Inhabiting.

15 October, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s really hard sometimes to practice remaining present in a culture that simultaneously prizes efficiency, getting ahead, and self-reliance while also pushing the message of, “You’re only young once — live it up while you can!” There’s tension there, and I can’t quite put my finger on how to best unlearn some of the meanings I’ve swallowed over the past few years surrounding adulthood and responsibility and fulfillment and significance and, yes, peace.

I know this: I no longer want to carry the pressure of a lie that says success equals busyness equals success. I want to embrace rest without guilt, the gift of time spent together in simple connection without the baggage of unspoken expectations dragging our thoughts down into sputtering distraction, and more steps towards creating rather than consuming.

I want to plant my feet firmly on the red concrete of our front porch, wave to Senora Cruz across the street, and fully take in the hope of the early day: the sirens two blocks over, the creak of the rusting gate as Mr. Robert backs his old pickup truck out of their side yard on the way to work, the scratching of dry leaves on the eaves, the light hitting the space just so between the bird’s claws gripping the wire overhead.

I want to remember that one-of-a-kind smell that curls up in the milky curve of my son’s neck right underneath his tiny ear — and I’m realizing there will be nothing to pull out and savor if I don’t first allow myself to plop down on our lint-covered wooden floor next to him and breathe in his scent. Breathe in this life. Breathe.

I want to feel connected to myself as well as to the world, not to mention to the God who is somehow within yet transcending the world, and I’m realizing: I don’t know how to do that very well. You would think I would have gotten more of the hang of this whole bestillandknow trick by now — but no. There is a continual litany of to dos running in place behind my eyes, spinning wheels that hum a soundless tune of, “Detergent, diaper, service site, email, immigration reform, electricity bill, sweet potato puree, urban education, meeting, diaper, sink, email, incarceration, clothing stack, meeting, mirror, food security, diaper, diaper, curriculum, email, therapy, one on one, leadership development, diape…” and so it goes until it’s 230 in the morning and I realize that the tune is still humming quietly to itself in the dusty, unpainted corners of our dim room, and all I crave is silence. And a sense of enough. And maybe the comforting warmth of a wordless embrace that recognizes the fullness of all of me, not just the work of my hands.

I was listening to a podcast recently and something said by the guest author being hosted on the show rang a resonant note within me. “Just as much as we have come to believe in and nourish the life of the mind, and, at times, even the life of the soul,” she said in quiet conviction, “I think it’s time that we remember to also nourish the life of the body. And by that, I mean this: we need to reteach ourselves how to inhabit our own bodies.”

This, then, can become my prayer for today. God, teach me how to reinhabit my own body.

It’s ironic, I know, that I so often sit with the young adults participating in the urban service program my husband and I co-facilitate here in our city, holding forth at great length — and with honest conviction — about Sabbath. And rest. And being. And yet, here I am, navigating distractions and deadlines and dirty diapers with a slightly bewildered stance that isn’t quite sure how I ended up in this space or, perhaps even more importantly, how to enter another, more sacred yet equally ordinary, one.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want life to just happen to me. I don’t want to perpetuate some of the same cycles of resentment, tally-keeping, and burn out I see playing out before and around me. I want to participate, and co-create, and rest, and be. Maybe this is part of what it really means to be an adult: skip the to-do lists. Reject the paralysis of unspoken expectation. Slip out from underneath the deadening pressure of “shoulds” and “ought to’s.” And yet, the question of, “but how?” still remains. Maybe that’s really what it means to be an adult?

I guess what I’m trying to say is: the only one who can live into those hopes, the only one who can transform “I want” into “I am,” the only one who needs to begin choosing rather than conforming, the only one who can somehow rest in the balance of both being and doing, is me. In this moment. Now.

Inhabiting.

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Then to Now

9 January, 2014 § 1 Comment

From the then of last May until the January of now.

This may be the longest stretch of weeks linked together in which I have failed to put down words in any particular creative order, unless you count to-do lists, meeting agendas, (very infrequent) FB status updates, or email communication — the latter of which has also been sporadic and consistently delayed, much to the chagrin of my long-distance community. While I have never been listed amongst the most enthralling or disciplined of writers, my comfortable, albeit somewhat sputtering, routine of rumination leading into the occasional translation of a paragraph here or there seems to have dried up and tapered off altogether. Odd.

As to why, exactly, I find I’m not quite sure. There is much in my day-to-day rhythm that is familiar, contented and carrying continuity with years past — so perhaps some of the silence of the past 8 months has stemmed from a desire to simply be present as much as from a hesitancy to lapse into unhealthy, mawkish transparency in this particular space. On the other hand, the year has also contained numerous and at times overwhelmingly powerful undercurrents of experiencing, feeling, learning/unlearning and questioning. I’m not exactly sure if I have found the courage or taken the time to sit, form the shape of names and allow myself to fully embrace in the middle of the tug and pull. In fact, I’m quite sure I haven’t.

Regardless of the why, I am, I finally acknowledged to myself yesterday, suffering from acute writer’s block. Or something. I chewed on this thought, acknowledged it was one of no great significance to anyone other than myself, and rounded our street past the small taqueria at the corner with its unpredictable hours and weirdly blinking yet stubbornly cheerful lights

While I mulled over images of untouched pages with empty lines and blinking bars on bright computer screens and piles of words hidden in corners, my shoes continued to lead me down the uneven sidewalk next to the red brick parsonage hedged in by whitewashed statues, small gray pebbles and colorful annuals before eventually making an unconscious left turn, crossing the open stretch of soccer field and middle school angst, and shoving open our slightly rusted, wild berry-entwined gate with a careless kick.

I suppose — sometimes — all that is required is to simply start again and move forward.

