Picking Flowers

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.

– Karl Barth

It’s gray and wet today. Like a spring day closing the books on a long winter. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and then Advent, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s too balmy to be on the verge of winter.

Except it doesn’t feel like the cathartic relief that comes from seeing those first blooms on the trees or crocuses pushing up through remnants of snow. Post after post on any social media is something about the Paris attacks, something about Syrian refugee children, something about Africa and bombings, something about women being incarcerated or killed, something about guns and violence and hunger and terror. It feels weighty and somber, lonely and dark. I want to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers until Christmas.

But then, there’s the video of the father who tries to reassure his son after the Paris attacks last week. The father tells his son, “They have guns. But we have flowers.”

We have flowers.

I keep thinking about this past summer and how relentless Anna was when it came to picking flowers. We couldn’t go out anywhere anytime when she wouldn’t stop to pick flowers along the road. Maybe at the park. Maybe riding bikes on the B-Line. Maybe walking through the Target parking lot. Maybe our front yard after I just planted some. Flowers, all the time, and she would give them to me, a handful of weeds with the roots hanging off, saying each time, “I know you love flowers.”

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Every morning on the drive to the children’s preschool we sing songs. Days of the Week where we sing “There’s Sunday and there’s Monday…” through to Saturday to the tune of the Adams Family. Instead of snapping our fingers we click our tongues. Sometimes “Rise and Shine,” and old familiar tunes, as I am reminded by Stina Busman Jost at her blog, like “Deep and Wide” and “I’ve Got a River of Life.” But they sing their songs, too, the ones that they are learning at Gan Shalom about Baby Beluga and the Shabbat songs and blessings. They’ve been interested in learning the ones that punctuate our Sunday worship services, too. The Kyrie. The Gloria Patri. The Doxology. The Sanctus when we have communion. We sing each one. Over and over.

Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

I sing allowing the desperation tinge my voice while clutching the wheel for dear life like hands clasped in prayer. And then we go into the songs that praise and sing hosanna and acknowledge that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. But, the Kyrie stays with me throughout the day. Like every flower – no matter how small or minute – Anna insists on putting in a glass full of water next to my laptop. Always there. This song feels like a protest chant – its persistent roots hanging off reminding me of the life that anchored it to the soil, words that live always on the edge of winter and spring. Because even as we sing these words, calling for mercy, we do so with the hope and belief that God’s mercy is already there.

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I roll out of bed and land on my knees. Push myself up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and do the sanctified work that’s there in front of me like Sarah Bessey reminds me. Keep looking. Keep seeing. Keep feeling. Keep trying to love like there’s no tomorrow. Love hard. Love recklessly. Hug a little longer. Play those irrational and illogical games with the twins. Read that board book with Ozzie for the 917th time. Try to answer Andy’s question about the schedule for the 15th time without exasperation. Let bathtime be like a baptism each night, and let the sweat that rolls off my face after a long run be an anointing. Laugh, cook, drink, clean, make a huge mess, sit and stare out the window. Let all of it mean something, mean gratitude, mean earnestness and hope, mean life abundant. And tell the children stories about this abundant life – how it’s meant to be shared, how it’s meant to be experienced by every single human being – even if it means we might have to tell the stories that are sad and hard. Because that’s okay. Those are the ones that will hopefully shape their empathy and compassion. All of it. All of it is necessary for life right now. All this work is worship.

Because all work can be worship, songs are prayers, prayers are protests, and picking flowers is resistance. Click To Tweet

Anna Flower

I Love Being A Soccer Mom

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Never in a million years would I ever-ever-ever have imagined I’d say this out loud:

I love being a soccer mom.

But, wait. Soccer moms are put-together suburbanites. With perfectly bobbed hair, and outfits that look thoughtful even if technically activewear. With a roast chicken ready for dinner by the time their husbands walk through the doors. With children who are clean and smell like vanilla cookies. With homes that are immaculate and shiny. With mini-vans and yoga classes and music lessons.

