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.


The Old Places

I can't stop thinking about the old places.

No offense to the new ones. I mean no harm to the soil that hosts home for me now. I sink my fingers into this dirt. I see the side effects under my fingernails from all the planting, the furious fall planting where you reseed grass and bury bulbs and pray like mad that something takes. I see it under my fingernails and know that the new soil sticks, enough that I'll have to scrub hard to undo the evidence of a season in dirt. I'm certain that something took, that I'll see it bloom in the spring. Maybe sooner.

But I still can't stop thinking about the old places.

Larry and I drove to one of the old places this weekend. My parents took the children (yes, I'm rising up yet again to call them blessed), and we headed to DC where memories of a decade cover every square inch from King Street to M Street like plastic wrap. I saw it first in a flower pot by the fountain in the atrium of National Gallery of Art. And I lifted up one corner, and the air crept in, and next thing I know, I'd lifted more and more, and everywhere I turned--memories and cellophane.

By the end of the weekend, I had uncovered so many moments, the metaphoric wad of plastic wrap was taller than me and twice as wide. There was the time I dropped off a 2 year old Caed and his Daddy at the Botanical Gardens to see the holiday train display while I drove up and down Constitution, praying 4-day-old Dani would stay asleep. I remember how then I still thought of her only as Sheridan, how then I had to concentrate to know her name and to feel like she was really mine.

There were the countless hours on the metro, and the time Eve and I went in search of a mid afternoon yogurt and found the press camped outside Monica Lewinsky's lawyer's building. (We had apparently just missed her. Oh darn. Now about that yogurt?)

There was the time I went out to celebrate Becky's 40th, nine months pregnant, back when Rosa Mexicano was a hot new restaurant. Our group waited for a table for over an hour. Nine months pregnant, and in heels. I wished for the baby to come and for a margarita. It took 6 days for the baby, 6 weeks for the margarita. See, wishes do come true, just not always on your birthday, or on your friend's birthday.

Then there was the leadership meeting at the Willard, the one where I was supposed to be making my co-in-charge debut. And I wondered whether anyone else thought we'd wasted a solid two days and four easels worth of paper, whether anyone else noticed the emperor was still naked. When I walked by the Willard last night, I smiled at the fortune of finding so many dear friends among those colleagues. And then I thanked my lucky stars that my co-in-charge, death by easel facilitating days were over.

How much of these old places I carry with me, even now. It ought to feel like a heavy load for the volume alone, but it's so light and compact I scarcely know it's there. Until I pull it out, like a tourist with a map (before there was an app for that), unfolding and unfolding, and wow, would you look at all these streets and roads and landmarks and all the old places? There's so much here, so much.

And how much of me I've left behind in the old places. I didn't realize that either. The pieces aren't that noticeable. You don't realize they're gone until it's too late to turn around the car and go back. And by then, the wind has probably scattered them anyway. By then, you might as well let go of those pieces, let them stay lost in the old places.

I am ready as ever to sink my hands into the soil, into the new places. But only because the old places promise me, prove to me it's worth it. We drove back into our sleepy Ohio suburb tonight, the cheesy Christmas tree lighting ceremony in progress as we passed the town square. And I thought, I'm going to visit here one day and be amazed at how much of me is scattered here, and at how much of here is folded up and tucked inside. I'm not going to be sorry about anything planted. I'm not going to regret scooping deep into the soil.


Scrapping the Traditional Weave

I hang on to this belief, knowing full well it is foolish and false. I catch myself believing it at gut level, buried far beneath my guise of wisdom and common sense. And it is this:

Other people are living "normal" lives--the kind of life I seem ever on the precipice of having. Other people have arrived and settled in to one spot for the rest of their happy lives. Other people stay securely footed in "normal" careers that yield enough to live and then some. Other people stay securely united in marriages, riding the jarring seasons like trained horsemen, elegantly, effortlessly. Other people don't live in constant limbo, don't measure the years according to what it was they were waiting for that year, what it was they were hoping to hear and didn't.

I told you it was foolish and false. Bring me one person--anyone--and we will discover the striving, the interruptions, the limbo, the churning, the struggle--they are present within each one of us. Rich or poor. Illiterate or educated. Pessimistic or optimistic. Visionary or pragmatic. We are likely not alone in thinking life is what happens next, if we could just get past the hurdle right in front.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life--the life God is sending one day by day.
I wrote a while back about real life, about owning the days I'm given, not waiting for the next stage, the one that looked perfect on paper. I've lived just long enough, I think, to have discovered the surprising pattern about the next stage. It looks far better on paper than it feels going in and out of the lungs. Life is years of labored breathing with occasional seconds of breathless euphoria. Why do I persist in imagining it to be the reverse?

And so I agree, it would be a great thing, if one could, to embrace the unpleasant things, these less than optimal stages, these insurmountable hurdles, these disappointments and delays, as part of real life.
To find even in the labored breathing, a joy to be alive at all.
To find even in the limping forward (or possibly back), a curiosity at how the scenery might change, a gratitude for mobility alone.
To conclude that "normal" is at most a setting on the dryer.
To gather the necessary courage to live an unscripted life.

Is it mediation, discipline of the mind, praying without ceasing? Is this the way to welcome even the unpleasant things, the hurdles and setbacks, as part of a beautiful story we might live? My best guess is it might be all of the above.