The door knob turns. My right foot steps up. And then my left. I cross the threshold. I am home.

Even In Spite of Ourselves

9 May, 2013 § Leave a comment

tumblr_mkngsoR49T1s7cof4o1_1280 We need to keep praying for this food,
acknowledging our needs as daily,
because in this act of asking,
the prayer awakens
in us
the trust that
God will provide.

But, like the manna that God provided
to Israel in the desert,
this ‘bread’ cannot be stored.

We cannot bind our will today for tomorrow;
we cannot make a pact with Christ that
tomorrow He will be within us,
even in spite of ourselves.

Each day brings with it not only the necessity of eating
but the renewal of our love of and in God.
— thoughts borrowed from Kathleen Norris & Simone Weil

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Let us remember that
the life in which we ought
to be interested
is ‘daily’ life. We can,
each of us, only call the present time
our own. Our Lord tells us to
pray for today,
and so He prevents us from
tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.
Gregory of Nyssa

Patches of Green In the Middle of a City of Blocks

30 April, 2013 § 1 Comment

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there are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places and desecrated places.
— wendell berry

Things You Will & Will Not Find in Our Home

4 April, 2013 § Leave a comment

IMG_7740I like to think about simplicity a lot.  Since we incorporated a practical commitment to valuing people over possessions into our wedding vows, it’s probably not surprising that the topic of perceived need versus actual need comes up on an almost daily basis between my husband and I. It doesn’t matter if we’re discussing birthday gifts, weekly budgeting, future travel plans, home-making, child raising, community investment, food choices, outlets of relaxation or everything in between — one or both of us almost always includes the now infamous s-word in our conversation. Maybe it stems from the fact that, as Zach (only half) jokingly likes to point out, I’m a slightly obsessive compulsive declutterer. Maybe it’s a semi-selfish legacy that lingers from growing up with 5 siblings and realizing that the less we owned, the more corners of space we as individuals could occupy and claim as our own (a rare sense of ownership in a life otherwise characterized by complete and utter sharing). Maybe my interest in the practice is directly correlated with a stubborn romantic streak within me that finds beauty and satisfaction in natural, open, hands on, non-technologically-dependent ways of doing life. Who knows.

The truth, though, is that there is no one, unanimously agreed upon definition of simplicity and there is a certain irony that must be acknowledged in the fact that the people who generally like to talk the most loudly about simplicity often have the most access to privilege and resources. After all, if you’re raising a family on less than $2 a day (as many do in Haitian, Brazilian or Kenyan neighborhoods), simplicity isn’t a choice, a passion or an enthralling topic of dinner conversation with like-minded friends in community — it’s a way of life.

It’s also tempting, for a multitude of reasons, to create a binary privileging poverty and vilifying wealth. Wealth = excess, consumerism, material possessions & narcissism: BAD. Poverty = simplicity, resourcefulness, spiritual giants & thrift: GOOD. As with most things in life, however, reality is rarely that easily definable or concrete — particularly when people and all of their complexities, spontaneities and quiet giftings are involved. I’ve experienced first hand how many of my neighbors within the different inner city communities I’ve lived in for the past 3 years can simultaneously be some of the most materially “under-resourced” populations I’ve encountered to date and yet practice some of the least “simple” ways of doing life I’ve witnessed. I’ve met “poor” people who spend all of what little money they do earn, whether that’s through panhandling, Social Security or temporary labor, on cheap beer and crack addiction as well as “poor” people whose porches, homes and backyards are so crowded with broken pieces of furniture, cheap plastic, roadside treasures, dirty clothing, old appliances and magazines that you can barely wind your way through the towering stacks. I’ve also met “poor” people who work 18 hour jobs, don’t always know where the food is going to come from to feed their own children the next day and never hesitate to share what little they do have with neighbors, relatives and even complete strangers. I’ve met “rich” people who are some of the strongest, bravest, peace-giving, family-oriented practitioners of solitude, contemplative prayer, mentorship and creativity I’ve ever known, whose generosity, business acumen and family connections enable others to offer art therapy classes to those in transitional living, provide vocational training, trauma care and a holistic education to victims of human trafficking and hold emergency optical, dental and medical clinics in garbage dumps. I’ve also met “rich” people who don’t think twice about plunking down more money on one meal out than it would take to feed an entire family of 6 for a week, complain about high how their iPhone 5/TEVO/multi-million dollar mortage payments are, throw out barely used toys when they become boring and drive a different vehicle every day of the week.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that formulas are satisfying, at least for a period of time, and help mask our keen awareness of just how truly out of control we are in the face of all the vast unknowns. I think especially for those of us who are driven by values and ideals, who sense the potential of all that could be in the midst of all that is, tangible methods or decisions or habits are comforting — if I sense the injustice in a disparity of wealth in my society, for example, it gives me purpose to think that maybe I’m actively contributing to a better world if I create a counter-system of generosity, limited spending and intentional poverty. I’m quantifying, I’m choosing and I’m controlling.

The problem with formulas, though, is that they inevitably fall apart before too long. When the fulfillment of a formula becomes the end goal, conviction can all too easily become guilt and pride almost always replaces compassion. People, the decisions we make, the circumstances we encounter and the realities we perpetuate as we participate in the ongoing creation of life on a regular basis are never as static or predictable or black & white as we like to think.

