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Mom, I’m Going to Make a Flower

Mom, I’m Going to Make a Flower

I know this is just a piece of torn notebook paper. I know the tape is rough and the leaves will turn. But my boy made this.

After breakfast, I had -lovingly- shoved my noisy kids outside. They were too harsh for the walls of our home so I sent them where there are no walls.–

Where they can run and jump and raise their voices. Where birds chirp quietly and bugs crawl under our feet. Where wild things live unseen.

Nash took his one-subject spiral notebook with him.–

His red notebook. His new notebook, the one that we only own because it was $0.10. His collection of blank college-lined papers which had been purposeless until paired with a mind for creation.

Nash went straight for our giant magnolia-climbing tree and sat, still and quiet in its shade. He drew. I walked outside with our precious new baby I went to the van, opened the trunk, took out a lawn chair. I unfolded it and I sat in the driveway.

Soon, my children gathered near as if they knew that we belonged together.–

No matter what has happened, no matter how annoyed we have all been with each other, no matter how much complaining we have given into, my children always know, somehow, that we belong together.

Nash found these leaves and picked them off of their plant. He held them between his fingers. He rubbed them on a page and watched the chlorophyll transfer. Then he smiled that kind of smile that speaks for itself.–

That smile that says joy, unspeakable joy. That smile that shouts, I rejoice right now, in this day and always. That smile that exudes a simple gratitude, higher than any words.

“I’m going to make a flower!” he said. “Mom, can I go inside and get the tape?” I allowed it. Well, I couldn’t stop it. He had an idea, and he had to complete it. He worked diligently to make a flower out of five leaves, and then he hung it right outside mine and Neil’s bedroom door. “Where Grace can’t get it,” he said.–

Where it is safe, I heard. Where you’ll see it, right at eye-level, I knew. Where you’ll remember.

He decorated the entrance to the place we lay our heads. His one idea, focused until completion, made with the things he saw. Completed all by himself. It’s not the most beautiful thing in the world. But really, it is.–

When an idea comes to life with child-like faith. When the process is more important than the product. When little love-reminders are placed right where we are sure to see them… where we need to see them.

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.

 

 

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 so 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.

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?

 

 

When Life Doesn’t Look How We Think It Should

When Life Doesn’t Look How We Think It Should

It started one morning after breakfast, when I was still a little tired from the night. I had poured my first cup of coffee and made it yummy with cream. I was sipping, pacing, trying to figure out how the day should go. I really stink at schedules, so I usually put something together the morning of.

Almost every morning since my second child was born, I have come to face a conundrum. I am almost never ready when my kids wake up. And the mornings when I happen to plan, often just get stomped all over. Are mornings rough for you too?

It seems that mornings go well when I walk directly to the couch, maybe with some dry cereal or snacks, and my children follow, and we read or we play Scrabble. We’re close and cozy and it’s wonderful. Those are the best mornings, but they aren’t always a reality.

The other day, after a hectic breakfast with far too much noise, my children plopped themselves down and tore through the boxes that line our dining room walls. I have prepared these boxes by filling them with things for my kids to do, but it is up to them to find them and use them. Inside these boxes, my children find first-step reading books, a bag of pompoms, a game of Connect Four, dominoes, and always a few random things that have spilled out from their bedroom. This day, they went to the boxes and played. They got along. They were quiet. They were happy, and so was I. And even though the floor was reminiscent of something Kevin McCallister might set up for The Wet Bandits, my home was peaceful, and I realized something:

Sometimes peace looks like chaos.

Peace (2)

And after I wrote that sentence down, all of these other beautiful, mind-boggling sentences came rushing from my heart, down my arm, into my pen. Here they are:

Sometimes love looks like a splinter.

love

Sometimes brotherhood looks like death.

Brotherhood

Sometimes fun is messy.

fun

Sometimes rest is sweaty.

Rest

Sometimes success looks like failure.

success

Sometimes pancakes look like birds.

Rest (1)

Sometimes playing looks like war.

Playtime

Sometimes happiness looks like melancholy.

happiness

Sometimes a treat looks like a strawberry.

Hi

Sometimes opportunity looks like an invitation.

opportunity

Sometimes blessings look like trials.

