December 29, 2009

Begin



I love New Year endings and beginnings. Unfortunately my love for them has more to do with regrets than hope, I'm afraid. At this time of year when I'm taking stock of the way I've loved and the way I've hated, I wish I could shut the door and never look back. I always find myself asking for a second (third, fourth, fifth....) chance to get it right -- to be a better mother, wife, Kingdom builder. I ache for another shot at using my voice and my life to speak for a God that so many can't see or hear. I fear another year of mistakes and squandered opportunities. But we all know that that kind of thinking can lead to a paralysis of sorts -- an inability to even start.

God never meant for me to keep a record of wrongs, including my own. When I think about 2009 He wants me to remember the times I sang my note and sang it well. He wants me push on and to never give up and to be gentle with the life He formed for His purpose. He wants me to enter 2010 remembering who I am and who He is, and the rest will follow. No regrets.

December 12, 2009

Mystery of Moods



I'm going to talk around a subject to protect my male readers and to respect blog protocol that cautions against over sharing. I had a particularly tense, emotionally charged, almost Linda Blair response to my children's bickering the other morning. I knew my reaction was over the top so I checked the calendar and realized I was only impersonating Shannon. It was day 28 and my glorious, life-giving, dawn of creation, female power had taken over.

I decided the kids were old enough to be tipped off to this life-cycle I was playing out. Without getting into any details about how babies are made, I explained how some women have a pattern of mood swings based on a monthly, God-given physical change. I kept the explanation mysterious and beautiful so Sydney wouldn't turn in her membership card to our secret sister society. I told them I would let them know in the future when day 28 was near, and that I would try harder to prevent my gentle mothering from being affected. With one eyebrow raised, Sydney said that on day 28 she would make sure she came to breakfast with a helmet, shield and sword.

December 3, 2009

The Path from Pacifism

hiiiiiiiiiiiya!   keeeeeeeeeya!   crash
I'm hearing a lot of these sounds lately. Lucas is slowly discovering his own power through Taekwondo and it's very dangerous in my house. For the first nine years of his life, his pacifist mother whispered "be peace" in his ear. Then his world got scary and his mother lion started whispering "protect yourself." Try love and diplomacy first, but have a plan "b". Right? Can I still call myself a pacifist?

He recently competed in his first tournament and I just had to make a video -- slow mo and all.
video

September 1, 2009

Profound Proclamations




My youngest has his feet on both sides of five -- still loving me as if I were his life vest, but wandering a little further each day before he runs back. He is in school now for long days with new friends I don’t know but secretly tells me I’m his favorite. He’s writing his name with lower case letters but is most thrilled he knows enough to write me love notes for a change. In the same sentence in which he declares his love he tells me school doesn’t feel so long after all. He’s leaving me. Just like he’s supposed to.

 Fridays are special days because it’s our only day together for the first time in five years. During one of our Friday lunch dates I couldn’t help but fire questions at him. I wonder if he heard the note of desperation in my voice as I tried to re-enter every corner of his reality that I used to completely inhabit. What do you want to be for Halloween? Do you ever wish you were the older brother? What really scares you about the basement? Would you rather eat a cockroach or a worm? Then we got to the biggie -- what is your favorite toy? Without any hesitation and with a mouth full of food, he pointed to me with his fork and said “you.” Me.

How much longer do I have, God? I need more time. I need time to earn back the very right to the spot of favorite toy. It seems like I stopped playing so long ago. But Seth hasn’t forgotten and he’s still holding the spot for me.

 Father, please let his profound declaration reignite my playfulness on our fleeting Fridays. All the satisfying adult work in the world cannot compete with deserving the right to the spot of his favorite toy. Help me me rearrange my priorities so that “play” is now in the square marked URGENT and IMPORTANT.

August 10, 2009

Diseases and Blessings

My dad has M.S. This is not a new thing for our family. It has defined our family. I’ve had a chance to watch him fight, accept, and overcome a debilitating illness for 32 years. It could have gone a number of ways. It could have taught me to fear suffering. It could have taught me to roll over when things are beyond my control. It could have taught me that God is unjust. But, oh, what it's taught me instead. I’ve learned from my father that an indomitable will is stronger than any disease. He has shown me that contentment is a choice, unshakeable by circumstance. I’ve seen how attitude can single-handedly shape a life into something great -- with or without your legs. My father has a respect for life and experience and the natural world. He savors things we take for granted and he fights every day for a chance to taste more of it. He treasures and protects his health with a discipline that makes me look lazy on a good day. He loves his God and looks at M.S. through the lens of the freedoms it affords, not the limitations it imposes.

 I had a chance to participate in a fundraiser for M.S. last week and was invited to contribute a piece of art. I wanted to do a calligraphic work with a quote that reminded me of the way my father has embraced his illness and I wanted to share it here. The quote I chose is by Meister Eckhart and it reads:“Everything I see, hear, touch, feel, taste, speak, think, imagine, is completing a perfect circle God has drawn.”

Thank you, Dad, for showing me what that kind of trust looks like.

July 4, 2009

A Cloak of Mercy




My son had a rough day at the pool. Like his mother, he’s not a big fan of crowds (e.g., public pools), so his cup was half empty before we even left. He never did find his swimsuit, and in the search for it forgot the sunscreen and was certain he had just signed his death warrant. At the pool he managed to lose his goggles and drop his ice cream cone in the same 10 minutes. He was done. Finished. Finito. And he was spiraling toward that no-coming-back kind of out-of-control. I was in a bind. Natural consequences are great teachers. Most of what had happened was avoidable and we were clearly in the middle of a teaching moment. I tried to look away. But the public spectacle he was making of himself could have had long-term social ramifications. I thought I’d be doing him a favor by removing him from the premises. I’m embarrassed to admit that not one of my motives was compassion as I tried to figure out how to handle him and the situation.

 My daughter knew how. For a good ten minutes all I saw of her was a pink snorkel as she combed the bottom of the pool for his goggles. While he huddled under his towel, she asked me through chattering teeth and purple lips if she could use her allowance to buy him more ice cream. Her heart was laid open as she tried with everything she had to save her brother from his grief, and she helped me cross over from teacher to comforter.

 I’m not saying this is always the right response. Sometimes not saving a child from pain today is a gift that will prevent a thousand pains tomorrow. But sometimes, just sometimes, a cloak of mercy is the better gift -- like the one our Father in Heaven wraps around us when we think we’re done, finished. finito. Embraced in the comfort of His protection and undeserved compassion, we can stand up and face another day. Hopefully we won’t forget the choices that got us there, but with His cloak of mercy wrapped around us we heal, wiser and stronger and very certain of our one, true Comforter.

June 19, 2009

Risky but Right

Big decisions scare me. I pause and second guess and imagine the worst before making them. It was a big decision to unveil myself through a website. I was going public with the secret, creative life I’d been living and I knew once it was out there, there could be no take-backs (to use my daughter’s term). I was making a commitment -- to practice art for more than recreation, to make myself open to criticism, to take on clients with expectations while trying to mother young children, and quite possibly to fail. Loudly. You would not believe how many times I took that little arrow off the word “UPLOAD.” But something was asking me to think beyond my fear and I finally listened.

 Here I am with new clients and crazy deadlines and kids who have mixed feelings when I say “mommy’s gotta work.” It’s a delicate walk and there are going to be consequences. The kids might have to show a little initiative if they want clean clothes. The couscous might not have pine nuts. The birthday cakes might come from a bakery. I’m going to try to “first do no harm,” but I’m going to keep reaching for this thing that’s begging me to follow. I feel like my spirit and my body are aligned for the first time. It’s a peaceful kind of restlessness, like I’m on the verge of something risky but right. I can only see the beginning and I’m sacrificing the safe, same ground I used to walk on. But this time I’m going to trust my soul’s longings.

 I found a piece of poetry by John O’Donohue that I just have to share with you -- all of you who are courageously risking something right now for an end you can’t see.

