The Coach, Part 1

I will readily admit: I am not a very good swim parent.

It is not that I don't try, although that plays its part. It's that I did not grow up in the world of competitive swimming and although I did date a swimmer in high school, apparently I did not like him THAT much because I can only recall one time that I actually went to a meet to support him.....sitting in the ridiculously hot sun for four hours all for a race that you could miss by just thinking about going to the bathroom or blinking a gnat out of your eye....seriously, a one minute race? One minute....out of like a gagillion??

At least in Florida it was an outside sport where you could reap the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. Add to the misery that swimming here is an indoor sport (think countless hours in a sauna) and far, far away from where we live (you can't just drop him off and come back) and you can begin to understand why parenting a swimmer is not my favorite part of the job.

And to rub it in, whenever I am flying solo at a swim event, the other parents (ingrained in the lingo and enthusiasm of the sport) know far more about my kid than I do. The conversations are often strained and not-so-subtly competitive at best: "Congrats to Aidan for almost making his A time last meet. Looks like he almost took off a fraction of a millisecond.....did he change up his stroke or start kicking or something? My kid finally made AA in all eight of his best events! Move over Michael Phelps!"

Ok, so perhaps it isn't THAT extreme but coming from someone who does not live and breathe swimming, it can sometimes come across like that. And my response is often not much better than:
"Um, who is your kid again? And why are you talking to me? SOLLY!!!! NO PEEING IN THE SWIMMING POOL! Excuse me, I have to go get the pants back on my kid...."

Last night was a fairly good reminder of why swimming and big families don't necessarily mix. Aidan had been swimming well all weekend, had made the finals the night before and placed second (?) in at least one event, dropped time in both and then made the finals again last night. Kurt thought it would be nice if the kids and I came to support him in his final two swims, the 200 Back and the 500 Free. And since I hadn't been to a meet in a while, I loaded them up, drove the hour south and arrived about ten minutes before the finals were to start. Maybe my best effort in timeliness ever!

And of course, his were the LAST TWO EVENTS of the night. (Which is why I don't bother arriving on time, World!) So we sat, and sat, and sat, and sat, and sat.....and sat. And waited and waited and.... At some point during all that sitting and waiting, I was lectured by a father in front of us about the dangers of vaccinations and told indirectly that had I simply spread out Liam's vaccinations that he would likely not have the developmental issues he has dealt with. (Uh, no....just, no.) I thought about asking the man if Liam's brain somehow knew he would be vaccinated on the standard schedule and so decided not to grow well from the time he was born.....but figured that would mean engaging in more conversation with him.

So we sat and sat and sat and sat some more. Around an hour in it occurred to me that wearing THREE LAYERS of shirts was not necessarily my best dressing decision ever......and why isn't men's deodorant stronger anyway?! (Sorry fellow sardines, I mean, parents!)

Finally, Aidan's event was up. They were on the blocks (or under them? All I know is they were in the vicinity of things called blocks....I think...) and ready to go when the timer malfunctioned, not once but like two, maybe three times. According to Aidan it was three times.... I missed the whole ordeal however because that was the same moment in which Solomon, sitting in my lap, kicked Madeline who decided to ever so slyly pinch him back, creating a scene of screaming and crying; at the same exact moment that Liam, eager to understand what was going on, was repeatedly asking loud questions of a very stressed Kurt who yelled at him to stop talking ever again (my words, not his....his were a little less G-rated) and Aidan, who had now lost any help from his good friend adrenaline, added four seconds to his best event, the one he had hoped to grab an A time in. I think. Or was it an olympic medal?


Aidan came walking towards us a few minutes later and I jumped down to tell him I enjoyed watching him swim. He gave me a suspicious look, like, "Are you a nut job?" (I know this look well....my kids are experts at it.) I explained to him that I was just glad I got the chance to see him swim, even if it was a mess in the beginning. I asked him what had happened because, like Liam, I did not understand, but unlike Liam, I knew better than to ask his father in the middle of the whole thing. (It's the vaccines, Kurt!! Blame the vaccines!)

After a thorough recap, Aidan sped off to find Kurt and get a quick energy fix and I went back to enjoy more muggy sitting......and waiting.....

To be continued.....


When Silence Sets In

I don't fear silence.

As a mom of many, I probably should have a far greater concern for it actually.

As a mom of many, I welcome it.

Last week, my five year old had a friend here to play. They went upstairs to play legos and after a while, they were quiet. I called up to inquire about lunch, were they hungry? What did they want to eat?

Solly called down, "We're fine! We're not hungry!"

Later I called up again. What do you two want for lunch? Mac and cheese? Yogurt?

"Still not hungry!" Solly shouted.

Maybe I should have been worried: quiet, not hungry. But instead, like today as I await the chaos of the morning school rush, I glanced out of the window while I did my daily-dos and I savored the silence.

Yesterday, I got caught in life. Dishes, laundry, chickens, errands, fitness, cooking, cleaning, eating. The things that sustain the daily runnings of this house. There was no time for silence. Or at least, where there was, I filled it. I did pause briefly at one point, wondering about Lent, about sharing the lessons I am learning, am living, but my writing voice was silent. I sat down at the piano, filled the space with music instead of words, emptied myself.

It is hard to fill others when you are emptied.

It is hard to fill your self when you don't slow down.

It is hard to slow down.

Creating slows me down, empties me and fills me back up. All at once. But I have to show up to the process. Have to sit. Have to savor the silence and then break it.

It's hard to fill up unless you are empty.


Solly's friend came down hours later, found a graham cracker sitting on the counter and ate. One. Stale. Cracker.

When his mom arrived, I told her they played well but that her son had only eaten a cracker. She wasn't worried, nor was I.

Later, Solly and I cleaned his room. He threw something in the closet and quickly closed the door. I watched the sly look on his face and wondered but let it go until that night when I peeked behind that door. The quiet, happy, hunger-less playdate, a mystery no more!

Sometimes silence is golden......sometimes it includes more candy calories than Halloween!
Solomon blamed his buddy for finding the girls' hidden candy stash and tearing into every last morsel. His fullness and silence exposed his guilt. The girls were not nearly as amused as I was. They all love the same chocolate peanut butter cups, the ones the girls were saving for after Lent.....the boys enjoyed them quietly but immensely from the looks of it. They did not waste a one.

I don't fear silence; a chance to conjure up that which is hiding behind the door.


In the silence, I slow down. Fullness emptied.

In the silence, I feel the emptiness. Guilt exposed.

In silence, I fill up once more. Grace received.


I do not fear silence when silence sets in. I welcome it.

For there the sweetness of Grace abounds, brimming nourishment, no candy required.


Finding Bingo

Amazing Grace..Will always be my song of praise. 
For it was grace, that brought me liberty, 
I do not know, just why He came to love me so. 
He looked beyond my faults and saw my need. 
                                                       -Dottie Rambo

A wind storm blew. It tossed the outside world around like a bartender shaking mojitos. From my bedroom, I could hear the whistling, the rustling, the tumbling. Later, startled awake in the wee hours of morning, all was still.

