Lately I’ve been reflecting that my time at The Upper Room has given me more than a just steady job for more than 20 years. I find myself talking to my web development colleagues about organizing a web page using “The Mind of Christ,” “The Heart of Christ,” and “The Hands of Christ.” Or I’ll discover that I’m trying to figure out the right web application for teaching Lectio Divina. “Weird!” I think to myself. “I sound like Stephen Bryant [the boss of The Upper Room]” It’s not a bad thing … but when did that start?
Even more than the breadth of knowledge about spiritual things, my spiritual self has been formed by working here. I don’t know why it surprises me that my relationship with God has been influenced by this place and these people. In my time working here, I’ve been mentored and nurtured by some of the most knowledgeable, creative, and humble spiritual leaders in the Protestant world.
I’m grateful for these gifts … and extremely sad that we are going through another round of layoffs of our staff. Since the beginning of the year, we have lost 14 staff people, whose jobs have been terminated because of the sinking economy. We are in a time of great change, great grief. We cherish your prayers … and we need God’s love, presence, and healing.
Grandpa’s peonies started blooming yesterday. My Grandpa Wilson was a gardener. His entire back yard in Norman, OK was dedicated to a garden that he started harvesting in February (potatoes) and finished harvesting in late fall (turnips). He rotated crops, planting and harvesting three vegetables per season in the same rows. His compost pile, at times, was so tall that he had to walk up on top of it — about 5 feet in the air — to dump his compost bucket.
Grandpa was born in the early 1900s in Kennelworth South Africa. His parents nearly starved during the siege of Kimberly in the Second Boer War. The story is that they were starving, but Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma had planted a garden and knew there was food to be had. Great-Grandpa took a sack and snuck through the enemy lines one night to get to their garden. Though overgrown over with weeds, the plot was full of vegetables. Great-Grandpa filled up his sack and brought the food back through the siege lines.
Grandpa Tom didn’t have a lot of use for flowers (“You can’t eat them”), but there were a peonies planted in the back yard. After his funeral, I dug up a clump, put them in a grocery sack, and brought them back home to Tennessee. Early in the spring, they bloom, bringing alive memories of my Grandpa Tom. I’m blessed.
Had a special birthday celebration a few weeks ago when I got to spend the day in the north woods helping to make maple syrup with the good people from Maple Leaf Orchard, Spring Valley, Wisconsin. Mark and Sue Christopher guided us through the process and, at the end of the day, fed us and sent us off with some of the syrup we helped make. What a bonus.
Today is Good Friday. The dogwoods are in full bloom today. There’s a legend about the dogwood tree — that it was the tree used to make Jesus’ cross, but that his crucifixion transformed the tree to its current size, form, and blooms. It could never be used for that purpose again, its blooms a reminder of that event.
My mom loved dogwoods, but they weren’t native to Oklahoma. I remember that she tried to grow one in Mangum (just about as far as you can go in Southwest Oklahoma before you get to Texas). That little, spindly tree hung on as long is it could in that hot, flat land. I think it got run over by kids on bicycles a couple of times and then it died over a dry winter.
Last week I emptied a chickadee nest out of the bluebird box. And I’ve been feeling terrible about it ever since. Every spring, the cavity-nesting birds stake out potential homes and build nests in them. When I found the chickadee nest in the bluebird house, I did what a bluebird house landlord is supposed to do — empty the box so that a bluebird can build there. But who am I to say who should live there? I’ve been debating this in my mind every since I dumped out that beautiful nest of grass, fur, and moss.
But today I looked in the box — and there’s a chickadee nest there again. Thank goodness … I feel as though I’ve been forgiven. Grace abounds.
I have the privilege to live with a Scottish Terrier named Tigger. He’s 11 years old and just about the sweetest pup I’ve known. He’s precious — in that way that all companions are precious. I’ve been fortunate to live with him since 2000.
