When No Amount of Planning Can Save Me

The thing about faith is that it usually comes into play when life is so foggy I can't see my hand in front of my face, when no amount of planning can save me.

Raise your hand if you've been there.

Raise your hand if you're there right now.

I'm in too much of a fog to see my own hand right now, let alone yours, but I'm guessing there are a bunch of raised hands.

Tell you what, if you raised your hand, how about coming with me to (in)Courage where I'm writing today about plans and faith and the fog in between.


Quotables: The A'bent Edition

It's now a three-year old tradition, the reading of the Advent Book. For every day of advent, the book provides a new "door" to open, and behind the door, words that propel the Christmas story. So it seems a certain four year old girl in our family latched on to "reading a'bent" this year. I don't know that it was her spiritual curiosity at work so much as it was an early display of mild OCD, but let's settle somewhere in the middle.

Anyway. She essentially memorized the book. No longer was the argument about whose turn it was to open the next door. It was about who got to "read" next. When it wasn't trying my patience (C'mon kids! I need you in bed sometime before 2011!), it melted my heart a time or twenty to hear the story told by the sweet voices of my six and four year old.

Two paragraphs later, and I'm still in the back story? What can I say? I have a gift for dragging a cute story on forever.

So the fact that my daughter had the Christmas story essentially memorized made for some interesting imaginative play. Here is just a sampling of some of the lines I heard her assigning to her dolls.

Dani to Raggedy Ann: Your name was Baggedy Ann, but on de eightd day, I named you Jesus, da name da angel gabe to you bepore you were born.

Raggedy Ann: C'mon, Mary! We hab to go to Egypt cuz King Herod is makin' bad choices!
Sleeping Beauty: I comin', but I hab to pind Jesus pirst. Hurry! Help me pind him!
(It just goes to show you should never trust a Disney Princess with the Christ child. One minute he's safe and sound in the manger. Then the next thing you know, Sleeping Beauty gets put under a spell of some sort and Jesus is nowhere to be found.)

And now, I leave you with an excerpt from Christmas Eve.

Translation: The Holy One to be born to you will be God's son. Even your cousin Elizabeth will have a child in her old age. Nothing is impossible with God. "I am the Lord's servant", Mary answered. "May everything you have said come true." Then the angel left her.


Dear December

Oh December. I love you, really I do. But you need to slow down, lay off the caffeine, maybe take a lesson from February on how to last forever.

You hosted our wedding fifteen years ago, sifting snow--white as a wedding cake--across the church lawn, spelling congratulations with your confectionery weather. And here we are again after fifteen winters gone, back in the snowbelt, battling icicles with broomsticks for control of the gutters. Here we are, not so far from the little church on Satin Street.

You were the one month in which I didn't want to be due. "I want to have another baby," I announced to my sister. "Any month but December--I don't care which one."

Next thing I know, I'm talking with the hostess at the Capital Grille.

"Yes, it's our 11th anniversary."
"Thank you."
"And when are you due?"
"Monday! Oh, and I don't think a booth will work for us. I'll need a chair that scoots back. Way back."

Oh, dear, dear December, you gave me my baby girl.

And as if all of this isn't enough. (It is. It is.) You brought your traditional holiday blend again this year...

Visits with family and old friends, a day in pajamas, a hike in the snowy woods, 25 days of advent, a hint of wonder, a dollop of joy. (If we're being honest, you also brought a fair share of stress and scrambling, but I'm going to do you a solid and overlook your decidedly less magical side.)

Dear December, please don't make me beg. You know I love you. It seems like you've only just arrived, and now you're gathering your things, ready to split, leaving me alone to face 2011 and three more months of snow. Are you sure you can't linger, just a little bit longer?


Merry Christmas!


Love with Sprinkles on Top

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
-Pablo Picasso

Hence, I spent two hours making and piping pink buttercream frosting onto 48 chocolate cupcakes. Batter and baking are not words in my love language. And frosting and sprinkles are most definitely not my artistic medium of choice. But for her? Well, I think an old mom can learn a few new tricks.

