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We the People…

PotusMy eighteenth birthday fell in an election year. I had the distinct pleasure of helping elect Ronald Reagan to his second term. An auspicious beginning. Inspired by my grandparents who made the long drive into town for every election, despite the fact that for decades they cancelled out one another’s vote (she voted democrat, he republican :)), I have never missed an opportunity to exercise this important right and responsibility.

Out of the nine presidential elections in which I have now voted, my candidate has triumphed only four times. That means that today, for the fifth time, a man I did not choose will be inaugurated to the highest office in the land.

Never has my heart been heavier at that prospect.

And yet…

Today, Donald Trump becomes MY president. As such, he merits a certain measure of respect. As such, he will be remembered by my congregation, and many others, at each liturgy in our prayers for “the President of the United States and all civil authorities and our armed forces everywhere”. As such, he will receive my own personal prayers that he will grow into the office he has attained, that it will call something out in him that none of us know is there. As such, he should be accorded something I have so often needed myself, grace.

Does this mean I am done disagreeing with him? Certainly not. Our forefathers–none of them perfect either, by the way–were wise enough to craft a system that makes space for challenge, that limits the powers of one individual to wield position as a weapon. It is our duty and the duty of those we have elected to speak out against injustice.

Truth is, we have had some legendary Presidents; individuals worthy of emulation and accolade. And we have had a few that were abysmal. While these may have left a certain havoc in their wake, they did not single-handedly destroy our nation.

Today I choose to be curious; to wonder if behind all the bluster and hyperbole is a man who, whether for reasons altruistic or just his own personal legacy, will find creative ways to help those desperate and disillusioned people who saw him as their best hope.

Today I choose to be hopeful; to imagine that the gravity of the position, once it lands squarely on his shoulders, will make him more circumspect and more generous. That as he is charged with the duty of protecting all the people, his borders will become broader and he will remember that one of the most radiant characteristics about this grand nation has always been its colorful and delicious diversity.

Today I choose to be responsible; to do my own bit in making the world better right where I am. Because, while presidents certainly have the ability to shape the world in large gestures and policies, most of the work that truly changes lives happens on the ground, in communities and families, in simple stubborn kindness and the messy work of loving.

 

Vincible: A Riff on Aging…

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cardiologist’s office offered me an appointment on the same day I was seeing the dentist, I figured this was efficient. I would already be out — and showered (never a given).

I did not realize that these two were engaged in a secret conspiracy to steal my invincibility.

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Despite the fact that it has been five years since my last visit to the dentist, (Don’t judge, I have trauma issues.) I am praised for my hygiene. No cavities. Hardly any plaque.

“There is, however, the matter of these silver fillings. While they will last forever, they are much less flexible than your teeth and with the passage of time have begun to cause cracks. If left untreated, you will begin to have breakage. We need to replace them.”

“Wait, what?! Let me get this straight. Because I am old, I am going to need to come in once a year for the next four years to have silver fillings dug out of two teeth at a time, and those same two teeth fitted with crowns?!”

“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”

“Awesome.”

I walk out into the stifling heat feeling seriously deflated. And old. I think back to my check-up a couple of years ago where the answer to every question I asked was “Well, at a certain age…” I contemplate taking up day drinking. Then I remember the cardiologist and think better of it…

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I had my first episode of tachycardia when I was a teenager. My mom and I were sitting in the living room having a pleasant conversation when my heart abruptly went from beating 70 beats a minute to more like 180. As if someone had flipped a switch. It lasted about five minutes, then was over. It was weird, but I didn’t think a lot of it. I have continued to have these episodes randomly, and infrequently, ever since.

The impact on my life has been minimal for the most part. Only twice has it been problematic. The first time was when I was pregnant. A woman’s heart rate naturally accelerates because of pregnancy. In me, this translated to more frequent episodes that sometimes lasted an hour. I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem and taught me ways to help restore my rhythm.

The other time it was a problem was when I had an issue with my thyroid. But that only lasted about three months. In the ten years since, I have been back to the old pattern of infrequent and short.

Until the morning of July 6th.

That morning, Kenz and I were on our way to explore the playhouses at Cheekwood when I had an episode while driving. It was so severe that I had to pull over til it stopped. Over the course of the morning, I had four more episodes, the last of which persisted almost two hours until, at my doctor’s direction, I went to the emergency room and had it corrected forcibly. (Mike had joined us by then and was driving, lest you fret.)

Because there was no obvious explanation for this sudden craziness, my doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist.

