Reunion

It was misting on the way back to Maine.

The remnants from the rain that had begun earlier that morning in Massachusetts followed the car all the way up route 495.  It made for a dreary landscape.

As you crested the Kittery Bridge, the familiar sense of being home settled on you the way a down blanket does on a cold night. Twilight was descending and with the mist, visibility was poor. You couldn’t see far off, but it was okay. You were able make out the mile markers standing sentry along the guardrails letting you know you were keeping it between the ditches.

You haven’t always.

You’ve gone off course at times.  Your immaturity or your own willfulness took you down the road of your life a fair piece that wasn’t always good. You were forced to turn around and start over. Going off course, intentionally or not, leaves a mark.

Here’s the thing.

If you’re a human, you’re marked.  Sometimes they come early, but after forty years, no one is left unscathed.

When you’re seventeen you have no idea about any of this. Your life is still an open sea. The horizon looks good from seventeen.

On graduation day, when you moved your tassel from one side of your cap to the other like a bookmark moved to the next chapter, you had no idea where you would go, or what you would become.

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The radio kept you alert on the last leg home as you tried to stay focused through the windshield wipers sleepy rhythm.  It’s funny how a song comes on at the right time and says just what your heart was trying to put into words the last hundred miles.

You turned the volume up when you heard the familiar piano notes:

I’m sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board I’m the captain so climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try oh Lord I’ll try to carry on

For forty years you’ve tried to carry on and you bear the marks of doing so. There are lines on your face and a sag in your belly. The night you stood under the lights at the Knight’s of Columbus hall at your class reunion, silver and white strands shimmered from the top of your head. You are marked and so are the people you grew up with.

Standing with those who were once children with you is a sacred thing.

You shared the awkwardness and vulnerability of youth transitioning to adulthood with these people. Truly, no one was doing it well, despite what the prom pictures seemed to say.

You played with many of them.
You fought with a few of them.
You kissed a couple of them and to some you turned your immature cold shoulder.

You played four-square and roller skated and drank beer together, and you walked miles and miles through your town sharing your hopes and dreams with whomever would walk with you and listen to your goings on.

You cheered your voice raw at pep rallies and you sang fight songs at Thanksgiving Day football games. You held a day’s worth of school books in your arms navigating packed stairwells and you made out in the bowels of the school basement before the first bell.
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You ate the equivalent of your weight in Friendlies french fries and Harry’s Pizza and you thought nothing of the next forty  years. You were just one of a whole bunch of kids trying to grow up.

Then one day you all said good-bye.

I look to the sea reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on

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It seems so ordinary, going back home for a class reunion, but ordinary it is not.

Not when you look into the face of a classmate and you see the marks life has etched there. Not when you discover what they’ve gained. Not when you learn what they have lost. Life is good, but it also has a way of beating the snot out of you.

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Every one has a few ragged edges after forty years. You don’t know this when you’re seventeen.

On the day you and your classmates moved your tassels, you all wanted to live happily ever after. At seventeen, you know that fairy tales aren’t real, but youth still has you by the throat, so you wear hope like a coat. You are all sailing away from home for the first time and you are believing for calm seas.

Last Saturday you walked into a room full of people who may have navigated calm seas at times, but for many, it hadn’t been smooth sailing much of the time. But in that moment it was okay, because your lives had just intersected again and memories of youth came flooding back and what was shared together was what really mattered. So many memories, so many stories and so much laughter and then, suddenly,  gratitude came into the room.

Gratitude, because you discovered that you never were the captain of your life and that life really is sacred.  You were grateful because you got to intersect with those who shared your youth, kids who were just trying to grow up too.

Gratitude showed up, because despite the etchings on faces and the graying around temples, you knew there are still seas to be sailed.

It has been hard-wired into the human soul to be known and remembered.  It’s why class reunions can be so hard. Sometimes you are remembered and sometimes you are not. But this is why reunions are also good. Reunions can be the little joggle that’s needed for it to all come flooding back.

You remember.
And you are remembered.

You left the Knight’s of Columbus hall thankful that, these people, in big and small ways, were a part of your growing up. They knew you when.

You drove back to Maine reflecting on time gone by, so swift, like wind. Thankful for the threads of grace you see woven through your last forty years, and so grateful to the Captain of your soul who invited you to sail with Him.

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By the time you reached Portland, it had gone dark and lights from the oncoming traffic had sparkled up the roadway. You were tired, but you told yourself you were almost home.

