25 October 2012

Everything and Nothing

We are, none of us, everything.

Not to ourselves or our spouses or our children or to anyone who we love.

I'm reminded of this forcibly when my 2-year old's face crashes because I can't pick her up. Baby brother in one arm and three or four grocery bags in the other, walking through the middle of the parking lot, it's an impossibility. I cannot do it.

I hate that, those moments where I know what they need and I know what they want and I still can't do it, the moments where I have to look into their eyes and say, "Mommy can't right now," and I know they don't understand.

They need everything. They need to be held by arms stronger than mine, cared for by someone more patient than I am, fed and clothed and hugged by someone with infinite energy.

That's not me.

And so I choose, here and there, the things I'm good at and the things I like and the things I feel called to, and I try to become good at giving those things. I try to let the rest go, to know that Daddy and Jesus can meet the needs I cannot meet. All the same, in this torn ragged world we live in, I know that some needs, some important needs even, will go unmet.

I can be everything to no one. And so I strive to do a few things well, knowing all the while that they need everything and I can't give them that, no matter how much I would if I could.

May I point them to Jesus, who has already given it all! May one of the things I learn to do well be directing their eyes to his and teaching them to see! May they have receptive hearts to see and hear and understand!

Linking with Emily today.

01 September 2012

Waking Up

I happened on an article over at SheLoves Magazine this morning. "Wake up," it says in essence, and it made me feel inferior. "Not good enough, not doing enough," ran through my mind, tumbling over themselves and making me wonder why I'm not more, not called to more, not doing more right now.

It's not that I don't have big ideas, I reminded myself, defending myself. And, unlike some, I'm not afraid of them, or at least I'm more afraid of not pursuing them than I am of putting myself out there and trying. I have a vision for writing more, and of actually bringing in enough money that way that I don't have to teach or do anything else.

And then, by grace, I became aware of my thoughts, of what I was saying to myself, and I couldn't stop them but I could watch them as they passed and I could think.

(There's such a thing as thinking too much, but sometimes thinking saves me, too.)

Waking up doesn't always mean doing more. It doesn't mean feeling like I have to be more, like I wish I'd been given more, like there's some tantalizing carrot hanging out there for me, if only I could find it.

Waking up can mean relishing the life that I have. It can mean seeing the delight in my girl's face as she sticks foam jungle stickers to her paper and tells me a rambling story about the elephant. It can mean working (not-so-hard) to make the boy grin the grin that looks like it wants to go wider than his face.

I can't explain how much I feel called to Be Here Now, to live the life I've been given instead of trying to live one that isn't mine right now. The call is to awaken, to savor, to rise up and inhabit the space I've been given in a true way instead of passing through it on my way to something better.

“When sleeping women wake, mountains move.” It's true, I suspect, but sometimes the mountain isn't where I expect it to be. Sometimes it's my own heart, sometimes it's the thing that looks like a molehill but that I keep stumbling up against anyway.

"Wake up!" is truth, but so is "Listen!". What it means for one to wake up isn't what it means for another, and doesn't have to be what it means for me. Every call is grace. Every single one, and the smallness or the bigness of it doesn't matter, isn't even seen from an eternal perspective. It's the following that matters, the following that makes us whole.

28 August 2012

Connecting the Pieces

These days are about making connections, putting together the pieces of my life. I twist them and turn them, finding the ways that they fit together best. It's like a puzzle without a single answer, where the pieces are always changing shape and needing to be moved again.

I wish I was a Benedictine, sometimes, with my routine set and most of my days looking roughly the same. I'm a creature of predictability, thriving when I know I have a schedule I can rely on. I want a steady rhythm to my days, and instead I have a wandering flow.

But there's a rhythm here, too. Not, maybe, of the traditional kind, though there are still enough hours in every day for work, for my soul, for my family, and for rest. And if the days aren't rhythmed, the weeks often are. The same tasks are done, just not always in the same places.

I find myself doing a lot more listening, these days, to God and to myself. When I listen, I know what comes next, what to do with these few minutes here and those over there. I know what is important when, and everything eventually gets done without any piece starving.

I know what it's like to starve, to feel hungry for 10 minutes alone because I've pushed myself to work through all the open space in my days. It's insistent and snappish, this hunger, and it doesn't go away for ignoring it or telling it to wait a couple of years. So I take time, here and there, as soul and spirit call, and find my work and family better for it.

Nothing feels completed these days, not most of the time. Laundry is done in fits and spurts, often over several days. Work is finished piecemeal, and even prayer serves the desperate interruptions of waking kiddos. But life is not about finding answers and maybe we are never really done, anyway.

