Pentecost — One Week Late!

DSC04430As I noted in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe below), this is a crazy-making time in our lives. We’ve got a major move underway and a big family vacation right in the middle of it all. And I’m still (at least, partially) in recovery mode from several weird medical experiences of the past few months. So this post is about a week later than I had hoped it might be.

Through it all, we keep on truckin,’ by the grace of God and a whole lotta stubborn determination. One week ago we traveled south to be present for our middle daughter’s oldest son’s confirmation. Wesley is 17, just finished his junior year in high school and is contemplating college, right around the corner. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t he just a tiny kid who looked almost exactly like his mama?

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While we were there, we managed to sneak in basketball games for each of Wesley’s two younger brothers and I had the shopping joy of browsing a JC Penney, a store which my town hasn’t had for years. They have definitely upgraded their women’s clothing section!!

But the true highlight of the weekend was that Confirmation Service. We always love worshipping at Knox Presbyterian in Pasadena CA, and are regularly inspired by their creative worship and solid preaching. It’s been a good home for our kids and that makes this particular set of parents and grandparents very partial and very grateful.

It was Pentecost Sunday — a great day for welcoming young adults into full membership of the church. Two of the five kids were also baptized — a wondrous splashing of water from a beautiful wooden font.

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But the standout surprise moment for us happened during the children’s sermon. Pastor Matt invited the confirmands and about 3 of the littler kids to take hold of round, disc like objects which he had stashed up front. They were in shades of red, orange and yellow and as the kids began to handle them, I could see that they were circles of crepe paper streamers.

And here’s what we did with them. The kids tossed them out as far as they could, then the congregants picked them up and tossed them behind themselves until the back pew was reached. Then the back row tossed them toward the front until all the rolls were completely unspooled. It looked fabulous!

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Then we were instructed to raise those streamers above our heads and stomp our feet as fast as we could. “And that,” said Pastor Matt, “is just a small picture of what it must have been like when the Spirit showed up at Pentecost.” Wind and fire. Oh, YEAH!

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It was the perfect set-up for the kids’ vows and the gentle reading of a piece of their own personal credos, each one reading a portion that wove together into a modern version — a confirmation student version! — of the Apostle’s Creed. 

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At the end of the service, some helpful ‘stage hands’ moved forward a large white easel and a table spread with colored (washable) paints. And during the singing of the last hymn, we were invited to come forward, dip our thumbs into red, orange or yellow paint and make a mark on the sketched-in flames drawn on the easel.

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Everyone was involved, a bodily experience of community that I found profoundly moving.

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It’s not the most gorgeous piece of art you’ll ever see, but it is a lovely representation of this particular fellowship of believers and their commitment to be in this thing together.

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In the quiet space after the service, I snapped a photo of the finished flames, set against the draped cross. And I thanked God for this motley, crazy thing called ‘the church.’ We are far from perfect, but sometimes . . . sometimes, we get it right.

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Joining this with Jennifer, Lisha, Laura.

Just Write: I Never Stop Being a Mama

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It’s the strongest, loudest piece of me, this mama thing. I was surprised by motherhood when it suddenly showed up. There we were, thousands of miles away from home, totally green about all but the basics of married life. 

And then she was born, and the entire world shifted on its axis. And then her sister and then her brother, and then, oh my! three littles in less than four years. And tired? Unbelievably so.

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But here they were and there I was, a mom. Not a particularly great mom, truth be told. Impatient, overbearing, insecure, torn by wondering if I should be doing something ‘more’ with my life than wiping bottoms and breaking up bickering.

But I chose to be there, at home, doing exactly that. And I have never regretted it, not even when my eldest questioned that choice when she was about twelve, wondering why I didn’t have a real job like all her friends’ moms.

The most wondrous thing is this: that as they began to grow up, they each showed signs of independence and quick intelligence and wonderful humor and insight. And I became their student, in so many rich and wonderful ways.

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My children have taught me so much. About humility, first and foremost. About laughter and anger, about love and disdain, about temperament and truth. Each one of them, wildly different from one another, beginning with that first flutter-in-the-womb. And yet so closely woven together. So close.

Yes, indeed, they were mean to one another, on occasion. I’ve learned more about their childhood meannesses since they’ve grown up! But underneath all of that there has always been a fierce loyalty and love, a deep desire for the best in one another, a willingness to come alongside in the tough times and to joyfully celebrate the great times.

