Tag Archiv: love

Praying towards beautiful

Girl Interrupted at her music, by Johannes Vermeer. 1660/61. Public domain.

Girl Interrupted at her music, by Johannes Vermeer. 1660/61. Public domain.

Not too long ago, I went for a walk with a friend. She linked our arms without asking if I wanted to, although by the way, I did. If there was a plan, it wasn’t mine. My plan would not have chosen then to talk about my list of insecurities, the number of rivers, or how deep they run. But one thing led to another and that is what happened.

We were by the water. The wind was blowing. I didn’t bother zipping up my coat. What was the point? Could a coat have made me any less naked? For good measure and because why not, I threw in some comments about clothes. Not a lot mind you. But I acknowledged that they existed and perhaps the ones I owned were not my favorites anymore.

My prayer for you, she said as we walked home. What I’m going to pray, she told me, is that somehow you will be able to see yourself the way I see you. As beautiful person that you are, and . . . she said a lot of other things but I got stuck there. On that word.

Tears filled up most of me except my eyes. Our walk came to an end and we went our separate ways. I appreciated the kindness of her prayer. But the hoping was beyond me. Not that I doubt the power of prayer exactly. It’s just I’ve been me for a long time. The idea of someone wanting to pray that for me moved me, but I can’t say I was thinking it would make a difference.

Okay, I said to my husband that night. I know this makes no sense. Even I don’t know why I’m saying it. But the thing is . . .I’m, well, it’s just that . .. well, I think I’m going to buy some clothes. And nobody is making me. I actually feel like it.

The practical man said he didn’t much care how or why or who was getting through to me, but it sounded good to him.

There is so much I don’t know. How we get to places where we live in closets for so long that we’ve long since given up even trying to see if we can turn the door handle. What I know is that when the door opened, the light was blinding and unexpected. I might have felt shaky, but I wanted to stand up and walk out.

The miracles we most need take place not in shining iridescence, but in the here and now that we can touch. In earthy, messy, broken places where we love well and poorly both. In between fear, frustration, and not knowing how to fix it.

Love calls, inviting us to rise. With little acts of courage we go out. My little act is a confession. (Here too, grace simplifies the matter. One need not have courage for the last step, merely the next one. That act begets the grace for yet another and so on.) So I confess. I liked the prayer my friend prayed. Replayed it in my head. Drank it like a thirsty woman handed a  glass of cold water after a long walk in the heat of the day. I confess. I want that same prayer answered. To love’s great beckoning. Anointing. I want to rise.

And so, to the raised eyebrows of my well developed social conscience, I’m going shopping. I’ve two failed attempts to my name so far in the last week, but that’s okay. I’m not sure it matters that I can’t quite manage this one alone. What matters is that I know what I’m doing and why. I’m buying clothes because sometimes love needs a marking. Needs an anchor thrown down along the portside to remind us of its presence. To stake a claim on its other-worldly power to heal, undo, make right, redeem, and raise our tears from ashes into strong, and free, and beautiful.

Risk anxiety and Moses

DSCN1967

 

We live in a very risk adverse culture. Safe schools, safe fun, safe kids, safe world. Because if we are careful enough, no one will get hurt. Ever. We make allowances for risk only under the category: calculated risk.

But safety isn’t enough. We need love. And love is the fly in the ointment. Because love is a calculated risk only if you calculate that all your expectations are guesses unobligated to attach themselves to a single one of your calculations.

I organized a work day recently, which among other things involved some crews with trucks going around to pick up donated furniture and household items. I came home exhausted to messages of further donations, which I declined. The little old lady after church was a different story. My message that no further donations were needed was not welcome news. I felt the same about her insistence that I come retrieve a fiftieth set of dishes for our cause. I countered. She countered. Her dishes will probably be passed on to some other charity, but not before they land in my car. I went home feeling the impossibility of defending myself from old ladies who had set their minds to something.

