Poetry & Words

What People Don’t Understand About Having an Only Child

What People Don't Understand About Having an Only Child

Five years ago.  I don’t wish time to stop, because if time had stopped then I wouldn’t have today in all its glorious tumbling mix of beauty and brokenness.

No, I never wish time to stop.

This photo from the past is a femtosecond suspended in space — a single transient moment in time’s flight over us.

We’re in my favorite place on earth, high above the sea overlooking Bodega Bay, and the white-bright sunset is casting slivers of diamonds over us, by the handful. My pants don’t match my shirt, and I’m wearing my brother-in-law’s too-big shoes. She’s set to bolt away and grab fistfuls of sand. The sky is molten. We are hands on a clock, dials on the face of the sun.

And time flies on.

The shadows go round, and round, and round. She’s so little here, my third-grader, and my heart sometimes feels like it will split right down the middle.

See, she’s a miracle, you know, I miracle God granted in defiance of what time’s overly-speedy hands had begun to do to my physical body. And she’s light. Can’t you see it here, the light? True to her name, she’s Alenka, the radiance. When she was born, the nurse learned over the bed and asked, in a voice breaking under the weight of meaning, “What have you come to teach us?”

Strangers, won’t you step down and lift your head and open your eyes? Won’t you see beyond the narrow explanation you’ve created in your own mind?

You ask me why I had no more; I reply: no more arrived.

You ask so often. Do you realize how often you ask?

You never see the sorrow in my reply.

You ask at the line in the grocery store.

You ask at the library.

You ask at homeschool groups. (Oh, especially at homeschool groups.)

We’re dependent on God for so much. The thin tissue of our lungs fills and empties, fills and empties, fills and empties. We breath in oxygen; our organs are fed. We do not owe the function of these inner workings to our own righteousness. Our heartbeats, our respirations, the skin that covers these shells — gifts from the Maker, all.

Don’t count and measure and compare.

We aren’t given equal portions in this life, but we are given enough. We are given our portion. It is my sorrow that my arms cannot hold more; yet it is my joy they can hold the unspeakable gift I’ve been given.

Can you look at this life as liquid gold, with me? As chrysolite and as chalcedony? [1] We all walk sacred ground; there are no ordinary places. [2] We are souls inhabiting bodies; we are magic of the celestial kind.

Look to the Light, my friends, look to the Light and rejoice.

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Poetry & Words

The Battle Between Blogger and Writer

The Battle Between Blogger and Writer

I feel stretched out, sometimes, pulled and twisted and at odds in the middle between the world of the writer and the world of the blogger. One is born a writer, but made a blogger.

For the writer, the sky itself shouts and whispers. Words fall down all around me from the sky, and I gather them up by the armfuls and pour them into the lines, giving my book a little shake at the end to settle in the errant punctuation.

But the blogger writes for function and purpose; proposals and contracts call for a practical list of countable tips that scrape away the cloud-words and add in keywords which screech and rasp against the lyrical rhythm.

For the writer there is always more to say — an endless spring of words to channel into funnels and sift, the gold letters glistening against the dross. But for the blogger, it’s never enough. The blogger must pour stats atop the words, and must toss the words together into a promotional salad, mixing up the letters every which way, until they’re poured out onto the editors’ desks and extruded through the constricting channels of social media.

The writer in me is always battling the blogger.

And the blogger, against her own will, must fight the writer.

“Out of the red and silver and the long cry of alarm to the poet who survives in all human beings, as the child survives in him; to this poet she threw an unexpected ladder in the middle of the city and ordained, ‘Climb!’” -Anaïs Nin

Poetry & Words

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

I’m currently reading a memoir of Soviet times, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias in Moscow. While I enjoy cooking, I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Why did God design food to be so crucial?

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

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I’m currently reading Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias of the author’s Moscow childhood. While I enjoy cooking — and obviously, books about cooking — I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Certainly as a parent, preparing, serving, and cleaning up food is a nonnegotiable part of my daily routine. As I go about these chores, I often question why God designed food to be so crucial.

Why does the human body required food, simply to continue to exist? (Or, as I texted my friend the other day, “Why do these people I live with seem to want to eat three times a day?”)

My questioning doesn’t end there.

Why, in heaven, when all things are made new, does feasting still continue to play a central role?

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see food:

The fruit in the garden.

The lentil porridge.

The burnt offerings.

Loaves and fishes.

The last supper.

Perhaps eating, then, is an ever-present reminder of our daily dependence on God.

Take, and eat.

In Exodus chapter sixteen, the Israelites of old had to trust him anew each morning. Manna squirreled away under the corners of the tent or in a basket very openly revealed a lack of trust by dissolving into stinking, swarming mess of worms.

Manna, like mercy, is new every morning. Our own striving cannot sustain us overnight; only He can.

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, He does not tell us His power is vast enough to sustain us for all time — even though it is. No, he tells us we must ask Him for bread, every day. There’s a transcendental significance to the focus on daily bread. (Couldn’t he have just as easily taught us to pray, “Give us this month our monthly bread, so we need not stress about this again until the calendar page turns”? I would have preferred that.)

He didn’t, of course. There are no prayers for weekly or yearly allotments; but many promises for bread and mercy daily.

We are to turn our eyes upon him constantly, over and over and over again.

The hymn-writer Robert Lowry understood this when he wrote,

“I need thee every hour…
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!”

Every hour. (If you have infants — or teenage boys — this is a very literal reality.)

Eating, I think, reminds of us our constant state of reliance on God. We rely on him for everything — the onrush of air into our lungs, the pulse of our beating hearts, and life itself. Simply to be alive is a gift. And when we set down yet another tired lunch on the table on yet another weekday noon, this ordinary act can be a worshipful acknowledgement of our utter dependence on God.

Work, as worship.

Food, as a worship.

Inhaling the aroma, tasting the spices on our tongue, feeling satiated, feeling hungry — these are all tangible ways to taste and see that the Lord is good. Yes, even if the meal is one you’ve had hundreds of times.

Even if you’re weary of meal prep.

Even then.

And our need for physical nourishment also echoes our need, too, for supernatural food. In the wilderness, David waxed desperately poetic in his sixty-third Psalm:

“You are my God;
I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land
where there is no water.” 

Our souls are designed to crave Him as deeply as our stomach rumbles for food after a long day of slim pickings. God didn’t want us to miss this. He didn’t hide the symbolism in parable: he spelled it out for us when he said “I am the bread of life.”

We are supposed to feel as desperately starved for God when our spirits are hungry, just as we do for a food when our bodies are physically famished. Our bodies aren’t designed to last for long periods without eating; so too, our souls aren’t designed for only periodic spiritual dining, taken at infrequent intervals.

Later in the same Psalm where David first declares his wilderness thirst for God, he exclaims what it’s like to finally dive to God after his soul had been starved: “I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!” (The Message translation)

In the Soviet memoir I’m reading, the author describes mealtime in Lenin’s Russia as “soup with rotten sauerkraut, unidentifiable meat (horse?), gluey millet, and endless vobla, the petrified fried Caspian roach fish.”

Is this what your soul has been surviving on?

Come!

You don’t need to live like this anymore. There is living water. There is life-giving bread.

The shackles are off; the walls have crumbled.

Read! Partake! Drink it in!

The time for feasting has arrived.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

This Whole Land of our Sojourn is my Home

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This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home
This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

This summer, we whisked ourselves away to the rugged northern wilds of California, Minnesota, and Michigan.  On the West Coast, we ducked into a secret redwood garden awash with Rivendell lights; in Michigan, we built campfires on the edges of a 19th century settlement, and — while reading Amory Blaine’s exploits in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise — drove through both Amery and Blaine.

The sun rose and set, for me, in  four states on three of this country’s borders, over two different oceans, on the edge of one Great Lake, and even — thirty thousand feet aloft — over dozens and dozens of sparkling little towns.

I highlighted as many lines in Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley in Search of America as my digital swipe would allow, then watched them all vanish in a burst of pixels, as the server sucked the virtual book back in after three loaned weeks. I sorted through old family documents, scratched away in fountain ink, faded proof of all the secrets and genes tumbling down through the generations.

It’s temporary glory, to put words in Steinbeck’s mouth.

It’s all a temporary shimmer of the eternal.

“To find not only that this bedlam of color was true but that the pictures were pale and inaccurate translations, was to me startling. I can’t even imagine the…colors when I am not seeing them…. ‘It is a glory,’ she said, ‘and can’t be remembered, so that it always comes as a surprise.'”

It can’t be remembered.

It always comes as a surprise.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

I belong nowhere, and everywhere. I come home through so many different doors, walk with a sigh across so many different thresholds.

Sarah Dessen rattles her way across the keyboard onto the novel’s page to tell us all, “Home [i]sn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It [i]s wherever the people who loved you [a]re, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”

This shell of mine is stained with the red clay of Oaxaca and the Sierra Nevada, gilded in copper patina from the Ljubljanica River, dusted over from the kiln-like heat of the Sacramento Valley,  preserved in the subzero howl of the northern wilds, and sloshing from the perpetual rain of these subtropics.

It’s always with me.

And it always comes as a surprise.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

I don’t know how I would handle having my roots all smashed together and compacted into one tiny plot of earth. I wasn’t made for roots like that. I was made for the kind that stretch and strain and burrow, through clay and sand and heat and rain, putting a little branch down here and other down halfway across the globe.

Steinbeck felt it through and through. “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself….A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

The faded old documents I sorted this summer traced a journey across the Atlantic, on both sides of the family, through Ellis Island. As a child, I flew this route over their ghosts by air; less than a hundred years earlier, great grandparents on both sides of the family took this route by sea.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

Neruda once said it was our destiny to love and say goodbye. I think it’s our destiny to love and say hello, over and over and over again — in all the “places with no weight” as Octavio Paz would say —

in all our many homes, knowing that He’s put eternity in our hearts [1], knowing all the time that we’re heading Home no matter how many different places we land,

in this, the land of our sojourn.


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Homeschooling, Poetry & Words

The Autumn Liturgy of Rest: How Seasons Can Prepare our Hearts

The Autumn Liturgy of Rest: How Seasons Can Prepare Our Hearts

I’m drawn to the changing of the seasons, the time of the year when everything is on the cusp and the old world starts dying and the new world starts coming on [1]. ( Each new day does this too, but the rising sun doesn’t bring out the poetry in me.  Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to liturgical holidays— this neat and tidy slicing up of seasons, tied to the calendar but not the clock.

It’s a reminder that mercy is new, always.)

And I like the changing of the seasons for the nudge to pause and breathe. It’s a time to take stock of whether or not frenetic busyness has creeped in, unnoticed, encroaching on our calm and peaceful margins.  Margin is important to me. Margin is vital. I cannot thrive without margin.

In the 1990s, Dr. Richard Swenson wrote about this in his book “The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits“, saying, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore?”

The Autumn Liturgy of Rest: How Seasons Can Prepare Our Hearts (from the Oaxacaborn blog)

The changing of the seasons, for me, means a reminder to cultivate those still waters in my own home. I have good intentions, of course, but they are prone to slip, and the seasons give me pause to reconsider whether I am still being intentional about my goals of rest.

Rest doesn’t happen on its own. We must fight for rest.

There’s no escaping it this time of year in Eastern Europe and in the American North. The leaves surge with one last burst of chlorophyll, summer’s flowers tuck their heads, and heirloom rugs are rolled up and beaten outside, clearing the stage for fall, scouring the home for winter, and steeling one’s heart against the coming wintry blast. All of nature is preparing for the quieter, slower season.

The Autumn Liturgy of Rest: How Seasons Can Prepare Our Hearts (from the Oaxacaborn blog)

There’s no such meteorological shift in the climate, here.  I’ve never seen anyone take a rug out of the front door to clean it. But the days are lengthening, even if the air plants still cling to the palm trunks, and the egrets never stop sifting through the marshes for brunch.  But I don’t need an obvious equinox outdoors to prepare my home and heart for the autumnal shift, setting out pumpkins on the stoop, simmering ginger and spice on the stove, singing along to my favorite music, and pressing vinyl cling leaves up against the window panes.

This takes time and intention — and more often than not, it takes saying no to things, even good things.  You might feel silly saying “no” to that extra event, that meet-up, that task you’re not even obligated to do for the committee. You might feel self-conscious regularly scheduling in an entire day (or a week!) to breath in the scent of the autumn blend wafting out of the diffuser, stash away the clutter and close the laundry closet doors, pick up the toys off the floor and switch out the bathroom hand soaps. After all, tomorrow, the laundry doors will be open again, the LEGOs will be strewn — but you know what else? Tomorrow, the leaves on the window panes will catch your eye and the lingering aroma of clove and cinnamon will still flutter in and out of the curtains. And there’s a certain transforming power this has on the heart. Somehow, I find that when the house is clean, when corners of the home hint at  the changing season, I feel more calm and purposeful.

I suppose this is a way of presenting a visible reminder of worship before my eyes.  And in the autumn especially, when all of creation is storing and stockpiling and preparing to slow for hibernation, this visible reminder of worship pulls me into the present, and slows me. It’s easier to sit down and drink in the Word, when the clutter isn’t pulling my attention away. It’s easier to help my daughter navigate that non-stop brain of hers, when I’m not stressed over the neglected housework.

The Autumn Liturgy of Rest: How Seasons Can Prepare Our Hearts (from the Oaxacaborn blog)

No, I’m not perfect. I haven’t learned this art  yet. My home is not a spotless showcase. I know a slower rhythm doesn’t solve the pressing problems of the world. This doesn’t instantly heal what hurts. We are real, and real people are messy people. But real people can also be purposeful people, fighting for what matters.

Preparing our homes and hearts for the season sets the stage for contentment, and for cultivating margin. That makes a big, big difference.

You see, it is difficult to pursue purpose without margin.

It is difficult to even complete tasks effectively — to say nothing of cheerfully or contentedly — without margin.

Dr. Swenson told the story of how at one point before his epiphany of rest, he was so overwhelmed, overloaded, over-scheduled and burnt out as a physician that he actually deeply resented his patients for being sick. I find in my own life, that in times of marginless frenzy, I resent my tasks as a wife, mother, and full-time educator (that last one takes up every waking hour — can you relate?)

But I refuse to glorify “busyness”.  I refuse to put “busyness” on a pedestal. I’d much rather fight for margin and rest, wouldn’t you?

It’s not a popular choice. Possibly, fighting for rest for your family might put you in uncomfortable situations. It might make you unpopular for a time. But it will also make you peace-filled.

The

Swenson writes of contentedness: “It has so little cultural traction that I don’t even hear it in casual conversation, let alone preached or praised. The word contented has been replaced by driven, aggressive, hungry, ruthless, relentless.

Taking a deeper look, however, we notice that contentment has been a principle in good standing throughout history, endorsed by philosophers, statesmen, men of letters and theologians of all religions. Even if times were marked by destitution, tragedy and pestilence; even if gutters were filled with beggars, doorways filled with prostitutes and people beat each other with chickens; still, contentment was lifted high. Thought leaders endorsed contentment as a source of hidden comfort and riches, treasured within a human heart despite circumstances.

It is only recently that contentment has fallen out of favor. With the escalating totalitarianism of progress and economics, something had to give, so contentment was replaced by unbridled ambition. No one stopped to have a memorial service nor slowed to light a candle.” [2]

This autumn, won’t you join me in making margin and rest your ambition? Let’s slow down together, and purpose to let our hearts rest in contentedness, no matter the storm outside.

I’ll light a candle  or three to that.