the hum of humanity

They process in without a word.
Normally songs and sounds usher them in,
but today the organ sits silent, no voices sing.

Music carefully pulls words from my heart.
Without the strains of songs, I trip on my own thoughts.
Although silence can often be a balm to the soul,
today, in this moment, it leaves me naked, exposed.

I listen carefully as they walk by.
Shoes shuffle. Someone sniffles.
A cough, a squeak, a child’s “whisper.”
Proof that silence isn’t made of nothing,
but a thousand little things
(if only we listen).

We lean into Lent with an unsettled feeling on our shoulders.
A season of quiet, a season of seeking.
Wanting, trying to hear God speak to us,
but getting distracted by all of the everythings that live in the nothing.

The kneeling bench settles heavily onto the floor,
bearing the weight of a hundred thousand prayers -
some slipping silently from shaky souls,
others proclaimed loudly, full of confidence and grace.

God hears it all -
every mumble and moan,
every laugh and giggle,
every gasp and sigh,
even the imperceptible sound of a tears slipping down your cheek.
The hum of humanity is never nothing to the almighty.

living lent.

I’ve always done lent a little differently than a lot of folks.
I’ve given up time and bad attitudes.
I’ve prayed with laundry and lint.
I’ve taken on some things.
I’ve given up some others.
I’ve redefined things, too.

This lenten season will be (I hope) a time to remind myself of how I should already be living.
A time to look at my words and actions, head and heart and try to get them all in line.
(It may be a very squiggly line).

For strangers I will:
Be joyful and patient.
Be peaceful and kind.
Be helpful and giving.

For friends I will:
Practice hospitality.
Share and serve.
Encourage.

For foes I will:
Show mercy.
Shed my pride.
(Sincerely).

For family I will:
Devote myself to staying in the moment.
Show grace, especially with the little things.
Be patient. (Oh, how I need to be more patient).

For myself I will: 
Reinvigorate my faith by asking new questions.
Reduce expectations of myself and others.
Remember things done and left undone.
And live and serve in newness of life.

i want to lie.

i want to lie in the grass and look up at the milky way.
i want to gaze toward galaxy upon galaxy
ever-expanding,
whispering in my ear
stretch
you’ve got a long way to go
but you can do it.
i want to lie in the grass and drink it in
and think about how incredibly insignificant i am.

did you know that once upon a time the world was flat?
how silly of them.
did you know that once upon a time there was no fire, no light, only darkness?
why couldn’t they figure that out?
how hard could it really be to build a fire?
can you believe that once upon a time people didn’t know how to _____?
our children’s children’s children will laugh at us some day.

i want to lie in my bed and look up at my fan whizzing round and round.
i want to stop the spinning and swirling
ever-expanding,
whispering in my ear
keep going
you must be more.
and you better do it
(or else…)
i want to lie in my bed and ignore my head and listen with my heart.
and think about how improbably important i am.

did you know that once upon a time children were to be seen but not heard?
how silly of them.
how did they ignore the smiling of small faces and the glee of giggles?
how hard could it be to wrap yourself in their embrace?
did you know that once upon a time children were the center of the universe?
that mothers and fathers raced to get their children the biggest and the best of everything.
that they spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on nothing but this and that and all the things
when the only thing they needed was a cardboard box and some sidewalk chalk.
our children’s children’s children will laugh at us some day.

i want to lie
and wait
and wonder
where do we go from here?

the end.

The end is never the end. It’s what I choose to believe, what I believe whole-heartedly to be true. I don’t know exactly what comes after this life, but I know it’s something our oh-so-earthly selves can never comprehend. And I know that not all ends are equal, but I know that each end makes a unique twist in each of our stories, a specific impression on our hearts that will leave us forever changed. No hurt is bigger or smaller than another, only different.

