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.

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

The pin

Every December I open the small cardboard box, remove the pin, and place it on my winter dress coat.

This is the fifteenth year.

The box is now timeworn but the little poinsettia still sparkles like it did the day I bought it. There it was, right by the checkout counter where I purchased black hose to wear to my grandmother’s funeral.

Not one poinsettia pin.

Three of them, just alike.

I bought them all.

I packed them for the journey to my grandparents’ hometown. The setting of so many idyllic childhood summers, so many holiday and birthday gatherings.

It happened to be her ninety-first birthday when the family gathered at the funeral home on that cold winter’s night.

She was born the day after Christmas. Used to chuckle about not having anything to look forward to the rest of the year, with her wedding anniversary, Christmas, and birthday all in December. But she loved the season more than anyone I’ve ever known. Sending and receiving cards. Baking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. Glass ornaments and colorful lights on the tree. Gifts in festive paper, old-fashioned hard candy in the candy dish. Collecting angel figurines and bells across the years. The aged, sepia-toned Nativity scene atop the piano. Going to church. Carols. Snowfall. Candles in the windowsills, shining in the night. Little children with wonderstruck expressions. She loved it all. She exuded holiday joy.

It was her season.

One of my favorite old photos was taken at Christmas when I was a baby: Granddaddy holds a new shotgun. Grandma holds a poinsettia. It’s their first Christmas as grandparents. Her face is radiant.

I would give her a poinsettia every Christmas in her later years. She would exclaim over each one: Oh, it’s just beautiful!

It had to be red, like her season. Like her name. Ruby. Deep red, precious. Bright as the cardinals that also enchanted her.

I knew she would leave at Christmastime. Seemed written in the stars.

And she did. The day before Christmas Eve.

The holiday was a blur. Arrangements were made. The visitation set for the twenty-sixth because there wasn’t time before Christmas Day.

I would speak at her service the following day. I would read Proverbs 31: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…

I would ask that her favorite Christmas song be played. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…the first song she taught me how to play on her chord organ, when I was around four or five. Her hands guided my fingers along the keys.

I would find the tiny old church of my happy childhood summers laden with red poinsettias. Christmas remnants. I would recall someone giving her a silk poinsettia after she went into the nursing home, and how she lovingly watered it…dementia erasing pieces of the mind, of memory, leaving fragments intact.

I arrived early for the visitation. There was something I needed to do.

Three poinsettia pins, just alike.

I wore one on my coat. I gave one to her last living child, my aunt, who met me at the casket. And I leaned in to pin the third one on the lapel of her suit.

She would be buried with her last poinsettia.

Merry Christmas and happy birthday, Grandma. Sleep in heavenly peace.

December comes again, and again I wear my pin. She is near. In the songs, in the lights, in the color, in the spirit, in the story. As undiminished as brilliant cardinals against the wintertime world.

It is forever her season.

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

On fire and prayer

On the last Monday of October I drive to work in pre-dawn darkness as deep as midnight. Rounding bends on deserted backroads past unlit houses, gaping stubbled fields, hulking shapes of farm equipment, shadowed barns, patches of woods, when off in the distance, through silhouetted tree trunks—fire.

A bonfire. Tall flames, bright orange against the blackness, undulating skyward. Startling. So Halloween-esque. Hauntingly beautiful in its way except….I can’t tell what’s burning. Probably trash. The fire seems large for that, and before sunrise? I am too far away to see anything but the fire itself. I cannot see smoke or smell it. No screaming sirens. No alarms. Only silence, stillness…should I investigate to be sure? The road twists and turns, demanding my attention, and as I reach a tricky intersection where a few sets of headlights from opposite directions approach and pass, I realize: I’ve lost sight of the fire now. I am not sure of its location. Somewhere close by it’s burning, consuming, destroying, I hope nothing precious, nothing of value… and so I cross the intersection, praying it is controlled until extinguished.

On I drive in the darkness, shivering.

I think of anger.

*******

Fire, anger. The contrast of being controlled, purifying, and righteous, or uncontrolled to the point of destroying, intentionally or not, what is precious, valued, and loved. Thinking of that fire throughout the day yesterdaythere were no reports of damagereminded me of a poem I wrote last week:

Why I Pray

In the absence of peace,
I pray.

When my mind cannot fathom
or even form questions,
I pray.

When I am weary
of injustice, of sifting truth and lies,
when my inner well has run dry,
I pray.

I pray for power beyond my own.

To overcome the red-hot dagger of fury,
that I should not wield it,
thereby scarring others
and myself.
To knit words of healing instead,
one by one, 
like snowflakes falling
to form a blanket of blessing,
a holy hush.

Freeing myself by forgiving
myself
as well as others,
feeling the weight drop away.

That quickening sense of awe,
for even if I cannot call
fire from Heaven (thankfully),
I can move mountains of ice
in my own heart.

Because, as long as I live,
I will battle need, loss, and fear, 
trusting that love conquers all
—its beating wings in my heart,
forever my reason 
to pray
again.

*******

with thanks to Andy Schoenborn for the “Embrace your why” prompt and the mentor poem written by a student, shared on Ethical ELA’s Open Write last week.

and to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge, always encouraging “a world of reflective writers”—so needed.

Photo: Burning fire at nightwuestenigel. CC BY 2.0

Here

a Spiritual Journey offering

in memory of my father

and in honor of Micah, my granddaughter
who will be born later this month

*******

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again…
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — 

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

October is here
and with it, memory:
it is the month

of my father’s birth.
I am here
because he was here
once upon a time.

October is here
and with it, wild geese

coming home.
My father loved them
like he loved planes
in the wild blue yonder
of his service years

when he was young.
At his funeral procession
a flock of wild geese
stood by in solemn ranks.

He chose to be buried here
so Air Force jets
would fly over his grave

every day.

October is here
with its fiery oranges, reds, golds
and heartrending blue.
Blazing colors that are here
for just a little while,
coming and going
before the long sleep
and eventual rewakening
.

October is here
with its bright story
of permanence
cloaked in

the temporary darkness
of impermanence.

October is here
with its beckoning to
see, smell, taste, feel, know
life in all of its spice

and fullness,
never bound by a calendar,
a schedule, a checklist…

October is here
with its own organic order,
a natural reminder

of all our comings and goings
and of the taking of one’s place
in the family of things
.

October is here.
You will soon be here
,
firstborn child
of my firstborn child
.
I, too, am
the firstborn child
of a firstborn child
.
My father named me
for his mother.
Your father named you
for God

by whose infinite grace
I am here
to see your coming.

A downy-soft blanket and a whole lot of love are here awaiting you, little precious one.
Your name is one of ancient faith and praise: “Who is like God?”

*******

with much gratitude to Ramona Behnke, who inspired our monthly Spiritual Journey Thursday group to write around the word “here” with this quote from Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, Episode 188: You Are Here (And It Matters):


“What if you being all the way here actually mattered, with your cold feet and your stomachache and the light shining through the window. You with your stack of books, by the bedside table and hopeful feeling inside your heart. You with your deep grief, over a loss you thought you’d be over by now, standing in the kitchen while you microwave your coffee. For now, this is true. So what is true of you? And do you really believe God is with you no matter what? That you are not alone, that you don’t have to be you all by yourself? Here’s to being where you already are. Fully present with all that is true. And then here’s to doing your next right thing in love.”

*******


September morningsong

-a pantoum-

Just outside my window
an unexpected song
so loud and full of joy
I want to sing along


An unexpected song
bright spirit, wild and free
I want to sing along

until you fly from me

Bright spirit, wild and free
winging your doxology
until you fly
from me
I’m clinging to your singing

Winging your doxology

so loud and full of joy
I’m clinging to your singing
just outside my window.

The Carolina wren is a little bird with a big voice. I’ve been trying for days to get a photo of this regular visitor perched on our birdhouse church. I finally managed it this morning. As wrens are a common symbol for artists, musicians, and poets, a poem seemed called for. The pantoum form beckoned, with the rhythms of its moving, repeated lines (per new line, in stanzas of four: 1234 2546 5768 7381).

The wren also represents rebirth, immortality, and protection. It is considered a guide through dark times.

Mostly I am awed by its glorious singing.