Thursday, April 9, 2015

Look at the moon!

Creation can shine on a chill and dreary day – which is the kind of day it is today. It always surprises me how effortlessly it tosses us bits of excessive wonder. I love imagining how ever in the world could God come up with so many things that radiate light into our lives. I’ve pondered Jupiter this month as it glows next to the moon in the month of April. I’ve said it so many times and why is it that you probably do too? We say, “Look at the moon!” as if we’ve never seen it before? Today I’ve watched chickadees arc to the feeder at a hundred miles per hour and land delicately as a ballerina on a teeny perch. Last night we flash grilled marinated beef on skewers – my version of sate and it tasted killer good. We wonder how two fallen, scratchy people, image bearers of God, can stay together long enough to be old fogies and even laugh about it. And why are bunnies so stinkin’ cute when they eat carrot peels? 
And right now, this minute, if I stepped out and opened my mouth to the sky I’d probably choke to death because a rare spring snow is falling in beautiful enormous chunks. 
 In the words of David Clowney’s hymn, I believe:

God, all nature sings Thy glory, and Thy works proclaim Thy might;
Ordered vastness in the heavens, ordered course of day and night;
Beauty in the changing seasons, beauty in the storming sea;
All the changing moods of nature praise the changeless Trinity.

Even I, flawed as I am, proclaim his might and beauty. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Maundy Thursday

It is spring and this is Holy Week on the church calendar – the most celebrated time of the year for Christ’s church.

The last few days have been so beautiful. What we thought was dead is showing signs of resurrection. We are coming out of winter, landing fast and hard in sunshine and soft breezes. Only last week the snow was still melting off our deck. I love it when the sun warms my bones and does not yet burn like summer.
 The birds are nuts with singing. Across our neighbor’s little meadow, a ground hog emerged to sit in the warmth. We have waited all year to watch the magnolia tree, a shapely little bush off our deck open its paper white blossoms – the first flowers of spring after the forsythia. It is, I think, a star magnolia. The buds are bursting but not quite ready yet.

I’m thinking of getting a little dish of meal worms and orange slices to put out on the deck to see if we can entice bluebirds and tanagers. We are two months away from our one year anniversary in the House Between.

And last night the barred owls returned. We heard their haunting calls drawing closer and closer, coming through the woods until one landed in a tree just outside my office window, softly, strangely hooting: “Whoo-oo cooooks for you? Who cooks for you?”

Yesterday was the Maundy Thursday service. It was two hours long, but we did not notice, absorbed as we were in the readings and songs. A part of the service was foot washing - if you chose. I’m done with boot, crutch and all that - just walking with a slight limp now, so I went forward. I was a little unnerved, never having done such a thing before. When the person sitting in the chair with her feet in the basin is washed and dried, she gets up from the chair, and kneels to wash the next in line. At my turn, a young father with his 3 year old son tenderly washed my feet carefully holding my scarred ankle. The little boy insisted on helping. Who wants to hold anyone’s calloused cracked feet? Clammy, white growths housed for six months in slippers and shoes? Christ would. His humility and love are still shocking and this ritual reenacted reminds me of how little I understand. How difficult it is to bend and serve. Had we been there, he would have held my feet in his lap. And I would have felt like Peter, disturbed and nervous, knowing there was no way I deserved to have this man on the floor in front of me, but not sure I wanted to wash the others’ feet either. I know Jesus included us that night even though we live hundreds of years and many generations away from that first Maundy Thursday.

In that last good-bye-for-now conversation and prayers with his disciples, he prayed saying, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message that all of them may be one.” (John 17:20)

 The final reading was from the Gospel of Luke – Peter’s denial of Christ. The lights dimmed, a few candles left, the altar ritually stripped, the cross shrouded in black, we sang the Kyrie Eleison, and left the church in silence. On the front steps, I was surprised by a small fire burning as we passed into the night. By then it was chill and a cold wind was blowing. Peter’s good intentions, gone, passed into the night as well. Just so.

