Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Tuesday report -- living the dream

Seven years ago we clambered around this house and land for the first time. Wide-eyed wonder; hearts pounding. "This is it!" We'd searched long, through several countries, not sure what we were looking for until we found it--a home for that nebulous sense of Divine invitation that has become Spa for the Soul. 

What did we see in that shabby, dirty villa with its overgrown weedy gardens and thoughtless design? The glorious quiet of hot August in an agrarian village perched on a mountainside. Waters and islands of the Mediterranean spreading to the horizon past rock stained rusty with the clay soil. The dusty greens of olive, carob and scrub oak. Five crazy stories so that every space had its own balcony from which to take in the sounds of children, chickens and doves carried on eucalyptus and jasmine-scented air. Sheep, cows, goats, olive trees; all laden with Bible images of sacrifice, Spirit energy, simplicity and prayer.

Cost-counting in many forms nurtured this undertaking. How to pay for it; when to leave career and what that might mean to ego and satisfaction; how to train and discipline ourselves for a life of spiritual listening and quiet offering; from where would come the resilience to live far from other believers; and what, in all of that, would be the cost to our family for us to locate in a place so far from parents, kids and grandkids. Dad is dead now, but his long silence that poured pain and longing, along with the courageous refusal to complain, down the phone line when I crushed his deepest hope that we would build this place near him still exerts its power in my deepest being. 

Yet in all the cost-counting and spacious imagining somehow we failed to notice that when one buys a small olive grove one becomes an olive grower. It is Tuesday and yet again we climb the old trees, pull fruit down with a hand-rake, collect it on nets, and sit on the ground to sort goodness from trash. We bend and stoop a hundred thousand times to collect fallen fruit from the dirt, the steps, the road. 

Everything we now know about olive husbandry, and it still isn't much, we've learned from our neighbors. We know now how to harvest, how to store harvested fruit on cool stone in the shade until the day comes to take it to the press, how much fruit will produce how much oil, how the press system works, how to filter and refilter the oil for weeks after pressing until it is perfectly clear and clean, and how to store oil. We've learned a little about pruning and tending our fourteen 60-70 year old trees. 

The two most important things we learned: olives bear only every second year; and the harvest lasts for three or more months. The first fact is cause for celebration because of the second.

So here I sit. My harvest wear is old clothes now stained with oil and the red of the soil. Most of the stains are on my butt because while I am on the ground sorting Curt is in the tree above me doing his olive rain-dance. As they rain down on me they smash on my hair and shoulders, roll around, and wedge themselves in against my sitting parts that are perched on the sloping ground. 

It is not that we never thought about the olive trees when we bought this place. The agent tossed off a description of how villagers would be happy to harvest our olives in exchange for half of the produce. No problem. And that is exactly what most of the smattering of foreigners and well-heeled Turkish retirees in this village do. We are an oddity when we turn up at the village press. Seems they don't see many foreigners.

We pretty much ignored the olives until after we finally moved here. Who knows what happened to them the years the place sat empty. When we did at last move into the neighborhood, well, it seemed natural to imitate our neighbors as they gathered from their land. They were willing to teach, and we were a community of tired backs and stained clothes. It felt like a piece of blending in, of identification, to reject the "rich foreigner" role and do the work ourselves. 

Using a siphon to pour off the clear oil and leave the sludge

But today I sit here, and as I reach and sort, I ponder yesterday's conversation with my neighbor. We were looking at photographs from last winter, from our Thanksgiving celebration. Çiğdem was sharing her memories and remarking on the various guests around the table. This one who is my age but attended with her much younger boyfriend, that one who covers to identify as religious, the British couple, and Çiğdem's own son Orkun sitting on Curt's lap. "It was a wonderful party," she reflected, "but so strange." "Strange?" I ask. "How?" "We don't do things like this," she replied. "We gather with friends to eat, but our friends are people like us. In this photo there are foreigners, and there are locals who would never be together anyplace else because they are all so different. And look at Orkun sitting on Curt's lap. A child might sit on his daddy's lap, or his mommy's, but never with anyone else. Orkun loves Curt. It is so strange, but all so wonderful."
Much to be thankful for!

