Alone with my Friends

Peace and quiet. I collect them. In my home they’re readily found before the sun rises, mixed with the scent of freshly brewed coffee. They prefer a dimly lit room. They also have an affinity for my desk – the one I’ve pieced together like Frankenstein from mismatched chunks of walnut-colored tabletop. I hoard as many peaceful, quiet moments as I can before they’re chased into seclusion by bright lights and waking children.

Despite my propensity for introversion, I’m not anti-social or a recluse. I think people are great. I just enjoy moments without them.

Regular infusions of solitude refresh my perspective. They energize my work. Silence helps unclutter noisy thoughts and smooth pathways to clarity. Quiet mornings lead me toward spiritual renewal and reorientation.

But sometimes my solitary re-creation becomes conflicted, even paradoxical as my mind fills with thoughts of…people. Faces and conversations and shared experiences. In the serenity of my solo time I drift into pondering the mystery and wonder of being with people.

Sitting this week at Franken-desk in the pre-dawn stillness I’ve been rehashing a collection of recent experiences. A montage of relational highlights that include soccer games and a poetry reading. Wiring three-way switches, installing can lights, and rerouting furnace duct. A video parody. A pair of playful beavers. Eating half-chickens and tailgating through a Chicago rush hour. Comedy that wasn’t, goose poop that was (sort of) and a hotel fire alarm.

Broken trust. Tears of lament. Soulful petitions in a rain-spattered parking lot. The embrace of authentic friendship.

Confessions, celebrations, classic literature, and an ancient language. A highly viscous (but tasty) squash soup. A tale of providence and obedience. Children and their prayers of blessing. New connections and shared passions. A common faith.

We are made to relate. Be together: face-to-face, hand-in-hand, soul with soul. It is good to participate in humanity’s sacred solidarity. To be communal. To give and take.

I like my alone time. I like people more.

Thanks, friends.

“What’s friendship, when all’s done, but the giving and taking of wounds?”
~ Frederick Buechner, Godric, p.7

One Year Ago

One year ago, with our first post, this blog came to life.

We came out of the gate a bit tenuous, feeling
small. But we soon found our rhythm. Now, blogging is part of our weekly ritual. With each post we are stretched as we work-out our theology in the common things of life. Things like helping our kids see the value of reading good literature. Or explaining what belly buttons are for. Or making it through the hug line unscathed. Or applying financial leverage to shape long-term character – or simply influence behavior in the moment.

with our children provide much material for our writings. Parenting is a very humbling experience. Despite our best efforts, there’s always the possibility our kids will find us old-fashioned, or even (gulp) puritanical. But we love our little sweeties (Katrina’s term of endearment). Each day we pray over them as we lovingly weave our threads of influence into their souls.

But with weaving comes tension. A tension that needs breaking once in a while – with humor.

A little levity helps balance the frustration of
dog-chewed earphones , broken lawn tractors and a long weekend of painting. A herd of galloping unicorns brings welcome laughter to a stressful moment (even Scrooge can’t help but smile at a unicorn – real, stuffed or imagined). At times our humor leads to a bit of mischief, but we never cross the line of looney. And, what better way to keep zombies at bay than periodic bursts of giggling?

Food was a consistent theme this year. With some trepidation I shared my “
fruit tree” moniker. I followed that by comparing myself to a coconut. We ate waffles in Chicago and waxed eloquent about our Family Stew. And just recently we discovered that donuts not only taste great, they also work well on issues of the heart.

Not content to stay at home, we went international. We plumbed the depths of middle earth with Chilean miners, only to return to Earth’s surface with questions about
life. We went to war for the fatherless in Ethiopia. We crossed “The Pond” to peek-in on a royal wedding. Our journeying finally brought us back to the States where we considered the life of an American icon, wondering what her life would have been like if she had tarried longer.

During this past year we learned more about our unwelcome, but necessary
companion. The company of struggle and pain has taught us to pray audaciously. And in this praying we found – again – that God is juice and joy. His goodness fuels our praise and fosters a longing for the day of restoration. But in the present, we rest in Jesus Christ for strength and courage to do the hard work of redemptive relationships.

