Reposted: This time last year, an unexpected metaphor emerged from my smashed tea cup. In honor of the holidays, I am re-gifting this post, just in case you are in a situation where you need to be reminded that beauty can emerge from unplanned demolition. Don’t give up hope, friend.

blue cup

 

 

All That Remains

I discovered the set of four oddly shaped blue mugs at a thrift shop and purchased them with a couple dollars and a bit of guilty pleasure. The bubbly hand-blown glass whirled and begged to be filled. So this morning I dropped in a tea bag and poured steaming water into my new old cup.

In a blink, without warning, the glass spidered full of fractures, silent and swift.

Crack.

Shatter.

Scalding tea seeped over the table edge and dripped to the floor.

My fingers gingerly mopped up my boiling puddle of tea with a rag and cautiously shoved the broken chunks of cobalt aside in a pile in the sun. I paused and sighed about the broken treasure.

Then, I noticed.

Look.

Look, there in the sharp shards that threaten injury.

Ok, call me crazy, but just look.

Can you see a swan-like creature with folded wings?

 

 

broken glass swan

There on the windowsill, for just a second, my functional cup morphed into something that’s meant to fly. And this is my word for you today, from a broken tea cup with wings …

 

Sometimes treasured things must shatter for new beauty to emerge.

 

 

 

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Regarding Ferguson. The confession of a privileged white woman, and 5 links to wise words from poets and prophets about racism in the United States.

outside world

 

“The spiritual life does not remove us from the outside world but leads us deeper into it.”

Henri Nouwen

Awakenings

I speak with the feeble credibility of a privileged white woman who lives in a small, homogenous, and dominantly white middle-class mountain town. With regard to recent violent protests and peaceful outrage about a lack of indictment for police in both Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, I have had little to say. Instead, I have listened, watched video footage, and felt the need to hold my words.

Why?

Because I must first admit to an ignorant form of shock. Like waking to the truth of deeply held family secrets and abuses, this reality of violence, profiling, and racism is a bracing slap to the face.

Turns out, we are not the people we so proudly describe to the rest of the world.

I wanted to believe otherwise. From my position of unearned privilege, I blindly chose to believe otherwise.

My eyes are opening now.

And the words “I am sorry” just don’t cut it.

In the days following verdicts and protests, I listened to people like humble non-violent activist Shane Claiborne or sharp-witted Civil Rights grandfather Rev. Al Sharpton, and other voices who speak in their own way for racial equality, so aware and articulate. I like to think that I aspire in my own way to engage with injustice — to find words and ways to use my voice for brothers and sisters without a voice. However, of late, I see how I have been complicit in the problem of inequality and racial prejudice. Like many who have had to admit gross oversight in order to move forward, I have been scrambling to understand, to catch up, to recalibrate the ugly truth about our “free” nation and supposed racial progress.

Of Poets and Prophets

The following voices have helped me recalibrate in the awakening. To quote Bob Dylan, these 5 posts by ‘”writers and critics who prophesy'” with their pens, bobbed to the surface in a sea of opinions on the interweb. I share them with the desire that you’ll likewise benefit and be enlightened as the times they are a-changin’.

Hopefully, toward freedom.

 

bob dylan times are a changin

 

5 Links to the Crisis of Racism in the United States

1.  10 Ways a White Person Can be Interrupted by Ferguson, by Esther Emery

2.  An Advent Sermon on the Turmoil in America, by Nadia Bolz Weber

3.  Ferguson, Dr. King, and the Non-violent Uprising, by Shane Claiborne

4. To My White Male Friends on Facebook, Cera Byer

 

5.  Chris Rock Talks about Ferguson, Cosby and what “Racial Progress” Really Means, an interview with Chris Rock

Which of these links resonated most with you?

Thoughts? Responses? I’d love to hear. Really.

Leave a comment. And PLEASE SHARE.


