Friday, October 28, 2011


2 a : deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

Someone I love very much is dying and I am sad to see her go.  She was diagnosed with cancer a mere two weeks ago and the girls and I visited last week.  I got a call last night to tell me the bad news - that the cancer is taking over - and as I stood in the kitchen, on the phone and crying, B and K came over, stood beside me and just hugged me.  They didn't know why I was crying.  They only knew their mom was upset, so they offered what they could.  I hung up the phone, explained through tears and accepted more hugs.

A bit later, we sat down at the table for dinner.  As our soup sat cooling, I asked K to pray.  She bowed her head, started to pray and after a few sentences burst into tears.  "I'm just too sad to pray," she sobbed, doubled over with grief.  I knew just what she meant.  Sometimes there are no words.  In the Anglican church, there is a breath prayer that I sometimes use at times like this.  As you inhale, you pray, "Lord, have mercy" and on exhale, "Christ, have mercy."  Even that prayer is hard when your breath comes in gasps from crying.  Like K, I find I am just too sad to pray.

My mind is foggy, unclear.  I've wandered through today in a daze, doing laundry because it seems to be a task I can somewhat manage.  But my heart is heavy.  I keep thinking of the person I love - of her house, her dishes, the things she likes to drink and eat.  My daughters have found me crying more than once and I've just explained that I'm still sad.

I told K last night as she cried that it was good for her to cry.  Her crying meant she loved and was sad.  This is worth our tears, but that doesn't make it any easier to bear.  We live hours away and can't drop by the hospital with a book, a card, flowers.  I am so thankful for our visit last week, for the gift that was to us.  All we can really do now is remember and grieve. 

And somehow that just doesn't seem like enough.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


2 a : to honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business

I had lunch today with some girlfriends.  This is a rare occurrence for me.  Homeschooling 10 and 11 year old girls doesn't leave me with much free time.  But when the opportunity arose today (and the aforementioned girls were at their tutorial), I decided to go.  I went even though a part of me longed to go straight home and climb into bed for a long nap before picking K up from school.  I went even though it was the opposite direction from home.  I went because even though my first impulse is often to be antisocial, I need community.  In fact, I probably need it more than I realize.

As you would expect, we chatted while we snacked on chips, salsa and guacamole.  We talked over  salad, soup and quesadillas.  We mused as we finished off sopapillas.  At some point, the talk turned to girls.  One mom shared that she expects her daughter to hit puberty soon.  We agreed on the importance of marking big transitions for our daughters and then started talking about just how to do that.

I'll often write a blog post to commemorate an event I don't want to forget (like A getting her first pair of pointe shoes).  This is partly because I'm not a scrapbook keeper nor a memory box aficionado nor one to jot notes of this type in my journal.  It's also because writing it down helps me cement my own thoughts and feelings about what happened.  But there are some things that are hard to talk about on my blog.  A family member's illness?  A friend's dying child?  Balancing a desire to pray for those who are sick and hurting with a desire to pretend the world isn't as painful as this?  I don't/can't/won't process these things on my blog.  Which has meant fewer posts of late because those around me are walking through some very hard times.

I am doing my best to walk alongside them.  To not abandon them while I read a book and pretend everything is OK.  To listen to their hurts.  To pray for them in quiet.  To simply imagine lifting them up to God when I don't even have the words to pray.

It was good to sit with friends today and not feel the burdens of the world quite so heavily for a few moments.  It was good to think about how to honor our girls as they move from being little girls to young women.  I'm not quite ready to fully imagine my daughters as full grown women, but I see them changing before my very eyes.  They are young, but they are making the transition from prepubescent to pubescent.  They are alternately working, struggling, fighting and embracing the job of figuring out exactly who they are.  I want to meet them where they are and encourage them as they take steps towards becoming more self-sufficient, more adult, more of who they are meant to be.  But this happens in fits and starts, not in a consistently plot line.  It's one thing to write about my daughters milestones, but what do I do to celebrate them?  What action am I taking? They are working at growing up.  How am I working to help them do it?

