One thing that road trips allow is flowing from one community to another. The other passengers waiting for your plane can become a community, offering helpful tips and a map for your arrival in Seattle. Your seat mate can allow you a glimpse into the Boeing community, as he descibes the process of testing and refurbishing the new 787. Glancing at your map, he adds another destination point (check out Issaquah Falls) after hearing you're a part of the waterfall-loving community.

Driving into Moses Lake, our stopping point between Seattle and Flathead Lake, MT, I smile as I notice the signs posted supporting a local contestant on the popular show, "So You think You Can Dance." Although I haven't watched much this season, I am still a fan and easily connect with those wishing Caitlyn good luck while seeking to get out the vote!

The next day, with some time to kill,  we head into Spokane. As Dale Chihuly afficionados (see previous post here) we are in search of some pieces on display at the Jundt Art Center of Gonzaga University. Chihuly works in glass and I love his exuberance, creativity, and collaborative style. I find myself smiling at the whimsy, the color, the fun I sense is part of each piece! After checking out the exhibit, Dan and I take a few minutes to walk the Centennial Trail, joining the jogging/biking/walking community of downtown Spokane enjoying the riverside path that loops through downtown. There's a playful glass and metal art sculpture anchored in a manicured lawn that borders the river. And a sobering monument to a husband who died climbing a peak in the Himalayas.
How many communities do I belong to? How many can I enter? Each has its centering pull, some anchored in geography, others in shared interests. Some are familiar, others entice me with invitations to grow in new ways. I start to think now about what happens when I return home - and feel a fresh commitment to broadening my circles. There are, after all, surprises around uncharted bends, plenty of  things to learn, and new traveling companions to discover.
A map of Middle Earth from movieposter.com

I discovered JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" in college and was smitten. For many years afterwards, every spring I started with "The Fellowshp of the Ring" and immersed myself in Middle Earth, even as the landscape awoke from winter's hold to green and bloom. I made my annual pilgrimage from the quiet hominess of the Shire through dangerous woods to the mysterious beauty of Rivendell, passing beneath murderous caverns and over the sweeping plains of Rohan on to the fading splendor of Gondor and finally into the Dismal Swamp and the very Gates of Mordor.

I must admit up front, that I am an ending sort of person. It's hard for me to slow down in the details of a book if my adrenaline starts pumping. I need to know how the story is going to end, and I gulp down paragraphs and pages without noticing the taste, eyes skim for key words and just enough detail to know where we're heading. That's why I usually reread books I love. First for the plot, second for the details.

In real life I haven't been so different. Sure, I've heard all those people who talk about life being a journey and enjoying the process, but for me, it's been the destination that has counted. I like the future, the long view, getting to the bend in the road. The funny thing is that there's always a bend beyond that, another view to catch your eye and keep you traveling. But it's been what's kept me on the trail, whether hiking up a mountainside or morning walks on the beach.

Over the past years, though, I notice a change. I'm valuing the friends and the conversations, the experiences and discoveries along the path to my destination. Like Frodo in "The Fellowship of the Ring" I'm recognizing the benefits of comrades who walk the trail with you. The destination is the excuse to get out the door. But most of the adventure - pages and pages actually - happens along the trail. And when you've reached the destination, it's often the stories of how you made it that make up the reminiscences around the campfire.

The bonds that are formed in the process of our life journeys are what make us rich. Shared experiences and challenges give us opportunities to develop our character, show our care and our expertise. Honest traveling companions prod and push us (one thinks of the prodding and pushing Aragorn required as he struggled to accept the kingship of Middle Earth). And Sam becomes everyman's hero, the faithful servant who despite being ill-used, is faithful to the end, and along the way, manages to make stews from whatever is found on the trail with his small pouch of herbs.

A philosopher friend of mine, Robin Collins, has crafted a connection-buildling theodicy. In this, he seeks to answer the question, "why does God allow evil in the world?" by noticing what happens to us as we overcome the struggles that come our way. It is his contention that the connections that are built during this lifetime last into eternity. That acts of love and kindness, self-sacrifice and heroism that we perform not only develop our own character, but weave strong ties of appreciation, gratitude and love.

I've noticed in processing the wedding that the actual day (although of great significance) was only a small part of the wedding journey. Along the path there were many moments of joy - the night of the engagement, friend and family showers, the search for the wedding dress, addressing invitations - just to name a few. These were richer because of the friends who participated. There were also many moments when I needed help - figuring out recipes, finding the right shawl or jewelry for a dress, picking up fresh baked bread the day of, chopping mounds of broccoli and potatos for the salads, shopping for ingredients or packing coolers to transport the mounds of stuff; the list goes on and on.

These celebrations, these acts of kindness, built connections that are now part of my life. I have been the recipient of much love which I'll carry with me forever. The story of "the wedding" is intertwined with a larger community, each member showing up with his or her gift to help us make it to the destination with joy and grace.

But life is a series of these subdestinations. The journey continues - the road goes ever on and on. Tomorrow I leave for the Northwest - Seattle, Portland and Montana. Partly vacation, my husband is my main traveling companion. We'll weave memories and discover things about ourselves while we're checking off destinations. We can approach this time as an adventure, but we can also view it as a pilgrimage.

Elizabeth Nordquist, writing over at A Musing Amma, mentions a book by Phil Cousineau entitled, "The Art of Pilgrimage." Defining a pilgrimage as a "spiritual journey to a transformative center," Cousineau gives hints to help along the pathway. Elizabeth engages much of life as a pilgrimage, and as she prepares for an upcoming journey, she will take along some of these suggestions:

1. Treat everything that comes my way as a part of the sacred time that envelops my pilgrimage.
2. Bless my leaving, my arriving, the spaces in between.
3. Listen deeply to all I encounter–people, earth, trees and grass, water, the
Spirit in each of them.

There are others, but I especially like these. I'll try to pack them in a readily accessible place as I seek to blend journeying and arriving, guided by the anticipation of the future and the reality of the present as I live out my story. More pages to come...
My husband and eldest daughter have posted thoughtful and well-written reflections on the wedding of our youngest daughter, Dorea, this past weekend. Dan blogs over at Toucanic.net and you can find his post here. Aletheia's post is one of my favorite things about the wedding. You can read it here.

Here's a list of things I'm realizing. Somehow I thought that I'd be done learning things once the wedding was over, but it turns out, there's plenty of wisdom to be garnered even several days after an event like this. So here goes:

1. If you love your child, then love your child's spouse, and love those whom your child and your child's spouse love. Don't worry about not having enough. Like the water that fills up those holes you used to dig at the beach, love will keep pouring in.

2. Process hurt, but don't take offense. Be truthful, but then let it go. Not everything will go well. In the stress of the wedding (a friend quoted his parish priest as saying that weddings are high state occasions organized by amateurs under stress), it is not unusual to have some difficult moments. Don't gloss over them, but don't hold onto them. Forgiveness allows you to be emotionally open to all the good that is there.

3. Wonder overwhelms the senses. More will happen at the wedding than you can possibly process in the moment. Be open to take it in, but trust that you can unpack it in days to come. Memory and reflection are wonderful gifts.

4. Weddings can feel surreal. Go with it. You have no baseline to guide you, but it doesn't mean that the experience is not real. Just new.

5. Be thankful for as many things as you can notice. Gratitude brings an expansive heart.

6. Share. The day, your child, the work, the joy. Be open to the experiences of others; their viewpoints will make the experience even richer.
A friend sent me this poem on the occasion of our daughter's wedding. I love the image of the thread, which is similar but not quite the same as that of apron strings. Although both threads and aprons hearken to the domestic arts that often bind mother and daughter together, the red thread seems more beautiful and poignant, tying as it does the early memories of childhood jackets and unbound feet with the weaving of the actual shoes which her daughter will wear as she leaves her family home. 

Although I did not make my daughter's wedding shoes (she chose to walk barefooted down the grassy aisle) I did pull out needle and thread to make some alterations in the sleeves of her wedding dress. Like the mother in the poem, I was complicit in her departure. But this was not the first time. As mothers (and fathers) we nuture our children so that they may leave us. We train and encourage, challenge and give. In this we weave the shoes they wear to go into the world, whether sons or daughters, into marriage or as single adults.

We trust that these threads of love will keep us connected, no matter where our children will go. I don't know what the new relationship with my daughter will look like, or, for that matter, the relationship that will develop with my new son-in-law. But I trust there are ways to weave new patterns of love into our expanded family. Because truly, I can't imagine not sewing.

For a Daughter Who Leaves 
by Janice Mirikitani 
"More than gems in my comb box
shaped by the
God of the Sea, I prize you, my daughter. . ."
-Lady Otomo,
8th century, Japan

A woman weaves 
her daughter's wedding 
slippers that will carry
her steps into a new life. 
The mother weeps alone
into her jeweled sewing box
slips red thread
around its spool, 
the same she used to stitch 
her daughter's first silk jacket 
embroidered with turtles 
that would bring luck, long life. 
She remembers all the steps 
taken by her daughter's 
unbound quick feet:
dancing on the stones 
of the yard among yellow
butterflies and white breasted sparrows. 
And she grew, legs strong 
body long, mind
Now she captures all eyes 
with her hair combed smooth 
and her hips gently 
swaying like bamboo. 
The woman
spins her thread 
from the spool of her heart, 
knotted to her daughter's 
wedding slippers.
It's the day after. The wedding, a day that was as perfect as one could hope, is history. Today was spent, as is often the case, with family members who have traveled from out of town to celebrate the festivities. The morning started in the hotel lobby grabbing a bite to eat with my aunt and uncle who were in from Ohio. After a few hours of cleanup, it was off to Starbucks and then lunch (we did have some left over chicken!)  with my husband's family. Then it was time to pack it up and return home. I grabbed a quick nap and we headed to a nearby campground to visit my two sisters and the plethora of cousins. 

How do you really spend any quality time when there are that many people you care about? Fifteen minutes is barely enough to hear an older niece talk about her new master's program, a sister about her son's girlfriend, another sister about her daughter's newest child. And that's just the news. To try and get a glimpse into another person's heart is nearly impossible.

Often people ask me what I think heaven will be like. Nearly as often they're not sure they like the concept of "eternity." It seems too long. Won't I get bored? I can't imagine what I'll do...they say, with a worried look.

But as I ponder the impossibility of connecting meaningfully with just a few of the people I care about, I imagine that the life we talk about when we describe "heaven" might be best described as life without limits. For starters, what happens when just the limit of time is taken out of the equation? So what if it takes you 500 years to learn to play an instrument? What if you never feel rushed to end a conversation? What if it will really be there tomorrow? What if an opportunity is never truly missed?

So much of what we do is limited, bounded by physicality, age, linear time. One of my daughter's friends posted this comment on her facebook wall: "Cloning and teleportation would come in handy right about now.  :-/  I'm so sorry I'm not going to be there today, but I'm so happy for you both."

I don't know if the second earth (I like to call it E.2) will incorporate teleporting, but I can imagine that walking on water and passing through solid walls (things Jesus seemed to find easy to accomplish) will not be uncommon. 

Life without limits. More life, more ways, more options. I think I'll need all the time I can get and then some.  
It's the morning of my youngest daughter's wedding. As I was out on a walk this morning my mind wandered back to the story of Jesus' first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana. In case you don't know the story, Mary, Jesus' mother, comes and informs him that they are running low on wine. Jesus, after a bit of a disclaimor (it's not the time for miracles yet) goes ahead and does what's requested, turning regular water in the best wine that the guests have had all night. John says, "this was the first instance of Jesus showing his glory."

Often the focus of this story is on Jesus - as it is his first miracle - but this morning Mary got my attention. Who wouldn't like a friend like her at a wedding? Either she was doing a scan of how things were going herself (perhaps she was part of the serving crew) or she was good enough friends with the mother of the bride that she could come to Mary when things were looking a bit dicey. Either way, she's my kind of person. Maybe it's because we're catering this wedding (and I wonder if we'll run out of chicken) or maybe it's because I have so many friends who are supporting me during this time, but I see Mary through new eyes. Not just as the mother of God, but as the best kind of friend you can have in an emergency.

While this past week I've spent a lot of time preparing for the wedding, I've also been in prayer for a family whose young son is in the hospital. It's touch and go whether he'll need a heart transplant, and a good friend of the family is keeping folks updated on her facebook page.

In both these situations, the problem is an excuse to go to Jesus. In my prayers I imagine Him there at the bedside of this little boy, massaging the foot that isn't getting enough blood supply, pouring energy into a heart that is shriveled and stressed, lending the grace and comfort of his presence to the parents who sit hoping and praying for a miracle.

I wonder how Mary knew that Jesus could turn water into wine. Had he done this for the family on a shabbat evening sometime during his life? I remember that He's 30 years old when this request comes, plenty of time for some of His powers to be glimpsed. He wasn't ready to go public, but Mary has a heart for her friends, and so He does what He's asked.

I'm glad for the Marys I know. And for the Jesus they know. For the times we've all seen Him do something amazing. I'm glad that I can count on Him to show up - in a hospital room and at a wedding. Bringing what we need, and showing His glory.
I had a dream a few days ago in which jazz came up - more about that perhaps at some point. But I realized this morning, as we're improvizing in the last days of the wedding prep, how helpful it is to have the jazz attitude.To be open to the flow of the themes of others around you, let them play their riff, answer with your own, and believe in the integrity of the piece as a whole - and that it's beautifully original and glorious.

I think God invented jazz. I think He laid out a few major chord progressions and a melody that won't quit, but then He decided to live the rest of the song out with us. To actually be in the moment, playing off of our desires, even as He continues with His own commitment to the integrity of the piece.

Just a thought - it is after all 2 days before the wedding and I have some potato salad to make.
One of my cousins enjoying a ski, Indian Lake, NY

One of my favorite verses is from the end of Psalm 62:
One thing God has  spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong, 
and that you,  O Lord, are loving.

Banking on God's love and strength are like depending on both waterskis when you hit choppy water. 

When I was growing up, our family vacationed at my aunt and uncle's cabin in the Adirondacks. My grandfather had a motorboat and from an early age we were down at the dock slipping on sneakers (to make sure that our feet wouldn't slip out of the skis) and taking our turn behind the boat.  I was in awe of my older cousins who flashed amazing rooster tails, put the handle on an uplifted ski and crisscrossed while skiing double. Soon I learned a few of their tricks. Although I could never compete with that amazing spray, I'd try to lean back or over as deep as possible on my turns, and tried to jump high enough to cross both wakes.

But that was only on the smooth days. If the water was choppy, I stayed in close, anchored to both skis, only venturing outside the wake if the water seemed a little smoother there, than that churned by the boat's motor.

And so it's been these past few weeks. When it's smooth sailing, I am more adventurous, I explore, I stop and smell the roses, I am creative. But when life gets stressful (which sometimes happens despite our best attempts to remain calm), I'm glad to hunker down on two truths: God is strong and God is loving. Hanging on and remembering to let my knees absorb the waves helped me stay afloat even if there were some whitecaps on the lake, and even to enjoy the fact that I could stay standing! Keeping faithful, remembering to breathe, reminding myself of the truths that I stand on, allows me to do the same. And when I look around, I can still be in awe of the beauty that surrounds me. 

The Yellow Breeches at McCormick Park

It's a peaceful Sunday afternoon.  Since I can't get out on my kayak, I thought I'd take the time to enjoy the afternoon in the yard and write about some recent outings. These moments on the Yellow Breeches (the stream behind our home) have been itching to get down on paper. Hope you enjoy...

Pick Ups on the Yellow Breeches

1. Transported

My dangling hand
trails the kayak's lazy glide;
I've snagged a leaf-
its mottled brown a careful
dotted filigree.
What magical force transported it
intact from autumn fall to
float within my reach?

2. Hitch-hiker

He glided to my knee without a sound
and folded frail, elongated wings.
We flloated quite companionably until
I leaned to notice
exactly where those sky blue dots
were splashed against his match-like frame.
Long enough, he thought,
and drifted off.

3. The Falls

I sense the current's change.
No longer pleased to dawdle,
It's eager now to catch my tube
and, with a merry burst of joy,
push me down the beck'ning chute.
There frothing waves will jounce and jostle,
guiding me until I'm safely past
the pillared bridge.

4. Young love

I hear the giggles first.
The older girl
(mid-teens I guess)
will not just jump into the raft.
She needs to know just where she'll sit--
how close or far from either boy
and where her feet will go.
Her friend is standing quietly,
while both the boys
anticipate an afternoon delight.

Susan Schmidt, July 2011