6 Things I Learned this Summer

We are standing on the cusp where summer and autumn kiss.

Cusp. I like the sound of it.

It sounds like it’s meaning - a point, but not only a point, an intersection where two objects, places, or directions meet, creating a point.

We are poised on the tendeer threshold between summer and fall. Depending on where you live, it may feel more like summer and less like fall, or more like fall and less like summer. Cusps are good places to pause a moment and take stock of one place, direction, or season before moving into the next.

It can sometimes feel confusing. Are we saying hello or goodbye? It may help us to realize we are doing a bit of both.

That is what these quarterly writings, “What We Learned” are all about.  I write to you about things I learned that somehow stood out to me. They might be small, big, or any size in between. As I have been writing these for 5 years now, I have come to see, no matter their size, these lessons are shaping me in some way. Perhaps they shape you as you read along.

It must be noted here that this particular cusp is the place where many, many things are meeting: summer and fall, a new school year with online learning, disappointments and dreams, fear and faith, Covid19 and unrest over racial injustice, just to name a few.

No wonder our heads are spinning and our feet are looking for solid ground.

A quick thumb through my journal revealed these lessons from this stay-at-home summer.

IMG_8977-1

IMG_8729-1

IMG_8789-1

  1. A slight change of scenery can bring clarity to your soul.

We know this about big trips away from our everyday life. But what about slight shifts in scenery - a good book by a new-found author, a sweet new friendship, looking through a different window?

Since sheltering in place has lasted much longer than anyone bargained for, I’ve been finding simple ways to change scenery much closer to home or even inside. I have started moving around my house as I work or study, sitting upstairs on the south-facing window seat, downstairs at the dining room table, on my backyard porch swing in the shade, reading in a old thrifted leather chair. We are moving around for lunchtime too: on a quilt in the grass, on the patio table, on the porch swing with plates in our laps.

Even changing what’s on the kitchen windowsill, on the ottoman in the family room, and on my bedside table has helped give new perspectives without leaving home.

When summer trips were cancelled, we drove across the mountains for the weekend to walk a different landscape. There is something about a different light, smell, or sound that makes us ask new questions and brings fresh perspective.

Fresh perspective has arrived with yoga poses, snippets of poetry, a line of Scripture, a bright new friendship, fresh spiritual disciplines, doing something just because it is good for someone else, and as always, reading good books by authors with varied voices, experiences, and races.

What small way can you change your scenery?

2. That creamy Mexican cheese is cotija, not cojita.

We love laughing at funny things the Wonders mispronounce like “Burmetsons” for Albertsons and “razorsizing” for exercising. It turns out, when it comes to Mexican cheese, I’ve been saying it all wrong too. I’ve been saying “coheeta” when really it’s “coteeha”,  named after the town of its origin, Cotija, Mexico. Cojita cheese is more like a goat cheese than a melty queso kind.

Not all of our lessons are deep, and funny is good for the soul, too.

What are you mispronouncing?

3. Crafting a Rule of Life holds the new I need now.
Now more than ever, with the loss of so many familiar routines, I need to revisit a few questions in my life:  what I am doing?, why I am doing it?, for whom am I doing it?, how it is shaping me, my family, and my community?, who is it good for?

A Rule of Life establishes soulful habits that reflect who you are becoming in Christ.

This summer, I have leaned harder on rhythms of life pointing to Christ, ones I can cultivate near home - prayer, walking outside, creativity, noticing stars, clouds, cows, and hawks, listening, writing, baking, extra grace to my neighbors and myself, watching the Wonders, and making sack lunches for the homeless. (In our city they have lost both drinking water and most social services during this pandemic.)

During a tumultuous year of tough questions - what is church?, what is school?, what is anchoring? what is possible? - and even tougher answers - not a building, not a classroom, only Jesus, so much more than we have considered before - the world feels uncertain and unmoored.

Yet even in disruption, our God is up to good and beautiful and brand new things.

“This is a wonderful day, I’ve not seen this day before.”
Maya Angelou

All summer I’ve been writing and teaching about crafting a Rule of Life. If you would like to learn more about what a Rule of Life is or why you might create one, read “5 Reasons Now is the Time to Create a Rule of Life on Purpose” and “In a World of Unrest, a Rule of Life is a Sheltering and Sustaining Place.” At the end of both posts is a curated book list to explore the topic.

What soulful habits are giving you life right now?

4. Walking my prayers outside reminds me I can travel within and I never walk alone.

Fifteen year ago, I walked my first labyrinth with my friend, Faith. Since then, I have walked several labyrinths, usually as part of leadership or seminary experience.

