Monday, May 30, 2011

A Parent's Prayer at the Beginning of Summer

Sometimes things don't line up the way we want them.

We begin to worry.
Worry can be infectious.

It taints our conversations and burdens our relationships needlessly. If we could learn to transform our worries into prayer...our concerns into petitions...maybe we would even change our hand-wringing into open-palmed acceptance and face our lives with courage and grace in the place of worry.

Parents worry about many things, but especially the life of each child. This prayer was by written by the Very Reverend Joe Robinson when Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi. It was sent to me by a dear friend when our boys were high school graduates together. It may be a timely reminder for others as school days come to an end and summer begins.

Lord give us the grace to grieve in private-
to keep our children free from our anxiety,
to worry only about the things we actually know-
to free them from our obsessions,
to give advice only when asked, or when they are in danger-
to free them for your own shaping,
to expect that they will fail and fall and scrape
and get up to do it all again-
so that we will not interrupt their process,
to delight in the moments when they win and
to refrain from loving them the better for it.

For you love us when we win and when we fail-
and you expect us to do both.
You shield us from knowing your divine mind
so that we might have one of our own.
You hide your worry and your grief from us,
so that we might live in the world freely as your people.
You never ask that we do anything beyond our best,
And always add enough of grace to make our best sufficient.

Bless us while we are apart from one another,
and fill our lives with things we cannot wait to tell,
when next we meet.

Photo courtesy Linkof Rachel Kabukala of

Friday, May 27, 2011

Take Note of Simple Joys

Spring rain falls gently on the roof. Songbirds fill the early morning punctuating the just-light sky with new sounds.

An attic fan whirs overhead, drawing cool, almost-mountain air in through the windows as they appear to swell and relax with each fresh breath.

Three of my favorite things in one morning! I'm counting my blessings.

4. Hot coffee in a large mug.

5 and 6. Warming cinnamon chip scones from my sister-in-law, Nancy, who always knows how to provide for her guests in the mostly generous and loving ways.

7. A day off for a change of pace. or Pace.

8. A day with my daughter before her summer job in N.C.

This way of viewing life -- of noticing gratitude in the small things -- doesn't require numerals and lists, but it can help us as we pause and take notice.

Noticing and giving thanks -- that is the key. Else it slips by unremarked, and we move through our days oblivious of the many gifts we have.

Take note today.

And give thanks.

I enjoyed Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts last week. Perhaps you will too. See her thoughts written daily at her beautiful site

Friday, May 20, 2011

Still Crazy-Awesome After All These Years

I don't know about the rapture predicted for Saturday, but I can tell you about a rapturously wonderful evening at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last night.

This venue with its long history of country and gospel greats -- can I get a witness? -- was home to Paul Simon in his spring 2011 sweep of the known world yesterday. If you have listened to American music since the mid-1960s, you've heard his music. If you're temporarily unfamiliar, Google or Youtube ... say... Mother And Child Reunion, Kodachrome, The Sound of Silence, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes for a sampling.

Hard to list only a few. I've already left out some favorites: Julio. Graceland. You Can Call Me Al. It's a wonder that I can think at all.

The anthology of his work is impressive as a composer, vocalist and guitarist. Triple threat and then some. He shows mastery of rhythm, percussion, syncopation. And the team of musicians playing with him? Spellbinding.

I feel like I've fallen and I can't get up when I begin waxing about this man, Paul. It might also be said that I don't get out much. But you know how we just want to tell the story of something so right before we're all just slip slidin' away? There must be fifty ways to tell an American tune. His music takes us to the Mardi Gras and speaks of peace like a river. He writes of mother and child and father and daughter. Hearts and bones are exposed before we're gone at last. And he keeps on writing. The landscape moves from Puerto Rico to Memphis, from Louisiana zydeco to Brooklyn and even under African skies; the world is his canvas.

Late in the evening, I had a dream fulfilled in Nashville: I got to sing The Boxer right along with him, as the Ryman's audience joined in without embarrassment. Did we look like those old people in the audiences on MTV's fundraising nights? Probably so. But some of these baby boomers also had their college age kids in tow. A University of Michigan sophomore drove with her dad from Indianapolis and sat beside us, loving the show. She got it. There were also many twenty-somethings gathered among friends having a huge time. The enthralled audience rose to its collective feet in thunderous applause and wild whoops and whistles early on, raising the roof on that 1892 wooden pew-lined house and savoring the night with profound appreciation for the the artist known as rhymin' Simon.

