Returning to this place…

Rapha….to release…to let go….

It’s been so very long since I have written in this space.  So very long since my words have been released out into the ether for people to read.  

So much has happened over the last two years, and especially, over this last year in my life.  It has been one of the most difficult seasons of my life.  But so rich…so full of beauty and adventures.  I have been holding onto the stories of this last season, waiting for complete healing and understanding before I share.  Waiting to arrive at a destination of wholeness to start leaving bread crumbs for others.  

I am not there yet…

I begin writing from the journey not the destination. I am learning so much in the season, and I feel the distinct call of God to share it from this space.  Someone, somewhere needs to hear this and I need to write it…so here goes…today…this day of Thanksgiving…I begin. 

And I begin by saying, “Thank you…”

I need to take a moment to thank my pack….not my tribe…my pack (look for a post explaining that statement!) I have learned so much about safe spaces for full vulnerability.  I have learned so much about who to allow to speak into your life- who gets the opportunity to challenge your identity and your value.  I have learned so much about relationship and life. 

I lost myself completely.  In doing so, I lost so much….my faith, my relationships began to suffer, and in the process, I lost the guiding message of my life….that the ONLY entity that has the right and voice to speak to my identity and value is God.  I gave away that power to a person…and it nearly destroyed me. 

But God is faithful…and never leaves us…and He never left me in that season.  He spoke to me through the people He placed in my life to call out that I had run myself into the ditch.  People who continuously questioned my thinking and didn’t give up on me….even when I made mistakes…even when I acted out of character. 

I cannot thank these people enough.  These light bearers kept shining on me….wouldn’t leave me no matter how I pushed away.  And I thank God for them every morning when my eyes open.  Thank you for my friends, for my family, for my pack that gathered around me, that nursed me back to health, who prayed and listened and sat silently with me when I didn’t have words or the strength to speak.  They came for me not once, not twice, but over and over and over again…and I am here today because of them.  

I want to share what I have learned with you…leave bread crumbs along the path…I’m steering clear of labeling the journey because I think what I have to share with you is so applicable to life as a whole…so here we go…a return to this space.  A return to writing.  A return to sharing. 

I’ll be honest, I’m a little rusty. It’s been years since I’ve written anywhere other than my journal.  And I am scared to death to share this story with you.  But I am leaping anyway.  

Love to you all, 

Remember You Are Dust…

It has been forever since I’ve occupied this space with current thoughts and words from my pen.  A year to be exact…I have missed this quiet corner of the multiverse.  As a part of my Lenten journey this year, I have committed to sharing thoughts and reflections each day…bear with me…there are many bad habits to break. My life is so different now than when I first started this blog and I find myself with little time to write thoughts (I am so often sharing them through spoken word) and far too many “to do” piles on my desk.  So here we go…

“Remember you are dust…and to dust you shall return…”ash wed

The pastor speaks with hushed tones as he reaches toward me.  He brushes away wisps of hair that refuse to be confined by the barrette at my temple.  His hand sweeps warm across my forehead as the acrid scent of palm ash and musky smell of frankincense and myrrh mingle in my nostrils.

My Grandma always told me that prayers are a sweet aroma in heaven and I wonder if this is what it will smell like- life consumed completely by age and fire and the sweet perfume of holy gifts well spent.

The ashes feel strange on my forehead- not sticky, but not dry either. I ponder the words as the pastor speaks them over and over.

Over my head- middle aged and graying beneath vibrant hair color…

Over an elderly woman in a wheelchair, breath of life whirring from a portable green tank slung over the back of her chair…

Over the young mother with twin Tasmanian devils dashing between her legs and bumping off people like bumper cars…

Over the precious baby…just a few months old…crossing her eyes as the pastor crosses her forehead.

He speaks mortality over us as a blessing. The cross writ on our foreheads as a reminder to die to self and sin and to count our numbered minutes precious.

This is my first time receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday…coming new to experience a tradition not my own and I find the service profound and deeply moving.  I bear my commitment like a brand and sit in my car letting solemn moments pass as I seek God’s heart with my own… and confess that I have been struggling with my faith these last months. This is my mortal moment of reckoning and it  steals my breath and steels my heart and I find in surrender to Christ the freedom to be okay.

