Sunday, September 29, 2013

Random Ramblings (really random, but at least I posted something!)

Whew!  It is dusty in here!  I had to sweep the cobwebs off of my blog space before I could find a spot to sit and write.  It has been TOO LONG!  Way too long.

Summer happened.
And then moving happened.
And then I just got out of the habit of my weekly blog posts. 
But I miss those weekly writing dates, so here I am again.  I used to write many of these posts from my side porch at my old house.  I loved that space to write.  I do miss that porch.  But, I am writing today from my new back porch.  There are horses, cows, and a bull grazing in the field in front of me.  My little green pond is sparkling in the sunshine (well, the few spots that aren't mucky with algae are sparkling).  Matt is perched atop our "utility" vehicle (which is really mostly a toy), and my children are being carted along behind in an attached wagon.  A pretty little bird with the unfortunate label of "titmouse" is pecking at food from a feeder.  Luke, exhausted from chasing frogs and butterflies and cicadas, is conked out in the sunshine. 

It's not been all sparkly ponds and butterflies since we moved here, mind you. 

First of all, it was a rocky road getting this place--I won't bore you with the details.  It's been a struggle, too, being further away from family and friends.  Jack has had to start out in a new school.  I am taxiing Amélie 45-minutes away each week for a homeschool co-op and piano lessons.  Matt's job has been crazy.  I know absolutely no one in this town (I email Jack's teacher to ask things like, "Does this town have a pharmacy?"  And, "Where do you take your kids to the pediatrician?")  I haven't found a place yet to get Jack's hair cut, so yesterday I hacked at his hair with safety scissors (because my scissors, apparently, are still hiding in a box).  A week ago our sweet, dear 13 1/2-year-old weimaraner died. 

So, we're adjusting and coping and grieving and stumbling through our days with klutzy grace. 

One weird side effect of living here is Jack's strange conviction that "Missouri kids" are different than "Kansas kids."  He is wrong, most likely, that Missouri and Kansas kids are truly different, but there is definitely a difference between "suburban" kids and "rural" ones.  For example:
Jack came home asking for a bb gun with which to shoot cans the other day.
He desperately wants a bow and arrow.
He asked to watch Duck Dynasty because that's what some of the kids in his class watch (which we did on Friday night--I was both repelled and strangely attracted to that show).
He was AMAZED at all of the camouflage in Wal Mart (yes, Wal Mart.  I hate Wal Mart.  But I am temporarily lifting my avoid-Wal Mart-at-nearly-any-cost ban, partly because I am still figuring out where to grocery shop, and partly, quite frankly, because I already have to sell my soul and trade in my Costco membership for a Sam's Club membership).  Anyway, so yes, the Wal Mart Supercenter five miles down the road is practically decorated in camouflage.  There's a camouflage deer stand perched outside the store.  The sporting goods section is HUGE, and while curiously wandering through it the other day I found a pink camouflage flask for sale.  For real. 

I am a little worried about Jack out here.  It's not that I have anything against hunting or Duck Dynasty or even shooting cans with bb guns.  But his dad and I are lost in this world.  I mean, we don't even kill bugs, mostly.  Last week I found a massive garden spider in my bathtub, so I caught it under a glass and released it into my yard.  Amélie couldn't handle the trauma of watching frog hunting during Duck Dynasty (And who can blame her?  We love our little frogs!  I could never chop off their heads and eat their legs.).  I can't imagine that we will ever buy a gun, despite the fact that the previous owner said we would need one for snakes and raccoons and skunks.  We are those weird people who try, in vain, to use those humane live traps. How in the world are we going to fit in here?  Is Jack going to start sobbing when he goes out hunting with his friends and they kill a deer? 

Please don't misunderstand me.  If you know me, you know I am not a vegetarian.  I do try to buy meat that has been humanely raised, and you can't get much more "humanely raised" than killing a deer that has spent its life wandering a forest.  I literally went YEARS without buying any sort of ground beef because I ate venison from deer that my grandpa had shot.  So I'm not against hunting or meat or even pink camouflage flasks.

It's just not me.  And I worry that we won't fit in.  Mostly I worry that my kids won't fit in.  I'm sure I worry in vain.  I'm sure they will be fine.  I'm sure one of these years Jack is going to find a bow and arrow under the Christmas tree.  Amélie might add "pink camouflage hoodie" to her Christmas list.

You know, actually, the truth is...
Matt is the one who really doesn't fit in.
He needs a bigger truck. 

P.S.  So, this just happened, I kid you not (I am typing out this "P.S." several hours after writing this post):  The guy from one of the three other houses on our gravel road just drove down in his (big) truck to see me.  (Let's ignore the reason he was coming to see me, because it makes me nearly hyperventilate with anxiety.  He, super nice guy that he is, was checking to make sure Luke had made it home, because my dumb dog, who is trying to make me die of anxiety, decided today that 5 acres isn't enough and that he also needs to explore the half-mile one-lane road we live on AND the country road our road leads to.  It's not a very busy road, but my neighbor told me he heard a horn honking, and it was because Luke was in the middle of the road.  Are you kidding me?  We had one dog die of a bowel obstruction seven months ago and another dog die seven days ago.  We cannot have another dog die.  We cannot.) ANYWAY, my neighbor was drinking a can of beer while talking to me (still in his vehicle--is it illegal to drink and drive on a private road?) and I swear to you there was a rifle sitting in the passenger seat.  I am, actually, all for gun control (go ahead--shoot me), but for some reason I just found it amusing that my neighbor was driving down to see me while drinking a beer and carting around a gun.  What is happening to me????? 
Let me just say this now: if you ever see me driving a big truck with a can of beer in my hand and a rifle in my passenger seat, would you please stage an intervention?  Thank you. 

P.P.S.  For the record, this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  I know that I am stereotyping "rural" kids and "suburban" kids.  I know there are suburban kids who shoot bb guns and I know that there are rural girls who don't wear pink camo.  Also, if you love Wal Mart, I still love you.  And if you drink from a pink camo flask and drive with a rifle in your passenger seat, I still love you.  I think. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013


I am obsessed with the song "Brave" by Sara Bareilles.  I have posted it on Facebook twice, watched the video an embarrassing number of times, and had the song on repeat for a full hour this afternoon while I was home alone and straightening up the house. 

When I am obsessed, I go big.

Every time I watch this video I cry.  Or at least I almost cry.
I can't explain it, really.
But I think I will try.

Often, I feel like there are two sides to me.