*****

A smidge over eight, I sat alone in the tree swing crying. The sounds of voices chatting over a picnic dinner assaulted my senses. “Why are they laughing,” I remember thinking. “Why? Don’t they know my Grandaddy just died? This is no time for laughing!” And someone, some adult (though I can’t remember which one) came to me and wrapped me up in her arms and said that she was so sorry and she knew how I felt. I know now that she meant well, but I wanted to shout, “THERE’S NO WAY YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS LIKE!” But the words wouldn’t rise and I ripped myself from her arms and rushed into my Mama Jo’s room. Under the little table by her bed, I wrapped the telephone cord as far up my finger as I could and slowly twisted my finger free. Again and again. A dozen tears for each twist and untwist. I cried myself dry. I heard some adults looking for me, but I didn’t say a word. They came closer and I pretended to be asleep. The words have drifted away from my head, but the memory of those muffled sounds still sit in my center. Once again alone, I sang “Goodnight, Irene” to him, the one I’d never see again. The one with the dark, rough skin – a sign of many years of hard work in in the sun. The big laugh and the eyes that crinkled when he smiled – a sign of years of smiling through life. The one who will always smell like sawdust and peppermint to me, the peppermint that replaced the cigarettes that stole years from him. The one who would make me laugh in Sunday night church and then wink at me when my Mama Jo, his forever love, would give me “the look.” The one who I wish I’d known a little longer. The one I still see in my dad.

*****

She wasn’t old, but her body was tired. She ached, oh how she ached, but rarely complained. Sometimes when I’d lie with her in her bed at night, with the TV on but the volume barely audible, we’d talk about everything. I told her things and she told me things and in the flickering darkness even the simplest words seem sacred. Sometimes she’d hold my hand and cry and I’d rub her gnarled hands, the only thing I knew to do. The day she died I sat beside her again, this time in the light of day, and I rubbed her gnarled hands, the only thing I knew to do. The hospital room quickly filled with more people than were allowed to be there, but the nurses would look the other way when someone else came in. We sang. Oh, how we sang. Sweet melodies that she’d taught me, that she’d led so many of us in church all those years. I don’t remember much about my own wedding day, but I remember her funeral clearly. A celebration of who is was, this opinionated, passionate little spit-fire. “Goodbye, World, Goodbye” we sang, a true celebration of who she was and who she will always be to me.

Now don’t you weep for me when I’m gone
For I won’t have to leave here alone.
And when I hear that last trumpet sound
My feet won’t stay on the ground.
I’m gonna rise with a shout, gonna fly,
Gonna rise with my Lord in the sky. 
Heaven is near and I can’t stay here,
Goodbye world, goodbye.

*****

We sat with her, my sweet Madison. She in my lap, the older children surrounding us. And we loved on her and told stories about her and we laughed a little and cried a lot. They’d never known life without her. She had always been in the background of their little lives. So it was important to me that they be there, if they wanted. And they did. Her breathing slowed and slowed until it wooshed right out. We knew when she was gone, though she was still there in my lap. And we cried some more. We buried her in my parent’s backyard the next morning. When we got there my dad had everything ready. We covered her with earth and cried some more. I’m thankful that the kids remember her and that we can share good memories of our sweet, dumb dog that we loved so much.

*****

He lived next door and was an integral part of my childhood. I never knew a world that he wasn’t in. Some folks called him “slow” or “special,” but to us he was just Herman, Jr. And although he was nearly 50 years older than my brother and me, we loved spending time with him and he with us. We had so much fun together. We’d sing and show off our Elvis dance moves, play baseball in the yard, make audio recordings of us just being silly. He got so tickled listening to himself on tape. 

The story goes that when he was born they said he wouldn’t live very long, into his twenties at the most. Boy did he prove them wrong on that! He lived a good, long life. He was one of those people who was truly glad to greet each morning…even when his parents passed away, even when they told him no more sweets (which he loved) because of diabetes, even when he had to have open-heart surgery. (Almost) always happy and full of music and laughter.

He had a quick decline. He was doing well until the day after Christmas but when you’re in your eighties things happen and you just pray they happen quickly and painlessly. And though those last few weeks were hard, there is mercy in the fact that it didn’t last for longer. We saw him several times over those few weeks and saw the steady decline. We knew it was coming. But even when you know it’s coming, it still kinda steals all the air from your lungs.

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate his life well-lived and listen to a little Elvis and little Hank Williams and a few Johnny Cash songs for good measure. And we’ll smile and remember.