At the end of the day, I still like simplicity. I like to read about it, discuss it, explore it, fail at it, celebrate it and wonder over it. I want to be honest about spaces within my interior life, including my time management, relational commitments, vocational pursuits and faith growth, as well as in my exterior life such as the creation of our home environment, spending habits, entertainment choices and schedule that bear healthy witness to the valuing of simplicity. And, let’s be fair, I also need to be honest about the many ways in which I often fall short of truly understanding, living into or embracing the practice. I mean, yes, I only have 2 pairs of jeans in our (one and only) (shared) clothing storage, and yes, I feel pretty good about the fact that I’ve never owned a TV, a car or a curling iron in my adult life — but let’s not forget about the stacks of books that litter our living room, dining room, music/library/guest room, bed room and even bathroom as well as the pile of 200+ china plates leftover from our wedding on the porch, the iPhone I so love to take pictures on, the boxes of handwritten letters and cards dating back to high school I just can’t seem to throw out, the easy and single-handed consumption of several pounds of coffee I enjoy a month and the innumerable amount of times I’ve double, even triple, booked myself with multiple and entirely conflicting phone/meal/Skype/date commitments.

Luckily for me, I think processes trump formulas any day.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Anyways, on to my original intent in writing today. As I was running around my kitchen this morning, throwing lunch together in my classically last minute habit (CSA salad greens in a recycled container? check; saran wrap replacing missing lid? not so much), I was struck with the idea that it would be kind of fun, if for no one else than for myself, to share at least some of the things that you will and will not find in our home. Obviously I am not wanting to counteract one of the main points I just made above which emphasizes that simplicity is found in much more than the ownership (or lack thereof) of physical possessions… but. Still. I’m amused so — bear with me. Hopefully it will a) provide a more accurate, less filtered perspective than is sometimes available with self-disclosed sharing in public spaces such as a blog, Facebook or Instagram, b) shed light on how easy it is to operate with a double standard and c) make you laugh. I mean, more than 11 blankets for only 2 people and in Houston, Texas, of all places? Good grief, self.

Will Not Find List:
An umbrella.
A coffee maker.
A microwave.
A toaster.
A mixer.
Any curtains at all.
Aluminum foil.
A TV.
Internet that we pay for.
A movie collection.
A curling iron.
A hair dryer.
Cupboards with doors on them.
A pantry.
A successful compost pile.
A vacuum.
A juicer.
An espresso machine.
Any hard liquor.
Carpet.
A dishwasher.
A bed frame.
A printer.
A salad rinser.
Canned goods.
Dressers.
A shoe rack.
An iron.
A pet.
A lawn mower.
A baby.

Will Find List:
A French press.
More than 15 jars of spices.
6 drinking glasses, 8 wine glasses & countless ceramic mugs.
2 bike locks.
7 half-empty paint cans.
A (never before used) ironing board.
3 school backpacks, 1 hiking backpack & 5 suitcases.
An upright piano.
An electric keyboard.
An organ.
2 acoustic guitars.
An electric guitar.
3 amps.
6 bookcases.
More than 600 books.
6 pairs of men’s shoes, 9 pairs of women’s shoes (in our defense, all except 2 pairs were given or handed down to us. Still.)
2 bicycles.
A washing machine.
A drying machine.
A fridge.
A gas stove.
A queen-sized mattress.
A lot of Christmas lights.
3 stoneware cookie sheets.
2 sets of teaspoon & tablespoon measures.
4 bath towels.
2 sets of loose & fitted bedsheets.
6 pillows.
2 writing desks.
A 3-foot high stack of unhung artwork.
More than 11 blankets.

A Lot of Words Without Pretty Pictures

2 April, 2013 § 2 Comments

I’ve been thinking recently about the sticky points in the ongoing creation of self-awareness. About how quickly the line is blurred between the narcissism of absorption and the liberating grace of acceptance.

On one hand, my Western culture tells me, “You’re unique. You’re strong. You can be whatever you want to be! The success of your future lies within you and all you have to do to be happy is to pursue your dream, no matter the cost.” And then on the other hand, I’m barraged with a cacophonous collage of of Instagrammed, Facebooked, Tweeted and blogged social media messages that all seem to point out how maybe, just maybe, someone else’s dream is, well, a little bit better, more exotic or more worthwhile than my own… and I scratch my head, asking, “Wait — what exactly am I about again?”

I read an article recently that posited a fascinating explanation for some of the wild success received by the UK-based TV show, Downton Abbey. Instead of the constantly changing camera angles, innovative time warpings and heavily action-oriented screen movements found in fast-paced shows such as Lost or CSI, suggested the article, Downton’s more traditionally linear, dialogue-centric focus on character development and emotional ambience provides a refreshing alternative to our social obsession with a relentless barrage of brief sensory soundbytes.

That may be true or maybe we’re just enamored with the perceived simplicity and romanticism of a past era comfortably removed enough from our present reality to prevent comparison – regardless. I live during a time where, unlike my grandfather or even my dad, my peers and I frequently take advantage of the luxury of filtering our work-related pursuits through an emphasis on vocational fulfillment and personal enjoyment rather than sheer survival or provision. Thanks to the Internet, third-party travel brokers such as Priceline.com and social media, the global community has never been so interconnected, information has never been so widely accessible and a pervasive sense of discontentment has never been so strongly voiced in answer to the question, “What am I doing with my life?”, a query closely intertwined with that of, “wait — who am I, exactly?”

Sometimes it seems like, despite all of the information available at our fingertips (or perhaps because of…), we’ve never had a less clear sense of what we want to do or who we want to be because – let’s face it – we can apparently create myself into just about anyone or anything… and that much sheer possibility is paralyzing.

Maybe it’s just me but sometimes the perceived demand to share who I am in a public space, whether that’s through face to face conversation, via email or in a blog post, in order to know and be known is so daunting that I find myself second-guessing my productivity, my worth and even my identity on a regular basis. If I don’t have a clever 2-sentence status, a quirky photo or an impressively colorful narrative attached to an event as small as cooking a delicious meal, as significant as moving across the country or as challenging as a faith crisis, what value do these things hold? Even the construction, credibility and success of authenticity in how we portray ourselves — to ourselves as much as to others — can quickly be called into question.

