Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Little Feathers: Little Gifts

Little Feathers: Little Gifts: Yesterday I did something I've never done before by myself. Bob would have come with me, but his new knee is not quite up to tromping th...

Little Gifts

Yesterday I did something I've never done before by myself. Bob would have come with me, but his new knee is not quite up to tromping through the woods in search of a Christmas tree. So, I took a saw and started off up the hill behind our cabin. The snow was just a little over the tops of my boots, but not a problem for a short jaunt. I was looking for a certain tree. Not too tall, full enough to hang our ornaments on but flatish on one side so it would fit in the corner. I told myself I wouldn't cut one at all if it wasn't just right. Not perfect, mind you, but just right.

Last summer the land up behind us was thinned, which is super important for fire control. That meant that were lots of logs lying sneakily under the snow. That made me go really slowly to avoid a fall or twisted ankle. Which was a little gift. I saw a lot of things I might have missed if I was tromping at full speed. So many little bunnies were out in the sunshine, leaving their little tracks curling everywhere. Bunnies don't go in a straight line, it seems. Tiny, tiny little new trees barely poking through the snow. Birds whose names I don't know darting from limb to limb.

There was another little gift. The wind was blowing toward me, which is the only reason I was able to come over a rise and see a herd of elk just a few yards from me. I could even hear them chewing, they were so close. They all looked at me and turned to go, jogging off over the next rise. The sun took that moment to come out from behind a cloud, and the forest scene was dazzling. The recent snow still clung to the trees, making every single one of them look like a perfect Christmas tree. The sky was so blue and the clouds so white, it was incredibly beautiful.The snow sparkled like someone had thrown diamonds everywhere. I was wishing for my camera, but determined to burn the scene into my memory.

I did find my humble little tree. And it does fit perfectly in the corner. It was growing right up next to a few others, so I felt that thinning that clump was not a bad thing to do, and I got a flat sided Christmas tree out of the effort. We brought some ornaments from home this year. This is our first Christmas in the cabin, and for someone who loves tradition and family gatherings and Silent Night in the pew with candles and hundreds of singers, this all seems strange and new. But good. I know that Christmas isn't dependent on things happening the same way every year. And the ornaments from home were perfect for this little tree.

One thing I love about our cabin is that I can look up with my head still on the pillow and see the sky. This morning before the sun came up there was a really big star right over the top of a giant snow covered fir tree. It was my Christmas star. Pointing the way. Reminding me how fortunate I am to be snug in our cabin surrounded by beauty, how lucky I am to wake up next to a man I have loved for forty years.

Christmas Eve is filled with promise. With expectation. Not the bad kind that rules with an iron fist and demands its own way. Not the selfish kind of expectation that breeds resentment. But expectation that is hope. Christmas Eve is the waiting day. The world is waiting for peace. For the end to suffering and war, poverty and illness. While we wait, there are little gifts all around us. There is the beauty of creation, the love for family and friends. Maybe they aren't such little gifts. Maybe they are all we need. On Christmas Eve or any other day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pa Rum pa Pum Pum

The women's choir I'm a member of, Women of Heartsong, had a Christmas party Monday night. There was fabulous food, a hysterical White Elephant Exchange, lots of laughter and fun conversation. Then the really great part happened. We stood in a circle (I think there were 20 of us) and sang for a long time. Singing Christmas Carols is one of my favorite things, and it was pretty wonderful singing with these women I've known for years. But my favorite moment, one that will be with me always, was when we joined arms and sang The Parting Glass. It was the last song of the night. It us a beautiful old Celtic song, first written down in 1615 but older than that, about the last toast of the night, or of the gathering, or of a life. The harmonies are simple but very beautiful, and the sentiment is beautiful, as well.  Listening to it is great. Singing it with people you love is magical.

I notice a theme running through lots of my blogs is that nothing is perfect, but it is usually good enough. The party wasn't perfect. Wine was spilled, some notes were off on some of the songs. But that didn't matter. The circle of imperfect women made a close-to-perfect sound, and it was good enough. Looking around at the women I love, each singing their heart out and pouring out their friendship.

Yesterday we made Christmas cookies at Sally's house. It wasn't perfect. I forgot several things I was supposed to bring and Josh had to spend most of his cookie baking time at the store. We were late getting started. But those things didn't matter to me. What mattered was being with people I love who want to be together. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough.

On Saturday the whole family (extended) will come out to Halldortown (Bob's name for our ranchette, recalling our beloved Norwegian Fjord Horse, Halldor) for a Christmas pageant. We have 9 angels, Mary and Joseph, 3 shepherds, and 3 wise guys, I mean wise men. Lots of singing, an angel's dance and a pas de deux with Katie and Daniel. No one will have their lines memorized. Without a practice, it will be a work in progress. There is a spot on one angel costume that won't come out, and the trim is coming off one of the wise man hats. The mole sauce Bob and I made yesterday could be too spicy for some. I have no doubt other unforeseen shortcomings will arise. It won't be perfect. But it will be good enough.

There was no room in the inn. Mary delivered her babe surrounded by animals. His bed was a manger. A manger sounds romantic until we remember that animals ate out of it. It was so far from perfect. But it was good enough for angels and Love incarnate.
This Christmas people will get stuck in airports. Someone will be rude to overworked retail clerks. Some lights will short out, and some trees will dry out too soon. Some cookies will crumble or be doughy inside. Some relatives will embarrass others. Some people will not be able to be with the people they love, and some people will sleep under bridges in the cold. Some people will relapse into addiction and feel the shame all over again. Some people will turn a blind eye to all the need in the world and see only their own desires.

All of us, every one us will fall short of perfect, and our Christmas will fall short, too. Except for one thing. Perfect isn't a thing that happens at Christmas or any other holy day. Not in this life. But perfect does happen in one place. In the hearts of those who choose love. In the one moment we look out, look up and away from our own self and see the wonder of the cosmos, the wonder of creation. When we consider the intricate, complicated thing that is life, and see the possibilities for our own contribution to the good. We'll have the perfect chance to do that this Christmas. And every other day, for that matter. I want to stand in the stable and play my drum. I want to sing with the angels and dance. I hope you all have that moment in your holy day. Pa rum pa pum pum.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Little Feathers: In The Bleak Midwinter

Little Feathers: In The Bleak Midwinter: You probably know that song. It has a haunting melody and beautiful words. And it fits so exactly with the message of my favorite holiday. ...

