Peace, even on harried Mondays

It started with the dreams, muddled and confused as the chiming of an ill timed alarm broke into them. The world outside was dark and still, with only the faintest rumbles of the city coming back to life. A truck slid on its way up the snow covered drive from the parking lot, tires failing to grip the icy asphalt so cold and uncaring.

And then, in the kitchen, with breakfast on the stove and a half packed bag, waiting for clothes and books beside the lunch of last week’s tacos. Barefeet pacing back and forth, and the knock on the door; apologies for running late and further rush as I went between rooms, gathering, discarding, chewing half cooked oatmeal and wishing for more time.

Finals week descends upon the seminary like a slow and creeping illness. We saw it from a distance but the advance was crushingly fast when it came overthe last hill and hurtled upon us. He has six papers due by Friday, I have two for Wednesday and she is scrambling for three presentations. There is ice on the ground and we’re skating uncontrolled through the end of the semester, hoping to finish strong, praying for good grades and earth shifting revelation amid blue books and scantrons.half cooked oatmeal and wishing for more time.

E is working late, pulling longer shifts of deconstruction, tearing down shelves, cabinets and wall paper. He lives before the sun arrives and watches her retreat long before returning home to dinner and fevered study-time on the couch. For it’s finals week and I’ve picked up extra hours at work, I’m walking home through frosted night and scrounging time to memorize dueteronomistic history, shades of free will and latin phrases we inherited from an ancient mother hidden in cathedrals  and far off lands. There’ll be roast chicken for dinner, crisp and lush, brined and finished in the crock pot—the miracle worker of women who work and cook from scratch. And there will be cider to keep awake in the black night of study.

It’s the fourth week of Advent; we’ve met God the Father, Holy Spirit, Hope and now we’re to find peace, sense it and know it the way I know the darkness of my soul. But we’re pushing to buy a truck in 21 days, send out jam and Christmas cards, thank yous and wedding gifts. I’m barely functioning somedays, always sluggish and torn in too many directions. The shock of bitter cold December tears at my lungs on the walk to and from school. The kitchen is piled high in crusted dishes, there are clothes on the floor and hair in the bathroom sink.  There’s war in the world, strife in our homes and stress in our lives. I’m to know peace, but in the midst of this?

Yes. In the midst of this.

In the freezing walk beneath brilliant stars.
In the moment of encouragement as the door closes and the professor prays over students about to be examined.
In the meals of free ingredients from the local food pantry.
In the warmth of my quilts as I shut my eyes to the mess and climb wearily into bed.
In the love of arms about me, in the fleeting moments we have together.
In the hope of the future, in the remembrance of the past, despite fear and stress of the present.

Peace, in all this, and more—so much, so all pervading that it cannot be described or exhausted.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

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Small Talk and Weather

It’s snowing on the blog, because it’s Christmas time! I hope you enjoy the snow like me, because it’s going to sweep across the screen and fall down for about a month.

Speaking of weather, which is one of the most boring and obvious topics of discussion in human conversation, I had to talk a lot about it yesterday. It’s that great, time wasting small talk topic that I have begun to encounter more and more in life. It’s especially easy to call into play right now, because Colorado is experiencing a bizarre-San-Diego-like-December. So, when there’s that awkward gap in conversation I keep throwing out, “can you believe this weather? I mean, weird! I’m wearing scarves in protest; but you know, Ethan is loving the fact that he can still wear shorts.” I’ve become quite proficient with rambling about the sun, the dry patches on the lawn [that I don’t have] and the drought. Lately, it’s a skill come in handy as I continue to find myself in settings where there’s nothing else to converse about.

You might be wondering where I keep being forced into use of my weathering skills and deflecting deeper conversational topics. I haven’t traveled, seen distant relatives or attended any major events full of strangers with tired hands and distracted eyes. No, the sad thing is, I keep having small talk like this at a church where I serve (though I no longer attend).

Ethan and I left service yesterday after both of us had worked an exhausting three hours with very cranky and upset children. We had wandered into the sanctuary and chatted with a few people we might have once considered our community. But the thing that pervaded all the talk about jobs, relationships and Christmas was the weather.

