"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, January 28, 2010


A yoga pose named Rabbit. Sounds soft right? Gentle gray velvet.

"Sit in fixed firm pose, flip your towel over your feet, grab your heels, straighten your spine, look at your navel and breathing out slowly bend forward until your forehead touches your knees. The top of your head should rest on the floor. Not too much pressure. Make sure your heels are touching, the tops of your feet are flat on the floor and you're not moving your head. If your knees are no longer touching your forehead, scoot them forward one at a time. Pull hard on your heels, lift your hips so that your thighs are at a ninety degree angle to the floor. Keep your chin tucked. This is a compression pose. It's supposed to be uncomfortable. Breath normally. If you can't breath normally, you're trying too hard. Don't bully yourself in here. Suck in your stomach. Keep your eyes open."

Not a bit of softness to be found. I suppose we might look a bit like rabbits hunched in fear against approaching predators, but the metaphor begins and ends there for me.

At the beginning of my yoga journey, I didn't mind Rabbit so much. It's close to the end of the session and follows Camel which in the early days made me so dizzy and disoriented I could barely get started. So Rabbit seemed easy by comparison.

It also seemed easy because I only managed to hear about three of the instructions, and I was able to convince my body to do those three things. I held my heels, touched my forehead to my knees, and remembered to breathe.

Over time, I've been able to hear more of the instructions and apply them one by one. Each time I make an adjustment, I'm amazed at how it changes the pose. This week it was, "Deb, can you flatten the tops of your feet to the floor?"

I actually wasn't aware that they weren't flat on the floor, although it wouldn't have mattered because until that moment, I'd never heard that part of the instructions.

And so I did - consciously make the tops of my feet flatten against my towel without undoing any of the rest of the pose I was clinging to. My right calf promptly seized in a cramp that knocked me completely out of a pose we're told to come out of carefully because we could hurt our necks. Lying on my back like an upended beetle, desperately trying to stretch out the knot in my leg, and also attempting not to be a distraction while the teacher looked on in amused concern, I found myself thinking how different the pose felt for the two seconds I managed to be there.

Each new awareness and adjustment creates conflict for me. I get excited at my progress, and amazed that my body is starting to unloose the iron survival grip that's been my normal for years. I marvel at how one small shift can change the entire pose and stretch previously unknown territory. And then I struggle with the shame that it's taken so long to make such small changes. And then I look straight into the face of overwhelm at the prospect of how far there is yet to go.

We're told constantly, "It could take a lifetime to completely understand this pose. It's okay. Just doing your best will get you full benefits."

I want to believe that. Some days I do. Maybe even most days. And I appreciate the permission, even as I scoff at how ridiculous it seems. I'm surrounded by agile, flexible, nearly naked gorgeous young people who are more often admonished to not go too far into a pose than urged to go deeper. Best has very different meanings for them than it does for me.

My struggle is not with doing my best. I frequently mistake best with trying so hard I lose myself, and have worked hard to break that pattern. My struggle is allowing my best to be good enough for now, and trusting that over time best will change, and believing the growth is more than a finger pointed backward at where I think I should have been long before.

Perhaps Rabbit is meant to be gentle and soft, or at least the approach to it. Perhaps allowing my body its own wisdom and timing, trusting that it wants to be free at least as much as I want that freedom - perhaps that's the key. Yesterday in Rabbit the tops of my feet were flat on the floor, and it wasn't even that hard to convince them to go there. Now if I could only get my hips in line with my knees.

photos from Flickr

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Making Miracles

It was a rare January afternoon: sunny, balmy, the warm wind-stirred air teasing senses with spring. A perfect day for the refuge, our first since the arrival of the geese last fall. As we began our slow meander around the familiar loop, windows rolled down, seat belts off, Walt with his camera ready, me with the binoculars, I began my search for this day's miracle.

