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Author: Sara Dutilly

The Ship’s Run Aground

The Ship’s Run Aground

A dear friend gave me a book last week. It’s Cultivate Vol. IV: Creativity Unlocked, a book created by Cageless Birds, designed to do just what it says: unlock creativity.

It certainly does.

(Please note that I am not getting paid to write this. I am simply sharing my life here.)

The book is a kind of devotional. Most entries end with prompts that aim to help unlock creativity in those who dare to take the journey. The first prompt speaks about creativity, ability, and risk, and though my answer quickly turned from the original prompting, I think it valuable to share my answers with you.

Creativity: What is inside yearning to get out. The desire to make. Not to critique, but to make in the first place. To make new. To make aground. To make live.

I later explored that word “aground” because when I reread my words I was unsure that it fit. Below is what came from my exploration.

The word “aground” refers to a ship in shallow water, a ship that is on the ground has “run aground.” This ship is not where one would expect to find it, and likely not where it expected to be found either, but it is where it can be seen fully. If I were a ship run aground, I would be seen fully, and therefore would be in a vulnerable place. Creativity is vulnerable. And it’s not just about painting and so-called artistry either. “To be creative,” as Justina Stevens (author of this first devotional in Cultivate Vol. IV) says so eloquently, “is to problem-solve, to come up with ideas during your day, to find a way to relate to a stranger, to try a new seasoning in your stir-fry. It is a drive to live, to make families, to take risks. … Your calling as a human is to live a creative life.”

Ability: What I am given. What I can do. But more than that, what I am graced for. Ability is uncovered in the process. It is not shown immediately, but allowed to be dug out. [Or, allowed to run aground.]

Risk: Scary, yet exciting. Risk is uncertain, but necessary. Without risk, life is flat. Sometimes an act may seem risky, but if prompted by the Holy Spirit, risk is life-giving and wonderful. If we prompt our own risky situations, they are likely to devastate. With the Holy Spirit, risk will always turn to good, will open our eyes, will raise our faith and give us stories that glorify God. Though in the beginning of any risk, fear may creep in, when we are with God He is with us and in His love He gives wisdom where we may see a void.

Oh, these Cageless Birds have me excited. I know very little about them, but just the words “cageless birds” paired with a drive to unlock creativity. Wow.

Cageless birds are those birds who fly in freedom, who belong to a flock, who peer into clouds and touch the line where heaven and earth meet. They are those birds who are not fed, but find themselves sustained. They are not tied to humans, but are allowed to soar.

“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description but careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds.” -Mt. 6:26 MGS

We see birds in the sky as V’s. The birds, wings spread, look just like those pointed lines. They fly in formation, together with others. Caged birds are provided food and scenery, but the universe is a grand gift. Life is unpredictable and risky. Life requires the ability to explore.

Birds are unconcerned with blemishes. They do not wallow in the fact that they are depicted as the twenty-second letter of our alphabet. They just fly on because this is their instinct, nay their calling.

 

 

When Your Child Wakes in the Middle of the Night

When Your Child Wakes in the Middle of the Night

The scene is familiar:

It’s dark. I am in bed, but not asleep yet. Instead, I am thinking, reliving my day and predicting my tomorrow.

At bedtime, I prayed sweet dreams for my little ones, dreams of candies and princesses and strong warriors defeating dragons. I prayed peace over my children and my household. Still, when trying to put myself to bed, I lie awake thinking about events, feeling as though I should have a plan for the days to come, that I need one in order to be in control.

Then, in that too-dark moment, my worries are interrupted as a boy cries and I hear the CRACK of his door opening. He goes to  the bathroom and I go, too. I help his tired wavering body to stand. I help him flush and wash and dry his hands. Then he is back in bed and I cover him the way he likes. “Make the covers straight, please,” he says, not always so politely. He likes when the covers are flown up and then dropped like a parachute over him. Parachutes save the lives of people in mid-air, and though my boy is not jumping out of planes just yet, he is that type.

I lie next to him for a moment, stroking his thick wavy hair. It is not long, but still my fingers become buried in it.

This is as still as the boy ever gets. Usually climbing, jumping, performing supermans or mountain climbers (his favorite exercises) or wandering deep in the woods behind our home. He is adventurous and he is an adventure.

I cannot see anything when I whisper that I love him. “Sweet boy,” I say. This is something that I know exists within him, but I don’t witness it often. I kiss his head and I go.

