Tag Archives: love

For Writers, Is Living Love a Process?

“Success has little to teach us during the second half of life. It continues to feel good, but now it is often more an obstacle to maturity than a positive stimulus toward it.”
― Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity

The day’s list of projects is looking mighty long. I know enough by now to simply do the hardest, most pressing thing first, and stick to the process until I get through it all. Last week was a great reminder that “Bird by Bird is always the way.

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Looking at the calendar reminds me I’ll turn 45 on my next birthday. It’s not so old, but seems it’ll be harder to deny I’m middle-aged and “should be” more mature by now. Or whatever other “shoulds” I should be thinking about at my age.

And that list seems pretty stinking long too.

Apart from all of that–the work and the worries about shoulds–what would I choose to be doing to find the most meaning and significance? I know I’m being coerced by the clock and the calendar, but it’s a valid question, and a good one for a Monday morning.

What’s the best use of the day?

Certainly, I can assume a whole list of things it isn’t. Paying any more attention to that blowhard. Worrying about money or bills. Getting just one more modern convenience. 

FullSizeRenderI’m like most modern people. We’re all way too distractable. That’s different from being purpose-driven and interruptible, like Jesus always was. We’re too often thinking about ourselves. We don’t serve the sick and needy, the most innocent and vulnerable. We serve the powerful, the promising, the ones we deem worthy and projecting the right image of success. We elevate those we think can elevate us with their power, prestige, privilege, or position. We avoid those who might drag us down and look instead for promising partners who can help raise our status and standards.

If I could have my way, I’d have no other thought but to serve God and love Him fully through the care and keeping of the weakest and gentlest people I could find. Or so I think. I would be about His business, at least that’s what I tell myself.

But I don’t get involved. There are plenty of opportunities to serve those around me and I don’t. Haven’t I been faking my way through this spiritual writing life up to now? Aren’t I really all about myself, my own wants and needs, my own little comforts? 

IMG_0758Ronald Rolheiser, in his wonderful book Sacred Fire, says, “One of our deepest struggles in life is dealing with the unconscious anxiety inside of us that pressures us to try to give ourselves significance and immortality. There is always the inchoate gnawing: do something to guarantee that something of your life will last. It is this propensity that tempts us to try to find meaning and significance through success and accumulation. But in the end it does not work, irrespective of how great our successes have been.”

Meaning and significance are at the base of my motivation for everything. I want to matter. Jesus says to lose my life and I look for assurances it’ll be saved. Are they right–have I stopped believing because I don’t believe the Bible?

This process of pushing for the ever-deeper question is the impulse that compels me in the search for meaning. I know that I know the Bible is a guide to understanding, the bedrock of belief, but I don’t believe the inspiration is over and done. There’s life to be lived, experience to confirm the Word, and the writing life with the Spirit is a continual proving of faith in living and questioning and seeking, whether in sensing directly, or trying to make sense of his directing. To live the writing and write the life are the word and the deed, inseparable and constantly shifting.

FullSizeRender_1If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.

And that is why we have to be about process. Progress is inevitable when your goal is the process, and living is always about processing what is lived. Step by step, moment by moment, now and now, the product is being shaped and guided each day until meaning and significance become byproducts of an active, proven faith. Get living in love and writing that lives will be the result.

What more proof do I need? Bishop Michael Curry was so right in that sermon. (I mean, can you get any better proof anywhere on the Web these days? Seriously.)

Writers must focus on process because there is no more powerful way to love everyone God needs us to love. Process is what ensures what’s happening when is what needs to be happening–writing or life, it’s all about the love. And focusing on process, the in and the out, like breathing, is how all the lists will finally be completed, all the work finally finished, and all the words lived out and written out.

And that is how the most powerful meaning will be achieved.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

(I’ll be breaking down some of the steps in my process over the next few weekly posts, so I’d love it if you did some writing and living about your own process as we go along, see what we might find… meantime, here’s a podcast I did with the Pastor Writer about learning to love process recently) 

Getting What You Really Want this Christmas

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….

– Philippians 1:9-10a

What if I promised this short message would absolutely deliver what you really want this Christmas?

Do you know what you really want?

IMG_4721We all have to ask. Because so often we don’t know until we get quiet and can listen to our deeper hearts.

And doing that absolutely requires closing our eyes to all that’s constantly drawing our attention away.

But once you’ve blocked out the myriad distractions, then you can reopen your eyes and see better what you really want.

This is the only way to ensure you get what you really want. Honestly, I know this, but I still forget it all the time.

Charlotte comes home from a class Christmas party. She shows me the gingerbread house she made and tells me the kindergartener brother of her friend wouldn’t stop teasing and play-attacking the girls the entire time. And Charlotte’s anxiety over being picked out to receive “fake” kicks and punches in the face has kept her from doing much decorating. Somehow, being harassed and chased with makeshift weapons sort of does that to her.

