Fleetwood Mac and landslides that lead to blessing

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But time makes you bolder

Even children get older

And I’m getting older too

Oh, I’m getting older too

- “Landslide,” Fleetwood Mac

I had been singing these lyrics in the shower for weeks in anticipation of the Oct. 4 Fleetwood Mac concert in Chicago. Between the stellar acoustics and the sinus infection, I sounded exactly like Stevie Nicks.

At this point in my life, Nicks’ “Landslide” holds more meaning for me now than when I sang it in front of my bedroom mirror in the early ’80s. Next year could bring a landslide of change: a son marrying, one daughter graduating college and the other leaving for the mission field.

And there’s me at the foot of the mountain bracing for impact.

Read more about how change can bring a landslide of blessing at think Christian magazine…

Fleetwood-Mac-concert-Chicago-10-4-14

Fleetwood Mac performs at the United Center

The Fall: Beauty beyond the reds and golds

You know that perfect fall day.

Where the cool lays across your cheeks like a damp cloth, and the setting sun is a bullet of warmth above your right eye.

You walk through freshly mown grass, speckled with decimated leaves that fell onto the dregs of summer, too soon to join the army of them that will descend in another two weeks.

Some trees are like brushes dipped in red but miserly holding onto green.

fall leaves

This is a favorite season for many; but for those of us tired of Chicago winters like last year’s, it’s a harbinger of DOOM.

It is called fall for a reason. The high def colors are fleeting, like a wedding day.

Personally, I’m holding on to the squirrels’ tails. Just figuratively, of course. So far, their tails aren’t all that furry, which I take as a sign of a “milder” winter, no matter what the Farmer’s Almanac predicts.

In the spirit of that denial optimism, I’m trying to enjoy every minute of the season beyond the pretty colors. I am not viewing my fading garden with a sad heart, but appreciating the beauty in gradual change.

In the disappearance of the hummingbird and the anticipation of the dark-eyed junco…

In my breath hanging in the morning air like a thought cloud…

In dying things that bequeath a promise of resurrection…

dying flower

pruning

spade

dried flowers

Planting gardens in us

I pinch seeds like fuzz from a winter coat.

saving-flower-seeds

It is the last day of visiting my cousin. Every one of his homes has seemed a retreat to me. He incessantly has his eye on some dilapidated structure full of hoarder treasure or bat guano, yet he somehow sees past the cracked plaster to the solid wood frame and envisions a tower where only weeds rise up.

There’s a ‘beauty from ashes’ type of lesson in this, one I never noted in words until now, but that he planted like a seed in mind when I was young and I slept in a lovely room with an antique bed in a house where previously an old man died among his treasured trash.

At each house Butch has reimagined, rescued really, he has surrounded it with flowers and places to sit and sip coffee in the morning and wine in the evening. And to talk and laugh.

garden

garden

I’m going to plant the seeds from the spiky thistle-like perennials and the Black Eyed Susans and the columbine in my small garden where my husband and I sit on Saturday mornings drinking coffee and dreaming about a home in the mountains.

As I’ve planted my own garden, I’ve thought about what I might bring with me, like I once did with the rosebush my grandmother and I planted when I was 11. When we moved from our house in the country, the rosebush moved to my grandmother’s front yard, and when she had her first stroke and had to sell her house, the rosebush moved to the flower garden of my first home, and when I divorced, the rosebush was dug up and rescued by my father and planted in his front yard.

It struggled as much as I did for two years and died. Years after my grandmother already had.

rose

This visit to Butch’s feels different. Even my youngest daughter, now 17, noticed. Things are going to change, she said.

I’ve been coming to Wisconsin to visit my cousins since I was 2. My mother first visited when she was 18 for her honeymoon, which she and my father celebrated at the small farmhouse of his cousin–Butch’s mom–and her other seven children. This year we ordered a cake to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary.

Yes, things are going to change. They already have. Some of my eight cousins are grandparents now, and some of their children barely remember me or my brother. We don’t visit as often as we did when we were young. But some of our children are planting seeds of friendship, writing letters like old-fashioned pen pals.

That’s why I’m especially intent on saving seeds this time. As I hold them in my palm, they remind me how what we plant grows and spreads and is planted somewhere else, in someone else.

The seeds remind me how lessons we learn or words we say or hugs we give or memories we make take root and become gardens in us. 

garden

Photos by Meg

lily

apple tree

garden space

garden

Finding meaning when things don’t make sense

I didn’t plan on writing about actor and comedian Robin Williams’ suicide. Lots of people already have. Lots of people who have more inspiring words to say. And it was some of those words that stuck with me.

