Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The river of hallways

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I come to these halls every week, walk beneath the florescent stream, try not to breathe too deeply the air.  Who can describe this cocktail of aroma?  A baby's room when the diaper is hours past needing a change; mashed potatoes, green beans and tater tots from my elementary school cafeteria; unwashed hair; carpet in an old house. 

Today, I bend low to greet a favorite and I can see it all across her face. She is not well.  Still.  Every week but the last one, her answer has been the same: pursed lips, slow shake of the head back and forth, words forced from her lips in a labor of breath.  I say I'm sorry, because I am, and I don't know what else to say.  

"I wish I could do something to take your pain away."

Her hand reaches out with rose chipped nails, the ones I painted three weeks ago, and red marble eyes stare into mine.

"Don't.  Go."  She shudders and coughs. 

I'm not actually there to visit her, but I can't pass by.  So I sit, and attempt conversation, and observe the hallway activity.  

It's busy here, by the nurses' station.  The old man with the red blanket sits on his usual perch beside us, in his wheel chair, with thin blood-spotted legs and slippered feet, his eyes glassy red beads.  Occasionally, he stirs, lifts up his legs and twists, contorts, his pillow dropping to the floor.  My friend hands me the stuffed frog on her lap, tries to lean down to pick up his pillow, lifting up his feet to reposition.  He dwells in this corner, half alive, it seems.

A middle aged woman wheels her mom with the flowing white hair into the hallway, kisses her goodbye.  The mama scoots her wheelchair back and forth with a twinkle in her eyes, wearing white running shoes, and I think immediately of my mom - slender, like her, walking everywhere she can, unyielding to age or pain or limitation.  I ask her name when she passes by and she only beams back at me.  

In front of us, a gentleman faces off with the drinking fountain, shuffling his walker forward, brushing up against the wall like a wind up toy with nowhere to go.  He backs up and pops the front legs with its tennis balls in the air - a walker wheely - and my friend beside me mumbles something about how he's always getting into her personal belongings and crinkles her nose.  She also motions toward the male nursing aids walking by, saying that one is her husband, and the other is her friend's husband.  And then she looks away.

A few doorways down the hall, a lady's voice punctuates the air with whimpers of pain, not quite drowned out by the uninterrupted bustle of hallway activity. 

Mr. Walker Wheely focuses his sights now on me, shuffling forward, standing right up against my knees.  He turns to the aide, says he wants to say hi to his girlfriend, and reaches out to cup my chin.  I joke playful with him and ask his name, and the aide replies, "He doesn't even know."

I sit here, in this river, until I must move on, and it lingers on my clothes and on my fingertips, disrupting the edges of my heart long after I've walked to my car and driven home.

Linking up with Heather King at the EO today for another week of Just Write.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Again

There's punctuation of power in this word, again.  I'm on a swing, flying out across this great expanse of Again - from negativity to gratitude, from death to life.  And I am the ball on the string, a pendulum deciding where to throw my weight.  

I wake up weary, again.  And I wake up again to mercies flowing fresh.

We fight, again.  And we forgive, again.

I wound my beautiful, scarred Savior again.  And again, he loves without drawing lines in the sand, without pulling back the way I do when I'm wounded. 

Again I do the thing I don't want to do, say the thing I don't want to say, act out the person I don't want to be.  And again, I recall that there is enough grace here to show me another way, to remind me that I am not this.  That I am still being made new.

Again, I feel the crush of fear.  And here again, I open the door to trust and watch the fear drop off with each small step, crushed beneath my feet.

I hunger again for what I do not receive.  And again, in the dark of the night, I come and rest in the arms of the one whose love alone satisfies the endless ache.  

It's a swaying, a pulling, sometimes a leaping, a healing and hoping word, this again.  

How it can swing around, full circle, and we spin our heads around this panoramic view with wonder, with words so few. 

Linking up with Lisa-Jo and the Five-Minute Friday community for today's post "Again." 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Confessions of a not-yet mother

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I hear from my friends who are moms and I read it in the writings of others, how easy it is to slip down this rabbit hole of comparing themselves to other moms and forever coming up short, hitting a dirt wall in that burrow beneath the ground.  They speak, in so many words, of a mother's guilt.  Of this perpetual stretching thin and never having enough to go around, never being enough. 

And I wonder how I, not yet a mother - and we never know these things, maybe never will be - manage somehow to compare the mom I think I might be against the moms that I see around me.  Against the mom I would ache to be.  And feeling just a hair shy of paralyzing anxiety at the thoughts.

In my mind, I already don't measure up.

In my heart, I am terrified of this: failure to love well.

Perhaps because, the older I get, the more aware I am of how much I don't have this thing called life down.  Of how often my love is petty, selfish, small and weak.  Put a child in my womb, drawing its very life from me, and then in my arms, and I'd like nothing more than to believe what I hear - that this fierce maternal love just takes over and I'm forever ruined - but I'm so afraid that I'd be the exception.  That loving would be a daily struggle, a daily defeat, a daily falling down and rising up and pressing forward, time after time after time.

I'm not strong enough, I say.

But I've said that about marriage, too, and here I am in all the glory of my weakness and daily falling down and rising up and pressing forward, still married.  Lord, if I'd known how hard it would be, I might have high-tailed it in the opposite direction in cowardice.  Thank God in his grace, we don't know in advance what will play out in our stories.  It's true that marriage is like holding a magnifying glass up to yourself - your soul, really - and that most often what stares back is not pretty.  How much more is that true being a mother, I ask, and could I bear that marred reflection intensified? 

I know that's fear talking, and I know what to do with that voice, but I have to release this.  Because I don't want to tune into that voice any longer, and yet, it's not easy to silence.

Isn't love - married love and mother love and any kind of true sacrificial love - all about this daily falling down and rising up and pressing forward?  This bloody, skin-kneed love; this wrap someone in your arms especially when you don't feel like it love; this continual choosing someone else over me love.  I don't care what any mother says, this kind of love cannot come natural.  It cannot be instinctual.  It must, even as a mother, be chosen.  It must, also, be received humbly as a gift.

Because the other side of this perpetual stretching thin and never having enough to go around, never being enough, must be where the miracle awaits.  The gift of daily bread, multiplied to be enough.  The gift of daily grace, unwrapped by those poor enough in spirit to recognize they will never measure up - and they needn't even try.  This liberating truth that we - not you or me, not mothers or singles or marrieds without children - are not designed to ever be enough.  Even though we want to be.  It's a built-in grace disguised, a limp that causes us to lean into the only one who can ever be enough. 

And I have to believe that God can work with that, in me - now - and if I'm ever a mother, one day down the road, too.  It is, after all, his specialty.        

Linking up with the brave and beautiful  Emily for Imperfect Prose today, writing about the theme of "mother."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Paloma: A dove flying home

We light three candles on our makeshift altar, flames dancing across Jesus, La Virgen de Guadalupe and Papa's obituary, and slip beneath a blanket on our sofa.  Our bodies huddle side by side, holding the silence as a cup between us. 

Thinking of her.  Of her brief life, a flame flickering in the darkness, unwilling to be snuffed out. 

In Spanish, her name means "pigeon," but ivory flowers lay across our altar and I think instead of a dove.  I think of peace, and pray, that soon she'll be at rest.

I ask my husband for memories of his cousin.  One year younger than him, they grew up more as brother and sister, getting into all kinds of mischief, but those stories are not for tonight.  She lost her Mami when she was only five.  He chokes up when he speaks, recalling with admiration the cousin he remembers as having every reason to be sad and yet somehow, always smiling.  

The quiet enfolds us.  I think of her eight-year old son, of her husband, as I watch the candle flames and pray.

"She doesn't want to die," he whispers, shaking his head.  And though I've never met her, I feel her sorrow, her struggle to let go of this brief episode that is life, and I weep.

How hard it must be, to let go, how thirty-six years must feel like the blink of an eye, a sweep of the lashes dropping a tear to the dust.  How even as a body is overtaken with cancer, this disease cannot take the spirit, and still she fights.  She loves, to the final breath.

And then, soon, leans back into the arms of God.

I stand up, reach down to pull my husband to his feet, wrap my arms around his neck and lay my cheek against his skin.  That I can do all this, feel his warm body and pulse and inhalation of breath, is pure gift.  I hold him, quiet, drinking the moment like a sweet red wine, because I'm not sure why I have been given this and not her.  Because I'm not sure how long I will have this to hold.  But as long as I do, I must savor and inhale the scent of him and speak the words that I dare not hold back, for life is too brief and anything less than love is not enough.

And still the candles flicker, refusing to be swallowed by the dark, and somewhere in the light of glory, a dove prepares to fly home.


Linking up today with Tuesday's Just Write group over at Heather King's blog.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A little Saturday morsel

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As I drove home from breakfast with a friend this morning, I did a little thinking.  About the new year.  About hope.  About living each day fresh.  About how, come what may this year, I know, God will be enough.  Because he is.  And then, I got to thinking about that little line in the Lord's Prayer - 

"Give us this day our daily bread."

And I thought to how Jesus is so smart to specify, this day.  Because how many times have I asked, maybe not in exact words, but in the expectations of my heart, give me (or us) the last six months of daily breads I (we) didn't receive.  A back order, if you will, of daily bread.  Of nourishment, provision, love.  Give to me, please, what I feel I've been deprived of.  

Or this - give to me tomorrow something more than what I've received today.  Something better, something sweeter, than this bread mixed with tears. Something that I can sink my teeth into, tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, for this whole next year. 

But, oh.  This bread is not recompense for days that have past or a stored supply for days ahead.  It's just this day.  The only day that I inhabit.  Here.  Now.  This moment.  

This bread - broken body.  Swallowed with this wine - spilled blood.  The very life and death of Christ, spreading to every corner and crevice of my hungry being.  And sweet Jesus, he doesn't owe me anything.  His bread - himself - is enough, more than enough, for this day. 

And that is what I dare to live this year, this humble little prayer of faith.  Starting with today.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Cherished

 Joining up with Lisa-Jo and the Five-Minute Friday gang for a post on "Cherished."

. . . . . . . . . . 

I shuffled quick steps to our loveseat, bowl of cereal in hand, ready for words to nourish me as I ate.  As I do nearly every morning before work, even for just a few minutes.  My eyes scanned the coffee table for the book, but today, it was not there.  Not under the blanket on the sofa, or on my bedside table, or slipped inside my reusable-grocery- sack-turned-purse.  My husband stirred in the dark, his sleepy voice calling, "What's wrong?"  as I shuffled about the room.

"I can't find my bible," I murmured.  

In that moment, I felt it, the weight of something cherished having vanished.  The weight of its irreplaceability.  

More than just a bible pulled off a bookstore shelf to lay pristine on my coffee table, this was a gift.  A gift from someone cherished, someone who, too, vanished from my life, over four years ago.  The navy leather, soft and smooth like a glove that fits my hand perfect, thinning now around the edges.  My name, embossed in silver script on the cover, a dove beside diving downward. 

But inside, a legacy.

My Papa's perfect lefty penmanship, a remnant of him, stored in this treasure chest of story:

To our precious daughter
 on our very first [smiley face]
Christmas (2006) together in Seattle 
as we begin a new season of memories together.  
We are so happy to be up here with you and
 having the privilege of being 
alongside of our special Amber 
to both enjoy ministry and friendship
 is a very very great source of joy to us!

With all our love always,
Mom & Dad

My Papa, who passed on unexpectedly, a year and half later.  I could get another bible, yes; but I could never get his words back in strokes of love across crinkled paper. I could never get back the record of my last six years, penned along the margins throughout this epic love story that is the gospel - Genesis to Revelation. 

I left for work, thinking on this all day, praying, Please, don't let it be lost.

Later that night, we cleared a pile of things off the kitchen table, and there it lay, waiting to be found.  I squealed like a child, reached out my hands for it, swept my cheek across its cool smooth, pulled it against my chest and whispered thanks, for all the gifts contained in here.  

For the preservation of my Papa's words, his handwriting, his love,
     in this greatest story ever told.

For the wonder of holding in my hands another Papa's cherished 
      words and handwriting and love, 
      written across history and also upon my heart, in the life of his Son, 
      a story still unfolding.
For the love of my Mom, still alive, 
      who becomes more cherished with the wearing of pages.

For the reminders of God with me, in the margins.

Cherished, indeed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The space between

In the space between plans is where my most precious birthday gift came to me, wearing my ivory wedding gown and bare feet.  The space between a sweaty, smiley Zumba Fitness class in the morning; homemade breakfast in our dining room, peering out the front window at the sunny January day; a spin on the Great Wheel that sits on one of the waterfront piers with a view of the ferry boats coming and going, the Space Needle and gleaming downtown buildings, the frosted wooden planks far below and the Olympic mountains across the water, giggling and kissing up high in our private gondola; and a late showing of Lincoln, a tub of popcorn between us.  

I rummaged through the closet, looking for something else to put on, and my hands reached out to finger the plastic bag hanging in the back for over eight months now.   My hands, ahead of my heart, carried the bag from the closet and laid it across our bed, unzipping it.  A surge of memory coursed through, even back decades, to when I was a child and how it felt to uncover something precious, a piece of my mom's history.  Like discovering treasure.


