Thursday, June 30, 2011

Walking the line

Not that I wasn't happy to see the email in my inbox, informing me I'd been accepted to UW's certificate of nonfiction writing program - I was. I just wished it wouldn't have come a day after I sent in my application. It's a continuing education program, not some competitive graduate or doctorate program, but still. A week or two would have been nice. Just to give me the impression that some deliberation had occurred, to afford me the luxury of a little sense of accomplishment.

Or maybe the prompt response is precisely what I need. To know I'm not accepted based on some impressive credentials or writing sample that moved in them deeply, but simply as a reminder that this passion and any skills I possess for writing are gifts I unwrap each day, not things I can claim as my own creations.

When I first came across this program, over six months ago, I was eager to apply. I could have applied quickly and squeaked in back in January, but somehow the timing didn't feel right. So I waited and waited, until an email arrived at the end of May, informing me the program was now accepting applications for the 9- month session beginning in October. Since January, I've stepped up my writing to about five days a week, wanting to develop more of a writing practice. I'm not working on a book or any huge project, just my blog. And this felt like enough. For now.

But I knew I could hang out in this place comfortably - too comfortably - for a long time. I know myself. I know I need to be challenged, pushed, stretched. I know I love the classroom setting and I thrive on assignments, input, creative collaboration. If I was going to go anywhere beyond this blog with my writing, I'd need to look for some outside instruction to guide me in the process. And it's an overwhelmingly large process, the road to producing publishable work, full of possibilities. That's precisely the point I tend to get frozen, staring slack-jawed at the big picture, inadequate and obscure little me, swallowed up by all the details, all the options. So I applied.

Still, program or no program, I walk this delicate line of proactively pursuing the fullest development of my craft and being uninvested in a particular outcome of that pursuit. A mantra emerging for me in this journey is "success does not equal publication," ironic as that may sound coming from a writer just accepted into a program that seeks to prepare writers for publication. It makes perfect sense to me, though. The value of my writing lies in its impact, not its final destination. Publication can certainly spread that impact (and ideally bring in some profit), but I hope to steer clear of the tunnel vision that can hijack the writer who believes publication is the truest measure of success.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mi novio

Someday, I may need to write a book about Ricardo, whom some know as my novio (i.e., boyfriend). The more stories I hear about his life, particularly life since he arrived in Seattle with less than $50 and a pocketful of English vocabulary over six years ago, the more I appreciate who he is and how he got here.

He said throughout school in Mexico he had no interest in learning English. So he'd ditch class for soccer, a more worthwhile pursuit, but I'm sure he was mentally kicking himself just a little when he upped and moved to Seattle some years post-college. A successful businessman in Mexico with a degree in computer engineering, here he was back to ground zero. He worked several jobs in construction, landscaping, auto detailing, dishwashing; picked up English on the streets; slept on a ragged sofa for several years; walked miles in the rain when he had no money for the bus; went without food when money was scarce.

In the beginning, when he spoke no English, he remembers working for a Vietnamese man with a landscaping company. His boss picked him up in a truck one morning and proceded to explain the job to him as they drove. Ricardo remembers his boss speaking a lot, but he remembers nada, nothing, of their conversation. When they arrived at their client's residence, Ricardo unpacked a few tools from the truck and watched as his boss used his fingers to sign that it was 9am and he'd be back at 5pm. Then he drove off.

Being the smart, resourceful engineer that he is, Ricardo quickly figured out he was installing a sprinkler system in the client's yard. I couldn't have even figured that out with a "Sprinkler Installation for Dummies" handbook and an instructional video. He, on the other hand, mentally calculated the dimensions and details, dug and dug and tinkered and assembled all day until the job was finished.

When he decided he was done with these jobs, he approached some Brazilians who owned a graphic design company, asking for work. "Do you know graphic design?" they asked. "Of course," he replied without hesitation. "Good! We'll talk with you next week about possible jobs for you to do." That night he called his older sister in Mexico, running a graphic design company he helped her start. "Can you teach me graphic design in a week?" She laughed, called him crazy. And he was.

