Tiny Dancer…

Tiny dancer, you have danced your way into my heart. How could I know how many ways I needed to be made new? How healing it would be to feel your tiny fingers grasp my arm? How my eyes would see the world again through yours? How I would learn to breathe slowly…and really listen…and touch everything…and taste it…because of you?

You tiptoed into my life on a springtime afternoon. Rain fell outside the windows. But inside it was warm. And I waited. To see you. For the first time. And your mommy was brave. And in the most ordinary, ever-day miracle, the world became sweeter and more real because you were in it.

Life is in you. Everything grows. So fast! Random thrashings of arms and legs have become purposeful grasps…and crawling…and sitting up. I see you set your gaze on something across the room, and at once your body flies into motion. Unstoppable. Until your objective is attained. Swollen gums give way to your first tooth. Arms and legs strain at the limits of clothing hardly worn. And an elegance, a grace, is coming to your movements. You are learning to dance, little one.



So curious, you are! Hungry to know about everything. Carefully you run your hands over faces, fabrics, chair legs. Studying. Drinking deeply. A contemplative. From the womb. Was I once like you? Did I understand how to be still and look long? I am learning again. You are teaching me.

How is it, baby girl, that you find this place in everyone who sees you? Soft. Tender. Kind. Your joy pierces to the heart of them, revealing their best selves. Like magic. Yet, you seem unaware. As though nothing could be more natural.

Six months you have been on this earth, dear one. Thank you for the music. For the sweetness of your smile. For making each day with you a voyage of discovery, even if we never leave the house. The dance is only beginning. There is so much good ahead of you. And I will be somewhere in the wings…stitching costumes, bringing roses, and cheering you on.

For Kenzie, who is six months old today, with Love.


*Photograph at the top of the post taken by my daughter, Kelsey, Kenzie’s mommy. Photo at the bottom taken just yesterday…mommy and daughter…arm in arm. First of many…

If I Were Really Brave….

Luci Swindoll is a wild woman. Her life story throbs with adventure, with risks taken and narrow escapes, with moments seized and savored. Few people know how to squeeze more glory out of a life than she.

However, even she has a few things she would like to have done differently. Opportunities missed. Moments when she wishes she would have followed her heart. She talks about this in¬† her book, Doing Life Differently: The Art of Living With Imagination. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I keep asking myself, “What are the dreams I surrendered too easily? What would I do if I were really brave?” And, most importantly, “Which of these is still possible?”

They are uncomfortable, vulnerable, scary, thrilling questions to ponder. I thought it might be easier if you and I consider them together. So, I will share a few of mine with you and you can share yours with me. If you dare. And maybe we will end up borrowing one or two from each other. And we can sit out on the ledge together until one of us has the courage to jump. ūüôā

Write a Book¬† There. I said it. Out loud. It is something that has tugged at my heart for a couple of years now. But I keep sabotaging myself. I say I have no time. Which is true, and not true. I do have many demands on my time. And I feel selfish writing when there is¬† a baby to take care of and homework or laundry or dishes to be done. But, I also waste time. Every day. Mostly I’m scared. Scared that it will be awful. Scared I will write it and nobody will read it.

Play the Mandolin¬† I bought one. That’s a start, right? I love it’s sound…in bluegrass…in lovely Venetian barcarolles and love songs. And, though it has 8 strings, it only has 4 pitches. Pretty accessible, given that I am already relatively musical. But it’s harder than it looks. And there’s that whole time thingy. It’s looking across the room at me right now. As I type this. Not accusing, exactly. Singing…softly…

Study Abroad¬† Was this even available when I was in college? I didn’t know about it if it was. But I wish I had had the chutzpa to get myself out of the country, one way or another, when I was younger; more malleable.

Study Literature or Art History at the University Level I could totally be one of those people who just goes to college for the rest of my life. I actually looked into it a couple of years ago. But, it’s expensive. And the schedule is inflexible. So for now, I read great literature on my own. And visit museums. And attend lectures. And read about artists…

Become Fluent in Another Language¬† This is one of two that Luci and I share. I know a fair amount of survival French and bits of Italian and German. But, I would like to know another language well enough that I could have a thought in that language without thinking it in English and translating. Does that make sense? Phrases sometimes come to me in French. That’s a start, I suppose. But I am far from being able to carry on a comfortable conversation without lots of stopping and starting and wrinkling my nose and grasping for the right words.

Live in Europe Probably France. Or Italy. Or both. ūüôā Visiting has been so lovely. But I want to live the rhythm of life in a Provencal or Tuscan village. To buy fresh bread at the boulangerie every morning. And assist with the grape and olive harvests. To know a people who sees the world through a different lens. I regularly survey rental properties online. (When I should be writing or practicing mandolin or French. :)) It is a dream, fortunately, that Mike and I share. So, just maybe….

Walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela¬† Beginning on the French side of the Pyrenees and crossing northern Spain, this is one of the oldest and most traversed pilgrimages in all of Christendom. 780 km. It usually takes 3-4 weeks to complete it. I first learned of it from my friend CeCe who traveled the final 150 km with her sister a few years ago. Orthodoxy has taught me to eat, and breathe, and wear my faith. Now I want to walk it. Father Kevin Dodd’s beautiful book, To the Field of Stars, is stoking my desire. And I am seriously considering a mini pilgrimage (in my car) to a neighboring state to see the new film called The Way which depicts one man’s (fictional) journey. I had decided the Camino would be a most appropriate way to mark my 50th birthday (in 2016) until Jake and I began seriously taking about this:

Hike the Appalachian Trail¬† Probably not all of it. That takes around 7 months. But we’re thinking we might hit it for a couple of months the summer after he graduates from college. That gives us a while to acquire the gear and take a number of practice hikes. Appalachia is my heritage. I drank the rugged beauty of it in with my milk. It is a worthy endeavor, especially if I get to do it with my son.

OK, there you go. A rather unwieldy collection of dreams deferred…for now…but not forever.

How bout you? What would you do if you were really brave?

How Inarticulate the Longings of My Soul…

How inarticulate are the longings of my soul, O God,
yet how acute are its pangs.
How incapable am I in understanding those longings,
let alone, in tending them.
Feed me with food, O God, that will best nourish my soul,
food that will intensify rather than satisfy
my love for You
and my longing to be with You.
Awaken every eternal seed You have planted in my soul
so while I am yet rooted in this earth
something of heaven may blossom in my life…

~Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul

In Deep Nights…

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

There has never been a time in my life when God was not a principle character in the story of me. I have spent much of my life attempting to apprehend Him. To know Him.

And He has eluded me.

I came to a place where I very nearly hated Him. I felt He had made a promise to me. To all of creation, for that matter. That we might know Him. Intimately. As close as breathing. Yet, I had nearly killed myself trying to be good enough. Trying to prove my worth to Him. Volunteering for everything. Practically living at the church.

Somehow, He remained untouchable. So very far away. And I had these cavernous empty places. Since He would not fill them, I began to grasp at other things. Trying to make it not hurt.

And sometimes they helped.

For a while.

But the empty did not go away. And now there was guilt and regret piled on top of the empty. And I was angry. Angry at God. Angry at all the people in my life who did not love me well enough. I needed someone to blame. Someone to be responsible for my pain.

Then God gave me a gift. Unexpected. Unwanted. He taught me to die. It was a bloody, excruciating experience. I had to let go of all the things that I thought made me me. Everything I was proud of. My gifts. The service I provided others. My striving and digging.

And stand before Him.

Empty.

Naked.

Alone.

It was terrifying. I felt as though I were melting. Like the wicked witch, you know. In The Wizard of Oz.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It was the beginning of healing.

