Bright Cloudy Mystery

The rain might come, and I will likely choose to move inside rather than dilute my coffee, drench my clothes (or even dampen them with discomfort), and smear my ink.  The clouds and sun this morning are not decided on who will have the greatest showing.  Honestly, I don’t mind.  There’s something magical about a bright cloudy morning.  Yes, the gray feels bright, alive with magic and mystery, promising I do not know all but that I might make a discovery or two if I’m willing.  And the glow of the irises, in their myriad of color and hues, rise wisely and courageously above the rest, determined and hopeful in their old-fashioned dress.

I thought of my grandmother moments ago.  This day of the month, I spend in prayerful retreat, listening, tapping into the wisdom within.  There is typically more silence than words.  My grandmother was mostly silent.  Her lips closed, sometimes tightly, I wondered what she was thinking.  She’s been gone many years now, and I can only guess at her thoughts; I cannot know all that she had known in her life.  As I come to my own fullness of being, I wonder if some of my thoughts were like hers.  I wonder what she might think of things I might say or do.  Would she be proud?  Would she cluck her tongue in feigned disapproval and a wink of her eye?  Would she be silent in painful disappointment?  When would she think I was ready to know the Truths she knew?  For I believe she knew much more than she told me, and it seemed she was waiting.  Perhaps she was waiting on me, and I wasn’t ready.  Perhaps the wisdom I’m learning daily partially comes from her.  She does hold a dear place in my heart and soul.

The mystery continues.

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For Love of a Dog

On this third day of Christmas, I revel in the tender love of a dog, in forgiveness, and in hope.

He’s ten years old, our yellow lab.  He’s been grumpy since we had our third and then fourth child, and I’m convinced it’s because he didn’t move up the chain of command, remaining at the bottom of the totem pole.  He is above this role of dog, but it’s his lot this life, to watch over and guard this crazy, chaotic, precious family.

Sitting with him at the vet, wondering what was wrong with him, thinking he was surely dying, praying to St. Francis, I tried to make sure my touch was tender, intentional, and soothing.  It was okay if he was dying, so long as he wasn’t in pain.  And would he please forgive me for not loving him as unconditionally as he was and is loving and loyal to us.

It turns out he has a broken — completely broken, up by the hip joint — femur in a back leg.  He only whined a bit.  He still wags his tail.  He just wasn’t eating and moving around.  Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have known.  Turns out he also has arthritis in a front leg, but the limp he should have he doesn’t.  Our dog has a high pain tolerance, apparently, and he’s healthy for an overweight ten year old lab.

It comes down to whether or not we’ll pay for the surgery.  There are risks, of course, but with our attention and care, he should recover fine.  He seems to have hope, and we realize how much we love the old dog.  So we’ll hope he’ll live another four years, continuing to bless us with his fur, farts, and unconditional love.  Yes, some of that I could live without now, but for today, our family remains six plus two furry critters.

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Grandma’s House

All I have to do is saute some onions and celery in butter, and my husband salivates.  Get a good meal cooking and baking, and I’m likely to hear, “Smells like my grandma’s house in here.”  More often than not, I hear such a comment when I’m frying potatoes, okra, pancakes, or especially bacon.

While my husband’s sensory recall is triggered by smell, it’s the very act of preparing a meal itself that takes me to my grandmothers’ kitchens and mealtimes.  On weekends when our whole schedule is determined by when and what our meals are, I realize why I associate mealtimes with my grandparents and why my husband also associates mealtime smells with his grandma’s house.

We both come from subtly matriarchies.  Sure, our forefathers were the bread-winners, but it was and is the mothers who keep the home, prepare the meals, provide most of the childcare and tending, and encourage the religious traditions.  Our foremothers have held the family together.  As they’ve passed, so has the golden thread that tied our families together almost imperceptibly.  Even gold over time wears thin.  Time changes things.  People change.

My husband and I are most fortunate to have the memories we do.  Our grandmothers loved and love us unconditionally.  They dedicated their days to make sure that when we were around, they  nurtured us the best way they knew how — through our stomachs.  What could best assure our survival than a full belly?  These queens of the kitchen knew how to make the groceries last for their respectively large families, and I certainly never wanted for food.