Not long after they hired him to help with sales, after introducing him to graphic design in Portugese, they decided it was time to sell the business. Did he want it, they asked? He did. And now he really does know graphic design, and he's rather a whiz at it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shedding ingratitude's gunk

I sit on a bench, looking out at water, peninsula, ships, factories, concrete and cars. The air is tepid, warmer than meets the eye. I sit and I write in my "Thank-full" journal- record of gifts I already have, of daily grace in moments. My pen scratches ink back and forth, down one page and then another, as if shedding the last vestiges of ingratitude's gunk, leaving it in a cloud of dust.

This is what I want to do, need so desperately to do, because how easily it infects me. How easily I forget, can't see, get carried off and away from gratitude. This journal isn't fashionable accessory; it's the glasses I need to see life for what it is: grace. I, who can be so un-grace filled. I, who can feast on grace in one moment and feel starved in the next.

It can be so hard to see. Sometimes, the page so blank, like the mind. I write to see, and so I start small, simple:

#257 - Taco trucks and roasted corn stands
#261 - Salsa dancing on Alki's beachfront
#262 - Rainbow colored, stuffed wiener dog, our victory from a Fred Meyer vending machine
#266 - Sunday afternoon, backyard barbecue with adopted family
#267 - Giving Isaac wheelbarrow rides through the grassy backyard
#270 - Late night quesadillas, guacamole, Mexican hot chocolate and storytelling
#272 - Reflections on buildings of glass

And something harder often tucks away in the folds of the simple.

#271 - Choosing peace and trust over anxiety and fear; waiting for a follow-up exam amidst the swirl of recent cancer stories

I breathe deep, swallow it down, this gift here in with all the others. It's a small moment of testing newly forming muscles, gearing up for those days when harder, heavier weights press in. I enter in even here and find relief.

Rain splatters soft on my car. I sit now inside, typing, resting, quieting myself, as the last hour of daylight slowly slips away. Another day of gifts is passing, and I don't want it to go unnoticed.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I never knew Martin Luther, man who set the Reformation in motion, said this: "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen." His proclamation stirs in me; yes, this is why I write. For so long, I'd thought world-changing would happen when I was in Africa or an inner-city neighborhood. Turns out, it can happen anywhere. I just need to pick up my pen.

Recently on the jacket of a children's book, I read a brief bio about the author. Bio's don't generally catch my attention, but this one made me smile because I understood. It read that the author used to be a law professor, but now he just writes because it's what he loves. Simple as that.

I saw something similar in a photo book, Natural Skagit: A journey from mountains to sea. It was lying on the bed in the room of our bed and breakfast inn, nestled away in La Conner, in the beautiful Skagit County. One of the contributing photographers, Lee Mann, spoke personally of his journey to become a nature photographer. Former eighth grade social studies teacher, and now, capturing natural life in breathtaking photos, he reflected: "When you're teaching you can change a few people a whole lot; when you publish a photograph you can change a whole lot of people just a little bit. It's part of communicating an appreciation of the beauty around us and having an impact on thinking." His camera is his pen. [This, by the way, is not to minimize the world-changing impact of teachers, as I have the utmost respect for the work they do and recognize not everyone makes an impact in their world in the same way.]

When I pick up my pen, I'm never sure what, if any, change it will affect in the world around me. Maybe the greatest world changing happens when our goal is not to change the world as much as it is to be true, to live truly and love truly, and then to let the ripples of our pebbles in the water go as far as they may reach.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

No goat, no glory; but swings take second

We went to see the goats. Hundreds of goats, the advertisement promised, eating weeds and blackberry bushes and trees and anything remotely edible within reach. It was the last day of the festival, and I brought along my camera and a supportive but not so enthusiastic as myself boyfriend to witness my favorite animals in all their ruminant glory.

But there were no goats.

Apparently, they packed up the goats yesterday, a day early. No one knew why. "You can still smell 'em, though," one local resting on a bench assured me. "They were eating everything, standing up and eating the trees themselves. You can see for yourself where they were," he motioned to the clearing of trees and grass that appeared to have had a passing stampede.

I nodded, sadly. "Yeah, I saw that. Thank you." We walked over to the spot, surveying, and the faint smell of earth and animal and barnyard filled the nostrils.

"Would you take my picture?" I asked Ricardo. I posed, he clicked, we chuckled.

And then we went to play on the swings.

