Tag Archives: blessings

Good Things #18: Rolling Out of Bed

There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day at work and realizing: I have nothing else I need to do. All I’m responsible for now is eating dinner, reading a good book, making sure my next day is fully planned, putting the chickens in for the night, and heading to bed sometime before 8:30. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Fall’s always had a melancholyness to it. I go from a sunny summer high to this immediate need for hibernation, and it often includes a good dose of “woe is me” and a tiny bit of anxiety. It doesn’t seem to matter that fall is one of the most beautiful seasons, and even as I walk through the crunchy red leaves in the afternoon sun, I feel a weight of the darkness coming earlier and earlier every day.

This past Monday, as I looked out the window and realized it was almost pitch black already, I forced myself to get back in my car and drive to small group.

It was 6:30 and I wasn’t sure if I would last till after 9:00. I told myself that somehow I’d find the energy, that somehow 6:15AM wouldn’t come as quickly as it seemed and it would all be worth it. There’s something about deep cushy couches after a certain hour that beg me to fall asleep. And warm beverages. And a cozy light against a warm living room wall. Even when roughly ten people surround me talking theology and life and purpose, I still manage to drift off quietly in a corner somewhere.

But I went and I sat and I did not fall asleep. I even engaged in the conversation, offering up my paltry musings and observations. We ended in prayer and I prayed aloud for two friends who sat by me, something I never would’ve done a few years ago.

That’s the thing. My bed is extremely comfortable. My beeswax candles smell like summer and the book I am reading about an uppity twenty-something in the 1940s is quite engaging.

But they aren’t people. They don’t breathe or think or speak. They don’t ask how I’m doing and actually care, and they certainly don’t pray for me.

I have to be careful as the months get colder and the sun gets further away. I have to fight my natural tendency to curl up and shut out the world. There’s a balance between “Oh my gosh I’ve had too much people time and I just need to be alone!” and “I’d be okay with never speaking to another human being again.” I hardly ever consider myself an introvert, but in the months between October and March, it’s hard to see me as anything else.

I wouldn’t say anything earth-shattering happened at small group Monday night. Community happened. Thought happened. Prayer happened.

And none of that would’ve been possible if I hadn’t rolled out of bed.

Good Things #17

No Ted Talks this week. Just some not-so-related Good Things.

Music. You know a song is good when it makes you nostalgic for something you never had. That’s how I feel when I listen to “Ashokan Farewell,” like I miss deeply my Appalachian home. I found out that it was actually written in 1982, even though it sounds like it’s straight out of the Civil War. (PBS miniseries, anyone?) I listened to this on repeat while I graded Latin tests – there’s nothing like grammar terms to make good music necessary.

Who vs. Whom. Yes, this is one of the good things. I’ve been explaining the difference for about a week now to various levels of Latiners. I’ve watched their eyes glaze over and their cheeks drain of all blood and I’ve fielded their desperate pleas for a bathroom break. Do you know the difference between who and whom? I can honestly admit that I didn’t…until I took my first Latin class as a sophomore and learned about the Accusative Case and Direct Objects and All Other Things Grammatical. Now I can use “whom” with aplomb, but who would choose to?

lavender

Lavender spray. What is that, you ask? My mom bought me this amazing lavender spray from an herbalist at the Farmers’ Market and it’s amazing. Wait, did I already say that? I spray it on my pillow every night and it’s so soothing. I wish my muscles could soak it up.

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Taking risks. I wrote a poem my senior year of college. I remember sitting on my bed, not sure if I should write it, not sure if it was worth anything. It had been a moment – the summer before when I was twenty-one and freaking out about graduating – and I didn’t (and still don’t) trust my ability to recognize moments for what they are. But I wrote it anyway. I sat on it for a year and a half. I pulled it out again, brought it to writers’ group, deleted and added and shifted and shaped. I called it “Almost Family”, submitted it to a poetry contest at Ruminate, and it placed in the top seventeen. It was published in the September issue and there is my name in black and white print. There is the moment in writing that I didn’t trust and almost forgot. My first paid piece of writing. Now how to spend that twelve dollars…

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Where I’m From

I am from a thought-filled bed –

from pumpkin-pie candles and oak bookshelves.

