Clang, clang, clang…

trolley song“Went the trolley.”  You knew that.

I think my favorite role of Judy Garland’s was as Esther Smith in “Meet Me in St. Louis.”  The Gibson-Girl look suited her well, and she was so young and vibrant and in such good voice. There is nothing quite like the joy of “The Trolley Song”.  Ah, love.

I recently had dinner with two of my friends who have fallen in love, and hearing their story of getting to know each other and realizing, pretty early on, that there was something very good there made my heart go zing.  At one point during the conversation, one of them turned to me and said, “Could your smile get any bigger?”

No, it couldn’t, because I love these two people and they suit each other so well, and finding that Someone is one of life’s grandest joys.  Hearing their story took me back to my own story of falling in love with the man who would eventually become my husband – pretty much once that train left the station, it was never going back.  We thought we had been quite clever keeping our relationship secret, but once we started telling people, they all had a “No duh” kind of reaction, which was a little anti-climactic, but I was in love so I didn’t care.

“Meet in St. Louis” ends with the family and love interests gazing at the lagoon at the World’s Fair.  All is well, all crises averted or resolved, all unrequited loves requited.

Life isn’t like that.  People don’t spontaneously burst into song and dance, and happy endings are never perfect.  Some love goes unrequited; some relationships don’t last.  Judy Garland lost that voice and that vivacity, but she never really lost her presence.

My friends who have fallen in love know that, because they’ve endured their fair share of disappointment and sorrow.  That does not erase the elation they now know.  And if this relationship moves to something deeper, that elation will get burnished and shine differently.  I hope that for them.

When I was growing up, my parent had this funny whiskey decanter set that was a trolley car.  The center held two different cut glass decanters, and at each end of the car, roped off with a little chain, were two shot glasses.  When you lifted one of the decanters, a music box started playing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

I supposed we all leave our hearts somewhere.  Perhaps it’s best to leave our hearts with someone.

Clang, clang, clang.

 

heart

And then we built a life together

IMG_5708Two friends of mine are courting in a way that reminds me of the courtship my husband and I had.  We had been friends for a few years before we started dating, and when we did start dating, we tried to keep it under wraps for a while.  We had a lot of friends in common, friends who had been wanting for a long time to see each of us meet that someone, friends who would jump up and down that we had in fact met that someone, and it was us.

So I’ve been thinking about our courtship then and our life now almost twelve years later.  That fall when we were falling in love, it was as though everything smelled like honey coming from bees wax, and dating on the sly (or so we thought) added an element of intrigue, and when I would get to see him it felt like it was sunny and 70 or a full moon with a light breeze for those days we did get to spend together.

Now we’ve been married for ten years, and we’ve moved a few times.  We were thrilled to have one child, and disappointed at times and crushed at other times not to have another.  We work together now, too, and in so many ways the bloom is off the rose.

But the bloom never stays on the rose; what fun would that be?  We’re more tired than we were when we were courting.  We have more gray hairs.  We don’t dance nearly as often as we used to.  But we still have this sense that we are in this together, and when it’s good that’s a good thing, and when it’s not good it can feel like a bit of a millstone.  But we’re lucky, I guess, because the times when it’s not good are few and far between.

It is hard to work together when we’re both under stress and under the same stress – we have nowhere to escape to, really, and the person I would normally turn to wants to turn to me and then we get in this self-perpetuating cycle of angst, so he goes to watch a rerun of “Friends” and I bury myself in a crossword puzzle until we’re settled enough to come out of our respective corners and put down our dukes and figure out what to do next.

Yes, after ten years of marriage, the bloom is off the rose, or better, the hydrangea is starting to fade.  We have a bright blue hydrangea in our yard, and I love it when it belts out this cobalt blue that seems somehow Mermanesque.  But the blue only lasts for so long.  And then the really interesting thing starts to happen.  The blue fades to purple, and then to an oxblood sort of red, and then green comes in, so that when I finally cut it, it’s these subtle shades that emerged almost impossibly from the cobalt of those first blossoms.

