Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Plan What?


This was the plan today ... let's call it Plan A:
- bake gluten-free cornbread
- make gluten-free stuffing
- bake gluten-free pumpkin pie cake
- (have daughter bake) gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

Not too bad, except for the beginnings of a migraine and a throbbing foot. Then I went to preheat the oven. It wouldn't preheat. It will only go on the "clean oven" mode. 

So I went to Plan B:
- panic
- cry
- look up what might be the problem online
- try to fix it
- cry when it doesn't work
- panic

That didn't work, so I moved on to Plan C:
- look up crockpot recipes for cornbread and stuffing
- look up crockpot dessert ideas

And so I found out that I could most likely accomplish gluten-free cornbread and stuffing in the crockpot. Problem solved. But what about dessert? Every single crockpot dessert that looked fabulous enough for Thanksgiving required ingredients I didn't have and looked incredibly complicated and I didn't want to risk them not coming out right. And then...


Plan D:
- friend, whose children I'm watching later in the day, offers to run to gluten-free bakery to pick up cupcakes
- I hem and haw and finally agree and thank her profusely

Relief! I get to work on the cornbread and stuffing.

And then ... a call including many apologies and screaming children in the background ... plan C aborted due to lost wallet and overtired children. Instead she comes over with the girls and we share our horrible mornings with each other. I feed children, then load the girl children into the van for a ride to the gluten-free bakery ... in hopes that overtired girls nap and getting out of the house helps me de-stress and reframe my day. 

On to Plan E: 
At the bakery, I procure a dozen yummy cupcakes, a half pound of snickerdoodles, a treat for the awake kids in the van to share, and a lemon bar to calm my nerves. Yes...that's it...calm my nerves. Lemon bars do that, you know. 

Amazing friends offered suggestions and oven usage along the way, but going to someone else's house with a horde of kids in tow just wasn't on my list of "easy fix to frustrating problem." I'm not sure the kids would have survived helped my stress levels.

Mischief managed. The cornbread looks edible, if a bit lumpy. The stuffing is yummy. The cupcakes will hopefully survive the day in the fridge, as it's a very difficult thing for me the children to not eat them. 

If the rest of the day goes as planned (ha!), I'll feed the kids dinner of some sort in three hours and put them to bed in four and a half hours, then shower and go to bed myself. By 8pm. So I can get up at 1, load everyone in the van, and drive eight and a half hours to Pennsylvania to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws. 

Abundance of Blessings


Every night, as a family, we share our highs and lows, we read and discuss a Bible verse, we say a prayer, and we bless each other before bed. It's a most sacred of rituals. It brings our family together physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We share the best and the worst of our experiences and our thoughts - without judgement, without interruption, with support and love. (Check out faith5.org and the book Holding Your Family Together by Rev. Dr. Rich Melheim - they are great starting points for this nightly ritual!)



Throughout the month of November, we've said what we're thankful for each night during prayer time, starting with A, and ending in Z on Thanksgiving night. We've learned that there is so much for which to be thankful...

I'm thankful for Alexander and Alia, who teach me so much about life. For beaches, especially the one at Camp Calumet, for which I'm also thankful. For Coren and cheesecake - both sweet; daydreaming and doctors; everlasting life and Evening Prayer; fireflies, family, and faith. For forgiveness. For Gramma, Gram, Grammy and GG; and for God's grace. For Haley, my husband, hikes, and the Holy Spirit. For imaginations run wild, jokes, Jesus, and kindness. For Love and Light and listening. For Maggie and Megan, and making a joyful noise... and for moments and memories. For nonsense, Nanna, Osspiee Lake and open arms. For Pop, Papa, prayers and purple; Quinn Street memories; and for Rachel, Renee, and Remicade. For Sammy. For serenity, safety, and sacred spaces; teachers, tearjerkers, and truth. For Tuesday Night Sunday School. For unusual requests, uplifting stories, and unexpected gifts. For voracious readers, voices raised in praise and thanksgiving, and vacations. For wisdom, wishes, wise women, and wool socks. For my x-chromosome, and the joys of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding it allowed me. For Yoda's wisdom and yoga poses. For Zachary, Zaphod Beeblebrox and my zany life. 