There's the insecure, shy girl bound by duty, the girl who meets deadlines, who has a panic attack in the face of spontaneity, who tries to keep her house clean, who lives by her to-do list, who colors neatly within the lines.

And then there's this other girl inside of me.
She is actually spontaneous. 
She dances. 
She sings loudly. 
She wears a twirly dress. 
She laughs. 
She colors a Christmas tree orange and the sky purple and maybe she colors within the lines and maybe she doesn't.

She is free.
She is free.
She is free.

When I listen to this song, I see that girl dancing and laughing, and I want to be her. 
When I listen to this song, that girl dances right up to me and reaches for my hand and asks me to toss aside my inhibitions and rules and to-do list...
...and just dance. 
She asks me to sing
and twirl
and create
and write
and be brave.

I want to be brave.

I want to be brave enough... write create laugh move to a house in the country open my arms wide to this world be free.

I wanna see me be brave.
I wanna see you be brave.

Show me how big your brave is.

I wasn't necessarily being brave in this picture (although I did think I might fall right off that dock), but I felt happy in this picture...and goofy...and free.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hope is the thing with soft, black fur....

First, two business items to discuss:

1.  I have every intention of writing about our farmsitting adventure for our Old German Baptist friends.  I am waiting until all of the pictures are transferred over to my computer so that I can overwhelm you with them. 

2.  I did write a little bit about farmsitting (complete with a few pics) over at Practicing Families this week in a post entitled, "The Rhythm of Solitude." 

And now, onto today's topic...our new dog, Luke.

(Luke on his first walk)

Yesterday morning I was in the shower, and I had this really horrible idea to completely bastardize one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems in honor of this puppy dog whom I am so in love with that it is rather distracting. 

Here is the beginning of the Dickinson poem:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And, here is how I completely ruined the poem with my own version:

Hope is the thing with soft, black fur
Who sits upon my lap.
Who looks at me with trusting eyes
And nestles in for a nap. 

I never claimed to be a poet. 
But, there is truth to my words.
If Luke were a girl, I might have pushed that we name this puppy Hope.  However, we have named the puppy Luke (Skywalker) in honor of his sister, (Princess) Leia, whom we still miss with aching hearts. 

Let me bore you here for a second.

Luke is, basically, too good to be true. 

We brought him home early Friday morning, and as of today he has had a grand total of two accidents in the house (and one at Lowe's, but I wasn't there, so I'm pretending like that one doesn't count).

I have only had to take him out to go to the bathroom once each night he has spent with us. 

The longest period he has cried is after his 4:30 am bathroom break, when I stopped to take a quick bathroom break of my own before heading back up to bed, and he wanted me to pick him up and carry him upstairs immediately.

He isn't crazy hyper.  At all.  In fact, he is super mellow.  (I realize this could change.  When we brought Leia home, she was quiet and sweet and slept all of the time.  How quickly things changed....  We got Leia at eight weeks, however, and Luke is twelve weeks old.  I am thinking that Leia was showing her true colors by the twelve-week mark?  I wish I remembered.) 

He is obviously used to being around children.  He spent the first twelve weeks of his life in a household of small kiddos, so he thinks kids are great. 

He loves love.  And attention.  And kisses.  And affection.  And my lap. 
The truth is, I want a dog I can absolutely smother with love.  So far, Luke isn't resisting my smothering instincts. 

But here's why, if Luke were a girl, I think I would want to name him (her) Hope:

Luke was born on March 1. 
March 1 is the day after Leia got sick (also, incidentally, the day after my birthday, which I still find an incredibly dirty trick).
It was on March 1st that I stood in my living room and looked at Jack lying on the couch, who was very sick with strep, and Leia lying on the couch, who was also very sick with a bowel obstruction that wasn't diagnosed until it was too late, and I wondered who I should take to the doctor first.
It was on March 1st that the talons of fear about Leia first wrapped menacingly around my soul.
It was on March 1st that I began a painful weeklong journey of worrying about my sick puppy, carrying her into numerous vet appointments, nurturing her, and crying for her.

And then, when Luke was just one week old, when we didn't even know he existed, Leia died.
And my heart just broke into teeny-tiny pieces.
And (as ridiculous as this may sound) I sort of let go of hope.
And (as ridiculous as this may sound) I sort of turned away in confusion from my faith.
And  (as ridiculous as this may sound) I sort of became stricken with grief and sad and, for lack of a better word, depressed.

Three weeks ago, I saw a picture of Luke on my friend Melanie's Facebook page. 

I looked at the pictures, but I dismissed them.
We wanted a chocolate lab or a golden retriever.
I very specifically did not want a black lab.  I don't know why, but I have never felt great affection towards black labs (please do not project any racist dog feelings here.  I feel the same way about the very white brichon frise and poodles of any color). 
But then my friend Jeannine re-posted those pictures on my Facebook page. 
And I sighed a little.
And then I carried my laptop over to my kids and said, "OK, guys, you said you wanted a chocolate lab or a golden retriever.  The puppies in these pictures are not chocolate or golden.  What do you think?"
And they both chose the same dog.
(If you have children, you know that this is a miracle in and of itself.)
So I sent a message to my friend Melanie, and she sent a message to her cousin in Oklahoma who owned the puppies.  Arrangements were made.  And here is Luke.

He is the product of an unplanned pregnancy, which makes me love him all the more.
He is a motley mix of dog breeds, which makes me love him all the more.


You know, while we were farmsitting last week, I found myself tentatively talking to God again.  He seemed present to me as I milked the cow without a CD playing and washed the dishes without NPR and listened to my husband and children without wondering what might be happening in Facebook world.
So, God and I were talking again.
That was good.

And then on Friday, Luke bounded into our world.
And then I thought that, maybe, I would be OK.
And then I realized that, maybe, we would all be OK.

It's not going to be easy, I don't think.
Luke had the hiccups yesterday, and I heard the sharp edge of worry in Amélie's voice as she asked us what was wrong with him.
When Luke slipped into the unfenced front yard this afternoon, I had to fight a rising tide of absolute panic and horrific mental visions of him being hit by a car.
When we came home from church today, I had to beat back images of him electrocuted on the floor from chewing a wire I might have accidentally left plugged in.

(I tell you, people, my imagination is a total wreck.)

The poor dog is growing up in a family suffering from a little trauma, I think.
He is going to be overprotected.
He is probably going to become completely neurotic.
He might have a few rebellious moments in his teenage years.

