Author: Kelly Chripczuk

Goodbye, Hello (An Announcement)

Cliff notes Version: Friends, this is a rather long post - the short version is this: Hey, look, I have a new web address! To celebrate the new address and Valentine's Day, I'll be posting a short poem or story each day this week around the theme of love.  Check back frequently - next week I'll return to my usual posting schedule.  
A Field of Wild Flowers grew out of a vision that arrived in early 2011 as I sat praying in the calm, white, spacious place of my Spiritual Director’s office.  It came at a time when life as I knew it (i.e. planned it) seemed to have ended.  It came when, for reasons deep and wide, I could no longer see a clear path laid out ahead of me; my sense of destination as well as my means of travel appeared to be irreparably lost.
Which is all a fancy way to say that my life was upended by the arrival of twins, by a departure from my job as an Associate Pastor, and by the slow surrender of my long-held dream of attaining a PhD in Biblical Studies.  Before the twins’ arrival, I lived cloistered in our culture’s fantastical illusion that life is a highway – a long, sometimes winding, but steady road toward a distant destination which, most often, goes by the name ‘success.’  And, although we may each define it differently, the successful among us all agree that steady and determined movement toward it is key. 
But, like Dante, “Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost.  To tell about those woods is hard – so tangled and rough.”  I worked through those tangled, rough woods for months before I was free enough to embrace a new vision – to accept my placement somewhat “off of the main road” and commit to really exploring it.  What came to me, in the wake of acceptance, was the image of a field of wild flowers – a place with many paths, a space for wandering and discovery, a place of being rather than going.   
Thus was born, A Field of Wild Flowers.  Words became the lens through which I explored the daily looking for signs of life in the middle of this wide open space on the side of the road.  For five years, now, I’ve lived and written from that field, finding God in everything from housework to hens.  The more I explored the field of my life, the more I realized what I feared most wasn’t my failure to reach life’s highway’s destination, but the idea that God was somehow waiting for me in that imagined destination - the idea that the love and acceptance, the presence I longed for, was tied up in success' illusory arrival.  Imagine, then, my continual surprise and delight, at discovering again and again that God is right here with me on the side of the road, picking flowers, tending house and home, incarnate in each moment as it comes.  
Now, five years in, I find myself again in a place of transition, though less lost and less afraid.  I’ve learned to make my home here in the field of God’s goodness and grace and discovered that this is, in fact, my destination.  Writing has been the means of both discovering and exploring this destination.  Over the past several months I've found a new sense of clarity around my intentions as I continue to nurture and expand this site.
I want to create and hold spaces where others can consider the possibilities of God’s presence in all aspects of their one precious life.  I want to help others learn to live in and listen beyond the surface of their days, to begin to discover the heartbeat of God that rolls like a steady drum beneath the peaks and valleys of daily life.  I want to tell stories that explore the possibilities of God’s presence, that illuminate the incarnational realities of God’s dwelling in our midst.  As such, I want to open and share with you the joys, sorrows, hopes and heartaches of This Contemplative Life.
My hope is that this new site will allow me to both broaden and deepen my reach online and through in-person events.  I plan to continue to post here once or twice a week and will also add a newsletter that will go out twice a month.  This site will continue to boast a wide array of stories, thoughts and reflections; my hope isn’t to narrow my content but rather broaden my audience.
My newsletter, Quiet Lights, will, offer short, simple reflections, images or poems to serve as an invitation to contemplation.  The newsletter will also feature updates on upcoming events. 
While I’m a little sad to move away from the image of wild flowers, which continues to ground me in the present, I’m excited to move into This Contemplative Life.  This Contemplative Life will continue to be a space that focuses on the small, day-to-day stories of my own life, but my hope is that my practice of attending to the intricacies of my own life will inspire you to attend to the details of your own life – for, contrary to popular opinion it’s God, not the devil, who’s found in the details.
As always, I'm grateful for the quiet, faithful readership that has grown up around A Field of Wild Flowers.  A change to a new web address is a bit scary and I'd love your continued support and help as I move forward.  Here are three simple ways you can help me grow this space:   
* Please share this webpage, help me build a growing audience.
* Like my Facebook page (still working to update the name there!).
* Sign up for the bi-monthly newsletter, Quiet Lights, and feel free to share that and the resources therein with others too. 
Note: If you currently receive my blog via email, you may need to resubscribe to continue seeing posts in your inbox.