Our marriage is like that – the usual and unique experience of our first love burst out one day when we were ready to tell our friends.  And then we married, and moved, and changed jobs, and had a kid, and didn’t have another kid, and moved, and changed jobs.  We’re not starry-eyed anymore; rarely does everything smell like honey.  There’s more silence, sometimes full and beautiful and sometimes tense and wary.

But it’s interesting, this marriage.  And still beautiful, in its own way.  The colors have changed, but there are colors still.

IMG_6083

For Pauly G.

Many waters cannot quench love

A few days ago I asked my Facebook world what they were hankering to read a blog about; the answers were few.  But two friends both said they wanted to read something about love.  One of them, a former college professor of mine and a drama queen in the absolute best sense of the term, said this:  “The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.”  I don’t think my former professor is a religious sort of person, but her suggestion immediately took me to the Song of Songs.

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.

Death has been around more than usual of late, and I find little mysterious about the deaths nearest me.  A member of my extended family died after a long illness, and there may have been some small mercy that he died before the disease took a more humiliating and painful toll.  A young child in our congregation’s circle had a brain tumor removed and the family faces a very different future than the one they imagined for her; their original dreams have died.  Little disappointments add up to small deaths.  And all this in the midst of Eastertide.

Death has not felt mysterious lately, but I know that it does feel that way sometimes.  To be with someone in his last hours; to sit with a family as tears pour out when their 102-year-old aunt steps through the veil, tears of gratitude and relief; to walk a cemetery like a tourist, an unintentional voyeur of another’s grief: there is mystery in death.  It’s not the mystery of why lungs stop inflating and deflating or why a heart stops beating.  It’s the mystery of the silence after, the vacancy of a life.  It’s the void that some of us fill with hope that there is more.  It’s the moment after the conductor picks up the baton, before the music begins.

Love usually feels mysterious.  On any given day I would be hard-pressed to say why I love my spouse and child.  I could tell you what I love about them, but if you asked my why I love them, I’d likely stammer out, “Because I do.”  It’s a privilege to love others in the cloud of mystery – some bosom friends, a parent or two.  Some loves defy explanation.  I will not name their names in order to protect the innocent, but I have two relatives, married to each other, and for the life of me and everyone else in the family, we cannot figure out what ever got them together, but fifty years later, there they are, tending to each other and bickering and getting creaky together.

Maybe love is more of a mystery because unlike death, we cannot always point to its work.  We see the still, yellowing body and we know that death has come; mystery solved.  But we see a garden, or a child, or we stand in a field in the middle of nowhere and look up at the shimmery night sky, and wonder if love made those things come to be.  We watch the protests, and volunteers going through the rubble, and watch the watchers of the Supreme Court, and wonder if love is the force that weaves them together.

Would I say love is stronger than death? I would. I believe I have evidence to support the claim.  But I would rather join Oscar Wilde in saying that the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.  It is in the mystery where we find ourselves without answers or solutions or our usual bag of tricks. It is in the mystery where we have only ourselves, and those few friends who will stay with us in the uncertainty, and for some of us, the Divine.

It is the mystery of love where I find my greatest hope, because if I cannot explain it, then it must be true.

http://www.forestwander.com

For Jim and Zinnia, with love

Holding fast to the good: Christmas Eve

Haring-Life-of-Christ-Altarpiece-500One of the readers of this blog recently commented that a few of my recent posts have been a bit on the down side, and as I looked over them, I realized she was right.  I have been in a bit of a professional funk, which happens.  I tend to be a glass-half-full kind of person, evidenced by the title of this blog.  The funk needs some personal reflection and you all don’t need to be a part of that.  But I have encouraged myself not only to hold fast to what is good, but to look for what is good, and to share some stories of good news.  So here’s one of those stories.  (And those in it gave me their permission to tell it.)

Our later Christmas Eve service is a beautiful thing.  Our choir sings like the angels.  Our deacons are on it, hospitable with first-timers, alert when all the candles are lit, staying late to clean up afterwards.  The worship committee has worked hard on decorations and details.  But the management of all that falls on me as the pastor for worship.  Do the pastors and ushers have their big candles?  Will the lights go out in the right order at the right time?  Did we print enough bulletins? Did our communion team put the elements in the loft for the choir? Did I remember to remind our congressman that the service starts an hour earlier than it used to, so he won’t show up an hour late?  All of which is to say that sometimes it’s hard to get in the mood for worship when all those details are swirling around in my head.

