14 December 2011

Unto Us

This is Simon, and I have been delinquent in introducing him to the world. He was born on November 29th at 10:53pm, after 2 hours of labor and 11 minutes at the hospital (if you want to be a hospital celebrity, deliver a baby that fast! I think everyone I saw for the 36 or so hours we were there knew how fast he came!). He was 7 lbs., 1 oz., and 20 inches long (identical in size to his sister at birth, except for being 1/4 inch longer).

I will post more about him soon. For now, it's sufficient to let him nap on my chest and to enjoy his babyhood.

23 November 2011

Sometimes the Answer is Another Question

I put my order in for this week and, like those times when you ask for an Egg McMuffin and end up with a Cheeseburger, somehow it got garbled in the process. My requests were simple, I thought: 1 baby (born, healthy); 1 mama (healthy, no longer pregnant); 1 toddler (healthy, happy, loving baby brother); 1 daddy (healthy, proud).

Instead the tally seems to be 1 baby (still inside, presumed healthy); 1 mama (sick, still pregnant); 1 toddler (sick, grumpy), 1 daddy (healthy).

I keep wondering if it would do any good to go back to the drive-thru and try yelling this time.

They're little things, the ones I didn't get this week, and yet I keep finding myself upset that I didn't get them. I want this baby out like you could not possibly believe (except you can, if you've been there), I want to be able to breathe through my nose, and I want my girl to regain the ability to deal that seems to flee when she's ill.

This week, these little things mirror larger things that I prayed for over months and years when I felt like God was ignoring me. Now that things seem to be on the upswing for us, I can look back on those times with a little more clarity. A little more, but not too much.

I thought there'd be a moment of truth, a time when I'd realize why we walked through difficulty and uncertainty, when I'd see a purpose behind it all and suddenly understand. But just like I don't understand how this week turned out so opposite what I'd hoped, I don't understand why our lives had to go all topsy-turvy for 2 years.

Maybe I never will know. Maybe I'll never be able to explain to my girl why her first impressions of the world are probably so mixed and confusing. Maybe there will never be words.

I can say that, but can I live it? Questions rise up, more and more of them every time I try to make peace with that. Not just "Why?" but more detailed questions. Did I miss something? How do I know when life is just like that and when there's some sort of method to be found? I wonder why my girl's coming into the world seemed to usher in a time of pain and confusion, and my son's looks to come alongside peace and routine and rest. And on, and on.

So right now I'm sitting with questions. They're fragile, or maybe I am, because if I think on them too hard, they'll break (or maybe I will). So they sit in my hands. I poke them a little, then I walk away and come back later, only to poke again.

Will answers come from the prodding? Peace? I don't know, but I know that, just as I can't look at them too hard, I can't leave them behind, either. They're pieces of the future, I think, even though I can't see how they all fit just now. So I'll hold, look, poke, leave until something rises from their ashes.

Come, Lord Jesus.

10 November 2011

Loving the Sharp Places

It's easy, when the beautiful is her smile and the sun reflecting off her blonde hair as she runs ahead of me. And it's easy when she dances on the living room floor, just-learned jumps still wobbly but nothing half-hearted about them.

But it's different when the beautiful is tears at dinner because her olive fell apart and demands to get out of the car while it's still moving. It's different when naps don't happen and they dare change the clocks and she doesn't want to wear diapers but refuses to use the potty.

We think of beauty as the round and the smooth, with graceful edges balanced by straight lines. But beauty can be pointy, too, and sharp, and hard as a rock. Some say that isn't beauty, but when it's a little heart trying to figure out what it means to be human, what else can it be?

And so I try to love her like she's beautiful, even the hard parts. I wrap my arms around all of her, even the points and the prickles, and I hold her close to me even when she's sharp. How else will she learn of love, that it has more to do with the lover than the condition of the beloved? Because to be human is to be loved, and that's what I'd have her know more than anything else.

03 November 2011

When Love is Enough

At the end of a day when she didn't sleep and I needed her to, tomorrow looks like a long haul. I keep reminding myself that we're all still in transition, but what to do when I need 10 minutes away from being mama and she needs her mama now, and now, and now. The pressure is on, to get us settled before her baby brother arrives and to still meet her needs and make her smile.

Little eyes, little nose, red from crying and I can't give her what she wants because neither of us know what that is. Not up, not down, not bunny or bear, not the book, nor the baby, nor the markers and paper.

It's the intangibles that get us all, even when we're small, and sometimes being offered love just isn't enough. Sometimes we all want to run away, want to bang our heads against the wall or hold our hands in front of our faces so the world can't get in anymore. Sometimes stress settles around all of our shoulders, even the smallest ones, and we can't rest for the pressure we can't see.

I didn't want her to be like me, didn't want her to absorb emotional energy like her skin is an emotion-permeable membrane, not always able to distinguish what's mine and hers and yours and someone else's. But I think she is, dear little sensitive soul, and I feel the need to be okay so she will be okay.

There's also truth, though, and when the truth is something other than okay, I want to learn to hold that for her, as I hold her and let her fall apart in my arms.

Tiny love. Not so tiny anymore, not even the tiniest in our family, but always my little love. May you find your sleep, and may we both remember that love is enough, even when it feels like it ought to be otherwise.

24 October 2011

Not All Who Wander Are Lost (or So They Say)

More than a month (nearly two!) since I've occupied this place in any meaningful way, and so much between then and now that truly catching you up is more than I could do, because I'm not caught up yet myself. But here's the summary:
  • a week in Nevada, at WorldCon (why, yes, we are nerds!), where we learned that toddlers and conferences are not entirely incompatible, but are also not the best-synced things on the planet
  • a week in Virginia, teaching
  • a week in Philadelphia, visiting friends
  • a car, a train, a taxi ride, my first solo hotel-stay, another taxi ride, a bus, two airplanes, and another car ride to get home
  • a phone call, in the middle of the train ride, telling me they'd offered the job we'd given up on and we had two days to decide which life we wanted
  • the decision to accept the job and turn the world temporarily helter-skelter
  • a whirlwind trip 50 miles away to find a place to live
  • a nearly perfect house
  • a phone call from the doctor (just as we were putting the deposit on the house) and a somewhat complicated situation where they thought I had gestational diabetes but I didn't
  • a week of pricking my finger 4 times a day to PROVE I didn't have GD
  • a fortnight with the husband only home on the weekends because he stared working before the house was available
  • packing packing packing
  • another pregnancy-complication scare, this time because my blood pressure skyrocketed (Lest anyone panic, it has since gone down. They took it the day before we moved . . . actually, I should just have the doctors read this list before they decide to get worried again!)
  • moving moving moving
  • unpacking like crazy, in case the babe decides to come early
  • a toddler who doesn't do well with transitions (I'm starting to think she's a highly sensitive person, like her mama)
And today it's his birthday and we'll celebrate next weekend because we're still too tired and disjointed to figure out what to do on a Monday night. We face a wall that has to be painted (a baby boy just cannot move into a room with a pink wall), a basement we have to figure out how to heat, helping our bella girl figure out that her world really hasn't ended after all, and figuring out how to connect with people in this new place.

But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Thank God for Julian!

01 September 2011

Musings on Liturgy: Where Do I Go?

To whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life,
and we have believed, and have come to know
that You are the Holy One of God.

Praise to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ,
King of endless glory.


My head hurts today. The raging hormones of pregnancy can cause that, they say, and I suspect that pondering the future too much can, too. Not being able to take my traditional rounds of medication makes me grumpy, and when I'm grumpy too long, I go to a bad place.

Most of you reading this probably know that place, if not in your own experience, at least in your experience of other people. It's a place where life sucks and where I don't want any demands placed on me because I'm uncomfortable, darnit!, and the people around me are supposed to take care of me, not the other way around. 

It's not a good place. It's not a place that makes me a better wife, mother, symbiotic host, or friend. And it's not a place from which I really want to talk to God. After all, he calls me to be more than my headache, to come out of the place where I want everyone to feel sorry for the poor pregnant woman who cannot take medicine to feel better and see where others are at, too. 