But, he is going to be loved
and cared for
and played with
and hugged
and smothered with adoration. 

We love you, Luke.
Welcome home.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dear Diary...


Here it is, another week, and once again I don't feel like I have anything very meaningful to say.  I know precisely the reason why:

I haven't been journaling as much lately.  I need to journal.  Journaling hangs out with food and sleep on my personal hierarchy of needs, and when I don't journal, my soul starts to wither away a bit, just like my body would start to wither away a bit if I didn't eat or sleep enough. 

I have felt bad for my journal lately, I think, and that's one reason I haven't been journaling as much.  I mean, I know that technically my journal doesn't have feelings, and that technically she can't get bored, but I have felt like such a broken record in my journal lately that I think even my poor journal must be getting tired of me.  I thought maybe she needed a little break.  I've gotten a bit bored with myself--I can't imagine how she must feel.

Also, Matt and I have started exercising together.  Exercising with him takes up more time than exercising alone, since we are going through this program thing that I'm not going to tell you about unless I get totally fit and hot, which so far hasn't happened, so you don't need to know about it.  Anyway, we have been working out some in the mornings, which seriously cuts into my journal time.  Also, I'm tired, partly from exercising and partly because it's been ridiculously cold and partly because I'm a little depressed right now, so I have not been exactly kind to my alarm clock when it cheerfully chirps at me at 5:00 in the morning. 

But let me tell you, I need to journal.  When I don't journal, I get really cranky, and I feel lost, and it's like I'm walking around in a body and soul that don't really belong to me, because I've forgotten to keep myself acquainted with myself. 

I find, though, that sometimes, when I'm working my way through a rough patch, I quit journaling.  It's weird--those rough patches are when I should be journaling the most, and I know it, but the darkest days of my life have often been greeted with silence in my journal.  I need to change that.

So, I have a great idea.  I will use my blog as a journal today, because I'm sitting up in my attic, and my journal is downstairs, and because of this exercise program Matt and I are doing I think twice before considering movement up or down those evil things called stairs.

I always start my journal entries with the date, of course, but I also include the time, and I usually include where I am writing.  One of my professors in grad school recommended this, and I'm so glad he did.  I've been following his advice ever since English 801 (Thank you, Jerry Dees).

Sunday, May 5, 2013
5:23 p.m.

Yesterday I had to go to the stripmall where Leia's vet was.  I hadn't been there since she died.  My insides all twisted up, and I cried as I walked by and peered inside.  I shouldn't have walked by the entrance, but I had to.  I was sad, so sad.  I cried a little, except not much, because I didn't want anyone to see me in tears.  It has been nine weeks, I think, since she died, and I feel a little silly that I'm still sad.  Suddenly I desperately wanted a puppy.  We can't get a puppy until we get back from farm-sitting, and I don't want to get a puppy for the wrong reasons--like, you know, to fill this Leia-sized hole in my heart, but truthfully, I don't care if we do get a puppy for the wrong reasons.  I want a puppy.  I want a sweet puppy.  I want one I can absolutely smother with love. I'm also scared to get a puppy.  What if he gets hit by a car or eats hair and dies from a bowel obstruction or, worse, what if he doesn't like me? 

We are going to farmsit for our Old German Baptist friends soon.  I am excited/nervous/apprehensive.  What if we destroy their crops or forget how to milk a cow or leave a lantern lit at night and set their house on fire or what if they find out that we brought a camp shower because I just could not hack six days without a proper shower? 

Matt and Jack's massive birthday party is this weekend.  I'm pretty sure that it will snow and/or rain and/or no one will come and/or those that come will have a horrible time and/or we will all be sick. 

I found out this week that the blog post I published at Practicing Families and the Mennonite World Review is going to be in the print edition of MWR!!  I am very excited about this.  My parents and grandparents are very excited, too. My grandparents have no idea what a blog is, but they thought it was pretty cool anyway.  They have always believed in me, which is super nice.  I figured that everyone would hate the article, but one guy with a very German last name said that he "wept while reading this delicate reflection."  It can't suck too badly if I made someone cry, right? 

I still weigh 1__ despite the fact that Matt and I have been working out like crazy.  Don't even tell me it's muscle.  Don't go there.  I weigh six pounds more than I did when I hit my goal weight, and if working out like a crazy person doesn't help me lose those blasted six pounds, I don't know what the heck will.  Perhaps I am supposed to balance out working like a crazy person with NOT eating like a crazy person. Interesting thought. 

I'm worried that I am going to hang out in this rocky place with God forever.  He feels so far away, as He should, I think, since he refused to lift his pinkie finger, point it Leia's direction, and save her life.  I still just don't think it would have been that hard to fix.  What worries me, though, is that I feel like I'm the seed that fell on the rocky ground, which withered away because it could not root.  Or maybe I am like the seed that fell on the thorny ground, and the worries of life have choked the life right out of me (see Matthew 13).  Whatever the case, I feel shallow and weak.  Nothing God-related rings true to me right now.  Songs seem pointless, sermons seem empty, prayers seem hollow.  I hate it, but I guess I will hang out here for awhile.  There's nowhere else to go at the moment anyway.

I should probably quit hiding in the attic.  I need to help Amélie with her piano, and I don't remember what I jotted down on my to-do list this morning during church that must be done before the week begins, and I feel guilty for spending so much time up here alone. 

Remember Sixpence None the Richer?  This morning I put this album from college days on before we went to church.  I hadn't listened to the album in ages, but I wanted to hear the song "Within a Room Somewhere."  If you were really my journal, I would copy out the words, but since you aren't really my journal, I can include a You Tube video and then just copy and paste the words.  I actually like writing in my journal much better with pen and paper, but this has been good for me today, especially since I haven't had to maneuver stairs. Oh wait...I can't stay up here all evening I guess, can I?  :)

"Within A Room Somewhere"

I breathe the mist
Floating about the stars
I can caress with velvet hands
I breathe the mist
Floating within without
This pen between my fingers

I know you are there
Within without me holding me
I know you are there
Catching carrying this beautiful mess

Escape the pain
Within a room somewhere
Escape the pain
So deep inside the soul
I have no key
No map to find

Sunday, April 28, 2013

free association

(This is me reading the newspaper on the train from St. Louis back to KC.  It felt so lovely to be reading the newspaper on a train, for some reason.)

I have no idea what I am going to sit here and write about.  Usually, I have an idea that I have been mulling on for awhile.  Often, I start writing about that idea and then go a completely different direction than I thought I would go.  Many times, an idea comes to me while I am sitting still and quiet during church.