“I’ve learned that there can be meaning without things making sense.”

flower in concrete
Photo Credit: Tristan Long★ via Compfight cc

The words were written by my favorite author Anne Lamott, who posts too-long-for–a-status thoughts on Facebook where I follow her because it makes me feel like one day she’ll see my tiny thumb up and meet me for a latte or Indian food.

Everyone is asking “why?”, often supplying the answer of “a longtime battle with depression.” That helps Williams’ suicide make sense.

But do we really want our tragedies to make sense?

I have never been able to make sense of my neighbor setting out two bags of candy–one for each child–clean towels for her husband’s shower, and no note before closing herself in the garage with the car running.

But just a few years later, I did have a clearer understanding as I lay across the seats of the marriage counselor’s waiting room, not able to care for one more minute. My depression was brought on by circumstances that I eventually clawed—and was occasionally dragged—through, so I can only imagine trying to perform beneath the weight of that fallen curtain day after day, year after year…an agony so dark that relief from the pain disguises itself as a light that beacons you to walk into it.

man-in-meadow

Wellington Sanipe

Perhaps we occupy ourselves with trying to make sense of the many tragedies around us for fear we won’t find meaning in them. Instead, we can throw up our hands and exclaim, “Senseless!” and go on about our lives until photos of Williams’ face and murdered Iraqi Christians are replaced in our Facebook feed with Dalai Lama quotes and recipes for gluten-free pancakes.

But I am compelled to search for meaning.

Maybe in a small way, searching for meaning honors those who have suffered,

maybe it deepens my faith in ultimate goodness,

and maybe it causes me to find–if not meaning–hope.

Cutting the fluff in writing…and in life

[A version of this was originally written for a message I gave at my church, House of Saints and Sinners.]

Endless tips for better writing exist, especially when it comes to “cutting the fluff” of adjectives and adverbs that leave an otherwise solid story looking like this:

big hair

Photo Credit: ozfan22 via Compfight cc

When my public relations writing starts to become a buzzword bouffant, I take my frustration out in poorly drawn cartoons.

4-cartoon

But an overabundance of fluff isn’t limited to the PR industry.

Our personal stories, too, can be stuffed with “adjectives” and “adverbs” that don’t add value to our lives. For me, fluff often comes in the form of overcommitment or being “busy.” Is that the word I would choose as the title of my life?

One article about cutting the fluff, written by a college student, posed three questions before offering tips for concise writing. The questions–with my reworded versions–apply just as much to life as they do to writing.

How would you answer?

car crash

Do your essays tend to veer off course?

Does your life tend to veer off course?

If you fill a story with too many adjectives, unnecessary details, and subplots, the meaning becomes lost.

The same thing can happen with our lives when we’re too busy. We try to follow too many plot lines simultaneously. We become distracted. We veer off course.

When I was a kid, a teacher told our class to run down the field but to look down at our feet the entire time. We attempted to avoid smashing into the classmates in our periphery until the teacher yelled “Stop!” and we looked up to discover we were far from our intended finish line. He sent us back to the starting point, and told us to now fix our gaze on a point directly ahead of us and not take our eyes off of it as we ran. We all ran straight and true to the finish.

How do we stay on course?

In Charles Hummel’s booklet “Tyranny of the Urgent,” he quotes P.T. Forsyth, a Scottish theologian. “The worst sin is prayerlessness.”

Hummel says the root of all sin is self-sufficiency in terms of independence from God’s rule.

Think about that running analogy. As we pray–as we keep our eyes fixed on God–he “makes our paths straight.” The path literally becomes straight under our feet as we run the race.

annie dillard

Do you find that it takes the entire paper to finally get to the point, the real meat of what you want to say?

Do you find that it takes an entire life to finally get to the point, the real meat of how you want to live?

Ernest Hemingway is known for his short, straightforward sentences. One day, Hemingway was at lunch with a group of writers and bet each of them that he could write an entire novel in six words. After the money was collected, Hemingway grabbed a napkin and wrote: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

It is unclear if this actually happened, but this six-word novel illustrates the power in minimalism.

A painful exercise writers practice is cutting out the first paragraph or even the first page of an essay or story. Why? Because often writers spill out hundreds of unnecessary words before delving into the action that draws in readers.

I wonder how much of my day looks like that. The fluff, the urgent, fills in the spaces when I should be starting with prayer, with my mind stayed on Christ. I intentionally made such a choice this morning. I started by picking up my Bible, sitting beside my husband, and reading the book of Micah. I’m not saying God made the sun stand still, but somehow my morning seemed to stretch out before me rather than rush by before work. I had time to write. I had time to read. And still do my hair and throw a load of laundry in.

