between my palms, cool and crisp. I kneeled over, reaching my hands out, testing my balance—almost falling in when a larger wave came and I was careless in my haste to get away from it. I laughed with delight and Doug laughed with me. I have been surrounded by mountains, but something about the water calls to me. It soothes me. I see it flowing by my window right now and somehow the words come easier when I pause to breathe and see—to watch the water curve away from me, carving the earth as it passes.

We climbed back up to the trail to continue the bike ride and it happened.

I did it again. That moment when I looked up and make eye contact with a stranger. I studied her. I weighed her. I looked at another human being and viewed her as competition. It’s not something I’m proud of—but it seems to be a visceral response when I encounter an unknown person.

I begin comparing her and I, wondering which of us has more to offer. 

Who will be more valued and loved? 

Who has the better story? The better life?

Who is more fit? Better looking? 

Who is more engaging and interesting?

As I walked up the hill I studied her, eyeing her. That look. The calculated one. I smiled at her, hoping to appear friendly and she gave me a half smile back. And I climbed on my bike and thought about what it would be like with her at the cabin for the next 24 hours. 

And then something shifted. 

I thought about what I had just experienced, the water and the fun and the breathing. The peace and the joy Doug and I were absorbing and radiating as we sat by the water. I saw us laughing and playing, taking pictures and embracing all that we are. 

And with different eyes, I saw how I would want to be part of that. I saw that it was attractive—and I experienced a moment of clarity—this is how people see me.

I embrace. I am warm. I am intuitive and somehow often manage to find words people need to hear. I am quiet and calm and peaceful. I am tender and generous. I saw me as my friends experience me. And those feelings of warmth and acceptance towards myself led me to want to breathe that over this unknown woman. I wanted her to feel her value. I wanted her to feel connection. I wanted her to experience a quiet joy. 

It wasn’t rebuke my heart needed—it was acceptance. I could have spent hours praying and repenting over the “sin.” But it was knowing I am enough and I am loved that did the heart-work. And this heart-knowledge led me from viewing through the lens of competition to viewing through the lens of connection. 

The weighing and the measuring were forgotten. Now my desire was to experience and know this person for the amount of time we would have together. 

I expect that I am still learning this—it’s an otherworldly response in a world that tells us there are a limited number of spaces. A limited number of resources. It’s a different lens, this idea of abundance—that I can take all the space I need and you can take all the space you need and there is more than enough. I don’t quiet know how to do it well yet, because I’ve grown up in a world were we fight like dogs for scraps under the table. But I’m loving this new freedom where I can champion and connect and rest, knowing that there’s room for me, too. I don’t have to weigh and measure and give side-eyes as I watch to see what someone’s planning to take from me. 

As a teenager, I experienced the vanity that all teenagers experience and wanted to have nicer things. So I spent my own money to buy higher quality shampoo and conditioner than what my mom would buy. I hoarded that stuff like it was liquid gold, carrying it to and from the showers and hiding it in my bedroom. I didn’t want my two sisters to use it, and I knew they would if I left it in the shower. Because I thought there wasn’t enough, I held onto it. I fought for it. I clung to something that I thought was precious. Where’s the shampoo now? It’s been washed down the drain a million times over. Where are my sisters? We’re still learning how to support each other because we didn’t fully learn it as kids. We spent too much time weighing and judging. We spent too little time celebrating and championing each other. 

I don’t want to go backwards. I don’t want to cling to my little world rather than getting to experience the wild beauty that surrounds me. I want to trust that there’s abundance. That there is room and space for all of us to stretch out and breathe, to dip our fingers in the water, to be fully present and enjoying life. I want a space where we don’t have to fight for scraps because we believe there is so much more. 

My heart is full today because I saw a glimpse of what that looks like for me.

a different way

photo by Jennifer Upton (http://asharedlens.smugmug.com/)
photo by Jennifer Upton (http://asharedlens.smugmug.com/)

When I was little my sister and I fought all of the time. One of us would eventually run and complain to mom. Her standard response was “Don’t tell me what she did. Tell me what you did. Tell me what you could have done better.” 

It’s a good step—wise, although not very therapeutic. The part I’ve learned to supplement with is called reflecting feeling. It’s the part that comes before correction. You feel really upset that your sister didn’t ask to borrow your toy and now it got broken. I’m so sorry that happened. It’s unjust and you feel angry…

As my super smart counselor friend has taught me, this practice builds connection. The individual with the hurt (big or small) feels seen and heard. And especially when you’re talking to littles it’s a crucial step in teaching them to express their emotions in hopes that they’ll grow up to be healthy, emoting adults. After the feelings are reflected, it opens us up to receive comfort because we know the person sees us and is with us in that moment. As someone who loves Jesus, I will talk about how he feels for me.

