Monday, September 28, 2015

Come Gather (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


It's a quiet, gray morning here.  

The super moon and its eclipse were hidden last night by wavy white clouds.  

And I was glad.  

Glad we could send the kids to bed, glad we could send ourselves to bed, without feeling like we missed a thing.  

Coming off of a wonderfully full weekend, I want to offer this space to you as a gathering place while I myself rest in silence for a bit.  

Please come, gather, leave your words.  

I'll be back later in the week with a few of my own.  (If you want to hear a little about the As a Little Child Retreat, pop over to Laura Boggess' place.)  


*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Feel Insecure (and What My Husband Has to Say About It)



I sat at the kitchen island prepping brown paper bags with the words, "Beloved Child of God."  Over and over I wrote with permanent markers in one color after another.  

Everyone who attends the As a Child Retreat will get a bag. Meant to trigger memories and fun, each bag holds playdoh, a bouncy ball, a lollipop and a colored pen.  

For months, I've been planning, praying, gathering materials for this retreat and now the day is almost here.  But last week, as I wrote those letters over and over again, I felt a creeping dis-ease that multiplied throughout the day.  By evening anxiety was spinning a sprawling web through my insides as I tried to explain to my husband how I felt. 

"I feel insecure," I said.  

Naming it helped, giving words to the way self sometimes crumbles in on itself, searching for something, anything solid to stand on.  

Finally, tired of sinking in my own stew, I asked my husband, "Is there anything you can say to make this better?"

Without a second's pause, he replied, "You're a beloved child of God too." 

Simple truths have a way of cutting right through the haze, don't they?  

I gave my husband a small glare.  By that point I was fairly attached to my pity party and, in the end, I envisioned a bag of chips being involved.  

But he was right.  

Later he told me how funny it was, watching me writing the same words over and over again, but not letting them sink in.  

"Beloved child of God."  

Yes, that's the heart of it.  Isn't it?  

Those four words offer the most solid ground I know.   

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Marooner's Stone (#SmallWonder Link-up)


(Welcome to #SmallWonder.  I'm happy you're here. This week I'm re-sharing an old post as I put my time and energy into preparing for a retreat this weekend, co-led with Laura Boggess, "As a Little Child.")  

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 . . .

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Food Assistance (I Don't Feel Entitled, I Feel Grateful)


The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

I hate WIC.

I’m so thankful for WIC.

These two thoughts follow seamlessly one after the other as the milk, eggs, peanut butter and other sundries pass on the grocery store conveyor belt.

//

We signed up when I became pregnant with our oldest and have been on and off of the Women Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition program ever since. 

Every time I work – adjunct teaching stints and a year as a pastor – we call and drop ourselves from the system.  Every time we return to one income, we reapply. 

Every few months I cart our kids to the small, gray office and fill out reams of paperwork.  The kids alternate between playing and clinging anxiously.  Twice a year the visits include a weight and measure and much dreaded finger pricks to check for iron count.  
Despite frequent well visits at the pediatrician’s office, the WIC office needs its own numbers. 

At times I feel indignant at the intrusion.  I’m angry for my children who cry at being poked and prodded.  How much blood, how much information do we need to give for a few dollars worth of food?  

Then I remind myself we need the money.  

It’s their office.  They set the rules.  

Does this make me a bad mother?  

Or, would pride that kept us from receiving such assistance make me a bad mother?  I'm never entirely sure.

After these intrusions we squeeze into a smaller office.  I wrangle kids on my knees while answering questions about our food consumption and setting nutrition goals for each of my children. 

At the end of the visit I leave with a ream of checks averaging $120 worth of food per month.  We received the most when the oldest kids were four and two and I was pregnant with twins, we’re nearly off the system now as the twins prepare to age-out next summer at five years old. 

//

Do I look too wealthy?  What will they think of the Marmot ski coat I wear, the $300 dollar coat I got on clearance for $50 after Christmas one year? 

Do we look poor? 

These are the questions I ask myself waiting in line at the grocery store.

//

With just one week left to use August’s checks I head to the grocery store with six in hand – two for as little as $8 each, two for about $30 and two somewhere in the middle. 