Tonight I asked A and B to make four salads for us while I put the rice and black beans into bowls.  They started unhappy.  Unhappy escalated to exasperation for A, who quickly told me she wasn't capable of making a salad.  Unhappy escalated to anger for B when she realized she was to make salads for others, not just herself.  Should helping make dinner (especially when it's something as easy as a salad) be a part of growing up?  Certainly.  Do my daughters long for this part of maturity as much as they are counting down the days to riding in the front seat of the van?  Not on your life. 

One action I have to take - and take more consistently - is teaching, encouraging and even forcing my daughters to be more self-sufficient.  Each daughter has a set of chores, but I'll be honest and say that housekeeping is not a huge priority for me, so I'm a bit inconsistent in my administration of chore time.  I'm also a 9 who needs (or should I say longs?) to avoid conflict.  So I do the dishes myself rather than listen to A complain.  I wash the laundry myself rather than fight with B about how old one should have to be to do laundry.  I need to grow in this area.  I need to be willing to fight the small battles in order to prepare my daughters for life when they leave my home.  I'm just confessing that's a hard part of parenting for me.

A and B have reacted to life differently from the outset.  By the time B was fifteen months old, I knew I needed a different set of discipline techniques than those I used with her older sister.  They don't like the same things, participate in the same activities or wear the same clothes.  Predictably, they have treated discussions of impending puberty with completely different reactions.  A had an uneasy anticipation.  B's stance is best described as dread.  I've tried to mitigate this with the reward of pierced ears accompanying the first period, along with a personalized bag containing pads, tampons, Coca-cola (the cure to all ills) and chocolate (who doesn't crave chocolate?).

These practical steps are really just a way of trying to honor my daughters.  A set of earrings and a cool bag are just vehicles to trying to make my daughters understand that they are valuable, precious and worthy.  They're also an attempt to acknowledge that some of the best things in life are both good and hard.  Do many of us wish there was a path to fertility that didn't include monthly cramps, headaches and bleeding?  Yes.  But that's our path, nonetheless.  Does the good outweigh the bad?  Yes.  Does the good make the hard disappear?  No.  And that's one lesson I want them to learn: that the hard things in life are worth it as much as the good things.

I want to be a family that celebrates the good and bad, hard and joyous part of life.  All of it.  Because that's what life is about.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


5 b : capacity to observe dispassionately

We are currently in Wisconsin visiting family.  Our drive here is a long one.  Google maps will tell you it takes 10 hours.  The reality is that it's nearly impossible to make it in 10 hours.  I think in my 20 years of marriage and courtship, J and I have made the drive in under 10 hours only once - and that drive concluded in the wee hours of the morning, taking us through Chicago around 2 AM.  That's just about the only way to get through Chicago quickly - do it when everyone else is asleep.

My children are champion travelers and for this trip I spent some serious prep time doing my best to ensure a stress free drive time.  Each girl got a box packed with markers, pens, colored pencils, a new journal, stickers and a pencil sharpener.  They also got a bag with more sugar than they are normally allowed in a week's time.  Additional travel tools? Library books, Playaways, a few math worksheets, two Pillow Pets and one Snuggie.

One advantage of such a long trip is that there's time to think.  Plenty of it, in fact.  On the drive north on Thursday, I was looking at some of Southern Illinois' fall foliage.  (I know it was Southern Illinois because there aren't (m)any trees in Central or Northern Illinois.)  I saw a gorgeous line of trees from a distance and kept my eye trained on one tree as we got closer.  I noticed something.  The beauty of fall trees is a cumulative thing.  One fall leaf, even one fall tree, is not all that beautiful.  You might find the occasional exception, but fall's beauty is really seen best from a distance.  As I noticed this, I got a flash of a truth much bigger.  I think God sees our lives the way I see the fall trees.

The bible talks about God's ways not being our ways and his thoughts not our thoughts.  I've often fallen back on that when I go through a difficult time or when I see others walk through difficulty, but I've never grasped the concept in such a graphic way.  Those ugly leaves on the tree of my life?  They aren't ugly when seen alongside hundreds of other leaves and the trees representing the lives of others around me.  Or maybe they are still ugly - nothing will change that - but their individual disfigurement ends up being less important when seen alongside everything else.

