Monday, March 28, 2011

Soul balm

Wednesday, and the day was grey with snow flurries from low hanging clouds of winter slipping through a loophole into spring. Grey to the eyes and grey to the soul.
Some days all I can do is hold on, mark the spot where I stand and determine to not give way. Hold on to the God who sees the sparrow fall, hold on to the God who knows my pain. And so I searched for gifts to be thankful for and I repeated Psalm 42:11 over and over as I ran my morning errands.

Quick stop at the church to drop off the groceries for the evening meal and there is my friend, Anne. She gifts me with small succulent plants, children of her succulent garden that I admired, started for me and nurtured for me without my knowing.

Such a small gift, big in its timing. I take it home, put it in my window and the closed up tears fall from the grace of knowing that I am known.

Gifts #15-45 of One Thousand Gifts...

Bird song in the morning.
Hazel eyes and strong arms that surround me.
'My mom is nis' written in chalk on the driveway.
Psalm 42 that speaks to my soul.
Early morning God-meeting after a rough night of sleep.
Circle of women sharing hearts and scripture-truth that heals.
Christ in me, the hope of glory.
Seeing the God-light shining from the face of a friend.
Chives growing taller, lit with sunlight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mommy-bot, v.1.0

Republished from April 2008, because it's one of those days when I have to remind myself that I'm human.

Introducing the newest invention to spring from the genius minds of Silicon Valley, it's Mommy-Bot! This simple microchip, implanted in your head will turn you into the perfect mother. No more yelling at the kids, no more frustration.  With a smile on your face you will be able to manage a surly teenager, a recalcitrant five year old, a tantruming three year old and a newly mobile one year old all at the same time! Oh, the wonders you will be able to perform with the Mommy-Bot chip. No more throwing some seeds in dirt and calling it a science fair project, you have the genius of NASA engineers in your brain and your child's science project will amaze judges far and wide. Each day you will happily whip up (from scratch) three nutritionally balanced meals from the huge database of nutrition information stored on the microchip. No more sighing and rolling your eyes when asked to play Piranha Panic for the 53rd time in two hours, no more saying "Let Daddy build it" when confronted with the 500 piece Lego Star Wars ship that must be built right this instant. You will be master of games, leader of fun, AND able to maintain a sparkling clean house in your spare moments. No more feeling inadequate next to all the other mothers out there, you can hold your head high because you will be The Perfect Mother.

Ah. Wouldn't that be nice? To finally be the mother I always thought I'd be? I was so sure before my son was born that I would do everything right, that I'd never get frustrated with MY child. No matter what he did, I'd be able to handle it with a smile and some gentle discipline. No formula for him, I'd nurse for at least the full first year. I'd rock him peacefully to sleep every night. As he grew older only the healthiest foods would pass his lips, and he'd joyfully eat whatever I served him. I'd be the 'fun' mommy, getting down on the floor and playing games with my children. I'd open up worlds of creativity to them, expand their horizons, and teach them about the world around them. And on and on the list went.

We all have lists. Lists of what we think the perfect mother should be, and what the perfect mother should do. And then reality hits in the form of a human baby, born to an all-too-human mother. I've never managed to be perfect at anything else I do, I don't know why I thought parenting would be the exception. And still I can't stop. I compare myself to the mothers around me. I compare myself to the mothers I interact with online. I compare myself to that impossible model of perfection in my mind.

But it's time to face reality. I'm a human parent, not Mommy-Bot. I have emotions. I WILL get frustrated when trying to dress a tantruming three year old and I will mutter through gritted teeth, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy." And somehow I'll get the clothes on him without breaking an arm in the process.

I will kill the carrot seed that Gates so proudly brought home from school. And weeks later, when he remembers and asks if his carrot is growing yet I will sadly tell him, "Honey, the carrot just didn't make it. Some seeds just don't grow." And then I'll make it up to him by letting him pick out seeds for the most gigantic sunflowers in the seed rack, and I will plant them in our back yard. And hopefully I won't kill them.

I will feed my children pancakes for supper because it's all I can muster the energy to cook. (But if I have ripe bananas I'll smoosh them up and add them to the batter, hey, that's balanced, right?) I will allow Indy to eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every single day. I'll still read labels in the store, I'll still try for good nutrition, but the reality is that some days they are lucky to even have supper on the table at all.

I'll struggle to balance it all: work, kid's playtime, self-care, quiet time, blogging, and cleaning. I'll learn that if you keep the curtains closed and the lights off (and if you squint just right) the house doesn't look so bad. I'll explain to my boys what dust bunnies are, and I'll laugh when Indy spies a piece of fluff under the piano and says "Mommy, Mommy, a bunny ear!"

Sometimes I'll get frustrated with them. Sometimes I'll yell. Sometimes I'll sit them in front of the television because I just can't deal with the constant demands for the moment. Perfect Mommy fell by the wayside a long time ago, now she's just a mask I wear.

Ideals are great, until they become idols. If I were Perfect Mommy I wouldn't need to depend on God's grace to get me through each day. If I were Perfect Mommy I wouldn't be able to relate to all of the other mothers out there who are struggling with the same challenges I face. If I were Perfect Mommy I would fail at the most important task of all, teaching my children how to be human.

To Whom It May Concern: I am returning your Mommy-Bot chip. There is nothing wrong with the functioning, but I don't want it anymore. It was impairing my abilities to be a true mother. I couldn't teach my children how to deal with frustration when I didn't have any myself. I couldn't teach them how to apologize when I never did anything that needed apologizing for. The nutritious meal program failed to take into account that you can lead a child to the table, but you can't make him eat. I need to be human to teach my children things like patience, self-control, and love in the midst of the tantrums. I like myself the way I am, flawed, but growing.


Imperfect Mommy

(P.S. - If you ever come out with a Gardener-Bot chip, I might still be interested in that.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

The bitter bite of wanting

Photo by '28 misguided souls'
It devours me, this incredible, ever voracious beast of WANTING. I could blame it on a thousand things, the Barbie I never got for Christmas, the polyester thrift store clothing of my childhood, the college summer when I ate moldy bread and mashed potatoes made with soured milk because it wasn't pay day yet, the months fresh out on my own before a job when secret friends delivered sacks of groceries. My life is a sketch-book of never quite having the dream, always hovering on the edge of barely enough.

But I have claimed contentment, have BEEN content. I AM content. I have come to terms with thrift stores, I have embraced minimalism in my possessions, I have learned the beauty of simplicity. I have, in fact, chosen this life, stepped away from the rush and the money and the letters after my name and the stress that never ended to embrace all that I have right here in this house.

And yet...and yet...I drive past the large houses, those architectural dreams and I WANT, I WANT. Despite the knowing that I have all the space I need, despite my delight in my quiet street and my little garden, WANT growls like a beast deep inside me.

photo by Martin Heigan
I see the women in their beautiful clothing, sweaters swishing with lovely drape, patterns and color and texture, necklaces and bracelets and scarves placed just so and WANT stares out of my eyes.

My children beg for the latest toy and I know they don't need it, won't play with it for more than a week but I WANT for them a life of more and how can I say which path will free them from being devoured by their own beast of WANT?

I pray for contentment, I pray for WANT to go away and still it lingers, prowling and pouncing when I least expect it. I toss it lattes and chocolate bars, second helpings of dessert to try to pacify it, but still it growls and paces, digging claws into my heart.

I can tell you about the lilies of the field, the sparrows that God cares for. I can point to the thousand times my needs have been met in spite of circumstances. So why do I still struggle so with WANT?

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is what the title on the book reads above a picture of two perfect eggs nested gently, held in grateful hands. I buy a copy because something draws me, something gentler than WANT. Live fully; how do I do that when I am devoured? I begin to read and am drawn in by the story of 'eucharisteo' and learning to give thanks, to reach out and actively receive what God has given us. Gifts in the ordinary moments of life.

I wonder, could this practice, this active acceptance and naming of blessings be the tool to defeat WANT? Would it slink away every time I gave thanks for that perfect pair of jeans found for $4.50 at the thrift store, for the first signs of spring in my garden, for the laughter of my children?

I start to write...

