Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 40: Finishing A Chapter

As any writer will tell you, reaching the end of a chapter is both totally exciting ("Yay! I finished something! Progress!") and daunting at the same time ("Oh crud...blank page...what next?") I feel a little bit of this each time we end one of our 40 Day seasons together, and never more so than this year. Perhaps this is when I'll finally get over the illusion that I know what's coming next, because really, I never have. In writing, and in life I guess, all we can do is turn the page...and wait. So that's what comes next.

Each year, my emotions are a little different at this point, which makes sense--we'd be robots if we could just soldier on at one level year after year. But it's a bummer when the feeling du jour isn't as filled with hip-hip hooray and jazz hands as one might hope. Because you can't fake jazz hands. (Or at least you shouldn't!)

One of the song lines we've visited in the past here in the 40 Days is from Nichole Nordeman's song, Someday, where she says: I believe in the rest of the story. I believe there's still ink in the pen.

I hear those lines differently now than I did when I first ripped the plastic off her CD a few years ago. Here's what's I realize now: there IS a rest of the story, and ink in the pen, whether we believe it or not. Sometimes its a big relief to not have everything depend on our faith, to trust that things just are. We're not the same people we were 40 Days ago, and if we get to gather here again next year, we'll be different still. We'll know the next chapter ("Yay! I finished something! Progress!") and we'll be wrestling with the "what comes next?" question anew. I don't think that ever changes.

Thank you for spending this time together with me. I was re-reading some of the posts and comments the other night and was so touched by this amazing chance we have to connect, to know each other in our deepest hopes and desires and cheer one another on, even though most of us have never met. It's an honor to be part of that, and to know you guys.

BLESS your next chapter.
Love, Trish

Day 39: How Far We've Come Without Going Anywhere!

Thirty-nine days...that's quite an accomplishment. They say it only takes thirty days for us to form a new habit (good or bad) so whatever it is you've been doing differently for these thirty-nine days, studies suggest that it matters, in terms of the person you're becoming...and that you've accumulated nine whole bonus days!

(Whenever I read these studies I'm struck with a mixture of delight and terror, as I mentally catalog the mixture of smart & dumb choices that comprised the past month of my life. Anyway...)

This time around, I'm happy to have given my little boat some time in dry dock, even if some days I couldn't even figure out what color paint to use to pretty-up the hull. It's nice here on the shoreline; I don't always have to be out in the depths over my head. A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about how cute it was to hear her young daughters wake up one morning expressing their excitement over the adventures for their summer day ahead. I'm trying to recapture some of that feeling myself, and a sense that the seasons of our lives are supposed to be different from one another, rather than just one long, all-out slog toward the finish line.

For example, I went out on an adventure with my friend Gwen last night (the same Gwen as Chapter 10 of MAZE), south of the city in some south shore neighborhoods I'd never been to before. We went to my friend Lynne's book reading, and then out to dinner (we tried to go to the restaurant run by the former New Kids On The Block--because honestly, what's more fun and twitter/blog-worthy than that? But the wait was 2.5 hours. So we dined at a little burger bistro by the water instead...not too shabby!) It was the kind of thing I wouldn't have had room in my brain for 39 days ago. It would have felt like too much, driving south of Boston from Cambridge during rush hour (because yes, everything you've heard about Boston traffic is true...) and then finding a bookstore way out on the south shore to buy a book I was planning to buy would have seemed like too much to handle, what with everything else banging around in my brain demanding attention. But yesterday? It was perfect. I'm excited to have made enough mental space to make my world a little bigger again. That feels good.

I'm curious: What have your 39 days looked like? What are you pleased with? What did you think would go differently?

And perhaps more importantly: What is your hope for the next 30 (or 39 days)?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 38: Happiness Meters

I just read a New York Magazine article entitled "All Joy and No Fun" about the ongoing question of whether parenting makes you happy. (Why I read these things, given that it doesn't appear I'll ever have the a horse in this particular race, is beyond me...perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment?) The general tenor of the article is that 98% of research shows that having kids lowers happiness in every way imaginable. But then at the end, the author makes an important distinction: Do we define happiness/satisfaction/fulfillment in terms of moment-to-moment assessments, or the big picture? That distinction, according to the author, can change the answer.

This is worth thinking about, no matter where we are in life. My sense is that most of us define things both ways...and that either perspective carries with it the possibility to either buoy us up or sink us like a rock tied around our ankles.

My tendency is to live minute-to-minute, at least in terms of my happiness meter. Which helps me survive disappointment, but leaves me vulnerable to being overwhelmed when the big picture flashes across my screen. One of my best friends, in contrast, gets through the never-ending demands of her particular life by keeping the big picture right at the forefront, finding motivation to get through the endless little demands by having such a clear sense of where her efforts are taking her.

I'd guess that most of us drift back and forth between these two...and that often it feels like we're floating in a sea of question marks. And as I turn this dilemma toward God, I can't help but notice that the less tied in we are to specific relationships--spouses and children in particular--the tougher it can be to see where we're going. Those are some pretty big relational holes to fill, and they play a big part in defining who we become, how we spend our time, and what are goals are. So the question becomes, What do we do in the meantime? How do we stay on track for that sense of happiness/fulfillment/satisfaction that comes from living a meaningful, purposeful life?

There's no one answer to this...but there must be answers. Today, let's ask God for an individualized program for OUR happily ever after, both in the minute to minute and big picture sense.

If you hear something encouraging, share it below!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 37: Brave Irene

We might be onto something with this 3rd grade thing. On a whim, I Googled "3rd grade curriculum" to see if there might be insight into how to spend my summer, and there in the Reading/Creativity Module I found a bevy of recommendations that could come straight from any self help book. As it turns out, in the 3rd grad we learn to:
1. Identify a fantasy
2. Use context clues
3. Answer critical questions
4. Recognize and use strategies

Don't these things seem like areas most of us struggle with as adults? Discerning fantasy from reality, picking up on context that would tell us something if we'd pay attention, being willing to answer (and face the answers) of critical questions? And don't even get me started on the whole strategy the extent I've used strategy in the past, it's looked more like grim manipulation than thoughtful forward progress. Clearly, I've got some lessons to repeat.

Now, by way of full disclosure: I looked for a picture of a 3rd grade classroom to post here, and seeing that barrage of color and information plastered across every wall/desk/rug made my head spin. So I'm thinking of this as an outside-the-classroom adventure. You know, a field trip.

The good news is that the second module in our curriculum is called "Discovering Courage," which has full indoor/outdoor applicability. It says that we'll learn by reading about BRAVE IRENE, a dauntless girl who goes out in a raging storm to deliver a dress for her ailing mother.

I might be reaching a bit here, but maybe that's what courage--and life lessons--are about: The question of, "Do you have what it takes to do what needs to be done for the people you love.... Even (or maybe especially) when no one else thinks it matters?"

I may have shared this here before, but my BRAVE IRENE moment came one winter night when THAT DOG was a puppy. It was about 2am, and she needed to go out. I carried her down 8 flights of stairs (the elevator was broken) and out into the gusty, snowy wind. She did her thing, and as I bent to scoop it up into a bag, the wind blew the poop down the sidewalk. I had to CHASE it. That was the moment I realized that I have what it takes to put the needs of others ahead of my own desires if I have to. It was a good feeling, and it's stayed with me all these years.

Do you have a BRAVE IRENE moment? Or are you waiting for one? Who knows--it might be part of your summer curriculum :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 36: Welcome to the 3rd Grade

It's the final week of our 40 Days of Faith, and I feel like I owe you guys an apology. Nothing dire. But if each of our annual June/July faith adventures is a snapshot of where each of us is (are?) in a particular summer season, this year's picture is a rather relaxed (read: uninspiring, sloth-like) one for me, your heretofore intrepid leader. Where in past years, I've found inspiration in music lyrics, book quotes, and going through whole chunks of the Bible together, wrestling with what God means by tough passages and finding comfort in the ones that seem to offer hope... this year has been different.

As I told some friends last night, I feel like I'm operating at about a third grade level of emotional/spiritual perspective: there's not much point in looking too far down the road, because I want summer and all the fun and relaxation that goes with it to last as long as possible. I've had enough of deep thinking/learning/striving for awhile, and I feel like if I spend one more second worrying about my report card, my head might explode. I need some time to chill out. The result of this is that you've gotten third grade blog posts. We've talked about taking our boats out of the water, and worked some imagery about floating vs. sinking. I've thrown up random videos by Simon & Garfunkel (well, actually I posted them. I did not throw them up...) All in all I've kept us floating in some pretty shallow water.