 

Bob Dylan image posted by Seth Haines on Facebook, 11/26/14

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If you’ve been around here for a while you know I support The Exodus Road, a non-profit coalition which provides intervention for women and children trapped in sex trade. I no longer work at a desk in the stateside office, but I am honored to count Matt and Laura Parker as treasured friends. And I still work on freelance projects for The Exodus Road. This week, I am guest-posting about the unexpected intersection of my own childhood sexual abuse and investigative surveillance footage of rescues. Join me over at She Loves Magazine with thoughts from the front lines of the anti-slavery movement — and the two things we all share.

(Trigger Warning: Childhood Sexual Abuse)

 

bondage image

 

The story of rescue from sex trade is about needed and necessary justice for women and children. But it is also a fractal repetition of a larger, louder story of intended rescue and redemption for every single human.

Patterns

If you listened in at my last day job, you’d hear conversations about pedophiles and stories of children forced to have sex with adults. I didn’t work at a police station. I’m not a social worker. I’m just a relatively frumpy mid-life wife, a boy mom, and a writer who happened to work at The Exodus Road, an international non-profit which fuels the rescue of women and children from sex slavery.

Some days, a handful of us would huddle around my boss’s desk in the stateside office, and we’d watch the latest uncut video footage of undercover raids. We watched investigators and local authorities bust down doors of illegal operations in dark fearsome places where few are willing or brave enough to go. We watched arrested men file into paddy wagons as underage girls were extricated from brothels and bars. And for every rescue of a woman or child, we placed a rock with a saved girl’s name in a glass jar.

Every rescue deserves celebration. We counted each one, each story, each life.

Heroic and Hollywood as it all sounds, rescues aren’t glamorous. Often, raids are tipped off and sabotaged by insiders. Ex-military investigators and volunteers spend uneventful hours, days, or weeks doing surveillance, sitting in cars full of paperwork and food wrappers, waiting for evidence. Most days, investigators sit around a lot, waiting. On the best days, a raid is eventually triggered, and a team of operatives bust into a locked brothel or bar. Arrests are made. Enslaved girls are gathered for transport to safer places. 

I used to think rescues should be a time of obvious relief and joy for the victims—like the happy ending of a tense movie.  But more true to real life, initial expressions on the faces of victims are usually blank resignation or meltdown tears; not celebration. Girls who have been beaten into submission, had their identities stolen and were forced to have sex multiple times daily, don’t know who to trust when authority arrives. In first moments of freedom, victims often look afraid or even catatonic.

After living in bondage, it takes a while to believe you’ve truly been set free.

Read the rest of the story over at SheLoves Magazine …

CLICK HERE.  

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Image credit: savan sekhon

This week I continue on my Mountain Church Trek with a processing party at a Biker Church, and thoughts on Kathy Escobar‘s book “Faith Shift: Finding your way forward when everything you believe is coming apart.” mitten cup

“Hope for spiritual refugees, church burnouts and freedom seekers.”

 

A Processing Party

Outside, a bitter November wind bit our fingers and faces. Inside, small pods of friends and strangers huddled around tables. The group of refugees and church misfits had traveled on a frigid night to gather for a processing party. Our destination, a drafty little warehouse-turned-coffee-bar community building, was spare and hard to locate. The Biker Church (as in Harley, not Tour de France) was tucked inconspicuously in a low-income neighborhood, down the alley from a business that recycles appliances and mattresses. The cold stripped-down industrial area served as a perfect setting for those of us who have been, each in our own ways, stripping down what we’ve known as church.

We nibbled on snacks, held warm beverages, listened, marinated on ideas, and vulnerably tangled ourselves in an interactive conversation faith and community.

I want you to know what we talked about. Because I came home with an extra dose of warm hope tucked in my pocket.

Tender and Sacred

“Our faith is the most tender and sacred part of us.”

