Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (5): names give meaning

Two of my sisters and I spend a few minutes talking about the meaning of our names and why my niece's middle name is Hope. (pardon my low-tech skills, please!)

p.s., You can see a few "bonus features" from this video conversation here.  Scroll down to #3 for some back story photos.

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.
Do you know the meaning of your name, and why your parents chose it? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (4): God and sisters are not to be ignored

Seeing You
for my sister Kaley on her 2013 birthday

I will not
rationalize --
Love is truth.
Indifference blinds
like a sin. Even
in our close quarters
your closet crib,
I don't remember looking 
in. Your baby days came and went 
the usual number of 
sweet years. The 
days swaying on
the tire swing on the tree 
in the side yard next
to the white and
yellow porch.
Scattered over two acres
the dandelions
we picked for 
Mother's Day, paper
bags full. Scattered over
Dad's bent back, we
three kids on the golden
yellow carpet.

None of us is innocent.
Even a five-year-old bears
the taint of genes,
the tendency to ignore
or neglect. Your cheeks
and nose and mouth
(we shared some of these
in common);
mine are creased now
with tears and time
and sun.

I study your face now
in your sons. It is impossible
to achieve perfect
recollection; let that
be my pardon:

Each photograph, we're wearing
matching Holly Hobbie
bathrobes at Christmas, each 
church duet, cute and
funny story of our
sisterly connection,
puts pieces back in place
and will now not be forgotten.
But, when I
was five and you were none,
I forget.  When I was teened 
and peeved, you were 
lightness and brightness and
ten and kind.

I was blind.

God and sisters
are not to be ignored, wait 
to be seen. Now I look
at you both and remember
what friendship looks like.

*adapted from a poem by Luci Shaw, "Permanent I.D."

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (3): my first best friend

The missionary neighbors who lived upstairs rolled us around the yard in their shipping barrel.

Our vagabond days*

for my brother on his 2013 birthday

We'd hide in those years, Todd and me, inside the best places
in the parsonage —sneaking up from our first floor, certain

mother or others didn't know. While she vacuumed, we tip-toed
up the back stairs of the mud room peering for Lady Chatterly**

the African Parrot chattering Bible verses to her missionary family
whose teenaged son shot BB pellets into our father's tomato garden.

We lived as sheltered vagabonds then, roaming the church halls
in shared clothes from the missionary barrel, slipping through the cribs hung

on nursery walls, the wooden bars for a make believe zoo. The church bell at
noon announced our father's lunch at the formica table in our little kitchen.

Later, in the low glow of a Mickey Mouse night light, our day tucked
in with bed time prayers. I prayed with Daddy for Jesus to come

into my heart -- and yours.  When you decided to postpone your salvation
I chattered night-light altar calls from my bed to yours. Only half mindful

of your wellness, electric whispers in the passion of my conversion, more due
to the fact that you were my first -- and best -- friend. 
*adapted structure from a poem by by Bernadette McBride
**where my memory fails, I make up a few details

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Five Favorites: books from January and February

This week: We took our Kendra to visit her potential college home in Denton, TX  The campus tour was lovely, but it's the gigantic used bookstore Recycled Reads that sealed the deal for me!

Five Favorites: my 2014 reading list

-- 1 --

1  The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell(Ballantine Books, 1997. 408 pages) 
This novel just about wrecked me -- in mostly good ways. Since it falls in the category of Sci-Fi, I'd probably not have picked it up on my own.  But some dear friends shared how much they'd loved the story of -- well, a Jesuit priest in outer space. With only a little bit of experience reading science fiction, I've quickly learned that the power of the genre -- for me -- is the way a well-told story of an imaginary land and its inhabitants can help me reframe the powerful drama of my own land and species in the most surprising, touching ways.  This was the case for me reading about the brave team of space explorers hoping to give and receive love on the planet Rakhat -- for some, even the love of the Gospel of Christ.  The devastating results of offering pure, but misunderstood, love mirrors all the great tragedies we know since the beginning of man.  And the beginning of my very own life on Earth.  