But even there, I've found gems along the way.

For example, we could work the Simon & Garfunkel a bit more if friend Dave once pointed out that part of why Paul Simon had a career on his own after S&G was that he didn't wander into his middle age playing nostalgia events, trading on who he used to be. Instead, he took some time and wandered off to Africa, experienced something entirely different, and allowed himself and his music to evolve. Intriguing, right?

In some clumsy way, I guess that's what I'm trying to do, too: experience my life in a different way, and look at my circumstances--both the limitations and the opportunities--through a new lens. I'm looking for a view that's less forced-optimism & relentless drive, more enjoy the small moments and see what it all adds up to.

And I flag this here because I want to say that if this isn't the season you're in...if you're gearing up to really GO AFTER big dreams, then that's awesome, too. Our lives can look different, and we can cheer each other on even as we veer in different directions. And if you're in a season of needing a little more "be" and a little less "do" too...let me know. I'll move over a bit and make room for you on the beach blanket. Grab a novel, put on some sunscreen, and let's see what little enjoyments today brings.

Thanks for reading :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 35: Little Reminders

What do you think about faith? Yours, others, what you see around you in terms of people trying to make the best of life?

Here in Cambridge, folks don't always like to talk about faith, but there's evidence of it everywhere. As I trek the two block walk between my apartment and the library, I see a smorgasbord of possibilities: my church, women and girls in all manner of Muslim head coverings, and several bumper stickers imploring us to COEXIST. There are rosaries hanging from rearview mirrors, necklaces with charms of crosses/Stars of David/astrological signs...the list goes on and on. I love living in a city like this, where people are so obviously looking for a way to connect with God. Again, we don't talk about it much, but it's revealed in our actions. That's interesting.

I was in Michael's Crafts the other day and bumped into a girl looking at charms along the bead wall. "What do you think of these?" she asked, showing me a set of three Hindu images. "I'm looking for something to put on a key chain," she explained, "something to help me be happy." I showed her my own key chain--a worn piece of canvas with "Maine" written out between two little embroidered moose--and said, "I know what you mean..." We talked about the risk of looking to trinkets to MAKE us happy, how that imbues them with an awful lot of unknown power. But how sometimes things remind us that we're capable of being happy (or focused, or accomplished). I don't know what she chose--I had to go--but it was fun to bump into a fellow searcher along the way, and to take a moment as I walked out to the parking lot to ask Jesus to take extra good care of her. She's on a faith journey. I think most of us are. In my experience, God is the best tour guide around.

How is faith going for you today? This weekend? What reminds you that you can be happy?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 33/34: Declaring Independence

A few years back, when I was working for a bestselling author who traveled internationally giving lectures and workshops, I heard her make an interesting comment on the different temperaments she found visiting different countries. She wasn't valuing any one over the others, but rather expressing her surprise at how ready Americans are to jump ship and try something new, whereas European audiences seemed more likely to embrace some form of "bloom where you're planted." She acknowledged that these were huge generalizations. But it was interesting to be in conversation with her that night over wine and salad, thinking about how we're influenced by the choices of our ancestors. "If you're American," she said, "It means at some point, someone in your family risked everything to try and start over...or was forced against their will into a life they never wanted. It means that somewhere inside, you have a proven capacity to adapt."

I've thought of this at different times over the years. I don't know the full story of how my ancestors made it to New England from Ireland, England, and France. But some of their audacious hope flows through my veins, clearly, as I'm more willing than most to take a leap of faith. (Too willing, perhaps...who knows?) But I do know this: we have evidence all around us that walking/flying/boating/swimming/running away from something that isn't working can be a solid way to press "restart" on life.

Just to be clear: I'm not talking about abandoning a marriage because your husband doesn't read the books you think he should, or running out on a job you find a little dull. There are benefits to imperfect situations, too. What I'm talking about is when you've tried everything to make it work (my time as a lawyer comes to mind--wow, did I try hard to love that job) and it just doesn't. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting the results to be different.

We're all a little bit insane in this way, I suspect. This weekend, no matter where you live, let's adopt Independence Day as a chance to break out of those patterns. Whether it's a daily thing like eating food without enjoying it, making excuses and not doing the things you love (my recent trip to the beach where I battled back the "I'm too fat to swim" thoughts and dove in comes to mind), or clothes that are "appropriate" but don't express your style...or big things like a dead end relationship or job, let's take a leap/make a change/believe things will be better if we set out for some new territory in our lives. If you're not sure what, or how, ask God. I've found he has surprising things to say--suggestions and encouragements we wouldn't come up with on our own--when we invite him into the conversation.

It's worth a try! Happy Independence Weekend :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 32: A Stand in for the Soul?

There's an article in this morning's New York Times about the upcoming sale of a hotel on the East End of Long Island. It caught my attention partly because I grew up in a coastal town that was (and is) transformed by tourists each summer, but also because of the article's tag line, which called the hotel, "a place that for many locals has become a stand-in for the soul of this rapidly gentrifying town."

The idea that something could be a stand in for the soul is poignant, and a little scary. I know what the journalist meant to convey--that this hotel represents a way of life that appears to be dying out. But maybe what gives me the shivers is the idea that if the old way dies, the town dies, too. Don't get me wrong: in an architectural sense, this can be true. Looking at my hometown, I doubt a couple like my parents could raise 4 kids on a teacher/lobsterman's salary today. And the giant hotel/restaurant that hosted my senior prom is now a single family home. Things change. But I wonder if maybe we all gravitate towards markers in our personal lives that become "a stand in for our souls," such that if they were lost, we'd feel lost, too?

THAT DOG and I have moved so many times (and had such wildly disparate lifestyles from place to place) that there's not much room for sentimental attachment. But there are other possibilities, things like identity or fashion choices or ways I define who I am. Defending them can feel like I'm fighting to save my soul (like the Jewel song). But maybe I'd do well to open up my imaginations to a broader sense of who I'm created to be?

One of the chapters that didn't survive the edits in my new book includes the story of my seeing a well-known pastor at a conference and thinking snarky thoughts about how he dressed--the Vans, the skinny jeans, the whole "I work at Google" look just seemed like a giant affectation. Then I sensed God saying to me, "Trish, your entire outfit is from Ann Taylor. How is that any different?" Busted. And I'll confess: Were Ann Taylor to disappear, I'd feel like I'd lost a piece of who I am. What's that about?

Are there things in your life that define you? In a good way? Or in a way that would leave you lost if they disappear? Today, let's ask God about them. Maybe there's a bigger version of each of us looking for room to emerge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 31: Feelin' Groovy

I was surprised how much yesterday's Defiant Enjoyment Project worked! Were you? I had several moments yesterday where I beat back negative, discouraging thoughts by focusing on green trees and happy tunes on the radio...and somehow that gave me extra momentum to jump into a few fun things I'd normally pass by. As I was driving along at one point, I heard this song, which captured the spirit of the day's adventure:

How did it go for you? We haven't done much checking in here, so I thought today might be good day for that. And also for us to do a repeat of sorts. Here's why: I don't want to remember having had an exceptionally un-discouraging day on June 30th, as if it was this once-a-year miracle and I have to drag myself through 364 more days before I can try again. I'm curious to see if this defiant enjoyment thing has any staying power, and if we might string, say, TWO not discouraging days together??? (I know, I'm a big dreamer...)

I've talked to so many people over the past few months about waiting. We don't like to feel that we're in a holding pattern until things align for us to "land": in the right job, a great relationship, a community where we feel like we're part of a team. But sometimes we are, and no matter what books and magazines tell us, there's nothing we can do that will change that...but plenty we can force that will make us crash. We don't want to crash.

Now, to be clear: I'm not suggesting that this "mind over matter/choose to be chipper" attitude is a long term solution and all we need in life. Eventually, we need a place to land. But if we're in a holding pattern, and it's temporary, why not make the best of it?

How did defiant enjoyment go for you? Are you willing to give it another day?

Here's to feelin' groovy :)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 30: Defiant Enjoyment

I don't always know what to pray. Sometimes it feels like I've used up all my words about something (quite a feat for a writer, right?) and all I can do is look up at the ceiling and sigh. On mornings like that, it's tough to feel like I've connected with God--more like I've left a complaining message on his voicemail about how I've called 496 times and he still hasn't gotten back to me.

