Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Turning pages

Photo by 1Sock via Flickr
I want this life to be neat and tidy
A book with all of its chapters written
So I can skip ahead to see the resolution
(Because I am impatient like that sometimes.)
Even a table of contents
Would be helpful,
With titles clearly showing
The trajectory of the tale.
I don’t always like this reading along
The plodding narrative that builds up
And yet, habitual peeper at pages that I am,
There is a loss of some indefinable delight,
The endless possibility of all that just might be,
When I'm reading towards an end already known.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

All that I thought I wanted

 I'm digging back through some of my older posts from my first blog. Posts that somehow never quite got published over here for reasons that probably have more to do with laziness than anything. So if you're wondering why I'm planting tomatoes in the Midwest in November, I promise I'm not that crazy! This one seemed appropriate to the season and to the things that are going on in my life right now. Sometimes it is so easy to see what we lack that we hold on to what we have with all our might, completely missing the blessings that come when we are willing to let go and rejoice in plenty or in little.

Photo by Emma Brabrook via Flickr

Today I drove out to the garden center to buy some more tomato plants to replace the ones that are already failing in my garden. (Doomed, I tell you, they are all doomed!) I got the last, lonely little 4-pack. Their sorry dried-out state and exposed roots don't give me much hope for their longevity in my garden.

In order to get to the garden center I have to drive past one of the elite subdivisions. You know the kind, five story homes, sweeping lawns, 4 car garages; the embodiment of the American dream. And I will tell you that some days it is hard, driving past these perfect exteriors, to not feel a pang of envy, to hear a small voice whispering "Isn't that what you wanted? And you're never going to get it."

For years that was everything that I dreamed of, all that I thought I wanted. I grew up solidly in the lower middle-class income bracket and we weren't so poor that I ever lacked for food or the necessities, but there were rarely any extras. In an era before hipsters made vintage and thrift coolly ironic, my clothes were almost all thrift-shop and yard-sale bargains. In the era of Jordache jeans, I was wearing orange polyester and praying at every yard sale to see that coveted horse head on an item of clothing. I was consumed with the desire to have something that declared "I fit in, I am one of you." The memory of the first and only time I begged, really begged for a piece of clothing is still etched in my mind. It was the most beautiful shirt I had ever seen, pale flowers, three-quarter length rolled sleeves and I wanted it desperately. It cost twenty dollars. To my mother, no piece of clothing was worth that much. To me, it was the embodiment of a longing to express my individuality, to make my own choice about something. I won the battle, surprisingly enough, with my mother muttering that I wouldn't get my money's worth out of it. I wore it for ten years, long after the colors had faded, just to prove her wrong.

And so I dreamed of the day I would be somebody. Of the day that I could buy any shirt, any dress I wanted without questioning the cost. (Granted, designers like Gucci and Armani didn't figure into that desire, even then I didn't desire $10,000 outfits.) I dreamed of the house I would have, the rooms I would fill with furniture, the American Dream I would live. (Oddly enough, the American Dream looked an awful lot like the JC Penney Christmas catalog.) This was the pinnacle achievement in life, to fit in and to be seen as a 'have', not as a 'have not.'

But life doesn't always follow the plans we set for it, for which I am grateful because I have a suspicion that dream would have turned me into someone quite insufferable. Instead, I fell in love. I fell in love with a social worker and never mind that his income was never going to bring me even close to that dream. (Pardon me while the memories make me a little mushy. It is totally his fault I almost failed macro-economics; how's a girl supposed to concentrate on economic formulas when she keeps daydreaming about a certain crooked smile and hazel eyes?)

Here's what I know now, though. I've realized over the years that those dreams were never really what I wanted. I would not trade a thousand big houses for our first year in the attic apartment, on the hand me down bed that sent us both rolling towards the center. I wouldn't trade all the sweeping lawns for the basement apartment we lived in next, with the centipedes that fell from the ceiling. (Well, ok, I would trade the centipedes.) But that was the apartment we brought our oldest home to, that was where he learned to crawl and to walk, that was where the memories of his first smiles are captured. I wouldn't trade the four car garages for the house we lived in for six months before moving to South Dakota, or the months we spent in our in-law's basement, or the apartment we brought our second child home to.

It took me a long time to learn, but contentment doesn't lie in all that I thought I wanted. Contentment lies in my heart, in rejoicing in whatever my circumstances are. Contentment lies in knowing that I don't need all of that stuff to be somebody, that I'm loved as I am by my husband, my children, my friends, and most of all, my Creator. And yes, contentment even lies in scouring the thrift stores for something to wear, as long as it isn't orange polyester pants.