Once I stopped blaming others, and defending myself…once I was willing to be nothing…then…we could begin.

And grace became that soft rain, falling. And I had to do nothing, but receive.

I am done hating, and blaming. Mostly. I am learning to revel in being nothing. Because in this place…where I bring none of my striving, or digging, or proving myself, or being right…God is. And all I must do is fall into Him. Receive the rain of grace He pours freely over me.

He is still far away. Above me. Outside me.

AND

He is as close as breathing. A reality I taste when I approach the Cup. I breathe Him in the incense. I hear Him in baby girl’s laughter. I feel Him, soft, in the wind.

And the empty places are not so empty any more.

I am wordy. It is too much. Rilke said it best. And Job. We are, the three of us, of the same cloth. We have known the death…that yields life.

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  ~Job 42:5

Crazy Enough….

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for inspiring dreamers. For being audacious, relentless and a man of integrity. We are better because of you. You will be missed.

Here’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent.    They imagine.     They heal.
They explore.     They create.    They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones,
we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Booklist: The Travel Books

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. ~St. Augustine.

Ours is a family of gypsies. We LOVE to travel. Early in our marriage, Mike and I decided that experiences and memories would always have priority over stuff as we made choices regarding allocation of time and of money. So, while I buy most of my clothing at Goodwill and consignment stores, clip coupons, and never buy anything that is not on sale, ours is a family that has seen a good bit of the world.

It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are. ~Alain de Botton

Traveling to far-off places has a tendency to help us find bits of ourselves, and of one another, that have lain hidden. It challenges and inspires us. And, it gives us a treasure trove of memories that are part of the cement that binds us as a family.

When we are not traveling, I am frequently reading about the travels of others, or combing through guide books and dreaming about our next trip. Here are a few of my favorites. Be sure and tell me yours.

Travel Guides

Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door¬† Rick Steves has been my best friend in planning the several trips we have made to Europe. He and I share a common philosophy about travel: While in a foreign country, one should soak up as much of the authentic culture as possible. Eat where they eat. Sleep in their neighborhoods. Shop in their markets. Why would I want to travel to Istanbul to sleep in an American chain hotel and eat at McDonalds? I can do that here.

Steves puts his decades of experience to work for me, and helps me find those quirky, off-the-beaten-path places that put me in direct contact with the people I am visiting. Our family is eternally grateful to him for introducing us to one of our favorite destinations EVER: Vernazza in the Cinque Terra (along the Italian Riviera). Europe Through the Backdoor gives a great overview and some general travel tips that are helpful wherever you might find yourself in Europe. His guides for individual countries give more specific information.

I especially like his walking guides, both for cities and for museums, highlighting attractions on the way. And, not surprisingly, I appreciate the historical information as well as curiosities and trivia.

DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Concise. Full color illustrations. Small enough to slide into your back pocket. They always include helpful street and metro maps. Usually specific to a city or a region (like Provence). We have them for New York, Chicago, Paris, Dublin, and London. They begin by giving their top ten things to see in the city. Then they give top ten lists for categories: museums, pubs, restaurants, hotels, children’s attractions, sporting events, etc… They usually include a list of excursions outside the city as well. For example, the Dublin guide gave us information about the whole of Ireland. While Rick Steves takes you in through the back door, these guides will make sure you know about all the major don’t miss attractions.

If I still need info after consulting these two sources, I consult guides from Frommer’s and Fodor’s. I love that they too are now adding color photographs to many of their guides. I like the traveling philosophy of the Lonely Planet guides and have, at times, found valuable information therein. But, I find their organizational system cumbersome.

Travelogues

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton  I make an unusual exception here in that this is the first book I have ever included on a booklist before having read the whole of it. The portions I have read convince me that, if the rest were rubbish (most unlikely) it would still be a valuable read. The author is a contemplative. He takes as his companions on his exploits artists and writers who give him new eyes with which to see the world. He rolls around ideas and observations that are most intriguing. Thoughts about anticipation, curiosity, beauty, art, and seeing our own everyday world as a destination worthy of reflection.