Lately when that's happened, I've flipped to the Psalms in the middle of the Bible, because they're prayers. Having those words to borrow as a starting place has proven mighty handy for generations of people trying to follow God. As I flip, I'll think, "Okay God, pick a number between 1-150..." This morning, I sensed "118." So I turned there and read this:

In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and rescued me.
The Lord is for me, so I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me.
I will look in triumph at those who hate me.
It is better to trust the Lord than to put confidence in people.
It is better to trust the Lord than to put confidence in princes....
This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

I'm taking these as my marching orders for today:
1. Remember the times God has rescued me in the past, and that he's FOR me.
2. Trust in him, rather than other people or authority figures to make my life work out.
3. Enjoy today.

The third part of this really strikes me. What if enjoying every little bit of every little day has spiritual power? What if, in the spiritual realm, our joy fends off evils like doubt and fear and funk? What if seizing moments to enjoy is our job, spiritually speaking? That, I can focus on.

Want to join me? Let's start a "resistance movement" of people enjoying Wednesday, June 30, 2010. Leave me a comment below if you're in, and share something--big or small--you've enjoyed in a bigger, fuller, more determined way. Vive La Resistance! :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 29: Teamwork makes the dream work

As I mentioned on my other blog, I had a great podcast interview last week with the fabulous Christy Tennant of the International Arts Movement. It was one of those rare, wonderful times where I was so caught up in our conversation that I almost forgot we were recording. And when we were done, it took everything I had not to say, "But wait--can't we talk longer?" It's fun when we meet someone whose outlook on the world overlaps in some way with ours.

When I think of life in terms of creation--this idea that we're all created with unique talents and gifts (and temperaments and temptations) that we can leverage to make some sort of difference in the world--I realize how important these connections are. I'm loving the new season of the television show Leverage for exactly this reason, because so much of the storyline is based on this idea, as the different team members reunite and realize that together they're better/faster/stronger/smarter than the sum of their parts.

Today, let's think about our "team": both the people already in our lives and the role they each play, and our "dream team" of friends with gifts that might fill in our blanks in cool ways. And let's talk to God about what WE bring to our team. I don't know about you, but I tend to forget.

Who is on your team?

Day 28: The Importance of Taking a Walk

If you've read my first book, you may remember that I spent a chunk of time at my best friend's house in Connecticut, hiding out from a not-so-nice first husband after I ran away. That was certainly one of the tougher times in my trek toward happily ever after, but as I look at it now (with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that I did not end up as I'd feared, living in Kristen's guest room forever) I see that as a stage in life, it had much to recommend it. Sometimes, we need space to spread out the pieces we have left and see what God can do with them.

Here's the thing about those times, though: they involve a lot of waiting. They're not productive in any demonstrable way, and so when people asked me what I was up to--expecting to hear about resumes sent out or apartments scouted--I was mortified. It just seemed too ridiculous to admit that my day was structured around a long walk, a long bath, a long drive, and pasta & pesto for dinner every night around 6:00pm. So mostly, I avoided people.

I'm re-reading C.S. Lewis' A GRIEF OBSERVED right now (the epigraph from my new memoir is from this collection of chapters mourning his wife and reflecting on his marriage) and am struck by Lewis' practicality in the midst of his pain. "I do all the walking I can," he says, "for I'd be a fool to go to bed not tired." During my time in Connecticut, insomnia was my greatest fear. I was a woman alone in a big house in the woods. If I screamed, no one would many ways it seemed the perfect set up for a horror film, and never more so than at 2:00am when my imagination would run wild. So I did all the walking I could.

Now, I live in the city. Were I to scream at 2am, plenty of people would hear (and the vile bird across the street would no doubt respond by screeching in a way that would strike terror into any would-be bad guys within a 30 mile radius). But now, if I let it, my brain goes to different sorts of night terrors: about a life wasted, dreams that never come true, becoming one of those people who could have done something with her life but didn't... You know the stuff, right? We all wrestle with it sometimes (I suspect this is why Ambien prescriptions are on the rise). The key is to fend it off.

What's my point in this? Perhaps that in the larger act of waiting--or mourning, or wondering what comes next--we each need a bunch of little strategies to help us cope with the specifics of any given day. I'm not sure what those are right now, in this particular season, but it seems worth asking. Because we're always waiting for something, and often mourning the loss of something else, even while celebrating unexpected blessings. Our life is rarely in a single season...instead the seasons overlap in a way that can make your head spin if it's not firmly attached.

Today, let's ask God for the skills we need to receive His love and the joy He promises us (and doesn't that seem like an audacious promise when we're struggling? Do you ever feel like saying, "Go ahead God, TRY to make me joyful!" ? But then He does, because we've given him permission...) Whether we have a bold day filled with forward progress toward tangible goals, or a day built carefully with shaking hands around a long walk, a long bath, and a long drive, let's ask for God's encouragement in the midst of it.

Tell me: What are your strategies for beating back bad thoughts?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 26/27: Finding the right mix

It's Wimbledon time (yay summer!) and I'm watching this morning, caught in a mix of thoughts about strange fashion choices and the elusive blend of skill, determination, and luck it takes to hone your talent to "play" at the top levels, whatever that looks like in different settings of life.

I think I've blogged about this before, how captivated I am by the ups and downs of the world's top tennis players. Most are still in their 20s, but because they start so young, by the time they retire they've had--the ones who make it, anyway--something that can honestly be called a career. They've each had major setbacks--injuries, weird losses that sapped their confidence for months thereafter, coaching changes and/or personal drama that pulls focus. And yet somewhere inside, they pull something from deep inside to fight their way back into the game, back into the top.

What is that something?

This is worth asking, as we pray for the deepest desires of our heart. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer to this, but maybe part of succeeding in our lives (and by succeeding, I mean really being the person God created us to be, in all the fullness of our unique set of talents and capacities) is paying attention to balance of three factors: How much is MOTIVATION? How much is PERSPIRATION (effort)? And how much is INSPIRATION, that incalculable, unpredictable extra that comes from God that we don't understand or control?

Right now, I'm watching a very fit Serena Williams annihilate her opponent. In years gone by, I've seen a flabby Serena struggle in frustrating games, an injured Serena play like a shell of herself, and a distracted Serena play unpredictably, her head clearly not in the game. Yet somehow after all those ups & downs, she's there today in top shape mentally and physically, doing her job (which is winning tennis tournaments, not just playing tennis). I love the idea that we can bounce back like that, don't you?

This weekend, as we talk to God about our dreams and how we hope to use our talents, let's ask for His help in achieving the best balance for our individual lives. Motivation. Perspiration. Inspiration. Only He knows the mix we'll need, and what that should look like today. So let's ask for the "recipe" for (as Oprah might say) our best life now.

Here's to a great weekend!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 25: Advice

I was reading Job this morning. It's not my favorite book in the's tough to reconcile my image of God as a loving father with some of the stuff that goes on in there. But as with other parts of the Bible, I've found the wrestling process valuable, even if it doesn't always lead to pat answers that allow me to say, "Ah yes, Job! Here's what it means..."

What caught my attention today is the role Job's friends play. They mean well, but they give him terrible advice. And his challenge there (among a whole host of considerable challenges) is to sort out the unwise counsel from the friends themselves. The people who love us enough to speak into our lives are both the best thing ever and a huge source of stress. We don't always know until afterward which is which, and in both cases we can end up in a ditch if we handle things unthoughtfully: we can deify friends to shed helpful light into our situations, making them "gods" in our lives; we can walk away from friends who tell us things we don't want to hear (or disagree with) hurling out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

I spent the better part of yesterday with some friends who are also artistic/creative types. We're all in a season of feeling pulled toward some downtime, wondering what we might come up with if we dare take a little time to re-group. They're braver than I am, so they've already planned a sabbatical. Me? I'm chicken. Throughout our conversation, I kept blurting out lets-keep-going type things like "maybe THIS could happen!" or "what if God is saying XYZ-super-encouraging thing?" And they'd look at me with lots of kindness and say, "Well...maybe God is saying that to you..." (reminding me of a quote I once heard that said, “The best way to succeed in life is to act on the advice we give to others.”)

They were Job. I was Job's friends.

Here's the cool thing, though...(and it's important to have a cool thing to consider here, because we're all Job's blurty friends at one time or another)...this didn't crash out our friendship or negate our consideration of possible projects we might try together someday in the future. My blurts were, I think, contained in the space they were made rather than allowed to take hold of the entire conversation and strangle it. I'm grateful for that. Grace is a nice thing in friendships!

