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Author: Sara Dutilly

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

Dear Son,

I don’t know what I’m doing. There, I’ve said it. Now I will write more words until I come to an end.

This fall you will begin your first grade year. That is to say that if you were in public school, you would be in first grade because that is the grade your age relates to.

To is a preposition and you’re not supposed to end sentences with it. (I should have said, “…because that is the grade to which your age relates.”) But people end sentences with prepositions all the time, and honestly proper grammar often just sounds snooty.

We should remain aware of our tone both when we write and when we speak, and the two applications of tone are not interchangeable. If I were writing an academic research paper, I should aim to use exactly the correct grammar. In this letter-blog, however, I wish to remain more informal than exact, proper grammar allows. If I were speaking, this entire paragraph would come out in bubbles because I can’t seem to think and speak at the same time. But also, you will often see that speech does not translate well to text. When we speak, we rely on the tone of our voice and often forget about how diction and syntax can change our stories. This is fine, and natural, but still something of which we should remain aware. (Look at that proper preposition placement! At least I think it is proper, but honestly prepositions confuse me. Is first grade the year when you study prepositions? I don’t think so, but it’s probably also not the time to practice division, and we have done that.)

Speaking of grammar and confusion, people also often start sentences with but (and I have done this several times already.) But is a contraction and meant to combine two related, but different, thoughts, into one sentence. Since but is meant to join two thoughts into one sentence, you can expect some controversy if you choose to begin your sentences with it.

You love the word but because it sounds like butt. You are six years old.

I giggle now because of a scene from a college class. The class was called Feature Writing. Features are a type of article that show up in newspapers, but they have a bit more flare than what you might find on the front page. Newspaper writing is all a bit funky because it uses its own kind of grammar, something called AP Style. One day my class landed on the subject of these particular grammar rules. I think we were talking about commas and whether or not you’re allowed to use them in newspapers (the answer: yes, but only if absolutely necessary. A comma often just takes up space and when you’re paying per page printed, you only want to print what is necessary.) One boy spoke up in the middle of our little grammar lesson. His hair was a fuzzy, dark, stark contrast to his smooth pale skin. His arms showed no muscle and the tone of his voice rang higher when compared with most males his age. He was intelligent, loved music and had tattoos. He interrupted the lesson with genuine interest.

Genuine means authentic. You know this well because children are always authentic. You know nothing else.

“What about buts?” he said, placing emphasis on the most hilarious word in the question. If I had had milk in my mouth, it would have come right up my nose. Still today I giggle as I write this story. “What about buts?” The placement was perfect, full of dramatic irony. He hadn’t thought his question funny at all, and he didn’t laugh but called me immature and waited for our professor to give an expert answer. Maybe I am immature. It was just so funny, so my reaction was to bust out laughing.

Now I begin first grade home school with you, my firstborn. This is a place where I must play the teacher. You have never been in school, but my experience with teachers is that the best ones practiced humor. What stands out is not the teaching itself but the laughter and personality. Bits of immaturity made them more relatable, so perhaps I should not fret at that at all.

We will figure this out together, or maybe we’ll just study grammar. If we know the literary, surely history and science will find us. I have no worries for mathematics because you love those so much.

Yet, yes I do worry. All parents do. I’ll set that aside for now and simply say that surely more will come of these first grade homeschooling thoughts, just as surely more will come of homeschool than I could ever predict or schedule in. (Yikes. In is a preposition too. I could remove it since I’m typing but I won’t for circularity’s sake.) Mistakes are the inevitable, editable beauty of life.

Stay tuned.

Love,

Mom/Sara/Haiku the Day Away

 

 

 

 

The Art of Rediscovery

The Art of Rediscovery

It’s a rainy, grayish day, but it’s really more silver. The sun is coming. I am tired though I’ve had plenty of coffee.

A bluegrass twang has resonated my day. Nickel Creek. Alison Krauss. Thanks to Pandora, the happy, soulful noise of banjo and fiddle just keeps coming.

I stepped outside for a while with my children, felt the coolness of this cloudy August day. We chatted with a wonderful neighbor. We pet a passing cat.

I don’t know if any of that is very important, but the details of the day are standing on me because I’ve rediscovered a former love. Something that I used to practice but haven’t in years.

This rediscovering began when I wrote a piece to submit to Mom Egg Review. The theme was “Mothers Play/Mothers Work” and, though it seemed an easy theme, I had a tremendously difficult time trying to come up with a thought that could support an entire essay. I had lots of ideas but they all fell flat. Then I stumbled on an old pencil case. A leather one, soft with age, perfectly wrinkled, the only leather thing that I wanted from Italy when I visited as a teenager. Inside, I found used charcoal pencils from a college drawing class. Holding them again, touching them to a paper, drawing simple lines released something in me.

