November 27, 2013

Sailing

I love sailing, even though I don't have much experience with it. I like the sounds, the feel of wind scoring my cheeks, and feeling as though I'm in a timeless world. There's just one problem: I get dreadful motion sickness. I start boat trips excitedly, donning my life jacket, ready to soak up sun. But if the water's at all choppy, I'm soon hunkered on a cushion, grimly focusing my gaze on the horizon in an attempt to overwhelm nausea with rigid reason.

Life has had some unexpected curves these last few months. After a deep breath (and maybe a private emotional catharsis or two with God), I search out the horizon so nausea goes away. There have been a few small things in the last couple days that threw me all over again. I thought I understood the day's definition of "normal", only to be upended by seeing more clearly or learning new information -- and I'm back in panicked seasickness.

Gulp. Breathe.

Life narrows for a few seconds to reminding my body what it needs to do, because my unconscious seems to need help (or my conscious brain feels the need to do basic things).

You can do this. It's ok. Everything will be all right.

I don't think I believe my platitudes, but the words keep my thoughts occupied while the ship of my understanding rocks underfoot. When my heart calms a bit, I remember my ballast again, the weight of truth I believe: God is sovereign. Though I'm surprised, this hasn't rocked his world in the slightest. If he needs me to do something, he'll let me know. My job is to find him, my travel buddy, and hold hands.

Breathe again, deeper this time.

I don't like my life being rocked, and I have even bigger issues with those who rock my boat without my permission. I don't even want to think what kind of refining work the latter will take.

For now, I'll keep working on looking for my horizon, the place in my life where heaven meets earth and my off-beat heart finds its truest rhythm. I'm certainly getting a lot of practice these days.

November 19, 2013

Autumn Leaves

I learned long ago that food is most enjoyable when it uses multiple senses. Not just taste, but sight, smell, sound and even texture. Think of the shock through your teeth as you crack off a shard of peanut brittle or toffee. Remove the 'snap' of the fracture, and the experience changes a lot.

Truth tends to seep from one area of my life into the others, and being outside for me means using all of my senses. I just spent a wonderful half hour outside, doing nothing but sitting. Looking, listening, smelling, feeling... I let the wind and November chill and decaying crackle of autumn sink deeper than skin. I use such time to look for God; I believe he is present and his character is scrawled in bold letters in the world around me.

Trees have taught me a lot about truth. Just today, crunching through the leaves hiding out in my garage, I saw leaves in a new way. Leaves are trees' means of trapping and using light. Different trees have different shapes and colors for leaves, but their purpose is the same. Every year, though, a tree gives up its light and hunkers down in hibernation, enduring death until spring. Every fostered method of trapping light becomes nothing more than noise, a rustling heap of refuse to rake. Hearing the crispness of leaves underfoot, I have to ask honestly: how many habits do I have that no longer catch spiritual light for me? They may look pretty, or even fill the air in a tempest and make fascinating noise, but they no longer serve a purpose.

I'm not saying that every spiritual practice should eventually be discarded. Rather, I want to make sure that my ways of looking for light, of working it into the roots of my life, ARE still seeking and finding light. If the habits are only habits, then I want to sever connection with them in preparation for growing new leaves.

September 10, 2013

Desperate

Today, Abba, I was desperate for your voice.

My mind made it a hard day. I mulled over circumstances that bothered me, ways I might help people I love, and the day's list of must-do/have-tos. I didn't feel like I made headway in any direction. It started to feel like I was circling the inside of a brick-walled space, pushing on the walls here and there to no effect, but helplessly continuing to pace my space.

I wanted to hear you.

I kept asking questions. I asked for wisdom. I asked what I should be doing instead. I tried to listen until I heard your answer, but... nothing came back.

Why don't you answer, when I honestly, sincerely, need you? I understand why you don't when my requests are selfish ones, or I'm really just trying to tell you how to do your job, or prove to anyone listening how close we are... then your silence makes sense.

But on a day like today, why do you feel so far away?

In a moment, you showed me a memory of mine.

My child, lost in a game (or book or program or activity), asking me (for the fifth time) what we were going to have for supper.

I didn't answer them, either.

In my silence, I locked eyes on them. I wasn't angry, but calmly, patiently, waiting for them to look at me. I knew the question mattered to them; I knew my answer mattered, too. I knew they wouldn't hear me respond that 5th time--and they'd keep on asking, believing that I wasn't answering.

I wanted to have their attention and their eyes on my face when I answered. I didn't want my answer to be more background noise.

I think sometimes you wait to answer me until you have my attention, until I've made space in my life for your answer. So often I try to cram my exchanges with you into available time. I know you understand that, but thank you for today.

Thank you for allowing me to become desperate.

July 31, 2013

Asking

I could see the process drop through the toggled channels of his brain as he turned to me, appropriate doors and forms sliding into place to meet the understood requirements from past experience.

"Mom, could you please maybe get me some Lego sets for my birthday?"

I have to admire the craft that went into this one sentence. We've talked with our kids about asking for what they want instead of hinting. (Much of this, I'm sure, is my stubbornness in not wanting to become someone who jumps when my child says, "Breakfast!") We've talked about passive-aggressive behavior, the way we try to protect ourselves from hurt and rejection while putting the other person in a manipulated, impossible place. We've talked about manipulation not being real relationship but desire to control. We talk a lot in our family, come to think of it...

Not only did my adored son remember this, he also managed to work in direct address (Mom), courtesy (please), slight distancing so I'd know he was prepared for refusal (maybe), and specific request without being too specific so the gift wasn't a foregone conclusion (Lego sets).

I notice all that, and I'm glad to see that some of the 34,592 reminders have made an impression. I knew, just listening to him, that he was trying to hit that bull's-eye of communication, hitting all the requirements to increase his odds of getting what his heart wants. He wanted me to hear him. He tried to contort his heart into the shape most likely to be heard and accepted (and yes, to get what he wants).

This is so often how I ask God for things. It's less a request and more a convoluted voodoo theology of trying to hit the right format so I won't get hurt even if I don't get what I want. I don't remember the last time I just asked for what I want, without explanations and caveats. I wish we had a bigger house. I wish the yard was bigger. I wish I had more time for X. I wish we had the money to do Y. The requests are there, but they're followed by watery phrases like, but help me to be thankful for what I have or but I want what you want or but only if it's your will. None of these is bad, by the way. They're heart attitudes I want to have. But I believe God knows that without my saying anything. -I believe he knows my heart's desires better than I do, too! When I ask for them, it's not so he'll know what they are, but so I will. If I surround my asking with hedges of protection, I'm the one who ends up muddy in understanding what I think I want.

As he twisted and crafted his words to ask an acceptable question, my son has no way of knowing that we already have a Lego set that joins with one he already has. It was purchased months ago. Long before he ever thought to ask me this morning if I might possibly, maybe (please) get him one.

I'm pretty sure God has done the same for me.


July 30, 2013

Toddler Time

Before my husband & I got engaged, he set us each an assignment: go find someone who is married or has been married, and ask them for one thing they didn't expect from marriage. When I spoke with a friend who had been married and was divorced, she said the joy of tasks like laundry and meals became a chore. She said she was surprised by how quickly the fun became frustrating.

More than a decade later, and I'm still wrestling with that very thing.

Others may be luckier than I in passing through the toddler years; my toddler self never went away. When I see there's laundry to be done, another meal to make, another round of house cleaning to do, I know what's coming. In my head, grown-up meets toddler--and the toddler is frighteningly well-armed with arguments.

I've tried so many methods to MAKE myself do what ought to be done. Force (though no, I haven't tried to spank myself), threats, consequences, pleading, cajoling, and promises of reward don't work or (despite working) leave deeper scars. Please believe me when I say that making yourself feel guilty or ashamed enough to do something causes more damage than you want in the years ahead.

I tried to tell myself that clean laundry was needed or that my children needed to eat--then sneakily dragged my heels, just to see if I meant what I said. When we survived one more day in twice-worn outfits or made do with a thrown-together lunch of crackers, cold cuts, and carrots, my inner toddler took notes. I don't believe that voice in my head that says these "have" to be done a certain way. I have chapter and verse of the proof that they don't.

This morning I talked with God after a few weeks of silence. I've wrestled with teaching my small daughter that manipulating someone to get what you want isn't relationship. I realized this morning that all my interactions with my inner toddler are that: manipulation. What I need is not a fail-safe way to MAKE myself do what is needed in the moment. I need to listen to figure out what motivates my heart to relate to those I love in loving ways.

No, I don't know what this means when it comes time to make supper and empty that dishwasher behind me. I do know the more I think about doing it, the more I see myself as something to control. I know that emptying each dish from the racks will be done better if I'm not scolding myself all the while ("Why did you let these sit here so long? See how little time that took? Why were you whining about it for so long?"). Above all, I know it means I need to stop treating my inner rebel as a toddler, if only because that approach keeps me acting like one.

July 22, 2013

Yes, But

I'm fascinated by learning. We just got back from the library this morning, and among our plastic bin's worth of books, I checked out a few on Mexico's history. I read a chapter of Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth to my kids, then picked up the Mexican history volume about the Spanish Conquest.