Except I don’t know a single mom that is actually like this when I think about it. Maybe one. Or two, at the most. But, hardly any.

I wonder if the era of venerating the likes of June Cleaver and Carol Brady is over? Because these days I see more moms (and dads) out and about with their kids in leggings and sweats, tshirts covered in breakfast and toothpaste, and the most remarkable bedhead. Only a pillow and a restless night of sleep with a toddler across your face could create that kind of coif. When I look around it seems like many of us have for the most part stopped worrying about upholding some illusive ideal surrounding looks and parenthood. Not that you all don’t look good – I mean, you do, you all are really beautiful people – but the image of put-togetherness seems less of a priority. I feel it in the way my eyes flicker up to meet the quick glance of the mothers and fathers at the library or children’s museum like a silent fist-bump: I see you. It’s about solidarity and survival. Anyways, we likely – at least, I, – save the energy and effort that goes into brushing my teeth and hair for the rare occasion we go out in the evenings with friends or the significant other, and dress as if it’s 1999, and we are still in college, our lives and children not even a twinkle in the night full of jello shots and beer pong.

Sigh. I’m so glad those days are over. Jello shots. Gross.

“Mostly good is enough. Mostly good produces healthy kids who know they are valued and either forget the other parts or turn them into funny stories.”
Jen HatmakerFor the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

Because, honestly, I seriously love being a soccer mom. I am ready to embrace it. You know, the kids are at an age where they are just learning and doing so much. The amount they figure out each day grows exponentially. We can hardly keep up with them. One minute they’re crying that they can’t take the lids off of the markers. The next minute they’re channeling Picasso and Monet with all sorts of mediums, not only markers, but glue and tape and scissors (mostly, supervised).

And so, this is what a soccer mom means to me. It means loving their stage of life right now.Click To Tweet

It means loving watching them run and kick and do the worst jumping jacks ever with Coach Keelan. It means loving watching the kids learn to play the piano, and actually sit longer than five minutes to pound out a couple of stanzas with Ms. Susan. It means loving seeing her absolute delight when she finally figures out how to do the monkey bars by herself and he feeds the dog and lets him out on his own initiative.

Who are these people?!?!?

Being a soccer mom means for me loving learning what it means to have children, and be a child. Because what they’re doing is changing and shaping me, teaching and transforming me on a regular basis. It means seeing differently. It means loving hard. It means learning how to receive and welcome. It means being okay with mistakes and failing gloriously.

It means a little bit more proximity to that elusive, but wonderful kingdom. Click To Tweet

I love it. I love it all. I mean, I am so unbelievably exhausted and I still yell and shout and get totally frustrated at their insanity, but I love it.

I love being a soccer mom. I really do. You all are my witnesses – I said it. I love it. Now I just need a minivan.

Deeper Story: Summers, Lazy Days, and Blessings

Joe and Mihee
(Me and my brother too long ago. Yes. I’m apparently wearing a tube top. The only one I will ever wear in my life.)

We would wake up early and stay up as late as possible.

Me, my little brother, and kids in our neighborhood. Summer days were full of long hours at the community pool playing an eternal game of Marco Polo then when we got tired it would be back-float competitions and our own version of synchronized swimming. We would burn, then peel, and quickly turn a dark brown with the outline of our swimsuits tattooed in our winter flesh color onto our shoulder and backs.

Sometimes bikes would be our mode of adventure and we would ride to another neighborhood lying to our parents about how many Popsicles or cans of Coke we bought throughout the day. We’d come home covered in sticky messes and the truth would literally be etched on our faces with remnants of the forbidden left behind despite our efforts to clean it up with water from a garden hose. Probably, the major sugar crash gave it away.

It didn’t matter. We didn’t have a care in the world.

