Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorites of 2011

This is my favorite week of the whole year.  December is a blur (even when we say it won't) and Christmas is a spin of lights and calories and smiles and then we come home.  We make seventy-two trips from the car to the kitchen: suitcases, presents, leftovers, cookie tins, coats and boots; and there it all sits, in all of it's beautiful mess: hope and delight and comfort and tradition.  The opened packages of a year of work and growth and desire.

My urge is to launch into the new year: goals and resolutions (I love them!), but I have learned to stop first and unpack.  I'm really not quite ready for structure and new habits; I'd rather sit here and sip my tea, take the ornaments off the tree one by one.  I want to sort out my closets, the toys, my mind and heart before adding new.

And so this week is for letting go, for remembering, for treasuring, and for thanks.  I'll begin next week to think about a new year.  

My 2011 Favorites:

2011 was, in many ways, my very favorite year ever for our family. We moved to Cleveland in February and we love it here. We have had great fun this year exploring our new city and getting to know the neighborhood. When we learned that our house had sold we were in a bit of a lurch to find a place to rent: it was the middle of winter, and it seems that most rentals turn around in the summer. We had no clue what part of the city we wanted to live, and had to make a quick decision that at the time was full of doubts. Now I can see that the home and neighborhood we landed in is exactly the right one for us. We are so grateful.

Cleveland Faves:
Little Italy
our fabulous local library, parks and swimming pool
Friendship Mennonite Church
New friends, good neighbors and interesting people we have met in Cleveland

Favorite words:
“When I think about it, the people I respect most are people who create peace. And they are almost always people who chose one path and followed it to the end, instead of exploring every branch. They did not choose more life experiences; they deliberately chose fewer, in service to a single end. Maybe it was parenting, or feeding the hungry, or helping abused women. Maybe it was scholarship, or creating a comforting marriage. But instead of variety, they chose focus.”  
-from Veronica Mitchel Here's the original post: The Narrow Life
Favorite rhythm:
Life with littles still feels like a blur most days. Sleep is still unpredictable and not enough (though getting better). We do have two predictable, gentle rhythms that are really life-giving: after school tea time, and our Friday night Sabbath.

Favorite books:
Jayber Crow and Jane Eyre, of course. And Richard Foster's Prayer. (This was a great year for books! These three are among my all-time favorites).

Favorites in the kitchen:
The Barefoot Contessa pizza dough.

Favorite trip:
A girls weekend in Colorado
A wedding weekend in Michigan and reuniting with dear friends
Family vacation to Florida

Favorite decision:
Choosing community
Taking a break from facebook for the winter

Favorite fifteen:
This has been a bit of a breakthrough for me. (Once again- so simple) My continual struggle since having children is how to find time to myself for the work I'd like to do. Finally this year I began to pick up the brush, sit down with a pen, begin a recipe- whatever- and work furiously for the fifteen minutes that I can steal. I've discovered that I can actually accomplish quite a lot in these little bits of time, and it takes the pressure off of thinking whatever I am doing needs to be perfect. I have begun painting again by sneaking down to the basement for a few minutes after dinner- and it works!

. . . there are others, and I hope to write again about more favorites and not-so-favorites of 2011, but for now naptime is over and we are heading out on this cold dreary day for the Stone Oven. Be warm!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Noel: Birth

Every family is different and holiday traditions are unique, but I have yet to meet a family (no doubt there are some) whose Christmas does not rest most heavily on the woman.  By the middle of December, it is the woman with the wild in her eyes, on whom the sense of urgency, of preparation and anticipation rests.  (Men, it seems, handle Christmas with remarkable calm).  In December the hope of Mary falls on all women, and the very spirit of Christmas, it seems, is a feminine one- of waiting, of giving, of gathering, of home; and a desperate hope for peace and all to be well.

I have collected a few of my very favorite thoughts on Christmas this month, and without intending to they all share the theme of women.

1.  I like to pick-up a Christmas book this time of year, and I had not heard of Phyllis Tickle until this book asked to be picked up off the Christmas shelf at our library.  The short book about their holidays at The Farm In Lucy, rural Tennessee, was delightful.  I was even more delighted when I googled the author and learned about Phyllis Tickle, and listened to a sermon by her.  She is on the top of my to-read list for 2012.  (And she had seven children!?!)
And we will sleep, most of us, for close to two weeks wrapped in the pleasure of that wild disorder, knowing life, however briefly each year, as a rhythm more than as a plotted course; and at least for a little while, we will matter so much less to ourselves.  We will do these things until peace itself becomes, like the Baptizer, a kind of forerunner, a herald; and we all shall cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus.!"

