The Grouchy Ladybug (How I Died a Hundred Deaths this Halloween)

(this should be a cute picture of my son and I in our costumes,
but that's another longer story for another day)

It’s rainy and cold and we’re all keyed up and worn out from being trapped indoors for two days by Hurricane Sandy.  I wake up, too late, and squeeze in a shower while the twins, still in dirty diapers from the night before, wander around the living room.  Their whining amplifies to full pitch as my shower cues them in to the possibility that I’ll be (gasp!) leaving for the morning.  The preemptive separation anxiety continues through breakfast and packing everyone into the van to take my oldest to school. 

After drop off I cart the remaining three kids back into the house.  We mull around, waiting anxiously for the babysitter who'll be staying with the twins while the four year old and I head to his Halloween party at a local nursing home, an event I’ve been dreading since the October calendar came home.  The twins settle for a few minutes, their anxiety lulled by the fact that I haven’t left at my usual time and almost simultaneously my son's anxiety about the party begins to rise.  He peppers me with questions, 
“Will there be people from the nursing home in the party?”
“Um, I’m not sure, honey.”

“Will they see me in my costume?”

“Are you going to dress up?”

“I don’t want to wear a costume.”

I've been “against” this party from day one and I know that my son, so robust and cheerful at home, will be shy and clingy in a new place.  So I've consented to hire a babysitter for the twins and am committed to accompanying him, despite my own teeth-clenching, foot-dragging antagonism toward it all. 
“Solomon,” I say, “what if I wear a costume too?”  I emerge from the back room wearing the fuzzy black antennae from my daughter’s ladybug costume.

“Ok,” he says, brightening, “you can be a black beetle.”
Then, I can feel myself giving in, letting go a little more as the idea strikes and I say, “What if I’m a ladybug?  I can steal Sophia’s costume.”

He approves and I have just enough time to gather the red and black-dotted wings and my camera as the babysitter arrives and the oldest twin dissolves into a raging stream of tears, protesting my impending departure.  I run in circles grabbing things, carrying the littlest one and nearly run out the door with him, before the sitter stops me and grabs him saying, “This one’s staying.”
Then we’re off to a party I don’t want to go to, but also don’t want my son to miss.  We drive through the rain and find his friends in a large room coloring at a table while elderly people in wheelchairs are set in a wide circle around them.  The residents watch, their eyes hungrily absorbing the beauty and innocence, the luxury of so much youth in one small space. 

My son is clingy, shy and tired, overwhelmed, it seems by the noise, the crafts, the games and I do my best to get into the spirit of things.  I help with glue and tear bits of tissue paper, I assure another child that it doesn’t matter where he puts the eyes on his pumpkin.  I laugh with the other Moms over the resident who rides in on a wheelchair, pretending to scare the kids with a mask, all the while giving a growing peep show as his robe slides further and further open.  I take a smiling picture with my son, a little Iron Man snuggled up on a ladybug's lap. 
By the time we get home, though, I’m over-stimulated and frustrated at my inability to love Halloween, to love loud parties and candy.  The twins are exhausted and hungry when we walk in and they’re drawn to me like magnets, pressing their tiny bodies onto me in desperation.  It’s all I can do to untangle myself, causing more tears and desperation, as I head to the kitchen to make lunch.  Solomon is sorting and dumping candy, dancing and singing and blowing the whistle from his party bag and the twins are screaming in their highchairs, desperate to make it clear how deeply my absence has wronged them. 

Then I’m yelling, “Stop it” and throwing an apple-peel all the way across the kitchen til it bounces off of one twin and they both sit staring, shocked into silence and my son, that sweet four year old boy, offers to play his whistle to settle them down. 
*   *   *   *   *
There are days when being a mother feels like dying a hundred tiny deaths.   A hundred letting-gos, a thousand surrenders to more noise, more movement, more demands than I feel capable of handling. I’m not complaining, I simply want to be honest about the stretch of motherhood and how quickly, how fiercely, I shrink back from it.  