We give a lot of time and energy to things we hope will make us seem normal and acceptable to the people of this place. Lately, though, I've had several windows into how, for all that, we are strange, foreign, odd. And we always will be. We play down our wealth, but with a neighbor who doesn't have firewood sufficient to heat this winter because of the expenses of a son's first year in university, another who goes to bed at dark because she comes from a time before electricity was here and so lives her life by the sun, yet another who...well, we don't even know when our basic assumptions about how life works are shocking to the rest of this hillside. 

And yet there is love, grace and wonder. Ayşe Teze, nearly 80 and with a village dialect so thick I almost never understand her, pops in to borrow our olive rake and chats away to Curt with harvest advice even though she knows he doesn't understand a word. Süleyman hollers up the steps from the front door because he needs to make another measure for the shelf he is building. Gets all excited at my wine-making paraphernalia, all hopeful for a sample. Commiserates when I explain in halting Turkish that we will have to wait a year to find out whether my experiment with pomegranate wine is success or failure. Hüseyin points out when we waste water or electricity. Çiğdem makes sure I filter the oil timely. Another Ayşe brines my olives, lending her expertise at just the right amounts of crystalized lemon, oil, and salt. 
Ali amca and Ayşe teze in happier times. He died last summer, and now she soldiers on with the help of neighbors and friends.

And so we live the dream. As with nighttime dreams, it takes weird twists; our understanding of reality is suspended; and things happen that, outside of the dream, would not be possible. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Tuesday report--that crazy mix of fruit and blessing, work and disruption, and just plain hard

Tuesday morning. November sun mild on the balcony. I drew the chair close to put a foot on the low ledge. It rested there, toes all browny-pink with the month-old pedicure. Nails so long that one had started to curve round the end of its toe. Polish remover pad in hand, I surveyed the distance and counted the cost to reach those toes and minister to them.

My 59-year-old back was tight. It aches with muscle spasms brought on by the bending, stooping, stretching and reaching of gathering olives. Lots of olives. I pulled my body forward, thigh pressing into the resistant fat of a soft, sagging front. Yes, I can still do this little work of self-care, but gone are the days when I could pull that foot easily to my face, or so contort my frame as to hook it behind my neck. When this bit of self-care was fast and effortless.

I scrubbed for some minutes to get through layers of polish. Then to the clipping. And the filing. And finally the application of oils and lotions. My left leg, less limber than the right, tends to cant sideways as if to plié. Hard to hold so that those toenails face me. Its broken little toe was swollen and protested the twist to clip and file.

As I labored, images of my dad’s crabbed feet with their thick nails and thin skin led me into musings around the self-care that is necessary to sustain a pouring-out kind of life full of people and laundry and food prep and harvest and laundry and language learning and ironing that fill the gaps of my contemplative life. That morning approaches when others will have to take up these matters of personal care and do them for me, as we did for Dad.

In the past week at Spa for the Soul we hosted guests; I gave time to spiritual direction, to listening, and to the preparation of tasty meals; we gathered 300+ pounds of olives from our trees and hauled them to a village press where they yielded up 27 liters (7 gallons) of oil; we continued that sometimes delightful, often amusing, and mostly downright confusing journey of language learning; and we prayed: for this place and its people, for those in our care, for concerns and obstacles, and for wisdom.
Ayşe and Çiğdem walked me through olive making

...the scent of sun-dried clothes and sheets...

Tuesday bore the whole mix.

Early morning prayer gave way to a clogged kitchen sink. Curt was testy-weary of maintenance things small and large. I hauled laundry from over the house, sorted piles over the kitchen floor, and got the first load in. No electricity. Power cuts: many this week, and several times for hours on end. Tuesday’s cut lasted until too late for anything to dry on the line. The laundry got put off until Wednesday. There we were, stepping over the piles.

After a string of disrupted days, I was determined that morning to return to my plan to write and study Turkish for four or five uninterruptable hours in the morning. As I settled at my desk, Curt’s phone rang. I heard him, “Sure, we need to bring a guest down to the bus station this morning anyway. Yeah, we can meet—say, 10:30 or 11:00? I’ll call when we get there.” The guy who sold us a couple of old kayaks was in town with the promised spray skirts and life-vests.

There went the plan. Again. I turned to my computer to at least pay a few bills in the short time I had. Humpf. No electricity, no internet.

