Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tolkien and the Sword

I am a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, the master of words who wrote a story that is so rich in thought and detail that I still read it once a year at least. Thus, my copy of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are in pieces – probably at least four pieces now, with very tattered covers. They are well loved friends.

Every time I read this book, I get something new from the writing. Sometimes, it’s just soaking in the lyrical writing style, especially the iambic pentameter from the Forgotten Tales . Other times, it is understanding a character’s perspective in a new way after I have had a different experience in my life.

One of the philosophies in particular I have been thinking about, fair and foul. When Strider, with his many years of being in exile first comes to Frodo and offers his assistance, he wishes to be accepted on Frodo’s own reconnaissance. Frodo states something to the tune of - that someone who was an enemy would look fair and feel foul, while Strider looked foul and felt fair. Indeed, fair speech may hide a foul heart.

Hobbling about in an air cast, grudgingly being cordial and acknowledging people I know at Wal-Mart (because I hurt and it’s 7:30 at night on a Monday – I didn’t think anyone I knew would be there) – so wrong! Anyway, I must have looked not so much foul as frumpy and rumpled, grey sweat pants that are too big and much too comfortable to want something smaller, a sweatshirt, one tan flat shoe and my lovely orthopedic boot on the other. My hair wasn’t done, no make-up on … blah! And when I’m hurting, I don’t want touched or made to be sociable. But, even when I don’t look or feel my best, I still want to feel fair.

What is that, to feel fair? For Strider, it meant he was someone of his word, with integrity and purpose, someone with self-control, self-confidence, and yet great humbleness and compassion. He was a traveler, a royal exile who had been keeping the byways, forest paths, and hidden meadows safe from the enemy. Yet, in all of the difficulties, he managed to retain his fairness. I think this type of fairness is like a light from within, it’s the soft light that is within someone who is striving to be a force for good, a part of the body. I think that it requires someone to be part of the body of Christ because on our own, we would look and feel foul.

Another part of the Tolkien writings I love is the quote about “not loving the bright sword for it’s sharpness, nor the arrow for it’s swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” It is so easy to get caught up in the glory of the battle, especially in a moment of triumph. I’m not talking about war being a beautiful thing, but the stories round the fire of battles of moments with skill in sword, spear, and bow. It is really the thing which the sword, strategy, and armor protect for which retains the glory. We all fight our own battles and it’s so easy to get caught up in the fury of the moment. But, what am I fighting for, what glory is that hard work going toward? Instead, I need to know what it is I am fighting for – that is where the glory really lies.

If you haven’t read it yet – go pick up Tolkien. Let the words steep into your consciousness and find your own words that will stick in your heart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Downed Tree and the Examination

I recently read a phrase that reverberated around in my mind and settled into the synapses long enough to make it into mid-term memory. Basically, the idea was that you couldn’t really examine a tree until it had been cut down. You can measure it, you can observe it, but you can’t really take a look inside until it has been cut down.

My first reaction was a thought almost of an arboreal autopsy, and how that may be true – but wouldn’t it require that something be dead before that can occur? How sad it would be to cut down a healthy tree just to look inside the skin.

Now, I’m thinking that there could also be more of an examination or assessment. Sitting back in school, move past the memories of desks and friends and lockers – but to the test. What did it cover? The material that you had just been taught, essay and multiple choice to see how much you understood. That doesn’t mean the learning was over, merely that it was time to pause and inspect what had been discovered so far.

My own discoveries this summer, if I look back over the months are wide ranging from the simple to a few ah ha moments, along with a few I’m still trying to figure out.

