Gifts

I’ve been ruminating on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:6 collectively these last few days, while working my way through an entire box of ice pops, fanning myself on the couch while my kid watches How to Train your Dragon, Part Two for the twentieth time.  We’re not huge fans of summer over here at the Shannon house, but while the heat brings a certain lethargy of the body, I’ve found that it does the opposite to the creative side of my brain.

I’ve been thinking over particularly what it means to be a part of a “community”, by which I mean the people we’ve grown to love and want to encourage in our sphere of friends- circle seems too flat a word to describe who they are to us.  What our responsibility is to them and to the world at large, concerning our making up different parts of the body and bringing different gifts to the table.  And as things go, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking about it all wrong.

As a creative, my spirit is fed when it is in the “making” process.  That’s when I truly feel connected to Christ.  Whether in word or song or a meal, when I am using those gifts I feel like I’m stepping out into that realm of worship.  I’ve always, then, used this thought to support the idea that I need to be uncompromising in the “truest” representation of myself and my giftings.  This would prevent me from engaging in things that might “compromise” how I viewed myself and my gifting. I’m so self-centered, sometimes.  God has really shown me the last few months what it means to “use my gifts” and how when He told me to use them for His glory, He meant it.  Here are two major things I think He’s shown me the last few months.

1.  He gave me these gifts for OTHERS.  I have an obligation to use my gifts.  I don’t get to choose to overlook a part of my gifting just because I don’t like it or it doesn’t fit in my schedule. I cannot be afraid. I cannot hold back out of fear of failure or embarrassment.  I am part of the body, and just like the foot cannot do what the hand can do, I need to do my part so that it all works together.   This isn’t a choice, it’s a call on my life to rise.

2.  Because these gifts were given to me for His glorification and for others, my gifts have to be TRANSLATABLE.  How can I use my gifts appropriately if no one understands what I’m doing???????? If, as a worship leader I chose only songs that speak to my heart and neglected to include music that I know others value (even though I may not) I am NOT using my gifts appropriately. With gifts come responsibility.  I am responsible for others and how they enter in.  The purpose of my gift is to glorify Him and reach others.  Few will be reached if I don’t use my gifts with them in mind.

Be courageous with your gifts today.  Remind yourself that they weren’t given to you for your connection and enjoyment primarily (although that is not to be excluded).  Seek out new ways to translate your gifts to reach others.   We need each other.  The world needs what you do.

Socca to Me

I know it’s cool to be busy.  It makes everyone think how important you are.  I also know that I live in the side of the country where being busy is not just a reality, it’s a necessity.  To like, you know, afford to buy milk.  And bread.  And maybe the property taxes.  But for the last few weeks I’ve been taking note of how many books on living slower, simpler and more intentionally are flashing on folks’ kindles on the subway.  If even New Yorkers are starting to feel the sting of harried commutes and packed schedules, it’s time to reevaluate.

I wish I could just use the typical, Christian fallback excuse of what an empathetic soul I am, and that I just can’t say no to people or else I’ll feel guilty and blah.  That’s just not the case.  I say yes a lot, because the things I’m saying yes to, I REALLY want to do.  Some people are gifted from birth with one or shining gifts that they master over their lifetime- they know exactly what they’re good at, where they’re going and what God wants them to do with their lives.  Me? I feel like God hit me with a bunch of colored sprinkles of interest and a modicum of talent in each one, which makes it impossible to figure out where to invest my time and effort.  Writing? Music? Teaching? Food? Ministry? Let’s see how many I can have my fingers in before they all fall off from exhaustion.

So, here I am, this week, finger-less.  In theory.  My hands got too tired from being in five different places at once and some things just had to go.  Not without pain, serious deliberation, and grieving the loss, but that didn’t change what needed to happen in order for me to regain some sense of balance.  I had to let go of a lot of things this week that gave my heart joy- but I know it’s not the time in my life to carry them right now.  I have a young daughter.  I have a marriage going on ten years that’s worth all the investment I can put into it.  I live in the tri-state area, most likely for the rest of my life.  I was called here, placed here in one of the most expensive parts of the country which means we’ve had to be creative in order to preserve our time and energy, and money.  So, how do you live intentionally in New Jersey? Less busy? Is that even possible? We’ve done a few things that have made baby steps toward the life we want, even here.

