Monday, June 29, 2015

Small Things and the Nature of Joy (#SmallWonder Link-up)


It fits in the palm of my hand, small and pleasing, like Julian of Norwich’s hazelnut. 

The cover is cut and glued from scrap paper – the same paper that lines my kitchen cabinet.  The pages, cut from printer paper and the binding, a bit of linen cord.  

All in all, it took less than fifteen minutes to complete once I understood the pattern and got my measurements right – in fact, I made two.  Inside I wrote, by hand, one of my own small poems, fifteen lines spread across nine pages, forty words in all. 

I wrote a book, see? 

Because that’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and yet I’ve been afraid, overwhelmed by the enormity of it, unsure where and how to begin.  So I followed my heart to its place of joy – a quiet place where words and pages meet, where a project is small enough, simple enough to be approached.  My love for craft – paper, glue, scissors, color and cord – balanced out my fear, tipping me toward productivity.

I wrote a book, a very small one indeed.

And it made me very happy. 

I was smiling inside and out, delighted in a heart-happy way as I moved about the house.  Then my mind kicked in – not the mind that is restful, awake and aware, but the calculating one, the insatiable.  Before long I was making books by the hundreds, selling them by the truckload, considering buying a printing press – in my head.  And there, of course, the fear set it, what if it didn’t work? What if it wasn’t a huge success?  What if this little joy couldn’t sustain its own multiplication?

Then as I was cutting and gluing, head bent, a voice leaned, whispering in my ear, “If you made a hundred books, would your joy be any more full than it is right now?”

Pea-green paper rested between my fingers.  Linen thread wrestled.  The tiny triangular tab of a cover tucked perfectly into its slot.

No, I thought, it wouldn't be any fuller.  

That’s not how joy is. 

Joy isn't a commodity that changes with increase, it's whole in and of itself, like a ripe berry, or small seed.  Joy needs no addition, no subtraction or multiplication.  Joy can be shared, spread, multiplied, but only as itself, each experience whole like the many seeds of a pomegranate’s flesh.

That question rooted me back in the present, gave me back the joy that arrived like a rainbow, a gift, to begin with.  There will be more books, in many sizes and with them each will come joy.  

But it won't be any more or less than what I held that day in my heart’s hands - pure, simple, sweet.

Is there some small thing that's giving you joy these days?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the 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.      


   

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Grandma's Chickadees

I have my own picture window now, complete with bird feeder.

Grandma fed her chickadees
religiously, for years.  Filling 
a rusted coffee can with sunflower 
seeds, she loaded the feeder outside 
her big picture window, daily.

Seated with binoculars and bird book in hand, 
she watched the window like a big screen TV.
A .22 leaned casually against the window frame.  
She slipped its nose out occasionally, firing a round 
into marauding Blue Jays and other greedy types.

Her letters to me, in shaky script, described 
birds she saw and bears; often
mother bears moving through the old
orchard on their way to the river
with cubs in tow.  

She stopped shooting the rifle, she said,
after she accidentally shot a hole in the floor.  
When a bold bear came and stood outside the window
making eye contact with her, she also stopped feeding the birds. 

I wanted her to feed them anyway,
to stand her petite frame in the wide
window, binoculars in one hand and riffle
in the other, like a sharp shooter in the WWII
movies Grandpa and I watched in her
living room.  I wanted food for the birds,
which were food for her.  I wanted her to keep
feeding them.  

Now I walk my own property
toting bags of oiled, black sunflower seeds. 
One by one I lower, fill, and rehang feeders.  
I watch dumpy doves, dapper cardinals, bright yellow finches 
and the greedy squirrel who hangs upside-down by his back toes.
I lift my children to face the window, “Look! See!,” I say.  

We’re a long way from the mountains,
though I can see them in the distance.  
I don’t believe the bears will find me here, 
but if they do, maybe I’ll tell them
about my Grandmother – her binoculars and gun,
her happy, well-fed chickadees.    


Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Wink, a Blink, and a Nod (#SmallWonder Link-up)


Today, I'm grateful to be hosting the words of fellow blogger, Elizabeth Marshall.  Won't you give her a warm welcome as she shares her heart?