1. Socks knit for me by an almost-stranger, just because she wanted to do it.
2. Hazelnut coffee warm in my cup, made milky with farm fresh cream.
3. Bed-head boy's rooster-tail hair sprouting wildly from his head.
4. One thousand questions from the boy whose wordless years were deep heart-pain.
5. First robin of spring.
6. The rapid in-out breaths of small creatures.
7. Words, beautiful words, strung together in books waiting to be read.
8. Purple.
9. Indoor plants alive in spite of me, a study of green leaves in green ceramic.
10. Sunshine on my floor.
11. Little boy spinning up in the swing and unwind-flying.
12. First day of spring.
13. Sun-warmed arms.
14. Soap bubbles that drift from around the corner of the neighbor's house.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ordinary days

Not everything is all theology and angst here at Simply Rea. Some days we just kick back and eat pizza.

Homemade, of course.

And it doesn't last long enough to get finished pictures when there are two hungry boys in the house.

And then we watch a movie...

...because we've just finished reading the book. And I learn never to ask my children which was better, the book or the movie. My husband confesses that as I read the book to the boys he kept waiting for scenes from the movie to happen. I am married to a man who doesn't like reading.

Fortunately I think I'm changing that with the next generation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rejected Gifts

Republished from April 2008. As I continue to review posts from my old blog to see if they still echo my heart I came across this one. It seems especially timely given a discussion that I had earlier today. I debate with myself on whether or not is is ok to publish it. Will it cause pain to someone I once held dear? I see a painting, heart spread on canvas. It is painted by my friend. I delight that she has found the expression of her own inner voice. I wish that I could know this person she has grown into. And I decide to publish this because we are not the same people today that we were then. I decide to publish this for all the women holding on to our polished masks. I decide to publish this because I realize that I am not blameless either, that far too often I reduce my friends to a label, a demographic, an extension of their external circumstances. I publish this because the two most precious, beautiful and fragile gifts that we can give another are the gifts of trusting them with who we really are and accepting the gift of who they are, with no expectations and no labels.

A number of years ago when I was a recent college graduate I was dirt poor. Not an uncommon state for a recent graduate. I had some close friends who were, to put it mildly, significantly NOT dirt poor. If they wanted it, they bought it.
When Christmas time came they invited me to spend the day with them. This of course raised the dilemma of what to get someone as a gift when you are poor and anything you can afford they already have ten of. And so I did something I had never risked before, I decided to give them something of myself. I found a beautiful little journal for a few dollars and on the inside I wrote a message to them. And then I filled it with my best poetry. I labored over that book, selecting just the right poems, adding inscriptions about what they meant to me. It was a labor of love (and I was not a bad poet).

Christmas Day. They gave me some lovely gifts, things that I could never have afforded to buy on my own. And then I gave them my gift, handing them my heart wrapped in green paper with a gold bow on top. They unwrapped it, looked at the cover and then laid it aside. To the best of my knowledge they never opened it. They never saw that what I was giving them wasn't just paper, it was my heart, it was vulnerability, it was trust. I stopped writing for years.

It took me ten more years and a lot of hurts to realize that our views of friendship were different.They didn't want my heart. They didn't want to know who I really was. They never looked beyond the cover to see the person inside, the person with hopes and dreams of her own. I was a part of their life but sometimes now I wonder if they were ever part of mine.

People will do that. It's inevitable. Offer them your heart, your trust, be vulnerable and some of them will reject it. Some of them will never even dare to crack the cover to see if what is inside is worth reading more about. But this is the important part, the part that I am slowly beginning to learn. It isn't about me, it's about them. They are the ones who lose out on the beauty that each of us carries inside, the poetry that makes up our life. They lose out on our insights, they lose out on being part of watching hopes and dreams blossom and grow in our hearts. And they lose out on what we have to offer to them.

I spent a lot of years after that gift was rejected trying to figure out how to be accepted, how to be the gift that they wanted. I never could be and slowly I began to realize that I didn't want to be. I wanted to be the book of beautiful poetry, not the useful tool. I wanted to stir the heart, not sweep the floors. And the more I asserted myself, the less I saw of them.

Rejection happens. It hurts, but it happens. You will hand someone the vulnerable part of yourself and they will toss it aside unopened, or they will open it and then mock it. Sometimes they will trample it on the ground. This is life.
"And the day came when the risk it took to remain closed in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom."     Anais Nin

I'm learning to risk. I blog not because people read it, but because it's my heart. I let it be silenced all those years ago and now I'm learning to speak again. It isn't easy, it's vulnerable. But it feels good to finally find my voice again.