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Dr. Estrada is calm and laid back, and I think to myself that this is going to go well. He sketches an illustration of the heart and its valves and shows me how the several types of tachycardia work, including the one he believes I have. It is not as dangerous as some of the others which is good.

“However, with age, these random episodes like you had a couple of weeks ago are likely to become more frequent, and possibly more severe. At that point they can cause damage to the heart and you may find yourself in the emergency room more often. We don’t have to fix it now if you want to wait and see how it goes. But it is probably just a matter of time.”

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When friends and family have asked about, and even challenged, what they perceive as an overly rigorous commitment to eating healthy and to exercise, I have explained it like this: There are a lot of things about our health we can’t control. Mike and I both have strong family histories of diabetes and heart disease, for example. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to be wise about the things we can control.

That is what I have said.

But apparently, what I actually believed was this: If I do all the right things, I will be invincible. The ravages of age will have no authority over me.

I was wrong about that.

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Wise men and women in the Church have always urged us to be very aware of our mortality. It is a potent reminder to be fully present in the moment. For this reason, it has been common practice in many monasteries to keep the bones of those who have gone before on display. As I understand it, this awareness should be a voluntary practice. Failing that, I suppose some of us must have it thrust upon us.

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And so, I am working to come to terms with the fact that I am vincible. Yes, that is a word. I looked it up. I spent yesterday morning in the dentist chair getting thirty year old fillings ground out of two molars and am now sporting fine, fashionable new crowns. And while I still believe that we have a responsibility to steward well the bodies we have been given, I am being disabused of the illusion that this guarantees a life free of physical adversity.

There is a price to be paid for the wisdom that hopefully comes with age. All that learning takes a toll on the body. And maybe the toll itself has a wisdom in it.

I’ll let you know.

The Halftime Report…

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As of today, I have breathed upon the earth for 50 years. Given that this birthday comes just five days short of my grandpa’s 100th, I am choosing to see this as roughly halfway. 🙂

For someone with my disposition, it is impossible to arrive at such an auspicious waymark without a fair amount of reflection and rumination. You might expect me to share with you some of the wisdom I have acquired over low these many years. And while I do pray that I am wiser than once I was, mostly I find myself overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude for the beautiful adventure that has been my life, thus far. So much more than I could ever have thought to ask for…

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name. ~Luke 1:46,49

For planting my roots in Appalachia…
For lightnin bugs and cold swimmin holes
and the Christmas trees we dragged from the woods
Bare feet in warm soil, scent of freshly turned earth
Wobbly-legged calves still glistening and new
For tender lettuce and onions in hot bacon grease
Wild muscadines eaten right off the vine,
I thank you

For a mama who read stories to me in that voice
that will always be my favorite
Who wakened in me a love for the piano and then
showed me how to make the magic
Who sewed my clothes and permed my hair
and dried a million tears,
I thank you

For a daddy who worked two jobs to make sure we had enough
and brought treats home in his lunchbox
Who taught me to be curious
and to work hard
and to sing
and to never stop learning,
I thank you

For my brothers and cousins
For painting with poke berries
and traipsing through wild places
For all the bicycle rides
across the honeysuckle bridge
through the woods
to the store on the highway
And for the rides home
eating candy necklaces
from our sweaty necks,
I thank you

For the church that smelled of cedar
and teaberry gum
tent revivals on summer nights
hymns and Hallelujahs sailing out into the dark
For foot washins and singins
and dinner on the ground
and all the people
and the way I first learned to love You there,
I thank you

For every teacher
every mentor
who saw something in me
that I could not see
and ruthlessly drew it out,
I thank you

For that adorable 22 year old boy
who scurried into my life on a Sunday morning
and stole my heart
and upset all my plans
and became God’s provision for me
Who has stood with me
in cathedrals and canyons
and emergency rooms
Who meant it when he said better OR worse
and has loved me more than I deserve,
I thank you

For a warm, sweet bundle of joy
who exploded all boundaries of love
when she made me a mommy
and who continues to teach me about love
daily
with her life,
I thank you

For the first boy child
grabbing life by the horns from the get go
For music and hikes and food
and long, deep talks into the night,
I thank you

For the baby boy
who is taller than us all
For the way he makes life a celebration
For his courage and curiosity
his talent and his zeal,
I thank you

For the wee one
For the way I am meeting the world
all over again
through her
For the way she teaches me to wake
each morning
eager and expectant,
I thank you