The Aztecs have intrigued me before. I've been to Mexico City and climbed a few pyramids. I've read of their amazing engineering (aqueducts, floating agricultural islands called 'chinampas' [right], military schools) and their religious ceremonies. It was a new experience to feel a pang when I started reading about them this morning.

Aztec legends told that once upon a time, their people lived in a garden paradise. They angered a great and powerful god, and were exiled from the garden. They wandered in deserts in northern Mexico, eventually migrating south to the Valley of Mexico. Hated by other tribes, they became fiercely loyal to each other and hired out as mercenary soldiers to warring tribes. They believed all of life was war: the sun didn't rise; light fought the forces of darkness every morning. Rain gods fought foes to water crops. Intervention by the gods was heavily dependent on human choice and action. The gods wanted human hearts, and so entered human sacrifice.

I see again and again that (as Solomon is supposed to have written) there isn't anything new under the sun. I used to feel comfortable reading things like this and thinking them far removed from me. I don't believe in a rain god; I don't cut open prisoners' chests to remove still-beating hearts. Today I read this and saw the our society, our culture, in the Aztecs.

Many of us believe perfection used to exist for the human race and that choices we made created all the bad things around us. Many of us live as though we could get back to perfection again, if only we find the right combination of choices and actions. Many of us believe that each day is a struggle, a fight in which the good or the bad (whether in me or those around me) triumphs.

I feel like we're so close to truth, but miss it. Yes, but... Yes, Paradise is lost, but I need to quit telling myself I can bring it back by my actions and effort. Yes, my choices matter, but I cannot manipulate God into giving me rain, a roof, or a raise by appeasing him. Yes, God wants human hearts, but not the physical tissue of one; he wants the outflow of my thoughts and feelings and impulses directed first toward him. I don't like my selfishness and pride, but I am not able to stop these by trying. They only change as I direct those feelings toward God and listen for his response once I've emptied myself of self.

I didn't expect reading about the Aztecs to make me feel homesick for heaven, but this Aztec poem did just that:
We only came to sleep/ we only came to dream
It is not true, no it is not true/ that we came to live on earth

It has me thinking of my own "yes, but" thin slices of half-truth that I believe, things that lead me to charge forward bravely to capture human hearts. My "yes, but" beliefs that end life instead.

July 12, 2013

Knowledgeable is Not Omniscient

I woke this morning at 4:30. Never mind why. While pondering other things, I decided to take advantage of some quiet in the house and read some of Galatians. This book of the Bible, particularly in the Message rendering (contemporary language) helps me greatly during devotional reading.

While reading in Galatians 4, I had the shock of seeing Adam & Eve's fruit snacking in an entirely different way. It has nothing to do with old earth vs. new earth, allegory vs. literal tale, or anything along those lines. No Lilith, I promise.

I thought about how they ate fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. They were drawn in by the ability to be like God, "knowing good and evil," as the snake promised.

When I'm willing to listen (which happens less often than I would like), I believe my conscience nudges me in identifying good vs. evil. If I feel uneasy about something, I don't do it. Simple enough.

The problem comes in thinking that my 'sense' of what's good and what's bad is the correct interpretation. It's pretty universal that we consider some things good (getting a raise) and some bad (losing a home in a fire). What if that isn't what things look like from God's perspective? What if winning the lottery is actually a bad thing because of the stresses and strains it puts on relationships in the years to come? What if losing that job is actually what frees me up to pursue my abiding passion, the thing I was born to do?

I started thinking along these lines because of some pretty big instances of this in my own life. It seems normal to say that falling 30 feet onto concrete is universally bad. But for our family, it brought many good things into our relationship, increased our time together, and was filled with gratitude throughout. Isn't that backwards? What about King Hezekiah, who was told by a prophet of God that he was going to die? Hezekiah pleaded with God for life, and God gave it to him. But it was after Hezekiah was healed that visitors from Babylon came, and Hezekiah bragged about all he had--paving the way for Babylon to come back and invade Israel when Hezekiah's son was on the throne. If Hezekiah had died initially, the envoys might have considered Jerusalem worth a miss. So... was it good or bad that Hezekiah lived through his illness?

Please don't misunderstand me: I do not ever think it's appropriate to go to someone diagnosed with cancer and tell them that it's a blessing. I wouldn't ever tell someone wrestling with tragedy that they have it wrong and should be rejoicing. I am saying I want room in my life for even my default definitions of what spells 'good' in my life and what is 'bad' to have longer definitions. I've been able to see some long-term harvests that have me wondering. Some of the hardest times for me have brought the greatest benefit, and I say without hesitation that I would go through it again.

Thinking I know what something will do in my life (knowledge of good & evil) is not nearly the same thing as knowing fully what will happen (omniscience).

July 11, 2013

My Son is Crying Because...

As I type wails emanate from my child's bedroom down the hall.

Why? For the simple reason that when he was told to put away some CDs a few days ago, he didn't put papers & discs back in boxes, just unloaded the stack of flotsam on top of the toy workbench in our living room. I decided to put them out of reach for a while. He's not allowed to listen to those particular CDs for today.

This is, apparently, worthy of bewailed "Nooo..... noooo....." laments interspersed with sobs.

If you haven't visited Reasons My Son is Crying on Tumblr, I strongly encourage you to. It is a breathtakingly honest window into parenting. Makes you rethink critiques about parents who "make" or "let" their children cry in public, doesn't it?

The last few days have been rough ones. Some private, difficult news for the grown-ups that wasn't appropriate to dump on the kids means split-personality sorts of days. Trying to sort through thoughts and emotions privately, but not let it change the kids' routine or more interactions with them than I can help.

Parenting means being the grown-up, even when everyone around you gets to be immature. Consider it the grad school of peer group interactions.

It means being patient and self-sacrificing without pointing out how good you are at being patient and self-sacrificing.

It means deciding in a split second what the wise response is, whether your small son exposes himself in public or your daughter accosts an elderly man about how she "could hear you better if you take those things out of your ears!" Intervene, enforce kindness, modesty, courtesy, generosity--and do it calmly, patiently, and generously yourself.

Speaking of which, I need a bit of a time-out myself. In my current frame of mind, I'm having a hard time feeling any sort of sympathy for my son, still crying because he only gets to listen to one Glee CD instead of four.

Before I try to restore my son's sense of proportion, I need to restore some of my own.

June 25, 2013

In Defense of Depression

This afternoon has not been an easy one, and the voices in my head would like me to believe that it's my own fault. If I had done all the laundry, run the dishwasher, cleaned the house, washed the floors, spent more time playing with my kids or taken them on an educational outing, then I wouldn't feel a desperate need to do something, ANYTHING to get away from the accusations in my head that I am less than, worse than, not enough.

Since depression is hard enough to comprehend when you have it, I'm sure it's even more baffling if you don't. Shouldn't a bad mood pass quickly? Why can't the person just choose to think about something else -- or just take one of those medications that are always advertised on TV with line-drawn dark clouds of monsters clinging to the victim? Those commercials baffle me. My monsters have never been cartoons. They are more like the watchers that attach to characters in Babylon 5, invisible but able to strangle its host. The days I dread are the ones when I feel more like Miracle Max in The Princess Bride as his wife Valerie is chasing him around the house chanting, "Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck!" Though the image is funny, I assure you the reality is not. There is no escape from my thoughts and no door I can close so I'm insulated from hurt inflicted inside.

Starting in middle school, I began writing to myself in the third person. Scolding about things I'd said or done, ways I should have been better. No matter the behavior, I didn't measure up and I made sure I knew that to my core. I thought if I made myself feel bad enough, I'd do what I was supposed to do to avoid feeling bad. I know now what I didn't know then: shame and guilt are never motivational.

One night in high school, harassed internally and wanting anything in that moment that would make the pain stop, I opened the bathroom closet, grabbed a bottle at random, opened it and downed the handful of pills I found inside. Suicide may be selfish to the observer, but in that moment I was fully convinced I was doing my family a favor. Someone as incapable, unintelligent, unattractive and valueless as I was better off gone.

The minute I swallowed the pills, clarity returned. I was in terror that I might die without my family knowing why. I wrote a feverish letter explaining it wasn't their fault, but mine. I was terrified to sleep, not knowing if I would wake up or not. I did eventually fall asleep, exhausted physically and emotionally, and woke with only a stomachache as a consequence. I called the poison control hotline in private, and though the woman told me I would be OK, she also said I needed to tell someone what I'd done. My mom happened to be gone, and telling my dad was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It is rare to see my dad cry, but he did that day. I promised him I would never attempt suicide again, and I have never thought of breaking that promise.

It doesn't mean the negative thoughts and feelings are gone.

I still dread late nights when my brain is wide-awake. It is so quick to start cycling through unproductive, accusatory thoughts. I have a habit of trying to distract it with mindless computer games, familiar books, or anything that will tire it out enough so that I fall asleep the instant I climb into bed. I am afraid of wakefulness.

