Saturday, May 31, 2014

Reaching for the Light

It's my favorite houseplant.

It started as a few clippings off the huge and luscious plant of my friend Carol. When you walk in her front door, there it is, a curtain of green spilling down the side of her kitchen cabinets.

Now, six months later, my baby plant has started to fill in well.  It looks like a genuine houseplant now, not just a few sorry twigs stuck in soil.  I had to move it around the house until it told me where it wanted to live, and that place was right in front of the western windows.

It always grows toward the light.

Like the faux wood blinds and the century old glass and the ripped and sagging screen are in the way of what it really wants -

Like the only thing it cares about is catching every dimple of light -

Like it wasn't meant to live in here where sunlight comes secondhand -

Like it knows somehow that its very life is in the light -

Give me the light, it says, with every creeping tendril stretched westward.

And I want a heart like that,

A heart that grows toward the Light.

Like this crusty old world with its bobbles and big ol' storage barns and prizes for the powerful is blocking the view of what I really want -

Like the first thing I think about when my feet hit the floor is the Light -

Like I'm an expat in a dim-lit land and I belong in the country where the light of His face replaces the sun -

Like I know somehow that my very life is in the Light -

That I would say, give me the Light, with every part of my heart stretched toward Him, and that there would be no part left to dally in the darkness, no stem of my soul that does not hasten towards Him.

Oh Jesus, Light of the world, Light and Life to men, may I find the spot that is closest to You, and may I say, this, this is where I want to live.  

The western window.  Right in front of the Light.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Take Me to the Dutch

The earache is back!  In the other ear! I think I should buy stock in Ibuprofen.  Do you remember a while back when we were having mouse problems, and I kept updating you on the mouse situation until we were all so sick of mice?  Well, it pains me to say (pun, of course) that the earache is probably going to be the new mouse.

For now, suffice it to say, it's an exact replica of the first earache.  Please refer to this post and apply entire content to right ear instead of left.

Speaking of mice, have I told you the other night one of my worst mouse fears came true?  I was cleaning out the shed while Aaron built the trellis from yesterday's garden post.  I looked down at the cement floor of the shed, and...

there was a dead, shriveled up mouse body.

I just can't handle dead things.

I used to think there was nothing more scary than a dead bird.

Well, yes there is.

A dead mouse.

Enough about mice and earaches, because I really want you to keep visiting me here.

This morning, my sweet husband, who now knows that there isn't a day gone by that I don't dream about traveling, sent me this link, with the subject line of "For your morning dreams."

He gets me.  He really does.

Tell me which city you would spring to visit first.

I went a little rogue and chose Giethoorn, Netherlands.  It wasn't the first one that jumped out at me, but in the end, I knew it would be the best for gardens, minimal tourism, and general loveliness.  (This is all based on one picture, of course.)

There's no better cure for a sick day than travel day-dreaming.

I don't think they even sell Ibuprofen in Geithoorn, for who would ever need it there?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Magic of Dirt

Gardening is one of my absolute favorite hobbies.  Last summer, we were transitioning between houses, tackling a huge renovation project, and I was pregnant.  In the third trimester.  We threw some tomatoes and peppers in the ground at the "new" house, and surprisingly, they did great.  I also moved about a dozen perennials from our old house to the new house, and hastily planted them in a makeshift plot.  Despite the cold, long winter, they all reappeared this spring.

This year, my fingers were itching to create some more permanent garden spaces.  Aaron has been a champ to remind me that we can take it slow, adding new things each year, and he has also been so kind to help me dig up new beds, edge beds, move soil, plant.   And when I say he helped me dig up new beds, I mean he pretty much did it all himself.  I come up with the ideas, and he makes sure the execution actually happens.

If you are on the fence about gardening, I get it.  That's where I was five years ago when we moved into our first house.  My mom and sister were avid gardeners, and I just didn't understand the appeal.  I remember my sister presented me with a detailed plan of all the perennials I could plant in our yard, color coded and mapped out, and I was like "Are you going to plant them too?  Because it's not happening if it's left up to me."   A few months after moving in, I bought some geraniums on a whim and put them in planters on our front stoop where they didn't get enough sun, and it was already July so not exactly the optimal time to plant things.  They hung on, and I was hooked.

So if you're not sure about gardening, start small and go slow.  Listen to my husband.  Buy a cheap four pack of tomatoes from Ace or Wal-Mart.  Buy a packet of giant zinnia seeds.  Turn up a small, sunny plot of soil  and throw a bag of compost on top.  (Or easier still, get four or five pots and fill them with potting soil.)  Plant your tomatoes, and throw the seeds in the ground.  And then little leaves will appear followed by flowers so glorious and big you won't believe YOU GREW THEM, and tiny green tomatoes will swell into red orbs, and it will be magic.  Just try.  I dare you.