I am measuring beauty and grace in increments of fragmented seconds. Small flakes of wonder, and flecks of time the size of a radish seed are grabbing and holding my attention, turning my chin with fingers, with skin. The hand of God calls me to look.  The Trinity corals me into a hemmed in place for my soul to rest. The balm is of his creation. In this new system of measurement I find lost artifacts. Code them and hold them as sacred – privileged to be awakened to see what was unseen, I abide in him more.
I am an archivist of the now.

The dragonfly in the garden looked like an adolescent. Thin and frail, if he flew slant he would become a line. Fueled by a passion to stay alive, to feed on the nutrients of his world, he left in a blink. A logogram of wonder. A sign of the miraculous. Punctuating the exclamation from my heart of the extraordinary ordinary.
Morning Glories wrap around my patinated back stoop railing. They open and shut, winking and nodding the sweetest of good day’s and good night’s. Slowly going into and out of the heat, they remind me of January’s curtain of dormancy. They cause me to recall - there is quiet, there are pauses. In other seasons, there is a waiting.
My senses awake in a nod. The breath and depth of creation’s unfathomable design, brilliant and alive, is newly paraded on stage. She is a humble peacock. Humility inhabits the folds of her feathered covering. Brilliant and illuminated, her beauty is not hidden easily and it has awakened me. My ears are unplugged, my eyes are re-focused on minutia.

I am awake at the wheel.
In this season, the garden is my sacred place for abiding. God reveals himself to me there. I pluck a flower or pick a berry. Sitting by my newest friends – my rooster and his hens – I settle into the quiet. I study the intricate patterning of their plumage and marvel.

I am both a child and an aging knower.

I see as a child but with the hindsight and maturity of one who is in the second half of life. My life is aging in the flesh and in my bones, but the child in me is present still to share in the partaking.
I am privileged to have a second chance - to see with the lens of grace, to gather and tuck petals and feathers and seconds of life into my place of remembering. I dissect and review and reframe as a poet.  I lean into this living fully present, waiting on beauty and glory. I see glimpses, take sips, drink from the cup of his offering.
I am Rip Van Winkle, awakened to the beauty of the now.

Reacquainted with Father God the creator, I add a dimension to my faith by watching him unveil and reveal a softness and gentleness. Masterpiece after masterpiece says, “I am here and love you. I have made art for your soul. I understand your love for my heavens and my earth. I created you to marvel at it. And it to be marveled at by you.

In a wink, a blink, and a nod we can see it, savor it and ingest it. Or we can live with a beating heart and flowing blood, alive, but not engaged; here, but not present.

For now, I am awake at the wheel as I live out my days in my fifties. Fifty six years of making memories in this life – gratitude attends my soul as I thank God for calling me into a season of seeing, recording and savoring.

Each second, each wink, blink and nod, there are thousands of signs of God’s love.

Abide with me.

Slow with me.

Find time to see anew with me.

This is my passion.

To find the beauty in the simple and to gather, handful by handful, the overflow of miracle.

Shell.

Feather.

Stone and leaf.

Skyward, a pastel painted sky fades and gives way to winking and blinking stars.

And I nod.

Yes. Thank you. Grace.

At the tips of my toes the Cicada springs up through the grass, joining the symphony of the ebony night.

There are wonders, miracles, and signs of God in every wink, blink and nod.  I have been slow to see, but I rejoice that I am now awake.  Won’t you join me in the partaking?

Elizabeth Wynne Marshall is a writer, poet, and blogger. A lover of grace & the sea, she spends her days living and writing out the beautiful ordinary in a life lived by the sea. Her words may be found at her writing home, elizabeth w. marshall, poetry & prose through a lens of grace. On twitter & instagram, she is @graceappears.







*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the 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.      







Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hymns (Beads of Notes and Words)


Both hymnals are dark burgundy, the edges of the pages yellowed from wear.  They sit in my oldest kids’ rooms.  One, I could swear, is the exact hymnal I grew up holding heavy in my hands as we called out numbers and pages and lifted our voices on long Sunday evenings.  It has a thin, gold cross on the cover next to the words, "Baptist Hymnal."  

