Mother’s Day: In Celebration

I waited.
A rare Sunday morning at home amp’d up by the knowledge that there was something special about the day, I waited. The question of going to church put to rest ’cause of health issues, I tried basking in the glow of a blissful morning in bed with no immediate requirements for getting up, a cup of coffee waiting on the bedside table graciously brought to me by my husband. 
Then, the sound of light exuberant footsteps down the hall, the eight year old (and only boy) in his Spider-Man jammies appeared around the corner waving a piece of paper. “Happy Mother’s Day!” He cheerfully said and handed me his card. And for a few minutes, I felt full with the acknowledgment of my self, my purpose, my vocation. Oohs and aahs uttered and every nook and cranny inspected, studied, discussed, and celebrated, the boy left, and the waiting resumed. Coffee sipped and returned to its bedside post, I think I may have actually folded my hands and pursed my lips, maintaining my station like some frozen, bitter, thin-lipped spinster.
See, I’m the mom here.
 There are five children in my care aged 8 to 17. I stay at home to care for and educate the younger ones, though my specs matter less than the role that ‘Mother’ does on this day. If you’ve acted as mother, been one, longed for one, longed to be one, need a gift for one, are wrestling with your thoughts towards one, Mother’s Day feels big. And for a few smug, lonely, self-righteous moments this morning, I felt cheated out of what I was owed. As though my title is what ought to have earned me accolades instead of my merit.

 They’re not here right now. That’s big all by itself. I’ve joked the handful of times that the library or bank ladies have pointed out my lack of children-presence that, “I don’t know what to think about!” when the kids aren’t with me. I joke, but it’s true. And just now, with no one to think about, no one to consider but me as I’m hungry and in need of a meal, what in the heck would I do were I to sustain continuous days of such a lack of consideration? What would I think about were my thinking not continuously interrupted by a smaller, younger, newer person inevitably in need of something whether it was a meal, or a word, direction, or instruction? What would I produce were I left to think about anything I wanted for an unchecked length of time? I don’t know. And frankly? (I realized to my utter surprise and joy) I don’t care.
 Because it’s not time for that. Right now, I have the rare and blessed privilege of caring for others. It’s not optional (which is probably the only reason I’m still doing it). If I don’t show up, if I don’t figure out the meal, the schoolwork, yeah, maybe someone else could step in, but there’s only one me. There’s only one me who knows these children quite the way I do. And that’s pretty darn cool.
 I keep a journal for each of my children, and though I don’t write nearly as often as maybe I originally intended, I try and write at least once a year as a way of “checking in.” I’d planned to record in words all that I inevitably wouldn’t record in keepsakes or photos. Like all things motherhood (caring-for-anotherhood), it was an easier thing to think about than it was an actual keeping-up-with-in-real-life thing. But it turns out that as I write, I know things about these people in my care. If being a mom wasn’t so terribly humbling for all the mistakes, it might be terribly heady as a power trip. You know some things about some people. And if you don’t, you should. 
Maybe that’s the lesson. Mom’s? Celebrate knowing some things about some folks and in that, use that knowledge to build up and empower them in a way no one else on earth can do. Mom’s? Or those-acting-in-as-mom’s? Think about how much you know about those in your care. If there are some gaps, celebrate this Mother’s Day by getting closer… ‘Cause there ain’t no replacement for a mother’s love; unless it’s a damn fine substitute. Earn your “Happy Mother’s Day!”
‘Cause that’s all our opportunity. To be the thing-that-no-other’s-willing-to-be to another human being. A love that sets aside all its own agenda for the sake of another. Mom’s? Celebrate the opportunity. Mom’s? Celebrate looking forward to doing better. Not a mom but aware of Mom-Power? Celebrate getting to be a damn fine substitute. 
Ain’t nothing like a mother, people. Ain’t nothin’ like love. And if the two aren’t synonymous for you, they ought to be. Love like a mother. Love like you wanna be loved, wish you’d been loved, imagine being loved. And if you’re the mom wanting celebrated? Be celebration-worthy.
My kids are awesome. Did they deliver what I wanted? Maybe not in the way I wanted, but love isn’t about what we get. It’s about what we can give. 
A good mom celebrates what she can give. Not what she gets.