  • · Time doesn’t stand still, but a moment can last a month and a month can last a moment. Holding a new baby or worrying about an ailing friend, each moment is held to and in my mind expanded to hold a tiny universe. Hurts have lasted in reality only seconds and yet, those times in my heart have lingered on much longer. Joy and laughter has flown by even while I clung to the moments to try and make them last longer.
  • · If my heart and my head don’t agree, which should I follow? Follow God is probably the advice I would give someone else – and would hope to take myself. But, still not easy to determine. Sometimes, I think that the God GPS needs a translation and extra battery packs. Oh, not that the directions aren’t good, it’s just by the time they get to my ears – I don’t always understand.
  • · Adding to that – I don’t always listen. Sometimes I hear, but don’t move or move in a different direction. That would be the GPS again – God’s Positioning System. “Hello, I’m lost again. Can you help?”
  • · That tree that looks so healthy on the outside isn’t necessarily healthy on the inside. Sometimes, the truly rotten ones are holding tightly to their beautiful bark covering and leaves. Yet, inside, they are festering. Others are rougher, but inside are strong and growing.
  • · Be a friend, quick to listen, quick to hear, quick to care, quick to be there. Be a friend, slow to speak, slow to criticize, slow to make assumptions. Be a friend and stick it out through bad hairdays that lead to bad mood days that lead to truly foul moments with tissues and chocolate and sappy movies. Be a friend and live it up, enjoy the shopping trip, celebrate the triumph, woo hoo over the accomplishments, and praise with a heart that is truly excited and proud of a friend.
  • · It’s okay to be mad. It’s not okay to hold on to bitterness. Forgiveness is hard to do sometimes, but you still need to do it. It’s kind of like taking medicine, tastes bad – do it anyway. And take all of it. Forgive doesn’t mean forget. You don’t have to forget, in fact sometimes it’s unwise to forget. Learn though, and let go and let God.
  • · When you start something, finish it well.
  • · If you make a mistake, go to someone else with your hand open and a clear view of eye contact, make your apology, make it heartfelt. Move on.
  • · Real friends are precious. Hold them close.

That’s it so far for me over the last few months. They may sound a bit cliché at times, but you will have to overcome that. There isn’t a grade connected to this, just a chance to learn and then go on. Oh, that would be the last then – keep learning and going on.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Who am I - Javert and the Bishop

Who am I? Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I'm not the man I was before? And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi? Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men? How can I ever face myself again?”

Words made famous from John Valjean’s song in Les Miserables asks a question that many of us ask during certain points in our life. Who am I? I am the same person I was before? Victor Hugo wrote so beautifully in his book and then the thoughts were translated into music. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Valjean had stolen bread so that his family wouldn’t starve. Then, thrown into prison, he was hardened and broken further by years of hard labor and captivity controlled by Javert. Javert, the overly zealous and biased guard pursues Valjean, assuming that the prisoner whom he perceived was the true man. Instead, a bishop saw the potential of Valjean and stepped forward to show him a new person.
I spoke to someone recently who had made some difficult life choices. She wondered if she should always think of herself as the person she was. But, in doing this, she was losing sight of the person she is. Who am I? It’s not such a bad question to consider every once in a while. I am a child of the Most High King. I am a daughter, a friend, a worker, a dreamer. I am someone who strives, hopes, and doesn’t always succeeds. I’m an imperfect me, learning and not always succeeding. I, as well as this other woman, as well as you – have been created in the image of God. Created with a purpose. We all make poor choices and then have to live with the consequences. But, is the bishop right who saw Valjean as he was and could be, or was Javert who was right who saw what was? Maybe they both are. But, I would like to think that the bishop is the one who sees the greater truth. He certainly did with Valjean.
I really like the way the song ends….
“My soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago.
He gave me hope when hope was gone He gave me strength to journey on….
Who am I? I’m John Valjean.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Planks & Splinters

I’m accompanied on the couch by a body pillow, a regular pillow, and two of those fiber fill small squishy pillows. Somehow, those have all been formed together to hold my ankle and leg in a semi-comfortable positions. Otherwise, it feels like someone is taking a migraine headache, stuck it into my leg and stretched it out over my toes. Then, they wrapped yarns of pain around my ankle and leg all the way up to my knee. So, the pillow conglomeration confederation is in place and offering a little bit of relief and aid.

Yesterday was the Fall Festival of 2009 at my church, a day of music, games, crafts, bonfires, s’mores, fun and sore feet. Oh, and of course – home made doughnuts which were incredible and the fire department came to showcase one of the trucks.

Being rather immobile part of the time has forced me to slow down a bit, not by choice you understand. However, slowing down isn’t such a bad thing at times, though I do recommend a different method of momentum breaking. Sitting yesterday at the Fall Festival, I was watching many different members of the church body and the community come together for fellowship time. People pulled their different skills, talents, opinions, ideas, and worked together for a common purpose of serving the community. When you have so many people working together, even with the best of intentions, conflict can occur – after all people are messy. Sitting there, one leg propping up the other on a folding chair, I thought about planks and sawdust.