We all have loves. Creating is one of mine. While speaking to my husband about this, I’ve realized that drawing is kind of like writing. It’s the act of filling a blank page. The act of using my hands to show what’s in my heart. It’s about taking what’s invisible and making it visible. It’s about giving life to the unborn, the forgotten, the buried. In the same way, I love to reuse things and I’m finding it’s not because I’m a conservationist. It’s because I see potential when others might not. It’s not about reusing, but restoring.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Yet this is more than trash to treasure. Treasure is luxury. This is necessity.

It’s always necessary to be who we were made to be. The treasure in you. But we have this treasure in earthen vesselsSomething that was thought to be nothing actually is everything. It’s just a pen. It’s just a few minutes of doodling. It’s just a few words on a page.

But it’s something more, something discovered, unfinished, continuous. This is something living, something risen. They say that stay-at-home-moms need “Mommy Time” but the point is not to just do something apart from our children. The point is to know what gifts we have and to use them. To say that this makes us better people is too cliche. What is the right way to say this, then? That if I pretend to be okay with Wake-Breakfast-Dishes-Sweeping-Legos-Minecraft-pb&j-Naptime-Sid the Science Kid-Dinner-Dishes-Sweeping, I am lying. Of course these are mostly necessary things, but there must be room within the list for me to grab a pen and let my fingers free.

I grew up thinking I was a terrible artist because in my elementary school art class the result was laid out from the beginning. There was no journey. It was more like replicating. I thought for years that I was no good at art because I couldn’t draw exactly what I saw. I didn’t want to just replicate what my teacher had shown me.

Then I took a 3-D art class in high school. I made a mobile from wire that I bent in loops with my own wrist. I made paper. I cut and decorated glass and fired it all together. I made wonder from rectangles. Then I took a pottery class. I allowed my hands to get muddy, for my body to lean into the lump before me, like an urgent prayer, bowing my chest on top of my hands, gripping a pile of stickiness and forcing it into the center of a quickly spinning wheel. I started dabbling with pencils. In college, I minored in art. I sculpted. I drew. I had an art professor ask me why I wasn’t majoring in art. The answer: because I loved writing more. I saw stories as my life’s work. Yet it seems that my writing requires a counterpart.

So last night I sat down beside my husband while he watched the Red Sox work impossibilities and I cut small rectangles from white papers. I grabbed a pen and I began to work my own impossibility.

Like a return to something I didn’t think I’d missed, I am here again, allowed to meddle in the journey of a seemingly frivolous thing. For the purpose of fulfillment.

Is there something in your life you’ve omitted, but actually really miss?

 

 

Don’t Fight Naked

Don’t Fight Naked

I don’t know about you, but I struggle at home. Whether it’s a little girl who just loves to pee on the floor or a red-headed genius six-year-old who is never satisfied or a middle child who laughs at all the rules (especially the rules of gravity), my head is spinning by sunrise every day.

By nap time, I am done and everyone ends up crying themselves to sleep. It’s really fun.

In her post titled, “The Scientific Reason Moms Hate Screaming,” Rachel at A Mother Far From Home says that “This is why moms are so dadgum tired. Taking care of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers is like having heart attacks, hypoglycemic attacks, and lion attacks all day long.” She is speaking specifically about the noise that comes with small children and how that affects a mother’s brain, but I would add that there are lots of things about small children that make our heart race and our blood pressure rise. For me, the noise is definitely hard to deal with but it’s only one of a page-long list.

Just a few hours before I read Rachel’s post, I was praying The Armor of God. Part of me wants to cringe just saying that because I grew up in church and The Armor of God has become kind of like Nickleback was at that time in my life: way overplayed. But in high school, I thought it was hilarious when my youth group leader spoke on Ephesians 6:10-18 and said, “Don’t Fight Naked.” I wrote that on the back of one of my notebooks and today my four-year-old uses that notebook for handwriting worksheets. Good thing he can’t read yet because the word “naked” is already hilarious enough without having it written on one of his prized possessions.

When I was in youth group, The Armor of God wasn’t yet too much for me. It wasn’t until college when I stopped going to church and started doing lots of other things that I began questioning all the overplayed words of my growing up.

Today I’ve come to realize that a lot of those verses are overused because they really do help our lives. The verses of “The Armor of God” are something I’ve known for a long time, but I’m a kinesthetic learner so I guess I needed to have some use for it.

Like having children, maybe. Isn’t being a mom the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life? But I’m thankful for these reminders, for this help:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,

with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

~read the whole thing: Ephesians 6:10-18

Could this possibly relate to motherhood? Yes, I think so. And it’s not so we can win the battles of discipline. It’s so we can realize there is more at stake. We are fighting for our family. We’re fighting with our family. We’re not fighting against them.

