Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Twin Pictures of Faith


He crosses the sandy shore, walking his slow, sturdy toddler walk and carrying a small, plastic teaspoon filled with sand.  Shirtless, still wearing his pajama shorts, he focuses with a force of determination that causes his hand to shake.  Depositing the sand on a pile of his own making, he crosses the sand again to refill his spoon.

"Mountain," I say in my sing-song Mommy voice, "You're building a mountain."

Looking up to where I stand, knee deep in the icy cold water, he squints into the sun and smiles.

"Mout-een, mout-een," he confirms, before returning, spoon in hand, to the impossible task before him. 

He is moving a mountain, spoonful by spoonful.

*   *   *

His twin brother, the tumbler, light-footed little Levi, who just days before nearly drowned in a foot of water, comes splashing, tripping out to me.  His eyes are half-shut, blinded by the light, but he runs, carelessly toward my outstretched hands.

Locking his hands in my own, I lift him off his feet and drag his body, belly-up, through the water, making wide, splashing circles around me, spinning him like a washing machine on rinse cycle. 

I worry that I will hurt his arms, that water will splash on his face, but he is giddy with delight, enraptured with the pleasure of the moment as he whirls through it.

"Moe!  Moe!" he cries when I attempt to right him on the sandy floor, he cannot get enough of this moment's joy. 

*   *   *

My boys made a tableau that day at the lake, two pictures of faith - the slow and steady faith of the Widow's Mite and the head-long falling faith of one carried by arms of Love.  Two boys, two pictures, so different, but not so very far apart, laid out before me as I stood between them, knee deep in the icy cold water.


This post is linked with Playdates with God and Jennifer Dukes Lee.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What We Took From Eden


I imagined it would be like preparing a body for burial, one last loving touch to each wall, each floor before saying goodbye.  I was grateful my daughter, seven, came with me.  This house holds her earliest memories, the ones that hover, wordless, in the recesses of her mind. 

She cleaned windows, reaching higher than I'd known she could, and begged endlessly to mop.  She climbed onto the counter and drank water right out of the faucet, because we didn't have any cups.

In the end, we opened the back door one last time and filled a small box with the ripest things we could find in the garden, mostly tomatoes.  I took my familiar position, sitting on the concrete steps and watched as she walked this last time through her very own Eden, that small patch of grass and weeds and boxed in vegetables that she helped to plant and pull every year. 

I told her it was time to go and she lingered, looking, leaning, "Let me get just one more," she said, longing to take something more with her than that box of luscious fruit, already full to bursting. 

*   *   *

That night I made spaghetti sauce, fresh and light, every ingredient pulled from the dirt of our own lives.  Dirty garlic bulbs and tiny red onions, hardly worth the time to peel, green pepper and, of course, the tomatoes. 

It was a small harvest, but it was enough; it was the best sauce I ever made. 

(This post is for Five Minute Friday on the prompt, "Last."  Click over to read more five minute posts!)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Living is Believing


‘Tis curious that we only believe as deep as we live.  Emerson, Beauty
She was bent at the waist, plucking at the ground near the swings, hunting and pecking like a chicken and I thought for a minute that maybe she’d lost something.  When we reached the swings, she straightened and turned.

