Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bah Humbug

The extent of my Christmas decorating thus far:


More brain cells die in December than in any other month.

Sometimes I try to get a system going, and surprisingly, it actually works out:

Conversely, sometimes I end up with this:

Friday, October 29, 2010


I have generally found the book of Exodus to be a real downer.  After all God does for those people, how do they repay Him?  Rebellion, disobedience, complaining, and that debacle with the golden calf.  They even go so far as to kvetch about the food. 

The kids and I  have read through the book of Exodus chapter at a time over the past couple of months.  So much of the story I love, and I see its role in the foundation of the people who would bring us Jesus.  But then it gets to the hard part: desert life, complaining, outlandish rebellion, and amazingly long and detailed explanations for the construction of a Tabernacle.  My dilemma was whether we should continue reading or skip all those lengthy details.

We plowed ahead, and a little research into the symbolism and meaning of the implements of worship in the Tabernacle paid off.  Our lessons led to interesting discussions and blessed us, but I was still bothered by the backdrop of disobedience.  It didn't matter that I had read this book before, I couldn't help but wonder if anyone would get out of that desert unpunished and alive.

Then it hit me.  Exodus 39:32 - "Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did." (NASB)

Through it all, there were always people who stayed obedient.   They followed God's instructions.  There is no record of anyone doubting, stealing a little excess gold, or disobeying the instructions.  I dare you, just take a look at the specific instructions God gives for the construction of that Tabernacle.  If I were given these instructions and commanded to build a Tabernacle, I might just sit down and cry.  I was proud of myself for successfully putting together a ready-to-assemble table I bought for my daughters.  Never mind a couple of mysterious pieces left over and instructions written by someone whose native language is Chinese, I put that thing together!  That is the extent of my talent.  A Tabernacle?  No way!  But they did it.  They trusted God when He said that he would give them the skill and the knowledge.  They pressed forward, and relying wholly on God-given skill, they crafted the holy implements, tools and furniture that would serve in the Temple for centuries to come. 

Through it all, through the darkness and confusion, despite being surrounded by people who would never let go of evil, there were obedient and godly ones.  There were people who took a hold of what God had revealed to them through His miracles, and never let go. Suddenly, Exodus is not so enigmatic to me.  Suddenly it is here and now, real and tangible. 

We live in a world where children are still sacrificed, but we have changed the names of the idols.  Pharaohs still rule, but their titles are different.  Golden calves may not be so common, but scratch the surface of so many false things, and that same rebellious spirit is apparent. The good news is that there are still people who hear and obey, people whose hearts are attuned to God's leading, people who use their lives to create something beautiful and holy in service to the Lord.

Thank you Exodus, I needed that fresh, gentle breeze of hope. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

O Pioneers!

" . . . there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years." Willa Cather, O Pioneers!


 A rare experience indeed. This past weekend, I hosted a visitor from the past, someone who died twenty-five years ago, someone who had lived out his life when mine had barely begun - an ancestor.  The form in which my grandfather came to me should have been no surprise: a novel.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather has been around since 1913, so how had I overlooked it for so long?  Maybe I wasn't meant to read it before now; I would have disdained its themes and mocked its deceptive simplicity.  Well, life and wind have weathered me some, and I can see great wisdom in this slim volume.


I must confess that my father's ancestors have always intrigued me more than those in Mom's family.  Vibrant and dramatic, they traveled and lived in exotic places.  The numbered among their ranks refugees, rebels, runaways, and one who met the firing squad for being on the wrong side of politics in his country.  There were enough secrets among them to fill a book about family dysfunction.  My mother's family just did not compare: Swedish farmers in Iowa.  Stoic and undemonstrative, they talked about rainfall and crops.  They shook their heads and wondered at those who had all the sense educated out of them.  They tinkered and puttered and built.


I remember grandpa inspecting his garden daily, handing us sweet peas and green onions to sample. He planted seedlings in egg cartons, made plant food from kitchen scraps, and made his own rose hybrids just to see how they would turn out.  He noted every sunrise and the thickness of morning dew, and knew all the farmers' folklore about geese migrating early and fat squirrels portending a hard winter.


"Her mind was a white book, with clear writing about weather and beasts and growing things.  Not many people would have cared to read it..." 


He was amazingly patient with us kids.  He let us putter with him in the garage, and always found a job suitable for small hands.  He took us fishing, and likely considered it the most glorious thing he could share with us.  There were no movies, no indulgences of candy, toys or praise, and only rare hugs and smiles in his grandfatherly repertoire. 


"There is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon." 


