Poetry & Words

A Secret about Community: Finding Worship and Purpose in the Mundane

As moms, it’s hard to find purpose and worship in the mundane when it feels like everyone else is off doing holy tasks — and having fun. But it’s not impossible. A Secret about Community: Finding Purpose and Worship in the Mundane | Oaxacaborn blog

It’s autumn, and I think it must be conference  season, too.  Everywhere I turn, the internet is awash with experts converging into a single wooded area or brightly-lit urban spot on the map, reciting advice, organizing workshops, writing blog posts, handing out business cards and reminding everyone of the importance of taking part in community. In other words, #community is trending.

And sometimes, this can feel lonely.

But I don’t think a weekend retreat is the only place you can grab a piece of community. I don’t think you can sell tickets for it, and then proclaim it sold-out. I don’t think our God-given longing for communion and community can be solved as easily as all that.

And this is good news for you, dear reader, you precious soul who feels left out, you who are faithfully toiling away at home or at a desk. It is good news for you who are living your life with your little family, far away from extended family; good news for you who feel alone, you who feel like you’re not a part of something special, you who feel the cries of the baby and the husband’s expectation for dinner and the demands of the children and the endless mundanity of life are keeping the ingredients for community just out of reach.

But the ingredients are not out of reach.

They are in front of you. They are front of me.

They are wherever two or three are gathered. [1]

I think sometimes in our cycle of the mundane we think we can somehow capture community and rest in the quiet halls of a monastery, where the only sound is the scratch of a quill against vellum. I think sometimes in the middle of arguing with our children over lunch choices we think we can somehow capture community and devotion in the orderly schedule of an Amish farm.  I think sometime we think we can somehow capture community and service in being half-way around the world, feeding the poor. But this is an incorrect perspective. We are missing something crucial. We are missing the reality that for the monastic scribe, the scratching quill and endlessly copied words are his mundanity.  For the Amish mother, hanging laundry on an outside clothesline is her mundanity. For the overseas worker, stirring up another huge pot of soup is her mundanity.

It’s not the task itself that’s categorized as mundane or profound.

It’s our attitude toward it.

Once we realize this, we have a choice. We can either meet God in these ordinary tasks, or we can see our everyday responsibilities as an obstacle keeping us from true devotion.

Tozer wrote much of this secular-sacred divide, of our human tendency to see “dull and prosaic duties” as keeping us from the really important and holy tasks. He writes, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.”

He can thereafter do no common act! What a life-giving, joy-inducing truth.

Maybe you’re in a place where your job keeps you from joining the latest and greatest retreat or the urgently-needed humanitarian service trip. Maybe it’s finances. Maybe it’s geography. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe you feel like you’re swallowed up in ordinary tasks while everyone else is off doing extraordinary things for God and for each other.

Oh, friend. Let us see these chores and responsibilities not as hindrances, but as prayers. Let our ordinary lives be our worship.

Next time everyone is off on a women’s retreat, and you are peeling potatoes — my friend, that is your offering. Next time all your Instagram friends are posting selfies with conference speakers and authors while you are folding the 37 pairs of underwear your toddler wore this week — my friend, that is your offering.

And it is no less precious.

All of your least favorite chores, all of your most exhausting battles, all your lean years where friends seem few, all the darkest of dark days — these all can be your offering.  These can be be my offering. These can be our offerings. In the times when it is impossible for you to join the missionaries and the speakers and the authors and the experts and everyone else who seems to be holding out a neatly-packaged key to community, remember; you are not alone.

And can I tell you a quietly-kept secret about community? I think it’s often smaller and quieter than we realize. I think it’s already happening when two or three are gathered. [1] I think it’s less advertised, more humble, forged often more in the lonely fires of trial than in the spotlights of popularity. I think you — and I — already maybe hold all the ingredients for it.  We just might have to do a little digging, a little unearthing, a little bit of getting our hands dirty, a little bit of turning our eyes back home after longingly gazing over the fence. And when we find those pieces, we’ve found great jewels, priceless treasures — here, now, in whatever quiet little place God has carved out for us.

It's not the task itself that's categorized as mundane or profound.   It's our attitude toward it.   Once we realize this, we have a choice. We can either meet God in these ordinary tasks, or we can see our everyday responsibilities as obstacles keeping us from true devotion.

Poetry & Words

Rich Mullins, the Homeless Man

Rich Mullins, Ireland, Photograph by Ben Pearson
Image Credit: Ben Pearson

September 19, 1997. Seventeen years ago. Seventeen years ago, Rich Mullins walked right out of this earth and slipped out of his body and right up through the veil that the Cross had already split apart for him and for us all. Seventeen years ago he went “out like Elijah, with a whirlwind in a chariot of fire”, just like he used to sing.

It was seventeen years ago, and I remember exactly where I was standing in the kitchen in the middle of a tiny town in Wisconsin, and how the words echoed out of the little fridge-top radio when I heard that he had flown. And I remember how I was just a teenager and just figuring things out, and how I wore out my Rich Mullins cassette tapes that year, until you couldn’t even hear the scratchy songs anymore. A little later, I sat in the basement of a tiny church and listened to Mitch McVicker, who was with Rich in the fatal car accident, sing songs from Rich’s posthumous album, The Jesus Record. Tears streamed down my face and into my heart and I knew Jesus was my own deliverer, my very own, and I knew right then and forever, “He will never break His promise, He has written it upon the sky.” And then later still, when I was yet again a little older but still figuring things out, I didn’t even get a chance to wear out An Arrow Pointing to Heaven because I kept giving my copy away and buying another one.

I can’t even tell you what passages or words or songs of his mean the most, because how can you pull out one line from a poet’s canon and separate it out from all the rest and say, “This is it.” You can’t. It doesn’t work that way. In the documentary “Homeless Man: The Restless Heart of Rich Mullins“, Father Simon said, “And I think that’s one thing that Rich and Saint Francis had in common is that they were both poets. They both had a vision and they were both willing to live that vision. Their poem was their life, not so much what they wrote.”

When Rich sang of Abraham “how one star he saw had been lit for me, he was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he,” I could see the sojourning thread that ties us all together. Being one of Abraham’s stars and having roots all over, but none deep in one place, can sometimes feel like the edge of being from nowhere, the edge of not belonging. But we’re pilgrims, all. Rich was a sojourner and Jesus was a sojourner — and if the Son of Man sometimes didn’t have a place to rest His head and that detail didn’t mess up redemption one bit, then I know that anything that happens to me is gonna be okay, too.

And this man — who was once mistaken for homeless outside a church before one of his concerts — this man really was the single most influential person I’ve never met. He’s where I learned that this life is a little crazy and it’s a little hard; but nothing, really nothing, of earthly value worth holding on to that tightly, anyway. We’re not put here to pretend to be perfect, and piece together these unblemished lives and create a nice bubble for ourselves, we’re here to be real.

And to be alive.

And love and live with wild abandon.

And stand up loudly in the land of our sojourn, not caring what anyone thinks, and just be those wild arrows, pointing straight to heaven.

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me

…When the old world started dying
And the new world started coming on
And I’ll sing His song, and I’ll sing His song
In the land of my sojourn

In the land of my sojourn
And I will sing His song
In the land of my sojourn.”

And in that new world, I think, music will be danced out across the strings of a hammered dulcimer.

LISTEN NOW to Land of my Sojourn, I’ll Carry On, and Elijah.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: The greatest miracle of them all

Aveline, a portrait on www.oaxacaborn.com

Sometimes, in the middle of the hustle and bustle that ranges from chaotic noise to the mundane, I look over at her and

time

just

stops.

It stops, and for that split second — for that little sliver of a spin around the sun — the earth is still and I breath it in and my heart can hardly hold the miracle of it all. I am overwhelmed by the overwhelming reality of what we call life, all this breathing, moving, walking, seeing, feeling.

And simply to be here right now, present and alive — well, isn’t that the greatest miracle of all?

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: Sojourning is not a rhythm

IMG_4920 IMG_4902 IMG_4853

The words get lost in the days, lost in the shuffle between high tide and low tide — the choreographed swap of sand and sea — lost in the couch cushions, like copper coins, lost in the fray, lost in the routine between breakfast and sunset.