“I’m not crazy,” she said, “I just like weeding.”
Then she turned and bent again and continued pulling the weeds that grew scattered across the wide expanse of mulch, moving from patch to patch like a frog crossing a pond on lily pads. 
She was white-haired and thin and as I watched, did not appear to be overly crazy.
I lifted the boys onto swings and rotated from one to the other, pushing on their soft, solid backs while my older two swung like monkeys, maneuvering the swings in every way possible save for the way they’re intended. 
“When you grow up as one of ten,” she said, “weeding all the time, it’s hard to stop.” 
“Well, it’s satisfying,” I replied.  Then, though she didn’t hear me, “I miss my garden.”
*   *   *
“I’ll be so relieved when we have a contract on a house,” I said one evening as we cleaned the kitchen, “so I can live in the future instead of having to live here and now.”
Since selling our house, we are living in-between in a place that is not lovely.  The walls are bare and white, the windows hung with three dollar blinds and I don’t want to spend a dime or an ounce of energy on improvements here that could be used on a “real home” when we move. 
“I feel like I’m in a cage,” I say, when my husband gets home and I pace from room to room.  Turning to the windows for an escape, I’m disappointed to find the neighbor’s old siding, the deli sign across the street that blinks continually , “O – P – E – N.”
*   *   *
I watched her hands, wrinkled and tan, as she drew closer.  She held a small metal tool that loosened each weed, then pulled them out root and all. 
She didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t her garden, her mulch or, even, her weeds.
She kept right on clearing the area, one by one, like the man in that story of the star fish dying on the shore, tossing the weeds aside, handful after small handful.
It seemed futile, it was futile – the Crabgrass, the Plantain and Mallow, all sure to re-grow, to spread again.
Watching her bending, gathering, I thought of Elijah’s widow gathering sticks outside the city wall.  The old woman clutching the dry branches, gathering what she needed to return home and build a fire and bake one last meal from a few bits of oil and flour.  To the observer, her actions would appear futile, but she was a gatherer, a baker, a mother, so she lived while she still could and her living became belief.  The oil continued to flow, the flour was enough.    
I thought of the boy with two loaves and the fish, his hands small and shaking as he offered the meager meal, extending on skinny arms the too small, not enough.  To the observer, his actions were futile, but he was a giver, provider, so he lived who he was and his living became belief.  The bread and the fish split into a million pieces like light refracted through the prism of Christ's touch and it was enough.
*   *   *

I am going to have to start living here, I tell myself. 
If I stop living and keep pacing, I may well stop seeing.  And if I stop seeing, for example, the branches of the gentle oak tree that wave softly to me when I lift the blinds and glance in their direction, then it will be because I’ve stopped believing.
I’m going to have to deal with the boxes in the back room and hang hooks on the wall for the backpacks and coats that will come and go this whole winter long.  I’m going to have to find a place for things, to tend my plants, to nurture bits of beauty and light and to write it out when I can, because it’s who I am and then, maybe, my living will also, please oh please, become belief. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Spider's Sac (a story of desire and betrayal)



Last summer my older children discovered two large, black and yellow spiders in our neighbor’s flower garden.  The first was heavy and round and we marveled at her girth as she sat swaying in the breeze, resting on the zigzagging line that ran down the middle of her web.  The kids set up their little green, plastic lawn chairs on the sidewalk nearby so they could sit within arm’s reach, observing her every move.  They fed her roll-up bugs and watched as she lovingly, gently wrapped the bodies of trapped bees and flies as though swaddling them for a long nap. 

One day she appeared diminished, shrunken to nearly half her former size, but the same in every other aspect.  We bent and swayed staring at her, trying the view from different angles, doubting what our eyes were telling us.  Not long after that she disappeared. 

A week or so later a second spider appeared in a different spot just up the hill from the first.  Her web was nestled out of reach in a clump of scraggly black-eyed-susans.  This one was also round and full with a bulbous abdomen. 

I took to visiting this new spider nearly as often as my kids, so I noticed the day that she too appeared diminished, relieved of her great girth.  This time, with a little searching, I spied the weight she’d lost hanging suspended in its own web in the midst of a large green and red blood-grass bush several feet away.  There hung a sphere about the size of a ping-pong ball.  It was grayish brown and textured – a sac of gloriously tiny spiders to be. 

*   *   *

Visiting those two leggy creatures, I began to notice similarities between their lot and mine. 
 
We three, the spiders and I, knew the energies it takes to tend one’s web day-in and day-out, the work of cleaning and repairing.  We also knew the work of growing large with life, cumbersomely large, and the fearsome task of releasing that precious new life into the world.  The spider’s egg sac became a symbol of maternal sacrifice and devotion for me, a symbol of the cost of bearing life. 
 
My maternal desires and fears intersected and came to rest there on that small cluster of eggs that hung suspended on glistening filaments in the blood-red grass. 
 
*   *   *
 
I was the one who pointed it out to the kids.  I suppose this was my first betrayal, calling attention to the fruit of the spider’s great labor that she’d so carefully hidden.  My four-year-old son wanted it immediately, couldn’t understand why it should be left alone and I felt a fierce protectiveness rise up within me, unexpectedly. 