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Tender: Showing Gentleness and Kindness

Tender adjective 
1. Showing gentleness and concern or sympathy 
2. (of food) easy to cut or chew, not tough 
    (of the body) sensitive to pain 
Tenderness noun 
1. gentleness and kindness 
2. sensitivity to pain 
A quick Google search tells me that the word tender, in all of its various forms, has fallen out of use steadily and dramatically since the 1800's.  Maybe that’s why, early in my tenure at Physical Therapy, I noticed it as it drifted gently across the far side of the large, open room.  I lay on my own table alone, staring at the ceiling and exercising my abs, when my ears caught wind of the word floating softly like a butterfly on a summer breeze. 
I listened as a young therapist asked, in a gentle, rolling central Pennsylvanian accent, “Is that tender?”  Although I couldn't see the other patient, I imagined the therapist gently moving his or her arm through a slow stretch, palpitating the muscle with deep attention and focus. 
The beauty of the word moved me as did the concern and care evident in the therapist's voice.  The fluttering word landed inside my chest, opening and closing its gentle wings and I gazed upon its intricate beauty as I continued my own careful stretching, flexing and bending.
Later that night I told my husband, “I heard the word ‘tender’ today.  It’s not something you hear very often, is it?  I was so struck by its beauty.” 
Noodling around online, observing the forms and uses of the word, I notice the breadth of its application.  Tenderness might describe a concrete physical reality, like a perfectly cooked pork loin or bruised muscle, but it also refers to an inward stance, a posture of the heart, if you will. 
For me, moments of tenderness, feel like a softening, a movement of openness toward the other that, inherently, leaves me vulnerable to pain – either the awareness of another's pain or the personal pain I might face if someone responds to my openness with attack.  It is often our most tender places that root us most deeply in the reality of our human vulnerabilities and, in that way, my own tenderness points beyond itself to yours, to the truth of our shared humanity.
I don’t know if the decline of the use of the word signifies a hardening of the heart among English language speakers, but I do find it interesting that the phrase’s demise parallels the advent of industrialization and the movement from tactile and interdependent agrarian life to more isolated and automated ways of life.  The less I depend on the natural world and my neighbor for my own well-being, the less I need to worry about your places of tenderness, the less I need to risk telling you about mine, in order to ensure survival. 
Of course, we lose something when we lose awareness of our tender places - in the physical realm we might compensate with a limping gait or inactivity.  In ignoring the tender places, we shut ourselves off from the possibility of their healing and become less tolerant of the tenderness of others.  Our current culture, here in the United States, is one in which it is often unsafe to either reveal or respond in tenderness.  In such an environment we lose not only connection and companionship, but also a fundamental truth about who we are and how we were created to live in relationship others and with the natural world in which we live.
I’d wager too, that when we lose the ability to be treat one another with tenderness, we also lose the ability to recognize tenderness as a key attribute of God.  Even without checking a concordance or delving into Greek and Hebrew word studies, I’m prone to accept Brennen Manning’s affirmation that “Scripture suggests that the essence of divine nature is compassion and that the heart of God is defined by tenderness.” 
Signs of this – the tenderheartedness of God – are all over scripture.  The willingness of God to be moved on our behalf, even at the risk of pain, is evident in the thread of love that weaves its way throughout the entirety of the Old Testament all the way through to that fundamental verse of the New Testament that declares, “God so loved the world that he sent . . .” 
Maybe this is a bit much to be making of a word that drifted into the focus of my attention one afternoon.  But maybe it's also possible that simple words and postures like tenderness and kindness hold the key to our future as a human race.  And if that's the case, then I'd like to suggest that we might start a return to tenderness by simply paying attention to the tender places that reveal themselves right in the middle of our daily lives.
The next time you feel the impulse to lash out at your spouse or that faceless troll online, it might be worth it to pause a moment or two to palpitate around in the depths of your being.  Gently ask yourself, "Is that tender?"  Or maybe, simply begin by paying attention to the way the people around you limp - emotionally, spiritually, physically - and spend some time daydreaming about what it would take to create a space where tenderness births an environment where real healing and recovery can begin.

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Relish (To Enjoy Greatly)

Relish verb  1. to enjoy greatly
synonyms: enjoy, delight in, love, adore, take pleasure in, rejoice in, appreciate, savor, revel in, luxuriate in, glory in
The world outside was an old gray dishrag, wet and dripping, on the day I met a writer friend for coffee.  Settling in, we shared our mutual hatred of January, the way it feels like it always has five weeks at least or seven.
“February is ok,” she said. “By February I at least have hope that March will be nicer.” 
This writer is a friend of a friend and has attended several of the local writing events I’ve offered.  Each time we meet, we talk like people who don’t know each other well, but would like to know each other better. Near the end of one event, as we stood talking, she said something I've mulled over for months.  She had been asking what I was up to now that all of my kids are in school and when I fumbled for a response she said something like, “I think it takes a good year for a woman to recover after her kids start school.”  That one sentence stuck with me and offered much needed permission as I begin the process of reemergence after years of being fully consumed by a hectic home life. 
Over coffee last week we each talked about our works in progress and writing plans for the future.  She’s just finished revisions on her first novel, is wading into a second, and looking for an agent.  I told her how I’d written a rough draft of a memoir last spring and, in the midst of it, realized I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.  So I stopped working on the memoir and started writing Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry
“You know how, if you were going to sew a wedding dress, you would first sew a mock-up of the pattern out of cheaper material, to make sure you understood how to do it?” I asked. 
“Yes,” she said, nodding. 
“That’s what Chicken Scratch was supposed to be, a chance to try the process,” I explained. 
“Well, it worked out well,” she said. 
The thing is, writing and publishing Chicken Scratch taught me a lot about publishing, but it didn’t teach my how to write a memoir and that’s where I find myself stuck now.  “I’m not really sure what I’m doing next,” I said. 
 “Well, you did a lot - writing and publishing that book in a very short period of time.  Maybe you just need to relish that,” she suggested.  Registering my blank stare, she asked, “Have you done that?” 
In my imagination, the word relish hung between us like some gorgeous, ripe fruit swaying on a low-hanging branch.  Relish is a rich word, luxurious like dark chocolate and red wine.  The act of relishing, though, is utterly foreign to me.  The act of relishing sits like caviar on a cracker – I don’t know what to do with it, don’t know if I even want to try. 
“No,” I said, “I haven’t.”  Then, I added, “I don’t know how to.  I’m a worker bee, always on to the next thing.”
With that, our conversation shifts again to future plans, but the word 'relish' stays with me for days; sticky, like a trace of honey in my mind.  Looking it up to write about it today, I see that to relish is to love, to delight in, enjoy and rejoice and it occurs to me that, although the word relish may not appear in the Bible, it's synonyms sure do. A quick glance at the Psalms, or at Jesus for that matter, reveals that people of God are to be skilled in the art of relishing - biblical writers delight in the Lord, in God's word, in creation.  We are to be people who know how to enjoy the goodness of this earthly life.  Without the ability to relish the good, how will we ever adequately recognize and confront the bad? When it comes to "relishing" I have, some work cut out for me, which suits this worker bee just fine.  The invitation now is to look and listen for the doorways of delight, the moments when I can open my hands, my heart, to the goodness of what is and has been done.  And by doing so, I will be buoyed to begin whatever new work the future holds. If you liked this post, you may also like Enjoy! Tales of Waitressing, Chaplaincy & Motherhood.  

