Becoming Who We Are

I want to tell  you a story today. It’s a good story – at least, I think it is. It’s a story about young love, and mature love. About fear and overcoming fear. About unlearning and re-learning. But mostly, it’s about grace, grace writ large, grace first, last and always. 

First-born children – yes, they were each first-born children. Raised in similar families, too. Conservative, loving, happy, Christian homes. With dads who went out to work and moms who stayed home to work. With church as a staple source of encouragement, fellowship and teaching, some of it in words, lots of it as subtext.
And they both learned the same things about love and life and marriage, and about the ‘right’ way to make choices and the ‘right’ way to live into those choices. So when they married – she a blushing bride of 20, midway through her senior year of college, he all of 23, finishing his MBA at a grad school across town – when they married, they knew what choices to make. 
They made them happily, heartily, easily. She even researched their wedding ceremony, hunting for just exactly the right one, one that would include the word ‘obey’ in her vows – because, after all, that’s what the Bible says, right?
They learned early to become a strong unit, connected to one another firmly as they discovered more about life and marriage while living far away from home for two years. And when they came back, they brought a tiny baby with them, the first of three…in four years.
 
And they knew what to do, you can be sure of that. He would go off to work every day; she would stay at home and take care of those babies. And that’s what they did.
It worked pretty well, too. 
Oh, there were those niggling thoughts for her: “Is this what life is really about? Is there more that I should be doing? Is it enough to be at home with my babies all day?” 
But most of the time, those thoughts would flit into her head and then move right on out again, replaced with her mother’s voice, “Yes, of course this is what you should be doing. This is what all good Christian women do – they stay at home, they keep a clean house, they cook nutritious meals, they keep their children safe. This is what life is about.” 
And she really did love those babies of theirs. Yes, she really did. She did her bit at the co-op nursery school; she started a women’s group at church as the kids got bigger; and she began to read a little about the changing views on the role of women in the church. 
 
And her heart was stirred.
She remembered that once-upon-a-time she had been a good student, that she loved learning, that she had some talent as a leader and a speaker and a writer. So she did a whole lot of reading. She went to a conference or two – after her children were in school all day, of course. And she prayed a lot and she talked with her husband a lot, and she wondered. “Maybe there IS more for me to do in this life. I wonder what that might be.”
It wasn’t easy getting there. She was so full of fear that she ignored what became an increasingly clear call from God to go to seminary. For five years she ignored it, convinced that if she did something so radically independent, her marriage would be over.
 
Sadly, she didn’t trust either her husband or her God enough to know that the journey she was on was a shared one, that her husband was beginning to re-think things, too. So they got a little professional help, to sort it out, to unlearn and to re-learn. And they made a great big leap. Yes, indeed.  A great big one.
 
She enrolled in seminary when their youngest ‘baby’ was a senior in high school – and she was 44 years old and only two years away from being a grandmother.
He said, “The time has come for my shirts to go to the laundry – no more ironing for you.” 
 
And then the doors of their hearts began to open wider and wider, allowing the fresh Wind of the Spirit to blow through, to change things, freshen things, renew things. While in seminary, she had a direct call to pastoral ministry. Nothing like that had happened to her before. Nothing. “What,” she wondered, “do I do with this?”   
 
She and her husband talked and they prayed and they wondered. One day, he said something amazing to her, something she could scarcely believe she was hearing:
 
“You know what, honey? For thirty years, you have supported me in everything I’ve done, both professionally and personally. You’ve raised these great kids, you’ve created a good home for all of us, you’ve been a rock and the center around which the rest of us have orbited. So you know what I think? I think it’s my turn, now. It’s my turn to support you. So wherever God calls you, we’ll go together, okay? We’ll go there together.”
 
And that’s exactly what they did. Three years out of seminary, they moved 125 miles from home so that she could take a pastoral position. That meant that he commuted that distance – every single week. EVERY.SINGLE.WEEK for ten years. 
 
Without one complaint.
 
Because that’s what partners do, isn’t it? They support one another. They take turns if they need to. They encourage the best use of the other’s gifts. They live the truth that each half of their union is a whole human being, created, called and gifted. They pool their resources, they look to God together, they seek the welfare, health and wholeness of one another and of their joint venture, too.  
 
It wasn’t easy – good things seldom are. And it was very good indeed. They rode the road together. Through the tears and the fears, the laughter and the struggle, they believed in one another and they believed in the God who made them, named them, created and gifted them and called  them to be exactly who they are. Exactly.
Joining this one with Rachel Held Evans’ synchroblog week, “One in Christ – A Week of Mutuality.” I decided to eschew the technical/biblical/rhetorical approach to this topic in favor of a very personal story. Because I do believe it is in sharing our stories with one another, that hearts are changed, lives are enriched, and God is honored. And besides, I’ve spent the last 30 years or so making the biblical and exegetical arguments and I am DONE with that part. Kudos to Rachel, however, for taking it on so beautifully this week.
And a peek at those babies all-growed-up with their own babies, many of whom are also all-growed-up. Sigh. The baby born in Africa is the woman on the far right. 
Our middle daughter is in the middle of the photo and our son is in front of me.
This is a photo of a photo taken by Rich Austin of Austin’s Photography in Arroyo Grande, CA, and I apologize for its blurriness.

