the other place

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In my last poetry workshop, we studied some of Juliana Spahr’s work. I love the simplicity of her verse and I also love the way she weaves language together in such a way that it reveals the complex and paradoxical connections between things. The above excerpt is one of my favorite parts of her book, as she explores the human longing for more–always searching and seeking “the geography of the other place.”

I think this sense of longing is universal. I believe it is a good thing, as it compels us to go after something “other”–something beyond ourselves. It is the urge which ultimately leads us to find God. However, like anything, it can have a darker side–a side that can steal contentment and acceptance from our lives–a side that leads us to seek perfection in an imperfect world.

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Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

This is one of my favorite paintings. It used to hang in my high school art studio and I remember how something inside of me connected with this girl in the painting–the way she seemed fixed in one place yet longed for the home on the horizon–the way her posture seemed to be reaching for what was beyond her. I wondered what was in the house that she wanted, and I wondered why she stayed in that same spot on the grass. My art teacher eventually told me that the girl in the painting was handicapped–she had suffered from polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. It seemed such a sad portrait of a girl alone in an open field, longing to move yet unable to.

Do you ever feel like that? If you were to put yourself in this painting, what posture would you assume and what would surround you? What would that thing in the distance be that you are longing for? Is it real, or is it a mirage?

I have often struggled with contentment, idealism, and withdrawing into a fantasy world. I can tend to have this unhealthy awareness of what is missing in life and allow my own imagination to fill in the missing pieces. I am like Spahr when she writes, “I am in one place and longing for the geography of the other place…I am in days wanting it all.” In recent years I realize how much this struggle can steal from my enjoyment of actual life. Living in some fantasy world of “what might have been” or “what could be” or “what should be” takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. It can steal my ability to truly engage in the present-tense-reality of what life actually IS.

Growing up, I had an idea of how my life would turn out. It is an illusive idea, not grounded in reality at all. It was always wrapped up in living overseas, in some brand of self-glory, living life as a loner and free-spirit, perhaps as a traveling nurse, helping others and needing nothing, free to do anything, to be my own person. The more I try to nail down the fantasy, the more disappointing and vague it actually is. I don’t know that I ascribe it to any one place–it is not grounded in anything truly tangible or even good. Yet, I find myself ascribing to it when my current reality is hard or disappointing. It is a way to escape.

A few weeks ago, my daughter, Tess, had a stomach virus. She was puking into plastic bags from Target in the backseat of the car as we drove her two younger siblings to preschool. As we drove along in our Honda Pilot, past stop lights and strip malls, I thought: why didn’t anyone tell me about this part? It was not a scene my imagination had conjured or clung to when I envisioned my future. At the alter, saying my vows with my husband…in the bathroom, holding positive pregnancy tests…vomiting children is among many things that I had not envisioned. (You know that part of baby showers when you ask older mothers to share their wisdom with you? How did projectile vomit miss the memo?)

This got me thinking about how unreliable our ideas of the future really are. Nothing has turned out the way I thought it would. My foresight is terribly limited. And, the life I originally imagined for myself, which floats up in some pastel cloud, fluffy and unreachable, is completely detached from anything I would probably ever want to touch, taste, or feel in reality. This realization leads me back to the present, to this hard wooden desk where I currently write, to luke warm coffee, half-eaten biscotti, the stack of half-read books and crumpled napkin at my side. This is what is real. This is what I love. The here, the now…the paradoxes and dichotomies of daily life. The more I accept these, the more I am happy to let my flowery fantasy world float away like a balloon until it shrinks into a tiny speck in the sky, no longer visible to the naked eye.

I was talking with a friend of mine on the phone last week. We are both thirty-somethings–now fully established in the decade that has largely (though not entirely!) escaped from the drama, reactivity, grandiosity, and insecurity that defined our twenties. We are “officially grown ups.” At this point, we are realizing that if we don’t start to discard the fantasies that we chased in our teens and twenties, our lives will pass us by, un-lived and unappreciated. It is time, we both have decided, to accept and embrace the full reality of life, in all of its ordinariness. If the fantasy hasn’t happened by now, it probably won’t, because it probably was never attainable anyways. It is time to embrace the plainness of a dry open grassland and a cloudy sky and the fact that, try as we might, we sometimes can’t move ourselves from where we sit in this big open field. We are here, where we are, for a reason, and perhaps there is joy and contentment in burrowing deeper into our current landscape, embracing both the grit and softness of the earth around us.

This week, the week of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for life–even life that is “less than ideal” at times. I am grateful that my life didn’t turn out the way I imagined it–I would be miserable. I am thankful for the geography of the place I am in–its ordinariness–its many joys and disappointments. I am grateful that God gives us a heart that always longs for more…but that can also find rest and peace where it currently is. I am finding that there is great significance and value in “normalcy.” I am grateful that the home on the horizon–the one that I long for in the distance–is not something I can ultimately create for myself. It is a place that God has made for me, and it is real.

What do you long for?

What are you thankful for?

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the open road

the open road

We got away for a night. No children. This is the first time since the adoption that we’ve left all three children overnight. This is the first time in over three years that my husband and I have gone on a child-free vacation. Twenty four hours of freedom.

There’s a feeling you get when you face an open road. The further you drive from home, the more you can start to feel like a real human being. There is more to life than the routine rigor! There is finally room to lift up and out of the dailiness of life and remember who you are and what is important to you.

As we drove into the gray autumn sky, I could feel the world open itself to us again. Perhaps we aren’t as boring as we feel that we’ve become! Perhaps, under the weight of obligation and responsibility and dailiness, we are both still there. We haven’t disappeared or evaporated. After all of this, our hearts are still beating.

It is the weekend before thanksgiving and I am grateful that the world still reveals itself to us in new ways. I am grateful for friends that make these moments possible, people to support us and remind us that we are all in this together.

***

How did you spend the weekend?

What are you grateful for this weekend?

THREE

My son, Ren, turned THREE yesterday!
Here are a few of my favorite photos from the past year that capture his personality and celebrate some of the things I love most about him…

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He has the best smile of anyone I know.
My favorite thing is the way his eyes disappear like little crescents when he smiles.

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He is a GOOFBALL.
He is the most playful kid I know.
It’s hard to take life too seriously when Ren is around.
Thank goodness for that…because I can tend to take myself way too seriously.

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He is already getting brainwashed by his granddad when it comes to SEC football…

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I love his Alfalfa hair when he wakes up!

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He can go from this (all smiles!)

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To this (epic tantrum)
in less than two seconds flat
(as can all preschoolers, I suppose!)

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He LOVES his sister Lucy (aka Woosie)…
but sometimes they embody that phrase
“Can’t live with you, can’t live without you.”
If you were to look up the term “Frenemies” in the dictionary,
the above image is what you would find.

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He LOVES to eat!

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He can also go from epic tantrum…

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to completely content
in less than two seconds flat.

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He is CRAZY smart.
I can say that without it coming off as bragging because I realize I did nothing to contribute to it. Last year, at about nineteen months old, he was practically fluent in Mandarin. Now he speaks English like a boss. I can’t wait to see what he wants to be when he grows up!

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He likes to dress up in women’s clothes and shoes.

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But don’t be mistaken. He’s a man’s man. An alpha male.
He LOVES his grandaddy Bucky…

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And his Daddy!

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He is tough and resilient…
braving a lot of needle sticks during his first year home.
He will do just about anything for fruit snacks.

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His joy is contagious.
He is Mr. Popular at school and I love to sit back and watch him “work the room.”
He walks with a swagger and has a natural confidence.
He is a strong extrovert but has a mind for detail and order.
My dad thinks he has a future in sales.

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He seems happiest when he is playing with his sisters.
He is social, cuddly, affectionate…
it’s inspiring the way he connects with people.

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And did I mention that he LOVES to eat?!…

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and eat…

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Happy Birthday, Ren Boy! We love you so much!

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We know God has BIG things in store for your life.
We are so proud of you and thankful that you are our son!

november night reflections

The children are in bed. I decided to forego baths tonight. My last remnants of physical energy left my body a few hours ago, washed down the drain with the scraps and crumbs from dinner. Still, my mind is active, so here I am slumped over in my $30 thrift store chair and a cup of peppermint tea, thinking about the day and trying to solve the problems of my world–one of my favorite evening past-times.

