Wednesday, June 23, 2010

when his future steps into him

This picture is my firstborn son.  My son who graduates from highschool on Saturday.  This Saturday.  He's almost nineteen because the summer he turned five I just knew he wasn't ready for kindergarten.  He liked to take long, book-reading naps and sit under trees in the front yard and think.  How could I send that boy to school?

The summer he turned six, I decided to teach him kindergarten at home.  It's one of the most fun memories I have of parenting.  He, as my kindergarten student, and my second son, Alex, as my preschool student.  We were also accompanied by the eighteen-month-old sister toddling through the classroom, stealing crayons and clay. My youngest daughter was only a blossoming bulge across my twenty-six year-old waistline.  Sitting down to read stories to my children was a cozy, snuggly time for about two-point-five minutes until we all smothered each other with our humanity.  Still, it was a good idea; it is the memory I have been visiting most often these last days of his final year of highschool.

It hasn't been an easy year -- for him or for us.  We've run into each other with our thoughts and ideas and plans and theologies.  Some days we all treat each other like polite friends in the middle of an argument.  Other days, it feels like things have always been perfect between us.  Some nights I have sat up in my bed and  wept rivers of regret, my husband soothing my back with grieving pats.  One night I woke him from a sound sleep, as the shock of a new thought tormented me:  "I can not think of one single thing I've ever done right for him."  Not an exaggeration, I really and truly could not remember any good thing.

But, there's that one memory of delighting together in learning his first year of school.  Maybe I should have never sent him?  Maybe, the day that one teacher's aide hinted at a classification for him, we should have listened.  Maybe we shouldn't have laughed when other teachers joked about his "mental field trips".  Maybe I couldn't do any of those things because I could relate so well to him.

Good Letters blogger, Kelly Foster, caught my attention in a fierce way when she wrote in a recent post:
 It took me until graduate school to really begin doing any homework in earnest, and even then I was hardly consistent. I am not and may never become a happy little worker bee. It takes too much time away from staring out of windows. 
Andrew is a genius in the staring out windows kind of learning. I hope he knows we value it even when most of his school career did not.

He's not too excited about graduation festivities.  He didn't even put his picture in the yearbook.  He's got big plans for his future and this weekend just represents the last thing he has to do to conform to school.  I haven't known if I should try to persuade him to feel the significance of this event more.  And, really, how many of us feel much during a graduation ceremony?  Other than the brief thrilling seconds of hearing the name of your own flesh and blood, there's not much that really happens during a ceremony.  It's a rite of  passage that gets you from the day you're a high schooler to the day you are not. And never will be again.

And I know he'll hate the ceremonial cliche and the platitude -- no matter how well intentioned -- and I know that he's learned that from me.  I hope he knows we still value the good intentions.  We value the sentiment while disdaining the sentimental.  He will not be the kid with a group of friends crowding around him for pictures.  But he'll be the kid observing every minute detail, absorbing it into some future character in a script or caricature in a spoof.

But I hope he doesn't miss the moment of realization that he has done good work.  That he has fulfilled the quota part of the status quo in his education.  That he has learned the humility of being one face in a crowd.  One average student of hundreds.  One imaginative mind that got barely noticed.  And that, at some point, he'll know he has accomplished something great.  It might be when the tassle is moved, but knowing Drew, I doubt it.

Foster refreshed my imagination with her own thoughts from a Rilke line:
I wish I were a more credulous participant in many ceremonies, graduation not least among them. I remember reading Rilke as a college freshman and being struck by this line and calling up to recent memory my own high school graduation, “The seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside."
I wonder when his uneventful and motionless moment will be?  And mine?

**The beautiful  photos in this post were taken by my cousins, Grant & Deb Perry -- photography rock stars.  Thank you for capturing so many shots of the true self of our son.**

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday Mix Tape [the semi-regular edition]

i made you a mix tape of all my favorites from this past week!

The tag line is a lie.  This mix tape covers at least a month's time.
Of all of life's uncertainties, at least two things about me that I know to be true:

1.  Something in me rebels at the thought of being too predictable or consistent.
2.  I can only juggle one -- two, at the most -- compulsions at at time.  Which really isn't juggling at all, is it?

Right now, we're in full twirl celebrating the end of school and my oldest son's graduation from high school.  I've been spending most of my free time catching up his life scrapbook as a gift.  Well, that and getting the yard and house ready for a party.  That's a lot of work, yes, but what is most sapping my energy is the constant swinging back and forth from grief to relief on this crazy, emotional pendulum that is motherhood.

Still, a little bit of normal rhythm might be just the thing.  In that spirit, I offer you this post.


