Thursday, April 21, 2016

This Is All That I Have

When I look back on this season of life, these years of young children, what will I remember?

I think of this question often.  I'm smack in the middle right now, and it's tough some days to see past the nights with not nearly enough sleep.  The laundry game that I'm badly losing. The dishes that multiply like busy rabbits.  These days are long.  They are sometimes lonely.  They are hard.

I know, in my cognitive mind, that there will be a point where I will viscerally yearn for the days of my babies.  But alongside that knowledge, I hold at the same time the bone tired, weary discouragement of today.

I haven't blogged lately because this is all that I have.  I am swollen with motherhood.  I begin posts, and they sit in my draft folder because I am afraid they sound whiny or shallow.  I try to think of something profound I am learning, but I come up empty every time.  The sum of my depth lately is the wish that my house was cleaner or the desire to sleep one whole night all the way through.

Yesterday, though, I felt Spirit nudging me to go ahead and write.  About this?  About my total lack of everything?  Yes.  Paul boasted in his weaknesses, 1 Corinthians tells us, and it's tempting to think that Paul's weaknesses were not as ugly as ours.  He was a hero of the faith, after all!  But what if his weaknesses really were just as glaring and awful as ours?  Whatever they were, they pointed to Christ, and that's the only thing I'm holding onto these days, that when I can't, Jesus.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

British Garden Dreams

Spring is coming up quietly here in the Midwest.  My hyacinths are weighty with full pink heads. The daffodils have buds.  Some of my perennials are sending their first scouting leaves through soil's surface.   Oh goodness, I could talk about flowers all day long, and believe me, if you were across the table from me now, I'd for sure show you all the little seedlings I've started in the window.  Then again, that has the potential to quickly spiral into the likes of an infamous vacation slideshow, so perhaps it's best you're not here.

As I plan out my garden this year, I daydream of the trip we took last summer to England and Scotland.  I never blogged about it because I'd just finished the terrible sick months of my pregnancy with Judah.  Our trip was a family affair with my parents and sister's family, and we spent two weeks exploring the Cotswolds, Lake District, Wales, and Scotland.  Great Britain has flowers everywhere.  Even the tiny front yards are full of wispy spires, and every stone wall has something trailing down its side.  Can we talk about the stone walls?  I came home wanting to start a grassroots movement to banish barbed wire and chainlink fences.  Let's go the UK way, people!  (Aaron was quick to point out that stone walls are far more expensive and difficult to maintain than our options.  Whatever.)  And the rhododendrons!  Growing as thickly along the highway's edge as if they were just a bunch of dandelions.  All of it was every bit as magical as it sounds and so, so beautiful.

This is where it gets a wee awkward, since only two paragraphs ago I bashed vacation slideshows. But, would you like to see some England pictures?  Let's talk gardening and all the ideas the Brits have given me.  Aaron is wondering how many trellises I will ask him to build, and the answer is somewhere between How Can One Ever Have Too Many Trellises and How Many Backrubs Will You Take in Exchange for Your Carpentry Skills?  

First off, flowers that I will be attempting to grow because of our trip.

This is Jupiter's Beard.  It doesn't look at all like a weed, but based on its prolific appearance in sidewalk cracks and ditches, I'm surmising it grows like a weed.  At least in England.  I found this plant at ACE Hardware a few weeks after we got back, and it is coming up already this year. Hopefully it blooms as well as its English relatives!

Roses.  Ack.  Intimidating!  But seriously, how could you not want a climbing rose after seeing this in person?  Lowe's had them for 8 bucks, so I bought one about this same color.  I need to do some research on how to secure them to walls.    

Cranesbill geranium is gorgeous, isn't it?  This is a plant I already had before our England trip, but mine does not grow nearly as big.  I don't know what it is about England's climate, but all of their flowers go gangbusters.  Look at that wall!  If there were such a thing as stone wall sweepstakes, I would enter every one.

Next, flowers I adore but have not been able to successfully grow in years past.

Campanula.  Every May, I selectively forget that this plant always dies in our sweltering August heat. I've seriously bought this three or four years running, and it never makes it.  If I see this picture in May, the amnesia will probably return, and I will buy it again.  It's so sweet.  Also, stone wall.  Gah.