What the Land Already Knows by Phyllis Tickle

2.  Incarnation
But this? This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places,  the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?
This is the stuff of God.
3.  On Being blog:
mercy, she suggested, is womb-like mother love. And it is the capacity of the mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of child. And mutatis mutandis then, mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for sake of neighborhood. Now none of us do that completely. But it makes a difference if the quality of social transactions have to do with the willingness to give one’s self away for the sake of the other rather than the need to always be drawing all of the resources to myself for my own well-being. 
4.  ...your daughters will prophesy  (I love Rachel Held Evans' blog.  Her list of popluar posts is a great place to start.)
Those of us who are perhaps most equipped to speak and act prophetically in response to the violence, poverty, and inequality that plague our sisters around the world are being silenced ourselves.  
5.  As I have been out shopping or running errands, I have happened to overhear several conversations of people complaining about their families and dreading their Christmas gatherings.  Although we offer wishes of peace and joy, the holidays can unearth deep-rooted family issues and layers of unforgiveness.  I thought that this short post was really meaningful, Christmas forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas brings out the lame mother in me.

Case in Point:

I am a lame decorator.  Christmas it seems requires decorating.  I can't even make our tree skirt fit:

. . . or keep ornaments on our tree.

I have good intentions and poor follow-through.  I hung our advent calendar and failed to put one thing in it.  The kids think it's a decoration.

I am lame at family devotions.  We are a week behind on our Jesse Tree.

We have a lame Elf on the Shelf.  He lost his magic long ago and the kids carry him around everywhere- and when he returns he gets stuck back on the same shelf every time.  (My kids didn't buy the magical Elf story for a minute).

he sits up there right next to Jim's cigar . .. what?

I meant to mail our Christmas letter weeks ago.  I wrote one and decided it was stupid, so I have been trying to write another but I am sitting here writing about what a lame mom I am instead.  Maybe I will try to send a New Year's card.  Just like I said I would send last year.  And every year since 2007.

And forget about a professional photo shoot with our kids in matching Christmas outfits.  This was the only photo from 2011 with everyone smiling, so this is the holiday photo I'm sending:

(don't look close at the dark circles under my eyes and ratty t-shirt.  And why is Jim wearing long sleeves at the beach?  I don't know.)

I did, however, manage to buy and wrap some thoughtful gifts, mail a package, take care of a sick child, and not be frustrated when this girl with broccoli in her teeth couldn't take a nap today but insists on sitting on my lap banging on the computer.  Maybe she can write the Christmas letter.

(Oh, and Sami and I put together a few of this cowgirl cookie mix to give.  And, here is a link to a series of paintings I did for our church for Advent).

Monday, December 19, 2011

just good

I only have a minute, but this is what is on my mind today . ..

Some good friends lost their grandfather last week.  (In fact this family is three generations of friends, their grandparents were good friends with my grandparents, our parents were good friends, and their five kids and the four kids in my family all grew up together . .. and then the eldest child married my best friend, Sally, and their cousin Jenny is has been a best friend since we were born . . . so that is a long way of explaining that the friendship between our families runs deep, I knew her grandfather and grew up receiving hugs from her grandma); and so when I read Kristen's lovely tribute  to her grandfather, I could agree with every word.  He really was that wonderful.

It reminded me of another friend; he had open heart surgery recently, and this is what his wife wrote about him the next day:

I think Nate knows the name of every staff person, cleaning lady, gurney driver, tech that has come into his how many children they have, what they are doing for Xmas, etc.... true style (this was before the surgery)...and of course he'll want to send personal 'thank yous' to each one when he gets out. You just got to love this man!!!
And once again reading this I was smiling and nodding, with tears . .. yes, this is the Nate I know.  It does not surprise me at all that he would have noticed and genuinely cared about every single person he met in the hospital.

I am writing this for myself today.  I think so much about what I should be doing with my life- if I should go back to school or be more determined about writing or should I be working part-time or . . . or or . .. what makes a life most meaningful, most significant?  How do I know how hard to push or when to let go, whether just being a mom is enough . ..? all of these questions, and then when I think about these two people . .. and how RARE is this kind of virtue . . . I realize how unimportant are my questions of doing.  I want the meaning and significance of my life to be in it's BE-ing.

I get a little hopeless sometimes and start to think- where are the GOOD people in the world today?   The world is full of people who accomplish great things- where are the people who "have never spoken a cross word," or the people who  sincerely care about people or say thank-you or the couples who have laid together each night for sixty-six years and sung love songs?  Where are the people who shine like stars?  I am thankful to have known a few of them.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. Phil.2:14-16

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

more like three . ..

Well when I wrote a few posts back that Jim had been home from work for the week, what I didn't say was that he was home because he lost his job.  And he wasn't home only that week- it's been more like three.

It was one of those big corporate lay-offs; pretty much Jim's whole department was cut.  We knew there was this risk in taking a job with a big company; they promised him that he was being hired on a long-term basis, but when their big project was over they just didn't get anymore work and a lot of people were let go.

There is so much grace here.  

I wanted to protect him because it's humiliating and devastating to be laid off- but truly we are not devastated and he has no reason to feel bad.  We are grateful for innumerable graces through this time- large and small- from his boss and co-workers, his parents being in at the time that it happened, my parents, our friends and our three girls who have kept us from taking life too seriously through it all.

The good news is that Jim had two good job offers, both which allow us to stay in Cleveland.  He accepted one and starts later this week.

Despite circumstances we would not have chosen, these weeks have been so rich.  I don't remember a time when we enjoyed each other and our family so much.  We have never laughed more or been so relaxed.

 Jim determined at the beginning that this would be time for me to write, and he made sure I got it.  He packed lunches, cleaned up the kitchen, spent quality time with Annie, made coffee runs; while I exclaimed fifty times a day that this is the way life is meant to be!  I am so grateful- his gift of time is the best thing he could ever give me.

We all walked to school together in the mornings and afternoons to pick Sam up.  I let the house go.  We ate dinner at four o'clock and spent long evenings with books and magazines and newspapers.  I painted.

Of course this is not reality and we cannot sustain this.  We are grateful that Jim has a job to go to this week.

Life can be unpredictable and disappointing and hard.  I realize that this was resolved so quickly and looking back will be hardly a blip on our radar.  But sometimes along the way when we least expect it God really does make us lie down in green pastures.  This is what we will remember.  I am so grateful for God's unexpected gifts.

Psalm 23:2-4
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 I love this photo documentary taken by Annie:

See Josie happily coloring with Dad.
 See dad go to answer his phone.
See Josie on the table with scissors.
See Josie play with scissors.

(The truth is that the girls are in way better hands with Dad than they are with Mom.  Jim would take the scissors and then give her a six-step instructional powerpoint on the correct way to handle scissors. I would be like O, she's okay.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

how we do weekends

Jim and I have spent years trying to find a good balance to our weekends.  Our conflict was simple, and probably common: Jim had been at work all week and was looking forward to a weekend of rest, I had been at home all week and was looking forward to having fun.  

And for all of our differences one thing we share in common is that we hate wasting time.  We both function better when we know what to expect.  And so we have learned to discuss and plan well in advance what a weekend should look like.

Lately we have found our rhythm for the weekends after we read Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, Sabbath.  It has changed the way we approach weekends.

We discovered that what Sabbath is meant to be is in fact what we both are needing by week's end which is menuah, a restfulness that is also celebration.

According to Jewish custom, Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday.  We have adopted Friday evening as the start to our Sabbath as well.  Heschel described the other six days of the week as a pilgrimage to the Sabbath; and so we prepare throughout the week- housework is done, dinner ready- and as the sun sets we light two candles (one to remember one to observe), and we both feast and rest.  

As a mom this is so helpful because it is possible to be continually working; work is never actually complete.  A Sabbath rest provides a boundary to our work.  Now is time to neglect the scattered shoes and pieces, the endless picking up.  This one night we put our feet up, the children play, we go to bed with toys still scattered.
Heschel believed that we need the Sabbath in order to survive civilization.  “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.  The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”
The rest of the weekend varies; often there is work to be done or places to go on Saturdays and our Sabbath continues with church and rest on Sunday.  We have found that this intentional break at the end of the work week, an anticipated rest that is also celebration, is what our body and soul needs.  

This weekend was especially nice, I thought I would share . .. 

Our Sabbath began with leftovers (but if you light candles nobody will notice).  Jim led us in an Advent devotional which included children wandering away and being dragged back to the table fourteen times (ah well, we keep trying).

My Saturday morning started at three because Josie kept waking up and as often happens I finally couldn't get back to sleep . . . I relish, however, these mornings when I am awake a few hours before everyone.  The dark quiet and time to read and write is Sabbath to me.

I baked this Honeybun cake which my husband warns that you be sure to stock up on insulin before you eat it (It's true- way too much sugar).  

Insert Starbucks i.v. because I got up too early . . .

and we're off to find our Christmas treee!

This is when I stopped taking pictures but you can imagine one of these trees wondrously decorated and looking something like this:

or your could imagine our Christmas tree, which looks nothing like this.

After we sufficiently destroyed the house with our unpacked Christmas boxes, our friends Anna and Izaak came to visit.  We are always happy to see them.  

We took the train to the Cinema to see the Muppets.

I was actually dreading sitting through the Muppets movie because even when I was a kid something about the Muppets freaked me out.  The movie was better than I expected, but I don't think the kids really got most of it.

