Underwear (or is it, Under-where??!!)

It dawns on me three loads in that nowhere in the jumble of Daddy's t-shirts and sister's skirts, and oodles of onesies and shorts, have I seen a single pair of underwear for my oldest son.  Granted, we all know about boys and their underwear, how getting them to shed that layer on a daily basis is like skinning a cat, but the absence of ANY underwear in all that wash, got me wondering. 

I made my way from the laundry room to the check the bathroom drawer which was empty save for a pair of too-small Thomas the Train "tighty-whities" shoved in the back.  Growing curiouser by the minute, I checked the pj and sock drawer in his room, and the swimwear and sheets drawer too, only to come up emtpy-handed. 

Bemused and confused, I marched out to the living room where my son lay sprawled on the couch, his legs flailing in the air like an up-side-down beetle.  "Solomon," I asked in a voice filled with incredulity, "where are all of your underwear?"

"I don't know," he says, unconcerned and more than a little delighted. 

This is how it's been, you see, ever since we put the house up for sale and I cleverly hid all sorts of things in all sorts of places.  I can't find my t-shirts and John and I both swear up and down that there must be a whole basket of missing laundry SOMEWHERE. 

As we prepare to move into temporary housing in the next couple of weeks, still waiting for the right house to come onto the market, I can only imagine it getting worse.  Who knows what will go missing next? 

"Oh, well," I think to myself, as we settle in to watch TV after a long night of house-hunting followed by more frantic apartment-hunting, "I guess we're going to just 'free-ball' it," and I immediately smile at the thought which so aptly describes our situation in both the literal and the figurative sense.

This post is linked with Five Minute Friday on the topic "In-Between."

All There Is

The ruddy Cardinal
perched in the barren peach tree
and the Robin who wings
from branch to fence
by way of the garden,
these and more
who fill the air each day,
pose a persistent question:

When will you realize?

The song your heart sings
is enough;
that song is all there is.

(photo source: here)

This poem is linked with dVerse Poets Pub.

What Trust Looks Like

I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.  To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Hosea 11:3-4

*   *   *

I stand in the doorway of my older son's preschool.  Holding it open with one hip, I hunch toward the ground with my arms outstretched on either side.
“Hold hands, hold hands,” I chant in a sing-song voice and immediately my one-year-old twins turn and raise their hands. Plump fingers twine themselves around my index fingers on either side, like vines growing up a trellis. 

“Good hands, good job.  Big boys, holding hands,” I chirp as we step out into the wide expanse of a parking lot, traveling the world with our hands woven together.  They toddle along, three steps to my one and I rub the back of their hands, the skin soft and warm, like round buttered biscuits, two smooth stones I hold so dear. 
*   *   *

In the morning, we stand groggily in the kitchen as wakefulness makes its slow path across our faces.  They’re waiting, desperate, for precious sippy-cups of milk being warmed in the microwave and I’m clutching, just as desperately, my precious cup of coffee. 
When the timer dings, they reach with thirsty hands that clutch the cups, then turn and trot, prize in hand, to the living room, their soggy morning diapers wagging like little tails as they lead the way.  Chugging milk, Levi stops at the couch and pats it demandingly with his open hand as if to say, “Here, Mama. You sit here.”

Settling into the familiar corner as the sun rises through wide-paned windows, I part with my cup as Levi makes his home on my left thigh.  Isaiah, busy at the book basket, finds a favorite and makes his way to the couch.   Turning at the last moment, he backs toward me in a move that reminds me of a tractor trailer easing its way up to a loading dock.  He stands there, his back exposed, his hands filled with good things and waits, trusting completely that I know what comes next.
Leaning forward so that Levi tips precariously, I hook my hands under Isaiah’s arms and curl my hearty maternal biceps, lifting him like a crane and landing him gently on my right thigh.  Home at last, they settle back into my chest, thrusting the book into my waiting hands and lifting their cups in a warm, milky celebration of contentment.
*   *   *
Standing on the edge of the pool this past summer, my older two flung themselves heartily out into space again and again.  They relished the flight and giddy peals of laughter flew off like sparks as they landed like spider monkeys, clinging to my head and neck with arms and legs entwined.  They don’t look to see if I’m watching before they leap and I dare not turn my head – all of me is trained on catching them and so they leap, secure in the knowledge. 
My children trust me so, lifting hands without looking, feeling the security of a mother’s heart that extends all the way from her wide, soft chest to the tips of her fingers.  Every time they back up to me I recognize it, this posture of trust that captures the heart of a child.  Every time they lift their hands, every time they leap, they embody trust in a way that will hold their hearts in the years to come. 
They model a willingness to stand exposed, vulnerable before love, a willingness to be led and lifted, to lean into need and desire without anxiety or fear. In the face of this trust, these gestures and postures, I’m learning – these children are teaching me – and I find, again, a prayer forming on my lips.
Restore in me, oh God, the heart of a child.  Form in me, a fearless heart that leans, forever positioning itself on the edge of life if only to feel again and again the joy of flight, the wonder of being caught and lifted by your great arms of love.     

