Those Damn Decade Photos

It was last January when I saw the first decade photo. I remember it well. It was of a gorgeous 27 year old who had also been a gorgeous 17 year old. No awkward photos there. Just lovely teeth, lovely hair, lovely – I mean really lovely – skin, and a cute caption. Something like “Wow – it’s been a decade. So much has happened but I guess I’m holding up okay!” All of us responded positively to the beautiful perfection that was her. She also had a chin, which for some of us was perhaps the most enviable part of her photograph.

I began to see more and more decade photos, and finally I thought “Wow! Wouldn’t it be fun to find some photos and do the same?”

I would periodically set out to find the decade photos, but every time a memory would stop me. A memory from the last decade of life. A memory that didn’t find its way into social media, but found its way into my mind, floating there until I gave it the laughter, joy, or tears that it deserved.

These damn decade photos – they capture a couple of seconds in time, but the moments before and after dance around them, creating an album of life that isn’t easily shared.

For so many of us, these decade photos are tough. A decade ago, some had a home to go to for Christmas – now they long for their phones to buzz with a text of invitation from someone who knows they are alone. A decade ago, a grandmother could walk quickly and unassisted, conquering her eighties like a boss. Now she walks with a cane or walker, ever aware of her fragility. A decade ago, a couple pledged their lives to each other- family and friends witnessing and celebrating. Now a casket holds the body of one of them while the other lives through the unimaginable.

When we first search for the photos, it’s a fun game. “Let’s look!Let’s see how the pictures differ!” The kid with braces and a god-awful haircut turns into the male model – or not. The pictures we carefully curate may be beautiful or fun but they hide much of what the decade held. For me, the longer I searched, the more i realized the moments lived in the decade were far deeper than the pictures we took.

A decade ago, I was parenting a child in middle school, a child in high school, two college students, and a young adult. Now I’m parenting 5 adults, all on their own in different cities of the world. How could I possibly find photos that captured the differences between them and now? More than that, did I have the resilience to look back at the hard, hard things that transpired? The “non-curated” moments where life fell apart and you weren’t sure you could go on.

But I kept searching, because ultimately I wanted to see how life had changed, and how we had changed and adapted with it. ⠀

This morning I looked back in the archives and found the long sought-after pictures. Memories and moments hidden from the one-dimensional camera lens tumbled over each other, but I pressed on.

For most parents, mingled in with the pictures are a million stories of our kids growing up and facing equal amounts of joy and pain without us able to bear witness and be a soft landing for them. They have grown up and grown on. And though we may still be very much a part of their lives, we are not going to know everything, because we aren’t supposed to. ⠀

The best we can do is embrace them when they come home, give them a soft pillow and a warm drink, and love them, love them, love them. And we can pray mercy and grace over them by the handfuls, and pray that they will have the tools to face whatever is going on in their lives. ⠀

And then sometimes we get golden moments. Weddings, births, and reunions – visible evidence of families expanding to include partners and grandkids. And somehow the love that we have for them grows to include the extra people. It’s a miracle really – this human capacity to love. A miracle of God.⠀


Next time I see a decade photo, I’ll remember that even the most beautiful picture includes a storied life of joy and pain, sometimes visible, other times invisible.

Here’s to the untold stories of this past decade, the ones that never make it to social media, because they aren’t supposed to. The stories we hold close to our hearts and first in our prayers. And may we always remember, we are all so much more than we appear.

2009-2019

“By God! I don’t Know!” – A Post on Aging


We were sitting Kurdish style on the floor, a kerosene stove pumping out heat to keep us warm in the solid concrete building, when the subject of age came up. We were all in good spirits after enjoying a hearty meal of Yaprak, assorted vegetables stuffed with rice and meat and cooked in a lemon sauce, and had begun to drink hot, sweet tea. In Kurdistan, it is not rude to ask someone their age. First it was our host telling us how old he was, then it came to my husband and myself. The younger members of the family all chimed in – 18, 21, 23, 33, 28 – the numbers were called out like a Bingo game at a Catholic Church hall. Finally it was the mom of the house. “How old are you?” said one of her sons. We all looked at her, waiting expectantly.

“By God! I don’t know!” She said. We burst out laughing. I repeated the words after her in Kurdish, marveling at them and wanting to memorize the phrase. The conversation quickly turned to much more important things, like the weather and when the pregnant daughter-in-law would give birth, but I kept on thinking about her response.

What a great response to the question of age! Age is so fickle and so contrary. Time is already a cruel dictator, why must age also be? This woman might not have known her age, but she sure knew that it didn’t matter. “By God! I don’t know!” So many things were said in that one statement!

It doesn’t matter!

Let’s get on with it!

Who cares?

Let’s talk about something else!

It’s just age!

There are a million ways to interpret that one statement!

I turned 59 years old yesterday. Unlike my new friend, I do know how many years I’ve lived. 59 years around the sun. 59 years of trying to figure out what this life is all about. 59 years of growing and hurting and laughing and loving. 59 years of eating, sleeping, and participating in the mundane of life, only to learn that none of it is really mundane – it’s all sacred.

59 years of learning to forgive and working to live at peace. 59 years of learning that discontentment creates far more wrinkles than the sun and envy rots the soul. 59 years of learning the value of friendship and family. 59 years of learning how to live out of abundance not scarcity. 59 years of laughter and joy, 59 years of sadness and tears.

