what i’ll do instead

string section

“the normal kids use these.”  

mazzy’s classmate says this to me.

she says it in the music room.  she says it without much thought because there is normal and then there is her – her friends, her class.

i am kind of stunned and so i don’t say it quick like i should, the response that shows up in your brain four or five hours later.

“you look pretty normal to me.”

what i wish i said.

close

closer

and sometimes i hate this world.

with its glass walls of what is normal.  the walls that exist but you don’t know are there until you run smack into them and find out that, oh – i can’t go any further.

i’ve watched mazzy navigate the invisible barriers of this world and she’s good at it.  but that’s it.  that she has had to become good at it.  that she has to navigate them at all.  that is the stumble into a bottomless black that would overwhelm me entirely if not for jesus and the hope of a world that doesn’t work like this one does.

cellos

i’d like to take a hammer and break all these walls that i can’t see.

but i can’t see them.

so i’ll pick up a cello and i’ll write you a song instead, mazzy.

i’ll play it so well, so beautifully, that the ugly world might quiet down and listen.

when i’m asked how did you write that?  i’ll say that you taught me how to write it, mazzy and i’ll pray that changes invisible things and that this world can begin to look a little more like the next.

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pie crust promises

morning

the boy has started a comic book club and i have a tooth in my front pocket.  the girl smiles at me.  both of her front teeth have gone missing.

things go missing sometimes, like whole summers, entire years even.

a new friend and i talk about how we’re subject to the seasons – how fall can make you downright introspective.  she points out that it’s time to harvest, it is time to see how well you prepared for the winter ahead.

i start to feel a little nervous because i’m pretty sure i haven’t planted like i should have.

what exactly am i going to be reaping?

shorehines
i take eleanor to the water before school.  sometimes you need to hear ducks quack prior to spending eight hours in a classroom.  we walk the muddy shore while stealth fish jump.

when joshua and i were first married, i would walk the three blocks from our apartment in chicago to lake michigan.  i’d watch the sunrise and pray.  slowly the idea started to occur to us that we could have a baby and so i started to talk to god about it.  i made certain promises about how i would raise any child that he gave me.  but this is maybe the one i’ve kept best:

i promise to show them wide-open spaces.

even when i’m not the mother i could be or should be, i can still take them someplace beautiful.

i think the wide-open spaces we see out there resonate with us so because they’re a reflection of the wide-open spaces in here.  in our hearts, in our souls.

reflect

child
i didn’t plant like i could have this summer.  i wasn’t vigilant in weeding or in the removal of insects.  i take a look outside at my crops expecting to see very little return this year.

but wouldn’t you know it – it seems i’m not the only one raising these kids.

it seems fields were planted when i was at yoga class or out with the girls or just grumpy and impatient or being plain, ordinary selfish.  it seems like father and grandmother and aunt and uncle and jaja and papa all had a hand to the plow.

eleanor

and those wide-open spaces that i brought them to out of habit, they do their part, too. they speak.  they instruct.  they make their own promises – of goodness, of a good life that waits for each of my children, of fun and of startling beauty.

these prayers and promises are kept.  and they are best kept when they can’t be kept at all.  when i’ve got to bring out the thresher to take down wheat that i didn’t work for, i see then that my children really aren’t my own.

and it’s then that I begin to pray for them.

really pray.

sunny side

first grade

i slip my fingers into my pocket and i feel the tooth pushed clean through by new bone, permanent, little replaced by big.

child replaced by grown-up.

and i listen to this rushmore boy of mine who is telling me about yet another club he’s created that didn’t exist before.

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so young at the start

i met a young man.  he was too popular and too talented and i watched from a distance, quiet.  i was so broken, i gambled a kiss with him and lost on purpose.

our relationship has always been a gamble.

our first date was a movie.  he picked me up and sped down the highway.  i clutched at the armrest and watched quiet this boy man who was barreling through life.  bound and determined for what, i wasn’t sure, but i was hanging on and i haven’t let go yet.

our next date i hid a smile as he pulled into the putt putt golf course.  i warmed to him then, near the pirate’s cove on a summer evening.  there was nothing ironic about this night for him.  he was taking the girl he liked on a date, golf club in his hand.

perfectly normal.

i’d never been on a date before.  there was no boy so brave to take me to putt putt golf.  just this one.

no boy so brave.

when our first child was born and i sat in sorrow, in mother mourning – he never voiced one word of that kind.  he was only, ever, beaming father pride.

in the hospital, in blue scrubs, fresh from emergency surgery, he held her.  he cradled her and looked upon the sight with such love.  i watched quiet from the hospital bed and he held our whole world in strong arms that i needed more than the pain killers.

it seemed i won the bet.

we talk about the gamble we took sometimes.

how we knew so little of the character of the other person when we said, “i do” in that martha mary chapel on a friday afternoon.

so young and drawn by the ancient voice.

thankfully voices have a source.  behind those words that beckoned was a mind.  a being that spoke, still speaks and will speak again.

thankfully we look up from prayers once again, amazed at grace.

we gambled and won – but the game was fixed.

we were always safe. well-loved from day one by impeccable character unseen while we learned how to love from scratch.

this family is all grace.

edited repost from the archives…

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seasonal help

windy

there is a prayer and it goes this way;

“lord, i do not feel like i used to feel.”

it doesn’t worry god too terribly much though.

because god’s not interested in “used to.”  not one little bit.

branch

god is always, “look!  see!  i’m doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?!”

always new.

or at least new-ish.

this autumn, the cool nights and the changing leaves, this is brand new.  fall 2014 has never been here before.  but all the autumn days prior have landed us down in these days.

god is new, but not unheard of.

before new

we’ve been here before, lord.

where i feel far from you.

that is not new.

but it’s new in that i have peace, perfect peace, that you will find me.

i’ve been here before where i’m changing my days, making choices that set me in your path.

that’s not so new.

but it is new because i have no faith in my ambition, my words or my efforts to bring you closer here.

you alone are god this time.

hope

i alone am lightless.

and shallow.

together though…together we might just be on to something.

together you alone are still god, but in your love, i reflect light and it’s by your grace that i have depth at all.

Posted in faith, hidden life, real hope, waiting | 2 Comments

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godfathers and cancer

6'4

“i spread a bunch of marigold seed, but only a few came up this year…i don’t know what went wrong.”

my father is sitting next to his brother on a golf cart.  they’re riding around on the 3 acres i grew up going to every weekend or so.  he’s smoking a cigar and he’s got an axe in his hand.  my uncle bill, who is also my godfather, is deciding which pile of wood he’s going to have his brother split next.

this place is as close to a family farm as i have.

my great-grandparents lived out here and so my dad and his brother grew up coming here, too.  they grew and grew, such that when i came around i was used to looking up to men with hearts over six feet tall.

that’s my normal.

axe

brother

and so a few months back my uncle was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

i imagine him standing next to my parents at the baptismal, me in christening gown, and watching a baby either quiet or wail, as the priest poured the water on my head.

i don’t remember that.

but walking around on this fine september day behind my godfather’s house i do remember him, tall and strong, with a visor on playing tennis with my dad.  my cousin and i sitting at the net running to get yellow tennis balls, fingering the blades of grass made white with chalk.

i remember swimming under the moon with so many people in the 4 foot pool, two of which were over six feet, and it still feeling huge.

i remember fourth of julys and walking along the fence at the back by myself and pumping water and ringing the dinner bell outside the small house up front before he built the big one out back.

i remember my truest childhood.

my father picks up another log of cherry wood and sets it down to split it and i feel my eyes fill up.  i don’t want to spoil our afternoon with crying, so i walk away until i can keep on having a perfectly nice time.

water

belleville

my aunt rosie put down those marigold seeds, just like any other year out on the farm, but this time they didn’t come up.

she’s not sure what went wrong.

and none of us are sure what’s gone wrong when the 6’4 strength of a family is getting around on a walking cane he fashioned himself, bones closer to the surface.

we don’t know what has gone wrong when cancer shows no mercy and the strong man has to watch his brother from the golf cart, pain tapping him on the shoulder telling him it’s almost time to go in and take another pill.

sometimes things go wrong.

IMG_9565

chris

bill

and there’s my dad.

he’s sweat clean through and he’s splitting wood for his brother.  over and over he hits the iron wedge with the sledgehammer so hard he breaks it – as if to beat cancer itself.

because he would if he could.

if there was something to be done, just name it brother – and i know my dad would do it.

but there’s nothing.  there’s nothing anyone can do.  we all know it and it makes me walk away by myself from time to time.

so we spend a sun-blaring, end of summer day together with cancer and cherry wood and cold beer.  we each take a turn with the rifle and try to hit the can my uncle’s got up on a board for a target.

we kiss thinner faces, say our goodbyes and drive the back roads home.

beating cancer

brothers

sometimes the marigolds don’t come up no matter how many seeds you sow, no matter how hard you hit.

but if we could, you know we would uncle bill.

you know we would, brother.

Posted in cancer, childhood, family, grief, love, time | 5 Comments

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the last day of summer vacation

low

i’m trying not to complain.

trying to keep it close and finish the summer well.

but self-care is real.  introverts are real.

and one person caring for three people everyday for three months is a draining occupation.

lily

bridges

i’m past entering in.

i’m past getting myself to a yoga class.

i’m past a girl’s night out.

i feel feral.  my thoughts consist of a few ad slogans from the 80’s, snatches of pop song lyrics, cartoons and swear words.  i can barely string two original thoughts together.

the summer has reduced me.  i’m less now than i was before it.

once upon a time i led my children down country lanes and lilac trails.  i led them by the hand.  we still visit the same places, but now these children outpace me.

easily.

once in a while they look over their shoulder to call back at me to hurry up.  i see now that one day they will leave me in the dust entirely.

summerand that’s okay.

but could you just hand me that coffee cup there?

and would you join me in a moment of silent thanksgiving for the public school system?

and would you please excuse me while i slip out the back door and head into the woods where no bird or small, four-legged creature asks of me one single thing.

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in and of itself

belle

i’m hoping to make a sacrifice, i’m hoping to make some time.

distractions abound and i find myself racing towards them.  thankful lists compiling activity and people fall short of the kind of gratitude i’m lacking as of late.

but i’m not so sure i can pull it off.

agua

aslan

well then, how about a minute or two?

an hour?

a day?

some brief, dedicated time to sit free of distraction and for what purpose exactly?

queen

pascal says it simply and best –

“we run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.”

thomas morris follows that with this explanation –

“death is the abyss.  we want desperately to avoid it.  we want just as desperately to avoid having to wrestle with the issues it raises.  we try to do everything we can to create within us a sense that death is not near, that it can be ignored, that the ultimate issues are mists far beyond the horizon.”

ain’t it the truth, thomas?

living wateri have finite time on this planet.

as do each of my children.

as do you.

and diversion isn’t wrong.  in and of itself.  some are noble and good.  family, work, justice.  and relaxation is also necessary.  tv.  novels.  flitting from here to there.  vacating.

but if i’m honest, the scales of my life have tipped.

i’m out of a rhythm that includes the contemplation of what is needful for a good life, that asks the ultimate questions.

must i wait for tragedy to strike before i examine my own existence?

maze

become like a child

the scales tip toward distraction and diversion.

and so i’m going to put some weight on the other side today and tomorrow and the next day, too – i hope.

i hope to make that sacrifice.

i hope to make the time.

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ode to scott cairns’ ‘hesychasterion’

lightwhen i make our bed i will take a leafy branch and with it, smooth the sheets of softest green, down to wait until the day dims and we find one another again.

blue

signs

lovleywhen this daughter finds me writing in the shifting shadows on my morning porch, i ask her,

“do you know you have my heart?” 

and with her back towards me so i can button this play dress, she answers,

“yes, i do.”

contestworkers

tasketmy heart is a stone, a rock, a piece of granite in my chest.  it would weigh me down and drown me in the clear, sun-filled waters i so love.

but for you, o lord.

teacher who has taught how to etch, how to carve, a way in and through and there in the grotto of my heart, to prepare a silent place to meet with you.

read cairns’ poem here…

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accepting jesus: not as simple as once believed

welcome

i’m setting up chairs for bible club.

joshua and i teach children’s church once a month at the little detroit body we’ve been calling home on sunday mornings.  the sun is flooding in through second story windows and i’m feeling humbled.

i tried to plant a church.  whether or not you think i tried hard enough, i tried.

and here i am three years later, getting ready to preach.

chairs

jesus

but apparently kids are a real threat.

children that have been taught to love jesus are being beheaded in iraq.

i don’t have imagination enough to make that real in my mind, in my heart and i don’t have stomach enough to google the images and videos i’ve read about.

i didn’t know this when i set up the chairs in a semi-circle yesterday.

i didn’t know this as we read about paul being a missionary, being stoned and beaten in lystra, and i said these words, “sometimes doing the thing that god asks you to do can be hard.”

the children play with lincoln logs after we pray asking that if god wants any of them to be missionaries that they’d be brave enough to go and that he’d keep them safe.

dry erase

accepting jesus.  confessing jesus as lord.

look a little closer at the terms.

neither one is an easy thing.

it’s not simple to accept something.  it’s a process.  say your daughter told you she was gay.  you’d be processing that until you looked your friends in the eye and said, “i’ve accepted that my daughter is gay.”

it’s not simple to confess something.  if a suspect for a double homicide were taken in for questioning and after hours and hours of denial he finally confesses, “yes.  yes!  i killed them both.”  that’s a lot different than hearing a four-step plan of salvation and with a shining smile saying, “yep!  i confess that jesus is lord.”

confession and acceptance.

not a once believed fleeting assenting to a set of beliefs, but rather a process, a tear-stained admitting that yes.  yes.  jesus is lord.  okay?  fine.  i accept it.  it’s true!  i confess that there is no other name, alright?

chased down and cornered until i surrender to jesus.

burning bush

so people are being killed.

children.

jesus – why?

what would the amish do?  can you forgive in the face of such grotesque evil?  the absolute bait of war?  of religious war?

readywe’re reading from the thin pages and looking at a drawing of paul’s hat getting knocked off as the rocks hit.

what in the world?

jesus like the pulse under the finger of humanity.  the source and the answer.  the question and the confession.

i have no words.

i stack up chairs and lead the children, my own children, back down the steps to the room where these lovely detroiters just took communion and now are singing, sharing food.

it’s just another sunday morning among those who have admitted that jesus is lord.

Posted in childhood, christian culture, death, detroit, jesus | 2 Comments

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wanted: one husband

sand dad

i’ve spent the summer with my family.

my husband has blurred.  he’s one of the five of us.  we’re all in this together.

but i don’t know.

sometimes i miss the two of us.

dad timeapparently he could have been found on the beach in his wayne state hat making drip sand castles.

that’s where i could have found him this summer when he wasn’t working.  or pulling weeds.  or fighting with a broken lawn mower.  or fishing.  or playing music and dancing in the dining room.  or playing minecraft.  or board games.  or tucking in his children.

i could have found him all those places.

but what about just him and just me?

secret beachthere are the four minutes in the morning when we both wake up or are woken up by a small person or people.

there are those two minutes when he makes his way to kiss me while he rolls his bike away from the fireplace and onto the front porch to head out to the library.

there is dinner.  there is bedtime.  there is netflix with him and reading books on pillows, eyes barely staying open.  there are nights when goodnight kisses go off the rails.

is that when when we’re together, just him and  just me?

right here

this person i live alongside with.

i want you.

i want to see you when we are five.  when we are two.  when you are one.

i don’t want to miss you when you’re right in front of me.

so let’s go out to breakfast, just us.

and let’s go to the beach one more time, just the five of us.

and yes, i’ll watch the kids so you can go and just be joshua somewhere else.  just like you let me go and be zena lots of times.

the boundaries of your love have fallen for me in pleasant places.

Posted in childhood, family, joshua, love, marriage | 1 Comment

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