Saturday, December 29, 2012


1: a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism

I am not friends with anger.  I don't like feeling it.  I don't like expressing it.  I would rather bottle up my anger than let it out and risk hurting someone because I don't like to hurt people.  I would much rather hurt myself than risk hurting someone I love.  So I tend to just let my anger swirl around inside me, causing me pain from its safely contained nexus in my soul.

But for the last month, God has been showing me, bit by bit, time and again, that I am angry.  I'm angry with family members who don't respect me or my boundaries.  I'm angry with people who take advantage of me because I am too mild to stand up for myself.  I'm angry at people who have used a national tragedy as a way to catapult their personal agenda into the national debate.  I'm angry with God for drawing me close to Him and then leaving me out in the desert all alone to fend for myself.

A few weeks back, I was talking to a friend and saying that I just don't see the purpose of anger.  Why do we even feel it?  It seems pointless.  It makes me feel exhausted and defeated.  My wise friend said, "Oh, anger is useful.   Anger is all about change.  Without anger, women wouldn't be able to vote.  Civil rights would never have happened.  Anger makes us want to change things."  If she's right (and I think she is), I find myself stuck in this vicious cycle where I feel defeated because I don't think I can affect any change in my world, yet I am unwilling to express my anger because I feel defeated.  What's the point? I wonder.  Why even deal with the anger when it won't change anything?

I've been trying to ask myself lately what I am angry for.  It's easy for me to see anger as being against something, but I think part of its purpose for me (and perhaps others?) is showing me what's important.  It points to something inside me that rears up and says, "No!"  As I've examined when and why I am angry, a clear pattern emerges.  What I've seen time and again is that I am angry for my time.  I resent it when people impose on my time.  I get tired, cranky and downright angry when I don't have voice in or control over my time.  When time is in short supply, I feel cornered, trapped, like I am the garbage compactor with Han, Luke and Leia, just waiting for life to crush me.

Even knowing this about myself, I'm not sure what to do with it.  Sometimes self-knowledge only gets you so far.  I haven't written consistently in months - partly because I haven't had the time and partly because I've only been sad and angry and had nothing good worth saying.  It's gone on so long that I'm now afraid to write.  As J and I planned out our day today, I said that I wanted to get some school planning for January done and that I should write a blog post.  "Isn't should one of those shaming words?  Aren't you supposed to avoid doing what you should do?"  While that holds true most of the time, I think I have avoided writing or any type of creativity for so long that it is making me more miserable than I otherwise would be.  The anger, sadness, despair and confusion need a way out and creativity is nothing if not an outlet.

So here I sit typing by the glow of a Christmas tree that speaks of a season supposed to be filled with joy.  I never quite got there this year.  Joy seems to be something that lives in a land across an ocean in a distant land populated by people who are nothing like me.  Joy is not on my landscape.  My landscape is painted angry reds and desolate grays and it is lonely.

I turned 40 earlier this month and in addition to being angry about so very many other things, I am angry that I am trapped in such a hard season of life.  What I want is to celebrate a new decade, grab hold of a chance to find out who I am, find time to settle into my skin instead of fighting it.  What I have is a stubborn determination to celebrate even when I feel so defeated.  Maybe tenacity will help me cling to a hope that I will not always feel this way.  Maybe surrounding myself with those I love will help me believe they love me back.  Maybe 40 will be the year I can let go of who everyone else thinks I should be and begin to find out who I actually want to be.  Maybe I'll find out it's OK to be angry if that shows me what I stand for, not just what I rail against.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


1 : the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting

In recent years, Lent has become one of my favorite seasons - if not my favorite one.  This may sound strange, given that Lent is a time of repentance, of turning away from earthly things in order to seek heavenly things.  But Lent teaches me about myself and it is often where God meets me very clearly. 

I'm a novice Episcopalian, so I'm new at this whole church calendar thing.  But it seems to me that Advent and Lent are actually designed to be very similar seasons.  During Advent, we await Jesus' birth.  During Lent, we await his death and resurrection.  Both Lent and Advent are meant to be times of preparation - not the kind of preparations we normally undertake during Advent (lights, shopping, decorating, parties, etc.), but heart preparations. 

For the last several years, I've asked God for direction before deciding on a Lenten practice.  One year, I gave up caffeine and created a collage everyday.  The next year, I walked every morning.  God met me in each of those places in unexpected ways.  I had no desire to give up caffeine but found out it was the source of many of my headaches, so I'm still largely caffeine free, long after Lent 2010.   My morning walks came to a screeching halt with a stress fracture in July and I have felt their loss acutely.  What I've learned from asking God for direction on my Lent is that if I ask, He will tell me.

As I pondered Advent this year, I decided to try a similar approach to the one I take for Lent.  I wanted to adopt some sort of spiritual exercise to mark the season.  I wanted a way to set it apart for God - both for my heart and to try to reclaim the season from the commercial whirlwind it has become.  So in October, I prayed for direction.  It was one of those prayers that garnered a surprisingly quick response.  "Write letters," I heard back almost immediately.  "Letters?"  I thought, a bit disappointed.  I had been hoping for something crafty.  "Are you sure, God?  Letters?"  Even as I felt an affirmation of this, I prayer-muttered, "Well, I'll keep praying about it."  Do you do that?  Pray for guidance and when you don't hear what you want you pretend you didn't hear God and offer to keep praying in the hopes you'll hear something different?

Later that same day, I was driving when I felt like God said to me out of nowhere, "Why are you so afraid of me?  You're willing to ask me what you should do for Advent, but when I give you an answer you didn't expect, you're like, 'Wait, wait, that's not what I meant.'  What are you afraid of?"

This was a very good question God was asking me.  At the time, I had no idea what I was afraid of, but as is His way, God has made that more clear to me over the last two months.  The process hasn't been pleasant or enjoyable, but I can see more clearly that I am afraid God doesn't love me - that He never has and never will.  I am able to set this fear aside with sometimes more success than others, but the fear is still there.

I believe one way to combat this fear is to seek God and remind myself that He is who He says He is.  So I've been writing Advent letters.   My track record isn't great so far.  Sunday, the first day of Advent, coincided with A's last mini-Nutcracker performance.  By the end of a full week of rehearsals and performances, I was so spent emotionally and mentally that the idea of writing an Advent letter never crossed my mind.  Tuesday J and I spent the day shopping for our girls and were on the run from the moment we dropped them off at tutorial to the minute we put them to bed last night.  So I'm on day 4 of Advent with only a 50% success rate.  These letters?  So far they are to God Himself, wondering what He wants from me and why things continue to be so hard.

Earlier tonight J and I were on the phone and he said he can feel my desire to just pull away from everything.  He's right.  I want to curl up into a ball and hibernate my way right through about February.  But hibernation and waiting are not the same thing.  And I want my Advent this year to be about waiting and watching.  Watching for the ways God is changing me, watching for the ways He is coming right here, right now.  That sounds lovely, but has felt less so.  I still feel heavy, lonely and distant from God.

