Christmas Past

This is a piece I wrote in 2006...

Mary Alice Freeman cannot hear.  She leaned forward, seeing the lips on the carolers moving, the young men’s feet tapping to the beat, a child angel standing up front lifting her arms at the close of the song.  But she could not hear the heart-felt mixed melodies of talented and tone deaf crooners side by side, attempting to break the silent nights at the Lakeshore Retirement center. 

I sat with her after the caroling, the two of us quietly communing.  I reached carefully for one of her hands, and held it in both of mine, stroking the wrinkled skin, and smooth palms.  Before I could control myself, my head was on her shoulder, and we sat there, mending each other in silence.  Me longing for my Mother’s touch, her for the embrace of a daughter never born. 

Sometimes my communing with the Lord is like this.  Silence on both of our parts, but His presence soothing the inner places of ache I hesitatingly reveal. 

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Counting Sheep Faces

I couldn’t sleep.  I was hot.  I was cold.  I was awake.  Fortunately for me, quality late night television was aware of this, and afforded me several options.

I passed on the many thoughtful “gift” offers being shared at that hour, skipped quickly past the show about the men who make scary motorcycles causing me to obsess about whether I locked the doors, could not click fast enough past the sci-fi channel, or the animals who eat other animals documentary. I was getting idiot cranky.

I surfed on.  Then, I found her.  The nasal high pitched frosted haired sweatered grandmother was recounting the riveting story of the potato she found that looked like Jay Leno.  (So fortunate that the Leno show is not only shown one time each night, but is also rebroadcast for those of us able to miss it the first time.)  As the details of the narrative spilled out, I couldn’t help but think, “Now why don’t astonishing things like that happen to me?”

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Broken Ballerina

"Once I have found that in my total brokenness I am still loved, I become free from the compulsion of doing successful things."  Henri Nouwen

Dear women,

I had an ivory leather jewelry box with a little keyed brass latch on it when I was growing up.  It had a gold harlequin diamond pattern decorating the puffy lid, and lipstick red velvet, tucked and glued, lining the inside.  At the time, my jewelry collection consisted of a charm bracelet my Aunt Mary had given me, with one solitary charm  on it,  a couple of squeezee adjustable size rings with various plastic gems in various unknown metal settings, some of my mom's tossed off costume necklaces, dad's tie bars, a pearl button from a white shirt, and one important personal treasure, my Sunday School pin.  It was a red insert set in a gold torch with "Primaries" stamped on it, and there was a "candle" attached by a short chain signifying each year of perfect attendance... 3.  That was, at the time, almost half my life.

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Never Alone

I love Jane Truitt.  She’s a rather obscure artist from the 70’s, and while I’ve never seen a piece of her work, I’ve read her journal and feel that I’ve seen the mind behind the sculpture.

One of my favorite things she wrote was about the loneliness of being an artist.  Even with friendships and beloveds around, eventually, you go to the canvas or clay alone, and must make the choices and decisions alone.  She compared it to the pony express riders, who delivered the mail.  Some late rainy nights, they came off their horses to the warmth of a kettle and a cup of tea in the home of a friend or stranger, but in the back of their mind, they knew the long ride was still ahead, and they must make it alone.

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Bye-Bye Fair

We thought it might get rained out.  Ok, I thought it might get ripped up, torn apart, and we'd all be mauled by a tornado, but they thought it might rain.

So we met and packed ourselves into one car and drove to the fair Friday night.  I checked in with on my phone throughout the evening, so that we would know when to find one of the cardboard sheds to huddle and hide in from the funnel clouds.  

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A Familiar Breeze

The awkward little white earbuds struggled to stay more in my ears than out as I walked.  And my attention was clinging to them, listening to words from a woman I’ve never met, will probably never know, feeling that she was also more in my head than out.

To be honest, I couldn’t give you any idea of what she said after the first 10 minutes of her 57 minute talk. I held onto the incidental story she told before she even got to her topic, and reran it visually in my head as I walked the trail.  

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Multiple Choice

I went to buy dish soap.  How did these shoes, this lamp, this coffee maker and these bath towels get in my shopping cart?

It was a simple decision.  Pick out a yellow soap, pay for it and leave.  And then, well, there were all of those other decisions asking for me to make them.  I was a willing party, and as I walked the aisles of the red “target” logo’d store, I was assaulted by options.  Pretty little strappy sandals, or pleather flip flops…  lucite column lamp or nickel urn lamp…  pods or ground coffee maker…   Egyptian cotton or hotel quality…  The Sirens sang to me under the fluorescent lights and I chose and I chose and I chose. I’m on a roll, send me for cereal, I’ll come back with a tractor and lip gloss.

