Recently a friend gave me a new-to-me chair… a recliner her mom no longer needed. I decided to move an old chair I had into what had been the dining room, a room I used more as a craft room. I pushed the table to the corner, put the comfy chair at an angle looking out into my garden, and a rug on the floor, simple but cozy. I have had dreams of turning this room into a sun room, knocking out another window and opening it up more, and decided this was the first step. Each morning since, I’ve sat in the chair, facing out into the garden, the rising sun hitting my face as it travels from behind the lilac bushes across the sky casting long shadows and catching the frost tipped grass and fallen leaves.
Before this, my mornings were spent in the living room, a nice, warm, cozy place. But it is dark and dreary in the mornings before the sun has made its way around the house. Often I needed a lamp on to read.
I’ve been amazed at the difference this simple change of perspective has made in my outlook of the whole day. This turning to face the sun, quietly drinking tea and being in silence, watching the squirrels carry fallen apples across the lawn, the rabbits eating breakfast, the light glistening through the remaining leaves on the trees. I feel a peace wash over me and a thankfulness sink deep within as God and I welcome this new day.
Mary Oliver wrote:
“Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”
As the seasons turn, the weather cooling, the leaves falling (or totally gone!), the frost and snow beginning, I wonder if you are being invited to turn too. Is there a simple change you are being called to make in your life? A turn you are being requested to make? A new perspective you are being invited to try on? A new direction you are being challenged to face? Try it, and see what happens!
The last few weeks have been a little challenging…. I felt out of balance, a little disoriented, somewhat depressed, and trying to figure out what was going on. My sleeping was off, my eating was falling into old habits, it was hard to get up and go, old feelings of unworthiness and unloveability tried to claim a place back in my life, and all in all, I was struggling. It took a while for me to realize that this time of year is often hard for me. The end of September, beginning of October is a time when the darkness seeps in and I can get this way. Almost as soon as I realized this and asked a couple of friends to pray for me, it began to lift, and the lightness and joy and ease began to seep back in again. And while I don’t know what it is about this time of year (I assume some trauma happened when I was young that keeps coming back in a physical, bodily fashion), I am thankful that it is a limited time frame, and pray for those for whom this is not the case.
This week’s scripture reading is the story about the ten lepers who are healed, but only one comes back to thank Jesus. As I sat with this story, a different interpretation came to me. Usually it’s all about the thankfulness of the one, and the lack of gratitude by the nine. But today, whispered into my heart, was a new thought. What if the nine did not realize that they had really been healed? Here was this guy, telling them to go the priest who could confirm their healing and bless them, allowing them to rejoin society. But when you have been disowned for so long, when you have been the unclean one, the scapegoat, the unloved and mocked one, can you trust these words and find the courage to try one more time to be considered a worthy member of society? Maybe, only the one who returned to Jesus, was able to trust and try again. Maybe just this one had a shard of hope left. The other nine simply did not believe healing was even possible. When Jesus told them they had been healed, they were not able to hear it and continued walking, lost and hopeless, ringing their bells of uncleanliness. Scaring the world away.
When I juxtapose this with my recent experience, I see some similarity. While I know healing is possible, and has already taken place in 95% of me, (maybe more!!), there is still that small part of me that cannot believe this could ever happen. Will there even truly be an end to the memories, the flashbacks, the feeling of unworthiness? And if I trust that there will, does it make the reality of when they come harder? If this is the case, it’s better not to believe.
So while 95% (maybe more!!) of me falls to the ground in thanksgiving for the healing, there’s still a fraction that keeps on walking, ringing the bell of uncleanliness, avoiding people who might otherwise love me or call me healed and worthy. That small part which guards itself, waiting for the worst to happen. Are there more memories to uncover? More hurt that will come my way? More abuse that will catch me unaware?
As I continue to work with this small part of me, I wonder how I can help it be more thankful and trusting. Experience has certainly smashed the belief that I am still in danger…. So how can I slowly allow this part to be exposed in ways that will give it the chance to see that life is good, ok, safe. That I am worthy and loved. I get the image of a shy cat, slowly watching and peeking out from a place it can run from. Maybe approaching and trying a quick petting before running away. Maybe chancing playing with a toy in public. Maybe jumping up close to a person before either biting the hand that reaches out or allowing itself to touch the hand. And slowly trusting, mostly, until it chances sitting on a lap for an instance.
