Monday, October 16, 2017

Thin





"After eating a bowl of oats, three cookies, and some apples, it feels good to eat some actual REAL food," Myra says.

She wolfs a mounding spoon of rice to her mouth. I stir a bowl of creamy tomato soup, electric burner clicking with effort, the makeshift bathroom/kitchen a card house around us.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Yeah. It's just so. good," she says another bite bulging in her cheek.

Rice. So. Good. Nourishment. I scoop a sticky mound into my bowl and cover it with tomato soup. We lean over a rustic cutting board and spoon rice and soup as if it were life itself.



****







"It's like it was actual worship," Lucy says.

There, in the front seat of the suburban we wind up an afternoon date. It's the traveling cafe, suburban front seat. I buy chocolate. We climb in the front, crank the heat, and watch rain splatter the windshield, conversation and chocolate between us.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Yeah," she says, "actual worship. 'Cause sometimes in children's church they are like, Come on sing LOUDER," she claps her hands and raises eyebrows in time with sing LOUDER. An overly sweet smile alit on her face.

"Huh," I say.

"That DOESN'T mean it's worship," she says.

"Yep." We nod, the crinkling of foil, the dull crack of chocolate fractured and pulled out of the wrapper.

"It's like the other night when we were at that worship time; there, it actually was worship."

"Huh," I say.

I picture us there, the whole row of us, back of the sanctuary, music unfurling. I sang with my eyes closed. I'd peeked to count my chicks, gathered Betsy to our row and slipped back into worship, with images of Jack raising his hands, earnest, serious, Joe at half-mast and the other in various stages of mimicry, solemn, careful imitation.

"You're right," I say. "That was actually worship. I love that you can see that." Again, we nod, small agreements like tokens of affection.

I replay this discovery, the dumbing down of spirituality makes it small and tiny, thin in the eyes of this nine-year-old, pretend. Then there we are at the back of the church just standing there singing, just the naked effort to sing to God and suddenly, she sees it. Worship. Naked adoration, unmistakable.









Gratitude:

6381. Lucy begins to understand worship.

6382. Jack bakes cornbread. Lucy invents a cranberry bread recipe. And the two of them bake enough ginger snaps to make a tower.

6383. Jane begins to gain traction with another level of her math.

6384. Myra takes off with reading carrying a book like a cowboy with a pistol all the time now.

6385. Joe and Betsy try to copy her achievement by "reading" the pictures in books.







6386. I catch coffee with a dear friend, and we spill our souls, puddles of connection, meaning, and encouragement. Peace and courage ensue.

6387. Even amidst a week of out of town engagements, the pressure and chaos of regular life, and bone-weary tiredness, Mom and I eek out an afternoon of errands and a continuing river of conversation and connection.

6388. We begin a new journal/devotional as a family.







6389. We make the first hot chocolate of the season, a whole pot of it on the little electric burner. Milk, chocolate, and sugar, just simple.

6390. I find the joy of a new friendship, visiting over motherhood, life, and baby wraps.

6390. The kids begin to navigate the waters of what it means to "leave someone out'' when kids are playing. Everyone senses my complete intolerance of this.

6391. I continue to knit an ochre sweater for George.

6392. He begins to favor certain toys and scream displeasure if they are taken away. I smile at his resolve. Training the will is so much easier than teaching a passive child to have initiative. Oh joy, no lack of initiative.







6393. Betsy and I fall into the arms of our big wooden bed and sleep away Sunday afternoon.

6394. I begin to gestate the idea that the goodness of my soul must put down roots and thrive when things are hard. Isn't that the true measure of strength, the moment of adversity?

6395. I set my mind to see adversity as the moment when things become as they really are. The gift of unveiling.

6396. Every single day our moments are mingled with conversation after conversation, human lives intertwined. All these children and it's a symphony of becoming. Every move affects someone else. Joy and adversity hold hands.



Monday, October 9, 2017

Oatmeal





"Joe, Jooooe, make me oatmeal," Betsy hollers up the stairs. "Joe," she staccatos the air, "make. me. oatmeal else I'll TELL on you." Her bare feet pad on the wooden stairs, They pat-pat across the wide kitchen all hardwood floor and nothing else yet, not even cupboards.

