30 September 2010

Quiet

I'm quiet now, inside and out. Tired, thankful, and quiet.

External silence is something I love so much that I crave it, but internal silence takes some time to get used to. I'm not much of a talker, but I usually have words to write, to share, to give. Finding myself wordless always makes me stop sharp, stop and look, to play with the color of life and put my hands back in the water and play.

I've been trying since last night to find the words I want to write today, to pick them out of the great cloud that is the English language and put them in the right order. They keep escaping, and finding words when they aren't ready to be found is like trying to hang on to a handful of sand. So I'm quiet today, waiting for the words to spill again.

Sharing my quiet with Emily today.



28 September 2010

My Favorite Monkey

I have a monkey. Most of you don't know that, but I do. She hides her prehensile tail in those cute little diapers, but I know it's there when I watch her climb up on the couch all by herself, then haul herself up onto the arm of the couch and crawl around on the back.

I wish I had a picture, but every time she sees the camera, she smiles at me and tumbles on to the cushions.

People say I'm a fearless mama, because I let my girl climb and gnaw on the backs of chairs (who knows where those chairs have been!) and play in the dirt. But I say, how will she know what she can do if I don't let her try. And how will she know how well she is held if I don't catch her when she falls?

Unwrapping Tuesday . . .

tuesdays unwrapped at cats


27 September 2010

Starting Again

I pulled my novel out of the drawer yesterday. It's sad, feeling intimidated by a 3" high stack of paper, but there you go.

Don't get me wrong - I love this novel. I love the story and the characters, and I love where it goes and what they do and how they handle themselves. But I've written two full drafts, now, and a bunch of other false starts, and I just haven't been able to solve some of the problems inherent in the story.

After getting entirely fed up with contradictory critiques, I put it away. At that point, I didn't know if I'd ever take it out again. Solving the problems seemed impossible without compromising either the story or the characters, and I felt confused about the better direction giving the feedback I got.

Also, I don't like starting over.

I'm also beginning again when it comes to art. Several years back, I had a ton of creative energy and picked up painting for the first time in my life. I painted consistently for a year or so, but got fed up with my lack of knowledge about technique and the fact that I'm SO SLOW at it.

But something in me calls to making lines on a page, and so I'm dipping my feet back in, remembering how color soothes and how even painting a background can ease the soul.

It's ok to start over, no matter how many times it takes.

I keep telling myself that, in my creative pursuits as well as in daily life. Because normal tasks involve starting over all the time. Take laundry, for example. As soon as you get a load done, there are more dirty clothes. It can seem never-ending, a long, long cycle of starting over, over and over again.

We have to make peace with the starting over, or life will always feel like a failure and a drag and we won't be able to embrace it. We have to open ourselves to seasons, to the ebbs and flows of work and energy that mean sometimes we'll be able to conquer the world, and other times we'll barely keep our mouths open above the rising waves.

It helps me to remember that I serve the God who offers us all a second chance, and a third and a fourth and so on. If I'm not willing to start over, then I won't move back into relationship with him when I need to.

So a'starting over I go. Wish me luck.

Thankful today for:

  • new beginnings
  • baby Ewan's miracle early Friday morning (and praying for more as we speak)
  • solutions to some of the novel's problems
  • my wee, climbing monkey of a baby
  • air conditioning (it's 114 degrees here today - yuck!)
  • green, growing things, especially indoors
  • getting to be on the news last Friday
  • entering a slower season
  • getting to pray for people close to me, and hold them when they cry
  • the lightness of knowing I'm not alone



holy experience

23 September 2010

And I, the Night Watchman

A flame
in the darkness
is as beautiful to this pilgrim
as sunset colors on canvas
or spring flowers
uncoiling
inch by inch in 
April's warm rain.

Winter is long,
and still,
a season for growing
to fill tight spaces
until,
long limbs akimbo
new life scrambles
into the outside world.

We study life,
the how and when and where,
and forget
to sit and watch,
that watching is action
that will wedge its way into our souls
making us different
than those with closed eyes.