Delphinium is another flower that I wish I could have in my garden.  Like campanula, it doesn't tolerate our hot summers.   

Foxglove does fare better in our zone, but as a biennial, it's a little fussy.  If it doesn't reseed, you have to replant in the fall to have blooms the next spring.  Plus, it's poisonous, and that seems risky to grow with young kids.  I think it's gorgeous, though, and maybe in ten years I'll give it another try.

One thing I loved about the English cottage gardens was their use of sticks.  There's nary a wire tomato cage in sight, but they use sticks and branches to edge their gardens and as pea and bean teepees. 

We also visited some larger manor gardens.

I think the English have such pretty gardens to serve as a distraction from the constant mist.  Or maybe they have such pretty gardens as a result of the constant mist.

I took an up close picture of the trellis.  You know, just in case we ever have the time, space, or money to replicate it.

Also on the list of wild dreams: a tunnel like this. 

I'll go ahead and add giant rhododendrons to that list as well.

Doesn't all of that make you want to visit England?  Aaron and I have commented several times how much of a dream it all felt like - partly because of how ridiculously picturesque it was.  (Also partly because we were traveling with a toddler who slept poorly, but that's bygones.)

I'm itching for spring to arrive in full force, to spend afternoons digging and sowing, but there is a certain magic to early spring.  There are no bugs or droughts or bad soil to contend with in early spring.  There are simply so many garden dreams, and they all seem possible.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spilled Cup

I came across that quote when I was in college, and I remembered it today as I sat down to write, thinking over the ways life has jarred me lately.  It feels silly to call the last few months jarring. Nothing tragic or truly difficult has happened.  It's just been life on double speed, with enough tangles and frustrations to tilt the scale toward hard.  The pressing, the tugging, the balancing act always near toppling - all of it has exposed the liquid in my cup for what it really is.

It's those nearest us that get to see the drops spill, one by one.  They catch the bitterness or sweetness in their arms as they stand by.

When Aaron and I got married seven years ago, I prayed that our marriage would be something different: a story that spoke of God, a long song of hope, a real life laboratory to prove the existence of forgiveness, long-suffering, redemption.

But the months fold into years, and at times, we're just two people getting by.  Folding underwear and begrudging the socks left outside the hamper.  Putting the kids to bed and watching re-runs of The Office.  We take on extra commitments, as we have in the last few months, and the silent grudge about the socks turns into a rant.  I'm tired and stressed and picking a fight becomes my default.

I remember the wife I wanted to be as a dream in the night.  It's a foggy storyline that I can't quite make reality.  The gaping distance between who I want to be and who I am.  All that bitter water on the ground, waiting to be turned into a puddle sweet.

And so, last weekend, it was just another stressed-out night, me forgetting that I needed to make a meal for a family at church, dropping the lasagna noodles into a boiling pot at nine o'clock and throwing punches at a pile of french bread dough.  Aaron came into the kitchen with his laptop and set it on the counter with a grin.  "I tried to put on You've Got Mail, but I think we lost the DVD," he said.  "Sleepless in Seattle is your second favorite, right?"

You've seen it?  Black sky dotted with stars, music.  Annie and Walter at the family Christmas.  Sam, on the bench, talking with Dr. Marsha about his deceased wife on live radio.  "Maggie, my wife, she really...I mean, she loved...she made everything beautiful."

I glanced at Aaron.  His eyes were wet.  He reached over and grabbed my hand.

She made everything beautiful.  I swallowed those four words and they echoed in my caverns.  Me, I make things complicated and tense.  I make mountains out of molehills.  But to be a woman who moves through life turning the ugly into beauty, the bitter into sweet, to be a woman who watches her Savior and moves as He does, I want that.  

One line from a 1993 Tom Hanks hit, and God undoes me.

At church the next morning, my heart still soft and sorrowful, my dad preached from Exodus.  Often, he said, we look at our sin and say, "Well, I've tried, and this is as good as it's gonna get."  Like the Israelites in the desert, we'll wander around in the muck and never spring for the Promised Land.

In my seat, I thought about how I have sinned and sinned against my husband, passing the buck to hormones, or feeling weary, or best of all, "being honest."  God has more, my dad insisted.  God leads us out of our sin.  He is the God of the great exodus.  Moving us out of sin, moving us into holiness.