I have birthed five babies on three continents and watched them grow into young adults with their own dreams and sadness and joy. I have lived in four different countries and learned to count to ten and bargain in several different languages. I have hurt people and people have hurt me. I have loved people and people have loved me. I have had days where my stomach ached with laughter and other days where my heart ached with tears. And the days have turned into years and they have both slipped away – sometimes with a lot of drama and other times quietly, like a background person in a television show. You see them, and then they’re gone.

Last night, after birthday cake and a sweet offering of presents from my husband, we watched a couple of episodes of a television show that we have been following during this rainy, Kurdish winter. During a dream sequence, the grandmother in the show is talking to the mom who died two years previously. She is talking about getting older. As they sit companionably on a twin bed in the grandmother’s bedroom, she contemplates aging.

The days slip under the closet and disappear.

Shtisel

These words describe so well the journey of aging. You blink and the days have gone under the closet, never to be retrieved. Unlike dust balls that gather unwanted but always present, the days turn into years and disappear. They slip under the closet and into the memories that each us have, creating tapestries of people, events, and conversations, each tapestry as unique as its owner’s fingerprints.

This past year has taught me much about faith, advocacy, resilience, hope, and joy. I have learned and I have grown. And then just like that, it slipped under the closet and disappeared.  

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. 

How Long?

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Earlier in the week, Boston could not shake the heavy fog that lay heavy in the air, covering the tops of buildings like thick grey smoke. It dulled my mind and all I seemed able to do was trudge through life.

How long will this fog go on, I wondered silently, the weather deeply embedded in my psyche.

Even as the sunshine came through in all its blue-skied glory, the fog inside stayed.

How long?

How long O Lord? How long will tragedy break us? How long will we shed tears over those we love? How long will those who perpetrate evil continue? How long?

I was deep in inner fog as I walked from work to the subway last night. The station was crowded as I rounded the corner to catch my train. But there to the side lay a woman on the floor. She had just fallen and another woman was crouched beside her. I stopped, and a couple of us helped the woman up. She was small and elderly, wearing a heavy jacket along with the dazed look that comes with a fall. She spoke no English, and as we helped her to a seat, we were not sure if we should call an ambulance or just wait.

She made it clear that she wanted to catch the next train, so we helped her across the gap and onto an incoming train. As we were sitting with her and attempting to communicate, we discovered that both the woman who had fallen and the initial helper spoke Mandarin. She offered to walk the woman to her apartment building, and the last I saw of them they were slowly walking toward the exit, talking with their heads bent close together.

Something about the entire event felt so incomparably sad and hopeful. Like the Psalmist, who in one breath says how long, and in the next proclaims hope. How long will we slip and fall? How long will we feel the pain of loss and betrayal? How long will we pray for healing?

And yet – there is hope. There is hope in strangers and passers by; there is hope through a phone call to a friend; there is hope in the messy emotions of the Psalms. There is hope in sunshine after fog; hope in pregnancy after miscarriage, hope in restoration after betrayal. And when there is not sunshine, when new life does not come, when restoration is not realized? There is still unreasonable, glorious hope.

How long?

As long as Good Friday gives way to Great and Holy Saturday. As long as Great and Holy Saturday prepares the way for the light of Pascha. As long as there is life, there is still hope.


“How Long, Lord? …. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”*

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus


*From Psalm 13

An Old Love

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Every night before they went to sleep, my dad would kiss my mom. Even during his final month of life, when he was feeling weaker by the day, the last thing my dad did before he fell asleep was kiss my mom goodnight. They would pray and then he would kiss her. He knew that time was running out and so he got his kisses in before death came and separated them.

My dad was 91 when he died, my mom 89. “I’m so glad we had nothing between us. There were no regrets.” My mom has a far off look in her eyes as she tells me this. They were one in body and spirit, a tremendous heritage to give those who come after you.

Their love was an old love, but it hadn’t always been that way. Old photographs showed their young love, crinkled with time. A faded wedding picture, honeymoon pictures of a young couple by a lake and that same couple climbing a mountain are all evidence that they were young once.

But the years came, and with them five children, then daughters and son-in-law, grandchildren, and finally great grandchildren. Before they could catch their breath, they had an old love.

Old loves are free from the false expectations of youth.  Old love passes by newsstands featuring glossy magazines with covers that guarantee sleek, well-chiseled bodies, amazing sex, and “real love”.  While the images suck others in like dust in a vacuum, old love is oblivious. The world’s obsession with “young lust” and “young love” does not faze them. They travel as beloved ones in their own world, a world that knows better.

I will remember these love gifts forever.  The look my mom would give my dad, a look that whispers so confidently of care and shared understanding that even strangers would know this was born of a lifetime of loving. Or my dad, his formerly strong body broken, still looking out for my mom’s safety.

Theirs was a love that had died a million small deaths to self and false expectations. It was a love that saw others as better than self, and gave people bouquets of forgiveness, something far more costly than roses. It was a love that understood the hard process of aging, and the losses that come with it.

My eyes mist over as I remember their old love; wordless stories of a lifetime of sacrifice and trial; hurt and healing; misunderstanding and forgiveness. Their old love may have limped at the end, but it shouted of strength.

There are many times when my dad wistfully talked about an inheritance and how he wished that he could leave his kids and grandkids more money.  But he left us so much more. He left us a lifetime of loving my mom and that is enough.