***

When it was just me and my brother and we were too little to go out we would spend hours in the backyard searching for grasshoppers to keep as pets in old jam jars. We’d cram handfuls of grass in there as makeshift nests to assuage any guilt of trapping these helpless creatures. Of course, it was the least we should do to be as hospitable as possible while they struggled and jumped against the glass trying to make sense of the shimmering sun through the walls of their prisons.

And my brother and I would run and run up the hill to the back of our yard to the fence and then back down. Laps over and over again chasing butterflies and birds and clouds trying to forget that there was a fence around us – to protect us – while the rest of the world spun on.

***

I was up late with Baby Oz one night last week. He was unusually fussy and inconsolable even at my breast. Though maybe common for most babies – certainly with the twins – it felt strange with him since because he loves to sleep. When his wailing turned into two, and then three hours of crying we decided to take him into the ER.

We got there and filled out paperwork almost immediately. As soon as we went in to see the nurse he was…Quiet. Observant. And even cheerful. He was not the screaming baby of 20-minutes-ago. Andy and I looked at each other in exasperation. We would have to wait another two hours before getting discharged at 630 am and come to sleep for a couple hours while my parents watched the twins before heading back home.

I didn’t fall asleep right away. I watched him sleeping next to me. I tried to push out of my mind the what-if pictures of him in the hospital all the time with tubes snaking in and out of his little body. We are fortunate. Blessed, I guess, would be one word. All I want to do in that moment for all three of the babies is to build huge fences around them. To shut out diseases and guns and drugs and eating disorders and bullies. Even if it means shutting out the butterflies and birds and clouds.

***

Blessed. Blessings. Favor. Joel Osteen has made me hate both those words with his favor-mindedness and bull-shit prosperity gospel. Because it dilutes those tragedies that need to be told in its full-body-ness. I need more.

I can’t shake the George Zimmerman infraction. And all the other stories surfacing in Chicago and NY with not only teenage boys but children and women on whom the sewage of injustice is being poured out on. It makes me seize up with anger. Where and when will that arc bend towards justice? It isn’t just about my babies and wondering what they will face on the future but my neighbor’s babies, those who are black and brown (though almost invisible here in Bloomington I know they exist). And I think of the absurdity. The absurdity of my children with all their blessings and privilege. They are so privileged. No fears, no hunger, no loss, no cold. I’m wracked with guilt some days. And I’m so deeply grateful on most. Still. It’s not enough to build fences for and around them. I need to tear them down. I need to be a part of building something. Something more.

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside…-Sara Groves


Originally posted at Deeper Story.

Ordinary Effects and #WholeMama

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The crowded Starbucks.

We’re crammed together at a table of refurbished wood dark but glistening with the reflection of a hot summer morning sun. He took the lid off his coffee cup and I keep staring at the steam that swirls up in front of a backdrop of windows facing out to an impeccable suburbia. A dense forest of trees and cars that rush by in a blur – stillness and speed having a disorienting effect on me as I sit in my own clash of buzz and quiet.


The ordinary is a thing that has to be imagined and inhabited. It’s also a sensory connection. A jump. And a world of affinities and impacts that take place in the moves of intensity across things that seem solid and dead…The vagueness of the unfinished quality of the ordinary is not so much a deficiency as a resource, like a fog of immanent forces still moving even though so much has already happened and there seems to be plenty that’s set in stone. This is no utopia. Not a challenge to be achieved or an ideal to be realized, but a mode of attunement, a continuous responding to something not quite already given and yet somehow happening. 

-Ordinary Affects by Kathleen Stewart.


