Collaborative Spirit

I will call it
as I see it
from the ever-shifting sands
at the shoreline
looking out
over the vast and raging sea
called School
nowadays

so much debris
in those rolling waves
flotsam and jetsam
of curriculum
of standards
a wreckage of data
certainly broken systems
and even “learning decay”
-phew-
how’s that
for positivity

it is not
that I don’t have faith

I do

I believe in kids

I believe in teachers

I believe in overcoming

I also believe
everyone doesn’t believe

and I know
as I hear the crashing waves
and the gnashing teeth
that the current
will drown us all
if we pull
apart

if only
if only
I could build a sturdy ship
I’d name it
Collaborative Spirit

and
if I could just get everyone
on board

we’d sail
over
and through
and beyond
what we can even
imagine

together

it’s just that
one person
can’t build a ship
(or relation-ship)
alone

no

building the
Collaborative Spirit
takes all hands
on deck

that’s how I call it
that’s how I see it
from the ever-shifting sands
at the shoreline
looking out
over the vast and raging sea
called School
nowadays

Wooden ship on the Rupsa River (Bangladesh). joiseyshowaa. CC BY-SA 2.0

Sunday is a stillness

Sunday is a stillness
in my week
not restful
for a pastor’s family
but restorative
and right
the church standing tall
like a father
doors like open arms
welcoming the penitent child
wrapping me
in belonging

Sunday is a stillness
in my spirit
ever how fierce or frayed
ever how dismayed
like a calming infusion
like a healing balm
the stillness seeps
so deep, so deep
for in all the unholiness
the holy remains

Sunday is a stillness
in my life
for the living
for the forgiving
for the remembering
for the mattering
for my walking in the footsteps
of those who walked before me
in the rhythms of grace
singing old songs of belief
through all our yesterdays
until our eternal Sunday
comes at last.

Metaphor dice

Today I played with metaphor dice for the first time.

The goal is to create a metaphor from a concept, an adjective, and an object.

I rolled guilt, stingy, odyssey.

What to make of this?

Guilt is a stingy odyssey
a relentless clutching on
the pearl-string of your days

its sweaty palms
obscuring nacreous elegance
choking your moments

whispering always
through clenched teeth
that you have no real worth


if you listen
the days roll on
like cement slabs

slamming end over end
one heavy turn at a time
every next day
just like the one before
—testify, Sisyphus

guilt is a stingy odyssey
whether true or self-imposed
it is unwilling to loosen its grasp
for if you should break free

and alter your course

you will discover
unforced rhythms of grace.

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.

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


Against the zeitgeist: lines of gratiku

Today, a “sick-out”:
cafeteria workers
protest for more pay

District wrote parents:
“Staff shortages mean no meals”
-but not at my school

Today I thank you,
beautiful food providers,
for still being there

greeting the long lines
of children coming to eat,
for your loving words

Today I thank you,
bus drivers, who kept rolling
despite a protest

that kept many kids
from getting to school, again
-except for my school

Today I thank you,
my superhero colleagues,
for coming to work

for you are the glue
keeping pieces together
for kids, for us all

again reminding
collaborative spirits
always win the day

*******

and thanks always to
Two Writing Teachers for space
and place to express









Try

inspired by Ruth Ayres on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
Ruth quotes Elon Musk:
“If something is important enough, you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure.

Begs the question: What is ‘failure’? Who gets the final say? Surely not the inner critic…

I shall try…

to believe, during the darkest night
to seek the infinite ribbons of light

to love more, to judge less
to concentrate on words that bless

to remember my job is a livelihood, not my life
to free myself of unnecessary strife

to not crumble under self-defined defeat
to keep trying, and trying, again to complete

daily acts of grace, others and self forgiving,
thereby seizing the joy of living

trusting the sense of second sight
urging me always to write, to write.





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

Poignant poise

(a pantoum)

Little seabird with only one foot
Standing perfectly balanced at the shore
You’re so calm, so still
Despite wind-ruffled feathers


Standing perfectly balanced at the shore
You’re a picture of grace
Despite wind-ruffled feathers
For you aren’t alone


You’re a picture of grace
Safeguarded, transcending
For you aren’t alone
Flanked by faithful friends keeping watch


Safeguarded, transcending
You’re so calm, so still
Flanked by faithful friends keeping watch

Little seabird, with only one foot.

As best I can determine, this is a laughing gull, already wearing winter plumage. I thought it was merely standing on one leg before realizing the other foot was gone. I have since learned that such sightings are common: many gulls lose feet and legs when they become entangled in fishing nets while hunting for food. What you cannot see in this close-up are two fellow gulls standing nearby, looking in different directions like bodyguards. I was struck by the poignant poise of this little shorebird and the proximity of the others. Gulls are symbols of adaptability, resourcefulness, community, survival, and strength. Maybe even uncommon grace.

*******

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