In The Bleak Midwinter

You probably know that song. It has a haunting melody and beautiful words. And it fits so exactly with the message of my favorite holiday.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty winds made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago.

The thing is, Christmas isn't about the easy times, the wealthy, healthy years of plenty. Most of the world never sees those times, anyway. How many millions of people live and die without the serenity of knowing there will be enough food, enough shelter for their children? We Americans can be lulled into thinking our first world existence is normal and available to all. But it isn't. And the wasteland of need sometimes has nothing to do what we own, anyway. It can also be a poverty of the spirit for those who grieve, for those who suffer at the hands of others, or as a result of illness or loneliness.

In Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is angry that God put Jesus into the middle of a world with no mass communication, no political calm that would have let his ministry spread without bloodshed. Judas is a very sympathetic character in that play, and that is an unusual twist for many who love to blame Judas. In this play, though, Judas tries every way to figure out how to spare the Jews from Roman wrath, and the only way he can think of to do that out is to have Jesus killed. The Roman occupation was a heavy load for Isreal. The earth stood hard as iron. Water like a stone.

Today is no different. The bleakness of winter lays over our world in war, poverty, oppression, unrest, disease...our earth stands hard as iron. The winter has a grip on every child who is bullied, every tormented soul who can't face another day, every leader who turns a blind eye to the need of the people. Let our hearts not be that hard, as well. Let the hope of love give light. Jesus was love incarnate, and we can be a part of that only if we are willing to let down our guard, give up our own hard-hardheartedness and look at every human as a child of God. That has less to do with religion than with compassion. It has nothing to do with insisting others believe as we do to be acceptable. It has zero to do with politics. It has everything to do with the gospel. Love is, truly, all we need. The Beatles had that right. If love prevails, we all win. It is the only light that can melt this winter that holds the world hostage to its own failings.

I don't recall Jesus ever exhorting us to give each other lavish gifts. Or to build lavish altars, or to hoard our blessings under the delusion they belong to us. In the bleak midwinter of Roman rule, a baby was born who grew up to tell the world that God's love does not belong to one race or one religion or one gender or the current group in power. God's love is broader, bolder, keener, further beyond our ken than any human love can be. We can tap into it, though. We can channel it. There is hope. Whatever we give to the neediest people, to anyone, we have given back to God. That is the warming power that can break the iron grip of winter on the earth. Compassion is the spring, the thaw.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part,
What can I give him? Give him my heart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Little Feathers: Where Are You Christmas and Other Grinch Musings

Little Feathers: Where Are You Christmas and Other Grinch Musings: Emotions are funny. I knew that I was feeling unsettled about the approach of my favorite holiday, but didn't really get just how unsett...

Where Are You Christmas and Other Grinch Musings

Emotions are funny. I knew that I was feeling unsettled about the approach of my favorite holiday, but didn't really get just how unsettled until day before yesterday when I sat looking at a Southern Living magazine while Bob had PT on his new knee. I paged through, looking at Christmas cookies and cakes and garlands that decked the halls. Usually I would enjoy that. I have never (at least that I remember) been stressed about Christmas. It has not been about finding the perfect gift or making the perfect cookie, but about hope and love and grace and family and friends. But on Monday those pictures of holiday perfection just made me want to cry.

I thought at first that it was about leaving the Pegram House, where I have loved celebrating Christmas for the past seven years. But honestly, Pegram was an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. The house itself can't be the thing. It must be the gatherings there. When my dad was in the middle of everything.

This isn't technically my first Christmas without my dad. He died just before Christmas last year. But he had been so sick, and had struggled so, that last Christmas I mostly felt relief for the end of his suffering. I missed him, prayed for him and cried for him, but I knew he was so much better off that it colored my grief at the time.

Where are you, Christmas? In The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the question was asked by Cindy Lou Who. She found herself seeking the old feelings she had around the holiday. But she was changing, as everyone does. She needed to find her new feelings, and find Christmas in them. She was growing up, seeing for the first time the emptiness of the holiday trappings themselves.

Like Cindy Lou, I know better than ever that Christmas doesn't happen "out there". Not on a store shelf, not in a bakery or even in a church. Not even that magical, mystical moment when all the candles are lit on Christmas Eve and the organ quits playing on Silent Night and the beautiful sound of voices lifted together fills the air.

The holidays are long gone when our own children woke us early and could not wait to see what lay beneath the tree for them. The day hasn't depended on five people living in our house for many years. Yet, this year's change seems even more drastic than the empty nest-adjusting years. This year my Christmas, my personal one, is different. And maybe the most helpful thing I have found to cling to is not the narrative of the nativity. Not the centuries old stories of a young mother, a donkey, a baby and star. It is the unchanging willingness of God to meet me in the quiet with a word for me. Sometimes I feel the nearness of the spirit of eternity in the warm arms and love of my husband. Or the hugs of my loved ones. The voice of my mom on the phone. Christmas doesn't happen in a void. And it doesn't happen only in December. Where are you, Christmas? Ah, there you are. Still there, under my solar plexus. In that little unscientific place of solace where my soul rests beside my heart. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Little Feathers: Timely Timely

Little Feathers: Timely Timely: Another one I wrote a few years back. Today seems like a little time warp, so I'm revisiting it. Gee, Time Flies! That sneaky...

Timely Timely

Another one I wrote a few years back. Today seems like a little time warp, so I'm revisiting it.

Gee, Time Flies!

That sneaky, fooling wiggle hand
Sometimes speed demon
Sometimes snail
Can’t see it move at all.

That strict, straight marching hand
Tick tock lock step
Ever striking sharp sounds
Doesn’t sleep, doesn’t stand still.

That fuzzy floating free hand
Can’t pin it down
No digital readout
No sundial on a cloudy day.

Even really smart guys
Even super science girls
Can’t really say
Time…what is it, anyway?

