Sunday, June 29, 2014

when pain is our guest

Something happened yesterday that I always prayed would never be something I would experience. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, heading home on the two-lane highway from the second day of the weekend agility trials. A group of about half a dozen young men and boys were clustered at the foot of a long, country driveway, holding and waving political signs. Their action did what it was intended to do--it attracted my attention--and in that brief moment of turning my head to take in their presence, a dog bolted from the other side of the road into the path of my car. 

I hit the brakes, too late, felt the thud of impact, and immediately negotiated a place to pull off the road to go back and check on the dog. As I opened the car door I caught a glimpse of the dog's tail being raised, one last salute to life, and then it was still. I ran the 100 feet or so to its body, knelt beside it, and the tears began to gush. She was gone. Across the street a car had pulled over. Some of the sign-wavers had disappeared up the driveway to report what had happened to others in their party. A woman called over to me, and I stood and made my way across the road. 

The dog was a stranger to this rural cluster of neighbors, following a few folks around for a handful of days up until now. She had likely been dumped recently, seeking companionship and hospitality where she could, and spying the frivolity of politics there on the roadside, decided a good time might be in the offing. Such was not to be the case. 

The woman who had called out to me made me her priority. Was I okay? I nodded between sobs. Did I have dogs? I nodded again. She smiled, knowingly. "There was nothing you could do. It isn't your fault," she repeated again and again as I wept. No one seemed to know what to do, and I was gently urged to go on home. I gathered what composure I could, went back into the road to retrieve some pieces of the car that had separated at the time of the collision, walked back to the dog with a final apology and my regret, and got back in the car to come home.

To say that I was distressed would be an understatement, and after arriving home twenty minutes later and sharing with Ken what had happened, I began to make the progression from reaction to assessment. I was hurting, deeply, but the grief that was spilling from my core was beginning to ebb, and I was able to assemble the pieces of what had happened into an understandable whole. I began to breathe again, and be still. There were practical realities to address (there was damage to the car), and I had been gone for two days. The rest of my small world had its own pace and was moving forward.

As so often happens when the ordinary of our days suffers a traumatic interruption, the divine insinuated itself on my behalf. This morning our plans including being in church where I was filling in as celebrant for absent clergy. Another colleague was preaching--my role was to make holy things happen at the appointed time--and I settled in to listen to his sermon on welcoming and hospitality. He referred to the variety of guests who make themselves at homes in our beings, and the necessity of making space for them and embracing their presence. He wasn't referring to the the kind of guests with whom we dine and offer bed linens, but visitors who come uninvited--the likes of anger and resentment, for instance. He stressed that hospitality was about creating and providing space for whatever guest was present with us, and to be open to the gift the guest brought into the abode of our heart and soul. And, most critically, when we offered our hospitality by creating that space of being, we also opened a space for God to be present as well. 

Ahhhh. I had already asked myself the agonizing question regarding what might be instructive for me in this incident on the road. I don't subscribe to the belief that "everything happens for a reason," which isn't to say that meaning can't be found buried within the crevices of the events and experiences that make up the lines of our lives. Now, however, as I sought to embrace the difficult reality of what had happened, I could rest in the knowledge that I was likewise embraced by the God whose love I cherish above all others. The devastating tear that had ripped through my soul was already beginning to heal, and this uncomfortable part of my story would now be laced with the graciousness of God's care. 

I had thought, initially, that I wouldn't talk about what happened yesterday. I wanted the pain of it dealt with privately, shut away from my efforts of building my life up. But now I know that what is instructive about it is that being hospitable to that which we would shun and turn away is the path toward healing, and the grace of redemption. And that, dear friends, is worth sharing.

Friday, May 23, 2014

friday five: trash and treasure

For this week's Friday Five at RevGals, Deb invites us to share some yard/garage/rummage/jumble sale adventures. I'm afraid I'm a bit boring as yard sale enthusiasts goes, but I'll give this a whirl!

