My husband likes to pretend he's working in the yard. In fact, we have no yard, but he does indeed work the land...or rather, the containers of dirt that line our outdoor areas. Having been raised by two farmers - one from the midwest, the other from the middle of the Pacific (Maui) - his thumb is greener than most people's. With nothing but a cement oversized patio and a covered porch, he has somehow managed to grow flowers and food. First we inherited potted rosebushes. Then my mother in-law gave us earthboxes, and he started with my favorite summer crops - tomato and basil. As the variety of plants has increased, so has his set up - installing grow lights in the house to sprout seedlings, very creatively using the minimal space available, and adding greenhouse type awnings to the sides of our patio walls.
We also don't have a garage or basement or any sort of tinkering area, which is not that big of deal since my husband is more of an artist than a handyman, but he can build stuff when he's inspired, so when I requested a fountain, he went to work and made one out of large ceramic pots in three different sizes. Then someone gave us a cute pedestal type fountain, so he spent time getting it to function properly. For Christmas, when he asked what I wanted, I requested an outdoor fire pit (I bet you're wondering how we fit all this stuff on our patio, along with a small table and chairs, and still with a little room for the kids to blow bubbles, do chalk art, etc...well, honestly, it's pretty miraculous), which he initially balked at, picturing the diameter to take up most of the width of the patio.
Well...a funny thing happened on Christmas Eve...he stopped into a bakery which our pastor had recommended, and guess who he saw? Our pastor and his family. He told them he was out looking for a fire pit to give me for Christmas, and then they told him that their landlord had left one in their yard which he said they could keep, but they didn't want it...so, you've figured out the end of the story, but the really amazing part was that it was the tall, narrow kind - called a chiminea, since the smoke rises out of it like a pot bellied stove - so it takes up very little space on our patio and it's whimsically charming. Best Christmas present ever. Smitten by divine serendipity once again.
In local literary news...our neighborhood library was a zoo today - they're remodeling the downtown branch, so everyone has been re-routed to ours, which is tiny. I couldn't find my requested books on the hold shelves - turns out there are so many transfers right now that they had to put them all in a room in a back. I've never seen the children's section look so sparse - the EZ readers had been totally raided. I guess this is a good problem to have..but I will be glad in a few weeks when our sleepy library is back to its normal self, complete with our usual librarian - he's a young-ish guy with a ponytail, glasses, who's reserved but friendly - I'm guessing he's into sci-fi and technology and saving the planet. Today it was a slew of older women running things, probably from the main library, which is about five times larger than ours, and not within walking distance...though we rarely walk to ours since we always are transporting so many books back and forth, and it would probably shorten the life of my trusty bookmobile.
I was tempted to title this "My Recurring e-Harmony Nightmare" because that's what it feels like. At first it was humorous. Then amusing. Eventually annoying. And now agonizing. Just when I think it's gone for good, that I've worked through whatever issue it stems from, it returns. Again. And again.
It goes like this: I am 40 (before I was 40, it was my late thirties), I am single, I am depressed, I am feeling my biological clock tick. I feel scared and lonely and desperate. Just when I am going through this panic/dread, I have an epiphany: e-Harmony! But of course! Why didn't I think of that sooner?! I need to get online right now and meet the man of my dreams.
Sometimes it ends right there. Other times just as I'm planning to try it, I realize that I am married and have children...and I am very happy to suddenly remember that. The other night - it had been a while since my last e-Harmony dream - I actually didn't even get as far as e-Harmony, and there was a bit of twist, because this time it was all about wanting children, and being afraid I wouldn't be able to. It was a horrible feeling, so I was whimpering in my sleep, and my husband woke me up and comforted me. That was a better ending than usual, but I still can't figure out why I have this dream over and over, albeit sporadically. It's been happening for the last three or four years or maybe even longer. I would say I've dreamt it at least ten times, about once a quarter, sometimes in clusters, sometimes with long stretches in between.
My theories thus far:
1. During my decade long quest for my soulmate, searching for "the one" became part of my identity and purpose in life, so those roots are resurfacing (read more here).