Saturday morning arose and we noticed Dawson, the protector, running alongside the chicken run and the fiendish rooster, Sunrise, wrecking havoc with his piercing cry at the bantam coop. They should have been safe within their hut but that untrustworthy door is no match for turbulent winds and it sometimes fails to keep them secure. We were in a rush to get to make-up piano lessons and then on to soccer training though so the ducks would have to wait.

Upon getting home, we ate and then headed down to the coops to do some pre-spring cleaning. It was a gorgeous day, bright sun shining, snow melted, happy hens scratching, and children eager to simply be outside in the warmth.

Dawson kept running out into the tall grass and back again, like he had lost something. And he had: Bingo was no where to be found.

Lily searched the nearby grasses which were dormant from winter but still tall enough to potentially hide a blind, one-eyed duck. Nothing.

I texted a neighbor who gave me the go ahead to climb down their side of the hill, into the construction zone and down to the creek which runs long the edge of both our properties. Lily and I carefully made our way past the front loader and bulldozer, around the enormous mountain of topsoil and down to the creek. Lily watched the path for groundhog holes as I scouted the water for our duck. Still nothing.

I must admit, at this point I was thinking ahead, what new arrangements could we make? We would need to give Dawson to a new duck flock and that would open that coop up for more chickens, or at least for moving out all the chickens who currently reside in our shed.

I snapped back to the present, pushing the ideas aside.

At the end of our portion of the creek, there was a fallen tree branch that looked suitable for Aidan to use at the fort they were creating. Lily and I carefully picked it up and drag/carried it to the other side of the property. (You really don't realize how big 8 acres is until you walk the entirety of it with a 7-foot tree branch.) We gave him the wood and I left Lily there to play while I went to pick up a sizable piece of construction trash that had blown into our yard. It was maybe 20 feet long but try as I might, I could not get it to fly up high in the air like a Chinese Dragon Kite. (It was super cool in my imagination though.) I continued on, trash blowing behind me, searching for a duck that simply could not search for us.

About half way back up to the house, I spotted something moving in a nearby clearing.


"Lily! Lily!" I yelled, jogging up to the stranded duck. "I found Bingo!"

Lily came running. Bingo was now sitting quite still, blood and pus covering his one eye, his face streaked in red. She carefully picked him up and we took him back to the safety of our coop. Dawson ran to him, quacking at his friend. (I am pretty sure it was more of a C3PO lecture on the dangers of going off by himself, not Chewbacca-like joy over his buddy coming back....but still.)

Watching the ducks reunite, the chickens going on about their business, the cats coming over to check things out, Storm sitting at a distance, longing to be surrounded by all these birds, I had one of those moments.

You see, I will readily admit, I do not like keeping ducks. They are messy and sloppy and really don't offer much in the way of anything. They cannot reciprocate our love, nor do they seem to care about us one way or another, or if they do, they certainly don't know how to show it. They cost us resources and give very little in return.

Yet we went searching for our ridiculously pathetic duck. Because no matter how messy and pitiful and useless he is, he is still ours. And in him we still see that hopeful little duckling we saved from what was otherwise certain death. Because he is ours, we look beyond his faults, we see his need, we call him by name and we love him.

And like the father of the prodigal son, we rejoice. He was lost, and now he is found! He was blind but....ok, ok, he is still blind, but now WE see.

We get it.

We are God's pathetic ducklings; messy, sloppy, quite useless at times, yet saved anyway. And still we wander off again and again only to find ourselves walking blindly in circles until, by grace, we are found and brought home once more....and through it all, we are

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.....that can save even a wretched duckling like me.....


.....oh and Llamas

You probably are wondering where the llamas fit into my Costco story. Actually, they don't. I just didn't want to forget to tell you this other story.

So that very same day, my favorite neighbor texted me this:

I have stuff for you if you want to stop down......don't get too excited. It's just an egg carton and the message certificates (editor's note: certificates that are no longer good! Argh!). And a cup of coffee if you want.

YAY!!! (to the coffee...)
I'm mking Dolly's slunch now

And apparently drinking heavily

I just thought you got a pet sheep....but I think Dolly would be a better name for a llama

Get it -- Dolly Llama

You need one!

OMG!!!! We totally have to get a Dolly Llama!!

"We" as in you, right?

Uh, right.

I don't have enough acreage for livestock
Thank goodness

Yes, which is why you have to get one and then oh shoot, I guess I have to keep it for you


And THAT is why I need a llama.....a Dolly Llama to be specific.

Because my friend said so. And clearly she is a genius! And I wouldn't be much of a friend if I didn't keep her pet llama for her, Kurt.....Because that is what friends do.

And then when the chicken haters complain, it will reveal the truth about the type of people they really are because who complains about the Dolly Llama! No one, that's who!

As the knock off Dalai Lama always says: 

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.  

And it is especially kind (and downright essential) to help a friend by taking care of their Dolly Llama.* 

(*Last line may not be 100% verified on Wiki as being a part of the Dalai Lama's philosophy but we are pretty sure he would agree.....)


CoQ10, Herpes, and God....oh and Llamas [Part 2]

Ok, where were we? Oh yes, Costco.

As I was nearing the registers, my cart was not too full (I really did *try* to keep a rein on it) and arguably, everything was necessary except perhaps the books (evil, evil seductive books) and that little gift for Kurt's birthday (but in my defense, he probably won't like it anyway and I will take it back for a refund so it hardly counts....except for the thought of it because IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS, KURT!)

The sections before the registers include the snack aisles (where I picked up a container of absurdly-overpriced-but-too-good-to-pass-up-even-during-a-fast Macadamia Nuts), as well as the pharmaceutical section. And that is where the story actually takes place. (You know, the story that has now taken an entire year just to set up......Hey, I'm just like Tolkien, except without that "one of the greatest writers of all time" thing going for me.)

When I went over to browse the supplement section, the CoQ10 sales rep was there giving out the yummy, Creamsicle tasting samples; the same samples that lured me to buy the stuff in the first place several months prior. He handed me a sample and started sharing the good news: coenzyme Q10 helps the heart, and every other cell in your body, lowers inflammation, gets rid of muscle cramps and headaches, helps with cancer, exercise issues, asthma, chronic fatigue, tastes amazing, like Creamsicles and, oh my gosh! Forget everything I ever told you about accurately identifying scams! I told him I had some I was still using up at home (to be perfectly honest, I don't even know what it does or doesn't do but I drink it daily because it tastes like dessert!), if only my husband would take it, too.

"That's why I don't date men," he replied. "We're just too darn stubborn."

I laughed and then steered the conversation back on course, explaining to him how I just wish they didn't use sucralose in the ingredients. I am not a big fan. I have been working on bettering the health and nutrition of my family and now see most sweeteners, natural or otherwise, as things to avoid.