Some days are just like that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before the sun rises

I wake up this morning before my alarm. Considering I set the alarm for four-thirty, it's safe to say this is a first-time occurrence. I never wake up at four-something in the morning feeling... awake. Refreshed. Not even tired. A strange and wonderful sensation settles around me as I lay flat on my back, eyes open, without a sense of urgency to get up and get going. Bird tunes drift through open windows and promises of daylight squeeze in through slanted blinds. I get up because I want to today, not because my cell phone sounds the alarm.

I actually have time this morning. Time to sit for a few minutes and enjoy a piece of peanut butter toast and some reading. I open up to a psalm, still surprised by the wakefulness of my mind, the perkiness of my eyelids, and I read:

"The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth" (from Psalm 50, verses 1-2).

The Mighty One, God. God, stirring me to wake in the early morning hours, before the rising of the sun. God, shining in through cracks in blinds. God speaking and summoning me through bird songs. God, inviting me to see perfect beauty, hidden in gifts each day, until the setting of the sun and the gift of slumber.

God shines forth, here. God shines forth, always. In my ordinary, everyday existence, the extra-ordinary continually speaks and summons me to the full life of thanks and joy spilling over.

This is hard work. It's not impersonating Pollyanna, not living with "rose-colored glasses." It's living with new eyes, formed by new habits. The habit of thanks. Today, the work doesn't feel so hard; but some days, it's like slogging through fields of mud. Slog, slog, slog, gotta keep slogging. Until day after day after day, one day, I'll look down and see the gift in the mud and God in perfect beauty shining forth, even here. Especially here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Random gifts

In many ways, it was an uneventful, quiet weekend in La Conner. But my new discipline of looking for the gifts hidden in each day helped me notice random graces that appeared throughout, which I take home with me from this second Father's day weekend away with my mom:

~ Cotton candy clouds on a sunset walk
~ Crisp evening breeze in the warmth of a hot tub
~ Sweet syrah in a dixie cup
~ Plush bathrobe
~ Coming and going in our old Victorian B & B without a key
~ Clawfoot tub and vintage toilet (a Thomas Crapper invention...)
~Sleeping on a real mattress
~ Waking up to the scent of freshly baked muffins

On our way out of town, Saturday morning, we stopped in Lake Forest park for breakfast at one of our favorites, Honey Bear Bakery. Beside the register and peppered throughout the seating area were posters announcing an upcoming event that brought a delighted smile to my face: Goat days. Who knew such an event existed? Who even cares, for that matter, except the random few oddballs like myself who actually get a kick out of seeing hundreds of goats eat weeds and clear blackberry bushes? I took a picture and wrote it down in my journal.

Father's day morning, I woke up chuckling. In the final minutes of my morning slumber, Papa had made a rare guest appearance in my dream. I don't recall much about the dream, except when he showed up, waiting in the hallway for my sister and I to finish getting ready to leave somewhere, I announced, "Look, he's wearing jeans that fit!" Acid wash jeans that fit snug around his backside, faded and hip, with straight legs, not too baggy.

Sometimes, it's the most random gifts that hit home.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Remnants of Papa

The last Father's day I remember with him: strolling along the waterfront piers for the annual wooden boat festival three years ago. A maze of planks and docked vintage boats, gleaming glossy in the partial sunlight, some evoking memories of Gilligan's Island episodes. Papa liked boats. Or maybe he liked the romantic idea of sailing off to faraway places, the quietness of the water, the pace of island life.

We always kidded him about his fascination with the Andy Griffith show's Mayberry lifestyle. He seemed out of place, several eras behind in our fast-paced, modern world. He needed a town where he could sit for hours on a rambling front porch, sipping iced tea with neighbors, reading, and talking to strangers passing by, telling stories and laughing at his own jokes, eyes twinkling crystal blue. He needed an old shop in a quaint downtown where people traded goods or services for merchandise and life didn't revolve around money and people didn't lock their doors or check their availability for dinner on their cell phones.

He owned a cell phone for all of a few months. To this day, I still have his number in my phone, unable to delete "Papa" from my contacts just yet. Maybe I'm not ready to delete the precious few traces of him that remain tangible.