Is it like a calendar?
Little blocks lined up
Keeps days organized
Monday is a school day….yes!

Is it like a star chart?
Who’s right here when?
Keeps us all on our toes
Time for lunch, time for bed!

Scary loud alarm buzz
Sweet old tick tock
Cuckoo bird from Germany
Silent sweeping watch hand,

All tell time or at least
What you need to know
When to stay and when to go
Measuring the hours.

Time in the big sky
Doesn’t jump, doesn’t jerk
Just goes round in a never ending
Never stopping circle kind of way.
Gee, time flies!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Little Feathers: Maybe the Wrong Season, But...

Little Feathers: Maybe the Wrong Season, But...: I wrote this a couple of years ago, and just came across it again. It made me think of fishing trips I've been on, of friends I know who...

Maybe the Wrong Season, But...

I wrote this a couple of years ago, and just came across it again. It made me think of fishing trips I've been on, of friends I know who love to fish, of that little pause in reality, that little wrinkle in the fabric of the cosmos when something takes the bait.

Though it is chilly out and time to think of turkeys, I just had to share.

Too Hot to Fish

“I want to learn to fish,” I said,
He looked at me, and scratched his head,
“You picked a rotten day to start!
Too hot to fish around these parts!”

I gave him my cash and signed my name,
“I’d like to try it, just the same.”
We climbed in the boat and he said, “OK,
 But I betcha nothin’ bites today!”

Just then a bubble gurgled up,
A fishy head was seen below,
“Look there, he’s smilin’! That ain’t right!”
A smiling catfish! What a sight!

The man went wild and grabbed his pole,
“And right here in my fishin’ hole!
I’ll catch this sneaky catfish now!”
He dropped his hook over the bow.

“If I could catch me one of them,”
He said, while sweat poured off of him,
“This sun would cook him in the boat
I’d eat him right here while I float!”

Nothing happened for a bit,
No nibbled worm, no swim-by hit.
“It’s not my fishin’!” he said, real gruff,
 “For fishin’, I got all the stuff!”

He held up his pole with its fancy reel,
He held up his brown wicker fishing creel,
His gesture included his fine tackle box,
And even his fish-themed fishing socks!

“I tell you, it’s not me that’s beat,
It’s this dad gum blazing summer heat!”
Just then he caught my eye, and grinned
“Guess I should be teachin’ you, my friend!”

We trolled to other secret holes,
Though no other fishermen dipped their poles,
Try as we may, in his special spots,
No fish would bite, it was just too hot!

“Sorry son,” he said at last
When shadows cooled us as we cast,
But all of sudden my bobber went splash
And what happened next was worth all my cash!

“It looks like a big one!” He sat up straight,
“We’re in luck now, son, he took your bait!”
I was reeling and pulling, the fish full of fight,
I just couldn’t land him, try as I might.

The man stood up in the boat, and it veered
Wild to one side where my line disappeared!
Into the lake we both went in a flash
With all of the gear and the bait and the cash.

Sputtering up, the man looked around,
“Oh no! My gear!” He said, diving back down.
We brought up the creel and the cool tackle box,
And of course, he still had his fishing socks.

But somewhere in that big old lake
Is a laughing catfish who likes to take
Time and hooks from those who wish
To fish on day that’s too hot to fish!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Little Feathers: On the Road

Little Feathers: On the Road: It is pretty common knowledge that the power to be happy lies within us. That the way to open our eyes and our hearts to the blessings we ha...

On the Road

It is pretty common knowledge that the power to be happy lies within us. That the way to open our eyes and our hearts to the blessings we have been given is so simple, we can be tempted to make it too complex. We can make our happiness dependent on others, on conditions on the far side of our own skin.

It is also common knowledge that life is a journey, a passage to understanding. It can be tempting to combine those two ideas and feel that happiness lies somewhere on down the road. As if choosing happiness now, this minute, is premature.

Almost everyone I know is pedaling as fast as they can. They are juggling obligations and commitments, scheduling in some time for "fun" if they feel they deserve it. I have been hurrying, myself, since last winter, working on that Ghoultide project you may have heard me talk about (my close friends and family may be praying never to hear the "g" word again). I have muscled it in directions that I found out were dead ends, picked it up like a heavy stone and hurried back down that road to try another fork. Much of the past few months, I kept my head down, carrying that self imposed load. It was completed last week, and since then I am kind of floating along, feeling guilty that I'm not busy with something important (don't worry, I am chuckling at what I think is important). Bob and I have been home most of the time, as he had his knee replaced on Friday. In the quiet moments when nothing is happening, I have begun to unwind. And to think. And to pray. And to be grateful.

We live outside of town again, and though I didn't really want to leave the city when we moved last spring, I have come to love the quiet and the stars and the little critters out here. And the fresh air! Until this week, I drove the 80 mile round trip nearly every day, my blood pressure rising as I entered the giant ant hill of activity and traffic that is the big city. Depending on your nature, that bustle can be invigorating, or daunting.  Now I look at my little car and am glad I'm not climbing inside for the 70mph highway trek. I am on a different road. And this one has flowers along side.

There may be nothing new under the sun. Revelations may need to be broken and poured on my spirit over and over in slightly different ways before I can see them. I'm not really dumb, I'm just a human who keeps falling back into the habit of thinking I can control any of those things on the far side of my skin. I can do my best work (and even that can be a comparative trap!) and then muster up the courage to put it out there in the wide world, but I can't control anyone else's reaction to it. I can choose to let that reality keep me from trying, but I know better. I know that the best way to make sure no one likes it is to keep it to myself. But the truth is, I have no desire to spend time creating anything just for myself. So, I'll do that thing that risks rejection. I am compelled by my own nature. So, I remind myself that writing is not a burden, it is an opportunity. It is part of me, and it is ever evolving.

This morning in my quiet time I was reminded again that today is my day. Though I love family gatherings most of all things, I don't need to wait until a birthday dinner or a holiday to be truly happy. I don't need to run toward the next fun thing, blinders firmly in place, ignoring the blessing of this ordinary Wednesday. Moving forward, heading on down the road, does not have to preclude me from seeing this spot in time with the vision I only have when standing still.

