Like Riding a Bike

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As I write, the little boy across the street is learning to ride his bike. From my desk I can see them through the window—his father holding onto the seat and running along beside as his boy pedals maniacally. When he lets go the man bellows, “Pedal! Pedal!” I hear a high pitched howl before boy and bike topple over into the soft grass. His sister and another little neighbor girl stand witness, cheering as he goes down time after time. But he keeps returning to the seat.

“I feel like my writing muscles have grown weak,” I joked with my friend last weekend at the poetry retreat. “Well,” she said. “It is a skill. If you don’t use it …” I recognized the truth in her words and felt a catch in my throat.

It doesn’t feel like “riding a bike,” this ebb and flow of the writing life. In some ways, though, it does feel like the learning to ride—all these bumps and crashes. I’m on a quest to rediscover the joy I used to find in words. Somewhere along the way, writing became something else, my voice muffled like a song under water.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls this quest “building a motherland.”

“This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones. It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity …” She goes on to say,

When we think of reclamation it may bring to mind bulldozers or carpenters, the restoration of and old structure, and that is the modern usage of the word. However, the older meaning is this: The word reclamation is derived from the old French reclaimer, meaning ‘to call back the hawk which has been let fly.’ Yes, to cause something of the wild to return when it is called. It is therefore by its meaning an excellent word for us. We are using the voices of our minds, our lives, and our souls to call back intuition, imagination; to call back the Wild Woman. And she comes.”

Last night I told a friend that I am learning I must fight to awaken my voice again—I mustn’t give up as easily as I have. This love of creating is a way of giving to the world and I feel like a part of myself is missing when I am silent. Like a psalm written on my bones, it is a core part of my being.

Across the street, my little neighbor friend gets back up on the seat of his bike again. I hear his sister and her friend lift up encouragement. I hear his father giving instruction. I have voices cheering me on as well. Some have held me until I can find my balance.

But the most essential part falls to me. I have to keep getting back up into the seat.

The winner of last week’s happy giveaway is … Julie Dodson! congratulations, Julie! I’ll be in touch.

A Gentle Return

 

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At dawn our little valley sleeps under a fog-threaded blanket, hidden in folds of white and gray. The hills surrounding my home drift in and out of sight, rolling over in their forested bed before opening to the day. I return from taking Bonnie out with dew-stained cheeks, kissed by the morning.

This past weekend I met up with a group of poets and writers—musicians, friends, beauty-givers—and am still mulling over our time together. We read poetry out loud, danced, and found a home inside words and laughter shared.  We were staying at a place once called the eighth wonder of the world and even the ground we walked on held stories. It was a safe place, though not always a comfortable place for this solitary spirit of mine, and I let the hard questions linger on the edge of my mind longer than I usually do. I had a tough conversation with a mentor, the woman who probably did more to help shape my writing voice than anyone. I left our talk unsettled, with no answers, only these: (1) the knowledge that sometimes life sets us in hard places and (2) the feeling that I had been seen. Wisdom challenges me to stop whining and start following my bliss in every moment. It sounds so simple, does it not? Perhaps it is when one is surrounded by artists and soul-friends. The bravery is carrying that inspiration into my every day.

During one of our conversations this weekend I shared some thoughts about this TED talk. It’s one I frequently watch with the patients I counsel at the hospital where I work. The speaker is Aimee Mullins, a champion athlete, model, actress, and advocate, who just happens to be a double amputee. The talk is entitled “The Opportunity of Adversity.” In it, Aimee says, “Everyone has something rare and powerful to offer our society.” And,

… Implicit in this phrase of overcoming adversity is the idea that success or happiness is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience. As if my successes in life have come about from an ability to sidestep or circumnavigate the presumed pitfalls of a life with prosthetics or what other people perceive as my disability. When, in fact, we are changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge. Whether it is physically, emotionally, or both. I’m going to suggest this is a good thing … Maybe the idea I want to put out there is not so much overcoming adversity, as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it … maybe even dancing with it …”

Times of sharing soul-thoughts and deep conversations have a way of tenderizing the heart, heightening the senses, and opening us up to possibility. This morning, the things I have chafed up against in this one wild and precious life feel less like obstacles and more like dancing partners. In the past couple years, we’ve navigated Major Depression, the loss of treasured work, sending our eldest son off to college, an increase in the demands of other work, the illness and subsequent death of a loved one, a book release, death of beloved family dog, and a change in career paths for the major bread winner in the family. Our life is not uncommon, but it is uncommonly ours. We have been changed. We have been marked. This morning I feel the truth of this settle into my skin as surely as the fog moistens my countenance. And I am opening my heart to the possibility that this is not a bad thing. I am beginning the first slow steps of the dance.

