Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How I Have Seen Men Treat My Daughter

(Sophia, happy as a clam, in her Daddy's pick up truck.)

A heavyset, gray-haired man, short and jovial, honed in on my cautious, serious daughter the moment she arrived.  She was eight or nine at the time.  He was a volunteer at Vacation Bible School that week, she was just entering a room full of kids she didn't know in a church we don't attend and her face reflected the concentrated reserve of an introvert confronted with a room full of strangers. 
“Smile!” he commanded before welcoming her or offering his name.  Reluctantly, awkwardly, she obeyed, he was in charge, after all.
Standing nearby, I felt a strong desire to whack that man in the face.  Maybe not exactly, but mostly.  The mama-bear in me recognized, immediately, the inappropriateness of his command and, in it, I heard the echoes of all the men who've commanded me to smile over the years. 
I too was a quiet, serious girl.  I cannot tell you the number of times men, mostly in passing, reminded me to smile. 
“Smile!” they demanded, as they passed me in the mall, in the lunch line where I worked, or walking down the street with my friends.  "You're too serious," they would sometimes add, "you'd be prettier if you smiled." 

Sometimes it felt like a harmless flirtation, a backward compliment of sorts.  At least I had a chance at being pretty, if only I would be less, well, less me.  I didn't realize then that these comments and complaints had nothing to do with me.  Nothing.  I didn't understand they reflected masculine insecurity, the desire for me to be easier, but not, of course, too easy. 

Over time, I got the message that it wasn’t ok to be me.  To be a woman, young or old, who rests serene in her own quiet seriousness is to shirk cultural expectations of the bubbly, giggly girl who lights up the world around her, flashing her pearly whites.  In tending to my own internal fires, I was letting down the male egos in the room, those expansive egos so often in need of continual support.
//
About a month later, I took my daughter to the pediatrician. She was suffering from a baffling array of symptoms and we had no idea what was going on.  Was it allergies, a cold, a stomach bug?   
She sat alone on the high examining table wrapped in a paper gown, while one of our favorite pediatricians, a gentle, thoughtful man, tried to puzzle things out.  My daughter was inordinately worried about the possibility of needing a strep test.  She fears and dreads the test, gagging every time and occasionally vomiting on whoever administers it. 
Finally, reaching for the large q-tip in its white paper packaging, the doctor announced that he wanted to test for strep.  My daughter's eyes grew wide in fear and, seeing her anxiety, the pediatrician offered a few simple tricks to help endure the swab.  Then, he asked whether she wanted to sit on the exam table or in my lap. 
She climbed down from the paper-clad bench, hopped into my lap, and I wrapped my arms around her.  Pulling up a chair, the doctor leaned in with the swab, but my daughter held out her small hand and stopped him mid-motion with a clear and simple request.  

“Can you wait until I’m ready?” she asked.   
“Yes,” he said and sat back, waiting for her command.
She paused, gathering courage, then blurted a quick, “OK.”  She gagged a little, but then it was done, and while we waited for the results, I sat there marveling at this girl of mine.
I was amazed at her centeredness, the way she drew from her own deep well to tell the doctor to pause, to make the space necessary to do difficult things on her own terms and in her own time.  

Reflecting on the situation now, I can see how the pediatrician helped protect and reinforce my daughter's sense of strength and autonomy in a vulnerable situation.  He took her concerns seriously and then helped to allay them by offering concrete strategies for dealing with the awkward swab.  

He was not offended by her fear; not belittling or dismissive.  With his ego completely off the table, he didn't feel the need to chide her into compliance or, worse, to barge ahead with the swab (as I've seen other pediatricians do).  He made space for her to connect with her own resources - sitting in her mama's lap, setting her own timing - and, in the end, my daughter was empowered by the experience. 

This, I want to tell her, is how it works.  This, I want to remind myself, is how it should be.  This is how two people interact with grace and respect, how a healthy man doesn't ask you to weaken yourself to fortify his own ego, but rather lends his strength to create a safe space for you to be who you are - loud or quiet, smiling or not.        

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Road is Wide, The Rain is Falling


Cold rain turned his thin, white t-shirt translucent as he bent his body, like an umbrella, over the double stroller.  The newborn baby cried and he cradled it against his chest with one hand while rooting in a diaper bag with the other.  The girl, a big sister at three or four years old, sat quietly in the stroller - her brown eyes wide, her dark hair and pierced ears glinting in the early morning light.  

