Thursday, January 17, 2019

Poetry Friday: Goodbye to Mary Oliver

I imagine a lot of Poetry Friday posts tomorrow are going to be about Mary Oliver, who died today at the age of 83. I was sad to see the news, and today in her honor I want to post links to her poems that I have shared before.

In March 2017 I shared "A Box Full of Darkness" and then the following week I shared my response to her poem.

I shared "The Summer Day" back in July of 2011, with this photo taken by a friend and some observations on how taking pictures helps me pay attention.

In September 2014 I shared "Lead."

In July 2012 I shared "How Would You Live Then?"

We'll miss you, Mary Oliver. We'll try to live the way you wrote.

This week's roundup is here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Reading Update

Here's what I've read so far this year:

Book #1 of 2019 was The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. This was the second or third time I read this book. I wrote about it before here.

"Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me. As long as I keep running about asking: 'Do you love me? Do you really love me?' I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with 'ifs.'"

"I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?"

Book #2 was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. My daughter and I read this aloud to each other.  I read it for the first time when I was seven years old, and it was the first book I read after the earthquake when I started being able to focus again. I wrote about this book before here, including how my daughter and I talked about it the night of the earthquake.

Book #3 was a Christmas gift from my daughter, The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws, by Margaret Drabble. She commented that it's easy to buy books for me because she just looks at it and decides if she would like it; if she would, she's pretty sure I would too. She wrapped it with a little jigsaw puzzle of a Mary Cassatt painting.
I really enjoyed this book, which is more a trip through Drabble's brain rather than an actual book about jigsaws. It's the sort of book nobody would publish unless it was written by someone who was already famous; thankfully Drabble is, so I got a chance to read her meandering thoughts about her childhood, her aunt with whom she did jigsaws, toys through the ages, and all sorts of other fascinating topics.

Book #4 was Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, by Rachel Held Evans. This wasn't as good as Evans' last book, Searching for Sunday, which I wrote about here. However, I did find it worth reading.

Book #5 was I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel. I never miss Anne's podcast, What Should I Read Next?, and this book is written in the same smart, fun, easygoing voice. I enjoyed it very much.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Poetry Friday: The Last Normal Day

Today, I'm remembering the last normal day before the earthquake, exactly nine years ago. At 4:53 on the afternoon of January 12th, the earth shook and everything changed. Three hundred thousand people died. Or maybe forty-six thousand. Or maybe two hundred and thirty thousand. Or maybe eighty-five thousand. We don't really know. But we know it was so, so many. And there was so much chaos and sorrow left behind.

January 12th will never be a normal day for me. But January 11th was a normal day.

The Last Normal Day

The last normal day
we woke in the morning
and went to bed at night.

The last normal day
we didn’t even know it was normal
as we ate our normal meals
and did our normal work
and hugged each other
(or maybe argued)

The last normal day
the sun rose and set.

The last normal day
we complained and rejoiced,
we came and went,
we talked and were quiet.

To be honest,
I don’t know what we did
the last normal day,
just that it was normal.

The last normal day
the ground was still
and fooled us into thinking that it would
always be that way,
always normal,
but no,
it was the last normal day.

Ruth, from

January is always a difficult time, as I wrote here, earlier this week.  At that post there is also a link to the collection of my earthquake poems that I compiled last year for the eighth anniversary. And I did a Poetry Tuesday post this week, too.

Today's roundup is here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

January is Rough

I think I just need to accept that January is a difficult month. As I look back over my blog, I find that again and again I am at that place during January. It's a time of saying goodbye to people who have been here for the Christmas break, and it's a time of thinking about loss. It's a time when I think more than usual about people I love who are no longer in my life. The anniversary of the earthquake - the ninth one - is coming up, and my mind is constantly circling around that. We're starting up the second semester, and it's great to see the kids again; everything has begun well, but I keep thinking about that second semester in 2010, those first few hopeful days that were cut short by the earth shaking on January 12th.

There's just a heaviness about January days, even though the weather is gorgeous - breezy and bright, sunny and blue. My heart is sad. It's sad whether I try to think of other things or whether I focus and reflect on memory.

Here's what I wrote last year about January, the dead season.

And here's a little collection of my earthquake poems that I assembled last year for the eighth anniversary.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Today's photo prompt was "Exposing Your Red." I posted this photo, and the words of the prompt stuck in my head until I used them in a poem. I've been writing a lot of rhyming quatrains lately, "channeling my inner Emily," as Irene called it in her comment last Poetry Friday, and I did the same with this one.
Exposing My Red

A heart of flesh God gave me,
And not a heart of stone,
A stone one is more stoic
And never feels alone.

They say that I should guard my heart
And I have done my best,
But love lets in marauders
To the space inside my chest.

Sometimes my heart is flung about,
Since it’s quite undefended,
It’s kicked around the battlefield
By those it has befriended.

It lacks protective armor,
To prevent a scar or crack;
Whether attacked by one who does
Or does not love me back.

I’d wrap my heart up carefully
And treat it with more care
But I have learned that doesn’t help
And so I leave it bare.

So I hang my heart on doorknobs
And wear it on my sleeve,
Expose its red to ridicule,
Accept that it will grieve.

The only way to keep my heart
Unscarred, all fresh and new,
Would be to keep all love away,
And that I cannot do.

Ruth, from

Friday, January 04, 2019

Poetry Friday: Possibility

Yesterday I posted my One Little Word for this new year, POSSIBILITY. I'm using Emily Dickinson's poem "I Dwell in Possibility" as my text, and you can read it here.

I decided to write my own Possibility poem in imitation of Emily, and here it is:


I dwell in Possibility —
I peer out of my Gate
And wonder what Surprises
And Happiness await.

Perhaps a new Adventure
Is just around the Bend
Or maybe just a little Walk
With a familiar Friend.

I’m off to gather Paradise
And bring an Armload Home —
I’ll spread it out upon the Floor
To make the Evening bloom.

Ruth, from
What's your OLW for the year?  Post it in the comments, or better yet, post it in yesterday's comments, and I'll link you in my roundup!

The roundup for today is here.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

OLW 2019, SJFT, Roundup of Other People's OLWs

I'm beginning 2019 with a bang by doing my first roundup. I'm starting small with SJFT (Spiritual Journey First Thursday), and maybe someday I will take on Poetry Friday, too. I've always been scared to try because I didn't trust my internet connection enough, but here goes. I guess if my connection goes out I'll be back when it comes back! I'm rounding up the old fashioned way today since this is a small group and I am not back at work yet. SJFT friends, post your link in the comments and I will put it in the post. I can't wait to see what you have all chosen for your OLW, your One Little Word to help you navigate 2019!

And by the way, if you haven't ever posted on SJFT, feel free to link your OLW anyway. Doing so doesn't obligate you to post every month. If you don't have a blog, you can just leave your word in the comments.

Scroll all the way down to the end of the post to see the list of other people's OLWs and links to what they wrote. Visit their blogs and leave encouraging comments. And Happy New Year!
My OLW for 2018 was ENOUGH, and it was a good one. (Here I explained a little of what it meant to me, along with links to all my OLWs since 2009, and you can find many references to it in my posts throughout the year.)

This year I'm taking my text from Emily Dickinson. I read this poem with my eighth graders at the beginning of December, and as with most lessons I try to teach other people, I got more out of it than they did.

I dwell in Possibility
by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility --
A fairer House than Prose --
More numerous of Windows --
Superior -- for Doors --

Of Chambers as the Cedars --
Impregnable of Eye --
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky --

Of Visitors -- the fairest --
For Occupation -- This --
The spreading wide of narrow Hands
To gather Paradise --

My OLW for 2019 is POSSIBILITY. This year I want to dwell there, and I want to gather Paradise in my narrow Hands. And maybe use more Capital Letters than usual. We'll see how that goes.

For a few weeks now, I've been saving quotes and writing thoughts down that all seem connected with this theme. They are still pretty undigested, so I'm just going to dump them on top of the Emily Dickinson poem like a compost pile, and I'm betting something will grow from the mixture, something unexpected and new.

1. A Henri Nouwen quote about wishes and hope, from his book Finding My Way Home, which I haven't read yet, but maybe in 2019?

"I have found it very important in my own life to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me. To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear."

So, embrace the POSSIBILITY, knowing you can trust God.

2. Bible verses that won't let me go, for years now, always taking on new resonances:

Ephesians 3:17-21: "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

God's imagination is not limited by mine - His love is large and filled with POSSIBILITY, and the POSSIBILITY of what He can do in my life is enormous.

3. Before leaving school at the end of December, I wrote lesson plans for the first week back in January. Every year it is a challenge to do that. Believe it or not, even nine years after the earthquake, the sight of January 12th on a calendar makes me feel sick, faint, light-headed. This year the date falls on a Saturday, so I don't have to make plans for the day itself. I wish it would be a holiday every year, because it can never be an ordinary day, but maybe it's better to work - I don't know. In any case, even when you adopt a mindset of POSSIBILITY, and you let go of your wishes and live in hope and accept whatever comes as Nouwen says, you have to know that one of the possibilities is Earthquake, whether literal or metaphorical. It just is. It always was, even before it happened, but now it IS, if you know what I mean. I always have to start the new year a little gingerly, feeling that it can't really begin until that horrible anniversary is past. 

See the second verse of that Dickinson poem, where she talks about the Everlasting Roof being the Sky? (I compared it for my students to Pharrell's lyric: "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.") 
Well, sometimes when there's an earthquake and it's too scary to sleep inside (assuming the house stood in the shaking), you lie on the ground and look up at the stars, the Gambrels of the Sky. It's a way to gather Paradise, I suppose; sure it is, but it is also terrifying, especially if the ground you're lying on is still shaking in constant aftershocks. 

I'm just saying that some of the Possibilities are scary, and that's just the way it is. 

Even if those scary things happen, while there's life, there's hope. I think of these lyrics from Nichole Nordeman's "Gratitude." Nichole lives in Oklahoma, so she knows about tornadoes, which like earthquakes are unpredictable and seemingly random. You just always know they are a POSSIBILITY.

Daily bread, give us daily bread,
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed,
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight,
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger's view this time,
Or maybe not, not today,
Maybe you'll provide in other ways,
And if that's the case...

We'll give thanks to You with gratitude,
A lesson learned to hunger after You,
That a starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is overhead.

4. Last year's OLW, ENOUGH, was good, as all the others have been (LOOK in 2009, LOVED in 2010, TRUST in 2011, HEAL in 2012, SHALOM in 2013, GARDEN in 2014, UNAFRAID in 2015, LOVED in 2016, ROOTED in 2017), but I couldn't help but hear it sometimes in my schoolmarm voice, scolding myself: "That's ENOUGH! Can't you just be satisfied? What is WRONG with you?" In some ways, this year's word is saying just the same as last year's was: stop grasping and clutching and holding on. But maybe it's saying it in a slightly gentler way.

5. I'm hoping, this year, to dwell in POSSIBILITY. As the year begins, I take a moment to imagine myself - a much wiser, more serene me than the actual me - calmly and peacefully gathering Paradise.

And how do others imagine their year? What OLW have they chosen? I'll round them up as they come in!

Irene's word is Happy!   "I am drawn to the word 'Happy,' because I believe happiness is a choice," she writes. "I think we can cultivate it in our lives." Don't miss Irene's happiness quotes and her list of ways she's going to be cultivating happiness in 2019.

Dani's word is Boredom.  She's been reading about how boredom, and particularly avoiding being constantly plugged into technology, can improve creativity. Check out her thoughts! 

Doraine's word is Balance. Head over to her blog to read about physical and spiritual balance. 

Kathie's word is Grace. Great choice, Kathie!

Janet's word is Marginal.  She writes, "The commentary in my study Bible frequently points to how Jesus ministers to the marginal, and in the margins; I frequently feel marginal myself -- in the sidelines of importance; and just to make it impossible to miss, my selection in a book of Advent/Christmas readings for Dec. 31 is Thomas Merton's "Time of No Room," which develops the theme of margins still more."(Read the rest of her explanation in the comments.) Intriguing!

Ramona's word is Try.   Go read what she has to say about why she chooses a verb and why her word is chosen with gentleness to herself in mind.

Margaret's word is Grace, and she also shares several other words she considered along the way. 

Karen's word is Alphabet.  She just started a new blog, and she had me at the Buechner quote. Happy New Year, Karen!

Carol's word is Embrace.  Last year her word was Hope, and a gift of a pin that said "Embrace Hope" started her thinking about her 2019 choice. 

Beverly's word is Focus.  I was also interested to read about the quote cards she plans to use this year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

What I Learned in 2018

I'd like to think that that my "What I Learned in December" list is completely blank not because I didn't learn anything in December but because I was so busy learning things - useful, helpful, and fascinating things - that I didn't have time to keep a list.

In any case, here's what I learned the rest of the year:


Here's to lots of learning in 2019!