1. TREASURE: What is the best thing you’ve ever found at a rummage sale? Was it a bargain or just something you’ve longed for but couldn’t afford?
I confess that although we have certainly held our share of yard sales to unload unwanted treasures and bring in a little cash, I don't often visit other yard sales unless I'm in need of something on the cheap that I think I can find there. Probably the most useful thing I have ever found is a small rack for the bathroom on which to keep makeup and other items used daily.
2. TRASH: What is an item you couldn’t WAIT to donate to a sale like this, and then were surprised that someone not only bought it, they were so excited to have?
It would have to be some incredibly tasteless item that was received as a gift (thus fulfilling the "trash and treasure" relationship), though I don't keep track of such farewells. Sorry!
3. BUDGET: How disciplined are you at these kinds of events? Can you stick to a budget, or do you empty your wallet?
As noted above, I rarely visit yard sales, and since I have come to the point in life where I rarely buy something unless I need it, temptation doesn't visit often. Budget isn't an issue because I simply don't buy much.
4. TAKE IT AWAY: What’s something you’d gladly donate right this minute if I would just come pick it up?
An old, crappy coffee table that my husband insists on keeping with the intention of cutting a new, acrylic top. Yeah, right.
5. TEA: Do you have a favorite tea? Or a special teapot? Tell us more!
Although I like tea, I don't drink a lot of it. I do have a favorite blend that employs two different flavors of teabags: almond dessert and honey chamomile. 
Found these on Pinterest a little while ago and think they're adorable!

Monday, April 21, 2014

love. actually and otherwise.

The strangest things pop into my mind when I'm cutting the grass. It's a tragedy, really. If I turn something over in my thoughts for more than a lap around the lawn I inevitably consider that a reflection on the topic du circumnaviation might be fodder for this blog. As you can tell, I am rather short on blog posts these days that aren't otherwise prompted by someone else's ideas. Fodder is welcome! Equally inevitable, however, is that by the time I've finished mowing my mind has moved to other considerations, like how humid it has become, or how grateful I will be for a long drink of water once I get indoors. Yes, that's me, the non-outdoorsy type.

So today--and don't ask me to recount how I got to the subject because I've forgotten--the topic of unconditional love filtered through the minutiae that takes up space in my little grey cells. For a while now this phrase has bothered me. It is my considered opinion that if love has conditions then it isn't love, it's a negotiation based on what can be gained by either side of the equation. That's not love in my book. So love is like being pregnant: you are or you aren't. It's love or it's not. 

But today I went a little deeper with my thinking on this. What about what we call "tough love?" Does that qualify as love with conditions? This is a trick question. The answer is no. Behavior might have expectations, or at the least, consequences. As a wise workshop leader once offered about expectations, we can have wishes or requirements when it comes to how we will respond to someone else's behavior. But the long and short of it is that if it's love, there are no conditions.

Now this doesn't mean that there aren't some nuances to how we experience love, or perhaps more significantly, how we make decisions related to love. I think that's where the rubber meets the road. For instance, it's possible to love someone to the core of your being and beyond, and at the same time recognize that spending time with them for the long haul is going to ruin your life. That's one nuance.

Here's another (and, spoiler alert! another cliche will be involved). A long time ago I loved someone who was more than a few years older than me. I wanted to have a family, and he'd already had his family. The odds of either one of us conceding our position on this matter were excruciatingly small, and as time went by and my clock ticked, I had to make a very difficult decision. Extricating myself from that relationship was beyond difficult, and took several years of missteps in an effort to be available for a new relationship that included the possibility of a family. Among other lessons learned and wisdom gained, the reality that love does not always conquer all became abundantly, and painfully, clear. In this case it wasn't love that bore the condition, it was my own deep yearning for a family that carved a difficult line through the substance of what was otherwise fulfilling. 

There is, as well, a kind of sacrificial love that means that the other person's needs will always come first, no matter what. I don't know if it takes a certain kind of person to practice such love, or if I have yet to know that kind of love in my own life to appreciate it fully, but I want to acknowledge that it exists. 

I'm sure there are other variations on this same theme that illustrate what I refer to here as nuance.  In the end, however, after turning corners of tall grass into blades of uniform height, and considering how we make choices when love stands at the core of any kind of decision, I am back where I ended up: if conditions are attached, we're not talking about love. 

Aren't you glad I shared? Since grass-cutting season is just out of the gate, chances are good that the coming months will see more than friday five blog posts here on this page.  I'm always open to suggestions, too.

Friday, April 11, 2014

friday five: pre-Holy Week distractions

 From Noble Pig, a fabulous food blog.

At RevGals Karla offers us a pre-Holy Week Friday Five!