Hundreds of strangers had lined up throughout the morning, eager to bargain hunt at the annual thrift sale benefiting United Way.  A friend of mine, a veteran shopper of the sale, had arrived at the door by six thirty.  Among the first in line, she had staked out a coveted position as the best deals went very, very quickly. 

I rolled in a few minutes after seven, with a mug of coffee in hand, and took my place thirty to forty people behind my friend.  I waited behind a young Hispanic man with two children in a stroller and in front of an old-timer who'd brought a plastic crate to sit on.  The line stretched out, single-file, across the parking lot, growing steadily as we waited for the doors to open at eight.  

Time passed slowly.  The old-timer held my spot for me while I went to find a toilet.  The newborn in the stroller woke and cried and was jiggled back to sleep again.  Pleasantries were exchanged in that guarded but polite Central Pennsylvania way.  

The old-timer behind me carried on a long conversation with a woman two people ahead of me, bemoaning his no-good sons-in-law who couldn't keep a job, couldn't even change a tire.  The woman, in exchange, revealed she'd recently been laid off after twenty years on a job.  "Ain't nobody wants to hire you when you're my age," she said.  "Believe me, I know."  The general consensus between them seemed to be that young people weren't worth much these days.  The Hispanic man and I, both younger by far, exchanged uncomfortable glances.

By 7:30, the sky was growing darker, not lighter, and the forecast of possible rain turned certain.  I ran back to the truck and grabbed my rain coat when the first drops started and my friend, still stationed at the front of the line, brought me her extra umbrella.  

Scattered drops turned steady and an icy wind picked up.  About fifteen feet away, the building we were waiting to enter offered a small triangular overhang.  The old-timer was the first to take cover, leaving his plastic crate to hold his place in line.  The father followed soon after as the wind forced rain past the double stroller's shabby shades and the baby woke again, crying and hungry.  

He pushed the stroller the ten steps to the overhang and sidled it as close as he could against the wall.  The old-timer scooted over to make room in the tiny triangle of shelter.  The rest of us in line, some with rain coats and umbrellas, watched this father without a coat, trying to protect his children while also mixing a bottle of formula.  We were rooted in place, rubberneckers, observing one small family's drama unfold. 

//

I can't name the force that held us in line, that kept us from offering to help or heading, en masse, to wait under a large catering tent nearby.  Whatever it was - fear, longing, desire - the feeling was palpable, like a force-field keeping us all apart, causing us each to suffer the storm in isolation, single-file in the passing cold and rain.  This force, I believe, thought I can't put my finger on its exact shape or name, is one of, if not the signature evil of our times.  Under its sway, as Naomi Shihab Nye predicts in her poem, 'Shoulders,' "the road will only be wide, the rain will never stop falling."

Somehow, we must kindle the courage, the imagination, necessary to enact an alternative to our chosen isolation.  What will it take for us to break out, to break through, to one another?

//

It was the way he curved his body over the stroller, the rounded defenselessness of his back as he leaned, rooting in the diaper bag; it was the way he sheltered them that caused my feet to move, that broke me out of line.  My feet moved, of their own accord, and then I was there, behind him, my body blocking him from the wind, my friend's umbrella held high at an angle over the two children and their dad.  

He turned, slightly, at my approach, acknowledged me with a nod, and carried on preparing the bottle, then feeding his infant son.  We stood close, awkwardly close in the small space, and didn't speak a word.  I smiled at the solemnly shy little girl with her deep brown eyes that drank in the world.

The rain passed, the sun peaked out, and we moved back into line.  The old-timer caught my eye.  "That was a nice thing you did," he said, "real nice."

//

Somehow, we must kindle the courage, the imagination, necessary to enact an alternative to our chosen isolation.  What will it take for us to break out, to break through, to one another?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Some Days, We Nap Together (What Tragedy Demands of Us)


Some days, after working in my office all morning and eating a quick lunch at my desk, my body grows heavy and slow and my thoughts turn to molasses.  With just an hour left before the first child arrives back home, before I leave to work an evening shift at the library, I close my laptop, grab my phone and head for my office door.  My dog, Coco, half-sleeping in her corner chair, lifts her head, then jumps down and follows me outside across the blacktop soaked with sunlight, up the back steps, and into the big house. 

Inside, I pause while we each get a drink of water – her at her metal bowl and me at the vintage water fountain near our kitchen door.  Then, I grab a blanket or beach towel – whichever is warm enough and near at hand – and head into the winter room where the wood stove sits heavy in the corner, squat and round, a cast iron Buddha.  Coco follows at my heels and watches patiently as I hunt one room, then another, in search of our sole throw pillow. 

