The Merry-Go-Round (we all fall down)

"Where we stumble and fall is where we find pure gold." Carl Jung

My husband and I were talking the other night about life and winter with four kids, about parents in transition and crisis, about waiting on pins and needles and credit-cards for our much needed tax refund. 
“You know what it feels like?” I asked.  “Remember playing on a merry-go-round when you were a kid?  Hanging on to those metal bars, pushing and running with all your might and then, suddenly your foot slipped out and you fell, but your friends kept running?  How you tried to hang on, to pull yourself up, but you couldn’t get your feet back under you fast enough?”

I can remember the under-side of the merry-go-round so clearly, the center post around which it all spun, the way the ground sloped out away from the post to the ditch worn by running feet.  You never lost your footing all at once, but instead started leaning hard, too hard.  Soon your upper body was too far out in front of your legs and when you finally fell your shoulder slammed into dirt, old leaves, and mud.  The kids behind and in front of you kept running and it took a few seconds that felt like minutes for your brain to send the message to your hands that right about now would be a good time to let go.    
“Yes,” he said, “that’s exactly what it feels like.” 
We felt a little better then, having named the feeling and paired it with a picture.  Nothing was solved, no weight lifted, but at least we had another angle, an image between us, that gave expression to the experience. 
There’s a certain kind of grace, I guess, in knowing where you stand or, rather, lay.  There’s some comfort too in solid ground, if you can manage to not get trampled; comfort in lying there, still, as your breathing slows. 

As you press your back into the ground you're held by that to which we shall all one day return.  Looking up, the sky opens, wide. 

(image credit:

The Home of Your Soul on the Earth (in which I take up drinking for Lent)

"The body is a sacrament . . . a visible sign of invisible grace  . . . The body is the mirror where the secret world of the soul comes to expression.” – John O’Donohue in Anam Cara

The weekend before Lent started, I noticed that I’d fallen into an old habit of not eating, getting by on half a piece of dry peanut-butter toast in the morning, for lack of time and focus, and often skipping lunch too. I had stopped getting groceries – really getting groceries – aside from dribs and drabs of necessities.  Meal preparation fell by the way-side as well, so that dinner was a continual mad-scramble as I pulled things together for one more meal. 
Soda consumption – my Achilles heel – was up too.  Back in seminary a daily diet coke poured over ice and served with a slice of lemon was a treat, a symbol, if you will, of self-care in some deluded sense.  But lately I was up to two-a-day and I’d given up using glasses.  In a moment of stress or frustration or simple thirst I would grab for the trusty can, no longer even hearing the satisfying crack and snap of the tab-top lifting, no longer tasting the welcome bite.  
I stood behind the refrigerator door gulping and placed the open can on the shelf, returning at-will for a short, bracing nip of caffeine and carbonation.  Drinking soda like that is like drinking wine straight from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag – sly and empty, pure need and no delight.  Give that woman a glass, I thought, as I saw myself in a rare moment of self-awareness. 
There were many years where I wouldn’t have noticed these things.  I’ve always had a tendency to neglect my body, to live in the lofty penthouse of my mind, conveniently removed from the dust and dirt, the tumult of daily, embodied, life.  I turned a deaf ear to my body for a long time and I’m lucky I’ve not paid a higher price for my neglect.  Something about three pregnancies, though, and the long-haul commitment of nursing four little bodies into strength and health, forced me to listen more closely to my own body, if only for the sake of those little ones it grew. 
I’ve never been a good friend to my body, never been a lover of it, but this year I’m sensing the invitation to listen more closely, to care more deeply for the gift of this frail tent that houses my soul.  My “one word” for 2013, as best as I can tell, is “embodied” and rather than mortifying the flesh as I have for these many years this Lent I’m embracing the call to care for my body as an extension of the body of Christ. 
This year I’m subtracting nothing other than my own disdain for the needs of the flesh.  I’m listening more closely to this dwelling place, this home for my soul as O’Donohue calls it, this sacrament of flesh and blood.  And, as a symbol of all of this, I’m drinking water. 
I’m learning to observe the dryness of my mouth, the signs of thirst that were among the first things I knew as an infant and, perhaps, among the first I put aside when I thought I was old enough to outgrow the needs of the flesh. 
Standing in the kitchen, where the sunlight pours through these old double windows lighting up floral-fielded blinds, I reach for a glass.  I lift the handle on the faucet and watch the water flowing like a stream of glistening light as it dances in the sun’s illumination.  I catch the dance in my cup and watch as it is filled, wait as my hand bears the weight. 

