Thank you, God

I thought my ex had moved to Indiana a few years ago, and that relieved me.  I would never have the chance to run into her again.  But just now, driving home on a constant cut-through street, I recognized her tippy toe walk. I always recognize her walk.  She was making her way around the block with a tiny toy dog and her wife, who gathered up a big hocker, and spit while they were walking.  Turns out, she’s lived 4 minutes away the whole time.

When I have seen her in the past (which was rare), I was filled with emotions.  Shame, anger, massive distrust were at the head of a many dog pack.  This time, I said out loud, “Thank you, God.”

Thank you for everything that has come after.  The coming out. The sermons at church.  Dating Tia, who taught me more about trust than anyone I know.  Dating Kim, who made me feel something akin to a very familiar home.  Adventures alone.  Telling the truth.  Getting layers and layers of counseling.  Writing. Photography. Artwork. Adopted families.  Riding my bike. Going to the pool.  Being an IB Coordinator.  Going to Ghost Ranch. And Austin.  And Houston. And every inch of Amish Country

When we were at Supper Club last Sunday, we talked about the questions: what was the happiest time in your life and why?  I won’t tell you what others said, though the conversation was rich, but I said, there was a time before happiness was possible and time after which happiness was guaranteed.  The pivot date was February 16th, 2008.

That’s the day I walked around Fernway School telling people who I was and who I loved and that I was sad she was leaving me.  Desperately sad.  Before then, I was filled with hatred and embarrassment.  But that day, I finally became human and I have never turned back.

When we met months after she left me, she tried to take credit for my foray into cranial sacral therapy and my honesty at work.   That’s how much she needed to believe she had done the right thing.

I knew that was bullshit then, and I know it is bullshit today.

In crisis, I took charge. I owned up. I stepped forward.  I risked it all to find and feed a new iteration of myself.  That was not not her, that was all me.

I am more beautiful than I was then – not actually physically, but my smile tells the truth.  I am smarter.  I am more confident.  I am more loving (though not loving enough). I am more giving.  I listen with both ears.  I am unrelentingly committed to the truth.

I don’t lie. I don’t spit. I would never own a teeny weeny dog.

She ended up with the right woman and so did I.  I ended up with me.

Thank you, God.

 

 

One moment

Twelve hands shot up when I asked if anyone wanted to share poetry today.  Then, while others in the class kept working on their writing, the poets who were ready to share met on the front carpet.  Stunning work.  Better than anything I cold write.  Ten-year-olds.

“N” wrote this:

You’ll never know that I’m a stranger in my mind,
that I always have a great big brave dog running through me,
and that my actual love is always just.

That from a girl who knew a hundred words in English last year.

“D” shared this, a memory from his life:

I remember when I first went kayaking with my friends. They were experienced kayakers, but not me. Their boats got so far ahead of me, they looked like colorful dots in the distance. I was scared, lost, and tired, but I knew I had to keep paddling. I did, I paddled.

“G,” a boy who barely did one ounce of math homework for me last year, wrote this.  Apparently, he has found his calling.

My secrets live deep inside my heart,
and they are locked up.
I will whisper them to you
if you want to hear them.

Then “I” asked me to read his poem.  He prefaced my reading by telling everyone “it was deep.”

My name is XXXXXXXX.
I love to ride my bike down the road with my friend.
and play in the pool in the summer.
My shadow self is sadder and more upset than my real self,
he punches his pillows and cries
while others play and laugh.
You don’t know that I to used to always be shy and dark.
You also do not know that I went with my dad
to the gun range and got to shoot a bb gun.
You will never know what I love or who I love.
You never know what happens in family.
My secrets stay close to my heart,
the secrets I have you never know until I trust you
You can find me in at the bottom of the earth,
each burn on your skin,
with every pain in your body.

The whole squad of fourth graders was silent, respectful, looking at their classmate with love.  I said, “We never know what is going on in the cave of someone’s heart, that’s why we must always try to be kind.”  Then the poet told his classmates that someone from school hurt him last year, said something to him that he will never forget. His eyes welled. His classmates listened. Then one of his classmates – a girl – stood and gave him a hug.  Then another.  And a third. Not half hugs.  Not one arm slung around his shoulder. Heart to heart hugs, arms completely circling this boy, holding on tight.

This is a moment that changed all of us.  The poet.  His friends.  Me.  His classroom teacher who was sitting at her desk, listening in with tears falling down her face.

This moment was a tribute to our school, all of his former teachers, his current teacher, the children who surround him, and the sweet kiss of poetry.  Ours is a school where this happens. Ours is a school that leads with the heart.

Inspired

Middle English enspire, from Old French inspirer, from Latin inspirare ‘breathe or blow into,’ from in-‘into’ + spirare ‘breathe.’

When I tell people I am teacher, I always add, “but not a real teacher.” Then I explain how my main function is to be the IB coordinator at our school, which I then explain as a position that helps teachers develop and work on curriculum and its components within  certain framework.

Truth be told, mostly, I organize.

This week I spent a lot of time organizing BLT meetings, field trips, document storage, district surveys, a behavior matrix, planners in Managebac, visitation from Kent State.  I typed a lot.  I emailed others a lot.  I creates and shared google docs a lot.

But today?  Today, my friends?  I was inspired as if I had been blown into with new energy.

Over the course of many years, the teachers at Fernway have developed inquiry units and all of the pieces and parts that go with those units. It’s a broad and engaging set of learning experiences and I’m very proud of the work we have done.

But a couple of weeks ago many of us attended the Service Learning workshop with Cathryn Berger Kaye and her ideas have been stewing around in my head.  Today was the day they decided to bound their way into our grade level meetings.

I was juiced up when the 2nd grade teams liked my idea to flip their next unit and lead with action.  From the get go, students are going to have to figure out how they can raise enough money to help support a micro-economy in a third world country.  Second grade!

Then in the third grade meeting, we discussed doing more “under direction” of students such that they might end up doing passion projects related to an element of culture.  Maybe someone will study the pastries of France.  Maybe someone will study the origins of Kente cloth.  Then we just kept rolling…maybe they could hold a mini-exhibition…maybe it could be tied to the international feast…maybe we will decide to take further action to help the hungry nearby while we feast…maybe instead of multi-layered rubric we will try a “one point” rubric to increase student reflection.

Maybe we could, maybe they will, if we tried – the whole day was filled with ideas that will build a better iteration of the good work we are already doing.

I was so excited at one point in the afternoon,  I noticed my hands were shaking and my speech was quickening.  I was that pumped by the shifts we were imagining together.  It was a full-on dorkfest of the charismatic kind.

All of this is to say that today felt like the kind of day I always dreamed about when I started teaching.  Creative, energetic, the best minds coming up with the best ideas.

Also today erased and stomped on the idea I have been floating around about moving to retirement.  All because I knew my gifts were being used and given a long leash.

That’s what happens when we are at our best.  The people around us give us the free range to riff and jam.  The people around us get caught in the current.  The team unifies around something it has never attempted before but knows it can do.

Once inspired, we conspire to aspire to new heights.

Thank you, second grade team.  Thank you, third grade team.  I am so grateful you let me be me and that, together, we made the big leaps we made today.

Wow. Yes. Oh yeah.

 

Burgers and Tater Tots

Sarah, my niece, is heading off to St. Louis on Wednesday to begin her first real job.  John, my nephew, is a senior at St. Ed’s.  Their parents are in London with Grace, their sister, who is studying abroad.  I told Sarah and John I would take them out for dinner while the others were traveling and, boy, am I glad I did.

It was one of the best conversations I have had in many years.  There, at Wahlburgers, in kitty-corner to Jack’s Casino, we talked and talked and talked. About so many topics.  Taking a knee. Political parties and the purpose of government.  The consciousness one needs in this diverse world.  What it is like to pigeon-holed.  Sexual orientation. College choices.  Abortion.  Gubernatorial races.  Grant funding.  Apprenticeships. Unintended and intended stereotyping.  Calculus.  Hockey players.

These were my two favorite sentences of the night.  When we were talking about putting and being put into boxes, Sarah said (and I am paraphrasing), “Our brains want to do that. They are programmed to look for patterns.  But what needs to kick in is the soul.  That part of you that asks you to see beyond the pattern.”

Later John said, “My morals matter more than my political views.”

God, I love these kids.  And now, not because they are related to me, but because of who they have grown to be, with their own well-developed thoughts and personalities.  They are lovely, loving, aware and committed young people. Easy to admire.

We were talking about homophobia at some schools and how it is hard to be clumped into a group of people who behave that way.  And for the first time in my life, I explicitly said these words to Sarah and John, “As a gay person, I spent so many years worried about what people thought of me. ” I started to tear up as I continued, “And I grieve those years that I wasted.”  John nodded, and Sarah gave me that look – like she knew we had just crossed an edge we had never wandered before.

What I really wanted to say, but could not because I would have lost it right there in that burger joint, was, “And I grieve the years I missed with you, even afraid of what you would think.”  Thank God we have found our way back to each other.

This talk tonight made me realize that I want to do this kind of thing more frequently.  I have been thinking for years that I wanted to have some kind of Supper Club.

It would work this way.  I would post the place on Facebook and whoever could come would come.  I’m thinking a medium priced place, not typical  (because honestly, as someone who lives alone, I want to go to more places downtown).  The 1st and 15th of every month so the dates would be known.  Always at 6.  We would probably cap the number at 6 per dinner.

We would gather – everyone would know me, but many would not know each other – and we would talk about a question that that’s month’s host would pick.  Possible questions might be:  What one decision did you make that shifted your life in an unexpected direction?  Or, what trip made the largest impact on your life?  Or, when did you feel a breach in your civil rights?  The host job would float around and be given after the location was posted.