So if time hadn’t changed, what had? I believe it was my perspective. My spirit was focused on the important and not the urgent.

Maybe some of us have discovered how to live fully every day. Or maybe we get to the last years and realize our life hasn’t said what it needed to. What is the point of my life? I sit at my desk asking myself if this is where I’m supposed to be. And if it is, am I living it out with the attitude and effectiveness God called me to live it out? Am I filling my life with fluff, the good instead of the right?

book watch

You’ve got so many great ideas and so many points that you could cover, and yet there’s a page limit.

You’ve got so many great ideas and so many dreams to realize, and yet there’s a time limit.

In a recent post about work-life balance, Arianna Huffington referenced a “chilling” statistic from the satirical news source “The Onion.”

“Despite the enormous efforts of doctors, rescue workers and other medical professionals worldwide, the global death rate remains constant at 100 percent.”

We sometimes live with a false sense of security in the amount of time we have to live. We sometimes have that same sense in regard to our relationship with God. The leaders and people in Micah’s day, one of rampant idolatry in Judah, believed they had God’s perpetual favor because of God’s covenant with David, because the temple still stood. The priests and prophets believed they were safe because they had been chosen and God wouldn’t punish them for turning their calling into a business. They were probably surprised when Micah started comparing them to evil Samaria and warning them that the Lord would be melting some mountains under his feet.

Our fluff can become our idols, no matter how good the things that fill up our minds, our days, or our pages may appear to be.

Writers are taught that every character, every scene should add to the story. No matter how beautifully written, how exciting, how brilliant, if it doesn’t move the story along by causing the main character to develop, it should be cut out. That can be painful.

Look at each day as a page in your story. What kinds of things would you find painful to cut out of your life? Would it be the overtime, a hobby, social media? What in your life isn’t really adding to the development of your main character?

A Bible verse about fluff

 OK, there isn’t a Bible verse about fluff, but I pondered what God requires of us.

The answer lies in one of my favorite verses, Micah 6:8.

book of micah

8 ”He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I made two discoveries as I contemplated these verses.

First, the syntax is concise, the question blatant, and the answer powerful in its simplicity. I paid closer attention to who was being addressed–O mortal (and I felt compelled to read it in a Gandalf voice). The usage of the term “mortal” certainly reminds us of our limits. The structure of the sentence and its message illustrate the focus and purpose that writing–and a life–without fluff should look like.

 Lastly, I looked at the verse preceding it.

 7 “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

 From a literary standpoint, Verse 7 is dramatic, exaggerated…fluffy, if you will. Verse 8 is starkly different and reminds me of God’s rules for writing our stories.

That God isn’t asking for our overcommitment, just our commitment. That God doesn’t require fluff, he requires action verbs.

When Worlds Collide…or just meet over Dunkin’ Donuts

Meg in her glory

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Recently, I wrote an article for Think Christian magazine, My Daughter’s Muslim-Christian Bible Study, about the coming together of Christian and Muslim students in the Bible study my daughter started at her local public high school.

A better title would have been “When worlds collide…or just meet over Dunkin’ Donuts,” which better illustrates the unique dynamic formed among these teenagers.

But outside this small group of friends of different faiths, worlds do collide.

And it is in to these worlds this same daughter seeks to extend her innocent hand and a heart longing to befriend Muslim women. 

To support my daughter (and me) as she decides the best route for serving overseas, I asked a few friends who know us best to commit to be her prayer warriors. One friend reminded me of a passage from Jeremiah where God calls a youth to be his voice.

6“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

For now, I won’t go into the effects that the choice to serve has–and could have–on her, me, and our family and friends.

I simply encourage each person who reads the article, no matter your beliefs or ethnicities or experiences, to choose to do one thing to break down barriers that is a tenth so brave.

 

 

 

 

Who comes in when the world goes out?

friends

Photo Credit: vintage ladies via Compfight cc

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Tonight at House, Pastor Chuck talked about one of the most common regrets of the dying…that they didn’t spend more time with their friends.

He focused on the friendships of Jesus and the traits good friends possess. The theme of friendship was also the focus of my recent guest post on author Jamie Janosz’s blog.

In it, I share two conversations with best friends that reminded me of grace during the most devastating time of my life.

One Confession, Two Conversations, and One Story of God’s Grace was inspired by study questions in her book When Others Shuddered, Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up.

Why are [women’s] friendships so crucial? How have friends ministered to you in times of need?

How would you answer?