Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Walking, Maps and G.K. Chesterton

It is good to know your purpose and destination but not to the exclusion of enjoying the journey.

The three of us were walking back to my car at 9:30 pm. We were leaving the city lights and heading towards the quiet lakefront, when I spotted Lake Michigan ahead in the bright moonlight. It called to me, so we went and watched the terrible and beautiful scene of a full moon over frozen Lake Michigan.

We walked over to the bluff-like, grassy overlook and stood on the edge of the protruding land. At our feet, it dropped off a good 20 feet to the shore and its ragged edge zigzagged dramatically to our left and right as far as we could see. Most stunning of all was the full moon, beaming brightly overhead and casting a muted glow over the water below it. Letting my eyes follow the lighted path over water, I reached the horizon. Sky and lake met there in the moonlight and shadows. We were facing the edge of what was before us and the edge of what was to come. So struck by the beauty and power of the moment, I exclaimed, “Here at the edge of all things!”

I only realized later what a fitting metaphor that was, emotionally. I was about to depart and leave these friends to experience a new adventure together. Where I was going, what was awaiting me over the immediate edge and distant horizon was a mystery. Caught up in the moment’s romance, I marveled at how nature and God seemed to dialogue with each other. And I found myself in the midst of it, gleaning supernatural truths from physical realities. How could anyone see such beauty and order in the universe and think it just chance? The power of metaphor. My greatest inspiration for what I call “metaphoric wisdom writing” comes when I’m in nature, when the elements around me are speaking their wisdom about the mysteries of God.

The ride home was an adventure. In the last two weeks, I’ve been to Milwaukee twice, and both times my directions didn’t take me the way I thought they would. While I didn’t get lost (phew!) I did miss a turn and ended up just following Farwell downtown. Not sure exactly where I’d be spit out, I just kept going, looking for signs to the freeway to let me know I was on the right path. As I passed impressive buildings like the Marcus Center for the Arts and old historic buildings aglow in golden light, I became ecstatic. Wow! Look at that! I felt like God was taking me on an adventure, showing me the city sights after the breathtaking lake scene. I was on a date night with God! And the solitude felt like a blessing. I couldn’t have seen so much of the city had I found the original street I was looking for.

I had stumbled upon amazing discoveries by not limiting myself to my agenda. “The objects of a walk are often disappointing, but the accidents are magnificent,” said G.K. Chesterton. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of discovery, we participate in the true human drama.

The next day after I returned home, I consulted a Milwaukee map to see where exactly I had “gone wrong.” I was delighted to fix my eyes on all the streets we had traversed the night before and to see their intertwining paths and destinations laid out before me. I spent quite some time pondering the map and having “Aha!” moments. I have come to the conclusion that G.K. Chesterton is right again on this subject, as he writes, “Upon the whole, it may be admitted that the pedestrian should carry a map, but he should not consult it often, and he should always cherish the thrilling and secret thought that it may be all wrong. In fact, a map should be taken chiefly because it is such a particularly beautiful thing in itself.”

If you’re interested in reading more great insights from Chesterton, I recommend the book The Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton: The Very Best Quotes, Quips & Cracks, edited by Dave Armstrong (North Carolina, 2009). His thoughts on “Walking” were written in his book The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (London: Paul Elek, 1975).

Happy travels! And have fun!

A Fun Game: Mad Books

For all of you voracious readers or word warriors like myself out there, here’s a game to wet your literary tastes. Last weekend my friend and I made up a fun game involving lots of books. First you select a genre, fiction or nonfiction. We chose a variety of fiction books–whatever we grabbed off the shelf–from Anna Karenina to Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, and Greek poetry. Then you pick a page and take turns reading a passage from the each book on that page. It could be a short quote or dialogue between characters, a description, a line, or a short paragraph. You take turns and keep it flowing in a continuous style until you’ve read a passage from the same page number in every book. The fun is trying to see if there are any running themes or surprising connections (a plot line?), which a few times there are! Oh, and the point is to be expressive in your reading, too. My friend loved the game because it involved reading literature. I loved it because I like to put words together and see what happens.

If you play, I want to know what crazy plot you come up with!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine’s Day 2011, A Singular Celebration of Love

Ohhh. Every time I sit down, I feel the bruise from this morning’s accident. This morning was one of those blessed days I got to spend with the two new loves of my life, Sophia (4) and Isaac (1.5). It was one of those mornings I forgot about myself. After running around all morning with the kids, I’d let everything go, until I was in the car and suddenly realized my stomach was growling. I was thirsty. Man, did I have to go to the bathroom! I also noticed a shimmering piece of glitter stuck in my hair, which was now speaking nothing of the fact that I had brushed it AND curled it at 7:30 a.m.! Kids teach you like no one else can how to be selfless, giving, and sacrificial to the point of self-forgetfulness. This morning reminded me of the lesson. Here’s how it happened.

