Feb 8, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

If Women Over 40 Wrote Love Song Lyrics

There are no sweeter high school memories than driving down the road in a car full of girlfriends, spiral-permed hair not moving in the wind, and squealing at high-decibel levels when That Song came on the radio. We would even risk being late to homeroom, because we could not exit the car until the last synthesized note faded into silence under the annoying voice of the DJ who had to talk over it.

But here’s the thing. Most love songs have lyrics that are perfect for teenage angst and just beg for an eye-roll emoji in real life.  So I’ve come up with an alternate translation of the typical lines you’d find in most love songs. I like to call it: If Women Over 40 Wrote Love Songs.

“I want to hold you in my arms all night and kiss you all night long.”

Um, no. Please don’t. First of all, I’m getting sweaty thinking about that. Not a sexy, glistening kind of sweaty either. Also, we both have jobs and kids to wake up to. Let’s be practical: We need sleep here.

“I’ll never let you down.”

You already will before this song is finished. Mostly by the way you’re driving while singing it. But hey, good news: I’ll let you down, too, so we’re even.

“I’m nothing without you.”

That’s going to be very inconvenient if I ever need to travel. See aforementioned kids. And dogs and dishes. Also, I can’t be going to your job with you, so let’s work on that whole codependency thing, K?

“I’d die for you.”

Huh. I’d kill for someone to wipe the kitchen counters instead.

“You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Well, that one’s pure genius. Moving on….

“You make my heart skip a beat.”

It sounds like an EKG should be top of your to-do list. Another reason why we should skip that staying up all night long stuff. Probably not good for the old ticker.

“I’d do anything for you/go to the ends of the Earth for you.”

Since you brought it up, there IS this little thing called a grocery list right here…

“I don’t need anything but you.”

Thing is, you might want to consider oxygen. Or nutrients. Seriously. I don’t mind coming in third in this particular case.

“I’ll always be by your side.”

Could you consider a hobby maybe?

“I’d be lost without you.”

That’s what Google Maps is for. Although I’m happy to backseat drive any time.

“You don’t know you’re beautiful.”

Or you could just tell me I am. Which you just did. So the rest of that song is superfluous now.

“I want to stay here, like this, forever.”

Again with the lack of productivity. Do these lyricists not have actual jobs? Does anyone ever need to, I don’t know, take a shower occasionally?

“I just want to lie here and watch you breathing.”

Some people call that stalking. Also, if I wake up and see you staring at me, there may be some physical harm involved.

“I’d walk a thousand miles/swim a thousand oceans/climb a thousand mountains to be with you.”

That’s called a triathlon. So, go you! Also you might want to consider, I don’t know, an airplane ticket?  Because there’s really no need to put yourself through that kind of exertion.

“You’re the one that I want.”

Well. Ok. You know what? Me, too. Me, too. Just you. And a trip to Paris. But mostly you. And that’s a sentiment I can get behind, not just one cupid-covered day of the year, but in the every-days and the long days and the happy days and the hard days.

That’s a love song I’d sing, sappy lyrics or not.

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Feb 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Girl in the Backseat

I wasn’t sure I would make it home safely that night. I sat in the backseat of the car, my fingers grasping the small, shaking hand of my friend.

We thought it was a joke.

We thought they were playing around.

We thought all guys were good, Christian boys like the ones we had known.

We were wrong.

We made ourselves tiny, quiet, and still as the two boys in the front seats determined our fate. At first they were angry. After all, we wouldn’t “put out,” I believe were the words they used to describe our shortcomings. Their anger began its climb to simmer and, fueled by the Circle K slushies they mixed with the contents of a large, clear glass bottle stowed under the front seat, began to boil and burn.

There were taunts. There were words we had never heard before. There were brakes squealing as the laughing boys pulled off the road to relieve themselves in the ditch, in full view of our innocent eyes.

There were prayers sent up from the back seat. There were spines of steel which began to forge. No. No. We were going home. And they were going to take us there.

Of course, we had no recourse, no control, no cell phone with which to summon help. Only a prayer, whispered again and again. And a sense of guilt: Had we brought this on ourselves? How did we land here?

We did make it home safely that night, leaping out at our doorstep as they slowed down in the vicinity of my driveway, and we clung to each other with tears and vows to never, ever tell our parents what had happened.

They found out, as parents are mysteriously able to do. And the anger they felt was not, as we’d feared, toward us, but toward the truly guilty party: The boys who’d endangered us that night before they squealed tires into the darkness, threats and expletives tossed out as a parting gift.

There are other girls, mere babies, around the block, across the street, just a train or plane ride away who don’t have any protection tonight. The threat of violence against them is not just the bludgeon of nasty words and the control tactic of fear: It is enacted upon them in the searing sun of day and the dark anonymity of night. Their bodies are pummeled again and again by those who will never recall their faces, those who never care to know their names.