And yet, where else is there to go?

The words above, part of my morning liturgy, seem like one of the most appropriate greetings for God that I've ever heard. That's the way I see them, like the words I say when I'm finally through the door, after I've stated my intention to want Him and only Him and asked that my heart be changed so that intention can be truth. Then I get to see Him, and these are the words I'm given to say. 

Truly, there's nowhere else to go. Or nowhere else that it makes sense to go, anyway. In reality, we all try to go a lot of different places other than to God. People talk about these places all the time. They're the things we try to fill ourselves with, the things that actually make us more empty, and yet we return over and over again.

There's only one place we can go, but to do that we have to admit that He is God. We have to say that He is the Lord, the Son of the King and King himself, and that his perspective, the eternal one, is the one that counts to us more than anything else does. It's hard to do this, especially hard when we want our circumstances to matter more than they do, when we're demanding acknowledgement of our pain or our struggles or our unmet desires before we submit to anything.

That's not to say that these things aren't important. We need to feel our pain, and we need others to see it and speak into it. Our circumstances do matter, because that's where we're loved. And if we aren't held and loved in the places where our deep desires aren't met, we'll have holes inside that effect the rest of our lives. 

These things matter, but they aren't everything. Even when we're hurting, there's more going on than our pain. There are His words of eternal life, and the knowledge that He knows us and sees us, and that our pain hurts Him, too. It's not always comforting to remember these things (in fact, it can be maddening), but keeping them in mind can change our perspective. When we see Him through our pain, we see the pain itself differently.

And so today I work to acknowledge Him. I work to love the people around me, even with their demands, because He loves them and because He loves me. And in the larger picture of our current struggles and state of unknowing about what the next few months, I try to find the joys in every day, because those are things He has given, rather than dwelling on the unknown, or the things He hasn't given.



24 August 2011

Canyon Places

We've been waiting and waiting, these last months, for the phone to ring. He's applied so many times, so many places, so many different jobs. People tell us over and over again that the market sucks, like we don't know that or it's supposed to be comforting. It's not us, nothing personal, and we don't take it that way. But you can only go so long staring at a silent phone when all you want it to do is ring before you start to wonder if you got the rules wrong, somehow, or if you're playing a different game than the rest.

And then it rings, and again and again. Three interviews in two weeks, and we were out of town for one of those. A job we really want, a job we kind-of want, and one that we'll take with joy if the others fall through. Three different industries, three different types of experience. But it's all backwards, with notifications coming in the order opposite of what would be helpful and us wondering if we're going to have to close the door on something sure because we hope for what we don't yet know. We're not sure if we can do it, if it comes to that. Not even sure we should, with two littles in the mix now and the need for at least a semblance of stability.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a player in a game that I don't understand, like if I could have the view of the chess player rather than the pawn, then it would all make sense. From where I stand, it feels backwards and inside out (or, in the words of my daughter's book, "Inside, Outside, Upside Down"). We've waited so long for any opportunity, and now we have three. Rejoice! On the other hand, we may end up choosing one that's not what we really want because we can't wait any longer to hear back from the one that's most ideal. Bah! 

It's a twisty thing, this path of life, and somewhat easier, I think, if we accept that most of what we'll do is wander. There aren't many vistas, here, not many places where the clouds part and the rocks move and we get to see where we've been and how it leads to where we're going. Most of the time, I think we're in a relatively narrow canyon with high walls. It's beautiful, there, with a stream running through and trees and flowers and all the layers and layers of rock stacked to remind us that others have been by, millions and millions of times. It's beautiful, but we can't see.

This doesn't bother some people nearly as much as it bothers me. I've always wanted to see, always strived to understand more, to gain a bigger perspective. I think it's the the way my mind works, the way I was made, if you will. I don't like having pieces without a whole, don't like sifting them through my fingers without some sort of overarching reason or premise behind it all. 

I want us to make the right choice, to not choose out of fear but out of wisdom. I want the pieces to fall into place, so that I know. But without the bigger perspective, I don't know if that's possible. And I wonder why he doesn't tell us more, doesn't give us what we need to know to make the right choice. 

"Trust," comes to mind, and I work on that. Yet he's trusted me with so much, and it kills me to think I might not be able to make the right choice here. He'll still be there if we don't; I know that. But I don't know how much more of this wandering I can endure. Funny, that. I've always been a wandering heart. But now I want roots, a place to settle, a place and a routine that feels like home.



10 August 2011

Musings on Liturgy: Seeking Him

Call: Who is it that you seek?
Response: We seek the Lord our God.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your heart?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your soul?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your mind?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your strength?
Response: Amen. Christ, have mercy. 

I first came to this part of the liturgy with responses very similar to the ones I had at the last part: Do I believe this? Can I really speak these words with any sort of honesty? Is my heart so focused on one thing that He is all I seek?

Then, I noticed the response. "Amen," means (loosely translated) "Let it be." Not in the Beatles sense, though sometimes I like to think of it that way when I'm praying about things I need to let go of. No, it means "Let it be," in the sense of, "May this be true. May reality match the words I've just spoken." And in that sense, I can pray these words all day long.

But that's just the first part. The second, "Lord, have mercy . . . Christ, have mercy," is the ages-old kyrie. Mercy, mercy, we all need mercy. Every minute of every day, we only live because mercy falls from heaven. It's no different when the acts that need mercy are all of the times, each day, when I seek something other than Him with some part of my being. 

And so the caller asks questions that very few people, if anyone, can truly say "Yes," to. But we can all say, "May that be true of me, and may the Lord have mercy on me when it is not." 
___

There's an image that often comes to mind when I speak these words. There's a door (and in case you have a vivid imagination like I do, it's to a cave that looks something like Obi Wan's from Star Wars), and I'm standing outside of it. I start the liturgy in God's name, announcing, even if only to myself, my intentions to enter that place and find Jesus. Then I speak the "One Thing" words, which are my way of knocking, of announcing my presence to those who guard the door. 

When someone answers the door, they welcome me into a sparse stone vestibule and begin to question. "Who do you seek?" they ask, and I tell them. The questions, while I suppose they would weed out those who had truly come to the wrong place, are more like serious reminders of where I am and what I am doing there. "Are you here," they ask, "because you seek God, or are you looking for shelter from the rain?" Both might be valid reasons to come in, but they will each require different things from me as I journey on. 

In some ways, I suppose they are a screening process. Am I a pilgrim, looking for the Risen One, a Seeker not sure of Him for whom I search, or am I an Outsider, welcome but not yet understanding everything that goes on here? As I answer, I feel the welcome come. I'm not a Saint, not one who can say that I seek Him as I ought, but I am one who knows how He should be sought. 

Some days, that's the best I can do - I can continue to seek, and to seek how to seek. When I pray these words each morning, that's what I pledge to do.


03 August 2011

Musings on Liturgy: One Thing

One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple. 

Beautiful words, these. And their sentiment is one I would echo with my whole heart . . . if I could. When I first came to this prayer, I almost stopped. "I can't say that," I thought. "Because I ask God for a lot of things, and seek more than just dwelling with Him."

This is a problem that I often have with liturgy - the words are beautifully written and over the centuries they've been tweaked to truly say those things that the human heart most needs to say to God, and to do it in language that is a deep as it is wide. But so many times, my heart is in a different place. I want to mean the things that the spectacular words say (or at least I want to want to, but don't get me started on second-order desires), but I don't. Or I don't know if I do.

In fact, when I really thought about it, the truth was even worse than that. Not only did I feel, in the moment of my prayer, that I didn't mean the words I was saying, but I also I didn't know if the things this prayer asks for would truly satisfy me. If all I ever had was another glimpse of God, would that be okay? What if Dave never got a job and our kids got sick and we had to live with my parents forever? Would I still be okay because I'd be gazing at God's beauty?

***
There is one time in my life where I know I experienced God. Many, many other times, I think I've experienced him or I hope I've experienced him, but there's only one time when I know, absolutely, positively, hands down, that I experienced God. Maybe that's unusual for a Christian, but it's my experience.