 

This is 58

It’s my birthday. One week ago I woke up in a foul mood. It was a mood rife with I hate life and life hates me. I hated who i had been; I hated who I was; I hated who I would become. I began to believe my feelings were truth.

Thankfully I have people in my life who won’t allow me to wallow. (Things like “Snap out of it, ya big baby” might have been said by family members.) Sometimes you need empathy and other times you need to “snap out of it, ya big baby!”

So today I’m here to talk about 58.

What is 58?

It’s a massive thank you to a Mom who birthed me, nurtured me, and continues to love and challenge me in ways she will never know.

It’s a Dad whose memory is eternal; who lived life well until the day his body could no longer go on.

It’s four brothers who live around the world; who model tenacity, joy, and faithfulness to me and to their families. It’s four brothers who teased me mercilessly when I was little, and have my back now that I am older.

It’s four sister-in-laws who love well, who have raised amazing children, who continue to wrestle with the big and hard questions of parenting and faith.

It’s nieces and nephews who I would kill for; who are opera singers and nurses; diplomats and day care owners, who make the world a better place for you and me to live in.

It’s a husband who makes me laugh every, single day. A man who can make friends with an inanimate object like a wall and make that wall feel special, not to mention the people he befriends from around the world. A man who tells stories in virtual reality, prays for and loves his children so much it hurts, and will remember the names of refugees long after he has met them. A man who affirms my writing, challenges my faith, and prays with me every night.

58 is four (no five) adult children who are smart, passionate, and gifted. Who meet the challenges of life with stubborn resolve. 58 is the cutest grandson on ever earth who has a waddle toddle and is growing to be his own person.

58 is the dearest friends from here and around the world that a woman could ever hope for – friends who love the world and their families; who are not caught up in what culture says is worthy and instead fight for what is true, good, and right.

58 is cousins who live as far as Moscow and as close as Washington DC; cousins who are also friends.

58 is a creative job with often horrid bureaucracy; fighting for good healthcare for marginalized communities and pressing forward when it’s hard.

It’s colleagues who make me laugh hard, work harder, and allow me to get mad and cry.

58 is a body that sometimes betrays me, but responds pretty well when I treat it properly; it’s 10,000 steps a day because modern medicine allowed for a bionic hip; it’s wrinkles that I can only partially hide; it’s girlfriends laughing together because we never thought we’d have beards or boobs that hang to our knees. (The boobs that is)

58 is curling up on week nights and watching Stranger Things; it is knowing that grilled cheese served in candlelight with the man you’ve been through hell with is really great.

58 is a church community that I never thought possible; it is entering into Divine Liturgy with the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the troubled. It is working out my faith with a community of broken people, all desperately in need of the Eucharist.

It’s realizing that #metoo is no match for who I really am and no man can truly take away what God said is good;

58 is knowing in the depths of your soul that no matter what, you are God’s beloved and no amount of wrinkles, stretch marks, saggy boobs, or dementia will ever, ever take that away.

58 is you reading this and letting me know in a million creative ways that you care.

And 58 is a Mimosa, calls from Family and friends, and celebrating this thing called life — because tomorrow anything could happen.

58 is pure grace.

Also, I made a little video – watch it if you like!

An End of the Year Reflection on the Page Called ‘Today’

I’m looking out on a grey sky and freezing temperatures. Ice clings to branches and fences, winter embedded firmly in the outside world. We have been in Quebec City the last few days, a quick and delightful trip across an international border to what is arguably the most charming city in North America. Last night we got home to a cold house, a house bereft of light and warmth.

Quebec City was dressed in its holiday best, with lights sparkling off outdoor Christmas trees, and every window in shops and restaurants decorated with beautiful ornaments, lights, and greenery. Coming home I work to infuse the joy of yesterday into the melancholy of today.

Today marks the end of 2017. Tomorrow comes and brings with it a new year.

The end of the year brings out the melancholy in me, and I reflect as I sit by a still present and ever-lovely Christmas tree.

There are so many things I did not know as I began 2017. I did not know last year that my father would die in October. I did not know that I would face challenges as a mom and daughter that broke my heart and confused my brain. I did not know that I would watch friends across the world who have been in refugee camps get married and begin new lives. I did not know all the times I would laugh so hard it hurt or cry so hard that there were no more tears. I did not know that I would read new words, write new essays, make new friends, and hold tightly to old ones. I did not know the words that I would say that would hurt, and the other words I would say that would encourage.

I did not know that I would learn more about the difference between hope and expectations; that confusing the two can be dangerous and disappointing. I did not know that I would learn that you don’t quit living when someone you love dies; that instead you love harder and fight for what is lovely and good and true and right.

But if any one epiphany stands out from this past year, it is this: Faith isn’t about a particular outcome; rather, it’s about full confidence in one who already knows the outcome. It’s about trusting in the character of God as one who is good; as one who loves to give good gifts to his creation. Faith is belief that there is one who holds us when we can’t stand, who hears our tears when no one else is listening, and who whispers “I am with you” when all around us are asleep.

We don’t know, we can’t know, at the beginning of each year what will follow.  It’s a bit like picking up a new book, one that we have read no reviews on, one whose cover looked interesting but that’s all we have. We pick it up and we begin to read. We enter into a story. All we have is the page that is open, the page that is today. There is no page called tomorrow.

