When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Found!

If you attended our church this morning, you heard Guy preach this story. If you know me well, you may have heard me tell this story. Having studied Luke 15 earlier this week, this story has lingered on my heart. It has become a touchstone of faith for our family, a reminder of God’s love and protection.

Mother’s Day weekend, May 2011, we went camping with friends in Yosemite National Park. Between us we had four adults and five boys, ages seven to twelve. Tween was the youngest, having turned seven just a few days earlier.

Saturday morning we made our way up the Vernal Falls trail. Less than two miles round-trip, it’s still a moderate hike with a 400 foot elevation gain. We went slowly, re-configuring along the way: at times I walked with my Guy, other times with my friend. The boys, older adventurers in the lead with the youngers working hard to keep up, mostly scrabbled up and over the rocks to the left of the trail, reappearing now and again.

Tween loves to adventure with his brother, but he’s less adventurous at heart. He needs to periodically touch Mama before racing off after the boys. I was grateful we’d dressed him in a long-sleeved, bright red, highly visible T-shirt.

At one dramatic vista point, we stopped to admire the raging Merced River below, a rare sight in the California drought. Guy nudged me onward, but I lingered; Tween hadn’t checked in. At that spot, he really should have. We shared a look, and then began running.

The other couple had four boys, but not five. Where was Tween?

Panic-struck, the men dropped their packs with me and ran in opposite directions: one up, the other down. The other mama continued walking with the boys, while I stayed put with the packs I couldn’t lift anyway.

Commence the longest hour of my life. When it had passed, you could have told me it had been five hours and I would’ve nodded, yes, of course. Time elongated, tortuously so.

Tween was born five weeks early. The pastor who came to pray with me read Psalm 91. Verse 11 jumped off the page–this baby, too early on his way into the world, needed God’s protection. We have prayed this verse for him all his life: God will put His angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go. Considering he’s a true homebody, preferring to go nowhere, it has provided regular comfort.

Over and over and over I claimed that promise for my lost baby as I sat alone on that trail. I focused on the waterfall trickling on the rock face across from me, trying to block images of my fallen child, foot stuck between rocks, or washing away in the mad river. Each time people came around the bend I hoped they had my little one in tow. They didn’t, but one young girl wore a shirt that read: “God is good all the time.” I accepted it as reassurance that God was, indeed, protecting Tween.

Feeling overwhelming responsibility, Teen came back to sit with me. He cried angry tears. How had he lost his little brother? We prayed together before he ran to catch up.

When he came back again his face was still wet with tears but he shouted: We’ve got him! Just as Guy arrived at the ranger station and the ranger picked up the phone to call Search and Rescue, our friend arrived at the Vernal Falls footbridge and found Tween with a family with kids about his size. He called his wife who called Guy, then sent Teen back to me so we could all rejoice in the good news.

Somehow Tween had landed on the trail ahead of our group. He thought he was behind, so he raced on. He described his mama to everyone he passed, and when this family realized he was lost, they kept pace with him. When Tween didn’t see us at the footbridge, he wanted to keep going. They kept him safe, knowing that parents wouldn’t keep hiking up the Mist Trail without their young child.

Two weeks later neighbors suggested we spend Memorial Day at Muir Beach. We’d never been and we love the beach. That day, though, turned out to be cold and windy, a hard beach day. I couldn’t sit still to enjoy idle conversation. Dogs and kids played–my polar bears even waded into the water–while Guy and I walked the length of beach, back and forth, moving just to keep warm.

As Tween jumped behind a boulder, I realized he was again wearing his red T-shirt. Sheesh, you’d think he’d be easy to see! He popped back into sight and kept running after his brother.

The boys hopped from rock to rock when we heard, “Is that Tween?” Honest to God, the same family who had found him in Yosemite were standing on the beach. Seriously, what are the odds? We thanked them again, profusely. Tween calls them his angels (later we had to encourage him that, while God did use this family to protect him, we couldn’t count on them to show up if Tween acted irresponsibly…)

Beginning when he was four, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with Tween night after night. One night a few months after Tween met his angels, we again came to the last story. It was sweet to snuggle and read together, so we kept going. Here’s the last page:

I looked at Tween. He was beaming and I realized more was going on than just bedtime stories. I asked, “You believe that, right? You’ve said ‘Yes’ to Jesus?” He smiled and nodded, so I continued, “That means that, even more than my child, you are God’s dear child. He loves you and you belong to Him.”

