Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Journey of 365 days...

begins with the story of a determined turtle.

Back in October, we went on a lovely family vacation to Hilton Head, South Carolina. My darling son, Daniel, participated in a tennis tournament, and all of us basked in the warmth and beauty of the South Carolina coast. On two occasions we went to a local petting zoo. I had far more fun there than I expected. Daniel and I were drawn to this fine spotted creature also basking in the warmth of the South Carolina coast.

Soon after discovering that she was being watched, the turtle decided to head back to its hiding place. One of the finest moments of that week-long getaway, actually it was a series of fine moments, was watching this solitary turtle make what we thought was an epic journey through her tiny enclosure.

She squeezed her curvaceous form between the fence on the right and that first row of tiny bamboo-like stalks. Once she made it through there, I ran around to the back of the fence and continued to track her progress.

Over the dusty path, between leaves and bushes and small trees, she never stopped moving. She pulled herself and her well-proportioned frame over roots and rocks and branches.

Did I mention that she was a determined little thing? Check out that neck extension and those powerful legs.

After rounding one particular curve, she slid off the edge of the path and splashed into a shallow pond. Undeterred, she swam across and began to extract herself from the drink.

A woman on the move is a force not easily stopped.

Under the branches and stalks on the other side of the pond from where she began, this newly discovered hero of mine began to push her way into the brush under which we had seen her resting earlier in our visit.

Once again, she spotted my eager face staring down at her, so she turned her back to me and stood still. I think she was waiting for me to leave so she could reenter her boudoir without being observed.

I know I tend to overthink these things and make epic adventures with moral imperatives out of the tiniest stories of the tiniest creatures doing what they do everyday. But the truth is that this is the story of my life: this tiny creature doing what I do, living out tiny stories and turning them into epic adventures with deep moral truths. Or so I'd like to believe. Here I go again...

This year, 2010, is drawing to a close. An epic year of homeschooling and cooking and folding laundry and watching tennis and going to doctors' visits and journal making and cardio funk and new televisions and a new computer and more lines on my face and fewer dollars in the bank. It was a year of letting go of certain relationships and delving deeper into others. It was a year of relearning to ride a bike and lift weights and trust my own heart. It was a year of letting go of my old understanding of what "church" is supposed to be and holding onto my faith with far gentler hands. As this year draws to a close, I am certain of fewer things, confident in fewer friends, but far more comfortable with myself.

I started this year in this same room at this same desk thinking many of the same thoughts and hoping for many of the same miracles. But the journey back here to this desk has been fraught with slips and slides, cuts and bruises, unexpected mud puddles and blazing sunlight, tremendous highs and horrendous lows. I've been called names I hope to soon forget and let in on secrets I hope to never forget. I've been closely watched and I've been flatly ignored. I've been called upon and I've been hung up on. I've been coldly rejected and I've been warmly welcomed. I've taught many classes and I've learned many lessons.

Two nights ago, my therapist told me that I seem sadder and more mature.
He said I've come a long way this year, but I still seem to be hurting deep inside.
My eyes welled up with tears, and my heart welled up with emotion -
both joy and sorrow, hope and despair, pride and chagrin.

With my voice quivering, I asked him, "Isn't that what life is like for everybody?"

In just over 30 hours, a new year will begin.
Another journey of 365 days.
Beginning with another hopeful and determined turtle.
With her home on her back and her heart in her throat.
Here I go again.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I'm fairly certain that I've posted this poem before. I make no apologies for posting it again.

after the angels,
after the stable,
after the Child,
they went back...
as we always must,
back to the world that doesn't understand
our talk of angels and stars and especially not the Child.

We go back complaining that it doesn't last.
They went back singing praises to God!

We do have to go back, 
but we can still sing the alleluias!

From Kneeling in Bethlehem. Ann Weems @1987.

After surviving our first snowstorm of the season

and recovering in the spectacular home of an even more spectacular friend,

I am coming back and moving forward - singing the alleluias.

All is well, so very well. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"A Baby Will Come"

It's the name of my new favorite Christmas song.
Beautiful lyrics. Simple melody.
Makes me cry every single time.
Listen to it here...

Merry Christmas to all.

I wish you peace and joy and love.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The quote I'm pondering today...

A sincere seeker said: "I have always longed to see God everywhere and in all things, and live in God's presence. I have practised it but I haven‘t succeeded."

"This isn‘t something you bring about by practice," the sage replied. "When you understand who you are, you‘ll no longer seek God‘s presence, you‘ll realise that you are God‘s presence."

