Homeschooling, Poetry & Words

On the Epiphany, Dirty Bathrooms, and Hallowed Ground

On the Epiphany, Dirty Bathrooms, and Hallowed Ground

I’m in her bathroom, sighing at the wasted toothpaste carelessly squeezed from the sticky tube,  the splashed water, the dozen unclipped plastic barrettes dropped near the container, the towel on the floor. I don’t see the shaft of light, the breakthrough, the miracle. I only see the stony ground.

But from the living room, I hear her singing the catechism. Her voice soars, light, innocent, and the winged notes swirl and pierce into my blindness, my preoccupation, my heart complaining though manna is raining all around.

I too often see only wilderness with my blinded eyes, but these rust-colored tiles and this lumpy berber — this can be hallowed ground.

The light does not require a perfect vessel in order to shine brightly.

I fold the towel over the rack and wipe off the faucet and bend down closer to the earth and she sings, “Can anyone hide in secret places / so that I cannot see him? / Do not I fill heaven and earth / declares the Lord?”

Here, earth. He fills this place.

This can be hallowed ground.

On the Epiphany, Dirty Bathrooms, and Hallowed Ground

I stoop to retrieve the dropped towel.

She is still singing, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place / He sees their every step / His eyes are on the way of man.”

And I lower my eyes. My heart takes it all in. He is already here. He is waiting, standing next to me always, just patiently waiting for me to turn my eyes to Him and sing His truth.

How often do we, in our self-centered, blind-mole ways,  invite God into our presence, when the opposite should be true? Our lives would be transformed if we stopped repeating by rote — “Lord, be present here” — and turned around and looked up and stretched out hands to the waiting Savior and said, “Lord, open our eyes to your constant presence.” It’s not “Lord, lead us”, as much as it should be “Lord, open our eyes to your leading.”

Make us willing to be led, for You are always willing to lead.

I turn off the bathroom light, ignoring how sticky it is. I think of how we are to be like children if we are to enter His kingdom. (“Where is His kingdom?” she asked me yesterday. “Here and heaven, right, mumma?”) I walk past the last vestiges of Christmas — a strand of lights I’m not yet ready to put away — and I think of how poetess Luci Shaw is always reminding us that infancy was only the beginning of incarnation. We celebrate the infancy with pomp and circumstance, forgetting that it leads to Good Friday, and we mourn Good Friday forgetting that it leads us to the Resurrection.

Redemption does not end at the manger, thank God. The earth-rending story of redemption — begun long before — was brought into view there, set into motion, changing everything forever.

Epiphany reminds us of that. Epiphany, the dramatic appearance. The manifestation. The precursor to the second glorious appearing, which would be rendered powerless without the first. Yet like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, we miss it sometimes. He is in our midst, resurrected, incarnate, hands outstretched, and we look past Him.

Epiphany reminds us that God is flesh. God with us. God is among us. God appears as is His Son, born to be king, born to be pierced, born to die. The Man Jesus acquainted with grief, no stranger to sorrow, rejected by so many. Born to be Light Eternal not just for the Jewish people in that Middle Eastern town, but to be my Redeemer, my Light Eternal too.

And then Epiphany reminds me, too, that he grew.  He stood in the river and spoke to John.  He showed up at Cana, and how could they forget that?  Those who walked shoulder to shoulder with Him, those whose sandals were streaked with the same dust and the same splashes from the River Jordan, they missed Him too. Even when God sent a dove, opened the heavens, and said “Look! Open your eyes. It’s HIM. You’ve been waiting. This one here. He’s the one. Don’t miss Him” — even then, some still missed Him.

And we miss Him, over and over and over and over again. Like the wanderers in the wilderness, like the once-rescued, twice-forgetful, like the disciples, we are stumped and we don’t know where He is and we ask Him —

“But Jesus! Did we ever see You?”

And He says, “When your world was rocking and you were sure you’d drown, I was asleep, right near you, in the very same boat on the very same sea.

And it was I, underneath that dove, in the river, when you were craning your neck elsewhere, searching for Messiah.

It’s Me every time you read, Word-made-Man.

It was Me at Emmaus.

It was Me in the other room, waiting to take your weary burdens, when you were making yourself sick with stress over preparations.

It is Me in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the fatherless, the ones with no voice, and the ones with a voice to which you’ve turned a deaf ear.

It was Me, this morning, in your living room, when you were grumbling about the dirty bathroom and your daughter was singing, head tilted toward Me, face up against the veil, in my presence, kneeling on holy ground.

It was Me.

I am.”

