voices, U-turns and Amazing Grace

“You might not want to eat that fourteenth Oreo.”
“You should stop at that colleague’s office today.”
“You should sign up for that volunteer event at church.”

We all have “voices” inside our heads.  Think you don’t?  Pretty sure you’re arguing with yourself about it right now.  To shore up the uncomfortable nature of these cues, we’ve depicted them in comics as an angel and a cartoon devil at our shoulders, or dismissed them as phooey.  Lately, one of these said voices has been not so much hungry for Oreos as it has been hungry for my time.

I was driving through town with perfectly practical/logical plans to go grocery shopping, when I got the sense that I should stop and visit my grandmother in the Good Samaritan Center.  Ugh.  I’ll be frank. . . I hate that place.  I’ve been creeped out ever since I was a little kid singing Christmas carols there.  “Silent Night, holy night,” we sang as a woman in the crowd rocked back and forth, while another slow-moving elderly man came up to actually touch the hair of one of my fellow choir members.  In my fast-paced, recess-filled world I had no frame for this experience.  Plus, no one really created a space to process the experience, so I made the logical kid choice to just avoid these places.

I know that was a long time ago, but the residual taste in my mouth is still there.  So, when I got a sense that I should willingly go for a visit, I was channeling my inner Moses (that is prior to actually doing any work for God).

No was clearly the answer I was giving to this voice, and I justified it while driving along my happy way.  So the U-turn I took in my car was one filled with angst.  I arrived at the center during hymn sing-along time, so I quietly slipped my chair in between the wheelchairs to see a quiet smile from my grandma.  As it came time for requests, she leaned in with her weather-worn voice and noted, “I hope it’s not #88.  We sing that one EVERY DAY.  Amazing Grace. . . I’m sick of it.”

As we sang song after song, my wall of defense crumbled as I found myself quickly wiping away tears–not wanting to look out of sorts in this group where I already stuck out.  As we sang, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.  Count your blessings, see what God has done,” the tears sprang as I heard these voices coming from ones with physical and emotional ailments that I couldn’t begin to understand.  The problems of my fast-paced, grocery shopping emergency life dimmed in comparison.

So, when we got to dreaded #88, I smiled realizing the Amazing Grace God had shown me in that small little U-turn that ultimately turned a corner in my heart.

veggie garden God lessons

Yesterday I walked out with my muddy shoes to dig the last of the potatoes and realized. . . it’s over.  The brown dried plants and barren mud seemed extra quiet, like a concert yard littered cans after the booming music clears and dancing bodies have exited en masse.  One lone pumpkin is all that’s left, quietly pointing to the turn of the season.  I can’t help feeling like one of my kids just went off to college.
There has been a party out here this summer–a planting, weeding, weeding some more, growing and harvesting party.  On a practical level our garden nourished our tummies; we canned and ate fresh meals and gave extras away to neighbors, but this garden and it’s process has nourished me in a deeper way as well, teaching me some lessons about life and faith.
Memory 1:  Weed-pocalypse
My first day of gardening this summer consisted of rolling up the remnants of last summer’s weed patch. The left-overs had created a woven blanket of tan scoundrels that were not only filled with dust, but were also anchored to the cemented ground at nearly every inch.  Clearing the space had me sweating and dirty.  New Baby + No Knowledge about Gardening + Naive Attempt to Garden Last Summer = Weeded Mess.  I hated this day.  This day I vowed never to garden again.  It was decided, gardening was no fun and too much work.
Memory 2: Weeding. . . weeding. . . and weeding some more.
I think we should change its name from gardening to weeding.  The planting and the harvesting really come and go quickly in relation to the maintenance that gets things to the harvest stage and creates a space for the new life to grow.  Weeds come fast and without warning.  Setting the rows right, and getting those early weeds made for a more enjoyable late summer as the weeds seem to get the hint after numerous reminders.  It was funny how each time I picked up the hoe to demolish some weeds, I would remember the weed-pocalypse day.  Thinking back to what can happen if I let this get out of control, helped me stay motivated.

Lesson 1:  The journey of faith can leave us feeling sweaty and dirty, and mad–just mad at what we’re having to do or go through, or what we’re seeing others go through.  It’s hard to see how God might be giving us a memory of difficulty, an experience of death and resurrection, that we’re going to need later–later it might just be our gasoline. (This lesson is best learned in retrospect and won’t be taken well when said to those who are currently all sweaty and dirty with life.)  