This was a comfort.  Everywhere I turn lately, I seen pain.  I have friends, family members and acquaintances who are variously watching family members die, walking with those they love through illness, struggling through the loss of a job, recovering from surgery and receiving cancer diagnoses.  Not one of these circumstances is OK with me.  Each and every one hurts my heart.  I long for a day when mothers do not outlive their children, a day when there is no pain that needs management, a day when we all know - not just rationally, but with our whole being - that we are loved not for what we do but for who we are.  I long for a day when we are not faced with saying good-bye to those we love.

I'll be honest: I want to be able to see the beauty now.  I want a distance that I will never have in this lifetime.  I don't know why people I know and love are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  I don't know why and I don't know how to comfort or console them.  I have no words of wisdom to offer, no scripture references that explain it all away.  Because the truth is that there is pain and there is hurt and there is ugliness in this world of ours.  I don't know why.  I'll probably never know why.  And a glimpse of an idea that momentary troubles (that don't feel momentary at all) are leaves that manage to make something beautiful isn't much to cling to right now.  But it's all that I have, so I'm offering it humbly to you, just in case you're walking through your own valley right now.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


:a quality of life that enables you to more clearly hear God's voice.  Also, the quality surrounding my weekend retreat.

Interested?  I highly recommend it.  If you live in Nashville and want more information, check out Dovehouse Ministries.  You'll be amazed at how much a little silence will change your attitude, your outlook, your life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


1 a : the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity

I'm not a music person.  I'm especially not a classical music person.  I've always seen music as primarily a vehicle for delivering lyrics.  There are some artists whose voices I particularly like, but far more often I like a song based on whether I like what it says and how it says it.  There's a reason this blog is called Word Girl.  I'm really all about the words.  Or maybe I should say it used to be all about the words because my daughter B is ushering in a whole new world for me.  A world where I don't just tolerate music, I actually enjoy it.

B started taking piano lessons in December of last year.  She immediately took to it.  Her first lesson was right before Christmas, so she went three weeks between her first and second lesson.  In that span of time, she learned the entire book her teacher had given her.  That was a harbinger of things to come.  For years, we've tried to help B find something she loves.  She's good at sports - she just doesn't care about playing them, especially on teams.  But piano?  She plays all the time.  We never have to remind her to practice - although I might have to remind her to play what the teacher actually requested.  I've never timed it, but my best guess is that she plays for at least an hour daily.  She'll walk over, play a song through a few times and wander away.  She does this all day long.  So much so that I hardly notice it anymore.

As a part of our homeschool, I thought it would be fun for B to get to learn about a few composers.  She chose Bach and asked piano her teacher if she could learn a Bach song to go along with it.  She's been learning Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.  So strong is B's musical influence in our home that J is whistling this song as I write this blog post.  Jesu is the song that always makes J cry at weddings.  (In his defense, it's hard to not cry at weddings when you have three daughters.  That whole giving them away thing? Yikes.  I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to just give them away.  What horrid language.)  He's joked with B that her learning this song is a blessing because by the end of her mastery of it, he'll be immune to the song's beauty and emotional content.  I'm not so sure.

B's been having trouble sleeping of late.  I blame this partly on Dr. Who, partly on hormones and partly on B's strong will - if she believes something she can will it into being.  So if she thinks she can't sleep, she definitely can't sleep.  In college, J listened to Eric Clapton's Timepieces and he jokes that he never heard the third song because of his Pavlovian response to the music.  A few bars and he was out cold.  I thought I'd see if I could work the same magic for B.

I downloaded a copy of Jesu and a few George Winston songs and burned a CD.  After a few nights, I decided five tracks weren't enough.  So I did some research, listened to countless songs on Freegal and made another, longer CD (12 tracks, nearly an hour long).  I didn't really think much about it at the time.  J was out of town, so I didn't really have anything better to do.  It was only when he commented on how odd it was for me to be researching and selecting classical music that I realized he was right.  It's pretty out of character for me.

This realization delighted me, in part because it made me realize how B has changed music for me.  I enjoyed making her CD and have even listened to the playlist a few times since creating it.  That may not sound like much to you, but for me, it's proof that I'm learning from this daughter of mine:  learning to appreciate an art form that doesn't immediately resonate with me, learning to love something because my child loves it.