A promenade of feet, bare feet, stocking feet, tromping feet, and Joe pokes his head around the basement stairwell.

"Hi, Mom," he says.

"Hey," I say from the couch under the kitchen. "Better make Betsy oatmeal," I say.

"Yeah," he says a half-grin pulling half his face skyward. He purses his lips and ducks into an unfinished bathroom turned temporary kitchen. A clattering of bowls, the soft snow of oatmeal, hot faucet water, the crinkle of a cranberry bag yawned open and he emerges.

"Hey," I say, nod.

"Hey," he says, nod and same half-smile.

"Thanks."

"Yup." He plants a bowl at the coffee table next to mine. Betsy sidles up to my knees and scoops warm bites of still runny oatmeal to her mouth.







"That's my oatmeal," she says.

The morning unspools like this.

Then, it's lunch and everyone washes up outside, dishes unfinished, an economy of bread crumbs piled on the cutting board littered across the makeshift kitchen. I keep meaning to call the kids in to polish the kitchen, but the afternoon yawns itself open and swallows the middle of the day. Somewhere well past two, I head downstairs. I stop.

"How did you get so FILTHY?" I say. Halfway down the stairs, Myra carrying Betsy, two dirt brown faces blink up at me.

"Um," Myra says. Betsy blinks, her arm slung around Myra's neck.

"HOW did you get so FILTHY?" I say.

"Um, playing outside?" Myra says. They blink, astonishment and mirth awash their faces.

"Oh," I say as I notice dirt embedded in Betsy's thankfully already brown dress. But those blinking eyes, "Oh," I say.

They trundle down the stairs and for all the outrageous dirt covering their bodies I forget about the kitchen. By the time I gaze out the picture window, I see a hole the size of a riding lawnmower in the middle of the old carrot bed.

"Oh," I say. "Oh."

Yup, that's life right now. From oatmeal at the coffee table, to bread crumbles sleeted across the kitchen, to a hole birthed across the carrot bed, signs and wonder are everywhere. I shake my head. I hope I can memorize all the terrain before everything changes and we finally finish this kitchen remodel.









Gratitude:

6374. I make a pot of tomato basil soup in the little bathroom kitchen. It tastes like God himself made it for all the beans and rice we have been eating.

6375. Dear friends invite us the the birthday party of their little girl. A meal shared, a mile-post marked, and the communion of friendship surrounds us. And all that food made from scratch, so abundant and nourishing, the words of encouragement shared between us, it was an event that was more than all the parts.

6376. A neighbor brings us asian pears from the tree in her yard.

6377. Jane and I have late night conversations four out of five nights. It starts with math homework, but we could talk all night in that quiet end of day pool of time.

6378. Craig continues to spend every waking moment puzzling together the kitchen remodel. I note again his steady persistence, nothing flashy, nothing even to really notice most days, but I see it's the foundation the whole house is built on. Good old fashioned dependability is underrated.

6379. I get an afternoon with my Mom before she heads to see her dad. We measure the universe with our words and compare long streamers of questions turning them over and over and over until we've both memorized everything we want to know. In the process crumbles of knowledge land in our laps. We gobble them up nourishment filling us both.

6380. Even though I get a headache and feel desperately ill for a day, the week seems good. Craig holds everything together, the children fill in the gaps, and everyone knows how to make something good for someone smaller than them.



Monday, October 2, 2017

The Drywallers





"They work really well as a team," Jack says.

The seven kids and I shimmed into our basement library, we visit over a makeshift dinner. Shored up on a couch, an ottoman, miscellaneous stools and lawn furniture, bookshelves along all the walls, we sit. Homemade salads and cold burgers balanced on our knees, we visit. A master drywaller and his two children smooth our kitchen together upstairs. Experts. Artists.

"Just really well, they work really well together," he says again.

"That's an interesting observation," I say. "What makes you say that?" Out of the corner of my eye I see Betsy's bowl, salad juice bloomed over the edge. She optimistically fills her spoon. Half a cherry tomato falls off her fork, over her knees, rolls under the couch, rice in it's wake.

