remains of the day

It’s Friday night. Not a normal time to write a post. But here I am, at my computer, unwinding from the day and “de-bulking” my thoughts. A haphazard and unplanned post. Random thoughts with no correlation, other than this is how my brain thinks…

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Ren and I were back at the doctor today. This little dude has a very strong immune response–>skin inflammation–>excessive itching–>open wounds–>resulting infections. The above scene felt familiar this morning as we sat in the office waiting for the doctor. We had already read all of the books, played all of the kid’s apps on my phone, and eaten all of his snacks. Taking selfies was a last resort for entertainment. He’s back on antibiotics and high-octane band-aids that he can’t pick off in the middle of the night. I am thankful for modern medicine.

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Christmas:I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love it from the time I wake up until about 3pm. Then I’m tired…and the school parties, the traffic, the pressure, the presents, and the low-quality milk chocolate get to me…and then I hate it. But then I get a moment to sit down and journal and I read a verse like John 2:14, and I love it all over again. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God among us, on earth, mingling and saving humanity.

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I had to Google “Duck Dynasty” yesterday because I am clueless about these sorts of things. All of these social-religious-media-driven controversies make me want to tune-out even more and perpetually bury my head in poetry books.

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from “For Annie” by Joseph Millar

Speaking of poetry books, I’ve been reading Joseph Millar’s collection, Blue Rust, and loving it. He is one of my favorite contemporary American poets. I first discovered him after reading this poem in Billy Collin’s anthology, Poetry 180, and then coming across a few of his poems in other journals. I love how Millar writes about ordinary life, ordinary moments, the way he enters a poem in one place and exits in another, and his gentle and precise way of experiencing the world.

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I took the above photo today. A scene from my dining room. Perhaps it will be my next still life project? These colors cheer me on gray winter days.

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Motherhood is hard in a way that no one can prepare you for. It is hard in a way that you wouldn’t want anyone to prepare you for. It is so all-encompassing. There is no part of me left untouched by it. There are days when I feel that all of who I am has been squeezed out and I wonder what is left. Perhaps the biggest struggle for me in this is the feeling that there is no end in sight. It is chronic. People always say, “Enjoy it…it goes by so fast.” I know this has to be true, but it doesn’t feel true, for the most part. The time that it does feel true is late at night, when the hard work for the day is over and I wander into my children’s rooms to kiss their cheeks as they sleep–as they are quiet and unconscious–and I think to myself, “Wow, enjoy this, freeze this moment, you will someday miss this.”

I think of the quote–it’s not verbatim–but it goes something like,

“I don’t like to write…I like to have written.”

Perhaps that is true of many things. Putting in the labor is, well, labor, but looking back on the accomplishment is priceless. And perhaps that is why I love “to have written”–it is a tangible end product that is frozen in time–a symbol of labor and love. Raising children is less tangible and one often wonders if there ever is an end product. Where does the work go? When are you ever “done?” Is there a way to know if you are doing it right or not? What kind of impact do your actions have? The answers to these questions may not even reveal themselves until our children are in their mid-twenties and seeking a therapist to deal with their childhood issues. But even then, that’s not a black and white indicator of whether or not we were good parents…because we ALL have issues…and mostly likely would all benefit from therapy.

I think about all of this, but then I come full circle, back to the moments when my children are content and asleep, back to Millar’s poem and the final stanza, and hope that maybe, just maybe, I am doing an okay job…

There’s a song women sing
you know all the words to,

to make a child stop crying and sleep,
a song to make a grown man forget.

***

zoom out

A friend of mine once said that raising young children is like looking at life through a straw. It can feel confining and constraining, as though you are being forced to view too few things in too much detail, over and over again.

But I suppose we each live in our own little bubbles, which are limited and flawed in both perception and perspective. Currently, my bubble feels very small, confined mostly to my home, the 4 by 6 ft center of my kitchen, and the little people I continuously feed across its countertops. Sometimes my bubble expands to include my church community, my neighborhood, and on a really exciting day, it includes the 5-10 mile radius of stores and businesses along my path of errands.

[Perhaps this is the appeal of writing/blogging for me? It is a way to temporarily cross the boundaries that daily life has drawn for me–a way for life to feel a bit bigger than it actually is?]

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In any case, when I had the chance to get away last weekend, I was extremely excited. The ordinary sphere of life that I see through my straw suddenly expanded and I got to feel like a real woman in the real world. I got to zoom-out, to see the bigger picture, to see all the colors on the horizon.

There is something about air travel that expands my perspective. Seeing so many people coming and going from so many places–so many lives woven in and out of each other–brings with it the realization that this world is big, and that we, as individuals, living our own little lives, are a part of something collectively huge, mysterious, and sometimes overwhelming!