Then the perfect song came on the radio. You turned up the dial and you began to sing, remembering all the words.

You sang loud.
Just like you did in high school.

A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said
They said come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me…

 

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Packing a Suitcase

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I walk through three rooms, step up to the closet door in the last room and push aside the fabric that is supposed to catch the cold draft that creeps in this time of year. I allow my eyes to take in the darkness before I reach in. At the edge of the Christmas boxes stand two suitcases. I grab the handle of the smaller one. I pull it out of the closet, shut the door, rearrange the draft catcher and pull the suitcase back through the three rooms.

I am traveling again.

I’ve laid some shirts and jeans and dress pants and the shoes that go with everything on the bed. I put the good shoes next the go- with- everything- shoes, because you never know; good shoes come in handy when something unexpected happens that may require taking an outfit to another level. I pull two cardigans from the closet; one of them is black because there is hardly an occasion where black fails to deliver. I add a sweater because the weather could turn unexpectedly cold. A couple of camis lie next to the cardigans  because it may not be cold at all.  As usual there are extra socks and underwear, because again, you never know. The stay could get extended.

Packing a suitcase is about going on a journey and what is needed once the destination is reached. I am thinking, where am I going and what will I be doing when I get there?

Filling this small rectangular box with handles and pockets and extra zippers requires focus and a good deal of editing. Things are put in, things are taken out. To pack properly, I can’t pay attention to what is in the peripherals, I have to zero in on what is most important. As the suitcase begins to fill, with me arranging and re-arranging, straightening and tucking, it all boils down to this question:

What do I really need?

Whether I’m visiting my mother, or going on retreat or flying to California, I must become a minimalist, not because it’s trendy, but because it is necessary. Excess baggage is cumbersome and expensive. I have to fork over more money at the airport to cover the added expense of the weight and storage of another bag. When I’m I stuffed with all of my stuff, the people around me are annoyed because of  my bumping and scraping against their personal space, and I am annoyed with how heavy and awkward everything is.

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Perhaps I was meant to carry little.
Perhaps I was meant to live life light on my feet.

“Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.

Oh.

So when I’m telling people that God is a smiling God and that He is a God who pours out love and not anger; that there is healing and comfort and freedom within that love; I don’t need anything else but this one message?

No slick sermon, or a great sanctuary space, or a cool coffee bar, or a killer children’s program?

Did Jesus mean his message of love and grace is enough? Sermons and great sanctuary spaces, cool coffee and killer kids programs are good things, but so is what I’ve stuffed in my suitcase, and the trouble with an overstuffed suitcase is that what I need is usually somewhere in the bottom corner near that weird pocket that I never use and has a random paper clip in it.

We all know someone, and maybe it’s our own sorry self, who carries too much baggage.

When I carry too much baggage, maybe it’s because I don’t know how to let things go and when I can’t let things go, discontentment is my companion. I am without joy. I may still be on the journey, but with all this extra baggage, it is a slogging, plodding one.

Come to me all you who are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.

This Thanksgiving I am packing a suitcase. It will be filled with clothes fit for the cold and pajamas fit for the company around the kitchen table when coffee will brew at first light, and I will be still full of pie and turkey and my sister’s homemade rolls.

It may seem like I will be living out of my suitcase for a couple of days, but the truth is, I’m not living out of that suitcase at all. It will carry some essentials because my body needs covering and protection, but what I will be living out of is a truth. The truth that Jesus has gently pried my hands off from my own extra baggage. Baggage that carried around a whole lot of fear and loathing. Baggage stuffed with anxiety and worry that spilled open, a pile of dirty laundry out in the open.

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Jesus simply says, you don’t need any of that extra stuff.
You need me.

My yoke easy, my burden is light.

The  TV ad that asks, “What’s in your wallet?” has got it all wrong. That ad is all about the stuff and getting more of it.

With Jesus, we travel light.

A better question would be, What’s in your suitcase?

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Photos courtesy of Google Images.

Groceries

Gathering food is a thing.
Getting food is a different thing.

Gathering food requires planning and rummaging through cupboards and cold storage and trying to find that magazine with the really great pork tenderloin recipe. It requires bags and totes and lists. Gathering food is about filling bellies for days.

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Getting food requires none of these.

Getting food is a drive-through impulse or a sit down luxury at a table next to strangers for the purpose of filling the belly in that moment.

Gathering food for others requires so much more thinking.

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When we gather what we need to eat, we’re not just thinking of our own belly, but the bellies of those that live with us. The bellies of those that might visit.