As I close his door and make the short walk down the hallway, my only thought is Why? Not why did he wake (and truly, this scene is the easiest of any child’s wakeful moments) but why did I go to him in the middle of the night? Often when I hear a child awake after bedtime, my eyes roll and I pull the sheet over my head to hide. Sometimes I play the compassionate mother, but more often I just want my children to figure it out on their own and let me sleep. In this scenario, I moved–and was moved–to be near. But why?

What we hear so often is that our children will not be little forever, so we should cherish the time when they want us near. But that is not why I went to my son. I’m not even sure that I agree with that popular sentiment. Though there are many precious things that I may later miss about this stage of parenthood, shouldn’t we always cherish whatever we have? Every moment of life is a fight for contentment, some moments easier won than others but still the fight continues. Today, I want my children to be self-sufficient and kind, but when I am old, I might desire the needy-busyness of toddlers. Whatever I want today and might want tomorrow should not be the ruler of my parenting decisions.

So why did I go to my child in the night? It was not because I wanted to cherish the moment (actually, I wanted to sleep long and well and wasn’t getting that anyway), but because raising kids is about longevity.

What happens when we give our presence to our children? Surely, even if they are not fully aware, there is an impartation, a reminder of the peace that is necessary not just for bedtime, but for life. And since life happens in every moment, shouldn’t we seize the ones we’re given, whenever they happen, and whether or not they match our current or future desires?

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

This blog was drafted in the Houston Airport, the day after the last of my childhood friends got married. I was sitting there, waiting for my flight, and I just started writing.

Who knows why we write. Who knows why certain events stand out to us, why we get stuck on thoughts, but in that airport I was stuck on these relationships. In the sidebar of this very blog I have quoted Flannery O’Conner. “I write to discover what I know.” This is that kind of blog post, where I may come to no conclusion.

Still, when I think about lifelong friendships I immediately think of my husband, who was homeschooled. All of his lifelong friends share his blood. Though he is supportive, he does not understand my desire to keep old friends. Perhaps this blog is a quest to try again to explain. As I write that line–my desire to keep old friends–I realize that it’s not me keeping these friendships at all. They just are. After 27 years, these relationships keep themselves.

6.26.2017

This weekend, one of my very best childhood friends was married. Now she’s on her honeymoon and I’m sitting in an airport restaurant. I am filled with tacos and nostalgia.

Years of water tell the beginning of our friendship: a river, an ocean, an inlet, a swimming pool. Together they tell stories of smiles and survival.

We lived through elementary school and puberty, high school and graduation. There are five of us girls who are still close, who spent the weekend together as adults, who just want to know that even though the memories are beautiful, the future of our friendship is available too.

Available. Uncertain, unwritten, that the future holds promise and the current holds air, holds breath, holds that which is necessary for the continuation of life.

I am wrought with a heartache that misses all the moments, a sentimentality that wants my eyes to sob.

My eyes have released enough: at a wedding so beautiful and perfect, at a garden so lush, when two families were united by two loves grown together. An unrehearsed prayer in a doorway, words were spoken of something invisible, something represented by all the caught glances and all the clanging, cheerful glasses. Dancing proved joy, but dancing also made it.

The weekend was filled with love in so many forms. A father gave away his last daughter, spoke blessings over a room. A story about sailing on our water. Sailing is natural freedom, glamorous adventure. I wasn’t mentioned, but I know that context. I’ve been on that boat too.

The bride’s dad honored his wife, credited her with the friendship that remains in their family, said that his wife taught his daughters how to be friends. Truth told of that Mama: she taught us how to be friends, too.

Oh, we lived in her minivan and by her quiet grace. Driven around town for years until we could drive ourselves. Then, we were reckless but covered. Now, we are all married, all have families and homes of our own. Differences run but the similarities we share are enough. Memories so strong.

But why are we still friends? My husband wonders this, and I do too. It appears that most people lose their childhood friends when they go to college. Why are we so lucky to have remained attached? Are we all suckers for stories? Are we all stuck together with humor and tragedy? Our childhood has all of that coming-of-age drama. All childhoods do, so what holds ours together?

Everyone close to us was funneled through our youth group. Yes, we talked about God but we also had cigarette breaks. We drank underage and we all dated and cried and stayed out too late, disregarded the rules. But we passed our classes and got out of high school and now we’re all married with functioning lives of our own.

Some thread remained tight between us and we still celebrate together. We still cry together. We still… still is a word made from glue that dries or is drying. Still is a word for the moments that seem unmoving like trees rooted in forest soil. Yet even trees can sway in the wind. Is the tree used up by metaphor? Maybe, but trees still grow and keep growing.