But today, I have no idea what I want to say. 

I am sitting on my side porch.  It's the first time I have written out here since...pretty much forever, it seems.  I thought winter would never end, but perhaps it has, finally.  I hope. 
I hear the crack of a bat hitting a ball as kids across the street play baseball.
I see green--thank God--and white blooms, and red tulips, and the corpse of last year's garden, which someday, someday, will come to life again.

I also hear my son in the front yard sobbing because Matt can't make him a rope swing that will propel him across the yard and onto a platform where he can than push himself down a yet-to-be created slide.  He is swearing, between sobs, that if this masterpiece of a creation becomes a reality he will never, ever need to play a video game again.

My house is a little bit messy.  I need to pick it up before my weekly date with Mr. Selfridge and a friend and a bottle of wine. 

I need to wash sheets. 

There is a wasp buzzing around the windows inside my porch.  This makes me a little nervous.

Jack is no longer crying because Matt has propped a very tall ladder against the very tall maple tree in our front yard.  Jack has climbed up the ladder and is now standing on a perch up in the tree.  This makes me very nervous.

I am sipping a Diet Coke.  I try very, very hard to be healthy.  I religiously dump fruits and greens into my Blendtech every morning to make myself a green smoothie.  We eat pastured eggs and chickens and grass-fed beef.  We devour vegetables and fruits from our garden and our CSA.  But I can't give up Diet Coke.  I just can't.  Sigh.

I am excited because the essay I published last week over at Practicing Families about our relationship with our Old German Baptist friends is going to be re-published on the blog at Mennonite World Review.  Some day I want to be a writer, you know.

I am feeling pretty good today.  My insides feel pretty quiet, mostly calm. 
As long as I don't close my eyes and imagine Jack falling out of that tree, I'm OK today. 
I'm peaceful today.
I would say I am almost happy today. 

Maybe it's the sunshine.
Maybe it's the green.
Maybe it's the porch.
Maybe I'm just getting a little break.
Maybe I will wake up in despair tomorrow.
But for today, I am inhaling...exhaling...inhaling...exhaling...inhaling...exhaling....

Sunday, April 21, 2013

On Melancholy and Song Lyrics and Poetry

P.S.  I know it's weird to start a post with a P.S., but I feel like the postscript in this post is perhaps more important than the original post (which I published last night, and am now adding to).  First of all, when I read this post today, I rolled my eyes at myself a bit, so know that I completely understand if you roll your eyes a bit, too.  I kind of don't even want to re-read it, but it's there, and I don't think I will be deleting it.  So here's the postscript: yes, I know this post is kinda melancholy, and it is true that I am going through a bit of a rough spell right now.  But here are some more truths:

On Saturday I went shopping with my mom and Amélie, and we had a lovely day together.

Matt and I sat out on our front porch yesterday in workout clothes and robes (nothing sexier than robes AND tennis shoes being worn at the same time), and we chatted and laughed at ourselves as we sipped smoothies made for us by our daughter and her friend. 

Jack lost another tooth this weekend, and as I watched him grin up at me with toothless pride, my heart melted into a puddle of pure, absolute joy.

My friend Jeannine came over last night, and we watched Mr. Selfridge and sat out on our side porch with Matt talking way, way too late.  But we were having such a good time that I didn't notice how swiftly the time was passing.

So, what I say below is true, very true, but what I have written above?  That is also true, perhaps even more true.

This week I thought I was going to write about the Amish (technically Old German Baptist) wedding we recently attended.  I would like to write about that experience, and maybe I will soon.  I am going to be posting about our relationship with our Old German Baptist friends over at Practicing Families on Wednesday, so stay tuned for that. 

Today, however, I don’t really want to talk about a wedding.  I want to talk about poetry and song lyrics.  Do you ever get a poem or a song in your head and you can’t quit chanting or singing or mumbling those words? 

Sometimes, Matt tortures me with a song we sang together in our high school ensemble.  I won't be so cruel as to torture you today.  Amélie often walks around the house singing an Abba tune, and sometimes I hear Jack in his room humming the Star Wars theme song.  I always seem to have a song in my head.  In fact, I catch myself humming my way through the grocery store.  I can’t help it.  It's a little embarrassing.  A lot of times, a song gets stuck in my head because I have had it on repeat or because its tune is catchy.  Sometimes, though, there’s a deeper reason. 
Lately, I have had both a song and a poem in my head.

The song I have been singing is "Stubborn Love" by The Lumineers.
The story of the song doesn't relate to me all that much.  But there's this line in the song that I can't get out of my head. 
It's better to feel pain
Than nothing at all.
The opposite of love's indifference.
Matt and I actually argued about that song on our way to the Old German Baptist wedding.  We both liked the line, "The opposite of love's indifference," but he didn't agree with me that, "It's better to feel pain / Than nothing at all." 
He would rather feel nothing. 
I would rather feel pain. 
We're different that way, I guess. 
The other lines that keep running through my head are from an Emily Dickinson poem.  Here is the poem in its entirety:
After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?
The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Here are the lines that keep echoing in my head:

After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;


This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

This morning, in fact, I was digging through the refrigerator for some yogurt, and I caught myself mumbling out loud...

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

Let's just clear the air right here.  I know it's weird to be crouched in front of one's refrigerator mumbling anything, much less melancholy Emily Dickinson poetry.  I know that. 

I remember a dark time about eleven years ago when another poet's words constantly replayed in my head.  They were the words of the poet Sylvia Plath in her poem "Elm":

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

I would wake up in the middle of the night with those words running through my head, chasing me even in my dreams. 

Sometimes, I still do feel the dark thing that sleeps in me, but I no longer believe in its malignancy.  Instead, we usually work alongside each other in melancholy, but quiet, companionship.  It's not like that time.  I don't want to die.  I am fairly certain I won't be spending any time on the psychiatric wing of a hospital. 

I really am pretty much OK. 

I don't really want to say much else, I guess.  My blog is not a confessional.  You don't need me to vomit my insides out all over your computer monitor (you're welcome for that consideration on my part AND that lovely image). 

I just want to stake my claim, my struggle, here. 

If you look into my eyes, I don't think you will see the struggle.  I can look into your own eyes and listen and talk with a presence that is truly genuine.

If you come to my house, my bed will (usually) be made, dinner may very well be simmering on the stove, I might be teaching Amélie about the life of a medieval peasant girl. 