Before I could change my mind, the dress came off the hanger and hung gracefully at my feet, waiting for me to slip carefully inside.  Several pounds of ivory, lace and silvery beads, covered my body with memory.  I breathed a little sigh of relief, this snug thing still fits just so, and zipped it up the back.  Right as he walked in.

The first time he saw me in this dress, I was probably thirty feet away, at the end of an aisle on the crook of my mom's arm.  I limped down the church aisle in a walking boot that more than peeked out beneath my dress, masking the pain with a steady supply of prescription pain pills.  I wish I remembered what his face looked like, but I do remember tears forming in the corners of my eyes.  


We made it, my heart sung. Even through all this.

And now I stood before him again, three steps away, and he smiled quizzical at first, and then, his eyes sparkled.  

"For my birthday," I said, "Will you dance with me?  I want to know what it's like to dance with you on two good feet, in my wedding dress..."

We played songs on his iPhone, the internet connection cutting in and out, but we laughed and kept dancing.  Finally, the song that carried me down the aisle to him, swept us up in each other's arms.  Eight months of heart-rending hard to get to here, and here we danced barefoot, while tears of gratitude sprung fresh in my eyes. 


The dress came off, slowly, a dance in itself, dropping to my feet.  And here in the embrace of forgiveness, we started over.

Linking up with Heather King and the talented Tuesday's Just Write crew.  Also, joining Emily Wierenga for Imperfect Prose, the prompt being "Encourage" - which is what I hope this post does for those, like me, who strain for redemption and hope in our marriage stories.    

Friday, January 11, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Dive

"We have to be braver than we think we can be,
because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are,
to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality,
and to break down our defenses of self-protection 
in order to be free to receive and give love."  
~ Madeleine L' Engle

For her thirtieth birthday last year, one of my close friends wanted us to jump from a floating hot tub out on one of the lakes cradled here in Seattle, after dark - in November.  I looked at her, two parts incredulous, one part awe, remembering days when I didn't require serious coaxing for such a venture. Days when I'd have been the one leading the pack.  I shivered and tried unsuccessfully to hide my reluctance, "Really? Are you sure about that?"  She flashed a smile of pure mischief and shrugged, "Why not? It'll be fun!"  I didn't tell her that I could make a list in that moment of a hundred things that sounded more fun than a lake in November, but it wasn't my birthday.

So that's how I found myself jumping one dark November night into the still waters of Lake Union, with two girlfriends beside me.  My body broke the water, sent waves spewing high, nearly froze the breath right in my lungs, and I surfaced yelping, grasping the back of the boat like a drenched cat.  I couldn't scramble out of the water fast enough.

And then, I did the unthinkable.  After several minutes of unthawing in the hot tub, I did it again.  And then a third time.  I wore a crazy grin at this point, felt the chilly water melting inhibition and self-doubt, releasing courage.  My whole body quivered invigoration.  

Tomorrow, I dive into thirty-two.  And this year, I dive into writing a book - at least a beginning; I dive into joy, though the waters stare back at me darkened and the temperature startles; and I dive into deeper life in Christ; and I dive further into this "living breathing reality" of loving in marriage, without self-protection.  And I wonder, amidst my doubts and fears and voices screaming "Don't do it!" if all this I dive into might actually startle my soul more awake.   

I'm back with Lisa Jo and the gang for another year of Five-Minute Friday posts.... The prompt today is "Dive."


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Just Write: Must I write?

"Go into yourself.
Find out the reason that commands you to write;
see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart;
confess to yourself whether you would have to die
if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: 
ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night:
must I write?
Dig into yourself for the deep answer.
And if this answer rings out in assent,
if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple
I must,"
then build your life in accordance with this necessity."

~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet

It's taken me only thirty years, multiple job experiences and two degrees to recognize and embrace the thing I once knew as a child: I am an artist.  Wired to create.  And the temptation is there, to look back on my years with a critical eye, a dose of regret, re-creating my path in my mind, so it didn't take so long to find my way back here.  So I was, in my estimation, better equipped and qualified by education to be the artist I am made to be. 

Except, here I am.  A barista with a blog and a Master's in counseling and no paid writing gigs to speak of.

But, my journey is for a purpose, just as it's been written.  I can't tamper with the past, but I can embrace what I know today to the best of my ability and purpose to say yes to those opportunities that come to me in the future and ask to be written, as one of my favorite authors expressed:

"I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius,
 or something very small, 
comes to the artist and says,
 'Here I am. 
 Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.' " 
~ Madeleine L' Engle, Walking on Water
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And I know, now, not to quench this inner thirst that compels me to create with words; that I am a better person when I listen to this, when I write as I was created to.  Some may refer to this as a 'hobby' if it is not supported by an income or full-time work, but I know better.  I know that writing is more a part of who I am than what I do, that I finally learned that I don't need a title or position, paycheck or publication, to validate this truth.