Turning off the tap I lift the glass, clear now, but weighted with light and life.  Then, placing my lips to the glass, I swallow down this dancing stream of life.  I gulp, pressing myself to embrace what is necessary but doesn’t necessarily come naturally. 
Looking out through the bottom of the glass as this small, shining river flows into me, I see a world sparkling and shining with refracted light.   As I drink, I think of Christ in the desert and the thirst he bore, both there and on the cross, and I know that I’m somehow more present to him as I become more present to my own body. 

This post is shared with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

Cut Flowers (vol1) (words around the web)

I don't think I'd ever read a single blog post before I started blogging, but since then, I've developed quite a list that I follow and read regularly.  Every once in awhile I'd like to share some of my favorite posts with you.  Simply click on the link provided to visit the site.  Enjoy!

For when you need to laugh: "After three months of negotiations, you have still failed to comply with what I feel are very basic rules when it comes to what you are to feed me. Since you show no indication of falling into line, I have been forced to strike until this matter is resolved."  10 Rules for Feeding a Picky Baby

For when you need hope: "My son now stands on that hill between resignation and acceptance, wrestling with God and self. Afraid." Ready for Spring 

For when your life needs a soundtrack: Emily Wierenga I completely stopped listening to music at home after we had kids - I simply couldn't stand the extra stimulation.  Recently, though, I started listening again but didn' have a lot of time to look for music I liked.  Then I stumbled across Emily Wierenga's blog where she has her own playlist.  Simply scroll down the page and look for the little player box on the right, click play and voila!  awesome hipster playlist at your fingertips.  Emily adds new music over time. 

For when you need to remember the beauty of loss: "He sits with his mother in room 710 . . ."  Absolute Sway 

For when you want to know more about the tree this apple fell from: "At the beginning of 2013 I believe God is telling me LIVE, really live, live fully, so that I might praise him through my life." Live Fully

For when you can't stand the noise any more: "Those ants know the value of a season of silence. They understand the importance of waiting. There is a time for scurrying and working and gnawing, a time for digging and eating and moving.  But there is also a time for stillness. A time for silence. A time for waiting." Why the Church Should Quiet Down

Have you read any great posts this week?  Did you like any of these?  I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below!

The Year of Guerilla Warfare (when laughter is a prayer of surrender)

Year two with twins is the year of guerilla warfare, the year in which they form a tiny two-man militia bent on breeding destruction and disorder.  My one-and-a-half year-old boys are climbers and their little army is forever advancing toward higher ground.  Our couch is like one of the beaches of Normandy and they pour up and over the baskets they’ve moved, the books they’ve stacked, with focused determination.   If one falls, the other continues pressing upward and onward, climbing over his brother’s prone body, intent on “taking” the couch.

As I stand in the kitchen preparing lunch – provisions for the troops – I see them standing at the gate, plotting, checking and double-checking the safety-lock.  Decked out in their matching blue sleepers they look like navy seals swathed in footed fleece, smiling and chattering in their little code language.  They’ve already surged through the gate we keep around the computer and they’re eyeing up the one that leads to the kitchen and beyond to that allusive mecca of choking hazards – their older siblings’ room. 
I’m heavy-pressed to maintain defenses against the ongoing onslaught.  It’s exhausting, overwhelming – how many times can I run into the living room just in time to prevent disaster?  How many times can a one-year-old hit their head, get the wind knocked out of them, before it causes permanent damage?
It occurs to me as I fight this daily battle for safety, for sanity and some small bit of life-preserving order, that this is what life feels like lately . . . won't you join me at Central Penn Parent Magazine to read the rest of this post? 