What a great reminder that, when I struggle at home (and I know I’m not the only one!), my struggle is not against flesh and blood.

Among all the questions, would a belt of truth help? Yes, please.

What about a breastplate of righteousness to protect my heart from all the veiled lies that come with the uncertainty of motherhood? Absolutely.

At nap time, could feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace be the answer? Bring it on.

A shield of faith to to extinguish attempts to ruin the joy of raising children? Yes!

Motherhood (and all parenting) requires armor because as moms we’re not just keeping kids alive, but guiding them into the kind of lives that will also require armor.

It would be easy to settle here. As in, Oh yeah, that’s true. I’ll remember that for next time. But I’ve grown up a little since high school, and I know this isn’t a piece of information to simply remember. We have to put on armor now because we know there will be a battle later. (How do you put on the armor? Pray it. Speak it. Over and over.) Once my kids start screaming and begging and hitting each other with plastic swords, it will be too late to get dressed. If I’m naked, I can’t help anyone. (Except maybe my husband… TMI? 🙂 )

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

When he fell from his chair, blood poured. Apparently, his nose had met the table as he fell.

It was just a bloody nose, but shocking still. Rest and paper towels stopped it, but a couple days later it bled again. And again. And again. It bled because my son is young and sometimes his finger finds its way in the nostril. It bled again because my son is playful and can’t keep himself from bouncing. It bled again because weapons, no matter how fake, can still do damage.

The week after his first bleeding, he came to me from behind and said, “Mom, my nose is bleeding.” But when I looked, there was no blood. My son laughed. “It was a trick, mom,” he said.

This was not my son’s first trick played. He thinks they are funny, and I know he’s not alone. Lots of people love tricks. Maybe you do, even. I’m just not one of those people who loves tricks. It just always seems that when a trick is played, it’s played at the expense of someone else. When my son plays tricks, I know he’s not trying to be malicious. Yet there is a hint of malice. I want my son to know the affect of tricks, so I told him the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” I told him that when he tells untruths, he is telling me that he can’t be trusted. What if he kept playing that trick, then one day his nose actually bled again but I didn’t come to his aid because I thought he was playing a trick?

Like so many parenting situations, I don’t know if this was the right solution. I also don’t actually know what my son’s intention was. He said he thought it would be funny to play this trick, but I’m not sure if dishonesty should mix with humor. In our house, we tell jokes all the time. We laugh (most days anyway). We play games and celebrate fun. But we don’t celebrate dishonesty.

Well, the originating thought of all this was a memory of Pinocchio. At this point, it may be a loose connection to the truth of my son’s nosebleed trick, but I would like to take a shot. Will you join me?

When I was 5 or 6, my cousin recorded herself reading the entirety of Pinocchio and sent me the tapes as a gift. I listened to them, and perhaps that is where the magic of the story begins for me. I watched videos of Pinocchio: the Disney version and a live-action version I liked to check out from the library. I am no Pinocchio expert, and today I recall only the basic story line, but another memory is this: as a teenager vacationing in Italy, I wanted the book. (While in Florence, read Pinocchio? Exactly.) When my grandmother found out that I wanted and purchased the book, she scowled. Apparently she never liked Pinocchio. “He’s a liar,” she said.

Oh, my sweet, sweet grandmother who so rarely showed her opinion. She said that Pinocchio was a liar and she didn’t like him.

A liar. One who doesn’t tell the truth. A liar cannot be trusted. And what is the motive for lying? Is it fear? Shame? A distrust of self? I have told lies. Is it safe to say that every person has? For Pinocchio, dishonesty was always revealed. It never benefited him. In fact, lying always brought more shame than the act that prompted the lie, and yet he still told lies. Even though our human lies don’t always bring such social humiliation, doesn’t shame always follow? It’s a voice that says, Why would you lie? You are a liar. And, like Pinocchio, we continue.

After some research, I have discovered that in the original version of Pinocchio, author Carlo Collodi killed off the marionette (source: slate.com). He apparently wanted to hone in on the consequence of doing bad things instead of the always possibility of rebirth.

Grace. Always grace. That’s why Disney’s version is so lovable. Because, though Pinocchio has told lies in every one of his versions, Disney offers him the chance to separate the “Pinocchio, the Liar” from “Pinocchio, Who Struggles with Lying but Desires Life and Will Have a Chance to Live”.

Pinocchio begins as a piece of wood, a special block with lots of potential. Our kids are so much more than a block of wood, but I admit that at times it seems I cannot see the difference. I’m sure I often come across the same way.

Pinocchio was a liar and Collodi killed him for it (note: before the publishers told him to bring Pinocchio back to life). Disney gave him a dream and fulfilled it.

