luck is what you make of it, says the teacher.

I’m working very hard to practice meditation daily.  The good thing about being incredibly busy is that it forces me to prioritize.  Where I once was lax about meditation (who needs to make it a priority when there are all of these HOURS I can squeeze it into?) or exercise (hey, there’ll be time tomorrow, I don’t need to push it to the front of the agenda) or spending time with the kids (we’re around each other ALL THE TIME, why be intentional?) when time becomes scant, every second gets doled out like it is made of gold.  Here are the minutes for the kids, for exercise, for meditation, here are these precious minutes and I must let them linger on my tongue like fine wine.  Here they are.  These ones.

In my World Lit class we somehow wandered off on a rabbit trail, talking about what makes a person “lucky” or “privileged” or “the right person for the right time.”  My teacher said that luck is what you make of it.  Luck, she said, is ultimately how you choose to be aware of and take advantage of your experiences.  Everyone may walk by the same dollar on the street, what makes someone “lucky” is being aware of it.  Everyone may talk to the same business man at a party, but what makes the investor “lucky” is cultivating that relationship.  Sometimes even the worst experiences may be “lucky” if you are the sort of person who makes yourself lucky.  A bad accident may lead to an early stage cancer being caught, for instance.  Unemployment may let you write that novel.  Luck, then, is a state of being in the same way that awareness is.  Luck is a choice in the sense that we all label or own experiences, we can label ourselves as lucky if we view ourselves in a positive light.

I am choosing to focus on awareness and cultivate it in myself.  I am choosing to label my experiences as fortunate.  I am choosing to cultivate relationships.

Sometimes bad things happen, but I choose not to label my life as “bad.”

The past few days I’ve been slammed with being busy, but the funny thing is that in all of that I feel things have gone better than they’ve gone in a long time.  I’ve been deliberate about taking control and not resenting the things I have to sacrifice in return.  Little things, like groceries coming under budget, pile up and it feels like mounds of blessings amidst the insanity.  It’s strange, how being deliberate about being in charge of your life can bend something from feeling like a curse to being a blessing.  It’s like the difference between choosing to run a marathon and being chased by a murderer in the night.  But of them are about being in a race, but only one of them feels like a death sentence.

But our entire life is like that- we all have to go through more or less the same motions and emotions.

But how do we attribute them?  What label do we paste on everything that happens around us?  Do we choose to be lucky?  Do we cultivate the behaviors of luckiness, the awareness and relationships and attitude?

Or do we treat every single challenge as if it is a murderer bursting into our home, and constantly cover our eyes and wail about our unluckiness as we walk right by the twenty dollar bill in the gutter?

I’ve written a note to myself that I have to look at every now and then to remind me of the choices I want to make.  It says, “this is the life you are living.  You are not passive.  It doesn’t happen to you, you happen to everyone else.”

There was a time I allowed myself to feel like a victim.  I gained 50 pounds and moved across the country and did my fair share of wailing, and it really did feel like everything I cared about was wrenched out of my arms.  That’s what happens when you would rather be backed into a brick wall than listen to what the spirit is saying to you.  That’s not my life anymore.  I could be supplicant and pray and cry and get all legalistic and feel owed a better life, but what would change?  I’d become more of a jerk and I’d still have everything wrenched away from me routinely while the universe worked on getting my attention.

So it goes.

Hi-ho.

Or, I can choose to be lucky.  I can be open and aware and understanding, and cultivate the now-barren places in my life in expectation of finding seeds.  I find, as I am more aware, that seeds are small but all around me.  My life just needs time right now.

Time that I can treasure to the second, and dole out carefully.  Time I can choose to be aware of.  Time that I am not a victim of.

I’m lucky, guys.  I’m lucky.

 

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Being Weeded

So yesterday I weeded the entire garden.  There are four different beds, the largest of which is fifteen by twenty five feet, so it can be time consuming.  When weeding, I’ve discovered that there are few ways to keep myself from going insane.  One is offering my kids a few dollars to do it for me, although that is tricky because they’ll pull up EVERYTHING.  Another is singing show tunes to pass the time, but the fact that the neighbors are often in their yard working on cars and playing the soundtrack to 8 Mile on instant repeat (alternating with insanely loud Mariachi) is a bit of a damper to that.  The third, and the one it seems that I am most likely to use, is going into a semi-meditative state and asking Very Important Questions and Listening To The Universe.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a valley and questioning if my faith is productive and if I am becoming the kind of person I want to become.

(Disclaimer:  I’ve been in a bit of a valley and wondering if my faith is productive for the past 15 years, so this isn’t anything new.)