Now, I’ll admit, Colorado is experiencing some odd weather this year. But that’s not the reason everyone continues to fall back on the topic.

It’s because we don’t know what else to talk about.

This seems a bit wrong–a church community where I’ve attended for about six years should include a bit more depth, shouldn’t it? I think I ought to know people and can rightfully expect them to know me in return. Can we discuss my anxiety issues that are finally coming under control? What about our financial burdens: school, car problems, worn out clothes that can no longer be patched? Should we mention that E has moved four times in less than a year and that the instability is really hard? We don’t talk about those things, and I’m not entirely sure why. Certainly, I don’t want to hold this congregation separately from the rest my life experiences and point an accusing finger. But Ethan and I have really struggled to get below the surface with people.

It isn’t just a problem at the church. I have a friend who shared that this happens in his family often and he finally confronted everyone about it a few weeks ago. A student in my youthgroup recently told me they experience something similar every week that we meet.

Which is why I am wondering: why is it so hard to get beyond the weather and other small talk–in our churches, our families, everywhere? What can we do to change that?

White Mornings

Wednesday night, while I was at youth group in flip flops and an old down vest over my 3/4 sleeve sweater the weather outside went from rain to snow. E and I are sharing my car because his serpentine belt popped off. So after he drove me home from youth group, as we crossed the street he looked up into the falling snow and said, “do you want to go for a walk?” I squeezed his hand, “just let me change out of flip flops.”

So we walked to the downtown of where I live and amid twinkling lights we strolled through storefronts older than our grandparents. We stopped in at on old world, English style pub that we’d never noticed before and ordered two mugs of piping hot chocolate. We sat in the window and watched the snow blow in the wind before settling to the ground in clumps of thick wet flakes. Trees were covered, their branches coated and their leaves hidden. It looked as though someone had begun frosting the town or painting it white for a party we hadn’t been invited to but had stumbled upon anyhow. As we walked the empty streets we found Narnia: an old wrought iron lamp stand, covered in part by the leaves of a low tree, bent beneath the weight of snow that clung to his branches. It glowed like a distant star, yellow and orange and cast its feeble rays across the snow on the ground at its base. We shouted for Mr. Tumnus but he never came. So we trudged to my home, and arrived around 11pm, tired but bright eyed and rosy cheeked from wind and pure joy of changing seasons. I snuggled in bed with an extra blanket, heard the boiler heater click on and I thought that Colorado must be the best place in all America.

The nextmorning, when I stumbled out of bed into our living room, this is what greeted me:

Tell me that isn’t one of the best and most beautiful sights to wake up to. The snow makes my heart happy. Clean, bright, pure and restful. I could dance for joy.

goofy roommates

this is why I love my roommate.

 

My favourite seat in the library has a pretty great view of the mountains. On Thursday, as I pretended to write a paper on child sacrifice (more to come on that), I could see a storm coming in. At first I could make out the edges of the dark grey clouds as they edged over the mountains, but eventually those edges had crawled far east of the seminary campus and the sky was a blanket of granite slate. The mountains had turned grey blue and I could hardly make out the foothills. I knew my roomie was planning to go to RMNP (she was set to borrow my pass before it expired) so I sent her a slightly concerned text which caused the following conversation:

S: not to be mothering but because I like you : I can see a storm coming in over the mountains, so if you go to RMNP and do Trail Ridge Rd, please be careful! :o)

St: Not going anymore and thanks mom. I am playing with your camera today though. : )

S: Enjoy the camera. :o) And you’re welcome, awkward-older-than-me-daughter… wow this ish just got complicated. :p I might be tearing up as I try to not laugh in the library…

 

yep. that conversation happened.

High School

On Wednesday night I went back to high school. I’ve done that a few times since graduating. I once went and visited an old teacher, actually lectured in her classroom about Sudan and Darfur. I’ve been to a couple choir concerts at my old school and I think I walked the halls once just to reminisce. That was a bizarre experience I don’t care to repeat–mostly  because high school itself was a bizarre experience. It was full of laughter and chaos. There were mission trips, retreats and friendships that I thought would last forever. But there were some rough low times of displacement, misunderstanding and serious pain. It was a confusing adventure. When I graduated, I swore I was never coming back. Not to high school, not to Littleton, not even to Colorado. I applied only to out of state universities and I had a plan for leaving the country.

