Sunday, October 30, 2016

I Died 100 Deaths That Halloween (#SmallWonder link-up)


(This is one of my favorite old posts from year I started blogging. The twins were just over a year old, Solomon was four and Sophia was six.  Enjoy!  And my you find hope for your own moment by moment journey from death to resurrection.) 

It was rainy and cold and we were keyed up and worn out from being trapped indoors for two days by Hurricane Sandy.  I woke up late and squeezed in a shower while the twins, still in dirty diapers from the night before, wandered around the living room.  

Their whining amplified to full pitch when my shower cued them in to the possibility that I’d be (gasp!) leaving for the morning.  The preemptive separation anxiety continued through breakfast and packing everyone into the van to take Sophia to school. 

After drop-off I carted the remaining three kids back into the house.  We mulled around, waiting anxiously for the babysitter who was coming to stay with the twins while Solomon and I went to his preschool class's Halloween party at a local nursing home.   

The twins settled for a few minutes, their anxiety lulled by the fact that I had yet to leave them and Solomon's anxiety about the party simultaneously rose in direct proportion to their calming. Following me through the house, he peppered me with nervous questions, 

“Will there be people from the nursing home in the party?” he asked.

“Um, I’m not sure, honey,” I said.

“Will they see me in my costume?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you going to dress up?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Then, I don’t want to wear a costume,” he declared. 

I had been dreading this party from moment it was first mentioned, knowing that my son, so robust and cheerful at home, would be shy and clingy surrounded by strangers in a new place.  Committed to accompanying him, I had hired a babysitter for the twins, despite my own teeth-clenching, foot-dragging antagonism toward it all. 
“Solomon,” I said, “what if I wear a costume too?”  Then I emerged from the back room wearing the fuzzy black antennae from my daughter’s ladybug costume.

“Ok,” he said, brightening, “you can be a black beetle.”

Then, I felt myself giving in, letting go a little more.  “What if I’m a ladybug?" I asked.  "I can steal Sophia’s costume.” 

He approved of my decision and I had just enough time to gather the red and black-dotted wings and my camera before the babysitter arrived.  Isaiah dissolved into a raging stream of tears, protesting my impending departure.  I ran in circles grabbing the rest of the things we needed, carrying Levi in my arms and nearly made it out the door with him, but the sitter stopped me just in time, grabbing him from me with the words, “This one’s staying here.”

Then we were off, on our way to a party I don’t want to go to, but also don’t want my son to miss.  We drove through the rain to the nursing home and found his classmates in a large room coloring at a table while elderly people in wheelchairs sat in a wide circle around them.  The residents watched the children, their eyes hungrily absorbing the beauty and innocence, the luxury of so much youth in one small space.  

Solomon was clingy, shy and tired, overwhelmed by the noise, the crafts, the games.  But I did my best to get into the spirit of things.  I helped with glue and tore bits of tissue paper for a craft.  I assured a child that it didn't matter where he put the eyes on his pumpkin.  I laughed with the other Moms over the resident who rode in on a wheelchair, pretending to scare the kids with a mask, all the while giving a growing peep show as his robe slid further and further open.  I posed for a smiling picture with my son, a little Iron Man snuggled up on a ladybug's lap. 

By the time we returned home, though, I was over-stimulated and frustrated at my inability to love Halloween, to love loud parties and candy.  The twins were exhausted and hungry and when I walked in the door they flew to me like magnets, pressing their tiny bodies onto mine in desperation.   

It was all I could do to untangle myself from them, causing more tears and desperation, as I headed to the kitchen to make lunch.  Solomon started sorting and dumping the morning's haul of candy, dancing and singing and blowing the whistle from his party bag while the twins screamed from their highchairs, desperate to convey how deeply my had absence wronged them.   

Then I yelled, “Stop it!” and threw an apple-peel all the way across the kitchen.  It hit one twin and bounced off and they both sat staring, shocked into silence and my son, that sweet four year old boy, offered to play his whistle to settle them down.  

//

There are days when being a mother feels like dying a hundred tiny deaths.  One hundred letting-go's, a thousand surrenders to more noise, more movement, more demands than I feel capable of handling. I’m not complaining, I just want to be honest about the stretch of motherhood and how quickly, how fiercely, I shrink back from it.   

I died a hundred little deaths that Halloween morning.  But I know, thank God, that this dying, this surrender, makes me new again.   
I may die a hundred times a day, but I'm just as often made new, reborn in the face of a chubby, gap-toothed grin, a gentle hand seeking mine for reassurance.  That morning I was resurrected by Solomon's voice calling cheerfully from the back of the van as we made our way home, “I can’t wait to be old so I can go to the nursing home to live.”

