Monthly Archives: May 2010

Remembering Long

Memorial Day and Thankful Tuesday are joining forces today. As I type, it’s still Monday; but I have no doubt that as you read, Tuesday will be shining on your pretty faces. So, let me refer to Robert Frost when I remind us that a dried brook is only a brook to those who remember long.

And on that note, I will now take some time to remember, thankfully.

  • On Memorial Day I have to think about my grandfathers (still living), who both served and suffered during World War II, and especially my Pawpaw, who was shot, held captive, forced to burn my grandmother’s letters to keep his fingers warm, and who never should have survived. I’m thankful for my grandmothers who worked during that war, sacrificed, and carried with them into their rest of their lives a respect for work and a feminine confidence that I hope to live into.
  • I spent today battling my little boy’s fever: hating both his discomfort and my helplessness. There’s nothing sadder than a sweat-drenched toddler whimpering himself awake every two hours in the night. And this past day (and sleepless night to come) serve to remind me of how grateful I am to have a healthy kid.
  • During these past two weeks of my husband working in London and now LA, with his in-between times hosting one of his closest friends in our home, I’ve been tempted to begrudge his none-staying-home status. It’s easy to see his working life as something exotic: full of interesting adult conversations and fun. And, I assure you, if any one is having fun and interesting conversations, it’s my man. Those are two of the things he does best. But he also works hard and it hurts him to leave us. It’s easy to convince myself that I’m the one who suffers while my husband jet sets and lives the dream. But it’s unfair. Not only is he carrying a lot of burdens in his job, but I’ve also chosen not to work. Today, while missing my husband, I’m grateful for his career and my opportunity to choose whether or not I work.
  • Lately, I’ve been remembering the anonymous church member who, twenty years ago, during a period of financial struggle for our family, paid for a brand new dishwasher and had it delivered to our home. Does that person know that he or she was one of my most vital teachers of what community and sacrificial giving and the Communion of believers should look like? I remember and I’m thankful.
  • I’m also thankful for Charlotte Grace Price, daughter number 2 for our dear friends Christina and Jeff. She was born today and we’re all so happy she’s in the world.

Happy Thankful Tuesday after Memorial Day. What are you remembering long?

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Loving “Hyla Brook” for what it is.

I wrote before that I’ve never really studied Robert Frost. But I was drawn to “Hyla Brook” partly because it seemed appropriate for our entry into summer. (Soon it will be hot enough to dry up brooks everywhere but in San Francisco. Have I complained yet about how much I can’t stand San Francisco’s noncommittal weather systems?)

I was also drawn to its rhythm and form. The day I chose “Hyla Brook” as our poem for May, my husband commented at dinner: “I think it’s funny you keep choosing these poems that have very distinct musical forms. That’s not really what you’ve always been into.”

True and kind of not true. My last year of graduate school I developed a love for meter and rhyme that I’d never had before. That little pocket of love has grown much wider since I left the poetry world that I attempted to live in for a while. The poems I wrote were not bound to a metric form, but the poems that I’m drawn to at this point in my life are. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I overdid my time in contemporary poetry-land where it seems (at least to me) that poetry’s highest value has become The Political Statement. I don’t mind poetry being political. But what has always moved me in poetry is its ability to compress an experience (and with it an emotion that holds in it something true, something we recognize in ourselves) into a little jewel we can hold.  I want to feel something when I read a poem and I want to be able to carry it with me.

That’s why I was drawn to “Hyla Brook.” When I first read it, I felt the ache of loss: something that lived is now removed from the speaker’s life. It’s gone underground, where he can’t go. I love the sound of the Hyla’s shout echoing like a bell in the snow. What a clear, recognizable resonance. Any of us who has ever stepped out into the thick, muffled air of a new snow understand how the Hyla’s sound has faded, as if in some cotton-stuffed air. And, of course, it’s shocking for us as readers to be pulled back from the dense heat of a June that has dried up this brook to the faded chill of snow. It’s a whiplash that snaps us to attention.