Here's a little tour of the garden as it stands this year.  We're trying to plan for the long-term while doing what we can with what we have this year.

Here is the perennial bed that is going to get a reworking next summer.  For now, the goal is to keep them alive and thriving.  In the fall, I'll sheet compost a bed in the shape and size I want, and by spring, all the grass underneath will be dead, and the bed will be ready to plant.   If you live in the Midwest, a few perennials that have done great for me are yarrow, coreopsis, Shasta daisies, bee balm (invasive, so you have to keep on top of it), iris, chrysanthemum, speedwell, and salvia.

Here is our vegetable plot.  Next summer, we'll add two more raised beds and keep the skinny brick beds on either end.  The dirt mound in the foreground is the site of some overgrown shrubs we cut down last fall.  There is also an old tree trunk in the middle that still needs to be burned.  For now, I scattered zinnia, cosmos, African daisy, and calendula seeds there.  They'll attract pollinators to the garden and look pretty, and then in the fall, we'll tackle burning the stump and sowing grass seed.  You can also make out some reddish circles to the left of the garden.  Those are a combination of blueberry and raspberry bushes.  We won't get any fruit out of them this year or possibly next, but again, we're trying to plan for the long term since we'll likely be in the house a while.  

Cocozelle squash starting to peek out. 

Kentucky Wonder pole beans all set to climb up teepees.  Aaron took some leftover furring strips from a house project and ripped them down the middle with a circular saw.  Tied them at the top with twine.  Easy and free.  


Sweet peas.  Again, the furring strips make an appearance.  We're all about using what we have to make gardening cheaper.  Supplies can get expensive, but if you poke around, you might have what you need.  

This corner was looking a little awkward because we pulled out some yuccas which left it bare.  Yuccas are awful.  They shouldn't be allowed out of the Southwest.  Ever.  Third use of the furring strips in the crafting of this trellis.  I planted some cypress vine seeds and an eggplant which will climb up it.  Some cheap annuals (cleome and salvia) from Ace will grow taller and hide the planter.  

This brick planter was already on the side of the house, and I've designated it as home for the herbs. 

I broke one of my own gardening rules and bought a dahlia.  I try to stay away from flowers that are fussy, and dahlias fit that rule because you have to dig their bulbs up in the fall and store them inside.  This one was gorgeous, though, and on deep clearance.  So I gave it a home.  I can always treat it as an annual if I don't feel like digging it up in November.  (Of course I will dig it up.)

Spiderwort bought from the local Master Gardener's plant sale.  There is probably a yearly sale in your area as well.  It's a great way to get cheap plants that will perform well in your zone.

Hydrangeas poking up.  I love hydrangeas and was so excited that this house had two established bushes.  They took a hit with the winter, and all the old wood died, but the roots are still alive and sending up new shoots.  

I also like to grow things inside.  What's this flower sprouting up out of a high chair?  Species Anna, genus Weaver.   Now that is a beautiful specimen.  :)

Do you like to garden?  What are you growing this year?

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Secret to Loving

This often happens to me: I think about having lunch; I open the fridge and peruse the contents; I plan out what I'll make in-between babies wanting to be held and babies wanting to be fed; I shut the fridge and turn around to glance at the stove clock, 

and I realize it's only 9:30 a.m.  

Today I made up a song as I sat on the floor with Anna and the little boy I babysit.  "Two little people always needing me, only one big person you can see..."  Made-up songs always work best if you put the same couplet on repeat at the beginning.  Gives you a chance to get the melody down and maybe find a better rhyme the second time around.  

"Two little people always needing me, I'm just one big person doh da dee..."  Hmm.  Anna just bobs along no matter how awful my rhymes are.  She's so great.

The hours can seem long with the little people.  They are awesome - my little person, especially - but there is just one me and so many needs all day.   I thought about Mother Teresa as I sat on the floor today.  When I was in Kolkata, I remember reading an interview where someone asked her how she did what she did every day.  How did she care for the sick and dying day after day?  How did her compassion not run out?  How did she keep pulling people off the streets when the streets always offered more deserted and desolate?  

Her answer was something to the effect of, "I see the face of Christ in each person.  I am caring for Christ."

Another grunty grimace and the invitable poopy diaper that follows.  Christ. Another five minutes where both babies scream because they both want to be fed.  NOW.  Christ.  Another smothering of kisses on those cheeks as I pull them up from the floor.  Christ.  Another tickle of chubby thighs and waiting for the chuckles.  Christ.  