But I do try to set those details aside; at some point what will happen will happen because of or in spite of all our planning.  And Christmas Eve is so beautiful in the necessary sort of way, even magical for some.  And I love Incarnation maybe more than I love Resurrection.  So here’s a bit of Incarnation reality on Christmas Eve.

Like almost every other church, we light Advent candles for the weeks leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Eve we light the three purples, the pink, and the big white Christ candle.  We usually ask our new members, folks who have joined in the last year, to light the candles as a way to include them and introduce them.  This Christmas Eve two of our new members were the lighter/readers.  One a soprano from the choir, and one a transgender woman who came to know us because of a tragedy – the murder of a friend of hers who was a member of our church.  They carried out their roles with aplomb and grace and poise.

We pastors processed in during the prelude, and as I settled in and tried to rid my brain of the detaily things and the gnats of minutia, I watched the people come in.  Some I knew; many I didn’t, but there is a joy to watching people come in because it’s Christmas Eve and they want to be in church.  Arriving just a minute or so late were some other new members: a lovely woman and her son who is physically disabled and in a large motorized wheelchair, her best friend, her sister-in-law, and his nurse.  We don’t have a good space for folks in wheelchairs, so they came up and sat in the front row.

As I watched them settle in, I realized that because we were having communion by intinction, everyone who came up would pass by this family as they returned to their pews.  I wondered if it would be hard for some to see this young man in his wheelchair, if for some there is an expectation that everything is pretty and “normal” on Christmas Eve, if the sight of this man would be jarring.  I hoped not, because I know him a little, and because I know that the sight of him in his chair doesn’t begin to capture his personality or his mind, or the love this family has for each other.

Three weeks later, as I think about Christmas Eve and those who were a part of the service, I think we got something right.  Maybe the lights didn’t go out quite right, maybe my meditation was a little more depressing than I had intended, but we got at least one thing right: people who in the past would have been shunned at church were not only welcomed, they were front and center, a part of things.  Because if there is one thing to take away from that stable in Bethlehem, it is that everyone has a place there.  And I will hold fast to that.

“Remembering the stable where for once in our lives

Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

(W.H. Auden, For the Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio)

Sometimes there are no words

angel weepingSometimes there are no words for the things that human beings do to each other.

Sometimes there are no words to express our horror, or our sadness, or our fear.

Because we humans are capable of being so very inhuman. We forget that we have minds that allow us to think before acting. We forget that we were created to love. We forget that we don’t have to go through this alone, but we have friends and strangers who will help us get through the rough spots.

At the end of his life, Jesus had very few words. “I thirst.” “Forgive them.” “It is finished.” But in those few words he spoke there was no hatred. There was no blame. There was no judgment. There was pain in his words, of course. He had been in physical agony as he died. His spirit was in agony, too, wondering if God had left him there.

But at his core, Jesus was love, and so even in the pain of his dying, love shone through.

At his core, was Jesus expressing his human side, or was he expressing the God part of him? Because if he was expressing his Godliness, then there is no expectation that we should show love whenever we are in pain. But if it was his humanity showing, if that was Jesus the man who loved even at the end, well then, we are not off the hook.

Sometimes there is only one word that will get us through this life, and that word is love.

A Different Valentine

no val“How glad the many millions of Timothy and Williams would be, to capture me;

But you showed such persistance, you wore down my resistance .  I fell, and it-

Blah blah blah.  Valentine’s Day is almost here, and once again, I confess I greet the day with a bit of indifference.  I’m really not much of a romantic, and if my beloved were to come home on the fourteenth with a dozen red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I would pretend to be delighted, but he knows me well enough to know that I would think it a waste of money to buy those things when they are marked up for a one day, over-commercialized holiday.