This post is linked with Playdates With God and Tell His Story.

On Being the "Bigger" Person

When the long-awaited email arrived it was filled with phrases like, we’ll “take care of the rest at our leisure” and “at the end of the day it’s only $150 more for them, but saves me a lot of hassle.”

Having asked the buyers of our home to split the cost of Radon mitigation fifty-fifty, we were surprised and disappointed at their reply suggesting we pay for the first part of the process, which more than likely would leave them paying nothing.    

I wished the realtor hadn’t forwarded the buyer's actual email, because something about her easy-breezy attitude set me off.  Beyond being irked at the possibility of more money out of pocket, I had a strong desire to “set things straight” with this twenty-something who I felt was whining her way through the privilege of planning a wedding and honeymoon while buying a new house. 
Overall, we felt our offer was reasonable, but I kept getting snagged by the emotions of it all and spent a day or more stomping through the house rehearsing indignant phrases in my head –
Well, if she thinks buying a house is a hassle, then just imagine moving with four kids in tow. 
Think money’s tight with a wedding to plan? Try feeding a family of six.  and
Boy, if planning a week-long honeymoon cruise is too much of a hassle, then give it to me – I’ll take it.
(I also practiced these lines on my husband and a few unsuspecting bystanders.) 
My husband agreed that the tone of the email was annoying and that our original offer was reasonable, but we were anxious to move forward and it was hard to know how to respond.  Neither of us wanted to be stubborn, but it just didn’t feel right to have to spend the money. 
Eventually, as I stewed my way through the living room picking up after the kids, I found myself praying, “God, help me to be the bigger person.” 
I wanted to be the person who could swallow such a situation whole without hesitation, downing the hurt and frustration like a Big Mac and pushing back from the table with ease.  But as soon as the prayer was formed, I heard in my mind the words of John the Baptist,
He must become greater, I must become less. John 3:30
Being the “bigger person” involves holding on to the hurt yourself, absorbing it like a sponge and carrying it with you in a way that lets you show it off like a battle wound; being the “bigger person” may involve giving in, but it isn’t the same as letting go. 
I knew then that if we agreed to the buyer's demands, I would need to do so in a way that embodied surrender.  Because who wants to carry around, forever, the words of a silly young girl who’s stressed about planning some of the biggest events of her life?
In the end, we held our ground and the buyers dropped the issue all together, so all’s well that ends well.  In the process, though, I learned how deceptive the human heart can be – how I wanted to believe that giving the appearance of surrender might somehow buy me the true freedom that comes only with letting go. 

Once again I was confronted by the curious math of God's Kingdom whereby Christ takes on the weight of what we could never bear so that we could be not bigger, but free.   

This post is linked with Jennifer and Emily.

These Flowers

All four kids piled onto the red metal handcart, two in front and two in the back balanced on top of two bags of mulch.  I pulled them carefully, slowly, through the lawn and garden section of Lowes, like one of those grand Belgian draft horses you sometimes see in parades.  We marched down the rows of overpriced annuals and trees, past the perky daisies and black-eyed susans.  Strangers waved, calling out questions about the twins and I called back that I’d found them all in the clearance section where children were on “special” two for one. 