First, we made a beautiful mess. Sophia and I spread out construction paper, scissors, glue, ribbon, fake flowers, stickers, crayons, markers, glitter, you name it, it was on the table… and soon to be on ourselves. I had come prepared, bringing some of my own materials to add to her mother’s stack. One of the materials was a jar of glitter. Sophia promptly dumped the entire contents on the table, creating a dazzling, remarkable display. Then we went to work. Sophia cutting, cutting away in a sort of scissor frenzy. Me trying to think of creative ways to involve Sophia in the process of making valentines that would look like valentines to their respective recipients (as nanny, I was supposed to assume some level of responsibility in their outcome). By now my scissor-frenzied artist was involved in making a massive knot with all the ribbons she’d pulled off of their spools and admiring this entangled pink blob with glowing pleasure. I recruited her to wield the glue stick in forging things together and sought her expert advice on which stickers were of preference. We succeeded and survived, crafting four beautiful valentines.

By then, Isaac’s nap was over, and so I headed to the table with him, so he could have a hand in making a valentine. While he loves to hold crayons in his hands, he hasn’t quite figured out how to use them. So to get the job done, I had to guide his hands over the paper and apply the needed pressure.

I knew that these valentines would soon be given away “from the kids” to their loved ones. I knew that I wouldn’t get credit in the end, but they would, and should. To love requires we forget ourselves. To lay down our life for a friend is the greatest gift of all. What are a dozen roses, a perfect card from Hallmark or a romantic dinner without the foundation of self-giving love? Love is selfless, it expects nothing in return, it loves, and then it loves some more. As Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, “Love until it hurts, and then there is no more hurt but only love.”

I picked up Isaac, holding his back to my belly. I was preparing to sit down in the chair by the craft table when I missed the chair. Instead of a safe landing, the chair, Christina, and Isaac all came tumbling to the floor. I took the brunt of the fall on my rump, pulling Isaac on top of me and cushioning his fall. Ah my rump hurt but Isaac didn’t even whimper or cry. He only looked at me in wide-eyed surprise. I was angry at myself for having missed the chair, but so relieved that he was safe! After such an epic fall, you’d think I’d have remembered to tell his mother upon her return, but I forgot. One loves and then loves some more, not counting the cost or adding up points. Love is not complicated. In the end, it’s about how much you are willing to go and risk your own life to save another.

In the afternoon today, I received a package from a friend. Inside was a card and a box of chocolates. It read, “For you, friend. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Then my friend added, “Happy Singles Awareness Day!” I began laughing out loud and cried a few tears at the same time. Wondering how far my friend had gone out of her way to do this for me, I felt loved and rescued by grace in one singular action. Now it's my turn to stand in wide-eyed gratitude.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dad? Is that You?

It was dark in the kitchen, and I was fixing myself a night time snack, while listening and dancing to music. Side note: yes, I dance in the kitchen. Ever since I was a little girl, I occasionally will break out into expressive dancing when I’m alone in the kitchen. What can I say? Music just pulls me out of myself!
My mom has “opened a dance studio” in our dining room. A few times a week our neighbor comes over for ballroom dance lessons. I sit in the other room working and listening to Elton John drifting from the kitchen stereo, across the dining room, down the hallway, and into the office. It amuses me and just knowing that friendship, life and laughter are being stirred up in this house makes me glad and helps me do my work.
My mom and the neighbor dance for a few hours. She coaches him on all the steps, practicing the rhythm in rumba and how to travel in waltz. I remember six years ago when I was the teacher and my partner was coming over for lessons so we could perform the opening MC act for the homeschool talent show. How nervous we were to be in each other’s arms! It was my first encounter with romance and how sweet it was.
When the neighbor leaves, some of the new life lingers. I hope a budding romance might happen to me soon. Not a passing fancy but something to last.
My Dad likes to pick moments like these to remind me that I’m still his, even though he hails from heaven. The other night I heard him distinctly in this song. In the void of my heart, Dad’s voice came through to me as clear as day, floating down from heaven and speaking as only a father can speak to his daughter:
Hey you, you're a child in my head
You haven't walked yet
Your first words have yet to be said
But I swear you'll be blessed
I know you're still just a dream
your eyes might be green
Or the bluest that I've ever seen
Anyway you'll be blessed
And you, you'll be blessed
You'll have the best
I promise you that
I'll pick a star from the sky
Pull your name from a hat
I promise you that, promise you that, promise you that
You'll be blessed
I need you before I'm too old
To have and to hold
To walk with you and watch you grow
And know that you're blessed
(Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Bernie Taupin)
How can I forget you see all, Dad? In these moments, I just know. I know that everything will turn out great whatever God’s plans are for me – it doesn’t matter. All I know and need to know is that I’ll be blessed. Truly, I am, already.