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Friday, December 21, 2012

Journey ...

The sheer drudgery of journey is remarkably absent in travel magazines.
I see fresh-pressed khaki, sun-kissed smiles, and streamlined luggage skimming smoothly over tarmac as glossy as the pages I turn.
Even the paper cut I get on the side of my finger is precise and clean-edged.

For travelers of flesh and bone, the Earth turns with rough beauty:
The sun burns, rain chills, and strange winds drive dust like shrapnel; 
there is:
the placing of foot before foot, eyes cast down seeking a predictable landing in unfamiliar terrain;
the kinesthetic of each arm swinging with stride, heavy with the burden of bundles and time;
the restless scanning of a bewildering landscape for routine comforts;
and the unfamiliar greeting of strangers, busy on their networks of constructed pathways incomprehensible to tourists.

Journey is to live in the alien present in a relentless search for home.

My missal is crisp with the newness of December; the Advent journey has begun again.
I enter the foreign landscape of sand, stars, and a Savior-Child.
Shepherds and kings rush by in a restless riot of joy, angels fly as thick as fog.
But stillness lives in the stable—the donkey and ox.
Deprived of their manger they stand patient,
seeing with soul-eyes the sacrifice—Bread of Life—offered up for all.
Their waiting holds no internal movement of chronology; neither is it passive.
instead it is Presence held in dynamic meditation, a still movement through time.

Journey is to live in Presence, a quiet center in a relentless search for home.

Many blessings on your Christmas journey and throughout the New Year!

Faith & Vincent and the family:

from left to right on the carpet back row: Maggie Muggins, Gabe, Janna Banana, the Lovely Ladies (represented by Emma in the front row), one unamed honeybee (on the Nativity stable), and Puck! (looking in the window) ...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Choosing between 'good' and 'good' ...

Here is part two of the 'midterm crunch' ... 

Luke 14:25-33 (from the Message)

Figure the Cost

One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.
 “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’
 “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
 “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

Wow … I always get a bit of a chill/shiver when I read this passage from scripture. There is nothing of the warm, fuzzy ‘one set of footsteps in the sand’ vibe here! The bluntness is rather refreshing, however—kind of like the bit of a cold lemonade on a sultry summer day. Because, isn’t that our reality? At least right now? (No, I’m not talking about the lemonade and the summer weather!) Midterm crunch and the gear up to the final stretch of the term is not a warm and fuzzy place to be … it is real, real, real! Are you right now wondering if you are going to be one of those who didn’t ‘count the cost’ of becoming a university student, or being a nurse? Who started strong with great plans but didn’t calculate how much time and work it would take to follow through to the goal—whether that is nursing school graduation, your MSN, or the grueling process of establishing a nursing career ‘out there’?

Here’s the cold, hard reality: unless we are willing to give up some things that we’ve treasured in the past, we can’t take hold of new treasure. When our hands are full, we simply can’t grasp anything more. Physically, socially, relationally, intellectually, even spiritually, we have to put something down before we can take up something new. Our habits, friendships, schedules, activities, lifestyle patterns, all need to be dissected, analyzed, and weighed. 

I think Jesus is suggesting that the choices we are having to make can cut deep—so deep that family are even thrown rather violently into the scrutiny. For most of us, the sacrifices we are called to make are not about good and evil—those are more often clear and straightforward. The more difficult sacrifices for us to see are when we need to choose between two or more good things. That is why achieving balance in life is such a difficult thing to actualize. There is a time and season for everything, Solomon reminds us, and I think that holding the teaching of Jesus alongside the observation of Solomon helps bring us into perspective about sacrifice and accomplishment.

Right now, in this space and time, you and I are being asked to learn, live, and work on this journey we call fall term, 2012. It is taking a toll; it is exacting a sacrifice of you, your friends and family. But it is only for a time. Be encouraged!

Oh, and that warm, fuzzy, footsteps in the sand thing … it’s only when the journey’s done that we get to see the single set of tracks beside the deep water. You are NOT alone.

Blessings on your journey!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grains of transformation

I love The Mission because it allows me to read scripture with fresh eyes. Talk about helping bury my assumptions about what is good and right! The following is a brief encouragement I sent to my nursing students who are in the midst of midterms ... remember that crazy time of the semester?! I thought that I could turn this onto myself and my own experience as a nurse and educator ...

John 12:24-28 (from The Mission)
“Listen carefully:
Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.
 In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life.
But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
“If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.
“Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’?
No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

I always think of the caterpillar/cocoon/butterfly parallel to the seed/ground/crop analogy of this passage. I think that’s the obvious parallel. But, there is also a nursing parallel that is maybe a little less obvious (at least to non-nurses!). So let me try to do a bit of scriptural re-writing here:

Unless a nurse lets go of his/her assumptions about people and healthcare knowledge that is what they remain:
misunderstandings and jaded expectations of ‘soothing fevered brows.’ The barren field that follows is called, ‘Burn Out’ …
But, the proper burial of assumptions, letting them fall to the ground and be buried by pages of CEU readings, days of encountering new thoughts in e-zines and workshops, and hours of peer and expert mentorship with nurses experiencing encounters with people who are in need of nursing care with fresh eyes, grows such a rich understanding of nursing and justice for people.
Such a nurse will be raised to change the world by allowing all to see glimpses of the eternal in moments of encounter. These nurses will be meticulous in knowledgeable practice and reckless in engaged compassion.
Right now you may feel sucked into a whirlwind of staff needs and political worksites, so what are you going to say? “Creator God, get me outa here?!” No, you’ll realize that this is why you came to be a nurse: to authentically care, your assumptions must be ‘killed’ so that you’ll learn how to practice nursing on any battleground … Instead, you’ll say, “Creator God, let your glory transform me so that I can help my patients and my colleagues be transformed!”

Thanks for letting me for a few minutes into your whirlwind ... be encouraged in your nursing and in your world!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Of Stones and Caviar

Luke 11:9-12 (from The Message)
 “Here’s what I’m saying:
Ask and you’ll get;
Seek and you’ll find;
Knock and the door will open.
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

I must admit—I am rather conflicted over this passage and others like it. It seems to say that we can get anything we need just by asking, seeking, and assertively knocking on doors. It seems to say that God favors those who help themselves, to paraphrase an old saying. I am conflicted because my experience tells me life’s not that simple. There are many, many people I’ve known who sincerely asked for good things but often got stones. And there are many people who dine on caviar who are not at all appreciative and see their daily blessings as entitlement rather than gifts. How is that fair, or of God?

So I’ve been thinking about this passage for hours, even days, now. And here is my a-ha! moment: I don’t think this scripture is about asking for our finances to mysteriously improve, my excess weight to drop like scales off a lizard, protection against bad events, or to get that dream job, super-human health, or handsome husband. I don’t even think it is to get to be a better nurse, person, or ‘Christian’. I think it’s all about asking, seeking, knocking on doors, and not taking no for an answer in an all-out, no holds barred passionate drive to meet God. 

Blaise Pascal said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing. All good things do follow our relentless search for God, for we will always find our Creator and our Redeemer. The God-shaped vacuum in the heart means that even when we cram the good things we receive in life into it, the vacuum is not filled—and eventually we become jaded and restless. The opposite happens when we seek passionately after God—even ‘bad’ things are redeemed and we perceive meaning and purpose is at work, even if we cannot immediately see it. 

Encouragement for this week and the next: ask after God and seek Christ in the face of strangers, patients, friends, professors (:-)) and colleagues. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer—knock on the door of initiative and commit to presence and relationship even when lives crossing your path today seem random. 

Blessings on your week!