The Fountain (the "sidewise glance")

And in that instant I understood that if I were to pay attention to the spaces between and just behind the things I thought I needed to look at, there was no limit to what I might witness . . .  It's not just the genius or the personal friend of [God] who can be privy to great visions. Sometimes all it takes is looking just to the side of the obvious. . . . beauty and epiphany bide their time in the sidewise glance.          - Trebbe Johnson in "Where's the Temple"

Before my children came along and life turned topsy-turvy, I spent a year training as a Chaplain through a residency at a large regional hospital.  Several times a month my fellow residents and I worked grueling on-call shifts, covering the long, dark hours from 4 pm until 8 am the following day.   
After a long night on-call the last thing I wanted to do was fill the chapel fountain, but there was no avoiding it - it had to be done.  If we didn’t fil the fountain, the pump would blow, again, and the Pastoral Care Department Budget couldn’t handle any more pumps, at least that’s what the Department Head said.  So, on my way to brush my teeth in the women’s room and freshen for the day ahead, or after a rousing middle of the night emergency in the trauma department, I would turn into the small chapel that seemed strangely spooky in the dark quiet of the hospital’s off-hours. 
The fountain sat, bubbling, in the middle of the small gray space.  The room, constructed it seemed, of great slabs of gray stone, resembled a tomb and I didn’t relish venturing into its dimly lit cave.  Moving quickly I headed to the Islamic prayer corner, stepped gingerly over the prayer mat and opened the door to a hidden room that housed, among other things, an organ and a white plastic bucket. 
Grabbing the bucket ,I headed to the women’s room just down the hall where I would fill it in the public sinks.  The sinks, of course, were equipped with automatic shut-offs and were too shallow to hold the bucket, so I had to fill and dump, fill and dump with a secondary Styrofoam vessel poached from the cafeteria while battling to keep the water on.  My twin boys who play “fill and dump” endlessly in the bathtub would’ve love the job, but I and my fellow chaplains were less enthused. 
Walking in quick little steps I would gingerly carry the full bucket back down the hall trying not to slosh and spill, then into the chapel where I dumped it into the little bubbling square.  Then, if I were really doing the job well, I would repeat the whole process.  We were really supposed to do two buckets a night, but on the nights when I felt with certainty that five more minutes spent filling and dumping would prove to be the end of me, I got by with one. 
Often, someone forgot to fill the fountain.  Often, we complained.  And often, we suggested with no little amount of indignation, that the job was beneath us and should be added to the long list of tasks performed by the maintenance department. 
One day, though, as we were cycling through yet another stream of indignation and discontent, our department head spoke up.  While I don’t remember his exact words, he said, in his typical calm, quite manner, something to the effect of, “You know, this comes up every year.  Every new group of residents wants to get out of filling the fountain.” 
Then that old gray-beard added, “I always like to think of filling the fountain as a symbol of how we care for the spiritual health of the hospital.  We are bringing living water to the people here and when we don’t bring it, things run dry.”      
Well then. 
It takes a certain kind of vision, doesn’t it, to recognize the potential for the mundane tasks of daily life to be transformed into prayer, into a window – a threshold – for the holy.  This, I believe, is how Jesus saw the world.  This is why Jesus could watch a woman sweeping or a hen gathering or a farmer sowing and see beyond flesh and blood to the image of God made manifest, glimpses of the holy truths that undergird the warp and weave of our flesh and blood world. 
For me to be a follower of Christ is to make this transformation too, to allow for daily incarnation, to seek it even, in the smallest and simplest moments of my day.  To me, this is why Lent matters, this season in which our outward practices become a reflection of our growing spiritual freedom, this season in which we attempt to “bear about in our bodies” in some new way, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus (2 Cor 4:10).    

During Lent we affirm, as a community, that even our most earthly desires -  our growling stomachs, our sugar-craving appetites - might open in us a doorway into the presence of the Living God.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Baskets of Leftovers.
This post is shared with Playdates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

Love is Vertigo (a falling, floundering thing)

Christmas morning 2010, the Corvette we found for $25 on Craigslist.

I turned to see my two and four year old children driving their little yellow Corvette through our small, cramped living room.  I was standing in the doorway between rooms interviewing a new nanny when I looked up to watch her watching them drive by.  We were moving our older two out of daycare and hoping to have a nanny provide care in our home – the news that I was pregnant had finalized the decision. 

