The Short Happy Life of a Comet

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I see nothing. I feel nothing. I am only a cold, hard ball.

I am center.

But center of what?

Small flickers of light surround me. Stars. Silver and bright.

But I am not like them. My insides roll and curl. I am moving, towards a point. To something not yet visible.

I know I am on a journey.

I know I am becoming.

Other objects fly past me. They are icy rocks with jagged surfaces. They almost crush me. But I push past them.

Then I pass giant, round balls. They pull me close to them, but I squeeze past their force. One flamed at me, boiling up as I darted past it. It wanted to suck me into its lava pools, but my core is strong.

I am the center of myself.

A glow surrounds me now. A warm, fuzzy bubble encircles me. I like its presence. I am safe from rocks and ice. This light protects me.

A yellowish-orangey circle looms before me. A few dark spots pollute the circle.

I want to pull away from it, but it’s sucking me closer – the power of its gravity overtaking me.

What’s this?

I am expanding. The yellowish-orangey ball is pulling particles from my nucleus. I am stretched out, long and pointed and skinny. My streak of light points away from the orange ball, scattering dust and crumbs of myself. Pieces from me fan across the stars.

I am center still, but now with a swooshing tail. It swings away from the yellowish-orangey ball. I am arching towards the next orb. The one is blue and green, swirled with white. I am drawn to this ball. I’m stretching. From me, bursts light.

Wait – I’m splitting.

My tail has grown and divided.

I am powerful! I am more than center! I am fully me!

I shoot into the blue-green orb.

I flash.

The yellowish-orangey ball sinks away from the blue-green orb, disappearing from its horizon. It leaves a leftover array of colors – pink, purple, more orange, more yellow. I join the colors. They draw me in. My tail swishes. My center warms.

I point to the stars, ready to leave the colors, to move past the blue-green orb. I am fading from this atmosphere, not made to stay here long.

But I catch a glimpse of something.

Waving hands. Shouting voices. Fingers pointed. Smiling faces.

They see me!

I have seen nothing like this on my journey here.

Should I be afraid? Should I move closer? Can I stay?

But my tail is fizzing out. The particles disintegrated in the air. As I move up and away, the solar wind catches me, blowing me out of sight of the waving creatures.

My orbit continues. Out past the blue-green orb, away from the yellowish-orangey glow, towards the sparkling stars of the universe.

The smiles haunt me. I shrink.

I return to my center.

I will seek to circle back, to repeat this loop in a million years or so, looking for the faces.

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A Few Observations

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Every day, I watch an 89-year-old man scuffle into work. He’s always dressed nicely—in a dark suit with a maroon tie or a brown-flecked sweater vest with an argyle tie. He rarely smiles. In fact, he looks a tad grouchy most days. But he arrives each morning to a company he built over 60 years ago to do the work he loves. (At least, that’s my supposition.)

We only greet each other with a brief “good morning” before we move to our respective desks. To each our own.

I wonder often if he is happy.

If he’s ever wanted more than just work.

If he’s experienced other pieces of life.

I ponder what goes on beneath the surface of his every day routine. Then, one hot, sunny afternoon, at a park, I saw this gentleman holding his great-grandson. The baby smiled, toothless, drooling on his great-grandpa’s weathered hand.

And the gentleman was smiling—no, outright grinning.

“That’s the key,” I mused. “The well-rounded life.”

I am 56 years younger than this man. I’m sure if I conversed for a long while with him, he would offer me many wise observations. Still, as I face another birthday, however, I am full of my own musings, reflections, and comments.

So, here’s what’s on my mind:

  • Work is good. We must labor to provide for our families and contribute to society, but work must not preempt rest. Let us not lose our souls in the day-to-day grind of our work-obsessed culture.
  • The world is violent and alarming. Yet fear cannot triumph, for “he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world,” as John the Apostle wrote. I refuse to be paralyzed.
  • Sometimes the dishes (or laundry or housecleaning) can wait while a book is read to a little one who tugs at your hand and says, “Please.”
  • Unconditional love means no requirements, no judgment, and no vitriol. Otherwise, it’s not unconditional.
  • Happiness is not impossible to maintain – it just requires attention to the inner being.
  • Listening never gets me in trouble, but talking does. King Solomon wasn’t joking when he warned about the danger of the tongue. I’m blown away by the power of the simplest of words.
  • I’m never going to stop eating chocolate.
  • I don’t want to become complacent and greedy. The more blessed I am, the more I am compelled to bless others. Call me out on my selfishness any time because I’m terrified to become a dry, withered, bitter woman.
  • Seriously, can we stop the shaming of fellow moms? Motherhood is just plain, old challenging work. We can do without the snide comments and judgmental attitudes. As women, please, let’s support each other.
  • Also, can we move past requiring our men to be our knights in shining armor? Let them be who they are – completely human, just as broken and messed up, and just as deserving of love as we are. So, ladies, let’s stop tramping down the men in our lives, and start them building up.
  • I’m really excited about getting an AARP discount. That’s just a cool perk of getting older. (Ok, I know I have 25 years more to go before that, but still….)
  • And while I’m on that track, when I’m in my 80’s, I’m definitely getting some sort of emergency call system just to get handsome, hunky firemen to my house to “rescue me”.
  • There is a mindset which says growing older is a problem. In American society, it seems we enjoy ‘sectioning off’ our elderly so we don’t have to be around the aging process. We fight to not get older; we pay thousands of dollars each year to look younger. I’m more than a little saddened by things. Aging is a natural part of life. Some of the most influential people in my life have been my grandparents, the older couples at my church, and my elderly neighbors in Germany. My son regularly visits the retirement community where my parents work on a regular basis. I want him to be exposed to these wonderful, wise, witty people who are in the latter half of life.
  • Parenting requires skill, confidence, and strength. Whew.
  • Parenting requires love, laughter, and a whole lot of hugging. My son enjoys “group hugs” currently, so the three of us wrap our arms around each other tightly several times a day.
  • The world is so much bigger than my backyard. Even though I don’t travel often now, I want to raise my son with this knowledge: just because someone looks different from you doesn’t mean they don’t belong.
  • God means more, is more, and does more than my finite mind can comprehend. Just studying the universe and its inner workings has convinced me. I am an infant in my understanding of the spiritual, and I do not presume to make claims to know it all. Perhaps in my younger years, I was more certain. For now, I wrestle daily with my doubts, and constantly appeal to grace, mercy, and love. Those are the forces I trust.
  • I’m no longer interested in arguments or debates. If you have a differing viewpoint than me, I want to have a conversation with you. I don’t want to convince you of my side, nor do I want you to convince me of your side. I want to listen. I want to be heard.
  • Marriage is work—sweaty, fun, and great Listen, forgive, and always put your partner first.
  • Life is wonderful, pulsing with energy and hope. It is also fleeting. A mist that fades quickly. I’m determined to savor it, touch it, and remember it. Every touch. Every giggle. Every word. Every moment. I’m taking the cue from the gentleman at my work. Life is so much more than the daily grind, the bi-weekly paycheck, and the corporate ladder.

So, that’s it…. 20 things.

Did you think I would have 33 reflections because I’m 33?

Sorry to disappoint you.

I’m not wise enough to have 33 deep reflections to keep your interest for any longer. You may want to speak with the an older generation for any further tidbits on the fullness of life. Meanwhile, I’m certain that some of you have dozed off during this reading.

In lieu of reading any further, please feel free to do one of the following things:

  1. Eat chocolate cake.
  2. Walk on the beach barefoot.
  3. Lose yourself in a moment.

There.

Permission granted.

Enjoy yourself.

Say it’s for my birthday.

You’re welcome.

-K

Indiana Summer

Summer air smells earthier
Than spring, well-aged, more settled
Hints of dust fly everywhere
It’s a fine familiar smell
Like the hay from the sagging barn on the farm
Of my grandpa                                                                                                                                 Where my family built a bonfire, in the midst of August heat,
To roast hot dogs and scorch marshmallows
Until the rain drove us indoors, to watch
The wood panel TV and retell old stories
Of gourmet dinners of dead fish with black eyeballs,                                                                     Staring back at Aunt Edna to her great dismay                                                                         And of Uncle John breaking his collarbone                                                                                   When his brother knocked him senseless from a Red Flyer wagon.                                           Grandpa dozed in his plaid-patterned chair, softly snoring.
Meanwhile, around the creaking farmhouse,
the storm swirled.
Summer smells like belonging.

 

 

 

The Ritual

Mama called it a “symbol.”

My grandpa said it was a “picture of Christ.”

I’d never taken it, but I wanted to. A desire formed inside my 6- year-old being to take part in this ceremony that was an intrinsic part of the Baptist church life.

They denied my request. The church people. Mom. Grandpa. I wasn’t old enough, they said. I had to wait until I really understood.

So, I waited and waited.

I kept watch through young eyes as everyone else joined in this sacred event. My grandpa called it the “Lord’s Supper.” His resonant voice droned the words from Matthew’s Gospel. I listened to the story of Jesus again and again. I knew the bread wasn’t really His body or the grape juice actually His blood. Still, I couldn’t wait to participate in this ritual.

A part of the ceremony was frightening too as the preachers solemnly warned me to “not drink of the cup unworthily.” With hard faces and piercing eyes, they stared at the congregation, urging full confessions of the deep sins of the soul.

At age 7, I was baptized.

That spring, I received communion for the first time. Still a child of innocence, I was beaming inside while seriousness remained on my face. I drank the juice and ate the bread. I joined the ritual.

Guilt came at a later time.

Guilt for unknown sins. Guilt for any confessions unsaid. Guilt racking my soul for anything I missed in my whispered prayers to God. Desperately, I admitted anything I could remember.

Still, what if I had forgotten something? What about the neglected regions of my soul? Surely I was missing something.

What if I drank the cup unworthily? What if I ate the bread in sin? Would God be angry at my flippancy towards His supper?

I sought a mystic connection at the Lord’s Supper. I expected to feel clean and righteous after each time. However, all I felt was overwhelming guilt at the speck of sin that might remain in my soul.

Then I encountered Jesus.

The real One, not the angry One that had been emblazoned in my brain by well-meaning sources.

The Jesus of the Gospels who healed the lepers, wept with the mourning, and protected the sinful.

The Jesus who broke the bread and blessed the wine.

The Jesus who asked me to simply remember His sacrifice at each celebration of communion.

The Jesus who said, “Your sins are forgiven. I covered everything at the Cross. I did all this for you.”

Once this resonated in my heart and soul, my guilt vanished. I was free to thank Jesus for His forgiveness and grace. I released the need to feel I’d “covered all my bases”. Instead, I rejoiced in the fact that His sacrifice had truly atoned for me.

Now, when I stand in my church and receive the communion, tears often run on my face.

God isn’t requiring something from me. Jesus met those requirements.

I need only to be. I need only to present myself to the Divine and watch Him work in my heart and life.

The hymn writer, Kristen Getty, penned, “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

I’m accepted and loved. The guilt was then, the grace is now.

The ritual is still a ritual, but, at this moment, I understand the depth and breadth of love behind it.

It was truly worth waiting for.

The Past

 

I’m not angry.

Inside beyond the cobwebs

Lies a trunk of memories

Not the happy Christmases

Or jolly birthday parties.

I dare not open its lid

Else I find ripe bitterness.

Things from years as kids

Conversations, fight, bruises

Stuff from adulthood choices.

Not just these, but people too

Ones I care to forget.

I won’t open it—you

Can’t make me do it.

Someday—who knows—I’ll look inside

Crack the lid, to relive the past

But now the memories, the scars hide

In the locked, dusty trunk their cast

I have no more to say.

No. Nothing. That’s it.

Except perhaps this:

I am not angry.

And now….

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There is a red and white tassel hanging in my office. Attached to it are the gold numbers, “2017”, in miniature form. It was part of my graduation apparel. It is  now forever ensconced as a symbol of hard work and effort.

All the papers have been written.

The lab work is completed.

Discussion groups are over.

Credits are accrued.

The graduation ceremony was attended.

A toast was proclaimed to the graduate.

Yet the persistent question quietly drumming in my heart is:

What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?

That’s the expectation.

You are expected to achieve a goal, and then move on to the next goal. Yes, great job, nice work, well done. But what’s on the horizon? What do you have going? Where do you want to go from here? There is a constant hum in the background. I recently heard a person speculate that our society is addicted to stress. We have a need to be so overwhelmed that we can’t hear ourselves think. We crave the buzzing of busyness to our lives.

And when we achieve a goal, we have to immediately replace it with another one. Go, go, go! Don’t stop!

On my bus rides to work over the last few weeks, I’ve just stared out the window. I feel a bit…

Lost.

Tired.

Worn.

What if I don’t know what’s next? What if I’m simply depleted? What if I can’t think straight because my brain is still fried from late night homework? What if I’m just plain, ole tuckered out?

I was perusing the Gospel of Luke recently, and I came across the story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples. They’ve just spent time going around towns and villages, sharing the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Jesus has given sermons and healed people. He had been followed around by almost everyone, calling His name, asking Him questions, wanting something from Him.

(You know how that is, right? Come on, Moms, we know what it’s like to go everywhere with a persistent, little voice behind us, saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy?”)

I love this line from The Message:

“One day he and his disciples got in a boat…. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep.”

It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep.

The sun was warm. The water was calm. The boat swayed in just the right rhythm.

The Creator of the Universe fell asleep.

Because he was tired.

That’s what his human body needed at that moment:  A quick “40 winks”, a power nap, a resting of the eyes.

In the last few years, I’ve undergone some major life changes and haven’t stopped to reflect on them. I’m learning slowly—ever so slowly—that I’m not made for constant movement. I’m recognizing there is an ebb and flow to existence and I’m trying to practice the ability to be in one season and out of another. I could go charging ahead recklessly into the next thing. I could keep on racing without restoring my juices. I could run myself into the ground and burn, burn, burn until there was nothing left inside of me.

King Solomon commented on the in his sermon in Ecclesiastes. “A right time to cry and another to laugh, a right time to plant and another to reap, a right time to lament and another to cheer. A right time to rip out and another to mend, a right time to shut up and another to speak up.” (The Message)

The seasons are changing. The weather is warming up. Flowers are blooming. Daylight lingers long into the evening hours. It’s turning into summer time. And for me, it’s turning into a time to rest and recharge. A time to reap. A time to laugh. A time to reflect.

Do I have new goals on my list?

Sure, I have a few.

Do I know exactly what’s around the bend?

No, I don’t.

But, right now, I’m going to take a deep breath. In and out. I’m going to marvel that I’m alive on this earth. I’m going to wonder that I get a chance to live and to move and to have my being in God.

Right now, I’m going to tend to my herb garden and make fresh, vibrant recipes.

Right now, I’m going to teach my son the ABC’s with chalk on our front steps.

Right now, I’m going to sit on the couch with Thomas.

Right now, I’m going to be inspired by a book.

Right now, I’m going to go outside in the sun and soak up its rays.

Right now, I’m going to listen and absorb. I’m going to think and ponder and write. I’m slowing down from the busy pace for a short time.

The sailing is smooth. There might be a storm coming, or a madman with pigs, or a crowd of people pressing around me soon. (Read ahead in Luke’s Gospel….) It was after the resting that Jesus continued to do good for everyone He met.

The future is going to be wild and crazy and unpredictable. I’m so excited to see what happens then. I’m ready to do good for everyone. I’m open to whatever comes my way.

So while I can’t answer the question of “what’s next”, I can tell you what I’m doing right now.

I’m savoring this moment.

It’s beautiful.

I’m so grateful to be…right here.

Unbroken Snow

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I’ve started a new list. It’s titled “Goals for 2017”.

After the title, the list is blank.

I’m stymied. Every year, since around age 16, I’ve written down what I want to do the coming year. Places I want to go. Things I want to do. Outcomes I hope I achieve. The work I plan on completing.

It’s a tad exhausting.

No wonder I’m always worn out at the end of the year.

At this time of year, in the village in Germany, where I grew up, the pace slows. People relax. They see their families. Stores close early. In America, we have 1 day for Christmas and 1 day for New Year’s. In Bavaria, they have 2 ½ days at Christmas, and then another 2 days for New Year’s celebrations. While in America, the average working man or woman puts in 47 hours of work a week; in Germany, the average hours in a work week are 35. Taking vacation, having family time, getting good sleep – all these things are wrapped up in their culture. They don’t even think twice about it. They take the time.

I think I’m having trouble forming a new list of things to accomplish because my world is in a whirlwind. I’m putting in long hours at work; I’m endeavoring to finish school; I’m raising a family; I’m involved in groups and social events; I volunteer. I hear John Denver’s words, “The days, they pass so quickly now, the nights are seldom long,” and I wish time would slow its harried pace.

Slowly, I’m realizing that I am the one making time feel fast and furious. I’m the one that is stuffing my schedule so full that it is about to explode like Clark Griswold’s Christmas turkey. While I’m hurrying from one thing to the next, with my heart palpitating and my chest restricting, the small voice is whispering, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Be. Still. Know.

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said once, “With God, there is no time. With God it is always now.”

I don’t see my life as a great, big NOW. I am pushing for the next thing, the next step, the next prize. I work towards goals. I strive for achievement. I look to the future, thinking joy is over there.

Meanwhile, God is whispering, “I am here. I am present. I am now.” The prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The LORD your God is in your midst.” Jesus Himself said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

Now is the time for love. Now is the time for redemption. Now is the time for joy for the journey. Now is the time for listening, for empathy, and for compassion. I don’t have to complete a list of prerequisites or bring any sort of qualifications. I don’t have to work really hard or receive rewards. I just have to be open to seeing what God is up to in the moment.

For 2017, I do have plans – some big, some small. I’m excited to do a lot of new things, reach new heights, and work towards my dreams.

However, overall, in this New Year, I’m looking for the unbroken snow.

When a new snow falls on a mountain trail, the first person to hike the path experiences the pleasure of breaking the clean blanket of fresh powder.

The path that had disappeared is then visible again.

I want the paths of grace and peace in my life that have been buried in the avalanche of my plans and human purposes to be cleared.

I’m ready to embrace the present.

Because…to quote King David…

“You will show me the path of life and in Your presence is fullness of joy.”

Right before my eyes. Right in my own home. Right in this very moment.

Now.

 

Happy New Year, Friends. 

 

P.S.

Someday when my son is older, he’s going to be embarrassed how often I used his picture as the title image for this blog.