In fact, on the fourteenth, I will take my beloved to the airport in the morning so that he can fly eastward to attend the memorial service of a dear friend.  And that is way better than roses and chocolate.  I love roses and chocolate, but I love presence more.  There will probably be a card or two tucked into his backpack, maybe even some Moonstruck chocolate, but we won’t spend Valentine’s Day gazing with moon-eyes at each other over a bottle of wine.

When I was single, I hated Valentine’s Day.  There was no place for it in the life of this singleton.  All the commercials, the relentless aisles in the grocery store, the radio stations: they all conspired to remind me that I was a One on a day meant for Two.  Yes, my mom and a few friends would always send me a card, and I appreciated that.  But there was no way to escape the day.  I could go out with girlfriends, or stay at home with Ben and Jerry and Colin Firth, but it was a day whose end I always greeted with relief.

I’m married now, and that takes the pressure off although, truth be told, we usually haven’t done much on February 14.  But our child still loves Valentine’s Day, and she really, really wants us to celebrate as a family.  So I trot out the heart-shaped lights, and we make a heart-shaped pink cake to be eaten after a pink meal (steak for us, pink mac ‘n’ cheese for her, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries).  We spend arduous hours making Valentines for classmates, and for grandparents, and for single friends.  But I’m still ambivalent about the day, because I know there are a lot of Ones out there, and it’s a day advertised for Twos.

I wonder if there is a way to reclaim a bit of the holiness of the day.  It was (and still is) the feast day of St. Valentine, an early martyr.  Originally it was a day to commemorate the loving, selfless act of one person; might we recreate that sense some how? I have a friend who always donates blood on Valentine’s Day.  That’s loving and selfless.   Going to the memorial service of a dear friend is a loving act, and I am so glad my husband is doing that.  Surely there are other loving, selfless acts we might engage in that would honor the saint whose legend has spawned an unfortunate industry.

I’m tempted to buy all those heart-shaped boxes at the grocery store and hand them out to the guys sitting out in front of Peet’s, holding the cardboard signs.  I’m tempted to buy up roses and hand them out to the men and women working at the gas stations and grocery stores and the restaurants and the hospitals and the shelters and all those other places that don’t just close down.  I’m tempted to walk the halls of middle schools and tell all those poor, crushed souls that it gets better and everyone is a jerk in one way or another in junior high.

But I probably won’t.  Instead, I’ll take my husband to the airport, then I’ll help out at the party at school, then my child and I will do something special – get a pizza, and rent a movie, and call daddy and tell him we miss him and we love him.  I will call a couple of my single friends in an act of reclaiming that love is for Ones and Twos and Twelves and all of us.

Haring-Life-of-Christ-Altarpiece-500

Keith Haring, Life of Christ Altarpiece

The Hate Part and the Love Part

heartI wonder if we homo sapiens are genetically engineered to hate.  Or to love, for that matter.

I suppose our ability to hate could be the monster offspring of the fight-or-flight impulse.  In order to survive, we human beings learned to detect a threat, and to run away or defend our turf.   Do that often enough and a pattern forms, an enemy becomes a familiar threat.  We grow an emotion that is attached to the impulse.  Hate is born.

What about love?  Where does that come from?   People like me who believe in God believe that love is an extra chromosome-like thing that God drops into the human heart.  Of course, we believers struggle with God and the existence of hate, too.  If God created us in the divine image, does the Divine One have a fight-or-flight impulse?  Or is fear part of free will, and part of the development of the human psyche that God allows to unfurl as we march onward?  We have free will, therefore, we have fear and hate – that’s the pat answer in my head when those sticky questions arise.

This morning’s glance at the news apps on my I-phone prompted the thinking.  Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and this morning there are blog posts and headlines and editorials in abundance about the value of that speech and the state of race relations in our nation today.  The president and his advisors are contemplating military action in Syria.  I looked at a gorgeous and heartbreaking slide show of elephants in Africa being slaughtered for their ivory tusks.  The controversy of gay and lesbian athletes at the Russian Olympics continues.  Perpetrators of rape in the U.S. and India are being sought and persecuted, while some of those victims die or take their own lives.  Miley Cyrus seems to be getting a fair bit of press, too.