I told him to leave it alone. 
 
I warned him with mama-bear fierceness without really explaining why, without giving a reason. 
 
I didn’t say what I felt and feared, that if we messed with the small spherical fruit of the spider’s life we would ruin it and then the spider’s life and sacrifice would be in vain.  All of that liveliness spent, for nothing. 

Here was, perhaps, my second betrayal. 
 
In my fear I equated the value of the spider’s life with her productivity and in so doing negated the gift of her being.  My fears dismissed and diminished her – the gift of her colors, black and yellow, the gift of her beauty and patience, of her waiting and living while we watched, the gift of her futility as she made and re-made the web each day that would be broken by evening.    

The third betrayal followed closely on the heels of the second, as though somehow intertwined. 
 
After mistaking, diminishing the spider’s being, I then did the same to my son.  I chose not to invite him into my fear and longing, not to share my deep feelings with him.  Instead I laid down the law, seeing him as a potential rebel, a threat to be managed rather than a potential co-conspirator in honoring the sacredness of the spider’s gift. 

Branded the rebel, betrayed by my unwillingness to invite him into the mysteries of love and fear and desire the eggs represented, my son acted the part I’d laid out for him.  He did it in a moment when no one was looking after being told not to by his mother and father, but never having been told why.  Reaching out with his thin arm, leaning over the blood red grass, his fingers plucked the egg sac from its web like an apple from a tree.   

Some time later I heard them, he and his sister, dreaming and discussing the babies that would be born.  They were squatting, hunched down over the ball on the front porch, captured in awe and excitement over what they held, glowing with a level of praise that surely would have pleased the spider had she been there to hear. 

This I know only by remembering because I missed it in the moment.  I was blinded by rage as I came tearing through the screen door, accusations flying from my mouth like lashes from a whip.  My daughter immediately fell back on her innocence, fleeing like the disciples in the garden that night when Jesus was handed over, wanting nothing to do with the one who was betrayed. 

The shame, the regret, were immediate.  My son cried as we laid on him the weight of all of that life that now lay suspended not in its web, but in his dirty little hand.  We told him what I should have told him before, that he was holding something precious, something sacred.  All of this we, I, laid on him, self-righteousness hiding the deeper story of my desire and fear and identity that were all wrapped up with the spider’s eggs.  

Dinner was on the table and we hurried in, pushing my son along even as he struggled under the weight of his guilt.  We prayed a hasty thank you and started the meal, but my son sat, downcast, un-eating, making small whimpering sounds.  My anger had turned cold by now and I wanted him to get over it or, maybe I was already beginning to feel uncomfortable with the weight of guilt I’d hung on him.  We told him to settle down, let it go and eat his dinner, but he couldn’t. 

Finally he said with the great strength it takes to name such things, “I feel guilty.” 

My husband and I exchanged glances.  “What do you mean?” I asked, prodding, as though the statement weren’t clear enough, as though he wasn’t feeling exactly what I’d wanted him to feel.     

He lifted his head and looked at me, his eyes two deep pools of brown sorrow, and I could see at once the truth of what I’ve done.  “I feel guilty about what I did,” he repeated.

“Well, it was a mistake, we all make mistakes,” my husband and I chimed in quickly.

“But you never make mistakes,” he replied.

“Yes I do.  Everyone makes mistakes,” I said, with some urgency this time.

“I never saw you make one,” he countered, with caution. 

My husband and I quickly started dressing ourselves down, dressing all of us down, suddenly anxious to rid ourselves of the burden of infallibility, anxious to be human with our children so that they can be human with us. 

His father told him, wisely, that when you make a mistake the best thing you can do is try to fix it, so after dinner they all tromped out the door and worked at replacing the egg sack in its web. 
 
But ah, those eyes. 

It was impossible to look into my son’s eyes and not see my own guilt as well; see how I’d crafted a cross for him built at the intersection of my fears and desires, how I’d hung him there with a weight of guilt far beyond his understanding, beyond his responsibility. 
 
