Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
We were dressed all wrong in our best blue jeans and Sunday tops—two people clothed in love amidst crisp dinner jackets and sequined gowns that glittered in the dim light of the theater. I slunk down in my seat next to a younger woman in a blue pin-striped dress—we did not come to be seen, only to see.
But as I sunk into my seat she looked up. She saw me. And she smiled.
Just then, a little girl—maybe seven or eight—sat down in the seat on the other side of her, followed by two or three generations of women. The woman in the blue pin-stripes exclaimed over the girl’s pink-ribboned dress.
“Oh, you look so beautiful,” she said. And to the girl’s mother: “Has she seen the show before?”
“No,” the other woman smiled. “This is her first time.”
The woman next to me leaned down closer to the little girl.
“Oh, you are going to love it! This is the very first musical I saw when I was little and you know what? It’s still my favorite.”
The conversation quieted as the lights dimmed and I leaned into my husband as song soared. Soon we were caught up in story—lifted with each lilting note of music. When time for intermission came, my husband made a beeline for the restroom, but I stayed put under the twinkling lights. When I stood to stretch my legs, the woman in blue pin-stripes caught my eye.
“I can’t believe it’s only nine-thirty,” she said, smiling. “It feels like midnight!”
I smiled back and sat back down beside her.
“I know, I know. They say this is a sign of my rapidly advancing age—the way the night comes so quickly.”
She dimpled again.
“No, not at all! They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“I think you’re right. There’s just something about the dimming of the lights and good story that just relaxes the soul.”
“A good story,” she mused. “Only Victor Hugo.”
“I heard you tell that little girl that this was the first musical you ever saw…that it’s still your favorite.”
“This is my Mother’s Day present to myself,” she said. “I’m a single mom. So on Mother’s Day I didn’t get to do anything special. So when I heard Les Mis was in town, I thought, I’m going! My favorite dress,” she gestured to the pin-stripes. “And my favorite musical. It doesn’t get much better.”
I told her that we were celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary, that Jeff wasn’t wild about coming but I was—and he wanted to be together. We talked about the different versions of the show we had seen. Jeff returned and she leaned across me to touch his arm.
“You are a good husband,” she said. Then she settled back into her seat. “My favorite song is next.”
“What’s your favorite?” I asked.
She looked at me as if I should already know the answer.
“On My Own,” she whispered. And the lights dimmed again for the second act.
The rest of the show went quickly and I was aware of the joy sitting next to me. Before we left the theater I squeezed her hand.
“Enjoy the rest of your night out,” I said.
“I will,” she replied. “And happy anniversary.”
I’m still thinking about how a song can name us; how art makes us feel not so alone in this world. How an open eye for beauty can open the hearts around you.
And it makes me want to bring more beauty into life—to spill it out all over everyone I touch. And I can’t help thinking how love does this—clothes everything in beauty.
And I promise to love better. To see better.
Because, as Jean Valjean says, “…to love another person is to see the face of God.”
Over at the High Calling we are on week three of a book discussion on The Life of the Body: Physical Well-being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold. Will you join us? Today we're giving away two copies of the book. It's a great book about how the choices we make for our bodies impact our spiritual life.
the Playdates button:
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
On the way to school this morning, our youngest says to me, Tell me about your wedding day. The world shifts and I grow lighter and my heart leaps inside of me. Because thinking of you and the way our love was planted still does that to me.
Twenty years ago today, I tell him. The sky was as blue as your eyes. But it was windy. Somewhere there is a picture of Dad holding the skirt of my wedding dress out as it flapped in the wind like a sheet on the clothesline, just waiting for it to settle down so we could take pictures…
And I tell him about that day when we stood before our family and friends and God and made a promise to love each other forever. And when I return back home I get out our wedding album.
Oh, love, how could we have known on this day twenty years ago all God had planned for us?
We got married outside, at the farm, I told Jeffrey. Because Dad and I weren’t going to church at the time. I was still confused about my past. And Dad…Dad did not believe the God-story then.
As I look at our shining faces—twenty years younger—I think about that.
Dad did not believe the God-story then.
But he does now, Jeffrey had responded.
Yes, I said. In June it will be seven years.
Seven out of twenty years. Thirteen years of prayer.