This sacred place where birds come to be safe, where the air shimmers with unearthly colors, where the sky is so big anything seems possible - this land offers me at least one miracle every single time I'm here. These are not the it's-a-miracle-because-all-of-nature-is-a-miracle kind of miracles. These are full-blown, even Moses would be impressed, no room for doubt miracles.

About two-thirds of the way around on this day, I began to prepare myself for disappointment, or at the least to adjust my definition of miracle. We'd seen coots, great blue herons, red tail hawks. Pin tail ducks were flocked in larger numbers than I'd ever seen before, but even their art-deco beauty didn't quite meet my criteria. There were tundra swans in the hundreds, huge elegant avian angels filling the air with their chuckles and chattering, but nothing about their presence sang miracle.

I found myself thinking about bald eagles. Looking for them, as I always do at the refuge. And becoming aware that I receive miracles because I seek them. It doesn't work to decide I'm going to see a bald eagle and that will be my miracle. Deciding anything doesn't work. Seeking and being open are the fertile ground from which miracles spring.

We were almost at the end of the loop - just one long straight stretch to go - when we stopped to watch some geese gathered close to the road. Walt had turned the car off so we could enjoy their mutters and honks, and my eyes were delighting in the textures of their feathers and colors in contrast to the grass glowing in the rare winter sunlight. In one sudden uprush they took to the air. We looked at each other in puzzlement. There was no obvious reason for the geese to spook.

I looked behind us to see if something there could account for the goose panic.

That would do it. Not one, but two bald eagles. Both young. One just getting his white head, the other still mottled brown. We watched them for a very long time as the older hunted and ate while the younger tried to steal, unsuccessfully, and resorted to stalking the other in hopes of a handout.

I remembered these magnificent miracle birds this last week as another type of miracle unfolded.

It started with an e-mail from middle brother Mark titled "Clare's Dad." Clare is older brother Frank's wife. Her dad in his eighties. The message was no surprise. He had died the day before. The funeral would be Friday.

I had never met Clare's dad. I was mad at Frank for calling Mark, but not me. We had company coming Friday night. So when Mark said he was going to the funeral I was torn. Even when he said younger brother Geoff and his wife would be going - probably. I didn't want to go, but I love Frank and Clare both, and this dad was a good dad to them both, so his death would leave a huge hole in both their lives.

I stewed. I prayed. I talked to Walt. Still uncertain, except I kept getting a picture of Frank looking up to see his three siblings sitting together in love for him. And that took me to yes. The four Lyons "kids" (all over fifty now) had not been in the same place together, friendly or otherwise, for almost a decade. Geoff, who has been estranged from Frank for years now, was going. How could I not?

Our united presence at that funeral became a tangible force of love. When I first saw my larger-than-life brother serving as one of the pall bearers for Clare's dad, he looked old and hunched and diminished. The only way I recognized him was his fuzzy halo of white hair. By the time we left much later in the day, after standing and talking as a family - joking, crying, hugging - Frank running to get his camera to record the momentousness the occasion - he was standing taller and much more himself.

Driving home after, Mark reflected on a book he's teaching for Sunday School in which the author talks about how God nudges us. And if we listen to the nudges, every day miracles will happen. Mark went on to share that this author believes miracles are commonplace (oxymoron?), and would be even more so if we as humans would pay more attention to the nudges.

Bald eagles are certainly becoming common in my life. Yet I always, every single time, experience them as miracles. As I learn to trust that small still voice within, the one that provides the nudges, I expect miracles will become more and more common. I seek. I'm open. I believe.

I love.

bird photos by Walt
family photo by Frank's wife, Clare

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Never Odd Or Even

I wish I could remember when I first learned what a palindrome was. Like a new color in my box of Crayolas, these words and phrases that read the same forward and backward, have delighted my eye and ironed out some deep invisible wrinkle at my center since sometime in elementary school. The symmetry is so appealing, as is the weird wisdom that emerges from some of the phrases.

Never odd or even.

Dammit I'm mad.