I, of course, immediately want to call the parents and demand an explanation for this cretinous spawn of hell who’s obviously going completely neglected as the youngest of 3–and of course, this is also the family who’s in the midst of adopting 3 more from some African country they heard about through their church. I want to tell them what I frequently want to tell parents adopting more kids: When you show us you can handle the ones you have, your village will vote on whether you can have more. Until then, we have a responsibility to society to oppose your negligence and stop the carnage.

DSC_0132I’m kidding, but it can almost feel that bad. I don’t dislike these parents or not see how hard their life is or what motivates them to endure the chaos and even embrace it. They’re saints. But for me, it’s a matter of survival to escape their mayhem and live to decorate another day. I’m just one whose battery wears out faster than most.

Of course, the message in church today (second Sunday of Advent) was all about this need to escape. Or was it just how I heard it? But instead of the usual conviction for being me (probably 89% of the time), this time the message felt affirming. Don’t you love when that happens? Pastor Jim spoke on “Heading Toward Christmas by Another Way,” preparing, and making room in our hearts by doing what John the Baptist said and did–namely, getting away from people to eliminate distractions. And he equated this letting go, this getting away from all else as “making room” for Christ, i.e. getting right for him, i.e. repenting.

I know–I thought repenting was kind of an “I’m all wrong” kind of thing. But this kind, in the context of silence, recharging in the desert like the prophet, it finally made sense:

Repentance is not about admitting you’re all wrong. Repentance is all about admitting your need to let go, to make a space, to make room for God.

DSC_0045And this is true for innies and extras and fighters and peacekeepers–it’s only in that freedom from familiarity of outside influences that we human beings can get truly unburdened.

I love this idea, I thought. Maybe I’m not so deficient after all!

I suppose I can get so used to feeling weak, as I heard someone call it, “constantly feeling like a broken extrovert.” But what if I’m actually uniquely gifted with an internal desire to not only get away frequently, but to be only influenced, recharged and changed by God. Alone?

DSC_0044This was a radically different view of repentance for me. It’s still about getting right with God and denouncing the things that are opposed to him. But if we really know what our hearts want, we feel some of this desire. That longing for such a solitary unifying experience with God is endemic to the human heart, these hearts made to love their Maker, who long to wake up and feel his radiant smile of pride shining down on them, who long to please him and finally get free of all that holds them back from full union.

This desire for such full repentance is the oppositional way that may actually be a deeper desire all his followers share.

To be changed, reformed by that singular relationship alone. To be further up and further in… To be free, in the end, of all other relationships–people, places, things, ideas and all other encumbrances–and belong to him only…

Isn’t this the only way we might love more fully? And how love might “abound in more and more knowledge and depth of insight?”

DSC_0045So what if it’s only from this place of purity that we might once again come back, open our eyes, and see how to return to the crowded, needy world with that real love and fire to share? Filled by that primary relationship, we’d be made something new, changed and truly reformed.

Isn’t that what you want above all this Christmas–the peace and reassurance of knowing that love, knowing we’re always safe, held and known in it? Isn’t it what we all want deep down?

And what if we can only get there if we’re willing to head a different direction than the comfort we’re commonly told we need to ensure?

What if getting what we really want this Christmas is a different way than the usual direction we take to prepare for our perfect celebration?

What if the way to that perfect gift is only by letting go of all else to make room in our hearts for him?

Repent. Make room. And receive your greatest gift this Christmas.

Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!'”

Matthew 3:1-3

For the higher purpose, this season and throughout the coming year,

Mick

And I’m Grateful…

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Editing. Again.

And sorry again for how long it takes to edit a book.

Loving is such hard work. I’m reminded again how we always say love is active, not passive.

But now I see that patience may be the most active part.

And how long has it taken me to learn that? And can I become patient enough to receive it?

And thank God for those who’ve been so patient with me….

And thank God for his unending patience, waiting for me to finally see this truth about my gratitude today….

And to speak it.

Love is a light

“All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way…Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

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“What are we supposed to wear?”

She turns back to the closet before I can answer. We’ve heard the forecast. The air will be cold and microscopic droplets will hover, landing on chilly skin, being breathed in and out.

“Whatever we want,” I say, humming a Passenger song still stuck in my head. My brown corduroy jacket isn’t as formal as my black one but I don’t care. I don’t get enough opportunities to wear this.

In fact, maybe there’s a Halloween costume I can come up with for it.

In our early days I imagined teaching English, maybe at a private university or something. She’d make art and we’d be happy in our little house, gardening and reading to each other by candlelight. Didn’t happen, but maybe we don’t have to live up to an image of happy to be happy.

Why aren’t there any songs about that?

What is this story really about?

“I just don’t want to be uncomfortable,” she says.

