13 May 2014

Fistful of Dandelions

Last Friday was ‘one of those days’. A day I wanted to run away, even if just to the tree fort at the bottom of the yard, by 8am. And it continued, all day. I questioned my ability to be patient enough, kind enough, sane enough. Thoughts of failure ran through my head. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. Why exactly did we choose to have another? I nearly lost it while trying to give her a bath; my nearly seven month pregnant belly getting in the way while trying to wrangle a slippery toddler without hurting either of us. “I’m done”, I yelled. And told my husband to take over.

But then...
She comes running in from playing outside with her daddy and proudly presents her fistful of dandelions. “Let’s put them in a vase Mommy”.
She throws her arms around me after finally peeing on the potty (but before she wipes of course) and says, from her heart, “I love you Mommy”.
I overhear from the kitchen when she asks her daddy “Why is there Mother’s Day?” and then, after I hear whispering, she comes running in to give me a hug and kiss.

I know I’m getting back what I gave to my mom. The hyper-emotional, crying loudly to make sure I’m heard from the bedroom tantrums are familiar ground; it’s just not me doing it this time.  In those moments I remember the first few weeks with Cora, the overflow of love as I held her, and realizing that is how my mom felt about me. My mom loves me with that breath-catching, tear-producing ache that I feel towards my daughter. It was, and is, an overwhelming realization to know that I am loved like that.

But it goes further. Not only does my mom, and dad, love me like that, but my Jesus loves me like that. My heavenly Father looks at me with a breath-catching, tear-producing ache of love that will never fade. Despite my adult tantrums (which honestly aren’t too different), despite my lack of patience or forgiveness towards others, God still loves me. He loves me enough to put it all on the line and endure hell so that I don’t have too.

And what do I have to give back to Him? Just me. Which seems trite, like my own fistful of dandelions. And yet, how precious to me are those dandelions wilting in a bud vase? As precious as my life surrendered is to the One who gave me life.

16 April 2014

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

He got through that broken wooden fence again. Why won't the neighbors fix it? Who lets their fence get in such a state of disrepair? Not just missing pieces in a few places, but whole sections on the ground. The entire fence surrounding their yard is falling apart. She ran for public office last election, but she can't repair her fence? Good fences make good neighbors. The fences surrounding our yard that are in the best shape are the ones we stand at and chat with neighbors. The broken ones, we don't.

This time when Ronon got out, the vet called. I was so afraid the police were going to pick him up again, but on the other end of the line a familiar voice told me a neighbor had him. Just around the corner. Great. Just one problem. Cora is down for a nap. I risked the tears and woke her up. (She is not a happy kid when woken from a sound sleep.) It is cold out, but not too far to walk, so we bundle up, grab the leash and head out.

We get to number 12 and I can see Ronon in their breezeway. He is being his usual rambunctious self. I hope he didn't break anything. I hope they are used to dogs. My apologies start flowing as soon as the door opens. The man is doing his best to keep Ronon from bolting out the door to me. Ronon is beside himself; practically delirious from the freedom.

- I'm so sorry.
- We need to patch the fence, again.
- He's only gotten out a few times.

Words tumble out while I fumble with the special collar that Cora must have clipped together when I wasn't paying attention.

- You should have your info on his collar, he says.
- That collar will never hold. He'll slip it right off in two seconds, he says.
I haven't gotten it on all the way, I retort in my head. Gimme a break.

Cora coughs. It is a hacking, thick cough. She is still getting over a really bad cold.

- You should have called us, the woman says. We could have brought him to you.
- Yea, he says. Sounds like you have a sick kid. It's cold out.
- It's not far, I say blithely as I finally get Ronon's collar clipped.

I hope they see how he instantly calms down. He knows the collar means business.

- We're just around the corner, I say. And it's not as cold as yesterday. I continue in my head. And, how could I contact you exactly? I don't even know your name.

Thankfully, Ronon walks quietly by my side down their driveway and into the street. Dog in one hand, toddler holding the other, I leave the house of judgement.

