Walking Beside

A year ago today, we said goodbye to Maci and sat with her, stroking her sweet head, until her heart stopped.

Maci was the kind of dog who didn’t mind walking at just your pace on a leash. Before I ever knew her, she had won a showmanship ribbon at the county fair. She was little more than a year old then and retired from competition soon after, but she never seemed to forget the joy of having that skill.

Walking beside was a particular gift of Maci’s. She was a Chow mix and so as naturally aloof as a cat if you got mushy and wanted to snuggle her. But she loved to lay on your feet when you sat awhile. And if you let her off leash, she’d run ahead a ways then circle back to you, walking beside to check on you, then run ahead again before circling back.

In her final years, when I finally got to know her and care for her, she was mostly deaf, largely blind, indifferent about eating unless it was ice cream. Her back legs got weak and she could barely get herself upright if she was on a smooth floor.

Rest nowShe took all these losses in stride. When she slipped on the wood floor and couldn’t get herself up, she’d simply decide it was a great place for a nap. When she got outside in the dark and couldn’t see or hear, she would stand still, sniff-sniffing the air for all the clues — all the vast life and news of the neighborhood.

And when we would clip her leash onto her collar, her tail would always wag. Then out we’d go. For the first half block, her head up, she’d walk beside, briskly, at just our pace. Then gradually, she’d drop back. Stop to sniff. Pant a little.

We’d turn around then, head for home. We’d alter our pace, as she had finally trained us to do, letting her set the speed. Walking beside.


Sudden Changes and Slow Work

Everything can change so suddenly.

About 11 p.m. on December 22, after a day of holiday visits with family, my kind and generous stepfather fell asleep behind the wheel, veered off the road and hit a tree head on. It was a powerful impact. He broke both arms, shattered a portion of his left leg. There was internal bleeding and blood on his brain.

For our family, this has been a Christmas of shock and awe. Days and nights circling around the ICU waiting room, learning the medical language, feeling helpless while someone we love is in pain beyond our power to soothe or reach.

That’s the shock part. The awe part has been about seeing each other as the remarkable, beautiful, gifts that we are to each other. The steadiness and wisdom in my brothers. The way my sister can make us laugh at ourselves and be taken seriously at the same time. My mother’s strong advocacy, quick mind and committed, tender heart. I look around the halls of the hospital, and I feel the glory in everyone I meet. What a wonder it is to be alive.

Tonight, Ed will have an extensive surgery to try to reconstruct his leg and elbow. Before they took him to the OR, he was more responsive than he’s been since the accident. He clearly recognized his son and daughter, and my mother, too. Mouthing words of love to them. And then I stepped into his view. His eyebrows popped up in recognition. He looked straight at me. And then he winked.

These are days of signs and wonders.

Everyday is a day of signs and wonders.

We realize there is a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead. It’s not just Ed’s road, but one that will be walked by everyone who loves him. We’re a ragtag, glorious bunch. And we’ll stumble along, trusting that God has been, is, and will be somehow right in the midst of the way we go.

Everything can change so quickly, but we will live into that change slowly. Maybe, just maybe, becoming signs and wonders ourselves.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time….. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

~ Teilhard de Chardin

Heart to Earth

Today I wanted four legs to curl up underneath me, rest my head on the floor and sigh.

This act, this slow and delicate ballet, requiring a certain nimblenss of joints and spirit, a particular depth of soul and spaciousness of body, this would be the way of entering the day entirely as myself.

Yesterday, during a break in the rain, a tail-less fox that cases the neighborhood was in the backyard again. He had been on the back patio last week, finding a drowned mouse under a rock in the flower bed. We watched him eat it for a snack 10 feet away from where we sat on the couch, looking out the window. Yesterday he surveyed the freshly mowed patch of grass, then jumped straight up on to the narrow plank top of the neighbor’s fence. He scanned their yard and disappeared over the other side.

“Be like the fox,” Wendell Berry wrote. “Make more tracks than necessary/ some in the wrong direction.”

To have four legs would mean I could keep my belly close to the ground, the solid, stable place. I could keep my heart close, too.img_1344

Melt heart to earth the yoga instructor says each day. Melt. Heart. To earth. Such a simple phrase, but a layered picture of natural relenting — of letting go into a grounded, wide awake space of listening and seeing.

In the Genesis story of creation, God takes dirt from the ground to make the first human being. The Orthodox poet Scott Cairns envisions God not just breathing into that handful of earth with a loving kiss, but then covering God’s self with the mud, head to toe, caked on…and then wiggling out of the kissed clay, which then arises, alive: human in the image of God.

So melting heart to earth, tucking legs under and sighing into rest. To be home and myself without over-much struggle. To leap fences, unconcerned about trespassing, even though my tail has been torn off, to make tracks not for efficiency’s sake, but for curiosity. For discovery. To melt heart to earth and feel God’s kiss. Again and again.

Make more tracks than necessary
Some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


Against Hope: a found poem

Found poetry is created by taking words or phrases from an existing source and re-framing them in a new way, using them to say something of your own. It is a kind of literary collage. The poem below was crafted from a sermon I heard that was actually very hope-filled, but at the time I heard it, it simply gave me words for the hopelessness I was living in.

Against Hope

Tired of desiring?
Do this every day:

First, just give in
to little, lesser hopes.
Look for a crack. Resign.

feel like you are enlightened.
You are awakened (So foolish to hope).

