Heaven at Hand

Today I’m writing for Red Tent Living on the theme of “Miracles Can Happen.” You can read the post here.

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Ode to Hope

Today I woke at 5am to vote. All of my children are home from school today and I wanted to get to the polls before my husband left for work. I arrived at my precinct at 5:45am and the parking lot was already filling up. A line was wrapped around the church and the lawn was lined with political signs representing all sides. It was still dark out. We waited together wearing ball caps, sweats, and blue jeans, our coffee cups in hand. Promptly at 6am, a young man yelled out, The Polls Are Open!

When we got into the main room the energy was palpable. The vibe was phenomenal. I thought about how the media captures the division, the corruption, the negativity, and the games, but it doesn’t capture this: Americans coming together, amidst our differences, to take part in this incredible gift we have of voting, of choosing a leader. Whether we actually like those polarizing leaders or not is another issue, ha! But, putting my conspiracy theories and cynicism aside, I must admit that whoever wins this insane election, I do feel honored and blessed to be a part of this crazy, diverse, wild country.

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The church where I vote is right across the street from the ocean, so I walked down to watch the sunrise. The dolphins were skimming the water’s surface and the seagulls were camped out on the shore. I waited about ten minutes before the sun finally emerged from the horizon. We’ve been studying the poetic book of Ecclesiastes for the past few months and I thought of these verses:

“The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be
done again;
there is nothing new under
the sun.
–Ecclesiastes 1:5,7-9

I suppose these verses sound a bit dim, but I find them grounding and refreshing amidst the catastrophic media messages. There is nothing new under the sun. Patterns repeat in history and humanity just as they repeat in nature. What is happening in our country at this point in time is new, and it’s not. I feel like the only really secure thing to fall back on is faith, which is so apolitical.

Here’s a gorgeous Pablo Neruda poem to close with, which reminded me of the ocean this morning. We men, touch the water, struggling and hoping…the waves tell the firm coast: Everything will be fulfilled.

ODE TO HOPE by Pablo Neruda

Oceanic dawn
at the center
of my life,
waves like grapes,
the sky’s solitude,
you fill me
and flood
the complete sea,
the undiminished sky,
tempo
and space,
sea foam’s white
battalions,
the orange earth,
the sun’s
fiery waist
in agony,
so many
gifts and talents,
birds soaring into their dreams,
and the sea, the sea,
suspended
aroma,
chorus of rich, resonant salt,
and meanwhile,
we men,
touch the water,
struggling,
and hoping,
we touch the sea,
hoping.

And the waves tell the firm coast:
‘Everything will be fulfilled.’

HAPPY ELECTION DAY.

Five O’Clock Friends

A short essay I wrote called “Five O’Clock Friends” is posted today over at Red Tent Living, a beautiful online magazine that explores different aspects of femininity and faith in today’s world. Each month explores a different theme and October’s prompt is the question “Can I Come?” You can read my thoughts here. Take your time perusing this website’s lovely contents!

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Relief

I’m so honored that two of my poems have been published in Relief Journal’s Spring 2016 issue. If you aren’t familiar with this fantastic publication, you can check it out here. They have a beautiful blog as well, which explores the multi-faceted issues of art and faith. You also can order a copy of the print journal from the website if you wish to read.

Recent Publication

My poem “In Flight” was a finalist in the Bermuda Triangle Poetry Contest at The Poet’s Billow, a wonderful poetry site for established and emerging poets. The poems of the winners/finalists are published here!

In Flight

I am just a woman
on a plane–

all other associations
have dissolved
in the recycled air,

in the thousands of
open feet between me
and solid ground.

If you could be anything
what would you be?
is the question I considered
as a child,

long before I learned
to stack my ambitions
side by side like books
displayed on a shelf,

long before I learned
to compile volumes
of self worth and titles
to label myself by.

And now here I am
paused in space

as I brush forearms
with the people
to my right and to my left,

wondering in silence
what they are moving towards.

For not all that matters is
whether to choose
tomato or cranberry juice,

whether we will get
peanuts or pretzels or
anything at all.

For now I can
sit back and fly
like a weightless shell,

hollow-boned and free
like the bird I wanted to be
as a child.

     The Poet’s Billow, 2015

lists

My life is measured in lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, wish lists, lists of goals, lists to keep the anxiety of life at bay. I even pray in lists. When I wake in the morning, lists race through my head: take shower, pack lunches, feed dog, unload dishwasher, make dentist appointment, etc, etc. It’s these unglamorous details of life that end up written in my journal, in lieu of more substantial, reflective entries.

