For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

This week I am grateful…

1

For Christmas trees in Advent.

Embracing the liturgical year is a beautiful thing, but it is also a conflicting thing. The Year has cost me some expectations and traditions I grew up enjoying because the Year invites me to dwell deeply within the dynamic story of God’s love for the whole world. This means good news, but it also means I sometimes have to give up the kinda good for the better.

I have come to know that knowing God means holding things loosely because God is always better than I hope, more benevolent than I imagine, and wilder than I can fathom. Trusting God, therefore, is a risk. The symbols and traditions I come to love so much can all of a sudden and drastically not fit the grace I experience, the glimpse of the divine that She gives. Love confounds and breaks the handholds I contrive.

Let them be signs, beloved, reminders and pointers—temporary shelters, not permanent dwellings. Go where I go, hold onto Me. There will be more signs and wonders…

Practically speaking, holding on loosely has looked like an assessment of personal practice and traditions. Aaron and I have been intentionally trying traditions together as a family. It is both fun and frustrating. We have enjoyed listening and learning from the multitude of signs the Body of Christ has recognized over the centuries—form the silly and superstitious, to the sanguine and sacred. But I have also at times gotten stuck in my deliberations with questions like, for instance, when in the WORLD should the Christmas tree go up?

I know some folks put theirs up at the beginning of Advent. Others do a progressive tree dressing: they set up the tree on Advent 1 and add to it every week, with the lights coming on St. Lucy’s feast day and the star on Christmas Eve. Still others save the whole shebang for a solely Christmas Eve tradition, the tree staying up ‘til Epiphany. I have been conflicted about the entire question—I mean, what even IS a Christmas tree anyway?

And then a gift unfolds in the doing. A sign emerges.

My roommates and I put up our tree last Sunday because Holly wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it before we go our separate ways. We gathered. We untangled lights and unwrapped ornaments. We argued tree placement—here or there? This angle or that? And it was perfect.

Meagan pulled out these adorable magi and held them just so, and, just like that, I saw the sign of the Christmas tree for this Year.

I saw pilgrimage and anticipation. I felt the Advent, Christ’s coming, but not yet. I felt my own place on the road, in step with the wise ones from the east on their journey toward a Star they knew meant something wonderful.

The tree became a symbol of Advent. It became a guide for the mystical liminality of this season.

As the magic magi travel up the psychedelic spiral of our colorful Christmas tree, they are leading me onward towards Home.

Thanks be to God for simple signs and wonders.

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

This week I am grateful...

1

For communion, contemplation, and contemplating communion.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal welcomed me to the table on Sunday morning, Christ the King Sunday. The meal warmed my belly and buzzed my mind. How overwhelming is God’s grace sometimes! It often is a gentle hand on the shoulder or the faintest whisper of fond greetings. But Sunday it was a radiating pulse of re-orientating love. It was a welcome home. Again.

The next day I sat to do some major work on my school capstone project, musing for hours on the topic of cosmic communion and praying with the nature of matter (which is a story I hope to tell soon!). Several things became clear, and I will share two of those things here.

First, I love, love, love communion. The more I think about the practice and experience it in my body with the gathered community of faith, the deeper the thing becomes, the more encompassing and transformative, the more the truth of it dwells in me, making me a citizen of God’s reality.

Second, contemplating the ways God dwells deeply in and with the ever-unfolding creation gives me life—it makes me alive.

I love God, I love creation, and I love to think. It is grace—an unexpected and utterly free gift—when God meets me in the communion of it all. 

For feasting, Lucky, & Christ the King! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 47

For feasting, Lucky, & Christ the King! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 47

This week I am grateful…

1

For community lessons in real time.

I have only three more weeks with my Winston-Salem roommates, but I am already counting the lessons they have taught me about living life in community. Last Saturday we had a roomie check-in date at our local Chikfila where we talked through our household expectations, etc.

Which is much harder to do than one would think.

It is a blessing to dwell with folks who want to live well together, not just get by. I am thankful for these three and the ways each of them have helped me see Reality from different perspectives.

