I Am An Alchemist

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 10.43.36 PMPsst . . . Would you harness all your extra energetic atoms and come close in here for a moment? I want to tell you a special little something . . .

For 32 years I’ve been walking around the sun and with every turn about the calendar I’ve learned that I’m unfurling into more of who I was born to be; discovering dots, connecting threads, sketching ideas, chasing the Spirit around all the places so I can ask him all the questions all the time – just for the joy of scribbling what I hear on the scratchpad of my soul and I’m sure I get to keep all the whispered secrets harbored safe within me for at least (or no less then) eternity.

Get this: I’m still learning new things about myself and some might find this strange and others entirely refreshing, but lately I’ve been rolling the air between the tips of my fingers just so I can touch what nothing-molecules feel like. I’m every which way bent on not missing a single ordinary thing because I recently discovered that I am, by nature, an alchemist.

What’s that you say?

Alchemist: A person who uses any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 10.44.41 PMHmmm . . . I wonder WHO the original alchemist was and is and is to come? You must know that I’m thinking now of that long ago dust-spread being woven and shaped into humanity by the magical breath of The Great Alchemist. And I’m thinking of every redemption story I’ve ever heard and all the tales of burned-down ashes turning towards raised-up beauty because that one true Alchemist spoke the magic-wielding words of value and love. I just can’t escape this urge to be under the tutelage of such wonder. So, I touch the air with the flesh of my hands and imagine it’s worth so much more then I often remember, this element I take for granted just as often as my next breath.

Alchemy, I think, is nothing if not the noticing of the practically un-noticeable. And by practicing noticement, the magic of value and love is infused into the most common of substances until they become, to the beholder, a substance of great value. Glory be! Who knew you could get giddy like this and watch the daily drudgery and typical times go by, rich and filled full with amazement.

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 10.44.08 PMIn related news, I wrote this prayer in my journal a few weeks back and it speaks volumes of the place God has seduced me to: “A quiet and reverent good morning I would speak to You now . . . with rest and love and fullness in my heart. I’m breathing You in like a mystic, slowing all my molecules to look like miracles. They are miracles and I would remember today that You are holy and wholly, absolutely other. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart to understand just one or two unfathomable mysteries . . . Would You let me touch the connections between this world and Your pulsing beat? Related: I want to drink You, every bit that I can. Is that possible? To sink into the celestial abyss? Right here in all my ordinary days? By the way, I love . . . I LOVE my ordinary days. You have built me for this, changed me to reflect the mysticism of the mundane and I am grateful, but more so: content. I am content. My God. Miracles never cease. Picking up scattered scraps of paper, filling a million cups with milk, doing the kitchen dance over a pot of simmering soup . . . I am content and AMEN I say to that.”

Now you know a little something more about the heart that beats inside my body and next time I go about making God-seed declarations, I’m gonna tell you why I am, by nature, also an anthropologist. In the meantime, I was wondering (and it would rock my world) if you wouldn’t mind sharing with me something about yourself? It could be a photo or a paragraph or a prayer or a link to a blog post – anything! What is something you are - regardless of whether you’ve been validated by man or certified by any institution? The anthropologist in me longs to know the inherent you and desires to see how we all intersect and connect in this beautiful interlocking circle of Kingdom contribution.

Wherein Parenting Takes An Unorthodox Turn

It was a Wednesday and I stopped and dropped in the middle of putting clean sheets on my bed because the weight of my mundane world crashed in a heap upon my shoulders and the tonnage of it propelled a forward bend, palms pressed open against the mattress, back arched like a bow and the heaviness of my head hanging careless between my shoulder blades. I told my Father that I was certain that He had made a mistake and that surely having three boys AND homeschooling them . . . plus this, that and the other thing was too much weight for any one person to stand up under and more specifically: TOO much for an introvert who craves solitude and stillness and quiet more then all the known things on God’s green earth.

Then I remembered that God only gives us what we could NEVER handle.

On.

Our.

Own.