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For about a year, I’ve been slightly molting.  Ironically, since I want to be accurate and sure that it is “molting” I’m doing, and not “molding”, I took a short visit to my close friend Google. Here comes the ironic part.  Yes, I’ve molted not molded.  (Not the ironic part).  See, a feather can’t heal itself when it is damaged, it has to be completely replaced.  And a molt is when all or part of the feathers are replaced.  Definitely, that’s what I was talking about.  I know, I know, here is the irony: “Molting occurs in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by seasonal changes.”  Oh yeah, that’s it, um-hmm, I’ve been molting.

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Still Tasting and Seeing

Hawaiian bread was stuck in my back molars, and fruit juice stained my fingers this past Easter Sunday. It was great.

In all four services, I sat on the edge of my seat for each moment to take center stage.  The children filling the holes on the cross with yellow flowers, a congregation singing "Oh, The Wonderful Cross", the choir sounding like twenty-hundred fistfuls of voices in a European cathedral, lilting Latin syllables ringing out the Lord's Prayer.  Testimonies of second chances and courageous choices, "...because of the resurrection".  Reminders of the first disciples, and their reactions to the empty tomb, pastoral encouragement to enter in, to "see" the scars, to hear our name, to be patient for revelation.  And then, the celebration of remembrance, as we joyfully received the bread and juice while singing "Oh, Happy Day, Happy Day...You washed my sin away!".  And after the Great Celebration, we stood, me on my tiptoes, for the "Hallelujah Chorus".  Oh my, and oh my. It was great.

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Root Words

Well I just can't imagine a single one of us who didn't like this day.  Fresh air dotted with Bradford Pear blossoms, outlined in yellow forsythia stripes, and underscored with stout green grass.  Oh yeah, and wrapped in a blue sky head scarf!!

What are you going to do with me? Radnor has set me writing again.  Radnor oh Radnor... your refrain never tires me, your melody never makes me crazy-mad like that "It's a small world" dither.

This time it's roots that have my attention.  Not the kind I colored with chemicals Saturday, staining both my gray and my ears.  No, this time it's the tree roots that make me look for tight little sentences and rhythmically syllabic adjectives.

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Sights and Sounds

Walking Radnor last week, I listened to a class on "Beauty".  It was the perfect accompaniment to the visuals on display at the lake.

I found that I was so consumed by what I was seeing that I sometimes lost my place listening.  The tiny spots of green on the branches, the deer who had wintered successfully, reacquainting myself with the "3 Sisters" trees near the Ganier Ridge sign, the shore lines dotted with single file turtle lines, the slender bark of waking trees stretched tall. Oh Oh Oh.  Delicious.

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I'm Putting My Gold Star Collection On Ebay

It seems that there is a growing list in my head.  I've been in there organizing and sorting out various thoughts and thinking patterns.  From the best I can tell, I started this particular list when I was in 1st Grade.  Oh my.

There are a number of highlighted items, with a few repeating themes.  "The teacher smiles at me when I have the correct answer."  That seems innocuous enough to me, so I did not delete it.  Then there was a logical progression of "My parents take me to Baskin-Robbins for a good report card", "I excel, and other students look up to me and ask for my help", "I follow through with my tasks and I'm chosen for more responsibility", "...Honor Society, academic scholarship, college...job".  This is when things began to change, and there is a lot of crossing out, rewriting, arrows to the back of the page, and lots of editing.  

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Jim's teaching from Acts 27 this past Sunday was one of my favorite passages in Acts, even though shipwrecks take some imagination for us in our sophisticated 21st century cruising days.  The ship we were on for my Dad's 80th birthday never once gave me a feeling of vulnerability to storm.  It was a hunk of  metal-floating-city and only on the last night was I actually aware we were moving on water... and let's just say that Dramamine can be a girl's travel friend on the water.

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Ho Comes Before Hum

Ambivalence is a soul draining virus.  Gray days that look the same at 8 in the morning as they do at 5 in the afternoon add to my lack of commitment to flourish this Tuesday.