"They each know their part," Jack says.







"Yup," I say.

"They're not like, What should I do now?" he says. He mimics the annoying I-don't-like-to-work voice. He nods, a faraway glaze in his eye.

I replay the scene I think he's picturing where Kevin hands a smoothing cloth to his dad, nary a word between them. In the same motion, all twelve years of him, he hold his father's drywall knife. Then, as if playing by heart they switch back and move down the wall. It's art and affection, the interplay between, adoring son eyes, attentive, obedient, watching out of the corner of his eye how to be tall and strong and good.

"Yup," I say. "They do it well." The others nod between crunching bites of salad.

"They really do," Jane says. Lucy nods. Myra nods too but more out of agreement with the group than any passion about the topic. Joe and Betsy elbow each other on the double camping chair.







Working together. The images emblazoned, the practiced two-step of obedience and initiative, the dance partners of work, art, and play, we trace their countenance until we can spot it amidst the camouflage of regular life. So subtle, so outrageous, apparently unmistakable to the eleven-year-old eyes there kitty-corner from me and to the gaggle of siblings nodding applause.





Gratitude:

6266. Stainless steel bowls to use in the rustic alternate kitchen set up in the basement.







6367. We take an afternoon to hunt grasshoppers.

6368. We begin to form a more cohesive way of working together in the middle of inconvenience, disorder, and irritation. As we meditate on the challenges, I remind the children (and myself) that even the weak appear strong when there is no challenge. When things are difficult, that is where our true character shows.

6369. We set our minds to be made stronger, kinder, and more suited to whatever the future holds.

6370. I remind myself that getting enough sleep is a small kindness I can give and should.







6371. Invisible peace begins to settle on us. The moments grow more precious. We begin to see the blinking eyes behind each face and love them.

6372. And somewhere in the middle of it all Craig works more on the kitchen. It continues to take shape. Family continues to help us masterminds problems and solve road blocks. The project marches forward, miraculous.

6373. Something inside of me grows less afraid of everything in life and more mindful of the good right in front of me.



Sunday, September 24, 2017

Praying Mantis





"Having a praying mantis is one thing," Jack says. He tap-taps a plastic coconut oil container turned mantis habitat. A nest of twigs the color of sand ensconce the inside.

"Yep," I say. Lulled by the running litany of mantis facts, I nod in time with his words, half listening, half filling in the gaps with leisure thoughts of knitting or masterminding a pattern or what's for dinner only to resurface in more mantis fascination.

"But," he says, "having a fertile egg sac from two mantis you mated yourself, that's a WHOLE other thing." He shakes his head, elation splayed across his face, as if mating mantises were as rapturous as sunrises.

"Ahhh," I say. "Indeed."

"Yep." He nods the camaraderie of assent there between us. And so it is, the mystery of reproduction unfolds for the whole family to watch. We take it in, elation the consensus of the day.









Gratitude:

6256. Jack embraces the life of praying mantises and all bugs or caterpillars as if he were present at creation when they were made.

6257. Our home continues to transform under the diligent work of Craig and extended family to renovate the kitchen. So many hands reaching out to hold us up. So humbling. So loving.







6258. We add a second jumbo sized popcorn bowl for serving Sunday night popcorn.

6259. We squeeze in the first pizza night in weeks. The warmth of memories settles around us.

6260. Two lovely wraps find their way to my arms, one to stay, one to visit, both to wrap the afternoons in cuddles and fall strolls.

6261. Jack pops 20+ quarts of popcorn for the weekend. I drizzle enough butter to almost double its weight. Our fingers shine when we eat.







6262. Still cooking out of the tiny basement bathroom-turned-kitchen, we continue to work shoulder to shoulder, stepping on toes, filling the floor with crumbs, and learning what it actually means to be patient, honest, and kind.

6263. We remind each other that these things really only prove themselves in adversity. It's not a trial, its a proof, a privilege, a chance. I still find the words, "I'm sorry," and, "Will you forgive me?" my constant companions. We offer them as the only antidote we have and work to do better. Sacrifices of love. Proofs. Moments where little things mean all the world.







