Monday, June 30, 2014

Mirrors among us (a guest post for Unforced Rhythms)

A friend asked the other day what brought about my love of birds, and at first, I didn’t know how to answer. I was searching my memory banks for a specific moment in time, or a specific bird that first laid hold of my affection, and came up empty. It took me fumbling through several unsatisfactory explanations before the real answer came into focus.

 “I think I began to love birds when I could sit still long enough to observe the world around me. I couldn’t help but notice their beauty, what amazing creatures they are.”

While these words tumbled out, I felt them warm me, glowing like embers, a slow burn from the heap of my heart’s contents.

* * * * *

There’s something different about birds, the way they undo me. The way it’s about even more than the fascinating bird right in front of me, but about all birds and how they speak to me about life and God in their songs, in their flight, in all the quiet ways they exist in the background of human lives. The way we lead parallel lives.

This hasn’t always been the case.


I'm sharing the rest of this story over at Kelli's today, for Unforced Rhythms. Would you follow me here to continue?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Lost


You come home when I'm tucked in bed, wide
awake and teetering on the edge of sleep.
You sit next to my body and I feel your 
sigh before I hear it rolling down, 
and I see it in the curtain of your face pulled 
taut, now drawing open.
I'm too tired to climb inside that sigh and you're too tired
to climb into bed, and so you pat my arm, 
retreat into the shower to wash the day away.

But for a moment before you disappear I search
those eyes, flecks of light under the hood of dark
and hold your gaze just before the breaking moment.
Fingertips reaching through the fence between us,
I cannot bear that space of almost touching,
pull my eyes away and say goodnight.
My body, my face, 
stiff wooden planks adrift in a sea of distant desire
until you leave and I am paper dissolving into saltwater,
and I turn, 
surrender to sleep.

I am carried on the wisps of tired dreams,
lost within your arms in a love without fences.

* * * * *

I sat for awhile, honestly, thinking a jumble of thoughts on today's prompt of "Lost." And this is eventually what won out. Though I feel more exposed than I generally prefer in my writing, I felt compelled
to be brave in the admitting of rough edges and unfinished places.  My marriage, along with everything else in life, is part of an ongoing story of hope and trust and redemption, and that, more than anything, is what I wish to convey here.

Linking with Lisa Jo.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Release: the gift of change

"Who are you?" It's a question, more rhetorical than anything else, I've heard tumble from my friends' lips, concealed in their voices, in raised eyebrows or bemused smiles, more than a few times over the past year.  Often it's the friends dear to me whose history with me extends back to the years before Papa died. Whether I like it or not, his death marks a clear starting point of a self-discovery that, over nearly six years, has rendered me less recognizable as the young woman I was before.  

Whether I'm comfortable with this or not, his death was both shattering loss and life-giving release.

* * * * *

It went down something like this: I was barreling down the highway of performance-driven ambition to Minneapolis, then (in my plans) to Africa, coming fresh from two years of a 90 mph lifestyle in graduate school, and years before that of nothing but church ministry and studies. His death was a concrete roadblock that I rammed right into at full speed and graciously survived. My car totaled and the highway impassable before me, all I could do was sit stunned and broken for awhile, peel the remains of my faith from the pavement and put one painstakingly small step in front of the other.

All I could do was learn to walk again. To discover who I am again, or maybe for the first time.

* * * * *

Sometimes I just have to chuckle. I don't think many of my old friends, or even my family members at times, know what to do with these changes in me. I imagine my Pentecostally-inclined loved ones wondering what on earth to do with this girl who used to lead worship dancing on a stage or on her knees, now talking with quiet passion about liturgy, of finding God in Episcopal cathedrals and Spanish mass.  The one who lived and breathed Africa now speaking Spanish instead of Swahili. I'm more comfortable lighting candles, whispering prayers and soaking in liturgies sung than I am in exuberant worship concerts. And that's not to say I don't love to be in a room of worshipers singing loud and passionate and free, in whatever form that would take. I do. But it's no longer my primary language of worship. It simply feels like a well-loved shirt that no longer fits the same way. It looked great on me then, but now - my style has changed. My body has changed. I am a different woman.
I don't pray the same as I did before Papa died.  I've discarded formulas and jargon. I use less words. "Praying in faith" no longer looks like focusing on a certain outcome as a measure of faith or a supernatural answer to prayer, but an openness to whatever the outcome may be; an awareness of the ways of God being far beyond my limited scope of sight and rational human mind.  I talk less about God and in a less touchy feely, gushing sort of way. He's more the essential part of my day, like the air around me, not always needing to be pointed out with words but breathed in fully all the same.