The weekend ended with popcorn, apples and cheese . . . because our weekends always end with a popcorn supper.  That's how we do weekends. 

(Josie is wearing batman pajamas because . .. well, nevermind).

Isn't life grand?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Friday Randomness

A random picture for your Happy Friday:

This girl makes me smile a hundred times a day.
See those beautiful curls?
I cut them off.
I really didn't mean to- I just kept trimming . .. and trimming . .. and trimming
{sad sigh}

We have reached a new era in our home which is Kindergarten Fashion.  This morning Sam put on a long navy Laura Ingalls Wilder skirt with black Hello Kitty t-shirt, white tights, and tennis shoes.  It is cool in kindergarten not to match.  It's happening already.

Two new blogs I have discovered this week:

Check them out!

All of the posts this week have been brought to you by the Engineer and his week off of work in which he valiantly offered to watch the kids so I could write.  Not only did he bring me Starbucks regularly, he also painted and baked with Annie daily, did the dishes and played music loudly all day long.  He is clearly the cooler parent and we are all insisting that he not ever go back to work EVER. 

I got to write (sit at my desk and ruminate), blog daily, and flat iron my hair!  I don't have high hopes for my writing or hair, but maybe I am enjoying getting a little blog mojo back and maybe I can at least attempt to blog a little more regularly again.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

long waiting

We wait.

I find myself drawn to Advent
the greyness of this season
the hush and still
the echoing steps
empty trees
first plumes of woodsmoke

For it is only this once each year
that we acknowledge our groaning
our emptiness
our occasional disbelief

We are cold
and lonely
and far from home

Only once a year do we lay it all down in wonder-
the staggering weight
 of waiting
and the blazing star
the desperate ache
of hope

I cling to the long waiting of Advent
the long wishing
 courageous expecting
on the darkest nights of the year, waiting, we hang lights.

Linking up today with Ann and the Practice of Preparing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

miracle enough

I am a mother.

I do not raise the dead.  I do not preach to the masses or heal the sick or call down fire from Heaven.

I do not manage budgets or prepare proposals or find creative solutions for much of anything unless finding a new place to store the crayons is a creative solution.

I do not even wear lipstick.  I certainly don't bring home the bacon.

I sweep up cheerios.  I carry a child on my hip.  I stir the soup.  I sing them to sleep.

I turn out the light and pray big deep sighing prayers and shut the door and whisper thank-you thank-you thank-you- this prayer that is lifted- scooped from the very deepest part of me like the wand that scrapes the very bottom of the bottle to be poured out with a breath, and my whole insides, my very deepest thanks and aches and longing lift into hallelujah.  This is what I do.

And isn't this enough?

This daily picking up.  Daily stirring.  The daily hallelujah.

And every day, there is the dying.

Every day I die a little more, am raised to life a little more; isn't this miracle enough?

When I thought I had right to my body, my space, my sleep, my two hours of quiet in the afternoon; and one by one like blocks they fell and I complained and demanded, scheduled and disciplined and now am able to sigh and say it's okay; isn't this miracle enough?

When I was iron and he was iron and at two in the morning all we could do was clang and spark and sometimes we felt like giving up but slowly we are melting, molding together and into one another; isn't this miracle enough?

When I coddled wounds like kittens, against my breast.  When I lay awake too many nights begging God for the ability to forgive that I did not possess, and one day reaching into my pocket to stroke a stone I find they've turned to petals; isn't this miracle enough?

Daily, I am saved.  Daily, I am being saved, sanctified.

Daily, I call down fire from Heaven and it destroys me, cleanses me.

Daily mothering I die a little more and daily mothering I live.

It is miracle enough.

This post was inspired by "women saved through childbearing" - at Practical Theology for Women.

I am linking up today with Heather, "Just Write."

Monday, November 28, 2011

a wide open field

I wrote a post and then I deleted it, but if you subscribe to this blog it probably posted in your reader anyway.

The post wasn't anything original or controversial or all-that thought-provoking . . .  it just wasn't me.  When I read it I knew it didn't sound like me, and then when Jim read it he said, Yeah it doesn't really sound like you.  So I hit delete.  Only, in the internet world nothing dies but lives on into infinity.

I think what makes me uncomfortable with the post isn't the fear of offending someone (I don't think it would offend anyone), or the fear of publishing a dumb post, but the grating sense that I am trying to be someone I'm not.

Because I am learning, like my friend Misha described so well:
Say no to what doesn’t feel right (even if you can’t explain why yet) and fight for what does (even when it scares you to death.)It's freedom. And also trust. It’s living in a wide open field where anything can be built and new things, never before discovered, will be seen.
Finally I can recognize that wearisome, awkward feeling as being a me that doesn't exist; a self I am trying to fit into that pinches and pulls in places.