I've dug deep and sat in the silent hour of the night and asked the question, and I know - I write because I must.  Because stopping my words would be no easier than plugging a dam with a cork, and I cannot.  In a very real sense, a part of me would die.

So this year, I ask another question: What will I do to say yes, to nurture what's been entrusted to my care as an artist?

And not because I need to - to prove myself or secure my worth - but because it's time to move forward, even a few steps, I'm going to begin writing separate pieces for a book.  Not here, on this blog, but on my own.  For years, the apparent lack of direction for a book to write has held me back from even trying.  It's only now I'm reevaluating, to step out and test the belief that inspiration comes during the work, not before, and that the book I set out to write and the book that needs to be written may look very different.  But venturing out into this unknown takes courage and humility and a sense of openness, to be taught by the very work itself.
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It's taken the past three years of the life of this blog to start to find my voice - and it's still emerging - but I know myself as a writer better than I did when I first started here, with Beautiful Rubbish.

I can't say I know where this will lead in the next year, but simply choosing to build my life in accordance with this necessity is the first step of what may be a long adventure.

Joining back up for another year with a favorite blogger-writer of mine, Heather King, and the talented Tuesday's Just Write crew.  Also, joining up at Emily Wierenga's inspiring blog for my first Imperfect Prose post.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Opportunity

I'm back with Lisa Jo and the gang for another year of Five-Minute Friday posts.... The prompt today is "Opportunity."

"For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words 
await another voice." 
-T. S. Eliot

I've spent the past week, as I often do at this time of year, pondering the turning of one year to the next.  I always thought of it as a new chapter; now I wonder at it being another voice, another language, emerging through the three hundred sixty-five days that fall like sands through this hourglass. 
. . . . . . . . . . 

My husband and I married in April and all but train-wrecked our way through the rest of 2012.  Come the end of the year, not much had changed between us or in our circumstances- but as the clocks turned at midnight, we smiled and danced our way into another year.  A fresh start.

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I woke up New Year's morning and the sun shone bright over white-capped mountains, and the sky was like a frozen pond I could skate across, and I listened for a new song.  But it sounded so much the same as it did, the day before.  This new voice, as with any new language, I think, takes time to form.  Time to settle in and stick in the mind and roll off the tongue and echo across the paper; time for it to surpass the voice of the year before.  

It takes discipline and perseverance and, sometimes, downright stubbornness.

I wish I believed that last year's voice is now a language of the past, entirely different in type and tone and material.  It sounds nice, to shut the door and distance myself from what is but a few days fresh, to brush it off my hands and walk away.  But I'm not convinced that's what the poet meant.  Sometimes, language does not forsake the old but builds upon the best of its foundation.  Something different; maybe even something better. 

. . . . . . . . . .

Throughout last year, a language emerged in a story of vulnerability, struggle, pain, disappointment, grief, darkness, and ultimately, clinging fast to Jesus.  Within this story, a voice of gratitude, grace, courage, feeble faith and glimmers of hope shone through the cracks.  It would be a lie to say these have all gone away; that this voice has changed over completely, when it's all still here, inside me.   The good, the ugly, and everything in process.

Now I get to build on it.

And I thought to myself and asked God, where do you want me to set my sights this year - with discipline, perseverance and stubbornness - to build upon what we began last year?

And it's here, it's this: Joy.

Joy doesn't forsake the old.  Joy moves in and pitches a tent upon its foundation.  Joy refuses to crumble when the ground below is shaking.  Joy flourishes, in dry spells and in floods and everything in between, because joy isn't dependent on the weather or the season.  Joy just is.

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Oh, how I want that.  The very thing I'm starving for and yet afraid to lean out and grasp, for fear it's only an illusion.

So that's where you'll find me leaning this year, friends.  Leaning into the fear, to discover that illusion is a lie.  Leaning into hope of joy in Christ.  Leaning into joy that is untouched by circumstances.  Hoping, in the leaning, to blow on a few other fires in others and kindle some joy and have faith that it will spread.  Because that's what joy does.  It spreads wild and untamed.

And I want to pause and say thank you, for joining with me on this journey, from wherever you are.  Let's raise our glasses and toast - to another year's words awaiting another voice.  And, most of all, to these opportunities for joy.