slow thaw {just write}

There was a hardness, my heart caged heavy in ice. And I'd secretly wished for a shattering rescue, a cracking apart, an exaggerated transformation, something to startle me out of this numb, dreamless stare.

But what He's doing now, it's nothing spectacular, just a bit of warmth here and there, the breath of truth telling friends. And I feel the slow melt, the drip, drip, drip, until my heart lays bare and beating.

It took months, not minutes.

I know it's time to lay down arms, to call an end to this subtle rebellion of seeking Him second or third or not at all. So I do, knowing full well this truce might not last till Thursday.

And I begin again to believe, not just on paper but in life. To believe that even just for one minute out of one day out of one year, He could be enough to satisfy, to temper the ache, to feed the desperate hunger.

There are puddles now where the ice was once thick enough to walk across, and a faint smell of spring. Maybe what He's doing now, maybe it's spectacular, after all.


To love them toward the horizon

Every morning they measure taller, yet no amount of height minifies this urge to reach and clutch with both hands, to shout "careful" when they dart ahead even by an inch.

It is impulse, reflex, the tick of a lovesick mother.

But I have been careful my whole life, perhaps too careful, and do I want them to dwell in this chest-tight caution, or do I want them to move beyond me with open lungs and palms? Would I ask them to settle for a safe ceiling when infinite sky waits just outside these walls?

I don't yet know how to let go, how to stop my mouth from saying "slow down, you might fall", how to model something other than playing it safe. I don't yet know how to love them toward the horizon.

But I know I must learn.

Linking up with Emily today for Imperfect Prose.


I will keep building castles

My five year old sang the clean up song for the entirety of the drive to the gym. There are four lines in the clean up song and eight miles to the gym. If she sang the song on repeat, how many times did her mother have to listen to it?  (Write a number model and show your work.)

If only there was a positive correlation between the number of times Dani sang the clean up song and the number of minutes in a month that my house could pass as "clean."

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not glorifying the days of working full time," I told my friend today. "I haven't forgotten how the stress impacted me and how poorly I handled it. But I also haven't forgotten that someone else used to clean the entire house every two weeks."

We joked about the monotony, how our long gone days of donning suits and boarding the metro have been replaced by groundhog days of breakfast, carpool, laundry, lunch, groceries, dinner, dishes. (Notice how cleaning no longer makes the monotony list? Oh, it's still monotonous all right. I've just given up on doing it over and over. Cleaning has been bumped down to a special-occasion-only activity, like when company comes or when Dani spills what appears to be 78 ounces of hot cocoa onto every last crevice of the table, chairs and kitchen floor.)

I wouldn't trade these groundhog days for anything, not for weeks on end of a sparkling, spotless house, and I certainly won't wish them away. I love this small life, really I do. However. (There is always a however, isn't there?) I feel worn down and nearly washed away in the futility of my over-and-over-again life. Every morning at low tide I build castles on the shore, and every evening at high tide, I have nothing to show for my art.

And I know this isn't a feeling exclusive to a stay at home mom. Or a working mom. Or an any-kind-of-mom. This struggle against atrophy, the way the world eventually unravels everything we weave, this is an every person sort of struggle. 

Yes, I am weary. Yes, I look around and see greener grass (and cleaner houses). And yes, I am irritated and ruffled and uninspired and desperate for praise and love and satisfaction.

But no, I won't stop building castles. I won't stop scrubbing dishes and folding laundry and supervising play practice and driving the pot-holed path to school. All evidence of progress, every trace of my art may be washed away by evening, but I won't be swept away along with it to be drowned in my own insignificance.

I will choose to believe that the most mundane of moments can add up to a beautiful lifetime, that the tedious can turn inspirational, that a trickle of grace in the everyday can pour out a powerful white-capped legacy.

I will keep building castles.


More Than You Might Think

I sat wedged between an oval window and a gray-haired, gray-suited man. No use opening our laptops during the hop from Frankfurt to Zurich. There was barely time for the beverage service.

He folded his newspaper twice over and back. I reached for my book.

