Key Holders

I think about the first few Chapters of Genesis as I’m tucking tiny sleeves of tiny teeshirts into overflowing drawers.  I wonder, as key-holders, how it is that we do not begin every morning this way, reading, “in the beginning…”

Remembering how the Earth was formed in the void.  How we were created from dust and bone.  How we were given dominion over the Earth.  Dominion begets responsibility.  We are the key holders.

I think about these things as I dance around refrigerators placed haphazardly on the kitchen floor.  As I pull out pots and pans from old cabinets long needing replacing.  As I weed through used paint cans and bleach grout and shine silver and move boxes and wash dust from dishes.

This house, our little dominion has been ours, then had been fully rented, then had been rented halfway, then had been rented fully once more, then had been ours again in the matter of several weeks.  There is a dream of moving- of sending our daughter to a good school, with friendships already established.  The dream was close, and then closer, and then farther away.  It is a ride I would not have waited so long in line for.

So, I think about the beginnings of things as I clean and scrub and hang pictures and move furniture without knowing how long it will remain.  I think about the words, “permanent” and “temporary” and how we’re called not to live in either.  I think about this dominion, this space that has my name on it’s title and it’s keys in my hand and all of the people I pass daily with their cups out- they’re keys unlock no doors in which they can close.

I think about the homeless woman in Penn Station yesterday who tipped the contents of her cup into a man’s hat who sang a familiar Italian Aria so purely, she cried for the beauty of it.  She remembered for one bright second, she was a key holder, too.

I think about beauty and why it’s important.  In the beginning…..God made the earth and it shone with brilliance and wonder.  Stars and iris gardens.  Fruit orchards and skipping rivers. And He handed it right over to us, it’s guardians. We were for beauty made.

So, I spin and toil and work my fingernails bloody with splinters and paint flecks the insides of cabinets that are mine, for now.  They bear my name. I will continue to make plans for the garden in our sub-urban jungle in which Bubba, the neighborhood Tabby reigns King.  Sometimes I let him stalk the sparrows between the tomatoes.  Sometimes, I shoo him away.  Dominion.  It is my responsibility.

I am called to care- to scrub counters clean.  To rearrange furniture.  Just because our future is uncertain does not relinquish my birth right.  Futures are certain only to one.  Every time I wipe out the sink or walk the garbage to the curb or lovingly finger a rose petal I am walking steadfastly in my inheritance. I am a key holder.

It is so much more than washing socks.  Than learning how to darn the tears in the pockets of jeans.  The re-design of a dwelling.  The swelling of connection to the dirt and the water and the sky. It is deeper than paint; it runs in it’s lifeblood.  We were meant to care for, to love, to bring and inspire beauty.  For ourselves.  For others.  To make our plot one in which most closely captures the character of God.  The beauty of Him.  The peace and comfort of him.  The acceptance and love.  We are the key holders here for however long.  We do not get to choose the length of time, but we do get to choose what we do with what we have.

Why I’ll Never Tell Grieving People that God has Better Plans

I have never used this phrase very often, and if I did it was in sincerity of heart- which I honestly believe is true for most people.  But, after living though some things and watching my friends and family live through some things I’ve come to the conclusion that we, the human “we”, talk way too much and do too little.  Here are a few reasons why it’ll never come out of my mouth again to people who are deeply entrenched in their season of suffering.

1. I believe in most cases, It’s insensitive.  There, I said it.  It’s insensitive and ignorant and my deepest apologies to anyone I’ve ever offered this offensive platitude to.  It does nothing to meet people where they are in their suffering- of losing a loved one, of a big professional disappointment, of a complicated diagnosis, etc.  It is neither comforting or helpful.  It stings, in fact.

2.  It associates God with the suffering, which makes it super hard, at that time, to believe He is good.  Now, you know as per my last post my thoughts on God and suffering and celebration.  You also know those thoughts came after I had to really struggle through the wilderness of wondering whether God was  good.  Telling folks He’s got better plans does nothing to steer them in the direction of His goodness- all it does is amplify the fact that this is the hardest season they’ve  ever walked through, and question the goodness of a God who’d allow it.

