Thursday, December 27, 2007

Poked

We went to the travel clinic at Miriam hospital for our shots for the Vietnam trip. In a word:

Ouch.

I had the worst of it, with 5 shots. (FIVE!)

I got typhoid, tetanus, measles, hepatitis A and the flu shot. Noah was also pretty bad, with three, including the dreaded tetanus, which makes your arm feel like it has a rock in it for a month.

Emmett handled his shots well, but then fainted afterwards, so we had to apply cold compresses and get him sugared up on ginger ale and lollipops. Nguyen had just 2 because his were still good from the last trip.

I have to say that I am starting to get very excited! We leave in 5 weeks and are starting to get all our ducks in a row. I am designating a spot in the guest room to start piling stuff. We have a long list of things we need for the trip, including deet and sunblock, imodium and electrolyte solution. Ear plugs and sleeping pills. Tee shirts and shorts and sandals. (Especially for me, as they won't have size 10.5 in Vietnam, LOL!)

We are beginning to pull together our itinerary, too, with a planned stop in Mui Ne on the way to Nha Trang.

Just can't wait!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Joy to the world! The Lord is come


Did it work for you? Did you wake up on the 4th Sunday of Advent and suddenly realize that the energy was shifting? It was right around Saturday when I began to see the Light at the end of the darkness.

A plan had been percolating in my head: We'd decorate the tree on Christmas eve. I bought a beautiful wooden Nativity set from Guatemala, complete with three cows, three kings and a baby Jesus as big as a cow. The children would unwrap it and set it on the mantle. My brother, mom and friends Tom and Donna were coming over to eat appetizers and light the 4 Advent candles and the wonderfully cheesy votive candle with the picture of the Holy Family I bought in the Spanish section of the grocery store.

It all went as planned. I cooked appetizers and baked cookies all day. Nguyen took a rare day off and helped clean the house and get ready. He chopped cabbage and carrots and wood ear mushrooms for his famously delicious egg rolls. The kids pulled out the boxes of decorations and spent the day stringing lights and hanging ornaments. In the end we had a tree with colored lights on the bottom, white lights on top, and no ornaments above 5 feet up. It turned out to be the most beautiful tree we have ever had.

I went, alone, the 2:00 service at Grace while Nguyen and the kids finished getting the house ready. It was quiet and beautiful. Fr. Rich preached a wonderful, heartfelt sermon that made me cry.

My plan of all appetizers was a hit! The food was delicious and simple. Before we dug in, I read a prayer I wrote. (Inexplicably, I couldn't find my Book of Common Prayer.)

It was a relaxed, funny, joyful and loving evening.

On Christmas morning, Nguyen got up and said "I feel like going to church." and since I was waiting for my family to come back, he went alone.

When my brother arrived, he asked where Nguyen was.

"At church", I said.

"Alone?"

"Yes."

And suddenly, something shifted for my brother. Later he joked about it, calling Nguyen "Bible Boy" and worrying that my husband will try and evangelize him. In all his bluster, though, I know that he was pondering this new turn of events.

Later, when my mom arrived, we made a fabulous breakfast and had a wonderful conversation about religion, politics and just about everything else you aren't supposed to talk about. As I drove my mother to the airport, she said "that conversation was my Christmas wish. That we would all talk and listen and enjoy each other's company."

Seems like maybe we all got our wishes this year.

Praise to you, Lord Christ. Glory to you, Lord Christ.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seashells

My father and stepmother have a beautiful tradition for Christmas.

Back when my grandfather was alive, he and my grandmother collected scallop shells on the beach near their cottage in Truro, Massachusetts. Grandpa carefully drilled tiny holes at the top and strung them, in pairs, on florist's wire to use as Christmas tree ornaments. They made dozens and dozens of them.

After both of my grandparents died, my father inherited the scallops. Somehow, he and my stepmother came up with a wonderful tradition. Each year they take a sharpie marker and inscribe the names of friends or relatives who have died during the year. Then they spend an evening putting up all the shells that have accumulated over the years. It is a very moving process. One by one, they read the name and talk about what that person meant to them. Plenty of tears flow. (Usually plenty of scotch, too, I think!)

Last year, in Newfoundland, I was part of this for the first time. I came across the name of my friend Gig, who had died a couple years before, during Holy week. And my granny. And other friends of the family. My mother in law. Even beloved pets.

In the midst of the tears, we had such joy at having known them.

Stymied

I admit it. As a Christian, I have no idea what to do with Christmas. Not the religious piece. That part seems clear enough. We are in the midst of a penitential time of introspection and anticipation. We hear about John the Baptist on Sundays and go to confession. We examine our inner darkness and try to clear the way for the coming light. All that makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is how to do that while the world is screaming at you from every corner to

Have fun!!!!

Buy stuff!!!!

Buy more stuff!!!!

On SALE!!!

Back before I was a Christian, I loved the 'out in the world' version of Christmas. Nguyen and I would listen to sappy big band Christmas albums and go shopping at 2 am at whatever store was open. (Zayre's used to stay open all night in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Remember that, New Englanders?) We'd make hot apple cider and decorate the tree.

Maybe all of this is going to happen on Christmas Eve, from now on. As it is, we have had a tree since the Saturday after Thanksgiving... but haven't done anything more than string a simple string of white lights. No ornaments or star. No wreaths on the house. No lights on the bushes. It just doesn't seem right to be doing all that during Advent.

This is all so new to me, this oddball conjoining of the sacred with the profane. What do you, as a Christian, do with this? Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On the occasion of a Nor'Easter

Beloved,

When sin knocks at the door
Of my heart
Let me keep it closed, shut tight.

When Joy approaches
I will throw open the door
And invite Him in.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Community

I have been thinking about the ways that God uses community to help us grow as Christians. Increasingly, I am grateful to be a part of a religious community like Grace church.

Being in community with others means that we get to practice being Christians. When difficulties in our own lives arise, we have people who are committed to helping us through them. When we see others in pain, we are called to extend a helping hand to them. It is powerful in both cases.

Nguyen and I have been worried about a congregant at Grace who is battling major health issues. We called his friend last week and invited them to the Wednesday evening Eucharist. They came. When the priest brought communion to my friend in the pew, I was overcome with joy because I felt so sure that he is no longer alone in this struggle. Not only is he bound to Christ with this rite, but all of us are bound together through it. Together, we face his challenges, losses, fears. Together we support him through this painful time.

During Advent, I have been struggling some painful issues of my own. Things that I wanted to hide and keep secret. But gently, God offered me a way to open them up and expose them to the light. He gave me a way out. He gave me a spiritual friend. A Godparent. The sacraments of communion and confession. The words of Thomas A Kempis. A community of people who love me, and whom I love. God gave me all these things to remind me that I never have to struggle alone with my sins and fears.

2 years ago I sat in the Rector of Grace Church's office and told him all the things I disliked about his church. I told him that I was unhappy, but that God was calling me to stay. I confessed that I was none too pleased about it, but that I would stick it out as long as I felt God was asking me to be there.

Yesterday I called him to tell him how grateful I am to be a part of Grace Church's community. Miracles are happening. Love is abounding. Blessings are everywhere. I thanked him for his leadership and his willingness to let the Holy Spirit be in charge.

Miracles are happening.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Messiah

It is a spectacular experience, seeing The Messiah live for the first time. It is true that I have gone to Messiah sings for the last few years, but this year we scored tickets to the sold out production put on by the Providence Singers and the RI Philharmonic. It was a gorgeous production.

For me, it was almost like seeing David Bowie for the first time. I actually wept a little hearing my favorite pieces performed live. For years now I have been listening to the Bernstein version of The Messiah on a more or less endless loop in my car. I can sing all the words, I know all the music parts, I play bits of it on the piano. So, when the orchestra began playing Sinfonia, I felt tears streaming down my cheeks.

Since my children know the score so well themselves, after years of hearing it in my car, I think I will bring them next time. I am sure they will love it.

Thank you Handel.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wednesdays at Grace

I have already mentioned that we have a beautiful sung service at Grace on Wednesdays. This week I invited my husband, kids and a friend to join me. They did. The kids were remarkably un-squirmy... even when Noah lost a tooth right in the middle of the homily and started bleeding all over the place. It was a heroic effort, but he got through to the end without distracting everyone around us. (The tooth fairy will pay extra for that, I think!)

But here's the thing: Nguyen took communion. I tried not to make too much of a fuss, but truly, I wanted to blubber like a baby when he came up with us. Afterwards I jokingly asked if he felt a lightening bolt from the blue. No. But it turns out he has been praying every day.

I am so grateful.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent is upon us.

I am a couple of days late, but today I went to the church supply place here in town and bought some simple purple votive glasses for an Advent wreath. I placed them on a round glass plate scattered with seashells. The candles themselves are white. It is spare and lovely.

