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Psalm 51:10-12 (in my own words)

Re-create me, oh God, in your drenched image again and again

for as long as it takes. Daily like a sun rising before the eyes of the moon. I feel loved as the old me, partaker of the dirty ground,

but only as I flap new wings. I will forget how long I have wasted and how long you have waited on me. There are no broken paths ahead or behind as your Grace transforms, but I will recall the tripping and the bleeding: a dull idea that might torment me were it not for your re-joining and rejoicing.

This one caveat that is too beautiful to believe–You never let go of me.

I reach with wriggling eyes into my own heart: clean!

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Quietude

It’s true, we creative-types need re-charge time alone. For the month of June, I am basking in my life-life balance, while ignoring all the challenges of my work-life balance which will be thrust upon me come August 14. I believe introverts are complex and difficult to understand (if you are an extrovert) and perhaps to the sanguine-mind our melancholy-bents and our ever-present superpower of being able to peer beneath the fashionable facade, make us to some “not worth the price of admission” when it comes to friendship.

That’s okay. I am participating in an insightful Bible study with a fantastic group of ladies from my church where we are contemplating and discussing the quintessential introvert-extrovert relationship between two sisters–Mary and Martha. I really like this study, written by Joanna Weaver, because she refrains from pitting the sisters against one another in black-and-white terms, but rather focuses on the fact that both sisters are wired with strengths and weaknesses. Mary and Martha need one another. The body of Christ needs both. Families need both personalities; otherwise, life would become mundane and boring or chaotic and out of control.

I married an extrovert and I know I was attracted from Day One to my husband’s energy and comfort-level in new situations. I know that he would say that he has benefited from my leading in times of reflection and prayer together, times when we deeply consider our relationship and our walks with the Lord. Meshed together in marriage, we have one walk together, and we don’t always strike the perfect balance. I have steered us away from potential bad decisions because of my ability to intuit false people. He has taught me to see the best in people and has put me in situations (always holding my hand) like para-sailing, driving in Northern California during thick fog, or attending his work conferences where we are forced to mingle. These activities taught me that most things work out just fine. I would probably never have tried so many adventurous activities without the steady hand of my extroverted spouse.

God puts people in families, in churches, in friendships for His purpose. One thing I have learned over the years is that it is okay to only half-listen if the person listening to you is doing that. I must also realize that my extroverted friend doesn’t get to sing karaoke solos with me either. Introverts need to remember that we can be too judgmental, prone to emotional shut-down, and that we are walking around usually depending on others to plan and execute all the fun in our lives. I find myself often thinking “oh that would be fun” but I never get past the daydreaming state.

My success as a teacher came as a surprise to not only me, but to the head of my department and to the vice president of academic affairs who hired me. Teaching is performance to me, like playing basketball, running a half-marathon, hosting a dinner party. Introverts like Mary in the Bible aren’t devoid of all skills except for washing feet with oil and listening (although listening is another superpower of most introverts). I have led meetings in church where I was offered a job after the event because I was so prepared and organized and the CEO in the room appreciated that I didn’t waste his time. Perhaps Mary didn’t hog the microphone and sing, but it doesn’t mean she couldn’t sing.

Here is a list of celebrities who are introverts: Barack Obama, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Glenn Close, Lady Gaga, Meryl Streep, Michael Jordan, Leonardo Di Caprio, Julia Roberts. I wonder how many teachers who are introverts get the best reviews from their students because they are able to create presence in the classroom, make eye-contact and remember their students names and all the struggles that they share?

And Martha in the Bible wasn’t completely deficient in going deep. She is the one who ran to Jesus on the road, demonstrating and expressing her deep faith in His power to raise her brother from the dead. If she had not taken the initiative to open her home to Jesus and his disciples and host a mega-gathering, the sisters and their brother might never have developed an intimate relationship with the Lord.

Most, if not all, of my close friends are more extroverted than I am. They have prayed over me, listened intently to me, cared for my children, and walked with me through joy and sorrow. They reach out and they hold on to me, and I cannot imagine life without them. In short, extroverts are generous, loving, beautiful people. I believe Jesus felt this way about Martha.

Accomplishment happens when we live for God’s purpose in the way that He wired us for success. The pace looks and feels different for the Marys and the Marthas, but the important thing is obedience to God’s purpose and plan for our lives. Permission granted from above for you to do you.

It’s June and this introvert is feasting upon a re-discovered inner life.

He walks with me and he talks with me and He tells me I am His own.

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Prayer

Sometimes it is the road itself that brings you to the end of the road,

as though the journey births the song and the song, the journey.

I’ve seen a new mosaic: grief and within that laughter and conversations and peppery snacks shared, death of a loved one

and its aftershocks: the way love and loss sometimes intimately weave and sometimes wave across the water from distant shores–all in a single day.

Today is a day within herself. She is a friend from a foreign country

about to darken my orange door. She is a body that contains breast-fulls of yesterday, mostly in sounds. I watch for her like a lighthouse

perched on rocks. I am one with this morning–eager and shaken and free.

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Creative

I’ve only been handed, for the most part, two narratives in a nutshell about my own creativity, the first being– this essay is too creative–and the second–you’re not really all that creative are you?

The first assessment happened as a comment on every essay portion of every- standardized- test- ever- taken, and the second from every person who has crossed my path in life, having not yet grasped the importance of knowing self in isolation, not in comparison to others.

Identity is a tricky thing. The moment I try on an adjective the way I slip into swimsuits to see what fits best as I am packing for a beach vacation, is the moment that an identifier becomes a role. Roles constrict and require conformity, which is the least creative word in the dictionary, it seems to me.

Strive not to be creative, but to create. Strive not to be an “academic” but to think. Strive not to explain yourself to others but to know yourself in the quiet way a sparrow dips for drink. When I write a good poem, it feels more like participation in community than it does self-discovery. Even if no one reads it. And, when someone misreads me, I try to focus on their fledgling reading ability, and not the makeshift meaning they have forced themselves to accept because they’ve mispronounced my life.

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Choose the Transcendent Moments

I started a new Bible study this week: “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.” So far, I still have a 50 percent allegiance to both sisters. In short, I have to “Martha” before I can productively “Mary” but if I never get to “Mary”, I can begin to feel a despair of sorts setting in.

My Grandpa Andrew, who unbelievably began to work a full day on the farm at the age of 8, told me once that the key to a happy life is to be able to “work with the best of them but also to be able to party with the best of them.” If you are Martha-ing, Martha with all your might, but if you find yourself in a Mary-moment, then you must be able to lose yourself in the transcendent beauties of life.

I don’t believe Mary just sat on her tush at the feet of Jesus all day and did nothing else. She probably had work to do, too, and engaged in that, but perhaps Jesus had settled in to tell a story or someone had asked a question of him, and Mary overheard on her way to the kitchen to retrieve more napkins. She tarried and seated herself at just the right time to listen…to absorb….to experience.

Mary not only rested and rested differently, but her attitude also caused her to approach her work differently.

As a teacher, with summer on the front burner, I am approaching the onset of Major Mary Time. Writing, reading, exercising, cooking, deep-cleaning my house, spending time with my grandchildren, planning my classes for fall semester, traveling, swimming, sunning, sharing meals and drinking coffee with friends. All of these activities sound restful and replenishing to me, mostly because of the long stretches of time I can pursue without interruptions.

Each one of us has a Mary Button and each one of us has a Martha Button, and good thing, because we need them both. It takes preparation to be able to hit the snooze button on special days. It takes work to create a home environment where people can relax and share and sleep and live.

On a desert island by myself, I am a Mary, but I would have to learn to forage and build my own fire, or this Mary would starve on said- desert -island. I need my Martha side, too. Marthy. We all really need to be Marthy. With a God-given grace for timing and tact.

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the low bar

My prayer this morning for myself is to move my body and mind away from activities that, in the eyes of the Lord and in the presence of the Word, are too low-risk to afford any substantial benefit to me or to others around me.

There are so many of these invulnerable pursuits and many of them hover around our keyboards masquerading as objects of action. Hashtags, digital photo filters, offerings of cable news-mongering. Others are less obvious: guilt-talking at exercise class about the donut I ate for breakfast, disallowing myself a single drop of contentment until ALL my floors are cleaned, rushing to fill silence with noise.