Where is the root of this friendship? Was it born as we sat on dark, deserted beaches, and in Sunday morning church chairs? Or as we sipped hot drinks at a coffee shop with music and scones, in a youth group that ended but never really departed?

Too much remains of these relationships to break them. Our differences never blurred, but we remain like splotches in a Jackson Pollock. All unique. All striking. Some may say, but what does it mean? Like everything, it means the world, and it means nothing, and we are left with questions that words can’t define. That’s art and that’s friendship.

Now, I am a mom and, no matter how I look back with chuckles and squints, I don’t want my kids to relive my childhood. I don’t want them to do everything I did or see everything I saw. I do want them to know purpose at a young age, but does that stifle their own growing?

I know– kids grow up no matter what parents do, and parents screw up no matter how hard we try. And here I sit right in the middle of the growing up and the trying, in these glorious moments where my kids are climbing trees and skinning their elbows and I am writing exploratory blog posts and bad poetry because that’s what I can finish in an afternoon. Because, though I treasure the friends who have known me forever, not everything should be lifelong. Sometimes I yearn to see the ending, the completion, the finishing of something, if even just a first draft of a poem about washing dishes (always more satisfying than the act of washing dishes itself).

I don’t want my kids to relive my life, but I do want them to know adventure and security, reason and frivolity, beaches and hot coffee. To know that we are always discovering and that lifelong friendships exist, but more than that, life exists and so do long friendships, and no one knows all the answers. Not even me.

 

Irma and all the Weather

Irma and all the Weather

Well hurricanes have been the subject of many an article lately. Today, Irma’s destruction is measured in my former home state and she has mostly moved north to leave those people be. Her affects on Florida are described in my text messages and all over my Facebook news feed. Destruction, yes, but thankfully I have not heard complete devastation from people I love. Oh, mustn’t we always remind ourselves that devastation is cyclical, and we are all in the circle. We all have troubles, whether or not Irma is the cause, and we all have hands for helping. Right now, Irma (and Harvey, too) is America’s news. It’s flooding. It’s roofs ripped off, fires even, and looting. Yet, hope lives on.

At my home, I sit in a quiet sunroom, surrounded by windows and the sound of cold wind and sirens. Leaves move and birds chirp, as they always do. Life is a crescendo-diminuendo, predictable yet changing, cyclical yet surprising.

And Irma is moving. “Why is she following us?” my children asked as we headed north from our Myrtle Beach resort vacation early Monday morning. Over the weekend, we had been watching Irma on the television, interrupted by emergency broadcasts where the governor of South Carolina spoke the possibilities. We watched, we listened, waiting for information that could change our departure time. Irma is following us, and Irma is in us. Who knows why she is here or where she will go. Until they hit land, and even once they do, hurricanes are unpredictable. Today, Irma is fading into scattered thunderstorms.

It is September. The air is cold out my window and the sky is one big cloud waiting to burst. The headlines: Irma Tosses Homes into the Ocean. An Alligator Wanders Downtown. Manatees, Fish Stuck on Land. Record Flooding. Power Lost. Death Toll. A professor once taught me that all great fiction requires truth. Truth, she argued, is the starting point for any great story. I say stories as if all stories are fictional. Stories are things gone by, but their affects can still bring pain. Here, I am simply speaking of the story itself, not of the lives and homes mangled by its events.

From my room, I know the story of Irma but all I see is a grey sky. All I feel is the chill of autumn.

No matter how scientific, the changing of seasons is still strange to me. The most shocking is summer to fall. When tank tops no longer suffice, when sweaters are necessities, when the scarves come out.

Autumn. That season that so many people love for its orange and yellow colors, for the beginning of family celebrations, for the turkey on the table and the aroma of cinnamon and cloves. Symbolically, though, why does autumn remind of a downward change? It’s no longer time to jump and swim, but to sit and reflect. The year is coming to a close, and I hear those words of John Lennon. And what have you done?

It’s not that I believe doing is the answer, at least not when it comes to the changing of seasons. Autumn comes, the leaves fall, then winter strikes. The year ends and another begins. This is how the natural world works. It is purposeful. Still, we all have our favorite seasons. Mine is summer, and it can’t last forever.

Like I told my 6 year-old recently, “When you get rid of old things, you make room for new things.” He was sad and crying because a pair of his most beloved pajama shorts had a hole in them and I told him, perhaps not to sympathetically, that we could just throw them out. He lost it. Humans abhor change.

America is making news, and it’s not just about hurricanes. And of course it’s not just America making news either.

