Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Toddler Table Waits



On my porch,

A toddler table waits,

White painted wood,

Two chairs with a heart carved into the back. 

 

My neighbor walked the table down the sidewalk 

To my house,

A refurbished discard from her sister

Whose children were too old

To squeeze into the small chairs under the short table,

This place where art and learning

Come together

 

I handed her the check, thanking her,

Excitement in my voice.

Carrying it inside,

The next step in getting ready

For my fifteen-month old grandson’s first visit

To my house.

 

I pictured my little one

At the table

Working puzzles,

Coloring, looking at books 

Eating a snack. 

 

But the Delta variant. 

 

Increasing numbers.

A visit postponed

To steer clear of 

Long layovers in large busy airports.

Cross-country travel is too much of a risk. 

 

The tiny chairs and table in my dining room remain empty.

Sadness enters my space and takes a seat,

Canceling excitement and joy.

 

I had visions of the little one busy at the table.

 


Watching him with crayons and markers in hand,

Random scribbles on paper

To make a remembrance of the visit.

Working puzzles his mother and aunt played with

When they were just as small.

Eating oranges and crackers, grinning with each bite,

A snack for energy, fuel for more fun at the table.

 

My visions stay visions for now.

 

The family will come sometime 

A date not yet known or planned.

 

Airline tickets valid for a year...are waiting.

Table and chairs...are waiting.

Crayons, markers, paper and puzzles in the cupboard...are waiting.

My arms...are waiting 

For a reunion of love with these dear ones far away.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Flawed [Word 4: The First 100 Words]

 



Word 4 – Flawed


/flawed/ – blemished, damaged or imperfect in some way; having a weakness in character; broken, torn or damaged


Words I associated with /flawed/: compassion, value, hope, hold



__________________



“Your word this week is ‘flawed,’ Sharon said, reaching under the couch in her office and handing me a canvas. Right away, I noticed a small rip in the canvas in the right hand corner.


“Look, Sharon, the canvas is torn. Did you see the tear when you bought the canvas or did something make the hole after you arrived home?” I asked.


“Knowing my perfectionistic personality,” Sharon laughed, “I would not have purchased this if I’d seen the hole in it!” By accident the canvas seemed just right for the word of the week.


I smiled and carried the flawed canvas out her office door. In my mind, I carried the word /flawed/. Already, it was triggering unpleasant feelings of my past.


As I began to brainstorm what I might do with the flawed canvas, I thought: 


Although the hole is tiny, the canvas has value.


I have compassion for the canvas even though it’s not perfect.


I can make something beautiful. 


Maybe the hole is for light to come through. As John 1:5 says, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the light was not overcome.’


The canvas is me. I am flawed. I have compassion for the canvas and for myself.

I can paint the canvas black and leave the hole for light.


I can cover the canvas with pictures of myself and make it a sign of John 1:5 and hope.


Along with these ideas, I also remembered a few lines in Leonard Cohen’s song,


“Ring the bells that can still ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”


The word /flawed/ took me deep into my past. Growing up, I never felt like I fit in with my classmates, partly because I wasn’t allowed to make my own choices and be the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t able to pick out the shoes I wanted to wear in elementary school. Each year, my parents purchased a pair of Buster Brown leather shoes for me to wear. They were durable and lasted for the entire school year. They were ugly. No one else in the school wore ugly, brown leather shoes.


My parents also limited my experiences. I felt stifled, not allowed to explore topics that interested me. I wanted to embroider, do crafts, and read a variety of books, all of which were inaccessible to me.


I was 14 years old when I finally had my hair cut professionally. My mother always cut my hair in a bob and it looked terrible. My friends had shoulder-length hair and I wanted to let my hair grow out like theirs. My mother purchased or made the five outfits I rotated to wear to school each week. I had no choices in what I wore or how my hair was styled.


The word /flawed/ accurately described my internal and external state, reinforced by continued neglect. I felt awkward and uneasy when I interacted with friends at school. I was uncomfortable speaking to boys. Unable to explore the things that interested me or make choices to keep myself looking stylish, I felt I must be imperfect or damaged in some way. 


Along with all of this, my brother was treated very differently. He chose his clothes and hairstyle, was encouraged to attend enrichment programs, received awards for science projects, played on the high school tennis team, and had a wide circle of friends. These things reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. If only I could have these same opportunities, I thought, I too could forge ahead with self-confidence.


How did I eventually choose to illustrate the word /flawed/? I began by gathering a few black and white school pictures of myself in elementary school and junior high, making xerox copies of each one. I removed the border of the picture, and then cut the picture into triangular pieces. In the shapes, my eyes were disconnected from the rest of my face. My chin and nose were cut diagonally.



I arranged all of the pieces on the canvas like a collage. The canvas looked like a mis-matched puzzle, none of the pieces going together. The arrangement of these fragments reflected the scattered state of my mind during the years represented.


By hand, I sewed all of the photo fragments onto the canvas. Sewing on canvas was much more difficult than sewing on fabric. The canvas was thick. Pulling the needle through required a lot of strength. It took two hours for me to sew everything together.


When I finished, I looked at the canvas. The sad, angry, and disappointed feelings I experienced long ago emerged. I took a deep breath.


I suddenly remembered the hole in the canvas, now covered with remnants of my school pictures. Thinking about how even a tiny hole can let light through also helped me remember how I was aware of God’s presence during those terrible years of childhood. I knew the comforting presence of God in my heart when I prayed at home and at my school desk. At the time, I didn’t think about the possibility of God removing me from my home or putting me with another family where I could flourish. I just knew the reality of God’s sustaining presence.


I wrote John 1:5 at the bottom of the canvas. Although my knowledge of the nature of God was not broad in childhood, I did know God was bringing comfort, giving me a blanket of love that no one else seemed to provide.


Illustrating a bleak time in my life on an 8 x 10 canvas helped me discover and express old feelings.  Looking at the disheveled pictures reminded me how broken I felt emotionally and socially, yet aware at the same time of how God was giving me daily strength to persevere.


The canvas with a rip was the perfect thing to illustrate /flawed/. My childhood was indeed flawed, and the flaw allowed the light of God to come through.


Monday, September 27, 2021

Reunited



We met at the cemetery


She stood over the grave of her twins

Who died at twenty three weeks.


Blustery December winds

Whipping at her heavy coat

Blowing against her tan felt hat


Vacant, sunken eyes, lips frozen in a line,

Tears rolling down her thin cheeks, 

Like icicles at the end of her chin.


A gray casket 

Surrounded by loving grandparents,

Aunts, uncles, cousins

Carrying carnations for the burial.

The father holding their two-year-old son,  

A big brother hardly comprehending the meaning of 

A tiny box, 

An open hole, 

People crying,

Two siblings lost. 


I stood by watching

With compassion

Holding my carnations in hand.


Later, I wrote my sympathies 

And offered to give her a ride 

To a support group 

For parents who have lost babies.

She had hoped for a house full of children.


Slowly driving over snow-covered roads,

Sliding occasionally on a patch of ice joined with packed snow 

Like two pieces of fabric sewn together.


In the car, we got acquainted. 

She talked, 

I listened.

A fellow quilter,

An instant bond 

Over our friendship with fabric.


The weeks and months passed 

I brought occasional meals, 

Playing with her toddler to give her time alone,

Watching her skilled hands make complex-patterned quilts,

Standing with her at the cemetery a year later 

With two bunches of flowers, 

Honoring the coming and going 

Of these two children born in November,

The week before Thanksgiving.


Slowly she emerged, 

Still crying inside, 

Smiling on the outside for those around her.


One day she asked me over for tea.

She served me with a porcelain teapot, a wedding gift, 

Covered with butterflies and a yellow butterfly handle.

Delicate cups with 

A painted lady bug inside.


Our friendship extended beyond quilted fabric to wedding china 

And entered our hearts.


One day over the butterfly teapot,

She told me they were moving.