I also picked up another copy of the Imitation of Christ. I think that will be my Advent reading for this year. I loaned out my other copy awhile ago and now would like my friend to keep it.

This morning at bible study, we began with the Advent lessons for next Sunday. I read Isaiah 11 and admit, I couldn't get through it without tears.

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.


He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.


The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Lord,

For all you are, for all you have given us, and for all you promise, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Simple gifts

My step mother is in awe of how I manage to throw together a simple meal that tastes good. I don't love cooking, so I often seek the path of least resistance. Thanksgiving was a case in point. Instead of turkey, we had standing rib roast. Preparation for that involved copious amounts of salt and pepper, calculating cooking time on the calculator, setting the oven and the putting it in the oven. No basting. No stuffing. No brining. No covering with cheese cloth or other fancy preparations.

To that we added a green salad, grilled asparagus, baked potatoes, creamed onions, beets, a couple of pies. We all did a side dish, so no one had more than one or two things to prepare. It was a cinch. It allowed us time to do what is more important on Thanksgiving. Drink. Ha! And spend time chatting and taking our time tidying the house and decorating together. It was just laid back and relaxed.

My step father and drumming teacher couldn't make it, so we had way too much food, but leftovers are a wonderful thing, too.

I am thankful that we had a wonderful day together. How was your Thanksgiving?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving

My parents got in from Newfoundland yesterday. I am so excited they are here. It has been years since we had Thanksgiving together.

I am thankful for so much, this year. Thankful that we are going to Vietnam. Thankful that my mother found a lovely new apartment that she can afford. Thankful I am taking drumming classes. Thankful that my church is a vibrant, loving community. (We had 16 people at Bible study today!?!?!) I am grateful that my children are thriving, and that even in the midst of economic insecurity, Nguyen and I still love each other.

So much.

This Thursday, we are having a small (for us) gathering of 11 people. My father, step mother, mother, former step father, brother, my drumming teacher and my mom's friend. I think I might ask people to share what they are grateful for throughout the meal. And I found a beautiful prayer of Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer that will suit the Muslim, the atheists, agnostics and Christians.

Blessings to all of you, dear readers. I am thankful for you, too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

God's Work

I have been gently, periodically inviting Nguyen to communion since we have been going to Grace. Two or three times he has come to the rail with us. In each case he has crossed his arms in front of his chest to receive a blessing.

Last night I told him about the priest at the Wednesday evening service. He shared as to how he invited his friend to take communion, even before he was baptized. His friend, for a couple of years, took communion. Then one day decided to be baptized.

I did it the other way around. I got baptized first. But at my baptism, I didn't intend for it to be a Christian thing. I did not recite a creed or agree to anything. I just surrendered myself to God and invited him into my life to do whatever work (lots) needed to be done. God took me up on my offer, sent Jesus knocking at my door and within a few days of the big dunk, I was a born again Christian.

My point is this. There are rubrics. There are guidelines and rules about how these things ought to happen. And then there is God's way. Which cannot be contained by the rules.

I was telling this to Nguyen last night because I think he wants, on some level, to take communion... but is afraid that he doesn't 'believe' enough to qualify. That, to me, is like thinking you need to be healed before you can take the medicine that will save you. Jesus was surrounded by doubters for his entire ministry on earth. I'd wager that MOST of his priests in the world have some levels of doubt at some points in their ministries. (correct me if I am wrong, anyone.) So, no. I do not believe that you have to sign a form or know what you are doing or put your thumb print on some cosmic agreement. I believe you simply have to be willing to open your heart to Jesus and let him invite you to the table. You are taking the body and blood of he who has saved the world into your physical self. It will heal you, whether you believe it or not.

Last night at Grace, a mentally ill, ex con homeless man took communion. He is delusional. He often just lies down and falls asleep in the pews. He stuck his finger into liquid pool of wax in the candle burning in front of him and traced a white wax cross on his forehead. During the service he sat muttering to himself. Who knows if this guy has been baptized. Who knows what is going on in his head. But God knows that he needs His love. His mercy. His tenderness. God knows he needs to take Jesus into his life.

I have taken communion three times in a Roman Catholic church. The first two times, I wasn't even a Christian. I didn't know the rules. I was attending church with friends and just walked up and received.

Then, a year ago, at the Christmas eve service in Newfoundland, I went to church with friends and took communion. I know it broke the rules. I'd normally not do such a thing. But the idea of Christmas without it was so unbearable I simply couldn't not do it. I called the priest ahead of time and put him in the incredibly uncomfortable situation of having to tell me yes or no. At the time, it was respect for the church that motivated me to make the call. Now I wonder if really, it is just between me and God. I think next time I'll let the priest off the hook. (He said yes, by the way, even knowing it was against the rules.)

Here's the thing: Is it possible that those times I took communion were the beginning of my conversion? Can it be that the body and blood of God seeped into my soul and began it's work, years before I was to finally accept Jesus? Did God take my hubris (or ignorance) and use it to good? It can't be an accident that I remember, 15 or 20 years later, the exact moments of communion.

I know that you, my readers, have differing opinions on this. Comments are welcome.

I pray for all those who have not yet received. Open their hearts, O Lord.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

God Poke

Wow.

How is a good husband a little like Jesus?

He loves you even when you are a jerk.

Last night, after my day of coming face to face with all kinds of major character defects, I shared it all with Nguyen. The good, the bad and the ugly. Stuff that is years in the making. Habits that were formed long before I was a Christian, that have clung tenaciously. I told him all about it. His first reaction was

"Wow, you really are messed up..."

At which point I allowed as to how that might not be the best response when someone is baring their dark souls.

We chuckled.

The gist of the conversation is that even though I am Loved with a capital "L" by God. Even though I have had close encounters with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I am still spending way too much time and energy seeking approval from people I care about. I am a love junky and need constant, reassuring fixes that everyone Loves. Me. Best.

I gave him lots of examples of how this manifests, which were embarrassing, to say the least. But at the end of the whole thing, he gave me a big hug (which is rather rare for a Vietnamese guy) and told me that, yes, he loves me. Warts (sins?) and all.

He is a good egg.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Darkness descending

We are on Advent's doorstep, and right on cue, my sins have risen to the surface. It is almost comical, really. The other day I was thinking about making a confession for Advent and I honestly could not think of any sins.

So, this morning, a whole raft of them emerged in my drum addled brain. I rushed in late to bible study and of course, Romans 14 and 15 were talking to me. I walked to my car afterwards and laughed out loud at my own hubris. And God's gentle shove. And his mercy. Oh, Lord. His mercy.

Today, I'll spend some time in prayer.

And figure out a time to make my confession.

And look forward to lunch with Fr. P so I can start to figure out what is going on.

Advent approaches and God is right on time. As usual.

Oh, he was some powerful

I woke up with this in my heart today:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



St. Francis

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fasting from Drumming

In an email to a friend, I noted that during Advent I will be forced to fast from drumming classes because my teacher will be in Mali. And, oddly, during Lent I will be in Vietnam visiting my husband's family. So God has a built in balancing act to keep me from going too crazy during the penitential seasons.

Evangelist

My friend is church shopping. She is a lapsed Roman Catholic.

-Come to our Wednesday Eucharist, I said. It is quiet, and lovely. The whole thing is sung. It is in candlelight. Very beautiful.

-Can I take communion? She asked.

-Of course. I replied.

-Even without a confession first?

-Jesus ate with sinners. It's ok. Maybe you can talk about it with him before you come. Then we'll do the corporate confession together.

-Ok.

Lord. The fact that you love us, even in our weakness and sin, blows my mind more than anything else I can imagine.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Blog Alert!

My cyber alter ego, Rachel, of Swandive fame, has begun a new blog for her God addiction. It is called

God Junky. Like crack, only better.

As one who recently spun off a second blog, I say go go go!

We are all travelers, here, folks. Let's keep each other company for the ride.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What joy

Last night, Grace started a new thing. They offered an evening Eucharist.

It blew my socks off.

Instead of sitting in the huge nave, we gathered in the chancel, in candlelight. We squeezed together in the choir loft and sang the liturgy, the psalm, the hymns. Three priests from outside of Grace are going to rotate this service. Last night was Maria DeCarvalho. She was extraordinary.

Mark Johnson, our very gifted choir director, sang and played the music, which was hauntingly beautiful.

For those of us who are busy busy busy on Sunday mornings, this evening Eucharist is a gift beyond measure. I found myself weeping as I sang.

In the dark church,

In the darkness,

God.

Joy.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

All good things

When I became a Christian, I gave up some things.

I gave up my tarot card practice.

I gave up my Unitarian Universalist church.

