The Invention of Wings: Seeking Freedom

On the eve of the 4th of July, a holiday that celebrates freedom, it seems appropriate to review a book that explores freedom.

Sue Monk Kidd’s Invention of Wings is a stirring, inspirational story centering on the universal human quest for freedom. Set in early nineteenth century Charleston, the historical novel explores the intertwined lives of two girls who challenge the injustices of slavery and oppression.

As the book opens, Hetty (“Handful”) Grimke, a ten-year old slave, recalls her mother’s story about her African ancestors who had wings that helped them fly over trees and clouds. Handful’s mother tells her that one day, Handful will gain her wings and fly to freedom.

Sarah Grimke, a white girl from a prominent, wealthy Charleston family, receives Handful as a gift for her eleventh birthday. Horrified, Sarah attempts to disclaim the gift in front of the family guests at her party. She later vows to help Handful get free.

Over the next 35 years, both girls struggle to find their wings. While Handful’s struggle is obvious and brutal, Sarah’s is one of mind and spirit, as she has a driving desire to be a lawyer, unthinkable and unattainable for a woman at that time.

Historical fiction helps us learn about history as we enter into the real and imagined stories of those who lived before us. I find myself grateful for the courage and sacrifice of those who enabled me, centuries later, to have a voice, obtain a law degree, and follow my dreams. With the Source of Love as our guide, we are invited to continue the work of freedom today, often in less obvious ways.

 

 

The Serendipitous Gift

“Love one another; that is where all good things begin.”

-Dede Wilson (Mom)

A stud sensor.  I opened this seemingly random gift on Christmas Eve as part of our traditional gift swap and wondered what the heck it was. No, it’s not a tool to find attractive men! The packaging instructions revealed that it is a tool that one uses to locate support frames behind a wall of a home or building.

The tool sat on a table in the family room for a few days waiting to be moved to the basement workshop. Yet, I kept pausing to look at it; something intrigued me. It dawned on me that the stud sensor is a wonderfully symbolic gift, as I am in search of some stability.

My foundation has been profoundly shaken.  Mom died a week before Christmas and I am struggling to readjust to life without my mother in it.  Our mothers are our original source of life as well as our teachers, listeners, cheerleaders, and companions. They love us in a way that no one else does, and they hold us together in ways we don’t even realize until they aren’t here.

A stud sensor is a serendipitous reminder that there is and has always been a hidden framework holding me together, holding our family together, and holding our world together.

Mom’s life and legacy point the way. Although she’d been sick with Stage 4 cancer for almost two years, she lived, laughed, and loved fully through the end of her life.  Her final words,  “I love you,” were communicated via hand gestures, as she was on a ventilator.  Just before she was wheeled out to the operating room, she pointed to her heart, spelled “L-O-V-E” with her finger into the air, and then pointed to each person in the room, including the orderlies who had arrived to transport her.

“Love one another; that is where all good things begin.” Mom offered this advice in a recent interview, echoing insight from wise people such as Moses, Jesus, and The Buddha. Such good company!

Relationships form and support us. When shaken by loss of any kind, it is vital to remember that love is the foundation for all of life. Although no one can replace a loved one, we will, in time, adjust to a new way of living. Interconnected relationships become reshaped, new ones are built, and we discover support. We love each other through it. Thankfully, help comes from God, from the angels that surround us, and from those who came before us.

Written in gratitude for all those who are providing a supportive foundation by offering their love, care, and prayer. 

A Nest for the Season

What a delightful surprise! While putting up the Christmas tree at The Well Center this past week, we discovered an empty bird’s nest tucked inside the boughs of the tree!  The nest is a simple, fragile creation made of scraps of grass woven together by a bird that needed a home and a safe place to give birth.

This empty bird’s nest-perched amidst the community’s tree-is a wonderful invitation for all of us.  Where are the places of refuge in our spiritual lives? How can we make spaces in our lives for new growth? How can we come together and become a nest for what wants to be born in us?

In the Christian tradition, the period just before Christmas is known as Advent. It is a time for waiting in expectation for God to come and be born again and again and again. In the hustle and bustle of the season, take time to listen for and nurture the new life that is growing in you. Advent, darkness, and winter remind us of the importance of nestling in to wait in empty expectation for the new life that is growing.  Be a nest.

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Family Stories Make Us Stronger

“Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time.
It is the way wisdom gets passed along.”
-Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

With the holidays upon us, chances are you will find yourself listening to family stories. If you are hearing them for the umpteenth time, you might feel like rolling your eyes or tuning them out. Instead, sit back and listen a little bit more carefully. These stories are probably making you stronger.

Last summer I came across a New York Times article titled “Stories that Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler describing an interesting fact about family stories. Recent research reveals that children who have heard family stories about life’s ups and downs develop resilience and strength. Psychologists Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, psychologists at Emory University (one of my alma maters!) have found that children who know a lot about their family history tend to face life’s challenges better than those who don’t. Hearing family stories make us better able to face adversity.

