Friday, October 28, 2011

Visiting the Land of Giants

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
-Annie Dillard

Clark and I flew to California last week to visit the fabulous Smith family who recently moved to Fresno after 4 years living in Zambia. Among many fantastic adventures, they sent us to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park where we visited some of the largest trees on earth. As we drove to the park Clark mentioned multiple times, "You will want to hug these trees. They are irresistible."

It's true. As you wend your way along the hillside, perfectly carved out as a safe haven for these beautiful monoliths, you begin to think you are shrinking. The bark of these wise old trees are rust-red and unbelievably soft.

And of course, I couldn't help it. I stepped off the path multiple times to press my cheek into the bark.

The forest is a nice place to listen. There were times Clark and I whispered as if we were in a library. These trees are thousands of years old and reverence is required.

We climbed inside one tree whose hulking mass had been completely burned out on the inside, but was alive and flourishing against all odds.

I feel like singing that Phil Collins song now.

There is a small post office in the park. I hate that this itsy bitsy post office is rarely frequented, so I insisted we send some postcards and strike up a conversation with the postman. He told us all about bears and bobcats that periodically peer in his windows and it was fun to imagine his life in this sometimes-lonely national park.

Nothing like visiting the land of giants to reorient your perspective. Such a magical place.

Monday, October 17, 2011


My friend Sarah taught me a new and helpful acronymn: WAIT.

Why Am I Talking.

This guy looks a cheery chap, right? The kind of warm, gentle man you'd like as your grandfather. His name is Charles Hodge and at Princeton he was considered a monumental theologian and purveyor of all things good and wise and Christian.

Today I was reading a fascinating little book and came across this startling quote by old Chuck:

"If women are to be emancipated from subjection to the law which God has imposed on them... If, in studied insult to the authority of God, we are to renounce, in the marriage contract, all claim to obedience, we shall soon have a country over which the genius of Mary Wollstonecraft would delight to preside, but from which all order and all virtue would speedily be banished.... There is no deformity of human character from which we turn with deeper loathing than from a woman forgetful of her nature and clamorous for the vocations and rights of men."

WAIT, Charles Hodge. WAIT.

By the way, what is wrong with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Maybe he didn't like Frankenstein. I lived for a year in Hodge Hall in seminary and as I have been pondering this man this afternoon I cannot help but feel a little sorry for him. Amazing how a few harsh words can quickly fracture a legacy.

I hope he's loosened up in heaven, perhaps shared a martini with Shelley, and kicked his feet back in gratitude. Grace does a body good, Professor Hodge.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Words With Friends

I am a machine. A "Words With Friends" machine.

Playing this addictive game is one of the perks to living in what I have proclaimed to be "The Year of Semi-Employment" (think Chinese Zodiac, except more descriptive rather than predictive).

I've also been making time for real words with friends, gleaning a good deal of wisdom and sharing in friends' woes. I wish I could repeat the HILARIOUS phrase my friend Jennifer used to describe the early 30's for most of our girlfriends, but it made me burst out laughing on our walk around Green Lake. I cannot repeat it because it is full of crudity that potential future employers might not want to read on a blog. But it captivated me. Mostly because of this:

Life does not often turn out the way we expect. We all know this to be true, of course. But when you are 33 and educated and privileged and mostly happy and often disconcerted, you eventually slow down long enough to let this though sink in uniquely: MY life isn't as fabulous or important or deeply meaningful as I assumed it would be. Marriage, babies, religion, love, career.... Not exactly what I dreamed it would be.

Other realizations: Beauty and charm-- limited. One's ability to affect meaningful change in one's own life let alone the lives of others stricken by injustice or cruelty-- limited. This can be denied until our dying day, or we can do something entirely more productive: take it in stride and allow it to shape a more true and gracious way of living.

Someone asked me this week, "What is the most amazing thing you have learned lately?" Like a cursor blinking on a blank page I looked back and thought, "Amazing? Unless you are talking about babies or nature, amazing is hard to come by." But then I thought longer and harder. This week I had dinner with a man in his early eighties. As I listened to him reminisce and make plans for the future two lessons came to the fore in a new way: one, we humans do not stop wrestling with our identity EVER. And two, life rarely turns out the way we expect. Most importantly, neither of things are one of life's tragedies. Amazing.

Foiled plans sometimes pave the way for unimaginably good gifts.

As this man's stories unfurled like the cigarette smoke he gave up decades ago, I was reminded that foiled plans invite resilience, creativity, regrouping, and a whole lot of humor. Dry bones resurrect. Some old dogs learn new tricks. And God continues to stitch and sew and hem us in. Amazing. And more amazing. And hopefully, probably, rest-assuredly more amazing some more.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Seattle Extravaganza

Mike Watson came to visit last week. Who is Mike Watson, you might ask? The man who is responsible for setting me up with the one and only, Sir Clark Scalera.

We provided an intense 56 hour tour of Seattle that included some mighty fine Pacific Northwest cuisine, good live music, tours of the best record stores in the city and some rigorous games of "Corn Hole" courtesy of Clark's craftsmanship and my meager sewing skills. I picked out fabulous fabric because one cannot make bean bags for a lawn game with lame solid colors.

I love this time of year. Clark is bewildered by all the gray, but I love it. The days are growing more cold and crisp and it is good to be home for the first time in years. I bought my train ticket for halloween and will go trick-or-treating with my nephews and niece for the first time EVER. It is so good to be Aunt Carmen just a short train ride away.

I'm helping lead a retreat this weekend, so have a bit more work to do today before traipsing up to the poetry store up the street. I love Wallingford. Who else has a store consisting entirely of books of poetry just 4 blocks from their house? I hope to find some work by the Swedish poet Transtromer (who was just awarded the Nobel for literature). I'll share some gems sometime soon.