Friday, November 30, 2012

A birthday card for Papa

He never made a big deal of his birthday.  If anything, it was an excuse to throw an informal party; a reason to gather friends around the table for a meal of enchiladas or chimichangas; an occasion to savor raspberry pie smothered in ice cream, to play card games, to sit and tell stories and laugh over tea and popcorn. 

All he ever wanted for a gift was a handwritten card.  

And now, tomorrow marks five birthdays absent of him.  But, oh.  Not of his presence. 

I see, with time, that he is all around me.  He is inextricably woven with me, with the beginnings of my story.  My history is painted with many colorful strokes of his brush.  I carry him in my heart as I walk the present and enter the future without him by my side.  I would not exist without him.

My Papa.

I see his fingerprints across my unfinished canvas as I walk the halls of the nursing home I visit weekly, as I sit in rooms and ask questions and listen to stories and laugh his laugh and feel his pleasure of loving people coursing through my veins.  When I open my eyes and peek out beyond my own skin and touch soft translucent arms and kiss the tops of white crowned heads, I feel him.  I am here, in these halls and these rooms, because he opened the door years ago and led me in.  He showed me not to be afraid of failing bodies, to see past to the nuggets of gold.  

I remember well the small girl, trailing behind her Papa through the hallways of other nursing homes.  Sitting in dimly lit hospital-style rooms with him, engrossed in conversation as food fell from an old friend’s mouth while he chewed and talked.  Pretending to see, with him, the flowers and birds and mountains outside a window that looked across to another room, as this old man talked of sights that weren’t there, except in his mind.  Greeting the older woman who sat at a bench near the front door, always, her bags packed and waiting for her ride.  Singing Christmas carols in a room filled with beautiful white heads, wheelchairs and walkers, sharing cocoa and frosted sugar cookies and the joy of the season. 

This, sweet Papa of mine, is a piece of your legacy.  
And this is my card to you, lifted to heaven. 
I celebrate you.  
Happy birthday, with all my love.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Five-Minute Friday: Wonder

[I seem to have thrown off the whole "five-minute" stipulation of this writing exercise, so I'll try to get back to that in the New Year...]

"Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike.
And to be able to be childlike involves memory;
we must never forget any part of ourselves."
~Madeleine L' Engle

I remember, but in my mind more than my heart, what it felt like to wait and wait for Christmas.  The growing, gnawing, jittery anticipation.  It was, truly, my favorite time of year - and it couldn't come fast enough.  Oh, how this has changed. 

I remember, the nine-year old me.  Making a list - a long list, mind you - of all my stuffed animals.  A little over a hundred, I recall.  And I knew them all by name and I wrote each name on a scrap of paper, and over one hundred folded pieces filled a tin canister, from which I drew a name and devised a calendar for the month of December: which of my furry friends would sleep with me, each night, leading up to the ultimate slumber party.  None could be left out.  So, come Christmas Eve, I'd sleep beneath a hundred stuffed animals.  Strange as this may sound to adult ears, this was part of my journey of anticipation in the month of December.  It feels like one hundred years ago, but I remember.

And I miss this child that has forgotten hopeful anticipation.  Can I reach back into my memory and access childlike wonder at Christmas, pull it forward several decades later, live it out in a thirty-one year old version of me?  No, I don't need to sleep beneath a pile of animals (I wouldn't be opposed to it, but my husband may not be thrilled).  But instead this childlike heart cries out from beneath a pile of stuff that has grown through the years; not the joys and comforts of faux furry friends, but of sorrows and disappointments and heartache and loss.  And I want to throw it all off this year and say Enough, to climb out from beneath the pile and rediscover wonder and breathe again the air of joy and life that holds this season in a swaddling cloth of glory.

The Wonder of waiting for mystery.  
Waiting with hope.
Waiting with hunger.

The anticipation, each day, of the One I wait for.  The eager searching, eyes wide open, always hopeful.  The longing for this, the greatest Gift I'm given every day, but this time of year - this season - is wrapped in remembering and mystery.
And then, the sigh: this is the One we have waited for. 

This is Advent, and I am determined to find Him here, as a woman who carries her childlike self into this season and waits for the Christ to come and be born, anew, in her heart.