People I know with depression are some of the most courageous people I know. They fight through a host of enemies inside themselves more brutal than they will ever meet in the real world, and they know that a minute can feel longer and more bruising than a month of physical training. Getting anything done at all that they 'should' is a tremendous victory--yet they will be unable to celebrate it, because getting something done so often makes the internal attacks even worse.

Please honor those you know with internal demons. No, they won't reel off a list of what they've accomplished that day, but standing to face the day so often takes everything they have. Make no mistake, though, they are strong and determined.

They wouldn't be breathing if they weren't.

June 19, 2013

Real Simple

I love magazines and organization ideas. I relax when I see order, method, color-coordinated bins and labels, or (joy!) white boards with neat to-do lists.

This is not my reality.

Reality is finding a recipe for corn cakes (how historic! how representative of colonial America! how educational for my children!), 'making' them, [half]baking them, then eating them. I had no idea corn meal + water was so incredibly, inedibly bland. Really. I cannot overstate this fact. Drowning it in syrup was the only way to get the kids to take more than a single bite.

Reality is having my elder child leave the table, then throw up the tiniest bit of historical culinary America. Not on the floor. Not on one of our books. His stomach expressed its opinion of corn cakes on a library book.

Why doesn't Real Simple or Martha Stewart or Pinterest have articles and photos of things like that? Tumblr's "Reasons My Son is Crying" comes closer to my reality. There are so many times in a parent's day when the parent thinks wildly, "Really?! Of all possible responses to this set of circumstances, my child chose THIS? Should I be worried about their mental function? Should I be worried about mine?"

Memory is a funny thing, y'know. I have no memory from childhood of supper being late, thrown-together, or procrastinated. I don't remember a house with toys strewn about, dust collecting, or pet hair accumulating under beds. When I shared this with my mom, though, she gave me a look of deep disbelief and told me that my memory was flawed. My childhood, she assured me, most definitely had all of the above.

This helps me adjust my expectations. Such updates help me fix a skewed perception of 'normal'. These touch points with reality help me understand that though an IKEA spread is great, my kitchen will never, never, never, ever resemble it for longer than 5 minutes together. And that's OK.

The reality is my life contains mess and disorder and unpredictable hiccups--sometimes several times in the course of a single hour. If it comes down to having an air-brushed magazine spread or having life, I choose the unsimple life.

June 17, 2013

A Wrestling

I just finished reading a blog post by a friend, a friend who chose to lay thin-sliced pieces of her heart on the page. In the reading, I realized: writing is a wrestling.

There are many skills and activities that involve striving and attaining. I don't think there are nearly as many that are only a communicated form working out the wrestling inside me. Kneading dough or prepping vegetables with a razor-edged knife (the pleasurable 'snick' of briskly cutting carrot); pounding out a passage of Mendelssohn's "Agitation" or getting into a soothing rhythm of loop and tug, loop and tug, as I crochet -- all of these help me process my thoughts and emotions.

They are never the wrestling for me that writing is.

When I write, and in particular when I sit down with my journal and pen, I bring my internal hairball. Don't know what I'm thinking, don't know exactly what I'm feeling or why, but I know spreading the threads of thought on the page will help me gain clarity.

It is wrestling because I have to find the correct words to trap unknowns, get something unseen onto blank space so that I know what I felt and thought, and perhaps even someone else might understand and identify with my entry, even if I am not there to explain or expound.

Any writer is brave, and this friend is braver than many. Writing on a blog gives the option of editing, of making the words nice and neat, of tying off untidy ends of unfruitful feeling. The best translations of the heart tend to be the ones that leave me more raw in the writing. I'm drained enough after such a piece that I don't have the energy to edit or critique or correct, too close to the feeling to be OK with "making it bleed" with red ink.

I'm proud of my friend. In writing tussles, what counts is getting the words on the page, not pinning the idea neatly to the mat so it can no longer breathe. She succeeded.

June 14, 2013

Collapsed

The bills are piled, high & deep
But I have promises to keep
And words to write before tackling that heap
And words to write before tackling that heap
[with my apologies to Robert Frost]

I'm feeling in a lyric mood. The movie October Sky is a favorite, but I never read the memoir that inspired it until today. Homer Hickam's writing voice is a wonderful one for me. It's very easy for me to get lost in story with that sonorous writing playing in my head.

His father died of black lung, earned from years of coal mining. Homer's relation of a hospital orderly's description of Homer's father's deathbed has caught at me. The imagery holds mesmerizing truth. The orderly described Homer's dad as a small man, which Homer says he wasn't (small, that is) until his father shriveled physically around his lungs, a body shrunk to the size of that which became his primary focus.

Sometimes a thought is powerful enough to stop reading, even reading a story you enjoy.

I've wrestled with (fought with, tried to ignore, tried to analyze, over-analyzed) my internal state. I hate the thought that life might pass by while I'm caught up in navel-gazing, but my organization-oriented mind insists that things going wrong on the surface means that something's awry in the details of the underlying machinery. So I delve. What did I mean by this? Why do I feel like that? Whose responses am I monitoring?

Reading the description of Homer Hickam, Sr. brought a water-splash of reality to all my ponderings. Knowing the who, what, and why can matter. I feel strongly that we are becoming a race of people uncomfortable with waiting and honing wisdom. For all that, I don't want my life to be collapsed around the singular focus of my thoughts and feelings. Not everything that is a focus deserves to be one, after all. I desire to be sociocentric, not egocentric.

I want a life that animates, inspires, or encourages others. A collapsed life waits to be animated or is so consumed with its chosen focus there is no room for others.

I don't want to have a collapsed life. I thought perhaps my mulling might (in sociocentric fashion) help you, too.

June 13, 2013

Ways to Help Moms of Small Children

I'm currently on a high. Why, you ask? For the simple reason that after soccer, my darling bolt of lightning went to go play at a teammate's house until lunchtime. In a move that calls to mind the verse about "cup running over with blessings", the teammate's mom AGREED to this without any hint of hesitation and is even dropping my child off for me around noon!

Which brings me to my point on this post: if you are a mom, you've mostly likely been a mom of small children at some time or another. Even if you didn't journal every detail of the experience or scrapbook it in multi-layered, bejeweled and bestickered splendor, you remember.

You remember that feeling of understanding some days why animals crawl off into the woods to die alone. You remember when whatever food you ate was dictated by what food your children didn't finish. You remember uttering some of your most fervent prayers for just 2 hours -- less than 150 minutes! -- of uninterrupted sleep, when even your mom-dar doesn't have to be turned on for a baby monitor. The memory of changing three diapers in quick succession on the same child, only to have them vomit their hard-fought latest meal all over your shoulder (the day you still, decades later, think of as That Day) -- that memory is still present in your conscious mind.

SO. Instead of giving another mom the stink-eye because her child is acting out at the store in a such a way that the tri-state area hears what's going on, instead of "encouraging" a mom to enjoy every moment because they're over so quickly (which Steve Wiens addresses marvelously here), here are some ways to truly help a mom who has small kids:

1. 1 hour of your time: whether you come to her house or she drops them off at yours (and trust me, she won't mind dropping them off and picking them up), getting time by herself is nirvana. In just 30 minutes, most moms I know could run several errands and possibly even make a grocery run! We're frighteningly efficient when we're operating solo. 'Vacation' means getting groceries alone. Truly.

2. If you know her family's dietary restrictions (depending on allergies, etc.), call her some morning around 10 and ask if she has plans for supper yet; if not, tell her you're taking her supper to her. Better yet, make it something she could use or freeze for later. I nearly weep tears of joy when I know what supper is going to be and it isn't noon yet.

3. In a busy check-out area if you have the time (and no groceries of your own that might melt), offer to hold her baby or watch her kids in the family fun area so she doesn't have to try remembering her PIN number in the midst of questions, tantrums, and pleading. Caveat: this is best reserved for families you know who also know you. It's a little freaky from a stranger.

4. If you have kids who are similar ages, work out a swap with another mom. You both get a time once a week, and no one has to pay a babysitter. Win-win!

5. If hands-on feels more uncomfortable for you (introverts are godly, too), get her a gift card to a local coffee place or non-fast food restaurant (though a gift certificate to a pizza place would certainly work nicely for #2!). She will almost always appreciate more caffeine or a fresh fruit smoothie. Trust me. If the business has a drive-through window, so much the better.

6. If time and money are both tight for you (which I understand and she does, too), seize that moment you see her and say, "You're doing a great job; you really are." Know why you can say this and have it be true? Her kids are likely with her, and she, more than any other person in their little lives, has kept them alive (and allowed them to live) to this point. She's doing a good job. Most moms I've said this to look at me in disbelief, and I see in their eyes the protests that, "You didn't see how loud I yelled this morning over breakfast!" or "I've never made ANYTHING off pinterest for ANY of my kids!" That's another reason you can know that she's doing a great job: she beats herself up regularly most days, worried that she's not doing enough or could be doing more to give each kid their best shot. Many moms I've said this to start crying. God has a way of crossing your path with someone in desperate need of that word you chose to say just that day.

