Tag Archive - Love

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-three

I don’t remember rolling up my sleeping bag or packing away my gear for the last time. I don’t remember walking down the hall to brush my teeth, or lacing up my boots. But I am sure I did all these things.

I do remember that the sky was the color of rose petals. And the air was cool, but soft. And we walked mostly downhill, til we were in the city. There was a monument. Then the city was like any other.

And not like…

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We breakfast at a cafe where we see the familiar tortilla. And the very unfamiliar rose tea. And all the tables are indoors and everything is clean and bright and the owner moves about calmly and easily and some people look like they are dressed for the office. And I wish we were bumping into one another and sitting out on the sidewalk and the owner was bustling and something about the place was a little run down, and friendly.

Jan, David, Mike and I stop at the inn where we will share a room tonight and drop off our backpacks. It feels wonderful to be walking without them. It feels strange to be walking without them.

We decide to head to the pilgrim office straightaway before the line gets too long. This turns out to be a good idea. But we almost miss Jorge, Kelly, Otto, Jose, and gang. Almost. We had walked with Otto for a while earlier this morning, but he and Jose went on while we were leaving bags. And yet, like iron filings to a magnet, we seem to be drawn to one another.

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We find Jorge and Kelly, Kathy and Catherine in the square just as several others arrive. We hail Otto who is walking away and take a group photo. This picture will be one of the treasures of the Camino for me. Then we run into Nathadeo who we haven’t seen since we sang with the nuns in Carrion de los Condes.

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This is one of my favorite stories from the Camino. These two gentleman walked the whole 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, just like we did. All the mountains and valleys, all the rocky terrain and narrow, briery paths, all the puddles and cow patties. Here is the difference: the fellow on the left, he’s blind. Watching them move in concert is like listening to a duo that has been singing into one another for so long that they breathe together. Some friendships are given to us as examples, to know just how far love can go. This is one of those.

The Cathedral is undergoing renovations which means that we cannot access the Portico of Glory. We walk round to the other side to enter. We queue up to “hug” the statue of St. James. Then, we walk down to the crypt to venerate the body of our Lord’s own apostle. This is a solemn moment.

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Coming out of the cathedral, we run into Paul and Lasse who we haven’t seen for days. Mike is not with them. He too will arrive on this day, but we will not see him. Jan and David will find him in Finisterre, though. AND we see Adam, our friend from Poland, with whom we also have lost contact for a bit. We have one last beer with the boys and share a few final tales of the road. Bittersweet.

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We choose from a dizzying array of tapas for lunch, pop our head into a few shops looking for gifts for our kids, our granddaughter and our godchildren, then go back to the inn for a little rest. We head over to the cathedral around 6:00 to snag a seat for the 7:30 pilgrim mass and who should we find resting just outside, but Damien, Psicobeta, Filipe and Claudia! They have walked 40 kilometers today to be here for the evening mass. It is SO GOOD to see them.

Shortly before the mass begins, a feisty little nun comes out to teach us a couple of responses we will need later in the service. Then the mass begins. Like all of the masses along the way, this one is in a combination of Spanish and Latin, so I understand little. But it is nice to know the responses.

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You may or may not have ever heard of the Botafumeiro. It is an inordinately large censor. Incense has been used in worship since the pre-temple days of the Old Testament. It is still essential in the practice of Orthodox and Catholic Christians today. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen a censor quite like this one. The story goes that part of the reason for its size was to help cover the stench of the pilgrims. This, I believe. (The above photo is its support structure.)

The Botafumeira is not used at every mass as the cost of the incense is prohibitive. But we have heard that it is commonly used on Friday night. So we are glad to be here on Friday. Still, it’s not a sure thing. Til we see the men in red cloaks, one of whom carries a shovel (as in a garden shovel, you understand) full of charcoal and incense. Then we know.

However extraordinary you imagine it would be to stand here, it is a thousand times more so. I have provided you with a taste. But only a taste. The music, our prayers arising as incense, the weary bodies so full of miles, the stories, the love that has knit so many of us into one another…

And then it’s over. Except it’s not. We walk out into the night to find our young friends again: the newlyweds, Damien and Psicobeta, and friends Claudia and Felipe. We talk about their long walk today and they ask us if we remember the spiritual Mike and Paul sang at Granon. “We have been changing it up a bit as we walked,” they say. And right there, in the gathering dark outside a cathedral in Spain, they sing…

I believe it too.

Go with God, dear friends!

I miss you already.

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Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

~John O’Donohue

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-eight

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Jan says she wants no steep uphills or downhills on her birthday. We cannot make this happen for her. However, the rain we have been promised never materializes. So, there’s that.

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Early in the day we pass a little hippie retreat with fruit and bread, eggs, nuts, juices, tea, and lots of hippie love in a cool open timbered barn with sofas clad in colorful saris. A soft spoken woman, probably American or Canadian we think, floats out the door of the house with more bread, and 5 yellow kittens at her heels. Everything is donativo. We suspect we might have stumbled into some kind of commune. But, the food is welcome as our first cafe is ten miles into the hike.

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We pause for lunch in Sarria, a hillside town that marks the starting point for some pilgrims. To obtain a compostella, a certificate of completion of the camino, you are only required to have walked the final one hundred kilometers. Some pilgrims begin here because physical or time restraint does not allow them to do more. Others, because they can not be bothered. These are easy to identify. They are loud and flippant. They usually carry only a day pack and send their luggage ahead. They stop at all the kitchy souvenir shops (also new in Sarria) and buy tacky bumper stickers and t-shirts. They are tourists, not pilgrims. Touregrinos. Learning to live with them graciously will be a challenge.

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After a burger and a beer, we resume our walk. By now, we have been joined by Jorge and Kelly, Otto and Jose, and their whole gang. We walk the final 3.6k into Barbadillo with them, belting out Neil Diamond hits.

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Casa Barbadillo has accommodations that are modern and efficient, but the dining room is a showcase of antiques; a whole wall of sewing machines, plus cameras, telephones, and more. They are so lovely. Here we gather for Jan’s birthday dinner. The table is full. Friends take turns singing Happy Birthday to Jan in English, Portugese, French, German, Spanish and Hebrew.

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We laugh at Jose and the waitress who have a playful banter all night. She is so funny. We also have a tender moment with him. He asks us why we are walking the camino. After giving our various answers, we ask him the same. He explains that he walks in gratitude for the extraordinary life he has been given. His eyes fill with tears as he says this, and so do ours.–Turns out, Jose is an important attorney in Brazil. He has presided over the bar association, and he and his wife Suely have raised three lawyers in their home. Since coming home, we have seen him in photographs with national leaders in very important meetings for the good of Brazil.–But on this night, and on this camino, he is one of us. We end the evening singing Willie Nelson tunes. Jose loves Willie. 🙂

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Santiago is close enough now that we can feel its pull. But, I think each of us is also struggling with the thought that soon this family that has grown so dear to us will be once again scattered to the seven winds…

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If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.

~Frederick Buechner

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*Thank you to David for the birthday photo, and to Mike for the photo with Jose as well as the crazy currencies at bottom of post.

A Pilgrim Tale: day eighteen

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No, the Hobbits don’t live here!

So says the sign in Moratinos. 🙂 These are bodegas. Wine cellars dug into the side of a hill. Historically, each family made enough wine to provide for their own family for a year. Their wine-making operation would have taken place in these bodegas. Afterwards, the wine, and perhaps food as well, would have been stored here.

The job of digging these out was often assigned to children. The soft clay was easy to dig, but when they pushed it out the chimney ventilation shaft to add to the mound, exposure to the air dried and hardened it to a stony surface. They would dig the bodegas in the winter, but the children would be nice and warm as they worked inside.