But the feeling of sprouting wings?  That sense of losing awareness of space and time, of chasing talking rabbits?  This is freedom.  This is to be deeply alive.

It is too bad that it takes us so long to find these wings, and even longer to learn how to use them.  It's too bad that we waste so much time feeling awkward and afraid, trying to be somebody else.

Last night I was fretting to Jim about writing and life, and finally he said, "Don't pay attention to the message or what you are trying to say.  Just listen to the rhythm of the words."

And I remember that this is the secret to writing- the secret to living: to be in rhythm . . . to be in step with the Spirit.  That is all.  We do not know what God is doing or where we are being led; we do not even know really what we are trying to say. But we are paying attention to the quiet voice within.

 I can recognize by now within me consolation and desolation; what feels like life, and what feels like the absence of life.  I love to write because it helps me to clarify those voices; to sort out whether I am acting out of my true, redeemed self, or a false self.

Misha described this kind of living it as a wide open field.  I couldn't agree more.

Let those who fear the LORD say:
   “His love endures forever.”
 5 When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD;
   he brought me into a spacious place.
6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
   What can mere mortals do to me?
Psalm 118:4-6

We who try our best to live, why do we not live more?
-Vincent VanGogh

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

Is it sacrilegious to say that I was not incredibly moved by Jane Austen?

I did enjoy the story, but the happily ever after seemed a little too simple.  I was also surprised by how character-driven her writing is, with a lot of dialogue and light on description or detail.  The 19th Century English aristocratic culture and mating rituals were fascinating, and I definitely stayed up too late waiting for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to finally untangle their misunderstanding and fall in love.  But overall this love story didn't move me as Charlottel Bronte's Jane Eyre did.

Pride and Prejudice is the first novel by Jane Austen that I have read, maybe I need to keep trying.  What Austen book should I read next?

As we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow I am deeply grateful for God's goodness and faithfulness, His tender mercies, His grace and beauty that fill our lives and the continual rest and peace that He offers.  I cannot imagine life without the Hope that I have in Christ.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2011

slowing down

It has been nearly a month since I declared a self-imposed internet rest; though I have been away from the computer more by circumstance than by self-discipline this month.  We just finished a month that felt like a marathon: Jim working crazy overtime+ sick kid + sick kid + sick kid + birthdays + party + vacation + in-laws visit + good friends . . . all good things.  Wondrously good.  Probably the best month of the whole year, also the busiest month of the whole year.

It was so much fun while it lasted but now I am craving a little bit of quiet, a little bit of routine, maybe even a little bit of snow?  In fact I am secretly excited about our first winter in the snow belt- it feels like an adventure!  (Ask me how I feel about winter in March).

Today my only plans are to drink tea and read blogs and search Pinterest while pulling the kids off of my computer.  And there may be something pumpkin-ish in the oven and soup-ish on the stove.

My online step-back fell at just the right time as life amped up and for a few weeks I didn't have a second to spare; I credited my abstinence from facebook for granting me a little mental clarity during all of the craziness.  I have found that I do miss some of my online friendships, the people who I only connect with through social media.  But I do not miss the constant buzz, the constant temptation to be always distracted from my real life.  I know that social media (facebook) can be used for good, that it has been a blessing for me during some seasons, but for me, for this season, the disconnection is what my soul (and my family) needs.  I don't miss it at all.  (Confession: I do pop on occasionally just to check up on a few friends).

I read two books lately:

Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
This book is about the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter as the daughter discovers her beauty and sexuality, and how it drives them apart.  I enjoy Strout's frank, and witty style and the way she creates characters that are so complex and so real.

Lit by Mary Karr is a memoir, (Karr's third- this is the first I have read of hers) telling the story of her slide into alcoholism as a young wife and mother.  Written more like a novel than memoir, her story is searing; as Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times reviews, the book "lassoes you, hog-ties your emotions, and won't let you go."

Alcohol became a way for Karr to cope with the buckling pressure and guilt of motherhood, and her own mother's destructive alcoholic shadow; her self-destructive path eventually led her to a place where she could open to the faith that she had not only resisted but scorned her whole life.  As an academic she was practiced in dismantling any hint of belief, but after a lot of encouragement from her friends at AA she finally opened her heart just a little to the possibility of grace, and gratitude, and began to find a presence of love that she eventually would acknowledge as God.  Her faith journey is fascinating, marked by unexplainable small miracles and unlikely teachers, especially the broken, hurting and faith-filled friends she meets at AA.