Like our blog title suggests, we are privileged to relate with a God who loves us. Who is jealous for us. Who wants our deepest
affection. And our time. We must arrange our busyness around Him – our epicenter. His Spirit speaks to our spirit, imploring us to stand firm in our faith. To be honest about our brokenness. To not be duped by a feel-good theology.

The rookie season of Dwelling Under a Friendly Sky has been a blessing – for us, and hopefully for you. We write out of gratitude for choices made in a
garden long ago. A choice to obey. To sacrifice. To love. Choices made by a Man who knew what it was to struggle. Be tempted. Feel pain.  Work hard. Be part of a family. That Man – the God-Man Jesus – was our pioneer. As you dwell under His friendly sky, may you become infatuated with who He is and what He’s done.

A Good Hard Decision

If I meet you and we have some time to talk, one thing will come out about me. I love books. One of my driving forces is fiction that captures me and meets me someplace deep. Deep in my heart. Deep in my funny bone. Deep in my hopes. Doesn’t matter, just needs to be deep.
There’s a new book out, ”A Good Hard Look” by Ann Napolitano, and one of the characters is Flannery O’Connor, a southern writer who died young and wrote stark, feel-heavy stories that you either appreciated or didn’t.
I am devoted to Flannery O’Connor. I have the peacock feathers on my desk to prove it. She raised peacocks and shares quite a few stories about their antics and challenges. Growing up, my mom had a vase of peacock feathers in our living room and I used to run my hands up their straggly, iridescent lines. Put the two together and I couldn’t resist having some of my own.
Flannery’s letters were delicious to me and I felt as though I sat with a friend whenever I pulled the book into my lap. As the weight of the book’s pages flipped from one side of my lap to another, I began to read very slowly. I knew I was getting to her last letter and then the book would be done because Flannery was done and I would lose these moments of insight and humor and friendship. I began to regret that there would be an end and I began to try to mess with the inevitable and keep her alive by pretending the book wasn’t there. I let it get covered up by other books even. Finally, I read quickly through the last two dozen pages because I just had to get it over and deal with it. There were no tears then but as I write this now, I feel them setting at the edges of my eyes.
I know. Some of you are thinking, get back to writing about the kids, Katrina, and taking their money.  But others know what I’m talking about because you know an author this way and you go seeking out their words like a comforting quilt or a picture that used to hang in your grandparents’ house but got sold at a garage sale.
And it’s not just that I actually like her fiction, I found instruction about writing and reading in her essays and letters. One of my favorite quotes from her is this: The fact is that if the writer’s attention is on producing…a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess.  He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses.  They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole. When I found this quote it put some things together for me about finishing a book and being dissatisfied. It’s why I don’t sprint to the library when a new Nicholas Sparks’ book comes out. It’s why I couldn’t completely appreciate “The Shack”.
So now an author has written a book with Flannery O’Connor as a character. If you’ve read Flannery—her letters, essays and stories you’d know: that’s bold. But if I read it, will I feel like I’m getting the chance to sit with my friend again—will the character she’s written truly be Flannery?
In the news of this book, I find myself wanting to go outside the norm of my book buying habits. Usually, I get in line at the library and read it. If I get it again, it’s a keeper. If I can’t stop telling people about it, I know it should end up on my shelf. I let it sit around in my brain a bit and then I take what I call, The Plunge—irony embraced—and buy it.  
Now this book by this author I don’t know. Ms. Napolitano has given Flannery words, thoughts, actions. If she’s done it poorly, well, that’s to be expected, right? I can scoff and rant for a few days and tell everyone off the book. If she’s done it right, then I get to hang out with Flannery O’Connor again and I can barely control my interest in that.
I’ll stop my discourse about a book I haven’t read and one that, obviously, bears a large weight for me. I’ve seen the glowing reviews come in every day for weeks. I’m really happy for the author. You can tell she’s glowing at the press and the attention as every author should. I’m just left wondering, will her book glow for me?
As soon as Amazon delivers, I’ll find out. I hope it’s so.