-- 2 --
2  Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett(Worthy Publishing, 2014. 240 pages) 
I am a lucky woman.  I knew this book while it was in the "womb".  I'm so proud of Micha for persevering not only in the story she tells in these pages: learning to pray when life gets turned upside down not by the tragic, but the daily mundane.  I'm also proud of her for birthing this book while her life kept twisting in unexpected ways.  I'll write a longer review later, but for now want you to know you can pre-order the book before it's April release.

-- 3 --
3  The Class by Erich Segal(Bantam Books, 1986. 560 pages) 
When I was home for Christmas my mom kept mentioning this book she'd just read and enjoyed.  Since she's a good mom she didn't hesitate to send that book right home with me to read on our flight.  An interesting novel based on the very real community of Harvard class of 1958 -- a world in which a GPA didn't guarantee against prejudice or for happiness.

-- 4 --
4  Holy Luck by Eugene Peterson(Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013. 128 pages)
Ever since Brian and I heard Pastor Peterson speak in 2008 during a symposium for pastors, church leaders in artists in Austin, we have reclaimed the word "luck" as another way to say "We are surprisingly blessed, indeed!"  This small book of poetry reminds me that this man wrote the Message translation of the Bible.  And he knows he is a lucky man, indeed.

-- 5 --
5  Somewhere in France: a novel of the Great War by Jennifer Robson(William Morrow Paperbacks, 2013. 400 pages)
I regularly fill up my library hold list with recommendations from Katie Noah Gibson's monthly blog posts.  Since I'm ever interested in the zeitgeist of Great Britain during the War to end all wars (and the one after that one), this book went on my to-read list.  It was a quick and pleasurable read.  (*If you don't like to read about the act of sex, don't read this novel.  It's not gratuitous, but it is definitely the intended -- pardon the pun -- climax of the story.)

*Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from previous years.*


A book-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Five Favorites, visit Moxie Wife!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (2): then comes the Daddy

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.
Then comes the Daddy. 
(especially meaningful to me this week as my Dad spends a few days in the hospital recovering from pneumonia)

The Invitation

To pull the metal hook from the fish's mouth
my father focused all attention on his catch.
I watched his puckered face and not the fish's.
With only a few finger sweeps , he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought it'd die from.

I can’t remember the words,
but hear the speechless motion, a creak
of row lock, a slap-slap of water beside us.
And I recall his hands,
two knuckled planes, one wedding band's
glint in the sun,
a flame of benediction
he raised above my head.

Had you rowed out with us that morning 
you would have thought you saw a man
fishing, a brown-haired girl sprawled across the bow,
book cover shielding the sun's flame.
Had you followed that boat
you would have arrived here,
where I pause at every creekbed.

Look how I search for trout, bass, bullhead
to find the ones that got away.
Watch as I scan every water field for ripples.
I was seven when my father
took me on the St. Lawrence,
and I did not fear the great steamships.
Slamming within their water wake, I did not think
Metal that will bury me,
christen our aluminum rowboat journey,
Poor Fisherman and His Daughter.
And I did not lift my face into the spray and cry,
We're going to be killed!
I did what a child does
when she’s invited into adventure. I leaned into the wind and
I trusted my father.


Monday, February 17, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (1): it begins with what my momma taught me

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.
It begins with what my Momma taught me...

What I Learned From My Mother*

I learned from my mother how to love
the moment, to keep plenty of paper on hand
in case you have to rush to a birthday party
with cards and gift wrap from the closet. 
Scissors and pens also. I learned to save books
old enough to hold stories for the next
generation, to carve apple slices
from the inside out -- slice through crimson crisp skins
and flick out the pulpy bruises by knife point.
I learned to invite company even if I didn’t know
the menu, to pass around the moist excess
of lotion, to dispense tic-tacs up the pew
silently, a minty-fresh eucharist.
I learned that memories we save mean everything,
what anyone will remember is what we write.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
hot grieving wounds like a cool cloth angel.
And shop the Salvation Army -- turn
musty neglect into a repurposed self. 
And once you know how to do this, 
you can never refuse. To every child you mother, 
you must offer healing: a blueberry cobbler you baked
yourself, the comfort of your story voice, 
your calm, cool touch.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Five Favorite online reads: free hugs, teapotism and slushy flat bottoms

For all the reasons I mentioned on Wednesday I'm getting simple around here.  That means listing 5 things instead of 7 things here each weekend.  

