Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Mushroom Dance

Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m., I still didn't have an ending for the sermon that needed to be delivered at the 10:30 a.m. worship service. And then I had to go and manage a childcare worker issue (as in, one of our workers simply didn't show up - causing panic among the others). I went for a short walk through our campus with two of our young ones, ages 3 1/2 and 6, as I talked through the situation with our childcare coordinator.

The 6-year-old was, as is her custom, running and jumping along the way with the 3 1/2 year-old doing his best to keep up with her. She was insisting that she show us a mushroom she'd found earlier in the morning. I agreed, of course, to see this mushroom - not really paying close attention to her or fully appreciating the excitement that had been caused by this mushroom siting.

We made our way to the plot of grass where this mushroom was growing, and we knelt down in the damp morning-dewed earth to see this small growing thing. And then the 3-year-old found another one, and another and another...and the two of them danced from mushroom to mushroom - laughing and pointing out all the exquisite details that those of us too distracted to notice would never have seen otherwise.

What a world we would be if more of us learned this mushroom dance! How grateful I am for God's presence in these young ones' bodies and hearts and voices, and the chance to listen to the Holy as I was kneeling down in that grass on a Sunday morning.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Holding On

I fall into these holes sometimes. And when I'm there, submerged in the dark, I forget that I've ever been anywhere else. It feels a little like standing on the edge of a cliff in complete darkness. Way down inside my head somewhere I know there should be a bridge that crosses to the other side because I've not actually ever fallen so far that I can't get back up. But for some reason I can't access that knowledge in a way that is at all helpful. And so I fall off the cliff into a hole instead of stepping onto the bridge.
Sometimes I know why, sometimes not. The past two days have been the hardest in a long time. There have been moments in the last 48 hours when I've held on better than others, felt like I was on the bridge instead of at the bottom of the ravine all broken and bleeding and tangled up in the brush. Mostly, though, it's been dark. I haven't been able to write or believe that I can write - even with two sermons to preach tomorrow. My wife is speaking tonight at a regional event and I couldn't even manage to go with her. She's unbelievably kind and supportive, holding me until I can come back to life enough to cry and start letting the water wash away the dark a little bit at a time. And she's the one who suggested I blog today, that maybe I have to write about where I am in the dark to be able to write about anything else - that I have to let God into me before I can be a way for the Spirit to speak. I suspect she's right, as she often is.
And maybe I'm starting to remember that holding on doesn't mean I have to be completely un-broken all at once, that maybe God can use me even when I'm bleeding a little - or a lot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

