Tuesday, February 26, 2008

a day in mexico

The water begins in pale blues and greens, foaming snowy white where the waves break and pound the shoreline at its edge. Gradually the deeper and fuller colors creep out to a midnight blue on the horizon where the ocean cradles the sky. The air is pushing in the wildness of the water, the danger of the sea bending the trees until they bow low as they should. The sea birds are surfing above, showing me the way, teaching me.

I am breathing deeper now, the saline heat opening my lungs and my heart. My friends and family move around me like friendly ghosts ~ familiar spirits passing through me in great gusts of blessing and comfort. I am here, fully here, turning the goodness over in my bone-clean hands. I am listening to the sounds underneath the sounds, invading all of my deaf places.

I am writing it all down so my doubting heart will remember that such things exist. I am carving it into memory ~ a gift to unwrap when darker days come. This is a poem to keep me alive in the dead of my winters, when the world is still and frozen.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

why i disappeared for a while

Last week on our way to Mexico, our layover in Dallas was dragging on and on, pinning us between two worlds. I felt irritation and restlessness rising in my chest, and I was eyeing the flight times with a growing suspicion that we would never be allowed to leave.

I was unhappy.

Then it hit me: here I was surrounded by my dearest loves, my children who are astounding and my husband with his shining heart, and I was lost in distraction and longing.

This is the magician trick: the lure of "something else", the endless waiting for what is around the corner, the grasping after what is just barely out of reach.

So I settled in and decided to be there with my whole heart.


I notice that Danny is singing the ridiculous lyrics of a song that is playing over the intercom. He is aware of the silliness and laughing as he sings, dancing a little in his vinyl chair. He is creating something new. Danny is like a clown let loose in a children's sick ward...a whimsical, floppy muppet charged with the task of saving the world. Against all odds, he will make you smile.

I notice that Janelle is jittery and fatigued from the stretching out of the day, and she has wrapped herself in a blanket she carries with her. This blanket smells like her puppies, and she pulls in the scent to bring them near. She is leaning into Joey with so much tenderness and trust, like a child with a fever. She can sleep even here in this noise and chaos with her scents and her warmth and her deep, deep love.

I notice in a way much deeper than ever before the way that Joey's heart is expansive and vulnerable-the way that it is immediately available. I have just read him a sad little story from a book I have with me, and tears are shining in his eyes, his face flushed with the kinship he feels with the boy in the story, the tiny hero. He smiles to push back his feelings, but it's too late...they are here as his gift to me. I drink in his lovely tenderness.

I notice that my husband's smile is easy and relaxed. His heart is always extending out in every direction and pulling us close to him. It is a magnetic force, this heart of his, and it gives us all permission to be exactly who we really are. He is the safest person I know.

I suddenly recognize that I am in the presence of something so dear, something so good. I recognize also that I could have missed this...I could have remained absent and allowed all of these treasures to slip through my sleeping, anxious fingers. I am determined to be here right now in this airport with all of its abundant blessings.


This is why I disappeared from this place for a little while. I was busy being somewhere else.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Plan B

Sorry friends, but my computer is malfunctioning, rebooting abruptly and with no warning. I'm taking it as a sign from God to lay this down for the week, and just be where I am. To hear what I hear and see what I see and feel what I feel. Know that I'll be thinking of you and writing when I return. I'm writing now, in a little journal I picked up on my way here. It has a picture of a mother penguin carrying her chick on top of her feet. Fitting, I think. The words are coming fast and free. I'll write them here soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

i clearly need help

I'm sitting in an airport terminal in Dallas waiting for our connecting flight, and what am I doing with this downtime? Am I chatting with my family? No...they're sitting about 300 feet from me. Am I reading one of the books I brought along? No...They are tucked away in my bag. Am I listening to some of the music I just downloaded? No...my ipod is tucked away as well. So what am I doing? Blogging.

Help me. I have every single characteristic of a full-blown addiction. If you think about it, paying that usurious $10 fee for internet access is something like scoring a hit. I got a little uncomfortable on the plane when they announced, "You may use your laptops if you disable the wireless feature." It sounded more like, "You may play with your toddlers if you tie them up like rodeo calves." Yes. This is serious.

