Summer Reading – Not Required

Every year my favorite professor from college sends out her Christmas letter which includes her book list. I like knowing what she is reading because it reassures me that there is hope for the future of America. She is an octogenarian who still teaches college classes, reads fiction and gives great, reflective speeches when called upon to lend her dose of perspective to the cultural conversation. Putting such a list together at the end of the year, just not possible, but in these lazy days of summer, sure. You don’t have to read any of these books on my list, but I do hope you’ll pick up a collection of Everbloom and bask in some powerful stories of transformation.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher – I’m halfway through this book of “Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” His tracing of 500 years of history to postulate how we got here in America is interesting and helpful, but predicting we are on the threshold of a new Dark Age poised to last for hundreds of years is tinged with Nostradamus doom and gloom. Retreat! Retreat! Run for the hills and form your own liturgical communities a la Saint Benedict. This does’t jive too well with Paul’s words of gratitude in Romans 1 for “Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish people, I am a debtor. That is why I am so eager to proclaim the gospel to you who live in Rome too.” Yes, we may be living in modern day Rome, but these people need the gospel, not our withdrawal.

Sensemaking by Christian Madsbjerg – Help! How do I pronounce this guy’s last name? Being a believer in the Humanities, I love this book and especially the examples and explanations it provides about how some really crazy business people make do or die decisions. It serves up a strong case for why students of philosophy are still relevant in today’s big data driven business world i.e. George Soros.

Midnight in Sicily  by Peter Robb. Reads a bit like Upton Sinclair in its drowning level of descriptive detail, but Sicily is on my bucket list. Helpful research for the novel I’m working on this summer.

Fuel – Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poem about taking her son to his first Nutcracker ballet is killer. Such a blessing to connect with this fellow Trinity alum at a poetry event last spring. Naomi’s heart for the unseen and belief that beauty will change the world beats with every line.

To Walk in Rivers of Fire – Poems by Tammy Boyd. Written by a dear friend who is the editor/creator of the Mudroom blog. Tammy is funny and a survivor of brokenness many of us can’t imagine. Blessed to sit with her poetry this summer.

The Keeping Place – by Jen Pollack Michel. Can’t wait to finish it because keeping home forms so much of my life, yet our earthly home isn’t enough and Jen’s book refocuses my energy and vision on my home in eternity.

What? NO novels? So sad, but reading novels while writing one doesn’t work for me. What are you reading this summer?

Is an Artistic Community Right for You?

https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/05/18/meet-women-building-community-christian-writers

This article was written for America magazine by Judith Valente and it might be helpful in sparking ideas about the benefits of creating in community vs. going it alone. I remember standing in a receiving line before a wedding reception and the woman in front of me, whom I’d never met, asked me if I was in a Bible Study. I responded, “No, I like studying the Bible on my own.” In about ten minutes she explained why studying it in a group is more beneficial and she invited me to try it out. I’ve been in various Bible studies for the past 20 years because of her invitation and she was right it is better than studying it alone. The same may be true for you in your creative endeavors. Have you ever thought about joining an artistic community? Here’s some reasons why that might work for you. If you already have, please write me a note and tell me why it works (or doesn’t work) for you.

Note: One correction – I am not an “original” member of the Redbud Writers Guild as the article states. I believe I joined the Guild about five years ago.

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For the members of the Redbird Writers Guild, writing is not only a craft, it is a spiritual practice.

The original members of the group first encountered each other about eight years ago when they traveled from the Chicago suburbs to attend a Festival of Faith Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. In addition to their shared geography, they all shared a call to write.

They bonded too, says founding member Shayne Moore, over a mutual “love of Christ.” They also shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

The women of the Redbird Writers Guild shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

When they returned home to Illinois, several of the women met over a glass of wine. They kept thinking back to the redbud trees that were flowering then on Calvin’s campus with their bright magenta blooms in full spring splendor. “We thought, ‘This is a beautiful metaphor for who we are,’” says Margaret Philbrick, another of the guild’s original members—writers seeking to blossom.