~Kathy Escobar

Author and pastor, Kathy Escobar, facilitated the processing party. Kathy is a prolific writer, speaker, and mom to 5 kids in north Denver, Colorado where she also co-pastors The Refuge, a progressive church community. She has a contagious smile, a disarming openness, and an overflow of passion. In her own words she’d say, “I’m most passionate about community, the marginalized, healing, spiritual transformation, equality, justice, “church”, relationships, diversity, and learning to love and be loved.”

At some point, I stumbled on Kathy’s bog series Rebuilding after Deconstructing and was immediately drawn to her shared experience and language for my own journey. Kathy speaks to many who are scattered, disenfranchised with church, and are seeking to rebuild a sense of community around faith. Her most recent book, “Faith Shift” captures the angst and offers a path.

My husband and I related to her content because at times we have felt like a crazy lonely minority. For the past couple of years we have been in a community free float, unable to find many others who shared our experience or language. So many non-essential pieces of how we used to express our faith changed, fell away, or clarified in ways that have made us feel like we no longer internally fit the way we used to fit inside church. So naturally, we were interested in a shared conversation about our experiences.

Symptoms of a Faith Shift

At the processing party, Kathy introduced herself and jumped right in with the following watershed list from her book. As she read, my husband and I and a handful of fellow refugees, kept looking at each other wide-eyed. Not every item applied. But enough did.

“After years of participating in a comfortable and comforting tradition, countless believers have begun a slow drift or experienced a dramatic event that lands them in a spiritual wilderness. See if any of these statements describe you:

 

  • I don’t even know how to articulate where I am spiritually these days
  • I have experienced a significant shift in my theology or faith perspective and find myself feeling disoriented or unsure
  • I feel scared that if I share some of these doubts and concerns out loud, that I will be judged, scripturized, or ostracized
  • I feel sad, angry, afraid, and lost after a painful church experience
  • I’m afraid I am on a spiritual slippery slope and have no idea if I’ll survive the landing
  • I’ve stopped going to church altogether because I couldn’t take it anymore
  • I have lost respect for my pastors and leaders and no longer trust their leadership or authority
  • I feel betrayed or abandoned by God
  • When I am around Christians I have no desire to be like them or to be associated with them anymore.
  • I haven’t picked up my Bible in a long time and don’t have any desire to
  • I worry that if I disconnect from church, my kids will miss out on developing their faith, so I keep going for them” *

If you relate to some or many of these, chances are good; you are in a shift, too. And, you are in good company.

Side Note to Protesters

As I copied and pasted that list (above) just now, in my head I heard the protesters — the ones from my former church life who will read those symptoms and get bothered, worried, offended. If you just read that list and feel the need to use the words “backslider” or “apostate” or “heretic” — if somewhere in your heart, you know that’s you — hear me say this:

People in this process need a safe place to be loved and known in order to unravel and rebuild.

Most churches create small groups and educational space for ‘new believers’ and ‘discipleship’ and ‘Bible study.’ But I think this is a critical question for my protesting friends … is there room for a faith-shifter’s doubts and questions in your community?

If not, which parts in that list of symptoms is most frightening or threatening?

Maybe you are hearing about this tension of faith for the first time. Or maybe you recognize the symptoms of friends who left your church and you are hurt, confused or angry. I highly recommend reading THIS if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of an established Christian in a shift of faith.

For Those in the Shift

When you looked at that list of relatable symptoms, did you find some description of yourself? If so, do not despair. Really. Don’t give up. There’s reason to keep moving toward God. I hold to this Bible quote as an anchoring promise:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Personally, I was encouraged to find a language of hope and healing specifically for what can be a very difficult and painful season of spirituality. A season of faith shift is not necessarily a lifetime choice. It is often one developmental part of a longer passage. I am encouraged to find an open space for this form of deconstruction because I have spent a lot of time in Christian communities that hold tightly to certainty and conformity as core values. Where certainty and conformity are the rule, doubt and questions have no place. And that makes for a very lonely journey when you’re in a faith shift.