All it takes is several hours of blog browsing, YouTube viewing, Kinfolk magazine flipping, Instagram following or Facebook stalking and I can inevitably find people who are living, well, more than me: more sustainably with their wooly-coated llamas, recycled glass containers, free range chickens, birch bark-lined outdoor showers, solar-paneled yurts, diaper-less children and vegetable oil-fueled RVs. More creatively than me with their hand-stitched photo album pages, upcycled thrift store clothing finds transformed into curtains, quilts and wall hangings, antler shoe racks, floral pennants, Mason jar chandeliers, henna-colored tattoos and beautifully unkempt prayer gardens. More adventurously than me with their faces surrounded by hundreds of smiling Rwandan street kids, feet crossing wood & rope bridges over Peru’s jungle-lined rivers, reflections found mirrored in artistic Parisian street fronts and stories of life-changing friendships forged while backpacking across central Europe, hitchhiking through southeast Asia or walking on foot down the coast of west Africa. More radically than me with their refugee roommates, hand stitched linen trousers, communal bank savings, hours of contemplative prayer, courthouse protests, microenterprise initiatives, cross-cultural marriages and one room apartments in the city’s most racially segregated inner city neighborhoods.

You name it, I can tell you who is doing it more than me: more simply, lovingly, romantically, extravagantly, organically, maternally, nutritiously, athletically, independently, domestically, artistically, honestly – and on, and on, and on that list grows.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not disparaging any of you who fall into one or more (or all) of the above categories; just take a look at the list of names to the right of this screen and you’ll understand how honored I am to learn from, and be enlivened by, and pass on wisdom from your example. I love being made privy to how others are choosing to arrange their lives and I find life-giving inspiration in the endless realm of possibilities that each of my friends, acquaintances and one-time discoveries represent. I love the freedom of finding and reveling in beauty, whether or not I have any involvement in the creation thereof, and of celebrating the fact that there are a lot of people in this world who are Infinitely Cooler than I currently am or will ever be. I even love the connections that are made in this space that I simultaneously disparage and rely upon – and yes, big brother, if you’re reading this, of course the irony of me even posting some of these thoughts here, in this fashion, impressed itself upon me with the first few words I started typing. But.

I used to think “it” was pretty simple: figure out what you believe, and then, well, do it. Huh. That seems easy enough. I began to make bold claims (gosh, how I cringe and wish I could hit erase when I replay in my head some of the things that came out of my freshman self’s mouth…), and found comfort in formulas (“All you need to do to be a good Christian is to love the poor – you know, literally sell everything you have unless it fits into one backpack because even Shane Claiborne owns an extra set of hand-stitched trousers – and steer clear of white churches, the suburbs, SUVs and Republicans – and surround myself with people that make me really uncomfortable – and think about beauty, brokenness and intentionality – and I’m totally good to go), and thought I understood what I was all about in the world around me.  But then somehow, as I moved forward with “pursuing my dream,” I started to become overwhelmed with all of the gray’s, the nuances, the spaces outside of the box and the more’s existing in beautiful profusion all around me. I realized that some apparent “truths” in society’s messages playing out around me were not only not lining up but were actually contradicting each other. I became aware that I myself actively contribute to some of the very injustices I so loudly deplored – that I wasn’t finding perfect happiness in pursuing my dream, a means to an end which I was told to believe acted as the greatest good – and that I can’t, in fact, be whomever or whatever I want to be.

Now? I wonder if maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle of belief and action and unknowing and gray space and risk and failure and experimentation and silence and laughter and companionship and Spirit and possibility and limitation. I don’t perceive this as another touting of postmodern dualism or the multiplicity of all truths being Truth. Instead, I feel like I’m re-finding myself in a very familiar place, one eerily similar to where I was when I first began and yet – and yet. There is comfort in seeing, and acknowledging, and accepting (or beginning to) that there will always be More out there.

That happiness hinged on the fulfillment of a dream isn’t true happiness at all.

That I don’t always need to lapse into comparison to prove I’ve created or contributed to or participated in something of worth.

That I, on my own, am not enough – which is, in and of itself, strangely, inexplicably, more than enough.

We Were Not Made

27 February, 2013 § Leave a comment

Glory is not meant for glory alone.

We were not made to lie face-up, engulfed,
nor terrified and prostrate.

Better rather to rise
and feed a world hungry

for more than bread.

— E.M.

Note Cards.

7 January, 2013 § Leave a comment

IMG_7281At the turn of the old year into the new, we decided to sit down
at our new-to-us table (leftover sparkles, glue stains, chipped paint and all)
after spicy egg & toast & ginger tea meal
and, each with a stack

of blank 3 x 5 note cards at our side,
kept our hand hovered secretly over the words as
we scribbled out 12 ideas for potential, never-before experienced
events, activities or dares to share together —

1 plus 1 creating 2 surprise adventures for
every month out of the calender year.
I made sure to keep them idea-side down.

No peeking allowed.

Folded them, wrote the name of the writer on the top
so we could make sure to draw fairly and equally at the start of every month,
then tucked the taped notes away in our blue communion vessel.

I am in love with the idea of
inherently unknown yet concretely happening
surprises to be lived into in the weeks ahead.

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January:
Me to him) let’s be intentional about carving out
and then protecting space for the other to
spend a long chunk of quality one-on-one time with a friend
outside of our marriage (note: this could include out-of-state friends)
Him to me) let’s discover a coffee shop we’ve never
set foot in before and then either
a) have a reading date in the shop or
b) get our drinks to go and find a new park to explore with chai in hand

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January’s notes tacked on to our fridge —
brief (2-3 lines) stories will soon join until the entire side is covered

In the Details.

