Monthly Archives: March 2014

a review of found

I want to introduce you to Micha Boyett and her beautiful book, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer.

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Found is Micha’s memoir about finding the rhythms of prayer after her ways of being were swallowed whole by motherhood.

“My first year of motherhood I lost prayer,” the preface begins. And that’s where Micha’s story begins, too. But as she spirals into the core of her story, she is met with a gnawing unrest about her choices to study poetry, get married, and have kids instead of save the world. So the book is not just about confronting her loss of prayer but also confronting her loss of self and her assumptions about God’s deep disappointment with her.

What speaks to me more than anything in this book is Micha’s slow, steady assimilation of reality and her slow, steady release of the fantasy. What’s more, her revelation that God was finding her through the slow beats of her day-to-day just as much as she was trying to find her way back to prayer.

I wonder if Micha and I are both 4s on the Enneagram because I relate so much to her longing and her overwhelm and her tendency to hold up the fantasy against the stark plodding of ever day with young children. I just so relate to that aspect of her story. And it’s been the road I’ve walked these last five years—finding myself all over again, finding God all over again, finding the truth all over again.

Micha’s great triumph in this book is the way she brings us back to what matters, what’s essential, and what is needed in a prayer life. A gentle returning, over and over again. She winds her story around St Benedict and his monks and she shows us how meaning can be found in the smallest moments. She demystifies the essence of prayer and, yet, she opens our eyes to prayer’s great mystery and power, too.

In my own life, when I am most overwhelmed, the simple rhythms become the hardest to hold onto. I want large, sweeping gestures and brand new strategies and grand initiatives. Sometimes those are required, but usually what we need more is for God to help us return to our rhythms. Taking care of ourselves. Taking care of others. Allowing ourselves to be loved. Turning toward Christ. The quiet moment-by-moment conversation of prayer.

If you are someone who finds it easy to lose your way in the haze of life’s daily-ness, and you need a gentle guide to help you hear the rhythm again, recapture the beat, I so recommend Micha’s Found.

She includes this quote from Paula D’Arcy, “God comes to us disguised as our life.” Yes. And, Amen.

You can order Found here.
You can read more of Micha’s words here.
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unlearning

Happy Tuesday, dear friends. Here’s what I want to tell you today:

A few months ago, Steve returned from a hunting trip with this wild peace in his eyes, as if he had just seen the other side of things and had come back to tell me how beautiful it is in paradise.

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He had only gone to New Mexico. But, the truth was, New Mexico looked good on him.

He told me how he spent hours just walking through the desert, alone, in silence.

“What was so good about that,” I ask.

“Being out there is all about unlearning.” He says.

This weekend, I attended an incredible art workshop called the “Story Box Workshop.”* Our facilitator led us in a guided meditation that informed the direction of our story boxes. In my meditation, I saw Luke and Lane on the swings in our backyard. That was the clear image God gave me. I think, in part, because every time I think of Luke and Lane, deep, primal feelings are conjured. Feelings about them, for sure. But even moreso, feelings about myself. And God keeps inviting me back to that space.

Reluctantly, fearfully, scalded, I go. To his classroom of holy unlearning. Unlearning all the things I’ve picked up and put on, none of which are serving me.

I wandered around the room, scanning all the tiny found objects and the compelling images and the scraps of metal and bits of anything and everything you could possibly imagine.

I kept feeling drawn toward pictures of women who were underwater: mermaids and even a woman who looked like she had fallen back into the water and was motionless. I grabbed the mermaid and the motionless woman, too, even though the motionless woman scared me.

Then I found an image of a woman who had fluorescent green eye shadow and a bold hot pink lip and a crazy yarn hat and she was dancing. Across the page was a reflection of this same woman. You could see her face and her hat but it was just a whisper of an image of her. It wasn’t the saturated, wild colors of the true image. It was muted.

As I worked on my box with paint and metal and these images, I was drawn to some gold wire. When I snipped the small piece holding the wire in its perfect circular coil, the entire roll of it just sprung up and out and into the most impossible tangle. I sat for some time trying to work the gold wire free from itself so that I could cut a piece long enough to wrap around my box the way I had it pictured in my mind.

All of a sudden the tangle resonated with me, and I stopped trying to work it out, work it out, work it out, and I just hot glued the entire tangle to the front of my box. It was the most honest thing I could say, and it looked really beautiful actually.

I’m working with and wrestling with that tangle, I realize. The tangle of who I see when I see myself.

I wonder if grace is actually in the reduction of things, a gentle or not-so-gentle returning to the bottom line. Who we are. Who God is. How we are loved. An uncovered nakedness.

