Making melodies out of the humdrum.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I remember the summer of 2006 very well.  June, July and August left Richmond, Virginia in a muggier standstill than I had bargained for.  I had left college, gone on, graduated as almost-22 year olds should, but for some reason I felt more certain that college had indeed, left me. Wiser people encouraged my melancholy self that summer with true words, the gist of which went: "The best is yet to come."  I shook my head certain that the best was over, and sincerely wondered whether life would ever get better than freshman year tailgates.   I guess tailgates were once so perfect because I was present to the novelty of being free and me and on my own more than ever before.  Still, I didn't quite know what I was about other than, well, the tailgate. Suffice it to say that I'm not so sure that shell of an ideal was enough to thrust my entire future onto like I did. Wise people that summer: thanks for your patience with me.  

Whenever life feels big and small all at once like it did then, I am comforted by the presence of children. Maybe because their lives are big and small too.  They are tiny and trusting and needy in a very small way, but their promise and the life they bring is great. That summer, I had two little ones by my side, five days a week.  At the time, Walker was four and Mckenzie was two and I took care of them as best I knew how. I remember the routine things that chipped away at those hazy mornings.  Mostly, it was Walker's "why's" that went like this: 
"Sarah why are we taking the green car instead of the big car?"
"Well because your mom has the big car, and remember I always drive the green car." 
"But I like the big car, better." 
"Walker, I'm sorry but if we don't drive the green car then we'd have to walk to the pool and that wouldn't be very fun." 
"Why...why...we have to walk to the pool and that wouldn't be very fun?"
"Well we'd have to walk to the pool because we'd have no other way of getting there and it wouldn't be very fun because it's one hundred degrees outside." 
"Why...why...why...wouldn't it be very fun because it's hundred degrees outside?" 
"Well, because when it's one hundred degrees outside we'd get really hot and sweaty." 
I'd think he was quenched. 
"Yes Walker?" 
"Why are we taking the green car?" 

That was before we had buckled up. 

If you're thinking that the on and on drove me b-a-n-a-n-a-s it didn't. I'm not trying to sound like I have such a way with kids or anything, it's just that Walker was a bit of kindred spirit, so I had extra patience. And that summer, with my looming future and all, I felt the "why-oh-why?" too. This circle game was round-a-bout yes, but so are true, four year old questions. He didn't have enough agenda to make them all straight-shooter and intentioned.  And the point was, after all, the questions. Beyond that, I learned, somewhere down into July, that my point to Walker's questions was this: telling Walker that he asked good questions, no, rather: "Walker you HAVE good questions," because until he spoke them out, they belonged to him, so:  "Thank you! Thank you Walker for asking me such smart questions," that must mean that:  "You, YOU are smartest four old I know," so now, as we are driving down River Road, almost to the Westwood Club, he feels safer, I can tell, and sits up taller with every: "Walker, I hope you ask me more questions."

Because you see, in between his little, jumbled up four year old ways were much, much bigger questions, that somehow, someway, were sneaking into my 22 year old questions that I felt only lying on my back in my bed, in the dark, blinds drawn. "Am I worth answering?" "Will you still love me if I ask one more time?" 

There is something tenacious about doubting-- even abrasive. Just trust! I had heard, before.  But sometimes I cannot. So I speak from my heart with questions that are real and sincere and of me, oftentimes so much so that they break my heart.  So I've found with this risky curiosity, that the doubts soften, and we live into them, growing softer and stronger.  

I cling to children that are growing into their questions this way like my four year old friend. The ones that are shedding their doubts, their defenses and their fears that they might get in trouble or go unnoticed.  They are undoing themselves so they might know how to tie themselves back up again. Please, let us encourage the undoing and not silence it. They are growing strong in their very vulnerability. An opportunity and window of existence that if we must re-create later in life, well we, just must.  Discovery and awe are too much a part of being human to just exist over it completely.  But if we're honest, it's most natural for our children.  Sacred even.  

So, let's remember to be curious with children, for children, to our children, even.  We do not have all the answers. The moment we think we do, we have drifted too far from our four year old self into a straight-shooting, rather planned out, small-windowed world. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010


In the midst of a wonderful sharing and caring kind of conversation, I told my friend that I don't know if I can really recall a true miracle.  The spectacular kind, I clarified. Which is, when we are talking miracles, kind of the criteria, right?  

Courtney looked at me for a second: "What woke up this morning?" 

She spoke naturally but not glibly-- her suggestion for my miracle question was in earnest. It struck me the way the strength and simplicity of youthful insight strikes me. I am reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her eloquent appreciation of dogwood trees becoming in the springtime--overnight even. Like the lilies of the field.  The effortlessness is breath-taking, and breath-bringing at the same time. And given such a juxtaposed and full mystery, which is perhaps the crux of a miracle, faith flows to feed and nourish the faithful. Satiated, we hold hands and pray and love each other and do other sacred things like celebrate and dance and wait and break bread together. But even more than these things, which could, at the risk of sounding sacreligious be mistaken for Woodstock circa 1969, we are pregnant with the memory of a faithful God who has delivered His people.  So, we are expectant the way a woman at 32 weeks is expectant. And in this great expectancy, fragrant with the presence of God, miracles become among us.  A kind of immaculate conception. How fitting. 

Tonight, I am grateful for a God whose presence and Light, Wisdom and Word press into us in such a way that we cannot mistake Him. And what's better is that His Glory does not come down because of  our toil and sacrifice. It comes down because it has before, and it belongs here, and it's delightfully radiant and, quite simply, it's time.

And all at once, just in time, the frost is gone. The dogwood trees are in bloom. 

I have no other words for such great hope except:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Stuff of Life

The hardest paragraph for me to construct in an essay is the introductory one. I am cautious with my creations. I figure with openings, excitement is high, contentions are low and like my tenth grade world history teacher preached: "You never get a second chance at a first impression." Ten years later the exhortation holds less weight.  I've found expectant first impressions coincide with all sorts of judgement, and eager first impressionists have a tendency towards convincing masquerades. The collision of the two, if you ask me, is altogether futile: "Here, let me accept you for who are not." Ex-hausting.

Regardless, the idea of heartfelt beginnings still moves me more fully than the idea of completion, or to a fault, being. Restlessness. Adventure. Movement (Commitment issues). When I hear "All Aboard?" I take care to make sure I'm on it-- usually just in the nick of time, a little frantic, but shortly thereafter quite convinced that yes, this is where I belong after all.

Captured by beginnings, I remember the way books start. Not only can I quote Jane Austen's "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" all too readily, but there is something to Koslow's, "When I imagined my funeral, this wasn’t what I had in mind" (The Late, Lamented Molly Marx) or Nylon's "A warm day in December, 2007 proved me nuts, and an idiot, again" (Guts). Just last week, I glided through Barnes and Noble as I often do, and this one-liner gripped me: "Face it: creative people had lonely childhoods." I couldn't tell you the title or the author, and this particular opener came back to me most fully just this past week as I sat and listened to Daryl Scott, the father of Rachel Scott recount the day he found out his daughter was murdered in the Columbine High School Massacre.

Mr. Scott spoke about his daughter, her death and her memory with such candor and grace, that the whole symposium moved me to tears (yup eight straight hours- mascara, down my face). Given the way he spoke of her, I could tell that at seventeen, she was an "old soul." More distinctly, a sweet young spirit through which the delights of youth and vitality were not lived out vainly as they so often are, but instead with great intention and fervor. I just hope I might live into such a condition someday. 

Even ten years after her tragic death stories of companionship, camaraderie, service and friendship still float in. "Rachel was my only friend," says one boy with special needs, "we didn't hang out a whole lot, but I knew she cared. She always patted me on the back in the hallway, and that just meant a lot."  It seemed that her very presence ministered those words we all long to hear: "You are not alone." "Her killers," her father explained, "were brilliant and authentic and not "bad" kids, but they were very alone."  In the midst of master-minding the shooting, Eric Harris wrote in one of his journals something to the effect of: "I am hoping that no one reaches out to me, because they might just pay attention and things might change."  

So here is my plea to myself and to you and to all the people in between-- the ones who clamor into the limelight, and the ones who fall off-stage: Let us care for one another! Please? Our individualized and driven plans that vibrate our Blackberrys and determine our cares are really quite weak. We just love them, that's all. Geesh, I cringed a little bit when I threw away my 2009 planner.  It's not my diary, for crying out loud, it's most basically a recount of my productivity and as a good Westernized, Americanized, Capitalism-ized citizen, I think it should be sacred. 

Heavens to Betsy. Someone please help me to love my neighbors and not my schemes. Help me to forgo the striving and the control and the go-go-go lest I forget to pat my friends and Rachel Scott's friends on the back. They might not be in the way, persase, but they are definitely out of the way.  The way. My way. Same thing. (Kidding). 

Are we strong enough to need each other? To comitt to each other? To give in to each other?   To co-author entire chapters and stories and series, rather than abandon each other halfway down page one? How else do we choose each other? And if we do not choose each other? Than we are right back where we started. Alone, unchosen, clamoring like we know where we are going, when we really just want to be in the arms of a friend.

For the sake of our souls, swallow our pride, let us be friends. Community kind of friends. If that exists. I'm still figuring it out. Beginnings are sweet and unexpected but it is walking through the nitty gritty that gets rid of the lonely. And if you can get through chapter one of the nitty gritty, you can get through chapter two and on like that. And unlike the starts and finishes of books-- when you get to the ending, community begets new beginnings. New beginnings with old friends?  Surely this is the stuff of life.