Careful

In reading James 4 this morning, it occurred to me why to do lists are so troublesome. As soon as words are put to paper there is a permanence given to what may otherwise have floated off into forgotten oblivion. I grab on to one of the floating possibilities for how to shape time and in writing it out I also “nail it down” (picture what that phrase refers to) into something more concrete. The trouble is, what comes with that is an illusion of control over what will be. A low grade anxiety my even result if I don’t do that which I asserted should be done. And certainly, sometimes there are some things that need to be done, reminders of needful things. But there is something binding about the written word. Maybe that’s why it’s so important. It’s one thing to put words to our experience. It’s another thing entirely to put the right ones to it. Every time my eye falls on what’s been written – and undone – it gives the illusion that there’s something I ought do and this may very well trip me up into a potentially misled pursuit. As ever, the only reliable plan in checking our actions is returning/inviting/placing all said action before the only One who knows what’s best and Who, mercifully, miraculously, is willing to pass on such knowledge to us. If offering that to do list/what we are to do is preceded with “if it is the Lord’s will, we [I] will do this or that.” (James 4:15), we ask Him and submit to Him first, before proceeding. We wait in quiet expectation and slow in the humbling knowledge that we don’t know any of what is before us, but He does and will give guidance (perfect at that) to our steps. Incidentally, praying before writing to do lists – or anything for that matter – safeguards us from many potential missteps. Incredible that He will bother with the likes of us. 
 And I don’t know how this fits, but verse 17 feels like a warning this morning: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought do and doesn’t do it, sins.” God help us, please.

Being a Housewife is Hot (or, Blog Post titled by your husband)

Recently as I was putting clothes in the dryer, I found myself  basking unexpectedly in domestic bliss. During the previous few minutes I’d scooped stray Legos into my shirt pockets (the domestic uniform has to include pockets as one’s hands are inevitably full of one’s charges’ stray bits, laundry baskets, errant shoes, homeless papers, and the like), deposited them in the Lego bin, put the 8 loaves of cooled bread in bags and put them in the freezer before getting the dinner’s meat out of the freezer, given instructions for dishwasher emptying, tidied the dining room, wiped the counters, stopped to listen to and then cogently answer the 8 year old’s question, and put away the ironing board and cooled iron from the morning’s wrinkle-eradicating. In the ruminating I enjoyed a measure of satisfaction that I seem to enjoy only occasionally in midst of my work. I am more often thinking about the next thing, worrying over the last thing, wondering over done or undone things. NOT basking in the present or remembering the Divine-in-it thing. 

 That such contentment may be had as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of 5 still surprises me. In younger days I fancied myself a Peace Corps worker, author, orphanage builder, professional musician, college professor, hippy, rock climbing instructor… You get the drift. Whatever my aspirations were, suffice it to say they could be construed as slightly  more dynamic than my present station.

Now. It’s hard to say whether such moments come as a result of something I’m doing or as a result of an “up” mood swing, but at that moment, the good feelings in my work felt to be the result of better working. The rhythm of things and my functions – unremarkable though they may seem in this endless cycle of maintaining/restoring order – felt in that moment like they’d been choreographed, practiced, and then executed with epiphany generating precision. The moment was profound enough – and I’d had it before – but this time it translated to something potentially tangible as something worth sharing. Improved ways of doing things after 18 years of cooking, cleaning, mothering, wife-ing (new verb?), living, seemed worth sharing all of a sudden. So my bright idea was to start a new blog called “What Works.” It could include any day to day helps I may enjoy in the hopes that such bliss wouldn’t be lost on just me but extended to others. It occurred to me that maybe others struggle too to enjoy strings of domestic bliss. That it pleasantly surprises me when I’m pleasantly surprised amidst the day-to-day functioning… I don’t know. Just seemed/seems worth talking about, worth improving upon.

