Monthly Archives: January 2012

Vroooom Thankful

  • That my baby has learned how to use sound effects when pushing his brother’s cars around on the floor. (Can vroooom count as his third word?)
  • For the sound effects that have become a significant part of my communication skills. I catch myself saying: “Boom!” and “Splat!” while I chop the slices of cucumbers my kids are about to consume. How did everything become a sound? (Btw, my friend Cat would say that my sound effect making is not solely based on having kids. She’d say that I’ve always made really awkward sound effects when conversation stalls: “Dupee Dupee Du…”)
  • Several moments this past week to be reminded of how I have the best kinds of friends: the friends who will give up hours to read my work and give me difficult, thoughtful feedback, the friend who emails with deep honesty and trust, the friend who calls from her hospital bed as she gets chemo, asking me about my life. The friend who pursues me even when I fail to pursue her. The friend I can dream wonderful, giddy, silly romantic dreams for. I’m thankful for friends.
  • I’m thankful for reminders of how much I love my husband, and the shock of how good I have it.
  • For The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. For “deep magic” and truth in my little boy’s ears.
  • For a baby who is no longer laid-back. (It was bound to happen.) For his longing to run and his drive to get those feet moving.
  • For forgiveness and rest and warm afternoons and a clean house
  • For laundry and its monotony and the reminder that we work and seasons move and babies grow and dishes pile and are put away and my hands look more like my mom’s and all of it matters. All of it matters.
  • Afternoon sun through the windows, squares of light on the couch. Isn’t winter light so distinct? So hopeful?
  • The moments of feeling like a failed mother, followed by moments of believing God loves me. That process is the miracle.
  • Boys playing in the grass, boys laughing at each other at the table, boys driving each other crazy in the car and stealing each other’s toys in the living room. Brothers wrestling with their dad on the bed.

It’s Thankful Tuesday. Time to list yours, friend.

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The Host Raised

MaryBeth Witulski Photography via Pinterest

One of the things I most love about the intentionality of liturgy is how suddenly it can catch my throat in worship. Lately, though I’m always moved by words in music or scripture, it’s in the physical movement of worship that I am most reminded of God’s sweet presence, that I hear most loudly the movement of grace and forgiveness and restoration.

At Christ Church, we follow a liturgical tradition that is a bit odd (compared to your regular liturgical service…at least I think it must be). I’ve been told our liturgy comes from an African tradition of worship in the Anglican church and is highly influenced by the physical freedom of that tradition. So, when we offer up our fears and sorrows and “send them to the cross of Christ,” we literally raise our arms up and push the invisible things toward the cross at the altar. The first time I visited our church, I stared in wonder that this room full of seemingly normal worshippers wildly shoving at the air. And then, after a few weeks, I joined in. And I can’t get enough of it. It feels so good to throw my burdens at Jesus and then raise my arms to receive the blessing.

It feels good to cross myself. I’ve been crossing myself for a few years now, allowing my hands to move through the most sacred parts of me: my mind and my heart, brain to lung, shoulder to shoulder. There’s such an assurance as I pray that God is covering me: the words I will speak, the thoughts I will own, the air I will breath…it’s all already redeemed. I cross myself as a simple reminder.

Who would think that in an Anglican church I would watch the mother of four in front of me quietly move out past her row of children so she can make it to the aisle and dance (not distractingly, just joyfully) simply because the song has moved her?

I’ve mostly been the girl who skeptically raised an eyebrow at emotional worship. I’ve always inwardly sighed at those who seemed to only “feel the spirit” during the emotion-inducing key change and hyper drumbeat arriving three-fourths of the way through the new, cool praise song. But, here at our new church, I find myself in the midst of honesty, of movement that belongs to Jesus in all of its dorkiness, all of its sweet humility.

And always, at the end of the service, as we sing, the last remnants of those taking communion filing back into seats, there is my pastor walking the length of the rows, eyes fixed on us, holding high the Host, the bread that represents the body of Jesus, broken and strewn about for us, the broken and strewn about. Our pastor Cliff has this stare, the look of hospitality that I’ve rarely seen before. His eyes say, This is still for you, whoever you are. You can still come. You may always come.

And every week I stare at his face and every week I shiver at the deep magic* of the invitation. What is it for God’s life to be given, broken to pieces, and rebuilt? What is it for my life, your life, to be reformed by a story, a Person, that once was dead but now lives, that keeps living–its pieces given to all and yet always remaining whole? Such magic. Such an invitation, our hands in the air, chunking our broken places, our fears, our hopes, and grateful loves–toward the cross of Christ, and sighing that internal breath of relief that someone not only holds our empty fears, but is remaking them, and remaking us into who we always were meant to be.