We enter the story in faith on that page called ‘today’. We enter and begin a rhythm that takes us from minutes to hours; from hours to days; from days to months; from months to seasons; from seasons to years with faith interwoven through all of it.

So today, as we close out 2017, I challenge us to walk in the faith of today. It’s all we can do, and it is enough.

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
“Rejoice evermore. 
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.” 
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”*


*― Wendell BerryHannah Coulter

Roll, Cut, Measure & Mix – Love, Legacy & Pie

 

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We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend. Many of the extended family came from around the world to see my dad and get together as a family. Celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving was a great way to feed the family while we honored the Canadian side of our extended family.

All families have holiday traditions and ours is no exception. Every year at Thanksgiving my dad makes a winter fruit pie. None of us really know what’s in the pie. We just know three things: It is delicious, it is made with love, and it’s tradition. There’s also something about the fact that my dad makes it. He doesn’t generally cook or bake, so this makes it extra special. He goes out of his way to make this pie, and tradition has it that every year there is a secret ingredient, known only by the baker. We never know what that secret ingredient is (though some may say that the whole pie is one big secret ingredient.) We call it Grandpa’s Winter Fruit Pie.

As we were communicating about the weekend’s menu, my mom asked one question: Who will make Grandpa’s Winter Fruit Pie? 

My dad’s pie making days are over. He is on hospice and every breath he takes feels more precious. When I am with him, I watch anxiously as he sleeps in his recliner. I watch his breathing the way I used to watch my oncology patients, consciously noting the rhythm and depth, seeing how labored it is, watching for pain or discomfort. He no longer has the strength to roll, cut, measure and mix.

The task of baking this pie fell to me. The day before we left for Rochester, I rolled, cut, measured and mixed. With a bit of extra dough I cut out a small heart to put in the center of the pie. I then carefully traced a G for Grandpa in the middle of the heart. I brushed a bit of butter on the crust, and sprinkled it with sugar, just like the recipe told me to do. I put it in the oven – 450 degrees for 10 minutes, followed by a half hour at 375 degrees.

As I waited for the pie to bake I thought about my dad and about legacies. Legacies – those things that are handed down from generation to generation; a way to honor the past even as we live in the present. My dad is passing down a far greater legacy than pie. He is passing down a faith that has taken him through life and has not grown old. He is passing down trust in a God who he loves with all his heart, soul, and mind. He is passing down memories of loving and laughing well. But along with those intangible things, there are the tangible and one of them is Winter Fruit Pie.

Whether it be a legacy of pie or a legacy of faith, a legacy is not to be squandered. It’s to be taken reverently and used well. My pie will need a bit of work. It did not measure up to my dad’s. But that’s the thing with a legacy – we take it and we make it our own. We roll, cut, measure and mix so that we too will have something to leave to those who come after us. 

I Like Family – Family is my Favorite

In a faded, old photo album I read the words “Family makes you feel whole and strong – vibrant and needed.” The words are typed on an ancient typewriter, long gone in our travels and moves from house to house and country to country. The pictures that surround the words have lost their color and appear true vintage with no filter.

I typed those words when we were living in Islamabad, Pakistan – miles from blood relatives. I wanted to create something special for my husband, a photo album of our family at the time. We were young and had a boy and a girl. We were all quite perfect in those days. Pretty and fresh-faced, without the weathering that life brings with its hard fights and its days of no return.

The truth is that in this age where family often loses its meaning, I like family. Family is my favorite. I more than like family – I love family.


We have just returned to Cambridge from a family wedding. My niece, Allison, married Paul. Paul comes from a large Italian family and I instantly loved his mom, Patty, and his Aunt Joan. They are women I would go to war with – or at least gossip with at a family wedding.

The wedding took place outside in a rustic setting, on the shoreline of Irondequoit Bay.  Chairs were set up outside beside a small dock, while the dinner was set to be served at the waterfront lodge, with stunning views of the Bay. A sudden, and violent summer storm had all of us scrambling and rearranging the ceremony venue to take place in the lodge. It was a picture of a family willing to go with whatever happened, determined that marriage would win over weather every time. A more brilliant metaphor for marriage is not possible and I know in my gut that these two will make it.

My niece was dressed in classic vintage – lace, a netted veil, and stunningly beautiful. She walked down the unexpected indoor aisle, and the ceremony began.

Who gives this woman? 

‘Solemn vows that none of us can possibly keep without the grace and mercy of God.

Readings from the Songs of Solomon and Wendell Berry.

Rings exchanged.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The sacramental pronouncement of a union authored by God, ordained by God, kept only by God’s goodness. 

You may kiss the bride. 

And then wild cheers and the song “Will the Circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?”

A celebration followed where there wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone that we wanted to; where we enjoyed great food and amazing company; where family gathered, at one with each other and the spirit of the day. Even a nest of bright, blue robin’s eggs joined in the celebration. Not a sacrament, but a symbol of our God’s love of beauty and life.

In a world that is fearful and cynical, a world where marriage is discarded for something far easier and less permanent, a world where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have little to do with daily life, I once again bear witness to a family willing to live counter-culture. I once again witness the proclamation of the truth of marriage, once again hear vows that are humanly impossible being promised. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us and we are ushered into something even better then the best marriage possible.

I fell into bed that night in happy exhaustion.

Because I love weddings and the families that go with them. Because family does make me feel whole and strong, vibrant and needed.