I saw him in countless small details in O Pioneers!  He was Emil without Emil's tragedy, Alexandra without her loneliness.  More than a novel, O Pioneers! is almost an epic poem, painting the beauty and struggle of life on the northern prairie. There is the poignancy of being tied to a hard land, of emmigrating from afar, of a new hope and a new land changing the outer self but only distilling ever more the Scandinavian soul.


"Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields." 


For some people, love is not touches, indulgences, and flowery words.  It is time invested, silent tears shed, sweat, and hard work.  Happiness is not what you put on to show the rest of the world; it is being blessed with productive work, it is green things that shoot forth from the soil at your bidding, and the warm kiss of sun that penetrates the cold.  It is provision, a roof, health, and a life spent in meaningful responsibilities.  How fortunate I was to stumble upon my grandfather in this book, and to see him more clearly twenty-five years out than I did when I was at his side.  And like a dim mirror that reflects darkly, I see a piece of my own soul.


"When the eyes of the flesh are shut, the eyes of the spirit are open."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock, TX 9 October, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Left, Right, and Wrong.

I was that kid, the one who had to learn everything the hard way.  The stubborn one who didn't really listen closely because I was happily doing things my own way.  Living in my blissful oblivion, I even learned right from left the hard way.  Here is my sad tale (wink, wink).

I loved my bike.  It had a banana seat, a horn, a playing card clipped to the spokes, and a basket with big, plastic 70's flowers all over it.  It was blue with the words "li'l gypsy" painted on it.  I think Cindy Brady had a similar bike.  It passed for cool in my estimation.

I could not wait to get home from school and head out on my bike to burn off the pent-up energy, and treat my neighbors to renditions of songs I had learned at summer camp, all sung at the top of my lungs.  For those of you who didn't live in the 70's, little girls wore ugly and garish polyester dresses to school.  We wore tights that gave us our legs a Muppet look and sagged at the ankles by the end of the day.  Under the dress was the obligatory slip, a throwback to the many layers of odd clothing women wore in decades past.  I hated the slip, but Mom made it clear that omitting it was not an option.  Then of course, there was some Mary Jane or Saddle Oxford kind of shoe.  Since my mom apparently relished large piles of laundry, all this wardrobe nonsense was to be discarded upon my arrival home on bus #39, and switched out for equally ugly play clothes, sans slip.  Except I was usually in a hurry, and just tucked that stupid slip into my toughskin pants, threw on a random blouse, and went for my bike.

In the back of my mind, some fuzzy guidance from my mother echoed.  Something about riding my bike in the "right" lane.  There was something important about that, but oh well.  It was more important to me to swerve around pot holes, and pretty much meander any way that suited me.  Plus, I reasoned, "right" is the opposite of "wrong", and how was I supposed to remember right from wrong on such a trivial matter as a neighborhood street?

Now picture me if you will: singing at the top of my lungs, my feet propped up on the handlebars because I was going down a hill at high speed, and leaning into a curve with my view of the road ahead blocked by high shrubs.  Oh yea, it turns out I was in the wrong lane too.  That's when I saw the car.

Whenever I hear of people who have traumatically blocked a memory, I nod in understanding.  I remember seeing a big old 70's whale of a car, the shocked look on the face of the woman driving, and hearing the brakes squeal just like they always did on that cop show we watched on Wednesday nights.  But then I go blank.  I have no memory of my bike going under the car and being twisted beyond repair, no memory of flying through the air across the hood and windshield, and no memory of landing in the street beside the car. 

My next awareness is of actually being in their car, in the back seat.  The driver had two kids who also rode bus #39, and they told their mom how to get to my house.  I was tasting blood, crying like baby, and was sure that death was imminent.  My poor mother, I will not ever forget her face when these people carried me to the door.  If Mom were still alive, I would apologize to her today for having given her such a scare.  I was years away from knowing how frightening life becomes when you carry the love and responsibility of children in your heart.

A nurse friend who lived a few houses away came rushing over.  I got a head to toe exam right there in the living room, and the large crowd that mysteriously and quite suddenly gathered got a big laugh out of the fact that I still had that stupid slip on under my blouse.  Amazingly, not a bone was broken.  The bloody mess on my face was due to a couple of broken teeth.  I would live to ride my bike another day.  Maybe my memory of the accident had been taken by the angel who carried me safely over that car, I may never know.

Long story short, when I had my own kids, I got out a permanent Sharpie, and wrote an R and L on the corresponding hands until they had it figured out.  I wasn't taking my chances.