Here's my point in all of this: I think that in the big questions of life--the things we might pray about in a 40 Days of Faith, for example, about our hopes for live and love and happily ever after--we are so on the lookout for signs of hope that every bit of advice is given more weight than necessary. Someone says, "I think you'll meet someone soon" and we replay it over and over in our minds for days, while if someone else saying, "God wants you to be happy right where you are and not ask for more," we're despondent.

Today, let's ask God for help getting off of that roller coaster. Let's pray for wise counsel, both in terms of what we give and what we receive. And let's also ask for help giving the appropriate weight to whatever we hear, and prioritizing people over words.

And if you want to encourage me, fess up: Have you ever blurted out bad advice? Or am I the only one? :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 23/24: After Night...Sun

Thanks for your patience yesterday. Whatever "pearls of wisdom" might have sounded passable in the midst of the fun hecticness would have no doubt proven entirely embarrassing come morning. So I appreciated not having to redact an entire post :)

The launch party last night was astounding, all for reasons having nothing to do with me. My friends in the band Ryanhood flew into Cambridge to play (their most recent CD was the soundtrack for my writing process of the new book), and their songs inspired me all over again. Here's why: they're all about fighting to do the work you're created to do, and not giving up...and somehow involving God in that process so you don't get crushed under the burden of how things would/should/could be "if only..." I was having Oprah-worthy "a-ha" moments, right there on the stage for everyone to see. But that's so much better than not having them at all!

To end the evening, I asked them to play one of their newer songs. It's not on the CD, and they told the story of how writing it actually celebrated the end of the long, hard process of recording; how it's a song of celebration, reminding them (and us) that it's never night forever. Here's the video--check it out:

Today's plan:
Let's take their advice, even if we can't yet see the light. Sing, for your light has come. After night, came sun...

(And yes, I mean that literally. Sign along with Ryanhood, the radio, or grab a friend for a few rounds of "row, row, row your boat..." You'll be surprised how much it helps!)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hold, please

Hi all,
Just a quick note to let you know I haven't forgotten you today...I'm in the weeds with book launch interviews and party prep this morning, and am lacking coherent inspiring thoughts. So rather than phoning it in, I thought I'd let you know what's up and that I'll be back with Day 23 thoughts as soon as I have some!!!

Thanks for the grace-


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 22: Wisdom

I was up at 4:00am this morning, head spinning. I'd love to say it was spinning in some productive way...but nope. Just general awakeness. I came downstairs and did one of those "Bible dip" things Barbara Kingsolver describes in one of her books, opening the Bible at random. I landed in the first chapter of Proverbs, reading an exhortation to "Get Wisdom." It was 4:00am. I wasn't sure the wisdom store was open yet.

We're all on a quest for wisdom in one way or another. Whether it's cookbooks teaching us how to caramelize onions without scalding them, or craft magazines leading us through 114 steps to the perfectly decorated July 4th celebration. I'm regularly astonished by how one local news station here runs 30 second spots about how their "BREAKING EXCLUSIVE STORY" will provide key information so their viewers will never again be duped by medical fraud, fast food caloric overload, or (in the most memorable of these strange segments) moldy cheese.

Confession: it's going to take more than crafts and cheese safety tips to get me through. Wisdom has got to mean more than that--Proverbs backs me up on this, saying it's the most important thing we can get, worth more than gold, silver, or rubies--but for the life of me I can't pin down what it is. What does it look like, and how do you know when you have it? (A Google image search turns up this picture of Clint Eastwood, along with some truly gross pictures of people in the midst of dental surgery...) Perhaps wisdom is inherently elusive, like the pornography famously described by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who essentially gave up, saying "I shall not today attempt further to define [what] I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it." Is there any more hope to be had for us in ascertaining wisdom in some way that feels more certain? I'm not sure. I hope so. I guess I'm looking to the antidote to yesterday's tongue-in-cheek mediation on "The Suchness of Is" (a sentence that still makes me giggle, 48 hours later...)

Where do you see wisdom? Where do you look? Is there anyone in particular who inspires you particularly in this area?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 21: The Suchness of Is

Last night I re-read a journal published by a new-agey philosopher whose work I'd wrestled with back in the days when I approached spirituality like a smorgasbord. I'd been surprised to see his name pop up in the footnotes of the books of a couple of Jesus-ey authors, so I wanted to see if maybe there was something there I'd missed. I found myself back in the haze of frustration and confusion I remembered from reading this guy's stuff before, the struggle to make sense of it. Then I reached a sentence where he talked--at great length and in tremendous detail--about "The Suchness of all that Is." I burst out laughing, and felt set free from my struggle.

Here's what I realized: I'd spent years trying to understand this guy and others like him, feeling like an un-evolved idiot because the harder I tried, the less I understood. There was such a sense of failure: I was an (over) educated woman with more than a decade of dogged spiritual pursuit under my belt--how could this stuff remain so impenetrable? Millions of spiritual seekers lapped up his books like they were sacred texts (I'll admit a certain pride having his name visible on my bookshelf back then, even if the pages felt like so many word jumbles)...and yet I could not for the life of me tell you what his central premise was, what he might be saying about life or how to live it, or why/how people sat for hours in his living room debating alleged dichotomies and fallacies with the passion of lovers.

Last night, it became hilariously clear: I couldn't make sense of it because it doesn't make any sense. The Suchness of all that Is? With random capitalization? It's the ultimate case of the Emperor parading naked through the streets: the people so want him to be properly dressed that they overlook his embarrassing nakedness.

Here's the thing: in the unlikely chance that any of you know who I'm talking about, I don't bring this up to discredit this particular author (I should probably Google "The Suchness of all that Is" and see if his name comes up...) He's made an interesting career for himself over the years, worked really hard and written thousands and thousands of pages (as a writer, I'm in awe of his work ethic) and contributed something to the larger conversation, even if I'm not sure what it is. I'm a HUGE fan of people who take the time and effort to contribute something tangible (rather than random thoughts) to the larger conversation...I've often lamented missing out on the Salons of 17 & 18th century Europe, for exactly this reason. So no slam intended for the author.

But I bring this up because I see "The Suchness of Is" all around us: We're surrounded by expert ideas that don't make sense. They're everywhere, filling the pages of books and magazines, suggesting ridiculous, dangerous, or non-existent paths from where we are to where we want to be. We can't conquer food addiction by focusing obsessively on our food. We don't get over a guy by forcing ourselves to be his best friend and cheer him on as he loves someone else. We don't solve our money issues by speaking incantations over our bills and expecting them to magically multiply. My "a-ha" moment came when I realized: it's not just that this stuff doesn't work for me. It doesn't work for anybody.

All that said, let me bring this around to a happier place: Part of the reason I still read the Bible--even when I'm tired, or a passage is boring, or I don't get it--is because it doesn't leave me in this place. Every single time I've wrestled with the Bible, God has been there with me in some way, helping me understand. Sometimes things click into place (like when a grown up comes along and helps a kid solve a jigsaw puzzle). Other times I get an impression, God saying something to me about how this passage applies to my life right now. And there have been times when I'll wrestle with something, then flip to an entirely different part of the book in frustration, only to find a sentence there that speaks to me about the one before. It's kind of wild. And while I'll admit that I don't always love what God reveals to me, it's always "good" in that larger-than-this-world-I-probably-should-have-capitalized-it sort of way.

(And yes, I tried the page flip with the philosophy journal last night. Went from "The Suchness of Is" to something about the "Eternal Nest of cosmic being in non-dual reality." I checked in with God to see if he had a next step in mind, and sensed him saying, Close the book, you're done here... So I did.)

Is there something you've tried and tried (and tried) to understand or make work? Today, let's pray about that. Maybe God wants to set you free?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 19/20: Plotters & Pansters

Some of us are planners, others not so much...Have you noticed? I'm not sure when I gave up on planning, but I suspect that with a little effort, I could trace it back to the first time my life fell apart. Some of you know the story: I'd worked hard to become a lawyer, only to discover that I hated the job. I'd cultivated an independent-girl-in-the-city persona, but that was a hard front to keep up in the face of increasing evidence that living in the city terrified me and I'd date practically any guy who kept me from having to be alone. I walked away from it all, which might seem like a brave thing to do...but it was really just because I couldn't imagine living the lie I'd created (inadvertently, but it was still a lie) even one more day.

