To Remember:

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I’m reposting this in loving memory of my friend Helen, who passed away earlier this evening. 

She is barefooted, sitting on the porch when I arrive. I’ve been trying to get over to see her for a month—ever since her birthday. She’s a blessing to me because she lets me bless and Helen and I have been doing this for a while now.

Several years ago my women’s circle adopted the women of Helen’s circle—we put their names in a basket and each one of us from the “younger” group drew out a saint’s name. Some are with us no more and some have moved away and some just never did follow-up. But Helen and I have fallen into a rhythm and I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have Helen to write to, to think about, to surprise with a sit under the Mimosa tree.

Today I bring her a hanging basket, dripping gold and violet. When she sees me coming up the drive she says—in that grumpy way she has, “You don’t need to be wasting your money on flowers for me.”

But she surveys the petunias and gestures to a hook dangling from the porch roof.

“Put them up there, that’s a good place for them.”

I hide my smile and do as she says.

Helen and I are sitting on her porch, in the shade of the Mimosa tree and she shows me her swollen feet and talks about her latest doctor appointment. She talks about the ants on the picnic shelter around back and tells how a wasp got in the house this week too.

My mind never wanders when I’m with Helen—the way that it does all day long … wandering from one thing to another, ticking off the to-do list. There is something so precious in being with her and I always feel time pull the emergency break as the wheels of my mind comegrinding and squealing to a stop.

She is a fascinating lady and she never runs out of things to say. She once told me about a trip to Dubai she took when she was younger (I’ve never been to Dubai. I’ve never been out of the country or even out west). She also still is the chairwoman of the Community Cupboard—the local food pantry that she helped get started back in 1982. She drives across town two days a week to oversee that benevolence.

“I don’t drive anywhere except around the valley anymore,” she says, as she catches me up on Cupboard doings.

But the thing about Helen that draws me to her is how much she is who she is.

Her mind is wily and bright and she has a handful of girlfriends she likes to spend time with and if they neglect her … she gets mad. She expects to be treated like someone special. Because she is. There has been no slipping gracefully into the twilight years for this gentle lady. She likes to laugh and keep up on things and stay busy. She still talks about her husband like he is alive sometimes but there is no feeling sorry for the self in her.

We sit on the porch and the sun is moving up her swollen feet and I am sweating in jeans and long sleeves. We listen to the breeze blow through the bushes and when we are still, that’s when I hear it: the sweet song of a Meadowlark. My eyes scan the Mimosa tree, the Oaks in Betty’s yard next door and the Sycamores out back. But he doesn’t want to be seen—just wants to woo me and Helen with his lyrical whistle.

I cock my head to the side, close my eyes and listen. I can’t see him. But he’s announced his presence in the sweetest of ways.

Helen and I? We are not alone.

Playdates with God: New Friends (and a giveaway!)

 

IMG_6280 Last night, when I took Bonnie out before bedtime, I did what I always do—I looked up. The Hunter’s moon was beaming down, and a ring of white light encircled its pale body. Scientists call this ring of light a halo. I’ve heard of an old saying that goes ring around the moon means rain is coming soon. Apparently, there is some truth to this, as halos are caused by high-drifting cirrus clouds packed with ice crystals. Last night, I read something else interesting about halos. Earthsky.org says,

The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear. That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.”

This fun little scientific fact reminded me that much of life is all about perspective. And the wonderful thing about perspective is I can choose my view.

This weekend, at the West Virginia Book Festival, I didn’t sell one book. Not one tiny word. But I did make some new friends, and that’s quite the halo. One such friend is S.D. (Sam) Smith, whose work I have known and admired for some time. We have been connected online for a while, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Let me just say that Sam is a delight. His quirky sense of humor had me giggling all morning long. I had my pocket bubbles with me and we had a good time targeting appropriate bubble-worthy passers-by. Sam’s passion is equipping parents with tools to help them foster holy imagination in their children. You can read more about that at Story Warren, the collaborative website he started for that purpose.

