Tree of Life

The river of action
has swept me into its embrace:
My heart pounds wildly in fear –
adrenaline pumping madly
in my jaw-set determination
to avert the water’s flow.

I am drowning and my
death saves no one.

I climb out, water running
off my back and down my
legs; I feel the heat of the sun
on my skin, and I fill my lungs
with oxygen.

My toes grip the ground,
and slip into the dirt spreading
like roots as I turn
my face toward the
blue above me.

The earth receives me and
my body spreads into the
earth, strong fibers of bark and marrow,
sacred nourishment of wisdom
borne before this time.

This is how I begin.

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For My Sake

 

Holding on to my

righteous anger seems easier than

moving toward forgiveness.

 

Forgiving when there is no

apology feels impossible;

I shriek my victimization –

I am justified, and I am

gratified.

 

Fury churns inside me

and I know I am in danger

of myself. The sharp edges of my

anger cut me deeper than the other.

And I don’t wish for blood

anyway.

 

My only release is forgiveness.

Or until I can forgive, then

only release.

At the least,

release.

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Mending an Old Quilt

I found the quilt in a box I had filled with items that needed mending attention. I had forgotten about it and pulled it out of the box with joy. The quilt was made by Jay’s grandmother and we had used it for years on our bed. As I inspected it I realized why I had shoved it in the box and forgotten about it. Many of Grandma’s tiny, careful stitches had literally disappeared. Neat even triangles, still perfectly shaped, were hanging by threads and the batting was completely exposed in places.

I was newly energized to either clear out or clean up, so I opened my sewing machine and got to work. We needed a summer bedspread; even though it was July we were covering our bed with just the faded yellow blanket from last winter.

I took careful time to pin the triangles, matching the creases Grandma had created, pushing the batting back into place. I felt her presence as I guided the sewing machine foot over the places her hand had touched. Our stitches, her’s hand sewn and careful, and my modern machine threads blended into the blue and white fabric.

When I finished, I spread the quilt over our bed, with a smile on my face. A newly painted bedroom, fresh sheets and now the bright white and blue quilt from our early years of marriage. As the quilt settled on the bed, I took it in. And it looked… well, it looked awful. A sewing machine has a different tension than a hand; the fabric was bunched in some places, and flat and without texture in the others. It was simply too worn out.

Perhaps a more seasoned seamstress would have restored the beauty, but my accomplishment was disheartening. I have left the quilt on the bed for this summer, but when the weather turns cold, and it is time for heavy comforters, I will move this on. On to the Fabric Center who will surely find some good use for it or, maybe not.

There are times when the only thing to do, is to let go, to whisper gratitude for happy memories, and then, to say farewell. Thank you, farewell.   I am letting you go.  All is well.20150910_211401_HDR

Street Crossing 

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A woman, bundled tight against the cold,

holds the hands of two children holding hands

with three or four more.

 

She starts across the street and I watch them

in my rearview mirror:

 the sliding pull of a dark slinky as she moves first,

the children moving into action seconds later. 

And suddenly she is last.

Her brood has sprung forward – hopping, running,

lurching across the trolley tracks.

 

Their motion catches me – the physicality of swinging movement,

from protected waiting 

to glittering surging flow of Forward;

 anchored by mittened hands.

Your People will be My People

I believe in grace and mercy and that “Love heals all things and everybody”.  I believe in choosing forgiveness over revenge and that in the end the Light wins.  And I am surrounded by powerfully loving people who want the best for me and for the world.  And still, still, still I carry a hidden despair in my heart:  why is there  violence, betrayal, injustice?   I wonder how to live my privileged abundant life in the face of absolute poverty and civil wars in other countries, and continued racism, homelessness and hunger in my own country.  I do despair.

Three years ago I met a new friend, a Jewish woman intensely curious about her own healing and growth and deeply committed to peace in Israel.  Judy and I developed a fast affinity for each other and delight in each other’s company as we share our  mutual desire for peace (and luscious curling laughter).  She spends several weeks in Israel every summer working for peace.  When I told her of my congregation’s participation in a trip to Israel and Palestine to bear witness to the violence and to walk in solidarity with the Palestinians this past August she was intrigued.

Last Sunday morning, before church, I read that three of the travelers to Israel and Palestine were sharing in the service and I shot a quick email to Judy.  She slipped into the service late, missing all the delegates’ sharing and catching only the congregational sharing of prayer concerns, and the final song.  The song was all about Jesus and as I glanced over at Judy sitting a few seats away I saw her lips moving as she sang along to this song, this new song, this song about following Jesus.

When I asked her later about singing about Jesus, she told me that the moment she walked into the space  she could feel the snapping energy of a people seeking God.  She told me she felt the power of the Divine in this space that is sacred to us, that she wanted to honor this, and to be respectful in my house of worship.  She told me that yes, she can sing about Jesus for we are all moving towards, and in, the same God.

I don’t know always how to get beyond that lingering despair in my heart.   However, I do know in the moment of watching Judy sing about my Jesus, I felt such a fullness sweep through me there was no room for despair.  I still feel that palpable connection, transcending difference in belief, culture, and history.   The Spirit feels heavy, weighty,  profound and full.  Perhaps in that moment, which continues to pulse every time I visit it, we are in the very breath of God.  Perhaps this is the place where there is no room for despair.

 

Kinship

We gathered, the Swartzes and Althouses, under the big maple tree in Tim’s yard.  When this tree and I were little(r) she  offered the best branches in the yard for climbing and skin the cat.  Now her limbs are high and wide and it was less hot under her dark leaves than anywhere else on that hot humid July Sunday afternoon.

Our families had been together the evening before to bear witness to Ted and Sue’s son’s marriage commitment; on this day we were wearing shorts and flip flops, changed from the heels and neckties of the night before.   We formed a haphazard circle of lawn chairs and benches, eating a picnic lunch, and the afternoon stretched out in easy conversation, sometimes soft words between two or three, other times shouting across the circle, including everyone. We have been family for 37 years, conceived when Ted fell in love with Sue.   The electricity of humor snapped among us, sharp wit and simple silliness at old jokes and family foibles.  Electricity grounded by the  comfort of long-time knowing, of choosing again and again to care about, be interested in, to step away from judgment, to love.

The afternoon was reminiscent of my childhood when Sunday afternoons seemed to be created solely for the gathering of family or church friends.  The day held, as it did in those long ago summer days, a golden hue of rest and respite and a security of relationship.   The hot muggy air was close, congruent with the feel among us – slow, languid, easy. When it was time to leave we lingered, reluctant to pull away.

We are different from each other, these two families, and within the families  – age, experience, education, communication style, values, fears, accomplishments.   On that afternoon we felt the bonds of kinship that started with Ted and Sue, affection snaking through the years of children’s weddings, loved one’s deaths, church events, dramatic performances, graduations, hospital visits and more.  Our connections tightening and loosening, our lives bumping against each other and sweeping apart again.  The memory of our Sunday afternoon rests deep deep within my heart; it is a moment in time that reflects the strength and joy of choosing love.  It is proof of love’s secret power to transform the edges even when we are unaware.

I caarry your heart

Space

Did you know if you get rid of, or move on, 12 items in one day, you shift the energy in your house?  This was one of a flurry of email messages last week among my friends on the merits of cleaning out.  We were all wanting to make more space in our homes, clear out the clutter, and keep only what we love and what inspires us, and well, I guess what we think we need as well.  I wouldn’t say the vacuum cleaner inspires me, but with two dogs who merrily shed their way through the house, I do appreciate its value.

