Friday, December 31, 2010

On my mind...and in my front yard...

 Spring and Fall: 
to a Young Child

 Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving? 

   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?


 Ah! as the heart grows older
   It will come to such sights colder 

   By and by, nor spare a sigh
   Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
   And yet you will weep and know why. 

   Now no matter, child, the name:
   Sorrow's springs are the same.
   Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
   What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed: 

   It is the blight man was born for,
   It is Margaret you mourn for.  

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus eternally rolling his rock uphill—
the laundry hamper empty for less than the time it takes to drop in another pair of dirty socks,

the dishes clean and stacked on their shelves for a fleeting moment before they are out again,
coffee-stained and crumb-sprinkled,

the toys all picked up and stowed in their bins until I turn around to find the knights encroaching from behind the door,

and scraps of paper bits gathering in the corners, and I walk back into the dining room and somehow in the amount of time it took to walk ten steps there are toys and dishes and dirty laundry all over again.

It can be maddening.

Women have gone mad.


It’s like the second law of thermodynamics, which describes entropy—
the tendency for order to become disorder—
disorganization, decay, and chaos are always approaching, encroaching.

Just when you think you are done, something slips through, out of your grasp, and you are off again—herding cats, as my husband says.

Prayer can feel like this too, sometimes. Even as I recognize my failures and confess my sin (cleaning-up, as it were), pride or self-justification creeps in around the edges of my thoughts and my confession is muddied.

In the very moment that my heart responds in spontaneous gratitude I see myself—so rightly responding—and suddenly I’m no longer looking to Christ, but I am looking at myself.

Always turning back inward to myself.

The word entropy comes from the Greek, entropia (en—meaning “in” and trope—meaning “a turning”).

A tendency to turn…
the tendency of heat to dissipate,
the tendency of my life (my home, my time) to become cluttered,
the tendency of my circumstances to bring sorrow and pain,
the tendency of my body to break down and become weary,
the tendency of my soul to turn inward
prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…

Isn’t it amazing that Jesus experienced entropy physically—
in his world and in his body—
but his soul never turned.

Not once did he turn towards himself, inward to self-pride, self-condemnation or self-absorption,
away from the Father.

What a relief it is in that moment of despair, when I see the ugly self-focus of my own soul yet again, what a relief to rely on the pure—loving—outward focused righteousness of Christ. To know that my salvation, my acceptance, my future hope are secured not by attaining perfection in my own struggle, but by Jesus’ perfect struggle—the perfect victory over inward turning, over spiritual entropy.

I can rest in this relief—
Rest, despite the inadequacy of my prayers and the failures of my devotion.
I can even rest with toys on the floor and dirty dishes in the sink.
It’s ok. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
In fact, most of the time it’s pretty glaringly imperfect, even when I think it looks pretty good.

And I think—for those of us dancing this close to crazy—rest is good medicine.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Southern California Snow

A few weeks ago Jack, Elizabeth and I got crafty.
We made snow globes.

Elizabeth's depicted a woodsy rendezvous between Frosty and Santa...

with intermittent blizzards.

My snow globe showcased a plastic cardinal in a plastic tree ...

with occasional blustery snowfall.

Jack's gift-bearing bear endured much love throughout the day in the form of vigorous shaking. He got a little tipsy.

The basic DIY requires:
  • a small jar
  • small plastic toys and greenery
  • large silver or white glitter
  • a dash of glycerin (I didn't have this on hand, so our glitter "snow" falls fast.)
  • clear drying epoxy (I used what I had--my glue gun. Gift-Bear probably would have fared better had I used epoxy.)

  • Epoxy (or glue) your toy to the inside of the jar lid.
  • Boil some water (to kill off anything that might grow...) and pour it into the jar. Fill it to overflowing to minimize the air bubble.
  • Add some glitter and glycerin.
  • Carefully fit your toy/lid down into the water and screw it on tight. I put a seal of hot glue around the inside of the lid to prevent leaking, but I don't know if that's necessary.
  • Turn and shake (gently!).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Details

A little glimpse of what Christmas looks like at our house...

the mantle...

the tree...

Luke 2 on the dining room chalk board
and two nativities...

bird chandelier
(more on that here)

the Jesse Tree...

I didn't show you the piles of laundry and the dishes in the sink
because they aren't very Christmas-y.

I'm glad I can't edit my life like I can edit a blog post.
I know I'd crop out all sorts of messes,
missing their value and how God uses them for good.
It would be a reductionist life.

Here's to a Christmas with unedited details--
an inconvenient journey to Bethlehem,
smelly animals in the stable,
shepherds awakened at night,
and a baby born at just the wrong time.

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent forth his Son,
born of woman,
born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galations 4:4&5

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Less than perfect

I don't really like my dining room chandelier.

But I do like it's shadow silhouette on the wall.
In the spring the light comes in and creates this image
every afternoon for a few weeks.

But most of the time I hang stuff up on it and stick things into it.

It is constantly changing.

This is what it looked like for my daughter's 5th birthday--the princess party.

For a while it was hung with white paper flowers I had torn up and glued together.

Here it is on my daughter's 6th birthday--the butterfly birthday party.

We had a big windstorm just before Halloween this year
and my daughter collected the windfall branches.
So I stuck a bunch of twigs and sticks up there--
kinda spooky...kinda autumnal...

A few weeks later my Christmas birds found a home...