I learned so much about cooking itself in the kitchen with my grandmothers, trying not to be in the way.  How to pinch a pie crust.  Learning how to make eight hamburgers at once in two cast-iron skillets on the stovetop.  Shortcuts to make quick desserts for unexpected visitors.  That there was enough time to bake a meatloaf while you were at church.  Some lessons weren’t just about cooking.  One grandmother still had dreams of things she wanted to do.  One grandmother wanted so much for me to make choices that would help me lead a different, and somehow better, life.  Such lessons are hard to understand without the experience behind them, but I honor these lessons still, even if I didn’t heed their wisdom and advice.

The next time I return home later in the day after a morning breakfast that included pancakes and bacon, I’ll try not to turn my nose in distate.  It means we provided for our family.  We are giving our children associations to their childhood that, when they reflect upon it later, will hopefully tell them we cared for them by nourishing them, not intentionally giving them heart disease.  May I have the patience to welcome them into my kitchen and try to teach them as subtly as my grandmothers tried with me.  May I pass on a cookbook to them of their favorites so that they won’t have to labor like my husband in trying to recreate family favorites.  Is there more to taste than simple ingredients?

Our family dynamics have changed.  We don’t always go to “Mother’s” or “Grandma’s” for Sunday dinner anymore.  Our sense of family includes a wide range of friends.  Still, though, our primary focus is our shared meals, the time we spend preparing, gathering and sharing in the kitchen and at the table.

Our grandmas were and are beautiful teachers.

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Shortcuts and Canopy Roads

Darting between errands in a relatively small city, one learns the cut-throughs; there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B.  At five o’clock I’m certainly prone to taking such a route, especially when on my way to a mega-store.

The light was fading, my tummy wasn’t feeling good, and a long weekend was coming to a close.  I didn’t really want to do the shopping that HAD to be done.  I wasn’t particularly happy about being one of the motorists out at rush hour.  I should have been home making dinner, not buying the goods so I could do so.

Just as I was about to reach the straight stretch on the back road, just pass the interstate intersection, I spied a police car sitting in a drive, facing outward, waiting to catch someone like me — someone who thought they might get somewhere a little faster by out-smarting the rest of the drivers and possibly by disobeying some speed limit laws.  I see you, Mr. Officer.  Thanks for reminding me to take it easy; it is the law, after all.  I’ll get to where I’m going safely if I pay attention and slow down no matter which road I take.

So I make sure I’m going 35mph or less and enjoy this little road.  Thinking back to it, I can’t even recall if it has a center line, though I’m sure it does.  There are old farmhouses and pastures.  Barbed-wire fences with trees and bushes.  The trees grow up and over the road, forming what the kids and I call a “canopy road,” our favorite kind.

And there were deer.  Two of them.  Stopped and staring at me.  One was on the road to the right, in my lane, and the other was beside it, just off the road.  I’m sure it’s looking at the van and not me, this mama-looking deer who was out with a fellow doe.  Going slowly as I was, I slowed almost to a stop and mosied by even slower, making sure they didn’t bolt across the way I was going.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, humbly.  After all, this is their woods.  Without our intrusion and given time, our pavement and concrete and feeble structures would crumble aside.  The fauna would continue to grow and the animals to roam.  I am but a guest here.  Please pardon my arrogant intrusion.  Please bless my path.

I realize that in this small stretch of road on which for a few moments I was the only traveller, I went from seeing it as my right to take a shortcut on my all-important mission of saving time and frustration to seeing it as an opportunity and gift to slow down, enjoying what nature offers.

Then, of course, I returned to a busier road, six cars passing before I could turn into the stream.  I made it to the fluorescent-lit mega warehouse for the grocery shopping necessary for a family of six.  I went home to make dinner and then stay up much of the night with four of us working our way through a stomach virus.  The next day, we slept and rested.  One of us didn’t get sick (the older son).  You just never know.