Somehow there don't seem to be enough letters in the alphabet to accurately describe just how thankful I am for every aspect of my life. Even on my worst days, I live in gratitude for life, for movement, for breath, for love, and for the One who pours out this abundance of blessings upon me. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Adorned


A teenage girl sits alone, praying the man she loves won't be angry, won't leave her, when he finds out the burden and the blessing she carries - when she reveals to him that she's pregnant. The baby is not his. She fears he will, as most men would, take back the promises he's made and leave her to deal with her situation on her own.

He considers leaving at first. Instead he stays. 

The two journey forward together, despite the reactions of family, friends, and neighbors. Their love for each other, for God, and for the child she carries prevails.

That must have been a long nine months, and in that time, so much to do. There was a baby for whom to prepare, a pilgrimage to make, their own hearts to prepare to receive this blessed child. How do you prepare to give birth to God? To parent God? How should we, now, prepare for the same birth?

Shopping for gifts for family and friends, baking, adorning our houses in holiday finery, and myriad holiday activities make up the standard preparations of the masses. The expectation of gifts, a visit from Santa, and a holiday feast fill the minds of most while some are just hoping to scrape enough together for a gift for their child and food for their table. Stress seems the hallmark feeling of the season, with either too much to do or to little to go around.

The humble surroundings of Jesus' birth were adorned with prayer and love and joy, not with fancy things. The food, too, must have been simple fare. The gifts of that day nothing more and nothing less than Love. The first guests to the celebration were strangers to the parents – shepherds come to see the baby lying in the manger.

The hustle and bustle of the season starts earlier every year. Christmas decor in stores before Halloween, Black Friday ads before Veteran's Day. I don't want hustle, nor bustle. I want peace, family, togetherness, worship - to hold holy in my heart the hope elicited by the impending birth of the God-child. I want to center my days on the journey of a teenage mom carrying the salvation of the world within her; to adorn my heart with prayer and love and joy.

My family has simplified our Advent experience. We put together simple gifts from the heart for family and friends. We get a visit from St. Nicholas on December 6, not Santa Claus on December 25. Each morning we move farther along the Advent spiral path from darkness toward Light. Each evening, we light our Advent candles, share our highs and lows of the day, a passage from Scripture and a story, a prayer and a blessing, and anticipate the resounding joy of Christmas morning when we will wrap ourselves in the warmth of God's love for us through Jesus' birth.

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for Heaven's employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sovereign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To Thee, O God, be praise
For word and deed and grace!

Redeemer, come! I open wide
My heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide!
Let me Thy inner presence feel,
Thy grace and love in me reveal;
Thy Holy Spirit guide us on
Until our glorious goal is won.
Eternal praise and fame
We offer to Thy name.
From "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates" by Georg Weissel, 1590-1635  Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This Sign is Not Fine


Arriving at Girl Scouts, a Very Observant Child noticed something a bit awry with the handicapped parking sign. I happen to have a handicapped parking permit, and as I've been having issues with my left foot, I decided to use it. It seems, however, that I need not have worried, as I could have parked in the next space over, permit or not. 

Violators will be fine. Fine. We studied the sign - there was never a D after FINE on that sign. Apparently someone thought it was fine as it was. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fast Forward

[For those of you who read last week's Fast Forward post which contained ... well ... nothing ... it was because my computer decided to fast forward things and publish the post immediately after I entered the post title into the editor instead of merely saving the post. Sorry for the vast array of white space in the post!]


Is life moving on fast forward? Time seems to be racing by - the Summer over in an instant, suddenly vibrant Autumn leaves now faded and falling, Thanksgiving swiftly approaching. There's barely time to catch a breath between birthdays, holidays, classes, meetings, appointments, and life.