 

A Letter to My 8-Year-Old Self: The TSP Book Club

At 6.5 years old, they’re not quite 8 yet. 
But they are amazing creatures, full of curiosity, eagerness, spunk and just enough vinegar to be really interesting. 
They are cousins, born one month apart at a time when our family needed reminders that life is constantly being renewed as well as ending. Writing a letter to myself reminded me of just how precious this time is – and how formative. 
 

I am beginning to fall behind on our readings for TweetSpeakPoetry. We’re wrestling through Julia Cameron’s wildly successful artistic-recovery-handbook, “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” doing two chapters each week. 
That is a whole lot of chapters. 
Because each one is filled with projects/assignments/self-reflection. 
And all of that takes TIME. Time which I haven’t really had a lot of this week, what with graduations, traveling with my mom, and the demands of daily life. Which may well mean that I will not have a contribution for next week – I’ve still got one chapter to read from THIS week. 
So…for today’s response, I will post one of the assignments from the chapter entitled: “Recovering a Sense of Integrity.” (By the way, the main ‘ask’ of this chapter is something that is IMPOSSIBLE TO DO when you’re reading 2 chapters per week and this chapter is the first one – we were asked to undergo a week-long reading deprivation. Uh-huh. Like THAT’s going to happen. Clearly this book was written LONG before internet activity took over the living of life.)
This is a letter written to my childhood self. And I will grudgingly admit that this exercise – and much of what we were asked to do for this chapter – stirred a lot of stuff. And may, in fact, be at least partially responsible for two posts written earlier this week that I feel are among the strongest I’ve ever put here. (The first one can be found here, and the second one, here.) But…that’s just me. Being grudging. 
So…forthwith, a letter to me…many years ago.
Sweetheart,

You have no idea how remarkable you are or what kind of life is ahead for you. None at all. Enjoying 3rd grade, walking to school with pride and a growing sense of independence, embarrassed by how tall and ungainly you believe yourself to be. And the skin problems? Don’t even get me started about how constricting that is for you.

But here’s the thing, honey. NONE of that is going to matter at all. Not.at.all. 
I know, I know. It’s tough to believe that. Especially when you carry around all your mother’s anxiety about yourself. I know your heart, young one. I know that you believe you are both ‘too much’ and ‘not enough.’
Too tall
Too smart
Too bossy
Too duck-footed
Too strong-willed
Too different from what your mom believes you could/should be
AND, at the same time…
Not graceful
Not coordinated
Not picked for the playground sports endeavors
Not pretty like Sylvia
Not popular like_______(fill in the blank with any of about a dozen names from that era)
Not mold-able, at least on the inside 
Please hear me when I say this:
     You are exactly who you are supposed to be…
 …and that is a glorious thing. 
Glorious, do you hear that? 
Yes, indeed. Glorious. Full of curiosity, a daydreamer and  dawdler who takes the time to both look – really look – at the world around you, and to imagine all kinds of worlds in that head of yours.
You imagine that the milk bottles left in the rack on the back porch are a family, that they have names and they carry on quite the conversation after the household has gone to bed. 

You believe that if you just dig deep enough, you will end up in China one day.
You write a short story about peas in a pod – and the interesting family life they lead. 
You are affirmed by teacher after teacher for your creativity with words and ideas –  yet – you don’t believe them. You don’t treasure those words. Why is that? 
I think it’s because your parents, good people and loving and generous – I think it’s because your parents are so deeply afraid of your getting a ‘big head,’ of thinking yourself worthy of acclaim. 
They deliberately play it low-key when you get good grades and kind remarks. They are proud of you – yes, you know that they are. But they are cautious, circumspect, sincere in their belief that flattery is a tool of the devil and never to be trusted. 
And you are a very good learner, especially…especially when it comes to intuiting the feelings and moods of others. So you soaked that fear of theirs down deep into your pores. Even at your tender age, you don’t trust anyone who says something nice about you
So, if I can just say this to you right now, with all the love I can muster for how tender you are at this age, how malleable and open to wonder – if I can just say this:
        
You are totally unique – one of a kind – none other in this world is exactly like you. And YOU, dear girl, are God’s gift to this world in a way that no one else ever has been or ever will be.  
You are not your mother and  you do not need to be like her. You are not your father and you do not need to be like him. You can learn from them – and you will! – but YOU are the only Diana Ruth Gold on this planet. The only one that looks like you, thinks like you, dreams like  you. And that is pretty great, kiddo. 
That is pretty darn great.
With lots of love and gratitude for who you are right this instant,
Your older and more seasoned self.
And I can just imagine that YOU might make this very face at me about now.
Oh, how I hope you would. Because I LOVE this feistiness and I’d like to think it’s a generational gift.

That Delicate Balance, Part Two

She really wanted him to play the piano.
Among the earliest guests to arrive
at the party,
she made her desires known
right away.
And of course, I am not surprised 
she felt that way.
She’s been teaching him piano for 14 years.
He was 4 when he started,
and we were gathered to celebrate
his 18th birthday,
 
and his graduation from high school.
The graduate with his family.

Four.teen.years.
How many people do you know who stick
with anything for that long? 

