Monday, December 27, 2010

Compilation Christmas! Favorite Seasonal Reflections from IMS

Snow, late departures, side trips to Annapolis, visit with Fella ... all have combined to suck me dry of time-slash-inspiration in this last week of the year. But all is not lost at Italian Mother Syndrome when I can fall back on that reliable blog format, the round-up.

So here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Christmas-related reflections and items for you to nibble on as you ease your way in 2011. See you in the new year!

5 Easy Ways to Survive Christmas (a handy guide to making it through the holiday season in one piece)

Advent Reflection: Does fear reverse faith? (a meditation on our relationship with God at the darkest time of the year)

Don't eat Jesus' friends! Or, the origins of La Vigilia (a look at the Italian tradition that occupies weeks of my mother's time and at least three days of my digestive tract)

Prayer #93: Fade to White (a prayer about peace, 'indestructible and indescribable')

Prayer #46: God Bless Us, Everyone (words to help you praise both the season and the reason!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Prayer #145: Adventageous



Prayer #145: Adventageous

Holiday retail forecast. Self-gifting. Pent-up demand. All Very Important Terms from Very Important People that have become economic gospel for the holiday season.

We keep watch over these numbers like shepherds guard flocks. We pore over indexes that indicate optimism and comb through data that indicate hope. Dollar signs are our Stars of Bethlehem -- bright beacons leading us to stability and security.

Yet figures can only take us so far. Faith must do the rest.

Lord, this Christmas season, show us a different kind of stable. Teach us how to proceed along dark and dangerous paths with only starlight and searching eyes. Encourage our continued belief in successful outcomes, but help us reframe which ones we follow.

Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Prayer #144: Keep On The Wait

"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Prayer #144: Keep On The Wait

How will I know you when I see You?

The season's darkness shadows Your face. The rain obscures Your voice. The cold keeps You at arm's length.

So how I will know if I cannot see? Or hear? Or touch?

In fact, now that I think about it, people always seem to be asking You this question. From prison cells and upper rooms, along country paths and city sidewalks, in times of joy and times of despair -- it doesn't matter. We all have to ask. And very few of us seem assured in the answer.

I'll ask again anyway, though. Because even if asking appears to waste time, it helps me lead a life that seeks the answer. And to me, that's worth the wait.

Amen.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Prayer #143: Into The Wind

Taken December 2010 in Marianna, Fla.


Prayer #143: Into The Wind

In wan light of creeping day
I shield my eyes to look away
While all around the winter wind
Hums its tune of lonely sin.

It buffets me up on that hill
With what I've done, did not, and will --
I brace myself, defenses thin,
With no escape from winter wind.

Then in fading sun I see
The shadows of a copse of trees.
I rush beside them, crouch within,
To hide my face from winter wind.

Ah, but 'hide' is not a choice,
For soon I hear Your gentle voice:
"Why keep your heart from winter wind
When it could be where love begins?"

No sooner did You speak these words
My sins took wing as little birds
Out toward the horizon dim,
Carried by the winter wind.

The tumult faded. I stood still
And gazed around that quiet hill,
Thus marking how and what I'd been
When I learned You were winter wind.

Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Prayer #142: Wonder



Prayer #142: Wonder

Rapt attention at something awesomely mysterious.

Someone has been whispering to me in the long dark.

The voice stirs in my heart as a baby stirs in a womb.


Cause of astonishment or admiration.

The light hasn't emerged in ages.

Yet still I sense it pulsing behind the night, aching to burst.


A feeling of doubt or uncertainty.

Are the voice and the light one?

Will the combined force mute me? Blind me?

How can I, weak and struggling, withstand its brilliance?


Miracle.

I don't know how. But I will.

For all this defines wonder.

All this defines You.


Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Prayer #141: Thanksgiving Parade

Hand Turkeys 2008

Prayer #141: Thanksgiving Parade

Once I plan
Once I prep
Once I call
Once I shop
Once I brine
Once I mop
Once I dust
Once I bake
Once I roast
Once I set
Once I stir
Once I greet
Once I serve
Once I smile
Once I pour
Once I chat
Once I clear
Once I wash
Once I store
Once I talk
Once I wave
Once I clean (yet again) ...

Then I think I'll have time to thank You, amen.

Or ...

I can say it now. Say it first.

Because without You, I would not be caught up in this boisterous parade we call life, with all its colors and crowding and blink-and-miss moments.

I will keep You in my sights this holiday, even if my eyes are teary from onions, bleary from wine, or heavy with sleep. For You are conducting the music, and I'm thankful to march alongside.

Amen.

[Want a different sort grace to say at your Thanksgiving meal? Try this on for size: The Turkey's Not Thankful]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Prayer #140: Two Roads Diverged ...

Today's prayer first demands a re-read of Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Now, check out that last stanza again. I never read the poem closely enough to realize this before, but he's talking about the future. The narrator has no idea what his immediate decision in the woods will result in. He knows only that he must choose, because he can't stand out there waiting to sprout roots and be removed of all responsibility.

I know the feeling. My chosen road took me away farther from my family and relatives. It led to a school up north, a city down south, a career in a different field, a boyfriend in a distant state. It has circled back to find me writing. Each way does indeed lead on to way.

No wonder Frost chose 'sigh' to punctuate his final thought. This tidy choice conveys satisfaction and melancholy in one syllable. Because choice leads to gain as well as loss, and it means sacrifice as much as it means opportunity.

I know this feeling too. Right now, I'm thinking about my cousin (my age) who just announced she is pregnant with her first child. About how I might not be able to travel north for all the family holiday parties. Also about my high school friend applying for PhD programs. And about one day opening a box packed with copies of my first published book.

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood. I'm taking the ones that make me sigh.

Prayer #140: Two Roads Diverged ...

Two roads diverge each day I live,
And all those days, my steps I choose.

I try considering options all --
What's right for me? What's best by You? --

But thoughts converge with blinding speed:
Should I have stayed? Should I have veered?

That's when I hear Your whispered shout:
I never ask you live in fear.

Doubt, confusion -- each will come.
But never fear when you're with me.


Lord, I wish I could travel both,
If just to know what might (or will not) be.

Still, two roads diverge each day I live, and I --

I'll lead the life You chose to give.

Amen.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Prayer #139: News Fatigue

Un écureuil un peu fatigué

Prayer #139: News Fatigue

Ok God ... the news has worn me out. These are noisy, noisome times we're facing. Words like 'volcano' and 'coup' and 'dip in the stock exchange' paper the papers. Reality on the ground doesn't match academic coverage. Everyone's sniping; no one's moderating.

The worst part? The grim tumult has reached such a fever pitch that I can't hear You right now.

You could be war-whooping within the thick of the fray. Whistling over the din, perhaps? Or maybe You're simply whispering to me as I struggle to quiet my mind for sleep.

Still, even though my ears aren't picking You out, my heart is. And it somehow knows You're helping the canary warble from the dark depths of the coal mine.

Please keep that little guy singing, Lord. Its hope is music to us all.

Amen.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Prayer #138: Rest/Stop

Have returned from Austin exhausted, cold-ridden, melancholy, relieved, and a-buzz about what the Austin Unscripted project will lead to. What's more, this return has also capped off five months of nonstop airports, visits, (re)adjustments, emergencies, and other upheavals of all stripes.

No wonder I slept 13 hours last night.

Not that one can ever be 'done,' of course. Life keeps running no matter how many times you jam STOP! on your feeble remote control. Nor do I want to be done, really. Then I'd miss out on awesome and exciting things too.

A pause, however, is always welcome. Necessary, even. And that's what I'm aiming for now.

Prayer #138: Rest/Stop

Hit the brakes. Take that exit. I need a vending machine stocked with chocolate and popcorn and a restroom filled with new mattresses and down pillows.

I've decided, Lord -- as much as it's in my power to decide such things -- that I am done. No mas. Time for balance. Time for equilibrium. Time for a routine, for mealtimes, for all-around stay-put-edness.

Sit with me on the bench near the curb. We'll leave the car parked, locked. Let's watch the other travelers pull in, pull out, pull over. Show me what contentment looks like in the afternoon sun, and I'll mimic You until I master it.

There. I've put my feet up. Help me hold them in place.

Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Prayer #137: Community Unscripted

This week's reflection is coming to you live from Austin, Texas, where I'm running around like a madwoman with work folks for both our Austin Unscripted campaign and the upcoming National Preservation Conference.

Here's a taste of what I'm working on (and eating) ...



Overall, Austin Unscripted has been a fantastic way to explore a new city and hear countless stories about community, tradition, progress, and the tensions/balances that reside therein. I'll post more on the project when it's complete, but for now, I give you a prayer gleaned from the thoughts and experiences of these whirlwind days.

Prayer #137: Community Unscripted

Lord, hear my prayer for place ...

That planners and policy makers engineering physical growth design roadmaps not just for highways, but for the next generation.

That businesses powering local economies watch the sidewalk scenes outside their storefronts to remember their context.

That neighborhoods linking residents recall their own histories and embrace how it can inform their futures.

That property lines drawn on old hurts and long memories, railroad tracks and overpasses, language or income, are redrawn through thoughtful reconciliation.

That citizens driving daily life see their communities as extensions of themselves and treat them accordingly.

That people spilling over with stories of home find willing ears to hear them and active minds to consider them.

And that You guard all places -- real, intended, or desired -- where people strive to live in You.

Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Prayer #136: Flagged

The other day, I was standing in front of the office bathroom mirror and raised my arms over my head to fix my hair. That's when I saw them: the Italian flags.

For those not in the know, Italian flags are oh-so-attractive waddles of skin that appear under your triceps. They wiggle and jiggle whenever they feel like. Light breezes flap them. They are nature's way of telling Italian women that we might as well dress all in black and stop bleaching our mustaches because it's all downhill from here.

I'm not surprised they appeared. I've been struggling to maintain a steady exercise schedule this past year, and I can feel my body slowly shifting as a result.

I don't kid myself -- I've never been buff -- but I at least felt like I was keeping the pulls of time and gravity in check and my systems in good working order.

Then a job search and a new job and travel and allergies and excuses took over, and the workout routine fell right off my radar.

You know where it went? To Italy. To find those flags.

In this respect, Italian flags are the worst kind of reminder. They're the kind that pinpoints exactly what you've been neglecting, advertises exactly where you've been failing. And then they literally slap you in the face when you try to exercise to fix the situation.

I'm not a fan.

So today's prayer is about acknowledging restraints beyond your control and focusing on factors that are. It's for all the things you sometimes have to put off until you're ready to commit again. It's about self-awareness, discipline, and forgiveness.

Because this is one set of flags I'm not quite ready to fly yet.

Prayer #136: Flagged

I've flagged a problem, Lord.

My get-up-and-go got up and went. My balance toppled. My drive parked. So now my inner propeller is a spiral.

At what point do I drag myself beyond the flagging enthusiasm and do what's best for me in the long-term? Or at what point do I cease the self-flagellating and do what's best for me in the short-term?

God of cycles, help me discern Your terms. Advise me on how to invest my time, energy, and willpower so I emerge in optimum shape to serve You.

And please be flagrant about it. Clearly, I need a kick in the pants.

Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Prayer #135: All Good Things

the "underappreciated" Empire apple * tonno sorpresa * Pumking beer * double date * scenic route(s) * mesh sculptures * closing down Borders * floppy cat * morning tennis lessons * new blinds * Trader Joe's run-ins * ponytails * hats that fit * fortuitous parking spaces * hippie parades * leaf-peeping * sudden and unexpected naps

What's on your bliss list right now?

Prayer #135: All Good Things

Hi Lord.

So far today my email has reminded me of one flight, my calendar has reminded me of three meetings, and my notebook has reminded me of five chores.

Yet none of these tools has reminded me of my most important to-do: to thank You for the moments of glory that grace each day and tell me You are alive and active in my madcap world.

So before I rush back into the fray ...

THANKS.

You're swell.

And I appreciate it.

Always.

Amen.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Prayer #134: Comes the Fall

Sweet Gum

Autumn is genteel.

It doesn't drop rain with spring's blustery enthusiasm, or raise the sun with summer's sticky languor, or blow through overcoats with winter's standoffish chill.

Instead, it waves to the riotous leaves with a white-gloved hand and looks away when they fall exhausted to the hardening ground.

For autumn knows that silence is respectful, and it reminds us to bow our heads.

Prayer #134: Comes the Fall

I listen to the brisk rain fall outside my window, carrying a memory of summer sweat and a hint of winter breath, and I know You are exhaling within it.

I spot Your handiwork in the arboreal fireworks along the highway. I hear You rustle and scuttle across the sidewalk on darkening afternoons. I notice how still-warm sun lures me, but then crisp shade reveals You.

Just as the earth anticipates its dormancy, I too should reflect on all that makes me vibrant and verdant -- be it seen and unseen.

So God, I ask You to wrap me up in Your intentional decay. Remind my vulnerable spirit that barren limbs are no less alive than decorated ones. Prepare me for revelation.

Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Prayer #133: Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are

"Be who you are and be that well." -- St. Francis de Sales

Prayer #133: Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are

We are made in Your image and likeness.

Does this mean You have eyelashes and a tendency to bite Your nails? Probably not.

Does this mean You are every color and no color, each creed and any creed, both sex and sexuality? Getting warmer.

Does this mean You contain the spectrum of human possibility at its best and finest? Definitely.

Which means this works the other way, too. Are we omnipotent and omniscient, aware of what's churning in our fellow humans' hearts? Eh, not so much.

Do our infinite permutations bump up against finite understanding? Closer yet.

Are we 6 billion refractions of You, with more courage, compassion, and capacity to love within us than we will ever grasp and fulfill? Bingo.

Lord, be with those who are learning about themselves yet afraid to share that self-knowledge with others for fear of rejection, reproach, and recrimination. Be with those who are angry and confused for reasons they cannot name; help them comprehend and accept.

Remind us all that You had so much love in Your being that You poured it into us to keep from exploding. Help us draw on that well now -- eros, philia, and above all, agape -- to welcome all refractions and complete Your prism.

Amen.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Prayer #132: Missed Call

Cingular Ad

Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

But what if I don't pick up?

Prayer #132: Missed Call

Sorry Lord, can't hear You.
Too much traffic behind me.
My battery is dying.
I'm caught in a wind tunnel.

What You hear from me:
Too much choice in front of me.
My faith is flickering.
I'm trapped in indecision.


God of the infinite switchboard, stay on the line until I hear You. Discernment sits at the intersection of wisdom and honesty; help me find my way there, and then we'll talk some more.

Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Prayer #131: Pastability

A nest of fettuccine, handmade in my kitchen!

I will never eat dry pasta out of a box the same way again. I have nothing against the mass-manufactured gluten sticks -- they do in a pinch -- but I have now made pasta in my own kitchen among friends on a cool day, and I cannot go back.

We covered the kitchen island, our hands, and our aprons in unbleached flour. The sauce bubbled behind us on the stove, tempting us with perfumed steam every time we went to stir, with meatballs peeking around the wooden spoon.

When the dough rested, so did we with sips of afternoon wine. Machines had no part in our day; every New Jersey-shaped sheet and wobbly cut was rolled and sliced by hand. Our appetites grew along with the nests on the baking sheets. The salted water couldn't boil fast enough.

Though we had chatted our way through all the dough mounds and pot lids, our table fell silent when we finally raised our forks. The moment of truth was al dente, saucy, chock-full of late summer herbs, and imbued with the filling satisfaction of having sung for our supper.

Perfectly made does not necessarily mean perfect-tasting. Popping open a jar of sauce and hitting buttons on the microwave feeds only my body. Friends do not laugh over the pasta I buy in boxes.

I am ruined.

Prayer #131: Pastability

Just as dough rests, with future shapes and plates a mystery, so I wait for You to knead me. Work on me until I no longer resist, until I am pliant and responsive.

Then work through my hands, imperfect as their owner, but willing to execute what the brain dictates and the heart demands. Lend Your strength to what I knead as well, so I have something to contribute to the boiling pot before it evaporates into a vision of what might have been.

Only then can I add chairs and silverware and invite others to join me, for only then will I truly nourish them. Satisfy this need in me, and we can feed the world.

Amen.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Prayer #130: Labor of Love

"Bart, with $10,000, we'd be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things like ... love!" -- Homer Simpson

Prayer #130: Labor of Love

Half-metered sonnets, un-scored symphonies, paintings still wet, strings of screenplay quotes, a thousand stellar ideas that haven't seen the light of day ... these expressions of love all clatter in my head, wishing to testify to a greater, more mysterious truth but lacking the courage.

Coax it out, You say. It does the world no good left unsaid, undone. But what if these revelations vanish when the light hits them? What will be left to me then?

Help me trust their integrity. Help me believe in my own lucidity. And help me see that love has its own backbone, sturdy and beautiful, that it happily drapes with our stumbling words and deeds because then it can go out in public and be recognized, even in its imperfection.

Amen.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Prayer #129: Just Beyond

seventh sense

"I totally believe in reincarnation. That's why I know people like my dad and my best friend so well -- because I've known them for generations." -- C.D.

Prayer #129: Just Beyond

I can't conceive of nothing while I'm something.
I can't imagine being blank, being non,
being anything but what You made me now.

Yet with that obit tacked up on the fridge --
a life compressed to less than 80 words --
my own mortality's on full display,
and the thought of leaving all I've ever known
is cause enough to hyperventilate.

Lord, You promise us a great beyond
in every sense -- beyond our limbs and skin,
beyond our earth, beyond our comprehension.

It seems too good, too perfect, to be true.
Cheat death and pain, yet live in constant joy?
Such magnitude of hope is staggering.

Mind you, I don't want to discover if
You're right for many decades yet to come.
But I would not mind following that hope
and finding where it leads.

That seems the best.
For now.
At least tonight, as I drift off ...

Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Prayer #128: Unfair Play

Life: A Play in One Scene

The narrator sits at a rickety card table on a dark stage. One harsh light hangs overhead. An extra folding chair juts out the other side. The narrator taps the notebook in front of her, checks her watch, sighs in exasperation. Another minute passes. Then, Life saunters in.

Narrator: There you are! I've been waiting for you all night! You were supposed to be here three hours ago.

Life: (pulls out the chair, slowly sits) Sorry. I lost track of time.

Narrator: Lost track of ... lost track of time?? There's no time to waste -- people I love are sick, my friends are heartbroken, security and hope and health is disappearing all over the place --

Life: Like I said ... sorry.

Narrator: (sits down again in a huff, takes the notepad) Let's get moving. First question ... what do you propose to do about B.? She's been in the hospital two weeks and still no answers.

Life: Hmmm. Well, probably nothing.

Narrator: Excuse me?

Life: Yeah. Nothing. Sorry.

Narrator: How can you say that?? Someone is sick, maybe even dying! And you'll sit by and do nothing? How could you? Where's your mercy, your compassion?

Life: Don't know what to tell you, kid. All I promised to do was show up. I never said I would be fair.

End.

Prayer #128: Unfair Play

God, I don't believe You have a heavenly spin-the-wheel printed with our 6 billion names that You turn once a day to find out who gets to suffer.

But with the way life plays out, in all its tragedy, coincidence, and straight-up bad luck, I have to ask: Is there any way You can intervene without stepping on our free will?

Because if so, please do it. Now.

Don't leave us begging for miracles at a chilly, empty altar. Match our impotence with Your omnipotence. Share whatever tools You can, be it a counselor's wise comfort, a surgeon's deft hands, or a friend's consoling ear.

I accept that life is not fair. But I will not accept that You are not here.

Amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prayer #127: On Empty

"Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think." --Robert Henri

Prayer #127: On Empty

I praise You, God, for an emptied mind.

The situation was dire before You intervened. Jotted notes bled into an undecipherable puddle of ink. Crumpled Post-Its clogged the pipes. Reminders, suggestions, options, edicts -- all jockeyed for position at my top of mind and threw elbows so pointy and sharp that I think I lost some gray matter in the melee.

But thanks to naps, tides, books, and other holy stillnesses, all those nagging, nattering nothings are back on their shelves, where they will pout and rattle their vials but dare not come closer.

Such is Your restoration of a beleaguered brain. I am a blackboard wiped clean, sponge marks still drying across it. Quick! Write what You want me to know, before my own words break free again.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Italian Mother Syndrome now on Alltop!

Magazine rack.

Pardon this interruption from our normal IMS programming -- I just wanted to share that this little corner of the universe is now listed on Alltop under Top Religious News. Whee!

For those of you unfamiliar with this service, Alltop lets you create a 'personal, online magazine rack' of your favorites sites, blogs, news sources, etc. (Check out MyAlltop to set up an account if you're interested.) And I may be a little starstruck because Guy Kawasaki started it, and I heart Guy Kawasaki.

So, this is all to say that if you enjoy the spiritual bent of IMS, you will likely find other cool writers and thinkers you dig at religion.alltop.com. All faiths, beliefs, or lack thereof are represented, so give 'em some facetime and see how others are searching for God in our wired world.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Prayer #126: For Good Reason

"Today was my grandmother's birthday, so to celebrate, she and my grandfather went to look at their gravesites, and then they went to Olive Garden." -- Jacob

Prayer #126: For Good Reason

Uncork that special bottle of wine now, for what's worth celebrating more than this moment in time?

Join me on the dance floor, shoes tossed under the rented table, so we can sway offbeat.

Hold my hand on a stroll through a darkening town this late summer night.

Wing a postcard (or seven) across the miles to include me in your adventure.

