I've been doing stuff this morning. And trying not to post anything to facebook because I have numerous deadlines crashing around me today. BUT I woke up feeling just like I did last Monday except I wasn't as spry with the hope and making myself turn the boat of my emotions around. It was more like - God, I'm sorry but I'm depressed. Yes, I think maybe I'm a little depressed. Or maybe worried. Or maybe anxious. And then I thought of you guys because of all of your comments from LAST MONDAY and I thought - Maybe they feel that way, too. So, before I go off slaying the dragons of my deadlines I want you to know that I'm thinking of you. If you woke up with a little cloud hanging over your head your still not alone. The news of Paradise, California has been heartbreaking and soon the news will move on. Just as it has with my beloved Gulf Coast that still needs prayers, money, hands. Not a word in the media and still roofs are missing as it rains, people are homeless, nothing is normal. That enough gives me reason to be blue on this Monday but it's something more than that. It is a ball of mistakes that have rolled up in my front yard and are screaming at me in my sleep. It's been piling on for days. And no matter where I turn, no matter what I do right (and I do plenty right) it's not that voice that is the loudest. It's some ancient internal voice of judgement that has followed me around since I came out of the womb. It is not God's voice. This I do know. But this voice can be powerful in its condemnation. You should have turned left instead of right. You should have, you could have, you would have. If only you had done this or not done that. You've made a mess of everything. This is all your fault. All of it. What's interested me from the standpoint of being able to be intelligent enough (or maybe spiritual enough) to observe this voice is man, has it been piling it on lately. Every day bringing on a new mountain of mistakes and moments newly discovered or old and revisited added to the previous days list.
In J. Philip Newell's Celtic Benediction book of morning and evening prayers Monday looks like this - "In the turbulence of my own life and the unsettled waters of the world today let there be new birthings of your Spirit. IN the currents of my own heart and the upheavals of the world today let there be new birthings of your Spirit."
I reread those words a few times because the turbulence of my own life, the unsettled waters of both the world and my life all seemed very appropriate. That's what I felt and also like my mistakes were threaded into my bone and muscle and then hanging from my skin like odd ends of frayed thread for all the world to see.
My Monday. Your Monday. They may have some shared similarities or maybe you are skipping around singing, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY! If so God bless you and could you toss up a few notes for the rest of us that are struggling. Could you sing a verse for those of us who just can't sing this morning?
If you have been bombarded lately with feelings of - less than, not enough, too old, too over, too fat, too thin, too tired, too unkept, thin-skinned, wrong color, bad code, no clue. If every time you turn around you just knocked something over, broke somebody's something, tripped on your own tongue, made one more new mistake to add to the mountain that's seems to be crushing you. If you just realized someone just doesn't like you but you don't have a clue why, if you take horrible selfies and then erase them because they all look as old and tired as you feel. If you don't measure up to your own standards much less anyone else's and things don't seem to be getting better but honestly worse by the day and you think - ummm, this doesn't look good. And, then you go out into your day and you SMILE anyway and you like other peoples post and you try to do your job, be you, take care of others, drive another mile, do another thing, sell another widget, cast out another demon and get up and do it again - This prayer is for you.
A New Day
May the light of a new day unfold in your life beginning the moment you read and receive these words. May they begin in you a new work that opens your eyes to the glory of the truth of who you really are. May those old sins of youth or yesterday fall so quickly you are left astonished. May there be in you a smile that defies the gravity of your life situation. In the midst of your battle may you raise your head high, hold out for the strongest kind of magic, and believe with all your might not only in this unseen God but in the power that was gifted you at your birth. That with each continued breath that allows you to remain in this world you may reflect a holy habitation from deep within your soul. May you make eye contact with those around you today and when you do allow them to see the real majesty called - you. May you cling to knowledge that you are a fellow traveler on this journey and were not now or ever meant to be cast off and alone on this wild, ride that is your life. May this day bring with it the surprise of joy. And may that inner voice that declares you broken beyond repair submit to the silence of one final truth, in blessing and beauty you shall continue.
Wishing you an impossible, supernatural peace in the middle of this turbulent world.
This morning the sun just ever so early was shining through the cloud of fog hanging low over the ridge, my view was like that of being above the clouds. Looking out. Tired. Sleepy. Debating. Coffee and writing or going back to bed? Coffee won. And finishing an advanced reading copy of a book about a boy on a quest who turns out to be an angel, and finds his wings. It's a message for all of us. Don't slouch. Don't fear. Stretch your wings. Know thyself and be true.
I walked downstairs and went out on the porch, found the one piece of sky where I could lean way out and look out at the fog. Looked back at the blocked porch where the plastic hangs to protect Mom's plants from the freeze. Where it's actually nailed in. I don't have the tools or strength to take down the contraption made to hold it. It blocks the light, blocks the view. Creates a constant shadow. The living room looks out on grey floating plastic.