The dead jewelweed being remade into a “faded paper sheet” is another image I connect with. There’s a lot that we can say about a poet rebirthing the dead plant into paper (ie words scribbled on paper are actually making something beautiful out of something dead!), but I’ll just say that the image is hopeful for me. Even if my reading of it is a little clichéd, I’m cheesy enough to like that.

But what has stuck with me as I’ve been reciting these words taped to the window over the bubbles of my kitchen sink is Frost’s declaration that this is a brook “to none but who remember long.” What a beautiful thing, I’ve been thinking, to remember long. I love the idea that we can make something what it was by remembering it: Memory as a form of redemption.

Which brings us to the final line, which I’ve loved more and more the longer I’ve summoned those words over my endlessly greasy Calphalon pan. “We love the things we love for what they are.”

Do we love them because we remember them in their moments of beauty: “song and speed,” the shouts of the Hyla breed, the once flourishing of the jewelweed? Do we love them because of what can be made of them in their death (the faded paper sheet)? Or do we love them exactly as they are, even in their brokenness? That’s the question it leaves us with. It’s the ache that draws me back to the poem all over again.

No, its music isn’t stunning. August (as my official poetic Geiger counter) was never that interested in hearing my attempts at recitation, even though he loved listening to both Bishop and Hopkins. But, to quote a little Frost, I love the poem I love for what it is.

What about you? Have you thought about this poem at all this month? Were you able to memorize it? (Confession: I’ve still got a few more lines to go.) I’d love to hear your thoughts. And don’t worry if you’re not all poetic! Yours are exactly the thoughts I want.

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An Invitation to Believe

I mentioned briefly last week that I’ve begun meeting with a spiritual director, the concept of which goes back to the fourth century. The idea of the practice is to provide a believer with a more intentional form of spiritual mentoring. A spiritual director is trained theologically and pastorally to do the work of listening, advising, and leading a believer in his or her own spiritual life. Having one is like having your own personal pastor, who knows all your gunk and helps you discover fresh ways to connect with God in spite of it. It’s only been in the last few years as I’ve become more and more connected with the liturgy that I’ve been drawn to the idea.

For me, having a spiritual director means giving myself an option for honesty. It’s a way to hold myself accountable to my tendency to pretend I have a vibrant life of faith for the sake of the people around me. I can be honest about my doubt, my prayerfulness (or prayerlessness), and ask for help.

I found Debby’s name through a pastor at our church. I contacted her, set up an appointment, and emailed with her a few times before ever realizing that she was on the same Young Life prayer team of 6 people that I had just joined and was having over for dinner the next week. It turns out that Debby is my kind of woman. She was on Young Life staff in the late 80s, served as a pastor for years, and loves talking about Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality.  That combination is miraculous.

So, last Tuesday, after dropping August off for his new class, I drove to Debby’s office to meet with her, knowing what I would say. In these past two years of conversations interrupted every two minutes by my little boy, I’ve learned to get to the point quickly. I shared my bullet points: New to the area, left my job in ministry and am realizing how much I found my worth in it, struggling to find time for Christ in the midst of life at home with a child, full of doubt while at the same time in love with Jesus.

There seems to always be a calmness over the women I meet who really challenge me in their faith. Maybe I’m just drawn to peaceful people, but it seems to me that the wisest women I know are non-harried, even in the way they sit and speak. (It reminds me of why I want to practice speaking gently, truthfully and simply…there’s something about how one’s speech and physical presence seem to match each other.) I sensed that from Debby as we sat across from each other and she asked if she could lead me in a time of prayer.

One of the things that has most drawn me towards the liturgy and more ancient forms of prayer is my frustration with the contemporary, evangelical prayer’s ability to be done “well.” Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I’m so well trained in how to pray out loud that I know how to impress with my words and depth and seeming connection with God. I’m not saying that I’m never sincere when I pray out loud; most of the time I am. But, usually, my years of learned “prayer as a performance” trickery seem to be crouching alongside those good intentions. There’s always the yuck side of me that wants you to think I’m good at being spiritual.

So, it was a relief when Debby asked me to pray silently as she led. She instructed me to ask God for a word or phrase that I could focus on, something the Lord wanted me to hear for that day and take with me. As I sat there, trying to focus my mind and allow myself to listen, a thought arrived. It said: Whatever phrase comes to my mind could just be me convincing myself that God is speaking. And then: What if God doesn’t give me a word at all? Will I just make one up?

Over the years, I’ve grown to expect those kinds of thoughts and quickly pray that I might really believe, especially in the faith sucking crevices of me. I tried again. My soul said: God, my brain wants me to think that I’m convincing myself that the things I come up with are from you. Please give me a word that isn’t my own. Let me know that your presence is real.

And then I sensed one word: Believe. Believe. It was floating around my brain, repeating itself over and over to me.

Debby was still leading me. She directed that I look at what that word means in every part of my life: at home with August, in how I see myself, in my marriage, in my calling, in my struggle with life after ministry, in my friendships.

I watched from inside myself, as each part of my life floated up to my awareness. What does it mean to believe God is good in the midst of the moments home with August when I most happy, most fulfilled? What does it mean to believe that God sees my worth as bigger than a career title in those afternoons when I look at my hands folding towels and think: Is this really what I do with my life? What does it mean to believe that I am utterly loved when I am so frustrated that three days have passed and I still have not worked on the book I long to write? What does it mean to believe? In my marriage? In my attempts at meaningful friendships? Can I believe in God’s nearness? Can I believe in God’s goodness in every ordinary moment of my life?

As I shared those things with Debby, she said: “Believe. What an invitation.”

Yes, an invitation. And it has been for the past nine days. No matter what I read or hear or experience, the opportunity awaits for me to either write it off with a surface level meaning, or live deeply into it. I can believe that my Lord is waiting for me at breakfast while I mix honey into August’s yogurt. I can believe. It’s just a matter of recognizing the invitation.

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Spending Thankful Tuesday with Sandra McCracken and Anne Steele

On this fine Thankful Tuesday I want to share with you a hymn that has been clinging to my mind (we’re talking nails dug into brain creases) this week.

I’ve been a fan of Sandra McCracken since my friend John had a crush on her when he was in college (that’d be in the year 2000). And I’ve been adoring her work in the movement of musicians bringing fresh melodies to lyrics written before the 20th century. (See Indelible Grace and Red Mountain Music.) Sometimes I feel that if these musicians were not reworking the old hymns, I don’t know if I’d be able to connect to God through music at all at this point in my life. (But that’s another post).

For now, I want to share the prayer I’m thankful for this week. In the midst of the wackiness of last week’s near apartment move, this past weekend’s lovely day with old friends, and yesterday morning’s slow dance with August around the dining room, I feel myself asking God for “a calm, a thankful heart” and “a sure and rested soul.”

Such beautiful, powerful language.  I’m making it my prayer for this Thankful Tuesday.  Listen to it here.

Petition

Father whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign hand denies
Accepted at Thy throne of grace
Let this petition rise

Let the sweet hope that thou art mine
My life and death attend
Thy presence through my journey shine
And crown my journey’s end

Give me a calm, a thankful heart
From every murmur free
The blessings of Thy grace impart
And make me live to Thee

You raise your hand to still the storms
That rage inside my head
Revive my heart with gratitude
Love quell my doubt and dread

Give me a sure and rested soul
From every fear relief
The spirit’s power and presence mine
To ever comfort me

Give me a sure, a restful heart
From every fear relief
Thy spirit’s power and presence mine
To ever comfort me.

Give me a calm, a thankful heart
From every murmur free
The blessings of thy grace impart
And make me live to thee.

Most of the lyrics were originally penned by Anne Steele in 1738, after her fiancée drowned the day before their wedding. McCracken and Chelsey Scott added a few lyrics as well.

PS I couldn’t find these lyrics typed anywhere so I apologize if my ear got any of the words wrong.

