Monday, September 28, 2009

Develop an Addiction

I was feeling crazy this week, overwhelmed, & thought--wow, this is how it happens. If I thought alcohol would help at all, I could totally become an alcoholic right now.

But it doesn't help.

And so, in my crazy, over-organized, but sometimes illogical brain, in my moment of over-toddler-ized desperation, I thought, I need to DEVELOP an addiction!

Chocolate? Check. It's hit or miss. On the fat days, it just makes you feel worse.

Coffee? Check. It's a nice pick-me-up, but...a body can only take so much. The jitters get hard to control.

And a small voice breathed a Yes. Develop an addiction to prayer.

I've been rolling that epiphany over in my calmer brain. Most mornings I lay in bed, my lips lifting desperate prayers for the day. Another day. Another blessed 24 hours of breathing, feeding, changing, oh Lord help me, comforting, redirecting, teaching, dressing.

But I'm not addicted, you know. When my veins are popping w/ the stress, I don't lock myself in my bathroom & get down on my knees. I lock myself in my bedroom w/ the computer & chocolate or coffee or both.

What if I were addicted to prayer? What if I lived like I was counting the moments between "fixes"?

There's a verse in James, & I forget how the whole thing goes, but part of it says, "Count it all joy."

I painted that on a strip of canvas & hung it in my living room, & the phrase haunts me (in a good way).

And so a blessing:

Peace to you in the midst of the screaming.
Peace to you when the bickering sets in.
Peace to you when the tears are rolling.

May you be His hands and feet in your home.
May you be His voice in your loved ones' ears.

May you find your bread in His Word.
May you find your freedom in following Him.

2yo is done coloring: my time's up.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I cleaned my bathroom today

I cleaned my bathroom today. It started with washing my face, randomly, in the early evening, which led to a meticulous teeth-brushing job, complete with flossing & mouthwash. Which led, naturally, to finally picking up all my stray bobby pins, dusting my makeup holders, & even cleaning the toothbrush holder.

The occasion? My husband offered to take care of the kids, feed them, put them to bed, so I could have time to write.

How do YOU spell avoidance?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The First Day of Autumn

Today was cold—the first crisp day of autumn.  Our air conditioning quit sometime yesterday, and so after a night spent at temps up to 92 in the warmest parts of the house, we opened up all the windows this morning and felt the cold front as it descended with its spicy scents and promises of the best kind of cold.  In Texas, these few chilly days bring the kind of excitement that is usually only seen in children, shaking with inexpressible joy on one of their first Christmas mornings.  Who knew life could be so good?

To see adults tremble with this child-like joy is magic.  Our eyes sparkle.  We don’t mind going up to the attic to pull out the sweaters.  We stop somewhere on the way home to pick up a log for the fire & maybe even—ludicrously—leave the windows open so we can have a fire now.  Tonight.  While the magic promise of cinnamon is still on the air.  Because soon enough, that cinnamon will freeze into delicate little snow flakes.  Yes, here in Texas.  Remember, this is the feel of the weather change.  It’s imaginary.

So while we don’t mind going up to the attic this one time of the year, I’m not personally going up there.  That’s my husband’s realm.  And when there was enough of a snap to the cold in the house, I began looking for a sweater here in my own kingdom.

You know the quiet of an army laying siege?  The feel inside the castle walls of something too quiet, something made of shadows slithering silently nearby?  My crisp autumn day was like that.  The coffee that should have tasted better on this day than any other—save Christmas, maybe—was bitter.  Cold too soon when it should have offered warmth.

It was when I went for a sweater and realized that there was only one not in the attic that the darkness could be seen.  I hesitated.  And then I gave myself over to it.  I dug through the depths of my closet, past the bags of clothes that are still too little, a year after baby was born, past forgotten gifts and mismatched shoes to the sweater I’d known was there.

It’s not really a sweater.  It’s a hoodie, black once, missing the tongue to its zipper, but it still zips.  One pocket torn halfway off, but both still good for warming hands.  All it has really lost is its smell.  The day I brought it home, it stank of sweat and sawdust and tobacco, and I buried my face in it and wept.