Change is everywhere today. It always is, but the stirring of hurricanes and the coming of cooler days makes change evident for me. Even if we aren’t up on all the news stories, we can’t ignore the weather. It touches our skin and enters our lungs. It blows our hair to our faces. It makes us sneeze, drenches our sidewalks, and facilitates the fading of chlorophyll.

Oh, that beauty be discovered here in this solemn grey sky.

Beauty has so many definitions and I am now led to this story:

When I was in college, an art professor gave an assignment for us all to define beauty. What was it called? Maybe “The Beautiful Project”? We had to give answers for A Beautiful Face, A Beautiful Font, A Beautiful Depiction of Water. So many others, but these are what I remember. We had to gather our image-answers and display them with labels on a large matboard. Today I wish my Beautiful Project was still in my possession, but it was left in the classroom for grading and has probably been decomposing in a landfill for some time now. Likely, it is completely gone.

Can I try to recreate it for you?

A Beautiful Face: John Lennon

A Beautiful Font: My own careful handwriting.

A Beautiful Depiction of Water: a photo of military personnel giving water bottles to a group of thirsty refugees.

I suppose at the time I was an advocate for “Make peace, not war,” hugs instead of guns. Today, I admit that my perspective has shifted slightly.

The Beautiful Project was completely personal, one big opinion to be displayed. I suppose all art is. The artist brings to life what is hidden inside, and that in itself is beauty. I once prided myself on being different. Even in art class I had different ideas–beauty could not be found in separated images, but in the thoughts behind the whole of the answers–and yet today I sit in a room and ponder the weather like everyone else.

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

Dear Son,

I don’t know what I’m doing. There, I’ve said it. Now I will write more words until I come to an end.

This fall you will begin your first grade year. That is to say that if you were in public school, you would be in first grade because that is the grade your age relates to.

To is a preposition and you’re not supposed to end sentences with it. (I should have said, “…because that is the grade to which your age relates.”) But people end sentences with prepositions all the time, and honestly proper grammar often just sounds snooty.

We should remain aware of our tone both when we write and when we speak, and the two applications of tone are not interchangeable. If I were writing an academic research paper, I should aim to use exactly the correct grammar. In this letter-blog, however, I wish to remain more informal than exact, proper grammar allows. If I were speaking, this entire paragraph would come out in bubbles because I can’t seem to think and speak at the same time. But also, you will often see that speech does not translate well to text. When we speak, we rely on the tone of our voice and often forget about how diction and syntax can change our stories. This is fine, and natural, but still something of which we should remain aware. (Look at that proper preposition placement! At least I think it is proper, but honestly prepositions confuse me. Is first grade the year when you study prepositions? I don’t think so, but it’s probably also not the time to practice division, and we have done that.)

Speaking of grammar and confusion, people also often start sentences with but (and I have done this several times already.) But is a contraction and meant to combine two related, but different, thoughts, into one sentence. Since but is meant to join two thoughts into one sentence, you can expect some controversy if you choose to begin your sentences with it.

You love the word but because it sounds like butt. You are six years old.

I giggle now because of a scene from a college class. The class was called Feature Writing. Features are a type of article that show up in newspapers, but they have a bit more flare than what you might find on the front page. Newspaper writing is all a bit funky because it uses its own kind of grammar, something called AP Style. One day my class landed on the subject of these particular grammar rules. I think we were talking about commas and whether or not you’re allowed to use them in newspapers (the answer: yes, but only if absolutely necessary. A comma often just takes up space and when you’re paying per page printed, you only want to print what is necessary.) One boy spoke up in the middle of our little grammar lesson. His hair was a fuzzy, dark, stark contrast to his smooth pale skin. His arms showed no muscle and the tone of his voice rang higher when compared with most males his age. He was intelligent, loved music and had tattoos. He interrupted the lesson with genuine interest.

Genuine means authentic. You know this well because children are always authentic. You know nothing else.

“What about buts?” he said, placing emphasis on the most hilarious word in the question. If I had had milk in my mouth, it would have come right up my nose. Still today I giggle as I write this story. “What about buts?” The placement was perfect, full of dramatic irony. He hadn’t thought his question funny at all, and he didn’t laugh but called me immature and waited for our professor to give an expert answer. Maybe I am immature. It was just so funny, so my reaction was to bust out laughing.

Now I begin first grade home school with you, my firstborn. This is a place where I must play the teacher. You have never been in school, but my experience with teachers is that the best ones practiced humor. What stands out is not the teaching itself but the laughter and personality. Bits of immaturity made them more relatable, so perhaps I should not fret at that at all.