So I wait,
for life and light
to draw me 
through a door
into the warm kitchen
where people raise
their glasses around me
and celebrate life
with cocoa and champagne.




Linking with Emily and other friends who will be part of that kitchen celebration, that home-y dance party where everyone is welcome.

19 September 2010

I thank you God . . .



Words tumble, some days freely, some days rhythmically, other times pell-mell over rocks and around pebbles until they finally come to their resting place. They can communicate, share, give, take and move. Saying something or putting it on paper makes it real and, sometimes, articulates thoughts I wouldn't have known I had if they hadn't gotten said, irreversibly, in an awkward moment over coffee.

Today is my 100th day in a row writing and journaling over at 750 words, one of my favorite sites on the entire Internet. I thought I wouldn't find time to journal after the babe was born and I grieved it, but this site has given me back that time and space. And so today I'm thankful for words, for their power and hope, for the joy of language.
  • the ability to write and speak and thus to love the people around me
  • rediscovering poetry as snippets of bliss
  • conversations that resolve and heal and love
  • baby babbles, incessantly telling me about a world I almost remember
  • God's words, written in the Bible and spoken by the tongues of those around me
  • books, full of words that note ideas, adventures, and dreams
  • letters, the too-little-had nowadays experience of words on paper from loved ones
  • handwriting, how forming a word says a lot about a person
  • how writing, the act of it, makes me human, completes my existence here in a way little else does
  • how writing is prayer, is joy and peace and being with God
  • how putting words on paper means I no longer have to store them in my head and so create space
  • spoken-word poetry, and the rhythms I could listen to all day 
  • this poem, specifically, a recent discovery that helps me find the riches in everyday life



holy experience

Joining with Ann to create a cacophony of praise today.

Celebration



I believe in telling the truth, and the truth is that I'm no good at celebrating, at least under the traditional definition of the word. No good at all, in fact. If you need a realist, I'm your woman, but celebrating comes like pulling teeth.

That's why writing about week 4 in L. L. Barkat's God in the Yard feels like such a monumental task to me. I don't have much to say about celebrating, because it's not something that's a habit in my life. Thinking about it feels a little like trying to visualize a tesseract - I can almost see it, and then everything dissolves again.

There's one time in my life when I remember celebrating well, and that time it felt like a command straight from God. The situation was crazy: Dave and I needed money to get married, he'd been promised a job, and it feel through. We either needed to postpone the wedding or get some cash. 

I prayed like I'd never prayed before, with faith I didn't know I'd had and words I would never have said if they weren't given to me: God, there's plenty of money out there. Help some of it to find its way to us. 

It did - a friend wrote Dave a $1000 check out of the blue, because God told her he needed it. Then he got a job out of nowhere, and I felt commanded to celebrate.

It rose up inside of me with an imperative tang. I needed to do it and we did: I took Dave out for one of  the nicest dinners of our stint as a dating couple, where we feasted and drank and built an altar of remembrance for what God had done there. 

And I do remember it, vividly. In fact, if that story teaches me nothing else, it's that celebrating is important because it helps us remember the things God does, the things He once did, even in a season where it's hard to hear his voice. 

I want to remember, and so I need to celebrate.

Now I struggle with my normal days. I find it hard to want a normal life, to want this home-and-family existence that doesn't involve running around doing fun, exciting things all the time.

And I wonder if I struggle with them because I don't know how to celebrate them. If I knew how to mark the little things, the baby's developmental milestones, the way the light comes through the windows in the morning, the things Dave and I do to love each other on a daily basis, maybe I would appreciate them more. 

Celebrations are hard for me because childhood celebrations came with expectations. When I was a child, celebration days were supposed to be perfect. People wanted to have fun, to get along,  to be happy spending time together as a family. 

Since perfect days are rare, expectations were almost always disappointed. In fact, I did most of the disappointing. I put so much pressure on myself that I would snap and get upset. I'd yell at my brother, cry when something didn't work out the way we'd planned, or get upset with someone else who didn't meet my expectations.

I came to believe that I ruined good things, good celebrations, and so in some ways I came to dread them. 