19 November, 2012 § 1 Comment

Celebrating the sacredness of the most ordinary things is a recurring mantra in my life and October 6th with all of its broken ACs, golden yellows and parking lot shadows was no departure from this — all in thanks to the amazing Becky Harlan who captured the simple, unpolished, beautifully beating heart of life as we stepped from one threshold into the next.

Alone in a Land of Millions

1 November, 2012 § Leave a comment

We were driving somewhere yesterday to one of the few places on the outskirts of the city that is truly beyond reach by bike or bus and as we came up underneath one of the many concrete overpasses where shadows mix with the constant hum of traffic, I exclaimed out loud, “Oh! Careful, don’t hit him.” Several feet ahead of us, moving one slow and painful hand grip at a time, a hunched over figure in a dirty baseball cap and cut-off jeans was wheeling his creaky wheelchair across the 6-lane intersection without any regard for the crosswalk lines.

We usually try to give the many men and women in our city with their inexorable forest of cardboard signs, blistered heels and sad eyes food instead of money — and when we can’t give either, then we at least seek to be intentional about rolling down the window, or pulling over to the side of the road, or stepping out altogether in order to pause, make direct eye contact, ask for their name and then listen to however much of their story the-no-longer-stranger is willing to share in the moment.

As the light flickered from yellow to red, the slow rolling wheelchair man made his way down the line of cars in the lane directly next to our own. If his wavering trajectory down and across the pavement was any indication, he seemed to think other drivers with their larger modes of transportation still ought to yield to him, mindless of the potential disaster that awaited if some careless SUV driver was too busy texting to see his small, vulnerable figure in the middle of the intersection.

When the time came for him to pull up next to us, we unrolled the window and asked for his name. “Hey,” I said, leaning over from the passenger’s seat to address him out of the driver’s side, “be careful out there. You’re kind of hard to see and this looks like a pretty dangerous spot.” To my shocked surprise, rather than feel noticed or cared for, the homeless man erupted in an angry and palpably bitter cloud of despair, spit flying along with rage. “Let them! C’mon, you mother f—-ers,” he yelled, shaking his clenched and shaky fist in my face, “go ahead and run me over! What do I have to lose?” At that point, the light turned green and impatient cars behind us started honking their horns. We were left with no choice but to wish the still nameless man well before pulling away, a faint trail of anger words disappearing in freeway exhaust and preoccupation. “Go ahead! Run me over!”

Hearts have broken over less truth-telling: isolation, abandonment, anger, need. It’s impossible to tell where the one picks up and the other lets off — and any attempt to make sense of what had just been spoken would lead to a rude diminishing of the rawness of the moment.

We remained silent for the next several miles.

Obsessed with Blue Skies.

24 October, 2012 § 1 Comment

 

Isle of Arran, Scotland
October 2012

Scotland.

23 October, 2012 § Leave a comment

 

Come as the winds come, when
forests are rended,
come as the waves come, when
navies are stranded…
— Walter Scott

Someone Used to Live Here.

18 July, 2012 § Leave a comment

Upstate New York — Autumn, 2010

Patterns.

12 July, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the order of the world is a deep pattern.
You can’t know it beforehand.
If you did, you would remain forever unsurprised
and dwarfed and hardened.
— Paulette Jiles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explosions.

6 July, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ending our year of shared life together
and also the most patriotic day on the calendar
with a bang.

Houston, 4 july, 2012

The Good Stories.

3 July, 2012 § Leave a comment

 

 

 

 

The good stories are what no one wants to talk about.
So you make up a story because no one is going to tell you the truth.
— Sandra Cisneros

Pitching In.

26 June, 2012 § Leave a comment

Neighborhood Mural Progress in the Third Ward —
June 2012

Getting It Done.

25 June, 2012 § Leave a comment

(Z likes to poke gentle fun at my intense love for all things
folky and bluegrassy when it comes to listening choices —
but sometimes I think I just can’t help it.
Sam Beam, Sufjan, Gillian, Kate Rusby, Deb Talan, and so many others:
you are my happy place).

So my housemates and I decided to take on a neighborhood
storytelling project of epic and colorful proportions.
When we first moved into this part of the inner city,
many people (friends and strangers included) made
observations about the negative attributes of the people,
the surroundings, and even the houses themselves on our street.
Our new home was located in a place that others
often went out of their way to avoid.
The longer we’ve been here, however, the more we’ve come
to taste and see and know of the goodness —
the resilience and beauty and color and loyalty and creativity —
that permeates our neighbors’ reality just as much
as the stereotypes with their kernel of truth.

Thankfully, we didn’t fully know what we were embracing
when we first started — but now, over 40+ hours of
26-foot long wall and hot sun and paint mixtures
and creaking metal ladders
and stale water and laughing kids and
lending hands from neighbors old and young
and crusty paintbrushes and gridlines and Sharpies
and ideas and sweat later…
it’s coming together. It really is.

Pulsing.

15 June, 2012 § Leave a comment

All the lives we could live,
all the people we will never know,
never will be —
they are everywhere.

This is what the world is.

aleksander hemon

Our Translated World.

14 June, 2012 § 1 Comment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phonotos from June

Everyday Sacred.

22 May, 2012 § Leave a comment

… We saw how much better mystery shows up in fog,
how much wilder and truer each holy moment is than any fantasy.
— Anne Lamott

A Week in Photos: Shades of Teal.

26 April, 2012 § Leave a comment

Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being,
something that needs our love.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

Ordinary Life in an Inner City Neighborhood:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awe and Expectation.