Friday, September 24, 2010

15 Movies - Part Deux

And rounding out the 15 movies that most impacted me (+1 honorable mention) are the following:

9. Evita - And I never liked Madonna - but she makes a good corrupt politician with a bad reputation. I loved the beautiful location shots in Argentina. Madonna sings from the same balcony that Evita gave her speeches from. I want to learn tango and dance with Antonio Banderas too.

10. Fools Rush In - 2nd favorite chick flick. I love that Salma Hayak is so proudly Mexican-American, and that Matthew Perry is so befuddled and enamored by it. Loads of funny one liners. "Lucy, you got some 'splainin to do!".

11. The Crying Game - I saw this movie when it first came out, and was one of a theater full of people who gasped at the "surprise part". I had a hunch about it, but didn't expect my suspicions to be confirmed in such an in-your-face way. I was taken with the theme of entrapment in the movie. Every time a new character is introduced, you see them as having power over another in the movie. Then you see how they too are entrapped by circumstances.

12. To Live and Die in L.A. - another movie that made an impression but was not a favorite. It deals with police corruption, and even the hero in the movie is not really a good guy. The catch: I saw this in Ecuador, and was acutely aware of how horrid the movie made Americans look. Everyone was staring at my friend and I as we left the theater. Creepy. I swear I never cut off someone's finger. Really.

13. Romancing the Stone - a stupid, frivolous movie that toyed with the ego of a whole nation (Colombia, that is). I saw this right before going to Colombia. It was no preparation whatsoever for what the country was really like. Colombians hated it and booed it out of the theaters. Filmed on location in PANAMA.

14. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - meet So-crates, take Napoleon bowling, and time travel with feisty young Keanu Reeves. 80's escapist humor at it's finest.

15. Hijo de la Novia (Son of the Bride) - an Argentine movie that has so many uncanny parallels to my own family that I swear they just rearranged some details to cover our identities. The protagonist's mother has Alzheimer's, and his father wants to surprise her and grant her wish for the church wedding that they never had. The church won't allow it, so it leads to an elaborate farce that poor Alzheimery Mom can't see through anyway. Funny and touching. I loved the use of almost literary motifs in the movie, such as the protagonist's reading glasses. He only occasionally holds them in front of his eyes to quickly read something in the beginning of the movie, but at the end when he is more happy and comfortable with himself (read: the jerk is redeemed) he wears them unashamedly.


Honorable mention goes to Fast Times at Ridgemont High: my brothers and I had mom convinced that a kid named Jeff Spicoli went to our school and was really pulling all kinds of pranks like ordering pizza during History class. When Mom was ready to call the PTA and raise a storm we had to fess up to our fibs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

15 Movies

Facebook - what can I say?  It is a new creature every day.  Something is always going around, spreading from user to user faster than Swine Flu, only to be replaced by the next big thing in a day or two.  I rarely participate.  I gave in when it came to the movie list.  We were supposed to write about 15 movies that most impacted us.  Notice that the operative word is impacted - not liked or loved.  Here are my first 8:

1. The Breakfast Club - This was SO my High School, and I SO knew all those people. How uncanny that my High School could be summed up in one movie. Were we that much of a cliche? And why didn't they just go ahead and film the thing at my High School?

2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off - If a movie could serve as an anthem to my teen years in the 80's, this one is it. A little rebellion and fun without too much harm done. I also love the fact that Ferris reminds me of one of my brothers (who will not be named here) who was popular and could charm and fool anyone back in the day.

3. Slaughterhouse 5 - This movie impacted me, but is NOT a favorite. I saw it once and never want to see it again. The fickle nature of injustice in the movie had me in tears.

4. Last of the Mohicans - Who paid attention in history class to the French and Indian War? Here is your refresher course. Does away with any sanitized notions of Colonial life that you may have had. Amazing music and stunning filmography.

5. Blackhawk Down - Begins with a well deserved nod to the UNHCR for the get-your-hands-dirty kind of work that they do in war-torn countries, and reminds you why the US was there in the first place. The "making of" on the DVD is a must-see, as we watch the actors attend Delta force and Ranger training. A bonus: Eric Bana saves the day. Did we expect any less? (For a great backdrop on the thug-ocracy that was/is Somalia, read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.)

6. The Sound of Music - A sappy cliche to some, but always a favorite to me. Makes me think of my mother, and I can't watch it without remembering watching it with her when I was a kid, and hearing her comment on her favorite lines and songs. This movie was my childhood introduction to the topic of WWII. Salzburg gets my vote for most beautiful city in Europe. Can I grow edelweiss in Texas?