I believe in Jesus. But I need help. He must awaken spring in me year after year as I live and wait for our final restoration.

Friday, March 13, 2015

National Pie/Pi Day Fail

A little crispy

This is what you get when you leave the house in a hurry with a pie in the oven after you THOUGHT you turned it off but all you did was turn off the timer. Some days it doesn’t pay to do ANYthing. Just stay in bed.

Tomorrow is National Pie day and since pies are one of my most impressive talents, I needed very little encouragement. I thought I’d show off to whoever’s around and make a peach pie from the yummy frozen Colorado peaches we still have in the freezer. I whipped out a crust put in the filling. Then left the house with it baking away. Two hours later: this.

And now my ankle break which has been healing nicely, hurts like the dickens because I stood around rolling pie crust and hopping about the island with flour down my front and sticky peach juice spilled on the floor

It was supposed to be bonus! because Pie Day coincides with Pi day so if you eat a piece of pie at precisely 9:26 and 53 seconds a.m., which I planned to do, the date and time will be 3141592653….. and something magic will happen. I can’t tell you what. After you eat mine, the magic might be a dose of barium sulfate.
Peach Pie. Anyone? Anyone?
The irony of this is that only yesterday I signed up to bring two pies to our church for a bake sale. Now I’ll probably not only be kicked off the list I may be sent to confession for pride and avarice (in this case greed for praise).

I only tell you this because a few people, not many, I admit, have been deceived into thinking I’m a great cook and furthermore, a perfect person. I try to be honest….

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Children who love

Children have often been a source of light for me. I have admired their sense of purpose, their kindnesses, their creative ways of coping with life and their wonderful senses of humor. I know there are countless similar acts out there among you.

A few that have touched me this past week:

Ezra, 5, whose ankles and knees were aching the other night. As his mom massaged his legs, she explained he was having growing pains and they should pray to ask God to help him with the pain, he paused in his tears and said, "ok, let's pray for Margie too cause her ankles hurt too." He also sent me a “get well” card. Thank you Ezra!
Various hospital & doctoring illustrations by Ezra
Kaiden, our 12 year old grandson, told his twin brother, “No, you go first, you’re older.”

Ava Lou, 5, brought her mom two sealed envelopes to mail to us, her grandparents. About the same time, her dad noticed his stash of quarters was missing. On questioning likely culprits, Ava began to cry. She had taken them to send to us because, in anticipation of seeing us this weekend in Fargo at the hockey tournament*, she wanted us to have money we could give her for treats. (It’s our habit to buy them treats and she was trying to generously help with the cost! NOT steal the money from her dad.)

Granddaughter Isobel, 9: “It is important and good to say ‘thank you’ for the presents you send. I love the earrings with cuffs and the nail polish and jeans. Thank you.” (She hardly ever uses contractions.)

And finally, this from our son when he was five. It recently made its way back to the refrigerator door.

Self-correcting Priorities
 “God’s kingdom is made up of people like these” Mt. 19:14. (The Message)  So thankful to be part of this great troop of children. What privileges we share! What joys and sorrows!

*Sadly, after all, we will not be able to join our family for Anson’s hockey tournament in Fargo this weekend. My back went out. When it takes you twenty minutes to get to the bathroom and back? You’re in trouble. I guess from horsing my kneeler around and shifting to crutches and walking boot. Whatever. Trying again to be “spiritually philosophical” about things out of one’s control. 

Thanks for stopping by. If you have any children acts of kindness encounters you'd like to share. Send them to me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

While waiting for bone to knit

 We have a new piece of art – Heavenly Bodies – a painting acquired from Shaun LaRose. The fact that he is our son-in-law has nothing to do with how accomplished he is and how beautiful his work. This particular painting is in a place where I can look at it everyday and be reminded that none of us are alone in the brokenness we bear in our bodies. It also reminds me that no matter how pitiful I think my life – this is not the end of the story as we wait along with so many others for the restoration and healing of all things.
Heavenly Bodies
Heavenly Bodies detail
Shaun explains:
Both my wife and son suffer with chronic illness. At an early age my son has to experience pain, fatigue and sometimes a resulting depression. We pray for healing, longing for healthy bodies but know God’s story often coincides with our suffering. Yet, we long with eager expectation for the heavenly bodies we will receive when all things will be made new.