We turned almost half of our backyard into a vegetable garden to grow our own food.  This requires that we are present to care for it, but it also gives back ten fold over the summer months when funds are low.  Our daughter adores watering and planting and harvesting and we find it a great activity we can invest in, all together.

We live communally.  We have a big house, with a lot of bedrooms.  It’s hard to make the mortgage.  It’s hard to buy dinner sometimes, truth be told.  So we opened up our home to folks who needed a soft place to land for a while.  It helps us financially a bit, and we feel like we are using the gift of this house to glorify the one who gave it to us.

My husband’s job is terrible, but the hours are great.  He sacrifices 6-8 hours a day so that he can be home by 4 p.m. EVERY EVENING.  I know what a gift this is.

I’m self-employed which means, I make my own hours.  This got a little crazy as I’m an insane work-a-holic apparently, but this week I re-evaluated my schedule to place things more in-line with the needs of our family.  I cut my commute to NYC to only one day a week this coming summer and next fall and took a part time position in the morning hours during which my kiddo will be in school. This means I’ll be home in the evenings with my family for dinner and bath time- the time I was sorely missing.  I had to back away from an opportunity for music that I have enjoyed being a part of the last two years, but it’s not the time in my life for it right now.  It made me sad but it was necessary.

Lastly, you all know how much I adore meal planning and elaborate recipes.  I’ve had to encourage myself to pursue simpler preparations during the week so I’m not spending all of this new found time in the kitchen….away from my family.  It is completely possible to make dishes/snacks that satisfy, that don’t take four hours to make.  Like this socca recipe we used this week:

socca

 

Socca is delicious and fun to make, and we modify the seasoning to our taste.  Though socca is traditionally French, we’ve been a little obsessed with Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem  lately and I couldn’t help but add an 1/8 of a tsp of za’atar to the batter.  Serve it along side a nice cucumber and tomato salad with a cooling yogurt dressing, and it’s an instant summer time meal.

We have a long way to go, but I think it’s a good start.  How do you do it? What have you done to slow down your life and still pay the bills? I’d especially love to hear from those on this side of the country so we can form some solidarity :)

Meal Planning Monster

meal planningI’m not a big planner.  Schedules are both comforting and confining.  I hate having everything planned out with no room to wiggle around.  However, when it comes to meal planning, I’m ALL OVER IT.  I love it.  I look forward to it every week.  It’s what I do on the train to and from work, what I’m doing while El is picking at a snack after school.  You’d think my online stalker relationship with Smitten Kitchen and The Healthy Home Economist is bordering unhealthy.  I’m sure I’m already flagged for suspicious activity. I just can’t help it.  And with the season of abundant produce upon us, who can blame me, really?  Everything is blooming and vibrant and EDIBLE.

My work schedule doesn’t allow me to cook dinner at the appropriate dinner-time.  I work in the evenings, mainly from 2-7.  Which means careful planning is mandatory if I don’t want my family to end up at Goodfellas three days a week.  However, I do allow for eating out twice a week- it’s just what we do.  We love to eat.  We love to explore.  We love to get out, together.  So, we budget for it and we go.  Two less dinners I have to plan.  Usually our going out nights are Tuesdays and Fridays.  Tuesdays because our local bar does a 5 dollar burger night- in which you can get fries OR a salad included….hooray! And, Fridays, because it’s payday.  Hello.  But the other nights? I make dinner ahead of time, mainly in the morning while El’s at school so things are ready to eat when I get home.

A few things I try to do every week, on Tuesday am and Friday am (I use those as prep days because there’s no pressure to make dinner since we’ll be out that night) is chop the veg for the week.  Anything for salads, greens that need to be cleaned and prepped, and make a big pot of rice and two different kinds of beans. Sometimes I’ll make salsa if I have odds and ends of tomatoes and cilantro and limes lying around (I always do).

The rice stretches all week long (I use white, basmati in case you were curious and here’s why) in salads, with rice and beans for lunches, under a curry, to make veggie burgers, you name it.  The two different types of beans are for several reasons.  One being, beans are CHEAP.  Can I get an amen.  And full of protein.  CHEAP and nutritious? Yes please.  ANNNNNND, my kid adores them.

I make white beans (navy or cannellini, whichever’s on sale) with shallots, carrots, celery, garlic a little white wine, stock and rosemary and she hoovers it like she’s never eaten before.  It’s fantastic.  And great with lamb as a side, in case you were wondering.  I also generally make a big pot of cuban black beans, or red beans- something fragrant and spicy and a pot of french lentils for wilted spinach salads with a lemon-dijon dressing I put on everything.  I mean everything.

