Seen.

Once, I traveled to India
through all the over-sensory whirl
of sounds and smells and colors
out to hot fields and small houses
where I met my friend’s mother
who
calmly presided over her
home
(in a language I did not understand).
But I saw that
her eyes spoke compassion;
her laughter, delight;
her wrinkles, strength.
And then_
she turned and
looked at me.

My Galaxy

The imaginary lines
I threw out – foolishly,
impulsively – must be reeled back in
Some filament I spun
to create a cloud
hiding the real
picture from view
– unhooked –
by your words of clarity.

I float off into space

looking for another meteorite, planet, satellite, any object … until …
I’ll realize … eventually, finally … the truth
dives in

I’m Venus,
the North Star
I don’t need cobwebs or lifelines
dust motes of broken dreams
I am the Milky Way I can let
you float through
unseen
(uncared)
by me.

thoughts on advent. 2016

I’ve put this annual reflection off, and now it’s Jan 1, 2017. I haven’t wanted to write it because I don’t like to do things for the sake of doing them. I don’t like saying rote things that could be counted as trite, like I haven’t thought about it. Especially to those who are going through pain. I’ve been the recipient of that, and it sucks.

And I’m weary. A lot of people have said that. They have said they are excited to get rid of 2016. But even that makes me weary. I don’t have a lot of hope for 2017.

There’s been quite a few I know who have just been through it. Like you wouldn’t believe. Family members sick, broken relationships, internal turmoil, death … And others  who have been waiting – waiting for jobs, for a change, for health…

And I work for an int’l development agency, and we’re inundated with news of Syria and millions of refugees fleeing. We hear of children trying to cross the border into Texas because of the violence in Central America. And our country is incredibly divided, not to mention our own families at times. And it’s exhausting.

So I want to be careful about saying just words.

As I began this advent, I thought – I’d like to reflect on PEACE. We need peace in us, in our world, all that…isn’t the Christmas story full of peace?

But then I couldn’t find it. Do you know how many times ‘peace’ is mentioned in the Christmas story? Once.

You can’t force a meditation. And truth be told, there wasn’t much peace. Israel was occupied, under another regime.  There’s a lot of waiting. And in that waiting, so much anxiety. So much fear and doubt.

And when I read the part about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It hit home. How tired they must have been. Finally getting there and hearing, ‘no room’. Mary had to have thought (well I personally would have thought) ‘of course, this is just about how I’d expect everything to go based on this year…”

How exhausting it must have been for Mary, both physically and mentally. Was she full of doubts? Doubts that others had certainly placed in her. Fears she herself couldn’t help but have.

And when they did arrive to where they expected to: “No room”, landing in a stable, placing this baby – whom they had been told is the Messiah – in a feeding trough, Joseph must have felt incredibly inadequate as a husband and a father at this moment.

I’m sure the shepherds couldn’t have come at a better time, bursting in shouting ‘where’s the Messiah we’ve heard about?”.

I see both waiting (Simeon, Anna, Israel) and journeys taken (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) in the Christmas story. But the process is the same. The emotions are the same. The inner turmoil and questions still exist whether you are stagnant or wandering.

Were the wise men disappointed to find a baby in the end? How many times did Simeon and Anna ask God, “How long, Oh Lord? How much longer?”

And then Mary and Joseph again having to get up and flee for their child’s life – really holding the destiny of mankind in their hands – leaving a weeping town behind them… because of them.

So often, I tend to get into myself, and my path feels tired, full of doubt, unrelatable. And just when I think I’ve arrived where I wanted to go, it wasn’t what I expected or it’s even scarier than I imagine.
Or I never move.
At all.
And everyone else does.
It can feel incredibly lonely sometimes. And very far from peaceful. And the people I thought I could trust – well, they disappointed me.

So what’s left? What small piece can I take with me as I enter into a new year?

I’d like to be like those shepherds. I’d like to be able and willing to show up in the right moment because I took the opportunity – without hesitation, confirming to a fellow wanderer that they are on the right path. So much of the violence, pain and hatred of 2016 may not have been directed specifically at me or happened to me, but if I can come around and just be some one who says, “I’m here with you”; then I want to be that person.

I’d like to continue on waiting (or moving) despite my fears and doubts. So I have to ask, how could all these people do that? How does anyone? Really there has to be a very deep motivation for either one – greater than all our unmet expectations, disappointments and feelings of inadequacies and loneliness.

The wise men, Shepherds, Joseph, Mary – all had a deep pull, that only a very deep calling could keep them going.  Something – that in the midst of the oppression, fears, doubts, weariness, murderous threats, fleeing, loneliness, trouble – something greater gave them a reason to continue. And continue in what may have seemed to some a bold or scary choice. I want this courage and this passion. This I want to remember and hold on to.