I think we must all be trained to think that accomplishing something with our lives gives our time on earth meaning. Getting there faster, in the best car, with the most accolades is hollered from the rooftops as the way to be someone. Someone worthy of admiration. But I think about some of the people I have loved the most in my life, and I see the way that they treated others and themselves was the thing that made them someone. Someone. They were on the road, too. They kept getting older every day, but with a grace born of gratitude. I believe they woke up on an ordinary Wednesday and said thank you. Wednesday wasn't a blur on the way to the important days.

I'm grateful for the journey. I am. I am grateful that I have been given people to love, projects to fulfill the need inside to say something, grateful for the wisdom of others on this road. And today, on Wednesday, Nov 12th, I am grateful that I can stand here a minute and breathe. Maybe I need to remember my road has scenic pullouts where I can just pause and look out there, beyond myself. The bend, the next hill to climb can wait.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Little Feathers: Horses, Donkeys and Mules

Little Feathers: Horses, Donkeys and Mules: Sometimes I wake up with words in my brain, as if my sleeping self knows some stuff that my waking self needs to remember. This morning it w...

Horses, Donkeys and Mules

Sometimes I wake up with words in my brain, as if my sleeping self knows some stuff that my waking self needs to remember. This morning it was a sentence: the fall from a high horse can take your breath away. Well, I said to my sleeping self, what makes you think I'm on a high horse? Sigh. Doh. Most times when I'm so sure I'm right about something that I actually pity the one who doesn't see the truth that I see, bells and sirens should actually be going off to warn me of a coming fall. Do I learn from past experiences as far as humility goes? Sometimes. But, evidently, I'm not done with that lesson because it keeps popping back up.

I used to think that the people who knew the most were the ones who were the smartest. Then I began to notice that the same people who had a vast storehouse of acquired knowledge were sometimes light in the common sense area. Or the creative one. Or the philosophical one. Or they can't fathom how to have a relationship. I came to understand that there are many kinds of intelligence. Athleticism is a kind of intelligence. Some things we call talents are, quite simply, a kind of intelligence. How great it would be if our society valued them all. How great it would be if the teacher who can ignite the imaginations of children was seen as every bit as valuable as the home run hitter. Or the tech support people who can listen to our complaints and figure out a solution with their eyes closed. How about the dancer who holds choreography in their brain for dozens of dances that are never the same, never to be repeated after this performance? Or the musician who can sight read, transpose, memorize thousands of notes. How about the illustrator who reads some words and expands them into a visual representation? You get my drift.

What does this have to do with a high horse? What if we all remembered that the people we encounter everywhere are just as intelligent as we are? What if we knew that the football player who just showed incredible skill, but bad grammar in the after-game interview, was just as intelligent as we are on our best day? What if the politician who said something we desperately disagreed with was given the same dignity to have an opinion that we want for ourselves? That is a toughy for me. There are some people who sound so thoroughly ignorant that I can't really give them the respect I want for myself. But I don't know them. I don't see how they hold their children or sit beside their spouse or mother in a hospital room. I don't see their souls. I can't. But I can't afford to assume I'm better than they are. It is a high, high horse a long, long way from the ground. I can disagree with them. I can even dislike them. But feeling superior is a bad idea.

No matter what you believe about Jesus, he was certainly a model of humility. No prancing stallion for him. He rode a donkey.

Today, when I think about what is real and what is perceived, I want to stay off the horse. If I can't quite manage a donkey, I'll for sure try for the mule. The mule and I are kindred spirits, after all. A little stubborn. Something my sleeping self seems to know better than my walking self.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Little Feathers: Making it Matter

Little Feathers: Making it Matter: When Bob and I were teenagers, we met at a place called Holden Village. The year we spent there made a very deep impression. In fact, I'...

Making it Matter

When Bob and I were teenagers, we met at a place called Holden Village. The year we spent there made a very deep impression. In fact, I've been looking for Holden ever since. Just this morning, I realized I never lost it.
While students at the village, we heard professors and theologians, artists and cooks and construction workers talk about living a life of meaning. For months we watched adults wrestle with the big questions. The ones Shakespeare addressed in nearly every play.  We read Bonhoeffer and Tillich, C.S. Lewis and Barth, T.S. Elliot and St Augustine, Tolkien and Kierkegaard. And more. I still have the books on my shelf. They have followed me around from house to house, and it was when I looked at them this morning, in their familiar places, that it struck me. I never lost Holden because the pieces are still in my mind. The snatches of conversation, some which have become slogans for Bob and I, the voices of the seekers are still in there, though some are buried deep.
We were told from the beginning that we couldn't stay at Holden forever. It is a place apart, literally and spiritually a mountain top, and we must live in the real world. But, we could take some of it with us. What's kind of funny to me now is that I wanted more. I wanted my church to be Holden. I wanted my college to be Holden. I got disgruntled with both, wanting them to serve me. Didn't those professors and pastors want to ask the big questions? I seemed to have missed the conversations on humility and servant-hood that I know were going on the village. I seem to have expected others to be my Holden. Instead of myself.
Balance is a tricky trick. Taking life seriously without taking myself too seriously. Working hard without expecting to control outcomes. Letting everyone else make their own way while being true to myself. Being honest without being judgmental. And forgiving myself for not figuring everything out already.
Here is the funniest thing of all: I don't really make life matter. It matters all by itself. I don't make the meaning, I just learn to see it. There is a huge difference between surrendering the demands I have on life, and giving up. In fact, I think the road to humility and enlightenment is much more work than the way of blindly accepting someone else's dogma. So...I make it matter by letting go? I make it matter by understanding that I can't make life in my own image? Maybe after 42 years, some Holden conversations are just coming clear. Hmmm. Maybe Letting it Matter would be a better title.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Little Feathers: For the Love of a Dog

Little Feathers: For the Love of a Dog: It can happen slowly, like the dogs who wiggle and sneak their way into our families, the ones who we only tolerate at first. The ones who m...