The blue, hand painted chest I bought to hold treasures of him rests against a wall in the living room, piled with things we don't have space to store. Inside, his lefty baseball glove, cards I made him since I was a little girl, the memorial service program, a favorite picture of him, condolence cards, an empty canister of his favorite tea, notes he'd slip into my lunch bag with stick figure pictures of him, a sack of cashews purchased from an older man in Guatemala who reminded me of him, his reading glasses, a pocket knife, a book he gave me for Christmas scrawled on the inside cover with his handwriting and heartfelt words. More remnants of him.

Mom and I began a new Father's day tradition. We get out of the city for the weekend, leave sad memories behind, drive out to a small town that Papa loved and relax in a quaint bed and breakfast. We hop a ferry boat and travel to a small island for the day, fresh salted wind streaming around our faces, capturing memories in digital camera. We remember him. We miss him. We continue to love him. And we continue to live as fully as we can.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Admiring clouds

I may as well be sitting smack dab in the middle of an oil painting. But no, I'm sitting in my car, music playing, window rolled down, waiting for the bridge to rise and the boats to pass below. I'm staring at the clouds.

Dramatic layers of texture, shades of eggshell and charcoal, pillowing high above. I sit, dreaming of running through tunnels of cloud, of dancing barefoot on pillows, of swimming in billowy seas, of grabbing fistfuls and tossing them in the air. Cloud-ball fights.

I think of young children, of one mom who recalled with fondness a time when she stepped out the front door in a hurry with her small son, him fresh with new language. Pointing up, his voice filled with awe, he exclaimed, "Look, mommy! Sky!"

Where I sit in the car, I feel like that little boy, want to reach my arm out the window and strain to touch, "Look, everyone! Clouds!"

Is this part of perspective, learning to become small again to see things so big?

The bridge rises, engines start, cars creep forward, and I whisper thanks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Breaks of sun

People who run marathons or challenge their bodies in intense physical activity are often caught saying that, more than the physical training, "It's a mental game." So much of it is a battle of will, an exercising of the brain. Mind over matter. This is nothing new, nothing novel. Why, then, at my age am I just connecting the dots?

Life is almost all about perspective.

I'm catching it, this subtle but potent switch of word choice. Not generalizing my days to either "good" or "bad," or even "not too bad." I mean, is there really such a thing as a bad day? A whole entire day when absolutely everything that happens, every moment and and every thing in our surroundings are bad? Surely there are painful moments, stretching and challenging and hard moments and downright unpleasant moments. Surely some days, those moments tip the scale. But does that make them bad?

It's more than just a game of semantics. It's much more complex, a total overhaul of perspective. The input of the eyes is translated by the brain and internalized in the heart and spit out the mouth.

My counselor and I discuss this concept, and she comments, "If we pray it won't rain, all we see is that it still rains. If we pray for sunshine, what do we see? It can rain most of the day, but we notice that sun break in the middle." Because we're looking for it. So true, in weather and in life.

True in relationships, too, though harder to swallow. I'm learning that when I feel disappointed, hurt, broken-hearted, sorrowful, lonely, misunderstood or abandoned in relationship with others, I've got some choices. I can see the day that didn't stop raining, or I can see the break of sun. I can see the lack, or I can see the truth that I cling to in my own life: there is more to life than this. This opens my eyes, stretches my brain, saturates my heart and begins to come out my mouth. I can live grateful, because this is not all there is.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The non-plan plan

"Hi, my name is Amber. I am a recovering planner." I may as well admit it: for all of my twenties, for all of my image of being a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of girl, I clung to having a plan. It's what propelled me forward, provided me with security and identity and purpose. It's what validated my educational pursuits.

Now, I'm not entirely knocking having a plan. I am, however, knocking my old way of approaching life. On the outside, me with open hands; on the inside, tight-fisted hands wrapped around my agenda.

I was afraid. Isn't that why we wage this war of control in the first place?

Even now, I fight not to hang my head in shame when asked what my plans are for using my degree, for getting "out" of my Starbucks job, for pursuing a career in writing. I stammer a little, quietly confessing, "Well, I don't have a plan."

Not anymore.

I had one of those wonderfully real lightbulb moments yesterday in the counseling office. Another moment of eyes being peeled back, wider, clearer. A vision adjustment. I won't lie and say as of yesterday I'm magically cured of being a control freak with my life. But I did realize something that has been influenced by this change in my sight, which is changing the way I live.