In the evening dim, I lose myself flipping through their pages, looking for old favorites to share with my children.  I want to pass on to them the melodies that carried my faith as a child and as they lay in bed, my voice follows familiar notes, sliding into them like a needle following a record’s grooves. 

Singing these songs in the dark with my children, I see them in a new light; I hear what I didn’t hear as a child or maybe heard and forgot.  There’s a lot about “the blood” – a theme I’d rather avoid at bedtime and some language that I know won’t make sense.  Sin and the cross, two elements of the gospel often skirted with young children, appear on every page. 

So also does the love and mercy of God, as well as a deep and profound awareness of nature as a source of both solace and revelation.  

Returning to these songs is like finding a long-forgotten, but cherished, string of pearls tucked in the back of a drawer.  Turning the pages, I finger the words, stringing them together into a necklace of faith.  

Doing dishes together in the kitchen I hear my daughter humming - a hymn - and I'm grateful to know that she's starting a new strand of favorites, gathering old beads of notes and words.     

(The picture above shows a painting I'm working on using the words of one of my new old favorite hymns.) 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Evening Breeze (#Small-Wonder Link-up)

This giant Maple is one of many shady spots at our house.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze . . . Genesis 3

It’s hot, humid, and I’m sweating just sitting in the evening shade.  Crisscrossed in the green grass, my head is bent over scissors and my hands move swift, precise, cutting out letters for a piece of word-art.  It’s been a long, hot, day.  Air settles across the world like silt sinks to the bottom of a bowl of water. 

Every few minutes, though, there’s a breeze.  The trees lift their leaf-hands, saluting the air as it snaps and spreads like someone shaking the wrinkles out of a crisp, white sheet. 

Across the yard I see my neighbors working slowly in their yard. A retired couple, their vegetable garden and flowers beds are immaculate.  They know when to work, I think to myself, as they disappear around the side of their house in the early evening cool.

These are the moments that hide in summer time.  Small slips of cool in the dewy morning and early evening – the liminal spaces between high heat and the still, dark, night.  These are the ones I miss most often as I press, push, and herd through each day. Children swarm around me like insects circling a sweaty brow. The heat of the day rises and I feel myself shutting down, retreating into a restless siesta while wide awake.  

The breeze, though, is gift.  It is a gentle hand to the brow, cool lips pressed to fevered flesh.  

There is something of God in a breeze, in air stirred like a breath and I'm learning to position myself in its pathway.  Beside the open window, under the leafy tree, you might find me.  Hoping, waiting, to catch the breath of God like a firefly in my hand, some small bright light to grace me through another day.        

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the 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.      


Friday, June 12, 2015

Gather (Love's Bouquet)

 



Hunt out bright blooms, big and small. 
Snip.
Clutch in one hand, while
cutting with the other. 
Feel the prick of thorns.  Inside,
grab the new turquoise vase with an hourglass figure. 
Fill it with water – a tall, cool drink for thirsty stems.
Strip leaves.
Gather again, first Spirea – pale pink and dusty mauve - 
then small white flowers resembling Queen Ann’s Lace.  Last,
three pale roses almost 
spent. 
Sleep now as night
falls across yard and house and the tall, turquoise vase.

All night long, petals fall, dispersing perfectly of their own accord.

Awaken to a kitchen scattered with petals.  
Old, wooden kitchen island
transformed into a lover’s bed, 
a wedding aisle strewn with pink.

Ah, love!

Love grew beauty in the yard.
Love gathered. 
Love held. 
Love fell and
spread of its own accord. 

Love woos;
love gathers the gatherer.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Strawberry Love


A sweet scent filling the produce section announces their arrival.  Not the cold, hard Strawberries on steroids that travel from distant destinations all year round, but the small red jewels that grow local - leaf-hidden, hovering notes of delight.  These are hand-picked, delicate, tender smiles that stain fingers, teeth and tongue. 

In their wafting wake comes my Grandmother’s love – also tender, sweet and local for a time when I was little enough to ripen under her sun.  I was her strawberry girl – picking in the long, low, leafy rows that stretched across the field beside her house.  Then watching, waiting, for the slow ripening on the window sill of things picked too soon. 