Their souls are shattered by the actions of fathers and mothers who, feeling their own entrapment, sell the bodies of their daughters and sisters and sons and cousins in order to repay the crushing boulder of debt that sits upon them, squeezing out their family’s life breath. The young become slaves, their bodies available to the highest bidder, their value increasing in proportion to their lack of sexual experience.

I used to think of brothels as brash, bosomy, whiskey-laden places in western movies, where the cowboy’s sex with the heart-of-gold prostitute led to love or at least some kind of romance in the days after the camera faded to black.  Now I know more. I know real, personal facts: That there are girls who are trapped, stuck, used. There are girls who aren’t even women yet. There are girls and boys who are used by men and women who have no thought of romance, no thought of the partner at all, except for a means to scratch an itch, an attempt to fulfill a Hollywood-derived fantasy which will never live up to the hype.

Those who have been branded, emotionally and quite literally, from sexual abuse and slavery are not the mysterious, shadow-hidden strangers of our imagination. They live close by. They walk, not just on street corners, but on Your Street. They shop next to us in the self checkout line. They are daughters. They are sisters. They are brothers. They are us, without the luxury of a safety net.

The problem is overwhelming but, as so often is true, there are little things, tiny steps we can take to start helping. We can buy, whenever possible,  from stores who support ethical practices. We can not shut up when we see something that just doesn’t seem right. We can be communities where families will thrive, where young boys and girls know they have trusted adults to talk to, where there are options other than running away and becoming vulnerable to those who prey on those who are alone; where they have a chance to escape becoming another sex trafficking statistic.

Some of us have been our own type of statistic. Some of us have darker parts of our past we would rather pretend never happened. While we cannot erase the smudges or smooth out the creases, we can turn our eyes toward redemption: Not that the pain and the wrongs didn’t matter, but that they mattered enough…enough that we will battle for the girls and the women and boys all around, that we will stand as a wall between them and the evil waves battering against us. That we won’t stop standing until the girls in the backseat come home safely: Because any girl in the backseat is you, is me, is one of us. She just needs us to be her safe ride home.

(“Human trafficking makes more money than Google, Starbucks, Nike, and the NFL combined.” Stat from fairtradewinds.net, an excellent resource. If you search for “fair trade shopping,” you’ll see a growing list of companies who fit this definition. It costs more, definitely. But even trading out a few purchases a year in this direction is a good beginning. Front-line organizations to check out include Exodus Road and Branded Collective).

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Jan 29, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

When Helping Doesn’t Help

The words “storage room” were much too generous a term. It was a dust-piled, dirt-shrouded mass of shelves and rodent-attacked cardboard boxes and bins.

Our job was to sort the hundreds of bottles in those boxes…to cull the pills and liquids and organize them into manageable stacks that the workers in this small Guatemalan building could use.

There were pills for dogs. Tinctures from veterinary offices. Large, chalky tablets that would choke a full-grown adult.

But this was a malnutrition center for babies.

To add insult to the already-overflowing pile of useless items, the great majority of the medicines were completely expired, vastly outdated. Something a U.S. parent would never, ever risk giving to her infant or young, sick child.

Yet that’s how people helped: In ways that didn’t actually help.

In another village nearby, teams of generous volunteers donated water filters in places where children’s bodies were so wracked by waterborne illnesses that they were vomiting and defecating worms from their tiny frames. These filters would, quite literally, save lives. Yet in the rush to disperse the gifts, no instructions were given on how to use those filters and so, months later, when other teams visited the village, life-saving filtration systems had been turned into upside-down storage vessels to hold dry goods.Or planters to grow some herbs.

Yet that’s how people helped: In ways that didn’t actually help.

In the closets and classrooms of a local Guatemalan church building, volunteers spent hours hand-sorting tangled masses of clothing, pieces donated to the poor of our town. Nearly two-thirds of these stained, unwashed, often-disintegrating items were ones you or I would never consider wearing. They would have been cast aside or cut into rags to wipe down our toilets. They should have been. Sending them was, instead of useful, another burden. Now precious volunteer time and building space were wasted on what was no better than trash.

Yet that’s how people helped: In ways that didn’t help.

There were gifts of livestock to families who had no means of feeding and caring for such animals. There were stacks of children’s DVDs. In English. To children who spoke two other languages fluently. And while the intent was love, the receivers felt only burdened with a new problem.

As citizens of a generous nation, we can often skew toward a particular mindset: Across our nation’s history, we have a tradition of being the fixers, the doers, the pioneers who fearlessly blast through geographical boundaries, who are among the first lining up to give our time and our aid to the least of these.