So much for a chandelier I don't love.
I guess I do love the constantly changing palette it provides.
I think less than perfect inspires me to experiment.
Hmmm...there's probably a deeper meaning in there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Empty Space

I’ve been reading Maggie Jackson’s book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. In it she describes a modern world in which people take a “perverse pride in their busyness.” So, I am asking myself if this is true of me. Is it even possible for me not to be busy? Not to fit every good thing in to my schedule that possibly fits?
Empty space must be filled. I know this is true in my house. As soon as my countertops are cleared and cleaned they seem instantly to attract stuff.

My calendar does the same thing. An empty white square…with no little notation of a plan, no commitment to connect, no project to accomplish…quickly vanishes. And something in me nods approval—this is efficient, I think, this is exciting, encouraging, and productive. Even the act of writing (or typing) in the future task feels satisfying. And so, usually I don’t stop to question, I don’t hesitate and wonder—what would have been?

What would that evening have been if we hadn’t gone?

What would my child’s afternoon have held if the playdate hadn’t been scheduled?

What would we have said to one another if we weren’t in a hurry?

What does boredom feel like?

When will I reflect on that slight anxiety, or wistfulness, or that thought I keep meaning to get back to—those buried, half-formed bits of me that I am only aware of in that split second before I turn on the car radio or check facebook?

When my “now" is always underscored by the urgency and anticipation of “next,” how am I changed? Am I the same wife, mother, friend, am I the same self at all?

In Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, the title character ruminates on the fleeting moment and the accumulated life that living in the present creates—

“You think you will never forget.

“You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or can restore them to your mind.

“And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence. (148)

And so I am trying, against the tide of a world that “takes a perverse pride in busyness,” against the pull of countless distractions, activities, possibilities and opportunities, I am trying to preserve empty space.

Who knows what I will find there?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taking Responsibility

Is your child driving you crazy? misbehaving? disrespectful?
overstimulated? overindulged? shy? unruly?

Here's a principle for parenting that may bring some clarity:

Take 100% of the responsibility for your parenting
and 0% of the responsibility for your child's choices.

When your child makes bad choices, it is not your failure. This is true of your two year-old and your 20 year-old.
You can't control your kids' behavior.

Seriously, let's go over that again: You cannot control your kids' behavior.

They are people, making choices, failing, succeeding, making their way, becoming who they are.
You are a different person: the parent. (Does this sound crazy, or surprisingly obvious?)

This may sound like I'm encouraging us (parents) to abdicate the difficult work of parenting well. Actually, the opposite is true: Parenting well requires great attentiveness to your children and the little people they are becoming. It requires deep sacrifices of things we may not like to give up. It requires planning and prayer and follow-through. Honestly taking full responsibility for your role as parent will expose the ways you truly do fail. And we all fail. A lot. But, let's look squarely at what it means to be a responsible parent instead of feeling guilty for things over which we have no control.

Let's stop berating ourselves for our kids' bad behavior. Let's focus in on those things for which we should hold ourselves accountable. Our job is to create the environment, set the tone, communicate expectations clearly, provide appropriate consequences, give lots of love, and practice tons of patience.

So, think about your parenting. Are you being deliberate--proactive and not reactive--in the way you parent? Do you know
why you require that thing? allow the other thing? organize your day this way? discipline this or that, or not?

Take all the responsibility for parenting intentionally, thoughtfully, and consistently. Take none of the responsibility for the results.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

...the rue way...

Lately, I have loved reading Wendell Berry’s books and poetry. There’s something to what he’s saying about life. He’s reminding me of truths.

In this poem (which alludes to characters from Shakespeare’s King Lear), I am reminded of God’s goodness and his providential care.
(From A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997)

I think of Gloucester, blind, led through the world
To the world’s edge by the hand of a stranger
Who is his faithful son. At the cliff’s verge
He flings away his life, as of no worth,
The rue way lost, his eyes two bleeding wounds—
And finds his life again, and is led on
By the forsaken son who has become
His father, that the good may recognize
Each other, and at last go ripe to death.
We live the given life, and not the planned.

Berry’s poem ends with a simple statement, “We live the given life, and not the planned.”
But I love to plan.

It is a hard thing to hold loosely to my plans, to recognize that I am not in control. But here, Berry gently reminds me that this life is a gift. As unplanned as it may seem, this life is given to me by a sovereign God who gives good things to those he loves.

Too often, I am Gloucester, blind, unable to see my own path. My heart grumbles at those closest to me; I am ungrateful—more—I am dissatisfied, disappointed, even at times despairing.

Read the poem again. See how Gloucester “flings away his life…the rue way lost”?
This word “rue” has layers of meaning—literally, in French, it means the road or the way. In English it suggests sorrow, grief, regret, and repentance.

Chaucer once used it to describe God’s compassionate mercy on the sinner’s soul.

I love this use of “rue” embodying all at one time my failures and God’s forgiveness. It is in this path we walk daily—“the rue way”—that we recognize our frailty, we know regret, and we are humbled in repentance. And it is in this way that God pours out his compassion on us. Even when we might fling it away—mercy upon mercy, gift upon gift—He protects us from ourselves and our own blindness. In his great mercy, by his creative, sustaining, compassionate grace, he preserves this thing that he has given.

The reality is that despite my blindness, I am attended by my closest friend. God is my ever-present help. He sees all things and knows all things, and while this life may at times seem to me a rocky, barren path, I can trust his strong arm, the sureness of his promises, the goodness of the life he gives and preserves.

Edgar tells Gloucester, “Thy life’s a miracle!” and so it is. This path we often rue is given to us. And it is the way to life. May we walk with our eyes open, trusting in the goodness of God and treasuring the given life.

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