25 April, 2012 § 3 Comments

One speaks only Spanish, the other only English;
one was born in Mexico and the other in Canada — now both call Texas home.
Neighbors bonding over new life, new hopes and new futures.
Photo taken by Lindsay R. — 7 April 2012

Monday Visits.

17 April, 2012 § 7 Comments

Yesterday after work,
I stepped off the bus with the afternoon rain
still dotting the sidewalk in brown, gray, green
circles of overlapping water
and walked into life outside of my own.

Miss H and I talked about asthma,
her blue inhaler shaking in her hand
as proof of either age or pollution — I’m not sure which.
Before I left, she combed out her silvering twists,
yelled at her grandson, turned up the buzzing TV,
let me rub her swollen ankles with lotion
and told me she was grateful for
another hour given by God on this earth.
Faith and grit, inhaled together.

Mr. W, plastic pink flashing around his neck,
and I talked about divorce
and marriage and fidelity
and what to do when the bonds of commitment
are tested to the limit
by the unpredictability of mental illness.
His bike leaned first to the left,
then to the right;
weighed down with one man’s junk
and another man’s treasure.
Smile, baby, he told me with
air whistling between the gaps in his molars,
cos you never know what the Lord
gonna allow you to see.

Luz, Abole, Miguel, Jesus and Marcelina: muddy shoelaces
slap the sidewalk underneath their skipping feet
as they run up to me in front of our gate.
Miss, miss! Luz is having a baby! And it’s a girl!
Miguel’s voice bubbles up from his round belly
with laughter and excitement laced in every vowel
while shy Abole stares singlemindedly at her left foot.
Mother and daughter, the other two women are more
sedate in their expressions but the
smiles in their eyes belie the calm.
I lay my one hand on Abole’s head and
the other touching Luz’s round belly
and I throw my head back,
looking up at the blue of the sky
and the hope of the day
and the joy of my neighbors —
and laugh
and laugh
and laugh.

We Begin the Day.

16 April, 2012 § Leave a comment

Before the day ends, we will look away from you and
relish our own fidelity and our virtue in mercy —
but not now. Not at the dawn.

Now, at the dawn, our eyes are fixed on you in gladness.

We ask only that your faithfulness
permeate every troubled place we are able to name,
that your mercy
move against the hurts to make new,
that your steadfastness
hold firmly what is too fragile to hold.

And we begin the day in joy, in hope, and in deep gladness.

Sunrise in Mikumi National Park
Tanzania — 2009

And Then It Hits Me:

11 April, 2012 § Leave a comment

I live here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos taken in April 2012

A Study in Neighborliness: Part 1.

27 March, 2012 § Leave a comment

 

 

With “Uncle” Hosea; all photos taken by L.R.

Overheard on the Bus.

22 March, 2012 § Leave a comment

Bus Driver: It’s bad. In our society these days, everyone is just wanting to do their own thing. We just want to plug our ears and do our own thing — and no one communicates. But we need each other. It’s one of the reasons why God said it isn’t good for man to be alone.

Woman in Wheelchair: No. No, no, no. People tired. I’m sick and tired of people.

Bus Driver: Uhh. We all need a help meet.

Woman in Wheelchair: When I came back from the war and I got stuck in this chair all the time, all I face now is troubles. It’s just the black folk, too. Everyday. Trouble upon trouble.

Bus Driver: Uhuh, baby, it’s everybody. Don’t go putting a sticker on yourself like that. It’s all of us that got troubles and it’s all of us that need help.

Woman in the Wheelchair: (references earlier incident where man stumbled and dropped all his change down the aisle after swiping his bus card) Well. He deserved it. He’s a grown man and it’s his own fault. And I’m gonna laugh at him if I want. Ha!

Bus Driver: But see, you gotta flip the switch and see, that could be me. And then — it ain’t so funny no more. And see, God says we just have to keep our eyes open to see the blessing in disguise. First we thank Him for the small ones we stumble over in our path and then, one day at a time, our vision begins to increase and to widen — and we see Him more and more clearly at work in the world around us.

Woman in Wheelchair: Yeah, well, no one helps me. I go to climb up the wheelchair ramp into buses like this one every day. Sometimes I almost fall off — shit, sometimes I do fall — and in front of a whole bus of people. Who stands up to help me? No one. Who offers to pick me up? No one. So I can damn well laugh at whoever I want.

Bus Driver: But you had someone help you today. (pauses) Mhmm. Everything you see ain’t really what it is, baby. Sin makes all of us mess up. But if you have Christ in your life, you can quickly say, “I’m sorry,” and come back. You can always come back.

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all photos taken in march 2012

Who Says…

14 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

… that all work and no play makes So and So a dull person?

Mhmm. Case in point.

Mr. Otis.

14 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

I made a new friend today.

His name is Otis and
he has a scratched metal hook
with cold lines and rust spots
instead of five fingernails,
fourteen knuckles
and countless fingerprint lines.

He said he stays just around the block from me:
overalls, fatigues and Navy cap.
We each ate a granola bar together —
small flecks of oatmeal littering the sidewalk at our feet
like so many pieces of a promise —
and he told me that he was anxious to get his TV back
out of the shop.

“Piece in the back just busted,”
he confided in me.
“Guess it was gettin’ a bit loose
and then last week — it just fell out altogether.
They gonna solder it back together, though,
and I can’t wait.
Sometimes TV feels like my only comp’ny these days,
you know?”

Yeah.

I know.

Mixed media :: Sabrina Ward Harrison

It’s Really Not.

6 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

For those of you that know me well(or at least well-ish), it’s pretty commonly shared knowledge that I never imagined I would be living in the US, let alone the great, wild, proud and brash state of Texas (Texas, for Pete’s sake…) today. “Shadowing Mother Teresa,” or “working at a halfway house in Chiang Mai,” or even simply “globe trotting, dang it!” have all been familiar phrases from my verbal cadre of responses to the “where do you envision yourself in the future?” question. I think I am the most shocked of all, therefore, that I continue to find my feet grounded on a path to, well, here. How do I reconcile a undeniable sense of rightness with where I am and what I’m doing right now with this ever present niggling itch to experience the world outside of my known compass? All these notions of calling and passions and vocation and discernment and stability and change and justdowhatyouwant — they constantly swirl, one over, another under,  in tangled tracks within my head. Everyone seems to want to tell me stories of people who dream of traveling but then realize it’s just that — simply a dream — and are happy to give it up for another, “greater” good. “But,” I want to say, all red-faced and sputtering inside, “You don’t get it. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to settle for what is familiar or comfortable or sensible. It’s not just a dream that I carry; it’s part of the fabric of who I am.” Exploration of stories, cultures and colors within 44 states, 4 continents and 20 countries has only served to whet my appetite for more.

I don’t know anymore if I’m to go or to stay, and I don’t know how to pursue decision-making within the vastness of the what if combined with the rootedness of the be present, and I sure as heck don’t understand the equally truth-bearing implications behind sacrificing all and dreaming big and holding lightly and being who we are created to be (whatever that means, anyway) but I guess in the end… well, maybe it’s not all really supposed to make perfect sense.

Ambiguity… indicates that the significance of the telling
doesn’t end with a single reading,
and delivers a compelling nudge to the reader that
he/she assist in the telling and the re-telling,
the continuing labor of meaning-making.
— Scott Cairns

All photos mine — North Africa, 2007

Sometimes…

2 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

… waiting feels a little like this:
quiet within quiet
bubbling up and spilling over —
at least a tiny bit

into a
crowded sphere of
blurred motion all around,
unknowing when the next blink
will arrive.
Not sure when the
cocoon of stillness
will evaporate.
I want to be ready.
I want to be.

Corner street market in Agadir, Morocco
July 2007

In the Thin.

1 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

I snatched a couple of brief moments the other day, finger-pecking in the middle of folders, appointments and Spanish conversations piled table high, to process with a friend of my soul. Without intending to, I realized, I have arrived at a point where (as I described to her in the email) I feel somewhat thin around the edges. An ongoing commitment to service of the other, however meaningful or rewarding, can still lend itself to fatigue, isolation and emptiness without care taken to replenish that which gives life.  And yet — while I want to remember to step back and to celebrate the grounding presence of simple joys and small beauty found even in the low places — while I seek to grow in an ever enriched understanding of how exactly to love my neighbor as I love myself (seriously, the further in I dig, the more elusive a solid grasp seems to become) — I also so much desire to protest the happy-clappy, “I’ve Got Everything Together” facade that many (if not all) of us feel compelled to present to the world.

Some days it’s all lively and animated and bright inside; other days it’s hushed and quiet and gray.

I’m pretty sure that’s OK.

Walk-in medical clinic — Tuesday night, 6.45 p.m.

It’s Mostly Between the Lines.

16 November, 2011 § 1 Comment

When I first walked into the auditorium to help set up for our organization’s largest annual fundraiser this past Sunday, my only thoughts were focused on pay stations, table numbers, place settings, credit card lines run through iPads and PowerPoint presentations. I vaguely remember someone mentioning something about the silent auction that would be taking place before everyone went home at the end of the night but really thought little of it.

That is, until I saw this:

Close-up of the Quilt
(blurriness attributed to my camera phone)

As my closest friends would hopefully attest, I’m not a big spender. I would rather invest in time and relationships than in a wardrobe or a perfectly stocked kitchen — the currency I tend to spend most extravagantly is that of meaningful conversation, shared laughter and dreaming, and homemade meals. (Well, OK, it should probably be acknowledged that my thrifty ways disappear in a musty blink of the eye as soon as I step foot into the chaotic, inky, poorly lit, crazily full, paper-lined, shelving spaces of used bookstores… but that’s a thought for another day).

Every now and then again in a blue moon setting, however, I stumble across a heart-treasure and fall desperately in love in less than the time it took me to write this sentence.

This 100+ year old quilt, revitalized puff squares displayed above, is one such case of sheer infatuation. Passed down through three generations of family members, the donated auction item was a beacon of creativity, color and legacy in a spread of newer and glitzier possibilities — ornaments, gift certificates, DVDs, stuffed animals, golf clubs and the like. I held my breath and tiptoed over to peer down at the paper next to the quilt, pencil poised at the top of the sheet waiting for bid names and numbers to fill the blank expanse. Exhaling when I realized the starting bid was the total sum of my monthly spending budget (granted, $100 is ridiculously low sum, especially for such an heirloom, but the decision to plunk down the entirety of your wallet’s content for the month is not a light endeavor), I snuck another look at the colorful patches, reached out a finger to glance over their textured fabrics, and then turned back and wrote the three numbers down in a confident hand.

For the following 2 and a half hours — seriously, this was the longest and most drawn-out silent auction I’ve ever attended — pins and needles and sweaty palms reigned. Every time a curious and undoubtedly more affluent bidder wandered over near the general proximity of what I had already deemed to be my quilt, I crossed my fingers and willed them to keep walking with all the hope and limited pennies I carried with me. O, I was a ridiculous sight to behold, I’m sure.

Well, one auction, one money transfer and one dumbfounded bid winner later, the quilt went home with me. I’m still not sure how or why no one outbid me but… the love is deep.

(Umm. Yes. I emailed the lady who donated the quilt to the auction
in the hopes of learning more of the story behind it,
and below is her response. How fabulously whimsical is this?)