I want to do this because a) life is short and we might as well eat at good places, b) I want to know the layers beneath the layers, c) I think people are craving this kind of thing, d) tonight’s dinner with Sarah and John completely energized me and gave me hope, e) why not?

Give me some feedback – if you’d be in, let me know.

I am so thankful to know Sarah and John in this new way, as fellow journeymen in life.  Helen and Grace too.  I am so grateful to have had a chance to talk as we did tonight, person to person, idea to idea, feeling to feeling, fear to fear.

I want to have this happen every time one of them is in town.  Every single time until they are middle aged and I am old, old, old.  Maybe, the Supper Club will still be going on and they can be my guests.  Until then, thank you, Sarah and John.  I am so proud to be your aunt.  I am happy you are on this planet, thinking and feeling what you think and feel.

 

 

 

 

Greeting

Every month, the service jobs in our church shift to a new group of volunteers.  September is my group’s month and I requested to greet today, my parents’ anniversary.  I hate greeting, truth told.  It’s a form of punishment for extreme introverts like me.  You have to smile at everyone, make extended eye contact, give and receive hugs (sometimes unexpected).  You can smell people’s breakfast breath, they get so close.  You can smell whether or not their suits have been hanging in a musky closet.

Today, I arrived at 10:40 and plastered myself against the wall in the far corridor (it’s way worse if you take the main corridor to the sanctuary).  Then I did my job, trying to summon my mother, now ten years gone.  Mom loved greeting.  To me, it seemed like she did it every week.  When images of her float through my mind, I always see her dressed in a red and black plaid Liz Claiborne outfit.  Stockings, black low heels. Makeup, jewelry, a big smile shining off her face.  In the Hall of Fame of Greeters, my mom would have her own commemorative bust.  She was that good.

I tried, I sweated my way through it.  I did it for her.  And dad too, a steadfast servant at Southminster Church.  Today would have been their 57th anniversary.

I snuck into service a tad late.  And from the transept I could see the rest of the sanctuary facing the front of the church.  One woman, with dementia, cleaning her nose with her finger.  One man in a wheelchair.  One man, nearly 100, curved over the hymnal, his back unable to straighten.  One woman, just a bit older than me, facing early onset Alzheimer’s.  She kept looking at me, because – I suspect – I have been to her church, I am a lesbian like her and her partner.  I returned every gaze as if to tell her that she was here with us, in a new church to her, and she was welcome.  She will always be welcome. I saw grandparents hugging their grandchildren.  I saw a man who brought his new girlfriend.  I saw a woman raise her hands in praise.

The offering song was a song whose lyrics I penned.  Our Music Director wrote the music.  It’s long and mystical and I always get a bit nervous when it is played.  But I watched the congregation settle into it and I watched my minister, Lois, nod in affirmation when it was done.  For most of the hymn, I buried my head in my hands and listened to what a younger me was trying to tell me on this day.  My own words told me to be loving, quiet, patient, courageous.

After the hymn, several people from across the crowd and in the choir loft were trying to catch my eye, acknowledge their appreciation for my poem.

Then, in that moment, I felt like I was greeting the church – and by that I mean seeing them and being seen.  The word “greet” comes from the old German word meaning “salute.”  An act of honoring.

And I knew that standing at the door and shaking hands is not the way I contribute to my church.  I’m not my mother, but I have within me her strong current of service.  I am not my father, who could balance the books and do long term strategic planning with his gifts.  I can serve by seeing people, accepting what they bring to altar and by writing (and sometimes speaking) words that tread on that sweet long arc to justice.

That’s what mom and dad were doing too, in their own ways, reaching out for justice with love, and planning ahead for justice with a calculator and a spreadsheet.

God bless, Sally Cowan and Bruce Reinhold. God bless their marriage.  God bless their unbending commitment to doing good in the word.  Happy anniversary, mom and dad.  I love you.

 

 

 

 

International Day of Peace

You know that notion that peace begins with me?  That we cannot start to create a peaceful world without the actions we take as individuals?

Well, today  I saw three things that made me take this idea in a new direction.  I am kind, I hope, more days than not. I have done things to create peace with my actions, like the 30 years of heading up mediation at Fernway School, or speaking to the Presbytery of the Western Reserve during a critical vote. I hold doors open every single time.  I let people pass in front of me when exiting  space, men, women, child.  It does not matter.  I defer.

Yes, I know I can be untempered and raging.  I know I lose my shit and I can be overbearing and outspoken.  I can snap at people. But best I can, I know it and apologize.

I used to want people to think of me as smart but now I want them to perceive me as kind because it matters more.  Way more.

This notion of being peaceful by showing personal acts of peace, though, has shifted in the last ten hours.  I saw one woman – a beautiful middle aged, well-dressed woman – at East Coast Custard get a triple scoop of vanilla then go eat it in her car.  Then she came back in and get another triple scoop and eat it in her car.  I wanted to say, “C’mon in, honey. Come sit right here beside me and have six scoops of custard.  Its okay. No hiding , no judgment.”

Then, just minutes later, I saw an older woman, maybe 70, walking down Mayfield Road all dolled up.  Short skirt, lots of rouge, purple in her hair, spiky glasses.  It would have looked great, or more great, if she were nineteen, but she wasn’t nineteen. And I wanted to say, “Come here, sweet cheeks.  Now who has you thinking you need to dress that way?  A man?  Our culture? Something you saw in a magazine? It’s okay to be you without all of this jazzing up.”

Now, before I go seeming all preachy, I ached for these two – whatever was making them shield and decorate. I am a liberal though and would never deny each the right to do and dress as she choses. It just seemed heartbreaking.

Then, just now, I was watching  The second season of Tig Motaro’s “One Mississippi” and there was a flash-forward scene of Tig with Kate, holding hands in a nursing home when they were much much older.

That, to me, would be a perfect love. Sitting next to my love into old old age. Her protecting everything that is sacred to me and me doing the same.  Smiling, every day, just because we were together.

And, boom, this idea of “peace beginning with me” sunk down a deeper layer.  It’s good to hold doors and say thank you.  It’s good to ask a waiter, “May I please have the…: instead of saying, “I’m gonna do…” All of those pleasantries are crucial for a generous society.

And “peace beginning with me” is so much more than that.  Peace means acceptance of self.

It means saying I am a heady, anxious driven woman.  I am fat and yet I am grateful for this body.  I swear too much and often at the wrong time. I am proud. I am beautiful. I am filled with a mercurial hope that will not release me. I am young. I am failing. I have contributed my best at Fernway School.  I have contributed my worst at Fernway School.  I wasted too many years.  I am bold and confident. I am loud. I am too quick sometimes and magnificently quick other times.  I am a math wiz, I don’t know where Estonia is.  I don’t fit in an airplane seat without a seatbelt extender. I am the best conversationalist on a long trip.  I say too much. I say nothing at all.  I keep pushing against a system that will not change. I am a great kisser. I am afraid of dying.

Peace is saying all of those things.  Knowing all of those things.  And accepting them.  Fully. Not with resignation or placation, but as truth.  The same way I accept that there are five toes on each foot, and a breastbone above my heart.

So, what about that? What if today we could welcome peace of self? Imagine how hard our brains have been working fielding troops and munitions in the war we rage against our self-perceived faults. Put down the weapons.  Here is an olive branch.  Go now, right now. Wrap it around your tired head like a crown.

 

Happy New Year

At 3:45 this afternoon, I texted a friend and asked 1) Dinner? 2) Columbus? 3) Los Gauchos? And she said sure! Now I know most people who live in Cleveland don’t drive to Columbus for dinner,  but Tia and I did.  It was the very best way to start a new year.

For a Presbyterian, I really love the High Holy Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. I know that this day is to be spent in the synagogue, celebrated with the call of the Shofar and by eating sweet apples dipped in honey.

I know you’ll have to suspend judgement, but I would call the car a temple of sorts, where we reconnected and spoke true truths – the ones beneath the crust.  Work, bodies, broken promises, therapy, relationships, new iterations of understanding.  It took me a long time to really learn how to pray, saying honest words to God about what matters most.  That’s what the trip to Columbus was for me – that’s what any good conversation is.  I know it’s not your typical sacred text, but the trip down was sacred nonetheless.

Then, yes, I know that a Mexican torta made with al pastor is not exactly an apple dipped in honey, but, with that slice of pineapple and a bottle of Mexican Coke, is a sweet meal.  A special meal, something that happens rarely and means a lot.

The shofar? Well, the whole way back, we listened to music.  My friend and I share a love for the same genre, lyrics-driven alternative folk (Joshua James, The Pines, Avett Brothers, Amos Lee, David Gray).  Two hours of music, uninterrupted by the words she and I needed the whole way down.

And, to do this – start the new year – with an act of invitation, friendship and adventure? Well, I hope that signals the tone of the coming twelve months.  I know in the next ten days, I will think about my place, my mistakes, and how I can rectify the ways I put distance between me and what God intends for me.   I know I will beg to be included in the book of life as I do every year.

I hope that, this evening, God noticed the way I entered this period of reflection.  Asking for companionship, doing something unusual, and listening to invocation and intercessions heard in word and song.  I mean business this Rosh Hashanah.  I’m taking it seriously.  You get that God, or should I say, G-d?  I hope so.

 

 

Intervention

Well, I went from the best professional development to the worst in four short days. At the PBIS training, when I realized the pace would be slow and the content unclear, I paid attention but also started grabbing lines from the facilitators that might form a poem.  Here’s what I came up with:

Everyone has a jagged profile. No food, no backpack, some skin that will never see sunlight. We are gambling with heaven, so we must receive the message. Find assets, create success.

