Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child

There have been a couple of coast changes since I’ve last written.

Layered jet-lag.

No time or energy to write, reflect, record.

But someone was recording.

It started about a month ago.

During the chaos of the move, my grandson James would fish the camera out of my purse and amuse himself while the adults were otherwise occupied. He’d snap away until someone retrieved the camera.

It became a game. Whenever he could get his hands on the camera, he’d indulge in his new-found hobby. I had to put it up on top of a tall armoire to keep him away from it.

I started to delete the mostly out-of-focus images, until I really looked at them. There was a strange beauty in the composition, color, and angle of many of the pictures. Patterns emerged. Stories were told.

I decided James might have his own retrospective in a modern art gallery.

Just imagine these blown up and framed in a New York loft:

Do you think some idiot Art connoisseur might find them a reflection of the existential angst, confusion, and alienation of 21st century society, and buy them for millions of dollars?

Seriously, pictures tell a story.

I think the timing is interesting on this. In the last post, I contemplated why I’ve always taken too many pictures.

 I wrote, “Part of it is an attempt to stop the whirling wheel of time. I’ve been trying to hold on to the moments that are pouring out into eternity like salt from an open shaker.  Attempting to preserve the moments, I’ve held on to tangible reminders of them. Letters, pictures, newspapers, scrapbooks. Mementoes. Stuff.”

But in viewing James’ gallery, I notice something fresh.

He is focusing in on what he loves.

He is examining. Seeing things through a new perspective. Singling out what is most valuable to him. Intentionally turning his focus and attention to what he loves most. Drawing near. Getting close.

I learn something from my grandson:

I need to tune out the distractions and train my vision to focus on what I love most.


“Open the eyes of my heart…”

(p.s.  Just to illustrate what a technological genius we have on our hands: The pictures of "Mrs. Incredible" were taken at dinner at our favorite French restaurant in LA. James snuck the camera out when I wasn't looking, and took pictures of the movie he was quietly watching on the Ipad. (I know, I know. But it's the only way we can enjoy our delicious meal with a tired 3-year old present. One can only eat so many pommes frites.))

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tourist or Pilgrim? Part 2

“…But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”
W.B. Yeats

Several years ago, an old friend accused me of being more of a tourist than a pilgrim. She was kind of joking, because we have a 40-year history of trying to take funny, unflattering, or compromising pictures of each other. (We went to Europe on a ‘study’ (haha!) abroad one summer, so there were plenty of opportunities.)

Now that we’re older, she doesn’t like to have her picture taken any more. “Why do you always have to take so many damn pictures?!?” she fussed at me.

To emphasize her point, she sent me a pamphlet with that title: Tourist or Pilgrim. I don’t remember exactly what it said, because she made me give it back to her. But I think I’ve retained the gist.

Throughout this summer’s dismantling, that phrase has echoed in my head. I’ve been contemplating the differences between the two appellations.

A tourist wants to be amused, see the sights, experience something new, take pictures of it all, and bring home souvenirs of the trip… all while staying in comfortable accommodations with ample food and drink.

He returns basically unchanged from his experience.

How is a pilgrim different?

I was surprised to discover that the word pilgrim evolved from peregrine. I’d always thought a peregrine was a type of falcon used in hunting during the Medieval period. But it derived from this:

1350–1400; Middle English  < Latin peregrīnus  foreign, derivative of peregrē abroad, literally, through (i.e., beyond the borders of) the field, equivalent to per- per-  + -egr-,  combining form of ager  field + -ē  adv. suffix; see -ine

A pilgrim longs to go beyond the borders of the known.

He is searching, peering into the haze, scanning the horizon, seeking, straining towards…


Something more… something better… something realer

something that finally feels like home.

A restless heart always calls on towards the Light. Leaving behind the safe and familiar, a pilgrim takes a leap of faith and embarks upon a journey into change.

A pilgrim is a ‘stranger in a strange land, looking for a better country.’ (Hebrews 11:13-16) 

A pilgrim must travel light, letting go of familiar, comforting things that would only weigh him down. He looks ahead, not behind, pressing on towards the goal of his pilgrimage.

To my chagrin, I realize that my friend’s accusation has much merit. I have acted like more of a tourist than a pilgrim. I have gone through life accumulating souvenirs.


