Monday, November 22, 2010

Hop in the Birdbath

I certainly didn't expect anything extraordinary from last week's trip to the dentist.
A thorough cleaning, of course. Maybe some gentle hints about flossing more. An explanation of that new little ridge my tongue had discovered on top of one of my molars.

So I was a bit surprised to find my normally attentive hygienist, Jo Carol, staring out the window as I sat down in her chair.
"Would you look at that," she whispered.
I wasn't sure if she was talking to me, so I said, ""Hey Jo Carol. How are you doing today?"
"Come get a look at this," she whispered again.

I put down my purse and joined her at the window. What was she staring at? The view wasn't great, just a tree and some grass and the parking lot of the orthodontist next door.

"See the birds?" she said, pointing at four or five little wrens splashing around in the water on the pavement.
"It rained last night, and every time it rains, that little corner there makes a puddle that stays around for a little while. It's funny, no matter what time of year it is, as soon as that puddle appears there's a half dozen birds swooping down to play in it. Look at them splashing around. They must be babies. And look, there's their mama, the big one there."

We stood there a minute and watched the birds flicking their feathers around in the water, wading in it, drinking and splashing, stepping on the fallen leaves with their little twig legs.

"Birds know the secret," she said as I sat down in the chair and she clipped the bib around my neck. "When something good lands on your lap, you gotta put down your busyness. Enjoy it while you can."

I nodded.

"Of course, birds are better at that than we are. There's so much we think we have to do."

Amen, Jo Carol, my hygienist/sage.
I needed to hear that. Don't we all, as we get ready to celebrate a day of thanks-- a day with so many To Do lists attached?

And just so you know, Jo Carol isn't just a dispenser of wisdom.
That new little ridge on my molar?
"It's just a broken filling, Hun. An easy fix. Happens to all of us as we get to a certain age."
If you need me, I'll be the old woman out shopping for a cane along with the turkey and cranberries.

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) through creative commons

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Visit to a Buddhist Temple

Have you ever been to a Buddhist temple?
I hadn't, until Saturday, but I'm so glad I went.

In sixth grade social studies class, the kids learn about world religions. Sam is planning a project in which he builds a miniature city complete with a Christian church, a Jewish temple, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple. Tall order, huh?

Sam has practically grown up inside a Christian church, but the other buildings? We're not so familiar with those. How can you build something if you don't really know what it looks like?
It was a perfect excuse to do some visiting.

The Place of Peace was first on our list.

It's a inter-generational temple once belonging to the Tsuzuki family in Nagoya, Japan. When the Tsuzukis donated it to Furman University, it was taken apart, piece by piece, and reassembled on the campus grounds.

I remember reading that during the temple's dedication, Seiji Tsuzuki spoke about his memories of sweeping the leaves around the temple when he was a boy.

Its craftsmanship is amazing.

The temple reminds me what I appreciate and so respect about the religion of Buddhism: the importance given to mindfulness, to paying attention to ones everyday life. That's such an important part of my Christian faith--to look for God's presence around me, to find God in the normal walk of life.

To find God in the details and in the big picture.

I love this simple fountain by the entrance.

It reminds me of the laver we've taught our Sunday school kids about, and how the Old Testament priests would wash themselves as a purifying ritual before going into the temple to worship.

See those shelve on the front porch of the temple? You take off your shoes before entering and place them there. The temple was locked so we couldn't go inside. Maybe another time.

No matter. There was plenty of God to go around just by walking across the campus.

See what I mean?

A perfect acorn, in the shade of a mighty oak. What a symbol of God's transforming power. His easy grace, dropping from the sky.

All living things seemed to pulse with God's presence that afternoon. I wanted to be like the roots of the tree, rising up, bursting out of the ground, to celebrate God's goodness.

Tanner got so excited that he baptized himself in the pond!

Careful! He'll spray you with stinky pond water!

As for me, I'll just focus on this burning bush.

Excuse me while I take off my shoes and worship.

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love to you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Autumn at Hopeful Dog Vineyard

Welcome to Autumn at Hopeful Dog Vineyard.
In case you're new around here, we don't really have a vineyard. Just this row of muscadines lining our backyard.

And here's the hopeful dog.

He's hoping you have a treat for him in your pocket.
A cracker, maybe? Anything?

Back to the vineyard.
I wouldn't have thought much was going on back there now.
After all, we've picked the grapes. We ate a few bowlfuls and washed and stomped the rest. Then we put the juice up to ferment until bottling time next summer.
The leaves are turning and dropping, and the only grapes left are becoming raisins in the sun.

But The Hopeful Dog has taken to stashing his trash under the grapevines up the hill, so yesterday I took a garbage bag with me and went trash collecting. There was a lot to gather: a bag of beef jerky he stole from Ben, a plastic peanut butter jar he nabbed off the kitchen counter, an old container of Parmesan cheese he swiped from our spaghetti dinner last week.
But after I collected it all, I turned my attention to the grapes.
What a shock!
The vine was busy doing things.

Who would have thought that at the same time that some leaves were bleeding out their colors, shriveling into papery bat wings...

some branches would refuse to quit, sending out a tender shoot to look for the sun,

unfurling baby leaves with its last breath.

While inches away, higher on the vine, a cluster of grapes refuses to fall.

I understand the grapes.

My leaves might turn speckled, then brittle and brown, but I wouldn't want to let go. I'd hold on.

Like the tiny tendrils gripping the guide wire, winding themselves in tight coils around it.
If I were a branch on the master vine, that's what I'd probably do.

"Go for the sun!" the vine would say, but I'd wave my hands around, reaching for something to hold to steady me. A safe spot. Security.

I'd wind myself tight around the Master Vine.
Can't I just live this way?

Do I have to let go?

The vine says nothing.

It just stands there in its beautiful twistedness, and holds up the branches.
It feeds them, and in its woundedness, it gives them life.

I touch the knots, run my fingers over the woody scabs.
Is there life under dry bark?
I know there is because I've seen what the Vine does each Spring.
I remember. Beneath the gnarled wrapping, green life surges.
It's waiting for the right time, the right season.
Somehow it knows.

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.
John 15: 1-9 The Message

I wish you a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hands and Beard Commands of the Future

"Dang, look how big my hand is," said the twelve year old boy on the drive to school.
"You've always had big hands," said the mom.
"I mean seriously, look. It's bigger than my face."
"Do you know that before you were born, I could feel those hands inside me, pushing around?"
"Mom, hate to tell you, but that's just weird."
"Yeah, it was a little weird. But it's true. It's the first thing we noticed after you were born. Well, maybe not the first thing. It took a took a few minutes to get over what a big baby we had."
The boy laughed.
"I bet that when you're a man you'll have grown into those hands. I wonder what you'll look like when you're a man."
"I'm going to grow a beard," said the boy, nodding to himself. "And when I get kids, I'm going to make them kiss it. I'm going to say 'Kiss it. KISS THE BEARD!'"

That kids cracks me up.
And he reminds me how quickly life changes.
Maybe it's easiest to see change in the life of a child. One day you're feeling him moving inside you, pressing his hands against you, your own little fetal mime swaddled tight by your body, and the next thing you know, he's out running around the yard in a dalmatian with a gas mask costume, making up his own words, batting his eyes at you, throwing leaves into the wind. Turn around twice and he'll be headed out the door, off to make up a life of his own.

Last night, as I watched our youth group perform "This Changes Everything," a new musical by singer-songwriter Kyle Matthews, I was struck by the sight of a choir full of former babies. How did they grow up so quickly? Didn't I just see them toddling down the nursery hallway? Didn't they just sit in the circle with me in fourth grade Sunday school?
And now they're standing before us, growing their hands, their faces, their voices, their baby bodies into young men and women! We used to lead them, and now they're leading us. Or maybe they've been leading and teaching all along.