Collect any ticket you find. We have an obligation to listen and give every voice a voice. Place all of your expectations, all of your restraint, in one place. There are no green kids, no red kids, only a village.  

What are your strengths? Write them down. Do it now, before the timer chimes.

Always time to pray

I had a crazy day.  Taught three classes back to back, then practice and lunch with the mediators, then Common Planning Time with the kindergarten team.  From there I zoomed to a coordinator meeting with my PYP colleagues.  We talked about all of our responsibilities and, by the end of the meeting, I was – honestly – completely overwhelmed. And I am not someone who gets that way easily.  I work efficiently and productively; I can keep all the plates spinning.

But I don’t actually know how I will get pacing guides done with teams, schedule field trips, analyze all of the units with rubrics, make curricular changes, upload everything to Managebac, teach classes, organize Heinen’s, schedule the Kent Sate visitors, then the JCU students. And, and, and…I really don’t know that I have the time and talents to do all of this well.

That may be the first time I have ever said that about anything I have ever attempted at Fernway School.

The expectations exceed even the most capable among us, and, trust me, my coordinator colleagues are supremely talented and supportive. Massively skilled and motivated to do their best.

After that meeting, I ran through the store grabbing dinner then lurched into my seat at a church meeting by 7. We start every meeting with Joys and Concerns.  I thought about saying something, then I backed out.  Finally, being jabbed by true need, I eeked out this. “It is only September 18th, we have been in school for a month.  I am completely overwhelmed and I do not see the load lessening at all, ever.” I took a breath, and starting tearing up, adding, “And I am doing all of this without any social outlets, too exhausted for anything at the end of the day.  I am tired and lonely and I need your prayers.”

“And I need your prayers.”

It’s so simple to say that. And so hard.  We save our public prayers for illnesses and lost jobs and strange spots on our feet.  We ask for prayers after death, before weddings, when facing an unknown.

But I turned to these church friends and told them I am weary.  That’s it.  A small truth, nothing climatic. I asked that they hold me in the light.  That they think of me, a time or two, and send me some energy.  And I know they will in whatever way they see fit.

Do not be afraid to tell these small truths.  Do not be afraid to say you need help.  We are all we have, after all.  Thank you Forest Hill peeps.  You know I love being with you.

Circles

There were 500 images to see this afternoon at the annual Art Museum chalkfest, but once I found the section with circles I barely moved from the zone.  I ignored 3/4th of the paths.  I just wanted these wobbly concentric images. I wanted them all.  If I could have, I would have laid down on the sidewalk and tattooed my black shirt with them.  I would have asked an artist to draw one on my face. I would have swallowed them like sweetarts.  Like pizzas, like pie.

Is is womb? Is it sun? Is it a hole? It is pattern?  Finite yet unfinished? Is it unity?  Wholeness?  Layers of personae? An egg? An onion? I do not know.

I am curious if this image arrives and speaks to me when I am most laden and low.  I wonder if it pulls me in, hypnotizes me with its simple integrity.

It’s funny how fickle and jagged my days have been.  Yesterday, flying high.  Today, morose and woolly.  I prayed in church.  I went to the sanctuary of Cinemark Valleyview.  But today the circles saved me.

I think it may be because the circle contains both the falling and the rising, the turn of events and the recovery.  The circle is like breath, it is like the beat that leaves and returns to the heart. It is season, it is plate, it is the moon shining back the best and worst in us, indiscriminately with light.

Action figures

One of the first things Cathryn Berger Kaye had us do was to stand up and, on the count of 3, make an action figure pose.  I raised my right arm like Tommie Smith did in the 1968 Olympics.   That’s what most of us chose to do – we powered our limbs up, or forward.  We leaned into the space around us.

By the end of the day, that is exactly how I felt.  Like I wanted to lift kids up, I wanted to move  them forward into meaningful action, I wanted to lean into hope.  It was an extraordinary day.

100 years olds have lived through a remarkable time in history.  They have seen the world before planes were invented and now they are reading about unmanned missions directed to distant planets.  They have moved from coal to solar powered energy.

The same is true for the field of education in my lifetime.  We have gone from workbooks and getting the correct answer in the limited given space to creating ways for students be purposefully engaged in shaping the world.  We have moved from gaining power and starting “life” after graduation to asking that students mold and create their lives at the very earliest age.   Teaching is not about delivering wisdom; it is about stirring and unleashing power.

Thank God these were the 35 years of my career.  Thank God I have had a chance to be part of this transformation. It makes me wish I were 40, with the ballast and confidence needed,  and 15 more years to make a difference.  I don’t have that time, but I am able to peek at what is coming and it’s revolutionary.

Another inspirational part of the day was simply being in the presence of a woman who thoroughly loves what she does and is unrelentingly excited to give it all away.  Sure, she earns a living doing what she does, and she has earned a status that most of us will never achieve, but she wears a cloak of generosity, humility and humor.  It’s almost as if she completely knows why she was put on the planet and she is going to enjoy every single minute of making the world a better place.  There was no complacency.  There was no I-have-done-this-talk-a-hundred times (though I am sure she has).  She was a host and she wanted us to leave sated and curious about our next meal.

There is something distinctly magnificent in that – seeing someone so gracefully, and agelessly, living into her gift and mission.  Megan said she wanted to be Cathryn’s new best friend, and I relied, “Line up, sister.”  If I had a wish, it would be that Cathryn would be my accountability partner.  Someone who asked me every few weeks, “What are you doing that is making a difference?” Followed up with, “And are you having fun?”

One of the things CBK starts her workshops with is the sharing and trading of quotes.  She has them printed on the back of her business cards.  The one I ended up with today was from Will Rogers: Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. True dat.

Today, I am thinking of one of the most motivating quotes I have read, from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

I have met just a few people in my life who seem to know and live into this.  Today, I met another.  Thank you, Cathy, for sharing your time and talents.  Amazing.

Capture the beauty

I spent some time after school with A, working on taking and editing photos.  I hope I convinced him buy a Lumix bridge camera after using mine for a bit. I love the way it “walks the image right up to you,” as my friend said.  I liked passing on information to A.  He has a great eye, and he’s curious.  That’s the best combination.

This is my favorite of the photos he took.  Just a guy watering his lawn.  A fall tree changing in the background.

One of my Facebook friends put up a challenge to switch your perspective and simply look up.  Dozens of people commented on her post with images of skylights and chandeliers and ceilings.

I like the challenge of getting closer.  Just now, I studied the grain of my coffee table, a piece of furniture that’s been in my house for twenty years.  Earlier, it was the hydrangea.  Not the whole bush, just one flower –  dappled with pinks and blushes and April greens.  So damn beautiful, this ordinary flower on an ordinary bush in an ordinary yard in an ordinary town. So amazing.

Look close, friends.  Pass on what you know to people who want to learn.

How else will see beauty, now, and for years to come?

 

I take pictures like these

…because I don’t want you to see the pounds of fat that puff out around my neck.  Nor do I want you do see my big boobs, the ones that hang like full beetle catcher bags.  Or my stomach that bulges out from edge to edge.

So you see this over and over – half of my face, the good half.  I told my mother I had a perfect nose when I was ten. That’s a story I’m sticking with.

At counseling tonight, we talked about many things. One of the goals I have is to not eat after dinner.  I know for some of you, that is a weird sentence.  Isn’t dinner the last meal?  Who eats after dinner?  I do, every single night.

I’ve been charged with doing something else instead of coating my loneliness and feelings with food.  I am listening to music, Passenger (my favorite artist), and writing.  It will take two loves to counterbalance my ardent affection for food.

I am so thankful for D, who will guide me through the next phase of my life.  I am so thankful for her direct compassion.  She said, “Together we will figure out how to make you as responsible to your own wellness as you are to school, or church, or your house.”

I am thankful for Les, who years ago said that we keep giving ourselves chances to solve the biggest challenges in our lives.  That’s what I am faced with now: another chance to solve this challenge.

I cried.  God, I cried, tonight about so many things. What I have lost, what I may lose, how I feel about myself, what I long to experience.

When D asked me what I did, years ago, to injure myself (which resulted in a massive weight loss), I told her about when I broke my arm and could not work for 5 months, could not drive for 5 months, did not have working nerves for 8 months.  So many of you helped then – Lorene, Melanie, Sherry, Sheri, Dawn.  I am still thankful to this day.

I cried thinking about how my exploded bones found their way back to each other.  I cried thinking about how every night, when we lay down our bodies, white blood cells are zooming to their targets – healing, healing, healing – a mantra they never abandon.

I think bodies long to be healthy. Spirits long to be whole. Becoming healthy will not be hard if I keep remembering that my body is here to serve me.  My body is aching to move through the world with grace.

There are hurricanes and mud slides, fires raging all over the west.  There are refugees seeking sanctuary. There are far bigger things for me to weigh in on than my weight.  But, to me, right now, I’m in a natural disaster and I need to muster my own Red Cross, I need to cast out my own life boat. I may do some of that here – working it out own the page.  Thanks for permitting my indulgence.

Onward. Be brave.

 

Made a poetry collection

Ok – here it is, the link to my collection of poems. I was going to apologize for the price, or about the quality of the poems (any real poet would have a thousand edits including the 4 typos I just caught), but then I decided no. It’s flawed, as am I, and I hope you will find that charming.

You know me – you who have read my Facebook poems, my Lenten poems, my Advent poems. I have given this community a lot and it seems as if this community believes that my writing helps. Something in it strikes a chord.

So, if you have been someone who has been moved or challenged by my writing, please consider buying this book. And, if you feel so called, please share this link with others. I say this not because I want more money (to be transparent, I will earn 6.81 a book), or some vague future fame. I say it because I think there is something in this simple collection that might make a shift, a change, a movement or commitment to light. And damn, when we do that individually, the world itself grows wings.

Thank you, faithful readers, over the years. And thank you, in advance, for buying “Squinting for things I cannot yet see.”

Click here to link to Amazon: Squinting for things I cannot yet see

College Essay – Stanford University “What matters to you, and why?”

This reminds me of the monologue in “Bull Durham” when Kevin Costner says, (excuse the language if it offends), “Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

I only believe in one of those things, and it probably isn’t the one you are guessing.  The designated hitter rule in the American League still feels like cheating to me even though I have lived in an American League city for 31 years. Roll Tribe.

What matters to me?

Fixing my mistakes, and they are many.

Trying to help kids understand that who they are matters more than what they know.

Sitting in a church a couple times a month, praying to a God I am still bashful around.

Listening to music, finding the perfect song.

Eating food around a table with people I know well. Surrogate families.

Having a person I can be soft and quiet with. Being soft.

Seeing the world and by that I mean, really seeing it.  The colors, the sounds, the seasons, the water rippling, the sky changing, the slug and her spots, the stretch marks on the trees.

Trying to find beauty.  Trust beauty.  Rely on beauty to bring me back around again.

What matters to me is what my camera teaches me.  What books shift in me.  What shows and movies can reverberate in me.  Learning matters to me, ripening.

Words. Writing.

Speaking up when there is injustice – to anyone – stature does not tend to stop me.

Healing.  From what, I am not sure.  How?  That too evades me.  But I try.

Trying to have, seek, and shine light, even though I have darkness in my bones and buried in my brow.  Trusting that my belief in goodness, though sometimes naive, stays burning.

Working hard.

Being kind.  Opening doors, letting people merge, saying please and thank you.

Trying to make my father and brother proud.

Doing well, being someone others rely on.

Laughing.

Having important conversations.

Telling the truth, even when it hurts or is scary.

Exploring.

The ridges and rocks out west, how they make me feel like I am the right size and that I belong in a world that is grand.

Knowing, perhaps too acutely, that this is my one precious life and I ought not fritter too much of it away. All the while, loving frittering. Feeling easy, calm.

What matters to me?

Had I compiled this list as a senior in high school, I would have used more highfalutin words: I would have fostered a something, or claimed a myriad of something else.  I would have said something about striving and goal-setting.  I would have made sure I wrote in paragraphs with nice smooth transitions. I would have thought about what the readers would have wanted me to say.

Had I been honest then, I probably would have said that these things matter to me: playing tennis, having a  crush on David J. and making it through calculus without letting anyone know how confused I was.  I’m pretty sure that would not have gotten me into any college, not even my safety school.

Now, what matters to me are the things that matter to me.  They are non-negotiable, and not at all determined by what some else might need to be impressed with. I aim, not narcissistically, to be selfish responsive with what I want to do with my time and energy and my love.  Thank God I know what really, really, really matters to me (a take on what Elizabeth Gilbert says).  And thank God I have a chance to keep figuring this out as long as I shall be lucky to live.

Thank you Summer

My Timehop has been flooded with all of the things I did in the summer of 2013, the summer of 2014, the summer of 2015. Seems I have a habit of listing all of the miles I drove, all of the attractions I saw, all of the classes I took at the end of the summer season. I account for it all annually, especially this weekend, the last before the start of school.

Well, comparatively, I did nothing this summer. Two years ago, I took three writing classes in three different states, attended a baptism 500 miles away, then a wedding 500 miles in the opposite direction, relandscaped my garden, and wrote a book.

This summer, I – um – rode my scooter a bit past Beachwood Mall every day and took a water arthritis class with 15 older women. And – ah – I had my bathtub reglazed.

I did see Nadia Bolz- Weber in Pittsburgh. That was cool, if you are a seminary dork like I am. I also attended six billion discernment task force meetings at my church.

I went to a retreat in a small town on the Canadian edge of Lake Erie and rang up $110 of international data use.

I saw an old college friend and reunited with an old Ronald McDonald House friend. Went to Columbus to check on retirement and back and forth to Ann Arbor a few times. I visited Mitchell’s ice cream a few times – the cool one down in University Circle. Saw the wacky conflagration of people at the RNC.

Had a getaway weekend in…ah…the city you always think of when you think of getaways, Detroit. I took two daytrips to Amish country to photograph barns and eat some pizza. The highlight was a day spend scootering through Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But, mostly, I went to the pool and exercised.

Friends at work went to Alaska, Ireland, California, Montreal, Maine, New Mexico – exotic locales – and I went to Beachwood, 3.2 miles away. Sugarcreek. Columbus and Detroit.

My friends filled up their summers with classes and second jobs and family reunions. I sat on my porch and waited for Fiona to come over. I took pictures of her cowboy boots, always on the wrong feet. And I drank lemonade while I watched my grass turn brown.

And yet, there is always an “and yet” this was one of the best summers of my life. I felt relaxed all of the time, every single minute of every single day (except for driving home from Columbus in a torrential 5 hour storm).

I declined invitations when I wanted to. I accepted offers when I felt drawn to the activity. I slept when I needed to sleep. I ate the food that whispered in my ear. I did nothing out of obligation. Nothing.

And so, for the first time in the longest time, I was blissfully, selfishly, immeasurably self-pleasing. And that, I would argue is an adult accomplishment. It may not seem it to all of you who equate adulating with responsibility, but I just looked up the etymology of adult and it springs from “maturitatem” which means ripeness. Or “goodness” and “timeliness.”

This was a summer I needed to regain and anchor myself to happiness, to a sense of calm and goodness that eluded me all of last school year. So I let myself ripen, grow heavy on the vine. I did nothing but to seek and fill myself with goodness.

And it worked. I have not been this happy and steady in a long time.

So thank you, Summer of 16. You were slow, soft, simple. Just what I needed. I look forward to seeing you again next year. June 2nd, 2017 will come round soon enough – I have already marked my calendar.

Common App Essay #4

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

What I am about to say will cause me to completely lose the respect of my former students and current colleagues, especially my math buddy, Crystal Hayduk, then – crossing fingers – I will earn it back.

Here goes.

When I opened the BC Calculus AP exam on the spring of 1979, I did not recognize a single thing. I did not know what a second derivative was nor a secant line. I always picture taking the exam in the choir room at the high school (with its auditorium seating) and, once I recognized the predicament I was in, I recall sitting for a long time trying to figure out a way out of the room without everyone seeing me.

Sure I had earned a solid B in class, but that came from incrementally understanding what to do with the numbers and symbols facing me on each particular day. I had no idea how it all worked together, and, in all honesty, I don’t think anyone ever explained why I might need to know the area of the shape formed under a curve.

Later that spring when everyone was sharing AP scores, I was reluctant to share mine. I’d say, “Oh, man, that test was hard.” Or, more vaguely, “Glad that’s over.” I never admitted to my result, which was a score of 1.

I think you get a 1 (on the 1-5 scale for those of you who don’t know) by signing your name and making a few marks on the page. I had done that, but nothing more.

So problem: I wasn’t nearly as smart as I was supposed to be, especially after all of those years of good teachers in a great system with throngs of others equally talented.

When selecting freshmen classes at Miami University, the first thing I did was to sign up for an 8 am 5 credit hour calculus class. Monday through Friday, first thing, before most people were even thinking about getting up.

I needed to know if I was as dumb as I felt, and I needed to prove I could do better.

I went every day, sat in the back of the class barely taking notes. I just listened. I tried to see the point and make the connections that had been previously lost on me. I did my some of my homework, but mostly I helped the others on my corridor who were taking calculus for the first time.

I must have gotten it because I had the highest score on every test every time. I broke the curve (a curve whose area I could now measure). I broke it so badly that, at some point, the TA teaching the class decided to drop me off the curve altogether.

One day after class she asked how I knew what I knew especially because I didn’t even seem to need to take notes or hand in homework. I explained what had happened senior year in high school. That I had failed and I needed to know why.

And, that’s pretty much been my modus operandi for all problems. I want to know why and where I went wrong, then I want to fix it. It works for most things: overcooking pork, conquering Google Drive, or repairing friendships.

Other times, that strategy falls flat. Like when you need to make amends to your mother after she has died or want to question hiring practices (especially when you are not the person who has been hired). Then, I find it best to use the completely opposite and equally effective technique: letting it go.

That’s the big point of problem solving, after all, isn’t it? To know and train your response. To build recovery muscles.

There’s no way to live error-free; there is no point in assuming life should or will go smoothly. I needed – when I was very young – to know that I could solve my own way out again, I could always count on me to recalibrate. Except, of course, that year or two or five when I was depressed. Then I needed medicine and a weekly session on the couch.

I have relearned the lesson of self-determination many times. It will get rocky. You will open the day’s docket and it’ll look like goobly gook. You won’t recognize what you are being asked to do and you won’t know how to proceed. Then you will remember that you have the capacity and inclination to figure it out. Instead of needing to know the area under a curve, you will need to know the swerve of the curve – so, you will duck and twist in a new direction and rectify the differential between being lost and certain. It’s a certain kind of calculus, this recovery. The kind of calculus I use every single day.

Common App Essay #3

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

This one is easy – you can just ask my current principal.

For some reason, when I was hired for my current job at the very young age of 26, I entered on even ground. My then principal assumed I was a leader, so I lead. My gifted education supervisor assumed I was skilled, so I showed my skills. The assistant superintendent wanted my opinions, so I gave them.

I was treated as an equal by everyone in the institution, as was everyone else. People who did not know each other assumed that every other was good at what he/she did and, when put together, we could solve any problem.

I have worked (and argued) with so many talented people: high school principals, central office administrators, a Harvard professor working with the district, even the superintendent. At one time in my career, I was able to walk into the administration building and be warmly welcomed by everyone even at the highest reaches. About 10-12 years ago, because of the capacity to explain and engage thinking, I was a co-lead in an achievement initiative for the whole district with an adjunct consultant. God, how lucky I have been to have had my talents needed and encouraged, even though I was “just a teacher.”

I know not all teachers have this purview, but I did, and it was incredible. Not because of the informal power that was vested in me, but because of the trust. To have been seen and known and counted on? Well, that’s an ideal professional setting, no matter what the profession.

I especially loved to get in a room with the assistant superintendent to throw down. We would and could debate about nearly everything. When trying to begin a new initiative, we would wrestle with all of the yes-buts and the what-ifs. If I felt strongly about a certain course of action, I would share those feelings (bolstered by reason, of course) and we would maneuver toward or away from the given path to find the best solution. When she needed insight, she would call me. When an established procedure was not working, I would call her. So too with all of the people I worked under. I gave, I took. It was mutual, this grinding. And, I loved it.

One time, the superintendent was thinking about making a big change to an established program, and when he put his idea into the mix on a professional day session he was attended along side the rest of us, I vehemently disagreed and made my opinions clear. I did so assertively, just left of the edge of impropriety. He listened – as did the rest of the room, somewhat shocked by the strength of my tone and argument. He asked more questions. He weighed my input.

It was, despite my accelerated heartbeat, exactly what should happen in a strong institution. Grounded in the belief that we all want to do our very best for our charges and honor the immeasurable trust the community gives us, we should go at it. Disagree until we agree, debate until the waves abate.

And, even now, with my colleagues in my school, I think – I hope – we welcome disagreement. Not the petty kind, of course, but we are willing to wrangle with differences. And doing that? It builds capacity, it cements understanding, it brings out a more resounding quality of thinking.

Now, at the end of my career, that kind of healthy deliberation has become more limited. Maybe it’s because of my age, maybe I have been there too long, maybe because people don’t know about my intellect or don’t jibe with my style. Maybe there has just been a shift in shared decision-making. I’m really not quite sure.

Luke Arthur states that workplace conflict benefits business in five ways: It engages people, gets employees’ attention, improves relationship, morale and ideas. That’s the most important claim: when people trust each other enough to disagree, then the flow of ideas is wider, deeper and stronger. Collectively, the group can refine a good idea to great.

I guess I have always known that instinctively and wish that I could move through the last part of my career with the same fervor I was granted earlier.

At least I have my principal, my favorite debater and co-conspirator. When I drop by for a quick chat, we end up discussing the pluses and minuses of, well, anything, everything really. The rotation of PD days, the use of leadership team time, painting the blacktop. Neither of us would have it any other way. Our relationship is founded on the deep and exercised belief that we can figure it out (it being anything) and, in doing so, we will disagree for the greater good. Sometimes, the conversation walks itself all the way to my car when I am trying to go home. Sometimes, it involves a late night “but maybe” text. I love it, the engagement, this overt display of respect.

So, have I challenged a belief or idea? Yes, every damn day, 185 work days a year. Would I make the same decision? Yes, thank God, always yes, yes, yes. Not because of what I gained but because of my deep held belief that when we fight, we are fighting our way to excellence.

Common App Essay #2

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Failure. I guess that is what I am having trouble with. The word, itself. What it connotes.

I have lost many things. Countless softball games, tennis matches, golf tournaments, so many swimming races I cannot even attempt to log.

I have not been chosen for many things. I did not get into the yearbook committee in high school. The coach passed me over for the softball team, too. I did not get into my top two colleges. I was not picked for organization at Miami that everyone cool got into – what was it called, MUSF? I did not get to attend a Summer Media Institute in film one summer. I was not selected to be Disney Teacher of the Year, nor was I awarded a few OAC individual artist grants (though I did one, yahoo). I was not placed in a district job I thought I had earned. I was not deemed worthy of being a workshop leader. I wrote a book and got eight healthy rejections.

I have not be successful at recipes, especially those involving pork. I tried to be a great dancer in water aerobics class but lacked a certain necessary rhythm. I tried choosing the just right paint color of my dining room for months until I figured it out.

I lost a kid at the zoo during a field trip.

I passed out when getting stitches removed from my face.

I have tried to stop biting my nails for forty years and could only string together a few weeks without crumbling.

I tried loving a person or two and am just now starting to understand the kind of generosity and acceptance that takes.

I once was so sad that I thought about driving off the side of the road. That lasted for a year or two, but, thankfully, I can’t even remember what that feeling felt like.

But failure? I cannot think of a time I failed.

When I looked up the etymology of the word failure, this is what I got: mid 17th century (originally as failer, in the senses ‘nonoccurrence’ and ‘cessation of supply’): from Anglo-Norman French failer for Old French faillir (see fail).

You see, I have not had nonoccurances. So many things have occurred. Nor have I had a cessation of supply. All of the above occurrences were abundant in supply. Not the kind of huge life lessons an admissions board might be looking for, but, as with all events, the above nudged and shaped me in ways, conscious and unconscious.

I keep playing games. I keep trying out for opportunities. I still trust and lean into love. I count all of the heads when I go on field trips now. Twice, I count them twice.

And, I write.

These “failures” are the semantics of stories. These “failures” are ripe with supply. I do not know who I would be if I could have broken one minute in 100 freestyle. I don’t know who I would have been had Ohio University welcomed me into their film class. I do not know how much gentleness might have been stripped from me had I not known depression. But, why wander down that hypothetical parallel universe anyway? It is what it is, as my friend Kathy tells me.

My job, your job dare I say, is to accept every single thing that put you here. In this place, in your skin, with all of its wrinkles and bruises. Grace is sometimes disguised as failure. So, appreciate each of your days, take it all in – maybe even as gift.

Common Application Essay #1

Last year on this day, I heard some bad news and my reaction (healthy as it was) was to start writing again. I did, wholeheartedly, expecting to be “picked up” by Huffington Post or “snatched up” by a small press. Something to affirm my talents.

But that’s not a reason to write. Needing to write is a reason to write. Having good ideas to share with good people is a reason to write. Hence, no picking up, no snatching.

I’d like to say the pain of last year’s rejection has worn off. It hasn’t, especially as people I know have started traveling to IB schools and leading IB workshops. I wish them all well; they are amazing people. It’s just that I am amazing too.

Last night I ran into Brian and his mom at Target. We talked about applying for colleges and eventually wound our way around to University of Chicago’s essay questions and Common App essay prompts. I decided, right then and there near the self check-out, that that’s where I would begin writing again. They say youth is wasted on the young. Well, I think these good writing prompts are wasted on them too. I can’t imagine what my 15 year-old high school junior would say, but I know what I want to tell you as an end-of-career, 54 year old.

This is the first in a series of College App essays. Here is Common Application essay prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

I want to tell you about my marble collection. I have a jar in every room of my house, even the bathrooms. Most of them come from an antique store in Berlin, Ohio which, most days, exists as a tourist trap for those wanting to see the Amish. I like being in Amish Country, but it’s not for their food (too bland) or way of living. Honestly, I have been so many times, I have gotten used to the things that charm others: buggies outside of a bulk foods store, black hand-sewn pants, bowl haircuts on little boys, picturesque laundry drying on the line. I go to Amish country for the rolling farms way off the beaten track. The jungle-like impatiens in a thriving garden. The nods I get from the buggy drivers because I pass slowly and carefully. And I go for marbles.

When my first girlfriend and I first went to Amish Country on the weekend before school started, I impulsively bought a jar of antique marbles for an ungodly amount of money. Forty dollars. As soon as we got to the hotel, I rolled them all out onto the white bedcover. “Look,” I said, “at these colors.” These were not like the cheap sparkled marbles you can get at Walmart. They were clearer. The glass seemed more pure. I could almost feel the hands that had held them up to the light.

That was fourteen years ago. Now there are marbles all around me. Most are antiques, but my favorites are from a company in Reno, Ohio, called Jabo. I like them, not because they are rare, but because they remind me of the earth. One batch made me think of Utah – crusty orange, sky blue and sunset gold. One run reminds me of the waters at the head of the Mississippi. Silty brown, green-blue stream color, undergrowth moss.

You might be thinking that I’m an expert in playing marbles. I am not. I think the big ones are called shooters but I have no idea what they are shooting at or why they might be shooting. There is a circle, I think. Made of string?

I collect marbles because each has its own beauty. And you have to look at each carefully, closely. Now, I know you are expecting me to pivot this essay to a metaphor: how I think each person is uniquely wondrous and we must look closely to know and understand each person. That’s what I would have done when I was 15 and I needed a college to like me and like what I have written. I don’t think about metaphors when I am looking at my marbles. I just look at the marbles. The same way that I look at the barns when I drive through Kidron or Walnut Creek. Or the way I look at leaves flipping over before a storm. Or the way I look at kindergarten print with its sloping slant and confident capital letters.

It is enough, sometimes – oft times – to just stop. Look. Appreciate. There is ample time for metaphor, turning one thing into another, connecting like ideas to experiences. There is time, and sometimes not enough time, to tend to your daily living. The rush of grocery carts, online logging in, Netflix and making beds.

And there is time to just be still. Too love colors, shapes. For you, it might be a walk in the Forest Hill Park, seeing fox on the ridge of the trail. For him, it might be a trip to the Packard Museum in Warren, running his hand across the chrome of a 1953 Clipper.

For me, it’s marbles. Untwisting the Ball Jar lid, clinking them onto the floor. Holding them up to the light, to see the way the glass seems swirled. Swirled just for me.

The second and third pounds

I read yesterday morning that a friend of mine lost her 20 year old son. I don’t know how or when or why, and I never met Robert, but I can’t stop thinking about my friend. How I knew Lindy when she and I were twenty.

Lindy and I learned how to play a little guitar together freshmen year at Miami; we both had a crush on Dan Fogelberg. She brought home some ducklings and we all played with them (on the sly) on the first floor of McBride Hall. We hiked out the Pine Groves a time or two and I think we slept there overnight. She was a sorority sister for a couple semesters. Her little sis was my best pledge class buddy. Lindy was like me just enough to make us friends, and different enough to make me admire her. That’s always the best combination. Similarity with stretch.

And as I followed her on Facebook, she’s become a remarkable woman. A farmer – horses, alpacas, llamas. An incredibly skilled artist in at least two mediums, fiber and photographer. A teacher. A great mother, a great wife.

I have no idea how this must feel. I wish I knew what to do other than to send love.

A few years ago, I took an intro to Buddhism class at River’s Edge. We read and discussed the idea of our one precious life. How knowing death is eminent, no matter how many years away, makes us more acutely focused on living. The blessing of life came radiating through as an idea.

One of my best friends works in hospice and, because of the nature of her work, the blessing of life comes shooting through as reality every single day.

So, today, for Lindy and Robert, I want to give up the false notion that I have time. I have said, for years and years, when I move to the west, when I go on that cross country trip, when I get to Selma and walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge, when I save enough money, when I __________________. I could fill that blank with a hundred other phrases.

When the security of my job does not matter, I will speak to _________________. When I feel better, I will ___________________.

I have gotten better about wasting time over the years, having lost the kind of anger that makes no sense: the kind driven by gossip, by other people’s business, by the addition of a task or demand I did not anticipate. I will not waste energy or fuel disdain over such small inconveniences like I see so manner other doing. I’m trying to work from a stance of acceptance. I was never born to be a radical. My bravery – when activated – is small, slow and steady.

This notion about not wasting time does not mean that I’m about to get in my car and zoom down to Alabama to check something off my bucket list. It is snowy, very cold, and I am fairly sure that I will lay on the couch and cozy up in a good blanket to watch the end of the democratic debate. And, maybe, if the snow slows, I will do what I normally do: go to a movie, eat some popcorn and a big jug of diet coke.

But maybe I can realize the blessings in even these simple things. The fact that I live in a country where a woman, a socialist, a billionaire, a second generation immigrant can run for the most powerful position in the world. And I will be thankful for the “Life is good” blanket my brother gave me. And for my brother, who I will call because we do not speak together enough. And I will listen to music, music I love, including Dan Fogelberg. And I will think about Lindy, my eyes welling, and I will give thanks for this woman – who, while not a huge part of my life – surely formed who I am. And my tight little heart will break for hers which is now cracked wide open.

And if I go to that movie, I will look the clerk in the eyes and smile when I greet him – the one that looks like Ashton Kutcher, who is about twenty – and I will wish him a good day. What else do we have to give each other than kindness? What else can we do but to be gracious, drop by drop, in this short wondrous time we call our life?

I must give up nonchalance and be more alert, even the tiniest bit, trying to remember that this is temporary – all of it — and we are lucky just to be here.

Rest in peace, Robert. I love you, Lindy.

The first pound

On Monday, I gave Kellie ten dollars for the weight loss challenge, and another ten to Adrian to be part of a Powerball team. Tonight I might win a 30 million dollar split of the total amount with the other 31 people who donated. And, once again, and just as preposterous, I set out to lose the weight I have been carrying for years.

When one weighs as much as I do, she is not lugging around an extra hundred pounds because she like chips and cherry coke; I’m pulling these pounds around because there’s something I can’t let go of.

So, I’m going to try this a new way: writing about it pound by pound. With each step in the right direction, I’m going to shed something else I need to release.

When I was eight, about the age in this picture, I was invited to my first birthday party sleepover. Maybe I was nine. I don’t remember. I do vividly recall being terrified by the invitation. What would we do? What should I wear? What would they talk about? Lip gloss? Training bras? What if I needed to fall asleep before everyone else? I went to bed at eight, then, whether the sun was down or not.

And there was a deeper thing – this was the first time I was put into the context of being a girl with other girls. Doing school is doing school, and I was good at that. Same thing with softball. That was about being an athlete. And swimming too.

But being a girl, doing girl things all night, with other girls? How would I possibly manage that?

Well, I didn’t.

I feigned sick before the pajamas came on and the sleeping bags were rolled out on the basement floor. I asked to call my mother; she came right away to retrieve me.

Tonight, with this first pound, I want to give up the notion of what a girl is. What a woman is. I do not carry a purse. I do not spend hours on my hair and wardrobe. I refuse the make-over when I get my Aveda haircut. The highest heel in my closet is a half an inch high.

When I was in fourth grade, I swam hard, I wore Danskin matching outfits. I played softball until it was pitch dark, my ankles and neck swamped in shortstop dust. I listened to Stevie Wonder. I did not have any dolls. I loved “The Waltons” and wanted to John Boy’s best friend. I had a crush on Susan Dey. Loved the way she banged on the drums.

I did not know what a normal girl was, but I knew I was not one.

That feeling has stuck with me for years. In high school, with those Rockettes. In college, at those sorority parties. At church now, when everyone dresses to the nines, or standing next to my dear friends. This afternoon, it happened when I talked with Megan. And Lorene. It always comes creeping in.

Tonight, I give that up.

I look right into the eyes of that sweet girl, with her short short hair, her short short nails, her shaky confidence and say to her this: you were a girl, just as normal as anyone else, in the wide range of what being girl was. Is. What you loved is what you loved. The way you did things was the way you did things. How you felt was how you felt. You were a girl. A precious beautiful girl.

Those girls at the slumber party would have loved you had you stayed.

I know they forgive you now, reading this. And, better yet, accept you fully.

Don’t you?

We who are alive

Checking on the gifts
that still have not arrived,
I spied Hannah on her roof
admiring the proud sunset.
This, all, the perfect metaphor
for the last night of advent.
You don’t know when
what-you-need will arrive, but,
in the precious gift of waiting,
you must be new, renew yourself.
So speak truth, no matter how hard,
take chances, no matter how daunting,
dare to love, even when you’re
not sure loving is called for.
Risk making mistakes, and indeed,
make them. Walk toward challenge,
don’t ignore ease and simplicity.
Bandage your own wounds,
extend yourself with welcome.
Step right up to the threshold,
walk through the doors you have,
until now, refused to enter.
Create your own saving,
stir your own mercy, willingly
receive the grace of God
which is always coming your way.

Be strong and courageous.

My next door neighbor just came over
to pick up his family’s Christmas treats.
He seems to have grown since the last time
I saw him a few weeks ago, taller,
more handsome, his jaw stronger, more pronounced.
We are always commenting about the ways
young people change – you look so much bigger,
so much taller, so much older and mature.
What if we had that same love and enthusiasm
for us as adults? My, you look so much more
relaxed, energized, faithful. I love the way
you are more well-rounded and balanced.
Wow, your hair is kinkier now. Awesome.

Change is part of the beauty of youth,
then it is tossed aside as we long for security.

I never look at the midday sun and rave about
its glory – that only happens upon rising or falling.
And snow, it’s just an inconvenience on the ground,
but when snowflakes flutter from the clouds, we can
barely restrain our glee. We’re drawn to things
in transition, we’re captivated and appreciative.
Think about what Jesus says when he becomes a man.
Drop your nets, seek, knock, enter the city,
do not be anxious. Jesus asks us to change,
knows that change is the path to truth and glory.
This is the advent blessing I grant to me and you
this day: Love your gray hair, those wrinkles
around your eyes. Be thankful for the way the years
have softened your heart, strengthened your voice.
Count every age spot, especially the ones that
will come tomorrow and the next day. You are
ripening, child of god. Finally, ripening to
the person I want and need you to be.

A light to my path

The cars whizzed past me on the edge
of the cross walk, even though law
would demand that they come to a stop.
I don’t know where they were going,
to the hospital to do their work
or to check on a failing relative,
but since I was just walking to Puck’s
for some butternut squash soup,
it did not matter. I waited.
And when it was finally time to cross,
I did so deliberately, one step at a time.
Several physicians flooded by, then an old man
who beat me by half the length of the walkway.

I know we’re supposed to be feeling
the Christmas spirit by now, and I surely
should be warming to it because of this writing.
But honestly, it’s not there yet,
the flutter, the calling. A few more days,
but it still feels like September to me.
Where the heck is the baby? Still
gestating, embryonic, I can’t feel
his kick or my quickening.

I’m not worried though, and feel no shame.
This is the thing about the coming of hope:
it comes when it wants. You can’t cajole it,
speed its journey, push it in the small of its back.
It crosses the street to greet you when
it’s good and ready. Or you are good and ready,
free from distraction and burden, levied
by a release or some created space. It may not
happen for me until February when that
first crocus pokes through the grass,
or mid-July. Heck, the light and renewal
of Christmas may miss me altogether this year
and next, but it will come. I have faith,

it will come, for in this slow and steeping
darkness, I see a star shining in the distant east.
It does not retract its light or its shimmer.
Someday, I’ll make it there, swim under
its faithful and persistent illumination.
Have empathy for yourself. If the spirit
does not find you, trust the spirit is looking.
If the weight of the world cannot be toppled
by a two thousand-year old baby from a faraway
land, do not worry. The spirit will find another
way. It’s a path, my friends, not a dwelling.
Faith is a journey, pilgrims, not a place.