Ironically, I’m back in Colorado, attending the only grad school program I applied to when I put my sights on those three little letters: P.h.D.

And, on Wednesday, I went back to high school.

Youth Group.

I was terrified. I had two presentations at school that day, in front of peers and many lettered professors. But nothing prepared me for the moment I entered the parking lot of my old church and realized what I had committed to. There were girls in denim shorts putting face paint on to match their tyedye shirts.* The boys were taller than me and everyone had more make up on than I’ve owned in my entire life. I was wearing chacos and a sweater; I’m very Coloradoan in that I wear chacos with everything, regardless of matching.

I could tell you about the entire night: the amazing scavenger hunt, the fact that I indirectly encouraged cheating,** or that I had two girls hug me before the night was over. But what I really want to tell you isn’t that my team won or that I somehow ended up on leadership for the “cool group,” with the one person that I worried about being on staff with.*** What I want to tell you is that as I watched those kids running around like madmen scavenging pop tart flavors for their lives, and as I watched some of them hang back for a wide variety of all too obvious reasons, I knew that this is where I was supposed to be. I never dreamed of serving at youth group. But not only did I come out of Wednesday night alive, I came out filled with energy and thrilled at the prospect of this school year.

I’m terrified still. But I’m also really excited to love some girls, give them big hugs every week and tell them that Abba loves them more than we could ever imagine. I’m excited for their stories, their redemption, their dreams and their futures. And I’m really excited that for a short time, I get to be a part of their lives.

hopefully, I don’t encourage too much cheating…

_____________________________________________________

*the first night is a kick-off with colour coded teams and an immense scavenger hunt through the city
**of course I encouraged cheating! when one student looked wary of how they were getting through the obstacle course I pointed out that the judge hadn’t specifically said they couldn’t do what they were doing, so it couldn’t really be wrong. I just wanted us to win!! (and the youth group pastor’s wife smiled teasingly as she said “I like the way you think!”)
***it will be a good lesson in patience and growth to work with said individual. I’m actually excited about the chance to serve with them and eventually even grow to love them. apparently, I’m not just at youth group to work with kids. I’m also there to get some work done myself.

WHY: Hard is Good

This week I had to write my first (short) paper for a theology class. It was pretty great, but pretty intense. I’ve read 200 pages of a massive philosophy book on the Doctrine of God and I had to expound on a theme from those pages and then explain why it was important for an aspect of the Christian life.

The paper itself wasn’t overly difficult. I sat outside under a warm blue sky where the clouds glowed such a brilliant silvery white that you could hardly look at them. Mambo and D stopped by which provided a good amount of laughter and ended with an unexpected dinner that I hadn’t provided for myself. I wrote about immanence and transcendence–the topic I’ve always scribbled about in Eastern Orthodox classes. And even as the headache settled in due to serious concentration on not enough coffee, I thought, it’s such a privilege to study here. It’s so great to be challenged by Hegel, Altizer and Hick. I love that my mind is sometimes stretched and twisted while I wrestle through philosophy and theology. Because the mind is a gift to be enjoyed and a tool to be sharpened and I’m so blessed to have a chance to do both.

Especially on warm September days, with boys playing futbol and yelling in spanish while children scream past on bicycles and I dream about a kitchen with unopened boxes and a room with a view.

Berthoud on a Cloudy Day

Last weekend I drove to Berthoud Pass. Did you know there’s a trail there? I was unaware, so I went in jeans and a cutesy shirt—definitely not hiking attire. But I’ll go back soon enough and hike at the top of the mountain.

The clouds had started to roll in earlier in the day. It was my last full day of freedom before my life began again  on Monday with a new job and new classes. I had nothing to do after finishing my homework from the summer. My apartment was almost entirely packed and several friends were out of town. So I resorted to an old technique of wasting time: I got in the car and headed west.

