rituals: of devotion (heather caliri).

Well, if you haven’t realized it yet this year, those not-so-boring rituals DO make the story deeper. And this is so very true for today’s writer, my friend Heather. Enter in to her nightly ritual of pen and paper, holy book and holy time. And further check out her writing, because she’s one talented woman! 

Flickr Creative Commons: Joel Montes de Oca.
Flickr Creative Commons: Joel Montes de Oca.

Every night, after my kids are tucked in bed, I begin.

The two books are stacked on my dresser, one on top of the other. The fatter book has a gold cross emblazoned on its black cover. The taller book is a Moleskine notebook.

Next to the stack is a black felt-tipped pen.

I sit on my side of the bed and pull everything into my lap. Then, I open up the notebook and start.

I fill one side of a page: what I’m fretting about, enjoying, pondering. Sometimes I write that I don’t know what to write; occasionally I give in to the opportunity to vent and fill three pages with indignation.

My day recorded, I pick up the other book—The Book of Common Prayer. I flip it to the most-worn page, and read the daily devotions for nighttime:

Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the LORD; The LORD who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

It’s a page long, just like my journal entry. It takes all of a minute to say aloud. Generally, before I begin Our Father, I mentally think through my prayer partner’s requests, saying a list names: her children, her husband, a friend in need.

I have found this is truly the least I can do to connect to God.

Honestly, most days I sit down and spend time with God, I notice, aching, how little time I devote. I notice how slim my effort is. I wish I could do more, even as I know that for me, doing just a little more is a terrible idea.

Honestly, I might not strike you as a perfectionist. An acquaintance of mine told me I seem very relaxed, which made me laugh like a hyena.

Underneath my calm exterior is someone very, very tightly wound.

For a long time, I knew I struggled with perfectionism, except I didn’t quite know how. I was never uptight about grades or looks, I let go of legalism about drinking or judging others, and if my house it’s clean, it’s because it helps me think, not because I’m worried about seeming untidy.

But a book I read recently talked about a kind of perfectionism that hit my heart with a bulls-eye.

It’s called scrupulosity.

It’s perfectionism of the mind, about thoughts, intentions, and meanings. I might not worry about my clothing, but it’s because I’m careful about not caring.

I want to have right motives about everything—parenting, waste, writing, dishes, money, organization, faith. Even my calm and my relaxation are carefully, scrupulously managed.

For instance, when I buy something, I want to get a good deal, and buy something organic and ethically sourced, and cruelty free, and buy it without taking too much time to research its provenance and cost, and after it’s all said and done, do I really need that thing in the first place?

Scrupulosity is like a little box in my head that keeps shrinking. No matter how I cut myself to fit, the container gets smaller, and smaller, until I can’t breathe.

On a good day, the scruples have led to repentance and bravery. But on a bad day, they make me want to curl up in my bed and weep for release. Left unchecked, there’s no end to my scruples. No enough or who cares, really? No moment too mundane to double-check and feel guilty about.

And for the biggies, like faith, it has made even the simplest of spiritual disciplines a race of anxiety, in which I’m always, always less than devoted, always thoughtless, always falling short.

In the end, I’ve realized, my scruples are about trying to save myself. Of being my own personal Jesus. Of climbing up onto a cross of my own making, pushing the Lord out of the way in the process.

My nightly ritual, I do the opposite.

I devote myself to letting Him do the saving. It’s not that my daily ritual is free of scruples, but they are pinned down with limits.

One page, one two-minute prayer. Both together take at most ten minutes. It’s a well-worn habit, taking very little effort or thought. And yet God is faithful to meet me in that tiny, empty space.

Whenever I feel ashamed that my ritual is too miniscule and shabby for the Savior of All, whenever I feel apologetic about the paucity of my offering, I remember that Jesus is the one who saves, Jesus is the maker of heaven and earth, and that much as I want to bless the Lord, the only blessing available on this earth is the one that He, in His fullness, bestows.

Small bio picHeather Caliri empowers others to seek Jesus’ easy yoke. In the process, she’s finding an light burden, too. Get her free ebook, “Five Ways to Hack Your Bible Hangups” when you subscribeCara again: so, what do Heather’s words strike in you? How does her daily ritual of devotion reach your heart? Leave her a comment today!

rituals: paying attention to the sinking sun (micha boyett).

