Staying within season

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My January so far is cold and quiet.

After the blazing end of the year to the tune of a seventy-five degree Christmas (husband sweating and aching for shorts while all the girls in the family still dressed up in flannels to pretend it was a snowy Christmas) well, it feels good to have a bit of winter now.

The fiery, flaming finale spectacle of a month that can only be Christmas feels fun and festive in that special way only the ending of something can bring. Come November and December, everything is over the top: food, fun, family, gifts and noise (good, happy noise.) To me, it feels so very much like a final flameout, a Last Supper-type scenario, with the moments and scenes building into a loud crescendo.

And usually my energy matches – the familiar valleys and peaks of the holiday season – can you wrap another present? Bake another cake? Do another Christmas craft and/or activity?! It’s always such a spectacular energy and all-out blitz blowout on so many levels: spiritual, financial, well-being (what’s one more biscuit? I happily say to myself while opening wide) and energy.

And then January comes.

And the stark, cold, quiet January that returns each year, every year, still stuns me into surprise. 

Mostly, it’s a letdown.

I get all sorts of moody usually in January, wondering what’s wrong with me, or why everything seems so gray, so dry, so boring.

And then in an instant, when the buds begin to bloom in late February and every store is smothered in drippy pink and red hearts decor I suddenly remember too late– that’s what January was supposed to be: Dry, cold, wet, quiet. A repose from the noise (albeit happy, wonderful noise) that is December.

In the past, I hated January. Who had time for quiet? This is the New Year, people, I would think, getting my hustle turned up a higher notch into (slightly insane) overdrive. My goals seemed to scream at me: Time to get moving! Accomplish something!

I’m finding this year that January, this drizzly sort of muted month that has a low number of events and energy for me personally, is exactly where I need to be.

I have goals and I have actually done a fair share of planning, but mostly: it’s a month for quiet and reflection. And I’m going to take it. Very soon my schedule won’t be like this – in combination with my family’s schedule, it will shortly be full.

So this year, I’m finally realizing it’s okay to slow down. Finally.

January – the month whose working is forced rest. After all, frozen ground soon gives way to defrosting. Soon defrosting gives way to warmth. Which leads to growth, spring.

Perhaps now I’m realizing what I’ve needed all along: a little hibernation, a little pitstop before the year starts heating up, growing. I’m learning to slow. And be content in waiting for the signs of new energy (and green shoots) to rise in due time.

Why I write

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This listing of the headlines from around the world (found on CNN, don’t judge) is the reason I write.

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To be fair, Friday wasn’t a particular day that I picked out to read the news; I just do it occasionally to be somewhat in the know, as most days I prefer to keep to my little life and my head down since most of the news is just so shocking. I cannot keep constantly crying into the dinner I’m making. Not only is it not good for my soul – it throws off the salt balance in my dishes, particularly the soups.

Despite the fact that most of the news I see makes me sad, I’m writing this one because I’m mad. I’m beyond the sadness and now just angry, just an angry person who has moved beyond grieving about what’s happening in the world into a person who is wanting to know not only how I can help, what I can do. A wishing and praying hard sort of angry; not the other kind that’s fueled by vengeance and pain.

It’s the flavor of anger that creeps up my neck whenever I feel injustice or sorrow that I knowingly cannot control, but blindly believe I can.

These are the days that I am more demanding than usual to help my kids “work together” for peace; for non-conflict. These are the days there are more questions in their eyes than I have answers to as why this day, why this time in their lives they HAVE to make peace.

I imagine also, that this particular parenting trait of mine will be discussed in the days to come in their adult lives as to why their mom was so adamant about making things calm; conflict-free. But at this point, I feel like demanding everyone get along with each other under our tiny roof is a step in the right direction; a direct rebellion, the opposite of what is currently happening outside the walls of our home.

I cannot change war, but I can teach peace.

And I’m hoping that by teaching that, my family experiences peace deeply and will strive for that in their adult lives too. Fingers crossed and prayers said of course, as one only knows what bits and pieces kids take from their home and out into the world as a guidepost.

But as much as I’d like to gloat and sing my praises about training my group to work for peace, I have to also admit–I’m angry because I want to know what my role in all this bad news has been. Ignoring, I believe, is a role. And it’s one I’ve played for a long while. If all is okay in my world, why worry? I’ve thought before. No, don’t think of Aleppo, Liz. You can’t be stressed out all the time. If I can’t control what’s going on out there, why can’t I be comfortable here? Might as well enjoy my comfy couch.

And ignoring (like I tend to do for fear of crushing my soul) is my M.O.; my mode of protecting myself from the pain that knowing brings.

But maybe it’s time to let my cocoon of comfort go. Maybe it’s time to feel the pain. Have the eggshell of my heart crushed over and over again. To learn to be more compassionate than self-protecting. Compassionate enough to listen to the news, people’s stories, to bear witness to the atrocities of our world through what people have had to endure.

Because I don’t know if I can bear witness to a culture that reports the news that is hard to hear, like Haiti’s rape crisis, while interweaving the news that most applies to me: like what to do after a Netflix binge.

May I have eyes to see and ears to hear. Beyond what makes me feel safe.

The long haul

 

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After about twelve years, everything begins to show seams.

The wedding dishes, the ones you painstakingly selected together and thought about your daily lives together (although all things considered, he just sort of went along with because, well, it’s dishes) begin to show signs of wear and tear. Add in a couple of chips and slight cracks to make it authentic and keep you on the edge daily, wondering if the plate will hold through the next meal.

Someone’s back will go out or there will be a minor health scare or you’ll get a dog or a house or have some kids (or all of these things) which will be grand, really great in a whole myriad of ways but also will exhaust you and put you at each other’s neck sometimes about things seemingly innocuous as pee pads and pacifier use and weighing your spouse’s wall color opinion vs your own and trying to determine what color to actually paint the bedroom.

Little fights threaten at the edge of the perimeter, sometimes out of nowhere, like campfire grounds that if not tended, will turn into a forest fire. The Forest Fire, you think to yourself, that could possibly end your marriage. Instead, you try and deal with the small but feisty ones together, you and your spouse a ramshackle team of volunteer firefighters at best. Though you’re arguing, you’re a team with the same desire to not let this small fire involving the electric bill and what to bring for Thanksgiving dinner at which family’s house ignite your whole world.

The pet you had previous to marriage might die. The things you came into the marriage with that were more personal than useful, like pink cocktail glasses, might have been given away or sold in a series of garage sales. Or in strange events that you’re not sure how you became suckered into, become part of your child’s flim-flam set up of odd, unrelated things you don’t know what to do with that somehow, but they cannot part with now. These previous life things, these sweet innocent knickknacks that remind you of who you were but have outgrown, your child adores and sees the beauty in long after you’ve moved on. You’ll still hold onto to a couple of small things from your single life before the spouse/house/pets/kids but most will go. You’ve merged, changed. Merged and joined life with another person which may or may not include cocktail hours and a love of cute quote decor.

The clothes and persona don’t fit anymore, you’ll find one day while trying on an outfit for an especially important event. You’re not a new person, not a different person, but one that has stayed the course and seen some things–and felt a lot of things, both good and bad, that you’ve never thought you could feel about another person. And since your mind and heart has changed so – your wardrobe begins to slightly change alongside. And sometimes, the sizes are larger than you expected and yet you are still stunned–the perfect size 6 you were is not what has kept them here; while it originally attracted, it’s not what has made them stay. While sometimes you long for that body, that lifestyle involving all your own choices and decisions instead of hotly debated group decisions over where to vacation, wonders never cease that you are able to tuck in at night next to the one you love, size 6 or not. And you marvel how the feeling is the same but different somehow, weightier, deeper than you had ever imagined. And this contentment and happiness looks a lot more like peace and small decisions about what to get mad about and less like the widely advertised image of happiness of running through sunflowers in the early spring, smiling to the edges of your face.

The furniture begins to sag. If you have an animal of any kind (including those lovely magical ones we call children) there may be some stains – biological stains, unsightly ones, and ones that only a mother can smile and fume over at the same time that are marker stains. Try as you might, every cleaning product and process you’ve heard of and asked around about, they will not come out. You will welcome guests into a home full of love, laughter, but high imperfection including worn tiles, walls with scratches, kid art adorning the fridge and marker or some other “free artistic expression” on some piece of furniture/wall/curtain that happened the moment you turned around to turn on the stove. You will encourage guests that they are welcome here, just don’t mind the bleach spot on the carpet where there was a science experiment very quickly gone awry. Some laugh knowingly having been there; others will try to hide their slightly appalled faces while silently making a tally of just how many things in their house will need to be scotchguarded and/or replaced should they have children.

The age will show–all of it. Your face, your body, your mind. You willfully talk to your face that the joy you have in life is (hopefully) what people see first, not the wrinkles, the exhaustion, the 3 a.m. debate you had with your oldest child about how best to settle down and go back to bed.

The way you have thought of things has shifted; you now know the essential things about life, like proper car care and other practical things that you as a self-made woman would have figured out on her own but short cutting that process is okay, sometimes, you think quietly to yourself. You are so glad some days when you can’t find the keys or the last thought you thought or what that last item you needed to remember from the grocery store, that there is someone lovely, sturdy and practical to help fill in the gaps of an absent-minded, impulsive, emotional true self you’ve realized you were all along, but spent so many years hiding because who could love that?

