Photographs, for better and for worse

I’ve been thinking about time, and markers that show me time passing. For example, when my child gets to a certain stage in school and is doing the same things I remember doing, but doing them differently, I see technology as a marker of time. I made posters. This generation makes PowerPoint presentations.

Another marker just struck me. I have no engagement photos. Not one. Smartphones hadn’t been invented yet. Our engagement was a purely private event. I have many “photos” of it in my heart, but there was no one there to document it for us. Thinking about it, this makes me glad.

There’s something about photographs. I love them in many ways, but sometimes I find they step in and replace memories. The memory is intangible. It floats around inside you, bumping into other memories, feelings, passing time. It’s powerful and fragile. It’s so easy to look at a photo again and again, until you remember the photo, the way the event looked from the outside, instead of what you saw from the inside, living through it.

Memories can fade. A photograph can be more permanent. But it will also, always, be incomplete. A photograph could never document that I remember walking inches above the ground in the golden rain falling outside the cathedral where he asked for my heart and hand.

Putting Joy Into Practice: Why you need this book!

Putting Joy Into Practice

Putting Joy into PracticeHave you read Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church, by Phoebe Farag Mikhail?

This is an amazing book.

It reads like a conversation, the kind you might have on a tough day, sitting in a squeaky kitchen chair and cuddling the cup of hot coffee that’s going to keep you alive until bedtime. Christmas is coming, the world is sparkling around you, and you are exhausted by your attempts to be as happy as you expected to be. That’s why you need this book.

Reading it, I decided that most of us (including me) have no idea what joy really IS, let alone how to BE joyful. The book has many strengths, but one of the best is the way it uses clear, practical language to convey deep theological wisdom. You’ll read a sentence and think it’s simple, and then the floor will drop out of it and you’ll realize it has enough depth to keep you reflecting on it for the rest of your life.

Phoebe Farag MikhailPhoebe does a wonderful job of including the voices and experiences of the church fathers – AND those of human beings she has seen or known in modern life. She includes stories of both defeat and victory on the path to joyful living. The book is honest and hopeful. It holds you to a high standard, but gives you the tools and inspiration to meet that high standard.

I also appreciated the many ways in which the book was not “obvious.” You might think, even after a glimpse at the table of contents, that some of the 7 practices are things you’ve already heard or already tried, but as you work through the chapters, you discover their enormity. These practices are things a normal person can do in normal life. They are simple, but not easy. But even thinking about them, beginning to plan how you might attempt one or two, will stretch your mind and heart.


This book is available from Paraclete Press, Amazon, and the Ancient Faith Store. Go get it! Make it part of your devotional time in the new year, or get it for a friend who’s sitting in her squeaky kitchen chair, praying to God for a lifeline on the journey through this difficult world.


Thank you, Phoebe Farag Mikhail for putting this book on my path!

Things that Make Me Happy

Last night, I stood in my front yard, looking up. Through the black lace of branches, I saw stars. I traced a constellation, then another. It was a perfect thing – the earth, the tree, the deep midnight blue mystery, and the stars.

All around me are so many things that I love but don’t always notice. They’re like the colors sliding past in a kaleidoscope. Today, I’m taking a moment to focus the lens of my inward eye and see them in detail.

What makes me happy?

The textured plaster swirls on my living-room wall.

Raspberries picked from the prickly bush, still warm from afternoon sun.

The corgi mischief in my dog’s face when he glances back at me over his shoulder.

The touch of book pages on my fingers. Especially the old ones, thick and slightly stiff.

Babies.

Good lettuce. Fresh, crisp, still tasting of the garden.

The clicking sound of rapid typing.

The scent of jasmine tea.

Lilacs in bloom. I will swerve off the sidewalk and sniff the blossoms in a stranger’s yard. I love lilacs.

Shoes that fit well.

Gazing out of windows. Almost any window. House window, classroom window, car window, office window. Windows!

Daydreaming.

Writing the whole story, all the way to the end.

Walled gardens. But it must be a proper garden – full of old-fashioned flowers, old trees, a bench or two, a fountain, winding paths – an a proper wall of moss-grown stones with a path along the top that you may run along to the village, if you choose.

Reading in bed, by lamplight.

My glasses! They are miraculous, I think. Eyes for my eyes.

Baking bread. I love it all – stirring, kneading, and the wonderful warm yeasty aroma of it baking and coming fresh from the hot oven. Crusty joy.

