4 Things I Learned this Spring (story edition)

Each of us has a tale to tell if only we would tell it.
Frederick Buechner

But first I must listen to my story for I am not telling it alone.

My story needs reflection to understand itself, its undercurrents and flow. This is a brief pause to look back at what we've been up to (me and Jesus) and then finding any connections to what's happening right now, under my nose, in my own life. It seems as though it should be so obvious; it's so close.

But life is fast moving, a blur really, so it helps me to slow it down to see and hear it's rhythms and patterns, to understand how God might be wooing me. Last spring the pattern was songwriting. This spring, it is story.

These reflections are a form of Examen done as each season closes her eyes. This practice helps me move ahead with intention and grace.

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Adding poetry to my morning rhythm makes my whole day sing.

I posted that recently on Instagram. Poetry was happening in my early mornings and flowing into my day like a lapping wave on a salty shore.

My morning rhythm goes something like this: pad downstairs and push the brew button on my coffee maker, brush my teeth, 6 -7 minutes of centering prayer (eyes closed, breathe deeply, grateful for my breath and my good God), light a candle, sip coffee and read my Bible, write a single verse on an index card, read a bit of poetry or a poet’s writing, say a little prayer.

This rhythm can have any cadence you need for the day. The whole wave can be quick or luxurious, taking anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour depending on the day and your responsibilities. It is simple enough to do some version of it even when traveling.

Poetry is adding wonder and open space to my mornings. I'm reading Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, e.e.cummings, Emily Dickinson, Eugene Peterson, and any poetry I can find in the Bible. And there's lots of it; possibly up to 75% of the Hebrew Bible and over 25% of the whole Bible is poetry. But poetry doesn't just stay in my morning rhythm; it laps the shores of my hours in waves and lingers like the salty smell of your hair after a walk on the beach.

I am learning that there is more to poetry than just beauty, though maybe that's enough. Still, poetry has powerful ways of making healthy minds. Poetry says old things in new ways or new things in old ways, or even mashes new and old together, catching us off guard and so helping us grow in language and imagination. It taps into our emotional states and memory layers so less can remain buried. Our bodies and our souls need this kind of clearing. Poetry engages both sides of the brain and so integrates our minds.

Since I am reading Mary Oliver and peonies are my favorite flower . . .

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,

Take that into your day and see how long it lingers. Oh, and pick up a bunch of peonies for your table or a friend's.

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I remembered I’m a story girl.

“Wow, Father, you tell a good story”, that’s what my friend, Elisha, said of her daughter right on the threshold of high school graduation in that short summer before she flies.

“A book girl is story-formed.” I have always known it. When a friend recommended Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson, I reserved it at my local library. On the opening pages, I was reminded of my soul-deep love for books and what they do to your whole insides and view of the world. God is telling his story inside each of us.

“A book girl is one who has grasped the wondrous fact that she has a mind of her own, a gift from her Creator, meant to be filled and stretched, challenged and satisfied by learning for all the days of her life.”

When I was a girl, reading was a favorite pastime. I read so many classics: Little Women, The Diary of Anne Frank, Heidi, The Wizard of Oz, Black Beauty, Swiss Family Robinson, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Sounder, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and all the Nancy Drew mysteries. Somehow, I missed Anne of Green Gables. How in the world? Anne was a redhead and I craved a true redheaded hero.

I went on to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, The Chronicles of Narnia, Jane Eyre, The Outsiders, The Grapes of Wrath, The Scarlet Letter, and all the Jane Austen books.

Once I met Jesus and we began our friendship in earnest (that did not happen right away), I read another list of classics: Pilgrim’s Progress, The Chronicles of Narnia (again), The Screwtape Letters, Hinds Feet on High Places, The Hiding Place, The Cross and the Switchblade, Man’s Search for Meaning, Through the Gates of Splendor. Ever since that sweltering day when I sat on the wide steps of the University of Texas at Austin campus and prayed for soul wisdom, I’ve been on a journey of friendship with Jesus, one I am still on. I have finally, faintly glimpsed my small part in a much bigger story, the gospel story.

The gospel story is one of love and betrayal, of being lost and found, and set free to fly away home. It’s the true story of a kingdom and a king, a betrayer and a fierce battle of life and death and honest love. It is full of rugged beauty, rebellion, courage, and mystery where some darkness is disguised as light. This holy story we live out in our ordinary lives. We are part of it in happy ways and sad.

I suppose I needed this reminder from Sarah,

“A book girl knows that to read is to begin an adventure of self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit that will shape the choices she makes, the dreams she bears, the legacy she leaves in the great tale of the world.”

Being a book girl is the beginning of being a story girl.

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It’s never too late to read classic literature.

I didn’t read all of the Jane Austen books until my thirties when I read and discussed them with five dear friends in a Jane Austen book club. It was delightful and not at all too late.

To help me remember I am a story girl, I am finally reading Anne of Green Gables right now. I am kicking off this summer reading a copy with a beautiful Rifle Paper cover. I am on a renewed mission to read good stories and give good stories to my friends, my family, and those ragamuffin Wonders. Classics with beautiful covers or illustrated interiors are becoming my go-to gifts for all sorts of occasions.

These I gave to my granddaughters when they were born.

Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Little Princess, & Heidi

This I am giving to Sweet Pea as her introduction to Anne Shirley.(Dyl Pickle, you're next!)

Goodnight Anne

This I gave to the mama of my daughter-in-law after she had a liver transplant to read aloud with her husband.

Hinds Feet on High Places

If I were to read Jane Austen again, or when I do with my Wonders, I would love to have a beautiful copy of each of Jane Austen’s books.

Jane Austen Collection

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Making room for spiritual formation is like a clearing in the woods where I can see the sky of my own storied life.

I had never had a Spiritual Director, and yet I wanted to become one. Is that crazy or a calling?

There is a trail in the woods near my home that is leafy, spongy, mossy, all towering evergreens with chunky bark covered in lichen. But every once in a while, the canopy overhead opens up and I can feel the rain or see the blue sky. When I walk there, I have often thought I need more clearings.

A year ago, I was accepted into Seminary to study for my Masters of Spiritual Formation and part of my own spiritual formation included meeting with a Spiritual Director. I have had mentors which I have loved and needed and still do in my life.

Having a Spiritual Director is just a little bit different than a mentor. There is more listening together to God's whispers in my life, more silence, too. There is naming things that need naming and calling out God's presence in everyday life when either of us senses it. There are tears and space and attentiveness for the soul to thrive. There are prayers and honest questions, really good honest questions. There is creativity. There is story.

Having a Spiritual Director helps me clear out space to see . . .

God's great love and purposes for us are all played out in
messes in our kitchens and backyards,
in storms and sins,
blue skies,
the daily work and dreams of our common lives.
Eugene Peterson

As spring goes to sleep to make way for summer, I leave you with a story prayer,

dear story-telling Shepherd,
you tell the big love story
that begins with unrelenting you
home, wandering, woo.
help me run to your beautiful arms
sold for sad silver.
I am an orphan girl
awake in the moonshine,
daughter, home again in blue
amen

Happy Summering!

If you liked this post, it might be fun to look at what I learned last spring.

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