And from there the conversation jumped from health and nutrition to the obesity epidemic, to the state of our schools, the differences in the cultures of various regions in our country, and I'll be....we are both native Floridians....the flood gates were opened.

Eventually, he told me how unhappy he was here, that he only stays because his ex is from here and he wants to be close to his daughter, but there are very few people he calls friends here because "people here are nuts". I remainder quiet for a moment, one eyebrow raised.

"Being from Florida, surely you know that people here are like novice nuts at best," I said. "I mean, it's a little nutty here, maybe, but everything crazy happens in Florida."

We began swapping crazy Florida stories which lead him to telling me about his bi-polar ex, who tried to stab him with a butchers knife, how difficult it is to find someone to date, how he met someone online but she turned out to be crazy (pot....meet kettle) and then he finally met someone here in the store who had so much in common with him, was Christian like he was, shared all the same interests, but it turns out, after a week's worth of talking on the phone, he asked her flat out if she had any STD's and she disclosed that she has the herpes simplex virus and he absolutely could not deal with anything of the sort, so he called it off before even getting to a first date.

I remained relatively silent in my listening, impressed that he was direct enough to ask such a personal question so quickly, and I acknowledged that it must be difficult to be single in today's world. (I also silently noted that most people do not walk into Costco and learn about the STD's of random people the sales rep had hoped to date....but still, there was something about the conversation that made me feel it needed to be continued so I again shifted the focus).

"Why are you looking online for a date?" I asked. "Why not find a good church and join a singles group there, you mentioned being Christian. Do you have a church home?"

He began telling me about his issues with the Church (the hypocrisy), with the people who frequent organized places of worship (we are all hypocrites), with his rigid Catholic upbringing, the narrowness of the Baptist college he attended, the recent media spotlight on the Pope and what he disagreed with the Pope on (which was a lot), and did he mention how hypocritical the majority of religious people are? (If you are ever in Costco, I highly recommend NOT bringing up other faiths beyond Christianity with this fellow.....just trust me.)

"I am so sorry that your faith has not been nourished by the church through the years," I said. "It does seem that the church has gotten so big, so wrought with humanity, with our own view of what God wants, we often fail to be the body God intended. We forget to love one another and are all too quick to throw stones instead."

He stared at me, silent for the first time in what seemed like hours.

"I just hope you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," I continued.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, we are called to be in community with fellow believers. The church, even with all its flaws, is a place to worship God and to be in that community. And I tend to agree, we are all hypocrites at some level; many of us have this high ideal of what God's kingdom should look like, what Christians should be like and what we need to do to get there yet all too many of us use the church as a way of getting out of doing our part; we think, 'well, I am a pretty good person, I go to church and our church goes on missions trips and collects food to give to the food pantries and makes meals to take to the shelters, and I help support all of that.' But we leave our Christianity at the sanctuary door on Sunday morning and hope it is there for us when we get back the next week.....not exactly what Christ had in mind when he told us to love once another and follow him."

(Ok, ok, writing that out is far more eloquent than how it came out in conversation.....but this is the gist.)

"Exactly," he exclaimed.

"But even as flawed and hypocritical as we may be, we are not islands. We still need God and we still need the community of believers to help us live out the calling," I said, concluding with, "so I hope you will think more about finding a church for yourself. It is out there, you just have to find it. And perhaps you will find that someone special for your life as well, you know, that won't try to kill you."

I glanced down at my watch, time was running out.

"I am sorry, but I do have to go pick up my preschooler," I told him.

He introduced himself then said, "Thanks for stopping by...oh, and God bless you!"

"You too," I replied, taking a box of the Creamsicle-dessert-like-miracle-cure-all from the stack behind him. And off this sucker I went.

So there you have it: $300 later (I swear my cart was mostly EMPTY.....I blame inflation....) I had been blessed by a disgruntled Christian man selling CoQ10, who apparently doesn't have any STD's in case you are wondering. (And I wonder why my friends shake their heads at me so much.....)


It is uncanny how often these conversations take place in my life though. Not the exact setting or words or topics for that matter, but they are conversations that go so far beyond pleasantries (sometimes farther than preferable) into the depths of human experience, of life. I am a magnet for them. (Some argue that I create them....wait, that is a compliment, right?)

But, deep down, do we not all have that unmistakeable, unquenchable thirst to figure out our part in this story, our purpose, the legacy that will endure beyond our journey? And isn't it true that for so many, the 'figuring it out' thing is daunting and downright difficult at times? So, dear friends who laugh with me at my propensity to turn a run of the mill shopping trip into a mission trip, this is why we must stop and smell the people....(Hmmm, that works so much better with roses!) We must show up in the world and mingle with our fellow pilgrims. A little encouragement can go a long way.

Perhaps then, the CoQ10 reps out there will start to see that even we, the flawed, hypocritical people of the church, along with those who have disowned Her, are not so bad after all, are not any different than themselves really: seeking forgiveness, clinging to grace, flawed, yet somehow made in His image.

And hopefully, in communing together, we find that the weight of our cross is far less to bear.

As Hebrews tells us: "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God....."

Hebrews is talking about the guy trying to sell us that miracle stuff. Hebrews is talking about me, and you.

CoQ10, Herpes, and God....oh, and Llamas [ PART 1]

If the title caught your attention, awesome. If you flinched a little, maybe had to do a double take, well, welcome to my most recent Costco trip.

I went through my morning on Friday wondering what I might have to offer my readers. The well was feeling rather dry and I had a lot on my plate so I made a conscious decision to leave the day blank, an open page for you to write your own Lenten story perhaps. 

I must admit, I was feeling a little overwhelmed: the first few days of Lenten observations came easily. But only a week in and I was already starting to feel pressed. What might I have to say that would be worth your continued following and time? My life is fairly plain (you know, in the grand scheme of things) and my daily routines don't offer much in the way of exciting new discoveries and adventures, usually. 

So yesterday, I went to Costco to redeem my rewards check. My plan was to buy a few necessary items and then cash out the rest of the check. I will admit, I have a HUGE problem following plans sometimes. (Or even making them actually.) And as long as we are confessing here, the hardest part of a Wastefulness Fast for me is halting frivolous spending. You see, not only am I a master at justifying my purchases (I mean come on.... is it really wastefulness if it serves a valuable purpose?), I was also not brought up to pay much attention to price tags. My money management falls somewhere between abysmal and absurd. After 16 years of rehabilitation, (i.e. being married to a financial wizard, who I swear uses witchcraft in all that number counting stuff), I can now identify a scam versus a decent deal (with maybe 90% accuracy). I have also learned that just because something is on sale does not justify your need to buy it, that it's best to throw away most credit "offers" that arrive in the mail, that you cannot actually pay off a credit card with 21% interest by paying the monthly minimum, that there is no excuse for having a credit card with 21% interest to begin with, that some debt is acceptable (but usually there is a house attached which kind of makes the debt worth it) and that in order to spend money, you actually need to make money (and it is far better to make the money BEFORE you spend it.....something about not counting chickens before they hatch....).

But in all the learning that has taken place living amidst the financial sorcery of the Warlock, even his magic cannot seem to crack through the impulsiveness that comes when I set foot into Costco. The driving force behind Wholesale Superstore spending is so strong that the only real solution is for me to be forbidden from ever going into those places to begin with (which is my typical strategy....you know, until the family starts whining about needing food and toilet paper and such.....they can be SO needy!)

Anyway, there I was in the Forbidden Forest, with several rare hours to spare before I needed to pick up Solly from preschool, and a check with FREE money in my hand (and by free, I mean we spent WAY too much money at Costco last year and now we are rewarded with a month's worth of groceries.....if I were shopping at the Dollar Store that is) and so I took my time. Anyone who shops at these places knows, the worst thing you can do when trying to NOT spend money is take your time! That, and leave your list in the car.....(which I also haphazardly did.)

So, there I was, strolling through Costco, filling my basket with new books for the girls, learn-to-read books for Solomon, healthy eating options, dog bones, dish soap, a birthday gift for Kurt, FREE boxes to use for the rabbit cage, while also taking pictures of the things I would LOVE to have but knew now wasn't the time:
It's big enough to fit the entire family plus some and makes the perfect homework and game table..... 

Obviously this would be helpful with all those drawers to fill with junk use for organizing stuff.
Kurt NEEDS a place to sit outside his office that won't blow away in the next wind storm.

Who DOESN'T need a food processing Ninja blender?! It can chop anything!

(Seriously, add all that up and I just spent over $1600 in my fantasy land......on stuff I do not need!)

(Except the blender.....I totally need that.....)

To be continued.....


The Cross of the Stomach Bug

We had a stomach bug come reside with us for a couple of weeks last month. Typically, we love having company, will gladly open our doors for a visitor and do our best to offer decent hospitality. Tummy Bugs, however, are unwelcome guests in our home. Uninvited, they slip in while we are off our guard and often make their rounds before we even have a chance to fight back. With seven of us, it can get rather ugly. As the mom (i.e. janitor, or um, one person SWAT team) of that group, it can be downright intense.

Last month was no different. It started with Solly at the lake, out one end, then the other. It did not faze him really and after 24 hours he seemed totally fine....but not before passing the torch to Aidan of course.

Old enough now to take care of himself, Aidan spent a few not-so-peaceful hours hugging the porcelain throne before crawling back to his room for the better part of the day. I listened from the comfort of my bed, praying he would not need me. He didn't. (Mother of the year, I know. But come on folks, it's part of rearing independent people.....like tough love, without much of the love part....)

We got home from the lake, hoping that we had seen the worse. The next day however, I got the phone call that Liam had thrown up in school, totally missing the trash can. I will admit, I was secretly thrilled I didn't have to clean it up myself, and thankful it was Liam and not one of the girls who may have developed some serious anxieties over throwing up in the classroom. But by this point, that antsiness was beginning to set in: who would be next? Would it be me?

Liam was completely fine after that.

The next morning however, Liam smelled pretty foul so I lead him back into his bathroom where I found vomit all over the toilet. Liam swore he had nothing to do with it so I followed the trail back to where Solomon was sleeping on the floor. He awoke, looking at me quizzically.

"Solly, did you get sick again last night?" I asked.

"Yes!" he replied, almost proudly. "But I made it to the toilet!" You could almost see him patting himself on the back inside his little brain.

But, he was right. He DID make it to the toilet.........by way of his sleeping spot on the floor, trailing over the carpet, on top of Liam and all the way into the bathroom.

"I am so proud of you for taking care of it yourself and putting yourself back to sleep again," I said, praising the effort. (See? Independence!)

Next up? Kurt. By that night, Kurt was as sick as a dog. I handed him a lined bucket and told him not to miss. And I meant it. When he later tried handing me the filled bucket I directed him outside to the trash cans. (No, I am not earning brownie points nor in the running for Wife of the Year. And I am TOTALLY fine with that!)

The next evening, I had to leave soccer early due to several intense hours of nausea but by 1:00 a.m. I climbed into bed having had no ill effects. Solly threw up yet again the morning after that and by the weekend, both girls were sick at once, sleeping on the floor in two different bathrooms. (Yes, I also make my kids sleep next to the toilet when they are sick.....at least that way, if they miss, they are on tile and not carpet [Solly!] which I have learned is a HUGE pain to clean and sanitize!)

Late one night, as Madeline, true to form, was dramatically getting sick in the toilet, (really, the world was coming to the end from the sounds of it) I had a flashback to when I was a little girl, equally as sick. My mom pulled my hair back, holding it out of my face and repeatedly told me in her most calm and reassuring voice that it was ok; I was going to be ok.

"Pull your hair back, Madeline," I told her, throwing a hair band her way while standing at her bathroom door. She complied before lunging for the toilet again.

"It's okay, Madeline Jane," I assured her. "You are okay. Don't fight it. Probably just a few more minutes now...."

Then later: "Well, at least it isn't coming out both ends like Lily!" (Hey, I'm a work in progress here.....don't judge.)

There were buckets lining the bathrooms, Lysol at every corner, loads of wash going at all hours and oh, the rawness of overly scrubbed hands!! (Not to mention the lack of sleep for poor, ol' mama!)

It makes one want to shower twice just thinking about it.

I will admit, by the end of the two weeks, I felt like I had dodged a bullet. I was so glad I had stopped eating sugar (again) and doubled up on a probiotic at the start of it all. Perhaps I just lucked out but I am guessing it helps to have decent gut flora when trying to avoid stomach viruses.....or maybe it was the hazmat suit I lived in for two weeks or the bleach baths I soaked in every night.....hard to tell. (No, I did not really do that....but in my head I did and I think maybe it faked the germs out.....)

For two weeks, I functioned under the delusion that I could somehow control or at least contain the suffering. It wouldn't be so ridiculous if this had been my first rodeo, if I didn't understand, as I so painfully do, that these little buggers will run their course regardless. And while my approach has changed over time, I still show up, saddled with sprays and buckets and words of wisdom for the afflicted; not to mention the ceaseless praying (which typically sounds far more like begging.... begging that I do not catch it!)

Thomas a Kempis, a Dutch canon regular (priest) living in the later Medieval period, wrote:

Arrange and order everything to suit your desires and you will still have to bear some kind of suffering, willingly or unwillingly. (Dang stomach bugs!)
There is no escaping the cross. Either you will experience physical hardship or tribulation of spirit in your soul. At times you will be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those around you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary of yourself. You cannot escape, you cannot be relieved by any remedy or comfort but must bear it as long as God wills. For he wishes you to learn to bear trial without consolation, to submit yourself wholly to him that you may become more humble through suffering. No one understands the passion of Christ so thoroughly or heartily as the one who has suffered similarly.

The cross, therefore, is unavoidable. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself along. Turn where you will -- above, below, without, or within -- you will find the cross.

If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you. 