 

*We’ve been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to August and I’ve been reminded of the “deep magic” that brings Aslan back to life…

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Poem-a-Day Friday: “The World as Will and Representation”

I’m still working my way through Robert Hass’ Time and Materials so you get another Hass poem this week. (Next week I’ll give you something new, I promise.)

This book is beautiful. There are several poems I could have chosen (some that are probably an easier subject matter). However, I picked this one because, of all that I read of his this week, it stunned me most and continues to haunt me. I’d love to know that you think about it in the Comments…

The World as Will and Representation
by Robert Hass

When I was a child my father every morning–
Some mornings, for a time, when I was ten or so,
My father gave my mother a drug called antabuse.
It makes you sick if you drink alcohol.
They were little yellow pills. He ground them
In a glass, dissolved them in water, handed her
The glass and watched her closely while she drank.
It was the late nineteen-forties, a time,
A social world, in which the men got up
And went to work, leaving the women with the children.
His wink at me was a nineteen-forties wink.
He watched her closely so she couldn’t “pull
A fast one” or “put anything over” on a pair
As shrewd as the two of us. I hear those phrases
In old movies and my mind begins to drift.
The reason he ground the medications fine
Was that the pills could be hidden under the tongue
And spit out later. The reason that this ritual
Occurred so early in the morning–I was told,
And knew it to be true–was that she could,
If she wanted, induce herself to vomit,
So she had to be watched until her system had
Absorbed the drug. Hard to render, in these lines,
The rhythm of the act. He ground two of them
To powder in a glass, filled it with water,
Handed it to her, and watched her drink.
In my memory, he’s wearing a suit, gray,
Herringbone, a white shirt she had ironed.
Some mornings, as in the comics we read
When Dagwood went off early to placate
Mr. Dithers, leaving Blondie with crusts
Of toast and yellow rivulets of egg yolk
To be cleared before she went shopping–
On what the comic called a shopping spree–
With Trixie, the next-door neighbor, my father
Would catch an early bus and leave the task
Of vigilance to me. “Keep an eye on Mama, pardner.”
You know the passage in the Aeneid? The man
Who leaves the burning city with his father
On his shoulders, holding his young son’s hand,
Means to do well among the flaming arras
And the falling columns while the blind prophet,
Arms upraised, howls from the inner chamber,
“Great Troy is fallen. Great Troy is no more.”
Slumped in a bathrobe, penitent and biddable,
My mother at the kitchen table gagged and drank,
Drank and gagged. We get our first moral idea
About the world–about justice and power,
Gender and the order of things–from somewhere.

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What is more important? Please circle.

I’ve said before that I’m drawn to teaching August scripture from the perspective of the The Jesus Storybook Bible, which so beautifully offers the Bible as a bigger story: one of God coming to rescue the world in the sacrifice of Jesus. I long for August to encounter scripture as the good story of God’s great love for us, as opposed to the way I learned to apply scripture in my childhood Sunday School classes: well-meant but unfortunate morality lessons. When we read the story of Jesus and the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the lesson was always summed up in what we were supposed to change about ourselves: give what you have to Jesus (do better!). That’s a wonderful idea until you realize that you’re constantly a failure at giving what you have. And if you haven’t been taught to see Jesus as the miracle worker who takes the little you have and makes it miraculous, you live your life never being enough for Jesus to use.

So, Sunday, when August came home from church with a little worksheet on the story of Jacob and Esau from Genesis 27, I was caught off guard to see the “assignment” the preschoolers been given after story time, to go through the pictures on the paper and circle the “most important.” Their options?

Row 1: boy playing with a toy airplane vs boy praying by his bed with his father

Row 2: Bible vs a bowl of cereal

Row 3: boy on a computer vs girl praying piously in church

Row 4: boy helping his friend in a wheelchair vs boy pushing another boy

Look, I’m all for morality. Jesus said we would be known as his followers by how we love. Of course I want August to learn that the boy who helps his friend in a wheelchair is making a better choice than the boy who pushes. And I completely understand that it’s difficult to teach scripture, with all of its layers and complexities, to children without making it a morality lesson, but I didn’t feel comfortable with what I saw on August’s story booklet. I didn’t feel comfortable at all. Is playing with your toy plane less important to God than praying before bed at night? Is reading the Bible a better choice than eating breakfast? Is super pious-face heaven gazer doing something more important than the boy on the computer?

