Friday, July 18, 2014

A Short Break

It's summer! I'm sorry I've been so MIA during the summer. My son, the one defined by his cancer for his year, has shaken that diagnosis and is now finding his life again. My daughter graduated from high school and life continues to roll in waves.

In the meantime, the stories are building; the journey continues. I'll be back and I hope we can share our stories again.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In A Life To Come

Here it is May. The hummingbirds have returned to the mountains of Colorado, my tulips came up, and the aspen trees are getting buds. Ah, spring.

Well, at 8000 feet, the season is a bit misleading, if not completely MIA. The hummingbird feeders are frozen solid in the morning, and there’s still potential to use our sleds. But nonetheless, as Alexander Pope sagely said, “hope springs eternal”. Summer will arrive. Soon I’ll dust off my bike and kayak. It all happens, completely non-contingent upon my will or desire.

This May is riddled with all kinds of changes for me that make the presence of icicles almost a non-concern. My daughter—my baby—graduates from high school this coming weekend. When and how in the world did this happen? I still picture her toddling around, trying to wear her Mr. Potato Head glasses.

Last night, her father and I went to her final choir concert. Singing is her passion, and choir has been her joy for four years. It was a bitter-sweet event. As is the tradition in our small high school, seniors can elect to perform a solo. For several weeks now, we’ve listened to her practice a song and play her guitar in preparation for her performance. She sang beautifully last night, without a hitch, and to the hoots and hollers of her classmates. In August, she’ll leave for college. In Indiana. Why so far away?

Not only is my baby bird flying away soon, but my son—the one who has been living at home for the last year during his cancer treatments—has received the green light to get on with his life too. At 23, he is more than ready for his independence. With the effects of chemo fading into a not-so-pleasant but distant memory, he’s looking forward, too. He recently asked his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes!) and they’re making plans to move to Florida where he’ll start grad school. And this all happens in two, short weeks—just another change to chalk up to May. 

He’s even going to take his gargantuan puppy with him. At a very hairy and shedding 80 pounds (the puppy, not my son), this may be the one change I’m not dreading. But the house will be very quiet soon, and the rooms very empty.

No matter how I drag my feet, life goes on. Seasons change. The landscape morphs. Trees will be in full leaf soon. The earth keeps rotating. I will turn 50 and enter the fall season of my life, just about the same time the aspen trees light up the mountains in a golden blaze.

Change is inevitable.

Besides sometimes jarring our status quo, here’s what else I’m learning about change: It may not always be easy or desired, but it happens despite our dragging feet. And it’s good. So even though I’ll be saying goodbye to an awful lot—my kids and my forties—I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for a new season in life.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Monday, May 5, 2014

And We Connect

Lately I’ve been in a funk with my writing. It can feel like such a lonely business sometimes. You send things out; sometimes you hear back with a rejection, most times you hear nothing, and only rarely do you get the coveted acceptance. Even writing a blog post feels like an echo at times.

Most of the time, I don’t think or worry about it. I just write because I have something to say or a topic interests me-- and I happen to find it fun to manipulate words. But the other day, I received an email response to a post I wrote here about a woman who was born in 1774. The post was about Jane Lea Nixon, who had the unique distinction of being the first white woman born in the Chartiers Valley in Pittsburgh. If you read the post, you’ll note that very little is known about this woman outside her claim to being born white and a female at this point in history (and you might find a picture of an apparition I captured on film, but I make no official claim of this...)

Old St. Luke's-- the church associated with
Jane Lean Nixon.
A gentleman I’ve never met wrote to thank me for this short piece about this relatively unknown woman. She, along with the very old stone church she is associated with, captured my imagination, but for this man, there is a deeper significance. He is a direct descendant of Jane Lea Nixon. Her story was part of his childhood folklore as family members passed on her legend and significance to his family. He told me he can trace the story back to his great, great grandmother, but then there is a gap between her and Miss Jane Lea.

He even went on to mention a minister in an Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh we both know. He now resides in Arizona, and I in Colorado, but online, through a blog post and a church in Pennsylvania, our lives intersected. I was so touched that he contacted me and that something I wrote had special meaning for him.