At first, I thought my story box would be about Luke and Lane, me as their mother, what we’ve been through together. As I let the process unfold, let go and just let it happen, I realized that what I was really working on and working through was the holy unlearning of releasing the muted, distorted reflections and embracing/accepting the real deal.

Bound up in the tangle are some accusations, some mantras, some fear, some deep belief. A tangle of the best ideals and the worst lies. I wrote the word “brazen”—a word that has been meaning so much to me lately—on a scrap and clipped it into the tangle.

Because, no matter what else, we can be brazen. I actually really believe that.

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I looked my box over and I thought of that line Steve said, “it’s all about unlearning.”

Our God-image is in us today. We know it, and we don’t know it. We believe in it and long for it, and we let it get bullied and buried, too.

The workshop was a time of both learning and unlearning, an intuitive journey toward what I want to believe about myself, what I DO believe about myself, and then the reflections and versions I choose to believe instead.

Maybe heaven is an eternal unlearning, a time and space of being reunited with the truth—about ourselves, about God, and about each other. A truth we have always known, intuitively, but have let ourselves forget or, even, reject.

I don’t want an image, an identity, a version, or a reflection of myself. I don’t want the spun stories. I want to be reunited with the fully saturated truth that has always been true. So here I am God, opening the door to your unlearning. Amen.

*San Diego locals, I highly encourage you to attend Lisa Kemble’s next Story Box Workshop at the Soul Care House on April 19. The cost is $40, and you can register here.
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My Group, part 4

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Today, I’m wrapping up this series on starting and maintaining a meaningful group. I get a lot of questions about the group I’m in and I thought it would be helpful to outline some of the guiding principles and the nitty gritty of a process-based life group.

If you’ve missed the first three parts of this series, you can read them here:

Part 1: the background of my group, including the impetus for starting

Part 2: the imperative of process over solutions, validation over advice, and how we’ve built trust with each other

Part 3: ideas for getting started, nuts and bolts, prompts

Today’s post is mostly about values (and what happens when we deviate from our values) and how important it is to name values at the outset of a group and to make sure everyone has buy in.

Here are the values of my group, in no particular order:

1. authentic participation Being a member of the group means agreeing to openly, honestly, and consistently journey with the other women in the group. We value sharing with forthrightness, offering information or feelings without having to be pressed. Often authentic participation requires (1) courage to share what is difficult, (2) thoughtful reflection (taking the time to bring something meaningful and meaty to the group), (3) willingness to grow in our trust of each other, (4) inviting each other in to the places where we need help, advice, accountability, ideas, support, prayer, and insight.

2. confidentiality G14 Classified. What happens at Group stays at Group. Each individual can share their specific update with whomever she chooses, but we are never to share each others’ updates with anyone else, including spouses. In addition, group members are not to discuss other group members in their absence.

3. process Process matters more to our group than following a set curriculum. Sometimes this format makes the group direction feel nebulous, inefficient, and unfocused; however, we don’t want a strict curriculum to dictate how we share our lives with each other. We prefer to create an environment with enough time and space to allow each others’ true selves to emerge. This format requires each woman to commit to “bringing it” every single week.

4. communication Email/text communication is an important part of our group culture. Though never mandatory, we value consistent check-ins (especially when absent), mid-week updates on something that was shared at group, words of support, and ongoing dialogue.

5. transformation We believe change happens in each of us as we submit to participating in and receiving from the group. This transformation comes directly from God, and we are here to help each other look for it, lean into it, and celebrate it. Pursuing transformation often requires (1) investing time with an “expert” (i.e. pastor, counselor, spiritual director, intentional program), (2) facing reality, (3) naming areas where we feel stuck and choosing to get help in those areas, (4) conversations with God (prayer, Scripture, nature, etc), (5) desire to become whole and well. Transformation is seen and measured over time, not something we can usually see from week-to-week. We take the time to look back periodically and celebrate where we’ve been and where God has brought us.

6. support What is more powerful than feeling seen, heard and loved? True support is (1) validating feelings instead of explaining them away or trying to create disingenuous resolution, (2) affirming instead of advising, (3) listening without interrupting, (4) investing in each other through generous praise, and (5) offering truth when appropriate and when invited.

7. grace We all have enormous demands on our time, gifts, energy, and souls. We give each other freedom and understanding, knowing that life is full.

These values are deep and wide and require each of us to really show up. So, what happens when things derail, get off track, or we don’t feel like the group is really living out these values?

Recently, My Group went through a season where we needed to refocus. We had been through significant amounts of transition together, wave after wave of it, including my family leaving to live in the Middle East for almost two years and then returning.

All of this left the group a bit beat up and adrift. There were tears, some underlying anger, some disappointment, and even the desire for some to leave the group.