7. Return to Me - My favorite chick-flick. I love the Chicago-ness of this movie: the pub, the accents, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the old Irish neighborhood where the same families have lived for over a century. Bonnnie Hunt's director's commentary is fun - she cast half her extended family as extras. This was Carroll O'Connor's last movie.

8. Traffic - Some have called it a modern-day "Reefer Madness". So be it, I think it serves as a warning to all that there is no such thing as harmless dabbling with drugs. I like that it digs deep into the underworld of dealers in the US and cartels and corrupt officials in Mexico. My hero is Benicio del Toro, who does his best to work within the system as it is. The movie is short on hope - or is it just realistic?

More to come...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Broken Pieces

It was one of those evenings when our family of five had to be in three places at once.  I felt pulled many directions that day, and made every effort for things to go smoothly.  It was all worth it when my husband and I finally got to the party that evening, a surprise party for Scott's 40th birthday.  My friend Laura had made every effort to to add meaningful and personal touches to the celebration.  Pictures were everywhere that bespoke years of happiness together.  Scott and Laura with friends, Scott and Laura in college, Scott and Laura when they were married, and when they adopted their little girl.  Scott and Laura.  ScottnLaura, really.  And yes, names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.

While we laughed and enjoyed our time with friends, I have to wonder what was going on in Scott's mind.  Yes, he looked a little sheepish, but I chalked it up to being the center of attention, and to being the butt of so many jokes.  Maybe he was thinking that we were all blind fools.  Or maybe he had a moment of clarity and realized that he was the fool.  We laughed all evening, and by the time we went home, I was hoarse.  How blessed we are to have friends like them, I thought.

One week later, let me repeat that, ONE WEEK later Scott did what only he knew was coming.  Well, he and another woman who hadn't been invited to the party.  He left Laura and their daughter, giving the tired old line of not being in love anymore, going through the motions, blah blah, blah.

Now Laura and her daughter will move to be closer to the support of family.  Her daughter Baily is best friends with my daughters, and the tears have been flowing at our house.  Just adding up the losses is astounding: marriage, family, home, identity, community...  How unfair for him to inflict this on Laura and Baily.  Yes, I am angry and shocked.  I know that divorce is common, but statistics are one thing, and people that you care about are quite another.  I grieve for them, and I grieve for my own children as well, because a piece of their innocence was shattered by this too.  My son asked, "If Daddy leaves us, who would take me to Cub Scouts?" 

There is a small subplot that almost gets lost in this sad tale.  While we were at the party, Baily stayed at the house with my daughters.  The girls made a tent, and tied one end of a blanket to a shelf in their room.  This careless mistake caused the shelf to fall, and with it a collection of ceramics.  Things the girls had painted, souvenirs, etc.  Every one of them broke; not one was spared.  They wrapped their collection of broken treasures in a blanket, and realized how foolish they had been.  I was quick to dismiss it as a worthwhile lesson to them, but even I've opened the blanket and fitted the pieces together wondering what can be saved and what must be tossed.  Through this week of tears, I've reconsidered these broken, childish treasures.  I think I need to give it another try, and maybe look for just the right glue to fix them.  Some things in life can be fixed.  I want my kids to know that.

Watching the clock

I'm not a fan of blog posts apologizing for the lack of recent blog posts.  They are as annoying as a poet that writes to bemoan a reluctant pen.  None of that here; the truth is that I have been watching the clock.

The blessing of homeschooling and staying at home with my kids does not preclude the need to be aware of the days and hours as they rush by.  The balance may be all the more delicate because I have taken on the responsibility of home education.  Perhaps I could just stop, slacken the self discipline, and let plans and goals scatter to the ground like autumn leaves.  The consequences would not be immediate, in fact, I might even be able to delude myself that this new approach is superior, but the consequences would come in due time.

There has been much buzz among homeschoolers in my circle about an article in which the author, a college professor, states that he believes homeschooling would be the best option for his yet-unborn daughter.  In the end, he is honest that it probably won't happen.  Time is one of his worries.  Some see a selfish man who did not want to make the sacrifices necessary, but I see something else.  He is counting the cost, and he is insecure.  In my mind, only a fool would not stop to count the cost, and only a deluded person would face this responsibility without trepidation.   Time.  Oh yes, it will cost you.  I'm ok with it, even if it means fewer blog updates.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Sometimes you act like a colossal, spoiled pain in the ass.

No, not YOU you; I'm talking to someone else.