24 March 2014

Reading Again

    My sister invited me to hear Lois Lowry speak. I had never heard of her; which apparently is shocking to most people I’ve said that to. She is a prolific author who has written award-winning books that are read by high-schoolers across the country; just not me apparently. So in preparation for hearing her speak, I did what any right-minded English major would do, I got The Giver out of the library to read.
     With only two weeks left in my final grad class, I told myself I wouldn’t start it till after my last class. That resolution lasted almost six days. It was a Thursday. I was watching a friend’s eight-month-old; not really a good day to start a new book. Recently I’ve been reading short stories because I can finish them during nap time and not have the next chapter looming in my head until the next moment I can snatch away. Starting a book while caring for one very active toddler and a nearly crawling infant was not a good idea. But it worked. The girls were playing and I was sitting on the floor reading. A book-worm, mom’s nirvana.
     I snatched moments throughout the day and read the last pages well before bedtime (mine, not the toddler’s). My appetite for novels had become voracious after only reading short stories. I am hungry for more.
     I enjoyed reading a novel, but did I enjoy the novel. A story like The Giver is supposed to be unnerving. As Jonas learns the truth of his society, the reader is uncomfortable along with him. The themes reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and the film Cloud Atlas (well, one of the multiple plot lines at least). They are uncomfortable themes: cloning, genetic manipulation, and controlled society.
     The society in The Giver has eradicated pain, sorrow, and unexpected death. They also eradicated the positive emotions like pleasure, joy and love. Without feeling pain, we cannot know true pleasure. Without knowing sadness, we cannot know true joy. Without the depth of loss, we cannot feel the depth of love.
     These themes cause me to wonder what sort of future my children will live in. What will the world be like for them? I have heard people say they will not have children because of this worry. The future is too uncertain, too fraught with potential atrocities. But I don’t agree. Because I remember a part of the past that these stories left out; the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am birthing children into a world He died for. My children will inherit a world that has been bought with the blood of Jesus. A world where death has been defeated and the Prince of Peace will reign forever. I do not see the fulfillment of that now. They may not see it in their lifetime. But it will happen. There is hope.

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

26 February 2014

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Hello elephant. It’s time you left.

I moved out when I got married, but maybe I am only now truly growing up, moving out on my own without the familiar presence of my parents’ lives happening alongside mine. Their lives are obviously still happening, but time-zones apart from mine. A flip-flop of days and nights that means Skyping must be planned; emails must stand in for the thought forgotten until just after you say goodbye. Sitting at computers on opposite sides of the world is not the same as perching on a stool next to my mom with a cup of tea. Does it ever feel comforting and personal? Am I just not used to it yet?

Some may not understand why my parents pulled up their lives, sold the family home and moved to the other side of the world; from a place with four distinct seasons to the desert in a city surrounded by countries constantly in the news - not for good reasons. It sounds crazy. It sounds insane. It sounds exciting. It sounds adventurous. It sounds daring. I understand why my parents went - because God told them to go. They don’t need another reason. I don’t need another reason. I am incredibly proud of my parents. I am also incredibly jealous of their adventure. When will it be my turn?

Their move has taught me that God is never finished with you. My parents raised four kids who are each successful in their chosen paths. Empty-nesters with eyes on retirement, they could have sat back and been ready to grow old in my childhood home. Instead they sought God for the next step, willing and ready for it to be a big one, and it was. God is looking to use willing hearts.

Their move has taught me to hold material possessions lightly. As my parents got rid of furniture I felt the urge to take all their cast-offs, holding on to things just because they had been my parents not because I particularly liked them. I’m glad I didn’t, we don’t have the room. It was hard to say goodbye to the house I grew up in. It is still hard to drive by knowing someone else sleeps in my old bedroom, someone else perches on stools at the counter, someone else is shaking their head at pink carpet in the bedroom. (Or maybe there is a little girl who is in love with it, at least for now.)

Saying goodbye was hard, really hard. Trying to explain to my 2 1/2 year old that we won't see Grandma and Grandpa until July is hard; especially when she asks if they will buy their car and house back. Yes, there are times I wish they were still here, physically closer, often when I need a babysitter. But I am glad they are not, because to stay would have been the wrong thing. Staying when you should go, staying because of fear, because of sentimentality, clinging to memories rather than going out and making new ones, that is not living the life that Jesus came to save. My parents are living their lives following God and I am proud of them.

Goodbye elephant.

05 February 2014

Winter Wonderland

My grad class this semester (and my last one ever!) is about teaching writing. What a wonderful subject. As I learn techniques of how to teach writing, I am falling in love with writing all over again. So far each class period has started with a free-write (the best fodder for new posts). Last night's was a free-write about Winter, January or a favorite hobby/activity.  Here is what I wrote on Winter: 

Winter. My favorite. Everyone hates winter. They complain about snow but want a white Christmas. They grumble about storms coming but love their fireplaces and wood-stoves. Come on people! Move to Florida already. New England is winter. From October to March or even April sometimes. Every year. Get over it. Polar Vortex? Um, yea, just called winter around here. It’s cold. It’s snowy. It’s dark. Don’t like it? Move.

Why do I love winter so much? Why does the thought of snowflakes piled feet deep make me smile? Perhaps because my birthday is in January. I always had a sledding party growing up. Hours in the snow followed by hot chocolate by the fire then presents and cake. 

Perhaps this love is past down from my dad. Watching snow fall brings back memories of his voice reciting Stopping By Woods when we were children. For the first snowfall of the year we’d turn off all the lights in the house and just leave an outside flood on.  Standing at the door or window, watching snow fall and hearing my dad recite ‘miles to go before I sleep. Miles to go before I sleep’.

Yes, I do get sick of it being cold. Especially with a toddler. She walks very slowly and is often resistant to being picked up so that we can go faster. Yes, it’s cold. But it’s winter. This is what happens in winter. If you want 40’s and rainy move to Seattle. If you want 70’s and sunny move to southern Cali. It’s a big country. Stop complaining about the most beautiful time of year. Just sit back and watch it ‘sift from leaden sieves’.

Passing on my love of snow and winter: 

Dunking her shortbread in hot cocoa
Sand toys, snow toys - same thing right?

22 January 2014

Redeeming the Situation

I had a miscarriage.  It became important to me to write about it publicly because I realized how many women are affected by pregnancy loss.  It is an isolating secret that is hard to get out.  I posted about it here: "The 'm' word".  Since posting, I have read a few articles and blogs about women who have written their stories of miscarriage.  They are sad to read, but remind me of the importance of telling the story.  Tragedy affects us.  We cannot pretend it doesn’t.  For someone not to know my story is to not fully know me.
When I wrote my story, I had a good reason to finally be able to publicly share it, a reason some have guessed at, I am pregnant!  But here is the second half of the story.

Early in November I was feeling discouraged.  I was waiting for my period and feeling like getting pregnant would never happen.  (I realize for women who struggle with infertility that this may sound naive and arrogant; we had only been trying for two months.  My extremely brief time of waiting and hoping to get pregnant gave me a glimpse of the heartache that infertility can bring.  Hope deferred truly does make the heart sick, even if only for 2 months.)  The weight of the upcoming anniversaries was heavy on me.  I dreaded March 6th, my due date.  And July 16th, the date my baby died.  The what if’s of not being pregnant before those dates drowned out more sane thoughts.

It was a Sunday morning during worship that I broke down.  I don’t remember the songs, but I was not able to sing them.  During the break a woman I have known a long time came up to me.  She put her arm around my shoulders and said she didn’t know what was wrong but that she saw I was having a hard time in worship.  She had prayed for God to give her something for me and felt God say that the situation would be redeemed soon.  I broke into tears and let her know why I was crying, that I had miscarried in July and was having a hard day.  She prayed again specifically and the day went on.

I thought about what she said.  My hope rose, the situation would be redeemed soon.  My common sense piped up, God’s soon and my soon are not the same thing.  What does ‘redeemed’ mean anyway?  Why the fancy word?  Being the English major I am, I looked it up. 

      redeem (verb): to convert into something of value
                              to make good (or fulfill) a promise or pledge

Again, being the English major, I was looking for deeper meanings.  Not always the wisest thing when hearing from God.  Did it just mean to share my story and help another woman through a hard time?  That would be bringing value and good to a hard thing.  Did it really mean I would get pregnant soon or was I ‘reading into it’ too much?  I had to just give it up to God.  Which is what I should have done in the first place.

Ten days later I had a positive pregnancy test.

I wasn’t excited.  I wanted to be, really badly.  But I realized that just getting pregnant wasn’t the end of the story, I had to stay pregnant.  I googled ‘due date calculator’ and punched in the information.  That’s when I got goosebumps.  And started crying.  And realized just how much God loves me.  Loves me enough to do little things in my life that really, are huge.  I’ve always known He loved me.  Loved me enough to die on the cross.  But often in daily life I get so caught up I don’t see Him in the little things.  I miss His demonstrations of love.  This one I couldn’t miss. 

You know how I was dreading the anniversaries, the due date and miscarriage date?  Well, the due date will still be there, though now that I am pregnant I hope it will be a little easier.  And July 16th - the date my baby’s heart stopped beating, a date I was dreading (dreading the whole month really).  Except now, I can’t.  Now I have a reason to rejoice in mid-July.  I am due within 5 days of the year anniversary.  An early ultrasound put the possible due date even earlier. 

God has redeemed the situation!  He has converted something I dreaded into something of value.  He has made good on a promise.  Every time I think of the due date now I am in awe.  It didn’t have to be then, it could have been earlier, it could have been later.  But it’s not.  He loves me.  He cares about the little things in life.

