With the Edges of her Eyes


Today I’d like to share a poem I wrote about my maternal grandmother, who died in 1980, when I was only a senior in high school.

My grandmother was probably my favorite person on the planet.  I adored her and thought, as a teenager, that I could deal with just about any challenge, as long as it didn’t involve losing her.

Nana and I, two years before her death

My grandmother, born in 1903, was beautiful as a young girl:

However, when I was myself an adolescent, Nana fell and broke her hip.  She  was subsequently unable to reach her own feet, so when I visited her, my favorite place to stay in the summers, I often washed them for her–something I allude to in the poem that follows.

nana

(in memory of Martha Gilbert Kunkle)

we are oblique and
at odd angles:
     me at the feet
     i once washed
     on a regular basis
 
in the dream:
     she is getting older
                melting or
                shrinking
 
looking at me
only with the edges
     of her eyes.
 

Though often in my dreams my grandmother is still alive, I’m grateful in the mornings  to know Nana, in all the ways that matter,  has never really left–blessing enough–in my own now aging  eyes.

Variations on Giving: a Friend’s Reflection on Lent


Disclaimer:   

Please know I do not allow Mindy to publish what she does below with any sense of comfort. In fact, I do so with fear and trembling, not wanting anyone to think, for a minute, that I believe the life Sara and I lead deserves Lenten comparison.   

Sara and I have chosen our path purposefully, but it, in fact, gives to us more that we give to others.  The sacrifice is reciprocal and then some, making our lives meaningful, challenging, sometimes even fun. 

 Please know the words below are those of a friend, a friend who has loved us for many years and may speak with a bit of bias—but a bias based in love.  As such, I am humbled and try to accept the gift with grace—acknowledging that though it may be too much, it’s a gift given from the heart.

 And the gift of love, the gift of grace, after all, is what the Lenten/Easter season is all about.  God only asks for our hearts and gives us grace in return.

 So thank you, my dear friend.  Thank you!

Dear Readers:
  
Kathy has taken the day off. 
  
While she finishes a myriad of tasks related to her move home to Kentucky, she let me talk her into publishing the following post I wrote about her and Sara.
 
This week Kathy is looking back and reevaluating the experience she and Sara have had in Haiti.  I hope this post will help them see how brave they’ve been.
  
I know I speak for many who have come to respect and admire these good people.  And though I speak about them in the context of Christianity, I believe good works are apparent in and of themselves, regardless of religion, creed or belief.
  
Kindest regards,
Mindy
 
_______________________________________________________________
 

As I reflect on Sara and Kathy and the lives they lead, I am reminded of the story in the Bible about the widow’s mite. “She gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford…she gave her all.” (Luke 21-4)

 The Jews had been instructed to give to the Temple and to the poor as part of their service to God. One day Jesus sat at the Temple and watched people putting money into the offering boxes. Some were rich and gave lots of money. Some gave money, but were unhappy about it. Then a poor woman, a widow, came up to the boxes.

The poor woman put two small coins in the offering box. The disciples with Jesus weren’t very impressed, but Jesus said this woman had given more than any other that day. How could that be? Jesus said it was because it was all she had.

 I reflect on the selflessness of my friends because they inspire me on this first day of Lent to “give my all.”

 I’m Episcopalian and have always observed Lent by giving up something for the 40 days or so that lead up to Easter and the celebration of the risen Lord. When I was a child, I was instructed not to give up something I disliked, like spinach, but to give up something I loved, like chocolate.

 The physical act of fasting is meant to remind us to allow the Spirit of God to reshape the way we think, act and live. I know this as an adult. As a child, it was just something we were expected to do.

 It was a practice that was meant to become a habit and, then, a life lesson.

 The apostle Paul explained the lesson very neatly in his letter to the Philippians:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:5-8 – The Message)

 This is how Sara and Kathy live. They go from disaster to disaster, at great expense – professionally, emotionally, physically, psychologically – giving extravagantly what they can’t afford…giving their all.

 Now, I want Kathy to run this blog post and if she does, you must know that it’s because I’ve asked her to do it on my behalf. 

 Because I thank her and Sara for reminding me, in this season of Lent, to allow the Spirit of God to reshape the way I think, act and live not only by giving up something I love, but by giving my all.

Letting Go, Letting Liz


Guest post today from my friend and fellow writer Mindy Shannon Phelps. 

A journalist by training, Mindy is a project management and communications specialist.

How remarkably we humans are made, that once a child reaches a certain age, she is able to say goodbye to all that is known and familiar to her – parents, mother, father, sister, cousin, close friends – and her bedroom, her house, the only home she has ever known –and, just, move on.

Remarkable that the human child willingly and even longingly leaves the familiar – the scents, the sounds, the comforts – 19 years of cuddling and coddling – pancakes for breakfast and tea in bed –  I will admit the first 12 years were more fun for both of us than the next seven – but she is just so ready to be an adult daughter and I can’t see beyond her beautiful little hands and sweet, expressive, perfect face. She will always be my little Liz. My baby.

I had just said goodbye to Lizzie.  I’d hoped it would be a warmer parting, even though she was eager to get to her dormitory and the small space we created together for her yesterday and just settle in. But, at the end, she seemed tired and ill at ease from the days we had spent together.  Uncomfortable, and in need of privacy.  I noticed that she had not read her Bible or written in her journal – had only captured her thoughts and emotions in the emails she had written and sent each evening to people she did not identify for me.

It’s hard to read Liz – often difficult clearing the fog off the hard glass she surrounds herself with.  Her glass is not brittle but it is breakable and I try not to shatter the shield when she has it up and in place.  It is her safe enclosure and there is no need to breach it.

We had been traveling together for three days, from Kentucky to Colorado in her tiny Volkswagen Beetle. Our travels were glorious—the billboard-sized copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in the middle of a Kansas wheat field,  the vivid blue September skies and the rain we could see a hundred miles away that never touched us.  So peaceful and fun and adventurous, even blessed. 

And now, the end.

Liz would keep her car at the school where she would begin training as a missionary with an international NGO. I would fly home after helping her settle in.

 A quick ride to the airport and, suddenly, Lizzie seems as if she doesn’t want me to go.  She wants to park and come in with me.  I think this is what she wants to do, but, again, her glass is up and I can only peer in, bringing my nose and eyes and face up to the enclosure, trying not to cloud the view with a sudden exhalation.

I decide a quick goodbye is for the best because my prayer this morning had been for a bit of grace and a letting go with joy.  This is what I’m supposed to do, I think.

So I quickly hug her and say too loudly, “I’ll call you when I get home.”  “Yes, do that,” she replies.

And I turn and go, denying Liz the tears and sorrow of saying goodbye – an emotional farewell we might have shared but did not. It’s for the best, I think.

I turn and walk a few steps and begin weeping as I enter the terminal.

 I still weep when I think about the time I let Lizzie go.

Now 27, Liz is married and expecting her first child.

 

 (Note:  When Lizzie was born, Mindy was an evening news anchor for the NBC affiliate in Lexington, Ky. Viewers (about 250,000 at the time) avidly followed Mindy’s pregnancy and loved Lizzie from the moment they saw her.)

Top 10 Things to Remember about Letting Go


For whatever reason, I don’t do well with change.  I don’t do well with uncertainty.  I don’t do well with loosening my white-knuckled grip, that over-my-dead-body,  I’ll-be-damned grip on absolute control of almost everything.  I like to know what’s coming and where I’m going because of it. 

Bottom line:  I’m kind of a control freak in this regard–not good–and something I’m far from proud of.

But when your partner works in disaster response, life is almost always about change, adjusting to change, to sudden shifts, loosening that grip.  That’s the thing about disasters.  They’re so, well, disastrous.  And you never know when they’re coming.  You never know where.  You never know when.

So in honor of my own issues with uncertainty and in anticipation of Mindy’s post tomorrow about accepting change, today I bring you the “Top 10 Things to Remember about Letting Go.”

  1. That letting go is about control and a willingness to give it up.
  2. That letting go is about strength.
  3. That letting go is about tomorrow.
  4. That tomorrow is coming soon.  (Remember Little  Orphan Annie’s anthem to tomorrow:  “Tomorrow, tomorrow.  I love you tomorrow.  You’re only a day away.”)
  5. That letting go means waiting willingly for what’s to come.
  6. That it sometimes means “good-bye.”
  7. That it often means “adjust.”
  8. That it forces us toward faith.
  9. That it requires us to trust.
  10. That it nudges us toward tomorrow, that it requires us to trust that God, or the universe, or the kind hand of a friend will take us where weeed to go.

The bottom line is this:  I can no longer be a tip-toed toddler teetering toward tomorrow.  Neither, at the other extreme, can I be a control freak, forecasting my own future,  frothing to make it less frontier and more toddler-friendly.

I need to remember what Joseph Campbell said: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting.”

So, yes, letting go is often about waiting.

And it’s also always about accepting–

Letting go, letting love.

Happy Holidays from Haiti: a Christmas letter


Dear Friends and Family,

Sara and I, along with our dogs Ralph and Lucy, would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays both from our home-away-from-home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and from our home in Lexington where Sara will join me on Christmas Eve. 

2010 has been a challenging year for us, as we have tried to settle in yet another international location, tried to create a home for ourselves away from the family and friends we hold so dear and miss so often.

Though last year we didn’t make it home for the holidays, Sara and I spent Christmas itself on a stunningly secluded beach in central Vietnam, playing in the sun and sea, eating food so delicious we salivate now even thinking about it. 

However, just two weeks after that lovely holiday in paradise, the January 12th earthquake in Haiti brought our life in Hanoi to a premature end.  By the first week of February Sara was on the ground in Port-au-Prince, having had a mere 18 hours at our home in Lexington to transition.   Since that time she has still not had more than 5 consecutive days in Kentucky, not more than a week in close to 2 years.  And though, of course, Sara loves her work and is passionate about providing homes for those displaced by the earthquake, she’s saddened that time away from her own home distances her from those she loves, forcing her to think about  from far away.

I, on the other hand, was fortunate to spend most of February, March, and April in Lexington, with only 1 week during March in Port-au-Prince and 2 weeks during May in the slums of New Delhi with 12 University of Kentucky students (completing in a service-learning project with Habitat for Humanity India).  It was not until June that I, along with our two dogs Ralph and Lucy, transitioned to Haiti more “full time” or at least as close to full time as risk management allow.  Security challenges abound in Port-au-Prince, where there is at least one kidnapping a day and we have two armed guards at our house around the clock.

However, we DO have a lovely, mountain-side home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-Ville—a home Sara’s left for only brief visits to the US and one longer trip to the Pacific Northwest, where we enjoyed 2 days in Seattle and a week with 12 other friends on Whidbey Island—a fabulous time of fun, feasting, and fellowship with a group of women we dearly love.

And though we feel fairly well-settled in Port-au-Prince by now, settled enough to have hosted a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner for 24, Haiti itself is far from peaceful this Holiday Season.  Not only did the earthquake last January kill close to a quarter of a million, but it has left, still 11 months later, more than 1.3 million people homeless in the city of Port-au-Prince alone.  Not only did the Haitian people suffer destruction again in the wake of Hurricane Tomas, but they are continuing to fight a cholera epidemic that has killed and sickened thousands more.  Not only did they face fraudulent presidential elections last month—they have dealt with the resulting social unrest, especially in the form of rioting by people who have suffered unimaginable losses in the last year, people who feel disenfranchised not only by the international community, but also by their own political leaders who would steal their right to a free and fair election.  It’s sad for us to see so much loss and suffering in such close proximity to our own lives of comfort, surplus, and blessing.

Despite all of this, however, the Haitian people are strong.  They are resilient.  They persevere.  Sara and I are proud to call the beautiful people of this tiny island our neighbors, our friends, our family, and we would ask you to not only pray for us this Christmas, but more importantly to keep our new Haitian brothers and sisters in your hearts and prayers, as well.

As the mountains that circle Port-au-Prince brighten on Christmas morning, the Haitian people will be left with little to do but pray—

But we ask that you too pray for peace in Port-au-Prince streets—for peace in those mountains beyond—those mountains beyond mountains—

Please pray those hills would be alive with the sound of peaceful music–

A peace that passes understanding–

May God bring peace to you and your family this Holiday Season!

May God bring peace to Haiti!

With blessings from Port-au-Prince,

Sara and Kathy