Live not on evil.

The words are often pure music. My favorite: kinnikinnik (both a plant and a product of that plant).

Lately I've been considering the possibility that some of life's big themes are palindromic. Somehow the same thing whether approached forward or back, but not complete if cut on the line of symmetry.

"Never odd or even," split in half becomes "never od," which makes no sense.

Reading and writing are at the top of the list. Two different names, but so intertwined they cannot be separated from one another. I cannot write with reading, and I cannot read without being immersed in writing. I don't know if this is the case for everyone, but from the time I first realized those squiggles on the page could take me to faraway places, both the absorbing and creation of them consumed me as one deeply satisfying act.

Teaching and learning fit as well. It's impossible to teach without learning, as I'm being reminded on a daily basis these days in my role as teacher of writing. It's just as impossible to learn without teaching. I'm a student of writing on Tuesday nights, very aware that the feedback I offer teaches the whole group, just as their feedback teaches me.

Marriage. Two very different humans as husband and wife forming a whole that is very different from the separate units. And the palindrome of that relationship is richer, more powerful, more satisfying than each half alone.

Perhaps it's the sense of wholeness that makes palindromes so appealing to me. Not black or white, but the most beautiful shade of gray imaginable - pussy willows declaring the end of winter. Not right or wrong, but actions with the single purpose of meeting very human needs, some more effective than others. Not love or fear, but both intertwined in a bittersweet reality where sunlight is the brightest in the presence of dark clouds looming on the horizon.

In the last few weeks a hidden truth has risen to the surface of my heart. One that I held deep and dear, hidden even (or most especially) from myself. The series of events that led to this epiphany is a story for another time, but so clearly purposeful there's no way to deny this truth. However, it's such a hard-won truth, I wouldn't send it back if I could.

It started with questions: What if I never really wanted kids? What if motherhood was never my path? What if the unfinished grieving is not about not being a mother, but instead about not wanting to be? Those of you who know my story, know I've spend most of my adult life either trying to become a mother, compensating for not being by teaching elementary school, or trying to prove how hard I tried before I failed.

At the core was the belief that becoming a mother would prove God had forgiven me for giving up my only daughter (for wanting my own life more than I wanted to be her mother), and because there ultimately were no more children, I had not been forgiven. Which meant I was irredeemable.

However, the other half that creates such a very different whole is this: If I answer "yes" to those questions - if I accept and perhaps even embrace the truth that motherhood was never my path - then God's intervention, or lack of, was a blessing, a gift, an answer to prayers coming from so deep in my heart, I couldn't hear them.

Two ends of a story, incomplete until joined in understanding, to form a whole that feels very much like hope and forgiveness and love that was always there but unfelt until the ends met in the middle.

photo by Filip Nystedt from Flickr

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rose & Thorn & Just Right

The first time I was told the pieces were too short. The second time I was told I was too late for that submission period, to try again later. Like Goldilocks in search of just right, I refused to give up and did in fact try again later.

Well before submissions opened in September, I chose and polished the piece for try three, and sent it off confident that at least if rejection came this time, it would be for a new reason. I received verification that my work had reached its destination and was told I'd be contacted if it was accepted. And then I forgot about it.

Well, maybe not entirely. It was always on the back of my mind. These were the months of my first agent rejections. I was getting used to them, sort of, and determined to forge ahead no matter what. So when I got the message in early December that my piece had been accepted for publication in The Rose & Thorn, it was more than just an acceptance. It was sunshine in the middle of a cold gray winter giving me new hope, new life and new energy for the road ahead.

When the January issue came out yesterday, seeing my name as an author in a respected publication felt like waking up on a summer morning knowing the world is exactly as it's meant to be. It's the way I feel teaching classes with Carrie and the way I hope to feel when my memoir is finally born into the world.