The Ocean in the Dewdrop, Francis J. Padinjarekara

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pondering all these things in my heart

This Advent season, I keep thinking about the young unwed Mary and the baby Jesus. I've sung songs and seen church plays and read the Biblical account of the birth of Christ countless times. The shepherds. The wise men. Simeon and Anna in the temple. No room in the inn.

I know the story well. Perhaps too well. So well that I have never been as aware of the tiny chain of life that connected Mary to her baby boy as I am this year. Which is odd because both of my children, on the occasion of their first Christmas, "played" the baby Jesus in the church play. Held aloft by the man playing Simeon. Held close by the young person playing Mary. My babies.

I imagine Jesus as a newborn baby. Helpless. Hungry. Sleeping in an animal stall. Cared for by an unwed teenaged mother and a confused, though trusting, step-father. What would we think of her today? Her story of an immaculate conception? Even if she never explained it that way, if she simply showed up in our neighborhood, at our church, in our circle of friends as a pregnant teenager, would we, would I make "room in the inn" for such a child as this?

Perhaps I am pro-life but welcoming a pregnant teen into my life, into my family would be a little too embarrassing and difficult to explain because of my steadfast support of "abstinence as the best form of birth control." Why is she pregnant?

Perhaps I am pro-choice but welcoming a pregnant teen into my life, into my family would be a little too embarrassing and difficult to explain because of my steadfast support of the right to choose not to have a baby at such a young age. Why is she pregnant?

Perhaps I would give a few dollars, buy a few packs of newborn diapers, take over a few meals, and return to my insulated and uncomplicated life and inwardly thank God that none of my daughters turned up pregnant and none of my sons admitted to getting anyone pregnant.

Many years ago, I was invited to the baby shower for a young woman I knew who was pregnant "out of wedlock." I knew her and her family from the church we attended at the time. Great family. Beautiful young mom-in-the-making. She had taken a year off from college to come back home and have the baby. As her belly grew, so did her magnetic attraction - at least for me. Every time I saw her, I would make a beeline to her, ask if I could touch her belly, ask her how she was doing, tell her how much I LOVED being pregnant, and promise her that if she ever wanted to talk or had any questions to give me a call.

Anyway, as her pregnancy drew to its close, I received an invitation to her baby shower. When I arrived at their house, I was a little embarrassed and felt a little out of my element because I didn't know anyone in attendance other than the pregnant woman and her family. Later I pulled her Mom aside and asked as politely as I could why that was the case. She said that I WAS THE ONLY PERSON AT THE CHURCH WHO HAD EVER ACKNOWLEDGED HER DAUGHTER'S PREGNANCY. Everyone else would greet her and greet their family "as usual," but no one ever asked about the pregnancy or the baby. No one. Needless to say, her words brought tears to my eyes and sorrow to my soul.

All those staunchly pro-life, sign-waving, abortion-protesting folks (one person in the church had even spent time in jail because of pro-life activities) couldn't figure out a demonstrable way to support and encourage the daughter of dearly beloved friends who had chosen to embrace the gift of life. It was as if that gorgeous, growing, round belly wasn't housing a new life with a soul of its own. A short while later, a beautiful baby boy was born to that brave young woman. As unimaginable as it was for me that people  could ignore her pregnancy, it had to have proved impossible to ignore the squirming, gurgling little bundle of wonder she proudly carried into church a few weeks later.

Remembering her story makes me rethink a similar situation 2000 years earlier when a beautiful baby boy was born to another brave young woman. I wonder if anyone at her synagogue or in her little town of Nazareth acknowledged her pregnancy. Or if they also turned their backs on a young woman facing the biggest choice/crisis/moment of her life. I find myself pondering these things in my heart in an entirely new way.

Like I said, this Advent season I'm thinking a lot more about Mary, the teenaged mother, and her precious world-changing baby Jesus.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's my party...

Two score and five years ago today, my mother ushered me into the world. I am eternally grateful to her for taking the chance after already having three active and demanding sons, a hard-working husband, and a life of her own.

A wall hanging in the house we rented in Hilton Head.

And now, all these years later, I sit at my dining room table, on a very cold and very bright,
perfectly ordinary Charlotte day - celebrating my life.

Nope, it hasn't been easy all the time.
Nor has it been exciting all the time.

But every single day, my life has been full of miracles.
I have been loved and cared for and respected.
I have been the recipient of generosity and kindness and compassion.
I have been protected and provided for and honored.
I have never gone hungry or been forced to sleep outdoors (Well, my parents made us go camping and sleep in a tent when I was a kid, but I've forgiven them for that!).
I have traveled across the ocean, across the country, and across the street - and I have always made it home safely. Even when I have missed flights or been stranded in unlikely hotels, I have never been taken advantage or, mistreated, or robbed. (Well, I did get fondled by the conductor on a train at the border between Spain and Andorra once, but I've forgiven him too.)