Convert other people. Create a fellowship. Your own little church.
Don’t build (To build you have to risk, dream)

don’t become an atheist. Just keep God
at a distance.
Create your own wonderful plan. Make life work on your own.

Do this
before they throw dirt on you.
It’s safe;
You’ll already be dead.

Found in a sermon given by Ron Johnson
Arranged 3 January 2010

In which I notice how Starbucks looks like Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters at American Family Association,
     Thanks for taking the time to share your dissatisfaction with Starbucks’ position on diversity when it comes to same sex marriage. It’s clear you care about marriage, and I believe you want to see families and communities thrive.
     That said, I respectfully disagree with your insistence on a boycott of Starbucks. Maybe they don’t have all their theology perfect about marriage. Then again, can you blame them? They’re not a church. But despite that, they do seem to daily live out a few things that look a lot like what the Bible says God requires of us.
     They are using their resources globally to provide fair and sustainable livelihoods for the people who grow their coffee beans. They insist that every store take responsibility to be a good neighbor in tangible ways to its unique community. They are committed to making each of their shops a haven, a safe place to slow down and belong. They treat everyone who walks through the door with respect and kindness. They insist that coffee is only a means to their real business – human connection. And even in their position toward dissatisfied shareholders, they show that human relationships are more important to them than financial profit.
     In the first century, Christianity began to flourish, according to some scholars, because it offered radical hospitality along with the simple gospel. This phenomenon caught the eye of one Roman emperor who urged his governors to study and emulate the hospitality of the Christian communities in their midst so Rome, too, might thrive.
     What happened to us?
     Brothers and sisters, if we are truly committed to the well-being and restoration of the broken people God loves, we could do far worse than to befriend Starbucks and humbly seek to learn from them. The truth is, we are broken too, and there are many things God can teach us through this coffee company. Maybe, down the road a ways, they’d become genuinely interested in asking us to share a few things we believe. Maybe we could have an impact on them. But even if that never happened, we just might be better followers of Jesus for showing them the same hospitality they show everybody else.

Walk on

Oswald Chambers had a good word based on Isaiah 40:31: ” There is no thrill in walking; it is the test of all the stable qualities…. God does not say–Be Spiritual, but–‘Walk before Me.'” In other words, we aren’t made to live in the stratosphere of spiritual or emotional or physical experience. Most of life is a steady, rhythmic walk. An enjoyable ramble at best; a plodding march at worst. But either way, a walk, and one where, each step, Jesus extends an invitation to follow Him.

I took a walk over lunch time one day, plodding over a long list of things I had to do. As I hurried back to go to a meeting, I managed to smile at a woman passing by. She was carrying two plastic shopping bags, and she returned my smile with a half toothless grin. “Can I ask you a question?” she said.

Really, she said, she needed a favor. Her car wasn’t running. Her back was bad. The bags she carried were heavy with food and clothes from the social service mission up the street. She wondered if I could give her a ride the five or six blocks to where she lived.

My mind flipped through options: I’ll be late for my meeting. I should beg off. What can I give her? How can I help? How can I serve this woman?

In the end, it just came out of my mouth. “Let me walk with you. I’ll carry your bags.”

“Really?” she said. “Really? That would sure help my back.” She let me take her load, and she wasn’t kidding. My goodness, those bags were heavy! Then together we walked down the street.

After the first block, she told me how her husband had kept her from making friends or getting a job, then left and took everything with him. In the second block, I told her I knew what it felt like to start over, that my divorce had only been final 10 days. She looked at me and said, “It’s been two months for me. Don’t you worry. It does get better, easier.” By the third block, I’d told her my name and she told me hers. In the fourth block, she talked about her daughter, her sick father, her 71-year-old friend who had two Yorkie puppies.

We were two blocks shy of where she said she lived, when we stopped for a red light at the corner. “I’ll carry it from here,” she said, “you gave me a rest. Now you need to get on back to your meeting.” I couldn’t just let her go like that. I stalled by digging through my purse for a few dollars toward bus fare for the next errand she might have to run. Then I looked her in the eyes and smiled. I wrapped my arms around her neck. I told her it was so nice to meet her.

Her load was so heavy, she couldn’t hug me back, but she leaned into me and said, “It was nice to meet you, too.”

Then she crossed the street and went on her way. I turned back the four blocks we’d just crossed together, but crying now, for beauty and glory. Two broken women, strangers on the street. No transcendent conversion, no big deal, really. But for a few steps, I carried her burden and she eased mine. Just walking together. That’s all.

Just walking together. That’s everything.

A Prayer Before Writing

Holy God,
who spoke a garden into a man,
into a story that still keeps telling–
You are the first letter on the page,
the string of sense in all that is.
You are the silence between the words and
story unwinding.

I am not able to speak.
Not only are my lips as unclean as Isaiah’s,
but I am afraid.
And I am tired.
I am easily distracted by what is not Word,
my own too-small vision.
I confess that I do not understand
what you call me to do.
I confess that I know you keep calling me to do it.
Christ have mercy.

Thank you for the gift of language.
Frail and fractured as it is,
words still puncture into presence,
overtake our nerves.
Thank you for eyes to read,
ears to notice.
Thank you for speaking
the native tongue of mystery.

Take this writing time.
Make Your Home in it.
Exultant Author, hover over these moments,
linger in this ink,
speak through this hand.
Restore Your world
through your everlasting Word.