Go and come back

This morning my daughter took off on a plane headed to Japan for her Junior Year Abroad. She has been dreaming of this since she was the pseudonymous first Little/then Light Princess on my old blog. She started watching a Japanese cartoon with her brother and when the dubbed episodes ran out, she found the later seasons online with English subtitles. She came to love the language and began to dream of going to Japan.

Each of my children had some dream at a fairly early age. #1 Son started acting at 7 and never looked back. #2 Son followed in his brother’s footsteps but when the choice came in 8th grade between a leading role and an orchestra concert, he chose his clarinet and his path.

LP often lamented that she was not as directed as her brothers, not so clearly called to … something. She loves Japanese language and culture, but to what end?

It may not be possible to know until she spends the school year there.

LP, left, with other 5 College students on the Kakehashi Program trip, July 2014.
LP, left, with other Five College students on the Kakehashi Program trip, July 2014.

LP had her first opportunity to go to Japan last summer, for the ten day Kakehashi Program. Never one to take things for granted, she continued to work hard for this chance to study abroad. The Associated Kyoto Program is competitive. Her Dean’s List grades at Smith College, her straight As in Japanese, her (in my opinion) beautifully written essays about why she wanted to go to Japan: all these combined to make her an exceptional candidate for the program. We knew it meant everything to her and listened as she worried while waiting for the results of her application last winter, assuring her that, as kathrynzj put it, “If you don’t get in, there’s something wrong with the program, not you.”

AKP students attend class at Doshisha University in Kyoto. They live with host families, and LP received a very dear card from hers, which includes a father, a mother, a daughter her age, and a younger son. AKP classes include a language intensive and courses in Japanese history and culture, which are specifically for American students. We’re all especially happy that she got her hoped-for elective, a seminar that includes both American and Japanese students.

I am so proud of my LP, who combines wry humor and gentle manners with articulate feminism and deep faith as if those were the most natural combination in the world. The little girl who always knew what was going on socially in the classroom but never remembered her homework is now a woman and a scholar, and I am delighted to witness her launch.

The Japanese have many different ways of saying goodbye, each appropriate to different occasions or levels of formality.  Before she left, LP wrote her farewell in kanji, on our kitchen blackboard. This is the goodbye you would use in Japan if you are heading out to school or work. It translates as “I am going, but I will come back.” Eight months will go by quickly in some ways, although believe me, I write this with tears in my eyes. Eight months for her will be full of new experiences, friends and learnings. When we parted last week as she went off for a week with her dad, I wrapped her in a hug, held my hand on the back of her head and prayed for her safety and for a wonderful year.

But the correct response to her farewell, in Japanese, is nothing so emotional or lofty.

The correct response, in Japanese, is just as matter-of-fact. So today, my dear LP, I say, “行ってらっしゃい” – “Go and come back.”

On our kitchen blackboard,
On our kitchen blackboard, “Itte kimasu” – “I am going, but I will come back.”

When we cannot fix it (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,

When we cannot fix it,
but can only love,
help us to show up
and represent on Your behalf.

When flood waters have
risen, then receded,
leaving damage and ruin,
send us both to lift and listen.

When people fall
from heights, from favor,
from grace, equip us
to show your mercy.

When little ones are lost,
their stories unthinkable,
inhuman cruelty prevailing,
help us show that You care.

When we cannot fix it,
but can only love,
help us to show up
and represent on Your behalf.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, January 2006
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, January 2006

Last call (a prayer for pastors)

It’s the last morning of our summer,
and the youngest, 10,
goes to wake the next youngest, 20,
to be sure she is up for church.

20 and 10 at the National Zoo
20 and 10 visit otters at the National Zoo.

This afternoon he leaves
for one last week of camp,
and before he returns,
she goes for her Junior Year Abroad.

These beginnings hold an ending.

Next summer, who knows where she will be.

I remember a summer when the even older ones
(now 24 and 29) were only home together for an hour.
This year they live on opposite coasts.
They text a lot.
Sometimes they Google Hangout.
(I know that’s not a verb.)

One got home for a day.

At church today, I will look out
over a gathering grown smaller
in my year there,
counting losses by death
and absences due to infirmity.

A widower shifted his pew,
but just for a few weeks;
last Sunday, for Communion,
he was back in his old spot,
though his eyes welled.

Will these endings hold a beginning?

Sometimes we know when we have heard
the last call, the last tentative “Good morning?” –
the last wake-up of the summer.

We pray, don’t let it be the last of all.

Second-guessing (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,

It’s Sunday morning, early, and I am second-guessing my sermon.

Word-smithing cannot help me.
I am second-guessing,
calculating the day of the cycle,
wondering where my words will fall within it.

News outrage cycle

While I read think pieces
by people who got a day ahead of me,
and monitor the backlash,
the predictable cycle continues,
with a dash of conspiracy theories
and notes of white supremacy,
and fresh outrages of
people stalked
by officers of the law.

How is every day *not*
a day of outrage?

I backspace, rearrange,
try to land somewhere
between lament
and exhortation
because you did not
create us helpless,
and the power
to break the cycle
is ours.

(Any way *that* will preach?)

In your name, for your sake, I hope so. Amen.

The Storm (Throwback Thursday)

The Storm, written by students from Biloxi.
The Storm, written by students from Biloxi.

Our puppy, Teddy, has decided that books are the best chew toy. We’ve caught him several times in recent days surreptitiously removing a book from the bottom of our big Ikea shelf system in the living room. He started with coffee table books, lying down to gnaw the corners of volumes also recumbent due to their extreme height. Then he managed to drag a picture book out and across the floor, and he hit the mother lode: photographs of a post-Katrina trip to Mississippi tucked inside the pages of “The Storm.”

I am in one of those pictures, standing with a small group of children, outside their church, Handsboro United Methodist, where I offered pulpit supply and emergency coverage as a small gesture of support for a pastor on the Gulf Coast, ten days off to keep recovering from the physical and emotional damage of wind and water and loss. Months had gone by and great mounds of debris had been hauled away, but houses remained catty-corner to their original addresses while the people who had lived in them still sought safety.

With some of the children of Handsboro United Methodist Church, January 1, 2006.
With some of the children of Handsboro United Methodist Church, January, 2006.

The children are holding gifts sent by the people of Stevens Avenue Congregational Church UCC, where I was pastor. I traveled to Mississippi with a backpack full of gifts, tucked in the folds of a prayer shawl for their pastor.

In the picture, I’m wearing a dress from LLBean; I got it at a rummage sale for $3.00, at a church where I filled in just after seminary, a real score because it was unworn. That’s a pair of Birkenstock women’s loafers originally purchased for my oldest son when he was at that awkward size between boys’ shoes and men’s, worn by me for many years, through numerous re-heelings, re-solings. I wore a ponytail because a retired colleague’s wife said my hair looked unprofessional around my shoulders, but I kept it long to save money on haircuts.

I remember many things about that trip, the things I saw and many of the people I met and the stories they told me. I cannot forget the people who literally clung to tree branches to save themselves, who lost their brothers, or their dogs, or their homes, or even just their sense of direction.

It’s much harder to remember being someone who tried so hard to be so many things to so many people without leaving an imprint, who tried so hard to be ordinary and good and acceptable.

I want to tell her, “You have no idea of the storms that are coming. You will feel like a house off its foundation. You will learn what it’s like to perch precariously, clinging to what remains.”


And then I might whisper to her, “But keep hanging on, dear one, because beyond the storm there is hope. In the recovery from the storm, there is kindness, and love you won’t recognize at first. Don’t let go.”

Reading and Rabbit Holes (#amwriting)

Letters from the Farm
Letters from the Farm

I’m having a rabbit hole week as I read “Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life.” In the short chapters, Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms (a priest, a preacher, a speaker and an entrepreneur with a profound emphasis on healing) tells deceptively simple stories, then follows them with questions that go to the heart of things.

I’m particularly grappling with a chapter asking the reader to consider being cooperative rather than competitive. I like to think of myself as being pretty high-minded, raising up others, and I think I’ve done that in my work with RevGalBlogPals, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to feeling like I’m not much of a preacher or pastor or writer or spouse or mother or queer compared to ________ (whoever is the flavor of the month at those things, or has done them longer, or with wide success, or …).

Alice falling ...
Alice falling …

Since reading that chapter, I’ve been falling down a rabbit hole, passing these thoughts over and over, faster and faster:

“I should get back into spiritual direction to talk about these things, but where is the money for *that* going to come from since I am doing all these part-time jobs, and I haven’t been pursuing new writing assignments, and wow, I am really a terrible person for not working harder on that, but I’ve been very busy doing the *other* jobs, but I am not a full financial contributor what with the free-lancing, the part-time pastoring and the start-up ministry” and so forth.

Stevens asks, “Is it difficult for you to be generous to colleagues or neighbors?” That part is not so hard. The trouble is when I cannot see generosity in return – although I realize that is not the point of generosity, is it? Generosity is giving it away without worrying about how we rank on the world’s scorecard.

Then she asks, “Who could you view as your ally and colleague rather than your competitor?”

The launch down the rabbit hole is intense, as I grab at things I can’t hold in my hand, try to recall them in mental pictures and quick phrases as I fall farther. Can I hang on to that jar or pick out those titles on the shelves?

How much farther will I fall?

Answering the reflection questions in Stevens’ book feels like spiritual direction, although I miss having someone to talk to about the questions and feelings raised. This morning, instead of telling myself I’ll never be the one with the best-seller and the publicist (the one sending me advance copies of other people’s books), I’m remembering the ways I know my writing and my work with RevGals have touched others – and imagining the ways I don’t actually know about for sure. I’m considering that maybe all those jobs are too many jobs and picturing a different way of organizing my vocational life.

Alice eventually hits solid ground, then moves on through other adventures, attending tea parties and meeting Queens and finding her way home again. I will get up from the table at Starbucks and go home to real life, take the dog out, fix a sandwich, and then keep writing.