I left behind the things that belonged in another lifetime. I cleaned house. I gave things away. I began to dismantle what was and look forward to what is.

And in each empty hole, God planted a seed. In each vacant place in my life, God filled me with his love. His gifts have been greater than anything I could have imagined.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Busy Sunday coming up

Worlds colliding is all well and good, but this Sunday there will be a LOT on the agenda.

First, I am singing in the pick up choir.

Second, I am going do some healing prayer during communion.

Third, a few of us are putting together an informal drum circle and playing during coffee hour.

All good things.

I pray, though, that in the midst of it, I remember to lay down at your feet, God, and take a moment or two to remember the lives of those who have passed into your arms. And remember to give you thanks, Oh God, for the blessings in my life.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two worlds collide...

And it is GOOD!

Fr. Rich has invited my drumming teacher, Sidy Maiga, to start teaching classes at Grace Church in Providence. I am very excited about it. For one thing, I think it is a big deal that we open our doors to folks that otherwise wouldn't know about Grace and what we are doing. It is a wonderful way to reach out to people. It also offers the congregants at Grace another way to spend time together doing something we love. I am hoping that some of the kids who went to Africa will come to the class. It would be powerful for them, I think.

For me, it is exciting because drumming is a kind of prayer for me. It is, as the Malians say, a way to bring people together. There is power in drumming with other people. It breaks through barriers of race, economic status, religious affiliation, social status, even skill. It invites us to play, smile, laugh and love one another.

If you are in RI and would like to find out more about it, visit my other site for more information.

Lord,

You have created all that is beautiful in the world. In everything that brings us together, you are there. In all that is joyful, you are there. Thank you Lord, for the gift of music in my life. It brings me closer to you to make a joyful noise.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The fall light


I walked through the living room today and noticed that the afternoon light has changed. The sun is lower in the sky. It enters the room from a different angle. The trees in the front yard still have a few tenacious leaves clinging to the branches, so the light filtering through is somewhat dappled. It is a clear day. Not one cloud. The sunlight splays across the surface of our maple table, onto the wood floor, onto the yellow ocher wall.

Fall.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

An early start

Usually I wait until Advent to pull out my Leonard Bernstein version of the Messiah CD. But since I was feeling crappy last week, I was indulging in the Easter half and it was like drinking a magic potion. I felt cured of what ailed me.

Bernstein created great controversy when he reworked the Messiah. Instead of three sections, he divided it into two: Christmas and Easter. He shuffled some of the arias and choral pieces. He moved the Hallelujah Chorus from Easter to Christmas, which was utterly scandalous to purists. (And the one change I disagree with.)

He also used a completely American cast, including 2 African Americans, which must have been quite forward thinking in the 50s.

I first bought my copy of the CD when I got baptized 4 years ago. Early in my first Advent as a Christian, I went to a 'Messiah Sing' at Providence College with my friend Carmen. I had never heard any of the music other than the Hallelujah Chorus, so it was all new to me. We stood in the Alto section, which isn't really where I sing. (Tenor, if you must know, LOL!) And I had a very hard time following all the lines of music. Plus I don't sight read, so I was bumbling around quite badly.

But oh, the music. What music! There were particular pieces that just blew me away.
"And he shall be called Wonderful. Councilor. Almighty God, the everlasting power, the prince of peace...." I cried during that one. Because he IS wonderful.

The next day I went to Barnes and Noble and lucked into getting Bernstein's version.

It is interesting to me that a Jewish conductor seemed to understand the power of the Jesus story so deeply. I have heard several versions since then, and none, as far as I can tell, have nearly the power that Bernstein brought to it. The Pastoral Symphony, in particular, is one of the most astounding pieces of music I have ever heard. The first time I listened to it, it was like experiencing Christmas and Holy Week, Advent, Lent and Epiphany all at once. There is the tenderness and sweetness of the violins heralding the birth, but just under the surface, the double bass foreshadows the crucifixion. I still weep when I hear it.

By now, having listened to the cds more or less nonstop every Advent and Lent, I can sing the whole score. I know every word, at least of Bernstein's version, which is shorter than the standard productions.

And today, while listening to the Christmas half, I heard a little voice from the back of my car singing along.

Thank you Handel. Thank you Bernstein. Thank you God.

I am already thinking ahead to Advent.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Leaving the mire behind

A great lunch with spiritual director and a day of drumming at my kids' school have both left me feeling happy and grateful and not at all feeling sorry for myself. And no, the laundry is still not done. And yeah, the guy in the pew might have been just a tiny bit out of line. But all is forgiven and processed and it is a beautiful day here in New England... the first day of fall. The leaves are doing their thing and the air is crisp and I am getting a new drum on Monday and all is right with the world.

It shocks me, sometimes, how close to the surface self doubt is. I can fall into it so easily. Which might surprise people because I seem very confident on the surface. But the surface never reveals the depth, does it? It reflects back what is on the outside.

Today, Lord, I am grateful. I am grateful for my director, with whom I have been meeting for 4 years now. (wow!) I am grateful for this beautiful day. I am grateful that yesterday went so well. And I am grateful to not have to be an expert at any of this stuff.

Alleluia.

One other thought: I have been especially grateful at the people God has brought into my life. My Catholic friends may shudder at this, but I am convinced that if God had wanted me to be a Catholic, he would have sent me a Catholic priest instead of an Anglican one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's a pity

My spiritual director is coming for lunch tomorrow and all I can say is 'Thank God'. This week I have been tormented by self doubt and self pity.

In church on Sunday, the guy that sits behind us leaned over during the 'Peace' and commented that the kids were dressed pretty casually for church. At least I think that is what he said. I honestly couldn't really hear him. But oh did I take that and make a nice big club to beat myself with. I am a crappy mom. My kids are ragamuffins. They don't have decent clothes because I am too lazy or distracted to sort their laundry. I am too frazzled on a Sunday morning to notice the rips in Noah's pants until we are halfway to church and by then it is too late to turn around for him to change.

And I suck at drumming.

And my husband's business is falling apart and he is afraid to tell me what is going on because I am the.worst.wife.ever.

By the time the priests started blessing the sacraments, I was sobbing. The kids didn't know what had happened.

"Are you ok, Mom?" Noah asked

I tried to pull myself together.

Church is as good a place as any to fall apart. Maybe better than most, in fact, since it is not completely unheard of to weep in the pews for no apparent reason. But I couldn't help feeling that in the middle of my pity party, there was some sin at the bottom of it. Desolation is a construct of my ego and will. It is me being angry about the circumstances in my life and not taking responsibility for the things I have control over and letting God handle the rest. It is me acting like a victim. I said the confession with extra energy on Sunday. First the pity party: Sorry, God, that I am a crappy mother and a bad laundress and an insensitive wife and a shitty drummer. But then the real confession: I am sorry for feeling sorry for myself.

Now where is that laundry basket?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Painting swap

My mother's friend Michelle moved out of state to be with her new boyfriend. She is in her 60's and had lots of stuff. Too much. So she was trying to winnow it down to a manageable amount. She asked my mom if I would be interested in her dining room table.

Sure, I said. I'll take a look at it.

But we were out of town the weekend she moved, so her upstairs neighbor was in charge of letting people into the apartment to get the stuff she'd promised to others. We almost forgot all about it until one night after dinner Nguyen said

Let's go look at the table.

Ok.

We got in the truck, with the kids and headed to Providence.

The table is great. A very old funky maple top with oak legs. It had leaves at one point, but now makes due with a couple pieces of plywood. In it's closed state it is a big square.

The apartment was completely vacant by now, except for a painting leaning against the wall. It's back was facing out, so all we could see was the wooden frame and the back of the canvas. But somehow it looked familiar to me. I walked over and pulled it back from the wall. It was one of my grandmother's paintings. I caught my breath.

My grandmother was a magnificent painter. She went to art school in London in the 30's and had the beginnings of a promising career when she gave it up to have a family. Later, when the children were grown, she began to paint again. She taught art history at the Walnut Hill School in Massachusetts. Her technique was unique in that she never used brushes, instead pressing the paint against the canvas with a palette knife. I always said that a blind person would love her paintings because they could feel the images in the dried oil paint.

I am taking this, I said the neighbor. I can't leave it in an empty apartment.

Oh, she replied. It has been promised to someone. You can't take it.

I am sorry, I said. My grandmother painted this and I can't leave it here. Have the person it was promised to call me. I'll make sure they get it.

The neighbor looked slightly panicked when she realized that I was going to take the painting. I wasn't leaving it. I felt bad, but I wasn't leaving it.

Who is it going to? I asked.

Someone name Pat.

Oh. That's my mom. I'll get it to her.