The days are growing short and I find the increasing darkness to be disorienting. By 5:30pm it is black outside. Our bodies are still adjusting to the change. Dinner gets pushed up earlier, as does bedtime. We are approaching the peak of autumn, the trees just now coming into their prime, and I know that when we return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, we will be on the other side of the peak, making the quick and inevitable decent into winter.

I was looking back at some summer photos the other day and at this point it is already hard to fathom how different life felt then–the light, the heat, the carelessness of the long evenings. It’s crazy how much of life revolves around a change in the seasons and how much our memories are framed in that context.

This morning, during our drive to school, Lucy asked me why the leaves turn colors. It is hard to know how to explain this ritual to a three-year-old. I didn’t think she would appreciate a scientific answer (neither would I), so I just said that the cold weather tells the leaves it is time to change colors and that they get very bright and beautiful right before they die. Right after they change colors, they know it’s time to let go and fall to the ground. Then, in the winter, the trees are bare and get to rest–until the spring, when they get brand new leaves again.

“Then they’re green!” she exclaimed. 

“Yes, Lu, they are green in the spring,” I said. I am always surprised by what her mind holds onto. The mind of a preschooler is very much a mystery to me.

This autumn I have found myself wondering how the leaves know when to let go. I suppose it is some instinct God breathed into them–something that just happens–yet I marvel at it each year. Sometimes the change that they go through seems so exhausting to me–the birthing, growing, maturing, aging, and dying. All the stages we go through in a single lifetime as humans, the trees relive every year from beginning to end. Tiring, yet inspiring.

Lu’s favorite trees are the red ones, the ones with bright crimson leaves. I think they are my favorite, too. 

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It’s like one of my favorite poets, Linda Pastan, says…

Late in October, I watch
it all unravel–the whole

autum leafery
succumbing to rain.
At the moment
of their most intense beauty,
reds and yellows bleed
into each other
like dried paints on a palette

Perhaps beauty
is the mother of death,
not the other way around.

–from “Late in October” posted at Plume Poetry

“Perhaps beauty is the mother of death…”

That is something to think about…not only as it pertains to the trees…but as it pertains to our lives…this correlation between beauty and letting go…sacrifice and surrender.

That is all for tonight…time to let go of this day and prepare for another…

How does the autumn inspire you?

meet for coffee

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I was talking on the phone with a great friend of mine last week. It was a chilly autumn day, the first week of November, gray skies and orange leaves. She said that days like these remind her of when we were single, twenty-something, college students. We used to drive around in our cars and blare David Gray from the stereo, the perfect compliment to the moody weather. We used to get coffee together and talk for hours. She asked,

“Who gets coffee anymore?”

We are both thirty-somethings now. We live thousands of miles apart. Life has changed and suddenly caught up to us and we find ourselves perplexed by these changes and wondering how we got here. The twenties were so fast paced. We took our freedom for granted. We could spend hours at a time in a coffee shop talking about life and how we fit into it. Aging was not even on our radar. Yet now, here we are, with full-time jobs or children or domestic duties. Responsibility has entered the picture and we are suddenly appreciating the days when we could drop anything and meet up at the local Caribou for a couple of hours.

Who meets for coffee anymore?

Surely, not me, a mother of three. If I took all my kids to a Starbucks I can visualize the amount of damage they’d accomplish within a two minute period, the number of disapproving stares we’d summon from strangers, the kind of spectacle we would be. Meeting for coffee would require some forethought and planning–two things that aren’t my strong suit–not to mention a babysitter. It kind of kills the charm of it, I suppose. Spontaneity is part of what makes coffee time so much fun.

I still have coffee with friends, though now I invite them over to my house. I make us a pot in my faithful drip machine and we try to have meaningful conversation amidst a plethora of interruptions–fighting children, whining children, children who need help wiping, children who need a snack. Such is life in this season. It looks different than it used to, but there is still a lot of sweetness there.

Do you still meet up with people for coffee? Is this something that is passe, or is it just a reflection of the season of life you are in? What does meeting up for coffee look like for you?