Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I just can't get it together

All year long I've been saying that I'm doing good to leave the house wearing pants. Suddenly it's mid November and everyone has lost their mind in rolling out Christmas two weeks early and this sets off a panic attack. I stagger to church like an unkempt zombie and when I see that my lovely little church has an advent calendar all put together in neat little packets I grunt and snatch one up, practically snarling. 
Once in the comfort of a pew I start going through the packet and instantly I am overwhelmed. Little people to cut out, references to a 'poster' which I fear means piecing the six or eight pages together, and a small paragraph to read each night. That this is instantly overwhelming to me is a bit telling. I recognize that I likely won't figure out how to put the pieces together so I wander back to take a photo of the finished one hanging in the hall. 

The blessedly sweet children's director at our church, who makes sure to have some kind of simple advent thing for us each year and is the only reason my kids have ever had any kind of advent activity outside of church, asks if I picked up a calendar. I blubber and explain in my blubbering that I had but that I was taking a photo because I was certain I would screw it all up otherwise. 
She then says something brilliant: 'why don't you have Kaiya do it?' and I go from blubbering to beaming just like that. 
It is not lost on me that at seven and a half my sweet, caring daughter is more sweet and more caring than I could ever hope to be. Plus she has the superpower of being crafty. And wonder of wonders that tip-top school we send her to, a public one no less, taught her to read and my baby girl does hardly anything but read lately. Suddenly I see not a frustrated afternoon spent with craft tape and scissors but a peaceable evening watching Kaiya read to her brother the little paragraphs while they then tape little people to the poster. 
Still, I'm quite certain I'll find a way to screw it up. I already know I will likely have the hardest time finding a candle, having wisely given up on having an advent wreath with the requisite oddly colored candles years ago, lately even my pathetic attempts to just have a single, blasted, candle seems too much. When it occurred to me: so what? Does it really matter if we don't light a stupid candle when we read? Even further, could I just choose to not dive into the frenzy this time? Make a choice to sit back and admire the moments as they come and go?
This was one thing I learned this past week from my grandmother, as I was sorting through pictures to put some out for her funeral. For starters, finding one of her was a bit of a task. Her outgoing husband, also passed, was in pert near all of them. When I did find one of her she was usually off to the side, leaning back even, and admiring whatever antics her husband was up to or whichever grandchild was a baby or toddler. The look of appreciation on her face though, oh my, it was so deep and intentional. She was just 'there' and she was happy.
Typically, despite my best intentions, I lose a Christmas box every year. This baffles me as we don't have the largest house in the world and I usually stuff them in the garage somewhere, but still it happens. One year it was the one with the stockings, so now we have extra stockings. The next I couldn't find one of the ornament boxes so we now have extra ornaments. You get the idea.
What if this year, whichever box plays hide and seek I just let it stay hidden? I resist the pull to grab more and more, and instead seek for less and less? What if I decide to just put up the wreath and leave the outside decorations at that? Could there be something to seeking an intentionally simple holiday season this year? So what if, when I can't get it together this year, I just let it all stay where it is? In an: ungathered, unhurried, and unworried about place?
Maybe some will join me in letting a thing or two go this season. Watch the 'thing' float on down like a leaf floating on a gutter river. And instead, turn and smile at the scene before them, and truly appreciate what is there.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gold bits

When I was little, I was bouncing on my big sister's bed, with my twin brother. Little flecks of dust were floating down, caught on fire by sunlight which made them look like bits of gold. My brother started trying to eat them. Because he's a boy and that's how they experience things. I tried to catch them in my hand and this was about as successful as his attempts. 
Instead of more bouncing, at one point I just sat. I stared in wonder at golden bits of something that I'm quite sure was eternity breaking through. Back then I didn't have this theory of mine really developed. I was just in awe of the beauty. It's been something that my mind can't let go of though, the idea that sometimes the spiritual world breaks through to the physical one. 
"Basically her body is physically shutting down and she's going through the spiritual part of it now. Of letting go." My aunt's voice keeps making sounds through the phone but I'm off already. I should be listening, getting whatever details from this update on my dying grandmother's condition. Instead, I'm lost in wonder at what she is seeing. 
I have another theory, that when God bawls out Job and asks him where was he when God laid the foundation of the earth, and continues to list a whole chapter of wonder, that all of those places he names actually exist.  And if they do, it wouldn't surprise me if those close to death get to go to them. Could my grandmother be standing in front of the storehouses of snow? Or would she pick to see the ones with hail instead? Did she choose to enter the springs of the sea, or would she opt to walk the recesses of the deep? And, the forefront of my mind for the last couple of weeks: is she standing at the gates of death and ready to push forward through them? Where everything must be covered in gold. 
I am thinking about this as we go to a wedding. With my five-year-old son asking every thirty seconds: is that her (the bride)? And once the bride walked by: when are they kissing? At one point I glance up at some flies getting zapped by a bug-zapper. They flash gold each time. Kaiya, sweet dear that she is, points them out: 'look mom, fireflies!' I haven't the heart to tell her what it really is. I wonder, as I stare at the gold flies, do we all flash gold like that when we go?
Later, I stare at the golden dots running down the table topper. It's a beautiful wedding. All creams and golds. Like heaven, I imagine. Perfectly beautiful and I'm in love with everything. The bride comes out for their first dance in a dazzling gown that looks like someone chopped up a star into bits to make it for her. All night long when I glanced at her I had seen the girl standing in our kitchen, listening to our instructions to her as a babysitter. The golden star dress suddenly snaps me out of that and she is a woman wearing eternity. 
Early the next morning, in the wee hours of night, my Gramman pushes through that gate and goes home. I imagine if we had spiritual eyes to see there was a golden supernova that went off like a bomb when she left. A woman wearing eternity, walking through the gate to what's next.
What if- all of the gold breaking through is connected? From the flies, to the sunlight, to pretty wedding decorations and most of all the gold that comes from a saint going home? And what if, the noticing of these moments, is extremely important? Like an agreeing with eternal in this temporal, like just pausing for a moment and giving thanks opens up a whole door of superpowers, most powerful of which is the ability to keep one grounded when all the universe swirls in crazy madness around them. 
What if the gold bits of our days are like the 'treasure' of this game of life, and we would do well to collect them into our very souls each day. Like the Israelites dutifully eating their bits of manna each day, maybe we get just enough for what is needed each and every single day. Just gold bits are all we get in this life, but it's the next life that they say the streets themselves are made of gold. 
For now, I'll rejoice at each bit of gold that breaks through, and I'll set the rudder of my heart pointed to heaven so I can navigate through the choppy waters of this hard life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

How to die well

It starts in a flurry, this sudden plan to go see my 90-year-old ailing grandmother. Some friends had asked if they could take our kids with them on their family vacation. Since that meant being without children for ten days we thought about our response for exactly .0083 seconds. A resounding 'yes' was given. 
I had just taken time off for our beach trip so I resigned myself to only taking the Fourth of July off because fireworks set off something inside of me. The wild splash of light stirs up something in my soul. But then my dear husband makes a simple suggestion, to go see her since the grueling drive to Tennessee would be remarkably easier without children. 
Before I know it we are there, albeit slightly addled from the overnight drive. We settle into my very hospitable Uncle and Aunt's house and as I set my bag down in their familiar guest room it hits me: just what exactly am I expecting out of this trip? For I had been able to tag along with my sister back in the fall and essentially said my goodbyes. Thankfully the cancer my grandmother was diagnosed with seems to be very slow and I had told my husband that I wanted to go see her again. My grandfather was declining at a time when we had just bought a new house and were doing our best to stay afloat, but I regretted not getting to go see him one last time. So when he asked me, do you want to go see her? I said yes on the exhale.
Upon arriving at her farm the sweet lady immediately launched into stories. She pert near talked the entire time, mainly recounting a story of a woman who had helped her mother with daily household stuff. To hear my Gramman tell it though the lady was actually an angel sent from God to aid them when they needed it most. 
The next main topic was how hard they had to work, and the constant stream of chores that went in to their daily life. It is not lost on me that she tells stories of hard work on a farm and I come home to play FarmVille. That, granted, while I have a harder job than most, it still hardly compares to what life was like then. When so much of our day is spent looking at an electronic screen, how can we comprehend being dirt tired and dirt covered?
One topic that comes up is the Oregon Trail. My grandmother mentions how when she volunteered at the local library she stumbled across an ad imploring people from Memphis to come to Oregon. She went on to explain that the ad explained there was free land if they could just 'get there.' It finished with a long list of things they would need to survive the trip. With no small amount of shame I must admit that my primary reference point to understand what she was saying came from an awful Tom Cruise movie. I kept seeing him triumphantly waving a flag.
When she spoke of 'covered wagons' a mysticism entered her voice. What she focused on though was all of the work it took to prepare for the Oregon trail. The long list, and how exact it was, and how likely it had taken someone who had made the journey to write such a detailed list. For they had it down to the exact moment you were supposed to cross the Rocky Mountains. 
"Guess what that date was based on?" She asked, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, and we stare at each other across her kitchen table, "Grass! For the cattle..." We nod like of course that made perfect sense. 
On and on she talked about all the work that went into such a journey. Don't we get that it is so like life? That it is work, hard work, and it's a journey to get somewhere. In between these stories come out random bits about her plans, how she's arranging her finances and so forth. It's like for all the world she's packing up the flour, the salt, and cramming into her covered wagon. 
I think she's timed it just right. That she's managed to cross the Rockies when there is still grass for the cattle. And while most of me is grieved and wants to cling to her wagon wheel and scream 'not yet,' there's a delicate balance to this timing. To making the journey successfully. And my dear, pioneering, grandmother has made it just right. All that is left now is the homestretch. The downhill sprint from the Rockies into to the promised, free, land. Well, free for us, someone had a to pay- there always is a price. I hope Jesus will be waiting for her with outstretched arms. For clinging to his robes would be far better than waving a silly flag. 
I don't know what I was expecting from that trip but what I got was this: how to die well. You die well when you do so with an attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness. When you reflect on your life and recount the stories honestly. When you say your goodbyes and prepare to say a very important hello. You die well when you see your wagon full of stuff for what it was, a means to an end and certainly not the end itself. When you see your body as a vessel, a covered wagon, that gets you to a new place. This life is just a journey, it's the next one where we truly live. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back to school- painted lunch bags!

Lest you think, oh you're THAT mom... The one that has all the school shopping done, volunteers each year, etc etc... I assure you I am not. My work got significantly more difficult this year as a promotion meant an hour long drive to work and a lovely night shift schedule. Suffice it to say I'm doing good to leave the house each day wearing pants. But my sweet children, who often beg me to not go to bed and stay up and play with them, have been missing me. So I decided to paint with them and when we were out of painting paper I suddenly had the idea to paint lunch bags so Kaiya would have decorated lunch bags. CJ starts his half day program, but I have no idea if he will need a whole lunch packed or not. We decided to make a couple for him anyway. So if you are a slacker, or just a realist, and need an easy project get out some paints and markers and decorate some lunch bags!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Talking to myself like I do to a friend.

The words hung in the air like little bubbles from a cartoon character: 'special education.' My son is in special ed. A wave of shame crossed over me that disgusted me immediately. If a friend told me her son was starting a special education program for a speech disability I wouldn't be ashamed for them or of them. Wouldn't even cross my mind. I would listen with empathy and be encouraging. 'This will help I'm sure.' I might even praise the wonders of speech therapy as I just went this past year for a breathing issue, and I was utterly amazed that speech therapy could actually help. So why do I talk to myself like an enemy and not like a friend? 'Its all your fault. You didn't do enough work to help him. Now he will be behind in school.' These are the thoughts swirling around my curly head this week. When they should be, and are with some effort: 'your son will be fine and you're doing the right thing.'
The devil must dance when he gets us to do his work for him. Especially when we beat ourselves up so he doesn't have to. I'm going through some stuff. And it's hard, and I'm doing the best I can. That's what I would tell a friend if they were me. So that's what I'm telling me. That the deep things take years to wade through, but the best treasures aren't found on the shallow shore. They are found where it gets deepest and darkest. And the lessons we only take once to learn aren't the ones that stick with us. It just is so. The epic struggles are the ones that engrave our very soul. The ones that change us.
So. Life can change. Things can happen. Changes, certainly, will happen like friends moving away. And little boys growing up and still babbling just a bit. But there is a God who gets us through the hard stuff. He truly has been there through it all. The devil keeps trying to write God out of the scenes in my life, for it is his ultimate trick for all of us. 
How about I rewrite those scenes with him in it? See the bits of grace that were there for me despite my size nines clomping all over them. Feel the hope that was meant for me in those dark moments. Taste the freedom that he paid so dearly for. Cling to what he had for me, despite missing it the first time. For he truly is my hope and my stay. 
Let him process what he has for me. It may just look like a perfect meal of fresh-cooked fish on a beach. Like he did for Peter. Healing given in words, spoken in threes. But spoken to undo what that wretched snake had first hissed. 'Feed my sheep.' Giving purpose and direction to a weary soul who quite expected to get fussed at instead of blessed. Move on. Get up little girl and do something. Hug that little boy and listen to him without fear of him never talking quite right. 
Here is how you get through the hard stuff: you stay right behind Me in My wake and let me plow through it all for you. It looks like hell kicked in the teeth by a cross of glory. It looks like heaven opening up down here, a blast of light through this vast void of dark. Dear friend, you get through the hard by clinging to a good and holy God.