I also wonder how I can be more aware next September, how I can help myself be more open and thankful as this time of year sneaks back around, trying to nurture and love the parts that are trapped in the seasonal break. I think there is something in the gratitude piece for me…. Can I throw myself to the ground in gratitude for all the healing that has already happened, rather than walking away ignoring it? Can I sit with the miracles of life, instead of embracing the old scars?
And so I thank God for healing. And trust that this will be enough.
I’ve been blessed with an abundance of family/friends/community in the last few weeks, beginning with a short trip to Idaho to celebrate Elise, the young woman who I au-paired for when she was just three years old who just graduated with her Masters in Social Work! I was there, along with her mom, her teacher from grade school, her grandpa and other family members to mark this day. Then my aunt and uncle came from Canada to celebrate my birthday, and then I visited a good friend in Michigan. In all of this I witnessed love…. Both in the celebrations and in the memories of grief and hard times. I witnessed family gathering together to be family, community built over years of living together. I witnessed tears and laughter and joy and sorrow and all the beauty that family brings.
As I began the 12-hour drive back home from Michigan, my heart felt sad. As I sat with it, I heard my young self begin to cry. “That’s what I should have had,” she whispered through her tears. “That’s what I needed.”
My life as a child was far from all I had experienced in the last three weeks. The love that should have been there was replaced with fear, the laughter with silent sobs, the hugs with hurt, the joy with shutting down all emotions as it was far safer not to feel at all than to feel everything.
So as my young self expressed this, I too felt the weight of it, the loss, the pain.
Gibbs and I soon pulled up at a beach on the North Shore of Lake Michigan to run and stretch and feel the ground beneath our feet. As I walked, I spoke to my young self. “Yes”, I said, “We should have had all that love and support and kindness and joy and community and safety. And we didn’t. But look now! Look now! Feel what is true now. We, you, little one, and I, big one, have found the people that are safe and filled with love. We have it now. I’m sad it took so long, but we have it now.” And we breathed and dipped our feet in the water and looked at the waves and the sunlight bouncing off them and the driftwood and I felt the truth seeping in.
And we do have it now, in so many ways. In community and family and friends.
I expressed this to the friend I was driving home from, and the next morning woke up to these words from her, written by Henri Nouwen:
“Joy and sadness are as close to each other as the splendid colored leaves of a New England fall to the soberness of barren trees. When you touch the hand of a returning friend, you already know that s/he will have to leave again. When you are moved by the quiet vastness of a sun-colored ocean, you miss the friend who cannot see the same. Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you can’t find words to capture your complex emotions.”
We left that little beach to continue our journey home, hearts lighter and love sunk deeper into our bones, as another layer of knowing the truth was revealed. And my heart was filled with gratitude for what is… the abundance of family in so many ways that is in my life, even in the sadness of what wasn’t for so long.
On our walk today, Gibbs and I saw a tree that reflected this. It looks like a kind of birch, and the bark is peeling off in layers, slowly revealing the heart of the tree underneath. It’s beautiful and haunting, but feels like the work we do to healing brokenness in the world. Layer by layer, uncovering new truth, new ways of being, new life as we let go of the old. Sometimes we feel exposed, but what is being exposed is soft and gentle and love-filled. The miracle of new life uncovered by old thoughts and feeling being healed.
What in your life is being revealed in this season?
This weekend I was blessed to travel to Idaho to celebrate Elise’s graduation with a Masters in Social Work. I have known Elise since she was 3 when I was her nanny…. She is now a married 28 year old with a passion for life and helping others, and it has been a beautiful thing to watch her growing into this strong, courageous, loving, funny young woman! We had arranged that she would pick me up from the airport, so when I landed I called and texted and got no response, so wandered outside to wait for her. She then called me from her mom’s phone to say they were about ten minutes away, so I sat on a bench to wait.
As I sat there I noticed out of the corner of my eyes a woman holding a piece of paper up in front of her face as though to shield her eyes from the sun. “That’s odd,” I thought, as it was dark outside, and not too bright. But the woman stood there, and then took a step or two towards me. I kept my eyes on the traffic, not sure of the car I was looking for that would hold Elise, and the woman inched her way closer to me, face still shielded by the piece of paper. Ten minutes had passed by now, so I looked even more intently at the cars pulling up to pick up their passengers. Still no Elise. Then the woman sat down next to me. I looked over to smile a welcome at her, and check to make sure I was safe…. And that was when I saw it was an old friend and colleague of mine, Paula, who I had taught with 15 years previously, and someone who had been Elise’s teacher for seven years! I jumped up and threw my arms around her, shocked and surprised, and heard laughter from behind the pillar where Elise and her mom and husband were hiding!