“He’s been working on this one all year long,”

she said.
“I want to get him on tape,”
she said. 

But he resisted for quite a while.

As the sun began to set,
about sixty friends and family trickled
in the front door. 

The house looked lovely,

the yard, enchanting.
The chatter was friendly,
filled with laughter and warm reminiscence.
A slide show went round and round,
repeating on the big-screen television set,
featuring a lovely collection
of photos from day one until yesterday.
And it was there,
catching glimpses of the past,
that I felt the first sharpness,
the sudden movement of grief and loss
mixing its way right into the middle of 
celebration and joy. 

Our grandboy as a newborn,

held in the loving arms of his daddy.
His daddy who died almost four years ago. 

So much sadness for so long.

And so much joy and happiness, too.
All of it mixed up together in this journey we call life. 

Our daughter’s new husband,

strong and kind and good –
such a gift to all of us,
a gift we are grateful for,
right down to our toes. 

But another milestone has come and gone.

And Mark was not here to celebrate with us.
That will never change.
And I imagine, we will always feel
that stab of recognition at such times,
that moment of searing sorrow. 

It was only a moment.

And soon, the joyful banter
gained volume in corners, at tables,
in the yard, in the house.

And then, cutting through the conversation,
I heard the strains of Chopin.
Familiar music to my ears,
music I heard in my own home, growing up.
Ballade Number One,*
technically difficult,
achingly beautiful. 

So I gently led my mother into the living room,

to listen as Luke played this glorious piece.
She sat in a chair placed right in front of the piano.
My father’s piano,
the one he played for years and years. 

And I stood behind her, 

my hand on her shoulder. 

And together, we heard a miracle. 


The piano literally sang to us.
Of love and loss,
of hope and discouragement,
of hard work – hours and hours of hard work.
My dad’s,
Luke’s,
our own. 

The tears rolled down my cheeks as I

missed my dad,
as I missed Mark,
as I celebrated Luke,
as I thanked God for Karl,
as I thanked God for all of it.
All.Of.It. 

Learning to play Chopin takes practice.

Practice, practice, practice. 

And learning to hold the tensions,

the mysteries of this life –
to hold them together,
to let them resonate with one another,
to acknowledge the pain and loss,
and to celebrate the gift and joy –
sometimes in the very same instant –
this takes practice, too. 

Life is hard.

Life is glorious.
Life is overwhelmingly difficult.
Life is radiantly free.
Life is …
LIFE. 

It’s a dance with ever-changing tempo;

it’s a song with shifting harmonies;
it’s a tapestry,
a rich oil painting,
filled with color and with shadow. 

Thankfully, we don’t have to navigate 
the dance floor on our own; 
we don’t have to struggle to sing all the parts. 

We are given the gift of one another. 

And we are given the gift of Presence.

Loving, gracious Presence.
God – Father, Son and Spirit;
Creator-Redeemer-Counselor –
GOD ALMIGHTY
invites us into the ongoing dance of the Trinity,
the intricately, achingly beautiful song of the universe. 

In this life, we cannot yet see the edge of the dance floor,

nor can we hear the resolution of all the chords.
But…
we can know the One who does.  

Thanks be to God.

And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:27-28, The New Living Translation

*At the bottom of this post you will find a link to Vladimir Horowitz playing this piece. Horowitz was a hero to my dad – a genius on the piano, especially playing Chopin.
This is an older video of a live performance, but you will get a view of the
technical virtuosity needed to play this music. 
I was so moved that I did not think to shift my little Canon camera over to video
to record even a little bit of Luke playing!
 
Thanks so much, Luke, for those transcendent 10 minutes.

Joining with those same friends with this second part on balance…no buttons this time.
Michelle, Jennifer, Jennifer and Emily. And this time with Laura Boggess, too.



True Confessions: The TSP Book Club

 Okay, it’s time for the weekly check-in.
We’re reading Julia Cameron’s, “The Artist’s Way”
over at TweetSpeak Poetry,
under the fearless leadership of Lyla Lindquist.
then you already know that I am
a Rebellious Resistor
to this methodology.
Which, I am told – as I read further this week –
is actually to be expected as one tries to
free one’s inner artist.
So much for originality.

 I am still resisting the Morning Pages part of this experience,
or as I referred to them last week, ‘the dang pages.’
I believe I did them exactly once. 
However,
I am totally embracing the Artist’s Date concept.
I think  you might even say I’ve gone a bit overboard
in that department.
The floral pictures in this post were taken during the second
(or was it the third?) daytime treat experience of
the week just past. They were taken at a local garden,
a wondrous place called “Seaside Gardens,” 
where our kids had given their dad a gift certificate for his birthday.
Oh my, did that light my inner creative fires!
(Or course, I had to break the rules a little – 
I didn’t  go alone.) 

