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One Light, One Soul… for the Love of Las Vegas

I took this photo, grainy and somewhat blurred, on my first visit to Las Vegas — about 25 years ago. It’s hard to believe. We were up in the hills around the city near the Mormon Regional Tabernacle. Jeff Powell, my friend and college minister was planting a church in Las Vegas, and this spot was on the intro tour for our spring break college group. He took us there because it was a good view of the city – the old strip and the “new strip” strung out like a shining jeweled necklace in the middle of that city with so many lights. I was there on a mission trip. To give and serve. But, the city and the people – the lights – captured me.

A few months later I came back to Vegas to live for the summer — the first of two I spent in Sin City. That first summer, my friend, Rea, and I would sometimes go to the same spot atop that hill, under the statue of the Angel Moroni, and look out. Just every now and then, to take in that sea of lights again from a distance. And the audacity of that little string of decadent excitement shining brighter than the rest. We went, really, to look at the sea of people. In a place where there were literally as many lights as people. Probably more. And remind ourselves of what we were really seeing.

One light, one soul.

The real challenge, we decided in those trips to the Temple parking lot, was reaching the lights. Touching each light. Each soul. To see the light and the soul it represented. To really see it. And to value that soul no matter what nationality or language or background or lifestyle. To reach out and touch the lights with a true message of peace and love. A message you mean, no matter what. A message lived out in conversations. In knowing hopes and dreams and struggles and sins. The love of a true and unrelenting God that sees and values and woos every living thing in that darkness. So strong was the pull, that Rea painted a sweatshirt for me when I left that summer. An abstract depiction of this view, and the reminder…”reaching the lights.” A goal and admonition pushing me way beyond Clark County, Nevada with all its diverse and complicated landscape.

I walked away from that challenging place with new eyes that summer. Different eyes. Back to humid Mississippi, and the sidewalks of the Mississippi State University campus, and the familiar surroundings of my home, but I was changed. Changed by having spent time away from the South. Changed by the transient resort culture where roots were almost a luxury. Where the night shift could blur normal days and nights into a 24/7 season of need. That summer opened my view on so many things… social issues, race, red mountains, desert, no rain. The dryness. My thoughts and vision on architecture and community development, on places with no antebellum buildings. And faith. In a place where church isn’t so ingrained in culture. Where I believed it was more authentic. More real. More surprising at times. More tested, perhaps. My views of changing the world. Accepting the world. Embracing the world. In seeing and experiencing a place so different from what I knew, I had the chance to see myself differently.

Back in that first summer in Vegas, when we took visiting friends to all the tourist-y spots, we would jokingly ask, “who changes the lights when a bulb goes out?” All those lights lighting up the night until you couldn’t decide if it was even still night time, or if day had slipped in. Glowing like some beacon, seen from airplanes and neighborhoods and even the temple across the valley. One light, one soul. “What happens when one goes out?” And we tried our best to find even one light bulb not burning bright on that strip.

Some bulbs aren’t burning tonight. In the tragedy of today, it’s clear. We’re so broken. We’re so utterly broken. So in need of that unrelenting love. And the champions and warriors who wield it. With abandon. We’re so in need of reaching. Across aisles. Across streets. Across centuries. To build and repair. To strip away and build again. Dozens of lights. Souls. In a few moments, cracked and shattered and snuffed out. And it falls to those that remain to shine even brighter.

drawing near . Psalm Two

“Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand…”

What an opening! It’s like picking up at the cliffhanger of some epic confrontation. Where season one ends and season two begins. It feels like an important moment. Like the whole trajectory of the rest of the story is riding on the decisions made right here.

When I browse the news apps or read my Twitter feed, that cliffhanger moment feels pretty familiar. When I look at the plethora of messages facing my children and me every day, I see a lot of uproar. A lot of vain things. I see a lot of people and ideas and circumstances and choices staking claim to our time and our hearts. I see a lot of the same uncertainty and turmoil found in the words of this psalm. It’s easy to question and even be fearful or worried.

