My eyes were drawn to a book. An unlikely location, the bottom shelf of a display cabinet in a hotel lobby. I looked away, trying to ignore it but repeatedly my gaze gravitated toward it's lowly position. The cover's colors were muted and understated, the lines, simple and clean. The picture was the back of of a slender, slimly muscular woman, barefoot with outstretched arms, on tip toes, dancing. The title too, Dancing with Joy was drawing me in.
Throughout many hours of the day, I passed the book, never failing to notice it's location. Finally succumbing to the temptation, late in the day, I bought the only copy and tucked it away for later reading. Now home, I tasted the morsels of words splashed across pages. Each turn, brought a different poem, a new artist. As I breezed through them one by one, to my subtle surprise, no poem caused me to soften my hurried pace... they were just words spoken silently in my head; nothing to cause my heart to engage- to skip a beat at the reading of it.
Then I stopped. I gravitated toward this poem immediately. Knowing I still had many more poems, I continued on but with each passing page, grew my desire to again gravitate backwards to this one. It reminded me of a dream; it reminded me of faith. Thirty six little words slowed my pace. Marinating in it, I allowed the words to permeate my senses and supplicate meaning.
Each of us, you and me, are as unique and different as a snow flake that falls slowly, softly to the ground. I like to think of an angelic host sitting from the perch of heaven's door with open hands blowing the snowflake as if she was blowing a kiss through a silky breeze setting the course for this tiny, fragile mist of water. The tension of gravity moving it slowly, deliberately toward a place. As if a puzzle piece in a masterpiece of broken bits.
I was born amidst controversy. Words spoken; judgements formed, my parents were young and the line of tension was drawn in the sand between them and my maternal grandparents. A child doesn't know that. He or she only knows love and I loved nana. I'm told with a pacifier in one hand and a blanket in the other, I hollered from my crib, nana, nan.....na..... when I heard her voice. By the age of three, I would take her by the hand leading her to my closet where neatly hung dresses and neatly lined shoes stood. I'm falsely giving the image of privilege because the opposite was true. Never reining in her joyous exuberant response, she loved my excitement. She never let on that it was her that bought each of the dresses or shoes; it was important to me so it was important to her. I spoke as though I had discovered a secret treasure of gold and silver coins (fabric and leather) and that it was a great secret I was letting her in on. She knew the value of my words and shared in the beauty of it's worth.
It is safe to say, I gravitated toward her like a magnet drawn to metal. That genuine love never faded. The seeds of her love sewn in me is the soil from which my love springs today. I can never adequately convey the depth of love I had and continue to have for her. Whether at sixteen, modeling for her and papa my new dress (which they had given me the money for) or at thirty, turning the corner into the cul-de-sac where they lived, I could barely contain my excitement; my heart skipped a beat at the thought of seeing them again. Like being drawn to a poem, my heart moved toward something... a deliberate and slow walk but forever gravitating toward love's open door and I held a a key.
I work at a school. We had an unlikely assembly; it was ingenious, really. Like a traveling salesmen off his path among gypsies and peasants, he opened his suitcase of goodies. We peered in. We, as a school, chose a black, rubbery substance with gadgets that looked like pumps and lights. It wasn't until I was called, impulsively, to a classroom that I saw it's result. Like a bounce house, there stood a large makeshift planetarium. The distant sound of air pumping in and out and students being hushed by teachers, I made my way in amongst the first and second graders. I had to get on my hands and knees, in the dark, crawling into a small hole by the door at the entrance of the room. For a moment, I was transported back in time, to the age of eight or nine, afraid of the dark and reluctant to be pushed toward something I could not see.
I could sense the frustration from the voices of teachers. Their words were 1) asking students to keep their hands off of the students in front of them, 2) coaxing the ones who did not want to get into the planetarium to move forward and 3) trying to convince others to silence their voices. I was thankful I was an observer and had no authority or responsibility but merely a participant amongst a crowd ready for the show. I made my way toward the perimeter, cross-legged and expectant I sat ready.
At the instructors request, we closed our eyes and then opened them again. Stars filled the sky. No age divides; there is something brilliant about a star-filled sky. Whether outside under a full moon or inside a portable rubber planetarium, stars cause hearts to skip beats. If only for a millisecond, it beckons our intellect with the possibility of something greater than ourselves. Dialog begins. We looked at constellations. We looked at planets. We looked at moons and suns and galaxies. We discussed the gravitational pull between planets and suns. Our imaginations soured through galaxies we cannot fathom. We crossed time and space and reconciled truth and speculation in a classroom of first and second graders. No mention of faith or design, we just marveled at the creation of the universe.... or i do.
The visual conversation was interrupted by an audio one. As a teacher identified the culprit of some offense, I allowed my mind to travel back in time and space. Because I lived at an elevation of above 6000 ft, the stars were brighter and bigger than any I have seen at sea level. The juxtaposition of the moon and stars allowed a magnificent display of brilliance. The air always seemed crisp and cool, even on a summer's evening. I reveled in the memory and then allowed myself to travel back even further into the banks of thought and sentiment. I was a senior in high school. Most of my friends were guys and they always seemed to be in a pursuit of adventure. There were no romantic attachments, except maybe in my thoughts, so the expeditions were uncluttered and pure.
It was after midnight. There were perhaps five of us... In jeeps or trucks and a six pack of beer, or two, we traveled along the perimeter of the lake. Our destination was clear, direct and intentional; our compass was set to breaking the rules.
Parked on a dirt road, we started walking. Funny now as I think of it but the laughter on a summer's evening under a crisp, starry night among friends was intoxicating. The words are long forgotten but the feeling of remembering them is as though the words are carried in a cloud of fog surrounding me under one blanket- warm and reassuring. We traveled along the path through the brush and began to climb a mountain. We walked for perhaps a mile. The prize was now within sight.
It was a large water tank. Under the moon lit sky, I could tell it was green. A part of me felt the tension of breaking the rules but the other part relished in the sense of inclusion. Before my parents divorced when I was fifteen, I was seen as a bit of an outcast in school but now, transported into a different life and school, I was welcomed. These were teenagers looking to create some fun in an otherwise pretty quiet mountain-top community. Heck- we only had one movie theater and one grocery store where I lived.
I passed the "do not trespass" sign to the edge. Hoisted up to the first step of the ladder, I climbed. I'm not sure how one of the guys carried the beer while managing to scale the climb but I never thought about it as someone bigger and stronger than me was in charge and had it covered. The sight of a star filled sky atop a cement water tower seemed brighter and bolder. It truly was breathtaking. I'm not sure why the view was better but it just was. All of us just laid on the cement floor looking up. The shooting stars were brilliant that night; maybe that is why we were there. My mind was brought back to the rubber planetarium as we were asked to look up. The cool thing about the assembly was a computer gadget that transported us backwards in time. In other words, we mentioned a date and he brought up on the ceiling above us, the exact sky of that date. Backwards we went ten, twenty and thirty years to whatever date the students hollered out.
Sacrifice gladly and willingly ...
Twenty five years, two months and two weeks ago, began a journey that changed my life deeply and forever. The first of my three children was born. I can never adequately describe the love that seeps into every fiber of my heart and soul. It began a love letter that never ends; only a parent can know this love; it cannot be contained or adequately described. Sacrifice is a joyful response to the blessing and privilege of being called their mother.
Two days, eight hours later, the beginning might of been the end. Giving birth on Tuesday before midnight, I was home by Thursday and my husband was back to work by Friday. With a quick stop for my weekly allergy shot, both my husband and I could have been on track for our days without as much as a skip in beat. While my husband wait in the car with our newborn son, I quickly ran into the doctor's office. The nurse was exuberant to see the expression of joy on my face and hear the excitement in my voice. It was evident I was no longer pregnant and my joy was contagious. We had a shared bond because, although her daughter was also pregnant, neither of us had family nearby. We rejoiced at the arrival of my son.
The weather changed.
With the intake of one breath... joy. The exhale of breath... fear.
An innocent mistake. I received an injection. A problem. Intended for somebody else. 1000 times too much. We need to move you quickly. My upward gaze to a bathroom sink as my head rest upon the cold cement floor. Carried to a gurney. A doctor and nurses. Sounds of words... now (injection), now (injection), now (injection). Desperation... again ... again ... again. Indescribable pain in my head. A final thought: my son will never know me. No more sound... only images of people working over my body ... Soft, white, silent.... peace.
That day was not an ending but a beginning. Although I lay alone in a cold, distant room for nearly eight hours, I went home with only a bruised, fearful spirit. Fast forward to the present: in May, my youngest of three children will graduate from high school. At the end of the month, an evening of linen, lights, words and songs will represent the graduation from an organization she has been a part of for the past six years. For me, however, it symbolically represents the inhale, exhale of being a parent to small children and the blessing of treasures too many to count.
i hear the quiet voice of a savior intimately speaking to me. Twenty five years ago, I whispered to heaven, "my son will never know me". Twenty five years later, I hear the whisper back that says, "your son and your daughters know you ... and so do I". If they don't, they only have to open this book ... for all to see or none to see. The thing about faith is as you are tested, the depth of love deepens. The trust widens and the magnetic pull toward love's open door grows.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Where I once was reluctant to be pushed toward something I could not see, I now close my eyes and look up at the brilliance of a star-filled sky. I climb the water tower to get a better view. Watching for shooting stars across the sky, I wait expectantly and exuberantly whispering, "what's next?
... and to my children: I love you to the moon ... and back.
As a child, I loved running through fields. I loved blowing dandelions and imagining where the wind would take it's delicate petals. I loved looking up to the stars and moon at night or to the clouds and distant planes by day. Childlike faith.
I loved strong trees with good branches to climb. I loved making forts and riding my bike through large cement tunnels and kicking the can with the neighborhood kids, hopscotch with rocks, jumping rope and playing jacks. Wisdom.
The breath between the inhale and exhale
Before I embrace the words, "What's next? I smile and look backwards. Like the computer gadget in the planetarium, I allow myself the freedom to travel through time and space. I'm a little teary eyed... but with great gratitude, look up and say thank you.
Three kids, three songs:
My son: He started athletics before Kindergarten. At four years, t-ball, then on to soccer and culminating in Volleyball. Three sports a year from K-12 (red shirting one year for a major surgery). I couldn't begin to count the days/hours of practice, games, victories and losses. We traveled several nights a week 45 minutes (one way) for Club Volleyball and tournaments 3 hours away. If there was one song to choose, it would be this as it was his high school volleyball "game day" song. Dressed in their black and orange school colors, this was the song that brought the team out. Hard work and competition, he strives to see where the bar is set and begins his focuses there.
My daughter: She graduated from the same mother-daughter philanthropic organization that I am co-chairing for her younger sister four years ago. Each girl must choose a song to walk in with. While the other seventeen girls chose, in my opinion, serious songs, she chose this one; it still makes me smile. As a little girl, she surrounded our home with activity... plays, dances, photography, parties and friends. Creative, industrious and a natural leader, on the one hand challenged us with constant activity while on the other hand, would disappear into a good book for days.
My daughter: Graduating from the mother-daughter philanthropic organization on Saturday, March 28th. She is quiet, introspective, hard-working and strong. She is a low-key, no-drama and stay out of the limelight person who just happens to be a great artist and teacher. Learning from her brother and sister to "dial-back" the activity meter, she loves her quiet time at home with her dog, Lady. It was not a surprise when I learned she chose this song ... current and hipster cool, it fits her.
An inhale, an exhale... moments that take our breath away. This year has been one of great heights and great depths. I marvel. I marvel at the creator of the stars, the sun and the moon. Everything about March has been to look up: from Einstein's Quantum entanglement to a first graders gaze at the galaxies, there seems to be an intellectual challenge to get me thinking outward: upward.
At the same time, I have never known such intimacy. The creator of heaven and earth knows the places in my heart that have long been buried and forgotten. The journey has been outward and upward but also inward and still. A quiet and slow exhale.
The cross. The old wooden cross. As we approach Easter next month and the power of Christ's resurrection, we are reminded of the sacrifice that Jesus made on a cross; he left us with a promise and a hope; this world is not our home; we are but pilgrims on a journey. The challenge? What if our sacrifice, burdens and works are never seen? Will Jesus be enough? What if we surrender everything... our heart, our money, our hopes and our desires; will Jesus be enough?
Maybe that is what the sabbath is all about - surrender. And, if we are lucky enough to discover where the rarest wildflowers are blooming, we too, may smile.
Pictures courtesy of Fotolia
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.