With the brackish water breaking from my eyelids and spilling on the bed I’m bent over, I says to my God: “I ain’t got what it takes and my back is broken here. I need wisdom because I have no idea how to be a mom right now”

To be more specific with you, we’ve been aching and desperate to comprehend what to do with our oldest son who is transitioning from boyhood into young-manhood and seems to all of a sudden have pre-adolescent hormones raging through his developing body. Somebody told me one time long, long, ago that this would happen some day—the hormones and whatnot—and I’m going to tell you right now that there are some abstracts I wish would just stay the freakin’ heck away from reality. Because these boy hormones?

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOMEBODY, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY, SAVE ME!!!!!!!!!

I digress.

Our boy, Gabe, has been monumentally struggling with disproportionate anger. And this anger can rise up inside him from just one big snot-sniffle coming from the nostril of a brother sitting next to him on the couch. And no amount of reasoning and deep breathing is enough sometimes to pull him out of his sudden hysteric space. Later, when the cool down finally comes, he makes his way so repentant-like to all the family members he violated and begs for forgiveness, with tears and sorrow and all the rest of it. He prays everyday that God would help him not to react to his sometimes frequently pesky little brothers or to any other thing that might get an immediate rise out of him.

Gabriel and I were having a post-fraternal-war conversation on the couch the other day and with cry-streaks all over his cheeks he says to me: “Mama, I’d rather be able to change then have a million dollars. I don’t understand why God isn’t helping me”. Let me go ahead and confess to you that my heart split to slivers while watching my son hunger for a transformation that felt so far-reaching for him. Especially since he’s been praying for [what feels to him like] a very long time. And mama don’t have the answer to his big-boy question.

That’s the gist of our repetitive struggles. And by “repetitive”, I mean: more then once every day. And I am so tired of hearing myself talk and all the teachable moments that I just CAN’T pass up. He’s tired. I’m tired. We’re all tired. At the same time, you need to know that Gabe has such a gigantic heart of goodness and strength inside his chest and we are constantly affirming who he is and building his character up and reminding him of who he is in Christ Jesus and anyone who isn’t his mama would still marvel at the way this God-son spreads seeds of love all over the land around him.

In the midst of all this, Austin and I have—at times—messed up massively in the ways we responded to Gabe’s challenges, getting angry and shout-like just as the good scriptures tell us not to and we have sorrowfully sought his forgiveness and somehow by a Grace higher then ours that process has knit our hearts even tighter together with our boy Gabe.

So, that day when my mattress became my confessional, I had reached the most stretched-out shred of myself – for things mentioned and unmentioned. But, what I was most despairing for was a way to help my son through his breaking s and transitions.

The next day Gabriel’s anger came back, it couldn’t stay away . . . with wild eyes and clenched fists he tornados around his brother Jude for barely any reason at all. I’m in the kitchen elbow deep in sugar cookie dough when the tyrant-tune reaches my ears and the first thing I do this time is all the deep-breath-taking I can possibly suck in, all the way to my belly and back up again, while whispering my “Oh, God . . . help.” And I call for the angry son to “come here please” and I quietly ask him to “go somewhere alone just until I can wash my hands and come talk to him”. The good Lord knows I didn’t need time to wash my hands. I needed time to wash my heart so I could enter into a space with my son and see far beyond the surface issue being repeatedly expressed.

That’s exactly when I had this helpful idea fall into my thinking space and I rushed to meet Gabe in the guest room where he was being quiet and took his hand in mine and guided his body gently to lay down on the rug, positioned his limbs in the most relaxed pose, placed a palm on his forehead and a palm on his stomach and felt the Spirit literally whoosh in on the wings of my urgent pleas. What follows is the record I wrote in my journal the second I was done ministering to my boy, because I didn’t want to forget even an atom of it.

Me: “Ok, Bub. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths all the way down to your belly. Breathe . . . Relax your face. . . Loosen your limbs . . . Breathe.”

(One minute pause while Gabe stills down.)

Me: “While keeping your eyes closed, I want you to tell me where your anger is located in your body. Is it in your mind? Or your heart? Or your stomach? Is it in your left thigh?” (Seriously. You NEVER know.)

Without missing a single beat . . .

Gabe: “The anger is in my stomach.”

At this point I move both my fire-hands to rest softly on his bare belly.

Me: “Ok. The anger is in your stomach, what does it feel like?”

Gabe: “My stomach feels tight and really tense. It hurts all over.”

