Thankful: thunderstorms, parties, and the (lack of) electricity

  • Oh, I’ve missed big spring thunderstorms in Texas, how they hit at 7:30 at night, the perfect time for mysteriousness when you’re a kid: Right after bathtime, right as you’ve stepped into pajamas. How, when the power goes out, nothing matters anymore. Dishes can’t be done, chores can’t be completed. There is only the sitting under flashlights and the telling of stories. And Daddy reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by candlelight. The glowing living room lit by candles. Is there anything sweeter than falling asleep to the sound of heavy rain? So, I’m thankful: for lightning, for the deep growl of its thunder, and for family to hold when the clap hits the sky.
  • I’m thankful for parties of all kinds: The wine and cheese sort I helped throw with friends on Friday night—the joy of connecting people and laughing and preparing and cleaning up. And the sleepover sort on Sunday night with my small group of almost-college-sophomores—sitting outside eating pizza and chips and queso and cookies and praying for each other as they head out to their summers. I’m thankful for how they’ve grown up this past year, how they’ve moved from strangers to dear friends, how much they’ve learned about themselves and about what it is to follow Jesus. I’m thankful for dinner out Saturday night with my college roomies Jamie and Melissa, that our time together is full of more than reminiscing, that we love each other as we are now, in our older lives, that we can laugh and talk about hard, true things.
  • For this awesome fort made out of couch cushions
  • The words from my children’s mouths. After bath time: “I told myself when you came in to get me that I would be all done.” (This from the stubborn-headed boy who has a very difficult time accepting the end of things. Self-control = the best kind of growing up). And declarations of “I’m not into______ (insert: any sort of vegetable, quiet music, nap time, and washing hands) and, “Oh man!” as a way of pointing out something’s coolness. Also, there is the new word of Brooksie’s, who when watching the water run into the plastic baby pool outside, stared hard as I turned the hose off. “Ahh-Duh” he said and signed “all done.” And I cheered. That baby is currently “into” putting on his shoes, wearing his Syracuse baseball cap (which he discovered this past weekend and wants to wear always), kicking balls, and brushing his teeth himself.
  • For the sweet taste of water, especially when you’ve been chasing kids in the 95 degree heat all afternoon.
  • I’m thankful for Daddies who kiss their little boys and mamas whose boys  label them “the coziest” due the certain softness of their bellies. (Oh well.)
  • And I’m thankful that sometimes big ole thunderstorms knock out the power and there’s nothing you can do but fall asleep in your clothes at 8:30 and not get your blog post written. I’m thankful for electricity. But last night, I was tired and I was more thankful for sleep.

 

Thanks for your patience when I was a little slow with the post today. What, my friends, is on your thankful list this morning?

 

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Melancholia: Why I wish I hadn’t seen it and why I’m sort of glad I did.

image from imdb.com via Pinterest

Three weeks ago my husband and I watched the movie Melancholia. If you haven’t heard of the film, I’ll say this: That was probably not a good idea. (At least for me.)

It’s not a spoiler to explain that the film is about the end of the world. (There’s no suspense about that going into it.) The movie is named for the planet that eventually collides with and destroys earth. But the story of the film is about two sisters and the relationships within a family and, ultimately, about the meaning of everything. This is a movie about how the three main characters respond to (in the director’s view) the meaninglessness of life: one with grim acceptance, one with cowardly surrender, and one with almost childlike denial. None of the characters have any kind of faith.

Melancholia challenges us to ask, Why are doing anything? What does it mean that what all we build our lives around, all that we value, is capable of being destroyed in one single blast? And, if everything is going to be destroyed, does it matter whether we love each other well in those last moments? If you believe in nothing outside of the reality of matter and the physical world, how do you make sense of the vulnerability of life?

So, ummm, watching the world end is never fun, especially when there’s a child in the scene. And I’ve already written here about how much I’m over seeing depressing movies, especially since I became a mom. Like all of us, I encounter enough sadness and fear in this world, without needing to put myself in a place to be reminded of it. When I was crying to my husband about the movie a day later and begging him to tell me how he was able to go about his day as a normal human being when he had Melancholia to obsess over, he said: “Micha, this is not a shocker: You feel things deeply. I don’t.” Right, right.