It is a relief to know others have walked through similar wilderness into rich new relationship with God and people. Finally I see that my own painfully transformed faith now holds a paradox. I still have a distilled core of beliefs about means to be a devoted Jesus Follower but those precious beliefs now reside inside a boatload full of mystery and diversity. And it’s so good to know there are a lot of us rowing alongside each other.

What’s Next?

If you resonate with some of these introductory ideas of a faith shift, then I suggest some further reading (below). But, before I do that, to be clear, Kathy’s book isn’t the final answer. Ultimately, God holds your next steps. He knows what you need. And that may or may not be a book. Your soul care and spiritual practices matter greatly in the process of unraveling and rebuilding. First and foremost, it’s important to connect — with yourself, with God, and with others. Take the small steps you need to bravely engage with the most tender and sacred part of yourself.

One day at a time. It’ll be worth it.

 

 

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Further Resources from Kathy

From the Blog:

8 Ways You Can Support a Friend or Family Member Who is in a Spiritual Shift

Rebuilding is Possible: A Little Hope for Deconstruction

Rebuilding after Deconstruction

The Book:

faith shift coverFaith Shift: Finding your way forward when everything is coming apart, Kathy Escobar, Convergent Books, 2014

 

 

 

 escobar process party

(Kelley J. Leigh and Kathy Escobar

@ The Processing Party)

 

Symptoms of a Faith Shift, excerpt from “Faith Shift” by Kathy Escobar, pp. 3

- Seeking quote from The Bible, Jeremiah 29:13

journal pile

“Who can bear to look at the junk of our own minds

that comes out in writing practice?”

 

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down to the Bones

The Sorting …

See that knee-high mound of loosely organized journals and binders?

A couple months ago I decided to face the albatross that is all of my past writing. I hunted and gathered all available spiral bound personal journals, and folders of past teaching and speaking material. That pile is everything I ever saved, even stuff from high school.

With the encouragement of my writer’s group, I am harvesting pieces of past content and transferring it to a searchable system in my computer. And that looks and sounds very sequential and tidy doesn’t it?

Not so much. The process of reading through the words of one’s past is pretty trippy for a lot of reasons. Those journals hold pages full of soul searching and processing. Some of it fruitful hindsight; the rest, self-absorbed and misguided. Perhaps the most challenging issue has been the decision to salvage or throw. What to keep? What to toss?

These are the questions we all have to ask when reckoning with the past and moving into the future.

I have been traveling through words which describe wildly varying seasons of green growing bliss, budding new life, hibernation, and dry despair. Again and again I observe my hyper-vigilant and recursive attempts to right things all by myself. In equal measure, I see persistent evidence of God’s patient and tireless ability to repeat himself. Over and over, in hundreds of different ways, he says, “Come to me.”

In a way, I consider this piled up journal process as one way of doing just that. I am moving toward my self and God. I am no longer running with fear at my back.

I love how writer Natalie Goldberg describes reckoning with her own pile of writing. From her motivational book, “Writing Down to the Bones”:

“When I look at my old notebooks, I think I have been a bit self-indulgent and have given myself too much time to meander in my discursive thoughts. I could have cut through sooner. Yet it is good to know about our terrible selves, not to laud or criticize them, just acknowledge them. Then, out of this knowledge, we are better equipped to make a choice for beauty, kind consideration and clear truth. We make this choice with our feet firmly on the ground. We are not running wildly after beauty with fear at our backs.”

It may just look like a small mountain of paper on my floor.

But I am running wildly after beauty.

 

 

Want to peek inside the piles?

You can read one of my many journal pages here, “Of Dead Things Laid Down.”

 

 

scrivener logo

 The Geeky Details

In case you want to know my process with the journals … I am scanning my documents into SCRIVENER which is my writing program of choice.

I high recommend it. Couldn’t function without it. Can’t say enough about it.

 

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The following post came from the mountain of journals on the floor of my office. I chose to keep this picture and (edited) sketch, written in white pencil on black pages, because it captures something everybody needs to know about dead things.
lay it down image

Dead Things

I came upon this skull while running down a steep forested trail behind my house. No other remains anywhere nearby, the bone was carried and dropped on the barren rocky path where I found it. The lifeless white cranium of a coyote or a dog was dry and devoid of nutrients, no long of value to a predator.

