Tuesday, November 22, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } A prayer for thanks-giving

Despite the fact that I can feel the dance begin,
the one that sweeps up family and feasting, bustling hands and beauteous light and twirls them round and round my heart,
I sense You pulling me deeper.
Yes, it is good to gather, to greet each other with holy kisses and to give thanks.  Generations after generations have taught us that ritual.  We know it by heart.
But Lord, I long to live out my thanks giving.  I don’t want it to be reserved for pre-appointed dates on the calendar.
I need to practice this act of thanks giving so that it becomes a sacrament. 
Because on many days, the thanks are slow in coming.
And some days, they don’t come at all.
How can this be?
Perhaps it is because my wandering heart finds your shadow and declares you absent, choosing to embrace emptiness and despair.  Looking closer I might see that the darkness that puddles around me is actually cast by the breadth of your wing.  And that you are always passing by.
I must burn the Truth on my lips--that your mercies are new every morning-- so that when my heart fails and my vision blurs, my mouth will declare forth your praise.
Lord, may my thanks giving always be a response rather than a ritual and may I learn to see that your love is everywhere.

Monday, November 21, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Margin

"A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man's life as in a book."
- Henry David Thoreau

I don't think that we set out to create chaos.  Not on purpose, at least.

But if we don't check ourselves from time to time, it is very likely that we will find our own speedometers trying to keep pace with that of a culture whose gait, too often, is sprinting.

The tension to keep moving is palpable and pulsing.  It is expected and exalted. Sometimes, it is even alluring and attractive. 

But that does not mean that it should be fed.  

You feed things that you want to grow.  

And so I must constantly decide, what do I want to grow in my life?

I'll tell you, first, what I don't want to grow:

...fear, anger, the need to compare, idleness, bitterness, feelings of superiority, judgment, shallowness, a growing list of accomplishments with nothing but exhaustion and weariness to show for it, ugly words, confusion, clutter, distrust, empty dreams, never following through on things...

But the only way to keep these things from taking root and becoming established is for me to create some breathing space.  Some lee-way.  Room to move.

And the way to do that is to envelop our times of planned activity with a cocoon of calm.

Just as the white space that surrounds the text on a book's page helps to more clearly frame that which we are reading, so must we give room for our lives to speak.  

What a tragedy it would be if, years down the line, I stopped to look back over the story of my life, only to find the text bleeding all over, eclipsing the light from the pages, masking the narrative.

And so, again, I must ask: how then shall we live?

First, we must breathe.  Deeply.  Breathe in the moments.  Actually draw them in.  because, just as with wine, are lives "develop flavor and blossom" when allowed to breathe.

Then, we must allow what is happening, right here and right now, to engage, bemuse and fascinate us.  This is it. These moments are what make a life.  Embrace them.  Accept them.  Keep them.  

And then, we must consciously choose to stop.  Whether it is in order to more fully live in the moment...like when the first snowflakes of the season begin to fall as you are walking to the mailbox and you pause, throw your head up to heaven and stick your tongue out in praise...
or whether it is to build a buffer from one activity to the next, make the choice to stop.

Pull the weeds of busyness and harried living from the sacred space of your life and 

The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.  ~Author Unknown

Sunday, November 20, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Our little house

Peace - that was the other name for home.  
~Kathleen Norris

I am so thankful for this little house of ours.

When we made the heart wrenching decision to leave our Atlanta home and the dear people with whom we had shared life for eight years in community, not to mention the dozens of other beloved folks that were instrumental in shaping us as individuals and as a family, it was done with some trepidation.  What would life on the outside of our Atlanta bubble look like?  What would we look like?  Where would we land?

It turned out that we landed much further away from the family that we had migrated towards.  But that was where the job was and there are times when you have to take the hand your dealt and pray that you make the best of it.

It all happened so quickly. The job offer, the scurrying to find housing, trying to figure out where one should settle when they know absolutely nothing about the city to which they are moving, calculating what we could actually afford compared to what the bank said we could afford....

And then, on one of those days when there is already too much to do than can be accomplished, John happened to look on Craig's List.  And there it was.

Our house.

I can remember the day he called me on his cell phone.  I was in St. Louis and he was stealthily creeping around the land and house, trying to get a better sense of what buying this antique might mean and trying to describe it to me, all the while, hoping that no one spotted him and called the authorities.

But, kind of like I did on that first date, I knew somewhere deep down, that this was going to be our house.

And so it was.

And yes, owning a 175 year old house often provides us with constant entertainment, as well as aggravation, but it is such a blessing to be the caretakers of this piece of dirt and this piling of stones.  To own a bit of history and to be adding to its story.  Again, I will say it...