What I didn’t tell Jeffrey was how we almost gave up. How you told me you didn’t think you could be the man I wanted you to be. How, because the differences in the way we believed, you thought maybe it was best to divorce.
Remember that, love?
And isn’t the way love endures nothing short of a miracle? A miracle that takes hard work. And not giving up. And a whole lotta faith.
I look at our shining faces—twenty years younger—and I see how our love story is really the story of God’s love. The way a marriage shapes a person is the way His hands mold—making us more beautiful with the lovely patina of time; conforming us to His image. And I could say a lot about the bride of Christ and the way marriage emulates His love for us and how a man should love his wife the way Christ loves the church…
I could say all those true and beautiful things about our love. After twenty years and in the looking back I can see how this story tells the Bigger Story. But I sit here in humble gratitude as I consider the way the pages have unfolded and I feel too tiny to set down words like that.
You have been God’s gift to me. He has etched his Love into ours.
Later, I will go to the jewelers and pick up my wedding band. I finally had it resized this week. Those few extra pounds and the stretching of this body from carrying our babies made that round gold circle squeeze a little too tight on my finger. Kind of the way it does around my heart. And to me it seems—this adding on to the golden promise you gave me—a sign of the way love grows too. It can be costly, but in the end—it results in more gold.
I wanted to write you a poem, but you said you would come home from work early so we could be together and I have a million things to do while I wait. Besides, Wendell Berry says it best. He wrote this poem to his wife on his sixtieth birthday. Pretend it says twenty? It captures my love.
To Tanya on My Sixtieth Birthday
What wonder have you done to me?
In binding love you set me free.
These sixty years the wonder prove:
I bring you aged a young man’s love.
Happy anniversary, love. I would marry you a thousand times more.
Monday, May 13, 2013
On Mother’s Day I get up early and drive to the outskirts of town. I find the little white church where I will worship and I pull up to that ancient dogwood. I am ushered inside by an elderly lady who hugs my neck in the parking lot. In the sanctuary, I find my helper and she puts a glass of water on the pulpit for me. There is a shimmering stained glass window behind the choir loft—Jesus in reds and golds.
I tell my helper about the Phoebe I saw earlier in the week and we move to the window. We lean into the glass and there she is—mama Phoebe—sitting on a leafed out branch to welcome me. It feels like I am home and she flits away, job well-done. But there is a mother robin feeding her spotted-breasted baby on the walkway and my helper tells me about the time they saw a bald eagle fly over their steeple. We sigh into the window and I know that this is the real worship of the day—this standing together and sharing stories. We wait for the others to arrive and the numbers are small enough to greet each person one-by-one and I am embraced by smiles and stories and I feel God’s heart beat with each hand I clasp.
“I’ve just moved back here,” one dear woman says. “I grew up in this church.”
“I have five children,” another tells me. And she ticks off each on one hand. “My phone will be busy later.”
She glows and sits alone in the front pew.
Another tells the story of the stained glass window and speaks of a time when these pews were filled and children ran its center aisle. But things are different now and though the numbers have dwindled, there are no ghosts that haunt this place. Love is still alive and well here.
After worship they want me to stay for a cup of coffee so we sit around a table and they ask about my children, invite me into their story. I cannot stay long, I have to cross over the river to give another sermon. They hug me out the door, tell me to come back soon and I sit behind the wheel for a moment and thank Jesus for the gift of the morning.
And as I back out of the parking lot I see her—mama Phoebe come to say goodbye.
the Playdates button:
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Saturday, May 11, 2013
|A mama Phoebe keeps watch|
I drive parallel to the railroad tracks alongside the muddy river—tucked down inside the embrace of undulating hills. There is wild-growing wisteria weaving light violet in and out of green budding trees along the roadside. I am mindful of the speed limit—having been warned. Clusters of tiny box-like houses give way to frocking trees and grasses as I pass through these towns that time has forgotten.
It’s a beautiful day for a drive and I am scouting two country churches, these small bodies of worship where I will preach come Sunday—Mother’s Day. I don’t know much about these small valley towns, so I figure I better have a dry run before the Lord’s Day. Wouldn’t do if the preacher gets lost.
I drive in quiet along this winding road that follows the river and it feels like time travel. The trees all unfolding and the bush bursting with fire and my cheek round and rosy as the years drop away.
Lately, I have been remembering the warm-cool of my mother’s hands.