Psalm two isn’t one of the touchy-feely ones. It’s not filled with love and encouragement and comfort. No, it’s raging. It’s nations and peoples on a rampage, defiant with the God they’ve misunderstood. It’s an Anointed King taking back what’s rightfully His. It’s rebellion and anger and tearing and scoffing and breaking and the terrifying fury of a just cause coming to fruition. It’s a warning and a call to discernment.

And like the first Psalm, it presents a contrast. A single, final line of comfort and respite in the war that’s being waged.

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”  psalm 2:12

The people described in the psalm are inexplicably seeking to rend and cast away the cords binding them to the one and only place they can ever find refuge. They exchange of a place of uproar for a place of blessing. In their quest for independence, they miss being welcomed into the one place they can be fully free and at peace.

My boys and I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia this year. We’ve finally made it to The Last Battle, the final tome in this incredible series, and I couldn’t help but think of the story as I read this psalm. There’s a structure in the book  that’s become a pivotal point of fear, confusion and false control for the people of Narnia. As the tale and final confrontation,unfolds we find that this place of such struggle is really a doorway. For those who are willing to believe and seek it, stepping through the door opens up a world of peace and refuge. But, the book describes a group of dwarfs who are intent on resisting the power and truth of Aslan, Narnia’s Great Lion. They are intent on not giving in — on not being “taken in” by the rightful ruler and owner of Narnia. Even as Aslan has opened the door to all the wonder and goodness the others can see and taste, the dwarfs see nothing but darkness and foul scraps of food. As they choose not to believe, Aslan explains that they are “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” In their own stubbornness, they have shut themselves out of the refuge right in front of them.

This psalm is not an easy one to read and not an easy one to be comfortable with. It’s too revealing. Too much of an expose of the human heart we know so well. Too much of the righteous God we don’t always recognize. But, even in those raging words, there is a glimpse of hope. The hope and confidence of knowing how the story ends. Confidence in knowing that not everyone is wringing their hands. There is a King who will rule. There is an inheritance that will be given. And, therefore, there is a refuge that is available. Even in the face of uproars and vain things. There is a confidence and hope in knowing that although I may not know how to deal with the questions and the choices and the uproar all around us, I know Someone who does. And He offers a perfect place of refuge.

drawing near . Psalm One

I’m starting to make a little progress on my Drawing Near series, and still working through a manageable routine — giving myself the time to paint, but also the time to reflect and let the words of the Psalms get below the surface of my thinking. To meditate on them.

It’s a fitting pursuit for today’s psalm, since one of its main themes is the value of meditating on God’s word.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” psalm 1:2-3

As I’ve been reading through Psalm 1, I’ve been struck by what a great contrast the words portray. The difference that occurs when we find our delight and focus our attention in God’s word is clear. As His law becomes our filter for how we conduct life, we find ourselves cultivating not only faith in Him, but fertile ground for ourselves to flourish. It’s hard to mistake the comfort found in the words “firmly planted by streams of water.” The passage describes a whole ecosystem of security and growth that is starkly contrasted with the meandering and searching found outside of this fertile ground.  The imagery of wheat chaff blowing aimlessly in the wind, and of wanderers who can’t decide whether to walk or stand or sit pales in comparison to the nourished, verdant, fruit-bearing image of the tree. It depicts the quality of life emanating from a heart that is committed to understanding and internalizing God’s words. The strength and singleness of purpose, the firmness realized in that place of meditation is not easily swayed by lesser voices.

I needed this reminder today. I’m asking myself, what type of heart ecosystem am I nurturing? Is it an ungrounded, distracted, and withering place where fruit can’t be sustained? Or is it an ecosystem that produces real growth and prosperity and fertile ground to nourish my soul? One seeded by a delight in God’s true word?