God bless my friend who casually took my hurricane off my hands this morning. I, too, want to train my eyes to see more of these opportunities around me.

June 10, 2013

A Stiff Upper Lip

With the original Antiques Roadshow on the "telly", I end my day as it began, with British accents.

My daughter started soccer camp this morning. As we stood in the group to register her, she informed the coach (unasked) that her name started with a Z. "Zed," he corrected. "No, Z!" she insisted. I intervened to tell her it was called zed in England.

Once she got her size 3 ball (over her protests that she should have a size 4 ball since she is 4), she ran off with a friend and began running, kicking, hollering and having a grand time that had nothing to do with the coaches and group of older kids who were doing warming up routines.

I wondered if I ought to clue in the coaches that she had gone rogue. I kept an eye on the time and tried to tamp down on rising bubbles of angst that rules were being ignored. I told myself that others would need to forge their own relationships with my daughter, for good or for ill. I reasoned with my emotion that we signed her up for the camp to burn energy; playing with a friend was still accomplishing that purpose.

Once all kids were registered, all shirts and balls handed out, the program began. My girl did have a coach who worked wonderfully with her, despite her asking right off the bat why he was wearing jewelry in his nose. Her interest waned right around the one hour end time, which was perfect. We'll go back every morning this week, and I have hopes she might even use her feet more than her hands in handling the ball. The world didn't end because I didn't intervene.

I'm trying to apply that same lesson in my own life right now. Following soccer camp was a consult meeting so I could gain needed information. In the next two weeks, I need to expand a written article (on the oh-so-approachable topic of electrical & construction documentation) by 200-400%.

The feeling of "I have no idea how I'm going to do this" is becoming familiar.

I'm trying to remind myself that many things I worry about never happen. When I question whether I should step in to control or direct things, more often than not the answer is "no". When I grasp for hard facts and figures, I'm trying to predict or ensure a certain outcome.

I'm trying to remember that the whole reason I began freelancing was to become a better writer. No matter how the article turns out (or how long it takes me to write a piece), that goal is being met.

The world won't end when I don't have all the answers.

June 06, 2013

Too Much Manna

I realized something this morning as I was lying in bed, trying to wake my brain up so it could keep pace with my kids, who were up at 7.

I get tired of manna.

In Exodus, the Israelites finally leave Egypt with a bang (Ten Commandments and all that, though I don't think Moses had a voice like Charlton Heston). They get out in the desert--and start worrying about how they'll be fed. Food for thousands of people isn't easily come by on the Sinai peninsula. God's response was to send manna. The Hebrew is manhu, which means "What is it?" That's a word picture that makes me smile, just thinking of someone exiting their tent in the morning, seeing a nearby bush or the ground, a puzzled expression, and: "Manhu?" God provided food out of nowhere, and he did it for forty years. Initial gratitude turned to discontent and complaining, and manna wasn't enough anymore.

Things I have longed for and delighted in become monotonous.

The never-ending nature of so much of being at home full time can be draining. Though you finish all laundry (perhaps even get it all folded and put away), there will be more laundry to do by bedtime--and something "done" turns back into a "to do". It can be hard to motivate yourself to give your best when your investment has little to no bearing on how it's received, such as spending hours in the kitchen to make a new meal--and most family members turn up their noses, leave food on their plates, and leave to go play. I have news for you: telling myself that God loves a cheerful spirit doesn't make me feel better about clearing everything off the table, wrapping up leftovers, and cleaning the kitchen from the meal preparation. A few friends have had kid-free days this week because of summer camp or grandparent visits, and they've remarked on how CLEAN the house remains without kids in the mix.

Too often I look at my daily struggles, the bread of my existence, and tell God I want something different.

I'm tired of manna.

I won't go into the exchange God and the Israelites had about meat, which got heated, but I do want to think about abiding in this situation. Abiding, remaining, being present.

In so many other areas of life, staying in something until it gets boring is actually where the meat begins. Anyone can be pleasant in a relationship for a day or two here or there; the meat of knowing another person is enough time and enough overlap for their foibles to run into yours. Parenting a baby or small child is usually easy for an hour here or there. That's not where I learn the most about myself and my kids. I learn the most during mile 12 of 26: waking at 3 a.m. to hear sounds of throwing up and knowing you're the one on-call; grasping at relaxation techniques as we enter hour 2 of the stand-off at the dinner table, knowing I can't cave and I can't kill my child, either!

The biggest return on investment in life comes when the investment starts to go south, because that's when MY character is revealed. Do I pick something shiny and new and exciting, abandoning a path that's gotten hard? Or do I choose to stay present, sincerely believing that the view from the summit will only get better as the incline gets steeper?

I've thought this morning that I'm tired of manna, but maybe that manna is actually the meat I've wanted all along.

June 05, 2013

Reading Choices

Almost every time I visit a library, I emerge with an armful of books. Books I saw and felt I 'should' read, books that seduced me from an end cap stance, books by authors friends vowed I would love... I feel at home with books.

At the same time, I do not become friends with all books I encounter. In high school, I started reading Grisham's A Time to Kill. The opening scene revolted me enough that I put the book down and didn't pick it up again for 6 months. I had never done that before: chose to sever my relationship with a story and resume it (or not) when I chose.

My senior year in high school I decided so calmly, so naively, to work my way through a typed list of "Classics Every College-Bound Senior Should Read". Not even half-way through the list, I hit Voltaire's Candide. Mid-story, I thought to myself how stupid and irritating the main character was, then had a bedrock thought: Just because someone else considers a book a classic doesn't mean I have to read it. This thought was wonderfully freeing, and I have referenced it again and again.

When my husband came to bed shortly after we married and found me bawling over an inspirational fiction work, he asked me what was wrong. Between sobs, I explained the character's arc that caused my tears. I'll never forget his expression of incredulity as he asked, "All of that happened in one book?!" It pulled my emotions to a screeching halt, and I haven't been able to read that author since, because my mate was right. So much tragedy in such a short time is only credible if you're telling the story of Job.

The book I'm reading right now is another in my list of "I may not finish this" books. I liked the author's prior book (both are memoir-style), but this one is describing choices and character plunges that are hard to read. I don't feel pity or condescension for her, since some choices I've made are of similar shades. I think it's more that calmly reading such choices and continuing on makes me feel complicit or enabling of those choices. I haven't decided whether to finish the story, skim it to get just the gist without all the gritty mess (my psyche feels dragged through others' gutters when I read through too much; it's why I don't ever see myself reading Room, etc.), or return it to the library unread.

Here's something not many bibliophiles discuss: it's OK not to like books. I don't admire someone who loves every single book they encounter without discrimination, any more than I would admire someone who eats every bit of food they find and insists it all tastes good. Lack of discernment is never a positive thing. Despite rave reviews from many people I trust, I have never read any Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, Cather, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Plato, Euripides, Salinger, or many other 'classic' authors. (Please note that my life has, amazingly, not ceased to exist on account of this.)

In Louisa May Alcott's book Rose in Bloom, Uncle Alex tells his teen-aged ward, Rose, "Finish [the book] if you choose--only remember, my girl, that one may read at forty what is unsafe at twenty, and that we never can be too careful what food we give that precious yet perilous thing called imagination." Though closer to forty now than twenty, I still try to weigh the food I give my mind. Not all of what's available is good for it. I still carry within me struggles that are legacies of unwise choices I made in reading decades ago. There are books I might like to read (like GRRM's massive Fire & Ice series) that I know are unsafe for me. There are some I can read that are perhaps unsafe for another person.

I hope you've been lucky enough to find a book (or books) that you love, that help you hear the siren song of who you are meant to be more clearly. If you do read, one way to know where your heart resides is to look at what you re-read. Most writers speak more about what they read (and re-read and re-read) than they do about what they write.

I've resisted setting aside my current book because it's teaching me something I don't already know (who doesn't want to learn the fine art of butchering?); my heart, though, is anxious about what relational messes it could be dragged through to gain that knowledge. Just writing this out, getting the words on the page, helps me see that for now, finishing the book isn't worth it.

Maybe I'll finish it when I'm sixty.

June 04, 2013

Let Him Dream

We signed up for our local summer reading program yesterday. The library was a melee of kids, books, herds of eager desire surrounding the iPads (our library has a few of these for patrons to use), and understanding smiles from adults.

Our family is comprised of readers. When I was expecting our first child, I worried what I would do if he or she didn't like to read. I shared my fear tentatively with a co-worker, and he reassured me with a smile that our kids would tend to be interested in what they saw their parents doing. Were time travel in my power, Nick, I'd come back and agree with you! Particularly since that child's first word was 'book'.

One child is in the grade school reading program, one in the preschool program, and mom in the adult reading program. Three methods of record-keeping and three systems of getting 'prizes' for reading. I don't know how non-administrative moms do this, frankly. It could drive ME nuts. The grand prizes in the grade school program are an American Girl Doll (for the girls) and a Star Wars Lego set (for the boys).

A fire has been ignited in my son's soul.

