King’s gold

Today on the Ethical ELA Open Write, Kim Johnson challenged teacher-poets to try different versions of the Golden Shovel, which is typically created by borrowing one line of a poem or speech and using it as the beginning or ending words of each line of your own new poem. Kim encouraged using lines from Dr. King’s speeches, in honor of the day.

This is the first time I’ve attempted to write a triple Golden Shovel. I took three meaningful lines from “Letters from Birmingham Jail” – remembering that Dr. King was a minister:

-“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”(opening words to line 7)
-“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love” (somewhere in the middle, until last 4 lines)
-“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (ending words to line 8)

(Thank you, Kim – and Dr. King).

Lost and found

It’s a delicate rose-gold chain with crystal bezels. I don’t know its value, but my oldest son gave it to me some years ago, so to me it is priceless. I wear it every day on my right arm where it frequently catches the light and reminds me of him.

The last thing I do whenever I leave the house is pull it out from under my sleeve (if I am wearing long sleeves or a coat, and as temperatures were in the thirties this morning, I was wearing both).

When I reached for it today, the bracelet wasn’t there.

I had a busy morning ahead; I couldn’t stop to look for it.

I had to carry on without it.

In my mind, I retraced steps. I would look for it when I got home.

And so I did.

Wasn’t in the bed (I’d made it, surely I would have seen the bracelet if it was lying there).

Wasn’t on the floor, not anywhere that I could see. I used my phone flashlight so the bracelet would shine in the light…

I checked my closet, checked the sleeve of my pajamas and my warm red robe.

Not there.

Even checked my husband’s car; we went out for Mexican last night.

No.

“Do you think you lost it at the restaurant?” queried my husband.

“No, I didn’t even take my coat off and the sleeves are fastened close at the wrists. I don’t think it could have fallen out.”

It’s just a little bracelet but it’s irreplaceable.

My boy gave it to me.

Retracing, retracing…

I am a pretty good finder of things. I can usually retrace enough or recall what I was doing well enough to locate a lost thing. I ask myself: What makes sense?

Back to the closet.

It made sense that the bracelet might have come off when I changed out of my robe and pajamas, which I left folded on top of a storage box in there. I had already checked, but…it’s what made the most sense.

Shined my flashlight (again) on the closet floor.

Shook out the pjs.

No.

Shook the fuzzy red robe, ran my hand through the sleeve.

No.

Shined my flashlight on top of the storage box…

A glint of rose-gold, there in a crevice.

Found.

It’s safely back on my arm now.

So, I haven’t always been able to find a lost thing. Speaking of my boy, he lost a precious item when he was small. It’s a silver basketball pendant that belonged to his grandfather, who played the game in high school. His name is etched onto the pendant along with the year: 1935. My husband was wearing it on a silver chain when we first met. He explained that it belonged to his dad, who died when he was twelve. He said: “If I ever have a son, I am going to name him after my father.” And so, a few years later, our boy was born. He was named for my husband’s father. And he was given the basketball pendant on a silver chain when he was too young, really, to be mindful of it. One day it disappeared. We retraced our steps, hundreds of times, over the days, weeks, months. We have moved a couple of times since then. The pendant has never resurfaced. It’s silly, perhaps, to mourn for a thing, but such a loss is more than material; it’s for the history and person and love attached to it…I prayed many times that the little old basketball pendant from 1935, lost in the 1990s, might still find its way back to us someday.

It hasn’t yet.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t…

Spiritual journey: Awe

On the first Thursday of each month I write with fellow sojourners about our spiritual journeys. Margaret Simon leads the way on this first Thursday of 2022 with reflections on “one little word,” the writer-tradition of choosing a focus word for the year (thank you for hosting, Margaret).

This is the first time I have carried a word over from one year to the next.

Last year awe chose me by appearing in a quote on my planner when I had pretty much decided I wouldn’t choose a word. Perhaps the pandemic had left me jaded. Or simply too bone-tired to care. Nevertheless, there it was, an invitation to seek awe.

I accepted.

I never imagined all the awe that awaited in 2021.

The first grandchild was born into our family. Her big sister came to us by marriage at age three. She had been wishing for a little sister.

God is especially near to children.

Awe.

Baby Micah looks at me with the very eyes, from the very face, of my firstborn son. My husband and I wept at first sight of her.

