bloom & grow

January 30, 2013


This morning we walked through the old cemetery I explored as a child. Where we joined the older, cooler, neighbor boys in pretending hollow reeds were cigarettes, certain that I would be found out for such brazen sin. Where I uncovered hidden gravestones and wondered at the lives of those like one simply labeled “husband.” Where I wondered at the hidden treasure of such a spot in the middle of our suburban neighborhood area. I used to imagine that I was the only one who knew this place existed, and that someday I’d discover that it had suddenly bloomed into verdant loveliness, like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.
B had already told me that the cemetery had been fixed up a fair bit, thanks to a conscientious neighbor. She said that this gentleman had adopted the place as a sort of therapeutic project after his wife had died. So I knew to expect some changes. But I did not realize that it would feel strange and new, in such a beautifully transporting way. I mused, in between doggie distractions [we had let the dog off the leash so would periodically call her to us to make sure she was still within earshot, rewarding her with our pocket-stash of treats when she did], on the nature of this interim period of life for me.
It has been the most settled I’ve been, in the U.S., for years now. My recent breaks in this country have been hectic, travel-filled periods of time. This one, however, has been a time of logistical preparations, and plenty to fill my days with, but with the odd luxury of staying put for almost a month now. Odd, as well, is the fact that I have a sense of satisfaction about how I’ve been able to settle into a comfortable routine here. This, I believe, is due to the fact that I was growing uneasy with my apparent inability to handle any sort of “normal” American life. But it turns out that, at least for now, at least in the comfort of my grandparents’ home, at least with good friends nearby, I can.
And as much as I enjoy being fully involved in life where I am, I cannot forget where I’ve been. There is a part of me that jumps with fear, wondering where the safe room is, at the sound of multiple booms; then I laugh at myself. Silly me, I think, realizing that of course those would be the weights falling, from the room above me in the Y. Yes, I bear wounds from where I’ve been. But so do we all, from wherever it is that we have been in life. We live with our wounds. And, hopefully, we grow from them.
So here, during this season, I enjoy Spring-like walks in January. And I grow.

do i dare

January 24, 2013


I shouldn’t go to class today, I thought as I drove there this morning. I am not in the right state of mind for this. How can I pause, and take hours to just think and write when there is pressing work to be done?
What is “pressing” anyway?
Yesterday I found it pressing to find the perfect light bulb. I walked up and down the hardware store aisles, looking for someone to help me make a decision—surprised someone had not already come, for that matter. I was playing a pretty good damsel-in-distress role, I thought, looking from the bulb I held in my hand to the myriad of, apparently, matching ones on the shelf. But I couldn’t choose just any of them; it had to be the right one.
Finally a man in the tell-tale red apron walked over to me. I looked at his nametag. Plumbing Expert. “Uh, I think I need a ‘lighting expert,’ actually,” I began. But he didn’t seem daunted by the “lighting” specification, so I explained my dilemma. He began a series of clarification questions. “Indoor or outdoor?” Indoor. “Bright or soft light?” I thought a moment. Well, my grandparents tend to like pretty bright lights. “Is it near a window?” Yes, there are lots of windows in the kitchen.
Eventually we settled on the perfect bulb. I opted against the usual call in my family [lowest price] in favor of the one that would shine brighter, last longer, and use less electricity. I was proud of my choice. So much so that this morning I almost hesitated to ask if they approved of the bulb. Since it hadn’t been mentioned yet, I was suddenly insecure—worried that they were not pleased.
But this morning brings new pressing issues. More glitches in the passport saga. My mind is anxious, running through my to-do list over and over. I need to call the embassy. I need to email the tax office. I need to make a scan, and send in the fax. I need to buy cheerios. I need to . . .
What do I mean by “need,” anyway?
Strange, I seem to recall speaking much of need, not so long ago. What do I need? When it comes down to it, my needs are very simple, on a daily basis. I need little to keep me content on any given day. A stolen pocket of warm sun in the middle of a winter day. An hour of dancing around with a roomful of others, none of us knowing—or much caring—what each person’s life issues and stresses are. All we care about, for this one hour, is that we are all, for now, well, “too sexy and [we] know it.”
I need to live.
I say that word—live—intentionally. I do not speak it lightly. I have not always chosen to live. There was a time in my life when I saw no good in my life. A time when I was dark, trapped inside a self I did not like. So my late 20’s and early 30’s have been years of challenge, but positive challenge. I am learning to claim this life as my own, and to claim the person I was created to be. I make my decisions and I choose my doors. I have chosen my door. Have I disappointed anyone in so doing? Yes. As I feared, I have disappointed people. But maybe, just maybe, part of the journey I am on means letting go of my failures. I was hurt—very hurt—by one response last night. An understated suggestion to “in the future” plan these things out better so as not to need last-minute documents. I almost wrote back desperate to justify myself. But I didn’t know this would happen . . .
I tried to plan ahead, but things changed . . .

Wait. I stopped myself. I will not justify my decisions. I have done the best I could. Maybe I do not function in the linear way the world expects me to, but I cannot change the complicated nature of my inner workings. There was a time when I tried to do so. That time is over.
Now it is time to live. There is business to be done. There are days to experience—alive—the simple gifts of a life: sun, dance, food, laughter . . . family.
T.S. Eliot comes to mind: “I grow old, I grow old . . . shall I wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach? . . . Do I dare to eat a peach?”
Do I dare? Do I dare to live a day without asking if I’ve done it right? Do I dare to be me, without apology? Do I trust that God will do with me as He sees fit, even if I do not stress about it?
I do not know if I dare or if I don’t. But I do know that I’ve never been able to turn down a challenge . . .

we shall overcome

January 22, 2013

I didn’t really plan to celebrate this holiday. But it does have a way of getting to me, somehow. So when I got into the car and heard the “I have a dream” speech airing, I decided to be intentional about listening to it. I turned up the volume and began to speak the words along with him. Surprisingly, this solitary exercise brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of years ago, when I was just out of college and attending an inner city church. Each year we had a wonderful commemoration of the day, all holding hands as we sang together, “We shall overcome . . .” Each time we did this I would start to cry, not knowing really where the tears were springing from.
This afternoon, after the radio speech had finished, I ran into a road block and soon realized that the reason for it was the MLK Jr March. As I was running ahead of schedule I decided to see if I could join in. It was a simple thing, really, to walk along with the march, but it really made my day. I just grinned as I walked, feeling the thrill that comes when you know you are participating in something meaningful. After just a few minutes of walking, I also ran into an old friend from high school. For several blocks we walked along, catching up. Then I left the march and headed back to where I had parked. As I walked back, the wrong way, along the road, I saw two high school students, in band uniforms, running to catch up with the rest of the marchers. Guess not everyone today was as punctual as I happened to be :-)


January 20, 2013


We lingered over the table this morning, munching on leftover trifle then moving on to Christmas cake. No one even raised an eyebrow at the large quantities of unconventional breakfast foods we were consuming. But maybe we needed a sweet overload to counteract the bitterness of the topic at hand: funeral planning [And if that excuse doesn’t lessen our nutritional culpability, I can also offer the justification that we had finished our proper breakfast food before moving on to dessert. ☺]
What struck me about our conversation was how easy it was. But then again, that’s one of the things I love about our family. For all our quirks, we generally manage to be quite practical about business that needs to be done. So if it’s casket-talk that is called for, we will do it without batting an eye . . . with the help, perhaps, of a belly full of fruitcake.
I don’t normally linger well over much of anything, never mind the breakfast table. But I’m so glad I did today, for several reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that once I did get up from the table, I [camera-handily] noticed that I had sat just long enough for a striking view of cloud cover to settle in on the valley below.
Later in the day I enjoyed a walk with a friend I had not seen since the summer. At the time, she was nearing the due date for her first pregnancy–one she had carried to term with the knowledge that her son would live only a few hours once out of the womb, due to a rare disorder. We spoke at the time of her plans for commemorating his life, during the few hours she and her husband would have to spend with him. We also spoke of how they would commemorate his death. We spoke of caskets.
So the irony of it all struck me this afternoon as I walked and talked with her. This morning I spoke of funerals with my grandparents. And this afternoon I learned that my friend has the bittersweet joy of remembering her son, at his nearby graveside, while she anticipates the birth of her second-born in just a few short months from now.

I am taking a writing class, in which we are doing a series of introspective free-writes. Technically, it is not meant to be public writing. But I’ve never been one to write just for myself. So even though what I wrote today is extremely self-focused, it still belongs “out there,” so far as I’m concerned. Well, some of it. I reserved the right to keep some of it to myself ☺ That said, I am aware that many people I care about do rely on my blog to, in a sense, keep track of my life. That said, I offer up this series of processing ramblings as a way of laying out there the thoughts currently running through my head:

What is in a call? What is in a life? What is my life? I am a woman. I live in Afghanistan. But I am not there.
Home. Is it here, where I currently spend my days? No. I am, for now, a wandering soul, temporarily abiding with my grandparents . . .
I have written recently of a heart that rests in K@bul. Is it my heart that is there, or is it fear that keeps me there? Strange concept, I know, to be afraid to leave a war-torn land. But at the core of my seemingly adventurous being, I know, is a security-seeker. I don’t want to start over. I don’t want to start a job I’m afraid I’ll fail in.
So do I stay in K@bul? . . .
Lord, why do you see fit to challenge me with multiple open doors at once? I, who am so insecure in my own decision-making skills? I, who am accustomed to simply going where someone tells me I should go, to filling a need I am told I should fill? I do not like so many options. More precisely, I do not like disappointing anyone . . .
If the bun fits . . .
What do I mean by a call? Is it significance? Is it integrity?

What do I need?
I need days that are full of nurturing activity. But I also need solid chunks of time to myself each day.
I need security. But I do not want a “normal” life of comfort, by Western standards.
I need community. But I do not want a social circle that overextends my introverted self.
I need to know that I am doing good work.
I need to move physically—need to have time, and space, to run, to dance, and to try new athletic endeavors.
I need to sing. Sadness—I have not felt the joy, and thrill, of my music lately. The songs I’ve sung have been dutiful, perfunctory, not exquisite, transporting moments like they have been before.
My heart is cold.
Lord, break my heart.
But first, point me in the right direction for this next move, so I can get the business of it done. The logistics. Then I’ll be ready for that broken heart.
Much obliged.

Later today, after this class, I had a study. We spoke of Peter, and of his denial. I remembered that the other day I heard a sermon in which Peter was mentioned as an inspiration, if only for the fact that someone so, well, un-exceptional, in so many ways, could be called a “rock,” upon which the Church shall be built. Comfort, great comfort, for us all in our foibles, failings, and flailings.


January 13, 2013


As we readied to leave for church this morning, I overheard a conversation between my grandparents in the room next to mine. This in itself is quite normal: as both of them spend most of their time in the home together, they do tend to have a sort of running dialog going. But what I heard this morning caught my ear. A simple exclamation by my grandmother of “You are so handsome!” I couldn’t resist teasing them a bit, then, calling out, “Hey, you two lovebirds, you do realize there’s someone else in the house now, don’t you?”
Yes, there is someone else in the house: I have the luxury of time to spend with my family right now—time off from my usual workdays, and time away from my usual home. Time to spend in the home where I processed the first great pain of my young life. Time to be with those who were my mother and father when my own were not able to be.
In this morning’s sermon, the pastor’s them was that the love of God begins in the home.
Now I am working through a list of chores. Somehow I find it immensely more difficult to clean for someone else than to clean a place of my own. I stress over getting it just right, I suppose, when in my own space I just figure out a system that works for me and I run with it. So now I agonize about proper methods of sweeping cobwebs out of corners in the ceiling, and I muse about the ins and outs of family life.
Is sweeping cobwebs in a family home less significant work than sweeping scar tissue on a bomb-ravaged child? When the work is done in love, I suspect the answer is no. It may take some self-talk, for sure, to convince oneself of that truth, but it is truth nonetheless. So in this moment, on this day, may I clean commodes and scrub sinks with a spirit of contentment.
This afternoon I took a detour on the way home from church, passing by one of my favorite spots when I was in high school. The rain was falling steadily by the time I arrived, but I carried on with my intended mission nonetheless. I needed a photo of the sculpture garden. More specifically, I needed a photo of this sculpture. So in spite the rain drenching me, and threatening my camera, here is “The prodigal.”

in a day

January 10, 2013


Some days, daily life is just a bit too real for comfort. I’ve never sat too well with the daily, anyhow. Years ago, I recall my sister telling me something that stuck with me, and that has resonated in my head each time I find myself faced with the challenge of the humdrum dailies. I was relaying to her something I was stressing about at the time [I cannot for the life of me recall what it was] when she cut me off with the observation that, “You do know, Anna, that if there’s not something stressful already happening in your life, you will create something that will be.” Yikes. Do I really? Yes, I suspect it is true.
The older I get the more I realize that this is both a gift and a curse. It is a gift in that it allows me to thrive in situations of constant challenge. I can, for the most part, roll with a life of the unexpected relatively well; and I have no interest in pursuing a life of ease. But it is a curse in that I cannot sit very well with simple pleasures, and I quickly distrust a period of calm in my life.
Take my current period of transition. The demands placed on me these days are not as urgent as they have been in other periods of my life. Today I have been joking about my family taxi service, as I drop off and pick up various members. And today I am not-so-inclined-to-joke about the realization that I am quite accustomed to bending down to tie others’ shoelaces; but the act of putting on shoes these days is not so mindless of a task. When the shoes one is tying the laces of belong to one who used to tie my own, it does not happen so lightly. Nor does any of the other business of a day, for that matter, be it buying groceries or watching the progress of a rail being installed. No, in so many ways, normal family life in this case is just as intense as “living in a war zone.” I put that phrase in quotation marks because sometimes speaking of it in such a way makes me uncomfortable. It is, at times, proclaimed as some sort of badge of honor when the truth of it is that we each live where we live, the best we can, and have no greater challenges than anyone else simply due to a spot on the map.
When it comes down to it, I pray that my words and actions here in the humdrum are as true to the true One as He grants me the power to be. May my steps be soft, may my words be gently, may my eyes be heavenward-focused.

still here, here again

January 4, 2013

Where my feet have landed me now: in the closest thing to home a homeless soul could know. Working, once more, with my Grandpa. What we Tennessee Hicks do best, no matter the years that have passed :-)