We all make mistakes and I made at least three if not more that afternoon.  But when I saw the hurt in his eyes, I cut him down from the cross of my own making and held him to me, gathered him up from across the dinner table, hoping my love could make it right, even just a little. 
 
Looking back I’m ashamed of what those spiders would think of me, those two gorgeous creatures who had the wit, the wisdom, to care for their off-spring so tenderly.  I realize now that these children, these boys and my girl, are my egg sac, my precious sphere, my connection to the future and life beyond my own small span of days. 
 
Lord, still my hand from grabbing, from tearing them down.  May my words, may my love, build a web for them in which they rest, nestled, cradled until the day comes for them to break free and head out into the world.  Lord, help me, like the spiders, to tend to my own web, the fine threads of love and grace that hold me here for this time; lend me the grace, the courage to build it anew each morning.    

This post is linked with Playdates with God.

Photo credit here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Learning to Float


Last summer I stood watching my then four-year-old son trying to learn to float at swim lessons.  He’s as scrawny as a wet cat, all skin and bones with straw colored hair sticking out in every direction.  I’m thankful for the swim shirt that hides the sharp protrusions of his shoulder blades.  He looks vulnerable in the water and full of fear as his teacher gently and then with some force tries to pry off one then the other of the hands that my son has wound around his neck. 

He’s on his back now, his torso cradled by the teacher, his head at a stiff angle, tense and lifted from the water as though doing a perpetual sit-up.  And that, of course, is what he’s trying to do.  Not to float, but to sit-up, get up, in any way he can to be out of the water.  The teacher coaxes, “Put your head back.  No, I’ve got you.  Relax.  No, I’ve got you.  I’m not going to let you go.” 
When his turn is over, he scrambles out of the water clinging to the wall with relief.  Climbing and grabbing onto the side are familiar motions, but relaxing and floating are not.  I quickly wrap his shivering back with a towel so that he can feel himself again. 
*   *   *
In the weeks leading up to the twins’ birth and in the months after, I had the distinct feeling that my family and I were learning to float in a sea of grace.  I was unable to buy groceries or clean the house and friends came on a regular basis to help with those tasks as well as taking our older kids to play in parks and playgrounds so I could rest and care for the babies.  Meals were delivered to our house several nights a week for nearly six months. 
Several times during those months John or I would break down in the evening after the kids were in bed or on a Saturday morning.  We both felt that we were constantly treading water, that it was all we could do to keep our heads above it all. 
But at the same time, in the midst of the struggle, we knew that we were being kept afloat by a power greater than ourselves.  With time we learned, more than we ever had before, to stop fighting it, to let ourselves relax in the light touch of an unseen hand supporting us from below; to believe that there was more to be gained by giving in than resisting.  
*   *   *
On days like today I can feel myself resisting, fighting with everything I have, to avoid the surrender.  To avoid letting go and floating again in the ocean of grace that is my life.  I know it makes no sense, but I am continually holding myself up, rigid and tight, drawn back from the edge, clinging with all I have.  The grace I must learn to live in, to float in, day in and day out, often seems so far beneath me and, like a scrawny cat resisting a bath, I scratch and claw and reveal myself to be all kinds of desperate to not give in. 

At some point it becomes clear to me that I can’t keep fighting like this or we’ll all walk away bloody and torn from my clawing. 
*   *   *
“Look, God, I’m floating.  I’m doing it.” 
“Uh, no,” God says, drawing my attention to my arms which are, to my embarrassment, wrapped tightly around his neck. 

A tiny “oh,” escapes my mouth and a small laugh at my own expense as God removes my arms and repositions me in the water.  My eyes close tight and I try to relax.  I think I’ve got it. 
“There God.  Wow, this feels great.  Who knew grace could feel so solid?” I ask, pleasantly pleased. 
This time it’s God who laughs, a short grunt of exasperation and my eyes pop open.  To my surprise I find I’m clinging like a spider-monkey to the edge of the pool. 
You can’t float without trust and so I climb back into the waters of grace, lean back, and do what comes counter-intuitively, all the while trying to heed the voice that says, “I’ve got you. I’m not going to let you go. No. Just relax.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Two times Two (an introverted mother of twins tells it like it is)




The second my body ceases its motion, they fly to me on winged feet, stampeding down the runway that stretches from one end of this dirty old apartment to the other.  The center of their world has just plopped down on the couch and sensing the gravitational shift, they’re drawn to me like magnets. 

