Save this moment 

this is a perfect moment in time. 

Windows open, slightly cool fall morning spilling into stuffy rooms, sliding along rays of light. Harmonious good-mornings and cooking breakfast together, something high-fat and filling to begin another weekend. Took the trash out and on the way in, admired the garden, seeing for once mostly possibilities amid the magnificent mess of tomato plants that are sprawling, cascading, out of beds because they were never staked up, and tall grass crowding among rose bushes and basil plants. Usually I only see all the work I should have done this summer. But even with so little of my effort, the garden bore fruit. Chew on that a bit, amor. 

Is it awkward writing here abruptly after such a long hiatus? Maybe so. But this moment will slip by quickly and writing is the only way I know to save it, make it last a little longer. 

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When I’m not who I thought I was…

write this down:

what you thought was normal was actually your ideal

your real self is not your ideal self

do you know how I know this?

I notice now and I’ve noticed before

I’m always sorry for being late

and I’m late a lot

maybe 70% of the time? Hard to calculate

but still, it’s a lot.

Which is strange considering what I believe about lateness

that it show disrespect

lack of care or concern for another’s time

lack of organization

all things I value

deeply.

yet

I’m late a lot

and it isn’t because I don’t care about your time

or I don’t respect you

or anything like that

and if you’re late, I won’t hold it against you

at least not very much

or very long.

Also, I am messy.

I mean, I’m capable of great organization

and I love organization

almost as much as I love…

well it’s hard to compare

but I really love it.

and I think maybe I love it a little bit

because it looks like control

i expect that when all your papers are filed properly

you must be super on top of things

i assume that at some point

in the not-too-far-off future

I’ll have it figured out too and then

of course

my desk will be tidy

all. the. time.

And also, good people have tidy homes

which is why I respect her so much because

she never lets the dishes overtake the kitchen

like I do.

All of this really makes me wonder

Who the hell I am?

And what kind of person am I, anyway?

And I’m not upset about all these revelations

because we all know by now

that if anything is really good, it’s this sort of

frank truth-telling

even if that means kind of

standing in front of the mirror naked for a second

and realizing you weren’t ever really

who you thought you were anyway

and that’s pretty much okay.

So

there it is.

not terribly tidy

not terribly punctual

what I thought was normal might actually be ideal.

Goodness,

what other revelations could next week hold?

“Careful the things you say…”

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.

Children may not obey,
Buit children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.

Careful before you say,
“Listen to me.”
Children will listen.

(Stephen Sondheim, from Into the Woods)

“We need a new game plan,” I told him. I love this child. I get so frustrated with this child. I feel manipulated by this child. At the 11th hour, he is staying after school to finish work, finally, asking for help, finally. Its too late, I think. He is downcast, anxious. I can only imagine what his parents have threatened if he gets bad grades. Not to be all “judgy” or anything, but they need a new game plan too. It is clear to me that keeping this precocious and highly energetic child inside – “grounding” – is not producing the desired results.

“I had a group of girls in my 6th grade class one year,” a colleague tells me, “and my primary goal for them was that they would make it to high school without becoming mothers.”

I am relieved and terrified when I realize that I too have such low and heart-rending goals for my students. I just want you to make it, I think. And I tell some of them, “This is a game, like football, like soccer. It doesn’t come easy for you, but I know you’re good at playing other games. Learn this one. Play by the rules, win, graduate, then do whatever you want.”

This is why some of the academic goal-setting and evaluating seems so empty to me. I don’t actually care how many of my 6th graders get into college. There are a few that I would actively discourage from pursuing college if they were at that point with this set of skills and gifts. Amidst the endless meetings to plan, reflect, evaluate, comply, no one is able to give me a template or plan or common core standard for helping these children flower into honest, hardworking, kind, confident people.

Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics shatter my anger and tear at my heart. Every day, every day, I say what feels like a thousand times, “Listen to me!” I whisper it, shout it, laugh it, speak it, sing it, glare it. I assume that half the time, they don’t. But what if I’m wrong?