So, anyway, I’m pulling up weeds by the bucketful and hauling them across the yard to dump in Ye Olde Stinky Pile of Yard Waste (which was, at one point, higher than the fence) and pausing to eat a nearly perfectly ripe apricot (which makes the haul across the yard more bearable) and going into this very quiet place in my head where everything is rhythmic and all the scary stuff is tuned out.  I’m thinking about myself, and how I’ve been lately, and feeling pissed off and disappointed that I haven’t been better.  I’ve been stressed and overwhelmed and angry and everything feels like it is too hard of work.  This is a harmonious parallel to the weeding itself, which when all told took most of my day yesterday and left me absolutely whooped.  It was one of those times when I knew that as soon as hit the bed my entire body would cry out, and I wouldn’t want to be getting up in the morning.  There was a part of me that was angry and wondering if the garden was worth it and wondering why I hadn’t kept up with the weeds better, earlier.

Side note:  if you garden, you know that there are several stages of weeding.  The first is just turning everything with a hoe when the weeds are itty bitty and hacking them apart.  It’s tough on your shoulders and it can be a bit of a drag, but if you pretend you are a ninja or a giant terrorizing a teensy tiny village it’s not too bad.  If you go at it hard enough, you can FLY through the garden. The second is pulling up little weeds by the handful once they’ve gotten enough purchase to be hard to hoe.  If you do this well, it takes a lot of time but it isn’t hell on your body.  The third, which can be avoided by doing the other two, is having to use both hands to pull up weeds nearly as large as your plants, and believe me when I say it uses every muscle in your body and will make you rue the day you are born, and if weeds like that are all over all four of your fairly sizable beds that take up the majority of the side yard (ahem, like mine were) they will make you curse your mother and your grandmother and everyone who ever raised you to believe that things like Sustainable and Homemade were the great ideals, before hipsters made them fashionable.

I realized that it was all a tidy metaphor for my spiritual life.  See, our sins or foibles or what have you are like weeds.  If they aren’t deeply ingrown we can fly through them, merrily hacking to bits, and only feel it a little later on.  We realize that we are doing important work in our hearts and we feel good about it afterwards, but it only makes us cry a little.  We can see the benefits right away and our good fruit is growing faster than the weeds.  But if we put off working on ourselves a day, two days, a week…  that landscape changes, and it changes drastically.  Soon we are having to crawl through our hearts pulling up weeds by the fistful, and before we can get it under control our whole selves are involved in the effort and it feels like it will never end, and we lay down at night with our heart and soul crying out and feeling like we are dying.  And all the good fruit?  It’s failing, and we’re not seeing it as productive as it could be.

It’s easy to curse God, or nature, or life.  It is, but the truth is that what we produce in our lives is a result of our own effort, just like awesome bucketfuls of food don’t come out of gardens that haven’t made anyone break a sweat.

The truth is, some of my emotional distress in the past few weeks was entirely avoidable, if I’d dealt with my own shit while it was small.  It’s MY fault for letting it grow bigger than the good stuff.  It’s MY fault for not heeding the call to go out in the trenches when I should have.  It’s MY fault for thinking “I’ll deal with that later” and looking the other way until it was completely out of control.

I need to learn that when I’m going through this mega dark weeks that make me want to spit at God, I have to ask myself if I’ve been living in my faith every day the way I need to, or if I’ve just been wanting the fruit without the sweat and attention.  My grandmother walked her garden every morning, and while she did it she talked to God.  She didn’t only go out there when she wanted something.  She lived in it.

Faith is like that.  If we only go after it when we need something, we’re always going to find what we need choked by weeds.

Blind faith is folly

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.

Though it cost all you have, get understanding  – (Proverbs 4:7)

*

My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;

they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.  – (Proverbs 3:21-22)

The entire book of Proverbs is like a love letter to Wisdom, whom the author personifies as a woman of endless worth. It’s a good book of the Bible.  I still prefer Ecclesiastes, but Proverbs has it’s high points as well.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  I’ve been spending a lot of my time in meditation about the things that really, really bothered me about church as a teen.  This and the book of Proverbs walk hand in hand.