As, under Curt's plan, both of us would go to town, it seemed good to take care of several “town” needs. We dropped our guest at the bus station, then wandered Kaş. Curt got new glass cut for a broken bathroom light fixture. I picked up groceries I’d forgotten the day before. We chatted with the kayak guy. I returned a lamp and paid for the one we kept. Curt picked up his prints. I hunted down brown paint to repair another broken light fixture. Then there is that other “what we need to do in town.” Errands are a social occasion—coffee with Halil, Gül and Dilek; tea with Paskal. Chat with Gafer, and with Ahmet. So much goodness, and it all takes time and energy.

Which brings me to the other thing. Self-care and sustainable living. We returned to Spa for the Soul after our summer break just a month ago. And I’m exhausted. Curt is wearing thin. By early afternoon we were home and all I wanted was my bed. With so much waiting to be done.

How to describe the weariness. Anything that needs doing, well, it feels just…too…hard. Mind and body together whine for mindlessness and for rest.

Why? Why so exhausted in the midst of goodness, fruit, and beauty?

We work hard. We do hard physical work. We pour into relationships. And we stretch our minds in creative work. We drain ourselves dry.

My back is all spasms, stiff with pain that saps energy.

To listen deeply and to pray with and for guests and neighbors, yes, that too consumes fragile emotional reserves. It is work that I love, and work that bears much fruit, rich with God’s movement and goodness. As an introvert I am wired for deep listening and interaction. Still it saps my energy and the exhaustion goes deep.

Who can account for the energy consumption of language learning, and living and working in a language we speak only poorly.

And we are aging.

Lately I suspect still another reason for the intensity of exhaustion. There is an enemy who prowls. His weapons are deceit and confusion. He is good at throwing obstacles our way. I’m tempted to go into details, but I won’t.

Tuesday afternoon I felt too drained for anything. Curt hung out with his olive trees while I rested. At sunset we played cards for a bit, then enjoyed a bit of TV with popcorn for dinner.

Now it is Thursday. Nothing has changed. Life continues good and beautiful and blessed. The day is mild. The laughter and chat and games of pre-school children at play wafts through my open window. Curt is out with his olives. My back remains fragile, and I am weary. Dear ones come and go, and they speak of ways they are blessed by this place and their time here. I notice enemy whispers about all the things I can’t do well, whether in the realm of self-care, harvest, creative process, or beyond-my-control obstacles.

I recall God’s promises. They cut through the haze. Whatever one can say about me, HE is strong—and able, and good. "His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." Psalm 147:11
Evening with Curt on the water

Yet will I praise His name.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Tuesday report--from a Friday perspective

The Tuesday report: an occasional meditation on the everydays of expatriate life. How many times has someone said to me, “Your life is so exciting, while mine is, well… I’m here in the same place doing the same things I always do.” Yet wherever you and I live, life happens in everydays. We gather food, do laundry, encounter friends and neighbors, find time for a shower, show up for prayer. Why Tuesday? Tuesday strikes me as a nothing-special day--routinely filled with whatevers, the mundane stuff of getting on with life.

I started this post last Friday. And so the days fly by....

I thought about how I might reflect on Tuesday, what I might want to write about, on the day. And on the Tuesday before last, and on the one before that. But now it is Friday. Again. I thought of what I would say back in March, and in April. But now it is Halloween, and tomorrow November begins.

All those small wonders, and those troubling bits, that shoot through every day. We returned to Turkey just three weeks ago after four months in the US.

After time away, normal joys, and the normal headaches, seem bigger. They vibrate in my inner places—mostly to tickle and massage, but sometimes to unnerve my soul. So that I stand in my kitchen all exhilarated by the bitty bits of normal. Things like:

