Is What We (Who are Not Pumpkins) Need Here?

early novThis is the sunrise in Ripley Ohio today.

My stomach has been in knots for several days now – in no small part to the terrorist events in our world – far and near.

For me, my sadness is only in part about the bombings in Africa, and Beirut, and Paris – it’s about noise. Our world is so full of superficial noise. I don’t want that for my grandchildren.

That is not what I want for them. I want more than for them to know that Granny’s new favorite phrase in ASL is “my hear is your heart.” I want more than to teach them to say that to me in silence. I want more than to sing them to sleep. I want far more than to hear their squeaky little voices. I want them to trust the world beyond the front door…beyond the village borders.

I want them to trust the feeling of joy – but if I don’t – how can they? And I don’t.

As I get older I question joy, all….of….the….time.

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Every year at this time I have the same dilemma, one that is shared with the couple of weeks that come before Lent: how will I celebrate Advent this year?

“What do you need this year?” I ask myself – “Where are you hurting? What do you need to deepen? Question? Celebrate? Learn? Strategize?”

Don’t know about you, (you who do the Advent thing that is….) but it’s a matter of setting up routines. Likely, most people fall into the comfort of old routine – pull out or make the wreath, gather a prayer book, set aside a few extra minutes.

But of all church seasons….Advent means the most to me because it is about quiet. I love quiet as a way of life more, and more, and more….every day.

Neurotic am I though….part and parcel of not coming into the world as a pumpkin in a patch or a set of shoes on a store shelf – I worry.

So, every year at this time ruminations are about what routine will be set forth in a week or so for the next month of preparations for……drumroll…

the

                                                          holidays.

This year I’m going to try and write.

My prayers, unless they go in a different direction…will be about abandon. The process of finding work, making friends, committing to a bit of a career shift, and enjoying the luxury and privilege of yet another educational gig – it has softened me. I hadn’t realized how lonely and bitter I’d become because…well,

because I’m not a pumpkin or a shoe.

So, that’s that….here are the flagship words that sit by my desk and tempt me to walk out the door as I do these days….

“What We Need is Here” ~ Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith; what we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear. What we need is here.

Lord have mercy.

I Will Be Seeing Birds this Weekend. You?

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(I found this on Pintrest, not managing to find a link to the artist)

My friend and I are celebrating her birthday today. We’ve just now decided that our party needs to become a weekend long event. Originally, my idea was that we would go for a walk in our respected cities at some point today, July the 19th. I thought we could then report back to each other. Last week I got confused about which Friday of this month is her “real” birthday, and this gave me an extra week to look forward to the event.

Then, while cleaning out and reorganizing our small home office, I found two empty packages that were addressed to my birthday pal 74695_10151704767788810_1935768133_nand one to a common best friend who is a bird watcher as well. I felt terrible. The package intentions were to make three copies of some great music as a token of my regret that our friend’s brother had died very unexpectedly.

Clearly, I never even sent him a card.

So, on my desk was a sealed and ready to mail birthday card that included a cute cow finger puppet and some raspberry flavored dark chocolate. A sad reminder of the mounting grief of each of our adult lives: the music-less and card-less packages are from, I’d guess, a year ago.

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(copyright protected image by Kathy Hare, which can be found on Pintrest or at www.moongazinghareillustration.blogspot.com)

The news is good despite my failed condolence effort. Along with the birthday card, I sent quick and goofy birthday party invitations to both friends inviting them to try and do some birdwatching today as a sort of global birthday effort. I spoke with our friend yesterday when he called confused and said, basically: “Kate…what are the two of you up to now?” and, “you are inviting me to do what? when? are you sure that….”1044995_10151704769978810_2086162894_n

It was great. I’d not heard his voice in well over 25 years and the friendship dynamics are the same as when we were teenagers: he is sweet and a bit wary of our complicated and some times outlandish ideas for a fun time, and she and I just go about our merry way and laugh at what a job it can be at to distract him from his tasks at hand.

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For me, sweet memories of being the age of my young adult sons are experiencing now, is condolence enough. I should be so lucky that, despite the gaping hole of time and life which has kept the three of us from a lazy evening together watching a sunset on Lake Erie, cliff swallows will certainly swarm back to their nest holes this evening. Even better, we each remain nature lovers in our respectively hectic households.

While I am not at all positive that any of our three work and family lives will allow more than a brief stroll, or a few moments of window gazing today,

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I have faith that in her wisdom, the Holy Spirit will interrupt our day, and hopefully weekend, with some lovely and surprising bird sightings, and a moment of laughter to preserve the moment. This I believe.