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And yet, one can see so much more from a great distance. Interstates become little lines that glow. Entire cities can be captured through the lens of a camera. Once far removed, the world doesn’t seem so big at all. Size and significance are relative.

This past weekend left me thankful for the chance to see and experience life beyond my own little bubble, but it also left me grateful to return to it.

It left me questioning the notion that small = insignificant.

Our little lives might be but a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps the most profound impact we will achieve in life is in the smallness…in the handful of close-knit relationships that God has given us. Perhaps changing “the world” means merely showing up and being present in the little bubbles where we currently exist. And perhaps, for the most part, that’s how it’s designed to be?

Who, or what, is in your bubble? Do you wish your bubble was bigger, or smaller? Do you think that impact = quantity or quality?

momentary, ordinary

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Fragmented thoughts on a Wednesday morning, the week after Thanksgiving…

I look out the window at such an ordinary scene. Gray skies and a wet gray parking lot. Early December and the trees are nearly done shedding. The holiday bustle has begun. This morning I write in my journal–fragments of sentences, fragments of thoughts, trying to psyche myself up:

“Trying to stay grounded in the holiday season. Live in the moment! Just do the next thing! Don’t think too much!”

Gosh.

What I find today is a mind jumbled by a series of broken to-do lists. Return this. Register for that. Buy that. Throw it away. Get to this appointment. Paint that wall. Pay this bill. Finish the laundry. ALWAYS, finish the laundry. (It is never finished.)

I sit here at this bench at Starbucks, the first glimpse of stillness in about a week, the children back to school after Thanksgiving, and I am giving thanks.

There are so many roadblocks to creativity, I think. So many things that make us feel caught on a crazy-making hamster wheel. It takes a good hour of just sitting and staring blankly out the window before I can even begin to hear some semblance of truth, to skim the edges of the creative space inside.

Like I said–I struggle with the demands of this time of year. Stress. To do lists. The million details involved in raising a family. Tantrums. Messes. (I currently have two 3-yr-olds.) Doctors appointments and flu shots and antibiotics and missed dentist appointments. The appointment I’m running late for. This…on top of the extra celebrating and joy to make room for! Writing mumbo jumbo posts like this at least help me feel like I’m keeping my head above the water!

The season of Advent calls us to set time apart from the stress of the season. It’s ironic, isn’t it? In attempt to celebrate the birth of Christ, I feel that I can travel so far from the heart of Christmas and inadvertently create things that can lead me away from the core of it all. The simplicity and reality of a baby in a stack of hay, God incarnate. Huh? What is that?

I even feel pressure within the Christian culture–pressure to rise up and get my heart in proper emotional state to celebrate the birth of Christ, to viscerally FEEL the significance of the occasion, to do an Advent calendar, to light the candles and read the proper verses, to dress my kids up in coordinating Christmas outfits and get a professional photograph taken and then have Christmas cards printed and mailed out to everyone on our contacts list (can’t even begin to attempt this one!), to create and implement holiday traditions into my family and then post pictures of it, gingerbread houses, sprinkles all over the floor, cookies, lights, decorations, gifts, Santa’s lap, HOLIDAY CHEER!!! Do you feel this pressure, too?

For me: the pressure of being a “good mom” during Christmas = PARALYSIS.

This is what I’m thinking about, though. This one sentence:

“Let every heart prepare Him room.”

It’s a verse from “Joy to the World” that I saw posted by a friend on Instagram the other day. It resonates.

How does a heart prepare room for God to dwell…not just as a one-time deal, but on a daily basis, and especially during this time of year? I suppose it’s different for everyone. The preparation, for me, today, means an hour at a coffee shop, sipping regular coffee, sans kids, watching regular scenes of ordinary life unfold outside the window. He shows up in mundane moments, to-do lists aside. I prepare Him room today in the monotony, in the moment, in the relative silence. No agenda. No duty. Just sip and listen.

These are the un-fancy thoughts floating through my mind in this brief moment today. How about you?

What practices help your heart prepare Him room? (and stay afloat during the holidays?)

What things block your creativity?

How do you stay grounded, especially during this time of year?

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?

the world, as they see it

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I sometimes catch my children staring quietly out of the car window. It is mysterious how the senses and images they experience each day will be incorporated into their memories. Their ideas about the world are wildly forming. As a mother, it is humbling to have such an integral role in the whole process.

I remember as a young girl riding in the back seat of my dad’s jeep. I remember road trips through the tall grasses of Georgia and South Carolina, listening to Bruce Hornsby and Paul Simon. I remember how the southern landscape became a part of my bones, how I came to associate certain stretches of the road with comfort and familiarity. Sometimes my dad would turn off the music and tune into an SEC football game. The sounds of the AM broadcast, the whistles and roaring crowds, still remind me of him and those nostalgic autumn afternoons.