This, of course, is exactly when I should be writing. Words are spun from the gossamer threads which wrap around our days. I can see them, glinting, drenched from the downpour, drenched from the puddles, drenched from the spray.

“You write while you are alive”, Anaïs Nin said. “You do not preserve them [living moments] in alcohol until the moment you are ready to write about them.”

And so, alive, I write.

We stick pins in a map and wonder which one will hold. We squint at the horizon and see mountains through the mirage, and yet, the pillar stands still. The life of a sojourner is not a rhythm of motion and stillness, like the poets would have you believe. Sometimes, there is no rhythm. Sometimes it is abrupt, sometimes it is whiplash, sometimes it is an awkward slow dance, a holding pattern at best. Sometimes, you fold up your belongings into a square, and load the truck, and don’t look back when every inch of you longs to cling to the roots you tried to push into the broken ground. But most of the time, you stand.

You stand even when your feet so dearly ache to run.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: Inside Outside

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Inside Outside, a post on the Oaxacaborn blog

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Inside Outside, a post on the Oaxacaborn blog

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Inside Outside, a post on the Oaxacaborn blog

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Inside Outside, a post on the Oaxacaborn blog

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Inside Outside, a post on the Oaxacaborn blog

Spring here doesn’t approach slowly with neon green buds or opening blossoms. There is no fading ice, no crocuses or daffodils. Spring here is akin to a lobster in a pot of water, temperature unconsciously leaping upward, a baptism by immersion of drenched air and torrential rain until the whole wet world is submerged.

There is one month left between us and hurricane season, between us and and daily electrical storms. One month left until the six-month stretch of tropical storms begin and the canned goods stack up  under the countertop and the gallons of water in the closet are restocked and clocks are reset by the rhythm of cyclical thunder and the afternoons are spent inside.

Inside, outside, inside, outside, inside.

One month left until the sidewalks are rivers and the windows are our constant view to the outside deluge.

I want to see beauty in it this year. I want to see beauty in the spongey grass and the low skies and the waterlogged earth and the thick roadside ponds and the one single shade of green coating it all.  I want to see it for what it is, rather than what it is not. It is not the thin high skies specked with pollen and pine resin and wildfire, it’s not the sun-baked clay earth that shatters into a million immobile pieces every summer, it’s not twisted oak silhouettes or mountain ridges. The sunsets are pastel, not copper, but we are the same people here as we are anywhere.

This is a journey of becoming, after all, and a journey is not where you put on the skids and claw and pound your tent stakes in deeper and rage against the rain. Sojourning means you tend to your fires and your campsite wherever you are, keeping the light alive from dawn to dusk, no matter if you’ll pull up stakes tonight or in three months or in a year. You pull your loves in closer, you keep your eyes to the light, and in the darkness you see the One who pulls the tides and pushes the moon and punctured heaven to give you stars has not failed you yet.

And so you tarry, and so you sojourn, and so you live.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: In which we suddenly start school

2 - Preschool at Home - Oaxacaborn blog

Today, under the cover of an indecisive grey-and-blue sky on an otherwise uneventful morning, Aveline I got out the books and she started preschool.

This wasn’t a part of any grand scheme or as a result of any thought-out plans I had for March 2014. In fact, I kind of imagined her in a little class in the near future. But this was — is — a part of life and its ebb and flow; part of the surges and the pauses that make up this winding road.

4 - Preschool at Home - Oaxacaborn blog

For weeks now, I haven’t been able to keep her in printables. She’d trace the letters and numbers as soon as printed the worksheets, begging for more numbers, more letters, more words, asking “What’s it mean? What’s it mean? How many numbers is this? What’s it say?”

So I kept printing out worksheets, and in a moment of desperation while ordering preschool workbooks and realizing she wasn’t eligible for Pre-K until Fall 2015, I fired up kids’ Mandarin lessons on YouTube as a diversion.

While we waited for book orders to arrive, she latched onto Chinese. One week in, she requested miàn tiáo [noodles] for dinner. Two weeks in, she woke up singing Happy Birthday in Chinese.