The week before I had suggested Paula hop in a car with Elise’s mom and join us, but she had responded that she was too busy preparing for the new school year, but instead, she had just decided to surprise Elise and me by coming! What a joy, and a weekend filled with laughter, love, memories, tears and celebration followed.
I think the Divine can be like this…. Sneaking up on us when we least expect it, coming towards us in disguise, waiting for us to recognize them, and, ultimately, filling us with joy, love and laughter. But how often we ignore Her, or shy away because we don’t immediately know who She is. We edge away on the bench, we turn our face, we even stand up and walk (or sometimes run) in the opposite direction, all because we are not curious about the unknown, or fear-filled about what is not easily recognizable.
The Psalmist reminds us that wherever we go, the Divine will always be there to surprise and guide and love and find us, which I find such a reassurance! The Voice translation of the Bible phrases it this way:
Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit?
Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?
If I go up into heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there.
If I ride on the wings of morning,
if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean,
Even then You will be there to guide me;
Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there.
Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
For You the night is just as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.
No matter if we are in the light or in a place that feels dark, the Divine is there, ready to embrace us and guide us and love on us. Our only job is to recognize Her through the layers of disguise and pain and fear and exhaustion we see with.
In these coming days I invite you to open yourself to be surprised by God! To smile at a stranger on a bench and see it is One who loves you. To feel the light surrounding you, even if you feel you are in a dark place. To observe the One sneaking closer to you and welcome the Presence and embrace. For these encounters lead to laughter, love, memories, tears and celebration!
May you be so blessed!
My heart has been broken this last week watching the news. From shootings to ICE raids, where innocent people, mostly people of color, have been targeted, children have been left without parents, and lives have been destroyed or traumatized. As a response, many of those in power point fingers of blame to others, including parents seeking a good life for their children, or laws that they, themselves, have weakened, leaving compassion and empathy seeming far, far away.
Questions, along with images and sounds of children crying or begging, have been haunting me. Questions have ranged from a helpless, “What can I do,” when the need is so, so great, to “How can ‘those’ people not care, not do something, allow this to happen.” And I find neither of these too productive, as both feel like cries from the depths of grief, and I would rather turn away from the news than feel this, but know that we have to stay aware. We have to feel. We cannot look away.
So what CAN I do? And, maybe, what can you do?
Last week I helped with Vacation Bible School at church. Toddlers through fifth graders came together to create, learn, play, worship and eat. Older youth were there as volunteers alongside the many adults around. Skin tones varied in color, accents were different from one another, learning abilities varied, and taste in food was individual. Yet this community of infants through grandmas (and probably great-grandparents), gathered in harmony to bring kindness and love and compassion to our little part of Minnesota. During the week I got to witness a quiet, shy girl from Puerto Rico grow more confident and come out of her shell as she felt this welcome and love into our community. So much so that on the last night when the kids were asked if they would read something for the closing worship in front of parents, she was the first to volunteer!
Last week an older woman where I worked got tangled up with her walker and fell. She was in pain, laying on the cold floor. So I sat with her, praying and rubbing her back gently, checking to see if she needed a blanket or a hand to squeeze as we waited first, for the nurse, then the security guard and finally an ambulance to arrive. And all the while she was thanking each person who came, and feeling bad she was being an inconvenience, lying there with her broken pelvis.
And last week I prayed, (or, more accurately) pleaded, with God to show me how I could help in practical ways. “Send me to El Paso or Mississippi,” I said. “Make a way for me to go to the border and make a difference,” I asked. “Find ways for me to change laws,” I reluctantly suggested, for politics is not my strong suit. But all I heard from God was, “Keep doing good, sowing love, showing kindness, being open and vulnerable, right where you are.” “It’s not enough,” I cried. “It’s all there is,” God replied.
This conversation threw me right back in to the words from the Talmud: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
So, wherever you are, I invite you to stay open, broken wide so it sometimes feels raw as you bear witness to the injustice in the world. To pray and listen to how God is calling you to respond. To be thankful, to shower grace and kindness into the world, to watch and learn from the children, to look for beauty, and to respond with the most love you can summon, in big ways and small. For, I believe, these will ripple out into the world, changing it love drop by love drop.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.