I died a hundred little deaths this morning and will surely die a hundred more before nightfall on this, the day of the dead.  But I know, thank God, that this dying, this surrender makes me new again.  I may die a hundred times a day, but I'm just as often made new, reborn in the face of a chubby, gap-toothed grin, a gentle hand seeking mine for reassurance.  Just today I was resurrected by the voice of my son calling cheerfully from the back of the van as we made our way home, “I can’t wait to be old so I can go to the nursing home to live.”
*   *   *   *   *
Later in the day as I'm making chili for friends who're coming to trick-or-treat with us, as the twins again stand whining at the gate that divides them from me, my Dad calls with the news that my maternal grandmother has died in the nursing home where she's lived for years now in North Carolina.  As I stand over the stove, stirring the chili, I find myself surprisingly grateful.  Grateful that, though I couldn't be there with her, I was here, at a nursing home with my son, the very same morning.  I think of my Grandmother's life and the many little and big deaths she endured.  I think of the ways I get so focused on what I'm giving up, that I nearly miss what I have right here, right now in front of me.  It occurs to me that I live such a grace-filled life, full of opportunities for surrender, continually pressing me toward the edge. 
Dinner is finished, the kids and husband are home and the poor older twin, who just can't pull himself together, sits crying on the floor.  So I scoop him up and settle in the rocker and watch as he drifts into a heavy sleep.  I love the moment, the rocking, the sleeping child, so rare, then he lifts his head and looks around disorientedly before throwing up all over both of us.  Then he leans forward, laying his head back on my chest with that pile of warm, smelly goo laying like a layer of glue between us.  I died again in that moment and rose again to hug him tight until my husband came to help us both get cleaned up. 
Every day of the dead, every Halloween, gives way to all saints day and I wonder if we too, dying in our little and big ways, aren't also being moved, continually, from death to new life.  This dying is a surrender, a stripping bare by letting-go until all that remains is love. 

Lightship (wind and rain and holding your place)

What can I say except that, as a mother of four, I spend inordinate amounts of time reading children's books and quite often I hear God's gentle quiet voice speaking to me through them.  This keeps me convinced that God will use whatever medium available to speak to us!  In light of hurricane Sandy's approach, I thought I'd share a favorite with you, Lightship, by Brian Floca.

Lightships were used in places where a permanent light house couldn't be built.  The ship and crew "held their place" during good and bad weather to serve as a guide to other ships.  Something about the lightship's calling deeply resonated with me and my sense of calling.   

In the past year, since the twins were born, my spiritual images have been filled with boats and water and floating - sinking and swimming became a metaphor for trust as grace has begun to feel like an ocean that surrounds our every waking moment.  For me, the spiritual journey has become one of learning to let go and rest in that grace. 

So here it is, minus the glorious pictures (check it out at your library if you get a chance - it also has a great section on the history of light ships).

*   *   *   *   *
Lightship, by Brian Floca

Here is a ship that holds her place.
She has a captain and a crew,
helmsman, oiler, engineer
deckhand, fireman, radioman,
messman, cook and a cat.

She does not sail from port to port.
She does not carry passengers or mail or packages.
She holds to one sure spot as other ships sail by.
She waits.

Her crew lives in small spaces, works in small spaces.
Always there is the smell of the sea . . . and the rocking of the waves.
Always they hear the creaking of the ship and the slow
slap, slap, slap of water on the hull.

Down below deck,
deep inside the ship,
there is the smell of fuel and machinery.
There are motors, engines, generators.
The oiler and the engineer keep them clean and running.
They keep the whole ship powered.

Above the deck there is a horn.
High on each mast there is a light.
The crew keeps them ready. 

The higher the waves,
the harder the work;
the harder it is to climb the stairs,
to check the charts,
to drink the coffee,
to visit the head.

But the crew keeps the lightship anchored.
She holds her one sure spot.
They keep her anchored in sun and calm . . .
and snow and cold.
They keep her anchored when other ships
come closer than they should.
And if the waves move her off her mark,
 . . . the helmsman moves her back.
The crew resets the anchor.
Again the lightship holds her one sure spot.

She does not sail from port to port.
She does not carry passengers or mail or packages.
She holds to one sure spot as other ships sail by.
She waits.

And when the fog
comes creeping in,
the crew knows what to do.
They sound their horn, so loud the whole ship
They shine their light,
so bright
it reaches all around,
far and wide.

Then other ships sail safely,
because the lightship marks the way
through fog and night,
past rocks and shoals,
past reefs and wrecks,
past danger.

Other ships sail home safe . . .
because the lightship holds her place.

*   *   *   *   *

When storms come and the fog rolls in we all need something or someone to shine light on our path, something or someone to hold us to the course we were made for. Tonight, as the winds surge and rain pounds I wonder, who or what is holding you? 

Praying you will remember and hold tight to the One who anchors your soul.  May your life shine like the Lightship and may others "sail home safe" because you hold your place. 

If you want to read more about learning to let go and float in the ocean of grace, check out Learning to Float (lessons in the art of surrender).

This link is being shared with Imperfect Prose around the theme of "Light."

When I Found Out I was Having Twins (a little somebody and . . . maybe another somebody?)

When I found out I was having twins,
I laughed, like Sarah, 
“Me, God?  A mother of four? 
Surely you must be kidding!”

When I found out I was having twins,
I questioned the angel, like Zechariah –
gave him a good ol’ lecture about the birds and the bees,
about all that is and is not possible.

When I found out I was having twins,
I accepted, like Mary,
the blessing I was given -
"Let it be unto me,
according to your word."

God's always, always, always full of suprises.  I'd love to hear how God has suprised you.  How did you react - did you laugh? cry? question? . . . feel free to leave a comment here or on A Field of Wild Flowers on facebook. 