For Aunt Ann

Ann Dillashaw Botts
March 2, 1942 - October 12, 2007

We are as different from one another as night and day, sometimes, those of us who are a part of the Dillashaw clan. We live all over the United States, and come together once a year at a beach somewhere in the Southeast. Our numbers grow yearly, with spouses and children and grandchildren there are around 60 of us now. We haven’t yet managed to all be at the beach at once, but we come pretty close – there were over 40 of us in Ocean Isle this past summer. Ann Dillashaw Botts has been a central figure among us for all of my life, and I know for longer than my 32 years.
We generally get incredulous looks from others when we talk about this family reunion – that we all want to be together for that long, that we use vacation time and money to get ourselves there because we enjoy being together, all of us. I know now, as an adult, that many other families would never choose this time the way we do. It’s what I’ve always known as family, though – whether we gathered at Grandma’s or Nita’s or the last many years at the beach: We’re important to one another and worth each other’s time and energy. There’s always a whole lot of laughter when we’re together, often tears, always heated discussion about religion and politics and family. Everyone’s perspective is heard and even asked for. People leave the room sometimes in the midst of a difficult, passionate discussion. We’re all very far from perfect and we do hurt each other.
But at the end of day – no matter what has happened or not happened – we all sit down and eat together, every one of us. We hold hands in a big circle around the room, give thanks for each other and the food to be eaten, we pray for those who aren’t able to be with us that week. And then we eat together. In all of that diversity, in all of that passion, even when emotions are running high – it all gets brought to the table together in one body. Somehow, over the years, we’ve figured out that our diversity is our greatest gift. All of that diversity lives together, in all the beauty and brokenness and love that human community and family is about.
That moment, when we’re all in a big circle around the room, the very brief moments it takes for us to all find a hand to hold and get ready to pray is the only time it’s ever quiet. At the center of this family has always been the women. It’s not that my dad and his brother are unimportant – but the passions and voices of their mother and their sisters dominate by sheer numbers alone. Grandmother died several years ago, now, so it’s lately been the five sisters who’ve been the foundation of the family. Some of my earliest memories are of my aunts sitting at one big table or another – all talking at once and somehow all managing to be a part of the 5 or 10 conversations that were taking place. Aunt Ann’s voice was always present, often laughing, always a key part of any conversation.
It’s only been in recent years that I’ve recognized quiet space in the midst of what is generally a pretty loud family. This past summer, in particular, I noticed the quiet spaces within the sisters – my aunts. The absence of Ann’s voice was created a space no one else’s voice could fill. By then, she was no longer able to speak and so her voice was noticeably absent from every conversation. But while her vocal silence was not been voluntary, her sisters, brothers and children, nieces and nephews - all chose to be in this silence with her from time to time. One after another, I would see each of them take turns sitting with her. Sometimes each of the siblings would talk to Ann – who could understand, but not respond – by telling stories or recalling tales of their long lives together. Often, though, there would be a simple, sacred silence as they sat together in the porch swing overlooking the ocean or side by side on the couch.
In all of the heartbreak of Ann’s forced silence, I saw what has always been true: this wild and loud family’s life is grounded in the silence that invites God to be in our midst. Each one of my aunts refuses to let any of us eat until that moment of silence and prayer happens. Even though it may be only a fleeting moment that passes before chaos reigns again, that moment is central to life for each of them, and that core practice of praying before a meal – inviting the Holy One into our midst - now permeates all of our lives. Those quiet moments of prayer and stillness that have been foundational for decades gave the strength and peace – even in profound grief – to be with Ann in her silence, and to know the silence is sacred, that we were sitting with one another surrounded by and infused with the stunning grace of God. Those sacred moments of quiet continue to hold a wildly diverse family together across generations and geography.
When I remember Aunt Ann, I remember her unquenchable spirit, her sparkling smile, her passion for life, her ready laugh, and her unconditional devotion and love for her children and grandchildren – and her sisters, and brothers, and nieces, and nephews, and friends. I’ll remember her on the dance floor, on a night out at the beach, with every man in the place wanting a turn by her side; I’ll think of her deep love for Judy, Tina, Andy, and Kip and their families; I’ll see her face around that great big family table in the center of her sisters and brothers; I’ll hear her voice telling stories of her teenage escapades, and then listening to her laughter as Pat told stories about Ann’s remarkable ability to avoid Claire Dillashaw’s lectures on appropriate behavior for young women; I’ll remember the light in her eyes and the smile on her face as her children and grandchildren surrounded her.
And, I’ll remember the quiet: Ann’s hands holding those beside hers as we gathered in our family circle, her head bowed in prayer, her steady and silent strength that brought her through many heartbreaking challenges and also enabled her to know extraordinary joy. Aunt Ann’s place in our circle was taken from us far too soon and far too cruelly, and I know the grief in that will continue to find us for months and years to come. Until we join her on the other side of God's great embrace, I pray that as we grieve and remember Ann, we may be able to live in the grace and the love her quiet strength and ready laughter always gave to us.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Amazing what happens when I can, finally, let go enough to let God take over. I don't let go without kicking and screaming and a long, long list of "but what if's?" far too much of time, and that was certainly the case this week.

Yesterday I was the keynote speaker at a conference-wide women's retreat, something I've known I was doing for several months now. For most of the past few months, as I've occasionally thought about what I was going to talk about, the ideas were consistently along the lines of topics that I could use to prove I was a more than decent academic theologian and scholar. I thought that's what these folks would want, and it took until Thursday for me to begin to let go of that enough to start letting what God wanted to come into my head and heart.

The writing and planning got significantly less like pulling teeth after that, and more like Spirit-flowing streams of words falling onto the page. I wish I could say that I fully relaxed into the trust of that Spirit as the words came. I still have a long way to go in that department. By dinnertime on Friday night, though, I was able to put the whole manuscript down. Shannon agreed to listen to the whole thing, and as I was reading it aloud to her I started thinking about how backwards I had approached the entire experience. When I was asked to speak - months ago - I thought first about the women's expectations, and how I needed to prove myself on this new 'stage.' All along, the question I needed to be asking was of God: "Help me, Lord, help me speak with Your vision and not my own."

