The Loneliest Star

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Yesterday was the first day of autumn and I can feel the way the earth is moving. Our two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally for a spell—night and day stand side-by-side, neither one outreaching the other. We call it the equinox—from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Only it doesn’t feel equal to me. The morning is slow in coming and evening slips down over the horizon too quickly. The sun is stingy with her light and the days bleed moments before we can wrap them up.

There was a time when people were more in tune with the rhythms of nature, when the sky was their clock and calendar. We see this evidenced in ancient man-made structures such as the Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu in Peru. This unassuming stone structure has been shown to precisely date the equinoxes and other celestial events. The word intihuatana means “for tying the sun.” The shadow the stone casts tracks the journey of the sun across the sky throughout the year.

The night sky, too, announces autumn, with certain constellations moving into prominent view. But also, there rises in the southern sky what some call the “Loneliest Star.” This star, also known as the “Autumn Star,” or the “Lonely One” is thus called because it is the only bright star in that part of the sky this time of year. Its formal name is Fomalhaut, which comes from the Arabic Fum al Hut, meaning “mouth of the fish.” Fomalhaut, the Lonely One, is the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).

Last night, I went outside and stood facing south and searched the horizon for the brightest star. Fomalhaut did, indeed, look lonely in the broad expanse of night sky. As I stood under that twinkling canopy, I felt a kinship with the Lonely One. I have spoken before of the longing that autumn evokes. That sweet yearning pulled at my heartstrings urgently as I stood alone among the song of cicadas and crickets. Sometimes this feeling of emptiness can feel big enough to swallow me whole. The urge to fall into that well of darkness is strong at times.

In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul says, “The night is nearly over. The day is almost here. Live in the light.” He is telling us we have a choice to make. Spiritually speaking, in this tired world, it’s not yet day, and it’s not quite night: both are right here, within our grasp. Two ways of life. And even though we may have chosen the way of light, the darkness is still very present—clings to our skin like the damp air of night.

I think the ancient people, with their keen awareness of the rhythms of nature, understood the dueling forces of dark and light much better than we. I’m trying to notice the rhythms built into this good earth more. I feel the lightness of each leaf I see fall from my maples in the back yard. I study the way of the honeybee, knee deep in the goldenrod. I watch the birds and butterflies shed a new season as they flock southerly.

But I am earthbound—no winging out of this for me. Still, I make a choice. A choice to see this longing inside of me as something good, something made of light. A longing for life the way our good God intended it to be.

Autumn

on the bright wing
of morning
I touch the hem

of dawn;
soar through stardust
and dew as light

spreads like
spilled milk, slowly
blinding the eyes

of heaven, light
upon light,
trembling like

a bird preparing
for flight. my body
blooms until all

the sky and I are
one diaphanous
blue wing.

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.

Welcome Summer

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Last night I dreamed I was back in college, in that old apartment on Walnut Avenue. Clothes were strewn across my bedroom floor, draped across the bed, piled up in corners. One of my friends sat on my bed and I reclined next to him, asked about his wife, his new baby. I was the me I am now—this woman quickly approaching fifty—but my heart was young and carefree. As I looked in my friend’s eyes, I knew I was old, but I felt beautiful and hopeful, as if time had no power over me.

When I awakened, I puzzled over the contradiction the dream posed.

“Why would I dream such a thing?” I asked my husband as we carpooled to work this morning.

Then I remembered. Today is the first day of summer. The summer solstice happens when the tilt of the earth’s axis leans closest to the sun, and we enjoy the longest day of the year.

I suppose if I think about it, I would say my college years might represent the summer of my life. If summer represents freedom and possibility, a time of dreaming and discovery. But the beautiful thing about the dream was that even though I was in an earlier time, I was the same age I am now. And felt the full impact of my gathered years as beauty.

I’m sitting with that for a spell. Letting it trickle down inside of me and drench my young heart—that heart with eternity written into it. The dreaming is not done with me yet.

 

“lean in a little more, honey,” says
the sun, glowing. and the night
scatters as light is sown gently

in the morning, this dream awakens
words so strong they are heard
underwater; scent of crushed flowers

the wind as stiff as stone, ushers
a sudden rain and clouds drift soft
into velveteen

amidst the tumbling
songs of robins.