For all the beauty…
For the delicious agony of words
and the excruciating ecstasy of music
For the grandeur of mountains and vastness of the sea
For lavender, and butterflies, and red tailed hawks
For cardinals in winter and the first blossoms of spring
For the wildness of summer storms
and the silence of snow
For glaciers and rain forests
and the stark loveliness of the desert
For the extraordinary places all over the world
where it has been my privilege to stand,
I thank you

For found friends in far flung places
who have knit themselves into my heart
And for friends nearby
who love relentlessly
who see what could be
and make it so
who have made my life immeasurably rich,
I thank you

For faith
that has traveled long and endured much
and just when I least expected it
blossomed into something so rich and wide
that I will never come to the end of it
For all that is mystical and sacred
For the gift of Your Presence,
I thank you.

 

*And for you, dear reader, wherever you may be, for visiting these pages from time to time and sharing your life with me. Thank you.

To Wear Forgiveness…

forgiveness

The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world is division, opposition , separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness.

~Alexander Schmemann

Slanting rays of late afternoon sunlight fall on the solea as the priest bows before the first deacon and says these words, “Forgive me, a sinner.” The deacon replies, “God forgives, and I forgive.” The deacon bows before the priest and says the same. They repeat this ritual with the second deacon, and the third. Then, one by one, we add ourselves to a line that eventually snakes around the whole church, bowing to one another, “Forgive me…” til each person in the temple has bowed before the other, asking for, and receiving forgiveness.

There are tears. And hugs. Some of us barely know one another, others have complicated histories. We do not take time to enumerate the many ways we might have hurt one another. God knows. But by our words and the humbling of ourselves, we say we would like it to be other. That we want to be made right.

With this, we begin our Lenten effort.

And because, in her ancient wisdom, the Church understands that we need lots of practice, she gives us the whole of this week to contemplate repentance and forgiveness. The services are filled with a great many prostrations, mingled with reminders of my propensity to seek my own way. But this is not punitive. This is liberation. I speak to my friend Jack one night after praying the penitential Canon of St. Andrew and ask him if he is tired after chanting so many long services this week. “Not at all. I love this service! It’s invigorating.”

Invigorating? A service whose primary focus is repentance?

In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored…Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul.

~Alexander Schmemann

I have discoloured Thine image and broken Thy commandment. All my beauty is destroyed and my lamp is quenched by the passions, O Saviour. But take pity on me, as David sings, and ‘restore to me Thy joy’.

~The Lenten Triodian, Canon of St. Andrew

It just so happens that a couple of days before Lent began, I had an encounter with a dark cloud from my past. A reminder of a difficult season in which I made choices I am not proud of. And I allowed that cloud to rain all over me and put me in a terrible funk.

Perhaps this is why I need this week so much. I need to physically stand inside forgiveness. I need to look into the eyes of another who will say to me, “You are forgiven. By God, and by me.” I need to know hunger in my belly. I need the opportunity to touch my face to the floor, not as a grovelling worm, but as one who recognizes my vulnerability. I need to wear forgiveness in my body so that the next time accusation visits, it finds no harbor in me.

It is only when we have lost all love of ourselves for our own sakes that our past sins cease to give us any cause for suffering or for the anguish of shame. For the saints, when they remember their sins, do not remember the sins but the mercy of God, and therefore even past evil is turned by them into a present cause of joy and serves to glorify God.

~Thomas Merton

May it be so.

Forgive me.

*A parenthetical word on dates: The Orthodox and western dates for Pascha (Easter) frequently differ, usually by just a bit, but occasionally (as this year) by more than a month. You can read about why that occurs HERE and HERE. Hence, as our western brothers and sisters are ramping up for Palm Sunday, we have only just begun the Lenten season.

 

Further Up and Further In

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There is no remedy for love but to love more.
~henry david thoreau

It might have been reckless to become engaged only two months after meeting. It might have been reckless to marry only seven months after that. I can’t really say.

This I do know: I expected a great deal of my husband. I believed he would right every wrong in my world, fill all the empty spaces in me. I would, of course, do the same for him. And this would be as natural as breathing. Because we loved each other.

This way of thinking might have been was reckless.

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What we have learned over the 28 years between then and now is that people who love one another experience extravagances of joy together they would never be able to know alone. These same people are also uniquely qualified to cause hurts deeper than those inflicted by the worst enemy. We have known our share of both of these. Our friend Heather said it this way, “Your testimony is broken, battered, beautiful, & redeemed.” That about sums it up.

What we have also learned is that God can use all of this, the sweet and the bitter, to draw us to Himself. The marriage we have today has a richness and a loveliness we did not even know to wish for in the early days. And that is a testament to God’s extravagant grace, to forgiveness 70 x 70 x 7 times, and to friends who fought with us and for us when we were unwilling to fight for ourselves.

In the six years since we have come into the Orthodox Church, we have been privileged to be part of a great many weddings and marriage blessings. Marriage is a sacrament. Therefore, a wedding is seen by the Church to be, not so much a declaration of our intention to love one another, but a vessel of the mystical grace of God. This is a wondrous mystery.

Asking for the blessing of the Church seemed a fitting next step in the work that God has been doing, and continues to do, in our lives. A further grace.

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So on Saturday we gathered with a handful of dearly loved ones before the altar. The prettiest little girl in the world padded barefoot down the aisle in a white dress that once was her mother’s, carrying crowns on a silver tray. And the priest blessed her and took the crowns. And I walked down the aisle on the arm of this good man who I finally understand is God’s provision for me. The epistle reading was St. Paul’s exhortation to husbands and wives, and the gospel was Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana.

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Father Stephen began his homily with this prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom,

“O Lord our God, Whose dominion is indescribable, and Whose glory is incomprehensible, Whose mercy is infinite, and Whose love for mankind is ineffable: Do thou thyself, O Master, according to Thy tender compassion, look upon us, and upon this holy temple, and deal with us, and them that pray with us, according to Thine abundant mercies and compassions.”

He spoke of the great love that moved the indescribable, incomprehensible, infinite, ineffable God to make a way for us to know Him, so that all of our life can be a progression towards God. And this grace, this sacrament, was an important part of this progression.

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Then he crowned us to one another–crowns that speak both of authority and of martyrdom, and gave us to drink from a common cup, then covered our joined hands and led us three times around the altar.

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And my heart was full.

As Father Stephen reminded us, we are embarked on a journey that continues into eternity. And his prayer for us was that, just as in Cana when the best was served last, the richest and sweetest wine was still to come. May it be so.

This is a significant waymark.

A “thus far”.

A further grace.

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Further up and further in, my love…

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*Many thanks to our dear friend Joel who took all the photos in the post (except Father Stephen blessing Kenz which was taken by Josh. Thanks, Josh. :)).

**The phrase “Further up and further in” is borrowed from C. S. Lewis who uses it in the Last Battle, a favorite at our house.

***Thank you, Alece, for Thoreau. His words are perfect.

****If you would like to see more photos, your can find them HERE.

worthless

It all began this morning when Mike and I arrived in the bathroom at precisely the same time to take a shower; I because Kenzie was arriving soon and this was my window, he because he had to leave for a meeting. Of course, he assumed I would yield to him. Because he has the job that actually pays money, I guess. He didn’t say that. But he did get the first shower.

And all day I have wrestled with an issue that has been pestering me, drooping from the front edge of my brain for weeks now. What is it that I do? Who am I anyway? A friend I haven’t seen in some time innocently asked me, just this morning, what I am doing these days. One of my kids even asked, not that long ago, how I fill my time now that all but one of them is grown.

I don’t know. How do I?

God knows, I am not writing. If you have ever followed this blog, you know that. I don’t know why I stopped. But, I can’t seem to make myself start back. When I was writing every day, there was less pressure. So…one day I ramble or write something no one cares about? Maybe next day will be better. But now, when I haven’t written for two months, it should be something really good, right? And I can’t handle the pressure. So I don’t write anything. I just sit around resenting the people who are out there doing it every day. People whose lives are far more productive than mine. And still they find time to write. Still they have something to say.

And maybe that’s it.

Maybe I have nothing worth saying anyway.

How can I be this old, and this tired, and have accomplished so little?

Sure, I have raised some pretty great kids. But so have plenty of other folks who also held down full-time jobs and brought home a pay-check every week. And the truth is, though I love my kids and am proud of them, not one of them has had an easy road. So what was it that I thought I could give them by walking away from a job that I loved and giving myself entirely to being their mom? Would they have been better off if I had been less involved?

I honestly don’t know.

This past Sunday, the teaching of the Church was on the Pharisee and the Publican. Humility. And I sat and piously nodded my head and resolved to spend some time this week thinking about that. But I am pretty sure self-loathing, and rage against feelings of being invisible and under-appreciated and maybe having wasted my life thus far, are not exactly what the priest had in mind.

On the up side, I gave myself permission to write it all down. On the not so up side, it kind of looks like so much vomit on the page and I wonder if, in a couple of hours, I will pull it all down and hope nobody saw it.

Here is what I really wish I knew: What is it that gives value to a life? How do you know if you are doing/being that kind of person, the one that matters, the one whose absence will be felt, the one whose presence will live on, long after they have gone?

The Radical Defiance of Giving Thanks

candle

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~I Thessalonians 5:18

Much of the time I feel like I lead a charmed life saturated with beauty and grace. Gratitude, for me, is as natural as breathing. But there have been seasons in my life when choosing to be grateful was an act of radical defiance. A trembling candle held out against the gathering dark. Maybe you know what that feels like. Maybe you are there now.

Gregory Petrov knew. A priest, he had been imprisoned by revolutionary forces in a Siberian gulag. Here, he would meet his death. In his personal effects, they found a prayer. He had titled it “Glory to God for All Things”–words uttered by St. John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. An act of radical defiance. “A song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings.”

Last night we prayed his words. At times, their piercing loveliness caught in my throat. My heart swelled and my eyes filled with tears.

Wherever you find yourself on this day, I offer you his words. Perhaps they simply give voice to the deep joy in your heart. But, perhaps they are a vehicle for you to ride into a place of gratitude. A borrowed thanks. A radical defiance against your own gathering dark.

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O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

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When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer’s bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

When Thou didst call me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Thy deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Thy face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to Thee, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to Thee, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Thy commandments
Glory to Thee, making Thyself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to Thee, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to Thee, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to Thee, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love
Glory to Thee, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

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*I assigned myself the arduous task of choosing only a few stanzas to share with you. I encourage you to read the whole of the prayer HERE.

**All bolds in the text are mine.

Lean on Me

lean on meI wish I had learned earlier to trust others with the deepest parts of me. I wish I had understood that there are people who can know the worst about me and still love me, people who are willing to go to hard places and sit there with me as long as they need to, people who refuse to let me get stuck in my misery, who call out in me what is good. How different my life might have been.

For me, it took a crisis to plunge me, almost without my consent, into finally living vulnerably. It has been one of the great, good gifts in my life.

The same was true for my friend, Anne, though she got there much younger than me. She has written beautifully about that experience in her new book, Lean On Me.

Lean on Me is not a stale “how to” book with seven action points to automatically fix all your relationship woes. It is a story. A glorious, difficult, hope-filled story.

I am comforted in the idea that Jesus rarely instructed without parable. Truth is communicated through stories; they are principles that wear flesh and breathe air and feel pain and joy. Recalling a quote from Madeleine L’Engle, “Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.”

Like any good story, it will speak to different people in different ways. Here are some of the passages that were particularly poignant for me.

On Practicing Vulnerability:

A great misunderstanding in the world is that we must wait until we feel safe to be vulnerable with other people. They must earn our trust and show us they will not take our wounds and cause them to bleed more. We misconstrue the wisdom of guarding our hearts, our life’s wellspring, as a command to build a fortress around them.

We are never safe from pain, and safety has nothing to do with vulnerability.

Vulnerability will hurt…It is a paradox: once we realize being vulnerable is never safe, we are then free to be vulnerable. We guard our hearts by giving them to the Guardian. We accept the fact that hurt will come. We see wounds as gifts. When this dramatic shift in our spirit occurs, fear no longer controls us.

I love the chapter Persevering Through Pain. On the “slow and inefficient work of God”. On letting “the waters of grace slowly, moment by moment, smooth out my heart.” Her Holy Week reflections and her ruminations on the struggles of both Paul and Christ are powerful. But the poetic and evocative language defies reduction. You simply need to read the whole of it.

On Receiving and Returning:

I did not see myself worthy to be served like this, so unconditionally…Why do you still love me? I feel so helpless…I continued pushing away the love that was trying to envelop me, to be lavished upon me.

I choose faith, and it says go, love, and believe. Enter in where there is pain and love. Do not worry about if it’s enough. Believe it is enough for the moment.

From Circles or Spirals:

No kind of action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves. ~Amelia Earhart

The principle that we cannot give what we do not first receive works in reverse as we cannot receive what we do not give…It is a constant circle of pouring out and being poured into.

From Big Challenges and Small Steps:

…Sometimes my relationship with him felt empty. God appeared silent. It was only over the course of time that I recognized the hope he was giving me was often expressed through my relationship with others, spirit to spirit.

We will always feel a complex, two-sided longing–the craving for relationships and the desire to be on our own–creep in as we pull our feet through the mud of the daily. When this comes, we must take a heavy breath and command our spirits to rejoice and reach out…We are children of the One who has loved us in the past for eons and will love us into forever for eternity. A Man died in our place, painting us pure and lovely, and nothing can steal this away from us. Not even our own selfishness.

It has been my privilege to know Anne for several years now, and to see her walk the portion of her life chronicled in the book. She is a radiant grace-bearer and truth-teller, with her words, and with her life. I highly commend this book to you, wherever you find yourself in the world of community and sharing life with others. It will nourish and challenge you.

R2R2R: Day 2

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One of the heaviest rains of the season falls on the day between our hikes. At times, you cannot see beyond the stone walls at the edge of the canyon for the fog. We are very grateful to not be out in all that. We are also grateful for the ten degree drop in temperature that follows.

Despite the drop in temps, we choose to rise early again in order to be across the floor before the heat of the day. This time I begin in my fleece and gloves. We huddle at the shuttle stop with a father, son and uncle here to do their first rim to rim. Mom/wife/sister will meet them tonight at the North Rim and drive them back tomorrow.

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The South Kaibab trail is very exposed, meaning you get jaw dropping vistas all along the way. Of course, we don’t see much at our pre-dawn start. But it is fun to watch the head-lamps and flashlights bobbing like fireflies along the trail above and below us. When we reach Cedar Ridge we recall hiking this far with our children 8 years ago. We decide that was pretty ambitious given the youngest was only 9 at the time.

The sun paints the sky in muted cotton candy shades; a surprising counterpoint to the stark, jagged landscape. Puddles stand in the deep recesses of the path. Up close they are brown and nasty, but from a distance, they hold glassy bits of sky.

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Mike didn’t sleep well again and I know a part of him is worried about what this means. But as we move forward, as our bodies warm, we are both encouraged to find that nothing hurts. Our bodies feel strong. And the coolness, even in direct sunlight, is gift. Today’s hike will be very different because of it.

We have changed up our food supply a bit for day two and I love it! It was our goal to pack only enough food to last for day one. This we learned from last year. We made a resupply run to the market on Saturday. Some of the things we usually use were not available, and frankly we tired of those on Friday anyway, so we added  Pringles potato chips and Pepperidge Farm Chesapeake cookies to the mix. Every time we pull one of these out it feels like a decadent luxury. (Incidentally, we did pack electrolyte solution for both days. Not a good idea to mess with that).

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The sun has not been up long when we pass a supply train going down to Phantom Ranch. These quiet, gentle animals have served in the canyon in some capacity for years. They leave traces all along the trail. I trust I do not need to elaborate on that. 🙂

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We descend past layer upon layer of colored rock. Fragments of each layer make their way down the hillside and accumulate along the path and in creek-beds to create lovely kaleidoscopes.

It has gotten surprisingly warm by the time we reach the black bridge that will take us across the Colorado. You pass through a tunnel to reach the bridge and today with light and puddles, it takes on a peculiar charm.

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At Phantom Ranch, I treat myself to indulgence number two: Coffee. No cafe or dining establishment was open when we left for the trail, and a cup of java is sounding pretty amazing right now. I pull a chocolatey Chesapeake out of my bag and the combination is so delightful that I feel like I might float to the North Rim. Instead, I chatter my way across the floor and Mike surely wonders if that money could not have been better spent elsewhere. 😉

While at Phantom Ranch, we meet a group of folks who are part of a fitness ministry. As we talk, we learn that they were just in Franklin making a presentation at our former church, and we have mutual friends. It really is a small world. After all. We will play leap frog for the rest of the day, and run into them again tomorrow at breakfast.

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Between the cooling effects of the rain and the intermittent clouds, our trip across the floor today is a breeze. Before we know it, we are filling our bottles at Cottonwood Campground and commencing the seven mile climb to the North Rim.

From here on out, we are almost entirely in shade. There are moments when the breeze is almost chilly. Almost. We don’t talk much about last year, but we both remember slogging up this section of the trail, unsure whether we would make it out. Two switchbacks and a rest. Two switchbacks and a rest. Today could not be more different. Still, the section between the Pump House and Supai Tunnel seems interminable. When we finally see the tunnel, I have to resist the urge to kiss it. We reunite with friends from the trail, fill our water bottles one last time and sprawl out across the rocks for a final rest.