Also, I found a way to hangout with friends at work.  It's called find a dark, empty office and invite a couple of friends to join you on your break.

Five Favorites from this week:  online reads.

-- 1 --

Love Unleashed Through Suffering: the continuing significance of John Paul II's Salvific Doloris by Dawn Eden at First Things:  I respect Dawn Eden.  She wrote one of the best descriptions of forgiveness I've ever read in her book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.  Her story adds weight to her recall on the thirtieth anniversary of John Paul's apostolic letter on the Gospel of Suffering.  
"John Paul uses the strongest language possible: Suffering in Christ “ unleashes” love—again, both in the sufferer, who is united with Christ at the most intimate level, and in the one who ministers to him in imitation of Christ."
And Protestant philosopher Alvin Plantinga called it “surely one of the finest documents (outside the Bible) ever written” on its topic.

-- 2 --
Is Atheism Irrational: an interview with Alvin Plantinga at the NY Times:  Speaking of Plantinga I read this interview because so many friends linked to it this week.  I responded to his defense of theistic arguments in the academic sphere with equal parts giggling (teapotism?!?), puzzlement and epiphany. 
"Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science. As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified."

What can I say?  I enjoy reading things that I only understand about 15% of the substance.  Things like philosophy.  And sometimes poetry.

-- 3 --
Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel hold hands at National Geographic's Tumblr, Found:  Simply sweet.  Also, I look forward to every update on this daily photo site.

-- 4 --
Winter Olympic Love at Cake, Tea and Dreams:  I overheard a conversation in the office this week in which two employees mention how little they care about following the Olympics.  How can this be?!?   Katie Noah Gibson gets it.  
"The pageantry of the opening ceremonies, the bright colors of all the different countries’ flags, the hushed tension as we watch the competitions and the bursts of cheering at the end of a run, a race or a routine. I love the cheesy ads featuring the athletes, the clips of vintage Olympic triumphs, and Morgan Freeman’s voice."
Here's my idea:  I keep thinking how fun it would be to create a glossary of commentator’s terms during Olympics. Wouldn’t that be fun? Like the word “twizzles” during ice dancing, and “he fell victim to the slushy flat bottom” in this week’s half-pipe snowboarding. Am I right??

-- 5 --
Free Hugs: a video short from comic Amber Bixby  I needed to laugh this week.  I watched an I Love Lucy mini-marathon with my daughters Thursday night.  (they've never watched it -- how can this be?!?)  And I watched this video promo by our friend Amber.  Repeatedly.

Amber Bixby Headlines Live at Coldtowne for Valentine's Day 2014 from Voltaic Video on Vimeo.


A hug-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Five Favorites, visit Moxie Wife!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the prayer that's taken me 2 1/2 years to finish (and God's answer for now)

I think I've figured out a way to keep getting words on the white page here at my blog even though the time/space I use for writing in my blog has been erased with full-time work.  That's a story worth telling at some point, but for now I'll share the highlights.  

There is a time, friends, when we bend our knee and we submit to the things that are not our most fulfilling passions.  We do this because we live in a world bigger than ourselves. Brian and I do this because we laughed when all the nay-sayers told us four kids was too many, and now kind of understand what they meant.  Four babies in hand-me-down footie pajamas eating breakfast cheerios is not terribly expensive.  Four near-adults with plans to make something of themselves in this world are damned expensive. Especially living in a large city while one of the parents is back in school himself. And we don't feel obligated to make every dream come true, but we hope to help them launch in a way that blesses them and the families they'll build on their own some day.