I look at these kids, at my kids, my boy with the big hands and the future beard of his dreams, and I'm happy to remember the words God spoke to his people through the voice of Jeremiah,

I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. When you come looking for me, you'll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed.
Jeremiah 29: 11-14 The Message

I'm excited to see what the future brings to the kids in our lives. Aren't you? I'm happy for the lucky ones who already recognize they've got their hands in God's work. That God has his hands in their work. There are so many good things to come!
(And I have to say that I'll be watching to see if Sam indeed has a beard in his future.)

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Photo of the kind of beard I'd like for Sam for the next few years by Your Secret Admiral, through creative commons. Want some felt facial hair of your own? Hop over here!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mercy, Not Religion

I love my church.
I love that we come close to God there, led by women and men and children.
I love that we are family, that there are many folks there who remember the days when Todd and I stood at the front of the sanctuary amongst the other new parents, dedicating our squirmy babies to God.
That the congregation has helped us raise those squirmy babies, loving them through their fidgety stages, getting to know what's fun for them and what kind of people they want to be. Teaching my children by example about what it means to serve God.
I love that we welcome EVERYONE.
And I love that when my daughter was 15, she once said she wished everybody could be like the people at church.
I thank God for my church. Some days I wish I could dip my wand in the soap water and make a bubble around my church and live in it.

But yesterday, the bubble burst. Again.
It's Matthew 9's fault. I've been studying the gospels, as told by The Message, a version that never ceases to make the Bible new to me, that presents the stories in a way that perks up my ears and has me scrambling for other translations, wondering if Jesus really said that.

In the passage I was reading, Jesus was having supper at Matthew's (the tax collector's) house and was hanging out with all sorts of disreputable characters. The religious leaders had a fit,

and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?" Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."
Matthew 9:11-13, The Message

Mercy, not religion. I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.

That's direct.

Do I ever ask to be coddled?
Do I waste time debating who are the real Christians and who is just a bunch of hot air or meanness, when I should be on the street, inviting outsiders to the table?
Do I get too wrapped up in the mechanics of church and organization when there's work to be done?
Mercy to be given.

What is really important to God?
Jesus makes it clear.

It's just the reminder I needed.

Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Love, Becky

Photo by darkmatter, licensed through creative commons.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blooming Blendship

We sat together at a little table in the coffee shop of a bookstore, practically strangers.
I liked her art and her heart for the homeless, and she liked a story I'd written, so we took a chance and met.
A year ago I might have worried if it might be awkward. If there might be long silent pauses, minds racing for something to say. But not now. Maybe it's the wild ride I seem to find myself on, but now when somebody new suddenly pops her head into my life, I press the brakes to my busyness to see what might happen next.
This time what happened was friendship!
We sat at the table, surrounded by books, and told our own stories, one after another.
I could feel friendship's tiny rosebuds sprouting between us, my roots shifting, making room for someone new.

What a joy!
It amazes me that in the craziest of times, old friends appear, new friends materialize, and close day-by-day friends loop their arms through mine, letting me lean or hold tight or just feel their presence. You all are counted in that web of locked arms. Thank you!

You know what your friendship reminds me of? Something I encountered on Monday.
Let me share the story.
Friday I got some scary news. Someone very near and dear to me discovered a lump in her breast. I went with her to the ultrasound Monday, and watched the nurse lead her to an examining table, take a blanket out of the warming drawer, and spread it over my dear one, wrapping her in its comforting heat. Within minutes we received the report that the lump was benign, nothing to worry about, and we nearly cried with relief.
I think of my friends and that blanket reappears. That's part of what friendship is. A comforting, protecting blanket of warmth when the world is scary, wrapping us close in the middle of it all.

We told the story of Ruth with our fourth graders on Sunday. What a pleasure, that at the same time that I've felt carried along by my friends, I could share Ruth's story and celebrate friendship! I've always loved the story, the daughter and her mother in law caring for each other, clinging to each other, supporting each other. Sharing each other's stories, weaving their stories together. I love that friendship is another way of experiencing God and accomplishing God's work.

I'm so thankful for you, my friends, and for God's gift of friendship!
Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!

Love, Becky

Photo courtesy of Pensiero, licensed through creative commons