Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Eat Your Weeds

We have been a family of pretty avid vegetable gardeners for some time now. In spite of this, I have only just discovered that you can eat certain plants growing in your yard. And I mean WEEDS.  

As a kid, my sister and I would dare each other to eat chickweed seed pods or clover and we would feel like such bad-asses for doing it. Turns out that we were not even being daring- everything we ate was edible and good for us.

Keep in mind that if you are the type of homeowner who has pristine grass (and only grass) growing on your lawn, then this article will not really apply to you. If you are someone like me, who cannot even grow real grass so your lawn is actually a field of all sorts of wild plants that resemble grass if they are mowed down, then this one is for you!

Joel and I were wandering the farmer's market in our neighborhood a few weeks before I gave birth to Noelle. There was a sweet vendor there who took an interest in my gigantic belly and shared some baby stories with us. She happened to also keep a small vegetable garden and sold her food to folks at the market. I noticed that she was making salves from chickweed and asked her why. She seemed surprised that I didn't know that chickweed can help sooth all sorts of ailments and is jammed packed with nutrients. She said that she grows all sorts of greens in her garden and she makes sure never to pull out the chickweed, because it has much more nutritional value than the greens in her garden. She even adds it to her salads. She then threw in that it is really good for women who breastfeed. 

                                           

I came home and started researching what she said. Turns out, it was all true. And not only that, there is a whole host of goodies, both flavorful and nutritious, growing on our lawn. You can add Clover, Chickweed, Purslane, Plantain, Lamb's Quarters, and several other yard plants to salads or cook them like collards or kale. You can also expect them to help with some ailments and add more daily nutrients to your diet.  Dandelion plants are a real gem because you can eat every part of them. Their roots are good for teas and help with detoxifying the liver. Their flowers can be added to salads or sauteed. Their leaves can be added to salads, cooked or made into tea. What is not to love? And, who doesn't have a thousand of these flowers in your yard right now?

                                      

If you use pesticides or weed killers in your lawn then you should not experiment with eating your naturally occurring greens. However, if you have a garden and these plants make their way into your raised beds, perhaps, consider not weeding them out. They might just be what your body is looking for. If you would like to read more about this amazing discovery, check out this article by Derek Markham at Treehugger.com. If you are interested in these lawn weeds for medicinal uses, then check out this article by Web Ecoist.




Celebs explain true Happiness


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter

Everyone would have about an hour to get ready for worship after stuffing themselves full of delectable grits, biscuits, ham and bacon, eggs, pancakes and fruit at the Sunrise Breakfast. My sister and I would head home to put on our Easter dresses and Sunday shoes. Everyone in our church wore their Easter best and most of us girls would look forward to the new dress that we would probably be allowed to purchase for this special Sunday celebration. It was common for ladies to wear hats, especially Mrs. Frankie, and there might even be some gloves in the crowd. I don't think any of us believed that we had to dress up in order to go church; we wanted to dress up because it was a day to honor God with all that we have. 




After we would get all dressed up, we would wander around the yard and clip dogwood flowers, azaleas, irises, pretty much anything that was in bloom. We'd gather our bouquets and walk back across the road to Hopewell.

Entering the Sanctuary was like stepping into the Communion of Saints at the very gate of heaven. Everyone was as beautiful as the flowers they carried and their hearts burned with Christ's love. I would fall into one hug after another, waving, smiling, greeting, laughing...joy. The Sanctuary was fully restored now and was covered in Easter Lillie's.  

We became a jittery, glowy bunch by the time Daddy would invite us to prepare our hearts and minds for worship. We would sing, we would pray, we would experience Easter in full liturgical wonder.



In the place of the Children's Sermon, Daddy would invite the young and the young at heart to come down to the cross. "This cross once stood as a symbol of death, of sin that destroys our lives and world. Today, we remember that the church has been made new. We are forgiven! Christ is Risen!" With that, we would sing "Lift high the cross" and the young at heart would come forward to hang their flowers on the cedar rood. 

This part of worship could take up to 15 minutes and no one cared, there was no rush because we came here to worship. We came to gather in the name of the Lord and love him with our lives and actions. It was real for me, for us. People would "oo and ah" at the little tots who would do their best to tuck their tulips into the string that was wrapped around the cross. Daddy would stand by the cross and lift children to the top or usher older youth to help the younger ones plug their blooms into the places where nails once stood. When the last flower was hung, Daddy would step away and stretch out his hand and say, "Look! This instrument of murder, this cross, is ugly no more. It has been given a new life and look how beautiful it is!" He believed every word and we would be consumed if not by our own wonder and awe, but his. 




Daddy's last Easter sermon was written to me and to my sister. It was a letter reminding us never to forget what the story of Easter is truly about. He told us all of his own pending death and of the great triumphal joy he knew that was waiting for him on the other side. He would not stay in the tomb and neither should we. "There can be no resurrection without crucifixion," he proclaimed. The true message of the gospel is that we have nothing to fear. Christ has already conquered death and God has given us everything we need. Christ is Risen indeed!

