On Needing Grace During Transition

We have been back for 10 days and it’s already beginning to feel like Kurdistan was a dream that never really happened. A dream with a few nightmare like qualities, but a dream nevertheless.

The last time we went through a period of transition of this magnitude was when we returned from Egypt with five children, 26 suitcases, and a gorgeous Egyptian Siamese cat called Pharaoh. It was not an easy transition and it was months before we felt settled. I am trying to see this as a different time and situation, but the memories of how incredibly difficult that season of our lives was tend to pop up. I push them down, reminding myself that this is not then, we are not the same people.

Before leaving, we had decided to take July off to debrief and reconnect with family and friends. While it is a good decision, the current reality of no jobs and not knowing where we will be living next is heavy. We live in a culture where your worth is measured against what you do, not who you are. This is an inescapable fact and we have much empathy for those whose circumstances have put them into a place where they are unable to work. Work is a gift, but it should not be an all encompassing identity.

Many people are well meaning but somewhat clueless as to our circumstances. “So glad you are safe!” Said in slightly breathless tones is the default comment. It is kind and it is also somewhat irritating. Particularly because it usually comes from people whose daily lives hardly revolve around our safety. The second comment is “So glad you are home!” Strangely, though in the past this comment would have unnerved me, in this season of transition it feels deeply comforting. Before I left for Kurdistan, I realized that Cambridge had indeed become home and I was grateful. It took such a long time to be willing to attach myself that once I finally let go of my fears and hung my heart in place, a backpack of “where is home” baggage fell off of me and I experienced deep peace.

The back pack is filling once again. Cambridge is no longer home. We packed it up a year ago. Can a place be home when you make a conscious choice to leave it in its entirety? These philosophical questions are hardly useful in the midst of transition, but I ask them anyway.

In all of this I want to beg people to give us grace, to be patient with us during this transition period but I lack the words.

A friend who is transitioning back to the U.S. from Bangladesh recently wrote this and I am grateful to use her words:

It’s the small things about being in America again that feel weird. Enormous stores and all the options in the world.

People saying things like, “it feels like you never left” and feeling totally misunderstood because it feels like a whole new foreign world to you, not like you never left.

There are a ton of little things that give us joy…But there are also just as many things that should feel like home but don’t and that feels disorienting, it hurts.

Please, give grace to the people in your life in transition (of any kind). It feels like living on another planet. We don’t mean to offend or to act strange or cry for no apparent reason. We aren’t sure where the new normal is. But we will get there eventually.” Nicole Walters

Like Nicole, I too ask for grace. We will get there, but we don’t know when.

During this transition time of decisions and indecision, our Rockport cottage is welcoming us with the joy of ocean walks and the beauty of Rockport gardens, to slow days of grandchildren and long evenings of connecting with adult kids.

There is much to decide, and much that needs to happen. We will be in transition mode for a while. After last summer’s major uprooting it will take time to reroot. It will take time to find jobs and a place to live, time to reorient to life on what sometimes feels like a different planet. ⠀

For now, there is the ocean, Rockport, friendship, family, and our marriage. Jobs seem trivial in comparison. We are too fortunate. ⠀

Ladies Day Out

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I am driving from the downtown area of Rockport when I suddenly decide to stop and sit a spell by the ocean. The day is perfect September, all blue sky and mild temperatures. It is low tide and the beach has lost the crowds of summer, leaving pristine sand and so much space. I easily find a bench to sit on and pull out my notebook and pen.

It is then that I begin to observe a group of ladies gathering at the beach. They come in a large group and they are every shape and size. They unpack beach bags and bring out books and suntan lotion. Older wrinkled bodies are revealed without embarrassment, just relaxed satisfied smiles and pure delight in their surroundings. They are short and tall with dyed hair and grey hair. They pull large caftans off of fat bodies and beach coverings off of thinner ones. Their bathing suits seem to perfectly reflect their personalities – the one with dyed hair made up to perfection with the loud Italian voice has a bright coral suit with splashes of white flowers adorning it. The one that struggles to walk has on a black suit with white piping, unremarkable in its style.

Their canvas, beach chairs face the ocean, their backs are to everything but the cool, blue sea. Because really – nothing else matters.

There are no kids. There are no husbands or boyfriends. Just a group of contented women, enjoying a perfect September day on a ladies day out. Their conversation is lost in the waves, but their laughter is loud.