It is a blessing.

We have no idea how long we will be here in this particular house.  Life happens and new opportunities present themselves and you just never no what is coming down the pike.  

But it is my sincere prayer that as long as we are here, living out our days and nights, we continue to make this house a home.  

That we would infuse this space with grace and forgiveness and joy and light.

And above all, that we would make this a house of love, made real.

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other.  It is the place of confidence.  It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts.  It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.  ~Frederick W. Robertson

Friday, November 18, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry.

~Mark Strand, "Eating Poetry," Reasons for Moving, 1968

I am so thankful for this new ritual of ours.  

The heating of the kettle, the clinking spoons in the mugs, the sweet crumbs on our lips and the delightful belly laugh as we read another nonsense poem...it is all so wonderful.   I doubted its power, this "tea-time and poetry," especially with two boys, but I am overjoyed to be so very wrong.  Sure, the warm drinks and sweet confections did their magical wooing but the word plays and rhymes kept them at the table.  And now there are favorite poems and there are recitations of verses, delivered at just the right moment and it
is. all. so. wonderful.

I will let the poems do the rest of the talking.

Soliloquy of a Tortoise
on Revisiting
the Lettuce Beds
After an Interval of One Hour
While Supposed
to Be
in a Clump
of Blue Hollyhocks

One cannot have enough
of this delicious stuff!

-E.V. Rieu

                                                                                       you so
                                                                            in the
                                                             of your

-Arnold Adoff


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks) My dog

With eye upraised his master's look to scan,
The joy, the solace, and the aid of man:
The rich man's guardian and the poor man's friend,
The only creature faithful to the end.

George Crabbe

I wanted you for a very long time.

You see, it's very hard for me to to successfully carry out this thing called life without a four-legged, hairy animal at my side.
It seems that dogs help define me as a person so, the years that I was without a dog (college, single, early marriage)...well, the memories of those times will always have a dog-shaped hole in them.

But here you are, in all your Australian Shepherd hairyness and herdingness, your Labrador chewiness, and your Beaglesque diggy/sniffiness.   And who could have imagined that the sum would be greater than the parts? I sure didn't.  Just a little over two years ago, if you had asked me what I was thinking about you...well, you would have found that the praise and adoration didn't come all that quickly.

I almost lost my mind over you.

But, who you were, deep beneath the trouble you caused and the havoc you wreaked, well, that is what saved you.

Because, at the end of the day, you don't seem to remember that I screamed at you that morning or that we forgot to feed you until noon or that we shoo you off of the bed just as you've dozed off.  You just choose to leap for joy at our return, lick the tears from our faces and bark at all of those horrible vicious squirrels that are trying to take over our yard.

All of that and

when we are walking freely, taking in the air and the sunshine and all that is glorious about this world, well






I am joy in a wooly coat, come to dance into your life, to make you laugh!
Julie Church

Monday, November 14, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Reading aloud

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, 
Go throw your TV set away, 
And in its place you can install, 
A lovely bookshelf on the wall."
— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

He's sitting in the big blue chair, the one that has held all of us at one time or another, and sometimes, two or three of of us together.  The lamps glow softly, holding the darkness at bay, and the blankets are pulled close around wiggling toes.  Eyes look slowly about the room, focusing and blurring as they listen to the word pictures being painted by his deep and easy voice.  We are all at attention, despite our relaxed poses.  
We travel the world, traipse through time, try on different personas, imagine new beginnings and weep at sad endings.  We laugh, we muse, we sigh, we gasp.
And the most beautiful part of it all...we do it together.
This daily ritual has become sacred.  Despite their growing minds and bodies and no matter that some of them can read all by themselves, this hallowed time is kept.

"You may have tangible wealth untold.  
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. 
Richer than I you can never be – 
I had a mother who read to me."
— Strickland Gillilan

Friday, November 11, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } a slight pause

Please be patient with me as I take a break this weekend to go live out my thanksgiving...

I will be spending time with my parents, my husband and my boys
embracing the great joy
that is my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Creation

My whole body is covered with eyes:   
Behold it!
Be without fear!
I see all around.

-Eskimo poem

Some days, it overwhelms me, all of this beauty.  I will walk in the woods or bend down to touch flowers or stand on toes tipped to feed birds and, suddenly, it will fall in on me.

The beauty.

Crashing and swirling and whistling through my fingertips.  And a whirlwind spins in my core, lifting my soul and my eyes upward, singing with music of the spheres.

He is here.  Always, He is here.

His mark is everywhere.

Everywhere, evidence of the shaping, the molding, the creating.

