Wednesday, December 4, 2013

on writing each day

Today, I saw fear in the eyes of a hoarder as they said all things that hoarders-in-denial would say.  I witnessed the terror in their eyes as they spoke how it was absolutely necessary that family not enter the house without them present.  With trembling eyes they explained that to allow said family members to go through the home that this person shared with their late parents made them feel like a scared animal backed into a corner.  They went on and on, rationalizing their need to process and control the execution, making excuses for the length of time the project has taken and why they didn’t need any assistance.

I don’t write this jokingly, because even in listening, I felt some of that terror, I sensed the extent of the gripping power this home filled with things had over this individual.  It was in the eyes. Eyes a powerful. A strange presence lingered.  I have never witnessed anything like it.

---

Today, from the window, I watched the rain fall on foggy city streets all decked out with Christmas cheer.  I watched the sun sink below the horizon and then a seemingly sleepy downtown turned into a rows and rows of bright squares before the work day ended. All the people filed out of the buildings and into cars and out of the parking garages, until tomorrow

---

Today, I spoke with a dear friend who is a new mother.  I noticed again the way  motherhood makes her shine with a so much light. I mean, it’s true from most, but with her, it’s radiant.  Do you know what I mean? It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

---

Tonight, in the last minutes before tucking him into bed, I listened to my five year old tell me about his first professional haircut.  All the ordinary details of a  big black cape, hair dryer that was like a fan to blow away the hair, the big mirror, and  the chair that turns round and round.  It sounded magical.

 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

on the stories we find ourselves in

On Sunday evenings, I sweep through the house, tidying in preparation for the new week.  Somehow this ritual has turned into a time of reflection and gratitude for this life, for my people, for the place we laugh, play, and work. 

As I gather strewn clothing and toys, small collections of everyday, I ponder this idea of home-- all the history it carries, all the promise it holds.  The home my parents built belongs someone I don’t know and the structure of my family as it once was has long since ceased to be.  It’s not my favorite subject, but I’ve always said I could write a book about it. One day I will, although it probably wouldn’t be the kind my parents would carry around shouting, “My daughter wrote this book! Read it!” 

But, I do know that I am not doomed to follow in the footsteps of others, even those who so influenced my early days.  There are parts we are given,  parts we do not choose, but I believe with great certainty in the one who collects all the broken pieces and makes something beautiful.  Out of you. Out of me.  In the way that an artist gathers fragments of inspiration, found objects, and slivers of splendor and composes a masterpiece.  It’s the same.  Do you see that?  It’s what we do, because it’s what He does.   In our creating, we reflect the universal story of brokenness, redemption, and promise.  It’s all around.  In scraps of fabric, splatters of paint, strings of words, bits of glass, devastation, loss, darkness, dreams, hope, goodness. Possibilities.

But, yes, I was cleaning on a Sunday evening, as my children played.  Gathering socks and wiping sinks, catching a glimpse of the master artist at work.

.

the wild collected: a moonlit memory

November 16, 2013

In the stillness of the night, by the soft glow of the night light, I told the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to two little children.  First, she climbed into the biggest chair and it was so hard.  “Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.” said Goldilocks, and she jumped down.  His face was sleepy.  I love the way a person’s face calms in the journey to sleep.  On this particular night, he was motionless under the blankets, head turned to the side, sinking deep into the pillow.  Eyelids falling. Opening. Falling again. Goldilocks climbed into Mama Bear’s chair and it was too soft, like a giant marshmallow pillow. (That’s how everyone tells it right?)   And then a smile so iconic of childhood, where a happy idea sweeps into your thoughts and over your face as you fade into slumber. It was a raison d’etre. A celebration of motherhood, childhood, stories, and dreams. Matter so pure, unfiltered life.

I wonder what a giant marshmallow pillow looks like in his head.  

 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

on the part that came next

In the great warm room, full of toys and piles of clothes and extra blankets, a sprawling shadow covered the ceiling where the night light met the wooden bars of the bed. 

“Mama,” he said, in a hushed, sleepy way, “but I can’t find my dreams?” 

“Oh baby, close your eyes and rest.  You’ll find them in your sleep.”

He turned and gave a deep exhale, the freshly bathed hair wild and free burrowing into the pillow.

“Good night, mama.”

---

There is much to say, to continue from where I last wrote.  A place of screaming in the darkness, daring to tighten the grip on hope while surrendering to the process.  Yet, for all the words I’d love to string, it seems the next part has already been written best here.

For the Lord your God has blessed in you all that you have done;  He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness.  These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.” 

Deuteronomy 2:7

 It’s all there. 

We scream into the darkness, the shadows dance, the fears echo; we’re shaken and weary.

And then it cuts through.  Blinding us.  Saturating us. 

Leaving us to stumbling around in its presence.

Speechless and amazed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

on barking cries and the breathing room

Two bites of dinner and a bath without playing, just soaking long enough to wash away one day of sickness.  And then two drowsy, barking seal babies are tucked into bed, as the sun descends.  Minutes later in the bathroom, the steam rises, I hold him close, breath by breath, we wait. Back to bed.  It’s quiet for now.

Relief or its presence is near.  This year has been a whirlwind of change and challenges.  In some ways, I expected the move to be this launch into “arriving,” whatever the hell arriving even means. Instead, we jumped and landed immediately into what felt like a dark forest. We bear scratches from bending branches and the haunting echoes make us tremble.  Did we make the wrong choice? Will we make it out alive? I feel lost and in a daze as so much of the familiar in myself is plucked away and tossed in the flames. The identities and definitions ablaze and I’m a shell of who I thought I was becoming. That which I gathered and stored away, shrivels in the embers.  Survival mode is dramatic, like when he wakes up in tears, gasping for breath.  Again? We’re tired, so very tired.

And yet.

In the bathroom, the reflection from the night light slices the darkness and the steam fills the room. Breathing slows, steady now, hush, we’ll be alright. Barking cries turn to inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale; he melts into my arms.

It’s the night before, same story, and I don’t fall asleep in between the cries.  But in the darkness, the lull of the fan, I feel these words in my soul. That voice.  Still, resounding, certain, and unmistakable.  Yes, this is hard and you feel broken, shaken, and weary, but if you just hold on a little longer, if you don’t let go, and if you’re not afraid to lose some things along the way, you’ll see and you’ll understand. 

The reflection from the night light slices the darkness and the steam fills the room. Breathing slows, steady now, hush, we’ll be alright.  Barking cries turn to inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;

And hastening to its place it rises there again.

Blowing toward the south,

Then turning toward the north,

The wind continues swirling along;

and on its circular courses the wind returns.

All the rivers flow into the sea,

but the sea is not full.

Ecclesiastes 1:5-7

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

on the shoulder raised, elbow arched, off-beat hop of delight.

Dinner is in the oven and every window is open, welcoming fall to stay for as long as it will.   Dead center in the space where the kitchen meets the hall, she begins to build a tower with her stacking blocks.

“Are you watching me?” she asks, as if my answer will determine everything.  So clearly, I’m watching and at the top she places a picture and her toothbrush, essentials for towers, I’m sure.  Next is her signature off-beat hop, wearing one shoe, shoulders raised, elbows arched, eyes twice their lovely size.  She applauds herself and shouts,  “Yes, Hooray!”  She’s part modern day Shirley Temple and part Pippi Longstocking, with all the charm of Shirley and all the stubborn quirky fire of Pippi.

“Will you put your hands like this and clap?” she says next, never ceasing to catch me off-guard.

I am informed that this is not a tower, but a “puurade”, or as you may know it, a parade.  And that brings me to think of all things they say which I will never correct, instead hoping to collect these little bits in an indestructible time capsule for always.  You know the ones, you can add yours too, if you like.  Like, how I need to hold you is really will you hold me?  And the way her brother first said, W, that made it last for approximately 18 syllables. It’s since become regular old W, three years later, but it was marvelous while it lasted.

Sometimes, I feel like I have nothing to write, because today I drank coffee, made breakfast, washed clothes, and had a picnic in the grass, which was short lived because the bugs were extra hoppy and hungry.  We collected flowers and autumn leaves and I held these not so small creatures as we read stories about nut-brown hares, Elmo, and Jesus. We did a reading lesson and probably, I watched Friday Night Lights while my boy played a game on my phone, during naptime.  Nothing major, but everything.  I should never believe that I have nothing to write, but sometimes, I do.  For when I begin a string of words, life unravels on the page, rich with the sweet nothings of noticing and remembering. 