We would enter into a time of communion, not just over bread and grape juice, but remembering Christ's love in our lives and in our community. The Deacons would pass the elements of communion down our aisles as we served one another and called each other by name just as Daddy had taught us. My friends and I would delight over the tiny communion cups and the delicious buttery wafers that Tamie Todd would make from scratch for this special purpose. Christ's body never has tasted so good! 

Throughout the service we would sing in celebration...

Hosanna, Laud Hosanna!

All Glory Laud and Honor!

Thine is the Glory!

Jesus Christ has Risen today!

And then, Daddy would send us out into the world in benediction, hands outstretched, fingers pointing high, "Go now with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace." 

Families would crowd around the flowered cross to take photos together or with Daddy. People would congregate outside the church and mingle for up to an hour as the reverberations of celebration and joy continued to pass between them and no one wanted to break free of that momentum. Folks would take turns photographing loved ones in front of the giant pink bush of azaleas next to the Sanctuary and then slowly, one by one, we would make our ways back to our cars to join our families and friends for Easter luncheons. 

Every year, our family had a place to go and break bread with folks we loved from Hopewell. These are all some of my most favorite memories and I often dream of those decadent Southern meals, served on Easter china, in cozy back yards or front porches. The smell of Mrs. Jane's yeast rolls, Odessa's magically thin fried squash, or Lillian's perfectly salted green beans, still remain in my mind as some of the best dishes I have ever put on my plate or in my mouth. 


Taking the Cross out to the road so everyone could see it- a sign of hope.
Thank you all for being part of these precious, holy experiences in worship. They have informed my faith, my growth and my understanding of church and community. In remembrance of Him and him, Happy Easter!






Sunrise Service

It was still dark when Momma would open my door and sing-song "Happy Easter" from the light beaming in the hall. It didn't matter how old I was, I knew that the Easter Bunny had come to visit. Our Easter Bunny always knew what you needed, whether it was a new swimsuit or a basket of cheese (because you gave it up for Lent). My sister and I would pour over our Easter baskets and fill our pockets with jelly beans or tootsie rolls so we would have a stash to nibble on in worship.




There wouldn't be a lot of time to explore the goodies in our baskets because we would need to venture across the street for worship soon. We wouldn't dress up, we would dress warm. We'd walk into the dawn that was just beginning to turn from gray to blue and cross Beatties Ford Road. We climbed up the stairs of the rock wall and headed toward the old gate of the cemetery right where we left off on Friday. 

The flicker of the flames in the fire pit lapped warm beams of light on the faces of folks who were starting to gather in a circle. Daddy would stand near the fire, pacing, beaming, teasing people. I liked to stand on the "upping block" that was left behind from the days when ladies would ride their horses to Hopewell and needed a little extra boost so as not to disturb their skirts as they mounted their steeds. From the upping block I could see everyone's faces and watch closely what Daddy would do once he felt like everyone was ready.




"At the crack of dawn on the first day of the week, the women took their spices and went to the tomb to try and anoint Jesus's body since they were not able to do it during the Sabbath after he was killed. But when they arrived the stone was rolled away! They went inside and saw that Jesus's body was not there. Only his folded burial clothes were left behind. Then two men appeared in gleaming white robes and said, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? The one you are looking for is not here, he has risen just as he told you he would back when you were in Galilee." The women were overjoyed and ran all the way back to the place where the Disciples were hiding and told them the news. When Peter heard it, he and another Disciple ran as fast as they could to the tomb and saw for themselves that Jesus was not there. He had risen!"

At this point, Daddy would have pulled out that purple crown royal sack that was packed tightly with our sins from Good Friday. He would hold it over the fire and look around the crowd, "For God loved us so much that he sent his son to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ has risen, indeed! Our sins are forgiven and we are made new! This is the good news of the Gospel!" And with that, he would open the bag and let our sins drop right into the flames. We would watch them burn to ash. These ashes would be collected after worship when they cooled and would be used on Ash Wednesday next Lent, so that Daddy could rub them into our foreheads in the shape of a cross saying, "From the dust you were made and to the dust you will return."




When our sins had smoldered, we would hear the organ begin to play inside and we would enter the Sanctuary in joyful song! "Jesus Christ has risen today, Hallelujah!" As we would step inside, we would pick up a Easter Lily and take it with us into the pew. The whole room smelled pungently of pure heaven as the lilies of the valley seemed to march into the Sanctuary with us.

Dad would start at  "in the Beginning" and retell the story of God creating the Earth. After He made Adam and Eve and it was evening and it was morning the 7th day, we would sing, "Morning has broken." The children and the Deacons would be invited to restore the Sanctuary. Hastily and with so much excitement, the children would run to the back room where all the vestments of the church were stored and would return with the symbols of God's presence in the world. Baptismal font, Bible, Candles, golden cross, etc, etc. Dad would dramatically whip off the black cloth that was draped over the ceder cross now standing in the Sanctuary and exclaim, "Christ is risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!" I always remember this point as the moment when our congregation would explode into cheers, but I know none of us actually cheered aloud. We, after all, are Presbyterians. It felt like we were cheering, though.