As summer approached, trips I had been looking forward to began to fall like tall trees. First, a trip to Texas to see my family was cancelled, then my Georgia Peaches were not coming to visit, and finally, a writing workshop in Red River, New Mexico was moved online. Oh, how I love getting beneath those New Mexico skies.

Not only was I not going on adventures to see my people, but my people were not coming to me. I felt my world grow smaller and smaller with each cancelled trip.

Then one day about eight weeks ago, I woke up and suddenly realized I had places to go within my own soul. I had proverbial mountains to climb for a better view of God, pilgrimages to take, burdens to lay down in Jesus lap. What was I waiting for?

I realized that invitation to take my feet on a spiritual journey is always open. Since then, I have visited an outdoor labyrinth a half-dozen times, sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend or daughter. It is a simple way to embody my prayers by putting my unhurried feet to them under God’s big skies.

And in a labyrinth as in my faith, I never really walk alone.

A labyrinth is not a maze with dead ends or blind corners. It is a centering pilgrimage of our heart to the heart of God in three stages: release, rest, and renewal. I walk in to release something (a loss, disappointment, particular outcome), I rest in God's presence in the center, and I walk out to renewal and new life.

And bonus, I have finally learned how to spell “labyrinth”.

How are you walking out your prayers?

5. “Tenderness thresholds” are little ways we keep the door ajar so our soul can come out of hiding.

What do you do when you need a gentle crossing into a new season or a deeper work?

I was looking for a way to ease my four-year-old granddaughter, Sweet Pea, through a teary time when I was babysitting and she missed her Mama.

So we made papery things. We crafted paper airplanes, origami shapes, and a throwback to my childhood, tissue paper flowers. These were simple things we could make out of whatever was around the house, in this case, printer paper and used tissue paper. Before long, our hands were busy and we were working out her anxiety with creativity.

I call these small pointed places (cusps or peaks) and transitionaling activities that open deeper space inside us “tender thresholds”. Tender thresholds can ease our fears, relax our bodies, build resilience, and tap into our creativity and deeper longings.

We need these liminal spaces.

In our hurried lives, we tend to skip over them. Yet we benefit from pausing to allow our souls to catch up with our bodies.  These places where we linger are just what we need to let our longings rise before gaining momentum into something new.

As a jet needs a runway, we need time and space to gather momentum or creativity into our work or friendship with God in deeper, more difficult prayers. There are endless ways to loosen our hearts and invite God's creativity to pour through us. We might garden, knit, run, draw, paint, journal, cook, or hike. Even before we have words for what is in our hearts, there is a stirring. It is that stirring that we are making room for with tender thresholds.

Recently, in a small online workshop, I invited participants to create old-fashioned magazine collages to help express life themes that are sometimes hidden even from ourselves. We juxtaposed words and images clipped and torn from magazines and mail catalogues, to express who we were becoming. Collaging is one of those "tender thresholds" into our creativity and inner life.

"The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek." Parker Palmer

What are your tender thresholds?

6. Don't skip your rough drafts.

I went hiking with two friends earlier this summer in one of the 7 wonders of Oregon - Smith Rock. After traipsing around in a hot and dusty caldera, we came home to the patio and my artist friend, Lisa, took us through some steps to painting a photo of our hike.

Our first step was making four rough sketches in under four minutes, trying just to capture the movement and big chunks of space. It was a fascinating study in really seeing before we began our painting. I realized something immediately. In my zeal to get to the real project, be it a painting, writing, or spiritual practice, I tend to skip over such a step. That sketch turned out to be my favorite of the day.

It reminded me that I have two old prints of charcoal sketches by Van Gogh that my Mama gave me years ago, knowing I often liked the studies and working copies more than the final paintings (though I do love a Van Gogh!). It is so easy to underestimate the value and beauty of a rough draft. That is true in writing, art, friendship, parenting, or our friendship with Jesus.

What rough draft can you slow down and appreciate?

This post is done every season in community. We used to do it with others from all around the blogging world and meet over at Emily P. Freeman's spot on the internet. I guess those days are over, but since it has long been one of my favorite forms of reflective prayer, I will continue it here at the cusp of each season.

You can join us in any season from right where you are. There is always room for you. I simply keep an ongoing list in my journal that I mark with washi tape across the top so I can find it as I go. Anytime I find a new word, mispronounce a word, find something remarkable, funny, or poignant, I write it down.