Many beginning writers seek out groups where they can share their work and receive constructive feedback. Few of those groups might last as long or have as much success as the e Redbud Writers. Today, the guild has grown to include 150 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Their regular meeting place is no longer someone’s living room or a local café in the Wheaton and Glen Ellyn suburbs where many of the women live. They meet via Skype and converse through a private Facebook page, which female writers who also see their writing as a spiritual practice can apply to join.

“We see it as a way of expanding feminine voices in the area of faith and culture,” Ms. Moore says of the group’s aim.

The guild’s philosophy is simple: that women of faith have something important to communicate and they do that best with the support of community. The writers come from a variety of religious traditions, ranging from Catholic to Congregationalist, Presbyterian to Pentecostal. “We are Christian women, but we don’t get hung up on the individual core values of each of our traditions. There is unity in the essentials,” Ms. Philbrick said.

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The Redbud Writers Guild. 

Most writing groups focus on how to improve a manuscript, find an agent or get a publisher. Redbud Writers care about those things too. But the art of writing is never far from their spiritual practice.

This is how Ms. Philbrick, a fiction writer and poet, talks about her creative process: “I want to have the life-giving Storyteller give me my words. So before I type or write a word, I have a practice where I put out my hands and pray that the Lord’s spirit will infuse me with his creativity and give life to what I have envisioned,” she says. “There is a faith component to my writing that makes doing it more exciting than me just grinding out chapters, going about my task.”

Community, not competition, guild members say, is the trademark of their group. Among the Redbud’s “Core Values” are respect for the feminine voice and a spirit of non-competitiveness.

“That last thing is what I think sets Redbud apart. We are really grounded in that spirit of non-competition. God’s theology is one of abundance and there is more than enough to go around,” Ms. Moore says.

“These manuscript groups are deep times of intimacy,” Ms. Philbrick says, referring to individual members who meet either on line or in person to discuss manuscripts they are working on. “I’m giving my heart to this group in sharing my work. You have to have a deep level of trust.”

The prescription seems to be working. About half of Redbud’s members have books out now, or significant other print publications. Ms. Moore is the author of two books, including Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World Is Easier Than You Think, which chronicled her work as an advocate for H.I.V./AIDS treatment and prevention.

Ms. Philbrick’s first novel, A Minor, came out in 2014, and she is working on a second novel now centered around a famous painting.

Would male writers be welcome in the group? Well, not exactly. “My sense of men’s writing groups is that they very quickly become elitist. Men are going to look for men who are like them,” Ms. Moore says.

“Women tend to be more comfortable than men are sharing in groups,” Ms. Philbrick says. “Women crave intimacy.”

The group aims to encourage emerging writers in particular. The choice of the word guild in its name is an intentional reference to Medieval guilds where artisans worked as apprentices with more experienced artists in order to improve their craft.

“Many of us are moms with newborn babies, getting up at six o’clock to write before the kids wake up,” Ms. Moore says.

Every Wednesday at noon, guild members stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are, and say a collective prayer. While most of the conversations take place online, they meet every two years for a writing and spiritual retreat at Techny Towers, a retreat center run by the Society of the Divine Word order outside of Chicago. Then the writing resumes.

The Massachusetts-based religious publisher Paraclete Press recently put out a collection of writing by Redbud writers, called Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, edited by Ms. Moore and Ms. Philbrick. The two said they were careful to include writing from veterans as well as previously unpublished writers.

The anthology offers a snapshot of feminine life in the 21st century, or as Ms. Philbrick says, it reflects the many trains of feminine spiritual thought, like the outspread branches of a redbud tree. Topics of the reflections in the book range from living as an expatriot to the search for home, the loss of a child or a relationship, the suicide of a brother, the violent abduction of a relative, overcoming cancer and surviving rape. Each story ends, of course, with writing prompts to get both novices and veterans started on new work.