I think you are supposed to confess BEFORE you receive this ashy symbol, but I came to this place as a student, with a purely academic motive.  Not seeking God, but seeking an understanding of a faith tradition that has long felt shrouded in mystery.  I researched before I came. I knew the ashes were made from the burnt remains of last years’ palm fronds.  I knew that they are mixed with fragrant oils to dilute the acidity of the ash. I knew the phrases that would be spoken over me. I knew that this tradition has rich symbolism that draws people close to their own mortality and sinfulness. I knew this was the way many enter into the waiting of Lent. I knew everything there was to know and nothing at all…all at once.

I, being ever the student, had reached out to my friends in the clergy in the weeks leading up to this day.  I asked what Ash Wednesday meant to them and how it affected them. I planned a purely journalistic report based on history, research, their answers and my would be experience.  Their answers stunned me, awed me and, yet, in no way prepared me for the beauty of the imposition of ashes. Overwhelmingly, my friends spoke of the beauty of speaking out loud human mortality and the impact of repeating that process over people from all walks of life.

My new friend, Pastor Clint Schnekloth, tells me:  “As a pastor the most powerful part of the imposition of ashes is writing them on all the different foreheads, from heads at death’s door, to heads recently emerged from the womb. The range and texture of our mortality is a powerful, tangible thing.”

And my blog sister and fellow writer, Sara Miles, whose book, City of God, a friend gave me last year says, “Almost invariably, the people I give ashes to– parents, old ladies, gang kids, hipsters, day laborers, drunks– say “thank you.” I say it, too: touching strangers with such intimacy in public, admitting what we share (our mortality), feels like a gift, one that turns the lies of our culture upside down.”

My Yoda and spiritual director, Judy Turner of Christview Ministries, tells me that she believes “at the beginning of Lent, the imposition of ashes can be a meaningful, tangible way of expressing our commitment to die to sin so the Savior can live more fully in us.  It is a powerful reminder of our mortality to help us focus our lives on what is eternally significant.”

They were beautiful sentiments, really.  An indication that  serving a community as Pastor through these rituals comes with its own equally charged graces.  They gave me insight into their lives as leaders of church communities…but they didn’t prepare me for the moment ash touched head and contrition settled into soul. Neither for the sensation of solidarity as I glanced around at the 30 or so foreheads marked as mine…infant, child, adult and elder…all bearing the blessing of our death to sin. It was stunning, and powerful and I am forever changed by it.

Merciful Father,
we have sinned against heaven and before you.
We do not fully live as your sons and daughters.
We use your gifts to our own ends.
Forgive us and restore us,
that we may resist all that draws us away from you,
and be at peace with one another. Amen.

Inspiration from an “Old Friend from Far Away” (aka an effort to return to writing)

Hello my friends in the blogosphere! Have you missed me? I have missed you all so much…or maybe I haven’t missed these nights here at the computer nearly enough to return to them…or maybe, as I told a friend the other day, I am speaking so much now and I just only have a finite amount of words in me and it leaves me with nothing to write.  (She reminded me that I was created in the image of an infinite God and thus there was nothing ‘finite’ about me…including my words, but perhaps I was releasing them through the outlet of speaking rather than writing and simply didn’t need the writing as much these days.) Or perhaps I have simply become a slave to my busy schedule and make no place for this platform.  Whatever the reason, I am limping back this way complete with shiny good intentions to be here on a regular basis.  

My plan is to post regularly again in the “Ministry Resources” category (once every other week) and to hopefully share some words from you that I have been working on in my free writing exercises.  This second experiment terrifies me as these are some of the truest, rawest words I have written.  I have been hiding them in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” notebook for over a year now and I think I am ready to share some.  But cause I am all scared and stuff and hate to do this authenticity thing alone- wanna play along?showyourheart

Here’s what I’ll do:  

I will post a prompt from my memoir writing book by Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, and other books every now and again.  I will commit to writing on this prompt for ten minutes and share my writing with you…and you share with me?  Post a response to the prompt and share your link in the comments?  What do you say?  If yes…super cool! Let’s do this thang! If no, well…then…I will share what I write anyway…So to start, just a quick story about how I came by this treasure of a book by Natalie Goldberg.

I was undone by her gift.  When I unwrapped it, it seemed…well…typical….of my sister- of her habits, of her life and loves…that she would gift me with a book for Christmas.  It is what she always gives- a tradition begun in her grad school days when money was tight and knowledge premium.

