Monday, June 18, 2012

Two Weeks' Notice

Would those who are grammatically inclined
please confirm that this movie title should read
"Two Weeks' Notice"?
Please consider this your "two weeks" notice that this blog will remain woefully unattended for the next two weeks.

I am in the middle of a very big transition: in just two weeks I will no longer be working as a grant writer for Plant With Purpose--the only post college job I've ever had. After I finish at Plant With Purpose, I will be preparing to move to Guatemala. (Lots to be excited about and try not to panic about.)

As my Bucket List at work nears the single digits, I have decided to take a blogging break to focus more time and energy on finishing well at Plant With Purpose. In addition to being an emotional mess, I also anticipate spending a considerable amount of extracurricular time happy houring with coworkers, compiling a Plant With Purpose Grant Writing Manifesto, and purging my desk of personal items such as my sling shot and bubbles, my trusty hammer, and the embarrassing Post-it note pledges I made to myself promising to finish XX proposal by 3 pm or that I will not check email until I finish writing the spring newsletter article.

These next two weeks will be good and hard and surreal. God has been building connections and giving me time to cultivate relationships that will allow me to do what I love to do in the country I would love to call home. I am excited for what's next, but it is going to be so tough to relinquish my role at Plant With Purpose and say goodbye to the coworkers that have become my family.

Over the next two weeks, if you find yourself checking back to the see if the blog is updated, please offer up a thought or a prayer for me as I finish my time at Plant With Purpose.

I would greatly appreciate prayers for focus, wisdom, and peace. Diligence, stamina, and grace. And for a sense of God's presence and even joy in these last days.

Thank you so much for your prayers and patience.

I'll see you back here in two weeks when I enter my temporary stint of "fun-employment" before moving to Guatemala. Also, check out the Plant With Purpose blog, where I will be sharing some reflections on my time there. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Raindrops and Whiskers

Here are a few of my favorite things from the interwebs this week:

On blogging as a spiritual discipline: In Which Sarah Bessey Writes a Guest Post for Introverted Church

"Writing has given me permission to contemplate my life in a daily rhythm, looking for the touches and movement of God across the day."
"And sometimes the sharing of my life, especially the tender and still bruised parts of it, the parts without answers or neat bows of seven steps to whatever-it-is, is as much an offering to God as I can imagine, it’s sometimes the only way I know how to pray and worship."

On the Green Commission: Confessions of a Tree Hugger on Reject Apathy.
"God doesn’t want us to carelessly trash the planet in the name of progress, even if we think Jesus is coming back soon. He wants us to use it responsibly and to care for it."


"I for one hope my generation will do better at setting an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity -- beginning with myself. And I pray we'll humbly, eagerly and intentionally seek to learn from those Christians who have been at it longer than we have -- even if they drive a gas-guzzling Buick instead of a Prius."

On the open arms of the Father: When was it ever about my deserving? Or Why the Gospel is Good News by Anita Mathias.
"And then I am chiding myself, “You’ve not dwelt in the heart of worship for a couple of weeks. You could have repented and surrendered and returned to live in Christ so much sooner!” And I am sort of thinking, “I don’t really deserve God’s help and blessing….” 
And then I realize, “When was it ever about my deserving?” 
You barely listen to my statements of failure. Instead you clothe me in your best robes. You put a ring on my finger, and sandals on my feet. You have a feast and celebrate, serving the best steak. There is music and dancing."

"Every family has a joke about dad’s “throne,” so why not help another father build a better and healthier future for his family by providing an ecological latrine."
Why not, indeed?


"The problem is that you, the grieving person, don’t know what you need and your loved ones don’t know how to help. This disparity often leads to a lot of conflict and unmet expectations, on both sides." 
"My encouragement to anyone who is grieving is that when you are hurt by words, action, or inaction, to discuss your hurt as soon as you can with the person who hurt you."

And my favorite prayer (not from the web, but from an old fashion contraption called a book):
"O God, since Thou art with me, and it is Thy will that I must now apply myself to these outward duties, I beseech Thee, assist me with Thy grace that I may continue in Thy presence. To this end, O Lord, be with me in this my work, accept the labor of my hands, and dwell within my heart all Thy fullness." Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
And of course my favorite photos from my brother and my Flag Day Celebration:



And then our decorating took a turn for the politically incorrect:
 A People's History of Flag Day.
What were your favorite things this week? 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy Flag Day!

I bet you didn't know it, but today is a holiday. Today, in the United States of America, we commemorate the adoption of the flag of the United States.

I admittedly have a shaky history with the American flag, but I do not have shaky history with my younger brother. And for me and my younger brother, Flag Day is one of the best days of the year.

We first began celebrating Flag Day seven(-ish?) years ago. My brother and I had just come home from an afternoon at the river. The skin on our cheeks and shoulders was taut and freckled with sun. My calves and hamstrings burned from the perilous hike up the steep rock cliffs that led to our own private oasis on the sun-baked river bank. We drove home in my shaky 1988 Honda Prelude, windows down blasting DC Talk and dancing carelessly, free. (Even now I'm not ashamed of my love for DC Talk)

At home we ravaged the kitchen for ice cold sodas—Cherry Pepsi for him, Diet Pepsi for me—still in our bathing suits.

“Aly, let’s make a cake,” Cameron declared as he flashed me his dimpled smile that gets him out of chores and punishment, even when he’s as guilty as a child caught sneaking cookies before dinner.

“Okay,” I conceded, not that it took much convincing.

“We don’t have cake mix,” he looked at me with the eyes of a wounded animal, but I already knew how to save the day.

“We could go to Mike’s,” I suggested. Mike’s was the convenience store right down the hill from us. We used to ride our bikes down to purchase candy bars for ourselves and milk for our mom. It hadn’t been called Mike’s for a couple of years since an Arab couple took over the store, but it would always be Mike’s to us.
Flag Day 2010

“We should bake the cake for Mom. When does she get home?” Cameron asked me. I was surprised at his spontaneous selflessness and felt a little guilty that I hadn’t thought of it first.

“That way she’ll give us money for it.” No need for guilt; there’s the Cameron I knew.

“We could say it’s a birthday cake, or maybe her half-birthday!” His excitement was growing as he schemed. Meanwhile I made my way over to the calendar, checking if there was some kind of holiday that was close enough to justify baking a cake.

June 14th. It was Flag Day.

I rushed to my room to throw on some clothes, yelling to Cameron to do the same.

“We’re going to Mike’s, Cameron! It’s Flag Day! Everyone needs a Flag Day cake!”

Flag Day 2011
Five minutes later clad in cut off shorts and old gymnastics t-shirts, my brother and I stood in front of the cake mixes preparing to make the most difficult decision of the summer thus far: what kind of cake is appropriate for a Flag Day celebration?

Our eyes greedily studied the sumptuous labels of rich, moist, luscious cakes, and then stopped scanning at exactly the same time. I turned to Cameron and met his brilliant blue eyes as we both broke into a smile.

“Yellow cake, chocolate frosting,” we said in unison.

With those fateful words and that first delicious Flag Day cake, we've been celebrating Flag Day ever since. My mouth is watering just thinking about the tasty cake we will (hopefully) bake tonight. What's more, Flag Day is an excuse to spend time with one of my favorite people on earth, my brother.

Happy Flag Day, everyone! Do you have any fun family traditions/excuses to spend time with each other?

***
To read more about my incredibly talented little brother, click here, or to listen to the delightful and soulful and just downright impressive beats he creates, click here. And keep an eye out for our obligatory Flag Day 2012 picture later this week.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Communing with the Dead

T.S. Eliot
I have friends in dead places, and, according to Scott Cairns and T.S. Eliot, that is okay.

I recently read a chapter by Scott Cairns--who taught a spiritual writing class I had the privilege of taking last semester--in the book, A Syllable of Water, about poetry, Cairns' forte.

After 15 weeks of class, I wasn't surprised by Cairns' emphasis on the ongoing dialogue between the writers of today and the writers who have influenced them, dead or alive.

He breaks many of the myths about poetry being self-focused and self-referential, doodling verses composed by closed off hermits and dreamers and maybe even hobbits, too.