I now have a grandson the same age I was when my first child was born: 23. LORD, have mercy! How is this possible? I truly don’t know how time can sprint by in a blink. I can call up elementary school orchestra concerts (on, my ears!), youth group scavenger hunts, early dating experiences, and long courtships for each of them.

And then suddenly — here we are! Three thriving families, eight grandchildren, every one making real contributions to their community, their church, their friends. 

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So I am still learning from them. Every day. And I am still mama at heart, at base, at center. One of them is facing into back surgery; a little grandgirl has a chronic disease; one has been widowed and remarried; two grandkids are searching for ultimate answers, the prayers of us all undergirding their journey. 

No matter what else I have done or will do, no matter how many people I interact with, love, preach to, partner with or direct — these ones, these children, children-in-love/law, grandchildren, along with my husband — these are the community of first commitment and most essential ministry. 

How did I get so lucky?

I haven’t done this in ages, but I so love it when I do. Joining with Heather at EO for her Just Write this week. JUST WRITE whatever comes, then join the community and see where everyone else landed. It’s fun, I promise.

And the Light Went Out . . .

I dressed in black,
ate my dinner earlier than usual
and drove one canyon over to rehearse.

DSC01442The sanctuary was filled
with evening light when I walked in,
heightening the lavenders and blues,
those deeply colored pieces
that fit inside the clerestory windows.
DSC01437 Musicians and readers met in the balcony,
our home as the sun made its way down,
down behind the hills and the sea.
No paper trail this night,
only the dark light of the screens
to guide us from scripture to painting, to silence.
Then to poem, to song,
to the loss of
one more layer of light. DSC01438 There is a sober feel to this night,
a quietness that invades our spirits

and guides our tongues.
Nothing is wasted.
No breath, no sigh, no syllable.
DSC01439 It is crowded and cramped where we sit,
bound by chair legs and mic stands,
script pages and surreptitious, hooded lamps.
DSC01440 The chandeliers,
hand-pounded
by an artist-blacksmith
in the valley,
remind me of crowns tonight.
Crowns fit for a king —
or one falsely accused. DSC01443 We begin with full brightness,
streaming in through the windows,

and shining out
from every light
in the house.  DSC01444 From my perch,
high above the worshippers,
I watch the space darken,
and feel the weight of it
settle into my bones.
My foot is aching this night,
tired from too much joyful standing,
baking and decorating,
standing beside my tall grandgirl,
who loves to try new things.
DSC01445And I’m glad that it hurts.
Not in a strange or masochistic way,

no. Rather, I am grateful to identify,
even in a small way, with
the pain of this day.
With the darkness,
the good and necessary darkness.
The darkness which brought us 
everlasting light;
the darkness in which the Good
was splayed out before us all,
absorbing our fallenness,
our brokenness,
our sinfulness,
our shame. IMG_4098 I am reading poetry tonight,
my partner a retired English prof

from a nearby college,
a wise and kind man,
who answers my queries
about
meaning and inflection,
about rhythm and pace.
DSC01446We hear the story,
the old story,
the true story.
We look at etchings,
beautiful, old etchings.
And we sing.
Sweetly, reverently, we sing. 
IMG_4097Seven times, a candle is snuffed out.
Seven words from John.
Seven songs are sung.

But only six poems.

For, in the end,
at the end,
there are no words.

Only the blessed darkness.

And then,
the Christ candle begins to move,

lifted high, cradled,
down the steps,

into the night.

And this time,
this time as I watch it go by
into the darkest space of all,
the one directly below my chair,

I weep.

This is a space where I cannot  be,
where I cannot see

the gleaming of His light.

And it hits me,
as if for the first time,
that this light went out.

The Light of the world willingly
went out,

was laid deep in the earth,
and did not shine.

How did any of us survive that darkness?

And yet . . . that very darkness
birthed
RESURRECTION.

Perhaps, I need to rethink
the meaning of the word,
the reality,
the gift
of darkness.

My deep thanks to Jon Lemmond for his wonderful script, to him and to Don Johnson for their masterful reading of the scripture, to Bob Gross, Jon Martin and Janet Spencer for such lovely musical leadership, to Tanner Gross for managing powerpoint and light level, and to my reading partner, John Sider. And special thanks for and to the poets – Richard Crashaw, John Byrom, Gerald Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Christina Rosetti and Tania Runyon whose words graced this event with power, and with invitation.