But I was drawn to this movie; I needed to see the end. Now, I can’t stop thinking about those last few minutes of the film, which are actually the last few minutes of life on earth. The character Claire, overwhelmed by the loss she’s already experienced, panics to find a safe place for her young son. After giving up on that, she pulls her sister aside, asking that they do something beautiful for the last moments of earth’s existence: have a toast and play some epic piece of music, something to say all of this mattered. And in that moment, her sister Justine (Kirsten Dunst) refuses to do anything of the sort. Instead, she goes outside to her nephew and, under the backdrop of a sky full of the incoming planet, tries to calm his fears by helping him built a “magic cave,” a teepee of sticks, where he will feel safe.

I keep thinking about those last minutes of their lives, of the world. All of the characters in this movie were flawed. Justine does some horrific things and, at the same time, is vulnerable enough that we feel drawn to her and her pain. She is already hopeless so she holds no emotion as she faces the end. Her sister Claire is the responsible one, the good one. But at the end of everything, she has so much at stake—her husband and her son and her life—that she is a panicked mess. Somehow, it’s Justine, who has nothing, who is able to be present to her nephew in his fear and loss.

What does that mean? I keep asking myself. Chris and I have since had countless conversations about the hope we have, that the physical is not the limit to life. That because we believe God is good and that God exists outside of time and space, we don’t have to react to the thought that all of this beauty—the majesty of mountains, the creativity of life itself: all those glow-in-the-dark fish at the bottom of the sea, the crazy abilities of kangaroos to carry their babies in a skin pouch, the dearness of mama birds building their nests with hope and great usefulness—is for nothing or that it will one day amount to nothing. Because we believe in a Creator and, even more, because we believe in a Savior, we can hold tight to the hope that that all of this goodness, all this life, is worth living in and celebrating because God is in the business of making order out of chaos: on this planet, in our hearts, in our families, in our churches. God is making all the sad things come untrue. So even if we lose everything we value on this earth, even life itself, we can believe that God is renewing it all, reworking the story of earth into the bigger story of redemption.

I don’t know much about the writer/director, Lars von Trier. I’ve heard that his belief system is fairly fatalistic. I assume that he probably holds a view of the world that says this is all meaningless and impossible to sustain. But, even if that’s his framework, I found the care that Justine provides her nephew in the end incredibly moving and emotional. Does anything matter? von Trier is asking. And I think his answer is, Yes, loving each other well matters.

So, I’ve moved from a place of sorrow at the thought of this film, to a place of thankfulness: for the reminder that what we do with the smallest of our moments, how we choose to care for one another in details of our everyday—how we value life—is what ultimately defines meaning in this world.

And I’m grateful for the reminder that if all is lost, if this very moment our sun explodes everything—art and music and nature and humankind—into smithereens, one things remains: a loving God. And because that loving God is not bound by the rules of the universe, God’s care for us is not bound by the rules of universe either.

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For those of us who need Good News…

On Fridays I usually post a poem that I’ve read that week or that has moved me in same way. (It’s my effort to force you all to read poetry and like it! You’re allowed to roll your eyes now.)

But today, instead of a poem, I’m posting a video I discovered this week through Seth Haines‘ tumblr. I watched it on Tuesday afternoon and cried. Then I watched it with my husband on Tuesday night and cried. Then I played it again on Wednesday morning and August watched it with me and I cried. He said: “That’s a good video, Mom.” I can’t stop watching it because all I want is to hear Manning’s sweet voice asking me again: “Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be?” Such words.

So, take this gift: a brief glimpse into the teaching of Brennan Manning, who, when I read him my senior year of high school, was the first person to whisper the deep, boundless love of God to my tired, striving, good girl heart. I love Brennan Manning for giving me Ragamuffin Gospel. And, even if you don’t know him or his teaching, you will want to after you watch this.

