Reflections on Lent - Day 5
First, I'm not sure my numbers are right. I understand once again for reasons I don't get straight Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent.
Next, It's good to be with you always. It's late for me. Feels even later. I have a very, very early morning and so tonights reflection will not be in full. That will be tomorrow. Which will be Day 6 which will really be a continuation of Day 5. This day.
My youngest son took me to the movies Sunday. This is a happy moment for me. I like hanging out with my boys as I consider them at any and all ages. And movies are one of our happy places. The theatre, that moment that the light dims, the screen comes to life and we are propelled into story. I liked it.
The Movie is based on the graphic novel Battle Angel Hunter Warrior. I found touches of Blade Runner with Roller Derby thrown in. Things that purest would say, no, no. But I say yeah, yeah, I get to consume the story and see it through my eyes.
So, I'm sticking with Blade Runner. Roller Derby.
What struck me in reflecting today was - that suit.
*Spoiler Alerts ahead
Aleta has been salvaged from the junk heap, discovered to be alive (she's a cyborg) her brain fully hers and functioning but missing a body. She is given a body that was built for someone who died. But she discovers a large, metal, amazing, technology forward from the past and perhaps an alien species - the perfect body. Which once examined by the good adoptive father - that it is one of the greatest weapons of all time. Protective, fast, strong, and molds to the image Aleta has of herself. Fortunately, she has a great image of herself as a Warrior. A strong, successful one.
We all need that suit. We need the one that protects from every nature of attack. That gives us a strength beyond our normal. Something that will carry us higher and farther than we've thought possible but have always dreamed we'd reach.
Tonight, as I drove home, as I thought of Aleta's super-suit I considered an old poem about Spiderman and how he just doesn't want to put on the suit but it's who he is. It's his identity. He has to do it. He has to be Spiderman.
Cousin Deb loves to hear me recite this poem as it's written with this really funny dialogue tang to it. I should do it here and upload and audio and maybe bounce back and do that this week. But it's late. And what I want to say about suits - the ones we want, desire, wish for - and then the ones that are given to us, our suits and identities ours to wear alone. And somewhere between those two ideas is the vulnerable open. The meadow we must cross in our life that has the name of time. The exposed identity of who we are without tangible superpowers.
When I made the turn of 440 heading to 40 making my way to Cheatham county through the dark I passed a car that was pulled over on the inside of the turn where cars normally don't pull over. Unless they must. And then the car seemed skeletal, missing more than one tire. Another car miles down the road had a huge tow truck, trying to load it with a blaring spotlight that threatened to cause more accidents.
Machines, like people, break down. Struggle to get along. Keep on going. Even the finest, sleekest, most amazing. I've been listening to Shoot for the Moon on audio book. The struggles of the astronauts, all their training, all that superior excellence, that entire organization known as NASA behind them - it couldn't stop sleepless nights. It couldn't stop three of the engineers having breakdowns after a tragic accident. One of them having to actually be carried away in a straight-jacket and they took him to get counseling and help. And as I'm listening to this phenomenal story I'm thinking - them too. Vulnerable. Affected. Those super-smart, shoot for the stars, incredible human beings in the end were still human.
Invincible. If are not invincible nor were we meant to be. But we forget that as we hold that bar before us, believing the world, this life, someone, expects us to keep fighting and keep winning and to do it without being broken in the process.
God bless the broken down and the broken hearted. Those stuck somewhere, stranded on the side of the road or just in this life, waiting in the dark hoping for help to come along.
We don't get those super-suits. We get all of the unique and wonderful things that we are. We get to be emotionally naked Humans - day in and day out.
And in that knowledge there is a deep and abiding reservoir of strength.
Reflections on Lent - Day 4
The storms have found us. Lightning strike, thunder boom. It has been a surprise for me today up on this hill. Was I not looking? Not paying attention to the weather? Apparently, that's a no go. I was working on the new novel when my alarm sounded. It was time for the live Reader Posse Round up at high-noon and I was looking forward to connecting with my readers, giving them a sneak peek of some new words from the page. But instead I kept repeating myself, finally gave in to giving up, hanging up. Calling it done. Later, I sent them an original short story as apology. Thanks for tuning in but today has been called due to weather.
My Lent embarkment has been to remember how to pray silently for a stranger each day. How to keep someone, place someone, on my heart in such a way it matters to me. Where I connect with someone human in a short, small way that reminds me to be human. 40 days. That's all. Surely, after having done this for three years running and then some I can pull off 40 days.