So, Yes – I like family. Family is my favorite. 

Some Thoughts on Parenting and Goodbyes


“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt but remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive. For a dead heart doesn’t hurt with a goodbye, only a heart alive to others feels the pain of that goodbye, the difficulty of leaving….” From the Goodbye section of Between Worlds page 202

On Sunday we said goodbye to our youngest son at the entrance to Hellenic College, a college that has shaped him through academia,service, friendship, and most importantly – faith. 

We said goodbye in early evening, when the sun still had a long while before it set, reflecting golden rays off of Jamaica Pond. 

We said goodbye to the many years of college that come with five children. We said goodbye to the joy we had in watching a child grow to be a man. We said goodbye to those who came into our lives through him. 

A short while after we said goodbye, he boarded a plane to Albania; from there his plans include travel and study for the next year. We raised our children on travel and the uncertainty that comes with frequent moves, so there is a deep satisfaction knowing that he is choosing to grow through travel. 

Letting go of our children is a series of stages that begins early in their lives. We proudly, but fearfully, watch as they make their way onto buses or across playgrounds, their first venture into a world we can no longer control. Each stage and step gives them a bit more independence until we face the reality that we are ancillary to their adult lives. When we began the journey of parenthood, we created their world, we were their world. But through the years we gradually step aside and let them shine, apart from us. 

And our son – he shines, and it is the work of God. 

The gratefulness I feel is complicated by post-surgery exhaustion and the tears from saying goodbye. It comes in waves, and I try not to overthink, over analyze, instead allowing myself to just be, to feel what I’m feeling without defending or accusing. 

A few years ago I wrote these words, and today I repeat them: 

…the best thing I do as I pack him off and say goodbye is place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

While the journey of parenthood continues until the day we die, there are pivotal turning points within that journey – and this is one of them. So I say goodbye with open arms, a glad heart, and tear-filled eyes. Somehow, all of those emotions belong to this moment. 

We become parents with no guarantees. Whether biologically birthing or adopting, parenthood is a journey of faith. Today I get to celebrate. Tomorrow I may have to cry. But that’s what this is: A long journey, a journey of faith. From A Long Journey, A Journey of Faith 

Is Your Soul Restless?

Be still and know

“Is your Soul Restless?” The sign is written in bold white letters on a red background

Underneath the words is a quote from Saint Augustine:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

The sign is well placed in a subway stop at Davis Square. It advertises Tremont Temple – a church in downtown Boston, historically known for its challenge to racism.

Davis Square is considered hip.Tufts University students, young working professionals and others all find second homes in the coffee shops, bars, and theater in the area. At Davis Square everyone seems comfortable in their own skin, until you dig a little deeper.

By any surveys, Boston is considered “unchurched.” You’re much more likely to see people out to brunch or jogging on the river, no matter the weather, than see people in church on a Sunday. I’ve grown used to this, so when I see a sign like this I stop and take notice, and I wonder if others do as well.

For all its success as a city, there are a lot of restless souls in Boston. You see restlessness through the suicide rates at MIT and Harvard, both significantly higher than the national average.  You see restlessness through the general meanness on the street. You see restlessness through the impatience on the subway. It may be hidden behind success, but these are restless souls.

And then I think about myself, about my own restless soul.

I was walking around my house the other day, my eyes sharply looking to reduce clutter when I suddenly realized – my house is clean, but my soul is cluttered and restless. As I came to this inner truth, I stopped. How do I redirect myself and pay as much attention to my soul as I am paying to the stuff that doesn’t really matter? The cupboards that will yet again become chaotic and the shelves that will accumulate dust bunnies in a short time?

The more attention I frantically pay to the external, the less I have to think about the wrongs that need to be righted inside, the apologies that must be voiced, the worry that needs to be confronted, and the “do by self” attitude that has taken over, making me feel like a two-year old that is so determined to do it on her own that she fails to see it’s far more complicated going it alone.

I wonder too, if the analogy can also apply to the soul of a society. The more cluttered, chaotic and restless it becomes, the more there is need to put rules and legislation in place to create order that will never satisfy and never bring about the wanted results.

A cluttered, restless soul – a cluttered, restless society. The more I focus on the second, the more I can ignore the first.

But those bold, white words are still there, waiting for restless eyes to read, to stop, to take notice. They are clear and personal: “Is YOUR soul restless?

I know that this restlessness is part of the human condition, part of who I am. I also know that rest is available.

Help comes in simple words “Be Still.”

“Be still and know that I am God.”  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be still but in these words that might seem counter intuitive, I find rest.

 

It’s Okay Not to Know

It’s tough to be a junior (grade 11) in high school. There are so many pressures. This is the year many students choose a college, a career, a life. Lowell and I watched Connor stumble through the agonies of these seemingly huge decisions. Now we’re watching Adelaide do the same.

Of course as adults we know that not all of this has to be decided right now. But the air these 17 year olds breath dictates something else. They are being led to believe that they have to know. And they have to know RIGHT NOW. All the years of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” seem to culminate now. They have to face grown up living and decide what they want to be. The answers they’ve used their whole lives–nurse, teacher, fire fighter– don’t necessarily fit anymore. The options are broader. There are more choices. What do they want to do for the rest of their lives? Who do they want to be?

But really, it’s okay not to know.