This morning as I brushed her hair, she yelped (as is her usual custom) about how I was hurting her. I apologized, told her I didn't mean to hurt her, but it's hard to avoid when she slathers breakfast jam onto her scalp. She didn't skip a beat, "It's okay, Mommy. I love you soooo much, and nothing you eber do will change dat."

Ditto, big girl.


She's Four. My Baby is Four.



Limbo. It hurls me up in the air like a Marmaduke falloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, a rope at each paw, suspended over real life. Put me down. Just put me down. I want to sink into something certain, things like ground and gravity.

Limbo sits in the chair next to us while we wait on a pet scan, a job offer, an acceptance letter, a proposal or maybe just a second date. When will the doctor call? Where we will live next year? Will mom even make it to see her grandson born? When will our soldier come home? And whatever will we do with ourselves in between?

So we go on making cupcakes on birthdays, taking garbage cans to the curb on trash day. We go on meeting the school bus and the deadlines. We eat three meals a day and endless snacks, then go on trying to jog it off. But most of time, it feels like filler. This life. Just filler. These are the packing peanuts, we think, nothing but static-ridden, weightless styrofoam. But there should be something more in this box, a present, something gorgeous and fragile, a crystal vase, perhaps. Move aside, packing peanuts. I'm trying to find the real thing.

When does the real life start? It starts, we assume, when the limbo stops, when we hold the crystal vase in hand. When the cancer is gone or the promotion goes through or the house sells. When the parade is finally over and we sink paws to the ground for what feels like the first time.

But we're missing it, aren't we? Life is in the limbo, the parade, the packing peanuts, the chemo-therapy. And we're missing it.


In the limbo-uncertainty scale of things, the days I'm in now wouldn't register very high, not in comparison to the days I've lived before. So now is probably as good a time as any to figure out how I might enjoy the parade while 100 feet in the air, the next time Thanksgiving and fierce uncertainty roll around.

My best friend's sister has cancer. Limbo and chemo. It's not even remotely fair. But do you know what she did the other day? She ran 10 miles. Because the Boston Marathon is only four months away, and it's going to take more than cancer to keep her off the starting line.

She's showing up, owning what life looks like now, not wasting a difficult today on the mirage of an easier tomorrow. I want to be like her when I grow up, to keep my eyes open for the whole parade, even when the heights are dizzying.

I wonder if one way to deal with limbo is to trade acute awareness of what we don't know yet with acute awareness of what's real and right in front of us. For example, I can pull my daughter and a moment close to my chest, laugh when she giggles and says I'm "quishing" her. I can straighten my back, stand like I'm hanging from a string, listen closely to what my senses have to say. I can notice how chili smells strikingly close to body odor. (It must be the cumin?) And how when icicles hover together, they become a cross between percussion and strings, making frozen music. And I can drink with a straw just so I can clink the ice and hear the chaos in whatever it is I'm drinking.

Taking the details in with fervor, sinking into the sweet ordinary moments next to the ones I love. It's not like running a marathon while battling cancer. But I think it's a start.


Are you in the middle of transition, struggling with uncertainty, fear of the unknown, limbo? What things, what people, what moments are real and right in front of you? What helps you to show up, to own your life, in spite of the limbo?


How A Snow Day Is Done

You know what I always say.
If you can't do it wearing your superman cape, it's probably not worth doing.

And what good is a snow day if you can't stay in your polka-dotted pajamas all day long? And why even bother to make cookies if you aren't going to eat at least a spoonful of dough? Anything less is a than three chocolate-chip-laden dollops is a tragic waste of opportunity.

And at the end of the day, when Mom sends you upstairs to start cleaning up your mess of epic, cooped-up-for-the-day proportions, there's a surefire way to weasel your way out of it without any consequences.

All you have to do is spontaneously start reading to your little sister. Keep it going for about a half hour, or at least until she gets a good video. And bam--you're golden.

And that, my friends, is a how a snow day is done.


The Impeded Stream

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
-Wendell Berry

I read this last week, and the last line stayed with me, followed me around like a stray cat. An uncharacteristically encouraging--and borderline preachy--stray cat. I would shut the door, tune in to my peace-sabotaging, frustrated, ungrateful monologue. And that damn cat would start meowing right at the doorstep. The impeded stream is the one that sings. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I do want to sing. I do. I want to do my real work. I want to begin my real journey.
But the baffled, impeded part? I wish I could skip it. I'm not a complete idiot, though. I do recognize these hurdles, these rocks, as the same ones I'm trying not to label as interruptions, the same ones I'm trying to gratefully embrace as real life.