I know I always say “treat of treats!” when it comes to hearing from different voices in the #rituals series.  But I say it again today, because you not only get Guest Post Tuesday, but you also get Guest Post Friday – AND you get to hear from one of my favorite writers, dearest friends, and most sublime crafter of words, Micha Boyett.  Enjoy a look into her family’s nightly ritual.  

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The view from Micha’s back deck (stolen from her Instagram page).

It was January when we moved into our house over a year ago. We’d lived in San Francisco for close to four years already, but we’d mostly avoided the Outer Sunset District, a neighborhood known for soul-less square houses and tiny front yards paved over into driveways.

San Francisco is a city that was built around the bay, not the ocean. Though its roughly seven by seven miles of land are surrounded by water (the city’s on a peninsula), any iconic pictures of our fair city are pictures of the land beside the bay. The part of town by the ocean is less photogenic, less praiseworthy, plain.

We knew we were choosing our neighborhood based more on practicality and affordability than on beauty. We’d made peace with that reality. Then we happened upon our rental house, built at the perfect angle of the hill, its living room windows overlooking the ocean from a mile away.

Day after day we watch all that water moving straight into the edge of the world, massive container ships leaving the SF Bay for the edges of China. I’m still amazed, like I discovered a secret gem in San Francisco, quietly hiding among the square box houses and paved over yards: Who knew we would find the ocean?

But what we didn’t expect, even after discovering the beauty of our lucky find, was how evenings in this house would transform our family time. The day we moved here it was warm, in the high sixties, and the sky was clear, untouched by the fog that our part of town is known for. We ate pizza on the back patio with the boys and sat down on the concrete just in time to watch the sun fall over the Pacific.  Even our then two-year-old and five-year old quieted themselves as we stared at the path of the sunset. Falling, falling, falling, sink, into the water.

All humans are born with the innate knowledge that we need the sun, and that its path through the sky is our compass, our time-teller, our light-giver. It’s in our marrow to honor that gift from God.

So we watch it. Every day. Sometimes, if it’s warm, we stop and stand outside. Sometimes, we pause in the middle of dinner to stare. Sometimes just-out-of-the-bath my little boys are running naked and I’m shouting for them to put on pajamas, while the colors line the sky outside the windows. But always, we say it:

The sun is setting!

It’s sunset time!

Boys, look at the sunset tonight!

Sometimes friends join us on the patio to watch. Sometimes we stare from our windows, cozy, away from the chill of the wind. Sometimes the fog is too thick to make out much behind the gray sky. On the clear days, my husband is out on the patio snapping a picture for his daily collection of sunset photos.

But always we acknowledge the sun setting.

“Bye sun,” my now four-year-old says, mostly to himself, staring out the window.

There are no special prayers we pray in those moments, no liturgies of song or poetry. Just a unique sort of reverence, a realization that the sun has been sinking into the west for as long as the earth has spun, that long before our family set foot on this ground, people have stood in this spot staring at the same sun, the same sea.

Our ritual isn’t much. It’s simply a moment of acknowledging that God is up to something good, that God continues to whirl this world in its place around a star that warms us and gives us light, and each day wakes us up to the possibility that light brings life and breath and hope.

So we’ll keep watching, even in those moments when none of us have words for the miracle, the strips of orange and yellow and pink dripping through the sky into the dark blue of a still unknown sea.

Because miracles aren’t necessarily meant to be understood. Sometimes they’re just meant to be noticed. 

mbheadshotMicha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet.  A former youth minister, she’s passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. She is the author of Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer.Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook, and find her blog at michaboyett.com

 

remembering the little things.

Flickr Creative Commons: yoram.
Flickr Creative Commons: yoram.

I’ve always liked the idea of a guest post series – but I had no idea how much I’d love it by the end of our time together.  Because did you see what I just did?  I just pulled an ol’ football move, becoming the greatest of spectators myself.  I called this site ours.  

A good guest post series moves the focus from me to us.  It enlarges the scope with which we view ourselves and the world, and it teaches us that though we be strong alone, we be mighty as a community, as a group solidified around one thought.

In 2014, I took Victor Hugo’s phrase, “Nothing is small, in fact…” (Les Miserables), and you transformed those five words into story and heart and action.  You invited us into your worlds through truth and vulnerability; you made us laugh and feel, and you risked the critique (and encouragement, I’d add) from Perfect Strangers.

And I sure am glad you took the risk.

So thank you.  Thank you to all forty-nine of you writers who took the plunge and invited us into your not-so-little moment.  In case you missed it, you can check out all of the 2014 Guest Post Tuesday links here, or you can review the top five reads (based on the number of hits) below:

1.  In “The Last Day I Walked Away,” we read about the last time Lesley Miller walked away from poverty and homelessness – and what fun to have her writing featured on Rachel Held Evan’s Sunday Superlatives!

2.  In “Not Dead Yet,” Mindy Haidle reminded us that a debilitating diagnosis can mean we’re freer than we’ve ever been before.

3.  Do you remember the story Cathy Meredith told us about the one minute, eight second voicemail that changed her life?  (Evan is quite the momentous “little” thing!)

4.  And everyone loves a good love story, especially when that love story comes from such a talented storyteller such as Bronwyn Lea.  Thanks for sharing “Scanning the Crowd for Love,” friend!

5.  Finally, Ginger Lobdell perfectly captured a moment between her and her boys – if you’re a parent, you’ll resonate with “Saying Good-bye” for sure.

And, once again, starting next Tuesday we’ll begin a whole new year of Guest Post Tuesdays.  You’ll hear from a bunch of new voices this year, along with several of the writers who captured your hearts in 2014.  If you’re interested in participating, contact me before the queue  closes – otherwise, I look forward to seeing how this continues to knit our be, mama. be community together!

So, what was it, WHO was it for you that captured your heart?  What writer spoke your language and made you fist pump a Yes-Yes-Yes in the air?  Share with us today!

the little things: a flood of passion (crystal cochran).

I’m just warning you: your heart will be captured today.  Enjoy the words of an old friend of mine …who’s subsequently become one of my favorite encouragers in these here internet portals.  Crystal is a buddy from college, but her enthusiasm and her spirit and her heart will shine through her words today, and you will leave change.  Enjoy. 

highfooz1

It happened all at once. A flood of passion. I was undone.

Standing in a hallway at a local high school, I was so full of emotion, it was hard to sort through which I felt most: sadness, anger, honor, privilege, pride, complete humility. All of these things were running through my veins in one intense moment. And yet, my own four kids were waiting patiently for me and I had to keep my feet moving. I had to keep the tears from flowing all at once, because I knew when I did have a moment, they would flow and not stop for a long time. Buckets of tears held back in this moment by – well, really, by my sunglasses. And perhaps by the knowledge that this wasn’t a good time to let tears, snot and emotions run freely.

Let me back track: I’ve worked with youth for most of my adult life. I spent the first two years of college trying to figure out and test God’s great love for me. And once I realized it was for real, I wanted teenagers to know his love, too. I started volunteering for an organization called Young Life, playing games and doing crazy stunts, on purpose, to hopefully steer the teens towards Truth.  It actually worked sometimes, plus, I met my amazing and handsome husband there – so clearly, it was time well spent.

Then, upon graduation I wrecked the idea I’d given to my parents that I would be a kindergarten teacher, in a jumper, with an apple embroidered on the front, by instead “asserting my independence” and telling them I was going to work for a non-profit, teaching at-risk students, not exactly using the degree that they had just spent thousands of dollars on. (Little did I know, that they had already seen my passion and knew in their hearts I probably would not be the “typical” teacher. Bless them).

When I started having my own kids I was creative with my “teen time” and became the local HS cheer coach. AND I LOVED EVERY SECOND. But their stories broke my heart and I cried for them at night, because it was good and it was hard.

They changed me and I changed them and it was beautiful.

Then we had another baby and moved to the other side of the state – and when you move and have a baby in the same year, your world gets flipped upside down and you become very focused on your own survival. And this is where I have remained …for the past three years.

Focused. On. Myself.

I forgot about students. I forgot their stories. I forgot how they change me for the better. And then a couple of months ago, Ben (the handsome husband), got hired as the head football coach at a local high school, which is a dream fulfilled for him. Our family loves football – and football has become THE TOOL to get me out of this self-focus, survival mode. I’ve been missing the students and their laughter and their stories. I’d forgotten than I missed it.

And that’s how I found myself walking into a high school hallway, seeing boys lining it, in their stinky football clothes. I had come to practice to hand out popsicles. It’s a tradition and it’s always fun to give the boys a little treat. But they left for lunch, so I had to run in to the building when I saw it. The boys, some with lunch, but, like a cold bucket of ice water thrown over my head, the boys without lunch.

Because they hadn’t left their lunch at home on the counter.  They weren’t being irresponsible.  Not them.