The nails and the crown of thorns that were so ominously placed on the baptismal font would be removed and in their positions would be a pitcher of water and a bowl. The Deacons would fling open the shutters and the new light of morning would bring the whole Sanctuary to life. The congregation would move all around the room placing their Easter Lillie's on plastic plates that were laid on anything that would stand still. In a matter of moments, the dark tomb of the worship space would be awash with lilies, colors, hugging people, smiling faces and vibrant organ songs of celebration.

When the church was restored, not just to it's former beauty but to a vastly more perfect version of itself, we would return to our seats so that Daddy could recount the ways that God had been telling us that he would send his love to us like this. He would remind us of Abraham not sacrificing Issac but being willing to, of Moses in the Dessert, of the Promised Land, of the prophet's who spoke of Christ's coming, of Jesus's birth and life and the new life that we have been given because of His great love. After each scriptural memory, we would sing a hymn and I'd frequently pop a few jelly beans into my mouth just to savor the sweetness of the moment a little bit more.




When worship was nearly over, Dad would invite the whole congregation to the Fellowship Hall (gym) to enjoy a big, country breakfast that the Deacons had made (they made food from scratch, the right way- it was something to look forward to). One year from the pulpit, Daddy accidentally invited us all to eat the meal that the "Demons" had prepared. We still laugh about that. 

The congregation never did look tired on those very early mornings. As the service commenced the opposite seemed to occur; folks would brighten and loosen up as if the good news of God's great love was actually sinking in and warming them to life from the inside out. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday before Easter

What does one do on the Saturday before Easter? It is a strange in between; we know what is coming on Sunday but we left ourselves in the graveyard on Friday night. The Disciples went into hiding but what about us? How do you spend that Saturday?

Well, at Hopewell, there was plenty to do. We would wake up early to help with the little kid's Easter egg hunt. Families would gather at the church to enjoy the good weather and the bright faces of the young ones from the congregation as they searched for eggs all over campus. This meant that people were needed to hide the eggs and help to herd all the tots around so we wouldn't loose anyone. Sometimes there would even be a small Easter bizarre where the Young at Heart group would sell their incredible crafts and baked goods. If you haven't ever eaten a BEC you haven't lived (Hopewell has a fantastic cookbook if you want to find out exactly what I am talking about). 




I also had the special role of stuffing the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny was a coveted role (tongue in cheek) and whoever resumed it tended to keep it for a while. I enjoyed helping my friend (who was the reigning bunny at the time) prepare for her morning appearance with children. We discovered that the bunny suit looked a whole lot friendlier if it was stuffed with newspaper. 




Pretty soon a shipment of Easter Lillie's would arrive. Anyone who had the time and the patience would help to unload them very carefully and put them in the vestibule. This was probably one of my favorite parts to our Easter traditions. The Lilies smelled like heaven on Earth and the aroma from them filled the whole church in moments once we started getting them inside. I love that smell and anytime I get a whiff of anything Easter Lily scented I am blasted back to this day in the Hopewell Sanctuary. 




A few years earlier, it was discovered that some folks in the church had such bad allergies that they would skip Easter Sunday due to the lilies that would eventually grace anything that stood still. To be more hospitable, volunteers, like myself, would pull out all the stamen from the blooms so that the pollen would not be present in the church. You would not believe how yellow your hands would get or how that pollen would somehow end up on everything you had on. Pulling the pollen out of the blooms did decrease their delightful scent a little bit, but it was a small price to pay for folks to join us on these special Sundays. 




After all the festivities, we would return home to wait. It was a good idea to go to bed early on this night because the morning would start just before the crack of dawn...

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

Everybody knows that "Good Friday" wasn't actually a good day, at least for Jesus. Growing up at Hopewell Presbyterian with my Daddy leading the tenebrae service, I would get swept away in the melancholy of that dark day in Jesus's story.  The word "tenebrae" actually means "shadows" and by the time the service was through, we would have explored the dark natures of all the human beings involved in murdering Jesus. I would lie in my bed on Good Friday night, unsettled by how those same dark natures are such a part of me.

Entering the Sanctuary you could feel that this was going to be a different kind of night. There was a cross up front, leaning ominously against the communion table that just last night, had brought so many people together in love. The cross was made out of two ceder trees and was heavy and rugged. In years past, before the time of the plastic Christmon tree, Daddy would assemble a cross from the trunk of our Christmas tree. I loved how he wove the liturgical calendar together with little details like this. 

Daddy would invite us forward, reminding us that there was a slip of paper in the bulletin that we could write on. That slip of paper was intended to carry the burden of our sins. The congregation would come forward with their sins in hand. Some folks took a long time to write their sins down, some only needed moments. I liked to write mine in a secret code just in case Daddy read them (which he said he never did). It didn't matter how quickly you could recall your wrongdoings, because everyone had to wait in line to nail them to the cross.