And I am torn between feeling like a fraud as I put up a Christmas tree when I feel like God is so far way and feeling a longing to see God actually show up for me this Advent.  The one blessing I can see from my exhaustion is that I am letting it guide us to a very low-key Christmas.  I normally love to put the tree up as soon as Thanksgiving passes.  This year, I did not even attempt it until A was done with dancing.  And while the tree is up, the decorations are not.  Cards are not - and likely will not - be mailed.  I am just too overwhelmed by daily life to attempt extra things.  Maybe in some bizarre way my exhaustion will point me right to the Advent I need - one where I ask God why over and over again, still putting one foot in front of the other and trusting He will guide me when I am ever-so-lost.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


2 : the course traveled from one place to another : route

My original plans were changed.  I had planned to visit my mom over fall break instead of braving the Thanksgiving traffic.  I had planned to actually take a fall break.  Then we moved.  And needed to take days off of schooling for that.  So we worked straight through fall break.  I had planned to teach Monday and Tuesday of this week.  Then I realized late last week that we (perhaps mostly I) desperately needed a true break, not some abbreviated-short week-jump in the car and drive six hours-drive back-resume normal life week.  So I scrapped the plan.

This meant that yesterday morning my slate was blessedly clear.  The only commitments were speech therapy, choir and ballet, none of which started until 2.  One thing I love about free days are the tangents I'm allowed to take.  I had a few things on the must do list (make sweet potato casserole, fold laundry), but when a friend mentioned El Camino de Santiago on Facebook, I decided to spend part of my morning watching a movie about this pilgrimage.  My daughter A joined me about a half hour into the journey and together we watched four broken souls seek solace, companionship and healing along the way.

The movie tells the story of a father (Martin Sheen) who receives a call that his son (Emilio Estevez) has died in an accident in Spain.  Stunned and devastated, he flies to retrieve the body.  While there, he decides to make the pilgrimage his son had started - a pilgrimage that has been traveled for more than a thousand years.  At some point during the movie, it struck me what a strong metaphor this movie is for life.  I want to arrive.  I want to be done with the pain, the uncertainty, the peeling back layers and layers of myself and waiting to reach who I am supposed to be.  I want to be there - wherever there is.

But the journey is what really matters.  Because the journey is what transforms us.  It's where we meet fellow pilgrims who have similarly blistered feet and who don't know exactly why they are walking but keep going anyway.  The journey is where we put one foot in front of the other and begin to slowly relinquish the illusion of control.  We may know where our next step will land us, but that is about it.

There are many ways to take the journey.  We can gripe and complain our way up the mountain, missing the vistas looming to our right and left.  This is just as true whether you're on an actual mountain or at the Kroger gas station. 

This afternoon, B and I stopped to fill the van up with gas before tomorrow's trek south.  She wanted a Sprite, so I went with her to the window to pay.  While she was counting out the correct change to pay the worker, a guy came up behind us and said, "I need a receipt for pump 2."  The worker very politely said, "I'll be right with you, as soon as I finish helping them."  The guy in line behind us proceeded to yell at the worker about how poorly the gas station was managed.  His grievances went on and on and his voice rose higher and higher.  "Awkward," B commented with the inflection only an eleven year old girl can give this word.  "I feel bad for him," she said more seriously.  Curious about whether her sympathies lie with the unsatisfied customer or the station attendant, I asked which one.  She went on to say she meant the worker.  "That's a job I'll never have," she said - which brought laughter and commiseration from me.

We spent part of the ride home talking about how the customer made the guy behind the window feel.  It's not a fun job this guy has - he sits in a little box for hours, helping people from behind glass.  It can't be pleasant.  But he was pleasant to us.  Patient with B as she counted out coins.  Wishing us a happy Thanksgiving even as someone else yelled at him.  Should the angry man have been able to get his receipt at the pump?  Perhaps.  Should he have been so unkind to the person in his path?  No.  B was right - it was awkward.  We all have the choice to be a fellow pilgrim who eases the way for others or one who makes the journey more laborious simply with our presence.

Each of the pilgrims in the movie were taking a pilgrimage for different reasons: to lose weight, give up smoking, cure his writer's block, mourn his son.  Yet those were only the surface reasons.  The real reason for each and every journey?  Healing.

No matter who you are and where you are journeying, that's what we all need.  Every single one of us.  Healing.  And we can't heal ourselves.  We can only listen to our bodies and souls, give them what we think they need - and wait for the Healer.

I would like say openly that this sucks.  I want it to be different.  I want a one time immunization against the pain of being human.  But it simply doesn't work that way.  And I am not willing to sit down and watch the other pilgrims pass me by.  People do that, you know.  They drop their backpacks on the side of the road and sit down, unwilling to move beyond their comfort zone, their particular addictions, their ways of coping, the things that anesthetize them.  They opt out of life.  And that is a choice we all have available to us.  Sometimes I even use that choice: I read an entire book on Friday.  It was classic numbing out.  But I don't really regret it and I'm not doing it every day, at the expense of my family and friends.  I want the healing, so I will keep walking. 

The way is not easy, but it is beautiful and so very worth it.  In recent days I have found the journey overwhelming.  So I've tried to picture Jesus walking alongside me as I go, pointing out the things worth seeing, holding my hand during the rocky parts, giving me a lift when the climbing gets hard.  Sometimes this helps. Other times, not so much.  I still feel alone.  But I want to even then look for the beauty that shows me the way.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


1 b (1) : to express thoughts, opinions, or feelings orally (2) : to extend a greeting (3) : to be friendly enough to engage in conversation

I read a blog post last week exhorting women to speak.  Moments after reading it in my Google reader, a friend e-mailed me a link to it.  I guess God was just underlining the point.  If that didn't get through, He conveniently arranged a fight between my husband and me about my inability/unwillingness/ineptitude at communicating my thoughts and actions, much less my wants and needs.

Speak?  About what, exactly?  What could I possibly have to say that others need to hear?

Speak?  And risk that I actually say something and someone listens?  Or doesn't listen?  Which would actually be worse?

Speak?  At the expense of listening?  Alongside it?  After it? Before it? How does this work?

Speak?  What words?  Comforting ones? Encouraging ones? Or the ones I don't even let my mind think, much less utter aloud?

I started this blog post a few hours ago, got as far as the title and decided I didn't have anything to say worth saying.  So I closed it up and went away.  Then my husband's frustration with me overflowed and as my eyes did the same, I became resigned to writing.  Sometimes God can feel like a bully.  He just won't let it go until I give up my own idea of who I am and step a tiny bit outside of my shell.

I had planned to write about this year's election.  About how it tore my heart wide open to see how divided we are as a country.  And how my torn-open heart led to no news, no NPR, no debates.  I could not bear it.  Instead I prayed.  About who to vote for.  Whether to vote.  About who I should and could be in a country so set on drawing lines between us and them.  Because if those are the only choices, I don't know where to stand.  I want to stand in the middle. With people who both agree with me and disagree with me, but who seek to find common ground and a place to start.

I've begun to think that the only way to really honor God come election time is with lots of prayer.  Not prayer for specific outcomes, but prayer for guidance - guidance on what issues make my heart leap with resonance or ache for resolution.  Because the way I want to vote is by praying and asking God to reveal my heart and then following that.  I think this could be the solution to our divided country: if every Christian prayed and asked God to reveal which particular issue was most important to them.  I believe we would each get answers as varied as we are - and the coming together of all of those things would be both healing and God-glorifying.  Like the Enneagram, which shows us the face of God in all the different ways He made us, our votes would reflect Him, too - by their diversity and variances.

Sadly, I don't see this happening anytime soon.  Because it would require that we not let others decide the issues and our positions for us.  It would require seeking to understand what God wants for us as individuals - and this would require a great deal of asking and listening.  Not to mention faith that we would actually hear an answer to our queries.