 

I am from the white house on the slope,

homegrown apples and sage.

 

I am from the golden honey –

the towering pine whose long gone limbs

I remember as if they were my own.

 

I’m from dinners on the porch and too much laughing,

from an open-hearted mama and a dream-big father.

I’m from not enough cleaning and just the right living

and from stacks of books that beg reading.

 

I’m from “don’t wish your childhood away” and “try new food always”

and “Jesus called them one by one.”

 

I’m from cozy Christmas mornings and the yellow lights.

I’m from New and Old England,

sun-warmed vegetables and raspberry jam.

 

From sea-fishing, lake-fishing, ice-fishing,

when long-gone family breathe life again

for just that moment on the water,

 

and scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings

tell us the world.

 

[This is part of a link-up with SheLoves Magazine]

Can’t Put My Finger On It

Walking downhill forces you to tip-toe and the body that usually finds it so difficult to be graceful looks like a dancer just for a moment. Spending a week in the mountains, you walk downhill quite a bit.

The mountains have a way of shocking. Waking up after a night of airplanes and trains and miscommunication and three hours alone in the dark is transformed when you look out the window.

What could keep you away a whole year? Then another?

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Oh, this.

Homes called “chalets” and dark wood-filled kitchens. Mint tea shared by a small community that will most likely never see each other again. Nights in the lounge playing fish bowl; conversation that drifts from American Girl Dolls to the point of prayer to the public transportation system in America.

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How did I become so blessed?

And one of the best parts is the absence of this very thing: no internet, limited phones, no demands from the world.

I know I can’t live like this always, but for a week it is lovely.

Did you know it is possible to play pingpong in the dark in bare feet and not care that the pavement is freezing?

And you can sing harmonies to hymns with people you barely know, but you all know the music.

You can learn the laughs of eighteen different people and name the laugher a half-a-house away.

You can play volleyball and not be kicked out for your terrible serving abilities.

You can weed a garden you will not enjoy, take recycling to the village whose name you can’t pronounce, deep-clean a kitchen that will serve you only one more meal.

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Then you will wake up bleary-eyed and pack your bag. You will try to pretend it isn’t real as your friend pours you coffee – a cup of coffee you inhale because the bus is coming.

You will walk to the end of the driveway with a group of new friends and one old. You will hug them and wonder Where will God bring you? as you wave from the seat through the window.

You will not be the same when you land in Boston, but you try not to name the ways.

That’s something you learned during your days in Switzerland:

You don’t always have to put a name to things because sometimes that’s all you end up seeing. The unnamed goes overlooked and invisible, hidden by what you can label, but it’s no less valuable.

[All this you overheard at dinner because you don’t always have to be in a conversation to gather its truth.]

You’re different but not sure how. And you’re becoming okay with not knowing.

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Good Things #13: Blackberries and Wine

We were walking home from a wine tasting. It was around 6:30 – half an hour past the time they closed – and the sun was still bright. There they were, dangling in greenness along the road, little deep purple berries.

Who cares about poison ivy?

We filled our plastic containers to the top (I filled mine a little over the top and they spilled, rolling along the pavement), and ran back to the house to get more. The berries were everywhere and I couldn’t believe they were untouched. How many children had walked by without venturing into the patch? How many parents had scolded the children who would have?

By the time we were done, we had roughly six quarts, and refrigerators aren’t made for holding so many.

What do you do with six quarts of blackberries at 10:30 at night?

You concoct ways to sell them the next morning at the farmers’ market.

It wasn’t until I stood in the sunlight Sunday morning, the berries proudly displayed in handmade paper-plate-and-staple-pints, that I saw the scratches all over my body. Arms and legs pink and scraped; the thorns had hurt while I was picking, but I’d hoped nothing would come of them. Here I was at the market, looking a lot more like I did when I was seven and eight, little bruises and scrapes on my summer-time calves.

