Ash Wednesday : Your Work Will Be Rewarded

k2773601For those of us who observe Lent, today is a day that we are asked to be brave and remember that some day we will die. It is Ash Wednesday. We remember that we aren’t perfect, and as Christians, we need to renew our awareness that Jesus offered His life in order that we may stumble into God’s light….but not alone. God doesn’t want us to be afraid of failure – but the relentless pressures of life, even the most basic stuff, sometimes feels just like a black smudge right in the middle of my noodle.

So, sometimes I imagine my worst fears, my greatest burdens – I dredge them up and then close my eyes and imagine that I am in a row boat with Jesus. Some days just the undone heaps of laundry are enough to send me into an anxious flurry of worry. But, the boat image – it always helps.

The President of Saint Ambrose University wrote something interesting in an online Lenten reflection:

“The great Psalm 51 is perhaps the ‘classic’ articulation of our awareness of our sinfulness:

‘Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness…For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always.’

We know that we are need of forgiveness: from God, from each other, even from ourselves. In God’s dealings with humanity as seen in the Scriptures, we see that God asks us to DO something in order to show a sincerity in our search for forgiveness.

I also found some related quotes, and have been pouring through some photos which, to me, don’t smack of failure one bit.

“Time is the coin of your life.

You spend it.

Don’t let others spend it for you.”

Carl Sandburg

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“Nothing strengthens authority

as much as

silence.”

Leonardo da Vinci

whole wrld

“But as for you,

be strong and

do not give up,

for your work will be rewarded.”

2 Chronicles 15:7

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Anne Lamott on Praying for Spiritual Signs

fallRecently I’ve been enjoying this song by Colbie Callait.

And, this morning I stumbled on an interesting Facebook Post from Anne Lamott. I think it fits with the month of remembrances and thanksgiving.

She wrote it on August 9, Just last summer.

I love the idea of God’s grace being available in an ATM.

Every morning these days, you have to ask yourself, What the hell IS it all about, Alfie? Or you pray for a sign that you absolutely cannot miss or misinterpret, the tiniest hint of direction and assurance.

Well? I got one.

It has been one of the worst week in years, and that’s saying something. You know exactly what I’m talking about, no matter how much you love your life and your pit crew; no matter how hard you strive to present a good face. It is so hard here. It’s like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible.

Under the best circumstances, we are a nutty and sometimes violent species, on an extremely dangerous piece of land.

But one of the saddest things happened. We had to put my darling old dog Lily down. She died peacefully at home in my son Sam’s arms on Wednesday.

I think she was the closest I’ll come, on this side of eternity, to experiencing the direct love of the divine. You may know the feeling.

Through this love, Sam and I came through. We cried a lot, but agreed to let our hearts stay broken for a while, because that is how light, grace and healing can get in, through the armor.

The next morning, I took Lily’s beloved ne’er-do-well husband Bodhi for a walk. I adore him, but he has tiny mental issues, such as aggression, and having eaten entire chickens, and 24 muffins once. Then, too sad to stay at home without Lily, we went out for a bite.

After eating sandwiches in the car, we headed home. I was disoriented, and so far behind on my daily life, after a month of Lily in decline, that Sam frequently consults A Place for Mom online. But a block from home, I got that Holy Spirit nudge, a tug on my sleeve, which urged me, as it often does, “Stop.” It’s given up on nuance.

They say that when all else fails, follow instructions. The nudge on my heart said, “Go to your friend’s kid’s school.” So I said, “Okay,” the fourth great prayer.

My closest friend’s child, who has been through the ringer, the On Beyond Zebra ringer, starts kindergarten soon, but the friend has been on Total Fucking Overwhelm (TF0). She has not entirely gotten him enrolled, and the school’s website had conflicting info on how to do this. And, of course, no one is in the office, because it is August, which was one of the two biggest mistakes God made–August, and snakes. So we drove to the school.

There was one car in the parking lot and a woman climbing into it. Then some janitors ran into view and called to her–had she locked their lunches in the office? She had–Oops, to quote Rick Perry. So she got out, to unlock the office. I asked if I cd run along beside her, like a little dog, and ask a quick question. “Fire away!” she said. I told her about this boy, and asked all our main questions. She was so helpful. I thanked her, and asked if she worked in the office.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m the new principal.”

Of course she was the new principal, because God is such a show-off. Call this energy the Divine It, or Ed. Whatever works.

“Wow,” I said, bowing my head.

“Look,” she continued, “the easiest thing is probably for me to just give your friend my cell phone number.”

I said, “Okay,” on the verge of laughter and tears. “Thank you.”

Bodhi and I went home and called our friend. “You better sit down,” I told the mom. “I think we got some kind of Inbreaking.”

I told the mom my story, about how we’d somehow ended up at the Grace ATM, and how holy spirit had saved the day.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Or Lily.”