Tigger has one of the genetic disorders that Scotties sometime develop. It’s Canine Cerebellar Degeneration, commonly known as wobbly dog syndrome. The disease manifests itself in his inability to go down steps and his tendency to fall over. When he runs, his back end careens out of control like some cartoon.
The past couple of weeks, he’s be going through some tests — trying to figure out if he has some sort of cancer. I felt sad that this little creature may be nearing the end of his life. I often wonder why dogs and cats have shorter lifespans than humans. Perhaps it’s so we can be companioned by several of these wonderful animals throughout our lives.
While Tigger was at the vet’s yesterday, they took some blood samples to send to a research study at North Carolina State University’s veterinary teaching hospital. It felt great that he could contribute something to the effort to identify the gene mutation that causes his disease. Not that he could enrich the world any more than he has enriched my life …
I’m grateful for Tigger; for his presence in my life and for the many gifts he has given. Thanks, God, for Tigger.
I work in publishing for a living, but it’s still an amazing thing to be working on a book that bears my name (The Uncluttered Heart, Upper Room Books, Fall 2009). The book will be out early this fall for use during Advent of 2009. But the production process for books is a bit long and drawn out. Here’s the journey of The Uncluttered Heart so far.
I was writing the manuscript last summer (2008).
The manuscript was due about a year ahead of its release — Fall 2008. (This is so that the marketing department can understand what the book is about and start to include information about the book in upcoming marketing pieces.)
Right before Christmas 2008, I got to see a bunch of cover designs and was given the opportunity to say which ones I liked or didn’t like. A committee made up of editors and marketing people made the final decision on the cover.
The editor of the book (Rita Collett) started working with the manuscript after the first of the year (January/February 2009).
Rita sent me a couple of rounds of the edited manuscript and questions she wanted me to address, clarifications, etc. I put my “Advent hat” on and tried to remember what I meant last summer when I first wrote those words. (I love having an editor, a person 100% committed to helping my writing be clear and valuable to future readers.)
The cover design is being finalized this month.
Before too long, when all the editing, design, and proofreading has happened, the entire project will be turned over to the production department. These talented folks pick the best printer and watch over the job as it goes through the production process. Sometime in late summer, the books will come off the press and then will start making their way to the warehouse to be available for sale by the time folks are picking out their Advent resources.
It’s been cold and wet here in Nashville. For a long time. Seems like the whole earth has been holding its collective breath waiting for spring to burst forth. We’ve been in slow motion … watching, waiting, barely daring to breath … hoping for the trees to open up their blooms and announce the end of winter. This week, spring is finally here.
I went out early this morning to shoot some pictures of the ornamental pear tree across the street. Nashville is full of these trees. They are almost the first tree to bloom in the spring and nearly the last tree to turn red in the fall. I don’t think I’d ever noticed until this morning the variety of colors in their blooms. Their white outlines dot the dormant, gray hills of the entire city. Once the pear trees are in full bloom, the redbud trees are soon to follow and spring is well underway.
Today, the day was clear and the sun was warm. I could almost hear the sighs of satisfaction from all of creation. Whew. Spring and her flowery beauty have finally arrived.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a friend who gave up email for lent (“Fasting from Email“). We’re just a few weeks into this year’s Lent and Lenten practices are getting a quite a bit of press, thanks to a number of religious leaders coming out with the suggestion that people consider giving up Twitter, Facebook, or texting for Lent.
I use Twitter, Facebook, texting, and email and don’t feel called to give up any of them for Lent. But I find this discussion very helpful and healthy. What is Lenten practice about? Why give up chocolate or Twitter? Or take on more prayer or a Lenten study? It’s about finding the things that block me from God’s presence and giving them up. Or it’s about taking on something that will strengthen my relationship to God.
It’s easy to hear judgment when I hear that church leaders are calling the faithful to give up technology for Lent. That’s why I found really helpful this conversation with Father James Martin, associate editor of the Catholic weekly magazine, America. Listen to this story from NPR’s Saturday Edition.