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 thewatersthatbindus.blogspot.com 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.