Grace Glasses

It isn’t in anything that he says.
The words are helpful, instructive, encouraging.
So why do I want to curl into a ball and weep all day?
When the snow comes, I am relieved. I watch out the window as frail flakes bump up against each other in the white of the sky. The wind drops into our little valley in angry rushing sweeps, banging about bits of life and causing me to grip my sides firmly.
I might blow away.
I fall asleep amidst this sound of branches bending and loose bits of the world swirling in the current. But it’s not a restful sleep and I am awakened at five a.m. by a nightmare. I check on my boy, make sure it was just a dream, light a candle, and go downstairs.
I sit before the wind with no words, listen to the howling and see glimpses of glitter blowing by—mirrored in the light of the snow.
I have no words, so I move to the couch, fall back to sleep with my face pressed between two cushions.
I am not allowed to stay in this sorry state long. The boys are home on a long weekend and I’ve taken the chance to schedule their well-visits with the pediatrician. Here I learn we are behind on vaccines. And my eldest still has those big holes in the top of each eardrum. And he can barely see out of his right eye.
The doctor shakes his head. And I feel my stomach drop. He tells me how, if one eye is stronger than another, the brain will shut off vision to the weak eye over time.
“Better get this taken care of soon,” he says.
And then he starts talking about surgery for the boy’s ears. Six shots and two flu mists later, we leave, armed with an order for blood work and a referral to a local optometrist. The boys want to go out to lunch, plead with puppy dog eyes.
“We’ve just had all these shots, mom.”
We get home in the afternoon and I do more laundry, try to write a little, someone has stopped up the toilet, and I’ve promised a friend to stop by to hold her beautiful new baby.
These are ordinary things. The stuff of life. And I know that when you want to be successful at something, the ordinary gets a bit left behind–you have to work hard and worry about branding and have a marketing strategy and sell yourself.
I know these things.
Don’t you? Don’t you know that when working on a dream you have to put the ordinary things in a different place for a while, make sacrifices, and step up to a different side of who you are?
Don’t you know?
Don’t you know that that dream you cradle requires stepping out of the ordinary…if only for a season?
It does. It’s true.
But don’t you—not even for one minute—don’t you believe that this is what defines you.
Who you are is in the ordinary moments. The ways you breathe in and out of the day. This is how they will remember you; this is your legacy.
And it’s a beautiful one. Sometimes that’s easy to forget when the dream looms large.
I want to weep when I listen to that voice—the one that says, “You will never be enough. You cannot do this thing you desire.”
Hear this, dear heart—hear this, my heart: You are enough.
You are enough because His grace is sufficient.
So don’t fight it. Live into each moment. Because, just as the brain needs help sometimes to steward vision best…sometimes the heart needs help to see too.
Grace is the best lens to look through.
And there is nothing ordinary about that.

How Folding Laundry can Baptize a Life

We awaken to rain this morning. A liquid sky falls down and I fold the laundry.
I sit on the steps and press towels into neat bundles, caress cloth that will soon caress skin, sorting as I go—the jeans on the bottom of the pile, then sweatshirts, t-shirts all together, and then underwear and socks. They are not fluffy fresh from the dryer; rather, they mingle in their cleanness all night, tumbled together through the dark hours.
I have a “delay” setting on my dryer and I don’t hesitate to use it.
I fold while my boys eat breakfast, while my husband rushes around getting ready for work, while the world is waking up.
This morning, as I fold, I remember how my mother used to fold our laundry at night. She would wait until we kids were in bed—after the supper dishes were all clean and air-drying in the drainer—and fold while my dad watched TV beside her. How many times I would get up to tell her I couldn’t sleep, I don’t know. But I have a memory of her face—intent on this task—a memory of contentedness.  The folding of the laundry was the winding down of her day, the deep sigh at the end of all the work, the pause to hold and savor a bit of soft in all the hardness of the day.
And as I sit on these steps and look out the French door windows at trees lit with raindrop diamonds framed by a white sky…I think how different my life is than that of my mother’s. How her days were filled with chasing children and chasing the dirt away and the chasing out wrinkles and wiping and sweeping and bending to the rhythm of a family in motion. How her hands were filled with the substance of life.
I know these things I chase are elusive. Some would say that to chase after beauty is a fool’s game. And to fill my hands with color and words and the lift of a bird’s wing…well, how can a person touch that?
On Sunday my Pastor preached on the baptism of Jesus. She talked about John the Baptist and how people came from all over to him.
“Those who had some yearning in their hearts for something new,” she said. “They came.
And if it wasn’t beauty that made the call—that internal recognition of the Divine—if it wasn’t beauty they were chasing, I don’t know what else it could have been.
And I think about how different two lives can be but they can still be about beauty and I am astounded to realize that my life and that of my mother’s is not so different after all.
Whatever you are chasing after, Beloved…let it take you closer to the Fairest of All. Beauty has many faces, but there is One who authors it all. Whether it is folding laundry or writing poetry or taking photos or feeding babies…it’s all divine.
It’s all Beauty.
with the amazing Jen:
and dear Michelle too:

In the Quiet

I have class all day today, friends. So this morning I’m revisiting some thoughts from the archives. Thinking about quiet moments…

I like to fill my bird feeders at first light on Saturdays. After morning readings, I sit at the kitchen table with my coffee and watch winged poetry through the bay. I am always rewarded with the vibrant reds of the cardinals, the spritely black caps of chickadees, and serenading sparrow song. Sometimes the shy flicker stops by, clinging to the feeder with grasping toes, red mustache jauntily twitching under curved bill.

I never tire of their antics and often grieve to leave my window–reluctant to begin the noise of the day. Their light-filled movements are music to me; in the watching my mind finds rest.

Matthew Kelty, in his book Flute Solo: Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, says that quiet moments such as these are the substance of an intimate relationship with God.
day and night with noise, even beautiful noise. Allow him no time to think, to muse, to ponder, to won

We all need contact with our hearts. Without that contact we are isolated from truth, divorced from reality. Quiet is certainly one of the ways to that contact. And peace. I suspect seriously that the single most effective weapon of Satan in our times is noise. I cannot think of a better way to alienation and loss of religion. Fill a man der. Fill his air with sound, his ears with din. His heart will die soon enough. Now you have broken him. He can no longer love.

I know not one who has not felt that brokenness.

Busy-ness is an idol in our culture. This is the way of multi-tasking, batch projects–of stretching our umbrella, extending our reach.

Not a bad way in and of itself. In fact, it can be quite a good way.

But I must not lose the quiet moment in each task; I must not miss the heart connection.

And that is the tricky part, no? To hear His voice above the din…to see beauty in the ordinary.

There is something to the Muslim practice of salat–the obligatory rite of their religion that requires prayer five times a day, at specified times. In this way, the mind is trained to quiet–to focus on God.

As a Christian I wonder at such measures. I know that Christ’s death on the cross eliminated the need for ritual and ceremony when I approach God. The veil was torn. Yet, my human condition makes me susceptible to caressing this skin…forgetting the divine and leaning on flesh.

And so I make my own reminders.

A stone in my pocket. A jewel around my neck. A scripture scribbled on a sticky note.

Not incredibly inventive. Certainly not iconic. But each, when caressed by a finger or held in the palm, ushers me into His presence.

And I am reminded that my flesh has been cleansed. The string that ties my heart to Him becomes tangible. I am strengthened.

The quiet is restored. I hear his voice above the din.

And the day becomes holy.

Finding God…In the Yard?

When I was a child I lived in the country. I did not know for many years that we were poor. I never understood that most folks did not live the way we did. We were happy to be tucked away, hidden from the world by the trees and the sky and the bubbling creek.

I never realized how rich that land made us until much later.

Are we in a depression?

My youngest asks me this not too long ago as we walk the streets of our suburban neighborhood.

Do you mean as a nation or as a family?

Our family…are we in a depression?

Do you mean emotionally or economically?

I quickly run through my head all the conversations his daddy and I have recently had. What has he overheard?

You know, with dad’s new job and stuff…are we not doing very well with money?

My husband changed directions, professionally speaking, at the beginning of the year and this choice did, in fact, involve a cut in income. The hope was that this position would be a stepping stone to something more rewarding—more stable–and the salary cut would be worth it. However, things never go according to plan and as the months tick by we grow a bit anxious.

My boy doesn’t miss much.

We have to be more careful with money than we used to be. But the fact is, we are still doing better than a lot of people. We need to be thankful for what we have and be good stewards of it.

So. We ARE in a depression.

I look at my son and see him. I see this middle-class kid with his Nike tennis shoes, braces, and big blue eyes. And I remember hand-me-down clothes and dirty bare feet. I remember day-long hikes in the woods and long walks to the bridge on summer days. I remember leaf-filtered sunshine and tall grasses bending in the breeze.

Nah, I wouldn’t say that, I say. We are rich. Richer than anything.

I squeeze his hand and take off running. He runs after me, scattering coins of laughter in the wind. We meet again at the bridge and stand together in silence–staring into water rippling over rocks.

We wade through treasure on the way home. Moments of countless worth. Gems sparkle on the water and golden rays surround us.

