Lights and Lanterns

LanternMy father-in-law died this week. Peacefully in his bed, with all of us holding onto him, he drew his last breath. My mother-in-law read “How Do I Love Thee?” and we all cried. He was a true light-bearer as a pastor and a career Navy Chaplain. Although sudden blindness beset him the last four years of his life, his demeanor never changed. He was humble, grateful, a lover of life, literature, and learning to the end.
That night, as my husband, Tim, and I made up the sofa bed in his parents’ den, his mother handed us an electric lantern for “finding our way in the dark.” I immediately thought of Dad finding his way in the darkness of sudden blindness. It must’ve been lonely, scary, and humiliating in the first stages. But he forged on with fortitude and faith, commenting on Shakespeare, and enjoying food like never before.
Interesting isn’t it, that a man who couldn’t see was such a light-bearer for us? His life of Christian service, his loving marriage, and his passion for words have inspired me for 30 years. As we were singing, praying, and reciting verse to him at the end, I imagine he finally opened those striking blue eyes. But this time instead of darkness, he saw the True Light at the other end of life. Surely, he was so dazzled that he couldn’t help but draw near. And now, as his footing becomes more sure, ours falters, for we are the one’s left blind, wobbly, and lonely without him.
Occasionally, though, when I hear a Tennyson poem, or the passion in my son’s voice, I know Dad is radiating through, not because of who he was, but because of whom he loved. And this world is not so dark anymore.


Epiphany:  a sudden and striking revelation.  A light goes off in your head and you feel the WOW!

Epiphany glassToday, I took down the Christmas tree. Not an easy thing because we are simultaneously sizing down from a house to a small condo in Florida.  As I try to pawn off boxes of ancient attic treasures into the arms of my children, I hear the nagging question: Where will our memories go?

I am awed at the accumulation.  Each trinket has a story and a slender smile to ride along side.  How did all these grow into piles and piles of things that used to mean something but got replaced with the better and brighter? As the heaps of things I am keeping tower over the things I am giving away, I have an epiphany.

What if life is like that?  What if we hold on so dearly to things that have been treasured, and in our clinginess we lose the best, because our arms are too full to receive the promise there is for the future?

So it is with Epiphany, the day we celebrate the magi finding the child for whom they’d long been searching.  As a New Orleanian, I cherish this day as it marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season.  It is when those delectable king cakes come out each Friday at school and work.

But I’m celebrating the season a little differently this year. I’m vowing to switch the piles in my life, and leave more of my old things behind. Just like the wise men did, I empty my arms of treasure so they can embrace the promise of a future filled with hope and joy (even though everything around me says I should fear and cry).

What if the greatest gift I can give to those I love, is not these dusty relics, but presence and attentiveness as we journey together from our past into our future.  Perhaps that is why it is called being “present.” It is a gift.

Of course, I’ll keep a few things too precious to let go—my children’s tiny handprint molds, the art they so lovingly created, playbills from stages long past. The rest I will let go.   Where will our memories go as we venture in new directions, leaving the old behind? Right where they should: into our present, helping us to laugh a little harder, feel a little deeper,  “launching us on every wave, finding eternity in each moment.” — Henry David Thoreau

May the light of life guide you all ways! Happy Epiphany!

God’s Paintbrushes

God's PaintbrushesHiking in the fall always elicits the same reaction from me–longing. I remember the first time I saw those colorful trees padding the mountains like God’s paintbrushes waiting to be used. All I could think was, “Where have you been for the last 22 years of my life?” Growing up in New Orleans, I never knew fall existed. One frigid day, somewhere around January it gets so cold that the leaves fall off the trees. Splat. Fall. One day. There is no transition, no color. I only halfheartedly believed the pictures I saw of fall foliage. Never did I dream of the impact it would have on me when I was up close and personal with its radiance.

Luckily, I have a husband who is enamored with trees. On a daily basis he points out their curvy trunks, their varied foliage, and the way the light filters through in beams. Walking with him is like putting on special 3D glasses through which to see the magic of trees. If it weren’t for him I’d probably miss it all. Although I long for daily walks to check out the colors changing, the mile long lists, and the dog tired bones seem to take precedence in my life. And I forget the magnificence unfolding around me.

So it is with just about everything in my life. The aura and awe of God’s paintbrushes are all around. I just forget they are there; forget to put myself in places where I can be a part of them. Caught up in my own sense of control and order, I almost say no to that tiny child’s hand beckoning for a rain bath, or the offer of a moonlit bonfire. And I would’ve missed the sacred spontaneity of intimacy. How grateful I am for children, friends, and fellow journeyers on the way, who pull me out into the open and hand me 3D glasses. Their wide-eyed grins, inspiring music, dance therapy parties, and hikes through life help me shed my cocoon and step out toward the light.