Because he, too, is an ordered soul, he has taken a timer to the couch in the living room and times how long he reads his various books to himself. He logged 3 hours, 15 minutes and 14 seconds yesterday, went to bed, and went back at it at 6:30 this morning. He stops after every 15 minute chunk of time and colors in another space on his reading log sheet. He told me last night that he wants to turn in 38 sheets by the end of the reading program, which would represent 190 hours of reading.

I adore him for attacking reading so thoroughly, but my maternal instinct is tingling. I don't think he's ever been part of a drawing before. We explained that each completed sheet means he can put a slip with his name in for the drawing, but that only ONE person out of all those names will win the set. Despite the explanations, I still think there might be tears if the one name isn't his. -His odds will certainly be higher if his name is in the drawing 38 times; I just wonder if I should be doing more to press the understanding of probability in this.

Then I remember my baby brother.

My senior year of high school as I pondered colleges and majors, I asked my 6th grade brother what he wanted to be when he grew up. "A professional football player," he replied.
"No, Dan, seriously; what do you want to be?"
"A professional football player."
"Dan, you know the odds against that happening, of having the skill and ability to succeed at even a college level, let alone a professional level! There really isn't a chance of you playing professional football."

I've never forgotten his response: "I'm a sixth-grader, Suze. Let me dream."

So often I seek to protect my kids from the
unkind bumps and bruises of life. If I'm not careful, I will also strip them of chances to soar, to hope, to dream, just because I don't want them to risk falling. Does my boy look statistically likely to win a Lego set for reading? No. Will life continue if he doesn't win it? Yes. Will he have a good summer of excitement and anticipation for reading, even if he doesn't win the set? I think so, yes.

I need to let him dream.

June 01, 2013

Head Above Water

We had a downpour last weekend, and our basement subsequently took on water. This doesn't happen often, and there's usually a good reason: a sump pump died, the city storm drains filled and backed up, or the ground water level is high enough that water wells up through any crack in the floor.

After a trip to the home improvement store, my husband returned with rolls of drainage tile, landscape fabric, and specialty plastic-y things. This weekend was going to be several days of breaking up concrete around the basement's perimeter, laying in drainage tile and gravel, then pouring new concrete. The jackhammer and concrete saw were arranged, we were ready to buy 40 bags of quik-crete (which would only be half of what's needed, we think)--then we saw the forecast for the weekend. 50-60% of rain for last night and much of today.

So... no basement tiling this weekend. My husband is disappointed. He was looking forward to the constructive work, solving the problem, and getting closer to using our basement space for our ever-more-energetic kids.

I like that we're willing to undertake something substantial in a short time frame. What I like more is that, even when moving forward at full speed, we can still decide the wiser choice is to wait a bit longer. Frustrating, yes, but it also means we aren't willfully blind about problems.

The basement needs to be fixed, and we have most of the supplies to do it; we're even willing and able to do it. We just need to wait a few weeks for the ground to dry out more.

I'm sorry you're stuck waiting, though, love of my life; I know the hurry up and wait is frustrating.

May 31, 2013

No Struggle, No Strength

It's amazing how perspective can change. When I was a kid, summer was as close to nirvana as it got: no daily routine, staying up later, gorgeous weather, potential for things like swimming and vacation and popsicles. As an adult, my mind goes to one point and stays there: will we survive a summer with almost the whole family home all day, every day?

How will I navigate the summer's activities (how on earth does June fill up so fast?) and keep the kids busy enough not to kill each other? I recently thought of something I have read about butterflies. If you cut open a cocoon, thinking to spare the butterfly its struggle, you will actually make it impossible for the butterfly to fly. Breaking open the cocoon and using new-formed wings to push out of the casing are what get the wings strong enough to fly.

No struggle means no strength.

Example after example of this truth flooded my mind: I certainly don't expect to build healthy muscle without lifting some sort of weight; I don't acquire skill playing an instrument and understanding music without many hours of practice and study; I've only come to know my kids and predict their behaviors because I've spent many, many hours with them, learning who they are and how they think.

No strength without struggle.

As we head into summer, perhaps you, too, are facing a struggle (even if it's only a first-world problem, like mine). Today I'm trying to view the summer as training program for a marathon. Today I'm trying to think of how much stronger I might be by the time September rolls around.

Today I'm reminding myself that I want more strength, which means I will have more struggles.

May 29, 2013

Headache

I have a headache.

The sort of twinge that warns, "If you don't take migraine-grade meds NOW, I will grow in size until your eyeballs throb at the slightest exposure to light or quaver of sound."

I could come up with a whole list of reasons why I have it. I'm always good at coming up with reasons. Not enough caffeine, too much caffeine, not enough sleep, not drinking enough water, not eating wisely enough, not enough silence to decompress, avoiding household chores, feeling an energy crash post-heavy exposure to children's chattiness...

See? I told you I'm good at reasons.

Usually I want reasons so I can address them, make sure that this combination of circumstances never happens again to put me in a negative or less-than-good place. Reasons to help me believe I can control something I cannot.

My unwitting attempts to control happen a lot, too.

This reminds of God's words to Cain after the murder of Abel: "Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have mastery of you." It reminds me of God's consequence for Eve after eating the fruit: "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

Both of these desires are not friendly, affectionate, cuddly sorts of things. They are desires for control, for things to go the way the desirer wants them to go.

My answer to my desires of this sort have to take a backwards approach. If I try to control my desires to control, I seem to make the problem worse, so... I'm trying to stop finding end-all-and-be-all solutions.

Which leaves me with... I have a headache.

Thinking of Chuck Swindoll's observation that life is 1% what happens to me and 99% how I respond to it, I shall take my headache, put away the mountains of clothing (clean AND folded, miraculously enough!) that occupy my bed, and maybe take a quick nap after that.

May 24, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

When my husband and I had children, we didn't just reproduce ourselves (boy and girl); we apparently cloned ourselves. Our son is my husband's exact personality; our daughter is my mini-me. There are wonderful aspects of this, since my husband can interpret for the boy and I can interpret for the girl.

The girl needs a lot of interpreting.

I am strong willed, and it's safe to say that none of it was diluted in the next generation. I watched her pull herself up into a sitting position on my lap when she was only six weeks old. She started walking around one year, and life got crazy. I didn't finish a single book for six weeks--and I read voraciously, as many as ten books a week. Her first sentence was, "I do it myself." She is rarely easy, laid-back, low-energy, or convenient. Heaven only knows what life will be like when this child can drive! I've lost count of how many times I have called my mom to thank her for letting me live.

Our girl isn't malevolent or even rebellious; she just needs to be convinced in her own mind that what you say is, in fact, true; she also will test to make sure YOU are as committed to what you're saying as you need to be. Her creativity will find loopholes you never knew existed, so that when it seems to YOU that she's disobeyed, she really just spotted a flaw in your logic. Giving her permission for a 2-block walk? She took a 4-block walk by herself, because I hadn't specifically said it had to be 2 blocks and no more. Her next walk was restricted to a one-block walk as part of her consequences--so she went around that one block three times.

Time and time again I marvel, wondering how parents who DON'T have a strong-willed mindset manage not to kill their strong-willed kids. Without knowing how she thinks, it would be easy for me to have thought she was deliberately defying me. Because my brain works the same way, I know her reasoning went the direction of, "I want a walk that's longer than this, but I can't cross any streets or go farther than one block. [Enter the creative problem-solving.] I know! I'll just go around the block multiple times. Everyone's happy!" Instead of snapping at her, I was able to calmly explain that going on a one-block walk meant going around that block one time. I fully expect that she'll experiment to see if there are any time restrictions on how long she takes to circle the one block, by the way. It just hasn't occurred to her yet. It will. She may also trying going around the one block backwards. Or blind-folded. Or on her hands and knees. Or without any clothing.

She goes big or she goes home. Every time up, she is fully committed to whatever her course of action is. It takes effort, energy, and argument to convince her, and you cannot get her to do anything without her agreement. Once she has chosen, though, an entire line of cannon wouldn't get her to recant. She is capable of standing solo against an army.

God created her like this for a reason. We may bear the brunt of bending this will now, but one of the worst things I could do to her is convince her that her creative problem-solving is wrong or that she's impossibly stubborn and won't ever get anything done. Her problem-solving abilities are ones that any number of corporations or creatives would kill to have. She doesn't think outside the box; she's never recognized that a box existed. Her strength of will may be what has her blow the whistle on her corporation someday. It may give her the courage to confront an authority figure with truth on the scale that the prophet Nathan did for King David of Israel.

This courage, this creativity, are absolutely worth fighting for, worth keeping.

Tonight before supper, my princess agreed with her daddy that she would finish all the food on her plate so that she could be the one to pray before the meal. I wondered about the wisdom of it at the time, but it matters to me that our kids have their own relationship with their dad, so said nothing. When supper ended, our girl wasn't nearly done. We had a quick parental confab in the bedroom, and I walked my best friend through how to fight this battle. No engagement, no comments (of the regular, pointed, "You need to finish your supper!" sort), and that we would both keep our distance. I knew at the beginning that bedtime (usually 7) would be off the table. We started supper a little before six, and it's now after 7:50. She's still sitting at the table.