Heartbroken, trying to contain my tears,

Not wanting to ruin the joy of her husband’s promotion,

Or her excitement for new adventures.


We said good-bye a few weeks later

And kept in touch, always ending our emails with,

“My dearest friend.”


Three years later,
After many cards, letters, and emails,

She wrote to say they were moving again,

Back to the area where I met her,

Back to the children left behind, but always

Carried in her heart.


Last week we were reunited,

The butterfly teapot and ladybug cup

waited on the kitchen table.

We laughed, I cried.

Joy in being back together,

Sharing her excitement of creating new quilting patterns, a new website, a new business,

All from things learned in her time away from here.


Two hearts who met on the saddest of days

Pieced together in wind and snow

That December morning.

Bound with love over time.

Witnessed and warmed

with the butterfly teapot and ladybug cup.   





Monday, September 13, 2021

The Sustaining Presence and Power of Rituals

 



“It’s all about the ritual,” my oldest daughter, Sarah, said about stopping at the same place for coffee on her way to work each day. Both of my daughters, Anna, in Oregon, and Sarah, in Indianapolis, enjoy a camaraderie and familiarity with the baristas who take their orders. The ritual of getting coffee carves structure, order, meaning, and connection to begin their work day. 

Rituals, a practice each day, or at a particular time, or with certain people, or at a favorite place, can be a source of comfort or stability in an unpredictable world.


Rituals can help as we navigate through a rough patch in life. It is helpful to have rituals already in place before tough times, grounding us and offering a familiar pattern to hold onto in a time of change. 


Recently, I asked several friends to describe rituals meaningful to them.


Laney considered, “What makes a ritual? Is a ritual a habit or a routine?” While sorting out the difference, she commented about her method of getting herself ready to go, “Sock, shoe, sock, shoe. Every day first thing in the morning from home. Three days out of seven from the pool. What is so interesting about this is that I only recently learned for most people it’s sock, sock, shoe, shoe! But this is not a ritual. There is no deliberate meaning in this. It’s a habit!” She concluded that a ritual involves sincerity, deep emotion, meaning, thought, and often a connection to God. 



Many others follow my daughters’ example of getting coffee to start the day, while also connecting with God. Fran said, “I drink my morning coffee while I spend time in devotion and with my prayer list.” 


Charity also combined drinking coffee with morning prayer. And she has a daily ritual of reading devotions to her mother who lives in an assisted living facility. She ends the day with compline, a series of prayers and readings for nighttime. 


Nan described the meaning of her morning tea. “I drink tea daily. I am always seated and doing something pleasurable, such as visiting with Abba (her term of endearment for God) during prayer time or having a chat with a dear friend. Tea brings me joy, calm, comfort, and warm memories of having tea with my dad as a little girl. Ask my husband and he would say that for me, tea is a code word for chocolate! They go so well together!”


I found my morning ritual of prayer and readings sustaining during the past year of lockdown and isolation. I was grounding myself in God each day, even though I was experiencing many abrupt endings and changes. I was grateful to have my decades-long practice in place as an anchor during the challenging year.


Lynne commented, “After breakfast, I always have a long stretch. I stretch my arms up to God and thank him for the new day.” 


Laney added, “Prayers at the end of the day bring memories of the past along with gratitude. Thanks given to God for the day at bedtime. Acknowledging the abundance, the blessings as someone who grew up with outdoor plumbing! Understanding nothing material ‘belongs’ to us. Gratitude for life itself and health. Yes, there is meaning in this. There is ritual.” 



Adding meaning to things we do everyday can transform these tasks to rituals. My friend, and writing coach, Darcy Wiley, described her care of an amaryllis plant in her kitchen. “I’ve been watching over this amaryllis since it was a bulb barely peeking up from the soil. My supervisor gave it to me and the only instructions on the enclosed card were to keep the soil moist. That’s in my skill set. Every day or two as I baptized the dirt with a trickle of water, I spoke a prayer for a friend in need. It has been a centering practice, helping me be mindful of the people I care about while basking in the truth that God is mindful of all of us. Every day for six weeks, as I  put water into the soil of the flower pot, this specimen was on its way to flowering with lush red blooms. What was hidden in the bulb, stems, and buds was going to be revealed in a matter of time under the right conditions, a partnership of God’s creative design and my participation in the simple practice of watering.” 