Pillow in hand, I lay down in the same position, always.  Pressing the pillow into one end of our old, leather love seat, I lay down on my right side, curling my long legs to fit on the too-short sofa.  Coco watches with patience and focus as I spread the blanket or towel over myself, then stick my legs out straight off of the couch, offering a pathway to the pocket of empty space at the far end. 

I pat the leather with my hand, twice.  Coco pauses, very still, and looks me in the eye, double-checking her permission.  “Come on, Coco,” I say and up she jumps, then turns and settles in the corner.  I bend my legs again and tuck in around her, careful to keep from bumping her muzzle with my feet.  The warmth of her soft, sweet body adds to my own and we sleep, tucked together, her head resting on my ankles. 

Her presence, as I rest, is pure gift.  The gift of quiet, undemanding companionship; the gift of with-ness that cannot be measured save for the way it softens and steadies the human heart. 

She wakes, when I wake and shift.  Or, sometimes, too warm and close for comfort, she hops down before the nap gets under way.  Some days, if I'm lucky, our handsome black cat notices our napping nest and jumps down from his solitary leather chair and comes purring along into my arms.  On those days, the cat settles opposite the dog, in the space in front of my chest.  Together, we form a sort of yin-yang arrangement of fur and flesh, the cat in front of me, the dog behind.  

//

I experience a profound goodness during these naps, which may seem a small thing amidst all the world’s evils and sorrows, not to mention my own small entanglements.  But I am wondering whether tragedy really demands the trivializing of such moments of beauty, wonder, and grace – moments when the human soul stretches and softens, relaxed and at ease?

Perhaps tragedy and sorrow, worry and fear, require instead, that we linger and luxuriate in these moments.  Maybe Love itself invites us to spread them out wide for the world to see or to tuck them in somewhere safe, like a golden leaf in fall noticed, gathered, and pressed between the pages of a book where it can be rediscovered time and again in the long winter months ahead. 

I love these moments with the dog, the cat; they are precious to me and I cannot pass them off as something less than mercy and grace.  Evil is never defeat by casting what is precious aside.  Evil is defeated when we gently welcome, gather and share what is good and holy and true.  In this way light and life and love are born and borne and multiplied in our midst. 

The world is a heavy and troubled place.  It is also riddled through with mercy, grace and love.  In these days of naming darkness, let us remember also to gather and spread the Light we're given, casting it high and wide, like a million stars lighting up the night.



 Coco and I sharing a little pre-nap love. 

Where are you finding Mercy, Grace and Love these days??

Monday, September 25, 2017

Turn, and Be Saved


Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash


Sometimes, all it takes
is the slight movement of your eye,
a tilt of your head, your heart, to admit
a new angle, to see the way out, the way through
that was always there, but just out of sight, like God is. 

This can happen in the smallest pauses, like the rest
between inhale and exhale, or the moment just before
the words you will always regret find their way out
of your mouth.  This is the salvation we’ve been waiting for,
the one thing that's always given, if only we would turn and
receive. 

- K. Chripczuk

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Because (Mysticism and Math)


Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Because my husband and I reached a moment of clarity when his truck, again, needed extensive repairs we couldn't afford.  "Something needs to change,” we said, together, and the words set like concrete, solid and steady beneath our feet. 
  
Because, the job opening was posted online within a day or two of our decision.  

Because, it had been six months or more since I looked for any kind of job and this kind of job only appears once in a blue moon.  What are the chances we would reach this decision, that I would start looking for a job, the day after my dream job was posted?

Because, my references all said, "Yes, of course, we think you'd be great."  

Because, the timing is perfect, with the kids ready steady in a new school year. 

Because I want it to be so. 

Because, because. 

//

I ticked these signs off one by one in my Spiritual Director's office, laying them out like bread crumbs I've gathered amidst the wilderness of my life, crumbs I hope might form a trail.  

“I want these things to add up,” I said.  “I want them to mean I will get this job.  But I know, it’s one thing to know what is – to be aware – and a much more difficult thing to know what it means.”  

Here, she nodded, knowingly.  

“I want to be able to say these signs mean God is doing this," I continued, "but I know God too well by now to place God in that kind of box."  "I’m not sure where God is in this,” I concluded.

“It seems to me,” she said, “that you’re being invited into a more mystical way of being.  Invited to dwell, not in the meaning of things, but in what you know to be true in each moment.”

//

In high school, I always did my math homework first.  For the most part, for me, it was easy.  More importantly, though, it was solid, clear, concrete.  There was only one answer and when you found it and checked it, you were done. 