We will figure this out together, or maybe we’ll just study grammar. If we know the literary, surely history and science will find us. I have no worries for mathematics because you love those so much.

Yet, yes I do worry. All parents do. I’ll set that aside for now and simply say that surely more will come of these first grade homeschooling thoughts, just as surely more will come of homeschool than I could ever predict or schedule in. (Yikes. In is a preposition too. I could remove it since I’m typing but I won’t for circularity’s sake.) Mistakes are the inevitable, editable beauty of life.

Stay tuned.

Love,

Mom/Sara/Haiku the Day Away

 

 

 

 

The Art of Rediscovery

The Art of Rediscovery

It’s a rainy, grayish day, but it’s really more silver. The sun is coming. I am tired though I’ve had plenty of coffee.

A bluegrass twang has resonated my day. Nickel Creek. Alison Krauss. Thanks to Pandora, the happy, soulful noise of banjo and fiddle just keeps coming.

I stepped outside for a while with my children, felt the coolness of this cloudy August day. We chatted with a wonderful neighbor. We pet a passing cat.

I don’t know if any of that is very important, but the details of the day are standing on me because I’ve rediscovered a former love. Something that I used to practice but haven’t in years.

This rediscovering began when I wrote a piece to submit to Mom Egg Review. The theme was “Mothers Play/Mothers Work” and, though it seemed an easy theme, I had a tremendously difficult time trying to come up with a thought that could support an entire essay. I had lots of ideas but they all fell flat. Then I stumbled on an old pencil case. A leather one, soft with age, perfectly wrinkled, the only leather thing that I wanted from Italy when I visited as a teenager. Inside, I found used charcoal pencils from a college drawing class. Holding them again, touching them to a paper, drawing simple lines released something in me.

We all have loves. Creating is one of mine. While speaking to my husband about this, I’ve realized that drawing is kind of like writing. It’s the act of filling a blank page. The act of using my hands to show what’s in my heart. It’s about taking what’s invisible and making it visible. It’s about giving life to the unborn, the forgotten, the buried. In the same way, I love to reuse things and I’m finding it’s not because I’m a conservationist. It’s because I see potential when others might not. It’s not about reusing, but restoring.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Yet this is more than trash to treasure. Treasure is luxury. This is necessity.

It’s always necessary to be who we were made to be. The treasure in you. But we have this treasure in earthen vesselsSomething that was thought to be nothing actually is everything. It’s just a pen. It’s just a few minutes of doodling. It’s just a few words on a page.

But it’s something more, something discovered, unfinished, continuous. This is something living, something risen. They say that stay-at-home-moms need “Mommy Time” but the point is not to just do something apart from our children. The point is to know what gifts we have and to use them. To say that this makes us better people is too cliche. What is the right way to say this, then? That if I pretend to be okay with Wake-Breakfast-Dishes-Sweeping-Legos-Minecraft-pb&j-Naptime-Sid the Science Kid-Dinner-Dishes-Sweeping, I am lying. Of course these are mostly necessary things, but there must be room within the list for me to grab a pen and let my fingers free.

I grew up thinking I was a terrible artist because in my elementary school art class the result was laid out from the beginning. There was no journey. It was more like replicating. I thought for years that I was no good at art because I couldn’t draw exactly what I saw. I didn’t want to just replicate what my teacher had shown me.

Then I took a 3-D art class in high school. I made a mobile from wire that I bent in loops with my own wrist. I made paper. I cut and decorated glass and fired it all together. I made wonder from rectangles. Then I took a pottery class. I allowed my hands to get muddy, for my body to lean into the lump before me, like an urgent prayer, bowing my chest on top of my hands, gripping a pile of stickiness and forcing it into the center of a quickly spinning wheel. I started dabbling with pencils. In college, I minored in art. I sculpted. I drew. I had an art professor ask me why I wasn’t majoring in art. The answer: because I loved writing more. I saw stories as my life’s work. Yet it seems that my writing requires a counterpart.

So last night I sat down beside my husband while he watched the Red Sox work impossibilities and I cut small rectangles from white papers. I grabbed a pen and I began to work my own impossibility.

Like a return to something I didn’t think I’d missed, I am here again, allowed to meddle in the journey of a seemingly frivolous thing. For the purpose of fulfillment.

Is there something in your life you’ve omitted, but actually really miss?

 

 

Don’t Fight Naked

Don’t Fight Naked

I don’t know about you, but I struggle at home. Whether it’s a little girl who just loves to pee on the floor or a red-headed genius six-year-old who is never satisfied or a middle child who laughs at all the rules (especially the rules of gravity), my head is spinning by sunrise every day.