It is so easy to slip into a mindset of negative thought and words, tearing each other down. But, if I take the words in Matthew 7 seriously, I need to consider what plank is in my eye. Now, I wear contacts and know how uncomfortable sticking things in your eye can be – but a plank! That makes me think of a beam of wood, a grained conjunction of particles containing my own issues, my own sins. Before I open my mouth to complain about your sawdust, am I seeing beyond my own plank? Let’s strive to be a coherent body, a healthy collection of parts making a whole. I will work on disciplining my mind and words to address my plank. Will you?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Red Blanket

There are some friends that become family, sisters and brothers, parents and children, by choice. One of these, my sister as surely as if we shared the same blood and DNA building blocks, gave me a red blanket for Christmas several years ago. Selected for it’s softness and gentle feel, the color was the perfect shade of an autumn red, warm and vibrant not garish. I remember unwrapping this blanket and feeling the texture, feeling my fingers sink into the threads and the warmth starting to build.

Somewhere along the years, this blanket has become much more than a blanket. My sister, who gave this gift to me, lives eight long hours away. There are times when I need her hug, her warmth and I wrap myself up in the blanket and feel her hug. When I have been sick, the threads catch my body heat and hold it close. My heat reflected back in helped my fevers break, chills to stop, and healing to begin. The blanket has been something I wrap around my shoulders, hold in my arms, and pull over my head when my head hurts, my heart hurts, or life stresses get to be too much and I want to hide.

It’s really just a blanket, but it’s the love and prayers that have happened there that have made it more like the hug of my sister.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Megan & Sierra

I have two furry friends that live in my home, two beautiful labs. Maybe you need to be a dog person to appreciate them, but they have such personalities. The chocolate lab, Megan, is my warrior princess. She will decline to get her feet wet or even damp in a heavy dew. However, ground hogs have felt her furry fury before. Megan is the only dog I have ever met who truly watches television. Don’t roll your eyes now, I mean it! Doggy shoes, bull riding, and horses – these are all favorites. However, certain people attract her attention as well. PBR comes on, the flash and the music, the action and the bright colors… But, it is the bulls she barks at. Don’t bark at the cowboys – that would just be silly. This is my pink girl, my girly girl, who doesn’t like to get dirty. Instead, she has a life of pillows and couches. My independent girl, she wants attention on her terms – but don’t forget to acknowledge her or refer to her as a dog, you will watch world class pouting begin.

The other lab, Sierra, is a yellow pup who I think would look wonderful in a mask and cape. She strikes me as a super hero puppy in training. Long legs let her fly around the yard, until I think she is ready to take off into the sky. This one is the fashion girl who wants to wear her collar and maybe another one too – just for the look. But, the mud puddles call her name, even though she hasn’t quite decided if it’s worth it to get that good and dirty if a bath is going to have to follow. The puppy energy is short lived and then, this sweet girl can be found with four feet in the air, pawing her dreams. I think butterflies must flit through her dreams, and that she chases them just like she chases them in the yard. Fluttery by butterfly - Sierra is in hot pursuit, jumping and pouncing, running and then watching with an amazement in her dark brown eyes as they fly up and away from her reach.

We have had many wonderful fur covered family members over the years. They have each been special and a part of our lives, bringing laughter and memories.

I think that one of the things that I most admire about these animals is there trust. When Megan is upset, she comes and sits on my lap. She trusts that I will be there to take care of her. When Sierra is hungry, she drops her plastic bowl on my feet and sits with trusting expectation that I will go get her food. I love their trust, their faith and confidence. I remember reading a note somewhere about how a doctor was being asked by a patient if they thought there was a God. The doctor said yes. The patient wanted to know how they could trust so comfortably, with such confidence. The doctor opened the door and his dog came in the room. The dog had not been in that room before, but because his person was in the room, he trusted that it was okay to come in. The doctor went on to relate how his faith was like that. I look at these girls, both so different in their preferences and personalities, and yet - they are wonderful examples of faith to me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Hundreds of years ago a baby was born, a little girl. Her mother, Eleanor, died in birth. Tucked in the royal palace of Wales, her father Llywelyn, went out to fight the English king. A skirmish occurred and her father never returned to her. Instead, this baby eventually wound up in the custody of King Edward I and the English court. As a baby of royal birth, Edward’s own cousin, was put into a convent in Sempringham at the Gilbertine Priory.

