Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hearts Leaking with Love

'Get To'
This week I have a six-hour Thanksgiving trip (one-way) in a van with three kids and my mom on a journey to see family in Georgia. Part of me is excited, and another, larger part, is exhausted even though I haven’t left yet. As a single mom, there’s no reading in the passenger seat anymore or passing the kids off to Dad.
 Kids hungry? I feed them.
 Need help packing? That would be me.
 What, now they’re fighting? Well - may the best child win.
God somehow knows my breaking points. He put this book, “God Never Blinks” in my path, which I bought on a whim and found myself loving the simple wisdom of journalist Regina Brett. Her first chapter is about a house painter who lives by two simple words: Get to.
So instead of dreading the ‘have to’ dos, it’s the ‘get to’ dos. I get to have my children for the holidays. I get to enjoy meals and fellowship. I get to drive them to an extended family holiday celebration. I get to witness their lives. It’s a subtle shift – but oh so powerful. I think, how did I get so blessed? Aren’t I a lucky gal to be at work admiring this cheery crayon drawing on my wall by my youngest child who already is learning life isn’t always fair, but that it's so much better with a grateful heart. 


   The week before Thanksgiving, we always have a holiday meal and communion service at church. This year we had an especially large crowd, and we needed all hands on deck to get everything ready. I saw one of our ministers preparing the communion table at the front of the sanctuary. "Is there anything I can do to help, Woody?" I asked. In exasperation, he replied, "Yeah, could you get these cups to stop leaking?" We were using the inexpensive paper cups that we often have for potluck supper beverages, and I could see rings on the glass table top where grape juice was seeping through the seams of several cups. I helped Woody replace the leaky cups, and prepare the bread rolls and smaller plastic cups that would allow us to do communion "family style" around our individual tables. But I couldn't stop thinking about the leaky cups.
   What was in those cups? Yes, it's grape juice at Providence, like at most other Baptist churches. In some Catholic and Protestant congregations, it's wine. But I believe it's more than that. Whether or not I can subscribe to transubstantiation -- the idea that the consecrated wine or juice actually becomes the blood of Christ -- there's no denying the powerful symbolism of the liquid in that cup. With it, we remember the suffering of God's Son and his ultimate triumph over death. In that cup is compassion -- literally "suffering with," which is what God did for us through Christ. In that cup is hope that the darkest moment in the story is not the end. In that cup is love too strong to stay dead. It's no wonder the cups were leaking. Such things cannot be contained. They will find their way to where they are needed. In messy and surprising ways, they will come to us.  

 Out in Africa. She'll be back soon.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Invitations to Rest


Forcible sabbath,
Fed by chicken soup,
Covered in Kleenexes,
Capped off by NyQuil.

At first sniffling,
Snoring, complaining,
Bemoaning all I need
To get done.

Finally silent,
Thinking, reading,
Praying, writing,

What else can I do? 


   The har-de-dar woke me on my first day in South Africa.  This large blue black bird with a long, sharply curved beak calls raucously at dawn and dusk. My first two impressions were the sounds and smells coming in through the open window - the call of  the har-de-dar and the rich fragrance of the gardenias blooming in the front and back gardens.  
   It’s a open air life here.  My experience thus far in South Africa has been one of open windows and doors, no screens, breakfast on the veranda, dinner on the covered porch.  We’re not cooped up in air conditioning, but open to the wind, to the rain, and finally to the sun.  The fresh, unseasonably cool air causes me to linger over my coffee, to sit just a bit longer before getting on with the activities of the day.  It helps me remind myself that it’s summer here and I’m on vacation.  At home, I would be making my to-do list and beginning  the holiday rush.        
    But here- it's time to relax and listen to the birds. If the har-de-dar will just let me sleep a little later!


Stopping by Sea on a Silvery Morning

   In school I had to memorize the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which I thought was ridiculous. In what job would I need to recite poetry? What possible use could that be? Yesterday, one of my sons asked me why he had to learn history. What use is that today? I stumbled and stammered trying to impart what insights it can give of what it is to be human and inhumane.
   Maybe it’s age that teaches those lessons. I know that in part it is Frost’s poem that has me stopping at Breach Inlet on this silvery morning where the horizon is lost in mist, where beach, water and sky blend seamlessly. I stop despite knowing it will make me a bit late, the refrain of miles to go before I sleep echoing in my head.

   For now, just a few moments, my soul needs to breathe.


Monday, November 5, 2012

New Perspectives

 God's creations

   I went to Riverbanks zoo this past weekend, a place where I always feel overwhelmed by God and reminded of how little I know of the world around me. No matter how many times I go to the zoo, I always see something new and amazing - usually mind boggling as well. This time I didn’t even have to get there. En route I heard an NPR report with science writer Sy Montgomery on octopuses. She describes plunging her hands into 57 degree water to have Athena’s eight arms boil up, twisting and slippery, to entwine with hers. She describes how Athena latches on with hundreds of her “sensitive, dexterous suckers” that can taste and feel. Each arm has more than two hundred of them. 
   I realize at this point that this is a science writer who takes her job a bit more seriously than I do. I just don’t see me plunging my arms into the waiting arms of an Athena. She goes on to explain how even if the fascinating creature grows to 100 pounds and stretches eight feet long, it can still squeeze its boneless body through an opening the size of an orange and how the common octopus has about 130 million neurons in its brain, compared to a human with 100 billion. Then she really blows my mind. Three-fifths of an octopus’ neurons are not in the brain but in its arms.
Wow, really? Who could dream that up and what does that mean about where consciousness resides? I just can’t wrap my mind around that.
But then again, I’m not an octopus.


     “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” 
 Jawaharal Nehru
     To echo DB in a post a few weeks ago, I love to travel! Whether it’s a trip across the U.S. to a state I’ve never explored or even a short hop to the mountains, I’m always up for a trip.  Travel gets me out of the rut of my life and opens my eyes to look at life with a fresh new perspective. And I do love an adventure.  This week begins a real adventure and a true packing challenge. 
     Through some happy circumstances, Don and I find ourselves off on an adventure to South Africa.  We’re going for a wedding but also seeing the sights in Cape Town, and going camping and on safari near the big game preserves.  It’s the beginning of summer there and the weather is variable.  What to pack?  I usually dither about packing for a week and then throw a bunch of clothes in the suitcase at the last minute.  For this trip, I’m trying to be practical, organized and efficient. I hate dragging a lot of baggage with me. I’m packing light - can I do two weeks (plus a wedding!) with just a backpack and a carryon?   
     I find myself more and more often choosing less as more. I don’t want my all my stuff to get in the way of the real art of seeing the world. 
    (I’ll also be blogging about the trip at live.work.dream if you want to read more and see pictures from our adventure.) 


On All Saints Day, I spent some time remembering the saints who have touched my life. One of the ways I did this was by listening to a favorite sermon by my friend and seminary professor, Dan Goodman. It is titled "I Am Writing Blindly," and as a writer, it's not surprising that this is the one I remember most. Dr. Goodman was fascinated by the written final words of various people throughout history, from a sailor on a Russian nuclear submarine to the apostle Paul. He wondered, why do we write? He decided, "Every sentence, in its own way, is a search for God. Every period at the end of a sentence is another admission of failure, another frustration. So what do we do? We start another sentence, always searching, always seeking. But God, ever the ironist, always seems to reside in the next sentence." In his brief time on earth, Dr. Goodman taught me much about writing, about God, about life. He is now at the place where all the periods and question marks have become exclamation points. As for me, I keep writing blindly, groping for the next word, the next sentence, believing God is just that near.