For years now I've scanned the clearance section at Lowes, bringing home sad and droopy perennials to fill the beds that surround our small house.  But this year I passed them buy, it just doesn't seem worth it to plant flowers when you won't be around to see them grow.  Instead, we were buying mulch to fill in the two muddy moats my children dug out beneath the swingset in our yard - I couldn't stand the mud any longer. 

When we got home, I rushed inside to make lunch while the kids swarmed the yard, drawn like Dirt Addicts to the messiest, muddiest patches available.  I served up a lunch al fresco and felt like the Good Mother for once as I stepped out into the sunshine carrying a Real Meal  – mini-pizzas (not burnt!) accompanied by cucumbers, celery and black olives.  The sun beat down, fierce, on our old gray picnic table and the kids lined up on the benches like turtles on a log, squinting into the sun with upturned and expectant faces. 

I sat with Isaiah while the other three fought over the smallest spot of shade on the opposite bench.  As I rubbed his back, he looked up at me with a grin and patted his chubby hand on my chest affectionately before wiping his other hand, the one coated with pizza sauce, on my (thankfully) brown skirt. 
We ate there on the paint-chipped picnic table, with the kids sitting on rotting boards and a huge pile of dirt lay just inches from my plate.  Looking a little to the right, I could see the glass jar that held the now-dead American Toads the kids gave me as a get-well present the other day.  They seem to be mummified and I was relieved I’d remembered to tell the kids to take them outside before the bank appraiser arrived. 
We’d made it through the appraisal that morning, “tucking up our bottoms” one last time and we were all letting down now; down into the dirty, sandy, gritty life of a family of six.  Sitting there eating, I thought of all the work we’ve done on this house and the flowers we’ve planted, the vegetable garden, all of these things we’ll leave behind we we move in a few short weeks. 
Looking at my children sitting like so many flowers in the sun, I felt so blessed, so grateful for the suprises that come, unbidden, grateful for  these flowers I’ll be taking with me, mud and mess and all.    
This post is linked with Playdates with God.

For the Fathers

"Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up." Brene Brown

Sometime in the land before time, by which I mean the time before I was, my older brother woke in the middle of the night to the low rolling growl of a thunder storm.  Like any young boy boasting a reasonable level of common sense and a less reasonable level of imagination, the house-shaking rumbles and shadow-casting flashes of light scared him witless. 

My father, a young man then, got him out of bed and they stumbled together to sit in the stairwell where they could easily watch the storm as it rolled across the night sky.  They sat side-by-side on the stairs, a large and solid body next to a thin and quaking one and the story goes that as they watched the storm, my Dad explained the science behind it all.  This, I'm sure, helped with the reasonable part of my brother's brain, but I have a feeling that it wasn't what my father said that night that made a difference in the stormy nights to come, but rather his presence

When fathers show up, it isn't the knowledge they bring or the tools or (a-hem) cold hard cash that makes the difference.  Every child is grateful, always, for the part of a father that fixes a problem, but what we need, what the world needs, is men who will continue to show up and be present even when they're certain they lack the appropriate tool for the job, even when their hands are empty. 

A friend of mine recently posted a quote from Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche communities all over the world,

"We have to remind ourselves constantly that we are not saviours.  We are simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible."

So this one's for the fathers, including my own.  Thank you for all the many, many times you showed up with and without a solution to the problem at hand.  Thank you for being willing to be one more "tiny sign . . . that love is possible."

Happy Father's Day, Dad!  I love you!

The Distance Between Branch and Ground

"Of course, there's the coming-down too.  Backwards."
And then he said:
"Which would be difficult . . ."
"Unless one fell . . ."
"When it would be . . ."
 - from In Which Tiggers Don't Climb Trees

*   *   *

At five years old, he's all skin and bones with straw-colored hair that sticks out in every direction.  In loose-fitting “crogs,” as we call them (Crocs to most others) he positions one foot in the crook of the Red Bud tree that stands on the slope of our small front lawn.  Reaching with wirey arms, he pulls and pushes himself up into the tree, then continues climbing, no longer the tentative four-year-old of last summer, but eager and confident as he explores the higher branches that until this year were his sister’s domain.

Once he reaches his roost, he stands there waiting.  Waiting for her to come home or for the neighbor boy to come out or a stranger to walk by, because, apparently it isn’t climbing if no one’s watching. 
I squat weeding the flower beds a good ten feet away, obeying his command to “Look, look!” and keeping a wary eye on the distance between boy and sidewalk.  Where he only sees height, I see the distance to the ground.   

*   *   *

It seems to me that the process of growing up has a lot to do with comprehending the distance between branch and ground and maybe, just maybe, the second half of life has to do with regaining the joy of ascent even while armed with the knowledge of the fall.

*This post was written for Five Minute Friday in which the rules are to simply write for five minutes on the prompt.  The body of this post was written in five minutes last Friday, but I needed to let it sit for awhile and I added the quote and final sentence today. 

Where the Wild Things Are

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:1-4 adapted

I met my friend in the wilderness the other night. Well, it wasn't exactly the wilderness, but it was a bar of sorts, which for me still qualifies as a real and somewhat alarming wilderness, being the good Christian girl I was raised to be. She was late and I sat there in the dim light trying to appear busy on my phone and constructing to-do lists on the white placemat in front of me.

She arrived full of unnecessary apologizes which I quickly brushed aside and we dove in head first. Between us there's little need for small talk and right there in the middle of that noisy wilderness we each pulled open the layers of our lives and sat back, listening through tears as our hearts talked for awhile.

This is the friend who tells me how her marriage really is, tenuous and struggling, and shares how she slapped her son in a moment of exasperated rage that has melted now into a messy pile of regret. She is the one I can tell how I yelled at my own son, threw a royal tantrum of rage that scared him and me and how we all ended up on the couch in tears trying to figure out how that day could be redeemed.

* * *
I have to admit that I never really liked Maurice Sendak's book, Where the Wild Things Are. I tend to like books that are warm and pretty, books that affirm my need for a world that's safe, orderly, and predictable. But, it’s possible that the fact that I don’t particularly like the book is an indication that I do get it, a little bit at least. What I do understand is that Max is struggling with the wilderness, with all that is wild and untamed both inside and outside of himself.

Something about the unrelenting, all-humbling job of parenting leaves me too familiar with this wilderness. If my life were a children's book, then one might notice a forest of sorts growing in my house most days right around four pm or any other time that happens to be about an hour before my husband is due home and a half-hour before I lose it.

Too often by that point the day is been played out - patience is gone. I'm wresting dinner onto the table while kids are whining, fighting, hanging and swinging off of my legs like the little wild things they are. By then we're all wearing our wolf suits and if the windows are open the whole neighborhood can hear the roaring, gnashing of teeth and rumpus that ensues.

As a parent, as a human, I'm well acquainted with wilderness and wild things, within and without, but it doesn't mean I like it.
* * *

It's significant that the gospel of Mark places the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ right smack in the middle of the wilderness. This gospel has no time for angels, places no stock in genealogies or other such small-talk as a means of introducing the striking, challenging figure of Christ who emerges in the pages that follows. Mark begins like my friend and I do, by peeling back the layers and starting not in the skies full of stars and angel choirs, but on the bare, dusty, rocky ground of the wilderness.

Something about this gives me heart, gives me hope.  Something about it resonates with the prophecies of Christ and the prophets who spoke them, those craggy ill-kept men and women who lived on the edges of civilized life and thereby lived and spoke that much closer to the heart of things.

The good news begins in the wilderness. What a challenge, what a hope.

* * *
The friend I met with told me how she'd shared with her counselor that she has few real, close relationships, few relationships where anything beyond the bright cheery small-talk of this season might be appropriate. Her counselor said, "Yes, but what about this Kelly? It seems like you have a real relationship with her, why do you think that is?"

My friend, God bless her, said, "Kelly's real. I mean, she told me shethrew an apple peel at her children, for goodness sake, so I feel like I can be my real self with her."

After telling this story she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "Why is it so hard to believe that our humanity is what's most attractive about us?"

* * *
Oh, my friends. How deep and wild is the wilderness within you? Who do you have who's willing to meet you there?
* * *
This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ - the One who came and dwelt among us, who meets us in the fullness of humanity. Christ, who "sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year" to meet us here, "where the wild things are."

I'm so grateful for my friend who gave me permission to share from our conversation - she's one of the flowers in this beautiful field.

