A Journey into the new year…..hope, perseverance, new beginnings uncovered on the streets of New York City

.

FullSizeRender (22)

I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.

There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.

One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.

“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it.  My advice: watch it on TV.”

IMG_0126

The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.

 

This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.

Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop.  The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.

 

6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner. 

FullSizeRender (32)

Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.

Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds.  It’s just a ball”.

The one million that gather here say differently.  Not just a ball.

A promise of hope.

A promise of a fresh start.

IMG_0610

A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.

IMG_0205

Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.

  

On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where  crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.

“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”

IMG_0219

The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops.  “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”

In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”

IMG_0230

“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”

“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”

FullSizeRender (34)

The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.

The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year.  The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun.  The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.

IMG_0283

Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.

IMG_0339

Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11.  The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias.  The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.

Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning.  The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner. 

FullSizeRender (24)

The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.

IMG_0334

I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name.  A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.

“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”

In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.

FullSizeRender (25)

Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.

The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning.  Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.

IMG_0525

Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light.  Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.

IMG_5145

The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s.  “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”

Healing.  Restoration.  New beginnings.

IMG_0534

As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower.  Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure.  The Statue of Liberty.

Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.

FullSizeRender (27)

Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg

Heart and Soil

Photo Jun 20, 12 20 18 PM

US Open soil.

It was controversial all week. Why did the USGA choose a course for a major that was carved out of a gravel pit? Why did they pick a course that uses fescue instead of native Northwest grass? Why did they pick a course so sloped and slippery that it was difficult for spectators to view?

So many questions about these grounds. But these grounds are hallowed to me. Homegrown on this soil, I knew this gravel pit before it even became a golf course. As a kid from the town of Steilacoom on the back border of Chambers Bay Golf Course, I climbed surrounding hills on my ten speed bike, rolled logs into the actual Chambers Bay and walked tightrope along the tracks where this week cargo trains rolled past US Open volunteer marshals raising their arms for “quiet” and Amtrak passengers pressed their faces up against the windows to capture shots of Tiger and Rory on the waterfront holes with their iPhones.

  20150619ChambersBay-Friday588

Photo Jun 21, 5 14 43 PM

Steilacoom is not the Hamptons or Carmel where Open tourists normally flock.

The Steilacoom Pub and Deli stands on the corner, offering BBQ and beer. Trademark flower baskets hang above the tiny town center along with banners for the Steilacoom Salmon Bake, traditionally the biggest event of the year.

This is the Northwest. This is a come as you are, enjoy it, take it or leave it kind of place. Rain or shine. And that’s exactly what Chambers Bay had to offer.

Who would have expected weeks of sunshine to bake the greens and dry out the grass. The average June temperature is 69 degrees and 1.73″ of rain. Summer doesn’t start here until mid July. The weeklong controversy about fescue grass filled the dry and dusty air that kicked up at spectators’ feet.

photo (3)

Overwhelmed with dirt and throngs of people I staked out a place to park it instead of fighting lines into the grandstands, the most ever built at a USGA event. I found it. My own Amen Corner. Tucked at the neck of the par-3 17th hole along the water was a grassy knoll perfect for watching players land shots over or in the bunker then make or miss their putts on the undulating green. This was the prime spot to watch the US Open unfold, a spot much like Sunnyside Beach down the road, where a slight breeze, sunscreen and a cold drink is all you need to view the waters of Puget Sound.

photo (4)

It was there I witnessed Jordan Spieth make a birdie put to go -6 on the second day. It was there I marked him as the one to watch.

20150619ChambersBay-Friday401

As he approached the green on 9, his final hole on Friday, he suddenly turned before he marked his putt for birdie. His playing partner, Jason Day, had collapsed on the slope. Photographers cut in on the moment, but Spieth temporarily forgot about his crucial putt, raising his hands to protect his friend on the ground, urging the cameras to “Please, stop. Please.”