23 August 2012


I went away and came back with words written on my arm. They're in me now, in my skin, the skin that is me, and that's how I want it. I need them close, need to see them every day, so that I can live them and breathe them until they're more a part of me than my skin.

She saw them almost as soon as she saw me. "I want you to talk about the words on your arm," she said, and so I did. Happily. (And yes, she can have some of her own someday, with my blessing.)

I told her where the words came from, how Dame Julian loved God so much that she went to live alone so she could talk to Him all the time, and how she wanted to share God with other people, too, and so she wrote. Some of what she wrote, one small part, began to etch itself on my heart the first time I read it. "All shall be well . . . "

Then I told her how T.S. Eliot borrowed the Dame's words and added to their beauty, if that's even possible. And still they called to me.

And then my season of worry, of anxiety and learning how children make me vulnerable and fighting to come to terms with that. This season of knowing, eventually, that I have so much and that I cannot live on the edge it all hangs on. And these words, they remind me . . . remind me to return to myself, to my family and the kids, that I don't need to be afraid and so I can stay here, find gratefulness, and remember my calm.

I wanted them before my eyes, wanted them closer to me than I could get with writing them on paper or putting them in my phone, and so I had them inked under my skin. Already they help me breathe, help me remember and reorient in a way that nothing else has.

She doesn't understand, not yet, but she keeps asking for the story. I tell it, like I tell her the story on my icon and read her Bible stories, because I know understanding will grow as she does. And maybe, with these words etched on my arm and etching themselves on my heart, she will grow up breathing them like she breathes air.

20 August 2012


He's in my arms, and we call him "Teef!" now, because he once was "Toof!" and now he has another and he's working on at least two more. This scrambling, scrabbling, forever-moving piece of humanity, and right now he needs to be contained. He needs these mama-arms to tell him it's okay, the teeth will come in eventually and, meanwhile, I'm here, to hold and love and offer what comfort is possible when blunt enamel objects are trying to push through human flesh.

"It will get better," I whisper in the little ears, and it will, at least until the next set is ready to push its way through. And isn't that life? I wait and wait for a breath, for that place of peace and still waters, but instead I'm often fielding fly balls that feel like they're being shot at me by flailing machine gunners.

I think about the Psalms, how there's no fear in a place where there should be fear, and how the banqueting table is set when we should be on guard. Waiting for peace means we'll wait for a long time, means we'll always be waiting because this life isn't meant for peace, isn't a place of peace unless we find it amidst the chaos. If only we can learn to find it there . . .

So I sing to him, the old songs of faith, the ones he might not otherwise learn because we don't sing them so often in church now. And we walk and rock and look out the windows and I hope it helps, at least a little. The old words, the ones I think I've always known, they wrap around us and entwine themselves the way he entwines his fingers in my shirt and my hair, and I wonder how much they carry us without our knowing.

There's peace in the singing. He calms, though stays entwined, and I wonder if there's a way here, to find sure footing amongst the tumult and the forever-shifting. Words, rhythms, and a melody I know, and the way it entwines itself and me, the singer, to something larger than I know. We are an island of peace in the midst of his pain. It doesn't feel like the place for a feast and yet we have all we need, in this moment, and more than enough.

07 August 2012

Good Work, Good Dreams

They took a mole off my stomach, almost 3 weeks ago now. "Probably nothing," they told me, and I did my best to believe them. I believed and believed and believed until they didn't call and another day passed and I called them.

"We haven't heard," they said, and they thought it was odd but they wouldn't call to check on it and wouldn't tell me if they thought it meant anything. And immediately my teething-tired mama brain went to the worst. "Melanoma" was what they were screening for, and what if. . . what if it was the worst, the weird one, the looks-like-nothing-but-it's-going-to-kill-you variety, this mole of mine? What then?

Then my kids would watch me suffer and struggle, and they might watch me die. Then their childhoods would be changed forever, taken in many ways, and they'd have to deal with things that are wrong, that little hearts and minds can't process. And that would be the worst, worse than being sick, than dying even - the knowing that this would change them forever and probably not in good ways.

Having little kids is hard. They're underfoot and needy, the most demanding when they've deprived you of the sleep you need to love them with calmness and fortitude. They're volatile and over-dramatic and everything is the. end. of. the. world.

They're also lovely, of course, when they curl up next to you or calm at your touch, and I love the moments when you can see the synapses connecting because they've just come up with something you've never seen in them before. But we've been living in the hard, lately, in the not-sharing, too-many-teeth-coming-in-too-fast, let's-yell-just-because-we-can days that all kids seem to go through when you're most longing for them to be angelic, or at least reasonable.