And now they’re dancing to that damn reindeer dog with batteries that refuse to surrender.  In the glorious September sun that casts long lines across the floor, they all sing jingle bell rock.  I think I detect a bit of quivering in the sound recording, but it’s probably wishful thinking.

 

| Linking up with Heather and all those who Just Write.|

Thursday, September 19, 2013

September 19, 2013: a note

We bob along, carried by the current, ideas and dreams in tow. 

Wondering if we’ve already passed this place and how many times. 

Questioning.

Uncertain, yet, certain.

Weary, but willing to be transformed. 

Weary, but willing to discover the path that we have been invited to travel.

Bobbing along, puzzled at the rate of this journey,

Fueled only by the gentle wind that whispers hope in the rustling leaves and the rippling waters.

Monday, September 2, 2013

on butterfly wings and roaring lions

He doesn’t want to try hard things.  When he doesn’t understand or it doesn’t come easily, he wants to give up, going back to something he knows, to the safety of the familiar.  Inside, this war wages,  the adventurous dreamer wants to shout, Try it! Don’t be afraid! YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS! I want to shake it free, the resting brave and fearless in him, the belief that with work, he can do anything.  But he’s always been cautious, slow to embrace what isn’t his own idea.  The entire world is discovered and understood at his own pace, while imagination soars.   The creative mother in me understands that and wants to protect that light in him, the tender speed at which he moves and sees and learns and plays, uninterested in timelines or charts of progression.

He’s pensive and feels deeply, a soul at peace, unless he’s pushed too hard or he senses tension.    He’s wild and happy, eager to make people laugh and smile. Then stubborn, in a rooted, brooding, silence, the most dangerous kind.

His father often sits down with him and says, “I understand, because I was just like you, when I was your age, I know it’s frustrating when...”  For he sees the young version of himself in our son.

How do we encourage a little bird to test out his wings, while protecting its fragile spirit?  Oh, it’s a monster of an idea, that we are entrusted with these wild and wonderful creatures, with the roar of a lion hidden beneath the fragility of a butterfly wing. (sometimes the opposite.) And the world is capable of so much good and so much evil.  As are we. 

This morning, we wrote the alphabet on a large white sheet of paper and used found objects to mimic their shapes. He found a stick of artist’s charcoal and started to draw.  After a while, on his own he began writing a few wobbly letters, something he hasn’t done without instruction. In that moment, I wanted to proclaim all the reasons why I knew he could do it and why he just had to try and so many other bits of evidence for my case, but I didn’t, because that would have been mostly about me.  Instead, I softly asked, Is that an H? Did you make a P?  In that quiet knowing way, he answered, I did.

See, I wonder if these great reservoirs exist inside our children and maybe we have to say it a million times. Perhaps, we grow weary and wonder if it makes a difference. And sometimes, when we least expect, the water spills over the top, a burst of confidence trickles down, and they do the hard thing, they just do. 

You can do hard things, we say, and drop by drop, the reservoir fills. 

One day soon, he’s going to write all the letters and create the most unbelievable stories and he’ll finally figure out that whole bike pedaling thing, and we’ll watch him streak down the path like the brave rescue hero that he is.  One day that hard thing won’t be so hard anymore, but he’ll face something new, which will shake him and stretch him once again.

You can do hard things, we say, and drop by drop, the reservoir fills.

This parenting thing, it’s serious. It infuriating and mesmerizing. Just when we catch our breath, we face something new.  And each time, we’re quite certain, we can’t contend.  But, you know what I think?  What we tell these fragile, wild creatures, what we know to be true, it no different for us. 

The message, the reservoirs, the moments of break-through.

You can do hard things. 

We’re all wild and fragile creatures capable of achieving the unimaginable.  We are the butterfly wing and the lion’s roar. And we must fill the reservoirs.

 

Just Write

 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In the sixth year

It was the sixth year and it began on the northern shores of Lake Superior where the crashing waves met the jagged rocks composing the most beautiful of symphonies.  The wild, bitter winds crashed along the point where artists come for inspiration and to be small before the power of nature, as the shoreline burst forth in green and one lighthouse stood tall and strong. The fireplace crackled as they relished in a sweet reprieve.

Four states and two kids later, they once again found themselves hearing the call of adventure.   Change whispered in the daylight and roared by the light of the moon.  It was a small sense, but the biggest things begin that way, and it lingered through the autumn and into the winter; which lingers in Minnesota.  They looked into the expanse of the unknown, knowing only this, not here, this is not home.   His family remained un-plucked from their roots, but hers was long since spread, severed, and scattered to begin again in new fragments.  The idea of home, for these two adventuring souls seemed something attainable by all but them. The way that most understand the very thing they seek and struggle to find.  And perhaps home ceased to be a geographical location, but a spirit of living, but whatever the bewildering definition, it wasn’t this.

With the switching of calendars it came, and in months the pieces fell into place, as a sense of disbelief lingered in the air.  Could it be this easy? Is this really happening? And the truck was filled to capacity, no empty space was left in the family car as they drove away one March morning,  as the sun rose in the rear view mirror, over the snow covered ground.

They traveled east through the mountains and as they descended upon the new place, on the opposite coast of where this story began. A wave of welcome met them there, with familiar faces, helping hands and iced coffee.  It was a sweet and comforting lining that softened the new.

Then the hard began.  The part where huge, daring, and brave ideals collide with reality.  Children uprooted, searching for jobs in this shifting era,  the exhaustion of it all hitting at once.  The aftermath of the jump.  The part dreamers rarely see, which is a blessing and a curse, for it makes acting easier, but the landing is more brutal. 

Together, they knew and believed, remembering the voice that had lead them this far.  Long days of doing and praying and waiting came.   Little bits of reprieve were strategically placed in between what would feel like the greatest challenge to date. This was hard.  In the long looks and quiet, tired smiles, they remembered the long list of impossibilities and challenges that had long since passed, surely we’ll get to the other side of this too.  The collection from years one through five had prepared them, even when they felt stretched beyond all possibility.  The foundation had been laid, fortified by time and grace and love.

It was a year both weary and wonderful, where long awaited prayers were answered on the path littered with many new, because all the best and most beautiful things are worth giving every drop you can muster, loving with every inch and fiber, and living fearlessly into the unknown.  And when you think it’s too hard or too long, love squeezes your hand, walking beside you, sleeping by your side. 

In the sixth year,  they dreamed and launched forward with wild, daring hope.  They loved, laughed, and held on in the dark, when nothing else seemed certain, but the constant that surrounded them. Little children kept growing, bringing new magic and naturally, new challenge.  Memories were etched into the story.  The days were long, difficult, and beautiful, as the building years are. 

It was the end of year six and they looked forward with wild hope, strengthened by a fiery love, and the journey.

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23, 2013: a note

The house was silent.  I walked into the kitchen as a golden burst rose from the dip in the trees and painted the room with a radiant, good morning.  The color so rich, it could almost be heard.  I imagine it would sound like a million sparkling prisms dancing and a shop wall.

My body captivated, my eyes alive in the golden room.

Then came the grinding of the beans, the filling of the kettle, rattling as it was placed on the stove, and soon traces of a little conversation between those two.

A new day.

 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20, 2013: a note

"Do you want this mama?" He asked, handing me three connected blocks that he'd been carrying around all day.

In his face, I could see the grand gesture.

I looked a minute longer into his giving eyes and said, yes.

I didn't know exactly why I wanted it, but it seemed important.

Then I was instructed that I could use it to fight like a Ninja Turtle.

So, clearly, I made the right choice.

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013: a note

The light in her eyes and smile on her face before she turns toward the hallway in what is a mesmerizing combination of flight and dance.  Never just a walk, but a fully engaged offbeat choreography. Her small shoulders rise, her feet prance, arms floating in the air to the melody in her head.  It must be the most beautiful song.  Her long hair swishes and she’s gone.  But, always the pause and the wild, knowing eyes. 

 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On sharecroppers and struggles in light of today

I’m reading Grapes of Wrath for the first time.  Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school and obtain an English degree without having to open its pages and I’m so glad, because I think young Olivia couldn’t have seen it as it should be seen.  And in some ways I’ll probably never be able to understand, because as I let the story sink in, as its cruel, maddening realities unfold before my eyes, it makes me wonder if I’ve ever struggled a day in my life.  At all.

