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Monday, April 29, 2013

Rise From the Battlefield, My Friend

It’s our first spring here and the tree outside our bedroom window started blooming this week. I’ve strained long for those shoots of green, narrowing my vision to examine brown bark, longing for a breakthrough.

The last few springs have been dark ones for me, humid and hot ones and icy cold ones too. They’ve been cast in the shadow of all the wrong places, darkened in the depth and ache so familiar to those landscapes which became spiritual battlegrounds, bloody and muddy, gray like the dented armor of my walled-up heart in those years.

Endless were the midnight games of holy hide-and-seek and I was running in place, peering for God inside heart holes and behind graffiti’d buildings.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

But this spring is different.

This spring there are fat yellow flowers and white petals that trickle from trees and stick to my hair, and there are tulips and strawberries right in my very own front yard, damp with the paint of God’s fresh brushstroke. This spring there are cloudy days too but the low wisps and gusts tickle colorful branches, scattering light about us like a thousand tiny mirrors tumbling from the sun.

This blistering battlefield threatened to evaporate me in those years. I thought I might dissolve into nothing but a puddle of melted-down armor from the weight of it and the intensity of its temperature. Straining hard for grace or maybe deliverance, still searching frantic for my hide-and-seek God, I stumbled hard into patches of white, suspended in tangles of sweet honeysuckle, fragrant and tangy with the taste of grace.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

In the stumbling, I learned to see. To look through eyes that linger long on a dusky pink sky, to twist a child’s hair between my fingers and take in a breath like a whisper, to taste a taste of love Divine.

 It is not midnight hide-and-seek after all but a secret scavenger hunt, our moments and years on this earth. There are millions of tiny treasures tucked away for you. Have you noticed?

Love notes, written straight to you out there tucked inside acorn shells and flittering from tree branches, scrawled on the footprints of a child. They are bound majestically in a single grain of pink sugar, splashed across the foamy coastline, dancing in the filtered lace-light of sunrays through spring leaves and reflect the creative brilliance of our Father.

Rise from the battlefield along with me and smell the honeysuckle, my friend. There is so much to see.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Amber Waves of Grace

I pack with anticipation. Dreams flood and fly and I reach for them, frantic and flailing. He has a dream for me, I know, but trying to capture it, narrow and clear, is trying to catch a river in a paper cup.

The conference sessions are circled and starred in pink ballpoint. I can’t wait to internalize the holy truth, the power and beauty of the words from the mouths of these women who look like Technicolor Jesus to me, these powerhouses with humble hearts, beautiful speakers and writers, friends and sisters that bring me hard to my knees.

I’ve come here to meet the Divine and it’s all right there in my grasp, right in the retreat center meeting room where I’m sure I’ll meet with Him, where I know He’ll whisper gently that one. next. step. toward His big, beautiful dreams for me.

It’s cost a thousand or so dollars for me to get here, a small price to taste what lies in store, a holy encounter for merely a song, a diamond necklace in a nickel machine container, and I am breathless for it.

We are giddy. Anticipation does that and so does the wine and the salted caramels, the high from our still-bleeding foot tattoos, identical, the forever reminder for our each and every step: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. I am wrapped in the arms of my sister and the sun will be up soon but time does not exist here. This is not a hotel room in the middle of Nebraska but a sacred space where tears fall easy from eyes which have been dry too long, where the seemingly insignificant trivialities are consecrated gifts, revelations in disguise.

Amy plucks my eyebrows and speaks with the mouth of Jesus and inexplicably, the sky ignites with fireworks and orange-breasted spring robins dance across the icy parking lot and there is somehow nothing strange about it at all. This is a thin place, nothing but a gauzy lace curtain through which we stare right into the eyes of Abba Father, locked in the gaze of El Roi: the God of Seeing.