Me: “Ok. We know the anger is in your stomach and is making your stomach tense and painful. Now, I want you to imagine the anger in your stomach and tell me what it looks like.”

Without missing a single beat . . .

Gabe: “It looks like a dark, red cloud.”

Me: “Imagine for me this dark, red cloud sitting in your belly and taking up all this space where it doesn’t belong. (Pause) Do you see it?”

Gabe: “Yes.”

Me: “Now imagine the dark, red cloud being sucked out of your belly until it’s all the way gone.”

Almost immediately, Gabriel’s eyes POP open and bug out of his head while he exclaims: “HOW did you do that?!?! I CAN’T believe it!!! My stomach hurt SO bad and now it’s all GONE!!! It’s a MIRACLE!!!”

I’m smiling over his wonder and joy, but tell him: “Hang on a second, we’re not done yet . . . close your eyes and imagine the space in your belly where all that anger was . . . now that it’s gone, you have all this empty space inside you and I want you to envision that empty space. Do you see it?”

Gabe: “Yes.”

Me: “Alright, now that you have this empty space, what do you want to fill it back up with?”

Gabe: “God’s love. I want to fill it with God’s love.”

Me: “Good . . .that’s beautiful, Gabe. What does God’s love look like to you?”

Gabe: “God’s love looks like Jesus’ face.”

Me: “Ok. Imagine Jesus’ face coming to you and filling all the empty parts inside your stomach.”

And he did, he took Jesus’ face right inside him and with so much gladness and appreciation coming out his eyes, my boy throws his adolescent arms around my neck and fervently whispers against my neck: “Thank you so much, mama. I feel FREE!” And mama says: “Oh, honey. Jesus set you free, He just used my hands and my heart.”

I learned an invaluable lesson that day: in many situations that seem like a punishment would be in order for negative behavior being chosen and displayed, maybe the offender isn’t always begging for . . .

Time-outs.

Or privileges revoked.

Or firm words.

Or extra chores mandated.

Maybe sometimes he only needs to be touched where he is hurting most. Maybe being a parent means less about correction all the time and more about offering ourselves as a medium of healing for our children. The healing process can take more time then we are willing to sacrifice when life is full and busy, but for the 20 minutes I spent on the floor with Gabe I felt like I was in an alternate universe with my son and I couldn’t even feel the clock ticking.

(Note: I don’t think Gabe received some magic cure-all. BUT. It has been two weeks since this interaction with the Spirit on the extra-bedroom floor and we have not had ONE outrage. NOT. ONE. Sure, he still gets mad here and there – it’s just not even close to the same anymore.)

 

:: Linking with Emily for Imperfect Prose ::

 

I Am My Children’s Priest(ess)

It was the first thing I did when we started our at-home learning this year, I grabbed their three fledgling hearts and circled them with me on the living room rug and then my mama-body just had all these exhort-emotions lifting up from the soul and I spoke them strong and softly fierce-like over their growing heads—purposed Spirit-words that I don’t even exactly remember now, but truly carried the essence and flavor of inspiring these God-sons into becoming more of who they are. Next to all that, I felt some big, prophetic prayers pressing against my lips and for some reason it seemed like not even another molecule of a moment should pass by without me releasing my own children into greater understanding of who God is, releasing them into more authority as His sons to minister to the Kingdom while they make their paces on this earth.

Would you follow me today over to Deeper Family for the rest of this story? The ending is so sweet and the questions are good. :)

In which I am almost all the way burned out.

My Liberty-friend tells me it’s one of the most beautiful things about me, the way I dive into life and everything with both feet AND headfirst – quite an acrobatic achievement, I can assure you. But, she also tells me that this strength of mine can be very hard on my soul, that if I’m not cautious, over time, this unsustainable diving and jumping will make me be weak. She told me this because we talked yesterday after I sent her this exact text message: “I’m burned out. I lost my freaking shit today. Just needed to tell you.” If you’re not familiar with the expression “I lost my freaking shit”, let me clarify: it has nothing to do with bowel movements and everything to do with uncontrolled weeping and wall-yelling and guttural groaning and a body shaking violently because it’s trying so strong not to start throwing things around the kitchen.

Yep.

I lost my shit. (Before I break out in an embarrassment-rash, someone please tell me I’m not the only one.)