Sam has published two children’s books, The Green Ember and its prequel The Black Green EmberStar of Kingston. Last year, I read parts of The Green Ember to the third graders I read to for Read Aloud West Virginia. They were enthralled. It’s a beautifully crafted fantasy with just enough action but nothing too scary going on. Perfect for young readers.

Anyway, I’m pleased to say that Sam autographed copies of The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston for me to giveaway to my wonderful readers! I’m excited to share this new world with you. How’s that for making halos out of ice crystals? It’s all about perspective.

Just leave a comment on this post for a chance to win. If you go check out Story Warren or Sam’s website, let me know that here and you’ll get an extra entry. I’ll announce the winner on next Monday’s Playdates post.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty

We Are Still Here

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The neighbor children are tracing around each other’s bodies with sidewalk chalk. From my desk, I see them through the window taking it in turns to lie, still as a stone, on the driveway, offering their perimeter. It is a serious task, requiring the tracer to move her entire body around the placid figure she outlines.

I watch the girl thread the chalk between her brother’s feet, up the long path of his legs, around his arms, along the rugged terrain of shoulder and neckline. He smiles up at her and waits his turn as artist, plucking the thick stalk of color from her chalky fingers as they switch roles. They leave behind evidence in pinks and blues, yellows and greens: they were here; they are still here.

Later, I walk the dog under slow-moving clouds; the moist heat of the summer evening becomes my second skin. The neighborhood streets are quiet, hushed by the coming of night. In the fading daylight I dare to visit their chalky mural and let it tell me a story.

I see that each outline has been colored in with detail—a rainbow-striped skirt for the girl, the boy’s bright red hair in short-cropped curly loops, and long eyelashes and wide, full-lipped smiles for both. But the thing that tells the story is the way the children have joined their hands. I know they weren’t holding hands when the outlines were traced; I watched the making. But here they are, reaching out to each other in Technicolor, clutching tight with hands that look like tennis balls.

The writing life can be so Benedictine—we live cloistered, set apart, dedicated to tapping out words as prayer. And yet, in Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says, “Writing is not just writing. It is also having a relationship with other writers … It’s much better to be a tribal writer, writing for all people and reflecting many voices through us, than to be a cloistered being trying to find one peanut of truth in our own individual mind. Become big and write with the whole world in your arms.”

How do you say goodbye to a community who has become your tribe? To the people who bring you the world and offer you their hearts in story? Over the years, The High Calling has become just that: a place of relationship. The voices and friendships I have found here have helped me fill in the details of my chalk outline, coaxed my writing voice into a rich, wide-lipped smile.

The day after the kids drew their chalk figures, one of those sudden, driving, summer storms blew through. I watched from the window as all that color ran down my neighbor’s driveway in rivulets. When the sun came out, the mural was gone. No rainbow-striped skirt, no wide-lipped smiles, no outstretched hands clasped together; every speck of color scoured clean.

I felt sad, until my neighbor’s screen door banged open. Out skipped the little girl in a rainbow-colored skirt. As he always does, her little brother followed close behind, red hair glinting.

Halfway across the drive, she reached out her hand. And when he reached out to take it, I felt my heart swell.

We were here. We are still here. Hands outstretched toward one another. Nothing can wash that away.

Don’t forget, in honor of Hannah More’s extraordinary life and the contribution she made in support of the founding of the school we left Teddy at this weekend, I’m giving away a copy of Karen Swallow Prior’s beautiful book Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Just leave a comment on this post for a chance to win. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow, Wednesday, 8/26.

edited by Ann Kroeker. image by Steven Depolo, used with permission, sourced via Flickr.

Playdates with God: In the Small

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artwork by Hannah Caley Bush

 

This morning when I take Bonnie around the house, the moon is a whisper in the sky. There is a white film masking the bowl of the Big Dipper, but I can see that it has tipped over, continued it’s slow emptying in the night as I slept. I take this lesson into my heart and pour it out as dark embraces me, grateful for the way the horizon traces earth—the way morning falls slowly, like a blanket shaken out and drifting down.