Lessons From Glass #1

I learn new lessons about life from glassblowing every day.  It’s a wise teacher, the art of fire: penetrating, powerful, and poignant.

Today’s lesson is probably the hardest:  You need to work in a community.  Shaping glass from a furnace is difficult to do alone.  I am a loner and a very independent person, so I have to bite my lip when I ask someone to flatten the bottom of my piece with a paddle.  In order to make a useful vessel, I have to depend on another to attach a punty (an extra piece of glass and pipe) so that I can open up the original end. Beautiful pieces I may be able to manage on my own, but usefulness requires community.

When two people are in the studio it gets complicated, walking around with hot glass. You have to watch each other’s moves and look before you step, much like a dance.  If you need help, you ask for it, and if you have a free hand, you offer it.  Good lessons on life, I think.  That’s how I know I need glass–it stretches me into something I wasn’t before. Like the little glowing orb on my blowpipe, I am molded too.

Dancing in Silence

Family Trip

During our family trip to Machu Picchu this summer, I danced in a way I’ve never dreamed possible: without music.   Now if you know me, you know that I rarely turn down an opportunity to dance to any music, but this dance was something far more intriguing.  Before you can do it, though, you have to strip yourself of the comforts that define you. Mine were electricity and sandals.  Electricity was not a big one for me.  Getting to see monkeys from my mosquito net covered bed was well worth the exchange in wattage.  Giving up my sandals for mud boots was definitely a stretch, but seeing rainbows of macaws perch on a clay lick or soar through the air was well worth my caged in toes.

But how can you explain trekking up hundreds of steps daily, to view the cultural splendor of Machu Picchu: dancing in silence.  The Peruvians and their Incan ancestors are a complex people.  Their stone altars, spirit filled trees, and ornate chapels fascinate me. But how can I really “understand” them when we are worlds apart.

The first thing I do to gain understanding of another is to ask about music.  You can tell a lot about a person by the music he or she listens to.  The Peruvian music is beautiful, with panpipes and flutes.  And so the dance begins.

I take a little of their art and religion, mix it with some Marvin Gaye and Tchaikovsky, and try to dance along.  But it never really works.  The beats in my head keep tripping over theirs.   It was what used to happen when Tim, my husband, and I first danced together to his favorite band, The Grateful Dead.  Let me just say that I don’t really consider what the Grateful Dead plays songs.  It is like listening to a long jam session that never goes anywhere.  But I dance with him because I honor him, and our relationship is about mutuality, love and respect for the other. So, I just turn down the volume of judgment in my head, take his hand and follow his lead.   After a while, I take the lead, and before I know it we are laughing and yes, even grooving.

So it is with Machu Picchu.   Instead of getting all worked up about the human sacrifices that were made on occasion, I focus on the fact that the persons sacrificed were the children/relatives of the leaders or priests.  Now that is true leadership!   I think I might be able to trust the religious or political leaders of my day if they were willing to sacrifice a bit.  That is the allure of our dear new Pope Francis, isn’t it? He is sacrificing the things in which most popes indulge.  And we trust him.

How interesting a correlation I find with what is going on in Washington right now.   Our leaders are refusing to dance with each other.  They are at the big expensive dance, and each wants his/her music played, and only that music played.  Hence, they are standing on the walls full of fear, while making fun of each other for the absurdity of the other’s moves.  Well, its time to turn off the music, and sacrifice a bit.

Hey, I have an idea.  Why don’t our legislators throw a little sacrifice of their insurance plans on the altar? If every government official had to live with the plan that he or she is crafting for the rest of us, we all might just begin to trust them a little.  How about another sacrifice?  How about if they can’t balance the budget, they don’t get paid?  Now the altar looks pretty interesting.  I’m ready to dance.   How about you?  But first, let’s turn off the music.

Let the silence in our heads, help us attend to, respect, and respond to the moves of another. Before long we’ll all move away from the wall, and learn how to follow and take the lead with ease.  We might even  quit judging the silly moves of others, and  join in the dance. I’m  hoping we may just shake off the frustrations, fears, and judgments we have that separate us, and eventually learn to add a few panpipes and flutes to the mix.  And what the heck, what about a good rendition of “Mustang Sally” while we’re at it?