If you like this post and want to read more about my journey check out: The Blessing.

Silence (of headaches, libraries and boats)

“There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep . . . 
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
not in my castle on a cloud.”
from Les Miserables

Today is a headache day.  It’s there from the moment I wake up - pressure in my forehead and sinuses that extends around to the back of my head into my neck and shoulders. 

When the babysitter comes I’m sitting on the floor surrounded by wiggling people.  I’m trying to wrestle a onesie onto a baby as my pre-schooler performs gymnastics half-on/ half-off of the couch.  The oldest is bopping back and forth on the rocking chair as another baby teeters trying to hold onto it.  My head's pounding and I can’t think straight, can’t make a plan. 

When someone asks where I’m going, I have no reply because I haven’t thought that far ahead.  I only have about an hour and a half before I need to round everyone up for swim lessons.  I grab the laptop and my journal and make a quick exit, stammering instructions as I leave.  No one even gets a hug.  Mommy has got to go, NOW. 

I picture neighbors or the drivers of passing cars looking up to see me flying out the door, hair frizzed-out from the heat, clutching my gear as the twins crawl after me and Solomon stands at the screen door calling a cheery, “Bye bye Mamma.  Bye!”  I imagine I look like someone fleeing a burning building as I throw my things into the van, pop it into drive and squeal-out not yet knowing where I’m going. 

I head to the local college library, not more than a few blocks from our house.  I can maximize my time this way, by not driving across town to Panera or a local coffee shop.  Every second counts. 

I find a nice parking spot right in front of the library.  It’s beautiful here.  Tall, old trees, fully leafed out for summer.  A fresh green lawn and the beautiful library full of windows and light and silence. 

I feel better even as I open the door to walk in.  It’s cool and quiet with the humming of the air conditioner providing a steady pulse under it all.  I head past the café where a sign explains that turning left will lead to a “semi-quiet” area, while turning right leads to pure silence.  I turn right and follow signs toward the quiet area like a starving person follows a path of crumbs. 

The headache is still there, but the effect of the silence is immediate.  It’s like aloe on sunburn, cool and smooth, calming.  It’s as though some part of me that’s been holding its breath relaxes and lets out a long, heavy sigh.

*   *   *   *   *

I’ve always needed this sort of retreat, always felt this way about libraries, academia and books, using them as a refuge from the intensity and volume of life.  I remember meeting with a professor when I was in graduate school.  His office was on the top floor of an old brick home on the edge of campus that was used for faculty offices.  I climbed narrow stairs covered by faded and decidedly un-prestigious old carpet to a large attic-like room.  Two more stairs and through the door and there sat his desk with a large window behind it filled with the leafy green branches of a tree.  I imagined myself sitting there – reading, writing, pausing to peer out at the world below – and I loved it. 

Not long ago a seminar revealed that my personality type uses cognitive activity as a way to recharge and regroup.  An observant friend noted the same thing after listening to my life story, “You retreat into your mind when life gets overwhelming.”  Suddenly I saw the Sudoku and crossword puzzles, the endless reading, the love of libraries and their contents in a new light. 

I used to feel very torn between academia and the nitty-gritty of everyday life.  The ivory tower is much maligned by those working in the trenches and I’ve often found myself vacillating between the two.  I don’t believe in the value of what some would call pure academia cut off from the ebb and flow, the flux and tumult of everyday life.  I refuse to climb the staircase of my mind expecting to find there the answer to all life’s questions.  And yet, I love, enjoy, crave the retreat it offers.  The space it gives to look at life, to sort through the onslaught of thoughts and feelings that accumulate as I race along through the day. 

I’ve often felt guilty about this, even ashamed.  I was teased as a child about “hiding my nose in a book” and my need to spend long hours quietly making order of my little room in our house on a hill in the leafy woods.  But more than all of that, somewhere along the way I believed the lie that to be holy meant to be busy, to be fully immersed in the hustle and bustle, the suffering and relief of life without flinching or pausing to look away for even a second. 

I can see now that I will constantly straddle two worlds.  I’m not content to sit in my tower day in and day out thinking deep thoughts – too many people need me in more ways than I can count.  But I’m also beginning to understand that times of retreat are essential to my ability to provide a real presence when I engage with the “crowds,” whoever they may be.   

Jesus did this, of course.  Retreating to a garden or hill or even, if need be, to a small boat in the middle of a lake.  Luke tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (5:16).”  Surely no one’s time and presence has been or ever will be more in demand than the son of God. 
*   *   *   *   *

It occurs to me that I cannot steer my little ship full of children safely or wisely when I’m constantly drowning.  So, with much grace, I re-imagine my departure from the house.  I’m not a woman fleeing in desperation, shaking off children and tripping on scattered toys as I lunge for the door.  Instead I try to see myself as Christ, edging his way toward the shore and stepping with purpose into a small fishing boat.  Pushing off even as the crowd presses in, hardly waiting for Thomas or Peter to climb in as the bottom of the boat breaks free from the sand.  Leaving the chaos of the crowds for the chaos of the sea, but finding in the tiny boat the space to simultaneously disconnect and reconnect. 