For the Love of a Dog

It can happen slowly, like the dogs who wiggle and sneak their way into our families, the ones who we only tolerate at first. The ones who make us wonder about their intelligence, the ones we can't believe shed so much, the ones who just can't seem to leave the trash can alone.  And, the connection does not always happen. Many of us have owned dogs we kind of like, but we could give them away without a backward glance if someone wants them. We've had several of those. Like the Cocker Spaniel Randy Luther (five year old Josh named him) who was born without a brain. Or, with a very, very small one, in-detectible to the human experience. Or the jumpy, licky, barky, untrainable Abbie. She was a little white something-or-other who happily went to live with a family member when she wouldn't quit jumping over/ barking at/ waking up newborn Katie. We would never abandon a dog, we were just tickled pink when they went to new homes.
Then there are the dogs who take one look at us and decide that we are their people, their tribe. They have earnest love and acceptance written all over them. Those dogs give us something no human being can give. They never criticize or second guess us, something even our most loved loved-ones sometimes do (not to mention, something we ourselves to do). Eager to comfort us, dogs 'do love' the old fashioned way. They show it. No words needed.
Sometimes just putting my hand on our boxer girl Lucy's head changes my mood. Lucy is goofy and just plain thrilled with life. Her enjoyment of the moment flows right into my hand and up to my heart. I want to be like Lucy when I grow up.
Several people who are dear to me have recently lost dogs who loved them so well. Some are bracing themselves for the loss that is coming soon, though we know we can never really prepay what grief costs us. The silent space left in our lives can't really be filled by another dog, not completely. And that is the yin and the yang of loving. In spite of the pain, I would not give up the love of my dog to save myself.
I've heard that dog is God spelled backwards. At first that seemed silly to me, and I couldn't quite grasp it. Now, I've decided it makes perfect sense. Unconditional love. Dogs can't save us from making fools of ourselves, but God doesn't do that either. Dogs can't keep us from the inevitable, they are subject to the laws of nature themselves. But they truly are gifts. For me, all that is good in life comes from God. My own best self included. I won't press my theology on anyone, and I surely don't have a corner on truth. What I do have is the glory of nature that lifts me up. And the love of an animal perfectly suited to be my friend. I'm sure dogs were one God's very best ideas. He looked at man and woman (who were not always using their words for each other's edification) and said, "Let's give them a break. Let's give them solace in a fur coat." And he put a puppy in their arms. They all lived happily ever after.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Little Feathers: Know When to Hold 'Em...

Little Feathers: Know When to Hold 'Em...: Kenny Rogers had it right. It's just that it can be really tricky to decide when to fold 'em and walk away. Maybe all those no's...

Know When to Hold 'Em...

Kenny Rogers had it right. It's just that it can be really tricky to decide when to fold 'em and walk away. Maybe all those no's and obstacles are there to be overcome. Maybe keeping on in spite of it all is the definition of perseverance. Nobody likes a quitter, right? Right?
Or...maybe closed doors are the very thing that lead to a new path, a new perspective, a different goal. I recently have been working really hard on a particular project. The thing just wouldn't cooperate. I tried muscling it. And I'm pretty strong, so muscling a project in the direction I want it to go very often works. Now, a big signpost that I have been going in the wrong direction is hard to accept. If I quit this road, does it mean I've failed? does if I decide to look at it that way. It does if I didn't learn anything. Even if the lesson is that I can't always get what I want (oh, Rolling Stones, if you only knew how that song would hit home time and time again for so many people!).
There are other little phrases that have become part of my decision process through the years. I love one my husband, Bob, often uses: faith is saying it so, when it is not so, in order that it will be so. Well, I've been very loud about my goal for this project, telling everyone who will listen that it will happen. I have done this mostly to muscle myself into believing it and working hard enough to make it happen. So, there is the element of embarrassment that makes me reluctant to admit a change in course. Being motivated by fear of failure is a punitive way to go through life.
Keeping my mind open, keeping my heart open to input can't be done well when I'm shoving things around by brute force. Oh, Balance! What a tricky tool you are. Work and play, humility and self respect, goals and the willingness to change them, desire for success and willingness to re-define what that is...balance, balance, balance.
In the long run, knowing when to fold 'em keeps me at the table.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Little Feathers: No Mistakes

Little Feathers: No Mistakes: Regret, I hate you. You drag me down You make me want to hide. Regret, child of self centered thought. My first response To hide, to d...

No Mistakes

Regret, I hate you.
You drag me down
You make me want to hide.
Regret, child of self centered thought.

My first response
To hide, to deny, to blame.
But you will linger on
Like a bully, waiting to pounce.

Regret, who made you?
Me? Surely not.
I would choose perfection,
If I ignore you, you will disappear.

Still, you whisper
Your lies of power over me.
But I get to choose.
Maybe I'll call your bluff.

Change the past?
Can I go back and undo, re-do?
No. But I can learn.
And grow and forgive and be forgiven.

Regret, my teacher?
I shudder to think so.
And yet, what better use
For you than clearer sight?

Regret, come sit.
I'll tell you true
That you are part of a tale
A necessary part of any story.

Now, let's work
On your bedside manner.
Put away your false intimidation
And help me see my way from here.

Thanks, Regret. That'll do. Til next time.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Little Feathers: That pesky little nay sayer...

Little Feathers: That pesky little nay sayer...: I understand the truth, and the importance, of the advice to surround ourselves with people who bring out our best selves. Because I can nev...

That pesky little nay sayer...