I picked it up. Looked it over and decided to take it home to show my sons.

The gritty remains traveled in my left hand, then my right, then pulled up and hidden inside my floppy sweatshirt sleeve. Although awkward, the sleeve option worked best.

Halfway home, it became evident, it’s easier to run a long journey empty-handed. It is hard to run with a skull in your hand. I couldn’t find my stride while carrying the dead thing. It slowed me down —

distracted me from my path,

threw me off balance,

caused me to stumble,

made me vulnerable to injury.

Eventually, I set the skull down in the dirt. I took a picture and left it behind.

The skull reminded me of the one heaviest thing I was carrying in my soul. The thing I so desperately wanted to set down but couldn’t on my own.

There are things in life that we choose to carry. Burdens. Self-made prisons. Crippling shame. Anger. Hurt. Greed. Jealousy. Addiction. Infidelity. Dead things steal our focus and eventually drain our souls. The only way to be free of a dead thing is to release it.

Drop it. Lay it to rest.

But it’s rarely that simple, right?

The dead thing in my life refuses to relent without a fight. The heaviest skeletons of the soul can’t be buried and left behind just by sheer act of will. The release of a dead thing requires actual words spoken out loud to actual people, and ultimately, supernatural assistance. We all need help from outside ourselves.

I think true freedom resides here:

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

~Jesus*

Today. Everyday. Choose the unforced rhythms of grace.

Recover your life.

Lay it down.

Trail Skull

“Seeing as I found a rock in my pocket,

Seeing as I found a glitch in my soul,

Make believe won’t hide the truth.

When judgment falls, it falls on you.

Bend a knee my friend.

 

Pride can break a man right down from iron.

Twist him ’round  ’round and tatter up his soul.

Handprint of God on the small of my back, my second chance.

I’ll bend a knee. I’ll bend a knee.

Lay it down. Say it’s all my fault. I believe.

 

Lay it down. It’s the hour of my healing.

I’ll bend a knee …

lay it down.”

 

J. Knapp, Lay it Down

 

What is your dead thing?
Is today the day to start or re-start a process of laying it down by pursuing those Jesus words?

*Jesus quoted from the Bible, in the book of Matthew 11:28-30, (The Message version).

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Felt Stories Saturday

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For this episode in my Mountain Town Church Trek series, I head back to my midwest church girl roots with a visit to South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. park ridge street sign

Time Travel

“What if I don’t find anybody I know?” I wondered to myself as I pulled open heavy door and entered the bar alone. My heart accelerated with a quick flash of insecurity. Loud music bounced wildly off the dark wood panels of a north side Chicago Irish pub.  A few nervous seconds passed in the room full of strangers. Then, the aging faces of former classmates and childhood friends started to clarify around me. Tension dissipated. Thirty years after graduation, we milled around tall bar tables, leaned in close and shouted catch-up questions to each other above the din. “What are you doing now? Where do you live? How many kids do you have?”

High school reunions are like a one-night event where people get a chance to glimpse into a carnival mirror for faces of one age.

Hello, classmates of 1984. Look around. This is what you look like at 48 years old.

This is who you are.

This is who you were.

This is who you are becoming.

Before I gathered courage to join the reunion, I took a drive around my hometown.

Park Ridge, Illinois sits on a northwest edge of Chicago, and is marked by grids of long mature tree-lined suburban streets and sidewalks. Over the years, newer larger homes slowly demolished and replaced many of the old neighborhood houses. But the recognizable landmarks remain.

I drove past the simple concrete street markers with long green name plates which marked my turns on to Vine, Crescent, Courtland or Prospect. I passed my girlfirend’s bedroom window, my boyfriend’s backyard, tidy back alleys, the red and white marquis of Pickwick Theater and the stadium lights on the football field at Maine South High School. The familiar smell of airplane exhaust from O’Hare Airport mixed with fresh cut lawn grass made me feel like I should be walking to school with a flute case under my arm.