I went to Confession exactly once while I attended an Episcopal church. I love the way they do it there, with the priest sitting beside you, a present observer, one who hears the sins but not the one to whom they are confessed. And then he offers absolution, saying a few words and making the sign of the cross on the penitent's forehead. I don't know what you think about absolution, but there was definite relief in my heart and my life to hear someone actually speak words of forgiveness and reconciliation with authority. 

And when he touched me, I experienced God. Love unlike I'd ever experienced it before flooded through his fingers and into me. I didn't know if it would crush me or make me fly, but such was the power that I felt like I had to let it do one of those two things. It was exquisite, overwhelming, powerful . . . and more. I cannot describe it, and that's part of how I know it was God. 

As soon as he stopped touching me, the feeling left, too. A few seconds, but I'll carry their memory forever. I'd followed God for a long time, but he became real to me in a new way, that day. He became real because he became other, not something I could make up nor feelings that I could drum up, but a being entirely other, to be loved and grappled with and understood and not understood.

***
When I think about that day, I feel like there's a chance that I could mean those words. If I was really living in the presence of God everyday, seeing his beauty and seeking the love that could destroy but instead chooses not to, I would be satisfied. I could not help but be so. 

I've noticed, though, that experiencing God like I did that day doesn't happen very often. Once, for me, in thirty-two years and a few months. Maybe more for some, but not a lot more. And so I'm left in a quandry - I could mean the words I see in the liturgy, but I don't think it's possible (or at least probable) that I'm ever going to be able to experience God like that in every moment. So do I pray the words as a wish, or do I refuse them because I know I have to live as me, in my world.

***
What I experienced that day was an unusual, powerful, and intensely personal demonstration of God's love. I can't get to that everyday. For one thing, I don't think God offers himself to me in that way everyday. Maybe knowing him that way would destroy me. Maybe it would make me superhuman. I don't know. But I do know this: it would take me out of my world. 

There have been a few who have walked that way. Dame Julian and St. Therese, to name just a couple. But more often, God gives his love in everyday circumstances. He doesn't make us all mystics, but instead calls us to seek and behold in our everyday lives. I don't think that means living with a moment-by-moment awareness of the kind of love I experienced that day. 

The truth is, I do dwell in His house every day. It's all His house: our cluttered desk, the dirty clothes on the floor, the teething baby, all of it. And while it's nice to behold his beauty in a more straightforward way, at least every once in a while, I can choose to see and seek Him everyday. 

It's hard, this finding-God-in-daily-life. Some do it through gratitude, some choose to look back and see where He's been in the past, and some pray the hours. I'm not good at it yet. But I have come to see that, if I could live that way, my life would be full. Or, rather, the empty spots wouldn't matter so much anymore. 

***
There are still days where I come to these words and pause, days when I don't really want to put in the effort to see Him in everyday life, where I wish he'd either reveal himself more vividly or leave me to my life. But I say the words because they're right and true, and because they're the call of my heart even when my heart doesn't know it. 

29 July 2011

Feeling More Than One Thing

You know those days that you remember forever? Graduation, engagement, marriage, death, beating cancer, falling in love, having a child. They're the important days, the ones that change you or that usher change into your life. They make you who you are and, once they're past, you'll never be the same.

And then there are the important days that no one else would notice. Maybe you hear a conversation in passing and it makes you think, or you read a phrase that you proceed to mull over for the rest of your life. These days aren't any less momentous, but they're a little harder to explain.

One of the most important days of my life was the day I learned that human beings can feel more than one thing at a time. I remember that I was reading and even what I was reading, though I've never again been able to find the exact quote that triggered those thoughts. But that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I read, and it changed my emotional life forever.

Before that day, I believed that I could only feel one thing at a time, and I would agonize over what I was feeling. I felt like it had to be black and white, because that's what I'd always been taught, and I didn't know what to do when things seemed I'd look at my motivations and try, over and over and over again, to figure out if they were more good or more bad, so I could know what to think about why I did what I did.

I can't tell you the agonies this sort of thinking caused me. I felt so stuck, because I wanted to feel happy about certain things but I could never unequivocally say that I was thrilled. I felt like a liar, like anything I said about my feelings was false, because there was always some nuance that went in another direction.

I remembered all of this the other day when I was talking to my daughter about someone leaving. She doesn't like it when anyone goes out the door without her, even when she's left with other people she knows and loves. But if she gets to wave goodbye and blow kisses, and if she's held, she'll let you go with a minimum of fuss.

So someone left, and I gathered her into my arms to say 'goodbye' to them. I told her that Daddy was leaving, but she'd get to play with Mama and Grandma while he was gone. She looked at me, smiled, then looked toward her departing daddy and seemed upset. "Yeah," I said to her, "it's hard to see Daddy go, but you're excited to stay and play outside with Mama."

It was a little thing. Not much to say, not too many words. But afterwards I realized: I believe that, now. And maybe my daughter won't have to hit her twenties before she knows what it means to feel more than one thing. Maybe she won't have to be overwhelmed when talking about how she feels, because she won't feel the pressure to sum it up in one nice, neat package. It was a little thing, but it has the power to change her world.

28 July 2011

Meditations on Liturgy: In the Name of the Father

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I don't remember the first time I said these words. I've said variations of them so many times that it all blends together. And in some ways, saying them is just habit. When I pray Morning Prayer, that's just how I start. So if nothing else, these words are a marker. "You're praying now," they say, "And you're praying to God." 

There are things I don't like about that fact. As a writer, I'm a firm believer that words are supposed to mean something and that these particular words are important. After all, I don't think Western Christendom would have started so many prayers that way if they weren't. 

There's a lot of truth, a lot of deep theology behind these words. They denote a triune God, and one with the persons we've come to label as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They mark the equality of each of these persons, and yet hint at order in their relationships because they're always referred to in the same order. While we tend to take all of these concepts for granted now, I know that many Christians did hard theological, psychological, and interpersonal work for years in order to hammer out these doctrines in ways that were as true as possible to Scripture. I know that people still work on them, refining them and nuancing them, to help Christianity as a whole have a better picture of who God is. 

These words also say that this is the God in whose name we pray. It's this God who has the characteristics we go on to delineate, this God who cares for use enough to listen to our words, this God who allows us to come close enough to say anything at all. 

And maybe it's here where words-as-marker becomes acceptable. In the hustle and bustle of my days, it's easy to forget to pray altogether or to make my prayer time as crazy as the rest of my hours. But when I say these words, I remember who I'm talking to and the gift it is that I have the ability to talk to him. I don't always think about Trinitarian theology, but I do begin to think about God. And the theology is there, somewhere in my thoughts. Maybe that's the true power of words: to take us to a place beyond words, to bring about a state of mind that's different from the usual, even if we don't consciously know how and why it's different. 

In the end, there's nothing wrong with words-as-marker. We all need to see the way laid out before us, sometimes. And these words function like the cairns that mark the way on a confusing trail. They help us (or at least, they help me!) stop and remember where I am and who I'm talking to. They denote sacred space and time, especially when they're used to do that time and time again. 


20 July 2011

Meditations on Liturgy: The Sign of the Cross

Morning prayer always starts with the sign of the cross. Forehead, sternum, left shoulder, right shoulder.

* * *

I first made the sign of the cross when I started going to an Episcopal church during my last year of college. It was something I'd been afraid of, something Roman Catholic and, therefore, something sketchy. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to believe it did something magical to me or if, on the other hand, it meant nothing at all but was a ritual carried over from more superstitious days.

And so I didn't do it. For months, I participated in the liturgy but didn't cross myself. I wondered if anyone noticed and what they thought of me, or if they were all being properly devotional and so unaware of things happening outside the realm of their own souls. During that time, I got to know some of those people who crossed themselves, and they seemed normal to me. Sane, everyday, properly Christian people who came to church on Sunday and made the sign of the cross.

I don't remember who finally asked the question, but I was there when the priest answered it. "What does the sign of the cross mean?"

And he told us, then, that it was many things. Most common among these was a reminder of salvation. Making the sign of the cross said, "I believe in what Jesus did on the cross. I believe that I needed that, and that he did it for me."