Writing homework, though, was another beast.  Writing an essay is so open-ended.  There are so many words to choose from, so many ways to shape a sentence, a paragraph, a thought.  There is no clear ending; there are many was to frame a correct answer, so many ways to sculpt ideas across a page.  I never finished my writing assignments until just before they were due.  

//

Mysticism is not math.  It is the homework I have saved for last.

//

I immediately recognized the truth in my Spiritual Director’s words and, inwardly, I sighed.  Giving up my clumsy attempts to discern the meaning of things felt like a loss – a loss of knowing, to be exact.  

What do we have if we can't add events of our lives up one after the other, if we cannot trace a simple path through the woods of where we are to where we think we want to be?   We are left only with the present in all of its fullness and fragility.  

I told my director this, how I value the easy math of knowing, nailing down, what God is or is not doing.  How letting it go feels like a loss.  But, I realized even as I spoke, that by letting go of what is not, we enter, more fully, into what is.  We are free to stop hoarding and trying to find our path via the breadcrumbs of our lives.  Free to enjoy each crumb as the much-needed manna it is.  

What do we have if we only live in the present?

We have nothing.  We have everything.

We have God.

    

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Thrift Store, With God (What I Gave Up & What God Holds)



God and I went to the thrift store last week. 

It’s was the first day my kids were back in school.  Although I often go thrifting with the aim of stocking my kids’ closets, I breezed right through the children’s section of the giant store with barely a glance.  The image of them each boarding the bus that morning in new shoes, shorts and sneakers was still fresh in my mind.  

The day before, I had been struck by an unexpected wave of resentment at the wealth of new clothes they had and their apparent lack of appreciation for it.  It wasn’t just the clothes I resented, though, it was the time, the sheer amount of resources, I sent their way this summer, particularly during the last grueling weeks of August.  You see, this summer, I gave up.

I fought hard, in the beginning, to make room for my writing and working life to continue.  Hard, like, wearing ear muffs in my office while my kids mimicked the rooster by my window and practiced playing the recorder outside my office door.  When working with them at home failed, I took them to a free day camp program the next town over, freeing up two precious hours, three mornings a week.  But it wasn’t enough.  The pressure to drop them off, drive home, and dive into writing with little to no transition proved unwieldy. 

By early August the impact of my evening and weekend work schedule at the library became clear.  In summers past, those were times I could steal away to my office write.  This summer, I traded those hours for a small but much-needed paycheck.

Then came August, with two birthdays (twins!), several days of single-parenting while my husband wrestled the engine in and out (and in and out again) of his rattle-trap pick-up truck, then several days more of single parenting while he traveled for work.  All of this, right around the time the day camp ended. 

I gave up.  I let go of even pretending to keep the semblance of a writing life together. 

At first it sucked and I was sad and mad and had All The Feels.  But then acceptance came along like a breath of fresh air and it felt so good to not be swimming upstream, to accept that there was neither time nor energy for more.  I lived in the reality of the last weeks of summer with four kids.

I cut hair. 

I bought shoes. 

I participated in a round-robin of back-to-school night events and organized a mounting pile of supply lists and schedules. 

I took them to the pool and praised every new trick they learned. 

I washed load after load of towels.  

It was what it was.  

But, after I loaded them onto their buses, when I went to post the traditional first day pictures online, I felt, again, the loss that accompanies ‘giving up.’  I scrolled through images of friends releasing new books into the world.  I read updates of others heading off to new jobs teaching in local schools.  I had nothing to post except for a few candid shots of my kids decked out in new gear, ready to face a new year.  “This is what I did this summer,” I wanted to write.  “This is what I’ve been working on.”

It seemed both sad, to me, and simply, remarkably, true.

In the post-bus quietude, I messaged a friend, “I’m trying to process what I lost/gave up this summer.”  Then, I shut up the house, pulled on my sunglasses, and headed to the thrift store with God. 

Like an awkward parent and teen tackling difficult subjects on a shared commute, God and I find it easier to talk at the thrift store.  Something about strolling the aisles of color-sorted clothes quiets and opens me, creating a place of listening and attention, which God and I both recognize as prayer.

That’s how God and I found ourselves sifting through hangers of winter coats and blazers, discussing ‘what I lost’ this summer.  It occurred to me, as I perused tan corduroy coats from the nineties and multi-colored ski jackets from the eighties, maybe I was being a bit melodramatic.  I paused, with my hand on the shoulder of a pea coat and considered the possibility.

Was I being melodramatic? 