The day after the election, I sat down with my daughters and explained to them the issues that make my heart ache and my hand push the green vote button.  I told them there are others equally passionate about other issues - and that is good and right.  I hope they will always think before voting.  And I hope they'll be bolder in speaking up than their mother.

I hope they will retain the voices that are often raised inside the four walls of our home. I hope they will fight to know who they are and not flinch from seeing it revealed.  I hope they will speak.  I hope they will be spared the fear that their words don't matter, aren't worth hearing, should be buried and forgotten.  I hope they don't believe life is easier if they just shut up and go along.  And I fear for these hopes to be realized I must begin to model something very different. 

May I learn to speak kindly, lovingly, strongly, wrongly, at great cost and when I am most afraid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


3 a : what one intends to do or bring about

I'm not sure exactly what I intended when I sat down yesterday to write about how heavy my heart has felt for the last two weeks.  I felt like God was leading me to put into words what I had been experiencing and I was trying to follow through on that.  I also was feeling very alone and thinking about others who might feel similarly alone.  One way I think the church routinely fails is in its care for those who are suffering.  That's largely borne from our own discomfort: we don't know what to say so we resort to platitudes or empty encouragement.  We don't intend to wound or add to the person's pain, but our words can hurt more than heal.  So I was thinking that if someone out there read my words and heard them as echoing some part of their own experience, that might be healing for them.

What I wasn't really thinking was that a lot of people would read my words.  Since it had been a while since my last post and many people are wrapped up in post-election celebration or mourning, I assumed the post would be read by a few loyal friends.  I didn't at all expect e-mails, texts or messages from friends and acquaintances encouraging me.  I didn't expect God to use my honesty to show me how many people love me. 

I don't use that word "love" lightly.  Several friends who contacted me yesterday specifically mentioned that I am loved.  This goes right to the heart of what I have been feeling.  I have (perhaps always) believed myself to be unlovable.  This is surely a result of my story and while I have tried to bury those feelings and move on, they are very much at the surface lately.  As a result of studying the Enneagram and realizing I am a nine, I have come to see recently why people enjoy being around me.  Nines are easy to be around.  As Russ Hudson said, "No one can hang out like a nine."  But there's a difference between being easy to be around and being loved.  Do people find my company easy?  I think so.  Does that mean they love me?  Not at all.

What God tried to show me yesterday through the responses to my blog post is that I am loved.  Person after person took the time to text me, e-mail me, message me.  I intended my post to perhaps someday comfort someone else.  God intended it to help heal me.  This is one of the crazy things about God.  I rarely know what he is up to.  I can't guess his intentions.  I can't anticipate his next move.  I can't even with certainty look back on past events in my life and know what I was meant to learn from them.   I think there are two things I can do: respond when I feel him prompting me and trust that he is who he says he is. 

The lessons God is trying to teach me right now are not easy lessons.  I think he and I are pretty well past the things that are easy to learn like the alphabet, reading, addition and subtraction.  Now we're on to reshaping the way I see myself, which is more like physics or graphing calculus equations on three axes.  So I don't expect an overnight change in myself.  What I do hope is that I will keep my eyes open to God's work and keep my heart willing to change, even when it is painful and scary.

If you were someone God prompted to contact me and encourage me yesterday, thank you.  I continue to feel fear and trepidation, but also hope.  Because perhaps God's intentions are kinder, gentler and more wonderful than I could ever imagine.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


2 : hard to bear; specifically : grievous, afflictive

It has been two and a half weeks since my last blog post.  It's not that I haven't thought about writing.  It's that I haven't know what to say.  I've wondered whether I have anything to say at all.  I've wondered whether what I am feeling is meant to be shared or kept.  But two posts that I read yesterday felt like a nudge to at least attempt to find words for what I've been feeling and experiencing.  The first post was by a friend and simply shared a profoundly convicting Madeline L'Engle quote - a quote that made me feel like I should at least try to find words.  The second, which I read immediately after the first in my Google reader, made me see just how much fear has been crippling me in every aspect of my life lately.

I don't know that I've ever felt as far from God as I have in recent days.  I've tried to pray and wondered whether he hears me at all - or whether he hears me and delights in ignoring me, taunting me, manipulating me.  I've questioned his love for me and offered prayers along the lines of, "I know you may not love me, but if you love X, please give her rest.  I know she needs it."

I have felt a gaping emptiness inside me - a loneliness that is almost too much to bear.  I've started, from force of habit, to pray and then realized I am afraid of this God I am praying to.  I've imagined myself in a closet, hiding from Jesus on the other side of the door.  I have closed my eyes and seen God place hot coals into my open hands.

Perhaps saying that I am in a bleak and desolate place doesn't quite do it justice?

Last Thursday, my husband and I went for our monthly couples spiritual direction group.  After I shared my thoughts, feelings and fears - thoughts of abandonment, feelings of being unlovable, fears of being drawn in by a God who only wants to hurt me - my spiritual director encouraged me to close my eyes and pray in the name of Jesus against the lies I was believing.  I told her they didn't feel like lies.  She told me this was a time to not believe what I was feeling, but to cling to what I know rationally to be true.

I have felt better, but not well, since then.  I have begun to close my mind to the terrorizing thoughts that my friends and family only spend time with me because I do things for them.  I have tried to turn away the idea that there is something very wrong with me - at the core of who I am - and that God knows that better than anyone.

Tears come easily these days.  I am weak, tired and weary of feeling this way.  This weekend I will go on a silent retreat I scheduled nearly a year ago.  I am only a bit this side of terrified.  Whether I am more scared of what God might say or that he might not say anything at all is indeterminable.

Despite all of this, I am trying to find my way back.  I saw those two blog posts as a prompting from God to write.  So I am writing - in a disjointed, meandering, perhaps unintelligible way - but writing nonetheless.  I believe there is purpose in my past and current sufferings.  This does not actually make it any easier to bear, but I do believe it.  And that loneliness that I feel without the presence of God is not something I want to experience as my new normal.  So I will plod along, hoping for a lightness to return to me when I feel ever so heavy inside.

Monday, October 22, 2012


1 a : a result of perceiving : observation

Three seemingly small and insignificant things happened yesterday at church: someone stopped me in the hall to say she's been enjoying my blog, another told my husband they appreciate my "calm presence" and when I complimented a friend on her cute outfit, she told me I inspired her to wear it.  Each of these things could have easily gone unnoticed.  But they didn't.  Why?  I think because I was listening with my heart as well as my ears. 

Do you do this?  Ear listening is the kind where I hear what the person is saying, respond and walk away, never to think of it again.  Heart listening is like an echo of the conversation that replays in my mind.  It's sort of like a quiet voice whispering, "Did you hear that? She reads your blog."  If I let it, the echo shows me what's important.  There's a reason I needed to hear each of these things - and not just hear them, but hear them with my heart.

The message for me in each of these interactions is that I am being seen and that my offerings have value.  I have a love/hate relationship with being seen.  Since you can't truly be known without being seen, I value authenticity and having someone "get me." I also fear being seen because one of the lessons I learned in childhood is that being seen can bring pain and shame.  I'm not sure whether this paradox of wanting to be seen and wanting to blend in is one I will have to live with for the rest of my life, but I do think God is calling my attention to it and trying to gently show me that people DO see me, whether I know it, like it or fear it.  In fact, I think that's what this whole year of radiance has been about. 