I'm finishing up Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis and diving into Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for our IAM Reader's Guild gathering a week from today.  I feel like I've done a poor job keeping up with this reading and reviewing, but hopefully once we complete all the graduation festivities (also, have I mentioned that my husband turns 40 on Friday??)  I'll be able to settle into a lovely little reading and writing rhythm for summer.  One can always hope...

If you live in the area and want to join us for some great discussion about these two books, why don't you join us next Tuesday night? For the summer months, we're going to meet at my house to make good use of Brian's beautiful remodel of our back patio.

Tuesday, June 22, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
The Murphy's house, 106 Jefferson Ave., Endicott
RSVP to me:
Bring your book, discussion guide and a snack or beverage to share!

  • The KJV Effect at Books & Culture - reallllly interesting thoughts on American prose and the King James Bible.  It isn't very often that I look back on my KJV-only education with gratitude.  Reading this was one of those moments.
  • The next time you need a hot conversation topic, pull up this link and let 'er rip:  Mickey of Nazareth
  • Tyler just for fun.  Found out about this guy on Donald Miller's blog.  He makes me laugh -- and gives me hope for my filmmaker/screenwriter/ridiculous-humoured sons' futures.  Want an example?
    Tyler Stanton

Andrew Murphy, et al (aka Mustache Mayhem)


Is this art because it's an aesthetically-pleasing photograph or is it art because it depicts musicians at play or is it art because the story the photo tells is of lives making beauty in the midst of hardship?


(Thanks to Culture Making and Hard Luck Blues: Images of the Forgotten for the photo by Dorthea Lange)


Lanyard by Billy Collins  (thank you, Andrea, for the link!)

Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Hear the poem read by the author here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Liturgy of a Laity Lodge retreat [the response and sending]

*This is the fifth post in a series about my trip to a retreat for Ministers to Artists at Laity Lodge in Kerrville, TX.  You can see the other posts here.*

encaustic workshop palettes
 (most of the photos in this post are from the fabulous Erik Newby)

Twelve years ago -- and only six months after giving birth to my fourth beautiful, amazing, delightful child -- I left home for a spring break road trip with my sister and her friend.  I was superfried, bonafide dog-tired. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and all other lly's, at the end of my rope.  The funny thing about the request is that I was invited as a kind of chaperon -- as if I had anything left to offer in the way of oversight!  It was I who was falling into a dangerous burn-out; a depression that feels something like dangling over a cavernous blackness, held by only a frayed diaper wipe.

We rolled southbound, swinging through my sister's Virginia campus long enough to sleep a short night before  throwing her, her bathing suit and her roadtrip music into the girlfriend's Ford Taurus.  Stereo blaring, we hit Florida like giggling bandits.

You need this back story to understand our behavior the night we hit Daytona Beach.  First of all, it was night.  Also, hot and stormy.  The silent sky over the Atlantic held jagged,  fluorescent bolts of lightening, a blinking marquee showing coming storm attractions.  Kaley and Ellen ran  the hardpacked sand -- fully clothed -- all the way into the frothing surf.  I watched from the soft sand, vicariously living their delight.

It was an inebriated college student, tottering into my sandy reverie, that reminded me of my chaperon responsibilities. Oh, beautiful irony -- the drunk frat guy had more sense than the stay-at-home, mini-van-driving mom!
Excuse me, miss?  But they're crazy, for one thing.
He continued his granular zig-zag toward Daytona's downtown strip before I could find out the other thing.  An implausible guardian angel, he seemed to have much wisdom for us.

a blurry scan of our beach antics

For some reason, this is the story that came to mind while I was at the retreat.  Stories do that sometimes. When my mind is stalling to explain new thoughts, experiences, feelings, it is often a metaphor that saves the day.  Like the kingdom-proclaiming Messiah, sometimes the best way I know how to translate the intangible to the tangible is to start my sentences with:  " It's like ...."

Without question, the artistic energy surrounding me at the retreat was an overwhelming force of beauty, breaking through my well-groomed reserves of exhaustion and ministry disillusionment.  I've attended plenty of events with  talented people.  Other events where creative people from across the country wander campuses, huddling around steaming hot beverages, holding earnest conversations.  Here, though, there was an arresting difference.  I can only guess it was a difference of enterprise.  A fearless, risk-taking way of life, art-making, and people-serving that brought to memory those two lightening-storm, surf dancers.  When I tried to explain it to Brian, the best I could do (other than the drunken guardian story) was to sputter: "It's like these people have five or six sentence vocations."