“Look at us!” it says. “This is a day that asks us to leave all our troubles behind. It asks us to enter in with joy and abandon, to splash in a cold, late summer sea; to squint at a bright sun; to smell of coconut lotion and salt water.”

Not all days are like this. Many days require great patience, others require tears, still others ask for anger. But this day? This day says “Welcome! Feel the joy and sand. Feel God’s pleasure. Take it in. Let it revive you. Let it heal you. Let it sustain you!”

And then?

Then go out into this world with strength for what comes your way.

This group of women? They are seasoned and spiced with life. There are undoubtedly countless tragedies among them. Tragedies of broken relationships and marriages; tragedies of death and separation; tragedies of selfish choices and unkept promises – because this is our broken world.

But tragedies are not a part of today’s outing. No – today’s outing is suntan lotion to make them feel young again, ocean waves to cool wrinkled feet, laughter and joking over seagulls stealing sandwiches, and maybe – just maybe a little frozen rosé to sweeten a near-perfect day.

I sigh as I leave these ladies of a certain age. Unlike them, my responsibilities are calling hard today, and I have already ignored them to vicariously participate in this ladies day out. I am rapidly becoming one of these women, and one day soon I hope I too will gather at the ocean with all my friends. Our bodies will be exposed with lots of flaws and little embarrassment. Our laughter will echo across Front beach so all the neighbors will hear and envy us.

I will be the one in the coral suit.

This piece is for the two Carols, Karen, Amalia, Suzana, Leslianne, & Poppadia Paula – with so much love. 

We are Too Fortunate


This weekend we walked along the rocky coast, a bright sun beginning its journey to set and emerge on the other side of the world. It was so incredibly beautiful. “We are too fortunate!” I thought to myself.

Too fortunate.

The words are not original to me, but they came into my vocabulary a number of years ago through an artist’s pottery shop in the town of Rockport. On this Monday, where my Sabbath rest collides with my daily reality, I want to remind myself of those words “We are too fortunate.”


Travel to the end of Route 128 in the North Shore of Boston and you will end up in Rockport, Massachusetts – a charming town on the rocky Atlantic coast, where art galleries mix with unique shops and beautiful gardens.

Rockport is at the end of the railway line and there is not a better ending to that particular train journey.

Some of the well-known landmarks in the area include Bearskin neck jutting into the sea and the main tourist area of the town and Motif #1, an old fishing shack that is said to be the most painted site in all of the United States;

A number of years ago there was a small pottery shop in town called Too Fortunate Pottery. I first discovered this shop years ago when, wanting to escape the madness of an American mall at Christmastime, my husband and I chose to do all of our Christmas shopping in Rockport. Wandering in to the pottery shop I wanted to stay forever.  The shop was filled with light and creativity. It wasn’t just the pottery itself, beautiful though it was, it was the peace and the space transporting me to a world  beyond my current reality. Perhaps it was the timing since we found this shop in the middle of a critical process of culture-shock, experiencing our first Christmas in ten years in the United States after moving from Cairo.

On one of my future visits to the shop I began speaking with one of the owners.  I asked her about the name of the store. She looked at me, paused, and then replied “One day, as we were working and creating, we looked at each other and realized that we were too fortunate to have this shop and do what we loved all day long. The name came to us that day – Too Fortunate Pottery.”

I have never forgotten this conversation and this window into the creativity and gratefulness of the artists.

Perhaps it’s my limited view, but I see fewer people passionate about their work. I can’t think of many who could put up the sign “Too Fortunate” to describe their life’s work and calling. There are also many who may not be willing to give up their retirement plans, yearly raises, and that critical 2-week vacation that the west understands as the American Dream to do what they are passionate about. For others, it is finances and life circumstances that dictate their work, demanding attention to jobs that are not their life choice.

This is what makes the work of the artist so critical and desperately needed.  Because artists create spaces where the rest of us can relax and enter into places where time doesn’t matter and peace radiates all around.

In the words of another, art becomes essential not decorative* so that we too might consider ourselves too fortunate.

*Bono on The Psalms

This post was revised from one written in 2011. 

Windows in Rockport

RockportFor our family, Rockport is a place of light and peace. It is a part of our lives that symbolizes rest and renewal. From walks along the rocky coast, to walking through the art galleries, shops, and restaurants in the small center of the town, Rockport provides solace in a world that is often too busy and chaotic.

On a recent weekend as we walked through the town center, I took these photos. They are not professional, but they do give a glimpse through the window of why we love this place.

May they bring peace to your weekend.

What are your places of peace? I would love to hear about them through the comments. Thanks for dropping by.

Windows Rockport

        

When Nothing Else Matters but the Stars

Stars

We arrived late on Friday night. We arrived after the traffic from rush hour had died down, while people were out to eat or settled in front of televisions, ready to relax for the weekend.

We arrived when the sky was turning dark and the first thing we noticed were the stars. They were magnificent. The sky was clear, no clouds blocking the incandescent bodies. There was no light pollution, just quiet, dark, and stars.

We walked over toward the ocean in wonder. The ocean was behind us, the stars above us, seeming to get bigger and brighter with each step.

And suddenly nothing else mattered. The comings and goings of the past weeks, the conflict of a relationship that hurts the soul, the tiredness of my body and spirit, the work load and boredom of my job, the various hurts of friends and kids — none of that mattered. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether anyone ever read my blog again, whether my book ever sold another copy, whether the conference I am planning is successful. The things I think about and worry about seemed small, lost in the vastness of a clear spring sky. In one glorious moment, looking at those stars in the dark night, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything but the Heavens and the One who created them.

All that mattered were the stars. All of life made sense. My entire body and soul relaxed under those bright, beautiful stars. The easily identified Orion’s belt was directly above me and, though slightly turned, I thought I saw the Big Dipper to my left.

We knew the moment wouldn’t last, knew it was impossible to hold on to these moments of wonder, when all of life makes sense. But we still walked back slowly to the cottage, willing the moments to linger as long as possible.

But even that didn’t matter. All that mattered were the stars and their Maker. Long ago, halfway across the world in a different time and place, I had committed some words from a Psalm to memory. I memorized them in a place where the stars were so clear you could touch them, I put them in my heart when life was simpler, and trusting my Creator seemed easier. The words came to my mind as the only appropriate response to all that glory, and in saying them suddenly life became as simple as it once was:

Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory

in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants

you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

human beings that you care for them?

Verses from Psalm 8:1-4

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/sky-star-trees-light-night-710569/

When the World Rushes too Fast

I went to my closet to pull out clothes to wear, going for the long pants and a warm shirt. “No”they screamed! “Don’t pick us! It’s too soon!” And I screamed back “It’s cold outside you idiots! I’m picking you.” 

Cold makes me a little crazy as evidenced by the conversation with inanimate clothes detailed above. And the world is rushing too fast! Summer should not be over. Not yet. Too soon.

I close my eyes and relive clear blue sky and perfect weather; long walks and talks with good friends; a fire on the beach with ocean waves breaking over rocks in the background and us roasting marshmallows and putting the hot, melted mallow over bits of chocolate, sandwiched between two graham crackers; laughing until our sides hurt and telling ghost stories with adult children.

Some summers are made to last forever, and this one was one of them. In a world that rushes too fast and puts productivity above relationships it is a gift to stop, look up and around, relax and enjoy.

When the world rushes too fast I need to stop. Because in the midst of that rushing I will miss things that are important. I’ll get the urgent things done, but I’ll miss those things that are truly important.

When younger moms ask me how to slow life, how I’ve negotiated the work/home dance I give them only one piece of advice – I tell them “Always ask yourself when you’re thinking about a job, about a change, about demands on your time – ‘who do I want to like me when I’m 80?’ because the answer is rarely ‘my work.'” 

And this summer I danced that dance and my family took the lead. There are times when I do have to give a bit more to work, and that’s okay. But overall, my priorities are, have had to be, home and family.

And so when the world rushes too fast, when it shouts its demands through loud emails, edicts, and busy schedules, summer is a time to retreat.

But now, the summer retreat is over and warmer clothes are screaming from the closet.

So we have said goodbye – goodbye to a summer of long evenings on the porch, walks to our favorite rocks at the end of the earth in Rockport, conversations with our kids shared over wine and cheese. We have entered a new season – an open season for us.

But when the world rushes too fast, as autumn gold chill replaces summer sunshine, when cold, grey winter comes with its melancholy, we still have our memories of summer.

Take a look at this video created by my daughter Stefanie! It captures some of our summer beautifully! https://vimeo.com/104361637

Summer. from Stefanie Gardner on Vimeo.

How do you stop the world from rushing too fast?