Praying Mantises (for the Wonders of the World)

A few weeks before the snow started to fly my son found a large, brown Praying Mantis standing on the flecked and peeling paint of our back stairs. She was a good six to eight inches long. The kids captured her by walking her gently into a large see-through salad container. We stared at her, eye to eye, as she investigated captivity, her eyes and rotating head conveying keen awareness.
Later, the kids tell me, they fed her a pincher beetle. Grabbing it with both claws, she pulled off the head and tucked it away under her arm while eating the body.  Finishing with the head, she saved the best for last. 

They let her go to lay her eggs, to bestow one last gift upon the earth before surrendering the full weight of her being, giving-in to the dark winter’s night. 
*   *   * 
This past summer we stumbled across a Praying Mantis standing still in the middle of a spacious, green field of grass.  Returning from a walk in the cool, dark woods, the six of us gathered round, casting shadows and the Praying Mantis tilted its head to meet our movements, watching us watch him. 
Then we stepped too close and it rose, this large insect eight inches long rose straight up into the air like a helicopter.   He was fifteen feet high in a matter of seconds and took off across the field to land some thirty feet away in a patch of wildflowers.   Awestruck, we continued our way across the wide, open grass. 
*   *   *

The Mantises are gone now, having fallen back to the earth like the leaves and grasses, the things too fragile for winter's sharp turn.  But I can see them still, the one that rose so suddenly, unhindered, like a prayer launched and the mother-bug plucking and tucking that tender morsel under arm.  For these and so many other wonders of the natural world, I am thankful.     

Growing New Leaves in Fall (We Are Practicing)

“…I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!”  ~II Corinthians 6:11-13, MSG

*   *   *

[Often, walking through the fields] I would see a man walking his four Kerry Blue Terriers.  These were amazing dogs.  Bounding energy, elastic grace, and electric speed, they coursed and leapt through open fields.  It was invigorating just to watch them.  Three of the four dogs did this; the fourth stayed behind and off to the side of its owner, and ran in tight circles.  I could never understand why it did this; it had all the room in the world to leap and bound. One day I was bold enough to ask the owner.

“Why does your dog do that? Why does it run in circles instead of running with the others?” He explained that before he had the dog, it had lived practically all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in circles.  For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles.  So instead of bounding through open fields that surrounded it, it ran in circles."

This is a powerful metaphor of the human condition.  For indeed we are free …. but the memory of the cage remains.  And so we run in tight, little circles even while immersed in open fields of grace and freedom’.   - Martin Laird in Into the Silent Land

*   *   *
"I'm not thankful for very many things," he said.

Leaving my son's room late one night - too late as always - I mentioned the Thanksgiving chain we had yet to start and my son said he didn't want to do one this year.  When I asked him why, he told me he just wasn't very thankful and I replied, "Well, that's why we need to do it."

This is my boy who always wants More and who, every time he gets One Thing, notices the lack of Another.  But he's also the one who time and time again names that which I would rather keep hidden, whose voice so often puts into words the things we all feel, but dare not name.

You see, I'm in charge of the Thanksgiving chain at our house.

I'm the one who cuts long, thin strips of golden copier paper, who hunts down the stapler and markers, who remembers the way November sneaks up so quickly after the Mardi Gras madness of Halloween. 

But there we were, seven, eight days in, paperless, stapler-less, thankless.

Leaving my son's room that night I knew that if we weren't giving thanks, it's because I wasn't feeling very thankful either.

*   *   *

The bible never talks about "feeling thankful" though, instead we're told to "be thankful."

There's a discipline to gratitude, a discipline to opening this doorway to grace, to leaving behind the tight, familiar circles of our own making.  Gratitude often doesn't come easy, isn't natural, especially in this life where we so often want and need More.

So we practice.

We bow our heads and pray it.

We write it, walk it, say it - out loud.

We practice opening this doorway to grace, precisely because it doesn't come naturally.

And in the practicing our lives are changed, stretched, opened wide.  The memory of the cage fades as we're remade into something new, as we too learn the art and beauty of running, leaping, bounding through wide, open fields.

*   *   *

The next night, downstairs in the dim bare-bulb light of our dining room, I rolled out a long stretch of transparent contact paper.  Taping it to the table to combat the curl, I told the kids to leave me alone, I was working on something, a surprise and they needed to wait.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of statement that sparks children's curiosity and they swarmed as I cut and taped strange shapes all across the table top.  Drawing with a brown permanent marker I made the outline of a sturdy winter tree, branches bare, reaching. 

Piece by piece we lifted and carried that tree.  Peeling the backing, we stuck it from the ground up, right onto the bare, white living room wall.

"What's it for? What are you making? What are we going to DO with it?" they cried, circling me, leaping and bounding like puppies eager for a treat.