Somebody has to do the mundane. Not everybody gets to be the Pope, a professional athlete or an actor. Somebody has to go to work and  collect a paycheck to support the missionary who has all their bills paid by somebody else. Somebody has to turn the 6 year old’s underwear right side out, sit at the desk and answer the phone for a mind numbing 8 hours, teach the thankless students in a classroom day after day, pound nails in the sweltering heat or freezing cold. And though many of our spaces may not seem big, bold, or beautiful, I hold that there are enough tinges of quality that we can tease out beauty. It’s everywhere. It’s my eyes that don’t see often enough, and I’ve noticed that how I see translates directly to how I live

And I live forgetful. I live like I haven’t tasted beauty, and it both shames and frustrates me. And then I just give up trying like the Sesame Street guy banging his head on the keys bemoaning, “I’ll never get it! I’ll never get it!” or distract or anesthetize myself away from fresh starts. I want to see better. Be better that I may then do better. This sounds like an inside job, and one in which I have not historically succeeded .

I got to thinking that maybe domestic – or any – contentment has less to do with mechanics  and more to do with my state of mind which I also tend to think is inextricably bound to the state of my heart, er, soul, if that word’s more comfortable for you (I think they mean the same thing?). What I mean is, it occurred to me that the world does NOT need another blog about homeschooling or how to remove soap scum from the shower. These things are constantly evolving and being improved upon by others waaaaay more capable than me. But living better from being better.. This extends to all. It’s the red satin ribbon that weaves through all the muck. 

Not everyone has the eyes or the inclination to hunt for it. God gives that. For any and all the improvements I may enjoy in terms of my day to day functions, I still struggle woefully and tragically to live a life free of regret and full of joy and overflowing with love. But God has given me Himself – wonder of wonders – and I want to honor His gift better. The only contribution of mine worth sharing is that He’s chosen to share Himself with me. And that means everything.
I have not posted much in recent months, and though perhaps the reasons matter, what’s been matters less than what will be. Maybe what I’m going to try is in honor of the new year, or maybe this is a tiny step toward maturity. I’m (for once) actually acting on an idea. I am notorious for enjoying great flashes of light but am woefully poor at follow-through. So in honor of the new year, and in honor of trusting Him more in it, I am going to try something of an experiment. 
I’m going to keep the notion of “what works,” but under the old umbrella of wordskeepmesane. Because in the telling of my struggle with desolations and enjoyment of consolations, words may do just that: help to keep this otherwise struggling person a little more intact, a little more effective, a little more joyful, and hopefully, a lot more loving. 

In past years, around January 1st there’s been a word that’s stuck out as something needful for me to grow in, understand, be a little more aware of. This year, and in keeping with the above, that word is… Jesus. The word that keeps us sane. As models go? None better. What works? Jesus. I can’t imagine a more worthwhile pursuit than trying to more wholly follow Him, be like Him. He’s the only person ever to have been above reproach by pretty much everybody. (Except the religious uptights which no one takes seriously anyway.)

If you’re a person who finds yourself frustrated too often, dead-ending, not living a life you’re proud of or satisfied in as frequently as you’d hoped, I hope you’ll join in the conversation (with me would be great, but I just hope you’ll join in with anyone!) about what it might look like, this “how-to of better being”, so to speak. It’s a new day/It’s a new dawn/It’s a new life for me/and I’m feeling good” as Michael Buble croons (maybe a little more lightheartedly than I mean, but I’m not opposed to that).

So wordskeepmesane will remain true, but the delivery may look a little different. Thanks for being here – ever. And may we all improve upon that which matters most. I hope you’ll walk with me as I desperately try and walk with Him… And I hope you’ll enjoy your own steps towards the light that’ll purify all the spaces.

Tasks… And a cheerful doing


Today’s the day I fell in love with food.

I’ve always loved eating food, but its endless preparation? Not so much. I haven’t exactly begrudged it, but I haven’t loved it. This is unfortunate because I make a lot of food and really often. But today, quite without warning, this thing-I-have-to-do-or-at-least-think-about-every-single-day took on a new delight.

I can’t take any credit. I’ve screwed enough things up to know the good things I experience have nothing to do with me. Today’s love affair – like any other – caught me quite off guard. And it wasn’t because everything went perfectly. Taken from another angle, you’d notice the loaves in the above picture didn’t rise quite as much as (I would consider) ideal. Also knowing my tendency towards fickle (moody?), I know that tomorrow might bring quite another conversation that may sound nothing like this one. I might talk about how sick I am of spending so much time in the kitchen. I might bemoan that no one seems to see the crumbs on the counter or cleans up the unidentified sticky spots on the floor. (In our house we have someone called Itwasntme who’s normally the offender.)

Anyway, this falling in love with one of my household tasks and all its quirks and (’til today) annoyances has happened before. Take laundry. One day I was retrieving the clothes from the washer for approximately the 11,000th time (I actually did the math this morning to roughly calculate how many loads of laundry I’ve done in my married/motherhood life. Some people count profit margins, I count clean clothes.) and I suddenly loved it. Where it had before seemed an endless chore it suddenly became a comforting task. It had a start and a finish. Sniff (the nose is the measuring rod in our house), gather, wash, dry, fold, put away. Repeat. At least 11, 600 times. (For those of you who are stuffy about all things green, would it help to know that I do full loads and dry on a clothesline whenever I can?). Laundry, I realized, leaves my mind free to roam while keeping my hands busy. And you know it allows for alone time (the others in my household do not share my Laundry-Doing-Is-Sacred perspective).

Maybe it happens when you do something so much that you either drown in a mundane-tasks-depression or you decide to love it. Though like I said, I don’t know that I decided so much as something just switched over. I will say that I was giving thanks intermittently during both processes. (Not that I can take credit for that. Prayer and its doing is yet another gift inspired by not-me.) Been prayerful. I see a trend is what I’m saying. Slime on the broccoli earns it a blessed place on the compost pile, sourdough not rising presents more as another bread lesson learned than as a baker-failure, sticky rice seemed, well it was still sticky but I didn’t mind it as much, I was even grateful for slimy pre-cooked chicken as it meant we were having chicken. Crumbs, instead of being an annoyance, reminded me that there’s a lot of life ’round these parts. This spills over to the endless piles of laundry, children’s chatter, 7 billion dishes to wash (and counting. Ok, not really, but it would be a REALLY big number), aggravating relationship troubles, lawn mower maintenance, frustrating coworkers – whatever our daily challenge(s). These aren’t just simple sucky things-to-get-through. They’re sacred ground spaces, and they’re everywhere if we have the eyes for it. I know that I’ve talked about this before, but it’s such a wonderful gift to see things with an eye towards redemption. No matter how messy, uncomfortable, or inconvenient our circumstances, there is a great sacredness – a great potential – in all of it. I’m not theorizing: giving thanks for things, maybe especially for that thing we first found unsavory, elevates the thing. Redeems it. Redeems us. And if there’s a gift, there must be a Giver. Thanking Him’s appropriate and it changes everything. He’s not stingy, people. Given a little attention, He does things like make tiny moments and seemingly insignificant tasks magical.

Y’know, like how we expected and hoped life would be.

All Grown Up 

  
 Saturday’s weather took us outside (’cause who could help but be swept up and out?). After a day of moving and spreading the compost pile, tilling, weeding, and planting a garden, mowing the yard, peppered with the ins and outs and ups and downs of children navigating, my husband and I convened to the outdoor furniture to savor a few moments of inactivity before moving on to the final leg of the day. My work’s-done-for-the-day-celebratory-beer went down especially smoothly (as it is often wont to do after such a day). In response, I blithely commented, “I’m grateful to be a grown up and get to drink beer.” My husband said that ought to be my blog post for the day. Just that. 

As I was ironing this morning I thought about that and how I did not write that or anything else as my blog post. I remembered again how this not-writing has become a conspicuous trend the last couple of months. The blog has been silent, the pen has remained largely still. I’ve resented a little this being compelled toward functioning for the good of the people in my immediate sphere instead of indulging my desire to write about the life I’m leading (instead of just living it like I’ve been doing). Because of choices I’ve made neither excess time nor excess energy have been mine in abundance lately, so inevitably, I give up writing – and “processing” as I’ve come to call it – my experience. 