And since then, my life has been a highway billboard for the slogan, "We make plans, God laughs."

But all around me, friends and family members plan out their lives with great success. They set goals, break them into smaller, doable pieces (just like the magazines say you should) and throw parties when they cross whatever finish line they'd been aiming for. It's inspiring.

It makes me wonder if the plotter/panster (I'm borrowing language from the writing world here, where authors will ask each other if they're "plotters" who know ahead of time what arc their book will take, or "pantsters" who fly by the seat of their pants when they write, waiting to see how the story unfolds) dichotomy isn't similar to the personality differences between "satisficers" (who are satisfied when needs are met and aren't all that picky about the details) and "maximizers" (who want to make sure they get the very best option available)? What if we're all wired in different ways, and much of our unhappiness in life comes from trying to function against our wiring?

It strikes me that this plotter/panster division has implications for prayer. As a panster, it's often difficult for me to pray specifically (and, let's be honest...with one or two notable exceptions, God's responses are almost never what I prayed for). But my planner friends describe lists, and specifics, and a real sense from God that He's not only hearing their prayers, He's helping them make the list. Makes me wonder if our prayers all fit into some larger puzzle somehow, that we can't see here on earth? (And just to be clear: I have no theological basis for this's just a random thought wandering through my mind this morning).

Today's question: Are you a plotter or a panster? How does that work for you?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 18: Checking In

We're a little less than halfway through our 40 Days, and I wanted to pause for a moment to see how everybody is doing.

So...How are you doing?

I'd love to hear from you today. How are you doing on the encouraged/discouraged meter? How are your conversations with God? Are there specific quotes or songs (or other things) that have spoken to you recently...or simply made you happy as you went about your day?

To return to imagery from our first couple of posts, Where is your boat?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 17: Groping an Elephant

One of the things that helps me when I'm in a time of disappointment (or fear that life won't work out the way I hope) is to scale back a bit and try to see a bigger picture than my fear or questions suggest. I don't do this in a guilt-ridden, "Well, I should just be happy with what I have, because people all over the world have it far worse than me..." kind of way. That's true, but I've never once seen it work helpfully to transform despair, or prompt positive action. Feeling bad about feeling bad just adds layers to the problem.

As you might have guessed from all the book references on my blogs and in my memoirs, reading is one of my primary strategies in searching for a larger picture. I consider the thoughts of folks who hold a variety of different outlooks. I'm not looking to adopt a new faith or philosophy, but (as suggested by the fabled elephant contemplated by three blind men) I find that looking at something through a different lens is often a helpful way to get a better picture of the whole.

As I wander through books, I find a ton of stuff I disagree with. (If the library let me annotate, I'd leave scrawls of outrage almost everywhere.) But usually I keep my pen to myself and keep reading, so long as the author seems to be heading toward a sincerely-held point rather than just callously tossing out annoying statements. And sometimes in the midst of that, I find hidden gems.

I spent last night with friends discussing one of these gems, the life slogan of Forrest Church: "Want what you have. Do what you can. Be who you are." We agreed that all three of these exhortations have the potential to derail a productive life if used selfishly, encouraging complacency, lack of ambition, and a defiant refusal to move away from bad habits and choices (the movie Reality Bites comes to mind). But we also saw the wisdom there, if approached from a different direction (or, as we put it, when considered with a Jesus overlay). When we added God to the mix, for us it seemed to line right up with much of what the Bible suggests: Enjoy today's gifts, whatever they might something, don't just sit around lamenting your inability to fix this broken world...share the fullness of how and who God created you to be--unique, quirky, talented--rather than spending all your energy trying to conform by saying/wearing/doing the exact right thing. Because honestly? Nobody knows what the "right thing" is. (Even Oprah is really just guessing...)

As the conversation was winding down, we asked ourselves, How am I doing in these three areas? I'd love your answer, too, if you're game to share.

Here's to a day of hidden gems :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 16: A Cool Question

I was up late last night. I'd the early evening with girlfriends mourning the loss of our friend's husband, which was profound and powerful and good in that way that difficult, unthinkable things can sometimes be. When I got home, the Celtics were being annihilated by the Lakers, so I turned that off and reached for the book I'd started earlier in the day, a memoir with the improbable title, Evolving in Monkeytown.

The author shared some things about her spiritual search that gripped me--describing that feeling I've sensed lately of knowing the basics of what you believe, but losing your grip (which was probably too tight anyway) on the finer points, such as how those beliefs might apply to a particular Wednesday afternoon. It was like having coffee with a new friend who gets exactly where you are...and doesn't try to move or change you.

At the end of the book I was more awake than ever, so I went online to listen to a talk given by the friend who died last month, Andrew (I know that sounds morbid, but it was actually pretty wonderful). He asked this SPECTACULAR question: "What will prompt us to ask for more from our experience of God?"

I'd never heard it put like that before. I've certainly been subject to admonishments to give more to God, or be better for God, or pray harder/longer/louder in faith that God would come through. And perhaps it has been suggested (maybe even clearly--I'm not always so quick to catch on) that our relationship with God can change and grow over time. But for whatever reason, Andrew's wording just struck me. And I wondered: What would prompt me to ask for more from my experience of God? I shuffled up to bed mulling over this question.

Apparently, the answer is Andrew: his wise words, heard four weeks after his death. He's prompting me to ask for more of my experience of God--today, right now. (Which is a powerful thing to consider if you're someone who longs to leave a legacy).

I'll be honest: I'm not sure what I'm asking for, or how I'll know if my prayer is answered. Strangely, this feels good--like I'm diving into the mystery of God rather than wading in slowly, trusting God to outline the parameters of both my prayer (he knows what I mean, even if I don't) and his answer.

Want to join me? Ask. Let's jump into the sea of question marks and ask God for more from our experience of him....and see what that means.

If you're in, drop a comment below and say, "I asked!" :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 15: When you see roses, smell them

During the months immediately after I left my first marriage, when I was hiding out at my friend Kristen's summer house in the Connecticut woods and trying to pick up the pieces/decide what to do next, I had an unusual perspective on time. Suddenly, there was too much of it, all waiting to be filled. It felt like time was lurking everywhere. At least twice a week I'd have a day that simply wouldn't end, filled with thoughts of shame, regret, and that awful certainty that nothing would ever get better.

Those were happy, happy days!

But if I'm honest in my remembering, here's the other thing about time that was also true: on the other days of the week (the ones where I wasn't drowning in dread) I had time to think. A lot of it. Expansive time. Space for my imagination to stretch out a bit. That was a good thing. Right now, after more than a year of intense, multi-tasking busy-ness, I miss that.

I was finishing up Eugene Peterson's book REVERSED THUNDER this morning, and he had some helpful things to say about time. This isn't my first encounter with the dual concepts of time found in the Bible (Chronos, which means chronological, sequential time, and Kairos, which is more qualitative, and means something to the effect of the right or opportune moment) but it's the first time I've seen it laid out in these terms:

"If we are dominated by a sense of chronos," Peterson warns, "the future is a source of anxiety, leeching energy from the present, leaving us whiningly discontent with the present, like the child who can't wait for Christmas." So, so true for me! Both when I was hiding out in Connecticut, and right here this morning. When I think too much about chronos, time is a tyrant; I'm always, endlessly behind.

Peterson goes on: "But if we are dominated by a sense of kairos, the future is a source of expectation that pours energy into the present." I underlined that quote approximately 17 times, as something inside me screamed, "That's what I need! Where do I sign up?" And that's the question, right? Where do we sign up?

Don't get me wrong--I don't want to abandon chronos and let my mind drift off into some fairytale land. As someone who hates being late, I appreciate having some order to my days. I just don't want to be bludgeoned by it. And I long for mental space to move around, to look for the opportunities God might want to show me. To stop, spiritually speaking, and smell the roses.

I'm reminded of a scene from Jeremiah, one of the prophetic books in the Old Testament:

"While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him a second time: This is what the Lord says...Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."

Then the Lord went on to describe quite candidly how things were going to get worse before they got better...but he gave Jeremiah a picture of how things would, eventually, get better. That's quite a gift in the midst of whatever captivity we find ourselves in, whether we're tangled in a multitude of demands from our daily lives, or drowning in a sea of unfilled time. I like the idea that if we create the space to check in--to look for the kairos in the middle of the chronos--God will give us a vision of things we can't know any other way, a vision that will help us live well in the present and anticipate the future, rather than letting the chronos choke us with fear of what will/won't happen.

