Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pillars





"Betsy's frowning at me so I frowned at her," Joe calls. From the table, he shovels eggs into his mouth and furrows his brow at Bess.

"Why?" I say. I chop sweet potatoes like the slow click of a metronome.

"'Cause she frowned at ME," he says.

"Aren't you supposed to me older and more mature?" I say.

"No."

"What?"

"I mean, yeah I am OLDER." He shovels in another bite mirth replacing frown.



****





"Oh, we're going to go down a hill." Myra squeals. "This is the funnest thing E-VER."

"Yeah," Joe says. A loping hill at our front, we sail to Jack's wrestling match, top speed.

"See those stripes on the road?" Myra narrates. "Daddy says PEOPLE actually come and paint those."

"Oh," he says awe following the crest of her voice. We arrive just in time to congratulate Jack. A win.









****





"Mom," Jack taps my shoulder. Home again, he points at Joe. Toast generous with jelly, Joe spreads a swath with the center of a butter knife, hand awkward and novice. I widen my eyes; he flash-glances up.

"No. More," I mouth to him. He slacks the knife back in the jelly jar.

"Um," he looks at me. "I'll put that back," he says, and in one motion, plucks a sloppy berry off the toast. He plops it in the jar. It catches the knife handle and rolls slow-mo down the blade face. He makes a second swipe, lobs the berry center rim. He licks finger and thumb. "There," he says.

"Oh," I say. I mentally note the recalcitrant strawberry in the KIDS' jelly. "O-kay," I say.  He grins ripe with obedience. I nod, trace it's silhouette there on the knife blade.



****





"Myra CAN'T change her mind," Joe says. Ever-present commentator, he clunks my elbow as I type.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Yeah, you CAN''T change your mind," he says.

"Oh," I say. "You mean like lie?"

"Yeah," now shimmied up the back of my chair, he leans his head on my shoulder. "The Bible says Your yes shall be YES, and your no shall be NO," he says.

"That's true," I say. He sits on one of the desk's pullout boards then dismounts with the ease the Tin Man. He clatters off, his YES and NO still there with me.

Pillars of faith begin to form. Maturity and mirth, obedience and truth, he gathers them up one at a time, memorizes them until they are so close, so familiar, they are air.









Gratitude:

5740. Jack wrestles silver at a tournament. A pin and a technical loss included, he leaves with the sheen of something older imbedded in his face.







5741. Betsy turns one. A year with this child, and our family is complex and lovely so as we never could have imagined.







5742. A friend from college drops me a line. We catch up, exchange writing. Wonderful memories surface. Our lives interweave in separate but pleasant ways.

5743. Cabbage for sauerkraut, olive oil, a new Bible, the Lord brings nourishing staples.

5744. I near the knitting end [finally] of Myra's green tunic, just the linen stitch border at the hem.







5745. Jane goes on a date with Gramma.

5746. Asiago cheese bread.

5747. Lucy and I go to her eye appointment together. I find the eye exercises they have her do, targeted and rigorous. We laugh over Lucy's dogged determination. Unexpected conversations come up with the people there. Our lives overlap.







5748. I continue to discipline myself to sleep more, pray more, and read more. Small increments, surgical adjustments, discipline carves her good work across our lives.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Conditions





"Joe-Joe, can you put your pants away?" Jane cleans up dishes, neatens the living room, folds laundry in origami stacks. Apple-pie order, she straightens, folds, and tucks away.

"YOU take care of it," Joe says, "It's in YOUR area."

"Hey Mom, Joey won't take care of his pants," she heralds.

"Whaaahh," Joe grunts. There peeked around the fridge, he frowns, casts his will across the kitchen. "Uhhhhghhh," he summons.

"Go ahead, " I say.  He pauses, stares. I squint. "Go ahead, scream and yell. See if you can change her mind."

He strangles a whine, blinks, eyelids a squeegee over the iris. He pokes bottom lip out as I stare into pool of eyes.







"It's ok," Jane-At-My-Elbow nods, raises her eyebrows. "Don't worry," she says. It's not that easy to change my mind."