Disney makes Pinocchio sing: “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free. There are no strings on me.”

So if my son plays tricks but in my eyes they look like lies, do I let him continue to play his games, hoping that he will grow out of it? Or do I point out the dishonesty in tricks and offer the hope of rebirth now? Or am I thinking about this too much and should just let a boy be a boy and have his fun?

After all this, rebirth stands out the most. When Walt Disney Studios allowed Pinocchio to become a real boy, they did not take away the lies. But they did take away the shame. They didn’t say he was perfect, but they allowed him to be flesh and have understanding. Though Pinocchio never had strings, he did have something holding him back but still lived a life of hope.

 

 

 

Small Ones

Small Ones

As I write, I know I’ve failed. In so many ways. Inconsistencies everywhere. Disappointments. Rolled eyes. Mine and theirs and probably yours.

Yet hope remains at the core. Every day, hope that the next day will be better. Right now, the disappointments of this day grip and need refreshment.

Right now it is nap time. It is mostly quiet. Mostly calm. I am sitting on my bed, legs covered. Leaves sway outside my windows, caught by sunlight and shadow. Waving. Dancing. Ferocious. Caught by the wind but stuck to their tree.

How I made my children sit and wait. How I scolded tiny curious hands and big adventurous spirits. I stood at the edge of the kitchen counter, caught by the wind of frustration but stuck to walls of reality, where small fingers held globs of butter, where lunches were being eaten quicker than I could make them. What’s the big deal? My kids were gobbling carrots. I can’t even remember why I was so angry.

Can disappointments be kindling for new fire? I hope so because here I am and though I see beauty and greatness in my young-mother season, I also see an army of chaos and noise marching to the disappointments of my own unwarranted reactions.

Who was it that said we should celebrate the small victories? That, as mothers, there are always millions of things going on. Work and friendships and laundry and dishes, trying to keep up with spousal dates or even just time alone. Then, hobbies, those things that we are drawn toward. Our passions, our gifts. We are constantly working on things for our own lives and also in the lives of our children. Is there ever enough time? Though one child might throw meatballs at lunch, all the other children clear their plates with glee. That’s a small victory.

We are constantly demanding, “Stop hitting.” “Quiet your voice.” “Stay in your room.” “Choose kindness.” We are always tying shoes or digging out splinters or wiping noses or bottoms or asking for a path to be cleared to the beds. There is always more to do, more to work on, more to demand. Yet the small victories are the ones we will only see if we sometimes slow down and watch. If we sometimes remember.

Small victories always add up to one big victory.

None of my kids can tie their shoes yet, but they can untie their shoes and get them on and fill their own thermoses. Small victories. Baby steps. Like when my six-year-old’s nose started bleeding a few weeks ago, it splattered on the ground and made a hilarious spray of a mess on the floor. I was trying to help the nose but also didn’t want the other children’s feet in the mess so I said (probably yelled) that the two non-bleeding children should stay in the kitchen. As I gave tissues to the bleeding son and took wet wipes to the floor, my four-year-old hugged his little sister and said over and over in the most sure and calming voice, “Stay with me.” And she replied, just as sure,”Okay.” The floor still had to be wiped clean and the nose still needed pressure, but that calming voice of small victories rang.

Perhaps all my frustration is just a result of misplaced expectation. I want too many things and I think I can have them all right now. Instead of being stuck to the visual reality of this every day life, maybe get stuck to the idea that wholeness sounds more often than it looks, remembering that here is where the wind of small victory catches.

Oh, I remember now. Small Victories is the name of Anne Lamott’s newest book (which I have not read but want to because I love her!). But I also read it somewhere else, from someone who was speaking of mothering small children. Perhaps it was Rachel Jankovic. Just trying to give credit to the original.

 

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

I could tell you that we bought a house, but unless you have been standing next to us, you wouldn’t understand the victory wrapped up in these walls. It’s just a house, a residence, a thing made from wood and nails. You might have one too. Maybe when you think about a house, you just think about to-do lists and Saturdays filled. Maybe you think about the decorating and the furnishing. I have. Exciting colors or monochromatic schemes to soothe or brighten. It’s exciting, scary, big. That’s what you might say because if you weren’t there for the battle you can’t understand the weight of winning.

I could tell you how we were led to pray daily for a year, “Thank you God for Egypt.” As if we were slaves. As if we were forced by whips into the life we had. We weren’t forced. Not really. Yet somehow there we were, thanking God for our Egypt. For where we were. “Thank you God for Egypt.” For our slavery. For the precursor to our freedom. For the time before walking into a promise. Then one day, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For the promise.

One day our four-year-old drew a picture. He started with half a circle. He said, “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” But he hadn’t drawn food yet. The image of the sun wasn’t even complete. And yet there was the sun, shining in the mind of my little boy, warming a table full of food that hadn’t shown up yet.