Well, I could sign up for that one. Certainly, the cross had always been central in my understanding of the Christian faith. And, quite frankly, making the sign on my body seemed to be doing more about the cross than what I'd seen from many Christians.

But the priest went on. "Many use the sign of the cross to claim truths that are spoken during the liturgy. They use it to say 'This belongs to me, too.'" Thus, many make the sign of the cross when references are made to the name of Jesus (to claim his death and resurrection as their own), or when the words comment on the resurrection of the dead (to say that they will be among those who rise).

When I heard that, I began making free use of the sign during my liturgical practices. Making it seemed like an act of faith, or at least a reinforcement to faith, saying, "I believe this. No matter how I feel this morning, no matter how improbable it sounds, this is what I choose to believe in this moment, this morning."

* * *

I don't attend a liturgical church anymore. I still find my spiritual home in the words and phrases I said during that time, though, and in the sacraments and symbols I learned to love during my time at that church. And so I still cross myself, even in my current evangelical setting, I make the sign on my body when we talk about (or sing about) things that I want and need to claim as my own.

I suppose people are watching me do it (I support this claim with the fact that a number of them have mentioned it to me, over the years), and I know they don't always understand. I hesitate, sometimes, because I don't want my practices to be confusing to others or to keep them at a distance. 

At the same time, the sign of the cross has become something meaningful for me. It's my way of saying, "This isn't just an abstract idea, but something that I need." Jesus acted for me, and I want to remember that. 

And so, when given the option to open my prayers with the cross, I do it. The prayers before me aren't, after all, just words on a page, but something that I intend to pray from the center of myself. I can't always fulfill that intention. I get distracted, the baby cries, my anxieties and thoughts about the day take over. But I can always intend it, and so I begin with the sign of the cross.

18 July 2011

Meditations on Liturgy



Every day, I try to pray the Morning Prayer from the Celtic Book of Prayer. While I'm not nearly as successful in the dailyness of this as I would like to be, over the last five years the words have gotten inside of me.

Liturgy does that, I think. It opens you up by the simple repetition of it all. Some days, I'm too tired or hurried to notice the words, but even then I say them. I say them, and in doing so I accept them. I bring them into myself. I say, "This is true, even though I can't think about it's truth right now."

I've especially appreciated liturgy since I became a mother, especially as I've struggled to figure out what motherhood looks like for me over the last, very difficult, 20 months or so. There are many days when I don't have words for God. I don't know what to ask anymore, or I don't know what (or if) I believe he still notices us, let alone loves us, or I'm hurting and don't feel like talking at all.

Those are the days when liturgy helps the most. It gives me words, words that I know are true, words that I have loved in the past even if I don't feel anything for them in the moment. Beautiful words, simple words, words that speak truth for me when I can't speak it on my own.

Now, these words rattle around inside of me. They influence how I talk to God outside of my morning prayer times. Occasionally, they even come to mind in other situations, when I need them. I feel them wrapping themselves around me as I fold myself up in them - in their truth, their simplicity, and their safety.

And so, as I have time over the next weeks, I want to share some of what I've come to think about these words. I expect this to be a slow, contemplative, meditative process, and I'd love it if you added your two cents every now and then. After all, there are parts of this liturgy that many will be familiar with, and I'd love for this to be a conversation.


07 July 2011

The High Calling

Welcome to readers coming over from The High Calling. Please feel free to look around, and to leave comments with any questions or thoughts you might have. I look forward to your input and I'm excited you're here.

Betraying Ourselves

But it was not your fault but mine,
And it was your heart on the line.
I really f***** it up this time,
Didn't I, my dear?
-Little Lion Man, by Mumford & Sons

She'd been away from home for a long time, this girl, and had returned largely against her will. Upon coming back, she found out that her most beloved brother had, years ago, been involved in something large, dark, and awful. Just in case that wasn't bad enough, she had become a victim of this awful darkness, though neither she nor her brother knew of the other's involvement. 

Several days after the horrifically awkward situation where they found this out, he managed to catch her alone. "What must you think of me?" he asked. He had to know.

She ponderd her tea for a minute. Old anger and rage filled her, but she knew her brother. He gotten carried away by rhetoric and let other people tell him what greatness was. Like her, he'd spent years forgetting the person he was and trying to replace him with someone a bit more dazzling. She could not hate him.

"I think," she said, then paused for a moment. "I think we all make choices, sometimes, that betray ourselves and the people who love us. And it's not about whether we make them, because we all do, but about what we do afterwards that counts."

***

I wrote that, a couple of weeks ago, and stopped. Her sentences, there, are what my book is about. I thought it was about leaving and coming home, and reconciliation, and joining together to fight something bad. And it is about all of those things, but they're all responses to the self-betrayal that she mentions here. They're all part of the "what we do afterwards."

I stopped because I'm in awe of those sentences. I can't quite believe that I wrote them, in fact. Times like this, I know that I don't write alone, because I don't think like that. I don't usually manage to sum life up in phrases that actually make sense. 

***

Self-betrayal and what we do with it isn't just what my book is about, but what life is about. If we were originally made in God's image, after all, then all sin is self-betrayal. It's something that takes us away from the beings we were created to be, something that keeps us from becoming the people we could be.

It's also endemic. We all sin, we all betray ourselves. But afterwards, we have choices. Whether the betrayal is big or small, we can run from it or we can face it. We can't always undo it or undo the damage done, but we can choose how we move forward. Denial or acceptance, defensiveness or repentance, trying to ignore it or struggling through the truth, there are always choices.

It's hard to come to terms with the evil that we've done, especially when the sin is large and guilt and shame are competing for prominence in what we feel towards ourselves and our actions. Sometimes it takes years to pick up the pieces of the actions we've chosen and move on, to figure out which direction is actually forward and to choose to move that way. 

***

It's especially hard to come to terms with the evil in ourselves when we've hurt ourselves along the way. It's hard to say, "I would be hurting like this if I hadn't made particular choices," or "I was a bright-eyed little child with so many ideals and I'll never live up to them because of the choices I've made." 

I don't think this is hard because we can't see or feel our own pain, but because it's so hard to hold the fact that we can be both a victim and a perpetrator in the same action, at the same time. That's what my character sees, though, when she sees her brother. She sees the pain he's felt at his own choices, and she chooses compassion for the wounded brother rather than vengeance on the stupid one. 

Of course, the only reason she can see all of this is because she's experienced it in and of herself (she's a perceptive one, that girl). And maybe that's one of the most important reasons we need to face our sin, acknowledge all of the victims including ourselves, and choose truth as we move forward. If we don't, we can't choose compassion on other sinners, either. 

***

My characters aren't all happy in the end. They aren't all living the lives they'd have lived if they hadn't made the choices they made. And, though I think they'll do it eventually, they haven't all chosen to look truth in the eye, to choose to walk in who they really are and not who they want to be.

I think that's real. I don't know that seeing sin for what it is is something that everyone can do, though I do know that many capable of doing it won't choose that. But I do know that seeing the truth is the best way. And asking our own forgiveness may seem like it's only something that sentimental musicians do in popular songs, but I think it can take us far. 



05 July 2011

Playing With Boys

Healing comes in strange places, sometimes. One little boy, a mama whose heart was injured long ago, and a sweet girlie who loves everyone the same.

My daughter makes friends wherever she goes, so it shouldn't surprise me that all the neighbors know her and love her. And I guess it doesn't; one look at her charming one-dimpled smile and most people are smitten.

But one of her friends does surprise me. I didn't expect a six-and-a-half year old boy to fall under her spell.

What I know of boys that age could fill books, but none of them would be good. When I was younger, boys were competition. They were mean, they thought they were smarter than me just because they were male, and I had to prove them wrong. I could go on and on about the boys who wronged me, teased me, made me cry and even about the one who challenged me to a playground competition (of his own design, of course) to prove that boys were better than girls.

The fact that I ever fell in love is astounding, but then again, Dave is an amazing man.

