A Holy Burden

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I had never heard that phrase before…to “be burdened for someone.” My sweet young friend asked me about it. And even though I had not heard of it, I had felt it. In fact, I was feeling it in the moment that she asked the question. That’s how God works. Just when I’m struggling with an issue or curious about something in God’s kingdom, He sends a human angel to talk with me about it.

Our pastor had preached a few days earlier about the Good Samaritan. You’ve heard the story of the man who had been robbed and beaten and left in a ditch as “godly” people crossed to the other side of the street to avoid him. The Good Samaritan, a regular Joe, not only didn’t avoid him, but went above and beyond to care for the man. My pastor said that like the Good Samaritan, we need to be ready to provide generosity to others in those unexpected moments.

The day after I heard that sermon, I got a call from my friend, whom I adore. And she was in a ditch. Not physically beaten and robbed, but pretty beaten down by life. The problems felt thick and just hearing my friend’s pain made me feel like I was in quicksand or drowning in mud. Or both.

I was flooded with questions. How can I help? What does God’s kind of help look like? Where does help turn into meddling?

I wanted to rescue my friend from her pain. I wanted to fix it for her, immediately. But God showed me the value of walking with her instead of fixing her. He showed me how to be a real friend, one that gives when giving is needed. But maybe more importantly, He showed me the power of receiving as well. My friend is not my project; she is God’s blessed child. He holds her in the palm of his hand. It is for me to show her Jesus’ kind of hospitality, one that expresses a willingness to sit in the ditch with her for a while, take a look around and see what it’s like in there. Jesus would say, “Show me your pain. It’s not too much for me to bear. I will turn this mess into beauty. I will turn your mourning to joy. I’m right here with you. And when you’re ready, we’ll walk out of this ditch together. And you will be made new in Me. Thank you for the honor of seeing who you really are, the happy parts and the tangled parts and the devastated parts. Now let’s get busy on building you up.”

So I helped where I could. I prayed. I walked through that ditch with her. The burden God put on my heart, that caused my heart to ache for my friend became a blessing of giving and receiving.  As is always true in God’s economy, I received more than I gave. I was reminded of the incredible gift of friendship I have been given.

Now I would ask for a do over to answer that question, “What does it mean to be burdened for someone?”   I do think it means that my heart aches on my friend’s behalf, but not just because of pain.  My heart aches with tenderness and gratitude and a fierce longing for all to be well with her soul.  Like a camel is a beast of burden, I joyfully carry her burden for a while, lighten her load, and point her to the One Who eases all burdens.  Just as she does for me.

Dorothea Lange 2

Dorothea Lange’s photographs captured a part of American history that much of the country had not witnessed: the Dust Bowl and the resultant migration of thousands of American farmers. The Dust Bowl was caused by drought combined with unanchored soil which had been left by farming methods of the time. The soil turned to dust, which blew in huge clouds across the sky. As a result, tens of thousands of families could no longer make a living as farmers and left their homes. Taking all their worldly possessions in jalopies, they searched for farming opportunities elsewhere, mostly in California. This phenomenon overlapped with the Great Depression, causing hopeful migrant workers to find similar economic conditions to the ones they had left back home.

That’s when Dorothea Lange came on the scene. She worked with a government agency to document the living conditions of these families. I was struck by her bravery in life and in her approach to photography. Dorothea managed to freeze a painful moment in time in such a real, candid way. Her photos left me with so many questions. Where did this family come from? Where would they end up? How will their story end? And in so many shots, it seems that the subjects were just waiting. Waiting to find work. Waiting to get their car repaired. Waiting for life to get better. Dorothea vividly expressed the plight of the mother and her efforts to care for her children in deplorable conditions. Meanwhile, Dorothea had left her own children behind in the care of foster homes, coming and going according to her work assignments.

Dorothea had begun her photography career making portraits of wealthy families in San Francisco. When the Great Depression reached her neighborhood in the form of bread lines and social demonstrations, she became a social commentary photographer. Dorothea related this moment, “So I said, “I will set myself a big problem. I will go there, I will photograph this thing, I will come back, and develop it. I will print it, and I will mount it and I will put it on the wall, all in twenty-four hours. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightening that is going on and finish it.” I couldn’t run two things together consecutively, and two sides of my life. I couldn’t, but I could take this piece and isolate it, which I did.”

Of her subjects, she said, “People are very, very trusting; and also, most of us really like to get the full attention of the person who’s photographing you. It’s rare, you don’t get it very often. Who pays attention to you, really, a hundred percent? You doctor, your dentist, and your photographer. They really look at you, and it’s nice, you know.”

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If you’re interested in learning more about Dorothea Lange, here’s the link to the PBS American Masters feature of her. If you watch it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. We’ll go out for ice cream…my treat.

http://youtu.be/LFbU1iOluSQ

Dorothea Lange

When I was young, I was attracted to black and white and bright colors. The contrast drew me in. My appreciation for bold colors also reflected my world view: I saw life as black and white. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun noticing paler colors, especially gray. A shade that in my younger days was almost invisible to me has become a lovely hue that I notice constantly. And the variations in the tones of grays (charcoal, mink, ash, slate, silver, pewter, stone, platinum) are fascinating. Again, this reflects my current world view. After getting some life experience under my belt, I’ve come to appreciate the gray areas. Most of life is not black and white. I am becoming more and more comfortable living in the gray areas. I don’t have to know everything or figure everything out. Much of life is a mystery.