It is a story that catches the imagination. Raised as a darling of the nuns, a little girl who does not know her heritage or birthrights, the nuns themselves may not have known. Yet, not even two hundred miles from the Welsh natural fortress of Snowdonia, there was a small nation full of people who knew that their prince had had a child. Can you not imagine the rumors, the stories spun over years?

I have wondered if Gwenllian ever received word from her people, from one of the Cymru who felt it their duty to tell their princess the truth. Did Edward ever doubt his choice? This was after all his own family member. There must have been great fear that the people would rally around this baby grown to be a woman and revolt against Edward’s rule. I wonder what the discussion was in the court. Did anyone stop and care about an infant that was imprisoned in a cloistered world by virtue of her birthright?

What birthright do I have as a child of the Most High King that I am letting myself be cloistered from, imprisoned away by bad choices, sin, humanity, foolishness, or not understanding. If someone could have slipped Gwenllian a letter explaining, would she have held it close as a part of her heritage or wept over what had been taken away? If I could look back at the alternatives, the what-ifs, would I weep at what could have been or be able to take comfort in knowing that God’s plan for me is perfect, that my short comings are not anything that can stop God. As I started out the day today, before I even got out of bed (I was reluctant to say good-bye to my pillow this morning), I was praying for the day, for the people that I remember in my prayers. I will pray also that God’s grace be upon my day and yours. That even though we all have our own prison we are in, that truth, grace, and wisdom will be given and received.

Power in Words

Words, have you ever heard them declared in some TV movie – words have power. But, there is some truth in all of that digital information. Words do have power. Speak with wholesome talk, speak with uplifting words… I’m instructed in words to be wise with and wary of words. Do my words really have power, do they really impact? If they do, do I not need to be careful with them and think it through before I speak?

I think words do have power. The power to lift, to strike, to cut, to love, to caress, to teach, to tear, to heal, to act lives in the breath and sound of their pronouncement. I’ve been lifted by words until it is all I can do to not skip around the place like some silly and enthusiastic little girl. I’ve been cut by words that strike at me, slicing me and leaving me bleeding. But those are the words to me – my words back, those are my responsibility.

It would be so easy sometimes to strike back, to cut and wound intentionally. Sarcasm and disdain oozing off of the words like some slime that can leave a trail of reeking excrement. But, gentleness can turn away wrath acting like a fire extinguisher and cooling a heated moment.

Words can last thousands of years and linger in the consciousness of a culture. What words in a legacy am I leaving? What air will I breathe into being through sound?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Equinox

Today is the Fall Equinox, a day when the sun is rising to the direct east and setting in the due west. I love fall, it’s my favorite time of year. I’m not sure I can describe what it is exactly about fall that thrills me so, but I look forward to the cooling weather, the light rains, the leaves changing colors, and the crispness of the air.
There is a tree on the corner of my street that is a living illustration of fall to me. I look forward to seeing it as the skies start holding their autumn promise. On a grey, drizzled morning when the rain is just hard enough to see in the air, but not strong enough for an umbrella, I leave for work. Pulling out of the driveway, I turn left and pass the school. I turn my wheel, getting ready to stop and look for traffic coming up, and there is the tree! A giant creature of elegant stature with limbs stretching out over the road, it frames the corner with such character and color. It is in this season that the leaves turn a golden yellow and drift down to the street and sidewalk. In the mist, it’s like a little bit of sunshine has been trapped in the color and if you stand in the right spot, it’s like being in a kaleidoscope of color and texture. The structure of the tree, its strength and grace, will be more evident as the leaves fall and show the framework to hold all of the color.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Are there Monsters in the Refrigerator?

I was talking to my dear friend tonight, and in the background sounds, much to my delight, I could hear her little boy talking. He was announcing with great confidence that there were no monsters in the refrigerator.

“No monsters in the refrigerator mommy. No monsters in the closet.”
I found myself laughing and could feel the wheels turning at the same time in my head.
Later on, she shared that sometimes he will ask at bedtime if there are monsters.

