Where Does Your Soul Hurt?

November in the Northeast of the United States colors gray. Though there are some bright days of sun and leftover reds and golds from a brilliant October, those aren’t as common as the more dull days that whisper of a winter coming and shout of a summer long gone.

And today colors grayer than gray. Though it began with a brilliant sun shining through our kitchen windows, the sun faded out of sight with thick clouds taking over.

The first question that came at me this morning was from an app that I have been using called “Soul Space.” This five minute meditation focused on “anchoring your thoughts to the love of God” is a beautiful way to ground me after my morning prayers. The question was one that quickly brought tears to my eyes.

“Ask your soul: Where does it hurt?”

Where does it hurt? Where are the painful spots in my soul today? The spots that others don’t see as I go about life. Through the meditation, listeners were invited to put their hands over their hearts and listen to where it hurt.

I felt like I was putting a stethoscope up to my soul to find the wounds and murmurs. I hadn’t realized how much my soul was hurting until I stopped to listen. Tears filled my eyes, and I brushed them away impatiently. But it was no use. They came again and I gave in to their therapeutic healing.

None of us can go through much of life before encountering soul wounds. We can keep busy and ignore them, but sometime they will catch up to us.

This pandemic season they have caught up with us. This time has revealed some deep soul wounds in many of us and we are feeling their weight. Loneliness, isolation, lack of community, division among friends and families, changes in friendships, marriage tensiton, online strife, not seeing family and friends for extended periods – all of this is taking its toll on our bodies and our souls. We are a hurting people who don’t know how to help.

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine sent me a poem. Since that time I’ve seen in quoted many times in many places, proof of it resonating across the world.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Warsan Shire

And though I love the poem, I don’t believe we are left hurting alone. I have come to know that there is a wound healer that comes beside us and enters our soul wounds, if we are willing.

And so I imagine God picking up that same atlas in an embrace of love, running his fingers across the whole world and whispering these words:

I heal the broken hearted, and bind up their wounds.  
I whisper hope into your soul wounds and give you joy.  
I take your burdens and make them lighter, invite you into a resting place.  
 
The atlas replied "But it hurts so much."   
"I know" he whispered back. 
"But let me bear it with you so you will not be alone,"  
Ever so slowly the atlas responded to the embrace. 
It still hurt, but she was no longer alone.  
And so she rested.  

[Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash]

What I Learned in Autumn

I will always love the Autumn with its colors and textures, it’s warm days and cold nights. As I think back on Autumn, I realize that along with the reds and golds, the oranges and olive greens, the apples and the pumpkins, Autumn has always been a time of growth and learning – sometimes painful, always necessary.

It was in the Autumn when I first started boarding school, leaving the comfort and security of home to enter into a school setting far way from parents and the love and grace they gave. It was in Autumn when I first fell in love, the sweet warmth of a boy’s hand holding mine, sitting shyly beside him as we watched the older kids play soccer.

It was in Autumn when the man I would end up marrying kissed me, and I melted into the joy of relationship, somehow knowing this one was different. This one would last.

Autumn is when I had my first child, gifting the world with an amazing human being, learning the wonder of being able to comfort a child through breast and body. It was in Autumn when I arrived in Cairo, beginning a love story with a city and country that has lasted through many years. It was also in Autumn when I knew we must leave that place we loved and forge our way into an unknown world oceans and miles away.

Autumn is where I first learned to create traditions in the United States, where my friend Karen taught me about pumpkin carving and apple picking. Autumn is where I learned to not fear what was coming ahead, not dread what hadn’t yet come. Autumn is the season where I grew up as a mom, learned how to parent in North America.

I learned about soccer and theatre, about field trips and evening concerts with 4th graders who knew only two notes on their recorders. I learned about volunteering and being the only mom in the parent-teacher organization with a nosepin. It was in Autumn that I learned what it was to be so homesick for a place I could hardly move; in Autumn where I learned the hard lesson of moving from community to being unknown. It was in falling leaves that crunched underfoot that I learned what it was to heal, to know that there was One who understood homesick better than any other. It was Autumn where I failed and succeeded and failed again as a mom. It was in Autumn that my heart broke and repaired. It was in the red and gold glow that my tears fell and my heart was hurt and heard.