What are the pursuits and activities in my daily life that push me further away from that sphere of vulnerability where Christ’s mercy hovers and holds. Sometimes it is my own tears, my own justifiable anger. Sometimes it is this guise of busy-ness. It’s perfectly okay to be a Martha (sometimes we have to be) but not when Christ is whispering to us to slow down in a moment that He created for us to worship, to meditate on His Word, to pray, to just allow nothingness.

Silence is a great distance-breaker and in silence we can actually move much closer to the thing we fear, the thing we need to forgive, the thing we need most to say. Silence is like a humming worker bee in the house of your soul–a soul-Martha–flittering and flushing out and making those preparations for us to experience deep contentment and belonging in the arms of God.

I am so thankful that today, I accepted the gift of time to ponder and pray without media distractions, without looking at the sink full of dishes, without hearing the bleep of text messages entering my phone space. Wherever it is we are trying to get as individuals, as people, as a nation, I have this feeling in my gut this morning that this might just be the way back.

The best reparation for violence (even 200-year-old violence) is assumption of an attitude of peace today. Not debating it. Not posting a meme. Not stirring up the pot and allowing our precious, God-given time to keep others from their own restorative moments. The place where we talk about systemic sin and consider acts of reparation needs to be a face-to-face place, where the bees have invaded and restored our abilities to absorb and manage and act with complexity and vulnerability.

God is not saying ignore racism or ignore immigration issues or ignore environmental concerns. God is not saying shut down all talk of “Who do you say that I am” in the marketplace. God is saying Facebook is not the place for these discussions. As a former journalist, I love the world of spin. I enjoy a good debate as much as anyone else. But God seems to be calling me to a truce of sorts, to a walking-away, to a sharing of my photographic moments as though the moments of my life are poems to be legitimately published so the self-publishing must cease.

If you haven’t been silent, really silent before God and if the hush of that hasn’t felt like spring water spilling over into a parched ground, I pray that for you today. It’s been a gift this morning.

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Teacher-Tired

It’s the end of Covid-teaching-year and on behalf of all teachers everywhere, I want to say, not the usual “cut us some slack” but people, salute us everywhere we go, buy us lunch at Panera, donate your beach vacations to us, put us in your wills, and in honor of our dedication to risking our health in order to hang on to the potential greatness of your children, please read aloud to your most precious every single day this summer.

I can’t even describe how tired I feel as a part of a collective fatigue that began when we were abruptly shut down a year ago, told to isolate ourselves from the only support-system we really have (other teachers at our schools) and move our classes online indefinitely. Some of us thought “Zoom” was just a sound little boys made when pretending to drive matchbox cars when this state-of-emergency happened. Some of us thought not attending church was always a bad decision brought on by spiritual drought or disgust at egotistical church leaders, not something to be praised and encouraged. Some of us, the English teachers, thought masks were the things of Metaphor, something donned as a costume so deep, baritone ballads could be performed.

How the world changed since March 2020, how social life diminished, and how pizza boxes became something to be feared, and yet, how the demands of teaching did not diminish at all. In fact, the demands of our profession increased in height and breadth like an adolescent giant on magic beans. While the demands increased as we, the teachers, began to dream about personifications of stress, our approval ratings and public rhetoric about our chosen profession (which already were not so great) began to morph from disgusting to absolutely terrible.

Some of us taught online and some of us went to our classrooms and most of us engaged in a weird hybrid form of the two extremes all the while grappling with what it would feel like if we contracted Covid- 19 on that one day when we couldn’t bear it any longer and let a child hug us or come within two feet of us and talk or hand us a germ-ridden paper to read. And worse yet, what if we contracted Covid and we had no symptoms but we then passed it to another loved one in our family who ended up on a ventilator. Or, what if we ended up on a ventilator for a job that feels more like a mission field, especially when we try to plan our retirements.

I sometimes felt empathy leap from my heart across a six-foot span where I tried with all my mental might to propel it toward a struggling student in a mask whose words I could barely understand and whose eyes I could barely see. During Spring 2020, I actually assembled care packages and mailed them to my Composition I students because I felt so bad about the learning situation that had been thrust upon them. My students were so gracious, but this year, that grace has hurt.

It seems that everyone, everywhere has an opinion about what we, the teachers, should have been doing better, sooner, longer, faster, higher. It’s a strange profession, where we inherit students who have never been read to, who have come from homes who have not prized learning and thinking and eating meals together, and we are expected to take advice from these same adults about what is best for our current generation of students. The same society who won’t pay teachers as though teachers are “essential workers” wants to play the “essential worker” card and thrust us into unsafe environments so their kids can play sports.