I don’t expect to teach forever. But there are a lot of children in my life, regardless.

I just can’t get this out of my head, this refrain that keeps circling back around.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen…

(74) a mosaic of victory

It’s Veteran’s Day again.

The one person who comes to mind out of the millions is Mr. Neil Carey, a charming regular guest at the hotel where I worked for a year and a half in Anacortes, Washington. He was in the Navy during World War II, attached to the only battleship (as I understand it) that was not at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. I never met his wife Betty, but I understand from Neil that she was quite the catch. When the news came about Pearl Harbor, Neil was allowed one day of leave before they shipped out. Betty came down to Seattle for the day and they were married, then he left for war and she took the bus to Mount Vernon and then hitch hiked to Anacortes. Neil told me he knew he had to snatch her up before someone else got to her!

Over the many interactions that we had, he would ask me how my husband was doing in the Navy and reminisce about how things had changed. He told me about how quickly he was promoted in wartime, described the different odd jobs he did along the way, like running the ship store for a while. He glossed over what it was like to see a lot of friends die, but you could still catch a glimpse sometimes that that experience also made him who he was. (Both Neil and Betty Carey wrote books about their life experiences, which you can find online).

The title of this post comes from the inscription on a headstone in a World War II era North African graveyard:  “Into the mosaic of victory I lay this priceless piece, my dearest son.”

I feel you could dive into the phrase a long way. The meaning in the context of lost lives during wartime is obvious. But maybe there is other, more subtle significance in it as well. I think what I loved most about Neil is his unquenchable spirit, his endless enthusiasm for life and stories. He seems perpetually selfless, bent on improving another’s day even when in the midst of a rough one of his own. It is as though his way of living is his ultimate priceless piece in the mosaic of victory.

Maybe we are the mosaic of victory. That regardless of the outcomes of the various circumstances we face, even with things as large as wars with munitions and wars with words, the way we are living through it becomes the mosaic of victory.

Please understand I do not wish to oversimplify or undervalue the immense sacrifices of our veterans in any degree.

I’m just thinking out loud. And I like the feel of that phrase:  Mosaic of victory. A cooperative, collaborative creation of something meaningful and beautiful. Perhaps in some ways this is why we pause to honor our veterans, with special recognition for their particular and highly-sacrificial collaboration in this massive mosaic.

(70) close to the ground

Humility is the real Christian virtue. It means staying close to the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthiness. It is the virtue that opens our eyes for the presence of God on the earth and allows us to live grateful lives. (Henri Nouwen)

In certain standing yoga poses, I’ve often heard instructors say to “ground down through all four corners of your feet.” And so I wiggle my toes and bring awareness to the outline of my feet, planted firmly into the mat, remaining steady, relaxed, balanced. I need this rootedness in regular old life too.

This kind of deep, close-to-the-ground rootedness reminds me of Jesus saying, “Remain in me.” Stay with me, steady now, plant yourself here.

Sometimes, humility is admitting that I have no clue what I am about, what I’m doing here or what might be the best next step. And sometimes it is really deep crying when there is no “best thing,” just a lot of dreams to let go of, and hoping that the letting go will leave space for Jesus to be bigger.

When I am closer to the ground, more rooted in this moment, then I am also closer to God’s heart, to the remaining, abiding, that I so greatly desire. So that I can love without hesitation or reservation, and let go more quickly and embrace more fully.

I hope that God will find me with my hands deep in the dirt, smelling of sweat and fuzzy tomatoes. I hope He will find me with all four corners of my feet planted into the earth and my heart planted in the present moment, willing to be all there. And I hope I will find myself rooted in His heart.

(57) palm sunday eve

Lent is over.

It is Lazarus Saturday and the eve of Palm Sunday, or the celebration of the feast of Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem in the Orthodox Church. This means a remarkably festive day even in the anticipation of sorrow because the raising of Lazarus from the dead foreshadows our own hope of resurrection.

