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What would you grab in a fire?

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Walking early with a friend, we inhaled Colorado’s beauty as the sun rose, glowed on western ridges, and illuminated Pikes Peak.  Usually snow-capped in June, how bare it looked now due to winter’s snow drought. Another outlandishly hot, dry day loomed here in Colorado Springs. We walked among a tinderbox. Trees and bushes, shriveled and brittle, drooped beside wildflowers, wilted and weary-looking, all wavering in the early morning heat. We gulped water as we wandered. Parched landscape looked longingly at us, wishing for rain. At walk’s end, we returned to our own welcoming air-conditioned abodes.

After lunch, my husband, headed out for a haircut. Moments later he called, wondering if I too could see the angry black plume of smoke billowing off to the west. From our back deck, I saw it and shivered, despite rising temperatures. Fires, part of living in the arid high desert out west, are never a welcome sight.

Within the hour, our local television station reported a wildfire in Waldo Canyon. Just up Ute Valley Pass, an easy twenty-minute drive west of town from us, this popular hiking trail lingers along a ridge, after gaining quick altitude above the city. Firefighters hiked up as hikers scurried down as the fire increased.

Gathered here at an overlook above Garden of the Gods’ famous Kissing Camels rock formation, an erratic and aggressive fire grabs our attention with its aggressive regime. Like the square dancers’ do-si-do, winds swirl on remote ridges. We gasp with other gawkers, as flames flare, darting nearer and nearer the subdivision closest to Waldo Canyon. As we gaze mesmerized, the fire grows exponentially, spreading south and west, then sprints suddenly northwest. On one hand, I count the ridges between the fire and our home. Suddenly, I don’t want to be among the gawkers. Our eyes meet. We nod to one another, hop in the car, as my husband steers us home.

The television in the den billows information as dark and scary as those fiery plumes.  Meteorologists warn of wind, temperature and lack of humidity conditions. US Forest agents talk terrain from topographical maps. Fire department personnel pose possible plans of attack. Officials talk of evacuations.

Suddenly this is not a fire drill. This is not some question posed to get people thinking about their values. It’s a little too real. I feel as if I’ve had a gallon of caffeine, and I’m not a caffeine person. I’m revved up and a bouncing off the walls a bit. Evacuate? As in, leave because a fire is coming, and maybe come back to nothing? Really? Evacuate?

My mind runs as fast as a wildfire. What’ll I pack if we have to evacuate? What’s important to have with me as the fire potentially threatens to hop ridges, careen across canyons, and whirl on the winds?

I look across the room into those sparkling blue eyes of my husband and my son’s thoughtful brown ones. Here are my two greatest tangible values in this home. I can walk away with these two and I will have lost nothing of great value. It’s that simple. My beloveds, here and afar, are my greatest tangible value beyond God Himself.

The newscaster interrupts my thoughts. “Gather 72 hours worth of belongings to live off of, and be sure to take whatever you want to save.” I may come home to only ashes.  That fuels my thoughts further. A task is good to have when your mind is swirling.

I stash my favorite shirt, comfortable shoes, faded hiking shorts/pants, and toiletries into a canvas bag. My old black daypack, once carried on a Waldo Canyon hike, is gadget central: camera, computers, iPhone, and all companioning cords.  Memories, vital information, and writing projects reside there.  Looking through five boxes of photos, I choose one containing snapshots of my children growing up and some of my recent wedding day to this old/new sweetheart of mine. In my study, my hands linger over the worn leather Bible, its margins thick with faith responses to Jesus’ love notes. I toss it and a blank journal into a bag. That’s it. I’m done. If nothing else survives, I’ll be contented.

I circle back to the den, where the latest news shouts. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations creep closer and closer to our neighborhood. We scan the boundaries of the screen’s map. Where’s the squiggly line of our street? Are we pre-, voluntary, or mandatory evacuation? We decide we are none of the above, yet are just a few smoky miles north of one mandatory boundary. We could be ordered out next. That feels weighty and full of waiting.

“Be sure to gather important papers,” one newscaster says. I’ve not even considered that in my scavenging. “If there’s time,” he urges, “take pictures of each room in the house. That may make the insurance dealings somewhat manageable if all goes aflame.” Another task is good for my still swirling heart. My husband and son agree.