Have you heard singer Kate Rusby? : Underneath the Stars

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Last night, well, actually non stop during the last few months of snatched moments to sit…I keep thinking about our family life eighteen years ago.

And then my heart rate goes up.  I get clogged with thoughts of even the next eighteen days or months to come in our family.

Typically, unless I am listening to a Kate Rusby song, I quickly either

1: yell at the dogs or

2: start to cry or

3: become giddy with pride

 

This is generally followed by something really mature like:

a. misplacing my glasses

                           again.

b. starting a new (full disclosure, perhaps the 10th) calender or to do list which I then of course,

                            misplace.

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  All three of my sons are now,

and were, the kinds of boys who I’d want to hang out with if I’d have met them in a classroom or watched them misbehave at a grocery store.

But, if I had a magic wand, I’d find the words that are impossible to say or write. Words about what a calm and shockingly peaceful July and August I experienced eighteen years ago. It made no sense then, and makes less sense now. I can’t put words to it, and decided last week at the beach to stop fretting over the poems I wrote and subsequently lost ten and fifteen years ago.

They were good words at the time. If they turn up, so they do.

If they don’t…I’ll just find a new rodeo which hasn’t any words that tell.

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Grace is God’s Unmerited Favor

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“Grace is God’s unmerited favor.”

I’m going to go ahead and claim that I wrote that sentence, even though it is part of my six month old scribbled notes that I made while on Wikki (of all places). I was working on a tab for this blog which explains why I would pick an often uncute theme: grace.

Wait! Red light! Am I tiptoeing around the stickiest theological debate of all time – for me anyway: Exactly where do toil and grace meet?

Know what I mean (jellybean)?

And…who, how, when and where is grace found? And why…of course we ask over and over, is toil and suffering so often what we associate with the experience of God being in our midst?

Let’s just put that on the chalkboard for now:

“Def.: Grace = God in our midst.”

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So, let me explain

Tangent: here’s why I’m bogging down your computer with huge photos:

 

I just want to.

Want to bog mine down anyway. I was lucky enough to have scored a job for a couple of months at the end of the school year and that was a really wonderful experience. My title was “Communication Coach” for a Kindergarten student who is hard of hearing.

If I can get back into a routine to blog more often, I’d love to share more about my experience. It was just what I didn’t know I was praying for.

The huge pictures in this post? Because as soon as I signed my contract, I treated myself to a new printer that has a scanner so that I can try and organize old photos.

So far, what I have is an office and moving boxes that are a jumble of…

a jumble. In a room with stinky carpet.

(insert music or images that lead you to toil and suffer,

if my friend, you are on my side…)

I am still committed to try and not write more than a few hundred words per post, but for now, as I brush away some midlife cobwebs, I need to see these snippets in biggie size. Image

“Oh, you weak, beautiful people who give up on such grace.

What you need is

someone to take hold of you –

gently, with love,

and hand your life back to you.”

 

~ Tennessee Williams

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Dear Mrs. Obama: Have They Considered Mr. Lemon?

A6TRRWgCMAAjjpPDear Mrs. Obama,

This message to you has been near the top of my list for months: a most heartfelt thank you for all that, well…all that you are actually. I don’t claim to know you as more than a woman for whom I am fan and follower. Yet, I’m tempted to put in this quick note the same thing that I put in birthday cards to those who mean the most to me:

“Thank you for being born.”

That would be a bit intense though since despite my greatest efforts, we’ve not yet met.

Actually, here’s the truth: I started last fall by taking for granted that you and your family would continue to be the leaders protecting and leading my sons for another term. Like so many others, I watched the debates for the first time ever and during that process I cracked. Rage would not be an exaggeration. Even though it was your husband who was being personally and morally attacked – for some reason, I found myself feeling deeply offended as well. Thankfully I remembered a huge sign that my mother kept in her laundry room which said:

“Living Well is the Best Revenge.”

So, despite my best efforts to keep the home fires burning and volunteer for your family campaign in an official manner, I found myself seeking revenge “Kate Style”: I drove around the Quad Cities being an hour, or day, or a week too late for events but never allowed myself to feel a dollar too short. I prayed and retweet all that I found to be good. I wrote and deleted and lost my thoughts and eye glasses on what felt like an hourly basis…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no hero. My campaign efforts were nothinganxiety girl compared to those of most of your volunteers and most of all, other than the retweetAthon that a friend pointed me toward, everything I did was in my head.

As a matter of fact, in an effort to support one of your speeches I got lost and ended up in a town called Lost Nation, Iowa. My family is so long and suffering.Thank God, I did find my way to hear you, just days before the election in Iowa City. Did you see me? I was the one who started crying like a sissy girl when you simply opened your mouth to say hello. My mother campaigned for you before you even knew you needed her. Sadly, she died several years ago.