"I know," I say. Blue cashmere sweater shrunk and thrifted, just her size, casts a cloak of womanhood, her shoulders almost as tall as mine.

Don't worry. Something of a transfer begins. Strength rises, and I let go, bit by bit. Like flying a kite, I watch the conditions, then I wait to see if she rises.





Gratitude:

5728. Betsy starts walking along furniture, tentative, determined.

5729. I find two dolls at a thrift shop. They look exactly like real babies. Next day I find them looking out the window while the kids do chores.







5730. "Jesus conquered the grave. Jesus conquered the grave," Joe sings. He carries a briefcase of color crayon reminiscent of Paddington Bear.

5731. "Myra is never gonna turn into a boy," Joe says.

5732. A friend invites our huge family to dinner. "Have you ever been making soup and had it turn out to be so much more than you thought?" she says. "I should have known when it said 12 cups of corn." We laugh and share a lovely evening. "I just want it to be and easy night for you," she says.







5733. I start reading Pride and Prejudice again and serendipitously find a translation of Aristotle's Poetics and Rhetoric. I'll give it a try.

5734. Lucy asks me to pray for her eye. "It's not that I'm really worried about it," she trails off. "I just sort of always feel like, well, you know." We pray together.

5735. We gather as families with our small group of many years, decades. That same life blood of shared faith pulses. Humility and love encircle us.

5736. Face cream. Simple, sweet, and smooth -- yet so easy to miss.







5737. I continue incremental progress on a special project: a log cabin quilt.

5738. "Dadda, Dadda," Betsy says and tugs the buttons on Craig's shirt.

5739. A rainy week, sun breaks interspersed, we almost think of spring. The moments pass soft underfoot. We slow to notice.



Sunday, January 17, 2016

Oh





"Joey, it's pretty clear you peed your pants," I say.

Just in from sledding, snow pants and boots a pile at the door, Joe blinks. "I didn't mean to," he says.

"What happened?," I say. He stops and looks down, pulls a damp circle away from his skin, looks at me, looks back at the wet mark.

"Oh," he says.

"Oh," I say.







"I was outside," he grimaces, "and I said, Myra let's go inside. And she said, Let's make a snowball first. And so we did, and then I peed."

"Oh," I say.

"I maybe better take a shower," he says.

"Yeah."

"Ok." He trots off all forty pounds of his unflappable self.







"Walk, Betsy, walk," he says later. Slung in his arms, he holds her around the waist and tries to work each foot with the other hand. "Walk, Betsy," says.

She tumbles. He grabs her blankie, covers his face. "Betsy, where is I?" he says. She coos, paws the blanket and his face. "Mom, Betsy laughs at me, 'cause I hide from her," he says. "Betsy, where is I? BETSY, where is I? ROAR!"

They laugh, good-natured and fully there. Self-possessed, they laugh, engage each other. No other without barriers, they laugh. No screens, no texts, e-mails, or twinkling tone alerts, just them, they laugh.

Face to face, it moves the soul in a way no screen ever can.









Gratitude:

5723. The children begin knitting and selling dishcloths.

5724. New yarn for the new projects. I get a new skein too.







5723. Family dinner, this one ends with homemade peppermint patties and laughter.

5724. We contine to make progress teaching the kids to clean up after themselves and be prompt. We watch them discover extra time and energy under this cloak.

5724. Friends join us for dinner. We feast over creamy tomato basil soup and handmade cupcakes.







5725. The kids forfeit game night dawdling over dinner dishes. Weeping and gnashing of teeth, then then they create another game night by careful planning on Saturday.

5726. Craig and I work on organizing the main accounting/everything desk at our house. Progress by increments, but it's stunning.

5727. We plan another week of hard work and satisfying results. Diligence in the ordinary -- we train our minds to measure our character and treasure by this.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Proverbs





"Why I was reading Proverbs," Lucy says, "was because I was getting angry and I was like what book could I read that is about the stuff that Proverbs is about?" Lucy nods as she talks. She smooths a hand over the crinkly pages of my Bible, the hand-me-down Bible.