Not to belittle trials and tough seasons of the modern day for they are hard in their own right, but comparatively, it all seems to be just a pile of inconveniences.  This morning, we loaded our family and three heaping baskets into the car and drove safely down the road to a Laundromat.  Our own laundry room off the kitchen still sits without a washer and dryer, as we wait and save or wait to be able to save, but this morning, it didn’t bother me.  Growing up in the suburbs, I’ve always held the belief that Laundromats are shady places, but they are just places that must exist, because people need to wash clothes and it’s not actually a right of residency to have your own machines.  There have been years where our apartment complex didn’t have laundry hook-ups in unit and there were years where we had our own, but it’s just a part of this whole big thing of life.  A people thing.  And truthfully, in one and a half hours, I knocked out three weeks of laundry for four people, I couldn’t have done that at home.   My clothes filled half the row of washers and the circular windows were a blur of color and soapy water.  One by one, the loads were transported in the cart that always reminds of the one episode of Friends, where Rachel washes her own laundry for the first time and Ross falls even more hopelessly for her.  The massive dryers tumbled until the clothes were folded and again, packed away.

As I sorted and folded, I thought about the things we allow to be such great inconveniences and I thought about the Joad family, from the book.  It’s night and day, what we call struggle, what we believe to be a hardship.  And I don’t want to be that kind of person.  The Dust Bowl era destroyed the lands, sucking the life out of fields and farms. The farmers worked tirelessly to salvage the land, but the crops failed, so the money didn’t come in, and the banks took back the land.  The land where their children were born and the elderly died.  The land was a part of them, until the banks wanted profit and saw people as interferences and kicked them off the land.  The tractors destroyed jobs and homes, turning legacies to rumble.  So, the masses fled West, with the hopes of greener lands and jobs.  An exodus that became something of a nightmare and the Californians didn’t want the Okies, no longer farmers, but considered migrants, who were forced to resident in little camps on the outskirts of town.  They were treated as foreigners, trouble, good for nothing, and dirty, but all they wanted was to work hard and raise their families, to have a little home and be respectful people.  The orchards dumped truckloads of oranges into the river to rot as children died of hunger.  I wonder if anything has really changed in the world at all, but that’s another thought.

Once California belonged to Mexico and its land to Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in.  And such was their hunger for land that they took the land—stole Sutter’s land, Guerrero’s land, took the grants and broke them up and growled and quarreled over them, those frantic hungry men; and they guarded with guns the land they had stolen.  They put houses and barns, they turned the earth and planted crops.  And these things were possession, and possession was ownership.

The Mexicans were weak and fed.  They could not resist, because they wanted nothing in the world as ferociously as the Americans wanted land.  Then, with time, the squatters were no longer squatters, but owners; and their children grew up and children had the land.  And the hunger was gone from them, the feral hunger, the gnawing, tearing hunger for land, for waters and earth and the good sky over it, for the green thrusting grass, for the swelling roots  They had these things so completely that did they did not know about them anymore.  (Chapter 19)

It’s the last line that grips me, They had these things so completely that did they did not know about them anymore.  It tumbles in head like the the towels in the dryer, again and again, each time bringing more understanding and more questions.  I think we are these children of the squatters, the offspring of a generation that achieved a way of life, a certain standard of living.  And I think we’ve forgotten that a good life is not easily achieved, but full of labor.  It’s ripe with hard times and monotonous realities, like laundry and dishes and paying bills, but such things are actually not the struggle. We wash clothes without hauling waters and heating it on a stove, we clean our dishes in sinks of hot, clean water or at the touch of a few buttons and we pay bills, because we have things, like homes and electricity.  We deem it all as inconveniences and create struggles out of our abundance and ease.  Struggles are real and they abound, but they are not these things.

Recently, I was speaking with a dear friend, a mother of three young children and she said, “These are working years, laboring years.  We do our best. We give and love until we collapse at the end of the day with the satisfaction of knowing that we loved, worked, and lived.”  I imagine the people of the 1930’s were not much different than us, but they knew that all of life was hard work, sprinkled with little bits of rest and reward. Sometimes, I think our society glamourizes the opposite until we come to believe it is an essential right of being a first world citizen.  Sometimes, I think we see the years of work our parent’s generation put in and think we can obtain it all right away, fresh out of college with two little ones in tow.  We forget the building years, or worse, see them as an inconvenience. 

And I think we are also the children of the sharecroppers, because the way of life our parents and their parents knew and lived, is now fading.  Perhaps, we are fighting to hold on to the remnants, but the shift is here. They went to college, walked into good jobs and worked until they retired.  So, we went to college too and for some, the transition was easier, but for many, it hasn’t been.  The jobs were few and the over-qualified, college educated were plenty.  We see it every day and the tension grows and I wonder just what our revolt will be.  I wonder what exodus we will make that will write the next chapter of history, the way the sharecroppers did. 

They had these things so completely that did they did not know about them anymore. 

 

 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

August 4, 2013

A Sunday morning congregation of black birds and brown-breasted robins have gathered in my backyard.  Two squirrels nibble away unnoticed and one cardinal has made a stately appearance, perched on the fence. The grass sparkles with dew in the early sun and a spirited gust of wind just shook lingering rain drops from the leaves.  I observe from my kitchen window after successfully crossing the vast hall into the kitchen, passing the children’s door, using my greatest stealth moves in order to brew water for coffee and cut a slice of espresso pumpkin bread.

I selected a small handful of cherry tomatoes from a brown paper bag that a friend sent home with us, passing along the bounty of another friend’s garden.  Surely, a garden tomato is one of God’s most marvelous creations.  The mass produced-store bought frauds are nothing compared to these and they cloud our minds with what real is until the flavors burst in your mouth, awakening your taste buds with glimpses of heaven.  I contemplated hiding them from the other tomato lover in the house, the little one who shoves them in her mouth and lets the juices cascade down her chin, but depriving her of that joy seems like it would rob the world of its color.  The males in this house have no idea what they are missing and selfishly, we will eat them all.

The feathered ones collect their fill, the after-a-rain special and I understand in this moment the intensity of his love towards us.  My backyard is filled with pecking birds and perching birds and swooping birds being sustained and nourished.  And I wonder if he didn’t send them for these few minutes to remind me in this quiet pause before the day fills with doing and noise.   Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26  It feels extravagant this morning, that my willingness to rise early would be rewarded so.  And that when I begin the day with seeking eyes, I will find exactly what I need. 

Church bells will sound at eleven from the tower of the old brick church down the street, the one with grand steps and luminous stained glass. But this morning, I’ve already heard the timeless message they will ring, in the silence and tomatoes and birds.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 28, 2013: a small treasure

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very very near to a world of wonderful beauty.  Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely—went swiftly leaving her breathless with the inexplicable delight of it.  She could never recall it—never summon it—never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days.  It never came twice with the same thing.  To-night the dark boughs against the far-off sky had given it.  It had come with a high, wild note in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lightning on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of “holy, holy, holy'” in church, with a  glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice-palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down, a “description” of something.  And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious, thing of persistent beauty.

Excerpt from Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery

Thursday, July 25, 2013

on the bravery within and things never to forget

Between towering vacation homes squished tall and snug, we followed the public boardwalk that stretched long and narrow.  And then before us, the expanse.

I walked behind him, as my boy met the sea, months before his fifth birthday.  His plaid blue hat atop his head. He stopped at the edge where the railing turned to meet the stairs, the stairs covered in sand, and his head turned to the left and to the right and back again.  Quietly, he observed, as is his nature.

And after contentment rushed through my bones, the kind that only comes in this place where my soul is at home, I took his hand and said, “Come on!”

We walked together on the sand. He was cautious and when I tried to walk him to where the water splashed our toes, he shivered and reached out to be held.  The winds were strong, the waves crashed, he was so small before the sea.  I held him close and spoke in his ear, isn’t it beautiful?  It’s my favorite.  This is where God lives.  Or, rather this is where you can always find him, if ever you aren’t sure. Intrigue slipped through his trembling eyes. His sister was scared too, which is uncommon for our Wild Eyes, but she saw her brother afraid and so she would be too.

The tide was low and they played in a small pool far from the waves, where giant rocks, covered in a slippery green grass, created shallow streams and caverns. A safe haven of exploration and wonder.  Every so often, they’d look out towards the greatness before them, not yet ready.  Matt and I jumped in the waves while Gigi and Allan built sand castles and collected shells.  We let the waves thrash us around. It was therapy as life and its adult heaviness melted in the power of the water, in the place where God lives.  We could be seen, but not heard in our bubble-sound-barrier of the wind and waves. We were like children and we were free.  And we flirted in wildly appropriate ways. 

We talked about how we want our children to be brave. They looked so small down the shore, playing in the sand.  We talked about how we want them to live with abandon and delight in the wonder of nature, to be able to feel him so closely in places like this, because we do -- so very much. 