Staying in is much more appealing than it used to be. Sometimes it’s the back, or some other irksome body part acting up or causing concern; sometimes it’s just too much loudness out there, but most of the times it’s because you have the very best person next to you. The one you love and trust and have lived life with, that you want to hear their opinion, their thoughts. You’re so close to them you needn’t go far at all, most days.

Signs of life.

Signs of the long haul.

Signs of keeping it together, even when the world wants to rip it apart.

The Evening Ride

Note: This is a slight detour into a fiction experiment. Yes, fiction. Sometimes I write fiction. Sometimes. 

A lot of the times I write non-fiction, but I try new things and fail every once and a while, just to remember I’m human and still have enough padding (literal and figurative) to fall upon.

Sometimes this results in a mini-fail that leads to a revelation; sometimes it’s a spectacular one that leads to the thought “I’m never doing that again. Ever.”

Hoping it’s not the latter on this one, but some sort of sweet spot of learning but being also able to fall off the balance beam without any major injuries sort of learning experiment.

We’ll see. I guess it will all come out in the wash, right?

Meanwhile–putting my money where my mouth is (and yes, on the internet!) as I frequently tell others to just try, be bold–well, here are I am too. For better or worse.

Enjoy-

 

The Evening Ride

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Mrs. Bryant, never referred to by her first name in some fifty-odd years, flies over the speed bumps like her hair’s on fire. She succumbs to nothing like always. Her butter, unlike the ordinary rest of us, does not contain toast crumbs and she is always early to church.

Angie clocks Mrs. Bryant this evening going eighty-five on 98, the divided two-lane highway that leads out of town. The speed limit has been sixty-five for over twenty years.

Della, who has four children, a husband, a mortgage and a van, smokes non-filters slowly in the early evening on her drive to Babe’s Ice Cream Shack in Little Spring. By day, she’s a tour de force that makes all her children eat ALL the vegetables on their plates despite of (or because of, it’s rumored) their groans. She has the laundry crisply folded and put away by the time she pushes her ’55 red convertible down the driveway, careful not to wake her littlest – a three-year-old – before she hits the road. Beautiful Cole is either none the wiser that Della always has to “visit a friend” in the hospital every Thursday night, or like most men, he is but prudent enough not to say a thing as to his wife’s whereabouts.

Bob idles along as he always does, four miles under the speed limit in a truck with bad shocks and rust.

Sam spends his evenings taking Pecan on long walks under the weeping willows and cypress trees near the park. When Sam’s wife is in that no talking sort of inhospitable mad mood, Angie notices him much later passed out on the porch swing, gently swaying. One mocha hand rests on his chest and the other dangles grazing Pecan’s fur, who rests under the swing. Evidently, both locked out for the remainder of the evening.

Tina, Gerdie’s granddaughter, drives in consecutive right turns all night and smacks gum.

Jack, whose wife believes he might have early Alzheimers, gets out on full moons and tries for the city limits to worlds and delights beyond Haven. Most of the others believe he’s part wolf; just sort of odd and restless. Even though his wife has yet to accept as much about him after fifty years.

Stacy from Thousand Oaks Drive and the principal at the local high school speeds all the time and makes no bones about it.

Dana, the skinniest, oldest white lady in town, scuttles off to Hal’s Chicken Drive-Thru at dusk. She eats a whole bucket of fried chicken while looking out to the sunset over 98, right about the time the old gaslight lamp sputters on, highlighting her activities for the whole town to see.

Janey waits for Rick to come home from Blue’s again tonight. Angie sighs as she bites into a melty Twix that she pulled out from the console. I can only control disorder, she thinks to herself, and even then, not so much. If only I could put the world in the order in which it rightly belongs.

Angie remembers Janey at 17, showing off her corsage to Angie, begging for her to take a sniff of the small pale pink roses she received from Rick. She recalls the same sheer delight on Janey’s face when her first child was born.

From the opposite corner of the street, she watches the porch in her rear-view mirror for the tell-tale glow as Janey pulls out a cigarette and the embers highlight her worried face and chipped red nail polish. Angie makes a right turn as she turns off Arching Oak with a sigh, wishing for a better life for her friend.

But Angie knows. Angie has always known.

Brave day

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Yesterday, a solemn day.

We remember, those of us old enough to experience it and those of us young enough to sense the enormity of it from our family’s and friends emotional, brow-knitted retellings.

It was a day you wondered where God was. I had wondered many times that day and the days after, had he let our collective foot slip?

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

  Psalm 121: 3-4

I recounted these words yesterday and remembered this feeling of fifteen years ago. That perhaps this loving God had fallen asleep; that somehow He was caught unaware, in the throat, like all of us were on that day.

I remember, most days at least, that He’s with us all along.

But we were all questioning it on September 11th.

Today, I think about the day after all this. The day also, in my opinion, of the brave.

Of those that had to face the first morning alone in twenty years. Of those who had to face the children without their father. Of those who had to make sense of their husbands and wives rushing into calamity and chaos instead of running away. I think of the children that never had a chance to know one or both of their parents because of this. Or the older business owner whose whole life, business, was smashed and covered in smoke and soot the day before.

I pray there was a reason, a something for this pain. Because I can’t grasp a pain this deep and this big without any purpose. A pain and suffering of this level without any purpose would shake my faith to the deepest core.

Today feels as solemn (or maybe it’s just me) as the 11th. The day after feels just as painful; the day we all had to make sense of what had happened and work to move on. To figure out how to live again. To figure out just how to get up out of bed again.

How to muddle through the ordinary the day after. How we were and are brave in the ordinary days after.

Those parents that rose to take care of children, spouse-less, the day after. The firefighters and first responders that woke up and put on their gear for another day of searching, the day after. The parents of missing children that tried calling and calling and praying and praying again the day after. The kindergarten teacher that returned to work the day after. The postman that still delivered mail the day after. The airport and airline staff and security that still returned, the day after.

All of us, the brave and the ordinary, that showed up, even though bloodshot eyed, heartbroken and confused, the day after.

The Church

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Recently, a friend of mine in a writer’s group invited us to share our thoughts and opinions about the church with her, as she wanted to do a series of essays of different views about the church. Views about the church as a whole; what the church gets right, gets wrong and any and all things in between.

I wrote a piece about why we need church…and specifically why I need church.

Here’s an excerpt:

I cannot express that enough; we need it, I need it. Some Sundays I need it to get through my week with my pre-pre-teen daughter who has strong opinions about all things, including my mothering and down to exactly how her school lunch should be made.

“But it’s so boring,” she complains, that long drawn out drawl of a whine that all mothers live for. I counter with words about how boring can be good for us, make us grow, stretch, and then say “I understand,” remembering a great deal about my church growing up and a countless number of committee meetings, dry sermons, and all the other things I’ve sat through over the years.

“Why church?” I start, “Because, sweet pea,” I say….Read more here, at Creating Space for Rhythms of Grace

 

Not a moment too soon

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There is a children’s book  called The Cloudspinner – a book about a boy and the environment. A favorite of both the adults in our family as well as the children. It’s a beautiful book–its message, story, and the theme all wonderfully working together to compliment each other.

One of the wonders of the book (at least for me) is the use of lyrical language and the phrase “Enough is enough and not one stitch more” which reinforces the theme of the story. I’ve thought about that phrase on more than one occasion during the back to school bedlam of emotions that I’m still in the throes of.

One of my friends has a blog called Right Where We Are. It’s a homeschooling blog primarily, with some personal insight on her family and joys and the struggles of what it means to be a family. Meaning: A good mix of the pain and the beauty of life.

While not new to the school rodeo (and no new transitions with new schools, or changes or anything new of note) I’ve been holding these phrases close, as it perfectly describes my feelings about life at the moment. Well, at least in my tiny little hemisphere of writing, children, family and laundry. While I’m not going through any new transitions or changes or anything notable personally, these phrases–not one stitch more and right where we are–have been the anthem to what I feel lately. Meaning: I can’t feel or be what I want to be until I acknowledge where I am.

Which for the past three weeks apparently translates to eating everything in the house that’s not nailed down.

Add in a couple of ice cream treats too, because hey–summer’s ending. Or a chocolate piece or three because – well, children and bedtime. Sometimes you have to bring in reinforcements. Especially when bedtime is a hot mess, sometimes nothing comforts or heals quite like a square of dark chocolate.

I’ve been admonishing myself these past weeks; after all, I’m on a plan! I need to take care of my health! Liz, you don’t do this! You need to clean up your act and return to the familiar routine that includes more fruit than say, Oreos. Zucchinis over frappuccinos!

And yet in all of this I’ve realized: This is right where I’m at emotionally.

That sometimes, emotionally, you can’t move on until you see the landscape of where you are. And apparently, that landscape involves cookies and other comforts for me. Which didn’t stop, or couldn’t stop for that matter, until I sat down with coffee and quiet a couple of days ago and thought about all the feelings (justifiable or not) that the returning to the school year brings out in me.

Regardless of whether or not I’m the actual person returning to school.

I’ve found that for me, I have to sit quietly to slow down enough to catch with my emotions (mine tend to run wild and free like unbridled ponies unless I help corral them) and remember that each one of them, crazy and strange as they are, are ok. And whether or not it’s “right” to have this specific emotion for such a minor event as back to school – it’s ok. Transitions–big or small–effect everyone differently.

And back to school – the bedlam and chaos that ensues from a disruption of the summer routine and involves me getting my act together (and my pants on) much sooner than I’d like or am ready for – well, apparently I need treats and coffee and time to finally realize that I’m a bit emotional about the passing of time and need a moment to catch up with those thoughts.

And sometimes, with a piece of cake.