Photo Jun 18, 8 38 48 PM

That’s the kind of guy to follow, and we did the first two days.  Spieth and Day happened to be playing in front of Tiger Woods and Ricky Fowler. My husband, Brian Mogg, a Golf Magazine Top 100 Instructor who hosts a golf academy at Chambers Bay, over heard Fowler say on the range he thought the course was “cool”. Evidently Fowler cooled his ideas about Chambers after his first disastrous round. Fowler and Woods followed Spieth and Day the way Eeyore follows Tigger: head down, shoulders slumped. However we did catch a smile from Woods on the 10th green when his shot hit the lip out of the greenside bunker, landing one close to the pin with a grin and a bow. At that moment, he seemed like the old Tiger.

Photo Jun 18, 8 52 12 PM

Eons ago golf to me meant carrying the bag for my husband on the PGA Tour with golfers now announcing this event, Brad Faxon and Jay Delsing.

Photo Jun 19, 9 23 06 AM

This kind of golf– the US Open on our turf and our territory beat down and war zoned by press and players, was a different story. We own this. We take pride in this. We passed old neighbors and friends from Steilacoom on the grounds. A Senior USGA official that set up this test, John Bodenhamer, was in our wedding. This is our soil. This is our town.

20150619ChambersBay-Friday382

So to hand over this week, this championship, to a young man like Jordan Spieth, who could not help but be proud that the boy that won the Masters would be the one to win here. He is the kid next door, who plays hard, loves his family and says “I’m Steven Spieth’s brother.” He is the kid who with a 3 shot lead on the 17th hole crumbled in the grass and lost two shots. Dustin Johnson chased behind with a birdie, yet Spieth on 18, the hole he grumbled about two days earlier, found the grit to regroup and land a perfect fade on his second shot, yelling “land soft, land soft” to set him up for his two putt birdie. He is the kid who waited in the wings with his caddie, another local Michael Grellar, to watch Johnson putt for eagle on the final hole. But as the sun faded over the Olympic Mountains, Jordan Spieth was the one to hoist up the US Open trophy after attacking Chambers Bay with the take it or leave it Northwest attitude, as well as acknowledging the 12th man behind the ropes. This is the kind of guy you want to give your heart and soil to.

My backyard was the US Open last week.  And like the kid that invites the neighbors over the fence to hang out and spend a day or two or four, when friends go on home as dusk and dirt settle, you hope they come back again to play.

Photo Jun 20, 1 46 52 PM

Photo Credits: USGA/Daniel Mogg

The Piano Man

The corridor is full of busy people grabbing a bite to eat on the way to their next destination. Everything is fast….burgers, fries, chicken, smoothies, things made to be consumed and taken in quickly. Falling over the movement of rushing and bustling are the sounds of a piano. A man sits at a Yamaha baby grand at Varzano’s pizza bar in the Atlanta airport, consuming only his music, absorbed only in notes swirling in his mind, not the rushing world around him. These sounds are slow and savory. Jazz. Where every note counts and the music is meant to be chewed on and digested. One note at a time, one beat at a time, slow and simmering,  takes shape as a rendition of Eleanor Rigby.

  
All the lonely people consume their fast food as jets take off in the background and rollerbags and strollers and backpacks clog the aisles and tables are full of people looking at their screens and not at each other.

  
Still the man at the piano plays each note the way is meant to be, each one intentional. Though he has sheafs of sheet music stacked on the edge of the piano, every single note rises from his soul and lands on a key, insignificant alone but captivating as part of a whole. He plays John Legend’s “All of Me” and all of him moves from head swaying to toes tapping on the vinyl floor. He moves from current pop to classic Frank Sinatra, his own twist on “Strangers in the Night”. And here in this busy place strangers in the night exchanging glances of coming and going and making connections the piano man makes lost connections of the soul in Terminal A of Hartsfield Airport. As the world rushes past as his beat goes on. Behind his head that bobs to the music Delta jets rumble off into the air. He smiles to himself, as if he knows, as if he hides a secret that, yes all around you people are in other places, but I am present, taking this moment to share these notes with you.