Part of it is an attempt to stop the whirling wheel of time. I’ve been trying to hold on to the moments that are pouring out into eternity like salt from an open shaker. Attempting to preserve the moments, I’ve held on to tangible reminders of them. Letters, pictures, newspapers, scrapbooks. Mementoes. Stuff.

Way, way, way too much stuff.

At this point in my journey, all that stuff is weighing me down like an anvil. It makes it hard to breathe. It keeps me from feeling free.

All those pretty things I wanted to own… to hold on to… to keep close to me

have only served to slow down the process of pilgrimage.

They’ve become a heavy chain that tie me to the earth, forcing my focus down instead of up. Because the old adage is so true:

We are possessed by our possessions. Once we own something, it requires maintenance and care. And later, divesting and distribution.

How I wish I’d understood this when I was younger. While my husband was reading books like “The Freedom of Simplicity,” I was out buying art and antiques.


Gathering pretty things and souvenirs around me… "all the vain things that charm me most"... as if we can actually really own anything forever. 

As a friend encouraged me the last week we were divesting the contents of my childhood home, “You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul, do you?”

This is the saddest part: When our hands are so full and our lives are so crammed and our barns are so bulging, it’s difficult to receive the only things that are worth having.

The clutter of what we’ve clutched only serves to cloud our vision of eternity.

I want to start letting go of the things that keep me earthbound. The souvenirs. The stuff. The chains of the past, whether they’re beautiful golden chains or hard heavy iron ones. There is a liberty in the stripping down.

I want to be free to move forward. I don't want to be like Lot's wife, frozen by her inability to let go of the past and it's comforts.

I want to be ready to go when I'm called.


“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”
(Psalm 84:5)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tourist or Pilgrim? Part 1

I’ve been semi-paralyzed for the past several days.

In the aftermath of trauma, it’s often that way.

When you’ve been in fight-or-flight stress for an extended period, there’s a feeling afterwards… when it finally stops… that reminds me of an antique rubber band that finally snaps. It just lies there, dead and flaccid, stretched beyond the point of elasticity or movement.

I ran across a good number of those broken bands last week.

They snapped as I picked up musty-smelling bundles of ancient letters. They snapped as I unrolled 19th century diplomas. They snapped as I rearranged stacks of black and white photographs of bomb-destroyed German towns. Every time a rubber band snapped, whatever had been held together spilled out into confusion and disorder.

I think I may have snapped, too.

My sister and I are experiencing a little PTSD.

The final dismantling of our childhood home was traumatic in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Our backs are messed up and our minds are mixed up. Our emotions are roiling, and we’re trying to interpret what it all means on a spiritual level.

It make take a while.

The things that were uncovered.

Unlike her firstborn daughter, my mother always kept an immaculately clean, neat, beautiful house. So no guessed Family Secret No. 1:

My father was a hoarder.

Actually, he was the son of hoarders, the grandson and great-grandson of hoarders, the great-great nephew of a hoarder. He was from a long and distinguished line of World Class Hoarders.

The further we got into the clean-out process, the more we discovered. The house looked perfect on the surface, but oh, what lay underneath! Box after box after stinky, rotting box. In the attic. In the cavernous basement. In the multitudinous wide closets throughout the house. In the storage rooms off the garage. Even in the bomb shelter.*

*(The house had been built in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Back then, it was a status symbol to have your own personal bomb shelter in case the Commies got riled again and nuked America. Originally, it was stocked with bunk beds, some kind of alternate air supply, candles, jugs of water and canned goods. Over the years, it morphed into a haunted house for my little sister and me, a wine cellar, and, finally, a depository of the overflow from the brimming basement. But it always reminded me of death.)

As did the boxes we unearthed in the last few weeks.

It was dead people’s stuff.

I don’t think my powers of description are sufficient to explain it adequately.

This is what must have happened: The first hoarder in the family saved every picture, every postcard, every dance card, every calling card, and every single solitary letter she ever received. Every stock certificate and land warranty and play bill. Political paraphernalia. Books. Newspaper clippings. Even hair clippings. Whole braids. (This wasn’t considered unusual or macabre in the 19th century.)

When she died, her son came into possession of these souvenirs of her life. I suppose he meant to go through it all one day. But then I suppose he got too busy living life to do it. And then I suppose he died and the same thing went on with his stuff. The relatives emptied drawers into boxes to take home and “go through one day.” But their lives got busy, and then they died, and then….

life happened and then death happened.