Time is one thing we seem to have. My iPhone in hand, I set off systematically, basement to top floor. Snapping photos, I notice so much stuff that matters so little at times like this.

What leap out are memories. My heart that’s been pounding full force grows calm, full of prayerful gratitude as I go. Smiles, laughter, even tears come. A snapshot on my desk of my three little ones, singing to me in their yellow slickers one long-ago rainy Georgia afternoon. Photographs my daughter gave me one Christmas from the travels we did together in Australia. The wooden cross in the kitchen from a women I’d mentored. A silly line drawing on the bookshelf, created thirty years ago, which one son found and recently framed for Mother’s Day. A woodcut and poem another son wrapped up for my birthday. The place my husband and I gather and pray each morning for our children and grandchildren. . A tiny angel ornament from a friend who’d been in Haiti. A watercolor from a prayer partner. The collage of childhood photos from my children’s life that greets me each morning upon my dresser. A bookcase full of journals, notes from almost sixty years worth of living. The photo of my husband and I at our high school prom and another one of our wedding in 2008. Love notes from our courtship. A few of these join the stash of things I’ll take with me.

If the fire leaps our way, today, tonight, tomorrow, no doubt I’ll miss some of this stuff that won’t fit into bags or boxes. But most of it has no hold on me. I finish taking photos of the last room then wander slowly back down to the den. My husband and son grin at my calmness. I smile back.

What will I take if my house is on fire or, in this case, in the line of a fire?  The ones here who are the fires of joy to my heart.

 

What about you? What would you grab if the fires come your way?

 

© Lane M. Arnold

June 23, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editing Process

 

 

Like runners headed for the finish line, my coauthor and I enter the final sprint of editing our book: The Life of the Body: Physical Well Being and Spiritual Formation. Six months from now, the words being typed on my computer will show up on a shelf in your local bookstore. The marketing and sales folks over at InterVarsity Press are moving up from behind the scenes now, getting ready to launch and celebrate the results of this adventure in words.

The reality of editing this book is about refining my jumble of words into something that actually says what I meant to say.  In the course of writing, writing, writing, I’ve read, read, read my own words, and those of my co-author. I’ve edited my words. I’ve rearranged paragraphs. Together my coauthor and I revised and revisited our document over and over and over again before we ever sent it on to the publishing house.

Yet even that’s not enough to move my written words from intention to publication. The manuscript itself, like a new baby at a family reunion, makes the rounds to be known and understood: author, co-author, editor, author, coauthor, copyeditor, proofreader, author, coauthor. Into the mix, possible endorsers and a few select friends and family greet the new book, catching a first glimpse of what is within the covers of this future publication. Affirmation and congratulations are coupled with suggestions and questions for additional corrections. Typos are pointed out, subject-verb agreements begin to line up, and sentence structures in need of some serious realignment are straightened up. Editing invites me to reexamine what in the world I was trying to say in the first place.

Editing a book, however, is about far more than rearranging words on a page. Editing a book edits me. I pace myself, here in the middle of the romp of writing to hone my voice so I can offer it forth. Do my words speak my life? Does my life speak my words? Are there places I stumble and need strengthening? Are old injuries of heart or body preventing me from running fully present and fully forward? Do these words align with God’s heart?

It’s easy to pontificate about the wonders of this body that God has created. It’s fun to experiment, dialogue, and research about how food, the earth’s care, and exercise matter to my growth as Christ’s follower. It’s a delight to invite readers to join in the conversation at the junction of body and heart living.

The hard part of editing a book, however, is to also allow God to edit my life. I write a book. God writes then edits my life’s story. Sometimes, I’d like to delete some of His chapters and verses or some I’ve written when I could have let Him be the Author. Sometimes, I wax eloquently when Jesus is inviting me to stillness and quiet. Sometimes, I push forward when, instead, I need to linger, waiting on the Spirit’s signals for when to sprint ahead. In the end, I hope the words of my life say what God wants me to be.

Always, the Author and Giver of life is giving me another opportunity to become like the greatest Gift and Story, Jesus. Always, that’s going to require more editing on His part and more willingness on mine to be refined and redesigned.

Where are you noticing you are being edited today? What story is God up to in and for you in the editing?