A sweet gift for a bibliophile like myself, but…well…expected.  I almost didn’t even flip through the pages….but I am so glad I did.

The book itself was one chosen specifically for me- Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg- a treasure for a storyteller and writer like myself.  It was a book I had longed for for several months and I was excited she’d chosen it for me.

“I just bought this for my Kindle!” I said and watched her face fall a bit.

“You can take it back if you want,” she offered, “but you should check inside first.”

I opened to the introduction and began skimming when out slipped a slip of cut looseleaf notebook paper.  Scrawled in blue magic marker in my sister’s handwriting was a quote:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you cannot do.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

Her letters formed straight up and down, started neatly and ran off the lines at the end of the quote. The slip of paper was torn cleanly from it’s sheet. I stared in wonder at this gift.

She’d stolen moments to write these words and tuck them in this book for me to run across at just the perfect time.  She’d searched and saved and thought of me when she saw them…and then she’d pulled the cap off of a blue Cars magic marker and written them down for me late at night or during nap time or when she could have been showering in peace.  Moments her busy-mom-of-two-with-a-newly-adopted-special-needs-chld-life just could not afford….but she spent them anyway.

As I flipped through, I found other slips of paper and had to fight the urge to read them all. I knew her intent was for me to unwrap these tiny gifts all year long- to dole out bits of encouragement over time…so I waited….and sat in awe at her gift.

I have loved working through this book over the last year….so now I am ready to share SOME of this writing with you…maybe these prompts will be as beautiful a gift to you as they have been to me.  Stay tuned…I’ll be back soon!

Five Minute Friday- Fly

 

On Fridays around these parts we stop, drop, and write.

For fun, for love of the sound of words, for play, for delight, for joy and celebration at the art of communication.

For only five short, bold, beautiful minutes. Unscripted and unedited. We just write without worrying if it’s just right or not.

Won’t you join us?

Here are the rules:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. Most importantly: leave a comment for the person who linked up before you – encouraging them in their writing!

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes on:

Today’s prompt is:  Fly

Ready? GO!

There is a moment when time stops just before I jump.  There is a split second, blink of the eye instant where doubt creeps in and I pray that my people see me, that they hear me and that they know me well enough to know that I am going for it. There is a moment when I wonder if my troupe will catch me…or not…and my launch into the air will be met with gravity and floor.

But it’s just a moment….because in this world- as it is in the world of improv…you have to trust that when you jump, you will be caught.  And because I was born without wings or a superpower and my cape is dirty and in the wash :), when I jump, the only way I can fly is on the hands and strength of the people I trust to catch me.

In our improv troupe, when someone assumes the role of a superhero or bird or some other flying character, the troupe will come together to "fly" the individual by lifting that person into the air (or catching them as they jump).  It is a profoundly moving and frightening experience, and so magical to watch.

In our improv troupe, when someone assumes the role of a superhero or bird or some other flying character, the troupe will come together to “fly” the individual by lifting that person into the air (or catching them as they jump). It is a profoundly moving and frightening experience, and so magical to watch.

STOP!

Back on the Wagon…for when you’ve been away too long.

It’s been too long since I’ve haunted these pages.  I am sorry.  I do have reasons…good ones…but I promised consistency, didn’t I? And I love this place here that we’ve created together.  A place where I can turn raw sentiment into flowery words; where I can share the things God is teaching me;  where I can ask hard questions and maybe sometimes get answers, but most times just get support. Most of all, a place, where you can find these things too (I hope).  But I haven’t been around much lately….I kind of fell off the wagon, eh?

Charlie and me_ch 13

This is the wagon I hopped on…Captivating Heart 2013

This year’s Captivating Heart was the best yet.  Sixty women from 5 states joined us in Oklahoma for our second year.  We’ve already begun to plan our third- perhaps two events next year.  And, what I’ve found is that there is “Administrative Leader Cari” and “Creative Writer Cari”, but they don’t tend to inhabit the same time and space well.

I did have moments when God’s beauty was just so breathtaking that I wanted to pick up my pen and write…

Like this one…

All photo credits - Brandi Jones

All photo credits – Brandi Jones

and this one…

Photo credit Brandi Jones

Photo credit Brandi Jones

I have long wanted to capture in words what my heart has been learning in real time, but the words don’t come…and the time is short…and I’m real sorry ’bout that.  Now that I am exiting this very busy speaking season, I hope to experience a flurry of writing! I hope to regail you with wise (and maybe even some funny) stories.  So stay tuned…there is so much more to come!