*****

We got her the week before Christmas. We’d said that once we moved we’d get a cat. But I just wanted to look and we did and there she was. She picked us. A little white paw waved as us from the crate. Batting at our fingers, she was playful but gentle. We asked if we could see her, hold her for just a minute and before she was even in my arms, I fell hard and fast. She nuzzled her head against mine. I held her and smooshed my nose into her side, trying to see if she would make my eyes itch or my nose all runny. Many cats give my allergies fits, but she didn’t. Not at all.

We brought her home in a cardboard box, a little paw peeping out every now and then. And when we brought her in to meet Maggie, our 12 year old dog, I was worried. I put Mags on a leash and took them both to the bathroom where I could contain them if I needed to…but I didn’t. Not even a little bit. They sniffed and swirled around each other a few times, and that was that. Friends, not foes.

That sweet kitty, my little Atticus Catticus, let those wild children drag her to and fro. She let them dress her up and hold her like a baby and hug her so much and so hard that I just knew she was going to scratch one of them. But she never did. She let them love her, each in their own way, and never made a sound. She rarely meowed, just made tiny, airy little sounds. When she’d eat or drink, she’d put her feet in the bowl. She’d chase any kind of toy, and she loved to mess around with my hair while I was reading in bed.

She was fine until she wasn’t. We took her to the vet. “It may be something that we can fix fairly easily or it may be scary cat stuff’” she said. We tried to deal with thing A first and she still didn’t get better. So today we took her back and found out that it was the “scary cat stuff.” She has FIP, a fairly uncommon but fatal disease. She’s slowed down and doesn’t want to play anymore, but she still loves to cuddle. It’s amazing how quickly a little critter can wiggle deep down in your heart. She’s only been here a month and a half, but we love her as if she’s been here forever.

We brought her back home from the vet and will keep her here until she’s no longer comfortable. She’s still eating and drinking for now, but it won’t be long. We’re all acclimating to the news. I’m so incredibly sad that she will have come and gone so quickly, but what really breaks my heart is how my sweet, sensitive Emmie has taken it. The sound of her cries, oh…it kills me. When I explained everything to them, she curled up in my lap with Atty in her lap. Tucker sat beside us and we all cuddled and cried. I’m sure we’ll do it again and again while we squeeze a life-time worth of love in a few short days.

*****

I’m not sure if the sting of death ever goes away. I don’t know that I’d even say that it gets better, because sometimes it socks you in the gut when you least expect it. But it does settle into your soul and get more comfortable, more manageable. And sometimes it leaves you quite a bit of room to smile at all the beautiful, precious moments and memories…and it’s then that you realize – as trite as it may sound – that the end is never really the end, but the beginning. The end of life and the beginning of new stories laced with old stories, both weaving their way through generations of hearts and minds.

*****

the end.

when you’re the best of friends…*

For over a week, I’d been looking forward to dinner with good friends. We were gonna have a simple dinner of pizza and dessert (always dessert) and sit and talk and watch the children play. That was the plan, at least. And a few hours before the big get-together, the realtor called. Someone wanted to see the house the next morning. Ho.ly. cow. The house was ready for friends (you know the ones who don’t care about the crumbs under the table or the piles of dirty laundry by the back door) but not for potential buyers! So I called to reschedule dinner.

“Sorry, guys…we gotta cancel because we have to clean like mad.”

You know what most people would say to that? What, honestly, I would probably say to that?
“Okay. Let’s just try to do it tomorrow night instead.”

Lucky for us, there are some people who go above and beyond.
People who are so kind, so thoughtful, and so giving that they want to do more.
“Sure,” she said. “Let’s do dinner tomorrow…but today?
Today I’m coming to your house after work and I’m gonna help you get everything ready.
I’ll do dishes and sweep and mop and even bathrooms.
Whatever you need, I’m ready to help.”

We’d all had a long, hard day, and we were all looking forward to just doing nothing together. But when things got dirty (literally), she stepped right in and picked up (literally) where I’d left off. We all worked together. Cleaned counters and bedrooms and toilets. Swept and mopped and vacuumed. We tackled it as a team and knocked it out in a handful of hours.

