Saturday, September 29, 2007

Writing Prompt 19

Meet the Parents. Write about a time you went to meet the parents of a boy/girlfriend. Were you terrified, embarrassed, at ease?

Or, write about the first time a child of yours brought home a boy/girlfriend. How did it go? Did it bring back memories?

In either case, feel free to re-write the meeting the way you wished it had gone.

Hospitality Management

My daughter was my dinner guest last night. Jennifer lives in an apartment now, half a state away and I hadn’t seen her since we moved her in at the beginning of August. She was in our area not to come home for the weekend, but to spend it with her boyfriend, a young man I hadn’t met until last night.

I’m happy to say that my daughter didn’t knock on the front door, but walked right in as if she lived here, which she did until all too recently. I’m also happy to say that although my husband, younger daughter and I learned a lot about Ryan, that “grilled boyfriend” was not on our dinner menu.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately.

My husband and I are sailing on a small cruise ship with four other passengers and three crewmembers next weekend. I felt like a giant pain presenting the chef with my page of dietary restrictions: no eggs, wheat/gluten, soy, milk, cranberry, sesame, asparagus, and then for my husband, no fish, walnuts, mushrooms. I thought Christine might kindly suggest we sail on a large cruise line with a buffet. Instead, she borrowed a gluten-free cookbook and is excited about trying new recipes. “I’ve been preparing the same menu all summer,” she said, “I’m ready for something new."

I’m not being accommodated or tolerated. I’m being generously and enthusiastically welcomed, and I haven’t even arrived. I’d like to be as generous and welcoming as Christine.

Jennifer and Ryan left after a three-hour visit, like real guests, and it was a strange feeling to hug her in the driveway and send her off. I got a glimpse of what my mother and grandparents have been through, saying hello and goodbye to me and all the friends and boyfriends I brought into their lives and homes, some for a single visit, some for a lifetime association.

When my children were toddlers and preschoolers, I made the decisions about which friends were invited over to our house, for how long and for what activities. Later in elementary school and on, they made the decisions, and I listened to their frustrations when activities didn’t go well. The last few years, my role has been to provide a big room, privacy and a freezer stocked with gnocchi and pizza for movie nights that materialized at the last minute.

It used to matter to me that I liked my children’s friends. I wanted them to have nice friends who would be nice to them. But, even friends I liked have hurt my daughters. Sometimes the relationships have been repaired; sometimes they have been over for reasons that seem ridiculous to me. The truth is, we never know how long a relationship of any sort is going to last, or how it is going to end.

For the record, I like my daughter’s boyfriend. In our evening together, it was clear that his 21 years have been full of adversity as well as adventure, and he’s made the most of it. And of course I like Ryan because he likes Jennifer and treats her with kindness and respect. But, last night, after they left and the rest of the family was asleep, and the house was quiet, I realized that it doesn’t matter what I think of him.

I am simply asked to make welcome in my life and home the people that my children have already made welcome in their lives. I think about that in the church as well. My congregation has a commitment to being welcoming. It doesn’t matter if we like the people who show up, or if their needs aren’t what we’re used to providing. Like Christine, welcoming me with all my food challenges onto her boat, the church’s job is to make welcome those whom God has already made welcome, and that is everyone. It’s easy with Jennifer’s boyfriend, but it’s not always going to be easy in my family or my church, in my neighborhood, and my community, which when I think about it, extends to everyone, even the people who push my buttons.

My youngest daughter, Chrissy, will head off to college next fall to major in Hospitality Management and take her place in the industry of welcoming people. Perhaps I should join her.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Writing Prompt 18

Do you have a memorable encounter with stinging/biting insects or poisonous plants?
Write about it--feel free to visit any period in history.

Encounter with Urushiol

Lo, it came to pass on the afternoon of the Sabbath last, that I encountered a tribe of yellowjackets, one of whom impaled his sword like teeth into the back of my knee when I crouched among the ferns removing remnants of my felines’ feces. Little did I know that I had wandered into the land of King Urushiol, a distant descendant of King Uzzaih, whose pleasure it was to anoint me with oil, an oil known (and despised) among the people of my region as Poison Oak.

Verily I say unto you, “Woe to those consort with Urushiol, for you will roil with pain, itching, swollen diseased skin, and general misery.” Akin to the rich man burning in Hell (Gospel of Luke, chapter 16), who wished for nothing more than one cool drop of water and that he had been warned of the consequences of ignoring the sore-ridden Lazarus sleeping in the urushiol bush outside his gate, I too prayed for relief.

When after the sun had set and rose for the second time and Ben of Adryl and more than a dozen of his brothers had done nothing to alleviate my suffering, I was willing to do anything, even prostrate myself before the Court of Corticosteroids. Yet, as I was waiting for the local apothecary to compound the proper chemicals, the wife of Pharma Cist came upon me and pressed into my hand a bar (tube really) of a special scrub, to be applied with a small amount of water from the Jordan River and rubbed into my afflicted leg for a period of three minutes. And lo, after I soaked in the waters of Domebro and upon application of the most high Zanfel, the pain and itching receded for several hours. This treatment I combined with a regimen of Lian Qiao Bai Du, trusted herb from the far reaches of China, whose medicines have only recently become available to the denizens of my country. I did upon retiring each night consume two capsules of Vistaril and received the benefit of their sedative and antihistamine properties.

Unlike Lazarus who only found relief from his life of woe and pain after death, I have been spared such a fate and am once again counted among the clean and participating in the general society of which I am accustomed. If the telling of my tragic tale of woe eases one’s person affliction, I will consider that I have done the Lord’s work.

My apologies for the many historical inaccuracies contained above. The meds however are all real.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Writing Prompt 17

What words do you have, a poem, a prayer, an essay
to send into the world for it's healing?

Still Hoping for an End to the Madness

I wrote this poem in September 2001.
Six years later are we any closer to peace? I still hold out hope.

After Words

A response to September 11, 2001

It was a time of uncertainty, doubt and fear
a time of mourning, weeping and crying out
a cacophony demanding
Revenge, Justice, an End to the Madness

A time when we perched at the brink
looked into blackness
and rock crumbled underneath our feet.
A time when we held our collective breath
and braced ourselves for the hand
that would push
us into the abyss.
We clamped our eyes shut
images of destruction replaying
in the darkness behind our eyelids.

Then we felt it.
We were not standing alone.
Shoulders pressed against ours.
Fingers found their way
into our clenched fists.
We offered our hands, opened our eyes
stepped back from the precipice
into a sea of tear-streaked faces.
Voices swelled like waves
our grief, our lament, washing us clean.
Stripping us bare.

And we knew that to heal
We needed a new vocabulary
with the power to break divisions we’d invented
to keep us “us” and others “them”.
Words to topple fences
that kept neighbors apart.
Words to weave humanity together
across the span of continents.
Words to reveal what it means to be human
in all our brokenness and beauty.

At the edge of the pit
we held the hands of strangers
we called them brother and sister.
We sang of hope, of love, of a presence bigger
than our constructions and our understanding.
We spoke of the power that embraces us all.
We became the river of life
carving a new path to a place
we’d been longing to discover all of our lives.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Writing Prompt 16

Is there a sport you've been involved in that serves as a metaphor for your spiritual life? What lessons did you learn from the sport that apply to your life of faith?
Write about them.


I don’t remember who said it, but one of my faculty in the Academy for Spiritual Formation said we are better off choosing one religion (or even one denomination) and going deep with it rather than experimenting or dabbling in many faith forms and practices if we want to grow.

I set down my knitting needles and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that. I found Methodism right out of the shower––where God became real to me for the first time––and I haven’t been anywhere else since I toweled dry and got dressed. Well, that’s not completely true. I’ve been to Catholic weddings and a Bat Mitzvah. A rabbi and a few Catholic nuns spent a week with us at Academy. I’ve read Natalie Goldberg, listened to Holy Cow on audio and watched Bollywood’s Bride and Prejudice, my appetite for Buddhism and Hinduism piqued. Devouring those morsels, I was tempted to load up on the whole smorgasbord, piling my plate high, gorging on the many manifestations of God.

I haven’t though, and it’s not out of self-restraint, or even laziness, it’s because I dove headfirst into my mainstream branch of Christianity and I’ve always been a better diver than swimmer.

I took swimming lessons all summer, every summer starting the summer before Kindergarten with Introduction to Water. By the summer after fifth grade, when I turned eleven, I had finally completed the entire Red Cross program–– Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, and, at long last after a test that included sixteen grueling laps of freestyle, Swimmer.

I could do the Dead man’s float until the seagulls roosted, I could tread water decently, and I had good form on the strokes—freestyle, back, breast, side, but I never had endurance or speed, anything over four laps was torture. After passing the Swimmer class, I was free to pursue my dream. Springboard diving with the heartthrob of all lifeguards––Jeff, tan in his red trunks. His white teeth, zinc-oxided nose and mirrored sunglasses gleamed and made us preteens woozy.

Jeff taught us one approach for forward dives––front, reverse and twist, and a takeoff for the back and inward dives. We began every practice with hurdler stretches on the scratchy pool deck, and then drilled our approaches on the cement while we waited our turn to use the board. On practice approaches, we counted steps, marking our place against the marks on the board’s edge. Four steps, a hurdle, a bounce, a push of the feet, a rising of the arms and then we flew, or felt like it at least, and executed our dives.

You might have watched platform or springboard diving on the Olympics and you might have noticed how, once they are completely underwater, the divers often roll into a somersault and cut their descent short by pulling back toward the surface. That is completely the opposite of what Jeff taught us. He taught us to stretch for the bottom, a way to help us novice divers enter at a ninety-degree angle.

The school’s pool was twelve feet deep. If I stood on the deck and dove in, I had to swim down, kicking and straining, and still couldn’t hit bottom. But, when I pierced the water from the one-meter board on a good front dive pike or inward, I could slice through down, rocket to the bottom, feel the stucco on my palms, plant my feet, push off, and pull my way through the water in two or three long strokes, break the surface and gasp heartily for air.

It was this submersion, this going deep, this rush that I loved best about diving. In my mind, I’m still capable of throwing front one and a half somersaults with perfect bottom touching entries. In real life, I broke blood vessels in my eye several years ago when I threw one for fun on a hot August day in a public pool and face planted.

No matter. I dive in my dreams. My subconscious has adopted diving as some sort of symbol, and periodically I am flipping off platforms (which I never did) and three-meter boards (which I hated), overcoming obstacles like nets, faulty fulcrums and other divers spinning through my airspace. Sometimes I’m executing brilliant dives and retrieving pearls from the bottom of the pool.

So there we have it, a metaphor for the spiritual journey that I can relate to on a physical, mental and emotional level. I know what it feels like to skim the surface, trying to swim distances I’m not cut out for. I remember the bargaining, just one more lap, one more lap, two more strokes, one more breath and the way I wanted to give up at a wall instead of push off and keep going. But, oh the joy of diving. The soaring, the spinning, the opportunity to go deep, the utter satisfaction of reaching the fabled bottom, of holding my breath beyond my limits, of experiencing more than I thought I was capable of. That is what I loved.

Diving. I’ll never touch the bottom of all that is God. I won’t even reach twelve-feet down in my understanding of Jesus. I might crack the surface of United Methodism if I study my Book of Discipline. But it doesn’t matter. I love the sport. I relish the approaches, the flips, the twists, reverses, inwards, the many ways to enter the water of life. I want to dive under, again and again. It is something I can practice the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I have a new story in the Fall 2007 Apple Valley Review titled "Hopscotch." You can read it by clicking on my name in the table of contents (scroll way down!).

Writing prompt: Write about playing a game that figured prominently in your childhood.