Friday, January 27, 2012

the truth of onions

It is January and that means onions.
Onions, potatoes, garlic.  Roots.  An occasional raisin.
No pink flesh or provocative vegetables
no dripping sweet or tender
only the sturdy, the staple, the bitter.
I stand over onions and weep daily these days,
thinking how necessary they are
how honest, how beautiful.

I need a season that rests on its roots,
that feels so familiar-
nothing but plain, steady, salted, flavored with bitter,
tea bags wrung out and utterly given up.

We got five whole minutes to sit on a bench today.
They crawled through tubes and we offered confession-
our restlessness and ache, our wonder.
No one really prepares you for this, the middle years.
It seems that it should come with warning, though perhaps it does-
depression, divorce, implants, red fast cars like blinking red lights-
trying to reclaim this thing they must have missed
it seemed like a promise but now where is it?
I have more understanding now
because in-between is this grey. this ordinary. this bitter.
We were expecting life would be peaches but
what to do with all these potatoes and onions?

I have to believe they are necessary,
the onions of winter.
They tell us that it is all the earth can offer,
peaches were only a peek at the world to come.

I need daily devotions to stand over a board of onions and weep
for the way that times passes,
for the layers that leave only more layers,
that life is so much more January than June.
All our days pass away under Your wrath; 
we finish our years with a moan.

Our days may come to seventy years, 
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

stepping carefully

I am considering re-entering technology.  I didn't have a specific goal in mind when I said I was breaking for the winter, but it has been over three months and part of me feels ready.

Of course I realize that I never actually "left" technology- I simply tried to cut-back; only email and the occasional blog post, with one day a week for blog reading and pinterest.  I wasn't totally strict about it-  sometimes I cheated and scoured pinterest when I felt like it.  My main fast was from facebook, and even that I treated like email and checked occasionally for notifications.

But the break was good.  It broke my cycle of being constantly distracted, helped me to be present and quiet, gave me some space to think and observe how technology was affecting me.

Reading Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other was equal parts terrifying and profoundly depressing.  Occasionally as I was reading I imagined reading this same book eighty years ago, predicting the dangers of the television or telephone . . . some of which would come true and yet society learned to adapt to it . . . But the reality is that current technology is changing us at a frightening pace, and it seems terribly important that we figure out how to live with "seductive technology," but to not be ruled by it.

I am especially curious to know how the church will eventually respond to our relationship with technology.  The negative effects of being constantly connected that Turkle found in her research are things like a loss of empathy, lack of honesty, hostility, empty relationships, insecurity, parents who are always distracted from their kids, children who've lost a childhood, teenagers struggling to grow into themselves without any opportunity for solitude . . . all of these seem so in opposition to the very basics of our faith: tenderness, transparency, honesty, thoughtfulness, meditation, silence, stillness, compassion.

The book ends with an attempt at optimism.  She suggests that we cannot think of our relationship with technology as an "addiction," because the only option for an addiction is to eliminate, and that will never happen.  The internet is here to stay.  Rather, she says, "we have reached a point of inflection, where we can see the costs and start to take action. . . As we try to reclaim our concentration we are literally at war with ourselves.  Yet, no matter how difficult, it is time to look again toward the virtues of solitude, deliberateness, and living fully in the moment."

I am entering back into technology carefully considering how it can be redeemed, and aware of how easily it can steal life if I allow it.  I know that God can redeem all things; that though this place feels disorienting and scary it is not new to God.  We pray for wisdom and understanding.

Your faithfulness continues through all generations. 
Psalm 119:90

word of the year: where it begins and ends

(Yes, It is the end of January and I am finally writing about my word for the year.) 

The word I chose for this year is Seed, and my verse is from Exodus 3:5:
"Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."

Last year my word was Plow, and I wrote about some of my favorites and not-so favorites of the year.  The plow theme has stuck with me, but this year I am looking closer, paying attention to what is under the soil, what is growing out of the soil: the bare, the hidden, the essential, the heart of things. A seed is the smallest, most basic part of a plant, but it is what the plant will become.