That worksheet wanted to draw a line between spiritual and physical things, asking my boy to judge which are worthwhile and which are not. The answer is not only much more complicated than it appears, it’s also damaging. If it’s true that only the spiritual things are good, are worthwhile, then we have to look honestly at every thing we do. How can we justify time spent reading a novel, cooking a meal, going for a run? We believe that God didn’t just dream us up; he created us. And I have to believe that he delights in our entering into His creation, fully participating in it–whether that means building a model plane or eating cereal or working on the computer.

I’m a recovering “good Christian girl” who knew just how to put that pious face on when I prayed in church. Of course reading the Bible was more important than feeding my body! Of course prayer was a better choice than play! I took all those well-meaning “do better” childhood Sunday School stories and shaped them into a theology of trying, striving, and failing, time and again.

It wasn’t until adulthood when the burden of carrying around the pile of what I’d left undone was too much. I saw everything in my life that wasn’t spiritual as a weakness. I lived with great guilt for choosing to study writing instead of going to Kenya and running an orphanage as I’d always planned. It took depression and therapy to open me up to the possibility that I didn’t understand the gospel. I’d missed the entire thing. It has taken years to believe that God’s love for me is not dependent on how spiritually impressive my life looks.

And so, maybe you understand that I didn’t like the message that worksheet was sending my 3-year-old. I don’t believe God loves the act of prayer more than he loves the child playing with his toy plane. God loves creation. God loves for us to enjoy creation, not as a second best way to use our time, but because creation is good. God delights in seeing my son play with his airplane and his cars and his dinosaurs, not simply because those things bring August joy, but because God loves play. August is a delight to the heart of God when he runs through the backyard, Lightning McQueen in hand, vrooming. He is being who God has made him to be.

I believe God made our bodies and our minds and our hearts and he loves when they line up into the beautiful all-encompassing story of redemption. The gospel is the story of Jesus rescuing us from all that we fail to do, all that we fail to be. I will never pray enough; but I am rescued. I will never show enough compassion; but I am given compassion in spite of my failure. I will never understand the depth of need in this world; but Jesus has rescued me in the midst of my ignorance. The gospel is the story of our brokenness and a love that is making us who we really are, not who our failures say we are. Only the gospel allows me to recognize what is good in this world.

After August showed me his worksheet, I had a little worry moment. What would I say to him about what he circled? I prepared myself for a talk about God loving play and prayer, God loving when we eat all our cereal because food is a gift from God. But it turned out, I didn’t really need to have carried that concern. Usually, children understand at a much deeper level what matters in this life and what doesn’t.

Once I actually took the time to look at what his 3-year-old fingers had circled with the orange crayon in Sunday School class, I realized his answers were perfectly true. He didn’t choose between the less important and more important. (And thankfully, his dear teachers did not make him choose.) He had simply circled everything he knew was good, no matter which row it was on. So, the boy with the plane was circled beside the boy in prayer, the cereal was circled and the boy who helped his friend. There was only one picture crossed out. It was the boy who pushed. (Pious heaven gazer was left blank. Seriously, what’s her deal?)

Nope. No need for that talk. We learn what’s good by what we see lived out, don’t we? And little boys always know that toy planes matter to God.

 

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{Practicing Benedict} On rising immediately

“All should be prepared to rise immediately without any delay as soon as the signal to get up is given; then they should hurry to see who can get first to the oratory for the work of God, but of course they should do this with due dignity and restraint. The young should not have their beds next to each other but they should be placed among those of the seniors. In the morning, as they are getting up for the work of God, they should quietly give encouragement to those who are sleepy and given to making excuses for being late” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 22).

Two years ago when I started this blog, I wrote a post on trying to get out of bed in the morning to pray and failing to “quietly give encouragement” to my husband (I wasn’t quiet or encouraging) so we could both get up for the “work of God.”

Isn’t it amazing that I’m still struggling with the getting out of bed for prayer thing? The truth is that getting up before 7 in the morning is just not an easy task for me. It may sound lazy and sloth-y (is that a word?) but I’ve come to accept that I am not a morning person. I know that responsible people go to bed at 10 and are up doing yoga at 5:30, but 10 pm is not when my body wants to sleep. My mind lights up at 10:30 and fires off ideas into my computer while I drink decaf tea. I love the late night checking off of lists and I love even more the late night reading of a good book.

But there’s a problem: I’m also a woman who loves the quiet of morning. In fact, the house at 6 am in the semi-darkness is my favorite time of day. I love getting to the couch with my coffee in hand. I have sweet memories in every place I ever lived of where I sat with my coffee for early morning prayer. Our last apartment in San Francisco had this view of the city that always made me gasp a little. And I could stand in the bay window and watch the sun rise toward me, like God was on route, heading my direction.

I want both. I want to stay up late and get up early. I want to spend all day with my babies and still have meaningful work. I want to use my time with my kids to develop  relationships with other women and still keep the house clean. I want to live everywhere and no where all at once. I want to be super human.

I want ease.

But my body demands rest, whether I like it or not. I have to make decisions about the way I spend my days and nights. Often making time for relationships calls for delayed toilet scrubbing. I cannot be both fully present to my work and fully present to my kids. Choices have to be made. When I chose to be stay-at-home mom, I chose the daily living with babies and this past fall, when I chose to hire a babysitter a few hours a week so I could write, I chose to give up those hours with my babies.

I’ve learned a secret that has been a long time coming: There is exactly enough time in each day. God designed our days for rest and play and work and prayer*. We are simply called to divide that time and rescue it, either from laziness or worthless striving.

Do you want to know what has changed the most in my life in the past two years? It’s simple really. I realized that I am God’s beloved. I learned to let God love me.

The greatest enemy of my life has been time. I’m a striver. (When I was in 4th grade, I carried around an egg timer every morning to make sure I only brushed my teeth for two minutes and got my shoes on in three. By the way, I failed and cried…a lot.) When my kids came into the picture, I felt out of control.

I wanted to be remarkable but I barely got my hair into a ponytail in those early days of August’s toddlerhood. Then I hated myself: for not praying, for not writing, for not exercising, for not cleaning the house, for not returning my friends’ phone calls and emails.      I didn’t love myself for loving August. Loving my son was too easy, I thought, too normal.

What is different now?   It’s a miracle really, but I think I am actually beginning to believe that Jesus loves me and that he redeems the places that I can’t reach. I’m actually believing that when I pray, Jesus is in love with me and when I don’t, Jesus in love with me. I’m actually believing that the moments I’m on the floor with my kids are miracles and the moments I’m not are blessings to my sanity.

And so, when I read St. Benedict’s words about rising immediately when I’m woken up, I most resonate with the quiet encouragement he calls on his monks to give to the ones who can’t get out of bed. I used to fear that God was waiting for me in those early mornings, stamping his feet, sick of my slothiness, marking my name in the “unremarkable” category. Now, when I wake, I believe God loves me like I’m loving the people in my home: the baby who comes into my bed for his morning milk, sleepy and cozy and moving from night into wakefulness; my husband who snoozes three times until I trick him into turning on the light. Mornings are for sweetness, despite our sticky eyes. Waking is a process we can either embrace or battle.

I’m learning that I make choices about the way my 24 hours will span out. So, I leave room in my day for an hour of dishes and spaces of time between lunch and nap time and when the boys and I need to be somewhere else. I know that if I want to make it out of bed for the miraculous hour between 6 and 7, I have to set the coffee the night before and I have to go to bed by 11, no matter how brilliant I think my thoughts are or how good the book is.

But, mostly, I’ve learned that the Spirit who calls me to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” is also the Spirit who treats me with the same kindness, the same gentleness. Time is sacred and so is the One who gathers time into the cup of 24 hours and pours it out for us.

So, yes, wake up early and rise immediately. Yes, get your body to the place of prayer because the “work of God” matters. But remember that your God draws you in with cords of kindness. Live as the beloved you are.

*A little shout-out to Kathleen Norris who first put that idea in my head in the preface to The Cloister Walk.

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‘The hours illuminated and celebrated’: Thankful Tuesday

“Cast out from the luxuriant friendship and ease of the hours, we feel a blankness, a sameness, an aloneness, a lack of sense to all our doings and even our accomplishments. We attend the hushed memorial service for a dead friend and find the list of his achievements moves no one in the assembly, but the atmosphere does quicken in the crowded room when his daughter speaks of all the many things he loved and everything and everyone he held in his affections. The dogs, the chopping of wood, the homemade telescopes, the sunsets from the porch, his daughter’s children, the jokes that enlivened the long meetings at work. There is laughter surprise, revelation. Suddenly we know who we have lost, as if identity in the great measuring moment of its loss is based on on what we have loved and held in our affections and all the rest is chaff to be blown away by the arrival of death. Love is the measure of identity because in love is the timeless and untrammeled, the presence of things, the hours illuminated and celebrated like the steeple bell across the fields, filling the hollows and the hot afternoon to the brim…Death is not impressed by what we have done, unless what we have done leaves a legacy of life; death’s tide washes over everything we have taken so long to write in the sand…” (David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity)

  • A Sunday to sit outside on the porch in the barely cool breeze (or at least attempt to sit. There’s this baby who kept trying to dive head-first down the two steps off the deck).
  • For the t-shirt my friend Cat sent August last week in celebration of his hometown. “In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days,” it says, honestly.
  • For days where I accomplish nothing because my baby is getting both front teeth at once. For hugs and songs and a stubborn boy who can’t stand that he doesn’t yet know how to walk.
  • For all four of us eating the same meal for dinner and liking it!
  • Clean dishes and clean laundry
  • Feeling the need to sing Jon Secada with my husband in the kitchen, the plastic toy rolling pin our shared microphone, our three year old begging us to stop. (Oh, this is just the beginning, honey.)
  • Clean white sheets on a bed
  • My college girls being back in town, Sunday night dinner with them at the diner
  • Today: a Tuesday night date night…Sushi!!!
  • A husband who wants to buy me cute new shoes
  • Candles and cloth napkins on a Monday night family dinner
  • The reminder that my day is not valuable because of what I can accomplish, but by the “illuminated hours” David Whyte speaks of. Those moments we hold up as beautiful in the midst of scratched off to-do lists and important correspondence.
  • Reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to August before nap time. The joyful longing of a good chapter story…
  • That August goes to a school that celebrates Chinese New Year. That he came home from school saying: “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” carrying a hand-made paper dragon. (So thankful that some traditions we experienced in San Francisco are carrying over…)

It’s Thankful Tuesday. List them! Come on, you know you want to…

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For Brooksie, upon his turning ten months old.

You turned ten months old last Tuesday. Almost every other month of your living, we’ve celebrated the 16th with a photo and a little “Happy X month birthday, T-Rexy!” This time, I didn’t even notice. I was waiting all week for the 19th which, amazingly, I thought was your 10 month birthday. It didn’t even occur to me until the night of the 18th that you were born on a 16, not a 19. Oh, honey, I’m sorry you’re the second born. I’m afraid it will always be like this, my love. I’m not so good with details.

Yes, we call you T-Rexy. And we have since long before you were Brooks. You don’t know which is your real name. You answer to both as though it were normal for a baby to have two names. I rarely even consider the fact that I call you by the nickname of a dinosaur (your brother named you in the womb, in case that isn’t clear). T-Rexy is just who you are. So, when I shout across the room as you’re going for the safety plugs in the electrical socket…again, “T! No, no!” you respond with a the devious look of a child who of course plans to go for the pluggy thing again. “T” is your name most of the time these days. T-Rexy is second. Brooksie a close third. Of course, I try to control the “T-Rexy” calling in public. It’s a little confusing for people.

Right now it’s Saturday afternoon. Your brother and dad fell asleep together on the couch. Both are in heaven. I lay you down in your crib and seconds later you’re standing and screaming from your room. You’re not having it today. I rescue you, along with your “bup,” what August calls his blanket which is now what we now calls yours as well, and we rock together in your room, your face pressed against the blanket and my chest, your hiccups slowing into the rhythm of my rocking. Usually I sing old hymns to you in moments like this, but today Gerard Manley Hopkins is whispered from my tongue: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” I say. “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.”

I move from that into Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet (1928),” the one that sits framed in front of my kitchen sink: “I am in need of music that would flow / Over my fretful feeling fingertips, / Over my bitter-tainted trembling lips…” Babies always know good poetry. It’s in your souls still (it having been such a short time since you lived in the Secret Place where all the Art is held waiting…)

Your eyes close, your heart beats with the rhythm of the poets. I pray for you, the secret prayer God has shown my heart for yours. See, I know a whisper of a truth that I can’t speak aloud (not even your father knows), of what your life may be and how you may see the world. Don’t misunderstand, it is hardly a prophecy, just a knowing pressed into my heart. A hope of why your life has come to this world, why you have come to me, what I am instructed to teach you. I whisper it always into your crib in the dark, when I pray for your life. I whisper it before I say: “Let him love the things that You love. And if he wanders far from You, may he always come back home.”

I didn’t take your picture when you turned 10 months old, Brooksie: your long body wrapped in 18-24 month clothes, crawling under the coffee table and crying, stuck, until I pull you out. You pushing that little wooden cart with your unbalanced feet, working those round foot pads into workable walking tools. Your hands signing “More! More!” in the high chair while your mouth makes the sound for “bread.” “Behhh!” you say. “Behhh!” And I offer you what I can, often a little too late, a bit too rushed, a tad distracted. But you meet my eyes and remind me that we belong together, you and I.

I whisper it to you in the rocking chair…

“There is a magic made by melody
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.”

-Elizabeth Bishop, “Sonnet (1928)”

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