“I hope women who feel stuck grinding out the day-in and day-out routine, wondering what it’s all for, will pick up this book and get a tap on the shoulder from the Lord and see a bigger view of their lives and what it all means,” Ms. Philbrick says. “They just might see what God is doing in their lives beyond the cycle of grocery-shopping and feeding the children. I hope this book wakes them up a bit.”

From Back Patio to Bookstore Shelf – The Journey of a Book

Everbloom, Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is the new book from Redbud Writers Guild which launches next week. How did it happen?EverBloom_Cover_04 On a sweet summer night in 2015 my hubby and I were sitting on the patio talking about the transforming work God has done in our lives which led to us chatting about how God has transformed the lives of many folks we know. He casually mentioned, “You know that writing guild you are part of must have some pretty incredible stories of transformation.” I thought to myself, yep and it would be fun to know some of those stories. The next night happened to be our quarterly Redbud Board conference call and at the very end of the agenda I threw out the idea that maybe we should do a book about how Christ has transformed us as writers. The response was milky, lukewarm as in “Hmmm, interesting. Let’s think about it.”

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The next day I got a call from Shayne Moore a.k.a. our Redbud founder, dynamo, powerhouse get- it-done kind of gal saying, “Let’s do the book. Let’s you and I write the book proposal.” It took a few months and then we sent it to our fab agent who shopped it around. We waited and waited, for months to hear anything. In publishing, if you don’t like to wait, then this business isn’t for you. A year after our first phone call, we learned that Paraclete Press wanted the book. Insert—— screaming, dancing erratically in the living room, taking selfies with Shayne, more screaming and then the real work began.images

I wrote my poem for the collection while sitting out in a fading September sun. Looking over the finished product, I cried realizing my deep gratitude for a community of women who truly, genuinely love the Lord and desire to serve him with their words. We solicited the whole Guild for essays and/or poetry to a tight turnaround if the collection would launch in the Spring of ’17. A small ocean of high caliber work flooded our inboxes which we took to the giant whiteboard in my classroom and sorted through. We love all these women, how could we say “no” to any of them? Fortunately, the final say comes from the publishing house editor which made our job a little easier. Most of the submissions I read while sitting outside, crying my way through several of them. Submitting to God’s work of transformation is painful. People die. Children get kidnapped. Suicide crosses our threshold. Miscarriages, again. Families break. The broad reach of media brushes these stories across our screens everyday, but when you know all the participants who’ve experienced them, you feel the pain deep down.

In about two months we completed the compilation and editing, then the Paraclete designers brought their art and beauty to the project. We know and trust their work. They designed my website and the Guild’s website and many of our authors’ sites and what is pure joy about Paraclete? They LOVE the arts and they LOVE Jesus. For the first time emails were coming in from “Sister A.” and “Brother B.” people who’ve turned their entire selves over to the Lord exclusively, as sons and daughters for life. Supporting our book with prayer and their talents is their first nature. What a gift.

So here’s a behind the scenes look at the folks at Paraclete Press  who made Everbloom come alive and our book trailer . We received gorgeous mugs and complimentary copies of the book, both of which I will give away on launch day, April 25th to the lucky winner who  answers this question via my Contacts page or in a comment below. And the question is…..How has your relationship with God enabled you to bloom in a dry and fallow season? Happy Spring!

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Making Marriage Beautiful

I often thank God for blessing my life with a joyful, sacred marriage for 27 years. People say that building a strong marriage takes work and effort. In some sense that is true. Self-control is a virtue that I push myself to exhibit when my husband leaves his socks by the side of the bed again. Be the loving wife and just pick them up, right? They’re just socks. But the devil hanging out above my ear is saying, “Are you kidding, he’s done it again and he’s assuming you will pick them up for him, just leave them there.” Usually, I pick them up, sometimes he does and sometimes I leave them. But enough sock talking trivialities.