Theirs was a deep hope in the belief that Mary carried the Savior of the world, and that he was called the Prince of Peace.
There. Peace.
Let me again repeat this line from that old Christmas carol: “the hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight …”

The Purge

Through the mask
of the screen, device, closed eyes,
you are not a face
I have to care about
or know.

Only words that have offended
my beliefs. My values (character!) questioned,
as I stand scrolling on the bus
or lie in bed

you could be next to me
but your vitriol only
clashes mid-air with mine
fist first – like two villains –
as I hide
behind my rock
cheering (not knowing if you are too –
or if you’re weeping)
I’m right
I’m right
I’m right
I’m right
I’m right

If

If this heart is cracked
I apologize
It’s seen and trusted
and broken

If these eyes
look away
I apologize
They have forgotten a steady gaze
of love. that holds it
locked

If these lips are closed
I apologize
they’ve allowed unmentionables
and revealed deep secrets. and lost all access.

If these feet walk away,
That’s all they’ve ever known.
That’s all they’ve ever known.

The Euphony of Baltimore

Inspired by Pastor Chris Dreisbach’s sermon at Old St. Paul Episcopal and a good man on Eutaw Street:

A step over cracks and chicken bones on
Eutaw street
I pass the flock of Raven-decked men in
deliberation:
“You don’t know what…”
but I never find out as I keep walking
and “Loose ones!” drowns out
all else
in my ear

A wide U-turn by an MTA bus spurs an angry honk
by a yellow taxi cab
The doors breathe open
letting out umbrellas, tired faces, a hope that today,
Tuesday, may be a little sunnier, a little
better, bring a little more money, maybe that
check will come in today, maybe one day…
…there will be less maybes

I can’t ignore the silent man sifting
through the layered cardboard
packed tightly in Tito’s Vodka and
stereotypes
and an aroma of sour loss
And I can’t ignore that just last week
Lexington street taped in yellow warnings and
flashing lights frightened mid-western visitors
from crab cakes in Mrs. Faidley’s.

But one,
one grizzly bearded small man
steps back up the curb toward me,
looks up from under his purple hat
nods and casually says
“Good morning, Dear Heart, good morning.”

makes me smile, simple as that
and I can’t help but think
Baltimore is beautiful
Baltimore is beautiful

lexington market

Gratitude

Now
You
Surrounded
Close your eyes
Let it flow
all
down
around
you.

run like you can
run like you have

fast
like you don’t get tired
like you’re barefoot
nothing weighing you down
like there’s no one on the beach
like the sun has just come up

like it’s so new
like it’s been forever

Like you just
feel
ALL
of it
On your skin
In your breath
Through your soul

Til you stop.

And you’re
heaving.
panting.
soaking.
weeping.
laughing.

Weightless

and overflowing

IMG_5977

Advent 2015: interruptions and fear

Over the last month, what has stood out to me as I meditate on the Christmas story is perhaps a reflection of what this year has been like both globally and personally: the prolific amount of interruptions in the lives of the people in the Christmas story.

I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Can you imagine the complete change in Elizabeth and Mary’s plans – on both ends of their lives? But they welcomed the (unusual) interruption with a willingness and an anticipation that I doubt I could have.

Then there’s the innkeeper. All the inns in Bethlehem were full (a good problem for them of course), and he could easily turn away this interruption as others had done (that most likely wouldn’t benefit him). But he didn’t, and we remember him as the man who didn’t turn away the Messiah.

Then the shepherds, living their regular daily lives, watching their sheep. Probably frightened out of their wits when an unbelievable amount of angels filled the skies. Sounds story-book really. Still, after the sky emptied, they went to the manger and found Jesus there – just as the angel had said. And from then on: lives interrupted, never to be the same. But they ran to welcome this Messiah everyone had been waiting hundreds of years for.

True, this was about a good interruption, for a hope that brought joy and peace. But it still meant the unknown, a change not planned for, fear, possible rejection, a pause for an indefinite amount of time or a completely new direction. For the wise men, they packed up everything in search of something they weren’t even sure of.

And the list goes on: Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph again on their way to Egypt, Herod. oh. wait. Herod. This guy… like them, he was also interrupted and also afraid. And out of his fear, insecurity, jealousy, he reacted in the opposite extreme.

But here’s the crux – where it hits home, because sometimes I’m more like Herod than Mary. No, I’m not killing toddlers, but I have often responded to fear with fear. And that isn’t a solution. It only creates more fear in us and others.

Honestly, most of the interruptions in our lives aren’t the good kind. Most of them don’t promise good news, hope and joy. Most of them do bring fear, the unknown, possible rejection.

When I read the Advent story, I’m also comforted by the amount of times Gabriel has to tell everyone “Don’t be afraid”. Because Mary was. Zechariah was. Joseph was. The Shepherds were. Who wouldn’t be? Who isn’t when it’s the unknown, the unpredictable, the unplanned?

These are the words I cling to in my life. And the fact that they were afraid – even in the face of good news. Like it’s okay.

The thing is -we’re going to be interrupted. By outsiders – like Mary and Joseph did to the innkeeper. Or personally, like Joseph who found himself marrying a pregnant girl (not with his child).

And being afraid is natural.

Maybe that’s why the words of “o little town of Bethlehem” have really caught me this year:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.”

We’re not alone. I believe there is One who meets our fears, takes our fears, and in the end, changes it to hope. And if you don’t believe in the Christmas story, the essence is still true – we’re not alone and we are – in the end – part of what the Christmas story is also about: hope. Our response to our fears is so key.

It’s finding the willpower, the fight to respond to that fear with “let it be” (Mary), or respond with the right thing to do even though others around you may whisper against you (Joseph), or it inconveniences you (the innkeeper), or you don’t understand it (Zachariah)… Or maybe you make the choice to hurt others (Herod).

I know it’s not profound. I know that this can sound over-simplified. I know I haven’t faced the situations that others have, but I hope that I will not add to their pain by reacting wrongly out of my own. I can only hope (and I know not always, not always will it work out so easily) that I can bring hope for others.

35 and grateful

I just celebrated my 35th birthday.

Recently I had a friend say to me “I hope you are truly happy”. At first I felt defensive, like “Of COURSE I’m happy – what? Do I not seem happy?” You know … how we do. Step back.

She probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it did make me stop and ask myself.

Am I truly happy? And what does that even mean? And is that something that I should be striving for?

On the one side, I work for a relief and development organization. What if I say ‘no, I’m not happy’? Where on my spectrum of “happiness” would that then place the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram or those in Nepal who have lost their homes and family members in the earthquake?

I feel embarrassed to claim unhappiness in the light of them.

But – am I lower on the spectrum than my friend who asked me? Which made me wonder – does my life seem like an ‘unhappy’ one to her?

Their expectations
She seems very happy and often, I think, our happiness becomes relative to others’ expectations for us.

What does her life look like? She is married with a son and another child on the way. She lives by her family, in her home state in the town she grew up in. I think she would say she is happy. She is honestly living her dream. And I’m glad she is!

But she is not living my dream.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this and has a mantra she says: “Not my dream”. I do not want to live in a small town next to my parents and be a stay at home mom with two kids. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, but I think that personally I would be unhappy.

So – at this new age of 35 – what does make me happy? Am I living my dream? Is this current dream bringing happiness?

My expectations…
Really, I think when I’m unhappiest is when I tell myself my life didn’t turn out like I expected.

To be honest,  I expected to be in a different place, different stage, different weight!, different experiences (there are some I wouldn’t wish on others).

I can guarantee that’s where my unhappiness most often comes in.

I don’t like the word ‘happy’ though. It’s too transient. It’s emotional. It’s too simple for our lives at this age, honestly. So when I stop and look around me, I wouldn’t trade where I am or what I’ve experienced for what I expected my life to look like.

I’d like to use the word ‘grateful’ – which really stems from contentment. I used to never be content. The grass was always greener where I was before. Or I’d be looking for another place to go – never really present.

But somehow – in Baltimore, the most unlikely place I expected – for the first time in a very long time, I’m content. This is strange to me. I’m not used to that feeling. In fact, it’s unsettling. I wonder if I am actually complacent or apathetic. Don’t I need to be looking to the next thing?

That can become a terrible habit, so this time around, I’m choosing to stay present. I’m enjoying my current job, my current apartment, my current friends, this current city, this current day.  All in all – it feels odd to be good with where I’m at. Is this an age thing or finally learning the ability to live in the present?

Am I happy all the time? No. I have hard days, frustrating days, discouraging interactions, hopeless feelings, sickness, grief, pain, annoyances. But what I value, I do have. And I don’t know why I get to have them.

I have good friends, a strong support system, a family who loves me (and I love them back), a roof over my head, a job where I like my boss and the people we work with. I even have a gym at my work that I can visit at lunch (okay, that makes me happy).

But it’s not my goal. It’s not even in the Bible (if you want to get spiritual). I’ve never read anything that says “Blessed are the happy”. It’s blessed are the merciful, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (or ‘justice’). (Those who have it hard? That’s another post )

So – my takeaway to this musing …

First, I should let other people live their dream. I should let them not be bogged down by my expectations of what a ‘good life’ is.

Second, am I ‘truly happy’? Nah. Life is a little too complicated by now. But I’m content.

And I don’t regret any experiences I’ve had or the unexpectedness of my life. It’s made me who I am.

Third, all that helps me be okay on those hard, frustrating days. It helps me not give up. It helps me help others.

It helps me be grateful. I have so much to be grateful for.

I think Anne Morrow Lindberg sums it up when she says:

“Don’t wish me happiness
I don’t expect to be happy all the time…
It’s gotten beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all.”

I will need them all.