  

  
These notes connect to all in the crowded room to the babies on hips to the white haired couple at the window to the young hipsters in the corner and the family behind him. In a world of disconnect this music connects.
The rest rush to the next place, checking iPhones, checking data, checking clocks to get to a gate, stuff a meal in, throw away garbage, grab baggage and move on to make a connection. 

  
But in this hidden corner amidst a world of hustle and bustle and getting to the next place, he is here, in the moment. Jazz includes only what is right here, right now, as what is swirling in your head becomes real.
Materializing, as fingers touch the keys, a song. One that consumes your heart and soul and brings joy that transcends all generations. One that causes busy people to pause and clap their hands at its close. One that moves passers by to take a video on their smartphone and slip a tip into the jar on the end of the piano.

  
I move to piano’s edge to thank this man.
“How long have you been playing,” I ask him, “since you were three?”
He chuckles in agreement, then smiles and nods.
“You must have been, since it you play with your entire being.”

“Thank you for playing here,” I tell him. “Thank you for brightening my day.”
“And thank you for brightening mine,” he says.

A gift



My hands fumble on the keys of the piano, stumbling out a few notes in attempts to learn a new song, one I have not played before.  My right hand picks out the notes of the melody, trying to play out the irregular beats of the notes.  She is sitting on the couch beside me, looking out the window, listening.  As a few notes tumble onto the keyboard, mom looks up at me and asks,  “Is that La Paloma?”


I stare at her in disbelief.  I had only played a few notes of the song, and not played them very well, and she knew exactly which song it was!  She began to sing the melody, so I tried to follow along, playing out the melody to accompany her soft singing.  As she sang, the melody became more familiar, and I was able to recall the old Spanish folk song that I had heard somewhere, in a movie perhaps, and together, in her crackly rich voice and my broken chords that she coaches with, “Come on, come on!”, we perform a lovely rendition of the old classic, newly discovered, La Paloma……


After a week of many forgotten things, her own 91st birthday, my sister’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday, this recollection of an entire song is astounding. Days before, we had multiple celebrations of her birthday, and each time, she would say, “Oh, is it my birthday?”  Even minutes before, she was asking my son if she could return to the Philippines to take care of her mother, that she was concerned about who was there for her, and that she wanted to be the one to go home and care for her.   My son didn’t have the heart to tell her she was already gone, and has been for the past 45 years.  He just left it alone, let her be in her reality.


More and more these days, that is what we have to do, just let her be in her world.  Her world is present, in the moment.  And some days I think, she has much to teach me.  For in her world of Alzheimer’s there are no worries, only present moments of love and gratefulness.  She is always seeking a hug, and always thanking God that she is still alive at 91 years old.  Sometimes the tension between her world and mine is too much, as I worry and fret about what’s next, or the next problem in front of me or the kids or the…………..the list goes on and on.


But here, in this moment, we carry out together the tune of the old folk song, La Paloma, “the dove”.  A song that in the 1800’s became a classic folk song in Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, mom’s home country.   As I read over the background of this song, I see this: “Over time the soul of the song is able to express the tension between separation with loneliness, even death, and love.”


This separation, the one that slowly grieves me over time as mom gradually fades farther and farther away,  is bridged for a glorious moment in a song played out for the first time to the gentle urgings of her voice.  The tension is released for a moment, the tension that builds over time from the burden of caregiving.


And I remember the other meaning of “La Paloma, the Dove”


Peace.


Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.    John 14:27


After a week of searching of what I could give to her, she gives this back to me.  A message through a song etched deep in the recesses of her memory.  A gift of love.  A gift of peace.