For Thor Ragnarok, Morning Voices, & Dogs in the Classroom - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 46

For Thor Ragnarok, Morning Voices, & Dogs in the Classroom - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 46

This week I am grateful…

1

For my Thor Ragnarok experience.

Three great things: Thor was funny, my friends were there, and the Coke ICEE situation was, you know, SELF-SERVE & FREE REFILLS.

I still might be rattling from the sugar and caffeine, but, gracious, I had a good time at the movies last Friday. Thor’s my favorite male superhero—though he better watch his footing when the new Black Panther stuff comes out in a few months!—and I have been anticipating the fresh tone of Ragnarok since its first trailer dropped.

Definitely did not disappoint.

I heard on NPR that in Norse mythology Ragnarok means, basically, apocalypse. It is the death of the universe that cannot be avoided, but it also is never the end of the universe. Ragnarok is only one part of the rhythmic, never-ending cycle of ultimate reality.

The Marvel film played with Ragnarok’s meaning. There were some chilly moments when Death looked like imperial colonialism and unchecked ambition. Other times she looked like a duped daughter. While I watched I wondered, since death and life are necessary to one another in our world, if Thor would somehow learn to redirect Death’s misunderstood or misinterpreted purposes in order to live and reign alongside his sister, the goddess of death.

I will just say that, in the end, Ragnarok was costly, but, somehow, good.

Reconciling. Unifying. A call for renewed hope.

It was also just fun.

Thanks be to God for interesting stories and Marvel-ous modern-day mythologies. 

For My Womenfolk, Vocational Duty, & Hot Soup - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 45

For My Womenfolk, Vocational Duty, & Hot Soup - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 45

This week I am grateful…

1

For my womenfolk.

In this photo are women on my mother’s side. From left to right: me, Grandma, Aunt Monica, Mama, and Granny.

Leanna, Doris, Monica, Michelle, and Earlene.

We took the photo after Granny and Poppy bought us all breakfast Saturday morning.

Mom and I were down for the weekend with Aunt Monica in her forest home. I am not sure if we knew it going in, but it was definitely a YaYa kind of weekend for the three of us.

A weekend for sharing and receiving stories, daring to be present to one another and to see one another as the women we are. It was a weekend for falling asleep as we talked Friday night because we can relax together and rummaging through antiques Saturday morning because we can be honest about what inspires us and what doesn’t. It was a weekend for tears, laughter, and trust, trust, trust.

It was a weekend for my women, the ones whose blood runs through my veins, whose stories echo deep within me.

And it was—

For Original Blessing, Halloween Hospitality, & the Wild - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 44

For Original Blessing, Halloween Hospitality, & the Wild - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 44

This week I am grateful…

1

For original blessing, for little Watson’s dedication.

My nephew was brought before his faith community this week. My brother and sister-in-law held him before the people and promised to raise him in full view of God’s love and promise. It was a gift to experience the outpouring of love from my brother’s community. It was a gift to witness my brother and sister-in-law express their faith and hope in such a public way—such vulnerability, such courage!—in the name of Christ and for the love of their son.

It was also a gift to hold my nephew for the very first time.

When my brother placed his son in my arms, Watson looked at me, into me.

I saw the whole world in his eyes.

Blessing.

For Thrift Stores and Everything - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 43

For Thrift Stores and Everything - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 43

After a wonderful long weekend at home with my husband in Dallas, TX, I return to the rhythmic trudge toward completing my work at Wake Forest School of Divinity. This is the beginning of the final push, I think, which makes me feel nervous and excited all at once. There is much to do. Much to do. And yet, herein seeps quiet moments for gratitude, for reflection, for mourning a season’s near close, and for celebrating new hopes for what comes after.

Thank you for being with me in this particular space, for entwining your journey with mine.

This week I am grateful…

For Janky Cars, Flight Attendants, & The Red Tent - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 42

For Janky Cars, Flight Attendants, & The Red Tent - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 42

This week I am grateful…

1

For good conversations with both of my parents this week.