I did, however, take myself out to eat at a favorite restaurant,
with my book in hand.
AND I squeezed in a visit to a grandson’s kindergarten
play, where he played the role of:
The Big Bad Wolf
in 
The Three Piggy Opera.
(here he is rubbing his hands together gleefully while
singing, “I wanna big, fat pig to eat…”)
 The scary thing for me in all this is –
I am beginning to see a pattern.
A life-long pattern.
And it’s nowhere near as pretty as the one
that showed up in this Norfolk Pine at the Seaside Gardens.
No, it’s not pretty. At.All.
I’m beginning to see this thread,
a twisty, unattractive thread
that weaves through a lot of my life.
And it goes like this:
First,
I get scared of something or someone 
who threatens me in some way.
Or…I get tired/frustrated/overwhelmed
by expectations – mine and/or others.
Step Two? 
I get angry inside.
Pitiful, really.
Sort of carpy, cranky, testy,
defensive, self-righteous,
judgmental.
You get the picture.
Not a lovely one, is it?
And thirdly? I try to hide what I’m feeling
or what I’m frightened about.
And you want to know how I’ve done that for most of my life?
By eating too much.
By covering myself in layers of insulation.
By hiding all the fear and all the anger
beneath a protective covering. 
(Did you notice that I went out to eat for my Artist’s Date?
And that my grandson was singing about eating??
I jest…but only a little.) 

I’ve had some success in the last year or two with 
shedding pieces of that covering.
But I gotta say,
this book is bringing out the worst in me.
How childish is that??

I mean, really.
What have I got to be angry or defensive about?
She asked us to make a list of favorite things we like to do
and then to write down when we did them last.
And almost all of them I’ve done in the last week,
3 or 4 of them as I was making the list!
And my ‘Life Pie,’ which one of our chapters this week 
asked us to draw?
Aside from confirming the fact 
that I cannot draw a pie to save my life,
my six areas are in pretty decent balance.

And the list of 10 small changes we’d like to make
in our lives?
Perhaps this says it all:
Item number 10 on my list?
“I would like to wring Julia’s neck.”
I wish I could report that I’m making great progress,
leaps and bounds kind of progress,
in letting go of this resistance.
But as you can see,
I’m not leaping and bounding anywhere,
except perhaps straight into the Slough of Despond.
One tiny ray of light, of hope this week?
I did enjoy writing down 5 childhood characteristics
that I like about myself.
I share this with you very hesitantly, however,
 as it probably tells you more about me
than I really want you to know.
But here they are:
1. Inquisitive
2. Bossy 
(bossy? who puts bossy on their list?)
3. Responsible
4. Lighthearted
5. A voracious reader 
Truly, dear reader, do you think there is any hope for me?

Joining once again with the gang over at Tweetspeak, hoping they will not give up on me just yet.
You can check out the other posts in this collection by going here:
ts book club no border

Again and Again – Soaking in the Beauty with People We Love

A Photo Essay
featuring
Kauai, Hawaii 

We went there first in 1980. And we left our kids at home for the first time ever. They were 8, 10 and 12 and my parents came and stayed in our home, schlepping them hither and yon for two and a half weeks while we flew across the Pacific to check out the 50th state.

That time we went with another couple, island-hopping to get the lay of the land. But we knew from the very first touchdown on that northernmost and oldest of the islands that we would be back in that place, kids in tow, just as soon as we could possibly make it happen.

And two years later, we did it. All 5 of us sharing a 1-bedroom condo, air mattresses on the floor, mosquitoes buzzing, frogs chirruping by the thousands. 

And we loved it.
Every single inch of it. 
It’s hard to say enough about all that we love in that place.
 From the 150 year old wood frame or volcanic stone churches…

…to the thrilling drop-off above the Napali coastline,
as viewed from the overlook…
 …to the waterfalls and colorful striations of the Little Grand Canyon on the road up to the overlook…

…to the windswept Tunnels Beach with it’s conical-hat Bali Hai in the distance…
 …to the richness of local taro fields lining the sides of the Hanalei River…
…to the sweeping panorama of the beach at Kalihiwai Bay, whether a sunny day…
 …or a cloudy one – complete with rainbow.
  Of course, I would have to tell you about that solitary lighthouse across from the bird refuge…
 …and certainly, the lure of the jungle-rich roadway driving north…until there is no more road to drive.
 One consistent siren call is most assuredly the sounds of local bird-life. The distinct cooing of Hawaiian doves,
the worried call of the bright red or grey and red cardinals,
 and – of course – the early morning cri de couer of hundreds and hundreds of these guys, wandering wherever they please,
thank you very much.
I would have to include the singular beauty of entire groves of palm trees, swaying in the breeze.
And of course, one of my deepest loves:
the wide variety of beautiful flowers, colorful and fragrant.
 Anthurium, pink and red.
 Every shape, size and color of orchid.
It’s not called the Garden Isle for nothin’.
Wonderful wildflowers, too. 
 Red ginger, and sometimes pink.
My personal favorite – and the first thing I buy at the local Farmer’s Market – is the white, heavily scented tuberose.
And these wild bird-flowers are fun, too.
Golden shower trees abound – and of course – the state flower can be found everywhere, in every shade of pink, purple, orange, yellow, white and red. 
The glorious-for-one-day hibiscus.
 But as breathtakingly beautiful as it is,
as warm and welcoming as we find it every time we come,
as lovely and relaxing and refreshing as our time there always is – 
it is the people we share it with
 that make this place memorable.
Setting aside time, money and commitment for vacationing 
is a very high value for us as a family.
In fact, after commitment to growing in discipleship,
loving one another well,
learning our whole lives long –
I would have to say that re-creating is among our top four family values.
My husband and I began our married life by traveling halfway around the world together – to serve, to explore,
to grow together as our own family unit.
And every year since then, we have saved for, 
planned for and enjoyed time away from the regular routine.
We seek beauty,
learning about new places,
meeting new people,
and enjoying one another 
in a setting that is removed from the demands of daily living.
So we’ve been back to Kauai 
(or to Maui, our 2nd favorite) 
about 15 times in the last 30 years.
And some of our richest family memories are 
part and parcel of that small northernmost island,
the one with all the greenery and all the family lore.

