Thursday, August 28, 2014

There is beauty, beauty everywhere

Taking a page out of Mark Rodriguez's play book and looking for beauty everywhere, my daughter OG grabbed my iPhone camera and snapped these shots on the way out of Home Depot, of all places.


Mark's thoughts, shared from his personal journal by his mother on God Is Super Good, are really encouraging me in my walk with God.

Despite his youth, Mark had a strong faith and an exemplary devotional life. This is journal-writing at its best!

It really does seem that Mark lived life with one foot here and one foot already in heaven. I, too, want to see beauty everywhere, and to give God glory for all of it.

*Entry 8, August - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song Beauty from Starship--The Musical.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

...but you will know they contain great gain

"If you have one hug left, give it to P. from me. You know there are no greater moments in the life of parents than to see their fledglings spread their wings. We take these moments as if they represented a loss, but you will know they contain great gain."


Words of wisdom from my dear father-in-law as we return from having dropped our son off for his freshman year at college. Such bittersweet, happy-sad days those were!

So, now it's official. He is a college student, about to spend his fourth night in his dorm room. I'm learning to trust God with my son in a whole new way, and I am so thankful that I can trust that He loves him even more than I do!

We are so grateful for this opportunity for him to be there on full scholarship. I trust that they will teach him much, and that he will teach them a few things, too!

Blessings, PT! We truly couldn't be more pleased or more proud!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Every Damn Day

Below is my submission for the August Writing Prompt for Poets Online:
"Your task this month is to write a poem about a negative wish (or wishes)--a wish to undo, wishes that change the past. Those are the wishes that pull you right back to the present and have you thinking about the future."

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
They keep telling me not to think about those.
That's pretty easy for them to say.

("Who the hell is 'they' anyway?" you always asked me
When you didn't agree with what I was saying
But knew I was probably right.
I remember that about you,
Back before Shoulda came to visit
And stole you away.)

They is the people who knew better than me.
I wish to God I'd listened to them.
I wish to God that I'd listened to that white-coat man--
The first one--
When he told me to give you the medicine.

"Time is of the essence," he said
(Yeah, when is it not? Ever?)
And then he pushed me to say goodbye too soon.
I wasn't ready to say goodbye
So I got that second opinion.

Damn the second opinion.
That's what we get when we don't agree with what they are saying
But know that they are probably right.

Well, Second Opinion served his purpose,
And I got the answer I thought I wanted.
At the time.
Before Shoulda came to visit.

What he didn't tell me--
That second white-coat man--
Was that either way you die too soon
And either way I have to say goodbye.

I wish to God I'd just been brave and said,
"Yes sir, you give her that shot right away.
Don't waste any time now.
We need her to walk again.
We need her to talk again.
She won't want to live in a bed the rest of her days."

But I didn't.
And so I got my wish.
The one I wish to God I hadn't wished.

I didn't have to say goodbye too quick.

Now I have to say goodbye too slow.
Every damn day.
While you lie there and look at me with wild eyes
In sunken sockets
And wait for Shoulda to come calling.

Every damn day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wagging My Finger at Wednesday

You never packed up a bag of stuff
And marched out the door
Like a runaway train.
Your little self was happy at home
Just like my mommy self was happy to have you there.

Your best lady.

You told me so once,
Long ago,
When it was still true.

They say that often
You miss the "lasts"
Because you don't realize them at the time.

("Who is 'they' anyway?" you always asked.
"They," I always said.
"You know.
The people who know more about something than we do.")

Turns out they did know more about it than I did.
And I did miss them, those lasts.
Precious.  Unrecognized.
They slipped by,
unannounced,
and were gone.

The last time you crawled up into my lap and stroked my hair.
The last time you climbed into my bed to snuggle in,
You held my hand as we walked down the street,
You extended pudgy arms and mumbled, "Hold you,"
Or carried around that night night
with the regular corner
and a thumb in your mouth.
The last time you looked up to me.

("Literally or figuratively?" the pirate had asked.
And we've asked it, too,
A thousand times since then.
And that is the question, isn't it?)

I thought I would want to know
When the next last came around.
But I don't.
It's better when I miss them, and look back wistfully,
Than when they announce themselves
And I have to live them.

Your last Wednesday at home introduced himself this morning
And rudely made me cry.
I told him to go away
But he didn't.

And so I live with him
And the tears he brought with him
(Which I hide from you like a shy schoolgirl
because you'd never understand
and you'd be embarrassed
and so would I.)

The friends he brought along--
The ones I'll greet every morning this week
Over the lump in my throat--
Are waiting in the wings
To introduce themselves, too.

If you look for me
(which I'm sure you won't)
I'll be careening toward
the end of a season
I have loved very much
And wagging my finger at Wednesday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mesilased

There were bees buzzing round my feet
The day we opened the ground
And gently placed you in it.
I remember that much.
Bees on clover
Like any ordinary day.

It wasn't you at all
(Not really)
In that box of cold, hard granite that
could never hold you.

Your bright, warm spirit would never feel at home there.
Which is good
Since this isn't home.

I know you must spend some time looking in on us
Between walks on golden streets
And visits with your mother.

And I think you must have smiled on us that day
We, who tremble and ache with grief.
We, who just don't get it.

Did you and Lulu and Mims and Pips
All stop by together
To watch the silly ones?
Crying during the meantime darkness.
Missing you.

I remember thinking how strange it was
That life went on
For you.
And other people.
And bees.

The blink of an eye
Is longer than I thought.
And longer for him than for me.
Longer still for the old man,
Who leans on a cane and God
since he can't lean on you,
Though he wants to, desperately.

It won't be long now
(What are days and weeks and months and years?)
When I'll watch the bees again.
And you'll watch me
Watching them.
I'll be crying, because I just don't get it.
Crying, because I can't get past
my own missing.

And you'll pause for a moment with us.
(I'm sure you love this spot.)
And then the Delightful Laugh
And the Smiling Eyes
Will dance off hand-in-hand,
Leaving me with the cane
And the bees.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Baby Bluebirds and Baby Boys

From this:


to this:




Apparently we missed the laying of a fourth egg while we were off with my son to his summer orientation for college.  As our little bluebird couple prepares to fledge their second brood of the summer, we are preparing to fledge our second-born off to college.  Soon after we recover from that, we will "fledge" our first-born in marriage.

Hooray for our little bluebird house, and our first batch of babies!  Someday they'll look like this:

 








Someone with more time and photographic skill on her hands than I have, chronicled the entire process here

I'm viewing these little birds as a living reminder to me of the normalcy and naturalness of sending your babies off--once they're ready--to face the world without you. It is strange to think that soon two of my children will be living elsewhere. I will miss them desperately. (If one's children are burdensome or irksome, I would imagine it might be nice to arrive at the, "Bye, see you later!" stage of things. But when they're delightful--and you count them among your very best friends and enjoy being with them as much as anyone on the planet--it is pretty difficult!)

I would imagine in the end, it feels a little bit like this:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We Had Seasons in the Sun



As I read this post from Shauna Niequist this morning, I was filled with nostalgia and family memories of summers gone by on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We don't have our own little island, and our memories don't house conch fritters and row-boat rides, but I loved reading about her precious times with her family, and the million little memories that have stacked onto one another over their years of visiting the same place, together.

Ever since my parents scraped together the funds to buy a piece of heaven-on-earth when I was in high school, we've been able to stack memories, one on top of the other, of yearly summer weeks spent together.  And Memorial Day.  Labor Day.  Cold winter weekends to get away during the off-season--just you and some folks you love sharing nothing in particular, but doing it together.  Retreats for church women--that much-needed get-away for harried young mothers, afforded only because of the generosity of my folks.  I doubt they knew all they were providing when they made that purchase all those years ago.  My family has precious memories I could never have afforded to provide--not even once, let alone year after year--because of the generous provision of two parents who gathered the generations by the seashore every summer.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for providing us with this blessing for all the years of our married life!  Our family trips to the NC shore are precious to me.  I'm full of precious memories with precious people over many precious, fleeting years.

From quiet, carefree, joy-filled days getting to know each other as husband and wife... to a tiny newborn sleeping in a drawer... setting up sun tents for sandy, sleeping infants (who no doubt have sand clutched in their teeny fists)... fits thrown at bedtime, or when it's time to get out of the hot tub... little cloth sun hats that cover tiny heads and necks, and shade little pudgy cheeks...  toys and games in the owners' closet, like old friends who meet us for a once-a-year visit...

Fresh fruit and veggies from Powell's on the way in... little pink, sunburned cheeks... meltdowns on the back nine as we play putt-putt past bedtime... sandcastles... working on puzzles together in the hot room with the ice machine... little girls fighting over who has to sleep on the trundle bed... MuMama's blue beach chair... Tripoly... making t-shirts together at that cool clothing shop... stopping for BBQ buffets... looking for shells and sea glass in the cool of the early morning...

Stepping on Pooh guys by the upstairs wood table... fireworks on the beach... chasing sand crabs in the dusky twilight... five little girls always pairing up to leave someone "out"... that bouncy, green cart with yellow wheels, full of shovels and buckets and coolers and all manner of fun... the respite of shade under a colorful umbrella... Rummikub... watching the neighbors' illegal firecrackers catch the dried sea grass on fire--and having to call the fire department!... Cabin Boy... bike rides to the pool... a buried body with a sandy mermaid's tail... honey buns for breakfast... Yahtzee... boursin... spying on feral cats from the balcony...


Lazy naps in a hammock... having to take turns with boogie boards and skim boards and huge, floating rings... offering your great-grandmother an arm on the walk to the ocean... knowing your great-grandmother--and I mean, really knowing her...

Taking refuge in a dark theater on yet another rainy day... Lighthouse bagels... late-night neighbor-partying keeping everyone awake... little fits and tears over sunscreen in little eyes... swinging on the swing set by the community pool... sunburned ears or feet because someone forgot about coating them... "Ssssh!  Aunt Nita's still asleep on the couch!"... early morning walks through Pine Island...