The van is my boat and the curb is the shore.  The library is my “secluded place” and this writing is my prayer.  This retreat takes me not out of the world, but deeper into it to the place beneath the wave tossed surface where love and joy and grace reside.  I paddle out deeper into the cool dark waters to the place where I might find, we all might find, the one thing that’s needed. 
I wonder, where do you go to retreat, where do you both disconnect and reconnect?

The Second Presidential Debate and Who I'm Voting For

They came out like boxers in the ring, like two dogs in a back alley street fight, ready with a snarl, lips curled at the slightest hint of aggression, straining at their leashes.  There were rules, as there often are, but each was prepared to ignore the rules relying instead on instinct and the ability to get ahead with a well-aimed, well-timed punch below the belt.  They out-numbered, out-weighed the referee and even the audience.  They believed the fight was theirs to win or lose, to make up the rules as they went.  Who could blame them, really?  So much was at stake.  They came out, their pockets filled with stones, each hoping to bury the other. 

In the balance, America sat like a juicy bone tossed on the ground between two dogs.  Still, it wasn’t the bone the fighters cared about, but what it stood for, what being top dog would mean, things more elusive than a bone, things like power and control and ideology.  But power and control and ideology rarely fill the empty stomach, rarely warm the family huddled together under layers of shabby quilts for warmth, and more rarely yet provide adequate answers to the deepest hungers, the deepest needs of the human heart. 

So, as the fight grew, as the two circled, bobbing, swaying and throwing their stones, America walked away.  She turned off the screen and laid awake filled with the adrenaline that comes from watching a fight, almost wishing for a chance to throw a punch or two, to take a bite out of something, someone.  November sixth still promised the opportunity to have her voice heard, but there in the darkness of night, with the chill of winter creeping in, a different kind of cold, that of disillusionment and fear found its way through the door cracks and moved in through windows covered-over with plastic sheeting.  America shivered and turned out the light, not knowing what tomorrow would bring.

*   *   *   *   *

As a parent, a homeowner, a citizen, I understand more fully now than ever before the importance of voting.  In college and even graduate school my attitude toward politics veered between cynicism and naïve optimism.  I cast my first ballot for Bush during his first term and then later voted for Kerry when Bush ran for reelection.  I voted on a whim, I voted as a right of passage, a way of becoming an adult and distinguishing myself from my parents.  I voted despite the feeling of futility regarding the outcome, despite not fully understanding the issues. 

My attitude toward voting has changed in the last two elections.  I can see now more clearly the cumulative effect of the decisions we make regarding the economy and the environment and foreign policy.  I can see how a deduction here, a tax incentive there can place a family ahead or behind by several thousand dollars which can really add up for people who spend their lives in tens and twenties rather than trillions.  I look at my children and wonder if wars are in the making now that will steal away the brightest years of their lives, of our lives.  I can appreciate more deeply that how I vote matters, not just for me and mine, but for millions of other Americans, millions around the world. 

At the end of the day, though, one will win and one will loose and in the span of four years progress will be made in some areas and grave mistakes will be made in others.  We’ll all be back at it again in four years, gathered around our viewing screen of choice, carrying the baggage of four more years of hopes and dreams, four more years of life and death and everything in-between.  We’ll be watching the fight, putting our money on whoever the top dog appears to be, hoping that some small fraction of the prize will be ours if we manage to vote well.      

*   *   *   *   *

I came across a quote the other day that, for me, sums up the calling of Christ in us and, conversely, the problem with so many facets of Christianity today.

                    "If am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier
                    reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in
                    my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside
                    will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are
                    still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these
                    stories will turn out, since at this point they involve more
                    blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems
                    to me, is to convince people to set the written word down
                    in order to become living words in the world for God's
                    sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is
                    the full substance of faith."
                                Barbara Brown Taylor in Leaving church: A Memoir of Faith

I love what Taylor's saying here, "we are living words" and I wonder if I might stretch the idea a little further to say, "we are living votes."  Stay with me here for a minute.  What I want to say is that we vote with our lives.  It’s true that we come together every four years to vote and the decision we make is important, but we also vote every day with our lives – our time, our money, our words, our touch, and our deepening capacity to multiply love and joy and hope in the world or, conversely, our tendency to multiply fear. 

So here it is, friends, I’m voting for YOU. 