His tenderness.  His strength.  His fury.  His glory.

All of it melting and blending, one into another, boldly, then quietly.  Brazen, then hushed.

And in everything, a rhythm.

For creation is the very heartbeat of God, pulsating with ripples and shimmers and gold dust.

"When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty."
-John Muir

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Homeschooling

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less slowly. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggest that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of colored paper, or plant straw trees in flower pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”  
~Anne Sullivan

I'm thankful for...

sun dappled afternoons spent exploring the woods with a boy and a dog...

being surprised by new skills acquired and fears conquered...

lifelong friendships forged because of and despite all of the being together...

discovering snow covered islands in the middle of big muddy rivers and, maybe, just maybe, spotting an eagle, too...

listening to the real trumpet of a swan after having cherished the idea between the pages of a book...

building and tearing down...

time enough to sit and realize that the jagged edges of a cut tree stump look just like a city skyline...

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."
-John Dewey

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Grace

I am thankful for grace.

Even though I still don't fully understand its mystery, it is there.
Its very nature is to doggedly
pursue me,
chase me,
find me,
bombard me.

I cannot escape, even if I wanted to.

And sometimes I do want to.

Because, sometimes
the stain is so permanent,
the brokenness so profound
to be found would prove fatal
I would rather run and run until the stitch in my side becomes more real than the pain I face
so I simply stumble
fall further away from everything.

Crazy that such a choice seems easier
in the darkness one does not have clear vision.

And then comes grace.

it comes.

And what defies all reason is that this gift of grace that comes
requires nothing of me.


It comes because it can't help itself.

Wrapped in a raiment of dripping love it
rescues me
ransoms me
restores me.

It "finds the beauty in everything"
I am forever

Monday, November 7, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } My parents

How can I really thank the people who's love embrace was so powerful and magical that it spilled over into new life, my life?

How can I even begin to match up my experience of being loved by them with a language that makes sense?

I have never not known love or acceptance or delight or wonder within the kingdom of their love.

Every time that I slap my knee when retelling a story or laugh at my own joke, they are with me.

Whenever the birds nibble on my backyard offerings or sing on the wind, he is there.

When the lyrics to a song fly off of my lips and twirl around my children, she is there.

When the sunrise breaks open the sky and the light shatters the pink veil, the tear in my eye and the catch in my throat, all of it, I realize, is a learned response, having watched his very heart do the same.

And when I sit at my kitchen table, with my head in my hands and the sobs rolling over in waves, she is there, listening and understanding and just being.

for me to be
is for them to be.

And perhaps the greatest way to offer my thanksgiving for the gift of them is to fully live into the person they have helped create.  Live... fully accepting all that I am, embracing all of my triumphs and failings and attempting to flesh out what they began...

Their fingerprints are all over me, tell tale evidence of the generosity of their souls.  May I never wash clean of the proof of them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } My husband

"Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which hold people together through the years."
-Simone Signoret

I am thankful for my husband.

I'm thankful that I embraced a youthful outlook on love, threw all caution to the wind, and gave my heart to a younger man.

I was entering my last semester of college and beginning to make plans for what I would do with the rest of my life when I decided to "get together" with you one February evening.  We were to go get Chinese on a Friday but my car broke down on the way home from student teaching and I had to get it towed to the garage and I was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed and...

So we decided to order in and eat on the floor of my dorm room and you introduced me to General Tsu's Chicken and we laughed at our fortunes that spoke of good things to come in the future.

And we talked.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

And the next thing I knew, it was too late to still be called night but yet not quite morning and I guess we needed to get some sleep so we stood up to say good-bye.

This wasn't officially a date but it had been a very big something and to just part with kind words seemed inadequate.

So we hugged.  A long, lingering hug that pulled me deep into wonder and possibilities and questions, so many questions, and I found myself so very reluctant to let go because I just didn't want that night. to. end.

But here's the thing.  It hasn't really ever ended.

Because, despite what others might think or what might make the most sense on any given day or what the weather might be, loving you is still like dwelling inside of that embrace.

And even though there are still so many questions and possibilities and cars still break down and I am so exhausted... I still want to choose a youthful outlook on love, throw all caution to the wind and give my heart to a younger man.

Love.  So much love.

"Life is either a grand adventure or nothing..."
-Helen Keller

Friday, November 4, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Dirty Laundry

"We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry."
-E. B. White

I'm thankful for dirty laundry.  

I'm making myself say this because I don't really feel that way at the moment.  

Today was laundry day.  Not because it was my scheduled day or anything.  I don't work that way when it comes to laundry.  No, it was more like laundry today or naked tomorrow.  Something like that.