This is the dichotomy of my life right now: I went to a fancy wine tasting and tried five different reds, and then scrambled through blackberry bushes like a child, gleeful at our find, slipping and nearly falling down the steep ditch along the side of the road.

I was still wearing the Ann Taylor Loft dress I’d worn to the tasting. It got caught in the thorns and is probably worse for the wear.

The Good Thing for this day? Feeling okay with switching roles in a matter of seconds.

I am a teacher.

I do midnight runs to the 24-hour McDonald’s.

I sing at weddings.

I dance like a crazy person during the reception.

I long for my own home where I can share my homegrown food and love.

I can’t imagine being anywhere than where I am right now.

I smile and sell honey to strangers.

I trip and drop a box filled with jars, the honey oozing through the bricks, the glass shimmering in the sun.

[He gave the rest of the blackberries to the vendor next to us. Her eyes lit up with joy as I watched from my car. My sister and I finished ours in a blackberry-peach sangria. I’ll probably go back in a day or two because jam is delicious and the idea of them rotting off the stems haunts me.]

I Write Life

When I was a little girl, I was certain I would love only one man. In fact, I was pretty sure that we would grow up together, that he’d be a boy down the street and that suddenly one glorious summer evening we would both realize we’d loved each other all along. He’d touch my cheek (ala, Gilbert Blythe) and whisper some friendly tease as we began to imagine our future.

I thought this way for years, really, as a young girl reading Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. It’s possible I even wrote an 83-page novella (by hand) about a girl name Willa realizing the same thing about her friend Peter as they splashed each other in the secret pond in the woods. (If that isn’t some not-so-secret sexual tension in my 12-year-old writing, I don’t know what would be.)

And then one day, it occurred to me:

If I say I want to grow up with the boy I marry, that means I have to KNOW HIM NOW.

And I looked around at the boys I knew, and though I loved them dearly, I quickly revised my dream.

Never mind. I think it’s much better to meet later, in college, to be more grown up. Never mind. I’ll wait.

So I grew up, still thinking I would love one man and one man forever.

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The summer after my junior year, I interned at a publishing house in Boston. One of my tasks was to edit the text in their new database. I was responsible for fixing bizarre spaces in the mid dle of w ord s and checking line breaks, and in the process of doing this, I read some strange and awful and thought-provoking books. One was a memoir by a woman whose name I don’t remember. It had a light blue cover and it was mostly filled with a string of lovers, each one daring and handsome, social and introverted, crazy and calm. The image I have most strongly from her book is a story of her and one of her lovers (she was in her late fifties by now, I think) and they are in one of their apartments. It’s been a day of lounging around, eating and love making, and I don’t know what happened exactly, but I remember distinctly feeling a sense of her happiness. That she viewed this doomed relationship with love and tenderness. She still thought of this man fondly, despite their different paths and the pain they both felt.

I was twenty-one years old.

So I sat in my gray cubicle and in my self-righteousness, I thought: I don’t know how this is possible. She writes about these men – these men she didn’t stay with who broke her heart or who had their hearts broken by her – and she is smiling. I can feel it in her words. She is smiling at the memories with them, even as she realizes the relationships are dead.

I couldn’t understand her ability to find joy in something that was broken, and I couldn’t understand that she had loved more than one man.

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It’s three years later, and I can say with full honesty that I have loved more than one man. I might even say I’ve loved a small handful, none of them perfectly, some of them with false-starts of returned love, some of them even unwittingly requested by the receiver. If it’s taught me anything – this loving – it’s that each time is different and each time is imperfect and each time

I didn’t know how to end that sentence. Mostly because I’m not entirely sure what loving has taught me. I’d like to think that each time I get a little better at it, at both feeling it and showing it. At both being myself and enjoying someone else.

I’m glad, at twenty-four, that I can say I’ve loved more than one man. Not because it isn’t beautiful to be given that gift, but because I needed to break out of the idea of myself. I needed to see what it meant to live life instead of write it. I like to think that when I’m sixty-five, I will be telling my stories of love and un-love with a smile on my face. Because even though these men were not meant for me nor I for them, there is a reason one of us was drawn to the other, and that reason is worth telling.