It's just difficult, you know? To take life and all its jagged rocks in stride, to roll right over, like water. To sing, not only past the jagged rocks, but because of them.

I memorized I Thessalonians 5: 18 when I was seven. "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God." If I had to paraphrase in my 36 year old vernacular, I'd say "Sing in spite of the rocks. Sing because of them. God's will is that you never stop singing."

It makes no sense to give thanks in every circumstance. Then again, it makes perfect sense. Because, well, it's like that stray cat kept saying. The impeded stream is the one that sings.


Snow (a.k.a. my excuse for flaking out on exterior decorations this year)

It's Saturday? As in the 11th? I have no idea how that happened.

I also have no idea how this happened.

Well, that's not entirely true. The fact that it snowed for six days straight did provide me with some clue as to how my deck morphed into Antarctica.

In this morning's sky, I see an inkling of winter sun. The icicles resume their dripping. And we brace for another foot of snow on Monday. It seems we live not just somewhere in the snow belt, but right on the buckle.

And I can make peace with that. It's time I put my muffler where my mouth is as I live out my oft quoted theory: "Well, if it's going to be cold, then I'd much rather have snow than frozen grass..."

At some point this week, I do hope to blog about something other than snow. At some point this week, I do hope to blog at all. Life is just so very full right now. Akin to my deck, but thankfully warmer and a bit less slippery. Anyway, I'll be back here soon with something other than the winter forecast. I promise.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures to keep the Grandparents from unsubscribing:


High Fructose Peace and Other Traditions

Y'all it's been snowing since Friday morning.

I'm hoping that maybe by starting a sentence with "y'all" instead of "you guys", I'll channel some southern warmth. Like maybe the Y'all Fairy will drop in and say "bless your heart" and sprinkle some fairy dust or something (anything) other than lake effect snow.

Most of the precipitation has been flurries, so we have only three or four inches on the ground. But still, I'm starting to feel like I live in a snow globe. Also, (and really, this is just a minor detail), I just saw a weather report predicting 10 to 20 inches of snow in the next 72 hours. Okay then. Y'all Fairy, if you're coming, you might want to make the trip before Sunday morning.


Yesterday we went to get our Christmas tree. In the snow, of course. Which was wonderful and beautiful and very Norman Rockwell-ian.

But I'm going to confess that I spent at least one out of every five minutes fighting psychosis. To give you an example, my hands were freezing, and my camera was in batteries-almost-dead blurry mode, and Dani had a runny nose that needed wiping at the most inopportune times, and every tree we found that we loved wasn't tagged and therefore not purchasable. And I had to fight like mad the urge to audibly bemoan all those things. When really, would saying we had to hurry because Dani's gloves are soaked and her hands are freezing and her nose is running, would saying that really make us go any faster? Nope.

So I kept my mouth relatively shut, though a few master-of-the-obvious style complaints might have slipped out. When the kids asked to ride in the sled that was supposed to be for the tree, I almost said no just because I didn't want to deal with potentially sappy snow pants. I know, I know. Norman Rockwell would so not paint that. So I said no instead to my silly whiny self and to the classic scene of a harried mean old mother depriving her two bundled up and rosy cheeked children of a sled ride.

And I said yes to the sled ride.

So the part where I pulled them in the sled, where we raced back toward the tree as they giggled and squealed with every bump? That part was my favorite of the whole outing. Wouldn't you know it. The part I almost nixed.

We came home freezing and covered in snow, and the reality of no longer having a mud room hit in full force. I wanted to complain about that too. But I made hot chocolate instead, and doled out extra marshmallows for good measure.

I think marshmallows should be on the list of resources for world peace, the one I imagine the State Department keeps somewhere with all the other good ideas we never use. I don't really even like marshmallows that much. But when you put them in cocoa, it's like sprinkling little dollops of calm into everyone's cup. Like high fructose peace.


