Friday, August 29, 2014

A Curriculum of Compassion



As you may or may not know, we are a family that has chosen to "do" school here at home (and in the car and on the road and in the grass and under trees...). As you also may or may not know, this endeavor has been the source of both great joy and personal angst. 

Throughout this journey (officially seven years but, in reality, twelve) I have struggled with maintaining autonomy in our learning practices, all the while not succumbing to the demon of comparison, approval from others, or a general yet, ginormous, fear of failure.

It is true--homeschooling is not for the faint-hearted. But neither is parenting so I'm not so different from any other person who has chosen to walk with young people.

Oh, how I need these hands to hold.

Additionally, I bring to this educational endeavor all of my mixed up, conflicted selves -- The good girl who likes to please those who are watching as well as the rebel who will do what she wants anyway. I want structured chaos. I want to disciple and detox. I want to set a course and then take the fork when it presents itself. I want to showcase and shelter. I want good behavior and wild abandon.

But most of all?

I pray that my scattered deposits into the lives of these gorgeous people will be my gift to the world. I hope that our journey in loving and learning will be a polestar for my children and that its light will always fall across their paths.

Generally, we are very relaxed and eclectic in the way that we do school. I've always shied away from curriculum in a box and, if pushed, have just let go and handed over the reins to my boys. My oldest son prefers that approach anyway. He has declared, on more than one occasion, that he would rather "just be in charge of [his] own learning", thank you very much. But then time will pass and I will look around me and I will wring my hands over the fact that we haven't mastered times tables or spelling and suddenly I become all business.

It is this hemming and hawing that feeds the angst. This has been the cycle.

And then last October I had a baby and in April my mom died and suddenly I find myself staring down an entire year that has spun wildly off its axis. Navigating the last eleven months has been like stumbling around in the dark and all I want is someone to turn on the light and point the way. But here we are, almost to September, and I need to hunker down and lay down some semblance of a map for us to follow.

Even if all I have are some crumbs.

And then #Ferguson happened and, once again, there is that wild spinning...

And I am forced to lay it all before the One that knows it all. Because, if I know anything at all, it is this:

I cannot, and will not, 
separate our slow steps forward 
from the truth that is #Ferguson.

This "learning" that we do?

If it is to be all that I desire it to be, if it is to leave marks that cannot be rubbed away from the hearts of my little men, if it is to offer anything to the globe upon which we dance--then it must open space for the suffering and lament of others. Because, in the end, all we have is each other, friends and so we must enter into the hard places. Together.

It came to me in the quiet of the morning, in that corner of space that gives birth to light and dew drops and revelation.

From now on, from this day forward, in this spot of a place that houses boys and weeds and love, we will study a curriculum of compassion. It will be the sound of our feet stepping into the suffering of others that will tune our hearts to what changes the world. It will be our willingness to hang everything of value onto the framework of brokenness that will cut open our shuttered hearts and make us open vessels for renewal.

This must be. I know this with a certainty that belies my usual conflicted self. This must be because this is the way to glory.

The truth of my heart doesn't want to walk that way. Not really. But the desire of my heart is to walk in this way and I want my boys to walk this path. I want to grab those hands of theirs, squeeze tight and confess that I have no idea what I am doing--what we are doing--but here we go anyway.

Because to continue on as if #Ferguson was just an anomaly and not indicative of a greater experience for an entire group of people is to purposely choose the garb of privilege. I'm ready to risk my position and call out the Emperor. I will no longer pretend that the clothes fit.

Instead, I want us to choose threads colored by sacrifice and suffering, humility and hospitality, love and loss and weave them into new wineskins.

I want my boys to learn that nothing in the Kingdom is earned. Not a single thing. Life together is about grace upon grace and mercy untold. The value of a person is not based on how forcefully they pull up their boot straps or under whose roof they are born. No, this Kingdom living? It is directed by how well we share our weaknesses, how willing we are to reveal that which we do not know, how empty we are willing to get. This is where we must begin. This is where love is born.

So this weaving we will do? It will begin small.