Our neighbor’s belly.

So he gathered all the food of these seven years which occurred in the land of Egypt and placed the food in the cities; he placed in every city the food from its own surrounding fields.

We gather for ourselves and we gather for others.

Because we’re all hungry. We’re all needing to be filled.

Gathering is a costly thing.  We spend time and energy and money to bring food into the house. If there are children along for the ride, the grocery store becomes a place where we are not only choosing food, but a place where keeping the family in one piece is tested.  The grocery store has witnessed my furrowed brow, my lips thin as I shamefully whispered threats to my children. The grocery store has seen the sag in my shoulders and the fatigue in my step as I wheeled a cart around sharp corners, keeping it and my children corralled to one side of the aisle.There was the time when it took two shopping carts to gather all the food for the seven of us.

There was the time when volunteering at a local food bank came with a box brimmed up with cereal and flour and enough granola bars to fill hungry lunch boxes for a week.

Then there was the time while in elementary school, my sister and I took turns every couple of weeks to ride a taxi to the local armory to pick up a box filled with government stamped cans of chicken and cheese, along with boxes of powdered milk that smelled like human sick. Being grateful sometimes takes everything you’ve got.

Things are different now.

The cart is smaller and there is no canned chicken; but the milk is real. The planning doesn’t take as long and the list is shorter. Still, the food does not rain down from the sky like it did once for God’s desert wanderers. Even then it had to be collected, to be gathered up and, I too, must gather.

The giving is God’s business, but the gathering is ours.

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When Jesus multiplied the bread and fish and told his friends serve it up, he left the gathering of the leftovers to them as well.

He did what only He could do, and his friends did what they needed to do.

The miraculous and the mundane are entwined like a good marriage. They go hand-in-hand in a kingdom rhythm that can be easy to miss. Oh, to have eyes to see it and be glad about it.

To be glad about the gathering of cans in the cupboard and the boxes of pasta and cereal standing tall in the pantry. To smile at the eggs all in a row in the refrigerator door, and the container of juice when it froths with a shake. To be grateful for all the growing and harvesting and packaging and transporting and stacking and displaying. To be thankful for money and food banks and totes that stand up to the rain.

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On the way to Thanksgiving, may our gatherings be a sacred thing because nothing is wasted in the kingdom of God.

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When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.

Washing Up

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I’d gone days without a proper washing up.

I had washed my hands before I ate, but that was about it. I got caught up in a home project that required all of my elbow grease, leaving me bone-fatigued, only to have to get up the next day and do it again. I wasn’t going anywhere until the project was finished,so after each day’s work, I folded up my work clothes, splashed some water on my face and collapsed into bed. I went three days without a shower.

I’ve never been bothered by honest-to-goodness dirt. When I garden I don’t bother with gloves. I want to feel the earth.

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Whenever I paint, my clothes, my face and my hair become part of the canvas. The cashier at Lowe’s has seen my pony-tail with a white stripe fresh latex many times. When I bake, my apron tells the story of what is cooking in the oven, my forearms streaked shiny and white after muscling butter and flour into a pastry circle.

There is something about becoming really clean, especially when you’ve gotten really dirty. Most of us know our bodies so well because we spend so much time washing them.  We know the folds and creases and where to put more emphasis on scrubbing. We have memorized the bumps and curves, the scars, the injuries. If we’ve born children, we try to accept what has changed. We spend money on specific cleansing agents, one for the skin, another for the hair.

Some of us are fine with just the washing up part. We wash up and we’re done.

Some of us linger when the washing is done. We become still and let water from the spout over our heads to rain down on our faces, our shoulders and our back. What is hardened on us and in us flows down and away and we are grateful in the letting go.

Some of us are soakers, the ones who lie down in water, who become still, too, but buoyant, waiting until the water has softened what has become calloused in and through us.

Most of us don’t really learn to wash ourselves until we are about five or six. Until then, someone has to take the soap and the cloth and our bodies in hand.

A baby’s first bath is a call for a celebration. We cup the water, careful in our pouring, guiding the liquid where we want it to go.  We swish a cloth through the baby’s folds and chubs, letting it massage and tickle the skin.

Why does this first washing bring such joy? Is it because it is like a baptism, water trickling water over our child’s face for the first time, our laughter mingling together in what we perceive as a sacred thing?

We love our child so much in this moment.

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Later there will be other washings.  Washings we will do for others and washings others will do for us. I have not yet had this privilege, but I have heard tell that the washing of a body whose breath has breathed its last is a holy thing. The folds and creases this time are as thin as paper, but the washing is still slow and deliberate and thankful.