  • Scraping vegetable cuttings and food waste into used shopping bags. Later I will lean out a window to hang the daily offering on my neighbor’s fence post. Not waste, but chicken feed!
  • The constant clucking, scratch, and crow of chickens. I walked outside early today, the sky barely tinged with pink light. All down the hillside cocks celebrated (or did they protest?) the movement from night to day. 
  • Çiğdem calling from her next-door balcony, “Jeri-abla…. Mommy? Where are you?” She passes a message, or an invitation, or asks whether we’ll go into town today.
  • A sunset picnic atop nearby Kyaneai. We sit round the cook-fire with Spa for the Soul guests. Flames cast their shadowy light on the ancient amphitheater and small house-like tombs. The moonless sky is milky with stars. Curt stands watch over grill and fire, and tosses a couple of foot-long centipedes into the coals.
  • Dobby the doggy house-elf at play in the garden. Our most frequent guest, he came home with us on our arrival and will stay yet one more week.
  • Work that begins before dawn and continues into evening dark--the work to make a four-months empty house ready to receive guests, and the work to provide for and accompany the several retreatants who came and went during our first days back:
  • o   I hang load after load of sheets, towels, blankets and clothing on the line to dry,
    o   then gather in the sun-scented pieces,
    o   later to stand hours at the ironing board to steam away wrinkles as I pray over those dear ones that this work of love will serve.
    o   I write menus, rummage through supplies and then through shops. Finally those many trips up and down our 40 steps to the front door with bags full of goodness.
    o   I make yeast dough and bake bread,
    o   while Curt prunes, weeds, and blows debris from terraces,
    o   and pulls garden furniture from nooks and crannies of storage.
    o   We lay tables, pack picnics, wash dishes, and give ourselves over to listen to and pray for those dear ones.
  • Retraining ourselves to make sure toilet paper lands in the bin and never in the toilet where it will so easily clog pipes and septic. It is a semi-annual adjustment of habit. 
  • Sweat. Even when I’m still. Though summer heat is finished, it will be yet another week or so before I go about my work and play in comfort. With age, my over-sensitivity to heat grows extreme. 
  • The casual friendships that define the life of this place. Business is not done without a glass of tea and generous inquires about family and life. We wander through our errands to the accompaniment of invitations to stop, enjoy a coffee, and chat. We greet and are greeted. Hugged, kissed, taken in.
  • Rumor and gossip, especially the tales of the former owner of our house who has been wandering the town drunk and accosting our friends to tell them to tell us that he wants another $50,000 or he will sell our house to someone else. For us and others in this village where modern ways of deed and title are still in the works the concern rumbles in the background of life—now reawakened by this man who says such things to our friends and neighbors but never to us.
  • Turkish. Chatting along barely realizing I’m speaking the language. And all those other times when the words garble and I have no idea what they, or I, just said. When I repeat a sentence three times before I get the grammar right, rewarded by the chuckles of my listener.
  • Lightning bolts illuminating the horizon over the sea; slow-arriving thunder; all while stars glint in the blackness overhead.
  • Camped up high and sleeping when the sky rips open with red-eye explosions of light, the roar and clap of air in the bolt’s wake, and crazy-heavy rain! Where just an hour before all had been cloudless starlight and gentle breeze.
And so much more. All to the accompaniment of that one-foot-in-Turkey, other-foot-still-grounded-in-the-US orchestra. Every time we jet across the world, there is this season where two diverse places inhabit my inner spaces. For a few days both feel tangible. I can hear grand-daughter Lia chasing after Curt. “Dede! Dede!” Round and round through kitchen, living and dining room in Cait and Josh's Kansas City home. All while roosters crow in Çiğdem’s garden and I sweat in Mediterranean heat, my nose full of the abundance of ripening olives and sun-drenched wash from the line.

Love those evening walks!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

To my daughter on Mothers Day

"I love that you are different from other moms," begins Cait's Mothers Day note to me. I was still in bed, perusing my iPad before making a beginning of a glorious Sunday morning. Hmpf. That comment can set a mom back. She went on to wander through a meadow of memories plucking images for my Mom's Day bouquet. She, too, lay in bed, still Saturday night in her place half across the world. 

I'll be asking what she meant by that opening line, but I know one way I am different from many mothers.

"Oh...after that baby comes you will never stay so long in Turkey." How many times did other grandparents crow that tidbit as our first grandchild joined the family. I would smile, but it puzzled me. The child was Cait's and Josh's. Of course we would love to live nearby and be much a part of their lives--we savor those Abu Dhabi years when the whole family, including my dad, lived together in one big apartment, the gorgeous community of it! But God's time came to spin us apart to four continents, and then to only three when Curt retired and Africa was dropped from the mix. 

Don't get me wrong. Our granddaughter Lia is wonderful! But, yes, I am different towards my child's child than many other grandmas seem to be. For my deep joy is in watching Cait and Josh. Watching them grow from sweet couple to papa and mama, watching them love the little one, and teach her, and discipline her. Watching her find her deepest security in them.  Watching her imitate and adore them.