Those 25 minutes were the highlight of my week, and that may not be saying enough. God gave me the assurance that my child loves Jesus and wants to live God’s story for his life. The hour my child was lost was the worst of my life, but he has been found. Jesus came to seek and to save His lost children. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, a thousand times thank you!

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Found: Luke 15

Connect
When have you searched for something you’d lost?

Study
Read aloud Luke 15:1-7.
Jesus assumes that his audience would have the experience of searching for one of their own lost sheep. How might Jesus tell this parable today?
How is the sinner like the lost sheep? How is repentance like being found?
What is the shared emotional response between finding the sheep and the sinner’s repentance (vv. 5-7)? Why is that significant?
What is the role of “friends and neighbors” (v. 6)? Why are they important?
Who are the 99 righteous? Do they really not need to repent?
Why do the Pharisees and teachers complain (v. 2)? How does Jesus’ parable respond to their complaint?
Parables have one main point. How would you state Jesus’ one main point in this parable?

Live
How does a critical attitude get in the way of hearing Jesus?
Who went looking for you when you were lost? Who have you gone looking for?
Who are your “friends and neighbors” with whom you can celebrate found sheep?
How might joy be the antidote to criticism? What can you do to cultivate joy in the Lord?
For which lost sheep are you praying?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray specifically for the lost sheep you love to be found by Jesus.

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Humanity: Lost

Guy spent his childhood summers traveling the United States in a Volkswagen Vanagon with his parents and younger brother. Four to eight weeks most summers, adventuring and creating memories. A few summers ago we took a 9-state, 5-National Parks, 15-day trip of our own. We loaded up our minivan with clothes and food, camping equipment and cots, and got outta Dodge with books on CD as our only on-board entertainment.

More than halfway through the trip, we camped at Farragut State Park outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. One late afternoon we hiked to the lake. Kids swam while Guy and I watched, pleased to see Swim Team so obviously paying dividends in Tween’s confidence. Tween eventually got out and wanted me to take him back to our campsite for food and warm clothes. His simple request produced a memorable adventure.

Farragut

The trail we took from campsite to lake had seemed easy enough, straight, then slight left, then hard left. But it hadn’t been clearly marked, and somehow we missed the hard right and slight right that would have dropped us on the straightaway.

I love to hike, one of my favorite ways to spend time with my guys, but they are the outdoors-men, the pathfinders, the Scouts. Here I was in the clear leadership position – Tween was eight that summer – and, while I knew we had missed our intended way, my best guess was to turn right and aim for the road.

It didn’t take too long to get out of the forest, but then we walked for two hours more, winding roads between this campground and another, none of them ours. Tween complained of hunger, thirst, fatigue (after all, he’d been swimming prior to our unexpected hike). I held his hand and did my best to bite down my concern while I encouraged him that we were having our very own adventure, that this would be something we’d talk about for years to come (true!). We told stories and made up jokes and prayed, me distracting him best I could.

My heart held a mixed-bag of emotions: frustration that I’d gotten us into a mess; anger that Guy hadn’t sent out a search party; pride that Guy trusted me and hadn’t sent out a search party; wonder at the beauty surrounding us; joy in the sweet softness of my little guy’s hand in mine.

mother and son holding hands

True confessions: I have an odd habit leftover from my learning-to-type days… I ‘type’ words I see along the roadside by moving in order the fingers that would strike the appropriate keys. So I remembered the street signage because I had ‘typed’ them as we’d driven past the day before. At least I knew we were finally headed in the right direction!

Of course we eventually made it back to the campsite to find Guy and Teen not at all worried (again, an honor or an upset?). They figured we’d enjoyed a detour, or maybe we’d headed to the showers, but either way they knew we’d be fine. And we were, truly, just a little shaken, and colder and hungrier than we had been two hours earlier. I especially felt frazzled around the edges as my strong-for-my-kid exterior crumbled head to toe.