And I haven't enjoyed the task, for some reason.  I used to like this chore.  That was back in the day when I had a six month old who took lots of naps and I also had a lot more free time during the day.  Even though I was washing my own cloth diapers and I had a baby that drooled his way through five or six onesies a day, it was still a task that I found charmingly domestic and I went about the task with a slight lift in my step and a smile on my face.

Not so much these days.  

I am somehow able to find joy in the other household tasks (just read yesterday's post) but that darn laundry, well ...

I think because it just screams of things already done and left behind, messes made, fun that was had but has now moved on...
And it just sits there in those baskets, staring back at me with a laconic look that questions, "Well...?"

But you can't ignore laundry any more than you can ignore the dog and I can't stand it's attitude and so I start sorting.  I've gotten less precise in my sorting lately.  It's less "whites and darks" and more like, "not red and towels."  I'm washing in cold anyway so it should be okay, right?

And then, as with many common tasks, once begun, a calmness begins to descend.

And I love the smell of my laundry detergent and the bubbles that start rising and I start throwing in the shirts and the socks and I find a rhythm.  Once a load is going, I turn to whatever else is at hand because that is definitely ONE thing that's nice about doing laundry..once begun, you can do something else at the same time and you start to feel like you are actually getting things done and that, in itself is very, very nice.

As the soap infuses and the clothes swirl and I move through more of my day I begin to realize how much my soul is like dirty laundry.

I traipse through this life and collect moments and memories and worries and wickedness, all because I am human and I don't always think before I speak or act or move.  And so I become this tangled altered mess of wonderful and not so wonderful encounters and what I really need is have someone move in and sort all of it into its rightful place.

And then wash it all clean.

I know that not everything is a mess but all of it has been rubbing up against each other in my heart and mind and, after awhile, it sometimes can't help taking on a similar smell.  I need to let the water run over and through all the nooks and crannies of my dark places.  And even the light places.  Because all of it is soiled from living in a world that doesn't always know it should wash its hands.  

So THAT is why I am thankful for dirty laundry.  Not because it makes me feel more domestic or organized or special.


I'm thankful because I don't want to be naked tomorrow and only have a pile of dirty laundry to show for it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

{ A Month of Thanks } Small, Daily Rituals

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."
-Mother Teresa

Who would have thought that it would be the small, daily rituals that would make my life so rich?  I still don't even recognize it myself, many days.  But, in my quieter moments, when I stop and really think about it, I can see the joy leaking out of the most benign places.

...placing my grandma's cross-stitched linen napkin on the table and topping it off with a blazing zinnia from the flower bed just outside the door, effortlessly exalting our kitchen table to greatness

...meandering through the house, watering the plants that I have managed, somehow, to keep alive for longer than a season

...dusting a week's, no, a month's worth of dust off a bedside table, so that I can sink deep into my bed covers with the blessed heaviness that comes from contentment, rather than from extended regret

...tucking the boys in on the couch each morning as they begin their extended wake up routine while I drink that first cup of coffee and scratch my back

I could go on and on...

...curling up on the couch for read-alouds 

...leftovers for lunch

...walking the dog

All of it, every single, minute act alights one upon another creating a whisper rush of love.  It seeps into the cracks and crevices of every heart in this house, shoring them up for leaner times. And it makes its mark on me, too.  Loving on these creatures is an expansive action, swelling my heart to new shapes and sizes.  

I must remember this when I am tempted to forgo the minor details of any old regular day.  God is surely in these small things and I want Him to find me there too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

{A Month of Thanks} The Dinner Table

It seems simple enough, this eating together.  But it's not as easy to pull off when folks in the same family are being pulled hither and yon, one to a meeting here, another to a practice there, and aren't all of these things important?  But this is not about discussing the merits of a particular person's choices regarding their time versus the hard fought decisions of another.  No, this is more about the choice I want to make, above and beyond the ones about appointments and time management and such.

The choice I want to make to be together.

Ironically, we spend a lot of time together around here already.  Actually, most hours of most days are played out here...reading, playing, writing, make-believing, dreaming...
That, too, is a choice and a wonderful one at that.

But there's something about the dinner hour that causes us to shift, ever so slightly, from one realm to another.  I think it's that melting of sunshine into pools of lamplight that ushers in a sacredness, a knowing.  It's also that quickening in the belly that causes us to seek out connection.

I grew up with a mother that cooked every.single.night.
And among the many things that I could count on as a child, dinner at the kitchen table was among the most sure and true.  So deeply carved into my daily rhythm was this practice that my first memory of consciously choosing to skip out on it one evening, in order to go to Subway with a friend, still elicits a slight shutter and feeling of complete wrongness, much like it did when I sat there, years ago, eating my sandwich with a guilty pit in my stomach and a disdain for my new found adolescent independence.