2. When e-Harmony came out, shortly after I met my husband, I thought it was really cool, since it used Myers-Briggs personality typing to match people. Part of me was disappointed that I didn't get to try it - not because I didn't think my husband was the right guy for me, but because of my insatiable curiosity.
3. It's somehow representative of all my deepest fears - of unfulfilled longings, unmet expectations, abandonment, inadequacy, etc.
4. It's a sign for me to pray for my single friends and to encourage them to sign up for e-Harmony. I've actually done this. Both praying and nudging.
...Well, when I told my husband what my bad dream was, he had the best explanation yet:
It's so that I'll wake up thankful to God for my family.
So since I've failed to have a consistent Bible reading plan for...oh, a number of years...I had hoped to try afresh with the start of the church year, but it didn't happen until the advent of Lent (pun intended), at which point I began following the daily office of the Book of Common Prayer, which takes you through the Bible in two years in a sequential fashion - not in order or chronologically, but through three books of the Bible at a time with each day having a passage from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and an Epistle. It also has several psalms (think it takes you through them twice). Thematically, the readings are patterned after the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea is to read the Word morning, noon, and night, but I usually just do it in the mid-afternoon when my children are having quiet time in their rooms, and if I miss that, then right before I go to sleep, or if I miss that, then two days' worth at once (which is what's happened this week). I haven't yet worked in the psalms, but I'm hoping to read one in the morning and one at night.
Today I read in Deuteronomy and Hebrews about belief vs. unbelief (God's faithless and unfaithful chosen people) , and then Jesus' words in John 3 about baptism and spiritual rebirth...fast forward to tonight when I read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis' favorite author) to my daughters, the chapter was all about belief /unbelief - including the truth that even seeing isn't always believing, and it used the imagery of baptism - the princess submersed in a a magical bath that cleanses and renews her, inducing a peaceful sleep. As we were discussing the Christian symbolism (really the first time it's been obvious and we're pretty deep into the book) of believing the gospel, dying to our sinful self, and becoming born again, which baptism represents, I suddenly realized it was all so evident to me because I had just read it in the Bible! Yet another divine serendipity...
So in the three days since I began fasting from alcohol, white sugar & flour, I've already had my ups and downs...
Staving off the cravings:
-On Wednesday night, while shopping at Trader Joe's, I couldn't put sugar in the sample coffee. I even asked if they could give me honey, but no, they didn't have any open, so I only had one small cup instead of my usual two, which was probably better or I might have stayed up even later - I've been on a night owl streak since then.
-We had Chinese take-out for our Valentine's dinner and I had to forego the chow mein & sweet n sour chicken, as well as what were described as sushi rolls, but turned out to be salmon and avocado deep fried in spring roll wrappers. I also couldn't have the fortune cookies, but that wasn't really a big deal.
-Tonight is book club - can't have wine or chocolate or whatever other sweet treats might be served.
-Pretzels somehow mysteriously entered the house (husband somehow acquired them) - I immediately hid them high in the pantry.
-At TJ's, I bought honey roasted peanuts and their new cheese rocket crackers for the kids, who have been snacking on them the last two days.
-I've felt like having a Jolly Rancher a few times, just to have something sweet in my mouth.
-The It's Its we were too full to eat on Fat Tuesday have been staring at me every time I open the freezer.
Now for the delicious bits:
-I discovered two new foods at Trader Joe's that I can eat, which are quite tasty and have very few ingredients: Dark Chocolate Honey Mints (honey, chocolate liqueur, oil of peppermint) and Whole Wheat Tuscan Pane Bread (whole wheat flour, water, sea salt, yeast).
-The above means I can still enjoy my favorite snack of toast with coconut oil, honey, and cinnamon.
-I had one of my favorite Chinese dishes - lettuce cups - and my husband gave me his after we discovered the sushi rolls were actually spring rolls, so I got to have two of them. I also had rice with shrimp, which I realized afterwards probably had sugar in the sauce - same thing for the bell peppers I ate out of the sweet and sour chicken. I was so focused on breading than I forgot about sweetness.
-I can still eat cheese, my favorite food!
-I'm having more fruit and juice (100%) but not overdoing it.
-Lox, cured meats, eggs, peanut butter, nuts, etc., are more enticing to me than carby stuff.
So for Lent this year, I'm giving up alcohol, white sugar, and white flour...except on Sundays...which my dear orthodox friend thinks is cheating. I told her and I'll tell you (in case you don't already know - I didn't, being newish to all things liturgical) that in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, there are actually 46 days of Lent - 40 days of fasting and six Sundays, which are feast days, because they represent Resurrection Day, so they are thought of as little Easters. When I've fasted from things before (food or the internet usually), it's always been for a whole season, so that's made me either more timid in my fasting (i.e. giving up less hard things) or I've failed (tried to go gluten-free last Lent, lasted two weeks). Getting the seventh day reprieve feels doable, and if it goes well, it may even extend past this season, becoming a way of life, because it's sustainable.
Besides the Sunday exemption, I am creating another modification - let me pause for a brief aside: none of this is mentioned, let alone mandated in Scripture - it's all manmade tradition, so it should especially be bathed in grace, without any hint of legalism. The point of following the church year and using these kinds of liturgies is to draw us closer to Jesus, to help us grow spiritually, and to be more like Him. It's not about shoulds and oughts and rules and regulations - that was the old covenant...so it's kind of ironic what I'm going to say next...
In recent months, we've been studying the fourth commandment, to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. My husband and I have been reading books on the subject and trying to implement sabbath keeping. We decided to begin our sabbath on Saturday nights and conclude them on Sunday nights. There is an opening ceremony in which we light candles and say blessings over the bread and the fruit of the vine and the children and each other (our sabbath table is pictured above). So...if Sundays are the exemption days to our fasting, that would mean no challah (unless I make it whole grain) and no wine (unless it's grape juice), so my idea is that to make sabbath keeping and Lent work together, "Sunday" will actually be the duration of our sabbath, so Saturday night to Sunday night, meaning we can have wine, bread, sweets, etc. from Saturday dinner until Sunday dinner (not including it).
In addition to the fasting and feasting of this Lenten season, I want to add something to this time, to make the fasting meaningful by replacing those comfort foods with soul food. And not just to feed myself, but others. The way I've always done that best is through writing. I've been hoarding my insights in my private journal or squandering them through social media. As I am more intentional in spending time with God and consistently reading his word (I'm beginning the daily office of the lectionary in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer), I want to share what he gives me with you. I also want to post some of the things I've already written, both in recent times and from the past. My plan is to post at least once per week - I'd say more but I don't want to set myself up for failure or feel pressured.
I'm excited...and honestly, desperate....for the new thing(s) the Lord will do in the next six weeks. I'm not expecting any kind of emotional thrills - I just want to hear that still, small voice instead of all my noisy self-centered thoughts. My prayer is to earnestly seek to follow what Jesus said were the two greatest commands - to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself, to live 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 because I believe and receive 1 John 4:7-19.
I left the debut meeting of a new book club (six women from my church) wondering if Literary Mom is a misnomer. I'm really not all that widely read when it comes to fiction and other forms of creative writing. I love good literature but it's only recently (thanks to classically educating my children) that I've begun to read the classics. As for novels written in the last one hundred years (other than Lewis & Tolkien), I've only read what I was required to in school, so when the other women were bouncing book titles off each other, I was strangely brought back to middle school P.E. where the ball was passed to everyone but me. It didn't take long for them to figure out I wasn't athletic, and after a few rounds of literary back and forth (i.e. have you read xyz?), I was on the sidelines. Of course no one made me feel inferior (except maybe my own self), but it was cause for introspection.
What have I missed by not reading fiction written in the last 50 years? 20 years? Decade? I've read biographies, memoirs, and all sorts of non-fiction, though I admit mainly Christian books, but I do think (and I say this rather sheepishly) there are at least half as many good ones as bad ones out there (but that's sort of an evolving assessment). I've also read many spiritual classics, and I continue to be drawn those kind of books. I'm just now coming to a fuller appreciation of story, but I am skeptical of what modern writers who don't know Christ have to teach me through their imagination. I don't want to invest precious time in their words - honestly, I'd rather just see the movie...and even that has become rare. Instead, I have a strange affinity for serial TV shows. If I'm going for pure entertainment, I don't want to have to do any work, and I prefer the story not to end, so I can chill out with the characters I've come to know and love.