Let's think of tapestry weaving, the complex and beautiful images accomplished by ignoring the rules of traditional weaving, by rejecting the back and forth, from end to end, continuous until complete. Instead, when you weave a tapestry, you block colors, starting sometimes in the middle, sometimes on the outskirts. You add color upon color upon color until the image appears.
It is not linear.
It is starting and stopping, back to the beginning, hovering wherever the colors stack the highest.

For many years, I have believed life to be a traditional weave. Back and forth, end to end, continuous until complete.

Now, I am growing to believe it is layered, color upon color, back to the beginning, out to the edges, feeling like we're getting nowhere, when indeed, getting somewhere has never been the point. It is about the picture woven out of all these shades, hues both pleasant and difficult, setbacks and propellants alike, the news good or bad, the progress steady or stalled. This color upon color, this day upon day, this is real life.

And it is, indeed, a great thing if one can see it as such, as the day upon day He sends.


I Will Never Be Cured

The school nurse calls, and I come.

I pick my baby up from school, administer tylenol, tuck him in for a nap. He doesn't have a fever, but complains that his "brain hurts" and that his shoulders and legs "feel too tired to do anything." Normally, I'd be reticent to take him home from school in the absence of visible, credible symptoms.

But as it turns out, I feel the same way. My brain hurts. My arms and legs are too tired to do anything. Achy. Sleepy. In need of a quiet and still afternoon.

I tease Caed that he must have given his germs to Mommy, and I pretend to give them back. I say "Here! Here! Get these germs off of me!" He doesn't even crack a smile, just lays his head down on his pillow, motions for a hug.

"My poor baby," I say, squeezing his neck. I remember my Mom saying this to me, all those times I was sick enough to stay home from school, those mornings I'd spend watching game shows and looking forward to the sweet-tart flavored meds.

"Tonight we'll have breakfast dinner, and we can cuddle and watch a movie. How's that sound?" I ask.

He lets go of me and nods his head. "Good," he whispers.

"Good." I echo.

I kiss his warm forehead. He smiles and scrunches further into the sheets. "Good," I say again. "Good."

In these moments, at least one diagnosis is clear. Of this condition called Motherhood, of this symptom--heart walking forever outside my body--of all of this, I will never be cured.


The Stars of the Show

"It's called 'The Mystery of the Cowboy Clone Trooper's Secret Notebook'," he announces. "And also, there's a football witch in it."

"Dani!" he shouts. "Hurry! We're starting the show!"

I sit atop the bed, criss-cross-applesauce, my heels digging into the airplane quilt I brought home from the outlet more than six years ago, back when my claim to motherhood rested shakily on possessing a packed hospital bag and two drawers of pre-washed onsies and sleepers.

What happened to his sweet baby head, the one I kissed and smelled every thirty seconds (surely this is the twitch of the new mother)? It hides under the clone trooper mask, smelling not of babies but of sweat and leaves and yesterday's shampoo.
The play is what you might call character-driven. The pacing is a bit off, what with the lead character writing in his secret notebook for a solid five minutes. The football witch jumps in to make a scene, but is promptly shushed and demoted to stage duty. "Turn the lights off!" the cowboy instructs.

But the witch is unfazed, enthralled now with her own hat, turning it this way and that, on and off her head, circling her hands over the rim as if she expects a rabbit might hop out. She's always had powers, this girl, to do magical things. Like, for instance, the time she melted her cranky mother into a pile of mush, erasing the sleepless crying night of hours just past with the curl of her first smile.

After another five minutes of notebook scribbling, the cowboy clone trooper declares it time to fight in the dark with his light saber. The football witch picks up her football, squeals, "I am the PRINCESS OF THE FOOTBALL!"

I can see the cowboy would kick her entirely out of the theater if he thought he could get away with it. Instead he looks at me, the lights still bright enough that I can see his eyes roll in the direction of his co-star.

I clap furiously. "That was wonderful!" I say.

"But Mom!" he interjects. "There are like 39 more minutes left of the show!"

I cringe and declare it intermission. "Until tomorrow," I promise.

If ever I let myself get lost, it is in this magic show where babies grow into boy and girl, telling the stories of which I'll never tire. The one where a first spoken word morphs seemingly overnight into a first full-blown theatrical production. Or the one where the baby girl exchanges booties for light up boots 10 times as big, the shoes she insists on wearing while she helps me fold the laundry. (She loves to fold laundry? Yes, she does!)

I wish often for intermission, a chance to digest the wonder of what I've just watched. But the show goes on and on, stopping for no one. Not even their mother...

What do you call this growing, if not magical? How do you describe it apart from miraculous?
I sit spell-bound, watching, wondering how on earth my babies disappeared, how on earth they grew like magic into the stars of this show.


Sharing this wonder, these gifts, with Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped.


Like No One is Reading

Blogging is a bit like jumping rope. Once you hop in, it's fairly easy to stay in a rhythm, to churn out post after post with relative ease. My feet barely had to leave the pavement. Just a few minutes here and there, a picture or two, a little each day. But when you duck out to get a drink of water (or in my case, escape for a girls' weekend, followed by a week of taking care of my sweet elementary-aged nieces), it's harder to get started again. I feel like for the past few days I've been watching the rope whoosh past my face, hesitating, looking for the perfect place to jump back in and not finding it.