And I put away my cleaning rags, and lay down my pride, and walk into the living room, and ask that I, too, might see.

On the Epiphany, Dirty Bathrooms, and Hallowed Ground

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Christmas, Poetry & Words

Why Celebrations & Beauty Still Matter in a Broken World

During Advent, lighthearted festivities can conflict with the dark reality of the world. But we shouldn’t give up Christmas. You can’t fight the darkness without light.

Why Celebrations & Beauty Still Matter in a Broken WorldSometimes, people wonder how I can get behind something so trite as Christmas decorations, when I also talk about death and darkness and clinging to a thread of hope when grief colors everything. How can I talk about pretty things when there’s all this brokenness everywhere we turn? Isn’t that incongruent? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Don’t I know the world is dying?

I do know. And because I know, I refuse to give in to the darkness.  I refuse to let the darkness chase us away from all the beauty.

Our God, the same God who demands justice and calls us to love mercy [1], also created beauty. The same God who calls us to defend the fatherless [2], also paints the billowing clouds with fiery indigo, told His ancient people to weave golden threads into gilded curtains and dot the tabernacle with precious stones [3], and turns snowy mountain peaks copper with every rising dawn.  If we have the eyes to notice, our heart is lifted at a solitary bloom alive in a dry and cracked sidewalk, and something in our spirit leaps at the sight of a single lit tree in the darkness, glistening in snow-covered bursts of colored light. Our deep longing for aesthetic beauty echoes the whole, complete beauty that existed in God himself before the Fall of Man. Glimmers of it shine earthside still. Every single thing of beauty on this earth hints at the beauty that waits just beyond the veil [4].

And something else await beyond the veil, too — a celebration [5].

Somewhere along the way in our journey through the monotonous tasks of living, we’ve heard whispers that to be holy is to reject the nonsense of tinsel and lights, and to be an effective servant of God we have to squelch in ourselves our deep-seated craving for beauty.  We’ve heard that to have a heart that really loves mercy, to have a heart that really broken over injustice, we should probably think twice about merrymaking. But beauty and joy and celebrations are not at all antithesis to our identity as Christians. Rather the opposite; celebrations are at the very heart of our Father God. All throughout the Bible we see, over and over and over again, this idea of gathering together in the mutual enjoyment of this wild and beautiful life. And we crave it. We crave beauty, we crave togetherness, and we crave wholeness.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense to live this way. Maybe it’s all more complicated than this. But I think my God is big enough that I don’t have to choose between beauty and truth. I think my God is big enough that I don’t have to reject the beautiful things He’s created in order to love mercy. So instead of understanding it all, I just want to embrace this mystery. The mystery of God, the mystery of this life, the mystery of serving the One who lets all these disparate things — beauty, injustice, death, love — coexist, and even, somehow, weaves them all together with redemption in a tapestry altogether glorious.

So let yourself be freed from legalism this Christmas. Let yourself be free to savor the deep, beautiful goodness of God, and drink in the wonder of His Advent, even if everyone around you is cramming in commercialism until the season nearly bursts with misunderstanding, and even as the news broadcasts keep rolling, and even as there is still work to be done.

“Here is the world”, said Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” [6]

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: And I’ll Sing in the Land of my Sojourn

And I'll Sing in the Land of My Sojourn by Gina Munsey on Oaxacaborn, with quotes by Rich Mullins and Frederick BuechnerIt’s quiet, at least as quiet as an afternoon can be on the second floor of an apartment building, perched at the edge, where the gully dips down into rain-soaked grass and back up again to meet the ragged blacktop edge just before the toll booth.  This little corner of earth where residential and interstate meet is not a destination or a landmark, but I think Rich Mullins would have sung about it [1].

I think he’d have seen the gold in the way the sun fights for light here, like a farmer sees hope and life in the tiniest green shoot.

Maybe he’d have heard a melody in the rumble of the trucks which coast and pull their rattling brake just before the bend in the road, like he did when he sang “And the coal trucks come a-runnin’  / With their bellies full of coal  / And their big wheels a-hummin’  / Down this road that lies open like the soul of a woman…” [2]

He saw beauty, somehow, where others only saw the tired corners, where others only saw the afternoon traffic jams and the faded street signs and the plodding of sojourners down the cracked and uneven sidewalks. When you know everything around you lies in shadow, waiting for the great awakening, when you know we’re all living just on the very cusp of seeing clearly and not through a glass dimly, well, then, there’s beauty in everything broken. Because as soon as that Star shown down into the stable and as soon as He was born, well, redemption was set in motion and that was “When the old world started dying / And the new world started coming on”. [3]

There have been sojourners as long as there has been time itself, mendicants wandering [4] yet wandering with purpose, through the dredges that are made holy with that same purpose. Sojourning is different than drudgery. Drudgery is repetition without hope on a horizontal plane. But sojourning! Ah, sojourning takes the repetition in which drudgery despairs, and views it with eyes opened by the God of Wonder Himself.