The cross would lie on the floor in front of the communion table and one by one, folks would come forward, kneel down and hammer that piece of paper to the ceder rood. I will never forget the sound of those sins being nailed down. The sanctuary was quiet except for the hallow pounding of nails into wood. One sin after another, pounding, pounding, pounding. 

When the sins were nailed down, Daddy would lift up the cross so that we could see it. Every inch of it would be covered in folded pieces of paper that somehow managed to look just as gruesome as the blood I imagined dripping down the length of it. Seeing the cross like broke my heart; so many sins.




Daddy would invite the Deacons and the children forward. "When Jesus died, the light left our world and with it, all the symbols of God's loving presence." The congregation would sing "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" as slowly as a funeral march and we would remove all the symbols of our faith from the sanctuary. Baptismal font, candles, the gold cross, the Bible, anything that helped us to remember that God is among us, would be taken out to the hallway and placed quietly on a table. From outside of our old church, the giant antique shutters would creak closed as the deacons blocked out the last remaining light of day. The sanctuary would become bare and dark as the lights dimmed to almost nothing.

Then Daddy would help us to remember the story

Standing behind the communion table now covered with a black cloth, Daddy stood before the only light in the room. Seven candles represented the steps Christ took toward the cross and the only sound we heard was Daddy's voice bellowing the story we all hate to remember.

After their meal, the Disciples argued over who Jesus loved the most. Peter thought that it was obviously him. Jesus told them all that the person who dips his bread in the cup next to him would betray him (poor Judas). Peter announced that he would never betray Jesus to which Jesus responded, "Peter, truly I tell you, you will deny me three time before the first cock crows." 

Daddy snuffed out one of the candles.




Jesus was praying in the garden with the disciples and no one seemed to be able to stay awake. I always wondered what was wrong with all of them. Jesus prayed so hard that some translations say that he sweated blood and I don't blame him, he was asking God for mercy. "Take this cup from me if it be thy will." Jesus did not want to die, not like this. 

Another light goes out.

As they were leaving the garden, Judas walked up to Jesus and kissed him. He was paid by the Jewish officials (30 pieces of silver) to lead their soldiers to Jesus so that they could arrest him. Judas said, "The man that I kiss is the one." When Jesus received that greeting, he looked at Judas and said, "You would betray me with a kiss?" Dad nearly spat the word kiss every year. I can still hear the way he pronounced it with such vehemence.

It gets darker.

Daddy recalled when Jesus was put on trial. He reminded us of how Pilot was not sure that any harm should come to Jesus. He wanted to let him go free but the people, Jesus's people who were singing his praises only a few days before, began to chant, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Daddy's voice rang so clearly that I thought those words must have come from my own mouth. Would I have crucified my Lord? 

Pilot gave over Barabbas, a known murderer, to be freed and washed his hands of Jesus the Christ as his people whipped him and prepared him to be crucified.

Another candle is snuffed out.

While Jesus was on trail and was beaten, Peter was hiding among the crowds trying to figure out what was happening to his Lord. People began to recognize him as one of Jesus's followers and Peter was afraid. "I don't know him," he replied over and over and before he realized what he had done, a rooster crowed signaling a new day. Peter had denied Jesus three times. This was the point where I felt so much empathy for Peter. What deep heartbreak! What shame! I knew that feeling.

It grows darker still. 

Jesus carried his own cross all the way to Golgotha (which means "skull hill") where he is nailed to it and hung up between two thieves. It takes hours to die when you are crucified and below him people watched and taunted him. Even one of the thieves used his last breaths to insult Jesus. "You said you could tear down the temple and build it up in three days! Why don't you save yourself if you are the King of the Jews? Where is your God now?" Soldiers caste lots for his clothes beneath him.

There are only two candles now.

At 3 o'clock Jesus cried out, "Adonai, Adonai, lama sabachthani!" Daddy would cry these words out, each syllable ringing in our ears and echoing around the dark shadows of the sanctuary. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and then Jesus breathed his last breath. "It is finished."

There would be only one light at this point and we watched it move with Daddy as he walked quietly into the balcony. A bell would toll, over and over and everything felt so final, so hopeless. 

From the balcony behind us Daddy would finish this part of the story.

Jesus's body was taken down and laid in a tomb. A huge stone was rolled in front of the entrance. Guards were stationed to make certain that no one could enter the tomb. 

We followed Daddy out of the church and into the graveyard, the Christ candle beckoning us onward. 

"We end tonight at the entrance of the tomb and this is where we will meet again on Sunday."

The Christ candle still burned and everyone returns home in silence.




Quietly, Daddy would turn the lights back on inside and my sister and I would crouch on the floor removing all the sins from the cross. Daddy would remind us that we were not to read a single one and after we would take them off, we would stick them in a purple Crown Royal bag and Dad would keep them a secure place until Sunday morning. 