If I could, I would take my boys to live in the country. We would dine on joy, spend sparkling days like so many pennies in my change purse…and go to sleep to the sound of earth’s lullaby. But for now, this place—this edge off the city–will do. We can make it fit. With the riches we have, we’ll buy the accommodations. They won’t be secret spots, but they will feel like they are. Small spaces in our neighborhood where we let our spirits drift on the wind. Where we can play towards God—delight in Him.

Some of this play will be light-hearted, but mostly it involves letting ourselves feel. My boys have no trouble with this; but their mother? For me, to feel freely, I must remember. I must remember what it is to be a child.

And I must come to God this way.

Written in response to week one of God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us by L.L. Barkat. I’ll be posting off and on–as the spirit moves–about my journey with L.L. through this lovely book.

Stealing Time

Laundry needs folding, floors need cleaning, sheets need changing…

So I go for a run.

I’m leaving it behind, chucking it all. I can work and play, after all. Today I am the queen of the multi-task. Right now I am simultaneously cleaning the oven (self-clean), doing laundry (once loaded it does itself), and ordering a good read (waiting for whispernet to download this to my kindle).

I’m feeling pretty good.

The hills surrounding our valley home are obscured by fog this morning and the rain keeps falling but I don’t mind. I am smoke passing through this mist and the moisture on my skin makes me feel supple and young.

I’m trying not to think, just be right here. But there’s too much and soon I’m fretting over that mid-day orthodontist appointment that will effectively prevent me from investing myself in anything worthwhile for fear of interruption. Not to mention that standardized testing started today. The teachers won’t be happy about me pulling my boy.

Who knew?

I try to cross the busy street but the traffic keeps coming. Someone yells out the window at me as they drive by.

Peanut butter!

Peanut butter?

I guess it could be worse. And I think of Michael Csutoris because peanut butter always makes me remember him. He shared his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with me on the track bus after a meet my junior year. The sandwich was all squished and the jelly had soaked through the bread. He told me that just made it better. I thought he was the cutest thing.

I cross the street and head down by the golf course. No matter how many years I run it always takes me two miles to warm up and I feel that familiar shortness of breath and the occasional heart palpitation that has me secretly convinced that I have an undiagnosed heart valve malformation that will one day cause me to keel over on the side of the road while out jogging. Before my five miles are up I have myself dead and buried. My body is cold in the ground and Jeff is remarried to some bimbo who mistreats my children.

I resolve to write in their journals more about how much I love them. Just in case.

A friend told me she once read that some crazy number like 80 or 90 % of people know how they would change their living space if their spouse passed away. I would paint my walls. Add color to this world. Get rid of the ugly brass fireplace insert. Hard wood floors.

This is morbid thinking, I know. I feel a sudden sense of panic at the thought of ever continuing on without my husband.

I was reading this article this morning about philosophy and it was very entertaining and all but it was this word that jumped out at me: clepsydra.

The author, Simon Critchley, said:

In Greek legal proceedings, a strictly limited amount of time was allotted for the presentation of cases. Time was measured with a water clock or clepsydra, which literally steals time, as in the Greek kleptes, a thief or embezzler. The pettifogger, the jury, and by implication the whole society, live with the constant pressure of time. The water of time’s flow is constantly threatening to drown them.

That’s how I’ve been feeling. Drowning in the continual ticking off of the seconds. Longing for the slowing, looking for a pause to breathe deeply.

I am feeling my body. Last night I woke up with spasms in my left knee. I’ve had muscle cramps before, but never spasms. It made sleep impossible. I think about my patients with their various neurological issues, the botox injections, stretching they have to do. And I have a new appreciation for their discomfort.

Julia Cameron says my body carries a knowledge deeper than my mind.

I believe this. I feel it when I run. When I breathe. I think about my grandfather and my grandfather’s grandfather and how their blood runs through my veins and I wonder about the memories inside of me. What do my cells know that I don’t? My grandfather lived to be one hundred years old. I don’t think I have a heart valve malformation.

I’m on the last mile when I realize that I feel good. My breath is smooth, by stride strong. I try to feel everything. Just for a minute. There is no sustaining this awareness.

The dogs are waiting for me when I get home—looking out the bay window expectantly. The laundry will have to wait a little bit longer.

There are worse things than taking a walk in the rain on a Monday morning.

Like changing the sheets. Mopping the floor. Cleaning the toilet.

We’ll get to that too, eventually. When I steal back some of what that sly thief time has stolen.

All in good time.

photo: flag that spoke to me while on a field trip with the fifth graders to Cincinnati