These are the names of the tribes

I don’t know what is between the world and Ta-Nehisi,
just as he has no idea what is between the world and me.
But I know that I’m called to try to understand,
no matter what the differences. I don’t love jazz,
nor do I love Afro-Cuban music, like Dale does.
I have no idea what it’s like to help a llama birth
like Lindy does. I have no idea why someone would want
to make tiny little books or create art on old skateboards,
but I love two people who do. To be a man? I do not know.
To be poor? Endangered? Wealthy? To have the pressure
of being a CEO? A single mother? When Jesus grew
to be a man, he was asked the most important commandment.
Love one another, that clear and simple. I’m still waiting
for this idea to engulf me, radicalize me.
Oh, how we live in solstice, equally light and dark.
Tomorrow, our earth’s tilt will let light return to us
a minute at at time. Perhaps, I’ll notice it falling
on all of the people I have not yet chosen to see.
Spill and shine without favor, uniformly faithful
and devoted. Like our love should be, could be.
Like God’s love falling upon us even when we do not see.

Be hospitable to one another without complaint

If she were alive, this would be
the Sunday my mom and dad would throw
their annual Christmas Brunch.
Yes, I used capital letters on purpose.
Egg casserole, chicken livers (I know),
curried fruit (again an interesting choice),
Canadian bacon, sour cream coffee cake,
Bloody Mary’s, assorted cookies.

I had a lot of good traditions in my
good childhood: Sunday afternoon baseball
games on the first base side (season tickets),
“Envelope gifts” on Christmas morning,
teacher thank-you lunches on our deck
yummy with Strawberries Romanoff.
My mother knew how to be hospitable.
I didn’t inherit a single drop of it from her.

I once threw a party for my 49th birthday
(don’t ask), and even though I bought huge
sheet pizzas, pop and beer, and did not lift
a finger to do my own cooking, the whole thing
threw me into a tizzy. It was my first dorm party,
thirty years late, and I thought I might pass out.

Though it did not impress me then, my mother
helped the world in many ways: delivering food
to families in public housing at Thanksgiving,
(often alone), helping all of those Thetas
at the Pitt house and across the country.
Room mother times two kids times seven years.
Mom would have welcomed Joseph and Mary
at the inn, would’ve probably given them
her own bed and bought Jesus hundreds of presents,
if they would have had TJ Maxx back then.

She drove cancer patients to their treatments.
I remember her telling me that, after one
of her riders died, she went to his funeral,
and she was the only person there, except
for the man’s sister. Every time I think about
that story, I cry. Maybe because I don’t
want an empty memorial service, and maybe
because it breaks my heart that I didn’t thank
my mother for all of the good things she did.

In the midst of her life, my mom and I
went at it and, still (on my bad days),
I carry a grudge about some of the ways
she parented me. Like most teens, I ignored
her, ridiculed her, let her know how much
smarter I was than her, I was cruel.
And at the end of her life, when just
walking was hard, shopping impossible,
sleep rare, I didn’t do enough to help.
Now that I know the pain of bad knees,
I want to Marty McFly back to the past,
and carry in the groceries, help her cook dinner,
unload the dishwasher without complaint,
do all of her laundry, thousands of loads.

Too often, we learn what we need to know
too late and without a way to rectify
our mistakes. Sometimes, in my head,
I talk with my mom. I say that I’m sorry,
I ask for advice I never sought earlier,
I tell her I understand now, and that
the love I did not have have or share,
is alive and well. That I hope she feels it.

This morning, I had a scrambled egg sandwich,
even though (damn) I loved that egg casserole.
But, maybe, if I can boost my pantry,
I’ll make my annual Christmas cookies –
her recipes – brown butter frosting
on homemade brownies, butterscotch and chocolate
Chinese chow mein noodle haystacks.
And when I see that loopy cursive on those
3 by 5 cards, I will smile – with thanks,
with love, with sorrow – missing mom.

I shall not want

It has been a long time
since a walk in the woods,
feet on uneven path,
socks dotted with thistles
and burrs. I do not hunt
for my food, it comes in
boxes and bags, flown in
from countries near and far.
We are not birds, still north
during a mild winter, plucking
cold berries from cold trees.
We are not people bearing loads
on the eighty mile journey
from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
We invent and feed anxiety
over things Jesus, the man,
never needed to know. Give thanks,
then, for our modern lives, their
conveniences, our shoes with
rubber soles and cushy insteps,
the maps in our pockets and screens,
our feet, so soft and untested.

Opening their treasures, they offered him gifts

She came in fifteen minutes
after she’d given me her gift.
Did you open it, did you see?
Angel was eager to know I liked
what she had snuck onto my desk.
In a flurry of excitement,
I read the card, then opened
the four piece box of chocolate
from Whitman’s. I made sure my face
lit up, I showed huge enthusiasm,
not because I had wanted chocolate,
but because I wanted her to know
she is a favorite too. I don’t need
a BMW 425, a hefty gift card
from my favorite store. All I will
ever need is my name scrolled
onto an envelope, spelled incorrectly,
a kid standing there, telling me,
as best she can, that she knows
I see her, I’m on her side.

Later in the day, archiving email,
I sorted through old messages,
one from Janet telling me she
wanted to become a teacher,
Andrew letting me know
he was thankful for what I had done,
Dawn saying she’d never forgotten me.
Sheri asking how I was, really was.
This is the most precious gift
we can ever give each other:
the knowledge that the impression
we made has stayed, swirled
into memory, into heart, lasting.

We are all wise men traveling toward
people we love, people who save us.
Give them what matters most,
your golden devotion, a drop of
your frankincense feelings,
a dose of myrrh, of mirth, of mercy.
Say I love you however you can,
in chocolate, in a well carved ham,
in words, in a gift extended, in your
enthusiastic asking: do like this?
I knew you would, I know you well.

Travel light

We must remember that every day has its journeys,
maybe not to a distant town for census taking,
maybe without a baby in the womb, but each day
we load up for the challenges. Perhaps a trip
across town to visit an old nextdoor neighbor.
Or a road race in New Zealand. Maybe someone
you know is heading to surgery tomorrow, or
setting off to hand in a final project that needs
to be perfect to maintain his grade point average.
Someone is going to Macy’s to find a cruise bathing suit,
ten pounds heavier than she has ever been, another
to hospice to register her father for full time care.

We are all heading somewhere, and not all
of the destinations are appealing.
How brave and wondrous we are, the way
we have to exercise such restrained and
persistent confidence to make it through life,
to make it through the next day. Right now,
stop reading this poem, send out a
blessing to someone who will need
an extra dose of grace and goodwill.
And now, do the same for yourself.
Feel your heart’s steady beat, your feet’s
firm conviction, the resolve in your shoulders.
You are pilgrim, you are well equipped,
you will get to where you need to be.
I promise you, the road you are on is right.

You will be free indeed

Just now, I went back through my photos and deleted
almost every single one of my first love,
a love that was strong but ended badly.
Even the ones with my mother, who adored C,
and the batch from Saugatuck, our perfect vacation.
I kept one, my favorite, from when we in the hills
of Ithaca. She was wearing her pink nehru shirt
and the sun was striking her face golden at sunset.
She looked so happy – it must be okay to hang onto
that picture, to remember that we spent years
without fear or disappointment, just light.

There was no forethought, no triggering event.
I was looking for a night picture for this poem,
saw those old selfies, and started scrubbing the images
one by one, barely stopping to remember the house on Tybee,
the ghost tour in Savannah, putting up Christmas trees,
that time I kidnapped her and swept her away
for her birthday weekend. Click, click, click,
no cymbals clashing, no nail chewing,
nary a rumble in my chest. This is needed
at Advent too: releasing, letting go, creating space
in the inn of your heart by giving freedom
to that which no longer serves. God cannot be born
in you unless there is an empty and ready place.

I have called you friends

Again Mary is on my mind, and
tonight, I hope she had friends.
Elizabeth, her cousin, was near,
and besides sharing childbirth,
I hope they shared laughter
over hummus, plucked pita bread
from the same woven basket.
I want to know that they sailed
back across the years, baby John
and Jesus at their feet,
remembering the times they
stood like sisters, the times
they sang together the same songs.
It takes more than one mother
to raise a normal child, these days,
I can only imagine the number
of mamas it took to raise a king.

Tonight, there’s a woman in Amherst
tucking her baby boy into bed,
two dozen miles to the east, her sister
is thinking of that same beautiful boy.
Ten blocks away from me, a mother
is checking on her wide-cheeked baby
before she heads downstairs to do
more work for tomorrow’s work day.
I hope she knows I’m wishing that
sweet baby a good night’s sleep too.
We’re all praying before we rest,
whether you call it praying or not.
This one, you think, precious to me,
this one, you remember, precious to me,
this one and this one, precious too.

Thou hast found favor with God

Mary isn’t really someone who
has captured much of our attention.
No statues, no special prayers or grottos
from us heady Presbyterians. Mary,
always in that praying stance, her head
covered, her eyes lowered, hands clasped.
That impression evokes weakness, sub
servience. One willing to be less than.

But I would hazard to guess that Mary
was -may I say it? – ballsy. How could
she not be: called to raise a holy child?
She was the one who had to push God out,
wipe God’s rear, clean God’s vomit.
Then she had tell God no, slap his hand
When it got too close to the fire,
yank him away from a braying mule,
keep him going to the rabbi on days
he wanted to play hooky, punish him after
he knocked over the tables in temple.
Lest you never forget, Mary taught
God to read, to count, to call the sky blue.

What I want to pray for tonight is
more women like Mary: strong,
capable, fevered by a quickening,
willing to take an illogical chance.
Women who crash against each other
in rugby games, assert power in
corporate boardrooms. Women who
write dangerous poems, fill out
internet petitions. Women who wear
hijabs and overalls, crew cuts and braids.
Women who march and sing, raising their
children and their voices, wanting what Jesus
asks us to want: justice and compassion,
love for our neighbors and ourselves.

Put on a heart of compassion, kindness

Universally, Amish men wave.
Whether from their buggies,
or standing on the side of the road,
they extend a hand, faithful
to generosity and grace.
Today, they didn’t care about
my short haircut or big belly,
my car, my bank account,
my social standing, however weak.
They waved every single time.

In this age of rampant sarcasm
and insincere howareyou,
finethankshowaboutyou,
in this time of B words and N words,
and words laced with aggression,
in this time of easy dismissals,*
there’s something pure and righteous
about a man, in his black and white,
never veering away from cordiality.
I don’t want to make the
chicken farmer on Rt. 93 into Jesus,
but he was Jesus for me today.

When the rebirth comes in a handful of days,
I wonder what it would be like
to adopt Jesus into my habits:
welcoming the stranger, speaking
to the enslaved, releasing
the captives, in this year of jubilee.
I wonder what it would be like
to raise my hand hello to everyone,
so too lift it to the heavens,
the rising light, the wide sky.
To be kind, but mostly waving
– as we should all wave –
to that which is bigger and
better than we will ever be.

Above all, love each other deeply

My neighbors moved, just a few blocks away,
and my world seems to have flipped over.
Home sounds different without their noises
and play sounds. It smells different, too,
without garlic and Taco Tuesday wafting this way.
It feels different, but I can barely write
about that. I’ll stop typing now –

– and push my heart back under my skin so it
stays and forces me to endure this sadness.

Tonight, Tavish climbed my tree nearly to the top,
to hang these Christmas lights. It’s a rag tag
tree, with too many bulbs in one spot and a couple
long arms of stray light. But that doesn’t matter
to me, what matters is being with my boy,
him up in the tree, us figuring out how to
get the job done. Sure, I had to drive over,
pick him up, and I had to drive him home,
but nothing changed. He knew how to get to
the basement, where to find the extension cord, 
how to avoid stepping on my white rug,
like he’s done since he was three.

For ten years, I had love living next door,
love incarnate in eclectic form.
A woman so steady and unflappable
that I grew stronger just being near.
A man like me (but so much smarter),
I was forced to love my foibles
because of my admiration for him.
A boy whose engineer brain is always
lincoln-logging information together,
making the pieces fit. A girl who looks
as if the sun is drawn only to her,
and our little wonder, a child who
spins and spins, her senses aflame.
Is love not what they showed me?
Sure, flawed, facile, wondrous, active?

Now that they on Middlefield Road,
in a big old house that fits their family,
I’ll have to work harder to get my fill.
Maybe, actually needing love instead of
having love three steps down from my porch
and across a driveway, will make me value
it all more acutely. There was ease, for sure,
in wandering over to get an easy dose
of affection. But now it will be explicit:
come, they will tell me, and I will run over.
Now, I will ask, and they will answer, yes,
please, we would love to have you near.

So too, with our prayers and our God.
Sadness makes for yearning, and asking
demands attention. Imagine how God must feel
right now – so many of us saying come,
so many of us waiting and wanting,
so many of us, on our knees, asking.
We know it’s not easy to receive love and grace,
but how can love and grace ignore us,
when we are calling out with such longing?

They arose at twilight

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that advent
falls on the edge of darkness. Our days
grow shorter, night plummets in a heavy rush.
Sometimes, those two forces meet in a mad
blaze of beauty. I am thinking tonight,
not of the coming baby, but the children
I must kill off. The immature grudges,
the undeveloped strengths, the dreams
still sucking on their thumbs. I know
it’s just a metaphor, this child that comes
back year after year, and I know that
metaphor’s purpose: to wipe the slate clean,
to erase the crutch of your good doings,
to set fire to the fear that paralyzes.
To meet yourself, again, where your
light and darkness intersect, to see
a distance star and start walking.
Not to a destination you’ve known,
but to a place you’ve yet to visit.
Dewy and warm behind the ears,
your feet soft and hungry for what’s next.

Be still before the lord

Tonight before the concert,
hundreds of us had to wait
in the lobby of Waetjen Hall.
A baby, on his mother’s shoulder,
kept looking at me. His eyes
wide and unblinking. Curious,
but without judgment.
I could’ve had a chin hair,
it would not have mattered.
Or a nest of sparrows in my hair,
he would not have turned away.
What if we could believe,
for a moment, that this is
how baby Jesus would’ve looked at us.
What if we could trust, that
no matter how we falter or sway,
this is the way God looks at us still.
Unwavering in his attention,
unflinching in his devotion.
Offering neither praise nor verdict,
just the stillness of acceptance.

Present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice

I wonder, tonight, if Jesus looked like Mary,
with her long spaghetti fingers. Or more like
Joseph, wearing big plunger feet. Was he good
in math, like she was, did he inherit his perfect
hand-eye coordination from Joseph’s great great
grandfather, the best tailor in his small village?
What of Jesus, his body, the vessel of his spirit.
Did he suffer from the physical ailments
that cartwheel through every life, bad hips
from all of that carpentry, or hearing loss
after an unceasing bout with a sinus infection?
Did he have croop? Make Mary stay awake
for days on end, her hair matted, eyes crazed.
Was she ever forced to scream, “Get the baby down,
would you? I can’t take it another goddamn minute.”
Did he lean his bad knees against cold tiles
like I do? Cry in front of his doctor like I did?
Did he ever wonder, as I will, if his spirit
would grow stronger under the duress
and blessings of pain? I must remind myself
that, when I pray tonight, I am not praying
to a god who never knew this living, but with
a god who wore a body too. Skin that bruised,
bones that splintered and chipped, and a heart that beat,
then stopped, like all of ours eventually will.

I know the plans I have for you

When I was little and had to make balloons
for a birthday party or special event,
I could get the latex to fill easily
with my big swimmer’s lungs, but tying off
the knot was like some kind of vaudeville act.
My face contorted, every finger turned
explosively blue-red because of my inability
to get that stubby end looped and released.
No matter, though, eventually my father
or my brother would see my contortions,
and take on the job of getting the job done.
That’s the way it is with God: you be you,
and I will be me. If you can jump and turn,
arabesque and ballon through air, jump.
I will remain steward to the ground,
facilitating meetings and warming my porch.
If you can litigate and argue for constitutional rights,
please do so with every ounce of your outrage.
I will go to the edge of river and solve my
disagreements there. Dance if you can,
cook and entertain. Tend to the garden,
design the next office building, file those taxes.
God needs us all. Jesus never stood in front
of a crowd and told us to be like our neighbors,
he wanted us to love them, just as we love ourselves.
We are waiting for this baby, indeed, but what
we may be waiting for with a greater urgency
is his message: be, love, with all your strength,
your soul, your heart. Your’s, not anyone else’s.

Enlarge the place of your tent

Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin,
cartographer from France,
drew this land, which we now
call Ohio and this lake,
both home to the Erie Nation.
This land did not invite
Jean-Baptiste, the tribe, or us,
but it also did not refuse.
The land simply laid its belly up,
spread its arms wide seeking the sun.

And the sun’s rays sparked life into
the green, its fruits and berries.
The sun didn’t invite the mapmaker,
the Iroquois nation, or us,
but it did not refuse. It shone
without preference or judgment.
So too the necessary rain and
the relief of clouds’ shade.
Just like the worms fertilizing
beneath us, the bees moving
pollen from anther to stigma,
on every continent of this earth.

We know how this story ends.
Jesus up on that cross, two holes
in his hands, bleeding. And we know
the stigma he carried before
those nails were placed there.
Born a refugee, wandering from
mount to sea. Jesus didn’t care
which sand his foot stepped on,
which place his message landed.

Later, I will not fall asleep easily,
as if the darkness of the night
is a cozy lullaby to the day.
It will feel heavy, loaded with
the weight of intolerance, but even it
– the dark- will not see borders
on the land or differences in its people:
the ones spewing xenophobia, the ones
crawling up on a new shore, and even us
who watch not knowing what to do.
Darkness cannot be mapped, measured,
it falls upon us equally. And so
will the coming light fall, without
boundaries and limits. This we must pray.
The light will come, the light will come,
say it with me, the light must come.

We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.

Yesterday, Ann Arbor was shrouded in fog.
It felt mystical, numinous, as if something
was coming, shifting. Fog gives us an itchy edge,
reminds us that this is all a mystery, a swarm
of lucidity and chaos. This morning, the peasoup
followed me to the pull of the Maumee River Bridge,
which always feels like a birth canal to me.
Every time I cross, I feel like I could transform
into someone else by the time I hit solid ground again.
But there was no gift of change when the slope descended.
Time had not ticked back to when I was young
and free and beautiful. It had not tocked forward
to the spot when I will realize – as you will realize –
that we are here too briefly and without enough
appreciation. I was me at the end of the bridge,
and I was still me when the fog lifted around Sandusky.

These peaks of ecstatic thinking and hope
can hurt us, you know. All of the expectation,
disappointment. What if, on Christmas morning,
you can’t hear the baby crying? What if the pine
doesn’t clear and clean your nose? What if,
after all of this praying, you only see empty boxes
and wrinkled wrapping paper all around you?
This is the hard part of advent: you must drive
your life towards a muddle, catching glimpses
of a star shining in the east as the clouds duck and shift.
Are you strong enough for the long trip of faith?
The one that will inevitably stretch past the 25th
with all of its shine and sparkle. Are your bags packed
for contingencies and delays? Are you wearing layers?
Squirreling away snacks in your pockets?
Let us never forget this mission of transformation
does not end nineteen days from now. There will be
no bright and permanent shift. Christmas is a moment
suspended before the hard terrain, a rest stop,
a place to refuel for the miles of searching ahead.