My friend Cheryl stopped by this weekend, she and her daughter in need of a layover to break up a long trip. While they were here, we sat by the hearth and talked about being small—how God has called us to the forgotten corners of our worlds. In these small places, it can feel as if time has erased my face, like the slow weathering on a stone statue. No parades, no celebrated Facebook status accompanies the ministry in the small. I develop amnesia for my features when there is little to reflect my image back to me. When I play the comparison game, this can be disconcerting, and I wonder if I have disappeared. But when I stay linked to God, arm-in-arm, I see that the slow weathering is etching new features into my stone anatomy, softening the sharp edges and conforming me closer to the Image I bear.

How I need to sit with friends and reflect on these things. How grateful I am for Cheryl and her kind heart. (Hebrews 10:24-25) We were made to be together, to remember together the faithfulness of God.

This morning in my readings, Christian Wiman tells me, “Faith is nothing more … than a motion of the soul toward God.” But he goes on later, “… It may be God who moves, the soul that opens for him.”

Outside my window, a male cardinal perches on a budding branch. Bonnie sleeps contentedly in my lap. I reflect on the weekend and time well spent with a friend. My soul is opening wide the door. Welcome, it sings, to the Holy One.

Welcome.

You
write on stone with
a fingertip
and what time
has erased, You

make new. I
was not made
to be betrothed
to Alone. Lover

these ribs you
breathed to life
await your touch,
like a palm spread

for a moth’s landing.
my heart is made
of flashing wings, a
stony cairn taking
flight—unburdened
by your love.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

Playdates with God: Notes from Jubilee

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jubilee shot

It is indeed the paradox of hospitality that poverty makes a good host. Poverty is the inner disposition that allows us to take away our defenses and convert our enemies into friends. We can only perceive the stranger as an enemy as long as we have something to defend. But when we say, ‘Please enter—my house is your house, my joy is your joy, my sadness is your sadness, and my life is your life,’ we have nothing to defend, since we have nothing to lose but all to give.”~Henri Nouwen, Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent

We never run out of things to talk about, my High Calling friends and I, and being together is a large part of why I drive four hours through the snow every year to attend the Jubilee conference. I never knew one could grow to love a people through the mysterious airspace of the online world but it’s happened to me, so when we have a chance to be together in the flesh it makes me happy. I’m not one who talks easy with others, never having learned that fine art, and being in large groups of people can make me uneasy, tired. But I have attended Jubilee long enough to have a sense of familiarity and adopt an air of deep affection for the usual suspects involved. Though I still tend to hang back and observe, each year I have felt more comfortable extending my hand to others, so in about ten years I should feel completely at home.

This year at Jubilee the theme was “this changes EVERYTHING.” The speakers talked about how the Gospel changes our lives, this world, even how it can change the church. There was an emphasis on cross-cultural issues, racial justice, and reconciliation that felt right and good. After one of the worship sets, I commented to Deidra on the diversity of the people leading us in song and we wondered aloud why the arts tend to be more integrated than other areas of life. Music. It is a language of love. When people are united in a common love, a common passion, it’s easier to open the heart and celebrate differences as gifts, I suppose. I wonder how, as Christians, we can let our shared love for Jesus do that in a better way out in the world. And the more we keep wondering together and talking about these things and letting love be our guide the more our talk will lead to wise action and the more hearts will become one. I want to be part of that conversation.

One thing we try to do at The High Calling during our retreats at Laity Lodge is extend outrageous hospitality to all present. This year, as I watched snow fall outside from the warmth of my hotel room, I realized this is a big part of Jubilee too. From Byron Borger (AKA “Double B”) taking a second to say hello to me in the midst of the busy setting up his bookstore to CCO President Dan Dupee taking a selfie with me as they waited for him to come up on stage at Jubilee Professional (I didn’t know), these folks live out the message they preach: Everything in this beautiful, broken world belongs to God and we are here to steward it well. There is only this very thin layer of skin separating us from touching, from claiming all that is holy. The Gospel does, indeed, change everything.

I am beginning to see that all this mingling, this reaching out to others—it is all an act of hospitality. When I make myself poor, abandon that fear of losing what I defend, I am easier in reaching out in freedom. And I see that, just as in scripture, the stranger brings to me so many precious gifts.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess