Thursday, May 30, 2013

Leaving the edges wild

My Memorial Weekend will certainly be what its name implies: memorable and not in any traditional sense.

I was lured on an adventure by some very generous and wonderful people in my life. At first, I refused, saying it was too generous. They "worked" me and I agreed. Not very grateful of me – was it? That is a new practice for me. Hopefully, this blog will express some of my gratitude.

The entire 24-plus hour experience was gift after gift. First, a gathering, then side trip to Jungle Jim's for food. Let the adventure begin. Even ran into Jungle himself while texting my daughter from the first-class airline seats by the checkout. "If you press this button," Jungle said flipping open a panel, "the stewardess will bring you coffee."

Off to a great start.

After stuffing the car with food, we jaunted through the countryside caravanning in two vehicles, stopping to visit very welcoming family, who lived near the cabin for which we were headed.

We arrived at the state park in enough time to cook a feast, then leave again for what was the real purpose of this trip: a special concert by Over the Rhine at their farm. Two of the four of us are die-hard fans. One, familiar with their songs and me, well, a newbie ... just, casually going along for the ride.

When we turned down their lane and I spied the gorgeous early Ohio, brick farmhouse, I knew this would be memorable. A giant, puffy white tent graced the grounds. A cut field accommodated orderly parking and four Port-o-lets sported working outside sinks, well stocked with soap and towels. I adored walking through the woods lined with white lights to and from the green cubicles.

This event was to thank generous fans for supporting the creation of their newest album: Meet me at the Edge of the World. The name is just luscious and I was immediately captivated. It speaks on so many levels.

Supporters were invited early to bring a picnic or participate in the cookie exchange and free cappuccinos. What an ingenious idea: dozens and dozens of mostly home-baked cookies. We had packed our cooler with snacks and drinks: all of the creature comforts.

Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist played the full two hours, with a short break near the end for Karin to do what most of us had already: visit the Port-o-lets. They're very humble, authentic people.

I, too, fell in love with this duo: their harmony, poetry, perspective, talent, awe of nature, sense of place and emphasis on relationship. Their music and lyrics are deeply rooted and spiritual; they celebrate connection and connectedness. 

Being at their home was a gift. Their music another, but the gift that surprised me most was how their perspective of Ohio made me see it through different eyes, eyes that had been opened by the beautiful drive through the lush farmland to the concert. They helped me really like where I live instead of seeing it as a place I landed by chance, not choice. One of their lyrics says "I want to kiss you all over, Ohio." I also loved "Give me a swig of a little kick-ass beauty."

I was thrilled to learn they met at a Quaker college and share the Quakerism connection with me. On the ride home, I googled them and discovered that Karin was raised in Barnesville, a Quaker area of Ohio that I have loved and visited many times.

They interspersed their music-making with stories and ended with Q and A. The story that spoke closest to my heart was how one of their father's, Linford's I think, told them to leave the edges of their property wild. Such a metaphor. Leave the edges wild ... and open.

• When have I said yes to graciousness and generosity?
• What gifts emerged?
• How did I express my gratitude?
• How can I leave my edges wild?
• What does that mean to me?

thinking it was
too much,
that I could not
repay the extreme
kindness or, perhaps,
that I wasn't
deserving enough

finally took a
backseat to

which carved
so much more
room for gifts
of all kinds

but, most
the one that
helps me
leave my edges
wild and

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Time for recess, Mr. C!

Our first meeting was formal: in his office and I was armed with list of questions. I was interviewing him, after all. He would be my daughter's elementary-school principal and I wanted to find out what type of school he captained. I came away more than satisfied. We'd even had a chat about racism, which was on my heart at the time, as it is often, because of my heavy involvement in a local group attempting to understand and bridge the concern. He'd passed my test and I was comfortable sending my oldest to kindergarten under his care.

How was I to know just what kind of educator he would be and how he would influence and inspire my whole family, let alone hundreds of others.

Gregg Curless, beloved Pattison Elementary principal, is retiring next week. It hardly seems possible. Yesterday, I attended the volunteers' tea, where the school pulls out all of the stops to say thank you, and he hosted. I specifically went because it would be my last chance, perhaps, to see Mr. C and say goodbye.