Then the storm. The things that waylay us. Storms in everyday. Storms in life. Things that derail us so easily from the goal we had, the lofty thing, the desire for better than we were before. But today - oh my, what a surprise. As I said, I was writing. Nested in. There had been grey skies and some clouds and so early on I built a fire just for purpose. The kind where you gaze and snuggle down and work sitting on the floor, laptop in - well, lap. Literally. I live up the hill without a basement much to speak of. More crawl space that I would think if I was crawling in the house would cave in upon me. Sometimes there seems to be no safe place. I have that closet I've written of. The one beneath the stairs. Close enough it's what I've got.
Today, I didn't venture out so no strangers met but still some find their way to mind. People used to ask me, "What do you do if you don't leave home that day? Then what? What prayers are lifted up or said?"
"There's always someone," I would reply. "An unknown authors name on the spine of novel laying out. The face in a newspaper, the voice on a radio."
Our worlds are encased with strangers.
Today, as the lightening struck near the house, connecting to the ground singing something out there somewhere, as thunder explodes even now as I write these words in such a way I start and jump, think - Will there be no end to this today? And the weather service sends me yet again an alarm that says Lightning has struck closer than a mile.
I want to tell them, Yes, I know. I'm living here. I was raised in the deep south. Full of storms and summers. This is the stuff that I was made of.
And I think of that first cousin to my stomping grounds, Alabama and her recent heartbreak. My stranger then today is this. Those who lost and are grieving still from storms that shook and killed and wiped away hearts and worlds. For them I bow my head today.
The lightning makes me jump, the thunderclaps are way too bold and truth be told the smallest vein of fear dares to run amok in me. But, I am not afraid to pray. For Peace be still. For kingdom come. Thy will be done. Even when my flesh opposes me.
Tonight, again - Alabama rests heavy on my heart. Because I know the storms have passed but the hurt lingers on. Always will. And the best we can do is to continue loving and try to understand.
Reflections on Lent Day 3 - Lost and Found
The fog bank hangs outside my window. There above the valley. I am fog bank high. This hill. It affords me such a view.
Writer friend Linda Grabman was kind enough to send me a few photocopied pages of the Lenten Study I wrote years ago that she keeps pulling out and rereading. She had highlighted and underlined portions and put stars over some paragraphs and pages. For this - she apologized. What she doesn't realize is that this is the supreme compliment that any writer can ever receive. When I go to signings for books that have been out a little while or someone comes up in line with copies of novels that I wrote years ago and they have been filled with page note finders, scrapes of paper, favorite passages highlighted in yellow, blue, green, pink - all these things justify my existence for being.
Hmmm, River, that sounds a bit dramatic.
'Tis not. 'Tis the way I feel.
That and being a young mother who gave birth to brothers who became my little wild wolf pack and roamed the world with me and then gave me another little wild wolf pack known collectively as - the Girls known as the Adorables - and the boys - known as the Charmings.
And being a sister, cousin, friend.
These things complete me. These things round out the edges of my humanity. But those underlined passages - they justify why I still live and breathe and move. Because I've been two things all my life since birth. A writer - of the southern variety. And, a mystic - of the Christian variety. Let's tackle that word in another post shall we?
The fog grows, becomes a thing, spreads beyond the limbs of trees, encroaching.
In the meantime - Yesterday, I woke up and decided flat out that I was going to embark on this Lenten 40 days of writing again and I promised it wouldn't be your Mother's Lenten study or mine. Meaning, I wouldn't try to redo or revisit or recreate what I had done before. When I saw all of those beautiful highlighted pages of Linda's I knew I wouldn't. Because they were very thoughtful. Connective. Prayerful. They offered a Contemplation, a Discussion, a prayer at the end. And, I don't promise to do - or not to do- any of those. I know I just promise daily to get up (or before I fall asleep on the road) write a reflection on the day at hand, to keep a stranger in my heart for that day and lift them up in prayer and to share those words with you which I hope will edify you in this season of your life where you are.