Rescue Kevin looked at me sleepily, stretched from his four blankets with heating pad and rose. He favors it finally in the wee hours of the dawn when the cold earth has stirred up the pain in his bones. An old accident. A run in with a car that was never tended. I can tell when it's stiff, when it pains him.
Mama's got a green thumb that Saint Peter would envy. She can bring the dead to life. Grow anything. Transplant. Transfigure. She has tried her best to bring cuttings of her plants to Tennessee. A rose bush she planted thirty years ago. It bloomed this summer. It's still potted and too heavy for me to move. It attacks me when I walk on the porch. The vines now wrapping around and clinging to me. Prick, prick, prick. Probably trying to tell me something in her absence as she visits Cousin Deb. Feed us. Sun us. Trim us. Fertilize. I tell them to hush. That I have words to write. That I have decided to never plant, feed, or nurture anything that will make me bleed. I'm beyond it.
I applaud my mother's gift. I recognize it for what it is. Something incredible. Wondrous. Magical. My entire life, her plants, the yard, the roses, the tulips. My entire life - my mother outside at the end of the day watering, watering. Tending and trimming. Summer grass, winter grass, pear trees. Beauty and bounty. Running roses all along the fence. Daffodils, Azaleas, Iris's, And those really big, huge, orange, Florida flowers. A bush six feet tall full of them.
My hands are better on the keys than in the dirt. I have come to accept this. Truly. Just now.
This morning I turned my palm up, held it in a ray of sunshine falling on my desk. Was mesmerized by the complex beauty of the lines it holds. How many stories residing there. Years ago, many many years ago, cousin Deb and I would visit a palm reader on occasion. Teenagers. Bored with car keys and five dollars to burn. Let's get our fortunes told today, we'd say. Then we would make the dark eyed woman living in some small rental shelter read our palms at the same time together. Refusing to separate and take our turns. We got no secrets, we would say. My life line was never long. Deb's stretches around the world.
I've outlived many friends. I thought of that this morning as I turned my palm this way and that. The lines form crossroads upon crossroads. Which brought to mind my grandmother as I whispered two lines of a prayer. Or maybe it was a country song.
Already old when I was born. Me her late-life grace. Her smiling and saying, I'm just a wrinkled, old woman now, as she rubbed Noxema cream on her face. Me standing beside her all of five looking up and saying, You are beautiful. Knowing it to be true. She of rocking chairs and chocolate cakes, of long fingers, bending my hair gently behind my ear, being pure magic in my universe. Like Mom's green thumb, She nourished me. I was watered by her presence.
Today they say it will climb to fifty and beyond. How my bones crave the sun! A long, bake like a lizard on a rock. I need tending to. My soul.
Lent. It's my season. One I normally feel most akin to. A season to languish and lament. The melancholy and denial. Artist shadow, writer heart. Everything I gave up I've given into. Perhaps this is a different kind of lent. One that shows me something yet anew. Perhaps God's hand holds out a new request of me.
This week. The shootings. No words still. No words. I looked at the photos of those now lost. Slowly. Reading about their lives. Crying. Later that day I took myself to the movie. My medicine to be lost in story and reset.
The Shape of Water.
It. Wrecked. Me.
Reminded me of Big Fish in some stylistic ways. I warn you here. There is nudity and a kind of sex. Should you take offense. I haven't read Fifty Shades and never will. That is not my cup of tea. But the movie is not about these things. I won't say what it's about. But love and monsters, maybe. But to each his own. The story that comes home the one you were mean to see or read.
I sat down alone. Seven other people scattered about in the dark. The movie started. One third way through I started crying. By the end I was a mess. Waited for the theatre to empty. The last to leave I passed the one, lone young girl standing there with a broom to clean who looked at me concerned. "That movie just broke my heart," I said in some kind of gulps. She said something, like, take care. I passed the restroom but didn't stop. I exited through emergency, went straight to my car, drove home to Ashland City sobbing. Went to bed.
The next morning instead of writing I built a fire. Ate creamed goat cheese with strong coffee Went to lunch where a friend said, Well, you must have needed a good cry. I guess. That and something more. Something I'm still pondering.
This mornings reading for Sunday Lent in the prayer book, 2 Corinthians, 6. After a long list of the patience and kindness and unfeigned love of those seeking out and serving God the list continues: "By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
And, it. wrecks. me.
It is something about the fragility of this human life. The beauty and horror of it. The longing to be loved. The desperation to be seen, to be heard. To be known. The tender improbability that any of us have made it. That we are still here, alive this morning.