Autumn – that time of new and old, of hope and healing, of learning and growing.

No wonder I love the Autumn.

I have come to cherish Autumn; to cherish the hope that comes with the reds and golds. I am slowly coming from a place of dreading what’s beyond the Autumn to resting in the wonder of the now.

From Hope in the Red and the Gold

When the Elephant in the Room is Bigger than the Turkey on the Table!

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries know that this might very well be an awkward holiday season for all of us. Families divided must now come back together around the Thanksgiving table. What on earth are we going to talk about? Here are a few suggestions to promote pre-Christmas “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward all men.”

*Talk about the weather! Here in Kansas the weather changes frequently. That allows you the opportunity to go back and talk about it again and again throughout the day. If the weather in your part of the world is more stagnant I invite you to talk about the weather in Kansas!

*Talk about sports! I personally don’t know how to talk about sports very well but usually if you insert, “So…how about those Royals?”, into the conversation, something will take off. Every once in a while you can nod and exclaim, “Yeah!” with authority and a suitable degree of incredulity. (Feel free to insert whatever local team you’ve heard batted around in your part of the world).

*Talk about other Thanksgivings. Remember the time 67 wild turkeys crossed the yard on Thanksgiving Day all those years ago? Remember the time my sister in law and I both brought the same cheesy corn casserole but everyone liked hers better? Remember last Thanksgiving–when everyone came from all over the world? That was such a special holiday.

*Talk about T.V. Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? Try not to reference reality TV shows as someone might accidentally start talking about the conversation we’re all trying to avoid: Politics!

*Talk about TV in the “olden” days. What show did you use to watch when you were a kid? What time of day did it come on? Who did you watch it with?

*Talk about tattoos. I mean it can’t hurt! If you could get any tattoo what would you get?

*Talk about weird or interesting talents. My husband Lowell can play a recorder with his nose. I can pack a mean suitcase. One of our daughters can impersonate Julia Andrews, the other can swing the hula hoop remarkably well. Our son Connor can talk like Goofy—it’s pretty obnoxious-but it an interesting or weird talent.

*If they were going to make a movie of your life who would they get to play you? This always gets people going in pretty harmless ways!

*What’s the strangest or scariest restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? Why did you go there?

*Talk about Bucket Lists (Unless you’ve got family that are close to kicking their bucket—that might be too morbid!) –What do you still have on yours? Have you crossed anything off recently?

*Talk Thanksgiving Trivia. I hate trivia games. My brain wasn’t wired for them but they do take up conversational space and there are some in our family who are actually quite good at remembering useless bits of information!

            Who was president when Thanksgiving became an annual holiday? (Abraham Lincoln)

            In what year did the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade become a thing? (1924)

            (Skip this one if it’s too close to a political theme!) Which President was the first to give the Thanksgiving turkey an official pardon? (Ronald Reagan)

            What are Turkey chicks called? (Pults or Turkeylings)

            In what year did the green bean casserole first appear on the scene? (1955)

            During Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving / harvest festival, they traditionally eat a stuffed food but it isn’t a turkey. What food do Koreans stuff and eat during Chuseok? (Rice pastry dumplings)

            Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated? (Norfolk Island)

            Who do children in Japan give drawings to on Labor Thanksgiving Day? (Police Stations)

*Talk about Thanksgiving! Talk out loud about the things you are thankful for. Acknowledge one another with gratitude. Tell each other about the tiny and the tall blessings you’ve been given. Practice being thankful!

 

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries wish you a Thanksgiving marked by sincere gratitude and deep hope.

 

 

*If you’re still struggling to think what to talk about there are countless websites with conversation starters. Who knew?

http://conversationstartersworld.com/250-conversation-starters/

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Easy-Conversation-Starters-34313495

http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100

**Photo credit goes to Bronzi!

Live Slowly; Enter in Gently

I find it impossibly difficult to return to writing after summer time. It’s so maddening. I finally have the space and the quiet I need to write and … nothing. Brick walls. Dead ends. The words refuse to come. I have nothing to say. I have nothing more to write about.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I really don’t write much during the summer. Like many I greet every summer with joy at the longer lazy days. Summer in Kansas smells like fresh cut grass and barbecues, sunscreen and chlorine. I enjoy my kids streaming in the front door and heading out the back. The youngest teenager still needs shuttling around and it pleases me to drop her off at the pool or at a friend’s house. One would think that with flexible scheduling would come serendipitous wide-open moments to write. However in my experience those moments never seem to materialize. I end up frustrated and greatly peeved at the people and perturbances that seem to conspire to keep me from picking up my proverbial pen! The problem perplexes me every year and then I’m perpetually surprised at my perennial seasonal shock!