I am a diver and a jumper by nature, but there are also circumstances in our personal world that leave very little emotional real estate and added with the high, non-stop pulse of summer activity, I find it extra hard to hide away somewhere long enough to heal from one thing before the next comes along and will someone just let me crawl into the deepest, most isolated hole? So I burned-out under the blazing sun. My soul has lived too much life this past year and it all caught up to me, exploded and left me utterly deflated. I feel like a study in brokenness right now, a veritable petrie dish of multiplying cracks and as painful as this place feels, it’s so good for me to walk quietly beside my old man, be shaken and humbled again over my own humanity and ask the good questions before God so we can seek my gentle transformation and redemption together.

At the tail-end of our conversation Liberty-friend tells me to go on sabbatical, so on sabbatical I will go for the whole month of August. Around the table this morning with our 3 little pancake-eaters, we had a family meeting. Austin and I needed to explain to the boys what was going on inside me, what I had done/had happened to my spirit, what I needed to do to be restored, what a sabbatical meant and how it might look for our daily rhythm for the next 30 days. Our big-loving children with their giant, compassionate hearts decided then and there they wanted to take care of me for that whole time (as best as their young-boyness can manage), so I’m going to let them.

Other then letting the care come in, my soul will be walking softly and slowly, like a body would when recovering from a high-fevered flu. I’m turning any extra noise all the way off, leaving blog/web-land completely, taking no less then three mystic-like and prayer-full pauses a day in some secluded space and also saying “no” SO much, “no” to favors and volunteering and bending in every direction – I’ve learned that I am not Gumby after all . . . Who knew?

Maybe this August sabbatical will become a yearly commitment to myself and my health, an extended sacred space where I can bow low and go extra still and be held by the best arms and drink big and long from the nectar that flows down the mountain of God’s most nourishing heart.

If it comes to your mind or your heart or anywhere else, would you pray for me and mine?

Love you all so much.

Erika

 

12 Years and Why Are We Married Again?

There once was this man who bent himself over our married-feet and prophesied that thousands and thousands would gather around our married-love, but we didn’t have much time to reflect on his seer-like vision because shorter then a month later our love shattered into a million little shard-sharp pieces. Oh. Well . . . we didn’t see that coming. And our married-eyes still look back and marvel that we decided—in spite of ourselves and our choices and our circumstances—that neither of us was “going” anywhere. Man, this girl could re-write the definition of “miracle” off the broken back of our story and here we are 12 years later, 6 years since we began to “fix” ourselves and the best part? I don’t rightly know. Because there truly are too many “best parts” to itemize or rank, but I will offer you the best visual I can to describe our “right-now” married-souls: Just like the river we live on and where we feast our gazes day after night . . . Austin and I? We just flow. We flow back. And forth. In and out. Up and down. The moon rises and wanes and we go low and we go high – moving with the rhythm of the life-tides and season-cycles. We’ve got it down and we know what to do when the water is thin and when it is thick, when it is calm and when it’s a torrent. Also like our river—and equally so—we know how subject we are to pollution. We’ll sit on our dock and watch the litter float by and this I see: We are “bound” together in the most vulnerable and fragile constitution under the sun. We have to be so careful with our eggshell-state and we try real good to clean ourselves in Christ every night before we sleep and additionally practicing every practice we can think of to protect our crackability.

But all the cracks we already have? Oh, the Light beams through ‘em real bright – so we’ll just keep those and let our married-love shine. Eh? And AMEN.

Two years ago I wrote a story about our 10 year anniversary vow renewal and other reflections on “why marriage?”. I would share it with you again as Austin and I just celebrated our 12th and it always puts me in mind of why we belong to each other.

:::

It was a holy night when Austin and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony – oh, holy sacrament and our heads bent in holy wonder and the tears, even, were salted with the holy emotion. Holy emotion that we had “made it” this far. And if ever a voice quiver can be holy, it was in this time when vow-words written in black, scrolled on white paper, were strongly spoken into the grey shades of our reality.

That holy night we stood in the middle of an arm-to-arm ring of our 20 dearest friends and spoke our re-pledges to each other and would you know that heaven’s holy hush soaked our air and stretched our senses to inhale Spirit as He whorled around and between all our limbs and over our skin in that sacred, brushing whisper of His? We felt transported to another world; gently placed inside a shielding bubble where no evil things could penetrate – not on this holy night, not on His holy watch.

