Monday, November 24, 2003


lament of a wallflower

oh dear. i think i lost my prayer book, and i've only been praying with it for two days!
i think of all the unspiritual places i might have left it--ikea?--which is the size of germany. on top of the car--when i was putting kids in their carseats? is someone behind the big blue box right now, smoking a cigarette and reading the prayers for midday? i'm going to need a cigarette if i don't find it.
this is the problem with me and orthodoxy.
i'm just so damn unorganized.
oh well.
i'll just have to pray over my pots and pans like brother lawrence
and hope i'll get another chance
to dance

Sunday, November 23, 2003


the dance of the divine

the house is still now, quieted by the hours of darkness now slowly lifting. i can hear dave's breath, rising, falling, heavy with slumber. i can see the light rising, making silouettes of my trees, the beauty of fractals on a morning sky. i light my candles and sit down at my new table to pray. the smallest spider you can imagine joins me, casting her web dangerously over the candles edge, unaware of the deep canyon below and the tiny flame lending light to her task.

morning is coming.

i read my prayers this morning from The Divine Hours. i do not craft my own. i wait instead in silence, straining to hear the echoes of the saints praying with me over centuries, over continents. i've never done such a thing. i feel like a child at her mother's side in the mass, studying her every move and trying to follow in the dance of the saints.

i am becoming ever more aware of this dance, and i want to learn the beauty of its sway.
i don't want to be a wallflower, a cozy intellectual who critiques but never dances.
i want to be held in an embrace that makes me weak in the knees,
and i want to move like magic through the host of other dancers
with beauty and grace
i want to be led in ways that surprise me
and i want to concentrate to follow, to not miss the moment i will be dipped or twirled
in pure ecstatic joy

before my sister got married, she and her fiance went every sunday night to a friend's house to practice their first dance. derek would be in shorts with his dress shoes in a bag, and kris was happy every week just for the chance to have the excuse to pull her shoes out of the box and bask in their beauty. what wondrous, glorious shoes! bruce and mary were their instructors, and having been married a couple times prior to this true union, they were rich in the kind of wisdom that includes everything--from how to fight fair to how to dance. week after week, they played the same music, and showed their students the steps. derek danced in his dress shoes and shorts, and kris bore holes through derek's eyes, trying to move in harmony with his every step.

on the day of the wedding, the whole room fell silent as kris walked into derek's arms for the first dance. she never took her eyes off his face, and as the song slowly faded with their last perfect steps, you could hear bruce and mary cheering. they had been watching with their toes on the dance floor, their eyes sending out the signals, even though kris and derek no longer needed to look.

i feel like the girl who just bought the shoes, and every night i insist we all just sit down and have a little worship session. aren't they beautiful? can you even imagine how pretty they'll be peaking out from my dress when i'm dancing? i dream about the day i'll dance in them like a bride on her wedding day.

so here i am...my prayer book in hand. i want to move in a new way. i want to learn the steps to this ancient dance. and i hope as i'm mastering them, a new kind of beauty will pour out of my soul. a beauty that steadies my step and lifts up my head in focus and in joy.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
from The Divine Hours

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and the Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2003


a prayer for questions

savior of all

resurrect in me
the courage
to forsake knowing

awaken in me
a wonder
that renders me

astonish me
with a simplicity
too wonderful
for explanations

free me
to see all things
and wild

quiet me
at the silliness
of my own wisdom

leave me

empty of answers
but full of the questions
that drive me
deeper into the adventure
deeper into the wonder
that is



we took carter to get his hair trimmed today--trimmed, i tell you--and the stylist turned my blonde lion into a civilized boy! i am so bummed, let me tell you. dave was looking on while i buzzed around at neighboring shops; when i came in to assess his progress, it was too late. dave thought she was cutting per my instructions and since he's been lobbying for some time for the taming of our wild man's mane, he figured i had finally come to terms with carter's impending graduation from babyhood to boyhood. not so! i am so sad. madeleine (who is in a constant state of torture because of the neverending hair worship from family and strangers alike) couldn't be happier, and carter keeps shaking his head wondering i'm sure what happened to all that hair. the rest of us are in shock. we forgot what carter's ears looked like.

i told her she could take off some length, but she thought i meant i wanted it tapered in the back. huh?? i'm not sure how this translates. so there i am, scurrying around the salon, looking for long blond curls on the floor to press in carter's baby book. so sad! the good news is that they refused to let us pay, and the manager agreed to credit the stylist since it really was a misunderstanding. now we just have to wait and see if those curls are gone forever.


quote of the day

What kinds of questions are worthwhile?

Questions that open to yourself your own vast ignorance; questions that reveal your smallness and weakness; questions that cast you down in awe; questions that raise you up in worship.

Frederica Mathewes-Green
from The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives

stream of consciousness on kids and God

maybe in our various approaches to children's religious instruction we have created some false impressions
that God is a body of facts to master
that God is a brand to acquire
that God is a product to be consumed
that God is a commodity to be brokered
that God is a legal proposition to be applied
that God is understood by adults
that the God of childhood is somehow different from the God of adulthood
that God is quantifiable
that God can be co-opted for personal gain or at a minimum, personal gratification
that God is controllable
that the point of knowing God is to become civilized, measured, reasonable, polite, tame

what i am proposing here is not an abandonment of creed, sacrament or catechism; instead it is the acknowledgement that the creed merely memorized lacks the transformative power of the grand canyon, or a starry night or a shared mission, fulfilled and beautifying the earth.

we see questions as an invitation to supply answers and we insist that our children master a Christian worldview, a closed set of propositions that leave no room for mystery or a work of God in the world that is continuing to develop
don’t hear me saying that children need not be certain of their faith; that this just be a mystical existential journey; nothing can be farther from the truth. but as we open ourselves up to wonder; as we engage in fundamental questions and as we wrestle with God, we teach them surety by our own faithfulness. i.e. I do not know this, I have no answer, but I know this is the right struggle, I know that God who inhabits and embodies all is delighted in my engagement, my wonder. I know that He, the creator of the entire universe, the one who is so grand that he cannot be contained in heaven, but instead spills out into the whole world, He is the one who holds me in my questioning, and this curiousity spurs me onward to seek him more and more, and to find him again and again, in the simplicity of joy, the beauty of service, the majesty of the morning sky.