I was enamored by the depth of the nails. Some folks barely got their nails through the paper, let alone the wood, while others would drive their nails in so deeply that I could hardly removed them. It would take a lot of work to finally get those ol' sins off that cross but in the end, it was clean and ready for Easter.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday

It is my suspicion that any kid who grew up attending Hopewell Presbyterian Church probably loved Holy Week more than Christmas. Or maybe that was just me? I am probably biased here, but I have not been able to find a service that could take me in, body and soul, the way the Holy Week services did where my Daddy was the pastor. 




Holy Week wasn't a week that Daddy planned to be out of town. It wasn't a week where he had other pastors ready to help him with the four services he would lead by his lonesome. He didn't dread the long hours he would spend preparing for these services while still keeping up with the daily needs of a congregation. Holy Week was magical! A week he looked forward to like a child looks forward to sound of Santa's jingle bells on the roof. Daddy came alive in a new way during this week. He believed in the power of walking alongside Jesus through the final moments His life and Resurrection. He had tasted the transformation that can come from entering into Christ's story for ourselves. The energy he received while creating that space for his congregation was tangible and exciting. I did not ever want to miss it! I miss it more than ever these days.

On Thursday evening, our congregation would gather in our old church, poised in the pews as Daddy would flit back and forth in front of the communion table making preparations for worship. Daddy, always wearing his )now) shabby white robe that his mother made him when he was ordained with a simple rope tied around his waist, stood before us in invitation. 

Daddy would tell us the story: "On this night, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and bent to his knees, washing his Disciples feet. Peter said, "Lord, you can't wash my feet! It is I who should be washing your feet!" But Jesus said to him, "Peter, if you do not let me wash your feet than you can have no part with me." Then Peter exclaimed, "Then not just my feet, Lord, but my head and my hands too!" "You have already bathed today, Peter. I am concerned with your soul not your hygiene." 


Daddy's last Easter, my sister and I washed his feet too.

With that, we would be invited to come forward. "This is a time to remember Christ washing you clean as you come forward. There will be a Deacon in each side pew if you would like to have one of them wash your feet. There will also be a foot washing station in the center aisle where you can invite someone forward to wash their feet. This could be a time of great forgiveness or blessing for people who feel that leading." 

My sister and I usually were among the first, if not the first to go forward. I always went to Daddy's station. I only wanted him to wash my feet. He'd sit me down in the Victorian chair next to the pulpit and have me stretch my foot over the basin in front of him. From the pitcher he'd pour warm water over my foot and ask me in a gently, "Is it warm enough?" It always was. Some years he would remain quiet as he washed my feet, other years he would smile at me and whisper, "fat little toes." After they were rinsed clean, he would pat them dry with a towel around his waist and send me back to the pew. 


Then we washed Momma's feet.


There were some years were there were so many people that Daddy would only wash one foot of whoever came forward. I felt a little lop-sided when that would happen and would try and sneak my other foot in just to make sure that he got them both.

From my pew, I'd like to watch everyone's faces as they went forward and how Daddy would respond to them. I would get tickled to see older ladies pull off their flats and watch Daddy wash their feet still with their stockings on. Daddy spoke to everyone with the same sweet tone that he spoke to me. 

After our feet had been washed and we had returned to our seats, Daddy would wash his hands and stand behind the communion table. 

He would help us remember the story

"After they had finished the meal, Jesus took the bread and he broke it (I was always amazed by how easily Dad broke that loaf of bread) saying, "Take eat, this my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, he took the cup and said, "This is the cup of the new covenant shed for the forgiveness of many. When you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, do so in remembrance of me." 




We would come forward singing, "Let us break bread together on our knees." One by one, Daddy would break off fluffy pieces of Hopewell-homemade sour dough bread and hand it to each person coming forward. "Claire, this is Christ's body broken for you. Claire, this is Christ's blood shed for you. " He would say everyone's names and look them in the eye letting us know that these elements weren't just a ritual but a personal call to arms, a call to REMEMBER Jesus in communion. 

Returning to our seats, many would pray silently or continue singing the hymn, but I would always walk around and hug everyone I knew. I never thought much about this as a kid. I just liked speaking to everyone and thought this was the perfect time. Now-a-days, I realize that the the Spirit that moved me then is the same Spirit that informs me today that communion is a lot more than eating bread and drinking home-grown grape juice. It was gathering with people who I loved dearly who dearly loved the God we had come together to remember and worship. 

When the service was completed, we would talk with folks for another half hour, hugging, laughing, catching up, and then my sister and I would head back into the Sanctuary where Daddy would be cleaning. We both would lean on the communion table and stuff fistfuls of that delicious bread into our mouths, sometimes dipping it the chalice of grape juice, sometimes just drinking out of it. Dad invited any kids to come forward to enjoy a little extra communion.

He didn't say much in that space. He would putter about, getting ready for the Good Friday service, but I like to think he was pleased to see the appetite my sister and I had for the communion we were invited into. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What is Church?

Once again, someone has said it better than I could, so I might as well share what was done well the first time. What is Church? 



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This is No Secret

My grandmother could bring anything back to life that seemed dead. She had the greenest thumb imaginable and could pluck a leaf from a tree and have it growing roots in a week. It was magic!




She loved keeping a garden. In fact, she didn't have garden plots because she thought of every inch of her land as a garden to be tended.  Going to my grandparents house was like entering a fairy-kingdom of flowers, grand old oaks, ivy, swings, arbors, and places to hide and play. Besides the stunning natural beauty of the flowering bushes, trees and plants that provided color in all four seasons, my grandmother had covered the yard in a whimsy of birdhouses, feeders, baths, statues, and hung all manner of objects from the tree trucks and low hanging limbs. There were colorful witch balls, wind chimes, and even some fountains ushering a child's heart right into a world of wonder and fantasy. It was beautiful, and peculiar, and it was home to me.




My grandmother began to forget her words about seven years ago. That is how it started; with forgetting. First her words, then her physical location, then people's names even began to allude her. The vines of her disease would creep across her mind, strangling memories and reason until she was just a shadow of who she once was. My grandfather, succumb to this sad evolution of aging, would chuckle ironically and say, "The house is falling apart like we are. I guess we will all go together." 




Indeed, the house had seen better days. The magical garden was beginning to swallow everything. The wisteria and hummingbird vines were pulling apart the plaster and helping to flood the crawlspace. The ivy was choking the grand old trees, while the acorns were allowed to hatch and birth new saplings on anything with a thick enough layer of soil. It seemed that a curtain of flora had fallen over the property, quietly escorting my grandparents home into an awaiting grave. 




This home and land was left for my husband and me to tend to now. We decided after inspections and long conversations (half dreaming, half dreading) that we would restore it to it's former, and hopefully, better self. The work has begun. With each new job and contractor has come a new revelation of rot, damage and repairs to be made. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and don't even know where to begin. Other times we can't stop grinning at how beautiful it all is while we thank God for the opportunity to have a house and land given to us. 






It was a nice day a week ago, so Joel and I went up with the baby and decided to thin out the saplings and trim back the hedges that were once bushes and small flowering plants. Sitting on the stoop nursing Noelle, I watched as Joel began pulling a hose out of the ivy along the side of the house. For 20 minutes he battled the tangle of vines and finally emerged sweaty, covered in dirt and scratches with 3 hoses in hand. "Great place to store hoses- in the ivy!" he burst sarcastically. 

"She didn't store hoses in the ivy. When she laid them in that spot there wasn't any ivy there." I heard myself reply grimly. There were so many parallels here that made me think of her disease. I could not have even guessed that that lump in the overgrowth was a knot of hoses. Looking at my exhausted husband, I began to doubt this gift. We wanted to move in here in May and thought it would be much further along than it is by this point. Instead, each new day seemed to offer an extension of need and projects. We were constantly untangling some knot physically or metaphorically. For a moment, I couldn't feel it- the magic.

 I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it used to look like in this part of the yard. There was grass, there was room to play. It wasn't all wildness and vines. It used to be beautiful. There were flowers and bird feeders, and picnics in the summer right in this spot.




Then I looked around. The tulip poplar was blooming and I could smell it's sweet perfume in the air. The sun was washing over my skin with a golden warmth that seemed to melt the frustrations of my heart. I could see myself here as a little girl again, swimming in a big tub of water, splashing and laughing as my grandparents smiled down on me. One of those old hoses had filled up my little pool. 




This memory made me think about a book my mom read to me as a very young child, The Secret Garden. Remembering Mary's adventure finding the key to that garden and the slow untangling of it's former beauty made me feel energized and excited. As if I had just spotted new roots bursting from one of my grandmother's cuttings, suddenly the magic seem to bolster around me like a deep inhale. It is wick! It is still green inside. There is life here! This is like the Secret Garden. It started with a request, "Could I have a bit of earth?" and ended with total restoration and healing of a community and home.




I found myself picturing the rare boy, Dickon Sowerby, from that tale. Mary had complained that the weeding would never end, and his reply was simple:

"What has been left undone for years cannot be mended in weeks." 

How true this is of everything. 

The magic is simply that it can be mended. The magic gains life and force the more you pour into it. Healing takes time. Restoration takes commitment. "Before resurrection comes crucifixion," is what my Dad used to say. This is no secret even though we forget it often. This is truth and this is something my grandmother knew well. When you cut a twig from a tree, you give it everything you can, and then you wait and let it grow.

The magic is the presence of the enduring promise that if you believe, it will come true. And in believing, we continue to work hard to make it so.  There is magic in absolutely everything. Today, I know the magic is in the work of waiting.