"Mom," Cait pled the day they told us there would be a babe, "you'll be here, won't you? And you'll stay at least a month, won't you?" She was terrified. So I agreed, though I'd barely begun to absorb the news that there would be a grandchild. As she gained confidence we modified the plan to two or three weeks, and when a C-section was required I knew it would be three.

Those first precious days.... We poured gratitude to God that the C-section saved their two lives on a daughter who felt she'd somehow failed at motherhood because the cesarean had been necessary. We held the babe in the hospital, though not much because Josh could barely let her go. We prepared a gourmet brunch with champagne for Cait and Lia's homecoming. It was the bottle of champagne they had purchased for their first anniversary and then didn't drink because they learned Cait was pregnant. Cait was anxious that morning with every infant mewl, and I took the babe and rocked her in my lap to quiet her so that Cait could enjoy her meal. 

Cait took to calling me the baby whisperer in those first weeks because I alone in that little household knew the magic to quiet a babe. I alone had the calm, centered spirit that was not afraid of the tiny life, because only I had loved and quieted other babes in their first days of life. 

When time came for giving the first bath, I helped to prepare the small tub, but then I backed away, wanting this joy for Lia's mom and dad. Yes, I coached a bit, but this was their work. And yes, I never changed one diaper for that, too, was a glorious task that belonged mostly to Josh, the fledgling dad. 

I knew Cait still felt like a whale that first week, but to me she was beautiful, and I told her so. She cried with love and joy to hear it said, and took courage that the day would soon come when she felt she had her own body back, too. We rejoiced together as her swollen legs and feet returned to normal and ankle bones appeared for the first time in months. One day I took her to a fancy restaurant for lunch, for I wanted her to experience that babies are portable--to have that joy with her. I cooked, washed dishes, dusted and vacuumed, fed animals, and listened. 

All so precious. For those short weeks I was mentor, coach, encourager, maid, and baby whisperer. Sharer of the first steps into a new life. 

But greater joy awaited me nine months later when next we visited their home. 

This time we met a little person. She crawled and rolled and climbed and crept along the furniture. Our granddaughter had grown and changed and, yes, we adored her. 

But for me the glory lay elsewhere. To Lia, we were a little more than strangers, for she'd known us at our home in Turkey only three months before. Grandpa was fun, and funny. Grandma was calm and smiling and always good for a cuddle. But Cait, my daughter, was the center of Lia's universe. Cait was motherhood in full bloom. Relaxed. Laughing. Ready with diversions. Sensitive to Lia's cries and moods and silences. Ready to roll, diaper bag packed, chatting to her daughter the cheerful news of color and tasty food and special people. 

Forever in the treasures of my heart will be Lia, a little unsettled, crawling fast to her mother's lap, instantly relaxed once she got there; Lia burrowing her small face into Cait's shoulder; Lia intently focused on Cait's face as she leaned in with open-mouth baby kisses reserved for her parents alone.

Today, a year later, Lia is affable with us when we Skype. She chatters and comments. But only Cait understands her language, and we meet our granddaughter through the lens of our daughter's interpretations. 

It is this about being a grandparent that I truly love: to watch my daughter bloom with gentle wisdom, to hear her teach and direct and comfort with mother-understanding; to know that the stamp of her creative and steadfast personality will mark this child for life; to witness the love of these two of ours, Josh and Cait together, multiply and increase; to know that for our grandchild the days are full of hope and promise--that strong foundation that joyful, gentle, true parenting imparts.
I still get my fun. This was the first time anyone thought to give Lia the whole banana!

Happy Mother's Day, dear Cait.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Resurrection realized--layer on layer: praying with those two on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35)

An interrupted journey. They had a plan, were going somewhere. Maybe headed home, back to life before Jesus. They were “discussing” events. “Discussing” resonates with trying to explain, to analyze, to make it all make sense somehow. What were they saying to one another? "But we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel." He was a prophet, of that they were certain.
And now reports His body was gone. Visions of angels who said He is alive—whatever that might mean. Rumors, impossible stories, all coming on the heels of trauma.
As they walked their darkening path, this stranger came alongside them to join their journey and their conversation. And despite the danger in being identified with Jesus, they found themselves pouring it out: the events, the grief, the terror, the confusion. They just told it, one tripping over the words of the other as it spilled. They watched it flow, experiencing it all over again as they let go every pretense of understanding or explanation.
"How foolish you are!" said the stranger. What was Your voice like, Lord Jesus? I hear gentle scoffing, but offered with a smile and warm acceptance in Your eyes. Because You then opened Your eternal Word and made everything plain. You opened their eyes, it says, and their hearts burned.
"They recognized Him, and he disappeared from their sight." Their own journey plans like a passing vapor, they grabbed cloaks of homespun brown and ran out into the night to chase the glorious mystery of You. 

Layer on layer-- 
An empty tomb 
An angelic vision 
given first to women and then to Peter and John 
Mary meets the Gardener Who is not a gardener 
Peter meets power, love, and forgiveness in a private place 
These two burn with the words of a Stranger on the open road
Layer on layer 
Peeling away 
Until world-changing glory gleams 
Shekinah bright to any given the gift of sight
Hearts burn 
Hearts open 
Hearts receive 
Layer on layer

The dare is to hope, but for what? Reports, dribbles of truth spill. To evaporate in the day's light and heat?  Or to accumulate until frail human vessels overflow with indestructible life?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Holy Saturday: Tattered Vows

Peter. So brave. So sure. He has never loved anyone or anything like he loves Jesus. Confusing, mysterious, undependably dependable, Shekinah-radiant Jesus. As others backed away from call too hard, path too strange, Peter whispered, "Where else would I go?"

Betray Jesus? Peter is ready to fight for Jesus, to stand in front and shield Him even if the sword should pierce Peter's own body. In his mind he can see himself wielding his sword as they come.

He does it, too, later that same night. His sword flashes, blood flows, an ear hangs floppy as a young man screams. 

And Jesus rebukes this bravest stand, heals the ear, lets them take Him. Even then Peter trails behind into that courtyard he can enter only on the word of another. Courtyard of authority. Courtyard of the enemy. 

Nosy questions from a nobody. At a time and place when no brave act could rescue Jesus. She'll bring the crowd down on him, too. Shut her up with the lie that makes him vomit. The lie uttered just as they drag Jesus into earshot.

Then Jesus is gone. Dead. Laid on cold stone and covered over, sealed in. 

Jagged-knife words, the last words Jesus heard fall from him. 

Peter's brave words, his best love, his fierce commitment lie there in the dirt at his feet. Wilted, shriveled, dirty. No unsaying. No undoing. No Jesus to gaze into his deepest self and love him still. All shattered and broken, and him with them. Fraud. Fake. Loving Jesus still. 

It is a tattered love. Pitiful, trampled, and beautiful with all its cracks and tears. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lenten Pilgrimage--a journey of moving on by staying still

Joseph’s flight with his little family to Egypt raises aspects of pilgrimage such as finding our way forward step by step, holding loosely to our understanding of plan and road, ever listening to the Lord and attentive to His best path.
As the week closed, I felt both graced and challenged to walk for a season by remaining still. To wait and watch from the threshold, where a great deal of movement is happening. To sit quiet, with awareness antenna stretched. To listen, to feel, and to intercede. Both in my own journey where permission to rest and wait is a gift, and in the journey alongside retreatants who pray their way through hard situations where the call is to move but the way is only slowly emerging. To hold them safe and give them space to make their two steps forward, two back, one more forward, sometimes tentative, sometimes too sure and pushing too hard, sometimes in fear, yet ever moving toward faith and rest.
I am grateful that my own weariness has become less desperate, as well as for this time to be where I am, at rest yet active in the threshold.
The photos capture images that illustrate for me the pilgrimage of this third week. Sunday I needed to give time to just sit in the beginning stages of a new room off our kitchen, a beginning that had awaited us when we had returned from Albania the night before. I needed to plop down, put my feet up, and stay awhile in that construction site; to feel it and re-imagine it, knowing what was in my original drawing, and asking whether and how that should change.

As the week proceeded, I determined to leave the woodstove as originally planned, to make the upper level a foot wider and inset the step, to leave out the stone step to outside in favor of a wood platform which will support cushions for a locally-traditional maglis style conversation space (instead of the two easy chairs in front of the stove that was my first plan). I also invited the stone mason to complete a whole other project, a new terrace at the main door of the house. Which now is finished and so right. As I wrote this, Suleyman had the doors to the house down and was laying a travertine threshold and shortening the doors to clear the new stone.
Through the week craftsmen and I tussled around over chimney height, floor level, need for a drain, and the shape of the platform for the woodstove. I encouraged, praised, corrected, sought opinions, asked for changes, and provided refreshment. And enjoyed those dear men.
That next Sunday I sat down and rested again in the new space. As if I had never moved. Yet much had unfolded. In the new room, in my life, and in lives of others who sheltered with us for that season.