I thank God for the very different folks who raised me. I am grateful for the chance to hear these people as the individuals that they are, to release expectations and receive, instead, the authenticity of their stories.

It is a wonder to realize that one’s parents are not and cannot be the salve and savor of life. They get to be people, then, instead of demi-gods. And people are marvelous, dynamic creatures. Fun to get to know.

Parental love comes to mean something new when it is not taken for granted, or when it is not taken as an elixir for the holes in your heart.

It becomes a gift.

I am thankful to be growing older in the full-spectrum light of my parents.

For Genograms, Leftovers, and Leslie Knope - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 41

For Genograms, Leftovers, and Leslie Knope - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 41

This week I am grateful...

1

For genograms.

This past weekend I had a Family Systems class at WakeDiv (yep, I spent about 15 hours in a classroom over Friday and Saturday—at midterm; let’s not talk about that part). We talked about many things, but the most meaningful aspect of the weekend was the genogram exercise. A genogram is a glorified family tree, really; it is a tool by which one attempts to illustrate family dynamics. It is a way to chart out—as far as one understands from one’s position in the system/family—how different relationships function. The insight available through this exercise is invaluable. It is a practice in objectivity, which, surprisingly and blessedly, often leads to a deeper capacity for compassion.

Clarity about the way one views one’s family and place in it opens the door for honest curiosity, too. I find that every time I draw a genogram I walk away with questions to help me get to know these incredibly different people with whom I am related.

Family suddenly becomes not a web of group-think, but a network of persons who form layers of meaning that shape and inform one another (with different degrees of awareness). I, then, abruptly find that my own personhood has choice and autonomy in that meaning-making process. Instead of being taken for a ride, I find that I have a part to play.

I am thankful for practices that open me to relational understanding. I am thankful today especially for the genogram because it has challenged me to grow in empowering self-awareness and curiosity-inspiring compassion.

For midterms (really), vulnerability, and easy recycling - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 40

For midterms (really), vulnerability, and easy recycling - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 40

This week I am grateful…

1

For all this work.

It is that time of the semester: midterm! I have assignments due, papers progressing, a weekend class, and one monster of an exam coming up. It is just that time—and it truly makes me glad. Seeing all of these assignments and responsibilities met means I am that much closer to my goal of graduation, integration, and going home!

Lift a prayer for students, if you would. This is when stuff starts getting real.

On going home, good theater, & Michaelmas! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 29

On going home, good theater, & Michaelmas! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 29

Happy feast of St. Michael and All Angels!

Today’s a day especially set aside to remember how messengers of God come into our midst—slaying the monsters of our nightmares and the dragons of doom upon the earth.

It is a great day to recall Gabriel’s visit to Mary, the mysterious Three’s visit to Abraham and Sarah, or even the heavenly showdown in Revelation between the Woman Clothed with the Sun and St. Michael against the Seven-Headed Dragon of Revelation 12 (you have GOT to read that tale if you’ve never)!

It is a wild holy day, y’all, and it is the first major liturgical holiday Aaron and I celebrated outside Christmas and Easter.

The first year we had paper crowns, fiery chili, and a fierce dragon piñata.

Last year we added homemade blackberry pies!

And tonight my dear friends are planning to welcome a small host for brats, pumpkin beer, and, I am sure, a bit of storytelling—for Michaelmas is good for that.

I am thankful for this weird holiday and the way it stirs me toward mystery. I find myself remembering and recognizing the angelic messengers in my life, those people that bear good news at just the right moment.

I hope you have yourself some fun today, slaying dragons, telling stories, and looking for ways to move on mission with God’s message of peace and good will to all—

For Saints, Sabbath, and the First Day of Fall - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 38

For Saints, Sabbath, and the First Day of Fall - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 38

This week I am grateful...

1

For sister Hildegard.

It was the feast of Hildegard von Bingen this past Sunday. I did not even know until Monday and so enjoyed remembering her then. I stumbled upon an exhibit the Brooklyn Museum has on the German mystic, and a few quotes, too.