“No, no monsters.”

The reply comes, “are there ghosts?”

“No, no ghosts.”


I love that – a little boy’s faith in his mom and dad. Mommy and Daddy are there, they say there are no monsters in the closet, so the closet is okay. They say there are no ghosts, so again all is okay. Such trust – the simple and yet powerful act of faith.

Lord, would you please take care of any monsters in the refrigerator or ghosts in the closet. And, by the way – thanks for being on guard duty tonight so I can sleep. You really do give good gifts.

There are friends and then there are KY Friends

There was a forward going around recently about friends and Kentucky Friends. Basically, it compared friends that cared and Kentucky friends who did more than care, they loved and befriended. I am blessed to have some Kentucky friends. Some of them in my life are from Kentucky (I know – shocking), others are from Ohio, Florida, Iowa, and a myriad of other places.

What makes up a KY friend? It is more than just knowing that your friend is there and showing up occasionally. It is dropping everything, creating a meal, staying up all night, sending twelve texts, plotting with, working with, holding your tongue, sharing your thoughts, and most of all it is being there. The act of just being there – when your heart is broken, when you are dancing in the rain, when your ankle is sprained, when you are on top of the world, when you fall apart at work, when you get a promotion, when the tornado comes ripping through, or when you just are your normal daily self. It isn’t an enchanting friendship, but it’s the webbed strand that holds it all together and still allows for growth, like a hummingbirds nest.

A couple of years ago a tornado really did go through our yard. I came home from a high school reunion in Florida and the world which greeted me upon my return to Iowa had literally been ripped up and tossed about. With my jaw dropped into my shoes, it took only moments for me to be overwhelmed and grateful. Overwhelmed because the trees that were shading the yard were now sprawled across the ground and waiting for the chain saw. Grateful because trees were not on top of the house or through any windows and most importantly no one was hurt.

Many people came to help in the days to follow. Some came and helped with chain saws, others moved wood and helped split it, stacking, piling, clean up – many hands came. Each of these individuals made a difference. One group in particular really made an impact on me. A small caravan from Ohio came with friends and friends of friends. They arrived in the mid-night hour and crashed throughout the house on couches, air mattresses, and the floor. The next morning, after a brief tour to the Mississippi River, they headed out into the yard and worked for hours. It was incredible, they drove eight hours and worked so hard. That evening, over an enormous pot of spaghetti I found myself laughing and was reminded with each bite of the tomato and pasta of the comfort of not the carbs, but the friendship. The next morning, they returned back home and to their respective jobs. I’m not even sure I can describe how overwhelmed I was. When Paul writes about the blessing of praying for his people – I felt that in a new way, I saw it first hand those days. And in the midst of a tornado clean up and an ever growing Strega Nona spaghetti pot, I laughed and laughed, and was so encouraged.

I want to be a KY friend.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vespucci & the Other Dragons

My friends have grown accustomed to occasionally seeing me wearing a dragon pendant, being greeted upon entering the house by a large red Chinese dragon (a.k.a Vespucci), or seeing a sign over the door… Beyond this point, There be dragons. It was actually reading about cartographers of the early Middle Ages that got me started on dragons. Having a love of history, and of maps, it resonated with me to learn how cartographers used dragons and other monsters on their maps. Beyond This Point – beyond the known there lies the mystery and the fear of the unknown. The unknown can be scary and difficult, and there may be dragons. Thus, the second half of the warning message, to keep an eye out for those dragons.
Vespucci, named after the map maker of course, came from a trip to Chicago for some training. It wasn’t the trip or the training that was the unknown, it was what it represented. There were now new elements for me of responsibility and expectations, I wasn’t sure where it would lead, or not lead. And, dashing into a store quickly I saw this red dragon with a big toothy grin looking at me which just had to come home with me. Tucked under my arm, then sitting on top of the hotel TV for the night, Vespucci came home to rest on top of a bookcase. He might look a little scary to someone new, but those big teeth are just showing in his smile. It was kind of like that change. It looked scary, but really it wasn’t too bad.