Another half a year went by. We fell for two houses. We were sure of them, but we waited and found that neither one was right.

Still saying, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For a land that He would show. A place to which He would lead us. Two other houses, a nudge to keep looking, a small flood in an attic. God said keep looking, so we did.

It’s only a house, you might say, though we all know that buying a house has its own weight. The abstract idea of a mortgage, money that we don’t yet have but over 30 years we will have found. That’s longevity and it takes another measure of faith.

A table set, but not yet drawn. A meal not yet harvested. The sun had only half risen and yet was providing warmth. This is the plan. God doesn’t respond to need, but to faith. Those are not my own words, but true ones. We have seen it. We have been without, cried tears of desperation at the slavery of metaphorical Egyptian kings.

God said, “Let my people go,” then Moses spoke it. Again and again he spoke it, bringing plague after plague on a stubborn nation unwilling to let go of their free labor.

When you don’t believe in a cause, you can’t possibly give your whole self to it. You can’t possibly do your best work. When you are forced, mistreated, abused, you can’t possibly be serving cheerfully.

Slavery? I have been reluctant to use that word because we are free people living abundantly in a nation of wealth. For us, Egypt seems to have been the physical place we lived for several months, a place of transition for our family.

God never forces us, but gently leads us into areas we would never tread alone. The Red Sea was vast, a powerful giant carrying life, yet humans cannot naturally survive in the sea.

God showed himself faithful, gave freedom to a nation filled with people who would betray him, continuing the battle of the human condition, onward to grace and mercy.

The war isn’t over. Only one battle won. “Only.” I am not trying to diminish it, but bring perspective. God’s glory shines through ages. Victory brings its own battles. The Israelites had to fight for their promise. We all have to continue in daily thankfulness. Daily praise. Daily remembrance of the wonders we have seen.

I could tell you we bought a house, but that’s like saying the Israelites just moved. They didn’t just move. They walked out of slavery. They stood on the floor of the ocean. They were covered by cloud, led by fire, and fed by manna. They were given the land of milk and honey, not without trials, but neither without God’s hand.

And I hear the words of my four-year-old again and again. “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” Hand still drawing, a promise yet to see.

THE WHOLENESS OF SICK DAYS

THE WHOLENESS OF SICK DAYS

This morning, I woke up with a headache. Even before my head left my pillow, my eyes were having a harder than usual time.

It was the opening they couldn’t do.

Now, as I sit wide-crosslegged on my carpet, typing away at the coffee table in my living room, I think my early morning experience is kind of funny. My eyes were having a harder than usual time.

Lately, it’s everything else that has been having a hard time. I have felt like I can’t do anything. I can’t process things correctly. I can’t think or organize (well, the non-organized part is pretty usual for me). I can’t respond. I can’t focus.

Why? Maybe because of this hectic world I’ve created. Too much on the plate. Not enough calm. Not enough space. Not enough rest.

Because my life is like yours. There are too many crumbs on the floor. Too many dirty clothes. Too many questions. Too many mouths and not enough spoons. Too many dishes and not enough hands. Well, sometimes there are too many hands too.

Like tonight.

But before we get into that story, I’m going to back up.

I woke feeling terrible. I was forced to step back. To put on The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space and lie down on the couch so I could close my sore eyes. To make whatever food was easiest. To back away from the kitchen as soon as possible so I could stop using my legs.

Right before lunch, my 4 year-old (who never stops jumping and has tantrums like The Hulk) said he wanted to go to bed. He said that both his stomach and the back of his neck hurt. These were my exact symptoms.

“Okay,” I said. “Would you like some pizza first?” Today’s lunch was homemade frozen pizza, and Super Healthy Kids jello. And cucumbers. All foods that this boy loves.

“No. I just want to lie down,” he sagged down the hall to his bed, hugging Red Monkey all the way.

After naptime, I was feeling better but this boy had a fever. So we snuggled and played cards.

What took my attention was the fact that he did everything right while he was sick. He didn’t get impulsive and flip over our game of war. When he went to the bathroom, he didn’t pee on the floor, and as soon as he came out of the bathroom he told me that he washed his hands and flushed the toilet. He didn’t once raise his voice. Not all afternoon or evening.

So, he does know what he needs to do. He just chooses not to do it.

Kind of like me. I know that I need to rest. I need to stop focusing on what my life should look like. I need to use more paper plates and I need to buy more packaged foods. I need to let go of the desire for homemade, at least in a few areas.

After dinner, we were all feeling somewhat better. Our bellies were full of eggs and bacon and sautéed kale and fruits. (Well, only mine was full of sauteed kale. Kale goes with everything. No? 🙂 )

I decided to step in the kitchen and empty the sink so we would have some clean dishes. My feverish boy brought a chair and helped as best he could. Ah! How does a 4 year-old help wash dishes? Some of you probably know the answer, but in that moment I was shaking with uncertainty.

