Peonies

Peonies/Bing ImagesMy grandfather was a farmer.  And although it may be hard to imagine, alongside the tomatoes and strawberries, peppers and corn, there was another important crop:  peonies.   I can remember, as a kid, buckets of bunches of peonies next to the boxes and stacks of produce at market.    Every spring, in the days leading up to Memorial Day, folks would be buying peonies.  Bunches and bunches of peonies.  Flowers for the cemetery, blossoms of affection for loved ones lost.

Maybe because it was the 1960s and so many families were still grieving family members lost in the wars, but it seemed to me those peonies were bought and carried to the graves of all the beloved dead.  Not just soldiers, but grandmothers and sisters, moms and dads and uncles.  As I grew up, people started taking all sorts of flowers to the cemetery for Memorial Day, but when I was small, people took peonies.  Lots and lots of peonies—cut and gathered from my grandfather’s farm.

I don’t think I’ve seen a bunch of peonies for years, but I remember them being enormous beautiful flowers that came in shades of red and pink and white. Sadly, I also remember them being quite buggy.  Ants, I think.  In a time before modern day insecticides, I remember the peonies being incredibly beautiful, but always full of bugs.  You wouldn’t have wanted to bring these flowers inside, but they were perfect for the cemetery.   Anyway, that’s the way I remember it.  And Memorial Day always reminds me of peonies.

Nowadays, Memorial Day is about remembering those who gave their lives in service to this country and it is a good thing to honor the memory of these brave men and women.  I, however, will be taking time out of this day to celebrate the memory of my parents and grandparents and all who I have loved and lost along my life’s journey.  I don’t do the cemetery thing.  Never have.  Never thought the dead cared so much whether or not their loved ones brought flowers to their graves.  But in my heart, I will be laying down bunches and bunches of peonies  in the soft green grass and saying, thank you—for all the memories and for loving me.

Happy Memorial Day.

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Nine Months!

I could have had a baby!  At least that’s what I’ve been thinking as I’ve inched closer to the nine months mark.  Granted, my actual sober date is still 48 hours away, but if we stick with the pregnancy analogy, I could, theoretically, go into labor any time now!  Nine months has seemed like an incredibly long time and I can’t help but think of the women who had three-four-five-even (omg) six children.  That’s a lot of pregnant time; a lot of waiting and growing and a great deal of time spent praying, I am sure.  At least those things pretty much sum up these past nine months of my life.  A new life has been growing inside of me alright and I’m still not sure what I’m going to name her!

When I was hovering around day one, still being sober at nine months seemed an absolute impossibility.  I think I spent most of my alone time at rehab silently scheming what constellation of circumstances would warrant an exception to this new sober rule.  I didn’t imagine for a minute I was going to be sober forever.  I was just taking a much needed break.  I’d get myself healthy again, put some weight back on, straighten out my life, get my career back on track, and everything would be fine.  Certainly by then, I would be able to enjoy a glass of wine here and there and a frozen margarita on a night out with friends and the occasional cold bottle of beer after an afternoon spent in the sun.

Memorial Day weekend isn’t officially here yet, but for all practical purposes, it’s already summer.  Everyone’s in shorts and restaurants and bars are spilling onto their outside decks.  I’ve been down to the docks.  I’ve heard the music and chatter and laughter of already tanned and presumably happy people enjoying what I had always thought was the good ol’ summer time.  I don’t think that anymore.  Summer time is about the ocean and the beach and sunshine.  About the wonderful feeling of coming home to a just warm shower to rinse away the residual sand and sweat of what should have been an exhausting afternoon but wasn’t because I’m so happy I could burst.  About living easy and lingering in the wonder of it all.