Ever surprising, so still, yet always in motion, this God who loves us and leads us, eh?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lenten Pilgrimage--sometimes it is good and right to flee

"When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'

"So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" Matthew 2:13-15

In the third week of Lent we were invited to listen and pray this piece of Jesus’ story, to walk with the young family as they fled in the dark to Egypt after an angel came to Joseph in a dream. It was an unexpected and scary journey. Nothing they would have planned. God’s journey to protect them from dangers they could not have fully known, a journey resourced by gifts from contemplative men who responded to a sense of invitation to find a baby in a foreign land and to lay riches by his crib, and we can’t imagine that that those unusual men knew why they were drawn to do as they did either.  What follows is my own wakeful night prayer with this passage that I had read and read again in prayer the morning before.

“angel… dream… escape… stay until I tell you… left during the night… and so was fulfilled….”

I wake in the dark and find myself praying over a story that unfolded not long ago around our dinner table. Dear guests had come to Spa for the Soul from a place where they find their lives in danger. They came to shelter in a safe place for a season, to listen for God’s voice, and to gather strength to follow Him. Sort of like Elijah in the cave, it seemed to me. They arrived with drawn faces and weary eyes, exuding edgy fear and the fragility of long endurance in the presence of enemies. Conversation stayed surface and they dodged the warmth of vulnerability and friendship in their first few days.

But that evening they found themselves ready to bring it out. They were moving to the slow conclusion that, yes, flight is necessary. Flight from a place of long investment, important work, sacrifice. A beloved people and place. I can still see clearly how their pain vibrated in the glow of the candles. The “how” and the “for how long” of it remained murky. Their unity tattered as they shared and wept and tried, now with us as witnesses, to bring each other to the place of understanding the differences in the heart-burdens they carried. Something sacred, holy, unfolding in our presence, inviting our prayerful listening and quiet questions, questions asked not to satisfy curiosity but to help them move deeper into their experience and understanding.  

Warm and safe in my bed, I hear the angel whisper to me, “For some there comes a time to flee. No place for guilt. Lay down what others expect, what they may whisper among themselves. Lay down the question whether they should be able to handle this. Lay down gritted courage determined to trust and stand firm. Take up courage to flee, to chase the still small voice that whispers the unthinkable. How much courage is displayed in the choice to admit that flight is necessary for sanity, and perhaps for life.”

There in the dark, it also comes to me that more than once in recent months we have sheltered dear ones burned and torn through living long in places where there are enemies that would beat, rape, even kill them. Faces set like flint, for a long season all of them believed God’s grace and power would shelter them. They stood firm and carried on pouring themselves out, pouring and leaking out the love of Jesus on their world, on their enemies.

And God listened and preserved them. Until their cracked old vessels of fallen mind and body began to give way and a season of escape became a lifeline to finding themselves again. Yet again I remember Elijah’s flight after all his brave dependence, and I remember that God met him and nourished him and gave him rest, and then God gave Elijah more of Himself, and a human successor who would carry on after he was finished. And then God sent Elijah back. For some we’ve sheltered, the season was temporary, for these others, the open question whether they will ever return forms part of their pain.

So hard to admit, to face that frailty of body and soul.  Long nights wondering if this is a failure of faith. Long days when the tears won’t stop. Lethargy that refuses to venture out the door. Constant watchfulness. Heavy fear that leaders and supporters will see all of it as weak and unworthy, and that those they serve will wither without them. Over it all is the fear that they might never reach the place of return. The heart longing to hear clear direction, to know for certain that this is God’s way for the journey for now.

Yes, Lord, you could have protected Jesus and his family in Israel, without the escape to Egypt. Oh, so many ways that you could have done it. But sometimes, it seems, You call Your people to flee, to run away and hide, to wait Your time and Your fresh word to return—or not, in Your sovereign choice.

Lord, that Your word will be clear for all of Your people who dwell in such places, that You will resource their way with treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh, that You will bring them back—or not--in Your perfect time.