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I finally painted an alternate heading for this series for those days (like today) when my words are to both my sons and daughter. It’s holy week, and we’re beginning to read about Easter and think about the meaning of it. This Bible verse is the last page of an Easter picture book we read each year. To me, it summarizes the purpose of God’s word and a good reminder of the “why” that must exist behind so much of what we do as people of faith. As I’m trying to help my children ingrain some of those words and beliefs in their hearts, I want them to know that living out their own truths begins and ends with this one sacred truth.

Day One: Perspective

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12 Days of Thanksgiving

I’m starting my annual thanksgiving writing tradition today — 12 Days of Thanksgiving. I started it several years ago as a way to cultivate a more grateful heart during this busy time of year and hopefully to gain a deeper understanding of how the act of giving thanks can impact more of life than just a day in November.

Every year I’ve learned something through this writing experiment. Something about myself. Something about God. Something about discipline. And, yes, something about Thanksgiving. But, it is sometimes hard work. To figure out ways to delve into my soul every day during this harried time of year.

This year seems more harried. I think I probably say that every year, of course, but it seems that lately I’m spending a few more moments at the point of frustration or desperation than normal. I’m a year into adjusting to life as a single mother now. The sole provider, the chief taxi service for our schedules, the lone educator and encourager — spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally for my three little ones. I tell myself that I was really all these things already through the last few years of Mike’s illness, but it’s not much consolation. Some days, the simple fact that I’m the only adult in my home is my single biggest barrier to peace. For, it leaves the responsibility for all our well-being squarely and completely on my shoulders. I suppose the difference is in the expectations. Something I expected and imagined from childhood to be a life shouldered and experienced by two, is now mine alone.

There’s never been a time in my mothering when I felt the weight of my own limitations more. And there’s never been a time when I felt as dumb-struck by the level of distraction in need of weeding through. This, paired with the conviction that I simply CAN’T get this wrong has me wide-eyed most days. It is admittedly stretching and confusing and overwhelming to find the most important need to address at any given moment — for a client, for a child, for myself. Sounds like a pretty good time to consider gratitude, huh?

To be honest, I almost didn’t take on the 12 Days for 2013. After all, I’ve barely written anything this year. I’ve even considered letting EyeJunkie go (a post for another day), but I just wasn’t ready yet to give it up and it’s connection to my soul. “Tradition” was pretty much the only thing that tethered my heart to this process this year. But, really, any motivation will do. I predict that the outcome for my emotional adjustment will be no less a change of course.

Clutch. Shift.

Earlier this Fall, my parents and I took the kids to Memphis for our school’s Fall Break. I booked our stay in a Downtown hotel this time because I wanted to give the children some more urban scenery. Some new experience. A new perspective.

I spent some time on our walks encouraging them to look up. After all, we rarely see buildings much taller than a couple of stories. I challenged them to think about how walking on Main Street in Memphis with it’s canopy of buildings and bricked walks and bustling traffic — the lights and sounds and movement of a big city — was different from walking on Main Street in Starkville. Their response was an alternating combination of that just barely perceptible rolling of the eyes, looks of confusion and exuberance of un-contained wonder. From riding on trolleys and in horse-drawn carriages to street tumblers on Beale and people pushing their belongings in shopping carts, the experience was quite a change from what they know of a “town.” A shift in perspective.

Of course I took my camera. I was very excited to capture the “space” and details in Downtown Memphis. Some of my encouragement to the kids to “look up” was spent in trying to capture building details, painted murals and roof ornament. I used my Canon Powershot, which has a pretty nice on-board zoom feature. Invariably, after I shifted the zoom lever, watching the details get closer, and used my arms somehow to steady my hands on the camera, I had to look away or bring the camera down to answer a question or make sure no one had moved too far out of my reach. To bring the camera back to my eye was completely disorienting. I knew where I should be looking, but I couldn’t find any reference points in that altered micro-cosmic view. Every time I had to zoom back out, find my bearings and re-focus on the detail of interest. Perspective.