Sleep is short and morning is hard. Bottles with prescription labels decorate this space, bottles with white caps, impossible caps that taunt these swollen knuckles and frozen fingertips, aid for broken bodies. In the sacred space behind the veil there is no need for these bottles, but here in this broken world these capsules are the currency that buys a few moments of flexibility and function. Last night this was a thin place; today, it’s a thick one. Thick with sickness and pain where the clock hands tick off the rhythm of this temporal world: Eight, Nine, Ten a.m. has gone and now so has eleven, and twelve. The hours pass past the pink ink on our conference schedules and we lament a little because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were supposed to be in conference sessions, dancing with the Divine, filling our hearts with His dreams for our lives, jumping off mountaintops in tandem with our sisters, arms locked, hearts beating wild with our one collective yes.

The heart wants what the flesh will not allow. Today there are no fireworks, no dancing robins, no giddy laughter. Today there is vomit, there is throbbing, there is frustration and disappointment and pills that don't do their job. Today the veil is not a veil of lace. It is a brick wall and it is a hard strain to see through it. He holds us still, there is no doubt, but I cannot catch His gaze.

Practical attempts are all that can be done but let the hours pass, let the darkness lift organically through the passing of time and tiptoes through the dark. I fire up the car and veer it toward the conference center, towards the speakers we long to hear, and drive right past. I have not come for this just now. I have come for a cold coke and a chicken sandwich and a prayer vigil held quiet in the driver’s seat of a rented Dodge Avenger.

I have come here, to Nebraska, to be spiritual. I have come here to draw near to the heart of God and I cry out to Him. I ask Him to intercede, to form my words and my prayers to the needs of my sister in the moments that make her feel weak. I am a do-er and I pray for practical steps, for action on her behalf while my own knuckles throb with the rhythm of sickness. I have come here to be spiritual. I try and conjure beautiful prayers, powerful prayers. I try and invoke a healing spirit because I believe in His power, because I know she deserves it, because I still believe that we will meet God here, today.

What does she need, Father? Oh, Jesus, what can I do? How can I help her? How can my words, my empty spirit uplift and nurture, encourage and love in action?

I think of the conference speakers, of the beautiful words, the eloquence of holiness and the leaps I have yet to make to be so eloquent.

And all at once, the brick dissolves. Light spills and there is lace once more. Holiness is not always eloquent. Holiness is messy and holiness sometimes comes with a splitting headache and a runny nose.

What can I do, Jesus?

And there it is.

You can get her a chicken sandwich, Cara. You can stop searching merely for moments of fireworks and lace and start standing in the moments of imperfection and brokenness. You can stop praying and start driving. You can buy a chicken sandwich and sometimes, that’s all.

It’s been a while since the elements held this much significance for me. It’s been awhile since the taste of communion was more than dry bread and sweet wine, and I have forgotten the taste of His body, broken even for broken-up me, broken for my hurting but lovely sister sleeping in the hotel bed upstairs, and I do this in remembrance of Him.

Today there is more than bread and wine. Today there is coke and chicken sandwiches and a veil so thin it vaporizes into air. Today, I have met with the Divine and He has dreamed of me. My time in Nebraska didn’t look like I thought it would. I missed every one of the breakout sessions I’d so looked forward to enjoying. I hugged necks swift with quick smiles and polite words and too few stirred-heart conversations with the beautiful people gathered in this Midwestern God-spot.

And yet, we found Him in Nebraska all the same. Tangible holiness, sacred beauty in prescription bottles and breakfast menus, milk soap and nose rings and airport bathrooms. Thin places, all of them…thin spaces thick with grace and reverie.

I am grateful for the parts of the conference we were able to attend, blessed beyond measure by the words and dreams of Deidra, Jennifer, Emily, Dan, Shelly, Diana, Kelli, Holly and Holley, Sandra, the ViBella team, Amy (of course), and all the beautiful women and men who dreamed big and dreamed scared and slid hands across the table to one another this weekend. We all whispered yes with trembling voices in the middle of the corn fields of Nebraska, catching rivers in paper cups, scribbling on stones with abandon in the amber waves of grace where God-sized dreams unfold. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bread & Wine

Here’s the thing.