 

© Lane Arnold

June 19, 2012

 

Being You

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.                               St. Catherine of Siena

I am contemplative. I pray to discern. I linger longer at the heart of Love to hear His call, His longing for me. A life of listening prayerfulness is about listening to God more than listening to myself. I listen to hear His heart for my heart. I listen to hear His heart for another. I listen for family’s hearts and for friends’ hearts and for my spiritual directees’ hearts. I am contemplative.

But sometimes I want to stay only contemplative and that is, on occasion, a choice made of fear. I want to be sure. I want to be clear. I don’t want to be stretched or rearranged into the unknown. A comfort zone is comfortable, isn’t it? But, God doesn’t really call me to be comfortable. He calls me to step into love’s action.

Contemplation in action is requesting more of me.

Thinking on the seemingly disparate differences between contemplation and action led me again to St. Catherine of Siena. She wasn’t a familiar name until I visited Siena in 2004, while my daughter, an art major, was studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Being a good mother, I flew over to check in on her. Oh, and by the way, while I’m here…let’s see a bit of Italy.

One gold-lit afternoon as we meandered medieval lanes in Siena, we came across references to St. Catherine. Born in the 1300s to a merchant family who were somewhat prosperous, she chose a spiritual commitment to Christ over a social commitment to marriage and affluence, having experienced some holy encounters with Christ. Upon entering an order of laywomen, she spent three years in solitary contemplation. Such silence of prayer set a foundation of strength and stability at a heart level with God. Yet, God called her forth from her life of contemplation into a life of action. For St. Catherine, the blend of contemplation and action were not opposed to one another, but were rather complements that took her singleness of heart to a service of others. She encouraged, mediated, taught, comforted and served others through her contemplation gathered from her prayerful heart, her presence offered by her serving heart, and her gift of writing, both letters and a book, grown from an obedient heart.

I watch St. Catherine and find myself challenged: will I sit only in contemplation and never act? Or will I move forward into a life that blends the power of silence and the power of service?

I’m at a change point. It’s time to step into or step up to action. My novel has languished on the shelf, literally, while I’ve gone about my life of being a spiritual director. My prose and poetry have shriveled in a dried out corner while my energy has focused on a nonfiction book on the physical body and our life with Christ and the Body of other Christ-followers, due out in January of 2013.

It’s time now to believe, to act, to move past thinking about to being within, to doing the work, to creating the wonder with another part of my writer’s heart.

The pivot points are here:

  1. Discernment: I am a writer. I have a story worth telling. This is God’s gifting to me. I am to celebrate His Presence in me by writing words to others.
  2. Delight: Like Eric Liddell’s famous line in Chariots of Fire, I feel God’s pleasure when I run by writing in His giftings of my heart, both in nonfiction and fiction, in poetry and prose.
  3. Discipline: Thinking about writing won’t write the story, won’t create the poem. Investing in discipline will. I will arise before the day takes off and in the quiet of dawn, I will act as a writer does: I will write.

St. Catherine spurs me on with her prayers: I have naught to give save what Thou hast given me.

She reminds me that effort is involved: Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.

She challenges me: Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.

She encourages me: I treasure your knowing how to give the world a kick.

St. Catherine sets the bar high: Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.

I’m moving forward, blending my contemplative heart and my writing art into an action that will set the world on fire…or at least start a small blaze glowing. Who knows what can happen from here?

What about you? How will you set the world on fire by being whom God meant you to be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sprinklers

The sprinklers are reviving the grass this morning. Lord, with Your Presence, You the Living Water, come and revive my heart.

Looking out the window this morning, that was my first thought: I need reviving. I am dry. I am shriveling up and colorless, like the lawn that’s depleted of moisture. I thirst. I am dehydrated of heart. I thirst for more of my heart to be present to this day. I thirst for more of my heart to be present to Your heart today.

I have a choice. I can sit and wish or I can rise and act. I can wonder why I’m still thirsty and do nothing about it or I can choose to be quenched and drenched by Living Water. My wishes have to move me enough to rise and place myself in quenching places.

For me, the Psalms are like a flow of fluid that move me from wishing to watching water pour forth. I open the spigot. A drip splatters on my tongue. Then a dribble squiggles down my throat. Then a drenching begins the quenching of all that is dry in me.

I thirst for more of You, O Lord. Keep me moving ever towards the flow of You.

Where do you thirst for more of God? What motions will rehydrate you?