The summer is now over. At least here in Kansas it seems that way. University students are pouring back into town and settling in on campus. Our local school district officially welcomed back elementary and secondary school students on Tuesday. The air is cooling off a little at night now. The fall football schedule is published. Summer is over.

I sat down to write yesterday morning. Granted, I did have some technical problems with my aging Macintosh computer, but that didn’t fully explain why I had the hardest time writing. Nothing would come. I started several attempts, bits of words, bobs of ideas, but nothing stuck. I couldn’t write. I contemplated messaging Marilyn that I’m done. I can no longer write. I really do have nothing to say.

I suppose it’s similar to how I felt when we got back from our family vacation on August 10th. August 11th I woke up completely overwhelmed. I sat in my chair with my morning cup of coffee and quietly contemplated the day and the daunting list of things to do. The amount of things on that list left me paralyzed. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Lowell joined me on the other side of the room, in his chair, and he enquired after me. I took a deep breath and said, unbeknownst even to myself, “I’m determined to live slowly today.” I’m not sure where that bubble of wisdom broke loose from but it rose quietly to the surface in response to my own panic and Lowell’s question and it seems to apply to the writing thing too.

More wisdom came today when I finally prayed about my writing woes. I brought my stubborn fingers to the Father; I laid bare my broken word bank to his scrutiny. Any purpose in me that points to writing comes only from him. I’m created to bear the Divine’s image to the world…part of how I do that is through my words, my writing. Of course it makes sense to pray about it. And as I did another quiet thought floated to the top, “Enter in Gently, Robynn”.

It was balm and bandage. It was consolation and (hopefully) a quiet cure. I will live slowly. I will breath in and out the creative courage that comes from the very Spirit of God. I will enter in gently.

I know the application is broader than returning from a holiday or coming back to writing. We are given many opportunities to live slowly and enter gently. Oftentimes it seems more efficient to rush through our panic, to push past our own obstinacies or hesitations. But I think more often than not, even if the to-do is accomplished, we’ve only served to muddy the waters and stir up our spirits to greater anxieties. Living slowly and with gentle rhythms works against that frenzy and mysteriously frees us up to be more present, more whole hearted.

There’s an old song we used to sing at boarding school. I think the words went something like this: I want to be the pen of a ready writer; and what the Father gives to me I’ll bring. I only want to do his will. I only want to glorify my king. I knew it was from a psalm but for the life of me I couldn’t remember it well enough to find it. Until today. Psalms 45:1 is a writer’s holy mandate and when read gently reads like this (in a modern slightly me-modified version):

My heart bursts its banks,
spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words….slowly and gently!

 

 

We found Baby Jesus

IMG_4712.JPG
The night before Thanksgiving we found Baby Jesus. He was in a box of toys that we took down for two small favorites of ours – the kids of our friends Eric and Lara. In a medium-sized box, scrambled among small and medium sized dolls, there was Baby Jesus.

When we took out the felt Nativity set last year we realized that Baby Jesus was missing. We looked everywhere for him without success. The Nativity set had been in our family since Cairo days. It was a perfect set for a family with five children. Made of bright colored felt and yarn, nothing could break. We had enjoyed the set since our third year in Cairo. So when we couldn’t find Baby Jesus we were distressed.

We looked everywhere but Baby Jesus was not to be found.

So when the kids found him on Wednesday evening we were overjoyed. He was safe in his manger, his felt body tucked in among hay made of wheat colored yarn. We separated him and put him on a shelf, away from the other dolls and toys, safe and ready to be placed with his mom, his dad, the shepherds, wisemen, angels, and all the animals.

The world felt right.