I’m approaching the 12 Days a little differently this year. I’ve decided to write each day contributing to an overall theme. That theme is PERSPECTIVE. It’s the thing I think I’m most thankful for this year.

Perspective is filled with irony, to me. I’ve gained a lot of it in the process of grief. In the realities of losing a husband to suicide. In the process of trying to live prior to that. And after. Dear friends told me that although a one year anniversary isn’t magic in the grieving process, it IS significant. It allows clearer perspective, and I’ve seen that. The time helps to organize the life-and-death with the simply and lovingly mundane. And yet, as much as I know I’ve gained, perspective remains the thing that seems most easily and quickly lost. The more I feel I have a handle on, the easier it seems to see what still needs to be handled better or even handled at all.

I don’t know yet where my thinking on perspective will lead. I guess we’ll see over these twelve days. I know that God has gently moved the lever on the zoom feature of my life, shifting the view in and back out again in profound ways over the last fourteen months. I know each new phase in our process is one of seeing some things more clearly and accepting some things for their inherent blurry-ness. I know we have been in this process together. And with Him. I know I’m grateful to see in ever clearer ways how this process is bringing us back to life.

Christmas Gaze

Sometimes my kids just make me smile. You don’t have to hang out around here long to figure that out, and Christmas time is ripe for smiles. Drummer Boy, Bug and Baby Girl are getting to the ages when they can remember the traditions, decorations and fun activities from previous years. They are beginning to have their own memories of Christmas and their own treasured moments.

We have Christmas everywhere at my house. My mom shared with me the joy of celebration from a very young age and filled our holidays with memories and special decorations I looked forward to each year. I’ve tried to do those same things with my own kids and it’s very special to me to see their eyes fill with wonder and excitement as they see the traditions — and even remember some of them from last year.

Of course, my babies already seem to have their own take on the process of celebrating Christmas. I have several nativity scenes around the house — some I’ve gotten just so they can play with them. Most are inexpensive versions given to me or picked up from the dollar store for their particular kid-like cuteness. They each have the requisite super-glued parts — evidence that they have just enough combination of doll and action figure familiarity to make them attractive for playing and storytelling.

I always set them up in the same way. The way most folks do I guess. The baby is in the center, flanked by Mary and Joseph. The wise men file in from the baby’s left with the occasional camel in tow. They were, after all, from the East. The shepherds and members of their flock take their places to the right and the barn’s resident cow and donkey stand wherever available. An angel usually stands behind the babe overseeing the scene. Oddly, the people always seem to be facing outward — so we can see them, I guess. I’m not sure why they logically have those assigned seats in my mind, but they do.

A funny thing happened this year. One of the $5 dollar store versions sits on a table next to our couch. It’s a tiny porcelain collection of child characters painted with sweet smiles and pastel colors. A week ago I noticed that every time I walked by the table, the figures were moved to the same position. At first I didn’t really pay attention. The kids like to play with the set, which makes me smile. So, when I saw the rearrangement, I simply moved the figures back to their assigned spots and went on about my business.

Only, they caught my attention again later. The figures were again shifted from the standard positions I’d given them. And they were shifted to the same new positions. In fact, I noticed the same reorganization of players in some of our other crèches. Hmmm. Cue the mommy brain. I think my kids were demonstrating their own preferences for the nativity scene.

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So, I looked closer. Baby Jesus was in the center, to be sure, but the others weren’t stretched out in a pageant-esque tableau. No, the onlookers were standing shoulder to shoulder in a tight circle around the holy child. They seemed to be crowded in as close as possible with each animal and child-like character gazing at the newborn king. You couldn’t see all their cutely painted faces from across the room. The wise men didn’t appear to be traveling together — or coming from the East, for that matter. And, although I doubt you could even tell they were supposed to be a “manger scene,” I imagine in the thoughts of my Drummer Boy, Bug and Baby Girl, each little colorful porcelain heart had a necessary unobstructed view of the tiny Savior. Each was looking full-faced and undistracted upon the baby in the hay.