On that park swing, I felt six. By that grocery store, I felt thirteen. Under that elm tree, I felt twenty. And around the corner, I found home.

The white steeple and tall colonial windows of South Park Church were extensions of my family home. A half mile apart, I inhabited both places almost equally. I used to know every inch, every hallway, closet, baptismal, bathroom and balcony. I colored pages in Sunday School rooms, memorized Pioneer Girl verses in Fellowship Hall, shouted with the high schoolers in the gym, and walked down the sanctuary aisle on my wedding day.

I stopped and parked the car next to church. The car engine went quiet. I sat and stared at the brick structure and felt the same sensation you feel seconds before the front door swings opens and the family dog comes running.

Except, nobody was home.

I stepped out of my car to inspect the site and experienced a collision of familiar and foreign. The church was undergoing massive renovation. The parking lot was a scrabbled surface. Plywood covered windows. Dirt and dumpsters marked the outline of massive upgrades to the tired old building. Yellow tape and temporary fences served as safety barriers to redirect pedestrians.

I stood before a work in progress. The white column institution I used to consider immutable and steadfast was under construction.

This is who you were.

This is who you are.

Reconstruction

As a pastor’s kid, I watched this church morph over the years. When we moved to the middle-class suburb in 1973, the choir wore white and green robes and WMBI‘s favorite son Glen Jorian was the choir director. Hard cover hymnals lined the backs of the pews and my Dad, Art Gay, spoke from a fancy pulpit which set in front of four matching white throne-like chairs. Times changed. A revival among high schoolers ignited in the late 1970’s, and filled the weekday sanctuary with hundreds and hundreds of teenagers who were spiritually on fire. Traditional organ and piano services gave way to the allowance of one service with drums and guitars. Media screens moved into the choir loft and a christian version of Second City drama slipped onto the stage. We waved goodbye to youth pastor Bill Hybels as the last vestiges of that youth revival flooded out of our doors and into movie-theaters in what would become the birth of mega-churches like WIllow Creek. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan brought a new kind of evangelicalism to conservative churches. And in the 1990’s, my Dad moved out of the weekly pulpit and into international relief and work with Christian non-profits. I got married and moved away.

This is who you are becoming.

Standing by the curb, all the bustle of restoration made me feel optimistic, excited for what may be ahead for this community. At the same time, the ripped-up church construction felt like a brick and mortar picture of my own faith journey. The organ and pews are gone; the middle of the building demolished and rebuilt, the entry reconfigured. I’ve heard the church members have had to communicate clearly about which entrances to use during the project. There at the curb, I didn’t know which door to use to access the sanctuary that was once the living room of my youth.

Finding Home

For a while now, I’ve been among the scattered — the ones who used to be church people but currently claim no ‘church home’. I am currently untethered from any one particular established faith community. I travel around to various local churches in my quirky little mountain town, taking it all in. I am listening, writing, learning.

I am still a Jesus Follower. I am just in a messy process of trying to reconstruct what it means live out my faith in context of community. And somedays it feels like a jumble of familiar structures and demolition.

That said, somewhere deep in the middle of the rising scaffolds of my faith, God’s Spirit dwells. I believe this. I rely on this as truth. It doesn’t look exactly the same anymore. But the sanctuary still stands.

SPC Construction

I snapped a couple pictures of the church renovation to send my brother and sisters and headed over to meet up with all the other kids who were born in 1966. And I got to thinking.

No matter how the world changes. No matter where we wander. No matter if we lose bearing and can’t seem to find the front door. There is always an available way home to the heart of God. Somewhere at the center I hear it, feel it, know the way like the concrete markers on every corner of my childhood. In the depths of my soul I feel a boom and resonance across time, for me, for you.

“I AM.”

אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה

 

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Wondering about “I AM”?