November weighs heavy on my spirit, with sad anniversaries mixed with holiday preparation excitement. November brings with it a longing for a change for the calmer, the slower, the more serene. I first turn inward, attempting to sort out my wants and needs, define boundaries, and get my life and my thoughts in order. Then I turn to the bigger picture and delve into deeper conversations with those around me as to what the upcoming Winter will hold and what expectations and changes might come with it.


One such conversation with my kids caused a great amount of silence. I stared the conversation telling the kids that I'm tired. Tired because I have a chronic illness, yes, but tired in other ways. I'm tired of the arguing, the nit-picking, the can I play on this?, the it's my turn, the non-stop conversations about game play, the the thing I'm most thankful for today is being caught up on all my games, the games games games. And the messy rooms. And the eating all the food before everyone has served themselves. But mostly I'm tired of all the extra work all of this puts on my shoulders. I'm tired of it, and I'm just plain tired.

Silence.

Then I dropped the bomb. No games with screens until Christmas.

I think all of them may have ceased breathing for a moment there.

When they spend so much screen time playing games, their lives seem on fast forward. "It couldn't possibly have been twenty minutes." "It can't possibly be so late in the day." "Yes," I say, "it's the games that have warped your sense of time and stolen from you the slow, lazy pieces of your childhood."

It's time to take life off of fast forward. Instead of video games, there will be writing and reading and the types of game play that involve cardboard mats with colorful squares or boards with a checker pattern and little pieces or games that come with pencil and paper and lots of wordplay. There will be sharing and playing outside and cooking and making things with our own hands. We will listen to music and sing and put on plays and enjoy each other. We will take quiet time to read or draw or nap or let our imaginations run wild. And maybe, just maybe, during Mama's quiet time, there will be snippets of those childhood-stealing games allowed, but only for those who speak nicely, are respectful of others, take turns, and stop the gameplay and gamespeak when their turn ends.



Life doesn't come with rewind. It doesn't even have a pause button. And oh, how marvelous it would be with a mute button! But it does have play, and this Mama prefers play to fast forward. 




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Some Days My Heart Hurts


Some days overwhelm me with too much happy, or too much sad, or too much remembering, or too much longing.

Recently there have been many days with too much everything.

Reconnecting with someone I hadn't seen in a while, the mixture of emotions were difficult to sort out. Not sure what to say, all I knew to do was continue to do what I've done since we parted ways - continue loving and supporting while praying everything would work out well in the end.


Reuniting, although briefly, with other friends reminded me of how much admiration I hold for their strength, wisdom, and tenderness. The wealth of knowledge and experience in one room provided great inspiration and motivation, leaving me wanting to learn, do, and be more.

A gathering of women sharing deep convictions, very personal feelings, and lots of love and understanding proved just what I needed to focus in on those things I hold most dear, even though I was completely scatterbrained when trying to get across what I feel so passionately about. The thoughtfulness and intimacy of the discussion touched off profound feelings in some. A feeling of loving support encircled those gathered and remained close long after the gathering ended.

And then, the news. Tornadoes in Illinois, continuing despair in the Philippines, My heart breaks for all these people. And then reading about all the goodness and kindness and showing up for each other on Momastery Holiday Hands and helping put together 70 of the 152 boxes of supplies and gifts at our church puts the pieces back together.


There was the guy hitchhiking in front of McDonalds, and although I wasn't able to give a ride, I could afford a quick swing through the drive-thru for a breakfast combo, which made his morning. And the grandmother in line at the dollar store buying supplies for her granddaughter's memorial luncheon who didn't pay a dime thanks to a couple of shoppers.

My heart hurts from all this pain and all this love. Over and over it has contracted with each tragedy and expanded with each joy; is torn apart with the remembering, the longing, and healed by the goodness and love in the world. It's a wonder that it continues beating, with the beating it's taken lately. 

And so I turn off the news, invite in only that which shares good news of great joy, I pray and hope and dream, prepare for Advent, and wrap my heart in faith that all will be good, so very good. 




