first of thousands

photo

Karen called to say she was leaving a birthday gift on our front porch while we were out.  Karen, beautiful friend and giver of beautiful gifts.  She is a gifted gift giver.

Tingle of excitement.

The kids raced from the van to the front porch and came in bearing a little gift bag with tissue paper being actively crumpled in exuberant hands.

I pulled out the card first.  Perfect.  Warmth and smiles.

Then I pulled out the gift.

My heart fell.

It was the book I didn’t want to read.

Crud.

My happy gift excitement fell in ashes at my feet.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  The celebrated book and author that circles regularly through the corner of the blog world that I inhabit.  Writing and a person that, by all indications, I should really like.

But I didn’t.

Every time I’ve come upon a piece of her writing, I’ve experienced a strong, I don’t know how to describe it.  An inner stop sign, barrier, halt, defense, aversion.

The strength of my push-back was surprising enough to make me stop and pay it some attention.

What’s going on?  Why do I react so negatively here?

There was a little disquieting inner voice that said that if I had developed differently, if I had followed the path of spirituality I developed beginnings of in college, I would have been like that.  A presence like that.  A spirituality like that.  Someone who is doing me better.  Ouch.

(I’ve felt the same about Rachel Held Evans, who is on a completely different plane – asking tough questions, engaging in controversial topics.  I could have developed that way, also.  And these musings bear the question how HAVE I developed?  But that’s a question to find an answer for another day, or another year.)

There was also a sense of not now.  Come back to it later.  Because really, I knew it should be something I would be, should be drawn to.

Karen had told me on the phone that if I already had the book, she had something else to give me instead.

A glimmer of hope.  Maybe I wouldn’t have to face this unwanted specter.

I considered lying.  Oh yes, I already have this book.  I’ve already read it, yes it was wonderful.  Well, lying wasn’t really under consideration.  Let’s call it wishful thinking.

I considered gifting it to someone else.

I considered letting it lie here, unread.  And then gifting it to someone else.

Sigh.

I remembered that a strong internal reaction to bears listening to.  I mused to myself that maybe this could be big, huge, a life-changer.

Oh, come on, just pick it up and start reading.

So I did.

………………………………………………………………………………………..

And.

I am changed.

I am melted.

I am broken open by a voice that is brave enough to ask the hard questions about pain and suffering and aging and death and fear – things that have laid very heavy between God and I.

And he took bread, gave thanks (eucharisteo) and broke it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 2:19 NIV)

Eucharisteo, Ann says, something to build your life on, live your life in.

Eucharisteo – thanksgiving.  Charis – grace.  Chara – joy.

I read through the book slowly.  Late one evening this week I finished it, then turned back to the beginning and began again.

She names one thousand blessings, one thousand gifts, a way to live eucharisteo.

I can’t but help to draw a line and connect the dots.  I’m in the early days of a year of noticing, and what have I been given?  A guidebook to naming thousands of gifts.

I sense that a door has been flung open.  A door I’ve been searching for across several years, maybe more than several.

I looked for and found a journal that’s just right for my own list of thousands of gifts.  I need to find a good pen.  It seems silly to wait for something as insignificant as a pen to begin.  But it has been a long journey to come to this new starting point, and I’d like to start it with more intention than jottings on a scrap of paper destined to be lost in the shuffle.

So I’ll wait for the pen, and then I’ll find a quiet moment to write on the first line of thousands.

1. a beautiful gift from a beloved friend – a book to change my life

Thank you, Karen.  I love you very much.

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Lent Begins

Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.

Lent is a summons to live anew.

~Sister Joan Chittister

I’m not sure that I wish to fully embrace this particular Lenten journey.  Pregnancy has a way of cleaning everything out that has been stored in my attics and basements.

It pretty much makes me feel like this most of the time.

I suppose that Lent is a type of “pregnancy”…a time of waiting, excruciating vulnerability, getting rid of the old junk to make way for new life.

Maybe I should count myself blessed to be ahead of the game, already prepped and ready to go on this journey, thanks to coursing hormones and general biological upheaval.

Maybe I should gather courage to embrace the raw meat.  Become an emotional sashimi enthusiast for the duration of Lent.

But, frankly, it’s daunting.  I’d rather just get to the “new life” bit.  (Wouldn’t we all?)

After Christmas

…1… Devo thinks the camera’s problem is the usb cord.  I was unsuspicious….it’s been bent for like two years, why would it stop working now?  But we haven’t replaced the cord, so there are no pictures.  Still.

Which is kind of lame at Christmas time.  All the pictures are stuck in the camera.  Which just means that we’ll skip Christmas for now, and come back to it later.

But it was good.  Merry and bright.

…2… I got my first seed catalog of the season in the mail today.  I’m trying to remain sane, reasonable, and practical.  But I’m seriously thinking of digging up some of the grass so that we can have melons.  Lots of melons.  I’m sure the kids would enjoy dirt paths around vegetable beds to run around and get lost in just as much as they enjoy grass. Right?

…3… While driving out and back from my cousin’s wedding this weekend, I listened to two fascinating stories on NPR.  First, on Being, Joe Carter and the Legacy of the African-American Spiritual.  Spirituals sometimes get the bad theological rap of being ‘escapist’.  But this interview, with fantastic interludes where Joe Carter sings, explored and deepened my understanding of what spirituals say about God, people, and suffering.  There are free downloads of the songs he recorded during this interview…go get them!

On the way back, on The Changing World, Mandela: In His Own Words.  It was almost like my trip had bookends…two stories of intense suffering under unimaginable oppression, and a response to that suffering that did not include bitterness and hatred.

…4… We went on a most awesome trip to the mountains yesterday.  The main highway to the snow was closed due to road damage, so we took a roundabout route.  Three hours of driving, 45 minutes for lunch, and a glorious 15 minutes of sledding.  It was a great time.

In fact, on this trip, for the first time, we sang a chord as a family.  This is a big first!!!!! (We also sang The 12 Days of Christmas innumerable times).  We had watched White Christmas, and there is a scene where Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and the other actress who’s name I’m too lazy to look up, sing about snow.  Snow, snow, snow, snow!  What better thing to sing, when searching for snow?  Even Levi could chime in with “noooo”.  I know, we’re destined for family musical greatness…just envision The Trapp Family Singers…

 

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

I’m sorry I missed your call the other day.  I’m surprised I could even find the message, it was sandwiched in between about thirty five campaign calls.  I don’t know who they think they’re going to convince to vote for them by leaving those annoying messages.  I don’t think it shows good fiscal management to spend that much money to call people up, irritate them, and leave a recorded message.

We did indeed have piano lessons on Thursday.  And Mrs. Linette said the kindest things about Lia and her progress.  You know we had that Fall Recital on Sunday.  Lia dressed up as the Sugar Plum Fairy and played her little piece.  She didn’t play it as well as she usually did, but that didn’t seem to phase her.  It was a grand social event for her, making friends with the kids she was sitting next to, and then having a glorious post-recital romp with Ali and Micah and Amelie.  She informed me that she talked to her new friends during the whole recital.  At least, until she went to sit with Micah, who was ‘lonely’.

She got two new pieces at her lesson, Jingle Bells and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  I’m excited for both.  We’ve been working on her playing less tentatively and deeper in the keys, and I think she’ll get right into the spirit of things with Jingle Bells.  And then the Sugar Plum Fairy is pretty ‘difficult’ – for sure the most difficult piece she’s played yet.  She’s sight-reading so well now that the pieces she is assigned are not challenging…at least to read and get the basic idea.

Lia’s stretched up the last week or so.  Today she went around and showed me how tall she was – she could reach this or that.  Her head touches the roof of the car when she stands (not when she sits, she clarified).

And when she opened her mouth and peered inside this week, she discovered that she is getting molars, too!  Just like Levi!

So now Amelie’s mealtime prayers go thus ::

Dear Jesus, Thank You for the wonderful day!  Thank you for Lia’s teeth and Lia’s molars and Levi’s molars.  Amen.

And Amelie, of course, is sure that she is getting some new teeth, too.  Or perhaps has some wiggly teeth.