We who have crossed over into the other side –the adult side—look back and smile. We remember the need to know. The need to know immediately. And then we shake our heads and remember the stories of how we lived along into it. We remember the series of little decisions, the circumstances that led us to that particular job, that particular college, that particular summer trip, that particular major. We laugh out loud at the plot twists and the mis-twists that resulted in us having to re-do that, or retake this.

This is a trustworthy saying for all of us. Seventeen and 18 and 19 year olds can all be reassured: it’s ok not to know. And to the adults in the room—those whose frontal lobes are fully formed, those who’ve lived longer than 25, or 45, or 65 years: it’s ok not to know.

Not knowing, of course, means waiting and living past the urgency, into the answer. There’s just no two ways about it, waiting is impossibly agonizing, particularly for the young who have no broader context, or longer experience. They have no proof that waiting results in any answers. There’s not yet any life experience to demonstrate that. It’s difficult for those of us who are older too. We seem to forget previous times when we’ve waited and the answers have finally come. The fingers of inpatience tap out a troubled tune in our agitated spirits and we find it difficult to settle into the wait. We all want answers now.

I was reading a book this week, as part of my Spiritual Direction training, The Good Life, by Richard M. Gula. In it Gula says that the Christ follower should approach ‘the good life’ with, “the conviction that this life has already been lived by Jesus.” He goes on to say,

…we do ourselves no favors by ignoring (Jesus’) humanity and (by) saying that he knew everything because he was God… as a human, he had to discover who he was and what God was asking of him just as we do, step by step. (At) the core of humanity (is)the call to search and discover our way through failure and groping and finally coming up with something new(.) Our great pain and our great joy is in asking, “What’s it all about?” and gradually discovering the answer. (The Good Life, Gula, 1999).

An integral part of living is living! Things don’t just happen. Time reveals options. We research, deliberate, pray and wait. We make choices in the moment. Looming deadlines and final notices come and go. We ride out our fears and discover, much to our surprise, that they do not destroy us. Constantly appealing to God, we follow after him, as Gula said, step by step. Faithfully he helps us with the little choices and eventually we look back and see the big decisions were made smaller by those little choices and by his persistent help.

It turns out it was okay not to know. In not knowing the big answers, we did what we knew with the little choices, and lived along into that expansive space, past the demanding question’s tyranny, into the answer.

To all the high school juniors, all the 17 and 18 year olds out there—to Adelaide and her cohorts—I say this: It really is okay not to know. Life, jumping from one stepping stone to the next, is a grand adventure. It maybe feels scary to not know what’s ahead. But it’s also exhilirating and a little thrilling to leap from choice to choice. The adults in your life didn’t know, at your age, how the story would play out. Truth be told they don’t know what the next chapter holds now either.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. –Rainer Marie Rilke


 

Inhaling Grace

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A warm, damp wind blows my hair and my face as I walk up Tremont Street, making my way to work. It has rained during the night and the streets show recent puddles. The fifty percent accurate weather forecast reckons it will rain some more, and then the temperature will drop and snow will begin during the night.

The weather in New England is as fickle as the human heart and causes almost as much chaos and damage. But, unlike the heart, the weather is given more grace by others.

I think about this today as I walk. I’m tired. I feel the weight of life’s journey on my body. I know myself well enough that I won’t make any decisions right now. As sages are wont to say “this too will pass.” But it still feels difficult. It still feels like I’m not doing enough to bring light, grace, and joy into this world of grey.

But maybe it’s not about me doing ‘enough’ — maybe it’s about me relaxing and realizing that I need to stop. I need to stop and inhale grace with each breath – breathe in, breathe out. Inhale, exhale. Breathe in grace, feel it fill my body.

Unsure of my own words and thoughts, I gratefully read those of another:

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.”
Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace

I breathe in once again and know I’m ready for another day’s chalking, another day of grace.

She Lived a Large Life


The best thing I did all week was attend the funeral of Chong Wright. Chong and her husband, Wilbur, attended our church. Wilbur, a once tall soldier in the US army is now slightly stooped, his shoulders humbly sloping toward the earth. His Korean bride of fifty-one years, Chong, was tiny. Her legs were slightly bowed. Her sweaters, hand knitted and pastel pink, always bunched up on her small frame. The two of them would hold hands and hobble along.

Whenever Chong saw me, her eyes would light up. We would greet each other and have a short little conversations. English wasn’t the language of her heart but she made such an effort, in tiny sound bites, to communicate. What she couldn’t speak with her mouth she shouted with her eyes. They were always bright and welcoming. She looked into you and you knew she was happy to see you.

On Monday morning I read the notice of her death and the announcement that a memorial service would be held that very afternoon at a funeral home just around the corner from us. I wanted to go to tell her husband and their one child, Mary, what a bright spot their loved one was. I wanted them to know she would be missed.

Maybe thirty people gathered in the funeral home’s chapel. The strains of a recorded piano playing, Edelweiss, wafted over the group as we waited quietly in the pews. There were several pictures of Chong on the front table framing a large bouquet of pink and white flowers. Chong and Wilbur—at their wedding, while stationed in Germany, with their daughter, with their grandsons.