The way the fog slowly unveils the day feels good, a gentle return.

Everything Over the Sun

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Every morning I look out the kitchen window to the clearing in the meadow. I long for a glimpse of the spotted fawns we saw frolicking; I wonder about them: where are they? Are they safe? Will their spots disappear as quickly as the baby fat on my boys? Will they snack on the tenderettes in my garden tonight? I watch the golden rod bend over, heavy with nectar, and for the bazillionth time puzzle over how quickly time dissolves—like sugar in warm water—until all that is left is the memory of sweetness.

Last night, I took my son out shopping for some things he needs for his dorm. He begins his second year of college next week. Second year. When did that happen? I’ve grown used to having him home again. I’ve grown used to sweeping up his long red hair from the kitchen floor, to his shy smile greeting me when I return home from work in the evening.

So I wanted to buy him some better towels this year—fluffy towels to hug his body in softness when I cannot. He needs a new shower caddy and desk lamp, some underwear and perhaps a smarter pair of shoes—if I can talk him into it. So we set out on our quest only to be foiled by a terrible accident on the interstate. A semi hauling Resees cups east crossed the median and ran into another semi traveling west, erupting into a ball of flames. One truck driver was killed and several others injured. The interstate was closed for hours and traffic poured into our little valley—people trying to find an alternate way home. We were trapped in gridlock, stuck in a sea of vehicles along our little valley road. Instead of shopping, we pulled into a local restaurant and dined together, hoping the traffic would be cleared when we finished. As we ate, I prayed for the victims of the accident. I prayed for the truck drivers and their families, for those stuck in traffic. As I prayed silently, the sky opened up and rain thrummed the roof above us, poured down on the firefighters trying to extinguish the flames of burning diesel, on the people waiting in long streams of traffic, on our little valley that stood witness to it all.

We decided to try to find a shower caddy another day.

This morning, when I drove to work, all that was left of the accident was a mangled guard rail and some heavy equipment that must have been used to remove the debris. All along the interstate, for miles and miles, semi-trucks were parked along the side of the road—the drivers forced to sleep where they were due to a closed roadway. As I passed the site of the accident, trucks behind me and trucks before, I felt I was entering sacred ground. And these brother truck drivers stood sentinel, a testament to the fragility of our human lives.

In my Bible study this week, the author talks about how King Solomon uses the phrase “under the sun” a lot in the book of Ecclesiastes. As in “there is nothing new under the sun” or “the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.” Wiersbe says, “It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven’s point of view.” Solomon was so wise and gifted. And I wonder if he was really saying that it is only when we take account of that which is over the sun can we fully live into this life we are given.

So many things under the sun can discourage and disappoint. A tragic accident, the way time slips through my fingers, saying goodbye to my boy again … All of these things matter. The things that happen in this life matter. They matter to the world; they matter to God. This life matters. We are not simply here to wait for a better way. Scripture tells us Jesus came so that we might have abundant life. But this life is nestled into a bigger story. These hardships in this life, when taken in context of the bigger story, allow our hearts to be prospered—to grow richer and deeper and abundant in love. But only when I am able to keep an eternal perspective—to think on things over the sun—am I able to feel the fullness of the sadness but also of joy.

When life feels meaningless, I will remember. There is a bigger story. And I am a part of it.

West Virginia Morning: Everything Under the Sun

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This morning, before the sun burned the dew off the grass, we saw three little spotted fawns exploring the meadow behind our house. Last night, our neighbor cleared out a small patch of brambly mélange and mowed down the unruly mess of goldenrod, queen Anne’s lace, and ironweed into a smooth bed of grass. The trio seemed to delight in the freedom to feel out their gangly legs, leaping about and staring over the fence at us in curiosity. I was reminded of the Cultural Mandate—God’s call to us to cultivate the earth, to make it more beautiful. Even our little deer friends appreciate the bringing of order to chaos. Who knew these dear ones were hidden in such a mass of brush?