5 - Preschool at Home - Oaxacaborn blog

See, the thing about kids is, they’re kind of unpredictable. We can make plans about what we think we might do with them, how we think they might act, what we think they might like, and when it’s all going to happen — but the truth is, we have no idea. Absolutely no idea.

The last of the workbooks came in the mail yesterday, as well as Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Practical Chinese (the last book is a little advanced for her right now, but I need a guidebook for myself).

3 - Preschool at Home - Oaxacaborn blog

Right away this morning, before I had even gotten out of bed, a small person appeared at my bedside, asking to trace letters and do school. And so, after breakfast, we began this journey into phonics and reading, counting and math, characters and pinyin.

A month ago, I wouldn’t have predicted this time to come so soon. But I love the places life takes us, and I love watching as my daughter’s distinct self emerges. She’s her own person; she is not me. (Note to self: I think this is probably an important point worth hanging on to as she grows older.) Right now, she’s here in front of me, looking to me and asking me to guide her. And when (i.e., every single day) I feel the weight of this sacred responsibility, I can ask wisdom of One who freely gives.

And He will meet me, He will answer me, and He will sustain me.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links above are “affiliate links” provided in conjunction with my participation in Amazon.com’s Associates Program. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services I use personally, and I will always disclose any such links. Please note: this does NOT mean that the above is a sponsored post. I am NOT associated in any way with the products or companies linked above, and no person or agency has asked me to write on their behalf.  

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: In death, life becomes everything

Death, in all its soul-wrenching grief, gives perspective

When there is a death, it rattles you.

The very fact of life, previously neglected beneath the raging urgent tyranny of tasks, grows larger and larger until it fills the room and becomes the one thing you see coursing through everything.

And in the grieving silence that’s followed Holly’s death, I’ve never been so aware of my ability to see and hear and feel the heartbeat of everyone in the room. Life never seemed so obvious, so mysterious, so frustratingly completely and entirely out of my control.

In the faces around me, over and over and over again, I saw only this: he is alive, she is alive, this one is alive. The very existence of life, once overlooked, became everything.

Death has reminded me that the frustrations and irritations which raise our ire and make us indignant — all those situations which cause us to lash out and speak out and act out — precious few of those things actually matter. Death, in all its soul-wrenching grief and sorrow, shows us perspective.

While the wave crashes over me and I can’t see the sky for the watery canopy, I grasp snippets of this: others over pride. Others over self. This moment, because you’re not guaranteed the next. This child, because she’s on loan. This man, because our days are numbered and written in a book.

I want this to be her legacy in my life.

I want to listen more than I speak, and I want to stop jumping up so quickly, boxing gloves donned, ready to fight.

Like my friend Andrea says, “I can say what I want about theology, doctrine, justice, right and wrong and so on, but at the end of the day, when the fires are dying, it’s clear we were all created by One and placed on one earth, under one sky, on one planet. …There is only one man who came to this earth, and was not entirely made up of the stuff of this earth, and it’s Him that I want to get my fire from. It’s His light I want to see in the stars; his stories that were told fireside that I want to find in my own.”

It’s life that matters, it’s people who are alive, and this earth is where I am.

I want to make it count.

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: The thing about life is how fragile it is

The thing about life is how fragile it is

The thing about life is how fragile it is.

We don’t realize it.

We’re too busy pumping up humanity and climbing Everest and launching ourselves into orbit. We collect accolades and list our achievements and add antennas atop towers in an effort to make it all seem bigger, better, taller than it is. We love the stories that are larger than our collective humanity, the people who muster brute strength to do the one thing that no one else can even imagine.

We’re obsessed with strength.

We’re fascinated by human success. We can form armies, we can stop rivers. We’re so busy being strong, we sometimes forget that for all our sky-high buildings and conquered Everests and technological masterpieces, we can’t stop a cell from marching.

We can’t push oxygen where it needs to go. We’re no life-givers.

And in these moments when our frailty becomes the largest thing in the room, we see. We see the veil, thinner than we ever knew it could be. We see the Milky Way and we see the oceans and we see our souls and we see the sky as a canopy over us.

And the wind rushes in, and the curtain lifts up for one ethereal moment and then falls — and we gain a glimpse, and know that in all our trembling bravery and brawn, it was always His hand holding us up.

And we cling to that.