rituals: a kind of grace (rachel marie stone).

As per the day would suggest, Tuesday has again arrived and so has its guest post counterpart. Today’s writer, Rachel Marie Stone, weaves words together in such a way that before you know it you’ve let loose a big sigh and you’ve breathed a deep breath of grace and joy. And this morning’s post will no less do the same for you. Enjoy – enjoy, enjoy! – Miss Rachel’s words today.  

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I used to think that a life governed by ritual would be a difficult life.

When, as a pre-teen, I read Gone With the Wind, I thought it must have been burdensome for Scarlett O’Hara to follow the rules of dress and food and manners: which kind of clothes to wear at what times, when and whether to eat or not eat, how and to whom to speak.

“Don’t you think it would have been hard to live then, with all those rules?” I asked my grown-up cousin.

“Maybe,” my cousin said, “but maybe there’s another way to look at it — there wouldn’t be a lot of questions. You would know what’s expected of you. No surprises, you know.”

At times in my life I have taken rituals as a rebuke to my own tendency to improvise; to chart my own course. Now in my third decade, I sense how ritual alleviates a burden, and therefore functions as a kind of grace.

As a worshiping Episcopalian, my religious life is largely shaped by ritual. Like C.S. Lewis — Anglican that he was — I experience liturgy as freedom; the language holds my faith for me when my anxious heart and distracted mind can’t.

Most days, I wake first. I go downstairs, I turn off the outside lights as the sun is rising. I grind the coffee, heat the water, press it down. I pour cream, pour coffee, sit on the couch, and drink. I read or do not read my book; stare or do not stare at the birds in the tree outside my window.

When the cup is two-thirds empty, I go into the kitchen, arrange the boys’ lunch containers on the counter, and begin preparing their lunches and snacks.

There are rules: each boy must have a clean cloth for both lunch and snack; four cloths. Nuts are permitted at lunchtime, but not at snacktime. Graeme will eat Nutella, but never jam; ‘everything’ bagels, but never plain.

Aidan eats peanut butter or cream cheese, never Nutella. There will always be fresh fruit or vegetables, or both, cut neatly for Graeme; kept whole for Aidan.

I arrange each element with care. When I make the sandwiches, I realign the cut halves of the crisp rolls. I fold the clean cloths and tuck them inside their bags. I zip them closed.

Then, as I finish my coffee, I lay out two small plates, and begin to prepare their breakfasts.

I used to think that a life governed by ritual would be a difficult life. These days I taste and smell and sense in ritual a comforting alleviation; a lifting of a burden. A kind of grace.

screenshot-2014-05-07-20-22-27Rachel Marie Stone is a regular columnist for The Englewood Review of Books and has contributed to Christianity Today, InTouch, OnFaith, Books and Culture, The Christian Century, and Sojourners, among other publications. Her first book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, won the CT Book Award for Christian Living. She is also the author of The Unexpected Way, a book about the Gospels for children. Rachel lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two sons. You can find her blogging on food, family, faith, and justice at Patheos and follow her on Twitter at @Rachel_M_Stone.  Cara again: Don’t Rachel’s words bring about a sigh of relief, a letting go of the internal pressure valve?  Leave her a comment with your encouragement today.

the teetering pregnancy brain (and cabbie jack).

Photo cred: Minneapolis Park History.
Photo cred: Minneapolis Park History.

It hit me yesterday when Cancan said “leaves” (eves! eves!) and “monkey” (unkey unkey unkey, mama!) for the first time: my spongey little being is utterly brilliant, while my brain is rapidly losing its ability to function normally on an hourly basis.

Where’d I put my phone?  Searching the house, I peer underneath the usual toddler-induced hiding spots: beneath the couch and the table and the ottoman, in the toy box, tucked inside Tupperware containers in the Tupperware drawer.  I cross my fingers, hope to die that the phone hasn’t been relegated to the toilet, as per Little Man’s current obsession with flushing the toilet (and the towel and the toilet paper and his toy truck…) thirty-nine times a day now.

For the love of California’s current water drought.  Never mind our own water bill.