Yes, perhaps I was. 

I turned to God, then, for an opinion. 

God said, without skipping a beat, “Yeah, you get that way sometimes.”

I stifled a snort of laughter.  Of course, God knows me.

With acknowledgement came acceptance.  I felt free to feel the loss – both real and exaggerated - and to trust that it too would pass.

God reminded me, then, of how it works between the two of us.  “All the things you give up, I hold,” God said.  “There is no part of who you are that ever has been or ever can be lost.”

How could I have forgotten that simple truth?  With it comes incredible freedom – freedom to hold on when the time and space are right; freedom, even, to fight for what I want.  But, freedom also for letting go when time and circumstances demand it.   

I felt lighter as I moved on to rows of skirts and blouses.  God wandered off into the aisles of handbags and shoes (God does that sometimes).  We said we’d meet up in the car on the way home, we find that’s a good place for talking, too.        

  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Blank Walls, Empty Space (and An Announcement)


It began with open space. 

Maybe, that’s how all things begin.  All good things, that is. 

And, it began with need which, so often, provides fertile ground for creativity to take root. 

This is what I remembered as I sifted back through layers of memory and experience, this is the conclusion I reached when someone asked, “How did you begin painting?”

I never intended to paint, that was not the point.  But when we moved to this enormous, old farm house three years ago, I found myself with rooms full of empty wall space and nothing to hang.  Need (or was it desire?) knocked and I answered.  I splurged on one large print from Ikea and two empty frames which I filled with fabric in a color scheme I adored.  But our budget would not allow for more. 

I kept my eyes open, though, and found ornate and tacky old paintings abandoned along back woods roads and languishing in thrift store bins.  I bought acrylic paints in magenta, teal, and tangerine.  I, like generations of women before me, decided I would ‘make-do’ and I did.

In the process of making-do, though, I discovered that painting felt like prayer – calm, clear, and filled with listening.  Painting, also, felt like writing, and I listened as I painted and learned about myself as a writer, as a creative, as an artist. 

All of this, from blank walls, empty space.

//

What open spaces mark your life today?  

What invitation might these spaces hold?  

What opportunity, adventure, unanticipated discovery?

//

I never intended to paint. 

But now I know that words on wood, in color, is part of who I am.  Those empty walls called forth some part of me long buried like a seed, causing the artist in me to sprout and blossom.

Now I continue to watch and wait, like a gardener eyeing empty soil.  What open spaces are here, now and what abundance might be sleeping in the rich, dark emptiness?  

//


Good news, friends, I now have an Etsy shop where you can order prints of my original paintings.  Visit The Broody Hen Shop to see current offerings.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mail Worth Crossing the Road For . . .


Our mailbox sits across a busy state road from our house.  It's an old metal box equipped with a nifty yellow flag that pops up whenever the door is opened.  This way, we can tell at a glance, whether the mail is here yet.  

I never cross the road unless that flag is up - it's that reliable.  But sometimes, when the yellow flag beckons, I brave traffic, rain or snow only to discover a handful of junk mail - a flyer from a credit card company or a weekly bundle of local retailer flyers.  Those days, I feel disappointed, and like a little bit of a sucker.  I was looking forward to something good - or at least something useful, but instead I risked my life for a few pieces of paper that will go directly into the recycling bin.  

Maybe you know the feeling?

What if I could promise you one piece of mail each month that didn't disappoint?  I want to invite you to sign up for my newsletter, Quiet Lights, where you'll receive more of the same writing you've come to expect here on This Contemplative Life.  Quiet Lights is bi-monthly (during the school year) and has slowed to once a month over the summer.  

No spam, no junk mail, just a few good words straight from me to you.  Sound good?  You can sign up right here to get the latest post :



Now, if you'll excuse me, the yellow flag is up across the street and I've got my fingers crossed that it's something good today. 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Hare, A Shovel, A Pale Blue Envelope

(photo via Unsplash: Gary Bendig)

I walked out the back door and circled around toward the front of the house one recent Saturday morning, looking for the shovel.  I suspected it had been left leaning against the porch after a recent gardening project.  A few weeks earlier, we had pulled out yet another dying shrub and planted a few annuals.  The annuals – mostly Zinnias and Sunflowers sown from seed – sprouted and grew about an inch tall, then disappeared.  We figured someone ate them, most likely a rabbit.  

I was hunting for the shovel so I could plant some things in another flower bed, this one beside the Little House.  

