Tag Archives: noticing

The Transition Time

spring ducks

I’ve been home from Armenia long enough now that I should be over the bulk of the jet lag…but I still feel like I’m lagging. I can hardly stay awake past nine; I can’t get up early to write; I can’t manage to get much of anything checked off my to-do lists. I’m slogging through my days, staring off into space a lot, forgetting a lot of really basic things, like brushing my teeth.

A week and a half later, I’m still just a little out of step with my own life.

There is an entire gamut of emotions that I imagine I should probably feeling after a trip like this: guilt over our excess and our waste. Newly realized devotion to changing the world…or at least changing our spending patterns. Quiet wisdom gleaned from those heavy, precious moments in the homes of Amasia.

I feel none of that…which makes me feel like, possibly, I’ve done this whole thing wrong.

Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about the weather.

Daylight Savings came and brought with it the dry, brown beginnings of something that we’re tentatively calling spring. 

The snow is gone, and it’s been warm enough to sit outside on the deck in just a sweatshirt. This weekend, Andrew dragged the patio furniture out of the shed, and a few brave-hearted ducks flew back in, even though the bulk of the pond is still ice.

I don’t know how to feel about this weather. The last two years, we’ve had blizzards well into April. Winter, that cruel tyrant, is notorious for letting the first little seeds of hope begin to sprout…and then quashing the whole thing with ice and swirling gray snowstorms.

It’s warmer now, but the grass is still brown and the trees are still bare, and it’s only March. These transitions between seasons tend to be complicated and drawn out and full of heartbreak in Minnesota… and I’ve been here for more than a third of my life now. I’m just too jaded to hope that the worst is truly behind us.

*

On my trip two weeks ago, I wrote a lot about Armenia’s beauty and poverty and glory. I told you a little bit about the genocide and about that old beautiful church. But I don’t think I conveyed fully how in transition it is — particularly in the Gyumri area, where we spent the bulk of our time.

It wasn’t all that long ago, really, that the 1988 earthquake crumbled so many lives, killing 25,000 and leaving another 50,000 without shelter. And then, just a few years later, communism fell, and Armenia found herself on her own in the rubble, without the support she had grown accustomed to.

Transition.

I’ll be the first to confess that I don’t understand extreme poverty. I have no personal context through which to filter the experience of the family living in a shipping container, spending their days searching for twigs and branches to keep their home warm. (This is me, tuning out the story of the parents’ struggle, doing puzzles with the children. Kids, I understand. Puzzles, I understand. Poverty? Not at all.)

Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
Photo by Matthew Paul Turner

But I do understand transition. I know about how long it takes, how painfully slow it feels, how you alternate between hate and nostalgia for The Way Things Used to Be.

It’s hard to believe that Jesus is the Solid Rock when the world you’ve lived your whole life in has cracked beneath you into a thousand pieces. You can’t tell if everything is still half-broken or if it’s half-repaired, and hope is a scary concept when life has been full of false starts and crushing disappointments.

Is it clumsy and irreverent to make this about me? To draw upon the metaphor of this country’s journey as a mirror for my own? Or is it worth seeing how the same we all are? That underneath the reasons and the dressings and walls and curtains, our hearts are made of the same stuff?

It happens in different ways for each of us, but at some point or another, the world we know shatters beneath us, and we’re lost in the endless gray chasm between What Was and What Might Be.

Transition

*

On our second day in Amasia, we met an old couple with a young son. I was taken by them all, but especially by the father, Andranik, who reminded me so much of my Grandpa-in-Law that I had to physically restrain myself from looping my arm through his and snuggling in.

If it were still the old days, he’d be retiring now. Instead, he’s shuffling with his wife and son several miles each way to clean other people’s  barns. “Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening, and what do we earn?” he asks. 600 dram  — about $1.40 a day — for the whole family.

In the interview that the staff wrote up for us the week before we came, Andranik said, “I have lost my faith. I cannot believe in anything.” He said, “It is our time to die, but we are still living.”

But that day when we visited, he seemed to fill up the small shack. We crammed inside, and cameras kept flashing, and he looked proud as he pointed to the things he had made — a church delicately crafted from paper, a wooden carving, some photo-shopped pictures of his grandchildren. He showed us his goats. He stood tall and he smiled. He seemed to me larger than life, even in the smallness of his situation.

I told him he reminded me of a favorite grandpa; he said that I was his favorite granddaughter. I got my hug.

“He seemed more hopeful today than he did in the interview you wrote up,” I told the translator as we walked the snowy path back to the bus.

“It was you guys,” she said. “I think he was honored that you came to see him.”

And it seemed stunningly simple, miraculous that it could be true.

Of course. 

We can’t always ease each other’s transitions, but we can enter in to that lonely, gray space. We can stand under the sagging roof. Smile and listen and see and do our very best to understand. And in doing so, we bestow worth and beauty and honor. In doing so we say, You are worth seeing. And in doing so, we remind one another that there is something to hang on to. Something to believe in. Something to hope for.

Photos by Laura Reinhardt
Photos by Laura Reinhardt

*

Today it’s gray and the wind is harsh and cold and keeps flipping the lid of the recycling bin open.

The winter is a tyrant, slow to leave, constantly overstaying its welcome, and who knows when spring will actually finally come? Who knows how much longer we can take it?

All we can do is sit together in the dwindling cold, pull our sweatshirts tighter, and help one another wait it out.

Light a Candle, Plant a Tree

yerevan

This morning, I lit candles in the Church of St. Etchmiatsin — the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The oldest cathedral (according to Wikipedia) in the world.

The sanctuary was under construction. The whole place smelled of sawdust and paint, and men climbed on high ladders, banging around in the ancient rafters of this old place of worship. At the alter, a large tapestry hung heavy with the scene of Gregory the Illuminator receiving a vision: Christ descending from the clouds with a golden hammer, telling him where to build the church.

Other than those tiny white tapers we get every year at the Christmas Eve service that spill wax down your fingers while you sing “Silent Night,” I have never lit a candle in church before. It’s not something we practiced in my tradition of guitar-studded worship songs and inspirational topical sermons. But today I stood in the silence of that dark, ancient annex, and I lit candles for two of my dear friends.

I stood there for a long time, thinking about my friends, remembering their suffering, watching the candles crowded together, burning down to wax in the sand and water. At the other end of the alter, an Armenian priest worked slowly, raking the burnt-out candle nubs gently out of the water with his fingers.

Outside the church, seminary men in black cassocks talked on flip-phones. Old men sat on benches in black newsboy caps, watching us as we walked — awkward and foreign and snapping picture after picture with our iPhones. But inside, my two small candles burned alongside dozens of others — the light flickering on long after we have left the courtyard, passed the beggar woman with the dried pomegranates, and boarded the bus.

candles 2

This afternoon, I laid flowers next to the Armenian Genocide Memorial.

It is a simple, breathtaking concrete structure at the top of a hill overlooking Yerevan. Inside, there is an eternal flame surrounded by pillars where people come to pay their respects, and we lay our cut flowers alongside them in a ring around the fire. From somewhere above, an Armenian lullaby rolled on an endless loop.

This April, the Armenian people will commemorate the 100-year anniversary of that genocide, and most of the memorial’s museum is closed now to prepare for that event. Still, a young woman with tall black boots and sad eyes walked us around a small room of display cases and told us about the day the men were sent away, the day the Intellectuals were executed, the day the women and children were marched off to die in the desert.

Under the glass, there were photographs of emaciated children and portraits of famous strangers. Newspaper clippings in the looping unfamiliar Armenian alphabet. The covers of several old memoirs — stories of survivors.

At the end of her presentation, the girl tells us that 22 countries recognize the Armenian genocide — and while 43 individual states also recognize the atrocities as a genocide, the United States as a nation does not. She says it, and then she looks at us for a long moment. She lets it rest upon us as we stand there, surrounded by the black-and-white horrors of history, clutching our backpack straps and purses.

Outside the Memorial, a tall concrete pillar stabs the underbelly of the gray sky, and there are rows and rows of pine trees. Each one, our guide tells us, is planted by a dignitary from another country when he or she visits. A small act of solidarity. A remembrance.

I notice that there is one from the state of California not far from the pine tree planted by Italy. Rows and row of sharp green memory lining the edge of that eternal flame.

eternal flame

At the end of my first day, my mind is churning, overfull of mixed-up facts about Armenian history and culture and food and language. Try as I might, I can’t seem to remember the world for Hello, so I just keep smiling dumbly at strangers.

But what stands out as clear and haunting as the St. Etchmiatsin bells is the importance of actively recognizing and remembering each other’s sorrows.

This is what the candles I lit in that old church were about. It’s what the cut flowers and the pine trees and the memorials and the photos are about.

It’s saying: This happened. It is real. It matters. 

Tonight, I started to read through the stories of the families we will meet this week in the poorest communities of Armenia. I got halfway through the second one before I was hastily pawing at my tears at the end of the dinner table, trying to get it under control. What can I do in the face of so much suffering?

But then, it’s simple isn’t it? As simple as a flickering candle. As simple as a small, growing pine.

Bear witness.