“I AM”, or אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה in ancient Hebrew, is a sacred and timeless name for God as found in the Bible, Exodus 3:14 where YAWEH introduces himself to Moses. It is also a name Jesus uses to describe himself as the one “who is, and was, and is to come.”

Always Final (2)

 

Of marriages and apple trees … an update.

My poor bear-snapped crab apple tree looks worse then it did last year (see image at end of post). Sometime in June when I wasn’t looking, a family of mule deer munched off the last green leafy vestiges of life in the lower branches. Many times this summer I nearly yanked the forlorn stick-of-a-tree out of the ground. But, I absolutely know there is healthy life in the root system. So, against my better landscaping judgement, I decided to keep it. Again. Until next spring. 

Because even when things look futile and dead on the outside, usually, somewhere buried deep inside, there is hope for new life.

14764368474_1c07f8b09f_z

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,

I would still plant my apple tree.”

Martin Luther

Black Bear and a Broken Tree

I bought a half-dead tree several years ago during an End-of-Season-Clearance sale at the hardware store. I knew better.  But, it seemed a reasonable risk for the price.

I dumped the short twiggy weeping crab apple tree out of a sad little plastic bucket and transplanted it near the rain downspout, in a hidden sheltered corner of our house, safe from high-altitude wind and dry extremity. I gave it fussy attention, hoping for a piece of my Midwest roots to bloom in the pine forest of the Rocky Mountains.

Four years later, early morning coffee pot burbling quietly in the kitchen, I leaned over the sink to peer out the window and admire the first batch of tiny red apples on the thriving tree. My loud gasp startled the dog at her bowl. She froze, water dribbling off her chin, and looked at me with a cocked-head question. “What? What’s the matter?” Heavy paws ran behind my sock feet as we both dashed out the back door.

Fresh bear tracks in the soft garden pathway led to the tree.  During the night, my ten foot tree had been snapped in half by a hungry black bear.  Top limbs were sheared clean of apples and left in a wilted in a pile on the gravel.  I imagined the portly bear sitting on his bottom, legs outstretched with heavy padded feet, gorging extra calories for the winter ahead, cleaning off branches the way a panda strips bamboo. The lower half of the broken tree remained like a stunned middle-school girl in the first minutes after a very bad haircut.

Sometimes the things we plant don’t bloom as planned.

Over the years, my husband and I have had our own hard sheering and pruning conversations about things other than trees.  We have well-practiced angry dances about things like sex, intimacy, and weedy threats to our marriage.  Depending on the issue, usually one of us threatens with the huge loppers, while the other stands with wringing hands.

Now and then we all need a healthy pruning. Certain old growth needs to be cut back, tossed out so fresh, better life can grow — which is why I decided to keep the bad-hair-day tree and help it recover.

A few weeks back, a small herd of deer, including some sweet spotted twin fawns took to wandering our forest neighborhood.  When nobody was watching, the deer munched up any available leafy garden growth.   Most of the new leaves on my barely-recovered crab apple disappeared. A lone twig still standing, the tree was forlorn and naked like a plucked chicken perched on a barnyard fence.

How long to the point of no return?

My husband and I have been in similar naked plucked-chicken stages of our marriage, barely surviving, pruned down to the last vestiges of all that we believed.  We have laid in bed next to each other, together but lonely, insecure and apart, hearts left for dead. Over the course of many autumns, we have walked together through intimate crisis into healing. In the process, I’ve come to believe that only God can prune and tend the unseen places of our hearts in unexpected ways; ways that bring beauty beyond recognition. It’s a seasonal process which looks like my over-pruned crab, and includes feelings of point-of-no-return ugliness and death.  But, in my limited experience, I can say this with confidence:

If Jesus is at the center of the tending, new life branches out, and Spirit-breathed fruit grows. It does.