These boys came to two-a-day practice and didn’t have a lunch. These boys come from a high school whose free and reduced lunch rate is at nearly 79%, and when my husband did Captain Interviews, four of these eight kids were homeless or live in a home with no utilities.  Their fridge is a cooler with ice, for there is no running water.

And there, standing in that hallway, I remembered what it means to have your heart break with real lives and real stories. I was moved to tears and passion. I was motivated into action. And I had a choice that day, for many years passed since their stories stirred me into action and now I had four kids. Four kids. They too need my time and attention …but these other kids needed food. Can I give my time and attention to my own kids AND feed the homeless? In my spirit, I debated.

Can I love my own four children AND love 100 high schoolers?

How, on this earth, do I do both?

Am I really that brave?

And will my own kids suffer if my heart is now divided by not just four but 104?

All I can say, is that the journey of the past four months has been a modern-day rendition of the five loaves and two fishes. Every week we do a team meal and we feed the players, and last night, we had two at our dinner table.

The community is donating food, time, money and the little (or lot) that they have gets expanded and used and the highschoolers eat. And EVERY TIME these dinners are my own kids “favorite” time of the week. Because their little hearts are also capable of big love – and they are perhaps even more brave in their kindness and unrelentless love than I.

So my heart sings – may I never grow weary of love! May WE never grow weary of love! May love motivate our actions and stir our hearts again.

IMG_5151Crystal Cochran is a stay-at-home mom who is itching to teach again. She is married to the best man on the planet, Ben, and they have four kids: a set of “SURPRISE, you are pregnant with twin boys”, a sweet, bright-shining daughter and a firecracker of a three-year old son. Life with these people is an adventure every day from which she collapses into bed after a glass of Cab Sav. They love each other, camping, Jo-Joes with milk, Jesus, the real Friday night lights and dreaming about someday traveling the world. She blogs occasionally at Simplicity With Power.  So, what can you say to encourage she who encouraged YOU today?  How does Crystal’s story move you to action?

Also, would you like to help provide a meal to these young men at Rogers High School?  You can mail your donation here:

Rogers Gridiron Group, PO BOX 6025, Spokane, WA 99217

the little things: one english paper (ginny kubitz moyer).

I’m a connector, so sometimes the most delightful thing is when seemingly little connections become real-life ones. Ginny is that way to me – she was a friend of a friend, but then we somehow met through the mama-writing portals, and found out that we have a whole lot in common. So pull up a comfy chair and enjoy this English teacher-mama-writer’s words today.  I promise you will.  

sand

I’m a writer and an English teacher, so it’s probably no surprise that English was my favorite class in high school. Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Walt Whitman, writing a modern “Canterbury Tale,” analyzing a sonnet: I ate it up, all of it.

But even the subjects we love aren’t always fun.   For me, writing five-paragraph essays was at the low end of the English Enjoyment scale. I loved thinking about literature, but pinning down abstract ideas into a thesis statement was challenging. I knew what I wanted to say, but saying it – finding exactly the right words, writing a clear one-sentence argument – was anything but simple.

One day during my junior year, I stayed behind class after class to ask my teacher for help with an essay. I don’t recall the precise thesis I was trying to hammer into submission, only that it involved a comparison of Macbeth and Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons. I presented my spiral-bound notebook of ideas and asked my questions.

Ginny's real-life original copy of Macbeth ...and that same spiral notebook?
Ginny’s real-life original copy of Macbeth …and that same spiral notebook?

Mrs. Tennant listened, nodded, affirmed the basic points of my paper, and told me I was on the right track. Even so, I was stymied by one big piece of evidence about the characters that didn’t fit neatly into my core argument.

“What should I do with this particular point?” I asked her. “It doesn’t seem to work with the other arguments. I’m not sure how to address it in the essay.”

She looked at me and smiled.   “You’ll figure it out,” she told me. “I have faith in you.”

I have faith in you.

I won’t deny that I was initially disappointed not to receive The Answer from the expert. But I recognized that there was an implied vote of confidence in her response.

“Okay,” I said, closing my notebook. “I’ll think about it some more.”

And I did. I thought and scribbled and wrote margin notes all over my notebook and, sure enough, I eventually broke through the wall of my confusion.   I wrote the paper, I got a grade that made me very happy, and I never ever forgot the words she said to me: I have faith in you.