Cairns writes,

"Solitary as it often seems, the discipline of poetry offers us a way out of our private isolations, our culturally encouraged solipsism; it is a journey that joins us to an amazing community of like-minded folk, the poets who precede us... I'm talking about the living and the ostensibly dead."  
I'm glad to hear this because I commune with a lot of dead people: poets and theologians and writers of all stripes whose works offer me the chance to grow and learn, to recreate and regenerate my own thoughts and works. From T.S. Eliot to Henri Nouwen to Jane Austen, some of my most kindred spirits are not living.

Scott Cairns--still very much living--became another kindred spirit when, later in his essay, he mentions the seemingly omnipresent T.S. Eliot (convenient for this post, eh?). He quotes Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent:"

"No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists." 

Both Eliot and Cairns assert that the point of poetry specifically, art in general, and--I hope--the words shared on this blog, is to continue the conversation, to engage in the ongoing recreation of the world. To create space for continued dialogue. To leave my thoughts and words in a way that you can make of them what you will.

I don't claim to be a poet or an artist for that matter, but I am grateful to the many "like-minded folk" who have preceded me and allowed me to learn and glean and grow from their art.

And even if you don't consider yourself an artist or a poet or a writer, I want to extend a welcome to this community, an invitation to share your thoughts, and encouragement to join in a great conversation between friends, both living and dead.

***
Who are the most influential authors you've read? Your favorite "friends in dead places"? What pieces of art--poetry, other types of writing, or otherwise--can you come back to time and again learn something new? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Monday Morning Pick-me-up

It's Monday morning and I have three weeks left at my job to organize 4 1/2 years of files, emails, and priorities for my successor. In addition to my normal job responsibilities AND completing an extensive government grant proposal--the 176 pages of instructions to submit a six page concept paper should explain my ever amping stress levels.

Needless to say, I'm feeling a little frenzied, hurried, helpless.

I want to reject this moment. This rolling out of bed. The mountain of unending tasks set before me. But I'm reminded of the words of Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts:
"I will not desecrate this moment with ignorant hurry or sordid ingratitude."
When I say

I don't want this task.
I don't want this moment.
I don't want this job.
I am saying
I don't want this God.
And that is not what I want to be saying. That is not how I want to spend this morning or these next few weeks or my life--in ignorant hurry or sordid ingratitude.

Like my favorite Sara Grove's song, I want to "Add to the Beauty" instead of seething in stress.

The lyrics go like this,


And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story I want to shine with the light
That's burning up inside
 
This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful
This is grace, an invitation






Yes, it's way too early on a Monday morning, but today is also an invitation to be beautiful.

And so before I hit the cubicle, I will take a moment to give thanks, to see beauty, to stack joy. You can't add to the beauty if you don't see the beauty in the first place.

The accumulation starts with acknowledgement, so before hurry can apprehend, I will stop and count the graces.

Today, Monday June 11, 2012, I am grateful for

  1. The day I get to spend--in the same office!-- with my friend and coworker who usually works from Colorado. Welcome back, Corbyn! 
  2. The chance to laugh and pray together at morning staff meeting.
  3. The opportunity to grab lunch with a coworker before he leaves for Thailand and I leave for Guatemala.
  4. The privilege of inviting others into the life-giving work of Plant With Purpose. 
Thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Now, let's start adding to the beauty!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Let Go and Let Flow

When you write for a living--in my case as a grant writer, blog writer, newsletter writer, appeal writer,  e-blast writer, and every-other-type-of-miscellaneous-communication-writer for the non profit, Plant With Purpose--every word counts.

 I budget my time and my words. I only spend time working on projects that could be useful, writing words and sentences that will end up on donor's screens and mailboxes.

There's no time for fluff or play when the words I write could impact the lives of families around the world (more on my narcissistic, save-the-world guilt complex later).

Which is why I've decided to let go and let flow.

I've started a twelve-week challenge to foster creative freedom called The Artist's Way at Work. The foundation of The Artist's Way rests on a seemingly useless commitment to writing Morning Pages.

Julia Cameron, the mastermind behind The Artist's Way, explains, "as it suggests, they're done in the morning and they're pages."

Specifically, Morning Pages are three pages of handwritten (who still hand writes anything longer than a to do list these days?!), free flowing, stream of consciousness (ie purposeless) writing, done first thing in the morning before you've even had your coffee.

Insanity, right? 

My first objection was time. Wouldn't this time be better spent completing a report at the office, writing masterpieces for this blog, working out my booty, or, the best idea yet, getting more sleep? 