The weft and the warp threads will be set through the silent and often unseen actions. We will fill the bird feeders and water the zinnias. We will continue as a family to read aloud books like Wonder and A Long Walk to Water and then sit with the difficult questions that stir up from their truths.

But my prayer is that we will keep walking forward, into the foggy valleys. I want us to hone our vision so that our eyes become keen to the needs of our community. I hope to move closer to an "us" mentality rather than one that hisses "them." May it come to be that we seek to grow smaller so that others can grow taller. We will study History by listening to all of the voices--Bauer, Zinn, Douglass, Steinem, AND Schweickart--no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel.

But most importantly--I need your help. I need your voice. Every last beautiful one of you. Because this course of study is a river and it is fed by many sources. You and your life? Please speak into ours. Let us ripple into each other.


"It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 
-- Robert F. Kennedy


For such is the way of peace.


Photo credit: Andrew Hyde

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dinner With The Magician



She called just a day before she would be rolling through town, hope dripping round the corners of her question. Was there a chance I might be available for a visit when she passed through? It would be a quick stay, just overnight, but wouldn’t it be lovely? Gratefully, our days are wide open as of late and I had just washed the sheets and whose heart doesn’t smile all Cheshire-like when old friends come calling?
I hope she heard the joy in my response because, although I was excited about our reunion, it had been quite a number of years since last our eyes had met or our arms had encircled. Childhood friendships can run deep as the ocean but years apart can also seem to magnify the wide expanse of those sacred waters and such a gulf has the potential to swallow you right whole.
She arrived with a bottle of wine under one arm, a loaf of crusty bread under the other and a laugh so strong as to unshackle fear in any heart. Oh, how I remembered that laugh! How it was both winsome and inviting, how its genuineness removed all self-effacement. Smiling, I took her offerings of bread and wine and placed them on the table and I felt something let loose within me.
We set to the task of preparing dinner, each of us stationed across from one another. She sliced cantaloupe, I cut vegetables and, together, we began the slow dance of catching up on lives lived apart from each other for years. At first, we revisited what was familiar. We recalled favorite memories, we reenacted infamous moments. All that we held in common became burnished to glowing by our careful curating of memory.
++++++++
I'm writing over at SheLoves Magazine today and you can find the rest of this story by following this link here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Litany of Next Things



I am forcibly willing myself to sit in this hard wooden library chair.

Right now, as I finger this keyboard, the sky above my roof has been cooled to a deep cerulean and is being occasionally scrubbed to gleaming by wave after wave of cloud stuff. Every tree is heavy with leaves and shadow but, hidden deep within each, is the glory of birdsong, trilling like so much music.

This day is one I will not soon forget. It is just too beautiful to let slip into the ether, as if it was nothing remarkable that the sun broke free of the horizon and unleashed this beauty on all whose eyes fluttered open this morning.

This day is the sort from which dreams are spun.

So to purposely sit here, in this chair, on this day means I am trying, with all of my might, to finger the threads of thought that have been fraying frantically in my head for months. These last weeks and days have often felt unmanageable, heavy with grief and bewilderment and seeming idleness. I have done my best to muddle through, pulling on joy when I couldn't handle the dark anymore and praying that sleep walking was better than standing still.

But the honest truth is that I have often felt as if I was screaming, mouth wide open, throat scraping raw, screaming. Silent and piercing, all at once. The core of me, the one that must write to figure out what she is thinking, has felt imprisoned by grief.

If, a year ago, you had tossed out the question of how I might one day deal with the pain of losing my mother I would have, most assuredly, said: writing.

So, when confronting the reality and heartbreak of my mother's actual death, I've hardly penned a word in response? Well, it has been disconcerting, at best.

And the longer the break, the more days that pass and words fail to appear?
The more I
have felt
as if I
am
disappearing.

I have felt like a glass jar full of silt shaken and left alone, shaken and left alone, shaken and left alone
again
and
again
and
again.

That is why today's clarion beauty has felt like such a gift. The morning's lighter air and gentle rippling set a precedent and the waters upon which chaos floated have started to settle. A separation has begun and I am beginning to distinguish sand and rock and crystal. What used to be only a muddied swirling now contains flecks of gold dust.