I learned to squat over and along the rows, watching where I put my feet, lifting green on the hunt for red.  Hard, spring-green berries were left hanging and even the rubies were checked for green tips cool in the shadows untouched by sunlight. 

All was done in one swift movement – brushing, sweeping aside leaves with one hand while the other reached, then cradled, inspecting the fruit and – if all was ready – the fingernail of a thumb worked to cut the cord holding fruit to vine. 

Berries were gathered in green cardboard quarts, small treasure chests filled with delight.  Then we washed and dried them looking for the tiny creatures, black like seeds with legs sprouted, that lived their lives walking across the landscape of those small, crimson orbs.  (oh! to be one of them!)  Clean berries were cut, mashed, drowned in sugar and pectin and heated on the stove.  Simmering slow, they were transformed into glistening jam that my grandma stored in old margarine containers.  This was doled out on top of buttered toast that did not end until you were full. 


A ripe berry is warmth spread through and through, softness, tenderness – sunlight transformed into scent and sweetness.  

So also is love.

I carry her love in me like a ripe berry carries sunlight and water.


Linking with #TellHisStory.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Love, Joy and Freedom (#SmallWonder Link-up)

I didn't paint this, but isn't it beautiful?!

Pink, orange and yellow – Zinnia colors.  I squirted them liberally across the top of the old painting’s canvas then mixed them with long brush strokes.

I found a bunch of picture frames sitting along a leafy patch of back road a few weeks ago.  We have a lot of large, blank wall spaces, so I threw them into the back of the van and brought them home.  Last week, as school was winding down for summer, I dove-in, mixing paint and words on top of old paintings straight out of the seventies.  

I love the artistic alchemy of turning something old into something new.  And, because I have no training in painting, I have a lot of freedom. 

//

I took a couple of classes Pass/Fail during my senior year of seminary.  I already had enough credits and taking the classes Pass/Fail freed me from the pressure of an “A.” 

I had fun in those classes.  I wrote creatively and for the final project in one class I made a book – hand bound with watercolor illustrations. 

//

If the only standard is joy, then I will paint to my heart’s content.

If no one’s grading me, what I would most like to do is make a book.

//

My writing life is changing – this is something I feel intuitively, an inner turning like the earth shifting just the slightest to make room as a seedling emerges.  In the midst of this change, I'm realizing I want to approach writing like I do painting – to embrace freedom and practice the alchemy of weaving stories, old and new.  I want to remember to live and write like it’s all Pass/Fail – to return to the freedom of allowing love and joy to be my guides. 

What does writing look like for you these days?  Does summer impact your writing schedule and routines?  What would you do if no one was “grading” you?

*Photo credit for Zinnia Painting

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the 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.      


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

To the Older Brother (All that is Mine is Yours)



Now his elder son was in the field . . . Luke 15:25

"You are not a slave."
That is what I wanted 
to say to you when I saw
you standing far off 
in the field.
And I ran out
to you
also.  

*I really like this painting, but was unable to find the artist.  Anyone have any ideas?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Growing Season (#SmallWonder Link-up)

(The field of soybeans coming in across the street from our house.)

Late, I arrived at a recent Pastoral Development Day on the tail-end of opening worship.  I slipped quietly into a single stuffed chair down low in the back of the room, curling my legs and feet up tight beneath me.  I was never once late when I returned to work five weeks after my daughter, my oldest, was born.  Waking at 4:30 in the morning I nursed, then showered and drove the hour to work with her in the car seat, then nursed again in a bathroom before joining the rest of the staff with my infant in tow at 8:00.  That was nine years ago and I was not late once the whole summer that I worked with her at my side. 

This Thursday, though, was her field day at school and just as the bus pulled up we realized her lunch – the packed one she needed – was sitting still inside on the kitchen counter.  “Go,” I said, “I’ll bring it to school.”

After the babysitter came early so I could be on time, I gathered my things and hers and made the out-of-the-way trip to her school.  I got there just as the buses were loading and watched her walk out with her class. 

I was late that morning and frazzled, but happy too.  As I described it later to a friend, “My daughter forgot her lunch and I had to drop it off at school,” then, pumping my fist in the air I added, “Mommy, for the WIN!”