Reposting this from December in honor of Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday and is linked with Playdates with God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday.

MEGA-CART (Five Minute Friday: Imagine)

A five-year-old and two two-year-old's in a single shopping cart fight like three cats in a burlap bag.  So, lately, on trips to Target or Aldi with all three boys in tow, I grab not one cart, but two, loading a toddler into each and allowing the oldest to ride on the side like a garbage collector, hoping on and off at will. 

I push the carts side-by-side, holding them together at the seam while Solomon clings to the bow, facing me and grinning with boyish excitement.  We barrel down the aisle, a true double-wide as I announce in the sort of gravelly voice you might hear over the loud speaker at a monster truck rally, "It's MEGA-CART!"  Then, adding for effect, my own version of head-banging, heavy-metal music. 

The bad guys are never far behind and it's often necessary to launch into turbo gear as we pass by cases of diet coke stacked like an armory.  In narrow spaces or rounding a bend, we break formation, transforming into a more stream-lined design, moving and shifting as the space demands, rearranging ourselves like a flock of geese. 

These boys and I glide through the store, soaring on the wings of imagination and we're so busy playing that we forget, for once, to fight. 

Lisa-Jo Baker hosts Five Minute Friday.  Last week's theme was imagination.  Click on the link to read more posts on the topic.

From Grace to Grace

It started with a lean and reach until both hands grasped the first metal bar, then the long, lean body followed, swinging to build momentum, spindly legs pumping as though wading through the air.  Every day of kindergarten my daughter practiced the monkey bars with a focus that bordered on obsession.  Fifteen minutes of recess, twice a day, found her crisscrossing the bars over and over again, walking back and forth through the air on calloused hands.  Reaching the end, she would turn without stopping and repeat or simply swing backwards toward the platform. 

I wrote last summer about Monkey Bar Living and how life can feel so precarious sometimes.  I was facing summer at home alone with four young children, two crawling with focused determination and two exploring the world with boundless enthusiasm.  I felt fearful and anxious as we swung wildly into a new phase of life. 
But we survived and thrived and I started this blog and got some good stories out of it all and here we are now again, swinging toward summer with less than three days of school left.  Those two crawlers are toddling now, head-strong and top-heavy and the bathroom closet is stocked with four boxes of band aids because I feel it in my bones that this will be the summer of skinned knees and maybe even broken bones as the older two strap on roller skates and learn to ride on two-wheels.  Then, also, there’s the little matter of having sold our house with no idea of where we'll live in two months time.  
We’re again in motion, letting go and reaching, swinging forward with one hand stretched open, the callouses growing as we practice this way of life, this faith lived-out.  And I wonder how long it will take for me to be able to cross these bars with ease, to move from “grace to grace” as the beloved disciple says* with the same sort of confidence and assurance that radiates from my daughter’s capable limbs? 

Author, Cynthia Bourgeault suggests in her book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, that the spiritual life is composed of a series of embodied gestures, the chief of which is surrender.  These gestures or postures, as Bourgeault describes them, aren’t primarily learned through the mind, but through the body and through a great deal of repetitive practice.  So we sit and pray, we kneel and bow with open hands all the while practicing this act of trust that seems so counter intuitive, so difficult to wrap our grasping minds around.  Or, we swing, leaning, and reaching like my daughter does, allowing a deeper sense of focus that resides deep within the body and extends outward all the way to the tips of our fingers, to guide us. 
Over time we realize that our sitting, our kneeling, our open hands are as much the prayer as any petitions that manage to pass our stumbling, mumbling lips.  The act of letting go, the act of moving from grace to grace is the prayer.  In the end, we are silenced, as our prayer is transformed from words to being and we find ourselves home at last where we always have been - "in him."**
So, that’s where you’ll find me this summer, practicing again and again the art of letting go, in grocery stores and swimming pools and wherever the adventures of summer lead us.  And maybe, just maybe, my husband and I will turn into some sort of spiritual Tarzan and Jane as we learn to swing our way through life, letting go to receive, moving, as always, from grace to grace.   

*John 1:16  **Acts 17:28
This post is linked with Playdates with God and Tell His Story.
Image credit here.