 
Looking for a bargain at the "all merchandise 50% off" spots... adding whatever is needed to the community grocery list... baths in Nanny's big, jetted tub... "reapply!"... dear dogs running on the beach, which may just be what doggie heaven is like now for Huckie and Zach and Little and Winston... guitars and fiddles and ukeleles...

Skinned elbows and knees from bike-time wipeouts... a huge lazy Susan... a row of bikes heading to the grocery store or to get Duck Donuts... Nita's spaghetti, and Nanny's pound cake, and MuMama's banana pudding: the tastes of beach week... "and now we're having fun writing songs with the fam..."

"There will be a day when memories will be all we have," said Shauna Niequist.  Tears spring to my eyes as I consider how true this is.  I think of many people I have loved, those I can now only meet in my memory.  I know the time is short... with our parents, one of whom is already passed from this life to the next.  With our children, one of whom is already pledged to another, beginning to dream about what life will look like when "home" isn't the same place as my own four walls.  I cry for my pastor, whose son was unexpectedly snatched from them a month ago by a gunman's stray bullet.  I cry for my sweet friend Jeanine, who entered her final rest from her courageous battle with cancer just 36 hours ago.  I cry for their family members and friends, who now visit with those they love only in memories.  The time given us is short, and life is fleeting, and in a matter of moments we have to say goodbye... whether we were ready to or not.

I am driven to a desire to live each moment to the fullest--in connection--and to never waste another precious moment of life fighting or arguing or taking those I love for granted!  I am driven to a desire to capture memories better than I do--more pictures, more videos, more snapshots of daily-day life with those precious ones who live in my circle, at least for this day.  I am driven to a Savior, who comforts my pain--and that of my friends--and who has made a way of lasting comfort and joy for me: that I may know Him in this life, and that I may know Him--and my loved ones who also know Him--forever in the life to come.  "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" - John 17:3.

"Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" - Psalm 23:6.  And until that day, may I live life deliberately, like one who is "stealing against the inevitability of time," and loving every minute of it I'm given.  Thank you, Shauna, for the reminder!

*Entry 7, July - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the song "Seasons in the Sun," recorded by Terry Jacks, and then by the Beach Boys, and then covered by many others.  It is an adaptation of Rod McKuen's lyric poem, which is itself an English translation of a French one, "Le Moribond."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lost With You in a Poem I'm Writing

A few key moments
Reside in my memory
Differently from the others.
Strong.
Stubborn.
Tenacious.
Relentless.

Permanently preserved—
Perfectly preserved—
By the intensity of emotion
Of a single, tragic moment.
Chemicals, I suppose.
The same stuff that makes you fall down
And faint
When they knock on your door
At 2 a.m.
And a uniformed voice asks you if you're you.

Others reside deeply,
Intensely,
But vaguely...a hazy blur of emotional swirl
Of memory
And feeling.

I feel them in my gut, yes, but softly.
Tenderly.
A strange blend of nausea and euphoria
That eats at me in a delicious way.

I savor these moments,
The beautiful ones.
I call them up into my mind
and feast on them sometimes.
Just "hang out" there,
Remembering.
Reliving.
Reveling.

Like the first time your hands cupped my face
And your lips touched mine.
Urgent and tender.
Long-awaited connection.
Like the look on your face
when you saw me hiding on that bunk bed.
Like the night after you said, "I will" and "I do."
I still feel the golden rope being carefully fastened
by trembling hands,
The hair swept aside from my longing neck.
Your lips finding me from behind
As I gulped and sighed and burned with longing.

A little hand reached up to that same face
(Only older. Always getting older.)
And touched me.
And he whispered,
In the bedtime darkness of
once upon a time,
"Mama, you're my best lady."
I could live in that moment
Like the bass line of that one William Ackerman song.
Breathing, touching, living—
just barely—
thanksgiving.
And praise.
And worship.

But life isn't all good moments
And they're not all clothed in hazy mist
and smiles.
Some haunt me by stubbornly refusing to be hazy.
By being sharp and clear and focused and terrible.
Relentless.
That pink beach ball of a baby
Floating face down in sparkling blue.
The cry of our sweet Dog Mom,
Bursting through the door,
Screaming that Little had been struck by a car.

And now, your face.
That look on your face.
Disbelief and grief.
("Oh God, what's wrong?")
First-morning news that there was a message
(Has any middle-of-the-night message
Ever been good
In the history of the world?)

Grief and disbelief.
Your eyes meet mine.
Your face is scaring me.
(And those damned chemicals have
Burned it into my brain
Forever.)

"There's a message from Rico
(You are shaking and visibly shaken.)
That there's been an accident
(Your voice is strange. Weak. Halting.)
And apparently Mark Rodriguez has been killed."

Hands on my face again,
This time my own.

I place my trembling hands over my mouth
As the guttural cries of "What?" and "No!"
Burst out anyway.
I've lost control of my body.
If I weren't on my bed I know I'd be falling.
The pain in my chest has climbed to my throat
And I think I may throw up.
The pit in my stomach grows
And I try to make sense of the words
But I can't hear you
And I can't breathe
And these damned tears blur the texts
That were sent my way as I slumbered.

Yes, some moments are burned into my memory
Like scars on nail-pierced hands.
How do we do this, Lord?
You, who lost a son,
Who gave a Son,
How do we unclench the fist
And let him go?
How?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

This past week, my son graduated from high school.  It is a milestone, to be sure, and one I hope to commemorate here someday soon.  I am so proud of him, but not for what he's accomplished or what he's done or what he will do or even who he is--though I love (and really like!) who he is.  No, I am feeling today the reality that my son was five years old three weeks ago.  I remember hearing someone at the annual homeschool convention say one year, "I'm here to tell you, mamas, the days go by slow, but the years go by fast."  How right she was!  How can it be that I have graduated a second student from our homeschool already?  Didn't we just start this journey, curling up in bed with flashcards and learning to read?

I heard an old Stevie Nicks song yesterday that just made me start bawling.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older, too...

So, can I handle the seasons of my life?  I don't know.  I really like this one I'm in, and I know that it is careening me toward another one, when these little ones entrusted to me won't be with me anymore and the Lord will call me to be mothering in a different, less active, less daily-day way.  For now, though, I'll enjoy every moment and buckle up for the ride.

*Entry 5, May - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is a line from the Stevie Nicks song "Landslide."


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life Is Beautiful

Once again, I find myself in a season of life that is too busy, and I'm falling down on the Blog Challenge I issued myself and my students.  There are so many things going on, and I keep meaning to grab a few minutes and write about them here, but I just can't seem to find any spare ones.  I hate it when my schedule gets like this.  I'm grading some really exciting final stories from my students, which I love doing, but it really does eat up a lot of my time, and my chance to do my own crafting and creating and musing goes out the window.

My husband and my son spent ten days together in China last month.  What an amazing opportunity!  What a special memory!  I had hoped to post some pictures and some thoughts about that, but it flew by, and now it is a month later.

This Easter weekend, my husband and I are celebrating 22 years of marriage, spending our wedding anniversary apart from each other for the first time in our marriage.  (I think, but I can't be sure, which shows you how much of a not-big-deal it is--or isn't!  We can survive being apart on an important day!)

But it was also just my father-in-law's 80th birthday, and I had so wanted to be able to be there with him to celebrate that.  Perhaps it was its being juxtaposed against our wedding anniversary... or perhaps it was the nostalgia of not being with the rest of my family there in NC for the celebrating... perhaps it is the ever-present awareness that my sweet mother-in-law is no longer with us... Whatever the inspiration, I am feeling nostalgic to the point of weepy this morning.

But alas, student papers call, and the screaming roar of editorial deadlines is ever before me, and so I must leave the musing to another time.  Oh, may I not miss one moment of the glories of life--both the beautiful, easy moments and the painful, poignant ones--even as I do miss the opportunity to get it all down on a blog!

Happy birthday, Opa.  Happy anniversary, my love.  And happy happy-sad day, world.  Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of life.  Thank you for beauty from ashes and for the certainty of Your loving Presence, which walks with us through it all.  And thank you for the amazing reality of Your death and resurrection, which we celebrate this weekend.  May the reality of it--the truth of it--be ever in my heart and ever on my lips!

*Entry 4, April - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge
The title is the title of many a song, but I had no particular one in mind when I chose it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

...'til he takes up the pen and writes

I am a teacher, and one of the great privileges of my life is teaching young writers to express themselves better on paper.  I am deeply humbled by this privilege, for I know that there are far better writers out there than me, and I know that all of us can be better writers than we are.  However, watching a few of my students wake up to their potential and to the glory of taking one's thoughts to the keyboard or the pen and capturing them... refining them... perfecting them to communicate just what you want them to... It is glorious work indeed.

Very soon their "writer's notebooks," which they've used every week for this school year to practice the art of writing well--whether writing descriptively, writing in different points of view, or writing using different tenses--will shift from being solely places of "assigned writing" and "writing prompts" and will move into being the writing of journals.  They will be forced, by assignment, to write a first-person journal entry to the Lord.  They will be forced to capture their daily thoughts and feelings in love letters to God.

My goal, of course, is that this forced habit will be continued long after our class is over, just like the daily reading for pleasure, and the Scripture memory, and the blogging, and the writing and memorizing and reading of poetry...  My prayer for them is that they will be blessed daily by all these things, and by communion with the Lord through written journal writing.  Whether that comes to pass, of course, remains with them!

"There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know 'til he takes up the pen and writes." - William Makepeace Thackery

 *Entry 3, March - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge

Friday, February 21, 2014

Goodbye, Goo

As I wrote those words, "Goodbye, Goo," tears sprang into my eyes.  I got that oh-so-familiar lump in my throat... and the catch in my breath... the quiver in my chin... the sting in my nose... You see, for the past week, I've been grieving.  There have been many, many tears... lots of hard crying--grief crying--you know, that deep sobbing-and-choking sort of crying.

In our home, we are grieving the loss of a dear friend, a sweet family member.  In very many ways, we are grieving alone.  When we lost our last dog, Little, the outpouring of love and support was overwhelming.  She had been unexpectedly hit by a car, which had been witnessed by one of our children.  It was shocking and surprising and horrible.  We sent out word over Facebook and email, asking people to pray for our sweet children, who were missing their childhood pup, and especially for our sweet OG, who was processing what she had seen.  Comments and emails and notes and cards came in from all sorts of places, and we were amazed and comforted by the prayers of many, many people for us in our grief.

This time around, there have been no notes, no cards, no written expressions of sympathy or comfort.  That is not because our friends have suddenly grown cold or have stopped sending condolences.  No, this time we suffer alone largely because very few people know about what happened.  We did get the standard card that the vet sends out whenever he has to do this terrible thing, when his life-giving hand has to turn into the one that brings death.
 
The card itself is lovely, with a silhouette of a man and his dog sitting on a bench, looking out over a beautiful lake.  It is a striking scene, peaceful and serene. "It's hard to say goodbye to such a special companion.  Our thoughts are with you," says the printed message.

In the careful black penmanship of one of the veterinary employees are added the following words of comfort: "Please accept our deepest sympathies over your loss of Winston.  We know he was a special part of your family and will be greatly missed."

And so he is.  I am missing the constant, happy companionship of one who has been with me daily for the last four years, since we welcomed him into our home.  He was boisterous and excited and so very present in everything we did, so his absence is definitely noticed, all the time.

He was such a good dog, and such a "good boy"!  He had a real heart for obedience.  He wanted to please us and wanted to obey us... always.  If we said, "Sit," he did, right away.  If we told him to go to his crate, he would, immediately.  Even if he was barking his head off and wanting to greet the source of the doorbell, if you told him to go, he went.  Every night, when we fed him his food, he would run to his crate and sit bolt upright.  He would sit that way, head and torso up straight and tall, waiting for the feeder to arrive with the bowls, then staring expectantly at him until he was released to eat from the bowl that had been placed in front of him.  Only the feeder's impressed and happy, "Okay!" would release him from his stand at attention, drooling.

We all miss him terribly.  And we are suffering and grieving alone this time because of the awkward reality that, though we loved this sweet dog as a member of our family, we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize him.  That isn't the kind of thing you throw onto Facebook.  "Had to put my dog down today.  Miss him," just doesn't quite work as a status update.  It is awkward.  People don't know what to say.  Many disagree with your decision and choice, since they only knew and loved the "good boy" Winston and can't imagine this action was really  necessary.  Others, who agree with your choice, assume that since you made the choice, you must be fine with it.

Reality, however, holds something different.  Making the decision, knowing it is the right decision, moving through the execution of the decision, and living with the results of the decision are all very different things.  You can know that something is "what has to be done" and still choke on your own tears as you walk through the doing of the thing.

I have had to make this decision once before, with our sweet dog, Huckleberry, years ago.  I have sat once before with my canine friend, rubbing the ears and speaking softly and controlling the tears for his sake, watching as his breathing begins to come more slowly and then finally ceases all together.  I was prepared.  I do not think that my husband necessarily was, and I know that the children who opted to be present weren't ready.  They handled it fine, but it is exceedingly difficult to watch the dog you love, who trusts you for his very existence, bound happily into the vet for the next adventure, only to be met with an injection of a confusing sedative.  None of us were prepared for his agitated pacing as he began to feel it work, for his refusal to succumb to the strange feeling coming over him.  I had to coax him into lying down, and coax him further to rest his head on my lap.  He looked up at me with confusion, and maybe a little bit of fear.  But he trusted me, so he allowed it.  That's what is hardest, I think... the absolute trust of this dog that you won't let anything bad happen to him, even as you're paying the vet a few hundred dollars to kill him.

Yes, it's sometimes the right thing to do.  Yes, it sometimes has to be done.  Huckie was very sick and suffering, so that decision was easy.  Winston was healthy and happy and thrilled about life, ready to live another decade, probably, but he was suffering from an inability to control his impulse to bite people.  We're convinced that he probably had something going wrong in his brain, since this biting behavior had not occurred at all during the first couple of years we had him.  When it did start, it was always directed at strangers--men--who were approaching our property or entering our home unexpectedly (at least unexpected to him).  However, over the past year or so, it had begun to increase, both in frequency, intensity, and damage done.  We tried to manage it by moving his crate to the back of the house and locking him up anytime anyone was at our house but family.  This worked for a good, long while, but even in that context we feared for the time we'd forget, either to lock the front door at all times so no one just walked in, or to lock him up before someone expected did arrive.  In the end, the biting behavior even turned toward the other dog and toward one of the children in our home  We knew that it was just a matter of time before this sweet, obedient, happy dog had a moment of whatever-it-was-that-caused-him-to-freak-out-and-bite, and really hurt someone, physically or psychologically.  And so we made the unthinkable choice to end the life of the dog we loved.  We did it for us, yes, but we also did it for him.  We know that he would be mortified if he ever hurt one of these precious children he loved.

 And so we've said goodbye to another dog-friend.  It's still a little raw.  We still cry quickly and easily.  (At the strangest times, a memory will catch me off guard and the tears will spring to my eyes and nose.  I still don't wear any makeup on days that I'm home.)

We are all processing it a little differently.  The girls opted to go with us to the vet, while my son chose to stay home and not be there for the procedure.  He had said goodbye, and wanted to remember Winston the way he'd always been.  I respect that.  And I thank my son for the gift that was given as he let us see him grieve, too.  I will never forget seeing and hearing this 6'7" man taking his grief to the piano keyboard, playing and singing as we all moved about the house that first night. 

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be Your name

And so we sent him off... loving on him 'til his last breath... grieving his absence... smiling at his memory.  We loved you, Winston.  And we hope that in God's great providence and mercy, He chooses to let us see our beloved pets again one day in heaven.  I wouldn't mind throwing my arms around a glorified version of our sweet Winston and rolling around the hills of heaven together!   I know that many of you will roll your eyes at such an idea, so I share with you an article I found when Little was killed, entitled "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?" by Randy Alcorn.  Before you scoff, know that he quotes theological heavy-weights like John Piper and Joni Eareckson Tada, and leaves you with more than a little hope that you might get to see your special animal friend again one day...

*Entry 2, February - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge - the title is not from a song, but the lyrics quoted are from Matt Redman's Blessed Be Your Name

Friday, January 31, 2014

Fruit Ninjas


Williamsburg, Fall 2013

This is my daughter EV's (and her photographer friend Jessica's) idea of a fun photo shoot...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Peace, Be Still

We have had a longer, deeper snowfall overnight that has closed schools and kept our Daddy home for the day!  Here's to surprise holidays in the middle of the week, when everything is canceled!

The thing that strikes me the most about fresh snowfall is the quiet it brings with it.  And I don't just mean the lack of traffic noise because no one's out on the roads.  In some other, deeper way, life is muffled by this thick blanket of white that has fallen and covered the earth.  Like the tousled head of a sleeping toddler, buried beneath hair and blanket, life has paused from its endless energy and constant motion and found stillness. Peace. 

With no notice, no time to fill the empty square with events and appointments, we are granted the gift of a true day off.  And if not that---(homeschoolers are not unable to reach their school building on a snow day, after all!)---at least a morning or an afternoon of rest. Refreshment. Renewal. 

So today, as I gaze out my window at the blanket of white,  I wrap my hands around the warmth of my teacup and breathe deeply of this reality: 
"Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7)!


 



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Bird of Mouth"

Snow that amounts to anything and is profuse enough to whiten the ground is rare where I live.  This morning we awakened to such a blanket of white.  It is beautiful!

Clearly, the birds are also happy... happy with our backyard bird feeders on this snow day.  The word has gotten out--however birds share these sorts of things*--and we're the happening place to be!



 


 
All puffed up, trying to stay warm!


In other news on this fun snow day... (yes, even homeschoolers can have snow days...)


I had to make our big king-size bed around this remnant child, who had refused to vacate the warm family spot that all six of us had piled into when the alarms went off this morning!


The delicious breakfast our dad--who didn't have to go into work until 11:00--made us... pflintzen with filling and jam, bacon, and hot tea.  Yum!

 Homeschool on a cold snow day!

* My clever husband had called it "bird of mouth"--hence, the title of this blog post.  Whatever it was, we're happy that the snowfall sent all the hungry birds in town to our feeders!  Today I saw cardinals, finches (both house and yellow!), mourning doves, juncos, titmice, Carolina wrens, pine siskins, and red-breasted nuthatches, and a couple of species I don't even recognize. Our friendly chickadees and our lovely woodpecker stayed away today, for some reason.  They're home staying warm, I hope, like the rest of us!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

#megsmiles

Meg smiles?  Or Meg's miles?  Exactly.

More than 71,000 runners* have pledged on Facebook to run in the #Megsmiles Memorial Run set for today, Saturday, January 18, 2014. (*It turns out that nearly 100,000 runners from around the world participated before it was all said and done.)

Meg Menzies was a 34-year-old mother of three who was killed Monday morning by a drunk driver while on her Saturday morning "long run."

Those in the running community are very familiar with those--I am not!--and those Saturday morning runs can often be a source of camaraderie and fellowship for them.

My husband and daughter often take such runs, and they are pictured here with our dogs on their #megsmiles 3-mile run this morning.

My son Philip took a short run with his Vibram 5-fingers, and I took a longer run on the treadmill inside.
 
Although we didn't know Meg personally, we are indignant that her family was robbed of her by the careless actions of a drunk driver.  And we run in support of her and all other runners, who should be safe on the road from people who consume alcohol and get behind the wheel.

Lest anyone think I'm on a sanctimonious high horse because I don't drink and drive, I take a humble moment--although it is true that I do not drink and drive--to admit with grief and shame that I have been guilty of texting while driving--reading them, writing them, dictating them to Siri, and listening to them read to me by Siri.  I reaffirm my refusal to do so anymore as I run for Meg this morning, since texting or talking while driving has been shown to cause greater impairment behind the wheel than drinking and driving!  (...Yes, even just talking on the cell phone while driving!)

May no more Megs die at the hands of the likes of one of us!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Today is all you'll ever have...

Is it possible for one small change in thinking or behavior to change your entire outlook or experience of life?  "Why yes, yes, it is!" I would answer, for I have seen it with my own eyes--or rather, heard it with my own ears--over the past month or so.