There are two things I rely on to stay clear headed and marginally sane. I run and I write. I have done very little of either this week, rendering me muddy brained, arguably crazy and (unarguably) five pounds heavier. The leftover Halloween candy has clearly played into the equation as well.

I did manage to read a bit--mostly in two minute snippets while waiting in the car pool line. I have a pile of library books I want to plow through, the weight of which led my car to conclude the stack of books in my front seat constituted a passenger in need of seat belt.

One of the books I'm reading is Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. No, I'm not one of those cool writer types reading this for the tenth time. Only round one for me. And do you know what I have learned so far? I have an obnoxiously loud and ridiculously overbearing internal censor. Which is probably why I have published only as a journalist. My first front page article in the daily news--published so long ago you can't even find it on microfiche-"Black Bear Spotted on Interstate-90"--is likely to be my crowning accomplishment. Unless I can figure out how to lop off the head of my internal censor. (See, I wanted to write make peace with my internal censor, but making peace would mean the censor won out over the raw and powerful writing. Lopping off a head is far more evocative, right?)

So to continue the metaphor, it seems I just tried to jump back in and got smacked in the face with the rope. Tripped up, so to speak. My internal censor feels as though I should apologize for the lameness of this post, and I'm inclined to agree.

Forgive me?

Caed came home from the book fair at school this week and said, "There's this famous book at my school that everyone is talking about, and it's called the Diarrhea of a Wimpy Kid. Can you believe that, Mom? And I think it has some mean words in it, too. Like...wimpy."

It was a lovely opportunity to teach him a new vocabulary word. "Diary," I said, "is like a journal. You write down your thoughts and feelings about your life."

What is that oft quoted Irish proverb?

Work like you don't need the money
dance like no one is watching
sing like no one is listening
love like you've never been hurt
and live life every day as if it were your last.
Can I take the liberty--for the tortured writerly types out there--of adding one more?

Write like no one is reading.

Or maybe, just write. Who cares if the rope smacks you in the forehead. Just write. Just jump. Just try.


Halloween was SO Four Days Ago

I interrupt this blog to post a few Halloween pictures so the grandparents can all rest assured that their grandchildren are as darling as ever, even though the aforementioned children refuse to listen to their doting mother and continue to grow like weeds after I've repeatedly told them to stop.

The way Larry ages (way too gracefully) and Caed grows (way too quickly), my guess is they'll be mistaken for twins in a few more years.
And seriously, can you believe how big Dani has grown?
Oh, okay, you got me. That's not Dani. The sweet smile above belongs instead to my favorite eight year old niece. I still have plenty of time before my darling preschooler turns eight--by my calculations, roughly three or four days.

So here's the one of Dani-girl, dressed up as Ladybug Girl. You can see that Halloween totally bums her out.
And here's a shot of several of the cousins before we headed out. (Not pictured: a team of FBI agents and Superman. They must have been off saving the world at the time. Or plotting a massive candy extraction mission.)
Happy four days after Halloween, everyone!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I promised the FBI/Superman team I would help them rid the world of all unclaimed reeses cups before sundown, and I don't want to let them down. And by unclaimed, I mean the ones that might have been in bags labeled "Dani" and "Caed" just minutes ago, but by some inexplicable mystery have fallen out onto my kitchen counter....thus rendering them unclaimed.


The Rebranding of the Lunch Lady

Me: Caed, do you need me to peel the orange in your lunch or can you get it started by yourself?

C: No, I can do it. And don't worry, if I need help, I can raise my hand and one of the guards can help me with it.

Me: Guards? Do you mean the cafeteria helpers?

C: Well, I've never heard them called THAT before. I call them guards.

Me: Why do you call them guards?

C: I don't know. I guess because they guard the pizza and the desserts and stuff. It's just what they're called, Mom. Trust me.

Lunch ladies, prison guards, same diff, right?

Now hurry, kiddo, or you'll be late for prison school!


Finding Grace in my Purple Plastic Purse

Do you know the story about Lily and Mr. Slinger? Lily is a little mouse who gets into big trouble when she disrupts circle time because she simply can't wait to show off her new purple plastic purse. Her teacher Mr. Slinger, who had been Lily's hero up until this moment, takes away her purple plastic purse with her two jingly quarters, informing Lily she can claim them at the end of class. Lily is furious with Mr. Slinger and draws a mean and ugly picture to tell him so. But her anger turns to remorse when at the end of the day, he returns her purple plastic purse and her two jingly quarters along with a special cheesy snack and a note.

Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.

You're going to think I'm crazy, but sometimes I hear God speak like Mr. Slinger, clear as day I hear him say, Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.

And of course it isn't because I brought a purple plastic purse to school and made a ruckus during circle time, like Lily did. I've never been one to break the rules or rouse the rabble. No, I'm more like the self-righteous mouse that judges the people of Walmart, like surely God must love me more since I don't scream at my children (in public) or smoke a pack a day or categorize jalapeno poppers as a vegetable.

Or I'm like the self-centered mouse that thinks all the squeakin' day long about me, me, me and also me.

Or I'm the whiny mouse, the one who sweats the small stuff and stinks to high heaven of entitlement and ungratefulness.

Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.

When I hear that, I hear capital G Grace.
I hear no condemnation.
I hear hope.
I hear something so much better, and so much farther beyond me, me, me and also me.