We returned, scooped them up, and carried them the water’s edge.  They clung tightly as ever one could.  And safely in our arms we jumped and laughed until they did too.  We sat down and the water splashed over us.  Their cautious laughter grew into certainty, the shaking stopped, and then they stood on their own.  The salt water spray was still shocking, but no longer terrifying.

I want to remember it forever, the way he was brave first, the way his laughter started and then she followed his lead.  How he was then standing on his own, radiant with courage.  Sometimes, he’d fall and the water would wash over him, sending him running up the shore, but he’d turn right back toward the sea and try again.  She stayed close and gripped Daddy’s hands, but her little body shrieked with joy. 

They didn’t want to stop for lunch. They didn’t want to leave. And the days later, in the tiny kiddie pool at home they showed me how they jumped in the waves, like this, mom, like this.

-----

life is not easy and it was never intended to be, for a life well-lived will always be overflowing with maddening goodness and breath-taking badness, with easy and hard, and with wondrous beauty and ferocious ugly.   and you’ll be tired and weary, you’ll question and fear, you’ll feel confusion and doubt. 

i hope you’ll always know that when the world is dark and you’re absolutely unsure of everything that you’ll find him at the water’s edge.  you’ll see his power in the thundering waves that smash upon the shore.  you’ll feel him in the salty spray that covers you, in the wind that sweeps up your hair and makes it dance.  you’ll marvel in the sunlight and moonlight that sparkles across the water. and that you’ll know in this moment, when you stand before the great big sea, that the creator of the universe is with you.  and find his boundless love pouring out in the roaring and crashing and spraying and sparkling. 

my darlings, if you dare to live, you’ll often be lonely. if you dare to dream, you’ll have to jump into the unknown and sometimes the unknown will be more like a place where you set up camp and stay for a while, rather a brief moment or a quick visit.  you’ll face opposition in a world full of logic and reason and the masses won’t understand.  and you’ll feel small, oh so small, but, my dear ones,  be brave, be free, be strong.  his love is an ocean.

 

 

 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On neighborhood plotting, cat cartel happenings, and a show

Happenings around the neighborhood have been minimal lately, mostly due to summer and the way it greets you at the front door with a big, wet slap of humidity and rain. Humidity and rain. Humidity and rain. Repeat.  We’ve been spending most out of time in the backyard, the kids by the pool, while I hide from the sun, which is public enemy number one to my fair skin.

But, this has not hindered my calculations to become friends with a certain neighbor who is in possession of one hydrangea bush that is falling over and in desperate need of my pruning.  Or is my table just in desperate need of its blossoms? The line is blurry, I can’t say for sure.  I’ve never actually seen the people who live there and perhaps I could coax some information out of Ophelia, next door.  One can never be too informed on such matters. I know for certain, they don’t appreciate it like I would.  It’s the deepest blue, almost violet and it’s breathtaking.  Stay tuned.

Recently, one Sunday morning, when a coolness still lingered in the air, I tiptoed out the door to the front porch, managing to make a cup of tea and gather a book and journal without waking the children.  The street was still, except for one lone ranger of a man doing yard work before the hot hot heat (remember them) and Rose.  Yes, Rose the godmother of the cat cartel, as deemed by a friend.  Let me paint a picture for you, from the top down.  Fiery red hair, wild and untamed, unnatural and shocking.  A housecoat of black with large white polka dots and a clunky pair of black wellies on her feet.  She did a brief survey of her kingdom, checked out her zoo-like cat enclosure, which is a totally normal thing to have in ones yard and then retrieved a half gallon of milk from inside.  I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that at least ten cats appeared out of no-where, no-where, at the sight of that milk. Like, out of bushes and trees and from under flowerpots and perhaps out of the underground community that may or may not exist.  Just a little gift from Rose, your friendly neighborhood cat lady.  Happy Sunday cats!

And then, there was one day when my next door neighbor, a tall, country grandfather was sitting in a tree that grows on the other side of our privacy fence, cutting down branches, with a saw in his hand and a song in his heart.  A song that filled his heart and at least four backyards as he belted out his duet with Cheryl Crow. People, he just really wanted to soak up the sun and he wasn’t afraid to tell anyone. Sing it, Jesse, sing it. 

Well, that’s all I have to report from this little gem of a neighborhood.  I’ll try to gather something good for next time and I don’t just mean flowers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On fireflies and friendship

The evening ended with a dark backdrop that swooped and curled to the outline of trees on a canvas of a summery, navy blue sky.  The air was warm, and the slightest breeze hushed through the leaves.  The orange glow of candles in glass lanterns flickered on the table.  A chorus of fireflies twinkled and flashed  a silent symphony of light and dark.

Around the table, the few who had not yet departed for home talked in the stillness, the kind of conversation filled with honesty, hopes, dreams, stories, and truth.  The kind of conversation that begins with ladies arriving in one place, filling the table with decadent treats, some homemade and others specially made at the supermarket.  Coffee cups waited to be filled with whipped cream, sugar, espresso granita, and freshly brewed, steaming goodness.  Carafes filled with water and floating slices of citrus sat next to mason jars, all shiny and clean.  

As the room filled, each of us taking a pause from our roles that are wonderful and exhausting, we naturally gathered around the food.  The air was rich with coffee and deep, refreshing exhales that laughter and the highly underrated delight of slow, casual enjoyment of food can bring.  And though our lovely host had stacked fiesta ware and cutlery for us, all that seemed to civilized; we felt it our responsibility and duty to forgo the rituals of such adult-ish behavior,  trading them in for grazing and leaning over each other, evidence of our comfort. 

It still feels unreal to me, that I now find myself in these situations with a mix of new faces that quickly become friends and those who I’ve known for ten years now.  This bizarre migration of college friends to this new city and the connection we carry into these years well past classes, travels, and sleepless night of our own choosing.  This time where our majors and associations have little do to with our identity, because it was in the years after that we began to know life, and the world, and ourselves.

But it was in one question from a new friend that really got me thinking,  the kind of thing makes the introvert in me thrilled.

So, what are some things that I should really know about you?

Cutting past the small talk, the walls that we build up for the sake of facades, far beyond the parts were we autonomously say, “I’m good,”  this is the sweetness of conversation, dripping and raw with life.

Who are you?  What are your dreams? What makes you feel the most alive?  What is your story?

We sat around the table under the gentle song of a summer night.  Conversations rich with vulnerability, inspiration, and truth.  Laughter that melts away the hard parts of the beauty journey. 
Deep prayers answered, wrapped in luxurious beauty, beyond our belief.

It’s extravagant really,
and I’d be a fool to not jot down this piece of the story.

Friday, June 21, 2013

on the morning of June 21, 2013

I heard the squeak of a bedroom door and soft, rapid footsteps heading to the kitchen. At the table, in the dim morning light, daddy ate his breakfast of peanut butter toast. And for the next twenty minutes, one voice, young and loud and another, deep and calm talked, while sister and mama slept in their rooms.

The hum of conversation passed through hallways and walls, the rise of fall of exchange, between a father and son taking the opportunity for time alone. It doesn't happen too often, the chance for a captive audience, no girls included. I don't know what they discussed, but his enthusiasm was felt all the way to my room, and I know that a deep smile rested on the face of a father. A man who loves mornings and his family. A chance to be with his son, before hours of work that he doesn't love, but will never complain.

When the time came for him to leave, he gave me a kiss and lifted one tall, skinny boy into the open side of the bed, and said goodbye. And that little boy, he pulled the blankets close, rolled over and fell asleep, not even whispering a sound.

We stayed that way for a few hours more.   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On Wild Eyes and uncharted territory

I feel as if I would be doing a great disservice to my little collection of words here if I neglected to share these tales, because this is the place where my stories live, safely in time, phrases and sentiments, a time capsule of moments adorned with punctuation.  Likewise, in sharing them, I incriminate myself with the levels of  brutal honesty that others might simply ignore and most will surely find amusing.  Of course, I mean my mother.

But a good story is a good story and surely, I must continue typing.

The daughter of this family, affectionately known as Wild Eyes the Brave, has stepped up her game in the name of uncharted territory.  At two and half, she is emotions that spill over and overwhelm without warning, she is a mushy, melt in your arms bundle of love, and she is a wildfire of daring, fierce instigation.

Help. Us. Lord.

The resident twinkle in her eye, it knows absolutely every miniscule way of interfering with her older brother’s world.  Even the slightest sound that will always, always send him over the edge.  There’s this chomping sound a person makes when they pretend to eat something and he just will not accept the fact that she is NOT eating his robot-block-flying-boat-car or his bear or his pillow or his ear.  To date, all of those items are still in tact and uneaten by little sister, part best friend, part public enemy number one.  I will inform you of any changes.