But even in the empty apartment, I knew I didn't want to give it up. I had never seen it before and I was completely enthralled. It is a long, rectangular painting of a forest floor, with a trillium in the center. I was struck by the fact that the flower wasn't painted in... it's image was created by leaving blank white on the canvas and painting around it. It reminded me of the Japanese style of art, where the empty space is the image.

I brought it home and put it on the wall over the mantle. It looked as though my entire house was designed around it- the colors, the textures and tones. It was like finding an unexpected treasure somewhere. Something so precious, yet so surprising.

When I told my mother about it, she wanted it. She said I had to give it to her. I started to cry. This was my gift from Granny, whom I miss terribly. Ok. I said. You can have it. But let me hang it on my wall for just a little while.

The next day, my mother called me and said I could keep it. She had talked to Michelle and they agreed that I should have it.

I have another painting of Granny's in my guest room that is a favorite of mine, but never really looked like it belonged in my house. How about if I bring it over, I said.

It is stunning on my mother's wall, an explosion of teal and purple and apricot, a copse of trees on a rock in Georgian Bay in a storm. The exact right painting for her.

The exact right one for me.

I miss you Gran. Thanks for the painting.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Prayer

My husband and I have been having some problems with our business over the last year and yesterday some of that stuff came to a head.

So today I talked to my priest, and can I just tell you? I can't imagine what it is like to live life without a community of faith. No, he didn't have any real answers for me. He asked a couple of questions and made a few comments and suggestions, but mostly he listened. And at the end of the call, he offered to pray for us. Which brings me to tears to even think of it. Because there is something so powerful knowing that you are being prayed for. That in the intimacy of someone's relationship with God, in the power of the moment of their connection with everything that is power, you are there.

I pray for my priests, every day, too. I pray for my parish priests and my spiritual director. And my church. It is powerful, offering the people and the community you love to God.

I admit my prayer life has been somewhat half assed in the time I have been a Christian. For some months, I am more or less steady with some kind of daily check in. But whole months have gone by where I was spotty at best. I'd hang my head when my director asked about it, embarrassed to admit that I was inconsistent with it. Because why wouldn't I want to sit with God every day? Why wouldn't I want to listen, pray, speak to him? I don't know. What else matters?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big Bang

I decided to create a blog for my drumming stuff. I call it the Big Bang, which tickles me since it is an offshoot of the Big Dunk.

The Bang will be more technical stuff about drumming. I hope that other drummers will want to comment or even post. I hope to include stuff about the local drumming scene in RI.

Come visit if you are interested!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Obsessed


My mother says I come by my drumming obsession honestly. Everyone in our family gets obsessed with what they are interested in. She with theater, poetry and writing fiction. My brother with computers, then digital photography. My father with skulls and boats and growing artichokes in Newfoundland. It must be in our blood.

I watch djembe videos on youtube. Some are wonderful. There is a guy from San Fransisco who moved to Bamako, Mali, married a Malian woman and spends all his time documenting Malian drummers on video and posting it on the internet. He sells drums and cds, arranges for radio interviews for his teachers and hosts visiting students from the United States and elsewhere.

I was worried that, being a woman, I wouldn't be able to study in Africa. But then I found out about a group of women from Guinea who travel the world playing djembe. They call themselves the Amazones and they are all magnificent. I love that they are large women... not tiny skinny like most of the male djembe players. I dream of going to West Africa some day and taking classes.

Last night in class we had a big group. 8 of us were playing together. We even had a djun djun player! At one point my teacher had us all playing different parts of the song. All of us playing different rhythms, layered on top of one another. By now I am pretty steady and can hold a beat. I realized that my friend Lucia and I were holding the whole thing together because all the others were new. We were the most experienced in the class, and were the only women.

I want to go see Amazones live.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Crack

Is it just a symptom of getting old, do you think? Or maybe it is because I carry around heavy kitchen tools all the time. Or sling a mahogany Djembe in a bag over my shoulder.

In any case, I woke up with the same crick in my neck that has been there for weeks. Couldn't turn my head to the side. Called and asked my chiropractor if he could fit me in. He could. So I wrapped up a big batch of cranberry almond bark and brought it as a thank you for squeezing me in.

Why I love my chiropractor: He manually adjusts my neck, which means he holds my head and cracks the bones with his bare hands. Then I get manhandled in all kinds of crazy ways while he cracks the bones in my shoulders and upper back.

I found out today that he no longer accepts my insurance, which means I have to find a new bone cracker. Darn.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Can this be Paradise?

Church was way busy this morning: Lectio Divina at 9, wrangling the talent for a stewardship testimonial during announcements, various trips to the bathroom with boy A or boy B. All craziness designed to pull me, kicking and screaming, from the feet of the Beloved, which is where I'd rather be on any given Sunday thank you very much.

But then, as I walked back out to the pew after bathroom break #2, during the latter half of Communion, there was a shift in the music. The choir started a 10th century monastic chant. Gentle. Quiet. Solemn. Beautiful.

I got back to my pew and dropped to my knees and spent the whole piece with my head bowed.

Oh thank you, Lord.

Afterwards I told the choir director that it was my favorite piece of the service.

"Really?!" He said. "Me too.!"

Friday, October 12, 2007

drum nut

Last night I told Nguyen that I had a rhythm beating in my head all day. It's a little like an 'ear worm'. You know, when a song keeps repeating itself in your brain?

This rhythm is one that I have been having trouble playing in class. Each piece of music that we play has 5 or 6 different rhythms. We play each rhythm for awhile and then our teacher, Sidy, plays a transition for us an we are supposed to jump right in with the next one. For some reason, I have a hard time transitioning to the second rhythm in the sequence...

So that rhythm has been banging around in my head for the last couple of days. Here's the funny part: In my head, I am hearing my teacher playing it... not me. My drum has a low, dull voice. His is higher pitched and sharp. Plus, he differentiates very clearly between a slap sound and what is called a tone sound. In my own playing, you can't really hear a difference yet.

So, in my head, all day long, the sound of my teacher playing the second rhythm of Sidiyasa.

One famous drumming teacher (I can't remember who) said that if you can sing a rhythm, you can play it. I wonder if hearing it in an endless loop will help me play it better? I'll tell you next week, LOL.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Camping as spiritual practice


A year ago I knew I was in trouble when, while camping on the Cape during Columbus day weekend, I spent much too much time being cranky and not nearly enough time enjoying the beautiful weather and wonderful setting. I talked about it with my Spiritual Director afterwards. I confessed to it in the confessional box. I apologized to my husband for being a shrew.

I don't know why camping can bring out the worst in me. I so easily veer into control freakishness and impatience. It seems to do this to Nguyen, too. He has a strange alter ego who emerges when we are in the woods. Macho, controlling. Between us it is the clash of the titans.

This weekend was different. We were on our shakedown trip with our new to us pop up camper. We have never had a pop up (pup) before, so there was plenty of opportunity for disputing how things work and what is the best way to set things up and how to pack most efficiently and where things should go in the campground and should we unroll the awning and does it look like rain and no, I don't care for beans, thank you. I even had my period, which is an automatic notch up on the cranky potential factor. And we had our nephew with us, which added to the boy energy, which can, admittedly, leave me needing solitude.

But something has shifted in the year since our last Columbus day weekend. First, the confessions. I think it served to bring home the fact that churlishness is, indeed, a sin. It certainly leaves me ungrateful, which is, in itself, sinful. But it also ruins everyone else's time.

Second, I am working on letting go of control. It is a lifelong habit that has been turned upside down as a Christian. Giving it over to God is the ultimate surrender of personal control... and I think, little by little, it is sinking in.

Finally, I realized that we only had one shot at making this weekend a joy. We can not go back and fix it if we ruin it with bad attitudes. We cannot take back what is spoken, or unspoken, in anger.

The weekend was mixed... wonderful, hot, cold, rainy, good food, bad overpriced food. Exhausting and relaxing. Quiet and noisy. But I think I maintained a pretty even keel throughout. My nephew and kids had a blast.

The pup made it through with only minor damage and wet mattresses from having to fold it up in the pouring rain.

We made it through with mostly good humor and some wonderful memories.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Decompression

I am finding it hard to be motivated to do much of anything this month. I don't feel like cleaning my house. I don't feel like working at my kitchen tools job. I go through the motions around chores. All I want to do lately is read my bible, take naps, and play my djembe, surf the net for new and interesting campgrounds on the Cape, maybe study Vietnamese for our trip.

Maybe it is because the activity level for a stay at home mom with two-little-boys-who- refuse-to-go-to-summer camp is high over the summer. For three months there is very little time to myself. There's lots of relaxation, but it is always syncopated with the kids activities.

So, lately, I am in what my friend Emily refers to as 'receive' mode. I just don't really want to DO much of anything. I just want to BE.