I painted this over a paint by number of Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ to signify the divide, or as my wife puts it The Fog, that lies between those who are in good health and those who are dealing with pain. Bordering each side of the image are x-rays that depict lower esophagitis, the chief source of pain for my son Kaiden. As I worked on this design I considered the regrowth of new flesh through cellular reproduction and thus you will see the pattern of cellular growth in the background. Lastly, the frame itself was constructed with the idea of icons or objects of prayer in mind. I thought about the small catholic prayer petition stations and desired to make an object that evoked intercessory prayer for those around us who experience chronic pain and broken bodies.

This week I had to come to an unwelcome decision - I’m not going to the L’Abri conference in Rochester where we reconnect with people each year. There have been some complications with healing - the incisions on my ankle have become infected and the bone regrowth is slower than we hoped so I’m not yet allowed to put weight on my leg. I thought around all the angles of how to make it work. Perhaps it was the vision of that long hallway with a slight downgrade that runs from the elevators to the ballroom where the lectures are held that made me face reality. I could see myself on my kneeler, brakes smoking, people jumping out of the way as I careened past. The logistics of being there ended up not being feasible.

I am disappointed. At times I have managed to be content with immobility and pain and I tell myself I am determined to learn more about accepting that this is where God has me for now, so relax. But the next moment I say, what the heck? And I toss it out in favor of being depressed with this mess of rotten bones.

Shaun’s painting proposes that we look with a keener eye and heart at bodies that suffer brokenness in this life. I’m looking.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Making a room for love and writing

It  always encourages me when I come across a writer who writes more slowly than me. One year at the Festival for Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I went to a workshop given by a man who had taken twenty years to publish his book. I left snapping my fingers saying, yessss. For my first book, The Exact Place, took seven years from start to finish. 
Jake & Joie Meador
 So what to do when you come across someone who writes so fast his pencils smoke?
Well, I think many factors are woven together in a person that makes his or her writing style unique. Personal habits, stage of life, natural talent. And it helps to be someone who doesn’t wait for ideal conditions in which to write. (I am expert on that topic. I often avoid putting words to paper because I am waiting for my body, the pantry, the weather, the stars to align before I get down to business.) So I applaud this young friend, Jake Meador –  as he pours himself wholeheartedly into the art of writing. He has a fascinating array of interests and is able to write well about each of them. From theology to soccer columns, journalism reports to blog posts about the demands of love in Harry Potter, they all pour out of his head. I once asked him how he managed to write so prolifically and yet do it well. He answered like this – and I have permission to share:

“My wife and I joke that I have undiagnosed Asperger’s, which is actually a real possibility, and so being in a place with noise is actually awful for my working. I need silence b/c I want to focus super intensely on whatever I'm doing, but I hear everything at the same time at close to the same volume, so being able to focus is hard for me if I'm in a place with a lot of noise. So I either work in a home office or in the stacks at the local university's research library. The upside to the Asperger’s is that I'm able to do a ton of writing in a fairly short amount of time at a level I'm happy with, which is probably the only reason I can write for four soccer sites while also doing work for Mere Orthodoxy, Fare Forward, and whatever freelance stuff I pick up.”