Meanwhile, I still struggle to bring some order to my own tiny world, internally and externally. Our little town is having a city-wide yard-sale tomorrow and the band boosters are collecting donations for a fundraiser. So I’ve been picking through the attic and basement, looking through twenty years of “oh, I may need this one day” and “I hate to throw this out” items. Items I haven’t given a thought to until this moment. Strange how we hold on to things, is it not? And funny how a little time can give the distance needed to open the hand.

This morning, I started a new Bible study on the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s called Be Satisfied. I was scrolling through my kindle library and it caught my eye because … well, because I haven’t been. Yesterday, in conversation with a new friend, I found myself saying some things that surprised me when describing my life to her. Later in the day, as I reflected on our conversation, I knew I needed some good medicine. The kind of medicine only Truth can give.

Author Warren W. Wiersbe tells me that when Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes,

“he called himself ‘the Preacher’ … The Hebrew word is koheleth (ko-HAY-leth) and is the title given to an official speaker who calls an assembly … . The Greek word for ‘assembly’ is ekklesia, and this gives us the English title of the book, Ecclesiastes. … The word koheleth carries with it the idea of debating, not so much with the listeners as with himself. He would present a topic, discuss it from many viewpoints, and then come to a practical conclusion. …”

Solomon is arguing with himself. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately myself. It doesn’t make for good sleep. I heard a thunderstorm rush through this morning at five a.m. My heart and body were stirred enough to bring me to rise and watch out the window as our little valley received a good scrubbing. An hour later I grabbed my camera and tried to frame up a memory of rain. My lens kept fogging up and the heat was already creeping down my back and my feet quickly grew soggy in the wet grass. These days, nothing seems to go as I hope, nothing seems to measure up to the pictures I paint in my mind.

Dissatisfied.

In the introduction to Be Satisfied, Pastor Ken Baugh gives three principles echoed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes:

Principle 1: I will be satisfied to the extent that I see everything I have as a gift from God.

Principle 2: I will be satisfied to the extent that I notice what is going on in the lives of others.

Principle 3: I will be satisfied to the extent that I trust God during times of distress.

It’s too early in my reading to recommend the study, but I feel hopeful. The lesson this morning was only on the first three verses and already I’m encouraged. I’ll try to keep you in the loop about what I’m learning and reflecting on as I read and examine everything “under the sun”.

 

Garden Notes: Pinto Beans

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This summer my garden has been a lonely little plot. Between neglect due to family concerns, critter issues, and a rainier-than-the-norm season, my sweet little plantlets haven’t had much room to thrive. This morning when I walked Bonnie around the house, the withered pods of pinto beans caught my eye. Pintos are best dried on the vine but one glimpse of those yellowed husks told me I’d waited too long for picking. I dodged another summer shower to harvest them in. Then I sat at the kitchen table hulling the mottled beans and watching through the bay window as rain gave the back yard a good scrubbing. The papery husks split easily between my fingers and I dumped their contents onto newsprint to dry. I’ve always found the steady practice of stringing beans relaxing and soon fell into a reverie from peeling the skin off the pintos to the rhythm of rain.

We haven’t had much time to rest since returning from our family holiday. We went straight from joy into grief and our spirits are so tired. Summer is taking her last gasps and we feel her passing with regret. So many things have been left undone because our presence was required elsewhere. We would not have it any other way, of course. The time spent grieving and loving together has deepened our understanding of life—our hearts have been stretched further than we could imagine. But all the while we reel with a loss of home. Our roots have been lifted out from under us. It feels scary, unbalanced, this knowledge that loss might come again unbidden. We long for the ordinary, for things to go back the way they were. We long for the safety of home, that comfort that comes from all that is familiar and good.

When my boys were little, in their preschool room was a large plastic bin filled with pinto beans. The children loved to dig their hands down into the beans, all the way up to their elbows. The beans were cool and smooth, too small to be a choking hazard, and easily cleaned up if spilled. The children delighted to scoop and pour, making the sound of rain as the beans tinkled into bowls or cups or the backs of toy dump trucks. I remember tiny fingers combing trails through beans as I peel away the dried skins of my pintos. I caress the smooth shell of each bean and drop it into the pile. I scoop the dried fruit up in my hands when I am done, rejoicing in the coolness of each tiny circlet.

Who would believe the life nestled inside such an unassuming little seed?

My troubled little garden is helping me find my way home again. Pinto beans and cornbread are a thing here in West Virginia. When I was a girl, how I would tire of this common meal. But somehow? I know these beans I have hulled today will taste better than any I’ve ever eaten.