But sometimes our helping does not help. In recent days, as immigrants and refugees have faced shattering blow upon blow, we have rushed to help. And we should. It is not a time to sit. It is not a time for inaction. Yet as we move forward, let us ask ourselves these questions: What do our refugee  neighbors really need? Have we bothered to ask them? Have we decided we know best for them? Have we looked for the organizations within their own communities? Have we, instead of choosing what we in our great United States ingenuity decide is best, asked the frightened ones what they really need?

Recently, many are pointing our eyes back in history, reminding us of the ways we can learn from past horrors. In our little efforts in the villages in Guatemala, during our short years there, we slowly and often awkwardly, and with the great patience of our local friends and citizens, had to learn as well. We had to learn to be humble, to be listeners more than Master Plan Writers, to slow down and hear our needy friends instead of blasting down their fragile doors with our oh-so-privileged ideas of what they needed. And as we listened, the children began to receive the life-saving medicines crafted just for their sizes. The water filtration teams learned to spend hours with the communities, to teach each person exactly how to use the system that could bring a family back to health. The volunteers learned what kind of clothing was needed or, better yet, took the mother of the family shopping in the local markets for what her family required. Because the mamas always know best. Start with the mamas.

Let’s be unafraid in these days of fear: Unafraid to admit what we don’t know. Unafraid to be learners. Unafraid to be listeners. Unafraid to fall into step behind those already leading their marginalized, hurting communities so well. Because we don’t know. But we can learn and, in that learning, truly, beautifully help.

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Jan 26, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Before It’s Too Late

Are you shaking your head at us? You should be.

How far away we are, how very little our shouted and written and typed words reflect anything you said or did.

You were silent when insulted; we demand to be heard and understood. And we won’t stop until we are.

You refused to be dragged into debates and arguments with the fools around you. Instead, you spoke one word, one phrase, one thing. And then left to act on behalf of those who needed you.

You weren’t a pushover or a peace-keeper. Oh no. You were a peace-MAKER, not wasting your limited time here on trying to be the loudest and the Winner of the Fight. You did fight, but with a different kind of weapon: a few well-chosen words and then action. You went and did things. You weren’t found sharing a meal with the political power-wielders or the churchgoers of your day. No, you hung out with the broken and destroyed and needy people. The people we all try to avoid at Christmas parties.

And then? After you had listened and loved and spoken? You went away to be by yourself. Not to hide. Not to feel sorry for yourself. But to be more yourself again for those who always needed more of you.

You said some hard things when they needed to be said. But I picture you as the party guest who sat quietly during the raging, loud, growing-ruder-by-the-second political debate and then when somebody, almost as an afterthought, asked, “Hey, what do YOU think?” you paused, and you opened your mouth and spoke one or two simple, true things that dropped hard into the room. BUT THEN YOU STOPPED. You knew it was useless to argue with people who really didn’t want to hear your words.

Are you shaking your head at us? If you were anything like us, you would be. You’d sigh in disgust and walk away. But since you are not like us,  you will sit down next to us, hand us a glass of wine or a hunk of bread and stick it out. The first to listen and the last to shout.

If only we were willing to hush, we might hear.

If only we were willing to act, we might change things.

If only we were willing to do the hard, humbling work it takes to live in peace with each other.

Have mercy on us. Because it turns out that WE are the broken and destroyed and needy at the party. And the way to healing is not the way of rancor and hate all around us, being done in the name of you and of other gods. None of it.

Maybe the way of healing might begin with the upside-down way you lived your life: giving when it made no sense, loving when the love isn’t returned, kindness in exchange for cruelty. It all sounds impossible. But we are desperate people in desperate times, and we desperately need a new way. Not an inside-our-ivory-towers of churches way, handing out judgment like gospel tracts but maybe handing out cups of cold water, food, hugs, comfort, turned cheeks.

Help us be brave. Help us tread the way of peace before it’s too late.

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Jan 25, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Red Pencil

We all know the red pencils. Those dreaded Wrong-Answer-Marking instruments, their arrow-sharp points making bright tracks across the white expanse of our grade-school tests or our high-school expository essays which would catapult us to honor roll stardom. We recall the moments when our math teacher paced in between desk rows, licking her finger in what seemed like undisguised delight as she unstuck each page, handing the work back into our waiting hands, and we nervous-tapped our own plain number 2 pencils in trepidation, wondering how many red strokes would be slashed across our offering.

Recently, I watched a real-life red pencil moment. It happened like this:

She was an older woman who stood a little below the height of the much younger acquaintance of hers, looking up a bit as she shared what she had viewed, how it had moved her. It was just one of those click-bait YouTube videos, the kind that you half-watch and then inexplicably find yourself wiping your eyes while peering about the Starbucks to make sure no one witnessed your emotion. But in this moment, the younger woman listening to the elder wasn’t actually listening. Her first reaction was not to absorb, not to understand how the words had encouraged and lifted. Her initial instinct was to correct the woman’s facts, to make sure she understood that there were errors in the video! There were mistakes! They must be righted! I watched the one-sided exchange, my face growing warm and my glance lowering to shield myself from the confusion and hurt I’d seen creeping into the older woman’s eyes like water-filled clouds. The factual errors being pointed out with the red pencil of the younger woman’s words? They did exist. They were real. Yet they didn’t change the message of the video. The meaning and the heart of it were still exactly the same. Those errors could never have been mentioned at all and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The focus could have been on the moment instead of on the mistakes.

Over and over again in my own daily actions and reactions….and more and more littered across social media, this is the norm. People MUST prove their points. They MUST correct any post, monitor any conversation they see, sharp red pencils ready to circle any real fault or, more frequently, even a perceived one.

But what would happen if we paused first? What would happen if we asked ourselves, “Would anything really change if I left this alone? If I put down my pencil?” If the answer is no, we can step back. If the answer is yes, we can speak up. If the answer is unclear, we can engage in the practice of waiting: Waiting for a situation to finish its course and for a person to come to a conclusion all on his or her own. Here’s the beautiful truth of human nature: What happens when we wrestle with facts and data and yes, emotion, and change our minds about something? Without anyone trying to convince us of it? Without someone else’s agenda steering our direction? The end result of that wrestling, our decision? It sticks. It stays. It becomes part of our very selves, knit into the fibers of our muscle and the firings of our brain.

What would happen if we all stopped defending our turf?

What would happen if we all set down our phones and looked into eyes?

What would happen if we stopped virtually arguing and started talking as neighbors, as friends, as humans who respect each other?

What would happen if we thought our words through and remembered that, in a world where nothing is private, where every Monday night meal and possibly broken toe and screen-shot text message is posted online, that there are talks and moments and words that are meant to be between two people? That we have lost the sweet, sacred intimacy of those moments when we throw them out for all to see.

We are fighting the same fight. We are just using different weapons. But let’s stop using those weapons on each other. Let’s use them FOR each other’s good, for the good of our beat-up and bloodied world. In our fight to show love to the neglected and hurting parts of our population, let’s not hurt and neglect each other in the process.

Let’s love each other well today. Let’s love each other in the quiet spaces where no one else sees. Let’s love each other in the loud spaces where everyone is watching. Let’s dust off that old-fashioned word “neighbor” and put it back on the table…the round, wobbly coffee-shop table, the fork-scarred dining room table, the TV tray, the plastic patio set, the wine-topped communion table. Wherever we gather, let us do it in real life and in love and in goodwill to all who circle our table today.

Let’s engage in the practice of Not Always Having To Be Right. Let’s learn again the ancient and powerful and often painful process of waiting: Allowing others the space and air to come to their own decisions. Allowing the truth to come to the light. It will. It doesn’t mean we never, ever speak out. It means we teach ourselves to weigh, to think, to sit with the outcome, to count the cost to our relationships. Sometimes it will be worth that cost to say those words. And sometimes we can shut our lips tightly on the words we so badly want to spill out.

What if we smiled with our kids and chuckled with our friends at the not-entirely-accurate YouTube videos instead?

What if we put down the red pencil, just for a moment? As a mother and a teacher, that red pencil is often gripped like glue into my hand. But who knows what my putting it down might let me pick up instead, what love and laughter and lightness might enter into my open hands today.

“Because we fail to listen to each other’s stories, we are becoming a fragmented human race.” Madeleine L’Engle

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Jan 23, 2017 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

In The Bleak Midwinter

 

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“In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow.

In the bleak midwinter,

Long, long ago.”

I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but its words were stuck in my brain this morning; as stuck as the front door that wouldn’t budge, its handle squealing its protest of my opening it to the cold world outside.

As I walked along my morning path, the ground beneath my booted feet could only be described in the words of that poem, “Earth stood hard as iron.” My steps and the light prancing of the furry puppy next to me pounded against the rough, unforgiving surface, not even making an impression into its brutal coldness.

The world was so hard.

The world IS so hard.

We have all been hurt, sometimes in devastating ways…ways that shattered our whole being against the hard earth, ways that made us think everything we believed in was not true, not real, a wicked lie that made fools of us. Sometimes, the pain came from those who had promised to love us best, and sometimes it was in little, petty ways that were more of our own wounded heart’s interpretation of another’s intent. But still, there was great hurt. All of the things…big or small…have punctured our tenderness with their frozen steel-tipped arrows.

Just this morning, while the epiphanies of my stroll were still simmering in my brain, my impossibly cold hands wrapped around a steaming beverage in the hopes that some part of me could be warm; in the midst of breakfasts being eaten and dishes piling in and out of sinks and laundry never leaving and school questions flying around the air, there was a brief email that came in and took my breath away with the sheer insensitivity of it. Eyes began to sting. Heart dropped and sickened.

And I felt my heart close as tightly as a fist.

Hard as iron. Hard as iron. Just like the ground.

I wanted to be angry in the justifiable RIGHTNESS of my rage. I wanted to lash out and tell the world what a jerk it was being today.

But I’ve been as hard as iron before. And it’s terrible. It means I look all around me just waiting for people to screw up and hurt me. It means I view everything through the scratched, fogged-up lenses of Let’s See How This Must Be About Me glasses. It means I push people away with my prickliness. It means I’m cynical and closed off and eventually alone with my blanket of self-pity which, by the way, is a very thin and moth-eaten and lonely cover.

Instead, in the bleak midwinter of my hurt, whether that hurt is something simple that I can choose to step over and be done with in an hour, or whether it is something brutal that will take work and tears and years, I can be, instead of a hard ground, a soft and yielding place.

Instead of holding the hurt tightly in my icicled hands, I can become humbled and understanding and YES, ABSOLUTELY allow myself to feel pain and to cry and to say words that I don’t want my kids to hear or repeat, but then…then, I have to allow my hands to open and release. I have to remember the things that I can change, which usually…well, actually, never….include other people.

Instead of allowing the hurt to fashion me into something hard and unyielding that shatters people when they come up against me, I can become a gentle place for them to fall. Because they will fall. I will fall. Instead of breaking against each other, we can catch each other.

Choosing the softer way means I will get hurt. A lot. It means I have to look at myself and say, Yep, I’m sensitive. Way, way sensitive a lot of the time.  I know that it means I have the beautiful, breath-catching capacity to Love Big, but it also means I have the terrifying, soul shaking capacity to Break Hard.

If we have lived on this Iron Earth for any more than a few years, we have loved and we have been broken: wide open, brutally and unfairly. And we can let our hearts be terribly frozen. But the wide open warmthness of heart and the way of gentleness and of love and yes, oh yes, of wisdom in how to navigate this way of love is too gorgeous to miss. It requires our boots and gloves and scarves, not to protect us against the pain (oh no, there’s no armor for that). Instead of shields for our souls and our hearts, the gear we drape ourselves in becomes simply  a way for us to keep walking longer, to keep loving harder,  to keep reaching that hand to another and finding more warmth as we join those hands. To keep walking on the iron-solid ground of this planet, our footsteps together treading stronger than we ever would alone.

And what was once Cold and Hard and Stone becomes Life and Soft and Green. The bleak midwinter always gives way to spring. It always has, a million times over, and always will again. It is unstoppable. May it be unstoppable in our hearts as well.

 

In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rossetti, 1872

 

 

Jan 21, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Quiet Work of Justice

There is a moment for mouths to be opened, for shouts once locked up behind closed lips to be set loose.

There is a place for placards to be held high.

There is a space for slogans to be written.

There is a time for treading the path of the marchers.

This is the loud work of justice.

But what about the quiet ones, the ones whose hearts pull deeply down into the depths of grief for their sisters and brothers and lovers and friends….

For the quiet ones, the ones who will never stand behind a podium, lift a hand-scrawled sign, step into the footfalls of a protest….

For the ones who, every day, scrub and wipe faces and bodies and scrub and wipe again and again; who hold babies their own and babies not their own close in arms…arms not raised aloft holding markered words but arms wrapped warm around a fractured heart….

For the ones who walk, not in a march, but beside a needy neighbor, a broken stranger, a shattered soul, a bruised child….

For the ones who pass behind the blinding lights and the brocade curtains of the stage; who catch the falling pieces and right the crooked lines….

For the ones who do the quiet work of justice every day: You are the living, pulsing life-blood of peace in our world.

You may never be a name in bright fonts for others to admire. You may never be a sound ringing through the speakers, a face spotlighted with fame. You may never be feet worn through with marching and protesting. But your feet are still beautiful bearers of justice: Quiet Workers of justice in a world that is often too loud for you.

Walk on, dear one. Walk on behind and around and with your sisters and brothers who march in the lights. Your arms under and near are the beams that hold together the stage of solidarity.

Your feet, making your own way in the dimly-lit moments, will pave the way smoother for those who will walk in the noon.

Your eyes, watchful and waiting, will see the needy in corners, the hiding ones others will miss. We need your eyes and arms and feet. We need your Quiet Work of Justice to strengthen our own shouts, to hold high our tired hands. We need your particular brand of strength.

We are all doing the work of justice with different weapons, different methods, different volumes to our voices. But we are doing it together.

Walk on.

 

 

“In quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 

Jan 11, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Ducks

Perhaps you’ve heard of Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls? That event’s intensity pales in comparison to the excitement which occurs every morning and evening in my very own yard. We have dubbed it The Running of the Ducks, and it involves two steps: In the foggy-cool morning, sweet, fat, ridiculously-loved ducks are set loose from their kennel to dash (waddle) toward the pond (also known in Duckspeak as Nirvana) where they paddle and splash and eat whatever green growing things ducks eat all day long. In the evening, during the approximately 32 seconds between the sun beginning to set and absolute darkness, the ducks are then lured with The Great Red Solo Cup Of Duck Food back to their safe sleeping quarters for the night.

Except one night. One night it all went wrong. The sun set just a few minutes early, my people were distracted with books and homework and suddenly, night was upon us. My daughter and her youngest brother tried all of the tricks they could come up with. Offering more food. Handfuls of spinach held out enticingly. Promises of a warm bed to come. Pleas. Tears (mostly from the worried mama watching and trying/failing to not interfere). Nothing worked. Finally, one duck swam close enough to the edge of the pond for my daughter to grab her, so she was placed behind the locked-tight gate of the kennel. At least one baby was safe.

Until the protests began. Nope. Miss Duck would not have it. She couldn’t even. She was panicked, afraid for her sisters who she knew were still in the pond. She was quacking and squawking so loudly we could hear her above our own sounds ringing throughout the house. So we brought her back out into the night and placed her onto the porch where she waddled back and forth, back and forth, pacing about in her little webbed feet, her small beak and eyes trained upon the water where her sisters were still in danger. Who knew what predators were gathering in the deep woods surrounding the dark depths that held the remaining ducks? She would not leave her sisters. And they answered back, longing to get to her but not knowing how, calling out but unable to see their path to her.

Eventually, we had to place the poor girl (the duck, not my daughter) back into the shrouded pond with her sisters, where they immediately swam in formation to the small island of land in the center and huddled together, a mass of feathers prepared to wait out the cold night ahead. They were so tightly packed that we could not, the next morning, tell how many had made it through the danger. Finally, the sun warmed them enough for their wings to spread out and for their little necks to reach up and greet the safety of the day. They had survived. Together.

Right now, in this very day, we have sisters existing in places where actual predators have gathered, where the only option is to huddle together. Where there is no way to flee, no way to see the path to safety. So they stay, a tightly-knit mass of sisterhood, and wait until the morning.

Right now, we have sisters who have made a wrong step or two….and who among us has not….and they feel trapped and alone on the island of those decisions. We can enter the water with them, remain closely packed together until there is a clear path, a new day. We can remind them and, in that retelling, remind ourselves that messing up doesn’t mean we ARE messed up.

Right now, we have sisters who are in the murky waters of loss and grief. They just need a sister who won’t leave them; who will say, “I won’t try to explain this away or tell you to keep your chin up or Romans 8:28 you. I’m sorry and I’m here and I won’t leave, even when everyone else gets weary along the journey of your sorrow and paddles away to shore.”

Right now, we have sisters whose marriages are not the safe, happy places they once were. Maybe a sister has received the heart-shattering electric shock of discovering betrayal in her closest relationship. Perhaps life and work and hardship has worn her down and she doesn’t even like who she is and who she married anymore. She needs a sister who can say, “Me, too. Me, too. But I’m here to be your mirror to truth and your bridge to finding home again.”

Right now, we have sisters who are in the excruciatingly normal process of letting a child leave the nest. Perhaps a sister is caught in the current: She watches, willing her child to be a functioning, independent adult and, simultaneously scans the waters around him, her mother-vision eyesight (stronger than any military-grade goggles) lighting up the sniper here, the hidden land mine there. Her wingspan is no longer wide enough to hold the child under her care. She needs a sister who can tell her she’s normal. She needs a sister who knows the stretching and pulling of a Mother Heart, who will not rationalize away the complex ache of her friend.

Right now, we have sisters in all of these places of need. Whether or not we have been on the same waters they now navigate is irrelevant. Pain is pain is pain is pain. Hurt and betrayal and loss and grief are universal.

This morning, as I look out upon the now-icy stretch of my pond, I know that soon the quiet early air will be swallowed by the sounds of duck sisters having their version of morning coffee together. They will discuss what area of the water looks most passable. They will feel out the food situation. They will splash each other playfully and dive under and pop back up, the cold droplets of winter water running off their iridescent feathers. But they will do all of this together. No one will float away alone. Their webbed appendages will push through the reeds and the swirling places as one unit, their journey only attempted  together.

Perhaps these silly ducks aren’t as silly as I thought. Let’s stay together, sisters. Let’s not leave each other defenseless. Let’s not compete: For boys, for accomplishments, for the approval of others. Let’s not climb on each other’s backs to get places; Let’s watch each other’s backs to usher us all to a shore of safety, an island of unity where we can keep each other close until the morning comes.img_8854

Dec 12, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

My Real Christmas Letter

I’d like to be one of those people who sends out family pictures at the holidays. You know the photos: Every member of the tribe has used actual deodorant, has allowed a hairbrush to float about the general vicinity of his or her scalp, has donned clean-enough clothing and will stand still long enough to smile or at least to crack open his or her lips and show off that grill, also known as braces. Or, more accurately known as the reason they’re getting fewer Christmas gifts this year.

I’ve been a mom for 18 years now and I’ve recently used a complicated mathematical formula by which I add 18, divide by good intentions, carry the pets, cross multiply by exhaustion and end up with the sum of my average: Over those 18 years I’ve sent out exactly one Christmas letter. Yay underachieving. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m just not ever going to be a family Christmas card person. But recently I’ve wondered, if I did break my impressive non-communicatory streak, what would my Realistic Christmas Letter look like? One that wasn’t perfect and polished? One that told the actual story of a year? Now, don’t get me wrong…I love reading people’s years in review. It brings me holiday cheer and goodwill towards all to know that they are doing well. But I think my letter would look a little more like this:

Dear Friends and Family,

Let’s be honest. I’m never going to mail this out because just driving by the Post Office is enough to make me ponder the pros and cons of working anti-anxiety meds into my life. I’m leaning in heavily towards Yes about now. I mean, I keep meaning to go to the pre-paid postage website and sign up for the Magical Never Go To The Post Office Again subscription I’ve heard tales of, but I’ve been a little busy.

Busy doing what, you ask? Well, settle in and I’ll tell you. Maybe, in fact, your year looked just a little bit like mine…..

The topper to my list this year would be Momming. I have Mommed so hard. I have achieved the Eagle Scout-level patch of “You have three teenagers” this year. At some point along the childrearing journey,  I had read in a parenting book, oh blessed work of fiction that it was, that parenting big kids would be less tiring than parenting toddlers. To that author, I have my own well-thought-out, calmly-composed literary criticism to offer and it is thus: Liar, liar, your pants had better be on fire or I will at least set this book ablaze in an alternative yule log ceremony of my own. Moms. If you got nothing done this year but make it through with your sanity more or less intact and with one or maybe 3/4 of your kids’ names remembered, and with those kids still mostly loving you? On every third Thursday? That’s a win, friends. Write it down. Raise yourself a glass of whatever. You hero, you!

This year brought a new challenge to my parenting plans, as I worked outside of the home for the first time in awhile. Necessity is the mother of getting a job, or whatever it is that they say. Working mamas. Seriously. I have questions. How have you done it? WHY do your people still expect crazy generous things like dinner each night? When do you sleep? Is coffee offered in a portable IV bag? Are washed and folded and put away clothes really a thing that people do? I’d like to salute you, but I’m fearful that I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome from the work hours I’ve spent on my computer and the googling of “is there a silent monastery retreat available in my area?”  Or any area. I’m totally saluting you in spirit, though.

This year I’ve stared down the tunnel of a new journey I didn’t want to take: That of watching people I love grow older and step into the health challenges that stage of life brings. For those of you who are caretakers to parents and grandparents and other loved ones: May your new year bring new moments of respite and rest and may your heart know the tricky balance of acceptance and grieving. It’s harder than they told us it would be, isn’t it? Let’s walk together through it.

There’s not time or caffeine enough to list in detail all of the other events that comprise a year: Celebrations. Loss. New friendships. Broken hearts. Work stress, for ourselves and for our extended family. Trying to do right by others in time and resources. Household maintenance. Animal maintenance (see earlier essays on ducks and dogs). Political breakdowns. Nights full of worry instead of sleep. Daylight Savings Time.

But throughout the 365-give-or-take-one-weirdly-tacked-on-day time span, there’s a thread that pulls through, that ties us to each other, that holds us all as one: Love. Whether our year has been measured more with Love’s loss than gain this time around or whether our year has overflowed with the joy of connection, Love’s presence is always the constant soundtrack humming underneath our lives.

No matter what did or didn’t occur this year, what dreams were put to bed for good, what granted wishes surprised us with their appearance, what hearts opened or closed to us, we can still hold to that thread of Love, whether it feels wispy and inconsequential in its weight or heavy and thick with substance.