Four hours later the phone is found vibrating inside my bathrobe pocket – the robe, of which, might I add, I wore for an hour earlier that morning with every intention of actually showering.  But like the “mom uniform” spandex-clad clothes I tend to wear with every intention of getting my sweat on, showering and working out don’t always come to fruition as I wish they would (or should, or could).

I answer a text, congratulating myself meanwhile on being so on top of the calendar, well over a whole month in advance …only to realize that I’ve mixed up my Tuesdays for Wednesdays and Wednesdays for Thursdays.  For the third time this week.

I find myself deep in conversation with a dear friend, exchanged dialogue vibrant and alive and witty all at the same time – until Tired washes over me and I struggle to find the words for the, the, the “…you know, that place some people go to on Sunday mornings?”

“Um, church?” she says gently.  Yes, church.  Church.  

And so the 35-year-old “AMA” pregnant mama sits atop the playground teeter-totter, opposite her almost-two year old son.  Back and forth we go, teetering and tottering, his little legs bounding upward as mine pull back, repeat, again; and as gravity pulls me to the ground, he springs upward, his mind expanding and morphing and leaping while mine seems to continually descend downward.

While I laugh about it, mostly, I also curse the Great Pregnancy Instigator, hurling curses of lamentation along the lines of woe-is-me.  Woe is me who struggles with pregnancy insomnia, when I should be hibernating in preparation for the new babe.  Woe is me who can’t seem to piece together a coherent sentence when using words are, like, my livelihood.  Woe is me who can’t remember where she put her phone, again, who seems to apologize for “Pregnancy Brain” more often than not, who wonders where the Smarty Self of Yesteryear went.

And woe is me who fills her days with complaining.

Who forgets to receive the Bounty of Plentiful Grace shoveled over her mind, her heart, her body on an hourly basis.

Who neglects to just let herself be, who forgets to be be present and laugh at the days to come.

Because, really, I’m my own worst critic.  I’m the one who’s hardest on myself.  I’m the one who’s forgotten to open my eyes and see the Delight of Whimsy in the everyday.

So, if you see me, or another pregnant mama – or a sleep-deprived parent of young children, or just any ol’ human being who looks a little disheveled – do us all a favor and respond like Jack the Cabbie:

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Say “No worries.”  Congratulate us, IN ALL CAPS, I MIGHT ADD, on our own self-claimed pregnancy brain, since this is actually the first time you’re learning about it.  Use a copious amount of exclamation marks, and go above and beyond, and use a little smiley face at the end of it all.

Because that might just be exactly what we need to hear.

xo, c.

What about you?  How’s your pregnancy/insomnic/young parent/disheveled human brain?  And more importantly, how has someone else shown you grace?  

the little things: few words, gigantic grace (tim fall).

I was sitting with a group of other writer-mamas when I first heard of Tim Fall: “Oh, you don’t know Tim?  Well, you SHOULD.”  And just like that, Tim entered my list of people to someday connect with, mostly because I’d heard that he’d be encouraging to me – but soon it wasn’t just about receiving what Tim might be able to give me.  Instead, it became a back and forth, burgeoning online friendship.  So friends, I am delighted that he’s here today; soak up his wisdom-filled words, especially if you’ve ever found yourself serving on a committee or a board, thinking you have the world figured out.  Because you know what?  You SHOULD.   

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I was 29 and new to the Elder Board. I could blame my conduct that night on my youth and inexperience, but it was really a matter of sin. Prideful sin had a grip on me.

Almost everyone else on the board was at least a decade older than I, and a couple of them were old enough to be my grandfather. One of those older ones was the board chair.

*Among the Elders* 

Don was a founding member of the church, going back to when it was a Bible study in a fellow veterinary professor’s home in the years just after World War 2. Don came to our town after serving in the war, recruited to teach and do research at the newly formed veterinary school in a very small town in California’s Sacramento Valley. He and Elizabeth, his young wife, accepted the challenge of helping to start a new congregation for the growing post-war population in their new home on the west coast.

I met Don many decades later, as he approached a well-earned retirement. You see, Don not only taught at California’s only veterinary school, he served as its dean at one point in his career. His research in dairy production and disease prevention improved the lives of people all over the world, including developing countries.