I can no longer imagine why anyone would want to waste a summer afternoon in a bar.  I have no intention of missing even a moment of these precious days, of watching this new life that has been growing inside of me take in the miracle of being alive.  Ever since last fall, when the whole of creation seemed to turn bleak, I’ve been waiting on this life; waiting for the sure signs of warm days and the marsh grass turning green again.  I had a doctor’s appointment last Thursday.  Early.  I had to drive through a few towns and then across a long bridge.  The sun was shining like crazy and I had the car windows open and the radio playing and, when I got to that bridge, I nearly squealed with delight:  “The grass is green!” I cried.  “The marsh grass is finally green!”  I swear, the back bays in summer make for the most beautiful sight in the world.  All green and blue and wide.

Such is the new life these past nine months have brought me.  I feel as though I have emerged from a seemingly endless winter.  Indeed, I have! Whole decades of mornings lost and days endured in a relentless fog of regret and irritability.  I find I no longer mind so much if I can’t find a parking space or someone is being obnoxiously rude or plans get rained out.  There will always be some place to park.  Always an escape from toxicity.  Always alternative activities.  Everything is new; and I find myself almost giddy with delight.  I love being sober!  I love this new life that has been born out of my past!  No exceptions please.  I want the real thing.  These nine months have been so worth it!  It’s a girl!  And I think I’ll call her Me!

green-grass-blade-hi

One Plus One

I realize I haven’t posted anything since Mother’s Day.  I’ve been a little preoccupied.  See, I’m preaching this Sunday!  And doing a baptism, too!  All pretty incredible stuff, since I haven’t led worship anywhere since last August! (If you are the praying sort, please shoot one up for me). Anyway, I thought I’d share my sermon with ya’ll.  Insofar as I haven’t written one of those since last August either, I’m kinda tickled with it.  Please do not feel obliged to read on, though.  Once the pressure’s off, I’ll be back to post some other stuff.  Blessed weekend!

John 17:6-19 Easter 7 – 2015
Baptism of K—

One Plus One

One through a fence

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as you and I are one (John 17:11b).

Even folks who claim to know nothing about Jesus or who haven’t been to church since they were kids, know something about Jesus praying for his disciples to be as one.  And most people, both inside and out of the church, pretty much think that idea is a pie-in-the-sky kind of notion.  Mainline Protestant denominations may have made tremendous ecumenical strides over the past couple of decades, but when it comes to our own back yards, any idea of true unity seems unlikely.  Let’s face it, everybody knows at least one Christian who is, well, a total pain in the tuckus.  When it comes to loving one another, we are more than happy to love some of Christians most of the time, but all of them all of the time?  Jesus had to be kidding, right?  There is just no way.  Ever.  It’s not possible.

Well, first of all, while I want to believe Jesus had a sense of humor, I don’t think for a minute he was kidding.  Think back.  Before Easter.  To the night we remember Jesus was betrayed.  He took a basin and a towel and washed his disciples’ feet.  And what did he say to them after that?  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).  The second thing is, Jesus goes on to pray, prays this very prayer that same night.  He prays for his disciples then and now, prays for his Father to protect us in his name, prays that we might be one.  It is still Thursday.  No one’s left the table yet.  No one except the one destined to be lost. Yes, Judas has gone off to betray Jesus and collect his silver, but the others are still there.

I think it is important to note that Jesus commands us to love one another, then spends what takes up 3 chapters of John’s gospel explaining what that sort of love looks like and promising the Holy Spirit will help us.  And only then, does he go on to pray for another 25 verses, or what amounts to the entirety of Chapter 17.  No matter how impossible it may seem, Jesus was not kidding.  He commanded us to love and then prayed like crazy for God to help us.  It seems the least we can do is to give this love thing a shot.  If you are anything like me, you’ve failed miserably.  More than once.  That’s okay.  We’re forgiven.  We start again.