3.  When you’re “in it”, you cannot see the big picture.  I’m hoping this becomes less and less true as I, ahem, mature in this faith, but for now, I cannot see the road ahead when I’m really in a dark place.  I cannot see that perhaps maybe there is some truth to the fact that God has better plans because he’s always good and that I walked through this season of grief as  part of being human not as a devious plot to make my heart a little more moldable.  The big picture escapes me, as i imagine, it does for a lot if not most people.

4.  It trivializes their experience.  Oh, you lost a baby? Don’t worry, God’s got better plans.  Maybe you’ll have twins to redeem the experience. Maybe it was for the best.  See? Now, you may have never said it in that manner, but please believe me when I tell you that most people suffering HEAR IT THAT WAY. And please, oh please, never offer possible future scenarios in an attempt to bring hope back to the situation. What you are attempting to do, albeit sweet, will result in the opposite. At least believe in what you’re telling people about that whole God having better plans things.  If He does, lets leave the future to Him.

So, what do we say? Damned if I know.  I can tell you what was powerful for me.  When my sister-in-law drove the two and a half hours from West Philly as soon as I called her and sat on my couch and cried with me.  When folks dropped off shower gel and meals and toilet paper and little things that make a house run that I couldn’t think of anymore.  When family took Ellie out for meals so that Rich and I could grieve together.  When my Doctor, who’s my best friend, grieved fiercely and prayed broken in that little room with me.  We mourned that loss together- because we felt it, together. I wasn’t alone.

Often, people feel the need to say something- I know I do.  Fight it.  Be present.  Love with your fingers and your solidarity in watching Parks and Rec re-runs while eating ice cream for dinner.  Hold hands.  Say nothing.  Make it clear that you are there when they are ready.  Let them do the talking.  If you must speak, tell them how incredibly broken you are for them- but only if it’s the truth. And years from now, you’ll be able to sit together and they’ll thank you for letting them know that God had not forgotten them- and that they were blessed by you in ways you didn’t even know had any impact.  Let God be the changer of hearts- it’s his job, anyway.

Thoughts on Celebration and Suffering

I busied myself today with menial house tasks that always seem to pile up, and by Thursday explode out all over my countertops and well-worn hardwood floors.  I glided leisurely up and down the aisles at Trader Joes, hand selecting each piece of produce that will become dinner later on by own hand or my husbands- whoever gets home first.  I gathered things in my arms to make bacon-wrapped dates and made plans to run out later to grab a bottle of champagne.  We are celebrating.

Nothing significant by way of big news or bench marks has occurred.  We have nothing on the horizon professionally or personally to notify you of.  Still, we are celebrating because I’ve learned that without celebrations life is much harder to weather. Without the stopping and the giving of thanks, the toasts of bubbly drinks, the warmth of fires and cozy meals, it is much too easy to be maligned by the hopelessness of suffering to where that is all we begin to see.  All we begin to believe, there is.  And there is less truth in that than in most things.

My daughter still has nights where she cries to me, deep heartbreaking sobs, as to why she never became a big sister.  I rock her in the silence and the dark and whisper as many soothing words as I know but I never ask her to stop asking me.  Though my heart is pitted and leaking every time she wonders aloud if we will ever add another life to our family, I will CELEBRATE the asking.  Because she loves me deeply enough and truly enough to know that I love her the same, and that there is nothing we cannot weather together.  Her voice, her thoughts and her words are cause for celebration because communication with one’s children is the deepest thread you can weave into the fabric of your family.  And we may never have communicated this truly, this honestly had it not been for suffering.

It seems a shame that they are contingent on each other, these two.  If not for suffering I would never have slowed down and thrown my hands in the air- not in defeat, but in complete and total acceptance of REST.  I am not the one who holds all things together.  This, this life and it’s failures and faults, it’s despair and brokenness, has no real claim on me. Jesus says he will provide.  Because of suffering, I have begun to believe Him.

So, I celebrate.  I celebrate in the suffering, because I don’t have to choose one over the other.  Knowing that without knowledge of one, the other doesn’t exist.  And I will head out in a few minutes and buy that champagne- the one just my husband and I will share tonight at dinner when we’ve all returned home from our various places of employment because it’s Thursday and Thursdays are worth celebrating in their own right because they are good.

Hope you find something to celebrate today- and if you do, let me know what it is.  Sharing celebrations is better than cupcakes.

The Awakening

I read Kate Chopin’s, “The Awakening” more than a decade ago, in a small Freshman English class, at a tiny Christian college.  My professor was a tall, strong, Black American woman whom I was, frankly, enamored with.  I had never seen someone who so perfectly embodied everything I wanted to be- graceful and intelligent, well-read and well-spoken, poised, an advocate for woman (I will refrain from using the word Feminist not because I believe she wasn’t one in the context in which I understand the word, but because it can have pejorative connotations which, out of deference, I’d like to not attach to her).  She also was a deep theologian, which I both coveted and revered and entwined it in our classroom without doing what I’ve come to call, “The Christian Lord of the Rings Syndrome”- forcing biblical ideals onto secular productions that had no intent of pointing of Jesus in order to make it more, ahem, “acceptable”.   She was able to find God in almost anything creative, because God’s very nature is creation, but was clear in pointing out what she believed the author’s intentions were.

I hadn’t known then what a controversial text the short novel was.  A novel that so perfectly executes the plight of the domestic sphere- strong women have no choice but to take their own life, lest it be taken away piece by piece by a world that devalues their worth. I hadn’t grasped the gravity of what she had done, passing this text out to a group of evangelical co-eds.  I also hadn’t known that it would shape me, validate me in a way I hadn’t known I was waiting for.  I hadn’t expected the tears pouring down my face in my dorm room-“The past was nothing to her, offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone was significant; it was hers, to torture her with the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held, that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened self demanded,” the re-reading in the lobby waiting for my laundry to dry late into the night.  I also hadn’t anticipated that after all the novels I’ve read, having left one college for another, having majored in Literature, that this would be one of the few to follow me.

Pieces of it have floated back to me over the years as I’ve struggled to hold together these pieces of myself that make up my life- daughter, friend, sister, professional, wife, writer, musician, mother, home-manager, cook, gardener, ect.  Every time I read the passage where Edna Pontellier finally learns how to swim- “She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before,” I cheer.  For her.  For me.  I want to swim where no woman has swum before, too and exclaim with her, “It was nothing! Why did I not discover before that it was nothing! Think of the time I have lost, splashing around like a baby!”

The way music moves her in a way that is other; the way it moves me.  “It was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano.  Perhaps it was the first time she was ready.”

But mostly, these days, it is this very conversation that I cling to.  In the nights when I’m uncertain of this road I’ve chosen for myself- the what if’s, the mistakes.  The terrible, foreboding feeling that I’m a terrible wife and mother, and a terrible professional.  That I cannot be all the things. The switch that I feel I constantly flicker on and off between: Ellie’s Mama, Jenny, Ellie’s Mama, Jenny, back to Ellie’s Mama again…. Reading again as Edna comes into herself, finding herself, and tries to explain the depth and the beauty of being a woman truly alive to someone who hasn’t grasped it herself.

“I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.”

This delicate balance of remaining grounded as a person, a woman, who also happens to be a wife and a mother, is still precarious at best.  Like swimming in the sea.  But I know something Edna didn’t.  I have a God who crafted me lovingly.  Who designed me specifically.  A God who loves, edifies, and lifts up women in each and every role they find themselves in.  I have a God who believes in women- in their voices, in their gifts, in their abilities.  I have a God who knew that women were necessary and integral as teachers, preachers, encouragers, leaders and who has equipped us to do just that.

So, when I swim out in the sea, past the breakers, where, “no woman has swum before,” I do it knowing who I am in Him.  And unlike her, I swim right back to shore.  To my life, to my family, to my community, to my job, to my gifts and to my future.

Anxiety, Home Repairs and the Circus

I think your house waits to hear the little, “clink” of the tax return deposit in your bank account before it starts breaking apart.  Just when you’ve finalized plans on paying off a credit card, in the middle of doing the happy dance for being one step closer to financial freedom, the entire house as an entity is laying in wait, like a cat.  “Clink”.  Plans.  Happy Dance.  Broken Fridge.  Two broken fridges.  And, there it all goes.  So close.

Home repair is just like therapy-  you try to fix one thing only to discover there are a plethora of things just below the surface that were just waiting for someone to brush the dust and the black mold off of, demanding your full attention with oozing substances and leaks and cracks.  The symptoms are never the true problem.

And once you’ve begun, once the process has started of the lists of the broken steps and the peeling paint and the cabinets that now have to be removed to fit the fridge that you bought that was just a little, ahem, too big, because someone had a 4 year old hold the measuring tape at the bottom, it is a rabbit hole from which someone like me, cannot recover.

All I have seen for the last 24 hours is everything that is wrong, everything that needs fixing, every penny left in our account dwindling, getting swallowed by this giant money-trap of a house.  And I forget how much I love it and long to care for it well and comfort it.

I have been awake for approximately 12 hours making mental lists and searching through youtube videos for home repairs.  How to remodel a kitchen for 300.00.  Build your own dining room table.

I cannot build a lego set.

I cannot follow ikea directions.

I have held a hammer exactly twice in my life, and I believe they were both on stage.  As in, it was a prop.

But, I am choosing to push my house anxiety to the side today because today, we are celebrating my kid’s birthday.  She’s turning 4 and she doesn’t know it, but her entire family is coming with her to the circus tonight and she’ll get to eat popcorn and cotton candy with all of her grandparents and cousins and best friends.  So what if 30 people will have to dance around the fridge in the middle of the kitchen floor?  We’re going to the circus.

If anyone feels so moved to perform a home makeover while we’re gone, go with your gut.

This Block

When we bought this house we sighed.  We had tried so hard.  So hard to get out, so hard to get away.

When I was 19, everything that was important to me resided on this block.  The kids who would flock to the church on the corner where Rich grew up on Friday nights to play basketball, eat a brownie and suffer through a story about an upside-down kingdom they didn’t understand.  I didn’t really understand either.  All I knew was that I loved them.  These kids with attitudes and records and babies and drop-outs and drug problems and ego trips.  These kids with smiles and sweetness and sometimes, cloying neediness.  They anchored us here, on this block.  Rich went away to college and came back here, to this block.  To me.  To them.  We all waited for him to return.

He ran basketball leagues, he coached late into the night.  We slept in the basement of the church on the corner in order to be nearer to them when they needed a place to stay.  We held broken hearts on this block.  We held bleeding wounds and broken noses and police phone calls on this block.  We fell in love on this block- not the love at-first-sight-when-we-were-15 kind of love (we did that, too) but the cementing of hearts together in a thing that is bigger than you love.  To watch him lead and love a group of boys without Fathers was to see him as he is now, Ellie’s Papa.

This street, here, the one we are on, has our history in every crack and vein.  Every uneven sidewalk has our footprint.  Every bending branch.

We tried to get out of here, we tried so hard.  We had moved on.  Our kids with their sneakers and swagger had grown up to be men and women.  The neighborhood was changing- the town was changing.  It was time to go somewhere else to raise a family.

And then we sat on the floor of this empty house after we signed the papers and looked at each other in disbelief.  We bid on 9 houses- not a single one of them stuck.  None except this one.  This house.  On this block.

Our house was full today.  Full of kids, now grown, at my kitchen table telling stories about college, eating my bags of chips.  They just walk in through the backdoor as though it’s theirs- because it is.   They sit on our couches and braid my daughter’s hair.

It was full at dinner time when the kitchen was steaming with frying pork chops and goat cheese smashed potatoes, and friends were coming in and out through the backdoor as though it was theirs- because it is.  Sitting around the table while the candles burn puddles onto the mantle, playing guitars way passed Ellie’s bedtime singing Uncle John’s Band with full bellies.

Our bedrooms have held lives who’ve needed a home base for a while until they found their own.

We wanted to be the change on this block, we wanted to be the difference, and then, after a while of struggle and sacrifice, we just wanted to get out.  But it has changed us.  Each broken sidewalk, each rubbled asphalt, each cry for help, each shout of victory.  It’s part of the fabric of who we are.  When we breathe in, it’s here, on this block, with this community.  In our garden among the heirloom eggplants cowering beneath the imposing billboards.  All of life is one big dichotomy.

Vacation

The dates have been on our calendar since last summer.  Every week, my daughter asks me two questions:

1.  How far away is her birthday?

2.  When are we going to New Hampshire?

We were almost embarrassed by the fact that we took yearly, family vacations.  I mean, we struggle paycheck to paycheck.  Every month our mortgage gets paid on time we breathe a sigh of relief heard around the world.  Or, at least our neighborhood.The truth of of the matter is, if it weren’t for my Mama and her generosity, we wouldn’t be able to go away at all.

But every summer since I was born has been spent on Lake Winnipesaukee in a little town called Melvin Village and for better or worse, it’s part of me.  The sound of the water, the smell of the pine, the feel of the gravel underneath bare feet.  It’s become ingrained in me, and now, ten years of being married later, in my husband as well.  We’re not unlike our El- counting down the days to when we get to wake with the sun and swim in the cold dark waters before the beach gets crowded.  (Ok, so that’s just me who loves to do that).

We relish the time we get to spend uninterrupted with no traffic noise, no commuting, no bus or train rides.  We need that time to breathe, to remember.  We get to dream together, talking long into the night about what we had hoped for that didn’t come true, what we could hope for in the future.  We remember what we look like with sun tans and wild blueberry stains on tee-shirts.  We hover around campfires and devour book by book and knit and color and sing songs and drink local beers.  We drive for nearly an hour, getting lost and short with each other in the deep, dark woods to a little shack in the middle of nowhere  that sells the best ice cream you have EVER had and then giggle and sing, chocolate faced and sated.

We drink cold white wine and eat large shrimp cocktail on the deck at Garwoods and watch the boats come in.  We write.  I write a lot. And cook a lot in that little cabin kitchen, and make cocktail hour a fourth, mandatory meal.  And hope that this will be the year I finish this damn book.  And that he gets a new job.  And that our kid stops growing so damn fast.

This year we will be taking off for three whole weeks- and I’m not going to feel guilty about it at all.  Not at all.  I get to be with my Mom and my sister and her new hubby and my little one and my beloved.  I’ll watch my husband finally teach my kiddo how to swim, and watch her ride her bike past all of the little red cabin to the one where we stay, the big one right on the water.  I’ll get to breathe through this terrible year of sadness and uncertainty, blow past it like dust, and rejoice in the knowing that I have a God who is great.

“It’s Only Temperdary”

We knew it was too good to be true.  That this incredible stomach virus from hell that everyone seems to be getting would just bypass our house as a courtesy.  “You guys have been through a lot this year, I got you last year.  I’ll call it even for now.” Apparently, they don’t care much for manners.  Our dearest girl woke up at 1 am with the subtle announcement that not all is well.

“PUUUUUUKKKKKEEEE!!!! Puke in my bed! In my hair! PUUUUUUKKKKKKEEEE! I’m puking!!!!!!!”

And she continued to do so, for the remainder of the night.  And this morning.  And just now when I thought we were past it and gave her a mouse-sized graham cracker.  As Rich and I did our “Ellie is sick dance”, i.e. one lays with her to snuggle, the other cleans, throws a load in the washer, sets out another clean pair of jammies for the next deluge and then switch on and off throughout the night, she said in her sick little voice whisper:

“This is only temperdary, right Mama? I’ll be fine before night-night time tomorrow?”

And I marveled at how my little girl grasped a truth that I, myself, a grown woman, seem to forget all the time.

This is temporary.  This hardship, this season, this pain, this circumstance, this winter, this earth and our place on it, is temporary.  And why get upset about the temporary?

As our pastor reminded us yesterday, I am a daughter of the King.  Nothing here, in this world, can break me because He has overcome it.

This is temporary.

So, I’m going to go wash my dirty shirts and clean my kid’s chin off one more time because it’s, “temperdary”.

Everything is Not Okay

I’ve been lighting a candle as soon as I wake up in the mornings.

It’s a pine scented candle, one I spent entirely too much money on.  But, it smells like the cabin in the woods where my family retreats to every summer and it brings with it’s scent that feeling.  You know the one.  When all of your senses are on high alert- smell, taste, touch.  Everything seems cleaner and brighter, sharper and softer at the same time.

I’ve been lighting it first thing to remind myself how darkness cannot exist if, even a little light is present.  When I wake up full of doubts, when it feels like powers outside of myself are conspiring against me.  It lets me know that everything is not ok but this, right here is, and that is comforting.

I recognize that that is a strange thing to say.  That I can take comfort in the fact that everything is not ok.  There will be death somewhere today, crimes, brokenness, loneliness.  There will be disease and pain, someone will be hungry for the first or for the last time.  Someone will also be born today.  A lot of someones, in fact.  Life and death, health and illness, joy and despair dance together every day.  The candle reminds me that a little light illuminates the darkness.  And that it’s worth it.  The little warmth from a little flame, waving alone in the cold.  It’s worth it.

The little light yesterday was when my kid’s teachers quietly revealed to us how much they adore her, and how they’ve all argued about who gets to have her in class next year.  That she spent 10 minutes standing in the middle of circle time, because it was important for her friends to know that the greatest baseball player of all time was Babe Ruth, and her Papa loves baseball.  Oh, and that she was Catwoman.  And that when she’s all grown up, she’d like to work in a museum because, “old fashioned things and places are my favorite”.

A little bit of light, a candle in the dark.

Brave

Sometimes I think the word miscarriage, and whatever follows after it is the Voldemort of the fertility world.  The, “he-who-must-not-be-named” so we use every other euphemism we can think of to avoid saying it.  We call babies who are born after miscarriages, “rainbow babies” like we were Lisa Frank unicorns pooping neon colors.  We call them our, “losses” to soften the giant hole of despair we feel.  You lose your keys.  Your tax returns.  Your mind, on occasion.  One does not, “lose” a baby.  You break in half for a baby, you wrestle and torment over a baby.  But you never lose it.  It never goes away.

I’ve learned a great many things over the past few weeks about what it means to be a part of this “club” I wouldn’t wish on anyone to become a member of.  There is a band of women, of friends, who have suffered as we have and I wish with everything I have that we could have found common ground in Cooks Illustrated or public versus private Kindergartens rather than to be bonded together by death and grief and the absence of hope and the clinging on with bloody nails to the God we can’t see, and perhaps, don’t really want to in the moment but know He is the only one that saves.  It’s the grieving believer’s dichotomy.

But at the same time, I am so very, well, proud is weird to say, but that is how I feel, of the boldness, the audacity, the faith, and yes, even the hope of some of these members.  Their courage to call it what it is-MISCARRIAGE- is like breathing fresh air, like someone holding my hand.  It’s as if they are honoring the heartache it is, it was, by being unafraid to say it out loud. It’s a slap in the face to the evil one who longs to break spirits, tear hearts in pieces, keep us shrouded in shameful silence, alone. Lost in pervasive hopelessness. For too long woman, and men, have been silent about what this means, what this does to a family.  I am so glad to be even a small voice among the many of my loved ones who have shared with me.

Which is why I’m sharing with you something from one of my friends today.  Lisa and I went to college together.  I was her RA, in fact, which is a joke for certain because she guided me and cared for me in ways I could never have done her.  When I, for a plethora of reasons this is still not the platform for, ended up getting extraordinarily sick my sophomore year- too sick to even leave my room- it was Lisa who cooked for me, checked in on me, prayed for and over me.  She is one of the most spiritually sensitive people I’ve ever known and happens to see God in everything- everything.  Even baked goods.  And if you ever had anything that came out of her oven, I will bet that you’d see God in them too.  She’s gifted in a great many ways, baking only one of them (which also happens to be her business, so if you’re in the market for some sweet treats, she ships!:) But she is also blessed with words.  Lisa talks about the “comfort of hopelessness” and what it means to actually put one foot in front of the other, leaning in toward our Abba during such a time as this.  I’m privileged to be her friend.