The girls have decided to study The Nutcracker Suite (hence the Sugar Plum Fairy stuff).  Interlibrary loans are the bomb.  (Did I just say “the bomb”?  I thought I swore in highschool that I would never say those two words in colloquial usage.  Well, as my Grandma always says, one shouldn’t swear.)  But our library system apparently doesn’t have a recording of the original score.  The closest I’ve found uses synthesizers behind the orchestra.  Very 90s.  Very disturbring.  I’m a purist.

But we also got an album from Beethoven’s Wig. I had seen the group mentioned on some blog some where some time in the recent past and snatched it up when I saw it in the online catalog.  It’s so fun – “sing a long symphonies” and other classics, all with singing words.  We have album 3 and the opening number is Carmen’s Toreador, entitled Bull in a China Shop. Hahahaha.

I finally, finally ordered and received the Math U See.  But Devo keeps thinking we’re talking about Matthew C.  (Who is that? he wonders.) Amelie loves to play with the manipulatives.  But maybe that is because all of their toys have been confiscated.

Yes, our first toy confiscation has occurred.

Friday we were working upstairs in the loft and the girls were playing with the kitchen toys, the dolls, and the doll clothes.  And when it was time to come downstairs, I asked them to clean up.  And then I asked them again.  And then, that was it. That was the end of this era of toy-picking-up-patterns.

Toy clean up has recently gone like this :

Me : Time to clean up the toys.

Me, five minutes later : Girls, it’s time to clean up the toys.

Me : Amelie, you clean up the books.  Lia, you clean up the dolls.

Lia, whining : Amelie isn’t helping.

Me : Amelie, please help.

Amelie : non-verbal declaration that she is NOT going to pick up the toys now.

Me : cajole, cajole

Lia : whine, whine (although, she does pick up the toys)

Amelie : lays on floor, possibly weeping and wailing

So I told them that they needed to clean up their toys without me saying any more about it.  And if they didn’t pick them up, Pappie and I would box up the toys and put them where they were not allowed to play with them.  And then I set a timer … they needed to start picking up before the timer went off.

And they both soberly and deliberately came downstairs, sat on the couch, and read books.  I would love to know if they had a conversation about this, or if it was an unspoken agreement on a selected course of action.

The timer went off, Devo and I picked up all the toys in the house, stowed them in the front room and closed the door.

And they haven’t said a word about it since.

Well, I take that back.  Amelie did mention the next morning that she missed having a snuggie.  And Lia told our friend Marni who came to babysit them Saturday night that their toys had been confiscated because they didn’t pick them up.

But that’s it.

Weird.

Ironically, the house is still the same amount of messy and cluttered.  So I guess I can’t blame it on the toys.  We didn’t give a timeline…I think we’ll wait until they ask for them and then sit down and talk about the privilege of playing with toys.  And the responsibilities that come with the privilege. And the expectations that exist in this home.

And in the meantime, I’m going to work on figuring out what on earth is making the mess if it isn’t the toys, and eliminating it.

Love!

Leilani

 

Crud

I’ve been all in a dither lately. Discovered that I had an accumulation of soul crud and set out to do some serious decluttering.

And because it seems that the state of my soul equals the state of my home, I have discovered that I have an accumulation of crud in my house, too.

The discipline of silence has been doing a pretty good job of stirring up the soul dust and generally making me very uncomfortable.  I feel quite like an ugly lizard in the early stages of molting.

The exercise of decluttering is starting to make inroads on the home front.  I spent last evening pruning the kids’ bookshelf.  And what a revealing exercise it was.

I should keep this book because so-and-so gave it to us.  I should keep this book because it’s about cerebral palsy, and that’s a worthy topic – even if the book isn’t well written or well illustrated.

What if I need this someday?  What if a year from now I regret getting rid of this?  Sometimes the kids like the most surprising books…what if I’m getting rid of a book they might eventually like?

Oh no, I only have five coloring books now, is that enough? (Five coloring books for two little girls who don’t really like to color).  I know I don’t like having lots of books based on cartoons, but what if Lia would be interested in reading this Clifford book all by herself?

Should I keep all three copies of “Guess How Much I love You?”…remember how you gave away the extra copy of Goodnight Moon and now your Goodnight Moon is torn and you need a new one?

BARF.