Simple questions asked of our elders can evoke conversations that reveal a valuable family narrative:

Where did you grow up?
What is the story of your birth?
What illnesses or challenges did you encounter?
What are some important lessons that you have learned?

Personally, I love hearing family stories that make me laugh. They remind me to laugh in the face of embarrassing and humbling situations.

One of my favorite stories that is part of my fiber involves my mother and her mother (“Muzzy”). A few years after the sequential sudden deaths of Mom’s brother and father, Mom and Muzzy traveled together to Europe on vacation. Mom was in her early twenties. They were enjoying a perfectly delightful evening at a fancy Paris restaurant and were dressed in their fine clothes, speaking eloquent French with the wait staff. Following their meal they tried to make a gracious departure from the restaurant. Mom opened the door for her mother, whisked Muzzy through the door, and followed her, shutting the door behind her. Ooopsies! It turns out they stumbled on top of one another right into the cleaning closet! The maître di and the waiter rushed after them, flabbergasted. The men opened the door and pulled these two lovely ladies out of the buckets, mops, and debris, and helped them proceed to the correct exit door. They laughed, out of both embarrassment and amusement, and that laughter has echoed for years afterward.

This particular family story has been quite helpful in the face of my own klutzy, humbling situations. For example, while on the way to my law school moot court argument (an absolutely terrifying endeavor for me), I fell off my new high heels and stumbled down a flight of stairs. Not to be dissuaded from the task at hand, I showed up in front of a panel of attorneys from Atlanta with a gaping gash in my chin, blood on my lovely new suit, and several runs in my stockings. What is one to do in this situation but carry on and laugh? (That and go directly to the hospital to get multiple stitches!). This story now lives in family lore, hopefully helping future generations who are sure to experience embarrassing and humbling episodes.

So as you gather around the table or the hearth, or if you find yourself packed in a car with multiple generations, take time to listen to the crazy, surprising, and often inspiring family stories. You will be made stronger and wiser.

Source:
Bruce Feiler, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html

Power Through: Reflections on Grief and Loss

The sea was turbulent with rolling white caps, a rapid current, and large waves crashing onto the beach. Little nine-year old Chris, my nephew, stood at the ocean’s edge and offered advice to his Uncle Rob as he approached the water. Chris raised both his arms straight over his head, inclined them toward the rough waters, and belted out, “It’s rough out there, but you’ve just gotta power through!”

The wind carried Chris’ words fifty yards away where part of our family sat huddled on the beach. We were trying to process the tragic news of the previous hours. Our sister, Mary, had called to tell us that her daughter, Meg, had died from an apparent drug overdose. It was heartbreaking, shattering news. Much like the ocean, emotions were crashing in and swirling about.

Power through. Who knew how this little piece of advice, offered by one the youngest members of the family, would inspire us in the days to come?

Only days earlier Meg and her two-year old son were sitting on the same patch of beach. Meg appeared healthy and happy. She dug a hole in the sand for her son, raced her younger brother into the ocean, and played corn hole with her sister. It was a gorgeous day filled with love and laughter, capped off with a huge family dinner at her grandparents’ home. It had been a long, hard road to recovery for Meg and everyone who loved her, but Meg was set to celebrate her one-year anniversary of being clean. There was much hope and gratitude that she was emerging from the hellhole of addiction, leaving behind her old lifestyle and patterns.

There are no answers to the many questions we all have: How could this happen? Why?  What led up to this? What could we have done differently? Where was God?

In the face of these questions, we power through. It’s become our mantra as we move through the work of grief-through the practical details of notifying family and friends, planning a funeral, and saying goodbye to Meg. We power through in adjusting to life without Meg. We power through as Meg’s sister and her family welcome Meg’s beloved little boy under their roof and into their family.

How do we find the strength to do this? We power through out of love for Meg. We power through with the love and support, of one another, our families, our friends, and our communities.  We power through with prayer and with the help of our God who cries with us and accompanies us in our grief. We power through knowing that there are always new beginnings, for Meg and for us.

Powering through doesn’t mean that we ignore the feelings of our grief; it means that we find the strength to move through them and try not to let them overwhelm us. There will be those times when the waves of grief seem to be crashing down on us, threatening to overwhelm us. Then it is time to remember Chris’ brave words to his uncle, “You’ve just gotta power through!”

In loving memory of my niece, Marian Elizabeth Burdick “Meg”, who died on August 30, 2013. Image

Strength for the Goodbye

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

This is the time of year when parents are saying goodbye to their children. Some are taking their children to college for their freshman year. Others may be taking their young ones to preschool for the first time. Even those who watch their children step up into the yellow school bus to begin a new school year often experience a blue, goodbye feeling.

I am one of these parents. Last weekend we drove our youngest child ten hours away to begin his freshman year.