Don and Elizabeth served their church faithfully as well. After raising their children, they bought a duplex so they could live in one half and rent the other to college students from the church (and there were many at our church in this college town) at very low rates. They both led Sunday school, outreach and hospitality ministries. They took their positions among those who started the church very seriously.

By the time I met Don and Elizabeth, they were the only founding members left in the congregation. And there I was on the board with Don as the chairman. You’d think this would have humbled me.

It didn’t.

Instead, I was proud of my position, being so young and considered by the congregation to be qualified to serve alongside Don and the others. Frankly, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.

*A Little Too Hot* 

In one of the first meetings we were going over some item on the agenda. I have no idea now what it was, but it was something that generated a lot of discussion. Don was doing what he did well in managing the meeting, and at one point he started to respond to something someone said.

Midway through his first sentence I cut him off and proceeded to give my opinion on the subject. If you envision me leaning forward, raising my voice to drown out others and pointing my finger more than necessary, you’ve got the right picture.

I said my piece and the conversation continued. Don didn’t say anything else on the subject until he called for a vote.

By that time I’d had a chance to think about what I’d done, and I didn’t think much of it.

Don said it was break time since we were about half way through our agenda by then. Break time at these meetings meant snack time. I didn’t have much of an appetite. I was right behind Don as he got something, though, and waited for him to step away from the table.

I took a deep breath and felt myself flush, sure my embarrassment was showing crimson on my face. I started to apologize for cutting him off and speaking out of turn, trying to say that I knew I should have waited by turn. I hoped he’d accept my apology. He didn’t. This time he cut me off and what he said floored me.

“No, no, you felt strongly about that and needed to say it. That’s fine,” he said with the most gentle and kind voice imaginable. I think he may have even patted my arm.

*The Grace of Acceptance*

Don reminds me of the father in the story called The Prodigal Son. The son talked his father into giving him his inheritance early and then spent it all on wild living, reducing himself to poverty far from home. When he came to his sense, he realized he had to go home and beg his father to take him back, even if only as a hired hand. He even had a speech and rehearsed it all the way home. Before he could finish that well-rehearsed speech, though, his father cut him off and welcomed him home.

The son is called the prodigal one for spending all his money, but it is the father’s grace that is truly prodigious: Welcome home, my son, and enjoy all the riches I have to offer.

That’s the way Don made me feel. He graciously overlooked my abhorrent behavior and treated me as his equal on the board. This is a lesson I have tried to remember – with varying degrees of success, I might point out.

Don’s few words were mighty with grace. I hope mine are too.

121492933d67f170ca2a765f22fb8ac5Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 26 years with two kids (one in college, one graduated – woohoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and is on Twitter and Facebook too.

Regardless of religious preference, I think we can all see and find Truth and Grace and Beauty freely given.  Thank you, Tim, for sharing your heart today – what resonated with you upon reading Tim’s story?  What nugget will you take home?  Take the time to encourage our friend now! 

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for the love of les mis (2).

Photo cred: IMDB.
Photo cred: IMDB.

Just in case you missed yesterday’s post, as reading through a 962 page book is no small feat, me, myself and I owe it to Victor Hugo to capture a few favorite quotes from his remarkable novel.  [Also, let’s be honest, these brainless posts help give me more time to finish preparations for Monday’s presentation – so, thank you for understanding.]

Whoever has loved knows all the radiant meanings contained in those three letters of that word: She” (500).

“The soul which loves and suffers is in a state of sublimity” (572).

“…even on the pavement of the deserted street, flowers like stars, dew like pearls, fecundity, beauty, life, joy, perfumes” (586).

“Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls convey to each other by the exchange of that spark” (593).

Women play with their beauty as children do with a knife.  They wound themselves” (594).

“God is behind everything, but everything hides God.  Things are black, creatures are opaque.  To love a being is to render that being transparent” (616).

What is slang, properly speaking?  It is the language of wretchedness” (648).

“Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness” (663).

HBH, please utter this to me, perhaps even in your sleep: “It is all over with me when I contemplate you.  You are a grace.  I know not what is the matter with me” (665).

“All war is a thing of terror, and there is no choice in it” (821).

“When grace is mingled with wrinkles, it is adorable.  There is an indescribable aurora in beaming old age” (868).

Love is the only ecstasy.  All the rest weeps” (904).

Love.  War.  Language.  Grace.  God.  Beauty.  The Complicated Female Entity.  Thank you, Victor Hugo, for a most memorable read!

xo, c.

What about you?  What book or movie had you quoting quotes left and right, the words constantly remaining?  

For the love of les mis (1).

Photo cred: IMDB.
Photo cred: IMDB.

Confession: it took me 13 months to read through Les Miserables.  

But, as reading through a 962 page book is no small feat (especially when page upon page of the dreary French Revolution is investigated and explained in intricate detail), I, for one, owe it to Victor Hugo to capture a few favorite quotes from his remarkable novel.

“True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do” (17).  

The most beautiful of altars … is the soul of an unhappy creature consoled and thanking God” (30).

“Let us never fear robbers or murderers.  Those are dangers from without, petty dangers.  Let us fear ourselves.  Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murders.  The great dangers lie within ourselves.  What matters it what threatens our head or our purse!  Let us think only of that which threatens our soul” (34).

“Her splendid teeth had evidently received an office from God – laughter” (99).

“If you were to cease to love me, I would spring after you, I would scratch you, I should rend you, I would throw you into the water, I would have you arrested” (104).

“The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one’s own sake – let us say rather, loved in spite of one’s self…” (125).

“There is a spectacle more grand than the sea; it is heaven; there is a spectacle more grand than heaven; it is the inmost recesses of the soul” (149).

“She had never been taught to turn to Providence and to pray; nevertheless, she felt within her something which resembled hope and joy, and which mounted towards heaven” (262).

“Nevertheless, there was something beyond that shadow; there was light; there was life in the midst of that death” (328).

“A smile is the same as sunshine; it banishes winter from the human countenance” (385).

“Where do we stand?  Who are we?  Who are you?  Who am I?” (448).

“Humanity is identity.  All men are made of the same clay.  There is no difference, here below, at least, in predestination.  The same shadow in front, the same flesh in the present, the same ashes afterwards.  But ignorance, mingled with the human paste, blackens it” (479).

What can I say?  I’m a sucker for soul, and I’m smitten when it comes to questions of identity and humanity and LOVE.  I too yearn for smiles that spring forth from the recesses of our deepest insides, and to say that Hugo captured these favorites is an understatement.  So go – buy that book, rent the movie, cheer on grace and truth and goodness on Broadway itself – and then get back to me with your Les Mis favorites as well!

xo, c.

What about you?  Have you read the book, seen the movie, or cheered on the Broadway show?  How did it change you?  

the insteads.

Photo cred: Eat Simple Love Yoga.
Photo cred: Eat Simple Love Yoga.

The movers knocked on our door at 7:33 Friday morning, and we were ready.  Well, mostly ready.  I still needed to pack up the remaining food in the refrigerator and take down the curtain rods and sweep the floors before the cleaners came – because am I the only one who doesn’t want to appear as messy as I really am?  But maybe like brushing and flossing your teeth right before jumping into the cleaning chair, the dentist sees right through it.  As I’m sure the cleaning ladies did as well.

Sorry, Merry Maids.  

By 11 the carefully loaded goods had started to become carefully unloaded goods, and Heidi-friend met me with Pumpkin Spice Latte in hand to help out wherever and however, …because that’s just what friends do.  And the funny thing is that even though I scream Let’s Be Messy! from the blogosphere mountaintops, there’s still that part of me that wants to look presentable and have all my ducks in a row and have A, B and C lined up before said messiness ensues – which completely defeats messiness’ purpose.  So there she and I stood, in the middle of the chaos; she’d brought an eight-pack gift of paper towels, because she knows the HBH’s Great Love of All Things Paper (much to my eco-savvy, recycling chagrin).  And with spray cleaner in hand, she wiped the year(s)-old dust clean from our bedside tables, and she grunted with me as we tried to move the leather chair from our room to Cancan’s and back again.  Sometimes I’d run downstairs to help the movers with an item, and five, ten, fifteen minutes would pass before I remembered that I’d left her upstairs to fend for herself.  So I’d haul up the stairs again, and we’d resume asking questions and telling stories while we dusted and cleaned and unpacked.