But his chair was already there and his voice was so sweet.

“Can I help you, mom?”

I have been thinking lately that maybe it’s not the daily chores, but how I do them. I often rush through chores with speed, trying to get them done before one son slaps another. Before voices are raised. Before toys are thrown. I rush through tasks because I don’t have enough time to slow down.

But there is no lack of time. There is a myriad of time. And rest requires that revelation.

As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, it would benefit my whole family if I slowed the chores down. These are teaching moments. Learning to make a dish clean is learning to love. Caring for a home means caring for the family, for the people. Though tasks are numerically abundant, they can hold another kind of abundance, too.

This is the kind of abundance that makes our hearts flow at night’s end, and uncovers joy within the chore of a.m. eye-opening.

A NUTRITION COURSE : ON SWIRLY MINDS AND SWIRLY LIFE

A NUTRITION COURSE : ON SWIRLY MINDS AND SWIRLY LIFE

Most recently, in our home school, we are doing a tiny course on nutrition. This has been in my mind for a long time, but then I found Usborne’s “Why do we Eat?” at a consignment shop for $0.75 and decided it was time. My kids and I read that book a few times, then I printed this nutrition book from The First Grade Sweet Life. We worked on filling it out, then today we went grocery shopping. I let my kids think of things we should buy, according to the variety of foods that we should eat to make our bodies function. We started our list yesterday, and went this morning.

There was nothing particularly terrible about this morning. It was just that… maybe we should have stayed home.

Do you ever have days like that? When you start to do something–whatever it is–you think it’s going to be easy and fun but it ends up giving you a small heart attack instead?

My kids were tired. We didn’t eat a big enough breakfast. And the always-always-always part of my life where I don’t know how to give directions was glaring at me.

Do my kids really understand what we’re doing? Did I explain it well enough to each of them? Of course, my two-year old wouldn’t really understand, but I may have neglected to tell my 4 year-old anything, relied on him hearing when I read that book with my 6 year-old. They might just think this is a regular shopping trip. 

Our list was made of only good things, a guide for real-life nutrition lessons:

Cucumbers
Carrots
Bananas
Oranges
Strawberries
Cantaloupe
Potatoes
Yogurts
Granola bars
Rice cakes

Whole foods. Not Whole Foods, but foods that are whole and untainted with chemistry. Strict biology, here!

But somewhere in the putting on of shoes and the checking for shopping supplies and the actual driving to the store, I just started freaking out. Things were so unclear.

Life things. Grocery shopping things. Self things. Kid things.

My mind just went around in swirls.

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Sometimes swirls are beautiful, but more often they look chaotic. This is the creative way. More, though, this is the way of life.

We are a series of connected, tumbling, intersecting, up and down lines that have no end and whose beginnings are often hard to locate.

Where does life go next?

There is no pattern to swirls. They dip and peak and then they dip lower and peak higher. To peak means to reach the highest point, but here I’m talking about the point that is highest at that moment, and moments change moment to moment.

That makes sense…

Guys, I admit that I’m just thinking here. This is a blog. Not a published book that has been checked and backed by others. I’m talking about my day, my emotions, my thoughts. I’m using my life with the admonition that my life is different from yours because we are all different people.

Yet we live in the same world.

Somewhere in the writing of all this, I’ve come back to the whole foods list. We made a list of foods that are untainted with chemistry. Strict biology.

We can learn how plants grow and how animals multiply, but life is so swirly. Chemistry happens. Even if no one pours vinegar into a bowl of baking soda, a bottle might spill. Then what?

A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged to diagram my faith race.

As in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (from Hebrews 12).

I was challenged to diagram my obstacles, my hindrances, my sins.

I had a hard time with this. First, I drew two lines:

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

But I didn’t think these two lines accurately represented my path. They were just a starting point because I didn’t know what to draw.

What is my path? I thought.

I thought about my life. It’s pretty common, when you sit down and put words to my actions:

Kids
Dinner
Dishes
Laundry
Writing a novel
Writing other things
Marriage

Perhaps my path is straight like the above lines, but my mind goes in swirls. Perhaps it’s not my feet that wander but my eyes. Instead of looking straight at Jesus, I look up at the clouds and I pause to listen to the leaves of trees. Then I find myself out of breath because I’ve gotten distracted. One minute I am breathing oxygen and the next minute I’ve stuck my head into a pond because I want to see how far the bottom is (total metaphor, guys… that’s just creativity). Today as I drove my children to the grocery store, I just found myself saying, “Jesus help. There has to be a way.”

A way to life. A way to mother. A way to streamline the never ending groceries. A way to end the swirls. A way to breathe. A way to think clearly in the midst of tiny obstacles.

These obstacles that I face, they really are tiny.

The simple answer was right there. “I am the way” (from John 14).

While we might expect to live the natural way of other living organisms, chemistry just works its way in.

The composition of our matter changes because we are not the way. We are only the vessel.

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

Is it really possible? I mean, Christmas is a day. December 25. And days always begin and end without human help.

But as humans, we so often act like we need to do all these things to make Christmas. We need gifts and trees and cookies and we need to drive around looking at lights and we need the happy music and the steaming cocoa.

In my household, we have Christmas traditions. They’re pretty usual. We make forgotten cookies. We watch all the movies. We look at Christmas lights. We give as much as we can. We have fun. This year, I thought we’d also spread  Christmas kindnesses across our community, and we’d make a Jesse Tree to remind ourselves of the bigger story. We started the tree, but have not been faithful, and my almost 6-year old reminds me daily. “Mom. We forgot to read our Bible story.” We’re stuck on Moses.

Surely, I thought, I can just incorporate kindnesses into our wintertime life. “Hold the door for the person behind you.” “Pay for someone’s coffee.” “Let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store.” I even sat down and made a list with my children. A whole list of completely plausible ideas. And we talked about why we wanted to show kindness.

“What is kindness?” I said. And we decided that kindness means considerate and willing, nice and helpful. We wrote our list and have done none of it. Not even the simple, free things. Because life happens without trying.

December 25 will come.

This year, the forgotten cookies crumbled. Our tree topper didn’t light. Our children have cried and screamed and talked through all the Christmas movies. When we drove around to look at lights, we had to stop for gas and for air in the tire. Our 4-year old was being nasty and my words weren’t getting through to him so I took him out of the van and sat him on the curb to have a little chat. It was really fun. (Not.) Really? Don’t you know this is Christmas? I thought. The roads for the best lights in town were blocked off, so we left that neighborhood early and got dinner at a food truck. Our kids hated it and ended up eating bananas instead. Our Jesse Tree is empty.

By trying to make Christmas, it seems I have unmade it.

But our tree is up (no topper). Our ornaments are hung (except one that likely got thrown out with our last tree). The air is cold. Forgotten cookie crumbs are filling a box on top of our fridge.

And my boys are not being kind or selfless like I want them to be. Like I want. “I” is such a selfish word.

Really. Do you have to do that? It’s Christmas. 

But is’t not Christmas. It’s only December 16. We’ve got nine more days.

Nine more days to make up my lack of follow-through. Nine more days to get it right.

Then, I wonder if we need that Jesse Tree anyway, or that list of Christmas kindnesses. Do we need cookies that hold their shape? Whether eaten by finger or spoon, they still do the sugary trick. We have tried. And now we’re going out of town for a pre-Christmas vacation, and we won’t be home to complete any of the things on our list. Really, we’re out of time for preparation.

Only one kindness has been done. This is one truly random, unplanned kindness that lets me know that my children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s Jesus. It’s a savior. It’s peace on earth. Good will toward men. It’s glory to God. It’s the best gift ever wrapped up in cloths and presented by angels. It’s everything before Him and everything after Him. It’s unfailing love and a call to do the same. Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

Last week we went to Costco. Among other things, we bought a box of gummy snacks. They are a treat for my children, and that day I had splurged on organic ones. I gave one gummy pack to each child after seat belts were buckled. We made our way to the line of cars sitting stopped at a red light. Crowded and waiting to turn. To go home. And my 6 year-old said, “Mom. What does that sign say?” pointing to a woman on the curb wearing drab cloths and a shivery frown. A woman ignored.

“Pregnant and hungry. Anything helps. God bless,” I read.

I’m seeing these signs everywhere now.

“Oh,” said my son. “Can we give her something?”

“I don’t have any cash,” I told him, “What could we give?”

“Gummies!” he said, and he reached back into the trunk, stuck his hand into the box of gummies and grabbed a handful. As many packages as his fingers could grip, and he handed them to me. His precious gummies.

This kindness wasn’t even on our list.

But I rolled the window down anyway, letting in a chill, and I handed the gummies over. The organic ones, given in an organic way to a woman who said thank you and walked away and stuffed her hoodie pocket with them.

We search for meaning, for ways to make Christmas special. But meaning is only found in the manger, where animals roam and hay is scattered. Where life exists opposite from humans trying.

Life is not a human creation, but a gift.

So maybe I’m not actually failing at Christmas.

Somehow my children know, though they don’t often act like it, about peace on earth and good will toward men. They know about generosity and love and glory to God in the highest. They know.