I could tell so many stories of so many wonder-filled, jaw-dropping days and moments and sights. Sunrises and sunsets. Palaces and temples. Museums and mountains. Weddings and funerals. Hospital hallways and hospice workers. Those stand out in my memory.

Me - doing one of the things I love to do best - journaling.

But the thing that keeps coming to mind today is this: My life consists mainly of perfectly ordinary days filled with perfectly ordinary moments. Cooking and cleaning. Folding clothes and scrubbing the shower. Choosing paint colors and washing towels. Drinking tea with my children and watching television with my husband. Writing in my journal and looking at blogs I follow on the internet. Somehow, every single ordinary day, every single ordinary moment has added up to one wild, precious, tear-soaked, friend-rich, love-saturated, extraordinary life.

Thank you to everyone,
known and unknown,
present and absent, (I miss you, Dad!)
outspoken and silent,
for everything you have done to give me so much to celebrate today.

Thank you, Mom, for trying one more time.
Thank you, Lord, for the 14th of December, 45 times over.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My word for 2010...

has been pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5 is part of a prayer that says "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage." 

My goal this year was to keep my heart, mind, and spirit on pilgrimage even when my body was anchored here at home.

It is very easy for me to let my mind wander - across the ocean, across the country, across the state. My mind visits five thousands ports of call every day, sometimes within a six hour period.

My soul tends to stay close. Wants to find shelter nearby. Within. In safe places. Quiet places. Like my study room in the morning before anyone else is awake. Like my minivan in the afternoon while waiting for the kids to do whatever it is they do at their varied destinations. Like in my bed in the evening before turning out the light for the night. My soul finds rest and recuperation in simplicity and quietness.

My heart, oh my achy-breaky heart. I'm handling it rather tenderly these days as it is cracking wide open. I'm reading The Gifts of Imperfection, and my heart is being both broken and mended on nearly every page. This wandering heart of mine is turning for home. Finally.

Until reading this book and pondering its wise words, I've always thought that having this wandering heart was a sign of strength and health and vigor and curiosity and intellectual voracity. And to a certain degree, that is true. But what I have come to realize over the past two days is that a significant part of my wandering has been an attempt on my part to find something "out there" that I already have within: worthiness and "enoughness."

I recognize now that I have spent too many years of my life looking for, pleading for, jumping up and down for, and crying out for attention and approval from others. If _____ loves me and _______ pays attention to me and ________ gives me gifts and __________ writes to me, then and only then will I be satisfied and happy and complete. If I travel to _________ and see ____________ and tell stories about having experienced ____________, then and only then will I fit in with ____________. If I drop enough names and show enough photos and write enough blogs and wear cool enough clothes and lose five more pounds and earn one more degree and have the right people's cell phone numbers on speed dial, then and only then will I be enough. And somehow, I allowed myself to believe that the truest and highest form of myself would be discovered or developed or deepened "somewhere over the rainbow" or across the sea.

I was clever at disguising my desperation - or I thought I was. I came across as self-assured and fearless. I came across as outgoing and strong. I came across as very religious and committed. And to some extent I was all of  those things. I still am. But the problem was that I equated doing those things and being those things and pretending to be and do all those things with my self-worth. If I obeyed and showed up and helped out and gave in and cooperated and had perfect kids and an enviable marriage and did as I was told and said all the right things at the right times in the right places, then at some point, the right people would turn to me and declare their undying love, their devotion, their loyalty to me. Sadly, even when I heard what I thought I needed and wanted to hear, I didn't believe it. When I saw clear evidence of love and support and encouragement, I didn't believe it. So I kept performing and pretending and going on pilgrimages in search of... I'm not quite sure what.

I was so wrong. So very wrong.
Recognizing how wrong I was is breaking my heart.
Recognizing how wrong I was is mending my heart too.

I feel myself cracking wide open. I see myself in a whole new light. I feel The Light shining into the dark corners of my wounded heart. Once again, I hear Jen Lemen's words: Something healing this way comes.

The truth is seeping in, running down and into the cracks around the foundation of my life -->
I am loved. I am accepted. I am worthy. I am forgiven. I am made new.
Every day. Every hour. Every moment.
Just as I am.
Right here.
Right now.