That is all.  Thank you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I'll admit that I feel a little foolish saying that we are mourning the death of our hamster.  People seem to better understand the loss of a dog or cat more so than a glorified rodent.  But our gentle fluff ball of a friend was more to us than that.

If you are not a fan of hamsters, I will not try to change what you feel by saying how adorable, charming, friendly, and curious he was.  But he was.  My mother heart took great pleasure in watching my kids play with him, spoil him, and fuss over him.  What a great way for them to learn responsibility, compassion, and stewardship.  I liked the hammy as much as they did, and before long I loved him as well.

I often wondered what he made of us, these furless giants that wanted to pick him up and pet him.  I sometimes wondered if we were no more than giant hands to him, and if our size was just too great for him to comprehend.  Whatever the case, he had the giant hands trained to feed him, give him treats, and snuggle him while he napped, having long ago lost any fear that nature would have endowed to him.  

Please don't judge me when I say that his death brought up a lot of memories about when my mother died.  First of all, he died the same week that my mother would have turned 70, so she was on my mind anyway.  Second, his death reminded me of the helplessness and powerlessness I felt when Mom died.  As in her case, we knew he was dying, and it was a long time coming.  We were torn between wanting to keep him with us as long as possible, yet not wanting him to suffer.  He was so weak that we helped him eat and drink, but he soon lost the will even for that.  He slept for days in a weak and pathetic limbo, and every morning I was surprised that he was still breathing.  

My mind kept going back to hospice workers talking to us about the death process, and of looking for any clue that would help us guess at the time line of this process.  Who wants to accept that they are out of control of what is happening?  A shallow breath, a twitch= days?  Hours?  

My husband, every bit the big softy when it comes to animals, declared the whole thing a valuable life lesson.  Indeed.  So we did what any big bunch of boobs would do: tears, a funeral, eulogies, and a photo album.  

Then I did what I couldn't do with my mother, or anyone else I have cared for and lost: I went out and bought another hamster.  Our new little Jojo has some big paws to fill, but she has helped to dry the tears and add a note of joy to the house.  Once again, litter is tossed, food is buried, and the wheel squeaks in the middle of the night - music to my ears!

But I still want my old hammy back.  I just do.

broken record

i feel like a broken record  (remember those?)

i'm stuck on a blog post
stuck on a blog post
stuck on a blog post

can't quite get it right, and can't get past it

keep telling myself to move on, the dumb thing can just sit in the draft file

what did we do with a broken record back in the old days?  troubleshoot, clean it off, just throw it away 

will try to take my own advice

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Fort

My brother and I had a secret fort at the side of the house.  It was under an overgrown bush, where the branches arched over us like an opened umbrella, and the size was just perfect for two little kids.  When we hid there no one could see us, which was important, because we knew that war was fast approaching.  It may have looked dirty and unappealing to most, but it  was perfect for hiding, for storing a cache of weapons (rocks, dirt clods, and crab apples), and it allowed us to feel prepared for the danger that could present itself at any time.

The signs were all around us. The adults talked of war sometimes, thinking that we were too busy playing to notice, that our young minds could not follow the complexity of those conversations.  They shushed us when certain reports came on the news, and watched in silence trying not to betray emotion.  The words meant little to me: Viet Cong, body count, land mines.  But the images of destruction, fear, and fire are still alive in my mind.  I saw things that I did not see in my own community, things that I would not have dreamed of if it weren't for those news broadcasts. 

What if we go blind, I asked my brother.  Like that boy with burn marks on his face.  We vowed to go the whole day with blindfolds on just to practice, but we kept cheating and peeking.  What about that child who had lost a leg below the knee?  How could that happen?  Holding up one foot and hopping on the other, we concluded that we wouldn't last too long with just one foot to depend on. 

Local churches began sponsoring refugee families.  As more came, surely the war would follow them, I reasoned.  In my preschool class, a new little girl appeared.  She never spoke to us, and she never smiled.  She played alone, building villages of blocks and quietly destroying them, the whoosh of falling bombs just a whisper that escaped from between her solemn lips.  

One dark evening when the news was on again, I found myself fascinated by the light of the TV dancing across my parents faces.  There were those words again: Ho Chi Minh, Tet, body count...  When the reporter signed off, my mother remarked to my dad: maybe the kids should not be watching these news reports anymore.  It was too late for that, I knew; I already heard the cracks of gunfire in my dreams.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Simple Things.

I've never figured out why people always chuckle when I say that my greatest pleasures in life are the simple pleasures.  After all, that jumbotron sized TV in the family room was my husband's idea. 