I know, I know....it's a long stretch from a simple tummy bug to the cross but still. Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes and no matter the degree, it leads us into a familiar spot: one that requires faith in the One who can calm the storm, or at the very least, calm us as the storm rages on.

The struggle lies in giving up our imagined control in order to cling to that cross, that we may be carried.


Making Space

I was watching basketball on T.V. yesterday while running on the treadmill (and also reading a book about the human microbiome, checking in on Clash of Clans and texting my team manager to clear up an issue with our TeamSnap account....because certainly it is not wasting time if I am filling it with five different activities at once, right?)

Now, most of you know I love soccer. I have also learned to appreciate American football and NHL over the years, but I have never cared much for basketball. (Thank you Liam for constantly exposing me....as if, like taste buds, that might one day change.)

At any rate, as I was watching this bunch of incredibly fit men run back and forth, taking shots and getting in each other's way, the commentator made the statement: "Look how well he created space there."

A bell went off in my head. As a coach, how many times do I ask my players: what is the importance of all these moves; the change of direction moves, feints, stops and starts? What do these skills do for you?

I ask them repeatedly.

Those that listen know: they create space.

In sports, as in life, we need space to maneuver. And for the most part, it is up to us to create that space. It won't be created for us. More than likely, without conscious work toward creating space, we will be overwhelmed with stuff, with things to do, with responsibilities, with opponents that can overtake us and our time, in one way or another. As I tell my soccer players, plowing through your opponent does not usually work out that well. Making space, however, even if it means changing directions, or stopping and starting again, can put you in the position to move forward and make things happen.

Practicing the disciplines of Lent affords us the opportunity to create space, to allow for the giving up of that which distracts and pulls and tempts and consumes and overwhelms; that which blocks us from our purpose and a steadfast relationship with God. (And no, fasting from parenting duties for Lent is not an option, as space-creating as that might sound.....)

For my family, making room this year means fasting from wastefulness, purging ourselves of worldly clutter, that we may be open to the Divine. It means clearing out that which we do not use in order to create space for the stuff we do. (Man, I hate it when my husband is right!) It means saving our calorie intake for calories that fuel and sustain, not inflame and destroy, the temple that is our body. It means using time on activities that honor our gifts rather than drain us of life. It means living with the discomfort of vacancy, not relentlessly filling the void as soon as possible, as we have done time and time again. It means clearing out to allow God to move within.

We recognize there will be days of success, as well as moments we fall flat on our faces, and some days will include a little of both....but no matter what, we keep coming back to the table, to remove the junk so that we may have room for the Bread of Life.

Try, try again, they say.

Just show up, I say.

Follow me, Jesus says.

And then stop doing what you have always done and make space.

And in your showing up and space-making, your fasting and following, know that nothing we do (or don't do) could ever be enough. And that is the point.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)


Grace-Full Chickens

...it is easier to see these spiritual deformities in others than in oneself.....But to spot it in one's self is not only difficult but painful, and no one wants to take the descending path to that naked, unvarnished truth, with all its unacceptable humiliations. It is much more comfortable to stay on the level of plain and ordinary, to go on being just plain and ordinary. Yet it is to this path that Lent invites us. 
-- Edna Hong, excerpt from Bread and Wine 

I will admit, I often struggle with living a plain and ordinary life. Day in and day out, I do the laundry, prepare the meals, do the dishes, watch the kids (sometimes even wash the kids) and drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, only to come home to more cooking and cleaning and watching and waiting and yearning for that "something more" that I have imagined "should" be my life.

And so I try to fill that void....with kids, with the chickens and the cats, rabbits, dog, and let's not forget the darn one-eyed duck, Bingo, and his fearless body guard, Dawson. I am continually creating something that allows me to be a sustainer of life outside of my own; something that allows me to take part in this beautiful cycle in a hands-on, tangible way. Something that stirs in me excitement, and calms that inner restlessness.

Yet still, there is a sense of longing......longing to do, or be, something more; more than someone's wife or mom or friend or coach or caretaker or driver..... This discontent is the feeling of incompleteness, as if I am missing some vital link to the life I am called to be living, as if there is some great disconnect that I simply have not worked out.

And let's face it, I am a pretty lousy housekeeper, an average mom at best (I think Kurt coined the term benign neglect in reference to my parenting style.....I see it as creating resilient, resourceful kids personally but call it what you will....it seems to work just fine for the chickens, perhaps the kids should glean some pointers from their fowl-feathered friends!) and as for the rest, I certainly cannot claim fame and glory for any of it, not that I am seeking either.

Then enters Lent. And the snow comes down, the school closes, the house fills with busy-ness, the cats jump onto the counters, the bunnies continue to plot their escape, the ducks make a wreck of their home, now covered in ice from the water they cannot seem to keep contained in their excitement..... excitement over water alone....

And the chickens......Oh, the chickens! I honestly do not know how people handle the journey into the depths of their failings without chickens. You see, each and every day, my chickens remind me that Easter is! Every, single, day. Even in this pre-Easter journey, even in the wandering, the searching, the fasting, the failing, the hope, the despair, the longing, yearning, waiting, wishing, doing, being.....each and every day, in the showing up.....it is Easter.

A colorful, daily reminder!

We are a post-Easter people.....at least, we are called to be. We stretch ourselves in Lent, we search our selves, we wrestle with our selves, with God and then come back full circle to the place we started, seeing ourselves, and grace, through new eyes....or as T.S. Eliot so eloquently put it: We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. 


At the lake retreat, we watched the movie, "How to Train your Dragon 2" in which the main character, Hiccup, finds his mom, Valka. For twenty years he lived under the mistaken belief that she was dead. But then he finds her, living amongst the dragons in a dragon sanctuary; a dragon whisperer so to speak.

As the scene unfolds with this incredibly wild mom, her dragons, the reconnection with her child, the seeking of forgiveness, this is the dialogue that transpires:

Hiccup: This is where you've been for twenty years? ..... You've been rescuing dragons?....Unbelievable.

Valka: You're not upset?

Hiccup: What? No! I....I don't know. I....Well, it's a bit much to get my head around, to be frank. It's not every day you find out your mother is some kind of.....crazy, feral, vigilante dragon lady.

Valka: Oh......well, at least I'm not boring right?

Kurt pats me on the head and says, "Hey, it's you!"

And it occurred to me that perhaps THIS is why my kids were so adamant that I watch this movie with them.....they recognized their mom in this "dragon lady" (insert chicken for dragon and it's hard not to see their point) and they saw how accepting her for who she was, and the forgiveness that followed, brought reconciliation and peace. And perhaps they saw in me that need to be forgiven, too.

In Lent, we are an Easter people, hanging in the balance between what we know to be true, what we learn to be true and what we hope to be true.....a journey that brings us back to where we started, armed with a new understanding of ourselves and of our continual need for grace.

Edna Hong summed it up perfectly in her writing: But the spirit of truth does not seek comfort. The purpose of Lent is not to escape the conscience, but to create a healthy hatred for evil, a heartfelt contrition for sin, and a passionately felt need for grace. 