"We're going to write the things we're thankful for on leaves and put them on the tree," I explained at last, cutting a few quick leaves from smaller pieces of contact paper.

Then I added, to my son who wasn't very thankful, "Solomon, go get the permanent markers." 

If there's one thing my son loves, it's permanent markers.  They're the Holy Grail of craft supplies at our house.  Standing on end in an old yogurt container on the kitchen counter, they're off-limits, used only by permission.  Second only to permanent markers on the craft supply hierarchy of a five year old boy, is contact paper.  To be allowed to use both at the same time, to make and stick as many leaves as he wanted, was surely something to be thankful for. 

Slowly, over the days and weeks, we're watching that tree grow full and green with gratitude, while the trees outside drop wave after wave of leaves.

We're growing new leaves in fall which, I guess is a little bit what gratitude is like, especially when it doesn't come easy.  The green buds and leaves of spring are no miracle, but these leaves, chosen in the face of winter, these leaves, surely, will give us shade in the days and weeks ahead. 

We're practicing gratitude together.  Practicing opening these doorways to grace, practicing running and leaping, laughing and loving, in these open fields of grace. 

This post is linked with Playdates with God.

The Little Birds That Leapt

Driving by the old house at night
the windows glow on every side,
a warm golden yellow.
My eyes well up
with yearning for home
and I wonder,

do the little birds
that leapt so freely
from their nests
feel a pang of longing
days, even weeks later,
as they go winging by?

This post is linked with Lisa Jo and the Five Minute Friday crowd on the prompt "fly." Click over to read more posts. To read more posts about our recent move, check out this link: Moving.

Yes to Every Moment In-Between

In the weeks before closing on the sale of our house we packed truck-loads full of everything deemed unnecessary and hauled them off to the basements of two close friends.  We didn’t know where we would be living or for how long, so the climbing wall went and the wood working tools, along with bin after bin of off-sized boys’ clothing. 

Maybe it was optimism that led me to send along a bag stuffed to overflowing with every hat, mitten and scarf we own.  Maybe it was denial.  I was sure we’d be settled and our possessions re-gathered before snow started to fly.

But this week, the temperatures turned.  Flurries floated by, hurried bits of white, rushed along by the wind, eliciting gasps of excitment from children far and wide.    

The long-waning fall let go its dwindling grip on the world and I waited with growing dread for the morning my son would ask for gloves before heading out the door to school.

I drove through the early darkness one evening, heading out of town to my friend’s house.  Rooting through their basement I dug out the sought-after bag along with a pair of shoes, a binder and a sermon I’d been hunting. 

It feels, to me, like another letting go, another surrender. 

Yes, we’ll be here for winter. 

Yes, we’re going to have to figure out a place to hang six coats or more. 

Yes, we’ll need to vacate a corner for a Christmas tree, here in this place where we never planned to be.

Reading a children’s bible with my son one morning, a short sentence giving instructions to Abraham and Sarah shimmered before me the way a poem does, giving words to felt experience,

“But now you must leave your house and live in a tent, ready to move on whenever I tell you to."

I’m not blind to the hubris of comparing ourselves to Abraham and Sarah, but isn’t this in a sense, what scripture asks us to do; to enter into our own adventure, our own “wild dancing” with our untamed God, taking solace and courage in these ancients who are at once both our guides and companions? 

Reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on the Practice of Getting Lost in An Altar in the World, her words stand as a strange and much needed affirmation, an invitation to embrace, yet again, the gifts of being lost and in-between,

I have decided to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and engage it as a spiritual practice instead . . . God does some of God’s best work with people who are truly, seriously lost.  Take Abraham and Sarah, for instance, the first parents of the Hebrew people.  The bible gives no reason for God’s choice of Abraham and Sarah except their willingness to get lost.  By saying yes – by consenting to get lost – they selected a family gene that would become dominant in years to come.

Abraham said "yes" to God.
'Yes,' we're saying, 'yes.' 

Yes to wandering and waiting,

yes to journey over destination, 

and yes to every moment in-between.     

This post is linked with Playdates with God.