I surprised even myself by my full participation in the Lenten fast. But my sister told me before it began that part of the purpose of fasting is to practice the discipline of saying “no” to our desires. Food is a good thing, but when we fast, we practice mastering this one aspect of ourselves rather than letting it master us and this discipline has obvious applications in all other areas of life. I wanted to practice this. And my brother-in-law told me that Lent is like climbing a mountain, like the long journey to the highest spiritual high, like that of an epic summer camp. They both were looking forward to it. And so I figured I’d give it a try.

And now I understand.

I understand that at this point when I feel like I cannot go another day without an egg, even though I have already gone without for many, many days; when I cannot imagine eating any type of legume one more time, even though I have feasted on delicious curries, homemade refried beans, homemade bread with ripe avocado and vegan chocolate cake for weeks and have never gone truly hungry; when the only edible substance that sounds good is wine (thank God for wine being allowed on the weekends during the fast); when I know I have eaten, but like the very hungry caterpillar, I am still hungry…

even now, as Lent draws to a close and only one week remains of the fast and it is the Holy Week we have been anticipating for so long…

even in the middle of all of this, I am already looking forward to Lent and Pascha next year.

I cannot really explain this.

I do not think I am particularly more spiritual because I’ve participated in the Lenten fast. I don’t think that I prayed more, although I certainly did attend church more often. I still felt frustrated and overwhelmed with my new job. I’ve still been emotional and tearful for numerous reasons. I haven’t been particularly more selfless or generous or compassionate.

But I do feel really hungry and not just for eggs.

I anticipate that this Holy Week is going to be intense and hard. I’ll be working full-time as well as trying to go to church at least every day. I will be very tired and emotionally stretched. But I bet that when it is over, I will be sorry to close this chapter, to lower the curtain on this season.

I know that life isn’t all about feelings. But even when I have felt raw and broken with loneliness and longing, or when everything has gone wrong again and again in these recent days, I have still felt suspended and buoyed in a sweetness, a tangible grace.

I feel close to Jesus.

And I want to walk with Him through this Holy Week. And then keep going.

And I will probably get off course. Which might be partly why I already know I need to practice the discipline of Lent again next year.

And I can hardly wait.

(10) judge not

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others.The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Jesus, from Mt. 7 NLT)

“Notice how many times today you are disappointed with yourself and others. What standards are you measuring everything against? How are these standards affecting you and the people in your life?” (From The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 110)

I sense this will be a lifelong class for me, the course of judging not, releasing from judgment, acceptance. I recognize how important it is, again, when I feel the harshness of my anger warming up, red hot. Too much potential for searing people, scarring them, destroying relationships in a fiery blaze, burning myself in the process. You will be treated as you treat others. “How do you like them apples?”

Of course, there is something specific on my mind this morning. Perhaps too private for the wide world, yet too constant, repetitive, to ignore. I am ashamed of my fiery tendency to pass judgment when I am only called, empowered, to love, to embrace.

Judge not… How well do you love, Anna? Have you mastered the love that Jesus modeled? Surely not, surely not yet, not even close to that depth, that consistence, not even with the one I love most. Then, dare you pass judgment about choices, decisions, moods, behaviors?

Intriguing that the one human being fully entitled to pass judgment instead chose to change lives by loving without conditions, embracing the other with untainted acceptance. Will you take up that challenge, dear one? Will you practice release and acceptance-with-joy (Hinds’ Feet, H. Hurnard), embracing completely?

It seems that, even in marriage as the two become one, the two also remain two. Called to live in rhythm with the other, yet still unique, distinct, different hearts, different desires, different needs. The class of judge not and of acceptance-with-joy is more intimate here, and exceedingly more immediate and crucial. Let me learn from you, Jesus.

*****

I wonder, is gratefulness the trick here as well? Not to imply, of course, that there is a one-trick-solves-all sort of solution. It is, after all, a process (groan) and not a quick fix. But is it possible that I have too much space in my mind and heart for doubting and judging and discontent because I am empty of thanks? Maybe I too need to start a list of a 1000 moments of giving thanks.