It's ok not to have a plan.

In fact, it may well be the most freeing, adventurous, faith-filled, open-handed way for me to live the full life. Abandoning my life agenda to live in day-by-day trust, no attachment to a specific end result.

This is my plan for writing: To lay it out in the palms of my hands every day, to put into words what burns in my heart, and then to see where it goes. To not value "success" as having a published work selling thousands of copies more than the one life that may be touched and changed by a blog article. To have nothing to prove, no need to validate my work or pursuits. Simply to write my heart out until I have written all that is needed, and to thank God for wherever it goes.

This is success: faithfulness, surrender, diligence, patience and gratitude. No plan required for these.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Joyful moments

I returned last night from a whirlwind weekend in Portland with my family, to celebrate my nephew's baptism. While there are more than a dozen memorable moments captured in my heart from this time, there was a common theme among most of these moments. Children. Well, and a few animals. My camera sought after them like my nephew to his Star Wars figures or my niece to her Littlest Pet Shop animals. Like it wanted to drink up from the fountain of their joy.

Thought I'd post just a few, to pass on the joy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

From theory to practice

In school, as a child up to my graduate program, I've always been best at being a student. Love to learn, love to challenge myself, love to write. Yes, inside the walls of school, I feel a pro. But set me loose outside in the world's yard, and I falter. Stand in the middle of the yard and gaze all around, overwhelmed. How do I take all this stuff in my head and make a go at it when I can be so afraid of failure? When I see my weakness, that I tend to be more intellectual than activist, though I desire both?

This stuff of gratitude that I've been writing, practicing, it's hard work. Transformation comes slowly, more slowly than I'd like. I wake up this morning and think of my journal, that I made it through one whole day without writing a single thing down, and after such an inspiring start in the morning with my post on tuning the senses. Reached the end of the dull and senses were dulled.

It's not so smooth a transition, from theory to practice. But all this writing, this theorizing, dies prematurely if not fed by action.

I return to an earlier chapter in Ann Voskamp's One thousand gifts, where she's struggling with practicing this life of seeing gratitude, and it is me she's describing: "Senses are impaired if they don't sense the Spirit and somebody, tell me, how do I tear open tear-swollen eyelids to see through this for what it really is?"

I saw those tear-swollen eyelids in the mirror this morning when I woke up, and I know them well. So how do I tear them open to see through?

Deep breath in, deep breath out. Open them wide and look up, not at these eyes. Grace is falling here, as it is every day. It's time to drink, to fill, to empty, and then to fill again. I can't do this without grace.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tuning the senses

"Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that
you are... a divine choice."
~ Henri Nouwen

May we have the eyes to see all the ways - all the miniscule details of a day, the infinite intricacies of creation, the miracle of our bodies alive and breathing and pumping blood - we are sought after...

May we have the ears to hear the notes, the pitch, the melody, the tone, the tune, of a song that plays without ceasing, surrounding us...

May we have the tastebuds to distinguish the flavors of goodness toward us...

May we have the ability to feel the touch of grace wrapping around us, brushing against us, inviting us in...

May we have the noses to catch the scent - in the air and in the people and in the flowers and in the city and in the rain and in the desert and in the ocean and in the critters and in the workplace and in the home - of joy, of wonder, of the love...

Of the One who pursues us.

Of the One to whom we direct our gratitude, for making us a divine choice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The wisdom of losing teeth

I miss the satisfying crunch of tortilla chips accompanied by my spicy homemade guacamole. I miss biting into fresh vegetables and crispy apples. I miss melted peanut butter on toast. I miss my tofu pho with steaming vegetables. I miss a fat veggie burger oozing with sauteed mushrooms and cheese. I miss looking in the fridge and knowing I can eat anything I feel like preparing out of those ingredients. Alas, I'm still eating the mashed sweet potatoes, yogurt, scrambled eggs, creamed soup and bananas.

The thing is, I never noticed how much the flavor and pure enjoyment of food is enhanced when chewed by the whole mouth, passing over all the tastebuds. Not just swallowed or gnawed on gingerly with the front teeth. I have a newfound appreciation for the process of chewing, one that will hopefully teach me to slow down and savor the experience of eating, thank God for my tastebuds and all my working teeth.