That afternoon I dreamed of great lengths of silence. Perhaps the sound of wind or birds. Instead I heard the sound of children fighting. About the phone book of all things. One had the idea to count the number of Smiths. This set off the counting of several different names, disagreements about accurate tallies, and believe it or not, pushing and pulling over whose turn it was to hold the phone book.

I wasn’t at home tired from doing the wrong thing. I was at home tired from trying to do the right thing. But when you want to swear even at the memory of the wrinkled lady in the jaunty hat, it doesn’t feel that nice inside yourself. Love. Messy. Overwhelming. Uncalculated.

I feel incapable, inadequate, unequal to the tasks I see before me. I feel, I said to a friend, like Moses with a stutter being asked to speak. Like I’m sitting in a hall of dreams I believe in, not sure if I even know how to stand up.

Maybe it was Moses who had a word with me after that. At least a fuller version of his story came to me. Moses didn’t feel adequate for the task ahead. But it was his arm asked to hold the stick that parted the Red Sea. Adequacy is not a prerequisite for giving what we have. Love asks us, the inadequate (and we who are risk adverse) to gamble on the chance that what we have to offer can be used. To pay the cost without knowing if our gifts will be accepted. To trust in our smallest moments. In our caught by surprise, brimming over with fear and tears moments. To believe, in the midst of messy, overwhelming and unexpected, that love is big enough for all of it.

Together we can

I liked everything about this video except the title. (I doubt this video will change our lives.) However, like the seemingly small kindnesses it documents, the video reminded me something. There is a mysterious beauty to the sum total of our tiny offerings of friendship and care for our fellow humans. We don’t always see it, but it’s there. Little acts of love matter.

 

a-aaa-mother-of-kindness

image found at emaze.com

Fairy tales

The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1864. Public Domain

The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1864. Public Domain

I started a piece called, “Fairy tales I tell myself.” It was about failed work projects and the fact that the idea of the children pitching in is a fairy tale I tell myself in order to make it feel like a team effort. I wanted to discuss the mounting level of fantasy required to plan a list of jobs (as if there were other creatures intent on their completion).

So a wee bit of cynicism, and “fairy tales” was not supposed to be a compliment. At which point, God laughed and hijacked my train.

 

Girl one lost another tooth. (A relief for the scales of justice as her sister’s teeth have been raining down like manna from heaven.) I thought a tooth fairy conversation was not far off, but I didn’t see it going the way it did.

I don’t know whether to believe in the tooth fairy, she said. I pretty much know there isn’t one. That’s what my friends all say. . . but I’m . . .I’m not completely sure.

The man in the red suit (who we don’t campaign against, but who’s never really caught on as a tradition for our family) came to my rescue.

Kids want to believe in Santa Claus, I said, because they want to believe that there’s magic in the world. That love does things so amazing we can’t explain it. A kid might find out that Santa isn’t real and worry that miracles aren’t true either. But they are. Someone might have made up the idea of Santa Claus but love really does do things so amazing we can’t explain it. So amazing that it’s magical like flying reindeer.

She didn’t say anything, so I kept brushing her hair.

What would be better? I said. To believe the tooth fairy isn’t real and you don’t feel dumb with your friends or to believe she is real and you don’t have to feel sad that part of what you imagined is pretend?

Girl one took these things and pondered them in her heart. I brushed hair that no longer needed brushing.

Your sister puts her tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy. Your brother doesn’t want to so he brings me all his lost teeth and I hand him some money. It’s okay both ways and the money’s the same either way. Which way do you want it?

I want to believe, she said.

I didn’t know how much I’d wanted her to say that until she said it. She danced downstairs the next morning waving the money that I’d put under her pillow myself. I saw her eyes and found it impossible not to imagine a tooth fairy with wings. Look what I got! she said. Girl two and I gasped with her.

Girl one wasn’t asking about the existence of the tooth fairy. She was asking if it was okay to believe in fairy tales. If it was okay to find in make-believe, things so true it made your heart hurt.