I gave her the new principal’s cell phone number. Then Bodhi and I went to read the new People, and took a nice morning nap, feeling a little bit better, which is a miracle.
from FB page Suspended Coffees

More on Thorton Wilder and Self Appointed Sins

imageI know nothing,

except what everyone knows –

if there when Grace dances,

I should dance. ~ W.H. Auden

(image above from This Quiet Lady by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrations by Anita Lobel)

Spoiler alert #1: This post is initially about sad stuff.
Spoiler alert #2: Life is being particularly good to me right now, so I’m not sitting down in order to write a “dark night of the soul” blog post.

So, here it is.

I have a friend who is dying of brain cancer.

She is a college friend with whom I’ve kept up only a little bit over the years. Originally, our acquaintance was that we shared a best friend and became housemates at the busiest (and best!) part of my favorite. four years. ever.

Without searching messages, I have to guess that it was a year (or less) ago that this common best friend had to notify me that a grim diagnosis had been given to our former housemate. The news really came out of the blue. Her story is similar to others who have been touched by this shocking form of cancer. Our friend had a headache one day, and a few short months later she is now home saying her last goodbyes to her children and adored husband.

So, when I sat down to write last week, and was imagining K.’s children spending their summer break watching her pass on, Thorton Wilder quotes were a kind of obvious (to me anyway) place of comfort and wisdom for me.

It’s safe to assume that if you are an American following or stopping by my little blog you have seen Thorton’s play Our Town. It is a favorite of High School and Community theaters for a reason.

It has the best theater lines, ever.

I mean – ever.

I am biased and my reasons are of course personal, but I mean it.

I would offer to turn this post into a place of debate or discussion, but I hate debate and my opinion is not up for ransom or reason. I’m not a jerk though, so feel free to leave comments as I am on summer break (wiggles in her seat) and have time for lively discussion.

So.

The conversations between Emily and The Stage Manager (the lead characters of the show) contain the safest and best theater words for me because they remind me of the enchanted parts of my childhood.  My father was an actor, director and teacher and I was his shadow. Literally. As in, Dad couldn’t shake me from his side until my brother broke the rules and taught me how to cross the street alone. At this point I started wandering the streets of our little city and making friends my own age.

So, lucky I am indeed to have shared the stage with my father on the weekend that he retired from his favorite stage. Mind you, these are floorboards that he spent the most time on as a student, theatre professional, husband, and father. He turned 80 this year, so I would guess that time span to be something like 50 or 60 years, give or take a summer season elsewhere here and there.

We were part of a medley of theater scenes during a reunion show, and part of our daughter/father “I love you” ‘s were exchanged in the form of my playing Emily and he the Stage Manager in Wilder’s tender “Good-bye Scene.”

But still – had I been raised by a biologist and my best skill set turned out to be bee-keeping, I would still believe that (with due respect to the Shakespeare) Emily’s good-bye is the most relatable “to be or not to be” string of words out there.

All good theater is good because the script is about life, death, love and hate. Most likely, the writer created an entertaining time travel to all four corners of human experience and wrapped the story up with a bow at the end.

Even good existential shows wrap up at the end – it’s just a tricky “un-bow” kind of curtain call.

What makes the pleading questions that Emily asks of the Stage Manager so perfect is that the joy and pain that she describes can’t be contained by cultural and historical context. Of course her character works well for me because I am a white girl having been raised by a mid-western father, so a white picket fence story is what I know and the life I cherish.

But, context aside, in Our Town, when the character Emily is looking at her life, and struggling with having passed on as a very young woman, her self-doubt and guilt is not about whether or not she raised good children or was a faithful wife.

And. Her anger at the Stage Manager is not that she died young.

She is upset because she missed out. She failed to acknowledge grace as often as she could.

 

And, with the help of the Stage Manager, her self-appointed sins are absolved as he explains that:

she did what she could, with what she had, in the time that she had to do it.395895_10150596300328810_837678809_8894478_1239777666_n

 

All of which to say, I am VERY thankful for an open window this morning, time to reflect and am reminded to not try so hard.

Reflections from an old Zoo Keeper

Image

More from the book Hannah’s Dream by Diane Hammond that I finished last weekend:

An elderly zoo keeper to her to the man

she entrusts as an elephant caretaker:

” ‘ I’ve lived a long time, Mr. Brown, longer than most. I should be grateful – indeed, I am grateful. And yet, I would give everything, everything, to do it all again.’ …

Max Biedleman stood sihlouetted in the parlor window, silent. Finally she said, ‘Do you know what I’ve been thinking lately? I’ve been thinking that we’re animals, like any others-we senesce, we sink into decrepitude just as they do. But I’ve wondered if it isn’t our special hell that we are able to register the swift passage of time, the lightening speed of it all, and the absoluteness with which it is gone…

indeed, the world is a finer place

when one sees it from the back of an elephant.‘ “