Good Things #8: Willing to be Dazzled

[I wrote this post as part of the Love Yourself link-up started by my friend, Anne. It goes beyond loving yourself – it starts by allowing things to dazzle you, and then, maybe, you will dazzle yourself.]

I am sitting at a round wooden picnic table. The sun is blaring hot and it isn’t even 9:00 in the morning. The beach is quiet today after a people-packed weekend – there isn’t a single person on the sand.

For my beach read this summer, I packed Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve never read it before, even though I’ve seen the movie, and I thought it was a pretty light book for the ocean. Poor Bridget. I sometimes see myself in her, but most of the time I just wonder: What were you thinking?!

I also brought along some Mary Oliver. My first impression of her was not so grand; nature poets don’t hold my attention as much as they should, perhaps. But every now and then I come across a gem, a piece of honest beauty.

Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled –

to cast aside the weight of facts

 

and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking

 

into the white fire of a great mystery.

– The Ponds

This hit me in a gentle strong way. Maybe I can’t help having moments of darkness, but perhaps they are made darker by my unwillingness to be dazzled. Maybe it is this small, simple thing that makes life sharp and pulsing.

Maybe it’s this willingness that sets people apart.

The sun is hot as blazes on my right arm. I’m already sweating. But the sea is sparkling in the light, the grasses on the dunes are waving in the breeze, and there is a calmness to the air that settles me.

Shift your focus and you see differently.

The thing is, not everyone can do that. Or at least, not without help. There have been times when I’ve looked at something straight on, I have known that it is beautiful and good, but I’ve not been able to see it. I’ve known but not experienced. I’ve touched but not tasted.

A lot changes when, for a few months, you think maybe your life will never be the same. Maybe, in fact, it’s almost over. You know you are dramatic, but you also know that no one is above dying.

And later, a year later, you are digging a hole in your garden, in which you will sink a spidery rosemary plant, and you look at your arms and marvel at their strength, at even the swinging motion it takes to dig.

One day, you are driving, and you look at your hand on the steering wheel and think, This is my hand. It is no one else’s. And that is shocking to you.

You see, for the first time, really, the sharpness of green grass against blue sky, and you wonder how you looked at the same landscape for the past twenty years but never really saw.

It is perhaps the first time in your life you can honestly say:

I have rejoiced in my suffering. I have praised God for my discomfort. I have been made weak that His strength would show.

That is how I am willing to be dazzled.

Good Things #7 An Invitation

I feel like my head has been spinning for two weeks – not demonically, per se, just with so much stuff. Some of it is an inevitable part of the end of the school-year: baccalaureate, graduation, writing test after test (and subsequently grading those tests…). But part of it I bring on myself: Yes, I’ll come! Yes, I’ve been wanting to see that movie! I haven’t been to a Red Sox game in ages. 

I don’t regret for a minute any of the things I’ve said yes to.

Star Trek 2, from a sincerely un-knowledgebale non-Trekkie, was quite enjoyable. It was loud and action-packed, but the movie’s 3-D was a little painful for me. My eyes kept focusing in and out and I hadn’t thought to wear contacts so those huge 3-D glasses were competing with my regular glasses. The moment Benedict Cumberbatch started speaking, though, it was more than worth it.

The Red Sox lost, but we laughed and told stories and people-watched and I reveled in the history of that place.

Then Baccalaureate and graduation came, faster than I thought and far more emotional. I was surprised at my own internal involvement with this event, with the speakers, the students. Our headmaster spoke at the graduation, and it was a speech that will stay with me (not something I’ve ever said before, I don’t think).

Three questions: 1. What will you do? 2. How will you do it? 3. And with whose power?

It hit me because even though I don’t for a moment regret the way I’ve spent my time these past two weeks, I do regret the things I have let slip to the wayside.

One-on-one time with good friends I need to catch up with.

Chunks of time to do something – anything – like running, or yoga, or even walking.

 

I’ve prayed, but only surface-level prayers.

 

Thank you, God, this sun is beautiful.