Home Smells like Lilac and a Winner!

 

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Now, when I take Bonnie out in the mornings, we are greeted by the thick perfume of the lilac bush pushing down heavy on the moist morning air. The skeletal trees surrounding our little valley are fleshing out in white and yellow and green leaves unfolding. The hills are all pinked up with Redbud and spring is working her resurrection magic on my inner geography as well.

Last night, I took Jeffrey to be fitted for his first tuxedo—prom is only two weeks away. Jeff had band practice, so my boy and I were alone for the evening. After dinner, we took Bon for a walk and then went to DQ and picked up some ice cream (I was hankering for a Reese’s blizzard). We sat on the back deck amongst robin song and that heady scent of lilac.  How sweet to savor the moments (as well as the ice cream).

I’ve been gone for two weekends in a row and I can’t explain the rich feeling of anticipation for a weekend at home. I’m looking forward to staying put—to piddling in the yard, and rising with the sun, and worshiping with those who know and love me best.

I love adventures. I love meeting new friends and dining with old ones. But home is the best place. I’m so grateful for home.

The winner of the small stack of books from last week, including a signed copy of Jenn Hand’s 31 Days to Coming Alive and a copy of Deidra Riggs’s Every Little Thing, is … Nancy Sturm! Congratulations, Nancy! I’ll be in touch. Thanks to all who stopped by and commented.

A Winsome Giveaway

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Each morning when I drive through these ancient hills on my way to work, the sun is higher in the sky. I wander out into a wide awake world and daylight becomes the early bird. Time has a slippery way about it, and these days, I notice how quickly the seasons come and go. So when I get the chance to slow down—to change the scenery and open eyes wide to each moment, it feels like a celebration. That’s what the Winsome Retreat did for me last weekend—spoke kairos time into my chronos. I met so many amazing sisters, made new friends and caught up with old. I wanted to share a few of my new friends with you so you might celebrate with me also.

Jenn Hand is the executive director of Coming Alive Ministries and she is amazing. Jenn is a missionary with a heart for all God’s children. Did I mention she is hilarious? We laughed so hard when she gave her talk that my cheeks hurt after. And she is just the same at the dinner table as she is behind the podium. A genuine, generous, all-in-for-Jesus kind of gal. She tells the best stories and they always lead her listeners back to the heart of God.

Emily Dean is the founder/director of Varity Vareé, a multi-media business that takes everyday women and tells their story in a beautiful and new way. Each woman they feature participates in two photoshoots and an extensive interview. I asked Emily what gave her the idea for such a unique business. “I was doing a lot of modeling, “she said, “and I realized that when I did that work I felt like a canvas for the beauty other people wanted to project.” She wondered what would happen if every woman was given that opportunity to be in the spotlight. Varity Vareé was born out of her ability to see the beauty in every woman. She wanted to share those stories and lift them up as beautiful.  Our conversation got interrupted by Emily’s wee one—the tiny eight-week old infant she had with her at the retreat. She also sang with the worship team all weekend. A woman of many talents and much beauty.

Hilary Hyland is a photographer, artist, singer, and musician. She designed the Enough print that retreat attendees were gifted with. When I told Hilary how much her voice captivated me, she smiled and told me she had been hoarse the past few days! She said God was really using that to stretch her. But believe me, God made it work. Her earnest vocals pulled us right into the holy. Check out some of Hilary’s photography work here.

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Kim Hyland, founder of Winsome (mother to Emily and mother-in-law to Hilary) gave the opening keynote Friday night and she talked about how, as the body of Christ, we need each other and the unique gifts we all bring into this world. Winsome was a living, breathing example of that—each person there made the weekend lovelier and lovelier.

I’m still processing all the sweetness of the kairos time we had together. Because joy multiplies when shared, I want to give away a little bundle of books to one reader. Included: A signed copy of Jenn Hand’s 31 Days to Coming Alive and a copy of Deidra Riggs’s Every Little Thing (plus a couple extras). Deidra gave the keynote Saturday night and her message was Spirit-led and beautiful (just like her).

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Leave a comment by Thursday 4/21 for a chance to win. I’ll announce the winner next Friday.