As a teacher myself now (and as a mom of two young kids), I’ve realized that sometimes the best thing I can do is back off and keep the answer to myself. It’s not always easy. We all crave instant solutions, and making someone else blaze his or her own trail through confusion can feel downright mean, especially if I already see the answer clearly. Isn’t it kinder to give my first-grader the homework answer rather than making him struggle? Isn’t it more helpful to supervise every step of my student’s essay-writing process rather than make her go it alone?

But when you have to work for an answer, you own it. You learn from the process of thinking and processing. And when someone else makes you do the work yourself, it’s actually a compliment: They are letting you do it because they know you can.

I’m starting to realize that all this connects to my faith, too. So much of life is murky, not clear. When challenges rock my world, be they personal or professional, it’s so easy to pray, Okay, God, give me the answer I seek. Right now. Just tell me.

But I never get an immediate answer written in the sky. Instead, I keep praying for guidance, and I keep living my life and thinking and putting the pieces together and trying out new perspectives, and eventually, clarity comes to me. Grace is a part of the process, of course, but there’s also heavy lifting involved, usually more than I want.

I don’t think this is about God being lazy or liking to see me stew. I think this is about God knowing that the answers will mean more if I have to work at them a bit first. I think it must be God saying, gently and lovingly, “You have faith in me, but I also have faith in you.”

So more and more, I try to let those words guide me when others come to me for help. I don’t always do a good job of it, for many reasons. But when I remember being sixteen years old and having a forty-something woman look me in the eye and say I have faith in you, I recognize the power of those five little words. She only said them once, but they’ve been echoing ever since.

cropped-headshot-2 (1)Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a teacher, a writer, and a mom of two little boys whose energy constantly astounds her (if moms could siphon off their kids’ energy, how cool would that be?).  She is the author of three books, including Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood.  Check out her blog RandomActsofMomness.com for musings on faith, books, British costume dramas, and how to find grace in the mess.  …it’s Cara again, and hey, I have faith in you, too!  Leave Ginny a CHEERS-filled comment today.  Also, check back here on THURSDAY for an interview with Ginny on her new book, with TWO copies up for giveaway!

the little things (and so the series starts).

Photo cred: Katie Veil.
Photo cred: Katie Veil.

I remember the scene like it was yesterday:

We were walking the track during recess, feeling altogether too old for the jungle gym and monkey bars and swings.  Soon we’d be moving on from elementary school, getting stuffed in lockers and garbage cans, passing notes and calling boys on the landline, hoping the telephone was free of younger siblings listening in.

And that’s where our story picks up (from a submitted article earlier this year):

I can pinpoint the exact moment being liked became my life’s greatest ambition: nearing the end of our 6th grade year, my classmates and I vied for various nominations – Smartest, Best Dressed, Class Clown, and, of course, Nicest.  These awards mattered greatly to our 12-year-old selves, defining who we were at our deepest core, branding us for life.

Nicest was who I’d always been: I wasn’t the best at throwing the dodge ball across the gym floor, and I wasn’t the prettiest one all the boys wanted to talk to.  But I could do nice.  I was the best at putting on a smile, while making my rounds from group to group on the elementary school playground.  I was a friend to everyone.

We were outside for recess one day when Matty, my childhood playmate, came up to me: “You know, Cara,” he said, “I would have voted for you for Nicest, but lately you’ve been a …bitch. He whispered the last word of the sentence like he was trying it out for the first time.  I stood shell-shocked, his accusation hanging in the air like the little girl on the monkey bars behind us.

Matty walked away, leaving me standing there alone.  Tears brimming in my eyes, I vowed never to be called the B-word again – I would work harder, and from here on out, I’d only be voted Nicest.  

The article as a whole talked about how the bravest thing I ever did was give up needing to be liked – even though it’s still this creepy, crawly internal struggle that still rears its head every once in a while.

But for me, this example, this one conversation, this one minute 
memory on the elementary school playground is an example that “…nothing, in fact, is small.”  Friends, you are in for a treat, as this is the theme of Guest Post Tuesdays this year.  We have 44 different writers lined up to tell their stories (with room for eight more – could this be you?) – and they’re going to tell of small moments, of minuscule conversations, of glances and interactions and meals that changed them, forever.

So, get ready: check in every Tuesday.  Get to know these friends and acquaintances of mine, and cheer them on like you’ve never cheered on be, mama. be content before!  They’re putting their hearts on the line – and I’d love for our little community here to be their biggest fans.

Let’s go!

What about you?  What conversation, what interaction, what moment (like mine on the elementary school playground) changed you?  And, more importantly, on a scale of one to a billion, how excited are you for Guest Post Tuesdays?