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend silent retreat.  I have a three hour drive each way.  I normally drive a good portion of the ride with no music at all - letting the silence begin to seep into me before the retreat officially begins.  But I think this time, I might bring along a bit of musical accompaniment in the form of a copy of B's CD.  And I have a niggling suspicion I'll miss the bits of piano music I have grown accustomed to hearing throughout the day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


: the season between summer and winter comprising in the northern hemisphere usually the months of September, October, and November or as reckoned astronomically extending from the September equinox to the December solstice

There are many things I love about autumn:  cooler temperatures, football, wearing boots, making soups, drinking hot tea, pumpkins, apples.  I also love what it heralds:  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas.  While Halloween doesn't particularly excite me, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are some of my favorite times of year.  I love the way thankfulness and looking back on a year of things to give thanks for ushers in the hushed anticipation of Advent, the waiting to celebrate our savior's birth and the waiting for his return.

Our lives have a rhythm to them, but each year our family continues to evolve.  I'd love nothing more than for fall Saturdays to be about pumpkin pancakes, raking leaves, reading books, watching football and smelling chili simmering on the stove.

Instead, our Saturdays are packed full with ballet classes, art classes and Nutcracker rehearsals.  I had somehow forgotten in the two years since A last danced in The Nutcracker just how time consuming it is.  Starting in October, she essentially dances all day on Saturdays, with an hour or two lunch break.  Mornings are for instructional classes at her regular studio near our home and afternoons are spent learning how to be a Native American Soldier (her role in this year's performance) at a studio across town.

I'm thankful A has the opportunity to participate in a ballet performed by professionals and run by a professional organization.  She has learned a great deal from previous participation and she will gladly sacrifice whatever time necessary to do it again.  Truth be told, she does not even see it as a sacrifice.

Yet I choose the word sacrifice intentionally.  The things I give up seem petty to list: time to curl up with a book on Saturday afternoons, weekend days spent at home rather than in the car, lazy days.  But I am learning a lot about myself through the Enneagram study and I recently heard Richard Rohr (on the CDs we listen to) talk about how people of my type are the most frequently occurring type in undeveloped countries.  He said when you visit Africa, you're struck by the fact that almost everyone is a 9.  Sadly, I do not live in one of those countries.  I don't live in a culture that encourages - or allows - moving at your own pace.

A friend in this study keeps reminding our group that the point of the Enneagram is to learn compassion - on ourselves and others.  So I am trying to accept that part of what is wearying about this fall is simply that I live in a world that is not set up for someone like me.  Frankly, that's a good reminder no matter your Enneagram type.  None of us are made for this world.  None of us are permanent residents here.  It is good and right that we should long for autumn to be a season that ushers in the ultimate Advent of God's kingdom come.

But how to live in the here and now?  The solution is not to give up on living our lives here - whether our lives be in their own spring, summer, fall or winter.  I think the answer lies - seemingly simply - in living in the present.  I don't mean that glibly.  I mean being fully present and not wishing away October Saturdays for January Saturdays that are colder, but less cluttered with activities.  I mean not dreaming wistfully about the good old days before Saturday ballet even existed for our family.

Tonight's dinner provided a good opportunity to practice the discipline of staying present.  J called 5ish to tell me he was heading south (away from home) for an afterwork meeting.  While he indicated he would likely be home at a normal time, I was doubtful.  I proceeded to cook our dinner of apple and pear pork tenderloin, carrot souffle, brown rice and edamame.  When everything was ready, the four of us (minus J) sat down to eat.  It felt like a lovely fall meal.  The girls were delightful.  This was their first encounter with edamame, so I'd given them very small portions.  A & B both went back for seconds.  Their willingness to try the food I put before them made the effort of cooking their dinner feel more than worth it.

Here's the thing: I could have been upset that J missed dinner with us.  He had a work event last night.  I have a contemplative prayer group tomorrow night.  But I didn't let disappointment rob me of the now.  I rested in the moment of dinner at the table with my daughters happily gathered around me.

I do love that autumn points us to what comes next.  But I want to learn to savor what it offers in and of itself.