What I know of boys is to keep my distance. If they prove themselves over time, they might be worthy of my friendship. But you never know when they'll say one of the harsh things, usually in jest, that I've come to associated with men, and then my heart will break all over again. And so my inclination is to keep her away from strange boys, to hold her hand until I know they won't bowl her over. I want her to be safe and not hurt, and that's one of the ways I know to do that.

But the neighbors have boys. Two of them, and they're outside all day long, just like my girl. And they have this dog who the girl loves, especially since we don't have one of our own. Meeting them was inevitable. Friendship was not.

I didn't expect gentleness from this little boy. I didn't expect him to call my girl to the fence and help her touch his dog through the wires. I didn't expect her to come home saying his name. I didn't expect him to invite her over to his tire swing and then, when I brought her, to push her gently so she wouldn't fall out.
I didn't expect any of this for my girl, but it's what I found.

My heart still rolls over when he comes to the fence calling her name, but not because I'm worried. Now, it's because I'm amazed. There is at least one little boy with a gentle soul, who loves babies and knows how to play with little kids.

I pray for him, now, that no one takes that away from him. I pray that, no matter what the other boys say, he becomes a man who knows how to cradle and comfort. And I pray that, someday, he has a little girl of his own . . . because every gentle man needs one of those.

03 July 2011

Broken

My daughter learned about "broken" the other day. We were in the car and she started crying. The doll's dress wouldn't stay on and she didn't know why. "The snap is broken, love," I said. "Mama will fix it when we get home."

"Boken," she said, and pointed to the snap. I nodded.

"Sometimes things break," I said, "but usually we can fix them."

At home, she showed me again, so I pulled out needle and orange thread and let her watch me stitch the snap back in place. I showed her how the dress worked again, how she didn't need to worry about it anymore. "Boken," she said again, but she smiled when she pointed to the snap this time, as if to say, "Not broken."

I didn't think much of it until we were out on the patio later. My daughter, she has a thing for bugs. I blame the four-year-old boy she sometimes plays with. Anyway, she saw a moth on the porch and ran up to it. It didn't move.

"Mof?" she said, and pointed.

I glanced. "Yes, love, that's a moth."

"Mof?" she said again, kicking at it with her foot and frowning when it didn't fly away like most of them do.

"Yep, it's a moth."

She kicked it again. "Mof. Boken mof," she said, and then I looked up.

The moth was indeed broken, beyond all hope of repair. "Yes," I said, "I think he's broken."

"Mof boken," she said, and it was only then that it dawned on me. I had fixed the doll's dress, and now she wanted me to fix the moth.

"Mama can't fix that one," I said. "Sometimes we can't fix things that are broken."

She didn't understand. I knew she wouldn't - it's too abstract for 18 months. And so she kicked at the moth some more, clearly wanting me to fix it. I explained again and again, "Mama can't, love."

And my heart broke for her, for the things she must learn in this world, for the fact that there are broken things no one can fix and she won't understand why. For the fact that no matter how powerful the people in our lives are and no matter how we look up to them, there are some things even they cannot fix. And for the fact that she has to learn about "broken" at all, that's it's such a part of her world that normally I wouldn't think twice about it.

I don't think Jesus usually raises moths from the dead, but I hope that someday she knows that things don't have to stay broken forever. I hope she learns that, though mama can't fix everything, there's someone who can and she can know him. I pray that the broken things break her heart but don't take away her hope and her joy.

30 June 2011

Lost and Found

I felt so lost after I had her. I clung to her and to Dave and I hoped that, someday, my world would stop spinning so I could find myself again.

Post-partum depression, people say, and I nod but I don't know. So much more happened than just having a baby (which is hardly a "just"). I gained and lost more than the parts that most women gain and lose when they have a baby.

In that year, I lost my safety and security, pieces of my identity, even my home. Some of it was taken, and some of it I just gave up and walked away, the effort to hold on no longer worthwhile.

And yet I wish . . . I wish I had looked into my daughter's face and felt peace and hope, not terror. I wish those baby smiles had brought joy, and not just a temporary abeyance of fear. I wish I'd loved her as well on the inside as I did on the outside.

Now I carry another little one, a tiny soul who needs a mother who knows who she is, and I still don't know. I wonder, sometimes, what I'll see when I look in this set of eyes.

I suppose that's what love is, at this stage: wondering who this child will be and how I will respond, wondering what it will be like to hold another baby, wondering what our family will look like when another little soul joins us.

It's a weird love, complete and yet entirely uncompleted, present and yet so dependent on the future. I know myself here, even though having another child means becoming lost again. We will wander for a while, I suppose, and then we will know ourselves. Stronger, because there's strength in the wandering.



21 June 2011

Making Eye Contact



I'm not good at making eye contact. I don't know why. I don't know if no one ever made it with me, or if I heard that "the eyes are the window to the soul" and decided I didn't want just anyone peering into my soul, or if it became a way to stay on the periphery, to not be noticed because then no one would hurt me.

Whatever the reason, I'm making a concerted effort to look in my daughter's eyes these days. I want to see her soul, and I want her to see mine. And I don't want her growing up without knowing how to hold someone's eyes. I don't want her to always wonder when she should look away and if she did it too soon.

Kids need eye contact. I think I read that somewhere, though I can't find the source anywhere. But they do need it, nonetheless. I don't need a scientist to tell me that (though I appreciate it when they back me up) - I know it in my soul. Soul-deep, she needs someone to look into her eyes, to see her, and to not turn away, not ever.

And so I look into her eyes when we play. Back and forth in the swing, I hold her eyes with mine and I smile. Under the sheet-tent, I soak in all the pure blueness of those eyes, and I marvel again that they stayed newborn-violet-blue all these months. From across the yard and across the room, I watch her until her eyes meet mine and she smiles.

I want to give her so much with my eyes. I want to look and look, to tell her somehow that it doesn't matter what I see there, I love her and I will always want to look in her eyes. I want her to know that she's held and loved and precious, even when she's not being good or having a tough day.

But no matter what I give her, she gives me so much more. I can't quite explain what I see there, but I think it goes something like this, "You're my mama. I know you, because you're my mama. Now I'm here and you're here and there's nothing else we need, just now."

Those eyes and their message worm their way into my soul and, where I used to have to remind myself to look into her eyes and let us both rest there, now I find myself seeking them out. We give and receive in that place, that place no one else can touch, and it forges a bond between us that's different from all the other bonds we have. It's a bond I'd have missed if I'd never thought to meet her eyes.



I can't help but wonder, when I think about those eyes and the messages we send there, what it would be like to look into Jesus' eyes. I remember a story I once heard, about a farmer who slipped into the back of the small, local, Catholic church at the end of each working day and stared at the crucifix. When the priest finally asked him what he was doing, he said, "I come in here, and I look at him and he looks back at me."

There's something to the face-to-face-ness of heaven that will heal so much, I think. In fact, sometimes I wonder if that's the moment that some people call Purgatory, the moment when we lose the stain we carry on this earth, when we finally give up all the garbage once and for all.

There's power in a gaze, a power I've avoided most of my life. And yet I think I could look Jesus in the eye, at least for part of a second, just to see what would happen. Because he is love, and I don't think I could live having passed that chance by.



20 June 2011

How to Savor Life (Even When it's Hard)

You might think that this is a shameless excuse to share some pictures of one of my very favorite people in the world and, well, you might be right. But I will say that I learn from her every day, about what makes life special, and about what we can get out of it even when things aren't going our way. 

So, without further ado, how to savor life . . . *


1. Don't be afraid to like what you like. (Yes, my daughter is giggling like a hyena over the half of bell pepper I let her gnaw on). It doesn't matter who laughs at you, or whether they take photos and post them online. What matters is that you know what you like, and that you aren't afraid to grab hold of it when you get the chance.

I know it's easy for me to forget about the everyday things that I love when life is hard, but I do that at the peril of my soul (hear me - not just of my momentary happiness, but of my soul). Even when all of life is rich and easy and full of joy, it's the little things I love that stand out and make each day special, not the big ones.


