Monday, August 29, 2011

when we're fed

it was early morning, the sun just up and the children still down.  i stood holding a jug of blue over the thirst-droopy flowers on my deck.  they gulped greedily and the blue dribbled right through their pot's bottom. like children and ice cream cones - nothing to do but watch it all drip dirty and down. enjoy the moment and worry later about the mess.

miracle grow. that's the blue stuff in plastic jug and that's the trick. over my years of gardening i've had friends ask me the secret to vibrant plants, full containers and colorful blooms. like i had some kind of special sparkly green thumb growing off the end of my hand.   like there was some kind of spell i chanted each twilight to petunias and zinnias and sweet potato vine. the truth is, there's no magic formula or mystical song, the flowers, like us, just need to be fed. 

i guess the name, miracle grow, is misleading.  there is nothing miraculous about it.  plants grow when plants are fed. it is that easy. the secret ingredient is food -- simply food.  if a gardener wants to see growth and color and fullness, she must be willing to feed her flowers.  though the blue stuff costs slightly more than sunshine and rain, it is easily available at wal-mart or the grocery store and has a shelf life of forever.  it is not a particularly sophisticated concoction, it just needs to be done.   

it takes time and it takes some remembering. it takes lugging around a gallon jug full of sloshing blue once in a while. it is not as easy or fast as picking up the hose and spraying everything down in a mad dash. it is deliberate and slow. but it works. i guess it depends on what you want. most of us can keep a plant or two alive with an occasional spray our squirt of water. flowers are usually tenacious enough to last a season of mild neglect. but if we want those incredible containers spilling over with life and bloom, we have to invest more. that's all there is to it.

and isn't this life? isn't this exactly our spiritual life? most of us wish and want for a deeper, brighter, bolder color to our walk with Christ. we typically have plenty of desire, but fall short when it comes to the daily grind of dedication.  i know, i am one of those who fall short.  i fail miserably. i am so often satisfied with a quick few minutes here or there - dash off a devotion. pray a quick prayer. journal a thought or two and out the door i go... on to the next pressing, pushing, fast-paced thing.

i love those little devotionals in the grocery store check out line which promise deep spiritual renewal in five minutes or less. can anything be deep and renewed in less than five minutes? i'm thinking no.  i'm thinking even my hair conditioner needs more time.  i'm thinking we need food. real food. real feeding. i had someone once give me a "carpool line devotional." really? carpool line? i spend a lot of time in them, but i'm not thinking it the ideal spot for going deep with Jesus. i mean i can apply my lipstick and pick at a hangnail...i can organize my receipts or update my calendar...but do i really want to cram God into these 3 or 4 minutes with my foot on the break and my eyes on pedestrians.   isn't He worth more of me, than my wait time and my leftover minutes?

i am not for one second suggesting we can't meet God in carpool lines. don't get me wrong, there's no need for a cathedral or a clean face. God meets us everywhere. anywhere - even in the carpool line.  but, if we honestly want a deeper relationship with Him, we need to find the time to be fully fed. truly fed. not just quickly sprayed in our SUVs and mini-vans with some succinct and snappy and feel-good thoughts.

even Jesus, perfect and holy, knew He needed to take the time.  even Jesus, sinless and spotless, went up on the mountain or out on the water or off to the desert.  even the very son of God got up early to find His father.

"very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house
and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed. " ~ mark 1:35

it isn't always easy.  feeding my soul is a lot like feeding my children.   i know i need to do it and i truly want to.  in fact,  i really like cooking.  but come 3pm, most days, i am not sure what's for dinner.  i am busy and distracted and doing something else always and it feels often like one more thing.  i forget the sustenance. i forget, even, the pleasure.  it is then that i have to lay down what keeps me spinning and let go of what keeps me ticking. i have to train myself to back away from my busy-ness, or there's no dinner on the table and we all go hungry. in fact, we starve.  it is that simple. not easy,  but simple.  like that jug of blue miracle grow -  no miracle needed, just taking the time.

"the time a Christian gives to prayer and fellowship with 
God is not meant for his carnal or natural life, 
but to nourish the life of Jesus in him."  ~ oswald chambers

but whoever drinks the water i give him will never thirst.  
indeed, the water I give him will become in him a 
spring of water welling up to eternal life."  ~ john 4:14

Friday, August 26, 2011


i had every intention of doing something grand with it -- at the very least something pleasant or pretty.  we have this side section of yard which has been left unattended since we moved in almost 5 years ago.  it is on the far side of the house, so it wasn't hard to ignore.  not to mention there have been plenty of other things to keep us busy in our home needing everything. but all along i've had plans. i've thought about a shade garden or stepping stones or an ivy planted path.  i've, at the very least, considered fresh pinestraw and a few shrubs.  something better than the unkept portion of yard that it is hidden from our view.  every so often i would walk over to it and kind of stand and stare.  wondering when there'd be time and money to address its pitiful state. wondering if the neighbors minded our neglect.

