Category Archives: hope

To Live in This World

for Gabe at the start of his season

 

When he was about 7, Gabe said to me, in his odd, precise way, “Well, you aren’t often wrong.” He wouldn’t say that now. Just shy of 9, he’s seen many things go wrong. Yet there is a growing sense that some important things are being set right. Being made new, made whole. Leaves are falling, but there is also a harvest coming.

GabeGPP1

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Filed under hope, parenting, poetry, recovery

“It was like, we were all okay. And that was nice.”

Hello friends, and happy change-of-seasons! A small story for you, and a hope that you will read and perhaps even write in to share your thoughts!

I ride the bus to work with a lady who has a very odd conversational style. She tells me long, tedious, repetitive stories, the subtexts of which are that she is easily overwhelmed by relatively simple things, like how to pay her Comcast bill (mail it and waste a stamp or drive it to the office?), or figuring out how to use the printer at work. Yet the sub-subtext is that she is really trying to stay positive in the face of these tasks, and to pass this positivity on to others.

suncloudsOften, in the middle of her long stories, she’ll pause and say something totally stunning and totally out of context. For example, we had been talking about some film she was having developed at Walgreens (does anyone actually do this anymore?), and she stopped, looked at me and said, “You are making exactly the right choices you need to be making for yourself at this moment.” I briefly wondered if her eyes were going to roll back in her head or if she would start speaking in tongues, but she just carried on with the film story.

Sometimes her messages aren’t as abrupt, but they still feel a bit like unexpected and useful rays of clarity. A few weeks ago, she was describing, in great detail, where she was going to have her new TV installed (by Comcast), and as we got off the bus to walk to our offices, she said, “Today is going to be a positive day and we will feel good about helping other people!”

Indeed.

A day or two ago, she was relating an experience involving an evening of Scrabble, a person with paranoia, and a disgruntled family member. Then she just stopped and said, “It was like, we were all okay. And…and that was…really nice.”

These odd semi-non-sequiturs are like small, clear bubbles of human truths that rise up from mundane narrations of everyday life, and I appreciate them each time. Yes, I could easily imagine how all of a sudden, in the midst of a game of Scrabble with some only questionably sane people, one might be struck by the feeling that, no matter what, we really are all okay. And not only is that feeling very nice; sometimes, it’s all you need to keep you going.

What small experiences cause you to pause and remember what matters to you? Strange, odd, funny, poignant, moving, simple…whatever they might be…what recent moments have given you perhaps just the briefest glimpse of something that felt real and important. I’d love it so if you cared to share!

In this spirit, today’s poem is by Mary Oliver, from her 2006 book, Thirst. This collection is something of a deviation from previous works, and definitely worth checking out if you’re a Mary Oliver lover. I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, I love hearing from you!

All love,

Leslie

Praying
by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

the last end of summer daisy on my walk to the bus stop

the last summer daisy on my morning walk to the bus stop

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Filed under faith, gratitude, hope, listening, poetry

Never Again and Forever After

Twelve days ago, on Good Friday, my life fell spectacularly, publicly, heartbreakingly apart. After all of these past months of struggle, fighting and turmoil, everything in me gave up. I caused a terrible car accident in which, by the grace of God no one was hurt. But the aftermath, the wreckage has been incalculable.

brokenI ended up in the ER tonight because I have not been able to eat or drink anything for twelve days, despite the significant steps I’ve taken to start to rebuild whatever my new life will look like. My body just told me that it was simply not going to continue this way and it didn’t.

At the hospital, they were perfunctorily kind, suggesting that I perhaps try relaxation exercises, and brought in a very nice young man who asked me if I was considering harming myself. Since I believe that my life, and more importantly, my reactions to my life, to years of  deep misery had already done enough harm, I said “No.”

So they gave me some fluids, checked my blood work, watched as I shook, vomited up the water I couldn’t keep down, and then eventually sent me home. Lying there waiting to leave, I alternated between being terrified that this was actually what it looked and felt like when someone was truly cracking up, and then offering exactly what I was in those moments to God.

I thought that I had surrendered to God, but then I remembered that last night, my prayer was not to surrender but to want to want to surrender. I believed I had done this, but I hadn’t, until tonight. I surrendered because I had no choice, and a deep sense of giving in and giving up came over me.

Not of giving up my life, but giving up, entirely and completely, the struggle.  In that moment, in repeating to myself, over and over, “I’m done. I’m done,” I knew that I wasn’t done with my life. I was done with the misery of a life I’ve been living for such a long, long time. A river began to flow through me.

On the way home, I made a fierce commitment and that is this: “I will fight as hard as it takes for as long as it takes to recover.” Recovery of body, mind and spirit. That I never again want to live a life of relentless, undignified, useless suffering. And that no one and nothing was going to take anything else away from me. Or rather, that I was not going to let myself give any part of myself away. That I would fight for the life that God means for me to live, no matter what.

If you are struggling, remember this: Blessed be the warriors who are given the privilege of following this path, blessed be the suffering that leads us somewhere, especially somewhere bigger, greater and more meaningful. Blessed be.

See below, from Anne Frank, “As long as this exists…”


As long as this exists…

Anne Frank

“‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.’ The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be.”

Love always,

Leslie

stripped

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Filed under courage, hope

Time to Come Back

Hello and a joyful spring to any and all who still have even a thread of interest in this blog. I’ve been gone for a long, long time, but think of you often. I hope you will forgive the absence.

http://www.forestwander.comIs it spring where you are? Maple trees are budding here, crocuses and daffodils are blooming and I saw my first real dogwood yesterday, making a sparse but valiant showing.

If you listen to pop radio, you may be hearing Kelly Clarkson’s, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and even if you don’t listen to pop radio, you know the expression “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is a good song to work out to; it is not, on any level, a good belief to live by.

Something that can kill you but doesn’t actually makes you weaker. A broken bone is weaker even after the regrowth; past injuries leave scar tissue and must be treated tenderly so as not to reopen or reaggravate wounds. Catastrophic illness makes you more susceptible to infection. Deep psychological pain, even though it can be and is survivable, does not ever truly leave your psyche. You are not made stronger.

This is good news.

Weakness terrifies all of us, but it is, without question what makes us most human, more tender, more vulnerable. My friend Ann says (I’m paraphrasing), “You’ve joined the club. It’s a weird club.”

My friend Mary tells me, after visiting a dying friend, “There is so much pain in the world. The most we have is leaning on each other.”

Mary’s heart is so open that when I am with her sometimes I feel like I am standing in it. Her tolerance for other people’s pain is a tangible, living thing.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey flanked by illiterate fisherman. He was not stronger than thepalms army of soldiers who greeted him. I’m struck again and again at how the language of the Gospels is filled with words like “passion,” “desire,” and “longing.” When do we lose this connection (if in fact we do lose it?) When do we forget that the ache, the suffering, the longing for respite in the face of tremendous suffering…the blood and body passion for life is everything that brings us closer to others, to God?

This is not original thinking; none of this is. But today I am having lunch with two dear friends, one who has survived colon cancer, and is now celebrating her last round of chemo for pancreatic cancer, and another who is living with the constant sorrow of losing her brother. And we will be laughing, joyful. Whatever pain each of us is carrying will be shared, even for a moment, even if we don’t talk about any of it. We don’t have to. We’re in the club.

Carrie Newcomer sings about living a “permeable life.”  Go and listen to her remind you that “there is room at the table for everyone.” Or perhaps read some Parker Palmer, especially the poignant and lovely, “Let Your Life Speak.”

Or maybe, best of all, go and find yourself one of those people in your life who’s part of your tribe. One of the weirdos who makes you feel less alone on the planet. Preferably someone who really makes you laugh. I’ve been making myself walk as often as I can lately (venturing outdoors, especially to do physical activity is an effort at the best of times, but it is a sacrilege to admit that because it is spring and one is supposed to love venturing outdoors.) But because we here in the Midwest haven’t seen the sun for about 6 months, and because I know I will feel hugely better if I walk, I do it.

And many people are coming out of their homes, blinking at the sunlight as if released from cave dwellings. I enjoy seeing this. As I was walking last week, an elderly woman on an enormous elderly person’s bike with huge tires rode past me, very slowly. She was smiling. She gave me a little first pump as she drifted by. “Good weather!” she shouted, in her elderly lady voice.

It made me happy that our paths crossed, so to speak, at that moment. But earlier in the day, something made me laugh, really hard. I’d recently been visiting my parents in Naples, FL, and they took my 8-year old son and me to the Everglades. I hate the Everglades. I hate strong sun and humidity. I hate tourists. I hate snakes, especially 20-foot pythons, and no, I do not wish to feel the python skin on display during the python naturalist talk. I hate alligators and alligators are everywhere in the Everglades, as bold and ugly as can be. People talk to them like they are cute little pets. They are not.

As I was recounting being in the Everglades to an acquaintance (by recounting I mean to say telling him that he should never, ever go to the Everglades because it is ugly and dangerous), he said, “Well, to me the whole point of becoming educated was so that I wouldn’t have to go outside.”

In that moment, I had met a member of my tribe. I laughed all day. It was breath. It was life. It was spring.

With much love and gratitude,

LC

To a Snake (by Jeffrey Harrison)

I knew you were not poisonous
when I saw you in the side garden;
even your name—milk snake—
sounds harmless, and yet your pattern
of copper splotches outlined in black
frightened me, and the way you were
curled in loops; and it offended me
that you were so close to the house
and clearly living underneath it
if not inside, in the cellar, where I
have found your torn shed skins.

You must have been frightened too
when I caught you in the webbing
of the lacrosse stick and flung you
into the woods, where you landed
dangling from a vine-covered branch,
shamelessly twisted. Now I
am the one who is ashamed, unable
to untangle my feelings,
braided into my DNA or buried
deep in the part of my brain
that is most like yours.

“To a Snake” by Jeffrey Harrison, from Into Daylight. © Tupelo Press, 2014

 alligators

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Filed under belonging, hope, lent, spirituality

Pieced Together: The Strength of the Imperfect: An Invitation to Advent 2013

Welcome to Advent 2013 at From the Heart. This season I’m contemplating imperfection, and you are invited to join me. A very lucky fortunate thing happened to me a few weeks ago: I had an important dream, a guidepost dream, one of those dreams that feels like a visit with the force that knows what your life is meant to be about. I dreamt of broken things–boxes filled with cracked porcelain and shards of blue-green glass, rooms of strange pieces of furniture that didn’t belong together but were somehow beautiful, and people I know who are messy and flawed but authentic and deeply human.

The phrase that kept repeating itself throughout the dream was “pieced together,” and I dragged it with me through that time between sleeping and waking like a fish flailing and heavy on the line. Fully awake, I felt like someone collapsing on the shore with a kind of hard-earned sustenance in my arms.

“Pieced together” is what my life looks like right now–broken, scary, confusing, and somehow powerfully real. Perhaps the most powerful part is seeing more clearly how many of us live just this way–with jagged pieces of our lives that don’t fit together, that don’t make sense, that hurt, and yet must be held and carried right alongside the pieces that are smooth and whole.

okayMaybe it’s illness, or loss, pain, grief, fear–whatever we didn’t ask for but arrived anyway and can’t be shaken off. What I hope for this Advent is to believe that there is treasure in a pieced together, imperfect life, and to figure out how to find and share it. I hope you’ll be here with me.

Below, a lovely poem that recently appeared on the Writer’s Almanac, a hymn to Mary by, surprisingly, Edgar Allan Poe. Note the hopefulness in the request that Mary be present in both bright and dark times, and let it remind us that there is tremendous power in the humble act of asking for what we need.

Hymn

At morn—at noon—at twilight dim—
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and wo—in good and ill—
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
“With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

Edgar Allan Poe

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Into 2012–Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Our family received so many lovely holiday greetings this year while ours never made it out.  Such is life.  We did manage to host our 2nd Annual New Year’s Day Open House, and a more wonderful way to mark the new year I couldn’t imagine.

Both the holiday greetings and many of the conversations we had with people at the Open House affirmed something I’ve been thinking about since the holiday season started and the “family and life update” letters began coming in.  And that is that we are all so much the same.  We mark our years by family milestones, the births of children, the losses of those we love, good health and bad, work struggles and successes, time spent doing what needs to be done.  They all seem to send the same message: we are carrying on.

I’m struck by how hard we are all working at figuring out if we’re doing the right things, living the right ways, making the right choices.  One car or two?  Church or alternative spiritual practice?  Giving material gifts or “experiences”?  Are we doing right by our kids, by ourselves, by the world around us?

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For All That Has Been, Thanks. For All That Will Be, Yes.

Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary.  Martin and I got engaged in March of 1992 when we were living in Philadelphia.  After our engagement, I visited one of my former professors from Villanova and told him I was getting married.  He said the only thing that has ever helped me make sense of marriage, especially why people continue to stick with it when it feels like the most barren of deserts.  He asked me, “Is it a growth relationship?”

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Trending Towards Hope

Hello and Happy September everyone!  A friend said to me recently that the seasons, particularly the spring (and particularly the rabbits in his yard in the spring), affirm his belief that “life trends towards hope.”  I like this idea, though not, perhaps, for the reason my friend does.  Seasons are cyclical, and cycles don’t really “trend” towards anything except repeating themselves.  So one could suggest that the exuberant hopefulness of spring is not more or less important or meaningful than the still darkness of the winter.  And vice versa.

Medieval Seasons by Carol McCrady

[Note on the art pictured here: it is a photograph of a print by Carol McCrady that I have in my office.  It’s called “Medieval Seasons,” and you can see more of her exquisite art on her web site.]

This isn’t a depressing perspective; just a realistic one, and one that I’ve learned a lot about from writers like Parker Palmer and David Whyte.  They talk about the danger of human beings’ desire to accept only those parts of ourselves that are light, expansive, “up.”  We do a deep disservice to ourselves when we live this way, because we’re making very little internal space for the times when we are not all these things.  In the words of the fabulous singer songwriter John Prine, “That’s the way that the world goes round/up one day the next you’re down/it’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown/that’s the way that the world goes round.”

I love the line: “it’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown” because it’s so ridiculously true.  I had to remind myself of this in the last few weeks when our entire university town was going through the transition from summer to fall:  no students/no school—> thousands of students/lots of school. 

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For I Know the Plans I Have for You

Just in case a prestigious institution (or any institution, really), came knocking on my door looking for a commencement speaker, I’d prepared a few notes for the graduates of 2011.  But graduation has come and gone, just like those “Congratulations!” cards at Walgreens which graduates hope contain money.  (When my brother “graduated” from 8th grade, we caught him in a corner at his party, opening the envelopes and then shaking the cards without reading them to see if there was cash inside).   I could never give a good graduation speech, though, because Maya Angelou already gave the best one ever here in Illinois in 2002.  She sang; it was magical.

In my job working with students, however, it is helpful (for my sanity) to remember how amazing people who are mostly fully formed are, how much potential they have, how much we can learn from them.  It helpful because on a lot of days, I want to smash their hands in my office door.  Just this month alone I’ve been lied to, yelled at, insulted, sat too close to, sneezed on, and told about 785 stories of dead grandparents, usually in far-off lands to which the students must flee immediately, thereby missing all of their final exams.

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“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

I got up at 3:15AM on April 29th, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding. I did it partly because I had gotten up super-early to watch Charles and Di’s glorious but ill-fated affair, which was like a true fairly tale for the adolescent I was then. 

But this time around, as a full-grown woman, I appreciated it much more, not because of the over the top (hats) pomp and circumstance, or the chance to see Elton John and his partner in full morning dress, and especially not to see Victoria Beckham, who looked like a big snot-nose, as if she was there on sufferance. 

No, I’m so happy that I got to watch the ceremony because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have heard the homily, delivered by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres.  Aside from the homily delivered at my own wedding, this was the most beautiful wedding homily I’ve ever heard.  Gabe, who’s 5, liked the fighter jet flyover the most.  As for me, it was the homily (reprinted below), and it even included poetry!

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