For the last three years, I've asked God for a word for the year.  In the late fall, I start praying and asking God what my word for the next year should be.  2010 was change, 2011 was unfurl, 2012 is radiant.  Radiant has been the hardest word for me.  Change I was able to embrace, because God had really been preparing my heart for that one for a long time.  Unfurl was also a bit scary - the idea of letting the real me fly about in the breeze was unsettling.  But radiant?  Yikes.  What am I to do with that?  Apparently, it's not something for me to do.  Because while the first two words are verbs, radiant is an adjective.  I don't think it's something I'm supposed to do (it's not radiATE), it's something I am.  That scares me more than just a little.  But when I can set aside my fear and listen and observe, I see God trying to gently remind me who I am

I chose the word "perception" for this post because I was thinking about how each of these three women at church helped me change my perception of myself.  But the definition made me realize a whole other side to this: that my job is to watch for God - to look for him at work, to listen to the echoes in my heart, to observe and perceive.  Not to make myself radiant, but to see who I already am.

As you read this, I don't know whether to encourage you to help others see who they are or encourage you to cultivate heart listening.  I doubt the interactions yesterday felt important to the people who offered me these gifts - it was the receiving that made them gifts.  But we never know what our words will do in someone's heart, so we should choose them wisely.  And if we are listening with our hearts as well as our ears, perhaps we'll offer words that God can use as gifts.  I want to offer my ordinary life and self to God and have his perception change them into extraordinary things.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


1 a : the act or words of one that blesses

Saturday we hosted our first small gathering in our new home.  There were fewer guests than at one of our typical parties and the focus was not to view a football game, celebrate a birthday or show off a new kitchen.  Instead, we gathered to bless our home, room by room.  The priest from our church came and brought with him an order of service that had us walk to each room, read a passage together, respond to a scripture and listen to a prayer of blessing.

Shortly before we moved, I started reading a book called To Bless The Space Between Us by John O'Donohue.  This book contains actual blessings, but also talks about how we each have the power to bless with the words we use.  This idea prompted me to write my own blessings for each of my daughters' rooms.  After our priest read the blessing for a child's room, he read the personal blessings for A, B and K.

Anna’s Room Blessing

May this room be a refuge,
a place where you do not need to do, but only to be.
As you cross the threshold,
may all the things you carry be left behind,
may all the selves you are fall away,
until you are left empty-handed, unburdened, just you.
May you rest well here,
laugh with friends,
and read great books.
I ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit
to inhabit every nook and cranny of both this room and your soul.

Bekah’s Room Blessing

May this room be a safe place
            to rest,
            to create,
            to learn,
to be.
May it give your soul room to
            expand, enlarge and find itself whole.
May it be a place will with presence and vitality,
            a place that lets you nestle in, rest, and ultimately grow.
I ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit
            to protect you here and elsewhere,
            giving your soul a place to be its best – vulnerable, tender and bold.

Kate’s Room Blessing

May this room be filled with laughter, joy and imagination.
May you entertain friends here,
            encounter new worlds
            and grow from a little girl
            to a young woman.
May this room be a place where your voice is heard.
May you find peace and rest here,
            safe and secure in the knowledge
            that you are loved by God and
            those who live with you.
Not for anything you do or don’t do, but simply for who you are.
I ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit
            to fill this room with sacred goodness
            and a sense that you can rest and let God be in charge.

One reason I wanted to have a house blessing is that I have struggled with this move.  I've felt responsible for keeping our family stable during a time of great inconstancy.  I've been stretched thin as I tried to keep everything normal when each day was atypical.  And I've wrestled with my own feelings of unworthiness - that I don't deserve a house this nice, this large, this lovely - alongside feelings of inadequacy as I pressure myself to keep our home in the pristine condition it was in when we took possession.

So as I wrote their blessings, I tried to imagine what I hope my daughters' spaces will be for them and offer those hopes and dreams to God, who is the only one capable of actually making these hopes and dreams reality.  Do I feel like a burden was lifted by handing the house over to God through our house blessing?  Yes and no.  I think it will be a process for me to stop feeling like a snail, carrying my home around on my shoulders.  But the first step towards moving from burden to blessing was in publicly offering this home up to God and asking Him to make this home into a place to keep us safe and send us forth to do His work.
Three hours after our house blessing started, our house filled up again.  This time, with girls.  It was time to host the first sleepover (of many) at our new house.  Each daughter was allowed to invite two friends.  That sounds reasonable enough, but a house full of nine girls is a tad exhausting, no matter how you handle it.  Yet I am thankful.  Thankful for the friends who helped celebrate our new house.  Thankful for the laughter and energy of girls.  Thankful for a house that will accommodate blessings, games, movies, popcorn and life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


3: the regular or customary condition or course of things

Yesterday was a perfectly ordinary day.   It started with a brief morning walk and included mundane tasks like laundry, grocery shopping and changing the sheets on beds.  But it also offered an unhurried span of time to teach and learn, to listen to classical music over lunch, to go for a walk and collect colorful autumn leaves.  The day left me grateful and reminded me why I like homeschooling.  It's been easy to forget the blessings of homeschooling while moving - there has been so much to do that teaching has felt like one more burden to bear.  It didn't feel that way yesterday: it felt like a gift.

In the church calendar we are in the thick of Ordinary Time - that space between Pentecost and Advent when we live out the lessons learned from Christ's birth, the light we see during Epiphany, the things we lose and gain during Lent and Easter.  For me, this is the most challenging time in the church calendar.  There's none of the waiting with bated breath for the birth of the Christ child, none of the daily reminders of Lent to remember my faith by doing or not doing something.  Apparently, I can live my faith life quite well in 40 day increments.  It's when I'm expected to carry on for several months uninterrupted that I long for something to pull me out of the ordinary and shake me up a bit.

Yet I believe our faith is best lived ordinarily.  What we do during our ordinary moments speaks volumes about who we are and what our hearts are tuned to.  When I look back on my life, I want the ebb and flow of my everyday actions to be what people remember - not a few peaks and valleys where I was at my best or worst.  I want my ordinary life to be a worthy offering, not an afterthought.

As we walked together yesterday afternoon gathering leaves, I told B and K what A shared with me two years ago when she took botany: when a leaf changes colors in the fall, it's not becoming that color for the first time.  The color we see is actually the color the leaf has been all along, it's just been masked by chlorophyll.  I told them I think our lives are like that, too.  That when we are dying (as the autumn leaves are), we get to see what we're really made of - what vibrant colors lie just beneath the surface.

The truth of it is that we are all, minute by minute, dying.  And these ordinary days do reveal something about the colors that compose us.  The way I buy bagels because they are A's favorite thing for breakfast? A color of who I am as a mom.  The blessings I've written for their bedrooms?  They show you my heart for my daughters and our home.  The sharp tone of voice I use with my children when I am mentally or physically exhausted?  Also telling you who I am, showing one of the veins running through this particular leaf.

I'd like to imagine that, unlike leaves, we don't have to wait until the very end to see the vibrancy of our beings.  If I'm willing to let go of who I think I am and embrace what I see revealed of myself through my heart and actions, I'll get glimpses of gold, bronze, magenta, russet.