Do you stop and smell the roses? Tell us how. Do you have it built into your week as a routine, like regular prayer/meditation time, or are you good at taking spontaneous moments throughout the day? Today, let's stop whenever we think of it, call on God, and see what he says.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 14: Little beads of time

I've been slightly obsessed with beads lately. A couple of weeks back, the Sunday paper had a coupon to a craft store, and it dawned on me that if I found myself in dire need of a cobalt blue necklace, or earrings to match my new green T-shirt, I had it within my power to make it happen. (In my mind, I'm a jewelry superhero, in training to respond to sparkle-related problems around the globe...)

So it caught my attention recently when a friend used a bead-related metaphor to describe how she gets through tough days. "Sometimes," she said, "it's just about getting through these tiny chunks of time. You pray, you talk to God, you distract yourself, you push ahead and keep going. Because once you've strung together enough of these chunks, you find you've got a pretty good day..."

It's true, right? When I think back over a good day, usually it's a string of nice moments rather than one super-phenomenal thing that happened. It's a parking space in front of the post office, an encouraging email from a friend, a phone call with my sister, a sense that God is near... These are the beads that make up a day I'm grateful for, one that's fun to live. Conversely, it's not usually a big hurt or disappointment that ruins a day. More often than not, it's a series of small frustrations, or the overriding fear that nothing will ever get better and my hopes are futile. If I string those thoughts together, the beads will choke me. No thanks.

Today, I'm working this metaphor. I'm approaching life like an Add-A-Bead necklace. (As the website indicates, it's like, totally 80s...and the 80s are back, so check me out, making spirituality hip?!?) I'll pray, talk to God, distract myself, focus... I'll take on the ten minute chunks, rather than trying to micro-manage the whole 24 hours. And today just might be a pretty good day.

I'll start by reflecting on these two inspiring quotes from great artists of deep social influence:

"No matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily." --Vincent Van Gogh

"Life is too short to blend in." --Paris Hilton

They're both right.

With these gems in mind, I need your help! Leave a comment with your suggestions for reclaiming the chunks of time where the bad thoughts seem to be winning. What do you focus on--and I love silly ideas best--to give you a little lift & life during the day?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 12 & 13: What's The Story?

My friend Larramie sent me a wonderful email yesterday. It was about how I share my story. She remarked on my candor, asking how I felt about being so open in my writing. Her heartfelt encouragement made me want to hug her, right through the giant tangle of the world wide web.

But here's the funny thing: I haven't replied yet, because I'm not sure how to answer. As crazy as it sounds, I've never thought about how to feel about sharing this stuff. I think I've always been of the mindset that most of us have more going on inside--interesting ideas, provocative thoughts, perspectives and experiences--than the typical scope of our everyday lives creates space for. Maybe this is why I love reading blog posts and have found so many cool friends's a venue for us to dig around and share our lives.

But sometimes what comes up is the realization that we don't like our lives. That's tough to reconcile.

In Donald Miller's most recent book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, he makes the compelling argument that any one of us can, at any time, decide to live a better story. Having done this a time or two (and oh, how I wish I'd had this spiffy catch phrase to describe my flailing, floppy process!) I totally agree. But it takes more than a decision, right? As I blogged yesterday, we need some sort of help to recalibrate in a new, better direction. Otherwise we just spin.

Today, my story is in a sad spot with the recent death of a friend. It's a mourning kind of place, rather than a launching pad from which to conquer the world. But I like my story in the big-picture sense: the thru line, the direction, the hope. It hasn't always been this way, so I'm a extra grateful.

How do you feel about your story? Let's spend this weekend thinking that over. Ask yourself--write it down, create lists of like/don't like if that helps. Then ask God what HE thinks, and if he has any recommendations. Then (and this is the challenge) to the best of your ability, do what he suggests.

If you've read my first book, you may remember the chapter where I describe trying this for the first time. My friend Amy and I were praying for husbands. She checked in with God and received fun marching orders to girlify herself: Get a pedicure! Buy a purse! I asked God what my instructions were, and he essentially said, "Stand back! We're taking the whole structure down and starting over..."

Tough, but the better story is worth it.

Need encouragement? I love the song The Long Way Around by the Dixie Chicks, because it's just so true: when I look at friends who settled down the minute they became "adults," the ones whose stories have been clear, focused, and linear when compared to my crazy zigs and zags, this feeling of envy creeps in...until I realize that for whatever reason, I couldn't have pulled that off if I'd tried. I'm not a simple girl. I'm taking the long way around. And maybe that's part of the story :)

How do you feel about your story?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 11: Can we right the wrongs?

The Books section of today's NYTimes has some entertaining headlines, even if you're not into books. One review is called "To Err is Human: And How! And Why!" about two books on the art and science of being wrong. (I can't help but wonder if my early dating years aren't mentioned in at least one of them, given how doggedly I pursued my own gift of being wrong...) The other review is entitled, "You Can't Run From The Past, But You Can Rewrite It." True again!

Most of us--if we have a sense of humor, or irony, or a career in the arts in which some understanding of angst and pathos is helpful--can mine some gold from the lower dips in the narrative timeline of our pasts. But lets be honest: just because we can use it for good in the present doesn't mean parts of it don't sting when we take a moment to really think about them....or that they can't leave us despondent on the couch for a whole weekend with a gallon of Rocky Road and a marathon of Julia Roberts movies on cable if a wayward memory catches us off guard. The past can be potent.

How do we defuse it? Especially in places where we see ourselves making the same mistakes over and over again, how do we break the cycle? I used to read helpful books. I'd identify my mistakes, and DECIDE TO BE DIFFERENT! The trouble was that when I was in the trenches of real life, away from my books and my firm decisions, I couldn't always figure out what "different" looked like, on a what-do-I-do-now? level. So back on the roller coaster I'd go.

I'll admit that I wish my grand solution to this dilemma was cooler. As I said in my first book, I'd love nothing more than to say that my life was changed my adding kale to my diet and finding the right lip gloss. If only... But what really happened was this: God spoke to me one day (weird, right?) and said, "I have a husband for you, and a family...everything you want. But you need to take Jesus seriously." It was just so ridiculously crazy, I decided to give it a try...even though I had no idea what "taking Jesus seriously" might entail.

Eight years (and a husband) later, I'm still figuring it out. I'm delighted to report that it didn't mean a lot of the things I feared it might...and that it helped in a whole host of unexpected ways. No the least of which was answering the question, "What do I do with my wrongs?"

Jesus says, "Give them to me." And if we do, he transforms them. And us. It's miraculous, and mysterious. But I've seen it too many times not to believe in it's power.

So today, if the headline about rewriting the past seems like a possibility too good to be true to you, try talking to Jesus. Ask him if it's true what that Blogger Trish said, about how he could help. And ask him for a vision of your future--free of baggage and cycles of mistakes--might look like.

An engineer named Charles Kettering once said, “My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." Provocative point. I wonder if cleaning up our past, inviting in Jesus' spiritual help to sort things out (like an organizational expert who helps you decide what to hold onto and what to throw away), might be one of the most powerful things we can do to get out of our cycle of hurts and wrongs and invest in a better future?

Make me feel better: Am I the only one out here with wrongs that need transforming?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 10: Shake it up

Sometimes when I check in with God for guidance about the day's post for our 40 Days of Faith adventures, I'll think of a song. And 9 out of 10 times when I look up the lyrics, that song will have some message in a line or two that I hadn't noticed before, that speaks with an eerie sort of precision to the topic of the day.

Today when I checked in, I heard Shake It Up by the Cars. I don't even like that song, so I figured it must be filled with some Divine meaning I'd overlooked...

Or not. Maybe I'm missing something, but from what I can tell it's just a song about dancing. All night. To the beat. There's encouragement to whirl your hair. But that's about it.

I'm laughing as I type, thinking about how absurd this sounds (and that if you'd told me back in law school that someday I'd be writing in a public forum about how God speaks to me through song lyrics, I'd have backed away slowly and stopped returning your calls). But I'm also thinking about communication--and miscommunication--in relationships generally. Have you ever heard a friend mention something and think it's a big deal, only to learn later that it was just a passing comment? I can easily think of 1,001 things guys said to me over the years that I accorded WAY more weight and meaning than intended. And anytime my parents said, "Maybe--we'll think about it..." I determinedly heard "Yes, Trish, of course you can go to that party!"

We have translators in our brain that filter what we hear, and a sorting system that prioritizes input in ways we're not always conscious of. (Let me pause here to say that I'm no scientist. I have no idea whether or not we actually have translators and a sorting system in our brains. But clearly some sort of process is going on in there, and it works in a way we don't entirely control.) Sometimes we get it right, other times not so much.

I don't always know what to do with this, but it's been helpful sometimes to back up and take things at face value, rather than plumbing them endlessly for deep meaning. For example, how do I know God's message to us today isn't to shake it up? Maybe we'll each have an opportunity today to dance--literally, metaphorically, on the inside, who knows?--that we'll be tempted to pass by so as not to rock the boat. What if God really is saying, as clearly as he can so I won't miss it, Shake It Up!

Today, I'll try to keep my eyes & ears open for chances to do just that. For all of us, why don't we take this as an opportunity to check in with God to ask if we've missed the point about anything--with him, with friends, with other relationships. Let's ask him to help us understand the real meaning behind things we've mis-filtered & mis-sorted, and how to respond. The Cars say not to worry about my two left feet...but God knows I can't not worry about anything without his help. :)

Share: what song is going through your head right now?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 9: Celebrating!?

I just got an email from my friends Paul & Pascha labeled "Wahoo! Lookie what came this AM!" Inside was a picture of my new book, fresh out of the box. I was thrilled, teary-eyed...and a little torn.

I've been reading Lamentations--a sad section of the Old Testament, written by a man overlooking his desolate, ruined city. And with it, I've been reading books about mourning, and the death of people we love, and the death of dreams we've invested in. (Nothing but sunshine & flowers here!)

Before you start to worry, let me assure you that it's been helpful--and strangely encouraging--to have this time to think in a focused way about life and death and hope and, well...dashed hopes. And to ask God, "Where are you in the middle of this?" Because at the end of the day, I don't want other peoples' answers. I want to hear from God, so I can "get it" in a way that feels real, and deeper than seeing Footprints in the Sand written on a plaque somewhere.

And so in the middle of this angsty time of questions, the first real copy of A MAZE OF GRACE arrives at my friends' house! It's time to celebrate.

Confession: I'm not so great with transitions like this. And yet the Bible is pretty clear about the importance of stopping wherever we are to give God props when amazing things happen. And to hit this point home, the Bible defines "amazing" with everyday miracles like sunrise, breath, laughter, enjoying our work...On those terms, it would be downright obnoxious of me not to stop my mourning, crank up Kool & The Gang, and do a pajama-clad happy dance around the block like Princess Giselle from Enchanted (although I'll need either white shoes or flowey-er sleepwear...)

So today, I'm working on making this transition. I'm celebrating, trusting that the questions (and the answers) will still be there for me to explore when the party dies down. I'm learning that part of the benefits package of loving God is the ability to celebrate answered prayers in the midst of sadness, and to enjoy the joy.

Because really, NO ONE benefits from a grumpy Giselle... :)

How are you at showing up for the party in the midst of whatever else is going on? What can you celebrate today?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 8: Waiting out the Swirl

My mind is circling a bunch of different directions this morning, and I'm not sure how they fit together. Perhaps they don't. But you know the sense you get when the mental multi-tasking feels different, somehow? That odd awareness that, If I just give all those thoughts enough time & space to zoom around, they'll land in an interesting way? That's me this morning. Waiting for the zooming to stop.

It's a challenge to leave room for this. Part of me likes defined time, where I start and end a project or a prayer, and then move on to whatever is next. But creativity (and by this I mean life) rarely works that way.

As I write this, I'm thinking about an author friend who flummoxed an interviewer recently by admitting that the bulk of her "writing" time is spent staring at the wall or out the window. I recently turned down a request to have a teen writer job shadow me for exactly this reason--I was terrified that after an afternoon with me, the girl would never do homework again!

As we grow up, it becomes less and less about getting the homework done. I've wasted too many days trying to force myself into productive mode (as if I had a camera crew following me, reporting back to headquarters) with little or nothing to show for my efforts. My best "stuff" comes after it's had time to percolate a bit, and then to sit. But that's tough to wait for in a world that constantly threatens to leave us behind.

I feel caught in the swirl of two truths: One, the artistic lament of the decades, that quality takes time. The other, the wise words of a law school friend who refused to let the stress get to him, that things tend to get done. Both are true. But it's a weird tension to hold.

Where are you in this tension? If our lives are part of God's creative act, is there time in your life to let things percolate, trusting that they (and you) will land where they're supposed to be? My guess is that I'm not alone in answering "no." Let's talk to God about that today. Let's ask for holy confidence in his plan, and for space--mental, physical, emotional--to let things settle down enough, inside and around us, so we can see the patterns emerge.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 7: Hope/Optimism

I'm thinking about optimism. I've always considered myself an optimist, at least until I read a scathing indictment of optimism by Eugene Peterson in the second-to-last chapter of Reversed Thunder, where he makes a compelling point about how optimism can be a way to avoid God.

Optimism, he argues, is built on faith in ourselves and our ability to make the world around us work in a pleasing way, shaping it to our desired outcome. He describes how optimism can be moral--using goodwill to fend off injustice; or technological--applying scientific intelligence to solve world problems. And he wisely acknowledges, "It seems ungracious to be unenthusiastic over such an enormous expenditure of intelligence and good will. These people, after all, are at least doing something."

That's the rally cry of our world, right? "Things are falling apart, DO SOMETHING!" We receive 1,001 daily exhortations to do our part, each promising that if we all do our part, things will get better.

What if this is a false promise? I've seen too much to believe that things get better, in any long-term way, without God, and Peterson's words made me realize how much of my optimism is "a way of staying useful" while keeping God out of the picture so the pieces and factors which make up my life feel more manageable.

As I thought about this this morning, I realized that optimism is not the same as hope. I've used them interchangeably for most of my life, but I wonder if perhaps I've been missing a piece of the puzzle? Hope, as it's described in the Bible, has a huge element of mystery to it. You can't just "have" hope. It's a gift from God. We think we know what we're hopeful towards, but the Bible suggests that our imaginations are limited, that what God has for us is bigger, better, faster stronger...entirely other than anything we can dream up to staple onto a vision board or write down in a prayer request. That's what I want.

So this morning, I'm trading in my optimism--my belief that through careful stewarding of my gifts and talents (along with dogged recycling and a determined effort to reduce my carbon footprint) I'll make the world a better place. In its place, I'm asking for hope. Hope is scary and mysterious and entirely out of my control. But so is life. And in that way, hope seems an entirely more suitable tool for this journey than the small control of optimism.

I'm brought back to two oft-cited quotes, one a reminder, the other a warning:

From the New Testament letter to the Hebrews: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I'm going to focus on the first word--NOW. This is what faith is, and I'm asking God for more of it, in this moment. I want that unexplainable certainty that my hope has substance.

And from the venerable C.S. Lewis: "We are half-hearted an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
It's tough for me to imagine that what I've asked God for is somehow less than he has for me. But today, I'll allow for the possibility, asking God to make me a whole-hearted creature, excited about the offer of a holiday at sea.

Because really, who couldn't use a vacation? :)

Checking in: On a scale of 1 ("what's hope?") to 10 ("I'm walking on sunshine") where is your hope-o-meter today?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Day 6: Conversations with God

It's Sunday, which seems like a good day to change up our prayer approach, and try conversing with God. Let's go for dialogue, rather than monologue.

My friend Dave does this often. He takes long walks to chat with God, and he usually starts out with something simple, like: "Hi God, how are you?" (he's happy to report that God is usually doing quite well). This seems as good a place to begin as any.

After the small talk, listen. Give God some room to speak. Not just for three or four minutes, as I tried this morning. But for the whole day. Let's try to stay "tuned in" to the God channel and see what happens.

And if you hear something? Hold it lightly. Use it as a starting point for future prayers. As someone told me recently, hearing from God is the easy part; it's interpreting what God means that's complicated. Acknowledging this tension, let's tune in.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 5: No More Chains

I woke up thinking about forgiveness. We've moved twice in the past year, so I'm very acquainted with my belongings, and the sense you sometimes get about certain things that tells you, "This is not important enough to me to haul up and down even one more flight of stairs..."

Pain can be like that, especially when it's caused by other people. Broken hearts and disappointments come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes it's not even the big stuff that weighs us down--it's little stuff, unattended.