Actually, the tears on my part were that of complete joy.

165977_10151106768050774_429870657_nThe joy was, in part, to be a few feet away from a woman who I admire deeply. More so, tears flowed because you said, word for word, what I was feeling.

After the harrowing experience of dodging winter weather, my completely mismanaged childcare back up plans and getting utterly lost on the road to a very easy to find destination…what could I do but laugh?

I was exhausted from worry and effort by the time you got up on stage and if I’d had to wait too many minutes longer I would have needed to bail yet another event to get home in time for after school pick up.

Shazaam. On came the Earth Wind and Fire music. Shoulders grooved. Water cups were passed. Secret service squeezed in, andA1JU2PeCQAADnFI you came out to say what I’d come to realize in those exact long hours:

If, despite my most heartfelt prayer, Michelle is asked to leave the house, joy will still come in the morning.

Thank you for saying exactly that Mrs. Obama. I heard you say:

“No matter what, we are going to be just fine. On Thursday (after the election), no matter where my family will live next winter, on thursday we will go back to picking up our shoes and putting them away.”

Soon after you said that a mom in the crowd hushed her child who was playing in the front rows and you said:

“No!

Don’t shoosh…Let her go!

We’ve got another party over here!”

So, for now, I’m going to finish this thank you note and ask that, although I think I am certainly at least 24 hours too late with this message,

I would like to recommend that the benediction for the inauguration be given by one of my many favorite pastors: Meadowlark Lemon.

I knew he was a Trotter, and am so pleased to read this week that he is a theologian as well:

“True visions have transformed my time on this earth from

mere existence

to joyful living.

 

As the saying goes, if you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it.

A worthwhile life

begins with a bold vision.”

~ from Trust Your Next Shot: A Guide to a Life of Joy, by Meadowlark Lemon and Lee Stuart

Thanks again.

With peace,

Kate

@Chris Handles loves my new book as well.

@Chris Handles loves my new book as well.

A Great Quote, A Creek Photo & a Sentence or Two

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

 

~ John Bradford

 

Photo by Kevin Lester, Ripley Ohio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*random disclaimer: I don’t do heated political debate, and the above quote, the photo and these couple of thoughts are about missing my Mom. Merci mon ami!

If we could talk by phone or email, my mother and I would be hard at appreciating the contagious effect of Michelle Obama’s sense of joy.

Is joy more hard-earned for this generation of young kids than in the ’70 ‘s when I was playing hopscotch?

Who knows. Joy is important, that’s for sure.

Joy Comes With the Morning

Photo by David Roncolato

Psalm 30:5

 

“Weeping may linger for the night,

but joy comes with the morning.”

A few of the things that have never failed to bring me joy are:

~ groups of noisy chirping birds that I can’t find

~ being a back up alto for James Taylor

~ staring at old photos

~ reaching the end of a good novel

~ waking up before anyone else

Writing.

I like to write.

And now, I like to make friends with other writers. Many of them are being nice right back to me.

Your best writing reflects your genuine heart.

~ Jim Brennan

That hasn’t been my experience with all artists, and I am lucky enough to have friends of each variety: actors, musicians, potters, photographers, dancers…

I’m sure that after some thought I would figure out that one type of artist isn’t more generous than the next. People are just who they are when it really comes down to it all.

But, I’m starting to wonder if part of the reason I am really starting to enjoy writing is that it is like theater. Unless it’s a grocery list, there needs to be an audience for most writing worth the work. So, having the confidence to either ask or give feedback is not that different from having the confidence to hit the stage and find out that the audience either loves or doesn’t love the performance.

With that thought, I’m now remembering how during those theater days of my childhood until early adulthood, experiencing joy was as easy as saying yes to my sons when they ask to play in the rain.

What did I have to lose after all of those hours of rehearsal? Not much. Most things were fun, exactly for the sake of being fun.

Joy doesn’t always come easily.

I guess that is what I’m trying to say. Life is full of complex and tough stuff.

Some days and life stages can seem like a sad night that will never, ever end.

And other times, can be as light as the photo of my friends who found a water fountain amidst the heat wave last week.

These are my thoughts this morning, and guess what? The sun is up, the birds are making a racket outside, and (shh), I have a few more minutes to myself.

Is Joy Deeper Than Happiness?

The Davenport Iowa River Bandits Rally in the Rear of the Game with a Home Run powered by cheers from their best fan Joe!

“Joy, deeper than happiness, is a virtue that finds its foundation in the knowledge that we are loved by God.”