One of my greatest strengths when it comes to writing or sharing on things spiritual is I put them where the real road rises to meet us. I didn't originally know this was a strength until years have gone by and readers and editors and other writers have told me so. I've been tagged as genuine or 'the real deal' which I always attributed to my inability to put on airs. To pretend. A lack of social graces. But I've come down to one very, serious truth in my life. There is little time. Should we have a thousand years to live this life I might change my tune but we do not. In my consideration of my life, my relationships, my days and my words I think - there is little time. Why would we waste them on artifice? Why would we waste them pretending? Each moment is a crystal shining bright with the birth of new intent. I don't want to color that with pleasantries which serve no purpose.
I think this fog is becoming more than a simmer. It's forming into cloud. It's determined to be something. To turn to liquid.
Enter the guy at the store. I made a quick dash into a popular place to grab a few items I needed with a quickness. A very, friendly young man rushed to help me, pulled out a place for me to put my four items. I love this store that I will not name to keep his identity semi-private. He cheerfully asked what kind of day I was having. Just having surfaced from hours of food poisoning I told him I was having a great day. A really great day. Sometimes it takes getting knocked down to realize how great you feel just being normal. Then I put in my bank card which refused to process. He politely lets me know it's not processing. I draw a blank, say, no there's enough in there for these four things - bread, cheese, bananas, soup - I've got this. Then I realized I had turned my card off because I had misplaced it. Which caused me to say something exactly like, "OH I'm SO SORRY - I'M SO STUPID!" and I proceeded to tell him I'd misplaced my card and when I did I turned it 'off' until I could find it but of course now I had found it and I could turn it on again - which I did all of these things while I was explaining this to him so that it would work and I could check out.
To which HE BEGINS TO TELL ME HIS STORY.
"Don't worry. OH, NO don't say your stupid. You're not stupid! (I love his kindness that he has taken time to cheer me up and cheer me on.) I lose things all the time, he says. But then I find them. I'm constantly forgetting where I put things like my phone my card, my keys. I hooked a GPS on my keys to just help me find them."
"Well, thanks, I do that, too. My Mom! She is always fussing with me to stop losing this stuff and I tell her hey at my age - it's not gonna change. This is who I am." (This is a true thing with us. She tells me almost everyday how she just wishes I didn't lose things. And if I'd only put my keys in one place and leave them there. And so it goes.)
Then he adds, "Well, I've had a car accident and a steel plate in my head and then a brain tumor removed."
Ok, right about now is when I realize I may not have a GOOD excuse for what I have but that's totally ok with me now because my friend Shellie Rushing Tomlinson has the exact same problem which we discovered in a horrible and funny way on book tour when we were both constantly losing and finding EVERYTHING and I know what it's like to be fully understood in this area. It really is because I have a thousand colliding things going on in my mind - and my mind will stay that way until I'm dead and not buried under the ground because I am claustrophobic.
BACK TO THE GUY.
I say to him, "WELL, you have a really good reason for all this I'm just born this way."
BUT HE CONTINUES HE STORY - - -
"My girlfriend yells at me all the time about it and says I just don't focus and I just don't LISTEN and . . ." and right about then is when I shifted into some kind of truth-telling, no social graces, Lenten study Spiritual advising mode and said -
"Look Honey, you just need to get a new girlfriend cause you aren't changing.'
I don't always sound Southern and because I wear black on black with a side of black a lot I look more from New York than the deep south but when my honey's come sliding out of my mouth I'm as southern as a Friday night pick-up truck ride on a muddy back road.
He told me he really liked his girlfriend and I said something like Well, that's good and I'm sure you do but you aren't changing. Then he wished me a terrific night and I wished him a good life and went on my way. We parted laughing.
That fog has indeed formed a cloud, turned to rain, to wash away.
Now, here's the rub.
When I walked to my car I thought - well, it looks like I've found my stranger for the day. Because that was my Lenten promise to myself. That I'd say a silent prayer for a stranger again for the forty days of Lent. I still do that - sometimes. But I don't employ it as a daily practice the way I did for three years running. Then last night as I was watching Star Trek Discovery - Or maybe when it was over - I thought about that guy. And I was surprised about something that I had forgotten. Something I had known so very, well. That had become a part of me. That when you say a prayer for a stranger they imprint you. Like a strange creature in the forest opening it's eyes and seeing you and you make eye contact and it hangs. Suddenly, your level of caring shifts from barely perceptible to palatable. And, you don't ever forget them. Yes, it's a mystical thing.
I don't know that guys name. But I'll keep him in my prayers from time to time as he crosses my mind. When I was saying all those prayers for strangers the publisher asked me what I prayed for them. And asked me to write that prayer down if I could so they could make cards. When I think of that guy who I really think of as a kid as young as he is although he is a young man - I can't think of a better prayer than that. So I'll start there.
Do I think that kid should find a new girlfriend? Well, only time and that young man can answer that one. But I do know is that people should be respected, hopefully understood, and loved for who they are not who someone wants them to turn into.
Rain in due season. That's what I'd like to think. But we've had a lot of rain of late. The driveway turned to mud, the river rising and all that.
I've learned not to place my perceptions in the middle of a prayer. That praying for strangers is a delicate issue. But it's one that can hold simple universal truths. We learn to pray from the heart of our hearts. With a pure intention. For someone we've never seen before this day. We learn to hold something precious and holy. A life passing our life in this river we call life.
It is simply this. This prayer, this thing. Had I told that young man my prayer for him it would have been this.
Everyday I pray for a stranger. Today you stood out to me in a beautiful way. I pray that your burdens be lifted, your fears abated, and that your loves be protected. And that you will live and move and have your being in the presence of the Divine today and all the days of your life.
That's the kind of prayer I can bank on.
That rain has moved from the valley to my hill. To the house, to my windowsill. To wash clean my heart where it grows barnacles I feel. A rock of skepticism. A shell of indifference. A shadow of dark sorrow. A dark cloud that refuses to wear thin, to release, to dissipate. To break open to possibilities. To love.
Lent. It's a good season for reflection. 'Tis.
It's not your Mother's Lent. Or mine. A friend wrote me yesterday to say she was starting my Lenten study for the umpteeth time that I wrote way back in 2011. Things have changed. A lot. And so, it occurred to me Ashes to Ashes, Dust To Dust, that I should re-visit Lent.
Normally, Lent is one of my favorite Biblical seasons of the year. A quieter repose. Right now, my life feels so rushed and crazy it's not a place I want to settle into. Lent. It means a lot of things to me. Most of them bring to mind a kind of solitary Thomas Merton kind of living. A lifestyle that takes time to reflect. Or a giving up of something - anything - that I might not be in the mood to give up. Sugar. Caffeine. Red Wine. Bread. Meat. Except Chicken. I've had a bout of food poisoning due to a suspicious chicken. Which is what caused me to miss Ash Wednesday services. And doing my radio show. All because of some mysterious chicken salad from a deli that has normally - great chicken salad. But there is the mysterious element of our lives that things can change at any moment. What was once the norm can become oh, no no.
Our normal is done away with in the flash of an instant. Our regular. Our routine. And, that can ultimately be good thing because routines serve their purpose but they can also get us lulled into a state of mind where we are moving at dark speed. Like, we are underwater. Just going through the motions. Where nothing really touches us. Not our emotions or our faith. All of it is commonplace.
Years ago when I wrote my reflections on lent it was for a reason. I had written a book about Praying for Strangers, a silent resolution I had that I never meant to carry out. But I did. And I spoke to people and heard their stories and wrote many of them down in a book that went on to be a bestseller in some areas and beloved by many readers who took on the practice as a spiritual discipline that they carry on to today. I did this for years - not just one - because I saw the results of it in the responses I received when I told people they were my special stranger for the day. I did this in a very Episcopalian way to put it in certain terms. Rock n Roll in others. That is I said it quickly - I do this thing - I say a prayer for a stranger each day before I go to sleep - today your my person - See Ya!
What that means is - it doesn't come off as very, religious in that kind of way. It does come off as sincere. And the story of what happened along the way is that people would stop me as I tried to get away to tell me, "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today because . . . " or - "Funny you should choose me because . . . " or - simply, "Thank you!"
Over the course of that time I began to value the human heart a little more. No, a lot more. I started seeing through the plastic practiced faces we all wear out into the world. After numerous people went from smiling hello, Saying simple things to Thank you for shopping with us - to breaking down in tears - I realized wow, the whole wide world has a secret underlife going on that no one knows about.
April 2 I have a book coming out thats about being a southern novelist, working my fanny off as a human and as a writer (not literally because I have a maximus not a minimus) and about believing in signs and wonders. What I really want to talk about is fiction, southern fiction, hard driven southern fiction or that old - It was a steamy night in the city by the bay - kind of fiction. But it's Lent. And I have a book coming out called Confessions of a Christian Mystic which leads one to believe it may have 1) Confessions 2) that I'm a Christian and 3) a mystic.
Yes, there shall be stories about all of those things shared on the road. I'm gearing up so to speak. Getting my mind right as the famous line from Cool Hand Luke goes. And if you are anywhere in the neighborhood of one of the cities on tour I'd love to see you. More events are being added weekly so do check back but you can check out the events here. So, what could be a better time than to give my blog over to reflections on Lent. Which means living a messy, faithful life in the middle of all if it. And the ways we continue. And possibly embarking on 40 days of saying a silent prayer for a stranger. Because like the many churches that took on this resolution for Lent when PFS arrived I think I'll join them. Churches of all denominations. And by All I mean all and then some. And agnostics and atheists who said they would find a way to pray for stranger each day.
Lent. It's always been a good time for self-reflection and in that vein self-discovery. I hope these daily offerings, musings, and reflections are something that will offer you sustenance along your journey. Because words matter. And because we are on this journey together.
I have witnesses. Let’s establish that fact. Most of my major oh no moments have had someone in the wings to say no. She did that. She really did. This woman is obviously not me. But I don’t have a photo of the day that I blew part of my hair off from lighting a gas oven after I had let the gas build up a litttttle to long while talk to my sister. We were telling important stories. She was listening until she heard an explosion and a scream and then. Silence. I was living in Pensacola attending the University of West Florida and studying Theatre. It was the morning for Dr. Yolanda Reed's Playwriting class which always made things more interesting. My sons were so young they weren't in school yet. They hung out with their gypsy mom and went to rehearsals with me and went to daycare when I was in class and when I was studying for midterms or finals they went to Panama City to hang out with Nana and Pawpaw at the creek. They ate a lot of Ramen Noodles and PBJ's. To their credit, they rolled with it.
And they got to witness on more than one occasion their Mom doing dumb things. Every family has it's stories. I've given them material for a lifetime long after I'm gone.
My sister and I can not have conversations that are a result of both of us being to tired to speak and our plates too full. We've gotten pretty primal with it. Down to a few grunts that we understand. A shorthand for communication. We understand one another. But back in the day we had looooonggg conversations on the phone catching up and telling stories. In detail. When I lived in Kansas City we once talked through an entire episode of some mini-series - for three hours. This was back when there were such a thing as long-distance charges. Then our Daddy got the bill. My younger sister was still living at home and the phone bill of course was still a Daddy thing. Then he went through the roof. But we took our storytelling time seriously. Which was really just us having a nice, long visit. Frequently. Catching up. With what had happened just the day before. In detail. Now when I hear Mama telling me a story that includes all the - And he said, and then she said, and then he told her and she said - I think - and people ask me where I got inspiration as a writer. We are made up of story. Completely. I find it odd when I get stuck somewhere and people are actually managing to have a conversation that doesn't include a story about something.
And on this day I was in the middle of a story when I started the gas on the stove to light the oven and since the pilot light was out I had to strike a match and stick it into the oven where the little flames would ignite. Only being in the mid stream of a story I kept talking after I turned on the gas. And, talking. And, talking. Then I lit the match and opened the door. This is where my sister heard the explosion, my scream, and the sound of the phone flying across the room and hitting the wall.
It's a few minutes before she hears anything else, she keeps calling me, yelling hello, wondering if she needs to call 911 and I pick up the phone and in an exasperated voice say - my hair.
FORGET ABOUT YOUR HAIR!! Are you burned? Are you alright???? She was screaming at me in that kind of frustrated I just thought my sister was dead but she is just complaining about her hair kind of voice.
Yes, I was ok. No, unbelievably I was not burned. But I did have a new-do. The distinct smell of singed hair all around my face. I had bangs where I didn't have bangs a moment ago. A shag where I'd been unlayered.
It was just a stupid thing. A human error caught up in a story kind of thing. No loss of life or limb or eyesight. But there had been a moment.
I"m just fine," I told her. The hair continued falling around my shoulders.
"Jesus, sister. Just, Jesus," she said.
Yes, I inspire people to pray. But not always for reasons you might imagine.
I went on to class, made it almost on time, and declared I blew up my hair. The smell alone as a witness.
My advice for the day - Don't stick your head in gas filled ovens - with or without a match.
It's most important that you keep living your story. And that you survive to tell it.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.