Thursday, August 15, 2013

Arts, crafts, and life

     I spent a day with Widya Harsana in Ubud, Bali learning the ancient art of batik tulis.  Batik waxed by hand with a chanting tool is known as batik tulis.  It’s the oldest, most traditional form of batik.  A pattern is drawn in hot wax onto a piece of cotton or silk cloth.  When the cloth is dipped into dye, those parts which have been treated with wax will not take up the color of the dye -  leaving white lines and space where the wax had been.
   Struggling to carefully apply hot wax with the small chanting tool, I frequently dripped wax in the wrong place onto the design I had carefully pencilled onto the fabric.  “Ugh.  I made a mistake.”  I said with frustration as I dropped another blob of wax onto my fabric.  “No,” my teacher said gently.   “In batik, there are no mistakes.  You just draw this wax into the design.”  And he showed me how to turn my unwanted blobs of wax into soft shading for the flowers in the design.   It turned out beautifully.  
     Too often we try to cover up our mistakes, hide them, or erase them quickly before anyone notices. That was my first impulse - to try to scrape the wax out of the fabric.  But my teacher showed me that that would just make it worse - creating an even larger area of unwanted wax.  
    What if all our mistakes simply become part of the art that we call life?    In batik, there are no mistakes.  What about our life? 


I am making you a scarf
in your school colors,
my hands stained by blueberries
like the ones growing near your porch.
Eating them now I remember
how you called my name, 
excited to discover the first fruits,
how you inspected each berry, 
picked the sweetest ones
and gave them all to me.

What am I doing?
Do I imagine there is some magic
in recalling the sweetness
that will make you remember too,
some power in my hook and yarn
and blue-specked fingertips
that can stitch us back together
before cold weather comes?
I want to believe it.
Silly me.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Finding Hope

All the best stories begin this way,
not enough light to see hope.
Along their difficult path,

our heroes find themselves

in peril, heartbroken, penniless, 

nearly swallowed by despair,

bloodied and broken 

and just this side of death.
And then
somehow the faintest glimmer,

the tiniest spark, just a pinprick 

in the fabric of darkness,

appears, and it is enough.

Our heroes begin to believe 

that hope creates its own light

and suddenly they see their way clearly.
And now
the choices are mine, trapped though I feel.

Whether to play the hero or some bit part,

whether this story is mine,

and whether, like all the best stories,

it is part of 
the story 
we never tire of hearing or telling, 

because it is true.

Healing Waters

River Guide Dave on the Colorado River

     “They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming.” 
Herman Hess, Siddhartha

   It’s the one-year anniversary of my divorce and of my trip to the Grand Canyon that I thought at the time would be a journey of self discovery - of the shedding a skin. What I found was scorching hot temperatures in a surreal terrain where scorpions and wood rats roamed the grounds. I was kicking myself for not doing a spa trip. Here I am a year out, though, and I can still smell the ozone-richness of the rapids of the Colorado and see the shifting  shadows of moonlight on the canyon walls. 
  It’s odd what sticks from a trip.
  Often it’s not the expected. Take River Guide Dave, for example. School teacher by the fall, winter and spring. Wild river guide in the summer. I had the fortune to get a spot in his paddle boat one day, a coveted position. With cowboy hat perched high, quoting from the likes of The Wind in the Willows and Siddhartha, he regaled us with tales.
  I learned valuable river lessons that day, and as it turns out, life lessons as well. One was point to the positive. If you fall out of the boat, people point to the direction to which to go - not the dangerous areas. It makes sense really. Focus on the positive you want in life, not the negative you hope to avoid. Where we focus our attentions is often where we end up arriving.
  The other key piece of advice I got: Paddle from the edge of the raft. Not used to the scale of the rapids in the Colorado and having heard “death” stories of former people who had braved the river, I was cautiously paddling. A fellow rafter took pity on me and started giving me direction. “Move to the edge of the raft, lean out and dig in. It will give you more control.” I did, and she was right. 
  That advice has come back to me in some of my darkest moments this past year  learning how to be a single mom with three precious kids. I so want them to dig into the precious parts of life. I want to teach them to be courageous, to lean into life even when it’s scary. And, yes, we may fall in. But if we’re lucky, we have friends pointing to the positive.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Being Present

Happy Places

   I was laughing at myself on mile 4.9 of the hike to Gregory Bald in the Smokey mountains. I had just written a blog on taking it easy in life and not pushing so hard all the time – to relax into a pose vs. forcing it. And, here I am on a vacation doing an 11-mile hike to the top of a bald, dripping sweat and praying for a plateau on a trail that only knows up. 
   Approaching a level portion and a signpost that says .6 miles left, I sigh with relief until I look to the side. The trail takes a pitch that seems to ascend to heaven. My hiking partner ignores my whining and keeps trekking, but I pause, irritated and tired. I’m done with going up. I get a yell to pick up the pace, and swallow back my first two responses, managing to smile instead and keep walking. It was my brilliant idea after all, my bucket-list item. To do this trail in June when the bald is chocked full of fire-red azaleas had been on my must-do list about a decade. I had just never made it here the right season.