I hope you'll take the time to read the winter issue of Rose & Thorn Journal. Not just because it's where you'll find my very first published piece, but because I'm in the company of a number of really talented writers whose work deserves to be read. I'm forever grateful to Angie and Kat for providing a forum for new voices to be heard, for their excellent editing skills, and for being my just right beginning.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Hungry, I opened the fridge searching for some form of sugar-free satisfaction. Milk. I'd bought milk last week, organic whole milk, more on a whim than from any solid plan. And there it sat, forgotten and unopened, at the back of the shelf.

I don't drink milk. For most of my adult life I've avoided milk as an easy way to reduce my caloric intake, much in the same way I don't drink regular soda. The fact that I have not avoided certain other even more calorie-laden foods is beside the point for now.

My childhood home was a dairy. Milk, and everything about its production, was central to our existence. We cared for a herd of 30 - 40 Holsteins, milked them twice a day every single day, then bottled and delivered the rich, raw, unprocessed milk. When production was good we had an abundance of smooth, yellow-white nectar for the house.

I remember learning in Sunday School about manna and nectar, which God provided for the Israelites in the desert. In my mind manna was some sweet cross between popcorn and bread that was both crunchy and chewy. Nectar was a cross between milk and some exotic fruit juice.

That's how significant milk was to me, and how satisfying as a food.

We drank milk with every meal. In fact were not allowed to leave the table until plates were cleaned and glasses were emptied - starving children in foreign places and waste-not-want-not were invoked, as well as the promise of the standard punishment for disobedience (a two-inch belt applied with energy to bare bottoms).

Emptying glasses was only a problem during those times milk production was down. Too many cows dry and not producing at all, or new heifers not fully up to optimal production yet. Or maybe there was a new batch of customers which meant less or no surplus milk at all. Then we had to drink powdered milk. Horrible gloppy blue liquid, the powder never dissolving completely, tasting much like the soap used to teach us to mind the words that came out of our mouths. Three glasses a day.

So maybe I stopped drinking milk because I could, not just to save calories.

On the rare occasion over the years when I had access to raw milk, the green grass and sunshine flavor of it made me wonder why I didn't drink more. Then I'd read some article about the perils of dairy fat and remember. And any milk that is not whole milk tastes to me like powdered milk, which I cannot tolerate.

As I pulled the carton out of the fridge, all of those memories strolled through like a family of visiting ghosts. As with so many ghosts these days, I was more curious than frightened at their presence. I pulled down a goblet from the cupboard and enjoyed the satin flow of milk swirling gently to take on the soft curved shape of the glass.

I sniffed first, an old habit to check for spoilage, and found my head filled with nectar - earthy, sweet, primal. The first sip was snow cold and cream rich. It frolicked over my tongue, down my throat and settled into my stomach like a comforting hug. My body was so happy to welcome her old friend, I had to restrain myself from chugging the entire glass down. I would take enough to fill my mouth, savor its impact on tongue and roof and cheeks, then swallow and savor the sensation of my whole world being exactly right as the milk once again offered me solace I'd forgotten I needed.

The light is winning. The hungry ghosts of childhood grow dimmer while the pleasures of life produce a warm protective radiance. Some things - my brothers, a kinship with trees and birds, the simple pleasure of a glass of milk - have traveled the ribbon of years in solid reassuring companionship. Pleasures whose light kept the dark at bay long enough for me to survive and claim my own light.

photo from Flickr

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sweat Lessons

"Try not to wipe the sweat off. It'll help you stay cooler."

At least once a class, the teacher will offer us this piece of wisdom. The advice always comes after a particularly challenging pose where several people (usually the newbies) grab for their towels, which sends a wave of disrupted energy through the room. There's no way to avoid sweat in a Bikram yoga class where the temperature is considered optimum somewhere over a hundred and just short of hell.

Sweating is an integral part of the practice. It means bodies are warmed to a place where deep stretching is more possible. It provides lubrication to make it easier to get into certain poses. It releases toxins that would otherwise pool and poison from within.