The process to me saying "yes" to full-time work is not a process I have much control over.  The only part -- really -- is the submitting part.  The part I control is the part where I say: "God, I think it'd be noble and a good thing for me to be the kind of woman like millions of other women who have no choice but to work and still act like they are not victims of a cruel world.  I really want to pout some more about all the reasons this was never my plan.  But I'm choosing not to pout -- cry a good bit, yes -- but not pout.  Also, I'd like to be the kind of woman who is motivated by love.  So I say yes, Lord." 

Those last five sentences?  Those sentences took me two and a half years to say - one word at a time.  Along the way I have been formed by the process of being an over-forty, slightly frumpy, non-degreed job seeker in a city that lauds young, hip, and degreed out the wazoo.  

This, friends, has been humbling. Thankfully, this city also lauds the non-traditional.  I pursued that route for a bit and added the following positions to my resume:  cupcake-delivery girl, social media ghost writer, bed & breakfast housekeeper and innovative errand-runner. There were the more traditional lowly positions of cleaning rich people's houses, buying rich people's groceries, doing rich people's laundry and answering phone calls from rich people who thought the whole damn world was against them because their deluxe appliances in their outdoor kitchen were not chipping their ice cubes with symmetrical precision.

The best list is the list of job offers I turned down: roving balloon artist, weekend party clown, horse stall cleaner.

Best part of the story, though, are the good and kind people who sent me referrals and temporary jobs and writing gigs and -- even -- welcomed me to work inside their homes, alongside them at their work every day. And the good and kind people who prayed their hearts out for us to make ends meet in this financially-backward turn our lives have taken.  

And that's how I found my current job.  I still don't know if it's going to be a permanent offer, but it is more that we'd hoped for to meet our needs.  It's more than we counted on for stretching me beyond my abilities.  

Along the way God has clearly met our needs -- sometimes in bits and pieces and other times like opened floodgates of gift.  I wouldn't even want to try to prove it, but I've learned it to be true over the course of our twenty-three years of marriage.  Submission of my heart makes room for God to bless us in the most surprising ways. When I finally got to the part of my prayer to God:  "Yes. I'll say yes because I love you and I love these people you've given me." 

So while I'm giving up time to write stories, our Father is writing the most amazing tales in and with our lives.  He's weaving us together with the dearest cast of characters.  They are funny and smart and wounded and generous.  All I can hope for at this point is that while I'm giving the majority of my time and energy to a place that barely knows me, God and his people will not stop knowing me.  And that -- like the Mother who gave the biggest yes -- I'll keep pondering up all these things in my heart.

..... In the meantime ....

I attended a writer's conference at Houston Baptist University the first weekend in February.  I attended breakouts about writing memoir and fought a lie that God was teasing me.  That putting me on a college campus reminded me that -- for the love of a man and the love of our children and various bits of lack of foresight on our parts -- I'd missed forever my chance to earn my very own degree.  And that for all the same reasons I'm also missing my chance to become the writer I truly long to become.  I fought with tears and anger and sulkiness.  I let ideas linger in my head a bit too long that would stop the forward motion of my obedience to the Christ who made Himself of no reputation.  

And in the middle of that struggle, God gave me a little candle of an idea that would keep a little light flickering on my hope while I follow Him.  He reminded me that I have written thousands and thousands of words in this space.  This blog I started with one word turned into thousands of words I've been writing for almost EIGHT YEARS  -- 935 posts with dozens more half-finished in my draft folder.  And while most of them were hardly worth saying once, a few of those thousand posts bear repeating. 

Would you be willing to listen again?  To pay attention with me to the visible and daily movements of an invisible Grace?  Would it help if I gave it a title and a cute photo?

Yes, friends, those little brown legs belong to me. 
And the boot-wearing cousin is my best friend during those running, chasing, growing-up years.  

This is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.

Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.

And now, back to work...

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