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Stability

Of the vows Benedictine monks take, the one I haven’t yet mentioned is that of stability. I haven’t written about it because I’m struggling to figure it out. For the Benedictines, stability is all about place and everything place represents.

When a Benedictine makes his or her vows to the monastic life, the vow is not only to the Order; the monk also commits to a specific monastery. A Benedictine monk does not move. The community lives together as a family for life.

This is fascinatingly different from an order like the Jesuits, who are all about action and service, and are often (I say this as someone who knows very little about Jesuits, my only research being the Gerard Manley Hopkins biography I’ve been reading off and on since last summer) moved from place to place. In my quest for the contemplative life, part of what drew me to the Benedictines was the fact that they’re bound to home. The part of me that is never satisfied wishes I were a Jesuit: getting to work, saving the world, pursuing justice in a tangible way.

I know, I know…I am doing something. I’m a mom. I’m building into my son values that I know could change the world. It matters. But it’s hard to believe that when my mean brain worm keeps snuffing out my worth at home just like the crazy landlady from last week who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t volunteering at the local community center with all my lazy free time.

And that is why I need the Benedictines and their stability. I need to know that hovering near the home is not a failed life. I long for the joy and sweet simplicity of the life at home: a life without public praise, without award ceremonies in my honor. Being Benedictine is good for me and my over-puffed ego.

But as much as I can relate to the monastic life “at home,” I cannot grasp what stability should mean to me. I understand the longing for physical stability, because I ache for it in my life. I think most of us do. I often think about how we as humans were not made to live life in multiple places. We can only really live in one place at a time, despite the whisper technology offers: You are a super human space hopper! You can live in 8 places at once as long as you keep your FB status updated! I can convince myself that I’m as much a part of my friends’ and family’s lives despite the distance we’re separated, but it’s not really true. As much as my joy cup bubbles over for my dear friend in Philly who has recently gained a dreamy beau, I don’t know them together. I can’t really.

In the same way I don’t really know my most loved friends. I know their past; I know their most embarrassing moments. I know whatever has happened to them in the past few years that has fit into sporadic twenty minute phone conversations. The highlights. I know their highlights.

We used to be humans stuck completely in earthbound bodies that walked places and lived on the same land we were born on. Now, we move because we have a work opportunity, or we have dreams of the big city, or we’re drawn to a certain form of education. I moved for all those reasons. When I left my hometown thirteen years ago, did I dissolve my chance of ever really practicing a vow of stability?

I know why I need it. In each city and community in which I’ve lived, I’ve sealed myself to people. They are people I love and long for. Despite that, I will never be with all of them in one place. I will always feel that separation. No matter where I move from here, I’ll never live near my complete “community.”

This weekend I left August in the hands of some amazing women from my church small group and drove solo (Chris is in London for work) up to Sonoma for the wedding of a friend from my college in Texas. Waiting for me at this wedding were three dear girlfriends who I can never see enough. You know what I mean when I say my insides sighed when I saw them? There are some friendships that will always take a little work: thinking of the right thing to say, hoping your response is appropriate. And there are some friendships that linger around you and tell you to relax.

Sitting around the table at the reception with these girls and their husbands, all of whom I adore, I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed like I’ve only laughed with Chris since I’ve been in San Francisco. There’s just something about being known and loved. And those girls knew me in my heyday of Christian perfectionism. They cried with me when my college boyfriend and I broke up and I couldn’t get off the bathroom floor. They know what my dreams were and they understand the layers of complexity that years have brought into those dreams. I understand the same for them.

I have the blues today. That always happens the day after something spectacular. Usually I cry off and on when I get home from seeing my family or being in Philadelphia. Usually Chris is around to be my “old friend,” the person in the room who really knows me, who can laugh with me about the past.

It’s the layers that I miss here in San Francisco. I’ve met wonderful people who I would love to have real, meaningful friendships with. It’s just such a long process; and having kids makes the process even longer (conversations interrupted every three minutes don’t go deep easily).