But painful though it is, now that I’ve gone through them once, I’m tempted to do it again and see if I couldn’t pare down more.  There is, after all, a library just down the road.  The only books we really need are the read-it-over-and-over books.

Like The Story about Ping.  Which we are currently reading over and over.  And over.  (Amelie :: When the boy got Ping, I had a tear. I don’t like that part.)

Almost our entire book collection (which is really quite vast) are hand-me-downs from friends.  So I keep thinking, as my stack of give away books gets bigger, Freely you have received, freely give.

I’ve been thinking alot about my house lately.   I’ve been holding onto quite a lot of stuff, just in case we would want it in our future house.  But thanks to the Nester, I finally had a dawning of realization :: THIS IS MY HOUSE.

For a renter who has been on the brink of buying for two years, this is a big shift.

So I’m taking a big breath, and sending all the things that I’m not using and loving on out the door.  Hopefully out the door through craigslist for some of it, with a few dollars coming back in.

Compound that with the fact that every where I turn there is CRUD everywhere.  The small children take things from here or there and drop them on their way hither and yon, and every day as we clean up I say to myself, “We have too much stuff”.  After a while I started listening to myself.

I’d rather my life rule my stuff than my stuff rule my life. Both in my home, and in my soul.

If you know what I mean.

And now I’m going to go do some more decluttering.  Mindfully, because I’m counting it as a spiritual exercise, too.

The Measure of My Days

~natural laundry detergent~

~Sabbath challah~

~challah to share~homemade granola~

~record of this week’s official learning~

~My box of washing soda arrived today.  Because no stores in this area carry it, I ordered it from Great Cleaners…free shipping if you sign up for automatic shipments.

Grated down our Dr. Bronner’s soap bars (one bar is still incognito, probably disguised as a baby, wrapped in a dishcloth, and tucked somewhere for safe keeping).  We used Baby Mild and Citrus Orange to make two different “flavors”.

I don’t know how user friendly my pretty canning jars will be when dishing out the soap, but they sure are satisfying.  Everything is satisfying in a mason jar.

Recipe is from SouleMama, source of everlasting inspiration, peace, and beauty.  In one of the comments, someone has done the math and figured out the cost savings.  Imagine that, save money and be environmentally friendly.  Doesn’t happen often.

~Methinks it’s time to share the goodness of our challah recipe.  Maybe next week I can take the gallery of photos it deserves (my new favorite pasttime, photographing breads) and share.  It really is unbelievably delicious.

~Devo mixed up a batch of granola this afternoon.  Easy peasy now that I mix the dry ingredients in a paint bucket.  Just takes a few minutes to toss some with the oil and water and fill up the oven.

~Lia’s Book of Learning, with this week’s record of “official learning”.  Opposite page, her drawings from our experiments with the changing forms of water.

I’ve begun to think that I should keep a record of the things that I do and accomplish so that when I get to the end of these exhausting days I can say to myself Oh, yeah, you DID do alot today! Because, you know, at the end of the day sometimes you need a little cheering squad.  Especially when you’re so tired you can’t remember what happened just mere moments earlier.  🙂

It’s been a wild week, trying to get into this new, fuller schedule.  The bones of our day are still the same, but the level of faithfulness is going up, up, up.   And it’s wearing me out!

Not Baal

As I left the room, I said, “Tomorrow is a special day – the day when we worship God together!”

Lia’s little voice comes out of the darkness, “Not Baal!”

Can you tell the Sabbath School lesson is on Elijah this week?

Fanks, God.

Dear Jesus,

Fank You for the wonderful day.  Fank You for the paint and the drawings.  Fank You for the planets. Fank You for looking at the pictures that we painted.

Amen.

(Dinner’s ‘new prayer’ – by Amelie).

Sheep and Pastors

We’ve been working on learning Psalm 100 again – Lia relearning it and Amelie learning it.  Today Lia wanted me to remind her about the part  – ‘we are His people, the sheep of his pasture.’

But the way she said it was, “We are the sheep, He is the pastor.”

ONIF

I’d like to introduce a new acronym.  ONIF.  Oh no, it’s Friday.

Friday, my least favorite day of the week. Do other people like Fridays?

I have mostly given up on the traditional philosophy of cleaning the house before Sabbath.  My Grandma always tells how her Mama would cook and clean all Friday, only to absolutely exhausted on Sabbath.  And I listened to the message and have tried to instill a more balanced approach in my own household.

And also Devo hates cleaning on Fridays when he’s gearing up for the weekend.  And I hate cleaning alone.

So there you have it.  Just regular pick up, and no visitors on Sabbath.  🙂

But I’ve been so invested in having a special family meal on Friday night, our only sacred family Sabbath time.  And the cooking part has been a huge impediment.

Such a time commitment.  Such a minefield for my sanity.

I keep simplifying the menu week by week.  This week I’m ready to simplify it down to PBJ.  Seriously.

That would free us up for more important things.  Like dessert.

Dessert is a touchy subject in my parenting life because everyone is always trying to stuff our kids with sweets, and then leaving ME to be the nay-sayer.  And to heap insult on injury, then people usually make me feel like I’m denying my children and being a strait-laced, controlling parent whose children are doomed to future intemperance. Not appreciated.

I want to be the one to say YES and to give good and delicious gifts to my children.  Why should everyone else always beat me to the draw and I be left to say, NO NO NO NO NO?

Sabbath has been deemed dessert day for our family.  To make the day extra-special, and to give some guidance to our sweet-toothed predilections.  Friday night Sabbath dessert is like the Jubilee in our house.  All debts are paid.  Whatever privileges and fun things they might lose due to disobedience, Sabbath dessert is not one of them.

But it dawned on me the other day that I need to step up my game in the dessert field.  Just because I like slightly sweet things like muffins and cakes without frosting, doesn’t mean that my children do.  I mean, they like them, but Lia keeps looking at the dessert and then up at me and saying, “What are we having with this?”

So this is what I’m thinking.  PBJ and a spankin’ good dessert.  Something really sweet.  Gooey.  Yummy.

(And now I disappear into a daydream where I become a dessert goddess and my children fondly remember the incredible creations I fed them in their childhoods.)

We’ll see how it goes.

Near the Meat and Chicken

Our church has been in a (great) sermon series about prayer, and a few weeks ago, Pastor Chris suggested that at the end of the day, we ask ourselves the question – Where did we see God today?

I liked that a lot.  When we eat dinner on Friday night, one of the things we do is go around the table and talk about the best and worst parts of the week.  Perfect time and place to add this question.

As I’ve introduced this question into our conversations, I’ve been doing very little modeling of possible answers.  I wanted to see what the girls come up with on their own.  I thought it might be enlightening, or at the least, entertaining.

So on Friday, as we went around the table, when it came time for Lia to tell us where she saw God this week, she stated that she saw God at the grocery store that morning.

I was a bit baffled.  The grocery store?

The grocery store where Amelie threw a huge fit – one of those mortifying kicking and screaming fits (I thought we had outgrown this like a year ago) – where we high-tailed it out of there, leaving the grocery cart (and Friday’s dinner ingredients) behind?  That grocery store?

“Where did you see God there?” I asked, frankly skeptical.  I sure wasn’t remembering any good, godly moments.

“He was near the meat and chicken.”

Right.  Near the meat and chicken.  Wha…?

Near the meat and chicken.  That’s where we were standing at the onset of the tempest.  That’s where I (and my small daughter, truth be told) was feeling anything but kind, loving, patient, God-like.  If you know what I mean.

And then I realized that Lia was right.  God is there, too.  In the ugly, humiliating, trying times.  Near the meat and chicken.  I had just not thought to look for God there.

God’s Paintbrush

I bought God’s Paintbrush for Amelie’s 2nd birthday – jumping the gun developmentally, I’ll admit.  But I had heard the author, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, interviewed on Speaking of Faith, and was entranced.  Religious imagination?  I’m in!

After a year of being sorta interested when Mommy brings it out and answering all of the fun questions (“What color would you paint the world today?”) with a bland “I don’t know” – Lia and Amelie are hooked.  They love to each answer the questions.

And I’m doing a very good job of just listening to their answers.

Highly recommended!

Coming towards Spring

Forgive me if I don’t sound quite like myself.  I just finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun, and her writing style is so pervasive, I even dream like she writes.  Which definitely isn’t a bad thing.  Unless it’s that chapter on weird Southern and Italian religiosity.  Spooky and creepy.

My little angels are all tucked into bed, with visions of apple turnovers dancing in their heads.  This week we made apple pastries twice.  Galettes (also known as ‘rustic tarts’) and, tonight, turnovers.  Minimal sugar, maximum yum.  I’ve been reading, again, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  This time it’s the pies and galettes that attract me.  The savory ones, particularly.  Doesn’t that sound like yummy winter food, something baked in a crust?

The farther I get into this local eating bit, the more I wish I could reorganize my cookbooks into seasons.  A few are, but most require much paging through to find these winter and early spring dishes.  But, hey, what a great way to waste time, paging through cookbooks!

So I’m not sounding like Frances Mayes, good.

I began reading The Secret Garden to the girls this week.  I was going to start with Laura Ingalls Wilder (we started a year or more ago, but didn’t finish), but Little House in the Big Woods just seems like more of a fall/winter kind of book.  And here it is, coming on to spring.  So Secret Garden it is.

Lia is loving it.  With not too many questions on why the movie and the book are different.  Note to self: don’t let them watch movies of classic books until after reading the book.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, to get them interested in sitting still and listening to a long story, but now I’m second guessing.

It puts Amelie to sleep.  Literally.  Every time.

Tonight for our Sabbath dinner, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper.  (I like that better than the more churchy word, ‘communion’).  I had gotten little tiny wine glasses for the girls at community services, just their size.  I love taking it out of church and into the family, into real life.  When we were ‘remembering’ Jesus, Amelie remembered, “He got owies.  On His left foot.”

Speaking of meal times, we’ve been saying this prayer before meals.  I got it from a great book called All Through the Day, All Through the Year: Family Prayers and Celebrations by David Batchelder.  By day two, the girls already knew their part.  One person leads, the others respond in the bold.

I was hungry:

and you gave me food.

I was thirsty:

and you gave me drink.

I was a stranger:

And you welcomed me.

I was naked:

and you clothed me.

I was ill:

And you comforted me.

I was in jail:

and you came to see me.

Lord Jesus Christ,

may our Lenten fasting

turn us toward all our brothers and sisters

who are in need.

Bless this table, our good food,

and ourselves.

Send us through Lent with good cheer,

and bring us to the fullness of your Passover.

(together) In the name of the Father,

and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit.

We bit the bullet, took the big breath, and let Amelie sleep at night without a diaper.  Starting right after coming back from the youth retreat (didn’t want her peeing in the lodge bed).  And, lo and behold, no accidents!  Ironically, yesterday she wet her pants twice (once in bed, after a nap).  But not at night!  No more diapers for Amelie!  Hooray! <small celebratory hop>

Levi has been happy happy this week.  Practicing his three steps, standing and balancing, standing and dancing and balancing, and generally laughing as often as possible.  He thinks he’s so funny.  Because he is.

We’re starting to look forward to the arrival of Grandma and Grandpa, my mom and my sister, in late March.  I hope and pray (O God, won’t you answer my sleeping prayers!!!!) that Levi be sleeping ALL night with NO waking and NO crying, IN the girls room…before they come.  Because if he’s not, all of our hard work will go down the drain.  Because it’s one thing to let the baby cry when it’s just you around, but you can’t do it when he’s sleeping outside your grandparent’s bedroom.  You know.  But I’m optimistic.  We’ve come so far in just one short month.

Devo sensed an impending breakdown, I think.  He shoved me out the door to the farmer’s market this morning, and stayed home with the kids.  Then he (literally) shoved me to the bedroom after lunch to take an hour’s nap.  I think we’ve had three weeks where he’s been very busy, and with him preaching next Sabbath, next week promises more of the same.  I just need a little break every now and then, and I’m so thankful he made me take it!

Now if we could only find some time when we’re both home and both not busy.  Not tonight.  Not tomorrow.  Not tomorrow night.  Sunday?

The neighbors are playing beer pong (hit the ping pong ball into the beer cup, have to drink the beer).  The swiss chard bed is planted.  The leftover apple galette is tempting me.  It’s supposed to rain this weekend.  I really do love my life.