I keep the checks in the shopping cart and subtly check and recheck acceptable sizes and brands for peanut butter, grains and cereal as I hurry through the store.  When in doubt, I sheepishly pull out the large white pamphlet that clarifies. 

I hope I don’t run into anyone I know. 

We travel one town over now to bigger grocery chains to use our checks because the small local grocery store requires the cashier to call a manager to approve WIC checks.  The unwanted attention and wait feel mortifying enough to warrant a ten minute drive.

The cashier is unfriendly and I wonder if it’s because of the WIC checks lined up in front of her.  Is she judging me?  I feel myself get snappish, then reign it in.  Maybe she’s just tired, maybe it’s been a long day. 

I planned to get three checks, but ended up with four separate orders on the checkout line.  I feel bad for anyone who gets in line behind me, not knowing I will check out not just once, but four times.  I wonder what they think of my food, of me.  Maybe they’re happy the State gives needy families wholesome foods like milk and cheese.  Maybe they despise the fact that I choose the more expensive brands. 

Who knows?

I group the food by check, separating each with a spacer.  I sign the checks ahead of time to speed the process along.  Still, it takes time and often I fail to get exactly the right product.  Sometimes the rules change and items that were once ok are no longer allowed. 

//

When election season rolls around people inevitably make nasty comments about those who receive government assistance, about people who supposedly feel entitled to benefits.    

Are they talking about me?  Do I feel entitled to these benefits? 

No, mostly I feel embarrassed and hugely grateful. 

Does my family need WIC?  That’s a question I haven’t been able to answer. 

At some point we decided that not accepting the extra help would be a prideful and foolish move especially in the years when the sudden break-down of a vehicle or unexpected home repair left us in debt to credit card companies. 

There’s something about mouths to feed that lowers the playing field for me, that helps make it all a little clearer. 

My children need to eat healthy food, so I do what I can to make it happen. 

Even when it’s the last thing I want to do.    


Monday, September 14, 2015

Questions We Carry (#SmallWonder Link-up)


“How will them love me?”

This from my little boy with big brown eyes, like a puppy.  Standing in front of me this morning in his new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt, backpack on, he adds, “I have a new shirt.”

//

“I feel . . . what’s the word? Not scared . . .” 

Blond hair, blue-green eyes, he scrunches his face in the morning sunlight.  Gears turn as he searches for the new word he’s learned in the days leading up to the first day at a new preschool.  The new word gives name to something he’s known up until now only by its bodily sensation. 

“Nervous?” I offer.

“Yeah!” he says, “Nervous.”

Naming it eases the tension in his face.  For now, naming it is enough.

//

“I feel scared.  What if I don’t know all the letters?” Isaiah asks.

The older two have boarded buses headed to separate schools and the twins are strapped into the van.  Then we too are off.  Just down the road, we pass the old preschool.

“When will we see our teachers again?” Isaiah asks, in a tone of melancholy.  “Them really loved us.”

//

These little boys of mine will be fine, but oh, their honest, transparent hearts.  Their simple words, their freedom to be utterly vulnerable with me.

In their openness, they open a window to my own heart – to each of our hearts.  For we each carry within us similar questions, similar fears. 

How will they love me?

What if I don’t know enough?

This day, I hope you will take time to tend to the child within you.  The one that asks such simple, clear questions.  I hope you will remember that each person you meet also carries similar questions.  That within the eyes of a stranger you will see the eyes of a little boy, a little girl, who simply wants to know they are loved. 

And you?  Yes, you?

Oh, friend, you are loved.  You are enough.

May you hear the voice of the One who calls you Beloved.   

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  



    

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Last Day of Summer


At the end of the day two cats sit in the window, sunset facing, while my husband walks the trash to the curb.  Two fresh bodies are tucked into bed.  Two still-dirty ones stretch the last minutes of daylight in the yard. 

There was some discussion this morning of knocking out a wall in the upstairs of our house.  Common sense prevailed though (No new projects right now, thank you very much!) and the cool blue sky drew us outside. 