The more I see my depravity for what it is, how significantly short I fall in the righteousness category, the more I see what's so amazing about God's grace.

When He speaks grace, it is enough to forget about the big mess I've made with my version of the purple plastic purse that plays a jaunty tune, enough to forget about me altogether.

Enough, enough, always enough.
I don't deserve the special cheesy snack or a note that forgives me before I even ask.
But He gives it to me anyway.

Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.

That's grace.

Shared with Emily of Chatting with the Sky in 31 Days of Grace.


On Pumpkins and Brotherly Love

They were sitting eating breakfast when the wailing began.

I didn't hear the conversation leading up to the hiccuping sobs, but I quickly learned the reason.

"I (sob) want (sniff) Caed to gooooo wid me (sob) to da pumpkin paaaatch!"

"Oh hon, what gave you the idea Caed was going? He has to go to school. The pumpkin patch field trip is just for you and the friends in your class." I looked over at Larry and asked him with my eyes and a shoulder shrug whether he could believe this.

Fists covering her eyes, mouth wide open, Dani continued to cry.

"She must have heard her teacher say that brothers and sisters were welcome to join them on the pumpkin patch excursion." I told Larry. "No further proof needed than this that she adores her brother."

Meanwhile, Caed's stopped nibbling on his English muffin, his lower lip beginning to curl. "This is starting to make me sad, too." He admitted. "I just wish I could go with Dani."

Dani's tears ceased eventually, and both kids bounced back as we talked up the activities they could do together.

On our way out the door fifteen minutes later, I overheard Dani talking to her beloved big brother. "Don't worry, Caed," she said. "Even 'dough you can't go to da pumpkin patch wid me, I will pick out a 'pecial pumpkin for you."


By the time we arrived at the pumpkin patch, Dani was all smiles. "C'mon guys!" She shouted to her friends. "Let's go!"

And off they went, into the maize, around the hay bails, through the tunnels. I was surprised to see how assertive she acted around her peers. Without Caed around to boss guide her, she seemed so much older, like a totally different child. It almost pained me to see how all signs of my baby have disappeared, how she's grown into such a big girl.

And of course, she didn't forget her promise to Caed.

We returned home with a 'pecial pumpkin. One she picked out just for him.


It's Always the Little Stuff

It's the smallest of small stuff that wears me down. Like when the do-over chores need doing-over before I'm even done. (This is particularly applicable in the leaf-clean-up department.)

And like worrying the dog might be sick--and scheduling an appointment with a new vet--and then being perfectly on time in leaving the house with the two kids and the dog--only to find the car won't start. Just a click, click, click like a tsk, tsk, tsk--scolded by my own car for forgetting I left the keys in and the auxillary running so Dani could finish listening to "I Know A Chicken" while I unloaded the groceries.

And then there are the mice that keep finding their way in, the brand new appliance that has to be fixed for our tenants, the husband getting home from work in the middle of the night, the not sleeping, the nightmares with kid one and the potty issues with kid two, the breathing issues with the dog. And all this little stuff teams up, puts grainy heads together to form sandpaper and wears, wears, wears that happy-go-lucky layer down.

And it's there, underneath, when the happy layer is gone. It is there my choosing begins. Will the scraping yield joy, natural and smooth, the kind that counts blessings and chooses gratitude?

Or will the sanding uncover the ugliest mold, the rot of whining, snapping, sniping, worrying?

Oh, it's the little stuff. It's always the little stuff.

If I am not consciously fighting the battle, then I have already lost it. If I am not choosing joy over and over, then I default always and again to ugliness and angst.

But sometimes, sometimes the small stuff saves me. Like when I'm in the middle of an ever-undone chore, and I catch a glimpse of a spontaneous game of tackle "football", when I turn off the motor and hear cackling coming from the pile of miniature arms and legs.
When I see the tights that will never again be white. When I pray my heart will never again be hard.

Oh, it's the little stuff. It's always the little stuff.


It's Probably Best I Leave This One Untitled

I dreamed last night that my husband was applying for a third residency. I have never been so relieved to wake up to the reality of three--not six--more years of training. It's all relative. In the dream nightmare, we were living in the Maine house, and talking about how nice it would be to match to Georgetown or George Washington, so we wouldn't have to move. My subconscious has never been that well-versed in geography.


In other dreamy news, we discovered that what Ohio desperately lacks in the Sushi department, it makes up for in Thai food. In our sleepy little suburb, it seems we have stumbled upon the best panang curry I've ever tasted. Crazy, right? (Also, it stands to reason that the Thai food is in part to blame for last night's nightmare.)


This morning the kids and I went to the fall carnival at Caed's school. I dutifully performed the roles of the Hold All The Dumb Prizes lady, as well as the Hold The Jackets lady, the Purchase And Divvy Up Tickets lady, and the Run Interference With Swifty The Clown lady. (Swifty had some mad balloon skilz, and while the kids weren't about to make eye contact with said clown, they sure as heck didn't want to miss out on balloon-fashioned butterfly wings and an air-filled bow and arrow.)

Caed brought home a whoopee cushion (one of the dumb prizes), and he and Dani had a whopping good time taking turns sitting on it. That is, until the quest began to get the dog to sit on it. At which time I confiscated the "toy", cited the children for cruelty to animals (and to mother's ears), and declared the kitchen and living room a toot-free zone.

Okay, I admit it. Whoopee cushions are hilarious. Just don't tell the kids I said that.


Larry is working again today. Shocker, I know! Who would have guessed? And do you know what I'm doing? No? Well I'll tell you. In no less than two hours, I will welcome 30 adults into my house as I host the dessert course of the neighborhood progressive dinner. An assignment I received barely 48 hours ago, and I'm doing it all by myself. Wanna know how I do it? I don't take naps.

(That last paragraph might have come off a bit snooty. Like "hey look at me, I'm little miss perfect hostess slash single parent!" In case the sarcasm wasn't slathered on thick enough to be recognized as such, let me clarify that I do not, in fact, believe myself to be God's gift to progressive dinners.)


Dani has a new favorite song--the top request whenever we are in the car or in the midst of a dance party. I've been trying to catch her on video singing it, but she zips her lips the moment she sees the camera. I'm telling you, though, I'm going to catch her, and when I do, it is so going on the blog, and then you will see for yourself why I'd go to the ends of the earth for this girl of mine.

(In the meantime, you can hear KT sing it here. She's almost as talented as Dani.)


It just occurred to me that people googling "whoopee cushion" and "panang curry" and "residency at Georgetown" might land on this post. To which I say in advance to all of you who may one day arrive here, I'm so very sorry. Well, except you whoopee cushion people. What are you doing googling whoopee cushion anyway? Sheesh. Grow up already.


Uh oh. Time's up. The progressive dinner waits for no one, not even the celebrity dessert course hostess. Happy weekend!

(Caed appears to be preparing to take out the butterfly with his bow and arrow. But the butterfly has a plan....at least she looks like she does.)


I am Woman. Hear me Snore.

Me: (big yawn) I need a nap.
Dani: You're being silldy, Mommy. Grown-up mommies can't take naps. Only grown-up daddies can take naps.
Me: Why can't mommies take naps?
Dani: Because you have to make dinner.

Hence, my new woman's liberation mantra: "I am woman. Hear me snore."


What You Find in the White Space

When we first moved here, I fought hard the impulse to fill up our calendars with soccer and swimming and everything in between--times two. All in due time, but in this first of Ohio seasons, I knew we'd need margin, that the only way to avoid the frenzy was to protect the white space on the weekly planner.

Because white space makes way for color. And quiet makes time for life.

Slowly, we're adding to the schedule, signing up for a few of our favorite activities. I admit to feeling flustered, to second guessing my slow-it-down strategy whenever I learn about fun and enriching activities we are "missing out on". And it doesn't help when we drive by a soccer field and both kids shout, I wanna play! I tell them they'll get their chance, that we have plenty of time.

No matter what activities we add, I'm determined not to let go of our down time.
Because without the margin, we would miss out. We would miss out on impromptu walks in the woods. On telling little sisters scary stories, and then holding her hand so she wouldn't be scared.
On taking blair-witch-project-esque pictures with Mommy's camera.
On discovering a new playground.
On "just being" together.

I didn't know it was going to be this hard to protect the down time. But it's been worth it, totally worth it.

Because white space makes way for color.
And quiet makes time for life (loud and large).


On My Way Back from the Mailbox

Outside, it smells like wet leaves and sunshine. The soggy town newspaper leaves print on my hands, and the stack of bills are addressed half to the me in Ohio, half to the me in Maine. My mail stands divided, but I am altogether here. At least in this particular moment.

Good news came this morning, a crucial and long awaited piece of paperwork arriving scanned and paperless. It wouldn't have been a big deal if we hadn't been forced to wait six months for it.

In that waiting and the limbo caused by delay, I might have learned to trust in perfect timing. I might have learned to live with loose ends and frayed edges. I might have learned a bit about taking my anxious and impatient thoughts captive. I don't know if I really learned any of it, or whether I'll have to repeat the lesson. (I probably will).

But here's what I do know. There is a time to rejoice, to clap hands, to dance silly, to breathe relief, to give the sort of thanks that comes easily. And this is that time.

Outside it smells like wet leaves and sunshine. The sun pushes the gray of the morning storm into a blueish black bundle to the left, says to the clouds, "I'll take it from here."

This is the sort of morning in which the sun is supposed to shine. There's no other way to cast it--to stage the scene--than to put me in with the sun, walking up the driveway on the soggy leaves and in the crisp breeze. And then to open the door, to breathe in cinnamon and the fulfilled promise of a new morning, to feed the hope that followed me inside on the way back from the mailbox.


In Which I Give Thanks for Peppermint Oil and Washing Machines

The following unrehearsed butchering of a popular Eric Carle book took place this morning, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.:

Daddy: Pink Girl, Pink Girl, what do YOU see?

Dani (not surprisingly dressed all in pink): I see a DOC-tor looking at me. Doctor, Doctor, what do YOU see?

Daddy: I see a liver and white doggie looking at me. Doggie, Doggie, what do YOU see?

Daddy (on behalf of Doggie): I see a field mouse looking at me. Field mouse, field mouse, what do YOU see?

Mommy (on behalf of Field Mouse): I see a crazy lady with a bottle of peppermint oil looking at me, a lady who is considering, for the first time in her life, adopting a house cat. Crazy lady, crazy lady, what do YOU see?