In truth, God votes for us; God voted for us in Christ and continues to vote for us still.  Even as the disciples stood staring dumbfounded at the sky as Jesus ascended, the very words, “But, Lord . . .?” forming on their quaking, dry lips, even then I picture Jesus looking back at them filled with love, filled with hope saying in effect, “It’s OK, you got this, we’ve got this one.”  God votes for humanity by instilling in Christ's followers the very power of God that raised Christ.  God votes for you every day, votes for the power of Christ in you. 
Let me be clear here, lest this come across as some form of progressive optimism and faith in the ability of the human spirit to pull itself up by its boot straps.  When I say I’m voting for you, what I mean to say is that I’m voting for Christ in you.  Because, otherwise, let’s be honest, a vote for me or you would simply be another wasted vote.  I know me and if you’re anything like me, we’re all still struggling to figure out what a boot strap is, never-mind pulling ourselves up by it.  

I’m placing my vote for Christ in you, for that growing power of the resurrected Christ that now lives, breathes and moves in you.  I’m voting for the power of Christ at work in the woman who just quit her job to help care for a sick family member.  I’m voting for the man who’s working with the Mentoring Project to match positive male roll models with at-risk youth in our town.  I’m voting for the power of Christ at work in a friend who faced down her fears of the unknown and traveled to Haiti and found a deeper calling to compassion and service through time spent cuddling a needy child.  I’m voting for the many in my small church who're slowly learning that where our potential ends, God’s begins and who are slowly taking leaps of faith in hundreds of big and little ways.

I’m voting for the power of Christ at work in a woman I baptized not long ago who’s trying to quit drinking and for single mothers I know and new moms who’re struggling to negotiate a balance between the desires of career and home.  I’m voting for this silly sale of dresses to benefit displaced Syrians and for my kids who collected cardboard to feed hungry families and for Orange Korner Arts whose programs are bringing light and life and healing to inner-city Philadelphia.  I’m voting for my neighborhood that, like so many others across America, is sitting on the edge in need of a healthy dose of light and life and hope. 

I’m voting early – I’ll be there on November sixth, but I’ll be voting every day up until then and every day after too.  I’m voting every day from here on out, voting with my life, my faith and trust.  I’m voting for me and for you and for Christ in us all, because I understand now more deeply than ever that every vote matters.

Maybe if we all keep voting every day from now until the next election, we’ll find that it matters a little less which two dogs we have to bet on, matters a little less who the winners and losers are, because we will have voted, with our lives, for the power of Christ at work in the world, the only One who has the power to heal, restore and redeem us all.     

Reading Rilke in the bathroom, this is what the things can teach us . . .

I first encountered Rilke in seminary.  His book, Letters to a Young Poet, was required reading for a class I took on the sabbath, though the connection between the book and the topic completely eludes me at this point.  The introduction told of his bizarre childhood and how his mother, in her grief over the death of a daughter, dressed and raised him as a girl, calling him by his middle name, Maria, until the age of six.  At ten Rilke's father sent him off to attend a military academy for which his temperament was ill-suited and where he endured intense bullying and loneliness. 

My copy of this little book is filled with underlining and dog-eared pages.  At some point I loaned it to our friends (the some ones we used to share a TV with, but more on that in another post) and they kept it on a little shelf in their bathroom, almost as a decoration.  One of my favorite quotes from that first book holds sage advice for the life of the spirit,
                          "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and
                          try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
                          and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
                          Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you
                          because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,
                          to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will
                          find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some
                          distant day into the answer."

Later I was introduced to "Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God," by a woman I was meeting with for spiritual direction.  I'll confess that I was impressed with the idea of the book and thought it lofty and impressive reading, so I ordered it quite quickly from amazon.  I was disappointed when it arrived.  First off, it had those annoyingly uneven edges that are meant to lend an air of artistry, I suppose, but otherwise make a book impossible to flip through.  Also it failed to transform me into a more interesting or insightful person over night, though I did think that, with its rough cut edges and delicate silvery cover, it might be just the right kind of book to leave laying about for company to see (insert sly smile here). 

I now keep it tucked away in my room on my bedside table or sometimes in the upstairs bathroom so it's there waiting for me when I flee the tumult of life with four kids for a brief time out. The poems have grown on me over time and I've found bits and pieces that speak into whatever questions I find myself facing. 

Just the other day I came across the poem below while hiding in the upstairs bathroom.  It makes an nice followup to my previous post on the implications of God's work in creation and leaves me with much to think about, so I thought I'd share it.  This poem is from the middle of the book in the section titled "The Book of Pilgrimage."  It's listed as poem II,16.

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing -
each stone, blossom, child -
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Beautiful Things (a grain of sand, a bit of bread and wine, and we are recreated)

                      Magnified images of single grains of sand taken by Dr. Gary Greenburg

I came across this beautiful picture a few weeks ago in a magazine I picked up at the library.  It turns out sand isn't brown or "sand" colored at all - holding a handful is like holding a rainbow as each piece is composed of tiny pieces of coral, lava and shells, among other things.  Isn't it crazy, so much beauty right in front of us, beneath us, clinging to our clothes and sticky kids, pouring out of our shoes and socks every time we stand at the ocean's shore - all of these tiny, broken bits of beauty right on the edge of all that chaos - who could imagine such a thing? 

*   *   *   *   *

I spoke at my church last Sunday on the Doctrine of Creation and the whole talk consisted of two simple points regarding what it means to say we believe in "God the Father, Almighty, creator of  heaven and earth."  First, God is CREATIVE and second, this gives us HOPE. 

The God we find in Genesis 1 is too creative to look out over the dark primordial chaos and say, "Yeah, I ain't got nothin' to work with here."  Instead God looks and pauses as a smile starts to spread and the creative juices get flowing.  All that nothing gets God thinking, imagining and soon all that's good is flowing out of his words, out of the same wide-smiling mouth of God. 

The fact that God is creative tells us that dust and darkness and death are never what we fear them to be.  Some of the most beautiful people I know are the one's who've been most deeply broken by life, but who cling to and allow their belief in God's creative power to recreate them.  They, like the trees and rivers and mountains, become living, breathing proclamations of God's creative power.  Gungor's song, "Beautiful Things" says, "You make beautiful things out of the dust, you make beautiful things out of us."  What if we really believed this?  What if we believed God sees more than dust and darkness and death when he looks at us, when he looks at our world?  What if we started seeing this way too? 

This past Sunday we practiced our hope by writing the areas of our lives that need to be recreated on slips of paper and burying them in a sandbox as we came forward for communion.  Silly, right?  We all know nothing much grows in sand and that a little bread dipped in wine is just that.  But the invitation remains to see beyond the chaos, the darkness, to trust in the One who causes streams to flow in the desert and transforms bits of wine and bread into that which promises to transform us all.  

We swallow the bread, we sip the wine and something new begins to spring up through the dry, dusty cracks of our lives - we are being re-created.  Hope begins its work in us - the hope that things are more than what they seem, that even here, even now, the creator God is speaking goodness into being.

I know it's hard.  Some days I could swear that everything I see is covered with dust, layers of brokenness, layers of not-good-enough and never-amount-to-nothing-ness.  The world seems so entrenched in its deadly ways and I choose too often to linger in the valley of the shadow of all this death; choosing life comes hard and often flies in the face of rationality.  Sand is just sand after all and we do our best to shake it off and move on.

The world we live in is starving for hope, for something to believe in, that's why we fight so hard for our little brands of right and wrong, for anything that promises power and control.  Maybe, though, if we were to look through the lens of Christ we would find that everything we're waiting for, longing for, has already begun, right here in the midst of us.  The mystic poet Rumi says,

                       "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
                        there is a field.  I'll meet you there. 
                        When the soul lies down in that grass,
                        the world is too full to talk about."   

Maybe the world isn't a battlefield of data and sound bites, an endless round in the race to control and interpret information.  Maybe it's a field full of wild flowers sprouting up defiantly, daringly in the midst of all this chaos and darkness - can you make the time to see them?  There's one at your feet just now, waving and swaying in the sunlight, exuding the scent of life and hope and love that overcomes fear. 

Or maybe the world is a sandy shore, a million pieces of beauty and light laying there beneath our feet.  Can you see it?  "Lay down here on the shore," God says, "Let your body rest, here, in the sand.  Let these millions of pieces of broken beauty hold you until you can see them, feel them for the truth they are; until you can see yourself for the broken bit of beauty you are.  Let the water wash over you, don't be afraid of the chaos.  I'm creating you anew, even here, even now." 

Leaning Into the Space Between (of Gliders, Covers and Computer Chairs)

My husband and I have been known for our quirky household habits.  We're not big on cleanliness and our home organization system is highly intuitive at best.  For example, early in our marriage we kept our microwave in a cupboard which meant we had to get it out any time we wanted to use it.  It was a hulking thing, tan and brown with a knob for setting the time, no fancy buttons or stainless steel.  I think we were trying to conserve countertop space while also being embarrassed by how it looked, but even we had to admit that keeping a microwave in a cupboard ate into the efficiency of its use.  Plus sometimes one of us would forget to put it away and the other would say, "Ok, who left the microwave out?" and saying it out loud made it sound pretty silly.   

Quirkiness is expected at our house and lately I've noticed a new habit - we've started getting rid of things we need before we have their replacement.  For example, we had two ancient glider rockers in our living room for a long time.  As an introvert at home with four children, I grew to hate those chairs; the added motion of one or another of the kids constantly bopping back and forth on them was often a tipping point for me in terms of outward stimulation.  This summer we sold the oldest rocker at a yard sale thinking we'd surely make enough to be able to find some "new" seating on Craig's list.   The rocker sold for $4 after my husband was bargained down from the $5 price tag we had on it.  Not exactly enough to buy a replacement, so we went several weeks without enough seating in our living room.  This made for an awkward situation when guests came and we all crowded together on the couch or I crouched nonchalantly on the living room floor. 