1.  What is your favorite Easter candy?
Anything Reese's, be it mini-cups, eggs, or the tried and true standard. Chocolate and peanut butter rule!
2.  If you have an Easter memory from childhood to share, then please do.  Or any Easter memory.
My freshman year in college my mom sent me the makings of an Easter basket. She included the green cellophane grass, the candy, a card, and maybe something else. That was just the best treat ever.
3.  Speaking of, what has your most favorite day of the past two weeks been?  Why?
See my last post! But in short, at the last minute some friends gave us tickets to the NCAA women's championship basketball game this past Tuesday night. As a long-time UConn Huskies fan I was over the moon having the chance to see them play, and enjoy their historic win!
4.  I am kind of digging’ Chipotle’s sofritos these days (marinated and “shredded” tofu) and have been eating them like twice a week.  Is there something new in your life that keeps bringing you back for more?  (be ye creative here…)
Archive.org! I'm a genealogy addict, and am eternally grateful that the world of historic records and documents is growing online at a rapid rate. I don't have the luxury of being able to travel to local sites for hands on research, so online tools are invaluable. More and more works are being digitized and can be accessed through archive.org, allowing me to search local histories for signs of ancestors and any stories that might shed some light on events in their lives. It's a research bonanza, for all kinds of topics.
5.  Of course, a sentence. Using the following words (or some form thereof):  Tree frog, squares, kleenex, eyeglass, lost, daffodil, palms, lamb, Peeps, licorice jelly beans, and donkey.
Lured by the song of the tree frogs near the meadow, I headed out to visit the neighbor's donkey and the newly born lamb. Cupping its face between my palms it sniffed the remnants of hastily eaten licorice jelly beans and Peeps, and as I looked down I spied a pair of lost eyeglasses in a patch of daffodils, from whence I retrieved them with a square of Kleenex.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

bucket list: check!

We just enjoyed a rare opportunity that was on my bucket list, even though I didn't realize it.

It began innocently enough. As Ken learned more and more about Templar history in Scotland, he became eager to discover that he had Scottish roots. His quest coincided with some genealogy research I was doing on his family, and one day: Voila! A MacFarlane link was made. A few months later he connected with members of Clan MacFarlane at the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Atlanta, and joined the clan community on facebook.

Through that facebook connection he has become acquainted with a number of others "of his ilk," several of whom will join us at the end of May at the Glasgow, Kentucky Highland games where we are serving as hosts of the Clan MacFarlane tent (via Clan MacFarlane Worldwide, Inc., another story).

Now the story gets interesting. Saturday morning Ken gets a phone call from one of his clan brethren who will be part of the "tent crew." Bill and his companion, Susan, are en route to Nashville for the women's Final Four basketball tournament, staying at a hotel in a city not far from us. Would we like to meet for lunch? 

A break from yard work becomes a time to freshen up, and before long we're heading to a local restaurant to meet. It turns out that Susan's granddaughter plays on the University of Maryland team, slated to meet Notre Dame that night on the basketball court. These are exciting times for the family, and the energy at lunch is contagious.  We bid farewell in time for Bill and Susan to check in at the hotel and don their Maryland attire before heading downtown for the game.

Now two degrees of separation removed from one of the night's games, we decided we'd tune in and cheer for Maryland, lending support to our new "in real life" friends.  Alas for Maryland, it wasn't their night, and just as we were offering our armchair assessment of the game and getting ready to switch gears for the next one, my phone rang. It was Susan.

"Since we won't be using our tickets for the finals on Tuesday, would you like them?" I didn't hesitate. "That would be great!" At this point we didn't know who would meet Notre Dame in the finals, but the Stanford/UConn game was a matter of hours from being decided. As a Connecticut native and long-time fan of the Lady Huskies basketball team, the opportunity to be at that game was a God-given miracle. (Only days before, I had expressed a desire to go to the game, recognizing the rare opportunity to see UConn play here in Nashville.  Knowing that we could never afford the tickets, it was a short-lived wish.)

We don't watch much basketball. Ken never played or had much exposure to it, so it doesn't interest him.  I generally watch when a UConn game is being aired locally, which isn't all that often.  Neither of us knew what to expect being at a live game at this level.

Let me just say that it was incredible. We didn't watch the images on the jumbotron hanging over center court. We watched the live action from our seats in the rafters (not a complaint about the location--I share it as a way to share that even from that distance watching the players, themselves, was the best way to enjoy the game). Seeing each play unfold within the visual context of the whole court, rather than the limited view chosen by TV officianados, made all the difference in the world. And I was cheering surrounded by other Huskie fans as opposed to the isolated confines of the couch.  I kept pinching myself, in a virtual way, knowing what a gift had been given to me to witness not just UConn in the NCAA finals, but setting records as they did so. It was historic all the way around, and I am deeply, deeply grateful to include the experience in my memory banks. Thank you, Bill and Susan!

I thought of my dad as we were leaving the arena, knowing how happy this night would have made him, and imagined him yodeling with enthusiasm (he was a good yodeler, even to the last).  So I guess I'll dedicate this extraordinary night of the fulfillment of an unbirthed dream to him.  I guess I also need to think about what other sorts of experiences might need to find their way to my bucket list.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

ah-ha!

I had an epiphany yesterday. We continue to suffer through tough times here, and despair seems to have unpacked its bags and settled in . NOT a happy feeling. But back to the epiphany. Tears were starting to prick at my eyes, and to stave them off I dug into a prayer. Help! (Yes, Anne Lammott and I are in full agreement on this.) In addition to that exclamatory invitation into my chaos, I got specific. "Give me strength, give me courage, give me wisdom, give me insight..." and that's when the epiphany struck. "Wait a minute," I thought. "I already have those things." 

Hmm. It seems, then, that I am not needful of those attributes. Instead I appear to be having difficulty accessing them. Which means that something is in the way. Of course now my thinking shifts from the theological to the psychological, but that's okay. God oversees that, too, in my opinion. The important thing is that I am reminded that I already have the tools to move from my current position on the "stuck" board. That doesn't mean anything gets easier. Like on The Amazing Race, the sorting out of one puzzle simply moves you onto the next one. But. It's one puzzle closer to the light. 

I'm trying to feel optimistic about this. It is, of course, helpful to clarify and redirect my prayer. It's amusing to think of the image of the dog digging, with its butt in the air (metaphor has always been my preference at times like this). There is, after all, nothing graceful about doing messy work. The grace is that the epiphany occurred, and that I can laugh about my butt being in the air, and that all of this has mysteriously drawn me closer to God rather than distancing me from him or her (something that, truthfully, has been at risk).

The upshot? I need to find a job. I need a job with flexible hours, part to full time. The flexibility thing probably means a job I can do from home. Until I can build my business up to generate enough revenue to fill the gap of our necessity, we need a reliable and consistent revenue stream.  Even minimum wage, which is likely.

It's not pretty. But the alternative is worse still. Here's to digging.

Friday, April 04, 2014

friday five: all around the mulberry bush

It’s been a week of ups and downs at our house. On Tuesday I received word of the birth of my goddaughter’s second daughter, a blessing to that family, and the hope of the first daughter happily fulfilled. That evening I learned that my sister-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, is facing a recurrence of cancer in her lymph nodes, and probably her lungs. Joy and concern pressing in on my heart has made for a week of lots of deep breaths and deep-in-the-marrow prayer, smiles and tears.

At times like this my soul finds comfort and seeks expression through my senses. Pinterest feeds my visual need for beauty and color (not to mention adorable puppies, and herds of sheep). Cooking fills the house with pleasant aromas, and the results satisfy my palette. My hands find tactile pleasure in massaging my dogs, and music penetrates and reverberates in the fiber of my being.

Today's ff invitation is to respond to this: When you need to hold disparate parts of your life in tension, what do you do? Share five things that steady your pace, recharge your batteries and invite peace to your soul.

1) As noted above (since I authored this week's ff), Pinterest is a delightful source of distraction. I find that going there after a morning review of facebook, then news, redirects me from the noise of the world to the rhythms that help me be in tune. Images of Scotland, quilts, sheep and lambs, food, quotations that inspire or resonate--these are all things that settle my soul. (Photo source)

2) In temperate weather I like to get out in the garden--not so much to dig (I'm not a good "digger), but to plant, and then maintain by weeding. The act of preparing, and then culling the garden to help it thrive is cathartic.

3) Creating something is always a benefit, though when my mind is cluttered it is harder to settle into that process. I am grateful for those occasions when I have a project at hand that I can pick up and on which I might make some progress. I haven't done any cross stitch since Christmas, and for all kinds of reasons I think it's time to revisit the potential candidates for completion.

4) When I can manage, I love to read. I am between books at the moment. Home front challenges of late have made it difficult to feel that I can afford the time just to sit and read. I think it's time to revisit that perception, however.

5) I ponder love. That may sound strange. The church we attend lives into a distinctive ministry of love and justice, keeping the notion alive and visible to me daily. With so much pain in the world love is the sort of balm that makes sense to dispense. My own existence these days is far too isolated and solitary to be the direct source of much loving, which is why I ponder. I want to find ways--beyond affirmations on facebook and blog posts--that reach more deeply into the hurts that are spilling out into the world. Pondering serves a purpose.

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