Stand

Today is the day to stand up on your own two feet.

I suggest you put your shoes on first but you know what? Its a new decade so stand up, whether snow boots or flip-flops or barefoot.

No need for making an angry stand or a belligerent one. Whatever level of strength you have in you today, use it and stand to your feet.

There is so much talk about moving forward at the beginning of a new year let alone this being a new decade. I am one who believes in moving forward because that’s where life is. And yet today my word is stand. Whatever that means to you do it. I’m not saying stand and fight but maybe it’s time for you to. I’m not saying stand and cry. But maybe it’s time that you did and in so doing release what is gone. Maybe today you do nothing else but metaphorically stand up in your spirit— and use your physical feet and get that body of yours standing up as a silent declaration. Whether it’s getting the strength back in your legs to walk or run into your future or whether it’s just a holding-your-ground kind of stand.

Rise up in your spirit and stand.

Scarlet

I’d been back from my trip for several days and had finally gone out to tend to my garden (it looked sad) and the bird bath (it was dry) and to sweep up the leaves that collected.

My absolutely favorite succulent, about the size of a teacup, has been a lush velvety green—at least for as long as I’ve known it anyway—and just this summer it really began to thrive in it’s sunny location. Around autumn several small orangey blossoms began to appear on it. What? A new season a new outfit I suppose. But I hardly expected to return from my trip to find it dressed in scarlet. It looks stunning! It is growing and changing with the new season.

What a difference a change of season can make. In our gardens, in our lives—in ourselves if we’ll let it. Perhaps we’ll feel something different beginning to flow. A new energy, a renewing of passion for a thing that lay dormant. Inside something new, something feeling vaguely electric may be starting to flow once again. Of course it’s not springtime yet. I know it sounds like I describing spring while winter has just begun. Winter is, as we know, the season for dormancy and stillness and such. But perhaps there’s yet something new stirring in your heart in this season of stillness.

Let it! Don’t tamp it down. Let it flow. Doubts and nagging voices aside, allow the fresh flow of a new move in your heart begin to propel you forward. Movement means there’s still life inside. Small, incremental movement will take us from where we were in the previous year or even yesterday into a new place of heart and mind. Take a look in the mirror. Are you scarlet?

Out and Away

This wide spreading tree stands on the grounds of Mercy Ships International where my nephew landed his first job out of college a few months ago.

What great work they do bringing skilled surgeons into parts of the world that consider a cleft palate or facial tumor as clear evidence of demonic activity in one’s life. Children, teens and adults who’ve been shunned, neglected and worse are literally given new life by the medical teams that travel voluntarily to villages we’ve never heard of. Hope in abundant supply overflows with each surgery performed.

But this is not the focus of my thoughts for today.

After many years I still carry a lingering sadness for a friendship I lost years ago. And how well I know that by human nature we want reconciliation and happy endings yet sadly at times we have endings without either. Sometimes a divide—a branching out if you will—propels one or both into a direction that would not have been imagined nor ever realized if things had remained the same. And so growth “alongside of” is replaced by “growth away from.”

This became evermore clear to me as I looked at the photo of this grand tree. It illustrates to me how circumstances of life may thrust us out to east and to west as a natural, though not always wanted, process of growth. Apart from a central connection we grow, budding, flowering, reaching out and serving a purpose that is meant just for us. Just for them. But not always together. Though growing out from the same sturdy trunk the reach of our branches is now out and away from each other. Growing in opposite directions these branches appear to expand their reach with outstretched arms and extended fingertips about as far as they possibly can. Providing shade in due season to those below and serving as lifelong home to feathered friends or perhaps a welcomed rest stop to those on a migratory journey. More ground is covered (pause and think about that) because of the trajectory which is out and away.

A happy-ish ending now comes from the certainty that you had to let go to move forward and grow. A necessary ending has transpired.

The Right Stuff

Relaxing in the Dallas airport between my flights two days ago, munching on some extra crispy pecan crackers, there appeared this odd bit of scrap from the in-between trimmings of dough. Never seen that before but it makes perfect sense that some of the perfectly good stuff needs to be cut away to create the intended product. What do they do with the stuff that doesn’t make the cut? I’ve never thought about it because I’ve never seen it. Does it normally go back in with the unbaked cracker dough to be remixed, rolled out again, having a second chance of making the grade?

It dawned on me that the misshapen piece was made of the exact same ingredients, baked up in the same hot oven, resulting in just as nice a crunch and with a taste every bit as delish as it’s perfectly shaped cousin. But it really was a reject, not the top quality product that met the manufacturing specifications. It wasn’t it’s own fault that it was (to Nabisco) nothing more than a scrap of what didn’t fit the mold. By some miracle it made it through the process, past quality control and on through to packaging. How ecstatic it must have been when against all odds of production it made it to the store shelf!

And what about those who don’t fit the mold? We have a way of looking differently at folks who aren’t the same as the standard or the norm. Oh sure novelty will catch the eye but when we expect a certain level of standardization we will view those who vary from our definition of “the norm” as different. And, heck yeah, they are!

Many of these with a shape varying from our own have stepped outside the norm to become our artists and musicians, our dreamers and makers, our discoverers, trend setters and influencers.

So go ahead little cracker scrap and dream that dream. Take that leap where the rest of us may fear to. One day your unique gift may be heralded as the latest innovation. You, after all, are made of all the right stuff.

Time to Fly

Yesterday was my last full day in Tyler and I basically went out on a fried food high. Just look at that creamy good gravy drowning a crunchy coated slab of chicken fried steak. Texas toast, which I didn’t eat, good old mash equally smothered with country gravy, which I did eat, and a pile of crispy coated okra for good measure.

I do not eat like this in California.

The last seven days have been a relaxing mix of spending time with my older sis and her family in their newly established lone star homestead (okay, house, but I’m embracing the culture here), of tracing Shelby County family roots, of visiting the local establishments where they do all the smalls of everyday life, of eating good ol’ Tex Mex and Southern style meals (relishing every morsel), all of this giving me a good sense of their new life in this state. For the record I’m returning home resembling a hearty portion of chicken and dumplings minus the chicken. It’s been AWESOME—but my bags are now packed and we leave for the airport in just moments.

Off I go to the place of my birth and the sandy shores that I love. Back to beautifully sunny Southern California I go with a bittersweet smile and a saddish yet happy heart. I don’t know when we’ll meet face to face again. All this is uncharted. So I return to the land of my birth that also happens to be overpriced, over-everything, five lane freeway rush hour traffic and I LOVE it! For there’s no place like home. Home sweet home.

LA Picture book What?

We were looking up as we walked along the crumbling sidewalk of oldtown Palestine, east Texas. Way above our heads we saw the year 1878 posted high up on the Victorian ornamented peak of the period wooden building. That’s when I spotted the hanging sign with the curious title in a lovely french inspired script. “LA Picture Book Hair Surgeons.”

Having four creative and inspired stylists in my inner circle I wondered if this was a bit too clever/confusing of a name for a hair salon, or in Texan terms, a beauty parlor. Was LA for Louisiana or the City of Angels? What does “picture book” have to do with it? And then my eyes lowered from the hanging sign to the shuttered doorway of whatever this establishment used to be. The glass entrance door was dirty and was hung with the old school not cool metal blinds that my dear grandma used to have in her living room windows. This establishment’s title was repeated in stick-on lettering—the kind you can buy for a few bucks a sheet in a hardware store but was now crackled and peeling away. Eerily so as the doorway resembled the unraveling bandages of a creepy mummy. I thank old horror films snd Scooby Doo cartoons for that one. But the sight of it was as compelling as the opening paragraph of a good mystery story.

I wanted to know more but a google search yielded nothing. I wanted to know more for no good reason other than simply to justify the mixed messages being sent by the same five words presented in two completely different ways.

Here’s the leap . . .

What’s your truth? How are you presenting it, intentionally or otherwise? Does it speak to the heart of your essence or confound the folks around you? Let’s bring clarity to our message in the year that’s just about to dawn. I’m personally going to give that a try.

Going Up?

One thing my sister-in-Texas has repeatedly mentioned during my visit is that they’ve been asked one particular question multiple times by the locals. In setting up a new life in a new-to-them town in a new-to-them state the folks here in Tyler have been welcoming, helpful and friendly. It truly seems as if they’re equally concerned about the spiritual well-being of the newcomers as they are other more secular concerns. Hence they ask those putting down roots in their town a heartfelt question . . .

In our ancestral search over the last few days we discovered a common thread woven through the fabric of our family history. Several of our long gone kin have been educators, school superintendents, and promoters of better education practices. And there’s a parallel thread of deep faith. We were able to locate the abandoned church building referred to in historical notices that was started by a great, great, great of ours. Amazingly all its stained glass windows and red brick exterior are beautifully intact. We squinted through leaded glass in the church entrance doors to see rows of lovely wooden pews and altar and other platform furniture still in place as if services had just ended and the caretaker had locked up for the day. A plaque at the entrance bore the name of the church founder – one of our own, T. H. Day.

Perhaps these long gone Texas congregants asked their newcomers the very same question, “Have you found a church home yet?”

I would like to think it was not asked from a position of judgement or purely investigative but from a place of true care—from a mindset and heartfelt concern that we each need a community to belong to, a congregation if you will. A people, a place of communion and connection where truths are spoken into your life.

It’s faintly asked in a similar way by this east Texas stairway in nearby Palestine. There are good hearted folks here aplenty and it seems that even their stairways will ask.

Going up?

Fried Green Tomatoes

We drove over to Palestine to eat some local BBQ at a down-home Texas place called the Pint and Draft House. The fried green tomatoes, I tell you, did not disappoint. A distinctive smokehouse aroma wafted by now and again and a black cat selectively chose who’s patio table she’d curl up under next. And the people. The people around here are so friendly and no one, I mean NO ONE, resorts to the SoCal go-to of “have a nice day.” Unless they throw “y’all” onto the end of it that is.

That in itself is just nice.

When the lady at the coffeehouse just across the road identified me as a Californian she asked with sincere concern if countless homeless had yet been bussed in to my neighborhood back home. “Uh, nooooo,” I replied. Her perception of life in California raised some concern for my wellbeing there. I wandered off to the antique shop next door thinking she was probably just being thoughtful, right? Well maybe. I suppose. No one ever asked me that before but then I’d never been to Palestine.

We Found Them

It was a peaceful place for an afternoon visit to a Shelby County cemetery in eastern Texas.

An old black and white of our family decedents bore the images of relations we’d never met. Their stories had been newly discovered by a family member they’d never met either. One in their future still yet to be born (my older sister) who had researched the old records just to find them.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Located beyond the outside edges of the nearest town, down a narrow unpaved road, we drove until we came upon the gates of North Jericho. As a search party of four we traipsed through the burial grounds on a quest for a name; John Day.

There were all the usual signs of the ravages of time having taken their toll through the years. An overturned urn, a broken headstone or two, the lichen’s eery growth patterns rendering heartfelt sentiments practically unreadable on some of the ancient memorial stones. Two centuries of Texas sun, rain and snow had collectively reduced the once sharply engraved lettering to a nearly illegible text. With our fingers we traced the weathered names and dates that were long ago etched into stone. Names of our family we’ll never know. But John Day was there. It wasn’t your typical family reunion but it was a meaningful one. The conclusion to a search. . . and we found them!

Beating in Time

On the rainy early morning of the eve of Christmas eve ~ enjoying the perfect stillness before the sun rises and a busy day begins. I LOVE this time of day!

But the raindrop serenade isn’t keeping time at all with the ticking of the clock. It’s out of sync. Off the beat. And yet . . .

And yet I like it just the same because it echoes the non-sparkly, non-joyous, very real life moments that occur side by side and sometimes hand-in-hand, with this most wonderful time of the year.

In the quiet of this morning I’m reflecting on the friend whose mother, now on hospice care, clings to the remaining days of her well-lived life; the funeral just last week for a friend’s beloved father who passed quietly from this life into the next; the young couple who’s little daughter did not revive as we all had prayed for. Though this is undeniably the season of hope and joy there are many who face it with heavy hearts for as many reasons as there are twinkling lights on the tree.

Tis the season for joy and yet their their present journey has led them through the valley of the shadow. Those who grieve at this joyous time of year walk through that undeniably out-of-sync existence, like my clock and the unevenly falling rain.

What gift can we bring to the heavy hearted in this season of their unbearable grief and our season of joyous celebration? Though our most carefully crafted sentiments may fall short there is still hope of a light shining through their present darkness. The smallest of kindnesses or even our silently supportive presence may speak more than a thousand well-crafted sermons to the ones who feel no joy. Your happy heart beating in time with their broken one . . . that is Love.

Merry eve of Christmas Eve to one and all.