He said one of the joys of playing in Nashville was being able to reunite with some music legends whom he then invited onstage to play with him. A good time was had by all, as we say in the country.

Can one be a living legend? I think so. In fact, I've just seen it done.

I'm grateful for my husband's gift from the heart of the tickets for this little slice of heaven. A heart full of music provides a soundtrack for any occasion -- soulful, melancholy ballads, songs of devotion or searching, and spirited, joyful accompaniments for all of life's journeys. Paul Simon's songs are going on six decades now. And he showed no signs of letting up. The man's a true performer: two and a half hour show with no break. Guitar change with each song. No one went away empty as a pocket.

This prolific writer and composer has devoted much of his interest later in life to developing the theme of love and its many manifestations, including the spiritual dimensions -- a pursuit that has many searching for the meaning within his music.

I close with his image in a lesser-known song that corresponds to a train whistle, a beloved sound from my childhood often imitated by my grandfather from his days at the old Illinois Central line:
Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it's true
What is the point of this story?
What information pertains?
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly
Into our hearts
And our brains
I am thankful for the way music lifts our spirits and moves our hearts as we experience myriad messages of love and manifestations of God's loving kindness in this life. We walk a shared journey and must choose for ourselves which spirit voices to heed.

(Baby Boomer Bonus: If you were a “Highlights” reader, you may remember Hidden Pictures. Twenty-five titles or lines from his music are found above.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When Our Eggshells Tumble

Just when we think we have things stacked neatly in place....

the unexpected happens. Our lives become as fragile shells holding onto the familiar in an uncharted landscape.

A routine phone call—how many do we answer in a day?—morphs suddenly into the bearer of grim news when it delivers an unwelcome message.

Life turns on a dime. Everything looks different now.

I am reflecting upon a young friend’s news of surgery to remove a brain tumor. Just the spoken words initiate spirals of fear and what ifs?

We, who choose to live in the reality of now and not in fear of what might be, remind ourselves to look for the something good in this situation. So, I’m looking…but it's hard…and I begin to make mental lists to help direct my thoughts when they threaten to grow roots downward into negativity. It is a practice we can learn by doing deliberately, time after time, until it becomes second nature to link gratitude to our lives.

This is no mere application of rose-tinted shades, not a merry sunshine, superficial approach to life. That would be easy. I want to learn what it means to find hidden treasure -- blessings disguised as something else that we only see when we look closely. When we look with the heart.

“Take every thought captive…..”

What in the world can I find to be grateful for when a twenty-something mother faces losing her sight? Think….think…, I tell myself.

This friend has a new awareness that we do not know what tomorrow holds. The truth is, we never did. We only planned it out as though we knew. Now, she and her young husband will likely see that each day becomes sweeter, each sight and fragrance becomes more intensely beautiful, each hug more acutely sensed. They will savor the full measure of their days rather than go through the motions on the way to something else.

Such a way of viewing our circumstances may not change our situation, but it will surely change us.

Practicing gratitude as a way of life gives us a lens through which we view all things that come to us. We find that we see beauty in the ordinary, joy in the routine. Even in sadness and despair, we train ourselves to find something, some nugget in the day, for which to be grateful.

A crisis has a way of doing that to us—rearranging our priorities. But must we wait for the dreaded news? Can we not choose to live lives of gratitude in the everyday-ness of our routine living? May we bring ourselves fully to the task of doing our best work and giving thanks in even the most mundane chore.

Turn off auto-pilot.

Be present to each day.

Live with a new awareness of simple joys we fail to notice.

Remember the contagious enthusiasm and joy Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey showered upon others in It's a Wonderful Life? We know how the story ends, yet millions watch it year after year to see the transformation all over again. We want to believe it is possible to change our outlook and behavior. Maybe gratitude is at the center of a changed heart.

Lord, forgive us when we gorge ourselves at the feast of your beauty and handiwork daily without giving thanks.

Forgive us, when we who have sight have no vision.

Restore unto us the joy of our senses so that we might appreciate much more in each fleeting day.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Tale of Raven Road: A True Story

The Tale of Raven Road

Once upon a time in a distant millennium, there stood a house.

She was a lovely house and would be highly prized among most in the world, nestled among rolling hills in the countryside, far away from the bustling city, but she wanted more...

