Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks for that

Because I was too busy yesterday drinking the punch I was assigned to contribute to the festivities of the day (okay, yes, mine was mostly vodka with a bit of punch).

For health, wealth (relatively speaking), and wisdom (not mine, but others)...
For laundry, hot water, and Clorox wipes.
For pens that work, fresh paper, and new books.
For warm coats, clean socks, and cozy comforters.
For my new mac, icloud, and googledocs.
For my faithful and godly and humble and funny and integrous husband. The one who loves me.
For laughter. In abundance.
For new babies. New life: refreshing and inspiring. Offering hope and promise.
For friends. Old and new. Inside jokes, memories of deep scars and fresh insights.
For yellow labs. Especially those in their last year. Snuggles and joy.
For cars that haven't broken down, faucets and heat that work, and plenty of food in the fridge.
For two beautiful boys who bring me more pain and joy than I ever thought possible.
For teachers that teach. And love. And keep trying and smiling.
For vodka and other forms of substance that help me endure those rough days.
For words. Long conversations, texts, books, heart-wrenching stories of endurance and hope.
For phones and letters that allow such words.
And, mostly, for love. That I receive in abundance and keep trying to give.

These are my thanks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Life as a 5 paragraph essay

Yes, this will no doubt need editing.

I am inundated with essays during this season. Really. Really. Really bad ones most of the time. To teach or not to teach the formulaic 5-paragraph-er is a debate in English departments that never retires. Endless arguments for and against this harmless little ditty ring in my ears when I cannot sleep.

Get over it, I say. Just teach it, I advise. It does no harm, and as I always compare it to a paint-by-number, it may just help a child see the purpose of an argument in writing. It's simple, clear, and well-organized. Just like I like my life to be, but never quite is.

But I started considering. What if my life were this: A 5 paragraph essay. Which paragraph would I be in? Am I nearing my conclusion? (I haven't done anything GRAND yet!) Am I merely in the first few paragraphs? (perhaps I'm about to stumble upon the next great invention?) Or, likely, am I somewhere in the middle trying to redeem the ramblings I've provided to this world thus far?

If at all interested, here's what I think it may look like in this poor form (my own editing and self-doubt included):

Life is an endless journey. Oh, God, that sounds so trite; I DO hang out with 9th graders most of the time, they undoubtedly creep into my psyche. Start over.

Born into this world thanks to two traveling do-gooders, who were a bit earthy and a tad under-refined, I bounced into their care-free lives like a tornado, aptly in Toronto--creating countless damages and a regret for not having massive insurance or a return-to-owner tag. Asking endless questions about the nature of life, love, and God, and carefully watching for visible reflections of said reality, I challenged about everything they had to offer. I still do. And by "challenged" I actually mean questioned, sneered, doubted, and disagreed with 99% of what they tried to teach me. Thus began my investigative tendencies into all that I've come into contact with. Or, all with which I've come into contact. Whatever. I try.

(First body paragraph)
My young adult years (yes, I've skipped the atrocity and delight of childhood, I only vaguely remember things like wearing black sneakers, eating liver and onions, and yelling a lot at my pesky younger siblings) were ripe with battles and laughter. Usually the latter occurring after said battles. I strived to learn how to defend myself against increasingly strong brothers, how to carve out a bit of privacy in my chaotic household (only 1100 sf, with 6 people!), and how to avoid getting grounded, or worse, causing my Dad to hide my curling iron. And I somehow also managed to find time to memorize lyrics to Duran Duran and delve into my fantasy world where I was a famous, hot singer, and boys everywhere worshipped me and (more important) wanted to "go around" with me. Oh, and I got good grades in math.

(Second body paragraph)
Then, my Independent Years. Yes, finally. At last. I got to pay my own bills, answer my own phone calls with my new 3-pound cell phone, and actually buy whatever the hell I wanted to eat. And stay out late. And date whomever I wanted to. Until I met Les Canadian (actually I met him in my young adult years, but that's another essay about childhood marriage), who led me seemingly at lighting speed to my next years as a parent, though there are those 10 years in between which are all a blur. An education? A career? All secondary compared to where I really desired to be (and was usually found): Out. Partying. Preferably with funny people. Or at least people who thought I was funny and good-looking.