Rereading this book on the ordinary again and it’s fitting for numerous reasons, one of which is that it is the #wholemama theme this week. I chose ordinary as my One Word for the year in 2013:

So that’s what I’m going with for this year – 2013. Paying attention to what seems small and insignificant. Gazing at what is normally around me instead of passing it by. Being present in the mud and muck, the water, the laughter, the skies, the bite of a cold wind, the pink of a child’s nose and cheeks, the fleeting thoughts and difficult-to-describe emotions. Embracing the ordinary. Leaning into the ordinary. Growing in the ordinary. Looking out for the ordinary and how it might lead me to kneel at God’s feet, kicking softly in that bed of hay, covered in dirt and cow hairs, his blankets and swaddling loose, and the sound of gurgles and slow blinking…to kneel before God-Incarnate over and over again. It makes sense…to approach God’s very first human throne I would be led there not by a burning bush or even a choir of angels but by something as ordinary as a star and a road.

It’s strange to think that a word can continue to summon meaning and necessity.

Kathleen Stewart writes about her project: “[It is an endeavor towards] speculation, curiosity, and the concrete it tries to provoke attention to the forces that come into view as habit or shock, resonance or impact. Something throws itself together in a moment as an event and a sensation; a something both animated and inhabitable.

The ordinary is a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life. Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences…They’re things that happen…in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating, in strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion, contagion, and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and in publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in something that feels like something.”

Sometimes my body rebels against the ordinary. I keep thinking that I can, will, should pursue the sensational and magnificent, and the continuous trek I make to the refrigerator for juice-apples-cheese-carrots all day long seems lacking in any kind of glamour.

Is it the ordinary that my insides revolt against ... or I wonder if I fear getting lost in this banal routine?Click To Tweet

I think of Kathleen Norris and her spiritual discipline of folding laundry. And Brother Lawrence who discovered a kind of peculiar gratification in washing dishes. At least a few times a day I almost touch on it, too, my hands plunged into the soapy water and the rhythm of scrubbing and rinsing and organizing. A baptism over and over. The steady hush of towels and tiny t shirts and shorts increasing in stacks all around me. But, it’s those socks that wrench me out of whatever tranquility. I can never find all the socks.

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The ordinary is the stuff of our lives – it doesn’t arouse feelings of momentousness and relevance. The conversations around me about kitchen renovations and the distance between the refrigerator and island that make me feel like I might lie down in the drive-thru here at the Starbucks … it is everyday life. It simply is. And when I go back home to the continuous push-and-pull of children needing something and everything … same thing – it simply is what it is. And the ever present choice in front of me is to either try to escape it with meaningless pursuits of attention from the wider world or I can bear down and clutch that reality in my fingers as though it is a dandelion blowing away in the wind.

Because it is.

It’s not to say that escape periodically isn’t ok – we need a respite – a break – a change in scenery. But all these moments can be occasions to make meaning. To make beauty and art. To make music. To see and receive more.


The Christmas Spirit is that hope
which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful
and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce
and all the inn doors slammed in our faces
and all the dark nights of our souls
that with God all things are still possible,
that even now unto us
a Child is born!

I want to experience that hope, that tenacity, that radical possibility in the midst of the ordinary this year, and to share that experience with others.


Part of #WholeMama this week as hosted by Esther Emery. Lovely conversations!

Whole Mama

It’s Crowded: Locking Myself In My Room

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These days – these summer days are crowded. The children are at home ALL THE TIME. They are busy. Busy with their markers, busy with their chasing and pretending, busy with their persistent demands and orders for help-me-get-the-lid-off-the-yellow and I-want-apple-juice and I’m-hungry and Mommy-Ozzie-hit-me or Mommy-Ozzie-yelled-at-me. The laptop is on or the phone is open to a Google Doc but I’m only able to tap out a few words at a time. Podcasts and radio shows are playing in the background all day long in the kitchen and in the TV room is Little Einsteins or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I’m really desperate for a lone moment. Ceiling fans are whirring and the poor dog, Ellis, is ever click-clacking (nails in need of a trim) across the floors following me around or the children if they’re carrying a bagel or crackers. Blocks and Legos. Crumbs. Everything is sticky, for some reason. The kitchen is halfway clean and halfway always getting-ready-for-the-next-meal.

Mom-look-at-my-picture.

Mom-look-at-my-picture.