2. Try new things. After all, somebody just might be handing you a spatula of cookie dough! It might be scary and it might mean putting yourself out there in a new way, but trying new things will give you a sense of accomplishment, and just might lead you to more of those things that you love.

It's especially hard to find the energy to try something new when you feel like getting through daily life is kicking your butt. But being in a rut saps your energy, too, just in ways that you might not recognize immediately. If you find yourself hesitant to try something new, especially when you think you might like it, take some time to look into your heart and see what's going on there.


3. When you find something you love, hold on tight (it doesn't hurt to flirt with the camera a little, too). It might feel silly to expend energy on something "extra" when you're struggling to make it through each day, but persisting in those extras will help you remember why you love your life.

When I'm going through a hard spell, I find myself dropping even things that I love from my life. They take too much energy, or I don't think they'll give me enough joy to overcome the discouragement I feel, and so I just don't bother to do them. But then I find myself in a life with nothing that I love, nothing that looks like me. And so now I try to hold onto those things, to cups of tea and morning prayer and blogging, because they make life richer.


4. Embrace the mess! Life is messy; it just is. Even when things seem neat and tidy, it's just a mess waiting to happen (especially if you have a toddler!). We can hate the mess, and spend our lives fighting the inevitable, or we can embrace it as part of who we are, and find the things worth savoring in it.

When I'm struggling, I want to get rid of the mess. I want to throw it out, to make it go away, because then I feel like I'm in control of something, even if I can't control the larger circumstances that are making me unhappy. But the truth is that none of it is mine to control anyway, and my efforts to impose order will probably be interrupted by a small someone trying to impose chaos. Much better to live in the truth - that I control very little - and move on from there.


*This post feels a little "rah-rah" for me. But these are lessons I've learned, lessons I learn everyday, watching my girl live. Even when her teeth hurt and her nose is running and she's tripped and hit her head 3 times before noon, she savors the good things that come along. My heart wants to be like that, letting the bad go to the only One who can do anything about it, and wrapping my arms around the goods, big and small, the cross my path. That's what I hope for you, too.

16 June 2011

**Before I get distracted and forget to write this again, so many thanks to Kelly Sauer for the new header and for tweaking the rest of the blog to go with it. I think I'm in love.**

We try so hard to grow, and I don't want to say there's nothing to that. But I watch my girl, how most of her growth happens when we aren't looking, how every so often we look up to realize she's doing something new and we wonder how we missed it.

Sometimes, that point isn't there for us to see. It's hidden. With my daughter, sometimes I think it's hidden in her sleep. I wonder if she dreamed about climbing that ladder and going down the slide all by herself, because she couldn't do it before her nap but did it like nothing else after. And I know she gets longer and rounder when she sleeps - the longer the nap, the bigger the baby I'll have when she's done, I think. 

And that's how I grow, too, more often than not. I mull something for a while, trying to see the lesson or dig my way out, and then, suddenly, between one step and another, or between blinks when I wake up in the morning, I can see what I couldn't possibly have seen before.

All the striving is like prep work in the kitchen - it's the chopping and measuring and mixing of the human life. It's the place where we do all the hard stuff, even though the making of the final product is something that happens somewhat outside of ourselves. After all, it's the heat and the juices and everything that blend together, not our doing. The process needed us, but it didn't happen because of us.

The more I think about it, the more I think that's a very important distinction. 

Our actions are essential to making dinner happen. I know that, because there have been days when I've hoped and hoped that it would happen without me. Usually, those are the days where we order pizza. But dinner needs more than me - it needs light and water and food for animals and heat and spice and history and that unknowable something that makes it all come together.

Growing in God is like that, I think. We have to be there. We have to play our parts, to see our growing edges, name them, and explore them. But we also have to let God work. He is the other, and without him, nothing has grown that has grown. And because of His part in it all, most of the time our growth will happen when we aren't expecting it, when we aren't praying or singing or even thinking about anything in particular. It will come to us, and we will be changed. 

01 June 2011

Today I Believe

It's one day at a time around here right now. We're waiting on paperwork from the state on at least two different fronts, and they say the envelopes should arrive and yet they don't. I call and call and I might as well be talking to the wall, as effective as I am. My husband can't work in his new field without some of this paperwork, and so we're in a holding pattern. Again.

Lord, you have always given bread for the coming day,
And though I am poor, today I believe.

I'm tired. Pregnancy does that, and allergies and waking up and not being able to go back to sleep. I stare at the ceiling, wondering if it's better for the baby if I take the medicine or if I don't get the rest that I need. I imagine horrible things in those dark hours, tragedy and loss and things getting worse for us and not better. And when I do sleep I dream, strange sagas that don't seem much better than lying awake. 

Lord, you have always given strength for the coming day,
And though I am weak, today I believe.

Sometimes, it's hard for me to see any life for us but this one, this constant treading water, taking several steps forward only to take other ones back and find ourselves at the starting point once again. I trust, I grip God's hands when they're offered and pray, "Please, please, please," even when I don't know if it goes beyond the walls of my room.

Lord, you have always given peace for the coming day,
And though of anxious heart, today I believe.

I forget that we're fighting an enemy, that this life is a battle and every day, even the good ones, are days when we should be ready for attack. I forget, and I get weary, for carrying a sword is hard work. It looks glamorous on TV, I suppose, but the reality, this redeeming and transforming every moment that we're called to do, is a much more serious, mundane task than it appears. 

Lord, you have always kept me safe in trials,
And now, tried as I am, today I believe.

This world is not my home. I know that now, in ways that I didn't know it before. It's not my home, and I don't want it to be. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't see the beauty, shouldn't love the stolen moments when my girlie smiles her toothy grin and he takes my hand across the table and we watch her, overcome with joy even though there's no good reason. 

Lord, you have always marked the road for the coming day,
And though the way is hidden, today I believe.

And so I hope, not that it will be easy, but that we will learn to see beauty where we stand, wherever we stand. If I give my children nothing else, I want them to know that circumstances are just that: circumstances. They're not to be ignored or brushed over, but accepted and grieved and lived in and made meaningful, but they're not the end. Never, ever the end. 

Lord, you have always lightened this darkness of mine,
And though the night is here, today I believe.

We can only embrace and transform our lives and our circumstances when we see them as part of the whole, when we remember how temporary and transitory they are. They form us, if we'll let ourselves be formed by them, but the end of the story is always the same. Joy. 

Lord, you have always spoken when time was ripe,
And though you be silent now, today I believe.*

* The prayer is from Celtic Daily Prayer, the prayer book of the Northumbria Community.


31 May 2011

Introverted Parenting

Wondering why the thoughts on introverted parenting? Because I spent last week working, with my friend Shelley, on this guest post for the Introverted Church blog. Please come over and join the conversation, whether you're introvert, extrovert, or confused.

27 May 2011

Welcoming the Other

It's hard to welcome her, sometimes, and not just when she's fussing and demanding. Sometimes, it's even hard when she's spectacular, full of magic, learning to jump in the middle of the living room.

When I'm tired, when my heart hurts, when life weighs a lot, I want to hide behind my wall, close the door,  and sit by myself for a while until life stops hurting again. And she's there, always there, needing and asking. It's like her very existence demands that I come out, that I attend, that I reach out around that door and hold her little hands while she tries to show me her latest conquest.

I'm an introvert, and I need time behind those walls. They aren't bad, don't represent hurts or shame or pain, just my own need to get away and go somewhere to process the things going on around me, because that's the way I am. But she needs me, needs me to open my heart and my very self and be present.

It's easy to fall into a halfway sort of presence, to mindlessly look up from my book or stick my head out of my room when she calls, make sure she's ok, clap if that's what's called for, and never really come out from behind the walls. Much harder, especially with first-trimester exhausting haunting me, to put down the book (or never pick it up in the first place), get up from my chair, and join in games I don't entirely understand with dolls and balls and cars and a barn.

And that's just the truth of the situation. I remind myself of this a lot, when I'm struggling and I feel like I should be doing better. Real hospitality, hospitality of the soul, isn't easy or natural for most introverts, and the need for constant hospitality, even for one who is so precious and darling and loved, is a drain.