I don’t cook.

I never really learned the real cooking basics and the perfectionist within me has a little anxiety attack every time I read words like braise or soufflé and I picture myself running out of my house covered in flames, waving a Teflon frying pan, taking a swig of the lone bottle of cooking wine I was able to save heroically while the rest of my life goes down in smoky flames.

Dramatic, I know, but I’m lucky enough to be married to a man who makes my eyes roll back in my head in pure ecstasy on a nightly basis, and I don’t only mean in the bedroom.


Me? Cook? Uhhhh….why?

Mr. Smitten cooks like it’s his purpose in life and I eat like it’s mine, and me and Jack Spratt have existed just fine this way for many years thankyouverymuch. Still, there is something about the act of nourishing the people I love, about the magic of sizzling onions and melting gouda that I admire with the kind of jealous longing I usually reserve only for bestselling authors and mothers with green thumbs who actually look good in skinny jeans and never yell at their children.

When I had the opportunity to review Shauna Niequist’s Bread & Wine, I didn’t pause for a second, even though I knew the book was primarily one that was going to involve recipes which included ingredients I had never heard of. Shauna is one of my very favorite writers and I would probably buy her grocery list if it was for sale. (If you haven’t yet read Bittersweet or Cold Tangerines, it sucks to be you. Get thee to a bookseller, STAT. Thank me later.)

Bread & Wine arrived in the mail, the cover all wistful and beautiful, and it sat on my kitchen counter for weeks. I swallowed the lump in my throat every time I walked past it, afraid to jump inside, afraid that Shauna’s awesomeness would inspire me to soufflĂ© something…and we can all guess how that might turn out.

Eventually, though, I opened it…took in the words with trepidation. And in the way she does so gracefully and beautifully, Shauna brought me to tears and laughter with her narrative, her heart all over the pages, stories splashed with wine and the smell of Grand Rapids, Michigan, shimmery with love and grace and carefully crafted words.

She invited me into the kitchen again, inspired me to care more deeply about what I put in my body, encouraged me to laugh and love and drink and dine and weep with the people I love, because that’s what the table is about…communion with life, communion with God, communion with mystery and grace, pain and loss.

Suddenly, I was baking something called Gaia cookies utterly fearless of charbroiling the bottoms like I always do in my ancient, finicky oven (which I think might be made of aluminum foil and paper clips, but I digress). Picture me in the Dollhouse kitchen, chopping dates and wielding a pastry blender like I knew what I was doing, and at Safeway buying goat cheese and almond milk like a completely different woman than the one who came through the grocery line last week with three bags of Cheetos and store-brand baloney.

Of all the mouth-watering recipes Shauna includes in the text, I started with cookies because she calls them breakfast cookies and well, let’s face it, any reason to justify chocolate for breakfast is a good one in my book. The process was simple, even if I was tempted to forget the whole baking bit and just eat the batter by the fistful. Oh Mylanta, were they good. Soft, chewy, and ten times more satisfying than the mushy banana remnants I generally pick off Caleb’s plate and call breakfast. I didn’t even burn the bottoms, which was surely a sheer act of Divine intervention.  

Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of Bread & Wine, then sit down and read it all in one sitting like I did because you just can’t bear to put it down and if you stop mid-chapter, you might put an entire French silk pie inside your own face in the span of a minute.

Buy it for the recipes. Buy it for the soul-squeezing stories Shauna tells. Buy it so you can have cookies for breakfast like me. (They have granola in them. You’re golden.)

Once again, Shauna, you rocked my world, nourished my spirit, and you’re totally to blame for the cookie crumbs in my keyboard. What an honor it has been to sit at your table, even virtually, to chop walnuts under your inspiration, and to taste the beauty of life at its ripest. <3 p="">

Read more about Shauna here. Buy the book here