The Sliding of the Seasons

Today is the day after, the sliding day, the one that marks the shift from one special day on the calendar to an entire season of special. We chose to be quiet this day, to stay at home, eat leftovers, enjoy the freshness of the sky after rain.

So I sit in my usual spot, computer on my lap, and I drink in the richness of the gifts with which we have been lavished.
IMG_3713Sixteen of us gathered at our son’s home, to feast and laugh and say ‘thank you.’ The chiminea was lit, the appetizers spread, and we carefully helped my mother maneuver the short distance from car to house.

IMG_3695Our gifted daughter-in-law had a spread worth gaping at, with contributions from her mother and my older daughter, and a magnificent bird, smoked after brining.

IMG_3693The table was laid, complete with candy turkeys and bright colored decor, handmade by the 3-year-old at nursery school.
IMG_3705Laughter floated on the breeze, children implored Poppy to play games, food was warmed and presented and appreciated.
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IMG_3696We have about four vegetarians and one vegan in our number, and Rachel and Lisa had prepared several scrumptious dishes that they could pile on their plates. We all had a Feast.
IMG_3699And dessert? Fuggedaboutit. An amazing collection of things divine and delish. Joel contributed hand made Bordeaux candies, Lisa baked pumpkin cookies and hand-sized apple pies, Rachel a decadent bourbon/maple pumpkin pie. I added some lemon pie squares and mom contributed a box of See’s Nuts ‘n’ Chews. Yeah, we had enough to eat.
IMG_3692Luke played a little piano, the kids and young adults played a little dominoes, and to cap off the evening, those not interested in watching football had a lively conversation about lasers and accelerators and all things strange and wonderful. My mom didn’t understand a lot of it, but she loved it. I think it helped her to remember who she is – a vibrant, interesting, interested woman who is always searching to learn more. The words will be lost, but the emotions will stay around a while.
IMG_3709And as we carefully got mom back in the car for the drive across town, I took a last look at that candle in the middle of the table. It seemed the perfect closing image for the day – one small light in the midst of it all, a beacon, a reminder of this next season of holy waiting, this time of Advent.
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On Sunday, I will begin a daily small series, an Advent journey. A photo, some scripture, a few words of reflection, a prayer. Nothing grand, nothing splendiferous, just a small offering of thanks and worship as we slide into the next season.

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO BE OUTRAGEOUS (once in a while)

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I never cease to be amazed at what I learn from my grandchildren.
Two of the younger ones, a duo I’ve written about before, the ones that were born

during one of the darkest seasons of our family story,
those two turned EIGHT years old this fall.

Born one month and one day apart, Griffin and Grace
have been a source of blessing and joy to all of us
during their short lifetime.

And today, Gracie is eight.
Full of fun, great questions, imaginative ideas,
artistic skills and a voracious reading appetite,
she is delightful and delicious.

We met them at a local restaurant for pasta dinner
and then came back here for ice cream and presents.
I noticed our pretty girl’s cute bun on the top of her head
and thought she looked particularly fetching as the evening unfolded. 

Most of the time, Grace poses for pictures willingly and easily,
and she provided me with two lovely smiles
as I snapped away with my iPhone. 

Then I asked her to turn sideways for the camera.
Because this girl – well she loves to do something
fun and wild and a little bit crazy every once in a while.

She asked her mom to come up with a brand-new hair treatment
for her day at school.
In a school that demands uniforms,
there isn’t a lot of individuality allowed.
But hair-dos?
Oh, my! Let the outrageous ideas roll!

Her mom found this do on the web and it’s called a bun-hawk
(like a mohawk, but without the shaved sides!)

Too cute! 

Sometimes I think it’s good for the soul to just do something
completely flamboyant, creative and new, don’t you?
I’m not sure I would have thought of such fun things for my hair at her age,
but I’m sure glad she did.

Griffin turned eight last month
and he opted for a big party this year
(Grace had a sleepover with a small group of girlfriends last weekend.)

I wanted a picture of him with his cake, and he did what he often does:
he put a pose on.
We all begged him to relax, to be himself,
and he couldn’t quite find that look, though he did try! 

So somebody in his immediate family, either a brother or a mother,
started tickling him,
and immediately, we began to see the true Griff, shining through. 

