Grace to Show Up: a Guest Post for A Feast of Crumbs

I wrote a guest post for my good friend Emily Luna’s wonderful blog, A Feast of Crumbs, where she chronicles her spiritual journey one breadcrumb at a time.

I feel like I keep failing the Sunday morning test. The one where I’m supposed to get myself and the two kids ready and out the door for church without yogurt smears on my skirt or sweet potatoes caked in their hair, and without going all Crazy-Mom on the four-year old when he strips his pants and underwear off to go potty and will not be wrangled back into them 20 minutes past our departure goal. The one where I’m supposed to show up on time…

Head over to her blog to read the rest, and while you’re there, check out Emily’s beautiful writing, too!

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The Holy Unhurry of Advent

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I had such high hopes for the Advent Calendar.  This was going to be the year that I Got It Together in time for Christmas,  The Making of the Calendar the first of many daily Christmas-related activities I hoped to accomplish.  When the kit arrived (all the reviews cheering in my head how Simple! Quick! Easy! and Fun! this was going to be), its precut adhesive-backed components ready to be affixed to the pocket-lined Christmas tree, we cleared the table.  The four-year-old immediately took over, carefully studying the accompanying diagram and applying the brightly colored felt pieces exactly as the example showed.  For an hour, I felt the blessed peace of unhurried being, as he worked and I admired his focus.

Then, he was ready to move on to something else, and we set the materials aside to finish later.  He pulled the whole assembly out several times over the next two days, each time for shorter sessions, and each time, leaving ever-increasing piles of felt stickers and scraps in his wake.

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I tried to ignore the voice in my head: if you were a better mom, you wouldn’t let him leave messes like this.  If you were more organized, this would be done already.  You should be more in control of this project.  Despite my attempts to counter argue, recognizing it as my own anxiety rearing its head, I nevertheless became more stressed with each day that we weren’t Finished-With-The-Calendar-So-We-Can-Celebrate-Advent!  We were into the second row of pockets by now, each passing day a reminder that I so didn’t Have it Together.  Behind again.

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I’m always feeling behind, a need to hurry and catch up, to do more.  That I don’t measure up, that I haven’t accomplished enough.

But the One Whose coming this season of Advent anticipates?  His time is relaxed.  Unhurried.  He had no problem with taking the time to gestate, starting his mission as a zygote and spending His first nine months of humanity simply being.  Content with receiving the love and nurture of a young mother, existing His only accomplishment.  When the Eternal One wove Himself into the fabric of time and space, He seemed to bring with Him His Outside-of-Timeness, as though, while choosing to be contained in a body, He nonetheless refused to be enslaved by Time.  For someone who didn’t start His ministry till the age of thirty and knew that He would only have about three years to accomplish His mission on Earth, He never allowed Himself to be rushed.

Contrast this with my constant anxiety to hurry and do more, to prove my worth, my value, by producing something.  Look at the essay I finished!  Look at the clean dishes!  Look at the pounds my baby has gained!  Look at my blog!  This!  I’ve produced this!  My life was of worth this day, because I accomplished, produced. 

Christ’s example to us, though, especially in this season, is simply to be.  To wait for His Father’s perfect timing. To become like an unhurried child, whose greatest “accomplishment” is receiving the love and care of the Heavenly Father.

The calendar is mostly finished.  Maybe someday I will cut out some felt numbers to fill in the ones that are missing.  But for now, it’s a reminder to me that the state of being is more important than the product.  That, for over an hour, my son and I were patient with each other.  That he exercised his focus and his stick-with-it muscles, and I exercised my let-him-figure-it-out muscles.  That we were together.  That, for an hour, we relaxed into the holy unhurry of this season of Advent.

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What I’m Into: November 2013

I’m linking up again with the What I’m Into series at Leigh Kramer’s blog this month.  Can’t believe November has come and gone already!

Reading:

*The Truth About Style, Stacy London: I requested this book from the library thinking I needed some advice on what to add to my wardrobe after a big closet purge last month.  I was surprised how engaging a read this was.  Stacy’s trademark acerbic humor made it hilarious, and her willingness to be vulnerable about her own struggles, all the while helping several different women with their style challenges, made it relatable.  And of course, I got tons of pointers for working on my own style.  It’s given me a lot to think about beyond what to wear.

