Sunday, July 12, 2009

Things That Heal

This morning I woke up and my heart was so sad and tired. I did the things one does, sitting by an open window with an open book, drawing simple things with simple lines, but still I was restless. There was nothing left but to run and so I ran.

I ran on my bicycle, and because I have been around long enough, I knew that it is not enough to run. One must run to. And because I have been around just longer than enough, I knew to run to my garden.

Gardens are healing. I knelt in the earth and began pulling weeds, tending plants and drinking in the beauty of growing things. If there were no words, this is how bodies would pray.

There was one other gardener in the patch, an elderly Vietnamese man, working a few patches over. The silence between us was friendly but complete. Just then, I looked up and he was standing over me, holding a tremendous squash blossom. With a toothy grin, he wordlessly stooped over my sweet dumpling squash's tiny flowers, engulfing one of them in his own blossom. He straightened out, chuckling at this pantomime of floral cannibalism.

Then, he picked up my hoe and with perfect grace and assurance began to tend my plot. The weeds that I'd been toiling over bowed to his mastery. At first, I tried to work alongside him, awkwardly darting in to grab a rock or weed between his deft strokes. Finally, I surrendered to the grace of the moment, rocking back on my heels and watching the simple poetry of this, his second gift.

As I bicycled home, the whir of tires on pavement blended with thunder and the scent of water on dry grass. My knees pumped like a whale's heart: steadily, slowly, deeply, silent under an ocean of air. I biked past people I know by name. I said hello and the world felt smaller, safer.

At church, the pastor announced a box of free books in the hall. I left the service immediately, ostensibly to get a drink. Within moments, I hovered over an assortment of wise, dusty books. Even better, I met another woman who also found the call of free literature irresistible. What an amazing way to meet someone. Our laughter blended with gentle church sounds from the other room and we parted friends. New friends, but friends nonetheless.

There were three baptisms, and I saw gentle hands reach out in benediction. I saw families wrapping around each other and church wrapping around them, spheres of community. A family, some water and the life of God at the center.

At the end, people passed the peace of Christ. Again, gentle hands, gentle words, "The peace of Christ be with you." "And also with you."

In the afternoon, I went to the bead festival. I immersed myself in color and texture, in light shining through and off a thousand tiny surfaces. It was like walking through a hundred paintings. One moment, you'd stand back and drink in the brilliant dots of color: a Seurat. The next, you'd hover over an intricate, filigreed surface, alone with it's beauty while the crowds jostled by: an etching.

In the evening, there was a retirement celebration for my pastor and his wife. I got to speak gratitude to them, to look from the faces in the congregation to their faces, to translate from expressions into words how much we love and appreciate them. I got to listen to the kind words of others. I got to listen to the deep, rolling voice of a pastor from Associated Ministries as he sang out his blessing. Again, there were gentle hands as people gathered to pray. Again, the sound system didn't work quite right and we laughed at the comforting familiarity of this quirk. Everything might change, but sound systems are reliably unpredictable.

Then, stepping into the rain, listening to the silliness of a friend's voicemail.

All these things, these grace-filled moments, were things that heal. None of them healed me. It's a specific hurt, and only the hand of God heals those. Still, how beautiful to find this broken world so full of God's good heart that there he is, spilling out of every little crack.

As you walk through life, I hope you find his presence on every street. I hope you say hello. I hope you greet him by name. You will find, I think, the world a little smaller, a little safer. You will find, if not healing, at least the Healer. The peace of Christ be with you.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Reflection: Isaiah 53:3

O Lord,
We hate to look our pain
square in the eye.
We turn away:
We'd rather die
than face our brokenness.
So when you took it on-
put on our worst-
our pettiness and hate-
O God-forgive!-
We looked away.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Naive enough to know better

You don't have to read this, I just have to write it.

I began by driving to the wrong school. An occupational hazard of itinerant therapy. The only truly astounding thing about this event is that it happens so rarely.

