To Remember:

IMG_8333

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

6047908204_735a9d575a_b

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.

West Virginia Morning: Frost

frost 008

IMG_6802

frost 015

Early is my favorite time. The way the light comes, like seeping tea, is nothing short of a miracle. I watch sunlight move across the yard and my spirit expands with its steady falling.

This morning, a heavy frost is knit into the earth. The Queen Anne’s Lace in the meadow are crystal sculptures, glistening in the morning sun. It softens the day’s arrival, and I am reminded of Christian Wiman’s words, “[There are] so many ways of saying God.”

When Prince greets me at the fence, the tips of his mane are laced with ice. I have no apples today so he nuzzles an overripe banana, picks strawberries from my palm with his lips. I run my fingers over his nose, dig them under his frozen mane and find the warm, soft there.

“Are you cold, boy?” I whisper in his ear. I’ve considered buying him a blanket to drape over that barrel belly, but I don’t want to offend. What do I know about horses anyway? His owner has a small lean-to set up on the hill Prince shares with the goats. Being a minority, he must leave the shelter early. Surely these animals are heartier than I.

I am thinking about a million things: a friend who will leave soon that I will miss in my heart, my boy’s college applications, a book signing I will be doing this afternoon, the preaching engagement next week, that article I’m editing, plans for the Ash Wednesday service …

Yesterday, when I was talking with one of our patients, he said to me, “I lie awake and thoughts just spin and spin. I cannot stop the worry. How do you stop your mind from churning?”

How do you?

We worked on replacing the worry-thoughts with better ones, and this is what I do—everyone knows you can’t take one thing away without replacing it with something else. So I work on the good thoughts, the noble ones, the lovely and pure. But some thoughts? They need sitting with. They need a poem. Words fall, soft as the Eucharist, and worry is given a new name.

I’ve seen you—
a reflection in a hidden pond,
dipped my hand in
and shattered the beauty

I have tried to cup you
like water, like morning
and you have moved through me
like air and light, like

something that happened
millions of years ago,
milk sweetened with honey or
a dreamless sleep

I run from your eyes and
you keep coming to find me
in the tangled threads of a
thousand worlds

why? why did I not
reach for you long ago? When
time began and the earth
moved slowly?

this is the way the light falls
like seeping tea, blinding
everything in its path, bathing
all in glory.