Always the same thing. I try to bite my tongue, but I can’t stop it.

“You’re going to be uncomfortable; that’s inevitable,” I say. Then, softening, “It’s a wedding and we don’t know anyone. Wear what you want.”

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It’s a weekend, a day’s drive to Tahoe, then a quick flight back. But I can’t remember why we’re going. It’s mainly as a nice gesture to my cousin, and we needed to pick up the night guard for Sheri’s teeth anyway which the dentist calls an “appliance” that’s supposed to cure migraines. We shall see.

But do we make an effort to go now as a married couple because we’re supposed to or because we want to love people well? And even if it’s the latter, do we really love people well? Or are we still always too wrapped up in our own lives to really notice them?

Do we really know what this story is about?

Most of my life I’ve spent thinking about myself and the figure I cut in the world, the figure I want to cut, and then figuring out the tricks and what clothing will be required. And each passing year, I’ve wondered if I’m any closer.

Are we there yet? And are we happier here?

Now I just want her to be happy, healthy.

She puts on another dress and she’s beautiful. She is. She wants to know if she’s “okay.” She’s more than okay.

“Can you see through?” she asks, looking down. “I don’t think I have a half slip.”

“It’s fine,” I say. “I can’t see. Anyway, it’s going to be dark.”

But I can see. Not what she’s asking, but so much more.

“What’s left to see when our eyes won’t open?”

It’s a brilliant line from the Passenger song. I know that feeling. Fourteen years ago, my eyes wouldn’t open when she called me to say there was an ivory dress she loved and should she buy it. I guess I’d decided then and there on the phone. She had to buy the dress because she was the one, the one I wanted to help pick out her dresses.

I feared I’d choke if I didn’t spit it out. The unbearable thrill of it. And the sadness of what was my old solitary life, now behind me forever. I think that part doesn’t get mentioned much. But it’s a happy sad.

Love takes with undeniable force. And we can’t really be sad for what we must leave behind, but how can we not be? Life is so precious and gone so soon.

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“What’s left to say when all the words have been spoken? What’s left to give when the gifts are all opened?”

I’m so much more now than I was before her. But in many ways, I’m also a shadow of who I was before her. My ambition, my grand dreams, all my big plans for who I’d be and the image I’d project of confidence and simple mastery of my self-contained world, that’s all gone now.

And in its place, a stiller heart, a warmer man. And this stylin’ corduroy coat.

Life moves along the lines of love. The things we let go, they were never ours to begin with. And the things we keep, those things are truly ours.

She turns once and I imagine the light in her hair, the way it was that drizzly day in Seattle fourteen years ago. I whistle and she turns again.

“You’re just sexy, you know?”

She smiles. Is it the eyes of love talking? I don’t know. But my eyes see so much. And it only takes a little light…

 

Are You Elmer’s, Epoxy or Paste?

Another 5-minute Friday exercise from Lisa-Jo: get it here

Go.

Not all glues are created equal. The beauty of Elmer’s glue is that it creates a strong, semi-flexible bond.

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I rarely use it anymore and I hardly remember what I used it for all those years it sat in my desk next to the pencils and erasers and crayons.

But what comes to mind now is that love is like the glue that binds everyone and everything, the invisible binder that connects all things. And some people like epoxy while others like paste.

From a Christian-based business website, I read: “‘Love’ is a very important addition to our philosophy. Having a positive attitude and sharing that attitude with others…”

Now I’m of the “melancholy” persuasion on the personality scale and I initially have a hard time accepting this definition of the bonding agent “love.” It’s far more than having and sharing a positive attitude. In fact, because this superficial definition seems so prevalent, I’ve lived a long time trying to let go of my idea of stronger love and whether I should change myself to appreciate paste like those who can connect to almost anyone through positivity, i.e. a “sanguine” personality.

Why is it so difficult to give up my idea of epoxy for those who are excited about paste? Why does their desire for many bonds seem so less desirable than stronger connection with few?

Does everything have to be deep?

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Here’s where I think it comes down: do I think the little things in life matter?

Some people might think I’m naturally deep, but I’m not. I just enjoy seeking meaning and making soulful connections. And I haven’t enjoyed making many connections primarily because it’s difficult.

Can I connect over the little things in life? Can I enjoy life with people and accept and be influenced by them? I don’t need a deeper bond with everyone, do I? I’ll still have it with many people, but the question is, could I enjoy more people if I was okay connecting on a superficial level?

Could this make my “glue” more flexible? Even something as simple as sharing the same air with someone could be profound. It’s miraculous to share that and enjoy life with others around me. Everything else is icing, isn’t it?

Exchanging my epoxy with something more flexible, a more “positive” mindset, could make me happier and more loving, able to bond over what really matters in life: relationships.

Is your glue flexible enough?

Stop.