Awe.

We lost one of our dearest friends in 2021. His last words to me were in response to one of my posts on awe: You are awesome in every way. Years ago he played Santa Claus at church for the children, when my oldest (the current new dad) was three. Nobody loved Christmas better; we spent every Christmas Eve together when my children were growing up.

He’s attained Heaven now. My youngest son, who’s become a funeral director apprentice, helped prepare his body for burial.

A symmetry, a grace.

Awe.

As the year ended last week, my family rescued a robin caught in the grille of a car after a trip down the interstate (read about it here if you like: The Robin). I couldn’t believe it was alive, that we were able to extricate it, or that it was soon hopping around my backyard eating worms in the unseasonably warm December.

Awe.

It chose me in 2021.

I am choosing it for 2022.

If you search the Internet for the benefits of awe, you will find lots of information: Awe reminds us that we are small parts of something vast and that’s good for us. It makes us care more for one another. It makes us healthier, calmer, more focused, more humble, less concerned for material things.

Spend time in nature and you’ll experience awe. Everything is connected, everything. I have seen a shy beige earth snake in the flowerbed glowing with bioluminescence. I have seen a deer running alongside dogs in a field, playing.

Spend time with children and you’ll experience awe. In the way that they see the world. In the way that they trust. And laugh. And dance. And sing. And love. Jesus said: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children (Matthew 11:25, ESV).

Write, and you will experience awe. Yesterday I wrote on an unusual paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” That line may stay with me forever. There is a flow, a pattern, a choreography to grace. As there is to the stars. Something too beautiful for words.

To realize that one is the recipient of God’s grace is awe. That He means for us to be free and not burdened is awe. That we exist at all, on this blue planet in the vast universe, is awe. That he wants us to learn of him is awe. That we play our short part in an ongoing story of humanity, forgiveness, redemption, and incomparable love, is awe. To know that unseen angels surround us is awe.

I know many stories like the one my grandmother told me, how people in farm communities nearly a century ago used to take turns sitting with someone who was sick and dying. It was Grandma’s turn to sit with the mother of her friend, Amanda. The old woman had been unresponsive for days, when all of a sudden, she sat up. Her face shone; she looked young again. She began to laugh: “Can you see them? Can you see them?”

She died that day. My grandmother never forgot the awe.

When it comes to spiritual journeys, be sure to invite it.

It is the fuel of eternity.

*******

also shared on SOS-Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, with special thanks to Ruth for the “unforced rhythms of grace” inspiration.

x

Unforced rhythms of grace

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
– Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Pay attention to the intricate patterns of your existence that you take for granted.
-Doug Dillon

It may feel like a wasteland
some days
nothing like you imagined
it would be

you might be challenged
to see
that anything of value
anything beautiful
lies within

but it does
it does
it always has

it dances, it sings

reveals hidden things

grace has a pulse
and beating wings

it believes

Girl in the Mirror. Gallery wrapped canvas, hanging in a hotel, Asheville, NC.

She reminds me of me, long ago.

*******

with thanks to Ruth Ayres, who posted this unusual version of the Matthew verse on SOS-Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. I suspect I will write again on learning the unforced rhythms of grace.

2021: A year of awe

Some people call it one word. Others call it one little word, abbreviated OLW. Either way it’s the tradition of choosing a focus word for a new year. Maybe even a new word for each month. Make of it what you will, how you will, the chosen word serves as a tool for reflection, a lens for living, a frame for your days.

At the outset of 2021, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word unless it was survival or endurance or possibly perseverance, none of which were inspiring or lyrical (shouldn’t your OLW strike deep chords in your spirit?). After 2020, I was tired. We were tired, all of us. It was a year that seemed liked ten. The world as we knew it changed overnight. Quarantine, separation, isolation, closed businesses, bare shelves at the stores, working from home, doing school online. Plans disrupted. Staggering losses of so many kinds. Grief. Rage. Despair. Navigating the unknown every single day. The COVID-troubled world kept turning but we almost didn’t recognize it or ourselves anymore…literally, behind the masks.

We hoped. We clung to our screens. We cherished every glimmer of light in the long, dark night of the soul. How long? we wondered. How long?