Give me a porch swing, a shade tree, and a tall glass of home-brewed iced tea.  Give me that morning coffee from the French press.  There's nothing like the comfort of my own bed after a busy day, and the sweetness of snuggling down into fresh linens.  A child contentedly playing, the friendship of a pet, farmers' market produce, music that puts me in a good mood - all these things I treasure.

But there is one pleasure that tops them all, one that has almost attained the status of a vice: a good read.  I may run low on sleep, dinner may be a bit late, I may go to bed at night leaving laundry forgotten in the dryer, but the book is not neglected.

I'm a sucker for a good yarn.  I love to get inside a character's head, second-guess, and feel my pulse quicken when I know the character has taken an action that will surely bring down an avalanche of trouble upon them.  I like to vicariously fall in love again, make the tough decisions, agonize over the impossible dilemmas.  Lay it on thick, my author friends, I can take it.

Maybe vice is too powerful of a word.  Even though I don't really have that porch swing or shade tree, and even though I seldom bother to make fresh-brewed iced tea, I consider myself to be content.  Day to day reality is embraced, and fortified with that French press coffee, I enjoy my status as mom, homeschooler, wife, tutor, cook, and friend.  I take it all in with gusto... because I know I still have that book waiting for me when a quiet moment comes.

My current read:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

7 a.m.

There is not much to say about my morning walks.  The most challenging part is to simply get out of bed.  Once that is overcome, momentum sets in, and misted with a veil of Deep Woods Off, I step into the gentle morning light.  

No matter how scorching hot the day will become, the morning is kinder.  Truly the earth awakens each day as we do, less bold, saving its assertive and overbearing behavior for later.  The flowers take a tentative peek to the east, and luxuriously begin to stretch out their petals, taking their time in awakening.  The frogs and birds didn't seem to need an alarm to awaken, and there is nothing languid about their approach to the a.m.  Their voices compete for attention, their agendas seem full and frantic; really, it is a wonder they haven't awakened every last slumbering mind in the neighborhood.

The sun is my first cup of morning coffee. The fog clears, and my heart beats in synchronicity with my footfalls.

Good morning God.  Thank you for this gift.  This ordinaryness that I seldom slow down to look at: every towering cloud, the far horizon, the circling swallow, the glisten of dew.  Lord, don't ever let me take this for granted, don't let me stop being mindful of how You surround us.

Mingled with the fragrance of morning flowers, the new mown grass, and the morning damp, my prayers go up.  The friend whose child died, the marriage that needs to be healed, the young mom at church with breast cancer, soldiers far from home.  Peace, protection, health, heart-healing - oh my, it is so much sometimes.  Problems bigger than me that seem to lighten as they lift up in the placid dawn air.

I always stop to be still a few minutes after I return home.  The deep, dreamy conversation that was my walk is as hard to transition out of as sleep itself was earlier.  The list of tasks to be done shows up at the doorstep of my mind unbidden.  The day awaits; it won't be turned away.  It asserts its impatience, and reminds me that there isn't much to say about my morning walks anyway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Je me souviens

A friend's father died just a couple of days ago, and she is struggling to resolve her feelings, remember the good despite the bad, and heal her heart.  Our situations are not quite identical, but I can empathize with the anguish of sorting out the regrets and joys that come when someone so a part of our identity and essence dies.

After my Dad died, a friend of his told me that Dad couldn't believe we loved him so much. He was putting so much weight on his regrets and perceived failures that he just didn't feel that he lived up to the love he was receiving.

I remember a man who for too long identified himself as the son of an alcoholic, who had devastating episodes of depression, and who lost his temper.  He struggled with his work life, and was unemployed numerous times.  

I choose to remember those things about him honestly, but only in the light of so many other memories that I treasure.  I remember the guy who made us kids laugh at the mall by rearranging the wigs on the mannequins.  He took us to a restaurant that let you throw peanut shells on the floor just because he knew we'd have a blast doing it. He taught us faces, noises, and jokes, and may have enjoyed it all more than we did.  He prayed with us at bedtime.

He told us about the crazy pranks he played at boarding school, and made us glad that we didn't have to march in the "bull pen" when we got in trouble.  He explained how he picked bugs off the maid's bug net in Cuba, a required chore before she would get up and make breakfast for him.  He told of being mistaken once for a teen celebrity, and graciously signing autographs for his adoring fans. He made his childhood sound so fun, even though I would later learn that it wasn't always.