Well, that's a very good question, Field Mouse. I'll tell you what I DON'T see. I don't see a future for you in my laundry room. I DO see myself making a Target & GNC run, scouring and cleaning the house with unabashed obsession, and throwing up a little bit in my mouth every time I find one of your blankety-blank droppings. So if I were you, I'd get a move on, Fievel.


I should have know better than to write about gratitude this past week. It's like extending an open invitation for all that is smelly in the world to stop in for tea. Since that post, I have:

  • Cleaned up thrice after a sick dog (yes, both kinds of sick). (I know normal people don't use the word "thrice" anymore, but I feel like it lends Old English sophistication to my sentence about my dog's bodily malfunctions.)
  • Endured two mornings after two nights of less than three hours of sleep, thanks to the sick dog, a needy child, and an early-to-work husband.
  • Discovered a field mouse in the dog bowl. Something I sincerely hope doesn't happen thrice.
  • Watched my vacuum die a quick and painless death smack in the middle of the post-mouse-discovery cleaning binge. (Painless for the vacuum, perhaps, but quite painful for me.)
There is a longer, less shallow version of this list, but it wouldn't benefit anyone to share it. The short of it is that nothing on my "to do" list has been crossed off this week. Nothing seems to be moving forward (except the mice). And I am not in the mood to flip that blasted coin over.

Which means now--when I least feel like it--is exactly the time for me to start back in on the treasure hunt. So, how about this. I'll go on record saying how infinitely grateful I am that my washing machine is still working. But please God, just don't break the dryer to test me.

The crazy, easily discouraged, very fallible, often cranky lady
on a treasure hunt
(and also a mouse hunt)
(and the mice are most definitely not to be confused with the treasure),
who wants to be grateful,
to have a "happy heart" no matter what,
but needs a little help
from a gracious God.

Oh, and just one more thing (although it seems I already signed out). I stumbled upon this quote Anne Lamott referenced in Traveling Mercies, and I love it. I keep going back to it. Because grace, yes God's grace, is perhaps the thing in this life for which I am most grateful.

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
-Eugene O'Neill

Hat tip to Jen from Momalom for the peppermint oil advice. So far, so good!


That Little Kid

We took the kids ice skating this weekend. It was Dani's first time, and I managed to forget the camera. But I did take a few pictures with my phone, all of which were too blurry or too dark, except maybe this one. She's such a goofball.

She did great on her first time out on the ice. Not sure we can say the same thing for Daddy's back, which did the lion's share of "balancing" for her.


With every day that passes, Caed grows more and more sports obsessed. This season he speaks of nothing but American football. Every morning at breakfast he asks me how many days until the Buckeyes play. And then how many days until the Browns lose play. And then he asks whether I think the Buckeyes would beat the Browns, if they played against each other. And I say, "Who knows? They might."

He plays football at every recess, and reported back to me yesterday that the other team--the one with the bigger second graders--keeps calling him "that little kid". Apparently when he was tackled, one of the boys said, "I can't believe that little kid keeps getting up!" And then, (allegedly), after Caed scored a touchdown by running the ball, another kid said, "Man, nobody can stop that little kid!"

I asked him if it bothers him that they call him "little kid", and he said, "No, I like it because, I mean, after all, I am the littlest kid in my grade. And they are just surprised that I can be little and still score touchdowns."

So, it seems as though I might be raising Rudy.

I love that he's growing in confidence and independence. I just wish I could sneak onto the playground and take in a game every now and then. And you know, maybe confirm some of that little kid's story.

On a side note, is anyone else surprised that the children are allowed to play tackle football at recess? I thought by now all forms of good old fashioned, injury-prone fun would be banned in the school yard. But I'm glad it's not. I had to laugh when Caed told me he was "sore from football." I asked him if he got hurt when the bigger kids tackled him, and he said, "No, not that. I just hurt my knee a little when I did my special touchdown jump."

Sigh. I just adore that little kid.


I Can't Complain

It's Saturday morning, and our alarm goes off at 4:20 a.m., just like it's been doing every day this week. First, we hear a song we love, but are likely to hate after two more weeks of this schedule (Nickel Creek - Hanging By A Thread). Then seven minutes later, the wristwatch nearly falls off the dresser beeping like a bomb countdown.

At 4:30 a.m., when I find myself somehow in the kitchen, when I awake to the third alarm of the coffee grinder, I furrow my brow and press my teeth together as if biting back lucidity. My mind is too jumbled to think up proper curse words, so I just pout and think in blurry phrases of resentment.

By 5:00 a.m., when the kids are still upstairs snoring in their sleeping bags, cocooned in the only space on the floor not covered in train tracks and doll houses turned train stations, I brush off my grudge against 4:00 a.m. like toast crumbs from a counter. I peek in at the remnants of Friday night's sleepover, warm mug in hand, and I smile, shoulders scrunching almost to my ears to warm me, or maybe to add corners to my smile. These quiet moments are entirely mine.

(Well, at least until the dog comes clicking up the stairs to see what I'm up to, threatening to wake the kids with her jingling collar unless I feed her. Fine. I'll feed you, but you should know that MOST dogs don't get their breakfast until at least 7:00 a.m.).

It's 6:30 now, and Larry has been at work an hour already, and we hope to see him before bedtime. When the kids wake up, they will tell me they remember Daddy coming into their room in the middle of the night to give them goodbye kisses, but only because they know that's what he does, and not because they really remember.