Each of our parents invited their children and grandchildren to Kauai in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversaries.
We’re making plans to do the same in 3 years time, when our own comes around.
We took each of our children’s spouses with us on family trips to this place – two of them before they were officially members of the family.

And four years ago, we planned an extra-special trip, 
one that became even more so in retrospect.
Our middle daughter and her family of 5 rented a house in Princeville for a month.
Dick and I rented a house on the edge of Kalihiwai Bay for the same time period.
We were 10 minutes apart by car and each of us entertained parts of our extended families over the course of those four weeks.

My mom and my youngest brother came for one week and stayed with us. Within two years, he was dead and she was blind, frail and losing her memory.
The treasure of this time together 
is something I carry with me just about every day. 
 My husband’s mom and his incredible sister, whose marriage of 38 years had just ended, came and stayed for a different week. 
Today, four years later, 
Mom is on hospice care; 
Dick’s sister is preparing for a very different life 
once her mother is gone, most likely moving across the country to be nearer her daughter for half of each year.
Life just keeps on changing, you know?
And the gift of time away together?
It cannot be measured.
Since our initial visit 32 years ago, the islands have changed, too. Some of that change is welcome (like a wonderful Costco near the airport); some of it not so much (like increasing development and numbers of people) – but the essentials of the place remain the same.
It is beautiful.
It is marked by a much slower rhythm of living.
It is far enough away to feel removed 
from the lure of life on the mainland,
but not so far away as to feel isolated.
I cannot possibly put into words how deeply grateful 
I am to have spent time in this grace-filled space. 
I think it’s about as close to Eden 
as I’m ever going to get this side of heaven – 
and I KNOW God lives there year ’round.

Joining in the Community Writing Project for The High Calling, put together by Charity Singleton and edited by Deidra Riggs, two of the finest women on the planet.
You can read other vacation stories at Charity’s place:
http://charitysingleton.blogspot.com/2012/05/community-writing-project-summer.html#more




Resistance & Rebellion – Living with My Inner Artist

She went with us to the Caribbean,
in all her multiple-quotation,
list-of-affirmations,
call-to-creativity glory.
And I dutifully read all of the introductory
material and chapter one,
learning about such things as 
the brains we all juggle
(Logic/Artist);
the principles of creativity 
and why we need to live by them;
the powerful voice of the Inner Censor.
And most appropriately,
I learned about the Creative Block.
Why appropriate, you ask?
Because at the end of it all,
I found myself in the middle of
a big, fat, nasty one,
 that’s why.
I was on vacation.
And Julia asked me to commit to
WORK.
Morning pages,
an Artist’s Date,
Weekly Check-Ins,
a timeline look back at my life,
in search of Monsters who might
have stifled my budding artistic genius.
But here’s something you may not know about me:
I am, at heart, a Rebel.
I know, I know.
I don’t look like a rebel at all.
I am a ‘good girl’ 
(if people of my age are allowed 
to refer to themselves as ‘girls’).
I’m a pastor, for pete’s sake.
I’m older.
I dress conservatively
(except for the occasional wild and crazy color 
and a whole lotta jewelry).
I take care of others.
Yes, I do a whole of that last one.
I take care of others.
I read the Bible and I do so
because I believe that I meet God there.
I am a centrist theologically.
I am a centrist in most things.
But.
I resist following the rules.
I resent being told how to do things.
I don’t tolerate what I perceive to be ‘fluff’ too well.
My eyes tend to glaze over when
I read the words ‘affirmation’
or ‘ creative recovery.’
Imagine my response, then, to this volume.
Oh, I’ve underlined it aplenty,
I’ve even got stars and creased corners on
lots and lots of pages.
I actually liked a lot of what I read,
agreed with it, too.
Until I got to the part where I had to do something about it.
Yeah, that’s when the Rebel showed up.
Don’t know if she’s related to the Inner Censor,
but I have a hunch they’re kissin’ cousins.
Because once I started reading about what I
needed to do to release my Inner Artist –
I started to push back, HARD.
First of all, I don’t do longhand anymore.
Never was good at it 
(yes, that’s the voice of the Inner Censor – 
but it’s also the voice of reality), 
I hate doing it and can’t really read what I write anymore.
(Of course, we’re not supposed to read this stuff.
We’re just supposed to write it.)
And I’m not a morning person.
AT ALL.
And in my dotage,
I indulge my non-morning-ness whenever I can.
So the two times I actually did write the dang pages,
it was well into mid-day. 

The Artist’s Date?
Now, that’s something I can wrap my mind around.
In fact, it’s something I actually already do, 
although I’ve never called it that.
I seek solitude, often at the beach or a favorite restaurant,
and I look for beauty wherever I go.
That one was a cinch.

