Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

Here I Am, Lord…but, do you REALLY need me?

At the Episcopal School of Dallas, we used to sing a hymn that had an impact on most of us, regardless of our faith or disbelief. Perhaps, many students struggling with disbelief benefited from it more than I did? Anyway, it is referred to as “Here I am Lord” or sometimes, “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky.”

“Here I am Lord” was written in 1981 by Dan Schutte. It’s based on two passages, but one echoed from the pulpit in my church in Luzern this morning and reminded me of my ESD days: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

It’s Isaiah 6:8. It is about a small voice declaring willingness to go. Choose me. Me. I will serve You. I will be brave.

Even when it isn’t convenient. Even when I am comfortable doing what I am doing. Even when I would really, really, really prefer you phone or Tweet or send a pigeon carrier to someone else for this task.

Even when I feel afraid.

In high school, I sincerely questioned this text. What does it mean to say you are ready? To say you will stop what you are doing and live the life God wants you to live?

I’m decades older now and my answer is still the same: “Here I am, Lord. I will go.” I still do not know why I must or how I will, but I know I will always turn my life over to God, if He’s found a use for it.

I sang this hymn at the funeral of my beloved Zachary “We Got Jungle Fever” Bell (ESD, ’97). This was the verse that moved me then and moved me today, as well.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

Copyright: Dan Schutte

 

I will go Lord, if You lead me.

 

We are all Saints – Wir sind alle Heiligen

I see that November is coming and I think, “Hang on, girl” because every year, both Allerheiligen (All Saints day) and Allerseelen (All Souls day) teach me.

https://lauraanneayres.com/2014/11/02/allerheiligen-allerseelen-all-saints-and-all-souls-day/

https://lauraanneayres.com/2014/03/10/allerseelen-by-strauss/

That’s, well, only a part of it all. Just two glimpses into how these days have molded me.

There was a lot of personal impact-laden death around me in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, all my “you’re a foreigner” trouble started in Switzerland, I was beaten by the man I thought I’d marry, and two men that were touchstones for me unexpectedly died (less than 2 months apart). Happy New Year in 2010, as my parents divorced shortly after lawyers/judges returned from ski vacations, my family split in half, Granddaddy died, L’s mother died, and Annie overdosed. It was a lot.

So, these two days mean a great deal for me every year. I quietly reflect on November 1st and 2nd. I remember all those I’ve lost – some are actually still living and others are dead. All Saints and All Souls days are contemplative for me. Not dark, just contemplative.

For the past four years of my life, I have spent Allerheiligen at Bibiana’s grave, and this year was no exception. I learned a profoundly important lesson this year.

A man was adorning the grave beside Bibiana’s. He had tears falling from his eyes onto the grave.

I literally cannot handle it when someone is crying. So, I said, “es macht die Erde gesunder” and I put a hand on his shoulder. (It makes the soil/earth healthier.)

When I put my hand on his shoulder, he flinched. I am not sure he even realized someone was there. I pulled my hand away quickly (sometimes, I forget that I am in Switzerland, where you are not supposed to have “so much sunshine all the time”) and he…pulled it back. He squeezed my hand and said, “Stimmt.” (True that!)

After he left, I put one of the candles I had for Bibiana (I had 5, plus the Easter candle I made at church last Easter, I had a rather Texas amount to begin with…) on the grave of his loved one. He came quickly back, took one of the flowers he’d used for his loved one, and put it on Bibiana’s grave!

We are living Saints. All of us. We are all connected.

Written from a train from Luzern to Bern, 01.11.2015

Forgiveness – What if I don’t Want to?

The thing I truly dislike about being a practicing Christian (i.e. I keep practicing hoping I’ll nail it someday) is the necessity of forgiveness of others.

My disdain of forgiveness exists on two levels. First, I feel it’s really not my job to forgive someone who has hurt me because I feel that is something for which the person needs to ask him or herself. Or God. Just not me. Who the hell am I? Second, I when I tell someone “I forgive you,” I always want to add a little * that says:

*this forgiveness only valid for one-time use

Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn’t work that way, does it? We don’t get disclaimers and we don’t get to pass the buck. I’ve been forgiven many times and I was not forgiven with disclaimers or a lack of eye contact. I was forgiven personally, unconditionally, and fully.

But, what if I don’t want to forgive this?

This morning, when I woke up, it was my first thought. Someone did something horrible to me a few days ago and I agreed to meet him tonight to listen to what he wants to say. He feels awful and he knows he made a massive mistake. I understand that, but I am hurting. So, my question has followed me all day, and what if I want this to be the first time I look someone in the face and say, “I will never forgive you”? I would have every reason to do so. What will stop me?

Because I don’t want to just say I’m Christian. Anyone can say those words. Me? I want to do it, not just say it. I aim to make my final words as simple as, “Thank you for that crazy life, and I hope I made You proud.” There is nothing more important to me than replacing a tiny fraction of the darkness in this world with my sunshine.