I no longer have to do what Brene Brown so aptly calls "hustling for approval and acceptance." I no longer need to please and appease and do "whatever it takes to make you like me." I no longer need to compete for friendship and attention. I no longer need to always have the correct answer, the most clever  segue or the most outrageous anecdote. I no longer need to prove that I am the most useful, worthy, reliable, docile, or dependable person in every crowd. I don't have to be the wittiest, smartest, funniest.  I don't have to downplay my sorrow and overinflate my joy. Nor do I need to overinflate my sorrow and downplay my joy. Nope. No more.

I have no plans to burn my passport and stop traveling.
I have no plans to radically alter my life - at least not at the moment.
My only plan at the moment is to keep reading this book, writing furiously in its margins.
Then I'm gonna go to bed and get some sleep. 
And in the morning, I will accept more of the gifts of my deep flaws and imperfections,
rejoice in the lessons I am learning along the way,
and walk on in this pilgrim journey.

I love the crazy shadows in this picture. A photo of me taking a photo of me. 
Oh, the shadows, the flaws, the wrong angles, 
Steve and Kristiana's feet in the background... 
My life, like this photo, is a mess - and I love it!

"Most of us use the terms fitting in and belonging interchangeably and like many of you, I'm really good at fitting in. We know exactly how to hustle for approval and acceptance. We know what to wear, what to talk about, how to make people happy, what not to mention - we know how to chameleon our way through the day.

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; 
it requires us to be who we are." 
(The Gifts of Imperfection - page 25)

My many years of desperately trying to fit in have been exhausting.
I'm going to rest from those hopeless attempts at an impossible goal.
Enough is enough.
I am enough.
Not perfect. Not even close.
No longer interested in perfection.
I am enough.

Recently, Kristiana and I went to see the musical, "Dreamgirls."
(Thanks again, GI, for the tickets!!)
Dinner: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a salted caramel brownie, and tea.
Pre-theater reading: On Pilgrimage - Outward and Inward

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

They're not just for the birds...

The tree under which we sat telling stories and laughing at our family reunion.
Greenville, North Carolina - August 2010.

I've been fascinated by trees lately. Their majesty and strength, perseverance and patience. I used to either completely ignore them or fear their imminent downfall. For most of us, much of the time, trees are just there, dropping leaves and branches, threatening to cleave our roofs in two, smash our windshields to splinters, and otherwise make our insurance agents want to come up with reasons to drop us from their rolls. In ongoing fits of foolishness and greed, builders cut them down in order to build houses and office parks that no one seems to be buying these days.

Nevertheless, there they stand, unfazed and faithful trees. Tall and strong. Short and wide. Ignorant of me and far too easily ignored by me. Especially now that Christmas season is upon us and so many trees here in Charlotte are being subjected to the decorative whims of so many light-seeking southerners, I am yet again reminded that trees are truly magnificent creatures, whether real or fake, well-lit or shadowy, height-endowed or height-deprived.

A recent walk on the greenway - Charlotte's term for public walkways in wooded areas.

Kinda like people, aren't they?
Some are tall and majestic.
Some unmovable and sturdy.
Others are short and wide.
Others weak and easily shaken.
Some are lit from within, while others seem hellbent on putting every one else's lights out.

These trees were too small to provide much shade during an October tennis tournament.

Whether we want to believe it or not, unlike the tree in my living room, we are all real -
real happy and sad, fulfilled and empty, at peace and at war,
strong and weak, brave and fear-filled, often all one and the same time.
Unfortunately, many of us live as though falsifying ourselves,
covering our faults and denying our fears,
disallowing our needs and disavowing our longings,
applying a lot of make-up and cover up,
closing ourselves in and shutting our loved ones out
will eventually convince others (and ourselves) that
we really are perfectly okay, no need for assistance or attention, thank you very much.

The trees behind the house we stayed in on Hilton Head, October 2010.

That's when I turn back to the trees and look at them in awe and wonder.
There they stand - in scorching heat and stinging cold, in drenching rain and unrelenting drought.
Their bark peels, their leaves fall, and their roots go down deep.
They welcome all climbers and fliers and crawlers and nesters.
They offer themselves as home and hiding place, shade and shelter.

A tree next to a tennis court here in Charlotte. 
I love the way the branches have woven themselves together. 
Makes me think of the way some of my friendships feel.

They join together and branch out.
Sure, they succumb to storms and insect invasions.
Caterpillars, small and slow, make sawdust out of them.
Somehow, though, most trees manage to live long and leafy lives.
Standing perfectly, contentedly, determinately still.

A little tree nestled in the branches of our big, fake Christmas tree.

There's a lesson in those boughs and branches somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Wishing us all one simple thing...

May this Christmas season bring peace, love, light - and joy - to us all!
And when joy shows up on the kiddie table at Caribou Coffee -
then by all means, take a photo and take it to heart.

Joy to the World!