The timeline I got to today.
And here’s what I discovered –
the biggest Monster in my story is…
ME.
Yup. I get in my own way more than anyone else ever has.
Sure, my mom (and my dad) had hopelessly high
expectations for me when I was a child.
They were both artists in their own way
and my small muscle development was lousy
(remember what I said about handwriting earlier?).
So I just quit trying to do anything with my hands.
And I quite trying very, very early. 
I couldn’t play piano like my dad or my brother.
I couldn’t draw or create beauty like my mother,
so I didn’t do it.
Ever.
Until I went to college and no longer felt the weight of my parents’ abilities pressing in on me every single day.
And when I began to venture out a little here,
a little there, it turned out I could do some things
acceptably well. 
Not great, but okay.
But the real, true chicken-heart was inside me,
not my parents, not my teachers, not my friends,
not my employers.
Me. 

So.

Now I’m facing this HUGE block.
No ideas.
No desire.
No sense of call.
No sense of giftedness.
Nada.
Zilch.

Think maybe I’m just the teensiest bit resistant?

The Rebellious Resistor.
Pretty much my middle name.

Sigh.

Joining with Lyla and the gang over at Tweetspeak Poetry for the interactive posting about Julia Cameron’s classic book, “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.” As you can tell, I have a lot of inner work to do. Oy vey. Lord, have mercy.

 

 

Midweek Meanderings: a Photo Essay

The 5-point (meaning I pivoted 5 times to get the whole thing), 240 degree view from our back terrace this week. Sigh.

The rain last night was lovely, clearing the air, greening the hillside,
encouraging a warming fire in the fireplace. 
This morning, all the clouds are piled up to the south,
slowly making their way to our real home,
and the homes of our children.
 These shots taken on my afternoon circular walks around the driveway. Once, this was a grand central CA home. Now it is an amazing view with a very run-down house. It makes me sad to see homes neglected, but we are grateful for what there is in this spectacular vacation space, hanging over the bluffs with the hills just behind. And there’s lots of room to spread out, which is a good thing with so.many.of.us.

We’ve been together since last Friday,
spread out in a large, hacienda-style rented home.
A place in need of some major TLC – 
but with a killer view of the Pacific coast.
Birds flourish here.
And so do children.
The 2-year-old runs headlong down the hill toward the bluff,  causing gasps on all sides.
But someone bigger is always nearby 
to step between her and the abyss.
May it always be so!
Eastertide is a season for celebration and for gratitude,
for remembering who we are as the people of God.
And here, on this rugged shore,
with a 17-year-old asking good, hard questions,
two 13-year-0lds sharing a kayak adventure,
a 10-year-old giggling his way through a great game of ping-pong and two 6-year-olds alternately 
adoring and infuriating one another,
we are celebrating.
And we are grateful.
Even the 21-year-old was here for the weekend,
before heading back to school and responsibilities,
four hours south of this gathering place.
Our adult children are good and interesting people.
Their spouses are kind and good-natured.
All of them are attentive parents and generous housemates.
We observed Easter at a church unknown to any of us and followed with a feast, just as the Christian church has done for centuries. We are also celebrating the 70th birthday of Poppy, 
our loved and lovable patriarch, the acceptance into his 1st choice college for the 17-year-old and a good private high school scholarship for one of the 13-year-olds.
After so many years of struggle and loss,
it is good to gather in gratitude.
We even took a family photo … the first ever … 
to round out the weekend just past.
The photographer is working on the touch-ups
and we will soon have a lasting memento of this time spent together, 
possibly by week’s end.

 The hunters and the hiders – not sure who enjoys the Easter Egg Hunt the most.
Though she loves the idea of hunting and hiding, Lilly does not quite fully grasp the concept. Generally, if she hides, she guides the hunter until she’s found. :>)
 
In the meantime,
we soak in the beauty around us,
explore the small towns that circle round the sea,
while some play tennis,
and others a little b-ball.
One daughter and her husband paid for two days of heating the pool on the property and about half the crowd
jumped in and enjoyed getting wet and tired.
We’ve had an egg hunt or two,
enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals,
even traveled to a local ice-cream maker’s
“All You Can Eat” Tuesday celebration.
In a beat-up side room, there is a pool table and ping-pong,
and someone contributed a 2000 piece puzzle to pour over.
Settlers of Catan has made an appearance and Bananagrams, too, 
so no one seems bored. 
Many naps are taken in this house, 
signaling the welcome arrival of true relaxation
and energizing Sabbath rest.
We all point and shout, 
thanking God for sightings of otters,
sea lions, an occasional dolphin – 
even a whale, far out in the bay.
Avila Beach, just north of where we are.
A creekside restaurant for lunch in San Luis Obispo
Through it all, we thank God for the richness of family life,
the push and pull of living in the same space,
sharing the work and the fun,
watching the children grow in wisdom and in stature.
Friday, we return to reality.
Or at least to our usual list of responsibilities and commitments. 
Sometimes, though, I do believe that experiences like this week are the true reality,
life as it was originally designed to be lived.
Maybe everything else is mere illusion,
the structure that has been overlaid on human life
in the wake of Eden.
So, we’ll take these windows of grace.
And we’ll savor them, thank God for them,
take lots of pictures 
and build reservoirs of stories to share 
as the years progress.
And once in a while,
I’ll write about it here.
Because I really do believe that
this is the truest part of me.
At least, until Friday.