He faithfully took us to zoos, doctor's appointments, soccer practice, mountains, and seashores.  He made sure to say that he loved us, and wasn't shy about giving hugs, as I would later find out so many fathers were uncomfortable to do.  He was offered a better job in a bigger city, but turned it down because he didn't want us to experience the upheaval of moving around like he did.  

He came to visit me while I was pregnant with my first child.  He teared up as he walked off the plane and caught sight of my growing belly.  His mother had just died, and he was coming to give me her wedding ring.  Years later he would also give me my own mother's wedding ring.

How quickly he devolved from his vibrant self to his infirm self!  It happened in the space of a day, in the breadth of one late night phone call.  The latent child inside of him surfaced, hungry for love and dependent on others.  Roles reversed.

I still go to bed at night and find myself replaying hospital scenes: the mysterious slumber of a coma, the blessing of friends gathered to pray, the bluffing bravery I donned to question doctors, the chill of waiting rooms.  We began our collection of last times: the last time going through photos, the last phone conversation, the last rambling late-night talk.   

In the end, I put the negative things aside and remembered the love. When I balance this ledger, the bad can be written off.  Oh Dad, don't you know that no matter what regrets we had, love covers over all? (Prov.10:12)  How very human of us to give in to that fallen nature and be dragged down, how divine and beautiful the healing power of love despite it all! 

Thursday, July 15, 2010


"Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." ~Mother Teresa

I'm going to come right out and ask: Should I feel guilty for not attending church every Sunday? For not owning a copy of the Message Bible or attending every Beth Moore study my church offers? For disdaining trends that go through the church and trying to purge buzzwords from my speech? Yikes, I've never read The Purpose Driven Life, and my kids aren't going to VBS this summer. I'm not in a small group.

Don't get me wrong, I believe, I pray, I read the Bible, and I want my life yielded to God's will. I want to love others with His love, and I pray to be a light that shines before men and points them to Him. (a la Matthew 5:16).

The charcoal grill analogy seems to fit here. Pour on some lighter fluid, throw a match on those coals, and you get some impressive flames! But you don't really want to cook on that until the flames settle, and the coals are hot within. The true heat is the greatest and most useful at the same time that the visual effect is less dramatic. That's the kind of Christian I want to be. Maybe not so flamboyant, but giving off some heat and getting some cooking done.

I'm not complaining about my church here, or trying to denigrate anyone's ministry. God is too big for me to say that my approach is the best one. I think that there is a place and a purpose in God's kingdom for an infinite variety of ministries, worship styles, music, and Bible versions. I'm glad that God is that big, because if my little existence could fully mirror Him, He wouldn't be much of a God at all, would He?

What then is my point? Maybe a word of encouragement to myself and to a kindred spirit who may stumble across my thoughts here. Prayerfully seek the ministry that the Lord has given you. Maybe it looks small to the world, but don't be deterred. I believe that sometimes your ministry is truly just your family, and please don't read too much into my use of the word "just". We may never in this life see the fruit of all the seeds we sow.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus instructs us to shine our light before men, so that our good works (i.e. fruit) will point people to God. Consider Galatians 5:22-23 (NASV):
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." I look into my spiritual mirror, and measure these things in my own life. I ask God to help me in the many ways I fall short. I trust Him to use these fruits for His purposes, and to minister to others through me better than I could ever do by my own power.

"Philosophy is the love of wisdom: Christianity is the wisdom of love." ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827

Note: all quotes from:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lolita in Tehran

I had a hard time with Lolita. I read it in a college lit class, and had the benefit of an insightful prof who loved his work. I can see the genius in the writing, I get the whole verbal trompe l'oeil, I understand the concept of the unreliable narrator. What I had trouble getting past was the whole aesthetic treatment of crime; how as a student with an assignment I was as trapped into reading this horror as Lolita was trapped into living it.

Why would young women in Iran want to read and discuss this book? Aren't their lives hard enough?

The author is a professor herself, a lover of English language literature. She uses Lolita and other famous English language works to build a bridge between our cultures. Maybe we are familiar with these works, the author seems to say, maybe the themes speak to us, maybe we can get a glimpse into life in a nation so different from our own.

Entrapment and captivity. Lolita is entrapped by a perverse captor. Women in Tehran are entrapped behind veils, their every move measured, governed, subject to censure. Lolita resonates with them, and I am in the uncomfortable position of suddenly getting insight into the lives of oppressed women.

How would I function in a place like Iran? I was always the proverbial square peg in a round hole, a bit of a rebel, a person who didn't even realize there existed a box from which to think outside of. Oh my, I'd be in trouble. Would I be careless with my veil? Would I give in one too many times to the temptation of lipstick? Would I make eye contact with the wrong person? Surely I would. Would someone see past the veil to the secret rebellion in my heart?