I haven’t moved the figures since. They are still staring, quite focused, on the Christ child. And I have to admit my own heart is a little more focused as well because of it. My attention is drawn to the baby birthed in such humble circumstances, yet carrying the seed of heaven in his tender chest. To the little hearts running around me, full of constant energy and motion. Somehow they are my very own heart looking right back at me. I’m drawn to the simple messages of loving and giving and hoping and unabashed gazing they seem to find so easy to comprehend. The messages that are so easily clouded from my view at times. What a pleasure to turn my own full gaze to the manger and see that wonder again.

Merry Christmas.

Day of Rest

I’ve been thinking about rest again. It seems to happen on the weekends naturally. This being Sunday, the “day of rest,” I’ve been thinking about it again in the context of the Sabbath. The Bible says that God instituted the concept of the Sabbath on the seventh day of his creation of the world.

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (genesis 2:1-2)

Thus, the idea of a holy day of rest was born. In the account, God had surveyed the words of his mouth and the work of his hands at a stopping point the day before. He determined that it was all very good and he “rested.” Just what was this resting about, that the God of the universe chose to do it?

Was God tired? Did he need sleep after the exhaustion of his labors? That doesn’t really fit with the concept of God revealed throughout the Bible, and yet I see that pervading some of the ideas surrounding what men do with the Sabbath.

After the success of his creative endeavors, did God suddenly feel the desire to be worshipped? Did the demand for a designated day of worship somehow reveal itself on the seventh day? That doesn’t seem to fit either. No, God was no more worthy of worship on day seven in his pause of creation than he was on day six or day five. He made no command for any of his creation to join him that day in his “rest”, nor did he demand any act of worship for himself out of the day’s holiness. Although, that seems to be the popular sentiment as well. That admonition came later, and I’ll admit that I’ve always viewed it a part of the idea of Sabbath. But, it really wasn’t indoctrinated that way in this dawning of a day seven.

A year or so ago, I came across the definition of the Hebrew word for Sabbath — “shabbat”. To cease. I’ve written about it several times in this EyeJunkie space. Yet, as evidenced by this post, I keep coming back to it. I keep coming back to trying to understand it, or trying to implement it’s obvious importance into my life. Why an obvious importance? Well, God himself observed it, after all. Between the thoughts of worship services and just catching up on sleep, what does it mean to rest, to set apart a “day” of rest? What did it mean, that God would choose it?

It’s interesting to me that this was perhaps the first act in a process of worship that began as a declaration of a holy moment–a designation–and progressed into a command  to remember it and continue it. To keep stopping. To keep setting it apart.

To cease. It makes perfect sense, but so often I overlook it. I breeze right through it in an attempt to get on with the business of doing something. The ceasing part so often eludes me in the process of doing and creating and living. Yet, God chose to stop, to cease. He surveyed what he had done. He evaluated it. He recognized it’s significance. And he claimed it’s success. He named it “very good.”

That’s a powerful concept. I’ve been reminded recently how important it is in roads of change to recognize milestones. To take stock and acknowledge the small (and big) successes along the way. It makes long journeys shorter. It gives difficult moments an easier comparison. And yes, it brings rest to weariness. It brings the chaos of moving forward to a welcomed cease.

I’ve had a crazy idea since I began this adventure in paying attention of creating a 12-step program for EyeJunkies — yep, one of those hare-brained notions I may or may not get around to. But, should the idea materialize, surely “to cease” is the first step. I certainly can’t pay attention to anything until I choose to stop — least of all my own progress. The choice to cease enables so many other choices. It enables that intention I crave so often. It defies the notion of busy-ness. And yet it sometimes defines the idea of accomplishment. And the emotional, mental and spiritual “rest” initiated from simply stopping and looking and calling it good is hard to come by any other way.

April: In Defense of Rain

 

Rain is just downright misunderstood sometimes. It’s true. It gets a bad rap quite often. Somehow it gets lumped with Mondays as the ultimate of downers. It gets the criticism for too much or too little, and everyone has his own opinion of that sliding scale. It seems it’s never just right with rain. It perpetually takes a backseat to the all-loving sunshine. We have trouble understanding it sometimes. And we have trouble seeing it clearly–especially when it’s pouring.

For much of this week we got an early taste of April showers, or at least the threat of showers, and I’ll admit I was quite grumpy about it. When you’ve been basking in the glow of sunny, warm days, the sudden shift to partly drizzly doesn’t sit well. And, the random downpour is even less inspiring. The weather outside had decided similarities to my inner climate where I’ve been feeling the metaphorical downpour in several areas of my life as well. You know the feeling. When your already full hands get a few more organizational or emotional or even physical balls to carry. When you start to notice the leakage in the culverts holding your heart together in that sane and safe place you call your own peace of mind. It’s been one of those kinds of weeks for me.

Today I finally began to relax and pull my hands off the plugs in all those suddenly noticeable holes in my thinking. Oddly enough, this shift in attitude happened right about the time the sun started to reappear in the skies outside. It was at that moment I realized that I have grass.

Yep. The wayward plot that was filled with brownish dormancy just a few days before–the one I call my front lawn– had suddenly sprouted new and vibrant shades of green. It sprouted a seeming multitude of blades. And, it sprouted another multitude of those purple thingies I wove into necklaces as a child, that unknown vine invading a few shrubs and a very nice crop of dandelions. Yes, I have what may charitably be described as growth.

Now, lest this somehow turn into another rain-bashing exaltation of the power of sunshine, let me say this: Rain makes things grow. This week it rained. And just like that, I have grass now. Granted, I have weeds too, but it looks like the grass may still be winning. Regardless, the lawn is actually green, and I wholeheartedly attribute that fact to a few sporadic downpours and an annoying number of drizzles. Blade or vine, Bermuda or dandelion, green is good in my book.

Here’s the thing. The opportunity to see what’s growing is a good thing, even when it’s weeds doing the growing. A pouring rain–you know, the kind that really soaks the earth–sometimes moves the much-needed process of new growth along. It brings those shoots lying dormant just under the surface right out in the open. And, whether the produce is weeds or choice blooms, at least it shows us what seeds have been planted. It shows us what’s inadvertently taken root and what’s fortunately blossoming. Only then can we know what needs to be pruned or cultivated more carefully.

It’s the same with the things we train our lives to hold, with the plots of soul we till. Whatever really soaks us, good or bad–whether it’s the blessing of a busy work schedule or the tipping point in some level of frustration–that pouring shows us our limits. It shows us our possibilities. It shows us what we want. It shows us what we need. It shows us where we flourish. It shows us where we need to cut back. It shows us where we need to fertilize. It shows us where we’re already prolific.

I love the photo in this month’s desktop wallpaper. It reminds me of that odd shift in perspective that can happen with rain, with our view of the showers that seem to erode the banks of our soul’s delicate balance. It reminds me of that moment when you take just one small step back from the downpour and are suddenly able to see a glimpse of what was only a confusing pattern of droplets before.

I think I see green.

[Feel free to click and download one of these for your desktop, phone or iPad. Enjoy!]

Discrepancies

It’s February, and the month invariably seems to bring our attention to love. It’s inescapable. And while I don’t always buy into the hearts and flowers mentality this time of year, I want my heart to be committed to pursuing and grasping a life characterized by love. A life centered in real and genuine love. A life that rejects the imitations. A life that acts out all the discrepancies love reveals. A life that loves in little things and big things, regardless of distractions.

One of the realities about love I’m continuing to learn as I travel this road toward paying attention is that to love is always to risk. It’s true. Having my children has taught me that lesson more than any other experience, for sometimes even the simple act of letting them out of my sight is an assault on my heart. There is no love without risking myself — risking damage to that core of who I really am, where I live and breathe. Real love always involves opening and exposing myself. Giving myself. Acting outside of myself. And in the face of all the discrepancies inherent in pursuing a life of love, I find myself committed to that openness.

I made a decision in my life a long time ago that having an open heart was important to me. That remaining open despite circumstances was valuable. That exposing my heart to the full weight life (and love) have to offer was the only way to really infuse that life with true meaning, certainly the only way to really see and be moved by the people around me. The only way to distinguish true love from its pale comparisons. Yes, it’s a risky endeavor. Inspite of the risk and even my own disappointments, the opportunity to love is everywhere.

But, love can be a struggle. I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced those times when the simple opportunities to love those around me were lost in a sea of roles. A sea of expectations — many of which I place on myself. In the day-to-day of life, I’m a parent, a designer, a cook, an organizer, a cleaner, the all-knowing finder of favorite toys and lost clothing, the ever-present referee for playtime games and stories, and the obligatory standard for kind and “loving” behavior.  In the pursuit of love, at times I’ve been a trophy. I’ve been somewhere down someone’s list. I’ve been the caretaker, the mother, the unheard voice of reason. I’ve been the assumption, the provider and the significant “other.” It’s hard not to see myself only as a reflection of those things. And certainly of my choices to continue in whatever roles may stifle me, and even inhibit my ability to love. It’s hard to continually pull myself out of those roles and be generous or giving or creative or whatever else is required to live that open life I mentioned. It’s hard to keep my heart open when it means being able to feel the brunt of those roles and positions head-on. The discrepancies of life and love can be staggering.

Here’s the thing. Love is finding joy. Love is a place of peace and acceptance. Love is hoping and blessing. Love is giving away. And, love is hurting and being disappointed. Love is misunderstanding. Love is trying and sometimes failing. Love is discrepancy.

I want to run from the discrepancy. My soul wants to fly from it as fast as it can go and never look back. My heart wants to close itself up tight and pull the covers over its head. But, it doesn’t. It won’t. For love is far too important a vehicle for experiencing the world. And love is far too important a lifestyle to teach. Real life and real love are about those discrepancies. They are about slippage and imperfections. About disorder and unpredictability. And at the end of the day, they are about hope and faith. The assurances that a life of love is worth it — whatever it takes. Whatever letting go, whatever grasping, whatever denying or embracing, whatever ending or beginning, whatever exposure of myself. A life of love is worth it. It’s worth the full measure of all that I have.

In keeping with that realization, this month’s desktop wallpaper takes its lesson from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The encouragement is to love both to the full “depth and breadth and height” my soul can achieve as well as back to the simple response of “everyday’s most quiet need.” Yes, that’s a life worthy of pursuing.

[Click the desktop wallpaper version above to download and enjoy with your technology and grab this iphone wallpaper version as well. Happy February!]

Wise Men

The Magi. I’ve been gravitating to their part in the Christmas story this season. Wise men are kind of a rare breed. To be known through history for the trait of wisdom is pretty impressive in this age of rampant information. We live in a time of unprecedented knowledge, but I see all around me the impact of foolishness. Christmas is usually a time of reflection for me. There is usually a break in my work routine and traveling to visit family. The time away from my own place and schedule somehow gives my heart and mind the space to evaluate. In what seems like life in constant motion, that brief respite to pause and think is a blessing. It helps me see with fresher eyes.

As I’ve been looking at this past year, I can’t help but notice change. And with all the hardship that surrounds change, I can’t help but recognize the opportunity that comes with it. But, opportunity requires wisdom, that rare commodity. Wisdom is often the difference between short-term and long-term, between past and future, between good and best. And so, these nameless figures from an age-old story come to mind. These humans whose actions seem almost implausible and even foolish at times. And yet, they are known simply as “wise men.” Men of prestige who were satisfied and even humbled in worship before a small child. These men who came and went on their way, having recognized God. I find their story fascinating. And I find their journey worth pursuing.