I took the concept further;  I unsubscribed to almost all my daily emails for ads and sales, and good deals.   I ended my membership with Paperback Swap, a fun way to recycle books and an additional detail to attend to.  My brain was succumbing to the weight of all the details, all the important things to consider, all the decisions to make, all the worthy causes to support. I wanted more space in my head.  I took a break from Facebook.  In my quest to stay connected with my new friends, old friends, friends of my children, neighborhood and city happenings, politics and hopeful social movements, I didn’t have enough space or time to be connected to myself.  It is easier sometimes to be noisily involved with life, than to be quietly aware of oneself.

IMG_8495This morning I stumbled upon yet another area in my life yearning for more space.  I was writing to my coach about my ongoing saga with stress and my efforts to manage it.   As my words poured out I could hear my judgment of self, my criticism, pointing out yet more areas of failure in my life.   I thought of all those harmful words buzzing around my head, poking at my skin, and eventually perching around my heart.   Negative words clogging up my heart space; I want to clean up and clear out.   I want to eradicate toxicity, pluck those seductive shady words that on the surface sound innocent, and underneath are scathing in their rebuke of self.  Words said in humor that are not loving or kind or gentle.  Words of impatience and intolerance towards myself.  A tangible way to start is to choose 12 words to remove from my vocabulary.  Words that no longer (and never did) serve me; toss ’em away and open up space for generosity and vitality and passion!

My Life Flows On

I sat in the pew of a large Mennonite church in rural Bucks County.   That space of even careful rows was a world away from my small urban Mennonite church, where we sit in concentric circles on chairs that can be moved aside for dancing on the wood floor.

I was attending the funeral service for the mother of one of  my daughter’s best friends.   We had come together that day from  different congregations to form a unique body – a gathering to celebrate Becky’s life.  Becky was vibrant and active, generous with her love and a bulldog for peace and justice.

Becky was also a lover of music; her service was filled with instrumentals, solos, duets, and congregational singing.   As we sang My Life Flows On, I quieted my voice, closed my eyes and listened.  Even now two weeks later I feel my heart open as I return to that space of sound, and of presence.   Our differences don’t exist; we are singing together, creating solid, pure and true harmony, the sopranos dependent on the altos dependent on the tenors dependent on the bass.  In that moment I am five years old and 15 years old – I am 30 and 44 and 53.  I feel the security of the church I felt as a child as well as the pain of ostracism in my mid-years and also the knowing that when we sing together we move to a place beyond judgment.   In that moment we care more about expressing what is in our  hearts and sharing in our mutual desire to make harmony than we care about who is sinning.  We are confident in our ability to create this sacred space together; I can hear it in the voices around me and in my own.  I find myself leaning towards the woman beside me, to better hear our voices blend.  As a body we listen to each other and, without thinking,

we adjust –

we tune –

we transform.

A Little bit of Awe

I have always loved the quote that says a messy desk is the sign of a creative mind.  If that is true, then just imagine what a messy bedroom, office, and general mess in living must represent!  Great rivers of creativity coursing through my whole body!

When I go away for the week-end it isn’t long til I have belongings spread in every room:  a pair of sneakers here, several books over here, a journal on this table and a jacket resting on the back of that chair.  Even when I eat lunch in the office kitchen, I feel like my little spread of lunch munchies reaches further out across the table than my lunchmates.  I have come to accept that I feel most comfortable when things just aren’t too neat and tidy around me.

But I am feeling a shift in this scattered way of living, at least in one area of my life.  As Jay and I rearrange our living space yet again in our oddly shaped and emptying-nest house I feel some agitation over the stashes of books I am finding in almost every room I spend time in.  I am feeling an unfamiliar yearning to collect them all together in one space.  I imagine that all these beloved books would delight in whispering to each other at night as they stand shoulder to shoulder on the shelf.