This is the part where my mother’s face is now overflowing with tears of laughter, because the saying the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, you know, damn clich├ęs.  Meet Queen Instigator, hi.  And my brother’s begin to feel vindication for the endless fights that I would prompt and quickly call for help, because daddy will 9 times out of 10 side with sweet little girl over mean, rough brothers.  You know how that games plays out.

Sister is a force.  

Part of me is amazed at her skills while the rest quivers in terror.  I saw this early on in those wild eyes.  I always knew we were in trouble.

Today, she slowly inched her bottom down the hill and ran down the sidewalk away from us, laughing the whole way.  The resident spark of ornery glowing brightly.  One might argue that they do if for the chase and that is most likely true, but others might also determine that a fearless two year old inches from the road is not really time for psychological games.  I’m on the latter team.  Sister made it five houses down by the time I left my seat, descended two flights of stairs and snatched her up.  She felt it a great injustice that she was thus confined to the porch and she expressed the injustice with all the drama and zeal one little soul could possibly contain.

Also, I regret to admit that she is just days away from realizing that she can climb out of her crib.

Any moment now… the ice is thinning.  These days are fragile, before the great enlightenment.  Fragile days.

I won’t resort to comparison at the end of each sentence, but guess who didn’t have interest in running away or destruction or leaving the safety of his bed….right. 

Surely, it’s been said by all parents of the human kind, and even the snowflake kind, the uncanny differences of children birthed from the same womb.  My evidence here is nothing new, but seriously.

These are fragile days and someone has stepped up her game.

Send reinforcements.

 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

on the power of stories and language

This morning I reaped the sweetness of the torture that was yesterday’s bedtime.  The children who refused and fought and struggled and waged war against the quiet oppression of sleep.  We’ve been fortunate with these two good sleepers, but last night was a dark cloud in that happy world and when we finally collapsed into bed around 10 pm, I’m certain their eyes were still open.  Alas, it consumed our entire Friday night, and sadly my husband who left bright and early for work would be very disgruntled to know that they slept in until 10:15.  Do not tell him.

And since I was taught early on to never wake sleeping baby, surely, I would have been a madwoman to disrupt their sleep and negate the hours of silence, coffee, and reading that I enjoyed. 

Currently I’m reading Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle, it’s a true treasure of words, a reflection of faith and art as the subtitle reads. And as you know, those subjects delight me and are so interwoven, that I can barely distinguish one from the other. Read it, I know you’ll love it.  (That’s what Kathleen Kelly would say.)

And on this quiet gift of a morning, I read this,

For language, like a story or a painting, is alive. Ultimately it will be the artists who will change the language (as Chaucer did, as Dante did, as Joyce did), not the committees. For an artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone.

Language has always been my first love, and sometimes I neglect it, letting it sit quietly untouched and ignoring the invitation to stir around the words, mixing and sorting, to see what comes to life.  Language is communication and power and art; I could go on and on.  I may forget the online password to my cell-phone account every month, but there are stories that will stay with me forever.  I walk down the sidewalks of our neighborhood and all the knobby old trees make me certain that I might see Jem, Scout, and Boo Radley just around the corner.  And Atticus, who will always look like Gregory Peck, of course.   I can forever picture Laura Ingalls and her family sitting by the fire and then Ma blows out the lamp and the girls climb into the loft at the end of the day.  Or the twinkly-eyed professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe who listens to the children tell him of this fictional place called Narnia.  I will forever feel rage when someone mentions The Lord of the Flies or Ernest Hemingway, and will always question humanity when people say that the Great Gatsby is one of the greatest books of all time.

When we were young, my dad would write stories for us.  I can still see the typed pages of this wonderful tale about fascinating forest creatures and their adventures.  To be honest, I don’t remember anything about that story, but I will never forget how much we loved it, we’d all sit on the couch, keeping within our own cushion (rules), and he would read the newest addition to the story.  I fear those pages might be gone now, due to many moves, divorce, and the harsh reality of a few loose pages standing the trial of time and change. But their memory lives, as is the way of stories.

I majored in English in college.  When  I read L’Engle quoting Chekov, I remember when Dr. Cotton made us read his letters and asked, “Does it edify?”  In fact, I still hear, good writing is truth, beautiful, and edifying.   And I’ll never forget the time he called me into his office after I turned in a deplorable paper, deplorable because I had been highly distracted by other things, and by other things I mean a boy.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, this is terrible, this is not you. I will not accept this.  I’m giving you another chance, write something else. These are the things that are interlaced into my days.  A rich treasury of knowledge, instruction, and truth.  These are the things I want to carry and pass on.

I studied French for eight years.  I’ve yet to go, but my sister studied there for her last year of high school.  She wrote me letters that said, “the air always smells of the salty sea and freshly baked bread.”  And clearly, since that sounds horrifying, I no longer wanted to travel to France ever.  But one day, I will and I would be so disappointed with myself if I let that knowledge slip away into a forgotten place. So, I retrieved a few books from the attic today and have decided that I will not let that tongue disappear. 

This post has little reason, other than the way I was reminded about the power of language this morning.  And the way that important things can be traced from our early memories to today.  And I wonder, what about you?  What is it that has always fascinated you? How does it shape your days and your world? What stories have lived on in your heart?  I’d love to hear.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

on a quilt, a bucket, water, and soap…

The sun casts its warmth over the green earth as the quilt danced in the warm breeze.  Handmade by my husband’s great grandmother it has aged with charm and grace.  Tiny squares of soft cotton, so many squares, have faded and frayed, but unlike superficial beauty, time does not diminish its quality.

It dries in the sun because of a sick child and certainly not for the first time, I’m sure.  And it hangs on a brand new clothesline, as of today, because necessity is indeed the mother of invention.  We still don’t have a washer and dryer in the large laundry room, off the kitchen, but like the Beatles, we get by with a little help from our friends and it hasn’t been anything more than a slight inconvenience of hauling laundry baskets from cars to houses and back again. 

But, rather than letting vomit wallow and stew on blankets for later, which would be just as disgusting as it sounds,  I greeted my inner-pioneer woman and set to work with a large plastic tub, soap, and water.  Some soaking, swishing and rinsing later, problem solved.

Sometimes I think I would have made a good pioneer, except only ideally, because while I enjoy kneading bread and sewing clothes, I also like lattes, the internet, and air conditioning.  Still, today, as my afternoon was quiet thanks to sleeping children and a hard-working husband, I found the act of hanging clothes on the line and watching them dance in the sun peaceful and mesmerizing.   A great awareness of provision swept over me, reminding me though at times we may lack materially, we remain in such abundance.  In the way that sun gives us energy and life and power and sustains the whole world, it also freely and effortlessly dries wet blankets and cotton shorts. No questions asked, no machinery needed.  And it’s free and available to all.

I’m not anti-technology one bit, as I type this and instantly post it to be read by anyone, anywhere, but there is something calming and reassuring about doing things the old fashioned way, something gratifying and real, participating in timeless rituals.  In working with the hands, clarity comes to the mind and connects us to what is before us, both visibly and unseen.  And these days we’re constantly managing machines, while our heads run at frantic speeds with thoughts that aren’t given proper time to be wrung out, straightened, and arranged.

This act of hanging laundry on the line, it also speaks about control and reminds us how little we have, as we wait for the sun and depend on its presence.  It’s overwhelming how much the earth tells the story of God, the one who sustains and provides, and does it all in his timing.  It’s everywhere, isn’t it?

And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." Isaiah 6:3

Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Ophelia and more tales from the neighborhood.

I snuck away to the front porch during bath time, which is always more fun, messy, and loud with daddy.  The darkness that teased of another thunderstorm had passed and the bluest sky was scattered with thick chiaroscuro clouds. 

Four feet away, she was sweeping her front porch and it being the first time we’ve crossed paths in five weeks, I introduced myself.

I wonder at which I point I should use fake names for my neighbors, in case I become wildly famous and one day, they start reading stories about themselves on the world wide web.  Until that point, I’ll call her Ophelia, which may or may not be her real name.  And which allows for the opportunity to say, “Ophelia and Olivia,” in the same sentence, which she thought was pretty spectacular too.  Bonus points to the one who immediately thought of Shakespeare.