Warm water indoors, and summer rain outdoors. I love rain – the scent of it in the air, the sound of it on the roof, the shimmer, the way it soaks away into the thirsty earth.

Going to wash the dinner dishes when your hands are cold. See above, re: warm water.

Small friendly herbivores, wild or tame. I love little creatures with bright eyes and tiny paws.

Opening the box of author copies and holding my newly published books for the first time. This is an enchantment that will never grow old. Worlds within worlds, coming from imagination into being.

What makes you happy?

 

Photo by Marian May on Unsplash

 

 

 

Guesting on Paraclete Press – His Eye is On the Sparrow

Today I’m thrilled to be a guest on the Paraclete Press site blog, as we prepare for the release of my new board book, Piggy in Heaven.


“When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” – Civilla Durfee Martin, His Eye is On the Sparrow, 1905

We don’t take small animals seriously. If you’re an adult who owns a hamster, you’re probably the only one you know. At the movies or in the library, it’s easy to find a horse or a dog saving the hero’s life or demonstrating wisdom and loyalty. Epic tales about small herbivores are hard to come by. We expect to find these little creatures in cartoons and picture books or serving nobly as the comic relief. In a serious story, you might find a canary or a perky rat accessorizing a character the author hopes will be eccentric.

I have been the fortunate human guardian of, at various times, two bunnies, seven hamsters, a rotating selection of fish, and one guinea pig. All of these animals are considered children’s pets – small, adorable, and inconsequential. Yet I learned important things from each of them, and these epiphanies built on each other into a staunch belief that the tiniest members of creation are as precious and intelligent as the largest and most obviously heroic. Caring for these little pets through their lifetime and at the moment of their death has taught me beautiful lessons. I will share three with you here.

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A Great Light

Hand reaching out of darkness into light

When Hurricane Katrina came ashore on August 29, 2005, my husband was stationed at the Seabee base in Gulfport, MS. The flat, sandy coastline offered no resistance. The little towns along its length disappeared into the surging flood. Trees, cell towers, and whole buildings went down in the wild wind. At nightfall, there was nothing to be seen but hot, wailing darkness.

But the Seabees (an affectionate and honorable term for the Navy’s Construction Battalions) are uniquely qualified to shine in moments of disaster. They are trained to arrive in a place that has absolutely nothing but the ground under their feet and construct an airstrip, a tank farm, a base, a town – whatever is needed for the people who will follow in their footsteps. In a remarkably short time, the Seabee base had power, water, and communication with the outside world, and had begun to send teams out into the surrounding towns to look for survivors and offer desperately needed assistance.

And then?

At nightfall, there was nothing to be seen but darkness….and the blazing light of the Seabee base, the only light in that devastated landscape. People walked miles, hours, through unimaginable destruction, to reach that light. They arrived at the gates, and the Seabees let them in. The officers and troops created towns in the base warehouses, stretching their military protocol and ingenuity to care for the people who came to them, the people who could see their light and responded as human beings in darkness have always responded and always will.

The storm refugees brought nothing but the clothes they stood up with and stories of horror and grief – loved ones torn out of their arms in the flood, houses washed away, hair-raising escapes out of buildings that were filling with water as they climbed out of windows or struggled to free a debris-clogged door. The world as they had known it was taken from them completely in just a few hours. With nothing left, they gazed into the darkness, and when they saw a light, they started walking. It was as simple as that.

I have come to believe that this is the role of the Church on earth. If we are the body of Christ, we are the bearers of that great light that shines on the people who sit in darkness. When nothing else remains, when the storm and the darkness have swallowed every joy and comfort, we are the people who use the tools we have been given to bring the light. We are those who build a shelter, offer nourishment, and honor grief with our hearts and with our sacraments. We are the last and the first, the only beacon remaining and the outpost of the new creation.

 

-Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

Memorial Day

Anchor recovered from the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

Anchor recovered from the USS Arizona at Pearl HarborIt’s about to be Memorial Day again. Remembering time. Truth is, what we have to remember is more than we can handle. People die, in a war, and that’s already too much to grasp. But there are other casualties. Hundreds of them, for every soldier, on both sides. These casualties seem small, and they sometimes fly past so quickly that there’s no time to name them. But the empty places left by these small deaths remain, and there will be years and years to feel the loss, after it’s too late to prevent it. Continue reading

The Dandelion Rebellion

Closeup of yellow dandelion blossom

I like dandelions.

