H is for Hike.
Henri Nouwen said, “Friendship has always belonged to the core of my spiritual journey.”
Friendship is the core of almost any journey — and it was true of my hike at Laity Lodge.
I know that I already mentioned the hike in my post, Bluff, but it really is a three chapter story for which I only told the middle chapter.
Chapter One — One mile hike up.
Chapter Two — Pretty view.
Chapter Three — One mile hike down.
While I loved the view, I think I loved the hiking part more. Because of the friendship aspect.
When we walk with someone, we learn something — about them and about ourselves.
On the way up, I walked with Dawn — Dawn-of-a-thousand-careers, also known as Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.
Everyone has a story.
Everyone has a thousand stories.
As much as I love reading stories, I love hearing the stories. I love asking questions so I’m picturing it clearly in my mind. And hearing the rise and fall of the teller’s voice as they emphasize the words that are important in their telling of the story. I love seeing them smile when they tell the parts that make them smile, and bite their lip a little when they tell the parts that are hard.
I loved hearing Dawn’s stories on the way up. One of her stories involved running a marathon (or was it a half-marathon?) where she completed it by sheer will-power. She’s a strong woman.
What I learned about me while I was hiking with Dawn was that I don’t like to confess to my weaknesses.
I was running out of breath, going what felt like straight up. The gap between us and the next group of hikers grew larger and larger as we hiked slower and slower.
Darned if I would admit needing to rest though!
If Dawn could keep going, I could keep going.
Thankfully, she stopped.
“I need to catch my breath,” she said.
Benevolent me, I said, “No worries. I don’t mind waiting.”
What I meant to say was, “Thankyouthankyouthankyou.” gasp-gasp “Myheartispoundingoutofmychest.” gasp-gasp “I (gasp) need (gasp) a-rest, (gasp) too!”
On the hike down (which was much easier) I walked with a young woman named Kristen. Tall, beautiful, and with an enviable openness about her — she told me about her work, her church, her family. It hit me as we were talking that she is the same age as Philip, my oldest son.
I could be her mother, I whispered to myself, but the words flew away in the Texas wind.
I marveled at the fact that I had arrived at the enviable stage of life where I have friends, real friends, that span many generations, and I’m right smack dab in the middle of them.
It was a cosy feeling — not out of breath at all.
A hike with friendship at its core.
G is for Flannery O’Connor’s story that wasn’t called “The Good Guide.”
That’s not a typo.
She wrote a story called “The Artificial N——” — I can’t even bring myself to type the word — and her editor pleaded with her to change the title to “The Good Guide.” FO stood up for her title, saying it was the essence of the story.
At Laity Lodge, this story was the topic of Dr. Ralph Wood’s final talk for the retreat. It is a story of pride, betrayal, and grace.
As soon as Dr. Wood introduced the story, as soon as he said the word, as soon as he dropped that bomb, every heart turned toward the one man of color in our midst.
Every heart turned that way, I’m sure, though every eye politely stared straight ahead or focused on some speck on the floor.
He might as well have called a Jew to the front and offered to tattoo a number on his or her arm.
We are stung by certain words, by the sheer profanity of them, as we should be.
At the beginning of the retreat we were challenged to write two words on blocks of wood. One was to be the word that represents that thing that holds us back from our art. The other was to be a word that we would like to see eliminated from the English language.
I immediately knew my two words. I scrawled the first one onto a block, but couldn’t bring myself to write the second because, in my mind, it is such an awful word that it makes me want to throw up just to look at it.
I took a deep breath and finally scribbled it onto the block. Quickly, I laid the block face down on the sofa. I really didn’t want to see it.
Words can be such powerful things, can’t they?
Writing it down felt like I was empowering it, the last thing I ever wanted to do.
All those blocks were burned, though, in a vortex of fire on the last night.
The blocks were stacked on a potter’s wheel, doused with lighter fluid, and lit with the wheel spinning.
I wish it were so easy to rid our country of hate.