(Third body paragraph)
Middle-adult-hood (is that even a word?) and beyond (I fear cutting myself off since my upcoming talent may be prophecy): Parenting. Sleeplessness. Complications in marriage. A real job. Daycare. Bills. Even more questions about the nature and reality of life, love, and God, mixed with serious doubts about the innate nature of humanity. I committed the ultimate test in bravado and ego: I created another ME. His name is Myles. He shares (poor little guy) almost everything I have, minus a vagina and boobs. He has my temper, my impatience, my timeliness, my freakish-control, my desire to know and question everything. And I find myself at a complete loss at how to teach this young human to undo the traits I've found myself stuck with, and often I just laugh in amusement at the humor of God. For now I have no doubt that he exists (God, not Myles). And because I didn't like, though I loved, the reflection of myself, I adopted another: Thys. Who became my test in selfless love. For to love another as if he is yours has been the most difficult challenge of mothering. The temptations to dismiss his bad habits as though they're not a reflection of me, to deny his suffering because we've given him so much, to interpret his bad manners and tantrums as if he owes us... cause many moments of doubt--the kind where I think we shouldn't have passed the hours of social-worker's questions in our "home study." I commonly (and metaphorically) slap my stupid ass for such thoughts, but I'll admit, they sure do happen.

Okay, so that paragraph was too long.


My life thus far has boiled down, again and again, to a trite phrase: Love is all you need. Yes, I'm resorting to Top-40 Pop-Rock songs to epitomize my learning. I think Jesus said it even better though, pretty often in fact he talked about loving well (love is patient, love is kind), and even about loving our enemies... Because amidst all the chaos and doubt and confusion of my thus far years, I am even more confident in his guiding me to become a more viable conduit of this love that seems to always be just out of reach. Can't get it, then do it. I try.

Monday, November 14, 2011

hockey for life?

I thought my husband strange when he used to call the boys' time-outs, "The Penalty Box," and I dismissed it as a Canadianism...
But. Now, time-out includes a punishment of 5 minutes of stick handling (moving a ball with the hockey stick). I'm getting more nervous here.
It appears that all of the punishment in our house is serving an ulterior motive: Superior hockey players? A 401K? Box seats for future events? Or just cheers and high-fives from other hockey rents?
Granted, it IS fun to watch our boys score. But, seriously, I'm desperately seeking some hockey mom attire that doesn't include my snow boots, gloves, and ski jacket. I fear I may be in this for life. Any advice?

Monday, November 7, 2011


Myles recently asked me what superpower I would choose to have if I could have any one that I wanted. I stumbled for a while, as if the question merited a thoughtful answer (and suspending myself in the disbelief that it could be real). I considered opting for a "permanently super-model bod, no matter how much I eat or how little I exercise," but thought that might communicate vanity (not a trait about women that I want my 7-year-old to learn until he must), then I dreamt of money, riches, and endless days of a life without having to go to work, clean, cook, or think about hard stuff, but then I remembered that most rich people I know are miserable folks with too much class who worry about which stupid fork to use... I quickly grabbed my thoughts from entering the "I want to be fabulously smart" zone, as I don't want my son to know I'm not that already, and landed here:

I'd like to have a personal meeting, a happy hour, with God, every day. And I don't mean to sound pious or holier-than-thou, like I want to be the next Christian Women's Motivational Speaker, which is why I added the happy hour bit. Because I like to think of God as a he/she who just might enjoy a margarita more than a fill-in-the-blank workbook. I picture God as someone who could sit back and chill as we discuss the messiness of the world and my life, and that he could offer hints as to where to begin to start cleaning it up. And I'm no longer in the God-as-Santa-Claus phase of my life (though I sure slip there sometimes and wish that were true) but I kind of think that purging my fears and difficulties and f-ups to the Creator Of The Universe might do me some good. In person. Over drinks. Which is how I like to have most of my conversations.

But. Then I think there would be many happy hours where he might be silent, and let me keep talking until I realized the absurdity of what I would no doubt be saying.

And maybe happy hours where I could listen to all the crazy ways he gets involved in people's lives--where it looks like a disaster and then turns out to be a masterpiece. I'd love to hear more of those.

And those when he could simply let me know that I'm okay, that I don't need to try so hard, and remind me that he's got everything under control. And he loves me the way I am. I'd like to rest in that reality every day. I don't know why it's so hard to forget that. The thought of deep study to get there isn't my first incline during my afternoons, though I know that's what every Preacher/Teacher has suggested as a way to get that message and feel its truth.

So that's why I would opt for a happy hour. Though I suppose that's not really a superpower at all.

But I didn't explain all that to Myles. I just said, "meet God for happy hour."

And when I asked Myles what he would choose, he said, "Reunite nature." Which prompted a WTF from me, so he explained: "It means to bring nature back to our world and show people how nature can teach you how wonderful the world can be."

Dear God, I'm raising a hippie.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

sermon notes

This morning Pastor Mark kicked off a new sermon series on Art and Worship. He showed a video of Diet Wiegman doing crazy, unbelievable, "Shadow Art" and connected it with John 3: 18-20 about exposing dark things to the light. He mentioned his own trip to the Guggenheim where he witnessed a large piece of nasty trash, and then walked to the right spot where a light shining on the trash revealed the shocking shadow: A delicate woman with a parasol.

