Be Happy (A Giveaway)


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This morning when I stepped out on the porch with Bonnie, a flock of geese cut through the newly born blue of the sky above—honking the day into awakening. They were so low I could hear the swoosh of air pushed underneath wings, almost feel the breeze of the passing. I spun around to watch their flying V move across the sky, until they soared out of sight. I could hear them long after they disappeared over the horizon, cradled the memory of long-necked grace amidst receding trumpet blasts.

On Tuesday we saw our son off to his second year of college; drove for hours, helped him unpack and organize all the stuff of life, and then left him in his dorm room. This was an easier departure than last year’s, for we all knew a little more what we were doing. Last year we drove away from him with a sinking feeling, fear in our gut. This year his roommate had driven down from New York all by himself—no parents, no entourage. The young man’s confidence in his solitary travels gave me pause. When we pulled away I wondered aloud if this would be our last year of dropping our boy off in this way. We’ve talked about sending him with a car next year, and if that’s the case, it’s unlikely we will tag along. This thought added a new dimension to my musings and I studied the landscape more intently as we drove toward home.

A century ago, the Anglican Bishop, Phillips Brooks told his ministerial students to study three “books”: the book of books, the book of the Bible; the book of nature; and the book of mankind. I find this sound advice for the span of a life—both for the college sophomore and the mother driving away from him. Life itself is the best of schools if we pay attention. I know I cannot hold all of his life in my hand. There is only One who can do such a thing.

This is the natural way. Kids grow up. Life changes. We roll with it. But every once in a while something inside of me rises up and says, “hold on, things are moving too fast here.” I want to memorize the moments, hold on to them as they pass.

Somehow I think driving away from our boy will never be easy. It has been a long, hard summer, with his grandfather’s illness, and he was a big help on that front. The memory of his face lighting up when his friend came into the room lingered with me on the trip home. I could still see his smile long after we were gone. He was happy. Happy to be back in school, to have a purpose, to see his friends.

And because he was happy, I was too. I am learning that happiness doesn’t have to be a complicated thing. In her book, The Happiness Dare Jennifer Dukes Lee says,

“You are the imago dei. You carry the DNA of your happy and holy God. … God is the inventor of happiness and the chief spreader of it. When you desire happiness, you …  are responding to something built into your soul. Your desire to live happy is not a flaw. It is your soul’s memory of the original paradise, etched and alive in you.”

I think I would add that your desire for your children—for all of your loved ones, in fact—to be happy, is a God-designed thing. Opening the hand in this way requires a trust I don’t always feel. There are so many things in life that pass out of our vision but still remain strong in our hearts and minds—the trumpet calls of love.

Last year, in honor of Teddy’s first year of school I hosted a giveaway of some good reads I’d been enjoying. I think this is a nice tradition. This year, I did a little shopping at the school bookstore (one of my favorite things about the campus). In this happy giveaway package, one reader will receive a copy of Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book The Happiness Dare, one pair of Natures Precious Gems hand embossed natural brass earrings, one pinkhouse handmade scarf, and a sweet little Be Happy bag from naturallife.com.

Just leave a comment by Sunday 8/28 at midnight for a chance to win! Winner will be announced on Monday 8/29.

Playdates with God: Until the Spring

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There was a soft breeze in the air on Friday morning when we buried my Aunt Effie. The wind robbed the hills of their gems, scattered them to the sky so that we drove through the wild, tumbling kaleidoscope like ticker tape; the funeral procession weaving its way through town like a parade underneath all that colorful confetti. I drove my minivan up, up, up the cemetery hill, keeping close behind my cousin Sue, who was driving my Uncle Edward and Aunt Steech. I could see their hunched figures through the window and wondered for the millionth time how it must feel to bury a sister—one you’ve known from the beginnings of you. I breathed in scent of my cousin Lori (once removed), perfumed by hugs and powdered cheeks.

Along the narrow cemetery road, oval-shaped yellow leaves were tossed and stacked, like golden coins, scattered, welcoming us to heaven’s gate. Were they beech leaves? I peered through the tangled mass of branches on the hillside and couldn’t make out the smooth gray bark, the arching branches. Who knows what kind of trees will be in heaven? I thought of how the ancients buried their beloved ones on hills—Nearer My God to Thee.

The air was heavy with moisture but the rain held off until we were again in our cars, processing back to Farmington for a family dinner. I was listening to Andrew Peterson singing “The Rain Keeps Falling” and it felt like goodbye. My Aunt Effie lived 89 years and she will always be young and strong in my mind. Funny how, when one is with the elderfamily, she becomes a little girl again.

Farmington, West Virginia gained fame in 1968 for the coal mine explosion that killed 78 men, but it’s always been famous to me as the place many of the people I love live. As a little girl I did not know about the explosion—so strong it was felt twelve miles away. I did not know how attempts were made for ten years to recover the bodies, how nineteen were unrecovered, even after all that time. All I knew was my family was there: my paternal grandpa—long widowed, so many cousins, and my Aunt Effie. Every summer we traveled those skinny roads for our family reunion, which met up in Aunt Effie’s back yard. There was no better place. The creek that wound it’s way around the adjacent hill provided endless hours of activity for me and my myriad of cousins—catching crawdads, building dams, wading far upstream and out of grown-up sight. The hills of Farmington hold the sacred in their bellies.

My Aunt Juanita shared some memories about Aunt Effie during the funeral service. She had us smiling and laughing and dabbing the corners of our eyes, but one thing she said rung true to these ears that used to be a little girl’s. She talked about Effie’s gift for hospitality. How her door was always open and her ear prepared to listen. When I think of her, I think of food. She always fed us well. She loved her family.

And she was strong, having lost her husband too early and unexpectedly. With two children still at home, she had to become the breadwinner. She also cared for my grandpa until he died at the age of 100. She was a hard worker and a gentle heart.

This week, I thanked God for the life of my Aunt Effie as I raked the leaves in our back yard. The trees in the meadow behind our house have gone wild and every fall they shed mounds and mounds of colorful chaff. There are still three large piles waiting for me to bag, but I was able to shred some to cover my sleepy garden. They’ll make a nourishing blanket until the spring brings new life, awakens new glory.

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.

The winner of the Vibella bracelet is Karrilee! Congratulations, Karilee, I’ll be in touch!

Laura Boggess

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.

West Virginia Morning: How to Be Washed Clean

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This morning, the fog settles in over the meadow, skimming the blanket of Queen Anne’s Lace with white until it becomes a sea of flowery ghosts. I go out in the yard in my bare feet, let the same moisture that kisses their upturned faces be my foundation. I want to walk in beauty today.

It feels like we have miles to go before we sleep. So much work to do to get ready for the next season.

In the Russian tale “Vasalisa the Wise” the sweet girl Vasalisa is sent into the woods by her jealous stepmother to retrieve a coal to reignite the fire in their hearth. In the forest, Vasalisa encounters Baba Yaga—a witch who represents the wild old mother in each of us (just as Vasalisa represents the innocent, too-nice, naïve part of our psyche). Baba Yaga makes the child perform certain tasks to earn the coal she will give her: wash her clothes, sweep her yard, prepare her food, separate mildewed corn from good corn, and see that everything is “in order.” Vasalisa performs all the tasks successfully with the help of a little doll given to her by her mother when she was on her deathbed (the doll represents the intuition handed down through the ages).

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés says that these tasks Baba Yaga puts before Vasalisa teach her “how to take care of the psychic house of the wild feminine.” Washing the old hag’s laundry, in particular, is a beautiful symbol for “cleansing and purification of the entire bearing of the psyche.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this cleansing ritual lately. As we sort through Teddy’s things, making lists and deciding what he needs to take with him to school, it feels like a fine comb is being run over my spirit. I wash his new towels and sheets, take inventory of underwear and socks, cast aside the outgrown or unworn … and something inside of me is being scrubbed down, rubbed hard up against the washboard.

 … to wash her laundry is a metaphor through which we learn to witness and take on this combination of qualities [strength, endurance], and also to know how to sort, mend, renew these qualities by the purificatio, the washing of the fibers of being.”

It is a strange truth that saying goodbye to one part of myself means welcoming in another. Always, always, there is another skin growing over this scaffold of bones and blood, this limping heart. This is the way of God—to continue conforming me to the image of his son. These seasons I move through edge me closer and closer to the holy. Oh, how far I have to go.

Still, the moments creep up on me lately, and I am often surprised by an unexpected and sudden flow of tears.

Another kind of washing.

Playdates with God: Chasing Butterflies

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Green thickens on nearby hills and the yard has become a lush terrarium in which to lose myself. Lately, we have noticed large numbers of butterfly visitations—mostly the Tiger Swallowtail, but also some Black Swallowtails and smaller varieties too. These pilgrims seem tired, and I have noticed many are missing parts of their wings and their scales have been rubbed off until the wing is translucent. These raggedy guests seem a marking of the coming of summer’s end, and I watch with bittersweet emotion as they unwind their long tongues to taste my purple coneflower.

Always curious, I’ve been reading about the butterfly, which—like moths—are in the class Lepidoptera. Lepidos is Greek for “scales” and ptera means “wing.” I remember as a little girl my mother cautioning me not to touch the butterflies, for to do so would be to rub off some of its wing scales and endanger the beautiful creature. One source confirms this, telling me the scales “protect and insulate the insects and aid in the flow of air along their wings as they fly.” And they may also help the cold-blooded butterfly absorb heat into its wings. Butterflies cannot fly unless their body temperature is above eight-six degrees.

I read that there are some 28,000 species of butterflies worldwide and hosting the Tigers in my garden is the sweetest of all hospitalities. Something in their raggedy countenance this time of year awakens in me desire—desire to care for, desire to protect. At the least, a desire to provide comfort in their last days.

Endings are never easy. Some of you may have heard that The High Calling has decided to end its relationship with the editors who have worked for them these past few years. This is a hard goodbye, one we did not see coming, and so we are working through that grief, together and separately. I started volunteering for The High Calling back in 2009, when it was still a fledgling. In those early days, we made it our priority to make space for the small voice—to encourage new writers and mentor them in growing. As we changed our direction numerous times, I carried that mission with me, always trying to use my position to give voice to lesser known writers and provide platform opportunities. I know of few other online places who do this—so many spaces vying for the big names. This is just one of the unique qualities of a special place that will be missed. For me, this letting go is compounded by preparing to send our eldest off to college in a few weeks. I have felt such sadness in my spirit—it feels like my wings have a few less scales. But at the same time, there is beauty.

For to sorrow over a goodbye means that there was something of immense value that one is being parted from. And there has been so much to value in my time at The High Calling. It has been a lovely experience, one I will forever be grateful for. The connections I’ve made and the ways that I’ve grown through them will be a slow reveal, I think—something I will continue to live into for many years.

I may have more to say about that later, but for now, I will keep chasing butterflies.

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.

Laura Boggess