The questions are the journey and the answer is Christ, the Creator, Himself.

We ask questions and by doing so do not proclaim our cynicism, but instead our humility. We do not know. He knows. As we seek Him, we find Him and as we find Him, we must have more and more of Him, and so our love increases and grows and explodes until we find in ourselves a deep love for all things He loves and so even as we seek, we are following, trying to discover the beauty of His presence, trying to recover beauty in every fallen thing, and so we become his partners, his agents of redemption and grace.
we cannot do this properly without awe.
we cannot do it without wonder.
we cannot do it without a sense of our own tinyness in the grander scheme of things
we cannot do it without being children

we need children of soul and spirit
just as we need to recover soul and spirit ourselves
we need to be a people whose right answers run in broad strokes and do not assume mastery over the complete knowledge of God or the christian faith

we need children in quiet awe of their creator, just as we ourselves need to be silenced in beauty

the thing is; this kind of child is not produced, this kind of child is nurtured, encouraged and preserved in a state of perpetual childlikeness, the kind of childlikeness that jesus said was required to enter the kingdom.

in reducing children's religious education to verses memorized or we cheat ourselves of an opportunity to recover something essential and more powerful than information, and that is this:
the compulsion to worship
the compulsion to bow down
the compulsion to lift our eyes in awe
the compulsion to soak in the presence of God
to understand that we are terribly small
even as he in his utter immensity inhabits all things,
as near as our very breath

Thursday, November 20, 2003


cornbread, chili and kindred spirits

yesterday rachelle called and suggested we get together at my house for a little cornbread and chili. she said don't worry i'll bring everything. i looked around at the horror, swallowed my pride, and said, "c'mon." if we're going to do life together, we'll just have to get over all this clutter and chaos polluting the landscape.

it was a fun night. i washed dishes while rachelle chopped on my right and dj cooked on my left. laura joined us in her sweats/pajamas uniform, and madeleine made complicated signs forbidding any adults to enter the kids room where we set up a little table for jeremiah, madeleine and carter to eat. we inaugurated our new table in the living room (a big deal for us--we've been tableless in our 650 square foot apartment for two years!) and laura and i made rachelle bring in her new sarah mclachlan cd for dinner music. the kids (mostly madeleine to tell the truth) interrupted us a hundred times and the phone rang at least fifty, but the conversation was great and i put my head on the pillow that night and thanked God for true friends.

we first met dj and rachelle at emergent summer institute 2002. rachelle was the artist-in-residence and deej was there to soak in the atmosphere every night after work. that was the summer ray and josh helped us transform the porch and we had the emergent folks over en masse more than once for barbecue ribs, beer and dave's homemade salsa. rachelle and dj just made it a point ever since then to keep up with us, making connecting times easy and fun. they've seen us in the depths of despair while we tried to keep on a happy face, ready to kill our kids and each other, and they're always ready to hear a story or find some excuse to eat together to make our burdens lighter.

in many ways rachelle and dj have both been my cheerleaders. dj is totally accessible, he knows just enough about just about everything and he'll give you the scoop without fanfare. dj's one of those people who actually means it when he talks about diversity or the importance of every voice. he's nudged me along about blogging and talking about church and i just love the way he glances at the ceiling when roo is being especially dramatic.

now rachelle, sweet jesus, this woman is a true artist. she lives and breathes color! texture! image! vision! beauty! her soul starts to shrink in the suburbs and please, please do not ask her to live her life without full ascent to all the beauty the eye can imagine. beauty is rachelle's oxygen, and she takes it in everywhere she goes. when she gave me her wrinkled copy of the artist's way, i was wrecked for weeks. i had no idea until that moment how much i was rejecting my creative nature. in an instant i understood so much of my sadness and struggle over my whole life. rachelle anointed me a fellow artist, so now i think about myself that way and i look for every moment I have to fulfill my creative calling.

soon--and i still am just in awe when i think about it--we are going to have a big printing day together. in an act of spiritual practice, rachelle has set some of my prayers in type for letterpress. one letter at a time, over hours, thinking about the holiness of words uplifted to God. can you imagine? when i think about it and all the love that must go into that act of worship, i remember the iconographers from Byzantine, how they labored over those images, the weeping Jesus or Mary, holy mother eyes downcast. they believed that the act of painting itself brought them closer to God and so it became a holy, cleansing work. isn't that beautiful? right now, people are sitting around in conferences trying to figure out how to integrate faith and art. it would be so much easier to just lift the door on rachelle's garage; there holy work happens every day, and i for one, have been deeply blessed because of it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


the bread of kindness and the blessing of passages

my mind is spinning this morning. in a few short hours, i'll go bear witness as a woman brings her first child into the world. it's a scheduled induction in the hopes of having a smoother thanksgiving and every intervention is planned. it's going to be a day deep in technology, but i hope we can find the real, redeem the sacred, to fully celebrate this birth.

but that's not what has me going this morning. it's the idea of being a spiritual doula. and our desperate need to consecrate simple ordinary things. we are longing for the holy. we want it for ourselves and our children in more ways than we could ever put in words. we want these passages--like pregnancy, birth or death even--to be more than experiences of technology or passivity.

so, what if...we mentored women in the church and taught them how to recapture the dignity and holiness of these moments with intentionality and purpose? when you get pregnant, someone could come and lay hands on you and your partner in prayer, connecting you from the very beginning to the spiritual nature of the work to come. someone could come lead you and your friends in a christian blessingway--a ceremony borrowed from the navajo that honors the mother and encourages her with footwashing, shared blessings and other acts of nurture and kindness. when you have the baby, someone would sit outside the door in prayer, and when you come home, someone would come and anoint the baby with oil and lead you in saying your own blessing for this child.
an experienced older someone who has been in your stage of life could keep up with you for forty days, that critical time of transition, and on the fortieth day you could participate in another ceremony of sorts--a celebration of your birth as a mother. you could invite the other significant people in this child's life--men & women--to attend something quiet in your home.

if the church sent someone out to do this work and then modeled for others how to do it--how to attend, how to bless, how to give voice to these critical moments in a new family's life--then we could extend our blessings to those in our community, our friends who have a yet to be satiated spiritual thirst for something more.

it's the work of a spiritual doula.

this kind of caring can revive so many of the priestly roles that have been lost in our big protestant churches and disconnected communities. praying for the sick, serving communion to those who are housebound, attending in silence and prayer those passing from this life, anointing with oil and laying on of hands.

once, when we lived in miami, a friend of dave's lost her husband to aids. when he was in his final hours, she called us to come. dave couldn't go for some reason, so i did, even though i didn't know them well. when i got to the hospital, he had just passed. my friend, a jewish woman and a closeted christian & very shy in her faith, asked me to go pray over his body when everyone else had left the room. in some ways, it was a ludicrous thing since she probably needed more prayer than this shell left behind, but i did it. i put my hands on his still warm body and prayed while she stood outside the room and cried.

she had no pastor to call, only a friend, and it gave dignity and beauty to that tortured death and to her soul, so attached to his for eternity.

the last thing we need is more organized religion, or one more pastor for that matter, but it would be so good to find more ways to be pastoral with one another. not in a superior, authoritative way--instead more like a mother, or maybe a kind older aunt who knows that you are struggling or going through something so important and just wants to be there, if only in silence.

some of the most personal, desperate moments of our lives are so hidden that too often we struggle alone, discouraged and feeling the shame, thinking we are the only one. the very normal but more difficult moments of life--birth, sickness, discouragement, death--go by, noted in ways too superficial to touch our souls. or ways too fleeting to get us through.

i hope the culture of our lives together as church goers can change. i hope we can become friends to one another--encouragers and witnesses to attest we are not alone in all this. maybe little by little, we can do our real lives together, and no longer have to hide in the pews or our small groups or the maze of activities that keeps us hidden from the love that can heal us. maybe by loving one another, we can become who we really desire to be--lovers of christ. and then we'll be the church and the "going" will be in new directions, for a real purpose.

gentle savior
we want to feed your sheep

your body
broken in death for us
is our bread

your tears
mingled with blood
is our cup

your life
poured out for us
is our portion

and we lack no good thing

take us
full and overflowing
with your grace
to feed your lambs

help us to be
good shepherds

help us to follow
even as we lead

nurture our wounds
as we tend to the wounds
of others

laugh in our joy
as we heal
and are healed

we will make holy
every simple thing

and claim
your redemption
for ourselves
and for the world

we love you
like a friend
while you love us
like a lover

and we will grow
to love as you do
with every morsel

this bread of kindness
your life.

Monday, November 17, 2003


quote of the day

Even very young children have the potential for real spirituality, described by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard as "an intuitive sense of God and a deep longing to know God." Thus the role of the teacher is "not to introduce to children a subject they know nothing about, or to supply religious interpretations for their daily lives. It is, rather, to provide them with the tools--”images and stories”--that will allow them to work with their own experience, and yearnings, to speculate and to wonder, and (in their own way) to build a conscious, articulate faith.

from the Jubilee Update

weather report on the blogosphere, starting a revolution and "gettin' it on"

wow, if you haven't been out in the blogosphere yet today, the weather is fantastic. you can see a mile in any direction, the skies are so clear.

take this, for example. my blogging guru dj chuang is saying it like it is on what's really going on in our consumer driven church culture:

after all, where did churchgoers get the idea to be consumeristic, aside from the market-driven society? Perhaps it also comes from the church itself? Could it be that churches that see their members as volunteers who can run their programs + attend their events + give their offerings, and reinforce the mindset of consuming THEM? Are churches consuming their members, putting them into service and defining their "ministry", burning them out (a common problem among committed church goers), leave them be, drop them, and go on to recruit new and fresh volunteers, in turn consuming them?

i'm sorry, but that is major, so major. and i've been there. to put it more graphically, the church is spiritually infertile (to borrow a phrase from my friend james) and every so often, since we can't conceive new life, we bleed out all over our poor volunteers and even our pastors, too, who keep this thing going until they can't stand the disappointment anymore, and so we throw them away, used up and useless for our purposes. to make things worse, we do little to nothing to help anyone recover and we shame them on top of that for supposedly being "unfaithful" to the cause.

i just read something somewhere--maybe it was a book review--saying that the people leaving are really the ones who are pioneering future church. they know that church is killing them and that there has to be a better way.

which leads me to christy over at drybonesdance, who is really putting her finger on something key with this:

If you really want to start a revolution, stop reading books about the church written by white, middle-class, evangelical male pastors who are mostly critiquing suburban mega-churches and start learning about community organizing.

don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are white, middle class, evangelical male pastors, but i think christy is onto something with this community organizing idea. community organizing? you say. in case you're as clueless as i am, the community organizing toolbox spells it out:

CO is a values-based process by which people - most often low- and moderate-income people previously absent from decision-making tables - are brought together in organizations to jointly act in the interest of their "communities" and the common good. Ideally, in the participatory process of working for needed changes, people involved in CO organizations/groups learn how to take greater responsibility for the future of their communities, gain in mutual respect and achieve growth as individuals.

isn't that what we want? isn't that kingdom work, kingdom living? we come together--loving christ and loving each other-- outside of the social stratosphere, and we participate, we enter in to each other's lives in a way that helps us see the kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. we serve one another. we make the least among us the greatest. god knows you don't need a hierarchy for that to happen. you don't need a program and you don't need minions doing your bidding.

you just need the will
to stay together
to be honest
to speak truth to the power
destroying us from the inside out.

you just need the heart
to care more about someone else
being heard
having a voice
having the choice
than just yourself

you just need the mind
to see that it's worth
the time
the space
the energy
to care in a way
that makes a difference
for an individual
for the world.

christy's right. you just need a revolution.

somewhere out there, some God people outside the church are gettin' it on, and i can see a whole lot of pregnant bellies full of spiritual new life. things don't happen like they used to. we're tired of bleeding, and we can't take much more. we've got to do this thing. make it political and make it personal and change the world, for the love of christ.

let's get it on.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


computer nirvana, our rock star and a long distance dedication

dave and i are in nerd heaven. we moved the computer into our family/living room next to the table where dave set up his laptop, and now we are sitting side by side by side in perfect silence, computing nirvana. we have a funny sameness this way, for all our drama about being so different. we both love (and longingly remember since having kids) being alone together in bookstores reading for hours. when we lost power this summer, we did okay for the most part without air conditioning, but no internet access?! now, that's hardship. and even though i'm by far the more chatty of the two of us, we both crave solitude and start to unravel without it.

so here we are, typing and clicking our way to true happiness, listening to a cd that laura made to memorialize her breakup with marc last year. we are all recovering, me and madeleine especially, but it's so much better now. marc is in the "recording industry" which is a dignified way of saying that he is a rock star. do you know how thrilling it is for one of your very best friend's to date a rock star? we could hardly stand it.

on one especially hot summer night, dave grilled, i made pitcher after pitcher of margaritas and we all sat out on the porch--the commune: dave, the kids, me, angie, bill, laura...and marc. it was one of those nights you couldn't plan--everything was so perfect. we all drank too much, marc played angie's out-of-tune guitar and i sang the songs from marc's cd, making a total fool out of myself. the kids turned marc into a jungle gym, and everything said seemed especially funny and bright.

but all our summer fun gave way to fall and then a bitter cold winter, and you know how winter goes. the sky gets grayer and the days get shorter and pretty soon every dark, ugly thing you've been harboring your whole life long just has to get out no matter what. that's what happened one fateful night at a very fine restaurant in ellicot city. dave, me, laura and marc were laughing and joking and having a great time when someone--i think it was marc-- said something not funny at all. i don't even remember what it was, but in that moment, it was as if someone stepped out on that part of the lake where the ice isn't quite so thick and we could hear the whole thing cracking into a million directions all the way into dessert.

the next day i drove marc to the train while laura sat in the passenger seat, crying and too mad to drive. i thought it was just a fight and that everything would blow over--i guess i was in denial--but that was the last we ever saw our rock star. he was gone, and it took a long time to explain to madeleine what had happened because none of us quite knew. it was like being quit, and laura was so sad.

that was last winter, the winter that covered us in snow. for weeks it looked just like marc left it...gray concrete, colorless skies and empty streets. we sat around, eating homemade macaroni and cheese, bored and full of angst. we'd go outside, shovel, sled and then shovel some more. it seemed like it would never end.

but you know how winter goes, just when you forget that you ever enjoyed being outside, you have one sunny day and then another and before you know it you're sneezing from all the pollen and everything is so green and beautiful you have to pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming. the trees get noisy with all the birds getting settled in again after their long vacation and you start to think about vacation yourself. laura set her sights on barbados, and it was the beginning of the cure.

anything else i could say would tie things up a little too neatly--besides, all the details might not be appropriate for younger audiences--so i'll finish my story with this:
sometimes it takes a trip to barbados to discover that wild thing hidden inside you that is your life. no one can live it for you; you are the one who must choose.

so this is a long distance request and dedication going out tonight from laura to marc. marc, laura wants you to know tonight that she's not missing you at all. just for you, marc, here's "napoleon" by ani difranco.

so, so long and remember to keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003


writing for my life

when i think about being a mother, painting with carter or talking to madeleine the way i do rarely comes to mind. i think instead about laundry, the right papers signed and back in the backpack on the right day. i think about making sure your kids socks match and mastering the art of being faithful to bedtime--or bath time--for that matter.

i think about the other mothers who make it to soccer practice on time and who don't seem bored to be there. i think about the way they think to arrange playdates on early release days, and i think about madeleine's little face when i don't. i think about the way that I resist routine and order and how that chaos wearies my kids.

i think about the hallway closet and the chaos that spills out from every corner. (i pray every morning we will find two shoes that match while madeleine prays that we won't, and so it goes, morning upon morning, with little improvement.)

i think about all the times i have forced carter into his carseat screaming, or everytime i wished it were good ethical parenting to put masking tape on madeleine's mouth. i think about the way that i yell at them when i'm exasperated or how they cry when i lose my temper. i think about how quick i am to park them in front of a video and how i forget simple things like feeding them when i'm preoccupied with something else.

i think about my darker mothering days, the times i have lashed out at my kids in anger, the moments i have expressed disgust and frustration when faced with all they need from me.

these are the times that come to mind when i think about myself as a mother, and i know i'm not alone in this. we are all carrying the burden of our failures. we are all remembering too often what it means to love our children poorly and without compassion. we are too often comparing ourselves to the projected images of perfect mothers, the ones who seem to do it all and then some without apparent struggle.

this is our version of the rat race, and it robs me of my joy. it makes me forget all that is pure and good about living life with kids. and what a crime--forgetting! for despite the missed deadlines, words misspoken or all my other shortcomings, surely these are my best days. never again will i know quite like this what it mean--to enter into wonder forgiven, to enter into magic aware, to be full of the uncrushable hope only a child can dare possess.

if i say i was a bad mother or i never kept a clean house,
i will be missing a greater reality of my life

that i have walked in joy,
that i have known the mystery of an unanswerable question,
that i have seen beauty in messes
and pure delight in simple things.

if i say that i didn't love my children well, i would be lying
for my failures have ushered me
into perfect Love
the one who holds all my tears in his bottle
the one who knows that i am deeply flawed
and holds me still
filling me again and again
with everything they need

i have had to be broken wide open to see all this

i am writing for my life.
if i don't put words on this page, i will begin to forget all too quickly
that i am loved
that i am forgiven

if i stop writing
i will not have the eyes to see this beauty,
or the patience to reflect
on the grace that daily transforms my soul

i need to say
this is good.
and if i don't, the gift disappears
like so much sand
sifted through open hands
lost in the wind.


God of wonders
illusive spirit
hidden in the pearl of great price

this is my testament:

you have made me
rich in love

and i will pour out
this life of mine
as a living

a sweet, sweet
of your love
enveloping me.

may i never forget
and always have eyes to see
the ways you visit me
in the lives of
these little ones

my treasures


Tuesday, November 11, 2003


birds, "bwue" and i spy

Carter at Great Falls madeleine is off to school, that dreadful place of torture where they march children around in lines and make them sit quietly at desks in kindergarten mind you. i'm feeling slightly better from my flu, only now i have to recover all the damage remaining in this house. when it's this bad, i'm just paralyzed. all i want to do is go to bed and read a book. have you gathered by now that i am not one of the mothers who has mastered the art of housewifery?

carter insists that i put the phone "up there" pointing to its home on the hook on the wall. he has plans for me, this boy, and so I finish my lament of the trashed house with my sister and follow him outside to the porch with a stack of books. we snuggle on the loveseat, and i wrap a bit of my wooly poncho around him.

"it's cold, " he says, "but i ne-ver mind." this is his morning ode to the joys of being together, reading out loud all the books he loves and knows by heart. brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? we take turns saying the words with each page, a responsive reading of sorts. and then, it's our i spy book, the alphabet one. carter prefers to just discuss the pictures and leave the letters for some other time. that's fine with me.

i look up and all my barren trees are a flutter with the busyness of winter birds. they make their nests. the bluejays argue, and the cardinals fly in pairs, perfect dips and glides of russet and red. the sky is a bit more gray today, and soon we will forget that it was ever warm enough to sit on this porch, wrapped in a blanket, reading books.

"i do painting," carter announces. our paints and brushes and papers are where we left them the other night--madeleine and i.

"okay," i say, lifting carter up on the chair, pushing back his jacket sleeves from his little hands. i give him a fresh paper and a clean brush, and we begin. painting with carter isn't a possibility just yet. at two, he needs an assistant, and so i make myself his apprentice.

"gween," he says, and i put a little dot of green on the paper. he swirls it around the page with the brush, trying with his right hand first, but then deferring to his trusty left.

"bwue," he says, and i start with the blue. "wight here," he points to the exact spot on the page where i must place this dot of paint. we go on like this for awhile. it's not hard to paint with carter, and when he starts to fade, i become his muse. "how about pastels? you can draw with the green one right over that blue paint." he takes the inspiration and gets busy again about his work. and it is the best work ever, the work of creating, of finding your medium, of knowing what your hands can do.

out beyond his blonde head bent in concentration, i spy a bright woodpecker, whitefaced with a garnet crown, returning again and again to our neighbor's tree. last year the woodpeckers lived in our old tree, the very tall dying tree at the foot of our driveway. even inside the house, i could hear them tapping, busy, busy with the all the drilling and excavating woodpeckers must do. this summer all that changed when a storm blew through taking our tree right over in the bluster of unexpected winds. we lost the tree, but i'm glad to see our old friends are back, tapping and all.

"carter, look! there's a woodpecker right in that tree over there." no response. i point, but carter doesn't look. "i no see woodpecker," he says. "i see scarwy dinosaur!" he looks up at me with drama in his eyes. "scary dinosaur?" i feign alarm, and he returns to his paints, smiling.

an i spy for carter

i spy a boy
blond and blue

i spy a boy
wild and true

i spy a fire
burning bright

i spy a smile
full of light

i spy a carter
the journey long

i spy a man
kind and strong.

Monday, November 10, 2003


first frost, communion and the sword of justice

the sky is clear blue. it's our first frost.
just overnight it seems all of the leaves flew away from the trees. the grass is crowned with white and when we breathe, little clouds appear above our lips like pentecost. fall is passing. soon blue skies will fade to gray and we will pine behind closed doors, moody and bored.

but not yet. today we pile in the car, madeleine, carter and me, all eyes ahead, excited by the cold. madeleine has smuggled in a bag of corn chips and an armful of juice boxes. she passes them around like a holy communion.

carter says, "here, here, mama", holding up his box for me to take. but to madeleine it sounds like a toast, so she replies, "cheers!"

"to the first frosty morning," i say. we hold up our boxes. "cheers!" says carter, and we drink.

i want to tell them that following jesus is like this, the sacred infused in the ordinary. i want to say that for all our effort, all our desiring to be sincere, that in the end it is just christ loving us and us learning how to see it, how to receive little gifts.

simple gifts
like frost
apple juice toasts
joy in cornchips

to live in these gifts and to share this love. this is our testimony, for he is our all in all, the beginning and the end, the lover of our souls.

we are home now, and i can hear carter rummaging around in the kitchen drawers. he emerges with the long knife sharpener. you know, the dull metal stick with the big black handle.

"this my sword?" he asks, pronouncing the w.

i can't say no, for this is the other part of following. learning how to be brave, learning how to bleed. i don't know how to tell them yet, but they will have to take up many swords in this life. as followers of christ, they will need to lay down their lives for the downtrodden. they will have to learn how to fight for justice for the oppressed.

carter puts on his fiercest face and challenges me to a duel. i smile, loving this boy and his spirit.

it is a fine fall day and our saviour is in it, calling us to play and to fight for all that is real and good.


make us playful warriors, jesus.
may the gift alive in us
invite all we meet
to toast to beauty
to spar for justice
to taste and see
that you are alive
that you are good

help us to pass the peace
like brothers and sisters

teach us to share
your wonder
your delight

help us
to help others

help us
to see

help us
to know

we are all your needy children
desperate to play
desperate for grace


Sunday, November 09, 2003


conversations with madeleine

this cough is deep in my chest now, and dave--thank you, God, for dave--has tried to keep the kids out of my way all day, so i can rest and try to recover a little. but after a long afternoon to myself, i missed them and all their wild ways. carter's hair is so long now it puffs out around his little face like a mane, and madeleine's eyes get brighter by the day, so full of fire is this dear girl.

by nightfall, madeleine is antsy, looking for something to do, someone to visit.

"i'm boooooored," she moans.

when she was younger--say three, for example--she would just leave the house unannounced when she got in a mood like this. locks and doors proved no obstacle and all those safety gadgets they make to "child-proof" your house just made her escape more interesting. nowadays, she develops very involved, compelling reasons for going and badgers you until you're ready to buy her a ticket anywhere on greyhound if she would just promise to shut up.

thankfully, tonight, our next door neighbors allison and dawn are her final destination, so she scribbles out a lovely picture of the two of them hovering over possu their black lab and bangs on every door they own picture in hand, hoping against hope that someone is home and willing to chat. madeleine considers herself to be an exceptional conversation partner despite the fact she is about twenty-five years younger than most every friend she has.

never mind. no one's home, and so she settles for me.

me: do you want to sit on the porch and paint with me for awhile? i'm tired of being in bed.

madeleine, dejected: sure.

painting on the porch i bundle her up in layer upon layer of winter clothes, wrap her in the mexican blanket from my single days with dave and prop her up high in a chair to paint. it's a bright fall night, the sky still amazed from yesterday's lunar eclipse, and the big blueberry candle with four wicks smells like pie.

i drink some cough syrup out of the bottle and throw my poncho on over my pajamas, hoping one or the other will warm me as i bring brushes and water to our candlelit porch. we chit chat for a while, me and madeleine, talking about the colors on the palette and what we're going to paint.

already she's thrilled with what she's drawing, three hearts with wings. i can't help but love this child, this child who occasionally tells me i am the stupidest mother in the whole world. this same child who just last week in a fit of rage threatened to uninvite me to her someday wedding.


madeleine is struggling these days with the unruly nature of her imagination and the havoc it plays on her mind at bedtime. i've been thinking a little christian mysticism might be in order, so i tell her about a conversation i had with a friend who often has visions of christ coming to her in times of fear or despair. madeleine loves these kinds of stories, but tonight she has a confession.

madeleine: mom, do you know that jesus is never in my imagination. i mean never.

me: mine either. but do you think it's important? to have jesus in your imagination?
(like a prerequisite? i wonder to myself.)

madeleine: mom, of course, it's important. because that means he's talking in your mind, right? and that's very good.

me: hmmm...

i tell her how i want to be jesus' follower, but that i think it's hard sometimes...to really know how to do it.

madeleine: yeah. i think it's really hard. cause you have to think about what he would do. but i'm thinking...about being jesus' follower.
(pause.) i mean, look at abby, she is really brave to be one of jesus' followers. so i'm thinking about it.

abby is in fifth grade, i think, and madeleine saw her be baptized. as far as madeleine's concerned, if being a follower of jesus includes public appearances like that one, abby is a freaking hero. madeleine starts unraveling once more than five people are in a room. add water to that and she's wrecked.

she grills me for a while--"so when you know how to do it right, then you'll be one of jesus' followers?" it's a fish or cut-bait kind of interrogation. finally, i explain that knowing exactly how to follow jesus isn't really a requirement; it's the desire, the heart to do it that counts and then he shows you the rest little by little as you follow on the journey. even the smallest desire is enough for him. "hmmm." she says, satisfied. "so you are one already."

we paint some more and talk less and less. bill comes over and asks for his book about communion back. i root around the stacks which may never find their places on the new bookshelf we got in the trade with melissa. madeleine runs the book over to bill and then disappears inside while i return to the porch.

our paintings sit side by side, next to our makeshift paper plate palette. all the colors have run together and madeleine has painted a big blob over her picture, deciding at the last minute that it's not exactly what she had in mind. oh well.

i blow out the candles one by one.
the smoke stings my eyes and clings to my poncho as the porch falls into darkness.

it's time for bed.


saviour, like a shepherd lead us
wherever you may go

be in our minds
and all our imaginings

show us
that you are present

in our doubt
in our trouble

make us brave like abby

and we will follow you
(this little one
and me)

like little children
into your kingdom
into your love


Thursday, November 06, 2003


okay, just one more

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes


quote of the day

We practice conscious forgetting by refusing to summon up the fiery material, we refuse to recollect. To forget is an active, not a passive endeavor. It means to not haul up certain materials, or turn them over and over, to not work oneself up by repetitive thought, picture, or emotion.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


what grownups need, bird nests and more

this morning i wake up with a hacking cough, the product of an achy flu that's been creeping up on me the last few days. madeleine is sick, too, which explains a lot. i want to send her to school so badly anyway, just dreading the thought of playing referee for her and a fiesty, extremely well carter with too much energy to spare.

me: madeleine, we'll drive each other crazy if we're both sick and home together today. what are we going to do about this problem. (sigh.)

madeleine: stay away from each other? (pause, thinking) no, that won't work. no, grownups need to play with their children and be near to them.

i don't want to admit it, especially on a day like today, but she's right. i need to be near my children. this is my redemption, my chance to enter the kingdom.

so we throw on clothes, drag ourselves to the store, bedhead and all. we shop for cough syrup, juice and snacks to munch in bed all day. we stop by the movie store and head home to make our bird nests, a circle of comforters and pillows, and we snuggle in for the duration. the hunchback of notre dame is our reading from the gospel today, and we snuggle close taking it in together, our little community of three--madeleine, carter and me.

i talk to my sister patience on the phone, and just hearing her voice gives me comfort. she is my church, and everyday i learn from her growing curiousity about children, the kingdom and what it means to believe like a child. today she reads to me something she wrote, and with her permission, i am glad to share it with you.

Sometimes I wish we as adults were able to express our emotions as intensely as children. Wail when our feelings are hurt, shout when we are angry, and whimper when we fall down. Maybe then we wouldn’t push that lump down in our throat when someone hurts our feelings, use weapons instead of words or even act brave when we really just want to fall apart. Children seem to have this beauty of having everything out there, an openness to receive love and help from adults and even their peers. It extends beyond people to the environment around them. They can draw energy from the beauty of nature, art, and even the mundane. It is no secret that this ability enables them to experience spirituality on a level that we as adults can not yet comprehend. The funny thing is we were once children ourselves- the amazement, the openness, the tender spirit towards our Almighty maker is still there somewhere. What happened? How can I unlock the hidden openness of my soul? How can I feel so deeply and express my truest self to both my maker and the world? Why am I so afraid? Why are children not?

I feel on the verge, on the verge of something so real, so powerful, so true. I guess I’ll go back to my purple room and hold Jackie-boy while he sleeps in a gentle peace. I’ll lie in the dark and pray that maybe tomorrow I will wake up and uncover the truth while playing trains, jumping on the bed, or discussing the joys of having cheetos for lunch.

amen, sister, amen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

i've stayed up too late now, intoxicated by the silence and thankful for the chance to be alone for just a few minutes more.

it's been a rough couple of days.

i don't have words right now. nothing to say. can you imagine?

i'm bone weary from parenting, quietly harboring the suspicion that i am raising the next newsworthy menaces to society. i look at the house, the pathetic lack of closets and drawers and all the effort required to keep pure chaos at bay. my mind drifts to andrea yates. kids can make you crazy.

here is my prayer, God, my plea
that you would incarnate this life
this house
these kids
this mess
for your pleasure
for your glory

we are in desperate need for redemption
all of us
and without your beauty
revealed in simple things
we fade
wasted on the world

Sunday, November 02, 2003


bedtime story for a wakeful madeleine

once upon a time long, long ago, there lived a brave little girl with a warrior's heart. this child was so fearless and so brave that she supposed in her courage that she alone kept her small village in peace and safety. she spoke up often and loudly to mischief makers and insisted on justice at every turn, no matter what the cost.

now all this bravery made for poor sleeping, and this dear girl, no matter how her parents pleaded or reassured, felt somehow in her soul that should she give way to sleep, the whole of her village would fall into chaos and violence would wreck all she held true and dear. her nights were fitful and the whole house was in quite a state because of it.

one night, in all her tossing and turning, the girl discovered a tiny dot of light hovering over her tussled coverlet and mislaid pillows. upon closer examination, she realized this little light was in fact the tiniest fairy you could ever imagine.

shocked and speechless, the little girl stared at her new bedfellow in amazement. and then, being the kind of girl who always managed to find words for every occasion, she said:

"holy hannah! what pray tell are you and what are you doing in my bed?"

the fairy, quite the match for such a girl, straightened up her tiny body and said with conviction and confidence:

"i am the watching fairy, and i have been sent here from above to stand watch over your bed while you sleep. i promise in the morning to tell you every single thing that transpires here if you promise to stop this wiggling and sleep."

well, the little girl being almost as curious as she was brave, thought this to be the most marvelous suggestion she had heard in quite some time, and after asking the fairy about 100 questions, she promptly dropped off without further fuss.

and while the girl slept, would you like to know what the fairy saw?

the mother of this girl was a very lovely, nurturing sort and she like to linger often in the evening hours at the child's bedside, watching her darling girl sleep. she would often sigh to see such loveliness, and sometimes she couldn't help but run her hands over the child's golden hair or adjust the covers just so, imagining what adventures the next day might hold for such a child as this.

the father of the girl was just the same, only his love took a more protective air. he checked the locks to their small home often just to be sure and left a bright torch burning at the gate to ward off any soul seeking darkness for their mischief.

even in the dead of night, the girl's parents seemed to keep a wakeful ear to the sounds of the house, and one small cry from a dream could bring a parent to the door just to check one last time.

all throughout the village, the spirit of love and protection was just the same. women with small babies nursed by candlelight while their eyes rested on the village beyond their windows. men took late night strolls around their grounds, taking in the beauty of the night. no one kept watch in fear, but in great love for the land they had been given and for the love ones left in their care.

after so much fluttering about, the fairy came back to rest at the cheek of the little girl, now breathing deeply in the sweetest sleep. here that kind fairy saw the most beautiful thing of all.

hovering above this dear girl, the fairy saw the faintest glimmer of wings. looking deep into that darkness, she could discern the shadowy silouhette of the most heavenly creatures she had ever encountered. and that is saying a lot considering she was a fairy of considerable beauty herself. never before had she seen beings such as these.

"oh dear creatures!" she exclaimed. "who are you and why do you dance here in the shadows of my dear friend, sleeping fair?"

the beautiful creatures sang their reply in a song that made the fairy want to weep.

"we have been sent here by our Maker, the Lord of the heavens, to watch over this little one. She is a child of our Lord and He loves her very much. The fire in her eyes brings our Maker much joy and so every night we keep watch here until the sun rises to take our place."

the fairy felt so safe herself after such a song that all her watching seemed a bit silly, but a promise is a promise and so she kept watch until sunrise, enraptured by the dance of those incredible creatures.

when the little girl woke the next morning, the fairy told her all that transpired. she even sang the girl the song of the heavenly creatures. the little girl's eyes grew wide in amazement as she listened to the fairy's tale, but by the story's end she became her fidgety self and couldn't bear to hear another word.

"dear fairy, thank you kindly, but i must be going now. i'm in charge, you see, and i must be off to do my brave deeds and find my way in the world." and on she went.

the fairy shook her head. what to make of such a child? i must return tonight to convince her once again. but when she returned there was nothing to say, for the girl was fast asleep, snoring happily to the sound of heaven's song.

i can't find my glasses, so i hunch over this keyboard to type, glad for this fresh fall breeze from my window and a stack of new books to read. last night i went to a reading at the national cathedral with grace and heather. three women gave us the gift of precious words well crafted on a page, but that's not all. we had the privilege of seeing their friendship in motion, their camaraderie and their wonderful assumption that we had stories to tell, too.

this morning i just feel quiet, the way you do after a good cry.

laura is downstairs making breakfast for us all while madeleine holds court with sean, her boyfriend. carter is making something out of blocks with dave, and i am typing on this keyboard eating the heart shaped pumpkin pie that madeleine made with her own hands.

what is the story to tell of this life?
how can i put in words what happens to my soul every moment i understand that God is with me, that he is a constant presence in every moment of my mundane life?
how can i put in words the wretched truth that my soul still doubts in the face of all this mercy, all this grace? how can i say that this is my finest act of faith--to be brave enough to doubt, to be free enough to wonder if god is real at all?

it makes no sense.

the truest things about God cannot be said out loud.
who would believe you?
who would have any idea what you are talking about?
who could imagine but you that it isn't all smoke and mirrors?

carter's little voice crowds out my thoughts. his pile of blocks looks like nothing at all to me, but here a rich drama for kitty cats, robots and boats unfolds. he talks in his garbled english and laughs at his own jokes. "will you play with me?" is the constant refrain of his hymn to life, to all things magic and true. this is carter, inviting you always into his wild play world. you can hardly play your part, trying to follow his creative stream of imagining. carter doesn't care. he just loves your company.

i think about my children, their dirty faces and bright eyes. how long will i be able to hold these moments, this or that exact expression of wonder and mischief, in my mind's eye? i am forgetting already, how tiny they were in my arms and how loud they cried.

they are always at my legs, these two, inviting me into adventures of no true consequence. sometimes they are strangely silent, covering walls with artwork or doing furtive science experiments without supervision. most of the time i am tired from too many adventures and too much "silence".

madeleine invites us to the porch for breakfast in a grown up voice. her face is scraped from a tumble down the stairs in mary janes, and her hair is wild and tangled. she carries fire in her eyes at all times. the tilt of that chin can marshall you to order. everyday she is writing my story. everyday i uncover in that fire something i did not know.

i can hear the clatter of plates from the porch.

i must go now.
my story is unfolding,
and i have to be there
as the words are being written on my soul.

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