But if a strong wind came by and whipped the covers off of my soul, you would see a girl
whose faith feels shredded
whose heart is sore
who is crouched low in the chill and the stupor, just waiting for that moment of letting go. 


Sunday, April 7, 2013


I don't feel like being reflective and introspective this afternoon, so I'm going to be newsy and random instead.  Here's what's happenin'.

This morning my son had the wind knocked out of him because he fell as he was following me down the attic stairs while snapping pictures of my wild morning hair and giggling with evil glee.  After I got past the point of being scared to death that he had mortally hurt himself, I thought that perhaps he was justly recompensed for his wicked actions. 

(blurred picture of my crazy hair, taken before nearly mortal accident)

Last Thursday night I went to see Anne Lamott, and she was just lovely and wonderful, as I knew she would be (but there is this fear, always, when seeing an author, that perhaps they are much more magical on paper than in real life).  I wrote her a little note, and I practiced writing her name on a piece of scratch paper before writing it on the envelope.  I stood in line (I was #347) to have her sign my copy of Help, Thanks, Wow, and she was kind and gracious as I mumbled something that was most likely idiotic and incoherent.  My friend Jeannine snapped a picture of us (I didn't want to pose with Anne for yet another idiotic and incoherent reason, so I made Jeannine promise she would just discreetly snap a picture). 

We are kinda sorta house-hunting.  Our super simple requirements:
Live in the city because I can't live without the art gallery, the symphony, used bookstores, my friends, and a good coffee shop.
Live out in the country because I don't think I can live without some land, some trees, some chickens, and some goats.
Basically, we want the impossible. 

We are going to an Amish wedding on Friday (technically an Old German Baptist wedding.  Same difference, basically, except that our friends sport buttons on their clothes and don't know Pennsylvania Dutch).  We are excited to see Alexander and Rosanna get married.  They got to take their buggy into town on Friday to get their marriage license, and the day they spent together (1 1/2 hours each way), was the most time they had ever spent together.  Alex was glad they had not had any more time together, since their courtship has included a no physical contact policy.  I am wondering if they will get past holding hands on their wedding night.  I am curious and excited to attend their wedding.  Apparently the wedding reception will include fruit cups, cookies, carrots, and celery. 

We saw our Old German Baptist friends on Saturday.  They invited us, yet again, to housesit for them while they attend a church conference in Indiana.  I am excited about this.  I think.  No, I am.  But I really missed a hot shower last time.  And the outhouse wasn't always pleasant. 

We still miss Leia.  Don't tell anyone, but I sleep with her collar under my pillow.  And since our Easter tree, which was adorned with prayers for her, is a magnolia tree, I get very sad every time I see a magnolia tree, which basically means every time I leave my house.  I feel like I should buck up and not be so sad anymore, but the truth is, I miss her.  Last night when I went to bed that sadness literally felt like a heavy, blanketing weight, and I curled myself up under that sadness until I finally fell asleep.

The kids have decided that our next dog needs to be a chocolate lab or a golden retriever (or some kind of mix of the two), and they want him to be named Luke Skywalker (you know, Leia's brother).  I have been obsessively checking for a chocolate lab/golden retriever puppy, even though we won't get a new dog until we are back from our housesitting gig. 

I am researching homeschool curriculum for Amélie for next year.  I think I have it figured out, which always happens this time of year, which means that I want this year to be over already so we can start anew. 

I am sending Jack to first grade next year. 
I love Jack, with my whole heart and then some, but I don't want to homeschool him right now.
He has loved his half-day kindergarten class. 
Quite frankly, I don't want to teach first grade.
And Jack wants to eat lunch at school next year.
It's a win-win for all of us. 

That's it, I think, at least for now. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

stumbling through disbelief

I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately.  Before Leia died, I was praying more, and in more numerous ways, than I ever had before.
I was praying the liturgy of the hours fairly regularly.
I was praying for sick children, for hurting friends, for people with achingly lonely eyes that I passed on the street.
I was encouraging my family to write or draw their prayers on the leaves and flowers of our Easter tree.
I was praying a lot for help in finding my keys.

And then Leia died. 
And then suddenly I didn't know that I believed in prayer anymore. 

I have, actually, continued to pray the hours fairly consistently, namely because my own smashed and broken heart understands the language of those ancient prayers scripted onto ancient hearts that had also been smashed and broken.

How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day?  How long shall my enemy triumph over me?

O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God.

You have showed me great great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth. 

Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire, and there is no firm ground for my feet.

Lord, have mercy on us.  Christ, have mercy on us.  Lord, have mercy on us. 

I have prayed those ancient prayers, but mostly, I have not been able to pray my own prayers.  I try to open my mouth, and no words come out.  I try to open my hands, and then I clench them again.  I try to open my heart, and then I go stone cold. 

There are not many Christian authors that I can stomach to read right now (although I am seeing, live and in person, Anne Lamott on Thursday night.  Anne Lamott.  I wish I could shrink really teeny tiny, crawl into her pocket, and go home with her).  I could read Anne Lamott right now.  I could.  But instead I picked up the first Kathleen Norris book I ever read: Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.  In Amazing Grace, Norris takes classic, often loaded, words from the Christian Lexicon and lyrically, poetically, and earnestly writes about them.  I love the book.  Last week, on a train to St. Louis, I read the chapter on prayer. 

She quotes Thomas Merton: "Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone" (58).

She talks about unanswered prayers, and as I read her words I thought about prayers of mine and other people in my life that had recently not been answered as we would have wished:
A dad who died after a rapid, cruel bout with cancer.
A friend whose custody battle is crumbling her already broken heart.
A much-loved family dog, dead way too soon.

Norris says, "But in the hardest situations, all one can do is to ask for God's mercy" (60).

Ah, I recognize that prayer: The Cry of the Church.
Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

That, I think I can do.

Honestly, I can't pray, right now, for my friend who has lost her dad, for my heart-sister who is oh-so-weary from this battle against evil for her son, for my kiddos and my husband and myself who just can't quite shake the sadness and emptiness of a world without Leia. 

I just can't. 

But for whatever reason, I can ask for mercy, I can beg for mercy, I can cry for mercy.

For Joanna and her grieving heart...
Lord, have mercy.

For M_______ and her aching heart...
Christ, have mercy.

For Matt and Jill and Amélie and Jack, and our sad hearts...
Lord, have mercy.