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Perfect Timing

My kids enjoy invading their grandparents' house for a sleepover while they are on vacation. It dawned on me a few days ago that I have a "day off" midweek and a meeting down the hill from my parents' house the next day, so those would be good days to camp out in my childhood home while my parents enjoy much warmer weather. 


Upon arriving at my parents' house after our evening church activities, we brought in our bags of clothes and food, turned up the heat, and made our way upstairs to get the kids ready for bed. I went to the third floor, where most of the kids sleep, to turn on the heat. It smelled a bit odd, and as I approached the heater, I noticed smoke. My heart raced as I quickly pulled a smoking binder off the electric baseboard heater. 


In God's perfect timing, we were here at just the right time. I have a feeling things may have turned out much differently if we arrived just a half hour later. I don't want to imagine what might have happened if we hadn't come at all. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Other Side


Not long ago Desolation ravaged my spirit and sapped strength from my soul. 

Today I laughed. Really laughed. Not just a smile or a giggle or a thought that something was amusing. I laughed.

That's huge.

There is no laughter in depression. At least not the kind that reaches your eyes and tugs your soul further into the land of the living. Only the kind so forced and fake that it grates your soul to fine dust.

I read a book today. An entire book. And not because I wanted to escape, but because I wanted to take time out for myself to do something that nourished my spirit. 

I got some cleaning done, too. Not the I've had it with this mess and I'll mutter not so nice words under my breath while I clean it up and harbor bad thoughts about those who made the mess in the first place kind of cleaning, but the ooh, look, this needs to be cleaned up and won't it look and feel so much better in here if I put in a little effort while listening to some awesome tunes kind of cleaning. 

That's progress.

I may just be on my way to The Other Side. To that place where Hope and Love and Light and Beauty live. The place where Life itself lives. Where sadness is a feeling, not a way of life.

It's a good place to be. I just hope I can stay.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Treasure Trove

I came across an unlabeled cd this week and discovered a treasure trove of photos on it. Pictures from eight years ago - shortly after our fourth of five children was born. This one completely blew my mind. So many amazing things in one image. Alex is looking at the camera and smiling! He doesn't do that. Ever. He's a teen, after all. Zachary's hair - his long, BLONDE, spiral-curly, beautiful hair. It's much shorter, he combs it straight, and it's green now. And poor squished Haley - the only girl in a sea of boys. She has a little sister now - one who wasn't even a thought when this photo was taken. And Coren ... he's so tiny! Ok, so he's a few weeks old wearing 6-9 month clothing in that picture, but still, he's tiny! 

One moment in time, captured, brings up so many thoughts and emotions. Where has the time gone? I know that in a flash they'll all be grown and out of the house and I'll be taking pictures of my grandchildren. I need to soak in every moment with my kids, make lots of good memories. Looking at that photo, I'm so thankful for these wonderful children and the young adults they've become. 

And because I've become just as awesome a mom as they have children, I will fulfill my parental duty to thoroughly embarrass my eldest in all of his teenagenicity with another gem from the treasure trove ...



Friday, November 8, 2013

Stuck


Stuck in traffic. Just where we all love to be. It used to really get to me. I used to get more upset than is reasonable at the prospect of being late - or being stuck sitting in a vehicle in ever-increasing pain not knowing when or how I would make it where I was going. 

One day, blood pressure rising, no longer distracted by NPR or VBS cds, I took a deep breath and looked up. I could look up, away from the road, because traffic was not moving. At all. Not an inch. What I saw took my breath away. 

Absolutely astounded by the beauty of the sky, the clouds, I just had to dig my camera out of my purse and take a picture. It was then that the beauty all around me began to change my experience. I was no longer stuck in traffic, I was gifted an opportunity to appreciate the show Mother Nature was putting on for me - for all of us under that sky at that moment. 



Several days later, my van was once again at a standstill. It was then that my five year old commented on the bird skeleton on the electrical wires. You read correctly - bird skeleton. If you take the time to really see them, they do look like bird skeletons - we must drive past hundreds of them a day without taking notice. 