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Fear is a Fox (#SmallWonder Link-Up)

(This isn't the fox I drew, but rather one I found online to work from - isn't it charming delightful?)
Last week I started work on a painting I planned to give to a friend.  Standing at the old sink in the Little House (where my office is) I covered a small, square, wooden canvas with a mixture of turquoise and dark purple paint and left it to dry.  The next day I added one or two more layers of the same colors.  I liked the combination and was happy, so far, with my little project.
(This, often, is the beginning of the problem.) 
Next I played with some tulle netting, painting over it like a stencil to add layers of texture and depth.  Now I liked the painting even more and the more I liked it, the more my progress slowed.
Love for what was made me hesitant to move toward what might be. 
But the painting was nowhere near complete.  With the background finished, it was time to add an image and words.  I already had words in mind and thought a fox would be a fitting image, so I looked online for a few samples to work from.  With luck, I easily found a sketch I loved.  I printed it and prepped my canvas board with a glossy gel layer that would preserve and protect the background while also allowing me to ‘erase’ my drawing at any point if I made a mistake. 
Then my progress stalled for several days.  I loved the background, loved the fox, but I was afraid to mess up either one.  I was afraid to start, afraid to try, even though the gel coating meant I could begin again at any time. 
I hemmed and hawed, I set my work aside and did not look the sly fox in the eye. 
Maybe it wouldn’t be worth writing about if it wasn’t such a common occurrence – the way fear creeps in, cloaked in perfectionism and I, a creature of habit and instinct, caught between fight and flight, freeze like a deer in headlights. 
Again, maybe it wouldn’t be much if it hadn’t happened also last week when it came to updating my book files, and if success updating the print files had (as it should have) given way to confidence to deal with the e-book files.  Instead, each step ran up against (and temporarily stalled out in the face of) its own wall of fear. 
I see this pattern again and again in my creativity and, if I’m honest, in my life.  I prefer the known to the unknown, even when the known is not particularly good, but especially if the known is good and filled with delight. 
How much time, how much energy, do I waste in this fearful pause? 
Why do I fail to believe that the grace of one step might carry over into the next? 
Maybe I need to become like the desert monk, Abba Paul, who worked all year long weaving baskets only to burn them and begin again each year - maybe I need to learn again and again the art of detachment, the gift of faith beyond sight. 
I talked with a college student about this the other night, one who’s currently taking a drawing class.  We trotted together across the cold, dark campus on our way to a Bible study and I confessed how fear had me frozen. 
“It’s ridiculous,” I said. “What am I so afraid of?  Especially when I could just erase it, just paint over it and start the whole thing over?” 
She offered no answer, but confessed to witnessing the same tendency in herself and we continued through the crisp winter night together until we reached our destination – a small house aglow with warmth and light. 
The next day, having voiced my fears aloud into the frigid night air, I pulled the fox from its lair beneath a stack of papers on the kitchen counter and looked it in the eye.  With a white gel pen, I sketched the outline on my canvas first, then filled in the fur.  I kept a bowl of water and q-tips nearby for erasing mistakes, but truth be told, I got it on the first try and barely erased a line.  Then, emboldened by success, I added low-lights in midnight blue to bring the fox alive. 
I was happy with the drawing, happy with my success. 
Yet, I stopped, again, frozen in the face of the next step - hand lettering the words.  How would I space them?  What fonts should I employ?
I set the work aside, because now I was even more invested, had even more to risk, even more to lose.  Against the purple and blue background, the white fox sparkled silver and fixed me with its shining eye.
Every wall of fear has a door.  The door cracks open, for me, when I recognize fear as an invitation to examine my own intrinsic attachment and perfectionism.
Now, when the wall rises up in front of me, I imagine stretching out my empty hand and opening the door.  On the other side stands the fox, staring.  Then, in a flash of beauty, she turns and runs off into the night. 
Every day that I create something, I bump up against fear’s wall.  And, faster now, I hear the fox's sly whisper, “Look for the door.”
How do you experience and deal with fear in your creative life?  In your faith life?
*   *   *
Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.
What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?
That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.
While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!

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