For you, if prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone...
Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Losing Leia, Living Lent

 A couple of Sundays ago we decided to skip church.  Jack was getting over strep.  Matt was trying to recover from some bug he has yet to get over.  Our dog, Leia, was sick.  And I was tired.  Jack envisioned a morning of video games.  Matt envisioned a nap.  I envisioned coffee and the Sunday paper. 

Amélie envisioned church at home.  She planned the service, lined up chairs in our dining room, and gave us all pieces of paper with instructions.  We took turns reading until we had finished the book of Jonah.  She read an illustrated version of the story to her five-year-old brother, and then she asked us questions about the text.  I then read the day’s selection from the book, Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa, and we all wrote or drew pictures on the flowers and leaves for our Easter tree.  We wrote out things we were thankful for on the flowers: thanks for snow days, for family, for our fireplace.  We wrote our prayer requests on the leaves: for more snow days, for mom to have another baby (NO!), for our dog Leia’s sick tummy. 

Then we finished up our church service by gathering around the piano and singing the old hymns “Blessed Assurance” and “Day by Day.”  It was lovely.  It was beautiful.  My heart swelled with love for my sweet family. 
We had a beautiful day, a sweet blessing tucked in the middle of trying to live out the Lenten season—to live out life—with grace and meaning.    

As that week progressed, our dog became sicker.  I took her to the vet two more times.  They finally found the problem that hadn’t shown up on the first x-ray: a bowel obstruction.  Our vet didn’t want to perform the surgery because she feared it would be too complicated.  We scheduled the surgery for the next day with a new doctor and took her home. 
I carried Leia up to bed and watched her through the night.  I was so afraid that she would die before she made it to surgery the next morning.  I counted down the hours.  I felt her for breath.  I watched for movement, even the familiar trembling that let me know she was in pain.  I cried.  I prayed.  I read from Kathleen Norris’ book Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life about her husband’s death, how he, a lapsed Catholic, loved the words from compline, “May the Lord grant us a peaceful night, and a perfect end.”  I read about waiting: “[We] know the pain of the wee hours, when the dark of night matches the state of our souls” (221).  And then: “Both physical and mental pain are often worse at night, and sometimes it is the waiting for the dawn that is worst of all” (222).  I read those words, and I felt those words, in the very core of my being.  I ached with the pain of waiting, the fear of waiting, the exhaustion of waiting. 

When it was morning, we all gathered around Leia and said goodbye.  We cried.  But I felt relief as Matt wrapped her in a blanket and carried her into his truck.  The surgery went well.  Our silly dog, who subsisted on a life of plastic (supplemented by dog food and table scraps) had somehow eaten hair(?), which had severed her intestines.  The vet repaired the holes, and all looked well.  I slept much better that night, and before I fell asleep I prayed the Petition:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.  Amen.

I was comforted to believe that I was praying for Leia when I asked God to “soothe the suffering,” but I was convinced that I was not praying for her when I prayed, “bless the dying.” 
I was wrong.  The next morning Matt called me at 8:48.  Leia was crashing, and Matt was on his way to the vet.  Leia died while Matt stroked her fur and cried.   When he came home and told us the news, we all collapsed on the couch in sobbing mess.  Amélie wailed, “But she was my baby!” and “Why would God let this happen?” 

I didn’t have an answer on March 8th. 
I don’t have an answer today. 

Yes, she was just a dog.  I know that our grief over an energetic  two-year-old Jack Russell is nothing compared to the grief of losing a child, a parent, a grandparent, a friend.  But she was a Christmas present to my kids two years ago, and I can’t deny the fact that I am incredibly sad. 
It seems to me that it shouldn’t have been too hard for God to heal our dog, and I don’t understand why He didn’t. 

And then I start to think that maybe it’s been silly all of these years to pray anyway, because what good does it do, really? 
And then I think that it is probably really silly to find myself in the middle of a raging faith crisis over a dog.  It seems like such drama should be reserved for a bigger loss.  Or that my faith should be big enough to handle it. 

I know that I am being irrational and over reacting.  I know that God is not magic. 
This past Sunday, we made it back to church.  I barely heard the words coming out of my pastor’s mouth, and I believed even fewer of them. 

I am following my Lenten fast, but only because I don’t want to go back on my word. 
I’m finding it hard to pray for the lady in line behind me with the sad eyes, or for peace in my son’s monster-ravaged dreams, or even healing for our family’s grief-shredded hearts. 

The only thing I can pray right now is the morning office and, sometimes, compline.  I find comfort in the Psalms (from today’s morning office: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed”) and The Cry of the Church: “Lord, have mercy on us.  Christ, have mercy on us.  Lord, have mercy on us.”
We are living through Lent’s shadows this year in a way that perhaps I will look back on one day and understand its spiritual meaning. 

We have lost Leia.  We are living Lent.  I know we’ll be OK.  I know I will patch up my tattered faith one of these days.
...but in the meantime, we miss you, Leia Lou.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Distraction (and Justin Bieber, and Facebook, and the Lord's Prayer, and...)

Just now I came upstairs to the attic to write a bit.  I dragged up my laptop, a bottle of water, my journal, six books (The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, my Bible, and Dream Work  by Mary Oliver), and a bottle of wine (let it be noted that I do not necessarily make a habit out of drinking wine and writing, but the idea of writing and sipping a little wine sounded a bit romantic, which is kind of embarrassing to admit). 

I am here.  I am blessedly alone. 

I am still distracted.

I hear Jack throwing a fit downstairs.  I think he is crying because the snow is melting, which to him is the worst thing ever.

Five minutes ago when I was mumbling my way through the Lord's Prayer while reading and praying the Midday Office, I glanced up at my computer screen and noticed on the Huffington Post an article entitled, "Justin Bieber's Worst Birthday Ever." 

I almost clicked it, right there in the middle of praying, "Lead us not into temptation...."

Do I even care about Justin Bieber?

Not a whit. 

The honest truth is that I could not name for you one song that he sings.

No lie.

I do know, however, that I am the same age as his mother.

This fact, which maybe I just Googled, might make me cry a little into my wine glass (er...jar.  I have broken all of our wine glasses.  We now drink out of glasses with names like Mason, Kerr, Ball, and Smuckers).

Why, in the middle of the Lord's Prayer, did I suddenly think I needed to read about Justin Bieber's worst birthday ever?

I fear that as a Christian, as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a human being, I am driven to--and perhaps addicted to--distraction.

This afternoon I posted a picture on Facebook of Amélie leading the church service that she mapped out and led at home today since we are a bit under the weather.

I am not sure how many times I have checked that picture to see how many people liked it.