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The turn of the new year is typically a time to reflect and pursue a more “balanced life.” Perhaps all of my list-making is an attempt to strike that balance–to keep the balls in the air–to keep things from tipping into one extreme or another. However, the deeper I get into this parenthood gig, the more I question whether a balanced life is a reality that any of us actually achieve. I wonder if striving to attain it is, ironically, an exhausting and futile endeavor?

I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Linda Pastan, called “Lists”, which begins:

I made a list of things I have
to remember and a list
of things I want to forget,
but I see they are the same list.

I suppose it’s a bit sad how much I rely on lists to order my little world, but as I leaf back through my journal entries of lists, I realize how much life exists between the bullet points. As Pastan’s poem continues…

My mother makes lists on tiny
scraps of paper, leaving them
on chairs or the seats of the bus
the way she drops a handkerchief
for someone to find, a clue
a kind of commerce between her
and the world.

A kind of commerce between her and the world. I love that.

Last night we celebrated my husband’s fortieth birthday. Somewhere between the “buy ice for cooler” and “make salsa” and “clean bathrooms” and “pick up house,” the meaningful moments took place.

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I suppose I am coming to appreciate my lists more and more because I realize they are the scaffolding of life. They may not be the heart of life, but they are the skeleton. Our most significant moments can’t be deduced to bullet points, but I think the bullet points provide the framework for the good stuff to happen.

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What lists do you keep?
How do they serve as the “commerce between you and your world”?

january mourning

Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens.
–Wendell Berry

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I’m currently sitting amongst the wreckage at my desk: crinkled receipts, lit magazines, old journals, my marked-up calendar, stray earrings, hair bands, loose change, a high pile of papers from the children’s schools. Multiples times today I have tried to bring order to it, to sort and file and throw away, but instead I end up staring at the disaster, then looking out the window instead. So much for getting organized in the new year.

I’ve hardly written a thing since I graduated this summer. I suppose the pendulum has swung the other way. The break from writing, however, gave me the opportunity to re-engage with another part of myself as I’ve re-entered the nursing/working world. My thoughts have been many; my words few.

I love how the new year is a natural ushering in of change and reflection. 2014, for me, was a year of finishing. I was able to tie up loose ends both personally and academically. In many ways, 2014 felt like a return to myself after a decade of wandering, both geographically and psychologically. I am thankful for that.

As I look ahead to 2015, I am painfully mindful of the brevity of life. During the holiday season we lost an incredible nurse at my workplace. Margie was an inspiration to me and made my transition back into nursing such a positive experience. She was so warm, so open to people and life. Her sudden death was completely unexpected and has left us all rattled and grieved. The sobering thing is this: We are not guaranteed one minute. Each new day is truly a gift. I know this reality is lost on me all too quickly. As I enter this new year, I want to hold onto this truth. I never want to take life for granted.

This past week I wrote down a few concrete personal and professional goals, but beyond these, I suppose my biggest hope for this year is to live life with an open posture, like Margie did. Sometimes, as a working mom of three kids, life feels exhausting and overwhelming. I close myself off to things because it can all feel like “too much.” I create invisible walls around my little psyche in the name of self-preservation. I hope that I have enough faith as the year unfolds to allow some of those walls to relax a bit and say “yes” to things I might not ordinarily. I want to enjoy the moment and let the cards fall where they will. I want to love people well, and with a bit more abandon. Life is too short to hold back. And, of course, I hope to write more, too.

What are your reflections on 2014? What are your hopes for 2015?

the last days of summer

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Nectarines
acrylic on canvas; 10×10

I painted this two years ago. Each year, around this time, I come back to this painting and remember how life felt when I painted it.

It was the end of August. I had to hurry to finish the painting because the nectarines, my models, were beginning to rot in the bowl. Each time we passed the bowl on our dining room table we could smell their sweet scent.

About a month prior to painting this, we had returned to the States with our son from China. Life was raw and unfamiliar for all of us, trying to settle into one another and find our new normal. I remember sitting down during late afternoons to work on my painting, the angles of the August sun beating through the dining room window, my son upstairs napping in his crib.

For me, this painting captures the tension of August–the tension between the end of summer and the start of a new season. It reflects the sweetness of life and the impending rot of death. In this life, we cannot taste one without the other.

One of my favorite poems is “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee. I don’t think anyone has said it better. Here’s an excerpt:

“O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.”