My father thought he would be the one to make sense of it all. After his retirement from practicing medicine, he hired secretaries to help him. He got them to transcribe his letters from Germany during WWII. He researched genealogy, going back centuries. He started copying and organizing the antique pictures and articles.

But his health fell apart before he could finish. The result is that things were even worse when he died… because there was twice as much, and it was all in different places.

And it wasn’t just papers and pictures we were bequeathed. A Renaissance Man, our father was a major Collector: Art, artifacts, coins, stamps. Thousands of records. Books. Nazi paraphernalia he brought back after WWII. National Geographics and Life Magazines from the ‘40’s. And the china, crystal, silver, and bric-a-brac of at least three generations. Plus their diaries and crumbling scrapbooks.

Much of the stuff we had to process in record time was historically or monetarily significant. So even though we had two double-wide dumpsters, we couldn’t just throw everything away.

Towards the end, that is exactly what we longed to do. It all seemed extraordinarily meaningless. Even sickening.

Here’s the irony: I was a history major. There was a time in my life when I would have been fascinated by this stuff.

But there was just so much of it that any joy of discovering keys from the past was obliterated by the crushing volume of it all.

It reminded me of when God gave the grumbling Israelites so much bountiful meat that they vomited up the surfeit.

Too much is as bad as not enough. If not worse.

There was even too much information. We found out some things we wish we didn’t know.

In the aftermath of the last frantic days of organizing, shredding, packing, and emptying, we felt utterly drained, bruised, fragile, and sad.

Trying to make sense of it all.

The overwhelming question is why?

Why did my father’s family hold on to so many things? Save so many souvenirs?

Returning to my own house after a day of hard work, I began looking around at things in a new light. There’s too much stuff there, too. Too many pictures. Too many books. Too many papers. Too many meaningless objects. My kids will be just as mad at me one day if something doesn’t change.

 I asked myself How did this happen?

A phrase emerged from the memory bank and challenged me:

Are you a tourist or a pilgrim?

I've been haunted by it ever since.

(to be continued.)


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pressing On

I wonder if anyone else needs to hear these words as much as I did this morning. They are from a little devotional book that a dear friend gave me recently. A life-line.

“Your God is your maker. He is your defender. And He is mighty to save. Yes, He is not only mighty to save from sin, but He is mighty to save from despair, from sorrow, from disappointment, from regret, from remorse, from self-castigation, and from the hot, blinding tears of rebellion against fateful circumstances. He can save you from yourself, and He loves you when you find it hard to love yourself.

Let His peace flow in you like a river, carrying away all the poison of painful memories, and bringing to you a fresh, clear stream of pure life and restoring thoughts.

This is not the end. Press on. The goal line is out ahead…”

(from Come Away, My Beloved, by Frances J. Roberts)

Those beautiful words reminded me of these:

 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

You are loved.

Friday, August 5, 2011

...a few more beach pix.

(This is called denial/procrastination.) I should be jumping out of bed and running over to the nightmare house-emptying/archaeological dig at my childhood home. The closing is one week from today. Please pray for my sister and me. We've already filled up two of these:

and we're not even halfway there.

But for a moment, a few scenes of peace...

Thank you to everyone who wrote such sweet comments on the last post. It was a bittersweet time. (But mostly sweet.)

Also, please forgive me if I haven't returned your call or email lately. Hopefully soon!

Love, Kim

Monday, August 1, 2011

What Remains

I sit in a comfy blue beach chair on ‘our’ island off the coast of South Carolina. The one where we’ve spent family vacations since our children were small. Where baby Grace learned to swim.

It’s a place as thick with memories as the Charleston summer air is thick with sticky humidity.

Innocent childhood times. Crazy college ones. Adventures of every kind: some fortunate; some… not so much. A place of refuge at times of loss or stress. Every year a different experience, set within the frame of comforting familiarity.

It’s one of our favorite feel-good, chill-out places.

Plane tickets had been bought and the house deposit made long before we knew we’d be up against the clock with a house closing. Things are still a mess at home, but we loaded up the cars like the Clampetts and fled to the coast for a time-out. Chaos will just have to wait.