By nap time, I am done and everyone ends up crying themselves to sleep. It’s really fun.

In her post titled, “The Scientific Reason Moms Hate Screaming,” Rachel at A Mother Far From Home says that “This is why moms are so dadgum tired. Taking care of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers is like having heart attacks, hypoglycemic attacks, and lion attacks all day long.” She is speaking specifically about the noise that comes with small children and how that affects a mother’s brain, but I would add that there are lots of things about small children that make our heart race and our blood pressure rise. For me, the noise is definitely hard to deal with but it’s only one of a page-long list.

Just a few hours before I read Rachel’s post, I was praying The Armor of God. Part of me wants to cringe just saying that because I grew up in church and The Armor of God has become kind of like Nickleback was at that time in my life: way overplayed. But in high school, I thought it was hilarious when my youth group leader spoke on Ephesians 6:10-18 and said, “Don’t Fight Naked.” I wrote that on the back of one of my notebooks and today my four-year-old uses that notebook for handwriting worksheets. Good thing he can’t read yet because the word “naked” is already hilarious enough without having it written on one of his prized possessions.

When I was in youth group, The Armor of God wasn’t yet too much for me. It wasn’t until college when I stopped going to church and started doing lots of other things that I began questioning all the overplayed words of my growing up.

Today I’ve come to realize that a lot of those verses are overused because they really do help our lives. The verses of “The Armor of God” are something I’ve known for a long time, but I’m a kinesthetic learner so I guess I needed to have some use for it.

Like having children, maybe. Isn’t being a mom the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life? But I’m thankful for these reminders, for this help:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,

with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

~read the whole thing: Ephesians 6:10-18

Could this possibly relate to motherhood? Yes, I think so. And it’s not so we can win the battles of discipline. It’s so we can realize there is more at stake. We are fighting for our family. We’re fighting with our family. We’re not fighting against them.

What a great reminder that, when I struggle at home (and I know I’m not the only one!), my struggle is not against flesh and blood.

Among all the questions, would a belt of truth help? Yes, please.

What about a breastplate of righteousness to protect my heart from all the veiled lies that come with the uncertainty of motherhood? Absolutely.

At nap time, could feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace be the answer? Bring it on.

A shield of faith to to extinguish attempts to ruin the joy of raising children? Yes!

Motherhood (and all parenting) requires armor because as moms we’re not just keeping kids alive, but guiding them into the kind of lives that will also require armor.

It would be easy to settle here. As in, Oh yeah, that’s true. I’ll remember that for next time. But I’ve grown up a little since high school, and I know this isn’t a piece of information to simply remember. We have to put on armor now because we know there will be a battle later. (How do you put on the armor? Pray it. Speak it. Over and over.) Once my kids start screaming and begging and hitting each other with plastic swords, it will be too late to get dressed. If I’m naked, I can’t help anyone. (Except maybe my husband… TMI? 🙂 )

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

When he fell from his chair, blood poured. Apparently, his nose had met the table as he fell.

It was just a bloody nose, but shocking still. Rest and paper towels stopped it, but a couple days later it bled again. And again. And again. It bled because my son is young and sometimes his finger finds its way in the nostril. It bled again because my son is playful and can’t keep himself from bouncing. It bled again because weapons, no matter how fake, can still do damage.

The week after his first bleeding, he came to me from behind and said, “Mom, my nose is bleeding.” But when I looked, there was no blood. My son laughed. “It was a trick, mom,” he said.

This was not my son’s first trick played. He thinks they are funny, and I know he’s not alone. Lots of people love tricks. Maybe you do, even. I’m just not one of those people who loves tricks. It just always seems that when a trick is played, it’s played at the expense of someone else. When my son plays tricks, I know he’s not trying to be malicious. Yet there is a hint of malice. I want my son to know the affect of tricks, so I told him the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” I told him that when he tells untruths, he is telling me that he can’t be trusted. What if he kept playing that trick, then one day his nose actually bled again but I didn’t come to his aid because I thought he was playing a trick?

Like so many parenting situations, I don’t know if this was the right solution. I also don’t actually know what my son’s intention was. He said he thought it would be funny to play this trick, but I’m not sure if dishonesty should mix with humor. In our house, we tell jokes all the time. We laugh (most days anyway). We play games and celebrate fun. But we don’t celebrate dishonesty.

Well, the originating thought of all this was a memory of Pinocchio. At this point, it may be a loose connection to the truth of my son’s nosebleed trick, but I would like to take a shot. Will you join me?

When I was 5 or 6, my cousin recorded herself reading the entirety of Pinocchio and sent me the tapes as a gift. I listened to them, and perhaps that is where the magic of the story begins for me. I watched videos of Pinocchio: the Disney version and a live-action version I liked to check out from the library. I am no Pinocchio expert, and today I recall only the basic story line, but another memory is this: as a teenager vacationing in Italy, I wanted the book. (While in Florence, read Pinocchio? Exactly.) When my grandmother found out that I wanted and purchased the book, she scowled. Apparently she never liked Pinocchio. “He’s a liar,” she said.

Oh, my sweet, sweet grandmother who so rarely showed her opinion. She said that Pinocchio was a liar and she didn’t like him.

A liar. One who doesn’t tell the truth. A liar cannot be trusted. And what is the motive for lying? Is it fear? Shame? A distrust of self? I have told lies. Is it safe to say that every person has? For Pinocchio, dishonesty was always revealed. It never benefited him. In fact, lying always brought more shame than the act that prompted the lie, and yet he still told lies. Even though our human lies don’t always bring such social humiliation, doesn’t shame always follow? It’s a voice that says, Why would you lie? You are a liar. And, like Pinocchio, we continue.

After some research, I have discovered that in the original version of Pinocchio, author Carlo Collodi killed off the marionette (source: slate.com). He apparently wanted to hone in on the consequence of doing bad things instead of the always possibility of rebirth.

Grace. Always grace. That’s why Disney’s version is so lovable. Because, though Pinocchio has told lies in every one of his versions, Disney offers him the chance to separate the “Pinocchio, the Liar” from “Pinocchio, Who Struggles with Lying but Desires Life and Will Have a Chance to Live”.

Pinocchio begins as a piece of wood, a special block with lots of potential. Our kids are so much more than a block of wood, but I admit that at times it seems I cannot see the difference. I’m sure I often come across the same way.

Pinocchio was a liar and Collodi killed him for it (note: before the publishers told him to bring Pinocchio back to life). Disney gave him a dream and fulfilled it.

Disney makes Pinocchio sing: “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free. There are no strings on me.”

So if my son plays tricks but in my eyes they look like lies, do I let him continue to play his games, hoping that he will grow out of it? Or do I point out the dishonesty in tricks and offer the hope of rebirth now? Or am I thinking about this too much and should just let a boy be a boy and have his fun?

After all this, rebirth stands out the most. When Walt Disney Studios allowed Pinocchio to become a real boy, they did not take away the lies. But they did take away the shame. They didn’t say he was perfect, but they allowed him to be flesh and have understanding. Though Pinocchio never had strings, he did have something holding him back but still lived a life of hope.

 

 

 

Small Ones

Small Ones

As I write, I know I’ve failed. In so many ways. Inconsistencies everywhere. Disappointments. Rolled eyes. Mine and theirs and probably yours.

Yet hope remains at the core. Every day, hope that the next day will be better. Right now, the disappointments of this day grip and need refreshment.

Right now it is nap time. It is mostly quiet. Mostly calm. I am sitting on my bed, legs covered. Leaves sway outside my windows, caught by sunlight and shadow. Waving. Dancing. Ferocious. Caught by the wind but stuck to their tree.

How I made my children sit and wait. How I scolded tiny curious hands and big adventurous spirits. I stood at the edge of the kitchen counter, caught by the wind of frustration but stuck to walls of reality, where small fingers held globs of butter, where lunches were being eaten quicker than I could make them. What’s the big deal? My kids were gobbling carrots. I can’t even remember why I was so angry.

Can disappointments be kindling for new fire? I hope so because here I am and though I see beauty and greatness in my young-mother season, I also see an army of chaos and noise marching to the disappointments of my own unwarranted reactions.

Who was it that said we should celebrate the small victories? That, as mothers, there are always millions of things going on. Work and friendships and laundry and dishes, trying to keep up with spousal dates or even just time alone. Then, hobbies, those things that we are drawn toward. Our passions, our gifts. We are constantly working on things for our own lives and also in the lives of our children. Is there ever enough time? Though one child might throw meatballs at lunch, all the other children clear their plates with glee. That’s a small victory.

We are constantly demanding, “Stop hitting.” “Quiet your voice.” “Stay in your room.” “Choose kindness.” We are always tying shoes or digging out splinters or wiping noses or bottoms or asking for a path to be cleared to the beds. There is always more to do, more to work on, more to demand. Yet the small victories are the ones we will only see if we sometimes slow down and watch. If we sometimes remember.