The sign actually came first. It is just a board, painted tans fading toward a lighter shade in the center. In the cursive the words reside that started me with maps and dragons in the first place, "Beyond this point, there be dragons". It’s sort of like a warning and a dare all at the same time. Notice – you may get eaten alive by the fire breathing scaly creature with wings and a wicked temper around the next corner or… maybe you won’t. For those that are curious about what could be, it’s the call of adventure. Forget the apple a day; it’s an adventure a day – big ones, little ones. What secret is the dragon keeping close, what treasure? It’s not easy to finish that quest; normally there are some battles along the way, or at least scraped knees on difficult geographic terrain. But, there is treasure to be found in the journey itself, in the pursuit. Just as much fortune as that the dragon protects at times. Grad school – the journey was itself the reward, learning, and working on projects. Oh, the calloused brain cells occurred when pouring over economics for hours at a time. That quest looked like a pile of paper and books, some of them torn up in disgust at a formula that just didn’t formulate, gallons of ink, and flash drives filling up an empty key ring. But, the MBA was awarded – I succeeded in working the puzzle that the dragon had put forth and captured the treasure for myself.

To celebrate that degree, it only seemed fitting to wear a dragon for the hooding. How apropos, a dragon and a hooding – they sound like they go together. Actually, the hooding ceremony was beautiful and quite scholastically appropriate. But, under that swath of fabric, there rested on my collar bone a necklace leading to a dragon, swirled into her shape and looking as if she were flying purely for the joy of it. She is a fire breathing dragon I think, because I’ve been burned a few times during this process. Burned out, burned up, burned through, but mainly burned out.

I’m not sure what my next dragon expedition will be, if it will be a friendly find like Vespucci or something more difficult. But, I am already beyond the point of known, and now what was unknown has been mapped. Now, I move farther afield and will see what new adventures and journeys wait for me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Table, a Ladder, a Staircase

Sitting in the quiet of exam room in the orthopedic doctor’s office yesterday, I entertained myself by reading through bits of the Reminisce magazine. I discovered once again that I don’t sit still well (a different discussion for a different time), and in the magazine - this really cool invention. It was a four slatted wood piece that joined together through a frame work on both sides. The four pieces could be pivoted to form a four level bookcase, a four step step-ladder, or a four board table. I actually paused over the pages, worn and creased from the many hands of the many patients who have looked through it over the last year.

But really - how cool is that? I mean, one minute you have a book case, holding this and that. Friends call and now you need an extra table. Time for a party! Take the things off, and start pivoting the bookcase into a table. But, that cake plate on that high shelf over there is just the thing to hold the super fudgy brownie bars that you plan for dessert, so it becomes a stair step ladder. Then, while the super fudgy brownie bars go in the oven, grab the great tablecloth and decorate the now extra table.
I was thinking how I have to be interchangeable like that in my life. Sometimes, I think I’m a table. People can put things onto me, sharing burdens, tasks, joys, excitement, anguish, and existence in general. A table is well suited to it’s task, holding items. And I can hold these things quite well most of the time, as long as the weight is fairly balanced. Do you remember those old sets of Encyclopedias? Didn’t you love the smell of those, the weight of those thick books in your hands. Let’s say those encyclopedias are all piled at the end of the table and the represent the things shared by others. Without a counter weight at the other end, my table is going to tip! So, if I’m going to be a table, I need to make sure that I maintain a balanced load. I will need to make sure I take care of myself as well as helping and sharing others. That’s not always easy for me to do though. I like to help, to give, to share and at times I have a hard time saying that I’m going to focus on me. In the same thought, it can be reversed and sometimes I need to think of others more. It is a balance that must be striven for.

Sometimes, I think I’m like the stairs. I have the determined mindset in my life that I’m not content to just coast through. People will often talk about cups being half full or half empty, but my cup has been pressed down, shaken, smashed, packed full, crammed full with more swarming more in, and still overflowing. I’ve experienced many blessings, but they never would have happened if I stood forever on the first step. I had to climb to the next. Quite often, I think I must look like a child just learning how to climb stairs because I don’t always do that gracefully. In fact, I can be kind of klutzy. So, there are some scrapes from along the way. There are times when I think that I’m climbing away, can even get a good glimpse of that cake plate (so to speak) and it turns out to be much farther than I thought. But, still, it’s the decision to keep climbing that I’m finding so valuable. It is when I become stuck, numb, or static that I find my vision is skewed and I’ve lost sight of my goal. My vision needs to be focused.