This matters.  This matters.  

These little people matter.  They matter to Jesus so, so much.  He invited them close, to His lap and to His heart.  While the people of power and prestige scoffed at Him and derided Him, He beckoned the babies.  And you know He kissed those fat cheeks.  

This dining room where I sit clacking out words on a laptop - it's not Kolkata.  In so many ways, it's so much easier.  But the lesson is the same.  The souls I am surrounded by, they are my tiny faces of Christ.  How I love them is how I love Christ.  

Brings purpose to everything, huh?  

And makes those long days fill up with glory.  Even when lunchtime is slow to come.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sunday Night Grab Bag

When I'm feeling out of control, I clean the bathroom.   It's so small, and when I'm done, I know that if nothing else, I can make 36 square feet fall into line.  I'm not sure if this is a good illusion or not.  A few things about cleaning the bathroom:

1.  White bathrooms looks AMAZING in magazines and blogs.  What you find out in real life after you've chosen white tile, white beadboard, a white sink, a white tub, and white trim is that white shows off dirt like it's in 4H, and instead of a raising goats, it's raising hairballs.

It's a lot of white, right?  Still better than the before...

2.  The hair!  Why do I shed?  When we get rid of our dog, I will rejoice that her hair shall
go with her, so this leads me to wonder, should we get rid of me?  Seriously.  Hair is disgusting.  I don't know why.  Especially since it's my own.  But, gag.  (I haven't mentioned Maggie's imminent departure yet, but it is a good thing for all parties.)

3.  The toilet.  Someone has to do it.  But who really ever wants to clean the toilet?  Anybody?  Confess if you do.  We need to know you and learn from your Gandhi like peace-ability toward the world's most awful thing to clean.

Tonight I checked my phone after being out of town for the day, and the little screen bleeped at me that I had 8 voicemails.  "You have 8 voicemails," but what it really was saying was, "You irresponsible person; why do you even have a phone?" This is the problem.  I let my voicemails pile up until they reach a ridiculous number like 8, and then it seems much too overwhelming to ever check my voicemail again.  It is one of those things that should not be hard, but IT. IS. HARD.  Do people that like to clean the toilet also check their voicemails as they receive them?  I have a lot to learn from these people.

We made a day trip with my parents today to see my grandparents.  They are both nearing ninety and still living on their own with a lot of wit and energy.  Grandpa let me dig up some of their irises, and he has no idea what a precious thing that is to me. I love to garden, and I love the thought of tending these flowers that they planted 30 years ago, coaxing them to new life in another state, another yard, showing them to Anna one day and telling her their story.  Grandma told me some great tales of her youth, and I am turning them over in my head as I think about the complexity of our lives and how I yearn for more simplicity.  She grew up on a farm in Kansas, and they ate with the harvests of the seasons.  She made handkerchiefs out of old sugar bags and had one Sunday dress.  I think there is a post in me soon about the journey I've been on lately to simplify and reduce.

The Great Earache of 2014 is coming to a close.  I slandered the antibiotic too soon, for I think it is finally doing its thing.  A week ahead of health is a great thought.  To health!  And toilets!  And voicemails!  (Just rejoicing in it all.)

Friday, May 16, 2014


This week, I have been hit with the Earache of All Earaches.  I've had some earaches in my life; as a girl, I had tubes put in my ears, and my left eardrum burst a couple times.  Maybe I am becoming less tough as I age, or maybe I am out of practice (my last earache being 7 years ago in Kolkata), but this one is just about to plum do me in.

It's funny to me the way you start to think when you're sick.  I have always had a penchant for melodrama and a few teensy-tiny traits of a hypochondriac, so maybe the mental slippery slope I careen down when sick shouldn't surprise me.

The awful thing about being in constant pain - well, besides the pain part - is that you lose all sense of time.  The antibiotic your doctor prescribed is a five day dosage, so you take heart and console yourself that in five days, you will surely feel better.  But, then you realize that you can no more fathom what "five days" means than you can wrap your head around heaven being eternal.  Your normal, healthy life feels like a fiction story you read long ago.  "Did I ever take a walk with my daughter when it was sunny?"  "I used to cook dinner and then sit with my husband on the couch?"

Your husband, being the genuinely kind and compassionate person he is, will try to help.  When you wake him up at 1 in the morning with the news that Tylenol isn't cutting the pain anymore and you think you have a fever, he will feel your forehead and say, "Go take your temperature!"  You'll feel both justified and championed for, and when you return to say, "I have a fever of 100.6", he will bolt up in bed gasping, "One hundred and six?"  You'll whimper, "No, one hundred point six", and he will sigh in relief and promptly fall back on the pillow.