 

His memoir All is Grace is next on my reading list. I promise to write about it when I’m finished…

 

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Time, Anxiety, Caffeine and Making Space

Yesterday, Mama Monk officially moved its home to Patheos. We’re still working out the details and so far it looks like email (RSS) subscribers have not been redirected. Hopefully that will happen in the next couple of days. (If you follow me on WordPress, I’m sorry to say Patheos won’t be able to move over the subscription. But, I’ll be your best friend if you’ll click here real fast and subscribe on the sidebar at the new site.) Until then, there’s a new post up today:

I’ve been living on caffeine. I’m talking two cups of coffee in the morning, a shot of espresso to get me through the afternoon and a nighttime cup so I can write till midnight.

I’m not saying this to brag or to complain. I’m saying it’s not healthy. I’m not healthy.

There’s this thing I’ve learned about myself: I have a terrible pattern in my life. Left to my own devices, my ENFP brain and I would do something different every day. I would wake at whatever time felt right. I would run into friends on my walk to the not-very-important-meeting and let them convince me we should play hooky all morning and sit at the park. And I would be enormously happy. Until nighttime. Then I would cry that I’d done nothing with my day and all I want is to accomplish something important with my life. I would cry that I just want a schedule and someone to help me.

Click here to read the rest at Patheos…

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Hello, Patheos.

apartmenttherapy.com via Pinterest

Friends,

Today is moving day! Mama Monk is officially part of Patheos.

This site will stick around for a while and in a couple of weeks, after everything is just as it should be (at least where the blog is concerned), mamamonk.com will redirect to Patheos. Until then, the blog may be a little unwieldy. I’ll be figuring things out and smoothing out the bumpy places.

Please let me know how your experience is going with the move: If your subscriptions are working, if there are any issues with comments, if you’re super annoyed that I have ads on my page and you can’t stand me for being a sell-out. (Actually, don’t mention number 3.)

I’m excited to be part of the blogging community over there. And I’m thankful for you guys.

Now, head over to my {Practicing Benedict} post!

Love,

Micha

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Tomato Thankful

  • This bright red tomato just picked from our garden. On the last day of April??? (I can’t get over the weirdness of this. I know I may be from Texas, but Amarillo and Austin are 500 miles away from each other. That equals two very different climates. See here and here if you want to be nerdy about it. And after being a grown-up on the East coast, the idea of April being anything but ground-smushy and 60 degrees is still crazy to me. So, fresh tomatoes from the garden in the middle of “spring”? Strange and kind of wonderful.)
  • A new camera other than my lame-o phone camera! (Hence the photo above.) My kids will finally have their lives documented!
  • A friend-date last night with Andrea
  • A lovely weekend with my brother and sister-in-law…having them around, especially while Chris was out of town for the weekend, was such a gift. By Sunday lunch, Brooksie was crying when Jason left the table for the bathroom. (And calling “Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma” after him. Should I be offended?) Also, they left me a surprise thank you note and a bar of dark chocolate, which is the best way to ensure that I’ll always be their friend.
  • That my husband got to spend a whole weekend with his best guy friends from the east coast. That he loves his friends as much as he does and for how he inspires me to love mine well.
  • Brooksie’s newest word: “Eh-a,” which is baby speak for “Ezra the Super Cat.”
  • August’s sudden lovey feelings for our next-door neighbor. When she wasn’t around to play with us on Saturday and I suggested we walk to the park, he countered: “But, there aren’t any cute girls at the park!” Seriously? Where did he learn about cute girls?
  • The book, Psalms for Young Children that I discovered at the Eerdmans table at the Festival of Faith and Writing. The pictures are beautiful and the Psalms are true to form: there are sad ones and happy ones, and I’m amazed by how much August is connecting with the laments. More to come about my thoughts on why I believe we should be exposing our kids to both kinds of Psalms.
  • That my very sleepy almost-four-year-old fell asleep in my arms half dressed in his pajamas at 7:45 on Saturday night. I sang to him and smelled his clean hair and promised my heart that I wouldn’t forget what a gift it was to rock my big baby to sleep. Then I tried to stand up with his 36 pounds in my arms and lift him up to his lofted bed. It was hard work. Aren’t all beautiful things a little bit difficult?
  • The countdown to summertime has begun! Did you know I love summer for a gazillion reasons? After my two non-summers in San Francisco, I’m so thrilled to experience all the heat and ice cream and mosquito bites and sprinkler playing and sunscreen lathering and hamburger grilling with my boys.
  • Can I brag about my husband for a second? (You’re thinking: Isn’t that all you do on Thankful Tuesday?) After I came home from the Festival of Faith and Writing all rejuvenated and excited to write, he decided that I should have a whole day away every month, where I can go somewhere to write and meet friends for lunch and generally do whatever I want to do. That idea sounds kind of awesome, right? I’m thankful for a husband who is always thinking of ways to care for me.
  • For sundresses and iced coffees and sunsets and bubbles and baby pools
  • For popsicle makers and my dad’s birthday and my the chance to make up stories in the car on the way to all the places and watching August become himself and learning who that is. For the insight that he, “likes to watch soccer, not play it.” It’s good to learn about this person who is learning about himself.