She points at verses underlined in seven-year-old squiggle and bracketed. My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, I read. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. I smile at her.







She strokes the tissue thin paper. Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. I read another section bracketed in her scrawl. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.

I read on. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow" -- when you now have it with you.

I scan to another section, The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to shame.

"That is really good," I say.







"Dad asked in his class what you can do if you need to get more energy," she says. "And one kid was like, Eat carrots. And another kid said, Drink energy drinks. And another said, Eat energy bars." She nods, snickers. "And another kid said, Sleep. And Dad was like, There's still ONE more," she says. "And it was READING your Bible."

"Huh," I say. "That's good."

"I didn't have time to read my Bible before I ran so I just decided to do it now," she says, "because then it will be lunch and then school and dinner and bed, and I didn't want it to get pushed to the end of the day."

"That's a good idea," I say. "I'm glad. Reading the Bible is how you KNOW God, and that's the only thing that REALLY matters."







"What were those verses again," I say. "I want to write them down."

"Here," she says. She flops the book open. "What I do, 'cause I don't have a bookmark in, is I find Psalms, and it's right after it. See." She points. "Here."

I gather the fluttery pages, trace the words with my eyes. Wisdom, the antithesis of anger -- how did I miss this?





Gratitude:

5712. "Listen to this," Jane says. She presses play on a small voice recorder. Joey's voice starts. "Today I'm going to tell you about the pilgrims," he says. Jane laughs. It's the beginning of her speech.

5713. New boots! A gift, so sweet on such a snowy year.







5714. I pick up again a log cabin quilt I started last winter. Tiny pieces cut to size, one small miscalculation, and a trip to the fabric store --the quilt expands.

5715. The children chatter with their cousins over coins and stamps and all things collectable.

5716. Lucy sells me a dishcloth she knit, one project of many to earn money for the coin collection.

5717. We continue to learn hymns on the piano and even find ourselves humming them as we work.

5718. We continue to plug away at organizing the house. The upward climb to organization defies gravity with a group of eight.







5719. "Now, choking hazards won't be here," Joe says as he finishes vacuuming the kitchen.

5720. We try to measure our world in small victories. We note again how hard work gives restful sleep.

5721. Craig continues to bless me with good humor and compelling perspective.

5722. Each day we like our path, the small world of our family, and the tasks at hand more and more.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

How





"Momma," Myra says, "I love it so much that I began to smile at it," a sweater, algae green, for Myra.

"I actually started two of them for you," I say.

"I want the green one,"she says.

"They're BOTH green," I say.

"OH," she says. "Knit, momma, KNIT," she catches her breath and gathers her shoulders, a grin lolling across her face. "Were you gonna knit when you were done with your breakfast anyway?" she says.

"Yep," I say.

"Oh GOOD," she says. She clasps her hands below her chin, earnestness embodied. "Oh good."







"Mom," she says later, "did you know I actually CAN play Settlers of Catan?"

"What? How?" I say.

"Because I have been WATCHING,"she says.

"Oh," I say.

"A couple days ago, Jane and I were playing, and she had TWO points, and I had THREE," she squeaks. She squeezes me around the middle and buries a smile in my belly.

"Wow, good job," I say.

Watching. She's been watching. Passive observation takes flight. The summation of so many unnotable moments, the simple monotone of daily life, and suddenly skills unfurl.

The girl knows how. Quiet watching and the mind gestates. Suddenly there it is, newborn and unblinking: ideas, earnest as the morning, gaze back at us.

The womb gives birth, the mind the greatest womb of all.