//

Later in the day I made chili to share with friends who're coming trick-or-treating with us.  While the twins again stood whining at the gate that divides them from me, my Dad called with the news that my maternal grandmother had died that morning in the nursing home where she lived for years in North Carolina.  

Standing over the stove, stirring the chili, I found myself surprisingly grateful.  Grateful that, although I couldn't be there with her, I was visiting a nursing home here with my son, the very same morning.  I thought of my Grandmother's life and the many little and big deaths she endured.  I thought of the ways I get so focused on what I'm giving up, that I nearly miss what I have right here, right now in front of me.  It occurred to me that I live such a grace-filled life, full of opportunities for surrender, continually pressing me toward the edge.  

//

I finished dinner and the older kids and my husband came home, and poor Isaiah, who just couldn't seem to pull himself together, sat crying on the floor.  I scooped him up and settled into the rocking chair and watched as he drifted into a heavy sleep.  I loved that moment - the rocking, the sleeping child so sweet. 

Then Isaiah lifted his head and looked around, disoriented, before throwing up all over both of us.  Leaning forward, exhausted, he laid his head back on my chest with the pile of warm, smelly goo spread like a layer of glue between us.  I died again in that moment and rose again to hug him tight until my husband came to help us both get cleaned up.  

//

Every day of the dead, every Halloween, gives way to all saints day and I wonder if we too, dying in our little and big ways, aren't also being moved, continually, from death to new life.  This dying is a surrender, a stripping bare until all that remains is love.  


*   *   *

Hey-all!  The kindle version of Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry is now available for pre-order on Amazon!  The launch date, November 7 is just a week away!  And here's a fun little chicken meme for you to share.



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Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for 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.  Thanks for being part of our community!  


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Podcast: Writing, Wonder & Discovery

Last week, my friend Karen Weiss from Waterworks Ministries in State College, PA, came over to interview me for her podcast.  We had a great time sitting in the sunlit Little House on my property talking about writing as a way of paying attention to life and as a Spiritual Practice.  

If you've ever wondered how I started writing, how I decide what to write about or where I find God in the process, pop over to her website and have a listen.  I also give a shortish-long description of what my forthcoming book, Chicken Scratch is really all about.  

The proofs of Chicken Scratch (final rough drafts) arrived yesterday and my older two children carted two of them off to school to show their friends and teachers - I think they're more excited than I am.  This next week I'll be working hard on editing and re-submitting my files and by November 7th we should be ready to go!  Last, but not least, here's a little bonus meme that gives you a sneak-peak at the heart of Chicken Scratch.  Feel free to download and share the image online.  


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Doing It Scared (#SmallWonder Link-up)


Thursday morning I printed off a how to manual for formatting the inside of a book and sat outside highlighting the parts I thought would apply to the job ahead of me that afternoon.  It was a beautiful fall day, enough to warrant (in my mind) printing the 70 plus page manual.  Looking up, I caught this picture of our rooster, Joker silhouetted by the sun.  You can see the farm stand in the background.  

I started formatting around noon and by three o'clock I really wanted to go into the house for a drink of water or cup of coffee, but I made myself stay put in the Ikea chair in my office.  If I pushed, I could finish formatting the inside layout of my forthcoming book before the kids’ bus rolled over the hill to drop them off, and I really wanted to be done.

Thirty more minutes and I had done it.  All eighteen sections of my book were copied, pasted and formatted into the layout template I purchased online.  I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head and I had spent the last four hours struggling to breathe for fear one finger-stroke would blow the whole book out of the water.

//

This is how a lot of self-publishing has been.  I was scared and overwhelmed by websites like Createspace and Canva (Never heard of them?  I hadn’t either.) but I found them and set up accounts.  I didn’t understand book formatting lingo and the specifications necessary for designing a cover layout, but I googled instructions, read them, and did it.  Every week brought a new skill to learn, a new figurative blank page that terrified me to the core. 

Making dinner in the kitchen while the kids watched TV in the afternoons, I would sense my fear and anxiety.  Why am I so anxious?  I wondered.  

Because I don’t know what I’m doing, came the reply.

It turns out, I don’t like not knowing what I’m doing. 

But I also tried to find perspective, You didn’t know what you were doing a week ago when you designed the cover, but you figured it out.  You can do this too.

I thought of all the times I’ve walked blind into new challenges, and although I don’t like it at all, I kept on groping my way along the path of self-publishing.  I think this is what some people call, “doing it scared.”  The idea of doing something despite your fear and not allowing fear to be the boss.  Maybe “doing it scared” is the secular version of “walking by faith, not by sight.”

// 

This is one side of my self-publishing story - I've done it scared. (Although I think the term 'terrified' would be a more accurate descriptor.)  There’s been value in the challenge of learning new skills and overcoming hurdles.  But it’s also been exhausting.  
  
Friday night, I finally submitted all of my files to Create Space (Amazon’s self-publishing site).  This was the one step I was most nervous about.  After submitting, I felt a breath of relief.  Then, I laid down on the couch and fell asleep at 7:00 pm and slept straight through until the following morning. 

I think it’s important for others to be aware that there’s a real cost to doing it scared.  And, because of that, I’m not sure it’s a value I altogether promote.  It’s ok to be scared and important to not let fear be your master, but sometimes our fear and stress are telling us important things too. 

“Doing it scared” can only take us so far without things like, “doing it together” and “doing it with grace and a heaping dose of help.”  Although I’m proud of myself for the work I’ve done these past two months, I’m not unaware of the cost.  

Also, I’ve not, by any measure, done it alone.  I’m grateful for those who’ve come alongside of me to offer advice, encouragement and support.  I hope my experience will help me remember to take notice when others around me are doing it scared.  Those are the times when we need to lean in and offer  help and support.  

What have you "done scared"?  What was it like for you?  

*   *   *


It's official!  My book, Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry is coming on November 7th!  Feel free to share this image on social media and stay tuned next week for more info one ways you can help get the word out.  

One advance reader gave me a great compliment today.  "It felt like sitting down with you over a cup of coffee and listening to you tell stories.  I didn't know how much I needed it."  

*   *   *



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for 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.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Awakening We Seek (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


#SmallWonder friends - I set the linkup to automatically post last weekend since we were out of town, but it didn't work!  I missed connecting with you all. Today I'm re-posting something from October, 2013, back when the twins were just two years old and we were living in a small rental apartment and waiting to find a home.

*   *   *

To see the world in a grain of sand,
and to see heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hands,
and eternity in an hour.
- William Blake

The whole world is dripping and gray; water runs through the streets and pools in the Quick Stop parking lot across the road.  In this light, the apartment walls are dingy, ashen, crisscrossed with shadows.  Every corner of the house is filled with piles; it feels like the stuff in our house is also pooling together mirroring the puddles outside.  Here I sit, waiting for a miracle that will move us into a brighter space.

//

The twins threw noodles down through the cast iron vent in the floor the other day, noodles from a box they scrounged from the pantry and tore open like the little wild things they are.  Laying on their bellies now, peering through the grate that leads to the basement below, they're pleased and excited to recall where the noodles have gone. 

"Hot-hot," they exclaim, "Noodles!"

Everything, to them, is an exclamation point, everything extraordinary - the sun, the clouds, the rain, the discovery of their own shadow following their every move.  In their eyes all the world is a miracle, the finite infused with the infinite.  To us, they are the miracle, these little beings whose minds see no clear divide between the ordinary and extraordinary.  I envy their capacity for wonder, their openness to the love of what is.

//  

All our lives, I think, are spent seeking an awakening, a return to that same unity of vision.


*   *   *




Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for 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.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

In Defense of Fun (#SmallWonder Link-up)



I had coffee with one of my former college professors a few weeks ago.  I walked down the road to the little corner cafĂ© and we sat for a while talking about life and direction.  We’re both in the midst of a murky time of transition – his post retirement, mine at the end of the season of parenting preschool aged children.   This friend, a retired professor Christian Spirituality and Ministry who’s penned a biblical commentary for a well-known series, likes to tease me about the fact that I went to a “better seminary” than him.

When it came up that morning in the coffee shop I smiled and shrugged.  “Yeah,” I said, “and look where it got me – selling flowers and eggs along the side of the road!”

He smiled and shrugged. “Well,” he said, “that’s important too.”

He’s right.  It is.  And I knew it even as I sat there making light of it.    

//

John built the farm stand early this summer and I started out trying to sell eggs and produce, but sales were slow, by which I mean nearly non-existent.  But then the two seed packets of Zinnias we planted grew and started blooming in a wild array of pinks and oranges.  I soon added cut flower arrangements to the stand first in old glass canning jars, then in recycled soup cans.  I called them “Tin Can Bouquets” and sold them for $1 each. 

In late August, a friend of mine discovered the bouquets and posted a picture of them online, sales picked up dramatically.  Some days it felt like I could hardly keep the stand stocked with flowers.  All in all, I’m confident we made more money in flowers this summer than in produce and eggs combined. 

//

I realized something amazing this summer when I sold my first carton of eggs to a stranger who happened to stop by because of the sign in our yard.  When you sell something to another person – in this case, eggs – you’re in some small way, entering into their life.  The woman who stopped by took my eggs into her home, put them in her refrigerator and they became part of her meal planning and dinner, lunch or breakfast.  A product of mine became part of her life and I don’t even know her name.  The same goes for writing a book, I guess, or selling flowers, each product offers a chance to impact someone else’s life. 

//

A few weeks ago I told a small group of friends about my plan to self-publish Chicken Scratch this November 7th.  After taking time to think about my goals for the book and how I would measure its success, I had found I was surprised by my own answer.    

“What I most want,” I told them, “is for it to be fun.” I shrugged my shoulders at the word fun, like it was a small thing.  Then with my face scrunched up, almost as if in apology, I added, “I think it’s really important.” 

My friends agreed.  

We talked about how fun can seem frivolous, unimportant, when compared to the serious work needing to be done.  These friends work in the non-profit sector, they know a thing or two about serious work, and yet they agreed, we do need more beauty and joy, more fun in our lives. 

I used to think being a good person meant doing all of the serious work first.  Then maybe, if I was lucky, there would be a few spare moments at the end of the day or the end of a productive life to do something “just for fun;”  to travel, to rest, to play.  I still find myself thinking that way when the list of good and important, even necessary, things that must be done is long.  (Is it ever not long?) 

But I understand now that fun belongs on that list too.  Fun is good.  Fun is important.  Fun is necessary. So necessary that we may even need to practice at it until we learn to engage in fun, not as a form of escapism or entertainment, but as a way to refill our souls, giving us hope, energy and courage to continue on in the rest of the good and serious work needing to be done.   

“It kinda blows my mind,” I told my friends that day.  “Of all the things for sale at the farm stand, all of the useful, practical food items, what people bought most was beauty.” 

I like to think of those tin can bouquets -  the ones my friend bought two and three at a time and took to meetings all over town, the others bought by people I never met or even saw - those pink and purple happy Zinnia faces are smiling all around Boiling Springs and Carlisle, on kitchen counters, dining room tables and goodness only knows where else.  What a joy it is to spread a little fun into pockets of the world I would otherwise never reach. 

*   *   *




Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for 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.  Thanks for being part of our community!  



Thursday, October 6, 2016

Chicken Scratch (The Cat's Out of the Bag!)

(Note the water fountain.  Yes, we have an old school water fountain in our kitchen.)

I know the image is blurry, but this is our cat, Perfect, exploring one of our kitchen cupboards for the first time.  We've had Perfect for about two years now and, for much of that time - ever since we got a dog - she's lived in my bedroom.  Well, when the dog first came, she lived beneath our upstairs floorboards for a few months, but after that, she took to living in my bedroom.  

Perfect was terrified of the dog and willing to do anything to avoid her so we tried to make things less stressful by adding another litter box upstairs and moving the cat food and water.  Life went on and Perfect stayed in her comfort zone, occasionally making daring excursions down the hall to my daughter's room which was also quiet and dog-free.  Then one day, discovering a broken window screen, Perfect expanded her territory exponentially by venturing out onto the roof of our wrap around porch.  There, she napped on the sun-warmed shingles, watched birds and chased insects.    

Months later she started sneaking downstairs at night with our male cat Blackie standing guard against the dog's unwitting approach.   Sometimes she followed Blackie's lead, slipping silently out the back door, only to get terrified and end up hiding on top of the open garage door.  On those days I grabbed a wooden folding ladder and pulled her down, then carried her into the house while she hissed and growled on full alert.  

Perfect's choice to live in confinement fascinates me.  I like to think of her as a feline Emily Dickinson - self-confined, but longing to communicate in some way with the outside world.  

Now that all four kids are in school the house is much quieter and Perfect often follows me cautiously from room to room, which is awkward because Coco (the dog) also follows me and yet they prefer not to come in contact with each other. They orbit me, like planets orbiting the sun.

One day last week I propped the screen door open in the back room, hoping Perfect might venture outside while I worked inside.  Walking past the back door, I was greeted by this sight - Perfect interacting (for the first time) with a chicken.  She didn't seem one bit alarmed by it.  

(Note the crooked door handle - someday I will write a post about that.)

Grabbing my phone, I snapped a picture before the moment passed - evidence of Perfect's bravery to show my daughter later that day.  I love this picture because it reminds me - things change, time passes, and brave wears a new face every day.  

Today I'm putting on my own brave face to share some BIG NEWS . . . I wrote a book!  It started last spring with the purchase of our new flock of chickens.  I set an intention to write about my experience with the birds as often as possible during the month of May.  By the time school was out, I had over twenty very rough pieces to work with and I set a new goal of rewriting and then revising those by the end of summer vacation.  


