My Cup

Dear God,

Sometimes I am full; sometimes I am empty.

One is not necessarily better than another.  Full can be overwhelmed and uncomfortably stuffed, and it can be satisfied or full of potential or opportunity.  Empty can be dry and gone, and empty can be clear and finished.  But right now, it all feels like I’m full and empty in both the negative ways.  And it feels endless, and like I can’t do anything about it.

I’m trying to think of how you poured yourself out. I’m trying to think of a cup mysteriously filled with blood and forgiveness.  I’m trying to think of the cup that runneth over.  I’m trying to think of the Spirit poured out at your baptism and mine, the Spirit poured out so many days and in so many ways for me to be shaped and made more like you in its power.

But I feel powerless.  Empty.  And yet I feel so full of so many thoughts and frustrations and fears and shame that I’m not sure there’s room for a drop of the Spirit to squeeze in and sanctify me.

O God, help me.

“Let me be full, let me be empty,” but let it be for your sake, not whatever this is that is trying to overshadow me.

Please.

 

Amen.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way…

Dear God,

A person on my retreat just led a time of meditation speaking from your perspective. She said, “I want a relationship with you. I would be so thrilled to have you give to me the same time and energy and love that you give to your friends,” or something along those lines.

It really has me wondering.

I thought about how in scripture we hear about idols and are warned not to worship them. We are shown how meaningless and helpless idols are, how destructive they can be when we center our lives on them instead of you. So the commandments about you and idols are to help us, right? Not just to restrict us or to bind us.

Usually, it seems in the modern context we translate this idea of idols into things that go beyond statues and golden calves to things like money, sports, perfection, power, beauty, good grades, etc. I have never thought that friends could be called an idol. And while I’m sure that this is not what was meant by tonight’s comment, as soon as I thought it I realized how true it could be. Especially to a people pleaser. We who need our friends to like us and approve of us and affirm us can spend so much time devoted to others, practically worshipping their thoughts and opinions. God, help me never to place another’s opinion and approval over yours. God, help me.

But God, I realized something else. I’m not sure you would want me to give you the time an attention that I give to my friends and I don’t just mean because you are more than friend, you are GOD for crying out loud. I feel terrible and embarrassed to admit that I don’t think I’m a very good friend.

I used to be a great friend. I used to get my friends little thoughtful treats. I used to send them little messages online or by text. I used to send real mail. That I made the envelopes myself to send it in! With little trinkets or personalized clippings from magazines or something! But I think when I lost myself last year in depression and overwhelming loneliness and deep waters of disappointment with myself, I never recovered the part of myself that was a good friend. I’ve been working so hard on trying to find myself again in one very particular way that I guess I forgot that part of who I used to be was thoughtful and generous and loving and supportive to my friends.

What happened to me, God?
Who am I?
Am I still that friend?
Have I put on a new self who cannot be that friend? Or just not yet?

I want to find that part of me again. I want to find that part of me again that reminds me most of you. And I wouldn’t be ashamed to love you that way and more. God, help me to find myself, to find the self in me that is the seed of you which you planted so long ago. Help me to be generous, loving, attentive to my friends.

At some point life and busy and work, which is good work but still work, and distance and sickness and new things and funerals and self-centeredness and self-pity and more than even I know but that you know have pulled me inside myself, inside a shell that keeps
me from seeing anything other than me. I haven’t been there for my friends. And while I know that part if why is because I’ve been trying to be there for strangers, to make strangers feel like friends, but I think my friends deserve care and companionship that I have not been there to give them. And not just because of distance between us. You never let distance keep you from us. Even when we try to create distance between ourselves and you!

Draw me out of myself, God, and nearer to you. Help me to love as you love. Help me to be generous as you are generous. Help me to listen as you listen. Help me to reach out and pursue my friends the way you pursue all your children. God, help me to do all this and more in my life with you. I’ll be there for you.

Amen.

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One is Silver and the Other’s Gold

Dear God,

Yesterday was All Saints Sunday, and in my sermon I preached about living saints – how we who are living are coming through the ordeal by faith, that we who are living experience loss and death before our own deaths. One of the examples was when we move, we inevitably lose loved ones. We lose the chance to see them every day. We lose some of the intimacy of relationships with dear friends when we don’t get that time together consistently, where you pick up each other’s vocabulary and know what the other is thinking and all that.

Long ago, with friends I haven’t kept up with at all, I sang this song at Girl Scouts:

Make new friends
But keep the old-
One is silver and the other’s gold.
The circle’s round;
It has no end-
That’s how long I want to be your friend.

I woke up this morning looking at my facebook feed (I know, we’ll talk about that later), and there were all kinds of folks posting pictures with old friends. As in lots of different big groups of high school friends. And I realized that I have very few people on the wedding invite list who are old friends. And the ones who are still “gold”/old friends tend to come from different areas of my life – they aren’t friends with each other.