So when I do buckle down and read a work of fiction, I have to believe it will be relevant and redemptive...if not life altering. Who are these authors? What are they filling their minds with? The creators of worlds and peoples and situations...they all draw from their life experiences and beliefs and observations, which they make through the lens of where they come from and what they've been taught to see. Just because someone can tell a good story, does that mean the story is good? Should we be intimately influenced by so many voices? Do we even know how they are affecting and shaping us?
If you're a fellow INFJ (or even if you're not), are you always on a quest to find the perfect ______? Do you enjoy the thrill of the search more than actually finding whatever it is? Once you find it, are you on to looking for the next thing? For me right now it's road trips. We've never camped, so I'm hunting for the perfect spot for a weekend getaway - not too far from home, but not so close it's familiar; not too modern but not too primitive (showers); woods and also water; fishing for the husband and swimming for the kids; not lots of bugs or poison oak...and on it goes.
Before I was married, my quest was finding my "soulmate" - that kept me occupied for about a decade...not that I didn't look for other things in the meantime - research (introverted thinking) is the INFJ's tertiary/hobby function. Once I met my husband, the new "thing" became finding ways to celebrate special occasions - anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, vacations - I'm sure that, combined with the spiritual aspect, is what drew me to all things liturgical. I love the concept of making something new out of the old and of building traditions that are rejuvenated by creative interpretations.
What's interesting is that the brainstorming, the planning, and the anticipation often turn out to be more fulfilling than the thing itself. In the case of something permanent - like marriage and motherhood - thankfully that hasn't been true (though I have a strange recurring dream that I'm turning 40 - which I am shortly - and I'm still single, but just when I'm on the verge of hopelessness, I remember eHarmony - this dream is *very* annoying). With short-term quests, though, I sometimes spend more hours researching (and building up expectations) than actually doing whatever it is. I've read that actually most people enjoy the anticipation of a trip more than the trip itself.
INFJs, with our dominant introverted intuition always idealizing, our extroverted feeling making us want to be emotionally fulfilled while pleasing others, our preference for judging that drives us to perfectionism, planning, and getting everything settled, our introverted thinking function that analyzes everything to death...when all that goes into something that will be realized (lived out) with our inferior function of extroverted sensing - it can be somewhat of a letdown. I'm drawn to camping because it taps into that part of me that's not as developed - the hands-on sensory world - and in the best way, by enjoying God's creation. Still, all of my vicarious virtual camping is not going to translate to the perfect family getaway. I will struggle with setting up tents, getting dirty, lacking creature comforts, hearing the kids whining, quarreling with my husband over the best way to roast marshmellows (just kidding), fighting off mosquitoes, hauling stuff around, etc. Most of all, when it's over, I will feel the urge to look for something new to do, but really I'll be seeking something to think about, dream about, look forward to...
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. ~C.S. Lewis
I wrote this 12 years ago, but every summer it comes back to me, because it's still so true...
June 26, 2000
(if you have the REM song, it makes a nice soundtrack to this)
I am lying on my back, staring up into the great arms of the giant Oak stretched out across the dusky sky. Floating on this bed of water, it is as though I am flying without motion. Beneath me, I feel a light touch, an almost imperceptible grasp from head to toe. Invisible hands wrapped around my body, becoming one with it so that I am barely conscious of my physical self.
My mind, no longer barking out frenzied orders to the rest of me, readily relinquishes control to the unseen forces. My senses, too, are at rest--all except for my vision, and even that is obscured by the darkness that now covers the earth. Gazing into the blue-black expanse above me, I see the faint glow of stars illuminating the night one by one, their distant radiance whispering an other worldly existence. Against this ethereal backdrop, the branches of the Oak spread high and wide; they are strong and real and tangible. Yet this tree, like me, is reaching out for something more.