May we all be as passionate about our need for grace as we are about our chickens.....whatever your chickens may be.



Let not your heart be troubled......
--John 14:1

Yesterday was a rough day.  (Please recall the flat-tire-missed-practice-frozen-chicken-escapee-bunnies morning.) But, there is something special, perhaps magical, about a frozen lake house. Quiet and calming, it is a place of tranquility, of cozy, simplistic order. Covered in snow, bright and sparkling or dark and hushed, it is the essence of beauty. It is that place where the stresses and problems of the world seem to melt gently away. You can forget your self here. Or find it.

Arriving is not easy though. After all the preparation and planning beforehand (not my strong suits), there are way too many bags, boxes and backpacks to lug through the snow and into the house, while also remembering to let go of your burdens at the door. Yet, we had managed all of that, had enjoyed a (not-so) quiet day of games, reading, general mess making and bickering over what is more wasteful, eating the chips or not eating the chips, and then sat down for a healthy, life sustaining family meal.

It was during the cleaning up after dinner that I accidentally knocked the coffee carafe into the sink, fracturing it into several irreparable pieces. Now, those of you who have come to love (i.e. NEED) your morning cuppa understand the shock and horror of such an accident. I mean, a flat tire is one thing but this. THIS! The weight was almost too much. Ridiculously, it was as if the shards of glass had pierced my heart. (Perhaps I need to consider my coffee "needs".) Having just discovered Bulletproof Coffee the week before, and having brought all my special stuff to make it, I was at a loss. I went to bed heartbroken that, not only had I broken someone else's coffee carafe, but tomorrow would simply not be what I had hoped (a snuggly Valentine's Day with a cup of warm joe in one hand, a book in the other while curled up next to a cozy fire.) Slumber did not come easily, and my sleep was fitful at best.

Around 12:45 a.m. Madeline woke up, calling for me from upstairs. I eagerly bounded up the staircase, thankful for the distraction from beating myself up. She was cold and implored me to turn the heat up. (Note: She had asked us not to turn the heat on before she went to bed so that she wouldn't be too hot. Kids.) I got her tucked back in, adjusted the thermostat slightly and then went back to bed. While I meditated on our fast from wastefulness, and reviewed the happenings of the last few days, the words "with God, all things are possible" ran through my head and I was struck with an idea: the coffee maker here is so old that it doesn't have that auto pause feature that allows you to pour coffee while it is still brewing. Admittedly, this is something I have grumbled about in the past. Clearly one of those disguised blessings as I now realized I could use ANYTHING to catch the coffee in the morning. My heart leapt like George Bailey at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. I drifted easily off to sleep after that with gladness and thanksgiving.

Thank you, Pyrex! And you, too, old Mr. Coffee who used to annoy me so!

Sunday arrived, and with it, coffee! Armed for the day, we loaded up and trucked into the little town (of like twelve people) to go to a local church. We about doubled the congregation, which we were assured was because of how cold it was that morning which tends to keep both the elderly and the young families at home. But it was what we needed.

In the Children's part of the service, the minister wrote out Valentines cards for each of the kids. He started with the children he knew, wrote their names on their cards and handed them out. He then turned to our children and asked each of them to choose between Star Wars and Avengers, then wrote down their names.

He started with Solomon.

"Hi! What is your name, son?"

Without missing a beat, Solomon solemnly replied, "Steve."

We about fell out of our seats. The minister began writing Steve on the card while the rest of us laughed so hard some of us were crying. The girls explained to the minister that that was not actually his name, just what he currently wanted to be called.

"So, Steve, do you have another name? Maybe an alias? You know, how Spiderman is actually Peter Parker by day?"

He shrugged. "Solomon, I guess."

And so he had his special Valentine......

And I had mine.

Ah! happy those whose heart can break
 And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
 And cleanse his soul from sin?
How else but through a broken heart
 May Lord Christ enter in?
--Oscar Wilde

Clutching Grace

We ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. 
-Editors, from the devotional Bread and Wine

On Day 2 of Lent I received a frantic call from a neighbor whose oldest child is suffering from bouts of severe depression. She has seven kids, a husband out of town and she needed help with two of her younger children so that she could get her son to a residential clinic in another state.

Right away I knew I had been blessed with this opportunity to help someone in a very tangible way. After dropping my kids off at school, I showed up at her house, held her baby while she got her kids ready, and just listened. She warned me that her three year old daughter was her "devil child" and thanked me for my willingness to help her out as none of her friends had answered her call or returned her messages. I assured her it was no problem at all, I mean, what's another couple of kids for a day?

Let's just say that her assessment of her daughter is pretty much on target. I have never seen a child quite like her: she can't stay still for two seconds, is all over the place, and her life's purpose is apparently to break any rule you set in front of her, with a sweet, innocent smile on her face. She is a precious little devil, to say the least.

At one point, she was sitting (and by sitting I mean she was half standing) on the bench at the kitchen table and started leaving with a fistful of pretzels clutched in one hand and a mouth so full I thought she might start spitting crumbs out at any moment.

"B, where are you supposed to eat in my house?" I asked her.

She mumbled something that sounded close to "at the table" and then smiled a huge grin complete with partially chewed up pretzels oozing between her teeth.

I helped her sit back down and as soon as she was done swallowing, she stuffed another fistful in and proceeded to get up again.

"B, please sit back down. You cannot leave the table until you are done chewing AND swallowing your food."

She gave me that devilish grin again. Clearly we were playing a fun game.

After several more rounds of this, she grabbed one more pretzel and started to "slip away" as she watched to see if I was paying attention. She was tickled pink when I held out my hand and asked her to give up the pretzel before she headed off to destroy the rest of the house. And so went the next nine hours.

Two days later, it would be me who needed the help. A flat tire lead to a little panic as I could not make it to the training facility I was supposed to coach at, there were kids and parents waiting to get in and it was single digits cold outside and our trainer had decided not to go that morning but hadn't told me. Furthermore, Kurt had taken his truck to pick up Aidan from swimming and go north to his parent's lake house with the boys (where we would meet up after soccer) and so now I was to get the tire fixed, reload the truck (dog and all) and somehow manage to get to the four hours of scrimmages with the girls after feeding and watering the chickens, where I found our Houdini bunnies roaming the shed, whose door was wide open and the chickens inside were shivering from the deep freeze of the night before!

I took a lot of deep breaths, reminding myself that I hadn't had to check in my child to a hospital for suicidal thoughts, that everyone was well, the chickens were still producing, the bunnies had not left the barn and soon I would be tucked away in the still of a private retreat.

AAA took almost two hours to arrive, only to tell me that my best bet was to blow up the tire and get to the closest tire center to have it fixed, rather than put a spare on and go on a road trip. After he added air and checked the rest of the tires, I thanked him for his time (even though I was pretty annoyed as I could have done that like three hours earlier and been off already). And then I immediately phoned a friend for help in getting the girls to where they belonged so that I could take care of the rest. I will admit, God has gifted me with very good friends in my life. I am utterly grateful.

