Worth a Thank You

My daughter frequently asks to listen to the Moana song, “You’re Welcome” in which the demigod sings a self enthused celebration about how much he’s given to the people of the islands around him. It’s a fun song, as long as you remember that the song is making fun of people who think too highly of themselves. My two year old has learned words and motions for much of the song, and enjoys it when my husband and I sing along.

Doesn’t it feel like there are all too many people telling us we should be grateful for things that we didn’t need in the first place? Or perhaps I simply feel that there are people who expect thanks for things I didn’t want to have happen. I am reticent to acknowledge folks who require thanks for what they have done.

A thank you is far more genuine when it is unexpected; I want to thank someone when they’ve done something surprising or sacrificial, when I’ve not expected to find or receive the gift that is presented.

It’s funny, we were traveling in DC this past weekend on the metro and I think I was given a seat to sit in far more regularly than when I was further along with my previous pregnancy during our trip in NYC. Not that this is a comment on the metro riders of either city: it was still chilly in NYC when we were there while it was hot the whole time we were in DC, and the clothes I wear when I am pregnant can sometimes greatly reveal my changing shape and sometimes deeply conceal how I am bearing another human being. Also, traveling with a toddler might have affected the responses of strangers.

I most want to thank people who did something outside themselves. The act can be as simple as giving up a seat on a metro train, or as involved as preparing a meal for me while the other was fasting. Or it can be something that the person may not have realized was a huge thing to me, like my friend who consistently makes sure that when we come over to her house for dinner, she prepares food that makes us feel good and fits inside our dietary restrictions, and is something that is delicious.

I cannot always thank people for what they have done, but knowing how I feel about people who act outside themselves makes me want to act outside myself more often. Each time I see an example, I want to follow and live that way, too. I want to live outside myself, give of myself, offer what I have and what I can do and who I can be for others to have a life that is more full. It is my way of saying thank you.

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Creating Our Family Story

My husband and I are preparing to usher a new life into the world in about five months. Baby Bryant is coming. We are getting ready to expand our family and share a whole host of new things with this new little person on the way. Among the host of preparations, considerations, alterations, decisions, and worries associated with becoming parents, I want to make sure that we pass on traditions that we cherish from our own families.

One of the traditions of my family is going to really interesting places. This may be as part of a really long trip on a vacation, or as simple as making a set of memories as we go away for a weekend or as short a trip as a picnic. I remember specific picnics that we took while I was a child on Sunday afternoons, the meal already prepared before church, then carried out to the edge of a lake at a bench on the side of a hill at Callaway Gardens. I remember going on a camping trip to Amelia Island so we could watch the full Lunar eclipse. I remember trips to the High and the Cummer Museums to go look at poignant paintings and sculptures four feet across made of ribbons and feathers dipped in wax.

But there were longer trips that I cherish as well. We loved going to Colonial Williamsburg, more than our trip to Disney. There was more to do, more to see, more to learn, and really, there were not as many people there, which made it all the more better. We were delving into history, learning the steps of the old dances and the stories of the people who created our nation. We traveled to California to learn about the westward expansion of the nation, and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Big Sur to see the waves, in the forest to walk among the Redwoods, and at Monterrey to watch the seals flop around. We traveled down the Florida coast to the Keys, and went sixty miles west of Key West, to the Dry Tortugas. We camped on the beach (again) and listened to the waves (and the cars on the highway) lull us to sleep.

I want to be able to share these kinds of memories with my child. I want to learn what different things my husband loved to do, what we want to create for our own family, what memories we have to share with this new thing, this new family we are creating. We are creating a family, and a family is held together by its common story, by the narrative that we weave together. We will take our different parts, the memories of each of our families, and create something new together.

Altered Plans

Yesterday did not go the way I planned.
There was rain all day long. Perfect weather for writing, curling up with a good book and a cup of tea, or having a warm fire in the fireplace.
Not really great weather to drive in.
But drive we had to do to get down to our thanksgiving plans. And there was a parking lot on 85 north of Atlanta, where we sat in the car, inching forward for over two hours.
And I was not the best of riding companions. I usually drive these days, still enamored with my new (to me) car, letting John take the passenger seat for navigation. But I had slept horribly the night before, and felt wretchedly puny, and it would not have been safe for me to drive. Unfortunately I never felt better, so poor John had to drive the whole way.
A seven hour drive took nearly twelve. It was exactly what I had been hoping to avoid. So much for those plans.
So, yesterday didn’t go as planned. It didn’t go as I wanted. I wasn’t able to have dinner with my grandfather and parents relaxing in the place that I know as home.
But, my car made the journey. We never ran out of gas. I didn’t have to stop and go do any business in the dripping wet woods in the rain. There were enough munchies in the car to eat. We had technology that helped us avoid the last stretch of traffic and have a dinner that sustained us along the way.
Yesterday did not go as I planned. But I am feeling better after a good nights rest. Tea and company really are magnificent restoratives. Today I cook, prep, visit, write, and celebrate that I have a warm place to call home. There are situations that could be much worse.
I am grateful that I had a traveling partner who took on the whole stretch of the journey so that I could take time in relative rest and heal. I am grateful that when we crossed the “Yay Bridge” that I had enough energy to cry Yay while we drove across it. I am grateful that I have enough perspective to know that yesterday was not as bad as it could have been, and that I can see blessings in the midst of altered plans.

Bumpkin

I began this post while visiting my sister over the weekend in Atlanta. I love my sister, and I’m going to miss her dreadfully when she moves to Japan in a couple of weeks.

I’m probably annoying my sister. It’s not intentional, and its not really that big a deal, but I’m walking around Atlanta with wide eyes. I haven’t been here in a while, and so everything seems new. There are shiny glints that catch my eye at every corner. The elevator had ten times as many buttons as I’m used to seeing. Things are tall. There are plenty more people to look at. It is all very interesting.
I have had a wide range of experiences. I have lived in a number of different places. I consider myself more urban than rural. But here in this metropolitan city, I’m not so sure I’ve claimed the right label.
I like where I live a little too much. I like that I can’t hear the neighbors or their dogs, for the most part, though I wouldn’t mind not being able to hear them practice shooting… I like the smell of green and soil when I take a walk. I like watching the sun rise and set over fields. I like the extra produce from the generous bounty of neighbors. I like the sound of crickets and cicadas in the evening. I like that I can see the stars.
But I’d like some of these urban things, too. Going many places without getting in my car. Amazing options available all close and accessible. The amazing diversity of people meshed in together.
That, I think, is what I wish I had more of. I wish that my area was more diverse. We’re pretty homogenous. We have people with different levels of education. We have folks with different economic strengths or histories. We have folks who work with their hands and tools. But the community I interact with is more alike than different.
Part of life in a rural area is that folks have been living in the same place for generations. It is part of the strength of the place. Families are extended out and know the history of the land. Generations live together and can celebrate the growing and care for those growing old. It seems that everyone is related. There is an incredible strength that underlies the culture.
But I would like a easier way to get good coffee. I want to be able to dress cute, sleek and gorgeous. I like that a commute means walking, not stuck in a car all the time. I like that by the mid morning I have gotten half of the steps I need to stay healthy.
There is a bit of country bumpkin in me, I know. I want to start a conversation with those around me, and I want to learn why they are here, what they do, and how their history has brought them to this time and place.
I asked my seat partner on the bus on the way down some of those questions. I learned about her career, her travels, her past. I caught a glimpse into her life, and into her thoughts on current events. She was kind, and caring for her godchildren, who were sitting ahead of us. She apologized every time she grazed my arm or side when we happened to touch.
It was a very different experience of mass transit than I have had in the past. I chose to sit in a seat next to someone, but nearly half of the seats were empty on the bus. The air conditioning was too much, even though I had prepared for it. There was so much space. Open space. We were given directions to not be obtrusive. And my luggage wasn’t in my lap or under my feet, but in the bin prepared for it.
When I lived in Africa, I took mass transit there as well. The busses available there are called matatus. They are generally fifteen passenger Nissan or Toyota vans. There are also larger busses, but the matatus are ubiquitous. When you pay a fare on a matatu, you relinquish your right to your personal space. It is not longer your own, but communal. Luggage goes with you in your seat, so you learn to pack light. There is no climate controlled air, unless you include the windows. Seat-belts are required under the law, but in truth they are either nonexistent or broken, and definitely filthy.
There are a few similarities. Everyone has a phone. Most of us had a meal or food to eat on the ride. And the majority of the people on the bus were black.
I took the bus because it was convenient. Some took the bus because they were meeting friends. The bus can be much more reliable than a car with issues, so it may be safer. I am glad I got a nap.
But what does it say about our nation that the majority of people in mass transit are minorities? It’s it cultural? Has the economic cheapness of mass transit been discerned and exchanged for the liberty of being in your own vehicle? I paid ten bucks to get from Charlotte to Atlanta. I had to plan ahead, and get a ride there, but it was practically painless. I wish I had taken it down to visit my sister earlier.
Then maybe Atlanta wouldn’t cause me to have such wide eyes. But I wish I could see more and learn more while I was here. The bumpkin in me is still curious.

Astonish

Just wait… just wait and see what is coming next. There is far more brilliance coming than you will ever expect. Expect to be astonished.

I have recently returned from a pilgrimage of astonishment. I saw and experienced the history and tradition of thousands of years of heritage and worship. I drank from the well where Jesus offered a woman living water. I prayed at the base of the ancient temple, and on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I filled a sanctuary with song and melody, a gift from God, sharing a duet with a sister from China. I stood in the driving rain in the desert of Qumran. And all the while, I shared these experiences with friends, new and old. And I was astonished by the wonder that we shared together. Sometimes we would stop, and wait to feel the Spirit rush through the place. The Spirit moved for different people in different places.

The Spirit moved in me. I never want to think that the movement of the Spirit is to be expected, or looked on as a mundane occurrence. I always want to be astonished by the Spirit. I want to be moved to tears when the Spirit ushers in a new awareness and a new understanding, and a new time to be astonished.

The last ten days were not perfect. There were things we had hoped to do that we could not do. There were places where it seemed that there were more tourists than pilgrims. Sometimes I was more of a tourist than a pilgrim. But God showed up. God revealed a presence to us that we could feel deep in our souls.

Now I return to my usual routine, something that I haven’t been able to do since Christmas. Preparations for the board, and year end reports, and packing for this trip filled the past month. And so the mundane begins again. But it isn’t mundane. Because I am serving a God who moves the Spirit through me, around me, and reaches to places that I couldn’t reach without her help.

I pray that as I return to a more natural rhythm, one of the practical practices of ministry, that I will remain open to the astonishing movement of the Spirit. The Spirit is here, now, waiting for a sliver of opening to flood into our world. Expect to be astonished in the way that you will be used in the work of the Spirit. Expect to be surprised by the way that God works a new path in your life.

The astonishing thing might be that when you travel, you find a place that looks like home. We journey thousands of miles, and go to foreign places, and still there is love, and compassion, and struggle. The language may be different, as well as the food, the worship, the rhythms, the politics, but the Spirit remains the same, welcoming us to experience the astonishing presence of God.

Alleluia.