There are lots of things that make it easier to say goodbye to our son. There’s been a growing tension in our home; he has been carving out his turf, his routine, his approach to life…that have sometimes conflicted with my turf, routine, and approach to life. He’s ready to fly out of the nest and try out his wings.

This goodbye brings with it such an amazing mixture of emotions. A friend getting ready to take her son to college for the first time posted on her Facebook page: How can I be so happy and so sad at the same time? Yup- she nailed it.

When the moment of goodbye arrived, we knew it. After unpacking his odd assortment of bags, boxes, and bundles, and helping assemble lofts and shelving, we stood awkwardly in his dorm room. “It’s time,” I said quietly to my husband. He nodded.

I worked hard (very hard!) to wear my Game Day Face, as my son had asked me not to cry. I gave him a huge, prolonged hug, told him I loved him, and quickly exited to make our way down the concrete dorm stairs. No looking back. Along the way we observed parents doing the same thing. One mother had a long, shell-shocked face as she walked alone back to her car pulling a large, empty suitcase. My heart went out to her.

The word “goodbye” has offered me great strength through this goodbye experience. Goodbye is actually a blessing of sorts that means, “God be with ye” or “God be with you.” Somehow that makes it easier. To acknowledge that a Loving Presence will accompany my son is reassuring. Knowing that we remain connected through and in this Loving Presence gives me strength. Much of the life that matters is invisible and most all faith traditions teach us that the spiritual path involves waking up to connections that we can’t see. This takes such time, attention, and patience!

As we live through the many goodbyes of life, perhaps we are being invited to trust that there is a new way of being together that we can’t yet see or comprehend. There are ever-shifting landscapes within relationships. It’s easy to look back and see where we’ve come from – we carry snapshots of our loved ones in our minds and hearts. The challenge is that we can’t see the horizon that lies ahead. We can only journey step by step, seeking to hope, pray, and trust in the Holy One who holds all of us together.

May you know the Source of strength, courage, and hope as you live through your goodbyes.

Blessing our Future

“Everything unborn in us and in the world needs blessing…Blessings strengthen life and feed life just as water does.”

-Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings (quote from Daily Faith email of July 12, 2013)

 I’ve been pondering what it means to bless our future- to bless that which wants to be born in us and in our world. It’s a concept that’s hard to understand. I turned to the source of this wisdom: Dr. Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, a collection of stories about inspired by her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi in the mystical Kabbalah tradition. In it, Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another.” If I understand correctly, when we seek to nourish, strengthen and encourage the goodness in another person, we are offering a blessing. By generously offering blessings as a way of life, we are restoring, healing, and helping bring wholeness to the world around us. Imagine if we could live this way!

This notion of blessing our future is closely related to something called “restorying.” I’m grateful for a new colleague, Julie Gabrielli, who has entered my life and brought to my attention this notion of restorying. Restorying involves changing our perspective and turning towards what energizes us, inspires us, and makes us whole, rather than struggling against what we don’t want. In her words, “when we move away from the infinite loop of what’s not working and experience a deep sense of belonging to the entire community of Life, we begin to open to the new stories that want to emerge through us. And they are out there, ready and waiting, on a scale we haven’t quite imagined.” I look forward to learning more about this concept at an upcoming workshop in a few days.

I’ve just realized that “restoring” and “restorying” are almost identical words. Rachel and Julie describe a way of life that our world needs. They recognize that there is a spark of the divine in everything and everyone. It’s so awe-some (in its truest sense of the word!) to have an articulation of something that I’ve known intuitively. These wise women encourage us to listen for and strengthen the positive, the connective, the life-giving that wants to emerge. This involves a radical shift. Rather than attempting to conquer, control, problem-solve, and manipulate, we are invited to listen, learn, encounter, create, and get into the flow of life. This approach recognizes that:

1)   There is a sacred nature within all of life.

2)   We belong to each other.

3)   We can only be whole if all of us are whole.

These simple principles are hard to fathom in our culture. All to often it is “us” against “them.” We spend endless hours protecting ourselves, fixing others, and trying to convince others of “the right way.” We live disconnected from nature. Our politicians cannot agree on simple things to improve our world.

BUT…instead of focusing on what’s not working, I’m reminded that it’s now time to refocus, restore, restory. We are invited to imagine our future, to bless it and let it bless us. It begins with small steps each and every day. May I begin today.

P.S.  Within 15 minutes of writing this I received a phone call from my sister informing me of a wrongdoing done to her daughter (my niece). She’s been sued in small claims court after she seemingly did everything correctly with regard to a potential lease relationship (I am her lawyer, since she lives in Maryland). “OK, God, here we go- it’s us vs. them. You’re gonna need to help me/us with this situation. How do we restory this? How can we position ourselves to respond in a positive way? How can we let this situation bless our future?”

I’m pretty angry with this guy and his behavior (I’m omitting the choice curse words I uttered a few moments ago). Meanwhile, I take a deep breath and wait for some guidance.  No one said this work is easy.