a list about life lately {spring 2013}

{image via pretty world}

{1} I am taking a bit of a blogging break right now.  I’ll still be around here and there, but I need to let my need to write a certain number of days every week go.  I need some time to just live without feeling like I need to come up with something to say about it.  I need some space to think some thoughts that I can just keep to myself.  (But I did feel compelled to write this list.)

{2} About two weeks ago I came down with a horrible no-good cold.  We had to travel that weekend to my brother’s graduation, and I’m pretty sure I had a fever while I was packing a loading the car and dropping the dog off at the vet.  And while the weekend was extra exhausting because of my illness, there is nothing like having your mother there to take care of you and feel sorry for you, even if it is only for a brief little bit.

{3} I’m reading An Everlasting Meal right now, which I think is just beautiful.  It is all about the economy of cooking and using all of your ingredients.  And I was really proud of myself when, as Gerrit was coming down with my cold last week, I made chicken noodle soup with ingredients I scrounged around my kitchen for.

{4} Gerrit’s brother is getting married this weekend.  I am so excited for the festivities and the family.  And the couple–I adore them both.

{5} I think I’ve decided to re-read the Harry Potter books.  It’s been years and now seems as good a time as any.  But I really can’t afford to start staying up until 1 am reading, so I’ll have to get a reign on that.

{6} I went to the dentist for the first time in about 8 years last week.  I still have no cavities and still have straight wisdom teeth and still get compliments on my brushing habits.  When I called Gerrit, who brushes now better than he ever has and goes to the dentist regularly and still got his first cavity a couple of months ago, his reaction was “Is there no justice in the world?”  Apparently there is not.

{7} This past weekend I spent the night at my parents’ house.  It is like a vacation to be there for an afternoon and night, and there are few places I love more in the world than their back porch on a spring or summer evening.

{8} We are going to have replace one of our HVAC units soon.  I was really hoping we could make it another year or so, but when the technician came to look at it he said he legally had to unplug the heat because the connector was so rusted (or something like that).  I’m really glad we already bought those plane tickets to Italy and aren’t making that decision knowing this.

{9} We have grass in our backyard!  And this is reason for rejoicing because when Gerrit seeded it a few weeks ago I was sure we would be living with a mudpit through the summer.  But the cool spring weather has been kind to us.  I also planted hydrangeas two weeks ago and transplanted my herb garden.  We have done so much work and it finally feels like our backyard is starting to come together.

{10} I am in disbelief that it is almost summer.  About this time last year I had made the decision that summer was here, but with the cool spring weather we have had it still seems too early.  I tell you what though–I need a vacation.  Two more months.

thoughts on sabbath keeping

(via qomaspeakup){image via design lovely}

I am not very good at Sabbath keeping.  It’s understandable considering my family; we are always trying to productive.  I woke up with Saturday morning chores every weekend.  During the week (and on weekends) there was always  homework to do and piano to practice and events to go to.

And I’ve never particularly thought about it until I read An Altar in the World, but the way we act in the world you would think that God had commanded us to wear ourselves out with productivity instead of commanding us to keep a Sabbath.

So I’ve been challenging myself recently to take moments or afternoons or days to observe the Sabbath.  To remember that I am not valuable because I am useful but because I am a child of God.  And that is all I really have to be.

It is hard.  Really it is very hard for me.  I start every day with a list in my planner of the places I need to go and the things I need to do.  So I started leaving places blank–Saturday afternoon mostly.  And it occurred to me that I should write “Sabbath” down during that time because if I had it written down it would be something I have to do with no getting around it.  But for some reason that still hasn’t happened.  I suppose I can’t get over that barrier that perhaps something more supposedly important might come along, which goes to show just how hard this is for me.

But I have done pretty well despite it.  I have taken naps.  I have played with my new calligraphy set.  I have read books.  I have sat on the couch and stared out at the trees in the backyard.  I have taken time to do nothing on my list of things that need doing.  And even on the weekend this past month when we were out of town, it was a Sabbath of sorts because our out of town activities prevented me from worrying about the lists I have; and when I get back to them on Sunday afternoon it is like I am picking my life back up from a miniature vacation (even if the vacation was busy).

As much as I would like for my Sabbath times to be entire days, sometimes it is just moments that have to do–an hour here or there at the end of an afternoon.  And sometimes these moments perhaps count just as much as an entire day would, because they are moments when I make a point to say no to productivity, even if it is only for an hour, and that action in and of itself puts me back into my place.

Sometimes it is just moments when I say no to the things on my list that will earn me money or notice or anything else that the world cares about and saying yes to an hour or two of doing nothing that matters to anyone else but me.  It is understanding that my usefulness does not necessarily come with a completed checklist, but that sometimes my usefulness is in taking moments of quiet to stop and notice the world that I am living in.

Sometimes it is full afternoons of doing nothing (I’d like to think I am also practicing this art for our travels to Italy).  Sometimes it is an afternoon nap on the couch while it’s raining when I had planned on cleaning out boxes of old books.  Sometimes it is just putting away the computer and phone and puttering around the house or working outside in our flower beds.

But no matter how much time I have, it is always always remembering (or at least trying to remember) that I am just as loved and valuable and just as much me when I am sitting still as when I am moving ahead with full force.

the tiger’s wife

{The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht}

What I had heard about The Tiger’s Wife before I picked it up was that it was a novel that mixed reality with the magical.  And I’m glad I knew this ahead of time because if I had not, all of the stories–about the deathless man, and the elephant walking down the street and the the tiger’s wife–might have seemed a little much for me and might have had me trying to figure out what I was supposed to believe and what I was not supposed to believe instead of enjoying the book for what it is, which is a beautifully written story.  Or rather, stories, because there are so many of them in here.

The main thread of this book is about Natalia, a doctor in the Balkans sometime after the war (it does not specify any historical details–we only need to know that this is in an area that has been in conflict).  She is crossing the border to take medicine to an orphanage when she learns that her beloved grandfather has died, having also travelled far from home to a small town that no one in her family has heard of.

While Natalia is trying to learn the details of her grandfather’s death, trying to contact the clinic he had died in and collect his belongings, we are introduced to two new storylines, two legendary tales that are essential to who Natalia’s grandfather was.  The first is the story of the deathless man, a man who could not die with whom Natalia’s grandfather had many encounters with over his life.  The second is the story of the tiger’s wife, which is the story of what happened between a tiger and a woman and Natalia’s grandfather when he was a little boy in a remote village.

And while they may seem disconnected in ways, they are all stories about death–about people dying in the present day, about a person who cannot die, about death in the past that still sticks with us.  They are all written with such beauty, and they remind us that every person has a story, some of them magical.

on photography

When I was younger, and even now, one of my favorite things to do when I was bored or just feeling sentimental was to pull down the picture boxes and looks through years of memories.  Even now, even with technology, I insist on having a physical picture box, where I have printed photographs and sorted them into years and season.  There is nothing like sitting down with it, away from the computer, and physically flipping through old memories and holding them in your hands.

I remember when I got my first camera, the same Christmas that I go my first American Girl doll.  It was this little camera that printed odd sized photos and I took pictures of everything that day: of our Christmas table, of my family members holding gifts, of my Christmas presents all lined up on the couch.  And for years I would look back at those pictures and remember that Christmas.  Just like I look back at photographs to remember birthdays or trips to the beach or mine and Gerrit’s wedding.

Pictures are memory holders.  But the more I take photographs, the more they are becoming something else.  Pictures are becoming not just what holds me to the past; they are becoming what keeps me in the present.

We traveled down to Auburn this past weekend for that last rolling of the Toomer’s Oaks, and I held my camera in its bag at my hip all weekend, always ready to come out and snap a photo.   And when you get past the worry that you might miss something if you are living behind the lens, you realize that you are missing very little and instead are noticing more.

The camera, the hunt for a good picture, the determination to capture a moment so that it will live more fully in memory, this activity of photographing life helps me to notice more of it.  I start to notice the way the light is falling or the way trees stand.  I start to notice doors and birds and flowers.  Instead of sitting while we waited for a table at a restaurant this past weekend, I was out in a field with my family taking pictures of cattle and sunlight.

Taking pictures is helping me to pay attention.  It is helping me to remember reverence.  Yes it is a hobby.  But it is also becoming, for me, a spiritual practice.

an altar in the world: what i’d most like to remember

{image via here}

An Altar in the World keeps sticking with me.  These quotes may mean very little to you out of context, or they may be a nugget of truth for you to hold on to.  Either way, they mean a great deal to me, and I am collecting them here because I want to be able to see the wisdom of each practice and remind myself (as Rumi said) “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

The Practice of Waking Up to God
“Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”

The Practice of Paying Attention
“Properly attended to, even a saltmarsh mosquito is capable of evoking reverence.”

The Practice of Wearing Skin
“…this is the central claim of the incarnation–that God trusted flesh an blood to bring divine love to earth.”

The Practice of Walking on the Earth
“When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.’

The Practice of Getting Lost
“Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives.  And yet if someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times.”

The Practice of Encountering Others
“At its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with other people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self.  More intricately, it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to qualify as a capital ‘O’ Other–and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.”

The Practice of Living with Purpose
“…while my chosen vocation gave me a really good job in the divine work of creation, it remained a subset of a larger vocation, which was the job of loving God and neighbor as myself.”

The Practice of Saying No
“Test the premise that you are worth more than what you can produce–that even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight.”

The Practice of Carrying Water
“If all life is holy, then anything that sustains life has holy dimensions too.”

The Practice of Feeling Pain
“Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy, and yet the majority of us do everything in our power to avoid it.”

The Practice of Being Present to God
“When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer.  Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing.  God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst.”

The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings
“To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the justice of your own cause for mercy; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love–this is to land at God’s breast.  To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective.”

Barbara Brown Taylor’s book still amazes me every time I open it, every time I re-read (for the tenth time) one of the passages I have underlined.  It is my new recommendation, the book I will jump to whenever I am asked if I have read anything good lately.  It was, and continues to be, good for my soul and my spirit.