I want celebrating to be something different for my children. I want it to be something they love, but I want it to be human, real and messy, like everything having to do with people is messy.

As luck would have it, Barkat expands the definition of "celebration" in her book, from something that not only marks a happy time or an act of God to something that notes or highlights things of importance, even when those are hard things. This makes celebration into something I'm more familiar with. 

Most of my celebrations are little things: daily writing, a prayer that I pray almost every morning that reminds me of God's presence, Dave's and my ritual before bed of recounting the best and worst moments of every day. They don't have much in common except that they're regular, they're important for me, and they usher me into the presence of God.

They're not enough. I want more celebrating, more marking and noting and deliberate focusing in my life right now. But I suppose where I am is a place to start, since being with God is never a bad thing.




GIY button

(I finally found the button!)



16 September 2010

How I Know I'm a Mama

Little faces haunt my TV screen. Hungry faces, faces stretched old by illness and strains that small people shouldn't have to carry. Sobs rise, unbidden and uncontrollable, hardly mine yet coming from my mouth and shaking my teeth until they chatter.

Pictures, online, of little people chained to beds. We don't always handle disability well in my country, but we often do better than some places, where the sheer workload disabled babies create overwhelms. I see them, and I can hardly speak for hours. I pray, over and over, "Jesus, be with those babies," because there's nothing else to say that makes any sense.

A friend, one of the first I connected with in blog-world, writes of her own broken-hearted baby. Safe now, still inside her, soon that will change as they're whisked into the world of surgeries and tubes and heart monitors. There's a hard ball in my stomach when I read her posts, anguish that words and tears and even pounding fists can't ever, ever say.

I'm not one of those girls who always knew I'd make a great mama. I wanted kids, wanted to hold little hands and change little diapers and play silly games, but I never felt quite sure that I'd be any good at it.

The feeling only intensified when my daughter was born in January. I've written before about the bewildering months after she was born, months where I knew I loved her but I couldn't feel it for all the anxiety and fear that crept in. 

I didn't feel much like her mother at first. I didn't feel like I knew her better than anyone else did, and I wondered, in the quiet stillness of many dark nights, if she should have been given to someone else, to a mama who was meant to be a mama, to someone who could hear the difference in her cries (I still can't), and to someone who spoke "baby" as a native, because it was all I could do to fumble around and ask for the bathroom. 

As the bewilderment wore off and I began to find my way around motherhood, I thought the intense feelings surrounding children's pain would wear off. They began with my daughter's birth, with the flood  of hormonal changes that accompanies it, and I thought they'd wane as things settled. I thought I'd lose that sensitivity, extreme even for a soul that's been sensitive since the beginning, as my heart settled in.

Feelings, though, are a gift. They hold something for us, even when they're negative and overwhelming, some kernel of truth that we need to know and accept to life a life rich and full. My feelings haven't waned, haven't even lessend in intensity, and so I went hunting for that kernel, for something to make sense of the fact that seeing or feeling children in pain can send me reeling for days. 

When I see babies hurt, I want to take them in, to my life and my heart and my home, and ease their pain. And I see my own girl's eyes in their faces, her hands and her ears in theirs, and I can't stand the thought of her hurting that way. And I think of mothering hurting children, of holding hands and trying to ease pain and confusion when you can't take it away. 

Turns out, I'm a mama, as deep and wide as any that's ever been.

Linking with Emily and (a day late) with Ann . . .








holy experience

10 September 2010

Better Late than Never



Labor Day we spent in the sun, soaking it and each other in. We walked by the sea, and by homes so large we realized we wouldn't even want them, and we were thankful for our small lives, for normal and daily and little and good.