So, I got the picture I wanted — our sweet boy,
looking relaxed and natural,
showing the world what eight looks like on a blonde-haired boy. 

And then, of course, it all went to h**l in a handbasket!
He totally cracked up and couldn’t stop!

And isn’t that a fun thing to do once in a while, too?
To laugh until your sides hurt.

I do believe it’s good for the body as well as the soul! 

So, when the timing is right, don’t be afraid to be a little outrageous —
to wear something wild, to sing a song when least expected,
to laugh until you’re too tired too move.

Outrageous looks good on you! 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO DANCE

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Sadly, my husband grew up in a tradition that not think highly of dancing. So we have never danced together.
However, our family has found a wide assortment of ways to engage the world with acts of joy.
Herewith, a sampling, ranging from water play, to miniature golf, to stalking the beach with a camera, to giggling with daddy. Just in case you need something further to give yourself permission to move your body with exuberance, I’ve included some great quotes on the gift that is THE DANCE. 

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”
― Martha Graham

“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.
Great dancers are great because of their passion.” 

― Martha Graham

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same things,
just moving at different speeds.
A sense of humor is just good sense,
dancing.”
~William James 

“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes
that fill the history books,
all the political blunders, 
all the failures of the great leaders,
have arisen merely at a lack of skill
at dancing.”
~Moliere

“So the darkness shall be light,
and the stillness, the dancing,”
~T.S. Eliot 

“The dance can reveal everything everything mysterious
that is hidden in music,
and it has the additional merit of being  human and palpable.
Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.”
~Charles Beaudelaire

“I would believe only in a God who knows how to dance.”
~ Friederich Neitzsche

“Dancing faces you towards Heaven, whichever direction you face.” 
~ Terri Guillamets

“There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.”
– Edwin Denby

31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . CREATE

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In January of this year, our family gathered to celebrate birthdays. Fully 25% of our current family group was born in that month, and we decided to do something a little bit different to mark this year’s rite of passage.

Did I mention that I have a lot of creative relatives? Well, I do. And the fact that they’re so talented doesn’t intimidate me (most of the time!) — in fact, it encourages and emboldens me. It gives me permission to try a little bit of creativity myself. My daughter, her husband and all three of her sons love to dabble in painting – and their breakfast room looks glorious, decorated with their own work.

So for this birthday gathering, we all came to their house. Taking our inspiration from the art work surrounding us (while the men and children played and watched games), the women gathered around the sewing machine.

I had almost forgotten there is such a thing as a sewing machine. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I packed mine away and haven’t threaded a needle in almost 17 years! But my daughter has one, another daughter and I bought fabric. I found some feed corn, my daughter-in-law helped us measure, and we set to work. 

Our project? Making corn bags! Do you know what those are? Soft flannel pockets that contain kernels of feed corn, which you pop in the microwave for two minutes and then apply to any body part that needs a little soothing heat. Perfect for fall and winter days and nights!

We had so much fun! Why? Because it is fun to make something together – something that is pretty to look at, easy to handle and has such a wonderfully restorative and practical function. We made enough for every family unit to take home two or three bags each. 

And mine have gotten a real work-out ever since! 

And when it came time to celebrate those birthdays? We ALL enjoyed the creativity of our daughter’s youngest son. Joel, age 14 at the time, made this scrumptious and beautiful cake from a recipe in a baking book I’d given him for Christmas. And friends, it tasted even better than it looked. 

In the home in which I grew up, my dad was the admired creative genius — he played the piano exquisitely well. My mom was a talented decorator, seamstress and floral arranger. I, however, did not quite fit into that circle of creativity and felt inadequate and unsuccessful at every creative endeavor I tried.

Until I left home.

In college, I tried my hand at some homemade Mother’s Day cards and began to play the piano for my own enjoyment. I gave myself permission to try things and ‘fail.’ But here’s what I learned — if you try it at all, you automatically WIN. I discovered that the joy is in the process even if the finished product doesn’t quite measure up to expectations. I also learned that the more I did it, the better I got. No, I never reached the status of ‘artist.’ I found something even better — the fun of creating.

And I am delighted to observe that my kids and grandkids do this naturally and well, in all kinds of ways. From photography to baking, from piano playing to imaginative play — they all create. For the joy of it, just that. For the joy of it.


31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . DIVE IN DEEP

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When the water is deep,
and we feel tiny,
it’s scary to take the leap, isn’t it?

