While we have breath

2013-09-03 11.13.17On Sunday, I preached a sermon about finding a solid foundation in this world (spoiler alert: I testify that it’s Jesus). On Tuesday (bleeding into Wednesday), I met a saint who lived it.

Paul Kalanithi

I don’t have to regurgitate his biography here, he gave his own testimony in a book recently released, When Breath Becomes Air. His story is of spending decades preparing for the future–degrees and schooling–and then finding that the future won’t happen. As he travels through stages of grief, reflecting on the investments he’d made in his 30-some years, he finds, I think, that there isn’t too much he would have done differently.  Continue reading

(another) quotation of the day, with comment: Emily Dickinson

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 One who wrote unflinchingly of death, Ms. Dickinson’s poem (below) has been bouncing around in my head and heart this week.  I don’t know that I quite agree with her that we shall not use our love again until eternity, but I know the busyness of funeral-planning that often overtakes one (or an entire family), and the urge to vacuum up broken bits of heart.

The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

I hope we do use that love again; even the same love I had and have for Grandpa used for his children, grandchildren, and hoped-for great-grandchildren.  I think that’s a piece of resurrection in the midst of death.  Hope in the middle of darkness.

happiness list

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1. I’m alive & well!  I was in a car accident last night, and was able to walk away from it (maybe more later, maybe not).  It was an honor to wake up this morning, feed my menagerie, make a cup of tea, and sit quietly–like “normal.”

2. a section from Learning to Dream Again that I read this week, which challenged me to respond to others’ sin and shortcomings with grace–not with resentment, or with justice, or even with mercy, but with grace (more than justice & mercy–complete forgiveness and acceptance).

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light through the West window at Evening Prayer this week; Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

3. autumn sunshine.  There’s something warm, quiet, reflective, and somehow cool at the same time, about the light this time of year.

growing in the dark

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Since early this year, moss has captivated me.
In February, I went to Kanuga with the diocesan youth, and the cold ground boasted plenty of soggy, fallen branches covered in moss and lichen.

A few weeks ago, back in the mountains of Western North Carolina, I found more, and couldn’t stop taking photos.20140507-182505.jpg

I wondered why these funny little organisms had such an effect on me; it made me think about their make up.

Moss grows in the shade–when I was little, my dad taught me that if you couldn’t quite tell which way was which (cardinally-speaking), you could tell north by what side of a tree had moss growing on it.  Lots of plants and growing things prefer sun, the more the better!  But moss, with its soft, fragile, hardy growth needs some shade to thrive.  If we acknowledge and honor even the shady moments of our lives, we can grow and thrive in and through them.

20140507-182456.jpgSpeaking of hardy, there’s no better word to describe lichen.  It grows in the most inhospitable places–on rocks, in deserts, even in the arctic!  Lichen also grows in rainforests, on soil, and in more temperate areas; no matter where it finds itself, lichen hangs on and determinedly grows.  This fierce fungus not only survives, but boasts a frilly natural beauty.  What an example of how to live our own lives.

All around us are resolute, haunting, quiet witnesses to the brutality of this world and to the strength of living things.  Whether you believe in a God or not, it’s clear we’re not really alone (thank goodness!!).

The Unknown

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On Tuesday, here in Columbia, South Carolina, we began to batten down the proverbial hatches for Leon, the Snowpocalypse.  Most children were out of school (though the weather didn’t start till after school time, Atlanta’s is a cautionary tale), the roads were treated, the university and the government were closed.

Among those of us who gathered at work, diverse attitudes abounded.  I was soon struck by the variety of responses to the same news, and realized that a bit of what we were experiencing was how each of us–where ever the impending ice-meggedon found us emotionally that morning–dealt with change and uncertainty.  Of course, no sleep the night before, or a big deadline, or experience driving in snowy weather surely affected our outlooks as well, I was struck that the way we respond to small things may inform the way we respond to large uncertainties in life as well (then again, a death in the family and a possible snow day are rather different things).

There were those who greeted the possibility as a gift–an unexpected opportunity for something different, an adventure, a change of pace, a tool to knock us out of the “norm” and into whatever the day or the weather might have in store for us.

A few others of us looked at the sunshine, the empty, dry roads, and slivered our eyes, “Is there really weather coming?” we asked the skies.  The existence of the storm was doubtful, its effect unproven.  These folk were unimpressed-till-snowed-in; crossing the bridge if it happened to materialize out of the sunny skies, pragmatically focusing on the task at hand till then.

Though there weren’t any in our offices yesterday, I suspect (judging from the empty OJ, milk, and bread shelves at supermarkets) that another significant group was gripped with fear of the unknown.  Would it come?  Would it not-come?  What would happen?  The anxiety of an uncertain future was debilitating, and so they busied themselves laying in supplies.

For a Christian, there are bits of truth in each of these life-attitudes.  We need not fear or be anxious about the future, but we ought to be wise as serpents, shrewd in our decisions and prepared for unexpected events (thinking of the virgins and their oil lamps).  Of course, we ought not run about as a chicken sans-head; being so preoccupied with the unknowable possibilities of the future as to forget the task we’ve been set to here and now isn’t for the best interest of our earthly companions or for the glory of God’s kingdom.  Finally, life is indeed a joyful adventure, though hopefully we can remember that when the weather (or a day) is unremarkable as well.

“work/life balance” versus energy-giving/energy-sapping

In the last few months, I’ve start to run into articles challenging this pervasive idea of a “work/life balance.”  The work/life balance idea is that our lives generally don’t fit into neat 9-to-5 boxes anymore, and with the growth of families where both parents work, the lines between our home lives and work lives continue to become more blurry.  We’re supposed to divide up the hours of the day or the week, and commit some to the “work” column and others to the “life” column–maybe bloggers work mornings, take the afternoons off to be with their children, and then work a few evenings a week.  For me, putting parts of days or weeks into “work” and “life” baskets creates pressure to be ALL WORK or ALL LIFE at particular moments and inevitably, bits of the other try to sneak in.

Enter Lifehacker’s “When (and If) You Should Ever Work for Free,” and ABlogAboutLove.com’s “I Don’t Believe in Work/Life Balance, I Believe In Managing Energy.”

Managing energy and looking at the sorts of things that bring you joy provides a different set of categories for evaluating your life.  I’ve heard people talk about their lives as a wheel, too–with God at the center, and all the rest of your activity (or non-activity!) expanding from that one central place.  I wonder if this “managing energy” method–though I’m not sure what I think about this “limited energy” idea (as described in ablogaboutlove.com’s article)–might be helpful to get on the path toward getting God to the true center, touchstone, and energy source.  I’ll be that if God is the true energy source, our energy wouldn’t be so limited…