The Kingdom of God is Like a Tree

What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches. Luke 13:18-19
The large, brown seed sat in our cupboard for a good month or more.  Sealed within a zip-loc bag, surrounded by moistened paper towels, it was my husband's experiment, the result of a moment of possibility. 
It seemed, at best, forgotten.
Then one day, after an Internet search for instructions, he planted it shallow in a white ceramic pot, watered it, and placed it on the window shelf. 
Something maternal in me must have kicked in then, because I watered it faithfully along with my violets and ivies.  I watered it too little, I watered it too much, and still, there it sat, half-buried, like a stone sleeping in the barren brown dirt. 
I couldn't tell you how long it took - weeks? months?
Watering, watching, waiting, forgetting to wait, while life stirred unnoticed within.
Then it split, cracked open down the middle and out curled a small green shoot, bent but rising, like a head bowed in prayer, now lifting.  
The kingdom of God is like this, Jesus said, and then later also, "the kingdom of God is within you."  
So maybe we too are these seeds, these trees planted and growing, seen and unseen in the midst of a busy and barren world.  We are watered, too much at times, or not, and the roots grow first, pressing down blindly like worms into the dirt. 
Then comes the cracking open, the split right down the middle of our lives, that sends forth the shoot.  And then it's all hungry drinking in of light and water as we too are grown into trees and the birds of the air - those lonely, wandering, homesick birds - make their nests in our branches.   
This post is linked with Five Minute Friday on the prompt "tree" although this did take a bit more than five minutes. Also linking with Imperfect Prose.

The Marooner's Stone

Wendy knew the story of Marooner's Rock. It was named by evil captains who abandoned sailors there. They would drown when the rising tide covered them.  

*   *   *

Soon after the dinghy was gone, two feeble cries drifted over the lagoon. "Help! Help!" Peter and Wendy lay on top of the rock. Peter was wounded, and Wendy was tired and weak. . . .

"We have to get off the rock," Peter said. "The tide is rising. Soon we will be covered."  

"I am too tired to swim or to fly," Wendy said weakly. 

"And I don't have the strength to carry both of us," Peter moaned.  

"Then we will drown," Wendy said.

They put their hands over their eyes to shut out the horrible thought.

Something touched Peter's cheek. He opened his eyes. A kite hovered over the rock. Its lone tail had brushed Peter's face. "Michael's kite!" Peter exclaimed. "He lost it the other day, but here it is!" He pulled the kite toward him. "We shall use it to carry us home."

                                                                                    - from Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

It's only Monday, but, already, I feel the water rising.

There’s too little time, too little money, too little of me to go around and I’m stacking sandbags in my mind, guarding against the scarcity of my own limitations.

There are days when it feels like I live on Marooners' Rock, days when it feels that the tide is constantly rising, slowly licking at the small space I've secured.

But at least I'm in good company, because so many of us live this way, don't we?

Believing the lie of too little, we hold our breath, shrinking back from the shrinking shore, moving from crisis to crisis as, surely, the water rises.

Like Peter and Wendy, we are tired, we are weak and many of us are wounded.

"We will drown," I say with certainty as I seal the envelopes that carry the checks to the electric company, the phone and natural gas.

"I am too tired," I say as I climb the stairs again to face the fussy child who will. not. sleep.

"I don't have the strength to carry both of us," I think, as I look at the long and weary face of my tired husband whose head aches nearly every night of the week.

Isn't it illuminating that deliverance for Peter and Wendy comes not in the form of increased strength or personal exertion, but rather in the playful and gentle nudge of Michael’s kite?   

Most often, when I grow weary of my self-imposed exile on Marooner’s Rock and finally, at last, lay my head down in surrender, grace and deliverance arrives disguised as the gentle voice of playfulness, the invitation to imagination and creativity.   

The more I tend playfulness through prayer and creativity, the more I’m able to reject the lie of Marooner’s Rock.  The truth is we're not abandoned, we're not alone, there's always Someone waiting to carry us home. 

Playfulness requires trust and surrender, a willingness to live openly and unabashedly hopeful in the sheer goodness of the moment and it’s here that we find deliverance, here that we find a wind strong enough, gentle enough to carry us home.

Is there a practice of playfulness or creativity that helps you find your way home?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments section . . .

This post is linked with Playdates With God. 

Like Corn in the Night

I grew in those seasons like corn in the night . . . Henry David Thoreau

“At two, they’ve grown to half of their full height,” they doctor tells us as our twin boys wriggle and squiggle through their annual appointment.  “It took them two years to grow this much and it will take them the next sixteen years to finish growing.” 
In two years they grew like flowers blossoming in a high-speed video, unfurling, stretching out and up toward the light.
Lying in their cribs at night, they're wrecked, passed out cold in the strangest positions, half-covered, while stuffed animals and binkies flung into the darkness lay scattered across the floor.   They sleep twelve hours a night and science tells us that their growth is fueled in part by this surrender to the long, dark night.
*   *   *
The natural world is slipping into darkness now , the last leaves are shaken from the trees with a stretch and a quavering yawn as life continues, quieted, in the deep, dark, subterranean layers of the earth.  Earlier and earlier every evening now, I walk the perimeter of our house switching on the lamps that push back the night.  Strategically placed in every corner, they stand tall and thin like toothpicks propping our eyelids open.  Outside the darkness grows, but the bright yellow eyes of our windows glow because we believe there is more to be done; we cannot rest, cannot embrace, willingly, the dark, still silence. 
Maybe we believe, as Parker Palmer suggests, that, “if we are not making noise,. . . nothing good is happening and something must be dying” (89).  We have lost the sense of the value of darkness, lost an awareness that there may be good and important things going on in it of which we are unaware. 
*   *   *
The butterfly in its cocoon, the cicada asleep in the belly of the world, the child in the womb, all of these and more rely on darkness; in waiting and surrender they're changed into what they will be.  Isn't it possible then that we too might grow in such a night? 