The incredible discovery that we were expecting twins had turned our world on its head the week before so that as I stood there talking, it felt to me that our world was tilting, spinning out of control.  In that moment, the picture of our children driving through the house struck me as both absurd and entirely appropriate. 
It was then that I knew we had fallen or were falling, though toward what I did not know.   The incline was steep and the sensation would not end, still has not ended, even now some two years later.   What I could not understand then that I do now is that what we were falling into was love, a deeper and wider love than we knew was possible. 
*   *   *
When I started dating the man who would become my husband we would sit on opposite sides of the college cafeteria with our different groups of friends and make googly eyes at each other from across the room.  Whenever our eyes met there was a spark of electricity that spanned the distance and threatened to throw us off of our chairs if we didn’t glance away with speed. 

Later, when he studied in Oregon for a semester and I traveled out to visit, we spent an evening in Portland exploring and all I remember is sitting together on a bench in the midst of the city.  I looked into his eyes, two deep and gentle brown pools and felt myself falling, head-long, heart over heels.
*   *   *
When my daughter, my oldest, was born after months of waiting and reading, planning and anticipation, they placed her in my arms and I looked into those small dark eyes and felt a sudden and surprising moment of recognition.  It was an aha moment, a coming home and we sank into each other like two lost souls, like two lovers clinging as we plunged into life together.  I fell hard, as I have for every baby since.
*   *   *
Just recently, I was interviewing yet another babysitter and the moment she walked in the door, my four year old pulled her into the hallway to see our new climbing wall. 
“A climbing wall . . . in your hall,” she said, “interesting.”  
I felt the same old sensation, the realization that we had fallen, are falling still, head-long into our love for these lives that have sprung up among us.  We are off-kilter, leaning hard into love and our home and our hearts are showing the expansion, the wear-and-tear of it all. 
Love, my friends, is a falling, floundering thing.  To love another, to be in and for love, is to consent to live continually off-balance.  Love is a leaning, plunging leap, a heart-pounding lunge that leaves your stomach in your throat and the only danger is that we would come to prefer the safety of solid ground over this sensation of continual plummet. 
To me, this is the only way to explain God coming to live among us, God looking, leaning down toward humanity.  God so loved the world that he leapt and fell in among us and in his falling for us he freed us from the fall, for the fall, and the taste is born in us for love – for leaping, falling, floundering, foolish love.
Time to put it into reverse, having reached the other side of the room.

I Thirst (Following Jesus in the Desert)

Toward the end of our time together, I mentioned to my spiritual director that I was considering what kind of practice I might embrace for Lent, but didn’t really know where to begin.  She grew animated and explained that Lent is a time to join Jesus in the desert and as she spoke, reflecting on the passages in Matthew and Mark, I felt my mouth going dry. 

When I arrived that morning I was thirsty, having downed a good bit of coffee and a little milk with breakfast, but no water.  But I’d already asked to use her bathroom and felt on some sub-conscious level that asking for water might be too much.  So as we sat talking and praying together in that sunlit room filled with windows and plants, as my spirit was fed and nourished, my body was thirsty. 
As she spoke about the desert and the call for us to follow Jesus there, the dryness in my mouth became pronounced and the heat from the gas fireplace beside me grew to feel like the harsh light of the mid-day sun.  I felt the dryness of sand growing in and around me, as though the room itself was being transformed into the desert.  And in the midst of that, a panic arose in me and I said with urgency, “I don’t want to go into the desert.  I feel like winter itself has already been a desert and I can’t handle any more.”
These last few weeks since advent and maybe even before then, have felt barren and empty to me.  There's a dryness to parenting four young children through winter in this small dry house where we fill three humidifiers multiple times a day.  Each day is a barren stretch from the time my husband walks out the door ‘til the moment he comes home and I hold my breath and plod along, parched and weary, too often running on empty. 
Maybe I’m being melodramatic.  Maybe.  But as we talked, my friend suggested that there are many ways to enter into Lent and that maybe I could take on the practice of documenting the desert by simply being aware of the desert.
So I am.  And, as far as I can tell right now, it’s dry and empty and I thirst. 
*   *   *
I picture Jesus standing on the outskirts of everything, his feet sinking into the steadily warming sand as he looks back, his arm outstretched toward me.  He is silhouetted, enshadowed, by the glare of the unknown, the open, empty expanse of the desert, and I'm hesitant to enter it with him. 
But as I pause, holding back, I’m reminded of the blossoms of the desert, those flowers, rare and colorful that thrive in the heat and sand.  As he waits, something in me shifts and it's the possibility of beauty and life even there, where it should not be, that lifts my feet and moves me forward and for now, this is enough. 
Christ in the Wilderness - Consider the Lilies by Stanley Spencer
What practices feed your spirit and nourish you during Lent?  What questions or hesitations do you bring into this season?