I understand the truth, and the importance, of the advice to surround ourselves with people who bring out our best selves. Because I can never be good enough, never be faultless or blameless, because I need the healing balm of grace every day of my life, I do want to give myself the best allies in the quest to live a good life.
There is a little naysayer inside who condemns. Who questions motives, who compares. I have a variety of standard responses to the naysayer. Some, I can't write here. But some are pathetic first responses that need to be addressed, so my self esteem can be talked off the ledge.
The naysayer wants me to believe that I am never enough. That naysayer loves to hook up with negative energy coming from both myself and people with critical natures. There are lessons to be learned there, in that moment of despair when I realize I've messed up again. If I thought I was above making mistakes, that would truly be self deception. But, my choices for what to do with that information are the key to turning the reality of my faults into help, or harm, for myself.
I know a really wise woman who believes with all her heart that we ought to love, and be grateful for, our imperfections. That it is those very aspects of ourselves that drive us outside of ourselves to look for our redemption. She says that embracing our imperfections are in fact a way of being grateful that we are alive. It is very different notion from using our human frailties as an excuse to behave badly. It is, in fact, the opposite.
Requiring perfection for fear of losing the love of our dear ones, including our creator, is an exercise in self flagellation. Yet, the pesky little naysayer wants me to fear. Fear failure. Fear loss. Fear grief. The antidote to fear is not my own courage. It is my own desire to allow myself to be forgiven. To live in gratitude for grace itself.
There are many people in my life who give me grace all the time. It is the gift that keeps on giving. And, it is the gift that grows more powerful when shared with others. Take that, naysayer!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Little Feathers: Signposts

Little Feathers: Signposts: As much as I love looking at the stars, I'm surprised I haven't learned more about them. I have said for years that I'm going to...


As much as I love looking at the stars, I'm surprised I haven't learned more about them. I have said for years that I'm going to learn more constellations. But so far, I haven't followed through. There is one that is deep in my mind, though. When I was a kid, my mom and dad would point out the Big Dipper to me, showing me the handle and the bowl of it. I was always amazed that it followed us around, showing up where ever we were. 

Last night, Lucy and I were taking a stroll around the driveway (it's long at our Spicewood house) and I could see the Big Dipper, low over the big empty pasture next to our house. I thought about where that Dipper likes to show up when we are at the cabin. You have to look just above the little pine tree that grows near the deck on the north side. But that same tilt, like someone was ladling out water from a bucket, that same jaunty handle and bowl. I remember the stories of how slaves looking for freedom were encouraged to "follow the drinking gourd" and go north. It always made sense to me that the constellation that would point the way was a symbol for life giving water, a drink for the thirsty. And we are all thirsty.

With all the ups and downs of life, the joys and the tragedies, it is nice to have some constants. Some signposts that not everything is shifting sand. Every morning the sun comes up. And when the night sky is clear, if you live in the northern hemisphere, you will see the Big Dipper. It is there whether you are happy or grieving. It is there whether you are sick or well.

Compared to the stars, the history of us humans is incredibly short. If I am looking for constancy, I can't look to the ancient buildings in Egypt. They are crumbling, and someday will be gone.  I can't look to the ancient writings, even the holy ones; if not renewed, they will be gone someday. But the writings of the creator will be here to the end. The stars, the sun and moon. How fitting, for me, that looking up is the solace I need. Looking away from myself into the vastness of the cosmos doesn't make me feel insignificant. It makes me feel incredibly blessed that I was put here to experience this wild journey that is life. I am the opposite of alone when I look up and see that Big Dipper. I am part of the history of mankind. One more human who looks with awe at the night sky. A tiny part, for sure. A very, very temporary part. But the Dipper is pointing toward freedom. And we are all looking for freedom.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Little Feathers: In the Wee Hours

Little Feathers: In the Wee Hours: I drove back to the cabin from Santa Fe in the wee hours last night. At first, I was feeling sorry for myself that my plane had been delayed...

In the Wee Hours

I drove back to the cabin from Santa Fe in the wee hours last night. At first, I was feeling sorry for myself that my plane had been delayed by weather, and my near-two-hour solo drive began at midnight (1am Texas time) instead of 10pm. I bought a giant coffee at a 24hr McDonald's. The young man who was working the window was cheerful, and wished me a wonderful morning. That was the beginning of the turning. Then, I saw the cutest fox on the side of the Santa Fe bypass road. He wasn't running. He was sitting there, waiting for traffic (me, actually) to pass. I drove within a couple yards of him, and he smiled at me. Well, maybe he just broke into that toothy animal grin that means he was gulping extra air in anticipation of his jog across the road. But what I saw was a smile. Coming on the heels of the cheerful greeting from Coffee Man, it was enough. Enough to get my mind into a better frame. One that didn't waste the time in the car inaudibly moaning about my bad luck.

I tried several radio stations and finally settled on one that played classical music. It was perfect for that nighttime journey. I was grateful that I could find a strong signal that stayed with me almost to the cabin. I met very few other cars, so I was able to let my high beams carve the canyon, and that sweeping music made it a dance. Here I was, in a really nice Ford Flex (we call it Flex Luther, who as you know, rubbed elbows with Superman), driving in gorgeous country, listening to beautiful music. Even my coffee began to taste more like Starbucks and less like Mickey D's.

What a great, great blessing it is to travel today. I was very grateful to be in Austin for Harry Doss' funeral. It would not have been possible without modern conveniences.I flew through the air with the greatest of ease on the way there. And, all things considered, the extra wait at the airport on the way back would have seemed like a mere nano second to the people who crossed this country on foot. I was thinking about all the grumbling that occurred when we had to deplane in Dallas so mechanics could secure a loose carpet edge in our little jet.  Sure, everyone was tired. Tired people grumble if they aren't careful. The captain who called in the carpet caper was very sorry and apologized at every opportunity. The poor gate agent who kept having to announce delays and gate changes was brought to tears by demanding flyers. I loved one customer who saw the girl in tears and said to her, loudly, "How dare you make lightening strike nearby? How dare you keep the ground crew inside and safe from dying when they could be out there making our plane taxi to the gate!!!"  At first the girl heard only the loud voice. Then she heard the words and sunshine broke through her tears.

We landed safely in Santa Fe. My suitcase arrived with me. Flex Luther was waiting right where I left him. Coffee Man smiled. The fox smiled. The deserted canyon held tightly to the boulders that sometimes cavort down the cliffs and into the road. The radio station played strong and true. The cabin stood waiting on the side of the hill. What a nice way to spend the wee hours of the night.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Little Feathers: Pollyanna

Little Feathers: Pollyanna: Pollyanna had it right. I know, I know. People make fun of Pollyanna. They think she is immature, short sighted, and ignorant of the cynicis...