My cup drips the waters of Marah, and I feel stuck in ruts I've scraped deep for too long.

Not too deep, He whispers.  Not too bitter.

My dad on the stage, he pleads with us to believe that what God did for His children then He does for His children now, and I can't stop picturing the Red Sea, cracked right down the middle by the hand of Jehovah, all that water surging skyward.

God knows what to do with water.  He knows how to change water to bring His children to freedom. I will ask.

Empty this bitter cup, Lord, and fill it up sweet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trying So Hard

Life the last few months has been somewhat of a vise.   My default reaction to all the various pressures is to try harder.  It's okay; I can just stay up later, use my daytime hours more wisely, be more on top of everything!

Give me a house that needs remodeling, two small children two and under, church commitments, relationships, and the hamster on the wheel starts racing madly.  Turns out, a million variables that I can't control AT ALL makes me want to do nothing but try to control them all.  And pull my hair out.

I'm a perfectionist, and seasons like the one we're in shine me up to my perfectionist best.  (Or worst.) I've not always been this way; in fact, ask my mom if she ever thought her nine year old would be classified as a perfectionist, and she would laugh.  But somewhere along the way - senior year of high school or junior year of college or somewhere in between - I started wanting to get everything right. Perfect, as it were, and there you go.

The fall-out is slow to come.  At first, I believe my craziness is actually changing things and working for me to achieve my (ridiculous) ends.  But God is gracious, and hallelujah, the light comes.  No, my craziness is not doing anything but boiling up tension in the relationships I value most.  It's teaching my daughter to freak out over tiny circumstances, because that's what she sees her mama doing.  It's creating an atmosphere of stress, where anxiety and discontent fall like raindrops all around.

In my Lenten devotion today, I read the words of George Matheson.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

That's hope for the heart that tries too hard, isn't it?  Jesus doesn't let me go, even in my grossest, most pitiful state.  He welcomes me, weary and worn, into His rest.  I'm trying so hard to create a life I perceive as perfect, but this life?  It isn't even mine to begin with.  Jesus builds his Kingdom on paradoxes, and here is one I have forgotten: the life surrendered is far, far better than the life held tight.

It's not enough that I try harder.  It's never enough.  The same exhausting routine amped up a few notches only produces more exhaustion.

But there's Jesus, and He's saying, "I am enough."  His words are a freedom I want to receive.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Winter Blues

I've found a way to make the winter blah months speed by.

January and February just drone on, don't they?  Two out of the last three winters, I have been newly pregnant, and believe me, being sick through the darkest, coldest season of the year just helps cheer it up tremendously.  So, this year, since I feel like a normal person and can eat without throwing up, I'm already scores of points ahead.  But that's not my secret.

No, the way to make time fly is to set ambitious house renovation goals that must be done by the end of February because you have friends visiting.  (These friends, as all good friends, could care less if our house projects are finished when they come, but it's been very helpful motivation to pretend as if they care a great deal.)

That is how, on February 15, I find myself wishing that February were, oh, maybe 54 days long instead of 28.  And I have never before said that.

We've been working on our house for what feels like an indeterminably long time, which is a little ironic, considering I just spent three paragraphs convincing you that time was a wisp.  When we have to turn down hanging out with friends because we feel compelled to work on the house, our friends give a knowing nod, "Ohhh, the house."  And we understand; we have been saying we have to work on the house for so long, I'm sure they are convinced by now that what we really do is stay at home and play Candy Crush instead.  (Is Candy Crush still a thing?)

The last two and a half years we've spent remodeling bring forth a few ironclad conclusions:

1.  Aaron is such a hard worker.  He has taught himself all manner of skills and has worked tirelessly and uncomplainingly.
2.  I will always choose form over function, and Aaron will always choose function over form.
3.   This will be our first and last house remodel.  Chip and Joanna Gaines, we are not.

Also, (and this is getting its own paragraph as I'm reluctant to classify it as "ironclad") remodeling brings out the crazy in me.  I find myself saying awful, ridiculous things.  Those doors were supposed to be INSET!  Why is this wall patched like this?  I REALLY WISH we could have made the new floorboards staggered.  (This said multiple times after Aaron had already explained to me there was no possible way to stagger the new boards save ripping up the entire floor.)