F is for Frio — as in the Frio River.
Every time I think about Laity Lodge and the Frio River, these words scroll across my mind – A river runs through it.
Because a river runs through the canyon and is such an integral part of the Laity experience.
We drive through the river to get to the lodge.
We can sit on the balcony to look at the river and listen to river.
Our view from the bluff looked down on the river and we could see how it wound its way through.
A river runs through it.
Years ago, I happened to catch the movie, A River Runs Through It, when it was shown on television. It is rare when I sit down to watch a whole movie unplanned, but something about it drew me. Something about it lingers, still today, in my heart.
Perhaps it was the mention of grace.
Perhaps it was the art, the stunning beauty of Montana.
Perhaps it was the human drama of a family and brothers and self-destructive behaviors and grace again.
Rivers run through our lives. They draw us together. We can stand in their waters side-by-side. We can feel their coolness and refreshment. We are washed clean in them.
Yes, it’s all grace.
Shall we gather at the river?
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
E is for Empire Swimming and Easter.
As a swim coach, I thought it funny that I ended up on my first flight to Laity Lodge with a swim team. I didn’t mind. Swimmers are some of my favorite people in the whole world.
Especially when I get to overhear conversations like this —
Swimmer A: This is my first time flying. I hope I get a window seat.
Swimmer B: You know you can’t open the window, right?
I laughed, wondering if Swimmer A thought he could open the window and stick his hand out to zoom through the oncoming air.
When the plane took off, I thought of him again, especially when I got that giddy feeling that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time as the wheels leave the ground.
Flying is such a miracle.
Over a hundred people crammed into a metal tube, with their suitcases and laptops and books — but somehow that heavy thing climbs into the sky.
I really do grin like a 10-year-old and get the watery eyes of a senior citizen at the moment of transformation from earthbound to air-born.
It happened to me again yesterday. Not the flying part, but the laughing/crying part.
Easter Sunday is, in my opinion, the most important Christian holiday. The crux of our faith lies in the truth that Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross and then conquered death in His resurrection.
Churches around the world have traditions associated with Easter. Over the years we’ve attended churches with sunrise services, cardboard testimonies, hymn sings, dramas, and traditional liturgies. Each new way of celebrating offers a fresh look at an old but oh-so-beautiful story.
The church we currently attend closes with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and a joyful procession of the children.
Curmudgeonly me, I said to Bud yesterday morning before church, “I’m ready to move on to something besides caterpillars and butterflies.”
I’ll blame it on the persistent headache I’ve had for the past week, but, more likely, I’m just a grump.
When the procession started, though, and the caterpillar came waddling up the center aisle, I felt that wheels-leaving-the-runway giddiness.
And when the children threw off the caterpillar shroud to reveal the butterflies, I confess, my eyes got a little watery.
As the procession continued with waving flags and ever larger butterflies, I was thankful for the joy that filled our sanctuary.
Because, if there was one thing I needed to be reminded of yesterday, it was joy.
Confetti-filled, silly-stringed, laugh-out-loud joy.
The kind where it doesn’t matter whether or not the window opens, because you can still feel the wheels leave the tarmac, and know that it’s a miracle, and that you’re being carried somewhere beyond, somewhere amazing.
Easter is that kind of amazing, pressed down, shaken over, overflowing.
The biggest miracle of them all.
D is for Dawn.
This post is about four Dawns — no, make that five. But where to begin?
Dawn #1 — For years, I have prayed for a friend named Dawn. I’ll call her Dawn-with-the-many-boys because this Dawn has four sons. Raising sons is the most fun job in the whole world. Boys possess a certain crazy energy that plays out in ways that most mothers never dream of — swords fights and jousting, damming creeks, and putting batteries down the drain. I speak from experience. Mothers of boys need prayer. So I pray for Dawn. Every day.
Dawn #2 — Several months ago, when I was praying for Dawn-with-the-many-boys, I felt this nudge to pray for another Dawn. I’ll call her Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.
I felt a nudge – Pray for Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.
“But I don’t even know her,” I countered.
Pray for her.
So I did.
Then she climbed into my car at the San Antonio airport. Unplanned. Yet, I wonder if it was. As her story unfolded to me, I realized how much she did need prayer. I felt both privileged and thankful that I could pray for her, and now in a more meaningful way.
Dawn #3 — For Lenten reading, I had chosen Elie Wiesel’s trilogy, Night, Dawn, and Day. High-schoolers across the country read Night, the story of Wiesel’s time in German concentration camps. Buchenwald, and Wiesel, are liberated at the end of Night.
But the story wasn’t over.
Dawn tells the story of a concentration camp survivor recruited by a Zionist group to fight in Palestine. Elisha, the main character, is called on to kill a man — an act that will forever change him.
“Elisha–” said the hostage.
I fired. When he pronounced my name he was already dead; the bullet had gone through his heart. A dead man, whose lips were still warm, had pronounced my name: Elisha.
I kept putting that scene next to this, from Night:
…The officer wielded his club and dealt him a violent blow to the head.
I didn’t move. I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head.
My father groaned once more, I heard:
… His last word had been my name. He had called out to me and I had not answered.
And next to this, where a life is laid down, not taken:
“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
I read Dawn a second time during my flights. I’m still wrestling with it.
Dawn #4 — I watched the sun rise every morning from a lonely place near Laity Lodge. In the daytime, I had bemoaned the telephone poles and wires stretching across this view. When I came home and looked at my photographs, though, I saw a cross, an empty cross, on a hill.
Dawn #5 —
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb… (Luke 24:1)
An empty tomb, an empty cross, a hard story that isn’t over yet, women who are dear to me.
Dawn, Dawn, and Dawn at dawn.
Music weaves its way through the fabric of the days at Laity Lodge.
The sessions begin and end with song, usually old hymns for which the hymnbook may only be half-necessary.
Like the time we sang, “Shall We Gather at the River.” I don’t really know all the verses to that one — just the chorus — so I used the hymnal. I got really confused, however, when the melody we sang didn’t match the music in front of me. It’s the plight of a music-reader to notice such things.
My favorite part of a concert is when the performer forgets their lyrics. At that moment, something shifts from a performance to a sharing of imperfections, from an act on a stage to a friend who is willing to open up and reveal some deeper truth about themselves.
At the concert on the last night at Laity Lodge, the musicians sang their songs, forgot a few lyrics, and then gave us the privilege of hearing some new material.
“You mind if I share a new song?”
No, no, we didn’t mind at all when both Andrew Peterson and Andy Gullahorn asked that question. It was a pleasure to be their guinea pigs.
At times, the vulnerability made me want to look away.
How hard it must be to expose fears and struggles — from a stage. A few lines from one new AP song —
I tried to be brave and I hid in the dark.
I sat in that cave and I prayed for a spark
To burn up all the pain that remained in my heart,
But the rain kept falling down.
AP also sang a song dedicated to his wife asking if they would survive and I ached inside for them. At that moment, I wished my husband were beside me so I could slide my hand into his warmer, larger hand, and feel the squeeze of reassurance.
Beauty lives in the hard places — and we need to be reminded of that.
We do survive.
And even those who don’t can experience new life in other ways.
Easter is especially a time to be mindful of that.
Out of our greatest grief comes our greatest joy.
Thanks for the concert and the reminders.
Wouldn’t you know it? Yesterday I discovered the A to Z Blogging Challenge for April, where for the month of April the challenge is to blog every day except Sunday, and use the letters of the alphabet to mark off the days.
April 1st, A, I decided could be Assistance, since that’s what the story was about. Today, I could say B is for Bus, but I semi-promised no more bus stories.
So B is for Bluff, more precisely, Circle Bluff.
I’m no longer telling a chronological story; it’s an alphabetical one, but I hope you’ll bear with me.
The destination for all my travels was a place called Laity Lodge in the wilds of Texas. I’ll have to come back to my time at LaGuardia and Charlotte airports, my short stay in San Antonio, my first real Texas barbecue, and even my drive through the river to get to Laity Lodge.
Let me simply say that Laity Lodge is pretty close to heaven on earth. Pretty. Darn. Close.
I heard someone say “Friggin'” there, so I knew it wasn’t heaven. Still.
A group of us went for a hike on Friday. The fact that it felt like it was straight up half the time was a testament to how out of shape I am.
It was up, but not straight. Straight up is a cliff.
And straight down is the direction I looked once we were up on the bluff.
Apparently there was a sign — “Don’t go past these rocks.”
I honestly didn’t notice the sign.
I just saw all these other people out there and climbed over the rocks.
The view was spectacular. I kept looking at this little out-jutting ledge, thinking how fun it would be sit on it, and dangle my legs, and really enjoy the view, but when I looked back at our trusty hike leader, she was literally holding her heart in her chest, like it might fall out from the palpitations we all were causing.
So I just took a picture of the ledge.
Because, really, I never got that close to the edge. See?
And the truth is, the farther away from the edge, the less spectacular the view.
In fact, Evel Knievel said, “Where there is little risk, there is little reward.” I remember watching his daredevil stunts when I was a kid.
But he is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of “most bones broken in a lifetime”. 433, to be exact.
So I risked a little, but not too much, and loved the view.
From the bluff.
Which begins with B.
Q: How many stories can I eke out of one bus trip?
A: This is the last one. I think.
When I began the trip, I was determined to have writer’s eyes and ears, paying attention to the details and scribbling them down. Once I reached my destination, that plan evaporated, like a puddle in the Texas sun.
Still, I now have this notebook full of notes. When I pulled it out this morning to help me recall the next leg of my journey, I realized that I had left out a little chapter about my bus ride.
Here is the story verbatim from my notes.
Dubai mom walks to the front of the bus.
“Anyone have a paper bag?”
Someone gives her one.
She goes back to her seat and hands the bag across the aisle.
Take-charge nurse-type across the aisle from me calls back questions.
“Does she have asthma?”
“Does she have an inhaler?”
No answer — vomiting.
“Does she have a pump?”
“I’m coming back…”
Thank you for these little heroes on a bus.
“I work in a hospital,” she said to me later, “used to work in the ER.”
As fair and lovely as Dubai mom was, ER nurse was dark and strong. She reminded me of Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
I was so thankful for both of them. Dubai mom (who turned out to be from Greene) was compassionate and caring enough to not ignore the distressed passenger across the aisle from her. ER Nurse was exactly the kind of person to handle such a situation to a safe conclusion.
Another woman in my vicinity kept muttering that the driver is supposed to stop if someone is sick. However, we were already an hour late, and he was hired to drive, not talk; I’m not sure that compassion was in his job description either.
A final note from my notes on this (“she” refers to Dubai mom)
“Quite a ride, wasn’t it?” she said, smiling.
Was she referring to the broken down bus or the vomiting woman?
Blogging from A to Z Challenge — my word for the day: Assistance
When the teen server tore off a piece of bread and handed it to me, she looked at me and paused.
I waited for the words — “This is the Bread of Life.” Or, “the Body of Christ broken for you.” Which would she say?
She hesitated and then her face broke out into a big smile. “Hi,” she said. She had forgotten what she was supposed to say and simply greeted me.
I laughed and took the bread to dip into the challis.
The little girl beside her lifted the cup to me and said, in a tiny voice, “The cup of blessing.”
I dipped my bread and went back to my seat, still smiling.
Sometimes, in the somberness of the occasion, we forget that it was like a family meal in that upper room so long ago. I’m sure there was a clatter of dishes and hubbub of voices while everyone dined, reclining at the table.
Comings, goings, actions, conversations — all in the course of one meal.
Quiet introspection played no part.
Listening to Jesus did.
Sometimes, in the ceremony and formality of communion at church, we miss the human connection — and that’s what Jesus did on earth, connect with us in a very human way.
Communion amazes me every time.
Yesterday, my friend Laura Lynn Brown launched a new site: makesyoumom.com.
I have previously written about how I met Laura at Laity Lodge.
I was honored that she asked me if I would be willing to submit a piece for her new site, so I found an old piece I had written, dusted it off a little, and sent it to her. I was even more honored when she decided to include it in her launch.
“Momswimcoach” was written about my time coaching the Cooperstown Girls Varsity Swim Team.
Feeling nostalgic, I pulled out another piece written about that era and read through it.
Gosh, those were the days.
No, they weren’t, really. They were hard and stressful. I was in my forties, pregnant for some of it, working outside the home for the first time in decades, trying to homeschool, and still in the wake of the storm I mentioned yesterday.
But Bridget — Bridget was a gift to me.
She was a high school girl with a sunny smile, a giving soul, and Rocky Balboa’s work ethic.
When I started coaching, I had no experience coaching anything ever. Yes, I was a swimmer. Yes, I was a swim official. Yes, my children swam. Did that make me a coach? No. Yet there I was, on deck, being called “Coach” by eighteen girls, one of them named Bridget.
I threw myself into coaching to the best of my ability. I used workouts that the previous coach had left me, started watching videos on teaching the different strokes, researched swimming on the internet, and shamelessly asked other coaches how they did things.
The girls knew I was new. Some used it to get out of work. The most common technique was to negotiate during practice.
Negotiations would go something like this.
Swimmer: Coach, do we really have to do 10 100s of freestyle?
Me: Is that what I wrote on the board?
Swimmer: Yes, but I was thinking, maybe I could just do 5 50s of butterfly since that’s what I’ll be swimming in the meet.
Pushover me: Sure, I guess so.
Swimmer: Coach, do we really have to do a 200 kick?
Me: I was thinking we need to work on our kicking.
Swimmer: I have this blister on my foot from some new shoes and kicking hurts. Can I just do a 100 pull?
Pushover me: Sure, I guess so.
Eventually, I started to catch on. Only certain girls asked me and without exception they were negotiating for something easier. Also, as I planned out the practices, I became more and more keyed into what I wanted to work on and what I wanted the team to accomplish over the course of the season.
The more I grew as a coach, the more the negotiating irked me. I started to say no to all negotiations.
One day, when the chief negotiator began to propose her own sets, I said no, but she continued whining and wheedling. Something in me snapped. I took off my whistle, handed it to her, saying, “Apparently you know more about coaching than I do,” and walked off the deck.
Bridget came and found me in the locker room. “Mrs. Zaengle, I’m so sorry,” she said.
I looked at her – Bridget, who never gave me a problem, never questioned anything I asked her to do, was apologizing to me.
She followed up that verbal apology with a letter that she had every girl on the team sign. In the letter they thanked me for my time and my efforts; they apologized for not respecting me; they promised to work hard for me.
I think that was the day I realized what a gift Bridget was to me.
She worked so hard at every practice. Sometimes, in my quest for sets, I went to college sites and selected sets that were probably too hard for the girls. One of those times, I looked at Bridget’s flushed cheeks mid-set, realizing how hard the practice was.
“Let’s change the interval, Bridget, or shorten the set,” I said.
“No, Mrs. Zaengle,” was her reply. “I can do it.”
And she did.
She worked, and her work was a joy to me. Even when I messed up. Even when what I asked was unreasonable. Bridget was a gift.
Bridget’s attitude was infectious, too. I noticed more and more of the girls adopting her positive ways.
In the end, the team and I had the relationship described in Momswimcoach. That was a gift, too.
And Laura Brown? She’s also a gift. Encouraging me to keep trying.
We’re surrounded by people who are gifts. I’m quite sure of that. We just don’t always recognize them.