Sometimes there aren't easy answers, aren't solutions that work for everyone, and so I pray every day for patience and peace and energy, and that already I would be teaching her to balance her needs for time with me and time alone. And I ask for help, so I can get a little bit of time here and there to retreat and rejuvenate. An imperfect solution in an imperfect world, you might say, but one that works for me.

19 May 2011

Time

It's a quiet morning. I wish there were more like this, where it's just me and my computer and my view of green and clouds and I can set apart a little time to think and pray and write. There's something beautiful and whole-making about these moments, something my soul craves in the stillness and silence and entire lack of other people.

I know that being a wife and a mom means that moments like this are often few and far between, and I've tried to let go of my desire for them. I've tried to give up my self, these longings for just a few still moments every day where I can consult with my soul and my God and pull some of those loose ends together. And I've tried to embrace the constant company that having a husband and children mean. After all, I don't want to be all alone in life.

And yet I still feel myself called to moments like this. I still find myself taking time alone when I can't make it, trying to sacrifice other things even when they're not things I want to sacrifice. And I begin to wonder if at least some time like this, time to wander in my thoughts, time to muse and pray and read and write where there's not much separation between all of those things, I begin to wonder if it's a need and not just a desire, a necessity and not something extra.

But I'm such a good introvert that I'll take almost any time alone that I can get. Some people hoard money and I will hoard time, if give the chance. It's my treasure, the one thing I get all dragon-toothed and scaly-winged when people try to steal. I've thought lots of different things about this over the years: that having all the time alone that I want is good and valid, that it's bad and selfish, that I ought to be with my daughter or my husband, because our time together is limited.

There's truth on all sides, I think. Many things are good in moderation and somewhat less good in excess. But the same is true the other way, too. If too much is bad for the soul, too little usually is, as well. And I think that's where I've fallen off the cart in these months since motherhood found me: in trying to give up myself, I've tried to sacrifice something essential. At least for me, not having unstructured time alone is like trying not to eat, ever again. It might be okay for a couple of days, but it will destroy me if I keep it up.


16 May 2011

Covered

A couple of months ago, we took the baby to the ER. There wasn't much of a choice in the matter - she'd jammed a hard straw into her soft palate and it was still bleeding after several hours. When we could finally see it, the gaping hole she'd made was, all in all, rather spectacular.

Middle of the night, doctors alternately loving on her and hurting her, hours pass because the ENT is out or asleep or something. And then stitches, holding her down because the medicine (3x the usual dose for one drug and more than 1 dose of another) wasn't working and she wouldn't just sleep and so she arched against 5 of us as he stitched away.

Two weeks later, baby healed but the bills arrived. Not so much, but more than we could factor into our meager budget right now. Cue panic, mama searching all of the accounts to find a way to pay for the care she had to have, daddy lamenting, again, the lost job and wishing he could provide.

Help asked, applications submitted and . . . bills covered. If we owe after this, we will be able to pay. But it doesn't look like we will owe anything. Nothing.

Truly, God holds the little ones, wraps them up in his big, strong arms and carries them when there's nothing else to be done. If only we could all live as little ones . . .

Thanks, today, for:
-baby hale and healthy
-doctors who know what they're doing
-the relief of knowing all is paid
-time to write this week
-husband has one class (one very important class) down
-baby curls
-little one finally growing out of clothes

12 May 2011

Water Falls Like Diamonds

The sky is wet and, therefore, so are we. The sandbox and the swimming pool are not longer distinguishable from one another, and the baby is slowly going (and driving the rest of us) stir-crazy.

Still, the rain is blessed. The tomatoes may die and the rest of the population might moan, but this is what it means to have seasons. These unexpected blessings, two days of rain after a week of 70+, and I choose to take the bad with the good because I've lived without seasons. It's not always a ton of fun, either.

Life. Sometimes I think I'd chose a life without seasons over the type of season we've had recently. 18 months of . . . not quite winter, but of days like today. Life feels thick with clouds, pressing in and keeping most of the light away. And it has carried the hassle of rain, of either getting wet or juggling umbrella along with diaper bag, purse, water bottle, and baby every time I leave the house.

And yet . . . and yet. There's always that "and yet," it seems. Something that wiggles its way forward, that waves hands in air and asks me if maybe, just maybe, things aren't as black and white as they seem.

And yet. Without the rain things don't grow. I keep telling myself that, and I have said it over and over these months. It's hard, not knowing what's been planted, not knowing what sort of crop all this rain is tending, not knowing if, really, there's anything growing that would make all this rain worthwhile. But maybe. Maybe. MAYBE. Maybe there is.

I find myself left with another question, yet again not quite sure if I can answer. IF there's something growing that needs all of this rain to sprout and blossom and seed, would I sacrifice it for days of easy sunshine and stagnant soul?


09 May 2011

Earth is A'Flutter

Aspen leaves really do flutter in the wind, like a million green butterflies with wings all a'twitter. It rolls today, down from the mountains, across the plains, and eventually through my suburban backyard. Even here, there's no hiding, no avoiding the moving air and the things it brings.

For my part, I mostly stay inside. The wind and I don't get along. I don't think I've carried this animosity from childhood, though I remember days when I leaned so far into it walking to school that I wondered what would happen if it ever stopped.

The girl, though, she loves the wind. Or, rather, she doesn't seem to notice it much. I have a theory about this: she's so low to the ground that she doesn't really feel it. But I think that's only part of it. I think her world is so interesting, so colorful and new and fun to explore, that it doesn't matter what's going on around her.

And watching her, I begin to wonder: how often do I let one unpleasant aspect of an otherwise-beautiful life get in the way of my appreciation? How often do I forget how rarely things are perfect, even for a moment, and let my frustration with the imperfect rule rather than the deep and abiding joy that good things bring? And how long will I wait for my life to be perfect, rather than embracing the cracked and tottering now, bright colors and chipping paint together?


1. Fluttering aspen
2. Watching my girl learn to make friends
3. Long naps
4. Chubby white legs after a long winter
5. One morning of sleeping in this week
6. The celebration of another year, in a world where life itself is victory
7. Dark blue eyes in her pale, pale face
8. How he's almost done, at least with this part of his new education
9. The places where Jesus meets me
10. How adding ice makes everything better

04 May 2011

Mother's Days Past

Two years ago on Mother's Day, we both called our moms and said, "Hi Grandma!" which, all in all, was rather a shock for them (though rather a hoot for us).

Last year, we muddled through, because we were still muddling even though the girl was 4 months old. I was going back to work in a week or so and didn't feel like celebrating. Our lives felt tenuous, like we were holding on by a hair and too much happiness might cause us to lose our balance.

This year, BabyCenter.com informs me that 8 weeks of baby is about the size of a kidney bean and we will be parents all over again before the end of the year. I imagine a boy this time, blonde (of course) and brawny, even as a tyke. Or maybe another girl, and my daughter will know the sweetness of having a sister (a sweetness her mother has never known).



27 April 2011

Come Unto Me

Tired hangs off him like a million-pound weight, drips off him like he'd run through a summer thunderstorm. He's working and studying and daddy-ing and husbanding and it wears him thin, and I don't always know how to meet him there, how to touch that and bring him rest.

Rest is a hard word, hard for us right now because it feels like not working, and when we're not working we're not sure where the next dollar will come from or if we're striving hard enough to build a future. And it's different from falling into bed and sleeping at the end of a day spent rushing and fighting life and feeling like the best we can do in this life always falls short.

And yet rest we must. "This is a season," we say, and we both nod before we head back to work or collapse, to veg or sleep because the energy is gone. Rest . . . rest is what will keep us going, what will help us see our way through this season, what will help us see the answers and the open doors that are staring us in the face.

But it's hard to stop. It's one thing to open hands and hold plenty loosely, and quite another to hold lack, need, and unknowing. It's easier to let go of something than to open hands and realize the offering amounts to . . . nothing.

The call, though, is not to offer something of worth, for that's largely illusion anyway. The call is to offer the present, to present the present and ourselves in it as an offering. Because that's all we have, ever, even when life would have us believe something different.