I know that I could get away with complaining about this schedule, and about how much we miss Larry when he is gone for 100% of our waking hours and some of the sleeping ones too. But on most days, at least once I make it past 5 a.m., the complaints disappear like dew when the sun comes up strong in the heat of summer.

I don't take any of this for granted, not anymore.

I could complain about his schedule or be grateful he has a job.
I could complain about rising so early, feeling so tired, or be grateful for these peaceful hours.
I could complain about the uprooting, the downsizing, the stress of this move, or be grateful that day by day, we are making our way home.

Even now, as I begin a list of what I could complain about, I realize how trivial these things are when stacked up against the beauty of the life I've been given. To complain would be as ridiculous as sitting underneath a sky splattered thick with stars, a paisley black and white threaded by thousands of faraway suns, and to gripe about the moon not being very bright.

When I feel the grumbling welling up inside, I like to imagine turning the issue over like like an old coin, to see whether there is a shinier side, to find the places that sparkle when the tarnish is removed. And when I do this, when I hunt for gratitude, the treasure I find amazes me.

When I see it this way, I can't complain.


What could you complain about? If you flipped that complaint over, could you find something underneath, something shiny or just full of potential, something to be grateful for?


Orphan Sunday (plus a lot of rambling)

Disclaimer: To many of my "real life" friends who read this blog, with spiritual/ religious views ranging across the entire spectrum and in most cases, dramatically different from mine, I'm going to come out and admit that I think of you every time I write a "Jesus-y" post like the one below. I worry a little more than I should that I'll offend you or that you'll decide you don't want to be friends with a religious nut-job anymore and secretly unfriend me on Facebook. So this is just a little heads up. Jesus stuff about to follow; feel free to ignore.

I read somewhere (no idea where) that as humans, we have a hard time processing huge tragedy wherein thousands are impacted (genocide, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.). We tend to disassociate our emotions from the facts of the events, to shut down emotionally because we can't process the scale of that grief and suffering. But show us a story of one little girl trapped in a well or a three year old battling with a brain tumor for his life, and we latch on. We are more likely to care and more motivated to get involved in the solution when it becomes personal.

I confess I often go numb when I hear horrifying statistics about poverty, human trafficking, genocide, and orphans. I find it impossible to process. I find it overwhelming to even consider. I'm tempted to give up before I get started, because the problems are too big and the solutions too small.


In the past few years, the issue of poverty and the plight of the orphan has become personal. I now have a face to latch onto. Two faces, actually.

My nephews James and Varney, once Liberian orphans in a refugee camp--struggling at 4 and 2 years old to find enough food to survive--these two precious children are now called sons.


I saw Varney yesterday, watched his mom sign his homework folder, heard her reminding him what chapter he needed to study in his third grade science book. It was just another ordinary afternoon for them both. And this--that horror and hunger are no longer the norm, what once defined an ordinary day for Varney and his big brother--this is extraordinary.

My sister will be the first to tell you she's no saint, and I will be the first to tell you that she actually is. But that's not really the point here. You might feel inclined to pipe in at this point and say that you aren't up for the huge commitment of adoption, that this is something you couldn't possibly do. I understand, because that's where I'm at too. So no need to pipe in.

I only bring this up to tell you about an event that my friend Kelly at Love Well told me about, something I think is worth sharing here. This is an opportunity for those of us who want to help but feel overwhelmed; this is our way to make it personal.

November 7, 2010, is Orphan Sunday - an event sponsored by Christian Alliance for Orphans. As Kelly wrote in her email to me (she said it best, so might as well just quote her):

It's a day designed to focus the American church on the plight of orphans around the world. Anyone can get involved, which might be my favorite thing about it. It’s customizable to your specific passion. Do you really want to connect people to Compassion? Set up a sponsorship table in the lobby of your church November 7. Want to tell your story of adoption? Ask your pastor if you can share your heart during the service that morning. Or maybe it would be a better fit with your small group. Or you could even plan a special evening for your family and friends. There are TONS of resources on the website – everything from bulletin inserts to videos for specific causes to posters to t-shirts. It’s an amazing opportunity.

Now, don't worry. I'm not going to lay the guilt on thick, imploring you to do something for the poor, starving children in Africa. I'm just trying to spread the word about Orphan Sunday so you can get involved if you're so inclined.

One of the things that drives my sister a little nuts is when she meets someone new, and their first response to finding out about her adopted boys is to tell her the reasons they could never adopt, to compare their path to hers, to give her a laundry list of the good things they do in lieu of adopting.

I think in the Christian community, we often and even unknowingly slip into the trap of caring more about what others see--about imparting an image of being super spiritual--than we care about the deep-down heart stuff that only God sees. If we respond to Orphan Sunday or similar calls because we feel guilty, or because we want to prove we are "good Christians" (whatever the heck that is), then we're totally missing the point. (Notice how I kept saying "we" and not "you"? Yeah, that was on purpose. Guilty as charged.) This isn't a contest to see who is the most compassionate, who cares the most about orphans, who is the most gigantic spiritual hero of them all.

Because the orphans, the poor, the exploited, they already have a hero.

It's not my sister. It's not Mother Teresa. It's not the guy who runs the orphanage in Tanzania or the lady who fosters troubled teens in Tampa. It's Jesus. He's the Hero. He's the Rescuer.