These aren't an every day phenomenon anymore, but they do happen often. I know that if I stay at the table with her, my anger will rise. I know that the more angry and in-her-face I am, she will think the fight is against me instead of within herself. The best thing I can do is disengage: go to another room, find a chore to do, and move on with my life. I only know this because of how my brain works.

When she is done (which could take anywhere from 5 minutes more to another 2 hours; I'm prepared for the fight to go as late as 11), we'll get her into her pajamas, have her brush her teeth, and tuck her into bed. There's no punishment, no consequence, and no residual bitterness from us. Then we will both collapse into bed ourselves!

If you have a strong-willed child and are not one yourself, allow me to thank you. Know that many of the things that drive you insane from day to day are offshoots of the very traits that could allow your child to change the world--it certainly isn't going to force change on them!

Hang in there. The fight is worth it, I promise.

A Touch of Whimsy

A book I read this last week encouraged parents to find their children's passion and encourage them in expressing it. I have known for a long time that my daughter loves performance and creation of all kinds, and one afternoon I struck the mother lode: stories.

I have the portfolio edition of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (author of Jumanji & The Polar Express books that inspired the movies). Each picture is thought-provoking in some way, and there's just a single line caption under each picture. While I rested one afternoon, I showed Zoe a picture and asked her to tell me the story. The plot has holes and the character development is nowhere, but oh, the creativity... It has already become a regular activity for us, whether there's a picture in front of us or not. She has made up stories about creature power suits (a la PBS's Wild Kratts), garbage cans, wandering Kodiak bears, missing harps, and (this morning) her watering can that's molded in the shape of a rubber duckie.

This morning's interest was heightened greatly: an older cousin is currently in art school and wants to be a children's book illustrator. When she heard that my girl loves to make up stories, S encouraged us to write some of them down and send them to her so she could do illustrations for them.

Story #1 has been sent off this morning (it was a mother-daughter collaboration); I feel confident that storytelling will remain in our family line for at least another generation.


Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck's Birthday (Title)
by Z Lightning & S Stanley

Once upon a time there was a watering can duck named Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck (his mistress insisted on giving him an absurdly long name; it's a wonder anyone ever remembered it!). Today was his 85th birthday. He was made of recycled plastic, which is why he was so new, but so old at the same time. He had four legs instead of two so he wouldn't tip over.

Z Lightning (his mistress) told Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck that it was almost time for his birthday. Then, he went to open his presents. Z Lightning gave him all his presents—and there were a lot! One was another watering can duck, a pretty one who looked like him. Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck decided to name it Blanket. The next present he opened was a cow watering can. “I'm sensing a theme to these presents,” he murmured. He decided to name the cow watering can The Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon. “That is a good name!” said the cow. The cow looked kind of like Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck because he was a floating cow like Big Duck was a floating duck. Two presents were left to open. One was a frog watering can. When the paper was torn from the last gift, there was a pig watering can! They were all watering cans! He named the frog watering can Picture and the pig watering can, he named T.V. Computer.

When Big Duck Red Polka-Dotted Orange Yellow Duck saw all of his presents, he wanted to see them water his garden for him while he played supervisor. His garden had tomatoes, carrots to crunch on, and (the shortest thing growing in the garden) a T.V. that showed up there by accident. He sometimes watched cartoons on it. His presents watered the garden, and when they were done, they went back into the house and went downstairs to play. All five watering cans flapped their wings to get downstairs—well, all except the frog, who jumped from puddle to puddle and stair to stair to reach the basement. Picture jumped SO high that his head hit the ceiling! But he didn't get hurt. No blood and no band-aids. The last time he jumped, he hit his head so hard that it hurt him enough to need a band-aid. Forgot the cake. They ate cake. The End

May 23, 2013

Finding Harmony

I've been trying to make harmonies most of my life.

My parents met while singing, and my mom in particular is able to fashion her own part, harmonizing with the melody, with no music in front of her. She knows enough music that she often can predict where the melody is headed, and she hears which intervals will work best with that melody. She's also strong enough to hold her own note in the midst of people singing something different. I inherited this ability from her (though it's a lot easier for me to do if I know the melody).

Though I started in vocal music as a soprano, I'm more of a second soprano to first alto now. I prefer harmonies. The melody is tied down, restricted in where it can go for the song to remain recognizable; the harmonies can go wherever they choose note-wise and rhythm-wise: they just need to complement the melody.

It's about more than music, though. I search out the harmonics in subjects. I can learn something, but I'd rather learn it from a new view or see it through a different lens. I want something that makes the knowledge deeper and richer. I want more rootlets tying new information into the body of existing things I already know. I look for parallels to join in and reinforce (or reinterpret) my knowledge.

Not all harmonies are comforting. Dissonance, one note jarring against another, creates a tension that can then be resolved. That tension heightens awareness of the notes, though. There can be greater relief when dissonance resolves into a placid third interval than if only a third was played from the beginning. Varied harmonies can showcase different perspectives of a note, different glances at the same piece of information.

I search for harmonies. When I see truth in nature, I look for a way that insight can help me understand God better--or my marriage, or my kids, or even how to cook a next entree! If there is misunderstanding, I like to find the common ground between warring parties, trying to help them understand each other's perspective. A melody is singular, but the harmony possibilities are endless.

Harmonizing takes practice (and that willingness to fail). Many of my harmonies are horrible; many of my attempts go nowhere.

I'm still compelled to keep looking.

May 22, 2013

Big Black Dog

The last few days have been glum ones for me, mood-wise. I don't know why. It may be sleep or not drinking enough water, or not enough sunshine or ebbing levels of I don't know what. Knowing a 'why' used to matter more to me, as if knowing the why would somehow allow me to prevent it happening again.

As someone who has had a years' long battle with low-grade depression, may I share something? I understand why my emotions and mind-set don't make sense to someone else. They don't usually make sense to me. My mind is often filled with a litany of reasons why I shouldn't be sad or apathetic. All my reasons don't turn the gray into blue skies. If you know or love someone who has depression, please don't try to fix things. Telling me reasons why I shouldn't be depressed only echoes the voices in my head, usually pushing me further into the realm of "why can't I just get it together and quit being this way?"

"If you got out and exercised, you'd feel better."
I know this makes sense. Movement would help me feel purposeful, and exercise releases endorphins that elevate mood. For whatever reason, my body doesn't work this way. I push, nag, guilt, shame and even browbeat myself to be active--then don't feel better afterwards. I'm only aware of the fact that I DID get myself to do something, so why have I been so lazy up to that point?

"If you'd just do something, no matter how small, you'd feel better."
Again, this makes logical sense to me. I could point to that chore, even if it's only changing the toilet paper roll, and know that I DID do something. It doesn't play out that way for me. I do whatever mental scolding is necessary to accomplish the task, then A-feel shame that I haven't done more up to this point, since I obviously am capable of getting SOMETHING done and B-I fight internal critiques of how I should have done my little chore differently or better or more or sooner or anything other than how I did it. Is it any wonder that I'm not eager to bully myself into a more intense mental battle?

I know a thing or two about handling my black dog of depression now. I don't do well to engage it; I am not strong enough or canny enough to take it down with reason or logic and make it go away. It only seems to grow bigger with attention. I cannot ignore it or deny its existence; it seeps into my life in little ways and shows me up for a liar. My best option right now is distraction. If I am called to do other chores and don't have the time to think about what I feel or why, I don't have the luxury of internal critique. This morning my mood dissipated a little in the melee of clothing, breakfast, morning chores, and maintenance tasks. If chores aren't demanding attention, I seek out sensory things: playing piano, taking a shower, gardening outside, time snuggling with a kid or our very real black dog. (I smile at the irony of my physical black dog standing between me and my figurative black dog of depression.)

If you know someone with depression, please respect that they know themselves better than you do. Be aware that they have spent far more time calculating viable solutions to their problem than you possibly could--they live with the problem every hour of every day. Ask them what sorts of things work to distract or encourage them, or even ask what things make it worse so you can avoid those. Encourage when you can, but focus on simply being present.

May 20, 2013

Undesired Gift

There are gifts you are given that come with no receipt, that cannot be returned for a refund or store credit, no matter how inconvenient or improbable they are. Some days I feel this way about parenting in general, but today it's about something more specific.

I have loved learning my whole life. I learned to read on my own at four, then devoured Nancy Drew mysteries in 1st grade and Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo in 5th grade. Though there were challenging moments for me in school, very few of them were academic. I was in college before I learned how hard it could be to learn. I did fine and got my degree in a challenging major, then entered the corporate world.

My husband grew up similarly. He was speaking in complete sentences by age 18 months and reading before school. He loved detail and rules, Legos and learning. His college/post-college path has had math, philosophy, flying lessons, seminary, and trade work.

With all of this, it doesn't surprise me that our kids both love learning--and reading, too. The so-called gift I want to return this morning is just how good they are at learning.