Memory 3: Harvest Party
Our yummies came in waves as each plant set on and ripened in its own time.  I was almost giddy squatting there filling my bucket–surprised that things actually grew.  With each new bean pod, I felt like I won some lottery.  It doesn’t make sense that tomato plants can grow taller than me that came from a little seed.  If that ever ceases to amaze me, you have permission to slap me in the face.  I know there’s science to explain the cell development, but the sheer volume of the thing that can grow from seed + dirt + sun is mind-boggling.  Creation is crazy.  CRAZY!  “Helper” is a relative term when it’s used to describe a toddler at garden harvest time.  My favorite memory about harvest was how my munchkin would shadow me down the rows, picking her own vegetables, leaving a little trail of half-munched-on goodies.  When we harvested carrots, she got so dirty and muddy–and giggly, that I just couldn’t help grinning.  On those summer evenings when Charli really did earn her bath–when the water ran brown–I couldn’t help thinking that today we lived well.  Sometimes to clean up we gotta get dirty.  To feel the goodness of a shower, we need to get down into the muck.

Lesson 2: The harvest of faith will surprise us.  Sometimes the biggest yields came from the ugliest plants (and vice versa).  My one pumpkin grew from a huge vine that spread the length of the entire garden, and yet some of the simplest plants created fruits that were so heavy they weighed down the branches themselves. We might think that the biggest–the strongest–will be the ones who are really sewing the seeds of what Jesus was talking about.  In the end it might be the quiet ones who really surprise us.  It might be the whispered life lived in such a grace-filled way that leaves the biggest ripples going out, the life lived so far outside itself that the harvest is bigger than the branches can hold.  

Lesson 3: Ultimately it’s not me.  I can add in the right ingredients–the plants, the watering, the weeding, but I can’t–no matter what I do–make a tomato grow.  And that takes the pressure off.  That’s the grace we live in each day.  God’s got it.  But it’s pretty awesome when we get to come along for the ride.

I am not a fan of taking “selfie” photos, but had to show just how tall these tomatoes grew!

Doritos locos Lutheran tacos

I thought the joy of Doritos Locos Tacos coming together couldn’t be rivaled.  When two things I love–that are separate–find a way of marrying, it just rocks my socks.

Similarly, thi Saturday I couldn’t wait for two of my favorites, On Being, and Nadia Bolz-Weber to get together for a radio-show recording first date.  The sometimes crass, always frank, frequently funny, and deeply thoughtful author of Pastrix, didn’t disappoint.  Certainly the “attention getting” parts of her personality–her tattoos, her mouth, her sarcasm–got their fair share of air time with the masterful Krista Tippett steering the interview, but what struck me most, was the way that Nadia sang Lutheran theology in a way that wasn’t dodgy or stuffy, but alive and compelling.

When she talked about Luther’s claim that we’re 100% saint and 100% sinner. . .
When she spoke of grace as something she’d experienced viscerally. . .
When she said her parish embraced wonder more than certainty. . .
When she gave thanks for a church where she didn’t have to check her brain at the door. . .

Her voice gained passion and excitement.  So did my ears.

I’ve always wanted a way to somehow turn up the volume on the theology that I love, these beautifully written, old understandings of God that still sing in my contemporary heart, but all too often I take the German Lutheran stance that smiles inwardly, but quietly, never wanting to offend, always wanting to embrace others.  For me the beautiful gray nature of Lutheranism has always seemed to whisper; the soul-ringing middle-of-the-road third-way of understanding has been given the press of a middle name.  In a presidential election it’s can be hard to listen for the moderates.  Yet, Nadia spoke with such graceful boldness, that I couldn’t help but feel my own Lutheran shoulders straighten as she spoke of God’s grace being sufficient for communities, as she owned it and didn’t apologize.

When a train interrupted the interview, she led the bare-footed tent-revival group in a harmony-rich acapella rendition of Amazing Grace.  As I stood, adding my own harmony to the recording on my iPhone in my kitchen with toddler daughter in my arms, it was one of the most beautiful moments I can remember in my own home.

And in that quiet thin space it was like standing in God’s smile. . . my favorite place to be.