The sun glimmers dimly behind a cloud layer, sneaking out every now and then to wink. There’s a brisk breeze stirring up sand and keeping things cool. In front of me, my grandson dances ecstatically in the waves. You can actually swim in East-Coast oceans!

Loved ones surround me. We are just better together. I don’t worry so much when I can gather up all my chicks. Laughter and chatter fill the empty places.

For the first time in weeks, I feel a sense of peace.






It’s the first time we’ve all been back on the island since Katherine’s AVM rupture.

The first time since everything changed forever.

Slowly, carefully, Katherine made her way through the treacherous sand: cane in one hand, Jay’s arm in the other. Starting to sit down in the rented beach chair, she took a little tumble in the sand. “I’m okay,” she said, as usual.

A huge straw hat on her head, she sat under the umbrella to keep the sun away from her many scars. She watched her son play in the sand and the waves with everyone else.

And sat.

The joy of being together was marred by my thoughts of the then and now.

Katherine was always the first one to sign up for a field trip. She was game for anything.

“Anybody wanna go on a walk with me?”

“I will!”

“Who wants to go on a bike ride?”

“I do!”

“Swimming laps?”


“Shopping in Charleston?”

“Whatev.” (i.e. If I must.)

In between my turns playing in the ocean with James, I watched my daughter just sitting there. I wondered if she felt sad.

“Want me to get you a book?” I asked.

“Mom, you know I still can’t see well enough to read a book. I’m fine.”

But I wasn’t.

After Katherine and most of the group went back up to the house for lunch, I sat there and stewed for a while. “Lord, so much has been taken away from her,” I grieved. “It’s not fair. I still can’t believe You allowed this to happen.”

Deep sigh.

I picked up the weird little book I’ve been trying to read off-and-on for a while now. The card I was using as a bookmark fell out into my lap. It was a blue pew card with notes from a sermon scribbled all over it… from who knows when.

Glancing at it, I deciphered my hen-scratch handwriting:

It’s what’s taken away that reveals what we really are.”

A chill… in spite of the humid heat. He still speaks.

I remembered an illustration from the sermon. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Camille Claudel. The aspiring young French sculptor was given a rough piece of marble from the workshop of the legendary Auguste Rodin. The male workers smirked, certain that the young student’s efforts with the marble would be disastrous.

She returned the rough chunk of raw material to Rodin’s studio covered with a cloth. When one of the craftsmen removed the cover, the ugly slab had been transformed into an exquisitely crafted human foot.

“How did she know there was a foot in there?” a bemused janitor asked.

It’s what’s chiseled away that reveals the core.

Musing on these thoughts, I picked up where I’d left off in my strange little book. It was Godric, a work of historical fiction by Frederick Buechner.

Godric is an 11th Century monastic hermit. An unlikely saint.

A scribe has been sent to Godric’s cave by the River Wear to transcribe his life story as an example for generations to come. But Godric’s story reveals far more sinner than saint. His is a rocky, winding path to faith.

Towards the end of his life and his wild tale, the ancient Godric describes how he immerses himself in the River Wear every day, winter or summer:

““Praise, praise!” I croak. Praise God for all we lose, for all the river of the years bears off. Praise Him for stillness in the wake of pain. Praise him for emptiness. And as you race to spill into the sea, praise him yourself, old Wear. Praise him for dying and the peace of death…”

“…She is Mary’s star. Within that little pool of Wear she winks at me. I wink at her. The secret that we share I cannot tell in full. But this much I will tell. What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

That was all I could digest.

As I replaced the makeshift bookmark, I noticed a scribble on the other side. I’d written, “When we lose one kind of freedom, we must choose another.”

What’s lost is nothing to what’s found.

Is there a better kind of freedom?

Is freedom of the spirit more crucial than physical freedom?  “It’s a matter of looking through the prison bars, not at them,” read my sermon notes.

Katherine, Jay, and James left the beach before the rest of us to attend a family reunion on Jay’s side.

As Katherine prepared to leave, I asked her, “Did you really have fun?”

“It was a blast,” she answered.

“I thought it might have made you a little sad with all the things you can’t do now. What’s your secret?” I questioned.

Her reply was spontaneous: “Just loving life and loving people.”

When Katherine was a little girl, she absorbed and believed everything I taught her about my new-found faith.

Now she is teaching me.

When everything else is taken away, what remains?

“…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
(I Corinthians 13:13)