Granted, although I was engaged in life, I wasn't an over-scheduled kid, even in high school.  I know that my relaxed attitude made it much easier to be present at dinner on a regular basis.  But honestly, I think that the anchor of dinner time in my house informed my decision making when given the option to be somewhere else at 6:30 on any given evening.  I genuinely wanted to be there.  And I'm pretty sure that one of the biggest reasons that I wanted to be there was because I knew that other people really wanted me to be there too.

And so now I find myself on the other side of that equation.  I'm now the one responsible for cooking the meal and making this dinner thing happen.  It's taken me nearly 14 years to perfect the timing required to simultaneously put several things on the table that are still fairly warm and edible.  And I still struggle to strike a balance between the "You get what you get and don't pitch a fit" and "He has to eat!" camps.

But it's okay.  It's that rhythm that I want, that I want my kids to feel, reverberating deep within their cores.

That feeling that whispers

"this is where I want to be..."

So, how then do we live?

Well, we start by crafting a meal and then inviting those we hold most dear to join us at the table.  Today.  And again, tomorrow.  And the next day.  Until all of the evenings tumble into each other and it becomes as natural as rain and we can't imagine not doing it.

And all the while, as we sit across from each other, looking into eyes and laughing at jokes and listening to the highs and lows...all this long while, we are doing something even more important.

We are living thanks.  Thanks living.  And it is good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

{A Month of Thanks}

This first day of the month is warm...strangely warm, and it is confusing my circadian pulse.  The day after Halloween, this First of November, it's supposed to be crisp and gray and smell of woodsmoke.  Instead, the wind blows fiercely from the South, swirling dry leaves in circles and pushing the boundaries of this Indian Summer to the very edge of reason. 

Am I really wishing that it was colder?  Really? 

Before I am finished soaking up these auburn sunbeams the winds will shift and I will be scrambling for my wool leggings and fingerless gloves in an effort to outwit this drafty house.  And won't it be then, that I remember this odd First of November and look back on it with longing?

But aren't we all like that?  Most of us spend a great deal of our time kind-of living in the moment while simultaneously scanning the horizons of our days, our lives, for other things of interest, or excitement, or promise or beauty.  We take what we are dealt but we're secretly betting our money on something better.

And that is where we get it so very wrong. 

Because when we fail to embrace the present, in all of it's glory or craziness or disappointment or pain, we reject the gift. 
The moment,
each and every moment,
is a gift.

How is this so?  How can this be true?

I'm only beginning to understand how this can be true. 

I struggle each and every day, no--each moment, to fully accept the gift because I'm not fully present.  Although my feet feel fully planted amongst the lilies and the birds, my mind has already sent out sentries to the boundary waters, scouting out possible outcomes or exit strategies or peace treaties.  If I don't consciously pull my focus back to the current footstep, I will forever be formulating ways that this might turn out.  For better or for worse, it doesn't matter.  The one thing that remains constant is my ridiculous sense of control.  If I can just stay one step ahead of all that is coming down the pike, perhaps I can keep it from getting worse or any scarier or more awkward or, in my more twisted moments, keep it from being too good to be true.

But this is not how it has to be.

So I am declaring this November A Month of Thanks.  I'm going to make it my daily practice to look around me, in the moment, in as many moments that I remember to, and find the gifts.  Because they are everywhere, these gifts. 

They are literally everywhere.

"If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days." 
~Annie Dillard

I've been feeling down today, very unproductive, and uninspired.  When this happens I just have to engage in one, simple action that can shake me from my stuckness.  I must move in a small direction in order to reset my focus and turn my mind away from my that which holds me down.

I chose to clean my bathroom. 

I walked to the sink, stared at the accumulation of unrinsed toothpaste and stray hairs and, rather than succumb to criticism and judgment, I chose to wipe them away.  I scrubbed that sink clean, until it shined and reflected back the light from the row of lamps hanging above it. 

And how could I not make the connection, of how I walk around daily, dripping of dirt and, always, it is wiped away. I am made clean, again and again, and never am I condemned or resented or ignored. 

Every day. 

And how long has it been since I cleaned the sink anyway?  Why wouldn't it be dirty after washing hands made dark from a life well-lived and brushing teeth clean of the good food that settled there? 

And there I find it.

The gift.

Of live lived richly and abundantly.

And, in an instant, my heart is turned. 

The pennies are everywhere and, suddenly, I am rich.