I got a bruise on my palm while playing my djembe last night.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Listen

The other night
At my drumming lesson
My teacher listened to me

He bowed his head
With his drum in his hands
Eyes closed
And after several minutes
Began to play and I knew that he was singing back to me
With his drum.

(I'll never forget it)

And then yesterday
At the lunch that should have been
Fish
My spiritual teacher listened
And when he spoke I had tears in my eyes because even now it moves me
To be listened to

So closely.

Please God,

Let me learn to listen as well as these teachers do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happy Happy Africa

My brother Jake came home from Botswana and Namibia yesterday, thinner, tired, and happy. It sounds like it was a wonderful trip! After dinner last night I went over to his house and saw some of the photos. Amazing. Elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocs, giraffes, zebras, baboons and tons of wild colored birds.

I am glad he is home safe. When he has some photos on his gallery site, I'll post the link.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Better get my earplugs


I have arranged for my drumming teacher to go to my kids' school and teach all the students about Mali and drumming. He is going to rent 60 djembes and have the kids come in in huge groups to learn a little about the culture and try out some rhythms. Isn't that great? I told him I will volunteer to help out and bring my two drums to share.

I can't wait to hear what 60 kids on djembes sound like. Wow!

The principal of the school is thrilled because it is the week after the big testing and she is sure the kids will LOVE to blow off some steam.

Fear of Paperwork

Is there an official phobia for that? Fear of filling out forms. Fear of bureaucracy? Fear of spelling bureaucracy wrong?

I sat at my computer with social security cards and old passports and birth certificates and had to print the same form over and over because I made mistakes and God forbid to mess this up because it is the State Department and if you mess up your passport applications, you are so screwed.

But I think I am done.

Tomorrow we go to the post office to get our photos taken and submit the apps and hope that we never end up on the wall with those OTHER photos.

Whew.

Next: Airline tickets and visas from the Vietnamese consulate. Then lots of shots for diseases that should have been eradicated a century ago. (Can you imagine cholera for crying out loud? My friend Michael actually caught it when he was in Thailand a few years ago. And rabies, but that's a whole other story.)

I found a gorgeous little Inn about a block from the beach in Nha Trang. It is called the Perfume Grass Inn. At $17 a night US it is a bargain, too. And I can't wait to try the mud baths. And grilled lobsters for $3. And hanging out with my in laws. And visiting my husband's home town.

Wonderful.

Even with the paperwork.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

6 years later

and I still cannot talk about it without weeping.

Is it rhythm?

I seem to like rhythm, in my life, in my religion, in my week and in my drum. I like the cycles of the church year. I like the predictable nature of my week, with Sunday at church, Monday drum class, Tuesday bible study, Wednesday noon mass (this is a new addition I am trying to do regularly.) The structure creates space in which I can be

creative

or productive

or lazy.

Drumming class was just me again last night. The first time I was alone with Sidy, I was scared to death of messing up because I knew I couldn't hide behind someone else's drumming. Which meant, of course, that I got nervous and messed up a lot.

Last night was different. Something shifted. How this works is that I am playing the recurring rhythms while he solos. It is part of the learning process to get stable enough in the rhythm to allow a soloist to work off of you. Last time, I was too tentative... quiet, unsteady. I didn't feel like I was able to hold up my end of the conversation, so to speak.

But last night, I played powerfully. I recovered faster when I screwed up. I played loud enough and fast enough that Sidy could play inside and around my rhythm.

At some point, people came in to the bar through the back door. My teacher is a performer. When there is an audience, you can sense that he kicks it up. I was able to keep the rhythm going. I created the structure that gave him the space to break loose. I think we sounded good.

I had a big blister on my palm last night. When I got home, I excitedly showed Nguyen. Look, I said. I got this from playing.

My shoulders hurt today. I couldn't be more thrilled.

Monday, September 10, 2007

PS: Happy Birthday to me.

Not my actual birthday, but the anniversary of my baptism.

4 years ago today, I was 'whacked over the head by the Holy two by four'* of Christ and life hasn't been the same since.

Halleluja.

Thanks be to God.

*thanks to P.D. for that great expression, LOL.

Vietnam


Big doings around here...

About a week ago, after getting back from our camping trip, my husband received a letter from his father saying that his health is deteriorating and that he doesn't feel well. He has had several strokes over the last few years, so we were immediately concerned.

We have thought about traveling to Vietnam a lot since Nguyen's trip back a couple of years ago, but time and money (and the hassle factor, I think) have prevented us from moving forward. But you know what? We have to go now. We want Nguyen's dad to see the kids in his own town before he passes on. We want the kids to see their dad's homeland. Heck, I want to see his homeland. So we put the little trailer on the market and sold it within 2 days. It is going to finance our trip.

In February, we are traveling to Nha Trang for a couple of weeks. Maybe three. But at least two.

I am intimidated by the 23 hour plane ride and the 8 hour drive from Saigon to Nha Trang. I am a little worried that I am not usually at my best in humidity. And I am pretty sure I am going to miss western food at least a little. But I am also incredibly excited, even as the list of things to do gets big before we even start. (Visas, passports, inoculations for terrifying diseases.)

It feels, though, like this is some kind of major shift in our lives. I think it is going to be huge.

Off we go.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Breakfast of champions


It's not cheap, ($1.75 per container) but if you can find Fage Greek yogurt in your area, grab it. It is, without a doubt, the best yogurt I have ever had.

So, breakfast:

1/2 an apple cut into chunks
7 oz. container of Fage 2% plain yogurt

Mix.

Eat with a big tablespoon.

Then lick the bowl.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Thank God for hot water


After a weekend of camping in a place with no hot water, no bathrooms (think porta johns) and no showers, I was READY to come home.

Not that we didn't have fun. The campground is great, with a little pond stocked with fish, miles of hiking trails, great sites with fire pits and picnic tables and friendly neighbors. And the weather was spectacular as only an early September weekend can be. The sky was brilliant blue and virtually cloudless. The temperature was in the 70s during the day and down to the 50s at night.

We have a very cute camper called a Casita. It is made of molded fiberglass, which means it is pretty lightweight and doesn't leak. (No seams!) It has many of the creature comforts that make camping more fun. A comfortable bed with down pillows we inherited from my grandmother. A little refrigerator and a propane stove. A sink with cold water. It's a cozy place to hang out. (Pictured above, in our driveway.)

My favorite part of camping this time was cooking in the dutch oven. I am learning as I go along with this. This time I made two dishes. The first night was a dump cake. This is a concoction that was invented by the boy scouts. It involves cake mix and canned fruit and is surprisingly easy and delicious, except I left it in the fire too long and it ended up a charred mess.

The next effort was MUCH more successful. I made chili with cornbread. First, I fried up the onions in oil, then added a couple of pounds of ground beef. Once that was cooked, I added the chili spices, a can of tomatoes, some tomato sauce and a can of drained black beans. I put that in the fire and checked it regularly for about 20 minutes. When it was done, I mixed up some cornbread batter and dropped it on top of the chili. Put the giant cast iron lid on and covered it with a few embers from the fire. About 10 minutes later I brushed the embers off and opened the lid. Like magic, the cornbread had baked on top of the chili. It was absolutely delicious.

We saw lots of animals this time. The chipmunks, of course, with their little holes at the base of every tree. Each morning I was awakened by the red squirrels fussing in the trees. We saw a garter snake and dozens of kinds of dragon flies. The kids went frog hunting in a swamp and sank up to their knees in the mire while in hot pursuit. We kicked open a rotten log and found a couple of salamanders. We saw hawks and sand pipers and all manner of creatures, great and small.

I managed not to get too cranky when the campsite was left a mess by all three of the menfolk.
The kids, for the first time, were given free rein in the campground, tooling around on their bikes, or walking down to the beach on their own.

It was a wonderful way to top off a great summer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

File under: What were they thinking?


An African style drum with a yin yang symbol on the head and a Celtic knot carved into the base. Made in Bali.

Huh?

The only crazier thing I have seen was a wall hanging comprised of 7 dream catchers in the colors of the chakras, made in China.

Yeah.

You know you want one.

Nice Matters



I am excited to announce that I was nominated for the 'Nice Matters' blog award by Episcopollyanna. I am really excited about this!

The fact is, I consciously decided at the outset that I was NOT going for edgy snarky funny. At the risk of major dorkiness, I chose, instead, to let this blog be a snark-free zone because it seemed to me that there was already enough sarcasm floating around on the internet. Also, this blog is meant to be more of a reflection of who I aspire to be, rather than who I have been. Those of you who have known me for awhile know that I can dredge up the edgy snarky funny (ESF) at a moment's notice. In fact, it strikes me that I have often used ESF humor in the past to cover up when I am feeling vulnerable. Which, as a new Christian, has become a state of being for me. Because what can be MORE vulnerable than having your life and everything you thought you knew suddenly turn upside down? Because engagement with God requires being on the real edge, not the ESF edge.

The danger, of course, is that I can come across as prim. Or worse, boring. Or breathlessly earnest. Or whatever. But one of the great joys of this journey is that we get to stretch beyond our wildest dreams. We get to realize that who we were does not dictate who we are or who we will be. We can turn the whole thing over to God and let him do his work on us, change us, sanctify us, heal us.

I always dreamed of being a nice person.

Having a nice blog is a good start.

Thanks, Episcopollyanna.

Thanks.




Now, for my own nominations:

Monastic Mumblings
Terrapin Station
Along the Way
Swandive
The Owl's Song
Widening Circles
You duped me, Lord
The Urban Mermaid...

And just about everyone else on my blogroll, LOL.

Check 'em out.

I love you all!

Today is the day

The kids started school this morning. They were probably the only kids in line with their old sneakers on, and I immediately felt like a bad mom. Next year I bite the bullet and get them shiny new shoes for their first day of school.

It is 9:48 and I have hours before the bell rings again. I made a leisurely breakfast. (An omlett, if you must know, with cheese and left over mexican style pulled pork and some Frank's Red Hot for good measure. And coffee.)

The house is a wreck. There is clutter and blobs of rabbit fur and now big clumps of dog hair because we are keeping my brother's 15 year old golden/Shepard mix while he is in Africa. So vacuuming is one of the first orders of business.

Then, grocery shopping alone.

Then, a nap.

Or lunch.

Or lunch and a nap.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

August and everything after

I facilitated a retreat for the healing ministry team from Grace yesterday. I felt led by the Holy Spirit, and it felt so safe. At some point I realized that if I tried to do it all myself, I would mess it up, so I went to the bathroom and got on my knees and invited God to take over. Pinch hit, if you will.

Well, God came through, in spades. The day flowed. We worshiped and praised God together. We prayed for healing for each other. We broke bread and drank wine and celebrated the joy that God has given us. It was a remarkable day.

The presence of the Holy Spirit always leaves me feeling slightly exhausted and vulnerable afterwards, though. Is it that way for you?

Last night, my brother came by for dinner, before getting on a plane to Namibia today. And I found out my dear great aunt Ally died this week.

We dropped my brother off at the airport this morning. He even allowed me to hold his hands and pray for him before he got on the plane. Right in front of all the passersby. He was probably mortified. But he is learning to indulge me in these things, and is maybe even a little grateful that I seem to have enough faith for both of us.

In church, today, I was a bit of a mess, weeping and praying. So much joy and loss and concern all rolled into one long weekend. After the service I snuck back to the robing room and cornered Fr. Rich and asked him to pray over me.

Then I went home and slept for hours.

Beloved God,

I praise you, the almighty, great Lover of our souls.

I pray for my aunt Ally, may she rest in your eternal peace.

I give you my brother. Let him be a light in the lives of those he encounters in his travels. Keep him safe. Let him return to us healthy and safe.

And Lord, if you would have me be a healer, give me the strength and courage to do as you will.

I ask all this in Jesus' name.

Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Countdown

We have actually had a nice summer, the boys and I. We have had a few adventures. We have made art and music together. We saw wild turkey moms herding a big collective brood of chicks. A painted turtle with a leech on it's shell. An American Bluebird.

We made rubber stamps and printed notecards from them. We went on a couple of aborted attempts at fossil hunting.

Since the boys are getting old enough that they don't need my constant attention, I have even managed to read a couple of novels. One about a Caribbean woman living in Cape Town, South Africa, (dreary) and another, which I haven't finished yet, about the crazy abundance of summer in the Appalachian mountains. (Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. LOVING it!)

I have been alternately working a lot and resenting working a lot. We haven't been camping yet. I think we will try for Labor Day, dry camping at our favorite primitive site.

End of summer can be a time of pressure. Back to school hype enticing us to go spend a fortune on clothes. WHY is this such a production? I informed the kids, in no uncertain terms, that they can go back on their first day of school wearing the sneakers they wore on the last day in June. They still fit. I'll get them new ones after the parental panic has died down. I did buy them some new pants and tee shirts, socks and underwear. And snacks for their lunches, which I forgot about last year.

Oh, and the dreaded lunch boxes. Maybe I'll make do with brown paper bags until the madness is over.

Emmett turns 7 on Tuesday. He is so used to hanging out with his big brothers friends he hasn't invited any of his own to the party. I might make him invite just one or two of his peers.

Two days later the boys go back to full time school and I go back to having 6 hours a day to myself. To grocery shop in solitude. To work uninterrupted. To run errands without packing up the kids and corralling them along. To read and play drums and walk and have lunch with friends who I haven't seen in months. To having a house that stays tidy for more than 8 seconds.

I am going to miss my kids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I fell asleep last night

with rhythms in my head.

Today I am going to buy my kids drums so we can play together.

Gone a visiting

My friend Amy is in seminary and for a month, this summer, has been filling in as pastor at her church while the minister is on vacation.

I wanted to go see her preach, so on Sunday, instead of turning towards Providence, I made a beeline across Rt. 37 and drove up Reservoir Ave to a UCC church.

I pulled behind the church and was immediately struck by fact that the brick wall of the church forms a subtle v-shape in the center. Even from outside, I knew that was where the cross must hang inside. I loved the sense that the cross was 'busting loose' through the stonework of the building. It felt powerful, to me. So often in church's of that vintage (1970's, maybe?) the architects were so busy interpreting their designs to be 'modern' they often failed to communicate any real religious meaning. But this worked.

Amy preached from bullet points, drawing us in with her conversational style. Challenging us to remember that our own stories of conversion, whatever they might be, are heroes stories. The hero being Jesus and we being the sidekick. This struck a cord for me. I am often shy about sharing my story.

The liturgy reminded me of my old UU church. There was a meditation piece. The sharing of joys and concerns. Announcements at the beginning of the service rather than in the middle, as we do in the Episcopal church. I found myself missing communion, of course. I had prepared ahead of time by going to church on Wednesday at noon, but still, I have grown so used to the Eucharist as the central element of worship it seems that a service without it is missing something, LOL. I told Amy I am a liturgy hound and I think it is true.

It was wonderful seeing my friend in the pulpit. You could tell that the congregation loves her, and she them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Suddenly

They are big now.

Noah, who is going into 5th grade, has been riding his bike to his friend's house this summer. And Emmett, who is turning 7 this month, has been tagging along.

As I watch them ride down the street on their bikes, I feel a little wistful, knowing that this is going way too fast. So fast.

And here I am, with a quiet moment in the middle of summer. What luxury!

Drum, books, phone, beckon.

Nap?

Prayer!?

All of the above.

I have goat skin envy

My drum teacher has a big collection of djembes from his country, Mali. They weigh a ton. On Monday I helped him carry a couple of them from his car. They are made out of an African hardwood that probably has no name in English. And the skins are spotted like the goats they came from. And though they have been shaved on the part you play, the hair is left on the rims. And they stink. At least one of the ones I was carrying did. It smelled just like, well, a goat. Which made me laugh because I grew up with goats and love the earthy, musty, dung-ish goat smell. Much stronger than a sheep. Or cow. Or horse.

My djembe has a goat skin, too, but it is antiseptically clean and processed so it can sit in a music store and not stink up the joint. Of course, my brother's dog recognizes it for what it is and still licks it if she gets a chance. (She seems to think it is a fancy rawhide.)

My teacher, Sidy, sells his drums. I have decided that if I take lessons for a whole year, I will buy one to celebrate. I will test them out. Examine the wood to make sure it's not cracked. Look for bug bites in the hide. Pick one up to see if I can carry it. Test the bass and the tone and the slap. And then pick out the stinkiest one I can find.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The desk


I needed to organize my office. It was a hellish pit. I had papers and junk stacked in teetering piles on an old metal desk with flaking paint and a scratched up melamine top I had painted sage green. Now the fake wood grain was peeking through where the paint had worn off.

Too much shoe-horned into a tiny, 1927 sleeping porch. A bookshelf. A huge metal file cabinet. A bunch of miscellaneous boxes of paperwork and kitchen tools that haven't been picked up yet. A 1960s Wurlitzer piano and the aforementioned L-shaped office desk.

The fact is, my work suffered because of this chaos. I was embarrassed for people to see my office, and since it is attached to the living room with a set of french doors, it is impossible to hide.

I tore off the 'L' of the L-shaped desk. I threw away garbage bags full of old magazines and outdated mail and paid bills and junk mail. I cleared the printer off the desk got all the supplies and paperwork put away onto the bookshelf. I cleaned and sorted and tossed.

And then I went hunting for a desk.

I knew I wanted wood. But was astonished at the prices. A decent one started at about $400 and went up from there. So, maybe a resale shop? I checked around. And then checked some more. The little place up the street from me had a desk, but it was too big.

So, last week, I went to the salvation army. No desk, but an awesome desk lamp from the age of stream line. Probably from the 40s or 50s. $5. I brought it home.

Then, a week later, I stopped in my local resale shop and poked around. Listen, I said to the owner. I am looking for a wooden double pedestal desk. If you find one, please let me know. I handed him my card.

He wasn't sure what I was talking about, however, so I drew a little sketch on the card and headed home.

1 hour later he called to tell me that he had a desk for me to check out. What's it made of, I asked, hoping it wasn't melamine. Walnut, he said. I started to get excited.

And sure enough. It fit exactly. It belonged to a physician who had his office in his house. It is built like a brick you know what and has 6 drawers and beautiful legs and weighs a ton and will likely get passed on to my kids. And it was $129 plus tax.

The next day I found a walnut bankers chair on craig's list that was made in 1936 and still has it's label on it. It tilts on a cast iron mechanism and makes the most delightful screech.

Then I decided to give away my piano and found a guy who is starting a foundation to give music lessons to poor kids in his neighborhood. Come and get it, I said. He is coming next week.

It's all good.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tightly wound

I am pretty sure that normal people (ie, non full-time moms) have absolutely no idea what a thin edge we who stay home with our kids skate on all the time.

Take today for instance. For a month now, I have known that I was having lunch with my spiritual director. He knows that summer is more of a challenge because the kids are out of school. For the last two months I have managed to find a sitter for the kids and have met him at restaurants for our monthly lunch. It is far from ideal.... even if the food is good. It is hard to stay focused on pouring out one's soul when the waiter keeps stopping by to refill the water glasses.

So for the last couple of weeks I have been working on getting a baby sitter and finally scored one who will let the kids go to her house for a couple of hours.

Bliss, right? Homemade lunch. No waiters. My famous salad.

Except not.

When I called to check if I could drop the kids off a little earlier than we planned, said babysitter confessed that she has a track and field meeting and can't sit for them. Oh. I said. Next time it would be helpful if she gave me more than an hour's notice. She apologized profusely.

Quick call to Nguyen. Can he take the kids out for lunch?

Nope.

I hung up and started crying.

Because it just sucks, sometimes, that a 14 year old has so much power over my life.

And then I stopped because I realize that it really isn't that big a deal.

Fr. P won't mind. The kids will be fine. I'll be fine.

But dang.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Speaking of Africa


My brother is heading to southern Africa for a photography trip in a couple of weeks. He is going to Namibia and Botswana to shoot the wildlife around the Okavongo delta during the dry season. This is his first big expedition and he is, frankly, getting a little nervous.

I will be asking for your prayers, guys. He's my only, dearly loved, brother.

Strange how all this Africa stuff seems to be going on lately.

Not quite djembefola

Even though I am a long way from mastering the African drum, I am definitely making progress. Each new rhythm is coming more easily. I am able to 'find' the rhythms and sometimes even remember them between classes.

My teacher, Sidy, goes off into another world when he plays. He closes his eyes and tilts his head back as though waiting for inspiration. Every now and then he looks at us. I always have this stupid grin on my face because I am transported by the music he is making. But I can't focus on what he is doing too much because I will easily lose my own rhythm and have to stop playing for a second while I get my bearings. Learning to play a steady rhythm while someone else is soloing is a very difficult thing!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A South African Priest visited

Grace church today. He is in town for the summer, staying with his daughter and son in law, who now live in Providence.

He gave a talk before the service. Robby is a white South African who was a civil servant of the apartheid system for decades before something happened that caused him to realize that apartheid was wrong. He simultaneously heard the call to the priesthood and left his job to enter seminary. I asked him how the shift in consciousness happened. It seemed to us outsiders that it was incredibly sudden and shockingly peaceful. No one, I said, who was watching from afar believed it could happen without violence.

"It was prayer," he replied. "It is my only explanation. It was a miracle. We were praying and the world was praying too."

I am not sure why I cannot talk about South Africa without weeping. Perhaps it is because I really do believe that it was a miracle. One that we all witnessed in our lifetimes. A miracle that none of us expected.

When I was 18 years old, I spent the summer in New York City working at an ice cream shop on Christopher Street. One of my coworkers was a Dutch South African named Adolph. He was, without a doubt, the most racist person I ever met.

His explanation for the necessity of apartheid was that the blacks were just too damned stupid to run the country. It would be a complete disaster to give the government over to them, he said. He would imitate how they talked. He would laugh at the idea of his house servants having a vote. I was young, which meant I had no restraint whatsoever, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was a racist pig. I left the job and never heard of Adolph again. But I never forgot him, especially when, 6 years later, the townships started rioting and we caught whiffs of the black on black violence going on. It's insurmountable, I thought. It is impossible. With people like Adolph at the helm, it can't possibly change without devastating violence.

But then, a couple of years later, the shift began to happen. Mandela was released. Elections were scheduled and the world watched in tense wonder as thousands upon thousands of black South Africans lined up to vote for the first time in their lives. The world held it's breath for the violence that really never came.

And then, we watched as the Truth and Reconciliation commission began to lift the lid on the pain and darkness that was hiding beneath the surface. Horror stories. Petty bureaucrats and their petty abuses. The slow unraveling of the system that knitted the whole country into a dysfunctional mantle of anger and fear. The confessions. The absolution.

I remember hearing Archbishop Tutu on the radio, once. I listened as he described the process that was helping to heal his broken nation. This, I thought, is a Holy man. This is a man who is teaching others to put Christ's forgiveness in action. This was long before my own conversion. But even then, as confused as I was, I recognized a miracle when I saw one.

There is still much damage in South Africa. The priest today said that there is something of a vacuum left at the end of apartheid, because it permeated every element of the society and government. So yes, there is terrible economic disparity, health crisis, social problems, and all the rest. We must continue to pray for healing for South Africa.

We must continue to pray, but we have much to be grateful for. And awed by.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The word of the Lord

Yesterday afternoon was hot and muggy, so I took the kids to the little pond where I was baptized.

This place always feels holy to me now. Even with the screaming kids and the lifeguards and the baking moms and dads. Even with the rough-housing teenagers who wish they were at the ocean. Even on a steamy day when the water on the surface of the pond is as warm as a tub, and dark as smoked tea.

My dunk took place on a September morning, when there were no kids or moms or teens. Just a couple of fisherman on the opposite bank, catching a different sort of fish. It was cool and clear. The water and insects and wet white of my ministers robes conspired with the holy spirit to infuse, not just me, but the whole world, with God's grace and love.

It is a spring fed pond, made dark by the tannic acid of the surrounding pines. It smells delicious, woodsy and secret, even in broad daylight at the height of summer.

The surface water is way over 80 degrees, but just below, near our feet, the springs gush forth cold water from deep within the earth, reminding me that it's heart is not the stagnant water lily studded surface. But deeper, hidden, pure.

And then there are the geese. A whole flock of Canada geese that patrol the beach and cruise the surface of the pond, gliding here and there, ignoring the ropes and buoys designed to hold the wayward swimmers in.

They mutter to themselves, almost always travel together, litter the beach with their droppings, much to the chagrin of the lifeguards, whose duty it is to clean up after.

As I sat in the shade of the tall pines and read my book, a lone goose approached. He looked right at me and mumbled.

"Do you have a word for me?" I asked.

He honked gently in reply. A deep rumble. Lower by half an octave than his friend's voices.

"Yes," I said.

"It is a holy place, isn't it?"

He murmured his assent and then walked off, launching himself into the water and gliding away.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

My letter to the editor of the Providence Journal earlier this week:

This is a buried treasure I would rather not find.

Last night, my husband and I took the kids to beautiful City Park in Warwick. We were down on the beach watching the sunset when a woman and her two white dogs walked by. Almost simultaneously, the two dogs squatted and defecated on the sand. The woman kept walking.

I was floored.

"You should clean that up." I called to her.

"Oh Really?" she replied, and kept walking.

This on a beach that kids, toddlers and babies play on all day long.

There was once a time when dog lovers could walk their dogs all over the place, but one by one, parks and beaches and recreation areas are closing to them. When I spoke to the Parks and Recreation Department of Warwick today, the gentleman said they will install a sign prohibiting dogs from the beach at City Park.

It's a shame, really, that irresponsible and rude dog owners ruin it for everyone else.


NOTE:

I have been working on getting over my anger all week. The letter helped. Calling the parks department helped. But maybe those are just vindictiveness.