I walked down our paved driveway toward the road and noticed the yellow metal flag on our mailbox across the street was standing at full salute.  I saw no sign of the shovel along the porch and continued toward the road, aiming to fetch the now day-old mail.  Along the shoulder of the road, just in front of the mail box, sat a large, speckled hare.  I figured it would run off as I crossed the road. 

The rabbit stayed still, though, as I approached.  Beyond the mail box, the gravel and grass gives way to a giant field of feed corn, a tide of green that rises slowly each day.  I stopped, just beside the rabbit, my sandal-ed feet pausing in the small strip where grass and gravel collide.  The rabbit's eyes bulged.  They were enormous, not right at all for a hare its size, and its breath came in short heavy pants.  The fur along one side of its body was rumpled and I leaned down to look for injuries. 

I couldn’t see any blood, so I reached down with my right hand to feel the rabbit’s back.  Its speckled fur was coarse and dense.  I gently pushed the rabbit toward one side, then another, looking, again, for injuries.  I wondered at its bulging eyes, were they rimmed with blood?  

Observing the hare, with its unknown injuries, I felt a familiar weight of responsibility descend.  I considered picking it up and carrying it to the house.  It would likely die before long, but I hated to think of it struggling through its last hours on the side of the road with the sun beating down.  Also, there was our dog to consider, and the cat – I didn’t want them crossing the busy road to catch it.

I turned to the mailbox, pulled out our mail, and locked down the bright yellow flag.  I noted a pale blue envelope – real mail, not junk – wrapped in the day's advertisements and crossed the street, heading back to the house.  

I decided to get a towel to carry the rabbit.  Once it was safely inside, I'd ask my husband to take a look at it.    

Walking toward the house, I reflected on the foolishness of nursing a hare to health.  I, who routinely stands along the fence kvetching with our neighbors about the havoc rabbits wreak in gardens and flower beds.  I remembered the plush Angora rabbits I recently petted at my friend’s farm, their dense cashmere-like coats so different from this wild hare’s hide.  Mostly, I hoped the kids wouldn't catch wind of the rabbit before I could decide what to do with it.      

It was the first morning, in over a week, that all six of us were home together.  To celebrate, I had gone to the grocery store after work the night before to buy Buttermilk, intent on wowing us all with a new pancake recipe.  I envisioned a delicious, family breakfast, but the recipe was a flop and I gave up on the lumpy bowl of batter after producing a few half-cooked pancakes with a texture like silly-putty. 

My husband, John, was in the hot kitchen trying to salvage my mess.  I found him there and lured him outside to explain the rabbit situation.  Armed with a beach towel, and fully prepared for a rescue operation, I led him across the road.  The rabbit was still there, but had moved a little, turned toward the field of corn.  John guessed, by the way it moved, that its foot was broken.  He also commented on the bulging eyes.  

“Can rabbits get rabies?” he asked.  He didn’t want to touch it.  I mentioned I already had. 

I bent down, then, to look at its face and saw that its nose was bloodied and raw.  “Its face is bleeding,” I said. 

“I don’t think it’s going to make it,” he said. 

“I don’t think so either,” I said.  “But I don’t want to leave it here.”

“Should I throw it out into the corn field,” he asked, “or get something and just hit it so it dies?”

I hated the thought of whacking it over the head, but I hated the thought of its slow, confused, demise even more.  “Do you think you could break its neck?” I asked, thinking of the young rooster we recently dispatched.

“I’m just going to hit it,” he said.  “I’ll get a bag and the shovel.”

“I can’t find the shovel,” I said as we crossed the road together. 

It seemed we had come full circle. 

He found the shovel, I know not where, and headed across the street with it and a plastic bag for the body.  But he returned, soon, with the empty bag.  “It went off into the corn field,” he said.  “It was already pretty far out.”

//

Afterwards, I stood in the disastrously dirty kitchen, leaning against the counter, and opened the pale blue envelope.  It held a card with a small pile of cash tucked inside along with the signatures of three dear friends.  They had asked, a few weeks earlier, whether we would accept a little money to help us do something fun with the kids this summer.  

//

When I think of these two events - the injured hare and the pale blue envelope - coinciding, I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, 'Shoulders,' by Naomi Shihab Nye.  In her poem, Nye describes a man cautiously crossing a street in the rain.  The man carries his sleeping son.  As he walks, 

"His ear fulls up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy's dream 
deep inside him."

Nye concludes her poem with a prediction,

"We are not going to be able 
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling."