I want to embrace the sacredness of the ordinary.  I think that means seeing all of the things I do - whether sweeping a floor, wiping down a counter or teaching how to write an equation - as both an offering from me to God and an opportunity for me to see myself more clearly.  I want to not resist the ordinary for its supposed dullness, but embrace it for the way it offers me opportunity to work out exactly who I am and what I am meant to be doing.

I want my one ordinary life to be extraordinary not because of what I do, but because of the way I inhabit it, the way I see it and claim it for what it is.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


1: correspondence in form, manner, or character : agreement
3: action in accordance with some specified standard or authority

A few weeks ago, B wore a Beatles t-shirt to her Tuesday tutorial.  When she put it on, I warned her that I thought it was technically against the dress code.  I knew it said something about no band t-shirts or shirts with shock value, but surely a t-shirt for a fifty year old band couldn't offend anyone, right?  Wrong.  She was asked to zip up her hoodie and she went the rest of the day with Paul, John, Georg and Ringo hidden behind her black camp hoodie.  I understand they were requiring B to follow the letter of the law they have created for their tutorial.  But I wonder what message it sends my daughters.

This Monday, we got an e-mail with a reminder of the dress code policy.  In addition to quoting a portion of the handbook, the administrator said something along the lines of, "While you may not agree with our stance on modesty, we ask that you abide by the rules [while at our tutorial]."  And this is the heart of the issue for me: the creators and enforcers of this policy do not claim their policies minimize offense between students, decrease distractions or create an environment focused on learning.  Instead, they say it is about modesty.  I disagree.  It's not about modesty.  It's about conformity.

I could agree with and support many guidelines designed to create an atmosphere of modesty.  Do I think girls should wear skirts longer than fingertip length?  Sure.  Should underwear for male and female students not be on display?  Absolutely.  These are modesty issues.  My daughter's t-shirt for a band with geriatric members was not immodest.  It simply did not conform.  But because this organization is a Christian one, they spiritualize their reasons for banning certain items.  I think this is dangerous because if you disagree with them, you're not offering a difference of opinion, you're assaulting their entire belief system.  I do not believe conformity equals belief. 

Concurrent with (and in part due to) these happenings, I have been looking for a new tutorial for my daughters for next year.  I'd like to find a tutorial stronger in its science offerings and with a less restrictive dress code.  (In addition to the t-shirt issue, our current tutorial won't allow certain hairstyles.  Both A and B have asked for a hairstyle that wouldn't allow them to attend.  I'd like to be able to allow them to express themselves in this way.)

I heard about another tutorial and checked it out online.  At first it was encouraging.  They place a great deal of emphasis on academic rigor.  They are conveniently located.  They meet on a day of the week I would find easy to accommodate.  Then I found the part of their website that says, "Students who insist on their rights and privileges as a first order of business will not be happy in our group. We do not want to deal with students for whom respect for authority is an issue."  Hmmm.

I needed to stop there for a moment.  "We do not want to deal with students for whom respect for authority is an issue."  I don't think any of my daughters have a problem with authority, but I do have a daughter who thinks for herself and often questions rules before simply obeying.  I don't see this as a problem.  In fact, I think it's a highly valuable skill that will serve her well.  But I want her to be happy at a tutorial and this group seems to indicate she might not be - and that they would even prefer she not be happy unless she conforms.

Here's the thing: I think Jesus had a problem with authority.  He questioned the religious systems of the day because while they were going through the motions, their hearts were far from him.  B doesn't go through the motions of anything.  If she disagrees, she will let you know.  But when she agrees, you'll know it - and God does, too.  Her praise is nothing if not sincere when it comes.  A, on the other hand, conforms a bit too easily.  She dislikes being apart from the group and often doesn't stop to question whether she is conforming to her own beliefs or the expectations of those around her.  For both of them, I think a culture of conformity is poisonous.  A doesn't need to be encouraged to conform.  And B doesn't need to go through life thinking God doesn't love her because she wants to dress differently than your typical 11 year old Christian girl.

I've been really wrestling with these questions over the last few days: Why do we equate conformity with belief?  Why do Christian schools/tutorials/places of worship emphasize some traits over others, especially with young children?  Do we have to spend a portion of our adult lives unlearning what we've learned about God in order to actually see who he is? 

I've talked to my husband and another friend about some of these issues.  One of them said that perhaps all places of faith require some level of conformity - and as adults we just choose the places that emphasize conforming on the issues we match up on.  The other suggested I examine why I feel it's acceptable for me to undercut the tutorial's stance on band t-shirts when I don't do the same thing about a school rule on flip-flops, for example.

These are really hard questions.  Where am I willing to conform in my faith?  Where do I refuse to?  Am I judging people who set different boundaries for themselves and their families?  How do I find a way to walk the path we are on with this current tutorial, yet still communicate to my daughters that I don't think Jesus objects to The Beatles?

My husband pointed out last night that I'm not exactly an anarchist.  I am perfectly willing to require my daughters to conform on some points.  Dishes must go in the sink after meals.  The dishwasher must be unloaded on your assigned day.  The school work must be completed before the field trip can begin.  You get the idea.

I think one difference for me lies in two of the definitions of conformity.  If our actions are in agreement with our beliefs (i.e. that hard work earns you play time), this is a conformity that feels right to my soul.  But if the conformity results from complying with a standard of authority that is illegitimate or couches their authority as something other than what it is (i.e. it is ungodly to dye your hair blue), my soul feels pained and bruised at going along.

How do I teach my children to think for themselves and pursue God from where they are?  It's hard and I fear it will only get harder as they get older and are faced with much bigger dilemmas than what to wear on Tuesday morning.  All I know to do is encourage them to pray the wisest prayers I know: "Who are you, God?  Who am I?"  Because if they know who God is and who they are, they'll know a lie when they hear one and see a false line in the sand when they see it. 

May they learn to conform to what the Holy Spirit places on their hearts - nothing more, nothing less.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


2: to underestimate intentionally : play down, soft-pedal

My family was invited to a wedding that took place last weekend.  The invitation came in the throes of selling our house, packing up and moving.  In the midst of all of that, I lost the invitation.  When the bride checked in with me on our RSVP, I told her we wouldn't be able to make it.  I briefly explained that ballet five days/week and baseball three days/week are getting to us and filling our Saturdays.  While true, the more honest explanation was that I was afraid to go.

The bride was a teacher at my daughters' former school and I was afraid of answering questions from other guests about our decision to homeschool.  Not necessarily from the teachers who would have been there, but from other families who might be there.  As I made the decision for our family not to attend, I felt OK about it.  Things were busy.  I didn't want to risk being uncomfortable.  There would surely be tons of other students there.  We wouldn't be missed.

But as the wedding approached, I began to feel differently.  Sad that we were going to miss her special day.  Regretful that I let fear keep us home.  Frustrated with myself that I am so quick to minimize my own worth.  Because this was certainly a case of me underestimating myself intentionally.  I wondered why she would want us there.  "There's nothing special about our family," I thought to myself.  I played down the impact our absence would have.  I chose to not see that this bride had invited our family for a reason.  I chose to not remember this bride walking over to my van just a few weeks after my daughters started at her school and telling me how great my daughter B was doing in her class.

Last month I met with a few women to talk about the Enneagram.  As a part of our discussion, I mentioned how much the Enneagram has helped me see my sin more clearly.  Actions that would not look like sin to an outsider, I know to be sin because I know my own heart.  Only I know the promptings from the Holy Spirit that I hear and choose to listen to or ignore.  Only I know that I declined that invitation not because of a full schedule, but because of my fear.