What makes our marriage beautiful? Dorothy Greco’s book, Making Marriage Beautiful forced me to think about this question and that alone is a worthy exercise. I’m recommending her book here today for anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage. This book, written by a woman with insights from her husband and other couples, focuses on listening to one another and God , maintaining realistic expectations (see chapter, “Not Your Mother’s Lasagna) and how we commit to growing together long term. It goes way beyond the everyday realities of socks and addresses the big challenges found in a life of commitment. I love the book trailer posted here because it focuses on growth and how we have to dig, sweat, and wait for those springtime blossoms, much the same process we follow in cultivating a healthy marriage.

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Savor the vulnerable and wise voice of Dorothy Greco as you dig into her story. Ideally read it with your spouse and please leave a review on Amazon when finished reading, Making Marriage Beautiful. Here’s the link to buy the book and the link to Dorothy’s fantastic website. She is a phenomenal photographer and an author, of course. Just being proficient in one art form wouldn’t do. Love and thanks to you Dorothy for helping us and caring enough about marriage to write this book.

Buy the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Marriage-Beautiful-Lifelong-Intimacy/dp/0781414083/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491177718&sr=1-1&keywords=Making+Marriage+Beautiful

Dorothy’s Website:

http://www.dorothygreco.com

Book Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhyKpDLRIHM

 

 

 

Planting Baby Bulbs in Winter

Every year it is the same ritual: buy tons of on sale flower bulbs in November, run out of time before the ground freezes, stick them in the refrigerator hoping the ground will thaw, strain eyes while planting bulbs in the January dusk, pray they come up in April.
Some years the thaw doesn’t happen and they turn to dust in their webbed packaging while wintering in my frig. This January blessed us with a couple of 50 degree days and the dozens of daffodils found a home. I don’t recommend this method. It’s messy. It’s cold. It’s back breaking. Once I stumbled into the house, trying not to trash the floors with my dirty Wellingtons, I found them – several packages of unopened Narcissus bulbs, just when I thought I was done. The temptation to throw them away felt justified. My husband hates the smell of these when they bloom. He says they smell like centipedes. What? Do centipedes smell? Like any other reasonable person I put them in the basement frig. hoping to forget about them.images

A couple of days later I noticed their green shoots piercing through the packaging and mercy overwhelmed me. Force them in the house for a spring treat during February, I convinced myself. All the bulbs were generating green shoots but one, who I named little baby A. Our friends are working through a foster care court battle with baby A’s natural parents and for some reason this tough little bulb, full of entrapped, invisible promise reminded me of baby A. Because of her struggle, she earned the right to thrive in a perfectly tailored environment, just for her. I found an old jam jar, filled it to the brim with water and put baby A on top. Within a week the other bulbs were thriving, practically jumping out of their windowsill containers, but Baby A sat dormant. The bottom of the bulb appeared to be rotting. Throwing Baby A out was not an option so I opted for the dramatic, untested experiment.

Taking the thin paper skinned bulb exterior in my hand, I placed Baby A on the cutting board. Grabbing the sharpest knife in the drawer I cut about 1/3 of an inch off the bottom of the bulb and then plunked it back in the water and said a short prayer.

Three days later, Voila! Tiny root nubs bumped their way out of the bottom of the bulb. images-1Today Baby A is showing eight inches of green leaves and the yet to blossom flower is tightly wedged between these nurturing parent leaves, helping the future flower to grow straight and tall. No doubt, if I determined to leave baby A alone and not gone the extra mile, the growth would have stunted at best and perhaps never emerged at all.

Sometimes the most vulnerable, the one you want to discard, the thing that provokes the most attention and effort brings the greatest blessing. Happy planting!images-2

A New Advent Tradition?

Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the Knightsbridge area of London. I’ve heard about this church for years because the Alpha course was born there and some friends used to attend. This is truly a church whose reputation precedes its reality in the sense that millions of people around the world have been touched by Alpha, but relatively few have attended a service where it all began. I visited today.