Ophelia wore a stylish yet comfortable denim wrap dress and a bright orange tank top underneath with a pair of cute flats.  She’s a single black lady who has lived in the house for 20 years, in her 50’s perhaps?    Upon getting a good look at me as she pulled down her glasses, she asked how we liked the neighborhood.  I felt like it was a trick question.  If I loved it, was I oblivious to its horrors? If I hated it was I an awful and judgmental Northerner?  I went with the truth and responded, “We like it, and we haven’t had any trouble so far.  It seems like it’s an interesting place, but we like it.”  And with that, she stopped judging me.  Apparently, I passed the test.  I noticed her eyes soften during our chat and when she told me that she had been wanting to meet us for a while, but  wasn’t sure if we liked black people, I laughed out loud, at her bold, unhindered honesty and assured her that we did.   I like a person that doesn’t prance around with the small talk. 

And that’s when I learned that Ophelia is full of wisdom and she knows the not-so-secret workings of some of our neighbors, including the ways of the drug culture.   It wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to know which section of the street this may or may not be happening and she is tired of the “visitors” parking in front of our houses.   In her words,

“ The drug culture, they don’t care.  They don’t care because they don’t have anything to lose or anything to work towards. And they certainly don’t care about parking in front of people’s homes.  In fact, this guy, (pointing to an SUV), he pulled up here three days ago, with no overnight bag and nothing but a towel on his shoulder and he hasn’t left since.  Now, he doesn’t live here and he only shows up with a towel, he can’t be up to any good.”   

She’s fed up and she’s tired of the drug culture messing up our neighborhood. She’s going to call the cops.

I mentioned that we had only met the neighbors across the street and that we’ve heard some interesting stories, and as I did, I noticed Rose (the cat lady)  rocking on her front porch with her fire red ringlets and company of cats.  Ophelia’s eyes got a little shifty and gave me a knowing smile.

“Honey,” she said, “everyone has stories about everyone and they all think the other person is crazy,”  she narrowed her eyes over the rim of her glasses. “How in the world are we supposed to know the truth?  I’ll tell you. You believe what you know and what you see, that’s how. You trust your instinct and you’ll know the truth.”

And then she remembered that a blue Frisbee landed in her yard a few days ago,  and that she was keeping it safe until she could properly return it to us.  I went to leave my porch to retrieve it, but she stopped me, “Oh no, I haven’t done this in ages,” she laughed with a twinkle in her eye.  “Now stand back, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”  And she tossed that Frisbee into the air hitting the top of my porch and it fell directly two feet from where she was standing.   She nearly fell over laughing and I started and we both just really laughed together.  It was kind of great.

Our conversation came to a close as the family who lives across the street from her came home and she had to talk to them about all this traffic problem.  Ophelia is a woman of action, I tell you.  And she told me not to be a stranger, to knock on her door sometime soon and we’d have coffee.  And that she’s so glad she met me, she’s probably going to bake us a cake.

This neighbor is a gem, a real gem.  Until next time…

Friday, May 17, 2013

on the richness of life



The generous morning sun streams in, casting a halo on the peach and yellow blossoms in the jar, early birthday flowers.   And two little kids who were promised a treat for going to bed early eagerly devour the reward, even though they only kept up 70% of the bargain.  But, when a floppy child with bedhead stumbles into your room and says, I just woke up so that I could have my treat for going to bed,  the many attempts and long delays are forgotten.  
He wants to know where all the people are, because he can’t find a single person who was here, when he came out to use the potty last night, probably just to be sure there were in fact, no kids.
I fell asleep stuffed with delicious sweets and laughter and a heart completely blessed a night of friends new and old; conversations ranging from hilarious and ridiculous all the way to encouraging.   As I walked throughout the house closing windows and twisting shades, gratitude spilled out into the quiet darkness, for a home that is big enough to be filled and for the people to fill it.
I thought of the friends we left in Minnesota and I missed their presence in my home.  I thought about the fantastic contributions they would have added to the table.  Perhaps one of Danielle’s famous flourless cakes? Or the latest new culinary experiment that Elle would have tried.  I wondered what stroke of consistent genius my sister-in-laws would have presented.   And the local girls who couldn’t come because of last minute life.  The friend who would have brought cookies fresh from store bought dough, because no one at all hates cookies and everyone has something to offer that is uniquely them and beautiful.   And the one who recently moved away, but insisted upon telling me what she would bring, anyways.  I love that about her and I can’t wait to taste that Very Berry Coffee Cake.
In the last 11 years, in my winding trail from Michigan to Florida to California to Tennessee to Minnesota and now,  North Carolina, I’ve been fortunate to collect some of the finest people and moments in my vault of life.  And unlike the vault of a banker, the value never decreases, it only grows and memories sweeten with time.
Everyone has something to offer that is uniquely them and beautiful and we’re all better off when we believe it, about each other and ourselves. 
It’s the richness of life, the way the pieces are shaped just so.


.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On those who never forget the way

From The Story Girl, L.M. Montgomery,

 

“I wish there was such a place as fairyland—and a way to get to it,” said Cecily.

“I think there is such a place—in spite of Uncle Edward,” said the Story Girl dreamily, “ and I think there is a way of getting there too, if we could only find it.”

Well, the Story Girl was right. There is such a place as fairyland—but only children can find the way to it.  And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way.  One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life.  One day the gates to Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. 

Henceforth, they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they among mortals.  They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles.  The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Otis, Rose the cat lady, and the real neighborhood danger.

“The thing you need to watch out for in this neighborhood, honey,  is the cats,” she told me as we stood in the middle of the street between our houses, meeting for the first time. She looked tired and her cigarette rested in her hand by her side as she tried to keep it from my direct breathing path.

Her skin showed signs of sun and wear and she coughed viciously in between sentences.

We learned about Rose the cat lady who owns half the block (and nearly 50 cats) and how the man who sold them their house left one specific dying wish, whatever you do, do not sell this house to Rose the cat lady. Under no circumstances.

In her yard is something not unlike a small zoo enclosure that houses cats. And one day, as I sat on my porch, I promise I saw three black cats walk out the front door to greet their owner at the end of a work day.  Her hair was fire red and short and the cats walked in single file line down the sidewalk.

They used to live in the country with ten acres and feel like fish out of water here in “this part of town.  So, if you knock on his door after 9pm and he’s not expecting you, he’ll be holding a shotgun. 

Speaking of water, they love the coast, specifically “our coast” and asked us if we’ve ever been to the ocean, like they were the only ones.  They want to move closer to the sea and run a charter fishing company and a boat that would take the women and children searching for shells and mussels in the cape.  Her face lit up when she talked about cooking mussels over a fire on the beach and popping in your mouth.   We were kindred spirits for only a moment when we spoke of the beloved sea. 

We learned about Otis, the block’s self-elected neighborhood watch.  He keeps an eye on things and if there is something to know, ask Otis.  And Pippy, whose name she doesn’t remember, but it might as well be Pippy Longstocking.  And then another neighbor came home and they exchanged passing remarks about car transmissions followed by “that one, she’s buckets of crazy,” to me.

Meanwhile the kids climbed up and down the stairs and went for a walk back and forth in from of our house. A grey cat strolled down the sidewalk and one kid ran away, the other chased it.

And so the story goes of meeting some neighbors and Rose the cat lady, Officer of Safety Otis, Pippy, and the real neighborhood danger, cats.

I almost forgot, the tomatoes. He grows 600 each year in his garden and wondered if we like tomatoes.  Well, sir, if we like tomatoes… You’re all a little bit nuts around here, but you had me at garden fresh tomatoes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

on the part before anything else

Rain fell softly on a cloudy day in May. The sweet coolness waltzed in through the open windows into the room, creating a delightful little reverie that invited my senses to dance.  Candlelight flickered on the mantel and Perry Como's timeless voice filled the air.

My love for the rain is great, but my fondness of rain and open windows is greater. It makes me feel free and wild, while it calms my heart and gently washes over my soul.

“You know what is great about our front porch?” I said to my husband, sitting in the next chair.
“Everything,” he answered without hesitation.

“Well, yes, but because it's there, we can keep the windows open during the rain and that is marvelous and beautiful.”

He nodded.

Just another piece of evidence.

Life has been intense lately with so much uncertainty about income and jobs and such things of adulthood. But there has been great evidence with every step of the faithfulness and goodness of the one who knows and I'm choosing to rest in that place. Collecting all the pieces along the way that will give us strength and carry us.  Refusing to let go of the one certainty that will always remain. That He is.

Yesterday, I was sketching on the back porch, my hands were blackened with charcoal and my kids covered in paint. I opened to a page dated two months ago and it read,

Only upon hearing the last note can we realize the beauty of the melody that has been created.”

