kicking through the ladybugs

temple

our first day in ohio hundreds of ladybugs swarmed the front porch.

they landed on each ledge and all five metal chairs.  they swung on the porch swing.

and then they died.

i crunched out onto the porch to be in a quiet place.  the trees bare and the purebred birds flitting and calling.  the sun on the rust leaves, on the rust cans.

but more ladybugs flew up.

their uneven flight patterns made me uneasy somehow.

i turned around and went back inside.

coveringa prophet once asked god’s people how they could live in well-paneled houses while the temple lie in ruins.  i checked through the windows each morning and wished their dead, winged crunch weren’t still there, but it was.

so i did other things.

i had other things to do.

but this is how temple walls get rebuilt.

quiet places.

so i got out the broom.  i faced them head on.  i swept dead ladybug carcasses off the end of the porch to join the gravel below.

this is how temple walls get rebuilt.

to go out where hawks circle and bees hum close to your mug of warmed wine.

to fight for your quiet places.

ladies

i have better things to do, lord knows.

so do you.

but if i don’t kick through the orange and black corn kernels dotting this porch today, right now, then i’ll keep on paneling well my own walls.

i’ll near to obsess over my lack and forget about the gold and silver leant to those who labor to bring a temple from ruins.

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lord, to whom can we go?

heaven
O Lord my God.  Teach my heart this day where and how to find you.

You have made me and re-made me, and you have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you.

I have not yet done that for which I was made.

St. Anselm

signs

treefriend

I thank you, Lord, for knowing me better than I know myself, and for letting me know myself better than others know me.

Make me, I pray you, better than they suppose, and forgive me for what they do not know.

Abu Bekr

children

O Christ, our Morning Star, Splendour of Light Eternal, shining with the glory of the rainbow, come and waken us from the greyness of our apathy, and renew in us your gift of hope.  Amen.

Bede the venerable

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the ghosts of october

seeds

we drive from orchard to orchard, yellow leaves falling and we end up in a nursing home, cider and donuts in hand.

my grandfather was born in october and this year he turned ninety.

his wife died twenty nine years ago in another october, three days after his birthday.

he’s outlived nora for almost thirty years now.

i bet he never saw that one coming in the early octobers of their life together, twin babies in their arms, oldest son so strong and tall.

sunflower
there is nothing like a dying leaf or a dying man, for that matter.

did you know that when leaves change into their glory color that they are just showing what was there all along?

the infusion of green, of youth, of vitality – it is always mixed up with the yellows and the oranges of who we really are underneath.

weak.

dependent.

unable.

suffering.

every tear

a world with no october color is a robbed place.  a place where a thief has come in and played a cruel trick indeed.

joshua takes his hand and pulls my grandfather up to sitting.

i give him a back scratch.  we sit close.  i kiss his face and i laugh in his ear.

we bring cider and donuts and i swear i am jealous to know what it tastes like when he drinks it down.  i wonder at cider’s skill to taste sweet in the midst of suffering and after ninety years.

low

we try to bring heaven to earth through the back door.

eliminate suffering.  

eternal life.

justice to the unjust.

we want heaven now.  but it seems heaven isn’t meant for earth.

just like we’re not.  

sufferer

a woman comes in to give my grandfather his pills.

he used to give me twenty bucks here and there when i was growing up.  i thought i was a rich as midas or that he was, but he says it with our kids sprawled around his room in a nursing home in plymouth, michigan.

“you guys are alright.”

and it is better than twenty dollars.

it’s more akin to the bluest sky, just like his eyes still clear and sharp, and the reddest leaf  of october.

if we wipe every tear away ourselves, what exactly is heaven for?

sunflowers

i don’t know why we suffer.

but i do know that it points to another kind of place.  a place where we don’t have to manufacture or kill or die or cry.

a place where the sunflowers stay upright, where our hopes and dreams and prayers are met, answered and exceeded.

we all know this place could be, but we can’t quite make it fit here.

so a working man can’t make it no way – heaven is the coolest and the cruelest of them all.

and i’ll drive to the orchards and watch my children meet their great grandfather and i’ll cry real tears full of real pain and i’ll wait for the one who can wipe them away.

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and the shepherd is the gate

october

we’re sitting in a mexican restaurant and one of us or the other says it.

“we sound hurt.”

when the words of a person who’s been hurt by the church and the sentences coming out of your mouth match up it can be awkward.

but it’s a start.

color

fall

jesus says he’s the gate and the good shepherd and it’s always confused me.

how can he be both?

but way back when in good old shepherding times and probably still today, shepherds were the gates.  they let you in to safe places in the night and they remained at the entrance way to keep you in.

to keep you theirs.

the church isn’t the shepherd.  many pastors are the hired hands jesus talks about.  the ones who get the paychecks and look after their own interests because – hey they’re only human.

the church can’t keep you in.  and it can be the wolf itself, the robber and the thief.

churches are out there hurting people this very day.

tiny

but the gate hasn’t changed.

the shepherd is still the same.

i’m still his.

and jesus loves us too much to let me and my friend remain in mexican restaurants licking our wounds for another ten years or so.

somehow he still has more.  it might even include the church.

he really does make all things new.

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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.

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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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