Hate abounds, borne out of fear and control and ignorance and a desire for power (which comes from fear and control.)  Does love abound more? Is there more love than hate, or are we fighting a losing battle?  And should I even use military language to describe love?  Is hate easier to see than love?  Is it easier to hate than it is to love?  Is hate more natural than love?

I want love to win.  I really do.  I want love to be stronger than hate,  I want love to stand up to the racists, and the chemical weapons, and the poaching, and the homophobia, and the violence, and the judgment.  I want love to win, but it’s not going to unless we let go of all the crap that is the by-product of that primordial fight-or-flight impulse.

I want love to win, and I want more love.  Not everyone who wants love to win shares the same belief system that I do.  That’s okay.  I know some very loving atheists, and I’d be interested in knowing what they think is the source of love.  Is there even a source of love, or is it someone we develop, work on, strengthen, build up?

We’ve been reading Robert Coles’ book about Ruby Bridges with our daughter.  I cannot read it without tearing up, thinking about that brave little six-year-old going to school with an armed guard, praying for the people who were shouting such terrible things at her.  There was love in that heart; there was courage too.  Maybe that’s it: hate is borne out of fear, but love is borne out of courage.

NORMAN ROCKWELL PAINTING RUBY BRIDGES

“The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell

May we have brave hearts.

The God of Second Chances

(This is a wedding homily for a couple at the church.  When discussing the service, which is very simple, the bride commented that it would be great if the homily could be like one of my blog posts.  It is posted here with their permission.  So here you are, Libby and Randy: may love continue to lead your way.)

lego bgWe stand here, at the beginning of a new thing today, because of the ending of some other things: the ending of solitude and loneliness, the end of the crush of grief, the end of the fear of loving again.  We stand here, today, on this glorious afternoon in this glorious spot of creation, because of second chances, because of this God we have who gives second chances to us beloveds.

The fact that you two stand up here this day says something about your confidence in second chances.  With this second chance you kind of know what you’re in for, or what you may be in for – the good and the bad and the heartbreaking of it.  But this love, this relationship, this commitment to each other is compelling, and here you are.

But maybe all of this isn’t really about second chances.  Maybe it’s not about that at all.  Maybe it really is about that stuff Paul described: faith and hope and love.

Faith in each other: the faith that this is a person I can trust; that this is a person who’s been through as much hell as I have and like me has come through to the land of the living; that this is a person I want to waltz with early and often.

Hope that something good was learned the first time around; hope that some of the things that happened before won’t happen this time; hope not that I will change this person, but that I will  be changed for the better because I am committed to this person.

And love, that four-letter word we toss about like a frisbee on a spring day.  You two know what love is, what real love is.  You know how love gets you through the grief and the loss and the disappointment.  You know how loves makes a tarnished old piece of life look shiny and new.   You’ve watched each other love your parents; you’ve watched each other love your brothers and sisters; you’ve watched each other love and raise your sons.  And you admire how each other loves, and you’re inspired by that, and you want to be in the midst of all of that adorable radiance.

We may well be here because of second chances, but really, I don’t think there’s any chance to this at all.  You’ve worked too hard to suggest that your marriage is the offspring of whimsy or serendipity or luck.  You’ve been loved by people who didn’t want to see you alone; you’ve been encouraged by your family and your friends and some professionals; you’ve been held up by each other.  You’ve been wise and patient.  And now you get the joy, and the rest of your life, together, and the waltz.  A future in 3/4 time: now that’s a second chance.

libby randy

Prayer of blessing for the marriage

Loving God, we thank you for the gift of this day, and for the gift of love, and for the gift that Libby and Randy are to so many of us.   In our gratitude and joy, we ask for your blessing on these two people as they make official their commitment to each other, to life together.

Bless them as parents, as they raise boys into men, and give them patience and wisdom and discerning hearts when the Legos have taken over  the living room and when curfews are broken. Bless their sons in this new version of family, and give them patience with their parents, and wisdom, and discerning hearts. 