This story works as a metaphor for the human predicament. The path should be simple enough but we’re not equipped or able to find it. We’ve made more than a few wrong turns. We’re lost. We see some signs here and there but the hike is hard work, lonely, stressful. How I would’ve welcomed the help of a ranger! We need someone to show us the way, and Jesus is The Way (more on that next week).

Meanwhile, it helps to recognize that we are lost, to stop pretending that we know exactly where we are and where we’re going. We might as well be honest with ourselves and one another. Faking it will not help us make it. At least in our honesty we can express and experience compassion for fellow lost travelers.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you love got lost.

Study
Read aloud Romans 3:9-20.
Who is under sin’s power (vv. 9-10, 19-20)?
Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God “with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27), which covers every aspect of a person’s being. In this passage, note how Paul describes how each of these four aspects of a person is affected by sin.
Which description in vv. 10-18 most stands out to you, and why?
What is the power of the law (vv. 19-20)?

Live
Give some examples of how you see the power of sin over people.
From this passage, how do you respond to someone who says that people are essentially good?
How do we in the church still try to justify ourselves by works of law?
Read Psalm 1:1-3. How do you “delight in the law of the Lord”? How is your daily Bible reading useful in becoming conscious of your sin?
How can a regular practice of confession work as an antibiotic against sin?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will convict you of sin and guide you deeper in relationship with your God.

Quieting Our Souls: Solitude

So many shades of blue

So many shades of blue

Born and raised in SoCal, most of my life has been lived within 20 minutes of the coast.

Until now, when the coast is at best 30 minutes away and at worst, an hour+.

I have noticed lately an intense craving to be near the water. The local reservoirs, and the two or three hikes within sight of them, come close but not quite. I need to see, hear, smell salt water lapping shore, sea gulls squawking overhead, and feel sand between my toes.

Yes, oh yes, but it's not the ocean

Yes, oh yes, but it’s not the ocean

Happy beach dogs

Happy beach dogs

The beach invites me into solitude, a reminder of God’s Great-Big-ness and my comparable insignificance. And yet, I am loved and held and cared for by the God who created such overwhelming beauty.

beach invitation

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Beach sound quiets my soul. Meanwhile, I strain to hear beach sound while the noise of life grows clamorous. I crave solitude.

My personality inclines itself to solitude but it doesn’t always come easy. When Teen was a toddler I read that those with my personality type need an hour or more of solitude each day to maintain emotional health – I squawked in laughter like my sea gull friends! How does a mom of littles get even a few minutes of solitude? Gracious me, I was lucky if I could shut the bathroom door without a child in there with me!

As the kids get older you do get some of your own life back (hope for my mom-of-littles friends!), and solitude becomes a more achievable goal. Gym time, walking the dog, silence rather than radio in the car (often on the way to pick up a kid or a carpool – silence until the kids get in the car, and then they’re so noisy they often don’t notice the music isn’t on, and I get to eavesdrop on their chatter), and a big YAY for uninterrupted writing time.

I get a little Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs when I haven’t had enough solitude. This quote from Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and Silence sums it up well:

“I try to run into God’s arms and give myself to his embrace, but I am holding lots of stuff, and it gets in the way. The baggage I am carrying makes me clumsy and hard to hug” (p45).

Clumsy and hard to hug – I don’t know how to hug myself, let alone anyone else, until I have sorted through my soul’s detritus with Jesus.

So here’s to finding small and big ways to include time for solitude in the schedule!

Connect
Where do you go to be alone, and why?

Study
Read aloud Mark 6:31-34, 45-57.
Describe the situation in which Jesus invites His disciples to come away. What did He intend for them (vv. 31-32)?
Jesus’ plans for solitude were interrupted by the crowd. How did He handle it (vv. 33-34)?What did Jesus do when He finally got away (v. 46)?

Live
Does the idea of solitude thrill or threaten you? Explain.
How is the spiritual practice of solitude like/unlike simply being alone?
What ‘noise’ keeps you from quieting your soul, and what can you do to turn down the volume?
When have you experienced a “crowd” in your solitary place? How did you handle it?
How could solitude focus your prayers and help you seek God?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles. Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

birds

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).