My friends Jess and Sally write a blog (check it out here) about their travels around the world. Sometimes they share spectacular photos from the top of mountain peaks or from deep forests or sometimes the sweet faces of people around the world. Other times they share haunting stories of poverty, oppression, and abuse. Each installment of their blog invites me to share in the journey, not only visually and cerebrally, but more importantly, in my heart. From across the world, they reach out and share their story so that I can be a part of it. And we connect. Isn't that amazing?

Sorry Sally and Jess-- yes, I shamelessly lifted
this cute picture from your blog. 
Other blog friends share their writing, photos, spiritual journeys, and humor with readers.  The internet really is like a web--a very apt description--connecting us. 

Then I remember why I write. Truly, it’s not as isolated an activity as I'm sometimes tempted to feel like it is. And for this reminder—for the comments I receive here, for the emails I get, for the intersection of lives—I am incredibly grateful. Thanks for being a part of that connection. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On The Way To Easter

My Lent journey took detours I didn't anticipate. I think, however, this isn't a bad lesson to learn about life. Often, our best-laid plans are derailed by a grander design. It's hard to know the purpose and direction in life, and really, isn't that the very essence of faith? 

As Easter approaches, I look forward to travelling to be with my sister and her family. We will attend church services and celebrate Easter, steeped in mystery, celebration, and revelation of Christ's resurrection. It's not a mystery I can even pretend to understand or solve, but it is deeply ingrained in who I am, doubts, questions, mythos and all. 

My visit with my mom went very well and was such a refreshing time for me. She spoils me, and we both enjoyed long, quiet afternoons together. I felt a deeper connection with her and for that, I'm very grateful. 

I also feel new doors and paths opening, some of which frighten me with their capacity for change. But again, I think this is the message of Easter too. Rebirth is never an easy process. But it is one that can bring great peace, love, joy, and purpose. And sometimes it means taking a step into the unknown. 

However you celebrate your Easter, Passover, or the ending of your Spring Renewal journey, I hope it has born in you new doorways of thoughts and a deeper spiritual connection. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you;
the lord make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord lift up his countenance on you
And give you peace. 
Numbers 6:25

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Don't Worry 'Bout It

And so we begin week five of Lent. Our minister in church this past Sunday related the old testament story of Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14, if you want to read this interesting story). He also read the passage from John 11, in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. He invited us to read these fantastic stories as-is, if we desire. But he encouraged us to not get lost in the plausibility, but look for the deeper meaning-- the one in which God makes us new, breathing his very life into us.

I'm taking a little impromptu trip to visit my mom this week in Pittsburgh. I spoke with her several weeks ago; she was feeling blue. She hasn't been feeling well and a good friend of hers, a 91-year-old man, has been diagnosed with cancer. At 91, there's really no viable treatment for him. She turns 81 on Friday, and it seemed to me a little birthday cheer was in order, so I called her and said I was flying out for her birthday. Her happy response was all I needed to hear to make the last-minute plans and arrangements worth the effort. 

At 81 every pain and illness brings questions of mortality to her mind. I try to imagine her mindset, what it's like to know that life ahead of her is limited. Of course, the truth is, it's limited for all of us and none of us knows how much longer we have. Last week, a missing student from the college where my husband works was found, passed away, in his car. He was just in his early 20s. 

I don't mean to be a downer here. In fact, hang with me, I'm bringing this to a broader point. 

The Buddhists place a lot of emphasis on living in the awareness of the moment, to cease the stories we create about our experiences and just be in the moment; be aware. Too often our minds race ahead to what is going to (or might) happen next or create content about what is happening now. The stories, rather than the fact of the moment, becomes our truth. It deprives us of peace. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we're going to eat or drink or our clothing or what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough of its own worries. In other words, find peace and joy in this very moment. Let tomorrow take care of itself, and Lord willing, it will. 