Perhaps we too are only half of what we have yet to become and so let us go, peacefully to our rest, while the great God who spun the night across the wide expanse of the sky, like silk, and who whirled the stars out wide in their orbits, works quietly within us to bring all things into completion.

This post is linked with Imperfect Prose and #TellHisStory.

Putting Things in Things

When my husband and I were first married we had a microwave that we kept in a cupboard in our kitchen.  It was a hefty old thing, brown and beige, with a large brown knob you turned to set the time.  It must have a weighed a good twenty pounds and was a big as a medium sized TV.  We kept it in the cupboard under the place on the counter where we used it and whoever pulled it out and plugged it in was responsible also for putting it back away.

Once in awhile one of us would ask the other, "Who left the microwave out?" 

*   *   *

At that same apartment that we had a cat who played happily with rubberbands before carrying them off and depositing them ceremoniously into the toilet.  String too, she loved, and grabbing a strand of my crocheting, she would run off to the bathroom, unwinding things as she went, dragging out a good twenty feet of yarn before she reached her destination.  Following the trail through the house we would find the end dangling, dripping, over the toilet seat. 

Once, when we accidentally left some Thanksgiving leftovers on the counter over night, the cat came along and found the zip-lock bag full of Turkey.  She must have played with and chewed on the bag for a good while before tossing it too into the toilet, where we found it floating the following morning.

The biggest problem with that cat, though, was that she loved to pee on the carpet and in the shower.  I wish she would've put that too in the toilet.

*   *   *

Later, a good ten years into our marriage, when we finally acquired a TV, we kept it in the attic and took it out on weekends or evenings for watching movies.  Back then we would watch two movies back-to-back before lugging the thing back upstairs to the attic crawl space.  Lugging it awkwardly up and down the stairs, my husband dropped it one time, breaking a large plastic piece off of the corner, but it still worked. 

We thought that by making TV inconvenient we would watch less, turns out we were just inconvenienced more often.

*   *   *

Where we now live, we have three refrigerators.  One is ours that we brought from the house we sold and the second is actually an upright deep freezer that we couldn't get to fit down the basement stairs.  The third is the fridge that came with the apartment.  All three stand clustered together in the kitchen. 

We have a lot of room for art work, which is good, because we have a lot of kids.

We kept the one unplugged and since our apartment lacks storage, I started storing things in the freezer - mostly paper goods and 2 lb cans of coffee. 

Since then, my husband brewed beer and plugged in the third refrigerator for storing his kegerator. 

So now our napkins and plates are nicely chilled. 

*   *   *
My husband took this picture over the weekend. 
Yes, that's a sneaker in the sink.  (questions about the quart of oil next to the sink should be directed at my husband)
*   *   *

This morning the twins played quietly upstairs for quite awhile while I cooked up chicken and sausage to store in the freezer. Their quiet made me nervously grateful and finally I decided it was time to check-in on what they were doing.  This is what I found:

They took the pile of laundry from the bathroom floor and stuffed it all into the toilet adding, also, the blankets from Levi's crib. 

*   *   *
A microwave in a cupboard.

String and rubberbands in the toilet.

A TV in the attic.

Paper plates in the freezer.

A shoe in the sink.

Laundry in the toilet. 

Putting Things in Things.

*   *   *

That is all.  


The Golden Tree

Near the park a block or so from our house, it stands – a  golden tree, its black spine and branches posing a stark contrast to the bright blue sky, the shimmering yellow cascade. 

Walking to pick-up my children from school one day, I pass under and look up – Glory! and down to the blanket of orange and yellow, covering the sidewalk.  I wade through with the stroller splitting the sea like Moses and when I pass by on the way home, four kids in tow, I tell them, “Wait until you see, the place with The Most Leaves.”
They’re doubtful, teasing, until they see it. 

Then the older two are off and running and the twins slip out of the double stroller like two slippery fish returning to the sea.  Soon they’re all splashing and diving, throwing up handfuls, gathering piles with rakes improvised from sticks. 
And I am standing there, wishing for a camera to capture it all. 
But these leaves are grace, spread deep over the sidewalk and curb, laying light on the ground, like manna.  I resist the urge to gather up more than can be stored and instead join in on the fun, the beauty, surrendering to the ocean of grace at our feet, the shimmering gold of the grace-filled present.
This post is linked with Five Minute Friday on the prompt "grace."  Click over to read more posts.