While waiting in the lobby for the tire to be patched, I had the rare moment of no kids and nothing to do. That is when I received a phone call from a parent in Liam's class. You see, Liam has been invited to his first ever sleep over birthday party. Actually, this is only the second birthday party he has ever been invited to, which is sad when I stop to think about it. But then, I had requested to speak with this mom to make sure she knew how overstimulated Liam can sometimes get and that he might incessantly talk her ear off, if given the opportunity, and could very possibly rile the entire group up, although, I don't know for sure as he had never been given this kind of opportunity. At one point, I told her she was brave for inviting all the boys in the class for a sleepover party but as it turns out, she only allowed her twins to invite 6 boys.

And Liam made the cut! 

My heart was so full as it sunk in that Liam had been chosen, had been picked out by actual kids his age (whom apparently talk about Liam all the time to their mom because, as she put it, they simply love Liam) and that he would have the opportunity to participate in what is essentially a childhood rite of passage.

And then, perhaps due to the ridiculousness of the morning, tears started edging their way to the corners of my eyes, right there in the tire center. And it occurred to me that with God, we are all chosen, all called upon to participate, all invited to sit at the table and partake of God's everlasting love and grace.

And then, something dawned on me. I am just like my neighbor's daughter: trying to stuff myself as fully as possible while quietly plotting my escape from the table, all the while, clutching grace tightly, as if my life depended on it.

And it does.

As Paul wrote in Romans: 'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

Fortunately, God has His eyes on us, knows when we get up to leave and like any good parent, calls us back to stay at the table.

Fortunately, that grace we clutch onto, clutches onto us, too.



Really? REALLY?!

True confession: Sometimes, when faced with what seems like an impossible biblical story, I feel a sense of sarcasm outrage.

Don't get me wrong. I have no plans on pulling off some crazy, movie-worthy scene of insanity but I am often left wondering what the H. E. DoubleHockeySticks was God thinking. It's like this intricate little dance we play out, over and over and over. He is who He is, does what only He can get away with and I shake my head in absolute incredulity because really God? REALLY?!

That's right folks. Sometimes I find myself JUDGING GOD! (Please pause for a moment of silent meditation as you think through that.)

Day Two of Lent found me reading the story of Abraham....you know, the story where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.  So, here's the thing. Abraham was an old guy. Perhaps what God actually said was to sacrifice A Yak and Abraham just misheard him. A YAK! Abraham, A YAK! Not ISAAC!

For the love of......why on earth would God ask someone to kill their own kid?

But Abraham, in all his faith and obedience, showed up. And he didn't waste any time either I tell you. Makes you wonder what kind of kid Isaac was really. But what we do know is that Isaac wasn't dumb because half way up the mountain there's Isaac scratching his head saying, "Um, dad? Wait a second. We have all the stuff to kill and burn the lamb but we have no lamb.....where's the lamb?" (That's right Abraham.....he's on to you.)

And Abraham, very composed, responds: "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." (Don't trust him Isaac! RUUUUUN!)

The story continues and right before Abraham sacrifices his son, an Angel calls out for him to stop.  "Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replies and is then told not to lay a hand on his helpless, bound up son. Phew. Disaster averted. A yak, Abraham! A YAK! (Or a ram, whatever.)

And the rest of the unwritten story is that Isaac becomes the first human needing intensive mental health counseling for the REST OF HIS LIFE! (Many thanks, God.)

But, here's the thing. When you back up and reread earlier in the story of Abraham and Isaac, you read that God promises to establish his everlasting covenant with Isaac and his descendants. God made a promise. The only way I can explain this story and Abraham's response is that he remembered God's promise and he trusted God.

Over and over God makes His promise to us. A promise to remove our hearts of stone and give us new hearts, and a new spirit so that we will be transformed. Into the likeness of God. But first, like Abraham, we must show up. (Watch out, kids.....I'm not old and slow like Abraham....)


So there we were, the first morning of our family's Lenten Fast and the kids are all in the kitchen rummaging through the pantry and refrigerator saying, "Well shoot, what CAN we eat?"

You see, our family decided that our journey would be a "Fast from Wastefulness". We vowed to give up wasting time, money, talents, food, stuff, etc. etc....... Easy peasy Mac-n-Cheesy, right? (Well, except for the Mac-n-Cheese part, which would be a waste of calories.....) But this fast is already causing such huge dilemmas that it added twenty extra minutes to our morning routine yesterday and Madeline ended up being 10 minutes late to school. And while I had half a mind to claim religious reasons for her tardiness, I figured having to explain that we were fasting from wastefulness and then managed to waste extra time getting ready was probably not what they mean by Religious Practices. (Uh, strike one?)

But, before you start questioning my motives here, think about all the grey areas in this life. In one day of "fasting" my kids have learned that sometimes you have to choose between bad and worse....sometimes you just can't win. (Do we eat the open bag of cereal that is not healthy and therefore wasting the calories we fuel our bodies with, or do we not eat it and then waste food that we have purchased which means we have to spend, [waste?] more money on something else? There is waste either way.)

I like to think of it as a platform to teach about biblical contradictions (God is Love but then asks someone to sacrifice their only son.....which IS NOT LOVING, GOD! Just sayin'.....) Kurt likes to think of it as a good lesson in economic trade offs. Either way, it's like a win-win, by way of failing. Easy-Peasy, without Mac-N-Cheesy!


Lenten Parenting

As it turns out, just showing up is often frowned upon in our culture. It is standard to bring something to a dinner party, to doll yourself up for a night out with friends, to prep for a meeting, to study for the test, to train, to rehearse, to do something before you get to wherever you are going.  I can recall one hectic Sunday in which some of my kids were still in their PJ's, hair unbrushed, faces smeared with breakfast, mucus, perhaps some tears, others in sports clothes and just as unkempt, and I probably looked like I had just returned from hours in the coop, when we finally slid into the back row of the church, several minutes late. One older man, a deacon in the church, eyed us with what seemed like utter disgust. Clearly, we were not "church-ready" by his standards. And while I know God doesn't impose those same human conditions on our outwardly self, that feeling that surged through me is unforgettable: one of judgement, of disdain and shame. I wanted to yell at him, tell him he had no idea what the last hour had been like for us, that we were just lucky to have made it at all, and that we NEEDED to be here as much as anyone, possibly more. Instead, I quietly prayed that both our hearts would be softened and mended. And then offered him the passing of the peace. Clearly he needed it as much as I did.      

So as I was thinking about Lent, it occurred to me (on Fat Tuesday) that if I was going to make the effort to show up for this season of preparation, and I wanted my family to tag along on the forty day journey, that I might actually need to put something together this time.

At any rate, I called the pastor at our former church in Minnesota. (In and of itself, calling to ask for help points to growth at least somewhere in my life! Ooooh, the vulnerability!) I guess my hope was that maybe they had some little family devotional e-book that they could simply email me. No such luck. (But not a bad idea for any church if you ask me!) Nonetheless, the conversation was affirming and renewing and lifted my spirits. And it assured me that I was on the right track at some level.