Help me.

Hey there.

And those aren’t bad. In fact, I think the regularity with which words to the Lord formed in my mind – even when I was on the run – is a good thing.

What I’ve been thinking about, though, is that I’ve lost the deep communion that is so vital. Vital to my relationship with the Lord, vital to my relationships with my family and dear friends, and vital to my own sense of wholeness.

1. What are you doing? Good and beautiful and helpful things.

2. How are you doing it? Pretty well, with minimal grumbling… 😉

3. With whose strength? Ummmm…

It catches me in the moments right before I fall asleep. You have not communed with your God. He is here, waiting, but you have rushed past him, laughing and happy, but missing that element of reverence.

God isn’t calling me to be less happy. He just wants to share in that happiness.

To have me pause long enough to be wrapped in His strength so I can continue rejoicing.

Now, as I prepare for church, I wonder how to hold these fun, laughing, blessed times with open hands. How to say Thank you and simultaneously invite the Lord to enter into this with me. How to do the good, helpful things I am called to do, do them well, and do them with the only strength that’s worth its salt.

Good Things #4

Today’s Good Things

  • Being at the beach with family
  • Playing a horrible game of Phase Ten until 10:30 at night (horrible because I lost – totally demoralizing experience)

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  • Swimming in a pool that seemed humungous when we were five and now proves to be quite tiny
  • Eating ice cream
  • Driving with the top down. The sunburn is worth it.

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  • Quoting movies we haven’t seen since we were twelve and laughing. Emperor’s New Groove and Mulan never get old.
  • Showing our Gram a Madtv video clip and thinking she was going to weep with laughter. Acupuncture’s funny when it doesn’t go well.
  • Not having enough time to read, watch movies or tv, or listen to music. No recommendations, but that’s another kind of good thing.

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The Best Problem

I walked out in the hushed darkness, ready to give my director’s speech. Your children are wonderful. This show is a blast. Thank you, thank you.

But before I could open my mouth, a rush of children flooded the stage, the piano started, and the lights went up. I looked around me, decided “how could I stop this, anyway?” and ran off stage like a frightened child.

Opening night couldn’t have started any better. They were too excited to wait for me. They ran onstage, their eyes shining, their carefully preened hair all done-up, and their songs as memorized as they’d ever be. I stood in the wings a moment to watch, and I looked at my assistant and said, “We did it!”

They did it.

Three shows, three nearly-full houses, and two long months of rehearsal. We taught them some valuable things:

  • Stage Left is actually on the director’s right, and Stage Right is actually on the director’s left
  • Upstage is towards the back, Downstage is towards the house (which is the audience!)
  • Talking about nervousness makes it worse! Don’t do it!

And, I think, the most important part of performing:

  • You are going to mess up. It’s going to happen. And it’s okay. You might forget a line or exactly which way you’re supposed to turn, and you’ll think quickly and keep going. No one will notice, and if they do, they certainly won’t care.

I believe in preparing children for the real stage, for the real world. For the way things are going to be.

That was the way things were. They did make some mistakes. I sat in the back – the proud director – and it was difficult for me not to laugh even harder at the mistakes. They were adorable, caring so deeply for this little show we’d worked so hard on. In the end, when I ran backstage and told them what a wonderful job they did, they glowed.

The second performance, I reminded them to let me give a speech before they ran onstage. They all stood back in the dark and watched me. I was pretty nervous about it, but every word out of my mouth was true, and real, and I meant it.

Your children are wonderful. Thank you for allowing us to work with them. I was supposed to give this speech last night, but their excitement wouldn’t let me. And that’s a wonderful problem to have.

I walked off stage as quickly as I could, and they all stared at me.

“Thank you,” one little girl said, “that was beautiful.”

As though she were shocked I had something so wonderful to say about her.

[They gave me a bouquet of flowers, a gift card, and a lovely little caricature of me and the cast to hang on my wall. I had been so afraid to take this surprise-job. Maybe learning on the job’s the way to go.]

[I might keep writing about this, just because there was so much good in it. Consider this the first installment.]