Now my traffic experience is slightly different than it was before. Traffic-free travel has somehow become a bit disappointing. How many wonderous skies have gone unappreciated?



 How many interesting sights have gone unnoticed?


Snakes attacking a motorcycle - eeeeeek!
Say what?
How many rainbows or opportunities for prayer have faded to the background? 




Stuck in traffic - not such a bad place to be after all, if we just take a moment, take a deep breath, and look with wonder at our surroundings.

Life's like that, too. Too often when we're stuck in life, we get tunnel vision, seeing only the obstacles before us, and not the beauty and opportunity around us. We get upset over what we cannot control instead of enjoying what we can - our environment, our attitudes, a moment of peace. Isn't that what we hope and pray for all day long- just one moment of peace. Take it. It's right there on the highway waiting for you. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Desolation of the Soul


It arrives unannounced. Exhaustion first, then the ability to cope vanishes. Sadness turns to hopelessness; every thought, every motion, every feeling becomes a burden too heavy to manage. In fleeting moments such as this I know this isn't the truth of my life, but in other moments I can't see through the depression to reality. Feeling utterly alone, entombed in despair, turned to stone.

Everything is wrong with life. But I act fine. Content with life. Happy. Every second, happy. Every second, agony.

I don't want to clean, to cook, to pay bills, to do anything but lose myself in someone else's world. Books and reality tv are my drugs of choice. I want to feel someone else's feelings for a while, not my own.

Longing for love, for someone to care for and take care of me, yet unable to receive, accept or feel it when offered devastates my spirit. I'm homesick, yet I'm home. I'm God-sick, yet God is with me. Everyone and everything seems distant - far removed from my world of emotional anguish. Love-parched, I am not able to take in that which can revive me. 

I don't want to be here. I don't choose to be here. But the more I struggle against it, the more it paralyzes me. Depression is killing me - my mind, my body, my spirit. No amount of love, or Light, or anything can reach me where I am. I can hear the words, but they have no impact, their meaning, lost.

Pure desolation of the soul. 

No beacon in the darkness can reach me, yet somewhere within me there is a spark. A spark of something that reminds me that although I sojourn here, it is not my eternity. That spark is why I continue forward, unsure of when I'll leave this desolate place, but knowing that Love will meet me on the other side, arms wide open. 



Friday, November 1, 2013

Ossipee


She sits in front of me, scared, but determined. She is going to conquer this fear. She is going to emerge triumphant. Besides, her Brubber is already fairly far out in the lake and she is concerned for his safety, too. We are in a two person kayak, circling near shore, the two of us a bit nervous and wanting to take time and lots of deep breaths before paddling into deeper waters. The last time we were in a person-powered watercraft on Lake Ossipee, we both had panic attacks. Mine quieted down quickly, but hers escalated as we quickly made our way to shore.  



Quite surprisingly, I find myself overcome not with anxiety, but with peace. Peace and a yearning to paddle out toward the middle of the calm lake and enjoy the beautiful autumn scenery.

Paddling toward the teenagers, who through Wilderness Camp experience are completely capable of going it on their own, but according to camp rules are bound to stay close to their parent, she asks if this is such a good idea after all. I offer to go back, but her Brubber is out there and she needs to get to him.

Entranced by the sounds and colors and rhythm of paddle slicing through water, my fears, my anxieties, my health issues, and all that usually casts a haze in my mind melts away.

Catching up with the boys, three of us decide to head toward the old house with the falling-off porch, while one heads for shore.

With each stroke of the paddle, my confidence grows. My body feels good, strong. The sound of paddle through water, water lapping kayak, and quiet banter between siblings mingle together to soothe my spirit.

For once in too long, my mind is quiet. Silent. In this place I feel closest to God. In this place I hear the whispering of my soul.

All is good. Everything is already alright. There is nothing better than this. Than now. Than here. Than Home.