Birthing a Mother

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Her fate seizes her and brings her
down. She is heavy with it. It
wrings her. The great weight
is heaved out of her. It eases.
She moves into what she has become
sure in her fate now
as a fish free in the current.
She turns to the calf who has broken
out of the womb’s water and its veil.
He breathes. She licks his wet hair.
He gathers his legs under him
and rises. He stands, and his legs
wobble. After the months
of his pursuit of her now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.
~Wendell Berry  “Her First Calf”

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Seized, brought down, wrung from, heaved out, pursued, then eased:
there is nothing gentle in what it takes to be birthed a mother;

once emptied, mothering becomes sweetness
as never tasted before,
a filling back up
in a face to face meeting
destined from the beginnings of time.

I have known you,
I knew each of you,
you have known me all along,
born in covenant promise
and set free at birth.

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Angels in the Wilderness

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…any father, particularly an old father, must finally give his child up to the wilderness and trust to the providence of God.

It seems almost a cruelty for one generation to beget another when parents can secure so little for their children, so little safety, even in the best circumstances. Great faith is required to give the child up, trusting God to honor the parents’ love for him by assuring that there will indeed be angels in that wilderness.
~Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

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This is a reassuring truth:  watching our children leave our home to a life of their own, I trusted in God’s providence there would be angels in the wilderness waiting to guide them (and indeed there have been and continue to be).

In turn, every day as I head to work in my clinic, I have opportunity to be an angel in the wilderness for children who have left their parents’ home and are seeking out their own path, sometimes choosing one that is twisting, rocky, full of pitfalls and perilous. 

Despite my own weariness, holding this perspective helps me greet each new face with a mother’s embrace.

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End of the Year Tears

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Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.
~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”

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photo by Nate Gibson

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

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I don’t pay close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes when I’m looking for kleenex to stem the flow.  During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out from my tears the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, so I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.

It mostly has to do with welcoming family members back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with puzzles and games and music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell as we did yet again this morning, gathering them in for that final hug and then that letting-go part.

We urge and encourage them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be, even thousands of miles away from their one-time home on the farm.

I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if granted the years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I will go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children.   They release a fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.

No kleenex needed with these tears.

Let them flow as I let them go.

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A Blessing for Hairy Toes

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“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

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photo of Samwise Gamgee by Nate  Gibson

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photo by Nate Gibson

Tolkien’s Hairy Toes Blessing has been one of my more popular blog posts when I have posted it before, most likely because our corgis are just like hobbits with irresistible hairy toes. Yet the message itself goes beyond cute: it is indeed a good thing to give and receive blessings.

It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing.   But I like the idea of blessings starting from the bottom up,  encompassing our most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions must extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

Today especially necessitates a special blessing not invoking hairy toes: our daughter moves several hours away to start her first permanent teaching job, so I send the following blessing with her as she drives away to start her new life (shared by my dear friend Alice in New York):

…Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path….
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
~John O’Donohue from “Blessing for Presence”  from To Bless the Space Between Us

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Slow Down the Passage of Time

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June 2000

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June 2010

The ten years between these pictures could not possibly have flown by more quickly.  Our three children could no longer “fit” in a little cave on our favorite west Vancouver Island beach, but we still could spend a few days together appreciating each others’ company as five adults.   The games around the table in the beach cabin were a bit more competitive, the conversation quite a bit deeper, the meals prepared by expert 21 year old hands, and much of the time everyone had their nose in a book.  When we all climbed into the hot tub together, we displaced a lot more water.  However, we still worked to build a sand castle with a moat in order to watch the incoming tide, much like the tide of time,  collapse it with a few swiping crashing waves.

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Now leaping forward six years, there are more wonderful changes, increasing the complexity of being all in one place as a family.  With the addition of two daughters-in-law with our sons on either side of the globe, we can now gather “virtually” to break bread together.  Building a sand castle to watch it wash away has become the stuff of memories.

There is much about our family that remains the same even as we have expanded and now dwell thousands of miles apart.  I rest in that knowledge.  I’m simply asking for the passage of time to take its time washing us back to sea.

 

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When You Get There

Empty Hospital Bed
Vigil at my mother’s bedside

Lying still, your mouth gapes open as
I wonder if you breathe your last.
Your hair a white cloud
Your skin baby soft
No washing, digging, planting gardens
Or raising children
Anymore.

Where do your dreams take you?
At times you wake in your childhood home of
Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom.
Other naps take you to your student and teaching days
Grammar and drama, speech and essays.
Yesterday you were a young mother again
Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.

Today you looked about your empty nest
Disguised as hospital bed,
Wondering aloud about
Children grown, flown.
You still control through worry
and tell me:
Travel safely
Get a good night’s sleep
Take time to eat
Call me when you get there

I dress you as you dressed me
I clean you as you cleaned me
I love you as you loved me
You try my patience as I tried yours.
I wonder if I have the strength to
Mother my mother
For as long as she needs.

When I tell you the truth
Your brow furrows as it used to do
When I disappointed you~
This cannot be
A bed in a room in a sterile place
Waiting for death
Waiting for heaven
Waiting

And I tell you:
Travel safely
Eat, please eat
Sleep well
Call me when you get there.

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Great Grandma Elna meeting Noah 5 days before she died, 2008

 

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Elna Schmitz as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a WSC production in Pullman, Washington in 1940

Spring’s Ephemeral Cathedral

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You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me…but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.
~Dana Giola “The Apple Orchard”

 

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
―  J.R.R. Tolkien

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In despairing moments, we recollect and hold on to memories most precious to us, recalling what makes each moment, indeed life itself,  special and worthwhile.

It can be something so seemingly simple that becomes the most cherished and retrievable–the aroma of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the splash of colors in a carefully tended garden spot, the cooing of mourning doves as light begins to dawn, the velvety soft of a newborn foal’s fur, the embrace of welcoming arms, the wish that we had reached out and grasped something forever lost to us due to our hesitation in the moment.

As we approach the memories brought fresh by upcoming Mother’s, Father’s and Memorial Days,  it is those simple things we recall and treasure, pass on in stories, and never leave buried in the ground.  The legacy of these memories lives and thrives in the next and then the next generation, to be told and retold, not to rest, eventually to be forgotten, under a marker.

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?  Do you remember?

 

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