With all the veg chopped ( delivered by Door to Door Organics, thank you very much.  Holy time saver, Batman) and rice and beans to choose from made, all I have to do when I get home is throw a piece of fish in the oven or poach an egg or on the very rare occasion we cook red meat at home, toss a steak on the grill.

Sometimes I wish I could just meal plan for other people.  Is that a thing? For now, hope this is helpful for a few working Mamas like myself who are just trying to get by without feeding our kids something they have to unwrap. Here’s a little recipe we’ll be having tonight for dinner.

Lentil Salad with Roasted Beets, Oranges and Melted Leeks

1 cup french green lentils, cooked

2 beets, roasted and sliced thinly

2 valencia oranges, segmented

1 leek

1 cup fennel, sliced thinly and raw

1 handful fresh dill

1 knob of goat cheese, or sprinkle of feta (optional for the vegans/dairy-free folk)

Sautee the leek, thinly sliced in ghee or EVOO until wilted and set aside.

Toss all ingredients together, with vinagrette.  Will keep in fridge for 2-3 days.

Lemon-Dijon Vinagrette

juice from 2 lemons

1 TBS Maille Dijon Mustard

1 TSP honey

1 TSP Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2 Cup EVOO

S&P, to taste

History

maudes bowl

I’m not very sentimental.  I know.  It shocks even me considering that I’m fairly emotional and I always assumed emotion begot sentimentality; but if there be a dichotomy to be had, I will find one and do my best to embody it.

I never made a baby book for my beloved child.  I have no recollection of what she wore the first week of her life.  My mom, kept the empty envelope of baby oatmeal and plastered it inside of a photo album.  I’m lucky there was Instagram, or there would be no proof Ellie actually existed.  (Aside from her toys ALL over my backyard).  I just don’t think in terms of memory-keeping.  I hate clutter.  Life is to be lived.  And then moved on from.

But, lately, there has been something rising up inside of me like dough.  Up and out of the bowl.  The older I get, the more I wonder about the people I am related to, that came before me.  The more I realize how our history actually matters. I was brought up in a fairly unique situation considering my ancestral roots were only blocks away.  In fact, I lived at the very top of a street bearing my last name.  My great uncle died in combat in Normandy, and having been brought up in the same town in which I was raised, when they structured the development they gave his name to two streets: John Place, and Vanderberg Place.  The church in town also bears his name beneath a stained glass window, honoring the fallen troops. I never knew it to be weird, that my family name graced the corners of our town.

My Great-Grandmother, Maude, raised her boys in the same town I grew up in.  Three of her own, and one she adopted by default because he was orphaned and just, kept hanging around.  I heard that that was just the kind of woman she was.  Her heart as large as her hands- big, farming hands.  From what I know of her, she had a low dark brown bun, was both gentle and firm and her pie crust could make grown men cry.  When my Aunt died (her granddaughter) she left me her white bowl, for rising dough.  I wonder sometimes if she’s the reason my heart breaks for little ones without parents, and why the kitchen always offers me a peace hard to find anywhere else.

My Aunt went to seminary for her Masters in Divinity before my home church was even thinking about the fact that perhaps maybe women had something to say about Jesus, after all.  She went on to become an ordained Presbyterian minister.  She’d send me books every year, and when she couldn’t afford to send them from Texas, suggestions.  The Chronicles of Narnia and the Anne of Green Gables series were all her doing- they were the ones that shaped me.  She challenged me theologically- she made it so I knew that it was safe and good and right for women to use words like, “hermeneutics” and “eschatology”.  She gave wheels to my thoughts, when I thought they had no way to get to where they wanted to go.

I walk downtown often, still.  The little downtown where my Grandpa raised his family.  Where he worked as police chief and took me to breakfast at the diner, where he’d always put ketchup on his eggs and wink when my nose would scrunch up in disgust.  It was an old war habit, he said. Where I would spin and spin at the counter and he would say, “Tickle tickle on the knee, if you laugh you don’t love me,” and I would try to hold it in until my lungs burst in laughter and his eyes would twinkle and whisper that he knew I loved him anyway. I walk the same street that I did at twelve, and at five, and at two.  The same street my Dad learned how to walk on.  The same street my grandpa learned how to walk on when it was all grass and field and devil’s hole was an actual swimming pond instead of a puddle.  I wonder what his father thought of this place when he first saw it, coming from the Netherlands.  All the Vanderberg men were lanky, with dark blue eyes.  I wonder what he would think of it now.  Of the fact that were still here.