 “Jesus knows how you feel right now. He loves you so much and cares deeply that you are hurting. What do you think he’s telling you?”

“He feels sad that I feel sad. He’s hurting that I’m hurting.”

“What do you think he’s asking you to do right now?”

“I think he wants me to forgive my sister. Because it was an accident and I know she didn’t mean to.” (Just pretend that my six year old self was this rational.) And here we’ve come full circle—the desired result in a family is unity. And I’ve been brought back around, while still having my emotional needs met. My needs mattered. I was seen and heard. And then I was able to let them go because I do desire to love my sister.

//

I saw a twitter exchange a few days ago and it made me deeply sad. An individual declared something on twitter that he probably shouldn’t have—but it was a conviction of his and he felt the need to share it. I don’t agree with him. I think 140 characters is a sham way to share a conviction because people miss all the nuances and shading that went into said conviction. But what horrified me was the way others began to mock him and throw stones. It was not “all in good fun” as they proceeded to run him to the ground and scrape his skin off. Memes were made. It was an undignified response to a comment that should have been left to rot. 

Because here’s the deal—I believe that all parties involved love Jesus. I think we are all working out our salvation with fear and trembling and while there are some pretty sharp disagreements, I don’t think we have to stoop to the level of toddlers flinging mud. I have a problem with humor at the expense of someone else. We have to see the human dignity in each other—it’s all we have left in this cold, harsh world. I hate that people tweet asinine things with what seems a divisive heart to draw a line in the sand—reminding the world there’s an “us” and a “them.” But we are all made in the image of God and we can’t forget that.

These tweets happen. And I think it’s fair that they anger and hurt us, or hurt those we care about. And I think it’s fair to respond—but not in a mocking or patronizing way. We need to expand the dialogue—not join him/her in the mud. We’re trying to erase the line—not draw it deeper in the sand.

I think unity comes when we reflect feeling. When we say, “these words hurt,” and we sit in that hurt. Because we will hurt one another—it’s a harsh reality in this almost but not yet world. And we can ask Jesus how he feels about that hurt. Then we can lean deeply into the Holy Spirit and ask how we should respond in a way that “preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Sometimes that does look like making a mess and knocking over tables. Sometimes it might look like speaking up for the marginalized, offering a different lens from which to view the gospel. Sometimes we’ll need to pick up a sword to attack the lie. But I think the further we can stay away from mocking one another, the more love we show one another even in our disagreements, the more the world will see Jesus’s fingerprints all over us. We won’t ever be “disagreement” free, but maybe we can be conflict free…maybe we can be gracious and loving towards one another, even when we don’t deserve it. Maybe the hope of the world isn’t that we all agree all of the time, but that there’s room for all of us with all of our different shapes, stories, and experiences to sit together and break bread at the table.

Maybe we can nod our heads to the God we see in each other instead of slaughtering each other.

breathing in the untamed

IMG_3119There’s a savagery to civilization. Cutting down the sacred to make room for the new and improved. We have to destroy and mold it in order to make it safer. We beat and subdue it until it succumbs to our needs. Modern convenience. It’s a sacrifice we’ve made to tame the wild. Sometimes I look at the world and my heart breaks for how we’ve carved and divided it. We staked and claimed and ran out the native inhabitants (both animal and people) who were before us. We put in streets and neighborhoods and spread out over the land like locusts. We cut out the hearts of mountains, raped and plundered the earth’s depths forcing it to reveal it’s secrets.

We’ve tamed and subdued it so much that it has lost its wild beauty. There isn’t much that hasn’t been conquered or felt the effects of our rapid development. Yet without the modern conveniences of pavement and planes I wouldn’t be able to experience even a taste of this wild beauty. I stand at the edge of the world. It’s a place where animals still own much of the land, and civilization hasn’t fully invaded. I’m in a city—but it’s small compared to the ones I’ve left. I stand at a point in time where I can look out my window and see lush forests for miles, the people are few and far between.

I’m terrified of the bears that live up on these Alaskan mountains. But I want to climb them. It’s an agonizing tension—the need for safety and the call to this wild beauty where everything is possible. All the savagery but also all the expansion of my tiny body. My soul screams to experience life to its fullest almost as if it knows this is it’s one chance at adventure. But my body fights because it knows it is so fragile and mortal—torn apart easily by vicious teeth. And my mind mediates between the two…trying to appease the hunger of my soul and the fear of my flesh. And bit by bit I am succumbing to the desire for a savage beauty, an untamed wilderness, the call of the wild. 

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