This might just be where the words have been hiding.

All of today has been like one slow remembering. I realize that grief has kept me from noticing like I used to notice. When you are trying to simply put one foot in front of the other, you don't often bother to spend time studying vapor trails or listen to the way grass stretches as each drop of dew slowly evaporates. You just seem to focus on the next thing.

But today gifted me with a litany of next things and I have discovered that the gnarl of frayed and woolly thoughts languishing in my head have begun to spin. Along their edges there seems to be a thread forming. The beautiful and terrible things of this world are working together to draw out the fibers in my mess and the twisting and whirling of the last few months don't feel quite so in vain.

I think that, tomorrow, I will follow the beauty.

Again.



Monday, May 26, 2014

When God's Face Is A Technicolor Zinnia


In ways familiar and comforting the Earth has tilted just so these last few weeks. 

At times, I have stood quiet, feet planted still, eyes peering into the woods just across the way. The barren tree limbs—skeletal and brittle, worn from a winter long and brutal, bark stained ebony against the leaden skies—they began to pulse. And deep in the hidden places, there was a quickening, a return to life.

I watched as naked branches swelled with promise, and like outstretched hands with fingers unfurling, the tips glistened as they caught the deeper shafts of sunlight. Their buds, like strings of pearls, gave way to festoons of leaves and in a twinkling, the woods were suddenly verdant and alive.

The seasons of the Earth, they are saving me these days.

+++++++

The rest of my words can be found today over at SheLoves Magazine. Join me there by clicking this link?

SheLoves Magazine: a global community of women who love

Thursday, April 24, 2014

After your leaving



The days spin silently
and I am vacuous
in their wake
mindful of the practice
of living
but bereft 
nonetheless
 
I was not aware 
the depth of
minor rituals
and how our speaking them
to each other
pulled taut
at my sacred spaces
hemming me in
behind and before

The morning sun
falls flat 
stretching just long enough
to find the dirt smear
on the tile
I rub it halfheartedly with my toe
but nothing changes

Today
however
I heard about the hummingbirds
how they have returned
seeking nectar 
how they eat just enough
to fuel their flight
each minute

So I retrieved the feeders
their red bases 
faded from so many days
in the sun
and I filled them to the brim
sweet and dripping
A small but mighty
offering

The land of the living
is full of such sacraments
evidently
Soon I will walk
stronger 
Until then
I will just gaze upon my
Ebenezer




 


Monday, April 14, 2014

On the passing of my mother







She is from a white clapboard house with a wraparound porch, claw foot tub and Dove soap smack in the middle of Macon, Georgia.
From the streets of Madison and Carling, up and down Coleman Hill, where she walked to Whittle School and the Public Library, and boldly asked for a library card at the age of 5.
She is from playing under fig and pear trees, soft scented pines and shiny leaf magnolias, red clay staining her bare feet and the smell of paper mills filling her nostrils.
She is from Berry and Sallie Belle, Wiley, Sister, Doris, Roger and Jimmy.
She is from strong as oxen Shero aunts who farmed cotton and worked in pants plants in Wrightsville, Georgia.
She is from the Depression and Tuberculosis and a family that took in folks who were down on their luck. From fish on Friday and First Street Methodist.
She is from picnics on Stone Mountain, Finchers BBQ, NuWay hotdogs and LaVista Catfish.
She is from poise lessons and perfect posture and words dripping honey sweet from her mouth.
She is from a hair-brained idea involving a midnight double date rendezvous to Aiken, SC, a half drunk justice of the peace, and a 4th of July celebration that included one very busy rotating fan.
She is from moves to Indianapolis, Indiana and then St. Louis, Missouri that took her from her beloved South.
She is from north of the Mason Dixon line where she took it upon herself to soften the edges of every nasal accent in the Midwest.
She is from bacon grease on the back of the stove and dog bowls at the back door
and champagne bottles that toasted births all lined up in a row. She is from Boston Ferns and summer deck parties.
From coffee and cherry chip birthday cake and hands that smelled like onions.
She is from chuck roast in the electric skillet, onion soup mix brisket, Jello salads, massive pots of spaghetti, liver and onions, green enchiladas, asparagus disguised as green bean casserole, sweet tea and Hallelujah banana bread.
She is from “I love you a bushel and a peck” and “Gimme some sugar” and, perhaps most famously,  “Tim Smothers, you will nevah, nevah, evah drive that Aspen Station Wagon again!”
She is from Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, the Johnny Mathis Christmas album, Dionne Warwick, George Carlin, Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong, Fiddler on the Roof, James Taylor and that Classical Music in the background.
She is from You Are My Sunshine and Everything Is Going to be Alright.
She is from “To Thine Own Self Be True” and “It’s Your Mama.” From “All Is Well” and “It Is What It Is Grandma” and “Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much.”
She is from dancing jitterbugs across linoleum floors and slapping her knee at every guffaw.
She is from birthday cards and notes in school lunches and throwing kisses and standing at the door until your car was out of sight.
From “psspsspsspss” and “chum on” and “doodlebug” and “Honey Bob.”
And forever and ever and ever, she will always be from shooting stars and fireworks and every smile shared by those that loved her best.