I'm also thankful for these:

  • the amazing little personality emerging in the baby
  • how he always thinks I can do it, even when I'm ready to walk away
  • how she sleeps on her tummy now, knees curled under like she's about to crawl away (and sometimes she does, across her crib and in her sleep)
  • the clouds that didn't burn off today
  • the joys of "hot" in the fall: hot tea, hot coffee, hot soup
  • that we're finally all sleeping through the night
  • finding new "favorite places" even after I've lived here more than 10 years
  • anticipating a move to "I know not where"
  • new connections and meanings for my daughter's name (Mirren = Mary)
  • Thai yellow curry with potatoes
  • little turtle faces poking out
  • my soft pillow every night

08 September 2010

The Lived-in Life



There is a peace and a rhythm that comes with choosing to live in today's moments without trying to escape them or make them into something they're not. It's a slow, settled feeling, more akin to earth than heaven, that creeps up so slowly I don't realize it's there until I feel a golden, heavy feeling in my middle.

Compassion comes, for the drippy-nosed babe who doesn't understand why she can't breathe. Love comes, for he who holds my hands and doesn't fail even when we forget that walking on quicksand isn't normal. Contentment comes, between one folded shirt and the next.

The fruit of a life lived-in, not lived-around or lived-near, mirrors the fruits of our Savior-God himself. And those fruits fill the soul from the center out. I imagine, eventually, it will overflow, sending rivulets and then streams and rivers of fullness to all who come to partake.

All this, from a life I would change so much about if it were up to me. Truly, all's grace.



The prose may be imperfect, but you may find your heart there anyway.

07 September 2010

Contemplation is a Dangerous Thing

In Chapter 3 of God in the Yard, L.L. Barkat talks about contemplation. And I'm here to tell you today that contemplation is a dangerous thing. 

I don't know what Mary was doing when the angel came, but I like to think that she was taking a quiet moment, maybe somewhere between breakfast and lunch, maybe hanging up clothes to dry and appreciating how the rhythm of the work set her mind free to roam. And then an angel appeared, like that, and changed her life.

I can't help but think that Mary didn't plan to carry the Christ-child. She didn't plan to be pregnant before her marriage, and she didn't plan to always have to live with that. Her dreams were probably modest: maybe she wanted to be married, to have her own home, to have kids running around in a few years. Maybe she wanted to care for her parents into their old age, to learn as much as she could about God, to learn to mix a mean hummus.

I don't know what she wanted to do and who she wanted to be, but I do know that it all got turned on its head when that angel was done making his proclamation. Gone, probably forever, was Mary's good name. For all she knew, Joseph would go, too, and with him her dreams of home and family. And she'd have a baby, but not in the way or the time that she wanted, and he wouldn't be much like the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.

Her future looked pretty dark, too. Without a husband and having gotten pregnant before she was married, she'd be a pariah. She'd probably stay in her father's home, until he died, and then get some grudging care from a brother or a male cousin. She'd be among the least, though, the ones most in need of love and charity (and the ones her son later cared for so tenderly).

In spite of the muffled crashing sounds her dreams made when they hit her dusty floor, she bowed her head and said, "Yes, Lord." Actually, she said, "May it be unto me according to your word."

I don't think Mary was an idiot. Stunned, maybe, and shocked that an angel would come visit her, but not stupid. She knew what her words meant and the cost her submission could exact up on her dreams, her life, and her future, and she said them anyway.

If you know the story of Mary, you know that God put things back together. Joseph didn't abandon her, so she wasn't shamed. Whether you believe she had any more children depends on the particular tradition you follow. Eventually she watched that baby, the one who rocked her world, die humiliated on the cross. And I'm sure she saw him raised again, walking and moving among his people.

But her life changed that day. And it changed not only because God chose her, but because she was willing to release her dreams and grasp on to his. That's not to say that we shouldn't have dreams and we shouldn't do what we can to make them happen. But it is to say that we don't know the whole story, and that the life God calls us to, even if he doesn't do it through the booming voices of angelic messengers, may have gifts that we won't see if we don't submit to him and be present in it.

So contemplation is a dangerous thing, because it opens us to what God is offering right now, in this present moment. And if we talk hold of that, who knows where it will lead and how many dreams we'll have to sacrifice to follow it.

03 September 2010

Summer Storm

You speak of love
and your words are wet and heavy.
Silver runnels slide over
shoulders, back, buttocks, thighs,
cleansing cobwebbed self-doubt
from places I'd forgot.

Fat and cool,
dropping like summer rain from a storm that
boils up over the mountains in the afternoon,
soaking skin before
I even think to hide.