On the brink of 2021, as I wearily turned the page in my academic planner, I said something like this to myself: Forget the one little word thing. I don’t have the energy to think around it or write around it. What difference does it really make, anyway. After all, my word for 2020 was reclamation. I wrote in January, before the onslaught of COVID-19 in March, when everything shut down that Friday 13th for what we thought would be only two weeks: Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Note to self: Be careful what you wish for…

But then, then, turning that page… I discovered this quote, in tiny font, sitting on January 1, 2021, in my planner: Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you feel more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

I knew, then.

Whatever might come in 2021, I must look for awe. I must keep the door open for it. Anticipate it. Invite it.

There’s a psychology, a science, to awe. A savoring of life, an ineffable hope, a spark of joy, an inhaled breath of wonder at the wonders all around, a reverence. It can make you feel more altruistic…desiring to benefit others at your own expense…can the world not use more of this?

I sat in awe of this revelation…and that is the story of awe choosing itself as my word for this year, now in its final days.

It’s everywhere, awe.

In fragile periwinkle flowers poking through the January snow, in the piercing cry of a red-tailed hawk, in the flight of an eagle near enough for me to see its white head. In the resilience of children learning from home and in their happy dogs who attended class with them. In my own dog, who slept in my lap during those long hours online. In colleagues who stopped resisting new learning in the hardest of times and began embracing it…and each other. In children learning to read despite all, in one student pointing to a new word, “trombone” (without a picture), and telling me I don’t know how to say it, but it’s a musical instrument. In resuming church services and eventually singing hymns again. In the return of the little finches which have built a nest on my front door wreath every year except for 2020. In the gift of new life…in the announcement that my son and his wife were expecting a baby in the fall. In the long summer of anticipating, in finally making it to the ocean again, in seeing how seabirds stood on the shore, protecting one of their own that was missing a foot. In passing three white horses in a grassy meadow on morning drives to school, reminding me of a game my father taught me to play on long journeys when I was a child (I have a lot of thirty-point days now, Daddy). In teaching poetry again, in seeing the kids’ faces light up with their own writing discoveries. I wrote a lot of poetry in 2021; much of it centered on awe.

I have so much more to write. I am awed by what my sons have accomplished this year, one as a minister, the other as a funeral assistant and musician. I am awed by other people who say your boys have blessed me.

Baby girl Micah arrived at the end of October. Her big sister’s wish, come true.

Christmas Eve at my house, 2021

Awe abounds. It waits to be found. Just like the little present placed in my stack on Christmas Eve during our family gathering.

That’s especially for you, Franna, said my daughter-in-law.

I opened it.

Micah’s tiny handprint, in white plaster.

Awe.

And tears. Too overcome for words.

My daughter-in-law didn’t know the story. One day I will tell Micah about the handprint I made for my grandmother so long ago, how it hung on her bedroom wall for over thirty years…

Awe. Awe. Awe. Life in its abundance, making full circles. Light to be found, even in the darkest season. The treasure of having each other. Love, blessing, wonder, the gift of life itself, all from the hand of Almighty God.

I see no reason whatsoever for changing to a new word in 2022.

Wishing awe to you all – each new day with its waiting treasures

*******

with much love and gratitude to the Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. There is sustaining power in writing. There is more in a writing community.

Fatherlight

For Micah

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. —James 1:17 (KJV)

The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. —Zephaniah 3:17 (NKJV)

He carries you close
to his heart, walking you through
every brand-new day


Young theologian
experiencing
, with tears,
depths of fatherlove

Fierce. Sacrificial.
Sustaining. Protective. Sweet.
Miraculous. Yes

He would give himself
to keep you safe from all harm
his love is that great


I understand this
I carried him just like this
when he was newborn


Precious tiny girl
gift from the Father above
gloriously loved

There’s always a light
in the longest, darkest night

for God is at work.

How I love you both – Franna

Christmas calf

I happen to glimpse it
before the parade

plodding along
behind glitter-bright floats
and antique cars
and draft horses
hitched to a buggy, stomping
their silky feathered feet

a lone calf
wearing a Santa hat
and a red gingham wrap
decorated with tinsel.

Something in its demeanor
makes me pause.

I think it’s humility.

Head bowed
in its bright-red halter

being led
to take its place
on the hay-strewn float
sponsored by its stable.

I watch the calf
standing, waiting
(for what, it must have wondered
or maybe it didn’t question at all,
but only trusted)

and I remember phrases
in a book I loved
when I was a child:
the sweet breath of patient cows

a sort of peaceful smell as though
nothing bad could happen
ever again in the world

and that’s exactly the feeling I get
for one fleeting moment
looking at this Christmas calf

standing completely at peace
in what surely must seem
chaos, cacophony,
and absurd carnival color.

And so I step over
just before the parade

to absorb its calm
to look into its big, gentle eyes
to read its docile expression.

He lets me pet him
and scratch behind
his big black ear

his hair is thick
like a rug

he is warm
so warm

—You are beautiful,
I say.

The Christmas calf
so still
and sweet

gives me an almost
imperceptible nod

his two tiny horns
poking through his Santa cap

not knowing
the simple
pure and deep
sense of reverence
he somehow imparts.

I cannot help thinking,
Lord, let me be
as good
and uncomplaining
and patient
a creature.

*******
Such a gentle calf. The owners invited me to pet him.
He is a year old.

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Writing Challenge

On waiting: Spiritual journey

All dressed for church
waiting for our ride
because Mama doesn’t drive
never got her license:
I get too nervous, she says—

so we wait while she watches
through the picture window
where I see our reflection: 
Mama, little sister, and me
against the empty street beyond

after a while she says
you might as well change
we have been forgotten

her voice is strange 
and when I look up
there are tears

sliding down her cheeks.

excerpt, “Picture Window.” Draft poem, F. Haley

On the first Thursday of each month, a group of us teacher-writer-blogger-believers post spiritual journey reflections. Today Chris Margocs hosts our gathering on her blog, Horizon 51. We are writing around the theme of “waiting, with a side of hope.”

Earlier this year I wrote those lines above, remembering the scene from long ago. My mother had asked another church member to please stop by and pick us up. We waited, and waited…until my mother understood the ride wasn’t coming. And cried.

I might have been six or seven. I wasn’t too upset about changing my clothes (likely a dress made by my mother) and not going to church. But I was sorry for my mother’s sadness. I couldn’t understand being forgotten.

My childhood pastor once preached on Isaiah 49:15: Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

I couldn’t understand that either, at the time: How can a mother forget her child? It seemed impossible, inconceivable…

Decades later, as a mother and grandmother myself, I decorate for Christmas with exceeding great joy because of the new baby in our family. As I plan and wrap and make preparations, humming along to holiday music, I can’t imagine ever forgetting my sons, my little granddaughters. I would cease to be me if I did. They’re such joys. Layer upon layer of richness and fullness on all of my days. But mothers can forget. They do forget. There are mental health issues. Addictions. Illnesses. Diseases. Destroyed relationships. A number of things can separate a child from a mother’s love and from her memory.

The Apostle Paul wrote: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

How this links to God’s promise in Isaiah: I will not forget you.

Christmas is a reminder of exactly that.

We are not forgotten; we are not alone. The prophet Isaiah, again: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (7:14).The Gospel of Matthew repeats this prophecy as fulfillment in the first chapter detailing the genealogy and birth of Christ: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (1:23).

Words that resonate. God with us. Every day, all the time. How long a wait it was—around eight centuries—from Isaiah’s prophecy to the coming of Christ.

A long, long wait…but we were not forgotten.

That church member from long ago apologized profusely to my mother for failing to pick us up that day. My mother, I presume, graciously forgave. Whenever the weather was nice, we walked to church, my mother, my little sister, and me. I couldn’t know then that my childhood pastor would ordain my future husband to the pastorate one day. I just walked along, hoping Mama would take us to Hardee’s for lunch afterward. The Looney Tunes glasses we collected from those after-church excursions remain in my cabinet to this day, much as memories rest on the shelves of my mind. They are a treasure. I do not want to forget.

My childhood pastor would eventually tell me that when the church’s bus ministry began, my mother was the first person to sign up. No more waiting for rides that might not show. God provided the vehicle to get us where we needed to go.

He always does. In the fullness of time.

Even now, I hear the distant chiming of those church bells of years long gone:

Savior, Savior
hear my humble cry
while on others Thou are calling
do not pass me by.

He hears. He is here. He remembers.

