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?