What I Learned this Spring

"Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

Mary Oliver

Dirt has drawn a breath and awakened the seed.

On my morning walks this spring, first I saw tulip trees and candy tuft. Now with summer just around the fencepost, I see allium and bunches of deep purple irises, lithe in the wind. The dogwood tree is blooming outside my kitchen window and the lilac sings as I brush by on my way into the garage. All around town, spring has deepened into a hint of summer.

Before we settle into longer rays of sun and more freckles on my face, let's look back at what we learned in spring. I am doing this seasonal look back in community with writer Emily P. Freeman.

It is always a tiny collection of lessons I have kept track of all season, some small and practical, some deep and enchanting, the best ones are a blend of both.

  1. Taking notes is spiritual formation.

I'm the girl who takes my commonplace notebook to church every Sunday. I take notes on the sermon, mixed in with doodles and maybe lyrics to the worship songs. It is all in there alongside books I am reading, quotes or new words I have stumbled upon or the seeds of writing ideas. This is a patchwork of what is being poured into my heart. Having passed through my soul, it will pour out to you. White Pitchers, see?

Every once in a while, out of nowhere, I suddenly get sheepish about my nerdy level of note taking and start telling myself I am too intense, too studious, too lessony. I'll randomly decide I need to just be in the moment and let it wash over me without trying to capture some undercurrent with my pen. There are moments that call for this kind of paperless presence, but that is a different feeling than this squelching kind I am telling you about.

One night after dinner, I went to a local gathering of writers and heard an author whose work I admire, A.J. Swoboda. He shared his 12 commandments of writing. Of course, there I was taking notes when he got to #6. "Taking notes is spiritual formation".

Clouds parted, sunshine broke free, the angels sang in the sunlight. He put words to my ways, words of yes and freedom, a rock in the riverbed. Everything rushing around it.

Oh, I will likely doubt myself again and suddenly want to hide my natural born ways from you or even my own self. Now, you can remind me that I am being shaped by my note-taking practice. If you're a note-taker too, now you know. You are crafting your insides with everything you pay attention to, listen for and scribble down onto the page.

Note-taking shapes the spirit.

2.Do you twig?

Along with my nerdy note taking is a love for an apt word. On several separate occasions, I stumbled across the word "twig" used in a whole new way, as a verb.

twig: a British word meaning "to see", "to perceive" or "to suddenly comprehend"

As in,

"Do you twig the difference in color?"

"He twigged something you wanted to hide."

It's a quirky word and one that just might come in handy for a life of paying attention. Here are a few things I twigged lately, things that by collecting them helped me notice and take stock of their significance, tiny beautiful things in my life - the weeds and wildflowers God grows on his green earth, the Wonders and what they leave behind, what a quarter can buy at a thrift store, keeping track of things, resting a moment in gratefulness.

What are you twigging?

3.Collaging could make you a better writer, storyteller or even a more wholehearted human being.

Recently, I was asked to share my Savior story at a small gathering at my church called Roman Nights. Roman Nights is for building deeper community by sharing our stories. These once-a-month get-togethers grew out of Romans 12:15:

Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.

I have told my story a hundred times and even though it is my story, I always learn something new about myself and about God. Because of that, I believe it gets better with every telling.

This time, I decided to make a collage before writing a single word. I was cleaning out a stack of old magazines and catalogs when I decided to flip through their pages looking specifically for words and imagery to help me tell that story. I sat down with magazines, scissors and themes I knew the story held: home, mountains in the desert, loneliness, travel, thirst, architecture, Persian life, finding Jesus had been there just when I had felt most abandoned.

I clipped and cut and remembered. I closed my eyes and took a trip back in time to when I was seventeen. But the magazines had their own way of helping tell my story. I was looking for photo of an airplane, but what I came across was even better. The phrase "A Walk in the Sky". That became the title of my story.

I propped the collage up while I wrote, so I could capture the scenes. By the time I shared my story face-to-face, it was richer, deeper and truer in the telling.

The college was really supposed to be just for me, a process to help me see deeper and share better. But at the last minute, walking out the door, I grabbed it.

The collage seemed to resonate with the circle of church family. Some asked questions specifically about the images I had glued to the page. They passed it around and looked closer, running their fingers over the page. It was textural, visual and another way to see what God was up to in me. (and hopefully themselves.) It was a great point of conversation after the storytelling.

I offer it here to you as a way to share your Savior story better or share it for the very first time. (Say yes. You can do this!)

I also took along a few objects to help me tell the story.

Lately, I have been fascinated with the power of lists to tell a story. The objects became the list for my Savior story:

  • an airplane
  • a globe
  • a ring from one high school boyfriend
  • a cheerleading charm
  • a bird's best
  • Persian bright blue beads

I got to preach at my church recently and I used both of these creative ways to prepare.

4.Crockpot dinners just got better and easier to cleanup.

Last month, I flew to Texas to spend a weekend with my mother-in-law, Pay, just the two of us.

One night for dinner, Pay made us Beef Bourguignon in her crockpot. The whole house had the smell of home, savory and hearty. I thought of Julia Child, her cooking and her laugh. It might be time to watch the movie Julie and Julia again for the hundredth time.

When I went to add the vegetables to the tender beef, I noticed a clear plastic trim folded beneath the lid. I thought it might have been packaging accidentally left behind, but it wasn't melting.

"What is this little marvel?," I asked her.

"A crockpot liner", she replied.

Now, I'm a girl who loves a crockpot meal. All winter long, I start the day with something in the crockpot. But I had never heard of such a thing. Where have I been? Of course, she insisted I take them home. I have learned not to argue with Pay, so into the suitcase they went.

Our first meal back home, I made Kyle's favorite Tortilla Soup just to try it out. It is probably most useful for Beef Bourguignon or pulled pork, something with a rich sauce that wants to burn around the top edge, but the clean up even for soup was just too easy.

You can order these bags in various sizes to match your Crockpot here. You can thank Pay when you're cleaning up.

The bigger lesson I learned from this trip was take time to visit your mother-in-law. Book a flight if you have to. Listen to her stories. You don't know everything about her.

It might be hard, but it just might be beautiful.

What did you learn this spring?