The ascent to the Pass is not long, not in my little stick shift. It is long if you get stuck behind a transplant who doesn’t know how to drive on mountain roads; or truck who is struggling to manage the long haul to higher elevations. But on Friday afternoon I did not have either of those problems as I raced to the heights of the pass.

I stood on the edge of the pulloff while a tour bus unloaded for stiff legs, restrooms and pictures. The sky was drenched with heavy grey clouds, twisted and curled above the peaks. The sky was like fabric, tossed into the air, that falls to the ground in a crumpled heap. The layers, dimensions, the shadows and edges–both sharp and smooth–hung patiently over the Rockies, waiting for the wind that would push them away to the East where they might bring the dry land to life. There was grey like slate and blue like the distant sea after a long fought storm. There was curling silver around the tips where sunlight longed to break through.

The peaks were turned a blue brown, those still covered in trees looked black in the faded light. They were shadows, ghosts of ancient worlds that have long since passed. But the mountains remain, striving against the gravity that will eventually be their undoing. They look like waves on seashore, crashing into one another, peak on peak, endless jagged lines thrust against the thick clouds above.

No picture would do them justice. To be honest, no picture ever perfectly presents any sight in creation. Words, I thought as I shivered in my coat amid the thin cold air, words can never explain the beauty that God has given us. Not here in Colorado, nor anywhere else in all the world.

Creation, a professor recently quoted, is a silent orator, shouting the existence and majesty of our God. She cries out that there is more, that she is held together by another, and that this other, this Beyond, is God.

Tragedy

When I arrived at work this morning, I had no idea that my boss would be waiting at the door for me with news of a tragedy just miles from where I live. In case you  haven’t heard, a gunman entered a midnight showing of the Batman movie and opened fire after throwing in tear gas. So far, everyone I know is safe. The closest thing was a friend who tried getting tickets to the show but they had already sold out. M told me that she woke up to 6 anxious texts, and I’ve been fielding calls, texts and FB messages all morning.

I took the girls to Panera for breakfast. We ate bagels with cream cheese and sat in the air conditioning, filled with bustling customers who hardly took notice that the world had shifted in the early hours before dawn. The girls told me about their fish, about their upcoming trip to the mountains. All I could think was what a hard time it’s been in Colorado. I know other places have tragedies. I have been known to be a news junkie and I stay updated on too many world events. But Colorado, from Columbine when I was a kid, to the fires when I was a teen, then fires this summer, shootings at churches and now this–Colorado has had a rough go.

We took the long way home, through Daniel’s Park, because I thought, what if I never saw the park again? What if this was the last chance to view the mountains? The sky was such a sweet powder blue, so clear and clean, the colour belonged in the nursery for a newborn babe. The clouds were light and round, fluffy as cotton straight from a Mississipi field. It was surreal. Such things could not have happened when the day had dawned so perfect and beautiful.

I overheard a woman today at Panera say that she keeps waiting for life to “just happen,” as though she’s waiting for life to be lived instead of doing the living herself.

There are so many questions: FB and Twitter are exploding with “why God” and “how could He” and just plain old “why”?

But my friend S who attended Columbine would tell you there will never be an answer to the Why questions. We don’t know and we can’t. We can only choose to be love. I don’t know why it wasn’t JB, D or me and E who were at the theatre. It was senseless, it was horrific and tragic. All we can do is pray for those who lost someone, and move forward without forgetting that there are more important things than our houses, our things and our goals. There is only time, and never enough of that. And there are loved ones and people to care for outside our immediate circles.

And that, I think, may be all we can do. Choose to love; and pray that He comes.

pray that He comes quickly.

WHY: Prayer Request

We should be praying for rain. Rain, and rain and more rain, without the thunder and lightning. Just rain, buckets and buckets of the stuff.

I drove to Fort Collins yesterday to see an old friend and I saw the lightning that started the Boulder fire: I saw the smoke burst up and over the Flatirons, pouring out between them, over trails I’ve often hiked. Over the weekend, camping in the mountains, we had to drive through brown haze to reach the outskirts of Telluride–the sun was blood orange red from the smoke of the Colorado Springs fire. Last night, we could smell smoke from the Fort Collins fire while we ate tiny scoops of ice cream on the back porch.