Who knew losing my wisdom teeth could gain me this wisdom? Well, wisdom only if I am able to practice it. Otherwise, it's just four useless teeth and a nice hunk of dough lost.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nuts and bolts

People often ask, "What do you write?" I've long struggled with a concise, satisfactory reply. How to describe the concept of beautiful rubbish in something tangible? I settled on "redemptive stories" for awhile, but even that didn't suffice. Sounds fluffy with no substance, but I knew there was substance, just couldn't lasso words around it and pull it down to the everyday, practical stuff of life.

Until this daily practice of looking for the graces in life, to count them and say thanks for them. This daily, moment-by-moment learning to see, period. This is the nuts and bolts of beautiful rubbish. This is what puts flesh and flower and dirt and texture on the seemingly ethereal concept of seeing the beauty in the rubbish, of turning around and living that in the daily story. This is the redemptive story, in words that will turn into sentences that will grow into paragraphs that will develop, over time, into a book. A living book.

It keeps returning to my eyesight. This mysterious transformation of taking eyes that can see but have been blind and opening them wider.

The everyday art of learning to see, this is what I write.

I see to write and I write to see; I see to live and I live to see. Life - glorious, messy, beautiful, uncensored, fresh.

My daily work is this: To trust, and then, to see. And as I see, to trust deeper. A whole life of this, one day at a time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bird songs

The breeze is light and refreshing, an evening mojito in the air. Mom persuades me to come with her for a walk to the popular Golden Garden steps, where the sweat of many Seattle fitness enthusiasts, hardcore trainers or athletic wannabes mingle. Of course, it doesn't require much persuasian, after feeling in a near vegetable state the past five days on opiate painkillers. I could use the movement and she could use the motivational support.

We stroll. She's talking about concerns with her memory loss again. I'm immediately on edge. So quickly it happens, this rapid descent. It tumbles out in irritation, but I know it for what it is. Fear.

Ever since Papa died, I've heard the concern in her voice about memories lost. Simple things, and not so simple things. I hear the panic straining, pushing back. I want to brush it off. Reassure her, it's just grief. Stress, grief, trauma, they affect our brains. They can affect memory. I know this from my studies, from people I've worked with. But seeing it in my mom, hearing it in her voice, the fear niggles.

We reach the stairs, and I take the bench.

The thought finally materializes like a black vapor: But when? When will the next tragedy strike?

I sigh with the invisible elbow that lovingly pokes my side. I know. I know. I have to let go, have to live now.

I watch her back, heading for the stairs, until those red curls peeking out beneath her pink baseball hat disappear with each bounce.

I cheer her on as she takes on the steep flight of stairs, five times. She's on a roll tonight, and I smile. Our conversation home, I hear her voice cutting in and out of my thoughts. She just said "Lexus" or "Toyota" but I have no idea why. My thoughts are still on Alzheimer's or dementia. On what would be worse, losing her quickly like my dad or gradually watching her slip away over years, memories gone before her body?

I shake myself out of this dark cloud. I must practice another way to live than fear. Reaching for her arm, I remember. She is here, now. But I am not, and I can change that. I can choose trust.

"Listen to those birds," I breathe. "They sound so happy."

"They do what God created them to do and they do it so well." Mom doesn't miss a beat.

"Rain or shine." I envy them for that. I could learn a thing or two from the birds.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Flow of joy

I read it and stopped. Read it again. Why are the simple things so painful in truth? The few words that can pack a punch to the flesh?

"Only self can kill joy." It's Ann Voskamp again, throwing up one spark after another. I'm still not all the way through her book, the sparks fly too fast.

I say the words, feel them around in my swollen, wisdom tooth-less mouth: Only I can kill joy.

Work frustrations don't kill my joy. Relationship troubles don't kill my joy. Medical issues don't kill my joy. Rain and gray clouds don't kill my joy. Not being where I thought I'd be in life doesn't kill my joy. I, my friends, am the only responsible party for the murder of joy.

Harsh truth or endless freedom? Perhaps a little of both.

Accepting responsibility for my own joy is painful at times. Easier to blame something or someone else. Easier to feel frustrated, depressed, angry or down. Accepting responsibility for my own joy is also empowering. It means I am the deciding factor, the only one that stands in the way or swings wide the door to joy.

I'm learning in the counting of graces in my "Thank-full" journal that joy is to be found in going lower. The opposite of the flow of the world. The world wants to reach higher, stand taller and prouder, climb the ladders and the mountains. But joy, like water down a mountain to the valleys, flows lower and lower. I must stoop down to catch the joy and drink it in. Stooping low in the small things to see. Bending the knee in the hard things to drink. This is the path of joy, and I'm the one who controls the knees and opens the hands and lifts the eyes to see.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thanking in the throbbing

Seeing clearly is a challenge this morning. I'm trying not to think of the pain pinching down from the base of my head to my left shoulder, the way I can only move my head about two inches each direction before the bulging knot in my muscles throbs, shoots a stabbing pain up my neck. Trying not to think of how it's much too early in the day to call for a massage appointment, how I called one number and it was the lady's personal cell phone and I woke her up and she sounded annoyed. Trying not to think of how I just ate the last decent meal I'll have for several days, how I'll probably be sucking down applesauce and pureed foods by this evening, looped out on painkillers after having all four of my wisdom teeth out this afternoon.

It's a struggle, turning my thoughts toward grace. See through to the joy, open my eyes to the thanks when all I feel is the throbbing. And I think of all the people that live with chronic pain, far worse than this, and I must try.

So I think of my mom. How happy she is she's my designated nurse. It's a blast from the past for both of us, but even thirty-year old kids still need a mom to take care of them from time to time, and she's an enthusiastic volunteer. I think of how she massaged down my neck and shoulder last night with my head in her lap for nearly an hour. And I give thanks for her.

I'm thinking of the stack of books I have to read, including Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking, One thousand gifts, and Rooms (a suspense novel from a talented author I met at my writer's conference). And I give thanks for library books and memory-inducing children's literature and new authors and time to read, even if drugged up.

I'm thinking of my good friend, Naphtali, who offered to come on her day off on Friday to spend time with me. And I give thanks for her faithful friendship.

I'm thinking of sick pay and how fortunate I am to have it, and I give thanks.

I'm thinking of dental insurance, how I can afford all this because I have it, and I give thanks.

I'm thinking of vicodin and how I'll have some by this afternoon, and if my neck and shoulders are still throbbing, it will take care of them as well as my jaw. And I give thanks.

I'm thinking how the throbbing slowly fades away, into the background, as grace emerges.

And I give thanks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An inch of elephant

Catholic, meet Christian.

How I’ve grown to dislike the taste of those words in my mouth, the sound of them in someone else’s. Nails on a chalkboard. I grew up with the impression that those were different sides of the fence. Neighbors that didn’t talk to each other, certainly didn’t cross into each other’s yard.

I’ve been dating one of these neighbors for almost a year.

He came in the backdoor of my life one evening. While I was dancing. Or trying to (I wasn’t that good yet). He took my hand, asked me to dance, led me onto the floor. Gently, decisively, he guided my turns, invited me to follow. His smile, so radiant, filling up his whole, dark skinned face with joy. His eyes, so deep and warm, sparkling, gentleman with a glint of mischief. Watching him dance effortlessly, feeling the music in his skin, I felt the tingle of joy in the movement of dance, washing over me. So much conversation passed between us without words, the mystery of dance.

All this before I knew he’s Catholic. And I’m not. We’re two different ends of the same spectrum. The enormity of God.

The struggle to understand God is a bit like two people standing in different places, staring at the same elephant. One notices the elephant’s long, curvy, wrinkled trunk. The other notices the elephants muscular flanks, extending to solid columns of leg. Same elephant, different angles, different eyes, different perspectives.

Any more, I question my previous assumption in life and relationships. That two people staring at the same square inch of elephant in intricate detail shows greater spiritual compatibility than one person seeing the head and the other studying the tail. I’ve wanted someone to see the same square inch of God as me.

True, this can certainly make for an easier relationship, and even here, no two people see with the same eyes. Yet, how small of me. Maybe it’s every bit as complementary for me to be with someone who gently tugs at the corners of my lens, stretching, stretching, always stretching, pointing to a different part of the elephant, helping me to see more.

When all is said and done, aren't we all seeing but an inch of God's infinite form?