You’ve heard this prayer, this hurt before in my thoughts and sometimes shouting and written on my heart: sometimes I wish I had the kind of life where my adulthood is full of childhood and adolescence friends. I used to think this was all part of the TV world I watched, that I was taught to want a Dawson’s Creek life. But I see it in real life all around me.

Of course, I truly can’t imagine my life without the friends I made each time I’ve moved. I really, truly, physically can’t imagine it – I get sick to my stomach and a little dizzy when I try. It scares me to think of a life without my Austin friends or my W&M friends or my Berkeley friends or my Duke friends or my Smithville friends. I don’t even just mean the closest ones or wedding invitation ones. I mean that there are so many people who have shaped me, made me laugh, listened to my woes, given me rides to airports, shared their fries with me, watched SVU with me, shaped me vocationally – how could I erase one out of my life, much less a whole set of people, by imagining never taking the next challenging step in life?

Still, sometimes I am greedy, God, and I want both. I want piles of gold – and silver! I want to be surrounded by so great a cloud of friends right here and now. I want to think I unselfishly could pour myself into that many relationships and add gold and silver to others. How do you do it? I mean, besides being God. How does Jesus do it? He’s human. I’m human. Did he miss his childhood friends? His friends from adolescence?

I want to think this isn’t a truly greedy or petty hurt I carry. I want to think this is about a love I want to give, not just receive. Sometimes I just miss my friends, God. And I want to keep them. And I say that meaning I want to do my part to maintain relationships but there just doesn’t seem enough energy or time in the day and now there is way too much distance in space and time especially to find my way back to some friends.

… … … … … … … … … …

God, thank you for my friends – all of them. All of them. The silver and the gold and the ones I haven’t met yet. Thank you for bringing people into my life who know how to make me laugh who listen and who need my love too. Thank you for sending me places to be someone’s friend or to find more myself. Comfort the lonely tonight. Be with the people who are losing friends to death, especially those who are in that phase of life where they come upon a friend’s obituary and realize they had no idea and the pain is emphasized by the distance of time and space. Help us all to draw near to each other as best we can, to keep even threads of connection where ropes and tight knots and elaborate friendship bracelets once existed. And help me to see friends in strangers, to be a friend to the stranger. That stranger has been me.

Amen.

Butterfly Mass

Dear God,

Lately there’s been a mass of butterflies migrating south. First there was the mass of yellow butterflies with wings that are mostly rounded. They practically blend in with the esperanza bushes they love so much down here except that they are a softer yellow. I swear I could look out the office window and see at least 15 at a time flying through the parking lot, as though still on their morning commute. Then came the mass of brown and red butterflies–the ones speckled with white spots. They’re not the color of monarchs but a similar shape. They seem more determined and less happy-go-lucky than the yellow butterflies. And then came the mass of monarchs, though they came in fewest numbers. Did you feel each flutter? What about our heartbeats?

It’s incredible to witness each mass of butterflies and incredibly sad. I drive to work, I drive to hospitals, I drive to lunch, I drive to the beach, I drive home, and everywhere I go butterflies are flitting across the road. And getting hit by cars, getting hit by my car. It’s beautiful and horrifying when I stop to watch the butterflies. Which, of course, is dangerous because I’m usually driving as I watch. I find myself not quite slamming on my brakes but slowing down significantly, only to slam into a butterfly or three anyway. It’s unavoidable.

And yet, it makes me wonder. What pain or destruction do I cause to your Creation that is avoidable? What am I not paying attention to because it isn’t pretty enough or gentle enough to draw my eye and pull my heartstrings? Who or what do I careen toward, petal to the metal, because I’ve decided they deserve to be destroyed in some way or some part?

Do the butterflies en masse mean to you the same as a Sunday Mass? Do they weigh on your heart more? Do you feel their wings, thinner than tissue paper, crushed under tires? Do you blow the wind up under their wings to lift them up above the windshields like children play with bubbles? What delicate, gentle, beautiful, harmless, and helpless creations are you grieving the destruction of today?

I know that before resurrection comes death. Help me, God, not to get in the way of or speed past or destroy the work of resurrection you are bringing into the world.

Amen.

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Dancing

Dear God,

Do you dance?  I mean, I’m guessing the Baptists (most of them, though there are lots of varieties) would say ‘no,’ of course.  But I really was thinking about it earlier today.  I prayed something with others around about hoping we had made you smile or whatever the closest thing is to smiling that you do.  And then later tonight it hit me again.  I thought “God will be dancing over this one” and then I thought – “How does God dance?  Good grief, does God dance?”