   
 

Bloom

It was a season of irritation,
the kind where everything gets under your skin:

the way your husband leaves his dirty socks wadded up by the side of the bed
or your daughter leaves her shoes exactly where she took them off under the kitchen counter
or you hear the dog’s paws padding in exactly at 430 am every morning to be let out.

I don’t know if it was triggered by a new year
or menopause
or a let down after the holidays where it took two weeks into January to unload the Christmas tree and the nutcrackers and village houses and all the other stuff that goes with it.

Even though all the decorations are down they are still piled up in plastic bins in a three car garage where there is only room for one car at the moment.

And the slow resolution to declutter that is always procrastinated initiated that day and finished on the back porch.
My favorite spot in the house.
My alone place to think and write and drink my coffee and look out on the still waters of the small lake behind my house.

But that day on the back porch I only saw the mildew (I live in Florida) and the dirt on the pillows and the brick pavers and all the stuff and the flower pots with half alive plants that I resolved to just give up on and toss into the dark green garbage bags which my uncluttered friends tell me is the only receptacle to throw things into if you are truly serious about decluttering your home. Throw it in. Tie it up. Take it to the curb or to Goodwill. (Unfortunately, I get stuck at this step, hence the full 3 car garage)

It’s a good thing I got distracted on this last purging binge.

For this morning

unfurling out of the flower pots that were almost relegated to the dark green garbage bags

is a beautiful branch of orchids.

A lovely shade of purple.

Actually, the orchid color you see on a crayon or a paint chip.

The branch hovers beautifully over the mildewed pillows on my porch sofa.
Beside it another pot holds out another curl of blooms full of promise.

To think I would have missed out on this something beautiful on my back porch
if I had trashed them

as I am so inclined to do these days when clutter overwhelms me,
the little things, the endless things you think will change but they do not…
the doctors appointments, mom’s Alzheimer medications, the dog to the vet, the kids’ needs to prepare for or be in college, the garage still full of plastic bins……..

They say the trick to tending to orchids is to leave them alone, care for them gently with
only a little bit of watering and a lot of patience to wait for it to blossom.

I hope these blooms last for a spell, a symbol of grace and simplicity and hope
when everything that piles up seems destined to disorder.

For nestled underneath the cracked pot and dirt and rubble of my life is a part of me just waiting, anticipating a bloom.

IMG_0975-1

Keep Believing

I remember the point when I switched from hopeful to “that’s it.”

The clock was ticking away when my hometown Seattle Seahawks finally got a breakthrough touchdown after being scoreless the entire first half.  Hope would rise then fall with each possession, crushed after an interception with five minutes left.  When the clock hit 4:53 I remember my brain switching to “That’s it. It’s over. We won’t be going to the Super Bowl.” I succumbed to defeat. For weeks I had been hopeful. There was no way now they could break through with only minutes left. Our entire family slumped silently in their chairs, past the point of believing anymore. It was over.

And then it happened.

The impossible happened after 56 minutes of bad breaks and dropped balls and interceptions and failed passes. In less than four minutes, everything changed. Russell Wilson’s one-yard run into the end zone.  An onside kick recovery by Chris Matthews. Marshawn Lynch’s 24 yard ramble into the end zone.  Luke Wilson’s lunge for a 2 point conversion. The clock that earlier seemed to tick away the death of a championship took a pendulum swing.  A 16- point halftime deficit was now a 22-19 lead with less than a minute left. The Green Bay Packers 48 yard field goal sent them into overtime and our family and every other Seahawk fan into anticipatory mayhem.

In their first OT possession, my hometown favorite, Jermaine Kerse, caught the impossible 35 yard pass up the middle to win the game. I screamed. We all screamed. We jumped, we hugged, we high fived. My Floridian born son ran into the Utah snow to make victory snow angels.

IMG_0907

When it was over, Russell Wilson, who earlier had not been the quarterback he had been the past games leading to the NFC championship, was in tears in the immediate post game interview. Fox News analyst Erin Andrews asked him, “What are you thinking at this time?” His first response:

“God is so good, man, all the time, every time.”