As of six seconds ago there are twenty-four likes. 

Why do I need to know this?

Why does it matter?

It doesn't matter.  But it does matter, because for some reason I make it matter.

Thankfully, Thomas Merton offers me some encouragement today.  He says, "If you have never had any distractions you don't know how to pray" and that "it is useless to get upset when you cannot shake off distractions" (New Seeds of Contemplation 221). 


However, lest I settle too comfortably in my distraction, he goes on to say, "The distractions that do harm are the ones that draw our will away from its profound and peaceful occupation with God and involve it in elaborations of projects that have been concerning us during our day's work.  We are confronted by issues that really attract and occupy our wills and there is considerable danger that our meditation will break down into a session of mental letter-writing or sermons or speeches or books or, worse still, plans to raise money or to take care of our health" (New Seeds of Contemplation 223). 


If Merton were writing that paragraph in 2013 rather than in the early 60's, he might add "checking Facebook likes" and "mentally composing blog posts."  I would also like to add my never-ending to-do list to his litany of harmful distractions. 

To be quite honest, I am not even sure what it means to have my mind centered on "profound and peaceful occupation with God." 

What does that look like? 

I don't know, because...
My mind wanders. 
I daydream.
I gaze out the window.
I start a new book.
I hone my to-do list.
I read old journal entries.
I flip through sixteen different books.
I meander through a book of synonyms. 
I look up the age of Justin Bieber's mom.
I check Facebook.
I check my text messages. 
I unload the dishwasher. 
I worry.
I check my bank account.
I worry some more.


But, I have hope:

"No matter how distracted you may be, pray by peaceful, even perhaps inarticulate, efforts to center your heart upon God, Who is present to you in spite of all that may be going through your mind.  His presence does not depend on your thoughts of Him.  He is unfailingly there; if He were not, you could not even exist.  The memory of His unfailing presence is the surest anchor for our minds and hearts in the storm of distraction and temptation by which we must be purified" (Merton, More Seeds of Contemplation, 224).

My efforts to pray can be inarticulate.
God is here, even when my mind is 20,000 leagues under the sea.
He anchors me even when my mind and heart are whipped about on the stormy seas of distraction.

Thank God.
Thank God for that, because otherwise...
Otherwise, I would be sunk.

(P.S.  I am up to 33 likes.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Ashes, Mortality, and a Cheshire Moon

I have been meaning to post a little bit about Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday was twelve days ago, but my mind and my heart have been contemplating that day ever since, and I think it might be helpful for me to process a bit here. 

I always look forward to the Ash Wednesday service.  The melancholy in me loves its darkness, its quietness, its solemnity.  Without fail, however, I always forget how difficult the service is for me.  This year, I didn't remember until we were walking into church.  I suddenly stopped walking and said to Matt, "Oh.  I forgot how much I hate this service."  Matt replied, "I know.  I hate it, too."  (And then we rounded the corner and saw our pastor, who I don't think heard this conversational exchange.) 

I hate Ash Wednesday because the service reminds me that I am but dust.  I will admit to you that I am terrified of death.  Terrified.  I don't tell many people this (and why I am blurting out my fear here, today, is something I don't know that I quite understand), but every year or two or three, around this season, I go through a period of time where I become convinced that I am dying. 

I get a cough that won't go away.
Or I experience heart palpitations that keep me awake at night. 
Or I start feeling weird and am sure it is a mysterious, deadly illness. 
Or fill in the blank.

It's OCD on steroids.  Quite literally.  I hate it. 

Ash Wednesday doesn't help.

I always think that I love the ritual of receiving the ashes, until I walk forward and hear the pastor say, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return," as he forms the cross on my forehead with his thumb. 

I hate that. 

I don't want to be reminded of my mortality.  I live in fear of that very thing every day. 

So this year, I sat in the pew feeling a little anxious, a little apprehensive. 

But this year, as I received the ashes, instead of being reminded of my mortality, I heard the words, "Repent, and believe the Gospel."

I do have many things from which I should repent, this is true, and I will not use my blog as my confessor. 
But more meaningful to me at that moment was the admonishment to believe the Gospel, the Good News. 

I needed that reminder.  I needed the reminder, the good news, that yes, I am made of dust, but I am being redeemed, I have been redeemed, and God can make something beautiful out of this imperfectly put together mess of dust. 

This year, I didn't leave the Ash Wednesday service with the icy tentacles of fear gripping my heart. 
I left with a bit of hope. 

And as we drove home, my son looked out the window and exclaimed, "Look!  The moon is smiling at me!" 
And so it was. 

The moon was smiling at him. 
And it was smiling at me, too.
Repent, and believe the Gospel.
Repent, and believe the Good News.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


And February was so long
That it lasted into March
And saw us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed
And you said, "That's a crocus."
And I said, "What's a crocus?"
And you said, "It's a flower."
I tried to remember
But I said, "What's a flower?"
You said, "I still love you."
         ~ Dar Williams

Sunday, February 17, 2013

'Tis the (Lenten) Season

'Tis the season, the season I look forward to every year: Lent. 
It is a time of Bright Sadness.
It is a time of reflection.
It is a time of repentance.
It is a time of fragile hope.

I think I look forward to Lent so much because as a reflective, introspective introvert, the Lenten season promises time to reflect, time to meditate, time to contemplate, time to pray, time to be.  I always have romantic ideas about Lent, idealized visions of piles of books, of quiet moments, of peace.  I think peace is what my soul always longs for during Lent.  I have blogged about my romantic Lenten ideals several times (case in point). 

This year, I am no less idealistic.  I have books on hand, lots of them.  Here's a sampling:
My yearlong standby: The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime
A new book of essays: Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
I have two books to use with my family this year: Bring Lent to Life: Activities & Reflections for Your Family and Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa:  Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families.
I am following this pdf Lenten retreat.

On Ash Wednesday evening, before we went to church, I scarfed down my food so that I could read some child-friendly Lenten reflections at the table.
I tried to have a conversation about fasting.  I tried to explain fasting, and then I asked Jack what he might want to fast from.  He thought a moment and replied, "Bad guys."
OK, so, he doesn't really get it.
Then I suggested maybe he fast from saying hurtful things to his sister, and he completely missed my point and responded in the affirmative that yes, his sister should fast from saying hurtful things to him.
In the middle of my discussion, I suddenly realized that Jack hadn't had a bath in X days and that I should throw him in the tub before leaving for church.
So much for reflection, for meditating, for contemplating, for praying, for being. 
I rushed him in the tub, rushed him out, and we rushed out the door. 
And then the rest of the week slipped by, or rather, scurried by, with no time for any of my other planned family Lenten activities.