So do I, Mama.

one of my favorite Christmas cards

*******

with thanks to Chris and all my dear Spiritual Journey friends

a blessed Advent to all
the first candle lit on the Advent wreath this week symbolizes hope


Thanksgiving legacy

I once read of a young woman preparing her kitchen for Passover. Amid the traditional cleaning and purging, she had a sense of taking her place in the long line of women who had done so before her, throughout history. As if the rituals of tradition invoked their presence, for within the actions lie inextricable, unbroken threads of purpose, holiness, praise, gratitude…

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I have a similar sensation. Driving to the grocery store, armed with a list of ingredients for foods that my children have requested (deviled eggs and carrot cake chief among them), I am enchanted by autumn’s alchemy. Late afternoon sun gilds the trees along the roadside. The blending of red, orange, bronze, some trees already bare, preparing for winter…for a moment, for mere seconds, I imagine there are figures running through these flickering sunlit woods. If I could look long enough, or just right, I might catch glimpses of people as they were in times past, maybe even my childhood self. Burnished memories still living, beckoning…snapshot scenes of Thanksgivings, with card tables set up for the children. Heads bowed in prayer. My grandfather’s humble blessing, his knobbled, work-worn hands. Grandma’s deviled eggs and potato salad, Mama’s carrot cake (the hit of every holiday gathering), Grannie’s rum pound cake…lifting that big old Tupperware lid, the first whiff nearly knocking me down, but the moist golden richness after…incomparable. I find myself yearning for a slice of it now.

In the process of cleaning and preparing for the holidays I reorganized a closet. I found a box of Grandma’s things. Letters and cards given to her over the years, her green-bronze jewelry box containing her clip-on “earbobs”. Old photos. Books and trinkets I’d given her. Her diaries, dating back to when I was twelve. Programs from my school plays. Her funeral program. And I think about how life is the story of love, sacrifice, survival. How she and Grannie did much with little, raising children during the Great Depression. How they held faith and family above all else…how they do not feel far from me, even now, as I write these words. My own granddaughter, their great-great granddaughter, will be four weeks old on Thanksgiving Day. I have a profound sense of taking my place in a hallowed line of legacy and love. With abiding gratitude. And joy, shining like the immutable sun on the autumn trees, in the ongoing story of survival. The turning of pages, new chapters, in a gilt-bound book…

Here’s to all the blessings that were, are, and are still to come.

Our precious Micah

Reflections of gratitude: Spiritual journey

For my newborn granddaughter, Micah

What shall I tell you about the day you were born?

Your Grandpa and I were waiting in the carpool line to pick your big sister up from kindergarten when your dad texted: Micah is here! 9 lbs!

Gratitude flooded our hearts as photos flooded our phones.

We wept at sight of you. Your sister would say “happy cried.”

Looking at your beautiful rosy face, a thousand thoughts fluttered in my mind, like birds descending from the azure sky, landing one by one on soft, moss-covered branches…

I remembered it was supposed to storm that day, and it didn’t; the late October sun shone for all it was worth, illuminating the countryside with brilliant gold, orange, yellow, and scarlet.

I forgot the shadows, worries, and grind of daily life.

I remembered the story of my own birth, told over and over to me by my grandmother: She, Daddy, Granddaddy, and Grannie stood looking at me through the nursery window, Grandma “happy cried,” Daddy said I looked just like Granddaddy.

I forgot to be sad about not going to the hospital to see you on the day you were born due to limited visitors in COVID protocols.

I remembered that I’d be able to come the next day, and that it would suffice.

I forgot there was even a pandemic.

I remembered the joy of your father’s birth, the fierce motherlove which surged in my veins, which surges still, and exponentially now, for you.

I forgot about fearing my own inadequacies.

I remembered to wear Grandma’s locket.

I forgot, until your curious big sister opened it, that your father’s newborn picture was nestled inside.

I remembered the promises of God, that blessings fall on the generations of those who love Him, my precious, precious baby Micah, daughter and granddaughter of pastors: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9, ESV).

I have never forgotten that.

Thankful for the infinite grace of God. Love you always, Micah. – Franna

********

with thanks to Denise Krebs for hosting November’s Spiritual Journey Thursday group, with a focus on gratitude.

and also to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I am deeply grateful for you all.