Monday, March 21, 2016

Make the Physical Gesture



Studying Native American Animal Medicine, I've learned something special from Rabbit. Generally, I am not a huge fan of rabbit as a totem. Rabbit symbolizes fear. Who wants more of that? The way rabbit works is to remind you that you call your fears to you. You literally speak them into existence and pull them right out of the universe, so that they happen just as you feared. 


However, Rabbit doesn't leave you with only that reality. Rabbit also reminds you that you can release your fears to Great Spirit. 

Anytime I feel fear bubbling up inside me, I have taken to following Rabbit's advice. Rabbit suggests that, for most people, it isn't enough to just tell yourself not to fear something anymore. You have to DO something about it. My brain certainly works that way and I doubt that I am the only one. When I begin to fear something, I will write it down and then burn the paper. Or I will think about that fear and light a stick of incense and watch that smoke billow to heaven as I imagine my fear leaving my mind. Sometimes I even tap my chest and pretend I have an "eject" button on my heart and anytime I fear something I just press that button and imagine my fears shooting to the Sun where they are turned into energy that gives life to the world. However you need to make the gesture to get rid of your fears, I encourage you to do it. 

Making a physical gesture to symbolize a mental or spiritual change is a timeless and age-old phenomenon. Think about Baptism, a marriage ceremony, inaugurations, awards, or cutting your hair after you break-up with someone. These are all physical gestures of a mental, spiritual, emotional change that has taken place inside you. It is symbolic that something is different about you now. This change often happens on the inside. Making it a physical gesture then allows it to also become part of your physical reality, which is the reality we hold to most dear. We tend to think our physical reality is the "real" reality. So if that is where we "live" then making changes in our minds and hearts isn't always going to be enough to bring about lasting transformation. We will have to make a move, we have to DO something. We have to make a physical gesture to create a lasting internal change. 






Friday, March 18, 2016

We don't need a map

The other day Joel came home and read me a devotion he was given at work.I had been planning to write a blog post on this very subject when he started to read this message to me. As it unfolds, I have found that on my spiritual journey when I allow the Holy One to provide, often that provision comes in these wonderful examples of synchronicity. The layering of similar messages seem to bring whatever the Spirit is trying to reveal to me into a full exclamation point. In this case, let's remember that God gives us a guide not a map. We don't need clarity- only Trust. Please enjoy the devotion below and become transformed as I did by this wonderful reminder. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Message to my Pre-Baby Self

Dear Pre-baby Claire,

As soon as you become pregnant, just like folks have done all along, people are going to tell you how wonderful it is to become a parent. Some people will tell you how terrible their children are or how awful their pregnancies were, but they will always finish that dialogue with something along the lines of, "But it is all worth it". 

The phrases like, "You think you know what love is and then you have a child." Or phrases like, "It will be the best thing you have ever done" will pour from knowing parent's mouths as they stare at you wide-eyed with excitement. You will be annoyed by these lines because they seem shallow and empty somehow. They don't hold the weight that you assume is going to be part of the experience of having a child. Often you will be skeptical because these phrases will fall at the ends of paragraphs describing something horrific related to childbirth and labor. You will wonder why these parents are smiling like that even though they described an event that has surly scared them for life. You won't remember these phrases until later, but you will remember those stories through your whole pregnancy. 



These same parents will touch you, sometimes with your permission and sometimes without it, but they won't stop. They are going to touch your pregnant belly, even kiss it, and coo over a baby you don't even feel is real yet. You will let them do this because there is something carnal and deeply loving in these gestures, even though they don't make sense and you feel a little violated. 

Then you will have your baby. All the horrible, scary, awful stories will be in your mind, but you will open your heart and body to the possibility that those stories are not your story. You will give birth to your child and you will hold her in your arms and you will look at her. Even before they have wiped off her little head, you will not hesitate from kissing it and you will surprise yourself with this need to touch her. In this moment you will remember all those sparkling eyes telling you that you will fall in love like never before and how worth it having a baby is. You will be confused because you don't feel like that yet. Childbirth was extremely painful and that memory is fresh, and you don't know this little person who is totally dependent on you. Everything is new and wonderful, and overwhelming. But everything will be OK. It will go the way a birth does and you will be relieved. Your baby will be healthy and you will be grateful. You will want to hold her and be close to her more than anything else, but it won't feel like love yet.



As the days and weeks pass, you want to hold her more and more. You will not want to look away from her because you won't want to miss a single moment of her growth. Just to glimpse a smile or hear a fragment of her developing voice will fill up your heart to brimming over. The way she will need you to live, to eat, to fall asleep; will not feel like a burden. It will warm your soul in the deepest most instinctual place. From this place, so fierce and full, will come a voice that keeps whispering in a smile, "You were made for this. You were made for this."

Now those parents who looked at you when you are wobbling down the hallways and sidewalks, will grin at you knowingly and won't tell you anything anymore. They will simply ask, "Isn't this the best thing in the world?" You will answer, "Yes," without hesitation. 