I am pretty certain about a couple of things, though.  There’s a time for everything.  There are blessings everywhere.

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Purple for Preparation

For those unfamiliar with the Anglican tradition, the Church calendar is a circle, a cycle, and it has certain colors for every season.  Naturally, there’s a lovely children’s song to teach the season and the meaning for each.

“Purple for preparation.  White for celebration.  Green is for the growing time.  Red is for Pentecost!”

The four weeks of Advent precede Christmas and its twelve days.  Advent is a time of preparing and waiting.  In that time we ponder the Mystery, the Light, Mary, and the other lessons accompanying the season.

In one of my rare solitary moments, I considered what it is that I need to be prepared for, beyond the religious norm.  What I discover, of course, is that my needs parallel with the lessons.

What needs to be done?  What am I required to do as a member of society?  I have to be counted.  I have to pay taxes.  I have to make sure the family is cared and provided for.  My husband and I do this together, the day-to-day, part-of-society requisites.  We have to follow the rules, even if it results in frustration from waiting in lines or finding businesses to be closed due to holiday hours.  We try again.  We do what has to be done.

What is needed of me?  The children need a more compassionate mother (especially this morning).  They need time and attention, which are hard to provide when one is tired and energy levels are low.  Others need the same of me; truthfully, they deserve the same.  Kindness.  I need this of myself, too.

And what might be required from me in this life?  Am I prepared to fulfill my purpose?  I believe that if I’m still alive, I have work to do for the greater Good.  I still don’t know what that work is, but I sense clues.  Ultimately, every moment is an opportunity to change the world for the better.  This is what makes me an optimist, I suppose.  Take the complacency, anger, animosity, even hatred and replace it with awareness and compassion.  It aligns nicely.

The advice given Mary and Joseph works for me, too.  “Do not be afraid.”  Do the work.  Be present to, for, and with others and myself.  Trust the Mystery and live the Magic.  Goodness is here, in every moment, but I have to be prepared if I want to see it.  I have to be prepared to experience it.  I have to be prepared to be surprised, which ironically I am every time I experience true Grace, Light, and Love.

May we all be so blessed.

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Memories Remembered

It could be that the life you lead today is much like the one you grew up with.  School, work, shopping, entertainment, shuttling kids hither and yon.

I remember sitting at the edge of my mother’s bed while she was messing around in her closet, perhaps hanging laundry.  She said she could see me living in a fancy house, decorated just so.  I’d probably marry a white-collar guy (my words, not necessarily hers).  Did she know or just hope that my life would be different?

I hadn’t realized that I was beginning to forget some of my childhood memories until I saw a movie this weekend, Winter’s Bone.  No, I didn’t grow up in a meth-using family, but I did grow up in a rural environment (and many family vacations were spent in Branson, where the movie was filmed).  Part of my childhood was in Southwest Missouri, too, on my grandparent’s farm.  I would go to the sale barn on weekends, sometimes get treated to a Frito-pie and a coke (which is what all carbonated beverages are called around here, even if it’s not a Coke).  I couldn’t hear anything much over the auctioneer, “yep”ping farmers and traumatized animals.  It was Saturday entertainment to me, though I wasn’t aware it was a means of survival to others.

We also hunted chicken eggs in obscure places when the hens rebelled against the coop.  I have to admit I let my little brother reach his hand into the darkness between the stacked hay bales more often than I would.  There were snakes, too, of course.

At a family friend’s dairy farm, we hopped from bale to bale over the circular mounds.  The dark pits between went straight to hell, I was told.  You wouldn’t want to fall!

Today there are chain stores and strip malls on what was pasture.  Our communities have grown with each new subdivision.  But downtown there are signs of the past.  In the still-small communities, there are the boarded up shops and abandoned homes.  I’ll have to remember to air out my own memories every once in a while, lest they, too, be neglected or worse . . . forgotten.

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“Are You My Mutter?”

So said the sweet voice of our youngest, sitting in the chair, “reading” Are You My Mother? to a doll.