Please take this moment to reread #1 and to marvel anew at the patient wonder my husband is.

Needless to say, we're weary and tired.  We're ready to turn in the tools and have a life again.
When next February rolls around, we will not even care if it feels like the longest, dreariest month ever.  We're going to be wearing cozy sweatpants, curled up on the couch with popcorn and a movie. Every single night.

I promise I won't once mention the floorboards.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where the Sun Is a Memory

It's been a little over two years since my uncle died.  In the days since his death, I have thought of him often.  He cared so deeply for the people he loved.  I think his intention left a deep and long impression on many.  On me, certainly.

The day after Dave died, I stood in front of my kitchen window.  It was late afternoon, and the sun blazed in those west-facing panes, a welcome warmth at the bitter end of January. Beams piled on top of me, ray after ray of heat permeating my cold skin and sinking into my bones.  This song by All Sons and Daughters was playing on the iPod.  I began to cry.  Sob, really.  In a beautiful, other-worldly way, it felt like I was being given a small picture of the light and radiance Uncle Dave was standing in.  He was with Jesus.  He was with the actual, physical reality of Christ, his faith finally replaced by sight.

Revelation says that heaven has no need of the sun, for the Lamb is the lamp (Revelation 21:23). How can we even imagine such a brightness, we who use the sun to measure our days and nights, our seasons, our planting?  The orb that enables life on our planet is the only image we possess to imagine the luminance ahead.  Yet the only light we know is a dim derivative of what's coming.

"Will there be a victory?  Will you sing it over me?"  The iPod sang on, and in that hot square of sunlight I knew all was well with my Uncle.

Indeed, there is a victory, and Dave knows it now.  All around him, over him, the new song of the redeemed rises to the throne of the King.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Last night I was upstairs painting our closet doors. Aaron was fitting together plumbing parts in the bathroom, and I was in the corner of the bedroom with a well-worn brush.  Our closet doors cost us absolutely nothing because my dad is the Salvage King.  When the State Farm Insurance office in our town decided to raze its building, Dad asked the owner if he could go by and save some things out of it.  I'm not sure of the exact amount of treasure Dad amassed from that foray, but I do know that our closet doors and a good portion of our bedroom trim were among the spoils.

Salvaging is in Dad's blood.  If there's something free, and that something holds the potential of someday, possibly, remotely proving itself useful, that something is going in Dad's garage.  He loves yard sales, and I remember he used to take me and my brother to dig around in the college dumpsters where hasty students, in their hurry home, threw all manner of perfectly good stuff.  He's never above curbside picking.  Last week, my parents drove to Kansas City to visit my brother, and as my mom later related their trip, she said, "Your dad was looking on the free section of the KC Craigslist before we left, and I'm not sure why." Mom, we know why dad was looking on the free section.

The depths of his garage have also provided us with door hinges, an antique doorknob that matches the rest of our doorknobs, roof tar, a ceiling fan, two Craftsman porch columns...I could go on.  It's amazing.  I'm telling you, if you need a dogsled, or a 1958 Studebaker part, or a Egyptian mummy - go.  Now.  You will find it in Paul's garage.

Dad sees possibility where others see detritus.

And so, last night, easing white paint onto doors that were destined for the landfill, I thought about my Dad.  And I thought about God.

It's a risky comparison to make, because I don't want to sound like a story you'd find in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  But Dad and his salvage heart make me think of God and His salvage heart.

Suspend your disbelief with me and dare to believe the impossible: that God takes the crud and junk and trash of our lives and turns it into good.  No, really.  It's not a slogan for a Christian t-shirt (God Loves Junkin').  It's true.  All the things that feel like too much, the things that have plagued us for too long, the wasted years, the yawning fears, the dying hopes, the regrets, the sullied depths that no one sees but us.

He collects them all. And He wants to redeem every single one.  His is a salvage of the greatest imagining - nothing in this sad, heavy world is beyond his touch of redemption.  

God has transferred those who love Him into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:14).  In His Kingdom, nothing is wasted.  Nothing goes under the blade of the bulldozer.  He's using every bit of it, for our good, for His glory.

In a world where we toss all manner of things - ugly things, old things, worn out things - God is never ready to dispose of us.  He makes beauty from ashes, and it's hard to think of a better salvage than that.