Mom-look-at-my-picture.

Mom-look-at-my-picture.

Mom-look-at-my-picture.

Mom-look-at-my-picture.

And then a skirmish erupts deep in the heart of that ever transient quiet. A particular marker. Someone grows weary of the TV show and has the nerve to turn it off. Anna doesn’t want to play ninjas. Where are my gorillas? asks Desmond. I’m huuuuuuuuunnnnggrrrrrry, whines Anna for the 8000th time this morning.

I quietly go into my room and lock the door. They follow me up there and pound on the door: “Moooommmm, are you in there? What are you doing? Mommmmmmmmm, are you in there?”

***

There’s not enough space.

Physically, even in our 2300 square foot house. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually – every thought – I’m leaning on the kitchen counter frantically typing as if these are last my words and every fleeting and glimmering image in my mind is completely obliterated by every squeal and cry that suddenly appears at my hip.

I remember Sheryl Sandberg’s words to lean in – that now-unforgettable phrase like an earworm – a mantra and song I repeat to myself but not when it comes to my professional life because well, that’s mostly nonexistent – and I wonder if I need to lean in here.

Lean in to motherhood. Lean in to interruptions, demands, and negotiating who gets what Rescue Bot when and for how long. Lean into this season. Lean into their lives.Click To Tweet

And then I think: I really hate that phrase.

***

You know, Jesus didn’t really lean in much. That’s what I think when I read the stories and see how often he went away by himself to pray or got in a boat to spend a day on the lake or took nights off to just have dinner with friends.

Something about this turning away – turning inward – turning into solitude makes me see more and more how we were created for it but that everything around us compels us to lean in – lean into the needs and petitions of the external – ie. everyone else. Because if we don’t then we are being selfish. We are being irresponsible. We are being negligent. We are being unfaithful.

Of course, so much has already been written about how we’ve turned the vocation of raising children into a kind of religious idolatry and how we need to be quiet to really care for our mental health, and that being productive all the time is impossible, and that a simple tidying up does wonders.

So, what am I trying to sort out here? There’s something about how all this stuff – literally and symbolically – gets conflated with faithfulness. What does it really mean to be faithful?

What would it mean if being faithful in this season of life – whether parenthood or singlehood or childhood or clergyhood or stay-at-home-momhood – meant being free? Being free of the guilt of not performing or providing every second of every day? Being free of the pressure to constantly be available and attending to every cry and whine immediately? (I’m a big proponent of the French pause – not only for sleeping/sleep-training but for everything – “let them work it out for a few minutes” is another motto of mine.) Being free of the continuous insanity of ninja turtles, transformer robots, and where-is-the-blue-marker inquiries?

I keep going back to this language of faithfulness – what it looks likes, what it means – because it’s not just about our marriage or about our faith in God, which is often the way we use this term, but maybe it’s about being full of God’s faith. Maybe even God’s faith in us? God’s belief in us. God’s faith in our process and journeys. God’s faith in our desires and love. And how that moment of stoppage is not just a chance to get away or to clear our heads or to write or to process:

It's a chance to breathe in the freedom of God's faithfulness to us and God's faith in us. Click To Tweet

Because sometimes I ultimately need to remember – to feel the reality – that God has faith in me. I suck at this parenting-job at least 80% of the day and I think often, God, how am I supposed to do anything much less change the world if I can’t even figure out how to make a decent fort??? That all those voices and standards and expectations that crowd my vision of myself, my ability, my capacity, my life – those take away from the faith of God.

Κύριε πιστεύω

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Help me to know your faith. 

Sometimes it takes locking myself in my room to hear these words, more than a pause, more than rest, but a moment to step into that space where I can give myself a chance to remember what it means to be faithful.


Inspired in part by Olive Chan’s post at SheLoves:

Mark Buchanan, in his refreshing book, The Rest of God, writes, “[Sabbath] is sheer gift. It is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”