You see, I am a morning person.  I am not necessarily a "morning person" in the traditional sense of the word.  In fact, I used to be quite efficient and productive in the evening hours, those precious few hours when little ones are in bed and you can get stuff done without them under foot!  However, sometime over the past decade, I have turned into a morning person.  Those "little ones" grew up, so the evening hours are no longer the time that they are asleep in their beds.  Perhaps even more significantly, though, I hit middle age--that blessed time when, apparently, women begin to wake up at ridiculous times in the wee morning hours as a result of some mean hormonal trick that hits a few years before menopause does.  (Nobody tells you this, mind you.  You don't find out that this happens to everyone until you start to mention it to your other middle-aged friends.  Then they look at you like, "What? You didn't know that?!")

At any rate, when I awaken nightly--sometime between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 AM--sometimes I am able to go back to sleep and sometimes I am not.  Most mornings, I stagger to the bathroom for the cruel-hormonal-nature-trick need-to-pee that has awakened me, then climb back into bed and drift back off to sleep.  But some mornings, my mind wakes up as my body does, and I can't control the racing thoughts that fill my mind and demand that my day begin RIGHT NOW.

As you can see, on these mornings, I can have been awake with any number of things (doing the day's devotional reading, praying for the day's requests and needs, practicing my Scripture memory verses, reading a book, grading papers, answering emails, catching up on Words with Friends games, trolling Facebook, looking over the calendar, etc. etc. etc.) for several hours by the time my husband rolls over and begins to drowse awake just before his alarm rings at 5:00 AM.  For years now, I have had the terrible habit, apparently, of hitting him with whatever urgent thought is occupying my mind, as soon as his alarm goes off for the day.  He is greeted, thanks to me, by urgency and panic-inducing tones regarding some serious thing I've been pondering and planning for hours.  Not fun!

Sometime this past month, some small little miracle began to take place--and not because I purposed it or planned it in any way!  In fact, I didn't really discover it was happening until it was happening, and I just happily realized it one morning.  Some odd morning about a month ago, I greeted my snoozy husband with a sing-songy, "This is the day that the Lord has made!"  And he answered with, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  Sleepy smiles were exchanged, and his day began peacefully.

The next time I was already awake when his alarm went off, I again greeted him with, "This is the day that the Lord has made!" and he again responded with, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  Somehow, we had started something, though neither of us realized it at the time.  A few mornings later, he was up before I was--I having gone back to sleep after the wee-hours wakeful time and slept through his 5:00 AM alarm-- and he greeted me with a big grin and a, "This is the day that the Lord has made!"  I returned the smile and answered, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

This delightful little exchange has become our habit each morning as we greet each other, without either of us ever deciding it or acknowledging it or talking about it, even.  The closest we came to that was one morning when I said something else--something urgent and startling, I'm sure--as the first words I greeted him with.  He rolled over with a fake cry and said, "You didn't say it!  You said something else first!"  And with that, I realized that I had broken an unspoken understanding that had developed between us... namely, before anything else, acknowledge together that today is a gift from the Lord, and that we should rejoice in gratitude first thing upon greeting it... and each other.

What a beautiful reality!  What a beautiful habit.
"This is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice, and be glad in it!(Psalm 118:24)

* Entry 1, January - The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge - title is from Switchfoot's This Is Your Life

Monday, January 6, 2014

An epiphany on Epiphany

Well, the 12-Days-of-Christmas Blog Challenge is officially over, and this is the 13th Day of Christmas 2013. Maybe.  Depending how you calculate it.  Some people--and "official" ones at that--claim that The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, December 25, and culminate on Twelfth Night, the Eve of Epiphany.  Other "official" folks claim that they really begin the day after Christmas, culminating on the actual January 6 holiday of Epiphany.

And it turns out, actually, that even the date for Epiphany itself is negotiable.  Most traditions seem to place it always on January 6, but others insist that it should be on a Sunday and therefore commemorate Epiphany on whatever Sunday falls between December 2 and December 8.  Unless they feel like doing it the Sunday before--apparently, that's okay, too.

This reminds me a little of Easter; I can never keep track of what the "rule" is for determining which Sunday it will be in any given year!

It also reminds me of our dear friends from Germany, the Erharts, who lived here in the States as our neighbors several years ago.  They enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving meal with our family on Thanksgiving Day the last year they were here.  We also celebrated a "Summertime Thanksgiving" during their last month here, in which we cooked and ate the whole blessed feast again when it was 95 degrees outside!  It wasn't until the following year--when they were back in Germany and we were here eating the American feast again--that we realized the confusion over dates.  They sent a lovely email on Friday--the day after Thanksgiving--telling us they were thinking of us as we celebrated.  It didn't take us long to figure out that they thought the holiday fell on the particular date and not a particular day.  (Again, what's the rule for knowing which Thursday it will be?  Is it the last one in November?  The fourth one?  Is the fourth Thursday always the last Thursday?)  But I digress...