If you don't wipe the sweat off, it forms a sort of second skin. Granted it's a skin that drips, but left alone offers protection that allows deeper concentration and a more peaceful session. If you do wipe the sweat off, there's a moment of dryness and a sort of respite that's quickly replaced by more sweat that feels even more irritating on the heels of the relief.

As I was lying in savasana earlier this week, the untoweled sweat pooling in my eyes and running for my ears, I thought about other irritations that might be better served by allowing them to be, rather than wiping them away. The ones that come right back no matter how hard I try to get rid of them. The ones that sting my eyes, cloud my vision, and impair my hearing.

As with all lessons being offered for immediate learning, the list was short. In fact only one item presented itself for reflection. And it would not be pushed away.


A regular part of any life being lived out loud in the full embrace of fellow travelers. The only way to avoid it is to sit very still and not want anything, and not be in relationship with any person. And maybe that wouldn't even work.

Unmet expectations. In a healed heart those register as small stones on the path. In a wounded heart they can manifest as unbreachable chasms with the power to drag a person into the depths of despair.

I know all this, and most of the time am able to accept disappointments as course corrections or opportunities for pause. With one notable exception. My marriage.

For years I've allowed ice bins with one cube left in the bottom, unvacuumed floors, and "I thought I told you that" to avalanche and obliterate sweet notes, bills paid on time every month, and "I believe in you" offered in both words and expressions multiple times a day. Even understanding how out of balance that is, I've been unable to tip the scales in the other direction.

I'm almost there. By not wiping the sweat away, by staying put and not distracting myself, I'm finally ready to look at what it's trying to tell me. About the poisons it's trying to carry away from my heart. Beliefs about men, learned so well at my mother's knee; beliefs that formed our strongest bond; beliefs that were her survival, not mine. No longer mine.

Class is over. I towel the sweat from my face, my neck, my eyes. I drink deeply from my bottle, overflowing the fresh cool water so it splashes down my chest. Settling into a final savasana for the session, I breathe deeply, allowing my body to absorb the work, to rest and adjust to the new landscape.

photo from Flickr

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brotherly Love, Part Three

I saved the best for last.

I was so excited about my choice of gift for my brothers, and had selected perfect personal gifts for my sisters-in-law, that I didn't think much about what they might be doing for gifts. In spite of all the flaws and wounds and near-sightedness in our relationships, this family knows how to give presents.

Last Christmas brought me a quilt sewn by middle brother, Mark, and an album of our grandmother's life created by baby brother, Geoff. Oldest brother, Frank, in past years has given generous gifts of weekends to interesting new places in the Pacific Northwest.

So as we sat in a circle in Geoff's living room I was completely focused on watching my brothers faces as they received the framed joy picture that was the labor of so much love, and then as Mark read the poem out loud. Their reactions were mostly about where the pictures came from, very little about the theme, and I was okay with that. I know how long it took me to be able to receive the gift of our parents' joyful smiles and did not expect my brothers to be able to absorb the gift quickly at all.

In the second round of opening (everyone was given one gift and then we took turns unwrapping our new treasures) I was handed Geoff's gift. A circle of angels meant to surround a candle. This is the second angel gift he and his wife, Lynn, have given me. One more and we'll have a tradition, and a collection.

What thrills me the most about angels from my baby brother is that they represent a bridge for us. My spiritual path is not quite the same as any of my brothers', much to their distress at times. In angels, Geoff has found a way for our paths to cross. Beings with wings who are bringers of light and hope and love. That I can embrace.

At the beginning of the third round, Mark handed Geoff and me identical little boxes. We were directed to open them at the same time. Geoff's box held two small stones (to represent coal for the youngest who was often the naughtiest). Mine held two pennies ("a penny for your thoughts" - which I've always been more than happy to share) and a reference to another gift box. Which we couldn't open until the next round.