Lord, give me the grace to let go of this anger without lashing out at the woman with the dogs.

Bang Bang

My friends and I played our djembes in front of Grace Church before the service today. Cars slowed as they passed. Passers by smiled. Some crossed to the other side of the street to avoid us. Maybe they thought we were buskers.

Someone opened a window on the second floor of the hotel next door. He yelled to us, but we couldn't hear him over the syncopation of our hands slapping the goatskins. We smiled up at him and wondered if we woke him up.

Get out of bed and go to church, we joked.

Ours was a loud call to worship.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Present

I only missed church for one week, yet felt, yesterday, as if it had been months since I took communion. The kids were hanging out in the nursery, so I had a rare time of solitude in my pew. I knelt and buried my head in my arms and spent the time before the service began in prayer.

Around me I could hear the bustle of people entering the nave, sitting, chatting quietly, greeting one another. The choir was practicing. But none of it distracted me from the sense that I was sitting in the presence of Jesus.

I had things to confess. Things to tell him. I realized, for example, that the reason I didn't approach the pharisee woman in Chicago was really because of fear. I had to admit that to him. (And will, perhaps, confess it to my priest at my next confession.)

He challenged me. "What if I ask you to leave your church?"

"I will do as you ask."

"What if I ask you to stay?"

"I will do as you say."

I even imagined, for a moment, what I would do if I became pregnant. 42 years old. Would I be afraid? Would I want to have all kinds of prenatal tests to insure the baby was healthy? Would I be willing to have the baby no matter what? In my heart I said, yes, yes, yes, Lord. I would pray for strength and courage.

My friend Pete jokes that he gets hit by the two by four of Christ now and then.

Yesterday I was whacked.

During communion, I wanted to weep with relief.

Two weeks is too long to go without it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rain

I was grateful for the rain today. It meant that I could spend time tidying my office without feeling guilty that I wasn't outside somewhere with the kids.

My schedule is crazy this week, with 5 kitchen tools shows scheduled. I wouldn't normally work that frantically, but since I was out of town, I needed to catch up. And since I am working towards earning a cruise to the Caribbean, I am happy with the extra work. (It's a sales gig, after all. They give us incentives!)

So, rain.

And now, sleep.

Oh, and PS: I was chatting with my dad on the phone today and told him of my adventures in African drumming. I think, this time, I have finally managed to blow his mind. It was so unexpected... so completely out of left field he was almost speechless, LOL. He took a class on Ethnomusicology in college, so he knew a little about the complicated rhythms of west Africa. But I don't think it ever occurred to him try and play them. I explained that this was yet another way of plumbing the depths of my humility.

When he comes for Thanksgiving (Yeah!) I will have to play some songs for him.

Rain makes my drumhead loose.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pharisees

I was at a kitchen tools convention in Chicago for the last few days.

I was rooming with a good friend of mine. G was raised Catholic, but has had many doubts in the last few years. She is struggling with her faith.

So, at lunch one day, we were sitting with a table full of consultants from Ohio. They were a pretty friendly bunch. We chatted a bit, introduced ourselves, compared notes on the conference so far. At one point, I got up to use the restroom. When I came back, G said to me,

"You missed saying grace."

No problem. I bowed my head and said a little prayer of thanks, silently, and started eating my salad.

Throughout the conversation over lunch, the woman next to G became increasing rude and hostile towards us. If we tried to make conversation with her, she was cold and condescending. Finally, we just quit bothering and talked with the woman next to me, instead.

After lunch, G said to me:

"That is why I think Christians are such hypocrites. That girl made a big fuss about saying grace, and then was rude for the rest of the meal."

At which point I was tempted to go find that girl and tell her how much damage her rudeness had just caused. In fact, when I saw her later, in a workshop, I sat and prayed about whether I should approach her. I would have told her that, as a Christian, she needs to be sensitive to the effect she has on others. Being openly rude after you just made a big production about prayer is not going to help bring about the kingdom. And since it happens that my friends faith is already being tested, she just added to her struggle.

I didn't approach her, in the end, because I felt like she wouldn't have been able to hear what I was saying.

But I did take the opportunity to share with G about the fact that all of us, including those of us who profess to be Christians, are flawed people. None of us are perfect. I also shared why confession is such an amazing process. She listened intently as I described it, and was surprised by how loving an act it is, after spending years thinking of it as a kind of intrusion.

In the end, I will try and pray for that woman at the table. And for my friend, who is truly one of the most generous and loving people I know. And for all who do not yet know Jesus.

And I am once again reminded that being a Christian carries huge responsibilities. When we are open about our faith, we must also accept the fact that we are ambassadors for the Kingdom. I pray every day that I can share the light of God with those I encounter. And when I fail, I pray I have the courage to confess it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Holy Halal Cow, Batman....


I suppose this is all over the media, but I have been following the story of Ann Holmes Redding lately.

She is an Episcopal priest from Washington who has recently converted to Islam. She hopes to continue as a priest, stating that she feels there is no conflict between Islam and Christianity.

Here's the story as reported in the Seattle Times.

It turns out, she doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Washington, but somehow, she falls under the Diocese of Rhode Island. So our Bishop has apparently had a discussion with her and has put her on a one year leave in order to discern whether she is, indeed, a Christian. In addition, the Bishop has set up some kind of spiritual direction for Redding.

This is an interesting story for a former UU. In my old church, the idea of being both a Muslim and a Christian would probably barely raise an eyebrow. In fact, being a Christian would have been more suspect!

But I have to wonder at the christology of someone who can claim both Islam and Christianity. One fundamental difference between the two is how you view Jesus. If Redding's christology is such that Jesus was a prophet, or even without sin but still fully human, it makes me wonder what she is doing with that bread and wine every week.

Episcopalians like to think that the wide highway is the better choice. That we can all somehow exist comfortably, even with profoundly divergent theologies. And as parishioners, that may very well be true. But it seems to me that a priest that is basically crossing her fingers behind her back when reciting the creed should not be leading a flock. Truly, if you take Jesus out of the picture, what does that leave us with? It stuns me that she was the head of faith formation for her local diocese.

Jhn 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

I applaud Bishop Wolf for taking action on this issue.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Nothing went as planned

But that certainly didn't stop us from having a wonderful time.

My husband took the kids fishing, which gave my brother and me a rare afternoon alone. We cooked.

The menu was one of off-the-wall excess. Exactly what I complain about in the previous post.

We made beef ribs in homemade barbeque sauce. Two racks of baby back pork ribs. Homemade cole slaw. Homemade baked beans. Cornbread. Corn on the cob.

We mixed and marinated and basted. The beef ribs were braised in a slow oven for a few hours before we threw them on the grill for the final step. The pork ribs were so incredibly lean and tender we ate them rare.

Jake showed up with a couple of iced coffees. We talked about stuff. We joked around. The weather turned to rain just as we were ready to sit and eat this huge feast. The kids and husband pitched up and we laid all the meat on a groaning table, side dishes dotting the table wherever they could fit.

We gave thanks, oh Lord, for the bounty of this table. May it remind us, always, of your abundant love.

And then we ate.

No fireworks. Round bellies and good company.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July


There are lots of things that piss me off about this country. It is easy to take pot shots at it. The culture of excess, the obsession with huge, the bizarre combination of puritanical and prurient.

But when I am tempted to fall into cynicism, I also have to remember the things I love about it.

As a Rhode Islander, one of the greatest gifts we have is the mix of cultures. Being a coastal state, we have immigrants from all corners of the globe. Many were economic immigrants: the Irish, the Italians, the Portuguese. Others are political refugees, most recently the South East Asians from Cambodia, Laos, and my husband's country of Vietnam.

I know the debate is raging in Washington about the recent immigration bill... but for me, one of the truly great things about this country is that it is made up of people from all over the world.

So, on this 4th of July, even as we are mired in an unjust war in the middle east, even as we are collectively consuming way more than our fair share of the Earth's resources, even as we are still driving ridiculously huge gas guzzlers to the grocery store, I give thanks.

(Photo of my husband, kids, nieces, by my brother, Jake Hegnauer)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The laying on of hands



On the first Sunday of the month, if you come to Grace church, you can ask a prayer team to pray with you during the Eucharist. After you take communion, walk to the back of the church and you will be annointed with oil and your hands will be held and you will be listened to. And then the healing team will put our hands on you and each other and say prayers and lift you and the people you love up to the Divine Healer of us all.

Bring your fears, loves, joys, sorrows. Bring your suffering to be shared, and maybe transformed. Bring your experiences, good and bad. Bring your family and friends. Bring yourself, in your frailty and strength.

And as we pray with you and for you, we, too, will be healed.

Amen.