Several other friends’ routines involved connecting with family. Annette shared, “During our morning drive to school, we read scripture and pray for our day. When the weather is good, our family ends the day with a campfire, and we just hang out together.” 


Leslie added, “Early morning coffee with my husband is a time to talk about the day and the previous day. It’s our way of getting centered as a couple and as parents.” 


 “My Thursday night date night with my husband helps us focus on our relationship and has helped us get through difficult times. This time has made us stronger although we have missed these moments during the pandemic,” mentioned Julie. 


I, too, have developed rituals for staying connected with my family. When my daughters moved out west in 2008, I wanted to find a simple way to stay in touch. Every morning, I began sending each daughter a short text, “Good morning, love. Thinking of you,” along with a couple of heart emojis. Hearing from them a few hours later because of the change in time zones, gave me assurance they were ok and ready to begin a new day. When I went to bed, I would send another text, “Good night, love. Hope your day went well,” along with more emojis. Again, with the time difference, their “Good night, love” response greeted me each morning. I have continued to send “Good morning” and “Good night, love” texts through all these years. It’s a way to bookend our days in loving thought. 



 “One more to consider,” Laney added, “because it’s always done with sincerity and often deep emotion: writing to those I learn are injured, ill, or struggling in some other way. Notes on pretty cards selected with care for the recipient I consider ritual because I put so much into thinking them through before I write and in choosing a card that fits. Yep, for me this too is ritual.”


Even reading the weekly paper can become a meaningful ritual. I look forward each Sunday to receiving the New York Times newspaper, which takes me all week to read. When I was ten and eleven, I saved for months to purchase the New York Times. I recall stopping after church at a general store in a small town near Pittsburgh with two quarters in my pocket. I dreamed of being a reporter for the Times when I grew up, able to contribute to someone else’s reading pleasure. Now, each week when I go through the many sections reading about current events and other topics, I think back to when I was young, smelling the newsprint, carrying the heavy newspaper to the car, and holding it on my lap for the drive home. I know I’ll always need to have a physical copy of the newspaper since I dislike reading on a screen. On Sunday night, I start with my favorite sections, Sunday Styles, the Business section, and then Opinion and Review, flipping the pages and savoring the words and content. Then, I go back each day of the week and pick up sections I haven’t read, or re-read articles I read earlier in the week about interesting and varied topics. I finish with Metropolitan Diary, another favorite, stretching out my anticipation as I wait to immerse myself in the vignettes printed there. 



Finally, Ann Kroeker, my first writing coach, offered these thoughts about the difficulty of setting rituals and how rituals can change over time: 


 “Routines and rituals are wonderful for our creative efforts and our spiritual life, but I’ve also seen how disappointed writers can be when they can’t follow through with the ritual or routine - they feel they can’t write a single word if they are not in their special place. And that’s limiting and a danger of depending too heavily on the ritual.


I recently traveled in an RV to South Carolina to visit my mom. If I had known how much of my life would be lived on-the-go, I would have developed more mobile and flexible rituals, because it’s hard to develop and maintain consistent rituals that are built around a room, furniture, or special space.


Even if I did manage to stay put in my home, though, rituals keep changing as we ourselves evolve and grow. This seems tied to one’s season in life: after a significant life shift, a ritual may no longer be needed. For example, if when my kids were young I launched a personal ritual of reading, writing or praying during their nap time, that faded when the children no longer nap and certainly when they are grown adults living on their own!


In brief, I think it’s smart to make rituals that serve you and your creative pursuits, but consider designing rituals that are easy to pack up and move with you through life. And hold some rituals loosely, knowing life is unpredictable. Don’t worry too much. If you outgrow a ritual, it’s kind of fun to invent a new one!”