That said, I think if only for the joy He knows it will bring to us, He allows us to be involved in the rescue. He gives us opportunities to be His hands on earth, to help provide food, comfort, shelter to the most vulnerable among us. So, between you and God, all guilt and contests aside, would you consider how you might take a small step to get involved?

For a more specific and coherent post on this topic, check out the post Megan at Sorta Crunchy wrote about Orphan Sunday. And while you're there, read one of my favorite posts from her--in which she realizes she's called to serve not in some far off place, but "where her feet are".


Wasting My Life, One List at a Time

Let me tell you the ways I waste my life.

On tasks I list only for the crossing out.
On wondering what to write, on daydreaming and scheming and then getting only as far as reading the first chapter of the How-To book.
On fretting five years forward instead of just paying this month's bill.
On debating between chicken roasted or beef braised, so long that by the time I decide, there is no choice but to serve peanut-butter sandwiches.
On feeling sorry for myself about ridiculous things.
On scouring unnecessary stores for unnecessary bargains.
On wishing I could "do more" to help (as if just doing something isn't better than overwhelming-induced paralysis?)
On changing channel to channel.
On not changing the channel (or pressing the off button).

I could go on listing, but then I would have to add this list to the list of ways I waste my life.

Notice, now, I am not publicly berating myself for wasting time. I am talking about my life. If I ran those errands or planned those meals or paid those bills or wrote those words with a sense of purpose, with an in-the-moment appreciation for the story I'm living, then nothing, none of it would be wasted.

No, the culprit isn't the activity or lack thereof. It is what I do with my mind, where I let it run off to during the day (with no supervision!) that squanders the vast majority of this wild and precious life.

I want to live a nothing-wasted life, not measured by how much I accomplish, attain, complete--but by how much I notice, participate, experience, appreciate. I want to live as Jim Elliot exhorted, "Wherever you are, be all there." But short of my current pattern of practice, fail, fail, pray, get back up to practice, I have little notion of how to bring this about, to consistently, daily follow through on the life I desire.

I'm guessing it's not the sort of thing that starts with a list?


Remind Me To Remember

Remember when I said these are the happiest days of my life?

In case I stop believing that, in case I put Gratitude on administrative leave and invite Anxiety to fill in for the interim, in case I forget, here it is. The string of words around my proverbial finger, the little moments that bundle together to spell joy.


Every once in a while I discover the kids playing peacefully together, as was the case a few days ago. I peaked my head into Caed's room to make sure all was well, and here's what I heard.

Dani squealing with delight: "Caed's letting me play Legos!"
Caed replying with big brother authority: "Yeah, and that's a privilege, Dani."

Then they continued playing happily for another thirty minutes. And nothing broke. And as far as I know, no Lego pieces were ingested. A miracle of duplo proportions.


Yesterday I had the honor of hosting a 94th birthday celebration for my Grammy-in-Law. Four generations of family gathered to celebrate her amazing life. Caed read to her from one of his chapter books, and while I'm certain she didn't hear a word--especially the words he sounded out in whispers--she smiled and applauded throughout it all. Dani offered up a bird house she'd made in preschool as a birthday present, along with a heart-shaped construction paper card plastered with princess stickers. Apparently it's what you get for the Grammy that has everything.


After dinner a few nights ago, I looked out the window as the light and breeze hit the tree branches just perfectly. So I grabbed the camera, and we all threw on our shoes. The kids followed me around while I tried unsuccessfully to capture the beauty with a camera. Adding to the delight of the moment were the sound of Caed's voice imploring me to take pictures of the sky and the feel of Dani's hands as she brought me leaf after leaf she deemed photo worthy.


Dani and I met up with some new friends at a park on the most beautiful fall day. Hooray for new friends! Hooray for geese and water and sunshine!


Grandma Laurie came to visit this week, bringing with her (as she always does) plenty of loot for the kids. She gave Caed a watch, and he has not stopped studying it since he wrapped it around his wrist. Last night, he fell asleep watching the long hand inch along. This morning, when he woke up, he ran downstairs and exclaimed that no time at all had passed since he slept! "When I went to bed it was 7:30 o'clock and now it is 7:30 o'clock still!" Then all through breakfast he watched the watch, counting down the minutes to the bus. I'll tell you, it made me infinitely glad when he shouted, "Oh man, I gotta hurry and get my socks on. The bus is coming soon!" So, that's one less bit of nagging I had to do this morning. Every little bit helps.


So, in case I forget why these are the happiest days of my life, well, this should remind me to remember.


Why I'm a Morning Person

"Maaahmaaa! I hear your caaaahfeeee!" She dances around the kitchen in her favorite pink pajamas, the ones that are decidedly too small.

"I think I taste coffee on this banana," says the boy. "Uh oh, I think I'm gonna turn a little crazy at school today!"

Mmm, I taste the sound of morning. Gurgling mixed with giggling, the seconds drip one upon another until we have a whole pot of minutes swirling.

I drink them in, wishing only occasionally for the quieter, smoother blend of years long gone. But mostly I savor the scent and steam that rises from these warm, bold hours, the rapid pouring of daily duties--lunches packed, socks hunted, backpacks zipped, hair braided, tummies filled, foreheads kissed. When their cheeks are still warm with waking, when my coffee is already cold.

A new day percolates, smelling of sunrise and fresh starts.
And so it begins, again.

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