As painful as seasons like this are in a group’s life, I think this is part of the cycle of being in a committed relationship with 9 people. There will be hard times. There will be unmet expectations. There will be discontent.

The key—as it is in all relationships—is not so much that we have these hard times, but that we choose to turn toward each other and work through the hard times.

We had a “come to Jesus” meeting where we were all able to go around the table and talk about what we needed, what wasn’t working, and what we wanted going forward. It was a very hard night. But at the end of it all, we went back to the values and we talked about how we had become lax in our sharing, how we had become lax in our attendance, how we had become lax in our support of each other, and how this was all affecting the group.

Here were the high points:

The group is not an entity that exists outside us, carried on by inertia. We must come and make it happen every week. It’s up to us. Each one of us. We must make the investment.

And, if it wasn’t the right season or the right time, and someone needed to say goodbye, we left room for that too. That’s grace and that’s being adults: allowing people to make choices for themselves. In the end, we all decided to fight for what we have together and we decided to stick it out.

I think that’s been what saved us. Everyone recommitting—to each other and to the purpose and values of the group. Everyone recommitting to authentic participation. And that right there has made a huge difference.

Here’s one very real statistic: We have 15 children among us, the oldest of whom just turned 6. That alone is a very real dynamic. We also have graduate school, global-scale initiatives, more-than-full-time work. We have spouses in the ministry, the military, and the music biz. We have had night shift and we even have someone who serves delinquent teenagers.

So all that adds up to a hundred reasons why this group would never, ever be able to actually get around a table together and talk. Somehow, against every odd, it happens. Three weeks on, one week off, every month.

One of the real stumbling blocks has been how much actual life we are able to do together outside of group, given life, family, work, spouses, etc etc etc. This has been an area we’ve continually had to navigate as everyone comes to the table with different expectations. My only real insight here is to keep the dialogue going about what people need and expect and, also, what people can realistically offer.

I hope these four posts have started you thinking about the people in your life that you’d like to know in a more intentional way. I hope you pray about a handful of people who you might reach out to and gather together in the hopes of bearing each other’s burdens, listening to God together, and cheering each other on.

Believing in you as you seek out your very own band of gypsies,

Leeana

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“can you not bring your phone with you?”

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A few months ago Lane — age 4, at the time — asked me if I would push her on the swing set in our yard.

“Sure,” I said.

“Can you not bring your phone with you?” she says right back to me.

And I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

“Of course,” honey, “I’ll leave it in the kitchen,” I tell her.

This interchange got me reeling, and mostly showed me how, when I’m distracted, my kids notice. And, also, that maybe I’m distracting myself more than I realize.

This post is in no way a blast against social media, smart phones, or modern technology. It’s not a call for media fasts. It’s not a judgment on how Facebook or iphones or Instagram are burying us alive. I’m simply naming the reality that we are more distracted than ever with more mediums for distraction than ever. And, it’s not just the nameless culture out there that’s distracted. I am. Apparently, I am, too.

“Can you not bring your phone with you?”

This is what I’m thinking about today, as we enter Lent, and going forward: Could I, for the next 40 days and beyond, consider the things in my life that are distracting me from attending to my priorities? (Whatever the distraction may be.) Could I consider curtailing those distractions to more appropriate times? Could that, in and of itself, be a transformational discipline.

I talked to Luke and Lane about all this. I told them I wanted to put my phone away. I told them they could stop me if they saw me on my phone or computer too much. And that’s opened up an interesting dialogue in our household already.

Richard Rohr writes, “Lent is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go.”

What is a go-to distraction that you might consider leaving in the kitchen so you can enjoy the swings a bit more freely?

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My Group, part 3

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Today is Part 3 of a series of posts I put together about a group I’ve been a part of for almost a decade now. I believe people are looking for meaningful ways to connect with each other and meaningful places where they are seen and validated instead of scrutinized. So, I thought I’d write about one of the ways that’s happened in my life.

Part 1 is about the background, impetus, and initial forming of the group.

Part 2 is about the idea of sitting with people and listening to them and encouraging them instead of fixing them.

Today, I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of getting started.

When the group started all those years ago, I had brought together a group of women that didn’t necessarily know each other all that well. We were not all in the same life stage, were not all the same age, and did not even have everything in common. I knew them—in varying degrees—and had invited them to come together because I had a hunch that they all wanted to share life deeply and intentionally. That’s really all you need in common, frankly.

On the first night we met, we did collages as a way to introduce ourselves. We each had small white poster boards and magazines and glue and scissors and we cut out words and pictures and colors and textures that would help others get to know us on a soul level. What am I passionate about? What am I struggling with? What are my priorities? What makes me angry? What inspires me? That kind of thing.

I recommend something like this as a way to begin. We made the collages and presented them to each other. And we were off to the races.

Then, we took a full night for each woman to tell her life story. You think you can shoe horn more than one story in each night, but we usually couldn’t.

One woman would tell her story and the key was to share things that were formational to who she is today. We don’t need to hear every single detail. We don’t need to know about every aspect of your high school extra-curricular activities, for example. We need to hear the pertinent details. So, every woman would share both the high points and low points that formed who she is today. One way to do this is to have everyone share a high and low from each decade of their lives. Or, you can make it much more fluid than that.

After the woman tells her story, she is then on the “hot seat.” The rest of us get the opportunity to ask her questions about her story. Not passive aggressive questions like, “Don’t you think you should get some therapy for that thing you mentioned?” But more like, “I can’t imagine going through that at such a young age. What was that like for you?” Etc. The key with life stories is to pass along information but also emotional truth. Events, but also how those events have affected you.

So, you see, everything is about getting to a deeper place with each other. We don’t remain on the facts and information level. We try to peel back the layers a bit, as we are able. We try to be brave and let people in a bit more deeply.

At some point in all this, perhaps after collages and before life stories, we need to commit to a set of values and we need to commit to the term that we’re meeting. This is hugely important. Groups need to have beginnings and ends and people need a chance to bow out gracefully if something is not working for them and they also need—as clearly as possible—to know what they’re committing to.

So, we spent a bit of time developing some values and everyone weighed in on that list (which I will share with you in my next post). And we also said we’d be committing to a fall semester with each other, Aug-Christmas, and then we’d have a chance to re-up again. And we’d take it like that, one semester at a time.

Certainly, at some point, it all gets a bit more fluid than this, but this is how you need to begin. With this kind of clear communication. What am I committing to? How long am I committing?

We all agreed on the values and the term of meeting, and then it was time to go!

From there, we got together weekly, for about 3 hours. We agreed that everyone would bring both a food/drink offering and a soul offering. We fill the table with random drinks and snacks and we pull up a chair and the first person starts.

Usually each person needs to keep their sharing to about 15 minutes. At times, we’ve had to literally pull out a stopwatch to keep ourselves accountable so that the group didn’t start drifting into 11:00pm each week.

Some weeks we’ve used prompts. Some weeks we’ve taken turns bringing the prompt for that week. We’ve gone through long seasons where there was no prompts and it was about showing up and “bringing it” and sharing what you know you need to share. That’s it. Lately, we’ve used this little acronym that’s been good: S.C.A.N.: Stirring, Celebration, Affirmation of yourself, Need.

Pretty amazing what emerges from people when they just share those four things.

Often, if there’s going to be a specific prompt, it needs to be emailed out ahead of time so people have a chance to chew on it and determine what they need to share. Most of us—introverted or extroverted—won’t offer our deepest truth on the fly. It’s best to have some time to think it all through.

After someone has taken their 15 minutes of sharing time, that women can invite advice, clarifying questions, concerns, comments, etc. Or she doesn’t have to. She gets to say what she needs. “I need prayer.” “I just need you guys to listen tonight. I am not ready to process it any further yet.” “I need you to text me this week and make sure I make the phone call.” “Ok, ask me anything. I need help processing this.” And, “You guys, what should I do?”

As I said in my last email, unsolicited advice is what can be so damaging. I think solicited advice can be a really helpful thing—pooling experiences, ideas, input. But only if that person is ready and asking.

My dear friend Joanna came up with a great response to each woman after she has shared. Sometimes there’s an awkward silence, and you want to jump in and say something, but you don’t want to fix or advise. You just want to let the person know you’re in it with them, you see them. Joanna suggested we say to each other, “I see you. I hear you. I love you.” Those have been crazy powerful words to speak to each other. Sometimes we add “And I’m with you.” or our physical touch people will add, “And we touch you,” which makes everyone laugh.

These are all just things we’ve found to be helpful in the moment.

As always, the presupposition going in is that group members WANT to be a part of a group like this, they want to share what’s really going on in their lives, and they are seeking growth and intimacy with others.

I hope this puts some flesh on the idea of starting a process group/life group.

My next post will be outlining the values. And I’ll probably also need to talk about what happens when groups go through difficult seasons and how we’ve learned (often the hard way) how to begin again with each other.

S.C.A.N. can be a great thing to practice with yourself as a way to get used to sharing from your soul. Perhaps as you prepare for the Lenten season, you might want to take yourself through S.C.A.N. as a spiritual practice and pay attention to how that feels for you.

With love to you today,

Leeana

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