My favorite passage from the book comes from a conversation she is having with Jack, a friend and fellow AA member.  When he refers to making boxes he is talking about his job at the box factory, and when he refers to setting chairs in a circle he is talking about his volunteer duty at AA meetings, to set up the chairs each week.
Instead, his eyes meet mine evenly and he says- as it seems everybody says- You should pray about it.  
But what if I don't believe in God?  It's like they've sat me in front of a mannequin and said, Fall in love with him.  You can't will feeling.
What Jack says issues from some still, true place that could not be extinguished by all the schizophrenia his genetic code could muster.  It sounds something like this: 
Get on your knees and find some quiet space inside yourself, a little sunshine right about here.  Jack holds his hands in a ball shape about midchest, saying, Let go.  Surrender, Mary. 
I want to surrender but I have no idea what that means. 
He goes on with a level gaze and steady tone:  Yield up what scares you.  Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry.  Enter into that quiet.  It's a cathedral.  It's an empty football stadium with all the lights on.  And pray to be an instrument of peace . ..  
What if I get no answer there? 
If God hasn't spoken, do nothing.  Fulfill the contract you entered into at the box factory, amen.  Make the containers you promised to tape and staple.  Go quietly and shine.  Wait.  Those not impelled to act must remain in the cathedral.  Don't be lonely.  I get so lonely sometimes, I could put a box on my head and mail myself to a stranger.  But I have to go to a meeting and make the chairs circle perfect.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Blessedness of Winter

My "word of the year" this year is "Plow," and I wrote here about some of the ways that this was a metaphor for my goals this year; to pay attention to rhythms and seasons, notice the holy in the ordinary, to look and live beneath the surface . . . to avoid wasting time, be deliberate and unhurried . . . cultivate quiet, live with vision, etc.  . . .  and so I have sensed this coming on, sensed this frail part in me calling weakly to be still and quiet, to disconnect.

I have been reading Richard Foster's book "Prayer" with our church and am enjoying it immensely.  This week the chapter on Formation Prayer was especially powerful, and the section on The Little Way and The Communion of Solitude especially struck me;
"Without solitude it is impossible to live a spiritual life." (Henri Nouwen)  The reason for this is simple to see: by means of solitude God frees us from our bondage to people and our own inner compulsions. . . The less we are mesmerized by human voices, the more we are able to hear the Divine Voice.  The less we are manipulated by the expectations of others, the more we are open to the expectations of God.
I fell asleep last night aware that God was asking me to set myself free from my "bondage to people and my own inner compulsions" . .. for me this is in the form of my online habits; facebook, Pinterest, and most of my online surfing for information.

My protests sound like this:

"But I can keep in touch with people I care about on facebook; I can rejoice with them and weep with them, I can know what I need to pray for someone."  . ..  But what if I simply submitted myself to praying instantly for whomever the Lord brings to mind?  (like they did in the olden days *grin) What if I was intentional about writing to encourage people rather than a passive "like" of their status update?

"I get tons of ideas online, it makes me a better mother and homemaker."  . . . But I also am overwhelmed by all of the ideas I find, what if I simply focus on my home and complete the ideas I already have?

"I use the internet constantly for news and information."  . . . I will be reasonable, if I need information that I can't find anywhere else I will look for it on the internet, but so much information can also cause confusion and disharmony.  What if I try first reading printed words and seeking the still small voice of the Spirit rather than consulting so many opinions online?

This morning what I read in Foster's book confirmed what I had been thinking;

The Blessedness of Winter
As winter approaches each year, I like to watch our large maple in the backyard begin to lose its covering of summer green and take on a funereal brown.  As the leaves drop, one by one all of the irregularities and defects of the tree are exposed.  The imperfections are always there, of course, but they have been hidden from my view by an emerald blanket.  Now, however, it is denuded and desolate, and I can see its real condition. 
Winter preserves and strengthens a tree.  Rather than expending its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth.  Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish. 
Instantly you see the application.  So often we hide our true condition with the surface virtues of pious activity, but, once the leaves of our frantic pace drop away, the transforming power of a wintery spirituality can have effect. 
To the outward eye everything looks barren and unsightly.  Our many defects, flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections stand out in bold relief.  But only the outward virtues have collapsed; the principle of virtue is actually being strengthened.  The soul is venturing forth into the interior.  Real, solid, enduring virtues begin to develop deep within.  Pure love is birthed.
I am looking forward to a season of stillness, to focus on my family and to devote more time to writing. I will continue to check email and update this blog occasionally, and my plan is to allow myself a couple hours one day a week, probably Saturdays, for blog reading and Pinterest, so I will be enjoying your blogs occasionally as well.

It is a dark, blustery day today, the leaves on the tree outside my window all blew off during the night; this used to feel like sadness to me but today I see the hope in those stark, barren branches.  Truly there is a blessedness of winter!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Mother and the Engineer Consider the Geology of the Great Lakes Region

We kiss three heads all in a line and then
drive along the curve of the Lake
to the tip of the thumb
in the glory of Autumn
to see her dressed in white
to see them before these amber fields
beneath these applauding trees-
to touch these friends again and see for myself
the smile of light in their eyes.