Dandelions are weeds, and I know that, but what is a weed, after all? A weed is something you didn’t plant and don’t want. By that definition, liverwurst is a weed.

I don’t plant dandelions, but I do like them. They are so happy! They spring up with no help from anyone, and turn their faces to the sun. They’re soft and colorful, and they look great with green grass. And then they turn fluffy and gray, and you can take wonderful photos of your little ones trying to blow the seeds away. Cheeks pooched. Eyes crossed. Spitting on the dandelion by accident.

Dandelions.

I have mowed down my share of dandelions, especially during the years when I was the one doing all the mowing, charging back and forth across my yard, muttering curses on the sitting president du jour for deploying the other lawn mower.

But I still like dandelions. Especially now that the other lawn mower has hired real lawn mowers, and I can look at the dandelions and pat their fuzzy little faces and leave the mowing to men with a truck and mowers that don’t have long electrical cords attached to them.

Loving dandelions makes me think about things. You aren’t supposed to love dandelions. To love them and admit it is a form of rebellion, albeit a tiny one.

When I was a teen, rebellion had nothing to do with dandelions. At all. It had much more to do with dating men who looked like that guy in The Breakfast Club and probably owned a motorcycle and would definitely make out with you just to steal your homework answers.

But now, dating that guy looks like the ultimate act of conformity. Liking dandelions is much more rebellious. Rebellion is turning your back on pressure. The more you are pushed to do something, the more refusing to do it is a rebellion. The whole impetus of popular culture is driving you to date that guy now, and to poke fun at people who won’t. So really, dating him is the ultimate cop-out cave-in erasure of your soul.

Whereas…

To cherish even the smallest, most fragile beauty and thank its Maker can be an act of raw, unsupported courage.

-Photo by Oleg Guijinsky on Unsplash

A Prom Memory

When I was in high school, I went to prom twice. Senior year, I went with my hilarious, charismatic Big Crush. He chose a moment to ask me when I happened to be standing under a blossoming cherry tree, in a drift of floating pink petals. Junior year, I went with the last person on earth I would have chosen.

At the small private school I attended, you were required to say “yes” to any boy who asked you, so for a month before the prom, we secretly observed “Avoid the Geeks Weeks” to escape unwanted dates. But my technique was a little flawed that first year, so I got caught out on campus by Kevin. He had a yellow rose in his hand, cut from his father’s garden, and he asked me formally, like someone in a Jane Austen movie, or someone who had been taught his lines beforehand.

According to rumor, Kevin was either developmentally delayed or had sustained a severe head injury as a little boy. He looked normal, but he was still a little boy, caught in an increasingly adult body, running eagerly after a world that was leaving him behind a little more every day. When he asked me to go to the prom with him, I felt awful. I wanted a “real” date. I was shy, and I knew I didn’t have the social credits to carry off such a disasterous prom partner. But I could see his eyes, peering hopefully at me through thick lenses, and I could sense the barely suppressed excitement in him. Rule or no rule, I couldn’t have refused. I dreaded prom night from that moment.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about the Holy Spirit, and I thought grace was the right way to execute a dance step. But I had enough humanity to recognize, on the night of the prom, that something special was happening.

Kevin arrived at my dormitory in a black tux, and we walked across campus to the building where the prom was taking place. We walked in bright moonlight, talking a little shyly to each other. He offered me his arm, like a man in an old black-and-white movie, and I held up my long, rustling skirt with my other hand.

Just before we reached our destination, we passed a little grove of lilac bushes. He paused to let me breathe in their scent, and as I stood there, surrounded by moonlight and sweet flowers, holding the arm of a little boy who would never fully achieve the manhood he wanted so desperately, my embarrassment disappeared, and I saw the moment as a gift. It was a chance to celebrate his innocent delight in the person he believed me to be, the beautiful girl on the beautiful night, the girl of his dreams. It was a chance to feel a little shame at the discrepancy between my view of him as a partner and his view of me.

Kevin died young of an illness contracted at the school where he worked as a janitor. When I heard of his death, I remembered him standing proudly by the lilacs in the moonlight, looking forward happily to a life that most of us would dread. I wonder how it turned out for him. I hope that he never lost his deep faith in the kindness of God.

-Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash