Monday, August 22, 2016

Haphazard Summer Confessions

I paint toddler toes on the back steps, because that's the rule. No nail polish in the house, even though she runs right back through when she's finished and it certainly wouldn't be the first time I notice little flecks of nail polish on the hardwood floors. But I paint toddler toes because she brings it to me and this is my job. It's small and it's silly and it's mine.

This summer has been a bit ridiculous. I haven't had time to write, but what really have I been doing? I'm thinking back on it, this first Monday after vacation. What do I have to show for it? I feel this way at the end of every summer, when the days cool off and twilight flutters down a bit earlier each evening. On paper, it seems almost sad. I've started a handful of knitting projects and have finished none, even pulling them out in frustration that they don't seem to feel right. Try a different pattern, a different yarn? Take a week, a month off? Haphazard. My work out routines have lacked my normal focus and my plans for kids and chores and summer math went out the door months ago.

But sometimes the on paper list of what (wasn't) accomplished misses the bigger picture. This summer I became best friends with my neighbors, surely a gift after so much loneliness. This summer I opened up my home to a gaggle of kids and learned to not sweat small stuff. This summer I began cautiously dreaming about the future. This summer I feel stronger and more sure of who I am and what I want than ever before.

It's something I come up against time and time again, challenging me, stretching me, strengthening me. If you're so busying convincing yourself that the small things, the things you don't understand or haven't experienced, the things that feel frivolous or excessive or trite, that these things are ridiculous - you run the risk of missing out on a divine appointment. Because God doesn't just reach us in the thunderhead moments, in some sort of magnificence that dwarfs our every day struggles. The depth and height and breadth of His miracles are always, always that they apply just as surely to the humble things of human life as they do to the majestic.

So I've done a lot of toddler toenail painting and water table filling and dancing-while-breakfast-is-cooking and a lot of talking, singing, wishing, praying. But I'll never say that those things don't have the potential to carry every bit as much weight and power as anything else I could come up with.

I know better.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Dishwashers and Dryers and Space-making Grace

Right smack in the middle of the summer, between sticky humid days that never seem to cool off, the dishwasher quit working. I pushed the start button twice, then three times - as if it just needed to be jarred awake. Hey - you've got a job to do. Wake up! I bought paper plates at the grocery store and stood at the sink late at night, plunged in deep, right up to my forearms. Before we found the blessedly simple fix, the dryer decided to take a vacation as well. On Monday afternoon I stand in a sun spot and hang wet clothes up on the line while the toddlers run back and forth beneath flapping sheets.

It's been a while since I've been here. That line waits between my garage and the oak tree but somehow life gets in the way when one clothesline is no longer enough to hold the laundry needs of a family our size. Revisiting it for a bit reminds me, like a gentle tug, of this type of meditative work that helps to center me, to free my mind even as my hands work. There's never anything small about the smoothing out of chaos, the gentle setting to rights type of work that makes up a housewife's days. It's here that I find order, and, thus, peace. It's here that my mind is unleashed to dream and to wonder, to listen, to pray. It's a good place I didn't know I missed.

The summer is beginning to wind down and we're in the middle of a whirlwind, visiting friends and family and so much goodness that my heart feels heavy at the thought of it ending. Because when this is over, then what? Just regular life. Nothing special. Work and school and life. But then appliances break and I'm reminded that every day is an opportunity to make space for grace. To beckon it close, welcome it in, hold it up. To look through it like a lens, aperture opened wide to let all the light in. It's a precious miracle just for us, and each time I'm reminded of it I wonder how it's just so easy to forget. There are no circumstances, no secret hurts, no busted up and broken lives that are exempt from grace.

It's all from Him and all for us.

All heaven and earth a wild tangle of unfathomable grace.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

At the Still Center

{It has been way too long. Summer is so wonderful, such a necessary time of stepping back and soaking in and I need it, this break. Sharing a post I wrote back in the Spring and never posted, because it's still true -- and sending you all love from here.}

My dear friend gave me a ride to and from Girl's Night this week and, because it had been too long since we last had a private conversation, we spent the drive catching up. Questions about life and work and how are you, really? floated between us as the car splashed through springtime puddles on the warmest night of the year so far.

I shared the frustration I felt whenever I was asked about my husband's current job because yes, it was a relief he had one but for many reasons, no, we aren't out of crisis mode. Before I ever make it to the explanation point, the inquirer is already turning away, satisfied that this chapter has already been tied up neatly. Because that feels good to believe. No one likes an unresolved tale. We all want to hear the happy ending - even if it's not true. It's comforting. Comfortable.

Our difficulties ending would be nice. They haven't.

Thankful as we are that he has work, it is a 30 minute drive away with our one car - often longer during the evening commute. It also frankly cannot be a forever situation for other reasons, mostly financial. Our crisis isn't over. Every day, struggles still loom before us like a massive wave and, at best, we're just treading water.

She understood. "It's like saying the roof's fixed when you put up a tarp to keep the water out. It's a bandaid." Yeah. It's just like that. Things aren't fixed. Not by a long shot.

All that said, there's a curious joy that has found me in the past few weeks. My hard headed plodding of "just do the next right thing" has helped keep us buoyant in a way. We plan the kids' birthdays. We do school and the kids are doing so well. I revamp the chore chart and we seem to have found a really nice groove here. Rhythm and (loose) organization and setting things in their proper places when the bigger things of life seem to sway unpredictably is unbelievably comforting. I cling to the joy small things bring. Staying on top of laundry. Making beds. Daily prayers and read alouds and baking birthday cakes.

So we're not done. Our struggles are not fixed, secure, or ended. But at the still center there is still that spark of joy. It is a loving and gentle God that gives us the ability to find pleasure in small things.

The more I think of it, the more I realize that buoyancy may just be a spiritual gift, showered upon us mere mortals for such a time as this. Struggles and unknowns and upturned plans are the norm, not the exception in a life like ours. As our children grow and begin their own lives and we hold space for them, this truth will only multiply. Being able to float along may just be the key to thriving with joy. Not just for today, but for a lifetime.

So I keep counting the gifts because they keep being revealed to me. And although there's just a tarp over our heads shielding us from whatever unknowns are coming along next, we are safe at the still center. Warmed with a peace that passes all understanding.

A work in progress.

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