By the grace of God and with a lot of support from a dear friend who helped care for my children this summer - I did it.  


Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk and Poultry is launching November 7th - a month from tomorrow.  It's filled with over twenty of the same style of fun, thoughtful, compassionate and laugh out loud stories that you've enjoyed here on the blog for the past four years.  

Right now Chicken Scratch is in the process of being edited and while I wait to hear back on final revisions, I'm continuing to work on all of the behind-the-scenes aspects of self-publishing.  Right now that includes growing my email list (Newsletter), creating a launch team, and working on cover design and media images for sharing.  

I want to thank all of you who've walked with me on the journey of discovering my writing life - your presence keeps me going.  And I want to invite you to consider helping to spread the word about Chicken Scratch in the circles you're in.  Here are some ways to do that:

1. I need committed readers and sharers to read the book and post a review online on the day of (or week of) the launch.  Preferably on Amazon, but also other places where you share about books you love.  If you're interested in this opportunity, comment below or shoot me an email at kchripczuk at yahoo.com.  I will probably need to "friend" you first on Facebook to add you to the launch team.  

2.  Closer to the launch date, I will post some graphics you can share online to help spread the word.

3. If you're a blogger, consider posting a review of the book on your blog or contact me for an interview or other content.  

4. Pray for me.  About once a day I get a little panicky and think "I have no idea what I'm doing."  And, you know what?  It's true!  I don't! (insert maniacal laughter) But, that's ok, right?  My biggest hope for this book is to have fun - to share fun and joy with others and to enjoy as much of the process as possible.  Writing a book is incredibly hard work.  Self publishing is hard work.  But it doesn't mean it can't also be fun.  

This blog has been, for four years, my open window.  During the days and weeks of raising young children, when leaving the house was a rare treat, this space offered me a little room to breathe and an opportunity to stay connected to the parts of me that often felt unused in the endless task of caring for young children.  Now I'm stepping out again into a new adventure.  

It will be fun.

It will be scary.

And even if I end up like Perfect, hiding on the roof of the open garage door from time-to-time, I know for sure, there are plenty of people who'll set up an old wooden ladder and rescue me.  

Thanks being with me on the journey.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A New Season (#SmallWonder Link-up)

(an example of a chicken with feathered legs and feet)

This past spring I caught a bad case of Chicken Fever.  Not to be confused with bird flue, Chicken Fever causes its victim, usually already a chicken owner, to desperately desire more chickens.  One friend, eager to aide me in my distress, told me that her neighbor, an Amish farmer, would be happy to hatch some eggs for me for free.  

The price was right, but the timing did nothing to satisfy my urgent need.  It would take about a month for the eggs to hatch, then it would be another four months before the hens started laying.  Deep in the throes of fever as I was, I couldn’t possibly wait that long. 

A few days later we found a flock of twelve laying hens for sale and within a week they were ours.  My Chicken Fever broke as I faced the demands of the new flock, but in the early days of recovery I still sent a secret text to my friend who knows the Amish farmer. 

“I still want some chicks,” I typed.

“How many?” she asked.

“Four or five?” I suggested.

That was back in May.  Time passed.  We lost the matriarch of our flock to a predator and our baby Polish hens grew up.  Then one day last week, my friend pulled into our driveway and popped open the trunk of her SUV.  I ran out of the Little House like a child on Christmas morning as she lifted a small cage to the ground.

I was happy to see three white birds.  Then, as I walked closer, I got a better look.  “They’re the chickens with pants!” I cried. 

Inside the cage, three petite, fluffy white birds walked in circles.  Each had feathers running down their legs, sticking out on either side, giving them the appearance of wearing cowboy chaps.  

I carried the cage down to our smaller coop and lifted the hens out one-by-one.  Their feathers were soft as silk and they rested gently in my hands.  When the kids got home that day, I surprised them as they came off the bus, holding a white chicken in my arms.  “They’re the ones with pants!” I proclaimed and we oohed and aahed over them. 

I had no idea what kind of chickens we might get from the anonymous Amish farmer, but I never expected these fancy girls.   Now we have a total of seventeen hens and one rooster roaming the yard.

New things around the farm are pretty common - new pets, new plants, new equipment and work to be done, but this week I also have some big writing news to share with you.  First, I'm starting a monthly newsletter which will contain exclusive content (essays and poems not appearing here on the blog), links to great content around the web and information about upcoming resources and events.   

And the second piece of news is even bigger and more exciting . . . but you'll have to sign up for my newsletter to be one of the first to find out more.  Thanks for being part of the #SmallWonder community! 

Just enter your address here to sign up!