This is why, at some point during your sickness, you will need to call your mother.  Your husband, although a genuinely kind and compassionate person, has never been a mother, and his ability to sleep through dire emergencies is honed to perfection.  You will, of course, think about calling your mother at 1 am.  You'll remember that she has trouble sleeping these days, and you'll realize that if you call her at 1 am, not only will she think when the phone rings that one of her children has died, but she will never be able to go back to sleep.  You'll then think of calling your doctor.  "Hello!  I know I probably shouldn't be calling you in the middle of the night, but the antibiotic doesn't seem to be helping, and I'm afraid I'm going to overdose on over-the-counter pain medicine..."  Thankfully, some last shred of judgment will float to your mind's surface, and you will put down your cell phone and instead, google home earache remedies.

About the home earache remedies.  On day two, when the antibiotic IS CLEARLY NOT WORKING, you'll turn your attention to internet health forums.  You will think about putting a hot iron as close to your ear as you possibly can, because someone out there swears it's the cure-all to ear infections, and you will actually press a garlic bulb and rub it on your neck and earlobe.  Your husband will make jokes about vampires, and you will not even care because if CIPROFLOXACIN AND GARLIC BOTH FAIL YOU WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR SURVIVAL ANYWAY????

During the third sleepless night, you will try to rise above the situation.  You'll pray for anyone you can think of who might be in worse pain than yourself.  This will last for a few minutes, but invariably, you will become distracted and begin to think about The Magic School Bus episodes you watched when you were little.  You'll imagine the tiny yellow bus swerving down your ear canal, and you'll hear Ms. Frizzle yell, "Oh yes, Ralphie, this is a serious infection!"  You might wish Ms. Frizzle was real, because if your husband, doctor, and mother are not available for middle-of-the-night morale boosting, Ms. Frizzle would certainly be a fine stand-in.

And on the fourth morning - well, that brings us to today, where I am sad to say, the exciting resolution of good health is not yet found.  The earache remains.  But, I did just remember that I haven't yet skyped my sister to tell her about my misfortunes, so...that's something.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

To All Our Tomorrows

This post could be sensitive to some.  Please know that this is not a voice of judgment if you are divorced.  I also recognize that there are marriage struggles far deeper than what Aaron and I have experienced - abuse, neglect, addiction - and I am not speaking into those situations either.  This post is for primarily for my peers, those young marrieds and not-yet-marrieds who hear from every direction to "follow their hearts" and who see adultery, lust, and selfishness applauded by media everyday.  

It's been one of those weeks where Aaron and I seem planets, maybe even galaxies, apart.   Misunderstandings.  Hurt feelings.  Feet stomping to bedroom.  (Mine.) Tears. (Mine.) Anger and frustration.  Hour long conversations on the couch trying to sort things out, and for a few minutes at the beginning you think about gracefully waving the white flag of surrender, but instead you end up leading the troops on another charge, and at the end, you're no closer to a peace treaty than when you began.

I think back to the days when I was single.  Didn't I hear the Lord better then?  I was such a kind, gentle person then.  I served better and loved better.  But back in those rosy days, it was just me - no constant rub against another body to bring out the ugly.  I wasn't a better person then - I was simply better at hiding my junk.

The cracking moment always comes.  I found Aaron in the kitchen yesterday, and I wrapped my arms around him.  "I want us to have a beautiful marriage," I whispered.  "I'm sorry."  Seven times seventy, Jesus said, forgive and forgive and forgive, and this home needs that kind of math.

Today, I sat in the waiting room of the doctor's office, holding a book with one hand and rubbing my aching ear with the other.   I was entirely caught up in the quiet life of a woman and her bees in the Ozark mountains, and then I read this,

"I met Paul, the boy who was to become my husband, when he was sixteen and I was fifteen.  We were married some years later, and the legal arrangement that is called marriage worked well enough while we were children and while we had a child.  But we grew older, and the son went off to school, and marriage did not serve as a structure for our lives as well as it once had....there was quite a pile to clear away before I could settle the work of building a new kind of order, a structure on which a fifty-year-old woman can live her life alone, at peace with herself and the world around her."

I've been thinking about those words all day.

I admit, in my hottest flashes of anger with Aaron, the thought of being single again is appealing.  "I could do whatever I want!"  (In theory.)  Yet I am troubled by the lie our culture propagates that the author seems to have believed - the idea that it is brave and romantic and freeing to release oneself from the bonds of marriage if marriage is no longer an important part of who you are.  