I hate the whole principal of “faith by formula”.  I hate the idea that we think we can boil the mysteries of God down to simple equations.  I hate the fact that so many pastors and youth leaders  buy in to the concept that the journey to God is a set path with predictable markers- because it often means that people who are truly seeking God have their faith killed in the crossfire when they stray off of what people expect their path to be.  A kid who realizes he is gay is told that he has a secret sin and his sexuality is a judgment for said sin.  A girl who likes dark music is told that she does so because of demonic opression.  A boy who feels the spirit of God filling him and comforting him in love is told that he won’t have TRULY felt God until he speaks in tongues.  A single mother is told that God doesn’t want her children to be raised without a father- she then feels betrayed by God when relationship after relationship fall apart, and judged horribly when she’s told that she won’t be “allowed” into a relationship until she fixes some sin in herself.

Time and time again hearts are broken and faith is tested not by God, but by God’s people.  As the bumper-sticker sarcastically says “I love Jesus- it’s his WIFE that’s the PROBLEM!”.

We are taught that we are to have a “childlike” faith.  I don’t believe that childlike faith and blind faith are the same thing.  A child believes because it is natural to believe.  They expect the best, they are unashamed in their love, they glimmer and glow over the simplest things.  To love Jesus as a child would love him means to love fearlessly, with abandon.  But a child is not blind or stupid- they will stop to question if they see someone getting hurt.  When I punish my son, my daughter will come and try to intercede on his behalf.  She asks me why he is crying, if I wanted him to cry, she says she doesn’t care that he hit her, she forgives him, why can’t I forgive him?  That is the love of a child- not unquestioning, but DESPERATELY wanting the best for all, happiness for all.

Our faith in God should be the same.  We SHOULD question, we SHOULD cry and beg and plead for the souls and happiness of our fellow man.  We should not snap to judgment or accept formulas that leave others out in the cold- we should wrestle and struggle with the formulas, we should test and test and test, we should attempt to perfect.

But most of all we should seek wisdom, good judgment and discernment.  We should learn to recognize what God’s spirit looks like when it manifests in a way we don’t expect.  When the gay man starts crying and professes that he feels God’s love and embrace, we shouldn’t say, “ah, but you won’t TRULY feel God until you stop being gay.”  When the single mother says that she is trying to provide a holy and stable life for her kids, we shouldn’t pressure her into marriage and claim we know what life God wants for her, we should walk at her side, protect her from danger, and help to seek and discern God’s individual voice for her life.  When the young girl shows her propensity for Gothic music and make-up, we shouldn’t scream “DEMON!”, we should seek to help her find the voice to describe what she’s really experiencing- and if all she’s showing is an artistic taste, let her have it.

The world would be a boring place if life were homogenized into predictable norms.

Like a child, we should crave the excitement that comes from difference and discovery.

And like the writer of Proverbs, we should hunger and thirst for Wisdom the way a young man hungers for a beautiful and perfect woman.

God is in the Washbasin

There is something about stillness and repetition that is just so good.  I find God in stillness.  In a quiet morning before anyone else wakes up.  In the warmth and stifled environment of pulling up weeds in the garden.  In floating on water with my eyes closed and my ears blocked by water.

I also find him in repetition.  In the movements of washing the dishes, cleaning the house, putting one bead beside another on a chain.  My Grandma would joke that she finds God in between the stitches of a quilt- I find him in the curve of a pearl.

But the method is the same.  Find something that clears your mind.  Something to focus you.  Either focusing on the quiet, or focusing on the rhythm of life.  Let go of the thoughts that plague you.  Don’t push them back, as that leads to frustration, but answer them.

“I need to defrost the chicken”- that can wait an hour.

“I need to call back so and so”- write down their name, and let go.

“I’m angry at whats-his-name”- Ask God to deal with it, he’s far more just than you.

“My to-do list is just way too long”- what is more important; the list or your spiritual health?

Deal with and release those plaguing thoughts, and settle into the rhythm.  Relax.  Open yourself up to the possibility that God wants to speak to you.  And somewhere in between the plates and the silverware, in between the chain and the clasp, in between the weeds and the mulch, in between the stitches of the quilt, in between the silence and daybreak- God will be there.

I once counseled a young man who said that he felt like no matter how far he ran, God got further away.  I prayed for a second before responding, and I very clearly sensed that the problem was the fact that the young man kept running- while God was staying right where he’d always been.

We need to stop running.  We need to rediscover the beauty of simple things.  God is in the washbasin waiting for me today.

Brotherly Love: a short meditation

1 Thessalonians 1:3-

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.

1 Peter 1:22

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

We all know that infamous phrase: “they will know you are Christians by your love.”

Here’s a new one:

YOU will know you are Christians by your love.

The verses are too many to count.  The above two are just an example.

As our faith grows, our love should grow.  As obedience to God grows, our love should grow.

Obedience to God should NOT birth legalism.

Discuss amongst yourselves.