I'm not exactly saying it was a sin to miss that wedding.  I will tell you my heart has both swelled and ached as I've seen pictures from the wedding posted online.  The aching tells me that I was wrong and weak to be so afraid of what others might say.  The aching tells me that I really wanted to be there and I once again did not choose to follow my own heart.  The ache reminds me that there is something inside me that wanted to be there to see and celebrate this union.  And I blew it.

I am pretty good at knowing what other people want from me - at discerning what they need and even how to provide it.  This can make me an easy friend to have - and it can be exhausting.  It also means that I am so busy listening to what other people need from me that I don't hear my own soul's cries for help.  I ignore a nudge to reach out to a friend.  I pretend to not see that chair I could sit in to read and rest for a few minutes.  I push down my urge to be and insist on doing.

A few weeks ago I read a series of devotions that recommended a simple, yet profound prayer: "Who are you, God?  Who am I?"  I think if I could pray this prayer consistently, it would change my life.  If I truly knew who God is and who I am, I would no longer minimize my value, my desires, my very self.  I would instead be compelled to shed my insecurities and hesitancies and be the radiant person God thinks I am.

This is big, hard work for me.  Shedding layers of who we think we are is not easy.  But it is necessary.  People do not only want to be around me because I listen well.  They sometimes actually want to hear what I have to say.  Some lessons I learn quickly, others more slowly.  Maybe you don't struggle with minimizing yourself.  Maybe you wrestle with allowing others to see the real you.  Or with admitting you are wrong and imperfect.  Whatever the case, I hope you'll find a path to let the real you shine through the layers of accumulated selfhood.  Because you are radiant underneath it all.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


1 b : of or relating to a change of residence
2 b : stirring deeply in a way that evokes a strong emotional response

Moving is hard work.  Arduous physically.  Tough emotionally.  Draining mentally.  Pretty much difficult all around.  We hired movers to help with the physical portion of our move and it was still exhausting.  If 10+ hours of watching my stuff being loaded onto a truck was tiring, I can't imagine how I would have held up if we'd actually done all of it ourselves.  We loaded up on Monday, moved in on Tuesday (nearly two weeks ago) and started unpacking right away.  My goal for that first day was to get the beds set up with linens and towels in each bathroom.  Doesn't sound like much, but doing it in the midst of directing movers from one room to another with boxes and furniture was no small task.

The next morning the real work began - the work of turning a house into a home.  First stop: the kitchen.  As I prayed with my 12 year old daughter A on our first night in our new house, she said to me, "Mom.  I didn't want to eat out tonight.  I'm ready for you to cook.  Aren't you ready to cook?"  I understood where she was coming from, but there were technical difficulties: everything in boxes, an unloading that stopped just shy of 6 pm and no refrigerator.  I couldn't do much about the lack of a refrigerator, but I could attempt to get the kitchen in working order so that night #2 (or 3) would be different.

Thankfully, I had help: before 10 AM Wednesday morning, two friends were here.  One of whom had made five pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for our first morning breakfast, another of whom stopped at Walgreens on her way to gather drug store essentials inadvertently packed away.  Both got to work unpacking boxes, wiping down dishes and putting them away.  Friend #1 left to take A and B to their tutorial so that I could keep working.  As friend #2 and I tried to figure out where the utensils should go and what to do with the plastic ware, I got a call that two more friends were on their way.

I can not articulate what this felt like.  They drove clear across town - it probably took them nearly an hour to get there - and got straight to work.  It felt like the cavalry had arrived and I was no longer in danger of losing the battle of unpacking.  For a few minutes, they tried to follow the order friend #2 and I had established.  But my mind was not its sharpest, so the cavalry that had just arrived pretty quickly saw that I was no general - they needed a new plan.  Luckily, these are the kind of women who can craft a workable plan with their hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded and gagged.  So one friend unpacked while another told me where to put things in my kitchen.  If you've never had someone else organize your kitchen, I highly recommend it.  I can only imagine the chaos that my kitchen would be had my friend not shown up and put things in order.  She brought an objectivity and mental clarity that I completely lacked and as they left hours later (after feeding K and I lunch, no less), I felt like a burden had been lifted.

That same day, another friend stopped by with a rotisserie chicken.  A few days later another friend came to visit the day our refrigerator arrived.  She brought with her groceries to fill my fridge, right down to burgers we could grill that night.  "Consider it a housewarming gift," she told me as she handed it all over to me.  Other friends gave my children rides to and from places and cut me slack on returning phone calls and e-mails.

I know that I am blessed to have friends who care for my family, body and soul.  But it has never been more clear to me than in recent days.  It was deeply moving to have friends offer help without my even having to ask.  Because honestly, I was too tired to even ask, too wrapped up in getting through the next minute to plan ahead and ask for help, too busy trying to keep my family together to think through how to get children to and fro.

This entire process of selling our home and moving has been an exercise of faith for me.  As such, it has shown me just how little faith I have.  I've reverted to fear, clung to ideals and been terrified to open my hands and receive gifts.  All of which makes God's continued graciousness even more amazing.  Right now I would tell you I hope to never move again.  I would also confess that if I do, I hope I will look back on God's faithfulness through this process in both big and small ways.  Perhaps given another chance, I can move with more grace and less angst.  (But don't count on it.)

In the mean time, I'm going to try to remember both meanings of the word moving: yes we packed up a residence, but we also received gifts from our friends that elicited a deep emotional response: one of gratitude.

Monday, September 17, 2012


2: coming at the end : being the last in a series, process, or progress

Some seasons in life bring more than their fair share of finality.  Moving homes certainly spurs one such season.

Thursday and Friday K and B spent their free time working on a fairy house for the front yard.  They gathered wood, berries, a pine cone and other assorted items (being sure to add nothing with iron, since everyone knows fairies don't like iron).  As they created together, I felt a twinge of nostalgia.  While this would hopefully not be the last fairy house they created together, it would be the final one to grace the yard of our home on Setliff Place.

Saturday night, our family took our last walk to Jeni's for dessert.  That morning, the movers came to finish up the packing.  They accomplished in two hours what would have taken two days (or more) of steady work for J and I.  Even so, we worked throughout the day, cleaning out closets that should have been cleaned out long before, hauling old paint to the recycling center, making more trips to Goodwill (where they now know me by sight).  I'm sure after our move we'll still make the occasional trip to Jeni's fulfill our ice cream cravings, but it will be well out of walking distance.

Sunday afternoon, the sweet buyer of our house came by to do a walk through with me, A and K.  I showed her the baby gate we're leaving for the stairs.  She asked about how to clean the griddle on the stove.  It was a low key, easy time.  She is excited to live in this home, which makes my heart happy and was good for our girls to see.  Near the end, A thanked her for buying our house.  Of my children, A has been the most obviously sad about the move.  She has cried on and off for two days and I have been so busy, so tired and so preoccupied that I haven't always dealt kindly with her sadness.  Last night as she went to sleep I asked her to share some of her fears about moving and encouraged her to try to stop riding the loop of thoughts playing in her head.  I think she spends a lot of time in her head and needs to do what she can to get out of her current thought patterns, so I let her stay up a bit late to read and left her with reminders that most of her fears would have subsided in just a few days' time.  One of her final comments before I left was that The Power of Habit was true.  I was thankful to hear her recognize her thinking patterns as habit - maybe that will help her choose new ones.