The longer I'm married, I'm realizing this: there aren't enough cheerleaders for marriage.  There aren't enough voices shouting, "This is worth it!  It's harder, longer, and tougher than you ever imagined, but you can do it!  Keep walking!"  There aren't enough friends willing to look you in the eye and say, "I know you feel like this isn't what you signed up for, but you can't quit now."

What if bravery isn't starting a brand new story but staying in the story that seems dry and crusty and dull?  What if bravery is walking after your spouse, catching them by the shoulder and looking them in the eye to say, "Forgive me?"

What if romance isn't fire and flame and the thrill of the unknown but nights where you take turns getting up with the baby?  What if romance is loading the dishwasher when the other person doesn't notice and watching year after year pile up with gray hair and sun spots and flabby stomachs?  (Of course, there will be some crazy good sex too.)

What if freedom isn't cutting oneself loose from a promise and beginning fresh but planting one's feet firmly in the dirt of a sacred vow?  What if freedom is death to self, chosen day and again, the seed that falls to the ground to bring forth new life?

The shelf life of self-centered happiness is short.

So here is my challenge: to be the ones with the long stories.  To put on our muck boots and sludge through every cracked and raw and blistering moment.  To groove when the music is fun and goofy and every silent eye message means something sweet.  To be the people who throw ourselves at the throne of the Christ who has known our total humanity, to beg for His grace to outlast the bad chapters, to beg for His mercy to make it to the finish line.

If you need some words?  A soundtrack to cheer you on?  This EP is a voice for marriage that counters our culture.  Put in on while you make dinner...and maybe you should dance.

We walked through valleys
We walked through mountaintops
Looking for rivers
Once we almost stopped
But we kept on walking

We felt the hunger
We felt the pain
Thirsting for water
Praying for rain
I'm glad we kept on walking 

Here's to today
Here's to tomorrow
Here's to our love, from which we will borrow
Here's to forever 
To you and to me
Here's to chasing the sun
The best is yet to come

-Us and Our Daughters

There is a King toward which creation hurtles in anticipation of redemption.  And is He not the same King who can work redemption every morning in the vulnerable and valuable covenants that are our marriages?

Indeed, this is the better story.  Not the leaving, but the staying.  And in the staying, His goodness and mercy shall well up thick around us.  The best is yet to come.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Georgia on My Mind

Is that how the song goes?  Now I am thinking it might be Alabama.  Or maybe I'm thinking of Sweet Home Alabama.  Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you?  How long can I keep the Southern song references coming, you ask?

We flew to Georgia last weekend to see some very, very dear friends of ours.  The year Aaron and I were engaged, Laura and Jarod gathered us in like the wee ones we were and shared their lives - so many dinners, late night games, walks, talks.  They are five years ahead of us in marriage and probably many more years ahead of us in the way they love Jesus and others.  Sadly, soon after our wedding, they headed south, but some friendships can't be stopped by 12 hours.

We now know that as long as Anna can stand on the tray table and grin at the passengers behind us, flying with her is no big deal.  This may get a little awkward when she's seven or eight.  Please pass along your tips for transition.

Oh look at those baby shoes.  Baby shoes serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to compel mothers, friends, and onlookers alike to say "What adorable shoes!"  However, fathers never feel compelled to say this.  They are mainly confused about the whole idea.  "Why can't she just be barefoot?"

The girls' getaway portion of our trip, in which Laura and I and three other sweet friends took off to a North Georgian cabin, was amazing!  It wasn't just because of the hunterly decor of our cabin, either.  Any weekend that includes heart talk in a hot tub, shopping at outlet malls, and laughing until we might have peed a little bit in our pants simply can't compete with antelope heads.

Unfortunately, I usually come home from trips like these realizing that I didn't get enough pictures, or that I got twenty pictures of only one thing.  Although we are currently camera-less, my kind husband entrusted me to take his iPhone to the cabin so I could use it as a camera.  AND I DIDN'T LOSE IT OR BREAK IT!  Are there Academy Awards for this type of thing?  There should be.

Dinner tip of the weekend?  Steam some edamame and cover generously with lime juice and salt.  And I thought I had covered the range of what was possible with edamame.  Now I know.

The car ride back to Atlanta from the cabin was the low point for this little lady.  I can't remember if this picture was taken after the screaming arching back fit or before the throwing up of an entire jar of peas. Either way, it represents a brief, brief moment of happiness during the 3 hour stretch.  I'm learning that while it is possible to travel with babies, there comes a moment when they are so done.  (She's back to her sweet self now, and reunited with her own crib, is taking some killer naps.)

I will leave you with a realization the girls stumbled upon in our cabin.  Men never use exclamation points in their texts!  Crazy!  Why is that?