Yesterday Jake posted a piece about the work of Wendell Berry on Fare Forward. It is so insightful that Jake had me wanting to go back to read all of Berry’s work in order to explore this particular theme. His piece is a summary, in a way, of Berry’s understanding of what it means “to daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation.” Clearly, the burden of learning to live in creation lovingly and knowingly is suffused throughout Berry’s essays and works of fiction. Jake’s summary is done with such tender insight I had to share it with you. Go to the site, read the post. You’ll be blessed.
“In Berry’s work, marriage isn’t simply a social contract or an emotional bond; it’s a way of orienting oneself to the rhythms of creation. It’s the process of undergoing an organic “breaking,” much as one would break the earth when plowing, in order to produce a harvest. Seeds are planted and in time we reap a harvest—Paul might say a resurrection. For Berry the language of marriage is never far from the language of health, flourishing, and beauty.”  - Wendell Berry’s Room of Love by Jake Meador.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Someone made that chair

  A while back we visited a shop called “Empty the Nest.” It’s a small store front stuffed with all manner of junk and treasure. It specializes in helping people “empty their nests” (or their parents' nests) of things they simply don’t know what to do with. You can find a vintage apron. A dresser Grandma owned. Fishing tackle. A box of buttons. A zip lock bag full of drill bits. I usually try to stay away from such places, but that’s where I found a “gasp.” Carelessly cast across a dirty shelf and hiding beneath a broken violin, a gleam of persimmon caught my eye. I lifted the box and there lay – a hand-woven, hand-dyed wool rug. It is small, only about two by two and a half feet, old, but exquisite. The colors are still vivid. No wear or flaws. Some artisan made a perfect rug a long time ago. I exhaled and looked over my shoulder, suddenly filled with an anxious need to own it. Would someone grab it from my hand shouting, “MINE!”? I wondered if I could mount a defense for spending money on it? It was my birthday – it was. Could it be a gift to self from self? Whoever priced it must have sensed that it had some value. I had to pay $25.00 for it. So there it was: an Indian-type rug, perfect for the “baked clay” wall color in the bedroom of our new home. I only wish I knew more about its origin.

That rug was what Maira Kalman would call a “favorite thing” something that makes you gasp with delight. Those are the things, she writes, that are worth keeping. Because of her illustrated book – My Favorite Things and her work (she calls her work “curating a life”) for a museum, I have a fuzzy little gauge, a sweet reminder that it’s okay to keep a few things you really like even as you simplify life. You might even admit you love them. This past year has been one of letting things go before we made our big move last May. Things were given away. Sold on Craig’s list. Taken to Salvation Army. Dumped or recycled. Some things were a little hard to give up – like the fragile “Flow Blue” antique china I inherited from Denis’ great-grandparents. A big old buffet with wood inlay from the 1940s. Those two particular things were easier to give up because a family member was delighted to have them. It was a relief to fling other things out of the house. Old paintings and faded photographs that made me grimace, not gasp – Gone! A large patchwork quilt kept for years out of guilt – Gone! Years ago it was a gift from Denis’ step-grandmother. Wouldn’t that normally be a welcome gift? You would think. But this was one ugly quilt with large patches of polyester prints from old dresses backed by a muddy gold fabric, she warned me I had better appreciate that quilt because it had taken her a long time to make it! So I kept it year after year, even after she died. It didn’t even reinvent itself to become an interesting retro piece of Americana. It remained repellent. I gave it away to someone who dumbfounded me by liking it.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, “I understand that not EVERYthing needs to make me gasp. I don’t want to have a hard time breathing when I climb into bed at night. I mean. There needs to be calm scenes. Functionality. Quiet colors. Soft beds. Crisp sheets. None of that has to make me gasp. We understand. But it is a useful measure I’m going to be checking in with now and then.”

As it turns out, because of a broken ankle, I’ve had more occasion to enjoy it as it hangs on the wall of our bedroom. Certain patterns and colors make me happy. In a Japanese philosophy  called Naikan, people are reminded “to be grateful for everything. If you are sitting in a chair, you need to realize that someone made that chair, and someone sold it, and someone delivered it – and you are the beneficiary of all that. Just because they didn’t do it especially for you doesn’t mean you aren’t blessed to be using it and enjoying it. …[thus] life becomes a series of small miracles, and you may start to notice everything that goes right in a typical life and not the few things that go wrong.”  - The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.