It's all over now. Thankfully, it was God's expectations that managed to break through and speak to us all.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Details

I have one of those jobs that requires multi-tasking pretty much 99% of the time. The details are often endless: scheduling programs and teachers and helpers and childcare workers; answering emails and phone calls from concerned, disgruntled, worried parents; visiting with those who are lonely and can't get out much anymore; writing liturgy, worship bulletins, sermons, articles for newsletter; communicating on a weekly basis with the various constituencies to make sure folks are 'in the loop'; staff meetings about space, parking challenges due to our proximity to the local elementary school, pastoral care...to name a few. Those are the predictable details, many others happen that need attention as well.

I get bogged down by it all, and have trouble discovering God's presence sometimes when I'm in the midst of it all and forget to breathe. Which means, lately, that I've been having trouble sleeping and am emotionally unavailable, as they say, too often to be the wife I'd like to be and that Shannon deserves.

Some of it is about this particular job not being a good fit for me - parts of it are extraordinary and life-giving and worth every bit of hard work and angst they bring, but there are large pieces that simply do not fit with what I can give. A larger issue, though, is about me and details. I need to remember that although I allow the devil to be in the details far more than necessary, that God is there too: even in the parts that are hard, annoying, un-enjoyable.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Nobody Wins

I listened to President Bush tonight as he addressed the nation on primetime t.v. He talked about strategies, about good and evil, about national security, about defeating the enemy, about winning the war and being successful in Iraq.

I go and back and forth between sadness and anger as I think about this war, and listen to rhetoric about national security - and I know that my anger comes from deep, deep sadness. And it's not because I think everything was great in Iraq before we got there, or that I think the United States should not ever become involved beyond our borders. My deep sadness is from my certainty that war is never the answer. It never has been, from the time the prophet Micah dreamed of the day when swords would become plowshares -- and I'm sure for many ages even before Micah preached his vision.

I'm clear that I do not have a great answer for how we, the United States, should be involved in any part of the Middle East nor do I know how to 'exit' a war. I'm also clear that killing people is not a road to peace. War is never successful. Nobody wins.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Wild and Precious Life

From the extraordinary pen of Mary Oliver:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean --
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaw back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings opens, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

A wild and precious life...that is my prayer today, to remember the wild and precious life entrusted to me.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Life Beyond the Now

Today has been a day touched with deep grief for two people I care about very much: my mom, and an elder here in our church. My mom's half-sister died at 2 a.m.; Bethel's son died after many years of heart-breaking struggle with schizophrenia. Margaret, my mom's sister, was 88 and I have no doubt she went from this world in complete peace - ready to see her parents, her husband and other loved ones again. She sat up last night in the hospital, my mom's brother said, and told those in the room she was seeing 'Daddy' and 'Paul' - her father and her husband. There are many folks, I imagine, who dismiss such claims. I'm not one of them. The life God creates is so much deeper and broader than our limited imaginations can comprehend, and I have no doubt that we all exist on many planes. And I am glad for Margaret that her passing was sure and swift and full of the love of those on this side of God's great embrace and the presence of those who had already passed over, still loving her from the other side all these years. And - and my mom is so very sad. She wasn't ready for Margaret to go, and her grief is overwhelming, as is her brother's and sister's. I pray that those who have been left on this side see Margaret in their memories, in the ways she gave them life and love for all of those many years. And I wish I could hug my mom, and hope she feels that, even from across these 3,000 miles.

For three years I have heard Bethel worry and pray for Kendall, doing all she could to facilitate his safety and well-being, and helpless in the face of an illness that plagued him with deep pain for so many years. She's one of the more courageous people I've met in the world, full of life and gratitude and laughter and love even while holding such worry and grief for the son she loves so very much. Shannon spoke with her earlier, and Bethel said he died peacefully, and for that she would always be grateful - that after a life of so much pain, he found peace at last with his sister at his side as he left this world. Bethel was able to be with him yesterday, to say good-bye.

And so, today, I want to hold those I love a little closer, to pray a little more than usual for those who grieve - particularly for my mom and for Bethel, to remember that life happens in the small, ordinary moments I have with the extraordinary people I am blessed to know and love.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Risking Exposure

So here I am, in cyberspace. Wondering what it means for me to write - anything at all - and post it for anyone to see. Maybe it's not so different from writing a sermon, and casting those words out into the world hoping for God's voice to come through, somehow. But maybe it is different - no protection of robe or title or pulpit: it's just me, exposed through words on a computer screen. A good discipline, seems like, for an introvert like me who likes and needs to write for direction and understanding to unfold.

So here I am, posting on my blog.