Whether it be daily coffee, prayer, stretching, gratitude, watering plants, texting, campfires, writing letters, or reading the newspaper, rituals are simple but meaningful activities that make our day more pleasurable and purposeful. I hope the examples here will inspire you with new ideas to start rituals of your own. One simple way to begin is to make a list of everyday activities, and consider how those actions and interactions can be formed into meaningful rituals. Rituals help us feel a sense of power and intention in our daily life . 


Monday, August 30, 2021

Meadow: A Place for Delight, Expectation, Wonder, Discovery, and Curiosity [Word 48: The First 100 Words]


Meadow – word 48


Meadow  - a grassland used for hay; low ground near a river; green range field.

Words associated with meadow – openness, explore, space


__________


As with most of the words Sharon gave me, I hadn’t anticipated what /meadow/ would come to mean over the next several months. When I heard the word /meadow/, I immediately thought of a pasture where cows and sheep graze.


At first I was perplexed about where I would find a meadow in my suburban area. Then I remembered the twenty minute drive I take each June to the strawberry patch, traveling on a narrow road surrounded by countryside.


Reaching the country road, only three or four minutes from my house, I followed this path and realized I was surrounded by meadows. I chose one and looked for a place to stop. Nearby, I found a church and pulled my car into the parking lot.


Exploring new places brings me delight, expectation, wonder, discovery, and curiosity. I didn’t know what to expect here.  What would I find? Should I have worn my boots? Rainy days preceding my trip had saturated the earth, making mud and puddles prevalent in my yard. Today was a hot day in mid-July, but I wondered if the area might still be muddy. 


Approaching the meadow, I felt its openness. The field was filled only with nature, not cluttered with buildings or houses or sheds. I felt my heart and mind expand in this open area. I took a deep breath, inhaling the energy and spaciousness the meadow provided.


The sky seemed to blend with the flowers and tall grass. Nothing obstructed the wide topography. Walking over the bumpy terrain, I encountered blooming wildflowers interspersed with  plants dried out after the previous summer.


 A few small butterflies were exploring the meadow with me. They were like my pauses to take in the view. Each one stopped to rest on a flower or plant for a few seconds before moving on to the next perch. These tiny, pale yellow butterflies were light and free, gracefully skipping over the tops of plants and flowers.


Grasshoppers jumped along the way like popcorn popping. Their spontaneity refreshed my senses. 


In the middle of the meadow, I came to a narrow creek filled with water. I watched the water flow, moving slowly, carving an identity in the bank as it moved. 


Needing to move on in my day, I reluctantly left the meadow. But I left with a sense of freedom from spending time in a wide open space. I felt renewed life from the beauty and discovery. I could hardly wait to come back for another visit.


In the days ahead, I discovered three more meadows close to my house. I began a habit of walking there. Going to the meadow is like going on a retreat. When I need to expand my mind and emotions, or when I feel stressed and need to calm myself, I go to the meadow, and almost instantly I feel my heart opening and my body relaxing. 




The meadow has become a place of grounding and anchoring, a constant in my life, always ready and waiting for my exploration. 


After the emergence of COVID, the meadow became a place of refuge, quiet, and respite from pandemic loss and anxiety. When I was feeling sad or lonely or had a feeling of being adrift or aimless, a trip to the meadow brought me back to the present and redirected my thoughts. Grasshoppers, butterflies, and bees were my new companions when most humans were out of reach. At times I felt like I was in a florist shop with the abundance of daisies and other orange, yellow, and purple wildflowers. I began a habit of picking meadow flowers and assembling bouquets as a souvenir of each visit


When I returned to Sharon’s office the week after my meadow assignment, I showed her the bouquets of dried flowers and plants I had arranged. We talked about what the experience had meant. I told her how the word /meadow/ opened a whole new world for me, a new environment to explore, one that naturally spoke to my heart and soul. She suggested the next time I went, I could make a meadow mobile using the things I found there.


The next time I went to the meadow I drew pictures of each thing I saw, from dried plants to flowers to grasshoppers to butterflies. Then, I cut pieces of straw from the meadow and used them like a dowel rod, tied the pictures to the straw, and created a dangling art piece to remind me of my time in the meadow.