I understand why Benedict valued physical stability long before staying in one place for life became a near impossibility.  You know that feeling when you long for something you can never have? I’m a girl from Texas who married a boy from the East coast. Our families will always be divided by thousands of miles. I will probably never be a regular at the Boyett Family Friday Pizza night.

So what does it mean for Chris and I to live out a vow of stability as a family? What does it mean to work for those layers in the friendships that are in front of me right now? How do I learn to commit to a place when I know it cannot be a life commitment?

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My week in bullet points:

  • Monday, when I was feeling most content with our housing situation and was prepared to take our time and wait for the perfect apartment (no pressure), my husband sends me a link to a beautiful place that just went on the market the day before.  It’s a block away.
  • I say to Chris: If this is as good as it looks, we’ve got to snatch it up before anyone else takes it. He agrees.
  • Tuesday morning, after dropping August off at his first day of “school” ever, I walk to the apartment. Beautiful. So much more room than we have now. Counter space in the kitchen! It’s perfect.
  • I call Chris on the way to meet with my new spiritual director, Debby, who I’m excited to tell you more about. She’s going to be a wonderful joy in my life.  I say to Chris: This is the apartment. We should take it. He trusts me. Says: Let’s do it.
  • I call the real estate agent. We fill out our applications. Chris gets home early from work. All three of us head over there to turn them in and let Chris see the place.
  • It’s still perfect. But this time, I can see past the new kitchen and the big second bedroom. This time I actually think about how it’s on the third floor and the windows open sideways with a latch that August could manipulate and then fall three floors out of. I notice the back door to the fire escape has a steep landing with widely spaced rails that August could crawl through and (again) fall three stories from. And instead of gasping at the beauty of the building’s garden, all I can think about is the 3 foot deep pond that August can’t stop talking about: how easily he could drown in my one moment of distraction.
  • I tell my head that I can protect him. We’ll figure it out. Window locks. Gates. Mesh over the wide rails. Keep the door the fire escape locked. We turn in our applications and go home. I can’t stop visualizing August dying in every situation.
  • Chris and I get in bed. I start to say: I’m really worrying about the safety issue. And by the time that leaves my mouth I’m hysterical. Hysterical. I didn’t even know I was that worried. But I’m hyperventilating. And I can’t stop watching August drowning in my mind. Somewhere in front of me Chris is talking. He’s saying: It’s ok. Our little boy is fine. He’s asleep in his crib. You want to go look at him? Let’s go look at him. Our little boy is sleeping. He’s just fine. I start to believe him.
  • I’m not usually a worrier like this about August. I feel like I’m a pretty relaxed mom. So my panic attack frightens me a bit. After I start breathing again I think about what Debby said as we prayed together this morning. She instructed me to let the word God was speaking coat my mind. I think about all those crevices in my brain, how in all of them, there are fears and broken places. How much I need God to coat those areas, soak into the gaps.
  • Wednesday, all three of us wake up with bites all over our bodies. A mosquito nest in our house? Bed bugs? Gross. I wash the sheets.
  • Before I wash the sheets, August poops in the bathtub. I just look down and poop is swishing around him. Not cool. I pull him out, mentally stress about how to get the poop out (it’s disintegrating before my eyes). It reminds me of the golf balls and tires being used on the oil spill in the gulf.
  • While having this enlightened thought, and sometime after congratulating myself on my clear conversation with August about why it’s so important to tell mommy when you’re going to poop, especially when you don’t have a diaper on, I notice a change in his expression and then recognize a large pile of poop on the rug beneath him, and running down his legs.
  • Did I mention I’m leading the discussion at my mom’s group Bible study in thirty minutes and I’m bringing the snacks? We get there fifteen minutes late but we survive.
  • At 5:30 we head back to the apartment for an interview with the building’s owner and landlord. I’m feeling better about the situation but this time Chris is stressed. He tells me before we leave that he just doesn’t feel good about it. I say: Chris, it’s a perfect apartment. We can make it work. Even if that means we might be moving next week two days after Chris gets home from a five day trip and during our friend Ray’s visit.
  • We meet the owner. She seems to like us. She seems nice enough. Then she wants to know why I stay home. I mean, she says, are you at least thinking about looking for work in a year or so? I’m a little shocked. Ummmm. I say. I’m very content at home with August right now. That’s nice, she says. Well do you at least volunteer? Are you kidding me? I think. I proceed to tell her what I did on staff with Young Life and then hate myself for succumbing to that need to prove that I have worth because of my previous “work.” I shouldn’t have to explain my choice to be at home. Well, she says, I can get you in touch with so many volunteer organizations around here. I fake smile. Thanks.
  • The conversation heads downhill fast.  She’s very worried about August running in the house. How many carpets do we have? It will have to be completely covered. The tenants below are very nice men. She doesn’t want there to be a bad relationship between us and them. We try to convince her that we’ll do our best. I do add, August is a two year old, though! Fake smile again. She says, Well children can be trained, can’t they?
  • This kind of conversation continues for a while. When she tells us she’d like for us to move in, I’m a little shocked. I don’t know what to think. It’s a great place, I tell myself. But the safety concerns are still there. Then she laughs that she’s recently put an electric fence around the garden to keep the raccoons out. August should be ok if he touches it, she says. But then he’ll never do it again! Wow. I think, she thinks our son’s a dog.
  • When we leave, Chris and I look at each other. It’s a great place, I say. I don’t feel good about it, he says. I sigh. Me either. Our son shouldn’t be a problem that our landlord hopes to fix, beautiful apartment or not. Something else will come.
  • Chris gets August some dinner. I jump in the car and drive to the airport to pick up my dear friend and college roommate, Melissa, and her husband Matt. Tomorrow, I’ll be showing them the city. We drive to our house and the four of us eat pizza together at 9 pm.
  • Chris is leaving in the morning for London. We go to sleep. No panic attacks. Just peace.

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my list, your list

What I’m thankful for today:

  • Today August starts a full morning preschool art program! That means I get three (that’s 3!) full hours to myself once a week. I can’t explain how excited I am. He’s pretty pumped too.
  • Two nights in a row of dinners with new friends. New friends = good.
  • We got our car back with a clean, pretty, non-shattered window! And who needs a GPS anyway? I’m thankful for google maps.
  • Speaking of Google maps, I’m thankful that my husband finally caved in and agreed that after two years with no printer, we should finally purchase one. Thanks, Christopher. I know it was not your favorite thing to spend our money on. I will be such a sweet wife from now on. Promise.
  • Yesterday, while I separated laundry and August played with dangerous found objects in our building’s laundry room, he climbed onto a step while I wasn’t watching and yelled: “I tall like Dada! Mama, I tall like Dada!” How can I not be thankful for that?
  • On behalf of my husband, I will be thankful that he recently discovered a new word: tergiversation, (a synonym for “betrayal”) which he saw AGAIN last night in an article. In our book nerd house, new vocabulary is a cause for celebration. (As I type he is looking up its etymology. Book. Nerd.)
  • I’m grateful for yesterday’s rainy afternoon and an excuse to finally organize my bills and clean up my desk. I love that feeling of accomplishment.
  • Last night my dear friend Cat ate dinner in Radnor, PA a group of high school juniors whom I love and miss. I’m grateful for her faithfulness to them. Sometimes I have this slight inkling of what Paul the apostle felt like when he left a church behind in his travels. There are days my heart aches for those high school kids. I know it’s cheesy to say that the person who took over your job is waaaay better at it than you ever could have been. But I don’t care. It’s Thankful Tuesday. Friends, Cat’s ability to inspire and love and communicate the transforming message of Christ is stunning. Yes, she’s better at it than I ever was. I’m thankful.
  • Mostlly, my thankfulness feels pretty simple. I’m grateful for food and a home and my family. And I’m grateful for this blog. Thanks for being here with me everyday. I like you guys.

Your turn. What’s your thankful list today?

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