I learn so much from her. She lives her faith inside and out and doesn’t ever hesitate to help. She gives good advice when you’re looking for it but knows when to just listen. She remembers little details and brings them up when you need a boost. She makes everyone feel special and loved (and not just a kiss-kiss hollywood love).  And I don’t think she even realizes how special she is, how much she means to so many people.

 

*…having so much fun together. You’re not even aware you’re such a funny pair. You’re the best of friends.

when friendship finds you

One. Two. Three.
I opened my heart and let them come in.
The walls I’d built?
I took them down one brick at a time.
Little pieces of myself – my real self – peeking out
Until finally there was room for someone to step right in.
And I let them in.
One. Two. Three.

And I wish that were the end of the story.
But it’s not.
Because – one by one – they took my bricks, broke them into shards
And threw them at my heart, at my mind.
And it hurt like hell.
The only thing I knew to do was to pick up the pieces -
The shattered hopes of who we were, what we meant -
And I created more walls.
A mosaic of hurt covered by a thick slab of self-preservation.
And I stayed there,
Shut up in my little brick house,
My little brick heart.
My little brick mind.
“I’ll never take them down again,” I said to me.
And I didn’t.

But somehow little cracks of light started peeping in.
I’d patch it back up, only to have it break again.
Over and over again, until one day there was room for someone to step right in.
And she did. And she did, too. And then another.
New One. New Two. New Three.
They took down my bricks from the outside in,
Loving me when I couldn’t, wouldn’t love back.
Flooded with kindness, compassion, faithfulness
I couldn’t, wouldn’t say no.
And friendship found me
When I wasn’t even looking.

twist and twirl and swirl

Darkness still hugs the earth,
The Sun begins her pull & tug to the top.
Something calls my name & I look up into the indigo morning.
Not quite clear, there’s a haze between this world and that.

A bright star waves good morning
And I stare closely at her.
How sad, I think, she’s lost her twinkle.
But, chin up, she has a strong, steady stare.

“Wait!” I think.
I know that look, that unwavering countenance.
That big, round body,
With an ever-swirling storm in your soul,
At the heart of who you are.
This twirl of energy defines you,
How we’ve known you for a hundred years
And (maybe) a hundred more.

But one day, one day
~maybe sooner than we think~
your heart-gut will find solace.
And the churning, turning, burning will fade away.

Everything changes eventually, doesn’t it?
Even the sure & steady.
Nothing ever stays the same.

And change is coming, you can feel it -
Not knowing quite what that means for you
Or for those around you.
We never know where the ripples of our life will reach.
And yet – for now – you just keep going on,
Going ’round and ’round and ’round some more.
Never slowing down,
Never showing all the change inside.

Good morning, Jupiter.
Your secret’s safe with me.

things done and left undone

Each Sunday we kneel to pray,
a chorus of voices calling out to God.
We pray for our family, our friends, our community.
We pray for those who are hurting.
We pray for the ones who serve the world with kindness.
And we pray for ourselves.
We thank God for all the mercy rained down upon us.
We thank God for our blessings.
And we pray for the forgiveness of our sins.
And that? That’s where it really kicks me in the heart-gut.

Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father
in your compassion forgive us our sins,
known and unknown,
things done and left undone;
and so uphold us by your Spirit
that we may live and serve you in newness of life, 
to the honor and glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Right there. Those words.
Our sins – both known and unknown.
Things we’ve done and things we’ve left undone.
Oof.

The things I know I’ve done wrong?
I’ve got that. I can work on those within.
But the unknown?
Those haunt me.
A few years ago I found out that I’d hurt someone when we were teenagers.
I never, ever knew it.
I said something in passing, something flippant that just popped out of my mouth.
And for years she’d been holding it in her heart, aching.
I’m glad she told me. I’m glad I was able to say “I’m sorry.”
But it led me down a path of questions.
How many other people were holding my words in their heart.
I pray that there are more good than bad, but my mouth…
Oh, lordy…my mouth, how it betrays me.

At the same time, how many words have I not spoken?
How many times have I not stopped to ask if I could help?
How many times have I not paused in my busy day to make someone smile?
When have I not stood up against the norm and said, “This isn’t right!”
How many times have I not fought for what is good and pleasing to God?
(I ask, but I’m not sure I really want to know the answer).