I haven’t worn it since that day, although I’ve held it and smelled it, but I’d worn it before, in another chilly climate that paid no heed to changing seasons, where every day was the first of autumn, crisp and cool.  That should have made it possible to plan an appropriate wardrobe, but you forget.  When a place has a climate all its own, it’s easy to forget when you’re away too long, and so you pack for warmer weather and are so grateful then to find a vacant hoodie, even if it has a broken zipper.

The faded cotton jacket was vacant today.  I pulled it about me, zipped it halfway up despite its missing tongue, and made hot chocolate for my kids.  I want them to know the wonder of the first day of autumn, too, the smell of cinnamon, the magic and invisible sparkle of the day rich with color and promise, even if there’s something missing they can never fully know.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Prisons

I have been thinking about prisons lately. I'm re-reading The 79 Squares by Malcolm J. Bosse, & I'm learning about the French Revolution with my kids. We've read adaptations of The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask, & I have been going through the library's movies set in that time.

The 79 Squares is a book about an old man and a young boy: the old man has spent the last 40 years of his life in prison, and the boy is living a life that will take him in that direction. Through a chance encounter, they develop an inexplicable relationship based around a garden and the old man's insistence that the boy learn to see the things around him. The old man explains that 40 years in a prison cell would drive a person mad if he didn't learn ways to cope.

The old man coped by learning to look, to see the details of his world, the cracks in the brick, the pattern of the floor. He spends his last summer teaching the boy to look closely, too, & unimaginably, the boy is transformed as he spends hour after hour learning to see the world of an ant, a tree, a bird, and a blade of grass. He learns the names of every insect, every plant, every animal, until he can read the changes in pressure by the flight of the birds and the shape of the clouds and the pull of the flowers.

There's the Bastille. I've got images of prisoners watching glimpses of the sun and the moon from movies made about this famous prison. I think about these wretched men learning astronomy, marking maps on their prison walls, focusing on details so they don't go crazy, so they have a reason to live, and I can't help it. The smallest piece of me is...jealous. For the opportunity to sit and see. To be still, to learn.

But my life is frenetic. Some days it's one long bellow of diapers & bumped knees & hurt feelings & pouting & ringing & knocking & chores, errands, paperwork. No time for being still. No time for gaping at a piece of the moon or learning astronomy—or Greek, as my husband would like.

How peaceful prison life sometimes sounds to my weary ears.

What kept madness at bay for the prisoners I've read about, though, was shifting their focus from the bars that held them to the very small bit of life that passed through their cells.

The wails of crying babies, the stink of overflowing trash, the never-ending hunger pangs of four growing children—these are the bars of my prison, if I can for a moment call it that. But I sometimes focus wrongly upon the bars, inviting madness in, gripping tight the iron shackles & seeing only the endlessness of my sentence: 10 years before the stove, stirring, flipping, steaming; 10 years before the washing machine, sorting, switching, folding, drying, hanging, ironing; 10 years on aching knees, bathing, changing, dressing; another 10 bending over, picking up, chasing, catching, sweeping, being chased by crumbs.

It seems an endless term sometimes. But when I remember to move my gaze, my thoughts, from the prison bars to the life that passes through my tiny cell, I see not iron bars & eternity, but a miracle & a beautiful moment that is fleeting.

Friday, September 11, 2009


The date comes on my calendar every year, like any other date. People go to work, schedule meetings, roll out new movies and products. As if it were any other date.

From the end of August to the middle of September, I try to pretend it's any other date. I try to mentally skip past it, hoping to forget it like the anniversary of something insignificant. But in waves, I remember.

As the waves of other people's pain and memory rise, mine are stirred. And there are so many memories, all dark, all mingled.

9/11 was my dad's birthday. When the twin towers were attacked in NY, he had just lost his dad to an early heart attack. The last time they'd spoken was an argument, & he never got over that.

Dad's second marriage broke up that year, and we spent his next birthday together, with sadness that was palpable. He tried to be enthusiastic, and he was glad not to be alone, I could tell, but nothing really brought much joy.

Soon after that, his sister died, unexpectedly and mysteriously. She had been his best friend, only a year younger than he. They shared the same birthday. Again, though, she had been estranged from Dad since her own divorce. It was hard on him, but when the chance of reconciliation was gone, I think that's when we lost him, really.

The grief ate away at him until he collapsed with his own heart attack. He was only 48 and had never been in the hospital before, but he spent three solid months in ICU, with one complication after another.

He recovered, and walked my sister down the aisle. We thought he would be fine. His dad suffered with heart problems for 20 years before he died.

9/11 was the last time I saw my dad alive. We went to celebrate his birthday with him again, but he was miserable. It was his first birthday since his sister had died.

Two weeks later, Dad died. The shock and the grief were so incredible, they shook my marriage, as his dad's death had dislodged his own. I felt myself slipping away, the way I'd watched my dad slip.

My dad and I had had one of those complicated divorced-parent relationships, in which it's hard to know what's true and if you're loved. He'd said it so many times, had clearly been afraid I might not know, but in the over-analysis of what's right, I had often missed what was good.

Things had gotten better between Dad and me in the years before he died. We'd become friends, thanks to our spouses' understanding of us. It turned out we were a lot alike, and once we saw that, I think we understood each other enough better to allow space for each other. And we each had a refuge to run to, who would turn us back to each other.

We had those few years together, and we spent a half hour alone together the last night I saw him. He often dealt with grief with anger, pushing people away, but before I left that night, he sat beside me and told me how he missed his sister. He had spent most of the evening furious at everything, trying to hold it in, and blowing bits of steam through clenched teeth. I told him how I loved him. And because of that 30 minutes, my last memories of my dad are good.

I try to remember my dad in my relationships now. I try to forgive quickly, think about how I'm feeling versus how I'm acting. I try to treat people the way I'd want to remember treating them when they die, since there's no guarantee we'll see each other again.

Except in September, when I try to forget. But the flags of other people's pain, of so much sadness surrounding the date, remind me. And I wish business could go on as usual, so I could forget, so the memories would not be stirred.

The signs of healing and moving on, of meetings and birthdays and business on the date...they remind me, too. Perhaps that means I cannot forget, because I want the whole world to stop on 9/11 so I can grieve, so my loss is acknowledged. I want others to be able to stop and grieve their losses, too.

My children make the difference. Before I was pregnant with #3, I dreamed that my dad told me we were going to have a little girl and that her name would be Abigail. The name means "your father is rejoicing," and it gives me peace that at last his sadness is gone.

Abigail was born nine months later, and she is sitting in my lap now, bringing me back to the present, out of my memories, reminding me with her own fat tears and incredible smile and labored words that I'm needed and loved, and the pain of the memories softens with the mysterious blessings of the mundane.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Plagues (Not Religious) Or: Christmas in September

I got hit in the eye with a fried egg this morning. Not the actual eyeball, just the lid.

Then I got accidentally served last night's coffee in a dirty coffee mug. Oops.

By 5:00 it had been a bad day. The kind where you think maybe you should have crawled UNDER the bed & waited to try again tomorrow.

So I declared Christmas. That's what I do on bad days. Maybe once a year besides the actual holiday, we have need of cinnamon-flavored festivities.

We got a pizza for $6 from Little Caesar's, & the kids were told that they had the time it took us to get the pizza plus 2 min to gather gifts for whomever they could gather gifts for. The rules were no money, no art supplies (because of irrelevant art supply infractions), & no more than 2 min beyond the time spent in the van driving to the pizza place.

We all got home & raced around the house. I wiped the table & swept the floor. Landon got out the sidewalk chalk & created a rock-tossing game akin to skeeball. John got stuff to wash, rub, & slipper Landon's feet. Books were set aside to be read to Abby. And for a finishing touch, I lit some Christmas-scented candles & set paper towels on the table.

They caught fire. I grabbed them & waved them around & grew goggle-eyed as the teeny fire grew flames. The big kids & I screamed. The babies began crying. Landon was stuck on the other side of the kitchen yelling instructions from his foot bath.

When my hand got hot, I threw the paper towels on the floor & started stomping on the fire, yelling, "MY FOOT'S ON FIRE! MY FOOT'S ON FIRE!"

One gray sock & melted shoe later, the fire was out, & the doors were opened to let the smell out as we all shook out the adrenaline.

In came the wasps.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

He Laid His Hands Upon Them & Healed Them

I was just reading through Leviticus this summer, after attending a Michael Card concert, in which he sang his way through the Bible but apologized for skipping Leviticus because he just hadn't found a way to sing about the Law. Of course the first thing I did was go home & write a song from Leviticus—two songs, in fact.

One of the interesting things about the Law is the idea of cleanness & uncleanness. We read this as a symbol of sin, which is fine, as long as you're not reading Leviticus too closely because a closer read leaves you indignant. How is it fair that someone born lame or blind cannot approach God? How is it fair that women are unclean after giving birth or during their menstruation every month? How is a natural state the equivalent of sin, & how can we be judged for that?

I imagine a crowd of people, trying to please the Lord, reaching up to Him, and He says, Sit down if you are wounded. Sit down if you are blind. Sit down if you're a woman, if you have buried the dead, if you have any defect at all. Sit down if you have touched anyone who's wounded, etc. Sit down if you've touched things touched by someone who's unclean.

The point isn't that you can try to be the one man left standing holy before the Lord, if you can just dodge all these bullets. The point is that you can't stand. The point is that none of us are clean. He spends a whole book of the Bible trying to convince us that our righteousness is like filthy rags. Because the point of the Law is to point us to a Savior.

Instead, though, people are pushed away. Lepers live outside the city, and they're forced to cry out, "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!" if anyone approaches. Women became second-class citizens. And men hoped that their bodies would stay whole, even as they knew their hearts were dark.

Then came a man who, by healing the sick, made them CLEAN. And as He healed them, He told them, "Your sins are forgiven." I'd forgotten that being sick in that society would make you untouchable, would keep you from the synagogue, would make you the subject of judgmental whispers and dirty looks.

But Jesus did something else. When He healed people, He touched them. I had never realized what a violation of custom that would have been. He took the sins of the world upon Himself on the cross, but He was taking our sins upon Himself each time He healed people, too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On the Blood Covenant & Divorce

The kids and I have been reading The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread & the Gospel of Luke the last couple of weeks. MST focuses on blood covenants throughout the Bible. It very simply outlines the customs & shows examples of these in the Scripture, while continually drawing parallels between these stories & Jesus' sacrifice.

Last night, they laid a couple of paper plate liners on the floor & walked around them the way Booker explains that people walked around the two halves of the animal sacrifice in MST, exchanging imaginary robes & belts.

They giggled, and we were about to move on when my daughter asked, "What about divorce?"


"Divorce," she said. "If a covenant can't be broken, how can people divorce?"

I really do love it when they ask these deep questions, because I've found that I learn more from these than I do from anything I read.

There's the pat answer, of course. God hates divorce. It's a bad thing. It's sad.

I could have said that and moved on, but a passage from MST stuck with me. The two people entering into covenant start out back-to-back between the two halves of a bloody animal. They make a figure eight around the two halves, keeping their eyes on the sacrifice, and come together again, face to face. Part of the point, Booker explains, is that they're symbolically saying, "May God do that to me and more if I ever break this covenant."

In the end, I told the kids that divorce isn't possible because a covenant can't be broken. You can try. Two people can live in different places, but it's like cutting yourself in half. The result may be two different locations, but not life. Your insides will be like the two halves of the dead chicken. (I know it's not a chicken; somehow in our example, it was.)

I guess it's like the Garden of Eden. God told Adam & Eve that they'd die if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. As a child, I wondered secretly that they didn't die and felt guilty for wondering. As an adult, I can see that they did, in fact, die, and that death touched them at every turn through the rest of their lives until their bodies died, too. They buried first their relationship with God, the animal He killed to clothe them, and their home in the Garden, then their son, full bellies, and peace. At last, they buried each other.

So, yeah, God hates divorce. But I think our paper plate liners that represented dead chickens that represented the sacrifice of a covenant relationship is a sobering image of the reason He's so passionate about it.

May the Lord do so to me & more, if I ever try to break my covenant.