What I mean by that is that almost no one at the retreat could describe what they did for a living in a predictable category,  like you'd find in a survey scroll-down box.  Even more astonishing was the complete lack of qualifiers these people felt obligated to give about their chosen way of wild living.

Example? Gen makes art and loves to travel.  Her husband, Mat, is a theologian, loves to travel and has an ambition to know and serve Muslim people.  Therefore, it made perfect sense to them to [in Gen's words]: for this international non-profit mission agency. We look to connect visual artists around the globe to ways to serve by creating cultural exchange and community enhancement projects. We arrange these opportunities for artists and lead them on cross cultural excursions. I love my job and thank God He designed such a unique way for me to serve.
The Carsons have also founded an art collective, promoting artwork from the artists they've met around the world.  A place where, they hope, by piecing together the images from individual artists making art in order to make sense of the world, a fuller vision of the world will be captured.  A site to collect, promote and sell those works?  Well, of course.

Shannon is an encaustic artist with a deep affection for beeswax and an uncommonly delightful outlook on art and life.  Her husband Erik is about all things photography and web design.  He is also a kind man with a standing high jump that would make any Olympian take notice.  Also, he grew up in Germany with his missionary parents.  Naturally, they've determined that all these pieces put together [in their own words]:
We believe that God has called us to use our abilities in visual and media arts in full time missions work in southwest Germany. As we've travelled, we've witnessed firsthand how God is raising a generation of Christian creative people who want to engage culture in a new way. 
As Shannon shares in a recent interview, once she completes her master's degree at Regent College, they will leave for a small town near the Black Forest in Germany. Part of their team is already at work there, renovating a 25,000 square foot abandoned building into a community art center where Shannon will serve as a studio artist and teacher. Erik will continue working with GemStone Media, creating resources like print material, websites, and short videos for churches and missionaries in Europe.  By all means.

Vito Aiuto is a Presbyterian pastor in Brooklyn (and a proud Sicilian).  When he married his wife Monique, they decided they'd like to be, among other things, a musical family.  So he taught himself to play guitar and she the glockenspiel (yes, indeed).  They played together in their living room using old hymnals and shape note songbooks.  Sometimes their friend and Brooklyn neighbor Sufjan Stevens would play with them.  Indubitably, this partnership grew into recordings and musical tours as The Welcome Wagon. Still, Vito is a pastor, Monique is a mother of their toddler son and they keep playing around with songs and notes and lyrics in their living room.

The [utterly delightful] Welcome Wagon

For crying out loud, Charlie Peacock's own wikipedia page says that he is "difficult to categorize."  His job title includes singer/songwriter, pianist, record producer, session musician, music industry consultant, co-founder of artist development and music publishing company, mentor, author and social justice advocate. His wife Andi loves to write, garden, cook, study theology, and show hospitality. Naturally, the two have worked side by side over the years mentoring young artists through their non-profit organization, Art House America.
The Art House America mission is to contribute to the making of artists and artful people who become highly imaginative and creative culture makers, who continue to mature spiritually, love well, and make known the kingdom of God. Andi and Charlie's home, the Art House, a one-hundred-year-old, renovated country church provides the setting for their work, which includes owning and operating a recording studio, and running award-winning music/film production and publishing companies. (Cardus audio, March 2010)
But, of course.

Miriam Jones and Charlie Peacock

Miriam and Jez Carr are shining examples of ministry at Charlie and Andi's Art House.  Actually, Miriam Jones is the recording name.  And she can sing and share her heart with nitty-gritty honesty.  She told the story of a recent recording she made with Charlie Peacock.  And how, after recording all her best stuff, CP congratulated her and then challenged her to go write some more.  That she had more to offer the project.  She followed his lead and came up with this tune.  If, for no other reason, this makes me glad for the ministry of Art House.

I also met Brian who teaches at a classical school, Jeff Guy who paints and runs an arts ministry, Terri who is an arts pastor at a church in Austin (also, of her four children, two of them currently working in  film in LA) and Brie , an NYU theatre grad, arts pastor and new mama. These are the names and stories of just a few. The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense that this would be the group gathered at a retreat dreamed up by the ambitious and passionate David and Phaedra Taylor.

To conclude this series as a witness to those who were gathered at Laity Lodge in the early breezes of a Texas March, this post speaks to us as those scattered.  As I pulled out of the camp and back onto Route 41 toward San Antonio, I was caught by the sign at the entrance: Road Work Ahead.

