This is love to me

It's kind of hard to believe it's been 25 years today since that snowy day in Logan, Utah, when these two kids launched into the crazy glorious challenging leap-of-faith venture of marriage. The snow had closed the canyon by the end of our reception so we were stranded in the valley and delayed in leaving on our honeymoon. Instead, we stayed in our newly rented tiny tiny basement apartment on 4th North and the next morning we went back to my parents' house and ate leftover reception cream puffs with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins and opened presents, complete with mildly raucous comments from the spectators. Love and happiness was all around and we felt it.

I've written often about G and will write more, I'm sure, but today I want to borrow other writers' words that I've underlined lately. As my kids get closer to marriage age I think as much about them on my anniversary as I do about my own marriage: what I hope for them, how I hope they find a partnership that brings them as much joy as mine has. In that spirit, here are a couple of passages I think beautifully sum up what I hope that most intimate, vulnerable of relationships will be for them--it's about as far away from the however-many-shades culture as you can get but it's worth waiting for and hoping for and working for, the room you build together within a marriage:

"The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all in your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room? If you want to know why even in telling of trouble and sorrow I am giving thanks, this is why." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"It would be again like the coming of the rhymes in a song, a different song, this one, a long song, the rhymes sometimes wide apart, but the rhymes would come. The rhymes came. But you may have a long journey to travel to meet somebody in the innermost inwardness and sweetness of that room. You can't get there just by wanting to, or just because the night falls. The meeting is prepared in the long day, in the work of years, in the keeping of faith, in kindness." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech.  This love is silent." (T. S. Eliot)

Title stolen from this favorite love song from The Light in the Piazza, which I loved from the moment I saw at its Lincoln Center debut. Swoon.

Dear Kathleen

“I don’t want you to miss out on the world, is all” is what you said when you gave me the money. Two thousand one hundred ninety four dollars, written on a green check in your beautiful loopy shaky handwriting. Pay to the order of Miss Tess Petersen. Your hand went to your buttoned collar at your throat and then to your handkerchief tucked in your sleeve at your wrist. 

“You shouldn’t miss the chance to go.” 

I nodded and you placed your hand on my arm and leaned forward to whisper, glancing toward the next room.  

“It’s from my very own account. He doesn’t need to know anything about it."

The check, I would come to understand much later, represented years of household pin money squirrelled away from grocery budgets—bits of independence bought by small frugal sacrifices and accumulated by a few leftover quarters and dollars and dimes at a time. Grandfather was generous in his own way but not with leeway on the household budget, as you know. And not casual about his patriarchy.

You remember. I had been working and saving for this chance to study in London but had arrived at a sudden shortfall of funds that jeopardized the whole thing. A bit in denial, I hadn’t yet notified the program that I wouldn’t be coming after all.  I hadn’t told you about this, though; Dad must have. 

And so, voluntarily and without fanfare, you liquidated your hidden fund. Did you feel its loss? Did you foresee, even then, your words and memories slipping away and the cruel, accelerated decline toward the end? (These questions only come now. Despite my relief and gratitude, my thoughts were not of you that day, not really.) 

I took the check and probably hugged you. “Thank you, Gran.”

You waved away my gratitude, scenting the air with roses. In the way you looked at me just then I felt known. I knew you saw me fully, not just as one of your dozens of grandchildren but me--aspiring, tentative, oblivious, hopeful, scared nineteen-year-old me.

“Write it all down, Tessie. Send me a postcard and tell me how it is.”

Even as I turned and walked toward the door, I sought a life frankly different than yours, with your tidy rows of canning jars filled with sweet pickles and quiet background servitude. But what did I know--what did I know?!--of the tender sacrifices a life requires. 

And so I went, your freedom money crinkling in my pocket. 

I love when artists share little sketches and studies on their way to the finished product. Writers and Authors seem to play it a little closer, going underground until the whole thing is through. I have no talent for that kind of clandestine patience, though, and am hardly a capital W Writer--more of a sketcher and dreamer at this point. This is a little fiction snippet loosely based on an experience with my grandma Kathleen (who, incidentally, would be 100 this year) but re-imagined as a sliver of another story.


Maddy in the Middle East

Alternative title: Spying on my Daughter in the Middle East

Maddy's home safe and sound and full of stories of her adventure to the Middle East. While she was gone she decided to save money and only access the internet when she could find wi-fi so I relied on (=spied on) the rest of her group for photos and updates via social media. (Because what's a mama to do otherwise?) Luckily they did not disappoint. For our family archives, here are a mix of photos (some theirs, some hers) in roughly chronological order from Dubai to Amman to Petra to Jerusalem:

Some of her highlights included:

  • going to Petra and seeing the incredible ancient carved city there
  • riding across the desert in the back of a truck, camping at the Captain's Camp at Wadi Rum overnight in traditional Bedouin tents, seeing the night sky over the desert, dancing and playing games with her group and the local staff in the tents
  • meeting with and learning from inspiring people who are doing great work in the middle east region: UNICEF, UNDP projects (United Nations Development Programmes) in Amman and Jerusalem, the Australian Embassy in Jordan, the Hand-in-Hand school. Since she was there as a UN Youth Australia delegate they had arranged some pretty terrific and enlightening consultations with organizations throughout the trip.
  • teaching at the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem, a bilingual Jewish/Palestinian school that promotes understanding and peace building in the rising generation. (Maddy said that the school was attacked by arsonists in November but the school has been firm and inspiring in their aim to promote peaceful co-existence. The surrounding community came out in strong support in the aftermath.)
  • seeing Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, the Church of the Nativity, Gethsemane and other holy sites (though she said that the group and guide she was with approached these sites with more of an architectural and anthropological flavor)

She slept for twelve hours straight when she got home and now she's transitioning back to regularly scheduled programming: working back into the dishes/chores rotation, resuming inside jokes with Sam, catching up with her friends, and commencing a job hunt.  

On being prodigal and otherwise

Spiritual development has been on my mind lately, partly because it's a natural topic when you're a mother of teens and young adults, partly because I love to think about anything development related, and partly--mainly--because I've been thinking about my own in this midstage of life. Let's see if I can wrangle these thoughts into words.

In my church (as with life, actually), there are a parade of milestones that happen in the first 20-30 years of your life--covenants and rites of passage that serve as religious training wheels and give a sense of spiritual momentum. After that flurry, I have found the next phase to be a different kind of challenging in the quest to sustain progression in what seems like a developmentally stagnant time.  

No matter the religion, there is understandably a lot of ministering effort centered around helping people navigate the dangers and perils of the rapids of the first stage; the second has been somehow portrayed as kind of paddling around in a serene lake, trailing fingers in the water while we endure to the end.  In my experience that lake can boast some pretty strong undercurrents--they are different challenges, to be sure, and we rarely address them but they're there. 

Christian writer Ronald Ronheiser, in his new book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturitymakes the point that spirituality and discipleship have stages and seasons and, accordingly, different challenges and tasks. (The developmentalist in me stood up and cheered! Seriously, I could not stop underlining this book.)  He explains:

The first phase, essential discipleship, is the struggle to get our lives together.* 
The second phase, mature discipleship, is the struggle to give our lives away.

In the first phase we struggle largely with external things, physical appetites, and our place in the world--who to be. In the second phase the struggle is more internal as we figure out how to be (and specifically how to focus away from ourselves and be generous--a la Erickson's stage of generativity). To illustrate his point he uses the parable of the prodigal son in a really interesting way: 

"Someone once quipped that we spend the first half of our lives struggling with the sixth commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery) and the second half of our lives struggling with the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill). That may be a simplification but it is a fertile image. Indeed the famous parable of the prodigal son and his older brother can serve as a paradigm for this: the prodigal son, illustrating the first half of life, is very much caught up in the fiery energies of youth and is, metaphorically, struggling with the devil; the older brother, illustrating the second half of life, struggling instead with resentment, anger, and jealousy, is metaphorically and in reality, wrestling with God" (page 6).

Watercolor by Chien Chung Wei, 2014

Watercolor by Chien Chung Wei, 2014

I've been mulling this over a lot lately. I'd always thought the parable simply described two different kinds of people. (And it's a parable so it thankfully begs many different interpretations.)  I love this different approach to thinking of it in terms of illustrating a developmental progression for each of us. And I'm always going to applaud an interpretation of a passage that forces us to apply the whole thing to our own selves rather than thinking in terms of us and them.

I had also somehow assumed "prodigal" meant wayward and rebellious but in actuality its definition is more about being lavishly abundant and extravagant. As in (aha! lightbulb moment!) prodigious. So the prodigal son went overboard, wrapped up in the abundance and sensory overload of life, producing and consuming and spending (time, energy, money) until he was depleted. (I can relate.)  

In contrast the older son struggles with his internal landscape of jealousy and comparisons and ideas of fairness. His developmental crisis is all about learning to be generous and to throw away the scorecard. While the younger son's challenge is to put himself in the right place, the older son's challenge and task is to put his heart in the right place. This developmental place represented by the older son in the parable asks us to refine ourselves and better embody what we believe. I love Rolheiser's suggestions on some of the invitations of mature discipleship. (They're not for wimps!):

  • be willing to carry more and more of life's complexities with empathy
  • let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul
  • forgive
  • live in gratitude
  • be wide in your embrace
  • bless more and curse less (as in give love/support not spite/complaint)

It's been so enlightening to have spiritual development articulated this way--and helpful in several arenas in my life beyond the spiritual (like parenting, education, career, relationships, creativity, life aspirations) as I continue to try to figure out what it means to truly be a grown-up--in the gospel and otherwise--while admittedly still reverting to some prodigal ways now and then, too. 

There's a third person (and phase) in the parable, of course--the father. I have a lot of thoughts cartwheeling around about that one but I'll save that for another day of rambling. 

*Ronheiser's earlier book The Holy Longing addresses this first phase

Signature smells

Last week at dinner we were talking about our favourite scents, the ones that would be our unique love potion smells (a la Harry Potter, where Hermione's was freshly mown grass and new parchment). They're pretty accurate snapshots of each of us:

  • Sam: Rain and bacon
  • Maddy: new books, old books, and root beer
  • Lauren: [edited to add hers, sent via email]: incense (because India) and fresh ocean breeze
  • Annie: wood fire in a fireplace + that fresh smell next to a stream in a canyon (so basically standing on the deck at Wildwood) and lemon
  • Greg: freshly mown hay on a Virginia summer evening, barbecue, and vanilla

What about you? What would be your love potion smell?