I have a new neighbor.  I only met her once.  Introduced myself one sunny afternoon when we were both outside on our respective back decks.  Now, in order to get a sense of our initial meeting, you have to imagine where I live.  My back deck is attached to the deck next door, but divided by a tall privacy wall of spaced boards that make it possible to see, but not really.  Anyway, my new neighbor and I exchanged greetings and chatted pleasantly.  I since noticed, through those same slatted spaces, that she had put out a patio table and chairs.  And noticed again, when a potted rose bush and a large hanging basket of red petunias appeared.  Then nothing.  I got nosy.  I peered through the cracks intently.  Her blinds were all closed, the furniture was thick with pollen.  She obviously wasn’t home and hadn’t been for days.

Now, this is the sum total of what I know:  her name; that she is renting; and a rose bush and petunia plant are sitting on her back deck neglected and dry as a bone.  So there I am this past Thursday morning.  Using a plastic cup.  Reaching through the opposing boards intended for privacy, watering my neighbor’s pots.  It took some time.  And once I got my arm through, I couldn’t see what I was doing.  I just reached until I felt the cup against a pot, tilted it, and poured.  It took quite a few pours before I was satisfied. Her plants were okay.  Whatever was going on in that woman’s life that was keeping her away from home—and I have no way of knowing and it’s none of my business—but, I hope and pray she is okay and, whenever she does return, one thing’s for certain: her plants will still be there, healthy and full of flowers.  I’ll see to it.  Personally.

I have come to believe this whole loving thing is really that simple.  We don’t have to have warm fuzzy feelings about everybody.  Not in the world.  Not in our neighborhoods.  And not even at church.  We all know somebody—or most probably quite a few somebodies—who stick in our craw.  What are we to do with them?  Well, I think the right answer is we should pray for them.  But let’s not get too carried away.  Let’s just try to start small.  Near strangers are the easiest.  We don’t know them well enough to be annoyed with them yet.  Or, if we think we do, we can just move on to a different near stranger. Then just commit some wee little act of kindness:  Tell the cashier at ShopRite to have a good day.  Pick up a neighbor’s newspaper and toss it on his porch—even, no especially if it’s raining.  Hold open a door.  Smile at a kid.  Water somebody’s neglected plants.

And then, then if we can just go one step further, say a quick prayer for that person.  Nothing complicated.  Just “bless him, God,”  or “be with her, oh God,”  or “God have mercy.” Can you imagine?  Can any of us begin to imagine what might happen if everybody started praying for somebody else all at the same time?  The odds are even pretty good that somebody’d be praying for you, too!  It’s almost unimaginable, and yet the thought of it is such a crazy wonderful incredible thing.  The whole heavenly switchboard lighting up with bless this one and help that one and keep another one safe.  All the while, Jesus is still praying timeless words of truth that reach through the ages pleading for you and for me and for this one and that one and even the ones who stick in our craw and are a pain in our tuckus:  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

On this day, little K— has been baptized into this diverse and sometimes wacky group of folk otherwise known as the Body of Christ.  Like each of you, she too is now sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.  She now bears the name Child of God and is numbered among the members who make up Christ’s Body here in [Your Town] and throughout the world.  Such is both blessing and responsibility.  As Teresa of Avila once summed up so well:  “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world, yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”  Yours, K—.  And, beloved children of God, each one of yours, too.

One plus one and one and one and one and one equaling one.  The fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer is happening all around us all the time.  We just don’t see it.  Our human tendency is to focus on everything that’s wrong in the world and wrong in our lives and wrong with each other.  We think that in order to make any sort of difference, we have to do something big.  Volunteer in a food pantry or serve on the church council or—God forbid—run for public office.  Those are good and necessary things and thank God for the people who feel called to do them.  But not everybody does and that’s okay.  Each one of us lives out our discipleship one newspaper, one door held open, one fading rosebush at a time.  And the Holy Spirit keeps helping.  And Jesus keeps praying.  And we all inch closer and closer to the glory of the coming of the kingdom of God.