Washing up is a God thing.

He has bowls for washing, he washes feet, then he tells is friends to wash each others feet. He tells the religious to watch out;  it’s not enough to wash the outside of the cup, because it is the inside that can really dirty things up.

There was this man who had a terrible skin disease and he wanted relief.  He was told to wash seven times in the river. Wash up? That’s it?  He didn’t like this remedy. He wanted a show, he wanted the power of the fantastic.

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The man was told it was wash up or nothing.  He was was left with the choice of living with his scraping and burning, or giving in to the humility of simply washing up.

When we step into our tubs or our showers; when we lay down in the lake of repentance and accept the water that is in these places for us, we can begin to accept our bodies for what they are…frail, wrinkled and folded, in need of healing, inside and out.

If we are mindful about washing up, perhaps we will see that washing up is sacred, even a holy.  Perhaps then we will get a glimpse that we truly are fearfully and wonderfully made and it is a joyous thing.

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Ironing

I do not like ironing.

I do not like the monotony of the back and forth, the push and pull of fabric. I do not like the manipulation of cuffs and collars, or the yielding to buttons and zippers.

It is a necessary chore. Here, laundry is hung outside for the better part of the year and some things are just meant to be ironed out.

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Plus it’s time to change the ironing board cover.

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The cover is still brand-new in places, mostly near the outer edges of the ironing board. But in the center, in the middle where the scorching happens, there is a scarring and a fraying to the point of thin-ness.

With all the safety features on irons these days, it’s near impossible to have an accidental burn. Irons shut themselves off now. So this searing in the middle of the cover is a consequence of heat left in one place for too long.

Not enough to be set ablaze, but enough to be torched right through to the edge of things.
Too much heat and over time one’s heart can become frayed and a bit thin, too.

The right amount of heat, the right amount of pressure is all that’s needed for some things to get straightened out.

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The beauty that is inherent within a doily, a party dress or a buttoned down shirt is revealed only when it has gone under the hot metal plate and pressed into a kind of submission.

It takes one hand to do the hard work of pressing and steaming, it takes the other hand to smooth and coax the beauty out.

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In the same way I do not like ironing, I do not like the heat of conviction that comes when something in my life needs to be straightened out. There is a thing hard-wired in me that resists the smoothing out of my own wrinkled nature, that wants to avoid  the push and pull of life’s little lessons.

But like a piece of unruly cotton, I find when I resist, the dial gets turned up a notch and things have a way of getting hotter.

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Nothing catches on fire. There are no huge epiphanies. It’s not that kind of burn.

Instead, it is the slow burn in the daily routine of life’s ups and downs. It is the everyday pressing up against little injustices, the small unfairness-es where I have to choose either straight-up kindness or passive retaliation. Honestly, it can be a hard choice.

After all…

Outrage must be voiced.
Fists and posters must be raised.
Wrongs must be righted.

Retaliation is an adrenaline rush.
Kindness is a slow endorphin seep.

The first feels really good in the initial moment of “Aha…take that!”

Take what?
Take my anger?
Take my violence?
Take my hope and wish for your failure?

Don’t laugh when your enemy falls;
    don’t crow over his collapse.
God might see, and become very provoked,
    and then take pity on his plight.

A wrinkle in the human heart indeed.

My second choice, kindness, seems meek and simple, so unassuming, and yet the power of it can transform the check out line in Walmart.

Retaliation, when it goes under the heat of a turned cheek, a forgiving smile, or a soft word, gets pressed into oblivion.

Vengeance, if only swirling around in my heart, a tornado of the worst kind; even if it never touches down to do external damage, it gets flattened under the burn of kindness.

It can be a chore to be kind sometimes.

Especially in the face of ungratefulness or clueless-ness.

Then I remember.

I was ungrateful once, at times, ungrateful still. Everything about me was and is loved and cherished and died for and I didn’t, and I don’t, always appreciate what was dripped red on the cross for me.

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I was, and I am, clueless about the majesty and brilliance of God who sprinkles stars and roars waterfalls and heals my son when doctors say it can’t happen.

…do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

God’s kindness straightens out what is wrinkled in me and his hand smooths and coaxes out the beauty that only he knows is there.

So I yield to a slow burn.

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Five Everyday Things Until Thanksgiving

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I just returned from a retreat on the most glorious autumn day. My companion and I let out a breath of awe so many times as we wound around the hills and dales of central New Hampshire.