I love books. I have books that are like old friends. I have read through the words on their pages many times, and the cover has softened with use. A few have accidentally been dunked in the bath tub, others have corners missing from puppy teething. But, on the bookcases that contain these printed lineages of thought, I think that sometimes I’m like that as well. The bookcases don’t read the information, they hold it. Sometimes, I hold information and keep it to myself. A large part of that would just be my normal private thoughts and conversations, internal and safely inside my own brain. Another part would be lessons learned. Lessons perhaps from the time of being a table or a step ladder, the action of change, or successes and failures along the way. I learn, observe, and keep it for when I need the information later. Bookcases can be so handy for keeping the important things handy. You may not need them every moment of every day, but it is good to know where to find them when you are ready.

The structure itself is very important to consider. To allow these boards movement and yet stability would require strength and equilibrium. When I need to change my focus, my shelf self into a table or step ladder, I need a strong focal point as well. One that is well cared for and flexible. It is what is at my core that I need to carefully examine and keep in excellent condition or my stairs will wobble, the table will be slanted, and the book shelf might start leaning.

I don’t know exactly what that manufacturer had in mind when developing a tri-functioning product. I wonder if the thought was ever had, beyond the mechanical duties and structure of these objects. Each function had to be understood before a solid construction could be created. Thankfully, I also have a creator who fully understands and enables me to carry out multiple functions.

It is in the Dark

It is in the dark, in the night, when things get quiet that I can settle down enough to feel, to process my day. It is in the dark, in the night, when I really seek out the quiet voice of God. I sit on the plastic chair out on the porch, feeling the molded arms wrap up meeting my arms, as they come to rest on the cool surface. I can feel the heat of the day held in the pavement, stepping on concrete solidity. Moving another chair to face me, I stretch out, put my feet in that perfect make-shift ottoman and let my back relax. I feel that part in my lower ribs that holds the hurt and pressure, that spot in the lower back that holds the stress. I let out a deep breath and tell them to relax, with limited success. As I tilt my head back to look at the stars through the smattering of leaves in my view, I can feel my shoulder muscles starting to ease into the sigh. It is in the dark that I can see the moon, the stars, the shine of the light of the planets. It is in the dark that the distractions subside. The light of the sun, reflecting onto the moon brings out shapes, but not the details of the visual world around me. Soon, I find myself closing my eyes for a while to listen. It is through my heeding of nightly noises that the world around me comes alive. The reedy sound of the crickets, playing their symphonic soprano score, strikes a balance with the whisper of the wind through the leaves and branches. The hollow sound of an owl calling bounces, sound waves moving through thousands of minute obstacles to reach me. Another owl answers from a different location and they converse.

It is in the dark, when I am stuck in the thorn bush, and can’t see even the moon to guide my way back to a safe path – that I listen for a familiar voice. It is in the dark that the distractions subside, and I stop to feel warmth, to notice the reflection of a moonbeam. It is in the dark, when the world around me is closing in, and I just don’t know which way to turn – that is when my ears become most attuned to the voice that they are listening for. The light of the day is beautiful, the warmth of the sun can bring such healing. Yet, the cyclical and natural foil comes again – striking it’s counter character in our daily drama. On my path, my way has grown dark at times. Where did the light go? I need it’s heat, I need it’s guiding protection. But, sitting down mid- lane, I realize that I can hear so much better without the diversions around me. And in the dark, I feel a different heat, much more subtle and yet as vibrant as the noon day sun. I realize that I’m not sitting alone. It is the Son who sits with me. And there we can talk. And when the light returns to the sky, I will hear much better – with clearer ears. For a while anyway. For I am human and my distractions will return until they are a cacophony in my head. And then, again, I will be taken to the sunset and the night so that I might learn to listen in a different way. I do not always seek out these lessons, but I do seek out the way that they will be used for good, for bringing light.


This blogging thing is obviously very new for me. I decided to jump in and make the leap as a combination of a recent ankle injury which has me sitting with one leg laying up on pillows as if a fairy tale prop and the other that I love to write. A recent conference also spoke to the importance of understanding this new, and rapidly world changing, technology. Yes - world changing technology. I think it's incredible! I mean, we have gone from a world that was mainly stationary to one where we move across oceans, talk with virtual neighbors that can be nine time-zones away, and skype with our friends and family. How cool is that!!!