More recently, when our computer chair broke, but was still usable, I hauled it out to the curb.  I now sit typing in the other glider rocker, which has become our computer chair, which means that when we watch shows on the computer (sold that TV at the yard sale too) one of us sits in the glider while the other hunches in a little wooden chair borrowed from the kids' room. 

Eventually we'll make our way over to Staples to buy a new chair or find one on Craig's list.  In the meantime I'm beginning to enjoy the space created by letting go of things before we know what will take their place.  There are other areas in my life, too, where I see this happening, where the no's are coming more easily, where there's more trust in the open space, the yawning divide between commitments.

I had an on-line conversation with a friend recently who said he was "learning to trust."  I replied that maybe "leaning into trust" would be a more surefire approach; circumventing the rational process of "learning" and replacing it with well-timed free-fall into the arms of the One who catches us.  I know not having a computer chair is a small thing in a world where many don't know where their next meal's coming from, but I have to wonder if even these little leanings aren't somehow helping me learn to live and lean more freely as though the net that catches me each time is as sure and wide as the Father's love for us. 

There's a segment in the video, Home At Last where Henri Nouwen talks about his interactions with a trapeze group he followed and observed for a period of time.  Here's what Nouwen has to say about the group,

          One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his
          caravan, talking about flying. He said, 'As a flyer, I must have
          complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the
          great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has
          to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the
          air as I come to him in the long jump.' 'How does it work?' I asked.
          'The secret,' Rodleigh said, 'is that the flyer does nothing and the
          catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch
          out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me
          safely over the apron behind the catchbar.'

          'You do nothing!' I said, surprised. 'Nothing,' Rodleigh repeated.
          'The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher.
          I am not supposed to catch Joe. It's Joe's task to catch me. If I
          grabbed Joe's wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine,
          and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a
          catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched
          arms, that his catcher will be there for him.' (emphasis mine)

I can't watch that clip, listen to Nouwen's excited commentary, without tearing up.  Nouwen goes on to say that he used the image at a friend's funeral as a picture of the surrender in death.  It's a beautiful image, but if death is indeed a surrender, then might not life also be an on-going rehearsal, a moment by moment opportunity to practice the art of surrender - the art of leaning, falling, trusting the open space, stretching our arms even before we see the One who waits to catch us? 

Last night as we went to bed we were forced to admit it's beginning to get cold; it's time for a warmer blanket.  The funny thing is, as we lay their accepting the change of seasons, moving into the newness and familiarity of fall, it dawned on us both that we're pretty sure we threw out our down comforter last spring.  It was old, stained, and the down was forever winging its way toward the edges, leaving us thinly covered, shivering in the middle, so we tossed it in a fit of cleaning and ambition.  It was time, that's for sure, but here we are in mid-October snuggled together for warmth under a thin coverlet. 

The handle of the door on the van came off in my hand the other morning, the oldest has outgrown all her shoes, and our wardrobes are wearing thin.  All of this to say, a new comforter isn't really in the budget.  But, it'll work out somehow.  In the meantime we'll enjoy the excuse to cuddle close. 

I'm starting to enjoy the wide open space between letting go and being caught, to lean into the in-between, into the small discomforts of waiting and needing.  One thing I know for sure is that these spaces - the spaces made by our letting go, the wearing thin ones, the crowding together on the couch or floor ones - are the ones that open us to the possibility that we're learning how to fly.  "A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him."

A Day in the Life (with Twins)

Our boys in their sweet little handmade bonnets about a year ago.

Pretty much everyone I know has said at some point in the past year, "I don't know how you do it."  By "do it" I assume they mean manage the day-to-day needs of a family of six while still managing to, ocassionally, show up in public wearing clean clothes.  One of the ways I've found to cope with the intensity of parenting four children five and under is to step outside of the situation and observe things with a sense of humor or absurdity.  This skill provides plenty of facebook fodder and continues to help me get through the nitty gritty of life with two one-year-olds.  

In honor of my friends Tom and Sarah who welcomed twin girls on Monday (whoot!), here's a glimpse of my life last fall, when the twins were about two months old.  It was a typically intense day and I decided to "enjoy" it by recording how simply absurdly chaotic things were.  For the sake of clarity, the twins are Levi and Isaiah, and Solomon was four and Sophia five (and now that you know my children's names, I will probably have to kill you!).     