The perfect stillness purifies my thoughts, making them clearer and simpler. Like taking breathing for granted until you open a window in a stuffy room and take in the unexpected pleasure of delicious, fresh air. Or drinking out of a mountain stream and remembering what water is supposed to taste like. My mind, bathed in tranquility, returns to its oft forgotten childlike faith that trusts and hopes without reserve. I revel in the serenity of this place, imagining heavenly hands holding me up as I surrender my will to my Creator. The moment feels timeless to my soul, but my mind, too finite to comprehend the wonder, doubts. I feel the water begin to cover my face, fear sets in and I sink. I rise and fall again and again, relishing the minutes when I’m not bound by my human frailty.
I cannot stay in God’s calming presence forever but it is just long enough for me to have the strength to swim. As I labor to go across the pool, my arms and legs pumping furiously, my breathing rapidly increasing, I am aware that I am not doing most of the work. He is still carrying me as I travel back and forth, gently reminding me that it’s okay to stop and float.
On this Good Friday, I realized something very good. God giving us the seasons - literal and liturgical - proves that he never gives up on us. We always get another chance, a new beginning, a "next time" to do it differently. Notice I didn't say "do it right." We may have to wait for it, but it won't seem like it since whatever time it is, we'll be starting one of those cycles over again - or be in the middle, perhaps floundering, or even just anticipating the end of a certain season, so that we can move on to the next one.
What I mean is this. The last time I blogged was the beginning of of Lent. I had thought that by giving up and receiving grace for certain things, like reading the Bible in a year, catching up on past projects, etc., I would be able to more fully enter into the liturgy of Lent - do my devotional readings, spend more time praying, concentrate on repentance, quieting myself before God, finishing "The Celebration of Discipline" which I had been reading (barely) since...well, this post. What I actually did was pretty much give up on all of it. It wasn't intentional, and therein lies the problem. Somehow I have the best intentions but I fail to be intentional. Paradoxes abound. So does grace. Thank God.
So I failed Lent. And it's even worse than that. I also totally stressed over all the stuff I was trying to let go of thinking about. That's probably connected to my lack of connecting with God during this time. And to be totally honest, I had also decided to give up gluten, but I quit after two weeks. It wasn't that I missed it so much. I just didn't know why I was doing it. It turned out not be a spiritual discipline. I think the only food that would qualify for that would be cheese. But I digress. It wasn't the fasting part that made me feel like a failure. It was the part where I missed Lent. Where I didn't even make myself go through the motions except for a few feeble attempts. But guess what? I have next year. Come Epiphany 2013, I hope to start preparing myself for Lent. Because I think that's part of my failure - not planning ahead. Which leads me to my next point.
The two biggest cycles of the church year have down time in front of each of them. With Advent, we've got scads of Ordinary Time, and with Lent, it's the same deal...or it's Epiphany, but not much going on then, especially for us Protestants who don't have all those feast and saint days to bother about - no offense to those that do - I think it's very cool, but I'm a latecomer to all things liturgical.
My main point, though, with this post, is to marvel at how God redeems our mortality, not only through the gift of grace that gives us eternal life, but also through the way he structures time on this earth. Winter, spring, summer and fall (yes, the James Taylor song is running through my head, too) provide a rhythm for life, as well as a context, or a backdrop, if you will, against which we can see our growth and our need for growth. The world around us changes, yet it stays the same. We can either be a hamster on the wheel or we can be the groundhog...er, like that guy in the movie Groundhog Day (all these pop culture references are dating me, I know) who wakes up in the same day every morning (and to Sonny & Cher singing "I got you, Babe"). When he finally sees it as an opportunity to change, he becomes a new person (and gets the girl, of course). But it took waking up in the same day umpteen times for him to finally realize he could live differently.
Spring will come again. So will Easter. So will tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning. Let's remember that when we're groping around for God in the dark of night...or just sitting there on the couch, eating popcorn and zoning out in front of the screen. He's right there with us, ready to take us as far as we'll go, whether it's now or next year or the year after...