It’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

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Thoughts on Kairos and Epiphany, the ‘unbidden and unexpected’

Sascalia on Etsy via Pinterest

I’ve been reading and loving my newest happy discovery, In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice. Its author, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, is a theologian and the book is a straightforward theological teaching on the things we’ve been talking about around here. She’s a mother who believes the Church has missed its opportunity to honor the spiritual formation that can arrive out of the mess of everyday parenting. Often we’re taught that in order to encounter God we need to step out of the dailyness of life with children. Miller-McLemore, instead, holds up Christ’s own mother (and all that pondering she kept doing!) as our mother-hero of the faith.

Miller-McLemore is sharp and dryly witty and her insight is fantastic. I’m having this problem where I’m underlining every other paragraph and drawing lots of hearts and exclamation points in the margins, as well as phrases like: “Ordinary Awe!” and “Live graciously WITHIN time” and “Mysticism of Everyday life—-> Ignatius.” If all that doesn’t prove it to you already, this book is right up my alley.

So, on this Monday morning following a weekend with four trips to the airport, one night of watching New Girl episodes and eating Vietnamese food with my sister-in-law on the couch, one soccer game, four emotional breakdowns from August, one 93 degree/shadeless soccer game (with a back sunburn to prove it), and two bags of popcorn, I’m going to share some of my favorite words of Miller-McLemore’s so far.

Seriously, I can’t get enough of this stuff.

Just when my six-month-old fell into a predictable sleep pattern and I thought we had it all together, he grew and changed and we had to adjust…

The profoundly interminable and shifting nature of the work of parenting is both its challenge and reward. More than this: many parents would agree that in this practice of attending, they must learn, change and develop or the child will not thrive. For decades, modern psychology presumed that parenthood required little or no change in the already existing mind-set of the parent … Only recently has it begun to dawn on us that birth and rearing children a powerfully transformative for parents an children alike.

If I attend well to my sons over time, there is opportunity, however irregular, for astonishment … Children’s author Judith Viorst has learned , from watching her three sons, that “it is possible to find delight in us hanging around the kitchen while one kid is making a chicken salad sandwich and the other is tossing a napkin into the trash and missing.” It is just this potential for joy int he most mundane moment, pondered and attended to with care, that leads her to conclude, “Family life is better than most any other thing going on in the universe.”

Recently, a pastor who is also a father admitted to me apologetically that family devotions fall by the wayside in his household…

Here’s what I wish I could have said. Although family prayer has its important place … prayer and scripture reading do not alone determine faith. Faith is not one more thing to check off the list. Family prayer; check. Bedtime prayer; check. Ritual for dead hamster; check. It is not something set aside outside regular time. It is what we do in time and space, with our bodies and through our movements. The practices of this man’s family—playing with the children after school, interacting around dinner, greeting and parting, attending and pondering—these practices are formative of faith…

There is no ultimate solution to the dilemma of enacting faith in families in time. One cannot control kairos or schedule an epiphany … This is precisely the gift and bane of kairos and epiphany: such moments come unbidden and unexpected.

In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, 2007 Josey-Bass, 56-57, emphasis mine.

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