They buzz in my head. These thoughts, these hopes of what is and is yet to be. Dancing, sharp, sweet and scary. If I open myself, if I live them...if WE live them...what will happen?

Open myself. Let the words and the life flow through me. Let my soul sing with authenticity. Laid bare to the roots, to the essence of who I am, my life crying "Welcome!" Pull up a chair, enter in, I want to know you, I want to be known. Walk with me, break bread, drink deep the wine of community that leaves our shallow selves at the door.

We need.

We need God.

We need each other.

We need life.

Authentic life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ashes, ashes

Republished from February 2009.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

By now most of us know that the delightful little ditty we grew up chanting is really a macabre holdover from the plague times of old. But as I ponder Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season I am reminded again and again of that line

Ash Wednesday, the day of repentance, a day when those who observe it are marked with the visible indication that we ALL fall down. Desolation. Destruction. Surrounded by ash. We sin against our families, our friends, our communities and our God. We fall down, and we lie in ashes on the ground and mourn our failure once again.

Photo by fallingwater123
And then God steps in. He lifts us from the ashes and calls us on a journey, a journey of following in his footsteps. If we rise from the ashes and go on that journey with him he can and will bring something beautiful from our failures.

Ash Wednesday is a day to repent of our sins. But it also marks the beginning of a journey that will lead us to the cross and to the reminder that for EVERY time we fall, for ALL of us who fall provision has been made. Grace has been given.
...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.   Romans 3: 23,24 (NIV)

photo by James Trindade

Thursday, March 3, 2011

After the well

A little something different today, republished from February 2009. I don't usually dabble in fiction, but the story of the Samaritan woman fascinates me. We know so little about her and I wonder what really came before, and what came after. This is my 'what if'...

Painting by Daniel Bonnell

This town is not so large that most people don't know my past. But there are still the newcomers, the younger generation, those passing through who don't know my story, who don't know who I was, or what I was. They see only what I do here in this house; they believe me to have lead a blessed life. If only they knew. I am blessed, but it has not always been so.

Many years have passed and I am old now, old and looking back on my life. I wonder at the changes in it, it seems a different life, a different place, a different me. Yes, there are still people here who know my story. Some who know it and rejoice with me, others who know it but refuse to see past who I was then to who I am today. I suppose I can't blame them, at least some of them. I hurt, and in my pain I hurt others. I hurt them willingly, without caring about the consequences.

Once I believed in love. Once I thought that life would be simple; I woud find a husband, settle down, raise a family. I envisioned my husband coming home, our children running to meet him and being swung high in his loving arms. I believed in beauty; I believed in truth. When I married my first husband I thought that all of my dreams were coming true.

A year passed, then two, then three. As each year passed with no sign of children he became distant. I could see him looking at me, see the accusation in his eyes. I was failing him in my most important task. At the end of the fifth year he divorced me, put me aside like a worn piece of clothing with no use left in it. Part of my heart grew cold that day.

My second husband had no need for sons. A widower with two sons he wanted only a pair of hands to tend them, to cook for them, sew for them, wait on them. It took me only a few months to realize that he bore no love for me, that to him I was a slave, no more than that. Sleeping on the cold floor with the thinnest of blankets to cover me, cowering in fear when the meal was not satisfactory, not ready when he arrived home, a whole list of 'not good enough's'. My heart grew bitter within me. When he and his sons were killed in the attack on a trade caravan as they travelled in our eighth year of marriage I did not weep.

Barren, once divorced, once a widow...the choices were few. My third husband was solely a marriage of convenience, I needed security, he wanted a wife to meet his appetites. Two years later he put me away in favor of a younger wife. Husband four was much the same. I did not wait for him to reject me this time. I had a reputation, no longer the dreamer, no longer the woman who believed in love and family I resolved to take my fate into my own hands. By the time my husband found my replacement I had already found his. We were married for three months before an accident took his life.

Tainted, cursed, unloved. The words swirled around me. I turned to the last resort for a woman who bears the burden of those words. I sold myself, I sold what was left of my soul to whatever man would give me a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head.