Once appropriately sequestered at the correct location (middle school), I started seeing students. Here's where the day went weird.

Usually I think of myself as someone with a lot of room for a lot of different types of people. Maybe my soul's shrunk lately? In any case, today stretched me. The range of students I saw occurred on a continuum from a bright student with a disease that is slowly destroying his body to a student with a very healthy body who will always function at about 4-years old to a student with a bright mind and healthy body who is socially isolated and often offensive due to autism. And all the ones between.

This relational range was compounded by the worlds I moved in to, out of and through. The gang tagging that I passed on four separate occasions as I crossed between the middle school and high school, over a rusty, chain-linked bridge spanning the freeway. The drug bust and chair throwing while working in a classroom. The sweet innocence of a kitchen scavenger hunt. Then, later that afternoon in the same kitchen, a student gets arrested (a minute earlier everyone was eating Amish friendship bread together. What happened?!!) The hopelessness emanating from teachers as an administrator plugs a scholarship program for low income students who graduate with a 2.0 GPA. It's not the 2.0 they're worried about. It's the graduating. The after school conference that the parent never comes to, but we're still somehow there till 5.

Then I have this bizarre moment where I wonder if I'd be better equipped to work with these kids if I'd actually screwed around a bit. Done some drugs, done some drinking. I never did, and I have no idea what's going on in their lives. I don't understand the racial dynamics. I don't understand the undercurrents of the drug and gang culture. I've never worried about teen pregnancy or not being able to eat in the lunch room because my parents don't let me shower and...well, I do understand that middle school's a hard world. And high school's no cashmere afghan.

So I finally leave work, driving through the bizarre blend of rural and urban that trails out around the hem of Tacoma. I go to a library I've never visited and find a used bookstore on that same block. It's the kind I like--no windows, just wall after wall of books, tight corners, precarious shelves, and more bags of books, blocking aisles and providing all kinds of imaginative fodder for various disaster sequences (earthquake? crushed to death by musty mysteries. fire? all escape routes blocked by trash romances. bubonic plague? disease is carried by dust mites). After receiving an unexplained but substantial discount on my purchases, I leave refreshed.

Ooh! What's that across the street? A Mexican corner store? Yes, please!

So finally I'm on my way home, a few strangely-flavored lollipops richer, a few cents poorer.

I still need to clear my head, so I start walking, down toward the water. I make it halfway. Whoomp. Diverted again. This time, by a co-worker and her husband who I spot walking ahead of me. They invite me in for a drink and the next hour flies by in a blur of conversation that somehow manages to link online sped documentation programs, the implications of under-funding support for those with mental illness, racial violence on the west coast in the mid-sixties and the Puyallup land-development oligarchy.

Wandering home past manicured lawns and tennis clubs, I get that strange feeling that sometimes overcomes me when I travel by air. You know, when you step off the plane on to land that's about 2000 miles from the last earth you touched?

I'm going to bed.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Year!

I wanted to take advantage of this once-every-four-years opportunity to write something on February 29th. My initial plan involved doing all my Special Education paperwork today, which would rather nicely extend our annual revisions and three-year evaluation time lines. No one else thought it would work. A dismaying lack of faith in bureaucracy, I thought.

So I cast about for some other poor subject, but really, I'm just excited about leap year. I think it's great that we have a whole calendar day that only happens once every four years. I mean, that's fantastic. February 29th. Now you see it. Now you don't. Again, I had a bit of trouble rallying the troops, but I'm convinced it's worth celebrating. Maybe because I'm such a strong endorser of anything that makes us step back with any day and say, "Wow. This day is completely unique. What a rare gift. What a once in a lifetime opportunity."

We spend so much of our energy being stressed and harried, but here, today, is the urgency I love, that which has its roots in gratitude and reverence. That this day comes once. This moment comes once. If life is hard, that moment is an invitation to hope and perseverance, and a promise that no matter where we are, time never leaves us there. If life is glorious, it is something bittersweet--another promise, another call to look forward, a chance for just a moment to breathe in light.