As I prepare myself for the connecting flight, I am repeating the following mantra: "My friends are all safe and sound, and I probably don't need to worry about checking their blogs anytime soon." I'll be checking into rehab when I get home.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

escape from iceworld

I am trying to find the words to describe how cold it is right now. It's -7 Fahrenheit (-21 Celsius) but for you warm weather dwellers that is just not comprehensible. I went outside to let my dogs out and the first breath I inhaled was painful, like icicles were forming in my lungs. It's the kind of weather that makes you want to swear even if you do not normally do so. Somehow it seems like the only appropriate expression. (&%@*%!$#)

There's only one thing that's keeping me from going into a full-blown mid-winter depression: On Thursday morning I will be flying out to Mexico for a little over a week. This is not a missions trip (unless you count me as the missions recipient.) By the end of next week I will be enveloped by warm Caribbean air, surrounded by the people I love most in the world, with nothing in particular to do except just BE. *deep cleansing sigh*

I will be traveling with my tribe, my loves, my people. There will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 26 or so of us. Four families with our kids ranging in age from 4 to 26 and several *kids* we have kind of picked up along the way. (There's actually more than this, but a few couldn't make the trip for one reason or another.) This is an extraordinary group of people. We really are more like family than a group of friends. Our kids joke that they have four moms and four dads, and they all interact like siblings. I'm not sure why this works because if you look at the individuals, we are very different from one another. We frequently disagree in very vocal ways. Actually, I suspect that's part of why it does work. No one is required to conform, and if you've read some of my story you'll understand why this is so important to me. So we love and support one another and sometimes hurt one another, and then we make the repairs needed to move ahead because there really is no other option at this point...we're in this for good.

I still have a lot to do before I leave so you might be hearing less from me. I do plan to bring my laptop along and there's supposed to be wireless access where we're staying, so theoretically I may be able to blog while I'm there. But I've been joking that if I spend too much time in blogworld my homies will arrange for an intervention of some sort. It might get ugly. They might unplug me forcibly. Sometimes people who love you have to get sort of tough that way.

So when I step outside tomorrow to an environment that is not fit for any living thing, I will be dreaming of beaches and warmth and family and friends. I will be smiling a smile that defies the harsh driving winds. I am already just a little bit gone.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Meme Addendum

You might wonder why I'm still blogging at 3am...I just started a new medication and it is seriously messing with my ability to sleep. So I thought I would be productive.

I was thinking after I posted that last literary meme that one of my closest friends has published about a bazillion books, and it's kind of inconsiderate that I didn't list any of them. Greg Boyd is a brilliant theologian and his thought has impacted my faith in ways I can't even begin to measure. So why didn't I list any of his books below? It's pretty simple really. I don't immediately think of the books as what was impacting for me because by the time they were published I had been interacting with Greg for so long on those topics that the books barely registered as an influence for me. However, the ideas there are amazing and truly transforming. So, I've chosen three of my favorites, and I highly recommend that you check them out when you get a chance.

1) Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God

This book is a serious challenge to organized religion. It addresses the fact that the "church" has failed to do what it was called to do, which is to demonstrate the radical love of God to the world. We are known more for our "stands" or for what we are against than for laying down our lives for our enemies. Honestly, this book makes me so proud to be a part of our church.

2) The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church

Greg wrote this based on a series of sermons that he preached during the last presidential election season. Those sermons resulted in the loss of about 1000 people from our congregation. Myth addresses the fusion of religion with politics and how it has damaged both the world and the church. Especially since we are in the heat of another election season, this is an extremely worthwhile read.

3) Letters from a Skeptic

This book has been Greg's best seller and it really is excellent. It is based on a series of letters between Greg and his atheist father who eventually comes to faith. It addresses really common objections to the Christian faith in a very accessible style. This book was so fun for me to read when it came out because I was there when they were mailing these letters back and forth and Greg would get more and more excited as the correspondence progressed. We all went a little crazy when his dad finally melted.

So there you have it. Greg rocks and he's written so much more than this, but these are my favorites. Actually, Is God to Blame? Is pretty amazing too. It deals with the problem of evil. Solid.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Meme Schmeme

OK, that was just too fun to say. Christianne tagged me to post a couple of literary memes. I'm not sure what that is, but I'll just follow her lead and hope for the best. :)

The first one has the following rules:

Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2) Open the book to page 123.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences.
5) Tag five people.

This was not as easy as it sounds. The book closest to me was The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, but page 123 is the end of a chapter and does not have five sentences let alone three after it. So the next closest book was Practicing His Presence by Brother Lawrence & Frank Laubach. Dang...only 110 pages. By now I'm getting irritated. But I scored pay dirt on the next book: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She's talking about the jealousy that sets in when you are an aspiring writer and another writer that you know of is published. Here are the three sentences:

"You are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don't believe in anything. If you do know the author whose turn it is, he or she will inevitably say that it will be your turn next, which is what the bride always says to you at each successive wedding, while you grow older and more decayed. It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend--for, say, her head to blow up."

I love Anne Lamott.

The next meme (how do you pronounce that word anyway?) requires you to answer several booky questions. This will take a little more thought on my part.

1) One book that changed your life:
Eva Luna by Isabelle Allende. It might seem like an odd choice for those of you who have read the book, but I read this back in college and it was part of what inspired me to write and woke me up to the art and power of story-telling. The genre is magical realism and it's a story set in Chile, which is where the author is from. (She's actually the cousin of Salvador Allende who was president of Chile from 1970-1973 and was overthrown by the notorious Augusto Pinochet...her father was one of the country's "disappeared".) I won't say anymore about it except to say I love this woman's writing.

2) One book that you have read more than once:
Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner. Lauren Winner is a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity. She wrote this book as she reflected on what she felt the Jewish faith had to teach Christians. Really lovely writing and wise reflections.

3) One book you would want on a desert island:
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This was definitely up for consideration for the book that changed my life. Foster outlines twelve spiritual disciplines (such as prayer, fasting, meditation, simplicity, etc.) in a way that just invites you to dive in. Honestly, the first time I picked up this book and looked at the chapters my first thought was, "ewww." He manages to take all those aversive expectations and just completely disarm them. This book is one that I will keep going back to again and again.

4) Two books that made you laugh:
Anything by Anne Lamott and anything by Donald Miller. Did I mention that I love Anne Lamott? I love Donald too. I love that they are irreverent and funny and thought-provoking and challenging and just plain human. They are both really lovely story-tellers.

5) One book that made you cry:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. This book was written by a man who suffered a stroke which resulted in "locked-in syndrome" meaning he was completely intact cognitively but totally paralyzed apart from one eyelid. He wrote the book with the help of a scribe who would go through letters of the alphabet until he blinked his eye. The book was written one letter at a time in this way. It is a haunting account of his nightmarish condition, but also an incredibly hopeful glimpse into imagination and the beauty of the human spirit. Unbelievable and utterly breathtaking.

6) One book you wish you'd written:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I wish I had written this mostly because of what it would imply about my life...that I had written enough to warrant writing a book about writing. Truth be told, I wish I was Anne Lamott, minus the history of addiction. Then again, I don't think there would have been an Anne Lamott without that part of her history. Hmmm. Maybe I'd better throw back a few. JUST KIDDING!

7) One book you wish had never been written:
The New World Order by Pat Robertson. This is the handbook for Christian paranoia. Icky. I actually never read it, but just knowing it exists gives me the heeby jeebies.

8) Two books you are currently reading:
Philosophy in the Flesh by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson and The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. Philosophy in the Flesh is an attempt to use the findings of the cognitive sciences to rework our philosophical assumptions. I'm working through this v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I really wouldn't recommend it unless you're a psychology or philosophy nerd like myself. However, if you are such a nerd, I really am liking it so far. The Cloister Walk is a beautifully written reflection of Norris's experience of her foray into monasticism and the role of the poet. She's extraordinary. If I can't be Anne Lamott, I think I have a pretty good stab at being Kathleen Norris. In fact, I think I AM Kathleen Norris. (Where do I pick up my royalty checks?)