We couldn’t help ourselves.

One of us would be in mid-sentence as we came around a corner in the road and there it would be. A tree so full of fire, the gold of it dripping all over the road.

We literally awed our way home. Although I was interested in the conversation inside the car, a part of me wanted to be outside the car.

I wanted to stand in all that color.

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A leaf.
So ordinary all piled up in the pumpkins and the leftover lavender.

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Dangling by a stem-thread; withered, blistered and ready to give in to what comes next when the ground yields to dormancy.

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My friend and I had gathered with other women this past weekend to open up our awareness to what is ordinary and seeing the extraordinary in it.

Like when God wiggled about in a feed box, straw tickling his toes and where the breath of sheep blanketed the hollowed out space of a cave where he first gulped air and cried for his mama.

The divine in an earthen vessel.
The extraordinary in the ordinary.

Some people won’t believe. A foolish fairy tale,’tis.

True. It is quite unbelievable…love so extravagant, yet all wrapped up in regular clothes.

Some people want to believe, but the reality of the day is what shouts the loudest and there are just some things that can only be known in silence. Some things are only seen in the comma, in the pause.

Be still, and know that I am God.

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I have been on a soul-care journey for most of my life, but it has been in the last few years that my soul has awakened to even more of what has always been there.

It’s like I’m always rubbing sleep from my eyes and I am able to see the day in front of me as more sacred than I’d ever realized.

It is why I love Thanksgiving. It goes far beyond its Pilgrim genesis. It’s not a day, but a bunch of days, like a bunch of leaves that shout glory on an ordinary afternoon. Giving thanks is an ordinary extraordinary thing because the truth is, there are more than a thousand gifts to be had and to be acknowledged, and there will never be enough days to write them all down.

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Yet, for the next five weeks, I will write about five of them. Five ordinary things that speak of the extraordinary. Five things that have revealed their beauty as I was suddenly coming around the bend.

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First up…ironing.

In a few days.

The Threshold of August

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving in a part of Maine that I am not familiar with and it was a typical August day.  Hot, sticky and heavy-laden.

I drove up through the hollers near Black Mountain, the road winding in sharp curves, the lush of summer’s tall field grasses and wildflowers lining the asphalt on both sides of the road.

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Wild country is here, mixed with a picket-fence congeniality on one side, and a rusted unfriendliness and washed out drive-way on the other.

One side says “welcome”, the other, “keep out.”

I drive around one corner and come upon a perfectly preserved New Englander with forest green trim set against stark white clapboards. Geraniums fill pots on the porch and down past an old well, a 40 by 40 garden spills, corn already up over a man’s head. I drive around the next corner and the trees have closed in over the road like a big a leaf tunnel, my view dark as twilight even in mid-day. Tucked inside the overgrowth on the left sits a small building, tin-roofed and tar-papered in places. A pick up truck is parked next to piles of trash, broken toys and parts of an old refrigerator.

The first house stands up tall, smiling for everyone to see.
Look how pretty I am. Come! Come in! The second house sulks, backing up into the darkness, almost wanting to stay hidden. It whispers, it’s all gone now.

All on a day’s drive, light and dark,  life and death, side by side

This is August.

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I was born in this month and I’ve always carried with me its sense of something fading, almost bleeding into something new.

August is a month when the sun brims hot and the landscape swelters, but on some days it lets autumn come close and linger at its doorstep. August, especially near the end, is a threshold between what is withering and what is about to come to life in living color.

What was growing since spring has become fat, bursting, sagging and succulent.
August is a juice running down your chin kind of month.

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It is also a fraying at the edges season. The tips of the lily leaves are burnt. The weeds have taken the walkway hostage.

When I was little, I spent hours lying in fields looking up at the sky, wondering about everything. I became familiar with the changes summer brought and when August came and I lay in the field, the grass would be stiff and dry, not pliable and wet like they were in June and July.

Indian paintbrushes circled around my body and I saw how the blooms were black then red then orange, like the embers on the end of a burning log. My legs itched from the flower’s stems scratching the backs of my thighs. I hated to lay on them. I hated to see them bent. Even as a child I could see the beginning of the end.

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August is a time to celebrate all that life can be in its fullness, taking in every minute we can because we know that she is also pointing to a time when all of it will retreat back into the earth where it came from in the first place.

The good news is, this future that August points to will not happen before one glorious, color-splashed, fresh air breathing thing.

Autumn.

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There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

           a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot…