Archive for the ‘roadblocks’ Category

The ESL class for the refugees meets in a church that houses these stained glass windows from an historic downtown church.

Someone had the good sense to rescue them.
hallway of stained glass
I can’t look at stained glass (or tapestries, for that matter) without thinking of the important role the dark colors play, and not just in showing off the light colors. They have a deep beauty all their own.
My life has its own dark threads, dark segments. There have been 3 or 4 things that, if it was up to me, I would have chosen not to experience, things that made me wonder, Where is God in this?

If I had it in my power, I’d go back and have a do-over without them in my story. And yet . . .

I wouldn’t trade for anything the lessons I have learned from each.
It’s difficult to explain, but I have an appreciation for the dark seasons. Only someone who has had this experience (and survived) can understand how that is.

You didn’t want it.
You certainly don’t want ever to repeat it,
and yet……you gained something there.

And the FAITH was almost lost is multiplied.

I feel no need to tie things up in a neat bow. None.
In fact, there’s nothing neat about it.
It’s all pretty messy,
like coal which, under great pressure over time, turns into a diamond.


This is FAITH: That whatever circumstances we are in, good or bad, God is with us. Right there. The truth of this is discovered only by walking it.

It helps to let others walk it with us.

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SECOND in a series about working with refugees. Here, the challenge of assimilating someone who looks very different.

* * *

IN MAY, MINA CAME. She was the first to come completely covered, nothing but her eyes showing.

I am used to the women with headscarves. About 1/3 of them have their heads covered – the Iraqis, the Afghanis, the Somalis. A few are covered all the way to their toes – some in black, some in colors. But Mina is the first to have a face veil.

Mina comes and right away I like her. Maybe it’s the way she extends her hand to me, which is unusual. Normally, I initiate the greeting and the new student is shy and unsure. Maybe it’s her smile. Her face is covered, but her eyes are smiling and there’s a warmth there. Whatever it is, right there, in that first moment, there is something about her I like.

But she’s a curiosity, for sure. Later, two Latinas sitting to my right discuss Mina’s garb in hushed tones.

The younger one inquires.
The older one explains.
“No, it’s to not attract the husband of another woman, I think.”

This same conversation may be happening around the room various languages, I don’t know. My ear only catches the Spanish.

I wonder how this will all go, having her in the class. We are all on a journey together.

Mina and her family come from Sri Lanka by way of Malaysia, then somewhere else, then the Bahamas, which they thought was their last stop before Canada, but an agent absconded with their money and they ended up being sent to Ecuador, where they spent two years before coming here, not Canada.

Along the way, she picked up several languages and lost a child. When I communicated this last bit to the other students, there was an audible moan of sympathy.

Loss of a child is universally understood. No language barriers for this type of grief.

Her English is passable, even good. Her learning skills, superior. She takes notes. She sees connections between words. She recognizes similar constructions. When we, as a group, go for a walk & talk through the neighborhood, she asks more questions than all the others combined.

But here’s what made the BIGGEST IMPRESSION on me:

MinaThat first day, she arrives in the middle of a lesson about clothing. Toward the end of class, we take turns standing and telling the class what articles of clothing we are wearing. When it’s Mina’s turn, she stands without hesitation and tells us about all her layers, head to toe, including the overdress (which she only wears when leaving the house) and the face veil (which she only wears when a man who is not a family member is around).

First day in class, she’s addressing the elephant in the room. Golly, I loved that!

She knows she’s a curiosity and a stigmatized one at that. She’s more aware of it than we are. But she has taken hold of that truth and made choices of how to deal with it –  by taking initiative, extending her hand to the world to greet, facing head-on the objects of concern, sharing her joys and griefs, and allowing us to know her as a person and see her as other than just a stereotype.

Mina, the most-covered in the class, is not in hiding.
Did I mention I love that?

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Jacinda's scrollwork

Kathy O, who lived 5 doors down the street, would, when things weren’t going her way, pack up all the dresses she’d brought for dress-ups and head home, leaving the rest of us sitting there. That’s just how she was.

Why am I thinking about her today? Now?

I’ve been picturing Lewis & Clark, looking west,
about to head off to places they’ve never been,
not knowing in advance the full distance,
how long it might take,
what may be required of them.

I would have been dead weight on that expedition, what with bears and mud and weather and needing to lift boats and supplies and carry the whole shebang around waterfalls. Traveling upstream! And not speaking the language of so many they encounter.

I would not have said yes
(not that I would have been invited).

I’m forced to face this truth about myself. I would not have gone. I’d have hunkered down in my cabin, stayed put and let someone else go.

I shiver, just thinking about that journey, and I think I know why.
That same fear is close to me, not far. Not 2 centuries ago.

I, too, stand on a frontier, like most of us do at least once in our lives. We stand, and what lies ahead is a frontier to us. We don’t know what we’re heading into. We might have ideas about it. We may have heard bits and pieces from what others said they thought they saw when they were out there, or what they heard someone else say, but really we don’t know for sure what’s out there, what we’ll face.

We don’t know about it
and we don’t know about ourselves,
whether we have what it takes.

It becomes clear me, when I visit the Lewis & Clark exhibit and I feel the slug in me resisting, saying, “NO WAY I’d sign up for that” that I see where I truly am, standing on my own frontier, weighing the inconvenience of it all and leaning toward staying home by the fire with a cup of tea.

I see this about myself, that I’m all for someone else making the trip and I’ll come to a museum and learn all about it. But blaze the trail, me?
Would I be willing to be that inconvenienced and discomforted?
Am I willing now, on my own frontier?

Or will I, like Kathy O, choose to pack up my story and take it home?

And if I do, who will I be leaving out there all alone, to shiver in the cold?
I keep thinking about that father at the cookout.

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In their book “On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts,” Ann  & Charity remind me to stoke the creative fires by getting out and doing something different, something artful perhaps. Something other than writing. On purpose. I am sometimes big on theory and short on follow-through.

Frazier 1
ALL OVER TOWN, I see billboards for the Lewis & Clark exhibit at the Frazier History Museum. “Walk 7,000 miles in their shoes, without the blisters.”

“I’m definitely going to that!” I say.

I set a reminder for Sunday afternoon. “Go to the Frazier this week?” But when Sunday arrives and I hear the alert, the coming week feels too full. I change the alert to the following Sunday, to be reminded again.

The following Sunday, same thing. I move the reminder forward yet another week.

There’s always so much to do.
There’s always dinner to make, the dog to walk, a Lowe’s return, a call to make, a call to take, packing or unpacking, a letter to write, workmen due, a birthday card to buy.

I keep driving around.
I keep seeing billboards.
I keep meaning to go.
I keep resetting the reminder.

And what about the story I promised to write? Just where am I with that?
Stuck. I have no idea where I am. This is no time for wandering museums.

I go to the Frazier.
I’m not there 10 minutes on the frontier with them, facing the enormous challenge, the great distance that must be covered, the dangers that lie ahead, the work, the discomfort, the very real possibility of not surviving, or worse, turning back before reaching the end point,
than I see more clearly than ever
my own frontier,
my own fears.

Now I know where I am, a good thing to know.
But I had to go downtown to learn it.

More details in coming posts.
Frazier 3
Frazier 2

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morning tracks in snow

across fresh snow
on the back porch
beg to be captured,
I don’t know why,
the same way
I don’t know why
I had to write down
all that happened,
just so it’s there
the view from my window.

But they’ve caught my attention,
made me wonder.

Have the tracks I was leaving
been erased by what’s happened?
The answer, I think,
lies in my response,
the steps still to come.
It’s all one long story,
the story of a life.

I think I’ll get dressed and go to church and see my people,
the people with the long view.

How It Starts

How It Starts

Real Reason Most Journals are Abandoned

Real Reason Most Journals are Abandoned

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Follow the stone markers,
I’m told.

I go up the dusty barren road
3 times
before I see them,
they blend in so well.

And isn’t that always the way?
There they were
the whole time,
but I was imagining something else,
looking for something different

* * *


Even now, seeing them plain as day,
I hesitate,
stopping to consider, to assess,
looking into the scrub,
whether this can indeed be the way to go.
It looks like a path to nowhere.

I have no reason to trust this,
except it was told to me
by someone who’s made the trek.

* * *

I step off, following.
Piles of rock are all I have to go by.
Stone markers.
A pure faith walk.

There’s something so foreign about it.
Also, freeing.

A slight twist,
a small turn
all of a sudden
there it is
just what I’ve been looking for –
so close by
all along

And isn’t that always the way?






images: Photos from my visit to the Threshold installation at Laity Lodge.

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AN UPDATE on the shade garden, a reminder that even in places where people say nothing will grow, things can happen. Never give up.



the shade garden in 2013


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