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/