~ Fr. James Martin, SJ,

from  Between Heaven and Mirth

Forgiveness Friday: Son Joe’s Movie Review was “I Can’t Believe It!”

*note: I’m looking forward to company, camps and work this week. Usually this is something that I’d publish on a Friday, but before I get confused, I’m sticking it up a bit early. thanks!

I’m having a fun discussion about mustard seeds with a blogger who is a botanist, theologian and pastor. We had a chat by way of blog comments about a “lectionary spark” article she posted about the classic mustard seed reference from Jesus. I guess that there is a big debate that I’ve missed all these 20 years. I’m remembering why I used to love theology.

Is, or is not,

Was, or was not

Jesus referring to a mustard tree, or was it a mustard plant?

Was, or was not,

Jesus teasing with many of his parables?

In any case, I really like what Pastor Warren wrote about how, when all comparisons and studies are done, the point is that Jesus encourages faith in the form of willingness to take another road home. Warren says,

Basically—to explain away the funny—Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God doesn’t show up the way we expect it to. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is weedy and dismiss-able. Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God surprises us about where and when it comes about. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God makes waste-places, abandoned places, unimportant places (where weeds grow) into places of new life and if we are determined to only see the Kingdom of God in the big, glorious, obvious places of the past, we’re probably going to miss out on the sprouting taking place by our feet and the fields of gold blooming in front of us.

(From Lena Warren, in her blog: Jabbok Dawn http://jabbokdawn.wordpress.com/)

This is exactly how I feel about our move to Iowa. Who would think, a year or even two ago, that last night I would have celebrated Father’s day by being wrapped up in a blanket with our youngest and a puppy as he was enthralled with his first viewing of the movie Field of Dreams. It made the rest of us watch it again, but through his little kid eyes.

He kept asking why the music was scary and if there was going to be death and gloom. “Watch!” we kept saying. And as baseball hero (he’s a sports history buff) after baseball hero came to the field he would fist pump the air and say something like: “I can’t believe it!”

Pure joy and forgiveness. (Forgiveness because I’d yelled, LOUDLY, a few minutes before that I was not willing to watch another minute of a Rocky Movie. For good measure I then guilted them all that we didn’t watch a girl movie on Mother’s day, so I should have a solid voice in our movie selection).

I’m hoping that this busy summer allows time for me to finish marking up a book called Between Heaven and Mirth that I got for my husband self for Christmas. Fr. James Martin tells us that St. Paul’s First letter to early Christians in Thessalonica is not a scolding letter, like some of his other spit fire letters. Much of what Paul preaches includes harsh demands of faith and warnings of doom if fragile Christians don’t comply. Martin suggests that 1 Thessalonians in the bible is a gentle invitation to joy.

This idea works for me, since when I was trying to woo my husband away from becoming a Marianist Catholic priest, and he was trying to woo me away from my sullen ways, we closed or began our love letters with St. Paul’s phrase, “holy kisses.” St. Paul’s harsh side never has tripped me up, because I stumbled into a dating fog while at the same time studying for my masters and writing a thesis on St. Paul’s dreamy side.

“Greet all brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.”

St. Paul, 1Thesallonians:5

Like several of my friends, with and without partners or kids of their own, we have had some very sad and tragic hills to climb at this middle point in life. At a minimum, we’ve all at least been asked to struggle up a crazy climb with someone else. Cancer, divorce, death, job loss, disease, bankruptcy, failed dreams…you get what I’m saying. The works of life.

For me, the past three or four years have been quite the haul. The best of these friends though, the ones who I’ve trusted the most with the blow by blow details of my particular climb, have the very, very best sense of humor. The list is short, not because I don’t have great friends and family, but because I am very guarded and private with things in my life that feel like a boxed up Tasmanian devil. This handful of friends, when I tell them the truth of how I am, greet me with some form of “it’s okay, I know who you are,” and most often they send me off with some form of laughter. Either I’ve cracked them up, or them me about the most tragic of situations.

This approach to handling life works with what I just read in Martin’s book. He says in a chapter titled  A Study in Joy,

“Even in the midst of great tragedy,knowing that God accompanies us can lead us to a deep-down joy that can carry us through difficult, and sometimes unbearable,times.” ~ Fr. James Martin, S.J.

Two of my small fist full of friends that I just mentioned are experiencing great tragedy this weekend. I heard from both yesterday, they are having an unbearable couple of weeks, and both situations seem to be at a seemingly endless place of pain. They even bear the same first name. What can I do? What can I say? I’m at a loss. I’m too summer fuzzed tired to cry, and I can’t imagine finding a way to make them laugh. Yet.

So, I’m banking on the good advice I’ve read this morning, and will try to trust that praying for a light heart for them will be good enough work for today.