To the Field of Stars by Father Kevin A. Codd¬† A compelling personal story of pilgrimage, of discovery, of communion…along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage is on my own bucket list. Father Codd’s beautiful account of struggle and pain, generosity and joy is stoking my desire.

Jesus spent a lot of time on the road…I wanted to know what it was like to live as he lived, depending on his feet to keep him bound to the earth and moving forward towards his destiny. Know his feet, know him.

A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi¬† De Blasi’s background as a food writer is obvious every time she describes the ridiculous food she enjoys in Tuscany. My mouth waters. And I start looking for apartments in Tuscany… This is a beautiful book about a roughly 3 year period she and her husband spend becoming part of a small, close knit Tuscan village. Great community meals, grape harvests, crusty old seasoned characters. Marvelous.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers…looked with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window…

Mmm hmmm. Me too, Peter, me too. Thing is, even though Mayle is completely honest about the challenges…cracked pipes, the brutal Mistral winds, falling roof tiles, etc…I find myself, on the last page, wanting more than ever to spend a long season in France. Mayle’s evocative descriptions take me there. And nourishes the dream….

Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks¬† A drunken wager gives way to an ironic adventure.¬† An endeavor so ludicrous, so perplexing, so…intriguing…that folks can’t help joining in. Offering rides, food, lodging. Soon, his reputation precedes him. And his folly becomes a national phenomenon. An unlikely, yet completely true story. An inside look at the ordinary people you and I might have missed. Great fun.

Addendum:¬† Keep in mind that plenty of books having nothing to do with travel can deepen and enrich your travel experience. For example, planning a visit to Ireland? Take a look at How the Irish Saved Civilization, Beauty: the Invisible Embrace, Angela’s Ashes, Dubliners, the poetry of W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney. These books will help you understand everything you see; the architecture, the art, the churches, the markets, the faces, the ethos, the very essence of the people.

I Know That the Immovable Comes Down

I know that the Immovable comes down;
I know that the Invisible appears to me;
I know that he who is far outside the whole creation
Takes me within himself and hides me in his arms,
And then I find myself outside the whole world.
I, a frail, small mortal in the world,
Before the Creator of the world, all of him, within myself;
And I know that I shall not die, for I am within the Life,
I have the whole of Life springing up as a fountain within me.
He is in my heart, he is in heaven:
Both here and there he shows himself to me with equal glory.

~St. Symeon the New Theologian

A Sabbath meditation.
Read it.
Then read it again.
Slowly.
Out loud.
Allow each line to seep deep inside.
I dare you.

God Who Told Stories

A friend of mine, a fine storyteller, remarked to me, “Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.”
~Madeleine L’Engle

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables [stories]; and without a parable he did not speak to them.
~Matthew 13:34

Why stories? Why not rules? Precepts? Propositional truth? Why in the world would the Creator of the universe sit around spinning yarns?

Could it be that Christ had something for us that was too round, too subtle, too textured and layered to be summarized into 3 points? Or 5 steps? Or 7 secrets?

A story isn’t really any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind.
~Flannery O’Connor

Hangs on?

Expands in the mind?

Brothers Karamazov¬† Peace Like a River¬† Til We Have Faces¬† Lilith¬† My Name is Asher Lev¬† The Alchemist …just to name a few. Stories that wrap themselves around me. That draw me in. Asher’s pain is my pain. When Ruben wonders why the healing his father gives to others is not given to him, I wonder too. What Santiago sees, I see. I breathe the same air. The same grains of sand sting my skin. When Lilith dies…I die.

And the stories roll around in my head for weeks…months…rankling, provoking, stretching me, giving me hope…

Truth we have lived is truth we own. Experience is a most effective schoolmaster. When we encounter great stories, those experiences become ours as well. We stand inside truth that is too complicated and messy, too transcendent and glorious, to be reduced to a principle. It must be wrestled with. Clawed at. Cursed. Clung to. Celebrated. And finally, taken deep within. Til it becomes part of our blood.

Why did God tell stories? What was it that He would give to us that could only be given in this form? What do you think?

The Reckoning

For me, one test of a great album is that I love it more with every listen. By that standard, The Reckoning is a great album.

Jake and I have hungered for a new release from NeedToBreathe for a very long time. But, I must admit, I was nervous. What if it didn’t measure up? What if I didn’t love it as much as The Outsiders? What if they had used up all their creativity?

No worries. The first track, Oohs and Ahhs, dispelled all my fears. First there were the wailing guitar riffs, then the false ending that built into a free for all with screaming horns–the last thing I expected, but perfect–and I knew this was going to be a great ride.

I would say that, over all, their rockabilly style has gotten a bit more aggressive on this effort. It’s a good fit.

In a measure of unusual restraint, I tell you about only my very favorites here, though there is not a throw-away on the album.

White Fences¬† An anthem, the sort of which NeedToBreathe does so well. I like singing along with it at the top of my lungs. I like remembering what it was like to sing along with them at the Ryman, with others, also singing at the top of their lungs. The sort of intimate experience that makes you feel like you know them. Even if you don’t. I don’t.

A Place Only You Can Go  I kept waiting for the ballad. Oh, yes, there is a ballad. Torturous. True. The instrumentation alone would wrest tears from me, were not the lyrics already so poignant. Perhaps you must have led my schizophrenic  life to hear an Irish lament fused with a campmeeting song from the gut here. But, you would have to be dead to not feel something.

Slumber¬† A driving call to stop living someone else’s regurgitated, tired old life and “open up your eyes”.

Days they force you
Back under those covers
Lazy mornings they multiply
But glory’s waiting
Outside your window
So wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes…

Able  The dobro and piano provide the evocative lament. Even though I am strong, I am not enough on my own. I recognize this torturous confession. I know it intimately. I also know the joy to be found in surrendering my striving to be enough. And this song finds that as well. A choir  joins the swell of the instruments as we open our hands and let grace be enough. Thanks be to God!

Keep Your Eyes Open  If you know me, you know this is my credo. I could find no better theme song.

Cause if you never leave home, never let go
You’ll never make it to the great unknown
So you keep your eyes open…

Today is a good day for lovers of intelligent, creative, ballsy music with heart. This is such.

Wild and Extravagant…

The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.

~Annie Dillard

I have this collection…photographs from Yellowstone. I had to take them. But, how to explain them? How to describe the sense of urgency to capture…bits of mineral laden goo that to me resemble the musings of a Kandinsky or Pollack? Charred black trunks standing valiantly against stone and sky. Austere. Piercing. Simmering pots of pink mud that make me laugh out loud. Stones painted in umber, sienna, and olive by the continual washing of geyser runoff.

It’s not roses or sunsets or babies. Not your typical fodder for photographs, or meditations on beauty. But I find them captivating. That God would choose to spend His creative capital so recklessly; to imbue the most humble of creations with wonder and a raw grandeur.

There is, perhaps, a lesson in this. How many other places around me does beauty lie, unseen? A teenaged boy who is still growing into his long, gangly limbs. An old woman, bent by the years, whose skin hangs in folds. A stranger whose angry bravado mars, but cannot completely conceal, the image of God. If I linger long enough…if I train my eye to search for it, what might I see?

I submit these quirky images for your perusal, along with observations by a couple of kindred spirits. And I challenge you…I challenge me…to walk through this day with eyes wide open.

Wild and extravagant beauty is all around us.

The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font…Freedom is the world’s water and weather, the world’s nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves pizzazz.

~Annie Dillard

Nature is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.

~Henry David Thoreau

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.

~Annie Dillard

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