“If you think you are seeing the same show all over again seven times a week,” Frederick Buechner writes [5], “you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again.”

And so, in the midst of the traffic chorus outside my window, and the unwashed laundry and  the unanswered emails, in the midst of confronting evil and doubt, in the midst of working long into the night and consoling a child’s fever and answering unspoken fears, in between the lost moments of sleep and the sunrises awash with new mercies and endless grace, in the arms of everlasting love, “I’ll sing my song / and I’ll sing my song / in the land of my sojourn.”[6]

Poetry & Words

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

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 children’s needs keep 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.

Homeschooling, Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: A History of Weather

Life in Photos :: Sonlight Science A :: Biology, Botany and Physics :: Homeschooling on the Oaxacaborn blog

Life in Photos :: Sonlight Science A :: Biology, Botany and Physics :: Homeschooling on the Oaxacaborn blog

Life in Photos :: Sonlight Science A :: Biology, Botany and Physics :: Homeschooling on the Oaxacaborn blog

Life in Photos :: Sonlight Science A :: Biology, Botany and Physics :: Homeschooling on the Oaxacaborn blog

We spend the mornings together, side by side, she a constant inquisitive spirit, eager, joyful, full of wonder. We sit at the table together, the sun casting shadows through the curtains and across the stacks of books. Sometimes she slowly exclaims “Wow!” and sometimes she shrieks “Tell me more about it!” But always she wants to know more.

I read, she listens. She reads, I listen.

Civilizations.
Atoms.
Voyages and discoveries,  light and darkness.

We turn the pages together. We marvel at the lines in the paintings of the masters together.  We look up into the vast distance of the galaxies together.  We talk of good and evil. We talk of beauty. She asks for more about Moses, more about Joshua, more about Sarah, more about these men and women who walked before. Her voice recites truths, her fingers are just beginning to dance across the piano keys, her little self is flying through books like there is no end to adventure.

Because there is no end to adventure.

Life in Photos :: Sonlight Core A :: An Intro to World Cultures :: Ancient Romans :: Homeschooling on the Oaxacaborn blog

billy_collins_history_of_weather

Life in Photos :: Sonlight Science A :: Biology, Botany and Physics :: Homeschooling on the Oaxacaborn blog

 

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: Yes, she is my only one

Yes, she's my only one -  A Post on the Oaxacaborn blog

As much as I share here in this public space, there’s much, much more I don’t talk about.

For a long time, Aveline was young enough that I didn’t have to talk about it. For a long time, her age served as some sort of barrier to postpone the questions and contain the curiosity. But as Aveline has gotten older, peoples’ curiosity is stretched thinner and thinner and thinner. The manners are starting to fade, and the collective curiosity is like a wall of water behind a crumbling dam.

On any given day there are fewer and fewer people left who consider the when? and the why? behind her sibling-less status as private information.

I have an only child.

I’m homeschooling an only child.

And I’ve never been more acutely aware of the stigma in those sentences, or how many sets of neatly-boxed little assumptions exist about this fact.

I’m not here to defend anything.

I’m not here to explain a choice. My redemption lies in my Jesus, not in the number of people in my family.

Instead, I’m here to gently remind you that before you judge someone’s choice, remember that we humans don’t even always hold the power of a choice.

I’m here to remind the curious questioners that in almost every situation under the sun, there’s more.  More beneath the surface. More desperate clinging to hope where you think there’s just indifferent apathy. There’s more to a family than the sum of their numbers. There may be sorrow behind the smile. There may be silent prayers that go unseen. There’s always more to the story than you’ve heard.

What you don’t know, is that my daughter Aveline Alenka was a miracle. Her name, Aveline, from the old Irish Aibhilin, isn’t just a name. It means —

l o n g e d   f o r
w i s h e d   f o r
l o n g – a w a i t e d   c h i l d 

— and every ounce of that is true.

She is a miracle. She is, like her Slovene middle name Alenka, “a radiant light”.