Certain autumn nights, when my bedroom window is open and the breeze is just right I look up at the stars and wonder if the bears are hibernating yet. I slide my heat-seeking body under my husband’s heavy sleeping arm and remember when I used to be afraid of him, of being intimate, of the much needed pruning in our marriage.  I feel his breath on my face and feel thankful for the pain that came before, and all the stolen fruit and broken days that preceded this blooming season.

And that’s why the apple tree will stay.  Even if I knew that bears would come, and limbs would break, and tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Related Posts about Marriage and Faith:

How Busy Almost Wrecked My Marriage

A Good Year for Daisies

My Brutiful Truth

What do you think? Should I replace it? Leave a comment and let me know.

Apple Tree Then - Now (1)

 

You can also find this post featured on the online magazine — ‘The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life and God’.  (linked here)

 

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Where the choice to truly live in the present requires faith and courage.

Hello, again. Whoosh. September sure came and went like the wind. I am jumping back in here with you on the blog with a back-seat sketch from one of my many road trips this past month. Welcome to October!

rear view mirror

 

Too Brief to Measure

The cry will be a relief. Even so, I dread it like a natural catastrophe.

I sit in the back seat of our family truckster, knees propped against the drivers seat because my legs are the shortest in the family. We are on our way to drop off my third son for his first year of college. My husband drives the long western highway. Two of the remaining four brothers sit shotgun and back seat. They lean in to chat with their Dad. After this trip, only one son will live with us at home.

Mountains in the distance on the right, flat plains to the left, and above us sprawls a clear blue morning sky streaked with wispy clouds. Long yellow lane-lines ride off ahead of us to a flat point where the sky meets the asphalt.

We speed toward the horizon.

The constant nag of tears stored behind my eyes feels like the flutter of closed curtains just minutes before a disastrous wind blows through the open window and scatters all the papers off the desk.

It’s coming. A sad surge builds like a storm somewhere in my lungs, or my trachea, or maybe my sternum. I visualize my arms around my son’s ribs in the inevitable goodbye, and a rush of breath detours the regular mouth exit and runs amuck in my skull then pounds on the backs of my eyeballs.

Road markers zip past my window like low-flying self-propelled objects.

I glance at the rear view mirror and remember a dark orange sunset on a different vacation. Back when my days were full of diapers, and children’s books — back when my legs were longer than theirs — I sat shotgun next to my husband. On that journey, we traveled east. The sun set behind us. I glanced into the rear view mirror to check on the brothers; two in car seats, two in seat belts, all with heads that barely reached the head rests and windows. They were all quiet, staring out the window or sleeping. Intense hot oranges of sunset morphed into cool blues and painted my sons with a wash of twilight.

I stared at all four faces framed perfectly inside that one small mirror and I had a moment of time/space confusion. In that split second, a sixteen year old version of myself woke up to the sight of those boys and started a present-tense reckoning.

“How did I get here? How are these my children? I am married and have children?! When did this all happen?”

In that odd Rip Van Winkle moment I took it all in, dumbstruck, like one big utterly new and joyous surprise. “THIS is my life?!”

Back in my space behind the driver’s seat, I look in the present day rearview mirror and notice smile lines worn and grooved in my middle-aged face. I drench in the new morning sky as it disappears in our wake, and sigh with the goodness of so many fleeting moments. “This is my life.”

Freeway lines speed out from under the car and race in the opposite direction like time’s meter dashing under our tires and away in the distance. My sons’ chatty voices fill the car. My eyes begin to sting like a burn in need of dousing. The extinguishing flood quietly gathers. I know the grieving cry will arrive eventually because sad tears travel the same road as joy.

We ride in the present, between what was and what is to come, in the middle, where the swift rushing weight of bitter sweetness is almost too beautiful to bear. And this is the stuff of faith and courage, to choose to live and fully feel it all.

Today.

Embrace the coming flood and soak in the breath-taking rise and fall of days.

Because, life is but a sigh too brief to measure.

Similar Posts:

A Bucket Full of Ocean

Love is Not a Fight

A Good Year for Daisiess

 

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