During the service I learned more about Chong than I had ever known. Chong Wright was born in Sinuichu, Korea on December 26th, 1940. When she was still quite young both her parents died. She then went to live with her grandmother. At the start of the Korean War, when she was ten years old, they fled, as refugees from North Korea to the safer South. Her grandmother died when Chong was thirteen years old and she went to live with an uncle and his family. Three years later, when she was sixteen, she enrolled in beauty school. Using her own resources she trained to become a beautician.

On September 8, 1964 Chong and Wilbur were married. Not all of Chong’s family was supportive of her marrying an American soldier. One family member told her that if she married Mr Wright, she’d be so poor they wouldn’t even be able to afford toilet paper. This began a personal commitment to paper products! Chong’s daughter, Mary, said that they always had great stockpiles of toilet paper, paper towels, and paper napkins. Long after Mary had married and had children of her own, Chong continued to supply them with paper products!

Wilbur and Chong were stationed in many places before coming to Fort Riley, Kansas. That’s where they were stationed when Wilbur retired from the Army life.

Whatever Chong did she worked hard at it. She was frugal and managed to pay off two homes and two cars. She was generous and good hearted. She was a good mother and a devoted grandmother. Both grandsons spoke of her generosity to them. On Thursdays she gave them money. They played games with the boys. They attended every band concert, school play, choir concert, musical. If the boys were there, so were Wilbur and Chong.

Last December there was a band concert at the mall. The seating was insufficient. I had gone early to save seats for our family. Just in front of me I saw Chong and Wilbur saving seats for their family too. At one point Chong turned and saw me. Her entire face lit up in recognition. She bobbed her head in greeting, her eyes beaming.

Chong Wright’s circle was small. There weren’t a lot of people at the funeral and many that were there came because of love and friendship with her daughter, Mary and her family. It might be easy to dismiss the significance of a person like Chong Wright—unknown, an immigrant, she couldn’t speak English very well. But Chong made a difference in the lives she touched. Her life mattered. Her circle wasn’t large but it was deep. She lived with integrity. She loved well. She made an effort to connect in the ways she knew how—playing with a baby, greeting those she knew, giving to her family. She was loyal and faithful until the very end.

It was such a profound moment for me. I have this relentless longing for a larger world. I want to go places, meet people. I want to make a difference. I want to have a global impact. But here was Chong– Her world, at the end, might have been little and yet her impact was undeniable. She will leave a large hole in the stories of her grandsons, her daughter, her son-in-law, the few at church she smiled at. Her life mattered. The breadth of her experiences, the suffering she had endured, the places she had traveled–for being a person of small stature she lived a large life and then settled into a small space. And she did so with grace.

I would do well to live…and die…..like Chong Wright.

Living Out the Nike Mantra – Just Do It!

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The morning starts poorly. I miss my bus.

It’s not a long walk, but today it feels so. Today all of life feels like a long walk. I pass by evidence of a world that is not as it should be. Weekend trash is everywhere, a homeless couple is fast asleep under a blanket – you can see their bodies spooning, unconscious comfort given to each other.

I get on the train and my gold earring, evidence of my privilege, falls from my ear and bounces across the floor. Embarrassed, I swoop towards it but a kind passenger picks it up and hands it to me, a slight smile on her face. I beam with gratitude and shake my head in chagrin at my morning discombobulation.

The weather is grey and wet in this early morning hour. My fifty percent accurate weather app says that there will be clouds all day. How is it that the weather so accurately predicts how I feel? Cloudy with not a spot of sunshine.

Some days you just have to get up and put one foot in front of the other. There’s no other way to do it. You put one foot in front of the other despite feelings, despite protests, despite resisting at the deep levels of your heart. You have to believe that in the midst of uncertainty, there is something beyond the broken world around you.  You live out the Nike commercial – you just “Do it!” 

“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”*

Today, in this early morning, life feels uncertain and faith indeed feels like a mystery. But every step I take propels me forward, reminds me not to submit to feelings of despair. Faith is a place of mystery – and today I walk in faith.

Because some days are like this – and some days aren’t. Some days all of life feels like a walk by the ocean, or a trip to the beach, or a breathless with excitement kind of feeling. Some days all of life is like shopping in the spice bazaar, where colors, textures, and people meet in chaotic delight. And so it’s worth walking through the grey days, because it makes you realize those days with bright colors are an incredible gift.

When we’re children we make decisions based on our feelings, but when adults – we make decisions despite our feelings. And today I have to decide, despite my feelings, how I am going to live.

Because some days are just like this. 

Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/people-crowded-steps-walking-692005/

All was Well

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It’s 5:30 in the morning and the street is quiet, save the birds who are singing their morning song with joyful abandon. I hear the sounds of distant traffic, because this is the city and the city never stops.

It is now warm enough to sit outside in the early morning light, surrounded by soft noise of morning. My coffee is in my hand, my thoughts in my head, and I am at peace. What is it about this hour of the morning that comforts and assures me that all will be well? 

It has been a full weekend. On Thursday and Friday my husband and I attended a colloquium called “Orthodox Christianity and Humanitarianism: Ideas and Action in the Contemporary World.” We were humbled and challenged by all we heard. The brain cells alone were staggering, but they were combined with front line responses from those involved in the ongoing struggles in Ukraine, Syria, and Gaza. The need is indescribable and the challenge undeniable. Though our world moves on, these needs have not gone away. But first, every speaker affirmed that we do this because we are made in the image of God, and we have a responsiblity to see both the image of God and potential in each person we encounter. I am humbled realizing that I can often do this with refugees but struggle to do the same with my neighbors.