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

SHOWING GRACE TO THE UNLEAVENED

I was really comfortable sitting in my van. I was outside of Lowe’s, texting a friend, sitting on a heated seat. Then someone appeared at my window.

“Excuse me,” she said. I looked. She was a stranger, and I know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers. But there’s a compassion in me for the destitute that I can’t shake. Besides, I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted, a book that chronicles the Hatmaker’s journey toward compassion for the homeless. There’s a whole book of explanation, but it begins with a prayer and the verse where Jesus says, “Do you love me…. Then feed my sheep.” It’s possible my compassion was swayed because of this book. But also, my only options were to open my window and give this stranger a chance, or ignore her and give her disgrace.

I rolled the window down.

Her face was small. Her cheeks sunken. A face with visible bones. We all have a skeleton, but everyone I know has enough substance to cover. I’ll say it again; her face was small.

Now I’m trying to remember her words. I can’t. Just the gist of them in conjunction with the image I saw. “My daughter and I are trying to get a meal and some blankets. We’re homeless. Could you help us out?” She looked me in the eyes and spoke in meek desperation.

I had just returned something at Lowe’s. I didn’t have the receipt and was expecting store credit, but it was under $10 so they gave me cash. I hardly ever have cash, but at that moment I had $9 neatly folded on top of my purse. $9 that I hadn’t expected. Easy to grab. I handed it to her and looked in my backseat. She said she needed blankets too, and since I never know what I’ll find in the back of my van, I looked. There was one blanket. One blanket that one of my kids had dragged in. And a winter hat that didn’t fit me, but had made my daughter laugh one day. I considered giving the blanket, but it was an Avenger’s blanket. One whose presence would be missed. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t give away my kid’s blanket.

“Okay. Thank you. Keep us in your prayers,” she said.

And we parted ways.

I didn’t say much to her. I was uncomfortable. I was unsure what to do. After she walked away, I finished composing my text and I thought, Why didn’t I give her that hat? And what was her name? Couldn’t I have given her some dignity by shaking her hand?

I drove around the parking lot looking for this woman, mostly wanting to give her my winter hat. It was pink and blue and would have covered her ears.

I couldn’t find her.

Then I started wondering… she said she had a daughter, but where was she? Maybe they lived in their car and her daughter had stayed put when the mother came to ask for money. Or maybe there was no daughter. Maybe it was all a lie. Maybe this woman was not who she said she was. Maybe she was just a beggar. Was I contributing to the discomfort of other middle class Americans by giving $9 to a beggar?

Then, “We are all mere beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread.” -Martin Luther

I was going to make bread today, but it has not risen enough to bake. What’s wrong with it? I know the recipe. I’ve made this same bread for years, but now it’s suddenly winter and sourdough bread responds differently to cold, dry temperatures. For sourdough, 70-85 degrees and humid is perfect. In other words, sourdough bread wants to live in San Diego, but mine can’t. It has to adjust, or I have to adjust it. I just didn’t think about adjusting today, since it’s not very cold yet. So two loaves have been in my kitchen, rising slowly, all day. They are minuscule. Stout. Dense. Like there is nothing in them to procure the loaves I want. Like the wild yeast of my sourdough starter didn’t take. Like the loaves are unleavened.

It’s not Passover. I’m not Jewish. I don’t have personal experience with either, but I’ve read Deuteronomy, and I could stand to read it again.

“Observe the month of Abib by celebrating the Passover to God, your God. It was in the month of Abib that God, your God, delivered you by night from Egypt. Offer the Passover-Sacrifice to God, your God, at the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Don’t eat yeast bread with it; for seven days eat it with unraised bread, hard-times bread, because you left Egypt in a hurry—that bread will keep the memory fresh of how you left Egypt for as long as you live. .” ~Deuteronomy 16, the msg

Unleavened bread. The bread of affliction (from the same verses, in the ESV). The bread of pain or suffering. At the place God chooses to be worshiped by establishing his name there. Unraised bread. Hard-times bread. That bread will keep the memory fresh.

Maybe she was a beggar. Maybe she was a drug addict. Maybe she was promiscuous.

Does it matter?

We are all beggars.

Hard times are hard times, even if we create them for ourselves.

My bread is unraised.

It’s hard-times bread all around.

And I’ve been trying to sort all this out while sitting in a Starbucks. It’s not my place of choice, but it’s the only coffee shop open past 9:00 in my area. They’re playing jazzy Christmas music. They’re creating sweet aromas. The floors are clean and the people are well-dressed and my cup has a picture of snowy trees on it. I’m warm. But not too warm. This should be perfect conditions. Could be my San Diego.

But somewhere a woman has my $9, or something of equal value.

The bread in my kitchen is not unleavened but it is uncomfortable tonight. The yeast to make it rise is yearning for different conditions.

And we all have suffered that.