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The reality was quite different than what my imagination expected. My mind was conjuring a contemporary hipster church a la Nashville, not the traditional, moss covered walkway leading up to the scaffold clad ancient building. Lots of greeters chimed “HellO” as in “cheerio” as I walked through the arched entrance. The interior was buzzing with zillions of hyped up children who had already taken multiple trips to the sweets tables in the back. As I sat down a kind man in a Christmas sweater informed me that it was “Christingle today” so his kids were beyond excited. I thought he said “Chris Kringle” which struck me as a bit odd we’d be celebrating Santa in the middle of Advent, but this is England. Last night hundreds of teenagers were milling around downtown London, dressed in full Santa suits for St. Nicholas’s feast day. A somber Advent is not the tone here.

The entire service was run by kids with the exception of the narrator of the drama being one of the pastors. The donkey in the drama was a giant, goofy creature who could have been out of the movie Madagascar. His name was Keith. By this point I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping for a killer sermon by Nicky Gumbel and transforming worship, but instead Keith the donkey is dancing his way across the stage to cowboy music (not kidding, as in Happy Trails to You). While shifting around in my seat, wishing I’d gone to Christ Church Kensington, a leader from the front announced that it was time for the children to get their Christingles. The place went silent, lights dimmed (10:00 in the morning) and I’m waiting for an Elf on the Shelf to start hopping about. The band played contemporized traditional Carols and parents left their seats to form a HUGE  line with their children approaching the front.

Something magical happened as the children returned to their seats holding their Christingles, in awe of their beauty and wonder. Amidst the chaos, our fearless leader explained that the orange represents the world, the toothpicks imply the message of Christ’s light going out to all the world, the candle is his light and it sits tucked into the orange with aluminum foil wrapped about to represent the metal nails that pierced Christ’s hands on the cross. On the end of each toothpick were marshmallows, symbolizing God’s provision for us. The whole thing is wrapped in a red ribbon to remind us that his blood was shed so our sins might be forgiven. Talk about a labor of love created by volunteers for every child in the building. Tingles ran up and down my spine as I witnessed how much joy these elaborately dressed oranges brought the children. They held God’s love in their hands. It was tangerine tangible and a new tradition was born in my heart and also in the church, taking your marshmallows on the toothpick and roasting them in the candle flame

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, attended this church and 4,000 people throughout London participated in their Carol services last weekend. Perhaps a somber Advent isn’t the only way to prepare your heart for Christmas? Merry, Merry!

p.s. Just so the children wouldn’t be the only ones in a festive mood the pastor announced that mulled wine and mince cakes would be served in the guest house after the service. Only in England.

Crossing the Road – A Path to Racial Healing

This article is running this month in READY magazine, the new brainchild of Gail and Dominique Dudley. They are a mother-daughter team interested in engaging the African American community in transformational living. I’m so proud of these women and the beauty and truth with which they are executing their vision. Here’s the cover with my article listed as ” The Good Samaritan.”14355152_10210778072310758_2504742666979822756_n

“Then a despised Samaritan came along and when he saw the man lying there, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with oil and wine and bandaged them.” Luke 10:34. Under normal circumstances the Jewish man lying along the side of the road and the Samaritan might run into each other in the market and not speak to each other. Generally, they hated one another because of past political and historical conflicts involving intermarriage. This diluted  the power of their race and violated Jewish law. Yet, in this parable the Samaritan, moved by compassion, crossed the road to help. How may of us have crossed the road to help?

This passage follows the question asked by a religious expert in the law, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knows that this man already knows the answer so he answers him with a question, “What does the law of Moses say?” Rightly, the leader answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms him and offers and encouraging charge, “Do this and you will live.”

We all want to live in peace with our neighbor, but who is our neighbor? In our neighborhood our next door neighbor has the annoying habit of cutting the grass just as we all sit down to eat outside. The smell of gasoline wafts over our salmon salad, but this neighbor works two jobs, nearly around the clock to provide for his family so if that is the only time he can cut the grass then we deal with it. In the Greek “neighbor” means “someone who is near.” In America today if we are going to contribute to the healing of our growing racial divide the definition we use for neighbor needs to be extended beyond the family next door. We, like the Samaritan, must cross the road to the neighbor that others pass by and extend a hand of grace and love that is out of our comfort zone.unknown