So, I’m taking my question to the source.  Do you dance?  Is this one of those things like “thunder is just God and the angels bowling” and I should think up more poetic explanations and answers like “Every sunset is God dancing” or “the wind in the trees is a holy two-step”?  I don’t know; somehow I feel like there’s something more majestic to be learned or observed or wondered here.

I understand that you are not corporeal (but for your incarnational self in Jesus Christ).  There’s something, then, that makes me grieve for you.  I love to dance.  I wish I danced more.  I wish I danced with more confidence.  There are times, though, when as unforgiving as I am with this body you gave me (which I doubly treat poorly – cultivating both bad eating and exercising habits, then turning around and criticizing my body for that), I catch a glimpse in the mirror as I dance around folding laundry and putting it away and think “I LOVE DANCING!”  I like how my body can do things to rhythm, how the form I take can somehow make the music mean more.  I’m no ballerina, but when I take ballet classes, my body puts movement to melody in a way that feels extraordinary.  Do you know what it is to dance if you don’t have a body?  Do you feel movement as the earth turns, the rhythm of seasons, the form of cold fronts as well as spiritual formation of hearts, minds, and bodies?  Do you feel me dance?

If so, I will dance for you.  I will dance for you as long as you let me, as often as I have strength.  I’d hate for you to miss out on dancing.

OH, MY GOD.  How silly of me!  Of course… I hear you in my head, singing a song I have danced to many times.  I danced to it on many Easters past – sometimes with crepe paper and popsicle stick streamers; I danced around the San Antonio district parsonage as a little girl with a little Maggie – yarn offerings flowing behind us; I sang it to Jack in those first few weeks where I had so much time alone with him in the wee hours, soothing him and doing that newborn dance that sways back and forth; truly, my heart dances each time I hear the song again.  You are my God, and you are the Lord of the Dance… “I danced in the morning when the world was begun,/ and I danced in the moon, and the stars, and the sun./ I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth./ At Bethlehem I had my birth./ Dance, then, wherever you may be./ I am the Lord of the Dance,” said he,/ “and I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,/ and I’ll lead you all in the dance,” said he.

If that is so, I will dance for you, and I will dance with you.  Rachel always made me be the boy when we danced, so I’m terrible about leading whenever I dance now; it will be quite the relief to let you lead in the dance.  And so we come full circle to another prayer from earlier today: I am sorry for the ways I try to control, for the ways I get in the way.

Lead me; I will follow.  Let’s dance.

 

Amen.

Fog

Dear God,

Help me get through this day.  I cannot see the way forward clearly at all.  Don’t worry, I’m not turning around, but you’re going to have to guide me, okay?

Amen.

Overwhelmed

Dear God,

I know I gripe a lot.  You’re probably really tired of hearing me tell work stories lately, especially since I’m supposedly doing “your work”.  I feel like you must be pretty tired of hearing people call so much pithy and relatively pointless stuff your work and your will.

You’re probably going to roll your eyes at this one, but I was watching a movie tonight.  Alone.  At my house which is a mess (though the floors are really clean).  Sitting on my butt.  Doing nothing to help people have a better life and know your love.

And for some strange reason, while reading facebook status updates about General Conference and people making decisions about “your church” hundreds of miles away, I got really overwhelmed.  With life.  Even though nothing has really happened yet at GC and probably very little will happen that can truly count as your will being done (I have a feeling you don’t really give a crap about Robert’s Rules of Order when there are children dying everywhere tonight).

I don’t know.  That dumb movie.  It’s not the first time, you know that.  I pretty much decided to study history in college because of a fictional movie about a piece of WWII that I knew nothing about prior to watching.  It was a love story, and I felt a shift in my heart and mind about the world for some reason.  And I got a degree.

But tonight, I don’t know.  That dumb movie.  It wasn’t as good as the book (I’m sure you know that and you sort of think that on a macrocosmic level all the time).  But I’m sitting on my bed crying.  I’m thinking about how this world is full of so much good.  And I just wish with all my heart tonight that I could make more good for you.  I don’t know that I can ever really stop the bad, the hurt, the sorrow, the alone, the really really really unfair.  But I want to make more good, more love, more warm, more sweet, more peace.  For you.

In The Secret Life of Bees, May is overwhelmed with her empathy for the sad things of the world, and she ends up drowning herself.  I don’t know how it happened tonight, in my dumb, empty house, on a dumb, lonely Tuesday… but I feel overwhelmed with my empathy, and with my gratefulness for the good things.  That all come from you.  And I feel overwhelmed for your sake, with just a small imagining of what you might think or feel or want.  And I don’t want to drown, I want to live.  For you.

Thank you for holy moments on dumb Tuesday nights.  Please don’t judge me for finding my breath during dumb movies.  Help me to make more good for your world.  To not get overwhelmed by the bad.  To love.  Endlessly.

Amen.