*Joining the fabulous Five-minute Friday gang once more, at Lisa Jo's blog, for a free-writing post on the prompt of "Wonder."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Just Write: White moon rising

If you've ever found yourself on the brink or in the depths of a dark season, it can seem like a long, gradual descent into a cave.  You may think you packed enough for the journey, but further in, realize you didn't bring enough layers or sturdy enough boots, batteries or kerosene, snacks or sustenance, for the conditions of cave dwelling.  You stumble along, eyes growing dim, until you reach a cave wall and your legs are too weak to turn around, so you sit for awhile in damp stillness.  If you've ever been here, where you call out and tire of your own voice reverberating back from piles of rock; where your eyes fail to see the light in your hands and your whole body aches from the journey; then you know.  You know how far below ground, how far from the light of the sun, it can seem in the heart of a cave.

How the cave can render you speechless.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Her voice calls to me, "Auntie Ber-Ber, will you tuck me in?"  I follow her to her room, where she snuggles into her pink princess bed, introducing me to her friends - Lovey and Bruno and Brownie - offering kisses and hugs through plush arms and sewn mouths.  I read her stories, but really, it's I who sits captivated as stories spill from four-year old lips.  

"You see that dog over there?" she points to the stuffed Schnauzer in a pile of animals.  "That's from the woman who wore the white hair today, the one at our house for Thanksgiving."  Her great-grandma, now in her ninth decade of life, my Papa's mama who has buried two of her boys, a husband and a granddaughter.  I smile deep in delight at this description, as only a child can give, and follow where her thoughts take her.

"I'll tell you one last story," she says, when I tell her reluctantly that I need to go so she can sleep,  "But, it's a real one."  She briefly closes long lashes over her eyes and brushes wisps of brown silk from her face.

"Once upon a time... there was Gramy and you and Rocardo, but," she whispers, "He wasn't Uncle Rocardo yet.  And the day came when you moved out of Gramy's house and went to your wedding and Gramy went back home to live by herself, and she was all alone, except for memories of me, when I come to visit her in the summer and she's happy.  And you and Uncle Rocardo and Gramy all moved into our house, and we were all sisters, and we lived happily ever after..."

I watch her face, mesmerized by purity and innocence and imagination, and my own isn't wide enough to contain this smile, and my heart isn't deep enough to hold this moment. 

Since when did real stories cease to begin with "Once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after?"  I can't even remember, but how hard it is to remain like a child.  She kisses my lips and I smell her hair, and we pray holding hands and stuffed animal paws, and I wish that she could stay here, in a world without caves.

"Jesus, please heal Auntie Ber-Ber's leg," her prayers interrupt my thoughts.  And I feel him kneeling on the floor beside me, wrapping me up in the faith of a child.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I'm on the bus, skimming over the top of the lake on a trail of concrete, and I crank my neck to see Mt. Rainier behind me, like a vision of snow jutting from the water in a haze of pink sky. 

I step off the bus and take the long way home.  Trekking uphill in a trail of soggy leaves, inhaling cold breaths, above lake and highway, away from the city.  My dimmed eyes catch the glory of Christmas lights looped outside on bushes and roofs, of trees no longer ablaze yet still adorned with the fading gold of late autumn, of the bone white moon in its pre-evening ascent.  
My leg grows stronger on these walks and my heart beats warm, alive, beneath layers of skin and bone and jacket, with each step shedding ounces of heaviness.   

I am on the brink, a white moon rising from the depths.  And I whisper thanks to God that, even come the dark of night, there is still illumination.  My voice is freed, and still I stand and peer out in speechless wonder.

*Linking up with the oh-so-talented Heather King and the delightful crew of Just Write-ers

Friday, November 16, 2012

Five-minute Friday: Stay

{A little disclaimer: If you've been following my writing for a bit now, I know it's been on the weightier side lately.  All I can say is, there are seasons to my writing, because I often write exactly where I am.  I also try to look forward, past the moment, to write of where I hope to be, with eyes of faith, and not just my present reality.  I thank you for staying, for hanging with me in this journey, which is a great segue into today's theme of "Stay"...}


I look up on the wall, above our bed, and my eyes scroll down these vows.
In the sight of God's love 
and in the presence of our families and friends, 
I join my life with yours.
Wherever you go, I will go;
Whatever you face, I will face.

For better or for worse,
in happiness or sadness,
come riches or poverty,
I promise to be faithful to you,
to nurture, care for and encourage,
with the same care and concern that I give myself.

I promise to help you become the person that our Lord has intended you to be,
and throughout our life together, 
you will always be my lover
and my best friend.

I take you as my husband,
and I give myself to no other.

Photo credit
I never knew how hard it is, 
to stay my heart open to love, 
to stay feeble feet to the ground, 
to stay right where I am without getting stuck in the mud, 
until after I took these vows into my heart.  

To stay, in the eye of the storm.  
Stay, when the night lasts too long.  
Stay in the ache of silence, pregnant with hope.  
Stay, in the purifying light of mercy and grace.  
Stay, in failure and forgiveness.  
Stay, in surrender of pride and expectation.  
Stay, in the promises I've made.  
Stay, in the arms of my Love, when all else quakes around and inside and beneath.
Stay, and watch, my pot-holed heart transformed.  
Stay, and be set free, to love more full and wide and deep.

Stay, and build an altar here, so we can look back in time, with bigger, stronger hearts and wiser eyes, and say we drank the depths of love, stripped down to the goodness of God.


* Joining up at Lisa Jo's blog for another Five-Minute Friday post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Just Write: On being wrong

"If we feel that we already know something in its totality, 
then we fail to keep our ears and eyes open to that which may expand 
or even change that which we so zealously think we know."
~ Madeleine L' Engle, Walking on water

I've been wrestling with things for years - things I've called "issues" - when those issues are really people, and the real issue at hand is love.  Leave it to this election season to bring this issue of love to the surface, to force me out of my comfort zone and rip my heart wide open.  The thing is, I've asked for it. 

I've begged God, Open my eyes.  Show me how to love here.  If I'm wrong, make that clear to me.

And I'm getting what I asked for.

Oh friends.  I've grown up, as long as I can remember, with this fear of doing wrong, being wrong, making mistakes and hurting people.  I'm so thankful for a family who has passed on to me a rich heritage of devotion to Christ, which I have made my own.  At the same time, because the Church is still a work in progress, I've spent years unlearning things ingrained in me from an early age with the best of intentions.  Things I no longer see as black and white, right or wrong, because as far as I can tell, God hasn't appointed me that job of judging other people's lives and hearts.  It's a full-time job just keeping my own in check.

I'm not saying there isn't right or wrong, not at all.  I'm simply rejecting the idea that I know in entirety what that is.  What I do know is that when I peer deep and intent into my own heart, I find plenty there that isn't right.  Plenty there that burns my eyes.  I am, in no way, less in need of Christ than the person next to me.

So, when I think of my gay brothers and sisters, I need to make a confession, and I need to make it here, on my knees:

I have judged you.  
I have not loved you well.  
I have not looked always looked at you, 
first and foremost, as people, 
but at times, as an "issue" on the table to discuss.
I have been afraid,
defensive in my heart. 
Please forgive me.  
I want to know you.
I want to love you.

I don't have this figured out.  I don't know what it all means.  I will make mistakes.  And I think I'm finally arriving at a point where that's ok, even good.  It's how I am enlarged.

I hear the tiredness and hurt in peoples' voices, and I'm tired, too.  Of the hypocrisy, the division and wars, of having been part of the problem.  Of the inconsistent messages of truth.  How we Christians have waged campaigns against behaviors we've deemed as sins, burned people in the name of "love," all the while remaining largely silent on behaviors Jesus condemned as destructive, at least some of which are prevalent in our own lives - pride, lust, gossip, lying, marital unfaithfulness, sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, gluttony, selfish ambition, idolatry.  

I'm guilty, friends. I need look no further than my own life to pray, Lord have mercy.

I wrote a post back in February about some of this, and it elicited mixed reactions from readers - silence, praise, disgust, anger - and this, too, is teaching me.  I thought it took a lot of guts for me to write that then, but it's nothing compared to how I feel at the thought of hitting "publish" now. 

A lot of what I wrote then is still true of where my heart is - the stuff on wanting to be known for what I'm for, not what I'm against.  The desire to be known as someone who loves liberally, to be characterized by continuous improvement.  

But some of the things I thought I knew are expanding as my ears and eyes are opened to the scandalous more of who God is.  Something big is changing since that post: I support my homosexual neighbors and friends and sisters and brothers.  I know that may offend people, on either "side" - because I'm late to the table, or I've arrived here at all - but I'm tired of sides, too.  Because my only "issue" on the table is to love God and my neighbors and to live my life humbly seeking his heart, to become more like him.  I don't need to make other peoples' lives and hearts my issue, and in doing so, inflict pain.  I don't need to be Right.  I don't want to perpetuate a fear-based faith.

Don't I know, I could spend a lifetime learning how to love and still be millions of miles from home?  Let my journey begin and end there.  And please, if you are willing, forgive my missteps along the way.  I've got a lot of growing to do.

* I owe some of these changes to the thought-provoking, honest writing of a few others:
Soulforce: What the Bible says and doesn't say about homosexuality; Open letters written between Heather King and her friend, Vikki ; and Sarah Bessey: In which I tell you the truth about telling the truth.