I have seen not only A, but B and K struggle with their emotions over the last few days.  A cries, K argues, B provokes - they all mean the same thing: we are sad and scared to move.  Sunday morning before church, I looked through my go-to book for blessings and ceremonies.  I had hoped to find a final home blessing, some words that would help my girls say good-bye to the house while offering blessing at the same time.  I paged through time and again and couldn't find the right words.  As I looked through perhaps the second or third time, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit that we needed to write our own final blessing instead of finding one already written.  So just before bedtime, we all gathered in the living room to offer blessings.  We thought about what we've loved about this house and what we hope this home will offer its new owners.

These were our final blessings:

A: I hope you and your family have as many - if not more - memories, dreams and good times as we have had in this house.  May this house protect and watch over you and your little one.

B: I hope the piano is always loud, entertaining and in tune.  I hope the desserts made in the kitchen will taste good and not be wasted.

K: I hope this house will protect the Holcomb family and be a joyful place.  I hope their little girl will find her room comfy and fun.

J: I hope this house is filled with books, laughter and engaging in each others' small moments - like breakfast together on Saturday mornings, kicking the soccer ball in the backyard, walking to Sweet 16th and saying goodnight prayers.

My own: May this house give you space and place to learn to parent, to grow as a couple and to welcome friends and family.  May you leave your fingerprints all over it, making it into the home your family needs and craves.

We have created so many memories in this home.  It has given our family room to grow into who we are as individuals and a unit.  It's been a source of joy and tension (three girls and one downstairs bathroom).  It's held books and readers.  It has transformed from a two bedroom home with an upstairs apartment to a three bedroom home that we've used as a four bedroom one.  Through it all, it has been a safe place for us to rest, to come together and to invite others into our lives.  One thing I reminded A last night was that a house is just a thing.  A big thing, to be sure, but what makes us who we are is not the home we live in, but who we are  - collectively and individually.  We will still be who we are on Wednesday morning when we wake up in a new house.  And our God will still be our God.

Like my eldest daughter, I have some lingering sadness about leaving this home that has served us so well and been well-loved.  But as I write my final blog post from these four walls, I feel blessed.  Blessed to have lived here, blessed to be selling our house to this particular couple and blessed to know they love the same God we do and He will continue to be an invited presence here.

A few final shots of our life in this house:

Learning Together

Reading Together
Decorating Together
Celebrating Together

Thursday, September 13, 2012


: a place (as a room) with cooking facilities

I have kitchens on the brain today.  In an hour or so, some friends are coming over to help me pack up my current kitchen.  It's the only room (other than the basement, which I am studiously ignoring) that hasn't been nearly completely packed up.  Each daughter has just enough clothing to get her through the next week.  The bathrooms hold the bare essentials.  Even the bookcases are empty, with the exception of the library bookshelf.  It is just not possible for anyone in my family to go five days without reading.  I could try, but it wouldn't be pretty.  You think we're stressed and anxious about the move now?  Try taking away our books.

I'm undecided as to how to go about putting my entire kitchen into boxes.  Do it all in one fell swoop tonight and eat off of paper plates for four days?  Leave out five plates that we wash after each meal?  Chuck it all and eat take out for the next two dozen meals?  None of these options are especially appealing, but such are the vagaries of moving.

In the midst of packing one kitchen, there's another kitchen on my mind:  my new one.  Earlier today, I headed over to our new house to hold up some paint swatches and pick colors for a few rooms.  I know it will be easier to have some of these rooms painted before we fill them up with stuff.  The beige oatmeal on the walls throughout does not satisfy my soul's desire for color.  So I chose a light aquamarine for the kitchen, a blue for A's bathroom and a gray for the master bath.  If only I'd been able to make those choices before seeing the refrigerator sitting in the kitchen, awaiting installation. 

I've always been particular about refrigerators.  When we renovated our kitchen two years ago, we considered and discarded multiple refrigerator options before settling on one that had handles that felt nice and held enough food for our family.  Over the course of our fifteen years as homeowners, we've had every type of refrigerator you can have - side by side, freezer on top, french door.  Our favorite is definitely the french door, so when we put our new house under contract, we inquired about what refrigerator would be installed.  Not wanting to be too controlling and demand a french door one, I instead asked only that it not be a side by side.  Anything but a side by side - which never has enough room for cold or frozen food and often has those cumbersome ice makers hogging precious space.

What sat in our new house today?  Of course it was a brand-new, ordered-last-week side by side refrigerator.

Here's the thing: I completely let this steal my joy.  I had come to the house alone, hoping for some bonding time by being there alone in the quiet.  I left the girls watching a history movie and brought my paint swatches and a blessing book.  But the whole refrigerator thing threw me off so badly that I second guessed myself for the entire visit.  Was I crazy to paint the kitchen this color?  Would it make the bathroom too dark to choose this?  What color would bridge the living room and dining rooms like I wanted?  I have a lot of faults, but being indecisive is not generally one of them.  I know what I like and am not afraid to make a choice, but I was so rattled by that refrigerator, I completely forgot who I was.

So as I pack up our kitchen tonight, I'm going to try to remember the myriad choices that went into that space: the blue walls, the honed granite countertops, the knob pulls that not only look good, but feel nice on your hands.  It is a space where I trusted my instincts and the results were pleasing.

Perhaps in time, I'll achieve enough mental and emotional equilibrium to know and trust my instincts in my new home as well.  For now, I'm going to try to set aside any decision making and just pack, pack, pack.  Hopefully, the old me will return and I'll find some colors that will make our home sing welcome, come in and relax to all who enter.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


2 : a taking of leave

Last night, we hosted our final party at our home on Setliff Place.  After we decided to sell our house, found a new home, readied our home to go on the market and received an offer - all far more quickly than expected - I told J that I really wanted one last party here.  It would have made me sad to leave without a final gathering.  I wanted to celebrate previous moments here, mark the occasion of our departure and be surrounded and encouraged by friends as we close this chapter in our lives.  After all, one thing I've loved about living here is filling our house with friends and family. 

A few weeks ago a good-bye party seemed like a great idea.  So I set the date, sent out the evite and carried on with life's daily tasks of packing, teaching, cleaning and cooking.  Yesterday morning, the full import of my plan hit me and I sent J the following text while he was out running errands, "Having a party tonight might be my craziest idea ever.  How am I going to get this house even somewhat ready for guests?!?  Next time, you must save me from myself. ;-)"

Moments later, a friend swung by to pick something up: 
"Doing OK?" he asked. 
"I think so," I replied somewhat uncertainly.  "There's a lot left to do before tonight."
"Are you an extrovert?"
"I didn't think so.  It surprised me to see you were having a party this close to moving," he said.
"I know.  But some of our best moments in this house have been parties, so I wanted one more to help us say good-bye." I explained.
He nodded and headed off, leaving me to finish cleaning and readying our house one last time.

Sometime later, I was giving B instructions on getting her room clean.  "Vacuum your rug and then put the vacuum cleaner back in A's closet."  No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than I had the thought, "Won't it be nice to live in a house where the vacuum cleaner doesn't have to go in a bedroom closet?"  I'm not sure this thought was entirely my own because it, combined with a lovely dream fulfilled via our party, has helped me re-orient my thinking about our move.  The decision to see and dwell on the many blessings that await us will undoubtedly help me get through the next nine days.

And the party?  It was all I had hoped for and more.  New and old friends mixed, mingled and snacked.  Children played inside and out.  Conversations ebbed and flowed.  Football games were won and lost.  Food and drink were shared.  Stories were told.  Laughter was heard.

One friend who came last night had never been to our home, so I gave her a brief tour.  As I did, I described the various renovations to this house over the years.  It made me realize that we are leaving it a different home than it started.  We are leaving it with a far more functional kitchen, an open flow that aids parties, a master bath that is a true retreat and rooms that were filled with love, laughter and family.

There is much we will miss about these four walls.  They have not only sheltered us, but given us the chance to literally put ourselves into them.  Our daughters have grown here.  None of them even recall ever living anywhere else.  Our floors have held sleeping bags crowded with girls, spit up, toys, shoes and crackers crushed underfoot.  Each room has been a part of the story of our lives over the last decade.  And it is time for a new chapter.  A chapter that offers space for teenagers to stretch their wings, room to bring ballet into the home and even a long awaited chance to hang college mementos.

Independent of each other, two friends said to me before departing from the party, "You have the nicest friends."  As I lay in bed, recalling the night, these words came back to me.  We do have the nicest friends.  And they will go with us wherever we live, no matter the house.  It was a beautiful reminder of all we've been blessed with and all that awaits us - and that we don't have to do it alone.

Friday, September 7, 2012


1 : making an attempt
2 : severely straining the powers of endurance

Last Sunday, our rector started a series on the book of James.  As a part of his introduction, he talked about what a challenging book of the Bible James is.  He referenced Martin Luther's desire to have it excluded from canon, so challenging (and contradictory?) did he find it.  Yet my priest believes James is largely about living as though the kingdom of God is present here and now.  I'm interested to hear more about this and found the timing of it interesting, since I had only the day before thrown into the recycling pile my notes from an inductive study of James several years prior.  I dug contents of the former James binder out of the recycling box and today I got around to reading some of my thoughts and learnings from my previous encounter with this book.

I flipped through the pages today while soaking in the bathtub and by the time I'd read a few weeks' worth of thoughts, I was struck by one thing: how hard I was trying.  I read my words and while some of them were and are true, they are also the words of someone who is making an attempt to do more, be better, force change.  They are the words of someone whose faith was head based, not heart centered.

It made me sad for that Shannon to read how harsh I was with myself  and how desperately I wanted to conform to someone else's image of a Godly woman.  Many of the things I said about myself don't even sound true to me now.  Where they then?  Maybe.  Maybe I have changed and grown. But I also suspect that part of why they don't ring true now is because I have typically defined myself relative to those around me - that's one danger of being so aware of what others project with their feelings.  And the environment I was in was one where conformity was encouraged, sin should be seen and rooted out and there was one right answer.  I always struggled with the "one right answer" portion and I now believe that sin is not so much something for me to identify and remove as something that I have to wait for God to reveal to me.  My deepest sins are so much a part of the way I think that I often don't see them as sin - and they wouldn't even be sin for someone else.

As I lay there in the bathtub this afternoon, I gained less insight into the book of James than into my own heart.  Reading those reflections and principles made me see that I am a different person now than I was five years ago.  You may recall that my word for this year is radiant.  I've seldom written about it, so difficult have I found this word to absorb.  For most of this year, I've imagined radiant as a command - something that God wants me to become.  But today I felt a whisper that radiant is not a command, but a truth that I have been blind to.  God thinks I am already radiant.  All that is left is for me to see it and accept it.  Which is, of course, easier said than done.  No amount of trying will get me there.  Seeing myself for who I am is not a matter of working my way to it.  It's far more like letting go of all that I am trying to do and be and seeing what's left when I am left with essence.

You may have noticed at the start of this blog that I included two very different definitions for the word trying.  That Shannon of the James Inductive Study was trying to be someone new.  The Shannon of today is walking through some trying times.  It's not easy to pack a home up, even under ideal circumstances.  Doing so while homeschooling three and with a stress fracture is certainly straining my powers of endurance.  Yet I hope that while activity swirls around me and to-do lists swirl in my mind, I can find a small, quiet place in my mind to go and just be with God.  Not to try to learn or do anything, but to rest and remember who I am.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


2 : to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration

Friday afternoon, I went to my bank.  I had received a new check card in the mail earlier that week and activated it.  While I was able to use it as a credit card, any time I tried to use the PIN, it wouldn't work.  The same thing had happened to me two years prior when I received a new card.  So I thought I knew what I needed to do: go to the nearest branch and have them manually reset my PIN.  But when I got there Friday afternoon, the tellers had another theory: because my old card expired September 1, the new card wouldn't work with a PIN until September 1.  This theory worried me - partly because we had a three day weekend coming and I would have no access to cash if they were wrong.  After waiting for more than twenty minutes for them to contact someone and get confirmation on my situation, they encouraged me to leave, assuring me that my card would work Saturday, September 1.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that my card did not work Saturday.  As I drove back to the bank this morning to have the problem corrected, I was thinking about how this situation made me feel.  It made me angry, certainly, that I had to make two trips to get a problem corrected and that I had to rely on J for cash over Labor Day weekend.  But what bothered me the most was that the tellers didn't listen to me.  I told them more than once that I had the same problem with my previous card, yet they were convinced their own conclusions were the right ones.

As we've been readying ourselves to move into our new home, I've realized I have some shame about moving into a larger home.  I became aware of this when I met the home inspector at the conclusion of his inspection and he asked how large the house is.  I was embarrassed to tell him.  J and I have discussed why I feel this way and I have a difficult time untangling my feelings, but I think it relates to my fear of being seen that competes with my desire to be seen.

I have good reason to be afraid of being seen.  As the child of an alcoholic, it's always best to be able to blend into the background.  Being seen could equal being on the receiving end of verbal abuse.  But I learned to be afraid of being seen in other ways as well.  Picture an elementary school cafeteria:  It's loud.  Kids are jostling, joking, laughing as they stand in line to get their lunches.  I finally have my lunch and am sitting at the table.  Partway through the meal, a boy in my class has his tray bumped.  The jello on it starts wiggling.  Something in his brain makes a connection and he says loudly to the classmates around him, "Look!  This jello looks like Shannon when she runs."  Laughter erupts and I want to disappear.  Being seen can mean being known, being cared for, being loved.  It can also mean pain.

So I've gone through life alternately wanting to be seen, acknowledged and accepted for who I am and simultaneously wanting to blend into the background.  Last week I read a series of Richard Rohr devotions on the concept of paradox and its place within faith.  Those writings left me pondering whether this is one paradox I will always live with: fear and desire competing in my heart when I think about or experience being seen.

Being heard doesn't bring the same baggage for me.  I'm not a loud mouth.  I don't dominate conversations.  I like to listen.  So when I do speak up, I want people to listen to me.  I am speaking for a reason.  I can't always choose whether I am seen or not.  My body is present and visible no matter what I do.  But I can choose whether I speak or stay silent.  And I don't talk to fill the space.  I do it because I need to communicate something, want to share a story or experience or simply desire connection with another human being.

I'm not sure how to apply all of this insight into my own heart to my interactions with others.  I can't know whether someone wants to be seen or not (hopefully most people have more pleasant fourth grade memories than I do!).  What I can do is listen.  Whether it's one of my children struggling with an assignment, a friend who needs to talk or a stranger with a question, I can listen.  And in doing so offer them what I long for - to be heard.