I greeted him with a big hug and said, "This has got to be surreal."

"It is," he responded. "I feel like this (retiring) is happening to someone else. I remember my first day as a principal, walking into the hallway with a clipboard and wondering what I was doing. I think June 1 (his first official day of retirement) will be the same."

Pattison Principal Gregg Gurless where he shines best: in the midst of students
I do know Pattison won't ever be the same with his vacancy. No, his perennially smiling face, warm hugs and acknowledgement of every student and parent by name will be missing. But his spirit, enthusiasm, compassion and fairness will linger in his loyal staff and the memory of students and parents within the building, within the district and well beyond. Hard to tell how far his reach extends. Pretty widely, I'd guess.

I know with certainly that my girls are better people because of Mr. C. They felt recognized and affirmed by him and were utterly nurtured by his wise and skillful staff. Sure, there were a few bumps in the road, but Mr. C was always available with a groundedness and genuine love of being an educator that took the sting away.

As a parent, I am biased. He loved my children, but not just mine: he loved them all. He always showed genuine appreciation for any volunteer work I offered, adored seeing my husband at lunch regularly and praised the products of our parenting. And, he approached everything with a wonderful sense of humor.

I never heard an unkind word from staff members, which is pretty amazing given that he was their boss. They respect him. One of them on the new-principal-selection committee said she felt honored to help fill his shoes because he had been such a blessing.

When my oldest went to the junior high, she was stunned that the principal wasn't out in the hall everyday roaming among and greeting students by name. Well, honey, I said, this is junior high and Mr. Curless is not the principal here.

I will never understand how one person can have a memory bank that accommodates 700 names, plus those of parents and siblings and seems to grasp each family's structure. I can't even remember what I had for dinner last night.

Mr. C once shared a great story about one of my favorite neighborhood kids. Of course, the kid did something a little daring, but what the principal remembered was that he was honest about the action and that it really was funny, although I'm certain the child never knew he thought that. He understands people, how to motivate them and play to their strengths. Such a gift that has been given over and over, year after year.

I think it's time for your recess, Mr. C! Thank you.

• How has an educator inspired you?
• Who has been the Mr. C in your/your child's life?
• How can we acknowledge and show gratitude to those people?
• How are you a better person as a result?
• How do you experience the ripple effect of that nurturing?

My class this
week focused
on gratitude

not just
the action,
but making
it a practice

a way of

some very
people come
across our
paths as

one whose
mine frequently
for the past
won't be
there physically
after next week

but his
lives on in
my heart
and that
of countess
and parents


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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Naked-baby confessions

The naked plastic dolls in my studio have become a subject of curiosity. Enough so, that I am taking note. There's a petite basket full of tiny ones that my mother was ready to pitch as she downsized. I couldn't let them go to the dumpster. Then the closer to real-sized models. Two look like clones except one is smaller. They came from the local thrift shop. They were so cute and lifelike, I couldn't resist and, besides, my girls were in the baby-doll stage then. The last used to be a Baby Jesus, sans his halo. People ask what that missing chunk out of the back of is head is ... well, it's where the halo used to be, I respond.

Somewhere along the line they were all clothed. Not now and I think that may mean something ... something significant.

Mostly people marvel over them and deem it appropriate for an artist's studio amid the plush toys, Godzillas and giant princess Halloween mask. They, however, really freaked out a recent visitor from Taiwan. A quiet teen who wants to be a film  director. No horror, she said. No wonder she didn't like the  defrocked dolls.

Other baby confessions as long as we're at it: I've always liked dirty babies in diapers  ... you know the ones someone is not quite tending. No clothes, no shoes, usually a full diaper and no attention of any kind. They're on their own, playing in the mud, sticking a dirty spoon or rock in their mouths. Saturday I gave my favorite baby gift: a basket jammed with pristine onsies, soft socks and thick wash cloths – all white. Pure and simple: just like real infants.

Sitting in worship Sunday, ruminating on a wonderful poem our minister chose to read, made me think of those molded infants. The poem was Louisa Fletcher's "The Land of Beginning Again" and the minister also mentioned early, influential Quaker Margaret Fell and her conception of letting the light "convict" us, laying all open for us to see: the good, bad and ugly.