There's a lone hawk circling. I watch him ride the airwaves. I am above him. This is what I can see from my office window. The brown of the bare trees, the distant ridge. I am high above the little valley. I have room enough for wisdom and understanding. For discernment. I pray for these things in the midst of my troubles and my triumphs.
Last night I had three littles - 9, 5, 3. My sister had given them two brand new BIG lego trucks to play with. I had envisioned a quiet, happy dinner then some snuggles on the couch while we watched a movie. Perhaps pajamas and sleep overs. Fighting over who was playing with what truck and how they were playing with it ensued. Zaza made dinner. Truck parts lay all over the room. The nine year old realized I kept fast forwarding through the movie. Skipping parts. The other two did not. They were still fighting over trucks. Two more ounces of energy I would have put up trucks, passed out baths. With a splitting headache I made their little bowls of strawberries, grapes and blueberries with yogurt on top. The one that Damon little calls his regular mix. Like he's ordering at a restaurant. I'll have my regular mix. Sure kid. Anything for you. As soon as they ate them I was saying, 'Get in the car. All of you. You are going home.' Love, love, love you. Gotta say bye, bye now. Kisses, kisses.
They. wrecked. me.
We don't always know what may show up that hurts or hinders. A bad medical test. News of a shooting. Weonly know that we have the moment at hand. That we are not perfect or far from it. That we will achieve some goals and miss others. That seasons come, stay, leave, change.
We can only hope that little by little we evolve as human beings. That like the complex lines across our palms we thread the moments of our days into the brutal, beautiful realities of our lives with all grace and mercy.
May the force be with each of us as we undertake such a monumental, tiny task.
Today I was missing camping but for certain in my neck of the woods it's too cold for camping. There will be a fire in the fireplace tonight but not a fire ring. I've been following Kaya McLaren's daily walk through cancer and her raw, vulnerable letters on facebook. I thought if there was anything I could send her it would be a warm Summer evening where we all camped together, sat around a perfect fire ring, a just right kind of fire so you can see the smiling faces of your friends above the flames on the other side. That kind of perfect evening of drinking some fine wine or herbal tea, sharing stories heartfelt and funny, watching the sky for shooting stars as the fireflies climb higher and higher into the trees before morning light. That's what I'd give her right now if I could. I love the sharing of stories. it's the best kind of medicine.
Sometimes people ask me if I still pray for strangers in the middle of watching Star Trek Discovery and going to see Star Wars and reading great mysteries such as, By Gaslight. Yesterday I wrapped two days of speaking at the Writing for Your Life conference. Nothing excites me more about writing stories but sharing stories about writing stories. Mine and those of my friends. It occurred to me that yesterday I mentioned the name of five author friends, talked about their books and their publishing stories, and even their upcoming titles that weren't out yet to watch for. (And now I'm suddenly looking out the window thinking - Gee - I'm a good friend :) ) ) But seriously - how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who write stories. I'll have to write more about my experiences with those attendees on my teaching page here on this website. But for the record. On that praying thing which I still do in the middle of my Star Trek, mystery loving heart. I do. Mostly. Differently. Sometimes and always.
That is - a woman asked me to sign my book for her at the event yesterday and then she stopped and asked me - Does the book tell about how the experienced changed you? I smiled. Good Question. It does I told her. And I paused for a moment to think back all those years ago at the kind of person I was. I was and still am what you would consider a good person. Kind in all the right ways. Standing up for the weak and the underdog. Protecting small children, stray animals, and those who might be on the outskirts of society. The helpless, the homeless, the forgotten, the beat down. The overlooked.
But - it was those years of Praying for Strangers and telling someone almost daily that they were my stranger for the day that cracked open a part of my heart I didn't know was sealed. It gave me a much better, closer, more intimate look into humanity as a whole. While I may have been willing to stand up for the forgotten I never knew how lonely, forgotten, fearful people were that were surrounded by family and friends. Who maybe went to church regularly but were still in many ways all alone. If people weren't concerned about their situation they were always concerned about the situation of someone they loved. And in that I began to care more deeply than a passing moment when you lock eyes with the woman living in the alley behind that store you frequent.
So how does that play out in real life? Back to the conference. I've been speaking for years at conferences, teaching writing for years at events, workshops, and writing programs. I've always loved my students and connecting with them, celebrating their good words and accomplishments. But last night as I was thinking about the people at the conference and in particular those who had signed up with a one on one with me and taken time to tell me their story, ask my advice in some small way, I prayerfully lifted their writing projects, goals, dreams up in prayer. Hoping that their words found their way to readers the way that mine have done likewise. Praying that they would do so. That they would continue in their good work and write the best story possible.
