Monday, April 30, 2012

In Which We Settle In for a Long Time

The last few months have been crazy. I've been hither and yon, visiting schools, going to quilt shows and writers' conferences, entertaining friends and family and being entertained by them.

And now it's done. I have nothing on the calendar that takes me out of town (or brings anyone into town) until our beach trip in late June. No professional travels until November. I'm home.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to be sitting here very quietly on the couch, my silly dog snoozing beside me, a quilt top that's ready to be quilted on my sewing table, and me with time to quilt it.

Home. Tomorrow we will have lived in this house for five years. In May 2013, when we reach the six year milestone, I will have lived here for longer than I've ever lived anywhere. The Man and I discussed it the other day, and we've decided we're going to stick it out in this house for the long run. For one thing, we've invested too much time and effort in the garden to move--the dirt's just starting to get good!

For another thing, I love my neighborhood. I remember when we were house-hunting, I drove around it and thought I wouldn't want to live here. It felt like a hundred-year's wood, deeply quiet and still. And it is very quiet, in spite of the traffic noise you hear. Here's the description I found on a realtor's website:

The Duke Forest neighborhood was originally developed just south of the Duke campus by the University for faculty and staff. It is heavily treed and is surrounded by the forest known as Duke Forest. The forest itself has over 7000 acres stretching primarily west and north of the campus. There are several interesting aspects of the neighborhood.

Most of the homes in Duke Forest were built to be interesting and comfortable rather than grand which should be no surprise in an academic community. Many of the homes that come on the market have had little done in the way of upgrades for decades and consequently may require substantial additional investments for modern kitchens and baths. It is always a treat to show homes in Duke Forest because they are so unpredictable. 

It is my neighborhood's unpredictability that I find so appealing, especially the neighborhood gardens. Most of the yards are wooded, so people tend to plant their gardens are right by the side of the road, where they have some hope of getting sun. Of course, some yards have no gardens at all. Some yards are overgrown with brush and ivy; others are beautifully landscaped but don't boast a single flower or nary a tomato.

But the yards that do have gardens? Talk about no two alike. My neighbor Katherine has a hodgepodge of tomatoes and peppers, lantana, columbine, azaleas and pansies. She's one of our catch-as-catch-can gardeners, of which there are many. Amy and Anthony have a beautiful vegetable garden on their corner lot, with something new growing every season.

There's a garden the next street over that's professionally done by very famous professional gardeners, and it's always a treat, but my favorite garden over that way is one that takes up the entire front yard, a good quarter-acre's worth of every kind of flower. You can tell that the gardener (who seems shy to me; she'll wave if you say hi when you walk past, but then she'll scurry away) just buys or grows whatever plants appeal to her, regardless of how they fit in. That's how I garden, too.

I haven't spent much time in my garden this year. The Man has been hard at work on the vegetable garden, and we've been enjoying carrots and collards, and for the last month fresh lettuce, spinach and kale. But I have a long flower bed that needs to be planted, and this is the week I'm going to get 'er done. I'm envisioning coneflowers and salvia and daisies. I already have a corner of it planted with lavender and chamomille, which makes me happy.

So I'm home and thinking about gardens and making bread, and admiring my neighbors' yards. Yesterday, before church, I spent an hour weeding, and it was very, very good.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I am searching for a new dentist. I've been going to the same dentist since 1998, and he is gentle and kind, but after recent unhappy dental developments, I've decided I need a newer, better model. Preferably a miracle worker.

I have bad teeth. My bad teeth aren't entirely my fault--my mother has bad teeth, too--but the fact is I've spent much of my adult life paying for all the sugar I ate as a kid and my poor dental habits as a teenager and young adult. I've been serious about my teeth since my early thirties, but that's a little late in the game to take up the fight against tooth decay.

Now, if you know me, you know that I'm not really your laying-on-of-hands type of girl, but when I saw in the church bulletin yesterday that there was a healing service immediately following the eleven o'clock service, I  thought of my teeth and decided to go. When it was my turn to be annointed with oil and prayed over, I said, "I know this is silly, but I have bad teeth, and I'm feeling a lot of anxiety about my bad teeth, and I need help."

And then I cried like a baby. The minister who anointed me with oil is Jack's youth minister and the congregation's interim pastor, so I know him a bit, but after yesterday we're on much more intimate terms. He and a lay minister, a woman I don't know, laid their hands on me and prayed over me, and I blubbered away, and when it was done my nose was running profusely, and I had to wipe it with my sleeve because my handkerchief was in my purse.

If you've never been prayed over, I recommend it, even if the very thought makes you feel all squirrely and exposed. I really felt something go through me--a tremendous rush of warmth and comfort that's hard to describe. I felt it on and off for the rest of the day, and I felt it this morning when I woke up.

Do I expect the decay under the crowns to disappear? No, though I'm radically hoping it won't be too bad (this is the position I've decided to take with my teeth--one of radical hope). But I don't think my anxiety and my blubbering are really about tooth decay. I think they're about shame and feeling different and odd, feelings I've had since I was a chubby, sensitive little girl who soothed myself with Twinkies and Hershey's kisses. I would like to be healed from the damage that shame has done over the years, and I'm radically hopeful that one day I will be.

I wasn't the only one at that service, by the way, and that was the other powerful thing, to be in a room full of strangers, all wanting to be healed, all willing to be vulnerable and open to hope. I might never see these people again, but for a few minutes I knew them and felt connected to them. I hope that one day we all will be well.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Today I'm giving you a poem. It's called "Susanna," by Anne Porter, and it will make you well.


Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna.

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it's something that
My mother told me

There's not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Week Begins

Yesterday I arrived at Our Fine School a little early, a bag of fresh library books in the seat beside me. I parked in my usual spot at the back of the school, forgoing as always the pick-up line out front, and rolled down the windows. It was a beautiful day, 75 degrees with a nice breeze, and I had twenty minutes to read. Bliss.

Until the SUV pulled into the spot next to me. For reasons I couldn't fathom, the driver left her engine running, filling the air with exhaust. The day wasn't hot enough to justify sitting in an air conditioned car, but apparently that was what the woman in the car next to me intended to do for the next twenty minutes.

Now, I'm not a confrontational person as a rule, but I can't tell you how tempted I was to get out of my car, go around to the driver's side of the SUV, tap on the window, and make an impassioned plea for the environment. I would  bemoan our children's futures, which are already looking dim and will only grow dimmer as the carbon count rises. I heard myself speaking with righteous indignation, with anger, with only the tiniest bit of impulse control. I thought about reaching into my neighbor's car and shaking her by the shoulders, yelling, "For the love of all that's good and true, turn off your engine!"

Instead, I said a prayer.

I prayed to Jesus to help me love my neighbor. I prayed that He might be so kind as to give my neighbor a clue, and maybe I modified the word "clue" with an angry-ish adjective. I prayed that I might be a touch less judgmental, and I prayed that all peoples of the earth would come together before we totally destroyed the environment, and stop running our engines just to keep the air conditioner running. I prayed to get over myself.

And a minute later, my neighbor turned off her engine. She didn't get out of her car; in fact, she was still in her car ten minutes later when I got out of mine to go pick up Will.

Now of course we can't say for sure what made that woman decide to turn off her car. Maybe it had finally gotten cool enough for her. Maybe she was even a little bit cold. Maybe she'd been on the phone when she pulled into the parking spot and hadn't even realized the car was still running until she hung up. "Oh, my goodness!" she might have exclaimed to herself. "I can't believe I've been harming the environment for the last five minutes!"

Of course I think Jesus turned off her engine. I don't know how He did it, but I'm pretty sure He did, and after He did it the exhaust cleared and I was free to love my neighbor, and I carried that love with me out into the world for the rest of the day.