And while I intended to simply write, I’m tired – here, watch this Whole Foods Parking Lot rap and get down with your bad self for today’s post, even in bone-tiredness, my fingers just keeping tap, tap, tapping away at the keys.

Instead, I find myself utterly grateful.

I am grateful for friends who dive into the messiness, whose very actions remind me of the God who does the same for us and to us and with us.  More often than not, I think that I need to wear my Super Special, Super Duper, I Love Jesus and I Have All My Sh&% Together clothes before I’m able to enter his Grace (let alone his house).  I forget that it’s not about how much I love him – in fact, that’s not it at all – but it’s simply about how much He loves me.  And this love, His love, is enough.

Instead, I am overwhelmed with peace.

I sleep soundly for the first time in months, and I see excitement oozing up from the heart of the HBH – not only is he delighted at his new digs, but he’s proud to care and provide for his family in this way.  And when I lament the loss of the Coolness Factor with our new zip code, I then remind myself that my own coolness has been on a dramatic decline ever since the scales started tipping the ripe ol’ age of 30, when quoting 90’s songs and other hip parts of my youth officially labeled me OLD.  Because this peace that overwhelms, this peace is worth it.

Instead, I feel the sun streaming in through the windows, warming my arms and kissing my fingers, and I think to myself, Man, this suburban life ain’t bad at all.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour myself a cup of tea and go unpack another box.

xo, c.

What about you?  How have you been feeling the “insteads” in a really, really good way lately?  And more importantly, do you have Teen Spirit?

when life is just one long run-on.

Do you ever feel like life is just one big run-on sentence?

An email pops up from Cousin, and yes, we must get dinner on the books, but first I really need to send the break-in pictures to the insurance adjuster, and I must get the proof of ownership documents out to Progressive as well and seriously, when is the raucous of violation and slight paranoia going to end, because I just want to live freely, I just want to enjoy this rare San Francisco slice of October sunshine right when the leaves are starting to turn and pumpkin-everything is starting to rear its lovely, lovely Pinterest head and can’t I just spend my days trying out new recipes and playing on the floor with Cancan and reading books and visiting friends and going on walks – and oh! – I need to write and I need to network for speaking but mostly I just need to learn how to be, because being present and aware of the everyday, of the beauty of the now, of the Christ who holds my heart being in and near and with every living thing, that’s what truly matters, but ping! there’s that cell phone again, and I’m distracted, I’m distracted, I’m distracted – what was I just saying?

Suddenly I’m my own version of William Faulkner, utilizing run-ons that last for one, two, three – seriously, I’m dying a slow literary death – four pages and more.

So I stop.

I stop and I breathe, and I stop and I breathe again.

I close my eyes, and I inhale a deep breath, and I remember that life is not one long run-on sentence.  Life is made up of periods and commas and a hyphen here or there, and even the utterly delectable semi-colon – and Life is truly lived when we breathe and remember and reflect and absorb the Beauty of the present, of the now.  And truthfully, I don’t like who I am, to myself, to my son, to my husband, to my friends, to seemingly every human I encounter when I let the run-on take its course.

That’s why I left my job.

That’s why I try my hardest to keep the laptop closed when Baby wants to play.

That’s why my phone is in the other room, out of sight, out of reach, when a friend is over – so I can fully be present in the moment with them.

That’s why we get out of the house and we walk the hills of San Francisco and we say hello to strangers, because other people – they matter.  And sometimes I need to be reminded of that truth, even if they don’t say Hello back to me.

I still encounter these run-ons more often than I’d like – but like anything, I acknowledge my own selfishness and tendency to be absorbed in my own, isolated little world, and then I take the salt shaker of grace and I toss fistfuls over my shoulder, again and again and again.

I start all over, anew, renewed.

Period.

Do run-ons ever seem to absorb your life?  How do we just say no to a life of run-ons?  Join the conversation today!