The flash of envy dies quickly as I drive past those huge houses. My house is alive with love and laughter. It's taking a beating from two small boys, but those dings in the wall are part of our lives. The shingles may be peeling but it's a roof and we are blessed to live in all of the richness and the mess and the goodness that lies under it. Life is good, and I know that I have everything I ever really wanted.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Widow's mites

Two was everything
But that’s what she gave.
When the bare table and the empty chair across the room
Still murmured of loss and of need
Two small coins held loosely were her gratitude.
While the proud postured nearby
Clanking coins and counting balances
Eyes narrowed to the focus of the number
She opened her eyes wide to joy
And gave lavishly a gift not measured by worth.
While those who must account in lined up columns,
Saw less about the story of the blessing
She saw more than the balance that was left,
And poured out all in thanks.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Stage Fright - A play in five acts and an epilogue

Photo by Simon Scott via Flickr

I’m in fourth grade when my teacher says we need to participate in the solo and ensemble contest and my classmates laugh at me because I want to sing a solo. I know there’s music in my soul, but my timid voice won’t carry the breath that lets the notes soar true out of my mouth. So I sing with an octet instead, and I stand on the end harmonizing to Michael Row the Boat Ashore just hoping that my voice doesn’t swamp the boat. I don’t bring up that singing notion again.


Eighth grade and the music is still pressing against my teeth, begging to be let out. Six years of piano lessons and countless recital pieces but it’s my voice that begs to be heard. So I audition for the school musical and I tell the teacher I don’t think that was my best shot, because the nerves get to me and my voice wavers and in my heart I know I can do this. And I am either very convincing or he gives me another try...the details fade with time but I do remember the stage and the microphone and the first few bars of my solo soaring out in the darkened auditorium.


It’s the end of my sophomore year; I audition for the school’s concert choir. I don’t make it. I go to music camp that summer and in the fall I audition again and I am in. I don’t know what drives me to keep pushing at this thing. At Christmastime I sing “I wonder as I wander…” clear and strong but there’s that ONE note that always trips me up and I start to dread it, start to falter for the fear of it. And on performance night a choir mate tells me that my solo almost sounded good that night. Her cattiness sits like a splinter in my heart, and even though I sing Handel for contests and receive good marks, that sharp doubt never leaves again. (And dare I tell of the moment I’m oh so not proud of at the Junior Senior banquet, she with her out of town date and her handmade dress when I tell her she almost looks pretty that night. When revenge tastes sweet for two seconds until I realize the bitter bite it masks and that really I haven’t won anything.)


I audition for my college Chamber Choir because what else can I do but try? I am shocked when I make it in, and spend the next several years convinced that it was a mistake, that this director so highly talented and respected confused my voice with that of the girl next to me. Some days I am the only alto in rehearsal. On those days my voice fails me and I can’t sing for the nerves and the certainty that I don’t belong with these people who are music majors and minors and plotting their professional careers. I can almost hear the collective eye roll coming from the other choir members. After two years I drop out. I don’t let anyone hear my voice again. But years later, when the surgery for the maybe-cancer takes it from me for a time, I cry.


I have a deeper-down dream than singing. A dream that I’ve held so close I’m scared to tell it for fear of the eye rolls and the ‘who does she think she is’ that wants to put me in my place. One failure, one silly third grade contest where I put my dreams on the line and poured my heart onto paper was enough to bury it down in the dark where the fear of not being enough grows roots and tangles hope. Sometimes it is the things we want the most that scare us numb with the fear of hitting the wrong notes, of it not being beautiful.


Fear steals our voice, stands on the stage and tells us to go trembling back to the shadows behind the curtains. It steals our successes and says that the voices telling us to jump only want to see us fall. It hushes the Spirit, slapping down the tally sheet of flaws and reminding us of every failure so carefully inscribed. Fear lies, and if you brush aside the tally sheet and look for hope you find the Spirit waiting. Telling you to sing, write, paint, dance, and create with all your heart and to be filled with joy in the doing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Today, set aside all of the things that demand attention and live. Just for a moment, walk in the snow and the sun and the soft babbling of the ducks on the pond and just be here.

Smile like a crazy woman at the wonder of it all and smile some more because I'm smiling, really smiling and it's been too long.

Forget about the housekeeping that is never done enough anyway and the work that will be there later. Stand in the cathedral of water and snow and leaves and listen for the whisper that says grace is here, always here, even when we miss it.

Today there is sun, and no promise that it will be here forever. The last leaves will fall. Harsher snows will come. The skies will get dark. But today there is the sun and the snow and maybe that is enough.