IMG_0920

When we had all been on the edge of our seats, of our nerves, those last minutes, this leader never stopped believing.

His credits: teamwork, fight, patience and trust.

And we continue to revel in the highlights, to play them over and over in our minds, this crazy victory that lifts our spirits and encourages us to keep believing against all odds.

To trust in those around us, to build a team that will believe and support you and back you and play their part at the right time even when the situation looks impossible.

To keep our head on, to lean into it and push forward, like Marshawn Lynch, even when life bulldozes us and people pile on us and hang on us and make demands and we feel we can’t take another step.

To stay patient, even when we have dropped the ball many times in key situations, like my Lakes High School alma mater alum Jermaine Kearse, who after multiple missed opportunities caught the game winning pass in overtime.

IMG_0915

To see the emotion, the brokenness of these 250+ lb grown men after such a comeback victory was at once humbling and powerful, as well as the hurt and pain of the Packers, whose victory was within reach, the tension of victory and defeat a thin line drawn between them.

IMG_0918

After all of it, kneeling on the field with the team in prayer, the response of the quarterback who led them through a grueling mano a mano match those last minutes, Russell Wilson,

“God is good all the time…….he prepared us for this….

IMG_0916

In this season of resolutions and hope in a new year, it is timely to witness a victory like this.

One that keeps you on the edge when minutes are ticking away, when every moment counts. when every move and every play is crucial

and every effort, whether successful or not, is thrown out there.

When heart and soul is put on the line, knowing there will be victory and there will be loss

and fear will not hold you from the prospect of the latter.

For the fight is worth it all, to take hold of a moment that did not seem possible only seconds earlier

pushing through failed efforts, disappointment, pain, negative odds to be a part of something bigger than you ever dreamed.

2015/01/img_0917.jpg

Photo credits: Seahawks.com, Daniel Mogg, Kiro-TV.com

Old Faithful

 

IMG_0630-0

She sleeps at my feet, her paws splayed in front of her greying nose. Her breathing is labored, yet comforting and familiar as she always has been. She came into our lives over fourteen years ago, a friendly one year old puppy on her way to the pound. Her owners couldn’t keep her any more. The look on her sweet face captured my son’s heart, leading to the look on his then ten year old face that pleaded, “Mom, we have to keep her!”

So we did. She joined our already topsy turvy household of four children including a toddler that chased poor Cindy Lou around the family room couch. Dear Cindy spent many hours being chased. I remember one birthday party where she took humor in the chase. We had hidden a clue to the scavenger hunt in her signature red collar. She knew she had something important and played along in the game, not letting anyone get her. She smiled and teased that sunny afternoon, taunting, “You can’t catch me!” In the end, she gave up the clue with a roll over on her back and a rub on the tummy.

Unlike the rest of us in the house, Cindy is very scheduled. She knows when it’s time for our walk. We logged many miles together on our walks, comfortable in each other’s silent presence and an occasional chase after a squirrel. I miss those walks with her now. It is all she can do to get up on her paws and waddle down the driveway, doing her thing along the way, then turning around to waddle back. She still remains scheduled, as I hear her pad into my room at 4 am every morning to let me know its time to go out. I see it now as my nightly star gazing ritual. I take her out at look into the sky to find the few constellations I know I or look at the moon. When its time to go in I clap my hands loudly. She can’t hear me call her name anymore. She turns her head and wags her tail and waddles back in, waits for her scratch on the head, and we both settle in for a few hours before another day begins.

IMG_0634

“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Why is there so much clarity in those silent places with our most loyal friend. Freedom in the quiet. Calm in mere presence. And an exchange of mutual love even in the wee hours of the night.

Yesterday I rub her back as we sit in the veterinarians’ office when suddenly all those years of her faithful companionship overwhelm me. I break into tears out of nowhere. Maybe it’s menopause. Maybe it’s the truth that all around me everyone is aging. My dog. My mom. My children. My friends.