They were wisdom-seekers in a mystic tradition that was centuries old spanning many cultures and historical accounts. And because they were wisdom-seekers by trade, people seemed to assume they had it. World leaders and kingdom makers sought them to advise or divine or justify their decisions. The biblical account of the birth of Jesus doesn’t give us much information about these particular wise men. Over the centuries Christendom has imbued them with details that may not have really been true at that defining point in history. In my varied nativity scenes and storybook illustrations, there are only three of them. They rode on camels and visited the holy family in a stable. They were multi-racial and dressed in fine and brilliant colors, and always with crowns of some kind or another. Noone knows how and when they really arrived on the scene in Bethlehem, but in thinking about these unknown figures, I’m stilled by some important realities about a life characterized by wisdom. Some that surprised me.

Meaning mattered.
These men had positioned their whole lives in a mindset of meaning. It was the backdrop to all their days and to the singular experience with the Christ child. I heard a quote once that said you don’t find meaning. You give meaning. The magi spent their lives giving meaning and significance to events and natural phenomena and people.  It brought order and power to their world. It enabled them to see, to follow and ultimately to worship.

They were searching.
They noticed the course-altering star because they were looking. It’s not like a star shines in the sky for one man to see. The light radiates indiscriminantly. The difference is that these men had trained their gaze to find it. So often we are so entrenched in knowing the answers that we see no value in searching. And, admittedly, sometimes there is no place like Christianity for assuming a choke-hold on answers. Why do we diminish the process of seeking and searching as a lesser and distracted pursuit? The only way to find is to seek.

They recognized importance when they saw it.
They recognized significance. Something in their mystic training program or in their own experience told them the star they saw mattered. They had paid enough attention to see that it was different from what they’d known in their searching of the skies. They were able to discern that for them in that moment, the star was important.

They followed significance with unencumbered action.
This is so often the hard part. When we recognize that something matters, that it’s important, how do we respond? Significance involves determining what really matters to me, what qualifies my baseline of the life I feel I need to live. To grasp that significance and hold it often requires change. It often requires letting go, moving from where I am. The Magi followed the star. It was likely a long journey and an unexpected one. But, they loaded the camels (or whatever mode of transportation) and left. The significance they saw fueled their desire to know what this star was about. To find the meaning behind it. They were prepared enough to be unencumbered in moving. And they were prepared and expectant enough to load the gifts as well.

They didn’t lose sight of their vision.
The wise men had a picture of their destination. A hazy one, but a picture. They held firmly to what their heart recognized in seeing the star. They were looking for a king. And they met a legitimate king–Herod. Obviously, they were men of prestige and possibly renown. They probably were men of wealth and prominence. They were ushered into the king’s palace, after all. Apparently without much effort, they gained a direct audience with the ruler to ask their questions. But they recognized he wasn’t the one they were seeking. They didn’t break out the frankincense for Herod.

But, when the time was right, they were ready to give their gifts.
Trusting our own vision is so hard sometimes. Circumstances and the opinions of others push and pull and try to mold a vision we don’t recognize. But, my significance is mine. What’s valuable to me matters. It takes courage and resolve to stick with it.  The Magi trusted the sign post placed in the sky before them even though it probably seemed unlikely. Whatever small and seemingly insignificant situation they found Jesus in when the star rested its journey, they didn’t hesitate to open their treasures there. They weren’t enamored by wealth and prestige. They weren’t deterred by meager circumstances. They weren’t dictated by the assumptions of others. They recognized a situation and a person worthy of everything they had brought. And they gave it.

I’m on this same journey. Somewhere. I haven’t determined exactly where at the moment. But it’s my journey this season. A journey of significance. A journey of meaning. A journey of vision. A journey of giving. A journey of recognizing. A journey of choosing. A journey of moving. A journey of seeking. A journey of following. A journey of finding. A journey of worshiping. I’m on this journey. Aren’t we all?

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