   This was it. My chance. We trudge on, sweating, finally reaching the top to explore a maze of azaleas. We nestle in the tall grass overlooking Cades Cove and keep our eye on a deer trying to steal food. There’s an air of celebration at the top among the surviving hikers. We all watch the sky go from clear blue to thick mists and huddle through a rainstorm that clears with misty sweeps of the wind, the scene changing as only mountain weather can.

    Why am I here and was it worth it? I find myself asking as hikers warn each other about a sleeping rattlesnake near a shrub. A cool mist wraps around me, and I watch for flashes of red azaleas in the fog. I stow the memory into a “happy places” file in my head, a collection of special places, places that make my heart glad that they exist on Earth. When June rolls around, I’ll remember there’s a place like this, abuzz with bees and happy hikers.
   And, I know there’s a day I won’t be able to hike that trial. But it’s not today.


"It is living in the naked now, the "sacrament of the present moment" that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences,whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is."
- Richard Rohr in his book The Naked Now

I've been trying to heed Rohr's advice in the last couple of weeks and to just experience my experiences - both good and bad.  Yes, we're in Bali - which most people view as paradise - but the reality is that Bali is also a third world developing country with all the struggles and growing pains that go along with that.  We've had beautiful moments with sunsets, friends and Hindu ceremonies. I've watched the moon rise over the beach and biked along ocean cliffs in the spray of enormous waves.   But we've also battled insane traffic with cars,  buses, motorbikes and bicycles fighting for the same small space. Our house has been broken into and robbed.  Sometimes it truly felt like I was in the very naked now - but it sure didn't feel like a sacrament.  But it is the experience of life - both good, bad and ugly - that Rohr is talking about.  It's being present for your life in all its beauty and its messiness.  Wherever you go, pay attention. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Making Connections

Mango yoga
     Yoga at 7 a.m. under a mango tree in a Balinese garden.  ( I know... go ahead and hate me now.)  Well, those of you who know me can laugh about the 7 a.m. part but the yoga was a truly beautiful experience.  Our Slovakian teacher led us through the gentle deep breathing yoga that I love. But this was Mother Earth yoga. I kept flicking insects - both familiar and unrecognizable -  off my mat. Surprisingly though, no mosquitoes.  It was hot and even more humid, even at 7 a.m.  Back home, this would be sold as hot yoga with Mother Nature supplying the sauna.  
     Our teacher encouraged us to settle our feet into the ground, feeling the earth beneath us.  Moving into triangle pose, I found myself looking up into the sunlight filtering through the mango tree above me.  Roosters were crowing as we moved into corpse pose.  Lying quietly, I remembered that nature isn’t still at all.  I could hear the birds calling raucously, roosters crowing, dogs barking, insects humming.  Dirt from the garden dusted my ankles and arms from their moments off the mat.  As we finished, the garden’s owner, dressed in a sarong and kabaya, walked quietly past, carrying morning offerings of rice, fruit and flowers for the Hindu family altar at the front of the garden.   It was a moment of deep connection with life, lying between earth and sky, under a mango tree.

Softening Up

They should put warning signs up at Ye Ole Fashioned. The banana splits there could feed a family of four, thank goodness and bless their hearts. This is a treat I splurge on in summer. I don’t know why. They are good anytime of the year, but somehow in summer when life seems a little slower and afternoons get hazier and hotter, the treat takes on more of an irresistible appeal.
I ignore what I know about glycemic index and sugar addictions and dive in to enjoy with a friend. You can’t eat these alone. Well, you can, but it’s more fun to share the guilt. The words from a yoga class drift back to me: “Soften in poses, in life, in effort.” Because I have a deadline-driven job, I often am cracking the whip on myself to get tasks checked off. At home, I have a child with a disability. It can take amazingly large amounts of energy and motivation to deal with those needs. Sometimes I’ll come to a stop in the day and realize, it’s OK to just be. To stop pushing. To stop caring.
And, yes, occasionally, dip into a split.