I closed my talk yesterday by reciting The Artist Prayer that I wrote years ago and have shared on Facebook. Many of the attendees asked me to please send it to them by email which I have but I am also closing with it here. In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from a few words fashioned as a prayer that will help us all bring the story home.
An Artist Prayer
Creator of the deep,
of the secret places,
of the wide, blue skies -
open in me a place today
that may be willing to create.
To write words worthy of my breathing,
to paint images of human longing,
to sing of heart’s satisfaction.
Help me to capture
the softer edges of our existence
to share with my people now and forever.
Let there be a hush,
a holy hush,
in the space of my beating heart
all that is good,
all that is well,
all that will stand the test of time.
Empower me to translate
this amazing existence
we call life.
The sun is still lazing it's way through these Tennessee hills. Hasn't broken ground yet. The birds don't care. They are singing as if Spring has sprung. An old rooster crows from down in the little valley and it bounces right up to us. I thought I heard a donkey but that could be wishful thinking. They are good for something and good company. Donkeys stuffed and otherwise have been my friends.
Rescue Kevin says he doesn't need to come inside to shake off the midnight cold today. He is fine thank you in the drive waiting for the sunrise and I should join him. He takes a bone and digs a hole, hides, hides, hides, it with his nose shoveling dirt and leaves and rocks to nestle it. No other dogs can walk around the yard because he growls when they draw close to bones buried for a year. It's like an easter egg hunt but not.
Last night I dreamed of things that could have been. After all this time. But I was tired the night before, had cried a little at carrying on but carrying on we must. Realizing we get tired of our burdens but then we are only human and that a little rest, a little tea and all will be well. Or better. Or different. Or all of these things. I woke and looked out at the dark and went back to covers. Now the sun is promising to rise on a new day.
A sign went up down the road on a large piece of land. It will be sold at auction soon. The sign said in just one tract. It is the most beautiful little meadow that meanders along Little Marrowbone creek, a ridge rises up behind it and in the middle against the hill, a tiny, white house sits silent like a chapel. Although I can't see it from the hill this is my view, the air that rises up above it. Down in the valley is that meadow and that house. For years hay was baled and rolled and before that cattle roamed freely. Beautiful, majestic.
Once Big Dog Titan loped off and went missing. For a day and then a night and I was beside myself with worry bordering heartbreak panic. Then a phone call reached me at work where I'd been writing a million dollar grant for Nashville State and the phone rings. A woman asks -
Are you missing a dog?
I say, Yes, I am, I am.
And she says -
I think I have him. Is he real big, and white?
And I tell her, Yes, he is. And she says -
I'm sorry but he is so big I was afraid to reach under that big mouth to read his tag. We locked him up in the goat pen but this morning we saw he was friendly.
Friendly was an understatement.
She said we live in a little, white house. There's cows out front but just come through the gate and then on down the path they won't hurt you.
I told her I knew her place and passed it everyday and I'd be right there.
My Big Dog! Oh, happy, happy, joy, joy!
I stopped to open the gate and drove in and closed it behind me so the cows didn't get out. Then I drove across that field up to the little, tiny house nestled up against the ridge. A grandmother's house. A great-grandmothers house. From times gone by when people didn't need so much of everything.
The door was opened but the screen shut and there stood Big Dog, in the tiny house now. The woman met me at the door.
Well, I can see he's yours. (This after a Titan hug as only he could do) Then, come sit down. I am 74 and this is my mother she is 93 and it was just the two of us here so we didn't know what to do. That's when I locked him in the pen.
'But he ain't nothin' but a baby,' her Mama said. "And he likes chicken.'
When I figured out this morning he was friendly I brought him in.
'He likes collards, too,' her Mama said, "And Biscuits."
Big Dog took up half the little kitchen, was bigger than the Mama.
She smiled at him and said again, "He ain't nothin' but a baby."
After some time the cows were gone. The field was empty but every year it would be baled for hay. A truck would be parked and I wondered. About the woman, about the mother. Big Dog passed away last year and I think of him every time I drive pass that spot. (You can click to read his eulogy.) I need to stop and take a picture. Because things will change now. Someone will buy that tract and like everything else around here begin to dig up the ground, plow it under, pour concrete. It will be houses upon houses or multiple apartments. People will move into them. The noises down my hill that rise up from the valley will be different. And in due time that will be okay.
They will be good people with children who will play in their yards and whose voices I might hear until dark. Then they will go in at night and turn out their lights, maybe say a prayer or be thankful at least they have a roof, a place to lay their heads. They will grow up and grow old but they will never know they live on holy ground where once upon a time there had been cows and a little white house and an old, woman who'd fed a BIG White Dog biscuits from her table while they waited for his human to come carry him home.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.