I am 53 and my grandfather, if he were alive, would have been around 105.  His uncle Fred was married to my Aunt Agnes.    I remember going to Aunt Agnes’ funeral when I was about 5.  My first funeral.  Uncle Fred lived until the 1970s, I believe. Anyway, that was their quilt. 
Stories I have heard is they were very, very good people, super duper in love and very well off.  They had a beautiful home over near Rice University  and I remember going there and seeing the stairs with one of those little chairs that went up and down for you to ride on!!!!    They never had any children so my grandpa, who was their nephew, was like their child.
There was another niece also. My grandfather actually died before Uncle Fred and he (Uncle Fred) was so kind  that he gave my grandmother my grandfather’s part of the estate and tons of furniture and jewerly, etc, which I thought was nice.   Anyways, I always think of the love stories that went with these two people. My Uncle Fred never remarried after his beloved wife died.
Now for the quilt. 
That was in the things that my grandmother got and of course then I got. When we got it, the back parts were rotton and a lot of the “puffs” were either gone or torn. We had a special lady, Connie, that lived with us to take care of my grandmother and one day she said, “what is this old thing?”  I told her and the next thing I knew, Connie was putting a brand new green back on the quilt and repaired all of it.   We even washed it and air dryed it.
Well, this past year, my husband and I just sold our big house and moved into a townhome in houston for a second home  (we actually live in the hill country most of the year) and I thought to myself,
you know, someone needs this quilt that will love it
and appreciate it instead of it being stuck in my closet.
I’m so glad it is you.
Enjoy and God Bless.

On the Way from Here to There.

27 October, 2011 § Leave a comment

Old quavery man, you with the limp in your heavy-heeled step
and the wrinkles in your brown polyester pulled over faded cargo pants,
why did you do what you did?

You with the quiet etching of nameless grace.

You shuffled on to the bus at the corner of
Crawford and Hadley where the shadows of the freeway
loom over cigarette butts, topsy-turvy Coke cans and
the evening lines of homeless waiting for hot meal on plastic.

It was after 5 and the bus was already crammed full of
going-home elbows, backpacks and sneezes.

Several stops came and went before
someone else exited and you could release your grip —
yes, sometimes the history map of age spots can tell a better story
of life lived to the full, sometimes
more complete than a picture painted through words themselves.

Letting go of the yellow railing and easing
arthritic knees into the small seat behind and
to the left, you placed your lunch cooler on the ground
next to your dusty steel toes and
a sigh rose up from the vanishing ground underneath.

Then, on the way from here to there,
the humming of the wheels slowed down once more,
the exhaust pipe coughed (one hundred times over)
and we pulled over to the curb
for the boarding of a solitary figure.

Sneakers, jeans and a work day’s worth of exhaustion
draped over the wilting collar she wore around her neck;
no seat for you, ma’am, no room here for you.
All around, safe in our own space,
we had eyes only for the nicotine stains,
the unwashed smell hanging heavy in the air and the extra
flesh around the middle.

No one else moved.
No one else smiled.
No one else saw.

Except for you, old quavery man.

You cleared your throat, chivalry trapped in asthmatic lungs.
You shifted your weight, rattle-boned, and then
you slowly stood to join her,
flat-footed,
in the swaying isolation of the aisle.

“Here, miss,” a gentle tap on slumped shoulder.
“Sit here.” Pointing behind to the fabric-covered resting place
working man had waited for and earned by means of
silent patience only the weary and the aged truly display.
“There’s a seat for you here.”

Dear Wednesday:

26 October, 2011 § Leave a comment

It isn’t your fault that I woke up to 6.32 on the alarm
with the wish to curl back up underneath my crazy quilt
before I even put sleepy toe to cold floor this morning —

but the lilting drawl of the small woman,
already clad in Kroger’s green apron,
as she pressed phone to ear at the back of the bus,

the smell of fresh, newly smooth green paint underneath
shaky towers of green beans, corn and diced tomatoes on
the dozen or so metal shelves within the food pantry,

and the shy mischievousness of Albertina’s daughter as she
flirted with me from within her shaky pink stroller while
animated Spanish and English flew over
her head like so many swooping swallows, like the chatter
lining the silhouetted telephone lines
outside my small front porch in the evening —

yes, all these things
and more
made me grateful to be awake in the day.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
— e.e. cummings

It’s Not Just Another Day.

18 October, 2011 § Leave a comment

I like how you never know when
you’re about to stumble across
an unexpected kindred spirit.

One found me at 8.03 this morning.
She had crinkly dreads laced with silver and
calluses the size of her family on
both palms: a lifetime of working in someone else’s house.
I, running late to from the shower to
the closet to the bus,
was predictably unprepared for the day ahead,
wet-headed and
shivering in bare-sleeved autumn light.

“Isn’t it glorious outside?”
I  fell into the seat next to her, bag flying,
goosebumps bearing witness to
the golden morning as the bus lurched away from the corner.

I swear, as soon as the words escaped out of my mouth,
the hand on her worn watch paused mid-tick and
we both turned in our seats,
staring out the scratched window panel
in perfectly unsynchronized unison.

Brown and green watched in open-eyed wonder
and the rumbling hum of the 52 bus
joined the sounds of fall bringing a gift to our street.

I swear, the leaves in the abandoned
playground — a tumbled pile of crunchy color and shape
passing by over our right shoulders
from one blink to another —
began laughing up at the sky along with us.

I swear, we both exhaled on the same breath,
paused, looked at the other,
started giggling
(hers rising up from the belly, mine spilling out of my nose),

and then the small hand started moving again
and the ordinariness of it all resumed.