Last weekend, I went home for my childhood best friend's wedding. Even as I type that, it doesn't feel right. Harlan, KY is where I spent the first 18 years of my life, but is it really "home" anymore? Maybe Mount Pleasant, SC, where I now live, is home. The truth is, since I left Harlan, I have made my home in ten different places on two continents. In most of those I eventually felt some sense of belonging, sometimes even more so than in the town of my birth. And yet, something stirs in me whenever I drive back across the state line and I see the mountains, the same ones that stood sentinel over every moment of my childhood.
 In college, I remember reading Scott Russell Sanders' Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World. His words have stayed with me ever since: "One’s native ground is the place where, since before you had words for such knowledge, you have known the smells, the seasons, the birds and beasts, the human voices, the houses, the ways of working, the lay of the land, and the quality of light. It is the landscape you learn before you retreat inside the illusion of your skin. You may love the place if you flourished there, or hate the place if you suffered there. But love it or hate it, you cannot shake free. Even if you move to the antipodes, even if you become intimate with new landscapes, you still bear the impression of that first ground." No matter how far away I go, even now at the edge of the ocean, I still stand in the shadow of those beautiful, familiar mountains, and I guess I always will.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Nature's healing

Maybe you have heard, as I have, that starfish are remarkable creatures, and that if one is cut into pieces, each piece will grow a whole new starfish. There is science to support that (as long as each piece has some of the central disk attached), according to Google. I was lucky enough to come across this resilient starfish during a recent walk on the beach. He had clearly lost an arm at some point, and according to what I read, it can take up to a year to generate a new one. But this little guy had done it! A brand new arm, almost as long as the others, bore witness to his healing. And somewhere out in the ocean, there may be a whole new starfish grown from that missing limb. It made me reflect on my own brokenness, and the good it can do. Priest and author Henri Nouwen encouraged people to come face to face with their own damaged nature in his book, The Wounded Healer. "Our wounds," he wrote, "allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters." We all have scars, some easier to hide than others. But when we stop trying to hide them, and embrace them as an important part of who we are, then amazing new things can result.

There’s nothing quite like a summer thunderstorm. I cracked my bedroom window the other night, even though the AC was on, just to hear the rain fall. I half woke in the middle of the night, the pattering intensifying, the night pitch dark, and it felt as if my bed floated on a cloud, my dreams drifting with the rain. I was a young girl again, and the night seemed endless, the morning free of appointments or obligations. I don’t know how rain has the power to do this, to unhinge me so, dissolve me into a mist, but it does. Rain, unless in a flooded downtown Charleston, makes me inordinately happy. I read the Mary Oliver poem "Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me" and thought, ah, another person whom rain makes crazy happy. Here’s the first part of her poem:

Last night
the rain 
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.”

What a lovely image - rain vanishing like a dream of the ocean, soaking roots, renourishing life.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Journeys Near and Afar

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.”  Freya Stark

   By this time next week, Don and I will be in Beijing, China.  My three page to-do list will be finished or forgotten.  We are headed out on another trip of a lifetime (it’s been a wild and unusual year in the Flowers house!)  Thanks to a clergy renewal grant from the Lily Foundation, we are traveling to Bali in Indonesia for a six week time of sabbatical.  On the way, we are stopping in China to visit our daughter and son-in-law who are teaching English in Beijing. At the end of the trip, we’ll be taking a few days to visit some good friends who recently moved back to Perth, Australia. If you draw a line from Beijing to Bali to Perth, it’s almost directly north to south with a slight bend to the west for Perth. Who knew? 
   It’s a traveling kind of summer. Alison and James are already in China.  Our daughter, Savannah will be visiting England in June and July.  So, for at least part of the summer, our little family will be on three different continents - and none of us in North America! The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller as we connect with family and friends literally around the world. 
   Living in a different part of the world, even for a short time, gives you a fresh perspective on ordinary life. We will go to the grocery store, figure out what and how to cook in Indonesia,  walk, and bike and live life in a different place. We will make new friends. Travel always helps me remember that the commonalities of everyday life, that we all so take for granted, are really beautiful. Simple everyday life is art. Travel teaches me to live mindfully, with less fear and much more love.
   (Don and I will also be blogging about our adventures at if you want read more and see pictures of our journey.) 