I have known that place – perhaps too well. It's a place of nothingness, no clothes, protection or screening. Something like these buff babies I seem to collect. And then the poetic line that really stung me was:
"And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
like an old friend that waits
For the comrad he's gladdest to hail."

This poem is about starting over clean, dropping our mistakes and headaches "like a shabby coat at the door." I shivered at the line about a friend waiting at the gates, thinking:
"What if it's yourself you wait to meet at the gate of forgiveness?"

I am beginning to believe those babies represent my innocence and vulnerability, My True Self and my inner children. Some of the things that have been lain bare alongside the darker parts. I've been sifting through the dirtier, messier stuff. Maybe it's time to put that aside and claim these delicious little babies.

• When have I unconsciously collected something that held deeper meaning?
• What was that meaning?
• How was I awakened to it?
• How does living into my oddness or uniqueness help me claim more of my True Self?
• How do I express my awe, wonder and gratitude to Spirit for this journey?

they have riveted me

nothing hiding,
no protection

the live ones
babbling and
playing on as if
it doesn't matter
they're not tended

the hard facsimiles
don't notice anyway

just beckon me
with their exposure

helping me see
mine and
appreciating it

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Boundaries of the heart

Mother’s Day has prompted me to explore what I’ve learned about the responsibility in the past year and how my perspective has shifted.

I feel very motherly toward the 13 under-served neighborhood kids I’ve championed through art the past nine months. I write them a personal note between monthly sessions and phone several days ahead as a reminder. I often encounter them walking through the neighborhood, at the grocery and in their complex, which I visit several times a month.

Artsy Fartsy registration & community art day/Tad Barney photo
I’ve gotten to know them and their families. I’ve visited some of their homes and organized my neighborhood and faith communities to purchase a computer, printer and years’ worth of Internet for one very needy family. I often find myself encouraging mothers and grandmothers, reminding them of the goodness that I experience in and with their children. Heaven knows, I need reminders about my own kids. Sometimes I feel as if I parent these younger, single mothers at times. Maybe that’s because I don’t carry the burden they do.

Without exception, most of the 10 girls in the program come from single-parent families or bounce between parents. Several are fortunate to have very active grandmothers in their lives. A pair of sisters is being raised by their father. I don’t know the story, but there is no evidence of a mother; there is an involved grandmother and dedicated extended family. Interestingly, the boys live with both parents. One is the oldest of five and I see how his father really works at being responsible. I don’t think he’s ever had a role model; however the father of one of the other boys mentors him. I’ve witnessed how hard the father of sisters works to make sure his girls are involved. His youngest is the first kid I met at the complex the day I visited to plant yard signs announcing Artsy Fartsy. She and her sister, along with their father, were promptly the first in line to sign up.

So it was with a heavy heart I learned they had moved, though I know things I hear in the complex are not always the truth. As several said when interviewed about the impact Artsy Fartsy has had, “it gets us away from the drama.” Then I remembered that the father’s phone had been disconnected and he had driven the girls last time in his father’s car. All the other times they had taken the van one of the boy’s fathers drives when he’s not working Saturdays.

In desperation and because I really care about these girls, I called their school … just to confirm they had moved. The secretary, who iterated that she could not give out personal information, said the father had assured her they had not. Yet, I’d received no answer when I’d knocked at the door several times and called the second contact number. Putting on my persistent-reporter hat, I asked if she could tell me if any of the phone numbers I had were still good. No, she responded, then kindly gave me one that was, where I reached the father. Apparently he’d found work much closer to his parents’ house and was spending more time there, driving the girls back and forth.

I was so relieved.

I’ve been warned by well-intentioned others not to get too involved or feel like I have to be the social worker. I do take those concerns to heart and understand part of my growth work is in establishing boundaries.

But what, exactly, are the boundaries of the heart? Isn’t that the mother’s dilemma?

When I do understand something is not mine to do, but still feel as if I’d like to, the best remedy is prayer – to ask God to be present and working in that situation. It’s taken me a long time to recognize the wisdom and comfort in that act of faith and trust.