It won't be suddenly, but you will begin to understand what all those gestures and phrases were attempting. You will discover that there are no words, there are no gestures that can describe what it means to become a parent. You cannot tell someone how it feels. You cannot describe how this love comes not just from your mind or heart, but from every cell in your animal body. This body you had always assumed was yours that will now instantly throw you in harms way, before you even have a choice in the matter, if your child is in danger. It is beyond reason and control, it is the fullest, deepest, most innate experience that one could participate in. It is soul-warming, it is wound-healing, it is binding, and it can be terrifying because it takes you from yourself. You don't lose yourself. You don't lose who you are or what you desire. 



You simply become One. One with God. One with your spouse. One with your child. One with the created world that suddenly seems to be part of you and you, part of it. This experience will weave your heart into the very matter of the Divine. 



Pre-baby Claire, it is worth it. You already know that this will be the greatest adventure you have attempted thus far and you have everything you need. Do not fear, for it is good, so very good. 




Love, 
Claire, a mother


P.S. Your nose will go back to it's normal size.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What can I do to be Happy?

I've written all sorts of variations on this topic. I also think this subject bears repeating but today, I don't have to since Steve Harvey invited Bishop TD Jakes onto his show. It doesn't really matter to me who this man is or what other folks know about him. In this six minute interview he speaks truth that I couldn't have said better myself. I hope you will take a few moments to listen to his wisdom and apply it to your life.  What can you do to be happy? Here you go.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

How I Meditate

This is one of my goddesses in a series of three- Heart


I talk about meditation quite a lot on this site and fairly often in life. However, sometimes I forget that there was a time in my life where I really had no clue how to usher myself into a meditative state at all. I loved the idea of it. I read about it. I heard other people talk about it. I believed in it and I knew it had wonderful benefits, but when I would sit down to give it a whirl nothing happened. 

I remember that feeling well. I felt like I wasn't spiritual enough or that something was wrong with me. I can tell you that no instructor or course was able to help me into this space. It ended up being an accumulation of experiences that opened my eyes to the tools I already possessed which would allow me to eventually meditate. I believe that meditation is a personal practice that comes to each one of us a little differently. You have to discover how you were made to do it. Being intentional on the journey will provide you lots of little guiding arrows that will lead you to your own meditative practice. Knowing that, this post may or may not become one of your arrows. However it shakes out, this is what I have discovered that has allowed me to practice meditation today.

1. Decide what the goal of Meditation is for you.

I have realized that, for me, meditation is allowing myself into a sacred space in my mind/heart where I am at one with the Divine. I believe that the Divine is in me. I want to be present only to that. Not my to-do list. Not my agenda. Just the Holy. 

2. Make the gesture.

In my experience, I need to make a physical and mental gesture signaling that I am creating intentional space for the Holy, otherwise my brain will not ever be open to it and turn off the distractions. I often will find a comfy place to sit, in the quiet, and will close my eyes and take even deep breaths. Then I will talk to the Divine in me like this, I will say: "Thank you for all that you do for me. Please forgive me for ignoring you and making you carry my burdens. I am sorry that I do this to you. I really do love you and I am trying to do better." For me, the Divine is living within the cells of my being and it is important to Thank her and ask for forgiveness for the ways that I hurt her and mistreat her, and assure her of my love. Then I am just quiet and I wait.

3. Listen

I listen by trying to clear my head and be present to the image of the Divine living within me. I do this by closing my eyes and focusing on the insides of my eyelids. If I look at the backs of my eyelids long enough then I will start to see bright colors billowing across my eyes like clouds. Then usually, from the center, I will see a golden light start to emerge. Sometimes it is even purple. I have always sensed this is the Holy and I will wait. As I focus on these moving colorful lights, things will begin to well up in me. Sometimes it is a song, sometimes it is a memory, it could even be a word or phrase or well known story. When this happens, I don't treat it as a distraction. I allow it to speak to me of something I need to become aware of. I believe the Spirit speaks through things we already know and hold dear. Sometimes, in my head (not out loud), I will ask for the Divine to show me what I need to glean from this memory, song or word, and then I will wait for a little while longer (still staring at the backs of my eyelids). The words will come in time. Sometimes it is very clear and sometimes it is simply a feeling. If you allow these thoughts to be sacred to you then they will speak. If you doubt them, nothing will come of it. If they come to you and your mind wanders, then it could be a distraction so just refocus on your eyelids and the colors.

4. Say Thank You

When it is time to return to reality, this is the moment to thank Great Spirit for the gift of this meditative time. Hold on to the revelations, the thoughts, words, or emotions that have come to you because they will continue to teach you if you let them. You might even notice the synchronicity that occurs once you are aware of them.

Meditation is a practice. This means you have to keep doing it, trying again and again. It isn't about being perfect or being a master, its about the practice. I believe the Divine blesses even our most feeble attempts so don't give up. Pay attention to the gestures and spaces that give you a sense of the sacred and hold on to those things. They might just be your guiding arrows...