But in truth – we had forgotten that we had misplaced him. He was after all, only a little baby, and a felt one at that. And it got me thinking about the times when I misplace Jesus. When I put him where he’s not supposed to be, when I forget where I put him, when I forget all about him. We lost Jesus over a year ago but we haven’t thought much about that. We’ve just kept on with our lives and ended up pleasantly surprised when he popped up the way he did.

This is after all only a felt baby Jesus – not the real Jesus.

But the analogy holds. Sometimes I misplace Jesus. Sometimes I forget him. Even during Christmas – which is technically supposed to be his big day, I misplace him in lights and ornaments, in wrapping paper and expectation.

And sometimes I want to keep him a baby surrounded by wooden, or felt, or clay people and animals because he is safe that way. If I let the baby grow up, he could place demands on me that I’m not sure I want. He could ask me to enter into a life that I’d rather not have. He could change me in ways I’d never dreamed.

But the baby did grow up. He could never stay confined to the cradle, instead he grew up and changed people in ways they’d never dreamed. So now I can’t be content to leave him in the cradle, much less a toy box – he’s too small, too fragile there. I desperately need him to not be confined to the cradle, to love me, to see me as I really am and to change me. I need him to be who he has been all along – Emmanuel, God with us, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, and Everlasting Father.

And all of this because we found Baby Jesus in a box of toys. Go figure.

Warm Kitchens, Little Hearts

These days as I get up there is mostly darkness. The glow of fall mornings doesn’t arrive until I am well on my way to work.

As I get up I wrap myself in my sweatshirt, normally reserved for cooler summer days by the ocean. I curl tight against the pillows of the couch, guarding against a melancholy that threatens to overwhelm. The sun and apple picking of yesterday feel far away; the day ahead feels long and rainy.

These are the days when melancholy seems to make its home in my soul, where I feel my heart start to harden around the edges anticipating a cold winter.

It often scares me – my need for sun and warmth. As though the cold has too much power over me. 

I head out the door to wait for the 64 bus and as I wait my eye is drawn across the street to a Victorian home. The house has been split into condominiums as is common in this area. Through a clear glass door a bright light shines, cutting through the dim morning light.  Fully visible on the other side of the glass is a little person – a toddler in onesie pajamas with tousled bed head.

The warm kitchen and toddler take me back to my days as a younger mom, to warm kitchens and oatmeal cookies, to tables dusted with flour and homemade bread. I’m taken back to five little ones who each had their place in a warm kitchen.

Amazing how the scene pushed the melancholy right out of my heart. For it’s in warm kitchens that little hearts and souls develop. It’s in warm kitchens where confidence is born and love takes root. It’s in warm kitchens where courage is planted and watered and fed, so that we can go out into a world that is anything but warm. It’s in warm kitchens where faith is birthed, grows, and learns to launch.

It’s in warm kitchens where little and big hearts lose their bitter edges and warm to relationship.

The 64 bus is around the corner and the moment is gone but not without its lasting imprint. I sigh and board the bus with a curious resolve to hold this warm kitchen moment until the brilliant colors and breezes of spring blow away the sadness and bring in the front porch moments.

Have you had any warm kitchen moments lately? Would love to hear in the comment section? 

Canadian Thanksgiving & Apple Picking!

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to all the Canadian Readers of Communicating Across Boundaries! Thanks for tuning in to CAB so regularly and may you have an amazing day of celebration and gratitude.

I have a personal connection with this holiday as for many years we celebrated it with my Canadian sister-in-law. With her move to Oxford with my brother we are wistfully reminiscent of their home and the yearly celebration of not one, but two thanksgiving holidays. Today they are celebrating in Oxford at overseas student housing with a group of friends from all over the world, including  our youngest son.

Other readers – culturally do you celebrate a day dedicated to giving thanks? If so would love to hear about it in the comment section. 

Today is also Columbus day in the United States and gives us a holiday. We are going apple picking — enjoying crisp fall weather, amazing colors of gold, burnt orange, and red, and New England’s famous cider donuts. See Fall in New England: Pumpkins, Apples, Mums and More for a look at what’s in store for us.

It’s these days that hold tradition at its best that so satisfy. They are all the more precious because tomorrow will bring about daily routine and with it the normal stress of life. But these moments of respite are to be celebrated and enjoyed to their fullest.

The best people in all ages keep classic traditions alive – George Santayana (adapted)