The night before, a storm rolled in, and I declared electronics off.  (Lightning is as good an excuse as any, right?)  With a desire to read of my own, I also declared it family reading night.  Within a few minutes, kids ready for bed brought their books, blankets, and reading logs into the living room.  A 12-year-old with a temper got the consequence of reading aloud to her non-reading, four-year-old sister.

We sat together for an hour, reading on our own.  Granted, it wasn’t necessarily quiet.  The soon-to-be first grader could be heard reading aloud for a bit, and the oldest decided to stay in the living room with the rest of us.  Heaven forbid she go alone with her little sister to the dark bedroom while the thunder rumbled!  Childhood fears are fears nonetheless, so I let them stay without saying anything.

And it was lovely.

At the end of the hour, it was time for bed.  I wasn’t finished reading, but kids were drifting to sleep or yawning loudly.  We tucked them in and kept the house quiet.  The storm had already passed.

While washing dishes the next morning, I heard the young one “reading” to her doll, turning through the pages as knowingly as her big sister.  I smiled.

What do we call positive consequences?  Rewards.  I love how that works.

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American Dreams

It used to be baseball and apple pie.  Today one might say it’s an iPhone (loaded with the coolest apps) and a flat screen t.v. with take-out.  But then it really depends on which cultural clique you belong to, doesn’t it?  A hipster and a gangsta won’t have the same ideals, will they?

But there’s more at play here.

It started out as a desire for something better.  A belief that anything would be better than the current state of persecution/poverty/suppression drove people to cut their losses and begin again.  A New World meant new hope.  Leave family.  Cut your losses.  Sever your roots.  Start over.  No attachments.

But if this new life doesn’t live up to one’s expectations, then maybe there’s something else because this life is too hard.  Maybe the West with its Gold will make life better.  Risk it all.  Do it or die trying.  If it looks untouched, it’s now mine.  Let’s lay tracks.  Mark it as our own.

Miracle of all miracles, some do “make it.”  Some live into their dreams and seem to have it all, from a new life, to gold, to apple pie . . . all the way to the flat screen t.v.  Yet, how many do we know who have the appearance and stuff and have peace of mind and spirit?  Do you think it was easy for them if they do “have it all”?

What happens to a plant once you sever its roots?  What happens when you take something that wasn’t yours to take?  What happens when we live our lives without regard to the consequences seven generations from now?

I struggle now with trying to understand how to balance our consumption/desire/pride/greed/fear with balance/peace/full emptiness/love.  Our amazing capacity to be connected with everyone everywhere provides opportunities unimaginable 500 years ago — even 200 years ago.  At the same time, we have capacity to destroy unimaginable numbers — not only people but ecosystems.

At the retreat I was at this past weekend, we were blessed with the presence of Joanna Seibert and Kate Moorehead.  (I highly recommend them both!)  During one of Kate’s sessions, she asked us to think of and then sketch the plant that represented our spiritual life.  I am drawn to trees, so I drew a tree.  Not just any tree.

We have a cherry tree in our backyard that has a massive root system.  From these roots other trees grow.  One of these trees we have let grow because the larger original tree will not live forever.  I used this image.

In my picture  I had a “God” tree with many roots.  Like the cherry tree, a smaller tree grew from one of the roots.  This smaller tree is me.  I have my own roots now and put forth my own branches, but there is a source from which I’ve come.  Even if that source isn’t always visible or tangible, it’s alive within me.  My roots are the gifts I receive from the source and that which feed me.  My branches are the gifts I share by being myself; the fruits I bear are the gifts I give outwardly to others.

What would it be like if the American Dreams became dreams of wholeness?  What if they weren’t based upon escape from reality, indulgence in richness, attaining that which only a few will attain?

Every one of us has a source.  Every one of us has gifts, whether they are from our innocence or our wounds or both.  But we have to care for ourselves and for those around us.  Love your neighbor as yourself. What more do we need to do?  We need to choose.  We need to choose to share that last crumb of apple pie with someone else.  We need to let the visiting team’s fan have the seat beside us.  We need to care for our land, keeping in mind of the consequences generations from now, like the back of the Seventh Generation label says (and I read when doing the dishes).