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

-- John O’Donohue


April 1, 2009

More on Extinction

I just can’t let go of this idea of extinction. My faith is great and I trust that this is not the end. But I do believe that what happens here matters. I do believe that creative thoughts, and ideas, and longings that aren’t given life are lost forever. I believe that we have one chance to be the full expression of who were were meant to be, and in that full expression we impact others. And I believe the opposite is true -- I think more than just the individual suffers who chooses to silence their gift. We have more power and influence than we could ever imagine. These words from Martha Graham move me to action when I find self-doubt silencing my voice.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
That is translated through you into action,
And because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it,
It will never exist through any other medium
And be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is:
Nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
To keep the channel open.”

March 22, 2009

Extinction

Lucas has been reading about the black rhinoceros for a research project and shared with us what he learned the other day. He used the phrase “brink of extinction” which made us roll with laughter. We were remembering how Seth learned to say that phrase before he had even learned to use the potty (thanks to hours watching “Prehistoric Park”). Such an impressive expression from a toddler...

We talked for a moment about what it meant for an animal to be nearly extinct -- a heavy topic if you’re paying attention. Sydney was. She had an epiphany and with great drama, cried “I guess that means that I am on the brink of extinction!” That’s an opening you don’t get very often.

I could have launched into an eloquent, thoughtful, age-appropriate and inspired explanation of eternity. I could have talked about the plans God had for her well beyond her earthly existence. I could have helped her understand what it meant to leave a legacy. Instead, I cried at the thought of losing her.

Father in heaven, please strengthen my faith and loosen my grip so that one of their hands is free to hold Yours.

February 12, 2009

Sing Out

This blog would not be complete without a few words about music and silence. Those who know me know I couldn’t breathe the year I lost my voice. For me, to sing is to commune with God and I thought the loss of it would truly break me. Singing was how I prayed, how I screamed, how I cried, how I found balance. I waited for a year for it to come back. The hole it left was profound, and I was confused that God would allow something that was being used for His glory to be silenced. Silence is an amazing thing, though. It takes you by the hand and whispers, “Listen, child.” Silence ended up showing me that there are other ways to speak -- that my witness was not limited to music. Silence led me to new creative work that has allowed me to touch the lives of people my music might never have reached. I have only just scratched the surface on the ways I can “sing out.” And I thank God everyday for the closed door..

January 9, 2009

His Daddy Loves Me

We’ve had a run of illnesses of late. It’s forced me to put my art on hold and be a servant to my children again. Today my youngest (4 1/2), looked particularly pathetic with his 2pm pajamas, glazed eyes, and that fake smile he uses to make feel better when he knows I’m worried. I stopped what I was doing and just held him on the couch. While I had him captive, I decided to tell him something about his daddy that he didn’t know. There’s something about true stories, personal stories, secret stories, that warms my children’s hearts all the way through and makes them listen with both ears. Each story binds us together with yet another unbreakable thread. I love how I can feel him sink further into me on the couch in the midst of it.

 I started with a question, “Do you know how I know Daddy loves me?” Seth quickly answered with, “When he does the dishes for you?” I told him that never hurt. He came up with a few more ideas -- good ones that show he’s paying attention and that some woman is going to be lucky to have him.

 I told my sick boy there was another way I knew his daddy loved me, a way he had never witnessed. I told him how at night when his daddy and I are reading in bed, I can’t seem to stop talking. I store up a million things all day -- important things, silly things, stories about the kids, things I’ve read, a difficult conversation with a friend, a fear, an invention I came up with that could make us millionaires. It doesn’t matter how insignificant it is, I share it. Sometimes only seconds pass between interruptions as I follow my own segue-ways and tangents and asides. Seth was giggling now because I was using a magazine to demonstrate what his daddy does with his book each time I interrupt his reading. His daddy slowly closes the book, lays it on his chest, laces his fingers together on top of it, and turns and looks at me. And listens. Every single time. Sometimes I even get a follow-up question. I told Seth that’s how I knew his daddy loved me.

 In that moment, God shook me so hard it took my breath away. How many times that week had I failed to pause, put my book down and look into my children’s eyes when they asked me a question or told me a story? How many times did they have to talk to my back as I half-listened while doing the dishes? I kiss them before bed, I am white-knuckled during spelling bees, and I cheer way too loud at basketball games -- but am I truly present in the in-between times? Not often enough. I need to remember that my response to them in those smaller moments has power -- the power to show them they are valued or insignificant. Drew knows.