I like the idea of my books snuggling up beside each other or maybe forming little conversation circles.  I think, despite their differences in form and tone and age they would like each other.  There may be lofty conversations but somehow I think not.  Certainly not heated arguments for they are similar in their intentions toward laughter or growth or reconciling.  I want to sit in front of them, collected from the random shelves or desks from my house – pulled together to form one rich bookscape of knowing.  I imagine I would be astonished to see them all lined up beside, above, and below each other and realize the accumulation of time, curiosity, challenge, joy, and insight they represent in my life.

Maybe gathering all my books into one space symbolizes the deeper integration I am feeling in my life as I explore new spaces in myself.   Having the whole (or at least more of it) in one place so I can see and feel it all at once – and stand in respect and a little bit of awe.  Like, wow – all this richness, the time spent, the seeking for truth and connection, the simple pleasure, and the agonizing attention – they turn into a pretty amazing collection when they are (I am) together in one space.

Thyroid II

This is the butterfly I saw out front the morning my surgeon called to tell me the pathology report had shown cancer cells in my goiter. The butterfly remained long enough for me to say good-bye to Jay on the front porch and run back in for my camera.  She may be the same butterfly who nicked my shoulder later on that day in the garden.  I will take her presence as a sign of life, of hope.

I had asked my brother several days ago for the recipe he uses for steamed cabbage.  I typed the word ‘life’ in my itunes and started listening to the random songs that popped up (right now it is Barbara Streisand, thanks to either my husband or daughter who are oh so romantic).  I gingerly took the cabbage out of the grocery bag, keeping a keen eye out for bugs.  Earlier this week I had cut the cabbage from my garden cringing as I saw evidence of bugs and slugs.  My victory that day was cutting the cabbage; I threw it in a grocery bag, tied the handles tight and shoved it in my fridge hoping any bugs would either suffocate or die in the cold.  Today there was nothing moving across the tender leaves and I cut large swathes around the holes left from bug munching.  Shredded cabbage and chicken broth, homemade from my friend Anita who one day showed up at work with a bag of frozen home made chicken broth for me.  I don’t know why she keeps making it for me; I accept her little baggies of gold with gratitude. I added fresh thyme pricked from the plant I just put in the ground this morning and the cabbage was soon done.

I never take my garden for granted; I am always amazed when I go out and my little buddies have something new to offer me.  Broccoli, peas, onions, cilantro, herbs…..  I can’t resist pulling some weeds and getting my hands in the dirt every time I go out.  There has been more than once that at work I look down and see a smudge of dirt on my shin, or am in a meeting and realize there is a thin lining of mud up over the soles of my shoes.  The most embarrassing moment was yesterday during pre-op testing when I realized there was a thick line of dirt shoved up under my nails.  Didn’t I even wash my hands before I left home? Every time the nurse turned her back I surreptitiously  picked at the dirt, glad that giving blood meant I had to show the inside of my arm and my palm rather than the encrusted nails on top of my hand.

I find out in great relief that I need to be at the hospital tomorrow morningl at 6:45; now I know I won’t get throwing-up-sick in the pre-op from dehydration and caffeine withdrawal like I did last week, when I had to wait until 11:30.  I want to set up the soaker hoses this afternoon yet because the weather is supposed to get hot again starting tomorrow.  I am deeply grateful for fresh cabbage and thyme, to a garden that needs watering, to my family and friends who have showered me with gifts and time, and their presence.  I am grateful to the man delivering flowers who met my eyes in a grin after I hid behind the door signing for flowers because I was, ahem, inappropriately dressed.  (Or maybe he was grinning because I wasn’t as discreet as I thought).

I am grateful for this time of connection with the earth and with my loved ones and with myself.  The sun and sky and breeze has been glorious these past few days and I am grounded by all this, despite facing another surgery.  I see this time as an opportunity to reflect on new space in my throat, of cleansing and healing, of health and wholeness.  I carry with me the words of my friend Melody:

The throat is a sacred vessel, a passageway from the lips, through the cave of the mouth to the inner terrain of the throat that allows entry to the heart.  You are clearing the way for your heart to speak.