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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Celebrating Easter

palm sunday church

This year, the Easter planning happened on the fly.

I suppose it always does, really. Our tiny church, as I’ve said before, has no dedicated, full-time paid ministry staff. Instead, there are four or five of us who plan services and schedule preachers, print bulletins and fill glass communion cups with Welch’s grape juice, and another half dozen who deal with finances and building issues (our sanctuary ceiling has boasted multiplying cracks for years now).

We rarely all end up in the same room together for any length of time. We parcel out the responsibilities, and then we have to trust that everyone knows what they’re doing.

In true twenty-first-century fashion, a lot of the planning happens over email, my husband and I touching base with the folks who teach children’s classes, read Scripture aloud during service, lead prayers, bring snacks for the coffee hour before worship. But during the days leading up to Palm Sunday and Easter, even J and I couldn’t sit down together for more than ten minutes to talk about the services. Instead, we had those conversations when we could: brushing our teeth elbow to elbow in our tiny bathroom, sitting at the dinner table while he ate reheated leftovers after working late (again), pulling on our pajamas to fall into bed after another long day.

We were doing our best to be thoughtful, not to put off the planning until the last minute. But sometimes, the last minute – or a series of minutes, snatched here and there – is all we have. And inevitably, it makes me worry.

What if we can’t have the Easter egg hunt outside? Will the bulletins get printed with all the correct names on the list of Easter lily honorees? Will Bob remember to bring the flowers and Dan remember to make the coffee? Will the kids be so excited and hopped up on sugar that they can’t sit still? Will we have enough food for the after-church potluck? And – this is the big one – will it really feel like Easter?

Our friend Mason, who preached on Sunday, admitted to dreading Easter sermons. It’s like the Super Bowl for church, he said – a day fraught with high, often conflicting expectations, which no sermon can possibly meet. My own expectations for Easter are less about the sermon than about a few beloved hymns and the feelings they are supposed to engender. But it’s still a day with a lot of anticipation. And inevitably, not everything goes according to plan.

Yesterday, we realized five minutes before starting that we hadn’t asked anyone to give the communion thoughts – so I volunteered. Miraculously, the snow that still blanketed the backyard last week had melted – so we did get to have the Easter egg hunt outside. Bob filled the altar with armloads of lilies and the two deep windowsills along the church’s southern wall with tulips and daffodils and hyacinths. Dan did make the coffee, and we had plenty of snacks for the potluck afterward. We stood around in groups, eating scones and carrot sticks and spinach-artichoke dip with pretzels, catching up joyfully – if a little haphazardly – on each other’s lives.

easter flowers brookline

We sang “Low in the Grave He Lay” and “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” The older kids gave a presentation on the life of Jesus, standing in a ragged line on the stage, mumbling through their parts or speaking them loud and clear. The little ones were not quiet – they never are – and at times the whole morning felt a bit frenetic, a bit cobbled-together. But this is Easter: a story that takes unexpected turns, right in the middle of our ordinary, messy human lives.

I marvel at it every year, sometimes every week: how the logistics, the details, the words and notes on paper, become a living, breathing thing, a celebration of the story none of us can quite explain, but to which all of us, in our various ways, are clinging. It’s rarely neat and tidy, and it almost never turns out quite the way we plan. But – this week and always – it is beautiful.

If you celebrated Easter (or Passover), I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

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Lindsey recently wrote a breathtaking post about what thirty-eight looks like for her. I am just a few months away from turning thirty (which alternately seems totally normal and a bit overwhelming), so I thought I’d do my own take.

This is twenty-nine.

chocolate room spiced hot cocoa

Twenty-nine is on the cusp of her third decade, seven years out of college and five years married. Twenty-nine is content so far to play the cool aunt, though she’s starting to wonder about having kids of her own.

Twenty-nine has successfully held down a series of real, full-time jobs with benefits and retirement plans, but still sometimes struggles to feel like a grown-up inside.

Twenty-nine looks in the mirror and sees her mother: the big green eyes, the shy smile, the long eyelashes. Twenty-nine hears both her mother’s advice and her dad’s punny jokes come out of her mouth all the time.

Twenty-nine always packs an extra book (or two) in her bag, makes sure to carry cash (but not too much), pays her bills on time, plans out meals for the week on a dry-erase board in the kitchen. Twenty-nine believes in being prepared.

Twenty-nine is slowly realizing that some friendships will fade with time, in spite of (sometimes because of) the relentless onslaught of social media minutiae. And that some friendships will endure in surprising ways.

Twenty-nine still keeps a handwritten journal as she has done since she was six, and has carted several boxes of old journals to half a dozen houses and apartments.

Twenty-nine still loves the boy she fell in love with at nineteen, and can hardly believe they will celebrate a decade of being together in November.

Twenty-nine is learning to resist the allure of cheap clothes in favor of well-made pieces. Twenty-nine is embracing her signature style rather than chasing trends, though her favorite pieces of clothing still tend to come from her sister’s closet.

Twenty-nine knows what it is to grieve, to question, to struggle with faith and come out on the other side with a faith that acknowledges all kinds of doubts. Twenty-nine believes, increasingly, that community and grace are far more important than doctrines or creeds.

Twenty-nine is learning to loosen up, to laugh more, to plan spontaneous adventures, to be silly sometimes rather than so serious all the time.

Twenty-nine is learning how to balance nice and honest, learning not to apologize for who she is.

Twenty-nine dreams of many more adventures, but is deeply grateful for her life as it is right now.

k & j fenway

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maine bar harbor smiling photo

  • survived my second (thankfully milder than the first) Boston winter.
  • admitted that, to survive my third such winter, a light box and Vitamin D pills will be helpful tools.
  • read nearly 300 books – a personal record. (Yes, I am fast. No, I don’t “speed read.” Yes, I spend a LOT of time reading.)
  • lost a grandmother and a cousin, and grieved.
  • flown to Texas three times to visit my family.
  • become an aunt twice over, to Ryder and then to Annalynn.
  • taken J to D.C., shown him the monuments and museums I love, and discovered some new places there with him.
  • spent two wonderful long weekends (one frigid, one fall-ish) in New York City.
  • drunk SO many cups of tea.
  • taken countless lunchtime walks.
  • filled up six and a half journals.
  • overslept a LOT of mornings.
  • had my soul fed, my heart uplifted and my intellect challenged at the Glen Workshop.
  • gained about 10 pounds. (Which I’d like to lose in 2013.)
  • attended my 10th high school reunion, and marveled at the ways my classmates and I have grown into ourselves since 2002.
  • kept up a pen-and-paper correspondence with the lovely Jaclyn (who also hosted us in D.C.).
  • driven to the wilds of Maine for a super-fun wedding.
  • kept showing up for my day job, even when I did not feel like it.
  • continued to work as a freelance for my beloved alma mater.
  • taken on extra responsibilities at church.
  • realized why church work is sometimes thankless and sometimes deeply rewarding.
  • missed my family, and faraway friends, deeply.
  • welcomed my sweet college roomie and her husband for a visit to Boston.
  • paid down a LARGE percentage of the balance on my student loans.
  • written 170-ish blog posts (and hit the milestone of 1,000 posts).
  • tweeted probably more than was strictly necessary. (But it’s so much fun.)
  • joined a networking group for bookish folks.
  • celebrated my third Turkeypalooza.
  • knitted 6 hats (4 adult, 2 baby), 4 baby sweaters, 2 pairs of booties, 2 cowls, 3 mini sweaters, 1 pair of leg warmers, 1 sunglasses case, 2 pairs of fingerless gloves, and 42 wee hats for smoothie bottles.
  • fallen head over heels for Lark Rise to Candleford, finished watching Mary Tyler Moore, and continued my love affair with Castle.
  • reviewed more than 40 books for Shelf Awareness.
  • met a dozen or more online friends in person.
  • become part of a book club.
  • visited Vermont, Newport (R.I.) and western MA.
  • found a question I keep asking over and over.
  • celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary.
  • relished a rain-soaked, hilarious, memorable 4th of July.
  • soaked up all I could of the London Olympics.
  • reflected on two years in Boston.
  • struggled at times to make this life fit.
  • talked about the future with J.
  • fallen in love with a slew of new-to-me detectives, including Mary Russell, Tommy & Tuppence, Sarah Kelling, Chet and Bernie, Bess Crawford, and the Spellmans. (This has been a year for mysteries.)
  • seen both The Lion King and The Fantasticks on Broadway.
  • spent many Tuesday evenings sipping tea with girlfriends.
  • wondered what is next.

I wrote a post like this last year, and it was so thought-provoking I decided to do it again. It’s amazing to look back over a year and see what’s happened, and what I have made happen.

What have you done, experienced, read, accomplished in 2012?

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Let us remember . . . that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.

—Christian Wiman

I have been craving poetry lately, reading an entire volume of Robert Frost and a luminous chapbook by Gregory Orr, and returning to the words of Marie Howe and W.S. Merwin almost daily. The world can be a grim place, whether I’m battling the mundane frustrations of crowded commutes and grey rainy days and maddening to-do lists that seem to multiply overnight, or worrying over the larger issues of pain and hunger and need that plague so many people, in so many different ways.

As a bookworm, I am tempted to hide behind books when life is either colorless or painful, and sometimes escaping into a sweeping story or a beloved tale (or even a witty volume of letters) is just the ticket. But ultimately, hiding from my life and the world is neither productive nor satisfying. And poetry, with its brief, searching lines that often break me wide open, provides a way for me to pay more attention to both my life and the world around me. And when I start to pay more attention, to lean into the moments and middles and mundanities, I often find hope and beauty there. I often find sorrow and frustration, too, but poetry helps me realize that grief and ennui do not have the last word.

Do you read poetry – for this reason or for others? What helps you inhabit your life more fully? And what are the poems, or other words, you return to over and over?

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Recently, my husband and I reached the two-year anniversary of our move from West Texas to Boston. The first anniversary felt both weighty and giddy; we could hardly believe we’d survived a whole year in our new home. We had left blistering heat on the West Texas plains for a greener, more erudite land where summers were milder and fall was a riot of color, scented with apples and woodsmoke. Our first winter was long and bitterly snowy, but we learned to shovel snow and wear layers, and we felt deep pride in having stuck out an entire year in a place so divertingly unlike our homeland.

This two-year anniversary, this second milestone, feels different.

orange leaves boston common fall

I’m over at the Art House America blog today, sharing some thoughts on our two years in Boston. Head over there to read the rest!

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About a year ago, I got several hints from the universe about The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Suddenly, she was everywhere – in friends’ blogs and casual conversation. I’d been briefly acquainted with Mary as a child, but we hadn’t hung out in years.

mary tyler moore hat

I’ve been borrowing the seasons from our library, and I watched the series finale a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t sniffle my way through it as I did when we finished Friends, but I did get a little misty as Mary looked around the WJM newsroom before turning the lights off for the last time.

Mary’s story bears several parallels to my own over the past few years. True, she’s a single girl and I’m married, so I’m already done with the dating travails that sometimes bedevil her (though her love life is never the true focus of the show). But we both have struggled, and sometimes triumphed, as we’ve adjusted to new cities and navigated the rocky path of being career women in what is (still) often a man’s world. (And we each have a few stalwart friends in our corner, though unfortunately mine don’t live in my building.)

mary tyler moore rhoda

(Image from Hooked on Houses)

Mary is (nearly) the only woman in the WJM-TV newsroom in the early 1970s. The sexism she deals with is more overt than any I’ve ever encountered. But we both are pursuing that tricky thing called “work-life balance” or “having it all” – holding down a financially and emotionally satisfying job, while enjoying an active life outside of work and nurturing deep friendships. (And for heaven’s sake, both she and I would like a little time to ourselves once in a while.)

Mary’s pursuit of a successful life and career is not effortless. (Despite her hospitable spirit and impeccable fashion sense, her lousy dinner parties are a standing joke.) She loves her friends at the newsroom, but often gets caught up in their crises, and Rhoda and Phyllis (her upstairs and downstairs neighbors, respectively) do their part to keep things lively (and complicated). She never does get married, that we know of. She is bright and beautiful and capable, but she’s also just another girl trying to make a living, find love, sustain friendships, “make it after all.”

Therein, of course, lies Mary’s charm: who among us hasn’t dealt with cranky coworkers, awkward dates, deadlines at work and a stretched-to-the-breaking-point budget? Who hasn’t headed home to a hot bath after a stressful day or a frantic week, only to be interrupted by a friend’s crisis or a family member’s emergency? And who among us (especially women) hasn’t struggled to balance our people-pleasing instinct and cultural conditioning as “nice girls” with our drive for success?

I loved watching Mary find her feet, eventually summoning the moxie to talk back to her gruff boss, Lou Grant, and the self-absorbed anchorman, Ted Baxter. By the seventh season, she has grown into a feisty, independent but still compassionate woman who knows what she wants out of life (even if she can’t throw a perfect dinner party). She may not have all the answers (though she does have a hip little apartment and a fabulous wardrobe), but by the end of the series we know: she, and we, are gonna make it after all.

Thanks, Mary, for the laughs and the inspiration. I’ll be coming back to visit you in Minneapolis once in a while.

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it’s a both-and kind of world

A bouquet of pink tulips with slightly bruised petals. My favorite black textured tights, with a hidden run too high for anyone to see. A brave, cheer-you-up blue sky, almost springlike, and punishing winds that whip right through my plaid coat. Tired eyes and low energy in the morning, and comforting cups of chai, strong Yorkshire and Earl Grey.

These are the details of my life this week. And it’s oh-so-tempting to spin them one way or another.

We do that a lot on the Internet, don’t we? Take the threads of our lives, and spin them in a certain way, positive or negative, pulling and twisting them to suit our frame of mind. As I did on Twitter yesterday: “Combating tiredness with pink tulips, a chai latte, the Puppini Sisters and a long to-do list. Hello Tuesday.” I did pause before I wrote that, knowing it could just as easily have been the other way: “I have pink tulips, a chai latte and the Puppini Sisters. But I have a to-do list as long as my arm. SO tired.”

It’s tempting to choose one way or another – to appear ever cheery, staunchly optimistic, to show the world a stiff upper lip and only post the photos that show order and calm. Frankly, it’s also tempting to go the other way: to rant and rave, complain and whine, knowing someone will offer a sympathetic ear, a “me too” to help us through the day. But the truth is so much more complicated. The truth is rarely either-or. The truth, instead, is both-and.

I’m tired this week, struggling against the late-winter blues and several deadlines and crowded commutes. I’m deeply grateful for new bookshelves and letters from pen pals and beautiful books and Mary Tyler Moore. I’m excited for the first meeting of our new book club, and I’m sad, wishing I could travel two thousand miles to attend my sister’s baby shower this weekend.

It’s all true. All of it. The hopeful and the depressing; the deep joy and the deep pain; the little, everyday precious blessings and the equally ubiquitous frustrations. And though it’s difficult to hold it all in tension, I am slowly learning not to spin it, to accept the deep and complicated fact that it’s all part of this thing called life.

How do you make peace with living in a both-and world?

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