Yes, she's my only one -  A Post on the Oaxacaborn blog

See, what you don’t know, is that when I was in my early twenties, my hormones were operating at a menopausal level. What you don’t know, is that I was looked right in the eye and told my body was the functional equivalent of a sixty-year-old woman.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

When my long-awaited child was born, it was four weeks before I could cross the room without holding onto the walls.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

When she was six weeks old, I was back in the emergency room, with a group of doctors huddled around me while she was asleep on my chest and I was in agony.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

When she was two years old, I was sitting in a specialist’s office discussing the ongoing pain from nerve damage.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

I’m not telling you now because it’s an easy or a comfortable thing to talk about (it’s not).  I don’t tell you this because I think I am particularly tragic, or unusual (it’s not), or because I think my story is deserving of either pity or applause (it isn’t).  And I’m certainly not writing this because I think it’s good blog fodder (it definitely isn’t).

I’m not even sharing this now because of me.

I’m sharing this because there’s more to all of our stories. There’s more to what we say and what we do and who we are. There’s more to all of us than what is visible to supermarket strangers and inquisitive acquaintances.

I’m not writing this about me. I’m really not even writing this about only children.

I’m writing this for every single person God has ever created, from every walk of life and every nation and every socioeconomic status. I’m writing this for every single person you come into contact with.

I’m writing this because of one truth, one constant, one vitally important principle: everyone has a story. Sometimes that story is silent, and sometimes it’s spoken. Sometimes you can see a peek of it, and sometimes it’s all hidden. But there’s one thing that never changes…

…there’s always more to the story than you can see.

Yes, she's my only one -  A Post on the Oaxacaborn blog

The world is full of love that goes unspoken. It doesn’t mean that it is felt less deeply or that separation leaves a cleaner wound. Its beauty…and its pain are in its silence. Some of us are not blessed with revelations or confessions. Love cannot be spoken, only shown.” -Call the Midwife

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: Because I Await Redemption

I write because I await redemption.Everyone has an opinion about blogging. Thirteen years ago, when I started writing online — we called it web journaling then — people didn’t have as much of an opinion.

But now, everyone is an expert: Write more about struggles, so you can be transparent. Don’t write too much about struggles, so you won’t be depressing. Take more pictures of reality, so you don’t deceive your readers. Don’t take too many pictures of reality, because that’s just not artistic. Write more about the good, because you should be uplifting. Don’t write too much about the good, because that’s not reality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after thirteen years of blogging, is that I can’t please everyone. Actually, I can’t please very many people at all. And if I wrote these words in this little space to please people, what a sorry endeavor it would be.

Sometimes I write about beauty, and sometimes I write about brokenness.

Sometimes I write about hope, and sometimes I write about death.

Sometimes, I write about joy.

And sometimes, I write about all of those things — all together, all twisted up and tangled together — because really, isn’t that what life is? A bittersweet mixture of all that is good and all that is evil and all that is Hope and all that is Him and all that has been buried and planted and is yet to blossom, “pressed down, shaken together and running over” [1], awaiting redemption?

I write because I await redemption.

I write because God gave us beauty. Sometimes that beauty is so searingly bright, we can’t even humanly handle the sheer weight of glory. Sometimes that beauty is a promise, seen only through a glass dimly [2], through clouded tears. But always, there is beauty, because always, God is in our midst.

And that is enough to raise your thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.” -C.S. Lewis

Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: That’s the one thing you can’t do, when you’re a sojourner

The one thing you cant do when you're a sojourner (a post on #grief from the Oaxacaborn blog)

When you’re a sojourner, you miss milestones. You miss friends’ graduation open houses, you miss engagement parties, you miss their weddings. You see the highlights, but you miss all the late nights. You miss the unsung moments that expand gloriously to fill the spaces between each infrequent occasion we mark with a long distance  text, or an even less-frequent card.

And then, as time passes, you start missing something else, too.

You miss the funerals.

Your friend dies, and you can’t be there for the funeral.

Your friend’s mother dies, and you can’t be there for the funeral.

Your friend’s baby dies, and you can’t be there for the funeral.

It is not true that distance makes the heart grow fonder. Distance actually makes the heart swell with grief, makes ones whole being ache deeply, wearily, at the realization that

you

can’t

be

there.

Distance  means you can’t be there

to silently hold,

to cry alongside,

to weep together.

They tell you nothing is the best thing to say in the face of grief.

They don’t tell you how impossible it is to fill a blank card with mutual tears, fold it into a stiff envelope, and drop it down down down into the unknown darkness, where it will sail away, carried by unsuspecting hands, and finally land in a faraway box, alone and a bit worn around the edges.

They tell you just to be there.

And that’s the one thing you can’t do, when you’re a sojourner.