Thursday, May 15, 2014

Calling


Dad and I sat in the back of the balcony of the refurbished theater in downtown Durham.  It wasn’t the first time that either of us had seen Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pour harmony and melody, thick and smooth, onto a crowd of folk-loving, foot-tapping admirers.  But it always feels new. 

Rawlings’ fingers skip up and down the neck of the guitar faster than Mexican jumping beans and when Gillian Welch opens her mouth, she can sing an old, prairie field-holler song and it still comes out like gospel. 

I got to thinking about all the many ways that God calls us.  How one of the truest ways that He lures me to Himself is through His people, ordinary folks, who take their gifts and scatter them around.  How when His people are living alive in the kitchen, at the park, on the soccer field, in the courtroom, in the classroom, with a guitar, at a volunteer center or at an easel, we can all hear the low roar of the Kingdom storming down.

I don’t think that all of our callings have to come with little crosses attached on the outside.  We were all stitched together in a hidden place, all woven with fresh ideas before we even tasted the Earth’s air.  And when we dare to let out the stitching, dare to whisper what lives inside, doesn’t it always point us back to the One who knit the first stitch?   

They ended the second encore with a folksy rendition of Danny Dill’s famous tune, “Long Black Veil.” I never wanted the music to end.  And as Dad and I weaved our way through the crowd after the final bow, my mind was fixed on that place just across the Jordan where it never will. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Baptism


I was twelve years old when the church ladies draped a white robe atop my Laura Ashley jumper and pulled my scraggly brown hair into a loose bun resting on my neck.  My Granddaddy, who has always been the head pastor in my life, held my hand behind the church altar and together we stepped deep down into the baptismal pool.  The water was warm, but my bones rattled just the same. 

I don’t remember the faces of the congregation that filled the old, wooden pews of the downtown Baptist church.  I don’t remember if any other boys and girls came to lay down their middle school burdens with me on that day.  But I remember the water, how my Granddaddy guided my fall into it, how I felt safe in his hand.

My Granddaddy told me that I was the salt of the earth.  He placed a pinch of salt upon my tongue.  He told me that I was the light of the world, handing me a candle while it dripped white wax down my knuckles.  And standing in that small, warm pool of water, white robe dripping wet, hair slicked back behind my ears, salt on my tongue and light in my hand, I knew that in some strange way, it was all a response to Love.    

Last week I sat in a wooden Adirondack chair on the banks of the Lumbee River and watched the boys throw sticks and rocks into the water.  I watched them squeal as the stones sank to the bottom, out of sight, lost to another world.  I picked up a flat river rock myself, tossed it out, and held my breath as it skipped three times across the water’s brown surface.  “That’s what I’m talking about!” I hollered, running around in a circle with my hands high in the air, a champion’s victory lap.  The boys howled in laughter.   

I rocked on the screen porch while they slept that night.  A candle lit in front of me, Joni Mitchell crooning the blues in one ear, crickets chirping in the other.  I scratched out sloppy sentences and scribbled down simple prayers in my worn thin notebook.   And while no salt was on my tongue, no candle in my hand, and no water in my hair, I was washed clean. 

Now I know that the thoughts and beliefs about baptism are as wide and diverse as God’s Church. I know that baptism is complex and deep.  It’s about covenant and repentance, promise and eternity. And surely I am no theologian.  But time and time again I find myself needing to be made new, longing to respond to that ever-so-little light of belief inside of me, desperate to be washed and cleansed. Baptized again and again. 

The Whip-Poor-Will’s song lifted the sun the next morning.  I hummed “I Could Drink a Case of You” right along with him.   Each word, like salt upon my tongue.   

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bring me to the Waters




A friend of mine shared this with me a couple of weeks ago.  For those of us in the tug of war with time and memory, it is especially beautiful.    

“We usually think of time as a river, a river like the Nile, with strong, swift current bearing us further and further away from what we have been and towards the time when we will be not at all . . . But perhaps we should think of time as a deep, still pool rather than a fast-flowing river . . . Instead of looking back at time we could look down into it . . . and now again different features of the past—different sights and sounds and voices and dreams—would rise to the surface: rise and subside, and the deep pool would hold them all, so that nothing was lost and nothing ever went away.”

-written by a scholar of ancient Egypt, source not stated, included in The Long Goodbye: A Memoir, by Meghan O'Rourke


I wrote this prayer in response:


God, bring me to the waters.

God, make me look down within them, without the crane of my neck, leaving a lonely trail of lost moments. 

God, make me look down within them, without the squint of my eye, so eager to sharpen the unformed and blurry image ahead.

And God, make me look deeply into the waters, into the blacks and blues that remains from wounds that have yet to surface.

Make me look deeply into the waters, when the white life growing within the blacks and blues seems too bright to bear. 

God, where the waters are cold, let me shimmer while I shiver, because God, I will not turn to ice.

God, where the waters are hot, let me melt within them, because God I will not turn to fire. 

As I look deeply into the waters that time has pooled, make me dip my toe to stir all that has settled, to bring to the top all that remains unseen. 

And God, when I am ready, when You are ready, may it be me who floats to the top—my hair loose in freedom.

God, bring me to the waters.
Amen. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring's Footsteps


Yesterday I heard the gentle footsteps of Spring approaching.  I saw her peering out through the clouds, all dressed in yellow. 
   
I felt her in the soft rocking on the front porch while sipping white wine with an old friend, shoes fallen off. 

I lay down in the grass next to the stone cross with my son’s name carved deep into marble, and even at the cemetery, Spring sings of glory on the rise. 

I don’t know how she does it, but Spring can paint the whole world into sanctuary.  She touches the walls built up in the winter and turns them to glass stained in color. 

I saw the weather reports yesterday and knew, on that blessed first Sabbath in March, that this Monday afternoon would be cold and wet, even threatening of snow and ice.  And sure enough, the umbrella is turned upside down by the front door and the school painting hurried into the house from the car is now drying on the kitchen counter, edges curling.  

The footsteps I heard yesterday have u-turned.  I can hardly hear them now.  Doesn’t it seem like it’s always one step forward and two steps back? 

But then again, yesterday I felt the shine in the cemetery, and I tasted the wine on the porch.  And today I don’t believe in one step forward and two steps back.   

Because I have never gotten anywhere worth being by walking a straight line.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

In it Together


When we brought our four-pound bundle of a baby boy home from the Duke ICN about three years ago, I was standing on the tip of understanding much of what his early birth might teach me.  After over two months of tubes and wires, beeps and alarms, we wrapped him up tight and said goodbye to the nurses and doctors, janitors and baristas of the hospital, whose faces we knew like the lines on our hands. 

There were other faces that burrowed their ways deep into the hidden corners of my memory.  These were the faces of the other mothers in that Intensive Care Nursery. 

With confidentiality a highest priority, we never spoke a word, at most we shared a smile or a shy nod.  But there was a knowing among us, a silent welcoming into a club of women in crisis.  None of us wanted to be a member, but each of us needed to feel not so alone. 

Curtains separated the spaces between us.  Long drapes of fabric insulated the precious time with our little ones.  And we closed our eyes behind those drapes, opened our shirts to press our babies’ skin to our own.  As we held them tucked into our chests, we felt the deepest sadness twisted with the deepest love.  The gravity of it all was our shared anchor. 

During my time in the ICN as I held my son, I whispered Psalms and sang Joni Mitchell.  I hummed Neil Young and read C.S. Lewis.  Next to me I could hear the low, scratchy voice of my neighbor-mother muttering monotone chants in a language I did not recognize.  I listened as her voice cracked just like mine did when I sang.  I imagined her baby pressed against her chest.   

I’ve heard that misery loves company.  I don’t think that I believe that.  But maybe there is something to the idea of knowing that another mother is chanting in unknown but understood words.  Maybe there is something to the thought that we are all in this together, clutching our loved ones, begging that God will make it right. 

I’ve never thought of those months passed in the Duke ICN as a particularly spiritual season.  The truth is, I was running on empty, always torn between home and hospital. 

But it sure did anchor me to the fragile ground.  And I wonder if there is anything more spiritual than looking around to see that we aren’t the only ones lying low with our cheeks pressing into the very dust from which we came.   

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A New Year


There was a moment on New Year’s Eve when I held the blank slate of a fresh beginning.  Sitting in mismatched chairs around a farm table with friends, we clanked glasses and declared goals.  The shared sense of determination and anticipation was stronger than the champagne with each of us knowing in our own ways that secret thrill of stepping into so much newness.  Each of us hoping for change and birth in ways tucked into deep folds.

It has been over two weeks since that night when we clanked glasses and shared goals.  It has been over two weeks since I woke up on the first day of a new year and drove that baby right off the lot.  And somehow, she’s already lost her New Year smell.  Somehow, she already carries the scent of hard conversations and a little too much piled on the plate.  Yes, in many ways it feels like I’ve been driving this year for quite a while now.  And though she’s only two weeks old, I’ve started to wonder if I’ve lost much of the value I placed on a brand spanking New Year.    

But here is what I know about hard conversations and a little bit too much piled on the plate:  I know that I would never bend and stretch without them.  Nope.  Left to my own, I lean towards easy.  I gravitate to the path of least resistance and to the worn road.  I look around at all the smiling faces and plug my own figures into the formula, trying to come up with the same smiley-faced balance. 

And newness?  Well, it was never up to the calendar.  Because outside my window, leaves are crumbling into the ground and earthworms are dying while green sprouts hide in the bark of the oak’s branches.  Spring grass cowers beneath the surface of the icy lawn.  Invisible skin cells peel off my hands and my baby boy walks around with pants bought just months ago now skimming the tops of his socks.  Last night I went to sleep covered with worry and this morning, the sunrise scraped it right off. 

So this year, two weeks into a serious case of buyer’s remorse, I’m reaching for the real.  Instead of searching for slimmer, shinier and easier, I want to slant closer to human, to share the beauty of the bruises that we all feel just beneath the surface.  I want to come out with muscles grown from carrying just a little bit too much on the plate. None of us are warriors, but simply women who feel the blows and soften and strengthen our stances because of them.  We are women who won’t let tears slip silently through the shower drain.  No, instead we plug up the hole and remember to breathe while all that wetness pools.  Then we go off to irrigate the dry patches of the earth.

This year, I want to walk along the dry patches of the earth with my watering can in tow. And sometimes, the dry patches are simply sitting at the end of the living room couch wearing a blue business suit and tired eyes or sprawled out on the floor of the cluttered playroom with Legos in hand and sneakers on the wrong feet. 

It is all old and new.

And the skin peels off while the grass peers out and the boy grows tall.    

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How Great Thou Art


It has been almost ten years since we stood at the altar of an old, Baptist church, June sun shooting through the glass stained blue and green, downtown traffic buzzing outside of the thick, wooden doors.  We lifted our voices while we squeezed our hands and felt the words to How Great Thou Art sink into the choir of hundreds of friends and family.  They were all present in their finest clothes to witness the joining of our lives.  I remember how easily the lyrics left my lips, how they nearly floated out of my nervous smile.  They rang loud and true while the ancient organ hummed low beneath all that joy rising in song.   

Just a couple of weeks ago, sparks from the fire popped into the black sky over our backyard.  Bare hands, shaking from the fall crisp held plastic cups of red wine and glass bottles of amber beer.  In camping seats and wooden lawn chairs, on top of coolers and criss-crossed on the brick patio, friends gathered around the hot blazes as my husband poked a stick to stir the flames.  They came to remember.  They came to support.  They came to pour their tears into our cupped hands, the perfect and only offering.  It was a night to feel the grief of losing our little boy two years ago.  And our voices cracked with deep sadness as we whispered the words of that same hymn, How Great Thou Art.  The strumming of the guitar could just barely hold up our fragile song.   

I felt it on the altar that afternoon in June so many years ago.  I felt it in our backyard that night in October.  The deepest places are an invitation to touch the holy.  And I wonder sometimes why it is that those moments of grief, of despair, feel like they are scraping right up against a mystery hinting of joy and peace.  How can it be that the same song, the same old, ancient hymn could cause a heart to bleed the same hot tears on the altar of marriage and at the service of remembrance?  I don’t know for sure why the wall between joy and grief feels at times more fragile than lace, with holes to peer through and catch a peak of the other side...

The rest can be found at SheLoves Magazine.  Continue reading by clicking here:  http://shelovesmagazine.com/2013/god-of-joy-and-grief/