9) One book you've been meaning to read:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I've been hearing about this book for a long time and have only heard that it is extraordinary. The sad reality is that I have a million books I'd like to read, but most of my actual reading time is spent on stuff that is functional (therapy manuals) rather than fun. *sigh*

Now, since we all know that I love breaking rules, I'm not going to officially tag anyone. If this seemed interesting to you and you think you'd like to have a go at it, consider yourself tagged. Peace.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

little jesus zen masters: my scenic route to God~part nine

Jon Kabat Zinn writes that children are like little live-in Zen masters teaching us everything we need to know if we're paying attention. This has been true with my children. They showed me Jesus in ways that no one else could.


It was about three a.m. when the nurse sat down on my bed and whispered that Danny was getting worse. They were transferring him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a different hospital. I pushed past my exhaustion and half stumbled through the dark maternity hallway to the nursery where my two-day-old baby lay. Danny was a speck in a tangle of IV tubing and quietly humming monitors. The attendants were bundling him against the January frost. We rode an elevator down to the waiting ambulance, and just before they closed the door to drive away they lifted one of his tiny hands out of his cocoon and waved goodbye. In the elevator going back to my empty room, I allowed myself to cry for the first time since his birth, and the nurse held me up and stroked my hair. I thought about my two-year-old, Joey, sleeping at home, and about the ease and excitement of the events surrounding his birth. When Joey was two days old I took him home with me, sleeping, content, well. No glass barriers. No doctors conferring. No ominous signs.

I remember the Christmas that I found out that I was carrying my first child, Joey. Instead of the expected morning sickness, I actually felt better than I had in years. Severe headaches that had plagued me since childhood disappeared almost immediately, and the combination of healthier eating habits and maternal vitamins contributed to a feeling of utter wellness. Peace washed over me like a gentle rain. The only negative effect that I can recall was a peculiar aversion I developed to the sight and smell of hamburger sizzling in a frying pan. I rushed out to buy a whole wardrobe of terribly ugly maternity clothes that I thought looked really adorable, and I waited out my very ordinary, uneventful pregnancy.

Joey's delivery was as fairy-tale easy as the pregnancy. For most of the labor I could only detect the contractions if I laid my hand across my abdomen and waited for its painless, rhythmic hardening. When my doctor broke the amniotic membrane my labor progressed like a lightning bolt, and twenty minutes later I was holding my perfect son. The sound of my husband's laughter broke the early morning hospital silence. Joey was near me constantly, and we spent those first lazy days introducing ourselves, and blending our lives into a comfortable mesh.

Nothing at all of my experience with Joey prepared me for Danny. I realized that I was pregnant with Danny when I became regularly and violently ill. I dropped weight rapidly, and I became so weak that it was difficult to lift a glass of water. The nausea passed at the end of the third month, and was replaced by a softening of my ligaments that made movement a unique brand of torture; my hips slid in and out of joint. Even the maternity clothes that I loved so much from my first pregnancy suddenly revealed themselves to be the ill-fitting costumes they always were. I devoted all of my energy to simply focusing on the day when I could reclaim my body from this nightmare.

A bout of the flu sent me into labor with Danny five weeks before my due date. Medication to stop the contractions served only to drag out the pain, and I was tethered to several monitors. The delivery room held a solemn crowd of specialists hovering over an oxygen-ready warming table. Danny's birth brought him into a world of cruelly bright lights and mechanical enclosure. A nurse in full surgical scrubs gave me a mask and allowed me to hold him for a few seconds. His skin was ink-blue and hung on his tiny frame in loose folds. My husband touched his hand, and stood quiet and afraid as they hurried our baby away. The following days were a dizzying downward spiral that I barely remember, but when it was over, I took my brave child home.


You might be wondering how what I've told you has anything to do with how my children showed me Jesus. It's funny how that happens. Joey and Danny are 25 and 23 today. They each have their separate offerings, and they have taught my husband and I to recognize and appreciate the different ways that we are loved by God. In the beginning, through the circumstances of their birth, we recognized something of God in them and in our ourselves. Joey offered up to us the kind of love that comes easy and free, a gift given in joy, a miracle of peace. He brought us laughter. Danny offered up the kind of love that's grounded in determination and forged in a fire, a love that tests you. He brought us strength. The lessons are still coming to us today. Every word that they speak, every touch, every difficulty brings me closer to God. The way that I love them, and the way that they love me points me to the unfathomable love of God. My children have placed in my heart a deep pool of gratitude, and a sense that I am a part of something holy.