 ++++++++++

There you have it. The world as we have known it, all the days of our lives. We were molded and shaped and created from that celestial brew of whimsy and joy and strength.
We have never known ourselves or our world without our mother in it.  I am here, my brothers and sisters are here, because of her.  We are who we are, because of her.

Our mother was a curator of a welcome life.
To live in the orbit of our mother was to always be invited, received, entertained, accepted.
But perhaps above all, to have known my mother was to have been loved.
Her life was a lesson in loving.
What she taught us all was to always run hard after love. In all circumstances, by every means necessary, even when we screw things up or we do the exact right thing--we need love to be what is standing between us and everyone else. When love is what we choose to weave in among the fibers and snags of our everyday life, when love gilds the edges of tired joy or stretches across the chasms of unspoken fears then we become Love lived on purpose and that breathes life and one can catch glimpses of glory come down.

In the wake of my mom’s death, we are sad, yes. We feel carved out and empty and the truth of what we are left with actually aches in ways deep and long, yes.
But this, too, is also true:
There is still life, despite the loss.  There is still love in the world, despite the severing.  There is still light, despite the darkness.

And that gives me hope.

Because, if it is true, that we are who we are because of our mother...
then it means that this whole dance, all of the goodness and light spun dizzy with all of the defiance and angst, all of the ways that we continually fall down and help pick each other up, all of the beautiful and mundane, the fascinating and the trivial, the whole and the half?

It's part of us too, now, tucked away in the obvious and secret places, planted in soil made rich with her love and care for us.

It is through loving and singing with our own children or grandchildren, by partnering with kindred souls or living alongside people that challenge us...all of it ripples on and on and on.... people are continually made and remade because we are in their lives...which means that our mother lives on.

And I pray that one day, when the pictures are pulled out and the chronology of our becoming is on display, the one thing that will have leaked out all over, dripping from the corners of our eyes and the edges of our smiles, is the amazing truth...

that we were loved by her.






Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Here

I’m cooking dinner and
only because the days are getting longer
does the light still filter in
through the clouded window that
needs replacing
The pane is nearly opaque
but not muddled enough
to keep my eye from catching
the fluttering of a bird at the feeder
repositioning himself
to find more seed

While I cut broccoli
the baby sits on the counter
flapping his arms
like the bird outside
screeching with glee
drool dripping like honey
from his mouth
the bud of a tooth peeking
out from swollen gums

I set down the knife  
and sip my wine in the pause
while through the tilted glass I can see
the edges of the room stained
crimson and swirling
catching light

glowing

The rest of this poem can be found over at Elizabeth Marshall's beautiful blog
where Elizabeth weaves wonder and whimsy on a regular basis.
Elizabeth and I collaborated on Adagio: A Poetry Project,
an experiment in writing across the miles, twining words and heart thoughts together.
You can read those pieces here, here, here and here
I am so very thankful for the opportunity to share, once again, with Elizabeth.