Gratitude:

5699. Pizza family dinner.

5700. Sledding and a bonfire in the snow.







5701. Frost everywhere, down the tips of every pine needle, the sky blue and crisp as ice.

5702. We ring in the new year counting down and shouting at zero: Happy New Year!

5703. Pinochle.

5704. The children collect coins memorizing each with a new magnifying glass.







5705. Joey totes around his own personal coin box in perfect mimic of the older kids.

5706. Jane and I start a project with tiny jars.

5707. I enjoy a new wooden bowl for my knitting projects.

5708. I try two new knitting stitches on each of the green sweaters.







5709. Craig and I secretly order new gloves for the kids. Now that they've suffered many weeks with mismatched leftovers, new gloves have real value.

5710. Lucy starts leafing through the books of sock people we have. She masters a knitting pattern by heart and then innovates with it. She learns to make things and then make more things.

5711. We prepare for another session of school. Work an old familiar companion waits to link arms with us. We grab on with both hands and prepare to make special bonds with each other.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Jesus





"Joe-Joe, have you ever seen Jesus?" Myra says. The car quiet between Christmas songs, Myra and Joe talk.

"Yeah," Joe says. Craig pauses the music.

"What did he LOOK like?" Myra whispers.

"Hairy," he says.

"Oh," she says. She pauses, "I think I could run as fast as this car or maybe even faster." She swings her arms.

"Yeah, I'm gonna go to heaven with out dying," Joe says.

"I bet I could go even faster. Look, I could go this fast," Myra says.

"Oh," he says, "yeah."

Craig rounds the corner to the nursing home. The suburban slides sideways. He rallies the engine. Tires spin, and we slurry up the road.







Christmas Day night and we visit Great-Grammie. She cries when she sees us. Joy. We linger, warm cafeteria lights soft around our large family. Residents gather for dinner. The children take turns hugging Great-Grammie again and again. Love, unselfconscious and full as the wings of a great bird, alights on their faces. For a short time our ages disappear, just a gathering of children, innocent, pure, nothing to offer but love.


"Have you ever seen Jesus?" I ask Joe later.

"No," he says, "I mean, yeah."

"You did?"

"Uh, yeah," he says, "when I was DEAD." He nods, tilts his head conspiratorially. I raise my eyebrows; he shrugs. "Then I comed back up to you," he offers.

"Oh," I say.

"You SAW Jesus? When?"

"Um, maybe on Christmas," he says.

"Was it a dream?" I say.

"One time," he says.

"What happened?" I say.

"Jesus had me take a nap with God," he says. He gesture shrugs, a nod of adult mannerisms.

"Oh," I say. He grins, trundles off.

Take a nap with God, simple, light as a down feather. Peace settles, soundless as feathers falling from the sky, quiet as snow. And I see now what Joe does. He trusts. God. Is. Good. Invisible as air, there it is.









Gratitude:

5696. We celebrate Christmas again and again with family. We act out love as the story of Jesus, memorize all the notes and turns.

5697. We exchange gifts. We give. I watch the children explode in rapture when family opens the gifts they give.

5698. We receive far more than we deserve. Gratitude, bliss,  and humility enfold us.



Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Circle





"You should draw a circle around it," Craig says.

"I don't want to," I say, phone cradled to my ear. I look at a sore on my hand, shake my head. "I want to look pretty tonight and not have a big black circle on my hand," I say.

"Well, if you want to know for sure if it's getting worse..." he says.

"I know," I say, "I just don't want to." Coffee in the microwave, I flick the door closed and press 30 seconds.

"Ok, well..." he says.

We visit over loose ends, Christmas party planning. The timer beeps. I grab my coffee, hang up the phone.

"You'll always be pretty," Jack says. He taps my elbow, silent eavesdropper.

"Aw, thanks Jack," I say.

"No, seriously," he says. "You'll ALWAYS be pretty."







I stop, slow to look right into his eyes. "Thanks, honey."

"And even if you weren't," he shakes his head, "you'd still be pretty on the inside, and that's what really counts."

"That's true," I say. "That's what God cares about."

"That's what God sees," he says.

I carry his words inside, like a banner. I bend my identity around them, the truth. And I feel a tiny wave of shame at implying true beauty is so fragile.





Gratitude:

5695. The birth of our savior, Christ the Lord -- we celebrate with my family. God's gift encircles us.