That same morning my friend and I simultaneously laughed about and anguished over wrinkles and age spots. What do we do about it? Do we give in and fix them or age gracefully, wrinkles and all.

Why is it so hard to accept the wrinkles of aging, those folds in life that reflect the pain and the worries of our journey. We want to smooth them out, but it is those wrinkles that define us and reflect the strength we have carried and the grace we have sustained to endure the bumps along the way.

This week those bumps loom even larger as I face daily the effects of time. Time that ticks away for my mom as she progresses slowly in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, yet robs my dear friend’s father so quickly. Time that ticks away for my children that now, one by one leave the nest, leaving me alone, with more time to discover or uncover nuggets of truths that have been nestled under all the busyness of caring for others.

And today in the vet’s office this truth hits hard: in all these moments Old Faithful has been there beside me. One who knows me better than I know myself. One who senses my moods, who knows when I need comfort. Who looks at me and through me with loyal eyes and complete acceptance. One who is with me when I walk under sun kissed skies and in the middle of the darkest night.

She is tired. She has age spots. She has trouble breathing. But her tail still wags when she sees me. She still smiles through clouded eyes.

I am grateful for what this companion has taught me about unconditional love. And she continues to teach me, as all of us age, there is much power in a good back rub, in being present in silences, that wrinkles and grey hair are outshone by loving eyes, and that an occasional groan is okay. And at times it’s hard to get up, but sometimes you just do, move forward, and get a treat. And companionship, the kind that has worn a hole in the pavement beside you, rain or shine, is the best treat of all.

.

IMG_0633.JPG

 

 

standing the test of time

_MG_2931

It is a perfect autumn day. The late afternoon sun casts a golden glow on the southern plantation bathed in fall colors. A single giant oak stands as the altar for the young couple that will be joined in marriage on this day. The gathering of family and friends stand as the beautiful young bride crosses the field on the arm of her father towards the young man that will become her husband. The afternoon sunbeams reflect her smile as she approaches her groom beneath the towering oak that has stood the test of time.

IMG_2920

It is fitting that this couple should be joined together under this oak, for as the first Psalm promises, their promises to each other today are based on their own delight in each other and in the law of The Lord. And His blessing on this day permeates the entire ceremony and celebration that follows. For who cannot help but celebrate this love that exudes promise and hope, completeness and joy.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But His delight is the law of The Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 1:1-3

MG_2943-0.JPG

My firstborn son stands at the altar beside the groom and his brothers. They have been best friends since they were two years old. And yes both young men have had life and limb shaken up at times in their 23 years of life together. They have buried awkward moments, and now branch out to begin careers that travel in different directions. But their steadfastness of friendship and faith stand as firm as the oak they stand under as this young man makes the biggest commitment of his life.

IMG_2914

Earlier that morning my son jokes about hitting his first home run off the groom on the pitcher’s mound in Little League. Now he laughs at how the nervous young groom paces back and forth, taking deep breaths moments before the ceremony. Later my son turns to me with a smile, saying he has never seen his friend so happy.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

These shared moments of laughter and commitment branch out into this gathering of friends surrounding this family. For during the time that these two young men built a friendship over legos and big wheels so did their mothers forge a lasting friendship over playdates and Happy Meals. The circle of families that bond on this first of many upcoming wedding days span 23 years of friendship, compile 135 years of marriage, and fifteen children.  We have stood shoulder to shoulder in the delivery room of our babies and at the gravesite of our loved ones.  We have clapped at preschool programs and applauded college acceptance letters.  We have consulted about high school dating and about the best ways to care for aging parents. We have cheered at little league games and dance recitals. We have logged late nights of tragedies and tears and episodes of Downton Abbey. We have brought each other casseroles and chocolate at just the right time. We have studied God’s Word together.