The rest of the weekend was full of chores and family. Mother’s day – that socially constructed holiday that I love – was warm and lovely, with two of my five children home to celebrate with me. We ate chicken korma and goat curry, sauce dribbling down our chins, our noses running from the deliciousness of it all.

Last night we sat on our porch until late in the night. My friend Heather is a new mom and brought her baby. We got to hold eight pounds of perfect, watching his little mouth scrunch up into a subconscious smile in his sleep. We laughed, knowing he is probably dreaming of a giant breast full of milk.

And now it is Monday. The world has woken to a new day, and I am a part of it. I know it will be a busy week, I know that I need all God’s strength and grace to work well. But right now, in this early morning hour with all the colors of spring surrounding me, I think of the last lines of the Harry Potter series and I smile. “All was well.”

These Things I Believe

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These things I believe….

That street and subway musicians deserve our spare change.

That you should always buy lemonade from kids who are selling it on street corners.

That the stranger should be welcomed.

That love is better than safety.

That those who know how to grieve also know how to comfort.

That kids need ice cream for dinner occasionally.

That friends are worth fighting for.

That grilled cheese sandwiches and dhal and rice are comfort foods.

That you can rarely be too warm.

That envy will kill your heart and generosity will fill your soul.

That we react too quickly to social media and end up swallowing our words so they choke us.

That international terminals are the best.

That a walk by the ocean can ease a heavy heart.

That everything tastes better at the beach.

That our world is to be explored and enjoyed.

That the old deserve our care and respect.

That decorating Christmas cookies is necessary wherever you are in the world.

That white lights make everything a little better, and a lot brighter.

That babies and earthquakes are the only real surprises left.

That home, poetry, and picnics are necessary.

That most conflicts are more complicated than they may seem.

That life is too short to hate family.

That man has always tried to make God in his image, forgetting it should be the other way around; forgetting the glorious image that was stamped on man from the beginning.

That marriage is worth the risk and the fight.

That it’s better to be kind than right.

That life is far too difficult to go through it without God.

That there is enough grace to go around – enough for everyone. If we’ll take it.

These things I believe. What about you? 

Enjoy the Journey

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Enjoy the Journey – by Robynn

I know it’s a horribly cliché title….but it came to mean something very significant the other day when I was on my way somewhere….!

Tuesday, September 23, I spent the entire day traveling. Departing from Manhattan, Kansas I made my way to Prince Edward Island on the far eastern side of Canada. This is a dream destination for me. Ever since I was little girl and was first introduced to Anne of Green Gables I have dreamed of going to Prince Edward Island. I never in a thousand years thought I would ever get the chance to go. But here I was on Tuesday traveling to a dream come true! I was so excited!

Early in the morning, while the house was still sleeping and the daylight still dosing, I crept downstairs to make coffee. I showered quickly and begged my hairdryer to whisper. I gently woke Lowell, my driver, slipped on my shoes, picked up my purse and headed out the door. I wanted the day to past. I wanted to be in Prince Edward Island. I wanted a glimpse of those childhood green gables!

I urged myself to sleep on that first leg to Chicago. Experience has taught me that sleeping through things makes them pass painlessly and quickly. I awoke as the plane kissed the tarmac. Jumping out of my seat I deplaned and set off determinedly for terminal 2. Let this day zip by…. I was a woman on a mission!

As I sat at my gate, sipping my coffee, I got a text. “Are you home?” I chuckled to myself as I casually texted back, dropping Prince Edward Island subtly into the short message with a smile on my face. The response that came flying through the cell phone waves hit me like ice water in the face. It was a death text. A dear mutual friend’s son had committed suicide. Tears leapt to my cheeks. I put a hand over my mouth to stifle the sobs. Suddenly life slowed. I saw people faces. I wanted my own children. I wanted to tell them a hundred things. Suddenly everything meant something and simultaneously everything meant nothing all at the same time. I called Lowell. We cried together. We prayed for the boy who is gone now. For his family. We prayed for ourselves. For our three. We sat quietly he in Kansas me in Chicago O’Hare.

And I wanted to live slowly. I wanted to slow the day, the coffee, the lay over. There was no longer any urgency to get there. I breathed out grief and breathed in grace.

Eventually. Gradually. Slowly. I arrived in Prince Edward Island. My friend Corinne mets me. It was a middle-aged reunion of old stories, old friends. Within the first several minutes Corinne told me the way she loves to vacation. She loves to take breaks. She loves to turn on little side roads and see what lingers there. If she sees a sudden light house or a splendid view she delights in the freedom to stop and see it, live in it, capture it on camera. She wanted to enjoy the journey. I looked at her. I knew what she meant. I wanted that too.

Suddenly I wanted life to quickly slow down. I longed to live present to the moment.

Enjoying the journey changed significantly in meaning from the dawn of that day –bursting with joy and expectation—through the shadow of death to the dusk of my arrival. It certainly changed my island experience and I hope I’ve brought it back with me to land locked Kansas. I want so badly to live slower, to linger with my children, to love my Lowell more intentionally, to listen to my mother in law’s stories.

How about you? Do you long for life to slow down, to live in the present enjoying the moment? 

Buy your copy of Between Worlds today! Have it already? Pick up an extra copy for your friend, your child, your dentist (they for sure live between worlds – between the world of teeth and not teeth.)

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