We moved a pile of wood, cleared up a patch of land under the big pine tree.  The kids built a fort, tag-teaming lumber from the garage to the very space we were clearing, under the big pine tree. 

The dog found a toad, who became a pet. 

Lucky, he was rescued from the dog. 

Unlucky, he will spend the night in an old fish tank. 

Dead flies, worms, pieces of fruit, the lid of a peanut butter jar filled with water, all of these served as offerings for the toad.  Still, he seemed to be without appetite.

I chopped some wood, throwing the axe out over my shoulder, missing half the time, aware of the vulnerability of my toes exposed in sandals.  Every once in a while I hit home and the wood snapped with a satisfying crack – worth the effort it took.

The wood pile behind the garage grew slowly, a long stretch of Lincoln Logs strung together, wobbly.  I hammered nails in the kids’ fort.  Hooks for the hatch-door.  My daughter knelt on the ground with wire cutters snipping chicken wire which became a window. 

By the end of the day, the oldest boy built a zip-line which, failing to zip, turned into a log-launcher.  And we all left the dinner table, measuring tape in hand, and stood staring at the old wooden stairway that runs through the heart of our house.

“Could we turn it into a slide?” someone asked.

My husband turned to me, a light shining in his eyes. 

"It’s 14 feet," he said.  "You can buy a 2x12x16 ft. board for about $30."

“Will we? Will we?” the kids clamored. 


"Maybe," we said, "it'll be a winter project."


Happy Labor Day!

How did you celebrate?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Stone Well-Placed (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


Wherever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song and dance . . . - Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Speak

Five months pregnant with twins, I waddled up a narrow, rocky path.  I was looking – listening – for something in nature that might speak to me. 

This was the culmination of a retreat day oriented around nature as a source of revelation.  Having read an excerpt from Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Speak, we went outside, tasked with the mission of listening for the voice of God in the midst of the natural world.  Our assignment was to bring back the object that spoke to us for sharing within the larger group.
 
Twenty of us wandered through the gravel parking lot, then split off in different directions, uphill and down, into meadows and woods.  I didn’t stray far, my body shouting clearly that heavily pregnant women ought not go wandering the woods alone. 

I surveyed the grassy edges of the parking area. 

In the sea of green, a dark stone stood out.  I leaned awkwardly with my arm outstretched and plucked it from the grass where it nestled.

In my hand, though, it was just a stone.  Bending again, I put it back.  

Further up the hill, near the edge of the leafy woods I saw another stone.  This one was white, surrounded by smaller, darker stones.  It stood out bright in contrast. 

Bending to pick it up I realized it also stood out because of its surroundings.  I hesitated and left it unmoved.
 
Every rock, leaf, branch that caught my eye was the same.  In its place, it spoke, but in my hand, it was reduced.  It was probably the third of fourth sighting before I heard what the stones were saying, “I’m happy where I am.” 

They whispered contentment, half-buried on the rocky trail or sleeping in the bright green grass.  Not only were they happy where they were, but their placement was what made them special. 

Tears sprang to my eyes. 

I was not content with where I was or where I was going.  I didn’t want to be pregnant with twins, dreaded leaving my job in a few months’ time, and couldn’t imaging, much less accept, being a mother of four.
 
I left all of the stones in the woods that day and returned to the meeting room with their words in my heart.  The rocks had no say in their placement and yet, they thrived.  They were well placed right where they were.

Fast forward four years and a few months, through seasons of grief and fear, longing and hope, and I now find myself like those stones, happy in the place where I am. 

In Psalm 16, the author puts it this way:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance (v.5-6).  

The psalmist here is a stone well placed and I think of his words often when I glimpse the gift of this place we've been given; when I think about the paths I would have taken had I made my own way. 

When have you found yourself unexpectedly well-placed?  When has nature spoken to you?

*   *   *

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  




Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Books, Like Tissues


At our house we 
use tissues 
as bookmarks.  

Allergy-prone,
boxes sit  
in every room, 
which is where, 
also, we read –
every room.  

“We have too many 
books,” my daughter 
once commented.

This, I believe, 
is how it should be, 
just like the tissues.  

You never want to run out.