Grateful for the Unknown Hosts

Tonight I am grateful for people who share meals with my son.  Jesse is 22 and a recent college graduate. He’s traveling across the country with the goal of going to each National Park in the continental US. 

Jesse doesn’t blog about his experiences, and he posts infrequently on social media. While Keith and I are totally supportive of his journey, we’re also unapologetically wired to be his parents.  For us that translates into Keith checking Jesse’s bank account to see where he last bought gas, and I find myself saying prayers that includes petitions about bears staying  away from his campsite.

Last night Jesse called to share some highlights with us. He’d been gone three weeks, and we hadn’t talked with him for awhile, so it was good to hear his voice and his stories. 

He’d messaged us a few days before about a family of five who’d asked to share his campsite. The park’s campsites were all booked up, but Jesse knew what it meant to be without a campsite, having just spent two or three nights in his “trunk apartment.” So he welcomed the family and told us he met five new friends and their French bulldog. The family was so grateful they fed him supper and paid for the site.

Jesse told us that just a day or two later he was just about to head out on a trail when a woman who was cooking at another campsite asked him if he’d eaten a hot meal that morning. He hadn’t, and she promptly invited him to sit down with her family for something cheesy and warm and good. 

As I said–Keith and I are totally supportive of Jesse’s trek and how he chooses to do it. But I must admit that this mama is just so grateful for strangers who feed our son and offer him some conversation along the way.

I’m sure Jesse thanked his hosts. He’s always been so good at saying thank you. Since I can’t thank them personally, though, I’ll settle for thanking you–for the times when you’ve offered someone a meal and a conversation.  For the times you initiated a conversation with a young adult or a traveler or both.  Thank you.  Wherever there’s a person who is on a journey, there’s likely a parent or someone else who cares for that person who is wondering how the journey is going and praying all is well.  

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The Thud

I was working from home last Wednesday and noticed the sound of large trucks in the neighborhood, meaning a big job was being done somewhere near our house.  At one point during the day there was a huge THUD! and our floorboards communicated the vibrations of something tremendous hitting the ground nearby.

It wasn’t until later that I looked out the window and discovered what had been going on.  A crew from the city had been working all day taking down what was probably the largest tree for several blocks.

It was a huge pine tree.  I’m not good with estimating how tall things are without being able to actually count rows of windows in a building, but I’m guessing this tree was maybe the equivalent of a five-story building.  I could see it out our kitchen window, and when it was storming and blowing, I’d watch it, and it would move some but not much; it was solid and grounded.  I spend at least an hour each morning in a room that looks out to that tree, and it was always an impressive sight, towering dark with the colors of the sunrise behind it.

I even sat outside one summer and sketched the pine after taking a short drawing course and wanting to practice my skills on area trees.  A hawk used this tree as a home base, along with a nearby elm.  The tree simply was a big part of what I noticed in the area immediately outside of our home.

And now it’s gone.  It’s just gone.  When I look out the south windows, there’s only sky where the tree used to be.  I haven’t seen the hawk to guess how it’s adjusting, but I miss the tree.  The air feels emptier without it there.

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My friend Vera shares a quote with me about stories.  She says, “When a person dies, a whole library dies with them.”  Losing this tree reminded me, symbolically at least, of the hole that’s left when someone dies, when the space that person occupied is empty, and that empty space is actually a shock to the senses.

I was sad because I didn’t have photo of the tree to remind me of how it looked, towering over the southern half of our block.  I was discouraged thinking it was up to just my memory to recall how the branches looked in the morning and how much strength it displayed in Nebraska storms.

But then I remembered my sketchbook and the drawing that I’d made.  While the piece isn’t going to find its way to an art gallery, it is a representation of the tree that I am missing, and while it doesn’t take the sting away when I see just sky where there once was a towering pine, it’s something.  And it’s something that’s comforting and good.

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My dad used to tell stories about his mother.  I never knew my Grandma Larsen and neither did my mom.  Grandma Larsen died before Dad and Mom even met, so Dad’s stories were what I had to try to form a picture in my mind and in my heart of who this woman was.  I still don’t know much about her, but the stories are something.  And they’re something that’s comforting and good.

“When a person dies, a whole library dies with them,” says Vera.  What can you do to help keep even part of that library of stories alive, whether those stories are about someone you love or whether they are your own?

Influencing Life vs. Life-Shaping Influences

When I first walked down to the river that flowed by the Wild Goose Festival, it was clear that others got there before I did.  There were small to medium size flat rocks stacked three, four or five high on larger flat rocks.  Some were on the edge of the river, and some were right in the middle.  These towers were probably created for a variety of reasons, someone’s contemplative practice or a way to say, “I was here,” and each was built to stand at least several days.

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Everyday I ate breakfast by myself at the edge of that river.  It was peaceful to watch the clouds move east, over and between the Appalachian mountains, and the water move north, over and between the gray river rocks.  The first morning I noticed a particular rock that had been worn into a crescent shape on one side because of the flowing water.  No person had cut the rock into that shape.  The stone was simply in the stream, and the work of the water over the years had eroded it into the smooth curve that it was.

The rock towers were built to be noticed, even if just by the builder.  The rock that was worn into the shape of a long, slender “C” wasn’t noticed by maybe anybody but me, and after one night of heavy rain, it wasn’t even visible above the surface of the river.

The rock shaped by the river taught me that there’s more to life than seeing what I can build and do and have other people notice; it taught me that it’s OK to be still and let life shape me.

How are the stories I give shape and tell analogous to the towers made out of rock?  How are the stories told by other people or by nature impacting and shaping me?

What is shaping you?

 

Moments

The church I attend is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.  The celebration will include asking people to share stories about meaningful experiences related to the congregation.  We’re trying to make this as easy as possible, offering a few questions as a way to prompt their stories.  I asked my friend Jeanne, a writer, to let me know if she had suggestions for changing the prompts I was giving people.  She did.

Jeanne said that she’s learned through teaching writing courses that a prompt is really, really important.  Asking people to share a specific moment is key, Jeanne told me.  For instance, the question I shared was, “What is meaningful about being part of this faith community?”  Jeanne’s suggested change was, “What moment, recently or awhile ago, made you realize that Sinai is a gift to you?”

The difference is asking about a moment.

Richard Rohr wrote in Falling Upward, “Whether we find our True Self depends in large part on the moments of time we are each allotted, and the moments of freedom that we each receive and choose during that time.  Life is indeed ‘momentous,’ created by accumulated moments in which the deeper ‘I’ is slowly revealed if we are ready to see it.

I just spent a weekend at a gathering of 317 middle schoolers (12-14 year olds) and their adult leaders.  When people hear about this and say, “That must have been crazy,” I could respond, “Oh, they’re really amazing people.  They have big hearts and so much positive energy.”  This would be true, and I hope it would help the hearer know it was a good weekend.

It does seem more powerful to share moments like this one, though:

It was breakfast on Sunday morning.  I’d just spent the night in a sleeping bag on a slowly deflating air mattress.  Halfway through a long breakfast line, I realized I’d missed the forks and spoons.  I asked a nearby youth where they were.  She pointed them out near the beginning of the line.  

“Thanks.”  I said, and went through to the end of line before turning back to retrieve some silverware.  I didn’t walk two steps back before that same young lady reached out her hand.  She held a spoon and a fork that she’d gone back to get for me.

I’m wondering what moment you could share to describe an experience you had this past weekend, and I’m wondering what would happen if each of us shared more moments with one another as we share stories.

Holding Stories

My friend Vera and I love to talk stories.  We swap books about stories. And four times a year we get together for the better part of a day to dive into conversation about stories and their importance in communities and between individuals.

One day an image came to mind.  It was that Vera and I are like panes of glass that act as a base upon which frost can paint its art each winter.  I had this feeling that our job is to hold stories.  Not hold on to them, keeping stories to ourselves like secrets.  But I think we are to keep being the big fans of stories that we are, and, well, I don’t know what else.

For my part, I guess I keep listening.  I keep loving it when people tell me their stories.  Lately, I had the chance to go to a storytelling workshop and then to visit a Lutheran church in St. Paul, Minnesota that holds a story sharing event four times a year in a neighborhood bar.

Inspired by Brene’ Brown and her book  The Gifts of Imperfection, one day I took a stack of post-it notes and wrote down quotes about stories, storytelling resources, listening tips and more, one on each post-it.  Then they went on a wall in my home.  Vera and I met and shared her notes and mine.

A couple weeks ago I took a stab at launching a website as a way to organize the resources we’ve been finding and talking about.  I’d love your input on what could be part of the site and the resources about sharing stories that inspire you.

I don’t know what holding stories means.  But I think it’s beautiful.

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Kitchen Talk

“Have you updated that story blog lately?” Linda asked.

“Nope,” I answered.

Then I started cooking aebleskiver, telling Linda about how my home church always has an aebleskiver meal around Christmas.

The women of the church would always bring their batter from home, cooking the aebleskiver on the large gas stove in the church’s kitchen.  My mom told me once that she had a big bowl of batter in the front seat of the car.  I was standing next to the bowl (there were no car seat laws), and I put my foot right in the batter.  My mom didn’t take her bowl into the church that night.

“There’s a story you can share,”  Linda said.

My father-in-law gave me our aebleskiver pan.  It was his mother’s, and Paul asked me if I wanted it when Grandma Sarah’s house was being emptied after she died.  When I got the pan, there was a piece of white string tied through the hole in the pan’s handle.  I told my mom about the pan and its string, thinking it was pretty smart of Grandma Sarah to mark her cast iron pan like that.

My mom laughed.  “Everybody marked her pan with a piece of string through the handle.”

“There’s another story you can share,” Linda said again.

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Photo credit:  Linda Fenton

Mom used a hat pin to turn her aebleskiver.  I met a really cranky old Dane in Wisconsin when we lived there right after Keith and I got married.  Trying to win her over with my Danishness, I started talking aebelskiver with her.

“What do you use to turn them?”  she asked.

I told her I had a metal skewer that we’d used otherwise to cook kabobs.

She stood up at that point, grumbling that what I really needed was a knitting needle.  Going to her kitchen, she gave me her own aebleskiver turner, a long knitting needle I use today.

“There’s another story,” said Linda.

I’m taking Linda up on her suggestions.  None of these stories share anything earth shattering or life changing.  But the more I think about it, the more I wonder about just how many of the stories we share in our day-to-day conversations are earth shattering or life changing.

Or do stories simply add up over the course of a relationship?  Each time someone shares a small, seemingly insignificant story, the listener gets to know the sharer just a little bit more.  We get glimpses of each other’s childhoods, family histories, tactics we use to get along with others.

Maybe sharing a story is enough.  Maybe I don’t have to reveal some startling truth.

There’s a story you can share.  What will it be today?

Confessions of an Intermittent Beginning Blogger

It’s been several months since the last blog post.

I wonder how many blogs start with those words?

Carrie Newcomer wrote a song called “Before and After,” and repeated lyrics speak of the writer forgiving herself “for what she didn’t ask her,” “for what I didn’t know,” and “for what didn’t matter.”  I try to take Ms. Newcomer’s words to heart when I think about things like falling off the blogging wagon.

It’s a challenge to write.  It’s a challenge to write regularly.  It’s a challenge to write regularly when there’s a critic who lives in my head, wondering (vainly) about what is written.

I’ll forgive myself for what I don’t know and for what doesn’t matter.  Thank you, Carrie Newcomer.

[Insert a well-worded transition of your own here, because one didn’t come to mind for me.]

When I leave my office at the end of the work day, I drive past a hospital, then come to a stop sign where two lanes of traffic wait to turn.  I am always in the right turn lane, and about half the time there is also someone in the left turn lane.

One day while waiting for traffic to pass and sitting a few moments in the right lane, I glanced to the left, watching the traffic driving perpendicular to my route.  My gaze settled for a moment on the man in the car next to me.  It was an older car and an older man.  Gray car.  Gray hair.  Imagining that he had just come from visiting an ailing loved one at the hospital, I wondered if there would be a way to offer a time of story sharing for people who are hospitalized and their family members and close friends.  What if this time of story sharing could give people the chance to say what they needed to say in order to help whatever healing process they might be needing?  The term “Healing Stories” came to mind, and for the next few weeks, whenever I thought of Healing Stories, my own spirit settled down a bit inside of me.

I was at the same stop sign a month later.  I was in the right turn lane and a middle aged woman with dark hair was in the left turn lane beside me.  We both stopped only momentarily before moving on.  Healing Stories came to mind again, this time with the thought that maybe Healing Stories can be drawn out and shared at random intervals in our lives, at times when we stop and sit next to someone long enough to ask a question or allow our own stories to be drawn out for the sharing.

I have a feeling that these spaces and times for sharing healing stories are all over the place, and I’m going to try to start looking for them, noticing them and settling into whatever time there is for sharing.  How about you?  What are your opportunities to open yourself to Healing Stories?