To Hear God

It wasn't until we had settled into our seats - tucking purses away, smooshing winter jackets into an extra chair, pulling the coffee tumblers out - that I noticed the family in front of us at church.

The parents were sandwiched between children, four in all, three girls and a boy. I was quickly drawn to the oldest girl holding her youngest sister, because the little one had glasses strapped over almond-shaped eyes characteristic of those with Down's. She plugged her ears with her fingers when the music started, the loud drums and the reverberating guitar quite too much for her nerves. Her older sister took it in stride and gently swayed to the music. Mom and Dad, a few seats down, held out their hands at various times, the universal sign for "Do you want me to take her?" The older girl, maybe 15, just smiled and kept swaying.

When the music finished, and we sat down, the parents dispersed paper and crayons for the middle kids and gently fit large headphones over the ears of the youngest girl, now carefully cradled in her father's lap. I kept watching them, even as I listened to the sermon, because who can look away from love?

And then I felt it, a quiet tugging in my marrow, a whisper in the space I've created recently for the Holy Spirit to speak. "They are doing it. A job well done."

"I know," my spirit replied, more with a smile than with words. "I see it."

"Tell them," the voice whispered back. "They need to hear it."

Straight away, my eyes filled with tears. I have no idea why, but that always happens to me when the Word speaks right from the center of my being. I am simultaneously terrified and exuberant. It is no small thing.

My first thought: "Yes! Yes, I should tell them. Who wouldn't want to be told something like that?"

Immediately followed by: "Oh my word, I can't tell people I don't even know I have a Word From the Lord for them. That's so ... Pentecostal." (At this point, the Holy Spirit smiled. I felt it.)

"Plus, what if they are doing all this as a front? What if they yelled at their kids all morning? What will the kids think if they hear me say, 'I feel like God wants me to tell you that you're doing a great job' and they think God condones something that isn't good? I shouldn't insert myself."

And so the wrestling match went, for 20 more minutes. By the end, I was pinned by the Spirit. (Which might be the real meaning of the Greek phrase "to be filled" we see in Ephesians 5.) If I say I want to hear from God, that I want to create margin in my heart, mind and schedule to listen and act, how dare I reply with pithy rationalizations that allow me to do nothing?

So it was, at the end of the service, that I stood tall and silent for a minute as the crowd around me gathered coats and voices, and then leaned over to the woman in front of me and said, "Are you new here today?"

She didn't hear me at first. (Of course not. That's how the Holy Spirit plays with me.)

I cleared my throat. "I'm sorry, are you new?" I asked with a louder, almost frantic tone. "I loved watching your family during church today."

At this, the mom turned and smiled. "Oh, we aren't new. We're just visiting today, for the baptism, to support some friends. We normally attend Bethlehem. I hope we didn't bother you too much with our chaos."

"No, not at all," I said. "In fact, I sat here and thought, 'you are doing such a good job.' And I think God wants me to tell you that. You are doing a good job."

She smiled, "Thank you. That's very kind."

And then the after-church rush pulled us apart and the conversation ended.

Did it matter to her? I don't know. I doubt encouragement ever goes unappreciated.

But I know it mattered to me, desperately. Because I want to hear God, and I think the Spirit talks most to those who have ears to hear.

Why I'd Rather Write on Facebook than Actually Blog

If there is consistency in my life, a thread that runs through the whole panarama, it is writing.

In elementary school, I penned books of sincere, maudlin poetry. In junior high, I filled journal after journal with observances, annoyances and my overwhelming fear that I would die without ever kissing a boy. In high school, I wrote and eventually edited for the school newspaper, and in college, I wrote and then edited and then managed our monthly magazine. Upon graduation, I took a job as the editor of a beachside newspaper, my first "I can't believe I get paid to write" job. Eventually, I landed at NBC, writing and producing stories and sometimes newscasts, in a dizzying attempt to court fickle Nielsen.

These days, I write here. Or at least, I imagine I do. Lately, I've struggled to write, to do the work, as a good friend says. I find myself facing a wall of fear every time I sit in front of the glowing empty screen, a fear that's murky enough to defy examination but real enough to send me scurrying back to Facebook, where I can read and write pleasant little nothings without having to do battle.

Then, last week, I read an article on The Atlantic about Why Writers Are The Worst Procrastinators, and my whole being practically vibrated with resonation. Because the author, Megan McArdle, somehow saw fit to peak into my brain and heart and write what she saw. After describing in excruciating detail the lengths most writers will go to put off the work of actually writing - "In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read." - she postulates this theory:
Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.
My heart almost burst with recognition.

I write, in my head, all the time. Constantly. I rearrange words and record lines of dialogue and get the lead just so. I come up with idea after idea, and I feel so proud of my imaginary work. And then I sit down to write, to do the work, and I freeze up, because now I'm face to face with the very real possibility that what I write will be drivel, that the beautiful concept in my head will end up squished and bloody as a newborn baby after it descends from my brain to the screen.

Failure. I fear it. I avoid it. I despise it. So I slink away from the challenge and go fold laundry instead. Because at least then, I know I'll end up with something to show for my work - like a pile of neatly pressed towels - instead of a page of messy, incoherent crap that looks nothing like I had imagined.

Maybe you relate to this? For you, it might not writing. Maybe it's getting off the couch and starting to exercise again. Maybe it's changing, really changing, the food you eat. Maybe it's the art supplies you've stuffed in the back of the closet with a huff and a sigh. Maybe it's going back to school to finish that degree or entering that songwriting contest or looking for a new job that really excites you.

Whatever it is, I know this: doing nothing to avoid failure ensures failure of the deepest kind. We must try. We must fail. We must learn. We must grow. And we must never give up.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.
Amen? Here's to more having fun.

Eyes to See

I didn't grow up in a church that celebrated communion each week. It was a monthly practice usually, "because we don't want it to become common." When the basket full of broken crackers reached me, I took one and held it in my lap. When the juice tray was passed, I took it gingerly and full of trepidation, sure I would upend it with one clumsy move and spill the blood of Jesus down my dress and across the aisle. I waited to partake of both, waited for the minister up front to solemnly say, "Take and eat. Do this in remembrance of me." And the whole auditorium would move, as one, in a silent ritual that seemed to me both holy and mundane.

Despite the fact that it was only once a month, it was still common to me. An ordinary thing we did, part of the rhythm of my life.

I was young, so I don't condemn my memories. I didn't have the depth to appreciate the mystery. And mystery isn't perceived by looking at the surface. You have to have eyes to see.


Sunday was communion Sunday for my church family, and in our gathering, no trays are passed. Instead, we walk forward to receive the body and blood from the hands of our brothers and sisters.

The band played an earthy "Nothing But The Blood" as The Church lined up to remember. Teenagers in hoodies and sweat pants shuffled next to grandparents in suits and sweater sets. A young mother swayed in the line, a tiny head cradled in the crook of her arm. White. Black. Asian. Latino. The residents of a group home walked forward with jerks and crooked limbs and smiles that went from side to side. The pure in heart. And I couldn't stop the tears and my soul sang, "How beautiful you are, Lord. How beautiful you are."

Near the end, I slipped into the line, with Corey and Natalie, and I took a shard of bread from from one of my sisters who looked me in the eye and said, "This is the body of Christ, broken for you." And I dipped it in the cup held out to me by another sister, and she smiled at me and said, "The blood of Christ, shed for you, Kelly." And I took and ate and wept and was made whole.

I still don't understand the mystery. But I no longer need to. The blessing of age is knowing glory is most at home in the common, if you have eyes to see.