New Life Ranch Chapel, Captivating Heart 2013. Photo credit Brandi Jones

New Life Ranch Chapel, Captivating Heart 2013. Photo credit Brandi Jones

 

Enjoying the fire pit at Captivating Heart 2013

Enjoying the fire pit at Captivating Heart 2013

 

 

Five Minute Friday- Truth

It’s been soooo long….

since I’ve posted anything of substance…

since I’ve flexed fingers and typed thoughts that were just for the blogosphere and not for a speech, or lesson, or talk….

since I’ve been hanging out ’round these parts at all.  I’m sorry I’ve been away so long…for those of you still here- thanks for sticking around!

I’m a bit rusty at this whole staring at a blinking cursor thing, so I thought I might start slow…with a Five Minute Friday…

 

For only five short, bold, beautiful minutes. Unscripted and unedited. We just write without worrying if it’s just right or not.

Won’t you join us?

Here are the rules:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. Most importantly: leave a comment for the person who linked up before you – encouraging them in their writing!

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes on:

Today’s prompt is:  Truth

Ready? GO!

What is really truth? How do we know it when we see it?

Is it that moment when spirit rises up to meet spirit…when your whole body recognizes a resonant thought in another?  Is it that moment when you feel the “Yes, and Amen!” to your toes? Is that truth?

Or is it the word that challenges you to the core? The moment when your senses rile and your stomach turns and everything within you screams, “That can’t be it!”

Is it both?  Do we ever know?

My friend says that “All truth is God’s truth,” but I have no idea what that means.

For now, I pray.  Breathe in and breathe out and trust the Spirit within me to guide me.

STOP!

AVFM- Picking Stickers..for when love teaches

This post is part of a series I like to call “A Visit From Mom.”  These posts are written by, well…my mom. I think she kind of rocks! My mom and her mother were the primary inspirations for me to starting writing way back as a little girl.  Now, I share my blog with my mom cause I think she has some things to say that you might really love.

My mother was one of the best stay at home moms ever.  She had absolutely no money, but she was creative and could make something special out of nothing better than anyone I have ever known.  My fondest memories of her come from early childhood when she managed to cook and sew and garden and milk the cow and wash on a wringer washing machine and care for my siblings and me. . . .and play with us.

She truly enjoyed beating us at our own game of hop scotch or tetherball.   She would join us building a play house and play dolls inside our clothesline draperies.  When I was six, we lived on a dusty patch of God-forsaken earth in Wingate, Texas.  There, Mama taught us how to make mud pies near the tank of water generated by the windmill.

prickly_pear_cactus

On one of those adventures, my sister and I decided to make a special pie with a beautiful crust made from a local plant known as a prickly pear cactus.  In our enthusiasm regarding the perfection of our creation, we didn’t even notice the barbed, easily broken stickers which protruded on both sides of each “pie crust”.  By the time we had finished baking and presented our goodies to our mother, our little hands had already started to swell from the angry cactus.

Now, I know as a mother myself, that the sight of us in that condition probably wrung serious fear from her heart.  But there we were, miles from anyone, no telephone, no car—nothing but tweezers and rubbing alcohol.  For hours, Mama sat with us, picking stickers one by one, murmuring sweetness and singing songs to two screaming, distraught little girls.

I tell you this story because it ironically always brings a sense of calm to me.  My mother did so much more than teach us to make mud pies that day.

She taught us to be thorough, knowing that missing even one sticker in our little hands could cause an infection.

She taught us to be patient, carefully looking for each sticker and removing it methodically.

She taught us to approach a painful situation with gentleness and kindness, lessening our pain with her songs and sweet nothings.

Most of all, she taught us to do all things in love.  I KNOW she had not planned on spending her day picking stickers out of our hands.  But you would have never guessed that by her behavior.

I miss her now.  She could still teach me new lessons each day.  Perhaps I can do the same for others.  Perhaps I make her proud.  Please Lord, make it so.

Blessings,

Carlene Welch is the General Manager at Home Instead Senior Care of Northwest Arkansas, and avid writer and poet, and my mom. She serves as a Stephen’s Minister at her church and is one of the wisest women I know. She writes custom poetry and prose for cards and gifts. For more information, contact us at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com.