In the same way, I’ve come to appreciate tv shows and movies that are exquisitely boring rather than flashy, fast-moving entertainment. Last night I came across a PBS special about Dorothea Lange, an American photographer. In the past I would have skipped over this channel, seeking a more exciting, bright, and shiny show. But the sight of Dorothea was mesmerizing. Some of the footage had been shot in 1965, a month before her death. She was a gnarled old woman whose features had revealed their true character by the end of her life. And yet, she was supple; she sat with one of her legs bent up like a small child and moved like a dancer, using her whole body. (I later learned that she had contracted polio as a young girl and her leg and foot were misshapen as a result. She walked with a limp…a graceful limp to me.). In some of the videos, Dorothea was wearing a frilly top and a necklace of large beads. The juxtaposition of gnarled and feminine, disabled yet graceful, and trail-blazing yet childlike drew me to Dorothea like a magnet.

Just listen to how she talks about her photography: “When you’re working well, all your instinctive powers are in operation and you don’t know why you do the things you do. Sometimes you annihilate yourself. That is something one needs to be able to do.” “I am trying to get lost again. You live for maybe two, three hours as completely as possible a visual experience.” “There are moments when time stands still. You hope it will wait for you. That fraction of a second captured on that tiny piece of sensitive film.”

I wish I had known Dorothea. Her words ring true, as if she was speaking just to me, today. It’s hard to believe that she died the same year that I was born. My next post will be a Show-and-Tell about Dorothea Lange.

Friendship as Refuge 2

A continued conversation with my Mom: What makes her feel alive is having “a really good talk with somebody who is on the same wavelength.” Also, being in an art museum, wonderful smells, silky textures, soft things and safe things. When I asked my Mom what she avoids like the plague, she said, “Small talk. Crowds. Loud music. Boring people. Bad smells. Bodily fluids. Being too hot or too cold.” Do you see why I love this woman?

My Mom’s most boring and least favorite daily activity is watering the plants. She describes it this way, “I resent having to nurture those plants. I want them to just thrive without me. But they’re tattle tails; when I neglect them it shows.”

Mom has learned that the most important health practices for her are eating well and exercising. What started for her as a set of rules has evolved into an understanding that “this is how we’re made.” She also believes that fun and intimacy are essential for good health.

What makes my Mom brave? Needing to stand up for herself or somebody else. Being brought to her knees has taught her how strong she is. She feels that nobody knows how strong they are until they’ve been brought to their knees. Mom finds wisdom in her daughters and granddaughters, friends, her church, things that she reads and in her own thoughts.

Mom lists several people as her heros:
1. Anne Lamott is an American writer. Mom says, “she is an expert at practical spirituality and is brave about being vulnerable.”
2. Albert Einstein “lived well, took care of himself spiritually, loved classical music, knew the Bible, and was a fine humanitarian.”
3. Walter Isaacson, an American biographer, “captures the personalities and times of the people he writes about in deep, deep ways.”
4. Aaron Sorkin is a screenwriter and producer of shows such as The West Wing and The News Room. When I asked my Mom how she even knew that guy’s name, she told me, “I read credits. I’m a credit freak.” (Again, I love this woman.) She says Sorkin “encourages us to be idealistic. He engenders hope in a time when we really need it.”

Now that my Mom is retired, her calendar is clear and her obligations are few. So she’s pondering, “What is life about for me now?” And “Does balance have to be intentional, or if you follow your intuition, will it flow?”

Dear Mom,
Thank you for letting me tell a part of your story. I hope when you see yourself in my words, you will know what a truly fascinating and dynamic woman you are. Even if we weren’t family, I’d pick you for a friend. There is refuge for me in my friendship with you.
Love, Tara

P.S. This is for you:
Onomatopoeia is defined as a word which imitates the natural sounds of a thing. It creates a sound effect that mimics the thing described, making the description more expressive and interesting.
plop, splash, gush, sprinkle, drizzle, drip, growl, giggle, grunt, murmur, blurt, swish, swoosh, whiff, whoosh, whizz, whisper

Friendship as Refuge

“I adore words. A good word can spark a whole conversation, and so many, many thoughts. There are words that feel good on the tongue—juicy words. Italian is a juicy language. I love words that sound like what they mean, like ‘choo choo train.’ I’m sad that we don’t use our vocabularies. The only time I use my full vocabulary is when I’m enraged. The message is, ‘Listen to this, you dumb-ass, I’m smarter than you.'”

That’s my Mom. I adore her. She makes my heart go pitter pat with her choice of words, and the way she thinks about life, and the fact that she loves me just as I am.

I spent a glorious fall afternoon at my parents’ house today. We sat on the front porch and chatted. My Mom fed me a delicious salad and homemade soup. My parents are retired and lead quiet, full lives. My Mom finished her career as a psychologist this summer and is discovering what retirement holds for her.