It begins with my thoughts:
At no time of day or night are we not thinking about something. The only real question is, What is it? What do I choose to ruminate about in the interstices of the day, in the dark quiet of the night? Where does my mind go when there is nowhere specific defined for it to go?
The question is an important one because its answer defines the kind of person we are choosing to become. ..  The fact is that we become what we think about. What we seed in our souls grows in us, forms us, becomes what drives us from moment to moment. 
What we think about during the waking hours of the day is basic to prayer. And prayer is also basic to it. What I put into my soul will shape me.  
Prayer intends to steep me in the thoughts of God, in the sense of the presence of God, in an openness to the will of God, in the likeness of God. To pray is to rivet my mind on the things of God. “As you sweep,” our novice mistress taught us, “pray. Just say any short prayer over and over,” she said. “Eventually it will become part of you.” She forgot to say that eventually you will become it, as well.
And in the same way, I become jealousy. And greed. And lust. And hate. It all depends on what I feed on, what I live on, in my thoughts. What I immerse myself in, down deep inside of me where the soul of a person lies in wait, I will become.
But if I put in the discipline of the presence of God, I will become of God. 
If I put in prayer for my enemies, if I pray to a loving God to make me loving, too, then—however many years it takes — it will happen. Then, like a drop of rain in the midst of a flood, I will become part of the heart of the world.
I must pray to become love.
–from The Breath of the Soul by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)   
(I found this quote in a journal entry I wrote in July, and I don't remember where it came from- facebook I think? Mattie Marie or Vi perhaps?)
it ends with the muppets:

I made the mistake of buying kids the Muppets soundtrack for Christmas, and every. blessed. time. we get into the car they all yell at me: Happy Song! Happy Song! And for the love of all that is holy, the only way to survive is to find something theological to ruminate on while listening to that blessed song forty-seven times.
I've got everything that I need. Right in front of me.

It is the muppets yes but it is also the secret to a happy life- I want to believe moment by moment that 
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.2Peter1:3

I want to choose to believe that right at this moment I have everything I need to do and to be what God is cultivating me to be. Right in front of me. (cue Happy Song).

(More about the in-between in another post!)

In other news today my husband turns Forty!

In other other news I got a haircut last night and apparently I look just like Nancy Pelosi. Which is exactly what I was going for.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

what I try to do


There is a whole heck of a lot that i don't do right.  My kids don't sleep. (With the exception of one,)  they don't always obey the first time or the fourth or fifth.  They forget to say please.  You won't see a lot of parenting advice on this blog and that is because I don't know what I'm doing; I am a mess and parenting only exposes me, keeps me humble and repentant and falling on Jesus, clinging to grace.

But some evenings one or another child will come running to tell me that the sky is pink.  She'll take my hand and lead me to the window; shadows, we name the colors.

The sunday school class planted seeds in pots and she is very religious about it.  She chose the window and watered daily, until I warned her not to over-water and then she became very serious and very careful about her watering.  And the other day there were three green sprouts and today two more and she bows over them, reverent, counting.

I bought them fairy tales.  The real ones, not tamed down or disney-fied.  Wolves and dragons and child-eating witches.  Because "fairy tales are more than true;" Chesterton said, "not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."  And so in the afternoons she chooses her books and every day she brings me Rumplestiltsken.  I don't know what it is that intrigues her, delights her in the trickery and magic, riddles and rescue.  But I have a feeling that she already knows the world is crazy and what I want her to believe is that hope is not.

If there is anything I hope to teach my children it is to be amazed.  To see the world beyond this world, to be ever looking for it to blaze behind the clouds or emerge from the dirt.  I want to teach them that to live is holy work; to be reverent and humble.  That God is with us.  I hope they will notice, every day, that there is so much beauty in the world.

linking up with Heather today with Just Write.

Monday, January 23, 2012

dear friend, between,

I want to tell you about a time between times and a space between spaces

What I want to tell you about is a light that shone 
in a tiny apartment
between an old chair
and the edge of the world
on quiet dark nights
which is where
(what I remember is the light)
snow against pane
I discovered I was still living

I wish I could tell you how it came to me
bouncing across the astral plane
into my window
how I sat on that old rocker and greeted you
a galaxy away
I wish I could describe the sound it made
shaking stars out of the rug
they scattered across the floor
there was love

What I want to tell you is that all is not lost
that you are so very much alive-
that it is not the spaces which are,
but the ones between
where air fills up the cracks:
ancient zapping molecules that fell
from Einstein's chalkdust
and Samson's hair
and whispered that night in the car
and fell again against my window

My wish for you (in this dark night) is to know
that somewhere 
in a tiny space inside yourself
there is a light
it is quiet there
you will hear yourself breathe
you will find yourself amazed by your breath
the breathing out of all who have lived before
into your now

I wish for you the space between 
faith and knowledge
sorrow and grief
hope and redemption
this dark and your soul
the great gaps in a flake of snow 
through which love reaches

and the time between times
where light has traveled of all this way to the edge of the world to find you
(it breaks at your feet and skids across the floor)

which is wonder
which is love 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I have been meaning to write about the word I chose for this year, but then I don't transition well, and a new year needs about a month's worth of transition don't you think?  And also in January there are these shades of grey to contemplate, and a liquid moon, and piles of grace that keep falling, silently, during the night and I wake up to this fresh mercy that takes away my words for days, sometimes.

And who am I kidding, there is also laundry.

Also, somebody around here is turning forty (it's not me) and this house is abuzz with secrets and planning!