May God bless each of you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy (Mother’s) Day

Bing images - I love mummyFor every mother, there’s another.  Another woman who, for one reason or another, is not or has not.  Mother’s Day is not flowers and pretty cards and adorable handmade gifts for everyone.  Some of us are still grieving the loss of our mother or the loss of a pregnancy or having lost custody of our children.  Some of us are still coming to terms with our life choices, whether they be career, lifestyle, or perhaps even addiction having brought us through circumstances where motherhood was never a viable option.  And some of us have been abused or have never had children and harbor a certain amount of resentment that society and Hallmark persist in holding up motherhood as the ideal and norm for all women.

Every Mother’s Day, my father (who was every bit a scoundrel the other 364 days of the year) would plant geraniums for my mom.  Red ones.  Buckets of them.  I don’t have any recollection of there ever being any tenderness between them.  This annual gift of flowers and planting was a ritual carried out as obligation and received with near indifference.  But still, all these years later, after both my parents have long since passed, geraniums continue to represent Mother’s Day to me.  So, when I was at Home Depot last week picking out flowers for the pots on and around my deck, I had to purchase one red geranium to include among the impatiens, petunias, marigolds, and other pretty plants I do not know the names of.  That single geranium is a hardy little bugger and even has a few new red buds.  A sign of some sorts, perhaps.  Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I never had children.  Never married, either.  I once thought about having a kid anyway, but it was only a fleeting notion.  My biological clock was winding down and I remember thinking it was going to have to be then or never.  I opted for never.  I wouldn’t have made a good mother.  Just wasn’t cut out for it.  I wouldn’t have made a particularly good wife, either.  Years of alcoholism aside, I’ve always been too self-willed, perhaps too selfish, to bend and accommodate the needs and expectations of another.  Not that I was the sort of woman who was turning down proposals left and right.  No one ever asked.  But then, I never settled into a relationship long enough for the question to come up.  Those choices don’t make me any less of a woman, though.  I’m still whole and complete and (now in sobriety) pretty darn happy.  But they are still choices that, for better or worse, are underscored by all the Mother’s Day hoopla.

It seems I am in good company.  A woman by the name of Anne Jarvis is acknowledged as the official founder of Mother’s Day.  Although mother’s had been getting together to mourn fallen soldiers and support various efforts since Civil War times, Ms. Jarvis organized  what has since been recognized as the first Mother’s Day at her church.  It was her way of honoring the memory of her own mother who had passed some years earlier.  She went on to campaign to have Mother’s Day recognized nationally, only to later become vehemently opposed to the resulting commercialization and actively fight to have the day stricken from the U.S. calendar.  Jarvis, herself, never married nor had children.  For her, Mother’s Day was the setting aside of a day of remembrance, a day to honor the memory of mothers lost.  Had Anne Jarvis’ intent been preserved, I would be on board with Mother’s Day 100%.  As it is, though, I am left with mixed emotions.

I know, before this day is over, some well-intentioned stranger or two or three will wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.  They will look at me, certain I am most probably a mother and a grandmother, and be sincere in their well wishes.  Such greetings neither annoy nor disturb me, but they do make my heart ache for the women whose hearts will break in two if they even hear those words a single time.  For the mothers out there, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day crammed full of love and hugs and blessings.  But if you are another, one of the other nearly 45% of the female population in the U.S., I reach out my arms and my prayers in solidarity and affection.   Our lives matter, too.  As for me, I’m going to spend some time out on my deck watching a red geranium grow and remembering my mom.  I’m hoping for a day of blessings, too; a day of blessings for all women everywhere.  It is Spring, the sun is going to shine, and life is oh, so good!  Happy Day!  Happy Day!Bing images - geranium

Reflection

073 (3)Time stands still.
Only for a moment, mind you,
but still nonetheless.
A fleeting
endless pause
pregnant with possibility.
Nothing moves
save eyes beholding beauty.
Surrounded by sky.
Smooth wonder sliding into my soul.
Quieting chaos.
Coaxing me into its calm.