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This last section of trail we are traveling for the third time, yet we have never seen it. Last year, sunset overtook us before we made the top. On Friday, we began before dawn. I feel myself pulled forward by my curiosity. For the whole of it, we can see our destination above us. It seems so far away. But we have learned not to trust our eyes for distance here. They are unreliable.

Aspens, oaks and maples are changing their dresses for autumn, adding to the pastiche of color in the canyon. I keep stopping to take pictures. Some of them include Mike looking back at me with this expression that seems to say, “Really?! Again?!” I can’t help it. Everything is so pretty. And there is this bubbly something inside of me that already knows we are going to make it out of here, even if we have to crawl. And somehow, I want to capture this moment, to hold onto something of what it means to be here. To stitch memory into my body of the exhaustion and desire, the longing and fear, the determination and raw visceral urge, the glory. Yes, the glory.

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At the trail-head, we stop and sit for a space. I would like to say it is because we want to drink deeply of this moment and, while that might not be untrue, we mostly are just worn out. But it is the sweet fatigue that speaks of having accomplished what we set out to do. Of finishing the course. Of keeping faith. Our words of congratulation to one another are hollow beside the plain truth of being here. Of living to tell the tale. The full meaning of it will be unfolding in us for days to come.

And when life throws hard things at us, impossible things, we will remember this.

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Every second of the search is an encounter with God. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous…I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible. ~Paulo Coelho

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Rim to Rim to Rim, particulars:

Stats: 45 miles; more than 10,000′ vertical gain; 13 hours the 1st day, 10:45 the 2nd; temp range 43*-95*
Hydration: Mike likes Gatorade G2 grape while I favor Skratch Labs raspberry and lemon. I began both days with Orange Juice in one of my bottles. Mike also used oj on day two.
Snacks included: Walnuts and almonds, Cliff bars, Pay Day candy bars, Sesame Rice Chips, Power Bar gels, Gatorade energy chews, Summer Sausage, Cheese sticks, Werther’s hard caramels, and the aforementioned Pringles and Chesapeakes. Mike breakfasted on oatmeal and I had yogurt and granola.
This and That: We both carried REI Flash 22 backpacks. My boots are Keen and Mike’s are Merrell. We both like wool socks; mine are Smartwool and his are Darn Tough. I would perish without Moleskin.  Several essential doTerra oils traveled in the handy keychain affixed to the outside of my pack. Walking poles are non-negotiable, in my estimation. Zip-off shorts with multiple pockets are the best. A bandana has a thousand uses. And the iPhone was camera, carrier of maps and other info, books, poems, prayers, and communication for the in-between day.
Sleeps: I highly recommend the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim and Bright Angel Lodge on the South. Neither offers television if you are into that sort of thing, and cell service is intermittent at best. But for rustic charm and convenient access to the trails, they can’t be beat.
Eats: The North Rim’s Elk chili is famous (and fabulous!), and you can get it at any of their three eateries. If you leave without trying it you should be shot. Also, the Arizona Room at Bright Angel Lodge serves a mean Buffalo Burger. Recovery food, you understand. And the bicycle shop at the South Rim has great sandwiches and is conveniently located right next to the visitor center.

 

R2R2R: Day 1

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The sky spreads over us like a sapphire sea studded with stars. We swallow clean, cool air in gulps as we pass through the sweet silence of a world still sleeping. We whisper morning prayers as our flashlights sweep the path in front of us, all the while sinking lower and lower into the canyon.

It is a grudge match of sorts, this return to the canyon. A redemption. We came last year to walk from one rim to the other, rest for a day, then walk back. But illness prevented us from completing the second leg of our hike. So here we are in the predawn hours, treading this same bit of earth where we finished last year, hoping that the training has been enough, that the changes in our packs will serve us well, that we clear the floor of the canyon before it reaches its predicted high of roughly 100 degrees.

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Dawn breaks softly, color aching back into things. By the time we reach our first water fill station at Supai Tunnel, we pack away our flashlights. Sunlight creeps over the stones liberating their brilliant hues. All day long I will watch this magic. The canyon–with its layers of white, red, green, and violet stone; its deep recesses that bend light, or catch it and hold it hostage; its peculiar promontories and funky formations that cast long, irregular shadows–is a veritable playground for light.

We reach the floor ahead of schedule, but we remind ourselves that this first portion of the “floor” has a good bit of rough and rugged undulation. (A fact which none of the sources we read ever told us, and was a brutal surprise last year. So I am telling you now.) Two or three miles later, the trail begins a long, comfortable meander along the edge of Bright Angel Creek and the gurgle and plash of water is our constant companion.