Then the climbing begins.  
They stand on my bare feet, the hard plastic of their shoes digging and twisting into the thin skin while they pull and push at my arms, my legs, my clothing.
“Up, up,” they say, with wide, focused eyes. 
“Ma-ma.”
“Ma-ma.”

“Ma-ma?”

“Ma-ma!”
They hunt and peck with an incessant stream of monosyllabic words, each one falling with precision and persistence.  Their words, their hands, wear away at me like water dripping on a stone, like a hail storm aimed at me and only, always, me. 
Every day it feels like I am sinking, like the swirling eddy of children at my feet – the one who clutches my skirt and follows trippingly along and the other who flings himself toward me from across the room – is going to pull me under. 
I tread water until nap-time, when precious silence falls on us all and I wrap it ‘round me like a cloak and sit huddled in its calm.  I drink it in, breathe it as it wields its restorative powers.
When they wake, crying, or smiling, calling “Ma-ma, ma-ma” I’m mostly ready again with juice and snacks and a welcoming lap.  I relish their sleepy-headed stillness, the way the one sits against me, his unmoving weight carrying the same calming effect as the silence of his absence. 
In these first few moments after wakefulness, life is enough for them, enough for us all and I soak up the contentment as they lift squat plastic cups of juice to hungry chugging lips.  I adore the pleasure with which they consume one after another of a bowl of sticky, yellow raisins. 
Then we’re off again. 

Sailing, bobbing, floating along the long and winding stretch of time that careens through the afternoon, toward the exhausting rapids and treacherous rocks of the pre-dinner-time hour.    

Friday, August 9, 2013

I'm Gonna Miss That Boy


Tomorrow, they turn two and two weeks later my big boy will head off to kindergarten. 

We walked last night through the spritzing rain and I held his hand with the always dry, cracking skin while my husband pushed the big wide stroller brimming with little brothers.  I thought about the way he and I walked so much when the twins were little.  We walked to survive, walked so we could, for one brief part of the day, face in the same direction, side-by-side.  He who wanted to go-go-go and chatted me up like a friendly salesman and I, ever the introvert overwhelmed by the sea of humanity that filled our tiny bungalo. 

I would push those boys along out in front of me and they sailed smooth like a boat on a glassy sea save for the hand of their brother resting on the stroller handle.  That pressure, that hand, irked me, but he held on relentlessly, his hand like an umbilical cord holding us together, two castaways stranded on the island of twins. 

And now I will walk him to school with his older sister and turn and walk home alone behind the double-wide, no hand to hold, no gentle pressure on the handle.

The other day, he said to me, casually, at lunch, "So, mama, how are you enjoying adulthood?" 

I'm going to miss that boy.  

This post is linked with Five Minute Friday.  Click on the link to read more posts on the prompt "lonely."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Weeping Cherry Tree


This spring, the branches
of the weeping cherry tree
across the street
hung low, heavy with beauty
and swirled around the trunk
like a woman's skirts,
shifted by the slightest breeze.

This too is how my children move,
teeming 'round my legs
as we set out for an evening stroll.
Shifting forward and back,
they whirl like an eddy at my feet
and it seems to me that I am not the center,
but simply caught up in their current. 

Photo source: HERE.

This post is linked with dVerse Poets Pub.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Dutiful Son

He worked all day in the fields, starting when the dew shimmered on the cool grass and pausing only to drink a little water in the high heat of the midday sun.  Great, dark circles of sweat, dried now, stain his cloak and the blisters on his hands are open, oozing.  He’s spent, exhausted and under the exhaustion simmers a low-level frustration at all that remains to be done.  Looking up, he notices that slowly, one by one, the servants are dropping their tools and heading toward the house. 

Soon he’s alone in the field, the only one left. 