                                                                        ****     AF    ****

   I'll be perfectly honest. I’m suffering from a case of what life coach Martha Beck calls FOMO, otherwise known as Fear of Missing Out. My blog partner and friend Anita is off to far away and exotic places - China, Bali and Australia, and I’m, well, at home in the Lowcountry of Charleston, a charming place, but it’s not China, Bali and Australia. I love one of Beck’s solutions to this dilemma. She keys into the power of words - of how we deceive ourselves with words. We allow ourselves to believe that other people are having way more exotic, fun, adventuresome lives than we are (although you have to admit Bali, wow?) 
    But, I digress.
    Holy ground is right here with us. We don’t have to go far away, though, I have found a change of scenery helps me see with fresh eyes at times. I have decided while Anita is away to renew my commitment to find sacred ground at home. To find those places where I should take my shoes off because a sense of the Holy prevails. Recently, it was a fox with this scraggly lion's like mane who sat staring at me at Charlestowne Landing (if you look very closely at the photo above you can see her near the shrub line.) Another moment this past week came during a full moon as it rose as the sun set on the marsh, the same moon above Anita in China, which is strange to think.
    Beck recommends making FOMO stand for something else, such as Find One Magnificent Object or Focus on Melting Open. I love that. It reminds me to pay attention to the sacred and keep my heart open. I can do that anywhere.

                                                                        ****     DB    ****

Friday, May 17, 2013

Season's Greetings

Signs of summer

   It’s the transition to summer. I know this not so much by the temperature as the landscape around me. I know it by the soft swatches of lavender in the wetland areas on Sullivan’s Island where thousands of tiny daisy petals make colorful carpets alongside walkways to the beach. I know it by the lemony Magnolia blossoms opening wide. I see it in the delicate purple wildflowers that are springing up all over the grounds at Charlestowne Landing.
   These signal the transition of spring to summer to me as much as the closing of the school year and the panicked look I see in parents eyes as we scramble to figure out what to do with our children’s pending freedom. They are a reminder to me to do what summer insists upon – to slow down and linger a bit with the lengthening days. To lather on Coppertone sunscreen, the scent whisking me to past days on an assortment of sundry beaches, ocean waves carrying away any cares. It’s time to slough off winter’s dead skin and kick off my shoes and go barefoot.


Confederate Jasmine
(Trachelospermum jasminoides)
       Step out of our front door this week, take a deep breath, and you can smell it.  My daughter, Savannah, home from Austin, TX for a short visit, stops beside the vine as she walks in the door, dragging her suitcase. “Now, this smells like home” she says.  Confederate Jasmine.  It smells like home.  It smells like Charleston.
      I planted this vine years ago around the column beside our front door.  Every year, I have to cut it back again and again.  It’s glossy dark green leaves and vines grow vigorously all year. The star shaped fragrant flowers show up in late spring.  It also grows on a fence in the back yard - so this time of year my whole yard smells like jasmine.
        I always thought the name came from the fact that it grows in the American south.... in the old “confederate states” of the US.  But I was completely wrong.  The name Confederate Jasmine comes from the Malay Confederacy of Southeast Asia where the vine is native.  It’s also called star jasmine or trader’s compass.  The trader’s compass name comes from an old saying that the flowers would point traders in the right direction... if they were of good character.  It’s a beautiful plant with so many stories and such a lovely fragrance.  But I agree with my daughter.  Confederate Jasmine will always smell like Charleston to me. 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

It's about family

     Hiking with my brothers (well, two out of  three brothers) In Petit Jean State Park in the Ozark foothills last week reminded me how much I enjoy tramping through the woods.   There's something about being in the woods that soothes my soul.  We saw a towering waterfall, ring necked black snakes, and way too much poison ivy.  You really had to watch your step or you would be standing in a nice thick patch of poison ivy just one foot off the trail.   Hiking requires sharp eyes - for seeing the beauty of the view once you reach the top - but even more for keeping an eye out for slithering snakes and leaves of three along the journey.   You have to pay attention - to where you put your feet and to what's brushing your shoulder as you travel along - but it's worth every step of the journey.  Sort of like life.


 I recently interviewed a teenager, who talked about the horrors of being jailed a month for addiction issues. While there, he got some lessons from fellow inmates who were shocked he had a loving mother who was working so hard to help him. ‘Was he crazy?’ they asked him. ‘Did he not realize what a gift that was?’  It was a God moment for him, he said. Something subtle shifted in him. He decided to let his mother help him, take her advice and go to the Charleston Recovery Center, a 24/7 substance abuse treatment and recovery setting.
The story is he’s doing great. The mom has no clue how she’s going to pay, but she’ll figure it out as she goes along. “I got my son back,” she said, the pain and exhaustion of years of struggling to help her son showing in her eyes.
Not all stories go down this way.
I wonder about that subtle shift in attitude that brings about a tidal change in life. I think of how hard she worked and pleaded and reasoned, yet it took strangers, fellow inmates, to give perspective. I think how many blessings I miss because I lack gratitude for what I have in plain sight. I thank God for prayer – the ever subtle shifting of attitude.

(If you’re interested in helping this family, visit this gofundme website.