Another time, one chilly November day I went to the meadow and wrote a short poem:


“Cold wind combing my hair,

Kissing my cheeks

Wrapping my heart

Like a mother swaddling her newborn

With a homemade quilt.”


On Christmas Eve, I was feeling particularly sad at having to watch church online. The church I attend had been closed for six months. I had never missed Christmas Eve service and felt unsettled at missing this tradition that was such an important part of the holiday season. Our family celebration of opening presents took place on Zoom and did not capture the excitement I usually felt as my loved ones opened the presents I had picked out for them. 


Late on Christmas afternoon, I decided to walk to the meadow. Despite the 12 degree temperature, I was delighted to find bright red heart-shaped leaves dangling on dried stems, a few strands of green grass, and patches of snow against a backdrop of dried brown plants. 


Even on a disappointing Christmas day, the meadow offered beauty, a gift to my aching heart. Now, my heart was so full that I came home and drew a picture of the holiday scene from the meadow.


Like all of the words given to me, /meadow/ has become woven into my habits and thoughts. My awareness and enjoyment of these patches of land bring year-round refreshment, renewal, and rest. As I walk over the uneven ground and observe what is growing now as well as the remnants of what was growing in past seasons, the meadow seems to have in it whatever I need. 




Monday, August 16, 2021

A Balloon for Jesus’ Tomb: Good Friday in the Kroger Parking Lot


My throat had been sore for a week, my glands swollen. I was exhausted. Because of a disruption in communication at my doctor’s office there was a two-day delay in getting medication.


Tired from the drains of multiple communications with my doctor’s office, and confused about what was happening in my body and the things my practitioner wanted to do to help, I drove to Kroger to pick up my medication.


It has been my practice over the past year to use the drive-through. That day, I saw a sign on the tube saying the drive-through was broken. With frustration, I drove to the parking lot and found an empty spot. I had been in the store only a few times since receiving my second vaccine.


It was late in the afternoon on Good Friday and I found the parking lot packed with cars. I dreaded going inside with so many other people.


Getting out of my car, I noticed a woman in the first handicapped space closest to the store, struggling to fit multiple plastic bags filled with balloons into the back of her car. 


I walked over and said, “Do you need some help?”


She looked at me and I could see relief in her eyes above her mask. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed with only the eyes.


“Yes, I would. Thank you”


“I will hold the balloons while you put the trunk up.” I said, “Someone is going to have a lot of fun with these.” I could see through the plastic the many colors of the balloons.


The woman looked at me and I could see a change in her eyes. They were sad and teary. I wondered what I had said to upset her.


“I am taking the balloons to the cemetery to decorate my brother’s grave. Last November, on Friday the 13th, he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 49. Today, another Friday, is his birthday.“ Her eyes smiled as she talked about him. “We were very close. I had a feeling something was wrong that day. I called my mother and went over to his house and found him on the floor. He was already gone.”


I paused for a minute to take in what she told me. 


“I have heard of people taking balloons to the graves of those they love. I will think about you the rest of the day as you go and remember your brother. “ I visualized her walking over the grass and placing the balloons next to a granite tombstone. 


“I appreciate that,” she replied as she went on her way. 


I walked into Kroger and walked right up to the counter without anyone else around. Going back to my car, I was thinking about Good Friday, the day Jesus died. He was surrounded by his mother and the disciples who could do nothing to save him. Jesus was fulfilling the scripture, dying for our sins. 


Talking to the woman in the parking lot made Good Friday more real to me. I don’t know if she realized it was Good Friday, but as I was thinking about her, I was also remembering Jesus who died on the same day that she was visiting her brother’s grave.


I don’t have a grave where I can take balloons to celebrate Jesus’ life, and what life in Jesus has offered to me. But maybe stopping and helping her, showing kindness and love to a stranger, is one way I can honor Jesus. Perhaps any type of kindness shown in the spirit of God’s love can be like offering a balloon at Jesus tomb.