He asked us to watch a short video of the art and then sit quietly and reflect. He said we could take notes, and that they wouldn't be judged or graded.

Here are mine:

Contrasts. Light and Dark. Drastic differences unfold the unique, the unusual, the beautiful. Things exposed and observed in a different way than we originally assume, a different vantage point, or from the "correct angle," reveal a clear reality and purpose that likely would have been missed. Chaos suddenly has a purpose, and once you see it, you can't go back to ignoring it, spiting it, scoffing at it, or skeptically analyzing it.

Light from the correct angle makes everything clear, clearer than it ever was. And not a slow "Oh ya, I saw that coming" change, but rather a "Oh shit, I had no idea that was coming" change. Light redeems the ugly.

Then, there's our own darkness, the ugliness in our own lives that can prevent us from doing, creating, being... The darkness that we often work so hard to hide in the most ironic of places, the Church. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that reigns supreme in many of our communities (and Churches) while it cripples: "Clearly, X has a drinking problem, but don't confront or ask"... "Obviously, X is suffering, but don't ask, she's a drama queen"... "Yes, X is cheating on X, but let them deal with it and figure it out"... "Obviously X is gay, but don't you dare mention it."

Not that confrontation is what Lightness does. In fact, the artistic images communicated a welcome brilliance, not a hostile takeover. Sometimes we expose ourselves (not in the illegal way...) when we finally let go of a dark part of ourselves by confession to those we've hurt. Ready for the consequences, but freed by the relief of hiding, holding back... Sometimes, yes, we are confronted with someone else "pulling us over" and exposing what we didn't have the courage to do ourselves. And then it may take some time to come to terms, to admit our guilt, possibly before we're ready. But I wonder if the pulling over perhaps saves us from worse damage that may have occurred at a later time...

But no doubt, the exposure creates suffering. For all involved. For the confessor and the confess-ee. I do believe that God takes extremely special care of people in these circumstances: He cradles them, and gives them an irrational dose of grace and peace and comfort. And glimpses of hope: Glimpses of the final beauty that is only revealed from that exact angle, with the light in just the right spot. The picture. The shadow. The final product. The purpose of it all. Seeing that rare glimpse (the one I think we only get to see when we are in deep suffering) gives us the strength and endurance we need to get through the difficulty of exposure.

Hallelujah. Finally that word makes some sense and has a purpose.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All the things I didn't do today

I had big goals this morning. A long list started forming in my head the moment after I found out that school was cancelled because of snow (my school, NOT the boys' school!) ... and I'm often found to be ambitious when I'm still cozy under my covers. There's something about setting goals and feeling completely confident that I can accomplish them while still not moving. There must be a diagnosis for this: I-think-I-can-do-everything syndrome? Delusional syndrome? Anyone else suffer from this? It leads to a great feeling of failure at the end of the day.

But then I got distracted: by reading other people's blogs, by drooling over the new Nordstrom catalogue that just arrived in the mail, analyzing my grey roots, taking a nap, playing Words With Friends, picking dog hair off my coat, wondering what my life would be like if I never had to go to work, and watching my neighbors shovel their walks...

Then five minutes after I dropped the kids off at school, I had to pick them up again, only to be disappointed by how fast my day seemingly passed me by.

I still had the afternoon!

But. Instead, I did this:

Because. Well. They're only young once. And I have a dreadful thought that the next time I blink, it will be snowing and they'll be in college, or married, and calling only when they want to do laundry or have me babysit their kids. And the days when I can help them build a castle will be The Past.

I don't want to be in The Future and wish I hadn't been in The Present.

While we were building, a nice looking early-30-ish guy stopped his work truck in front of our house and walked toward us.

Guy: "Hi. My name is Nate. My Grandma lived in this house. I haven't seen it in years and I saw you out front, so I just thought I'd say hi."

Me: "Get lost, creeper."

Just kidding. (But that did happen to me once when I went to visit my childhood home in Bellflower.)

Me: "Hi." Kind smile, you know, that one that got me free services on my Mac. "Come on in. Take a look around..."

He shared all kinds of memories and was especially shocked that it was so well preserved (meaning, we haven't done any remodeling, and it still looks like it did in the 50s). But he said that in a nice way.

And then. I remembered my own Grandma's house. The one where we ate Grandma Buns and watched her iron. Where we found her old gloves in her drawers. And marveled at the fact that she and Grandpa had separate beds. Where we sat with 40 people in the living room having cake after Church and listened to Grandpa's corny jokes. And Grandma's laughter.

And Nate and I shared a smile. Memories. Place gives them more power than we may have realized. Or maybe anticipated. Place forces us to take stock and realize how much we are the ones that have changed and moved on. For better or worse.