C.S. Lewis’s Narnia is that for me. I don’t expect to walk through a wardrobe in my daily life and find a different world (although I wouldn’t rule it out entirely). Rather, I expect that we may awake one day to the realization that where we are is Narnia. In the wordless places we see in part but are afraid to say, so we make poetry, and art, and music for each other to admit to what we know. That the trees have always talked, we simply haven’t heard them. That Aslan is real and on the move and without understanding why, that is precisely what we have been hoping and whispering so earnestly to each other.

We tell fairy tales to give back to our children what they give to us. That thing we so desperately need. Permission to believe.

Not alone

compliments of Kenia from morguefile.com

compliments of Kenia from morguefile.com

We are not alone. None of us are. We’re stumbling in the dark trying to figure out how to be it or do it. Hold on to it or let go of it. Sometimes we don’t even know what it is –  except we’re sure that everyone else does.

Voices whisper that there is no one like us. No one would understand. We are lonely and afraid to be ourselves. We live expecting someone to come through the door and tell us we’re not doing it right.

If it’s not we, at least it’s me. My childhood was soaked through with confusion. Life was a puzzle with the box missing and it was never clear which picture we were trying to assemble. I prayed, went to the library often, and wished I knew who to talk to.

As far as I could tell, talking wasn’t what people did. It took years for me to understand that this was because most people assume that they are alone. That they believe their feelings of inadequacy (and all the proofs thereof)  are unique to them alone. Life was, I discovered, a great deal of pretending. Performance and appearance are some of our world’s most sacred values.

I’ve made some new friends who don’t have it all together. They don’t try to hide their struggles. No one has any energy or interest in pretense. My friends are giving me something that I want and without meaning to, I find myself studying them, trying to understand it.

This caught my eye in a paragraph from writer, Heather King talking about what we have to give each other. We have, she says, “our wounds, our holy longing, our groping in the dark.”

What we have to give each other is the truth that we are not alone.  Despair and shame assail, but against the sharing of “our wounds and holy longing,” they are rendered mute by the voice of love.

It’s like we live in ditches, sitting up to our armpits in mud with the garbage of every car that’s gone by squishing up against us. We can see neck and shoulders of the person across the road. We’re equipped with a washcloth, a voice, and a curling iron. Standard etiquette is to keep your face clean, your hair curled, and make frequent reference to the sunshine or the birds.

One day the unthinkable happens. The woman across the way stands up from her stretch of supposedly manicured lawn. The ear rings you’ve admired from afar are the last nice thing about her. Not only is she muddy, she only has one leg. A diaper and a squashed coke can are stuck in the mud on her.

Relief floods you. Tears wash down your face. You are not alone.

In your ditch, there might be diapers and coke cans. In mine, there is a winter’s worth of dog poop, some very frustrated dreams, uninvited levels of emotion over little things, a lot of uncertainty, some recurring unhealed mess that is completely fine until the days it isn’t (which really ticks me off unless it makes me cry), shame, self doubt, and an abiding loneliness. My bounce backer function is also behaving rather erratically these days.

We are not alone. This is the truth that we have to offer each other. These are the words of our gift until the final word which is love.

Love and the abyss

file8191282517056

We are broken, all of us. If we do not weep this night, we have wept another night. Some tears we taste. Others carve unseen a myriad of hidden rivers, our insides quietly rearranged without our having any choice about the holes, their shape, their size.

This is what makes us so nervous about loving each other. We’re not that put together ourselves. Touching broken people reminds us about the rivers.

On the good days, we’re Swiss cheese in clothes talking cheddar. Other days (against our wishes) we go topless covered only by post it notes with arrows pointing to the holes. In a world of hurting people, our own holes ache to be filled but the when and how are confusing.

Suffering come with complicated formulas. It’s okay to  be suffering only if the diameter of my pain exceeds my neighbor’s. Measurements in my favor spell relief. But carrying rulers to relegate sorrows hurts everybody.

When my neighbor’s pain exceeds my own, it stops me short. What do I even have to offer them?

How do I love into the abyss?