6264. And there in the middle of it all, I hear Jane saying, "It's ok, Momma, I do the same thing too sometimes." And we nod, small acts of forgiveness the love between us.

6265. I find myself taking away some measure of gratitude for long list of trials we've lived lately. It's the antidote to fear, living out trials. I feel quiet and rested despite all the pressure, despite the lack of sleep.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Work





"I'm gonna tell you something that motivates me," Jack says.

Across the tiny kitchen, I look up from a bowl half filled with fried oatmeal, scissors and a dried banana paused in my hands, teapot bubbling at my elbow, tug-tugging my immovable attention toward a poised pour-over coffee filter awaiting the water.

"Oh?" I say.

"Us working side by side," he says. His eyes squint reflexively, affection drawn up in the apples of his cheeks.

"Yeah?" I say. He nods, a half smile pulled gently from the corners of his mouth. "Hmmm. Me too," I say.

We nod, a half nod, a quiet acknowledgement like a stone rolled gently into the pond so as not to break the glassy surface. Then, we work, that special bond of creating order out of disorder. It's more like dancing, like playing piano with both hands than the 1-2-3-4 daily grind of chores.








****



"Wow, it just feels like we are drowning in all this," I find myself saying.

Now in the Niagara Falls of a kitchen remodel, whole walls torn down, floors peeled back, cupboards splintered and removed, dust-drywall-and-insulation mixed with crumbs from the toaster the kids hauled back into the kitchen for breakfast -- there I stand, hard deadlines a police state upheaving the whole house.

There at the front door, just heading home, a long day trailing after us, Daniel nods.

I nod. "Thanks so much for your help," I say. He and the whole extended family, the big rescuing army had been pouring over plans, wielding coils of wire, outlet plates, hammers, tool belts, saws, a shop vac, sledge hammers, nails, screws, drills, I'm speechless. Thank-you, thank-you, thank...







"Yup," he says. "You bet." He nods again, that same smile drawn up in happy nonchalance. "You're in good hands with Craig," he says.

Hmmm, good hands. Yes. And the simple statement frames the whole day, frames the whole house, laces through the walls like wiring. Fishes and loaves multiply before my eyes, provision arrives when we most need it and can least supply it. Speechless gratitude, humble adoration of Christ ensues.

It's a lozenge of hope, soothes the throat, the heart, and drips glucose into the blood.








Gratitude:

6246. Family comes to help us tear apart and re-mantle our home.

6247. Betsy sprains her ankle; Jack gets pink eye; Lucy gets food poisoning; and still, somewhere, strength appears to carry us through.

6248. Then lunch arrives. Yup, un-beckoned, it appears in picnic form. All the fixin's, lunch jests at block party, then everyone returns to the work.


6249. Each time we almost catch our breath something else happens, something else lunges through the fray and grabs us by the neck and squeezes. Then somehow, even so, we take a deep breath and step through to the other side.







6250. The house is a cacophony of miscellaneous demo, reconstruction, supplies, tools, and regular life. The kids begin wearing safety glasses and earplugs like stocking caps and gloves in the winter.

6251. In the middle of it all, the post office looses a package I mailed to Mexico. Then, as if by miracle, PayPal offers a refund to replace the missing package.

6252. We attend a conference at church. Each day Mom and I pool resources to make a yummy grown-up lunch then discuss the pros and cons of each session in detail. The children listen and join in.

6253. Salted chocolate.

6254. Betsy's supposed to get her splint off tomorrow.

6255. I resolve to enjoy this season. So many permanent memories concentrated in one season, I set my mind to make them good -- not tidy, or easy, or maybe even fun, but good.



Sunday, August 6, 2017

First





"Feels weird being served first," Jane says. Jack's birthday and a tower of pancakes circles the table, Jane first.

"Well, that's probably good," I say. "It should feel weird."

"I usually just shoot for the middle," she says.

Off to her left and just louder than an evening breeze, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first," Jack says.

"Well, you'll be in the middle in heaven then," I laugh.

"Even if I'm last, at least I'll be in heaven," she lilts.

"Haha, so true," I say.

So it is, joking and banter takes on new nuance. Subtlety weaves the fabric of days.