Recognize the pain. Look it straight in the eye. Honor it, but also, recognize that it’s only part of the story — that there is beauty and strength and hope and love.

Remember. Do not stop remembering.

Plant a tree. Light a candle. Take the hand of one small child.

*

I don’t know what this week in Gyumri will hold, but I know that on the bus ride here, I could see Mount Ararat. It was only the faintest shadow at the edge of fields of snow and rubble. For the Armenian people, is a symbol of hope and pride. History and pain and loss.

And really, what is there to do in the face of something so breathtakingly insurmountable except crane your neck out the window and stare at it? Bear witness.

Watch the mountain disappear in and out of sight as the road bends and curves. Imprint it on your mind as best you can. Watch it fade softer and softer in the white sky until finally, you’ve arrived at your next destination.

ararat

One Day

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself,
tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

OneDayHH

Every year around this time, the lovely Hollywood Housewife does this project called One Day, where she invites us all to spend an entire day photographing the details of life — the mundane bits that make up right now. I’ve wanted to participate for a while, but every year something has gotten in the way.

This year, I was determined. I put my a sticky note on my phone labeled ONEDAYHH!!! so that I would be sure to remember, first thing in the morning, that this was a day to be captured.

I know that there are all sorts of things to be said about the problems with being attached to your iPhone. To always taking pictures and tweeting about things instead of entering into them and being fully part of them. I get that. And in many ways, I agree.

But I also know about Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is about the alarm clock going off too early. About the long, short days — the temper tantrums and the quick-get-your-shoes-on-or-you’ll-miss-the-bus, and the deadlines looming and the waiting for bedtime. But Kairos — Kairos is about what God is doing. About that moment outside of time where everything happens. Where the world stands still and you are noticing it all. The bush is burning, and you are shoes off, seeing it, filled with awe.

And I know that last Wednesday, that wacky little phone with its quick shutter helped me see the Kairos in my everyday Chronos. Instagram — with all of its tricks and filters — didn’t so much “dress up” reality for me. Instead, it helped me see the beauty.

Anyway — feel free to stop reading right here. Go put your own sticky note on your own phone and commit to capture the day. So what if the “official” day is over? You can still play along! Maybe you’ll see your own little glimpse of Kairos in your random, lovely details.

(But you know, if you’re interested in seeing my totally narcissistic collection of photos, feel free to keep scrolling. It’s mostly for you, Mom.)

(Also? You can always follow me on Instagram here!)

First thing in the morning selfie. Only because I'm doing @hollywoodhwife's #OneDayHH linkup -- documenting the details of one entire day. Black and white and filtered because I'm not THAT crazy.
First thing in the morning selfie. Only because I’m doing @hollywoodhwife’s #OneDayHH linkup — documenting the details of one entire day. Black and white and filtered because I’m not THAT crazy.
Early reading by light box. Denise Levertov is my current obsession.
Early reading by light box. Denise Levertov is my current obsession.
Liam is up. And having a tantrum for no reason I can understand. Just like every other lousy morning of Age 3.
Liam is up. And having a tantrum for no reason I can understand. Just like every other lousy morning of Age 3.
When Daddy's out of town, Dane gets to sleep in Mama's bed. Early morning snuggles with my oldest.
When Daddy’s out of town, Dane gets to sleep in Mama’s bed. Early morning snuggles with my oldest.
7:13 and the sun is finally coming up. #nofilter
7:13 and the sun is finally coming up. #nofilter
A boy and his bead project. My 3yo's favorite morning activity.
A boy and his bead project. My 3yo’s favorite morning activity.
Frozen microwave pancakes. To the genius who thought of these -- one million thank you's.
Frozen microwave pancakes. To the genius who thought of these — one million thank you’s.
Banished outside because he keeps trying to eat the kids' breakfast. Sorry Marty.
Banished outside because he keeps trying to eat the kids’ breakfast. Sorry Marty.
Lunch box packed and ready to go. Today's menu: peanut butter sandwich, mini peppers, grapes, string cheese and a chocolate marshmallow cookie for dessert.
Lunch box packed and ready to go. Today’s menu: peanut butter sandwich, mini peppers, grapes, string cheese and a chocolate marshmallow cookie for dessert.
He was excited to wear orange to school today for United Against Bullying Day. "Mom, if there's a bully, I'll just smile at him, and he won't know what to do!" I love (and fear for) his tender heart.
He was excited to wear orange to school today for United Against Bullying Day. “Mom, if there’s a bully, I’ll just smile at him, and he won’t know what to do!” I love (and fear for) his tender heart.
Ready for the day. Thank Jesus for chunky sweaters, infinity scarves, and fall boots
Ready for the day. Thank Jesus for chunky sweaters, infinity scarves, and fall boots
Andrew's out of town, so, naturally, the garage door broke. Can't even close it manually. Please, no one steal our stuff.
Andrew’s out of town, so, naturally, the garage door broke. Can’t even close it manually. Please, no one steal our stuff.
Our sweet church.
Our sweet church.
If you would have told me seven years ago that I'd be going to a weekly women's Bible study -- and loving it -- I would have laughed in your face. Grateful for the grace-filled places God has brought me.
If you would have told me seven years ago that I’d be going to a weekly women’s Bible study — and loving it — I would have laughed in your face. Grateful for the grace-filled places God has brought me.
Also...yumminess.
Also…yumminess.
"We need to go to the moon. I'm gonna drive the rocket!" Driving with Mr. Liam.
“We need to go to the moon. I’m gonna drive the rocket!” Driving with Mr. Liam.
Mama Friend: the one who comes in, sits down at the table, and starts picking up your 3yo's sticker explosion like it's no big thing.
Mama Friend: the one who comes in, sits down at the table, and starts picking up your 3yo’s sticker explosion like it’s no big thing.
Lunch! Of! Champions!
Lunch! Of! Champions!
The kids ate all the Mac and Cheese, so I'm settling for a green (well, brown) smoothie...and some Cheese Puffs to balance things out.
The kids ate all the Mac and Cheese, so I’m settling for a green (well, brown) smoothie…and some Cheese Puffs to balance things out.
Rest time for Mom, Legos with a friend, and Liam's latest TV obsession: Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs.
Rest time for Mom, Legos with a friend, and Liam’s latest TV obsession: Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs.
20-minute nap on the couch with this shaggy thing.
20-minute nap on the couch with this shaggy thing.
Alright Book 2, you unruly thing . Let's do this.
Alright Book 2, you unruly thing . Let’s do this.
Look who made it home from his business trip!
Look who made it home from his business trip!
Off to the bus stop to pick up Dane...with some shenanigans on the way.
Off to the bus stop to pick up Dane…with some shenanigans on the way.
Home!
Home!
That time of day when I ask myself, "how in the world did the house get like this?"
That time of day when I ask myself, “how in the world did the house get like this?”
Temper tantrum redux
Temper tantrum redux
Sitting on the bathroom floor in potty-training solidarity.
Sitting on the bathroom floor in potty-training solidarity.
A post-tantrum snuggle.
A post-tantrum snuggle.
Dane's stash of necessities for pretend camping in the garage.
Dane’s stash of necessities for pretend camping in the garage.
On an adventure. The compass was supposed to go in his Christmas stocking, but I buckled and gave it to him early.
On an adventure. The compass was supposed to go in his Christmas stocking, but I buckled and gave it to him early.
Candles lit. Dinner wine poured. Various leftovers in the microwave. #scroungenight
Candles lit. Dinner wine poured. Various leftovers in the microwave. #scroungenight
Laid back Wednesday night dinner.
Laid back Wednesday night dinner.
Neighborhood ducks.
Neighborhood ducks.
Some days, it's hard to be five.
Some days, it’s hard to be five.
The kids are in bed and yelling at me from their rooms. I'm ignoring them, watching #ManhattanLoveStory, and eating all the chips.
The kids are in bed and yelling at me from their rooms. I’m ignoring them, watching #ManhattanLoveStory, and eating all the chips.
Kids are asleep. VICTORY LAP!!!
Kids are asleep. VICTORY LAP!!!
He is my spirit animal. He usually looks like I feel.
He is my spirit animal. He usually looks like I feel.
Finishing out the day with some TV with the husband. Andrew and I just finished #parksandrecreation and decided to try #blacklist. But all we can see is Robert California. #theoffice #forever #wewatchtoomuchtv
Finishing out the day with some TV with the husband. Andrew and I just finished #parksandrecreation and decided to try #blacklist. But all we can see is Robert California. #theoffice #forever #wewatchtoomuchtv

In Transit

In Transit: On Seeing Strangers and Seeing God

It’s Sunday afternoon, and both of my flights from Peoria to Minneapolis are delayed.

I’m mostly not bothered by this, though I do wish that there was a restaurant in the Peoria airport. Still, the airport seems as good a place as any to write and watch online TV and recoup from a busy weekend speaking. I learn that my flight has been pushed about the same time that I realize that my only dinner options here are nachos with pumped cheese, heat-lamp pizza, or a bag of Lays. So I decide on wine instead.

There is only one option for red and one for white, and when I order the cab, the woman in fluorescent pink shirt at the bar fills the glass up all the way to the top so that the red wine is flush with the edge. “Wow,” I say, taking a few classless slurps like a puppy before I can finally pick it up and drink it. “For $7.50 a glass, this is how I pour,” she’d said grinning a wide-crooked-tooth smile, her whole face glowing holy in the thrown light of the football game on hanging, sports bar TVs.

And who knows? Maybe it’s that over-filled glass of airport cabernet, or maybe it’s the afterglow of the weekend itself — exhausting and intoxicating and beautiful. Sorting through faith past and present over wood fire pizzas and fancy coffee, heavy chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream, eating and talking with the pastor and his wife and my childhood best friend late until way past my bedtime. Maybe it was speaking that morning at their beautiful little church, the homeless man in front grinning at me under a mop of unkempt hair, the audience nodding like they understood exactly.

Whatever it is, I can’t seem to stop looking around. I can’t seem to open my computer and make myself write. I want to make small talk with the woman working the bar. She’s having her first baby, her stomach just beginning to round. It’s a boy, she says. We found out early because he was showing it off. I want to talk to the guy next to me, who shows us pictures of his six-month-old daughter and talks about the book he wants to write — the one about his grandfather and the war.

The airport is overheated, and we’re all sweating under the lights, and even though I know it’s perspiration and overhead lighting, it looks to me like they’re glowing. Like they’re straight from an old episode of Touched by an Angel, an open beam of heaven pouring over their seats.

Sometimes I’m stopped still when I ask questions. When I listen. When I stop trying to figure out how to write my own story and listen to someone else’s. So I sit at the airport bar and slurp my extremely full glass of cab, and I am dazzled by the beauty of all these strangers, loved as they are by God, known as they are in all their details. I’m almost disappointed when the flight gets un-delayed, and I have to abandon them mid conversation and hurry to my gate.

But there are people glowing there too — flight attendants talking wryly about the O’Hare delays, rolling their eyes about furious customers. Like we have ANY power to change anything here, they say under their breath to me. Their airport uniforms have little bows tied stiffly under their chins. I ask if they’re itchy. You have no idea. One of them says to me, and then she tags my carry-on and takes it into the airplane for me.

There are six of us on the flight, and it only takes a half hour to cut across the endless farmland between Chicago and Peoria. The thin Indian man who gets off with me has been in town to meet a girl that he met online. How did it go? I ask. He looks at me sadly, Not good, actually. 

We walk at a quick gait through O’Hare, pulling our rolling, carry-on luggage behind us, and he tells me how perfect it seemed in writing, and how quickly it disintegrated. I don’t say much, just listen and nod and make sympathetic sounds.

When it’s time to part ways toward different gates, he turns and says, How do you stay so positive? And this would be a great time to tell him about Jesus if I knew what that meant anymore. Once upon a time, I would have known how to segue a perfectly leading question like that one into a three minute testimony and a quick gospel presentation.

If I said Jesus, it would be the truth…but I don’t think it would sound like truth. It would sound like a sound-byte, a reduction, a cliched religious gold star.

I want to tell him that he is beautiful; that everyone here is so beautiful. That every so often, it feels like the heavens part open Touched-by-an-Angel-style, and I can see everything so clearly: we are all in transit. Weary travelers, being led quietly home.

I want to tell him that I’m thinking of God, that I’m thinking of Love, that I don’t understand how God can be close to all of us at once, but that in this moment, I believe it more deeply than I have in a long time.

Instead I shift and grin dumbly at him. He looks at his watch, Keep smiling, he says. And I do. I smile at the woman in the leather boots and the old man on the electric wheelchair and at the woman at gate C8. Did you have a nice weekend? I ask her. Busy. I was moving, she says, scanning my ticket. Next to her, a tired eyed woman fields an angry call. I can tell because she keeps saying, I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry. Yes I know. I’m sorry. I ask her about the move and she talks and talks. She tells me about loud neighbors and unpacked boxes and new possibilities, and her eyes shine with hope.

In the waiting area, I smile at the woman next to me, who tells me that she just got a new job in Boston. When she leaves, I smile at another woman, and she tells me that she’s heading to a job interview. So many people. So many stories. Listen, listen, listen.

In transit, I never do tell anyone about Jesus. But it’s like Jesus is telling me about them. It’s like he’s pointing out each person, showing me his great love, one by one, all of us found. One by one, strangers tell me their stories, unbidden, and it’s like God is filling my cup all the way to the tip-top with goodness, like it’s more than I paid for, more than I bargained for.

My flight is two hours delayed, and I am exhausted and happy, knocked off balance by all the beauty. The plane boards, and we all settle into our seats. We are in transit. We are, all of us, on our way home.

^
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