My neighbor’s apartment is on fire. (This is a metaphor.) I am afraid to look at the flames. They bother me. Keep me up at night. I don’t need reminding. My eyes still burn from the smoke of my own recent fire. The power is out. There is one glass of water half full on my counter. The fire department is not here. They are supposed to be here. No one knows if they’re coming. Maybe my neighbor told them not to. What if she wants her place to burn?

Share your water, love whispers.

That much water cannot stop a fire. It’s not enough even to quench her thirst, I say.

Love waits for me to see.

It isn’t about rescue. We aren’t saviours. And yet by simple things have each of us saved. The 1/4 cups of water, half the kingdoms of our fellow pilgrims offered freely where they could not possibly make the difference between life and death. And yet they have.

When all is dark, it is in the arms of these moments that we are held. There is no promise for tomorrow to grab hold of (except by wings of faith notoriously difficult to strap on properly enough to stay in place). But there are moments of brokenness into which we can declare each other beloved.

The woman who washed God’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair didn’t fix anything. The feet were going to be dirty and smelly the next day. She washed them anyway.Tomorrow’s addictions and confusions will haunt unheeding of our sacrifice. But we offer the treasure of our love and into the ground a stake is struck.

I believe, we say to each other, you will be well. Whether or not I live to see your wellness, my love is not wasted on you. I see here, now, the promise of your wholeness.

We are ill suited to save each other but to love like this, into the abyss of dusty roads and canyons, perhaps this is what we were made to do.

 

Defeating Dragons

Slaying Goliath, by Peter Paul Rubens. 1616.

Slaying Goliath, by Peter Paul Rubens. 1616.

Hate is a scary thing. I don’t know if most people are afraid of it, but I am. Hate hangs heavy in dark places like a towel sopping wet on the line. Seemingly like Thompson’s hound of heaven, hate haunts down the narrow back alleys. Waits to find us unawares. Stalks us with intent.

To escape it is no small feat. Victory is rarely won in a single battle. Hatred is a tempting response to hatred. Many of us, therefore, know both sides of the monster rather better than we wished.

Like love, there are lesser forms of hate. One of my children “hates” one of their siblings right now. Most everything said sibling does is cause for disgust. I don’t think child A hates child B. I think they love them but feel so terribly insecure about themselves that they need to put another person down. It isn’t hate yet, but unchecked it has the seeds to grow a bumper crop.

I listened once to a mother explain to me how strongly she felt about violence. She could not tolerate it to the extent that were someone to enter her home, she could not imagine attacking them to protect her children. I, on the other hand, can imagine without any effort attempts to inflict as much bodily harm on said intruder as possible with whatever frying pan, steak knife, or cat was handy. This may reflect primordial instinct and a parent’s duty to protect (I think it does) but in my case at least, even the idea of this kind of danger taps into a rage against threat that is not all good.

Most of us have our own supply of hate. The never ending news feeds  encourage it’s close cousin, terror. In our rising fear we borrow liberally from a great bank of hate. With so much danger all around, hate (like State Farm insurance) is something we can never have too much of.

The following occurred in my presence. I share because it begs the question.

 

A boy not mine. Deeply wounded. Deeply troubled.

A girl. Smaller. Younger. Upset because the boy has called her an idiot.

Me. Sighing. Boy breathes rage. Nothing can be done but this is not the time to say that.

Say something loving, I offer, not at all sure of myself.

The girl hesitates the walks to the boy.

You  hurt my feelings, she said softly.

What? interrupted the boy loudly.

You hurt my feelings, she said. But I forgive you.

Ok, said the boy.

The girl walked away. The boy followed her.

Hey, he said. He tapped her on the shoulder. Hey, what did I do that hurt your feelings?

You called me an idiot, she said.

For a second he looked confused. Then he tapped her on the shoulder again.

Hey, he said. I’m sorry I said that. Then he followed her across the room and said sorry two more times. For the rest of the class, there was no rage.

Listening to Advent

single_candle

My already slow march toward sainthood has suffered repeated setbacks lately. There is limited pleasure in observations of my shortcomings at any time, but failure set to Christmas music can feel especially glum. I’m not sure it’s even the season that’s getting to me right now as much as the fact that I’m trying so hard and still not spreading peace and joy like dew drops from my wings.