THIS

Sometimes friendship looks like a voyage.

THIS (1)

A Note on Creativity and Motherhood

A Note on Creativity and Motherhood

When people find out I’m a writer, they often say to me, “Wow! I could never do that.”

To me, writing is normal. It’s how I think. It’s often the only way I think. (And I’m sure that, if you’re not a writer, I would say I could never do whatever it is that you do. That’s because all people are supposed to be different. I know that’s an astounding revelation. Honestly, though, I think sometimes we just need to be reminded of basic human truths.)

I understand why writing is intimidating to so many people. Writing is a messy feat. Without a passion for it, it would be treacherous. Like all creative acts, it’s a series of tries, and it’s only in this messy, trying journey that we discover what is best and what is accurate. Writing is not just about writing a bunch of words, but rewriting and editing, until you have finally, actually, miraculously said exactly what you need to say in the exact way that it needs to be said. Anyone who has ever worked on their words knows that to write is to witness miracles.

Writing is frustrating because you can’t plan it. You just have to take your first few words, your first vision, your first inkling at a character or a plot, and you have to mess with it until you find it wholly.

Writing is like motherhood in that way. (And how many times did I say as a very young woman that I could never be a mother?)

When we’re pregnant, we have a tiny vision of what our child will be. Then one day we meet a baby who can’t do anything but express basic bodily functions. Yet these newborns possess power. They provoke us to heights of emotion we never knew existed. When we give birth, we aren’t simply bringing another person into the world, we are creating more life within ourselves. When we meet our new babies, we realize that we had no clue what was in our belly all those months. It wasn’t just a baby, but life itself.

It wasn't just a baby, but life itself

 

As our children grow, and as we spend time nurturing them and training them, we realize that the fetus (the ultrasound), the newborn, the toddler are each only a clue to the person that is emerging.

kids jumping

 

Parenting, like writing, is not only messy, but requires consistency. And I’m not talking about consistency in discipline or schedules. (Though I know consistency in these areas are important… but I am also apparently incapable of consistency in those areas. Stay tuned for another post about that.) I’m talking about consistency in being.

Parenting requires that we continue to be a parent. As we continue to show up, to hug, to kiss, to play, to correct, we find that this is what parenting is mostly about. We cannot control our children, but as we continue to be parents, we will figure out the details. Parenting requires that our love remain a consistent factor in our relationships with our children. And if your love has taken a visible break, you’ll know it. You’ll probably feel nervous or angry or just out of sorts. Like you need a hug. It’s okay. It happens to the best of us. We get so turned around in this world sometimes. Just come back. Just give your kid a hug. And keep doing it. Be available. And continue being available. That’s called consistency.

So often as writers, and as mothers (and as people) we don’t start something because we are scared of being rejected or we’re unsure what will happen.

I was recently talking with a friend about a project she hadn’t started yet. I told her a lot of things, but one thing I said was, “Start somewhere. Start now.”

And I’m taking that advice for myself because I struggle with the enormity of a life made from small decisions. I struggle with questions like, “What are we going to eat for breakfast” and “Can we play a video game?” and “What happens next in my novel?”

But we all need to lay these kinds of struggles aside. We know that if we are to go on with our morning, we are going to have to eat something. We know that my son will have to be answered, and no matter what the answer is he’ll probably have a tantrum. I know that if I’m going to ever finish writing a novel, I’m just going to have to think of something to happen next, and if it sucks it’s okay. I’ll just scratch out those words and write some other words. But I have to start somewhere. And I should just start now.

So mom, creative being, friend, wife, woman, what do you want to do with your life? What thing is piercing you in the gut right now?

Do you want to write? Get some paper. Get a pen. Do you want to ride horses? Sign up for lessons! Do you want to teach your kids to bake? Open your cupboard and get out the ingredients for cookies. Do you want to learn to paint? Buy a canvas. And don’t just stare at the white nothingness. Close your eyes and figure out what you see. Not what your neighbor sees. Not what I see. Figure out what you see. Then dip your brush in some paint and get on with it.

Go ahead and paint a line on your cheek, too because you can’t stop the mess anyway.

Start somewhere, friend. Start now.