*I’m partway through Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacobs, which covers all aspects of writing about food–cookbooks, blogs, memoir, and more. When I read Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, a few years ago, I noted the scientific obsession with which she repeated recipes and took notes of her results, and I realized that as much as I love to cook I do not have the temperament for recipe development.  I appreciate accurate recipes, but I am not willing to do that kind of research and experimentation myself.  So, probably no cookbooks in my future (unless, like Gwyneth Paltrow, I get someone to follow me around the kitchen measuring things while I cook).   However, I still find myself writing about food often.  This book is full of great information, much of it just having to do with good writing, period.  I found the writing prompts useful, and recommend this for anyone who is interested in the intersection of writing and food in any way, shape, or form.

*A Year of Writing Dangerously, Barbara Abercrombie: this book is a collection of motivational readings and quotes intended to get you writing.  I confess that I can almost never read one day’s reading at a time, and I read most of this book like a novel, which pretty much defeats its purpose.  But in my defense, it was a library book that had to be returned, and I especially like reading about various writers’ habits and rituals.

*Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink, edited by Peter Washington: I don’t read nearly enough poetry lately, so I took this pocket-sized book on our trip to the mountains this month.  It’s a very accessible and fun little collection.

*I’m almost finished with Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey.  It is not an argument so much as a celebration of how Jesus treats women, what women bring to His Kingdom, and how we can better reflect His great love.  Her conversational tone is inviting, her lyrical style inspiring, and her words encourage me to ask how I can love others better.

*My lovely friend Emily has started a new spiritual blog, A Feast of Crumbs, and it has been one of my favorite things to read this month.

Children’s Books:

*William’s House, by Ginger Howard: this was a wonderful find about a man building a house for his family in 1637 New England just like the one he grew up in back in England.  With each season in New England, they discover a new need and make adjustments to their house, until, finally, their home is entirely different, suited to their new home in America.  I loved this book because not only was it a sweet story, it occasioned so many discussions about what life was like hundreds of years ago, who the the first European settlers were, differences in architecture and homebuilding, and the development of our country…  I even learned that horn was used in windows when glass wasn’t available.  Who knew?

*Jethro and Joel Were a Troll, by Bill Peet: I have fond memories of borrowing Bill Peet books from the library when I was little, though this one was new to me the first time we borrowed it.  E. grabs it whenever he sees it.  A two-headed troll with two very different personalities goes on Joel’s long-desired rampage, and in making restitution they discover a new talent for building.  It’s a perfect illustration of how everyone needs creative, constructive work that makes use of their talents and energy (and keeps them out of trouble–ahem).

*We also (re)discovered Where’s Waldo this month.  E. has been winding down for bed with the one we borrowed from the library, and even fallen asleep a couple times with it.  I never realized before, though, that almost all the scenes are just big chaotic fights…

*The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Dr. Seuss: with how much we love the first book, this one of course has been a big hit the past couple weeks.

Listening:

*Audrey Assad’s Fortunate Fall: I’ve loved her music since her first album referenced a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem (!).  This worship project has been like a balm for me the past few weeks; the music embodies the peaceful waters of the 23rd Psalm woven throughout so many of the songs.   The album manages to bring together quite varied influences –hymn, contemporary worship, medieval sounding chords in at least one song, as well as Assad’s own singer-songwriter style; but all seem of a piece and fit well together musically.  Lyrically, she is amazing: lines like “strange and sweet collision of justice and mercy” create beautiful poetry and yet manage to be unforced and natural.  Just lovely.

*One of my college poetry professors, Jack Ridl, gave an inspiring TEDx talk!  It was a joy and an encouragement to listen to “Perfectly Imperfect.”

In the Kitchen:

*Well-Fed 2, Melissa Joulwan: I got this cookbook with the intention of cleaning up our eating before the holidays. Everything looks amazing, all made with real food.  So far, I’ve only tried a meatball recipe, which was delicious.  The book also inspired me to look into getting a spiralizer.  I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets, so I was wary of adding what is essentially a one-trick pony to my already-too-big collection.  But my vegetable-eschewing preschooler has eaten zucchini noodles several times since getting one, so it has been worth every penny.

Doings:

*I turned 32 this month.  31 went out with a bang, as I got sick with a nasty stomach bug the night before my birthday.  Come the morning of my birthday, I was just grateful I didn’t have to go to the E.R. (Thank you, Emetrol!)  E. and my sister were sick, too, so my valiant husband nursed us all on his day off.  Then, a week later, he and the baby got sick in time for Thanksgiving.  So we spent the last third of the month sick or recovering.  Hopefully we are done with illness for a long time.