It’s that same action, one stemming from the heart, that stirred me, one step at a time, to prepare and eventually reach out to these children and families. Being human, I am certain I would have never said yes to Spirit had she outlined everything in total. I can, however, say yes one small piece at a time and be transformed in the process.

I believe mothering is simply the act of joining myself with other: 
myself + other = m’other = mother

• Who have been the “mothers” in my life?
• How am I a mother regardless of my gender?
• How do I join myself with other?
• How has prayer helped me ask God to mother when I can not?
• How has mothering expanded my heart?

1# Yes
simply to help
40 first graders
with scissors

planting a seed

#2 Yes
Listening to
God’s call
to go to the
woods, alone,
on retreat

the soil

#3 Yes
Believing Jesus’
promise in the
center of the
that I would
not be given
more than
I could do

the dream

#4 Yes
applying for

the seedling

#5 Yes
setting up
the studio and
Artsy Fartsy

adding the
warmth of

#6 Yes
during the

growing my
trust and faith

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Living our dreams, not our doubts

The flow of grace has returned to my life. I am sure of myself and my work thanks to a series of affirmations and, of course, Spirit.

These past weeks really have begun to follow a pattern, the same one we've been exploring in the Turtlebox spiritual-nurture group. Last post I discussed the dark night of the soul, which was also the topic of Thursday's Turtlebox and  my most-attended session. I had provided a warning that this was a difficult topic and, still, they came. 

That was an affirmation I sorely needed as I had been struggling with some doubt in my own dark night.
Fallen/pastel on paper

Last Sunday, I experienced a very deep and powerful worship, though I had no vocal ministry, which is rare. I was almost so deep, I couldn't move. Our minister noticed, saying I didn't seem my usual self and suggested we talk. Automatically and surprisingly, I agreed. When I mentioned the dark night, she got all giddy and excused herself to return with a passage from a book on the dark night she had copied for some reason: me, she now believed. Then the talk turned to my ministry and how the Meeting has been puzzled that I haven't finished applying for funding. That when they created the fund, they all had me in mind: a person with many gifts and not in a regular job. She reiterated the Quaker notion of releasing one for ministry by financially helping with living expenses.

I had not been ready for this step because of my doubts, but now see that I am. Another affirmation.

In reading an e-mail from a Quaker friend who plans to volunteer this week with Artsy Fartsy, she said the nominating committing had just met and discussed my "sold vocal ministry." I thanked her on both counts and said I was grateful for the vote of confidence as I struggle with doubt.

A third affirmation.

After posting the last blog on dark night, a wonderful Quaker/writer/friend said it was one he'd read again because it applied so well to his current experience. Then he thanked me for sharing my explorations. I expressed my gratitude, mentioning that I often feel like Bridget Jones who says, at one point, that she doesn't need another person to tell her she's messed up because she feels that way most of the time.

A fourth affirmation.

Unexpectedly, my husband brought a letter to me to the studio. When I ripped it open – it was from a grant funder to whom I'd applied – a check for the total amount of my request spilled out. "Thank you for your commitment to the children in your community," it concluded.

Yet another VERY concrete affirmation.

The doubt really has dissipated along with the dark night. One of the wise women who has been attending Tutlebox said a spiritual director told her a long time ago that God is in your dreams and desires, not the doubt.

I believe that again.

And as we talked about Thursday at Turtlebox, the dark night strips us of ego and things of the world, so we may lose ourselves more fully in Spirit's flow of love, which I am feeling so powerfully and gratefully again.

I am living my dreams, not my doubts.

• When I have felt connected to Spirit, then separated?
• How did I experience that darkness and separation?
• What kept me going?
• If reconnection happened, what was that like?
• Where are my current dreams taking me?

A classic case:

months of near ecstasy
and energy

close encounters,
amazing experiences,
vivid dreams,
visions and images

best I've been
in years

so open, I
ask for

and BAM
it comes crashing
in, loosening
so much
old stuff ...
crud that was
still hanging
like a tether
to the old me

the one trapped
by ego 

and I stewed there

until I began
to understand
just where I
was – a
sorting house

soon it was
time to emerge
and fly

because the
baggage is gone
and my heart
is deepened,
but lighter

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