The Room Full of Darkness (an invitation for Lent)

I wrote this poem this past December and then let it sit for a good long while.  Now it seems to me that it has something to do with Lent and Jesus' invitation to follow him into the desert for these forty days.  When I wrote it, I was thinking of the root cellar in the basement of my Grandma's house.  It was a fascinating space to me as a child, full of spider webs and canned goods.

There is a room full of darkness
within each of us.
Descend the stairs,
round the corner,
and descend the stairs again.
There stands the door,
worn and wooden,
the room behind it
like a small cell
cut into the cool, earthy
darkness of the soul.

The door is held shut
by a thin hook and eye latch.
What lies behind it,
we dare not guess -
deep secrets wrapped in fear
huddled in darker corners yet?

But maybe, also, there exists
preserved in the dank shadows,
the fruits of our lives,
treasures untold,
the deep, cool roots
from which we and the world might drink,
were we ever to dare to
reach out our shaking hand
and open the door. 

This post is linked with Playdates With God and Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday.

The Gathering Love of God

She told him, "When I was in college I read a folktale about a father pursuing a son who'd run far away, from one world to the next. The father called to him, 'Please come back!' But his son looked across the great gulf between them and shouted to him, 'I can't go that far!' So his father yelled to his son, 'Then just come back halfway!' But his boy replied, I can't go back halfway!' And finally his father shouted, 'Walk back as far as you can! I'll go the rest of the way!'"
- Atticus by Ron Hansen

The twins had a real knock-down, drag-out fight the other day. There was an intensity of pushing and pulling and screaming as they battled. By the time I realized what was happening they were knocking each other down, falling one on top of the other into the teetering baby gate.

I jumped up quickly and intervened, pulling them apart as they screamed, still leaning in toward each other in a "let me at 'em" posture. Then, as quickly as it started, it was over and Isaiah clung to me, sobbing, while Levi backed away, defiant.

I walked over to the couch intending to sit down with both and Isaiah ran to me, burying his face in my shoulder as I lifted him to sit on my left thigh. Levi stayed, though, where he was on the other side of the room pouting out his lip and sliding down to the floor, turning into the perfect picture of a tiny teenager right before my eyes.

I called his name and stretched my arm out toward him, my hand open, beckoning, "Levi, come. Come to Mama. Come let Mommy hug you."

He grunted, a rude little defiant noise he's perfected in recent weeks, and cast his eyes down in a dramatic gesture while his little hand explored the floor around him looking for something to throw.

So I changed my tone adding a note of authority, "Levi, Mommy said to come. You need to come to me right now."

I paused and tried counting in a warning tone, a trick that always works with my older two, "One . . . Levi, you need to come to me," I said as I waved my arm and patted my leg invitingly, "two . . . three."

He stayed put, though, so obviously relishing the part he played that I nearly laughed. The posture, the attitude, came naturally, and he was trying it on, like a hat or a shoe, trying on what it felt like to be separated, to be naughty.

I watched him sitting there and I felt stuck. I knew Isaiah would read it as a betrayal if I set him down to deal with Levi and I knew I couldn't let Levi stay where he was, so small and distant.

All at once I tightened the grip of my left arm, which was wrapped around Isaiah, stood up and crossed the room to where my wayward son sat playing his part there on the carpet. Bracing my legs wide like a weight-lifter, I leaned down and wrapped my right arm around him, pulling him half-way up my body and hobbling back toward the couch, a boy in each arm.

He didn't resist me and when we sat down both boys laid their heads on my chest and I wrapped my arms around them like two great wings of love and we were restored to each other once again.

There is a width and depth to parenting twins that's changing me. As their wills and battles intensify I find myself often kneeling and gathering them both, wrapping my arms around the one who hit and the one who was hit for they both need me, equally. My love is growing in breadth even as my body did in carrying and birthing these boys, so that it seems like that capacity that was born in me in gestation is stretched and expanded daily as I lift and love and hold these two.