Our second ceremony was different then the untried joining of our youth. This time, we knew. Oh God, we knew. We knew what cards life could deal and we knew that our own humanity could cheat with the hands we are dealt. We knew that vows are meant to be kept, but instead—and often—get torn a hundred ways to Sunday. We knew all this and beyond and because of our knowing, our vow words meant more and the definition is ten years long and ten years deep and ten years burned through holy fire. We knew, and we still stood on our holy legs of flesh to say “yes” to each other again.

We said “yes” again because we didn’t go through holy fire without being refined, restored, redeemed, resurrected.  And we said “yes” because our intentions for marriage had evolved alongside our purification and went beyond the answers that come skimmed off the top: “I want to wake up every day with my best friend” or “Two are better then one and he/she completes me” or “I’m loved unconditionally by my spouse”. After being affixed to someone for a decade, these reasons cannot stand alone any longer. The rigors of reality demand that you have an exceptional reason for being joined and and an exceptional reason for staying joined.

On the eve of our commitment renewal, with the quiet and Spirit-air for company, I gently asked my question again, “why marriage?” I had hoped to grasp an answer that every other answer could find it’s roots in, longing for something I could hook my entire heart on when the day is done and the deeds are dark. And where my imagination took me, was not where I expected to go, but how would you like to crash a wedding in Cana?

“…The story of the wedding at Cana has a curious luminousness about it, the quality of almost a dream where every gesture, every detail, suggests the presence of meaning beneath meaning, where people move with a kind of ritual stateliness, faces melting into other faces, voices speaking of elusive, but inexhaustible significance.” – Frederick Buechner

I have this vision of a strange and stern guest with his big, drinking eyes. He’s inhaling wine and breathing sacramental symbolism into the air around him. He is at a wedding and how can he not think of why he was born all this way? Contracted and pushed into time to marry himself to the whole world. So while he laughs and feasts and merry-makes with the rest of them, his Spirit is stretching and reaching with fanciful wreaths of invisible God-fingers, touching every which way and throughout, soaking the deeper meaning inside every wedding ritual. His entire purpose as a Groom coming to love his bride is being played out on the micro stage of this Cana wedding. He’s dreaming of the intimate mysteries of vows and rings, clasping of hands and sacrifice, of feasting and ultimate Love. Maybe just a small sigh and his eye-lids fall as he envisions another marriage . . .

His mama breaks into his waking reflection because she just overheard the servants talking about a beverage deficiency and she petitions her son for help because the party planner didn’t order enough wine, of all things. And while he’s telling his mama about time not arriving and don’t put the cart before the donkey, the mother caresses her knowing fingers along the son’s face and tells the servants to do whatever he says. Before he can issue any orders, he hears a familiar whisper, the Father speaks to the Son’s soul, “I’ve arranged a marriage for You. It’s time . . .”

Without any added ado, the Son says to the servants, do this and do that and the miracle was heard around the whole thirsty world – never again would refreshment be lacking and with this, the bride was born and the Groom set out from Cana, anticipating his own wedding after what he knew would be a 3-year-long wild and audacious wooing.

And three years later, with dust in all the cracks of His sturdy, peasant feet, He walked a long and rocky trail to the top of death hill. Because that is where His chapel was and He was going to get married. But His vows of love needed to be written in blood; red ribbons of split-wide sacrifice. Cross-eyed and crossed-out and criss-crossed in pain, six-ways-damned till Sunday, He said, “I take you . . . to have and to hold . . . from this day forward, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty . . . as long as we both shall live” – which is nothing short of eternity.

Right after Austin were pronounced “man and wife” the first time, these words were spoken over us, “You Austin, and you Erika, together, represent the image of Christ.”

The image of Christ.

You mean the one I just detailed? This was and is the answer my soul was desparate for hearing. “Why marriage?” Because I would give my living and dying breath to reflect an image like that – an image of a marriage declaring an insurmountable love.

When Austin and I re-fastened ourselves one to the other it was with the intention that we, together, are a mirror of the risen Son on His wedding day.