A couple of those articles on miscarriage I mentioned are here as a resource for those who have gone through it and those who need to understand a friend's grief. 
The Miscarriage Secret by Caitlin Seccombe Lubinski
How a Man Handles a Miscarriage by Marcus Brotherton
And there are so many more beyond these. 

12 January 2014

What I'm thinking about when I'm not thinking

  My parents moved to Dubai this week.  Every time I sat down to write a blog post it was all I could think of, the proverbial 'elephant in the room'.  But I can't write that post now.  I will eventually, when I can write thoughtful reflection instead of emotional vomit.  So I asked for writing prompts and one suggestion was to write about what I'm thinking about when I'm not thinking.  Um, I don't think my mind ever turns off, but what about when I'm not consciously thinking?  I have many weird dreams and sometimes when they happen right before I wake up and I remember them vividly and I actually get my butt out of bed to write them down and no one bothers me, I have fodder for stories.  This is a story born from a dream I had in March of 2008.

 The Key-Hole
 The first memory I have of this place is of the trees descending from the sky and planting themselves in two long rows on the ground.  My family and I stopped our wandering to watch.  The ground was dry and parched.  I remember thinking the trees would not grow without water, their roots would not be deep enough yet to sustain them.
    Edward went up to the closest tree, the long line stretching away into the distance.  Whether it was because he touched the tree or it just happened at that exact moment I do not know, but water began rising out of the ground.  It quickly rose to our ankles as we moved in between the rows of trees.  There was a feeling of safety under the green branches that had been absent with only the vast sky above.  As the water climbed towards our knees and showed no signs of slowing the boys began to talk of climbing the trees.  We were wading and half swimming as the water crept past our knees.  Mother silenced the boys, there were no low branches, the trees rose in tall straight columns of blue-grey bark before branching out into a green canopy high above our heads.  Besides, Chloe would never be able to climb.  She was already on Mother’s back, the water would have been above her head now.  We waded as fast as we could through the waist-high water with no destination except further between the comforting trees.
    We began swimming when the water rose to our chests; at least for us older ones, the younger ones were already swimming.  We were concentrating so hard on swimming that no one knows when the house first appeared.  Natalia spotted it first.  At the same time her shout went up we noticed driftwood in the water.  Each of us grabbed a piece or two, clinging to it to keep our heads above water.  Mother was leading so she was the first reach the pebbled beach in front of the house.  The pebbles went all around the mansion, it was an island in the midst of water.  The line of trees stopped at the beach.  The white clapboards were covered in a film of green moss.  The house looked as if it had stood for a hundred years, even though I knew it had not been there when we started swimming.
    The door was open.  All the doors in the house were open.  I could see straight from the front to the back and out onto the stretch of water beyond the house.  Once inside the house we claimed it and spread out.  It was ours and it was huge.  My brothers and sisters invaded every crevice, exploring and making a racket.  The boys were using their driftwood as drumsticks on every surface they found.  Then they found the pianos.  There must have been one in every room upstairs.  The sound was deafening on the second floor.  I continued upstairs, past more open doors on the third floor.  I turned right down a passage with no windows.  At the end was a door, open of course, with stairs leading up.  I was confused.  I only remembered three levels of windows from the outside.  Was there a fourth floor?  I peered up the dark staircase.  There was a door at the top.  It was closed.
    The steps creaked under my feet, as many of the floorboards must have, but this time I heard it.  The passage and staircase muffled the din created by my brothers.  The air felt stuffy and stale.  I lifted my hand to knock.  But why?  Would there be an answer?  I put my hand on the knob instead.  Locked. 
    No other door in the house had even been closed.  I could feel the blood pounding in my ears.  Why was it locked and where was the key?  I realized there was a key hole so I bent down to look through.  There was an eye looking back at me! 
    After I clamped my hand over my mouth to stifle my scream I realized a scream had come from the other side of the door as well.  I bent down again.  Light was coming through the key hole now.  The owner of the eye must have moved away.  I cautiously took another look.  There was a girl moving away from the door.  Perhaps a little older than me, but unkept and wild looking.  It was hard to understand her.  She was talking to someone.  I shifted positions and saw a woman sitting in a chair; a sort of maid or nanny.  She called the girl Deirdre and told her not to talk through the key hole. 
“There’s nothing there Deirdre” she said.  “What a story.  You must be imagining again.” 
Deirdre looked wistfully at the door.  “But I saw someone Greta.  There’s someone there.”
“No child.  There is nothing beyond that door.  It’s just a locked closet.”