And the people that hurt us? They do it because they have that darkness inside of them. I don’t hurt people all that often. Why? Because I have a ridiculously large surplus of sunshine. And compassion. Huge reserves of both. Makes me remember that fabulous line from Talladega Nights, “I piss excellence.” Me? I don’t like that word, but I certain weewee sunshine and compassion. You bet.

So, I am certain I will look him in the eyes tonight and share some of that sunshine and compassion with him.

I think Mark Twain said it beautifully…  forgiveness-mark-twain-quote

Nutjobs, nutjobs everywhere

Everyone had an gut reaction to the news about Charlie Hebdo. I thought it was a mistake. It was the same feeling I had when I heard of the plane flying into the World Trade Center. It’s the same feeling I have when I watch Terms of Endearment and Emma dies. “That didn’t really happen, someone made a mistake. Rewind it and listen again.”

Because I live in a parallel universe – things like that don’t actually happen.

These things are horrific (yes, even Emma’s death). Two of them involve evil. My faith in humanity and the goodness of every person makes evil a terrifying topic that I still, to this day, cannot believe is real. My faith is strong and, I promise you, tolerant.

And, I am sick and tired of listening to people tear religion apart. Immediately after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo,  FB posts purported the trite and cliche statement, “I dislike religion.” So, on Saturday, I posted “I think people who say they dislike religion are silly.” It wasn’t the adjective I wanted to use. I wanted to say “ignorant.” Just as you are entitled to tell me you have a blanket dislike of religion, I am entitled to say your words are ignorant. As I asked someone, “how much do you know about Zoroastrianism, for example?” Attended two Bahai ceremonies and just didn’t like the buffet selections? That makes sense.

The same night of this FB exchange, I had dinner with a friend and her husband, who is Pakistani and comes from a Muslim household. Though he is now an atheist, he said, “who am I to say religion is bad or stupid? If someone has cancer and his faith helps him to get out of bed and keep going every day, well, that’s a good thing.” I thought that was one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a discussion about faith. A Catholic Buddhist and a former Muslim now atheist – totally different faith structures, parallel thinking.

And there is parallel thinking with all the terrorists groups. It’s not religion that unites them, it’s a desire, almost a thirst, to commit acts of terrorism. Sure, there are excuses about the men and women who join these terrorist organizations having felt like lepers in their pre-terrorist lives – cast out of society. They felt they didn’t belong and then someone came along and said, “you can have a family with us.” Oh, poor little terrorists didn’t get picked to play Four Square in 4th grade, so let’s kidnap, rape, murder, and humiliate others. How sad. This is age-old, mafioso stuff, but, again, it’s not religion that unites them. It’s a desire to destroy and to kill to attain power – that’s not “religious.” That’s a sickness in the soul.

What is the answer to combat the terrorist groups? Like many, the temptation to limit free speech seems plausible to me, until we remember that free speech really oughten have limitations because then it’s not exactly “free,” is it? Bit like a free ticket to the movies that you can only use to see bile-inducing Twilight movies. Also using violence to combat violence didn’t seem to work out well in most cases (“An eye for an eye will make the world go blind” Gandhi’s pointed that out a bit more eloquently). The truly important thing to remember about eradicating terrorism is…that we cannot.

There will always be nutjobs. Some of them are violent with weapons and some of them are violent with words. These people will always find each other (just look at Congress). I’ve found, there is one solution to this problem that will work. It will work if your life is in danger, it will work if someone you love is killed. It will work when your country is attacked, it will work when your country is attacking.

It goes like this:

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

It is the hidden verse of Amazing Grace. It says that we have done our best, we were committed to sucking the marrow out of life, and we used our lives to spread principles like tolerance, kindness, and acceptance. We take our lives not for granted, but for the gift that they were at birth and can be until we die. And there are those unique cases, like those who worked in the office at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, whose lives are gifts even after they die.

Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound.

Apples and faith

How very Swiss the sermon was on Christmas eve/day. “Brothers and sisters in Christ, faith is like an apple.”

Father Luzzatto’s sermon was powerful, as is usually the case when someone stands at the pulpit at Franziskanerkirche. Apples and candles adorned our Christmas trees in my loving, liberal, Luzern church.

Ah, the apple. We love our apples here: raw, cinnamon-dusted, on a train, in a car, while walking. We love apples. There are well over 7,000 varieties of apples. Some are sweet and others are almost sour.  Certain “perfect” apples appear absolutely blemish-less, whilst others are picked from a tree and might have not only bruises, but possibly a plump worm hiding within. Apples used to be a sign of wealth. Countries have their own national favorites. It’s easily one of the top 3 most consumed fruits. Even Switzerland’s hero Wilhelm Tell was linked with the apple, which demonstrated his bravery, accuracy, and resilience under pressure (three rather important universal strengths).

But, the apple’s also an apt metaphor for faith.

There’s a small layer of a “shell” protecting it as it grows, matures, and thrives. Once past the fragile, but firm, exterior, one reaches the sought-after flesh. Interestingly enough, the true legacy each apple holds is far from that which is immediately seen or tasted. Buried underneath the peel, past the yummy inside, there it is: the core. We say, “das Kernhaus eines Apfels” in German. The core of each apple has the potential to bring literal life.

Even the proportions are similar. The outer layer is thin, but sturdy. The inner flesh definitely contains the majority of what makes an apple have its well-known taste. The core is similar to the outer layer because it is limited in size (and circumference, by nature).

There we have our proportions (those of us who are faith seekers). Our “faith” or outer armor is not so thick, but it is substantial. The inner stuff makes us who we are. The core (a purity of heart I believe we are all born with) is small, but drives everything from birth to death and then the next step…if it is protected.

Today I did a bit of research. There is a group in Asia trying to create an apple without a peel. Why? Because people don’t like the taste of the peel. “It’s bitter,” they say, “I just want the inside part.” There are hundreds of products created to help us get rid of our apple peel, including one of my favorite products, which is apple juice. We wish it was easier to get directly to and enjoy the delicious flavors of the apple. Who cares about that pesky peel layer, I want the good stuff!

Hell, we all do.

News Flash: the good stuff isn’t in the flesh – it’s in the peel. In particular, that area just between the peel and the flesh. You get a healthy dose of potassium, Vitamins A, C, & K, fiber, not to mention possible cancer-fighting elements and antioxidants. Eat only the flesh? You don’t.

It’s trendy now to eliminate that “armor.” But, when we eliminate the armor of “faith,” we lose a lot.  Not everything, we still get a delicious, wonderful, beautiful apple. But, picture an apple without a peel. How that would really be? It would be exposed to every storm, susceptible to every pest. The peel, the armor – they protect the flesh. Both the outer layer and the inner layer do something extremely important. They both protect the core. The inner layer cannot do it alone, that’s why the outer layer is crucial. Get it?

I struggle to imagine myself with the armor that has protected me. The armor I choose willingly and happily to wear fully aware of what makes it my faith and my armor. No one told me, “put this on just because.” No. I made the decision. Certainly, it would have been a lovely life without some of the doubts and anger that come with wearing the “armor.” The many times I felt my strong faith did not protect me or the ones I loved…or even the ones I saw who needed protection.

The church services on Christmas eve and day ended with everyone taking home an apple for him or herself. I am still thinking about this comparison and loving it more and more. Before we left, Father Luzzatto joked about our favorite apple.

Mine is definitely the Pink Lady apple. I loved them when I lived in Manhattan (my grocer carried them). They are a bit tart, but mainly sweet. The peel is tough, rugged.

Apples and faith. Such a beautiful pairing.

Amen.

.Apples and ChristmasApple and Advent candles

 

Allerheiligen & Allerseelen – All Saints and All Souls day

“In honor of the saints – known and unknown.”

Rarely does a person reach his or her 21st birthday without experiencing the death of a (be)loved one. So, we all have common ground there.

How we express our loss is such a private choice. It seems to me, having seen people that did not express their loss and watching that downward spiral, the only important part of “how” is “that we do it.”

There are many solutions in the diverse forms: memorial service, Requiem, Shiva, Día de los Muertos, Janazah prayer, mourning flags, black clothing, white clothing, covered mirrors. Buddhists believe both how deeply and how long we mourn can be based on the “tie with the person.” I love that.

There is a difference between the sister holidays of All Saints and All Souls day. Traditionally, All Saints day was meant to honor those who died and were assured of eternal salvation. All Souls day was meant to honor those who were unbaptized and thus…well…destination unknown. This is the 2-part version of what some celebrate as a 3-day observance called “All Hallowtide.”

Being the devout Catholic I am, I can say clearly: I don’t like it. It’s a very man-made distinction and I don’t like those. I prefer to view things the way I’d hope our ever-loving God would. Do I imagine God making such a distinction?

No.

Allerheiligen is a big deal in Switzerland. Truly. The cemeteries and church are packed. The heads are not all grey, white, bald, or salt/pepper – there are younger people in both spaces. The presence of all ages reinforces what we’ve all learned consciously or subconsciously by age 21…

this life is temporary

 One way I’ve learned to express loss is beautiful. My church in Luzern makes Easter candles. Somewhere along the line, someone told me he burned his Easter candle the week before Allerheiligen and put it on the grave of his mother (it wasn’t L).Easter Candle on Allerheiligen

(This is what I do every year. It is how I have chosen to express loss.)

Candles cover the graves on Allerheiligen. As the sun begins to set, the people put candles on the graves of people they love and remember. I, too, have been honored to decorate the grave of a beloved member of my extended Luzern family (http://wp.me/p2dSt7-hA). I am at her grave often and I notice other people in mourning. I’ve noticed this expression of loss comes without as many tears being dropped on the graves we keep in memorium. Allerheiligen comes without quite as much pain.

It doesn’t always have to be painful, does it? Remember our loved ones can serve to renew the bond we had with them, instead of tearing open healed wounds.

Next year, on the 1st of November, remember your loved ones. If you are not near them, find a simple tree, light a few candles, say prayers/sing a song/read a poem. That’s what All Saints and All Souls day really mean.

We did not forget you, we remember your time here among us, and we honor you.

All Saints day