A pastor in our church was sent out to start a movement of church multiplication. He came back to the home church at a recent conference and told a story about how things are going. One Sunday morning he felt “moved” to cross the road and attend the African American church service taking place in an auditorium. Afterward he introduced himself as the pastor who led the congregation across the street and offered their church as available for any needs True Freedom church might have in the future. In a simple meeting he extended his home to the pastor next door. The following week, the pastor found himself locked out of his building so he crossed the road to use the phone. After several calls the person with the keys could not be reached. So the pastor said, “No problem, your church can just meet here in our building today.” Thus began a deep friendship between a white Anglican congregation and a community of African American worshippers. These pastors crossed the road.

For about twelve years, I’ve wanted to go to Africa. It started with the notes we exchanged with our World Vision child in Rwanda. Then our church became deeply involved in building the work of God in Jos, Nigeria. We’ve hosted many people from Nigeria in our home for dinner and they’ve lived in our basement. My sons became fascinated with the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro and then friends of mine made the climb and I listened to their tales of overcoming fear and pain to get to the top. This only increased my desire to go, so I prayed about it. When I pray about things I usually get answers in God’s word, in a dream or in the bizarre “it can’t be coincidence” repeating circumstances of life. When asking God to get me to Africa, he kept giving me the unromantic answer I didn’t want to hear, “You need to learn how to go to Africa at home.” Then we met Jessica.

A logical way to learn how to live missionally at home presented itself in the form of a refugee housing complex in the town next door. Cool, highly educated twenty-somethings from our church lived in an intentional community among the refugees and they needed help with their
kids clubs on Sunday evenings. I found myself in a circle of about ten middle school girls with African or Burmese names so unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce that it took about a month to learn and remember them. We made chicken noodle soup swimming in Siracha sauce, think pink chicken noodle soup, we played “high low.” What was the high of your week and the low? We journaled and studied the bad girls of the Bible together, and the good girls too. The apartments were hot, dirty and reeked of unfamiliar spices simmering all day on the stovetop. Some days I forced myself to go. Spending my Sunday evenings in my perennial garden was a selfish pleasure I set aside. As the months ticked by I fell in love with one girl in my group from Liberia. She had a quiet, confident wisdom that my own kids didn’t possess when they were fifth graders. It wasn’t book smarts, but “the wisdom from above that is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” James 3:17. Her words intrigued me and captured my heart. How could this refugee girl without a mom, living in those conditions, with a father who didn’t work, know the things she knew?

On a freezing winter night we all sat in Burger King and she announced that her dad was moving to Boston and she didn’t want to go. My guts began to churn with that dangerous feeling of compassion which means your life is about to change. All the girls came up with different scenarios which would allow Jessica to stay in our community. None of them seemed likely. After a miraculous God given dream, (which is too long to tell about here, but you can read on my blog at www.margaretphilbrick.com) Jessica moved in with us. He dad went to Boston, married a lovely woman he met on-line and Jess is now an integral part of our family, read “integral” not “integrated.” Jessica is important and loved by us. She is integral.

In many ways the taste and color of our lives has completely changed. I was the only white woman at the Liberian wedding of her dad and new mom, also the only one not wearing a HUGE metallic colored hat. We watch black t.v. shows which I didn’t know existed. We eat HOT food if she makes it, as in chicken feet and goat meat stew. We hang out at other refugee housing communities where her friends live. They come over and jump on our trampoline. Because there are significant gaps in her education we read great young adult fiction together, right now the Crispin series by Avi. I thought I was done with these books after taking our three other children through them, but God is a God of surprises. There is nothing heroic about welcoming someone into your home, but there are adjustments, growing pains and joy with spicy laughter.

It may be an oversimplification and I’m well aware that people have spent their lives studying this, but if America is going to heal the racial divide then we all must cross the road and extend our hearts as neighbors to people God has for us to love. It might cost us our comfort, our to-do list and a sacrifice of self, but if we do this then then we will truly live. Luke 10:27.