Teachers, everywhere, are deeply tired. Most of us, despite everything, love our jobs and wouldn’t choose to do anything other than what it is we do. This summer, if you see a teacher sitting on a beach towel somewhere with eyes closed, remember that the fundamental question in education that has emerged from this pandemic isn’t “Do you respect teachers?”. It is, do we respect you? I have learned and earned a certain resiliency through this pandemic. My best is good enough, and more importantly and I am putting this in all-caps for emphasis MY BEST IS ALL YOU ARE GOING TO GET. Don’t be an unteachable public with unyielding ideas about what teachers aren’t doing enough of. Or go ahead and be that, if you must. For those who wanted schools to open, whose big idea was it not to put higher ed. on most priority lists for the vaccine? I’ll be somewhere in the sun, on a beach towel, with ear buds playing my favorite music and a fruity drink in my hand for as long as it takes.

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Empathy Principles

  1. The validity of someone else’s opinions/beliefs isn’t dependent upon my ability to understand them. Logic is the slave of Emotion. Treat what a person thinks with the same kid gloves you would handle how it makes them feel.
  2. Abstract hate is a self-inflicted wound. If you hate someone else for saying hateful things and for promoting and spreading hate-filled ideas, and you decide to publicly post about your hate of the haters, you just became the thing you hate. And worse yet, you just endorsed hatred as the appropriate response.
  3. There will always be people who can afford to escape to Cancun. There will always be people who can get a reservation at French Laundry.
  4. Sometimes it rains in Southern California and sometimes it blizzards in Texas. It is impossible to ascertain WHY bad weather happens to people who don’t own coats while the snow is still falling. Maybe it is no one’s fault. The same people who get red-face angry at religious people for tying up all narratives into a crisp, red bough of “all actions come with a consequence” and “sinners in the hands of an angry God” seem quite judgmental about environmental truth and consequences.
  5. You might hate AOC. You might loathe Rush Limbaugh. They are human beings with families of their own. What you say about them says much about you, how you were raised. Don’t embarrass your ancestors by lowering yourself to the standards of someone you have no respect for.
  6. Respect is an action, a decision. By demonstrating your capacity for it, you make the best argument. Sometimes silence sets the table. It’s where all the cooks place their best dishes. It’s where all the children want to eat. What if we all took a moment to chew our food and listen?
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Prayer

Lord, if you are moving, let me still myself.

Let me be a pauper of a vision to myself

so that all eyes–my eyes–stay steadfastly on You.

Sometimes I declare You give me words and I thrash

about. They are like unruly children with a fierce

energy and agenda of their own. Slow me way down, Lord,

like a low creek bed in a cavernous mountain. Create

a covenant in me, between us–the intimate bounty

You pay let me always remember. Let me always

cling to the truth of cost and sacrifice and that none

of it was me.

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House becomes a home

My husband and I have always been vagabonds. Every home we have ever lived in has always been negotiably for sale. We’ve lived in and renovated several homes in our 38 years of marriage, and now in our late, late 50’s we find ourselves in a 4,000 square-foot Tudor home, sitting on an acre of landscaped grounds with a pond in the back. It’s a home that feels both expansive and cozy at the same time. I love my home. It has been a bumpy ride, but I finally feel a sense of belonging and commitment to this home. It’s like the Cherokee in me feels finally connected to a deeper heritage, something deeper than myself. Perhaps it is all the wonderful memories. Perhaps it is the sound of my grandsons calling out “Grandma’s House.” Perhaps we are just getting older and less energetic and want to stay put.Whatever the reason, it feels good to feel like a permanent fixture. I no longer feel the need to apologize or overcompensate by buying everyone’s bbq at sibling gatherings because I am the one who lives in the small town. I think this house just happens to be the place where I have grown finally comfortable in my own skin. Today, I received the most amazing gift from a favorite college professor of mine who has graciously served as a constant mentor to me since my early 20’s. Two beautiful works of art now hang in my kitchen–gifts from him as he downsizes into a smaller apartment after the death of his beloved wife. What a treasure to have received this love gift from him. Hanging in my kitchen near my walnut kitchen island, I can only feel one thing–I am home.