Nichole Nordeman sings a song called No More Chains that I think is about this feeling, about the pressure and stress of hauling a heavy weight up and down a mountain. No one made her, she says. She just did it without thinking, believing it was part of being her. We don't have to pull those chains around, though. We can just forgive.

This is one of the coolest things about Jesus, the way he helps with forgiveness. We don't even have to mean it, I've learned. We just have to be willing to say it (the power of our words again), and invite him into the process. So today, I've been saying, "I choose to forgive ____, in Jesus' name." With each sentence, I feel lighter. It's good.

The last lines of this song say, "I should let you give me wings...I should let you set me free..."

A captivating possibility.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 4: Sunshine Day

I was at a gathering last night with friends, looking at a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to friends of his at Philippi. It was not an especially cheery letter--Paul was in prison, the Philippians were feeling the heat from folks who weren't all that excited about their devotion to Jesus. Paul was trying to help them keep their emotional/spiritual boat afloat.

One line in particular caught my attention: "Do everything without complaining or arguing," he says. He had his reasons, but I didn't quite get that far. I was captivated by the concept of even going one day (let alone a lifetime) without complaining. Now, I'm a pretty positive person, and I left a career as a civil litigation attorney because I realized I hate conflict. So it's not like I head out each morning looking for battles. But somehow, they find me. If I decide I'm in the mood to complain, I can usually find plenty of material to work with. Do you ever feel that way?

As I thought about what this no complain/no argue idea might look like for me, I sensed that in this, God isn't asking me to go all Polly-positive, or ignore reality. If it rains, I think it's okay to say, "Wow...I really wish I'd thought to grab my umbrella..." And if something terrible happens--a breakup, a disappointment, something you hoped would work out didn't--I think it's okay to acknowledge that disappointment, and to mourn. What we want to avoid is complaining about the way things are in a broader sense--giving individual situations that hurt or frustrate us roots and vines that shoot through the rest of our lives.

Today, I'm going to try this. As we discussed yesterday, silence can be a powerful weapon in our spiritual arsenal. So for the next few h0urs, if I don't have something nice to say, I won't say anything at all. If nothing else, it should be interesting to see how that goes :)

Anyone want to join me?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 3: The perfect is on the way

We have to be careful what we say. Our words have creative power, and all too often I find myself talking about how all the things I'm most afraid of are true, while the things I want will never happen in a million years. Not smart.

I'd love to offer some grand plan for choosing our words wisely, but I'm no expert. One discovery I've made, though: silence works. Sometimes, it's all I can do to keep myself from playing along when someone declares definitively that "We're all going to get the flu this winter," or "There are no more good guys around." But what I CAN do in those moments is shut my mouth. I don't have to agree.

In my better moments, I'm able to say what I want (and believe) to be true: that my immune system works quite well and I'm not afraid of winter, for example; that God knows how many good guys are needed and has made enough.... But in areas where my belief-o-meter is running low, the least I can do is not add to the avalanche of fear and doubt swirling around in the world.

There aren't many things I "know for sure" (as Oprah might say). But I know that God has a plan, and things will work out well in the end. I have no idea how, or when. But that's okay. This is where today's quote comes in: "The walk of faith is to live according to the revelation we have received, in the midst of the mysteries we can't explain." (Bill Johnson). That pretty well sums it up.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the people of Corinth about the challenge of walking this line, being caught between prophecies--things we hear from God about what the present might mean or the future might hold--and the challenge to love in the midst of all the questions we still have. "Love never fails..." He says. "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." I don't pretend to know exactly what that means (Paul was a complicated guy) but here's one thing I take comfort in: God is love, and he won't fail. The perfect is on the way.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 2: Maintenance

I'm still thinking about this boat imagery. When I was growing up, my Dad was a lobsterman. Every year around this time, just as the weather was warming up, Dad would pull his boat out of the water for a week to repair it. I never told him (I was a boy & makeup crazy pre-teen, so we didn't talk much about lobstering in those days) but that time out of the water always scared me.

Here's the thing: I've never been great at conceptualizing large numbers of anything, so I was a little fuzzy on how many lobsters he had to catch to keep a family of our size in back-to-school shoes. But it seemed clear that the number was HUGE, and that there were a finite number of crustaceans out there on the ocean floor for the catching. So taking his boat out of the water seemed absurd to me. Why risk a week of no lobsters? "So what if the paint on the hull is chipped and the engine needs tuning?" I thought. "The most important thing is being out there!"

Now though, I get it. (Dad has been retired for years, and I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that I've finally come to terms with the finer points of his profession...) If you don't take care of your boat, your whole operation is at risk. Wood rots, engines die...the cost of replacing things you haven't taken care of is far higher than a week out of the water. (BTW, I tried to get a picture of a boat in dry dock to illustrate this post, but mostly what I found was pics of boats run aground, which is an entirely different thing...)

Today, let's ask God if we need to pull our boats out for repairs. This might be literal--stepping back from our busy schedules for a few days to tend to our physical/mental/emotional/spiritual upkeep. Or it might be more of an internal thing, where we tweak some area of our lives that's showing signs of wear. Or--who knows?--some of us might be in great shape, ready to head out onto the seas and pull in a big catch. As we pray today, let's give God a chance to weigh in on that, and let us know what's going on under the water, so to speak, in the places we can't see.

(And out of the kindness of my heart, I'll spare you the Southern Cross video I'm watching right now, because I can't possibly keep up 40 Days of Boating Songs...and because I don't understand why Graham Nash, one of my favorite singers ever, is wearing that weird striped shirt?)

Here's the link to yesterday's prayer outline (scroll down to the bottom).

And today's quote is my all-time favorite, Jesus' reminder that "What is impossible with man is possible with God." Nice to know that if we need to take time out for repairs, it won't throw off God's plan.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 1: Where is your boat?

Happy 40 Days of Faith 2010! This is always an exciting time for me--it feels a little like back-to-school, a chance to start fresh and see what the new year brings. Never so more than this year.

For the past two years, I've flown into our June 1st start with wind in my sails, ready for adventure. This year is a little different. My sails aren't even up yet. In terms of faith (and to continue the sailing metaphor) I've seen a few storms, and my boat is a little banged up and in need of repair. So this year, for me, our 40 Days together feels less like charting a new course for lands unseen, and more like a safe cove were I can spend some time with God and ask him to patch my boat & sails back together.

It makes me think of the lyrics to The Wood Song by the Indigo Girls, describing the "boat" they find themselves in:

The wood is tired, and the wood is old...but we'll make it fine, if the weather holds.
But if the weather holds, we'll have missed the point.
That's where I need to go.

If you listen to the song, it's so powerful: it describes a certainty that our lives are unfolding according to a greater plan that we can understand, acknowledging that it takes a ton of courage to keep going. More than we think we have on some days. For this 40 Days of Faith, I'm asking Jesus for that courage. I'm asking for specific things, too...but it seems like the courage to get my boat back out into the water is necessary for all the rest.

I'd mentioned that I had an idea of how we might approach prayer, and I'll share it now. I discovered this a few years ago when I was new to the Bible, and was reading Psalm 40 in a panic, knowing I was supposed to teach on praying from the Psalms the next day and having no idea what I might say. As I read, a pattern emerged and I thought, "Oh...I can do that..." It's pretty straightforward.

First, read over Psalm 40.

Second, let's pray, using the same 7 steps as David:

1. Begin by recalling specific things God has already done to bless you.
2. Thank and praise God for these things, noting how His plans have exceeded your expectations.
3. Submit to God's will for your life.
4. Commit to glorify God publicly--in other words, to giving Him credit when He comes through.
5. Ask God to bless you with His mercy, and the protection of His love and truth.
6. NOW outline the troubles/hopes you need God's help with, and the specifics of what you are asking Him to do. (In our 40 Days terms, this is where we tell Jesus what we'd like him to do for us)
7. Acknowledge your lowly status before God (that He's God, and we're not), and that we are obeying His word by asking anyway. Ask that He act QUICKLY!


I'll try to close each of our 40 days with a quote that inspires me. Today's is from Eugene Peterson:

"Prayer is the realization of personal powerlessness and, at the same moment, participation in God's power: I can do nothing, God can do anything."

That about sums it up. Here's to an amazing, awe-inspiring, surprising 40 Days of Faith! If you're in, drop a comment below. I think that helps with courage, knowing we're not in the boat alone :)