Even three chapters deep into Gore Vidal's The Golden Age, I struggled to follow the myriad of characters parading across the pages of the 1940s. Jet-lagged and meeting-weary, I read words, sentences, paragraphs, and reaching the end of the page, I knew none of it. I started to drift.

His voice startled me back to the open page. He ordered a drink in German. I don't recall what.

I looked back at my book, pretending I'd been immersed in the story and not in sleep. And there it was. A scene with FDR, an imagined look at the hours before Pearl Harbor.

And here I was. Only 57 years past Normandy. Flying over Strasbourg. Sitting next to a man who might have been a tall ten years old when the war was finally over, whose father might have "heil"ed Hitler, whose mother might have mourned, whose neighbors might have fled.

When our wheels touched down in Zurich, history didn't feel so far away.


"That was 1960?" I asked in disbelief.
"Texas," my husband replied. "The Cotton Bowl. And they've got the actual footage. It's awful. They aren't exaggerating this."

We'd heard the movie The Express (The Ernie Davis Story) was supposed to be good. And it was.

But it was hard to imagine that barely 50 years ago, when my father stood a tall ten years old, the Cotton Bowl's Most Valuable Payer wasn't welcome at his own awards ceremony. Because of his skin color.

When punches were thrown and slurs were shouted and signs were posted to keep people apart.

When equal opportunity was still just a dream.

A desperate, lay-your-life-down-for-it dream. So much more than a poster in the break room.


Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a jail in Birmingham:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

It doesn't matter which continent or century you pick. Our human history is ugly. It started with the garden, and we haven't let up since. But it has taken me a while (too long, in fact) to realize that our history--no matter how ancient--is connected, decade to decade, century to century, generation to generation.

It isn't just words in a book and multiple choices in a high school history quiz.

It's real. It happened. Some of it not very long ago.

I confess I have cared very little about history. I have paid only scant attention to the true stories that don't directly contribute to the plot of my own. In my apathy, I've stayed the "so-what?" student who studies to pass and not to learn.

And in doing so, I have been utterly foolish.

Because in this ancient and ongoing battle against self-destruction, indeed "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny".
Just because my daughter hasn't been sold into slavery,
Just because my husband hasn't been tortured for his political views,Just because my son hasn't been forced to fight a grown man's war before he turns eight,
Just because my faith is not currently cause for persecution,
I still don't get to be immune.
I still don't have an excuse for crouching apathetically in a caved existence.

So let's say I stand up and take note. Let's say I study and say out loud that
this is injustice. What difference would it make in the world at large?

I mean, really, what can one mother do to rid the world of injustice?

I'd like to know how Alberta Williams King would answer, if she were still alive.

Perhaps her reply, shaped by the brokenness of outliving her own son, would inspire us.

Perhaps she'd shut her eyes to lock in tears, shake her head and repeat the question, "What can one mother do to rid the world of injustice?"

Perhaps she'd open her eyes, tears slipping toward her smile and say,
More than you might think, my dear. More than you might think."


I can't tell you how many times in the past year I've turned this question over. I'm just a mom. When people ask me what I do, I tell them "laundry". Who do I think I am, that I could actually make a difference, to pull even a pail's worth from this ocean of injustice?

Honestly, I don't know if the little I do will make any difference at all. But I want to be rid of this ugly habit of mine--this giving up before trying.  I want to believe that even the smallest steps matter, that the miles will add up. Will you join me in the trying?

Originally published in January 2010. A repost from archives, remembering the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.


On passports and progress

There's a Drug Mart in my sleepy small town, a town that sits just beyond the suburbs of what most might call a city. Since we moved here a year and a half ago, I've driven by the place a thousand times, run past it maybe fifty.

Today I went in for the very first time, strode right past the signs about liquor sold at state minimums, about the new movie releases for $1.99.  The store was bigger than I imagined. Dirtier, too. Aisle after aisle of brand new products stacked on top of dingy old shelves. If the store had changed since the 80s, it was only because they'd swapped the cabbage patch kids out for the pillow pets.