I’ve introduced my children to some new bands this week. I checked a few albums out from the library and we’ve been making our way through them, savoring each one. This morning, we listened to The Decemberists.

Here’s a hymn to welcome in the day
Heralding a summer’s early sway
And all the bulbs all coming in
To begin

We found a turtle crossing the road as we drove out of our neighborhood. We stopped and the children touched its hard shell and scaly legs. Later, as we drove through town, I found Lucy staring out the window as we passed strip malls and stop signs. How will these little moments during the day nourish and grow her unique perception of life? How will these sights and sounds become a part of who she is? Life is a mystifying mosaic of senses. We each hold it differently.

What is the world, as my children see it? What is the world, as you see it?

love [minus biology]

There is a day we are born into the world. There is a day we are born into a family. For many of us, this day is the same. For some, it is different.

Our son, Warren, was born into the world on November 21, 2010. He was born into our family one year ago today, July 2, 2012. Today we celebrate his 1st birthday in our family.

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This was the scene, one year ago, when we left our hotel room in Zheng Zhou, China to go meet our son. It was like the long corridor of a labor and delivery unit in a hospital. There were ten other American families staying in our hotel, all expecting the birth of their children that day. The hotel was preparing for us to bring our babies home from the public affairs office that afternoon. Our babies ranged between the ages of 18 months and 8 years old, but for us, it was as if they were being born for the first time.

At breakfast that morning I spoke with some of the other adoptive moms. Many of them were returning to China for their second or third time. I asked them what to expect as we all gathered together to meet our children. They said “chaos…It is chaos.”

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Imagine a delivery room. Bright white surgical lights. Adrenaline, nerves, anticipation. Crying, screaming, pain. Birth, joy, awe. All of those things interwoven and branded into the deepest recesses of your heart, never to be forgotten. All of these words describe the day we met Ren, except we shared this delivery room with ten other families in a sterile room of a government building. I remember feeling so exposed and overwhelmed. Multiple cameras flashed at one of the most awaited and vulnerable moments of our lives. It felt impossible for one place to hold so many profound moments for so many people.

This year I have learned that birthing a child is not necessarily a biological process. It can be, but it is not limited to this. A birth is something that happens in one’s heart. It is not confined by cells or DNA or blood. It is spiritual and emotional. It is something that happens between two people, in that hidden space we often find hard to touch and define.

I often liken a biological birth to the process of falling in love. It is fueled by chemicals and hormones, emotions that are powerful–so powerful that they rewire your brain and create a bond that is immediate, overwhelming, and inexplicable. There is a sudden rush, a feeling of power and euphoria. I didn’t realize how much I connected childbirth to these emotions–how much I depended on them and took them for granted until I experienced a different kind of birth, the birth of my son.

If biological birth is like falling in love, then perhaps adoption is like an arranged marriage. I believe God did the arranging; it was this mysterious, perplexing process that required great trust. God arranged for Warren to be our son, just as He arranged for Tessa and Lucy to grow inside of my womb, but I quickly realized that love takes many different forms and grows in different ways.

Love, sometimes, is not immediate. It takes months, years, to develop. It is not primarily fueled by feelings. Sometimes its roots must grow deep into dark soil before a flower can blossom. I have learned that this is okay. I have learned that sometimes, the types of love that are the strongest and steeliest are the ones that grow slow and steady. Eventually, the feelings follow.

This year has not been easy. It has been hard in the way that bringing new life into the world is always hard, though the challenges have looked and felt different. My son and I, unable to fall back on more organic means of attachment, have developed new ways to connect. We have learned each other. Learning can be exhausting and frustrating and loaded with failures. Learning requires grace and resilience.

Ren came into our world like most children–confused, traumatized, crying, and screaming. On that gray summer day in China, as I held his sweaty, terrified body to mine, I knew that I wouldn’t be enough for him, just as I’m not enough for my girls. That day, in the humid drizzle, I felt the weakness in my arms and back as I tried to carry his weight and keep him secure. In that moment, I asked God to be enough for me, for Warren, for our family. My bones could feel that terrifying gap between the neediness of my son and my own resources…the neediness of myself and my own resources. It was the beginning of a greater understanding of what it means to be born into God’s family, adopted as sons and daughters of His kingdom.

It is hard to find adequate words to describe the journey, the challenges, and the immense blessings that Ren has brought to our world. I have done my best in this moment I have to write today. As my favorite poet, Laura Gilpin says,

“How flimsy words are,
crushed or shattered under the spilling weight of meaning.
All I can do is dip into the depths
and hold what I can here in my cupped hands
letting the words fall from my hands into your hands,
and say no more.”

I feel so much gratitude. We love you, Ren boy. Happy 1st Bday. You are so special.

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Ren. 2 July 2012

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Ren. 2 July 2013