And I've wondered if this is really where I'm supposed to be. I don't function well on little sleep, and my hypersensitive senses reel with the pitch of whining and complaining. I've wondered if back-to-work would be better, because even when adult interaction sucks it usually doesn't involve asking someone, for the 39th time in an hour, to replace screaming with a quiet "Please".

But then the mole and the waiting and the using all my energy to still a panic that could rise at any time, and somewhere in there a deep, settled knowledge that I Like This Life. I don't like the trying to keep my cool when all I want is 30 consecutive seconds without any yelling, nor the incessant whining, nor the teething, but I like what we're building. The big picture is a blessing: these children, even in these days, and the life we're building together.

News came back good: the best, in fact. It's nothing, and they still don't know why the lab was slow. And news in my heart was better, this knowing beyond anything that this is where I want to be. Maybe someday the double-rainbow days will come but even if they don't, I will work to overcome myself and make a haven for their hearts. I will do the work, because it's work I want to do.

04 July 2012

The Ubiquitous Message

Before I jump any farther into my thoughts on dreams and following them and what it all means, I want to talk a bit about the message I keep hearing. It's important to me to articulate what I'm hearing, both so moves from subconscious to conscious in myself, and so that we're all on the same page as we begin this exploration.

I feel bombarded with people saying "Follow your dreams." It's more than just that, though, more than something that reduces to "Follow your heart," though that's definitely a part of it. I hear that I'm supposed to follow my dreams so that I can be sure to contribute to the world and, more specifically, so that I can contribute what I am meant to contribute, or made to contribute, or supposed to contribute, or contribute something that the world won't have if I don't follow my dreams.

This message implies that my purpose in life is hidden in my dreams, that my dreams indicate my calling, that where my heart wants to go is where I should go, and that, therefore, everyone else in my life either needs to come along with me or be left behind. It implies that God speaks to me in my dreams or, if from a secular source, that the universe or some larger source communicates my purpose to me that way, or I hear a larger need and that forms my purpose, or something like that. It's a combination of internal and external forces, though, that dictate what I want to do.

Along these lines, while following my dreams is not supposed to be easy, it is somehow supposed to work out eventually, if I fully give myself to the dream, continue to pursue it despite opposition, believe in it, and maintain suitable levels of passion for it. Because it is what I am supposed to do, God will eventually move or the universe will eventually align in such a way that I will find some measure of success when it comes to my dreams and my contribution to the world (though this can be defined in many different ways).

In addition to hearing that I should follow my dreams, I also hear that I will not be happy until I do so, that doing so is the only way to find fulfillment, and that I will end my life with regret if I don't follow my dreams. I hear that I have the choice to truly live or just to exist, and that I can never enter my "real life" without following my dreams.

I hear that there is much to get in the way of following dreams. Things like fear, resistance, and distraction can keep me from this true purpose and calling, and if I give into them I will never reach my potential, give the world what I have to offer, or find happiness in life.

In fact, there's often implied threat in all this talk of dreams - something like "If you don't follow your dreams, you'll be unhappy and unfulfilled for the rest of your life," or "If you choose not to pursue your dreams, you're giving into fear and disappointing God."

This seems like the dark underbelly of this message. Following my dreams, as it turns out, is not just about my own and the world's fulfillment, but also about avoiding pain, disappointment, ambiguity, confusion, shame and a host of other negative emotions that could arise in me if I don't do these things that I'm made to do. I don't know if this threat is meant to motivate me, or is just articulating the natural consequences of not following my dreams, but it almost always seems to be part of the message I'm hearing.

Alongside this, there is also a distinct "should" here (though this isn't present in all the versions of the mandate to follow dreams) - I should try to do what I dream of doing, for all the reasons that I'm teasing out here. 

There's also usually a part of this message that has to do with faith and trust - mostly in myself, but also in God or the universe or some other sort of higher power. I'm to trust that I'm hearing my dreams accurately, that what I want to do or feel pulled towards doing is, in fact, what I should be doing. I'm to believe that I have what it takes, that I am enough to make my dreams happen, sometimes alongside God or the universe or some conglomeration of the force of all things. There's faith that God is communicating with me, that he is telling me how to work and move in this world via my dreams, and that he will eventually make me successful if I choose to believe that these dreams are the way I'm to contribute to the world.

This is the message that I'm hearing, over and over, from both secular and Christian sources. As you read this, what do you think? Do you hear the same message? Is there anything you would add or take away? Am I being fair in my portrayal of what I'm hearing? Let me know what you think.