Gratitude:

6237. The kitchen remodel begins. Demolition starts. And we sell the old big desk. A lovely couple from Switzerland takes it. Such sweet people I don't mind seeing it go, much.







6238. A neighbor brings us homemade banana bread cupcakes to celebrate the summer birthdays in our family.

6239. Family and neighbors stop by to contribute brawn and/or expertise to the remodel.







6240. The children while away hot summer hours flying kites with cousins, riding bikes, and splashing down the slip 'n slide. Finally the afternoons feel sufficiently long, like real summer days.

6241. The children continue to impress me with their ability to cook for themselves while we are busy working hard. Jane proves her stripes on the grill barbecuing burgers for the family.







6242. Joe recovers from a bee sting.

6243. I work through a bout of mastitis. Misery. Finally gone.

6244. I finish the autobiography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My abhorrence of evil and earth shattering adoration of Christ and his goodness ensues.

6245. At each turn God brings people into our path who love Him. Even the most unlikely places find us surrounded by those who carry His Spirit. I find this a great kindness.



Monday, July 31, 2017

Myra





"I'm actually LIKING learning to read," Myra says. From my pillowed beachhead, sprawled horizontal, right foot propped on a pillow tower, I nod, my neck corralled in a quarter of it's normal movement.

"Hmmm," I say.

"It gradually gets funner and funner and FUNNER." She grins as if seeing a sunset, her shoulders risen as to push, push, push the corners of her smile up the white acres of her face.







"Hm," I say.

"Joe is going to reeeeeally like it when he learns to read," she chirps, red hair in curlicue staccatos around arching eyebrows and blue eyes.

Beached in leg surgery's long recovery, I smile the slow long drawling smile that unrolls quietly like afternoon sun, like all the warm comfort of laying in these slow moments.

"You just have to decides to like it, then it gets really fun," she says.

"Yup," I say. She flops on the bed, book in hand, and narrates my recovery in slow and savory sentences.









Gratitude:

6223. The children make me breakfast each day after surgery -- fried potatoes, fried garden beans, fresh peas and tomatoes, pour-over coffee and my usual granola on the side.

6224. Four of the children get the flu. They rest far enough away that I stay well.







6225. Craig leaves for camp one day post-op and we fare just fine what with all the delicious food and hours and hours of beloved audio books, the children scattered on or around the bed, sunlight rolling through the window like the river at flood stage.

6226. Just as the kids begin to fatigue in the kitchen, a friend brings us a meal. Another friend offers another meal if we need. Such comfort and kind care in the body of Christ.

6227 Joe plays me countless games of Uno.







6228. Dear friends barbecue burgers and make an old fashioned picnic for our family. We talk all things literature and politics, history and the repeating of history. We nod. Yup. So many things to memorize and take note, bear witness.
6229. Jack receives a new cookbook. Illustrations bloom across the pages, vibrant art.

6230. A new salad bowl finds its way to our home. I christen it with chocolate chip cookies, a new recipe. Blissful results.

6231. We round the two thirds mark in an extensive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.







6232. I turn 39. The perfect day to turn 39, the children give me bouquets of handmade gifts. Craig, and I take an afternoon date. He barbecues two chickens for us. We glide into the evening slow and easy.

6233. I get a polkadot skirt.

6234. I practice the discipline of patience. An antidote. I hold it like an unruly child in my arms until when I least expect it, I find peace resting quietly on my shoulder.

6235. I look deeply into the eyes of my children, pause my reckless work to memorize their faces, and hold still, just stop. So many good moments, they run through my fingers like water.







6236. The kitchen remodel begun, disorder and broken routines, I set myself to be the inventor of good memories in this new set.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Annoy-able





"I guess I should probably be praying to not be so annoy-able," Jane says, "instead of praying that everyone else would stop BEING so annoying."

"Huh," I snicker. "Yup. Me too."

"It's not really that tap-tap-TAPPING is so wrong. Or that Joe or whoever is thinking, I know, this will drive Jane CRAZY, which IS what I think. But they probably just really feel like doing it."

"So true," I say. All these days of praying to become patient and kind and now this.

Conversation turns along unseen curves. How to hear the Lord? We trace this anatomy.

All these millions of disciplines -- Bible reading, devotions, praise, worship, hymns, theology, prayers in secret, thoughts and ideas we train to march in time to, to something. And then there we are left waiting. Just waiting. In the end waiting is the biggest deference of all, the loudest statement, the one that actually bows my heart in complete adoration of Christ. We wait on those we prize. Hm. Proof.







Jane and I trace these turns as if completely blind. Textures of ideas memorized by the invisible hands of the mind.

"It's sort of like we climbed on the slide at the YMCA," she says, "and now we just get to let gravity and God do the rest."

A laugh unbidden climbs out of my mouth. Gravity and God. Indeed. May it be so. May we trust God and all he has put in motion.











Gratitude:

6215. We celebrate a birthday in the park with the type of friends that all our children ask to see and always bring peace and joy. Smack dab in the middle of a crazy afternoon, it still does. I marvel at the stillness and slow meaningful celebration.

6216. We visit Craig's grandmother. One hundred two years, white hair and perfectly lovely, she closes her eyes and soaks in Holy, Holy, Holy as Craig, the kids and I sing to her.

6217. Craig, the kids, cousins, and Auntie all head to the farm for raspberry picking. Bliss. Forever memories.

6218. A trip to Trader Joe's and the simple joys of mustard, ketchup, heavy whipping cream, just the essentials.







6219. Jack harvests a few potatoes that dried out and died, then fries them up for Craig and me. They are the creamiest, richest, most smooth and salty morsels. Ever.

6220. I plug away on the chores of life and convince myself that the three drawers I cleaned out of the desk are better than none at all and all the slow attention to waiting a good investment.

6221. In the middle of seven audio books, I relish them all.

6222. I prepare for a surgery on bad veins in my legs. Elated that the painful condition can be remedied, I dread/anticipate the procedure.

6223. I begin to think of waiting as a currency to be spent, a song sung without words, a free-fall proof of love. Let it be so.



Monday, July 10, 2017

The Desk





"You cleaning out the desk?" Jane says. Crouched over a bin of hand-me-down shoes, I look up at her too-tall twelve-year-old self perched there in the stairwell making her even taller. I smile, the sloppy grin of tired endurance.

"Yep," I say. "I finally cleaned out a drawer."

"Huh," she says. 

There at the shoe bin, stapler and office supplies sprawled at the perimeter, I wonder how life can be such an intertwining of circles -- shoe bin, sewing table at my wrist, book with the torn dust cover leaned against bin, three-hole-punch littering tiny white dots at bin's edge. And somewhere there up the stairs, the old herculean desk I'm trying to empty and sell, tasks shattering down, thunder claps of urgency.

"I finally decided I just need to clean out a drawer a day," I say. "I've been so over whelmed I just can't even start."






"Yeah," she says, "better to just do a drawer a day than to do nothing at all and keep reproaching yourself."

"Yes," I say. "Just, YES. I can't seem to get a purchase on it, so -- a drawer a day."

"Good job, Mom."

"Hmm. Thanks, honey." We smile, that softness that releases crinkles at the corners of the eyes. And then we sigh, but really it's more like the very beginning of the next breath, and it's long and deep and patient endurance fills in all the cracks.








Gratitude:

6309. We celebrate the birthday of our country and all the blood shed on our behalf with lovely picnics and family and friends.






6310. I steal away one lunch hour to meed a friend and visit as if heaven itself had opened to to invite us in.

6311. Craig and I enjoy a lovely dinner with a local pastor and his wife.

6212. I catch coffee and errands with my momma, errands really just another word for long streamers of conversation cast across the morning according to whatever the mood will lead. We both end up with wonderful finds at an estate sale.

6213. A dear, dear friend from college visits us with her mother and two children. She brings all the fixings to turn our pleasant picnic into a jaunty feast we will long remember. The children play, and we visit as if 20 years had not passed between us.

6214. I find breadcrumbs of encouragement in each conversations and more as I visit with the children and better yet with Craig. Somehow nourishment fills all the cracks and even burdens and urgencies fail to crush me with their weight.