As we drive and return he wonders at the layers-
sand trapped here
what caused this rock formation
this valley this marsh
this layer of clay
what force
what age
why here but not there?

I am thinking that I know why
(saying nothing)-
it is of course
just the way that the sippy cup was found beneath the pile of laundry
and for the same reason that every time
every single time
I sweep beneath the table
she will walk into the pile-
for the same reason that she is standing here in my pile of dirt
and making fish lips
and kissing me on the head
as I sweep between her ankles.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Truth of Fiction

Occasionally I will pick up a book and feel transported, this was the second book I have read this year that I have had this experience.  The first was Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.  This latest book was Jane Eyre.  How have I gone 34 years before reading this beautiful book?

There was so much that moved me in the book . . . the enduring, unlikely and tragically romantic love story, of course . . . and then the way that faith and morality, sacrifice, was so much a part of the story, but in a way that only gave the story it's foundation, and not in a cheesy kind of way.  I loved the long, descriptive sentences of the subtlest expressions or emotions.  I loved to read about the way that the arts and learning were so much a part of their lives, so that their free time in the evenings was spent in rich artistic pursuits, like learning new languages, reading or sketching by the fire.  I enjoyed her reflections on nature and the senses, the way that it gave a sense of the supernatural, and the slightly mystical tone of the story . . .

And I close the book and find myself in a world of OMG and LOL; mind-numbing television, cheap sex, coarse humor, endless, meaningless distractions.  I know the 19th century was far from perfect, but after reading Jane Eyre this world we live in feels base and shameless.  We feed our cravings and urges, feel entitled to everything, know little of what it means to sacrifice or to deeply love another.  Our technology can fix our bodies and take us anywhere, but we have forgotten how to nurture our soul.


Last week Jim and I got a date night to hear Elizabeth Strout at the Cleveland Playhouse.  She spoke about the truth of fiction, of how we read to identify our human experience, to know we are not alone.  She referred to people who think of fiction as a lie (how often we hear or sense this in the church!  If Jesus taught in stories, why are there so few storytellers?).  It was a wonderful talk on the power of fiction, and I thought about it often as I read Jane Eyre; how powerful this book was for me because of the truth I find there, the truth that only the heart can tell.  This is the grace and comfort, the nourishment and necessity of fiction. This is why I read.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I am crazy-rich

I have these amazing friends . . .

Brave, strong women who are doing generous, amazing work in places like Mali, Haiti, Indonesia, Central African Republic . . . they make me want to be strong and brave.

I have these kind, generous friends who have this amazing ability to sense a need and meet it while the rest of us are only talking about it.   

I have this wonderful, sweet, kind friend who is sincerely sweet and kind to every single person she ever meets.  She has never met a stranger.  She gives to anyone who asks her, and many who don't.

I have this authentic, strong, wise friend who sincerely walks with God, and every morning she sends a text with the verses and honest things that God is teaching her.  Every morning it speaks to me, too.

I have this creative, enterprising, godly friend who decided to do something more than just weep for Somalia.  She and her kids are setting up a Lemonade stand for Africa this weekend . .. maybe you would, too?

I have this friend with such a pure, childlike heart who is one of the safest people I have ever known.

I have this beautiful, peaceful, humble friend who would never suspect how she carries peace and beauty with her wherever she goes.

I have this funny, independent, crazy-smart and adventurous friend who lives this admirable balance of humor, adventure and contentment; and because of her my life is more of these too.

I have this wise friend who thinks about things- really thinks about them- and then lives with sincere compassion and authenticity and this is who I think of when I hear the word integrity.

And as I write my brain is flooding with faces, so many people I could list here but however I may try to describe them to you- to really tell you about the greatness that is in the soul of these friends I have known- this post would only become sentimental and sappy and eventually you would not believe me . .. though they are true.  Every single story I could tell.

When I count my richest blessings it has always been and will always be the people I know or have known.  I am crazy-rich.

I have been thinking about how much these friends have blessed and continue to bless my life, of the ways that they unknowingly make me better or stronger . .. quiet, unsuspecting people who are simply living authentically and humbly, the best they can, before God . . . I have seen God and love Him more because of them.

And then I think about how afraid we are, how reluctant to think of ourselves as someone God can use . . . . we only see our failures and just maybe that is because our failures are all that has been shown to us.  There are plenty of critics in the world.  Plenty of cynics and scorners, plenty of people who feel they need to correct and advise, who have an opinion about everything.  Who can survive those voices?