By mid-day on Ash Wednesday, I finally made my way to Google and found some good free resources.....right after ordering a bunch of family devotionals on Amazon. (Admittedly, my timing is not always what it should be.)

Anyway, I found that by piecing the two free devotionals together, we had something worthwhile to guide us through the rawness of Ash Wednesday, and the whole mess beyond.

That night, we read from Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve and their partaking of the fruit and their eyes being opened to everything. (Poor souls!) And we stopped at the point where God's strolling along and calls out to them: "Where are you?"

Well, that is where I stopped it anyway.....the devotional carried on to consequences and such but I could not get past the fact that even though God knew what had happened, he still searched for them, called for them, beckoned them forward....like any loving parent, He still wanted to be in relationship with His children, no matter how strained it had become.

And so I explained to my family that God is searching for us, too, calling us by name, asking us to show up, wherever and however we are. Even now.

It also occurred to me that this story resonated with me on an entirely different level. You see, God set a rule for his naive children, then took his eyes off of them for like two seconds, didn't bother to vet the company that they kept (darn serpent) and then came back, only to find that they had been disobedient (uh, duh....) And while they were busy pointing fingers at each other (well, you know, except for the serpent who didn't have fingers to point!), he totally freaked out on them.....condemning them to a life of pain, suffering, toil, sweat, bread-eating and finally DEATH. I mean, really! Kind of overkill God, don't ya think? Sheesh. (First time parents....)

But we can glean a lot from this story. I mean, even God felt like inflicting suffering on his children in the name of consequences. I get that. I really do. Which is why next time my kids fall out of line I am just going to calmly repeat in my most ominous voice: "You are dust and to dust you shall return." And then lock them all out of the house.

Hey, if it's good enough for God.....

Day one. We showed up.


Ash Wednesday: Showing Up

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." -- Michael Jordan

It is a favorite quote in our house, one that hangs in Kurt's office, one that we make our kids read when they are up against the stresses of life and fear of possible failure. We cling to it like a kitten hanging from a high branch because we so want to believe that in the end our efforts, our failings and eventual successes will amount to something, will lift us up and bring us home to a place of safety and peace. 

When I ponder the journey to success through the lens of that quote, I envision a staircase, one that starts off with long, deep steps, whose foundation is made of messes and failure. And each step becomes more and more focused toward the top, yet still resting on that foundation of mistakes. More often than not misery and doubt carpet that early, messy place. But somewhere along the lines, those steps become small successes, and the momentum takes a turn, a new rhythm  develops, and the person reaching for that lofty goal, so determined to succeed, fails to even notice that no longer are they tiptoeing around their mistakes and messes but are being uplifted by their own success, no longer needing the stairs at all.....they reach a point where they can take off and soar. 

The thing is, most of us, leading ordinary lives, are not basking in the glow of MVP awards, championship trophies, fame, fortune. We do not always even have an end game, cannot even see a goal at the top, and are left wondering if there is one at all. We get stuck in the ruts of the stairs, sliding backward as often as we make progress, and when we read things about finding purpose and calling and thriving, not just surviving, our eyes glaze over as we scroll through our to-do list in the back of our heads and realize we have missed half of it, if we have even begun at all.....and the bacon is burning in the oven and the water is overflowing in the sink and someone clogged a toilet and everyone is hungry......and we realize that WE are hungry too. We simply cannot juggle all the balls we have going. Who has the time to sacrifice for success? And what is success if not the culmination of the many pieces of ourselves, good and bad, all coming together? 

This is the place I find myself in as we again begin the Lenten journey. I want to say that, because I am so empty, I do not need 40 days to ponder, to purge, to resist temptations, to prepare myself for the blessing of Easter. But the fact is, since moving here, my spiritual journey has stalled and taken a back seat, leaving me a lost wanderer in an increasingly bare desert.....perhaps the perfect place to find myself at the start of this season; unfamiliar and full of trepidation, yet somehow safe for I know I am not alone on this much needed journey. 

We do not show up whole and perfect. We do not need to. We cannot. Instead, we show up messy and fragmented, discontent and consumed and empty, and face to face with as many failings as there are stars in the sky. But we show up anyway. Just as God wants. And we are loved. 

And that is why we succeed. 


How is it February?

Several years ago,  you may recall that I lead the blog through a minimalist phase.....you know, where I started purging the house of as much stuff as I could. Much to Kurt's dismay, I believe I only made it through the first few stages of my Pack Rat Anonymous posts but still, by the end of the experience, we were well on our way to be a little lighter in our house.

Well, little did I know that part of the minimalism would include such a huge reduction in blog posts. It used to be that I blogged several times a week.....sometimes daily. And then Solomon came along and RUINED EVERYTHING! Ok, not really. He is actually a pretty cool little chap, you know, when he isn't destroying things. (So much for his name meaning "peace" and all.)

So, last month, he turned 5. FIVE! He will head to kindergarten this fall. He will learn to ride a bike (maybe) and tie shoes (assuming I stop buying velcro) and read (if he ever puts the guns down long enough to actually learn his letters and sounds)..... Already he can beat me at a game of Jenga (which I am pretty sure says more about my poor Jenga skills than it says about him) and he knows how to smooth talk his way in and out of anything. (Like the time he came into the kitchen and asked: "Mom, you know why I always kiss you and hug you?"
"Why's that Solly?" I asked back.
"Because I loooove you," he said. Then there was a slight pause as he handed me Liam's iPad. "Can you enter Liam's passcode for me?"......Sigh.
It's like butter.)

Solomon is quite the little guy, full of energy, curiosity and loads of love. He's already putting himself out there as the ladies' man, has a crush on a little girl in his class, whom he has declared his heart to, and his favorite place is still in my way, er, I mean, in my lap, layering me in hugs and kisses. He's a mama's boy to be sure (which is only annoying half the time) and he is of his own (read: stubborn) mind. He is certainly our kid on every level.

So, the day before his fifth birthday, he declared:
"Mom, I know what my name should be," as if he had been working on this for years and had finally come up with the right answer.
"Oh really? What should your name be?" I curiously wanted to know.
"Steve Rogers," he answered emphatically. "It is the best name, a good name, and I would like to be called Steve Rogers from now on."

Thank you, Captain America! Not only do you save the world repeatedly while acting as eye candy to an entire generation of women, but you have now solved the problem of what we should have named our son from the get go. (It's like he has some faint, subconscious memory of having been unnamed for the first few days of his life and the drama that seemed to unfold at the announcement of his given name. You can read that post here.)

Anyway, Solly turned 5, and then Liam turned 8 last week and now February has snuck up on us, as if we were in a rush to get somewhere. Slow down, Father Time, if not just for a moment, so that I can etch into memory these days that arrive too soon and are gone as quick.

Madeline's precision made for a lovely Steve Rogers Cake.