when it doesn’t snow

spray snowi’m walking across the wooden floor and grime comes with me.  there is dirt under my red slippers.  boots, kicked off on a towel also dirty, lay on their side with mud caked on.

there is no snow to play in this year.

no soft white quiet to cover the whole mess of the earth for a little while.

it’s a muddy christmas.

bottom

agnes

my kids are getting older and i feel the slip of their days.  i try to hold them closer and they tug away.

they say what i wouldn’t want them to say.  they do what i hoped they wouldn’t.  i start to wonder what exactly went wrong and when.  how much is my fault and what can i start to fix today?

it’s christmas eve and the sky is grey.

no flakes falling into a blanket to shhh the world into peace tonight.

charlie brown

i bring out a bag of pine cones and we cut up paper squares.

abe just wants to spray the can of snow.  mazzy carefully glues her ornaments on.  eleanor is on her second cone.

we concentrate together.  we laugh and take turns.  then we take it all outside.

we shake the can in our pajamas and more snow than we anticipate covers our work and ella’s hands and the muddy, wet ground underneath us.

snowo christmas treeoh christmas tree

sometimes you have to make it yourself.

christmas can come together to be more beautiful than you can stand.

you’re going to have to cover your face like children hiding their eyes.

somehow the small, imperfect efforts of our lives are going to shine and be greater than the sum of their parts.

grace and peace to you this christmas.

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the mother of god

fabric paint

one place in my heart holds a grudge against humanity and all my friends.

weddings and birthday parties.

whenever i catch wind of another girl’s birthday party happening with no invitation for mazzy, i plot a little murder in my heart.

every time i see friend’s daughter’s walk down the aisle trailing after our dearly loved companions, i must resist the urge to oops! trip them as they pass us by.

soldiers

sheep

but that’s okay.

because god answers the prayers we didn’t realize that we’d prayed.

i thought those murderous thoughts were just evidence of my sinful nature – not prayers.

but i was wrong.

dear lord,

let mazzy get to do these things that little girls delight in.  let her be a flower girl with a basket of blossoms and let me drop her off at a bowling alley with a present in her arms. let her be loved and accepted like all these other lovely children.

amen.

god heard and he did me one better.

marywise man #2wise man #1

this year the christmas pageant was cast and i held back tears.

ella and abe were wise men.

and mazzy?

mazzy was mary.

mother of god

so take that flower girls!

in your face birthday parties!

mazzy, set apart for honorable, holy times.  mazzy, holding the cabbage patch christ-child in her arms so carefully.

mazzy, the mother of god.

Posted in childhood, christmas, disability, forgiveness, friends, mazzy | 8 Comments

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tell me the old, old story before i hurt someone

sit at your feet
i’m remembering last night.

i’m remembering the tone of his voice when he interrupted me.  i’m remembering the exasperated sighs when he had to do what i do all the time for children.  i’m remembering his apology that seemed half-hearted.

i’m making a list of the wrongs done to me.

i’m fueling unforgiveness in my heart, in my marriage.

i’m wondering how to get an eye for an eye.

i’m preparing for a hard conversation. i’m drinking down self-righteousness with my coffee.  they both are bitter, but i’m getting used to it.  it’s an acquired taste.

i need them both some mornings.

good books

copywork
i reach for my bible and look for god to back me up on this.  i open it up to where i’m at in luke.  always reading through the old, old story – jesus is teaching today.

“don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—
unless, of course, you want
the same treatment…be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.”  luke 6: 37-38, the message

oh right.

deep sigh.

would i like waking up to my disappointed face at the breakfast table?

would i enjoy a list of each remembered thing i did wrong from the night before?

does that sound good?  does that sound like love?

i have to read it a few times to accept the words.  i’m waking up to pick on my husband. that’s my morning plan.  i want to jump on his failures and criticize his faults.

what exactly will that do?

it will bring about the same treatment.

i want to be loved well, but i refuse to love well.

stories
oh lord, i wonder if i’ll ever believe you.

instead someone has to answer for the many wrongs done to me.

never mind that they are small.

never mind that i could overlook them.

never mind that they were apologized for.

i could forgive them.  i could go easy on a person.

my heart is slow to learn your ways, jesus.  don’t stop telling me the same thing.  i need to hear it every morning.

i pick up my bitter cup of coffee.  this is no garden of gethsemane.  this is just marriage -this is my life.

these are small things.

help me, lord.

edited repost from the archives (thankfully)…

Posted in forgiveness, jesus, love, marriage | 2 Comments

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when madeleine l’engle kicked my ass

corinthians

after i hung up the phone and told joshua what i’d just learned, we knew that our tiny church plant was done.  there had been signs leading to that moment in our kitchen.  but this was it.  the final nail.

he leaned over onto the counter and put his head down.

and that was a while ago now.  almost two years.

two years of trying.

two years of getting over it.

i’ve never had words to talk about the whole experience.  i’ve only had the wanting to get away from the one word that spoke most loudly.

failure.

winterberry

there is the quick looking away and ending up just saying, “i don’t know” when i am asked why did we do this thing.

did god really tell us to move to detroit and start a church and we failed?

i don’t know.

did we want to move to the city and convinced ourselves that it was god calling us?

i do not know.

i don’t know.  i just don’t.  the roots of certain choices we make are buried deep and even when i dig them up and slice them looking for the answer in the cross-sections – even then it’s not that simple.

so i sat down and talked with madeleine l’engle.  sort of.  i’m reading her book.  books really.  just finished wrinkle in time and am now reading walking on water.

she saw me coming, i think.  she’s very personable, mild-mannered even and all friendly like – until.

until she isn’t.

until she pulled back and hit me dead in the face.

fence

“One time I was talking to my spiritual director and I was deeply grieved about something I had woefully failed at.  Finally he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you are better than our Lord?  After all, he was singularly unsuccessful.”

That remark has stood me in good stead, time and again.  I have to try, but I do not have to succeed.  Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success.  

It has to do with love.”

i reeled backward at the force of the punch.

i have to try.

but i do not have to succeed.

following christ has to do with love.

the penny dropped and i have my answer now.

walking

we moved to detroit to try and start a church because we wanted to say i love you to jesus christ.  that’s why.

and did we do that?

yep.

we totally did that.

100%.

i didn’t fail at that.

the why and the unearthing at the root for the reasoning behind it – it’s still important. it’s right and good to learn from what we did and what went into the choices we made.

but the waste was never waste.

we told him as loudly as we could manage at the time.

peace

so let this be a lesson to you.

when approached by a gentle choir director or a helpful volunteer librarian, someone who looks as though they would not hurt a fly, you may want to keep your eyes on their hands and look close on which foot they are placing their weight.

because there is power in lives well-lived and written down.

there is strength in years closely maintained with the fine-toothed comb of truth.

beware the left hook of madeleine l’engle.

Posted in love, thankful, the church, the past | 6 Comments

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when the heart starts freezing over

thin ice

we drive down two lane roads in these woods with snow banks on either side.  they curve and hug frozen bodies of water; small neighborhood lakes and grand bays.

on each there are people dotting the ice with their fishing poles.  solitary figures making the most of their time.  i want to run out and be with them.  i want to get away from it all and hole up in a tiny, freezing shack in the middle of your local lake.

from the back seat my son is telling us what to do.

he’s attempting to control each event we plan so that it pleases him and he’s relentless.  he won’t pause long enough to hear our plans which are actually way more fun than what he’s talking about.

and i can’t take it.

“abe, you’re trying to manipulate me.  you’re trying to make us do what you want because you don’t trust that we have good things to give you.  you’re so busy controlling exactly what you get that you can’t even receive the really good thing that is right in front of you!”

as i say the words i know i’m talking to myself.  and not just like – ‘hey, this slightly relating to my own current state of mind,’ – but rather like i am sitting knee to knee with me.

maybe it’s his eyes that are my eyes or his colors which are mine, too, but by the end of my little speech i feel uncomfortable.

sometimes the wide open lake of the human heart can freeze over.

IMG_7236

i start shooting prayers like arrows.

“help me like my family.”

“pour your love for my son into my heart.”

“i’m sorry.”

because the thing that i can’t see is him.

it’s his dad and his sisters.

it’s the time we’ve been given.

i’m so busy trying to orchestrate busyness and solitude that i can’t receive a thing.

teacher

waitingmarkbut god answers prayers this way.

he walks on water.

frozen water, that is.

he goes farther out than you think might be safe.  he sets himself up right there on the unwelcome terrain of my heart.  he uses truth like a small saw to cut through the thick ice that a harsh winter has built up.

and this is hard.

because truth when looked at squarely makes the heart ache.  and lies – even small, white ones – are much easier to take.

but this ice fisherman i speak of has no room for lies.

because he knows that a steady fall of small, white snowflake lies will eventually cause the whole lake of the heart to freeze over.

he cuts a hole.  he has faith in my heart.  he’s heard my prayers.

the line goes down and the life swimming slow and unseen underneath stirs.  no boat engine came up and scared them off, just the quiet steps of an ice fisherman coming to catch what seemed impossible hours before.

cocoa

i take my son out on a date.

the hot chocolate arrives in front of him like a gift and he receives it.

every waitress sends me a glance of pure admiration.

they see me out with this boy child young man who is so handsome and polite and grateful.  they smile our way with a tangible, sweet longing as if i’m out with a teen heart-throb.

and i am.

creme brulee

he’s unaware.

he can’t know his beauty or that these days are like papers windblown away once safe in my hands.

he can’t know how loved he is or how admired.

but i can.

and i tell him as much and together, aided by sugar, we both count the sweetness of this one, short life.

edited repost from the archives

Posted in childhood, contentment, grace; free gifts | 6 Comments

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i’ll meet you at the table

table

our family gathered around my table and i felt older than i ever had before.

and i guess that’s right.  i’m almost forty and my own children are set to start turning into teenagers in a couple of months, growing almost tall as their grandmothers.

it was a beautiful day.

sugar berries

bottlespies

we lost my uncle less than a week ago.

in six short months we watched the tallest man in our family be taken down by cancer. and the last time i saw him i felt older than i ever felt before.

he had a moment that last day where he talked to us by name.  where he loved the people in the room with all the strength he had left to share with us.

i’ve never been so thankful.

ann's idea

uncle bill

but we bowed our heads and we raised our glasses yesterday.

we said thank you with tight throats.

because life is short and we’re older before we know what happened.

but this one that we are thanking, i wonder about the “you’re welcome” still.  that there is more to come than failing bodies and plates full of food.  there is more to see than watching one less family member at the table year after year.

the hope of heaven.

thank you, lord.

Posted in family, grief, healing, thanksgiving, time | 4 Comments

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jordan almonds and jesus christ

into the woods

i’ve been thinking about jordan almonds lately.

and how the weakest among us take the brunt of our anger.

and how jesus is both.

he’s the jordan almonds and the weakest among us.

chilly

children

it was my dad’s cousin’s wedding where i first tasted jordan almonds.

or maybe it was before that.  maybe it was my mother’s best friend’s wedding where jordan almonds were spilled out all over the table with squares of lace and ribbon.

we were making things.

i put one in my mouth and life got better.  and stranger.

there are parts of life that lift us up.  that show us that there is more than we’d known. things that make life better than before.

jordan almonds were like that for me.

like jesus.

with it’s thinnest, white shell over the meat of an almond making me feel the teeth in my mouth.  making me an instant addict to the quality and the promise of a good thing.

a simple, good thing.

unsafe

and my grandfather in his hospital bed at the assisted living facility.

or my son, doing everything right in the backseat of the car, but on the receiving end of irrational anger because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.

like an unarmed teenager or a child with a disability or a six-year-old that can’t do anything but accept your unkind words.

like jesus on the cross.

these weak, thin places in our world where we pour out our wrath.  these receptacles of how unfair, how frustrated, how crooked and wrong our souls really are.

they receive our broken messes like shards of glass flying straight towards them.

but only one takes it on purpose.

and he teaches us that those other weak places in this world are meant to be honored, not placed under our boot.

he teaches that the weakest among us don’t exist for us to do whatever the hell we want to because we can and they can’t.

he teaches us.

winter

jesus christ.

jesus christ, you are both.

you are the sweetest, simplest quality endeavor of my time here.

and you are the broken, weakest before me willing to take my screaming rage, able to receive it all and not be diminished.

i’m thankful again today.

Posted in grief, jesus, outside, thanksgiving, weakness | 1 Comment

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the memory of the heart

elle

it’s late at night when my mind and heart are vulnerable to old words spoken.

words that were jumbled together any way you like, but always say the same thing.

“i reject you.”

“you are unwanted.”

“you are unloved.”

these stupid words from a person who has no memory of speaking them, they can stick around like burs, growing years and years older.

miss mazzy

i look my child in the face after apologies have been made, after i’ve come to my senses.

i keep my distance out of respect for their person, out of fear with the knowledge of the damage a parent can do.

i look in their eyes and say this –

“what did i say that hurt you the most?”

they look away.

they stare at a spot up there on the ceiling.

and you know what?

there has always been something.  every time.

and they repeat it back with eyes full of this question –

“is this true about me?”

abrahm

i hear the words said aloud again and i bear their weight and the responsibility.

this is no vague apology, child.  i will stare right at my wrong against you, sweetest one, and i will say the only thing i can say.

no.  no, that’s not true.

that is a lie.

i was so, so wrong.

can you forgive me?  and if these words come back, you can tell me if you want and i’ll tell you again how wrong i was and how loved you are.

so before those words grow too old tonight, let me pry off the burs that you can’t see, but are there.

let me tell you new words before the sun sets another night.

 

photos by amykimballphotography

Posted in forgiveness, grace; free gifts, mothering | 3 Comments

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and then he took the cup saying

yellow

a bee fell into my wine mug.

i went to take a drink and there he was set to drown.

i grabbed a twig, stuck it in and expert that he is, he climbed his way out along it and soon found himself in the grass.

and there he is.

wings soaked, legs red.

yellow and black head like a robot wiping of antennae over and over and over again.

face

i know how he feels.

my expectations of god went a little something like this.

too close to the intoxicating center, i lost my footing.  i fell in and swam in dark red waters that stained every part.

every part.

brother bee

get away

but i can see his wings.

the wine has made the filigree pattern discernible and i look at the lace of god on a wine soaked bee.

i like it.

i suspect he’ll dry and fly off, albeit a bit cockeyed.

he might have a near miss or two when flying too fast near a tree or a rock.

brother bee

i suppose that’s where i am still.

in the grasses, robotic and nearly forgetting that wet wings once dry will again search out what seems best, what seems good.

wiping my antennae, oblivious to the beauty offered to those close up, those who can see the handiwork of god when i’m soaked to the gills on the offered cup.

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failing at jesus stuff

IMG_9940
she told me their church had split and that people were saying terrible things about them. i nodded my head and listened.

silent, i nodded.

churches are trouble, i thought.  churches are the problem.  they’re so messy, i thought. and when i looked out on the landscape of faith, i felt hopeless.

but i was wrong.

i tried to be a church planter a couple of years back and more than churches being unsafe or poorly run, i realize now that i have bigger fish to fry.

it really isn’t churches that i don’t believe in anymore.

it’s me.

i don’t trust myself.

still

it is odd to go from sprinting into a church to not bowing your head when everyone else is praying.

it feels like a jacket that doesn’t fit.

it’s strange to look at the very spot you once waited for the holy spirit to come and speak to you, to speak to others and to walk down a different row now to avoid it.

it’s not easy to hear someone say “jesus” and wonder at their backstory, where they’re coming from and what they are missing.

because they have to be missing something.

just like i missed something.

just like i didn’t get it somehow when i was so sure i was doing it right.

IMG_9889the woods

“maybe they’re just hurting, too.”  i said to her.  “maybe they don’t know which way is up right now, just like you.”

and she smiled a little and shook her head.

“yeah.  maybe.”

when things fall apart it takes a long time for the dust to settle.

when things of eternal value fall apart it can take years.

it’s going to take a new creation, a thousand years of evolution, to bring about a single cell to start again.

sometimes it feels that way.

waitingbut it’s alright.

i walk through the woods and think about the god endeavors once so big that have vanished like morning mist.  i see my husband up there and our kids climbing on rocks, staying still as leaves float down on top of their heads.

and i’m here, too.

it’s going to take some time.

it’s not the church’s fault or god’s fault or even mine really.

it’s just people.

just people out in the woods, trying to find a way to say how thankful they are for this one beautiful life.

Posted in outside, the church, time | 3 Comments

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