Nye's poem gets at the heart of what I was doing that Saturday, what my friends were doing through their inquiries and gift.  We were each crossing the street, pondering how another's need might intersect with the abundance of our own lives.  It's not like I heard the hum of the rabbit's dream deep inside me, but I did hear the hum of a deeper truth.  All of the many roads that divide us are nothing compared to the impulses of Love and Compassion that bind us all together.    

(Click here to read or listen to the full poem.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

It Was Good

Photo credit: Damien Taylor - 
Novelist Billy Coffey gave a great talk and reading Saturday evening.

This past weekend, three writers gathered two dozen more behind barn walls.  In a square room, wrapped in wood, floored in concrete, we sat around white plastic tables in folding chairs while a fresh breeze blew in through barn doors thrown open wide. 

We held space.

We held silence.

We honored words – ours and others’ and others’ still.

Then we held more silence, listened, and held space for words unspoken and words yet unheard. 

We pruned words – ours and others.  We trimmed back the dead, exposed new shoots, sank small sleeping seeds deep in darkness and watered them with attention and simple care.  We plotted out the landscape of our days, made plans to fence in empty spaces right in the middle of our back home, work-a-day, noisy, crowded lives.  We envisioned fertile ground, held apart, separate, where words and silence might wed, like water and sun, and bring forth bright blooms, arching vines, gnarled roots.     

Blue sky, rolling hills, and passing clouds wove mountain magic around us and we believed, again, in ourselves, in each other, and in the truth that “what we need is here.”  We found ourselves both hungry and fed, both giving and receiving; and it was good.  

//

Friends, I am just back from helping to lead the annual God's Whisper Writers' Retreat in Radiant, VA.  We've already set the date (June 22-24) for next year's retreat and will have the website up and running soon.  Meanwhile, you might want to nurture your writer's heart, by signing up for Andi's Discover Your Writing Self course which begins July 1st. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sidewalk Flowers: Carry, Gather, Spread

I had the joy of speaking at our little church this past Sunday and, because I got to choose the text, I focused on 1 John 4:7-19.  I talked about the love of God that we are made from and for - the love of God that abides in us and invites us to abide in it.  

Before all of that, though, I shared the video below of the children's book, "Sidewalk Flowers," by JonArno Lawson.  I told the congregation how flowers - particularly wildflowers - are a symbol, for me, of God's love.  I told them to pay attention to the use of color in the book, to pay attention to the flowers.  I told them we can be like that little girl - carrying, gathering and sharing the love of God.  

Maybe you need a gentle reminder?  

You are loved by God - this is who you are - God's loved child.  God's love is in you, like a seed, just waiting to unfurl, to sink roots down deep, to grow you up into your one and only vocation as one who loves and is loved.  

May you carry love with you today.  

May you gather and spread the love of God wherever you go.   



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How It Has Always Been



Summer hit our house like a freight train when the kids got off the bus last Friday at 1:15.  It's all good, but intense.  I'm still writing, but with preaching this Sunday and preparing for next week's (!) writing retreat, I didn't get my usual post out on Monday.  In lieu of anything new, I'm sharing this poem that first arrived in June 2014. Enjoy! Also, scroll down for a preview of some of the paintings I've been working on this spring. 


How It Has Always Been


The vicar general, shying away from ‘paganism’ hangs back and sits under a tree reading the guidebook.  I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. – Thomas Merton describing his visit to the sleeping Budhas in "The Asian Journal"

My son comes walking to me, barefoot, 
across the wet summer grass.
The morning light lays soft around him  
and in that moment I see how it is,
how every child is a contemplative, 
exposed in every way to the Now.  

“This is what you must become,” Jesus whispers 
and I see now how it has always been, God 
and his children, barefoot, the morning grass 
cool and wet beneath their feet.


* I stopped by Infinity Graphics today to get some prints of recent paintings. These bright beauties (the picture is a little dark) will soon be available to purchase as small wooden block paintings. Stay tuned.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Miss. Ann's Zinnia's (The Kingdom of God is Like . . . )


Sunday afternoon I left my husband with seed packets of Zinnias and Dahlias and walked up, across the yard, to look for a spade in our overflowing garage.  The planting of those flowers, four packets, was what I requested for Mother’s Day this year. 

I don’t know why planting seems, for me, an impossible task.  Maybe it’s that simple act of letting go and watching the impossible seed fall into darkness; maybe it’s the familiar struggle of facing an unknown future.  Whatever it is, my husband plants the garden each year and I, in time, tend it. 

