Monday, April 27, 2009

Give, Said the Little Stream

This post just won Scribbit's May Writeaway Contest, here.

Meet the proud owner of a babbling brook. Uh-huh. Me.
We have a flowing stream running through our yard. But only about once every three years. The rest of the time it's a trench that is just wide enough and deep enough to be a curse and a hazard.

But right now? It is pure blessing. This year's spring run-off is abundant enough to overflow into our own yard. I step outside and hear clear water gurgling over small boulders. I hear a whoosh and a roar as it pours off the mountain and through our yard, out toward the lake. I stand there and just watch, listen, and wonder at the constant renewal. I try to envision its source, so far away, pouring out this blessing. The sound of rushing water is like a peace offering, a shower for the soul. I love it!

Suddenly we want to be outside, where the water laughs and invites us to join in a game of Pooh-Sticks. The dog leaps gracefully back and forth over the rushing water like some kind of supercanine hero. The plum blossoms are more fragrant, as the running water seems to carry their scent. Our sometimes unwieldy yard has shed a burden of snow and been transformed into Eden.

As has my heart. Because today I was blessed with not one stream, but two. The second was a stream of visitors. I woke this morning feeling a tiny bit abandoned, bereft, and spent. I prayed and wept, all at the same time. And the heavens answered the heaviness in my heart with a steady stream of angels. From morning to night, favorite people, the dearest of friends, stopped at my door, some unexpectedly, coaxing me out of my house and my shell, restoring my energy, reminding me that I am loved.

  • Two blog friends, back for a second visit before they wend their way home, one all the way to another country, spreading goodness in their wake.
  • An uncle, to share a bit of wisdom and a golden referral.
  • A mother, reaching out to share a common journey over an impromptu picnic.
  • Visiting teachers, gracious, benevolent and wise.
  • My children, returning from school with smiles and hugs.
  • A dear friend, at times more like a sister, calling long distance, always willing to listen, and caring enough to ask just the right questions.
  • Two travelers, kindred spirits from a former life, connect here at the same time, and meet us for dinner. The best kind of synchronicity.
  • A baby...with eyes like crystal and an expression of total purity, spreading nothing but love and joy, warms my arms.

It's not just the mountain reservoirs that are overflowing but the heavens themselves, pouring out blessings until I doubt there is any more room to receive. I knelt down and wept again. To thank Him for sending both of these beautiful streams.

And his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters. (D&C 110: 3)
O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! (1 Ne. 2: 9)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where Virtual Meets Reality

A big part of my virtual world is about to mesh with my other world. The world where my forty-plus mom-body hangs out and cooks dinner and folds clothes, and teaches college students to paint, specifically. Yeah, for lack of a better word, the real one.

But both terms, real and virtual, in describing these two distinct worlds, seem like such a slight to what happens for me in the blogosphere. We laugh, we cry over each other's posts. We encourage each other. We seek (and gain) understanding. Sometimes we offer advice. (I probably give too much). We share funny stories and deep spiritual experiences. We come to know a side of each other that the rest of the world probably misses. Completely. I wonder, what could possibly be more real than these "virtual" friendships I have built up over the past year? I know these women. I often pray for them. I love them.

Several of my witty and wonderful blogging buddies will be in town for a writers conference this week. (I'm really flattered that so many of my readers are professional writers.) And I will get to meet them in person. In some ways I'm beyond excited. Yet at the same time, my idiosyncratic insecurities set in: (will they find my in-person quirkiness annoying? will it matter that I'm not thin or rich or beautiful or...) and I hope they will recall this post. But truly, those insecurites belong to another, worldlier world. They are non-issues in the blogosphere.

The fun starts tomorrow. And it's an all-star line-up. Some of them are my heroes. I'm opening my doors to them, breaking bread with them, inviting them into my regular life. (I might even vacuum before they come.) But in some ways I doubt we'll be any more bonded by meeting in person than we already are by befriending one another in the blogosphere. These virtual strangers are already my very real friends.

p.s. If you are interested in meeting Heidi Ashworth and hearing her talk about her novel, Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, at my book group on Saturday night, email me (or leave a comment) and I'll email you the time and the address to chez charrette.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Couldn't Possibly Be that Shallow!

A week or so ago I took this personality test as part of a family assessment we're doing. Supposedly it can determine your core motivation, which you are born with and never changes from childhood through adulthood. I dutifully followed the instructions and marked the little bubbles, even when none of them seemed to fit. Then I clicked the link for my results:

Congratulations. You are YELLOW.

YELLOWS are motivated by FUN. They are inviting and embrace life as a party that they're hosting. They love playful interaction and can be extremely sociable. They are highly persuasive and seek instant gratification. YELLOWS need to be adored and praised. While YELLOWS are carefree, they are sensitive and highly alert to others' agendas to control them. YELLOWS typically carry within themselves the gift of a good heart. (There's more, but that's the basic gist.)

Motivated by FUN? I couldn't possibly be that shallow. Or could I?
I'm convinced the test is wrong. Because who and what I am is blue. Not only is blue my favorite color, and I yearn for the serenity it symbolizes...Blues are motivated by intimacy. And I CRAVE intimacy. Case in point, this blog. I write from the depths of my soul for you here, seeking a deep connection with like-minded others, fueled by the interaction and deep, meaningful conversations that ensue. This is who I am. I am Blue.

Or maybe I'm White. Because I avoid conflict and love my alone-time. (What mother doesn't?) And I refuse to be controlled by others. Yeah, I could be white.

Convinced there's been an error, or at least a technical glitch, I log back on under a different email address and password and take the test again. Confidently I click on the link and wait for my new results to appear:

Congratulations. You are YELLOW. (Stop laughing)

YELLOWS are motivated by FUN. They are inviting and embrace life as a party that they're hosting. They love playful interaction and can be extremely sociable.
Yadda Yadda Yadda...

Hahahaha. I guess I am destined to be shamelessly, relentlessly, forever Yellow. Or maybe they rig the test so that EVERYONE who takes it is Yellow. Look, do me a favor. Click here, take the little personality profile and tell me if you're, well, Yellow. I need to know.

And in the meantime, I've come to grips with my new mistaken identity by recalling these defining Yellow moments:

  • I recently found a soulmate in Anne Shirley. I'm embarrassed to admit that I never read this book until I was an adult. The exuberant heroine of Anne of Green Gables, exulting in the beauties of nature to the point of practically swooning, (and describing them in words far too big for her scant 11-year-old frame), drinking in life with big, passionate gulps, is exactly how I was as a child--and still am, to a degree.

  • When I was at Cambridge, an older-and-sourer colleague, who'd obviously been dampened a bit more by life than I was, asked me one day, "How do you manage to exist in a constant state of bliss?" (I think she found it ever-so-slightly annoying). But I was reveling in the history, the architecture, the connectedness with great scholars, the mist on the moors, punting on the Cam, and immersing myself in Dickens and Austen and Hardy and Eliot. Plus I had a new boyfriend. And I was picking up a British accent. A good response might have been "How do you come here and NOT exist in a constant state of bliss?"

  • At my first REAL job (after college) one of the ad reps printed up note pads for everybody for Christmas. All the rest had their official titles printed under their names. But MINE? Said Editorial Art Director/Fun Specialist.

  • There is also this post (my very first) in which I was actually pulled over by a cop for my public display of...Yellowness?

  • And then, right after my husband asked me to marry him and I threw my arms around his neck with an unhesitating yes, he said these words: "We're going to have a fun eternity!"

So maybe it's true. I think I'm coming to grips with my Yellowness. Perhaps life hasn't beaten it out of me after all. What's more, maybe it's precisely my resilient Yellowness that actually keeps me buoyant when life is especially rough. But, just for the record, I still (joyfully) crave intimacy. So there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Feeling Loved...and Falling Apart

People are so good. Better than I expect, most of the time. And every once in awhile I am completely blown away by the sheer goodness and sensitivity of the people around me. This past week has been one of those blow-me-away times, time after time. Here are just three examples:

Last weekend we went out to dinner with our friends Nat and Jenn. First, they got us tickets to the play Jennifer directed (Nat designed the sets). These two have worked on Broadway and are mega-talented -- they make a terrific team. Their little community theater is so lucky to have them on board. Afterward we went out to dinner, and Jenn leaned across the table and started telling me that she's been reading my blog (I honestly had no idea; she never comments.) She said she feels like she's come to know me so much better since she started reading my posts (which is amazing, coming from someone who's been a close friend for over ten years). Then she said that my most recent posts (mostly about our son and our struggles with him) were very moving and she wanted to do something for me.

She opened a little silk bag she'd been holding and said, "So I made you this. It's kind of my new fetish." Laughingly, she assured me I would find nothing like it in The Mall (which led me to believe she had read this post.) She pulled out the coolest bracelet, a loose silver chain decorated with an assortment of vintage buttons in various shades of pink. It sounds like a rain stick whenever I move my wrist. Then she pointed to one larger silver button and opened it up. Turns out it's a locket. She had talked to Jeff in advance, and conspired with him to get a photo of our oldest son to put inside. I was so moved by her thoughtfulness and such a mother-to-mother, heartfelt gesture, it took all the self-control I could muster just to keep from dissolving in tears right there at the table. (I don't like to cry in public.) I was amazed at the thought behind this treasure of a gift.