I read different books now, and in them, I've found unlikely mentors and teachers. Many of them have slightly or vastly different politics than me, differing faith or religious beliefs, whichever way you look at it. But through their words and lives, I hear God whispering truth to me. We share threads of common conviction and passion and curiosity, these authors and I, in ways that somehow transcend many of our differences. I feel less threatened by these differences; they are interesting and challenging, unnerving at times and piercingly beautiful in their expression. When I read their words, parts of me that I couldn't speak of before begin to take shape, as if finally breathed on, coming alive and beating within my chest.

* * * * *

I know myself better now than I did six years ago.  I know I'm less patient and tolerant of stress than I used to be. I can be more compassionate and empathetic, but also feel more easily overwhelmed by others' pain and sometimes wary of jumping in the midst of it. I can be aloof. I also know, finally, how to cry with people. I get angry, for a lot of reasons, whereas before, the only answer I could give to what made me angry was "injustice."  I fight cynicism and disillusionment. I'm willing to admit weakness, to share my pain, to acknowledge depression. I speak my mind more openly and freely, sometimes to my detriment. I'm less sarcastic, more serious, not as laid back and go-with-the-flow, yet oddly somehow more childlike and prone to wonder. I'm more accepting of life not going as I hoped or planned. I know my limitations. I am not as quick to try new things. I appreciate routine. I feel anxiety at being over-scheduled and crave more time alone with less social interaction crammed in between. I sometimes prefer nature to people and feel conflicted by this change in me. 

I struggle with reading the Bible and seeing it with fresh eyes. My faith feels less certain of itself and I have fewer answers, see things less black-and-white. I've made peace with the gray places, knowing at the end of the day in a world full of glaring questions, I wouldn't know where else to go but Jesus.  I love him deeply, still, and I'm more aware of how pitifully fickle that love is. I don't love him in the emotional up-and-down way I used to, but more like those married couples who are fully committed, partners in the day-to-day, comfortable in companionable silence and in long stretches of love without the fireworks.

I still love to sing my adoration to God with my guitar, and when I do, it's when I feel most connected with that girl-turned-woman I knew all those years ago.

* * * * *

And I wonder, who would I be if my Papa hadn't died and I were still traveling headlong down that highway? Would I have crashed and burned at some other roadblock or milepost along the way? I don't know. And as much as I would give so many things to have him back, alive and present to wrap my arms around, I figure the best way to live my life without him is to walk into each day open-eyed and grateful for the gift of release I received in his death.

I hope if he were still alive, I would still be a daughter he'd be proud of, someone whose company he would still enjoy, even if he had to get to know me all over again.

I hope God would say the same thing.

* * * * *

Joining Lisa Jo and the Five-minute friday community. Today's prompt is "Release."


Monday, June 16, 2014

The flood of remembrance: thoughts on Father's day


Funny, loyal, creative
Wishes to buy and fix up old houses
Dreams of going to a Blazer game
Wants to travel to distant places
Who wonders what lies ahead
Who fears nothing
Who is afraid of diseases
Who likes preaching
Who believes in God
Who loves Sunshine Pizza
Who loves reading
Who loves my family
Who loves raspberry yogurt
Who plans to turn 42 soon
Who plans to go to the beach
Who plans to have a nice Father’s Day!

Steve Donais

* * * * *

Father’s day began with rummaging through my chest of Papa artifacts, for the pile of cards he kept through all the years of birthdays and Father’s days. It began with a good chuckle as I pulled out the poem above, my ten-year old cursive scrawled across a background of watercolor. Who fears nothing. Who is afraid of diseases. Oh my, Papa must have gotten a kick out of this one.