But, oh! It’s worth it!
To feel the cool water whooshing around us,
to hear our parents and grandparents on the sidelines,
cheering us on,
to know the exhilaration of moving through the fear.

YES!!

There are so many things in this life that are scary,
so many invitations to leap into the deep water,
to take a chance,
to spread our wings,
to dig, dig, dig. . .
and then . . . LET FLY.

 

And maybe one of the most important places for us to dive in deep
is right into the center of ourselves,
to look and listen and learn
about how we’re wired,
what makes us tick,
what slows us down,
what fouls us up.

Jennifer Dukes Lee is one of my favorite people in blogdom.
She writes her heart and she writes it beautifully.
She encourages people all over the place,
and she tells her story well because she knows her story well.

She invited me over to talk a little bit about writing,
to offer a ‘tip’ of some sort to others.
Well, I’m fresh out of tips, but I do have a lot of life experience.
And I’ve taken this particular leap of which I speak —
I’m still taking it.

The work of self-discovery, self-knowledge – well, it’s never done.
We are always on the journey.

Why don’t you hop on over to her place to read a little bit more about
why I think this particular journey is so  important,
why we all need to dive in deep.

You can find her place by clicking right here. 

And our girl on the diving board?
Yeah, she took the leap!
And we all cheered. 

 

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . to LAUGH

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 So . . . I have this really huge laugh.
It’s embarrassing – just ask my kids or my husband.
I love to laugh, I need to laugh,
but sometimes, I’m too inhibited to really let ‘er rip, you know?

When I’ve had too many days like that,
I need to find a child to be with.

Please bear in mind that I am not a ‘kid’ person.
I adore my children and their children.
And anybody’s baby is fair game, in my book.

But small kids?
I tend to smile benignly . . . from a distance.
When they get a little older,
I’m all in, fascinated by the conversations,
interested in what interests them,
delighted to know who they’re becoming.

And yet, I’ll say it again — it is the little ones
that I need to be with when I find I am
getting a little too full of myself,
or am a little too unwilling to play the fool.

Because the truth is this:
I AM a fool — in a very good way, I hope.
I’m not the fool that the book of Proverbs warns against,
the one who refuses to ‘fear the Lord.’

But I AM the fool who loves a good giggle,
who enjoys good jokes, good writing, good company.

Despite that truth, there are times when
I need to give myself permission to
really, truly LAUGH.

A few weeks ago, I went to Grandparent’s Day at our littlest girl’s school.
Dick had a meeting, so it was just Nana for this event,
which is a rare thing in and of itself.
Because my husband, you see, is a child’s dream come true.
He truly gets them,
he loves them, he volunteers to work
with Lilly’s class of 15 one full day each week.

The man is a saint, I tell you, a saint. 

But this day, it was my turn.

And, my stars, did I have fun. 

Because, this girl?

This girl — she knows how to have fun. Yes, she does.

All I had to do was be her shadow for a couple of hours,
and I felt better about myself, about the world, about life. 

 I even got on a swing, for the first time in years!
I didn’t stay on the swing for very long . . .
because, you know, there were all those adults around . . .
but I swung myself up and back a few times and leaned my head back,
and I laughed out loud. 

 I have written, and will write again in this very series,
about the need for lament, for tears, for letting
the fullness of our grief up to the surface and out.

But today, I want to encourage you to LAUGH.

To smile, giggle, chuckle, guffaw — to let the joy of life
seep through you and then leak out into the world
around you, wherever you may be. 

 Because laughter is good medicine,
it brings relief and release and joy.

Try it!! You’ll like it.

The Gift of a Long Life — A Deeper Family

It’s the first Thursday of the month and time for my monthly post at A Deeper Family. And this one crept up on me, bigtime. Somehow, I thought the first Thursday was next week (duh!) and had set aside tomorrow afternoon to write this piece. Fortunately, truth dawned at approximately 9:00 p.m. for an essay that was due at midnight. 

With the grands at Shell Beach, one year ago this month.

 

Forty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Thirty years ago, I had two teenagers and a pre-teen, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Twenty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Ten years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write on my blog, here at ADF, and several other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am mother to my mother as she fades into the dim recesses of dementia; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are college students, for Pete’s sake.

And at this moment, on a warm California evening, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another fifteen, twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during however many decades remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question:

Please join me over at A Deeper Family for the rest of this post . . .

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