IMG_2947

My prayer for this young couple is that they too will have friendships that stand firm in times of fruitfulness and abundance and as well of times of withering and loss when all we want to do is shrivel up and shrink away.

In coming years I hope in times of celebration our kids will continue to shout out and jump together for joy as they have on the dance floor this evening. When times are darker and colder than this freezing southern night I hope they warm and comfort each other with words of encouragement.

At the end of the celebration the young couple run into the darkness under an arch of sparklers. Friends and brothers hoop and holler out as they venture into their new life together as man and wife. As they huddle together on this night of promise may this group of lifelong companions be the next generation of light and love in a world that yearns for more….

Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving message into the night……
Philippians 2:16, the Message

 

IMG_0465

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhythms of Grace


Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (The Message)

I sit in a room full of grace.

People of grace. For they are caregivers, ones whose daily rhythms include tending to the needs of their loved ones who are terminally ill or struggling with dementia. These rhythms are forced into routine, the routine of medications, of bathing, of dressing, of feeding, of exercising, of resting, then starting over again.

These daily rhythms become wearing and confining. But in the midst of these routines they have gathered for a caregivers retreat, to find respite for a couple of days from caring for a spouse, a parent, an aunt, a grandparent.

In this room, in this circle, a drum in front of each seat, in a session that promises “Rhythm for Relief”, they have assembled, these caregivers of every age, shape and size, with unknown, but similar stories being the common ground.

It is common ground that makes a circle of drums so powerful. For even in remote areas of Africa, in Ghana, where these drums are made, the routines of daily life are communicated through the rhythm of drums. This primal beat, a sound that reflects the first sound we ever hear, the heartbeat of our mother in the womb, is a beat that reflects life before we even have awareness. Because these beats are the core of our being, there are messages sent through the rhythms of the drum that transcend words. Jason, our instructor from “Drum Magic”, has observed it in the bush of Africa. He has observed it as he holds seminars in corporate groups of America. And he has witnessed it in the classroom and in senior centers.

Here, in this circle, he begins. He tells us about the drums, each handmade with wood and goat skin by craftsmen in a tribe in Ghana. He shares from his own experience that there is nothing like the energy shared by a group united through the beating of the drums.

IMG_0259.JPG

IMG_0258.JPG

IMG_0247.JPG

IMG_0248.JPG

IMG_0257.JPG

We sit in a large circle, all of us. We are not aware of one another’s name, yet we find a common thread as we gather in this drum circle. As it is in Africa, where villages communicate to each other the messages of daily life, we follow Jason’s lead and begin a simple beat with our fingers and palm on the hand pulled goatskins of these drums, a Welcome rhythm that he sings in a native tongue:

We are together.
Give thanks.
Kick your boots.
Dance
look look look
Let’s all get together and dance

The beat of the drums increase, the rhythms begin to vary. We follow. We turn and smile at each other. He begins to beat faster, changing up the rhythms. We begin to laugh and smile as we try to keep up with him. Some even begin to get up and dance.

He tells us this:

Tell your story on the rhythm of the drum.
Make up something that describes your day today. Tell about it on the drum.

When your make up a rhythm, you put yourself out there with out worrying about the words that your use. Just play out a thought, you feel free enough to do this on a drum.

A caregiver is normally guarded and private. But here in this circle that wall of protection is briefly broken as each caregiver expresses himself on a drum. Those who spend months and years caring for the needs of another are momentarily set free expressing themselves through an unspoken story: a drumbeat.

The group beats a steady background rhythm as each one in the circle shares, some by gentle tapping, some by pounding and banging and slapping. It is magical how this happens, for each one is somehow understood.

The cry to be understood, to be heard, is an echo of the heart. Every caregiver longs to be heard. To find community. To know they are not alone in their weariness, frustration, or grief. Even momentarily, burdens are lifted. Because somehow, through the message of a drumbeat, we experience the unforced rhythms of grace.