I shared this story about the spring break and the lightening storm and the crazy for one thing statement.  I shared it during Sunday  morning Eucharist. I told the group:
You guys are crazy, for one thing...
... but this time, I know the second thing.  In addition to an your almost reckless pursuit of God's purposes for your lives, you and the work you do is also beautiful.  I told them that. And I told them how hard it was for me to come to this event.  How small and insignificant my life experiences, education and talents feel in comparison to the stories I heard. I told them how before the retreat when David solicited our prayer needs I replied that I felt like a little kid at the big kids table.  And how David had left a message in my voice mail telling me that was not true.  That, in the best sense of the word, I had every right to be at this table.  The common table.  And that when I'm thinking otherwise I needed to tell Jesus so He could help me.

All weekend long, this table motif showed up.  When we sat at breakfast, lunch and dinner tables -- discoursing on themes of art, ministry, books, family, wounds and please, pass the bread.  It showed up one lunch time when I sat in the wrong seat; I took my seat too soon, not knowing if the seat was free. This resulted in me spending the rest of the afternoon in my cabin crying for some crazy, junior-high flashback reason.  Most of all, it showed up at the bread and wine Sunday morning.  All my life, I've not been sure which seat at the table was open for me.  I'm still not entirely certain, but I do know that there is a place for me.  It is a good seat and a good fellowship and I hold a common place there.  Now and forever.

There is work ahead for sure.  Brian and I are entering a new season.  Starting January 2011, he will have a new job.  It will be a perfect job for this time in our lives.  We just don't know what it is yet.  We do know that we have a fellowship among crazy, beautiful people who make common look exceptional.  Naturally.
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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

in honor of monotonous matrimony

June 5, 1970 was the day my parents made vows.  That's forty years of obedience in the same direction.  As the oldest child -- and precociously perceptive at that -- I noted each dip in the ebb and flow of long love. The romantic hilarity and teeth-gritting shouldering on the vows demanded.  As an adult, I've walked with Brian nearly twenty years in their footsteps.In the same way they've followed in the 64-year-old worn-down path my grandparents are travelling.

Sometimes the love is fierce as hate and sometimes it is supple as a half-awake midnight caress. It is hard-fought and exhausting in its familiarity.  It is insistent to remember one face, one form, one essence only, and no other.  It is cisterns and wells of living water and tromps through vineyards. Pomegranates and gazelles and all that.  My beloved is mine and I am his.  

Glorious monotony.

My grandmother said, "My back doesn't bend anymore!"  
My grandfather said, "Mine does!"

My dad has given the last forty years of his life to his wife, his children (well, 39  years for that) and the Church.  This summer he leaves one of those calls behind him.  It is my great joy to be a daughter to a man who chooses the greater calling above all others.  I, for one, can't wait to do a happy dance when he and mom get to walk out the doors the last time as Pastor Doug and Nancy.  You won't need a picture of that because this one says it all.

*Thank you, Lindsey Davern, for the goooorgeous photos!*

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

prayers for re-entry

I'm headed back to work today after a week off, trying to find rest and re-alignment for my weary body, soul, spirit.  I have been buoyed by the prayers of a kind tribe of intercessors.  

I am feeding on words of truth in the form of psalm, hymn, prayer and poem:

O Lord...answer us when we call. -- Psalm 20:9
My eyes are fixed on you, O my Strength; for you, O God, are my stronghold. -- Psalm 59:10
(reminded to me by my friend David): If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence./ When I thought "my foot slips," your steadfast love, oh Lord, held me up. / When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. -- Psalm 94:17-19
(reminded to me by my friend Nancy): Psalm 73

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Public Domain. Words: Isaac Watts. Music: William Croft.
1. O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
2. Beneath the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
3. Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
4. Thy word commands our flesh to dust:
“Return, ye sons of men!”
All nations rose from earth at first
And turn to earth again.
5. A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
6. O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. -- from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime 

Divine Wrath by Adelia Prado, (click here to read)

Voice (I wrote last summer):

I must have one. I'm pretty sure God
did not forget.
What I can't figure out is the sound
and shape of it.
Soft and flowing like a warmly-lit
woman, or
clipped and spiky like a queen 
of renown?
Perhaps it's squashed and sullen
like a cuss.
Or hollow and pleasant like a bank teller
or a receptionist.

I'd like to be able to curse like a
Prophetess and judge like a
I'd like to whisper like a
Lover and sing like a 

Mostly, I'd like to know the 
Voice when it comes up from
my chest and over my tongue.
I'd like to be able to recognize it as
my own. 
Connected to the truth stitched
into the core of me.

I am so homesick for the taste of it.
I've forgotten what it 
sounds like.


I recently purchased this print through The Working Proof:

 My Secret Self/At Rest
Olivia Jeffries 
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