Nope, no one is perfect, it is true.  But everyone is great, I am convinced.

Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself.  But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be.

I hate orthodox criticism. . . . the small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straightjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery. . . .  And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first ones to get killed off.  It is the brutal egotists that survive.  

-Brenda Ueland

(I got to see some friends this weekend . .. beautiful, amazing women whose paths I crossed years ago . .. and it has me thinking about how blessed I am by the people I have known).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Summer Reading

Due to Kindergarten Orientation today was actually only the second day of school for us, Sami's first "real day."  The first day was hard, we both cried, and over the weekend she said a few times that she didn't want to go to Kindergarten.  This morning she was happy again to be going to school.  I am eager to pick her up this afternoon and learn how her day went.

One thing I like about school (trying to stay positive here) is being able to walk to drop off and pick Sami up. It is a great start to our day, and I am finally finding a way work a little bit of exercise into my day with the two littles in the wagon.

We are enjoying these cozy days as the season changes all of a sudden.  Sipping lots of tea and reading books!  I didn't read a whole lot over the summer, but here is what I did read:

19.  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This is my favorite kind of novel in several ways.  First, Abraham Verghese is an accomplished medical doctor, as well as an expat Indian born in Ethiopia, so the book is semi-autobiographical.  I am amazed by people who are successful in their occupations and also manage to find the time and energy to write books, and I love to read a book written by an author passionate and knowledgeable of his subject.  This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Cutting for Stone so much, it was a fascinating window into medicine, especially surgery and the complexities of practicing medicine in a struggling mission hospital in an underdeveloped country.

Second, I enjoyed the setting- a Catholic mission hospital run by Indian doctors in Ethiopia.  It was an intriguing meeting of cultures, and also interesting to understand the motivations and desires of those who felt called to this mission hospital, and the community that creates.

Finally, Cutting for Stone is a brilliant story- tragic, tender, and keeping you guessing until the very end. I loved this book and did not want it to end!

20.  Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry

This book is excellent.  It is Berry's critical response to Edward Wilson's book "Consilience," explaining why the priorities of science have led to a time of despair, and our need to accept life's beauty and miracles.  To be honest I was a little bogged down and it took me a while to get through this- it is the kind of book I would have enjoyed reading for discussion.

21.  Half the Sky by Nicholas Krostof
Hard to read and I had to read it in small doses- I don't think that I read every page.  It is heartbreaking and overwhelming.  I was glad he ended the book with a chapter titled "Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes."  One still can't help but be left feeling profoundly humbled by our wealth and freedoms, and that any little good we can do is so, so small.  I have been challenged to pray, when I wake up in the night to think of my sisters who are in awful, horrible bondage and pray for them.

22.  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This is a collection of short stories all somehow related to a woman named Olive living in Crosby, Maine.  Olive is a complex character, giving a harsh impression but the reader is able to understand the ways that she grieves and the people she helps and loves.  I found her character so believable, and a wonderful portrayal of the beauty and ugliness, generosity and greed, regret and hope in all of us.

23.  Writers Workshop in a Book, The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction

A collection of essays about writing, this was for the most part helpful and interesting.  My favorite essay from the book is by Janet Fitch, called Coming to Your Senses, about how sensory-starved we are: 
We get up to the sound of an electronic alarm, wolf down some unappetizing packaged food, get into the car, and drive to work.  We park in an underground lot, take an elevator up to the office, where we work all day in a gray- or beige- toned, soundproofed, carpeted, air-conditioned space, with windows that don’t open . . .  
We were not born to live like this . . . We crave the richness of the world, its smells and textures and unedited sounds.  We are biological organisms who have evolved ways of processing the richness of physical life, and yet, because we have been so successful at controlling our environment, we have eliminated just that life. . . 
. . As writers, our task is to remind people what it is to be human.  Through all the lenses that we embody, we seek to explore and re-create the experiences of being alive on this earth.  And especially now, in our denatured times, we are in a position to give the reader back the sensual world- restore to him something fundamental which has been taken away from him, something he craves, the smells and textures of physical reality.
This really made me think about the kinds of tangible experiences I allow my kids, (and myself), how important it is that they experience drippy fruits and mud puddles, subtle sounds, nourishing smells, and that I give them plenty of opportunities to "please touch!"

So, first, as writers, we ourselves must reconnect to the life of the sense.  To give the reader back the blue of the sky, the heat of the day, the softness of the wind, the smell of newly turned earth, to bring him back to his senses, restoring him to his full humanity, so that he might even think to go outside and look at those stars, smell that earth for himself, we must first get ourselves out of the jar.  We ourselves must adopt a more experimental and experiential attitude  toward physical existence, and be willing to experience the whole sensual piano, not just certain predictably pleasant chords.