It feels like our whole state is on fire. The water levels are low, the rivers and lakes look miserable, gasping for more moisture as they sit far beneath the normal shorelines. It’s so hot, I’ve let my roommate turn on the air conditioner and I sweat while blow drying my hair. It’s so dusty and dry that the rattle snakes have come out in force–I almost ran one over on my bike last week as it slithered across the trail that radiated heat beneath my spinning feet.

We need rain. Not just to protect the houses crammed full of useless stuff. But to save our forests, the animals, the wild majestic beauty that made me fall in love with Colorado.

And we can’t cause the rain. We could probably stop overusing our water, stop selling it off to California. We could stop building, stop expanding the places that absorb and retain such heat in the dry months. We could stop driving as much and carpool, bike or walk. Maybe those things would help.

But we can’t cause the rain, only God can. So I think we should be praying that he comes and does something about that. That he sends rain on the thirsty, broken ground, cracked from long suffering beneath a burning sky. Pray that the fires are contained, that no more start, that the drought eases, that this coming winter there is good snowpack and the state is restored for a new year.

I have Colorado in my heart, but it isn’t just us. New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have their own flames that are gathering speed and burning up the dusty land. So don’t just pray for us, not just for this set of the Rocky mountains. But pray for all the Rocky Mountain, Intermountain, Great Western region.

We just need rain.

Garden Building

{EDIT: I apologize that this post went out early to some of you. It was meant for Monday morning, not Sunday! I planned to have some time picking out the pictures I wanted to share with you…. Sorry about that mixup! Enjoy the real post!}

I’ve wanted a garden for ages. Two years ago I grew tomatoes in a pot on my parent’s back porch. The taste was better than anything else, sweet and tangy, rich with earth and sun. It made the desire for a garden even greater. Last year I tried to figure out how I might scrape one out of the dusty backyard at G and J’s house. I thought the fringes of the yard, near the leaning fence might be the best hope for a place the kids wouldn’t trample in their afternoon adventures between lunch, naps and chores. But G and J were stationed to Colorado Springs and I realized that the garden would just be sprouting in time for them to move. This year I thought about trying to plant one in the courtyard of our building. There are these areas near the bottom of our staircases, empty plots of dusty earth that get tracked into our apartment by barefooted children, screaming and laughing and wanting to learn. But it couldn’t be protected from neighbors or the cats that keep multiplying and prowling the parking lot.

And then E moved into an apartment with free rent in exchange for property management. He gained a back patio with plenty of sunshine and just enough room. The roommates abandoned their one bedroom house and they tore down the loft that allowed four grown men to share that one room and there was all that wood…with bolts and screws and absolutely everything you might need to build a little enclosed garden.

So we did. (or, he did.)

Which goes with the next point: I decided my blog could use some more pictures. Since it’s summer time and I’ll be going on lots of adventures (see WHY: I love the Summer) there will be plenty to share with you! So here are the first ones from that garden. E building the garden boxes (and building me a loft for my bed–now I can fit more bookcases in my room) and some pictures of us filling up those boxes. We used a mixture of dirt from a property he’s working on (they had to dig out the driveway) and potting soil bought at Lowe’s, on top we finished off with a bag of compost (we’re both sort of green). It took 12 18gallon buckets of the free dirt, three bags of soil and 1 bag of compost to fill these beauties and make them a welcome home for the plants we chose.

The pictures are your chance to journey with our little plant heaven on the back patio at E’s new place. So, welcome to the week of planning and set up. The hardest part–digging up dirt, building the boxes, lining with trash bags, and filling with aforementioned dug up dirt and finally, a watering can to get this garden off on the right foot. No thirsty plants on my watch! It’s a good thing we did much of this in the evening and on some cooler, rainier days! I love the sunshine but not always the heat that goes along with it! (I’m a pansy!) You can click for a larger image and slide-show your way through the magnificence.

Welcome to Ithir.