And this is why we pray for forgiveness
~for the things known and unknown,
the things done and left undone~
and try to keep our eyes open to the things we missed before
that we may, by God’s grace, begin anew each morning.

May the spirit of the Lord uphold us all,
and may the peace of the Lord be always with you.

eat. sleep. read. repeat.

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eat. sleep. read. repeat.
eat. sleep. read. repeat.
That’s all I’ve done today.
And (for the most part) the day before that.
And I needed it.
A lot.

This Christmas I promised myself I wouldn’t do so much.
We made cookies with friends, but I didn’t make all my traditional snacks.
(We still had plenty anyway).
I pulled everything down from the attic so we could decorate,
but the boxes are still sitting in the garage.
Tree. Lights. Ornaments.
That’s all we did.
Not even a nativity.
We talked about it, of course.
And read books.
But didn’t actually put out any of ours.
And I think that’s okay.
Because we needed less.
Because our days were certainly not less.
We packed in a few field trips for school.
We visited with friend after friend after friend.
We went to see dancing and hear music and play with more friends.
We had Christmas once, twice, and yet again.
We ate and laughed and smiled and loved it all.

Until my self ran out of steam.
Until my brain and body became over-saturated.
And even then it was good,
But I just couldn’t pull myself out of my own head
And really enjoy it.
It’d all gotten too full – my heart, my head, and my senses.
Overwhelmed by too much of a good thing.
I’ve never quite understood how that happens.

So I shut down.
I holed up in my room.
And I slept.
And I read.
And I wrote.
And I colored.
And I let my mind just hide away for a little while,
Draining out in the colors of the rainbow, fast flowing words
And filling up with frivolous stories of fanciful people.
Resting in a world that’s not my own.

And I feel me coming back.
I’m almost ready to slip quietly into life,
Hopefully as quietly as I slipped out.
Picking up where I left off -
With a lot of good and even a little not-so-good.
(Because without one, the other loses meaning).

So here I sit
eating
sleeping
reading
and getting ready for tomorrow.
And it will be good.

twenty-one seconds

This morning as we were rushing out the door – we’re always rushing out the door – the littlest cried, “I don’t have my hat!” She was already buckled in so I darted back inside to grab it. It was in my bathroom, of course, because who doesn’t leave their hat in someone else’s bathroom? As I was coming back out, my big girl shouted, “Can you get my Amelia Earhart hat?” Ugh! She didn’t even say please. (She’s going to be Amelia Earhart for a school presentation in the spring and we’re grabbing bits and pieces of costume as we go along).

One of my biggest parenting goals is to teach my children to be self-sufficient while also having enough self-confidence to ask for help when they get stuck and really can’t do it on their own. Dancing around the details of exactly how to do that, I often find myself tripping over my own feet. It’s a major struggle for me as a mother, and I get so incredibly frustrated with them about it. So when she called out to me, my initial reaction dripped with bitter extract de annoyance. I caught myself just before I screamed at her to get it herself. Then I decided that maybe I should just pretend that I never heard her. If she went in to get it, it would take forever. If I went back in, it’d probably take half as long but still…we were late! Late, I tell you! But, ya know…we’re always late, I thought to myself. So as my foot hit the last step, I turned sharply and dashed back up the stairs.

It took me twenty-one seconds to run up the stairs, grab the hat, and come back down. Twenty-one seconds. I know because I counted. And with each second I realized that we were going to be late anyway, so what would twenty-one seconds matter? Or thirty-one? Or even ninety-one or more? We’re not talking about a life or death situation here. Just preschool drop-off.

I hit my arm on the car door as I jumped into my seat, mumbled a bad word, and tossed the hat back to her. She smiled and said thanks. As I drove I started thinking about how many times I’ve asked people to do things that I’m perfectly capable of doing myself, of how many times I’ve quickly tossed out a, “Hey! Could you grab my (phone, drink, book, etc.)?” It doesn’t mean that I’m not self-sufficient. It doesn’t mean that I’m rude and lazy. It’s just something we do for the ones we love.  And I want to teach my children that, too. Maybe the dance is beginning to get just a little bit easier.

(P.S. She didn’t even wear the damn hat).