17 April 2011

When it's Silent

On days when God is silent, I try to listen anyway. If I can't hear him, I try to listen to the sun and the wind and the little voices and the big ones, hoping that I catch a word that spans two worlds.

Lately, it's hard to hear him, and hard for me to discern his voice when something comes and I wonder. I wonder if I don't hear him because he doesn't speak, or if he's speaking and I'm too confused or afraid to hear. I wonder if the words are pouring over me, but all I hear is the wind ripping across these plains. I wonder if, somewhere in the baby's babble, are his words for me, if I could just separate them from the nonsense.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if he's just not speaking at all.

God speaks through people and music and prayer and art and dance and in more ways than I can fit into this sentence, but sometimes he's silent. I'm tempted to think that he's an introvert like me, that sometimes he just needs to step away so he can be fully present when he steps back in.

But instead, I think he knows the place of silence, knows when his presence speaks louder than any words, and when it's enough to be near. I don't think he ever speaks when there's nothing to say, and that he knows how limited words can be.

And sometimes I think that's what he wants from me in return, someone to offer presence, not because he needs it but because he wants me. Words can bring us together but they can also help us keep ourselves a safe distance apart. That distance hurts him, the one who made us because he wanted to be with us.

So on the days when it's silent, I try to listen. And if I still don't hear anything, I try to be, to pull close and curl up and sit, until there's something to say again.

13 April 2011

Wandering Words

What to write about?

Should I tell how she climbed on my lap yesterday, fever making her so sleepy, and put her head on my chest and slept? How I knew I should wake her, if I wanted her to sleep overnight, but I held her instead because she was beautiful and warm and sick, and because I miss getting to hold her when she sleeps?

Or maybe I should talk about how I feel, connected to my body in a way I haven't felt (indeed, that I'd forgotten) since the days of hook kicks and ridge hand breaks and Basai Dai? How it feels so good to push myself, to find out how far I can go, even when I'm the weakest in the class, and usually the slowest, too?

Maybe I could find the words to talk of disappointment and hope, of waiting and waiting and waiting for the future. I could tell you of impatience, of angry words and fear, and also of rest and peace and joy, when we finally see a road sign.

Or maybe I will just wander with my words, touching here and there but never landing. Maybe I'll toss out hints and see what becomes of them, throw out the first part of a sentence and see how you finish it. Because thoughts don't come whole and life isn't tossed around in digestable bits and pieces. Sometimes, I have to chew a while before there's much to say.

Back with Imperfect Prose today, where it doesn't have to be polished or fit in the nice little box with the ribbon.


15 March 2011

Shhhh . . .

***I wrote this whole post the other night, only to lose it to a stupid human-computer communication error. I hate it when that happens, because I can't recreate the post I wrote, only write a whole new one on the same topic.***

I have a secret, if you won't tell.

Promise?

Double-pinky promise?

Ok, then.

I'm writing fiction again.

I know, I know, I do that a lot. And I have a whole novel in desperate need of revision, but I don't know where to start. I've even written on the current one before, 50,000 in November for NaNo, even though I knew halfway through that I wanted to make some serious changes to it.

But every time I start again, it feels like a secret, like springtime is coming and colors are popping up everywhere and the bunnies are getting busy behind the bushes and I blush to look at them but I celebrate them, too. New life is always worthy of celebration, right? And that's what this feels like to me.

I love the first-draft stage, the infatuation stage. I love it when my characters pop up in my day, because they have something to say, something they're sure I need to know so that I can write them well. I love waking up in the middle of the night with their stories in my mind, working out the details even as I sleep. And I love putting the words on paper, giving them life, making them walk around and talk and see their world and enjoy it.

But the more time I spend writing, the more efforts I make at putting these people on paper, the more I shy away from it, too. As close as I come to describing the scenes in my head, they're never perfect, and my method of revising seems to be more like rewriting, like finding the places where the story goes awry and starting over from there.

It's not that I'm a bad writer, but I'm a terrible reviser, mostly because I can't ever stop wondering what would happen if . . . what if I started at a different point? what if someone reacted differently in a key place? what if something changed and the main character could fall in love after all?

And then I have to explore the possibilities, have to write out many different versions of scenes, even different versions of the whole story. I get overwhelmed by all those words, and I can't keep them straight for anything, so I quit, I walk away, I take my space.

That's why starting again feels like such a delectable a secret, I think, because it means I've become brave enough to jump back into that world again. It means I'm trying to tolerate the ambiguity, then inherent imperfection that comes when putting image on paper. And I'm trying again, starting again, taking that deep breath and trying again.

It's like trying to see again, not discerning shapes amidst darkness but finding the thread in a jumble of chaos. Writing is like a giant game of Where's Waldo?, where my job is to find and follow Waldo and only Waldo, not getting distracted by all of the places he could be but finding where he is and sticking with him.

All of the writing books I've read stress making the right decisions, about characters, about plot, about the words on the page. But sometimes I wonder if stories aren't more like real life - a little ambiguous. You make a choice and it changes everything, but it really could have been different. I feel a little like God must feel, when He looks down and watches us. Yes, we DO only one thing, but He sees all the possibility, all the could-have-beens, both good and bad.

I wonder, sometimes, what it takes for him not to jump in and change a story so it becomes something better. Because that's what I do, I think. I forget to listen to my characters, forget to stop and see what they do, and so I make them and their stories into something else. So revising is learning to listen, learning to hear them more clearly and follow their threads amidst the noise that surrounds them.

I feel tentative about starting again, because I wonder if I won't finish, just like I haven't finished before. The things is, a good story is worth figuring out how to revise. I love this story. I love it more than I loved the last one I wrote. And so I let the new life in, because trying and failing to tell this story is better than not trying at all. I don't think I could live with that.

08 March 2011

Baby Lessons

Yellow hair, like straw but much more frail, goes in every direction at the nape of her neck. In vain, I run my fingers through it, trying to make straight or curls, something other than chaos. But it doesn't matter. My efforts are futile and she doesn't care anyway.

She doesn't care.

I love how she doesn't care how she looks, doesn't care if I put her in a dress or a t-shirt, because it's all going to get dirty in the same way. And she doesn't notice her hair, doesn't notice it's crazy and runs wild with the wind and holds her food sometimes, when I wonder if she's saving it for later.

I knew another girl once, a girl who cared so much, too much. She tried so hard to make her own frail-straw hair do something other than hang straight and glint in the sun. Fingers and curling irons and enough hairspray to slick back a horse's mane didn't matter. It always ended up straw-straight, limp and shiny. It did whatever it wanted.

I keep saying that I can't wait until she can talk more, can't wait until we have conversations where we talk about ideas and Good and the stories we read. And I can't. But with that kind of knowledge, with knowledge of what she's thinking and how to articulate it, comes knowledge of herself. With the ability to discuss ideas comes comparing those ideas and, eventually, comparing herself.

To save her from that . . . oh, to save her from that. But already she sees what she does not have and strains for it. Now, across the table. Later, through the storefront glass that separates her from whatever she dreams will make her beautiful on that day.

I tell her every night that she is beautiful, and that she's loved no matter what. I hope it will make a difference, that somewhere in her baby-brain she holds that through all the years.  And I wonder how I know that, how I can say it with so much confidence to her. Is it because someone once whispered it to me, through yellow-straw hair that went every which way?

If only we believed the things we tell our children. I catch myself, sometimes, telling her things and realizing that they're true for me, too. I am loved and beautiful and held, chosen, a gift, so precious. But we lose those messages along the way. They get hidden, under layers born of the people we should be and the things we ought to do.

After a certain point, life is the peeling back of those layers. It's getting back to those so-early night whisperings, the ones we went to sleep to before the places our memory can reach. And the womb-whispers, the ones we may never remember as words but that warm us when life gets cold.

I want to live in the memory of those places, to fill myself with true words and not with things that seem easier to reach. But it's a journey, a slow uncovering, like getting out of bed on a cold, cold morning. Every day is a step, some forward, some back, but all going somewhere. And one day I'll wake up, warmed from the true center and not because I've successfully huddled under the blankets.