He finishes his row then stops to tidy up the poorly finished work of a hired hand.  Mumbling to himself, he thinks how nice it would be if they could hire someone as diligent, as neat in their work as him.  Someone who shows up on time and doesn’t quit til the job’s done and maybe even works an extra hour or two.  He smiles a wry smile, imagining a whole field full of workers, carbon copies of himself moving in lock-step to get the job done the right way. 

The image is quickly followed by the thought that just two of him would be enough and his smile fades as the memory of his brother returns.  With the memory comes a surge of anger that swells from somewhere deep in his gut, rising like bile before he quickly and automatically swallows it back down. 

He has a headache that’s made worse by the glare of the late setting sun and his shoulders are tight and stiff.  With a sigh, he turns toward the house. 

He walks slowly, dreading the quiet dinner with his father who too often sits staring into the distance.  When he’s not staring he talks longingly about old days when the two boys bustled through the house and fields together, tumbling along after their father like puppies, eager and excited.  Though shaded with joy and laughter, the stories are too familiar and from a past too distant to feel real and the most the older brother can muster in response is a sullen and sulky silence.  Every time he launches into his own story about a detail of the day's work he's haunted by the uneasy feeling that his father's isn't really listening.  Loosing confidence, he slows and lets the story hang unfinished over the table, like a question that has no answer. 

Climbing the small slope toward the house, he senses a hum of energy in the air, something like the pause before a long-awaited storm.  In the distance, the servants appear to bustle with excitement.  One runs past shouting and another runs in the opposite direction wearing a look of surprise and astonishment. 

With the excitement comes music, loud and cheerful, that gets louder with every step and grates on his already aching head.  The music is pierced with shouting and singing as though a party were in full swing. 

Grabbing the sleeve of a servant running by, he demands to know what’s going on. 

The startled servant’s look of joy vanishes as she stares into the older brother’s questioning eyes.  The feeling that she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t is immediate, but she pushes it down, trying to regain her cheer.  Breathlessly, she explains, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.”

Her words don’t make sense. 

He stares at her, not comprehending. 

Taking advantage of the moment, the young girl runs off, back toward the house, visibly shrugging off the older brother’s dark look as she draws closer to the music and dancing.

Scraps of the servant’s words, “Your brother.”  “Your father.”  “The fatted calf.”  echo inside his head as he tries to make sense. 

When it finally dawns on him his back stiffens and he draws back, pulling himself up to full height as he looks toward the house.  His heart that was already brittle, stiff and sore turns to stone and sits heavy in his chest. 

“Your brother.”  “Your father.”  “The fatted calf.” 

The duty, the devotion that carried him through the long, aching day, gives way without warning to a deep rage.  He turns and strides off into the quickly falling darkness like a lost soul.  

He paces behind the house.  He can’t go home, yet he doesn’t know where else to go, so he broods like a storm cloud on the horizon. 

Then his father is there, his face full of apology and understanding and unspeakable joy at the younger brother’s return.  Had his father commanded him to join the party, he would have obeyed, but it’s the old man’s pleading, his unwillingness to just leave him alone in the cool darkness that forces open the cloud of furry that’s been growing older brother’s chest.  

His false motivations and his deep sense of being unloved come pouring out in a torrent of rage.  A deep complaint wells up from within his heart, “Listen!” he barks, raising his calloused hand, commanding the attention that's already his, “I’ve been working like a slave for you.”  His voice is high, sharp and piercing and spittle flies with his emphasis. 

His tirade continues, each sentence flying at the old man who stands with watery eyes, his hands hanging at his sides, palms up, as if in preparation for an embrace.  

The party continues, the music rising and dropping in the background as the son spews the anger and hurt that has been his companion in the years since his brother abandoned them both.   

Finally, embarrassed and sweating, he's done and stands, breathing heavily, eyes averted.  He's told his version of the story and waits empty-handed for his father to confirm or deny it. 

"I'll leave," he thinks, in the pause that comes after the fading of his words.  Desolate, he lifts his head briefly as if in challenge before turning his muscled body toward the night. 

Light as a feather, his father's wrinkled hand shoots out and catches his sleeve, holding it tight with the fierce strength of love as he speaks the only word he knows can break the darkness, "Son," the old man said, "son."   

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