So we return to our homes, our rhythms, our routines of caregiving. And I hope we continue to find those unforced rhythms of grace in our days. In those days we are breathless, may we become aware of the rise and fall of our breath. In those days when tears flow, may we find comfort in the patter of the rain on the roof. In those days when we feel we cannot take another step, may we find strength in the cadence of our footsteps along the beach. And as we listen to the rhythm of the waves beating against the shore, may the rhythm of our own heartbeat bear us up to continue to care for the heart of another.

Fresh Start

20140829-060651.jpgHis race has been called.
The swimmer approaches the blocks
Steps onto the platform, anticipating the start.
He is called to mark, fingers reach then curl around the edge of the platform
Get set….muscles fire, from toes to calves to hamstring, shoulders arms, anticipating, anticipating….

The buzzer sounds, simultaneously the machine that is the body springs forward, fingers, toes reaching reaching for aqua liquid
and once entering the channel propels forward, every muscle, ligament, tendon, breath pushing the skeleton toward the wall 50 meters ahead.

It is the start that initiates the motion.

Before this start, there is much anticipation.
There is much waiting…

in the tent, on the pool deck, waiting for the race to be called, for the heat to be called.
Before the waiting there is the warm up hours before the race.
Before the warm up there are the hours of practice
called when Morningstar still hovers
finishing as light breaks the sky
called again mid afternoon until dusk

and always repetitions
of stroke, of yards put in
building stamina and strength…

all of this
before the start.

My son’s last race was one month ago
one month before this fresh start.

and as I watched that last start,
forgetting to turn on the video camera,
waves of emotion overcome….
of sadness watching one last race
of pride for all he has accomplished in this sport
of all he has learned about discipline, perseverance, pushing self past limits to the end
to the last touch of the wall.

 

Now a fresh start
another highly anticipated moment.
This one preceded, with hours of preparation
not only with test scores and hours logged studying,
of honors and awards and diploma,
but also with the weeding out
the choosing, of what he will take and what he will leave behind.

The things left behind, the tokens, the trophies, the T-shirts that label his past years
litter the floor, the dresser in the now empty room.

and the things chosen to go with him
boxes, bags one by one filling the car–the books, the photos, the new college T-shirts
the new sheets and towels and containers and journals
that will now fill his college dorm

will drive away in the car with him and his dad
on the journey 1000 miles to Texas.

20140828-172229.jpg

I asked him to humor me one last time, during that last hour of anticipation
for although he had his things organized and ready to go for weeks
his dad did not.

So as dad scrambled around that last hour
he took a selfie with the dog, and scratched the cat behind the ears just how he likes it
and sat on the steps with me to browse through the album I made for graduation,
the one hastily thrown together to cover 18 years
from the first hospital photo to the senior portrait only taken months ago.

IMG_5976

There is a page with cowboy boots, hints of the land he will travel to now.
It was his Toy Story party when he was five.
I ask him, “Do you remember Toy Story 3, when you laughed at me bawling in my 3D glasses, crying, ‘Is this how it’s going to end!’ as Andy drives off to college!”

He nods and laughs along with me. I jump up, suddenly remembering something found the other day. I bring back to him two small plastic figurines, one of Woody, one of Buzz Light Year. As a joke I write Michael’s name on Woody’s boot. “Keep them in your car,” I kid, thinking they too will be left behind. I promised him last night I would let him go with not too many tears. I will let go. He is a grown man now.

He smiles and stuffs them in his bag.

20140828-161122.jpg

We stand for one last hug. “Be the agent for change,” I tell him. “Your gift is helping others. Be the one that changes things for the better.”

One more squeeze and we walk out the door.

And the highly anticipated moment for the past weeks, months, happens.

No call to the platform, no call to set, no buzzer.

He waves goodbye, climbs into the overstuffed Civic with his dad,
backs out the driveway that once launched scooters and rollerblades
and drives away.

 

 

 

 

20140828-172310.jpg