Pollyanna had it right. I know, I know. People make fun of Pollyanna. They think she is immature, short sighted, and ignorant of the cynicism required by our educated society. But I think that is because they don't understand her process of thought (and of course, I do). She didn't deny the sad, hard things. She didn't pretend that everything was alright when it wasn't. She simply had the knack for finding the hope in the middle of the mess. And in the scenes toward the end of the movie, when Pollyanna had lost her gift of gratitude, the people who loved her guided her back to her natural inclination.

I know people who are addicted to crisis. Who really hit their stride when the multitude of bad things happening in this world confirm their belief that we are all going to hell. And I am talking about the very real, incontrovertible hell that is right here on earth for millions. Even if you don't believe in a place of everlasting fiery brimstone, the smell of sulfur wafts strong from the evil at work today. Even Pollyanna would not try to say something positive about beheadings. She would cry about it, as we do. But after the tears were shed, I think that girl would get to work. Do something, anything to make the place she occupied in this world a better place.

What good does cynicism do? Does it make us more compassionate? More altruistic? Or does it just make us think we know more than the common Pollyannas who believe in the inherent goodness of mankind, of the earth, and this short time we get to walk here? I am arguing that a fatalistic view is a partial view. That wholeness only comes with gratitude. I suppose I argue for Pollyanna because I can't imagine wanting to remain here if I believed that life sucks. Always did, always will suck. I do believe that there is something at work in the cosmos that makes waking up each morning a gift. It is part of my deepest, most primitive self who has been in me since birth, this belief in goodness. The power of good, the power of people who do the work of honesty, courage, creativity, self sacrifice. I call the power behind that goodness God. I feel the call from outside myself, and I believe that the very best part of me and every other creature is where God dwells. Lots of people who do the work of goodness call the power something else. I don't care, I don't think I have a corner on truth. What does matter to me is that we lift each other up. That we hold on to the hands that reach out from the depths of despair. That our desire to appear intelligent and educated never makes us hard, encased in the steel cocoon of cynicism.

Our desire to draw life in black and white makes us stereotype and label people who have different solutions than we do. I hear the hubris in the voices of those who argue their political views. As if all the problems we face will disappear if only the right party is in charge. Hubris is one thing, but we cross the line when we demonize the opposition. It leads to a chasm between good people.

All the problems of our society...even Pollyanna would admit that we will never get it totally right. But she would not make the mistake of becoming apathetic about it. She would look for ways to be a light, to be a worker for good. I'm rooting for the girl. I'm rooting for the spirit of gratitude to infuse us all, to inspire us to be a more unselfish, a more good-centered society. This isn't a Disney life. If it were, no children would die of cancer, no people would go hungry, no terrorists of any ethnicity would prevail. Yet, there is hope in the center of the mess. Hope in the good deeds done by many, by any. Hope in the hearts of those who console. I can't think of anything more needed today than hope.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Little Feathers: The Hard Part

Little Feathers: The Hard Part: Just yesterday, I wrote about the death of our friend Gus. And, just yesterday, another kind, gentle man went home. Harry Doss was Daddy to ...

The Hard Part

Just yesterday, I wrote about the death of our friend Gus. And, just yesterday, another kind, gentle man went home. Harry Doss was Daddy to my friend Cheryl. He was husband, friend and partner to Dolly. Heebee to some beautiful great-grandchildren. Friend to many.

When I called my mom to share the news, we both cried. Not for Harry. We knew that Harry was released, relieved of his worries and cares. We cried for Dolly, and for Cheryl. Mom knows the hard part of losing a life long partner. I know the hard part for a daughter who will miss her dad.

There are some years, for many of us, when our parents are healthy, our children are happy, and we roll along through life thinking it will always be so. Years when family gatherings are for baptisms, birthdays, weddings. When Christmas cards bear news of promotions and graduations, happy successes.

The hard times come for everyone. Because we lose people we love. And, no matter how much we want the easier times back again, grief changes us. It leaves a mark. Time eases the acute pain, but we will never be the same. I could repeat the common belief that we are stronger, better people because of the hard times. Personally, I would rather skip this part. The broken-hearted part.

I would rather call Cheryl and laugh about the antics of her grandkids. I would rather recall fun and funny times spent together. But the most helpful thing for me when my dad died was hearing from people who cared about my loss. And I care very much that Cheryl has lost her dad.

Harry is free. No more illness, no more hardship for Harry. So, I pray for Dolly, for Cheryl and all their family, that they may feel peace and solace, knowing that they were loved so well by a child of God gone home. Rest in peace, Harry. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Quiet Ones

Yesterday a good man died. There were no national news reports of his death, no special editions of Time or People. But the world said goodbye to a man who served God, his family, his church and his community.
Gus always had a smile for people. And he volunteered the labor of his hands for countless projects that helped make the world a better place. He was a quiet man, not one to draw attention to himself. But there was a twinkle in his eye and a kind word on his lips. He cared to live in such a way that his passing leaves a hole in the fabric of life.
There are as many personality types as there are people, and we need them all. We need the boisterous antics of the Robin Williams of the world. We need the stirring rhetoric of the Barbara Jordons. And we need the unselfish, quiet contributions of the Gus Grosskopfs. We need the men who run their businesses in an honest way, who would never consider taking advantage of others. The women who give of their time in volunteer efforts without thought for public accolades. We need the men and women who believe that work is a worthy part of life, time well spent. People who take pride in doing a good job. We need them more than ever.
I am grateful for the life of Gus Grosskopf. He raised a wonderful family, together with his beautiful wife, Carolyn. I am grateful for the difference he made. We will miss him. Another of the Greatest Generation gone home. I can't even imagine what a great crew God has at his fingertips there. In case some projects need doing in heaven, there is one more cheerful worker available. Thanks be to God for the life of Gus.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Little Feathers: Daily Bread

Little Feathers: Daily Bread: Daily bread. Give us this day our daily bread. This petition is ingrained in my bones, repeated by me and my community since I was a baby. A...