*Linking up with Just Write today, which you can check out here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Five-Minute Fridays: Quiet

I sit down to write this post - the theme of Quiet - and I push back my chair, walk away, pace through the day, go to sleep, wake up and come back.  I keep coming back, but words elude me.  Five minutes have passed, five hundred times, and still I wait.  

My fingers are quiet, but friends, my heart is all but quiet here.  I wait for Quiet.

These days, I think of Quiet - and I think, immediately, of Love.  I don't know why, but those two, together, they seem to me a dissonant pair.

My love is too quiet in all the ways it needs to be loud, and too loud in times it needs to speak just above a whisper.  And this, my heart knows, is dissonance.

I think of the painful poetry of the Love Chapter, so beautifully recited at weddings, ironically impossible.  How we can think that loud actions equal loud love, when really, any actions done without love are only loud actions - proverbial fingernails on chalkboard, clanging cymbal in a string symphony.  And yet love in quiet service can be wonderfully, beautifully loud.  

I ponder these things, on my knees, scrubbing grime from kitchen floors as tears pour down and I'm asking God to scrub the grime from this calloused heart and teach me to love this Quiet-loud.  Because I don't know, I just don't know how.

There is a love that must die to self that it might come back to life, and only One who can bring back from the dead, and so I pray for faith to lay me down in quiet and be raised up to live the lovely loud - because this death is only the beginning of love.

Because there is no other way to love. 

*This post is part of Five-Minute Fridays and the community of writers linking up at Lisa Jo's blog.   

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Just Write: Enter

I used to write songs, and the best ones were like a current of wind passing by that I opened my sails to and jumped in the thick of.  It's the same with story.  The best kind of story, like the truest kind of song, is always the one that we enter into.

And that's how today, on my walk home from physical therapy, I passed by the park that I love, and I looped back around and crossed the street and entered into its sanctuary.  This, the park of my summer, of early mornings, leisurely afternoons, or farewells to the day, is where I found myself in a season of healing.  In the water.

But this late afternoon, the leaves were on the ground in piles of brittle, rust-colored carpet; the day eeking out a final breath of sunlight; the air turning my fingers purple.  Black feathered bodies filled the empty spaces among the tree branches and geese covered the grass of the lower beach.  Were it not for my walk, to and fro in pursuit of healing my leg, where I emptied the toxic bitterness of a stressful day, all this would have been lost on me, too full to hear it at all.  Too full to enter in.

But I paused, at the water's edge, emptied.

The weight of a thousand cares rolling off into the sand, the rustle of wind and feathers swept my eyes up.  One crow, flying straight up into the air, paused, then spiraled downward, slow and elegant, again and again.  Others called to each other from tree top to tree top.  A woman walked in, dog on a leash, and the flock of geese beat wings into wind into song and skidded across the water.  

I watched, with tears rolling down, as birds bathed and drank and played in the lake, no cares for tomorrow.  How I wished to be like them.  And I felt it, this hush of the sacred, here in this place empty of humans.  There's glory here, at the edge of a day, among the birds, between the trees, across the water, carried in the wind.  It's a curtain, pulled back, a song passing through.

 I opened my mouth, and the words of an old song my Papa loved tumbled out,

We are standing on holy ground
For I know that there are angels all around
Let us praise Jesus now
For we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

And I entered in.

*Joining up with Just Write a day later than usual, with Heather King's blog.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Five-Minute Friday: Roots

It's ten minutes past a new Friday, and I'm still awake.  I know I won't have time to write this later, so I'll do it now.  I'm joining Lisa Jo and the Five-Minute Friday crew for another free-write post.  The prompt today is "Roots." 


I'm listening, now, to this songPlease, listen.  And I peeked, a few minutes ahead, to let the prompt brew within my soul.  Roots.  And this song, it haunts my heart, echoes ballads of hope from wall to wall, until it settles in the floor lining.  These, friends, are my roots.  

Beautiful things out of dust.

I've always thought of roots as stretching deep and thick and wiry, down into the soil, latching to earth and refusing to let go.

But these roots, these mysterious roots, they grow upside down.  

From dust they push up, out of earth to heaven,
from particles to wholeness,
from chaos to cosmos,
latching onto something more than soil,
aching for the light,
parched with hope,
desperate for beauty.

These roots spread up.

And I can't see it yet, friends.  But with eyes of faith I beg to see my Creator shape beautiful things out of dust.  Out of ashes.

Out of you.  Out of me.  Out of us.

Oh, I breathe out a yes.  He's making all things new.