Geoff opened his first. The note inside directed him to give his sister a big kiss, which he did without argument, and which I received happily. The note inside mine directed me to ask my brother to get what I was after. Which I did - politely. Mark went into the next room and came out with two huge identical packages, clearly frames of some sort. I wondered what pictures he had found to share.

No pictures. A Christmas Alphabet. Illustrated, matted and framed. Which I got to read aloud, but couldn't get past the beginning of the fourth paragraph. It made me cry so hard, Mark got up to hug me and ended up crying almost as hard as I was.

"The first gift in the story is actually a 'Daughter' (D). While we don't know his name, we know that Mary had a father somewhere."

In this last year Mark and I have talked a lot about what it means to be an unconditionally loved daughter - something I have no experience with. That hole (and my belief about why it existed) has been the force driving most of my life's decisions, for better or worse. Those conversations have been a huge catalyst in my coming to a place of peace and understanding, and becoming open to the possibility of a loved daughterhood that's been waiting for me all along.

The true gifts, of course, are not the framed letter, or the circle of angels, or the pictures and poem. The truest gift is the knowing, seeing, and honoring of each other, our common family history, and a greater Love that connects us - has always connected us - even when we feel lost, misunderstood, and outcast.

top photo from Flickr

Friday, January 1, 2010

Brotherly Love, Part Two

I knew I'd discovered a treasure the minute I saw the picture in the muddle of our mom's box (now mine) of old family photos. Our father beaming with unhindered joy. This was not the man his children called Daddy - the man whose temper was feared, whose approval was a bar too high to reach, whose belief in the world as a hostile place was a foundation stone of our childhood.

It was such a rare thing, I needed to share with my brothers. And what better way to share joy than at Christmas, the season of joy. As I pondered the most powerful way to give this gift to them, I found myself wondering if a similar picture of our mom existed.

Back into the box and the albums, an inheritance whose value cannot be measured, I turned over one picture after another, one page after another. I've been through these pictures a hundred times and know many of them by heart. Still, from time to time, one has the power to be so new and so heart-opening, it's like I'd never seen it before.

Mom's joy picture was one of those. Playful, open, mischievous even - she's a child of maybe eight or nine. One of the only pictures I have of her with a full toothy smile, and as it turns out, the only one I could find where her happiness was not damped with tight lips or an air of sadness so strong the paper held a chill.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas I studied the two photos as I wrote the message I wanted my brothers to receive along with the prints. These surprise versions of our parents watch me now as I write this.

A small dark-haired girl who had been abandoned by both parents, whose body had already been violated, for whom being invisible was the only safe place. Her spirit still shining through. Hope not lost yet. I long to hold her and give her the childhood she deserved. In part so that she could eventually give me the same thing, but at this point more than anything I just want to ease her pain.

A handsome dark-haired man, not yet thirty, who had survived childhood polio and the distance of his own mother who couldn't bear his suffering, who nearly died again as a logger, whose carnal appetites were already beginning to eat away at the fabric of his young family. It's harder for me to look at this picture - my feelings are still so conflicted about him, healing insights still a blur on the road ahead.

But what these pictures speak loudest to me, and what I most want my brothers to hear, is that joy runs in our blood just as much as fear and pain. We are not doomed to the patterns of the generations before us because the potential is there for so much more. And if joy exists, love has to be the fuel that ignites its brilliant flame. That's the best news of all.

There was love in our family. And so there is love now. For ourselves. For each other. For the deeply wounded people who brought us here.

Seeds of joy survive
in quack grass choked gardens,
devouring plagues of sadness, drought.

Seeds of joy survive,
to flower as thornless
radiant smiles,
withering in early June frost.

Seeds of joy survive
even sins of the fathers,
slicing barbs, twisted mutations.

Seeds of joy survive
as dormant as fireweed,
waiting for wildfire to restore.

Seeds of joy survive,
now burned free, tear-nourished,
hearty shoots,
stretching unhindered sunward.

Seeds of joy thrive.