4:21 (am) Wake up and try to think of ways to get John to get up and give Levi a pacifier.  Look at the clock  and realize the twins have slept 6 hours; I guess we need to feed them.  Get up and nurse the babies, change their diapers and nurse them some more. Ask John to set the alarm for 6:30 so I can get up before the kids.  Ask John to set the alarm again because I can’t remember if I asked him yet.
6:30 Wake up with the alarm, think I’m hitting snooze and turn it off.
7:00 Wake up to Solomon calling on the monitor.  Look for and find glasses.  Turn off the monitor.
7:12 Wake up, with glasses in hand, to the sound of fussing babies and hear the older kids calling and banging on their door downstairs. Check on babies – still technically sleeping – then head to Sophia and Solomon’s room.  Solomon says he’s sick and demands medicine – a brief fight ensues.  Head to the kitchen for coffee and to warm up milk for Solomon.  Groggily sit in the living room and beg-off of reading books until the caffeine can hit my system.
7:30 Read a book with the kids, find clothes for Yellow Day (Sophia) and Blue Day (Solomon).  Get cereal for Sophia and a cereal bar for Solomon.  Run up to check on the babies – give Levi a pacifier. 
7:45 Pack Sophia’s lunch, write a note for Solomon’s teacher.  Urge the kids to get ready. Remember that I need to take vitamins and cold medicine.
8:00 Grandpa comes to take the kids to school.  Make two trips upstairs to bring the babies down.  Nurse the babies and change 4 diapers.  Find spit-up on my shoulder. 
9:30 Try putting Isaiah to sleep in the bouncey seat.  Try holding him.  Lay him in the cradle (eyes pop open).  Lay him in the swing.  Change Levi’s diaper.  Wrap Levi.  Lay him in a boppy. Turn off Isaiah’s swing, so he doesn’t get addicted.  Turn it back on because he wakes up.
10:00 Make a bagel for breakfast.  Eat a brownie while waiting for the bagel.  Scarf down breakfast while checking facebook.  Get a shower (don’t forget to lock the front door so no one steals the babies!).
10:30 Hear Isaiah start to fuss.  Quickly try to empty dishwasher before they wake up.  Remember that I still haven’t taken vitamins and cold medicine.
10:40 Isaiah has one arm out and one eye open.  Offer the pacifier. Pacifier is rejected. Quickly finish dishes.  Walk around the kitchen looking for the tissue box that’s usually on top of the refrigerator.
10:45 Find tissues on top of refrigerator.
10:52 Finally take medicine while holding Isaiah who drifts back to sleep. 
Look on craigslist for a swing with a timer (don’t want to babies getting addicted!).
Marvel at Isaiah’s skin.  Watch as his eyes pop open.  Converse with Isaiah on the couch while waiting for Levi to wake up.  Feed Isaiah who’s mad because I cut his fingernail too short.  Wake Levi who’s still sleeping peacefully. 
11:30 My friend brings Solmon home from preschool and asks if I need anything from the store.  I would LOVE a Diet Coke, but it seems too frivolous to ask for.
11:35 Get into argument with Solomon who comes home from preschool like a bear fresh out of winter hibernation.  Change two diapers.  Consider beating Solomon – give a stern talk and hug instead.
12:10 Make bagel pizzas with Solomon while running to the living room to reinsert pacifiers.
12:20 Eat mini pizza while holding a gassy Levi.  Isaiah is in the swing.
12:24 Wonder why Solomon’s face is red and itchy while I bounce a now awake Levi. 
12:36 The sun comes out after about 10 days of rain!
12:42 Swaddle Levi and try to get him into the Baby Bjorn so we can go outside.  First have to resize Baby Bjorn and eject Sophia’s teddybear from its straps.  Insert Levi who commences to scream like a banshee.  Attempt to lay Levi in the swing.  His eyes pop open.  Insert Levi into the sling (ahhhhhh . . . .) and head outside to pick peppers with Solomon.
12:45 Solomon helps pick peppers for about 3 minutes, then demands to be pushed on the swing.  We talk about “when we grow up” and I explain why he can’t marry his sister or his cousins.  We walk around the house picking some weeds while I make several trips to peek in the window on Isaiah who’s asleep in the swing. 
1:12 Back inside to read for Solomon’s Quiet Time while he eats a pepper.  Put sleeping Levi into the bouncey seat.  Grab frozen dinner out of freezer to thaw.
1:40 Turn off the swing and send Solomon to his room for Quiet Time.  Spend a few minutes on facebook and checking email.
1:46 Levi is awake again and in my lap.
1:52 Admire Levi’s bright blue eyes, gummy smile and pretend to eat his sweet baby cheeks. 

I'm pretty sure things must've descended into pure chaos at this point, because I stopped writing it down.  I do know I called John on his way home from work and asked him to pick up some Diet Coke for me, a girl can only hold out for so long! 

All I know is that I don't know how I "did it" either, nor do I know how each of YOU tackles the many things you do each day.  I do know that each moment gives us a grace all its own if we're able to open ourselves to it.  And, a year from now I'll be tackling raising two two-year-old boys which may well make all of this look like child's play in comparison! 

Also celebrating my friend Joni, who welcomed her little girl into the world this morning - can't wait to meet you Maggie!