I have GOT to learn more about our girl Hilde. 

For honest professors, Life Around the Table, and Practical Magic - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 37

For honest professors, Life Around the Table, and Practical Magic - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 37

This week I am grateful…

1

For my new laundry rack, that it fits and works well in my little sun room.

Y’all know we purchased an umbrella clothesline posthaste when we moved to Texas. Well, after a few weeks of hanging laundry with the birds and the breeze and my Barkley-boy, I had to ship myself off to Winston-Salem for school, sans clothesline.

Which I really did not consider would be a thing.

Why should a clothesline, of all things at present, be a thing? Furthermore, why would I miss the time and energy it takes to hang clothes on a line when an electric dryer is directly available?

I did two loads of laundry in my first weeks back here in NC. Both times I felt…icky? Stumped? Stuck? Answer: All of the above.

The dryer felt loud, obnoxious, and unnecessary. It felt like a huge amount of energy for the simple task of getting my clothes dry. Recent experience has taught me they THEY DO THAT ON THEIR OWN. Rather quickly, too.

Of course I am not in a position where I am responsible for washing cloth diapers for a young one or my entire household’s week of clothes in this apartment. I think those would be reasonable uses for a dryer in an apartment.

As for my needs, though, I remembered a drying rack I had in college, and, thusly, moseyed myself over to Amazon for a price check.

Two days later...

Not a thanksgiving short - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 36

Not a thanksgiving short - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 36

For the first time all year I am a day late with my #SevenGratitudes. Grad school's made a tall order this semester, seeing as it is my very last one. Plus, I am living 1,100 miles away from my husband. There may be other weeks when my gratitude practice will have to be flexible. 

However, the important part is that there is still time. There is still time to gather and examine the loose ends of my lived experience of Reality this week. There is still time, though not within the usual 24-hours of Friday, to see how those loose ends weave together into a picture of God’s freely-given presence and love.

Which, utterly and completely, is what practicing gratitude reveals to me, beloveds. It shows me, every week, whether I want it to or not, just how much and abundant and lavish is God’s love. It is almost too much to bear sometimes.

But it ain’t gonna fail us. It ain’t gonna quit. God will love us through, hallelujah.

Thanks for being here, a day late, but not a thanksgiving short.

For freakin' Facetime - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 35

For freakin' Facetime - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 35

This week I am grateful…

1

For a successful last first week of school.

Monday began my final push toward finishing my education (as far as I can possibly know). After getting settled back into my little sunroom quarters here in Winston-Salem over the weekend, classes got off without a hitch. I have the pleasure to sojourn:

History of Christianity, part 1

Women & Slaves in the New Testament

Christian Ethics

Islam & Islamophobia

Art of Ministry Capstone Thesis

Family Systems Theory

It looks like a lot laid out there in print, but if this past week is any indication as to how the rest of this semester will be, I should be in good shape. The classes, for the most part, seem to dance together in content and overall direction of thought. I am grateful for this chance to grapple deeply with how the ancient and the current shape and color reality today. I am grateful to glimpse God in it all, especially the wrestling part. 

For library faeries, a research lead, and the peace of wild things - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 34

For library faeries, a research lead, and the peace of wild things - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 34

This week I am grateful…

1

For the chance to see my spouse teach Sunday school.

Aaron had his first opportunity to teach a class at Wilshire Baptist this past Sunday. He covered Galatians in the span of an hour, which was great and inspiring (see below), but even better was the pure delight of seeing my man do something that he loves.

Aaron has trained and studied and practiced for this work of Christian education, spiritual development, and pastoral care. He has always, since one fateful day in high school, aimed his energies at challenging the church to engage its whole self—the mind certainly included—in the work of embodying Christ in the world.

I loved witnessing the Spirit of God stir us there in the room. I loved seeing Aaron move in that Light.

For newborn nephews, life’s unfolding, & our bed - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 33

For newborn nephews, life’s unfolding, & our bed - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 33

This week I am grateful...