Daily Bread

Daily bread. Give us this day our daily bread. This petition is ingrained in my bones, repeated by me and my community since I was a baby. As a child, I thought it was about my next meal. As a young woman, I thought it was about a house for my family, a car to get to work in; things. In this life, I have been given every thing I ever wanted, and more. Now this elemental request of God is not about things. It is about my real needs as a person.
Give me this day my daily compassion. Give me this day my daily humility. Give me this day my daily desire to love.
In the "How much is enough" conversation, our society presses us to consider what we have as lacking. There is always a better car, a bigger house, a more fashionable wardrobe, a higher educational degree. Status symbols. But status of what? Status of accumulation? Are we better people if we have newer and bigger, or is that promise just a hamster wheel that leads to self centered self-occupation? Planning for our family's security, working hard for a comfortable life, that is not what I am questioning. I am questioning the priorities that leave us feeling that we never have enough, even when we do. Instead of growing into our true potential, we strive and sweat and work and lust after an empty promise. That things will make us happy.
In the quest for the good life, how much does it matter that we listen to the wisdom of all religions that urge us to live in the moment, spend our days in gratitude, asking only for our daily bread? Give us this day our daily bread. Bread just for this day.
I love the saying that we are not promised tomorrow, we are only given today. It takes the pressure off. How differently will I live if I believe this is my last day? I have often thought about that. And what does it mean, really?
Part of the machinery our society uses to block this truth from us is fear mongering. Our country is going to the dogs. Our youth are uneducated, violent losers. Well, some of them are. Some of them always have been. What if the answer to that is not more prisons, or more welfare, but more people living as if this was our last day?
Give us this day our daily bread. Give us this day our sense of peace that comes from knowing we have been given every blessing we need to wake up today. Give us this day the solace that comes from knowing we can never earn our perfection, we can never earn our worthiness. We are given it. We have only to claim it. Our daily bread.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Little Feathers: A Couple of Wings and a Furry Little Body

Little Feathers: A Couple of Wings and a Furry Little Body: There is a bat in my belfry. Or, at least, where my belfry could be. Actually, I'm not sure where the little creature is at this moment....

A Couple of Wings and a Furry Little Body

There is a bat in my belfry. Or, at least, where my belfry could be. Actually, I'm not sure where the little creature is at this moment. Somewhere in the cabin. Sleeping upside down, no doubt. Wings folded over his little bat face. Waiting for dark.

Bob is in Austin for a couple of days, so last night I did something I rarely do. I sat and watched TV for several hours. Mindless stuff. You will not be surprised to hear, if you know me well, that I spent those hours watching something other than hard-hitting news shows (which can be mindless, as well). I watched three Hallmark original Christmas movies in a row. Very much like eating cotton candy and reading magazines.

With the only light in the cabin coming from the television, I was well into the third movie when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I thought it might be a really big moth. We get those from time to time, so I didn't worry about it. Then it flew close enough that I felt a little breeze from the leather wings, and I shot out of the chair fast enough to impress myself and irritate my pulled hamstring. I flicked on several lights and waited just a few seconds until I saw the bat, dipping and swerving. He was looking for a way out. So I opened all the upstairs doors and told him in no uncertain terms that we have, in fact, no belfry, and he should depart in peace. I suspect this bat may be deaf in addition to being blind, because he did not oblige. Instead, he found a nice little place to hang at the tippy top of our cathedral ceiling. Maybe he made a connection: cathedral, belfry. Anyway, he did not exit, but moths were entering, so I shut the doors. I found that I could finish the movie (how, oh how, will it end? Will the prince marry the ordinary girl from Buffalo?) by covering my head with a throw blanket. When it was over, I turned off the lights and crept to my bedroom. I laid there thinking about that little creature for a long time. And questions did abound.

Why do we love some creatures ('we' being everyone just exactly like me) and not others? I love butterflies. Moths? Not so much. I love deer but not coyotes. I love geckos and other lizards, but their cousins, the snakes, are not my friends. Bluebirds and hummingbirds make me smile, but buzzards make me shudder. And it isn't just their job in the food chain. What is more beautiful than a cheetah running full tilt? What is uglier than a hyena?

The honing of our opinions of what is beautiful and what is ugly starts so early that I wonder sometimes if it is innate. I know that styles of beauty, admired by society, vary a little from culture to culture, and era to era. But the basics stay the same. When I think about it, I am puzzled by my reaction to the looks of a creature, amazed at the attributes I automatically assume belong to it. Here is the perfect example. I am not alone in my lack of love for...da da da duh...the spider. Spiders are sneaky, secretive and take great joy in scaring me. Some even take it to the extreme and crawl on me, just to prove the point. Spiders have way too many legs. Compare them to another irritating bug, (I said bug, not insect, you scientific minded folk) the mosquito. Mosquitoes carry diseases, live to bite us, and are a terrible pest in many humid climates. But do they make you shiver just by looking at them, like a spider? Well, here is my best argument: was it the mosquito that scared Little Miss Muffet away? I rest my case.

I know we humans extend the bias, the assumptions of characteristics, to other humans. If someone is very beautiful, it is not a stretch to think they are also well read, or at least moderately educated. If some is very ugly, we may not give them that same benefit of the doubt. Yet, I have met very beautiful people who are so self centered that their character has no beauty. And I have met very ugly people who have risen above the difficulty of bias and achieved great things. I have also met beautiful people who astound me with their generous spirit, and ugly people who have such a mean-spirited nature that I can only hope to protect myself from them.

We can say all we want about beauty being skin deep. And, that our true work as humans is to be good stewards of the body and mind we've been given. But my little furry friend in the upper reaches of the cabin ceiling didn't get to choose between his nocturnal life and more favored one of a cute little chipmunk. None of us choose our bone structure, height, coloring (well, we do get to choose our hair!!!) etc. We don't choose how big our feet are, how wide our shoulders. We do get to choose our character, though.

I guess my point is that I want to have a more unbiased eye for all creation. Especially for my own species. I hope the bat won't make my heart race with unfounded fear. I am pretty sure he was not a vampire bat. Too small. And I want to apply Forrest Gump's mother's wisdom to all things. Handsome is as handsome does. I'm trying to reserve judgement on the bat. Now, if he will just listen to reason and go out the door.