Then the following Friday I had lunch with my friend Eowyn. We first met in person last November. Every time we get together there is laughter and sharing, and we both feel better about our lives. And this was no exception. But instead of going out to a restaurant, we had lunch at her house. Driving there for the first time, I wondered what it would be like. I knew it would be lovely, because she is lovely.

But, my friends, lovely doesn't quite do it justice. I was greeted at the door by a delighted Eowyn, followed by a diapered toddler. All of which made me smile. But I was also greeted by the smell of homemade bread, wafting through the house. In fact, the main course? was her delicious, freshly-baked bread (She makes six loaves a week) and three flavors of homemade jam. Then, when it was time to leave, she sent me home with one of those delicious still-warm loaves of bread, and my pick of the three flavors of jam. I got them home and set them on the counter and just looked at them, spellbound. Because what could be more comforting and nurturing and maternal than fresh-baked bread? First it had fed me, both body and soul, and now it was filling my whole house. Another wonderful gift.

Later that afternoon my dad came over to help me take some paintings to a museum. We talked excitedly about our upcoming workshop and our plans for promoting it. We had a great time just being together (even though we got stuck in a colossal and unforeseen traffic jam and never even made it to the museum). :) Then as he was leaving my house, he took another step back towards me and told me that the last couple of times he's seen me I've looked completely exhausted, and he's been a little worried about me. Then he said if things get feeling tough, he'd love to give me a father's blessing.

That just about undid me. Such a sweet offer from my dad, who rarely makes a comment about our lives and almost goes out of his way not to interfere. I walked back inside and up the stairs and burst into tears. And not just tears, but huge, audible, chest-heaving sobs. Something about the goodness and perceptiveness of that offer brought all my emotions to the surface. It wasn't sadness. It was almost like a watershed of relief. I was not invisible. Someone noticed. Acknowledged that this is hard. Saw that I was carrying a heavy burden and offered to help lift it.

I was so touched that three* different people were inspired, each using their own gifts, to bless my life. That could only have come from Someone who truly knows my heart. It had to have come straight from God.

*And actually there have been so many more...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On Life, Death, and Hydrangeas

Confession: I am a plant killer. It’s not malicious. Not even intentional. I just don’t have a green thumb. I’m forgetful. And inconsistent. So while my intentions are benign, that still doesn’t bode well for our plants.

My favorite flowers are blue hydrangeas. Outside our house in Pasadena, we planted pink ones, blue ones and white ones along the east wall. At first they bloomed in abundance, with dramatic clusters of flowers. They lifted my spirits. I was pretty good at watering them and taking care of them, but as the hot August sun burned down, and I neglected to shade them, sometimes forgetting to water, the leaves dried up around the edges, then the petals turned brown. By the end of October’s Santa Ana winds there was nothing left but dry sticks. I was sad. I’d screwed up. Again. I was so disappointed in my inability to keep something I loved alive. (To a lesser degree, not unlike the feeling of failure I felt when our last baby was born...stillborn.)

Over the course of the winter I almost forgot about my dead hydrangeas. But the next February something amazing happened. Buds. Little nubs of leaves growing up and down the branches. A hint at new life. Encouraged, I watered again. Pruned the weakened tops off the branches. Within weeks the branches were covered with bright green serrated leaves. Then came the flowers, my favorite blue blossoms. We lovingly nicknamed the hydrangeas our "Resurrection Plants." Somehow watching these dead, dry sticks come back to life had given us an increased faith in the literal resurrection. We saw it happen. It’s not just possible. It’s a reality.

And seeing my favorite flowers come back to life didn’t just bolster my faith in a physical resurrection. It also helped me understand forgiveness. Despite my own screw-ups, my neglect, my contribution to the demise of these plants, my hydrangeas came back. And continued to come back, year after year. I saw hope and healing. Grace and mercy. Unconditional love.

Every Easter (and at other times too) I like to think of my hydrangeas. I even found the perfect place to grow them here at our new house. They’ve become a beautiful symbol for me...these plants that die...and then come back to life. Even with my best efforts, they’ve suffered at my hand, forgiven me, and continue to resurrect every spring, reminding me of the sacrifice and the promise given to all mankind.