Fortunately, our roots with God are not solely tangible, and though we might cut them to seek a better way (because, of course, we know what we need/want most), the Love of God remains intact.  We are entitled.  We are entitled to Love, end therein lies a richness everyone can attain.

My American Dream?   Love and Peace.  Now, I have a capitalistic wish-list that I think would be good for my family and me and that I could probably compare to yours.  I’ll trust, though, that I have what I need to do the best I can to manifest love and peace here and now.  Thanks be to God!

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My Lint Bowl

Yes.  I have a lint bowl.  It’s quite small and irregularly shaped.  Actually, it’s from the first and only pottery class I’ve taken.  It wasn’t the first piece I made (that “gem” went to my mother), but it’s one of the first few for sure.

This little bowl sits atop our dryer, and after each load, I put the lint in it.  Or maybe I just set it there . . . or squish it on the top.  It started out in laziness, really.  The small trash can has a lid and is low to the ground and squeezed in between the dryer and the wall that has the broom and dustpan hanging there.  Why twist and stretch every time I switch the clothes?

Then I realized that I liked watching the lint bowl fill up.  The clean clothes these days have been dispersed rather quickly to where they need to go, but the lint . . . it fills up and becomes a little abundance of accomplishment, a monument of achievement.  When I think it’s time to dump it and start over, I do, knowing I can watch it grow again.

It’s the little things, right?  We are all working so hard every day to keep the wheels running smoothly.  Whether we’re working outside the home helping some company/business/organization to thrive or working in the home to make sure those nearest and dearest to us are thriving (and chances are, all of us are doing both, whether we’re paid for it or not), we are all working hard.  Sometimes we just need little signs to remind us that our work adds up.  What we’re doing makes a difference.

I have a lint bowl.  You might have a diaper pail, laundry pile, crossed-off checklists, clean dishes . . . who knows.  Keep tally marks on a post-it if you have to.  I’m telling you that you make a difference.  The work you do is appreciated.

And you will always be loved more for who you are than what you do, anyway.  So, as the card I received from a friend says: “be a beacon of fierce and potent love.”  May my family always remember how much I love them.  I know they won’t know how many times I empty the lint bowl.

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“My Fav’rite”

Right now, our youngest describes things according to her preference.  For example, she says, “Chickies my fav’rite,” and “Worms not my fav’rite.”  (“Fav’rite,” of course, is her way of saying favorite; she just drops the “o” sound.  I wish I had a sound clip because it is absolutely adorable and otherwise completely enunciated.)

In her toddler world right now, she is the sun, and everything else revolves around her.  If you’re not her fav’rite, then you might as well be on the dark side of the moon.  She has a look for you if she thinks that way, and those of you who know her know what I’m talking about.  🙂

In my world right now, I have many favorites shining forth.  Quality time with family and friends, sunshine, gardening.  I don’t get to spend nearly enough time in these arenas, but I love them dearly.  I also love the results of spring cleaning and even the time spent doing so, if I can tap into the right frame of mind.  The skies before a storm.  Watching the chickens find what I cannot see in the dirt.  Listening to others speak their Wisdom.  Feeling that which cannot be seen in another’s suffering.  Watching the miracle of birth unfold in more ways than one.  Learning.  Growing.  Loving.

What may seem like the dark side of the moon in my world is really just like night time or lying fallow in the earth.  The love I feel for everything these days, the compassion I find in oh-so-many places and faces — expected and unexpected, the suffering I know about or stumble upon, all this combines and swirls in the One.  Truly this is a Mystery, but I trust it.  I trust that all things rise and fall in my awareness.  What needs to be done will be done.  What needs to be known will be known.  I hope that I’m where I need to be when I need to be there.

Maybe my busy life is more simple than I realize.  With the right frame of mind and a solid, grounded presence, there’s an altered time, if even time at all.  We can experience life moment by moment, and that is definitely one of my fav’rites.

(photos of some fav’rite moments: Ashton reading, Alexander making artful eggs, Avery & Dino (his chicken), and Autumn making cookies)

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