Walking up from the garden, across the green expanse of lawn, I looked over at our neighbor’s yard.  They have a small, fenced in, vegetable garden and the wife, Ann, has a separate flower garden.  Their garden, like most in early spring, is a miracle waiting to happen – a tilled expanse of soil, a pregnant pause.  My eyes saw the emptiness there, the open waiting space, but in my mind I remembered the Zinnias. 

During our first summer here, we planted a good-sized vegetable garden filled with the practical means of nutrition.  Our neighbors did the same in their fenced-in plot, but around the outside edge of the fence grew large, splashy, red, purple and pink flowers – a fiesta of color that started blooming in late summer and stood strong into the fall. 

Oh how I envied Miss. Ann's Zinnias.  I eyed her flowers hungrily and finally, in September as the flowers were beginning to fade, asked if I might over and cut a bunch.  From that moment on, I was hooked. 

The following summer, I bought a packet of seeds and grew my own riot of reds and pinks.  I cut them and filled our house with vases.  I carried them to friends’ houses.  Everyone loved the Zinnias.

Then, last year, we made a farm stand for selling fresh, free-range chicken eggs.  I again planted my Zinnias (or rather, my husband did) and, when they grew and bloomed, I started cutting large happy bunches of purples and pinks, oranges and yellows and selling them in old tin cans at the farm stand for $1 each. 

It was a real steal for fresh cut flowers and they flew off of the farm stand’s two tilted shelves.  A friend suggested I should charge more.  But I refrained. 

I was already making a profit, but, what’s more, I know what it’s like to not be able to afford fresh flowers.  I know, also, how beauty feeds the soul.  I also know the feeling of finding a wonderful deal, how it opens our hearts and minds, makes us feel the expansive mystery of goodness and provision in the world that’s so often buried in layer after layer of unmet need. 

I wanted people to feel what I felt in my garden, the sensation of wonder and delight, the absurdity of so much color available for mere ornamentation.  

Returning to the garden with the trowel in hand that Sunday afternoon, I thought, the kingdom of God is like those Zinnias.  The Kingdom of God – heaven in our midst – blazes and waves in the place where it is planted.  It attracts the eye, captures the heart, fills those who are awake enough to notice, with longing.  The Kingdom of God is like a packet of seeds, bought for $1.49, that yields one hundred fold.  The kingdom of God is color cut and watered in an old tin can, bright joy on the side of the road bought with a handful of change – a deal too good to be true.   

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Other Virtues



Memorial day weekend plays a dual role in modern America - offering an opportunity to honor those who died in active military service and ushering in the beginning of the summer holidays. Here's hoping summer offers us all an opportunity to practice the art of playfulness and live in awareness of the great freedom and vulnerability of our humanity.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

As Much As There Is


He catapults out of bed in the middle of the night and I hear his bare feet slapping against the hallway’s wooden floor as he hustles through the darkness.  All of this comes to me as sleep’s heavy shadow gives way to a dim and growing awareness.  Then, he stands beside the bed. 

“Daddy,” he says.

“What?” my husband mumbles.

“I love you as much as there is,” he says. 

“Ok, Levi,” my husband replies, his voice clearer now, rising to meet his son’s offer of love.  “I love you too.”

“Ok, good night.  I’ll see you in the morning,” Levi adds.

“Good night, see you in the morning,” my husband answers, completing the call and response.

Levi runs back down the hallway and sleep descends again upon our house.

//

“I love you as much as there is” is the latest attempt in five-year-old Levi’s ongoing effort to verbalize the depths of his love for us which, apparently, is particularly intense around two or three in the morning.  He’s fascinated by math and, for a while, tried using the biggest numbers he could think of to express the magnitude of his love.  “I love you 100 times 100,” he would say. 

But it wasn’t enough. 

He knows there are bigger numbers and he doesn’t want to undersize his love.  So, for now, he’s sticking to the enigmatic phrase, “as much as there is.”

Last night, before I fell back to sleep, I saw for a moment the simple humility of that phrase – a child’s willingness to believe in and try to convey that which is beyond words. 

//

Real love is like that.  God’s love is like that, so real and yet so big it’s hard to explain. 

The apostle Paul, struggling to convey God’s love to the church at Ephesus, put it this way,

“I pray that you might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).”

Paul tries to sketch out the dimensions of what he realizes is beyond description, he prays for the Ephesians to somehow receive the ability to comprehend the incomprehensible.  In so doing, he invites them – invites us all – to enter into the depths of God’s love which is both measurable (because it exists) and beyond measure (because of the limits of human comprehension and communication).

Paul’s prayer comes to us like a voice in the night, the words of someone struggling to communicate what he clearly knows is beyond communication: God loves you as much as there is.