When the entire first chapter, the leaping off point of the book, talked ONLY about the importance of Morning Pages the ever diligent student in me decided I better cave and set the alarm a half hour earlier. 

My second objection was pragmatism. How could it possibly be USEFUL to write three pages of brain dump in a notebook? On the off chance my non-caffeinated brain produces anything brilliant or remotely usable, then I'll have to spend even more time typing up the words that just gave me a hand cramp from writing out in a notebook that the world will never see.

I journal, I do. When inspiration strikes, I write down prayers and thoughts and verses and quotes that stand out to me that may or may not ever see the public eye. But Morning Pages are different. Morning Pages require premeditated mental ascension to the seemingly useless. They require you to commit, to discipline yourself, to an act that in my 'time and words are money' mentality seems ludicrous and even downright irresponsible.


But Julia Cameron and her apparently millions of followers swear by the pages as the first and most crucial step toward unleashing creativity.

So I'm doing it. For the past two weeks, I've (mostly) written my morning pages everyday. Although sometimes they don't happen till after a workout or a cup of coffee, I've been pretty good about sticking to the regimen. And, you know what, I kind of like them.

After my Morning Pages I feel more awake, more alive, more in tune with myself and with God. About 1½ pages into my self-focused chicken scratch, something shifts. After I've exhausted my whining and complaining, I begin to think about serving other people. I begin to talk to God (which I'd also venture to say I'd been doing the whole time). And by the end of the three pages I have not just a hand cramp, but an invigorated outlook on life, a greater sense of purpose, and a sense that God is moving in and through even my petty thought life.

For me the real discipline--and the real reward--is letting go of my compulsion to craft, to polish, to edit my thoughts and words for public consumption. To spend somewhere between 26:03 and 28:37 minutes (not that I'm keeping track) being Aly, uncut and uncensored, and remembering that my worth is not found in my ability to string together coherent sentences or complete a report or article or blog post. That my worth is not found in my own ability to create, but is inherent in me because of the One who created me.  

The great poet, Scott Cairns, who I had the privilege of taking a class with this last semester, said, "Why would you want to write when you already know what you're going to say? That's called propaganda. We write to comes to terms with our lives."

The Morning Pages are helping me "come to terms" with my life. Through them I am reclaiming writing as a journey to self-discovery and God-discovery.

And, so far, I'm liking what I see.

To learn more about the Morning Pages, watch a video explanation here.



Or, if you absolutely refuse to write longhand or can't even remember how to form letters with a rudimentary object called a pen or pencil, there's a website called 750words.com where you can privately write the equivalent of three pages of longhand. This site has a ton of cool statistics, word trackers, and can even give you insight into your subconscious and metadata. If you're like me and love to geek out on words, I highly recommend this site.

***
What do you think? Would you consider writing Morning Pages? What are your biggest objections? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Attempts at Sowing Proper by a Girl Who’s Not So Proper

“All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.” T.S. Eliot, The Rock
I’m the kind of person who likes to have all of her ducks in a row. I like to know what I’m doing, where I’m headed, or at least be able to give an explanation of where I’m not going and why you won’t see me there.

I like to be aware of where I’m investing my time and what kind of dividends I will reap.

But T.S. Eliot takes a different view on planning. He says to “take no thought of the harvest, But only of proper sowing.”

I try to wrap my mind around the sentence. I drive out my desire to control. I tune my ears to hear what He is saying to me.

Follow Me alone, He whispers.

Follow My pleasing will.
Sow proper when corners cry out to be cut.
Sow proper in the mundane.
Sow proper when resentment burns.
Sow proper when you want to evade.
Sow proper when anger is easier.
Sow proper when laziness hangs.
Sow proper when no eyes are upon you.
Sow proper and don’t be swayed.
Today I remind myself that I follow You alone and I surrender my conduct to your pleasing will.

Amen. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Still Here


I want to write about joy. I want to write about being filled. I want to write about how much I trust God. I want to write about new and exciting and broader intellectual and social issues like Rachel Held Evans' current series on egalitarianism and the ever thoughtful and ridiculously well read and well articulated, Tim Hoiland

But I don’t feel it right now. It’s been a struggle to blog lately because my story is the same. My struggles the same. My thoughts the same.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m still here. I’m a broken record, a radio tuned to one channel only: the waiting.

I’m still here, enveloped in the darkness waiting for light. Weeping tears waiting for joy. Mourning the loss of burnout and waiting for dancing.

I'm still reminding myself that He will restore my joy. I’ve written about it and written about it and, quite frankly, I’m sick of it.

Bucket List Day 20: Lunch at Boomerangs
I’ve embarked on challenges at work (like today's lunch at Boomerang's where they serve burgers as big as your head--check it out!), a creativity program at home, a Bucket List for my time left in San Diego, yet I still feel trapped, stuck in the waiting, tied to the tension of transition.

Much to my cynical chagrin, I have a habit of turning posts like these around. I’ll write the bad so I can get to the good. I write the beauty into the ashes. I surprise even myself with my optimism, with the hope that will shine its face in the darkest corners of my life.

But today I don’t want to turn it around. I just want to say I’m still here, still waiting. Not farther along than I hoped I’d be. Not reaping the innumerable benefits of my burnout blasters. Not filled with grace and gratitude and every other Ann Voskamp virtue I have tried unsuccessfully to cultivate.

Today I am simply still here.

Maybe the hope I need today, the only hope I’ll ever need, is knowing He’s still here when I’m still here.

He’s with me when I’m stuck and when I’m stubborn. He’s with me when I drag my feet and when I cling to comfort even as I demand excitement and adventure. He’s with me when I can’t move or am waiting to move or simply have become too tired to even think of making a move.

So, friends, I am sorry to admit that I am still here, but I will cling to the hope that He is still here, too.

***

And, because I am still here, I will offer up yet another Psalm with promises of restored joy and of renewed laughter. I will focus yet again on the promise He has given me. I don't know about you, but I definitely need to hear it again. 

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What the heck am I going to read to get my life together?



Today I'd like to share two of my favorite books for the young and the "too empowered"--those twentysomethings who are wrestling with vocation, calling, and whether they should move back in with their parents after college.

1. What the Heck Am I Going to Do with My Life? by Margaret Feinberg

With grace and wisdom, Margaret explores passion, talent, abilities, and vocation in God's Kingdom. This book is practical, readable, and chock-full of nuggets of wisdom.

When I first read it about a year ago, my favorite part of the book was learning I wasn't the only one who didn't have it all together. As anti-hipster as it sounds, I'm just going to say that sometimes it is darn good to know that I don't have a monopoly on self-obsessed neuroses, that I'm not utterly, uniquely screwed up.

As I've been re-reading Margaret's book over the last couple of weeks, I've resonated more with her constant call to submit our callings, vocations, and desires to God.

She reminds us,

“The fact that you have a passion for something doesn’t mean that desire is meant to rule you; your passions are always subject to the cross.”

I’ve been learning this the hard way this year, as I’ve felt God saying to me, “Your job at Plant With Purpose is not yours to hold on to. Your passion is not yours to hold on to.”

Margaret writes,

“He designed us to live openhanded lives so that the passions we possess don’t possess us."
Inviting others to join in the transformational work of Plant With Purpose has been such a passion for me, a joy for me, but if He is calling me elsewhere, I want to be willing to open my hands and follow His lead.

2. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

I love Parker's views on this topic because he frames our search for vocation as the search to recover our 'true selves.'
"The figure calling to me all those years was, I believe, what Thomas Merton calls "true self." This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another from of self-distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life in clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self-planted in us by the God who made us in God's own image-- the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be.
True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one's peril.”

Ever the intellecter and introspector, I appreciated Parker's emphasis on self-examination and learning to receive God's love. 

He writes,
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”

He also offers a candid, yet hopeful discussion on depression, burnout, and healing, which has been a reality in my life in the lives of many of my close friends. Parker also authored one of my favorite, paradigm-shifting quotes on weakness: 

"We will become better teachers not by trying to fill the potholes in our souls but by knowing them so well that we can avoid falling into them.”

If you've been thinking about vocation, calling, and what the heck you're going to do with your life, I highly recommend joining Margaret and Parker on their journeys to discover God's call on their lives. They are both well worth the read.

Have you read either of these books? What books or resources on vocation and calling would you recommend?