"... I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country, that, by then, in retrospect, was no more than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires and her sobs in the night—every night, every night..." - From Lolita by V. Nabokov

This image from

A Girl Thing

Just when you think that you have your life pretty well under control, watch out.

I was the mother of two little girls. They entertained one another well, toys were shared, and clothes were passed down. As I took my first unsure steps into homeschooling, I saw our hours snuggled on the couch reading as a portent of didactic tranquility to come. One arm for each child, one little hand in each of mine as we stepped out into the world...

You know what happens next. Pregnancy test. Reeling mind. Husband assuring me he is happy to welcome another child into our lives. I get a say in this, right? This will be another girl of course. I have all these girl toys and clothes. I'm in girl-mode.

I don't have anything against boys. I had brothers, my husband had brothers, and we have nephews. Little boys abound just waiting to be borrowed or babysat. I'm not missing anything.

Fast forward to ultrasound. Husband dances for joy. Now really. What kind of cosmic joke is this? I feel that I will forever be lopsided - never quite balanced. I've run out of hands for this job.

I bemoan my circumstances to a friend one day. As we talk, her little cherub of a boy makes himself at home beside me on the couch and rests his head on my buoyant belly. He hands me a copy of "Hop on Pop", and his gentle eyes convey a silent expectation that I will read to him. You know, he is kind of cute. He doesn't even smell bad. I begin, "UP PUP, Pup is up..."

The long night arrives in which my little guy makes his arrival into the world. More than one miracle occurs: he is healthy and whole, and my heart grows a new room. A room just for him. No need for my heart to stretch to fit him in.

At this very moment he is in the next room making his latest duct tape creation. He proudly wears a Cub Scout uniform; he shoots his BB gun at puddles, but wouldn't dream of harming a bird or toad. He blows me kisses. He smells like a dog when he needs a bath, and he still has stuffed animals from when he was a baby. I miss the days when he was content to curl his soft body against mine and look out at the world. But there are cars to play with, scooters to ride, and sisters to pester.

Better Homes

I remember helping my mother straighten the house up before guests arrived. She said in a voice that hinted on desperation that she wanted our house to look like a magazine house before the guests so much as crossed our threshold. So we worked, and the results were nothing that anyone would ever include in a magazine. But it was cozy, it was home, and our friends felt welcomed and comfortable.

It is no wonder that memory sticks with me as I consider my own home. A house from a magazine? Hardly. Don't get me wrong, I've had house envy - not only for homes prettied up for a photo shoot, but real living and breathing homes that human beings actually dwell in. Here are my conclusions about magazine quality homes:

  • It is the owner's hobby to cute it up. This person has a real talent for colors, textiles, and finding cute knick-knacks at little boutiques. This person is artsy-crafty. This person can wield a paintbrush with the skill of Monet, and not make a frustrating mess in the process.
  • Or... this person is an obsessed neatnick perfectionist. Everything has to be a certain way - and sparkling - to measure up. The pressure is on, and this person is going to keep up with whatever demons in their mind prod them on to this level of perfection. Then they will go throw up.
  • Or... this person hires a decorator, is concerned about putting on a show for snobby friends, wants to impress (read intimidate) others. Everything is about appearances.
  • Or... a little of all of the above? I'm not sure.
I've decided to step away from the magazine house illusion (delusion?) and go for a new standard. Tidy. Even that very word is tidy and economical. I want people to feel welcomed, not overwhelmed. I want guests to fearlessly eat from my kitchen and use my bathrooms. I don't want a bunch of extra junk that is not being used. I want there to be a certain order and symmetry to my house that will project a sense of peace and contentment to residents and visitors alike.

So here is what tidy looks like at my house:
  • If it is crammed in a closet and not in open view, it is clean enough.
  • bins! So glad someone invented those.
  • Oh, nasty dust disaster on top of the fridge. I need to do a better job staying on top of that.
  • Anything you set on the counter should be able to be easily lifted off of it - no sticky traps.
  • regular fridge inspections to rid it of anything that looks like a science experiment.
  • a daily cleaning schedule that means that friends can stop by most any time and I will not be utterly mortified at the state of my house.
  • I teach my kids to clean. Even if they don't do as careful of a job as I do, it still looks better when they are done. Good enough.
I'll stick with tidy. It is a realistic goal for me at this stage of my life. Tidy bespeaks sanity and an ordered mind. What more could a mom ask for?