Small victories always add up to one big victory.

None of my kids can tie their shoes yet, but they can untie their shoes and get them on and fill their own thermoses. Small victories. Baby steps. Like when my six-year-old’s nose started bleeding a few weeks ago, it splattered on the ground and made a hilarious spray of a mess on the floor. I was trying to help the nose but also didn’t want the other children’s feet in the mess so I said (probably yelled) that the two non-bleeding children should stay in the kitchen. As I gave tissues to the bleeding son and took wet wipes to the floor, my four-year-old hugged his little sister and said over and over in the most sure and calming voice, “Stay with me.” And she replied, just as sure,”Okay.” The floor still had to be wiped clean and the nose still needed pressure, but that calming voice of small victories rang.

Perhaps all my frustration is just a result of misplaced expectation. I want too many things and I think I can have them all right now. Instead of being stuck to the visual reality of this every day life, maybe get stuck to the idea that wholeness sounds more often than it looks, remembering that here is where the wind of small victory catches.

Oh, I remember now. Small Victories is the name of Anne Lamott’s newest book (which I have not read but want to because I love her!). But I also read it somewhere else, from someone who was speaking of mothering small children. Perhaps it was Rachel Jankovic. Just trying to give credit to the original.

 

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

I could tell you that we bought a house, but unless you have been standing next to us, you wouldn’t understand the victory wrapped up in these walls. It’s just a house, a residence, a thing made from wood and nails. You might have one too. Maybe when you think about a house, you just think about to-do lists and Saturdays filled. Maybe you think about the decorating and the furnishing. I have. Exciting colors or monochromatic schemes to soothe or brighten. It’s exciting, scary, big. That’s what you might say because if you weren’t there for the battle you can’t understand the weight of winning.

I could tell you how we were led to pray daily for a year, “Thank you God for Egypt.” As if we were slaves. As if we were forced by whips into the life we had. We weren’t forced. Not really. Yet somehow there we were, thanking God for our Egypt. For where we were. “Thank you God for Egypt.” For our slavery. For the precursor to our freedom. For the time before walking into a promise. Then one day, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For the promise.

One day our four-year-old drew a picture. He started with half a circle. He said, “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” But he hadn’t drawn food yet. The image of the sun wasn’t even complete. And yet there was the sun, shining in the mind of my little boy, warming a table full of food that hadn’t shown up yet.

Another half a year went by. We fell for two houses. We were sure of them, but we waited and found that neither one was right.

Still saying, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For a land that He would show. A place to which He would lead us. Two other houses, a nudge to keep looking, a small flood in an attic. God said keep looking, so we did.

It’s only a house, you might say, though we all know that buying a house has its own weight. The abstract idea of a mortgage, money that we don’t yet have but over 30 years we will have found. That’s longevity and it takes another measure of faith.

A table set, but not yet drawn. A meal not yet harvested. The sun had only half risen and yet was providing warmth. This is the plan. God doesn’t respond to need, but to faith. Those are not my own words, but true ones. We have seen it. We have been without, cried tears of desperation at the slavery of metaphorical Egyptian kings.

God said, “Let my people go,” then Moses spoke it. Again and again he spoke it, bringing plague after plague on a stubborn nation unwilling to let go of their free labor.

When you don’t believe in a cause, you can’t possibly give your whole self to it. You can’t possibly do your best work. When you are forced, mistreated, abused, you can’t possibly be serving cheerfully.

Slavery? I have been reluctant to use that word because we are free people living abundantly in a nation of wealth. For us, Egypt seems to have been the physical place we lived for several months, a place of transition for our family.

God never forces us, but gently leads us into areas we would never tread alone. The Red Sea was vast, a powerful giant carrying life, yet humans cannot naturally survive in the sea.

God showed himself faithful, gave freedom to a nation filled with people who would betray him, continuing the battle of the human condition, onward to grace and mercy.

The war isn’t over. Only one battle won. “Only.” I am not trying to diminish it, but bring perspective. God’s glory shines through ages. Victory brings its own battles. The Israelites had to fight for their promise. We all have to continue in daily thankfulness. Daily praise. Daily remembrance of the wonders we have seen.

I could tell you we bought a house, but that’s like saying the Israelites just moved. They didn’t just move. They walked out of slavery. They stood on the floor of the ocean. They were covered by cloud, led by fire, and fed by manna. They were given the land of milk and honey, not without trials, but neither without God’s hand.

And I hear the words of my four-year-old again and again. “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” Hand still drawing, a promise yet to see.