She had great dreams. She wanted to be a grand home, strong and impervious to destruction.

“If only I were made of brick,” she thought as her timbers rose from the ground, “then I would be strong and could withstand the onslaught of all that would attack me.”

And they surrounded her with brick. And she stood straight and tall.

Families came and went through her early years. For Sale signs posted in her yard brought the curious who inspected her and found her suitable or not.

One day a family arrived to Raven Road and found her just to their liking. They sent photographs of the house to their families and friends and excitedly told them of the place they would call home. They moved into her walls with their belongings, and little children splashed in her pool, and men and women worked in her yard, tending her with vigor and youthful determination.

“Finally, I will become a home!”

She had heard that the family knew of fine castles and had visited European structures that had withstood the tests of time. She wanted to be like the castles of the British Isles and Europe—homes she believed the family loved-- and became more confident in her dreams when they enlarged her borders and raised her ceilings and decorated her walls with fine art and rugs from far countries.

“Now they will love me as they admire the castles of their travels, she thought.

If only I had a castle’s moat and strong defense…then I could protect them.”

And they strengthened her and fortified her exterior and made her more secure.

But she wanted more.

“If I were a real castle, I could provide all that this family might enjoy. I could give them a staff of cooks to feed them in the most generous way – with hearty meals and great conversation and laughter into the night.

I could give them musicians to entertain them with stringed instruments that they might make merry with their friends and find joy within my walls.

I could have fields for children to run and play and kick balls with one another. As the children grew, they could discuss philosophy and religion and learn great mathematical theories and apply themselves to improving the world they inhabit with knowledge that is just beneath the surface now, but, with diligent study over a long period of time, can be uncovered. The children could grow strong within my walls and search for truths hidden in the universe that only those with keen insight and a willing faith can glimpse.

If only I could have these acres teeming with produce of the field, yielding fragrant herbs and fresh vegetables for them to enjoy all the year ‘round,” she pondered.

“I would provide animals who could dwell with them in safety and in whose company they could find comfort and refuge during challenging times. A real castle would have many animals! Then they could learn the importance of giving care to others—all God’s creatures—as they live together.

I could give them wise sages—those who have experienced life for more years than they have--and arm them with understanding about the ways of the world. I could instruct them in the trials and pitfalls that I have seen befall others, so that they might avoid the harsh realities and difficulties common to all people.

I long to protect this house and all who dwell within. But how?

If only I could house a brave warrior, then I could let them rest secure on my foundation.

But I am only a house, not a castle. And I have not been field-tested. Am I battle worthy for all that housing a family requires? It takes more than strong walls and burnished floors and security from the outside forces that they need.”

Years passed. The city sprawled and lapped at the edge of Raven Road. The family grew, and the children grew in years and experience.

The family traveled to faraway places and walked through the ruins of castles that had once stood tall in their day. Their halls are empty now. Inquisitive admirers come year after year to imagine what might have been.

And the family goes home to Raven Road again. And again. Having lived and enjoyed travel around the world, they go home to Raven Road where they have found comfort within her walls.

They have found her to be a sure foundation and a port in storms for the family that lived and loved there, giving protection from all that would assail them. Steadfast, she stood stoically silent as tears of joy and sadness through the years fell upon her floors. Real Life—not the stuff of legend and fables--elicits both kinds of tears. A real home weathers storms seen and unseen.

The house was field-tested and found worthy.

In time, she came to learn that within her walls had stood armor and courageous knights all along. She had, indeed, housed a brave warrior-in-the-making all through the years. This family had helped form him under her watch. And a brilliant scientist and mathematician….and beautiful, compassionate healers, builders, craftsmen, tender men and women with generous hearts….and musicians…and scholars….and gardeners, chefs and creative entertainers….all of whom call the house at Raven Road Home.

And she no longer wanted more, for it was more than enough.

And it was said that they gave a grand party in the land, inviting their friends and family. The guests came from far away to eat and drink and make merry in the house for days on end.

And she stood strong and proud in one of her finest hours. She rejoiced in the beautiful ones who had dwelt within her walls, for they had grown strong and able. She spread out her ample concrete apron for the bride and groom and all who loved them to feast upon the goodness of the Earth on Raven Road. Little ones once again ran through the lawn and splashed in her pool as in days of old, and fireflies danced before the glowing embers late into the night. They sat beside the fire and looked with great pleasure upon the home that love built.

The end is only a new beginning…