I wonder if history is any indicator of what is to come.  My daughter now runs up and down the street in the town where my family has rooted itself.  She is the fifth generation to sniff the daffodils along the river’s edge.  I’m not sure what it means, but I’m sure it means something.

No News Day

My child is cuddled up on the couch with a steaming cup of milk with vanilla and a croissant as I sip my coffee slowly.

The lunches have already been made, lined up on the counter like little reluctant soldiers, sagging slightly in the middles after 9 months of use.  It is the first time in months there is no flashing headlines across the bottom of our screen to the tune of news anchors sing-song voices.  I am not watching the news today.

Not out of ignorance, defiance or anger. I know.  I know about Berundi and Nepal and Baltimore.  I know about the executions in North Korea and Indonesia.  Part of being a key-holder- a follower of Christ- requires the knowledge of His planet, His people.  We are commanded to love- to love our neighbor, and our enemy.  How do you go about that without knowing first who they are?  What they are doing?

I am not closing my eyes to shut out their stories.  The images are painted on the lids of my eyes.  It’s this thing I’ve been both blessed and cursed with since I was born- empathy is not strong enough of a word to describe walking into a room and feeling what everyone else is, all at the same time.  I feel the growing panic of the young mom watching her son play too closely to edge of the train track.  I feel the joy/despair/longing/concern/apathy of crowds.  Being a teacher made me a student of body language, but this thing, this ability to feel things, has always been something other.  Something, mine.  Something, utterly consuming and often exhausting.

So, the morning feature of the mother searching for days through the earthquake rubble for her only child has looped over and over in my body until it broke wide and open.  The idea of an elderly couple being unable to receive life sustaining medication because their neighborhood drugstore is burning.  The thought that I’m sure their souls are marred by the smoke and the realization that the fight they thought they fought so long ago so their grandbabies didn’t have to is still not over. The young men who have had enough of being unfairly treated.  Those trying to be instruments of peace but their uniform visually unites them with negative connotations- those trying to protect the ones who remain.  The despair one feels when it becomes apparent that there are a great majority of those that by their words and by their actions convey that certain lives, simply, don’t matter. The last flashes before death is imminent at the end of a gun or a club, for believing in Jesus or justice or freedom or all.  They are weighing so heavy today that I could hardly sleep.  Hardly drag my feet off the hardwood floor to fall onto my knees.

Today, I am praying each town, each country, each name I know and don’t know.  They fall with the tears down my face into the earth where I’ll plant seeds in the ground, making holes to place my hope and trust.  Praying it takes root like the plants.  Praying for us humans that we remember who we are and why we’re important.  Praying we remember our covenant. Praying for wisdom.  May your heart be moved by the crying out of our neighbors, our enemies.  We are to love them both. Let’s ask Him how, together.

A Worthy Cause on a Monday Morning

It is Monday morning.

My ears are full of the sounds of coffee brewing and the Octonauts English accents and cars whizzing by and kids on my front lawn walking to school.

My list today is long, but full of my favorite errands.  The meal planning, the preparing, the chopping and bagging and roasting for the weeknights I will be working. Monday is also library day. Ellie and I have been inhaling books like a vacuum- indiscriminately.  Closing our eyes and pointing to the shelves and taking home where our fingers land.  It has been a full, expansive exercise.  But Bread and Jam for Francis still ends up in the basket, of course.

There are business type things to tie up- accountant calls and LLC papers to finalize and tuition to be paid.  Schedules to be shuffled and accommodations to be made.

It is a stark contrast from our weekend in the mountains where the only sounds were water trickling, birds swooping and the occasional coyote dancing through the woods.  We split our time between the tiny cottage in the woods where we were sleeping, and a sweeping, working farm where we celebrated a marriage, and a mission for people of all ilk to know and believe that they are capable of making something meaningful and beautiful.  Ellie was enamored by a little calf named Scarlet who seemed to wag her tail like a puppy in excitement to see us.  She loved feeding the goats pine branches, watching their little lips curl up and over the greenery.  We ate meals together, sharing what was grown and made right there on the farm- Ellie found a friend who was a great play partner and they climbed and ran and chattered like girls do.   After shuffling through the last few months in a congested stupor, it was what we all needed to breathe.

And so, here we are.  Back where it’s harder to see the stars at night and our senses are once again filled with the buzz of the tri-state area.  It is familiar.  It is home.  And yet, something in our daughter stirred this weekend- something alive and bright and full of hope as she dashed through wide open spaces and up and over rocks and squealed with delight at baby piglets just born.  She asked if we could stay- stay where there was not so much noise and much more to do, outside where she belongs.  Can she be where she can learn how to ride horses and throw rocks in streams and sing to the birds?

We are here, I explain.  Here is our home where God has planted our roots- each of them a name, and a face we love.  But we can put the list aside today and turn off all of the noise and plan out our garden on the living room floor.  And you can get dirty and dig and turn the thawed winter earth over and we can pick out what we will grow in our tiny, urban yard. There are horses and piglets and chickens here, too, we just have to look. We can keep what is important to us here, it just takes a little extra work, a little extra determination, a little extra imagination.  Good thing you’re good at all of those.

So, I’m being extra gentle with her today, not wanting to break the magic that God breathed on her- that his creation is beautiful and important and we are stewards of it.  That his people are beautiful and important and we are stewards of them.  That she, in fact, is beautiful and important and a contributing member of this community- at four.  And I suppose we’ll keep seeking to marry the in between- the balance of the life we were born into and the one that seems to be calling.  It’s a worthy cause.

Push the Button

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave in the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  James 1:5-8

There is a handicapped door at our public library.  I would be as bold as to say that my kid loves it just as much as she does the books that wait inside.  She runs up, presses the big button, and watches the door swing open.  Sometimes, the door is being worked on.  Sometimes when she presses the button, nothing happens.  Then, together, we have to pry it open to get inside.  Other times, the actual frame is being painted and we have to use an entirely different door.  But she always races to that button to give it a go.

Whether the button works or not, my kid never doubts that we’re going to get inside.  Pressing the button is just the first step to figuring out which way is best.  She is never afraid to press the button, knowing that she’s going to get to where she’s going no matter what method she may need to employ to make it happen.  Still, she knows that for her, the button is the place to start.

Sometimes, I imagine God watching all of us and waiting for us to press the button while we’re so busy agonizing over whether or not something is, “in His will” or “in His plan” or frankly, “in the cards” when we’re feeling less likely to over-spiritualize everything.   We go about things all backwards by being so afraid that we’ve convinced ourselves that God surely doesn’t want us to be button pushers.  That would be presumptuous.  That would be acting out of our own accord.  That would be, well, scary.   When all He’s asking us to do to is stick our fingers out in faith that He’ll open the door that needs opening. But we have to do the pressing.  Or else, we’d have no free will.  We’d have no choices.  We wouldn’t be….free.  Isn’t He so good?

So, ask for wisdom and EXPECT to be given it. Don’t doubt the Holy Spirit’s leading inside of you.  And you know what? Whatever you’ve been on the fence about? Today’s the day to push the button.

Want a new job but are afraid to apply? Push the button.

Want to pursue the next step in your career? Your relationship? Your living situation? Push the button.

That cute girl in your class you’ve wanted to ask for coffee? Push the button.

Want to move across the country, buy a VW bus and sell tacos out of the trunk?  PUSH THE DAMN BUTTON.

It’s God’s business to open the doors.  We have to have faith to push the button.

Chocolate for Breakfast : A Lesson in Conflict Resolution

“What would you like for breakfast, El?”

“Um, I think chocolate, please.”

“Chocolate is not for breakfast.”

“I, kindly, dis-ah-gree, Mama. ”

We volleyed back and forth a little.  I told her that if she could prove to me why chocolate for breakfast would be a healthy choice, she could have it.  Her little 4 year old brain worked furiously.  She said it made her happy, and happy is good for your health.  We compromised 5 little chocolate chips on top of her oatmeal, because happiness after all is certainly a piece, but not the whole of it.

I’m sure some parents are horrified at our little interaction over breakfast.  She’s four.  I’m her Mother.  Chocolate is not for breakfast, end of story.  Because I said so.

I’ll tell you today that it’s these conversations I have with my daughter that thrill my heart.  THRILL it.  Make me proud to be her mother.  Make me proud that God chose her for me.   After living 32 years in this life as a woman- a woman in the workforce, a woman in ministry, a woman at home- I believe one of, if not THE most important thing I can teach my four year old daughter is that God gave her a beautiful brain and a worth and a story and a song and the Holy Spirit inside of her, all her own and she will have to fight for it- to keep it, to grow it, to validate it.  And the best way to learn how to do that is to face conflict courageously, kindly, firmly and with the greatest love of Christ knowing in truth, who she is.

I had a student my last year of teaching who negated every single thing I said.  Every literary criticism.  Every proposed character development.  Down to the genre.  Everything on the board or the screen on the page was up for debate.  She did it thoughtfully, purposefully, respectfully.  She raised her hand, never her voice.  She had well thought out responses.  We just always seemed to arrive at different conclusions.  I respected her opinion, she respected mine. We kindly disagreed, each changed by the other’s influence but validated in who we were.  Before graduation, she told me I was one of the best teachers she had ever had.  I thought I hadn’t taught her a thing.  It was one of the most beautiful metaphors throughout my life of how conflict is not, at its root, pejorative in nature but when used appropriately, broadens our scope to see a little more of God.

My daughter, as she grows, will make choices people will not agree with.  She will see the world differently and, because we’ve raised her this way, will say so.  She will be confronted with ugliness and bitterness and baggage that someone else had carried that they will project on her.  She will be told she is wrong, and sometimes she will be and sometimes she won’t.  But when that day comes I want her to remember how we raised her.  To be courageous and firm, to be open for discussion and if a conclusion cannot be reached or compromised, to always choose to love.  To seek Christ above all else. Even when it’s the hardest thing to do.  Especially when it’s the hardest thing to do.

Too often we discourage questions, doubt- we immediately dismiss those who think differently.  Too often we’re afraid of conflict and back down from a platform we knew we were called to- too often we allow others to dictate what we believe and how we are presented.

I will continue to encourage my daughter to use her critical thinking, her own relationship with Jesus, her own knowledge of who she is and what she was made for, even if it makes us late for school….every. single. day.  I will continue to welcome her questions, her doubt about the existence of a God she can’t see because that means she is really working it out.  I will stand by her now, at four, when her biggest choices in life are whether or not to wear the blue Elsa dress or the purple Elsa dress and allow her to test me and question my authority-respectfully, kindly- wanting her to learn that her own self can be trusted.  Her thoughts and feelings and opinions are important, they have value and they should be heard, but not at the expense of others.  Courageous. Kind. Firm.  With love.

Because, there will never truly be a resolution to conflict on this Earth but there is a hope that she will learn how to approach it better, to see it differently and embrace it for what it teaches her.

Sometimes, you can have chocolate for breakfast.

Key Holders

I think about the first few Chapters of Genesis as I’m tucking tiny sleeves of tiny teeshirts into overflowing drawers.  I wonder, as key-holders, how it is that we do not begin every morning this way, reading, “in the beginning…”

Remembering how the Earth was formed in the void.  How we were created from dust and bone.  How we were given dominion over the Earth.  Dominion begets responsibility.  We are the key holders.

I think about these things as I dance around refrigerators placed haphazardly on the kitchen floor.  As I pull out pots and pans from old cabinets long needing replacing.  As I weed through used paint cans and bleach grout and shine silver and move boxes and wash dust from dishes.

This house, our little dominion has been ours, then had been fully rented, then had been rented halfway, then had been rented fully once more, then had been ours again in the matter of several weeks.  There is a dream of moving- of sending our daughter to a good school, with friendships already established.  The dream was close, and then closer, and then farther away.  It is a ride I would not have waited so long in line for.

So, I think about the beginnings of things as I clean and scrub and hang pictures and move furniture without knowing how long it will remain.  I think about the words, “permanent” and “temporary” and how we’re called not to live in either.  I think about this dominion, this space that has my name on it’s title and it’s keys in my hand and all of the people I pass daily with their cups out- they’re keys unlock no doors in which they can close.

I think about the homeless woman in Penn Station yesterday who tipped the contents of her cup into a man’s hat who sang a familiar Italian Aria so purely, she cried for the beauty of it.  She remembered for one bright second, she was a key holder, too.

I think about beauty and why it’s important.  In the beginning…..God made the earth and it shone with brilliance and wonder.  Stars and iris gardens.  Fruit orchards and skipping rivers. And He handed it right over to us, it’s guardians. We were for beauty made.

So, I spin and toil and work my fingernails bloody with splinters and paint flecks the insides of cabinets that are mine, for now.  They bear my name. I will continue to make plans for the garden in our sub-urban jungle in which Bubba, the neighborhood Tabby reigns King.  Sometimes I let him stalk the sparrows between the tomatoes.  Sometimes, I shoo him away.  Dominion.  It is my responsibility.

I am called to care- to scrub counters clean.  To rearrange furniture.  Just because our future is uncertain does not relinquish my birth right.  Futures are certain only to one.  Every time I wipe out the sink or walk the garbage to the curb or lovingly finger a rose petal I am walking steadfastly in my inheritance. I am a key holder.

It is so much more than washing socks.  Than learning how to darn the tears in the pockets of jeans.  The re-design of a dwelling.  The swelling of connection to the dirt and the water and the sky. It is deeper than paint; it runs in it’s lifeblood.  We were meant to care for, to love, to bring and inspire beauty.  For ourselves.  For others.  To make our plot one in which most closely captures the character of God.  The beauty of Him.  The peace and comfort of him.  The acceptance and love.  We are the key holders here for however long.  We do not get to choose the length of time, but we do get to choose what we do with what we have.

Why I’ll Never Tell Grieving People that God has Better Plans

I have never used this phrase very often, and if I did it was in sincerity of heart- which I honestly believe is true for most people.  But, after living though some things and watching my friends and family live through some things I’ve come to the conclusion that we, the human “we”, talk way too much and do too little.  Here are a few reasons why it’ll never come out of my mouth again to people who are deeply entrenched in their season of suffering.

1. I believe in most cases, It’s insensitive.  There, I said it.  It’s insensitive and ignorant and my deepest apologies to anyone I’ve ever offered this offensive platitude to.  It does nothing to meet people where they are in their suffering- of losing a loved one, of a big professional disappointment, of a complicated diagnosis, etc.  It is neither comforting or helpful.  It stings, in fact.

2.  It associates God with the suffering, which makes it super hard, at that time, to believe He is good.  Now, you know as per my last post my thoughts on God and suffering and celebration.  You also know those thoughts came after I had to really struggle through the wilderness of wondering whether God was  good.  Telling folks He’s got better plans does nothing to steer them in the direction of His goodness- all it does is amplify the fact that this is the hardest season they’ve  ever walked through, and question the goodness of a God who’d allow it.

3.  When you’re “in it”, you cannot see the big picture.  I’m hoping this becomes less and less true as I, ahem, mature in this faith, but for now, I cannot see the road ahead when I’m really in a dark place.  I cannot see that perhaps maybe there is some truth to the fact that God has better plans because he’s always good and that I walked through this season of grief as  part of being human not as a devious plot to make my heart a little more moldable.  The big picture escapes me, as i imagine, it does for a lot if not most people.

4.  It trivializes their experience.  Oh, you lost a baby? Don’t worry, God’s got better plans.  Maybe you’ll have twins to redeem the experience. Maybe it was for the best.  See? Now, you may have never said it in that manner, but please believe me when I tell you that most people suffering HEAR IT THAT WAY. And please, oh please, never offer possible future scenarios in an attempt to bring hope back to the situation. What you are attempting to do, albeit sweet, will result in the opposite. At least believe in what you’re telling people about that whole God having better plans things.  If He does, lets leave the future to Him.

So, what do we say? Damned if I know.  I can tell you what was powerful for me.  When my sister-in-law drove the two and a half hours from West Philly as soon as I called her and sat on my couch and cried with me.  When folks dropped off shower gel and meals and toilet paper and little things that make a house run that I couldn’t think of anymore.  When family took Ellie out for meals so that Rich and I could grieve together.  When my Doctor, who’s my best friend, grieved fiercely and prayed broken in that little room with me.  We mourned that loss together- because we felt it, together. I wasn’t alone.

Often, people feel the need to say something- I know I do.  Fight it.  Be present.  Love with your fingers and your solidarity in watching Parks and Rec re-runs while eating ice cream for dinner.  Hold hands.  Say nothing.  Make it clear that you are there when they are ready.  Let them do the talking.  If you must speak, tell them how incredibly broken you are for them- but only if it’s the truth. And years from now, you’ll be able to sit together and they’ll thank you for letting them know that God had not forgotten them- and that they were blessed by you in ways you didn’t even know had any impact.  Let God be the changer of hearts- it’s his job, anyway.