No doubt my evening reinforced all the above--friendship, gourmet mac'n'cheese, good wine, a fire, and "Dead Man Walking"--a death penalty movie, but still part of the theme. Life is all bound up in life, and time makes beggars of us all, but somehow the uniqueness of each day seems more closely related to eternity than anything, and God is life and our life is hid in him and eternity is hid in our hearts. A beautiful jumble.

Happy Leap Year.
Happy February 29th, 2008.
Happy March 1, 2008.
Happy Life.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Body of Christ

I have had a particularly bizarre weekend where worship is concerned. As a general rule, I love to worship with different parts of the body of Christ. I love to see God's work among different people and places because it reminds me how infinite God is in plans, purposes and power. It keeps me humble and seeking. When I take the bread at communion and remember that it represents the one body, I see believers in Honduras passing a fishbowl of wine carefully, two-handed, knuckles white from its nerve-wracking weight and precariousness; I see the al fresco gathering in Florence, Italy, under a bower of grape vines; I see an African-American congregation in Hilltop Tacoma and myself awkwardly holding a tambourine lent me by a child whose young life holds more rhythm than I will ever know. Echoes of Grace (and Hymns for the Little Flock) mingle with Mars Hill electric bass and the painfully toneless worship in a Mexican border town where the walls are a combination of barbwire and concrete. This is the body of Christ and I love it, but I definitely was stretched this weekend.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Art of the Matter

Never let it be said that the free spirit lives an unfettered life. Oh no. I myself believed that very lie this morning. How wrong I was.

In what I consider an endearing flight of fancy, my sister and I decided to paint in the garden. We gathered our materials, threw in a few pirouettes for good measure, set up easels in a whimsical, al fresco corner and set to it.

Well, let me tell you, it's harder than it looks.

I began exuberantly enough. I had a lovely image in mind--A fuschia sensuously stretched across a green expanse with Georgia O'Keefe-like grace, poetic and lazily bold. My thoughts danced between this internal canvas and a more concrete (though still delightfully simple) reality. "Oooh, Cerulean! I love Cerulean! But not as much as green! Phthalo Green...Wow! Look at all those consonants! Yippeee! (Yiphphthee?) Titanium White!! Whoa! Where can I put some Azo Yellow! Wait, that's not yellow! That's Cadmium Red! Ochre! Umber! Hooker's Green?!! Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ultramarine! Alizarin Crimson! How do you pronounce THAT? Gazooks, this is almost as much fun as the Old Testament!"

So maybe I got a little carried away. Still, I thought, "Hey, it's art. Let the heart guide the hand."

Well, all I can say is, if that's what's in my heart I should be locked up.

I'm not sure just when my Phthalos started getting a little too cozy with my Alizarins, or when the line blurred between foliage and petal. It certainly didn't look this difficult at the Met. A dab here, a dab there. Bah!

Maybe it's like my sister said. We have too much experience looking at great art and too little creating it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy some crayons. More my level, you see. Red! Blue! Pink! Orange!

Friday, June 22, 2007


Is it the sound of another year speeding away? Kids racing down hallways and on to buses? Or the sound of them sheddng all the superimposed, grown-up, school rules? Perhaps it's the vacuum created by all the paperwork I turned in? Or maybe my entire being deflating? The future descending on irridescent wings? I don't know what it means, but it's definitely how I feel...Whoosh!

Another school year done, another last day of school. I realized, as we waved the kids home with cheers and both hands, how much I enjoy working a job that has a beginning and an end. I love the chance to step outside of my work, look back on the year and say, "I did that, and now it is done." Part of it is the satisfaction of completing a meaningful task. Part of it is that I delight in seasons. But part of it is also the joy of walking away, the freedom to set aside one part of my life and explore others.

It's so refreshing.