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A network of old power poles follows the basic outline of the path. Some still have wire wrapped around beautiful glass insulators. My dad, an electrician, used to have some of these when I was a little girl. They fascinated me then and they fascinate me now. I have to resist the urge to shinny up one of those poles and pull one down and shove it in my backpack. Especially the blue ones.

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Sometimes the walls of the canyon crowd very close here, thrusting skyward in an unbroken line. They provide welcome shade from the slanting rays of morning sun. Gathered round their feet and growing impossibly from crevices in their sides are an astonishing array of plants. I am constantly distracted by them

We reach Phantom Ranch a little before 11am, almost an hour ahead of schedule. I pull a stack of postcards from my pack for our children and godchildren. These I stuff into a saddlebag which will ride out of the canyon later today on a mule, the only place I am aware of in the U.S. where mail is still carried this way.

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We refill our water bottles and eat a substantial snack. 14 miles in already and I am hungry. And here I make my biggest mistake of the day. Summer sausage is a classic trail food. We brought one from home thinking we might need it before we got to Phantom Ranch. I eat half of it, 3 1/2 ounces, reasoning that I need the protein for the climb, and that it is easier to carry it in my stomach than in my backpack. It is too much at once. I will pay for that.

We walk through Bright Angel Campground just before crossing the Colorado River and commencing our ascent. The thermometer reads 95 degrees. In the shade. It is 11:15.

The next 3 miles or so are almost entirely exposed. Shade becomes a scarce and coveted commodity. Every time we find a patch of it, we linger. My stomach full of fatty sausage and the brutal heat are a bad combination. I feel sick. When we come to our first creek crossing I plunge my bandana in and proceed to douse myself from head to toe. I squeeze the water over my head and let it run in cool rivulets down my neck and back. I press it against my face. I slather it along my arms, my stomach. Then, I dip the bandana once more and wrap it around my neck. The relief of this is delicious. And completely necessary. It will make all the difference. My motto becomes: Linger in every patch of shade, dip in every creek. The water in my water bottles is becoming sickly hot. But I make myself drink it. Must drink. Must. Drink.

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Coming into and out of Indian Gardens

Indian Gardens is an oasis, literally, halfway between the Colorado River and the South Rim. Native Americans planted crops here centuries ago and now cottonwoods and mesquite grow in the same stream watered soil. We stop here for our first water fill since Phantom Ranch. It is so good to drink cool water again I down my first pint before we leave. We rest for a bit in the shade. I lie on my back and drape my feet across the top of a bench. We visit with fellow hikers and laugh at jokes that only those who have seen the canyon as we have seen her this day understand. Some folks minister to their feet, others share snacks and advice. We leave our oasis refreshed and renewed with just over 4 1/2 miles to go.

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I am infatuated with the sky. Always. But especially here. Intense cerulean, the perfect foil for the fluffy white clouds that have been increasing all afternoon. Now and then, a gray one. Interloper. A light mist begins to fall. Gentle. Cool. Most welcome. I turn to take a photograph of the clouds and when I lift my eyes from my phone, I see it. The rainbow. I begin to wonder if there is a limit to how much beauty one person can stand. I am treading dangerously close to that border. I take about 40 pictures, pausing now and then to just exult in this moment. In being right here, right now. Feeling the great goodness of the Father in the air and the mist, in the grandeur of this place, in the excruciating beauty of water bending light, in the strength of my legs and my heart, in the joy of sharing all of this with my best friend.

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The last mile and a half prove to be a challenge for Mike. Fatigue, heat, and lack of sleep the night before have conspired to make him feel exhausted and sick. But he keeps moving forward. One step at a time.

As we come to the end of the trail, there are no cheering crowds, no medal around the neck. Just the knowledge in our gut that the work of the day is done. I am as tired as I have ever been. But my heart is full…

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*All photographs in the post taken with my iphone. The only one that has been edited is the one at the top. I deepened the saturation a bit to make the rainbow more plain. However, if you look at the rainbow shot inside the post (unedited) you will see I didn’t alter it much. The colors were just this marvelous. If you would like to see other photos from our adventures out west (more than I will ever be able to use here) you can visit my photo album on facebook. I believe you can get to it directly by clicking HERE. I plan to write about day two tomorrow, so come back if you want to know how it turns out. 🙂

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