This journey has been amazing, full of adventure and wonder and risk. And in the middle or near the end, or wherever we might be, there is challenge and struggle and the growth that forever changes main characters. But, like a good book or a beautiful song, redemption comes. Unless this is a Shakespearean tragedy, in which we all die, or The Great Gatsby, where nothing of consequence ever happens to boring, lazy, apathetic people, or anything written by Hemingway, where everything is meaningless and depressing, of course.

I've had a hard time writing lately, despite the fact that everyday I've been pouring words into my journal and morning pages as earnestly as I can. The words have been jumbled madness and I had determined they we never worth making known. However, no good story ever consisted of, “Everything is perfect and easy. The end.” Not one.

And I think that at some point, I let the exhaustion quiet my voice, rather than letting this part of the story be heard.  Rather than letting simple words bring peace in the way the writing process does, I gave them permission to roar and howl about in my head, because I thought they were safer there.   Clearly, that’s where they were the most dangerous, like shadows cast on a wall in the dark, when in reality, it’s a stuffed toy on a shelf.

So, today, I'm just going to write about the rain falling and the way the air carried a song and cool breeze, on a Tuesday afternoon.

And that's all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

on creating spaces

The porch sweeps around the house in a L shape, it's deep and covered. If you listen closely, you can hear the music from inside, the scratch of the record mingling with a spring breeze and sunshine. There is nothing like music dancing in the open air.

Here, I'm drawn to the simple, to empty corners and walls that hold one instead of many. I'm interested in less and fewer and the way it feels. Perhaps, because in settling in, we are saying, let's make this home, let's belong here, and while I find great comfort in that, I will always need the wide open; the balance of wanting to belong, while maintaining the roaring free that exists eternally inside. The two will journey with me for all my days, I am certain. And it's not about quenching one or indulging the other, because I need them both, and they must be nurtured, in their respective ways.

In the sitting room, on the wall across from the fireplace, my new painting lives, my first of North Carolina, and nothing else. Nothing rests in the corner or sits against the wall and when I see it, a deep breath sweeps through me. It says, there is room here and space to be and live and grow and love and create.

To discover.

To share.

To search.

To dream.

To risk.

To hope.

There is space here and we are free to do with it what we will.

In life. You and I. Today and right now.

As I walk down the hall, I am not struck my the emptiness, but by the possibilities that come when we leave room on walls, in our hearts, and our time. For where we leave space, things can grow and we need that, plants, humans, and dreams alike, space and air and nurturing.

It's a delicate balance, and it feels good here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The gift.

This place it feels like home and my heart is full with the awareness of His good and perfect gifts, in the way that he causes doors to close and open and lead us right to them.  It’s not the house we fell in love with earlier, or the one that we eagerly filled out the application for and nearly put down a deposit.  We found in when something inside urged, no, keep looking. The next morning, we walked in the door of this place, and there was no question in our minds.

I could go on and on about every detail, down to the fenced-in backyard, the deep wrap around front porch, the three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and the rent, which exactly what we paid for a two bedroom duplex in Minneapolis.  I could go on and it would sound like we previously had lived in a shack, but this is the first actual house we have lived in as a couple.  A house where no one lives upstairs or downstairs on the other side of a wall.

And each place before has been good for that season, but here, this is something special.

On Saturday, after all our friends were gone, Matt turned on a record louder than usual.  His first reaction was to say, “Sorry it’s kind of loud.”  I paused and responded with, “It’s okay, it’s not bothering anyone.” And before I turned the corner and took a step down the wall, my throat and eyes welled up, because that feeling of not having shared walls with anyone at all, it’s magical, like you’ve just been handed keys to a whole new world.

In our last place, we had one bathroom the size of the second bathroom here.  It was cozy, which is a nice way of saying tiny and you can imagine that anytime more than one person needed to be in there took great maneuvering skills.  Here we have a master bath, that could fit a chaise lounge.  I know that huge bathrooms don’t matter in light of eternity, but it’s one more detail that is above and beyond.

In the middle of the house there is the rectangle hub where doors and hallways meet, my friend said, you have a space that is just for walking, it doesn’t need to serve any other purpose.  It’s not a hall/laundry/storage/kitchen/studio/playroom combination, it’s just for walking.  Sure, it’s just walls and floors, but it’s space to be and breathe and feel overwhelmed at the provisions of a God who loves us and knows our desires.  

I can’t help but feel it, when I walk down the hall or feel the breeze on the porch, or stand in my massive bathroom. It’s a gift, a beautiful gift, and it says that not only is it possible that we live in North Carolina, but we also get to live in this house and have space to enjoy it and to share community and be a blessing and to gather inspiration and create. 

And on and on and on.

He loves us, oh how he loves us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

on conclusions and a city of yellow

From the space in between the blinds, I see a full moon shining boldly on a dark, clear night, piercing my eyes, eyes that should be sleeping.  It’s early in the morning, a time I’d never be stirring, but the anticipation…  rears it’s head and it’s weary of me pulling in the reigns, it no longer wishes to be tamed or managed at suitable levels of calm.  The anticipation sneaks in during the last nights and steals me from silent sleep, and in the stillness of the dark, exactly 1,000,003 thoughts are swirling and spinning in my head. 

On March 28, 2010, we arrived in Minnesota in a yellow truck, with our one and a half year old son.  Matt had been unemployed for thirteen months and we never could explain why Minnesota, because certainly, it’s nothing we would have picked.  But, there was a small still moment in the decision process, where our Minnesota? was met with undeniable peace.  And that was it.  So there we were.

It was never a long term thing, we always knew.  We never felt that magic that whispers home, except maybe during a sunrise on the rocky north shore of Lake Superior or in moments by Lake Minnetonka when the sun dances across the rippled water and the wind captured and contented my soul. 

Yesterday, for our last little Minneapolis adventure, we took the kids to the Guthrie Theatre to the Amber room,  an observation deck on the ninth floor that tints the whole city in a shade of radiant yellow.  Just to the right stands the place where Matt worked and just to the left, the flour mill ruins and the beautiful warehouse lofts overlooking the river, where we never did live.  (Although, not without help from an internet scammer, who was just dying to rent their unit to us and only needed X amount of dollars in exchange for a key that would certainly appear in our mailbox.) 

Suspended in a yellow box, we paused and experienced the wonder with our kids, as their eyes came alive with excitement and matching amounts of fear.  Cars, bridges, roads, construction cranes, buildings, the river, everything that is normally so big was tiny below their feet.  As their delight and squeals and endless chatter  echoed through the empty room,   I imagine we allowed the wonder and excitement and fear to sink in too. 

As this chapter concludes, for all the beautiful and perfect, the lonely and restless, the struggles and the belonging that never came, for the long days and longer winters,  this season will always be remembered.  Beyond that, it will always be with us, because it has been so crucial and formative to the people we are and the ones we are becoming.  

On March 28, 2013, we will leave Minnesota with that same undeniable peace that is leading us exactly where we are meant to be.

---

It’s still dark and the moon still radiant, I’ll just sit in the quiet with the wonder, excitement, fear, and peace for a while before the day begins.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

on the state of in-between

The sun is out, but it’s bitter cold. I’m sure that Minnesota is torturing everyone because we are leaving and it wishes to give us a proper, frozen, snow-covered send off. I packed three boxes and filled a bag with trash, the same thing I’ve been doing for weeks. 

I empty all the spaces of the things we won’t use this week, but leave enough plates and bowls and toys, because of eating and kids.   The walls are bare, institutional and empty.  The nail holes are patched and I have the urge to redecorate for just a couple more days.  It’s a blank canvas taunting me.  Gathered items to donate, return, mail, keep accessible are collected.   And yet, we still must go on doing the living things in the place filled with transition.

These days are spent in the limbo of half we-live-here and half we-won’t-be-here-long.  The uninspired state of deconstruction, the anti-creative act of returning these walls and cabinets to their dull, uninteresting selves.  The state of in-between, the balance of contentment and anticipation. Doing what must be done before the next part, one box, one day at a time.

And while I’m going crazy, I will admit, this place reminds me to see that I am in good hands,  because the timing is key and the author is telling his story, with major plot points yet to be unveiled.    The details and answers, they will be clear, at just the right time.

So, I resist the urge to pack every essential item and rest in that place.

Empty white walls and all.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The story of a season. part one.

We are moving this month.

Life is unfolding before my eyes, in the most brilliant and exciting way and I am being bombarded with understanding and clarity of what these past three years have been for me and for my family. 