I am drenched,
beyond hope and power,
hopelessly soaked,
though skin to bone,
and beyond,
to the center and I-know-not-what.

The day's plans ruined,
I can run inside,
where dry clothes and
protection from the elements await,
and forget the drops
that splash across my nose.
Or I can stand out here,
silent and alone
and let them run down my skin in
rivulets and rivers and streams,
world without end.

Amen.

02 September 2010

Wrestling On

Several years ago found me deeply involved in practicing martial arts. Eventually, I got a 2nd degree black belt in a fairly obscure art, got married, and quite practicing. But I loved almost every minute of being there.

I loved the freedom of karate, the feeling it developed in me that I could handle whatever came my way. My body loved it, too, as I constantly pushed its limits and found that it could do more than I’d ever thought. I loved all of it - the tradition, the discipline, the camaraderie, the workout.

All of it, that is, except the sparring. I was never more than mediocre when it came to meeting others in the ring. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the technique or even the ability, but that the energy scared me. Aggression could fly, and some people had better control of themselves and their feelings than others. I did spar, because I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to advance, but I would rather have done almost anything else.

All of that to say that wrestling with God isn’t one of my strong points. And yet wrestling is where I find myself lately.

If I do say so myself, I've done a rather good job talking up normal life recently. It seems so clear to me how polluted my own mind has become with the ideas that I need something exciting or adventurous to happen in my life so I can create some meaning. And it seems even more clear how our culture is permeated with these ideas, how most westerners of my general demographic feel these things, at least to some extent.

It's so clear that normal days should be our focus, but it's so hard to actually focus there.

I find myself in an situation where the temptation to look beyond my normal days runs rampant. My husband lost his job in June and we're for-sure moving in December, when he's done with his Master's degree program. It's so much easier for me to imagine us doing something exotic and exciting, like taking our savings to travel the world, rather than thinking about him getting another job, us settling somewhere new, and finding more normal days wherever we end up.

I see him getting a world changing job, or at least a world traveling one, and Mirren and I following along in tow. I see God calling him to something big and fun and exciting, where he'll get a lot of recognition and even more praise. I see exotic locales, substantial sums of money, and never having to wonder again what we're about or why we're trudging this path.

It doesn't help that I find myself more and more dissatisfied with where I am professionally, spiritually, financially, and physically. I thought I’d have done more by this point in my life and the fact that I haven’t leaves me confused. And the more dissatisfied and confused I become, the more I look to something outside of my normal days to bring what I’m looking for.

And so I’m struggling against the life God has for me right now. It feels like a fight that I'm losing and I don't quite know why I can't just accept what I have and what is in front of me when I know it to be so good.

Maybe this is why the story of Jacob wrestling with God feels so apt. Right now I’m trying to push against what I know God is doing and the places where I know he’s working. And I don't know how to give up. I don't know how to let him win. Maybe that's why God touched Jacob’s hip - that was the only way Jacob would stop fighting and move on into the life God had for him. I'm afraid, though, of how I'm going to be wounded, of how things are going to come and hit me, of what I'm going to have to carry throughout the rest of my life because I can't stop fighting now.

The thing is, though, I don't ever see that story as a bad thing. Maybe there was a better way, but Jacob couldn't take it. Maybe there's a possible world where he trusted God and walked across the river to meet his brother knowing that the Almighty was at his back. But he couldn't do it in this world. And that's where I'm at - I think there's a better way, but I can't currently take it. No matter how much I see that it’s the normal days that are important, I still want more. I still have this sinful heart that believes lies and, while telling myself the truth is well and good, it's not making much of a dent right now.

So I'm wrestling with God through the twilight and into the night. My life isn't what I want it to be, and that ideal life doesn't seem to be coming. I don't like what I have. I want something else. I don't feel like God is here, like he cares about me and where I'm at and where I'm going, and I don't want to live the life that he's calling me to. And I don't know how to move forward. I feel like it's somewhere between midnight and 4AM and we're still wrestling. The dark reaches of the night, and we're wrestling on.