When the singing ended a friend of mine invited me to take his seat closer to the middle of the room – he would stand.  I gathered my things and moved for a few minutes, but eventually I turned and whispered, “I need to sit in the back to unwind.”  Then I got up and returned again to my single chair way down low in the back of the room. 

It’s been a year or two since I attended a Pastoral Development day put on by my local denominational conference and even longer since I resigned my pastoral position.  In the past I’ve felt the need and desire – the pressure – to mingle and fit in at these gatherings, to be both visible and vocal.  But this past Thursday I listened to my own heart, which was jangled and tired from rushing out the door and performing the emergency lunch delivery.  I needed to sit in the back and unwind and so I did. 

Seated in the back I watched several pastors working on their phones during the presentation or getting up and leaving the room to field phone calls.  This was one of the hardest things for me to give up when I left the pastorate – the feeling of importance.  It used to be routine for me to receive upwards of twenty emails a day and now I’m lucky to receive three or so a week other than twitter updates and notifications from my kids’ schools. 

Watching them I heard my spirit say, “I’m so grateful to be unimportant.”  It was such an unexpected thought that I wrote it down.  Having struggled so much with feeling unimportant,  I never expected to find myself grateful for it.  I thought immediately of John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)” and understood them in a new light. 

The initial presenter shared his story of incredible success followed by a stripping of all he valued as God called him back to his “first love,” back to the relationship at the heart of all things.  Much of what he said resonated with me – the invitation to love, the unknowingness of God’s leading – and the fact that he spoke from a time and place in his story that is as yet unresolved were all encouraging. 

I could have told his story, as it is also my own, except for the great success part.  God has kept me from that – a fact over which I am often frustrated, bordering on bitter.  It’s one thing to have great success and be called away from it – it is another altogether to never have arrived.  And yet, listening, I felt my spirit say, “God loves me very much.”  This also, I wrote down. 

In that moment the love of God sank down from head to heart, from abstract idea to incarnate reality as I pondered my life and the word-made-flesh love of God within it.  Who knew that the sorrow of my own professional stuck-ness could also hold within it a revelation of such joy – “God loves me very much.”

This all took place on Thursday and, halfway through Friday I pulled a muscle in my back while trying to maneuver a free coffee table into the back of the van.  I knew it was bad, but I’d promised my son I would attend his field day so, without resting, I made lunch and showered up before carting myself and the twins over to the park. 

By the time we got home I was in excruciating pain, the likes of which I haven’t known in a long time.  I could barely get myself onto the floor and sitting filled my core with sharp spasms.  With the pain came fear – laying on the floor, helpless, reminded me of last summer’s panic attacks and the tension caused anxiety to rise within me until I felt close to drowning. 

I loaded up on pain medicine, ice and restricted myself to the floor.  Relaxing, I felt a sense of peace and gratitude wash over me.  My back still hurt, as it does also today, but in the midst of the pain I knew also that it will get better.  The reality of the pain was inescapable, yet I now know that the reality of change is also inescapable.  Nothing in life is stagnant, no one fear or hurt has the power to cancel out the possibility of change and healing in the future. 

//

I took joy in meeting my daughter's needs where once I felt such great pressure to conform her needs to my own.

I tended to my own need to unwind in a spacious place rather than seeking to fit in with the expectations of others.

I felt gratitude in my un-importance where once I envied the importance of others.

I felt the love of God in what has not been given me, rather than resentment.

I felt pain, but also knew peace at the possibility of its passing. 

//

I read a children’s book by Ruth Krauss not long ago called “The Growing Story.” In it, a young boy puts away his winter clothes only to find that by next season they are too small.  Trying on the now-too-little clothes he exclaims in wonder, “I’m growing too!”

This is the wonder I want to share with you this week – the grace that time passes and we change.  Time away from my ministry context formed these changes in me and in returning I am able to see them and celebrate.  Like the little boy, this post is my own shout of wonder, “I’m growing too!” and I am so very grateful.

There is one last thing I wrote down on Thursday, which is this - “It is all gift.” 

May you be blessed, friends, with grace and wonder in each and every one of your growing seasons.   

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the 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.