Anyway, the leg injury.... you know, I wish I had some great story. I have had several suggested to me, bar fight, attacked by trainer gone wild at a conference, crazed Parliamentary guard attacks.... Unfortunately, the real story is not quite so much fun. There are these beautiful sidewalks in Ottawa, stones that are very precisely laid out. Unfortunately, the heel of my brown pumps slid into one of those crevices between the stones. And woosh! I went down. Let me just say - air casts are wonderful! I made it back, through the conference, through customs, through security, through a layover with an air cast and largely due to the kindness of people around me.

You know, I think we all have moments when we ask who our neighbors are. Love my neighbor? Sure - I have great neighbors! But, is my neighbor just the person that the house is near? I was made a neighbor to people I had never met before, who live in a different country than I do. They went above and beyond over and over. Go find your neighbors - they just may be half way around the world, or just around the corner.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ribbons of Rhythm

This last Wednesday, I was flying back to the US from Ottawa, Canada. Leaning to my left, I look through the thick glassy like substance of the airplane window out onto Lake Michigan. The water is reflecting the shine of the sun, the ripples in the lake move like invisible ribbons catching the very lip of the water. A swirl forms, moving out, the winding back, to and fro, back and forth over and over again.

Leaning against that stubbly tubular plastic of the airplane, I can feel the memory sink again. Standing in a music room hallway, composed of soundproofing and dark grey carpet, an aging rocker was telling me how all of life can be seen with rhythms and patterns. I remember the ability of this musician; he had a way to understand rhythm in music, the patterns of percussion. But, he also understood that beyond the composition and score of a symphony, the skilled pounding on a drum set, the smoothness of a marimba, life the very world is composed of patterns and rhythms. Some we see easily such as the tides, embracing the shore and then pushing away at expected times. Others require more thought to observe, the structure of a leaf, the way a dog’s fur coat falls into a certain pattern, the swirl of color from a hummingbird, even the internal rhythm of our heart.
There are other less palpable patterns which I can’t see, but instead feel the ribbon swirl around me, pulling me along. It is the rhythm of life, growth and failure, rising and falling, hurting and healing, loving and hating, remember and forget. The thing about the rhythms in my own life is that I can often not see the beribboned pattern until after I am caught up in the eddy. Instead, I seek a center, a buoy which will hold fast to the center and keep me on a concentrated nucleus. Then, the patterns and rhythms, they move around the fixed point, keeping me steady.

I am wondering what the next swirl of the rhythm will hold. As one part ended, another must begin. What that will look like, where it will lead – I don’t know. But, I do know that the crux of the rhythm is something I have already found my stability in.

The Cow Moot

Tolkien wrote of the ent moot – the gathering of the tree herders, the meeting in the dingle. The phrases which he spun are ones I wish to hold on too and wring every last ounce of poetic imagery from.

Driving down Highway 61, passing many farms and fields. There were horses which were slowly filing from the barns, the buffalo were still shaggy shadows against the wintered brown grass. But in one field, resting in a corner, there was a gathering of cows. As I drove past, I noticed the congregation and found myself pausing from singing with the normal abandon I practice in my car, to laugh at this site. In a pasture, marked by a large tree, where the land rises slowly and steadily to the fence posts meet at the corner, there lay a circle of cows. One cow, a light brown and white animal, was standing and facing the group. The rest were all laying around in a circle, each looking at the leader with focused bovine interest. I wondered what exactly this group could be discussing in their own variety of moos, snorts, and other cow sounds. Would the leader call them to order, give a roll call, and then set about going through the agenda? A meeting over hay, the field, and the hope that winter would soon be over perhaps. Maybe great conversations were held that morning over the farmer and the farmers family. The new farm dog might have brought some choice treats of news. Plans could have been made for calves which would soon join their family. News from the neighbor cows, the groundhog and his shadow and six weeks more of winter. The final discussion could have been where to meet for the next moot in the summer, to see them all again under the shade tree, and discuss the new calves, the new news.

So when you see me driving down the road next time, and I have paused from singing loudly with the radio, perhaps it because I have just seen a moot of cows and am wondering what it is they are meeting about.