Avoid School Year Stress With Sacred Space

 

Last May a friend who recently moved from Texas stopped me after a school concert to ask, “Why is it so crazy where we live? When I lived in Texas it wasn’t like this.” She’s right. It is crazy in our neck of the woods so here are a few strategies to combat that choking, stressed out feeling of back-to-school.

We live in Chicago’s western suburbs. Here, like many other affluent burbs, parents can drown themselves and their kids in a thousand productive and good activities which will shape their kids’ future. In a single day dozens of “opportunities” float across my computer screen enticing parents to sign up. Everything from knitting clubs, piano lessons, in-home baking classes and the ever expanding list of club sports all of which are beyond the regular after school offerings. Parents want their beautiful stars and starlets to step forward into the next  arena of dawn until dusk development. In our world, this is what good parents do. They provide experiences for their children which will hopefully capture their hearts and minds, enhancing focus and direction for the future. Overloading schedules can result in burnout with mom or dad in the drivers seat from 3:30 until 7:30. Dinner ends up being an already baked chicken from the grocery store and mac an’ cheese. No veggies. They take too long to chop. I’ve lived this routine. Our daughter used to eat her dinner in the car on the way home from ballet at 9:00p.m., shower and head up to her room for hours of homework. Not exactly family time.

Another reason why it is so “crazy” here is that we live in America. This is an achievement driven culture that thrives on crossing off the to-do list and winning awards. If we are not doing then we are dying. Yes, we are all dying but the doing somehow allows us to disguise the dying part. In our beautiful, green suburban enclave this is keenly felt. Almost every parent I know posts photos of their child’s current accomplishment on Facebook or drives them around on their bumper. “My child is an honor student at Hadley” the sticker reads. What is with those white stick figures that people put on their cars? Mom, Dad, eight children and four pet stickies which scream I AM SO BUSY. If we aren’t doing and now thanks to social media, proclaiming, we must be living dormant worthless lives. How can we stop the suburban spin and get off?

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My summer mornings were spent running or biking in a variety of forest preserves. Along the trail I’d stop. Taking a pause in the middle of my run, I’d look out at a vista and pray there. Right in our own crazy neighborhood, a quiet, morning beauty. I was running, but also resting. Seeking out spaces without cars, just crickets and birds. Saint James Farm overflows with giant oak trees, pastures, hidden creeks and trails. Along one of these gravel paths lies the Horse and Hound cemetery. Mr. McCormick, the creator of Saint James, loved his animals and laid them to rest amidst etched crosses reflecting an era all but gone in our county. This is a great fencepost legacy to lean into. Loving animals. Creating sacred space. Allowing others to partake and enjoy the bounty. Just a place to thank God for the day we’ve been given and all the people who’ve gone before us to make our lives more beautiful and rich.

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If running isn’t your thing, grab a Starbucks and sit by a fountain with your journal and make a list of all the things you are NOT going to do this fall. Close your eyes and drink in the spray on your face with that burned coffee bean taste of your latte. Resolve to seek quiet, seek beauty, rest in faith. The less we succumb to our external realities the more space we create for cultivating our internal reservoir. Remember to tell your children how and where you found your quiet center and the holy order this brought to your day (and hopefully theirs.) We can resist the crazy culture of overload if we give value to the sacred space in our day and share it with those we love. Sacred according to Merriam-Webster means “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a diety.” Churches are a blessing, but what other sacred spaces are in your back yard?

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Creatively Capturing Summer

August 1st is the day we become painfully aware that summer is slipping through our fingers. Eager-eyed parents will be staring at me on August 25th Orientation, ready to hear about all of the challenges that their students will take on during the 2016-2017 school year. This leaves only 24 more days to savor the altered pace of summer. So before my calendar is covered in ink, I’m pledging to capture a moment of summer’s beauty in verse, image or prayer each day in order to have a tiny reservoir to draw from when leaves and then snow begin to crunch underfoot.