Three years ago, this month, we left the charming state of Tennessee and drove north to Minnesota.  We lived in my brother’s basement for three months, in a less than desirable neighborhood.  We survived long enough to get work and move to what some around here call, “a yuppie lake town.”  We enjoyed that zero people got shot on our street on a daily basis and the lake was 1200 feet from our apartment door.  Matt worked two jobs, we had another baby, who cried for four months, didn’t like anyone for nine months, didn’t sleep through the night for a year and today is a wildfire of joy, love, and charm. 

With two kids, two jobs, one car, and our creative interests, we learned the importance of protecting our family time, preserving hours for quiet, sanity, and inspiration, and generally decided we liked spending our time together more than anything else.   We casually attended a church, but realized we weren’t looking for a church to fill our calendars, so we made our family a priority and strangely enough, as we grew slightly disconnected from the church world, we grew in our own relationships with each other and with God.   This is not a statement laced with negative feelings or opinions, it is simply part of our story.

I’m beginning to see that these three years have been a gift, an intensive study in marriage, motherhood, and artistry.  I have learned who I am and I have let go of who I am not.  It has been amazing.  It has also been lonely and disconnected from everything outside of my home and family.  I have met only a handful of friends and truthfully, only one has become a true kindred spirit, a sweet breath of fresh air and support. We can laugh in our broken frustrations, delight in small joys, and encourage in our exhaustion-laden hope.  It has been abundant and rich in a season of social drought and introspection.

I have discovered that art is not simply something I enjoy, but it is the way I see the world, it’s the way I understand God and the way that God reveals himself to me.  I have learned that it is so essential to me, that I want to encourage others, to help them see that a gift lives within them, a story to be told, an adventure to be lived…. something great that brings meaning to this existence, something that compels us onward, leaving behind a wake of beauty, truth, and hope. 

In these last years, my world has been small, home.  Yet, I have screamed dreams, big world-changing dreams into the pages of journals, blog posts, and through paint.  They have brewed inside of me, growing like an unborn child until there is simply no room, until I felt that I couldn’t manage the weight any longer.  And in the slow gestation of these ideas, I began to doubt that these God-given dreams would ever be possible, and I wondered if it might be easier to let them go.  And they grew and grew and tossed and turned, until one night in my impatient and hopeful soul, I crumbled.  I wondered if we would ever leave this place that never felt like home, if we’d ever find community,  a place to belong, and if we’d ever begin to see the fruition of these tormenting and beautiful dreams.   I felt like I would explode.

And you know, perhaps, that is just the right timing, when you cannot continue as you are, because your dream has become so interwoven with who you are, and together you have outgrown your current fishbowl.

End of part one.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The challenge.

I heard it in the beginning of January and I didn’t know then how revolutionary it would be. The words came out of his mouth and them danced into my soul and shook me up a bit.

The key to discipline is desire.

It simmered on the stove, those words, bubbling around in my head, shaking me in the best way.  I think that some things in life are hard, but most things are easier than we make them. 

People ask me how I find time to be creative. The question always shocks me, as if they are asking me, how do you find time to breathe.  For me, art is breathing and without it, I’m a seriously less pleasant person.  Ask my husband on day two of no creativity, I’m scratching at the walls, contemplating to sell everything we own and become Amish. I want to deconstruct every piece of furniture, including the ones we are using and turn them into something new, abstract and less functional.  It gets a little crazy. Usually, I just move the couch to the other wall and then smear some paint around with no plans.  It helps some. 

It’s just that art and writing have been essential in my life. That’s how I do it. And I find time for everything else, like cleaning and laundry. I also don’t do housework after the kids go to bed and we have a rule about not holding children while we eat or drink afternoon coffee, but that’s another story.  Somehow it works for us, because as the say goes, it’s not hard to figure out what you want in life, it’s hard to figure out what to let go of to make it happen.

The key to discipline is desire.

So all the above is great, but I was terrible at making prayer and the  Bible important. I could give tons of excuses, but ultimately I just didn’t want it bad enough.  Plain and simple.  The same goes for yoga. It sounds like a great idea and I do love it, but at the end of the day, they were sitting low on the priority list.  And I was feeling it, in the aches of my body and my soul.  Discipline, well that has always been such a restricting word to me. Discipline, who needs that… I’m a free spirit.

In the beginning of January, our church, along with many others joined in a time of fasting.  When seeking how I would participate, the answer was clear and it was a tough one.  Now, I love sleep, in a huge way and I’ve never been accused of being a morning person, ever.  Please don’t hate me, but my kids are good sleepers and they usually wake up around 8.    I would stay in bed until my little boy woke up and came in my room.   The challenge came, set your alarm, wake up, read the Bible, write, and pray. Give up the extra 1.5 hours of sleep.

Oh, now I was morally opposed to this because,

1. Those-know-it-all- mommy blogs are all like, you must get up early before your kids and it’s the only way to do get things done, blah, blah, blah.  Well, I would prove them wrong. I would certainly do no such thing.

2. The idea of jump starting my day with activity is my wildest nightmare. 

3. Waking up to the horribly, unnatural sounds of an alarm would be the end of me.

This was different, it was an invitation that required great sacrifice, surely I didn’t think this one up on my own accord. The first morning I woke up three minutes before my alarm. I was spared that trauma.  The next day, it happened again. The third day, I was tired and pulled the blankets over my head, but something beckoned and I answered.  Three weeks later, I can honestly say that I never felt exhausted from losing that extra sleep. In fact, I had more energy and more strength to face the day. I would even dare to say that desire began to grow. I looked forward to these moments of scribbling prayers and thoughts in the pages of my journal and finding the age old words speak new truth for my days, the quiet with the Creator of the Universe, before the motion. As it turns out, I even had time for yoga.  The time of the challenge has ended, but in three weeks, I have seen how essential it is for my life.  Like breathing and art, and I don’t plan to stop now.

The  key to discipline is desire.

Whatever it is you desire, begin.

Begin by showing up, by making yourself if you must… until it becomes a part of you, until it feels like  a desire.

And we fight for our desires, do we not?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today is for...

Believing.
into to the depths of your soul, up to the top of your head and back down to the tips of your toes,
like a breath that enters and rushes through your lungs and makes your body do whatever it is your body does that keeps you alive. 
And you don’t need answers to believe, and you don’t need clues or signs or secret messages, only believing and the rest, it will come.
It will come.
But, today, we believe.
Will all our might, with all our heart, with everything we say and create and do and love.
It requires nothing and everything, to believe. Nothing you lack and everything you are.
And whatever happens next, well no one can say.
Today is for believing and that is all.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

a breakdown and a love song: a true story

Last night,  a breakdown over the feelings so familiar refused to be calmed.  My pillow collected tears stained with mascara, heavy with words I just couldn’t find and when the reservoirs dripped no longer, I fell into an exhausted, deep sleep.

But, in the light of day under a radiant blue sky, I see it was a breakthrough in disguise.

And in the spaces made vacant from the emotions that spilled out of my eyes, bubbling waters of beautiful things are no longer dammed. And what I thought was this great internal struggle, turned out to be a love song.

A love song of crashing waves and roaring wind, from God who knows the language of my soul.

Even when I can’t see it, for all my silly humanity.

In 2004, the hurricane season brought us many canceled classes and one of those weekends, I went home with my roommate to Boca Raton, Florida.  Like any sensible Floridian, the day before the storm made landfall, we went to the beach.  The tourists evacuate and the locals, they go to the water, because they know.  As the storm approached, magnificent waves beat the shore and in the wind, all were captive.  This is magic.  Facing east in the darkness of night, with only the occasional, scattered light on the beach, the stars tucked behind the heavy storm clouds, I stood before the wild waters crashing with His love and power, with his greatness and glory.  I never in all my life feel closer to God than when I am standing on the edge of the ocean, with my hair swept up in the wind and the salty waters misting over me.  

For a while now, in my own restless, adventurous heart, behind the calm and collected face, those waves have been crashing around inside of me, rattling my bones.  And I’ve been fighting it, feeling as though it was another trial, another lesson.  Sometimes, I take extra long to do things for my kids to teach them a little bit of patience and I’ve been certain that God was doing the same thing for me.

Last night, I felt like I was drowning under the struggle, the waves swallowing me whole.  But, until that struggle was emptied onto my pillow, I couldn’t see that the waves, they were never intended for such purposes.

Instead,

For all the days of feeling stuck in a place that doesn’t feel like home,

the days of working toward dreams,

the constant energy it takes to create and see possibilities and hope,

and all the days of feeling so lonely in this season of life…

He brought the crashing waves and the roaring winds and he tucked them safely inside of me, so  I would never have to be too far away from that place.

For all the days of this journey.

A love song, that will indeed swallow me whole, if I let it.