Giggle with me behind a cupped hand and keep my happy secrets until the time is right.

Thank You for the breathtaking reminder that my days here, though limited, run deep. And though it may be more than I can take, I also ask You this:

Dive into the glimmering pool with me.

Take me leagues beyond what I feel today.

May we never reach the bottom.

Amen.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Prayer #125: This End Up

Photo by mrbill

Prayer #125: This End Up

Caution. Fragile. Handle with care.

I see these labels and spring into ginger mode. I am as gentle as baby shampoo. The items inside don't fear me; I know exactly how to treat them.

Which leads me to question, God ... why aren't You being as gentle with me right now? I am a person, a soul, so much more than a cardboard box. And while I'd look pretty stupid if I wrapped myself in postal tape and wrote"This End Up!" on my forehead with Sharpie, I'm starting to think that's the only thing that will remind You not to tip me over and shake me around.

So I'm asking one favor, knowing somewhere in the back of my heart that a good shake might be exactly what You're aiming for. Whatever You're packing or unpacking in my soul right now, please go gently so that I can stick it out with You. I want to be in one piece when we get there -- wherever there is.

Amen.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Prayer #124: Friended

In four days, my roommate Sus is moving out. And when I say out, I mean OUT. As in far away, long-distance, cross-country. As in different time zones and phone calls scheduled around her new MBA class schedule. As in, dial Julia into panic mode because where will she ever find another roomie who gives words of affirmation AND eats vegetables AND alphabetizes her spice rack??

Only one year has passed since we helped Sus move in, but in that time we endured enough quarter-life crises to equal at least three mid-life crises and a stint at a seaside sanitarium.

I'm proud to report that we have slightly more intact ideas of where we want our lives to head. I'm prouder to report that our friendship stayed intact. In fact, the pajama chats, hallway hugs, and shared loved of planning may be precisely what kept our hearts and sanity intact as well.

I will send my friend off with a rooftop soiree, like so many we've shared over this transformational year. She will make a terrific student and an even better nonprofit leader when she emerges. In the meantime, I'll take advantage of her new couch and finally see the Grand Canyon. I won't worry about her (much). I will definitely miss her.

Sus -- snow days, swimming, and haircuts will not be the same without you. Thank you for being my wonderful friend.

Look Sus! Some snow for you to take with you.


Prayer #124: Friended

You may know me through and through, Lord, but You're not the one who picks up the phone or mails a card or knocks on the door to remind me of who I am.

That role is reserved for my friends, Your terra firma ambassadors, who challenge and reward me -- sometimes in the same moment. So for them, I ask:

Turn more water into wine so we can linger over it together.

Grant us stamina for long conversations and patience for radio silence.

Keep us secure, but not safe; a little dangerous thinking with partners in crime keeps the world on its toes.

And thank you for putting people in my life whose wrinkles I can imagine but will never notice, because I know they will grow old with me.

Amen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Prayer #123: The Beast

I have a beast in my kitchen.

It's white, it's gooey, and it reeks of hooch. I feed it once a week, my arm stretched as far as it can go, nose closed again its pungent odor. It gulps up the flour and water I toss in its cage with loud, smacking, bubbly chomps.

For this beast, consumption is a science. To grow means to transform.

Have you guessed the nature of the beast yet? No, I didn't break down and get a pet -- I'm waxing poetic about my sourdough starter, gifted to me as a wedding favor from a dear friend.

Keeping sourdough "alive" for use as natural leavening requires regular feedings, steady attention, and remedial understanding of kitchen chemistry. Essentially ...

(bacteria + flour + water + air) * magic = fluffy carbs

I wonder, though, if the beast feeds off other environmental factors. Does it know when I'm stirring with anger? What if I cry in the kitchen? Can it suck stress out of the air, or fear? Will it rev up production if it senses exhaustion?

Science says that lactobacilli leads to sourdough's nominal bite. But what if the starter is taking a hit for its maker? What if it's turning sadness into comfort the only way it knows how?

Prayer #123: The Beast

The beast sat on my chest again last night.

It leaned its hairy haunches on my lungs and ground its knuckles into my eyes -- to keep its balance, it claimed, but I know it was doing it for spite.

The beast muttered and giggled the whole night. Its raspy whispers filled the inky quiet. When I tossed, the beast turned. When I sighed, it blew a raspberry.

Every time a pleasant dream crept closer, the beast batted it away. Soon, a pile collected near the bed, still fluttering, quickly fading.

I am really not fond of the beast.

So I request only this, Lord -- hold the beast back in the hallway, just for tonight. Leave my pillow free for my cheek alone. Keep my sheets untangled.

Help the peaceful dreams approach in their gentle, tender way. And let me float in them toward a resolution I can't imagine, yet must somehow realize.

Amen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Prayer #122: Rompecabeza

Taken in Florence, Italy -- May 2010

The result of overthinking.

Prayer #122: Rompecabeza

I journaled
I dialogued
I visioned
I daydreamed
I stewed
I simmered
I bit my nails
I chewed my lip
I overshared
I buttoned up
I ate a carton of ice cream ...

But then my head exploded.

So now I have to pray,
because I exhausted
all other possibilities
and myself.

I am here
I am lost
I am Yours
Can You help?

Amen.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Prayer #121: What, Now

The great conundrum behind revelations about life, love, and personal liberty is that beaming concentrated light into one dark corner still leaves other crannies pitch-black.

Total assurance requires a personal sun. I've heard, however, that these are in short supply. Which leads me to post this simple ad:

Wanted: Complete, irrefutable knowledge of all future events/developments of personal and global nature. Can cook in exchange. Will also do windows.

Prayer #121: What, Now

I'm comparing what is to what was, what was to what will be, what will be to what might be -- and coming up with a great big pile of worry and fret and all-around suck.

But what is can exceed what was. What was is not a given harbinger of what will be. And the presumptuous certainty of what will be bows to the flexible potential of what might be.

Don't let me become the hand-wringer in the corner who always grouses, "Now what?" Make me instead the clear-eyed explorer who always asks "What now?" and strides forward, even without an answer.

For what is holds the true adventure, and the what is You.

Amen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Prayer #120: Both Frightened and Free

All that we have and all that we offer
Comes from our hearts both frightened and free
Take what we bring now and give what we need ...

-- All That We Have

Prayer #120: Both Frightened and Free

Self-awareness is a sharp blade -- it slices me fast, cuts me deep, delays the pain. But when the blood does come ... watch out.

How easy to slip behind that red, translucent curtain, upset that I've hurt someone, shamed because I knew better, and embarrassed because I wasn't strong enough to stop myself.

Obscured there, I can indulge in a little self-flagellation, which makes me feel productive yet avoids actually solving the problem.

Thank goodness You don't let me hide inside my head. Thank heavens You pull me out protesting, plop me down in front of responsibility, and say, "Your turn." And thank God You forgive.

So I do not ask you to dull my self-awareness. Without it, I could not perform the daily personal surgeries that keep my relationships healthy, my transgressions contained, and my heart intact.

I only ask that You give me just a scrap of Your ability to forgive, so that I can heal myself as well and move forward -- freer.

Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Prayer #119: Sol Patch

1. "Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning "sun" + "to stand still." As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky."

2. "The Summer Solstice was thought to be a time of magic. If evil spirits appeared, then they were thwarted by a plant called 'chase-devil.' Today, this plant is known as St. John's Wort, and it is used as a mood stabilizer."

3. "The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve;
Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost fairy time."
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 5. 1

Prayer #119: Sol Patch

Summer brings its own hot madness, makes you sticky, catches you between restless and reckless.

Summer blinds you with too much light. What should be illuminated washes out instead, and the dark corners you so carefully guard stay just as hidden as before.

But when the celestial hinge squeaks just right, and a scorching run of hours rushes the earth, you are left with little choice: Turn your face to what you've shoved aside, and burn those corners with insistent fire.

Lord, if the sun in its endless swing can stand still for a day and survey its universe, then surely I can stand still for a moment and examine my conscience. And for that purpose alone, let me join the sun at that slim point above the horizon where it does not rise, does not set, but simply watches, eager to catch truth through the dancing flames.

Amen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prayer #118: In the Wee Small Hours

I consider myself a pretty disciplined person, except in one area: my snooze button.

No matter how late it makes me, no matter how much I need to get up and write/go to the gym/do chores, I can't resist thumping that button, for each whack brings a blissful 10 minutes of extra sleep.

But once or twice a week, timing and willpower do unite, and I'm able to arise at 6 a.m. like the morning person I am. (No really, I am. I'm just a morning person who requires 8 hours of sleep.)

These mornings mean two hours of pure quiet. The household is deep in REM. No one needs the washer. No one wants the TV. No one has questions to ask me. On these mornings I listen to the world wake up around me and urge it to take its time -- no need to rush into the hurried day.

Once or twice a week, I know peace. Which makes me wonder: Why do I hit the snooze button at all?

Prayer #118: In the Wee Small Hours

You are the morning dove, gentle and gray.
You are the pale sun, easing over the roof.
You are the empty street, devoid of honks.
You are the dim house, only one lamp lit.
You are the cluttered desk, biding your time.
You are the cool pillow, dented by sleep.
You are the rumpled bed, where dreams linger on.
You are the bird chatter, the trash can clatter.
You are the sighing. The listening. The emerging.
You are the waking.
You awake.

Amen.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Prayer #117: One-Two-Three, One-Two-Three ...

Know why I didn't hit it big in amateur ballroom dancing (and yes, some people do hit it big in amateur ballroom dancing)? I have trouble letting my partners lead. And I have two left feet, but it was mainly the leading.

Here's what ran through my head every time someone led me onto the dance floor:

Oh goody, a partner! He's kinda old, but I bet he's got the moves. Huh, his head comes up to my boobs. Interesting. Oooh, fox trot time. I'm gonna lock this shiznit DOWN. One-two-three, one-two ... that's not it. I don't think this guy can hear the music. That hearing aid is the size of Rhode Island. Maybe I can guide him a little bit to the left, get him on rhythm ... ok, nix that, different tactic. Stop looking at my boobs, old man! Maybe if I refuse to do something, he'll be forced to change his footsteps ... nope, foiled again. Note to self: Do not wear push-up bras to these functions. Maybe we can salvage this foxtrot yet. One-two-three, one-two-three ... oh. Wait. It's a waltz.

My ultimate solution to learning how to cede complete control was to drop out of ballroom dancing and not learn it at all. Which is a shame, because I could really use that skill this June, seeing as Fella has come to DC for the month.

Yes, the long distance has become immediate. This means meals together, face-to-face conversations, and no goodbyes at the airport 48 hours after we say hello. But it also means adjustment, compromise, and no goodbyes at the airport 48 hours after we say hello.

There's no way to escape the dance floor. No sweeping issues under the rug we're trying to cut. If he's stepping on my feet, or I'm pulling him in the wrong direction, we have to deal with it in real time.

It was easy to leave the little old men behind and disappear into a crowd. But a good partner -- the type of partner who becomes the strongest dancer -- stays to practice. And practice. And practice some more.

So I will. Music please!

Prayer #117: One-Two-Three, One-Two-Three ...

Dear God,

It's come to my attention that You've been trying to lead me. I appreciate the effort, but You can let it rest. I much prefer to run my own supremely powerful (albeit little) universe and bend others to my will. So really, put Your feet up and take a break. I got this one.

Love,
Me

---

Dear You,

Ok. How has that been going for you? Making any headway? I'd love some tips.

Love,
God


---

Dear God,

Umm, not so great, actually. Turns out that other people don't respond to mind control. I actually have to talk to them and make my feelings known and listen to what they're thinking. Frankly, I don't know how You do it with so many people. It's hard.

That being said, would you mind taking one more on?

Love,
Me

---

Dear You,

Of course! Thought you'd never ask. Let's go.

Love,
God



-- Amen.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Prayer #116: Memorial


Prayer #116: Memorial

Beyond the parades bedecked with bright flags
After the barbecues, sticky and sweet
During the beach days of sandcastled walks
Help us remember the reason we gather
And keep us remembering it
With sparkler in hand
The picnic table set
And sun on our face
For such life and living
Is an unfathomable gift.

Amen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Prayer #115: Sotto Voce

Why do sore throats strike when you have the most to say?

My current muteness was inevitable, I suppose, after ten days of kissing strange people, gabbing nonstop, and inhaling stale airplane air. Still, it's inconvenient, seeing as I want to relive my trip through constant retellings.

And then to go to church for Pentecost yesterday, and hear the Bible passage about everyone understanding each other's language, yet not be able to speak or sing with the congregation ... major downer.

So I just closed my eyes instead and listened to all the voices combining around me. And I prayed this prayer.

Prayer #115: Sotto Voce

Santo Spirito --

When my voice is weakest, all the more reason to shout Your praises from the rooftops, for You have reversed the curse of Babel!

You have shown us that the human predilection to develop language (nearly 7,000 spoken ones at last count) does not surpass our ability to be understood. You have granted us comprehension, and through it, solidarity.

Love is not foreign, but universal, the indestructible mortar for a universal church. Help us be the bricks for a new tower -- one that reaches You in the heavens -- and give us one voice to sing as we build.

Amen.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prayer #114: Any Passport in a Storm

I'm not here. I'm in Italy. When I get back, I will have pictures and stories and at least four extra pounds, so you will need to join me on brisk walks to a) get caught up and b) get me slim.

Until then, I leave you with the miracle of Interwebz pre-publishing, which allows me to introduce my Italian relatives to you, share my travel guide, and reveal my secret method for fitting gelato into my suitcase.

Prayer #114: Any Passport in a Storm

To the One who sent me through an ethereal customs gate --

Grant me safe passage over water, across land, and through time.

Keep my traveling companions healthy, happy, and -- if not wealthy -- at least pickpocket-free. Hold fanny packs at bay and white socks at a minimum.

Loosen my tongue for a foreign accent. Send me words I don't even know. Guide my wild hand gestures when all else fails.

Let me learn one new thing every day ... every hour ... every minute I'm here if You can spare the time and educational resources.

May I be a polite and humble guest in this far-off land. May my hosts be gracious and generous. May I one day return the favor when they come to America.

And above all, give me stories to pass down, so one day I can inspire the littlest adventurers in my life to explore this grand globe You gave us, and find Your one-and-only stamp upon their hearts.

Amen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Prayer #113: A Body At Rest

Newton's First Law of Motion: A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it. And a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.

In other words, run run run run run run runrunrunrun THUNK.

Prayer #113: A Body At Rest

I asked for answers. You gave me better questions.

I asked for affirmation. You gave me confidence.

I asked for reassurance. You gave me courage.

I asked for patience. You gave me progress.

I asked for change. You gave me evolution.

I asked for success. You gave me rest.

And now I ask for the strength to be at peace with and in this gift-filled moment. Perhaps You'll give me contentment?

Amen.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Prayer #112: Line My Pockets

Tonight I checked my statement
And found an entry off.
At first I laughed, but then I thought,
"Perhaps I ought not scoff."

So call my bank I quickly did,
and lo! confirmed the lie.
A thief had stalked my Interwebz
In attempts to suck me dry.

Now my info, once so safe,
Is feeling violated,
While elsewhere for $8.96
A crook just laughs, elated.

But thanks I give, for 'spite this fuss
It could have been much worse.
And glad am I when browsing
To have watchdogs in my purse.

Prayer #112: Line My Pockets

Guard us from barter to banker and back

As we use common sense (or are making no cents)

With bill stacks sky-high (or billfolds too thin)

Checking off checkbooks (or chucking them out)

When greenbacks mean money (or simply mean mold)

And lettuce means clams (or food that's gone bad)

Be it moolah or tuppence or junk bonds or cash

Be the purchases honest or frequent or strange

Balance our lives as we balance our ledgers

And help us give credit where credit is due.

Amen.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Prayer #111: Where Oo?

Back in the day, when I was no taller than a kitchen chair and my little brother was exactly that -- little -- we played hide-and-seek all over the house with our mother.

Hiding places came easy. We were tiny, springy, packable kids, able to wedge ourselves anywhere. However, I hadn't yet learned the art of silence, so Mom usually found me via giggle echolocation. And my brother thought that simply sitting in a corner and putting his hands over his eyes made him invisible to others.

When it was Mom's turn to hide, she had an advantage over us: the ability to stay quiet. So though she was not quite as flexible or cram-able, it took us longer to find her.

I'd take one floor. My brother would take another. I'd peer in all the spots a big kid could reach. And my brother would play the baby card -- a plaintive repetition of "Mommy, where oo?" until her maternal heart relented and she revealed herself to us.

Now that I'm a grown-up, I sometimes wish I could play that baby card. How easy it would be to wander around in a sad daze, asking the one question that is sure to tug God's heartstrings -- "Where oo?" -- and sucking my thumb until the answer appears.

Too bad that's not how it works. Both God and I are too big to hide in the usual places. The game takes place in the open. No secrets, no counting. Why, then, do I still cover my eyes and think myself invisible?

Prayer #111: Where Oo?

1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 5 ...

I'm not ready, yet here You come.

6 ... 7 ... 8 ... 9 ...

I SAID I'm not READY.

10 ... 11 ... 12 ...

You are so annoying. Play by the RULES.

13 ... 14 ...

Arrrgghhh. FINE. I'll do the best I can.

15.

Still not ready. Yet here You are.

You're it.

Am I ready now?

Amen.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Prayer #110: Futureness

Went to the fortune teller
To have my fortune read
I didn't what to tell her
I had a dizzy feeling in my head

Said she'd take a look at my palm
Said "Son do you feel kind of warm?"
And she looked into her crystal ball
Said "You're in love."

Said it could not be so,
Not with all the girls I know.
Said when the next one arrives
Looking into her eyes.

I left there in a hurry
Much to my big surprise
The next thing I discovered
The fortune teller told me lies

So I ran back to that woman
Mad as I could be
Told her I didn't see nobody
How she made a fool out of me

At last something shook me
As if it came down from above
And now the fortune teller
And I fell in love
-- Fortune Teller

Prayer #110: Futureness

Chuck the crystal ball down the bowling lane
Dump the tea leaves in the garbage disposal
Coax the waves across the patterns in the sand
Turn your hands palm down to hide the lines

Because none of them can help you anyway
So you might as well rely on uncertainty
And have some faith you'll learn what to do
When the time, the place, the decision comes

Until then use the I Ching sticks as kindling
Unfold the horoscope to line the birdcage
Because the root of all divination
Is to be inspired by God.

Amen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Prayer #109: Hold Me

Photo by Wonderlane

Prayer #109: Hold Me

For one moment
hold me upended
apart from routine
so I can watch it pass
and remember that it
is not what's sacred

For one moment
hold me suspended
apart from the world
so I can watch it spin
and remember that I
contribute to its cycle

For one moment
hold me ascended
apart from despair
so I can watch my soul
and remember that You
created it for joy

So for one moment
I'll see all moments
and take heart
they will come

Amen.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Prayer #108: Once Lost, Now Found

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." -- John 20: 1-9

In this passage, Mary Magdalene is called by name. Simon Peter is called by name. The third disciple, however, remains unnamed, designated only as "the one Jesus loved."

My first impulse is to give him a backstory and some Biblical context, putting him squarely in the murky past. But I don't need to, nor should I.

This disciple belongs in the present. He is our contemporary. The tomb he runs into is the same we encounter each day when we look for Jesus in broad daylight but can't see Him. Not yet, anyway.

The one Jesus loves is me. The one Jesus loves is you. We see and we believe.

Prayer #108: Once Lost, Now Found

"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

How does one misplace a God? Quite easily, it seems.

I often don't know where I've put You. I think I have You safely stored, and then You vanish, defying my compartments and asserting Your ubiquity.

This Easter season, You once again challenge me to find You on Your terms. You tear my gaze from the abandoned strips of linen and force me to look beyond the quiet tomb's opening, out into a swirling world that breeds confusion, loss, indignity, iniquity, and sorrow.

You give me a tall order -- to find You amid this chaos, to love others as You love me. Frankly, I'd rather keep mooning over the strips of linen. It's much easier. But, as I've come to realize, not nearly as fulfilling.

May I rise to meet Your challenge, Lord. May I leave in the tomb the shrouds that obscure my faith, and find You on the sunlit road.

Alleluia, amen!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Prayer #107: Hair Shirt

He started out in a procession, ended up on a tree, and defied the tomb. Surely I can refrain from eating chocolate just a few days more ...

Prayer #107: Hair Shirt

I should have just gone for the hair shirt.

I keep making a big show of my sacrifices, moaning and groaning every time I do manage to stick to them. I hold my hand to my brow, and in my best diva voice, I exclaim that I've never known suffering until this year, never known true want or pain.

A hair shirt would have been more honest. Not only would it have eliminated my boasts, but it would have left me itchy all the time -- itchy on the outside, rather than the inside.

For how can I in comfortable faith listen to Your Passion and claim to have one of my own? It diminishes Your gift. It overlooks Your human fear. It trivializes Your divine resolve.

I've never once followed through on a promise like You delivered on Yours. Not even that time I vowed to get a hair shirt.

Thank you for being nothing like me, Lord. Otherwise, we'd have several thousand years of whining ... and a very itchy eternity.

Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Prayer #106: Tunnel Vision


Prayer #106: Tunnel Vision

The last drop of blue water, sluggish and clingy, drips from the pipe overhead onto my dusty boot.

All around me is black, save for the gray curtain shimmering at the distant perspective point I'd pick if I were back in drawing class.

My footsteps chatter and echo. They supplant my voice, too caked to croak a syllable.

Soon, though, I can't hear even my own footfalls, because the curtain is roaring. The closer I get, the louder it pounds, pushing the black behind me.

My toe slips, splashes. The perspective point is now immediate. I reach to push the curtain aside -- and instead go through it.

I grab my arm back, aghast. My sleeve patterns the dirt beneath me with droplets.

Water, falling. No curtain there at all, except that of my perception. I flood with recognition.

Dry earth can still absorb a gift. So I raise my cupped hands to You, and drink.

Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Prayer #105: Left My Heart



In San Fran this week with Fella! This fabulous city will always hold a special place in my heart as the first city I ever explored alone. Here, I learned the pleasure of waking up without an itinerary, picking a spot on a map, and taking the whole day to get there by way of Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, Alcatraz ... but not, oddly enough, by trolley. And sans Rice-a-Roni. But still a fantastic time.

So when I arrive today, I'm taking back what I left behind.

Prayer #105: Left My Heart

My heart is ready to hit the road. In fact, it's already out in the car, windows down, leaning out the passenger side into the spring breeze.

My heart needs affirmation this week, and permission. It asks for rest from constant wringing. It wants a jolt of the best variety, the kind that pops up with a see-for-miles view or a diner-on-the-roadside meal or a happenstance you know will become an inside joke for years.

Grant me this respite, Lord. Draw my heart's internal tempest, still wild from winter, out into a calmer, warmer season. Help me make sense of the constant swirls, and then give me the words to speak them into new being.

Amen.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Prayer #104: Forgotten

I crawled out of bed as soon as I'd burrowed in because I remembered I forgot I'd remembered to post a prayer today. So here you go -- a short one to cap a long day.

Prayer #104: Forgotten

You're tickling my rib cage, begging my attention. I'm only half listening, though, focused instead on my lack of focus.

Filmy mirages flit across my dreams more these days. I grasp at the mist and grab nothing every time. But I can't shake the feeling that soon I'll thrust my hand into the shimmer and come away with a fistful of tangible ... tangible ...

Tangible what exactly? Answers? Suggestions? Hints? A clearly marked map would work just fine. Feel free to mark X at the spot. Any spot. And then tell me what the spot entails.

But no. That would be too easy. Instead, You knock at my ribs in Morse code, nowhere near an X -- just a stream of incomprehensible taps for which I have no decoder chart.

This much I know: You're asking me to forget the rest of the world and stick by You to find what's hiding in the mist. Forgive me if I'm not so eager to fall in line. I find it hard to forget what I don't know yet.

Amen.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Prayer #103: Sacriligifice

Photo by maskedcard

Despite my belief that no merciful God would ask you to give up chocolate, this year I gave up chocolate for Lent.

Two weeks have passed with nary a nibble. However, I've noticed a concurrent, proportional rise of vanilla and oatmeal raisin products in my stomach cabinet.

Hmm. Convenient. But fair?

Prayer #103: Sacreligifice

May the letter of the law not write bonds so tight I can't breathe in its spirit.

And may the spirit of the law not leave me so light I can't attach to the letter.

Strike this balance in my will, so that I sacrifice weakness, and not meaning.

Amen.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Prayer #102: The Best Waylaid Plans

My laptop is in the shop with at best a broken fan and at worst a fried motherboard. Expect light postings until it's back in the pink of health. Also expect a prayer based on what not having your third arm computer makes you ponder ...

P.S. How awesome would it be if our electronics came back from repair with a hospital gown, ID bracelet, and a Band-Aid sticker, a la American Girl?

Prayer #102: The Best Waylaid Plans

The saved chocolate that melts in your pocket

The wrong turn from the outdated map

The late train shuttle in a chilly morning

The conversation that sounded better when you rewrote it in your head

The leftovers gone bad in an empty fridge

The battery, dead, a forgotten switch

The black ice patch on a thawing sidewalk

The tiny umbrella that can't protect your backpack from winter rain

Become instead

An experimental dessert

An impromptu adventure

A chance to stretch your legs

A surprising revelation

An excuse to order pizza

A prompt to write a letter

A little rest on the ground

A spur to get home

Which says to me

That maybe

this was always

and exactly

Your plan.


Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prayer #101: Snow Down

Today's prayer inspired by 4 snow days, 2 blizzards, 1 trip to Vermont, and a tweet from my go-to Twitter Buddhist -- all in 11 days.

Prayer #101: Snow Down

You shellacked the roads with ice. You tossed snow like monochrome confetti. You poured slush and mush and incompetent plowing in my path, but still ... still I would not slow down.

You begged me to listen to the flakes falling. You nudged me to bask in the winter sun when it finally broke through my bedroom window. You pushed me to curl up, and rest, and contemplate, but still ... still I would not slow down.

You put my friends in front of me and said, "Spend time with them." You gave me mountains and trails to romp on in the sharp winter air. You sat me in cozy parlors with a good book in my lap and public radio playing and someone else cooking dinner.

Then -- only then -- did I start to slow down. Yet then -- even then -- I didn't stop completely.

Instead, I telegraphed the same unspoken response to You: "Don't force the issue. I'll stop when I damn well please."

Your tireless, emphatic reply: "But stopping will please you more."

So I gave in. I stopped. I looked around. I inhaled. And exhaled. And I can say with great confidence ... sometimes I hate it when You're right.

Amen, and thanks for the break.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Word on the street: Tickets for the Indians

The scene: Kitchen table at my cousin's house. I'm talking with her sons Aidan (7) and Caleb (5) about the band they've formed with their cousins.

Me: So who all is in the band?

Aidan: Well, I play guitar and Noah is the lead singer and Ethan plays the keyboard --

Caleb: And I play drums!

Aidan: Caleb, be quiet! (turns to me) Caleb plays drums. And Madison sings backup. And she's our manager.

Me: That's so cool. What kind of music do you play?

Aidan: Classic rock.

Caleb: And heavy metal.

Me: Wow, eclectic. Are you going to have a concert?

Aidan: Yeah! In Madison and Noah's backyard. Near the barn.

Me: So I bet you're practicing a lot right now, huh?

Aidan: Nah. We're just going to sell tickets.

Me: There's confidence for you. Who are you selling tickets to?

Aidan: Um, well, our families. And all the neighbors who live across the street.

Caleb: And the Indians.

Me: The Indians?

Caleb: Yep.

Me: I didn't know there was a significant Native American population still present in Pennsylvania. Where do they live?

Aidan: In the woods.

Caleb: And the desert.

Me: There's a desert in Pennsylvania? And where, pray tell, might that be?

Aidan: Sorta near New York City.

End scene.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Prayer #100: Cento

Photo by jude_hill

I always thought cento was just a numeric prefix or a canned tomato brand. Turns out that cento in poet circles means something else entirely -- patchwork poetry.

The concept is simple: You write a new poem comprised entirely of lines from other sources. You can pull from one poet or several. You can be serious, clever, ironic, or obsequious. In any event, the theft is sanctioned -- plagiarism, with flair!

So, in honor of my 100th prayer here on Italian Mother Syndrome, I'd like to pay homage to some of the prayers and pray-ers -- of all shapes, styles, and backgrounds -- that inspire me to focus inward and upward.

And for all of you who read and pray and question with me ... can't wait to write the next 100 with you.