Back to the point.  (Is there a point?!)  In my book, today, January 6, is the 13th Day of Christmas and the day to celebrate Epiphany, if you do that sort of thing.  However, it is kind of hard to make much of Epiphany when the people out there who sometimes force your hand with regard to your schedule (think school and work here!) have sent you back to your duties. 

We always leave our Christmas decorations up through Epiphany--though we stop burning the outside lights afterwards if it falls early in the week, to wait for a convenient weekend time to take them down without becoming "those neighbors"!


In the absence of any great ideas that have worked their way into our holiday traditions at Epiphany (feel free to share if you have any meaningful practices up your sleeve!) I always use this opportunity to teach my Creative Writing students [and to remind my own children, as we are homeschoolers, after all!] about the differences in the various meanings of the word "epiphany."  So, first things first:

Epiphany (with a capital E) refers to the holiday, which is defined for us by About.com's Guide to Christianity Mary Fairchild as follows:

Epiphany, also known as "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.

The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, Christ revealed himself to the gentiles. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's own Son. Likewise, on Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus' miracle of turning water into wine, signifying the manifestation of Christ's divinity as well.


(Notice that even she acknowledges the squirrelly nature of trying to pin down a date for the thing!)

Colloquially, the word *epiphany*refers to "a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience."  (This definition is provided to us by Dictionary.com.) 

"In other words," my students always tell me, "an epiphany is an *aha moment*!"  Well, yeah, pretty much.


Literarily, the word *epiphany* is "a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight."


I love teaching about epiphany.  I love those little commonplace moments--whether in literature or in life--that change us... that make us realize something extraordinary in the midst of the oh-so-ordinary... that, in some ways, define us...


And so I will end with an epiphany-of-sorts that I am in the middle of... that I'm just now starting to realize, as I see the profound truth that I am so prone to miss...

This particular musing has been brought on by Theodore Roosevelt, through the following quotation from his book, An Autobiography, published in 1913.


"For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison."


May I ever remember it... and seek to love and enjoy and not miss these wonderful ones living with us for just so-very-few-more years more!  All other forms of success and achievement do lose their importance by comparison! 

(Republished from past musings)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge

Today is the 12th Day of Christmas... and thus, the official end to the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge.

I love the exercise of writing... of capturing the thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head, and organizing them into something that makes some modicum of sense... of sharing those thoughts, however dull they may be on any given day, with those who care to read them... of chronicling the mundane and the ordinary from our daily-day life, and thereby--if only occasionally--hallowing it as something extraordinary.  It also forces me away from the tyranny of the urgent and back to the truly important, so often overlooked in our daily-day busyness!

Therefore, this year I am committing to continue throughout the year with the 12 Months of 2014 Blog Challenge.  The rules are simple:

1) Blog at least once each month, sometime during that month.  (You may post to an actual blog, if you have one.  If not, compose a note to be published on Facebook, or simply write it out longhand and share it with at least one other person.  Whatever works for you.  Just grab your thoughts, organize them, capture them in words, and share them with at least one other person.)

2) Give your blog post a clever title, using the title of or a line from a song.  (Identify the song at the bottom of the post.)

3) Include a photograph you took to accompany your post, if at all possible.  ("If at all possible" is the caveat for those of you who don't take pictures, or don't own a digital camera, or don't use a smartphone, or don't look at life with a photographer's eye... But maybe 2014 is the year to learn to do just that!  Look for ordinary miracles in your days, and capture them.  Look at life with gratitude, and express it.  I'm planning to, and I believe it will change me!)

Won't you join me?

"There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know 'til he takes up the pen and writes."    ~ William Makepeace Thackery

Saturday, January 4, 2014

If Only in My Dreams

My daughter OG is scheduled to get her braces off on Monday morning.  (This is 2 days away. Yesterday it was 3 days away.  Last week it was 9 days away.  Last month it was 30 days away.  Ask me how I know this... how I have known this every day since her last appointment...)

This excitement at the certainty of getting her braces off on Monday morning has been curbed slightly by the true story one of her friends told her about going in to get his (her? I don't remember who it was!) braces off at the time they told him to expect to, only to be told that he had six more weeks to go.  "Can you imagine, Mom?" an incredulous OG had uttered.

She came in this morning equally incredulous, telling me about a dream she had last.  In it, she claims, it was time to leave for her appointment to get her braces off and I was working on a blog post.  (Like my friend Pam, I am only reliably regular about posting on my blog during the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Challenge, so I have been blogging daily for the past 10 days.)

In this dream, apparently--in response to her, "Mom, it's time to go"--I stuck up a shush hand and gave her a mean look.  She waited a bit, then tried again.  "Mom, we really..." to which the mean-mommy-from-her-dreams replied, "Hush!  I'm working on my blog!"  Desperate, OG-from-her-dreams tried a third time, "But we're going to be late!"  Apparently I then told her, "We are not leaving until I finish this blog post!"  In this dream, mean mommy delayed too long, and OG missed her appointment and her chance to get her braces off.

Poor thing!  I assured her that her real mommy would never let the mean-mommy-from-her-dreams keep her from getting her braces off on Monday.  Unfortunately, her real mommy holds no sway over the orthodontist, however, so she'll have to take her chances with him!