Some bodegas are believed to be 500 years old. Most are not used any more for wine-making, but as storage cellars or party rooms. (Hence the antenna, I suppose.) 🙂

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When we get to Sahagun, we meet John. His was one of the many stories Otto told us yesterday. His wife died on Easter Sunday. This pilgrimage is part of his healing. Around his neck, he wore a chain with both their wedding rings. His bride had instructed him to find a couple to give them to. She assured him he would know them when he met them.

Two nights ago, he stayed at Espiritu Santo in Carrion de los Condes (as did we). While he was there, he realized he knew who he was supposed to give them to. Espiritu Santo means Holy Spirit, by the way.

He invited Jorge and Kelly to have dinner with him. At dinner, he reached across the table for Kelly’s hand. He slipped his wife’s ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit. In the same way, he asked for Jorge’s hand. Let me pause here to say John is rather small in stature. Shorter than me, I believe. Jorge is a big, strong firefighter. He looks a little like a linebacker. And yet, his ring also fit perfectly. Now, Jorge wears a chain around his neck with the rings he and Kelly will wear when they are married.

John kindly tells us the story again. His voice is soft and reverent, but his eyes dance.

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Sahagun claims the title of half-way point on the camino, although the math is a bit fuzzy. Regardless, we stop and take photos and commemorate this important “thus far” moment.

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Along with the stories, each day brings a whole panoply of images. Some extraordinarily lovely. Some merely curious. Many evenings, as I lie in my bunk awaiting sleep, these wash over me until the line between dreaming and waking is irrevocably blurred. I leave you with a few from this day…

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In silence we must wrap much of our life, because it is too fine for speech.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Pilgrim Tale: day seventeen

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You hear about the meseta long before you get here. It can be one of the great trials of the camino. I had expected long, endless days of unbroken plain. It hasn’t turned out to be that at all. Until today. Today is flat and straight with the road stretching out as far as you can see. We begin the hike with a 17 kilometer stretch between towns. No towns mean no food. Or bathrooms. It could be awful, except for one thing.

Today we meet the storyteller.

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Otto is a retired electrician from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Because my daddy also made his career as an electrician, we already have that. He is becoming something of an archivist of tales of the trail. He tells us several, beginning with his own, a tiny bit of which we heard last night.

Otto and his lovely wife, Maria, had been planning for some time to walk the camino. She celebrated her sixtieth birthday in December of 2014, and was thoroughly enjoying the life they had made for themselves, each of them looking ahead to the joys of retirement. One night, a couple of months later, the two of them spent a quiet, easy evening at home. Maria made phone calls to all her siblings and enjoyed catching up with them. She and Otto called a granddaughter to ask about an important event she had just celebrated. Then, she sent Otto to the store. When he came back, she was gone.

His children encouraged him to carry out the plan he and Maria had made and walk the camino. He carries a packet of letters written by them and by his grandchildren. He opens one each day. The one today was from his daughter. It was a letter her mother had written her when she was walking through a difficult time. She asks him to read it as though Maria were speaking directly to him.

He wears Maria’s Virgin of Guadelupe medal on a pink cord given to him by one of her friends. When he speaks of his bride, his voice is tender and sweet. His amazing hat was knitted by 6 year old granddaughter Mia from yarn that belonged to her grandmother.

I hear no bitterness in his story, only gratitude. He tells us about all that he is learning on the Way, as though he were giving an account to the camino.

I am learning to slow down. My feet have taught me that.

I am learning to give it away. My back has taught me that.

I am learning to follow your signs, or I will walk the path twice. My eyes have taught me that.

The camino asked, “Yes, but what has your heart taught you?”

My heart has taught me that when you arrive at an albergue early and get to choose a lower bunk, then a tired, older pilgrim comes in, you give him the lower bunk. When you are the last person to get a spot at the albergue, and someone weary and hurting comes stumbling in and is turned away, you give him your spot and move your burning feet to the next town. When someone is running low on food and water, you share what you have with him, even if you have little.

Then the camino said to me, “How have you learned these things? Are you bragging about your deeds? Remember, be humble.”

And I replied, “These are things that others have done for me.”

You can see why we will stay close to Otto, hungering for his words like a certain group of fishermen who walked with another storyteller long ago…

 

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In the afternoon, we walk for a space with Sieglinde and Hans Pieter from Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve been seeing her for a few days now with her jaunty, feathered hat and flippy pink skirt. It is good to finally meet them. In July, they stepped out their front door, much like a medieval pilgrim would have done, and began walking toward Santiago. They are walking still (30 September). Their children are 23 and 21, the same ages as two of ours. And they, like we, are at a transition. We talk about family, and faith and art. And the world keeps getting smaller…

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This evening, we sit around a table with James from Ireland, and our friend Adam and feast on fresh local trout. And tell more stories, and spin more threads…

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How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed it in order to learn what the road passes by.

~Dag Hammerskjold, Markings

*I have tried to capture Otto’s stories just as he told them. With a certain storyteller’s license, of course. Feel free to add or correct as necessary, Otto. 🙂 xoxo

Metamorphosis

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My blog has had some security issues this year. As a result, it was offline in the spring when my baby boy turned 18, and when he graduated from high school. So here I offer a woefully belated coming of age post. The words are from a blessing that Mike and I had the honor of speaking over Josh at his senior formal. They give a tiny glimpse into the life of this remarkable young man that we have had the profound joy to parent.

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You were born curious. Five minutes in any hotel room and you have found all the best gadgets, secret hiding places, snacks, toiletries, AND the Gideon Bible. Never one to stay on the path, you run ahead and climb things. Ingenuous, you can figure anything out, from all things technical to how to drive a stick shift, nothing scares you. Stay hungry. Never stop learning.

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Senior formal with sweet friend Ashley. Outfit designed by Josh. Shirt hand sewn to his specifications.

The world is more beautiful and festive because there is you. Fashionista and interior designer, you integrate loveliness into all you do. As an accomplished food stylist, you transform the most humble offerings into a feast. Thank you for teaching us to celebrate every season, every day, as gift. The world is starving for beauty. Feed it.

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Convincingly incarnating both a lecherous wolf and a dashing Prince Charming in Into the Woods at the Franklin Theater

When you were 12 years old, you sang Amazing Grace at a school talent show. With the first clean, clear notes, the room fell silent and still, awed by the beauty of it. Whether leading worship, singing with friends, or acting on the stage of the Franklin Theater, you continue to leave us breathless and blessed by your artistry. Your photographs and your words compel us see the world afresh. Marcel Proust said, The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Keep seeing deep, and helping us see too.

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Best uncle ever

Your love knows no bounds. You are a generous and loyal friend; a trusted confidante to many, kind to all. Kenzie adores her uncle Joshie. When dad and I are old and can’t remember our names, we will remember the extraordinary Christmas gift you gave us two years ago, at great cost to you. Heck, we’ll probably lug it to the nursing home with us. Continue to love well, and allow others to love you.

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*photo and editorial credit Josh F Mullican

You are a true man of faith. Like every person, your life has had hard places. You have walked these with great courage and persistence. You have not been afraid to wrestle with God, to be raw and vulnerable and to ask tough questions. The result is a faith that is authentic and personal. Never stop chasing after God. He loves you so.

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Dear one, Dad and I labored over these words, wanting them to be the right ones. But, they are inadequate. We are proud of you and love watching your continual metamorphosis into the person God has designed you to be. May your days be many, and may you know much joy. I love you. Always.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young

~Bob Dylan

 

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.