Prayer #100: Cento

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. [1]

[For] all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. [2]

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. [3]

[This is] not idolatry, but identity,
for love and God are one
when love longs to be Forever. [4]

[And] a story without love is not worth telling. [5]

Amen.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Who's counting? A note on anniversaries

Photo by Stebaneze

I was at a party on Saturday night with Fella and his med school classmates ("Gubernaculum's my favorite word, too!") when someone asked me, "So how long have you guys been dating?"

"Ummm ... erm ... well, it depends," I replied.

"Depends?" she said.

"Yeah, I mean -- hang on." I turned to Fella. "How long have we been dating anyway?"

His eyes gleamed with the light of love that only a woman acting like a man can engender.

"See, that's why I like you," he said. "You're not even counting!"

Ah, Fella, if you only knew. You see, the real root of my question was about when to start counting. Was it from when we realized we liked one another after President's Day? When we got on the same page about it over 4th of July? What about our first visit on Labor Day? Or when we said we were 'official' during Columbus Day?*

* Yes, clearly we have a federal holiday fetish. Lord knows what Memorial Day will bring.

The truth is, Fella, I'm not the woman you think I am. I really like marking time. And while I'm not a 'monthiversary' addict, I do consider myself a year/five-year/decade kind of girl.

Why the annual love? In part, I follow anniversaries keep the greeting card industry copywriters in business (c'mon, you know we need those jobs right now). I also like an excuse for gifts, flowers, parties, or surprise European vacations where appropriate.

But I mark milestones mainly because they're a socially sanctioned form of navel-gazing, much like blogging or karaoke. They compress all your major victories, minor frustrations, and regular chores into one convenient timeframe, and push all the trends you missed (or chose to ignore) to the surface.

For example:

* Today marks my second year in DC. (You can read about the first year here.) Not much has changed -- oh, except for one of my roommates, a new job, that boy, and a renewed sense of purpose in my chosen life path.

* Today also marks my parents' 31st wedding anniversary. (You can read my dad waxing sentimental on their 30th here.) That journey has been nothing BUT change, with two kids, 3 states, 9 houses, and countless date nights to attest for it.

* Soon I will write Prayer #100. (Read the prayer series to date here.) What started out of frustration with young adult ministry has morphed into a personal mission to explore my own faith and help others think it through too. A good example of ending up where you thought you might be in unexpected ways.

So, who knows what will happen on Feb. 3, 2011? (I haven't hung my pictures from last year, by the way.) I imagine I'll still be writing, and still observing federal holidays, and still marking time in my own way -- just to see how it keeps unfolding.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Prayer #99: Love Bugs

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

--{1 Corinthians 13: 1-13}

Prayer #99: Love Bugs

My love is impatient. My love is frustrated. My love doesn't want to be kind or understanding or polite.

My love wants its way. Which probably means I don't have love -- I just have agita.

So if my love isn't even formed ... then what? Maybe I first have to imagine and envision and act it -- even if I don't fully feel it -- to summon the gift into a solid state.

Maybe I do already have some love, though, and it's just young -- a neophyte emotion looking for a crack in the sidewalk to reach the sun where it won't scrape the ragged edges and retreat with a whimper.

Or maybe my love is here, fully formed, leaning against the door jamb with hands folded, an expectant look on its face, patiently waiting for my angry torment to subside so it can start on the real work of fixing things.

God, help me find peace in my partial knowing. Bear with me in my child-like ways. And teach me that love is patient, love is kind, and love can be -- will be -- me.

Amen.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ssshhh! The library is speaking to you

Photo by Ozyman

The last time I was in a college campus library, I had pimply skin, 18 layers of anti-winter gear, and a paper to write.

Fast-forward five (five!) years to today, as I sit once more in a college library, this time with clearer skin, only two layers on, and a blog post to write. Fella is upstairs in an 'optional'-but-really-required lecture, so I'm treating this learning hub as adult day care.

As I sit here staring up at the skylights, I think, "Why don't I come to libraries more often?" The system was really onto something when it decided all patrons should be quiet when they're here. I find it remarkable that this simple rule -- no speaking -- is so universally acknowledged, respected, and obeyed.

I don't think it's from fear of librarians' wrath, either. It's part of the unbreakable library code: Be silent for others to find silence within yourself.

After all, libraries are places where you accomplish things. Did you come hear to read? Then read. Study? Then study. Write? Then write. You arrive with a goal, you leave with a product. The quiet gives you space to do that.

Library quiet is also distinctive in that it doesn't necessarily equal "peaceful." Concentration pulsates here. People come and go with purpose. You can feel the stress ebb and flow. This heightened tension only makes the code more inviolable.

To break it, then, is unforgivable. Imagine if I screamed right now for no reason. The librarian would scold me for sure. But the other patrons whose trains of thought I derailed would inflict much worse with their glares and grimaces. The energy in the room would shift from trust, to hurt, to anger. And just as I disrupted their needed silence, they would ruin mine.

So people who want soothing should visit the ocean in the early morning. Those who want to contemplate should sit in a cathedral pew on a weekday afternoon. But people who want unspoken expectations to motivate them ... they should set up shop among the shelves.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to put the brakes on a writing slump


Lethargy mixed with frustration on top of guilt. When this potent combo builds up inside writers' heads, it signals the enemy of all creativity: the writing slump.

You know the feeling. It derails your best intentions "to just sit down and write." You start losing hope you'll ever make it in this business. Worse, you make excuses or self-flagellate or ignore the problem altogether, none of which are remotely useful techniques for restoring your get-up-and-go for words.

I know the feeling because I'm on the downslide too. After a productive burst last weekend, I'm back to believing I can't sustain the momentum. But, since it's best to catch these downturns early, I turned to some wise advice I heard from a published author a few months ago.

Patricia Reilly Giff is the acclaimed author of Pictures of Hollis Woods, Lily's Crossing, and other children's and young adult books. She has been writing for over 20 years. Here are her snippets of advice and words of comfort to encourage aspiring writers, and help them stop the slump in mid-ride.

Writing Technique

1. Having story issues? Check to see if you have a person, a place, and a problem.

2. When looking at the problem in the story, consider: Will it make me worry for the whole book?

3. "All you have to do in a book is give everyone hope."


Sitting Down to Write

4. Give yourself 30 minutes a day. The cumulative effect is invigorating.

5. The first year of writing was 'really hard' for her. Sometimes, it takes a while to get into a groove.

6. Writing and stories are all about emotion for her. She'd picture 'softies with tears in their eyes' when she sat down to work.


Words of Wisdom

7. Stay up-to-date on what's new in your genre. What other books and authors are circulating?

8. When we write, we pull on a 'reservoir of memory' we change slightly.

9. "One of the loveliest reasons to write is to capture the past."


And, A Funny Story to Help Relax You

10. When Giff visits classrooms, she encourages students to interrupt her at any point with questions. At one point during a visit to a kindergarten class, a little girl waved her hand.

"Yes honey, what's your question?" Giff asked.

"I have a cat," the little girl replied.

Then the little boy next to her said, "Good question!"

***

So, I guess what I'm trying to tell you is ... relax. Take a deep breath, ask yourself some good questions (with or without cat), and concentrate on putting one hand over the other. Eventually, what went down will come up -- and bring you with it.