but my boys got to it first.  last night, while out watering, i turned the corner and found remnants of ramps and mud and a whole lot of mess.  i didn't have to wonder who had done this.  my boys abandon pieces and parts of themselves wherever they happen to wander. they leave evidence. they had clearly been in this side yard and they had built themselves a "mudding place."  surprisingly, i don't happen to know a whole lot about mudding places, but i guess this is where you (if you are 8 or 13 or male) clear the ground of debris, soak it with the hose, and then ride your bike or ATV through it a thousand times until the spot looks like chocolate pudding.  it did. the secondary goal is kicking up as much mud as is humanly possible. but the main goal, the primary goal, the ultimate goal is covering your boy body with this mud. much mud. so much mud.

i am proud to tell you my boys were tremendously successful in their mudding.  i saw evidence of it on their bikes and shoes and laundry the day before and had wondered about the tire tracks in the garage. i wondered about the pile of clothes dropped before the washing machine.  now i knew.  my side yard was a mud pit with a couple of ramps and not sprig of ivy anywhere to be found. no ivy, nothing green. just brown.

as parents we give up some things, don't we? i learned years ago i'd be required to give up pristine and picturesque.  i mean i could kill myself trying, but it wouldn't be worth it.  i want my kids to value where we live and how we live.  i want them to have a sense of pride, a sense of doing things well - doing them right.  i want them to be civil and clean cut and tidy enough -- picking up after themselves and leaving things better than they found them.  i want that. i'm even fairly certain this kind of training is in my job description. but i know it's a process.  and in the process we have to live and breathe and be muddy. sometimes really muddy.

and we might have to give up continuously clean floors or uninterrupted sleep or showcase garages.  but we get a whole lot more than we give up. since entering into motherhood 15 years ago, i have had to let a few things go.  i've had to uncurl my fingers from some stuff.  stuff i was holding too tightly anyway.  it is good for us to let go every now and then.  i have found, it can lighten the load. 

someday i will have a delightful side yard full with stepping stones and ivy and maybe even a stone bench.  it is not time, however, for that stone bench.  if i was to place it in the yard today it would only become part of a ramping system.  my boys and their friends would be jumping their various vehicles off of it's quaint stone seat in a heartbeat -- because that's what they do. they do this with bunk beds and bean bags and couches.  we, just this summer, replaced tyler's futon because of jumping teenage boys. i stood in the line of ikea and wondered, "why in the world are we replacing this?"  it could very well be broken again by next summer.  next week. mother sigh. 

we bought a trampoline years ago (best purchase ever, by the way) thinking that would help.  it does -- a little.  but it is not nearly enough.  jumping is who they are and how they relate. they jump and they get muddy. and with this comes breaking things and tracking in things. and i love it.  not all of it.   not everyday.  but, for the most part, i love being the mother of two boys, jumping and muddy and all.

and this neat-freak mother will stand at her kitchen window or walk down to her side yard and she will watch.  she may not necessarily want to join in, but she will watch her boys.  she will watch them in their glory and in their guts and even in their gross.  and she will think this is now.  and it is good.  because someday they will be clean and gone and there will be ivy and a stone bench in their place. but this is now. beautiful and muddy and now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

lesser things

we were crossing out to the ocean, my little one and me.  it was our first day to the beach, and the sea would be wild and wonderful and completely brand new for him. this young mother couldn’t wait to carry small son to a place filled with her favorites. she couldn’t wait to show him the width of water and the expanse of shore. she couldn’t wait for him to put toes in sand and squeal in air and joy in heart.
it was all just ahead of us, up the stairs and across the boardwalk. and we were almost there, when toddler boy in blue fish bathing suit stopped at a small puddle. stopped and stood and plopped. right there in puddle, pleased and asking, “water, mama? beach?” i laughed out loud at my funny son sitting on the edge of last night’s leftover rain. little boy ready to pull out his truck and his shovel, ready to play big in something so small. “no, silly boy, that is not the beach, only a puddle.” and i took hold of his chubby hand, wanting to press on to grand ocean. but my son resisted. he was not ready to leave this place behind in search of something better. he felt it might be enough. he imagined it could be the answer to our packed bags and our morning preparations. he was happy to make much of this nothing. this puddle. this lesser thing.

that little boy is well on his way to grown now. he hasn’t worn a blue fish bathing suit in quite some time, and, thankfully, he no longer sits in puddles. but, oh how i relate to this small son in his small puddle years ago. i am struck with how often i, too, accept puddles in place of oceans. how often i take the lesser things of life thinking they are enough - even everything. my memory is strewn with settling moments. times when i grasped at the earthly stuff of now, forgetting to look bigger, to look beyond the boardwalk. “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (colossians 3:2). i desire the above-things and yet, so often find myself pausing at puddles and plopping down in their smallness. i accept the tiny tidbits and leftovers of life instead of the grand treasure God has in store, already waiting. 

many days i feel just like an israelite. i understand their wringing hands and wandering feet as they waited for moses to come down off the mountain. i kind of get their panic and impatience. if i was walking in their dusty sandals, would i have remembered God’s goodness and grandeur in the pressing heat of present desert, of the right now? i am sure i could easily have been a woman willing to throw in her gold bangles and silver hoops to the creation of calf. golden, golden worthless calf. i’m afraid i’d probably be right there with them dancing and wishing and hoping in something low. something less. trying to make much from something small, something base. moses was up on the mountain meeting with the very glory of God. He was in the presence of pure holiness, and yet those short-sighted israelites, who couldn’t look up, threw their trinkets into a black pot and called it good, and hoped it great. but it wasn’t. it couldn’t be. they stirred and whirled and crossed their fingers in desperate wishing because they had forgotten how big their God truly was. instead, they traded Him for nothing more than a puddle of melted bracelets turned calf. “they had forgot what He had done, the wonders He had shown them.” (psalm 78:11). we settle for puddles and baby cows because we are forgetters. israelites or not. 

this past summer, i walked our fifth toddler down to the ocean’s edge. bella took her first steps on the beach. i was just as eager to show her, as i was her older brother years ago.  this wee girl, abandoned at birth because of a sick heart, is evidence of God’s miraculous ways, His big plan -- rescued. healed. restored. now home. she is just as tiny as that boy in the blue fish bathing suit and she, too, is prone to stop at puddles. but this mother is older, seasoned, even slightly scarred. she has seen God’s glory and grandeur.  she has seen His goodness in the blessing and in the hard. she has glimpsed God beyond the boardwalk. and she doesn’t want to forget it is everything.

and i take hold of small hand and whisper in small ear a message for us both, “let’s keep going, bella. there is a grand ocean waiting.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

getting messy

i'll admit, i like things neat.  i'm not over the top about it -- at least i don't think i am.  don't ask my children - they'll only be tempted to lie.  but i like order and organization. i have a thing for clean and tidy. i like a place for everything and everything in its place.  the truth is, i just like to be able to find things.  

in my house growing up, we were always searching for tape and scissors.  it seemed we spent much of the 70's hunting for these two basic, desk drawer items. i am not sure our family ever wrapped a birthday gift which didn't first require a half-crazed goose chase for supplies. my mother always used a sharp steak knife to cut her wrapping paper.  not that many years ago, she told me it was because she preferred this method.  all along i had just assumed it was because she couldn't find the scissors.  i suppose this is a chicken or egg kind of thing.

it won't surprise you to know that i have a ridiculous amount of tape and scissors stashed in my own home today. you'll find them scattered generously throughout each room.  i have never counted, but am pretty sure i could easily tally up at least 25 pair of scissors and 10 rolls of tape on any given day. disturbing, i know.  and what's more, i have to squash the urge to buy an additional roll or pair every time i pass the office product aisle at the grocery store or target.  i even have scissors marked for special things.  one pair has a tag declaring "material only."  does that seem too direct?  too inflexible?  i am hoping so.  anyone who works with fabric or ribbon knows once scissors are subjected to paper or wood or skin (yes, skin), they'll never cut well again.  

i can't say anyone else in my house, though, is especially sensitive to this sharp issue.  just this morning i found my "material only" scissors on the garage workbench with a telltale piece of black, duct tape stuck to the pristine pointed blade -- without a doubt, the work of my oldest son. total disregard for his mother's one simple request.  apparently he couldn't find the "duct tape only" scissors. 

so i've always kind of had these issues with neatness.  and then God gave us five children.  funny, huh? with the addition of each child i have watched my idol of order and cleanliness crumble. i mean it, crumble. crash.  shatter. implode.  i realized after about the third child, i would need to relinquish some of this control or i'd pretty much end up a lunatic hoarding scissors and tape and chasing behind children with paper towels and cleaning agents.  out of necessity, and for the sake of sanity, i decided to bend a little. 

Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is 
like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing. ~ phyllis diller

but there are times though when i want to corral all five of them in a room for a bit, just so i can clear off the counters. just so i can stare dreamily at those clean counters for five, lovely, uninterrupted minutes and not see cups and saucers and glue sticks and weaponry begin its multiplication process.   it is not uncommon for me to finish the dishes, hang the towel over empty sink,  put noodles away in the pantry and come back to the sink only to find 17 dirty items have appeared.  the dirt in my house is like rabbits. dishes too -- like rabbits.

but what's the big deal about making a mess? life is messy.  if it isn't, i'd have to imagine it kind of boring.  it is in the times i have chosen to get my hands really dirty that i have felt the pulse of real living.  a few years ago my daughter, emily, and i went to st. louis on a missions trip.  we spent a week working with children in the inner city -- setting up programs and playing games and pushing them on swings.  our time was hot and loud and sticky.  many of these kids were starved for smiles and arms and affection.  they curled up on our laps and clung to our necks without reservation.  

one night we brought out bubbles and balloons and face paint. all of it was enjoyed, but the face paint, well, it just took the cake!  little girl after little girl wanted us to draw butterflies and rainbows across her arm or cheek or leg.  we painted balloons and smiley faces and kitty cats of every color.  suddenly though, one percocious child decided to turn the game around and draw on us.  she thought it would be fun to color our faces and arms.  it only took one spunky girl, named elizabeth, to start this circus rolling, and before we knew it, we were green.  i mean it, green.

and that night as we climbed into our church vans and drove back across town, the face paint began to dry and crack.  we all began to itch and sweat under its smear.   but we laughed looking at each other's faces.  our painted facials glowing in the dashboard light. the whites of our eyes were brilliant and our lips looked like something from a saturday morning cartoon.  we were all so altered.  and that is it --  we were altered.  driving home that night, after the laughter ended and the quiet began, i felt the tears slowly roll down my green cheeks.  tear after tear came, thinking about the precious children we had left behind. those children who also became teary-eyed every evening when it was time for us to pull away. some of them so small. some of them returning to problems so big. my own tears streaming color down my cheeks softened the cracked surface of paint on my face -- green tears softening the cracked surface of my heart.   

sometimes you have to get messy to make something beautiful.

"an immaculate house is a sign of a wasted life." 
(well, sort of).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


“The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  ~ Isaiah 58:11

Summer evening, and I stand garden hose in hand, splashing at thirsty patches on our browning, southern lawn. The steady stream, in summer-dusk, eases the day’s tension and tryings from my mother-heavy shoulders, from the sun scorched places of busy life. “We were too much today,” I whisper low.  Flowers tip open, full-wet in their sipping and swallow. Woman swallows too, and breathes... perhaps for the first time in her day....

                  to read the rest of this post please visit me today at  {in}courage.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

what if - a note for those who have encouraged...

"write a book," you've said.  "get published," you've urged.  "you can do it!" you've cheered.
"not now," i've replied.  too busy.too hard.too fearful.too much.
but in the back of my the corners of my heart...i have wondered too.  what if. 
what if i just begin to send things off and see what happens.  
folding t-shirts and braiding hair and sweeping dirt...i've wondered.
what if.
it won't hurt to try - or so they say. but i know trying is not without some pain.
i don't have to tell a soul.  but i will.  because i am like that and can't help myself.
but still...maybe
just maybe someone will read something i write.
i never intended it so.  not at first.
i've written almost since i could walk.  always for myself.  
but lately God has given me stories to tell.  
a journey.  a road.  a mountain. some hardship. much joy.
"share."  He says.  and i do.  
always wondering if it is too much.  i cross lines and ignore boundaries and step hard on toes.  
but maybe.
just maybe.
and so i thought of this wonderful website i have been linked with for about a year now.  (in)  a division of hallmark-dayspring.  it is a website for women; our issues, our triumphs, our tests.  it features several leading writers and speakers regularly. women i admire.  women i read.   there seems always to be something good - some kind of treasure or tidbit.  

a few weeks ago, i looked up their submission policy, and before i could think twice, i submitted something small.  
how surprised i was to open my email a week later and see their response. "we'd like to use your piece on our site." a guest writer well, okay then.  that's good.  i guess this is my first "yes."  i am not sure about future yesses...but i will celebrate this one.  because life is like yes at a time.  one no at a time.  one moment at a time.
tomorrow it will be published.   i will post a link  to the site.  it is small.  tiny.  just a scared toe testing murky waters.  
but maybe...

Monday, August 15, 2011

something new

there has never been a first day of school that i haven't been excited about.  i mean it.  i am kind of nerdy that way.  i can remember the jitters and butterflies and eagerness of my elementary years like it was yesterday - lunch boxes, sharpened pencils, a clean book bag and maybe even a new hairstyle.  i remember high school - the amount of time it took selecting exactly what i would wear on the occasion of this all important day...the ridiculous amounts of time applying eyeliner and lipgloss.  lying in bed on the last night of summer, my head too full of thoughts and hopes, my stomach too full of nerves.  even as a small child i understood fresh starts and fell in love with the idea of new beginnings.

as a high school teacher, it was much the same.  how amazed i was to find that even the teacher got a good case of the butterflies.  even the teacher would lie in bed the night before restless with excitement.   i tried to pretend i was cool.  but i never was.  i couldn't wait to see the 120 different students who would saunter into my classroom.  period after period they came.  some strangely suave and sophisticated, but most awkward and gangly and unsure.  and i loved them all - at least for a while... at least on the first day of school.  i wanted to take each student by the shoulders, look them hard in the eyes and conjure up for them the wild adventure of this new school year.  of course i would have been fired by 5th period if i had actually carried out this plan.  so i refrained from any shoulder grabbing and did my best to grab their attention (safely) from the front of the room, reading or handing out quotes...
"twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  so throw off the bowlines.  sail away from the harbor.  catch the trade winds in your sails.  
explore. dream. discover." ~ mark twain
we were off on an adventure together.  we were beginning anew.  what came before was gone.  it didn't matter what the report card said back in june, we were starting fresh in august.  clean blackboard. clean kids. clean slate.

motherhood has brought just as much enthusiasm for the first day of school.   one by one, i have watched my children traipse off into the world of academics.  four of the five are now fully engaged in education.  over the years i have shared their excitement on the eve of a first day -  shared the fears and flutters too.  of course motherhood has also brought some of the back to school bittersweet -  it always does.  first day of kindergarten.  first day of high school.  that kind of thing.  always wondering how can it be? how did this happen?  year after year i have watched them leave their summers behind.  i have watched them trade bare feet for tennis shoes and bathing suits for uniforms.  i photograph their faces in attempt to capture them ...memorize them...pause them.

this year, i rolled into town at midnight.  my children already soundly sleeping.  i missed the last minute preparations for school's first day - leaving all of that to the capable hands of my husband.  bella and i had traveled to ohio for my mother's 70th birthday.  but even at that midnight hour, i climbed into bed and lay their with building excitement for the next day. my children would begin something new.  our family had never before had this combination of 10th grader-8th grader-6th grader-3rd grader-and one still at home.  this was a new year.  a new beginning for us, for our family.   and as i pondered the wonder of it all...(yes, pondered), i was struck with how this new school year brought even more cause for celebration.

we had ended last year at such a different place.  a hard place.  their final week of school was marked with my surgery.  that week was a blur for all of us.  by the time the year actually ended, we were all numb and worn out and just plain thankful it was over.  our family barely crawled to the finish line.  lockers and desks were emptied and backpacks came home and heaved into closets.  everything put away.  everything shrugged off.  the children had a mother in pain and a lot of questions and fears and we were desperate for summer,  hungry for healing.  we all wanted to move on and away from our madness of may.

but we did.  we moved on.  though we seemed to limp out of the last month, june and july brought good news and strength and hope and health.  and this august we begin strong.  again.  we begin ready for adventure.  arms open to the wild ride of right now.  i walked my children into their classrooms this morning,  pushing bella in a stroller and snapping pictures.  and at goodbye i wrapped my healing body around each one of them whispering words of encouragement.  it was normal.  we felt new.  and we were starting over.  Lord, will you allow us to live in the present?  will you help us not forget the blessing of beginnings? will you keep us thankful for fresh?  humble? close to your heart?  everything new.  how easy it could be to just go through the motions, but i want to remember.  i want to take my five children by their shoulders and conjure up the wild adventure of the right now, of this very moment.

so summer is over.  it will not be a season quickly forgotten.  all of us are a little changed.  a little taller.  a little wiser.  a little rested.  a little sun burnt.  a little excited. a little altered. 

and all of us, a little ready...for something new.

"for I am about to do something new.  see, I have already begun! 
 do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness. 
 I will create rivers in the dry wasteland."  ~ isaiah 43:19

Saturday, August 13, 2011

when we return home

somehow i managed to escape atlanta this weekend with only one child in tow.  bella and i shared a suitcase and traveled lightly to my parents house in ohio.   i finagled the leaving of four others at home with their father, four days before the start of school.  tomorrow night, on the eve of their first day, tiny girl and i will roll back into our home.  just barely making it in time to rouse a few summer-spent children to their uniforms and backpacks and brand new school year.  which as i write tonight from ohio, i can only hope we are ready for. 
the timing wasn’t ideal.  sitting 700 miles away, i am wondering mightily what we have forgotten to do.  i know there will be something.  i have left my children’s last minute summer reading and last minute school preparations in the hands of my husband. he is the best.  i mean, truly, he can handle every bit of this kind of weekend. he doesn’t flinch.  but still... it is not a weekend for the faint of heart.  there is always some last minute something in need of attending.  this is how it works in real life.  at least this is how it works in our life.
but it's my mom's birthday.  her 70th birthday.  she doesn’t know it quite yet, but tomorrow several of us will gather to celebrate this celebrate her.  inconceivable as it is. how can i have a mother turning 70? she certainly doesn’t look it.  it seems only yesterday when she turned the corner into the backyard surprise of her 40th party.  i was 12 and it was the grandest event ever. my mother was 40 and beautiful and we all stood around in backyard grass, sipping soft drinks and asking how could it be possible?  and now she is 70 and we ask again. surely not, and heads shake.  
honestly, tonight i don’t have one theme or thread to weave this piece of writing tightly together.  only a sense of overwhelmed.  coming home will do that to a girl.  milestone birthdays and summer’s end will also do least to this girl. 
i am writing tonight from the summer porch bedroom of my parent’s house.  it was not my bedroom growing up.  but it feels like home.  bella and i are sleeping in a white iron bed piled high with amish quilts.  the ceiling is sloped and the wooden floor creaks with even the smallest step.  painted furniture and wicker and windows surround us. mother and daughter tucked under the eaves of this 100 year old house - a fairytale room for summer sleeping.  this is bella’s first trip to ohio.  her first trip with me back to a place i will always belong.  a place which holds my heart. 
my parents no longer live in my childhood home.  but even this downsized house is filled with memories and things from my past.  just this morning i needed a cotton ball and my mom pulled out a glass jar.  the same jar i have been taking cotton balls from since i was a little girl.  the rattle of glass lid sounded the same.  i can remember how careful i was when removing it as a child not much older than bella. there have been so many years between me and that glass jar full of cotton.  so many memories.  so much has happened.  so much changed. 
my own girlish bedroom is gone.  some other family now occupies that house overlooking a lake. time marches and takes with it our things and our places and sometimes our treasures.   i am fortunate enough to know where bits and pieces have gone.  my oak princess dresser, now painted pale pink, is shared by my two daughters. it holds their items.  the middle drawer still sticks, just as it did when i was a girl.  a certain finesse is required.  and when i wiggle it open to place pajamas and underthings and socks inside, i am 15 again -  at least for a minute.   the hope chest which rested under my bedroom window collecting my teen journals and little girl things, is now at the foot of my bed filled with baby items from my own brood.  recovered and repainted and used by bella to climb up into our high bed.  the antique wash stand has moved on to my oldest girl's room.  it now works as a nightstand holding her own books and bible and pictures.  i am thankful some of these pieces have traveled through life with me.  i am even more thankful for the memories having nothing to do with furniture, but with family. 
coming home is bittersweet - like most good things in life seem to be.  i’ve come home this trip full of romantic notions about my childhood.  memories deep in me.  maybe it is my forties which stirs the wanting to remember.  i didn’t feel like this when i returned home from college bringing books and a boyfriend. and i didn’t feel like this when i returned in my 30’s trailing tiny children and a husband.  but now in this mid-season, it feels like too much memory on a saturday night in ohio. 
perhaps it is the little girl asleep next to me, head resting on country print pillow.  the little girl traveled all the way from china to the heartland of ohio.  how did she, a girl with no home, end up snuggling warm against my legs in this nest of calico quilts.  i am overwhelmed with the wonder...mesmerized by the miracle. the pure sweetness of it all.  in all of my girlhood dreaming i could never have imagined this moment. 
and mother turns 70 and daughter nestles warm and i return home and it is life...beautiful and moving and mine.  tonight in ohio.

mom's garden

window sill things

i spend a lot of time at my kitchen sink.  more time than i ever thought possible when i was a young girl dreaming about my someday home and my someday husband and my someday children.   somehow i never thought much about filthy bowls and sauce pots and dishpan hands.  but this is where i stand quite often.  hands in hot water and eyes fixed on a window. i am so thankful for this strategic portal above the dish gathering bottomless pit of kitchen sink.  it helps.  i scrape and scrub and wipe and wash and i stare out at the canopy of trees hovering over our backyard.  sometimes they are every color of green and sometimes they are gold and rust.  regardless of season, they are my dish-doing companions. and the window, a gift.

this window seems also to be place for collections.  remember the science table back in 2nd grade?  my window sill is like that.  and i love it.  when the kids bring in an interesting leaf or feather or bug, it goes right there, above sink on the sill - at least for a while.  it is a place for treasures - a place for beautiful things. a place of high household esteem.

recently i was told i would need to take some pretty important pills.  everyday.  mind you, i am not particularly skilled in remembering to take vitamins or medicine.  i have a strange kind of disconnect when it comes to this simple chore.   but one of the pills is with me for the next five years and is important in keeping me cancer-free.  i'm not messing around with it.  i'll remember to take this one.

i knew i'd need to put that pill right in front of me every day. it would need to sit in my direct line of daily vision.  "of course," i thought, "the window sill."  my standing and staring and thinking spot - that would be the surest place possible.  i've never gone a day without stopping in front of our kitchen sink.  but here's the deal.  i loathe those brown and white prescription bottles all lined up like an army of hard to pronounce names.  (go ahead and roll your eyes).  i can't help it.  i just knew i couldn't place all that pharmaceutical plastic in the midst of our treasures. i'd end up shoving them into a drawer and then forgetting about them for a week.  if the pills were going on the window sill, they'd have to be pretty. that's all there was to it.

sometimes we don't get to choose pretty though. sometimes things come into our lives and they aren't in any way attractive.   cancer was like that for me.  the ugliness oozed from it, rotten and vile.  i struggled for a while wondering when beauty would return.  when cancer came calling everything seemed to turn a shade of grey. at least for a while.  i found out years ago, i have no magic wand to wave and i can't wish or wash the hard stuff away.  it comes whether we like it or not.  sometimes we can put our pills in fancy bottles and sometimes nothing works.

but when given the choice, what do we put up on our window sills?  what are we filling our eyes with? our minds, our time, our thoughts?  it makes a difference. and it really makes a difference when we're standing before a sink full of dirty dishes or a time full of grey. 

"finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything
is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." ~ philippians 4:8

our window sill treasures...

Monday, August 8, 2011

things they leave

i wasn't gone long, maybe and hour or so at most. but it doesn't take much these days. when i walked back into my summertime home i was astounded by the crime scene playing out in my kitchen.  speechless at the plates and bowls and cereal and syrup and silverware scattered across every kitchen surface;  like it had been the goal.  like it had been a competition in chaos - and we won.  i felt the burn begin to rise. from pit of stomach to forehead it seared upward - hot and heavy.  i flung my bag on desk chair and swept into the mess, sweating out my dangerous mother-thoughts.  words already spewing from that bleak place of parental-indignation.  that ugly gut feeling of fed-up.  who do these children think they are?  what do these children think i am?  all the while looking for someone, anyone, even the dog, to unfurl my coil of displeasure upon.  for, be assured,  i had plans to unfurl.  words quickly formed, poised and ready. it took nothing but this ghastly entrance after only an hour's absence.

i bet you might recognize this scene.   possibly it has happened even in your own home.  maybe it happens daily. or maybe it belongs to my household alone. (sigh). but summertime children leave trails.  lots of trails.  and sometimes these trails can erupt into paths of mass destruction.  nothing spared.  nothing left unscathed by their july-day dalliances.  breakfast begins with my morning coffee at six and seems to continue through the noon hour.  children come from different corners of our home with mussed hair and peeling noses and squinty eyes. they come stumbling in, one by one, looking for pancakes or muffins or the day's plan.  these same children who left popcorn bowls from last night's movie piled high in the sink.  these same children who leave flipflops and footprints from front door to back.  these summer-full children who live out loud under the hot roof of our home.  they come.

and throughout the day they blaze little trails.  bread crumb paths strewn with their summer stuff. the littlest girl leaves evidence of baby dolls and trinkets and teacups. she tracks in sand and trails fruit snacks from room to room.  her brothers bring boy things.  car parts and wrenches and batteries and mud.  much of what i find them leaving makes me wonder.  especially the oldest, he is the boy who always has something strange in his hands or pockets.  i have learned to check his clothing carefully before adding any of it to the family laundry load.  there is a plastic container on my laundry room sink for his items alone.  fishing lures and string and skipping stones and pocket knives.  i keep telling myself to photograph it for someday, this plastic container holding clues to my son, will be gone.  he will have traded them all in for grown up things like receipts, keys and dollar bills.

then there are these two older girls sharing our cluttered space.  actually sharing everything under the sun -  at least everything in their mother's bathroom drawers and closet.  these two young ladies have become pros at sharing my things with themselves.  in they come, leaving their telltale-trails, and out they go taking hair products and jewelry and clothing.  just last week i went looking for tweezers.  i was smack in the middle of an eyebrow emergency - no one had bothered to inform me i was so overdue.  it took the light of day and a glance in my rearview mirror to make me horrifically aware.  and so i found myself desperately scrounging around in my bathroom drawer - frantic woman with frightening eyebrows and tweezers nowhere to be found.  gone. i headed straight for the 15 year old's room.  mad mother on a mission.  of course the tweezers were sitting on her sink along with my new bottle of nail polish and a favorite ring.

these girls, like their brothers, are also quite gifted in their leavings.  leaving bits and pieces of themselves in each room:  beads and yarn and earrings and lipgloss.  they deposit paint brushes and purses and ipods in strange places. ballet flats under tables and fashion magazines on the sofa.  i sometimes gather these items in my arms and consider hiding the whole mess - the whole kit and kaboodle, hiding it all.  slowly removing the things i find scattered, one by one, until our home is nothing more than brick and mortar.  not saying one more word about the mess, just quietly removing the pieces and parts of our lives which are delinquently left.  though the thought is tempting, and even entertaining, i have come to realize i would need to purchase costly (and large) storage space for this teaching moment to take place.  and so instead, i call them to the items and point and show and explain (again) the importance of caring for our things. and i bite my sharp tongue and attempt not to over-lecture something so small.

because these girls, like their brothers, will someday be gone.  they will leave.  my tweezers will remain in my bathroom drawer and the kitchen counters will be eternally and impossibly clean.  footprints and fingerprints will be missing from my hardwood floors and glass deck doors and my washing machine will only offer up an occasional coin or two.   things will be calm.  the driveway will be empty and order will be restored. and i know, even now, i will miss these things which they leave - evidence of them.

"there is a time for everything, and a season for 
every activity under heaven..."  ~ ecclesiastes 3:1

Friday, August 5, 2011

fishbowl living

we are on day five of fishbowl living.   the outside of our house is being painted this week. trim, siding, shutters...that kind of thing.  and it has been an interesting few days.  the painters couldn't be a nicer group of men - but they do seem to be everywhere. showing up at every dirty window, every glass door, catching me by surprise.  wednesday morning i was washing breakfast dishes when i looked up and locked eyes with one painter at the kitchen window above my sink -  a little bit awkward, i'll be honest. i've had to remind the kids to be aware - to be modest.  the first day was easy, but then all of a sudden by day 3 or 4 it seemed, as if, our painting crew had become part of the fixtures...part of the family. (well sort of).  anyway, they have had a good glimpse of the mcnatt family  - the good and the bad.

from their ladder perches, these painters  (who, i realize, probably aren't the slightest bit interested) have watched our summertime chaos:  nerf gun wars and spilled milk and the dog feasting from the trash can.  we tried for a few days to be well behaved and all buttoned up - but that never lasts particularly long in our house.  we are in the final weeks of summer vacation and the children have chosen this week to be "at" one another a bit more.  our painters, unfortunately, have had to listen to sassing sisters and bickering brothers... and let's not forget the frustrated mother who shows up on the scene. it seems the TV has been on more than usual, the mischief turned up a notch higher and the patience level kind of on the low side.  i don't know,  maybe it's just me feeling ultra aware because five extra sets of eyes have been peering through our windows for five days straight.

and then they watch this rather frazzled woman get into her black suv about a dozen times a day.  she comes and goes too often.  do they wonder what in the world she does with all these trips?  probably not.  but this woman surely does.  it is funny, how comfortable we can get in our crazies.  we can run around in our hurry or sit a bit in our squalor and think nothing of it, until someone is watching.  we can come and go all day long and think not a thing, until we see ourselves through the eyes of others - if just for a moment.  reflective and aware.  but maybe we need to live more like that...even when our house isn't being painted.

as a little girl i remember my teacher telling me God was always watching, that His eyes were always on me.  i am sure she shared that piece of information with our first grade class for two reasons:  one, it's true and it can be a comforting thought.  and two, we'd be slightly better behaved 6 year olds.  and we were.  at least i was for a while.  i remember kind of slouching around afterwards, afraid i might come face to face with God and His omnipresence.  my especially vibrant imagination was certain i could physically feel the stare of His eyes upon me.  this caused me to look up and look around a lot. but it also was the beginning of  my talking out loud to God.  i liked to talk and figured if He was hanging around, then we might as well chat.  i still talk out loud a lot. my children think it is because i am on the brink of crazy, but truly it is because i am sure God is listening...and watching.

i know there has been plenty in my life of which He wouldn't approve.  plenty which has caused my God grief.  i haven't and don't always live as if God is with me, in me, right in the room, right by my side ... listening.   when i remember to think this way, i am startled. and sometimes even embarrassed.  of course, i have used this same lesson with my children - and it really does work for a while.  but if we are only living pure and acceptable lives because someone - even if it is God - is watching...than we are kind of missing it altogether aren't we?  our relationship with Him isn't about putting on a show.  it can't be.  our outward living is a reflection of what's on the inside.  but, keep in mind, it is never perfect.

"in the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your 
good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  ~  matthew 5:16

and so today the painters will finish up.  i'm not sure if they saw a lot of light shining or a bunch of good works working in our home this week. i would have liked that to be the case.  i don't know if they return each evening to their own homes and tell the tales of all they have seen.  i'm sure they have witnessed plenty of interesting things.  homes are like that.  not just mine.  we all have issues we'd prefer to hide and we plan to fix.  we all have stuff hidden under beds and cloistered away in closets.  we are messy people with messy lives.  i want our home to be filled with shining light and good works and, ultimately, God's glory...but i live in my own house and i know this isn't always the case.

and none of this is really about being well behaved.  don't get me wrong, what mother doesn't adore well behaved children and husbands.  we do.  i do! but what counts is a transformed life.  inside and out.  this week of fishbowl living has just been a simple reminder:  people are watching. maybe not the painters, but others. and who we are and what we say and how we live...well, it is important.  we skew it at times and make it about us and our accomplishments or behavior or good works. but it is not about us.  we are not created for our own glory, but for His.

 "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ..
to do good works." (ephesians 2:10)

and that is sometimes hard to remember. and we, occasionally, need reminders like painters peering in windows.  we need reminding to live authentic lives which bring glory to our Creator. i have this new house to look at from the street. i like the change on the outside.  i like it very much.  but i know it is the inside which still needs my attention, still needs a lot of work.  it is the inside which counts and it is the inside which God really sees.

"the LORD does not look at the things man looks at. 
man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 samuel 16:7

colors: khaki shade.  outerbanks.  bronzetone. (sherwin williams).