1

To meet my newborn nephew. To see his face.

Oh my goodness. There have been so many feelings about this little one’s arrival. When I got to “meet” him over FaceTime, when I saw that precious face, every one of those feelings melted into awe. Then gratitude. Then absolute, head-over-heels Love.

I praise God for the miracle of life. I celebrate the safe delivery of another beautiful earthling. I am hopeful for his future and the ways our paths will cross. I see God and God’s powerful creativity already at work in my nephew.

To witness such a Presence is transformative, and I need transforming. The world needs transforming.

For Thug Kitchen, my mama, & The Wailin' Jennys - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 32

For Thug Kitchen, my mama, & The Wailin' Jennys - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 32

This week I am grateful…

1

For the Wilshire welcome.

Sunday morning was our first official day at our new church, Wilshire Baptist. I woke nervous in all my limbs, feeling the wake of memory after memory of other first days with other new folks in other new places.

The past can haunt, for sure, but a curious thing happened.

The plan was to join the church in both the early and the eleven o’clock services with a brunch Q & A session in between. Being as anxious as I was there was nothing to do except show up. Just be there. Submit and enter the process of the unfolding moment.

So I did.

After it was all said and done I realized that somewhere between the bookends of joining the church I had gotten baptized all over again, and my clothes weren’t even wet. Instead, my anxieties—the pain from past experiences—were lapped away by this congregation’s smiles, breakfast casseroles, hugs, handshakes, and how-do-you-dos. I was baptized by ecclesial embrace, a grace we Baptists should talk about more often, for I was made to be new and made to be home.

I am thankful for that.

For dirty miracles, a new friend, & my dog - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 31

For dirty miracles, a new friend, & my dog - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 31

This week I am grateful…

1

For news of people healing the land. That bioremediation is possible. For dirty miracles.

I did some significant reading this week in Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew’s Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, which was very exciting. As I read I was reminded about the wondrous possibilities we have in the pursuit of healing the earth. Cities are not the anti-Christ of creation. Instead, they can be seedbeds of ecological revolution. Indeed, the biblical book of Revelation ends with visions of a New City where the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations. Sounds like edible landscaping to me.

Toolbox reminded me deep in my spirit that there is hope. Specifically, it reminded me that there are people working diligently and creatively around the world for our collective well-being. Even further, it reminded me that those people are doing the essential down and dirty work, not simply hobby farming or gardening for profit. Rather, there are folks reclaiming soils that have been violated beyond recognition—soils polluted by petroleum products or awash in toxic waste.

There is an entire section in Toolbox about bioremediation, cleaning and restoring land, water, and air that has been saturated with pollutants and toxic waste.

To be clear, scientific data and knowhow is essential to do this work. It would be needlessly dangerous to march in and start shoveling soil that glows in the dark without doing one’s research. However, this book reminded me that the necessary information is very available and accessible. The work of keeping (from the Hebrew word shomar, meaning to guard, protect, foster—as one would a child) creation is available to all humans, not only those who take up certain professions.

Cleaning and restoring creation in your neck of the woods could be a matter of planting sunflowers (phytoremediation) or growing mushrooms (mycoremediation).

Is that not miraculous? 

For signs and wonders, and the BBC - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 30

For signs and wonders, and the BBC - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 30

This week I am grateful…

1

For pancakes on Resident Row.

Aaron and I love pancakes. And we are picky about them; I am especially so. We like a certain wheat-to-white ratio, a definite cinnamon and vanilla spike, and 100% Pure Maple Syrup on the side, please. What we really like, though, is to share them with good people.

Enter our new friends here on Resident Row. The whole gang piled in Saturday morning—those folks who are doing the risking of relationship with us that I mentioned last week, the ones who said they like us and are glad to have us, THOSE ONES, our new neighbors—and my heart got so happy. The youngest among us came in footie pajamas. The oldest among us reached quickly for coffee. We all, I do think, had a very good time.

Thankful for the friendship forge of a moment that we are in right now.