On Becoming a Man…

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This is a frontier of tension; it is at once beginning and end, origin and completion.  Here is where two opposing forces reach toward each other to create a vital frontier filled with danger and possibility.  ~John O’Donohue

Best Beloved,

This morning the world continues its incessant hum and people rush about as though it were any ordinary Monday. But you and I know different. Today is a threshold day. And because you are a philosopher poet, because you ponder and reflect, I have an idea that the weight of it is sitting on you.

How I wish I could be with you today. To have long talks about life and faith and dreams. To share a delicious meal and watch you close your eyes and pause to let the wonder of it settle on your tongue. To walk with you in comfortable silence; to give and receive hugs; to laugh. But you are far away. So I send you this letter. Because I too tend to ponder these liminal moments.

This I would have you know…

You are a uniquely gifted individual. Your peculiar accumulation of talent, intellect, compassion, and experience has never before existed on the earth. The world desperately needs you to grow into the fullness of who God made you to be. Work to develop your giftings. Talent will only take you so far, but talent AND persistence are a force to be reckoned with.

Never be afraid to fail. Some of the best lessons come from audacious efforts that fell short. Next time, you will bring that experience to the table. Be wise. Be prudent. But also be brave.

You are loved extravagantly. All the time, no matter what. By your family, by your friends, by God. Nothing will ever, ever change that.

Nourish your heart. You give so much of yourself away to those you love. Be sure to replenish your stores. Make music, paint, draw, and feed yourself with the music and art of others. Stay close to nature. Read wonderful books. Surround yourself with people who encourage and love you, and who will challenge you when needed. Practice gratitude.

Walk closely with God. You must decide for yourself what that looks like, but never lose your great love for Him. He loves you so.

Hold fast to your passion and curiosity. Continue to drink life in great, lusty gulps. And allow your joie de vivre to spill out on others. They need you to help them see more deeply, more clearly.

Live YOUR life. In endurance sports it is common to hear someone say, “Hike your own hike” or “Run your own run.” It is easy to get caught up in the pressure to be what someone else envisions for you; pressure to be “successful” (whatever that means), to be wealthy or famous, to fit into some box the culture–or the counter-culture–has designed. I pray that daily God will reveal to you more and more the man He has designed you to be, and that you will know the joy of living out your truest self.

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I take great delight in you, son of mine. I respect and enjoy you. And I couldn’t be more proud of the man you are becoming. I close with an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes”. It expresses my fondest wish for you.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Happy 21st birthday, beloved! God grant you many years!

Like Beads on a String

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Sometimes it seems we assemble our days
like beads on a string. Now and again
we take them out and run our fingers
over them. And remember…

First flutter.
A movement inside.
Tiny growing miracle.
Secret and wondrous.

Born. Suddenly the world
has more color. Deep, vivid,
vibrant. The fierceness of my love
startles me. And I know I would give my life
for you.

Blue eyed girl seizing the world
with both hands. Drinking words like milk,
creating imaginary realities, telling stories.
Dancing through life with abandon.

Young woman, pouring yourself out for those
without water, those destroyed by war. Seeing
the invisible ones.

Gypsy soul stamping your passport in Paris,
London, and Rome. Traipsing across
Europe and Asia with a backpack. Sipping cappuccino
in an outdoor cafe in Salzburg. Smoking
a hookah in Turkey. Leaving a fragment of your heart
in the warm soil of Africa.

Life giver. Ushering your little one
into the world. Weaving your own thread
into the great tapestry of women that are
your heritage.

Mommy. Tender, gentle, radiant.
Laughing and loving.
Planting, playing and praying.
Teaching your daughter to be generous
and kind, with your words, but mostly
with your life.

Woman. Courageous, curious, and
wise beyond your years. Receptive and open
to experience, to people, to ideas.
Crazy, mad cooking skills, and deep devotion
to food that nourishes both body and soul.

Friend. Grace giver. One who loves
extravagantly.
Intuitive.
Hospitable.
Loyal.

Beloved.
For all the reasons.
For no reason at all.

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Dearest Daughter, when I run my fingers over the string that is my life, some of the most brilliant beads belong to you. Thank you for coloring my world. I pray that your string will be long and full of dazzlingly beautiful beads.

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Steel Magnolias

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I’m crazy about the new venue. So intimate, it feels like you are all mixed in among the characters. It was true during Fiddler on the Roof. The actors began to wonder onto the stage a few at a time and it was like arriving in a new town early in the morning and watching it come to life around you.

And it was especially true during Steel Magnolias. So far as I knew, I was sitting in Truvy’s shop, among that lively bunch of wild and familiar women waiting for my own turn in the chair.

From the time Truvy walked into the beauty shop, adjusting her more than ample bosoms, slathering a new coat of lipstick over the old one, and varnishing her bleached blonde locks with enough Aqua Net to create her own personal ozone hazard, I knew it was going to be a fun evening. She dished up plenty of wisdom with her beauty treatments, just like most hairdressers I’ve known, but she also had the good grace to laugh at herself, and pretty much everyone else. 🙂

And boy did we laugh!

We laughed at Annelle whose every action screamed the fact that she was uncomfortable in her own skin. Over the course of the next couple of hours, she would blossom, in fits and starts. But that hunger to fit in, to be liked and accepted was ever a palpable reality. So much so that I was astonished to see the actress afterward and observe that she was nothing like her character.

We laughed at Clairee whose polish and good manners, confidence and subtlety, did not for a minute hide her vivacious interior. Instead, it gave it precision and potency. Her humor always took me by surprise. A truly elegant Southern lady AND an untamable spitfire.

We laughed at Shelby who we first met on her wedding day. Shelby who arrived in curlers with a bag of baby’s breath and a magazine picture of Grace Kelly. Shelby who, for all her lithe, sweet, pink prettiness, possessed within her the iron will she had absorbed from these strong women. Shelby whose wedding colors were blush and bashful. Feisty, mischiefmaking Shelby.

We laughed at M’Lynne whose matter-of-fact humor frequently bordered on sarcasm, but was too Southern to dip over the edge. We laughed at her husband who was out that morning shooting all the birds out of the trees.

We laughed at Ouiser before we even saw her. At dinner, friends and I predicted that Nan Gurley would incarnate Ouiser. And we laughed just imagining how she would play her. It was so much better than we imagined. Ouiser with the outlandish fashion sense and psychotic dog. Ouiser who has been in a bad mood for forty years. Ouiser who people are nice to only because “I have more money than God.” Ouiser who decides to go have her colors done?! Ouiser who will be offered as a punching bag in a moment when we all really need a good laugh.

Woven all in and through the laughter are strands of memory and difficulty and hard things that have been weathered and walked together. There is a love and a belonging. There are the things that don’t have to be said because they are understood by all.

Some of the most poignant moments came at the mirror. A mirror is a very vulnerable place. In this production the audience sat just back of the  “mirrors”. So when one of the women had the moment of considering herself, the way she looked or who she was (and maybe those are too tangled up most of the time) we saw it. For a space, I had this feeling it was only she and I in the room. It was raw and exposed, intensely intimate and tender.

If you know the story, you know that it takes an excruciating turn. This was powerful in the extreme. It was played with restraint, not manipulative or sentimental. But deeply honest. And the honest wrestling, the yearning to make it somehow make sense, the uncomfortable place of not knowing what to do or say or be was so true that it pierced me to the heart. All the sorrow and longing I have ever known seemed to be connected to that moment.

Steel Magnolias is a profoundly human story. Southern women, to be sure, are their own peculiar brand of human. 🙂 But anyone who has lived life, truly and deeply, will find parts of their story in here.

I highly commend to you Studio Tenn’s performance of this wonderful work. It is intimate and artistic, cleanly and beautifully articulated. I have seen a great deal of theater in my life, and this was, without a doubt, one of the most moving experiences.

You have nine more opportunities this weekend and next. Buy tickets HERE.

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.

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