I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing that makes me feel quite so hateful as when I try to be loving and end up being the worst side of me in the middle of it. Examples abound. In case my explanation has failed the clarity test, I’ll share a recurring one.

Loving act:  Extra nice breakfast prepared. Many loving thoughts and warm affections fill me as my feet step lightly through the kitchen. Delicious test: Flying colours. Presentation: Strong. Nutrition: Check. Tra la la la.

Worst side of self races to the fore: I react to the dawdling, complaining, and habitually tardy with acts of war.

Realization hits: I started out to bathe people in love and my irritation and anger is now dripping from their hair.

Result: I hate everyone I know. The Grand They has made me do this. The Grand They continually conspire to make me fail and they are exceedingly good at it. If it weren’t for them I would love everyone with patience and gentleness, possibly even me.

Resulting result: An overwhelming sense of failure salted for flavour with hopelessness

 

So goes the Advent slog on this side of the fence. I’m not feeling as depressed about it as I was. Probably because I got good and mad about something yesterday (again in the midst of planned lovefest for an undeserving segment of mankind). I was more justified than usual, ergo more mad than usual. Then an unlikely bystander was ridiculously kind and generous and I was invited without words to set aside the anger and return to the lovefest.  It didn’t feel logical, but it felt possible.

Advent whispers, if we watch for them, if we let them, at odd intervals, strangers and babies light candles in the dark to save us.

Advent whispers that life might be more like soccer than basketball (one or two goals scored in a game as opposed to seventy or eighty). Missed shots are just directives to shoot again.

Advent says a little louder, despite the occasional evidence to the contrary, we need each other too much to bother with all the hating. Better to load up on matches and start striking. We don’t light our own candles, we light each other’s. Whether in a lifetime we manage one or ten for someone else is largely not up to us. But best to go down trying, with soot marks on our hands and wax dripped down our fingers, aiming for a thousand.

 

On Death and Love

 

IMG_0029

November is a traditional time for remembering those who have died. Churches remember. Countries remember. As if on cue, entire northern climates cycle from life to death or dormancy.

On my walks I often see an older couple. They tend a grave with great care. Every day of the year, in snow or rain, hot or cold, they go to the grave. There is a bench, a bird feeder, and little lamps always burning. In winter, they keep a path shovelled to the grave. All kinds of animals come year round. Despite the location, it is a very lively place. At first I tried to figure what to make of it. Then I decided it wasn’t mine to worry about one way of the other. They’re just a part of the landscape now. I wave. They wave back. I keep the dog away from their spot.

Two years ago my brother was visiting with his kids. Something got it into our heads to visit my mother’s grave. We took the kids, all eight of them, with toothbrushes, a bucket and some soap, to tidy up the grave stone. It wasn’t morbid, it was pleasant. She would have loved them chattering and curious.

My mother was the first person I loved  who died. The first person I knew was the piano player from our church. Her name was Lois Olsen and we kept her dog while she was sick. She was as old as the hills. I was curious about the funeral, but hanging around a church with a dead body inside was too scary for me. My brother and I stayed at home. Watched from the upstairs window as the hearse drove up and her casket was taken into the church. Staring at a box that had the actual body of someone I had seen play a piano was somber and sad and fascinating.

When my mother died, I had the hardest time getting rid of her shoes. They were the wrong size for me, but all I could think was: when you’re dead, your family doesn’t want your shoes. It was a few years before I could bring myself to part with them.

I miss my mother. I grieve her loss. But much harder for me is to love her, not as a memory of how I did love her, but as a verb, now, in the present tense. To love her now is to say that just beyond my reach, she is still as real as I am. That, while neither of us can bridge the gulf between us, love can. In fact, it already has.

We love now as best we can across the chasm. Mothers. Friends. Babies not yet born. With tiny faith, our love claims: O death, where is thy sting?

And then someday –