This morning, the Elf on the Shelf made his return. When Grandma Laurie gave him to us last year, Caed named him Fredder. It was decided this morning he needed a middle name, thus, Fredder Buckeye has taken up residence on the mantle.

Caed is totally caught up in the "magic" of Fredder. Dani, not so much. When Caed squealed delightedly, "Oooh, there he is!", Dani nearly jumped onto her breakfast plate.

"He's not real, dough! He's not alive, right?" she asked.
"Oh, he's real all right, but don't worry, he won't fly around in front of you, Dani." Caed assured her.

She came running into the kitchen and reached for me. "Carry me!" she implored. I scooped her up and asked, "Where?"
"Everywhere!" she cried, glancing back at Fredder as though he might fly over and smack her in the forehead at any moment. "I don't like him!"

"Why don't you like Fredder?" I prodded.

"Because he plies in my room at night and lands on my my doll house while the doll pamily is s'eeping, and den he wakes me up and I say 'be quiet Fredder, I am trying to s'eep!' And he just plies and plies around!"

Ohhhhh, so that's why. I just figured you thought he was totally creepy looking and couldn't bear the thought that the dude's full time job was to watch you. (Seriously, hon, I would have totally understood that reasoning. Because Fredder? He's one creepy looking elf.)

The good news is, Dani warmed up to Fredder before her french toast was gone.
The bad news is, I still haven't.

But it's probably nothing a few marshmallows can't fix.


Things That Make You Go Hmmm (or Ay-yi-yi)

I called the gymnastics people three times in 24 hours. Well, actually five, if you count the hang ups when I got the machine. On my third (fifth) and final call, the lady who answered all but called me a stalker. "Yes, I was just going to call you. I did get your message, but the guy you need to talk to isn't here until Thursday because he had a death in the family, and I can't exactly call him at the funeral...."

I thought: What? You mean I can't get an answer on whether you have the gym available for my daughter's birthday party until Thursday? That's like, 48 hours away! If I don't get this nailed down, I can't do invitations. And if I can't get the invitations out, no one will know about it in time! And then no one will come! And then her WHOLE BIRTHDAY WILL BE RUINED and IT WILL BE ALL MY FAULT and SHE WILL BE SCARRED FOREVER THAT SHE DIDN'T HAVE A SINGLE BIRTHDAY PARTY UNTIL SHE WAS FIVE and WHERE ARE WE GOING TO HAVE THE PARTY IF I CAN'T BOOK IT HERE? (I'd go on, but I'm afraid if I keep writing in all caps, my computer will freeze that way.)

I said: Oh, I'm sorry! I understand! So sorry to be the psycho who keeps calling. I'll wait to hear back when he returns Thursday. Okay, thank you. Bye.

Then I had one of those moments, the kind where the sane part of your brain (the one with the therapist tendencies) stages an intervention on the raving mad part of your brain (the one with the chicken little, total loss of perspective tendencies).

Therapist brain:
Do you realize how small this birthday party is in the scheme of things?

Raving mad brain:
No!! Isn't that obvious by now?

Therapist brain:
Take a deep breath. You haven't made any specific promises. Even if this gym party doesn't work out, you can always host a small gathering at your house.

Raving mad brain:
At my house? You really don't know me at all, do you? You just doubled my blood pressure. Hope you're happy.

Therapist brain:
Okay, so you're hostile and certifiable. This is going to be harder than I thought. How about this. Take a big step back. And another. Keep going. Okay, you should have reached the most outermost parts of the brain by now. Very good. Now STAY THERE. And leave the rest of us normal brain cells the hell alone, mmkay?


So yeah, I spaced on planning a party for Dani's fourth birthday, which is in, oh, two weeks or so. And yup, I completely lost perspective and went into high anxiety mode for about four hours before coming to my senses. But it's all going to be fine, party or no party. And I decided that instead of beating myself up about being such a frail little freak show of needless worry, it would be better just to laugh about it.

Speaking of freak shows....
I made a similar choice--to laugh instead of beat them up--when I discovered my old-enough-to-know-better kids had taken up costume design. With markers. On their faces.
"But we're Indians! And we needed to color on our faces so we could help the pilgrims!"

Yeah, that makes zero sense.
Must run in the family.

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