So I mess up at Lent.  I do. 
However, I did manage to keep my personal Lenten fast Wednesday through Saturday, which was a small miracle. 

Our pastor, Eric, suggested that we not tell anyone what our fast is this year, and while I respect that idea, and while keeping that idea in my head has helped keep me in check this week when I just sort of wanted to whine to anyone within whining distance, I am going to share my fast with you.

I am fasting from caffeine. 

I am certifiably insane.
Or I will be at the end of Lent. 

It's Sunday, though, the feast day, and so today I can talk about my Lenten practice quite contentedly, because all day I have been sipping coffee out of one side of my mouth and sucking down Diet Coke with the other.
This whole fasting from coffee and Diet Coke thing--not so much.

I have found that, without caffeine, I am stripped down to the bare bones of who I am. 
It scares me a little.

Without caffeine, I am a little stupid.
Without caffeine, I think I might be a really boring person.
Without caffeine, I drove down Southwest Boulevard on the way to the symphony with only one eye open and driving 5 miles below the speed limit.
Without caffeine, I made my daughter a sandwich on non-gluten-free bread. 
Without caffeine, I have no memory of both small and large gaps of time.
Without caffeine, I think 8:30 is a perfectly reasonable bedtime. 

I'm sort of a mess. 
But I'm also praying more.  And sometimes I think I can hear God whisper since my head isn't buzzing with caffeinated chemicals.  And when I am not half-asleep I think I am listening more.  And sometimes I am less anxious (except not during my son's basketball games. I have decided that next year I need a prescription for anti-anxiety medication). 

I bet at some point I will mess up.  I will suck down Diet Coke when we go out for pizza on a Friday night.  Or I will decide at 5:00 one morning that life isn't worth living if my coffee is decaffeinated.  I might mess up.  But if I do, as my grandpa reminded me the other day as he stood in his kitchen sipping his caffeinated coffee in a most un-Christian-like way, God will love me anyway. 
And for that I am grateful. 

I am going to close today with a reminder from my blog two years ago, a reminder that Lent is lived within Life, and that neither my Lent nor my Life has to be perfect.

And now here I am, yet again, beginning Lent with the harsh reminder that Lent is lived within the mess and muck and chaos. How I long to carry out the beauty of Lent poetically. That's what my soul longs for. But then.... But then.... But then I am worshipping the poetry of Lent rather than the God of Lent. And if I can journey through this Bright Sadness with a little grace, if I can find a little more light in the shadows of my soul's chiaroscuro, and if I can carve out for myself a bit more peace, I do believe that I will find some poetry in this beautiful mess, this chiaroscuro of my soul, this bright sadness. And then I will be ready, I hope--oh, how I hope--to embrace the joy and the awakening and the new life of Easter.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

Sunday, February 10, 2013

p.s.--pg 14 is my favorite for you

On Saturday morning Matt and I had some time to ourselves, so we decided to stop in at Prospero's on 39th Street and look for a book to take with us to our favorite coffee shop, Broadway Café
Matt said we had ten minutes. 
I said it was insulting to walk into a used bookstore and only spend ten minutes. 
He conceded and said we could take twelve minutes.
I rolled my eyes.
Since I didn't figure that I had time to browse through fiction, I hovered about the poetry section instead.  I found a copy of Mary Oliver's Dream Work.  I was planning on buying the book anyway, but then I found a scribbled note on the title page:

To Ben--
When reading this poetry, I cannot help but think of you.  The continuing theme is one of finding your spiritual self, a struggle which you have embarked upon and which I know you will find peace in. 
Much luck and love on your journey--
p.s.--pg 14 is my fav for you!

from page 14:

"Wild Geese"
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
   love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I find myself locked in the same struggle: to find my spiritual self.  It is a journey upon which I have embarked and in which I hope that I will find peace. 

Perhaps you find yourself tangled in that same struggle, yet hopeful that you, too, will find peace.

Much luck and love on your journey--
p.s.--pg 14 is my fav for you!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

praying. fasting. anxiety.

photo by Matt Clingan

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~
Last week I read about praying.
This week I read about fasting. 
Studying fasting was a bit of a struggle for me.  First of all, I have never fasted, at least from food. 
I thought about fasting from food this week.
I mulled the idea over.
I obsessed a tiny bit.
I panicked a tiny, tiny bit.
The idea of fasting, I will confess, makes me sweat a bit. 
At first, I chided myself for the panic.  It isn't that big of a deal to go without a meal, or two meals, or even three.
But then I poked down a little deeper into my psyche, and I realized that fasting is a big deal for me, and I don't think it's a good idea for me to fast--from food, anyway.
You see, I was tortured by an eating disorder in college. 
For a long time I counted calories, and I allowed myself no more than 500 precious, meticulously counted calories a day. 
Later, I gorged on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of calories at a time, and then I locked myself in the bathroom, tied my hair back, bent over my porcelain god, and purged.  (Last year I wrote a semi-autobiographical story about my experience.  If you would like, you can read the story here.)
Thankfully, I am finally at a point where I relish food.  But still.  But still. 
I worry about what I eat a little too much. 
I try to avoid looking at my body.  (I would love to do this for Matt, for example.  Isn't that absolutely amazing and beautiful...for every other body but mine?)
I fight against labeling foods "good" or "bad." 
I remember all too well the rush, the high, of hunger.  
I still have issues. 
I don't want to exacerbate them. 
So, I won't fast from food. 
The most striking sentence to me in the chapter I read in Foster's Celebration of Discipline was this:
More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us (55).
What controls me? 

I am not sure.  Perhaps that is why one fasts from food, because if I were empty inside, I would probably see through the emptiness the contours of what controls me. 

I didn't know what to do.
I gave up Facebook on Friday. 
I actually didn't miss it.
Of course, Friday was one of those days when I had to pee for at least 45 minutes before I actually made it to the bathroom.  But still.  I didn't miss it.
So, then, what controls me?

Actually, I know what controls me. 
I know what eats me.
I know what chokes me as I swallow it whole. 

I am often devoured from the inside with anxiety. 
I am not my anxiety.
Yet I am my anxiety.
It eats me up in ways not dissimilar to the food that I used to eat and purge. 
How do I purge myself of anxiety?
How do I fast from anxiety? 
I wish I knew.

Matthew 6:25-34
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.