*We got a snowstorm, and snow that stayed for an entire day, which is rare here.  E. exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting all year for snow!”  Me, too, Bud.  Me, too.

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Not What You Would Expect: A Post for the Jesus Feminist Synchroblog

Yeast is an incredible thing.  Set out a jar of water mixed with some flour, wait a couple days, and if the environment is not too hot or too drafty, you’ll catch some wild yeast, the evidence of which will be thousands of tiny bubbles breaking the surface of the gluey mass, and an aroma of fermentation, beery and sweet, tingly and tickling.  Tantalizing.  Something entirely new.

Throughout most of the Bible, yeast usually symbolizes something that is evil, or unclean, as in “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.”  This makes sense in a culture that saw threats of ceremonial uncleanness in the very air surrounding them.  Contamination from non-Jews, women, the diseased and the infirm lurked around every corner.

But Jesus turned this metaphor completely on its head; Jesus– the One Who is willing to get His hands dirty in the sticky mess of the human experience, Who affirms the sick, the women, and the children that touch Him– this God compares His Kingdom to a tiny microorganism whose life and work no one of that time would have been able to observe except by its effect:  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)

Jesus knew exactly what He was doing in using this parable; not only did He choose one of the most quotidian of examples to illustrate how His Kingdom works, but more importantly, He chose one that would have applied almost exclusively to the women of that time and would have been intimate to their daily experience: the task of preparing food.

The process of slow, steady growth and transformation, though mysterious, would have been immediately understood by the women listening to him.  As the yeast does its work, it completely transforms the surrounding landscape, leaving something entirely new in its wake.  I can almost hear their stomachs rumbling at the mention of bread, see the astonishment on their faces as this Rabbi speaks their language–the language of preparing meals– without irony, without deprecation.  With honor and dignity.  Something entirely new. 

Jesus’s attention and respect for women in using this parable is not what you would expect.  Is it some kind of anomaly of his ministry, not to be repeated or followed upon?  On the contrary, Jesus, is seen again and again showing women and other devalued people of the day loving respect and radical mercy.

God’s Kingdom, like yeast.  Bubbling, overflowing.  Rising up, much like the Living Water Jesus described to a Samaritan woman He met at a well.

I remember the sense of revelation I felt when I came to the account of Jesus’ encounter with this particular woman while reading the gospel of John during my sophomore year.   As the professor of my Introduction to Theology class had pointed out, Jesus is constantly telling everyone to keep things quiet during His ministry, practically running from the crowds, avoiding being heralded, definitely not calling attention to Who He was.  But here, in the middle of this conversation at a dusty well in Samaria, He revealed to this woman– someone of the wrong gender, wrong ethnicity, and wrong history according to the cultural norms of the time, someone whose testimony wasn’t even valid in a court of law– that He was the Messiah.

It stopped me in my tracks. Was this– a woman– the person to whom Jesus first reveals Himself?

I shuffled the pages of my Bible and started examining the other Gospels to see if what I had noticed was really true: that Jesus first reveals Who He is to a woman, not only a Samaritan, but a woman who, most likely despised for her personal history, people went out of their way to avoid.

But Jesus doesn’t avoid her.  At a time when Jews often crossed a river to avoid stepping foot in Samaria, and men, especially rabbis, avoided even talking to women, He meets her there and asks her for a drink. He not only dares to do what no other self-respecting Jewish man of that time would, but he chooses her– a woman– to be the first person entrusted with the truth of Who He is: the long-awaited Messiah.  It’s not what you would expect.

I wasn’t confident in my own research, so I timidly asked my professor in the journal we were each required to keep for the class if this were true.

Yes!  You are right!  

With my professor’s words scrawled in blue ink across the top of my notebook, Jesus’ love and His Kingdom grew a little more wonderful to me.

This seemingly small action on Jesus’ part was truly revolutionary, not unlike a small bit of yeast working its way through an entire batch of dough, making everything different and new.  Understanding started rising in my heart: Jesus chose a woman to be the first to bring His good news.  And like a small amount of yeast, this woman’s encounter with Jesus spread to those around her, until many others in her region believed because of her testimony.  My experience of Who Jesus is and His great love and the way His Kingdom works, began to be transformed.  Something entirely new.

Not what I expected.

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This post is part of a synchroblog coinciding with the release of Sarah Bessey’s new book Jesus Feminist.