She describes herself this way, “I am a confused seventy-year-old woman. I hope I’m interesting because I am interested in a lot of things.” When I assured her that she is one of the most interesting people I know, she replied, “I’m afraid I’ll bore people if I express myself.” Not a chance. Other people tell my Mom that she is easy to talk to and even when first meeting her, they feel like they’ve always known her.

One of my favorite qualities about my Mom is that she is accepting and nonjudgmental. When I asked about where that ability comes from, she told me, “It comes from what I need: kindness and understanding. I feel hurt when I don’t receive that. Disregard feels terrible.” So it follows that what she wants to share with others is kindness. She says, “There’s not enough kindness. It’s simple and goes so far and does so much for us. It costs us nothing.”

Mom had her first best friend around the time she was ten years old. Her name was Janice and Mom describes her as “a nondescript sort of person.” What stood out to her about Janice was the way her family “lived with a high degree of order.” She said, “It was zen like to be with her. Our friendship was a refuge. We didn’t confide in each other, but it felt safe, orderly, quiet, and clean to be in her space with her family.” It may not surprise you to know that my Mom’s childhood home was the opposite of that. And so when I asked her what it would be like if she could return to childhood for a day, she said that she would need two days. On one day she would encounter pain, because that was a reality for her as a kid. And on the second day she would experience freedom, curiosity, and adventure.

More to come…

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Mom and Sally on Mom’s 70th Birthday

Putting Preciousness Aside

I have a new love for words. I’ve always enjoyed writing; I started journaling as a kid and have done so almost continuously ever since. I learned that writing helps me get to the truth in my life. Whatever is happening, writing clears out the cobwebs and gets me to the bottom of it. But now I am noticing words more than ever. And when I’m reading, I take great pleasure in the writing itself, rather than just in the story. I am a sucker for personification, like this, from The Book Thief, describing a Nazi book burning: “The orange flames waved at the crowd as paper and print dissolved inside them. Burning words were torn from their sentences.” Or this, referring to the main character’s secret that her family was hiding a Jew in their basement: “As the book quivered in her lap, the secret sat in her mouth. It made itself comfortable. It crossed its legs.” And finally: “It was as if he’d opened up her palm, given her the words, and closed it up again.”

That last quote hits home for me, as I feel that God has opened up my palm, given me the words, and closed it up again. For a while I’ve been comfortable keeping my palm closed. But now it’s as if God is asking me to open my palm and share the words with other people.

I’ve fought Him on this in the name of “there’s nothing new under the sun” and “I’m not profound” and “why would anyone care about what I have to say?” and “it just seems so pompous” and “why would I want to share such a personal part of my life with other people?” He has gently persisted to the point that if I were not to share my words, it would be disobeying God. That’s not a place I want to live.

So here I am. Writing. The problem is that I approach my writing like it is a gift for the King. It must be perfect and precious and profound. I am the little drummer boy in a sea of wise men. Only I don’t know how to play the drum. The pressure is too much and I become paralyzed. Until I am reminded that the gift is not for the King, but FROM the King. It’s as if He opens up my palm and gives me the words. It is not up to me to be perfect and precious and profound; it is for Him.

My commitment to living “open-palmed” is to blog for thirty days straight. My hope is that this exercise will cure me of my shyness about sharing my writing and I’ll quit being so darn precious about it. I’m on day three…let the adventure begin!

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Unveiled Faces

More from my night of worship with Kari Jobe and friends…

Worshipping next to my daughter slays me. My awareness of the fires and trials that she has walked through makes her worship of the One Who saved her so HOLY. I almost can’t look, for two reasons: (1) I fear that if I look at her, I will cry for eternity. Tears of sadness and despair over the memory of watching my daughter get burned by the very fire she set—her self-serving, self-destructive, self-sabotaging fire. The kindling was desire—for attention, love, approval, the desire to be desired; the logs were her deception—self-deception and deceiving those she loved; the flame was ignited by sin, the sin of taking her life into her own hands and walking away from God, her Creator and Protector. (2) My daughter’s healing is fresh and her relationship with Jesus is intimate. It feels like a breach of her privacy to watch her worship. The only earthly experience I can relate it to is when my Mom told me that she witnessed such intimacy between my husband and myself as we danced on our wedding day, that she had to look away.

But during that night of worship, God told me to LOOK; look at my daughter as she worships. What did I see? Utter beauty. No burns. She didn’t even smell like smoke. Face upturned to the One Who saved her. Innocence. Restoration. Freedom. Angels singing over her. Evidence of the reality of the healing love and saving grace of God. Hands outstretched to heaven, ready to give and receive. My baby is a baby again, safe in the arms of the One Who made her. No fear. No shame.

And I did cry. I cried for Eternity. I cried wordlessly with my girl, releasing pain and despair and receiving healing and grace and love overflowing. I cried for Eternity, in tears and thanksgiving and songs of joy and praise. The Eternal One has saved my daughter and is making her new. Amen.

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And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18