I’ll sign this one on with Michelle at “Graceful,” Jen at “Finding Heaven,” Ann at “A Holy Experience,” Em at “Canvas Child,” Laura at “The Wellspring,” Laura at “Seedlings in Stone,” and Jennifer at “Getting Down with Jesus.” I encourage you all to check out these fine blogs – but I am having increasing difficulty getting buttons to show up in the new blogger format. If anyone has any shortcuts for this tedious job, I’d love to hear them.

 

Reflections on Mortality and Holy Week

 It only lasts a minute, maybe two.

That sense of stepping off a cliff –
when a lump rises in your throat,
and immediately catapults into your stomach. 

Or maybe it’s more like being blind-sided by a phantom,
a phantom with snarling breath that blows down the back of your collar 
and frizzes the ends of your hair.
You can be living your ordinary, everyday life – 
driving the car, for instance.
Or having lunch with someone you love.
Or resting after minor surgery. 
And wham! It hits you like a bracing splash of ice water:
death happens everywhere.
We are surrounded by it, 
entangled in it,
bewitched by it. 
And most of the time, we are oblivious.
Quite intentionally so, I believe.
We cover it up,
tuck it away,
move it aside.
And we do that with all kinds of things, 
in all kinds of ways.
We do it with food,
or alcohol,
or television,
or reading,
or even – gasp! – writing. 
It’s the spectre on everyone’s horizon,
the uninvited guest at the table,
the devilish imp around every corner. 

And we don’t want to see it.
And much of the time, we don’t.
We don’t

But then, you turn just a little,
and you cast a glance over the wrong shoulder,
you catch a glimpse 
just there – 
off to the side – 
and the rawness of it socks you in the gut. 
Two sisters, having lunch. 
Best of friends, longtime traveling companions,
singing life’s song together for over 85 years.
You stop to take a picture – 
and you see it.
Just there, in the sagging skin.
Or there, in the squinting struggle to see something –
anything that’s recognizable.
Or to the right – see it? – the big red walker,
just there,
the one that carries the frail, flailing, failing body
slowly and carefully from place to place.
And you know:
it won’t be long now.

Or you take a little drive,
off to find a new dress for a 90-year-old.
You go down familiar streets,
remarking on changes made here and there.
And then – there it is.
The shabby motel where he lived,
your youngest brother,
the one who hid so well –
who hid the drinking and the illness and the shame,
the one who died, far too young.
Over there –  
just there – 
lurking by the office,
just down from the dark, dank corridor
of his room – you spot it.
And your stomach clenches,
your eyes fill ever so briefly,
your breath catches
between the pleasantries you speak. 
Or you’re driving home from the dentist
after a routine surgical procedure,
and your face begins to pound and swell.
Within hours, you look like a prize-fighter,
so you pile in the car for some urgent care.
And you see it again!
Just there,
in the bright red gauze,
the deepening purple of bruise,
the slow, constant tender aching.
No longer a wraith, but a sharp, clear reflection
in the window pane behind the surgeon’s worried face. 
The ever-present visitor that no one
wants to see, to wrestle with, even to acknowledge:
we all age;
we all die. 

For these intimations of mortality are all around us,
constant reminders of the ephemeral nature of our
sojourn on this planet.
No one escapes,
no one is immune,
no one is immortal. 

But then…

Holy Week arrives,
right in the middle of the muddle,
amid the weariness of watching death in action, 
inexorable and overwhelming. 

 And a tiny green thing begins to wriggle its way 
to the surface of your soul.
A sprig, really.
A small, tender shoot of hope and life. 
Because somehow,
in the very middle of death itself,
there is this ever-growing wick of light.
As we follow the story 
to the upper room,
to the garden,
to the house of the high priest,
to the halls of Herod and Pilate,
through the narrow winding streets
of the city,
up that pathway marked by the blood of Jesus himself –
even there…
even there.

There is a whiff of green, a scent of spring. 
EVEN THIS, Jesus knows.
This sinking queasiness, this revelation and recognition
that death is an unavoidable part of life –
Jesus has been here, too.
Jesus has been here ahead of us.
And Jesus walks with us when the 
dark, shadowy fears show up and torment us.
Even this, Jesus knows.


So today, and tomorrow, and the next day…
I want to shelter this bit of life amid the ashes;
I want to water it with my tears,
and nourish it with my songs of thanksgiving.
And then I want to position it  
just there,
where the sunlight, 
streaming forth from the empty tomb,
can help it to grow strong and true,
always and forever stretching toward the Light.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
1 Peter 1:3-4
Joining with Michelle at Graceful and Jennifer and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood at Finding Heaven and the generous Kimberly at Journey to Epiphany, who is temping for Emily Weirenga for a while. I’ll also join it to the Lauras, even though it’s not a particularly playful post nor is it so much about a place physical as a place emotional and spiritual. And with Ann V, too. (Although I can never get her button to work here.)