As I sense this expansion in myself, I can't help but think I am coming to know the expansive, gathering love of God in a new way. The same love that Jesus said drove the father outside of his house, not once but twice, as he sought to gather in both the prodigal and the older brother. The same love that Paul says we are being rooted and grounded in even as he prays that we might somehow come to comprehend its "the breadth and length and height and depth (Eph. 1:17-18).

This is the love of God, wide and expansive, embracing and gathering. We all, like so many sons and daughters, find ourselves in a distant land from time to time and it is God's will that we would all be gathered in to the arms of God. And as we are gathered and learn to "bear the beams of love*," we become gatherers too, willing to go the rest of the way.

* William Blake
This post is linked with Imperfect Prose.

If You Get Lost

My oldest son worries about getting lost.  He’s the middle child, so I guess it makes sense, bookended as he is by his sister and twin brothers. 

One morning as we dropped his sister off at school and headed toward the other side of town to pick up his friend for preschool, I rounded a corner with a little more oomph than usual and he noticed, asking, “Boy, Mom, are you having fun driving?” 
“Yeah,” I said, “driving is fun.”  Then I added, “Do you look forward to driving someday?  Do you think it’ll be fun?”
“No.  Well . . . I guess so, but I worry about what to do if I get lost,” he says, his little voice traveling the distance from the back of the van; that little voice that's filled with not-so-little worries. 
Sometimes if we’re driving somewhere new or happen to take a different route home he pipes up to ask whether I’m lost or not.  Usually I’m not, but I do have a more intuitive sense of direction and have been known to, on occasion, make my way toward a new destination via slowly decreasing circles comprised of wrong turns and false starts.
We’ve tried explaining maps to him, how they show where you are and how to get to where you want to go, but it’s all a bit too much for a four-and-a-half-year-old to take in.  Besides, I think what he’s expressing is more of a feeling, a fear or anxiety, rather than a desire for concrete information.  What he really wants to know is if he’s going to be ok and whether he’s in good hands and can relax.  
When he does relax, he sits leaning forward, staring out the window, letting his eyes glide along until they come to rest on whatever thing he happens to be obsessed with at the moment.  From the time he could talk, he fervently pointed out every piece of construction equipment within eyesight as we drove on long trips up 81 or out across the PA turnpike.  This past summer, he found and exclaimed over every “peltic” cross in Carlisle during our many trips through town.   
That morning as we slowed and I put on my blinker and pulled around yet another corner, I said “Well, if you get lost, you stop and ask someone where you are and they’ll help you figure out how to get home.” 
That was it, and, for once, the simple answer seemed to satisfy. 

We all have times when we feel lost, confused and uncertain of where we are or where we’re going.  Maps can be helpful, but sometimes you just need to pull over and ask for help.  Sometimes you need a living, breathing person, someone who’s right at home in the place where you feel most lost; someone who can reorient you, holding your hand and heart long enough that you can begin to hear again the voice that calls you toward Home. 
*   *   *
Ever feel like you're lost and in need of direction, but you don't know where to turn?  I'd like to highlight my friend Tom Kaden's ministry, Someone To Tell It To.  Tom Kaden and his business partner, Michael Gingerich, started Someone To Tell It To as a non-profit counseling ministry which "specializes in offering support to those with life-threatening health concerns, especially those with cancer, to families liivng with disabilities, and for those searching to find meaning and purpose for their lives." 
The exciting part is that Tom and Michael are available to provide support locally or long-distance as they provide their services through which-ever means works best for you.  If your interested in finding out more, click on the link above.  Tom and Michael also host an excellent blog with quality writing and a depth of spiritual insight, which can also be accessed via the above link. 
*   *   *

I want to explain how it feels . . . (this thread, these crumbs)

(this picture was found here.)

This Thread, These Crumbs

I want to explain
how it feels -
it seems to me
that my life is held
by an unseen thread,
a shimmering strand
of gossamer, perhaps.

And as I pass through each
moment in time and space
I am forever looking for signs
of its Presence.

Like Hansel and Gretel
I walk hunched over,
peering through each day,
seeking, searching
for those elusive crumbs
that lead through
these dark woods
toward Home.