When I was 10, maybe 11, I used to walk to a place just like this with my little brother. The Drug Mart was less than a mile from home, and I'd always buy him a candy bar or let him choose a toy from one of the machines. (I think a candy bar cost 33 cents, maybe 25 cents on special.) That same year, I used my paper route money to buy my little sister a knock-off cabbage kid for Christmas. I hid it from her as best I could, told her not to try to find it, but she was sneaky and smart and determined, and she found it. I was so mad I almost took it back. (But I've forgiven you now, Robin.)

Today I went to the Drug Mart, and a candy bar was 85 cents, but what did that matter because I didn't go there for candy. I only needed a passport picture so I could cross "renew passport" off my list. So I stepped back into the time capsule also known as the small town drug store, and I half smiled for the picture, just enough to hide my horse-ish gumline. And when I went to pay for the photo, they hand-wrote my name down in a spiral bound book on wide-ruled paper, and it took an eternity, like easily 45 seconds.

I used to think poorly of the places untouched by progress. I used to think the only thing that mattered was moving forward. I used to think anything outdated was ugly, anything unchanged was pathetic. But the more time I spend in this small and quiet rhythm of a sleepy town, the more I begin to wonder whether I've had it all wrong.

Progress has merit, certainly. But so does constancy, simplicity, contentment. And these qualities can't be collected like stamps in a passport. You don't capture them by sprinting round the world in hot pursuit. No, constancy, simplicity, contentment--they come and find you only after you've stopped chasing, when you sit down to rest. And isn't it progress, after all, when I stop planning life around the places I'll go, and start living completely in the places I am? 

I think it is.


From terribly daunting to totally doable

I was 33 and a mother of two, three and under, when I first started running. I was chronically exhausted, out-of-shape and frequently made a meal out of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. My friend Kate asked me to join her in running a 5k as a way to motivate us both to get out and run. I said yes. Not because I wanted to actually run. But because you don't say no to Kate. And also? I was tired of being tired and out of shape. And I figured if I started exercising more regularly, I could continue eating dark chocolate peanut M&Ms with minimal consequences.

Everybody starts somewhere, and for me, somewhere was finishing a 5k without stopping to walk. I never dreamed (not in my worst nightmare) that I'd run anything further than 3.1 miles....


Confessions of an ugly juggler

The truth is, December, I was glad to see you go. Every year I tell myself to go easy on you, knowing I expect too much of you, that you're just one month. And yet every year I still find myself lost among the many milestones you mark. It usually isn't until January that I find my way home. This year is no exception.

I watched as my children--though surrounded by fun and gifts and all good things--struggled with gratitude. More than normal. The air of entitlement grew thick enough to choke, and I felt it well up within me as well--this misery of too much. Too much to do, too much stimulation, too much build-up, too much let-down. My girl whined the whole way to the Christmas hike (and through what felt like most of the holiday season). And my boy grumped every time his daily DS allotment ran out, asking (it seemed like always) about the next thing, not really savoring the now thing.

I found the auto-pilot button early in December, pushed it. Flew through the to do list. And then I crashed, inflamed in a heap of angst and ill temper. I was a fire-breathing dragon, masterfully and magically juggling pails of water, spilling not a drop. And scorching anyone who dared come close. Sometimes it is better for a bucket to fall. Water can be cleaned up. Fire destroys.

Yesterday I had the January cry. The one where I realize what an ass I've been (am). So much of the ugliness I saw in the choices my children made this past month, it started with me. Sure, I hid it better, couched it in more socially acceptable, grown up ways. But it started with me.

I am tired of juggling water and breathing fire. And I'm done with auto-pilot, because where does it get me except lost? No sooner do I confess this than the air grows clear again, purified in rushing wind; and I can breathe it now, without flame.

Never, I think, have I been so thankful for the mercies of a new morning.


The Starting Line

Friends, thanks so much for your enthusiastic response to Run for their Lives. I realize that in my impulsive first post, I asked you to come with me without really even telling you where we were going. Details, details.

So let's talk about where we're going and how to get started. Will you follow me over to the starting line at the Run for their Lives blog to read the rest? Thanks!

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