That is who I was, until one day I went to draw water from the well. I went at noon, the heat of the day, but the best time to avoid the accusing glances, the whispered comments, the loneliness of being unloved in the midst of a crowd. As I drew close I could see the well was not deserted. A man sat there, clearly a Jew from the look of him. I thought about leaving and coming back later. But the day was hot, and I was tired so I approached the well.

"Will you give me a drink?" He spoke to me! I, the outcast, the cursed one, was being spoken to by a JEW, by a MAN! How could he ask such a thing? He did not know my position, didn't know my past, but I was a Samaritan and a woman, that alone should earn his disdain.

But wait, he continued to speak to me, words I did not understand. He spoke of living water, of the gift of God, of never being thirsty again, of eternal life. In my heart a dream long buried began to stir, a dream of being filled with love, a dream of beauty, a dream of truth. Never come back to draw water? Never bear accusing glares again? Something within me called out to be filled.

"Go, call your husband and come back." Dreams crashed and died. He would turn in disgust; this water was not for me.

"I have no husband," I replied.

And then he looked at me. Not with accusation, not with condemnation or scorn. He just looked at me and in his eyes I saw something. I saw a hint of compassion, I saw a reflection of my dream. "You are right," he said. "You have no husband; in fact you have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband."

A prophet! A prophet who could see my darkest secrets, see the bitterness, the hurt, the anger. A mind fumbled for a question and a voice not my own babbled about questions of the proper place to worship. Was I an idiot? What kind of question was THAT? But he answered it. Still looking at me, still meeting my eyes, still reflecting my dreams he answered me. Not understanding, trying to escape I fumbled for a response, the easiest out I could think of. "When the Messiah comes he will explain everything." That should have ended it.

One final look, deep into my soul and for the first time in years I saw love looking at me. "I who speak to you am he."

"I who speak to you am he." I had broken his laws, I had lived a life worthy of scorn and he said nothing about it. Simply, "I who speak to you am he." Tears began to fall down my face as I felt the broken parts of me beginning to mend. In his eyes I saw that my dream was not dead; that love, that beauty, that truth still existed. Even more, that they could still exist for me.

I left my jar and I ran back to town. Into the knots of women who had scorned me, past the stall of men who had used me. "Come!" I pleaded. "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" I do not know why so many believed me. Some have told me it was the glow of joy on my face, a glow where there had only been bitterness and aloofness. Some have said it was the sudden passion with which I approached them, approached those who had scorned me and looked at them as if they had never hurt me. I do not know. But they followed. One by one and then group by group they came and for two days he taught us. He taught us of his coming kingdom, he taught us of love, of forgiveness, of healing the brokenhearted.

I left the man I had been living with. Some of the new believers provided me with this small house I live in still. They provide me with what I need to get by and they provide me with what I need to fulfill my dreams. It is because of them, and because of the one called Jesus that I sit here today, here in this house called Tikva, which means simply "Hope". It is here that I spread the hope that he gave me to those who need it. They find me, they always find me. The abandoned, the ill, the abused, the ones whose dreams have died. They find me and I give them shelter for as long as they need it. I give them shelter and I tell them everything I ever did, and everything Messiah did for me.

After the well nothing has been the same. I still go there every day for water, sometimes alone, sometimes with others who have lost their hope. And each day that I draw water I can feel the spring welling up inside of me, a spring of love flowing through my days into eternal life.

Spring thing

For months the ground has looked like this; snow covered, rabbit trails tracing a picture across the landscape between snowfalls. Ice. Cold. Barren.

And now we enter the season of in-between. Of 10 degrees and windy switching places with 34 and sunny on a daily basis. Weather that can't make up its mind. Hope of warmth dashed with random snowfalls. Promise of mud to come.

It is SO hard to wait. Knowing that spring will come, the trees will bud, the flowers will bloom but not certain just how long that day will be in coming. How long we'll have to deal with the endless ritual of gloves and snowpants and coats and hats. Ten minutes added to the morning routine.

Spring will come and I am living with that hope, buying my seeds, plotting my garden layout, readying the starting trays for the right moment.

As much as I hate dislike winter, would I really want to do without this season of anxious anticipation? Would I appreciate spring, really live it if there were never a winter? Would the warmth of the sun satisfy me if I never felt cold?

It's supposed to snow again this weekend. I'm staring at my seeds and living into the promise of spring.