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”JourneyTowardsEpiphany”
 

The Good Ache: a Photographic Reflection

 Overlooking the Saanich Inlet on Vancouver Island, August 2007
Aches and pains.
Yes, I’ve got a few.
Part of the aging process, or so they tell me.
Knees that creak,
heels that are tender,
hips that remind me they’re there, working away.
And heartache?
Yes, I’ve known a bit here and there,
some of it permanent.
You never stop missing those you love.
But there is another ache that I live with,
day in and day out,
from sun up right through my dream life.
And that ache is a wonderful thing.
An ache buried deep within me
at the hand of my Creator –
an ache for…
home,
love,
beauty.
Yes – beauty.
and I’ve kept thinking about it ever since.
Turning a corner and finding…
a sunset,
a sunrise,
a cooing baby,
a soaring mountain range,
a field of wildflowers,
a couple in love,
the coltish antics of middle-schoolers,
leaping across a lawn,
the creative genius of a fine artist,
a musician,
a sculptor,
anything and everything
that makes that chord inside ring and resound.
Anything and everything that sings to that yearning,
that yearning for every single reflection I can find
of the beauty of God.
STOP
Some words in response to Lisa-Jo’s prompt for 5-minute Friday this week. 
And that prompt is “ache.”
This written reflection was done in 5 minutes – 
links, photos and captions added later.
Join the party over at The Gypsy Mama and check out how others have responded. 

(And then you can scroll through a few samples of heart-thrumming beauty recorded by my camera over the last few years – and this is just a small sample. They range from scenic vistas to charming children, to delicious food to ancient cathedrals.) 


Puget Sound, WA, August 2007

Four gangly boys and their games.

Butchart Gardens, August 2007
Two-year-olds that same summer.
 Whidbey Island views, 2007
Cathedral views, various places – stained glass on old stone; organ pipes and chandeliers; trussed ceilings lit by natural light.

Human structures, remarkable engineering and reflections.
All of these from a river cruise in Europe, 2009


And of course, a variety of Hawaiian views – from Maui and Kauai – places and people who are dear, dear, dear to me. (And a couple of creatures plus a whimsy driven color combo that knocked me flat one day at lunch.)
This last picture is similar to others I’ve posted in this space – one of them in the post noted above – and it is one of about FIFTY I shot of the most remarkable sunset I’ve just about ever seen. And that’s saying something – I’m in my 7th decade, I live in a coastal town, I’ve traveled to HI about every other year since 1980. And this one was an absolute corker.

An Early Valentine’s Day (Even Though This Post Is Late)

Valentine’s Day was a bit of a bust around here.
We were on the road,
tired, cranky, heading home.
Emotional time with my mom for me,
head-warping time with the tax accountant for him.
So we had a tough ride home.
Sometimes the steam collects,
and instead of venting it in small quantities,
over time, it comes out like a TNT explosion,
sending shrapnel bouncing around the place.
As painful as that feels when it happens,
the grace in it is this:
we can get back to center in short order.
In earlier years, that part of the process could take days,
sometimes weeks. This time, we were both able to say, “I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me. I know this weekend has been hard for you.”
So I spent a little time today, while Lilly was napping (finally!), looking at photos from a truly lovely day earlier this month.
It was a good reminder that in and around the tough stuff,
we manage to make memories that are life-giving and hope-filled.
 I started that day with Silent Saturday,
always a healthy, hopeful thing for me to do.
Three hours of centering prayer and reflection,
sitting, walking, thinking, praying.
We were in a different place this month,
crowded out by a large retreat gathering.
Still oak trees of glory,
still room by the creek.
 It was a good time, though I was more distracted than usual.
Distraction is the name of the game some days.
Later that day, I picked up my husband and we drove to the tiny town just south of us, parking on the bluffs
overlooking Summerland Beach.
The same place where I sat by myself  
The view from up there was just as spectacular.
It was later in the day this time, and quite a bit warmer, so we opted to take a long walk on the beach.
 The walkway down to the sand was lined with bright yellow wildflowers, the angle of the light exactly right.
 If you’ve followed my blog at all,
you’ve seen lots of pictures of the bluffs along this stretch of coastline. Rosy gold to rich coral in color, beautifully eroded with striations, even large cave-like openings,
they epitomize central coast natural architecture.
 Single shorebirds showed up at various points along our venture – this curlew, a lone pelican on the water, a cormorant sticking to the rocks even when pummeled by the waves.
The rock formations – above us to the north and sprinkled throughout the water to the south (yes, our beaches face south on this peninsula) – 
are wonder-filled and beautiful.

 

 As we walked back, the horseman we had seen from the bluffs came galloping by us, heading home;
a teenaged boy carried driftwood back to his friends,
busy constructing something wondrous.
 The sun was not yet down, so we climbed into the car and drove a little further south, heading to a favorite restaurant, recently under new ownership, a place where you can eat outdoors, picnic tables and thatched umbrellas spread across a lovely lawn while the kids play in a nearby designer sandbox.
And we relished those burgers, oh yes, we did,
as the sun slowly sank into the sea.
 And that very night, my husband built the fire that inspired 
Who says Valentine’s Day needs to be on the 14th anyhow?
I will join this one with L.L., Laura, Jennifer and Ann. It was a lovely day, a beautiful place and a great memory, too.

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