Before going farther, allow me a disclaimer: families struggle through each day for their children. Some families have incredibly heavy loads to bear due to their child/children's health, mental, emotional, or developmental needs. Usually when I hear a conversation about a 'gifted' child, it is perceived as that parent "complaining" (bragging, really) about how talented little June is and how hard it is to keep up with her. Every other parent in the group tends to feel defensive about their child and want to know where the 'gifted' child (or that child's parent) is lacking. This makes it incredibly hard for a parent of an irregularly intellected kid to communicate their own fears and concerns, to have someone hear how truly terrified they are by their child. I believe every child has a gift that is their own and a passion that only they will express in a particular way. I do not believe every child scores in the 1 out of 1,000 ranking on a test. It's mathematically impossible.

There are times I am scared of my kids. It isn't normal to find out by accident that your 4-yr-old can count by 5s--especially when you don't know where or how they learned it. It can be bone-chilling to have your 3-yr-old give you a run-down of some of Tchaikovsky's work when you didn't even know the child was listening to classical music. It is terrifying to hear your 6-yr-old teach a 3-yr-old sibling how to tessellate and what shapes work to tessellate--then have to go look the word up yourself to figure out what they're talking about so casually. (Tessellating is also known as 'tiling the plain' in mathematics. Shapes that can be laid next to each other without leaving 'gaps' in the tiling can be used for tessellating; squares and triangles work for this, but circles don't.)

How do you handle this as a parent? How do you balance ALL of your child's needs in light of something like this? If we insist on keeping them with age-related peers so they relate to them socially, is that good discipline for them or does it solidify a belief that school isn't where their learning happens? Are we enriching their lives or depriving them of... fill in the blank? Idyllic plans of using flash cards on items around the house to help my kids learn to read are long gone. Any teaching I do for them at home is more a case of trying to find a door for today's passion, then leave it open just a hair. They ignore it or break down the door to learn more. I never really know which it's going to be from one day to the next, but I better have a door ready all the same. It's exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

It is definitely a gift, but still one that is tiring and terrifying at times; a gift I sometimes wish I could return.

May 18, 2013

Play Poem to Ponder

I love language, and I am drawn to those who love its slippery, sinuous beauty. Words are tricky things. Gregory Rabassa says that words acquire meanings as barnacles, each person associating cultural and personal experience to the meaning-weight of a word. There is a word's meaning, but there is also the inherent music of language. Long tones of vowel punctuated with bursts of consonants create a rhythm. Good story tellers know this. They write for the meaning, but they also write for how the words and phrases sound, how they taste when you say them, how much stretch they have for the emotion you bring to them.

As part of my lingual love, I write poetry. I didn't try to. Some days, I don't want to. I've never taken a poetry class and, for all I know, may do everything wrong.

When I write a poem, it's usually out of the overflow of an emotion or direction of thought. Once a week I have the bliss of several hours of solitude. Sometimes when that time goes well, I can respond in some way to what I've thought or written in my journal. More often than not, when the muses are kind, the response takes the form of blank verse (verse with no inherent rhyme or defined meter).

This last week I started my solitude mulling a phrase that occurred to me while listening to my children get lost in their play. "There is no idea in childhood but dreaming makes it so."

I liked the rhythm and consideration in it. In just a few minutes with a whiteboard, I mused some more on our loss of play as adults and what a fall I consider it to be:

There is no hope in childhood
but dreaming makes it so
Reality just a lean away
from dragon wonderlust
Grown ups learn to factor
      & figure
against the odds of ideal
In losing child-like thought
Enchantment's gates rust
And all-uncomprehending,
we beggar our trust

I leave it for you to ponder as well.

May 17, 2013

Against my Will

My children are awake shortly after 6:00 a.m. For the second day in a row. Within 5 minutes of rising from bed, their brains, tongues, and energy are operating at full speed. Mine are most definitely not. I will therefore conclude that rising early yesterday morning AND staying up late in pursuit of solitude was a spectacularly wrong choice.

Few are willing to discuss this topic. It causes much marital strife and can wreak havoc on parent/child relationships. I am referencing the early bird vs. night owl disparity. I married an early bird who is VERY early. My dad made a habit for years of being up at 5, and I was awed. I don't have a response for getting up at 4 or 4:30. On purpose. Consistently. I am of the belief that analog clocks only have 4's so we can see when it's 4 p.m.

In this season of life, I appear to be the sole night owl in the family. This is problematic. There are mornings such as today when I feel dragged into early bird-dom against my will. But when I consider that phrase, "against my will", I have to sigh.

My strong will has led me many places, but the best turns in my path have happened against or in spite of my will. I was bound and determined to be ONLY friends with my now-husband for six months after we met. I was sure we would have kids after at least 5 years of marriage, not just 3 like we had. I vowed I wouldn't move back home. and on and on and on. I am thankful and humbled by how much wealth and growth each of these has added to my life, and I wouldn't wish a single one done differently.

Perhaps the crux of this morning is realizing that choosing to believe Jesus is the son of God, choosing to act as if the gospel is true, means much of LIFE will now be against my will. My will prefers ease, convenience, what's familiar, predictable, and comfortable. I do not default to choices that require self-sacrifice. I do not easily choose another over myself--especially when my brain isn't fully awake and all filters are missing. (Do any other night owls spend much of their morning with their mouths clamped shut, Abba?)

Against my will can be the best thing that ever happened to me.

I'm willing for this morning to be an instance of that, but I still don't think early birds are God's gift or anything. (See? Still no filters.)

May 16, 2013

Gardening

I love gardening. In our last house, I had several roses that I spent time with and made much of. When we bought this house, I had a curious (though compliant) one-year-old. By the time he was 3, I had a new baby. I've been able to have annuals or veggies here and there, but nothing too substantial. When I dream, it's of time and space (and budget) enough to have a true backyard (and front and side and window and indoor) garden.

Yesterday was part of a promise to myself. With small children in tow, I went to a local nursery. I bought their last climbing rose and some fiesta red impatiens, paid the asked for amount (remembered why not every one is willing to pay for roses; ay-yi-yi), and came home. Last night I got to have dirt therapy, for the first time in a LONG time. My rose is ensconced in the back yard, centered on a panel of the fence. As it grows, my aim is to train the canes to run along the fence. Beauty for metal, instead of ashes.

I held off for so long on getting even a single rose because I'd really like to be somewhere else. This is the longest I've lived anywhere since I was a kid, and I'm getting restless. The comparative life in our world goes down so easily: I'd like a house with this, I want a yard like X has, I'd prefer to live in such-and-such state or with view Y. It's rare to hear someone say they want what they already have.

When a gardener plans to transplant something, he/she hardens off the plant. They give it less water, dig up roots and surrounding dirt to ball it in burlap (for larger plants), and wait for it to be less dependent on its surroundings. I finally realized that NOT planting much here was my way of hardening myself off. See, God? No roots. Few attachments. I'm ready to go!

The truth is that no rose or lack of one will have more effect on "making" God do anything. I'm only depriving myself of the joy of gardening in the meantime--and I continue longer in the mistaken belief that my actions have any ability to compel the God of the universe into anything, as though I could back him into a corner. If a rose garden I love is here, the One who knows and loves me is perfectly capable of moving me wherever I need to be--and having a rose garden waiting for me when I get there.

I don't want my gardening to wait until some other place, so yesterday I bought a rose. I've already been out this morning to check on it, reminded of God's care of so many 'gardens' himself.

May 14, 2013

Ha. It's Already Done.

The morning of my wedding, I was awake at 4 a.m. Dreams were not friendly places, and I left bed and went downstairs. I wrote in my journal, and I ate. I had heard enough stories of brides who never got to eat on their wedding day, and I knew friends and family would be asking me, so I ate a bowl of cereal. Even wrote, "I've eaten, so leave me alone!" in the journal entry.

Welcome to the glorious brokenness that is me. Yes, I do right things with wrong motivation. All the time.

I'd like to think I've learned and grown some in the intervening decade or more, but some inner personality bents remain. In a season of life where chaos reigns and my time is more often someone else's rather than mine, I've been fighting for space to write. (My biggest fights, I readily admit, are with myself; writing is not convenient, it's not restful, and only rarely does it feel 'good' while in process or after it's done.) One practical line I could draw was to tell myself I couldn't check facebook before I wrote a blog post for the day.

I hate that I made this rule for myself.

My husband's in bed, my kids are asleep, and it's 'my' time to do restful things before calling it a night. Glancing at the clock, I saw it was after midnight. "If you write a blog post NOW," my creative inner child suggested, "you'd meet the requirement ahead of time. Tomorrow would be free!" (I don't know how my mother avoided strangling me in my younger years. Dealing with this mindset, a 'creativity' toward circumventing rules, is exhausting.)

At the heart of it all, it doesn't matter whether I write a blog entry that rivals a Shakespeare sonnet or a bunch of gibberish on a page. The point is that I believe God gave me a gift that expresses itself through words and phrases. I didn't like practicing for piano lessons all those years ago, and I don't like writing when I make myself write. The time now isn't about production, but about training and reliance. My hours at the piano mean I can close my eyes and still know where my hands are on the keys. Writing regularly means knowing my tools--words, spelling, verbal painting, listening to an inner song--so well that when something DOES need to be said through me... I'll be ready.