This was the very message I needed to hear this week. In the midst of self-esteem issues beating me up, the plans of traveling to Pittsburgh, my mom's health, my daughter's upcoming graduation, my son moving on in his life, all I really need to do is let God breathe life in me. Today. This moment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Beauty Of Mystery

I think it is in our human mind to want to create order, meaning, and definition. We are uncomfortable with feelings like doubt. We struggle with ambiguity and mystery. All too often, we want to rush in and give God a box so we can settle back in and feel comfortable again. We want to say, ahh, there is the path, when it's not yet clear, because to know is so much easier than to not know.

When you are going through chaos in life, when the emotions are rocky or the situation is difficult, people are quick to want to give you a handle, some kind of meaning or definition. Maybe it's one that has worked for them, and for that, we are grateful. But I love when I read something that confirms to me that this unknown, this mystery, can be a beautiful place too. This morning, during my quiet time, I read a passage by Thomas Merton (from A Year With Thomas Merton):

Light rain all night. The need to keep working at meditation-- going to the root. Mere passivity won't do at this point. But activism won't do either. A time of wordless deepening, to grasp the inner reality of my nothingness in Him Who Is. Talking about it in these terms seems absurd. Seems to have nothing to do with concrete reality that is to be grasped. My prayer is peace and struggle in silence, to be aware and true, beyond myself, and to go outside the door of myself, not because I will it, but because I am called and must respond. 

So rather than feel I must fix this awkward place I am in, or align the emotions so I can feel safe in my spirituality, I am still content to breathe and listen this week, letting go of my will of what I think I should be.

Maybe more than any other focus I have examined for Lent, this one feels the most important.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sometimes You Just Need To Breathe

I had all kinds of ideas for a theme this week, but I’m going to be honest, none of them felt authentic. Grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever your sipping preference is, and let’s have an honest chat. 

Here’s where I’m at with this whole Lent 40-day observance project:

When I started out, I anticipated a deep, spiritual experience. I was ready to look at themes and think about how God was directing me through each of them. But as it often goes, once the marriage is in place, the passion wanes. 

The funny thing about passion is how rooted it is in feelings. As long as those butterfly feelings, or in the case of a spiritual journey, that deep sense of communion and connection, we feel on track, centered, where we “should” be. Unfortunately, at least for me, feelings are flighty and deceptive. And right now, I don’t feel very spiritual.

During this Lent experience I have felt more off-track and off-balance than I have in a long time. I’m skipping out on my quiet times. I am being hammered with temptations and side-tracked with rampant emotions. I feel angry and hurt by some stuff life has thrown at me (I know, waa, waa, waa—but if I’m being honest, it is where I’m at).  My creativity is in the pits of black sludge screaming for motivation. I feel like the more I strive to be elevated, the more I’m stuck with my soul’s feet firmly planted in plain ol’ terra firma muck.  

Last night we had really weird weather, even for the Rocky Mountains. The wind was howling and thrashing the house. But instead of the night sky getting darker, it glowed with an eerie red color. Folks from around here claimed the ferocious westerly wind blew the red soil from Utah our way (sure, blame Utah). Whatever the reason, local friends on Facebook swore it was the Apocalypse. The wind ripped through our little valley well into the night. It wasn't pleasant.

But this morning, all was calm and bright again. The sky was a dazzling blue with puffy clouds. The sun warmed the earth, melting the blown snow and ice. Maybe last night's moody storm still haunted me, but all I wanted to do was stay holed up inside. But the sun insisted on shining, taunting me out of my lazy stupor. I put on my jogging shoes, snapped the leash on my son’s dog, and headed out for a jog. Jogging is never easy, I rarely want to go—OK, really, I never want to go—but I know once I'm out and, more specifically, once I am done, I'll be glad I made the effort. Sure enough, as my feet found their pace something wonderful began to happen. The tightness in my shoulders relaxed, the sun warmed my face and body. I finally looked up from my own feet to gaze at the snow-covered peaks, listened to the creek gurgling in its thaw, and felt my heart rate find its rhythm.  

And isn’t that a bit like the spiritual journey?

I think this week I will dispense with the themes and striving. I need to quit trying to be creative or spiritual or loving or... whatever. A friend had this little saying on his Facebook page today:

You don’t need to have a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, let go, and trust the Lord and watch what happens.

Ah, yes. This week? I’m breathing and watching.