Here’s to your year. As you close the door on the passing months, may you open your heart to the possibilities waiting in the moments to come.

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure – measure a year?
In daylights – in sunsets
In midnights – in cups of coffee
In inches – in miles
In laughter – in strife

In – five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure
A year in the life

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.” (“Seasons of Love,” Jonathan Martin, “Rent,” 2005)

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Nov 29, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Malnourished

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They sat in cold metal chairs, the woman’s tears carving silent silver streams down her face. The cement walls and floor seemed only to magnify the bite of the mountain air and the wail of the weeping toddler who had just been carried away from them.

They did not want to let her go. But it was a very real choice between keeping her and watching her ribs grow more visible, her body more shrunken, her eyes more dull. At least now she could have a belly full of food instead of the intestines full of worms that took over her tiny frame.

The small cinderblock building that housed this malnutrition center was found in a high-altitude, low-income village outside of Guatemala City. It was just one 30 minute, hairpin-curved bus ride outside the boom and brash in-your-face contrast between luxury and poverty that made up the country’s capital. For months now, we’d been bringing teams of Americans there to feed babies, change diapers, wipe faces, and snuggle children whose hearts were tender and torn, not understanding where mommy and daddy had gone.

The wrenching of child from mother and father was like a horror movie, replayed in surround sound over and over. It was never something to get used to, to accept. And this couple’s story was predictable, one  during which, sadly, we could have filled in the blanks for them during their interview with the director:

“How many children do you have?”
“Five.”

“One of your children is already here, yes?”

Heads were lowered as a murmured, “Si” came out of shame-touched lips.

Then followed a general health overview, striking in its similarity to any American doctor’s office, shocking in its difference. The gentle questions of the director uncovered that the tiny two year-old experienced a cough and constant diarrhea.

“And what has she been eating?”

“She will only drink liquids.”

“Which ones will she drink?” The director named a popular vitamin-enhanced liquid.

“No. No. Just coffee.”

Pen scratching the paper was the only movement in the room. Outside, the sound of roosters and bus horns broke the stillness as the mother raised her head and answered the next question that came:

“And you are pregnant again?”

Silence and lowered eyes.

“Yes.”

There was no condemnation. There was only compassion for the mother and care for the father, whose faces carved by desperation and lack of hope and hard labor belied their young ages. There was a bath and a bed and a meal for a starving girl. There was a wisp of hope touching the air, curling around the smell of the wood stove smoke that hung over the room.

This little girl would see health. This little girl, and so many others in that place, would know the laughter and playfulness and bright eyes and strong hair that are the right of any child. This little girl would feel strength come back to her tiny, brittle arms. But some would not. Some would make the journey to this place far too late. Some would be too weak, too wounded. Some would fall asleep in their urine-soaked beds and never wake up.

Today, as I watch mist hover above the frosty field outside my window, a field which will provide abundance for animals who are more well-fed than so many humans breathing this planet’s air today, I stop and remember this girl.

Today, as I open my newspaper to see the glossy flyers that tell me all I need to own, need to have, need to add to my stockpile, I stop and remember these children.

Today, as I constantly hold in my hand a device which cost me more than many of these families will see in a year of body-breaking work, I stop.

And I remember.

There is nothing wrong with plenty. There is no guilt in provision. But there is a quiet voice inside me, and perhaps inside you, a voice which I often hush; a voice which reminds me that my house is just a place to live and not a showcase like one of the round-the-clock TV show renovations demands it must be.

A voice which reminds me that I live in a bubble where most people I know are more worried about eating too much than not eating enough. Where we have so much food that we must discipline ourselves to limit it. A voice which reminds me that I know, even when I don’t want to admit it, what is excess and what is enough.

I can only listen and determine what is enough and what is too much for me. I cannot do that for you, nor should I. But as I am pushed into this Season Of More…more things, more shine to distract us, more  money changing hands and possessions changing places and more and more and more…perhaps I can stop. And face the truth that I don’t want to: I am the lucky one. My home and my minivan and my books and my overflowing pantry and unused clothes in my closet make me overwhelmingly rich.

This year, may the Season of More not just mean more for us, for our already over-stimulated kids and our already over-stuffed drawers and shelves. May it also mean More for those who have never even known Enough. May it mean More not just for the tiny, malnourished bodies across border lines, but also for the nearly 200 tiny hearts in my rural county who signed up for Christmas help this year…help that doesn’t come from the government, but from regular people who are willing to go with Less so that the little ones can have More.

This year, may the Season of More mean something else: More love and generosity in our hearts. More contentment with the peace I can’t purchase. This year, may the Season of More bring us less in tangible goods and much in goodwill toward others.

“It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa

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