My blog entry for May 15th is done, yes; what matters more is I took time in this 24-hour block of time to work on learning my instrument. Perhaps in time my heart will even sing in tune.

If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait 5 Minutes: It'll Change

Never has this adage about Midwestern weather been more appropriate.

Two weeks ago, there was snow coating my front lawn--SNOW. Today, less than 2 weeks later, we surpassed 100 degrees.

I may get whiplash.

There's a glimpse of God in this, though. One day my inner life feels freezing, every effort focused on trying not to snap my family members' heads off with my words. The next day (or two weeks later) I'm in a refining furnace as I deal with consequences of choices or just the circumstances of life. (An unforeseen accident that shattered my mate's rear windshield was on today's list.)

As each new fire or ice threat looms large, I get caught up in it. Sometimes I remember there's life beyond the struggle; sometimes I don't.

I wish I did a better job of remembering weather patterns. We had snow in May, sure, but usually the weather issue of the month is tornadoes. I've lived in the Midwest my entire life; I know when tornadoes could come, and I know what things signal their approach. I know what I can (and can't) do to brace for them. I don't worry that something I've done has somehow upset the balance of the summer and caused the tornado.

So why do I do that for spiritual things? Certain trials come because it's that season of life. Raising kids means a grad-level course in patience, mercy, wisdom, and self-control. Some trials come because of who I am (like tornadoes happening most often in Tornado Alley). The enemy of my soul knows where the chinks in my armor are; attacks via thought or perception often come in areas where I'm insecure.

Storms come and go; they rarely last for weeks. My days of faith and seasons of doubt will ebb and flow; the grace I possess in any and every situation will sometimes shine and sometimes fail. That's OK.

I want to remember that if I don't like my spiritual weather, I can wait 5 minutes; it'll change.

May 11, 2013

Re-wired

My husband knows, more than most, that being a mom is hard work. I could have fallen on the floor and kissed his feet the day he told me he realized that unless I had someone fill in for me during the minutes I had to myself (for a day out, weekend away, etc.), vacation time was not restful for me.

There are levels of awareness when it comes to understanding a full-on, no-limits role. I had no clue what being a full-time mom meant until I was one; they don't give you fine print until after you're on the front lines. It's jarring to realize just how much the role will ask of you. It will often feel like more than you have to give.

The man I married is fully aware of how much effort it can take to run errands with multiple active small children. He knows that preparing a meal and timing things isn't easy. The level he doesn't quite get is that every decision takes me that kind of calculation.

He loves to grill, and I love the smell of charcoal (something primal, there), so he prepped a meat dish for supper tonight. I crashed hard and was deeply asleep when he came to me ~15 minutes before our usual supper time to ask what else we could have to eat. He had mentioned running an errand in town with both kids, and it became apparent that it didn't happen while I was sleeping. As we talked further, the collision of everything (my brain ramping up, supper not decided let alone started, errand not run with husband remarking it would take at least half an hour, and usual kids' bedtimes fast approaching) meant I couldn't restrain the "how could you not understand this ahead of time?" expression on my face.

It's easy to forget how long it takes to learn certain things and learn what options just aren't there. Moms learn it in the trenches, and you don't understand the extent of it until you have to do it every day with no end date. If I don't have a supper plan by 5, my "fast" options are mac & cheese from a box (assuming I have all ingredients), reheated leftovers, or some quick-heat frozen food option. If frozen pizzas aren't in the house, I cannot get some from the store, preheat the oven, cook them, and be ready to eat at 6. It won't happen. If I have an errand to run with the kids and I only have 15 minutes, I'm going alone or I'm not going. Period. --And I only have two kids! I am certain these sorts of plans change drastically for more kids.

I never appreciated all my mom did until I was trying to do her job. John Piper said that motherhood is the big leagues of self-sacrifice, and it is. No personal boundary or preference gets to remain intact, no physical indignity is off the table. We're not saints, and yes, there are times we resent being needed, when we internally whimper, "Why do I have to be the go-to person on this?" So many, many moms follow that whimpered thought with getting up to go do it anyway, though. It's our job.

My mom has been my first teacher, cheerleader, confessor, solace, authority, entertainer, listener, friend, and confidante. The moms in our lives are often our first experience of the fierce tenderness that characterizes God. A line from the movie "The Crow" says that 'Mother' is the name for God on the lips of every child. On the eve of Mother's Day, now a mother myself, I am thankful. My mom did more than just accommodate me in her life, more than rearrange her world. I finally understand that she was willing to rewire her neural circuitry, to change the way she viewed everything and chose anything, for me. Because of her, I have been willing to do the same for my kids. Thank you, Mom.

Wrestling with Alienation


I woke this morning thinking of immigration. I don't remember how or why.

When I grew up my small hometown was a textbook example of homogenized culture. If there was an ethnicity other than northern European, it was likely the semester's transfer student.

Life here has changed, and I am thankful for that. I am glad that my kids can grow up hearing a different language than their own and learn about different cultures and families.

Integration, like any change, comes with a cost. It is common to hear frustration over change, especially if the speaker LIKED where they were and didn't see a need for change. There are many in my area who are conservative Christians. Many exchanges about the topic of immigration include Romans 13:1 – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. This verse is often cited in support of ejecting every immigrant who is here illegally back to their home country. I used to be more swayed by this argument than I am now. When I woke this morning, I was thinking of the reasons my thoughts have changed.
  1. All verses are to be taken in context. In Romans 13, Paul is writing to a house church of Christians in the city of Rome. He wrote to encourage them that in a godless setting like Rome, even the emperors sat on the throne by God's permission. Not all rulers are good. Paul does not tell the house church each rule given by the government is on a par with Scripture and should be obeyed and enforced as such. Roman law required prayer to the emperor as God. I cannot make myself believe Paul is saying to do this; he tells the church to recognize that they are subject to these authorities and to behave in a responsible manner toward those authorities.
  2. The words immediately before this are full of calls to sacrifice. Twenty-one verses contain phrases of (in the Message rendering), “practice playing second fiddle”, “don't quit in hard times”, “love from the center of who you are; don't fake it”, “don't hit back”, “discover beauty in everyone”, “don't insist on getting even”. The last two verses are this (in the NIV): “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” After challenging his readers for twenty verses to live a life of self-sacrifice and overcome evil with good, I cannot use Paul's words about authority (addressed to MY response to authority) as iron-clad reason for someone's else's position with authority to exempt my personal sacrifice.
  3. The parable of the tax collector and pharisee is notable to me because reading it is so likely to prompt the internal thought, “Thank you that I'm not like the Pharisee, God!” – which is EXACTLY the Pharisee's attitude toward the tax collector. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows me two examples of people who followed the law and failed, and someone who set aside what was expected to see the person in front of him. Jesus held up the Samaritan, not the priest or Levite, as the example of how to live. Using Romans 13:1 as the reason I don't have to pay a cost feels uncomfortably like following a law so I don't have to change.
  4. Romans 13:1 also needs to be held along the forty-seven verses from the Pentateuch alone using the word 'alien' that are commandments on how to live. (I didn't even look at the verses for 'aliens', 'alien's', 'stranger', 'foreigner', or 'neighbor'!) Laws are to be the same, whether for alien or native-born. Harvest gatherings are to be left on purpose for the alien. We are called to remember times in our own lives when we have been the stranger, the alien, and reach out to others. If I'm operating from a law standpoint, reading “[God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” in Deuteronomy packs a wallop of a punch. There's no qualification of the alien following all of God's law for Israel before God gives him food and clothing or shows him love. Why is it so easy to look past all of these verses to lean on the one that means I get to do nothing?
  5. The ultimate in selfish motive is revealed in me when my main reason (immigrants aren't obeying the law and shouldn't be here, so I don't have to sacrifice for them) is threatened. Immigration reform is gaining momentum. I am appalled by how many who claim to be in support of law fight SO hard to prevent the law being changed. The arguments are there (loss of jobs, increase in benefits cost, no room/resources for more), but the core issue is all the same: Because I don't want to give up something that's been mine for someone else.
There are other things I've learned (being here illegally is the same class of violation as speeding while driving, which I do so often; realizing I've never asked an immigrant if they're here legally or not before I wrestle with how to respond; being a mom and asking how I'd feel to be taken from my children because I was 10 when I came to the country but they were born here). There is a wealth of national history on this issue. There was a political party oriented around not wanting to ask about immigration status. Asian nationals were barred from entering the U.S. at all for decades. African-Americans had to register, be subject to whites in degrading ways, and were considered by someone as revered as Thomas Jefferson to be less than human. Irish and Italians were considered the dregs of society in the early 1900s. Eastern Europeans were shunned in the 1910s and 1920s as being "less-thans". Civil rights in the 1960s was another years'-long battle about worth and value between different groups of people. This is not new. I think there will come a day when our "us" vs. "them" seems as odd to my descendants as my ancestors' divisions seem to me.

In order to change, I have to be willing to acknowledge that my heart has been wrong. This is hard to do, but necessary. I want to look for God and see who he is, not who I want him to be.