This idea came to me while reading and sleeping on my porch only to be awakened by a hummingbird zooming by. Details like this are full of beauty and glory, but we often miss them. Translating what strikes our heart chords into a poem or a photo also enables us to remember and hopefully not say, “Did summer even happen this year?” What glory sightings are you encountering this August? Create something that lasts from these moments and tell me about them!

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Awakened by Humming-

bird. Strumming through air,

shuddering summer beneath

sparkling silver Beech.

Your rumble of sound

enfolded by almighty, precious cielo.

I doze.

“Midnight in Sicily” flopped open

on sunscreen slathered legs.

Single strands of caressed hair

crossing and sticking fast to

sweat beaded face.

Your hum, breaking silence,

miniature freight train,

winged whir and whiz.

Heavenly music, drilling down

into scarlet Dahlia

one by patient one,

600 heartbeats a minute.

God’s alarm clock.

Arise. Summer is singing by.

 

Graduating Baby Corn Plants

Like millions of others, our youngest child graduated from high school this month. “Millions have done it before you and millions will do it after you,” my husband was told when he signed up for the Barbri course to prepare for the bar exam. There is something everyday, you’re just a number about graduating from high school. In the U.S. it’s common and rates are at an all time high with 81% of students graduating. As I hung graduation lanterns over the patio and sent out announcements I couldn’t escape the “been there done that” rudimentary feeling…until driving home from Wisconsin put me face to face with thousands of baby corn plants.

Their simple rows of lime green spriteness reflected hope. Each of them owned the potential to give something back to their planter and maker despite their soft leaved vulnerability. “Knee high by the Fourth of July” seemed impossible with only four inches of growth on Memorial Day. With the right conditions their single growing season will produce abundant food, about 800 kernels on a single ear of 16 rows. By November, those soldiers left standing dry, brown and brittle will blow over with the first winter blast. Left unharvested, their final act feeds the soil to strengthen the next crop. Our son’s eighteen years felt about the length of one growing season, but was it beautiful, rich and nourishing enough to grow a self-sacrificing adult?

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His little toe head of curls, one of which I keep tucked in a Limoges box on my dresser, felt the same as these first little corn leaves I stooped down to touch after pulling my car over. They also carry a soft curl before they toughen up in the face of sun, wind and rain. Making friends came easily for our young one and I wondered if these little plants become tight with their growing partners who share their space in just a few weeks. In every grade, desk partners and playground pals became friends out of convenience and necessity. He formed “The Purple Punk Club” with his skateboarding buddy in first grade – their mission – stealing the kindergartner’s ball. Naughty, but adorable boys. The corn plant doesn’t veer off mission unless deprived of nutrients and water. Did I water my little guy enough in those early years? Without water the tassels don’t form, there is no pollination, no kernels. I watered him with books and music, Berenstain Bears, Beatrix Potter and Yamaha Music School. As a graduate, he doesn’t read much for pleasure and would rather slam on his basement drums. Were those countless Berenstain bumbling stories enough to bear fruit in his developing soul? Well, drumming can be food for people. It aligns to their heartbeat and leads them into worship or it can offend and harm sensitive ears, a.k.a. his 82 year old grandmother. What happens with those drums is not my decision now.

Precious few of us know at eighteen what we want to be when we grow up. When he built his first drum set at three years old out of cookie tins and oatmeal containers we suspected. Dozens of concerts and thousands of practice hours later, our suspicion is confirmed. Come harvest time his hands and heart will be cultivating a new field in a new state with new gardeners, but the beating of the drum still pounds out his growing song.

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One proper growing season can produce millions of ears of milky white corn kernels, enough to feed a country for a year. One tiny house on the corner of President street and Liberty sends its youngest child off to college, but the tassel of golden silky hair remains in my Limoges box. The mother’s privilege is to take it out and ponder it’s possibilities when the silence of beating drums in this house produces a relieved sigh, an empty ache or a hunger. I’ll stop to savor a buttery rich ear of corn with a nice cold glass of pinot gris and toast the truth that although they all travel off to plant their own field, the farmer’s job is never done.