Bless Randy and Libby as professionals in their careers, with a sense of accomplishment and challenge, with gratitude for the talents they have,  and with work that is meaningful and rewarding.

Bless Libby and Randy as daughter and son, as they care for their parents and demonstrate all that they have learned from them.

Bless them as brother and sister, as they discover again and again the camaraderie and friendship of their siblings.

And mostly this day, O God, we ask that you bless them as husband and wife, in their care for each other; on the days when everything is sunshine and a good IPA, and on the days when it’s gray gray Portland and the toast burned and washer backed up and tempers are short and relief feels an eternity away. Bless them with joy, at least a drop every day, and sometimes buckets. Bless them with joy, knowing that their joy is infectious, and becomes ours as well. Thank you, O God; thank you.  Amen.

Seven

I don’t remember much about being seven, but here’s what I do remember:

That my teacher, Miss Manley, got married in the middle of the year and then we needed to call her Mrs. Dwyer.  She invited us all to her wedding, and I wore my sister’s hand-me-down blue dress with the pretty ribbon on the front.  My best friend Jeanne asked me to wear that dress for her birthday, but I forgot.

Me at 7

Me at 7

I remember playing Lost in Space with Carolyn and Cindy, the two girls who lived across the street who were both a year older than I was; I always had to play Penny because I was the youngest, but I really wanted to play Judy.  I also remember the smell of the Avon girl’s “lipstick” – sort of chocolate-y and cake batter-ish.

I remember my little brother was born when I was seven.  I don’t remember the exact day he came home, but I do remember being annoyed when he would cry in the middle of the night and wake me up.  (Our relationship has improved since then.)

That’s really about all I remember.  We moved from New Jersey to Texas when I was eight, so it’s easy for me to differentiate years.  But I don’t remember much, which bothers me ever so slightly because my daughter just turned seven, and is navigating new landscapes every day, landscapes that bear no resemblance to anything I remember from that time in my life.

She loves screens – computer screens, tv screens, Iphone screens, and we limit her.  When I was seven we had one black and white tv with an antenna; watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom followed by the Wonderful World of Disney on a Sunday night was a big deal.  Now, we DVR things when we can’t watch them live, or she watches things again and again, while we try mightily to limit all the screen time to under two hours, just like the Wise People say we should.

Life is VERY dramatic for her.  She weeps – weeps- when she forgets to bring back her library books, weeps when she has to brush her teeth in the morning.  She is highly put out when the teacher rearranges the seating and she has to sit by Guy, who is annoying, and Ivan, who is distracting.  She is smart-mouthed and sassy, and when we enact the natural consequences of her bad choices, she sobs again.  We don’t spank her, mostly because I don’t think we could.  I remember only getting one spanking when I was little, for something we did when we went to Baskin Robbins.  To this day I have no idea what I did wrong; there was no connection between bad behavior and the spanking consequence, so that may have factored into our choice not to spank.

She dances.  She has moves that come out of some innate musical creature in here that just naturally gets the inference and mood of a song.  She invents steps.  She shakes her bum in a way that could bring Child Welfare out, so we only let her dance at home.

At seven, she has already figured out the Mommy Guilt card.  I don’t think she is actually trying to make me feel guilty, but she is quite articulate and expressive about her displeasure that I am always at work or at a meeting or something.  My mom stayed at home with us four kids, which is a different kind of a struggle, but I don’t remember even wishing she was around more.  (Nor do I remember wishing she was around less.)

She’s seven, and the world isn’t scary yet.  Strangers are still just potential friends and not threats.  She still believes in Santa Claus, though she’s a little more suspicious about the Tooth Fairy.  She still gets lost in her imagination, playing for hours at a time with her Polly Pockets or stuffed animals or those Little People she just won’t give away yet.  To her, the words “fart”, “poop”, and “chicken” are the most hilarious words in the English language.

She tells me I’m the best mom in the world, and that she loves me more than  a chicken nugget, and that she will go to the local community college so that she can live with us forever.  That will change.  But for now, while she’s seven, I’m glad she loves us so much and so freely.  Everyone should have a seven-year-old in their life, if only to remind them how fun and complex the world is.