Warm on a bruised knee, cool on a sunburned shoulder; wrinkled from washing potatoes or dishes or babies…scent of onion clinging to skin as she tucks covers up around my chin and the way her wedding band shone gold on a white finger.
I drive past mountains made of coal dust, an old alloy plant—remnants of once-thriving river towns. Now they nestle deep into these hillsides, rocked to sleep by the slow steady currents of the Kanawha.
These memories have been sleeping too. The waking up brings a tightness in my chest and I recognize it well. Regret.
When I was a young mother, I chose to put the good memories to sleep. In love with my new babies, too many questions haunted my mothering…how? Why? I couldn’t understand. I needed to live in this wrinkled skin of motherhood a little longer to understand how the passing waters of time baptize it all. How life is about choices and sometimes…sometimes we just do the best we can with what is given.
Grace is the lavish giving of love despite barbed words and actions of the past.
A sibling’s stony judgment puts my love on trial and words can bruise and cast long shadows but love is bigger than the darkness. And I have the chance to live this thing I preach—this thing about love and grace and forgiveness; the end of pride and the shedding of the old self.
This is how we grow. And I feel the sharp pains of the outside stretching against this inner expansion—how the heart presses against bone and flesh and tries to make more room. The flesh resists—stubbornly refusing to give way.
But this waking up yields other memories too—how we would nap together in the early days and the way he cried when he was angry. A freckled nose and quivering lip. The smooth surface of a newly opened jar of peanut-butter; the way I jumped on his bed to wake him up in the morning. Tough talk and the tucking away of feelings…the pretending not to care.
All the passing scenery writes my story in the sky and love swells bigger than any rift can overtake.
It may change nothing. Nothing except my heart. But suddenly, I know: the best gift a mother can receive is when her children love each other well. This is the hard work of loving; this is growing into His image.
When I find the first church, I park out front. There is a large cherry tree giving shade to the walk and I notice a mama Phoebe keeping watch in its branches. She flits nervously from branch to branch as I approach, but she never leaves. I poke around—try to find her nest—but she has hidden it well.
And as I watch her keeping watch, I give thanks for my mother and for all mothers who tend in love.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
They saved the best for last.
This final chapter in Good Prose: the Art of Nonfiction, entitled Being Edited and Editing, is a long one—and it’s more a celebration of their history than anything else—but Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd still manage to convey practical wisdom about how to maintain such an effective partnership.
Still, their affection for each other shines through the complexities of the dynamic and one who has read their work over the years might even get a little choked up during the reading.
There is Kidder’s description of their beginnings and his puzzled question to Todd’s wife as to why the editor hung in there with him (“Months of reading the same old material from an all but unpublished writer, for an unimportant story.”) He’s willing to work as hard as the writer is, was the response he received.
The description of their work practice—from start to finish—is a good one. And Kidder shares some of their unique language that’s evolved over the years.
“Exteriors” refers to anything that lies outside the story, anything that isn’t direct observation of the characters and events.
Some parts of a story have to be “floated.” This is short for “floated in time.”
A timepasser is one possible means of “making some things big and other things little.”
Things out of place or proportion give rise to a “bump.”
And my favorite: “We need a brilliance here.” Todd will tell Kidder when more is required.
Anyone who has ever been an insider in any group understands the bonding that occurs when the group’s very own language is established. Kidder’s respect for Todd is evident in the way he relates their shared story.
And when Todd’s turn comes, we get the other side of the story—which is both the same and different—and the differences sharpen the uniqueness of these two men whose voices we have come to know through Good Prose.
…Kidder had an interest quite unusual for a writer, and interest in virtue. It’s an immeasurably harder subject than vice. A bright thread of goodness runs through his subsequent books.
The friendship these two men have formed has served their work well and Todd describes one reason why.
An editor can serve a writer by being alert to his natural boundaries, his inner territory, his true interests.
I cannot capture the beauty of Kidder and Todd’s relationship that shines through in this chapter. The gratitude each feels for the presence of the other in work and life is palpable. There is much good to say about this beautiful book, but perhaps the nature of the two men who wrote it is the best gift it gives. I’ve enjoyed gleaning from the wisdom of their shared years of working together.
We all should have such a partnership. At least once.
This finishes up our discussion of Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. I highly recommend this book for writers of any genre. Thanks for joining me through this journey.
Other posts in this series: