Bookended by grief

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Image courtesy of Caroline Attwood

O Lord, how long? I wonder silently, busying myself in the kitchen so perhaps it’s not so noticeable to my family, that I am really worrying way too much lately.

“Mom?” The littlest says, “Why are you quiet?”

I’m a quiet person by nature, but at home–he’s right: it’s an overflowing fountain of words of advice, funny songs, silly sayings and all sorts of things that just sort of fall out of my mouth all day. Which, depending upon things, can make me the best mom in the world some days, or the most annoying ever.

Most days, it’s the latter.

I should have known better than to keep quiet. They are so quick, so sharp, know me of course, better than I know myself.

“Mom,” he asks, “are you sad?”

Yes, I think, sucking in a big breath and heaving out a long sigh. I am sad. I am heavy with all the things of this life.

O Lord how long with all this, I pray.

I try to be a good person and a good Jesus follower. But lately, I wonder. I wonder, on days like these, emotional days or bad, bad news especially, if God is with us at all.

A thought, of course, that good, strong Christian people are not supposed to have.

O Lord, how long.

With all the things that have been unearthed. With death. With destruction. Another, another, another. I know better, to look at the news when I’m already tired and worn down.

It’s a new world He’s forming, I remind myself. It’s rebellious, it’s gloriously subversive, it’s a good thing, shaping new things out of trash, out of the utter you-know-what. That’s art if I’ve ever seen it, the true definition of redemption. 

But for the birth pains.

Eventually I will rejoice, but for the pain. But for the marks left on all of us. But for the marks left on my heart by the exquisite pain we’ve had to witness, to endure. But for the grief and anguish and confusion of these times.

It’s a wonder we can hold on at all, as for the sharp, marring edge of the shell we’re breaking out of.

In that, of course, that eventually, lies hope. A great, big hope.

But in the meantime, so much, Lord. I’m feeling bookended by grief upon grief. Anxiety upon anxiety. I forget I’m hemmed in before and behind with care.

O Lord, how I long to remember. To recall deep in my heart that I’m lovingly hemmed in before and behind, looked after. And O Lord, YES, your kingdom come. The sooner, the better.

But O Lord, how long?

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Summer is here.

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It’s summer, isn’t it?

Don’t know about you, but here it’s full-on summer: hot, muggy and well, the sorts of days you either hang out in damp bathing suits. Or take long afternoon naps followed by fresh corn for dinner. The season of simple, earthly delights.

We’re in the thick of it now; no one is dreaming in anxious anticipation about popsicles and trips anymore. We’ve already gone through several boxes of those around here.

And, we’re packing and unpacking; looking forward with delight, back with contentment. Or, well, sometimes, depending upon how the vacation/trip/family visit went, just glad to be home.

I don’t know about you, but like this time of year. These days after the sheen of the newness and excitement of the new season has worn off a little. You just settle into things for a bit.

The moments where you’re focused on enjoyment rather than anticipation.  Sitting and drinking iced tea as opposed to planning out the next weekend to manage your family’s calendar and/or sanity levels for the rest of the month. Summer: the lovely, in-between season of not rushing from one event or holiday celebration to another. Winter–looking at you. You’re suspect, as always.

No, this time of year we’re in that sweet spot: comfortable. Easing into our daily routines without the crazy-making that is May and December.

Summer. Long heated days with sometimes a swim afternoon (or day) here and there.

And a great deal of the very best days: the days too-hot or too-rainy, full of Legos, ice cream, projects and a fresh set of books to get lost in.

 

 

 

On purpose

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Some days I wonder my purpose, my reason for being here. (Not those dark thoughts; I’m talking about those other thoughts I take out for a spin on the constant merry-go-round of my mind.) I find it mostly happens mostly when I’m doing something menial like dishes or laundry and wondering about grand lives and people and the big things they’ve done in life.

My purpose was so clear when I was working full-time, out of the house: earn money, maybe enjoy yourself a little, keep the family alive.

Which of course meant more chaos than I believe I can handle: late-night grocery runs or weekend grocery runs during nap time, emailing and calling all the people–schools, plumbers, exterminators, husband, my writing group friends and committee co-chairs. I frequently remember -not sure if this was the turning point for me or not- 11p nightly, finally starting up the washer and going to bed. Knowing when I got up around 5a, I would move it into to the dryer while rubbing my eyes, grateful for coffee and the quiet. Looking back, perhaps I could have been a bit more organized. Looking back though you see sometimes a lot more of what you could see in front of you at the moment.

I wonder about those days sometimes. Did those days, busy and full of things constantly, have more purpose than these days?

I had a sense of purpose working, and I have one here, in this new role too. Though it’s much milder and more easily manipulated — one day, purpose is getting the house clean; the next, it’s returning all those forms signed to school and making sure that everyone gets out the door on time and dressed. Which seems simple and well, a lowly thing until one doesn’t want to get dressed and the other is having a breakdown about what to bring and the other is in the bathroom and I’m still working on trying to take deep breaths and be patient. Some days, the purpose, the end goal of being on time is about all I can handle.

But that’s not my sole purpose; to make sure everyone leaves the house on time with shoes on. That’s not the only reason I’m here I know. But of course, I question this deeply on the days this and other minor things go badly. On those days I also question a great deal of other things too, like how can we read and write but not know where we left our shoes?

I don’t remember where I read it, but it was a blog post somewhere on the kinds of purposes (yes, many) that women have. The theory was that there are many purposes, both big and small, and most running parallel to each other. For example – mother and doctor. You can be both; both are probably Big P purposes. Mostly, purpose–with a small p is mainly your roles (mom, parent, aunt, etc–though, those are no small things!) and your big P purpose is your life calling–what you were meant to do; what you were put here to do.

I’ve been mulling that one over for a while.

And then I wonder if my opinion of what I feel about my purpose even matters.

But our work matters very much so more than the opinion of what we think of that work itself.

But the work–the act of doing it, and the act of putting it out there in the world, most of the time matters so much more than we think it does. Whether that be your Big P like motherhood and writing, or your little P like being a good aunt and planting a garden.

But we base it upon how we personally feel about it, as opposed to maybe, perhaps what God is doing with it. Which is far greater. And stranger. And lovelier than we can imagine.

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Part of Esther 4:14 comes to mind:

“…Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.”

So much potential in those words.

And truth in those words. Knowing all the while, that is full to the brim of moments to feel this. To wonder if this, in fact, is the moment we’ve been created for.

Tightrope

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She hands me a flower, still, at almost seven, plucked straight from the garden that isn’t ours.

I smile as I receive it; conflicted about how I feel – is six too old to still be doing this? Haven’t I harped on her enough about what is and isn’t ours? I wonder. Wow, that’s so kind and sweet; I think remembering that just this morning we were making grumpy faces at each other and exchanging frustrated words on the way to school.

This is seemingly how it is with our relationship–a bunch of emotions all running together, gooey and sticky, and completely blurred lines like when you use too much water for watercolors. It all runs together and all you see are impressions, moments of bold color and pale pinks dripping down the page when all you had hoped for was to paint inside the lines, nicely.

I wonder if it’s like this for all mother-daughter duos.

My son, on the other hand, is still relatively sweet, uncomplicated. He likes what he likes and that’s jumping in puddles, fish, and tickles. Any of those things at any time are okay.

Stormy clouds lurking ahead aren’t gathering under the surface like I see in my daughter and in myself. I see them at once in his voice, actions; meaning clear. He hands me flowers too, but he is little. He is clueless as to what flower belongs to him as I haven’t gotten him out of the impulse move of seeing a flower and immediately picking it. Just like his nose.

Is she old enough, is she too old, is the constant question I bat around numerous times these days like a cat with a mouse toy. Too young still for movies with high drama or is it being still for long periods of time, I wonder. But definitely too old for the naivety of flowers from someone else’s yard, I know now, firm in that opinion. But too young, I determine for all things bikini and the Justice clothing line.

But too old for rocking or comforting night time routines? While I don’t question myself on what she’s too young for as that’s relatively easy for me to detect, what she’s told old for is a different ball of wax entirely. It’s a tight wire rope I frequently fall off of, wanting to not hold her back from growing up, while not forcing her to grow up because the world around her will soon hold so much weight. It so heavy already.

If anyone asks me what’s so hard about the school-aged years, that’s it. The push-pull of letting go but staying close, being shifted from the seat of CEO of All Things You Should Know. Going from the vocal CEO with opinions and the know-how of how to do things, like tying shoes, to becoming the coach, watchful and intent but getting out of the huddle (and out of the way) through the game that is life is the most challenging I’m finding.

The watching and waiting, but not always in the game.

These are the tightropes that are being constructed in this phase of parenthood. And I’m not a tightrope walker. But I’m certainly learning.

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.

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