It brought back memories of pizza buffets after church in the small town where we lived, where Papa was the preacher.  Of photo albums of vacations, half filled with pictures of old victorian houses and cottages at the beach that we didn’t stay in, right out of a Thomas Kincaid painting. Memories of our fixer-upper-turned-dream-house on McPherson Street in Richland, two tall sycamores in the front yard with a tire swing hanging motionless. We moved from this home to a church parsonage half its size, with a view out the living room window of a sloping field, where hawks occasionally soared, barn owls perched on fence posts and deer roamed through.

I remembered his preaching, his gentle intensity, his laughter at his own jokes. I remembered his love of raspberry pies but not of yogurt. Our trips to the Oregon Coast, trying to reserve our favorite room with a balcony, where Papa cooked too many pancakes and we’d toss the leftovers in pieces to a circling band of seagulls. I remembered he’d sit with me in the hot tub, since I was under fourteen years, and I’d lather his face with bubbles and pretend to shave him.

* * * * *

Today we walked down along the lake path, sitting on a bench to watch a tern flapping in circles, hovering then diving below the water in search of fish, again and again and again. And I thought of him, how he helped me to slow down and observe the world around me, like my husband seated beside me. But all those years, I still preferred moving too fast to standing in place, eyes wide open.

We stopped at a busy Vietnamese bakery for Bánh mì, savoring fresh crusty bread rolls stuffed with barbeque pork or marinated tofu, pickled carrot and cucumber, cilantro and crisp jalapenos. Watching the people come and go, filling bags with bread fresh from the back ovens, I thought of him. He loved people watching and bargain meals. Our sandwiches cost us three dollars and we left with a bag of rolls for thirty cents each.  My husband pulled out of our tight parking spot with the same finesse as my Papa had, maneuvering around a delivery truck parked right behind us.

At home, we planted tomatoes and tomatillos, made salsa, talked to my father-in-law in Mexico through the car speakers while the rain pelted outside. And I thought of my Papa, how long it's been since I heard his voice on the other end of the line, and I’m so glad Ricardo’s dad is still with us, even a country away. I call my father-in-law Pa and he calls me mija - or mi hija. My daughter.

We shopped online for a ‘new’ used car in the evening, and I thought of him. The last time I bought a car he was alive and I was fresh out of college. He went with me to Honda and  co-signed papers and I drove away with him in the passenger seat of a brand new Civic, feeling the weight and thrill of this passage into adulthood.

Wherever I turned, he was at the corner of my thoughts, a beautiful, sorrowful, distant echo. 

* * * * *

At nine-thirty, we turned on the radio and laid down on the bed with the lights off and my red star lamp glowing above, listening to the music of the Compline service broadcast live. The sound of the men’s voices singing the last liturgy of the day haunted me as I stared at the star, how it illuminated the framed wedding photo of Ricardo and I surrounded by signatures of our guests. I stared at the photo, feeling the ache that settles in every now and then of Papa’s absence at our wedding. The ache of the passage of time and seasons, of lines in my face and events in our lives that he was not here to witness. The most recent photo I have of him and I was at my grad school graduation, six years ago. I look at the girl in the photo and she is almost unrecognizable to me, not in features as much as internally, while Papa hasn’t aged. He’s forever fixed at this age in my memory.

My husband snored lightly beside me as the music drew out the emotions kept at bay by distant memories all day long, sliding down my face.

When all was finished, I turned off the light and lay on my side, my eyes shut like a wooden door trying not to give way to the floodwaters pushing out from within.  In a matter of moments, I succombed, gulping for breaths between sobs I didn’t want to release. My husband leaned over and rubbed my back, silent, and I didn’t say a word during or after the tears. The only thing running through my mind, this - Who plans to turn 42 soon.  The indifference of time, this one short life, the realization that Papa was only eight years older than I am now, when I gave him that poem. He lived another seventeen years, and then I sat by his hospital bed until his final breath, until I was completely spent of life, still alive and him gone. And it’s been so long, I felt my body heave in remembrance, no longer a distant bystander. So long since I felt Papa’s arms, since I was a daughter hugged by her father.

And I just wanted to remember what that feels like, without the flood. But even six years later, the flood occasionally presses in and I cannot fight it. It wells up and crashes over and then, as quickly as it comes, it’s gone. And I’m left with the memory of Papa’s hand in mine, resting on those hospital sheets, paint flecks on his skin.

* * * * *

Friends, I want you to know, I'm doing fine today. I hesitate to continue writing out grief reflections, sometimes, when I know many who have been able to recall mostly happy times in the remembrances of their loved ones. I admire them. But my experience has been that, while I have moved on with my life and am thankful for the sweet memories and life of my Papa, it has continued to bring up sadness in me, for numerous reasons, through the years. I write to try to be true to my grief experience. 

Linking up with Unforced Rhythms

Friday, June 13, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Messenger

A few days ago, she leaned over the counter toward me as I rang her coffee order, fixing me with an awkward nervous gaze. I already wasn't impressed with her behavior as a customer, so I tried not to let my reservation flash across my face, a neon sign.

"This may sound weird," she faltered, "but when I saw you over here, I felt so strongly God wanted me to say to you that you might have a call on your life." Her eyes got wide and she held out her arms like she was looking down at goosebumps. "He wants you to talk to him."

I scooted down the counter, multi-tasking, preparing her drink, and pasted a smile on my face. It's so strange to be on the receiving end of this kind of Christianity, having been the one delivering my own messages in the past, with good intentions. But I didn't know then, what it could feel like to be singled out with a message often laden with presumption.

"Actually," I managed with my attempt of a gracious smile, "I talk to him often."

She looked genuinely surprised, thrown off, but she recovered quickly. "Oh, well. Good. But you need to listen to him, too. Spend time listening, not just talking. He has things he wants to say to you about your life."
I handed her the coffee, thanked her as genuinely as I could, and she gave me one last meaningful look. "Really. I feel this strongly. God bless you." And then she turned and walked slowly away.

There are all kinds of messengers on this daily walk of faith.

* * * * *

If I could have replied, I would have liked to say something like this:

I hear him, Ma'am, in the work of strong women writers who draw forth words from the deep places of knowing in me that have not yet been fleshed out with language. The ones who help me know what it is to be brave, gracious, intentional, confident, gentle and mighty with this one life I have. They don't always speak of God, in fact, many of them don't. But I hear him, Ma'am, I really do. And his voice rings true without the ribbons and wrappings that sometimes accompany religious language.

I hear him in the breeze songs carried across the lake where I live, in the wing beats of ducks, the intimate clustering of geese, the solitary stature and stately grace of great blue herons, that wrings my heart and makes me cry Glory.  

I hear him in the swell of life that arises after I quiet myself, when I open my eyes and close my mouth and press my ears to the wind and the chests of trees.  I hear his heartbeat here, I do. It takes my breath away and fills my lungs with new breath, all at the same time. 

And in the restless stirrings of the heart, I hear him. Those things that refuse to be silenced, growing up and spilling out of me. I hear him in my daily gratitude and in my dissatisfaction with some of the ways things are in this world, and in my own, the ones that bring me to my knees in the end of myself.

I hear him within the limitations of my language, grasping, always grasping, for words to express the inexpressible.  And still, I try. I try and I weep, for Ma'am, I cannot find words that stretch so far as that.

I hear him, too, in the dark, in the cave, in the tiny buds of hope shooting up from the ground and from the ends of branches, in the last glow of day before she surrenders to the night and in the songs outside my window, waking me before the sun peeks behind the trees. 

You say I might have a call on my life, and surely, I do. It's not a call like the ones I knelt and wept and prayed for years past, when I hungered for holy ones to place their hands on me and send me out with God's blessing. 

I know my call, and it's not that different from anyone else's who dares to listen, nor is it special, though it is enough to make me shudder with the weight of it all.

To do justly. To love mercy. To walk humbly with my God. To care for the poor, the widow, the orphan. To love my neighbors. To love myself.

To know and love God, above all other pursuits in this life, the to end of my days. 

I'm listening, yes, I am, even when I'm a poor listener.

God has placed all kinds of messengers in my life, and I thank you for reminding me, how he speaks in unexpected places.

*  * * * *
Linking up with Lisa Jo, to the prompt of "Messenger." 




Wednesday, June 11, 2014