But this morning as I was thinking about this and longingly looking over at the dusty keyboard just a few feet away but more like worlds away with all the laundry and ironing and schooling and gardening and food and bread making and all the myriad number of other tasks and unknowns that show up in the process of a day, I remembered that I am a grown up and I’m grateful to be one with all these many things to do. That I am master of my own destiny (God notwithstanding) and that thing that I’m not doing, as much as I love it, is not more important than what I am doing. Being a grown up who also tends ever so slightly towards excess and abuse of those things that make me feel good, I realized (once again… How many times before a lesson actually sticks and becomes part of our way of doing?) that in the simple utterance and acknowledgment of a thing – in this case being a grown up and savoring the privilege and enjoyment of a specific thing – that I was empowered ever so slightly. Reminded of my place in things. That there is a crazy get-swept-up wave that can carry us along, but every once awhile, it’s important to plant your feet, stand against the current, take a deep breath, and regain your bearings. It also needs to be mentioned that my prayer life has not been awesome lately. None of this came until after I’d talked with God about it and apologized for my neglect of that aspect of my life. It sneaks up, this insidious do-it-on-my-own tendency. And then I wonder why I’m so miserable. Everything changes when He’s invited.

I’ve bemoaned not getting to do the thing I think I want to do so that what I am doing becomes a source of frustration and agitation. So maybe Greg was right. Maybe that simple return to basics is what may blessedly bring one back around to where one needs to be. Maybe that’s where all the real good stuff comes from. Not in long winded “processing” but in short utterances of praise and gratitude for what we do have. So, in honor of a wise husband and in an effort to return to what’s best, and even though I’m not even currently drinking a beer, suffice it to say:

I’m grateful to be a grown up who gets to (insert what you’re grateful for today).

…”go outside with my kids and make a pea trellis out of sticks” would be mine.

A Middle Finger to the False Self

 

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It’s weird. Probably not uncommon, but still weird.
This being compelled towards a certain way of expression and feeling so utterly self conscious about said expression. Part of me thinks that real artists don’t question their artistry, at least in as far as the doing. Most of us measure the product and its worth, of course. Wonder about, assess, measure. Maybe it’s naive to think that no one else thinks this much about the process. The just “doin’ the thing” part. But I just can’t help but think that if I could just settle into the thing that my battles with self expression (with self?) would be largely (or just more) over. The weirdness that I not only wrangle with, but frankly am totally sick of, is weird. I feel compelled to write a certain way while being totally and completely uncertain about it.
When (and how? How, I ask you?) does a person Just Do It. (If only there was a t-shirt to remind me.) By what miracle of changed thinking and upside down modus operandi (how? How, I ask you?) does someone suddenly just stop all the years of shame and doubt and ridiculous indoctrination and start living fully into his/her self? And THEN create something authentic and real and of value?
New Year review and reflection stipulated honesty as my “word of the year.” Sounds good. Good like all those other words that find their way colorfully and persistently into the margins of journals and legal pads in various pen colors in order to (hopefully) then find their way into my psyche and then (hopefully) eke into my living. And I’ll stay open to that notion. Honesty sounds right, if even ever so slightly loaded and terribly tenuous (for me anyway. See elephants in the room, “social graces,” and skeletons in the closet [wow. Even the references don’t tell you anything.] and you have a terrible battle with what being true to yourself means. True to myself? Heck. I’d just love to wake up with any sense of self. A true sense unfettered and/or unmarred by loads of proverbial baggage.).
Which brings me to my point. (Maybe.)
After being figuratively smacked into an uncomfortable oblivion yesterday, I had to take another uncomfortable but much needed look at my difficulty with transparency and vulnerability. I’m tempted to delve in here about the bummer-of-a-disagreement my husband and I had because of my seeming inability to be emotionally intimate due to years and years of self destructive behavior but I worry that I’ll lose you. I’m assuming you’ll understand without being privy to details. Wait for the book. Because, you know, a book about addiction, promiscuity, victimization and the like would be so read-worthy. It would, you say? Only if it didn’t stop there but continued on to the happy ending of redemption and healing and rescue, which is where my story ends, er, will end once I get to the bottom of this vulnerability thing.

Vulnerability thing? Oh, right. That’s where I was going with this. I was going to talk about how to get to a place where I stop second guessing every. Single. Thing. I. Do. Say. Write. Think. The place where all this being gets to just be without all the maddening ing-ing. Thinking wondering, second-guessing. That little suffix has added too much extraneous ing-ing on my ability to just be.
Just be, Amy. Just be, you who’s reading. You who’s out there wondering about your inherent value and all its attachments and/or inevitabilities. Not in a mystical touchy feely way, but in a true way. That we might get down to the business of living: comfortable enough in our own skins and comfortable enough with whatever our contribution to the world is ours to give and stop all this ridiculous posturing in order to add what’s ours to add.
Maybe I’m just getting old and tired. Maybe that’s really what wisdom is: getting worn out enough that you stop expending energy (because you no longer have any extra to expend) on posturing and instead concentrate on just be-ing. That ing-ing being the only sort you can muster up enough energy for. No frills, no pretense. Just you and just me with all our wondrous and remarkable magic. ‘Cause it’s in there. And it’s fabulous.
It’s terrifying, but I’m pretty excited to toast to transparency (or maybe I’m just excited to toast. Here’s at least to an enthusiastic and celebratory beginning.). Pretty excited to find out what all this before-now-elusive “be true to yourself” business is all about. Excited to move forward with my eyes wide open instead of frantically darting around trying to read cues about what skin I ought put on to satisfy any onlookers. How are chameleons not completely exhausted? I’ve not learned to adapt so well to this way of being. Or at least not thrive. I’ve maybe learned too well how to adapt. Regardless, I find it leaves me significantly less colorful than more…
So here’s to richer color sourced from an inward treasure instead of environmentally imposed ones. To more transparency and honesty. And though I don’t wish the fiery abyss part on anyone, I do like the spirit of; “ta Hell with all ya’s. I got my own beat and I’m dancin’ to it.” (I don’t usually talk like that, but this finding my voice thing may take some practice…)

……………………
How about you? Do you struggle with “being yourself”? Desire truth in your inmost parts? Or if this isn’t a struggle for you, what has helped you to be a person of integrity/honesty/transparency?

 

Return

Leading a study on the book Devotional Classics for a number of weeks now, and we’ve reached Thomas Kelly. In the practice of returning more consistently to what he calls “the Divine Center,” everything changes. I knew this, I guess: knew that every single remembrance of God redeems, restores, affects everything it touches. But when it happens in my own life, it surprises me every time.

And this seems to me the very most important thing a person could possibly talk about… yet I worry that in communicating this experience that either I or the beautiful, life-changing reality of what I speak will be chalked up to what my husband would refer to as “flaky.” (Defined as “crazy or eccentric.”)

The thing is, remembering God in moments – more consistently, more wholly – is not only closer to the reality that I believed in as a kid (only to wake up as an adult a little bewildered and blinking in my present reality wondering where all the magic went), but on a practical level, really does change everything. Not to go all Brother Lawrence on you, but this morning the ironing and matching of socks had a very different feel. It wasn’t drudgery all of the sudden with God in the mix. It was sacred, peaceful, joyful, big and small and beautiful and simple all at once. Y’know, life without the ugly.

It didn’t take long for me to get prideful. To start taking credit for remembering Him in like two! consecutive! moments! So repentance is definitely a huge part of this practice. Not morbid self awareness, but more like a willingess to be honest. I’ve heard it said that confession of sin is really just being honest about ourselves.

So here’s to being honest today. Here’s to a God who knows my wretchedness and miraculously condescends to come down here and be with me, guide, comfort, and love me anyway. Jesus as the Divine Center isn’t flaky at all. He’s the best thing to get to happen to a person. (I know. I’ve been without Him.)

Praying for you today, dear one, and hoping that He will draw near to you and you to Him in increasing measure.