Another factor is the book I've been reading, Alone Together by Sherry Turkle.  (Janet has a great review of it here.)  It is currently making me want to avoid technology even more than I already am, and causing me to lie awake at night worrying about what kind of cold robot-world my children will live in.  And so I choose to shut the screen stare out at the snow.

There is, of course, these many merits of technology that keep me coming back, but I am more aware than ever of the challenge of keeping it in its place, to not be ruled by it, to not allow it to replace human relationships, and especially of the example I am setting for my kids.

At the same time a friend gave me this article from the New York Times about a school that is technology-free.  The interesting thing about this school is that it is where big names from companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard choose to send their kids.

All of this has brought the homeschooling discussion back to the surface in our home.  Kindergarten is going great so far, but the technology issue might just be what pushes me over the edge.  Jim read The Well-Trained Mind over the weekend and is more sold than he already was.

Two other books I have read:

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I have been wanting to read Sylvia Plath, and this did not disappoint.  The story follows Esther Greenwood, a talented college student, from the brink of her metal decline and through her eventual breakdown, suicide attempt and recovery in mental hospitals, one experience hellish and one healing.  It gave me great compassion for the mentally ill or severely depressed.  I especially remember college as a time of intense emotions, and wonder if any of my peers at the time were having experiences like this.  Plath wrote this book as semi-autobiographical.

Once again based on stories from The Farm At Lucy, Phyllis Tickle writes about the sacredness of life and everyday miracles during the season of Ordinary Time, the months from about July thru November, and compares it to our middle years as "a sacred passage between the early formation of our lives and our maturing."  I enjoy reading an author whose faith tradition is so different from mine, and am drawn to the rhythm of the church year and the way that her reflections make the various feast days and the holy ordinariness of life sparkle.  And there was one chapter that blew my mind.

If you are a runner, please read this link, Run For Their Lives: turning small steps into high hopes in the battle against human trafficking.  My friend Jo is calling runners to run for the purpose of fighting against human trafficking.  If anyone has grappled with the hugeness of the problem of child sex slavery, but felt powerless to know what possibly to do, this is a great way to take one small step towards bringing awareness to the problem, and running for a great cause.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the not-so favorite

My son goes down in the orchard to incinerate
Burning the day's trash, the accumulation
Of old letters, empty toilet-paper rolls, a paper plate,
Marketing lists, discarded manuscript, on occasion
Used cartons of bird seek, dog biscuit.  The fire
Rises and sinks; he stirs the ashes till the flames expire.

Burn, too, old sins, bedraggled virtues, tarnished
Dreams, remembered unrealities, the gross
Should-haves, would-haves, the unvarnished
Errors of the day, burn, burn the loss
Of intentions, recurring failures, turn
Them all to ash.  Incinerate the dross.  Burn.  Burn.

-Madeleine L'Engle

I posted this same poem by Madeleine L'Engle last year- it seems very appropriate for the new year.

Last year I gave myself until Plough Monday, the traditional start of the agricultural year, to choose my word of the year and I will this year again (Jan.9 this year).  I already wrote about some of my favorites of 2011, now I am thinking about my regrets.

My word for 2011 was Plow, and I found it to be a very strong metaphor for my year.  It stuck with me throughout the year; when life was hard, or dull, or just daily, it was good to remember the simple instruction for this year: plow.  Do the next thing.  Keep moving forward.  And to believe, that through simple, small, deliberate action there is hope, holiness, vision, miracles . . . even risk.

It is tempting to feel defeated about the past year for myself personally. Our greatest struggle this year was sleep, which though not catastrophic was a trial in its own way, and this combined with next to zero personal time and a cranky teether meant that I made no real progress on any personal goals.  I must have expected this intuitively when I set my goals last January, because the word plow kept me grounded and content, with smaller expectations.  Perhaps my greatest accomplishment this year was in learning to accept that life in this season is not about me, and to let things go.

I am wondering this year what is the balance between letting go and fighting to push forward?  Jim has for years encouraged me to hire a sitter so I can write, but I haven't wanted to spend the money.  This year I finally accepted that if I am going to make any progress at all, something needs to change. I am hoping to hire a sitter for a few hours every week.

These are some other regrets that I hope to change in the coming year:

I plowed myself into a negativity rut.  I was hurt and my vision became clouded, I allowed myself to think in critical, negative patterns.

Sometimes my plow was full of rocks and I failed to take Christ's yoke.

I have never looked back in doubt after taking up my plow to follow Christ, but I am plagued by self-doubt and I have too often begun to plow only to become blocked by fear or discouragement.

I can't make decisions.  I happen, however, to like this "perceiving" function of my personality, so rather than being discouraged because I prefer to keep decisions open, I realize that I need more readily trust the voice of the Spirit within me gently saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

I spent too much time this year looking down at the dirt rather than up at the light.

I need to change.