As I do inventory, and page through the stored to-do lists that are filed in my body, soul, and spirit drawers, I look for the item that sticks out on the edges.  What is asking me to pay attention, and what am I unmotivated to tend?  What demands soulful consideration, what is just busy work that will keep my hand from the things of value and meaningful expense of my self? Why do I find everything to be pulling at my ankles when I finally find the energy to walk towards tasks flickering an invitation to me?  Is the couch and that soft blanket I love less meaningful than the laundry?  What happens if I don't wash and moisturize my face, brush and floss my teeth, answer emails, mop floors, walk dog, empty trash, paint, write, plan, iron, fold, tuck, cook, shop, call, and make a tuna sandwich and fresh carrots for lunch?

I will tell you that I have very meaningful things I am privileged to do today, and have an underlying sense of gratitude for my life. I actually want to do what I need to do.  But ambivalence has weighted my "go" muscles into uncertain pause.

I think that we are on watch for areas of weakness in our lives that have a significant voice.  Anger, selfishness, impatience, anxiousness, these make a guest appearance on my doorstep often, and I am vigilant to pray for the strength to step past them.  But ambivalence by its very nature steals silently, consumes quietly, deflates us like a slow leak in a tire.  It is a lengthening shadow, and a vapor of toxic consumption.  The reality that I have no control over the hurts and suffering of those around me feeds my ambivalence, and chants the distant melody of despair. 

So I will need to consume the supplements of faith to ward off this virus.  With my first fruits of energy, I have spent time in the Word and prayer, and I have confessed my ambivalence.  I've pushed open the curtains in my home, and turned on all the lights.  And I've decided to trust that today is one day, and God will make another one tomorrow.  By His grace, I will do the next right thing.  And the next.  Faithfulness looks like that.  Ambivalence is allergic to that.  God is anything but ambivalent, and I am born of Him.  Funny how just the basics fuel my will with new intention.

Don't give up, and don't beat yourself up.  But do get up.  By His grace, do the next right thing.


I was thinking of you tonight.

You do not have to shout, for Him to hear.

My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. 
Psalms 62:1
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Doxology of Gratitude

The wind finds its way through my fortified walls, and the snow and sleet fall silent on my head.  The ache of a cold earth is pulled up through my feet by my bones, and I am grateful for the blessing of a fire in the fireplace, and a warm drink to pour over my lips.  The poetry of God in presence and written Word is my daily Bread, I am forgiven and forgiving on this cold Tuesday.

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Whatever the Roads

We drove the icy roads to have a warm dinner with friends and new friends. I got out of the car and slid along the driveway to the front door, concerned for my leather boots each time my foot sank in the slush.  We were the last to arrive, and the room was already warm and filled with the dinner guests.  The new friends were distinct, their deep brown skin and lovely African accents taking us from the white middle class Nashville neighborhood to a life where there is no snow, and the roads are far more difficult to pass.

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Joy, Even After Christmas

Joy to the world is a pretty distant melody in the rainy cold eve of February.

But last night, I sat in the cavernous Belcourt Theater with a friend for 159 minutes of an unnarrated visual delight on the large screen.  "La Danse" is a documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet, and we are given a voyeur's look at the innards of this company.  With minimal dialogue, and detail from the minutia of seamstresses silently sewing one jewel at a time on waves of tuille tutus, to delicate dancers laying in half on the floor like a pale thin compact of face powder as they massaged their own toe dancing feet, to the strength of bodies defying gravity as they balanced on the edge of belief, one leg extended back, one arm reaching opposite, the poetic unspoken dialogue began to leak out off the screen... passion begets unspeakable joy.

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Didn't You Used To Be A Blond?

I looked and thought I knew her but decided I didn't, and averted my eyes.  Then I heard her voice, and reconsidered.  Vacillating in the eternal purgatory of indecision, I looked over, and she smiled and came at me with a big hug.  As we exchanged a "southern" hello, (that's when you say something like "Hi! How have you been?" in a lilting first soprano range, as if you were sisters), and thankfully God re-plugged in my loose brain synapses and I realized who she was.  She had changed her hair color.

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Life In A New Year

Well, Ralph is gone, and we're all pretty sad about it.  He was 86 years old, and was only 15 when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  He listened with his family, huddled around the bakelite radio that December morning as the news came in.  They would gather there most evenings over the next four years, like many other families, listening for news about Ralph's older brother, a fighter pilot stationed on the other side of the globe.  When he, (thank God), returned home, he was a quiet young man, carrying too many faces of too many friends who did not come home.  Ralph looked up to him, and the two were good friends, for being brothers, and sat many a Saturday morning away in comfortable silence in a small boat fishing at Percy Priest.

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